THE NUTMEG POINT DISTRICT MAIL

the Avram Davidson electronic newsletter

Vol. XI No. 1


8 May 2006

ISSN 1089-764X

Published irregularly by whim and fancy for the Avram Davidson Society.
Contents copyright 2006 The Nutmeg Point District Mail and assigned
to individual contributors. All rights reserved.

Henry Wessells, Editor.
Cooper Wessells, Honorary Secretary.

All correspondence to:
TEMPORARY CULTURE
Post Office Box 43072, Upper Montclair, NJ 07043-0072
Electronym: wessells@aol.com

Use this electronym for requests to be added to or dropped from the
mailing list. Back issues are archived at the Avram Davidson Website,
URL : http://www.avramdavidson.org

PLEASE DO NOT REPLY TO THE ORIGINATING ADDRESS

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THE SCARLET FIG ; OR, SLOWLY THROUGH A LAND OF STONE

Now published by The Rose Press, Avram Davidson's final Vergil Magus novel :
THE SCARLET FIG ; OR, SLOWLY THROUGH A LAND OF STONE,
edited by Grania Davis and Henry Wessells.

Your editor reports with profound pleasure that The Scarlet Fig is a
book! The third Vergil Magus novel is now available for a wider audience
than the four or five readers it had in manuscript and photocopy circulation.
All the references your editor has made over the years to the joys and sorrows of
the tale are now open to scrutiny and discourse. The book's complexity and the
interplay of image and idea continue to cause marvel and wonder.

The Rose Press, specialist publisher of fine science fiction and imaginative
literature in finely crafted limited editions, report that somewhat more
than half the edition has already sold.
A review of the book will appear in a subsequent issue.

The Scarlet Fig; or, Slowly through a Land of Stone by Avram Davidson,
edited by Grania Davis and Henry Wessells.
With inserted color plate, by Susannah Rose; endpapers & ornaments after Piranesi.
xii, 285 pp., 29.95/$49.95. ISBN 0-9548277-1-6,
550 numbered copies with a facsimile signature of Avram Davidson
on the limitation page.
8vo, London: The Rose Press, [2005]
www.therosepress.co.uk/html/the_scarlet_fig.html.
Publication Date : WORLDCON 2005

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TEXAS A & M ACQUIRES THE AVRAM DAVIDSON ARCHIVE

In June 2005, Texas A & M University acquired the Avram Davidson Archive
from the Estate of Avram Davidson, thus ensuring a permanent home for
Davidson's manuscript materials and extensive correspondence. The Archive
joins a substantial catalogued collection of material from the early phase of
Davidson's career already held in the Science Fiction and Fantasy Research Collection.
During the last weekend in June, Grania Davis and Henry Wessells sorted and
packed the Archive into sixty boxes of books, papers, letters, and related
materials, with assistance from Stephen Davis, Ethan Davidson, and Sara Fishman.
Many interesting items turned up during the sorting process (see below for an
initial discussion). Hal W. Hall, Senior Scholar and Bibliographer for the
Science Fiction and Fantasy Research Collection of the Cushing Library,
Texas A & M University, will oversee further cataloguing of the Archive.
Further information may be obtained from hal-hall@tamu.edu,
or Hal W. Hall, Cushing Memorial Library, Texas A & M University,
College Station, TX 77843-5000

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FROM THE ARCHIVES : THE ORIGINS OF VERGIL MAGUS
(part of an irregular series)

In her afterword to The Scarlet Fig, Grania Davis recalls how, during the
"snowy winter days" of 1961-1962, Avram Davidson first conceived the idea of the
Vergil Magus novels that would become one of the cornerstones of his work. Davis
recalls seeing an exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and a glass vessel
that recorded a story of Vergil, tricked and imprisoned above the city of Naples
in a basket. The dedication page of The Scarlet Fig includes the name of
Sam Moskowitz the late fan and collector and scholar of science fiction from
Newark, New Jersey, "whose invitation to speak 'on any subject of my
choice,' first encouraged me to choose The Legend and the Romaunt of Vergil
Magus."

During the final morning of sorting the Avram Davidson Archive, one item that
surfaced was a four-page typescript entitled "The Legend of Virgil the Sorcerer,
an address delivered before the Eastern Science Fiction Association in Newark,
N.J., the first Sunday of December, /61." The paper invokes "the dark and narrow
alleys" of Naples, where "there is an old and dark piece of statuary, possibly
Renaisence, certainly not older than Medieval — a bust, set into a niche in
the wall.[. . .] it is Virgil. Ask further who Virgil was [. . .] it is likelier
that your answer will be 'Virgil was a magician, a great magician.'" Davidson
then paraphrases the story of Vergil's assignation with a married woman, who
leaves him hanging. "But it is not yet ended. Vergil had the last laugh. Being a
sorcerer, he — by his magick arts — extinguished every fire in the
city of Naples" and then permitted residents to rekindle their fires from a
single source. A brief sketch follows tracing Vergil's caree from Latin poet to
medieval nigromancer, concluding with a short quotation from Ciardi's
translation of Dante:
. . . And he then: "Follow" [said.]
And he moved ahead in silence, and I followed where he led.

This short essay documents the origins of Davidson's great work and, in
recounting in some detail the legend of Vergil and the basket, confirms Davis's
memory of this image as the place of origin. It is also worth remarking that a
key part of the plot of The Phoenix and the Mirror results from Vergil's
dalliance with a woman who gained power over him; and note, too, the central
place of fire in the Vergil legends.

The typescript is marked I,26-I,29 and is thus one of the earliest documents
from the vast assembly of data that became the Encyclopaedia of Vergil
Magus.

To be continued
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OTHER PUBLISHING NEWS

NYRSF SPECIAL VERGIL MAGUS ISSUE
The New York Review of Science Fiction for April 2005 publishes
"How I Collaborated with Jack London, Ambrose Bierce, Sinclair Lewis,
Elizabeth Taylor, Princess Margaret, and Others" by Avram Davidson and
hree further Davidsonian items: "The Scarlet Fig : An Afterword" by
Grania Davis, "A Note on the Text of The Scarlet Fig" by Henry
Wessells, and a note on "The Encyclopaedia of the World of Vergil Magus"
by Grania Davis, with a facsimile of one of Davidson's index cards (on Twins).

The New York Review of Science Fiction, Dragon Press, P.O. Box 78,
Pleasantville, NY 10570.

AVRAM DAVIDSON IN JAPAN
Bumberboom and other stories by Avram Davidson is announced for
publication in Japan in October 2005, edited by Masayuki Shunou, with a
preface by Grania Davis. The stories have been translated by Norio Itou,
Hisashi Asakura, Mariko Fukamachi, Tadashi Wakashima, and Toru
Nakamura.

Published by Kawade Shobo Shinsha, ISBN 4-309-62187-2
Cover illustration : avramdavidson.org/4309621872.jpg


EILEEN GUNN'S STABLE STRATEGIES
Stable Strategies and Others by Eileen Gunn (Tachyon, 2004) a compact gem
of a book, includes Gunn's unsettling and beautiful story "Coming to Terms",
a story of dialogues between writer and reader "visited by the ghost of
Avram Davidson, who wrote in all his books, annotated his manuscripts, and
left little notes here and there for his survivors to find." Your editor
heard the author read the story from an early draft at World Fantasy
Convention, 1999, and from something like the final version four years
later. In the interval, Gunn found the language to deliver a haunting and
powerful tale.

tachyonpublications.com/book/Stable_Strategies.html

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IN MEMORIAM : GUY DAVENPORT

Guy Davenport, author and poet, died 4 January 2005 in Lexington, Kentucky.

"Fiction's essential activity is to imagine how others feel, what a Saturday
afternoon in an Italian town in the second century looked like," Davenport
wrote. "My ambition is solely to get some effect, as of light on stone in a
forest on a September day. . . . "

Author of The Geography of the Imagination, The Jules Verne Steam
Balloon,
and Apples and Pears, among many other works,
Guy Davenport was one of the foremost American men of letters, professor
emeritus of the University of Kentucky, a MacArthur fellow, and an
ever-charming correspondent. He was a staunch Davidsonian, as
readers of the District Mail will note, and wrote with pleasure of the revival of
interest that began with The Avram Davidson Treasury.

Introduced to each other by Reno Odlin, Avram Davidson and Guy Davenport
engaged in a regular correspondence from early 1991 until Davidson's
death, covering matters literary, biographical, medical, and
anthropological. A substantial file of Davenport's letters is preserved in
the archive. A few brief samples to point at its richness :

"If you call yourself ignorant, then my mind doesn't exist!" (GD to AD, 21 March 1991)

"I'd say the Tadjikistani tyke eating dirt was simply hungry." (Bloomsday 1992)

"I gather that you will be in the rest home for awhile — a kind of
vacation, if you're philosophical abut it. The nurses I talked to sounded
nice. I told them that you are just a notch below Tolstoy in universal
esteem, and that they should treat you accordingly." (29 April 1993)

When Davidson was in the rest home, Davenport sent him a copy of The
Drummer of the Eleventh North Devonshire
, which Davidson appreciated
receiving. In a letter dated 7 May 1993 Davenport wrote :
"Avram! You have no notion how happy I was to have your dictated letter. [. . .]
I now know that you are conscious, in your right mind, and probably giving
them all there a hard time. It will cause a scandal if you give readings
from The Drummer to your fellow patients and the nursing staff."
(The letter was postmarked 8 May 1993, the date of Davidson's death.)

Your editor had the pleasure of a dozen letters from Guy Davenport during
the past decade, frequently concerning Avram Davidson publishing projects,
but always filled with rich and interesting digressions. A selection of
Davenport's correspondence with poet Jonathan Williams was published as
A Garden Carried in a Pocket (2004). The Avram Davidson Guy
Davenport letters would also be an interesting book.

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IN MEMORIAM : RENO W. ODLIN

R.W. Odlin of Sedro-Woolley, Washington, and Church Point, Louisiana,
died in mid-March 2005. Odlin was author of The People's Republic of
Oz and Other Linked Ruminations
(privately printed, 1996) and examples
of his Didactic Hoaxes and other typographic works were regularly exhibited
at the Galerie Arnaud Lefebvre in Paris. His timely assistance enabled
Owlswick Press to issue Adventures in Unhistory while Avram Davidson
was alive to see the finished book.

His son Iain Odlin sent the following notice :

"R.W. — "Spike" to his friends — is survived by his wife of 37 years,
Patricia (of Sedro-Woolley, WA); his son Iain and his wife Adrienne (of
North Berwick, ME); and his son Robert (of Mt. Vernon, WA). He is also
survived by one sibling, his elder brother Neal Heston (of Gig Harbor,
WA).

Spike fervently desired no funeral services and was cremated with no
fanfare at his request. His ashes will be scattered later this year at a
small family gathering."

Your editor never met Reno Odlin in person but enjoyed an erratic and
fruitful exchange of letters (paper and e-mail messages) and of literary
artefacts, with occasional telephone conversations. He was one of the
earliest readers of The Scarlet Fig in photocopy manuscript,
offered frequent and valued encouragement, and your editor here
acknowledges (again) the importance of this epistolary friendship.

A few months before his death, Reno Odlin contributed a few reflections
on Avram Davidson, now first printed in the following article.

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A DECADE GONE by RENO W. ODLIN

If ever a man deserved to live out his years in the shade of a Great Library,
that man was Avram Davidson. What did he find instead? Bremerton, WA
(Samuel Butler sang, famously, "O God! O Montreal!" Had he but seen
Bremerton!), and a series of V.A. facilities — if that last word does
not make the phrase something like the ultimate oxymoron. Well, I look
about me here in Beautiful Downtown Richard (LA), and in truth there is
nothing like a Great Library here either. There is the tomb of an
uncanonized saint, Charlene Richard (her mother won't let them dig up the
remains for canonization — "What if the body should be corrupt? All
those good people would be so disappointed." This does not discourage the
pilgrims who come from all over the world for healing: they know a saint
when they find one!), a fire station, a machine shop, a few crawfish ponds.
No crime, though. I haven't locked my door in more than a year.

A decade further along, I too have the congestive heart failure from which
Avram and his old friend Alan Nourse alike suffered. No diabetes, though,
and no strokes. But I begin to grasp why, in the end, he lost his interest in
living. Too much that is still permitted me is still fun as yet, but I have been
close enough to the dividing line that Crossing The Bar affords me no fears.

Henry Wessells tells me he is devoting a few lines to the subject of Avram
and Walking. When we met, finally, the man's walks were restricted to those
which could be undertaken with a walker: typically — and with terrifying
slowness — across a down-town Bellingham street to the Greek restaurant
which was our destination. (He pronounced the avgholimono soup too salty.
I did not think so then, but I should undoubtedly now, when, for me, essentially
no salt is allowed!)

This note started with the notion of a Great Library. What Avram had instead
was a remarkable memory, copious notes — for which he never quite
devised a totally satisfactory filing system — and such books as chanced
to float in on the tide. This left him often with such faults as a man can
incur when his sources of information are secondary, insufficient or
corrupt.

"Senso morale 95 % all writing : author wants $$$" said Ezra Pound in 1957.
This was Avram's problem as an author: had he not depended upon his writing
to furnish him a living — a damned meagre one, too — he might
have been able to direct his efforts toward that côterie audience which was
beginning to coalesce about him in his very last years, as the names of Guy
Davenport and the poet David Gordon will attest, and thus secured such esteem as
might have served him better in the end than a bibliography full of pot-boilers.
Maybe not, though. Without the spur of necessity he might not have written those
things for which we now honour his name: or more importantly, learned HOW
to write them. It is an impossible call. But it seems too horrifying to think
that no matter how he ordered his life he was fated to the suffering which came
his way.

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THE BEASTS OF THE ELYSIAN FIELDS

More than four years after the Nutmeg Point District Mail published an edition
of the proto-Limekiller story, The Beasts of the Elysian Fields, based
upon the typescript preserved CSU Fullerton Library, Special Collections, the
bibliographical riddle posed by the story has been solved. The typescript bears
the pseudonym of "Conrad Amber" and a note, "Published in Knight or
Cad or Adam. Caribbean background authentic. AD."

Initial researches proved fruitless — none of these magazines have
been indexed — but late in 2005 a short note from a reader alerted
your editor that a copy of the original magazine publication was available
on a back-issue magazine website.

"The Beasts of the Elysian Fields" was first published in Adam Magazine,
Vol. 12 No. 3, 1968, with the byline Avram Davidson.

The most notable aspect of the 1968 story remains the description of "Jack
Limekiller," almost identical to that of Jack Limekiller's rival Alex Brant in
the 1993 story "A Far Countrie."
See also the following article.

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AVRAM DAVIDSON IN THE SKIN MAGAZINES ;
or, The Thankless Labor of the Bibliographer

Your editor has been charting new bibliographical terrain during the past
several months and tracking down first periodical appearances of stories by
Avram Davidson in lesser-known magazines of the 1960s. The second story
listed below was previously unknown.

"A Bottle Full of Kismet" by Avram Davidson. Dapper, Vol. 2, No. 4,
February 1966 (pp. 50-52, 59). Collected in Strange Seas and Shores.

"Paramour" by Chester Cohen and Avram Davidson. Fling Festival, No. 7,
Fall 1961 (pp. 44-49).

Your editor wishes to acknowledge the assistance of Lewis Forro
in these searches.
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THE SHOE OF A MONOPEDE

In The Scarlet Fig, Quint recounts how one of the Vestal Virigins,
"Honoria, would you believe it, gravely casts dice to decide. Carries
them with her in a monopede's shoe — a monopede's shoe!"

Your editor noted a profile of Dexter Benjamin, a one-legged bicycle
messenger, in The New York Times for 14 May 2005 : "The Hard
Math of Two Wheels and One Pedal" by Dan Barry.

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The Nutmeg Point District Mail abandons all pretense of maintaining
a bimonthly frequency; it will appear irregularly (at least one issue per
annual volume). The editor will strive to uphold that intended
frequency, while making no further apology for delays arising
from the intrusion of work, other writing projects, or summer days.

Please note : only one number of Volume IX (for 2004) was published;
Volume X (for 2005) was not published.

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Next Issue Date : Autumn 2006

The editor of The Nutmeg Point District Mail invites contributions on any
topic pertaining to the life and work of Avram Davidson.

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