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NEW YORK-CLOSED-DOOR POLICY?: With no official explanation, the South African government has denied anti-apartheid activist Mewa Ramgobin permission to travel to the United States. The action came despite intercession on Ramgobin's behalf by the U.S. State Department and by Amnesty International. Ramgobin, the author of "Waiting to Live" (published June 27 by Aventura/Vintage), had been invited to this country to discuss the book and South African issues by his publisher. "The only reason that Mewa Ramgobin has been denied permission to come to America is the color of his skin," Random House board chairman Robert L. Bernstein said. "Small acts always reveal most vividly what a government stands for. This small act, resulting from South Africa's determination to be completely arbitrary and lawless, is unacceptable to all civilized peoples and must be protested as vigorously as possible." Agreed Ramgobin's editor at Random House, Erroll McDonald, "Once again, the South African government brilliantly affirms its barbarism."

PEN NOTES: Not that anyone can actually replace Norman Mailer, but Hortense Calisher has been voted to succeed Mailer as president of American PEN for 1986-1988. Calisher is the author of 10 novels, several collections of short stories and a memoir, "Herself."

EVERY WORD COUNTS: A $10,000 college scholarship is the plum for the grand-prize winner of the Webster's New World Scholarship Sweepstakes, sponsored by Prentice Hall Press, publisher of Webster's New World Dictionary. The sweepstakes takes the form of a crossword puzzle, with answers lurking in the dictionary. Details are at participating bookstores, and entries must be received by July 15. The sole condition on the grand prize is that the winner must use the cash award to advance his or her higher education.

IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF IACOCCA?: Former astronaut Frank Borman, recently resigned as CEO of Eastern Airlines, is shopping his memoirs. A close associate says Borman has had "hundreds" of inquiries.

ESSAYS OF ONE'S OWN: Three previously unknown early essays attributed to Virginia Woolf have been published in the newsletter Virginia Woolf Miscellany, published by Stanford University. Written early in Woolf's career, the essays were published unsigned in 1905 and 1906 in the women's pages of an English church newsletter. Their authenticity was first determined by S. P. Rosenbaum of the University of Toronto. "I am convinced these are Woolf essays, but I will be interested to see if other people disagree," said Stanford English professor Lucio Ruotolo, a specialist in the writings of Woolf and a founding editor of the newsletter. The essays are "A Walk by Night," describing an evening walk in the fog in Cornwall; "The English Mail Coach," a discussion of the writings of Thomas de Quincey, and "Portraits of Places," a review of Henry James' "English Hours."

ENCHANTMENT: William Jovanovich thought so highly of Daphne Merkin's first novel of that name that he not only agreed to publish it (it's out in September from Harcourt Brace Jovanovich), but hired Merkin as senior editor.

AFTER THE WAR: For three years, Al Santoli traveled in North America, Europe and Asia, collecting nearly 4,000 pages of transcripts from taped conversations for "To Bear Any Burden: The Vietnam War and Its Aftermath in the Words of Americans and Southeast Asians" (Ballantine Books, $3.95). Translation costs were so high that Santoli, best-selling author of "Everything We Had," had to take out a bank loan to finish the book. One sample recollection, this from Eddie Adams, the Associated Press photographer who won a Pulitzer Prize for his 1968 Tet photo: "You'd walk in the jungle with advisers and get really ticked off if you didn't get shot at. Because there wasn't any story then."

LIONS AND TIGERS AND BEARS, OH MY: Targa the elephant was among the stars that helped inaugurate Ringling Readers at Lincoln Center here not long ago. The effort by Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey to encourage children to read--and to keep them reading--has been undertaken in conjunction with Reading Is Fundamental (RIF). Festivities are planned for the 85 cities the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey circus will visit this year.

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