Remembering Ted Solotaroff

Allegra Goodman


I met Ted in 1988 when I was a junior at Harvard. An agent named Irene Skolnick had sent him my collected works, which consisted of ten short stories, and Ted suddenly decided to publish the collection at Harper & Row. With a stroke of his pen and an advance of twelve thousand dollars I became a professional writer.
     He was a wry, sly editor with intense brown eyes. He knew Saul Bellow. He knew Philip Roth. He talked about Cynthia and Grace and Tillie. He walked with giants. To speak to Ted was to hear their footsteps and a Jewish joke or two as well. He loved satire and hated pretense, adored short snappy fiction and sparkling prose that was new, fresh, impish, and impious, reflecting the contradictions and ambiguities of modern life. He was devoted to Jewish-American literature, but as a Jew and as an editor, he enjoyed tradition the way Gertrude Stein liked a view—with his back to it.
     The day we met, he leaned back in his desk chair with the New York skyline behind him and declared, “You must feel as though the future is coming at you at a hundred miles an hour.”
     “Well . . .” I began, “I feel . . .”
     “Yeah, I’m hungry.” He smiled as he cut me off. “Let’s get lunch.”