David Lipsky’s David Foster Wallace Book Finds a Home at Broadway

Earlier this month The Observer reported that two magazine journalists, David Lipsky from Rolling Stone and D.T. Max from The New Yorker, had sent proposals out to editors around town for biographies of the late David Foster Wallace. At that time, only Mr. Max had succeeded in selling his—it went to Paul Slovak at Viking for a sum in the low six figures—while Mr. Lipsky, whose book was described to editors as an unfiltered transcript of a long interview he conducted with Wallace in 1996,was still looking for a buyer.

Then, last week, Mr. Lipsky’s agent, Lisa Bankoff at ICM, identified a couple of interested parties and took her client’s book to auction. The process started on Monday and was over the following morning with Diane Salvatore, the new publisher of Crown’s Broadway Books imprint, beating out Carrie Kania at Harper Perennial. Editing the book will be Broadway’s deputy editorial director Charlie Conrad, who until the recent reorganization of Random House Inc. was a close colleague of Gerry Howard, the man who published Wallace’s first novel, The Broom of the System.

According to an item posted on The New York Times Web site Friday afternoon, Broadway is paying Mr. Lipsky an advance worth six figures—sources indicated it is not much higher than $100,000—and will publish the book next year as a trade paperback original.

Mr. Lipsky’s interview with Wallace, which runs over 200 pages and was included in its entirety in his submission to publishers, was the basis for a Rolling Stone profile that was ultimately spiked. The pair spent the better part of five days together traveling by car and by plane around the Midwest. The tapes from the interview sat untouched until Wallace’s suicide last September, at which point RS asked Mr. Lipsky to revisit them in service of a big piece on the author’s life and death.

In his proposal, Mr. Lipsky—who is currently under contract for two other books with Random House—explained that he wanted to present the interviews in a largely unedited fashion because Wallace would have preferred it that way. When the two of them first sat down to talk, according to Mr. Lipsky, Wallace said he was made deeply anxious by the fact that he had no control over the how the piece that resulted from their conversations would look. “I mean, you’re gonna be able to shape this essentially how you want,” Mr. Lipsky quotes Wallace as saying. “And that to me is extremely disturbing.”

Elsewhere, Mr. Lipsky writes that the book, as he imagines it, “has the feel of a highway conversation. … It has the rhythms of the road: grouchiness, indefensible meals, and the sudden, front-seat connections—reciting high points from movies, the right song and a good view sending the radio into soundtrack, a statement that gives you the bright, runway lift of knowing that another person has experienced life the way you do—that are the stuff you go on trips for.”

Mr. Lipsky’s is the first book acquired for Broadway Books by Ms. Salvatore, who joined the imprint just over a month ago after serving for years as editor of Ladies’ Home Journal. “I love this project because it is not your mother’s literary critic tome,” Ms. Salvatore said. “It’s an experiential read, where you are the fly on the wall on this journey. … It has that raw, spontaneous, dynamic quality of conversation between two really smart, interesting guys who you know have lived fascinating lives of their own and have very intriguing, compelling, controversial opinions about everything from shame to fear.”

She added, “It’s edgy, it’s hip—so it will be a very different book than the other one that’s out there and therefore will definitely fill a need.” 

“The other one” refers of course to Mr. Max’s book, which will be less a memoiristic snapshot of Wallace’s life than Mr. Lipsky’s and more of a traditional life-and-times-style biography that will also address the historical and cultural circumstances under which he did his work. David Lipsky’s David Foster Wallace Book Finds a Home at Broadway