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Female Actors, Part Two
One Culture Hero Award
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Tom of Finland: Sexual Liberator or Enslaver
Lying Writers
Review of The Man Who Invented Rock Hudson
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A Writer Protests
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Review of Live from Golgotha: The Gospel According to Gore Vidal
Review of Lost Years: A Memoir 1945-1951 by Christopher Isherwood
Review of Out For Good
Review of Hoyt Street: an Autobiography
Review of Sergei Eisenstein: A Life in Conflict.
Review of Places Left Unfinished at the Time of Creation
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Brother Paul, Sister Jan, Brother Hinn, God and the Folks
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A Writer Protests

January 25, 2004

San Francisco Chronicle
901 Mission Street
San Francisco, CA 94103

Dear [name withheld],

Thank you for your courteous letter conveying how you perceive the situation surrounding David Kipen's review of "The Life and Adventures of Lyle Clemens." During the years that I've been acquainted with you, I've known you to be a person of high integrity. I don't question the sincerity of your assertions.

But my view is different from yours. The notion that I owe an apology to Villalon appalls me. It is I and others insulted in that review who are owed an apology from him and Kipen.

You may be unfamiliar with this background: For months my publicist queried Villalon about whether a review of my novel was scheduled; such information is often given. After no response, I wrote Villalon a letter of inquiry, followed by three e-mails, the last one reminding that, at his insistence, I accepted for review a book I felt unqualified for, a biography of Eisenstein. I researched the subject and wrote the review, which he front-paged.

That latter e-mail was a reminder that professional courtesy was called for. After no response, I informed you of his rude silence. You answered that you were sending him a message calling attention to my book and including the fact that "Steve Wasserman had high praise" for it. Since only then did Villalon respond, it was not remote to assume a connection between his finally answering and your note conveying Steve Wasserman's admiration. (Knowledge of the latter is nastily clear in Kipen's diatribe.)

No, Kipen's review--which has appalled many others--does not simply indicate, as you state, "the ups and downs of criticism in stark illustration." From the headline (donated by Villalon?) to the end of the harangue, it amounts to personal assault, ancient grudges and jealousies camouflaging as criticism. I oppose censorship; but there is vast difference between "independence" and license to pillage. No periodical publishes everything as written when ethics are violated, as they are in Kipen's spewing. Other book-review editors might have admonished him.

Even his implicit praise of "City of Night" reveals Kipen's ignorance. The initial shrill reception to my first novel has been recorded in articles--and in a recent biography about me--citing hysteria like Kipen's. Didn't he realize he was attempting the same sort of mugging now derided about that novel?

No, Kipen did not "invite" readers to read "other more favorable reviews." To the contrary, he attempted to dissuade that. In a breech of professional ethics, not only did he denounce Grove Press for publishing my novel, but he spilled his spite onto superior reviewers who praised my book: "... watch out for review publications that find a way to recommend a book this awful." He refers to "two such outlets." Those "outlets" are Publishers Weekly, whose editors awarded my novel a stringently given star, and the Los Angeles Times Book Review whose editors named my novel among the ten (not only 100) best of the year.

Kipen flails. He refers to attending "an awards dinner" at which I was present--and doesn't mention that I was being given PEN-West's Lifetime Achievement Award. He places the dinner in "a ballroom full of [my] past and present students [who] cheered themselves hoarse and clapped themselves numb." Many of my students were there; but there were even more professional people, distinguished editors, members of PEN, publishers from all over the country (including Morgan Entrekin of Grove Press), an array of respected authors and journalists who joined in two standing ovations. Indeed, you may have been in attendance, [name withheld].

Devoid of wit, awkwardly written--scrawled--reeking of latent animosities, Kipen's review extends his insults to Susan Sontag; he has no idea what she's saying, what he's quoting. He attempts to swipe at "incorrigibly couplet-happy Alexander Pope." Pope, incorrigible? Pope, couplet-happy? So says the giddy Kipen.

As a veteran of 40 years on the literary frontlines, I do not deserve the disrespect Kipen madly--and, I must admit, sadly and desperately--aimed at me. That Villalon permitted such a disgraceful performance without caution extends the breech to him.

You have manifested high regard for authors, including having launched the Book Fair most widely attended. Can you, then, even implicitly support Kipen's harangue, Villalon's condoning it? Can you still suggest that an apology from other than them is due?--an apology to my publishers, prominent editors disparaged, and to me.

I hope your schedule--and, indeed, [name withheld] --permits you at least to skim my novel (which is one of my very best, one I long wanted to write, exploring the possibility of the 18th century form in a modern novel). Then I would ask you, Does it deserve Kipen's rabid bleating?

Warm regards to you and Robert,

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