Julia Child, who would have celebrated her 100th birthday today, sat down at her kitchen table in Paris and penned a fan letter to American historian and author Bernard DeVoto, discussing the peculiarities of French and American kitchen knives. But the letter was answered by DeVoto's wife, Avis, described by one of her husband's students at Harvard as "very good looking and very sexy-seeming and the only faculty wife who might have said 'horseshit' even to [Harvard] President Lowell." This was the beginning of an epistolary friendship that unfolded into a rich and wide-spanning relationship, exploring the two women's deepest thoughts and feelings as well as their most passionate professional pursuits and aspirations, as Avis became Julia's confidant, great champion, and unofficial literary agent.
Perhaps most fascinating of all, however, is the absorbing insider's
look at the publishing industry that the correspondence reveals as Julia
and Avis navigate the maze of bringing Child's culinary ideas to the
mainstream with the publication of her seminal book, Mastering the Art of French Cooking,
which Avis steered first to Houghton Mifflin and eventually to its home
at Knopf. Filled with romantic idealism about how publishing ought to
work, they consistently brush up against barriers to creative freedom
and integrity, shedding light on how much has changed and how much has
remained the same in the half-century since.
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