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Max Perkins Was Here

Illustrations by Howard Munce

(page 1 of 2)

Every now and then a gape-mouthed stranger lands on the stately front porch of 63 Park Street, evidently trying to channel the ghost of Maxwell E. Perkins.

Sandra Bergmann, who owns the house with her architect husband, Richard, tries to dissuade these strangers in her kindly way, but after an article appears somewhere (uh-oh), she’ll look out her window to find some poor soul lost in reverie, no doubt contemplating the brave adolescence of our national literature. “There’s a whole Maxwell Perkins cult out there,” Sandra tells a visitor who she believes has come here for journalistic purposes but is secretly a cult member himself.

Max Perkins, who died sixty-two years ago this June, was the most important American literary figure that you may never have heard of. He wrote no books of his own; his daughters insisted he couldn’t spell or punctuate; and his rivals thought him unsophisticated. Yet as a book editor for Charles Scribner’s Sons, where he worked from 1914 until his death in 1947, he possessed a matchless internal compass about writers and writing, shepherding into print the great works of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Thomas Wolfe, Edmund Wilson, Ring Lardner and Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings.

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