Poet, novelist, and translator David R. Slavitt is the latest writer to join the 100 club: writers who have published, or contracted for, 100 books. Although the 76 year-old Cantabrigian, who published his first book, the poetry collection Suits for the Dead, 50 years ago, will only be at #96 by year’s end, he has another four books coming out over the next two years. That’s on top of five books in 2011, starting with #92, Milton’s Latin Poems (Johns Hopkins Univ. Press) and ending with Three Greenlandic Poets (New American Press).
But Slavitt is the first to admit that some volumes are relatively short. Translations like Milton’s Latin Poems (from Johns Hopkins last March) are 112 pages, or The Gnat and Other Minor Poems of Virgil (released by Univ. of California Press in June), 64 pages. However, his newly released translation of Love Poems, Letters, and Remedies of Ovid (Harvard Univ. Press) has far more heft, 384 pages.
Although Slavitt translates Latin, he prefers Greek, which he perfected during his days as a movie critic for Newsweek from the late 1950s through the mid-‘60s. “If you take the train from White Plains to see Annette Funicello, there are certain psychic stresses that can be allayed by learning Greek verbs with Clyde Pharr’s Homeric Greek,” he says.
During his Newsweek years, Slavitt also subbed as book review editor when Wilder Hobson or Robert Massey were on vacation, which led to his first contract for a novel. After reading one of his reviews, Jacqueline Susann publisher Bernard Geis bought him an expensive lunch and offered him an advance. Geis’s advice, write fictionalized nonfiction by standing in front of a newsrack, led to Slavitt’s roman à clef written under the penname Henry Sutton, The Exhibitionist. The story of a prominent actress and her prominent father became a 1967 bestseller and sold 4 million copies. “I never really believed it was going to happen,” says Slavitt, who went on to pen five more Sutton novels, a sixth that Doubleday brought out under his real name, and a mystery using his then wife’s name, Lynn Meyer.
But the Slavitt book that fetches the highest price today has nothing to do with his adult fiction, poetry, or translations. It’s a children’s book, #36 The Cock Book, a send up of Dr. Suess’s One Fish, Two Fish. “It’s just impish, as indeed I am. It’s not shocking,” says Slavitt, who is pleased that its value has held up on the used book market. Unlike the Sutton novels that go for a penny, it fetches between $500 and $600.
Even though Slavitt has averaged two books a year mostly from university presses and has four completed works waiting to be sold, he’s far from the most prolific writer. At his death in 1992, Isaac Asimov had written nearly 500 books. Uncle Wiggily creator Howard Roger Garis (1873-1962) published well over 500 books, as did George Simenon (1903-1989), creator of Inspector Maigret. For many years English romance novelist Kathleen Lindsay (1903-1973), who wrote over 900 books under eleven pen names, held the Guinness World record as most prolific author. That title now belongs to José Carlos Ryoki de Alpoim Inoue, a Brazilian writer who has published 1,075 books under 39 pseudonyms since 1986. Then there’s Philip M. Parker, who was profiled three years ago in the New York Times and credited with generating, or compiling, 200,000 books.
There is one advantage to a large output. “it keeps the most devout and fanatical critic away from me,” says Slavitt. “Because there’s too much to read.”