tv 2017 Biographers International Organization Editorial Excellence Award CSPAN December 18, 2017 6:04am-7:39am EST
if it were possible to have poor writer minicamp that speaks solely for himself and without being a writer himself he could speak to the language of writers better than any editor or publisher he would meet and he was always tactful in speaking with writers. i have to admit i pulled a fast one because it's not about or at least it was not written originally about bob weil, but it was written about the man who inspired him to begin an editor and i did not realize he had been inspired to maxwell perkins until he said that just now, but this was from scotts biography of max perkins and i kept having -- it sounded like it was a description of bob. in the essential attributes of the good editor, which max burton exemplifies i see bob as
well and it's been one of the greatest privileges of my professional life for more than 10 years and more years to come because we have more books in the pipeline to be associated with bob and i think what he's done is elevated my writing because he's had faith in me as a writer and from someone of bob's last experience means a lot because he always thinks i think the best of his writers. that aspiration to be better and he tells me constantly that i should scale the heights so many of you in this room have achieved and that is something that is both daunting and inspirational and the care and attention that he gives manuscripts is almost-- it's a
lost art these days when longform writing is considered to be 280 characters on twitter minus the old limit of 144 twitter addicts. bob is i think a throwback in the best way because it's like max perkins, he believes in the power of literature and believes in the need to elevate the world and in form and enlighten the world through the writers he edits and he sees that as a mission, not just about making money or enhancing the profits of the publisher. although, hope he does that, but i think he does see a higher calling their and you can see it in a way that he goes about carefully editing his manuscripts because so many other publishers and editors have decided it's not worth their while to do that and bob doesn't really care if it makes economic sense.
he thinks it's the moral and correct thing to do and so he does it and puts a care and attention that others have alluded to. the only complaint i would make is it's pretty temp hard to read your handwriting, so we have his long-suffering assistants and colleagues like marie who is somewhere over marie that i constantly call up and say what the hell does that say, but once i find out what it says i think that's good because he's adding a lot to the manuscript and invariably making me sound wiser than i am and now i will drop a secret which is that the references in my book are not my doing. he's a wonderful relationship guru because my girlfriend who is a passionate opera buff loves
the fact he inserted these references and that's her excuse to take me to the opera because she tells me i had to see the opera because what if i'm asked of the details of this opera references so he's fostering this commonality of interest in my household for which i'm grateful. i've disabled is the toughest reader i ever have and know what i went to please the most and so i'm always in this estate-- okay i will say right now i have a book coming out in a couple of months, but i would save my fatal anxiety is higher when i turn the manuscript to bob to see what he has to say about it. i await those phone calls with dread and a certain amount of fear as well as hope that he
will give me the coveted stamp of approval and i remember last year and of course he always delivers his verdicts with the same text max was known for, truthfully and everlasting for example lets talk with this must talk about that and he gradually drops in the conversation, by the way did you realize the manuscript and you just submitted was 100,000 words long and i said, no, i did not realize that and at that point he suggested maybe it should not be 400,000 words long which would produce a book of over a thousand pages, that i think people would be-- very few people would be interested in reading. it was a wonderful stimulant to
synthesizing and condensing and drawing out the essential narrative line without getting lost in a bunch of details and i think that was helpful although in general i will say bob is pretty much the last editor to say keep it short or don't write so much. 's infant-- his you really run the other way to more fully exudate the subject, so i could ramble on and on and speak for a good deal longer about bob's many other stellar qualities, but i feel that he will if i do that the blue pencil will come out and the comments will be next and he will tell me do you really want to give the 400,000 word speech and i guess i don't, but it is a privilege to be here with all of you. [applause].
>> i guess i will go next. i'm going to tell a little story about my first encounter with bob. i've heard bob tell a number of times about me and now i'm going to get to tell it from my side of the desk as it were and so the story is that number of years ago, i won't say exactly how many to preserve the identities of the innocent. i was quite young editor at and i started writing book reviews and i was just out of graduate school and so anxious and insecure about this task of writing book reviews that i didn't feel i could write about anything other than the subjects i had studied in graduate to school which was german and polish literature and you might imagine it sharply limited my
subject matter. one of the early places where there was an editor who is interested in publishing reviews of german and polish novels and translation and so that's how i gravitated to one of bob's books , a small novel by the german writer with gang) who i had not heard of before and i'm sure you have any either, but he turned out to be one of bob's pet projects in a picked up this book and i read it and i became interested in who this guy was and i started looking at his history and other publications and i found out that he was at the center of an interesting controversy over the holocaust memoir that he served as the ghost writer for just after world war ii ended and later in his career had gotten kind of disgraced when it came out that
people said he had appropriated this survivor's story and i started looking into it and what came out of it was quite a long piece that impact served as the impetus for my first book which was a book about the tension between memoir and fiction in holocaust writing in which i argued among other things that wolfgang koop and had not done anything wrong that what he had done was make fiction out of someone's memoir and that was different from plagiarizing or appropriating. it was the time when eight or 9000 about peace could exit be published in a mainstream magazine. my editor said you would hear from bob while.
indeed the day the magazine appeared it was bob while on the phone and he said i can't believe you wrote this review of my book and i was like who is this. [laughter] it became clear over the course of the conversation exactly who this was an bob told me a bit about himself and what struck me the most about it actually was that it didn't matter to bob that this wasn't in fact a review of this book, it was a review that talked about his book, but mostly about something totally different. what was important to bob wasn't that it was a quote unquote selling review to use a terrible formulation. this review-- no review in the new york public was ever going to get a book on any best seller book anywhere. that's not what it was about four bob. it was that the book-- the review took this book in this writer seriously because i think
that is one of bob's greatest of values in one of the things he holds most important and i was struck in bob's a speech about the way he talked about the dual values to rescue and nurture. i can't think of another editor i know who would use those words about his writers and his subjects. so many of the books on bob's lists are writers that bought has made it his own personal mission to rescue and nurture back into health, a healthy reputation, help of being included once again at in the canon of begin talked about and be red once more, writers like isaac bottle and patricia highsmith, wolfgang and i could go on and on your kebab was not
satisfied with the translations that existed so he commissioned an entire new translation of all of those work and i just want to end by saying how truly privileged and fortunate i feel to have had my subject included among the writers who bob made it his mission to rescue and to nurture. shirley jackson's reputation as a great debt to bob and his work and i'm truly humbled to be in his company. [applause]. >> anecdotal stories and everything. i have many as well, bob. believe may. but, thought i would start with something else. recently i gave a talk based on my new book at the maritime
museum in santa barbara where i live and this is a pretty high class crowd. i show some slides because maritime opens with a game on a high-speed. anyway, at the end of my lecture someone came up to me because i was displaying charlie chan books on the side and a woman asked me this your charlie chan book political, so in my kind of usual kind of wise high mayorship mode why cyber mode i said i'm chinese and this book is actually a radical. i think bob, you know,
definitely i think the rescue and nurture, you know, if i can summarize in one sense of what bob taught me as my editor, as my friend and my teacher in many ways is to teach me about america and mean giving my so far has been actually bigger part of my life. in china went to college in china and came here when i was 22 and i'm now 48, so i spend longer time here in first land in tuscaloosa, alabama, went to buffalo and taught at harvard and ended in california knows that i knew enough about america and not until i started writing the charlie chan books and i realized the complexity of what bob just eloquently discussed and say as the race issue and how complicated and it's never black and white and that's
exactly my experience first landing in tuscaloosa alabama as an asian-american or as an asian at times. at that time everything was black and white in the deep south and i literally fell into the vacuum in some ways and struggling so i guess in terms of the recognition they had a lot of kind of pitfalls and the blind spots and bob was very perceptive with dealing with my first book and most recently with my book. he was great in terms of rescuing me from some of the pitfalls or potholes line ahead and taught me a great deal about he's a great lover of history and everything about history,
the passion for history and done outside that in-depth knowledge, but also i was trained as a literacy scholar although sort of a poet, but bob really taught me how to switch from a writer repositioned as a scholar to a narrative, a storyteller and so recently a writer friend of mine asked me like with a look of disdain and almost like do you plan to write fiction anytime like you know. same thing compared to fiction biography or nonfiction writing is perhaps more inferior johnna. i was believe the famous quarrel's fiction in later years and what he called a deadly space between a documentary and
the historical and fictional and bob really taught me a great deal about how to-- the dangerous path between narrative in the research, so in many ways, thank you, bob, for making a possible for me. [applause]. >> of course i sure everything that's been said about bob. we have only done two books together, but it feels very much like we've done many more because we have known each other well before i became one of your fortunate clients.
i thought since i knew we would all say what we had said, which is that we are terribly indebted to bob for his illegible corrections and suggestions of our manuscripts that his range of knowledge historical and cultural is really a gift and that his personality is rather hard to sustain but at the same time it's priceless and, i mean, by that that bob is manic, bob is obsessive, bob is a workaholic and sometimes he doesn't listen because he is so intense on correcting and helping his author. so let me stipulate that, but i hope i would do is read a kind of love letter to bob while that
i wrote it seems on the 24th of october. we-- our first book together was a monster took it was god's crucible, making of europe side 70 to 1215. none of us was confident to edit or write such a book. [laughter] but i felt it had to be done. i had gone to morocco in order to write a very small book on the invasion of the iberian peninsula and unfortunately i arrived on the day of 911 and my then editor said don't come home this book has got to be much larger. long story short bob became the editor of that book. it did fairly well and translated into spanish and
portuguese, indonesian and korean, indeed. we were hoping it would be translated into turkish and just so happened that i happen to be in turkey when we had good reason to believe the book had been translated and was about to be released, so this is what i write:, to bob and to carl now deceased, my literary agent on the time: this comes four days after one of the books corky after news i've had since college days. ruth in our back from an extraordinary longest temporal weekend returning via dubai this sunday morning to abu dhabi. after breakfast, i headed from our quaint hotel at the foot of isa feel on quest for mr. google
, publication, director of a publishing house called. [inaudible] a telephone call from a hotel albatross to this place ascertained that he would return the call later that they would he returned to the office, but in spirit of the visit i decided to find my way to him. i headed into one of the agent arterial slits stopping 100 meters or so to an curl my map and ask for more directions. istanbul people like that sophisticated inhabitants offered directions with the certitude correlated to
ignorance. after selling affirmations that my address was another 200 meters farther on the right or 200 on the left i suspected number 14/the five discovery especially after locating to number 16 and 12 a way to told with much shoulder shrugging that number 142 was in an entirely different place. later i learned number 16 belonged to someone said to be in new york at the book awards. down a few steps a sign announced on a building with a large door opening on to a. i walked in a bit uncertainly,
startled the several young men and women seated here and there who stared questioningly. professor lewis sounded firm yet congenial striking just the right note, i hope. the director's name called out simultaneously by three people. a chap took my arm to lead me into a long sunsplashed wooden office that literally overhung the green phosphorus. a compact young man rubbing his fingers through a mop of curly unkept hair with an almost seductive smile into his lighted cigarette. yes, of course he had meant to phone me. his pleasure at meeting me was almost inexpressible. it was not every day a two-time pulitzer prize winner from the united states came to him,
certainly not one whose book was one-of-a-kind, a book upon which either director had staked his reputation as a publisher of ideas of great significance accepting a cup of coffee, but declining in marlborough i said expectedly as he seemed to unspooling a simplest explanation of something to be shared inheritance confidence i noticed an attractive raven hair person observing me as though i might require an aspirin or a glass. he said it was too bad about the censorship and my wonderful book because it really should be published. things were difficult in turkey now with all sorts of people whose views had to be taken into consideration. people at the universities were concerned. i indicted more precise explanation of the problem.
were there local academics who found the scholarship of god's crucible faulty, flawed? no, said he, they found the problem was not the books scholarship, but scholarship. there are things the book said that was unreasonable in these times to say, but the book says about the jews in medina and the prophets wife it was not taught in turkey that mohammed is slaughtered the jews in medina and we do not know that aisha try to fight in the battle of the camel. readers would be very upset to learn these developments even though as your book reveals they are historically true peer by now the director worked himself into a nymph banished-- worked himself into as he protested his
admiration of god's crucible, the book he had chosen even before the owner of a procrastinator of it, the book he finished translating, the broker that was already printing was all true traveling he sighed and by the way would i stay and come along for dinner where i could meet the owner. the owner looked in my direction encouragingly as they spoken turkish and seemed the owner would appear at dinner. i found ruth who is leaving a meeting on culture and explained the situation as best i been comprehended it. under the bridge came to go and his cousin introduced as the script director of the film division. we consumed a fair quantity of wine and whitefish, sardines,
pickles and i decided i had to advocate cause of god's crucible not as its author so much, but as a card-carrying member of the republic of letters and ideas work candidly i express the fear of the lack of intellectual courage went to the heart of islam's 20 that the refusal of the few secular's to modernist still possess influence and to respect history could over-- only further marginalize especially the arabs and the turks and the hard struggle slog towards cosmopolitanism and the great contest of ideas. he claimed he worried that the semi literate and the bullying religious authorities placed his firm in a terrible bind.
i replied on the fourth glass of white wine that he must to celebrate his by honoring his profession. he nearly wept. his cousin opined that i spoke the truth, but still publishing was a business like any other, maybe i might agree to in sizing that troubles and lines or to smoothing in translation of some sharp edges. of this was even too much for him. he who had only a glass earlier regretted that he was writing a simple turkish unworthy of his great power simply in order to easily translate into english to realize his prize-winning ambitions. it was late the day now, time to me to ruth and istanbul modern, the fine modern art museum established about five years earlier.
i found her again on the suggestion is a much more suitable venue for dinner and one of the taxing square eateries. caller: live together walking along to meet my wife. the owner had not shown. when we reached istanbul modern ruth was waiting delighted with the venuecolder-l introduction. as we parted he class my hands intensely looked into my eyes so fully and said mr. david you are right, we must learn to live with truth in turkey. europe will be published one day, i give you my word. carl and bob we shall see. we are now reassuring god's crucible and perhaps we might try the turks again, so i think the situation is even worse now.
[applause]. >> there's room for couple questions of the panel. who would like to ask the first question? who once to ask the second question? [laughter] >> i have a question. david, you raise an interesting issue about translation. i've had some of my biographies translated into foreign languages and years later i encountered a native speaker, this is an
italian addition of my harvey who claimed he could read both the english and the italian and it was just atrocious. there are all whole paragraphs that were mistranslated with the negative into the positive, so i'm wondering why the turkish publisher didn't just publish and take out what was offensive. you never would have known. >> that's quite a risk, isn't it. it was virtually perfect out there, when i walked in maybe two years after the book-- >> microphone. >> when i was in spain two years after the conference someone asked to have my signature on the spanish edition and i happen you to see the table of contents in the last chapter had transformed rationally's
really. .com. i think one would hope the editor would-- his editing would result in a best seller. [laughter] >> i ask because people were describing bob as different from other kinds of editors, i mean, so what are they doing if they are not doing that? bob-- i've had to editors, really and both were pretty much hands-on. i hear from sony other people that editors just are not with it, not doing anything, so i just had a sense of what you expected. [inaudible]
>> one of the things i learned from her along with what other people say is that you could write history in a way that was not so different from fiction. i don't mean that in the sense of not being inaccurate, but in another sense. >> i feel the comments is accurate because-- i know i came to feel about this character-- i felt that somehow ruth had-- so that's why sam mentioned robert particularly because chapter eight the foods-- truth. if you are writing you just can invent
characters, but you also have to animate them and tell the stories and write each chapter like east short story and i detested shirley jackson's mother geraldine. she's one of the most low some under coming mothers i've ever encountered and that is due to ruth's skill as a writer and a biographer and that was-- and then we would trade-- we would have fun on you know this was from mother otherwise stanley looks good because he loved her writing. wendy i just want to say in general, don't dig editors-- editors are properly taught peer to there is no place. i think there are a few that teach copyediting. there are five that week courses that tell you had to get into publishing, but there's no major university that treats editing as if it were a crafts and i can't imagine a courseware a professor
would give out 20 copies of an un- ended manuscript and ask students what would you do with it and i think one of the reasons why editing-- several reasons, no one is trained to be an editor except by the editor themselves and also most editors need a decent life and you cannot in this environment with 300 e-mails a day expect to do any editing at the office, so it is a craft of sacrifice at night, so you can do in the office. i think some of you should think with it-- which university and college should have a writer's school. everyone teaches you how to be a fiction writer, one that can teach you how to be an editor. >> if there is anything you can say about modern america's are probably have too many writers and too few editors.