Keith Botsford, Man of Letters and Saul Bellow Associate, Dies at 90


Dismayed that literary magazines of the day were, by their lights, either too chic or too academic, the two friends founded one of their own, The Noble Savage, which made its debut in 1960. (Ralph Ellison, Arthur Miller and Wright Morris, among others, wrote for its first issue.) It later published a couple of unknowns, Thomas Pynchon and Robert Coover, before ceasing publication after five issues.

They followed The Noble Savage with another literary magazine, ANON, in 1970; it lasted just one issue. They put out the first issue of News From the Republic of Letters in 1997, featuring in its pages an excerpt from an unpublished Bellow novel, “View From Intensive Care.” Bellow called the magazine, published twice a year, “a tabloid for literates,” and said that he and Mr. Botsford were “a pair of utopian codgers who feel we have a duty to literature.”

The magazine took its name from Nouvelles de la République des Lettres, first published in 1684 by the French philosopher Pierre Bayle. It introduced new and newly discovered writings from American and international writers, both celebrated and obscure, including fiction and nonfiction, memoir, correspondence, biography, poetry, essays and reviews. Writing under the Bayle-inspired byline “P. B.,” Mr. Botsford contributed sharp opinions on everything from drone attacks to crime fiction. Agatha Christie, to his way of thinking, “can’t write for toffee.” (The magazine continued publication until at least 2008.)

In 2001, Mr. Botsford and Bellow edited “Editors: The Best From Five Decades,” a 1,000-page mosaic of stories, poems, articles and essays by writers as diverse as Victor Hugo, Martin Amis, S. J. Perelman and John Berryman, most of it never before published in book form.

Editing provided Mr. Botsford with a welcome respite from the rigors of writing. “I found editing myself difficult and being edited by others humiliating,” he wrote. “I got around this by editing others with generosity and rewriting with humility.” He called translation “the supreme exercise of mastering someone else’s style.”

In his journalism, Mr. Botsford was equally at ease writing about movie stars, concert pianists, bullfighters, novelists and race drivers. Formula One racing and the Boston Red Sox were two of his passions, along with literature, music and food.

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