Tuesday, January 11, 2011

DAW Books = sf or How I Corresponded With Donald A. Wollheim

You might be asking, why did I name this post DAW Books =sf?  This was the original logo for DAW Books.  I was 11 years old when the first DAW Book ("Spell of the Witch World" by Andre Norton) hit the stands.  Back in April of 1972 you bought your books at the news stand.  Every Friday night our family would "go to town".  We would do our banking for the week and go to the local Murphy's (a department store that sold a little bit of everything).  I liked Murphy's because my grandmother worked there.  She would always give us candy and buy us a comic book off of their wall of comics.  You could find all of the DC and Marvel comics.  What does this have to do with DAW Books?  I'm glad you asked.

Next door to Murphy's was a news stand called the Village News.  They had a section devoted to newspapers.  One devoted to magazines.  Another devoted to cigars.  And the section that caught my eye was the spinner racks.  For those too young to know what a spinner rack is, it was a metal rack that had many slots.  The whole rack could be turned so you could see all of the books without moving from your spot.  Village News was a dream land for a young science fiction reader.  At that time I was reading Perry Rhodan, the Lensmen series, and eventually moved into Isaac Asimov and Poul Anderson.  This was the place that introduced me to DAW Books.

DAW Books started publishing about the time I started reading science fiction.  It was a wonderous time seeing this fledgling company start.  I realized that Donald Wollheim was previously at Ace Books.  I was a big fan of his World's Best SF series.  I started looking at DAW Books from the early days.

Since I was already reading Perry Rhodan and it was only being published three times a month, I went in search of another series.  That was when I discovered Cap Kennedy by Gregory Kern.  I did not realize it at the time but Kern was actually E. C. Tubb.  I was already writing fan fiction for a Perry Rhodan zine so I thought it would be a good idea to try a Cap Kennedy fan story.  Unfortunately, I could not find any Cap zines.  So I did what any young fan would do.  I wrote a letter to Donald Wollheim and asked if he would mind if I published a Cap Kennedy zine.  At the same time, I was very shy in school I thought nothing of writing a letter to Donald Wollheim.

He was nice enough to take the time to answer my questions and send me the covers of all the Cap Kennedy books.  In addition, he sent me about two years worth of flyers and a catalog of all the DAW Books published at that time.  

As I continue the never-ending battle to clean up my library/den, I found the letter Don sent to me.  If there was any question as to whether or not I would stay a science fiction fan, this cemented it for me.  When I received a letter from Don, I could hardly quit shaking long enough to open it.  It was better than Christmas.

The two letters and the package from Don are some of my prized possessions.  The personal value of these cannot be determined.  Below is my transcription of that interview.  Please bear in mind that I was very young.  My questions reflect my age.  Keep in mind that this was before the internet age.

Now, without further ado, here is my interview with Donald A. Wollheim. 

Donald A. Wollheim Interview (Jan. 6, 1975)

Jim:  Where were you born?

Don:  New York

Jim:  How old are you?
Don:  60

Jim:  What is your middle name?
Don:  Allen

Jim:  How old were you when you started writing?
Don:  18

Jim:  Can you give me a list of your books?
Don:  Impossible to say...over 21 novels and non-fiction works and perhaps 60 or 70 anthologies for paperback and hardcovers.  My first novel was THE SECRET OF SATURN'S RINGS (1953).  My latest hardcover book was THE UNIVERSE MAKERS (Harper & Row, 1971).  And of course I do the anthology series THE 1975 ANNUAL WORLD'S BEST SF, have been doing "World's Best" selections since 1965.  In 1943 I edited the world's first science fiction anthology entitled THE POCKET BOOK OF SCIENCE FICTION.

Jim:  What is your favorite of the books you wrote?

Jim:  Did you ever edit any magazines?
Don:  Yes.  All were short lived from 1941 to 1961.
         Cosmic Science Fiction
         Stirring Science Fiction
         Out of This World Adventures

Jim:  What made you decide to start DAW?
Don:  As editor-in-chief of Ace Books, since 1952, I found it impractical to continue with them due to their poor management beginning about 1970.  Hence I launched my own line.

Jim:  Would you consider writing another novel?
Don:  I may someday but I have no plans now.

Jim:  Do you plan on staying with DAW for the foreseeable future?
Don:  Forever, I hope!

Thanks to Don, a large number of science fiction and fantasy books saw print.  He published new books, anthologies, fantasy, science fiction, many new writers, and translated the writings of foreign authors.  

Every time I see a science fiction book, I thank Don Wollheim for all of his efforts.  My one regret was that I never had the opportunity to thank him in person.


Carl V. said...

That is a wonderful post, Jim. How fortunate that you held on to those letters and the other things he sent you, those are indeed treasures. I wasn't yet reading science fiction when DAW started (I wouldn't yet have turned 4 at that time) but the yellow spines instantly jump into my memory whenever the company is mentioned. Looking back I cannot recall it I have ever read a book from DAW before reading Tanya Huff's two book collection, The Confederation of Valor, back in November.

There was a bookstore in Tulsa that had shelves and shelves of these and it was a really cool visual.

If memory serves, Del Rey was the company that was really a big deal to me when I was younger and I'm not sure why. Whenever I saw a Del Rey book in a store I perked up. And I do remember getting my books in similar places. Several of the sf/f books I purchased were on one row of shelves in a dime store in the local mall. That, grocery store spinner racks, and one new/used bookstore, in that same mall, were the only places in my small home town to find sf/f, other than the library.

This is a very special post Jim and will have me recalling my own warm memories now. Thank you.

adamosf said...

I really enjoyed reading that entry in your blog. I think each of us has a similar story about our own entry into sf. Being a bit older than you, I loved the Ace books edited by Don Wollheim and Terry Carr, and also the Ace Doubles. Today's kids don't know what they're missing.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful post! Thanks so much for sharing this little jewel from your past. You were a very lucky lad.

In the small town where I grew up those spinners were the only place there was to buy books. The local Benjamin Franklin Nickel-n-Dime Store had one. So did the grocery stores and the pharmacy. My earliest encounter was sneaking into my older brother's room and secreting a few at a time out and into my room. I do believe he has that very same Andre Norton Witchworld book you've got posted!

I devoured all the Andre Norton, then went on to the Kull the Conqueror and Conan the Barbarian books (heady stuff for a 9 year old!). But, my favorites were Doc Savage, The Avenger and The Shadow novelizations. I guess i'm pulp to the core.

It's always wonderful to come across posts like this, thanks again for sharing with us.

Jim Black said...

The old pulp series are a guilty pleasure of mine. Someday, I hope to start reviewing them.

Did you hear that new Doc Savage books are in process? They are written by Will Murray. I met him at a convention many years ago. He is a very knowledgeable pulp fan who is also a professional writer. He wrote the last new Doc Savage books.

Becky said...

Well I have to say that I am now a science fiction fan, thanks to Leonid Korogodski's latest book titled, "Pink Noise: A Posthuman Tale." Up until recently I had no desire. Now I can't get enough. I a on the hunt for some great books from the past. Thanks for the post. Really enjoyed it!