Alan Swallow: Anais Nin’s publisher

On the surface, the match between writer Anaïs Nin and publisher Alan Swallow seemed perfect. Both were passionate about their work, neither of them trusted the world of big-time publishers, and both had struggled long and hard to achieve what they had. In fact, Swallow predicted the collaboration would be a “good wedding of work and publisher.”

By the time Nin wrote to Swallow in 1961 about becoming her publisher, she and her agent, Gunther Stuhlmann, had vainly struggled for years to find an American publisher for her body work, and Nin was on the brink of giving up [see Anaïs Nin and Gunther Stuhlmann, “The Incubation of Fame: Early correspondence,” A Café in Space, Vol. 3, pp. 100-126]. Swallow was a self-made man, a tireless optimist and a workaholic who, in the early years, ran his operation out of his Denver garage. He’d made a success by the sweat of his brow and by giving everything he had—to his health’s detriment—to his business. He was an inspiration to many, a folk hero to small publishers far and wide, and was completely devoted to his authors.

Alan Swallow, publisher

Alan Swallow, publisher

When Alan Swallow was presented with the chance to become Anaïs Nin’s publisher, he jumped at it, plunging in with enthusiasm and bold plans to revamp the presentation of Nin’s fiction. In recently found correspondence included in Volume 4 of A Cafe in Space, just released on Kindle, we witness the birth of the form in which the fiction exists today as Swallow took up the many bits and pieces that had been haphazardly published over the years into a cohesive collection. He did, however, unknowingly step into a longstanding situation with high innate entropy—years of failure, starts and stops, and bad business habits—against which he fought mightily. He had to plead for information, tried to keep up with Nin’s bicoastal habits, and had run-ins with Gunther Stuhlmann concerning the logistics of existing catalogues versus new publications, money, costs, storage, and all the other details of taking over a huge responsibility with a highly disorganized and fractured structure. Swallow’s letters indicate his ability to think on the run, to cover all the bases, and they also reflect incredible honesty and a remarkable willingness to comply with demands that taxed him greatly, especially those of the monetary kind. There is little doubt he put his author first, even when it hurt, a fact that was not lost with Nin and Stuhlmann.

The relationship between Nin, Stuhlmann, and Swallow, however cordial it usually was, was not void of controversy. Swallow’s letter of December 2, 1964 to Nin leaves little doubt he’d felt betrayed by both Nin and Stuhlmann when Swallow was bypassed as a potential publisher of Letters to Anaïs Nin by Henry Miller (who had just won his obscenity trials, clearing the way for the publication of his Tropics and other books the USA) in favor of the mainstream publisher Putnam: 

And then I find that the letters are sold, and by this time the whole idea of cooperation and a joint imprint was forgotten. Perhaps they object at Putnam (which, by the way, has become a despicable publisher); perhaps it was just more convenient to make the arrangements that way. Neither you nor Gunther ever told me; I never heard another word about the idea.

Now then, next step: undoubtedly the letters will sell and will bring attention. The name of H. Miller is now magic. Even the corner shoeshine boy, if he would publish this, would sell it! But once it is ready to go, then it has to be “big time” or whatever the conception is. I want to register right now this notion: I do not want it held up in any way that the sales of the H. Miller letters will indicate what a big time outfit can do that a small time one can’t—first, because anyone can sell that book, not because of its value (which I think it undoubtedly has, although I’ve seen none of the work) but because of the name; so it is no test. I, too, could sell thousands and thousands of that book and more quickly than I will sell, note, thousands and thousands of your former books. Second, because the ice has already broken, just as I predicted it would. Too late, in one sense, but just right for Putnam to grab onto it. In fact, a part of the success they will have with that book will be due to my work—and I don’t mind saying that I resent it like the devil…

Alan Swallow died only weeks after the release of what would become Nin’s vehicle to fame: the Diary, in which at least he was named co-publisher with Harcourt. Swallow Press continues to publish Nin’s fiction today in association with Ohio University Press.

To order the Kindle edition of Vol. 4, click here
To see the table of contents and/or order a print version of Vol. 4, click here.

Volume 4  joins Volume 1, Volume 2, Volume 3, Volume 6, and Volume 7 on Kindle.

To see all available digital titles by Anaïs Nin, visit our Nin e-bookstore.

To order books from the Nin house in Silver Lake (Los Angeles), visit the Anaïs Nin Trust bookstore.