Remembering Ted Solotaroff
After an afternoon bent over the Seven Stories Press work-table sharing and weighing margin scribbles (we were poring over his First Loves, the second volume of his memoir), Ted and I decided to wander off for a glass of wine and an early dinner. We found a little Italian place nearby. Neither one of us thought twice about the roses on the tables, but when the strictly enforced prix-fixe menus found us, we realized that we’d both forgotten it was the 14th of February and smiled. The conversation flowed from his First Loves to mine. His eyes and heart lit up when he spoke of his sons, and I loved hearing him talk about them. He asked about my mother, seeming more interested in her than in my father or brother. We talked at length about who we were reading, comparing our gut responses to writers, books that had burned themselves into us, and others that left us cold. He insisted I must read Piotr Rawicz’s Blood from the Sky and I begged him to give Halldór Laxness another chance. He leaned back in his chair a little and let his memories of the early days of the New American Review surface. The authors he published inevitably became a part of his family. The joys and disappointments he lived with them were as deeply rooted in him as those he experienced with his sons. He wouldn’t let the people he cared about drift too far away. I was rapidly learning that for Ted the mind and the heart were inextricably entwined, they flowed together and he was guided by both. Thought without emotion was meaningless. His critical eye and sharp ear were tuned by empathy, softened with compassion. In reading, writing, communicating, communing, Ted couldn’t help but cut directly to the heart, his own and ours.
Love, it seems, was Ted’s gravity—it was tangible in all of his movements, his decisions, his responses, his verdicts, his reservations. He grasped its powers to heal and to wound and to lift us out of ourselves, and his capacity to love (and to endure) was immense: knowing in his bones that there was nothing more vital, transformative, miraculous. Traveling through shadows and light and chaos heartfirst, he allowed relationships to shape him, and what he absorbed through years of uncompromising vulnerability he offered without strings to others, gently, wisely, selflessly, with melancholy laughter. He had time for people. He needed people. He needed to be recognized and understood, and he needed to recognize and understand. Ted’s radar for truth was extraordinary, and he had no patience for pretense. He knew how to make writers honest; he had an uncanny way of steering them, along both inner and outer paths, toward truth. And the same held true for his friends. With an innocent question or a prodding silence or a smiling glimmer in his eye, somehow Ted made it impossible to lie—even to yourself—in his presence.