Yardley appointed to edit volume of Mencken memoirs Knopf to bring out literary recollections

September 15, 1991|By Peter Jensen

Jonathan Yardley, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post literary critic, was named yesterday as editor of the latest Henry Louis Mencken autobiography: a 1,025-page manuscript that was unsealed last January, 35 years after the writer's death.

Mr. Yardley, a Baltimore resident, will edit "My Life as Author and Editor," which will be published by Alfred A. Knopf Inc. next year. He was chosen as editor by the Mencken Committee of the Enoch Pratt Free Library, which houses much of Mencken's work, and by representatives of Knopf and the library administration.

Another Mencken manuscript, "My 35 Years of Newspaper Work," was unsealed by the library in January. A spokesman said the Mencken Committee is currently reviewing applications for that editorship as well as proposals from publishers.

"My Life," begun in 1942, covers Mencken's experiences in writing and editing, beginning with his early family life and continuing to his editorship of the Smart Set magazine in 1923.

His relations with literary luminaries such as Sinclair Lewis, Ezra Pound and Scott Fitzgerald are mentioned.

The announcement of Mr. Yardley's appointment came as the Pratt celebrated the 111th anniversary of Mencken's birth.

An estimated 400 people participated in Mencken Day events. Many of them browsed in the library's Mencken Room, the collection of memorabilia, scrapbooks, typescripts and other Mencken documents that is normally open only to serious

scholars.

Mr. Yardley, who has already begun his task of condensing the Mencken manuscript, said it will likely stir up the same critics who labeled Mencken a racist for his harsh remarks about Jews and blacks in his diary, published in 1989.

"There is language that people will interpret as anti-Semitic," he said. "I don't agree with that interpretation . . . [and] I don't regard it as a major part of the book."

He described his editing job as "interesting and challenging," made easier by the fact that the irascible Mencken is not around to offer objections. The manuscript has some "wonderful stuff" in it, he said, and portrays a busy author with an active social life who was "out and about in the world."

Also attending Mencken Day festivities at the Pratt yesterday was Marion Elizabeth Rodgers of Baltimore, whose book, "The ** Impossible H. L. Mencken," is scheduled for release in November. The book contains a selection of his newspaper stories.

Ms. Rodgers said that Mencken continues to be popular because "good style is always timeless."

"His humor and biting wit and the way he threw dead cats in the sanctuary -- those things always have their appeal," she said.

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