Writer-Editor Ted Solotaroff, Literary Democrat

Appreciation

By Max Apple

Published August 12, 2008, issue of August 22, 2008.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Ted Solotaroff, who died August 8 at the age of 80, was, among his many literary virtues, a good writer of obituaries. He had his finger on the pulse of his era, and the press could count on him to sum up the lives and works of key literary figures — Irving Howe, Meyer Schapiro, Allen Ginsburg, Alfred Kazin.

MENSCH OF LETTERS: Max Apple remembers Ted Solotaroff, a writer and editor who “came to mingle with the literary giants of his time and became one of them.”
MENSCH OF LETTERS: Max Apple remembers Ted Solotaroff, a writer and editor who “came to mingle with the literary giants of his time and became one of them.”

Solotaroff was well acquainted with the world of the Jewish intellectuals; he knew most of them and edited a good many of their works. His career began with a long essay on American Jewish writers for the Times Literary Supplement while he was a graduate student. After graduate school, he took a job as an assistant editor at Commentary and later became books editor of the New York Herald Tribune.

In 1967, he founded New American Review, later American Review, a literary magazine in paperback format that was among the most widely read and influential of its time. In one edition, American Review might feature new work by Philip Roth, whom Solotaroff befriended as a graduate student at the University of Chicago, or E.L. Doctorow, alongside fiction and poetry and essays from previously unknown writers.

In 1977, Solotaroff moved to Harper & Row, where he was a senior editor until his retirement.

Born to a working-class family in Elizabeth, N.J., Solotaroff came to mingle with the literary giants of his time and became one of them, but that was only one aspect of his life as an editor. At creative writing conferences around the country, and as a guest at university writing programs, Solotaroff would read and read and read what the hopeful writers — young and old — submitted, not because he was paid to do so, and not because he expected to find any literary gems. He read on because he understood that those who were not going to have writing careers still put writing at the center of their lives, and they deserved to be taken seriously by “someone from New York.” Solotaroff did this.

He gave his powerful critical attention democratically to American letters. Literature was not a closed club to him. Everyone merited a shot, and even if few could make it into print, everyone still had an equal opportunity to share in what was really the heart of the matter: reading. He was a great reader influenced by 19th-century Russians, but he had an astute eye and ear for the new and experimental as well.

Always a fine essayist, even though he spent little time on his own work, Solotaroff began to write his memoirs after he retired and moved to East Quogue, N.Y. It’s characteristic of who he was that he didn’t begin by writing about his years as a powerful member of the establishment. Instead he wrote two volumes about his years of difficult domestic life.

The first volume, “Truth Comes in Blows,” and the second, “First Loves,” are masterpieces of 20th-century realism. At the time of his death, Solotaroff was working on the third volume.

Although that work is unfinished, he published a collection of his essays, “The Literary Community,” this year.

“Truth Comes in Blows” won a PEN award, and the National Foundation for Jewish Culture (now the Foundation for Jewish Culture) honored Solotaroff for his contributions to Jewish writing. But his biggest prize, though difficult to attain, was simple: one good sentence followed by another and another and another.






Find us on Facebook!
  • Happy birthday Barbra Streisand! Our favorite Funny Girl turns 72 today.
  • Clueless parenting advice from the star of "Clueless."
  • Why won't the city give an answer?
  • BREAKING NEWS: Israel has officially suspended peace talks with the Palestinians.
  • Can you guess what the most boring job in the army is?
  • What the foolish rabbi of Chelm teaches us about Israel and the Palestinian unity deal:
  • Mazel tov to Idina Menzel on making Variety "Power of Women" cover! http://jd.fo/f3Mms
  • "How much should I expect him and/or ask him to participate? Is it enough to have one parent reciting the prayers and observing the holidays?" What do you think?
  • New York and Montreal have been at odds for far too long. Stop the bagel wars, sign our bagel peace treaty!
  • Really, can you blame them?
  • “How I Stopped Hating Women of the Wall and Started Talking to My Mother.” Will you see it?
  • Taglit-Birthright Israel is redefining who they consider "Jewish" after a 17% drop in registration from 2011-2013. Is the "propaganda tag" keeping young people away?
  • Happy birthday William Shakespeare! Turns out, the Bard knew quite a bit about Jews.
  • Would you get to know racists on a first-name basis if you thought it might help you prevent them from going on rampages, like the recent shooting in Kansas City?
  • "You wouldn’t send someone for a math test without teaching them math." Why is sex ed still so taboo among religious Jews?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.