On May 1, 1997, Washington state bookseller Ed Smith was attending a rare-books auction at the Swann Auction Galleries in New York City. In a room full of dedicated rare-books collectors and dealers, Smith found himself seated directly in front of Glenn Horowitz, one of the best-known (some would say “notorious”) dealers of rare books and manuscripts in the United States, if not the world. When a U.K. proof of Thomas Pynchon’s first novel V., with a pristine “trial” dust jacket, came on the block, there was lively and aggressive bidding for this highly sought-after Pynchon collectible. Smith was certain Horowitz would come away with the prize but, to his amazement, he ended up winning the auction, paying $517.Smith says Horowitz would’ve likely won the bidding were it not for a pretty & pierced young women seated next to him with whom he was flirting. According to Smith, “Glenn was … Continue reading
Smith continues: “A day or so after returning home, I got a call from Ray Roberts. I had no idea who he was, but he said he was Mr. Pynchon’s editor, and I believed him. He’d apparently contacted the Swann Galleries to inquire about the UK proof and gotten my phone number. He asked me if I’d be interested in trading the V. proof I’d won at auction for ‘something special.’ He asked me to send him the U.K. proof and he would send me his ‘special’ item. I did as instructed and, in return, Ray, as good as his word, sent me one of the Mason & Dixon blue galleys.”
It was through this fortuitous set of circumstances that Ed Smith came to know Ray Roberts, who it turned out was not just Thomas Pynchon’s editor but also one of the most successful and respected editors in New York City, not to mention an avid and knowledgeable collector of modern first editions.
And it was through this transaction that the blue uncorrected proofs of Pynchon’s Mason & Dixon came to light, proofs that quite possibly landed Roberts squarely in conflict with his desires as a collector and his responsibilities as a trusted editor.
During his 40-plus years in publishing, Ray Roberts worked for many of New York’s top publishers, beginning his career at the University of Chicago Press, and finishing it as a senior editor at Viking. In between, he was a senior editor at Macmillan Company; Doubleday & Company; Little, Brown & Company; and Henry Holt and Company.
Raymond Arthur (“R.A.”) Roberts was born on March 18, 1938, in Galax, Virginia, “the gateway to the Blue Ridge mountains,” at the time a town of around 3500 people, its principal claim to fame being the annual Old Fiddler’s Convention which has taken place there each summer since 1935. His father James owned several furniture stores in and around Galax. In 2017, the writer Sam Stephenson wrote a short essay on his blog about Galax and the Fiddler’s Convention in which he noted that his mother came from Galax and his cousin went to high school … Continue readingRoberts attended Galax High SchoolRoberts was one of the 72 students in his 1957 senior class. When perusing the 1957 Knowledge Knoll yearbook, one first notices the complete absence of people of color. There’s not a single … Continue reading where he was an excellent, and impeccably dressed, student, as well as an active participant in school activities involving art, literature, and writing. He was co-editor of the Knowledge Knoll (the school’s yearbook) staff, as well as a participant in the yearly Literary Contest, placing third in the Short Story category in his freshman year and first place in his senior year. He was on the honor roll all four years. His senior photo is captioned “ambitious, studious, talented.”In my copy of the yearbook, Roberts inscribed the following note to “Jane”: “It has been a pleasure, I can assure you, of being in school with you. You have that old thing called … Continue reading
Whereas Roberts had an active and productive life at school, at home it was a different story. He was never that close to either his father or his siblings (two brothers and three sisters)Obituary of James Carroll Roberts (Ray’s older brother: 1931-2020): “In addition to his parents, JC was preceded in death by one brother, R.A. Roberts, and three sisters, Georgie Lundy, … Continue reading — even refusing to let them visit him when he was dying, and making sure they would inherit nothing from his estate — but he “adored his mother and enjoyed his visits to Galax,” recalls his longtime companion Lilian RobertsLilian is a fascinating person. She and Roberts were the closest of companions from the time they first met in Chicago in the early 1960s until Roberts’ death. Lilian was the executor of … Continue reading (no relation). “He loved to go home for her cooking and company.” In the fall of 1988, after his mother had been tragically killed in an automobile accident (his father had died in 1979), Roberts’ visited John Fowles, one of his authors at Little, Brown. After the visit, Fowles wrote in his journal “[Ray] says wrily that the death-and-funeral did not bring them together, he and his siblings. There is some rift there, we presume over his homosexuality.”John Fowles’ full entry: “Ray Roberts came to dinner. […] Ray’s mother was killed in a rather miserable-sounding crash with an oil-truck during this last year; he and his two … Continue reading Ray Roberts was gay, certainly problematic when growing up in a small southern town in 1950s America, as it was when Roberts moved to Chicago and later to New York City. Although according to Michael … Continue readingBy the time Roberts graduated from high school in 1957, he had enough of both Galax and his family and was eager to relocate to a major metropolis to attend college. His excellence at high school afforded him the opportunity to choose among a number of great schools and when, to his delight, he was accepted to the University of Chicago, a whole new world opened up to him.
To finance his college expenses, Roberts worked as a secretary at Billings Hospital (now part of the University of Chicago Medical Center) where he met 19-year-old British-born Lilian Roberts who was also working there as a secretary. Lilian, immediately impressed by this intelligent, droll“Droll” commonly comes up when people describe Roberts’ sense of humor. Martha Grimes, who was one of Roberts’ authors for around twenty years, including ten years at Little, … Continue reading and “very particular” young man, was a kindred spirit who shared Roberts’ passion for music, literature, and art, and they became fast friends and traveling companions, visiting museums and galleries, and antiques shops together, both in the United States and abroad.
The University of Chicago Press (1962-69) and Macmillan Company (1969-78)
In 1962, after graduating with a degree in English Literature, Roberts took a job as an editorial assistant at the University of Chicago Press, and began working his way up the ranks. But by 1969, having worked there for seven years, Roberts was ready to relocate to New York City, the heart of the publishing universe and home to all the major U.S. publishers. After a number of queries, he was offered and accepted a senior-editor position in the Publishing Division of Macmillan Company, a respected publisher located in the heart of Manhattan.
Although Roberts was involved in many engaging projects at Macmillan — Daniel Berrigan’s False Gods, False Men (1969), Andres Segovia’s An Autobiography of the Years 1893-1920 (1976), Czeslaw Milosz’s The History of Polish Literature (1969), and John Beecher’s Collected Poems, 1924-1974 (1974), to name a few — by 1973, Macmillan, under the leadership of Raymond C. Hagel, was in bad straits. In the fall of 1974, Hagel abruptly dismissed almost 100 employees in its book-publishing divisions (he called it “an over‐all corporate belt-tightening program”), creating serious disfunction among the remaining ranks.Raymond C. Hagel was indeed quite loathed at Macmillan. When he took the axe to hundreds of employees, there was picketing in front of Macmillan’s offices in NYC. And the National Labor … Continue reading “We felt the atmosphere at Macmillan was toxic,” recalls Roberts’ editorial colleague there, Chuck Adams. “Macmillan was a conglomerate of which the Trade Division was just a tiny partHagel, who’d become CEO in 1963, was fired in 1980 due to Macmillan’s increasingly diminishing profits, a result of the company’s having become an enormous conglomerate with … Continue reading There was no editor in chief and nothing was getting published. In 1978, Ray decided to get out.”
And get out he did. Roberts was quickly snapped up by Doubleday as a senior editor where his star rapidly began to rise, helped by a fortuitous collaboration with a cultural icon.
Doubleday and Jackie Onassis Kennedy (1978-80)At Doubleday & Company, Roberts, as a senior editor, worked on a number of projects — primarily photography, gardening and design books — where he also became the mentor, colleague and, eventually, close friend of recent-arrival Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis who was an associate editor during Roberts’ tenure there.(Onassis’ letters and memos to him, spanning 1978 to 1992, were bequeathed to the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas, Austin.)
Roberts and Onassis worked closely together, collaborating on many titles around gardens, photography, and design, a passion Jackie shared with Roberts. They also frequently socialized outside the office, Onassis often accompanying Roberts to gallery openings, films and museum exhibits, according to Greg Lawrence who, in his 2011 book Jackie as Editor: The Literary Life of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis (Macmillan), provides many revealing details about the relationship between Roberts and Onassis. Describing Roberts as “erudite and courtly,” Lawrence writes:
“Though not always perfect with her spelling and often freewheeling with her punctuation, Jackie’s handwritten and typed missives were typically playful and witty, and even flirtatious at times with Ray, as with a red heart-shaped Valentine she gave him, signed ‘Guess who?’ This was a close relationship that blossomed in the office, unreported and invisible even to Jackie’s biographers.”
To say that Onassis was pleased with her and Roberts’ working relationship would be an understatement: “Ray has taught me to say No to marginal projects…. It is work-effective to be on the same wavelength as your co-editor, and it is difficult to imagine having the same rapport with another person.”
However, in the spring of 1980, having worked so closely on many projects, both Onassis and Roberts were surprised and dismayed to learn that Doubleday, facing slowing sales and falling earnings, was letting him go.
As Lawrence writes, “Jackie sent a memo to the longtime executive who made the decision, Robert Banker […], pleading for Roberts’s job. Jackie wrote, ‘I was so stunned when you told me about Ray Roberts that words failed me. But all weekend I have had thoughts that I feel I must share with you … Working closely with Ray has made me aware of his many qualities which are special and which cause me to have the deepest feelings of esteem for him. I have never worked with anyone as closely and I have rarely enjoyed anyone as much.'”
But Jackie’s plea fell on deaf ears, Banker stood firm on his decision, and Roberts’ and Jackie’s professional collaboration at Doubleday ended. They did, however, continue to correspond, have lunch together, and, as when they were both at Doubleday, Roberts would occasionally accompany Jackie to museum openings and other events. And, post-Doubleday, Ray continued to send Jackie many books, to the point of her writing him “I can’t BELIEVE it — Little Brown will fire you if you keep giving me these treasures!”Ray’s generosity wasn’t unique to his friendship with Jackie Onassis; most all of his friends with whom I spoke mentioned this quality. One of Ray’s good friends outside the … Continue reading
For Roberts, exiting Doubleday was a blessing in disguise and at his next publisher, Little, Brown & Company, he would spend the longest single tenure of his career. And his successes with a prestigious author list dramatically raised his profile and status in the world New York publishing.
Little, Brown & Company (1980-94)
As a senior editor at Little, Brown, Roberts forged new and career-defining relationships with Ansel Adams,Roberts worked with Ansel Adams on the photographer’s autobiography (Ansel Adams: An Autobiography (Bloomsbury, 1996). Mary Street Alinder, in her biography of Adams — Ansel Adams: A … Continue reading John Fowles, Martha Grimes and, perhaps most importantly, Thomas Pynchon.
Rick Tetzeli, who was Roberts’ assistant at Little, Brown for a couple years, remembers well his time with Roberts as well as the New York publishing scene at the time. “Ray already had two other assistants,” Tetzeli adds. “He greatly enjoyed bringing up new talent, introducing them to the world of publishing and to New York City. Ray took their concerns seriously, never patronized them, expected the best, and they all respected the work he was doing. Steve Tager, my friend and colleague at Little, Brown, called Ray ‘The Great One.'”“Ray was so experienced,” recalls Roberts’ close friend, the painter Stuart Shils. “He knew how be an advisor and a guide, to help people along. He was a connector of people … Continue reading“He was a ringleader for the twenty-somethings at Little, Brown,” Tetzeli continues. “On Friday afternoons, he’d take them to The GuardsmanThe Guardsman was a cozy “dart pub” near 34th and Lexington in Murray Hill, “a pub that could have inspired the television program Cheers … a home to regulars who share their … Continue reading for cocktails. Ray would get a corner table and regale his young guests with tales of the publishing world, dish on other editors, talk art and design. He’d twirl his finger in the air to call for another round. He didn’t drink at work, maybe a glass of wine at lunch. But he took great pleasure in watching the twenty-somethings drink. He was always happy to pour you another one. He loved talking to you about your life, but didn’t want to talk about himself.”Roberts was an extremely social man. Work days, he’d go out to lunch almost every day. “Lunch was a way of life for Ray,” recalls Stuart Shils. And there were the numerous gallery … Continue reading
Many of Roberts’ former assistants went on to have stellar careers in publishing, including novelist Donald Antrim, one of his assistants at Little, Brown, who recalled in a 2013 New Yorker interview an important distinction Roberts pointed out to him. When asked how many novels one should have to write before being called a “novelist,” Antrim replied: “In the nineteen-eighties, I was an editorial assistant for a great editor named Ray Roberts. […] One day, in about 1985, I referred to one of his writers — we were publishing a first novel — as a novelist. Ray called me into his office, sat me down, and told me that publishing a book, or even two or three, didn’t necessarily make one a novelist. Ray felt that a novelist was a person who had dedicated his or her life to the pursuit — the professional pursuit — of the art form. At the time, I thought that Ray’s opinions seemed curmudgeonly, old-school. Now that I’ve spent some years writing fiction, I am more inclined to see his point, the rightness of it. Maybe when I’ve come along a little further I’ll be a novelist. In the meantime, I remain a writer.” At Macmillan, due to staff reductions in the Trade Division, Roberts was occasionally assigned to review incoming manuscripts, a task that he likely felt was below his station. One such unfortunate … Continue reading
John FowlesRay Roberts was a knowledgeable reader, collectorBoston bookseller Ken Lopez, who purchased from Glenn Horowitz much of Roberts’ modern-literature collection following his death, stresses that although Roberts had accumulated “quite a … Continue reading and ardent admirer of John Fowles, so it was no surprise that soon after his arrival at Little, Brown, he was assigned to be Fowles’ editor. Fowles had been in editorial limbo since the death of his previous editor, Ned Bradford (also Little, Brown’s editor in chief), the previous year. Bradford had edited all of J.D. Salinger’s books except The Catcher in the Rye,Bradford had joined Little, Brown in 1952, a year after Salinger’s first book was published. as well as many of Fowles’ best works, including The Collector (1963), The Magus (1965), The French Lieutenant’s Woman (1969) and Daniel Martin (1979). Larned “Ned” Bradford (1911-79) had also been Norman Mailer’s editor for The Executioner’s Song (1979).. Roberts and Fowles hit it off both professionally and personally, sharing a love of literature as well as collecting Fowles was no slouch when it came to collecting, a “gentle madness” which informed his fiction — Frederick Clegg in The Collector (1963) and the Marquis d’Abadie in The Magus … Continue reading, and Roberts often visited Fowles and his wife Elizabeth in Lyme Regis in the U.K.John Fowles, in his diary entry of October 28, 1988, described Roberts thus: “Ray Roberts came for dinner. […] Ray is a little like a neutered tabby, very reliably safe and unchanging, … Continue reading Roberts worked with Fowles on a number of books, including Mantissa (1981) and A Maggot (1985).At Little, Brown, Roberts edited the following books by John Fowles: The Enigma of Stonehenge (1980); A Short History of Lyme Regis (1982); Mantissa (1982); A Maggot (1985); Land (with Fay Godwin) … Continue reading
As for Martha Grimes, Roberts is said to have plucked her first novel, The Man with a Load of Mischief (1981), from the Little, Brown “slush pile” and had been her editor ever since.In fact, Ms. Grimes disputes the veracity of this origin story. “I can’t imagine Ray fooling around with a slush pile,” she says, recalling her acquiring editor at Little, Brown being … Continue reading In addition to Grimes’ first novel, Roberts edited her next ten while at Little, Brown.During his tenure at Little, Brown, Roberts edited the following Martha Grimes novels (all part of the “Richard Jury” series): The Man With a Load of Mischief (1981); The Old Fox … Continue reading
Given Little, Brown’s impressive literary-fiction pedigree as well as its current editorial staff, it’s easy to see how another author, both literary and intensely private, would choose Little, Brown when he finally decided to re-enter the fray …
Thomas Pynchon: Slow Learner and VinelandIn 1982, Thomas Pynchon, perhaps seeking a fresh start, had extracted himself from his contract with Viking,“The first book [Melanie Jackson] would shop around, in 1982 or early 1983, was the collection of short stories that was published as Slow Learner in 1984. During this time, Pynchon broke off … Continue reading which had published Gravity’s Rainbow in 1973, and had severed ties with both his agent Candida DonadioAfter Donadio fired her assistant Melanie Jackson (with whom Pynchon had become romantically involved), Pynchon, on January 5, 1982, abruptly parted ways with Donadio, sending a terse note which read … Continue reading and his editor Corlies “Cork” Smith. After Pynchon wrote his terse letter dismissing Candida Donadio as his agent, Corlies “Cork” Smith says he wrote an “equally stuffy” note back to Pynchon, then met him for … Continue reading His new agent, Melanie Jackson, began shopping around a collection of Pynchon’s early short storiesA package that likely included the rights to his next novel, which was the real prize. which, though not of the quality his readers had come to expect from him, he’d decided to have published in order to short-circuit the numerous bootleg editions on the market as well as buy some time while he completed his next novel.
Pynchon ended up at Little, Brown, and his editor was Ray Roberts — two very private, but very different, men.
Slow Learner was published on April 16, 1984, with the New York Times giving it a positive review, stating “how extremely good the stories are for all their faults, how quickly they carry us into their scruffy, variegated, wonderfully imagined worlds.” And fans were delighted to read Pynchon’s Introduction in which he talked — in an engaging, humorous and surprisingly revealing way — about himself, his past, and his work.Pynchon’s Introduction begins: As nearly as I can remember, these stories were written between 1958 and 1964. Four of them I wrote when I was in college — the fifth, “The Secret … Continue reading Pynchon, typically secretive, reportedly requested that no proofs be printed of this book prior to publication; thus, only “about 10” folded and gathered signatures were prepared and laid into proof dust jackets and issued as advance copies for A-list reviewers.
Pynchon’s and Roberts’ author/editor relationship was off to a good start and their partnership was to continue, as evidenced by an announcement in the Washington Post‘s Bookworld on April 12, 1987, that Little, Brown would be publishing Pynchon’s new novel: “It is Pynchon’s first full-scale work of fiction since Viking published Gravity’s Rainbow in 1973. Pynchon’s editor on the new novel is Ray Roberts, who handled Slow Learner.” The new novel was Vineland.
When it was published, Gravity’s Rainbow had been controversial In 1974, scandal erupted after the Pulitzer board withheld the prize for fiction. The jury had voted unanimously for Thomas Pynchon’s novel Gravity’s Rainbow, but the board vetoed their … Continue reading but it quickly became a poster child for post-modern fiction and is still taught in many university English departments. It’s widely considered to be one of the greatest, as well as most influential, novels of the 20th century. So, for fans of Pynchon, there was obviously great anticipation and high expectations surrounding what would be his first novel in almost 17 years.
And, at Little, Brown, there was great secrecy.
Readying Vineland for publication, Roberts and Pynchon worked feverishly to meet the publishing date, with Pynchon reportedly making changes right up to the last minute and insisting that no proofs or advance reading copies be printed.When Vineland was published — in a first printing of 120,000 — it garnered glowing reviews and remained on the New York Times Best Seller list for 13 weeks.Keesey, D., (1990) “Vineland in the Mainstream Press: A Reception Study”, Pynchon Notes , p.107-113: More than any other Pynchon novel, Vineland was a phenomenal popular success, holding … Continue reading Pynchon, as always, wanted very few advance copies sent out to reviewers, so only a handful of pre-publication copies of Vineland were created for this purpose — 8-12 F&G’s (folded and gathered sheets) of the first edition, laid into the first-issue dust jacket, targeting the most prominent reviewers, as well as approximately 200 copies of the published edition with a promotional sheet laid in which were sent out to other reviewers about a week before publication. The Washington Post, in a pre-publication article about Vineland, wrote: “No galleys were issued to reviewers or foreign publishers — the first time anyone can remember this being done with a novel. Everyone will be making their minds up at the same time.”
Salman Rushdie, in his overall positive New York Times review, wasn’t having it: “The secrecy surrounding the publication of this book — his first novel since Gravity’s Rainbow in 1973 — has been, let’s face it, ridiculous. I mean, rilly. So he wants a private life and no photographs and nobody to know his home address. I can dig it, I can relate to that (but, like, he should try it when it’s compulsory instead of a free-choice option). But for his publisher to withhold reviewers’ copies and give critics maybe a week to deal with what took him almost two decades, now that’s truly weird, bad craziness, give it up.”
After almost 14 years at Little, Brown, Ray Roberts was ready for a change. There was apparently friction between Roberts and Charlie Hayward, Little, Brown’s president and CEO at the time. “Ray had a contentious break with Little, Brown […] he was very angry with Charlie Hayward,” recalls Roberts’ friend Chuck Adams.Charles Hayward then became president and CEO of the New York Racing Association, but was fired five years later following allegations that the NYRA knowingly overcharged horse racing bettors on … Continue reading And in 1989, when Little, Brown was made part of the Time Warner Book Group after Time merged with Warner Communications to form Time Warner in 1989, all Boston editing staff were moved to New York, resulting in lost jobs due to redundancy and a fair amount of turmoil.
However, regardless of Roberts’ dislike of Hayward and the company chaos, it’s likely he was being courted by another publisher chafing at its “prim” reputation, with an impressive backlist (Morrison, Mailer and Frost) but few big-selling or high-quality contemporary authors. Intent on becoming a bigger player in New York publishing, Henry Holt and Company was aggressively seeking and acquiring literary talent, and it had its sights on Thomas Pynchon.In the early 1990s, Henry Holt and Company, under president and CEO Bruno Quinson, had made moves to up their profile in the publishing world. News of Roberts’ hiring at Henry Holt was … Continue reading
Roberts, still at Little, Brown, was putting out feelers, one being to William Strachan, editor in chief of Henry Holt, who was seriously engaged in upgrading Holt’s image as a publisher of literary fiction. Strachan and Roberts already knew each other professionally and they shared an interest in gardening books. Ray contacted him to talk about publishing Pynchon. “I know you’re a fan. We should talk,” Strachan recalls him saying.
And Strachan and Roberts did indeed talk about Roberts, and Pynchon, coming to Holt, while Holt worked with Jackson to work out the details of a deal to publish Pynchon’s next novel, the novel that would finally fulfill the lofty expectations borne, but for many not met, by Vineland.
Henry Holt and Mason & Dixon (1994-99)In March 1994, Roberts finally jumped ship, leaving Little, Brown to join Henry Holt as a senior editor, as Holt finalized details with Jackson. Strachan recalls that Pynchon actually wanted to come to Holt — after all, his editor of choice was now there — and, according to Strachan, Holt basically told Pynchon “We’ll pay you as much as we’ve ever paid anybody.”
When Pynchon finally decided on Henry Holt, his demands for strict privacy were part and parcel of the deal. Strachan now finds it amusing how little he could actually say at the time about acquiring Pynchon or what the new novel was about. “When I was interviewed by the New York Times, all I could really say was that I didn’t know anything!” But he did say that Roberts had left Little, Brown and “brought Pynchon with him.”
Pynchon and his agent would have surely been impressed with the new attitude at Henry Holt, as reflected by both the money Holt was offering authors According to The Observer (Aug 10, 1998), “Naumann [Holt’s new editor in chief] gave something on the order of $2 million to Salman Rushdie for his next novel [The Ground Beneath Her … Continue reading as well as the vision of both Strachan and Holt’s new president and CEO Michael Naumann, who’d previously been publisher at Hamburg-based Rowohlt Verlag, the highly respected German house which had published Pynchon’s novels in Germany. Naumann wished “to contribute to an enterprise that is successfully on a intellectually and literarily satisfying level. I want all, hopefully millions, of our readers to close a book that we’ve published with the feeling that they’ve made the right buy.” (New York Magazine, January 13, 1997, p.34)Ray Roberts joined Henry Holt during Bruno A. Quinson’s tenure as Holt’s editor in chief and CEO, but it wasn’t until after Quinson retired on March 31, 1996 and Michael Naumann … Continue reading
As at Little, Brown, Roberts kept his lips sealed regarding Pynchon.From Publishers Weekly, October 28, 1996 (Vol. 243, Issue 44): “Roberts, almost as reticent as the author he edits, wouldn’t comment on how long that book has been in development, but … Continue reading “I don’t know how they work together, and Ray won’t talk about it,” Strachan said at the time. “He’s respecting the author’s wishes.”
Roberts was typically blunt when questioned about Pynchon… “I’m not going to talk about this man,” he once told a New York Magazine reporter who was seeking information about the notoriously private author following Holt’s publication of Mason & Dixon. “People always have misinformation about his novels. I doubt even his friends know what this book is about.”
Roberts did, in one rare instance, tip his hand about how he and Pynchon worked together, telling Rick Tetzeli that he was “totally hands-off with [Pynchon’s] manuscripts.” And that was it. “If he had things he wasn’t going to talk about, he’d never talk about them,” Tetzeli recalls. “He didn’t want to talk about Jackie. He’d talk about Melanie Jackson, but not Pynchon.”
Raquel Jaramillo, who designed the novel’s dust jacket, said in an interview for this website: “There was a lot of secrecy around Tom’s book. The editor, Ray Roberts, was very protective of it and few people were privy to the manuscript before it went to copy editing. In fact, there was no ‘fact sheet’ for it at first, so I was only told what the title was verbally, which I heard as ‘Mason and Dixon.'”
And although Roberts kept his lips sealed regarding his most famous author, conflicts of interests can surely arise when a passionate book collector is, at the same time, the editor of a highly collectible author. As Thomas Pynchon’s editor, Roberts was not only in possession of correspondence and notes and other items of great interest to collectors and Pynchon scholars, he was also in a position to create highly desirable items within the parameters of simply doing his job. An enviable position for a collector, certainly, but one rife with pitfalls.
John Krafft, co-founder of the scholarly journal Pynchon Notes and Professor Emeritus at Miami University in Ohio, recalls speaking with Roberts during this period of multiple revisions of Mason & Dixon.
“I had called Ray when I heard about the publication of the then-upcoming novel, to see if I could get an Advance Reading Copy. When he called back, he must have said something about the number of pages, that it was 773 pages long. I was surprised and reminded him that the original announcement had said 704 pages, and Ray said ‘Well, it was, but he keeps sending stuff in!'”
So what was Roberts, an enthusiastic Pynchon collector, supposed to do with those beautiful blue ARCs of Mason & Dixon? Well aware of their value on the collectors market — they were copies of a draft of a very well received Pynchon novel, a draft (759 pages) that differed significantly from the final published version (773 pages), and there were only fifteen of them — he simply couldn’t bring himself to destroy such a collectible treasure.
Mason & Dixon was published on April 30, 1997, with a print run of 150,000,Naumann states this 150,000 first printing figure in a June 9, 1997 C-SPAN interview. and was one of the most acclaimed novels of the 1990s. According to literary critic Harold Bloom, “Pynchon always has been wildly inventive, and gorgeously funny when he surpasses himself: the marvels of this book are extravagant and unexpected.”Bloom has also called the novel “Pynchon’s late masterpiece” and, when speaking to Leonard Pierce of the A.V. Club, said, “I don’t know what I would choose if I had to … Continue reading
In the The New York Times Book Review, T. Coraghessan Boyle wrote, “This is the old Pynchon, the true Pynchon, the best Pynchon of all. Mason & Dixon is a groundbreaking book, a book of heart and fire and genius, and there is nothing quite like it in our literature.”
John Fowles wrote in The Spectator: “As a fellow-novelist I could only envy it and the culture that permits the creation and success of such intricate masterpieces. This almost feels like the last great fiction of our dying era. Though I’m sure it won’t be, I must admire its sense of the bright farewell, the clear passing overseas of the torch that Peacock, Dickens, Lawrence, and Conrad bore. You’ll not find a better, this next time round.”
However, despite the critical success of Mason & Dixon, sales were disappointing and returns were many, which led Holt’s CEO Michael Naumann to complain about Americans’ lack of appreciation for good literature at a New York industry event, and to boycott the 1997 National Book Awards ceremony when Mason & Dixon wasn’t on the finalists list.It was September 1997, and Mr. Naumann told the crowd at the New York Public Library that American readers didn’t appreciate good literature: For example, he said, while in Germany a Gabriel … Continue reading
When Naumann resigned in September 1998 to pursue a political career in Germany, he was replaced, three months later, by John Sterling who began instituting belt-tightening measures. Henry Holt had been steadily losing money for the past couple years and, in January 1999, it announced drastic staff cuts and reductions in the number of books it published. This “bloodbath” included senior editor Ray Roberts.
Though few people would say collectors are risk-takers, […] normal good judgment can go astray when a collector observes there could be an object of desire within reach. Then, he perceives a risk depending on the potential gain or loss regarding his actions. — Inside the Head of a Collector: Neuropsychological Forces at Play, Shirley M. Mueller, MD, Lucia | Marquand, Seattle, 2019
Ray Roberts was a passionate and knowledgeable collector of modern literature and ephemera, but this was just one of his collecting interests. Roberts was also a serious collector of art (primarily American artists)The aforementioned artist Stuart Shils is a Philadelphia-based painter whom Ray met when, in 1995, he attended the awards ceremony for the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He himself … Continue reading, books on gardening “Ray was also an Anglophile, a ‘Bloomsbury guy,'” says Stuart Shils, a painter and longtime friend of Roberts’, referring to the Bloomsbury group, founded by the novelist and … Continue reading, food, and design, as well as objets d’art Roberts’ tastes for objets d’art were far ranging. “Ray loved objects of all sorts,” recalls Stuart Shils. “All his home surfaces were covered with lovely things, laid … Continue reading Interestingly (and perhaps oddly), Roberts, again reminiscent of Frederick Clegg in The Collector, “collected” people. Antiques dealer Mary K. Darrah recalls, “Ray kept archives on … Continue reading (Keep in mind that this was before the Internet and online market places — from AbeBooks to Ebay and Discogs — obliterated the joy of the hunt, putting everything at everyone’s fingertips all the time.)
Roberts was fastidious and methodical when it came to organizing his collections, and his apartment in the high-rise at 201 East 17th Street (where he lived alone), reflected this.Letter to Herb Yellin – Feb 17, 1980 From one avid collector to another! This letter to Herb Yellin perfectly illustrates Ray Roberts’ meticulous attention to detail as regarded his … Continue reading Anyone who visited Roberts’ home in Manhattan’s Gramercy Park would marvel at the size and scope of his collections and how he’d managed to accommodate them all in his approximately 1800-square-foot apartment.“Ray’s place was like a miniaturized cross-section of the British Library, jam-packed with his treasures,” recalls Stuart Shils, a painter and longtime friend of Roberts. “The bedroom,” Shils continues, “was just for literature, with wall-to-wall books, floor-to-ceiling, and stacked on the floor in piles four feet high. The living room was dedicated to art, the walls covered with artwork, and books on architecture, food, and gardens. But he was meticulously organized and knew where everything was. In his office there was just a small aisle you could move through between the books piled on the floor. Paintings and drawings under all the beds and couches. Paintings sitting on piles of books. A layering that revealed a tremendous obsession.” Roberts’ former assistant Rick Tetzeli describes Roberts’ book-and-art-filled apartment as having “double bookshelves that slid back to reveal another full bookshelf. He had so many books!” Lilian Roberts says that despite the great quantity of books, art and objets contained within, “Ray’s two-bedroom co-op on the 17th floor was very neat and clean, and usually graced with a vase of fresh flowers.”
A Falling Out — and a Betrayal of Trust?
In 1979, Glenn Horowitz was 23 and an aspiring — now quite well known — rare-book dealer who ran the Rare Book Room in New York’s Strand Bookstore (one of the world’s best, and a favorite Roberts haunt), when he first met Ray Roberts. He recalls well their first encounter, that Roberts bought a first edition of Walker Percy’s The Moviegoer. They began chatting and quickly hit it off. Roberts, he says, took him under his wing and they became lifelong friends.
According to Horowitz, Roberts and Pynchon had had a falling out. “There had been a breach between Tom and Ray. Pynchon treated Ray shabbily after their relationship ended.” Horowitz doesn’t know exactly when this “breach” occurred but it was likely around the publication of Mason & Dixon, in the spring of 1997, when Roberts began selling and trading some of his Pynchon collectibles. It was in early May of 1997 when Roberts had offered Ed Smith the uncorrected proof of Mason & Dixon in trade for another Pynchon book he desired.
And in his November 1998 print and online catalog Ken, Lopez had also advertised one of them:
275. [PYNCHON, Thomas. Mason and Dixon. NY: Henry Holt (1997)], the uncorrected proof copy, with significant textual variations from the above advance reading copy as well as from the printed book. We have been told that virtually the entire edition of these proofs was destroyed, and the quantity extant was, at one point, rumored to total nine copies. Fine in wrappers. The most significant printed variant of any Pynchon work ever to appear, the only one to contain a significantly earlier version of the text than that which was finally published in book form. While the textual variations in the advance reading copy listed [the more common tan covers] above are minor, and could easily have been the work of a copy editor, those evident in this proof would have to have involved Pynchon’s assent and his rewriting.
Also, in 1998 or 1999, an early draft of Vineland had appeared on Ebay, a draft with significant differences from the published version. A Pynchon collector had purchased it from Richard Lane, former webmaster of the now-defunct “Pynchon Files” website, who had provided an accompanying Letter of AuthenticityThis draft, of which only a handful were created, was subsequently and considerably rewritten by Pynchon and consisted of 521 double-sided typed pages spiral-bound in grey card-stock covers. From the … Continue reading describing the copy’s provenance. “This item was originally purchased via Ebay from a Little, Brown employee in either 1998 or 1999. A fan of the author, he was gifted this book by a friend in the publicity department. He never gave me the publicist’s name, despite my asking. The book was sent to me using Little, Brown stationary and packing material. I had no doubt he worked for the publisher. Internal evidence further verified to me its legitimacy.”
It’s difficult to imagine anyone other than Ray Roberts being the “friend in the publicity department” as he would never have lost track of such a collectible’s whereabouts. But, then again, it’s possible that someone in the publicity department made some copies without Roberts’ knowledge and sold them.
At the time these Pynchon collectables were hitting the market, Roberts was still with Henry Holt, having departed in January 1999. It wasn’t until June 2006 that Penguin Press announced it would be publishing Pynchon’s next novel Against the Day.In these instances, did Roberts use his position in publishing to create rarities and collectibles, which he might then use as trade bait to enhance his own collection? After all, previously, Roberts had ordered special leather-bound editions created for both Vineland (two copies) and Mason & Dixon (four copies), with Pynchon getting a copy of each and Roberts keeping one Vineland and two Mason & Dixons for his own collection. (The fourth copy was given to the production manager.) However, he never offered these leather-bound editions for sale; Ken Lopez purchased them from Horowitz after Roberts’ death.
As for Roberts’ savvy as a collector, Glenn Horowitz describes him as “a clever, foxy man” who, when tempted by an opportunity to obtain something he desired for his collection, “wouldn’t hesitate to take advantage of his position in publishing to get it.”
“For example,” says Horowitz, “Ray had an extraordinary file of letters and ephemera of T. E. Lawrence [aka ‘Lawrence of Arabia’] which he had acquired from Doubleday when it was in the process of archiving much of its collection to microfiche.” When Roberts, who was at Doubleday at the time, asked if he could have the originals, they agreed. “Such opportunism is common in the publishing industry,” according to Horowitz.
Ken Lopez also doesn’t believe that these collection-enhancing strategies were all that unsavory, or uncommon in the publishing business: “‘Holt’ and ‘Ray Roberts’ are, for all practical purposes, the same entity. Within the limits of whatever budget he had to work with, Roberts would be the person calling the shots on expenditures on behalf of Holt — such as for the leather-bound editions or, for that matter, the proofs.”
Regarding the blue Mason & Dixon proofs, Lopez states that “Yes, he had the proofs created and, yes, the edition turned out not to be used. But we have only one example of Roberts using one of them as trade bait for his collection [his transaction with Ed Smith, and Smith claims he handled several copies]; and he died with 10 of them still in his possession (of the total of 15 we now estimate exist). And at least one of the ones he let get away was to a friend and fellow Pynchon collector; maybe he got something in return, or maybe not, but to me it doesn’t add up to a scheme to enhance his own collection.”
“My guess — using Occam’s Razor as much as anything — is: Roberts ordered the proofs; it turned out they were flawed in design (the ampersand [on the title page the ampersand was so light as to be almost invisible, so the remaining copies had the title page excised and a new title page, with a darker ampersand, tipped in]); but when he had that fixed it also turned out they were no longer accurate (Pynchon kept revising). So they were useless. I suspect Roberts could not bring himself to discard what was an obvious rarity — he was a serious book collector, after all. But I don’t see any significant evidence that he tried to exploit them to benefit his own collection, other than that one time. If it was a scheme or plan, it was not a very effective one, or very useful.
“I knew Roberts slightly for a number of years. He was a smart collector, but I don’t think he was ‘clever’ [in intentionally creating items for sale or trade] — if only because trying to be clever in that way would, in the New York publishing and collecting worlds, have been too much trouble for too little reward. […] The total amount that the Pynchon proofs would have been worth — even if he had been able to monetize all of them or use them in trade (which he didn’t come close to doing, which suggests he didn’t try very hard to do so) — would have been a tiny, tiny fraction of the cost of his book collection. Not enough, in my view, to justify [intentionally creating collectibles for profit] — especially if there were any possibility that it could be found to be untoward in any way: there’s no way that kind of money for his collection would have been worth a career risk like that.”
But Ray Roberts, an avid collector, was driven by a powerful — perhaps sometimes irrational — urge to possess the object of his desire. As Lopez says, those blue-galleys transactions wouldn’t have involved large amounts of money; Ed Smith paid $517 for that UK V. proof and would have likely sold it to Roberts for twice that, a price Roberts could have easily afforded. So it wasn’t about the money. When I asked Washington bookseller Ed Smith why Roberts didn’t just buy the UK V. proof from him, Smith suggested that Roberts may have wanted to “gauge the market for the rarity’s value,” or perhaps work directly with someone distant from the “wagging tongues” of the New York rare-books scene. Or, Smith suggests, perhaps he just enjoyed “the game” of selling these rarities.
But why would Roberts start offering these proofs to Ed Smith beginning immediately after the publication of Mason & Dixon? Regarding those (presumed to be) fifteen blue uncorrected proofs of Mason & Dixon — how many there might be, how many variants — I had in-depth discussions with rare-book sellers Ken … Continue reading One can only assume that by the time Mason & Dixon was published, Roberts no longer felt the need to protect Pynchon’s privacy, either because, as Horowitz says, Pynchon had “treated him shabbily” or because Roberts had otherwise realized the relationship had come to an end and he had nothing to lose. Considering how Pynchon is said to have terminated previous close personal relationships, it’s quite possible he terminated his relationship with Roberts in a similarly brusk manner.
Then again, Glenn Horowitz may be spot on when he suggests that Roberts, like Pynchon’s previous editors, had simply “worn out the treads on his TP tires.”
Whatever the case, we’ll likely never know how it all went down.
Tenure at Viking and Retirement (1999-2006)
Following his dismissal from Henry Holt in 1999, Roberts took a position at Viking as a senior editor. Barbara Grossman, Viking’s publisher at the time, had brought Roberts to Viking because of his connection to Martha Grimes, the popular and prolific mystery writer Roberts had edited at Little, Brown.
Paul Slovak, who worked next to Roberts for the duration of his tenure there, recalls that they were the only ones at Viking who still worked on actual typewriters, IBM Selectric 3’s. “Ray was always there on weekends,” recalls Slovak. “He preferred to work when others weren’t around.”
Slovak describes Roberts as “a brilliant editor, the last of a dying breed, with a great eye for younger writers” and “exquisite taste in literature and the arts.” Greg Mortenson, on whose memoire (co-authored by David Oliver Relin) Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Fight Terrorism and Build Nations … One School at a Time (Viking, 2007) Roberts had served as editor, described Roberts as an “extraordinary being,” thanking him for his “professional wisdom and guidance” and “unflagging encouragement from start to finish.” His co-author Relin praised Roberts for “his erudition and his courtly attitude toward all the minor catastrophes involved in preparing [the] book for publication.” And Roberts was the acquiring editor for San Francisco writer Adam Johnson whose acclaimedEmporium collected nine stories that previously appeared in American literary journals and magazines. Penguin published the paperback edition in 2003 which was translated into French, Japanese, … Continue reading debut work, the short-story collection Emporium, was published by Viking in 2002.According to Chuck Adams, Roberts’ close friend and colleague, there was friction between Roberts and his “bosses” at Viking which could have reinforced his desire to retire and focus on traveling and collecting. And so it was that in April 2006, Publishing Trends posted “Ray Roberts is retiring from Viking, after 40 years in the business.” Roberts left in March. “Ray simply no longer enjoyed working at Viking,” recalls Lilian Roberts. Adams says Roberts felt “forced out.” However, Paul Slovak feels that Roberts enjoyed his work at Viking but “felt like it was time to let the younger generation take over, and for him to have more free time to pursue his own interests.”
Slovak and many of Roberts’ colleagues at Viking wanted to throw him a retirement party, but Roberts, true to form, wouldn’t have it.
And so Roberts exited the life of a prominent New York editor and dedicated his new life to being a Gentleman Collector and traveler, even considering moving somewhere on the coast of Maine, one of his and Lilian’s favorite haunts. However, rough waters lay head.
Roberts vs. Pynchon
Glenn Horowitz says that following his estrangement from Pynchon, Roberts felt “freed up” to sell off his Pynchon collection, joining the ranks of others in Pynchon’s universe who no longer felt obligated to protect his privacy once he’d banished them from the kingdom — notably Pynchon’s first agent Candida Donadio who sold her Pynchon correspondence after Pynchon abruptly terminated their relationshipThe letter in which Pynchon informs Donadio that she is no longer his agent is dated January 5, 1982. The break came after Donadio fired Jackson for reasons Corlies Smith, perhaps disingenuously, … Continue reading; and Kirkpatrick and Faith Sale, longtime friends of Pynchon’s who sold their Pynchon correspondence to the Harry Ransom Center after being “frozen out” when Pynchon caught wind of their giving an interview about him to a small magazine. Kirkpatrick Sale, a friend of Pynchon’s at Cornell (they collaborated on an un-produced futuristic musical called Minstrel Island) and his wife Faith Sale (Faith had been an editor on V. and, … Continue reading “Before Ray knew he was going to die,” recalls Horowitz, “he and I had gathered and cataloged all his Pynchon material, including books Tom had inscribed to him, letters both professional and personal, and typescripts.”
Once Roberts’ collection was cataloged, Horowitz was able to quickly sell it to University of Texas, via Tom Staley, the Director of the Harry Ransom Center in Austin. Staley was, as Horowitz describes him, “a very savvy scholar of 20th century modernist literature, and was enthusiastic to add this trove of Pynchon material (which, besides books, consisted of 10-12 boxes of ephemera) to the Center’s collection.”
So, according to Horowitz, “Eight to ten months later [and after Roberts had died], Staley called me to say they were going to put out a press release, to possibly attract other Pynchon stuff. But first they wanted to tell [Pynchon’s agent] Melanie.” Horowitz had already shipped out the collection to the Ransom Center and they’d received the first payment, with final payment going to the Roberts’ estate which was being managed by Lilian Roberts as executor.
Not surprisingly, “Tom and Melanie went ballistic!” says Horowitz, and they sent in their lawyer. The content that could be called into question was that which Roberts had acquired during his tenure at Little, Brown and at Henry Holt, of which the Pynchons claimed ownership, while Little, Brown and Henry Holt, for their part, asserted it was their property and not Roberts’ to sell. Unless a publishing firm releases material to you, they claimed, it remains theirs, and they were threatening to sue the estate.
In the end, the 15-20 letters went to the Pynchons, and the books remained in the Roberts estate. The only Pynchon novel inscribed to Roberts by Pynchon that has turned up on the market is Vineland which was sold by Ken Lopez.
However, Roberts continued to collect Pynchon even after their falling out. A UK first edition of Against the Day was in his collection when he died, as was that UK uncorrected-proof copy of V. he’d received in trade from Ed Smith.After Roberts’ death, Ken Lopez handled much of Roberts’ Pynchon collection. In his December 1999 catalog, he listed that UK uncorrected-proof: 235. PYNCHON, Thomas. V. London: Jonathan … Continue reading [See Appendix for a listing of the books in Roberts’ Pynchon collection.]
The End of the Line
In October of 2008, Roberts and Lilian were enjoying a pleasant stay in London, visiting the city’s many bookstores, antique shops, galleries and gardens, when Roberts complained that he didn’t feel well and was experiencing shortness of breath. They immediately returned to the US, where Roberts began coughing up blood and asked to be taken to Mount Sinai hospital. He was diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis, a terminal disease, and was told that his treatment options were limited. According to Glenn Horowitz, “When Ray had been admitted, he didn’t feel his time was up but, after receiving the diagnosis he believed he’d die in the hospice in a month or two. He knew he wasn’t getting out.”
During this time, Stuart Shils was having a show of his monotypes at the Manhattan gallery of Roy Davis & Cecily Langdale with whom Roberts was friends and who showcased a number of his favorite artists. Roberts loved to party, always game for attending openings and after-show meet-ups. “He loved hanging out with people talking about art,” recalls Shils. So Roberts decided, despite his diminished health, to attend this show. As Shils recalls, “While I was talking with Natalie Charkow, who was a friend of Ray’s and whose work he collected, Ray came into the gallery with his oxygen tank and nasal cannula. Natalie turned to me in shock. ‘Oh my god, what’s happened to Ray?’ After just a few minutes, Ray just turned around and left. It was just too overwhelming to his mind and senses.”
Lilian, who was functioning as Roberts’ health-care proxy, was staying in his apartment and taking the taxi to visit him almost daily. “He didn’t like to be alone,” she says. He told her his doctor said there was nothing more they could do to slow the disease and that he had maybe six months to live. So Roberts agreed to be transferred to Calvary Hospital in the Bronx for hospice, where he’d be well cared for. He required assisted breathing and was losing his appetite.
While in hospice, Roberts summoned several of his close friends to help with the distribution of his collections. “I handled his collection of porcelain and his other objets,” antiques dealer Mary K. Darrah recalls, “as well as the Pennsylvania Impressionists paintings.” Art dealer Kevin Rita also helped with the distribution of his art collection. Gallerists Cecily Langdale and Roy Davis, from whom Roberts had purchased many works over the years, handled the sale of those pieces. And, of course, Glenn Horowitz handled the distribution of Roberts’ extensive collection of books and ephemera.
Roberts, typically, was very detailed and thorough about how he wanted his collections handled. “Ray carefully managed the distribution of his property and remained fully in charge of all these matters,” recalls Rita. Otherwise, Roberts had very few visitors and expressly asked that none of his family visit him. And he was adamant that there would be no obituary, no memorial service, not even a simple death notice.
Toward the end, Lilian was the only visitor Roberts would allow. Two days before he died, he called her and asked that she come see him. The doctors wanted to start a morphine drip to help with pain, he told her. Lilian didn’t want this, as Roberts loved to talk, but he was in so much pain that he was given the drip.
Ray Roberts died peacefully on August 12, 2009, at the age of 71. Lilian scattered his ashes in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Maine, a place she and Ray had often visited and where Ray had even considered moving after he retired.
Many Thanks to…
The following people — friends and/or colleagues of Ray Roberts, rare-book dealers and Pynchon scholars — were essential to my telling his story and shedding light on those blue Mason & Dixon galleys, and were very generous in sharing their experiences and expertise. They are listed alphabetically.
- Chuck Adams was Ray’s friend beginning in the 1970s until Ray’s death. Chuck was very helpful in shedding light on events in Ray’s life.
- Tore Rye Andersen: Tore is a Pynchon scholar and an associate professor at the School of Communication and Culture – Comparative Literature in Denmark. He provided useful input into the blue uncorrected proofs of Mason & Dixon
- Sara Bershtel: Sara is currently Executive Vice President, Publisher, for Henry Holt. She provided some great stories about working with Ray at Holt in the 1990s.
- Mary K. Darrah: Mary was part of Ray’s “Tommy Kyle Group,” a collection of folks who regularly gathered at Tommy’s New Hope, PA, estate to party, go antiquing, with the occasional jaunt to Europe to do the same. She provided insight into Ray’s collection of objets d’art.
- Martha Grimes: As is well documented in this article, Ray was Ms. Grimes’ editor at Little, Brown from her first novel, The Man With a Load of Mischief (1981), through The Old Contemptibles (1990). He was also her editor at Henry Holt and at Viking. It was great fun to chat with her about her experiences with Ray.
- Glenn Horowitz: Glenn is a renowned specialist in culturally significant 19th-, 20th-, and 21st-century archival material from a wide range of creative disciplines, as well as manuscripts, correspondence, and inscribed first editions. He was incredibly helpful in filling out Ray’s story, having been friends with him for over 20 years. You can listen to a podcast where Nigel Beale of The Biblio File conducts an in-depth interview with Glenn — a great listen!
- Karen Hudes: Karen is a writer living in Brooklyn, New York. Her in-depth profile of Candida Donadio, Pynchon’s first agent, was very helpful in telling this story. Karen was also generous with her time, providing excellent editorial feedback.
- Raquel Jaramillo (aka P.J. Palacio): Raquel is a graphic designer who designed the cover for Mason & Dixon, as well as a successful writer of novels for children under her nom de plume P.J. Palacio. Besides participating in an interview for this website, Raquel also added some nice tidbits about working with Ray during the run-up to the publication of Mason & Dixon.
- John Krafft: John is the co-founder of the scholarly journal Pynchon Notes and Professor Emeritus at Miami University in Ohio. He’s a world-class Pynchon scholar and his input for this article was invaluable.
- Ken Lopez: Ken, based in Massachusetts, is a preeminent dealer in rare books, specializing in modern literature, association copies, and other topics. His personal recollections regarding handling Ray’s book collection purchased from Glenn Horowitz, as well as his online catalogs, aided greatly in telling the story of the blue uncorrected Mason & Dixon proofs.
- Robert Nelson: Bob is a collector of first editions, specializing in Mark Twain (over 200 first editions), Vladimir Nabokov, Thomas Pynchon, and the poet and novelist Richard Brautigan, as well as an amateur researcher into those books and their authors. He is currently maintaining and enhancing John Barber’s definitive Richard Brautigan website. Bob provided excellent input regarding Pynchon rarities, including the blue Mason & Dixon galleys and the photocopied early draft of Vineland.
- Natália Portinari: Natália is a Brazilian journalist who provided insight into the Pynchon/Sale falling out, via her correspondence with Kirkpatrick Sale.
- Ben Ratliff: Ben is a well known journalist who worked for Ray between 1990 and 1996, at Little, Brown and Henry Holt, and stayed in touch with him until he died. Ben was reluctant to share much about Ray, respecting Ray’s intense desire for personal privacy, but he did provide some helpful insights.
- Kevin Rita: Kevin was Ray’s good friend in his “artists and gallerists” group of friends. Kevin was key in handling the distribution of Ray’s art collection when he was dying. Kevin was
- Lilian Roberts: Lilian was Ray’s life-long companion. It was a pleasure to speak with her and get her take on one of the most, if not the most, important person in her life.
- Albert Rolls: Albert is an independent researcher and a Pynchon scholar who’s published numerous papers and essays on Pynchon’s work. His book Thomas Pynchon: The Demon in the Text (Edward Everett Root Publishers, 2019) is a must-read for those seeking deeper insight into Pynchon’s work. Albert was very helpful in clarifying some details in this article.
- Ed Schimmelpfennig: Ed, a designer and former advertising executive, was a longtime friend of Ray’s who originally met him in 1984. They shared a love of design, interior decorating, and socializing. Ed, now retired, still lives in Chicago.
- Stuart Shils: Stuart is a wonderful and highly respected painter and was a good friend of Ray’s. Ray had around 25 of Stuart’s paintings in his collection when he died. Stuart provided great insight into Ray and was a pleasure to speak with.
- Michael Simon: As a first-time writer of fiction, Michael was one of Ray’s authors at Viking which acquired his first four novels before Ray retired. Michael eventually changed careers, and is now a successful psychotherapist. “I was working as a writing coach and a ghost writer, helping people tell better stories. I decided I’d rather help them live better lives.”
- Paul Slovak: Paul is Vice President and Executive Editor at Viking Penguin. He was very helpful in filling in Ray’s days at Viking in the early 2000s.
- Ed Smith: Ed, who handled the first of the blue Mason & Dixon galleys to come on the market, was very generous in sharing his recollections regarding this sale. Ed also made a nice documentary about the 2003 AABA Book Fair.
- Sam Stephenson: Sam is a writer and 2019 Guggenheim Fellow who was very helpful in providing some background about Galax, VA, where Ray was born and grew up.
- William “Bill” Strachan: Bill provided great insight into Ray’s transition from Little, Brown to Henry Holt and Company where Bill was the editor in chief of Henry Holt at that time. Bill is now at the Independent Editors Group, an alliance of professional freelance editors in New York City with decades of experience in senior editorial positions at major publishing houses. He’s also a longtime fan of Thomas Pynchon.
- Steve Tager: Steve is currently Senior Vice President, Strategic Development at ABRAMS, and worked with Ray at Little, Brown in the mid-1980 as an editorial secretary.. He provided great insight into Ray’s character. Like everyone else with whom I spoke, he was a great admirer.
- Rick Tetzeli: Rick was a former assistant of Ray’s at Little, Brown, executive editor at Fast Company, managing editor of Entertainment Weekly, and deputy managing editor of Fortune. He’s currently Editorial Director of the McKinsey Quarterly. Rick was a veritable fount of great stories about the publishing business in the 1980s and early 1990s.
Pynchon items in Ray Roberts’ book collection
Following Roberts’ death, Ken Lopez listed, in his December 2010 catalog, the following books from Roberts’ collection, all of which included his bookplate:
- The Crying of Lot 49 (Lippincott, 1966) — US First ed.
- The Crying of Lot 49 UK First ed. (Cape, 1967)
- Gravity’s Rainbow (Viking, 1973) — First ed.
- Gravity’s Rainbow, Uncorrected Proof (Cape, 1973)
- Gravity’s Rainbow, British softcover first ed. (Cape, 1973)
- Gravity’s Rainbow (Taiwan piracy ed.)
- Slow Learner (Little, Brown, 1984) One of only two leather-bound copies prepared by the publisher, the other having gone to Pynchon;
- Slow Learner — a unique set of folded and gathered signatures laid into proof dust jacket, this one unique in that it includes the boards
- Slow Learner — review copy of the first paperback edition
- Slow Learner (Cape, 1985) — first ed. of the British hardcover
- Slow Learner — The uncorrected proof copy of the British edition
- Vineland (Little, Brown, 1990) – First ed., inscribed by Pynchon to Roberts: “For Ray, who saw it first but went for it anyway – Thanks for everything. Thomas Pynchon.”
- Vineland — Advance Reading Copy (ARC), in the form of unbound signatures and with trial bindings. Pynchon reportedly requested that there be no bound proofs prepared for this novel, making this the earliest known printed version of the book. Reportedly there were only eight sets of signatures pulled from the print run for this advance issue; pages uncut and laid into the green binding
- Of a Fond Ghoul (Blown Litter Press, 1990) – Bootleg of correspondence between Corlies Smith and Pynchon during the writing of V.
- Mason & Dixon (Henry Holt, 1997) — One of two copies belonging to Roberts, of a total of four leather-bound copies, one given to Pynchon, and one to the production manager.
- Mason & Dixon — Three copies — 1 (second issue blue proof, with a tipped-in title page that corrects the very faint ampersand in the “Mason & Dixon” in the first issue.) + 2 (first issue blue proof, which leaves out the ampersand from “Mason & Dixon” on the title page) + 3 — of the uncorrected proof copy in plain blue wrappers, with trial dust jacket
- Mason & Dixon — advance reading copy, in beige wrappers (the more common ARC)
- Mason & Dixon — advance reading copy, in blue wrappers (first issue proof which leaves out the ampersand from “Mason & Dixon” on the title page, with Roberts’ bookplate)
- Against the Day (Penguin, 2006) — Advance Reading Copy (very rare)
- Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up To Me (Viking, 1983), Richard Fariña — The reissue of Fariña’s first and only novel, originally published in 1966. With a new introduction by Pynchon which details his and Fariña’s relationship at Cornell and afterward.
- Thomas Pynchon. Modern Critical Views (Chelsea House, 1986). Essays on Pynchon’s writings edited and introduced by Harold Bloom
- A Gravity’s Rainbow Companion, Steven Weisenburger, (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1988) — A compendium of the “sources and contexts” for Pynchon’s novel
- Lineland: Mortality and Mercy on the Internet’s [email protected] Discussion List, Jules Siegel, Christine Wexler, et al. (Philadelphia: Intangible Assets Manufacturing, 1997). A rather gossipy tome about the early Pynchon Internet forum.
- Complete run (13) of Unauthorized Editions of Thomas Pynchon (London/Troy Town/Westminster: Aloes Books/Tristero/Mould-warp, (1976-1982)
- V. (Lippincott, 1963), Advance Reading Copy
- V. (Jonathan Cape, 1963), Uncorrected proof of the first English edition
- Gravity’s Rainbow (Viking, 1973), Uncorrected proof, #7
- Gravity’s Rainbow (Jonathan Cape, 1973) – First UK edition
- Slow Learner: Early Stories (Little, Brown and Company, 1984). Hardcover first edition, Advance Review Copy with slip laid in.
- Slow Learner (Picador / Pan, 1985). First softcover edition.
- Vineland (Little, Brown and Company, 1990). Softcover edition
- Vineland (London): Minerva, (1991). Softcover. (2 copies with different covers)
- Mason & Dixon Unbound dark brown quarter cloth and light brown paper-covered boards which were used on the published book WITHOUT TEXT.
- Mason & Dixon Unbound dark blue quarter cloth and light blue paper-covered board samples which were NOT USED on the published book WITHOUT TEXT.
- Mason & Dixon (Henry Holt), Publisher’s Dummy, with provisional dust-wrapper art and blank pages.
- Mason & Dixon (Henry Holt). Advance Reading Copy, tan colored
- Against the Day (Jonathan Cape, 2006), UK first edition
- Mindful Pleasures: Essays on Thomas Pynchon by George Levine & David Leverenz (Little, Brown, 1976), Uncorrected proof. (Plus both a hardcover and softcover edition)
- [Video CD]: Prüfstand 7 featuring scenes from Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow Bramkamp-Weirich, 2005. Unbound. Hard plastic case a little chipped at the edges, two discs are fine. German film.
|↑1||Smith says Horowitz would’ve likely won the bidding were it not for a pretty & pierced young women seated next to him with whom he was flirting. According to Smith, “Glenn was directly behind me playing grab-ass with a young woman who was with him who had multiple face/ear piercings long before they were the fashion. Charlie Agvent, whom I knew, sat behind me too and he would remember that incident.”|
|↑2||In 2017, the writer Sam Stephenson wrote a short essay on his blog about Galax and the Fiddler’s Convention in which he noted that his mother came from Galax and his cousin went to high school with Roberts. Stephenson also recalled his friend, the writer Ben Ratliff, who had been one of Roberts’ editorial assistants in the 1990s, mentioning that Ray could, in certain pressurized moments, “go Galax on you.” Ratliff, in a separate correspondence, clarified this remark. “Not that Ray ever lost his cool or flipped out or became cruel in any way,” he wrote. “Just that he suddenly sharpened and switched modes and it became clear that he was from a different sort of place.”|
|↑3||Roberts was one of the 72 students in his 1957 senior class. When perusing the 1957 Knowledge Knoll yearbook, one first notices the complete absence of people of color. There’s not a single Asian, Hispanic, or African American to be seen amongst the Galax High School student body or faculty. This, of course, wasn’t unusual for schools in the American South which were, in the 1950s, largely segregated. Black students living in or near Galax had to be bussed to an all-black school in Wytheville, 45 minutes away. The city wished to keep Galax High a whites-only school and, until 1960, it was.
However, in August 1959, two Black students who were denied admission filed a lawsuit, Brooks v. State Board of Galax. On September 19, 1959, the judge ordered that as of January 19, 1960, Galax High School be desegregated. However, the city chose to ignore this order and announced, on a Friday, that 300, mostly Black, county students would not be allowed to attend Galax High School.
This effort by the city to maintain Galax High’s all-white student body did not sit well with the 590 out of 598 high school students who signed petitions to keep the county students in Galax High. Also, county residents threatened to stop shopping within the city, and local ministers united in their endorsement of maintaining access for county students and mobilized community support. Very quickly, a Federal judge in Baltimore, Maryland, stepped in and issued an order requiring the city to continue allowing county students to attend, and allowing the African-American students to join them. With all deliberate speed, Galax High School was desegregated.
|↑4||In my copy of the yearbook, Roberts inscribed the following note to “Jane”: “It has been a pleasure, I can assure you, of being in school with you. You have that old thing called zest and with your many abilities you’ll always have it. I haven’t any idea what you plan to do, but I’m sure the harvest you reap will be a golden one. Lots of luck to the greatest. May God bless and keep you always! As ever, R.A.”|
|↑5||Obituary of James Carroll Roberts (Ray’s older brother: 1931-2020): “In addition to his parents, JC was preceded in death by one brother, R.A. Roberts, and three sisters, Georgie Lundy, Mary Moser (b. 1920), and Gladys Bowers (b.1918). He is survived by […] one brother, Larry Roberts; and one sister, Lucille Lawrence.” From Ancestry.com, it appears Ray had 2 brothers, 3 sisters, and one half-sister, Lucille (b. 1934).|
|↑6||Lilian is a fascinating person. She and Roberts were the closest of companions from the time they first met in Chicago in the early 1960s until Roberts’ death. Lilian was the executor of Roberts’ estate. Born in England, Lilian and her family emigrated to Canada when Lilian was 18, then to Chicago where she worked as a secretary at Billings Hospital. In 1963 Lilian moved to Boston to work for a pediatric neurologist who had been chosen by Harvard Medical School to head up their Dept of Neurology at Children’s Hospital. In 1982, she enrolled at Boston University’s Metropolitan College and graduated in 1989 with a Bachelor’s in Liberal Studies. She now lives in Peabody, Massachusetts.|
|↑7||John Fowles’ full entry: “Ray Roberts came to dinner. […] Ray’s mother was killed in a rather miserable-sounding crash with an oil-truck during this last year; he and his two brothers and two sisters are suing because the oil company wants to pay very little — the death of a woman seventy-seven years old, no longer salary-earning, rates very little.” (The Journals of John Fowles, Volume II: 1966-1990, Charles Drazin; Knopf, 2006; pp. 378-79). Lilian Roberts recalls “Ray was in London when she was killed in that terrible accident and he flew back on the Concorde to attend her funeral.”|
|↑8||Ray Roberts was gay, certainly problematic when growing up in a small southern town in 1950s America, as it was when Roberts moved to Chicago and later to New York City. Although according to Michael Denneny, a colleague of Roberts’ at Macmillan, there were “lots of gays working in publishing” in the 1970s, it wasn’t until 1980 that the New York Court of Appeals finally legalized private consensual same-sex sexual activity. When Denneny presented the book The Homosexuals (Alan Ebert, Macmillan, 1976) at a Phoenix, Arizona, sales conference — he’d already founded a new publication, Christopher Street magazine, a gay literary monthly — word spread in the close-knit publishing world that Denneny was not only gay, but he was out. “Months before, top editors, closeted men, took me out for lunch and were telling me, as a word of warning meant to be friendly, that coming out would threaten my possibility of a career in publishing.” In a 2004 Gay City News interview, Denneny added, “Older gay men cajoled me to be careful. I said it would be disloyal if I quit. I mean, there were all these people working on the magazine. My credibility was on the line.”
One of his gay colleagues at Macmillan who counseled him to be careful was Ray Roberts. Roberts, several years Denneny’s senior, was much more circumspect about his own homosexuality. “We knew were were both gay. Ray hated gay bars and advised against being too public regarding being gay,” Denneny recalls.
Following Denneny’s appearance at the Phoenix conference and after the first issue of Christopher Street came out, MacMillan’s CEO Raymond C. Hagel fired him. “Macmillan’s legal department told me that if I’d been fired for cause, I could challenge it, but not if it was for being gay.”
|↑9||“Droll” commonly comes up when people describe Roberts’ sense of humor.
Martha Grimes, who was one of Roberts’ authors for around twenty years, including ten years at Little, Brown, loved it. She recalls what she says is one of the funniest things she ever heard Roberts say. “Ray and I were in his apartment, on our third pitcher of martinis. He was going to the kitchen to refill the pitcher. I asked him why he thought I’d never been nominated by the Mystery Writers of America for an award. I couldn’t understand why. Ray said, ‘Well, I guess they don’t like your books!'” (In 2012, Grimes was named “Grand Master” by the MWA, joining such legendary honorees as Agatha Christie, John le Carre and Elmore Leonard.)
Raquel Jaramillo, who designed the dust jacket for Mason & Dixon recalls Roberts fondly. “I remember Ray being warm and kind of droll, bespectacled, made a lot of eye-rolls.”
Bookseller Ed Smith, who visited Roberts in New York City after he’d traded his UK V. galleys for the blue Mason & Dixon galleys, recalls Ray being “cordial, very well mannered, tall, good looking, and shrewd.”
Kevin Rita, an art-dealer friend, describes Roberts as “a soft spoken, even tempered aesthete with impeccable manners, a nimble sense of humor, playful, very intelligent.”
|↑10||Raymond C. Hagel was indeed quite loathed at Macmillan. When he took the axe to hundreds of employees, there was picketing in front of Macmillan’s offices in NYC. And the National Labor Relations Board and the State Attorney General began investigating allegations that the dismissals were related to union organizing and feminist actions by employees. Michael Denneny remembers him as “a twisted, evil little man” who was “5 feet tall, with a typical Napoleon complex.” “Macmillan would fire everyone in early December to avoid having to pay Christmas bonuses. Every year!” Denneny adds.|
|↑11||Hagel, who’d become CEO in 1963, was fired in 1980 due to Macmillan’s increasingly diminishing profits, a result of the company’s having become an enormous conglomerate with interests in far-flung industries other than publishing (retail sales, language schools, musical instruments, printing, information services). The new CEO, E.P. Evans, then sold off most of Macmillan’s businesses outside the areas of publishing, a successful strategy resulting in both sales and net income rising briskly throughout the 1980s, and publishing entrenched as the backbone of corporate revenue.|
|↑12||(Onassis’ letters and memos to him, spanning 1978 to 1992, were bequeathed to the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas, Austin.)|
|↑13||Ray’s generosity wasn’t unique to his friendship with Jackie Onassis; most all of his friends with whom I spoke mentioned this quality.
One of Ray’s good friends outside the publishing world was Ed Schimmelpfennig, a creative writer and designer in Chicago (now retired and still living in Chicago), whom I discovered through a Blogspot memorial for Roberts. Ed first met Ray in 1984, while visiting friends in New York City and, over time, they became good friends, bonding over a shared love of jazz (Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday), art, and design, and they got together whenever Ed visited New York City or Roberts came to Chicago. Roberts would often send Ed books he’d come across that he thought Ed would appreciate. “Ray was so generous,” Schimmelpfennig says. “When we had dinner out, he always insisted on picking up the check, to the point that I was embarrassed!”
According to another of Roberts’ friends, the painter Stuart Shils, “Ray always wore a blazer and carried in his pocket a notebook of items he or his friends might be interested in acquiring.” Shils adds, “Ray would send my then-wife a box of books out of nowhere. Every time we met Ray would have a book for me. Ray always had a book to give to whomever he was lunching with.”
John Krafft, a prominent Pynchon scholar, also recalls Roberts’ gift-giving: “I had called Ray to see about getting an Advance Reading Copy of Mason & Dixon. When he called back, sometime before the novel came out, I wasn’t available and he and my late wife Sharon had a long conversation about gardening books. He followed up that conversation by sending her several gardening books that Holt had published. During the call he’d asked Sharon, apologetically, what time it was where we were and she assured him it was the same time as in New York, just not the same decade.
One could see this as a clever way for Roberts to indulge his passion for collecting — hunting down and acquiring items for his friends — without having to worry about where he’d find the space in his apartment to display them!
|↑14||Roberts worked with Ansel Adams on the photographer’s autobiography (Ansel Adams: An Autobiography (Bloomsbury, 1996). Mary Street Alinder, in her biography of Adams — Ansel Adams: A Biography (Henry Holt, 1996), edited by Roberts — recounts the autobiography-project coordinator Janet Swan’s experience working with Roberts:
“Early on, Little, Brown had assigned senior editor Ray Roberts to the project, flying him out to Carmel with company president Arthur Thornhill, Jr., in April of 1981 to introduce us [Swan and Roberts]. I was concerned about how much control Ray would want to have over the book, but Ansel was even more worried than I: he thought that the boys back East were sending a watchdog. It turned out that Ray was really there to help us. Never negatively interfering, he provided sage counsel that resulted in a much better book.”
|↑15||“Ray was so experienced,” recalls Roberts’ close friend, the painter Stuart Shils. “He knew how be an advisor and a guide, to help people along. He was a connector of people in a big way.” This generosity in mentoring the young extended beyond his assistants. Martha Grimes’ son, Kent Holland, says “Because of Ray, I have a career. I had no idea of what I wanted to do when I graduated college, no ideas, floundering. And Ray said ‘why not apply for a job in book publishing? Let me help.’ So he gave me a list of editors and publishers and […] I landed a job at Crown Publishing, and moved to New York City. And during my first two jobs in publishing, Ray continued to give me advice. He saved my ass.”|
|↑16||The Guardsman was a cozy “dart pub” near 34th and Lexington in Murray Hill, “a pub that could have inspired the television program Cheers … a home to regulars who share their friendship over drinks, and food, and stories — and darts, liar’s dice, backgammon, and poker.” [Source] Its owner Ed Gormley described it as “fitting into the whole idea of a masculine drinking atmosphere and promoting camaraderie.” [Source]|
|↑17||Roberts was an extremely social man. Work days, he’d go out to lunch almost every day. “Lunch was a way of life for Ray,” recalls Stuart Shils. And there were the numerous gallery openings and other cultural events, the weekend parties in New Hope, PA, at Tommy Kyle’s estate. Interestingly, Roberts never mixed his various groups of friends, keeping them strictly compartmentalized. “I rarely ever met any of Ray’s other friends or colleagues,” says Mary K. Darrah. “We were the “Tommy Kyle Group.” Painter Stuart Shils confirms this: “I never met any of Ray’s other friends. He had categories of friends and he kept them separate.”|
|↑18||At Macmillan, due to staff reductions in the Trade Division, Roberts was occasionally assigned to review incoming manuscripts, a task that he likely felt was below his station. One such unfortunate writer, on whom Roberts may have taken out his frustration, recalls Roberts reviewing and heavily marking up a jazz-musician biography he’d written in 1974:
“[My original editor had been] replaced by a young senior editor named Ray Roberts. When I say ‘young’ senior editor, I should add that I could only assume he fit that description. I never met the guy, although I wanted to. I suppose he was immediately assigned the editorial responsibilities for all of [the former editor’s] contracted authors, so he had his hands full. I remember I couldn’t even get through to him on the telephone. Not even once.”
Three months later, he received a letter from Roberts, rejecting his manuscript and “subjecting me to personal insults of the most unprofessional nature imaginable from the senior editor of a major publishing firm. […] When I examined the manuscript, I found that Mr. Roberts had written on exactly forty-six pages, drawing lines through entire pages and making lengthy notes in the margins, rendering these pages impossible to submit to another publisher.”
When the young writer threatened to sue to have the “damaged” manuscript re-typed, Raymond C. Hagel, chairman and president of Macmillan (and widely reviled by the publishing division) wrote back “offering his apologies, stating that Mr. Roberts had acted injudiciously and contrary to Macmillan’s traditional editorial policies, and offering to have the forty-six damages pages retyped at once.”
However, twenty-five years later this writer had come to see things differently: “Those obviously young and brash comments scribbled on the original manuscript by the obviously young and brash Mr. Roberts hit their mark with surprising impact. I immediately withdrew [the biography] from the scrutiny of any other editors, and placed it on the proverbial shelf. […] I was too embarrassed to let anyone else see his comments. […] He had called me names like ‘groupie’ […] But I kept [the manuscript pages upon which Roberts had scribbled], because they remind me of something important, something critical to understanding my craft: You have to bring a certain sense of humility to this kind of work, an emotional openness, a clarity of vision to realize how little you know about life, and how much you have to learn.”
Later in his career, at Viking, Roberts gave the young writer Michael Simon some helpful advice on how to improve his first novel. In 1983, Simon was working with Roberts on his first novel Dirty Sally (2004). Simon recalls one specific criticism: “Ray told me that the book tied everything up too nicely and neatly. The world of Dirty Sally was complex and corrupt. The original ending indicated that justice was served, peace is restored, all is pure. I had undercut the book by punishing the villain. He said that in three words: ‘It’s too pat.’ So I rewrote the ending. The main character, the detective, gets a different kind of resolution. But the real criminals get off scot-free. Then they run for public office.”
|↑19||Boston bookseller Ken Lopez, who purchased from Glenn Horowitz much of Roberts’ modern-literature collection following his death, stresses that although Roberts had accumulated “quite a cache of Pynchonalia” over the course of his and Pynchon’s relationship, “Ray Roberts was not just Pynchon’s editor, or just a Pynchon collector. He was also, at one time, John Fowles’ editor and he had a huge collection of Fowles materials, at least as good as his Pynchon collection.”
So complete was Roberts’ knowledge of collecting John Fowles’ books that, in the January 2004 edition of Firsts – The Book Collector’ Magazine (Vol. 14, No. 1), was published his “John Fowles – Checklist of First Editions” which documented all of Fowles’ works, from The Collector (1963) through Wormholes (1998), with detailed identification information, and pricing guidelines.
At one time, Roberts owned the most extensive collection of John Fowles first editions in the world, which he sold in 2004, along with letters and other ephemera, to the University of Texas at Austin, where it now resides with the John Fowles Papers at the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center.
In a letter to fellow collector Herb Yellin dated Feb 17, 1980, Roberts wrote: “How is your Fowles collection coming along? I have two shelves of him now and am only missing the signed edition of THE EBONY TOWER. Plus, of course, your upcoming publication? And I also wonder if you have proof of “Conditional” that you might sell? I wouldn’t generally collect proof, but since I have so much I have decided to continue in that direction with John Fowles. If you can help me out, needless to say I would be grateful.”
|↑20||Bradford had joined Little, Brown in 1952, a year after Salinger’s first book was published.|
|↑21||Larned “Ned” Bradford (1911-79) had also been Norman Mailer’s editor for The Executioner’s Song (1979).|
|↑22||Fowles was no slouch when it came to collecting, a “gentle madness” which informed his fiction — Frederick Clegg in The Collector (1963) and the Marquis d’Abadie in The Magus (1965) quickly come to mind — and took up his time, and space. “We are crippled with possessions,” his frustrated wife Elizabeth once declared.
John Fowles was a passionate “hunter-gatherer” first of butterflies, then old books (antiquarian books, manuscripts, and prints), various antiques, rooted cuttings, jars of spiders, cactus and succulents, and pottery, especially New Hall china, a lifelong passion about which he was fanatical. For him, as with many collectors, it was more about hunting than possessing. “[T]he thrill of the hunt outweighed his admiration,” wrote Eileen Warburton in her Fowles biography (which Roberts edited) John Fowles, A Writer Unpublished (Viking, 2004). “From his earliest days in London, Fowles went on scrounging expeditions to junk shops and antiques dealers. […] Fowles loved the sense of hotly pursuing a specialized object and outfoxing the dealers. He speculated that ‘the exercise of catching’ was ‘an archetypal thing with me.’ A shop loaded with mostly undervalued cups and saucers, teapots, and milk jugs could send him into a mania, ‘a buying fever.'”
When Fowles turned his collector’s eye to antiquarian books, he became his local seller Rodney Legg’s best customer, buying rare old volumes in great quantities, finally enclosing a note with a cheque to Legg which read: “[I] decided last week to stop buying so many books, just never get round to reading most of them.”
|↑23||John Fowles, in his diary entry of October 28, 1988, described Roberts thus: “Ray Roberts came for dinner. […] Ray is a little like a neutered tabby, very reliably safe and unchanging, careful not to flash his claws at anyone — an excellent pet. That sounds condescending, but I do not mean it so, between would-be tabbies and would-be tigers, I much prefer the first. We enjoyed our evening with Ray, the stroll down to Odette’s (a nice dinner, I had partridge, we drank a white, then a red, Sancerre.” (The Journals of John Fowles, Volume II: 1966-1990, Charles Drazin; Knopf, 2006; p. 379)|
|↑24||At Little, Brown, Roberts edited the following books by John Fowles: The Enigma of Stonehenge (1980); A Short History of Lyme Regis (1982); Mantissa (1982); A Maggot (1985); Land (with Fay Godwin) (1985); Lyme Regis Camera (1990).|
|↑25||In fact, Ms. Grimes disputes the veracity of this origin story. “I can’t imagine Ray fooling around with a slush pile,” she says, recalling her acquiring editor at Little, Brown being Kit Ward.|
|↑26||During his tenure at Little, Brown, Roberts edited the following Martha Grimes novels (all part of the “Richard Jury” series): The Man With a Load of Mischief (1981); The Old Fox Deceiv’d (1982); The Anodyne Necklace (1983); The Dirty Duck (1984); Jerusalem Inn (1984); Help the Poor Struggler (1985); The Deer Leap (1985); I Am the Only Running Footman (1986); The Five Bells and Bladebone (1987); The Old Silent (1989); The Old Contemptibles (1991); The Horse You Came In On (1993).|
|↑27||“The first book [Melanie Jackson] would shop around, in 1982 or early 1983, was the collection of short stories that was published as Slow Learner in 1984. During this time, Pynchon broke off his professional relationship with [Corlies “Cork”] Smith and Viking, with whom he had signed a million-dollar, two-book contract in 1976, receiving $50,000 a year for the first three years after signing it. Jackson called Smith about the collection, giving Viking a chance to bid on it, but when Smith made an offer of $25,000, Melanie told him that another publisher had said $135,000. Viking proved willing to match that figure, but Jackson was unwilling to take it, telling Smith she had an offer for $150,000 […] Could Pynchon have used the $150,000 or a part of it to free himself from his contractual obligation to Viking, allowing him to publish his next books with whomever he wanted? (Rolls, Albert, Thomas Pynchon: The Demon in the Text, Edward Everett Root Publishers, 2019, pp. 117-118)|
|↑28||After Donadio fired her assistant Melanie Jackson (with whom Pynchon had become romantically involved), Pynchon, on January 5, 1982, abruptly parted ways with Donadio, sending a terse note which read “As of this date, you are no longer authorized to represent me or my work.” To add insult to injury, Jackson became Pynchon’s new agent. Donadio, by all accounts devastated, soon thereafter sold her trove of Pynchon correspondence to the businessman, politician, collector, and arts patron Carter Burden, which was bequeathed to the Pierpont Morgan Library following Burden’s death in 1996. (This collection, per Pynchon’s request, will not be available to scholars or to anyone else during Pynchon’s lifetime.)|
|↑29||After Pynchon wrote his terse letter dismissing Candida Donadio as his agent, Corlies “Cork” Smith says he wrote an “equally stuffy” note back to Pynchon, then met him for lunch. “I said, ‘Tell me what I don’t know about Candida.’ He said, ‘Well she hasn’t done anything for me in the last few years.’ I said, ‘What was there to do?’ He’d signed a two-book contract for a million dollars, a million dollars in the seventies, without a manuscript. He said, ‘She hasn’t done anything with movies.’ I said, ‘From my understanding, you didn’t want a movie made.’ He wanted script approval — God doesn’t get script approval in Hollywood. Neither he nor I ever mentioned Melanie.”
Pynchon still had a contract with Viking, but when Jackson approached Smith about publishing a book of short stories, and then came back to him with one higher bid and then another, the negotiations struck Smith as “dubious.” Pynchon wanted to be released from his contract, and left for Little, Brown and Company to publish Vineland.
Smith says it wasn’t about money, but about cutting professional ties. “I think Pynchon didn’t want to have anything to do with his old life, which meant Candida and me.” (Hudes, Karen, “Candida Donadio: The Agent who Discovered Thomas Pynchon”)
|↑30||A package that likely included the rights to his next novel, which was the real prize.|
|↑31||Pynchon’s Introduction begins:
As nearly as I can remember, these stories were written between 1958 and 1964. Four of them I wrote when I was in college — the fifth, “The Secret Integration” (1964), is more of a journeyman than an apprentice effort. You may already know what a blow to the ego it can be to have to read over anything you wrote 20 years ago, even cancelled checks. My first reaction, rereading these stories, was oh my God, accompanied by physical symptoms we shouldn’t dwell upon. My second thought was about some kind of a wall-to-wall rewrite. These two impulses have given way to one of those episodes of middle-aged tranquility, in which I now pretend to have reached a level of clarity about the young writer I was back then. I mean I can’t very well just 86 this guy from my life. On the other hand, if through some as yet undeveloped technology I were to run into him today, how comfortable would I feel about lending him money, or for that matter even stepping down the street to have a beer and talk over old times?
It is only fair to warn even the most kindly disposed of readers that there are some mighty tiresome passages here, juvenile and delinquent too. At the same time, my best hope is that, pretentious, goofy and ill-considered as they get now and then, these stories will still be of use with all their flaws intact, as illustrative of typical problems in entry-level fiction, and cautionary about some practices which younger writers might prefer to avoid.
|↑32||In 1974, scandal erupted after the Pulitzer board withheld the prize for fiction. The jury had voted unanimously for Thomas Pynchon’s novel Gravity’s Rainbow, but the board vetoed their recommendation calling the novel “obscene,” “overwritten,” “turgid,” and “unreadable.” The jury expressed dismay when they learned of the book’s rejection and protested the board’s decision but to no avail. Gravity’s Rainbow was indeed lengthy and written in a complex, postmodern style, making it a difficult book to describe.
Richard Locke in The New York Times Book Review wrote,”Gravity’s Rainbow is bone-crushingly dense, compulsively elaborate, silly, obscene, funny, tragic, pastoral, historical, philosophical, poetic, grindingly dull, inspired, horrific, cold, bloated, beached and blasted.” It went on to win the National Book Award (jointly with Isaac Bashevis Singer’s A Crown of Feathers) and has since enjoyed critical acclaim. TIME magazine has named it one of the “All-Time 100 Greatest Novels.” [Source]
But when Gravity’s Rainbow was awarded the William Dean Howells Medal of the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1975 which is given every five years to a work of fiction, Pynchon declined the award through a letter, suggesting that it be given to another author. He wrote, “The Howells Medal is a great honor, and, being gold, probably a good hedge against inflation, too. But I don’t want it. Please don’t impose on me something I don’t want. It makes the Academy look arbitrary and me look rude. . . . I know I should behave with more class, but there appears to be only one way to say no, and that’s no.”
|↑33||Keesey, D., (1990) “Vineland in the Mainstream Press: A Reception Study”, Pynchon Notes , p.107-113: More than any other Pynchon novel, Vineland was a phenomenal popular success, holding its own on the New York Times Bestseller List for a surprising total of thirteen weeks (January 21–April 15, 1990). Not all book reviewers, however, were as enthusiastic as the book-buying public. A March 1990 letter to the London Review of Books claimed to have spotted a trend, noting the “general critical denunciation of the new book” and calculating the “current ratio” as about “three-to-one against” (Walker). While this negative press may characterize Vineland‘s reception in Britain (London Times, London Observer, London Review of Books), my informal estimate of the American reviews is three-to-two in favor. Many of this country’s major publications gave Vineland positive notices (Time, Newsweek) and, in some important cases, glowing reviews (New York Times Book Review, New Yorker, Los Angeles Times Book Review).|
|↑34||Charles Hayward then became president and CEO of the New York Racing Association, but was fired five years later following allegations that the NYRA knowingly overcharged horse racing bettors on certain exotic wagers until the error was noticed by state auditors.|
|↑35||In the early 1990s, Henry Holt and Company, under president and CEO Bruno Quinson, had made moves to up their profile in the publishing world. News of Roberts’ hiring at Henry Holt was announced in Publishers Weekly, March 21, 1994 (Vol. 241, Issue 12): “Henry Holt has hired three new editors, one on the hardcover side and two for its Owl trade paperback line, and president Bruno Quinson said that both divisions will expand their title output by 25% in the coming year.” So, indeed, Holt was bulking up.|
|↑36||According to The Observer (Aug 10, 1998), “Naumann [Holt’s new editor in chief] gave something on the order of $2 million to Salman Rushdie for his next novel [The Ground Beneath Her Feet] and some of his backlist books [including a paperback edition of The Satanic Verses]. He also threw $700,000 at Paul Auster for North American rights to his next three books, and he gave Mr. Auster’s wife, the author Siri Hustvedt, $165,000 for her novel The Enchantment of Lily Dahl. Both seemed to be cases of overpaying: In Germany, Mr. Auster sells like schnitzel; in America, more like week-old schnitzel. Ms. Hustvedt’s book ended up selling about 5,000 copies.”|
Ray Roberts joined Henry Holt during Bruno A. Quinson’s tenure as Holt’s editor in chief and CEO, but it wasn’t until after Quinson retired on March 31, 1996 and Michael Naumann took over on April 1 that things really kicked into high gear. “Mr. Naumann made his presence known at Holt before he actually moved to New York,” wrote the Observer in its 1998 profile of Naumann. “Back in 1993, Mr. Naumann was humming along as publisher of Hamburg-based Rowohlt Verlag, one of Germany’s most respectable houses, and part of the von Holtzbrinck publishing group. Over his 10 years as publisher there, he had made the place very successful, and published such American authors as Harold Brodkey, Toni Morrison and Paul Auster. One day, he approached Dieter von Holtzbrinck and said, Hey, how about an imprint, publishing a mix of high-minded European and American books, in America?” Rowohlt Verlag had also published all of Thomas Pynchon’s novels, as well as Slow Learner.
So the Holtzbrinck Group bought the Macmillan Group and its U.S. holding, St. Martin’s Press. And, in 1995, Naumann came to New York to launch, under the Holtzbrinck group, the imprint Metropolitan Books to implement his vision of a “high-minded” publishing house in America. When Naumann took over as Holt’s new president and CEO, he turned over the leadership of Metropolitan Books to its editorial director Sara Bershtel and took the reins at Holt.
New York Magazine (Jan 13, 1997): “He’s trying to do with Holt what he did with Metropolitan, and to a lesser degree with Rowohlt in Germany: take a possibly second-level, definitely directionless publishing house and give it a swift, literate kick toward the twenty-first century. […] No one was pushing Holt into the first rank.”
In its 1998 profile, the Observer wrote: “When Mr. Naumann arrived, Holt was a sleepy, little house, fueled mainly by Sue Grafton mysteries. ‘I opened the windows, screamed, got screamed at,’ [Naumann] said. ‘My emotional attachment caught on.'”
Naumann, often described as “brash” and “arrogant” — “Naumann’s urbane style has charmed people outside the company, but his abrasiveness as a boss has driven out many in the upper echelons of Holt,” Variety wrote of Naumann in its June, 1998 issue — but he was also quite erudite and a champion of Holt’s authors and literary fiction. “Mr. Naumann was more popular with Holt’s writers. He might call them up when they wrote an interesting review, and take their calls in the middle of the night,” wrote the Observer.
In the end, Naumann had raised a lot of hackles, disrupting things both at Holt and in the general publishing scene, and by the fall of 1998, he was gone, having accepted the position of Minister of Culture for Gerhard Schröder, head of Germany’s Social Democratic Party, which he held between 1998 and 2001. He returned to publishing in 2010, serving as chief editor and publisher of Cicero, a German magazine focusing on politics and culture.
|↑38||From Publishers Weekly, October 28, 1996 (Vol. 243, Issue 44): “Roberts, almost as reticent as the author he edits, wouldn’t comment on how long that book has been in development, but noted that it ‘is a brilliant tale’ set in pre-Revolutionary War America ‘that will please Pynchon fans.’ Roberts also told PW that The Letters of Wanda Tinasky, a paperback published in June claiming to be letters Pynchon (under the Tinasky name) wrote to the Boonville, Calif.-based Anderson Valley Advertiser while researching Vineland during the 1980s, is not the work of Pynchon. The paperback, which has a 2500-copy print run, is available from vers libre press in Oregon, the hometown of Letters editor T.R. Factor, who told PW that “a lot of Pynchon scholars do think the letters are his.” She told PW that she has had some multiple-copy orders from bookstores. The official Pynchon has a much more significant 200,000-first-copy print run, and Roberts told PW that figure is not unreasonable, given that Vineland sold 100,000 copies. And what’s next for Pynchon? Might there finally be a book tour or even a mere author photo? Roberts could only laugh at such futile requests. ‘I don’t think he’s going to start changing now.’ he told PW.”|
|↑39||Naumann states this 150,000 first printing figure in a June 9, 1997 C-SPAN interview.|
|↑40||Bloom has also called the novel “Pynchon’s late masterpiece” and, when speaking to Leonard Pierce of the A.V. Club, said, “I don’t know what I would choose if I had to select a single work of sublime fiction from the last century… it would probably be Mason & Dixon, if it were a full-scale book, or if it were a short novel it would probably be The Crying of Lot 49. Pynchon […] is beyond compare.”|
|↑41||It was September 1997, and Mr. Naumann told the crowd at the New York Public Library that American readers didn’t appreciate good literature: For example, he said, while in Germany a Gabriel García Márquez novel will sell 350,000 copies, a Thomas Pynchon novel sells just 150,000 copies in America. “That’s not enough,” he said, “and I think there’s a problem.” This generated some discomfort in the audience, particularly Holt employees (Naumann’s comments displayed a “thinly veiled contempt for American readers and culture,” one groused.)
Then, on November 18, 1997, after Mason & Dixon had failed to make it onto list of 1997 National Book Award finalists, Naumann boycotted the 48th Annual National Book Awards ceremony in protest. “I wasn’t there because the jury chose not to put Thomas Pynchon into the list of finalists,” he said. “I felt it was so awkward, not to say nuts. How could they say, To hell with one of the greatest writers produced in this century? And that’s not just my opinion, but of reviewers across the country … I’m not only Tom’s friend, but also his publisher, and I couldn’t be part of that. So I’m a sore loser-and proud of it!”
“When Tom got the National Book Award for Gravity’s Rainbow,” Naumann said later, “he sent in some professor who made a funny speech, and people got very angry. The institutional memory is very long.” (The New York Times, April 19, 1974: “The National Book Awards were given to 14 authors last night and burlesqued at the same time by a stand-up comic who accepted the prize for Thomas Pynchon, the novelist, and a naked man who jogged through Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center shouting: ‘Read books! Read books!’)
“Professor Irwin Corey, the comedian who bills himself as ‘the world’s greatest expert on everything,’ accepted Mr. Pynchon’s prize and took off into a series of bad jokes and mangled syntax that left some people roaring with laughter and others perplexed.
“Some in the audience wondered whether Mr. Corey — who pounded the podium and shouted such aphorisms as ‘He who underestimates the American public will not go broke’ — was, in fact, the reclusive Mr. Pynchon himself.
“It turned out, however, that his appearance was a jape contrived by Thomas Guinzburg, head of Viking Press, publishers of ‘Gravity’s Rainbow,’ which won the award for Mr. Pynchon.
“The fiction award was shared with Isaac Bashevis Singer for his collection of short stories, ‘A Crown of Feathers and Other Stories.’ It was the second year in row that the $1,000 prize in this category was given to two authors.” [Listen to audio of the speech.]
|↑42||The aforementioned artist Stuart Shils is a Philadelphia-based painter whom Ray met when, in 1995, he attended the awards ceremony for the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He himself hadn’t won an award but the event drew the kind of people with whom Ray liked to schmooze — artists, writers, poets, the culturati — and Shils had received a prestigious Arts and Letters award, given yearly to over 70 composers, artists, architects, and writers. Ray was immediately taken with Shils’ work, introduced himself, bought one of Shils’ paintings, and, after Shils delivered the painting to Ray, they began corresponding. When Ray died he owned 25 of Shils’ paintings.
“Ray and I went to galleries all the time,” Shils recalls. “He was into the pleasure of looking at art. He had an incredible sense of being a guide — how to handle New York, galleries, etc. Ray lived for finding rare items such as paintings, particularly American, that moved him.”
When asked to describe Roberts’ taste in art, Shils responds: “Bob Kulicke was a favorite and Ray was very much part of New York City art dealer Roy Davis‘s circle.” (Davis gave artists like Bloomsbury group leaders Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant their first exhibitions in America.) “I believe that Ray had several of Bob’s paintings and if my memory is correct, we visited Bob’s studio together. Bob was a friend of mine since the mid 90’s. He had been working with Roy as his gallery framer in the early decades of Roy’s gallery. Bob was a VERY famous framer who invented the Knoll floater, the plexi box, the snap together metal frame and the welded metal corner frame. He also carved antique frames, replicas, for the MET that couldn’t be distinguished from the original such was his eye and sense of touch.”
“Another artist Ray loved was Albert York. You can find a New Yorker piece, I believe from 1995 on York written by Calvin Tomkins.” York, like other “reclusive” artists Roberts knew and admired — e.g. John Fowles and Pynchon — was, as Calvin Tomkins wrote in his New Yorker profile “the most highly admired unknown artist in America.” Michael Brenson in a New York Times article, described him as “reclusive painter of deliberate, dreamlike landscapes, still lifes and portraits.”
The art Roberts preferred was primarily late-19th and 20th Century American (East Coast) paintings and sculpture, especially the Pennsylvania Impressionists, aka New Hope School. He loved the charcoal sketches of New England (particularly Maine) artist Emily Nelligan, sculptor Natalie Charkow Hollander, the paintings of Ruth Miller and Stuart Shils, amongst others. “Ray had a penchant for the New Hope school of painters, early 20th or late 19th,” says Rick Tetzeli. “He collected their paintings. I recall driving him twice to New Hope to pick up paintings.”
Roberts’ and Lilian’s travels most frequently revolved around art and antiques, to England where Ray would seek out books about the Bloomsbury group), to California to visit photographer Ansel Adams when Roberts was editing Adams’ autobiography, and to the coast of Maine — perhaps Roberts’ second favorite place, after New York City, and where, per his request, Lilian scattered his ashes — to visit artist Andrew Wyeth and other Maine artists. “The painter Lois Dodd was someone Ray really enjoyed and I remember going with him to her downtown studio,” recalls Shils. “Dodd’s paintings often explore the coast of Maine, a place close to Ray’s heart. He had at least one of her pieces,” he adds.
Roberts loved visiting galleries and attending openings, with the requisite schmoozing, and one of his favorites was Davis and Langdale, a veteran Upper-East-Side gallery nestled amongst the antique shops of 60th Street, founded in 1952 by Roy Davis (1922-2014). It’s now run by Cecily Langdale, Davis’ wife of 50 years and a specialist in the artists of the Bloomsbury School. The gallery’s approach, its philosophy, is closely aligned with what were Ray Roberts’ own preferences, that art should be savored, wonderful to look at, visually compelling, and not just viewed through the lens of an investment strategy. Langdale once declared, “You’d never hear Roy or me say that something would make a good investment.” Many of Roberts favorite artists, including Stuart Shils, Albert York, and Robert Kulicke, have had their work shown there.
|↑43||“Ray was also an Anglophile, a ‘Bloomsbury guy,'” says Stuart Shils, a painter and longtime friend of Roberts’, referring to the Bloomsbury group, founded by the novelist and critic Virginia Woolf, a collective of writers and artists who would meet at the Charleston Farmhouse in Sussex, to party and carry on lively and sometimes raucous discussions into the night. “I was spending every summer in Ireland, on the northwest coast of County Mayo, and Ray and Lilian came to visit me there,” Shils adds. “On his trips to England Ray would haunt the bookstores in the area looking for Bloomsbury-related stuff.” “Ray loved going to England,” recalls Lilian Roberts, “and we would always return with lots of books.”
Roberts was also a fan of Kettle’s Yard [Wikipedia], an art gallery and house in Cambridge, England, created in 1957 by Jim Ede, a former curator of the Tate Gallery in London. Ede and his wife Helen wished to share the art and objects that Ede had collected over a fifty year period or more with students and others, believing these artworks could be better appreciated in the intimate surroundings of a home. It’s now the University of Cambridge’s modern and contemporary art gallery.
Kevin Rita, an art dealer (Garvey Rita Art & Antiques in Connecticut), met Ray in 1995 at a book show where, after chatting for a while, they realized they shared a passion for Kettle’s Yard. “I think of my home as my own Kettle’s Yard,” says Rita.
“He recalls that Ray had lots of friends, was a major anglophile, and loved Maine. Kevin and Ray remained friends for life, with Kevin often advising Ray on art-related matters, as well as helping Lilian with the dispersal of Ray’s art collection during his illness and after his death.
In a similar vein to Bloomsbury and Kettle’s Yard, Roberts was also a fan of Winterthur, the former Delaware estate of renowned antiques collector and horticulturist Henry Francis du Pont, now a garden, museum and library. “Ray loved Winterthur and was interested in doing a book about it, so we once traveled there together,” recalls his friend Ed Schimmelpfennig.
|↑44||Roberts’ tastes for objets d’art were far ranging. “Ray loved objects of all sorts,” recalls Stuart Shils. “All his home surfaces were covered with lovely things, laid out so that each could be seen, items that engaged the attention and spoke of the nature of materiality. Ray really got it. He was without pretension and a true lover of visual and tactile sensation. He was a serious enthusiast and followed his own nose regardless of what anyone else thought. We saw many shows together and while I didn’t have the cash to acquire, he did and he did act on impulse. His collection was modest but choice.”
Mary K. Darrah, an antiques dealer in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, who helped with the distribution of Roberts’ antiques and objets collection when he was in hospice, recalls, “Ray went to all the celebrity sales in New York. He picked up one of Truman Capote’s needle-point bulldog pillows at one.” When I asked Darrah to name some of Ray’s objets d’art passions, she responded “Pennsylvania Impressionism [a movement centered in and around Bucks County], Georgian Cowrie Shell Boxes, Chinese antique blue and white porcelain. His collection was quite impressive.” Darrah continues: “I met Ray through the decorator and collector Tommy Kyle, and we became fast friends. He was a guest almost every weekend at Tommy’s Seven Pines Farm estate in New Hope, Pennsylvania. Ray was a lot of fun. We’d have extravagant dinner parties, talking and drinking through the weekend, and occasionally antiquing or seeking out art. We all traveled to France several times, partying and antiquing. […] Ray had a uniform – khaki pants, navy blazer.”
Roberts was also friends with John Esten who edited Blue and White China: Origins/Western Influences (1987) and many other books on art. Ed Schimmelpfennig remembers meeting Esten in New York City when Roberts brought him along to a dinner engagement with him.
|↑45||Interestingly (and perhaps oddly), Roberts, again reminiscent of Frederick Clegg in The Collector, “collected” people. Antiques dealer Mary K. Darrah recalls, “Ray kept archives on everybody.” And sometimes these archives even included his friends. After Roberts’ death, Lilian Roberts told his friend Ed Schimmelpfennig that in going through Roberts’ archives she’d found a folder on him, with a napkin from his then-new Chicago apartment. “Ray and I were at a restaurant,” recalls Schimmelpfennig, “and I told him about buying a new apartment in Chicago — where I have now been for forty years — and I sketched out on a napkin my plans for laying out the furniture I’d just acquired. It was my penmanship that he saved. I never had thought that he would want the napkin!” Stuart Shils describes Ray as “a one-man clipping service. He sent me articles all the time. He read the British papers, and collected British obituaries.”|
|↑46||Letter to Herb Yellin – Feb 17, 1980|
From one avid collector to another! This letter to Herb Yellin perfectly illustrates Ray Roberts’ meticulous attention to detail as regarded his collecting and anything else in which he was engaged:
In the January 2004 edition of Firsts – The Book Collector’ Magazine (Vol. 14, No. 1), is published Roberts’ “John Fowles – Checklist of First Editions” where he details the first editions of all Fowles’ works, from The Collector (1963) through Wormholes (1998), including identification information and pricing guidelines.
Roberts had previously compiled, for American Book Collector magazine, the first definitive “Biographical Checklist” for the work of author John Updike, so extensive, in fact, that it was published in two consecutive issues, January/February 1980 and March/April 1980. The amount of detail is astounding. He also compiled for American Book Collector (July/August 1981, Vol. 2, No. 3) a similar checklist for the American writer Reynolds Price, and another for British novelist Jean Rys (November/December 1982, Vol. 3, No. 6).
Roberts was a regular client of George Bixby’s Ampersand Books in New York City (now closed) which dealt in rare and first editions. “George Bixby would come over to Ray’s office at Little, Brown, the door would close, and he’d be in there buying books,” recalls Rick Tetzeli. Bixby was also the associate editor, columnist, and book reviewer for American Book Collector, from 1980 to 1987, which is to say during the time Roberts published his checklists.
Roberts was also an enthusiastic collector of publications by the Albondocani Press, also started by George Bixby. Albondocani published fine-press (handset letterpress on handmade papers) limited, signed editions by well known authors, including Reynolds Price, Eudora Welty and Edward Gorey. Roberts had many, if not all, of the Albondocani publications.
|↑47||This draft, of which only a handful were created, was subsequently and considerably rewritten by Pynchon and consisted of 521 double-sided typed pages spiral-bound in grey card-stock covers. From the very first sentence to the very last sentence, there are major, substantive differences between this draft and the text of the published volume, providing a glimpse of Pynchon’s writing-and-revising process. This, of course, remains a very collectible item.
In his Letter of Authenticity for this item now owned by a Pynchon collector, Richard Lane writes:
“To whom it may concern:
Ref: Ebay Item number: 110905189335: Extremely rare typescript of Vineland by Thomas Pynchon
“This item was originally purchased via Ebay from a Little, Brown employee in either 1998 or 1999. A fan of the author, he was gifted this book by a friend in the publicity department. He never gave me the publicist’s name, despite my asking. The book was sent to me using Little, Brown stationary and packing material. I had no doubt he worked for the publisher. Internal evidence further verified to me its legitimacy.
“The publisher’s note is same text as page 27 of the Little, Brown publisher’s catalog from September 1989. Front cover of this copy also features the same font as the P.R. release. Neither was used in public for the final publication in 1990.
“A copy was sold by East Coast bookseller Ken Lopez. It does not feature the publisher’s note, nor the custom binding:
“The January 1990 issue of People magazine features an article on Pynchon scholars reading an illegal copy of this typescript. A woman named Judith Lee lifts one precious sheet so close to her face it appears she is inhaling its fumes. She puts the page down and says, ‘It’s a Smith Corona electric typewriter, with bars, not a ball.’ Within minutes she will change her mind three times, troubled by the poor quality of the copy. This particular copy is clearly not a multiple generation bootleg.
“Faith Sale, Pynchon’s un-official editor of [Gravity’s Rainbow], has her copy in the Ransom Center in Austin. And Salmon Rushdie has a photocopy set in his papers at Emory University.
“This particular copy is clearly not a multiple generation bootleg. Faith Sale, Pynchon’s un-official editor [for Gravity’s Rainbow] […] has her copy in the Ransom Center in Austin. And Salmon Rushdie has a photocopy set in his papers at Emory University.
“I was anecdotally told five or less original copies of this state of the book exist. Even a pre-publication release only merited eight copies.
“It was my belief, and still is, that this was a legitimate, Little, Brown creation, manufactured to help the Publicity department prepare publicity material while the author and his editor worked on final revision prior the February 1990 release of the novel Vineland.
— Richard Lane, June 28, 2012″
|↑48||Regarding those (presumed to be) fifteen blue uncorrected proofs of Mason & Dixon — how many there might be, how many variants — I had in-depth discussions with rare-book sellers Ken Lopez and Ed Smith, as well as with Pynchon collectors who own a “Blue” (as they’re affectionately called), namely Doug Millison who owns #15 and Tore Rye Andersen who owns #4. Albert Rolls has #7. Another collector, Tyler Wilson, has #8. My copy is #10. None has the Roberts bookplate and all four have the tipped-in title page. Interestingly, Robert Nelson’s copy has no number written on the inside back cover, but has “1/2” (or possibly “2/2”) penciled in, presumably by Roberts, below the “Brief Description” on the very first page of his Blue.
Ken Lopez: “As far as I know, the only difference between the two issues of the blue proof is the title page, with the ampersand lighter or darker (and the title page integral on the former and tipped in on the latter). […] These all came from the collection of Ray Roberts, Pynchon’s editor and a Pynchon collector. After he died, we bought his Pynchon collection. It had one first issue proof and two second issues. About a year later, the people going through his estate found another box that had, I think, six copies of the second issue proof [Lopez now thinks it was one first issue and five or six second issues]. Since we had bought the Pynchon collection originally, they offered those to us, and we bought them. We still have one of the three from Roberts’ collection, which had his small bookplate in them.”
Ed Smith: “I know at least 3-5 I sold, maybe more. Ray kept sending them to me.”
So, since Ken Lopez appears to have handled ten of the “Blues” and Ed Smith says he handled somewhere between three and five, and Millison’s is #15, and no copy with a number higher than “15” has turned up, I believe it’s safe to assume Roberts had fifteen printed up, and he sold or traded five of them to Ed Smith. Then, after Roberts died, Ken Lopez purchased the bulk of his Pynchon collection which included the three with Roberts’ bookplate (one “first” issue with the very light — almost non-existent — ampersand, and two “second” issues with the darker ampersand title page tipped in, one of which included the trial dust jacket) and, subsequently, the additional box of six copies found later (with one first issue and five or six second issues).
Ken initially thought there were only nine or ten in existence and that Ray had destroyed the others, but he now thinks it’s likely that there were only fifteen printed and none were destroyed. Ken also originally thought that he had a third variant with a bound-in darker-ampersand title page which he listed in Catalog 154 [Item #184]. However, he now believes he was in error and that it’s more likely Roberts didn’t destroy any of the Blues: “[I]t appears that the ‘third issue’ from Catalog 154 is the same copy I still currently have, and I revised the description for it in Catalog 167. I think I must not have examined it carefully enough originally, and thought the title page was not tipped in, then realized it was and that this was not a different issue of the proof. So that goes back to thinking there were only perhaps 15 copies, and RR retained most of them. […] The main company producing proofs like these since the 1960s advertised that they could economically produce short runs of proofs, as few as 11 copies. […] So it’s possible 15 or so was the entire print run, and Roberts just hid them away rather than destroying them.”
|↑49||Emporium collected nine stories that previously appeared in American literary journals and magazines. Penguin published the paperback edition in 2003 which was translated into French, Japanese, Serbian, German and Catalan. Emporium was named “Debut of the Year” by Amazon.com. Described as a “remarkable debut” by the New Yorker and “The Arrival of a talented new writer” by the New York Times, Emporium was nominated for a Young Lions Fiction Award by the New York Public Library. According to Daniel Mendelsohn, writing for New York Magazine, “Johnson’s oh-so-slightly futuristic flights of fancy, his vaguely Blade Runner–esque visions of a cluttered, anaerobic American culture, illustrate something very real, very current: the way we must embrace the unknown, take risks, in order to give flavor and meaning to life.”|
|↑50||The letter in which Pynchon informs Donadio that she is no longer his agent is dated January 5, 1982. The break came after Donadio fired Jackson for reasons Corlies Smith, perhaps disingenuously, told Tomaske (August 3, 2001) were “apparently alien” to her relationship with Pynchon. Still, the inference one is led to make is that Pynchon left Donadio over her firing of Jackson, although he avoided putting it that way to Smith at a lunch Smith had arranged to discuss what had happened. Smith told Tomaske the lunch was perfectly friendly, but he made [Luc] Herman think — in a separate interview, conducted in preparation for the work Herman and Krafft have done on the V. typescript — that he “understood that P[ynchon] also wanted to get rid of him because he was part of the past with Candida.”
Indeed, Smith told Tomaske that the lunch was “phony” because the topic of Jackson was not raised, and partially contradicting what he said about the Jackson–Pynchon connection being alien to Donadio’s reason for firing Jackson, Smith revealed to Herman, according to Herman’s paraphrase of his June 7, 2001, interview with Smith, “first, that Candida’s accountant had told her that Melanie was bringing in restaurant bills on a daily basis that had obviously nothing to do with work (and which in retrospect may have enhanced her anger).” These receipts, which Tracy Daugherty describes as “Chinese take-out receipts,” may have had something to do with her lunching with Pynchon, as Karen Hudes suggests. “[S]econd,” Herman also notes that “Melanie, when invited to Candida’s house in Stonington, had asked her whether she could bring ‘a date,’ that Candida had accepted and that this date turned out to be none other than Pynchon” (Notes on Interview).
Harriet Wasserman gave Tomaske, as well as Herman, a different account of the incident, telling Tomaske (June 28, 2001) that Pynchon had asked Donadio if he could bring a date. “And the next thing she knew, she got a phone call from the Mystic train station saying, ‘Hi Candida. It’s me. Guess who the friend is.’” Pynchon didn’t tell Smith any version of these stories. Rather, he complained that Donadio hadn’t “done anything for [him] in the last few years.” Smith asked, “What was there to do?” Pynchon answered that “[s]he hasn’t done anything with movies.” Smith then observed, “‘From my understanding, you didn’t want a movie made.’ He wanted,” Smith went on to explain, “script approval [apparently for a Crying of Lot 49 movie] — God doesn’t get script approval in Hollywood” (quoted in Hudes 158–59).
Whatever happened — and both Smith and Wasserman may have been repeating rumors when telling about the incident at Donadio’s house in Stonington — Pynchon became Jackson’s first client. (Rolls, Albert, Thomas Pynchon: The Demon in the Text Edward Everett Root Publishers, 2019, pp. 116-117)
|↑51||Kirkpatrick Sale, a friend of Pynchon’s at Cornell (they collaborated on an un-produced futuristic musical called Minstrel Island) and his wife Faith Sale (Faith had been an editor on V. and, informally, on Gravity’s Rainbow) were long-time friends of Pynchon’s and had often put him up at their place in California. After learning the Sales had talked about him in an interview, Pynchon froze them out. When, in 2016, Brazilian journalist Natália Portinari interviewed Kirkpatrick Sale for her article “The Fake Hermit,” Sale told her: “He had never said that he would cut us off if we gave an interview — or we wouldn’t have. And it was to an obscure magazine that not many people would ever see. Why he did that has to do with the paranoia that marks his novels, based in some sort of lunacy he treasures.” He also said: “You should know this irony: it was because my wife and I, about 10 years after we’d graduated, granted an interview about Pynchon to an obscure magazine, and we mentioned how he had been a good enough friend to sleep on green pads in my bachelor apartment and we put him up in our married apartment; after that every time he would come in from the West Coast — because of that Pynchon never spoke to us again, wouldn’t even answer my letters. He had been close, we’d corresponded for ten years or so (I sold those letters to U of Texas, too), I’d gotten him to write an article for the NYT Magazine when I was an editor there, I was the first person to read Gravity’s Rainbow in ms. before he took it uptown to his editor (and before it even had a title), we’d meet every time he came to town, and I considered it a good, close friendship, although I have to say he was never very revealing of himself. So it was a hard blow when he cut us off. For which, of course, I will never forgive his stupidity.” Following Faith’s death in 1999 the Sales’ collection of Pynchon correspondence and other materials was sold by Kirkpatrick Sale (through Glenn Horowitz) to the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin.
Finally, it’s been speculated that a rather famous 1974 letter Pynchon had written to David Shetzline and his wife Mary F. Beal was sold or given away by Shetzline when he learned Pynchon had hit on his wife, thus ending their long friendship.
|↑52||After Roberts’ death, Ken Lopez handled much of Roberts’ Pynchon collection. In his December 1999 catalog, he listed that UK uncorrected-proof:
I don’t know where it ended up.
Niall Dunne says
Nice to see so many photos from Ray’s life. A brilliant, generous, and joyful man. Loved to watch tennis and shoot the breeze. He is dearly missed.
Thanks, Niall. Did you know Ray personally?