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David Baumbach
Jonathan Baumbach

Remembering Jonathan Baumbach

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By Thursday, Apr 11, 2019 Viewpoints 5

Editor’s Note: The renowned writer Jonathan Baumbach died at his home in Great Barrington, Mass., on March 28, 2019, at the age of 85. He was the author of 12 novels. To read the first chapter from his story collection, Pavilion of Former Wives, click HERE.

Jon Baumbach was an excellent friend. Originally, we met at what used to be the annual Local Authors Day at the Sheffield Library. We found ourselves seated at tables adjacent to each other. Together we kvetched about the treacheries of the publishing world. He gave me copies of his books. I gave him mine. We both had lots of copies we’d purchased for a pittance, before they were remaindered.

Saturday morning, March 30th. The plan was to meet outside the Mahaiwe Theater. He had given me a ticket to see “Die Walkyrie” in HD. Jonathan was always punctual — to a fault. Usually when I arrived, on time, he was already eye-balling his watch. But he wasn’t there. I waited. I called. Finally, went inside the theater. I had a nagging premonition. During intermission, I saw a text from an unfamiliar number in New Jersey. I called. Jonathan’s son David told me he had sad news: his father had been found dead in his house.

How do we absorb the loss of our loved ones, our dear and distant friends? More and more frequently, we hear of their deaths. And it can only get worse. The previous month, Jon’s wife, Annette Grant, had died. It leaves one speechless. Helpless. And we go on.

Annette Grant, an editor at the New York Times and wife of Jonathan Baumbach.

What I remember most about Jon is our long walks accompanied by Beau, his beloved standard poodle, whose death still haunted him years after he had died. Together we climbed the steep, rocky path to Bash Bish Falls, hiked above Tyringham, and several times around the River Walk in Great Barrington. Later, when he slowed down, and he was 86, we walked the quarter mile to his mailbox together.

As we trekked, Jonathan told great stories about the literary world. He had been at Yaddo with Philip Roth. Both of them were interested in the same painter. I think Philip won that time. His car trip to visit Bernard Malamud. Friendships with Robert Coover and poet Mark Strand. James Franco had been his student at Brooklyn College, where Jon taught in the Masters Program, which he was instrumental in creating. “A very good writer,” he said of Franco. “And not a bad actor.”

Jonathan Baumbach reading from ‘Pavilion of Former Wives’ at the Lauren Clark Gallery in Great Barrington. Photo: David Scribner

At Brooklyn College, Jon also started the Fiction Collective, with Peter Spielberg, a publishing house run by authors. “What F.C. offered us all,” he said, “was the possibility of following our deepest impulses as artists while having a publisher, unconcerned with the world of commerce, open to value what we did on its own merit.”

He was a proud father, and not just of his famous children. He had four: David, Nina, Noah, and Nico. And several grandchlldren. He was the son of an accomplished painter, Harold Baumbach. Annette and Jonathan built an art gallery on their property to display his work.

Jon was also proud of his wives. Four to be exact. His most recent book was titled Pavilion of Former Wives.

Writing was central to his life. He published eighteen novels, not to mention the short stories, his literary essays, and film criticism. He had been a film critic at the Partisan Review and awaited his collection of reviews to be published: Shots in the Dark: Collected Film Criticism.

Jonathan Baumbach and Annette Grant.

Jon was an old-fashioned guy. He didn’t have a cell phone. Annette did. He had difficulties with his answering machine and had no interest in programming his television. He never saw
“The Sopranos.” And was not interested. He only watched movies, tennis matches and the news.

I miss my friend Jonathan Baumbach.

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5 Comments   Add Comment

  1. John Lippmann says:

    Thank you for this personal remembrance of a literary great. Jonathan was a good friend of my bookstore in Stockbridge and he will certainly be missed.

  2. Lauren Clark says:

    Another shock from the Baumbach/Grant household! I loved having Jon read at my gallery and had a wonderful time showing Harold’s work at the little house gallery. Both Annette and Jonathan will be missed from my world.

  3. Chris says:

    Lovely memory. I shared bits of time with Johathan and Annette. Great inspiring sources of humanity. Certainly a tear in the fabric.

  4. Mary R White says:

    I first met Jon and Annette when we went together searching for a home in the Berkshires. We found one on North Plain Rd which was owned at the time by Linda Ellery. They bought it and transformed it in to their paradise. We became friends. What a loss. They will be missed.

  5. dennis irvine says:

    I worked for Jon and Annette at their GB home in the 90s. I was very fond of them both and I am sorry to read this news. My condolences to their family.

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