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Letters of Robert Giroux and Thomas Merton

The Letters of Robert Giroux and Thomas Merton

Edited and Annotated by Patrick Samway, S.J.
Foreword by Jonathan Montaldo

From the time they first met as undergraduates at Columbia College in New York City in the mid-1930s, the noted editor Robert Giroux (1914–2008) and the Trappist monk and writer Thomas Merton (1915–1968) became friends. The Letters of Robert Giroux and Thomas Merton capture their personal and professional relationship, extending from the time of the publication of Merton’s 1948 best-selling spiritual autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain, until a few months before Merton’s untimely death in December 1968. As editor-in-chief at Harcourt, Brace & Company and then at Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Giroux not only edited twenty-six of Merton’s books but served as an adviser to Merton as he dealt with unexpected problems with his religious superiors at the Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemani in Kentucky, as well as those in France and Italy.

These letters, arranged chronologically, offer invaluable insights into the publishing process that brought some of Merton’s most important writings to his readers. Patrick Samway, S.J., had unparalleled access not only to the materials assembled here but to Giroux’s unpublished talks about Merton, which he uses to his advantage, especially in his beautifully crafted introduction that interweaves the stories of both men with a chronicle of their personal and collaborative relationship. The result is a rich and rewarding volume, which shows how Giroux helped Merton to become one of the greatest spiritual writers of the twentieth century.

“This volume provides Thomas Merton readers with a unique perspective on his development as a published author and a deepened appreciation of Robert Giroux’s role in fostering that development. The book is both a lively and enjoyable read and a significant resource for students and scholars researching various aspects of Merton’s prolific writing career. It will lead to new perspectives on and to a more nuanced understanding of the development of Merton’s wide-ranging interests in monastic life and religious renewal, in social and political issues, in interreligious dialogue and literary criticism, and in numerous other fields.” — Patrick F. O’Connell, editor of Thomas Merton: Selected Essays

“The Letters of Robert Giroux and Thomas Merton is an important historic record of the emergence and development of one of the great spiritual writers of the twentieth century and of his long friendship and working relationship with one of the great editors of the time. In these letters, carefully and unobtrusively edited and annotated by Patrick Samway, S.J., we see the ups and downs of Merton’s literary affairs against the background of the rapid changes taking place both in the church and in the world during these years. With the advent of email and the demise of the art of letter writing, this book is a testament to a fast disappearing era and the immense value to be found in the literary and historical records contained in such exchanges." — Paul M. Pearson, director, Thomas Merton Center

“Robert Giroux, a great editor and publisher, was also a great friend, and Thomas Merton’s correspondence with him—steady, tight in focus, rich in detail, frankly affectionate—makes clear how fully editing and publishing, for Giroux, was an act of friendship. That is no surprise. The surprise is in seeing, through these letters, how deeply Merton’s vast and various body of work was grounded in friendship—in the desire to share all that he had come to know with the people he loved.” — Paul Elie, author of The Life You Save May Be Your Own

ISBN: 978-0-268-01786-6
E-ISBN 978-0-268-15840-8
408 pages
Publication Year: 2015

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Patrick Samway, S.J., professor emeritus of English at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, is the author or editor/coeditor of twelve books, including Walker Percy: A Life, selected by the New York Times Book Review as one of the notable books of 1997.

“Giroux and Fr. Merton first met when both were students at Columbia University in the late 1930s. This volume of their letters begins with one from Giroux dated March 8, 1948, as the manuscript of Fr. Merton’s autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain, was being revised and prepared for publication. At this time, Giroux was Fr. Merton’s editor at Harcourt, Brace & Co., a major New York publishing house. This book would go on to become a mega-bestseller and make Fr. Merton one of the most influential Catholic authors of the 20th century. Later in life, he would express regret that his autobiography included a kind of naive piety and a romanticized portrayal of monastic life. Still, The Seven Storey Mountain remains a classic that has never been out of print. . . . Fr. Samway’s introduction, footnotes and epilogue enrich the book beautifully.” — The Compass

“The Letters of Robert Giroux and Thomas Merton as compiled and edited by the Jesuit scholar Patrick Samway is a must read for the legions of Thomas Merton enthusiasts whose lives have been touched by his writings. This extraordinary collection of correspondence will also prove to be of immense interest to anyone with an interest in the publishing process that Merton engaged in with the editorial assistance and under the influence of Robert Giroux." — The Midwest Book Review

“In these letters, readers find the (justifiable) laments concerning censors and religious superiors reluctant to allow publication, often over remarkably trivial concerns. And publishers demonstrated that they could be just as contentious, arbitrary, and capricious as any monastic censor. Several exchanges about racism, war, and literature . . . allow readers to listen in on the wisdom of two astute observers of mid-20th century society.” — Choice

“The letters reveal a lifelong friendship between Merton and Giroux. . . . This is an important contribution to Merton scholarship—a new primary text in the Merton oeuvre. However, it is also a testimony to the brilliance of Robert Giroux, who emerges here as one of Merton’s most important interpreters, critics, and collaborators.” — American Catholic Studies

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The Letters of Robert Giroux and Thomas Merton


Edited and Annotated by Patrick Samway, S.J.
Foreword by Jonathan Montaldo

The Letters of Robert Giroux and Thomas Merton
Paper Edition
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From the time they first met as undergraduates at Columbia College in New York City in the mid-1930s, the noted editor Robert Giroux (1914–2008) and the Trappist monk and writer Thomas Merton (1915–1968) became friends. The Letters of Robert Giroux and Thomas Merton capture their personal and professional relationship, extending from the time of the publication of Merton’s 1948 best-selling spiritual autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain, until a few months before Merton’s untimely death in December 1968. As editor-in-chief at Harcourt, Brace & Company and then at Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Giroux not only edited twenty-six of Merton’s books but served as an adviser to Merton as he dealt with unexpected problems with his religious superiors at the Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemani in Kentucky, as well as those in France and Italy.

These letters, arranged chronologically, offer invaluable insights into the publishing process that brought some of Merton’s most important writings to his readers. Patrick Samway, S.J., had unparalleled access not only to the materials assembled here but to Giroux’s unpublished talks about Merton, which he uses to his advantage, especially in his beautifully crafted introduction that interweaves the stories of both men with a chronicle of their personal and collaborative relationship. The result is a rich and rewarding volume, which shows how Giroux helped Merton to become one of the greatest spiritual writers of the twentieth century.

“This volume provides Thomas Merton readers with a unique perspective on his development as a published author and a deepened appreciation of Robert Giroux’s role in fostering that development. The book is both a lively and enjoyable read and a significant resource for students and scholars researching various aspects of Merton’s prolific writing career. It will lead to new perspectives on and to a more nuanced understanding of the development of Merton’s wide-ranging interests in monastic life and religious renewal, in social and political issues, in interreligious dialogue and literary criticism, and in numerous other fields.” — Patrick F. O’Connell, editor of Thomas Merton: Selected Essays

“The Letters of Robert Giroux and Thomas Merton is an important historic record of the emergence and development of one of the great spiritual writers of the twentieth century and of his long friendship and working relationship with one of the great editors of the time. In these letters, carefully and unobtrusively edited and annotated by Patrick Samway, S.J., we see the ups and downs of Merton’s literary affairs against the background of the rapid changes taking place both in the church and in the world during these years. With the advent of email and the demise of the art of letter writing, this book is a testament to a fast disappearing era and the immense value to be found in the literary and historical records contained in such exchanges." — Paul M. Pearson, director, Thomas Merton Center

“Robert Giroux, a great editor and publisher, was also a great friend, and Thomas Merton’s correspondence with him—steady, tight in focus, rich in detail, frankly affectionate—makes clear how fully editing and publishing, for Giroux, was an act of friendship. That is no surprise. The surprise is in seeing, through these letters, how deeply Merton’s vast and various body of work was grounded in friendship—in the desire to share all that he had come to know with the people he loved.” — Paul Elie, author of The Life You Save May Be Your Own

ISBN: 978-0-268-01786-6

408 pages

“Giroux and Fr. Merton first met when both were students at Columbia University in the late 1930s. This volume of their letters begins with one from Giroux dated March 8, 1948, as the manuscript of Fr. Merton’s autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain, was being revised and prepared for publication. At this time, Giroux was Fr. Merton’s editor at Harcourt, Brace & Co., a major New York publishing house. This book would go on to become a mega-bestseller and make Fr. Merton one of the most influential Catholic authors of the 20th century. Later in life, he would express regret that his autobiography included a kind of naive piety and a romanticized portrayal of monastic life. Still, The Seven Storey Mountain remains a classic that has never been out of print. . . . Fr. Samway’s introduction, footnotes and epilogue enrich the book beautifully.” — The Compass

“The Letters of Robert Giroux and Thomas Merton as compiled and edited by the Jesuit scholar Patrick Samway is a must read for the legions of Thomas Merton enthusiasts whose lives have been touched by his writings. This extraordinary collection of correspondence will also prove to be of immense interest to anyone with an interest in the publishing process that Merton engaged in with the editorial assistance and under the influence of Robert Giroux." — The Midwest Book Review

“In these letters, readers find the (justifiable) laments concerning censors and religious superiors reluctant to allow publication, often over remarkably trivial concerns. And publishers demonstrated that they could be just as contentious, arbitrary, and capricious as any monastic censor. Several exchanges about racism, war, and literature . . . allow readers to listen in on the wisdom of two astute observers of mid-20th century society.” — Choice

“The letters reveal a lifelong friendship between Merton and Giroux. . . . This is an important contribution to Merton scholarship—a new primary text in the Merton oeuvre. However, it is also a testimony to the brilliance of Robert Giroux, who emerges here as one of Merton’s most important interpreters, critics, and collaborators.” — American Catholic Studies

Foreword Reviews’ 2015 INDIEFAB Book of the Year Award, Silver, Writing