Monday, September 29, 2014


Dear Jonathan Galassi,

I wanted to let you know that I have decided not to sue FSG for the many thousands I was never paid on the altogether 50 titles that FSG has in print through my services; at any rate, not at this time, and not from Seattle.

The 1966 contract called for participation on my part once a book had sold in excess of 5,000 copies of 1 %, and in the event of paperback and book club sales of 2 %. Missing, as I discovered only recently, is an accounting for the second five titles on the first 10 book Hesse contract {1}, as well accounting for Nossack's THE IMPOSSIBLE PROOF, which went into a second priting, as did Christa Wolf's THINKING ABOUT CHRISTA T., which has had paperback sales, as well as, of course, Nelly Sachs O THE CHIMNEY'S which sold in excess of 7,500 copies and had book club sales, and you recently licensed another selection to Green Integer, as has FSG issued licenses in the past; nor on Handke's RIDE ACROSS LAKE CONSTANCE & OTHER PLAYS, all of which plays I translated and which title, but for THEY ARE DING OUT, had been in the works since 1970 although it was not published until the mid-70s and consists entirely of my translations; nor of any of the Peter Handke titles, even though many of them were sold to paperback in many editions.

Things went well initially, as of 1966. Two of the first three authors were Nobel Prize winners. Nelly Sachs {2}, whose OH THE CHIMNEYS selection of poetry and one play and introduction by Hans Magnus Enzensberger I put together translating 65 poems myself; and a ten book contract for Hermann Hesse where three of the translations (done for the deceased editor Roger Klein at Harper & Row) were ready to be published: Ursule Molinaro's of NARCISS & GOLDMUND, and mine of PETER CAMENZIND & BENEATH THE WHEEL. These first ten titles were sold to Bantam Books for handsome advances, NARCISS for $ 500,000. CAMENZIND and BENEATH THE WHEEL for 250,000. however, as it turned out, I received accounting and the agreed royalties only on the first five of the first ten book contract. Also there was the success of Handke's KASPAR AND OTHER PLAYS, on which I continue to receive accounting. The Hesse royalties, on all but NARCISS, have inexplicably been halved as I discovered on enlarging the microscopic print of the Macmillan/ Holzbrink statements! However, back then, during the days of early success, I recall buying a Napoleon style raincoat (during pret a porter forays for the wife!) and giving it to Handke in 1971 when he was in need and turned out to be not just an early conqueror, and how we (his wife Libgart and buddy Kolleritch of SHORT LETTER, LONG FAREWELL fame, and I) were amused how well the coat suited him as he struck the emblematic pose.

Shortly before leaving Farrar, Straus in 1969 [prevailed upon by suitor Siegfried Unseld to represent Suhrkamp through the literary agency Lantz & Donadio] Roger Straus and I negotiated a second 10 book contract with Suhrkamp. {see 1} The selection was mine, especially keen I was on the Hesse letters many of which advised those who approached him to find someone but not him as a leader preferably to become inner-directed (a selection which FSG eventually published under the aegis of friend and Hesse expert Ted Ziolkovsky). Since I knew of F.S.G.'s reluctance to commit large amounts to advances I managed to get both parties to come together at the sum of $ 5,000 per title; that is, a total of $ 50,000 – that was at a time when I imagine Bantam would have offered ten times the amount; and this was the one time I had lunch at the Four Seasons with Roger and the Suhrkamp New York agent, whom I had no idea I might replace on her resigning the account (and I might have asked why!), was the Berliner Joan Daves, whom I much liked also for her 30s stylishness, and whose husband Ashton I would later use as translator for Adorno as editor at Continuum Books.
However, I failed to attend to the tip however chintzy that Roger Straus left, this detail being an allusion to your comments on Roger Straus in your review of Boris Kachka's recent biography of Farrar, Straus & Giroux

Leaving FSG in 1969 with so many titles I had been instrumental in acquiring still to be published meant leaving as it were mid-pipeline and one question that was never addressed was the accounting for authors whom I secured for the firm and where the firm then published numerous books of theirs in times future, Peter Handke being especially productive and remunerative.

The time at FSG – I showed up just one day a week usually for Tuesday's editorial meetings – was by no means unpleasant, but for one matter. Hal Vussel was my editor for the Nelly Sachs, Margaret Nicholson had other talents aside contracts, Henry Wohlforth seemed a kindly comptroller, the most attuned I was to Henry Robins who however departed for Simon & Schuster, Bob Giroux of course seemed like the most formidable of bankers, the only matter that I gradually allowed myself to realize was that Michael DeCapua had been assigned or assigned himself to supervise me and shoot down some of my projects (who didn't know German, as a matter of fact I don't think any of the then editors had a second language!), including, after I left, my ADORNO READER, for which Susan Sontag had promised to write the introduction, and which I had spent a year devising – obviously an ADORNO READER at that time, published in the early 70s, would have had a major impact and made a difference in the level of critical discourse. Imagine that, a twerp (not to use my customary appellation {3}, like DeCapua, who also sought to abort my Handke, sabotaging Adorno! I of course might have asked Roger how this came about that this creature was sicked on to me, or why he was so keen to do in someone like me. Looking back, I was even slower and less able to defend myself than I am now.

Within the year of representing Suhrkamp, that is in 1970, I had a call from Roger saying I ought not to double-dip the second Hesse contract (which actually had not been signed and was not running over Lantz-Donadio though the anticipation was that it would) and, after consulting with Candida Donadio (who concurred with Straus who represented this as an ethical matter!!!), I agreed – although even then it occurred to me that there was really no earthly reason why the same source of income, Hesse – at Lantz-Donadio the agency and I split the then 10% agent's income – could not help defray my livelihood at different places of work at different times.
Near simultaneously Straus suggested why not take a snap shot of the books on which you are then {that is, in 1970) receiving royalties, and since there was no particular reason to say no, but a possible upside, we signed a list of that kind to that effect, a piece of paper which (for all I now know since the firm refuses to reply to my queries) I believe was a trick, although I never conceived that someone who was making millions from books I had brought him would screw me; not that subsequent experiences did not teach me that that was precisely the point of how you became and stayed rich, i.e. a wishful delusion of mine since in fact I had had two warning signs that all might not be well on that score.
For about the time that I started to work at F.S.G. - Roger cherry picked me in 1966 when I had stopped by F.S.& G. in my capacity as Suhrkamp scout
I was introduced (I think it was via Bryn Mawr classmate friend Paula Diamond) to Cecil Hemley who had sold the NOONDAY BOOKS paperback line to Roger. Cecil mentioned that he had been screwed by Roger on the deal. I might have inquired further, but I did not. Cecil died shortly thereafter and his son Robin, born in 1958, who never really knew his dad, has no knowledge of family lore in what respect Roger had been remiss in the Noonday contract. The other warning I had had was when Roger, out of the nowhere, said to me, referring to the Nelly Sachs volume OH THE CHIMNEYS, that I had spent a year putting together: “We don't pay royalties on poetry translations.” This of course was entirely against our contract, but I think I was just too stunned to immediately object, and quit, or go to court. Another crudity along the same line was Roger's saying “Now let's hustle her ass” - poor Nelly if she had ever heard her heart's blood referred to in that fashion!

I myself left the Lantz-Donadi agency and the Suhrkamp representation in 1971 {6} because Dr. Unseld, the head of Suhrkamp, had made himself unrepresentable by seeking to breach the agreed upon terms for mass paperback splits between Suhrkamp and Farrar, Straus of the first Hesse contract {Hesse seems to elicit greed and not much else, starting with his heirs!); and that breach was the main reason the 2nd Hesse contract had not been finalized, and so I did not get to dip a single time on that; and the contract then ran I believe over my successor, the now deceased Kurt Bernheim, a matter easily ascertained by contacting the person who handles rights at Suhrkamp Verlag, Dr. Petra Hardt. Another reason I quit was that the representational work turned onerous and I earned $ 125 per week while generating at least an equal amount in overhead cost and ended up subsidizing my agency work – which turned what was meant a part time into a full time job - with my royalties!

When I started to call Roger Straus' attention to the fact that I never dipped once – first in the mid-eighties, then once more in the 90s - he refused to answer, as have you, his successor, or Holzbrinck, the new owner, to whom he sold F.S.G., it is said for 30 million dollars, and John Sargent the head of Macmillan U.S.A. who oversees the U.S part of the conglomerate.

If I were in New York I would bring suit myself; and have the hunch that a judge would be sympathetic to my case if I brought it per se. I mean I brought huge riches to that firm and lack the finances to repair my teeth! I would pillory that firm and the, in so many ways, admirable you, like me a translator and scholar and poet (and who appears able to do that and running a sizable firm simultaneously!), for failing to make good on my contract. However, even if I were in New York I would have to pay $ 10 K to bring suit in Federal Court, a sum I have not had in my account for more than ten years; thus, NY State court would be the way to go since the contract was drawn and executed there. It is too difficult and expensive at this remove, from Seattle. Even if I collected the maximum that might be owed during the past six seven years - the cut-off date for the statute of limitation - it would not amount to more than six or seven thousand dollars, scarcely sufficient to cover the cost of filing a federal lawsuit. There is of course the future income to consider!
Bringing suit in NY state court would not require the initial outlay Moreover, once I discovered the benefits of a modicum of legal training, I won two per se suits in Federal Court against an ex in Urizen Books {4}, and if I had collected these hundred of thousands I wouldn't bother with FSG, I mean I am when it comes to my self pathologically ungreedy as well as evidently negligent, only noticing about six months ago that I was being payed on only the first five titles of the initial 10 book Handke contract!, something that would have made a difference in my life in the 70s + 80s when these titles were published and earning the bulk of their income also upon being sold to Bantam books for mass paperback publication; yet they have remained in print all this time as have the ten titles from the second 10 book Hesse contract. - Roger saved himself at least a couple of hundred thousand dollars over the life-time of these contracts, but lacked the decency to make good once he sold the firm.

However, if you happen to know anyone who knows how to collect U.S. Federal judgments in Calabria, Palermo to be specific, I gladly share the proceeds 50/50!
As matter of fact, if a small legacy that I lived on as the most modest of writer-scholar mice, in addition to my royalties, had not disparu while I lived in Mexico from 1991 to 1994, I probably would not bother either! If I had had that income I might have gone to the planned Michoacan and if the Mexican amoeba had not finally done me in I would have lived amongst the tribe that worships the Monarch butterfly and not gone back to translating for a time (5) and not have the priceless experience, upon returning to the USSR, that produced the unplanned “WRITE SOME NUMB'S, BITCH!”
and been unlikely to have been in the position to create the Handke.scriptmania complex and its successor

So it turns out, if you want me to be productive don't shower me with wealth or even now, in advanced age, I might revert to the sometimes quite wonderful sybaritic ways of late 70 to mid -80s NY that I made myself escape since I seem to love to work.

Roger Straus it turns out was not just crude but subtly tricky; not just chintzy but a chiseler, and, knowing that a publishing house is the leakiest sieve, looked toward the future, counted future pennies while he kept dressing in 12 ply suits, drove his yellow convertible Mercedes and, if one is to believe what one reads in Kachka's book, was pasha of a sexual sewer on Union Square – more than I noticed at the time, though during the two times I traveled with Roger to the Frankfurt Bookfair I could not help but notice that he favored the hetero side of what's called “rough trade.” All this while apparently dancing on the precipice of bankruptcy!
That to some he was a great publisher was perhaps only possible in the NY of the time, but I don't want to repeat what I posted

yet it isn't really so surprising that the bulk of Anglo-American publishing is now owned by various continental conglomerates, what with the NY Times Henry Raymond always running to Roger as though he were the oracle of the book publishing world – how provincial can you get!

Thus I rue the day that I allowed myself to be cherry-picked by Roger, if I had managed to work up some enthusiasm for Viking Books' initial take-down of the Warren Report matters might have been different. {6}

Since Roger also smartly cherry-picked you over his own son, the question is whether you are not just a better publisher, as you and the firm strike me {but for the ctd. inability to publish Handke as he ought to be and as he is by his other major foreign publishers

but, I put it to you, also more honorable.

Sincerely yours,

    Michael Roloff
    4616 = 25th Ave NE # 357
    Seattle. WA 98105
  • 206-612-4576

here is a link to all the Hesse titles that Bantam Books put out.
All but STEPPENWOLF, GLASSBEAD GAME + DEMIAN derive via me from FSG.
Here the link to FSG/McMillan for Hesse.

2] NELLY SACHS. I happened to have the option on Nelly Sachs at the time that one fine morning in Fall 1966, on waking, the NY Times greeted me with the news of the award. I called Roger and promised to translate a half dozen poems for the next editorial meeting. Then I hired Michael Hamburger and Ruth and Mathew Mead to translate together with me. For me the translation of 65 of those poems was my mourning work and it wiped me out emotionally, which is why I did not participate in the 2nd volume that FSG published.

3] “Asslicking stiletto man.”

I am just completing something autobiographical that I call SCREEN MEMORIES. It ends in 1960. Much as I love learning and teaching California girls at Stanford I have dropped out of grad school, the prospect of being a life-long member of a German – or any - department had made me go dead. I went to Alaska and fought forest fires and worked as a geological surveyor for nine months. I am not going to Ibiza for the winter as do so many fire fighters; I am not tough enough for the McCabe & Mrs. Miller winter at Chena Ridge in Fairbanks; the girl I am seeing does not ask me to enjoy cabin fever with her, but is waiting for her main squeeze lumberjack to show back up; I am dwelling on how I will go on adventuring. The idea of driving nitro glycerin trucks in the Venezuelan oil fields signifies that I have seen too many films, I really don't like getting my head under water I conclude at the prospect of going conch diving in the South Seas, if I had known that my childhood negative role model had a big safari outfit in Mozambique
I can't imagine not spending some time with him, I was in good shape, a good enough woodsman, a good enough shot, but during one of these wild nights at Chena Ridge I am evidently reverying and have a “eureka” moment, and my friend Carlson, a big Swede from Minnesota, says, “You just reached a big decision.” Right: I recall Pound's ABC of Reading – that is “my way”! A magazine for starters! And looking back, I sometimes think that staying in Alaska and hooking up with an expatriate biologist at the university who went out each summer looking for the ur-beaver that he felt might have survived at one of the hot springs the last ice age I would have encountered far fewer carnivores than I did during my days in publishing in New York. I quite understand Bob Giroux's inability to write FSG's company history at the thought of Roger Straus.

5] TRANSLATING I mean there was nothing wrong with translating Adorno and Habermas, especially not with translating Josef Winkler, except that it took me away from the planned work of my own.

6] VIKING I who was just married in 1966 and looking for a somewhat steadier source of income than working as a translator and freelance reader with a book contract at Viking never conceived of asking as august a firm as F.S.G. for any kind of job. I also had a book contract with Viking, my editor was Alan Williams, I also was friendly with their editor in chief, Aaron
Asher, who took me to lunch, and found the material interesting for the book that I am completing only now {not the one contracted for), but I think was testing me when he mentioned that
Viking was about to publish a take-down of the Warren Report. I didn't bite. I was entirely indifferent, although if you had asked me whether I thought the take-down would be a commercial success I certainly would have assented, not that I could have imagined it becoming an industry, unless I considered the Lincoln assassination. Not that I thought Kennedy was a Lincoln of any kind. I remained indifferent because I figured that at least half a dozen culprits might have killed the dead man walking that was Kennedy after the Bay of Pigs, and then there were some enemies of course I didn't know about then.

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MICHAEL ROLOFF exMember Seattle Psychoanalytic Institute and Society this LYNX will LEAP you to all my HANDKE project sites and BLOGS: "MAY THE FOGGY DEW BEDIAMONDIZE YOUR HOOSPRINGS!" {J. Joyce} "Sryde Lyde Myde Vorworde Vorhorde Vorborde" [von Alvensleben] contact via my website


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