David G. Hartwell, the Provost of SF
The speculative genres (science fiction, fantasy, horror) have lost one of the greats, as David G. Hartwell, senior editor at Tor Books, died this week from a fall at home. He was 74. He liked to say that “senior editor” was not just a job title but a personal description, he being the longest-serving editor in sf/f publishing, his only challenger being Ellen Asher, the long-time editor-in-chief of the Science Fiction Book Club. But David claimed to be a few months ahead of Ellen in employment history.
David at the 20th anniversary party for The New York Review of Science Fiction, 2008, showing off his untouchable fashion sense. Photo by Houari Boumedienne
Given his academic background (Ph.D. in Medieval Literature), and the plethora of “deans” of Science Fiction, I liked to think of him as the Provost of SF, the person to whom those deans had to report for evaluation. Not that the reporting was always meek and mild, as David liked to reminisce about editing Robert Heinlein, the original “Dean”, and how hearing Heinlein’s gruff greeting in his ear was enough to make him come to attention and start to salute the phone.
[Update: The David Hartwell Memorial edition of The New York Review of Science Fiction is available for free download from Weightless Books.]
I got to know David through The New York Review of Science Fiction, a fabled publication of which I had heard mention but was never able to track down issues. Until I went to Readercon. Readercon is a literary sf/f convention that was also, semi-officially, David’s outside birthday party. Because the convention takes place in early July, the organizers found that invitations to sf/f participants were often trumped by prior commitment to David’s home birthday party (on or about July 10). So, they offered him a permanent birthday party as part of the convention, to assure themselves of both his presence and all his many sf/f friends. And many there were and are.
When I went to my first Readercon in 1999, gaming friends who worked on NYRSF introduced me to David and encouraged him to let me review books. He took the chance, offered me a book (Moonlight and Vines, Charles de Lint) and a copy of the NYRSF guidelines, and I started in. Two years later, I took the next step and volunteered on the NYRSF staff, a task that permitted me to travel monthly to Pleasantville, NY, to Chez Hartwell, to enjoy the congenial company of sf/f fans of great knowledge and good humor, as well as the amazing sights of David’s book and art collections. My major contribution was bringing the beer (having discovered Captain Lawrence Brewing right in Pleasantville, though they had been brewing for 3 years before I twigged to their existence).
In recent years, life had taken me and David away from regular NYRSF work weekend attendance, and our meetings were evermore intermittent. But, it was never less than a pleasure to see him and to be invited effortlessly into the circle of folks he naturally attracted around himself. So, if I get pensive and gaze away toward nothing in particular, I may be recalling an evening at Readercon, back in 2012, where I had wandered outside and just latched on like a barnacle to the informal panel discussion on sf publishing including Guest of Honor Peter Straub and soon-to-be GoH (2015) Gary K. Wolfe and David (GoH 2001). Feeling welcome in that company may be the single best fan moment I have ever had.