Monday, June 24, 2013

Ursula Nordstrom & Edward Gorey

"Thanks for your card telling me you are having a nervous breakdown" wrote book editor Ursula Nordstrom to Edward Gorey on January 28, 1972. "Welcome to the club. I think you know that I have His and Her straitjackets hanging in my office. Come down and slip into one and we can have a good talk."
Displaying her perfect touch for chivvying yet encouraging "geniuses," Nordstrom was inquiring about a long-overdue (and, sadly, never-published) manuscript:
"Honey, I hate to pester you, but we do so want to do beautifully by your book The Interesting List. And we were supposed to get it in November so we'd have plenty of time to have printed and folded sheets for the Sales Conference early in May. Now it's almost February and I've seen nothing.
If you are stuck, or discouraged, or something like that I might be able to help get you unstuck, or encouraged. I thought I had experienced all the editorial experiences an editor could experience. But you are a brand new experience for me, and it makes me feel all young again…. I mean lots of brilliant artists are happy to let me see their work in progress, and they know I am not going to say anything to throw them off the right track. Won't you trust me? Must I send you certificates of editorial integrity from Ungerer, Sendak, and others?
We want The Interesting List to be one of the BIG, BIG, BIG Harper Books for the fall of 1972. Love, genius dear
Nordstrom was director of Harper's Department of Books for Boys and Girls from 1940 to 1973, and she shepherded to print books by some of the best in the business, including Margaret Wise Brown,  E.B. White, and Laura Ingalls Wilder.
During some overdue culling and reshuffling of my two dozen bookcases last week, I happened to open 1998's Dear Genius: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom on the page of the Gorey letter and was smitten. A few days later, in a bit of serendipitous synchronicity, I later opened up Maria Popova's Brain Pickings column and found that she had done a feature on Nordstrom's relationship with Maurice Sendak (Nordstrom had discovered the youthful artist working in the window display department at F.A.O. Schwarz)! Good work lives on.
Gorey was famous for his fur coats. "What becomes a legend most?", eh?


  1. I was just looking last night through a scrapbook I have of some clippings from old Daedalus catalogs — one way to pass the time — and came across Gorey’s first book The Unstrung Harp, from 1953. (Subtitle: Mr. Earbrass Writes a Novel.) No longer available from you, alas; I should have bought it at the time.

    1. Gorey's titles are as delicious as his drawings ... as I recall Daedalus has been fans of his all along. I too wish I had acquired a few more of his little gems.

    2. This just in: we have The Unrest-Cure and Other Stories by Saki -- illus. by Gorey!! It's from New York Review of Books. I love their list.... I look at it and want them all.