John Berryman and Robert Giroux: A Publishing Friendship

Patrick Samway. Univ. of Notre Dame, $45 (298p) ISBN 978-0-268-10841-0
Samway (Flannery O'Connor and Robert Giroux), an English professor at St. Joseph’s University, charts in this revelatory literary study the close relationship between John Berryman (1914-1972) and Robert Giroux (1914-2008). The latter, a poet as well as the editor and publisher of much of Berryman’s poetry, first met the former when they were first-years at Columbia College in 1931, initiating a lifelong friendship. Samway limns the professional paths of both in parallel. He follows Giroux from editor to partner to company chairman as Farrar Straus becomes Farrar, Straus and Giroux. For Berryman, he shows the poet weathering rejections and negative reviews; scraping together a living through fellowships, grants, and teaching jobs; and all the while producing seminal poetic works. Samway places particular attention on 1956’s Homage to Mistress Bradstreet and the 1968 National Book Award winner His Toy, His Dream, His Rest, both edited by Giroux. Showing Berryman and Giroux’s places in the wider literary world, Samway considers Berryman’s friendships with Robert Lowell, Delmore Schwartz, and Mark Van Doren, among others, and Giroux’s work in bringing a number of authors before a wide readership, including Jack Kerouac, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, and Susan Sontag. Promising to show “one of the most extraordinary personal and professional relationships in the history of American poetry,” Samway succeeds with a work both definitive and effortlessly readable. (Oct.)

Correction: An earlier version of this review misstated the title of the author's previous book

Reviewed on : 08/05/2020
Release date: 10/31/2020
Genre: Nonfiction
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