The American composer and author Paul Frederick Bowles was born in New York City on December 30, 1910. Bowles was published at age seventeen, abandoned college, and in 1929 began his life of travels with a trip to Paris, where he hoped to establish himself as a poet. Back in New York in 1930, he studied composition with Aaron Copland, whom he also accompanied to Yaddo, Paris, Berlin, and Tangier. With the support of Copland and Virgil Thomson, Bowles found work in New York writing incidental music and scores for ballet and theater. His successful career as a composer took off during the Depression with work for the Federal Theater Project (including music for Orson Welles's Horse Eats Hat) and the Federal Music Project. Bowles became one of the preeminent composers of American theater music, producing works for William Saroyan, Tennessee Williams, and others. In the 1990s, a resurgence of interest in Bowles's music spawned a number of major concerts and performances in the United States and Europe. In addition, a new generation of musicians has released several well received recordings of Bowles's compositions.
In 1938, Paul Bowles married the aspiring writer Jane Auer, who quickly achieved critical acclaim for her first novel, Two Serious Ladies (1943). Inspired by Jane Bowles's success and her dedication to writing, Bowles began his own career as an author, eventually surpassing his already successful reputation as a composer. Beginning in the 1940s, he produced numerous works of fiction, essays, travel writing, poems, autobiographical pieces, and other works. Among Bowles's best known fictional works are the novels The Sheltering Sky (1949), Let It Come Down (1952), The Spider's House (1955), and an early short story collection, The Delicate Prey and Other Stories (1950). A 1989 reprint of The Sheltering Sky and Bernardo Bertolucci's 1990 film version of the novel, starring Debra Winger and John Malkovich, revived international interest in Bowles, the writer.
Bowles is equally known as a prolific translator. He bestowed the title "No Exit" upon Jean-Paul Sartre's Huis Clos and his 1946 translation of that play remains the standard version for English language productions. During the 1940s, Bowles translated the poems and stories of a wide variety of European and Latin American authors. Bowles taped and transcribed from the Moghrebi tales by Mohammed Mrabet and several other Moroccan story tellers; and his translations have broadened readership of Guatemalan author Rodrigo Rey Rosa. Bowles translated several works related to North African culture and geography, and generously introduced and prefaced photographic collections, travel writing, and stories by other authors who share those interests.
Paul and Jane Bowles spent much of their married life traveling throughout the world and in 1947 made Tangier, Morocco, their permanent home. During this time, Paul Bowles was the so-called “dean of American expatriate writers,” and many major figures in the world of letters and the arts frequently visited the Bowleses in Tangier. Jane Bowles died in 1973, and Paul Bowles continued to reside in Tangier until his death on November 18, 1999.
Miller, Jeffrey. Paul Bowles: A Descriptive Bibliography. Santa Barbara, Calif.: Black Sparrow Press, 1986.
Sawyer-Lauçanno, Christopher. An Invisible Spectator: A Biography of Paul Bowles. New York: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1989.
Davis, Stephen. “Mercury at 80.” The Boston Globe Magazine, March 4, 1990.
Ned Leavitt was a literary agent for the William Morris Agency from 1977 to 1990, during which time he represented Paul Bowles. In 1990, Leavitt founded the Ned Leavitt Agency in New York City. In addition to Bowles, Leavitt represented Matthew Fox, Richard Yates, Lawrence Thornton, Sam Keen, and Clarissa Estes.
The Ned Leavitt Agency website, “Clients,” (accessed August 11, 2017) http://www.nedleavittagency.com/clients.html
Information derived from the collection.
This collection consists of 95 letters from American expatriate author and composer Paul Bowles to his literary agent at the William Morris Agency, Ned Leavitt, and six typescript manuscripts Bowles sent to the William Morris Agency, all created between 1975 and 1992. There are also six letters written by Bowles to other individuals and three letters written to Leavitt by individuals collaborating on work with Bowles.
This correspondence began at a crucial moment in Bowles’s career, just as John Martin’s Black Sparrow Press was about to publish Collected Stories, 1939-1976. The critical acclaim that greeted this work would rejuvenate Bowles’s career and bring him a whole new generation of readers. The correspondence deals with the consequences of this transformation, and culminates with the production of Bernardo Bertolucci’s film adaptation of Bowles’s classic 1947 novel, The Sheltering Sky.
By the late 1970s, many of Bowles' works were out of print and some had lost their copyright protection. On February 20, 1979, he lamented that Ecco Press had allowed his wife Jane Bowles’s book, Two Serious Ladies, and his The Delicate Prey to “drop into the trash basket of public domain.” He concluded “the moral of that is never to take anything for granted! Or as the Moroccans say: Don’t trust anybody—not even your father and mother.” That neglect changed with the success of Collected Stories. On March 2, 1980 Bowles wondered whether Leavitt might explore “a collection of new stories” with a New York publisher: “I’m not contractually bound to give them to Black Sparrow. But knowing that the short story is now held in low esteem by the public, and thus by the publishers, I send my things to Black Sparrow, because they publish them, and handsomely.”
Bowles reported having eleven new works, “all subsequent to the material in the Collected Stories, and undoubtedly there will be more.” On August 22, 1980 he responded to the request of Oxford University Press to reprint “You Have Left Your Lotus Pods on the Bus.” Bowles hastened to point out “that it was not written as a short story; it is a piece of reporting. I did my utmost to keep it from being included in the volume of collected stories, because I believe in maintaining a strong barrier between the land of actuality and the land of fiction.” In 1983, Ecco Press wanted to reprint his autobiography, Without Stopping, and Bowles welcomed the “good news” and the chance to edit the text: “I should surely want to work on it and make a few cuts, something I didn’t really have time to do when I was trying to meet Putnam’s deadline.”
On April 9, 1980 he was “pleased about” the nomination of Collected Stories for a National Book Award. But in the same letter Bowles complained about Black Sparrow Press publisher John Martin’s slow payment of royalties, stating “I have the impression that he thinks money is of no importance to me…I think he should have written me of his decision to postpone payment, rather than waiting for me to write and ask him what was up.” In a letter from August 16, 1981, Bowles noted that Martin had sent no royalty statement for the Collected Stories in over a year, and “none at all on Let it Come Down, which was published last December. I’ve written him about it, but he disregards my pleas.” Martin had been the only publisher interested in Bowles through many lean years, but now, with success coming late in life, Bowles was impatient to make the most of his remaining time. On September 18, 1981, “infuriated” with Martin, he authorized Leavitt to sell Up Above the World to Ecco Press. In a letter dated October 23, 1981, Bowles wrote “now that I’m nearly seventy-one, I feel that time is important! Not that I didn’t always feel that way, but now with less time to look forward to, each year assumes greater importance than before.” Another source of vexation was his U.K. publisher, Peter Owen. He wrote on March 3, 1980 that “it’s better to have as little to do with Owen as possible. He takes everything and gives nothing. I’ve had too many unfortunate experiences with him over the years not to expect the worst.”
Several letters are devoted to his short book of reflections of Morocco, Points in Time. Bowles told Leavitt that he was “writing a book, but it’s not a novel. I’d be hard put to categorize it, although I can describe it as a chain of true anecdotes about Morocco stretching over a period of several centuries. I suppose you could call it a collection of stories and accounts, chronologically arranged.” On July 17, 1981, he observed that the work’s brevity “makes it practically impossible to place with a New York publisher. (It would probably be easier even if it were a volume of verse!) There is a small public for poetry, but none at all for belles lettres, a genre which seems to have disappeared from the scene.”
Many letters tried to undo confusion over which publisher or which foreign agent had the rights to a particular book. Living in Morocco with inadequate means of communicating with Europe and the U.S. made the problems more difficult. Several letters touched on the hassles of everyday life in Tangier, which were considerable. On February 5, 1980, Bowles wrote that “mail here is unsatisfactory; letters arrive sliced open, so that one never knows what was in them originally. Nor, of course, are they all delivered eventually.” There is also a letter about how Leavitt helped smuggle into Morocco a vital car part for Bowles’s beloved 1966 Ford Mustang.
Notable figures mentioned in the correspondence include James Purdy, Tennessee Williams (Bowles wrote the music for the original production of Glass Menagerie), Gore Vidal, Pedro Almodóvar and Bernardo Bertolucci. Several letters touched on film treatments of his work. On October 28, 1982, he observed that “it would be nice if we were able to sell the film rights to Up Above the World again, but I suspect Universal would have something to say about it, since they bought them outright in 1966…In any case, they got an English woman to do the script (Pauline Macaulay) and it was terrible…The script was almost as bad as the one supplied for The Sheltering Sky, than which nothing could be worse.” On September 23, 1989 he inquired about his pay for his work on the filming of The Sheltering Sky, for which Bowles did the narration, and made a cameo appearance. He noted that “it should be good pay, since I put in ten hours each day, (ninety-nine percent of which consists of waiting, as you know, but that is more fatiguing than some sort of action).” In December 1990, Bowles reported on attending the French premier of the film “at the Paris Opera, which was all very gala.”
The correspondence also includes two letters from Bowles to Flora Day at the William Morris Agency regarding contracts for Mohamed Choukri’s “Men Are Lucky,” a letter to Marcia Higgins at the William Morris Agency, a letter to literary agent Gillon Aitken, a photocopied letter to John Martin about problems at the Alfaguara publishing house, and a letter to James Purdy regarding the proofs of On Glory’s Course. There are also three letters written by other individuals to Ned Leavitt. On June 4, 1981 Tom Christie wrote to Leavitt about securing the film rights to Bowles’s story, The Hours After Noon. In a handwritten letter from June 25, 1986, Larbi Layachi, also known as Driss ben Hamed Charhadi, inquired about the diminishing royalties from his book. There is also a forwarded letter from Layachi to Grove Press regarding the sales of his book since 1968, dated February 20, 1980.
This collection also includes six typescript manuscripts that Bowles sent to the William Morris Agency between 1975 and 1989. A 21-page typescript entitled “Reminders of Bouselham” includes numerous typographical emendations in Bowles’s hand and is signed at the end “Paul Bowles, Dec. 1975, Tangier.” Bowles also sent two undated, photocopied typescripts entitled “Kitty” and “Rumor and a Ladder.” Bowles signed “Kitty” on the top right of the first page but did not sign “Rumor and a Ladder,” although he referenced the manuscript in a letter dated June 19, 1980. Versions “Reminders of Bouselham,” “Kitty,” and “Rumor and a Ladder” all appeared in Bowles’s 1979 book, Collected Stories, 1939-1976.
Two typescripts pertain to Bowles’s work as a translator and transcriber. A typescript of Mohamed Choukri’s “Men Are Lucky” contains various typographical emendations in Bowles’s hand and is signed at the end “Translated from the Arabic by Paul Bowles.” Bowles’s translation of Choukri’s work appeared in Antaeus 28 (Winter 1978). Bowles also sent an unsigned typescript dated August 1981 and entitled “Second Section of Introduction to A Life Full of Holes.” Bowles explained in a November 27, 1981 letter included in this collection that this introduction was intended for a revised edition of the book, by Driss ben Hamed Charhadi (aka Larbi Layachi), an illiterate Moroccan whose story Bowles transcribed. Bowles wrote the introduction for the 1963 Grove Press edition of the book. A letter from December 28, 1982 indicates that Grove Press did not use this revised text.
The final typescript is a faxed copy of an essay Bowles wrote on Tangier for Vogue magazine. The typescript is unsigned, but is dated November 3, 1989.