Ted Solotaroff, 79, Founder of New American Review
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Ted Solotaroff, who died August 8 at 79, founded the New American Review, an influential if small-circulation literary quarterly in the 1960s and 1970s. He later worked as a book editor with a stable of writers including Russell Banks, Robert Bly, and Bobbi Ann Mason, and he published glowingly reviewed memoirs.
The New American Review, which he began in 1967, took its name from the New American Library, its original publisher, which was also a distinguished publisher of paperback books.”. Under Solotaroff’s editorship, the journal published early excerpts of Kate Millet’s “Sexual Politics” and Philip Roth’s “Portnoy’s Complaint.” In 1973, when it moved to Bantam as publisher, its name was shortened to American Review. With list of subscribers in the low thousands, its existence was precarious. Jonathan Yardley noted in the Washington Post that the journal had “had more publishers than the Oakland Athletics have had managers.”
Yet a list of those who wrote for it reads like an all-star team of the era: Donald Barthelme, Günter Grass, Robert Coover, E.L. Doctorow, Harold Brodkey. Wrote Solotaroff in the first issue, “There is a great deal of creative expression in America today that does not flow in strictly literary channels.” By the time the American Review folded in 1979, a great deal more of that creative expression was being published.
Solotaroff moved to Harper & Row, where he continued to use his knack for discovering young writers. “It was understood that most of the books I acquired would lose money,” he wrote in 1995. “Serious writing usually does.”
He decried what he portrayed as a takeover of the book business by marketers and other bottom-line types. The book business repaid him by decommissioning him and then tripling the value of his pension after Harper’s stock went up, thanks to News Corp.’s adroit performance.
Born October 9, 1928, in Elizabeth, N.J., Solotaroff was the son of a plate glass manufacturer and grew up in the shadow of his more culturally aware Manhattan relatives. His parents, he recalled in his memoir “Truth Comes in Blows” (1998), were “ideally unsuited” to each other; his father is portrayed as a brute who refused to allow his 5-year-old son to have his broken nose set by a proper doctor. As a college student he finally had the debilitated nose reset.
Solotaroff served in the Navy and then entered into his own difficult marriage — he would eventually divorce three times. He studied English literature at the University of Chicago. There he met fellow student Philip Roth, who once described Solotaroff “fighting the 14th round with his Ph.D.” Solotaroff never finished his doctorate, but he did appear in Mr. Roth’s fictions, in “Letting Go,” (1962) and later in “Operation Shylock: A Confession” (1993), in which he runs into the narrator at Barney Greengrass.
In 1960, he was hired as literary editor of Commentary, and in 1966 he became editor of Book Week, the review section of the New York Herald Tribune. But the paper folded within a year, and in 1967 he founded the New American Review.
A prolific reviewer and critic, Solotaroff’s shorter writings were collected in “The Red Hot Vacuum” (1970) and “A Few Good Voices in My Head” (1987). He was a trenchant observer of the American Jewish literary scene and once wrote: “What Walden Pond is to Thoreau or the West End of London to Henry James, a family situation is to the Jewish writer.”
He retired in 1989 and moved to the village of Quogue, N.Y., in eastern Long Island, where he worked on his memoirs. Each of the two published volumes centers on his life with a monster — the first his father, the second, in “First Loves” (2003), his first wife, Lynn Ringler, whom he first sighted in 1948 while working at the Lido Beach Hotel, a Jewish resort on Long Island. He wrote of seeing her emerge from the water “a glowing girl with a sexy-arty look and a brooding inner life.” The brooding came to dominate, in Solotaroff’s account, and they divorced in 1965. But they remained close in some ways. He scattered her ashes after her death from lung cancer in 1994. “I waited for an especially bright early summer afternoon and then cast them into the sea, 50 miles or so farther along the coast from where I had first seen her coming out of the water.”
He apparently planned more volumes of memoirs — at the time of his death he was at work on a third volume that only took him to the mid-1960s.
He is survived by his wife, Virginia; four sons, Paul, Ivan, Jason, and Isaac; several stepchildren from his later marriages, and six grandchildren.