THE SILVERBERG SHELVES
Hey, check out this article in Bookforum I just came across profiling an old friend, Ira Silverberg. I first met Ira years ago when I was the Programming Director of The Kitchen. At various times a literary publicist, head of Grove Press and agent (now at Donadio and Olson), Ira would pitch — and I would program — readings by people like Mary Gaitskill, Kathy Acker and Joel Rose. After a few of these I suggested he cut out the middleman (me) and become the curator of a new Kitchen literary series, a program he directed for several years. Elizabeth Schambelan’s piece nicely captures Ira’s great taste, ironic humor, and his ability to propel the work of writers like Acker, Dennis Cooper, and William Burroughs out into the world.
In a career spanning more than twenty years, Silverberg has maintained a deep commitment to avant-garde and experimental fiction and poetry, as the books in the SoHo apartment where he has lived since 1990 attest. His collection is carefully edited, he says: “There’s no room—about a year ago I sent eleven cases of books to Housing Works, because they had taken over the space.” (He later tried to buy some of his favorites back.) Even so, his wall of minimalist white shelves presents a remarkably concise précis of a particular cultural genealogy, one that encompasses literature from Sade to Genet to the Beats to the downtown New York literati of later decades. Additional branches extend into visual art (Andy Warhol and the Factory milieu, Jack Smith, Nan Goldin), pop culture (with an emphasis on the darker effusions of Vietnam-era Los Angeles, as represented by Manson in His Own Words and a first edition of Joan Didion’s White Album), and unreconstructed kitsch. In the last category, in addition to Susann’s complete oeuvre, Silverberg possesses a copy of singer-songwriter Dory Previn’s 1971 book of confessional poems On My Way to Where. Explaining how this curio survived the Housing Works purge, he stares at the cover, which shows an impassive Previn working an Ossie Clark look, and muses, “Just the whole idea of her writing about her husband [composer André Previn] being stolen by Mia Farrow, and being photographed in that coyote coat with the aviator sunglasses and what I would call a Jew-fro, though I don’t think she’s a member of the tribe—I mean, how can you give that away?”