University of Delaware Library

Special Collections Department

Gilbert Sorrentino
Letters to David Markson

1988 -1998

Manuscript Collection Number: 348
Accessioned: Purchases, 1996-1998.
Extent: .4 linear ft. (248 items)
Content: Letters
Access: The collection is open for research.
Processed: October 1997, by Shanon Lawson and revised March 1999.

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Table of Contents

Biographical Note

Gilbert Sorrentino

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.

David Markson

David Markson was born in Albany, New York, on December 20, 1927. He received his B.A. from Union College in 1950 and his M.A. from Columbia University in 1952. During the 1940s and '50s, he worked as a writer for the Albany Times-Union (1944-46, 1949-50), and as an editor for Dell publishers (1953-54) and Lion Books (1955-56). In addition, he has taught English at Long Island University (1964-66) and Columbia (1979-87). Markson has written seven novels, including The Ballad of Dingus Magee (1966), Springer's Progress (1977), and Wittgenstein's Mistress (1989). He has also published a collection of poetry (1993) and a critical study, Malcolm Lowry's Volcano: Myth, Symbol, and Meaning. (1978).


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

The collection of American writer Gilbert Sorrentino's letters to fellow writer David Markson contains 248 items and spans the dates 1988-1998. Almost all of the letters are typed, some bear autograph notes, and most of them are signed.

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

Contents List

Folder -- Contents

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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