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Seymour Krim’s Courage
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I wanted Flaubertian sainthood, poverty be thou the bride, a religious quest in prose where Art was God and I pursued it like a driven priest.

—Seymour Krim, “Norman Mailer” (1969)

I recall Seymour Krim (1922–1989) as one of the most courageous writers I’ve ever known. He chose subjects that intimidated lesser writers, such as his own madness in “The Insanity Bit,” his failures, his envy of writers who were more successful (not just with publishers but with women, such as Norman Mailer, born a year later), and foul relationships with publishers. He wrote the sort of essay that editors haggle and bite their nails over, knowing that it should be published but identifying excuses for why they can’t. Simply by going where few went before, by exposing problems previously hidden from readers, Krim epitomized what was called The New Journalism a few decades ago. He influenced select successors, including me.

Krim exhibited courage in his prose style, too, transcending the traditional notion that every sentence should be limited to one clear idea. Instead, a classic Krim sentence includes parentheses and asides too long to quote here. He also used familiar words in original ways: “I had a good chance of getting planked one night about three weeks ago, I was looking forward to it because the girl was dark-eyed, salty and keen, quick to judge and glaring in opinion but this seemed merely to open up wide the potential excitement of rocketing with her.” My hunch is that Krim worked up his extended sentences and comparably inflated paragraphs, adding and changing, to give them a signature uniquely his. Because he wrote not for specialist academics but for people as intelligent as himself, he also was expanding laudably the editorial container of what the “common reader” might commonly read. Even in writing ostensibly about others, he often spoke about himself (as do I, sometimes).

Although Missing a Beat lacks “The Insanity Bit,” it does include highly personal portraits of his colleagues Harold Rosenberg, Mario Puzo, Milton Klonsky, Mailer, and Dr. Joyce Brothers (whom he despised), four essays on black culture and Jews, four more on Jews (including, in Krim’s imagined posthumous conversion, Henry Miller!), and the classic autobiographical “What’s This Cat’s Story?” The range of Krim’s concerns was more obsessive than wide. In the end, he was a more exemplary “New York Jewish intellectual” than the arbiters who marginalized him.

Needless to say, the Seymour Krim I knew in the 1980s was deferential and considerate, perhaps to a fault. He was, I’m told, a good teacher unable to score a permanent position. His overwrought sentences created the semblance of tough, unforgiving hysteria I did not find in the man. In person, before me, he seemed easily pushed around, perhaps the victim of too much misfortune, not to mention strong women and too many bullying editors. (The truth implicit in this book’s numerous “Acknowledgments” is that a courageous writer’s work necessarily appears initially in many places.) He spent the 1980s working up an epic tentatively titled “Chaos” that was never published. Life wore him down, alas.

I remain surprised that he never discussed his relationship to another Krim, Arthur (1910–1994), whom he identified to me as a prominent relative he could call upon. Oddly, a Google search of their names together (“X” + “Y”) identifies Arthur only as one of Seymour’s many correspondents. Arthur, don’t forget, was a film mogul and, incidentally, finance chairman for the Democratic Party. Arthur’s widow, Mathilde (born 1926), gained certain fame in the late 1990s as a publicist for AIDS awareness. My hunch decades ago identified Arthur as Seymour’s secret patron, the supportive relative that every courageous (especially Jewish) writer needs. An obituary for Donald Krim (1945–2011), the founder of Kino International, a quality film distributor, reveals that this Krim got his first film job from his cousin Arthur, no doubt solicitous about relatives bearing his surname.

Those sensitive to the cultural geography of New York City Jewish writers should note that Seymour Krim was born in Washington Heights (as was I), not the Lower East Side or Brooklyn, say...

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