Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Farewell Drue Heinz

Farewell Drue Heinz, grand lady of letters, founding publisher of Antaeus Magazine and Ecco Press, former publisher of The Paris Review, a woman of taste. She was not just the most important patron of letters in the second half of the 20th century, she was The Real Thing. Also generous to artists and museums, and had the good sense to listen to Paul Bowles when he put her on to Daniel Halpern, the brilliant editor who had the notion in 1970 or so to found the superb magazine Antaeus

A friend just mentioned her venturing out to his reading last year in Edinburgh… when she was only 102.  She made it to 103 and what a blessing she was to American literature… and British too.

I have many memories of her from editorial meetings at Paris Review, from lunches (or “funny lunches” as George Plimpton used to call them), etc… mostly to do with her extraordinary curiosity, her energy, and her astute and (surprising this, in so cultivated a person) almost animal instincts.  Here’s another one:

Years ago, in Paris for the Salon du Livres, I was standing on a street corner near the Institut du Monde Arabe with Drue Heinz, the poet John Ashbery and my Paris Review colleague Daniel Kunitz. It was 7 PM on a spring night and we were at loose ends, without a reservation. Ashbery said "Well, I haven't lived here in thirty years, but there used to be this place... I wonder if it’s still around.” And so to Moissonier on Rue Fosses St Bernard. As our group hovered outside the restaurant door, Ashbery, abashed, hesitated. "Golly, we'll never get in, but I used to eat here every Tuesday night. Haven't been in thirty years…”

Just inside the door, the hostess without missing a beat said, "Good evening, Mr. Ashbery, so nice to see you again. Will you be joining us this evening?” Ashbery... after he stopped blushing... had the bavette, Kunitz and I had the daube. Drue went for the pied du cochon, an enormous thing, semi-charred, with carafes of the house red.  Table talk was about the French novel, the state of criticism, the French poet Pierre Martory and (as ever) the Paris-based literary power couple Philippe Sollers and Julia Kristeva.  I wouldn't say she absorbed what others said but instead she listened with a discriminating intelligence... or with just a great bull-shit detector.  Mid-meal Kunitz asked Drue how was her pied du cochon. "Delicious," she said, then... having seen earlier his eyes shift to her plate... she added with a fierce look, "and you're not getting any of it!"

Supper finished, she said, "Where should we go next?!”  I’d like to say it was the jet-lag after a trans-Atlantic flight… whereas she had only come from London… but quite simply the spring chickens couldn’t keep up with her.  I was told that in the 1970s, in Tangiers, Morocco, when Paul Bowles used to take her around to meet the writers there, the storytellers, the charmers, it was just the same.  She loved writers, always made time for them, hated cant, had boundless curiosity, and had those extraordinary instincts.