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New York Review of Books celebrates 40 years of freedom

Monday, October 27, 2003

By Bob Hoover, Post-Gazette Book Editor

NEW YORK -- As birthday parties go, it was a bust -- seven months late and no cake. As a moment for savoring 40 years of independent publishing, it was a hit.

Celebrating was the New York Review of Books, hatched in February 1963 in the New York apartment of editor Barbara Epstein during a newspaper strike.

In the years since, the NYR has become the closest thing to a national literary journal in America, its distinctive white-paper bound magazine appearing at two-week intervals.

Today, it's a thick publication with 115,000 subscribers. It features lengthy reviews, journalism and commentary by an international list of writers both literary and political, and illustrations by David Levine.

Cofounder Robert Silvers joined a frail Epstein last Thursday at the New-York Historical Society (the group insists on the hyphen) to modestly toast the review's longevity.

"We kept control of the review to ourselves -- no benefactors, no companies," Silvers said. "So, we've been free to publish any writer who interested us. The same freedom means we have no excuses, either" for the choices.

Yet it's hard to argue with editors who over the years have printed such writers as:

Edmund Wilson, Hannah Arendt, Elizabeth Hardwick, Joan Didion, Norman Mailer, Bishop Desmond Tutu, Ralph Nader, Vaclav Havel, Mary McCarthy, Gore Vidal, Larry McMurtry, Gary Wills and Russell Baker.

Some contributors were part of the crowd that packed the historical society's elegant space across from Central Park for the celebration, joining a cross-section of New York publishers, literati and personalities, from Knopf's Sonny Mehta to the stage's Wallace Shawn.

In from London accompanied by poet Anthony Hecht was Drue Heinz, publisher of the Paris Review, another American literary journal, and major contributor to Pittsburgh's literary scene.

Heinz said she will be in Pittsburgh next week to take part in festivities honoring Susan Greenberg, latest winner of the short-fiction prize she's endowed at the University of Pittsburgh Press.

The public can hear Greenberg and prize judge Rick Moody read from their works Nov. 5 at 8:30 p.m. at the Frick Fine Arts Auditorium, Oakland.

She also again expressed her sadness at the death of Frederick Hetzel, the former Pitt Press editor in whose name she dedicated her prize sponsorship.

"I will always miss him," Heinz said of Hetzel who died last month at 73.

Heinz has also endowed the lecture series that bears her name, and she praised the program's "dedication to quality." She is the widow of H.J. Heinz II.

Bob Hoover can be reached at or 412-263-1634.

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