Few undergraduate college literary magazines have been staffed - decade after decade - by as much talent as the Columbia Review. Many of its distinguished alumni will gather this Saturday in Morningside Heights to read and reminisce at what is being called the Review's first-ever reunion. Authors from the 1930s to the present will include Pulitzer Prize winners (Richard Howard and Louis Simpson), a former poet laureate (Daniel Hoffman), and well-known names such as Luc Sante and Paul Auster. Recent editors, Jennifer Glaser and Sarah Robinson, will be on hand to welcome them to this literary homecoming.
The Columbia Review's past is, indeed, star-studded. How many college magazines can boast cover art by Ad Reinhardt, pieces by Thomas Merton, and early poems by Allen Ginsberg? Over the years, jazz producer Orrin Keepnews, filmmaker Jim Jarmusch, and playwright Terrence McNally were contributors or staff members of the Review, which has published fiction, poetry, and essays.
"The magazine is an institution, although many don't realize it," Golden Gate University professor Les Gottesman, who was editor in chief in 1967-68, said.
Plans for this event started in 2002, when Framingham State College professor Alan Feldman said at a conference that it would be great to gather Review alums from the 1960s,when he served on the magazine's staff.Mr.Gottesman then broadened the concept to celebrate the magazine and what it has meant to young writers over the years.
As he polled alums, he found them receptive to the idea of a multigenerational gathering, but, he recalled, they invariably said, "You do it." Though he lives on the West Coast, he traveled to New York and copied the magazine's mastheads from 1932 to the present, gathering 1,060 names, of which he was able to contact about half.
"Looking back," Mr. Lehman, poetry editor in 1969,recalled in an email,"I am still impressed with the quality of the writing. Lionel Trilling wrote for the magazine in the 1920s, John Berryman and Robert Giroux in the 1930s, Allen Ginsberg and John Hollander in the 1940s. Richard Howard edited it, and Robert Gottlieb played a big part in it in the early 1950s."
"The review gave us a chance to be published. It meant a lot to us at the time, "the Pulitzer-winning Mr.Simpson, editor in 1942-43, said.
Mr. Hollander edited the review after Mr.Simpson in 1946.Asked if he had had a specific direction he wanted the magazine to follow, Mr. Hollander, now a Yale emeritus professor, told The New York Sun: "No. I had unformed tastes."
Like others with literary interests, he said,he drifted toward the magazine.His colleagues at the time included Herbert Gold, later a novelist, and Joe Kraft, the noted journalist.
"We liked literature and wanted to be part of it,"said the poet and translator Mr. Howard, editor in 1950-51. "We thought we were doing something rather highbrow and special." He and his staff put out an issue featuring Andre Gide.
The campus climate became more disputatious the next decade. Phillip Lopate, editor in 1964, recalled staff resignations over censorship of a poem that he described as "innocuous" by today's standards. In defiance, students distributed a rogue edition called the Censored Review. But Mr. Lopate said, "I joined the quisling staff" the next year.
Later that decade, political ferment did not escape the magazine, when editors of the Columbia Review issued a second publication called Janet Benderman that satirized and insulted campus administrators. Mr. Gottesman intends to bring copies for display at Low Library, the same building that housed President Grayson Kirk's office, which he and other protestors occupied in 1968.
Mr. Gottesman recalled that the overall tone of the Columbia Review staff's approach was more playful than many campus activists. Likewise, protest leader Mark Rudd dismissed David Shapiro as an aesthete, the latter recalled. Mr. Gottesman said he helped bring "the Ten Plagues of Egypt" down on Columbia, releasing hundreds of live frogs in a building and dyeing the fountain red during that tumultuous period.
But Columbia Review staff and contributors have come from across the political spectrum.The oldest alumnus attending is Ralph de Toledano, long associated with the National Review, who was on the Columbia Review's editorial board in 1935 and associate editor in 1937. Norman Podhoretz, editor at large of Commentary magazine, contributed as well.
Mr. Shapiro, a William Patterson University professor (not related to the author of this article), recalled how at one editorial meeting in the late 1960s, "I went almost crazy with paternalism and told the young writers - two years younger - that they had to learn to work, to give up all drug-taking, and commit themselves seriously to poetry. They gave me a look that I was a fool for thinking they needed that advice." Mr. Gottesman said editorial meetings had "a lot of clashing male egos."
Mr. Lehman recalled of that period before co-education: "One year, in 1967 I think, when Les Gottesman was the magazine's editor, he and pals formed the Columbia 'poem team.' It was my sophomore year, and I remember going to Dean Erwin Glikes and appealing (successfully) for funds to subsidize car trips to Sarah Lawrence,Vassar, Mount Holyoke; the idea was that the college we visited would field its own team to 'oppose' us. Not incidentally almost all the colleges we visited - Yale was the exception - were women's colleges."
The magazine was founded in 1919 with the name Columbia Varsity.Around 1930,the publication changed to the Varsity Review before assuming its present name, Columbia University archivist Jennifer Ulrich said. In the 1960s through the 1970s, much poetry in the magazine bore the influence of the socalled New York School, which favored experimental verse.This was, Mr. Gottesman said, partly due to the influence of Columbia professor Kenneth Koch, a charismatic classroom presence.
The current editor in chief, Max Norton, class of 2006, is publishing a special Columbia Review, "The Auld Lang Syne," to help mark the reunion.The issue will include a poem, "The Blackbird," by Mr. Hollander and a poem by Ginsberg (associate editor in 1946-7) that appeared in the Review in 1946 and has never been republished. Mr. Norton plans to be a river guide in Colorado after graduation. He has another river to navigate first: He said the magazine is at the printer, and there's a "good chance" it will be ready by the reunion. Racing to meet deadlines, it seems, is one thing that seldom changes over the years.
Alumni who wish to attend the Friday night reception or the Saturday panel should call Sharen Medrano at 212-870-2742. A public reading will take place downtown at the Bowery Poetry Club from 6 to 8 p.m.
Correction from March 10, 2006:
David Lehman is the name of the Columbia Review poetry editor in 1969. The name was incorrect in an article on page 15 of the March 9 New York Sun.