Thinking of Anais Nin: Frances Steloff

Frances Steloff

Frances Steloff founded the Gotham Book Mart on January 1, 1920. During her proprietorship, The Gotham Book Mart served as a meeting place for many of the worlds published and unpublished writers who visited or lived in New York. Literary meetings, small and large receptions, and regular organizational events-like the meeting of the James Joyce Society -became a part of the tradition at the Gotham Book Mart. It was Frances Steloff who Anaïs Nin sent her books to for safety when she left Paris during the war.

Stories about the shop and Miss Steloff’s dedication to it and to writers grew over the years till they assumed the quality of legend. Miss Steloff lovingly kept up correspondence with many of the writers she met in her shop. By 1972 after 52 years of work, Miss Steloff worked as a consultant in The Gotham Book Mart on West 47th in an alcove provided by the shop’s new and young owner Andrewas Brown. The room was presided over by Miss Steloff’s fat white cat who sometimes graced Miss Steloff’s valuable letters, manuscripts and first editions.

We are hoping to be able to link to a Memoir by Frances Steloff entitled Some Gotham Party Lines that appeared in Confrontation Winter/Spring 1972 editor Martin TuckerEnglish Department The Brooklyn Center of Long Island University sometime when we can track down authorizations.

I first read about Frances Steloff in Anaïs Nin’s Diaries. When I visited New York, my writer friend William Rossa Cole, anthologist and writer at that time for the Saturday Review of Books (who I had met after writing him after reading an article he wrote on commonplace books for the New York Times.) took me there after lunch at the Algonquin. At that time when I was introduced to Miss Steloff, I smiled politely. Because my friend William Cole did not like the writings of Anaïs Nin, I waited until his back was turned to whisper with great awe, “I read about you in the diaries” and she was so wonderful, she whisked me into her little office and gave me a copy of the flyer for the Celebrations weekend. The next time I was in Gotham was for an autograph signing of one of Valerie Harm’s books. It may have been for Celebrations itself or perhaps for Stars in My Sky. I was only flying in for the signing and had failed to let my friend Bill Cole know I was coming. However, as I came up the stairs and a friend called to me, I heard his voice boom “Moira Collins?” and he was there at the signing as well. He was a loyal friend who died this last year and whose epistoletory gifts (our letters were back and forth to Dear Girl and Dear Boy) transformed many days that I was raising small sons. Cole had sons the same age as mine however, he had a charming young wife Galen who ran the Poetry Center while raising their children, so we wrote back and forth mostly about books.
–M. Collins Griffin