Picador has scooped three works by "extraordinary" US writer Bette Howland in a four-way auction.
Editor Kishani Widyaratna acquired UK and Commonwealth rights from Caspian Dennis at Abner Stein, in association with Renée Zuckerbrot at Massie & McQuilkin Literary Agents. Complete short story collection Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage, the writer’s first work published in the UK, will be released in May 2020. Memoir W-3 follows in 2021 and trio of novellas Things to Come and Go is due the year after.
Howland was a celebrated writer and working-class single mother of two boys who lived in Chicago. She was a sometime lover and protégée of Saul bellow who hailed her as “one of the significant writers of her generation”. However, after winning a MacArthur Genius award in 1984 she became paralysed by performance anxiety and never published again.
In 2015, Brigid Hughes, editor of literary magazine A Public Space, came across a second-hand copy of W-3, her memoir of a nervous breakdown, at a New York bookstore and undertook a mission to track her down. She only made contact with her son Jacob at the end of the end of the writer’s life when she was suffering from dementia. Howland passed away in 2017.
Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage collects all of Howland’s short stories into one volume and will publish in the US on May 7th, as the inaugural title at Hughes’ new imprint, A Public Space Books. Picador says it intends to rally readers to “Discover Bette” in a year-long campaign building up to its first publication next year.
Widyaratna said: “I had been waiting to read Bette Howland’s writing ever since reading A N Dever’s fantastic LitHub piece on her mysterious and tragic story. When the manuscript arrived it exceeded all possible expectations. Howland’s writing is sharp and distinctive and her teeming stories of working-class Chicago life are full of mercurial vitality, melancholy desires and emotional honesty, imparting a holy grace on the most every day. Shockingly, she published for only 10 short years – her struggles to find both the resources and confidence to do creative work speak to the experience of so many less privileged writers. To partner with Brigid Hughes and A Public Space in championing Bette’s work back into the world is just the icing on the cake.”
Hughes added: “When I first encountered Bette Howland's work, it was a thrilling discovery; it's been a mission since then to see her writing restored to the literary canon. I'm delighted that Bette Howland will join Picador's superb list of authors, with the talented Kishani Widyaratna overseeing the publication of her books, and that readers in the UK will now have the chance to discover this extraordinary writer as well.”