‘We don’t mellow out. We spite out.’

The Friendship of Stanley Elkin and Herb Yellin: Letters from the Lord John Press Collection


Stanley Elkin (right) with Herb Yellin, 1995

The Modern Literature Collection recently acquired a treasure trove of papers from the Lord John Press archives, including personal correspondence and ephemera from Donald Barthleme, John Barth, Robert Coover, Saul Bellow, John Gardner, William H. GassStanley Elkin and others. While all of these papers are illuminating literary and historic artifacts, the narrative woven by Stanley Elkin’s letters is particularly vibrant. Addressed to Lord John Press publisher Herb Yellin, these letters–at turns hilarious and heart-breaking–tell the story of all the highs, lows, and in-betweens of a rich publishing friendship.


“So tell me, Lord,” Elkin asks in September of 1993, “how’s that grant you’re getting me coming along?”


In a letter from November of 1993, Elkin begins to confide his escalating health issues.


In May of 1994, Elkin thanks Herb for remembering his birthday.


Elkin confesses that “grief embarrasses him” in this letter from November of 1994.


True to form as a fiction writer, Elkin sent this simultaneously humorous and serious letter about his growing misanthropy and old age. It seems, though, that the entire reason for the letter is to tell Yellin that he is an exception to this spite Elkin felt toward other people. Elkin would die just a little over three weeks later.


In his final letter to Herb Yellin, just days before his death, Stanley Elkin included a signed photograph of himself inscribed: “To Herb with love”.


Stanley Elkin, 1995

For video footage of Stanley Elkin, visit the MLC’s digital archive at http://omeka.wustl.edu/omeka/exhibits/show/mlc50/stanley-elkin/video.

About the author

Meghan Lamb currently lives with her husband in St. Louis, where she is a fiction MFA candidate with the Washington University Writing Program and a Graduate Assistant with the Modern Literature Collection. She is the author of Silk Flowers (Birds of Lace) and Sacramento (Solar Luxuriance).