Leonard Cohen – 1965 Letter to His Book Editor, Sent From Hydra, Greece
A typed letter from Leonard Cohen to his friend and editor at Viking Books, Corleis ‘Cork’ Smith, asking “would you mind taking a look at a manuscript of an old friend of mine?”
Dated August 6, 1965, Cohen writes from his home on the Greek island of Hydra:
Would you mind taking a look at a manuscript of an old friend of mine? The book is called FLIGHT OF THE SCARECROW and it’s by George Dickerson. His agent is Carl Brandt. A section of the book appeared in a recent Martha Foley collection of best short stories under the title CHICO. Mr Brandt will have sent the mss [manuscript] before this arrives probably. I told George (who has been on the island this summer) that you would see that the book gets a fair reading.
I hope that this is O.K.
See you one of these days,
(Cohen signs in black ink)
This letter was written as Cohen was trying to earn a living as a poet and writer, a few years before taking up music as a professional pursuit. Wikipedia notes, Cohen continued to write poetry and fiction throughout much of the 1960s and preferred to live in quasi-reclusive circumstances after he bought a house on Hydra, a Greek island. Cohen lived on Hydra with Marianne Ihlen, his muse and the subject of several of his best-known songs, including ‘So Long Marianne.’ At the time of the writing, Cohen was likely finishing up his second novel, Beautiful Losers, which Cork Smith edited and Viking published in 1966.
Just two years after sending this letter, Cohen released his debut album–featuring the classics “Suzanne,” “Sisters of Mercy,” and “So Long, Marianne”– jump-starting a nearly fifty-year career as a beloved singer/songwriter.
This letter was part of the collection of Cork Smith (1929-2004), a New York book editor who in a 50-year career published many important writers, including Thomas Pynchon, Jimmy Breslin and Calvin Trillin. Signed letters and written works by Leonard Cohen are exceedingly rare; a 2019 auction of his correspondence with Marianne Ihlen saw a 1960 letter sell for $56,250. while a 1964 letter sold for $35,000.
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George Dickerson (1933-2015) was an American actor, writer and poet. A graduate of Yale University, where he studied with novelist and poet Robert Penn Warren, Dickerson read his poems at venues with Beatnik poets such as Gregory Corso, Diane de Prima and Ted Joans. His poetry was praised by novelist Norman Mailer, and he maintained long term friendships with many well-known artists, including Leonard Cohen, actor Richard Widmark, playwright Arthur Miller, and opera star Leontyne Price.
Dickerson worked at Macmillan Publishing, Time Magazine, and The New Yorker. While reviewing literature for Time, Dickerson helped to promote the careers of such young writers (at that time) as John Irving, Cormac McCarthy, Donald Barthelme, Robert Stone and Don DeLillo.
His short story Chico appeared in The Best American Short Stories of 1963, and was praised by poet e.e. cummings. His short story A Mussel Named Ecclesiastes appeared in The Best American Short Stories of 1966. He was also published in The New Yorker, Mademoiselle, The Saturday Evening Post, Cosmopolitan and Penthouse.
Dickerson later became an actor, taking roles in the television series Hill Street Blues, and David Lynch’s film Blue Velvet. He had major roles in films including Psycho II, Space Raiders, The Star Chamber, and Death Wish 4, and guest starred on episodes of television shows including Three’s Company, Charlie’s Angels, and L.A. Law.
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