Archive for August 5th, 2011

Paris Review’s Blair Fuller: writer, editor, and mentor extraordinaire dies at 84’

Friday, August 5th, 2011
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"A sweetheart through and through"

Blair Fuller, former editor of the Paris Review, creative writing teacher at Stanford, and co-founder of the Squaw Valley Community of Writers – and mentor to many – died of cancer on July 23 in Petaluma.  He was 84.

Fuller wrote several novels and short stories, twice winning an O. Henry prize for short fiction.

“He was very gentlemanly, a sweetheart through and through,” said Edwina Leggett, who co-owned Minerva’s Owl bookstore on San Francisco’s Union Street with him, in the San Francisco Chronicle.  “He was very affectionate. He was kind to everybody.”

The New York native served in the Navy during World War II, then took a Harvard degree in philosophy.  In the 1950s, he went to the Ivory Coast and Ghana to work as an executive for Texaco. His first two novels were based on his experiences in West Africa.

The peripatetic writer moved to Paris and became one of the early editors of the Paris Review. According to an obituary on its website:  “He read each issue cover to cover and was quick with both praise and criticism: ‘The Levé piece is my favorite. I feel badly that he ended his life. An interesting and original man … I wish Beattie could be trimmed a bit. Bolaño never did grip me. Otherwise a fine issue.’ His first response to the Daily was typically forthright: ‘What a terrible idea!’”

When Pulitzer prizewinning author Wallace Stegner invited him to come and teach at Stanford in the 1960s, he headed West and never looked back.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle obituary:

After a few years at Stanford, Mr. Fuller co-founded the Squaw Valley Community of Writers with writer Oakley Hall. It was there he met actress and playwright Anna Deavere Smith, who was just launching her career and became a lifelong friend.

“He really helped me think of myself as a writer,” she said Friday. “He just intuitively understood my work. … He was absolutely invaluable to my development as a writer.”

Mr. Fuller also served on the board of the Magic Theater and American Conservatory Theater.

Salinger: "His cufflinks caught the light."

In more recent times, he began to send his reminiscences to the Paris Review‘s blog.  Two from June:  An article about Harold “Doc” Humes‘s LSD party with Norman Mailer in 1960 is here; and his piece blandly titled, “An Evening with J.D. Salingerhere.  The latter is a real ‘wow’:

A headshot of him had appeared on the Catcher book jacket—dark hair slicked back above a longish, handsome face. This night he was well dressed in a suit with a faint glen plaid pattern, a white shirt whose collar was secured behind the knot of his necktie by a gold collar pin. His cufflinks caught the light. Why did his elegance surprise me?

But the reclusive writer was far from elegant.  I won’t give away the rest.

Mailer and Fuller had a rematch in the 1970s, when the pugnacious author stopped by Minerva’s Owl.  Fuller was busy, so he sent Leggett to entertain the notoriously difficult New Yorker:

“I was nervous and mad Blair was abandoning me,” Leggett said. “I said, ‘Lordy, what will I do with Norman Mailer?’

“Blair said, ‘That’s easy. Take him to the nearest bar.’ “