One of the things I like best about journal publishing is the accidental nature of the work. Last spring I had lunch with Dennis Altman, sociologist and holder of the 2004–05 chair in Australian studies at Harvard, who mentioned that he had just finished writing a book on Gore Vidal. The idea of a view of Vidal from outside America, and by a sociologist at that, appealed to me. Plus, I knew that the Vidal papers had fairly recently come to Harvard’s Houghton Library, and I thought there might be something in them, a letter or a photograph, that we could publish along with an excerpt from Altman’s book. But what we found when we went to look was a great deal better than that. On page forty-six of the catalogue was something identified as item 771: “Clouds and eclipses: Ts [ca. 1945] 1 folder. With AMs annotation on front page: “A never published story – ’54.”
By Vidal’s own reckoning, he wrote a total of eight short stories in his “first phase as a prose writer.” Seven of these were published in 1956 in A Thirsty Evil—a book which Vidal had originally planned to call Clouds and Eclipses. The story, “Clouds and Eclipses,” published here for the first time, is the eighth. The intriguing tale of where it came from and why it was not published for over fifty years is recounted here in an afterword by the author, and contains details that will titillate fans and literary historians alike.
It seems fitting to me, given Vidal’s criticism of our involvement in Iraq, that there should also be in this issue a surge of reaction to the war. This was not something I had envisioned, but seems rather to reflect the emergence of a mood, a sense that it was way past time to begin processing this conflict. Chief among these pieces is an essay by Erica Funkhouser on poets and war, which surveys poets’ literary responses going back to 1914. But there are references to war throughout the issue, sometimes in the most unlikely places, in book reviews and essays that are ostensibly about something else entirely, like the Great Fires in Edinburgh in 1824.
Finally, I like every issue to have what I think of as bounce. It is provided here by Theresa Rebeck, a witty and irreverent playwright with an unerring ear for how (some) people talk. In this issue we present the first act of her new play, The Scene, which will debut in a production by the New York Theatre Workshop in 2006.