George Plimpton and 'The Paris Review'

Famed Literary Journal Celebrates 50th Anniversary

Listen: Hear more of NPR's Jacki Lyden's interview with George Plimpton.

George Plimpton plays the piano in his apartment.

George Plimpton plays the piano in his apartment. Petra Mayer, NPR News hide caption

itoggle caption Petra Mayer, NPR News
A bound copy of the first issue of 'The Paris Review', published in 1953.

A bound copy of the first issue of The Paris Review, published in 1953. Petra Mayer, NPR News hide caption

itoggle caption Petra Mayer, NPR News
Offices of 'The Paris Review,' downstairs from George Plimpton's apartment.

Offices of The Paris Review, downstairs from George Plimpton's apartment. The chair nailed to the ceiling is a souvenir of Plimpton's stint as a lion-tamer. Petra Mayer, NPR News hide caption

itoggle caption Petra Mayer, NPR News

When George Plimpton and his friends, writers H.L. Humes and Peter Matthiessen, founded The Paris Review in 1953, they were young men whose curiosity exceeded their means. But they were determined to keep the literary journal going, publishing early interviews with E.M. Forster, Ernest Hemingway, Ezra Pound and Italo Calvino.

That The Paris Review has managed to reach the celebrated age of 50 is a grand achievement, since most literary journals are the mayflies of the publishing world. NPR's Jacki Lyden visited Plimpton at his apartment overlooking the East River in Manhattan to talk about his career and the history of Review.

At a time when other literary journals were focusing on criticism and reviews, Plimpton says he wanted the fledgling publication to concentrate almost entirely on creative work, such as short stories and poetry.

"We would go and see novelist A, rather than critic B," Plimpton says. "And rather than getting critic B to write about novelist A in a review or criticism, we would go to the novelist and get him or her to talk about the craft of writing."

Today, The Paris Review still gets more than 20,000 submissions a year, overseen by young editors who work in The Paris Review's offices just downstairs from Plimpton's apartment.

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