Special Collections Department
Letters to David Markson
Manuscript Collection Number: 348
Accessioned: Purchases, 1996-1998.
Extent: .4 linear ft. (248 items)
Access: The collection is open for research.
Processed: October 1997, by Shanon Lawson and revised March 1999.
Special Collections, University of Delaware Library
Newark, Delaware 19717-5267
Table of Contents
Gilbert Sorrentino was born on April 27, 1929, in Brooklyn, New York. He attended Brooklyn College from 1950-1951. From 1951-1953, he left school to serve in the Army Medical Corps. After an abortive attempt at writing a novel, Sorrentino returned to Brooklyn College in 1955.
In 1956, Sorrentino, together with some friends from Brooklyn College, founded a literary magazine called Neon. The issues that Sorrentino edited, from 1956 to 1960, contained contributions from many prominent writers, including William Carlos Williams, LeRoi Jones, Hubert Selby, Jr, Fielding Dawson, and Joel Oppenheimer. From 1961 to 1963, Sorrentino both wrote for and edited Kulchur, a literary magazine whose contributors included members of the Black Mountain school, the Beats, and the New School. From 1965 to 1970, he worked at Grove Press, first as an assistant, then as an editor. His first editing assignment was Alex Haley's The Autobiography of Malcolm X.
A prolific writer, Sorrentino has published over twenty volumes of fiction, poetry, and essays. His first book of poetry, The Darkness Surrounds Us, was published in 1960. Seven more volumes of his poetry were published between 1964 and 1981. Sorrentino's first novel, The Sky Changes (1966), which he began writing in 1961, was followed by Steelwork (1970), in which Sorrentino draws upon memories of his Brooklyn childhood. Next came Imaginative Qualities of Actual Things (1971), a roman á clef about the art and literary avant-garde community of 1950s and 1960s New York. After another novel, Spendide-Hôtel (1973), Sorrentino published his most commercially successful work, Mulligan Stew (1979). He has published eight more novels, most recently Red the Fiend (1995).
In addition to numerous grants, including two Guggenheim fellowships (1973, 1987), Sorrentino has won the John Dos Passos Prize for Literature (1981), an Award for Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters (1985), and the Lannan Literary award for fiction (1992). He currently teaches literature at Stanford University.
Sources:Klinkowitz, Jerome. "Gilbert Sorrentino." Contemporary Novelists, 6th edition. Ed. Susan
Windisch Brown. Detroit: St. James Press, 1995. pp. 929-931.
Lewis, Barry. "David Markson." Contemporary Novelists, 6th edition. Ed. Susan Windisch
Brown. Detroit: St. James Press, 1995. pp. 655-656.
O'Brien, John. "Gilbert Sorrentino." Dictionary of Literary Biography Yearbook: 1980.
Detroit: Gale Research Co, 1980. pp. 310-314.
Scope and Content Note
Sorrentino begins the correspondence with a brief note to Markson, complimenting him on his novel Wittgenstein's Mistress (1988). This letter initiates an exchange of works between the two writers, with each reading and admiring the publications of the other. These readings provide Sorrentino with the opportunity to discuss his own opinion and the critical reception of many of his novels.
Sorrentino's letters also provide a glimpse into the politics of the late twentieth-century literary world. Lamenting what he sees as the disruption of literary fiction by popular, but artistically inferior, works, Sorrentino commiserates with Markson on the condition of contemporary writing, reviewing, publishing, and bookselling, frequently by referring to his own difficulties in getting his work published and noticed. In Markson, he apparently has a sympathetic correspondent: Sorrentino's Mulligan Stew was rejected twenty-five times, Markson's Wittgenstein's Mistress, fifty-four times. These letters also describe the often frustrating process of getting Sorrentino's Red the Fiend (1995) and Markson's Reader's Block (1996) published. Sorrentino is more optimistic, however, about his students at Stanford, and many of his letters describe his classroom discussions, including his successful experiences teaching Wittgenstein's Mistress. He also includes brief, satirical "lectures" on writers such as Joyce, P.B. Shelley, and Tolstoy. Other topics in the letters include baseball, Markson's illness, and Sorrentino's son as a novelist.
Other Collections Containing Material Related to Gilbert Sorrentino:
Ms 99 F306 Poems written by Gilbert Sorrentino and note to Imamu Amiri Baraka
Ms 123 Gilbert Sorrentino Papers
Ms 398 Ishmael Reed Papers
F1 1988 4 items (4 leaves) 4 pp. F2 1989 16 items (16 leaves) 17 pp. F3 1990 Jan-Jul 16 items (16 leaves) 17 pp. F4 1990 Aug-Dec 15 items (15 leaves) 17 pp. F5 1991 Jan-Jun 14 items (14 leaves) 14 pp. F6 1991 Jul-Dec 17 items (17 leaves) 18 pp. F7 1992 Jan-Jun 12 items (12 leaves) 12 pp. F8 1992 Jul-Dec 13 items (14 leaves) 14 pp. F9 1993 Jan-Jul 11 items (13 leaves) 13 pp. F10 1993 Aug-Dec 13 items (13 leaves) 14 pp. F11 1994 Jan-Jul 11 items (11 leaves) 11 pp. F12 1994 Aug-Dec 11 items (14 leaves) 14 pp. F13 1995 Jan-Jun 11 items (11 leaves) 11 pp. F14 1995 Jul-Dec 11 items (12 leaves) 12 pp. Letters from Gilbert Sorrentino to David Markson (cont'd) F15 1996 Jan-Jul 13 items (19 leaves) 19 pp. F16 1996 Aug-Dec 15 items (23 leaves) 23 pp. F17 1997 Jan-Jun 14 items (21 leaves) 21 pp. F18 1997 Jul-Dec 13 items (26 leaves) 26 pp. F19 1998 Jan-Apr 10 items (21 leaves) 21 pp. F20 1998 May-Aug 8 items (18 leaves) 18 pp.
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