Publishing is a personal story of a writer's hunger to be published, the pursuit of that goal, and then the long haul--for Gail Godwin, forty-five years of being a published writer and all that goes with it. A student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1958, Godwin met with Knopf scouts who came to campus every spring in search of new talent.Read more...
Publishing is a personal story of a writer's hunger to be published, the pursuit of that goal, and then the long haul--for Gail Godwin, forty-five years of being a published writer and all that goes with it. A student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1958, Godwin met with Knopf scouts who came to campus every spring in search of new talent. Though her five pages of Windy Peaks were turned down and the novel never completed, she would go on to publish two story collections and fourteen novels, three of which were National Book Award finalists, five of which were New York Times bestsellers.
Publishing reflects on the influence of her mother's writing hopes and accomplishments, and recalls Godwin's experiences with teachers Kurt Vonnegut and Robert Coover at the Iowa Writers' Workshop; with John Hawkins, her literary agent for five decades; with John Irving and other luminaries; and with her editors and publishers. Recollecting her long and storied career, Godwin maps the publishing industry over the last fifty years, a time of great upheaval and ingenuity. Her eloquent memoir is illuminated by Frances Halsband's evocative black-and-white line drawings throughout. There have been memoirs about writing and memoirs about being an editor, but there is no other book quite like Publishing for aspiring writers and book lovers everywhere.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2014-11-24
- Reviewer: Staff
Novelist Godwin (Flora) traces the trajectory of her career in this memoir, revealing the personal and professional stamina it takes to succeed as a writer in the modern publishing industry. Godwin begins with her college days and retells the story of her first (rejected) submission to Knopf. She goes on to recount her tumultuous experiences with publishers, such as being forced to cut 10,000 words or realizing that the novel she just wrote is unpublishable. Bibliophiles will be delighted to hear about her education with Kurt Vonnegut and Robert Coover, both teachers of hers at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, as well as her friendship with novelist John Irving and, most endearing, her 50-year working relationship with John Hawkins, her literary agent. Godwin’s chronicle is often informative but can at times feel self-indulgent–the result of a surfeit of anecdotes. Still, this book succeeds at giving an eye-opening look at the reality of what it takes to publish just one novel–or, in Godwin’s case, 14. (Jan.)
Well Read: The perils of publishing
Novelist Gail Godwin has chosen an unusual conceit for her new book, Publishing: A Writer’s Memoir. As the title suggests, Godwin—best known, perhaps, for the National Book Award finalist A Mother and Two Daughters—has shaped her memories not so much around her personal life or even the writing life, but largely around her experiences within the world of publishing. It is an industry that has changed dramatically since Godwin brought out her first book in 1970, and she has ridden its ups and downs, not always suffering fools gladly.
As a student at UNC Chapel Hill in the 1950s, Godwin yearned to be a published writer, but when scouts from Knopf made their annual visit to the campus (a rather quaint practice, unimaginable today), the five-page sample from her novel-in-progress was summarily rejected. It would be 10 years later, after a stint in London and a couple of brief marriages that are barely mentioned in this memoir, that Godwin began to find her voice. She was studying at the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, a “mature” student at 30, when two classmates connected her with a young New York agent, John Hawkins. He became her literary champion for the next 40-odd years.
Godwin did not fare so well with editors. Her first died before the debut novel he acquired saw the light of day. She then worked with the legendary Robert Gottlieb, but their relationship, which lasted through four books, including two of her three National Book Award finalists, was not always harmonious. Godwin takes pains to set the record straight on her side of the story, and their parting of the ways is depicted chiefly as amicable, due to professional vision rather than personal differences. Other top editors, including the venerable Harvey Ginsberg, would squire her books through the process of publication, but while she touches on advances and print runs and marketing plans, Godwin, sadly, doesn’t really provide much insight into what she calls the “dance partnership” between author and editor.
A novelist noted for her deft dissection of family relationships, Godwin here offers surprisingly little about her own. She does write lovingly of her mother, a journalist and magazine writer who was a strong influence on her daughter’s own decision to write. Generally labeled a Southern writer because of her North Carolina childhood and the settings for most of her books, Godwin has actually spent most of her adult life in the North—in Woodstock, New York, at a home she shared with the composer Robert Starer until his death in 2001. Although theirs was obviously a loving, symbiotic partnership, Starer remains on the periphery of this story, even when it is clear that he lent a sensitive ear to her working process.
An idiosyncratic, at times impressionistic book, Publishing is at its best when it taps Godwin’s often prickly frustrations with her publishers through the years, underscoring how even writers at the peak of their careers can fall prey to the corporate do-si-do and find themselves shunted aside without the aforementioned dance partner. Godwin’s literary star (read: sales) may have waned of late, even though she is still writing the same kind of novel. It is not she or her work, but the publishing business that has changed.