Captain Midnight

Gordon lish came to california looking for Dean Moriarty. He was taken by the idea of Jack Kerouac’s wild hero (the freest spirit in On the Road) and believed that a figure so raw and so pure must have been drawn from real life.

He drove into San Francisco on the rolling coastal highways, saw the Bay open up before him just as Kerouac described it, and entered the city, its “long bleak streets with trolley wires all shrouded in fog whiteness.” It was 1959, and he was 26 years old, a grown man compared to his young hero Moriarty, and past the supposed age of adventure; his wife and young daughter were traveling with him. He was late to the party, too: Kerouac had moved to Orlando and the Beat scene was dissipating.

Starry-eyed and ignorant, Lish pulled into North Beach, the old Italian neighborhood the Beats had seized ten years before. He had imagined a seaside village full of poets; instead he found a crowded, noisy city district. The center of gravity was shifting, for those who knew how to find it, from North Beach to Haight-Ashbury. Lish and his wife, Frances, parked their car and carried their daughter up and down Broadway. They were looking for some sign of the life they had expected.

Lish was small, solid, blond, impulsive, and temperamental. For a man from a wealthy Long Island family, he possessed a surprisingly tempestuous history. Someone was always treading on him; he was plagued by severe psoriasis that made him so uncomfortable he wanted to jump out of his own skin. His father, a hat manufacturer, had sent him to several prep schools. He was sometimes beloved by the faculty but always kicked out for insubordination. He left Andover without a diploma and began a career as a radio announcer: he got his first job in Texas near a spa he had stayed at with his parents and soon after relocated to a station in New York.

He naturally worshipped J. D. Salinger as a truthteller and defender of failures. Like Holden Caulfield, he did a stint in a mental hospital and was forever talking around that story. Lish’s began when he was working in New York and took steroids to calm his raging skin. The steroids triggered a hypomanic episode and he raced down to Florida in pursuit of an equally manic girl. Police found them driving the state’s northern back roads, and he was sent to a mental hospital in Florida, then one in upstate New York, where he remained for the next eight months.

Lish was 18 when he left the hospital for New York, then New York for a radio job in New Haven, where he talked and played jazz records under the name Gordo Lockwood. Then his psoriasis flared up again, and his only recourse seemed to be to leave for a drier climate. He moved to Tucson, Arizona and started trying frantically to make up for lost time. He found work as an insurance salesman, graduated from the University of Arizona in two years with honors, and married Frances Fokes, a Wellesley graduate whose life so far had been as wayward and intense as his. They had a 2-year-old daughter and were expecting another child when, seduced by the Beats, they packed their bags for San Francisco.

That anyone could ever have been so innocent is alarming. In his letters at the time, Lish often sounds as though he has no protective covering at all. His letters narrated his life, or at least his best version of it, to Hayden Carruth, a poet who had been institutionalized at the same hospital in New York. Carruth, a fervent, serious poet and longtime poetry editor in his late thirties, was beginning to publish poems in the New Yorker, and Lish seemed to believe that if he spoke well enough for himself, he could lift himself up to Carruth’s level, one writer to another.

His voice was at once anxious and unrepentantly cocky. His language was plainly imitating a Salinger character’s, and as he grew more confident that character started to resemble the buoyant young actor Zooey Glass. He told Carruth about the University of Chicago’s “offer to me of an unsolicited fellowship to compete for a doctorate in theology-philosophy, an ugly marriage really. They proffered four years on the house, this including housing, food, and small allowances for expenses, but Fran and I are already too exquisite for this sort of beggary, and so I declined just last week. It’s best, because I’m all flash and no scholarship.” Like many young people at that time, he conceived of himself as seeking purity; despite his sarcastic disavowals, he seemed to believe in sanctification through knowledge and poverty.

Lish went on to explain that he had received the offer on the basis of a paper he wrote at Arizona, which argued that the church’s passive rather than active interpretation of Jesus (“Zen in the streets, Christ in the pulpit”) was complicit in acclimating people to increasingly mechanized institutions. After having been held and forcefully subdued at a hospital, education and especially literature seemed to fill him with an indestructible hopefulness. He believed everything he read. In his mid-twenties, with a wife and two young children, Lish was coming into his true adolescence.

In san francisco, Lish enrolled in the teaching certification program at San Francisco State College. One year later he was placed as an English teacher at San Mateo High School, just south of the city, and moved his family to a bungalow in the suburbs. He was reading the same book as almost everyone in his general situation, Paul Goodman’s Growing Up Absurd, and it formed the foundation of his teaching practice. Goodman insisted, in a lively, sensible voice, that there was something fundamentally wrong with the way boys were being brought up, and proposed a revival of the progressive education model. The model he presented most persuasively, however, was his own warm, straightforward style: “The curriculum is only superficially what ‘a man ought to know’; it is more fundamentally how to become a-man-in-the-world.”

For Lish, Goodman made teaching not only a practical occupation but also one imaginative and influential enough to at least partly contain him. Goodman was sympathetic to the rebellious young but he spoke more directly to the institutions, presciently predicting their failure to satisfy a rising generation. Lish, who was older than most of his peers and had suffered his share of alienation, was able to see himself embodying Goodman’s invigorating authority figure. He would show his students how to live in the world and in the process transform himself into a man who convincingly understood it.

Lish must have cut a striking figure walking toward the new, low concrete high school building, a short, solid man with an energetic stride who liked to twirl his hat on a walking stick. In the classroom, students recalled, he behaved like a cross between a nutty professor and an evangelist preacher, putting to use the voice of a trained radio announcer. He believed in drawing out his students and making the most disaffected ones love him, turning teaching into a sort of human adventure. He wrote Carruth, “I am, most positively, all the things Socrates was and so much more. I’m absolutely convinced that if we channeled all our manic-depressives (hyper-manic types only) into the public school, the world would turn over and come up paradise.”

He had received the manic-depressive diagnosis during his hospitalization. At times it almost seemed a source of strength for him, making it possible to tolerate months of depression and channel his extraordinary energy when it was available to him. He and Frances, who was an enthusiastic hostess, were trying to make their way into local bohemian crowds, throwing wine-soaked spaghetti dinners in their cluttered house, which was filled with a burgeoning art collection. Among the rotating set of guests was John Hermann, a college writing instructor about to launch a literary magazine optimistically called the Chrysalis Review. Lish, who was always writing on the side, sent one of his stories to Hermann, and Hermann accepted it and gave him his first publication.

The story was not much to speak of, a labored tale of a Mexican undertaker. But Lish was proud to appear in a publication that announced its own maturity. The first issue presented a balance of criticism, reportage, poetry, and fiction that for the most part addressed adult concerns; unlike many other local publications, it finally seemed to have left the Beats’ adolescent fixations behind. It also appeared to be something of a throwback: Lish appeared “side to ass” with two established, middle-aged writers, James T. Farrell and William Saroyan. He saw an opening and made himself useful to Hermann, who was increasingly busy with his teaching, and by the second issue Lish was his coeditor.

Lish was gaining a reputable identity: he was becoming a literary man. He was soliciting all the art for the next issue and persuading Carruth to submit a poem, which would represent a coup for the magazine. He was becoming deeply, enthusiastically involved in the obscure logistics of putting out a publication with almost no money. (Late at night, he would sneak through the back door of a San Francisco printing press to illicitly typeset the issues.) He was reading literary magazines with the pride of a professional, one with the authority to assess and the power to change the careers of young writers. He could sit in his crowded living room, his lively young family around him, a stack of magazines beside him, and decide which talents were worth pursuing.

He was reading constantly, starting to understand what he liked, and piecing together his own narrative of where literature was headed. He now felt certain that the Beat movement was effectively finished, and claimed, like many postadolescents, that it had never really been to his taste: everyone who came after Kerouac was “an absolute fog.” What was needed was clarity, and he found it, like a lightning bolt, in Samuel Beckett’s bizarrely logical, self-devouring novels. But Lish found it hard to talk about Beckett, beyond the fact of the novels’ impact on him; Beckett seemed to be too profound an influence to describe. He was much more voluble on the subject of two American, working-class women writers.

Grace Paley and Tillie Olsen were both politically active working mothers, about ten years older than Lish, who wrote stories, when they could, that expressed with as much clarity as possible the complexity of their lives. Olsen, who spent most of her early life in poverty, wrote her most masterly story in the voice of a mother recalling how much her daughter had suffered with her through the Depression. Paley, a New Yorker, focused on the travails of the immigrants she grew up with and the single mother she became. Her stories contained less suffering than Olsen’s, but they still presented difficult situations, like that of a woman being left by a lover who has grown tired of her young sons. “We should have been relaxed. Easy,” he says after he gets hurt playing with her two boys. “No one should have gotten hurt, Faith,” he adds, as he prepares to give her back his keys. Afterward, one of these boys climbs into Faith’s lap and insistently wraps his arms around her. From Faith’s perspective, Paley writes, “Then through the short fat fingers of my son, interred forever, like a black and white barred king in Alcatraz, my heart lit up in stripes.”

Lish couldn’t get enough of this line, and insisted that Carruth seek out the story so they could share it. The strange visual precision of Paley’s dream of incarceration somehow contained what he imagined to be the future of fiction. Her style felt both intuitive and experimental: she was searching for the best words in the best order, in order to articulate flashes of feeling. She was also, as was obvious elsewhere, capable of creating big voices, becoming working men and city children as well as the put-upon, optimistic young mother Faith, who was not so unlike herself. Without seeming to intend it, Paley took one step beyond the men writing around her: she described lives that were outside the mainstream but bounded by adult responsibilities; her language was playful and colloquial but still reached, like a formalist’s, for perfection.

These were complicated balances, which Lish took as life lessons. He would have to inhabit a perfect middle ground between common prose and poetic precision as a writer. He wanted to be both more and less than an ordinary teacher: less controlling and more persuasive. He must have to some extent succeeded: at the end of his first year teaching high school, he was named chair of the English honors program. He would be allowed to have his own students, whom he would choose for his own reasons, to draw out over the course of their adolescences. He started with a class of eleven freshmen, “each near-genius or better,” he wrote Carruth, and at least $28,000 to spend on texts for their four-year curriculum. Their first semester, the students read classic stories of men rising and falling (The Great Gatsby, Babbit) and at least five fat anthologies and books of criticism. He wanted not only to transform but also to dominate their educations.

Lish was also starting to seize the magazine he’d come to as a novice, making most of the assignments, controlling the logistics of printing and distribution. His house was a center of gravity for his circle of friends and editors, whom he captivated with his extraordinary energy, making them into accomplices, and as he put together the second issue, he almost effortlessly pushed aside John Hermann. Frances, now a de facto editor and publicist, wrote about the magazine as though it belonged to her husband, and after publishing the second issue he made it official, announcing that he was taking over and changing the name to the nearly utopian Genesis West. He wrote to Carruth so full of exuberance he was careless of how he came across: “We’re going to put out a murderous magazine whose sole purpose it will be to advance the causes of both my sanity AND peace.”

Lish had a strong sense of how he would succeed, and much of it was connected to creating controversies. He wanted Carruth, as his establishment writer, to contribute a denunciation. (“Who do you hate? Let us help you hate him!”) But he also knew that editors and magazines were made by discovering new writers. He would have willed one into being if he could have, but as it happened he only had to persuade himself that a celebrated young poet was his to claim. At a San Francisco poetry festival he attended with a scout mentality, he encountered the latest winner of the Yale Younger Poets Prize, Jack Gilbert.

Gilbert was everything Lish could have hoped for in a poet, handsome, bold, romantic, outspoken. He was a thin man with striking features, dark hair, and the pale eyes of a visionary. He stood on stage and declaimed his poetry, a combination of high lyricism and breathless conviction, and he was equally dramatic in his everyday speech. He was full of fighting words toward the latter-day beatniks, and as despised by his peers as he was admired by the establishment. One of the strongest poems from his first collection, “The Abnormal Is Not Courage,” was a brusque paean to dignity that seemed to contain the best of his character:

The Poles rode out from Warsaw against the German
tanks on horses. Rode knowing, in sunlight, with sabers.
A magnitude of beauty that allows me no peace.
And yet this poem would lessen that day. Question
the bravery. Say it’s not courage. Call it a passion.
Would say courage isn’t that. Not at its best.
It was impossible, and with form. They rode in sunlight.
Were mangled. But I say courage is not the abnormal.
Not the marvelous act. Not Macbeth with fine speeches.
The worthless can manage in public, or for the moment.
It is too near the whore’s heart: the bounty of impulse,
and the failure to sustain even small kindness.
Not the marvelous act, but the evident conclusion of being.
Not strangeness, but a leap forward of the same quality.
Accomplishment. The even loyalty. But fresh.
The thing steady and clear. Then the crescendo.
The real form. The culmination. And the exceeding.
Not the surprise. The amazed understanding. The marriage,
not the month’s rapture. Not the exception. The beauty
that is many days. Steady and clear.
It is the normal excellence, of long accomplishment.

Lish was instantly entranced, both by Gilbert and his own blooming fantasy of himself as Gilbert’s backer. It was the poet, the whole idea of him, who had that “magnitude of beauty.” After the reading, he captured Gilbert’s attention and insisted that he come over for dinner. Late that night, he exuberantly wrote, “Gilbert is hard, clean, driving, mature, and a pleasant breath among the popular dithyrambists.” His vision of himself was already merging with his idea of Gilbert, a literary warrior so high-minded and pure he described his enemies in Greco-English.

Lish’s agency as the editor of an ambitious new literary magazine was taking him far away from the ordinary life of a high school teacher. He would have to be as autonomous and original in the classroom, if he was to avoid becoming impatient. Whether consciously or not, he started to press his advantage, closing his classroom door and committing other small violations. He endeared himself to his students with more and more rebellious stunts, notoriously reciting the Pledge of Allegiance with all the speed of a trained radio announcer. He founded a student literary journal that the school censured, then canceled, for the “beatnik” character of the poems. Lish was up for tenure in the spring, and it was becoming likely that he would be fired.

He could have tried to backpedal, but instead he pushed even harder, with the support of the equally proud and stubborn Frances. He may have felt he had nothing to lose. On some level, he must have wished to escape a life as a high school teacher. As the warnings mounted, his rebellion only escalated, until one day, in the middle of the Cuban Missile Crisis, the school called yet another in a constant stream of air raid drills. With alarm bells ringing, Lish told his students they did not have to crawl under their desks if they didn’t want to.

The school board got word of the incident and charged Lish with insubordination. A hearing was scheduled for the spring, but he knew the outcome was already decided. The idea of all these small-town administrators and civil authorities conspiring against him filled him with indignation. He wrote Carruth, “They would use this to railroad me out of a system where my presence has already been sorely felt and to which I have brought creativity, dedication, and excellence, all of which are virtues elsewhere I would hope.” He felt more strongly than ever that he had become Paul Goodman’s heroic teacher, and at the same time he was increasingly aware that the man he now was could gain more recognition.

He decided to barrel into the conflict, both out of ambition and out of urgency. Frances was pregnant with their third child, and he would soon have to find a new way to make a living. He understood that the political resonance of the situation would be the best way to get support and attention. He wrote Carruth, “I am trying to orchestrate public opinion on the issue, the option to dissent from an unconscionable act . . . and whether the matter is treated congenially by the local papers and tastemakers or not, I will kick much shit above eye-level.” The teachers unions were quick to support him, but they “cooled to a contest in the courts since it would raise a multitude of issues none of the people around here have addressed themselves to since birth.” He got one sympathetic column out of a local weekly, then started to work on getting San Francisco writers to put his case before a larger audience.

He was also banking more of his future on Genesis West and determined to make his first issue outstanding. To prove he was the man he believed himself to be, he had to achieve greatness as an editor. He was spending much of his time with Jack Gilbert, and the closer he became to the poet, the more he attached his ambitions to him. He decided the issue would feature a tribute to Gilbert. The establishment had already identified him as a rising poet, but Lish, who had nothing to lose and was increasingly assured in his judgments, would go so far as to announce him as a great one.

He persuaded Gilbert to give him eight poems, four from his collection, four unpublished, and recorded a long interview at Gilbert’s San Francisco apartment. (He knew how to provoke Gilbert, but made the mistake of answering his own questions: “Do you think these people who are involved in poetry to further their careers or who make mild poems out of trivial material are dangerous to the reader?”) As he started to lay out the section, his efforts escalated. He opened it with a full-page photo of Gilbert and placed beside it his own introduction, which picked up the last words of “The Abnormal Is Not Courage”: “So rare a genius deserves the tribute of public celebration, a public affirmation of great achievement, of long accomplishment.” He worked relentlessly to secure praise from eight prominent Gilbert supporters (among them Stanley Kunitz, Theodore Roethke, Muriel Rukeyser, and Stephen Spender), and set their words in type so large that the praise became the main event.

Gilbert was a trophy, but he was also not enough, and Lish was still looking constantly for new writers. He was out late almost every night, going to readings, parties, anything that he thought could be useful to him, and when he was at home he was almost always reading. Increasingly he felt as though any moment could contain a great discovery. He was struck by a short story he read by local architecture critic Allan Temko, and he reached for the phonebook. He got the wrong Temko, Allan’s philosopher cousin Philip, but Philip invited him to a party where he could meet Allan, and without hesitation Lish and Frances got in their car and went.

The party was at Philip’s house, about an hour south in the new urban sprawl of San Jose. The living room of the ranch house was filled with conventional-looking artists, writers, architects, and critics, pouring drinks and stubbing out cigarettes. But as Lish made the rounds, introducing himself, looking for Allan Temko, he slowly found that these were the people he had dreamed lived in California. Temko and his friends were Kerouac’s Columbia classmates who played bit parts in On the Road as the aesthetes who disapprove of Dean Moriarty. (Allan Temko, as Roland Major, appears in a silk dressing robe and forbids Dean and the others from having a party.) Someone pointed out a broad-shouldered man with an expressive face too rough to be an actor’s. He was Neal Cassady, Dean Moriarty in the flesh, now more than ten years out of the story. “I think of Dean Moriarty, I even think of old Dean Moriarty the father we never found, I think of Dean Moriarty.”

Cassady was now close with another writer, the young novelist Ken Kesey, and as with Kerouac he mostly stayed in the background and allowed his friend to command attention. Kesey, even more so than Kerouac, didn’t need much help. A physically powerful, profoundly charismatic Oregon farm boy and college wrestler, he was capable of rearranging any room he entered. He had come to the Stanford writing program a few years before as an outsider, a barbarian among the campus bohemians. He turned the place on its head, first by stealing psychedelics from the mental ward where he worked night shifts, then by writing a bestselling novel that blew the accomplishments of his teachers (mostly notably Wallace Stegner) out of the water. The novel was now being adapted into a Broadway play, he was working on a second, and he wore the wildness and bravado of his first book like a cloak around him.

Lish went home and read One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and for a moment it almost changed how he felt about fiction. Kesey’s language wasn’t perfect, it showed all his effort, but it gave the impression of a formidable man blasting all his energy into his characters. Chief Bromden’s opening statement competed with the angry young men of the ages: “I been silent so long it’s gonna roar out of me like floodwaters and you think this guy is ranting and raving my God; you think this is too horrible to have really happened, this is too awful to be the truth! But, please. It’s still hard for me to have a clear mind thinking on it. But it’s the truth even if it didn’t happen.”

Lish had Kesey and Philip Temko over the next week for dinner, and Kesey came into his house like McMurphy walking into the ward. From the moment he entered, he was in charge and demanded that they wrestle on the floor before eating. Lish refused to wrestle at his house (he told them he had “very expensive lamps”) but he agreed to take on Kesey at Kesey’s place in the Santa Cruz mountains. The two solid men wrestled in the high grass until Lish rolled onto the sharp edge of a broken bottle; he left and drove himself to the emergency room to get stitches. Kesey’s energy was enormous and his dignity seemed effortless; Lish felt both compelled to keep up and that he couldn’t compete. He later described Kesey as an influence so strong he sucked his identity out of him; Kesey seemed to diminish all his efforts to become an adult.

His school board hearing was approaching, his son was about to be born, and he knew that somehow he would have to change his life. A break came a few weeks before the hearing when a San Francisco writer named Donovan Bess placed an article about the conflict in the Nation. Bess was completely sympathetic to Lish and even included many of his best ideas about himself. He described Lish as a “husky father of three”; he quoted a letter from a fellow teacher calling him “one of the best, if most unconventional, teachers in California.” Most of the rest of the article took pleasure in poking fun at the parochial school board. Bess made up a long list of charges against Lish (“being a screwball,” “being unpredictable,” “being ungentlemanly”) that ended with one out of Goodman’s playbook, “being manly (in defiance of school tradition).”

The piece was a publicity triumph, and Lish imagined that it would change everything. He was proud to tell Carruth that it appeared in the same issue as one of Carruth’s poems. But in reality it did almost nothing for him. The hearing was held at the local courthouse, and in front of an overflowing crowd he was ignominiously fired. He wrote Carruth, “How the hell do you THINK the thing came out.” He was already struggling to imagine the next thing, and his letters turned to anxious speculation. “Would be eager to try some angle in publishing, but don’t know where, or what my talents, as they say, would command. Actually, have thought seriously on coming, going HOME, New York, where the big boys play. This would likely disturb Fran—she’s bought the San Francisco mythology wholesale—and need much pressure. Do them guys hire guys like me? Magazines? Trade houses?” He had no idea what he was doing.

To generate some income over the summer, he started a day camp with Jack Gilbert for his most loyal honors students. The idea was that Lish and Gilbert would introduce them to artists, and they took the students to meet Kesey in Santa Cruz and friends at their San Francisco apartments. This left Lish with a lot of empty time, and he hustled out two issues of Genesis West while he knew he could afford it. He was still constantly soliciting writers and developing his sense of progress in fiction, and he published a story by Donald Barthelme several months before Barthelme’s first collection came out, as well as a story by LeRoi Jones (who later became Amiri Baraka).

He was also entrenching his friendships with Gilbert and Kesey; being close to both of them was enough to give him a feeling of legitimacy. He named Gilbert his poetry editor and defended him against all the young poets whose work Gilbert refused to print. He asked Kesey for a chapter from his second novel, Sometimes a Great Notion, and built another of his tribute sections around it. The novel was written in a slow rhythm that echoed the pace of its Oregon setting, and Lish again felt compelled to imitate his subject. His introduction to their long interview reads as though it were part of the novel: “I ask a question, and he begins to answer it, his voice very soft, almost whispering, a slow, tentative, thinking voice, bridging the pauses between phrases with hummed conjunctions, moving effortlessly from narrative to narrative, always in the dialect of the anecdote’s mood. It is an hour before I realize that in my absorption I have quite forgotten to turn on the tape recorder.”

He could imitate kesey’s grace in prose, but in life he was wound increasingly tightly. The summer was ending, Frances was growing tired of his heroic unemployment, and he was still no closer to finding a new way to make a living. Stress made his psoriasis act up, so he developed a new uniform, a panama hat and loose cotton shirts and pants that made him look like a lost explorer. He went out to San Francisco parties with a new uneasy edge, starting rumors and accusing other men of coming on to his frustrated wife. At one party he got Kesey into a huddle and started looking pointedly at the host. When the man made eye contact, Lish turned around to face him. “You’ll never make it!” he threw out.

He radiated agitation, and he saw it wherever he looked. His magazine suddenly revealed itself to be a problem: it seemed to stand in the way of restoring his income and family life. He was finishing one of his best issues, with fiction by Grace Paley and a new poem by Gilbert, when he abruptly decided to make it his last. He would not waste any more time on it, but would squeeze as much from the experience as he possibly could.

The issue opened with a statement: “It was decided at presstime. Genesis West dies. And there is this to say. Mostly it was an effort of love and pretense. And increasingly pretense.” The first image in the magazine was a photo of Lish as an angelic, sullen child, his blond hair neatly combed and swept to the side, his lips in a spoiled pout. It ran beside a self-interview, a form that was appearing in the big magazines and was here as absurd as it could be. Like all of Lish’s early efforts, it came across as almost parodic in its intensity, but now his desperation was revealing to him his own comic potential. He joked that all he wanted was to make “more distinguished friendships.” He said that he despised poets because “they are forever on the make, intensely so.” He developed a voice that sounded like a combination of a speed freak and a man from his father’s generation to put himself in the company of Gilbert and Kesey:

You want contradictions? I’ll give you contradictions! Be a thorough friend to Jack Gilbert and Ken Kesey in the same life! Try loving them both! For one night listen to them both talk and agree, agree! Three weeks ago my living room was the scene of a massive contradiction! Gilbert squatting here, Kesey squatting there, me in the middle—a regular nodding machine. Jack summons up pinnacles, I stand on them! Ken shapes a wilderness, let me be the first to grab a knapsack! Gilbert calls on restraint, I grin wildly and wink my eye! Kesey apostrophizes freedom, I chortle frantically and punch his arm. Both men are geniuses. Should I deny myself the rare company of a genius? I know so many I can afford to be spendthrift? Listen, what’s an editor if he can’t cough up a little contradiction for friends. For genius I’d lie myself straight to the grave!

Who was gordon lish? He was a former high school teacher, recreational editor, and the father of three young children he had no means to support. Little in his life to this point could have predicted it, but he would go on to become one of the great shapers of American literature at the end of the 20th century.

to be continued

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