Reading Paul Auster’s obituary this morning in The New York Times, I recall him as a gifted, elegant, cosmopolitan comrade and writer in the late 1970s, when my wife and I were starting a new life in Brooklyn Heights and Paul came over to our place for Roberta’s corned-beef dinner, which he lauded to the skies; and then reciprocated, inviting me to bring Nicholas, our toddler-son, over to his apartment in Prospect Heights for a play-date with his son, Daniel. I see it now: a galley-kitchen, sun streaming over house-plants on the sill; weary fathers nursing cups of strong coffee, leaning on the sideboard — Paul, smoking — while their little boys scrambled about on the floor.

One conversation led to many others, and when Paul was editing the magisterial, six-hundred page Random House Book of Twentieth-Century French Poetry (Dual-Language Edition, 1982) he requested that I contribute. I translated three poems by Jacques Roubaud, proud to be numbered among the conglomeration of so many imaginative voices. Our reading at St. Mark’s Church in December 1982 was an old-school celebration of cultures. [Portrait of Verlaine and Rimbaud in the commemorative poster above by Alex Katz.]

Our friendship as parents and writers ended when my family and I left Brooklyn while, as is well-known, Paul stayed on.

I cherish Paul’s diligence as an editor with unvarnished respect for my text; and the warmth of his tolerant smile when I praised, early on, the melancholy magic of his novels.

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