Eric C. Shoaf
Richard Aaron and William Burroughs arriving in Geneva for the Colloque de Tanger, 1975. Photo by Lilia Aaron
What can you tell us about your early years?
Born in 1946 in Princeton, New Jersey. In 1957 lived a year in a semi palace on the Bosphorus in Istinye. Here I was first exposed to the alien and different and tuned in. In 1963 I left home and went to Rev. Von Hilsheimer’s Summerlane school near the Catskills in New York. An interesting cast of inmates. Billy Burroughs attended a later incarnation of that school in Florida. After three or four months I joined a rebel group and went to Minneapolis where I lived in a commune on Hennepin Square for four or five months. Joined a jug band called the Sorry City Jug Strugglers in St. Paul. Went down to Memphis with a fellow band member to look for Gus Cannon. Found him in his 80s and visited with him in his home. Then went through the South, down to New Orleans, up through Warm Springs (to pay respects to cousin Franklin) and back to Princeton.
This shows me at Avon Old Farms school in 1964 but, while I started the Fall 1963 term there, I left early on to go to Summerlane. This does not show my 2 younger sisters, Julia (artiste in Taos and the architect of the Exploding Money Button that was in the luxe copies of Catalog 5) and my youngest sister who suicided at a young age. Of the 6 children only my brother Bev had children.
I was 20 in 1966 and left Princeton to go to Marlboro College in Vermont. They gave me a full scholarship, mainly to get me out of the library that I had decided to sleep in. Spent several years there. Went to Berkeley in late 1967 with a bunch of cousins where we lived in a house on Dwight Way and attended Merritt College. Heavy acid period began in Marlboro and extended to Berkeley where I met the Maharishi and veered in a different direction.
I left the United States in 1968. Parents both had died early in the year… mother from ALS and father heart attack. Maternal grandparents died at the same time and I inherited some $600,000 — my share of a $15,000,000 trust that had been established in 1945 by my great grandfather Joseph Auerbach. He was a corporate lawyer and had helped Mr. Watson establish IBM in the teens. He had been paid with shares of the company and kept them. Wise man.
That must have changed your life at the time substantially.
Maharishi working on a book. I took photo (in Rishikesh 1969) and have a great tape of that session. A portable stereo Uher that caught the rush of the Ganges that flowed just below in one channel and MMY in the other, Maharishi was puzzled by my desire to record in stereo.
We flew from New York to Buenos Aires, back up to São Paulo in Brazil, over to Montevideo, Chile. Then hopped over to Easter Island, then to Tahiti where I tried my hand as French translator. Maharishi then went on to India and I returned to States via Hawaii. Joined him in India later in the fall.
I was traveling secretary for Maharishi Mahesh Yogi on a tour of South America, Easter Island & Tahiti. Later joined Maharishi and toured India with him in his Piper plane, from Utter Pradesh to Kerala. Also in 1968 and into 1969 went to Riskikesh and Kashmir. In 1969 left India and moved to Switzerland where I rented the home of Igor Markevitch, composer/conductor, son-in-law of Nijinsky. A lovely home in Villars-sur-Ollon. Still have a small copper samovar that Igor’s brother told me had belonged to Nijinsky. I soon determined that poetry was the path that I was destined to serve.
I met my wife Lilia in Villar that fall. Purchased large collections of books, artworks and manuscripts. Hosted the Maharishi and ten of his followers for several months. In 1970 returned to Princeton and was married in the Princeton chapel by my cousin, Johnny Snow, who was chaplain of the university at the time. There was a big party afterward at the home of Dr. Percy Hoxie Wood and his wife Nancy (daughter of Allan Tate and Caroline Gordon). Returned to Switzerland almost immediately (brief tour of Ireland in-between) and decided to start a bookstore after discovering that a cousin who had started a hedge fund with family funds, including my own, had gone belly up. Hester Hone Phelps was her name. Barry Miles helped me greatly with a mailing list and Larry Wallrich was my instructor in all things related to book biz.
Tell us about Lilia.
Lilia was born in Switzerland in 1945. Her father was a Dutch diplomat and her mother was the daughter of a Berlin banker. In 1952 Lilia lived in Iran during the time of the removal of the Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh. Her uncle was a gifted Dutch sculptor and Lilia attended his classes later when her family returned to Holland to live. She lived in a houseboat in Amsterdam during the Provo years and attended the Rijksakademie van Beeldende Kunsten, an art School in Amsterdam. In the early 1970s she had exhibitions of her work in Ireland and Switzerland and exhibited at the first Basel Art Fair.
We have lived together for some fifty years and I can only stand in awe at her extraordinary generosity of spirit and patience — I am by nature myopic to an annoying degree and without her gentle, and sometimes not so gentle, guidance, would have wandered into precarious situations. She has corrected me.
We both have had a bond of early exposure to foreign cultures and we both share an awe and love of nature. Her courage and endurance in the face of adversity humble this observer.
Poetry was the path you were destined to serve — did you have writing ambitions at the time? What was it that drew you to the world of writers and books?
I was a poet at a young age. Memoirs of an Interglacial Age by Philip Whalen was the book that pushed me into overdrive. The placement of letters on the page, the line lengths — staggered my mind. Was good enough to attract the help and advice of John Ciardi. Allen Tate read my work but did not enjoy. Spent 1959-1962 years haunting Village scene in NYC… Fat Black Pussycat and others where poets flowed like water. And Romilar and grass. Romilar was a cough syrup that was in vogue among the delinquent class. Recall going to New York City and watching the skyscrapers bend and touch the ground. Acid seems to have erased whatever virus it was that had me as poet but did not remove my sensibility to its force… the alphabet as creation. The Dance.
When did you first become aware of Burroughs?
I first encountered William awareness around 1959 — remember excitement of Minutes to Go and The Exterminator. I grew up in Princeton and we had one of the earliest paperback bookstores that stocked Evergreen, Auerhahn, and much else. Also Rives Matthews, a childhood friend of WSB, lived in town and I talked to him a bit about William. I remember William’s face lighting up when I mentioned him years later on Duke Street.
You read Minutes to Go and Exterminator before you read Naked Lunch?
Yes, quite sure, did read NL later but always more attracted by Soft Machine and Ticket That Exploded.
Can you recall seeing the Olympia Press Naked Lunch in Princeton when you were first learning about WSB?
Yes, a Travelers Edition, no dj. Maybe a Formosa piracy?
Speaking of which, did you have any dealings with Maurice Girodias?
No, never met him.
When did you first meet Burroughs?
I was newly broke and had called Brion to see if he wanted to buy a St. John Perse book that I owned. Pluies from 1946, leaved with some 30 Brion watercolor mushroom glyphs … Brion said come over which I did and William received me quite formally sitting behind his desk in the lower apartment of Duke St. St. James. Felt like I was being interviewed for a job and indeed I was. William sent me off and later in the day I had a call from Brion and I returned to the apartment. Naturally no sale but that was the day that I purchased three scrapbooks from William… so It began. The Pluies I sold many years later to the Sackner Archive… still there as far as I know.
William seemed active enough to me when I first met him in London of 1970 and struck up a friendship. And especially with Brion. Adored both of them. Remember Ian Somerville with great fondness as well. Never especially liked Balch.
William had just published Wild Boys and we worked together on Port of Saints. He was finishing up the Archive with the help of Miles. Working on sale of film rights to Naked Lunch with Antony Balch and Brion. But he certainly was not having much public presence at the time. Recall Ginsberg coming by once, Allen on crutches at the time. Allen was taking William to meet a Jesuit CIA friend and was begging William not to talk about the Insect People of Minraud and their plot to rule the world. We prepared for the facsimile edition of one of the scrapbooks that Claude Givaudan was to publish years later along with the Letters to Allen that I was transcribing. Had interesting talks with William about Advaita philosophy. And splendid walks through London looking for restaurants that had no one eating in them. William had a theory that they would have the best food if no one ate there. Certainly made for clear conversations and silences.
John Burton was a very close friend of ours in Switzerland who had a chalet in our mountain village as well as a home in Geneva where this was taken. He was Ombudsman of the World Health Organization. Brian had been visiting us and here we are visiting John. Photo taken by Isabella Burton, a most wonderful person. Both John and Brian were splendid storytellers, both found the other talked far too much.
What was the first use of “Am Here” and from where did the name come? I would presume some variation, or extension, of the “Be Here Now” phrase that was used then?
Am Here Books derived from a letter sent by Harold Norse and Brion Gysin to Ira Cohen from the Beat Hotel. They were urging him to call his forthcoming magazine Am Here and not Gnaoua. Since Ira failed to act, I did. The letter was part of the Ira Cohen archive I purchased in 1970. I made photocopies of the letter and included it in the luxe copies of catalog 5 later on — the one with the WSB disk and ticker tape.
[ Author note: the referenced letter from Norse and Gysin includes the sentences, “The title produced itself: AM HERE… The(n) I said: AM HERE. Which is what the whole thing is about. All right.” ]
I began Am Here Books in late 1970 after my broker went bankrupt and took all my funds with her. I had to return a few hundred thousand $ of Blake, Yeats, Joyce and such that had been sent on credit from Bernard Quartitch. The modern stuff had all been sent from others and paid for and provided early stock which I augmented by buying the entire little mag stock of Larry Wallrich… and as well I bought a basement collection from Dr. Nothman in London — the Covent Garden store. It was a treasure trove of concrete poetry — had come from John Furnival. Also worked with Bob Cobbing — jointly published a work by d.a. levy. Oh what fun it all was! Am Here was never intended to be brick and mortar. I am a rural character with little affection for urbanization… nice places to visit but… The only place I ever had much walk-in traffic, and even so, quite minimal, was at a later store in Philo, Ca. Stock had grown so fast I needed to rent a building and word got around. That was from 1989-2000. If it were not for Raymond Danowski purchasing so much from me over the years from 1978 onwards, I would probably have opened a store in Santa Barbara but Raymond kept me too busy to think of doing that.
Johnny Armleder was a close friend of ours. He was running the groupe Ecart back then. He printed and designed the faintly famed alchemical stationary for Am Here Books (done in gold and silver) as well as the invitation announcement for a Concrete Poetry show that Am Here did in conjunction with the Geneva Centre d’Arts Contemporain. The photo was at the first Basel Art Fair where Lilia was exhibiting. I had a number of nice talks with Arturo Schwarz of Duchamp fame. Johnny was great fun and a good man. I never understood his art … it seems to have earned him great fame and esteem.
What was it like to work with Burroughs on preparing Port of Saints for publication? Did the text excite you? To judge by photos, it was nicely designed. Was the design and print quality of your books very important to you?
Forget who designed Port of Saints. The original text was in one of the scrapbooks that I had purchased. I transcribed and next visit to London took my typescript to William. Left it with him and the next day he had reworked into the text that was published. Think he wove some unused Wild Boys into what I had brought and did a bit of shuffling. Yeah, I thought the text was great and worth publishing. Went off with William to his agent for this one and signed a contract. William later gave me a photocopy of a variant edition. Sold many years later… forget who purchased.
I did design the Descriptive Catalogue. A bit impractical due to the white binding that could soil. And it seems that Covent Garden lost the drawings by Brion that were to be bound in to the special copies. I think by the time the book was published the archive was sold? That was great fun to work on as William sent me the different introductions to various parts and we had some back and forth. Some good original texts in the work.
How things are placed on the page, the space, is critical. But nothing I did of William reflected that.
I actually only became very conscious of design when I was doing my later immediate mimeograph editions. Many of the covers were well thought out. The design of Cat 5 was thought out. Never had the funds to care about print for my own productions. How I recall my delight in encountering the early letter press books from Black Sparrow… you could read the texts Braille fashion they were so deeply etched. Later I loved the Nadja Press for their design. But naturally the Ashendene Press wins the prize.
William Burroughs, Brion Gysin, Barry Miles, Descriptive Catalogue of the William S. Burroughs Archive, 1973. Photograph by Bradley Allen
What do you recall about the sale of Burroughs’ archive, the so-called Vaduz sale, to Roberto Altmann?
I have always been astonished at the number of confusions relating to the Burroughs archive. I have read scholars’ articles filled with absurdities that could have been clarified if they took the opportunity of speaking with me, Roberto, or William and Brion. First, Roberto Altman was not and is not a “financier.” His father was and was also a famed art publisher and collector. But Roberto was and is an artist and publisher. I have spoken to you earlier of my admiration of his own art work, one of my most treasured possessions is a fine lithograph of his. As well, I have spoken of my admiration of his publication Apeiros. As well, I have spoken to you of my great personal affection for Roberto.
In 1972 I began talking with William and Brion and Ian Sommerville about their plans for the archive. I was told that they were looking for a buyer and were having some talks with Ken Lohf at Columbia. At the time I was a fierce expatriate and a fierce anti-academic. I urged them to not place the archive in a prison but to make it a living thing that could influence and affect the surroundings. I tried to come up with the funds myself but could not and mentioned in passing my efforts to Roberto. He immediately came back to me with a strong expression of interest and asked me to name the price. I went to London and talked with William and a price of $100,000 was settled on, $10,000 to me and $90,000 to be split between Brion and William.
Roberto agreed and in 1973 the archive, William and Brion landed in Zurich where I met them with Lilia driving Brion and the archive in Uncle Apocalypse (our custom long-bed Land Rover that had belonged to an archeologist in Greece). I drove William in a rented car and we advanced to the Vaduz border. We found the house after a few phone calls — it was a handsome building directly underneath the castle of the Prince of Lichtenstein. We brought everything in and snuffled about the boxes of the archives making sure everything was accounted for. Had a nice meal with Roberto and Maggy (his wife) and went to sleep accompanied by amazing art works on the walls.
The next morning we all piled into an office where a fonctionnaire was sitting at a desk. After brief discussion a contract was signed (my copy is for sale somewhere on the web) and a button was pushed. In about ten minutes a door in the wall opened and two men stepped out of an elevator carrying a briefcase. The case was opened and revealed the Swiss equivalent of $100,000. I was asked to count and did so under the careful eyes of Brion. I am afraid I mortified all by falling into laughter in the middle of the count — it took me several minutes to recover and resume the count which had been carefully noted. At any rate, all was in order. I packed the loot into my briefcase and we all headed to Uncle Apocalypse for the long drive to Ollon in Switzerland. On the way we had a splendid meal on the lake.
When we arrived at our home William encountered our cats and became quite motherly. We then all went upstairs to where William and Brion would be sleeping and where I had about 150 books waiting to be signed. We drank a good deal, Brion talked of suicide (I think this was first symptom of his disease), William wanted to take Lilia with him to Costa Rica as he thought she could handle the local brujos. Brion wrote out a will leaving half of his estate to me and half to Targuisti. It was a good evening and the money was divided up.
The next day I helped Brion set up a Swiss account at UBS and both of them headed to London — though Brion may have gone to Paris. Brion came many times to stay with us in Switzerland and we held him in great affection. William came back a few times but stayed, I think, with Cozette de Charmoy and her husband Rodney Gray in Geneva.
I think it is a great pity that the Centre in Vaduz never worked out. It would have been splendid. I thank the gods that I did not purchase the archive as I would have scattered it to the winds. But I do miss the fact of the archive existing as a living creature with tentacles extending out in all directions. It could have happened. I don’t think it is happening.
What was Burroughs’ attitude about selling the archive? He must have been excited about the funds but did he have any attachment to the materials themselves?
No discernible attachment… a fondness. They were work product.
You mention having 150 books for WSB to sign when you returned to Ollon. Were those the Descriptive Catalogue?
No… they were mostly Olympia Press books, mags and such. The Archive catalogue was all signed in London.
It was surprising to learn that Gysin spoke of suicide at that time. Was it sort of a philosophical discussion or was he actually expressing an intent to hurt himself?
He was expressing his customary wariness of existing in a human body. Wrong body, wrong planet. I do think his illness was beginning to take hold.
You also brokered the sale of Gysin’s archive?
Sometime in the mid 1970s I purchased Brion Gysin’s archives. They are now at Emory University. At one point, Brion asked me to return to him the manuscript of Bardo Hotel that he wanted to make some changes to. I did so and have no idea where the manuscript ended up. Brion was to have returned it but his health was awful. The Emory description also includes a Dreamachine that I purchased from Brion in 1973. While I had the papers I also helped Theo Green with some of the publications of Brion that he did for his Inkblot Press [now Aftermath]. Those were part of the archive.
What was the relationship between Am Here and Covent Garden Press?
They had the money and printing press and I had an author they wanted to publish.
Tell us about the Am Here catalogs.
The first catalogue was run off in 1971 on a xerox machine in the garage at our home outside of Ollon, VD, Switzerland. I also printed Seeing Red on that machine. That was an announcement flyer for the WSB archive book on one side with a WSB manuscripts on the other side. Folded into a square and sealed with a fluxus stamp. About 40, maybe 50 copies done.
My descriptive methods for catalogs have always been helter skelter… at times I am ravished and ink flows but mostly just the facts as laid out by object. Research back then was based on my reading of the materials, personal knowledge of the field, bibs where available, and correspondence. I was always a great reader of little magazines and scoured their review sections for useful info. Larry Wallrich provided me great insights from his vast experience of the field. Bob Wilson [of the Phoenix Book Shop] also sent me his mailing list… another great help for getting the word out. While I did some purchases from Miles, his major help was in providing me a mailing list — that was quite important for knowing who to send catalogues. I do not recall Miles ever assisting in sales other than providing the mailing list. I also had visits from Carl Weissner, Udo Breger, and others of the brigade. We loved the King Kraut [Weissner]. He had and has my total respect.
An important early purchase was the archives of Second Aeon magazine (Peter Finch). I sold them to Ted Grieder at the Fales Library. Ted later came to Switzerland for a visit. My first customer was Pascal Tone, the son of actor Franchot Tone. He was running an experimental school in Switzerland and purchased my complete Oxford Dictionary. I was especially delighted by the purchase as his great grandfather several times, Theobold Wolfe Tone, was a close friend of my great great grandfather several times, Thomas Addis Emmet. Both were involved as members of the directorate of the United Irishmen and their failed rebellion of 1798. Thomas Addis Emmet was the brother of his more famous younger brother Robert, who lost his head. Both were good friends of Thomas Paine and my grandfather was his executor. One of the few who maintained their friendship with Paine.
You mention being a “great reader of little magazines.” Were any of the little mags especially influential for you?
Few were not. Evergreen early on, Margins, Semina, OU, Second Aeon, Yugen, Floating Bear, too many, too many. For WSB all the early ones were of great interest due to the evolving nature of his writing. I quickly learned that Little Mag work very often differed markedly from what was later published in book form. And I found that compelling, very often preferring the earlier versions to the final.
How did you go about acquiring all the stock for Am Here Catalog 5?
I had begun purchasing WSB manuscripts prior to meeting William. One large cache of important manuscript material came via Bernard Quaritch: a large suitcase of early 1960s typescripts that came from Melville Hardiment — there were also tape recordings including the original “The Last Words of Hassan-I-Sabbah.” William later claimed that Hardiment stole the group but it was all rather vague. Other book material had been accumulated from Gotham Book Mart, Larry Wallrich, Covent Garden Bookshop, Miles, Carl Weissner and of course directly from William and Brion.
The tape of Last Words was recorded at the Beat Hotel around 1959. On the other side was a great conversation between William, Brion and Gregory Corso. Gregory protesting a bit about the cut-up method and William replying: “Gregory, Gregory, don’t be such a fucking artist.” The tape itself long gone, not sure where it is. William did not like the Last Words tape. He thought it too much oratory. I disagreed and insisted that I must have it for the ticker tape and that the recording would be fun and he accepted that. Some silver graced his palm but it wasn’t much. I don’t recall William ever commenting on the catalog.
Spent a pleasant day in Santa Barbara transcribing the tape… Tom Clark, Jeffrey Miller, and a few others making sure each word was caught just so. Under the shade of a large marijuana tree that glowed blue at night… quite an extraordinary plant that truly was a tree.
I was familiar with the Peace Press, who did the printing and binding, from having seen poetry books they had printed. They were easy to work with and seemed to understand what I was doing. The cover was my homage to Brion, first published in Henri Chopin’s OU 42/43/44.
The catalogue cost $1500 to print at the Peace Press in L.A. I sold enough of the special copies to cover costs. My direct model was We Moderns (a book catalog published by the Gotham Book Mart in 1940). I believe the special copies of the catalog were printed on a different paper stock. Cover stock thicker and I believe inner pages possibly as well. Both editions were done at the same time… I think 1500 copies in total but I do not recall at this time. Different sizes of the binding were probably just poor trimming. It was 1981 and from the time that I delivered the mock-ups it was all done quite swiftly. Don’t really recall what I charged for the special editions $5 or $10? Certainly not more. I think every luxe catalog that I sent out was accompanied by a money button and various other inserts. I really don’t recall numbering the copies and certainly no records of where such and such a number went. I would have lost track very quickly and may well have assigned random numbers for the fun of it or at least as a pretense of rationality. Orders came in over three or four months. Only 500 were done of the special version and I think fewer than 200 were actually numbered… it was not a bestseller. When Peter Howard [owner of Serendipity Books] purchased my stock there was still a large quantity of both editions. Peter might have sold copies and those may or may not have been numbered.
I think Lewis Macadams led me to the record place where the vinyl 7″ was produced. Or might have been Jeffrey Miller. I loaned Jeffrey a Gysin watercolor for his Cadmus Press luxe edition of Paul Bowles reading. So probably Jeffrey. The creation of the catalog was love and utterly natural. Marred only by Clayton Eshleman who demanded that I remove some mean jibes by Tom Clark referring to the diaper poetics of Clayton. I deleted and in turn Clayton furnished some materials that were inserted in the catalog… how Eliot Wineberger arrived.
In Catalog #5, you mention a manuscript by WSB called The Book of Hours. “A major achievement of this author, a major achievement of the 20th Century.” That was one of WSB’s notebooks?
It was the best of all scrapbooks. The smallest but the fattest. The most compelling texts and fantastic visuals. I sold it to the owner of a Gemini Gel in LA. I hope it is now at LACMA.
In Catalog #5, in the entry for the transcriptions you did of the WSB-AG correspondence, you mention that the published edition removed about 10-15% of the material. “It has always seemed to me that Burroughs has little moral authority when it comes to questions such as this one. It seems to me that Burroughs should be the last man on Earth to censor any written materials.” Do you still feel that material should have been published? Was it removed because it was embarrassing, uninteresting, etc?
Embarrassing. William clinging to Allen. It was Grauerholtz that raised the Issue. I doubt very much that William would have cared. Yes, of course the actual texts should have been published … even lightly pasteurized is worse than unpasteurized.
What was your contribution to the Givaudan edition of Letters to Allen Ginsberg, 1953-1957?
I did the transcriptions, found the translator for French edition, travelled to Bergamo in Italy to speak with printers, arranged permission from William. Always assumed Claude put it out as a joint production yet a copy of the book I have here carries no mention of Am Here… But I note that there are online copies that show Am Here on the spine. I have #369 of the English language edition of 400 numbered copies. Again, no mention of Am Here. Is this an anomaly, are the others an anomaly?
There’s a possible reason that Am Here and my name are not on the Letters to Allen book — I was furious at the time that William had allowed censorship to enter into the scene and refused to have anything more to do with the book. Had put it out of my mind until you reminded me of my jab in the catalog.
When did you return to the USA permanently?
I left in 1968, made the final return in 1979. First in Santa Barbara CA until 1989 and then onto Philo CA from 1989 — 2000. I spent time in Fortuna CA and Camp Point IL before settling in Eden, MD around 2013.
The 1980s up through the emergence of the internet were a bit of a golden age for bookseller catalogs, and certainly there were others from Am Here Books that followed catalog 5.
There were well over 100 catalogs in total. At this point, I cannot name them all. But I will try to produce a list.
There is a catalogue you published with Givaudan for the 1978 Antiquarian Book Fair in New York.
I attended the book fair as exhibitor. Showed the Third Mind manuscript as well as much else. Sold the Nola Express archives to Temple University. Horrified by the crowds… never did another fair.
Somewhere I have a picture of the ms on display at the fair. I sold the ms. Twice, first to Raymond Danowski and then to LACMA. William and I viewed the ms at the LACMA show.
William had the ms under his bed in Duke St. don’t know why it didn’t get to Vaduz but maybe he was still working on it when sale went through.
Had just driven down from Seattle to Santa Barbara with Ira Cohen, Mel Clay, and Robert LaVigne in my old Buick station Wagon. Around 1988? LaVigne famed for his lifesize nude portrait of Peter Orlovsky that Ginsberg saw and rest is history. A great talent and good man.
Am Here also had other publications besides catalogs. What can you tell me about those?
There were some 20+ publications I think, from different poets. Plus catalog IV which was my collaboration with Claude Givaudan of Geneva — a monumental work of great importance. The anti-war publication series Am Here Forum was a highlight as well the great Danowski project. I was responsible for well over half of that collection. Also my major adventures with the Samuel Johnson collection of Jerry Goldberg and the building of an extraordinary natural history collection and sub-Saharan Africa collection. Both collections of thousands of works.
The Am Here Immediate editions were (for the ones done in in Santa Barbara) a collaborative effort between myself and Tom Clark. I liked Tom and his swift mind and his knowledge of an important aspect of 1960s and 70s poetries. I liked the idea of publishing and Tom instructed these klutzy hands on the mechanics of mimeo printing and the fine art of stapling. I remain proud of many of the subtle design points I used in designing the booklets — great fun. The book in the series that really knocked my socks off was the Berrigan work, The Morning Line. In typing the stencils I became aware of Ted’s color alphabet for the first time — astonishing! Once I had moved away from Santa Barbara Tom was no longer available for his recommendations and I branched out to Butterick, Blevins, di Prima, and Plymell. Most of the editions sold poorly but I think the Dennis Cooper was my best seller, followed by Berrigan and Creeley. The remaining stock all went over to Peter Howard of Serendipity books when I sold him my store in 2000.
After I sold Am Here stock to Peter Howard I spent intervening years engaged with Cid Corman. Visited him in Kyoto and after his death purchased his archives and did an extensive description of the contents. The archive of manuscripts and letters went to the Lilly Library. An extraordinary gathering of materials.
In my final years in Santa Barbara a customer became an employee. Ron Davis began doing everything that I disliked doing, that is to say, typing catalogues, keeping records, etc. By then my work for collector Raymond Danowski was becoming all-consuming. When my wife came into an inheritance we bought a home up in Northern California in Philo, Mendocino and Ron followed. I seem to remember paying him $1,500 monthly. Philo was the first time I had an open bookstore though visitors were few and far between. Sometime around 1992 or 93 I purchased the entire little mag stock of Serendipity Books — some 25,000 volumes. Paid 10 cents each. And for the next six years I issued about 40 or so catalogs of alphabetical listings of little mags. The importance of these catalogs were that they listed for every magazine as exhaustive a detailed listing of poets that I felt were of significance. So an invaluable reference work was created, one which has been used by few but I think will come in handy at some point for a number of researchers and collectors. I have sent the complete files to a number of individuals and I have only fragmentary remnant of the files. Checking, I now think that the ones I sent out were long deleted or lost in hard drive crashes, so that work is lost. A pity.
In Philo I continued nonstop in building the Danowski collection. Purchased entire stores of Jack Shoemaker, Steve Clay, Jordan Davies and others. The in and out volume of shipments was staggering. Bernard Stone was less active as his problems with heath developed and I began intruding on “his” turf. Originally, Danowski had asked me to purchase all English language poetry from 1909 published outside of UK and Europe. Bernard was to specialize on UK, Ireland and Europe but as he slowed down I began supplying from his part of the world as well. All with no computers and absolutely piss poor record management. Both Danowski and myself prided ourselves on never buying the same book twice. Years later, when Emory University had received and unwrapped the full Danowski collection, we were proven wrong and in 2006 Emory asked me to sell duplicates from the collection. There were at least several thousand books that I had managed to buy twice, though a great many were from the province of Bernard and so not my fault.
Since 2006, I have been engaged in selling the Emory duplicates [largely accomplished] and building two major collections in different fields. As well I have added my own stock of recent purchases and materials that did not go to Peter in 2000. I list all at
When was the last time you saw Burroughs?
The last time I saw William was at the LACMA show [Ports of Entry, 1996]. William came over and asked me to show him the display of The Third Mind which I had sold to LACMA. I had originally bought the work from William, then sold it many years later to Raymond Danowski who then asked me to sell it to raise money to purchase the first book by William Carlos Williams inscribed to his brother. Sold it to LACMA for $50,000 which was the price of the Williams book.
William was kind and I think we both knew we would not meet again. I had also visited him at the Bunker around 1978 or so and again in Boulder at NAROPA where I talked to him about the Doctor Benway book that Morrow wanted to publish. Met Billy that time and spent a great minute in an elevator with Ted Berrigan.
Richard Aaron’s somewhat complete listing of Am Here Books publications
Port of Saints. By William S. Burroughs. London: Covent Garden Press and Ollon, Switzerland: Am Here Books, 1973. 1st edition. 100 slipcased copies, numbered and signed by the author and 100 unsigned.
I did publish in a small edition a poem by Brion Gysin which was then computer permutated by Ian Sommerville. I think we did 10 copies. 1973 or 1974? [Gysin bibliographer Theo Green confirms: “There was no actual title on this spiral bound item. It was done in 1974. I think the working title was Permutated Poems, but the title did not appear on the item. All copies were signed by Ian and Brion.”]
A Descriptive Catalogue of the William S. Burroughs Archive. Miles Associates (compiler for William Burroughs and Brion Gysin). London: Covent Garden Press in conjunction with Ollon, Switzerland: Am Here Books, 1973. 1st edition. 200 copies (of 226), signed by Burroughs, Gysin, and Miles. 26 lettered copies with insert.
Lagarde, Francois Le Colloque de Tanger (1975). This is an original print of the photograph used to illustrate the poster announcing the event, which features Burroughs’ and Gysin’s heads superimposed on top of statues of John Calvin and Theodore Beza. A book and a portfolio of photographs from the event were issued the following year, in 1976. This photo is not to be confused with that publication. Black and white. 9-1/2″ x 12″. LaGarde was photographer but Am Here Books should be credited as publisher. Issued as one of 50 prints of the photograph used to advertise Le Colloque de Tanger, a symposium celebrating the work of Burroughs and Gysin, in Geneva in 1975. All copies were signed and dated.
Letters To Allen Ginsberg / Lettres à Allen Ginsberg 1953-1957 by William S. Burroughs.
(Translation) J. Chopin. Published by Editions Claude Givaudan / Am Here Books, 1978. We did 500 copies. Printed in Bergamo, Italy. I did the transcriptions. These were sent to Burroughs by Alan Ansen after the sale of the WSB archive. I purchased the letters from William, did the transcriptions, and sold the letters to Columbia.
Scrapbook 3. Genève, Claude Givaudan (New York, Great White Way Kinetics). Colour Xerox by Claudia Katayanagi and Patrick R. Firpo , New York, Great White Way Kinetics, January 1979. Brion Gysin supervised. 1/30 copies signed by Burroughs. While this did not bear the Am Here imprint, it was done at my urging and I received several copies in exchange for my assistance. I had purchased ten of the scrapbooks from William and sold nine of them to Claude Givaudan at a reduced price in exchange for his promise to publish this one. [Images of Scrapbook 3 are available at artnet.com.]
A Swan’s Wing by Kitty Hamilton, Philo, CA: Am Here Books (1993) 59 pp. Bound in wrappers and integral printed dust jacket. Designed and printed by Felicia Rice of Moving Parts Press. #63 of 100 numbered copies signed by Hamilton. Kitty was my first cousin and we both grew up in Princeton. She was dying of brain cancer when this work was published and was able to sign one copy on the day of her death. All other copies were signed by her daughter as she watched. She was born Katherine Hone Emmet Bramwell — her father was Gerald Faithful Ames Bramwell. Her father ran a company called Opinion Research. As a child I worked for them and travelled the country with a tape recorder conducting interviews with different companies. Child labor not such a big problem back then! I met her grandfather once at the Union Club in New York. I was introduced to him by my cousin Duncan Harris (Brown Harris & Stevens). Mr. Bramwell glanced at me, said “Oh, a Jew Emmet” and turned his back. He had never forgiven his son for marrying the granddaughter of a Jew (the brother of German writer Bertold Auerbach). The days!
Scarab Poems (?) by D.A. Levy. At some point in the 1970’s I did a d.a. levy publication with Bob Cobbing. Bob did 100 copies and I received 50. Not sure if the title is correct. Xerox, stapled. I had purchased the original works from a collection of materials that had belonged to John Furnival.
Am Here/Immediate Editions 1981 -1987: All were stapled mimeo except for a few that were Xerox. Many had 26 lettered copies. Edition size varied from 250 to 100.
Altered Steaks: A Colloquium on the Cattle Mutilation Question; Perkins, Macadams, Clark; 1982
Atomic Dance MOORE, Abd al-Hayy.; Santa Barbara: Am Here Books (1988) 52 pp. A nine part long poem; bound in wraps.
Blind Date by Lewis MacAdams; 1981.
Born Again by Ray Bremser, 1985.
The Cutting Prow by Edward Sanders; Santa Barbara: Am Here Books/Immediate Editions; 1981.
Clarel’s Motel: Travel and Poetry in the USA by Richard Blevins; Santa Barbara: Am Here Books (1987).
Mummy Strands and Others by George Burtterick. 1987. 100 copies. I admired George as a human being. He died shortly after this was published. I regret not spending more time with him. Met him only once on a swift visit to the library at Storrs, CT.
The Harder They Come by Charles Plymell. 1985. 250 copies
Journey to the Ulterior by Tom Clark. 1981.
The Morning Line by Ted Berrigan; Santa Barbara: Am Here Books/Immediate Editions 1982; Cover art by Tom Clark. One of 250 copies.
Mother’s Voice by Robert Creeley. Am Here Books. Fine in stapled wrappers. 26 lettered copies with a hand-colored cover SIGNED by Creeley and Clark, with a short holograph poem by Creeley, “Death” penned to the last leaf. + a few hundred unsigned. 1981.
The Mysteries of Vision: Some Notes on H.D. by Diane Di Prima Santa Barbara: Am Here Books 1988 Quarto. Printed wrappers, strip bound. 100 copies.
The Rodent Who Came to Dinner by Tom Clark. Santa Barbara: Am Here Books/ Immediate Editions (1981). Bound in side-stapled wrappers. One of 50 numbered copies signed by Clark. Laid-in is a flyer announcing the debut of this series of publications from Am Here Books. + about 200 copies unsigned.
More Crooked Lines from Paradise for Dennis Cooper / You Murderers with your indifference ; produced by Am Here Books. Recto features an illustration with text by d.a levy “you murderers with your indifference,” 1964 and verso with poem by Tom Clark. The d.a. levy came from a 1964 publication. d.a. never retained copyright so I felt I could share. Always liked the work and caption. I published that two-sided card for inclusion in Catalog 5.
Tell Me Again by Alice Notley.
Am Here Poetry Packet and Am Here Forum 1,2,3 (packet- Feb. 91, Feb. 91, April 91) and 4-7 (Forum- June 10 1991, Aug. 12 1991, undated 1991, Jan. 1992); all published (?); Am Here Books. These were my reaction to the first Gulf War. I hoped a commentrary by poets from around the world could create an informative dialogue. My father [in his capacity as Mobil Oil attorney] had been a principal in helping see the Iraq pipeline to Turkey to fruition. My nephew served in the war. I recall greatly enjoying the play of fonts in making these Xerox productions. Early days of the internet and I was finding materials of interest via my telephone modem. Ruinously expensive to produce. Sent out from 500 to 100 copies of each package.
10 thoughts on “Interview with Richard Aaron of Am Here Books”
What an amazing life! And what a pleasure to read about it. Stunning info. Thanks much.
Fascinating stuff. I purchased a WSB signed/numbered copy of The Cat Inside from Richard last year, and only recognised his name in the course of the transaction, as I happen to own a WSB signed association copy of the Am Here Books Port of Saints… I was a bit slow on the uptake but made good, and found him a gracious and charming correspondent. I was intrigued by his anecdote about Port of Saints, and this helps fill out the details. Wonderful read.. thank you, Jed (yes, your name came up. Reality Studio is truly legendary!)
Glad you liked the interview. It is a great one. I do not want to take credit away from Eric Shoaf. This is his work. A true testament to his scholarship. I made the trek to Aaron’s house a few years ago and talked to him in depth about much of the topics in his interview. As you say he was great and engaging. I spent a wonderful day looking through books and talking about them. Fun stuff.
Throughout the interview Eric Shoaf was struggling with a Stage IV cancer. He died on the 24th of August, not long after finishing this interview. I enjoyed my interactions with him and will miss meeting him over dinner and drinks as I once planned. I will remember his e-mail smile. Keith Seward deserves great credit as well for having elicited more detail and for adding many of the illustrations and as a rural primitive I am amazed at the links that are added throughout.
It is a great piece, and I am sorry to hear about the author. Jed, your review of the Am Here Books No. 5 catalogue (yes, I have it) is itself a classic – I think I just wanted to thank you for the site. It is surely one of a kind, and I really can’t say how much I’ve enjoyed it over the years.. and I’m sure I’m not alone in that.
This will provide endless contemplation. Fantastic.
totally fascinating and evocative of the cataloguer and his catalogue world – good on you Jed for getting this out here.
Richard, thank you for taking us on this journey. I felt as if I was bouncing off walls with practically every paragraph. It was a Joycean experience. Thank you.
Your cousin, who wishes he had known you much better..
great article – i am an archivist in uk dealing with life of maharishi mahesh yogi and wondered if you ‘d be prepared to have email contact re some questions
Splendid interview. Unbelievable memory. Would like to hear Mr. Aaron’s voice. Thank you.