When they hit the big time, authors, like actors and politicians, find that their pasts become open season. Politicians' voting records are scrutinized. Actors' early films are reviewed. And authors' early works are pored over by publishers eager to find something, anything, to sell on the wave of current popularity.
Sometimes, the early writing is exciting. When it's not, writers often prefer to keep the offending passages locked up. That is why a handful of authors (and agents) are grumbling about next month's issue of Philadelphia Magazine, in which excerpts of stories written by now famous authors while in college are being reprinted.Among the gems is short verse from J.D. Salinger, who, while at Ursinus College, wrote: "Reflec-tion:/It all links . . . /Men bore me;/Women abhor me;/Children floor me;/Society stinks. . . . "
Philip Roth, at Bucknell, wrote about a "lost young man" who "no more belonged in a mahoghany-stained hotel bar than the wrinkled cord jacket draped sloppily on the back of his chair belonged in this wind-driven October world."
James Michener, at Swarth- more, described two lovers: "They were helpless, drunk with Springtime. Often when he passed he touched her, or her hair brushed past his face and the blood would race to his temples and to hers."
And Nicholson Baker, at Haverford, described a library fountain as having an "initial thrust up toward the cerulean and the attendant tragic arc back down to the cares of the corporeal."
There is also early writing from John McPhee; Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, a New York Times book critic; Karen Durbin, the editor of the Village Voice; Anna Deavere Smith, the playwright, and Norman Pearlstine, editor in chief of Time Warner.
So far, at least two agents, speaking for their clients, have objected.
"Please be advised that Salinger never grants permission for the reprinting of his work and is on record as someone who vigorously pursues all legal avenues available to protect his legal rights," wrote Phyllis Westberg, Salinger's agent at Harold Ober Associates, in a letter to the magazine.
An assistant to Andrew Wylie, Roth's agent, also voiced objections.
But Eliot Kaplan, the magazine's editor, said the magazine was not violating any copyright laws. And not everyone was offended.
Dave Barry, the humorist, who wrote for the Bryn Mawr-Haverford College News, suggested that the magazine had found the writing of another student named Dave Barry. "I don't recall ever meeting this person," he wrote to the editors, "although to judge from his writing, I'd say he was taking a lot of drugs."