NEW YORK — In a way, it was an Olympics rerun, for missing in the 800 or so writers, poets, essayists, playwrights, editors, translators and the like gathered here in January for the 48th congress of PEN International was the entire official Soviet bloc. The state-approved Union of Soviet Writers boycotted the event, it said, because of the presence of emigre Soviet authors and other "propagators of hatred."
Writers Union chief Georgi Markov was quoted by Tass, the Soviet news agency, as saying these people would hinder a "creative and constructive" discussion at the conference, whose theme was the writers' imagination and the imagination of the state. Markov did not name names, but the PEN guest list did include Soviet emigres Joseph Brodsky and Vassily Aksyonov, as well as Danilo Kis of Yugoslavia, Nobel Prize-winner Czeslaw Milosz of Poland, Herberto Padilla of Cuba, Jiri Grusa of Czechoslovakia and Adam Zagajewski of Poland.
Fresh from the good reviews on his 21st book, "Half Laughing/Half Crying: Songs for Myself"(St. Martin's), PEN Los Angeles Center President Malcolm Boyd used his visit to New York for the 48th PEN congress to tie up plans for his 22nd and 23rd volumes. No. 22 from the popular priest and writer-in-residence at Santa Monica's St. Augustine-by-the-Sea will carry the title "Gay Priest: The Inner Journal." Boyd reports that his 23rd book will explore the notions of death and dying: "the small deaths," he explains, "that we must all have before we get to the big one."
Traveling with Boyd to the PEN conference, Los Angeles writer Mark Thompson found himself selling a book of his own over dinner with St. Martin's editor Michael Denenny. Still untitled, Thompson's book will be a collection of essays and interviews on gay spirituality.
Riding up the elevator with the likes of eggs Benedict, tuna salad sandwiches and so forth were the likes of PEN members Rose Styron and Gay Talese. Seems the passenger elevators at New York's St. Moritz Hotel, site of many of the PEN congress activities, were so small, feeble and basically unreliable that many of the members took to boarding the freight elevator when heading up to the 31st floor conference rooms.
And now, celebrity celluloid: The hot-hot-hot audiocassette market continues to heat still more as Random House marries classics and the stars. Coming this spring from Random House is Meryl Streep reading "The Velveteen Rabbit"; "The Ugly Duckling," with voiceover by Cher; Jeremy Irons narrating "The Steadfast Tin Soldier"; and the "Just So Stories," read by Jack Nicholson. The 30-minute tapes will retail for $24.95.
Also on the audiocassette front, Bantam has announced that it will at last plunge into that fast-growing market. Bantam's audiocassette debut has been spearheaded by Mr. Bestseller himself, Lee Iacocca. On that first 60-minute tape, the Chrysler Corp. chief, co-author of the book that set nonfiction hardback records, offers ruminations about his life and work not previously revealed in "Iacocca." Excerpts from the book will connect these quotations from Chairman Lee.
Not surprisingly, 1985's record-setting best-seller is already breaking the top-selling tape charts. In its first month of direct market sale, the six-audiocassette-packaged version of "Iacocca" sold 17,381 packages at $39 each, accounting for revenues of just under $678,000. Another "Iacocca" audiocassette--this one from Warner Audio Publishing and based on the biography by David Abodaher, has sold 50,000 copies since its September release. Fifty minutes long, the $7.95 cassette has become Warner Audio Publishing's fastest seller.
Also in this first effort from Bantam Audiocassette Publishing will be "Strange Pursuit," a dramatization--with music and sound effects--of a Louis L'Amour short story; "The Impostor Phenomenon," a series of dramatized case studies about success, luck and talent; "High Blood Pressure: How to Control It"; and the "subliminal" tapes "Slim Forever for Women" and "Slim Forever for Men."
Bantam's tapes will sell for $7.95, and new material will be released every other month.
And still more from the electronic library: The Video Companion Series is the name given to a new line of mostly nonfiction tapes designed to be sold in direct conjunction with best-selling books. The brainchild of MGM/UA Home Video, the series will debut in January with "You Are What You Eat," a made-for-home-video cassette featuring Dr. Stuart M. Berger. Already, his "Dr. Berger's Immune Power Diet" has sold more than 350,000 copies for New American Library.