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Lorin Stein and The Paris Review: The personal is professional is literary is a party

By Harriet Staff

Because it’s a Fashion & Style piece, let’s get a few things out of the way in The New York Times’ profile of Paris Review editor Lorin Stein. Who makes his suits? Kirk Miller. What exclusive bar does he frequent? The Wooly. What literary figure’s photobooth portrait keeps watch over his office bathroom? Frederick Seidel. There are also the obligatory society notes such as what his parents do, where he went to school and, if the article were actually a Vows column, as it sometimes reads, which famous guests would be on the list for Stein’s marriage to himself. Oh! But does he know someone who cross-dresses? Check.

With Style Section Bingo safely behind us, it’s easier to focus on how “lifestyle” actually translates to “literature.” In her description of a typical night on the town for Stein, Julie Bosman sets out her thesis: “Bacchanalian nights are practically inscribed in the job description.” Well, if by “Bacchanalian” one means going to a book party, a magazine party and then to dinner with other professionals. Which kind of sounds like any job description where one needs to keep abreast of industry happenings.

So far, Mr. Stein seems to be handling both the social and the professional job requirements rather deftly. He has amped up that half-century-old Paris Review tradition, attracting a mix of writers, agents and magazine editors, perhaps more aspiring than established, and certainly more young than old.

“Some of it is definitely targeted,” said Cary Goldstein, the publisher of Twelve, an imprint of Grand Central Publishing. “These are people he wants to work with, people he wants to get something from. He’s always been doing this, but he doesn’t do it in a smarmy way.”

While the editing process itself is no bacchanal, the process of finding the talent and support (financial and otherwise) to produce a great magazine is nothing if not a social endeavor and naturally, a targeted one. As Leon Wieseltier of The New Republic points out, if Stein is to truly return The Paris Review to its literary roots as he hopes to do, “It has to provide beautiful, witty, rarefied fun of a distinct kind. The social stuff cannot be the heart of it. Lorin needs to make The Paris Review matter to people for whom literature matters.”

But just as social events can create introductions and referrals and influence what makes its way onto the page among that very circle of people for whom literature matters, so too can those people let you know if you’re straying from your mission. In that situation, it sure helps to have a drink handy, but by casting a wide social net, Stein opens himself up to new ideas, colleagues and criticism, not just more opportunities to get a drink.

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Posted in Poetry News on Monday, February 28th, 2011 by Harriet Staff.