After decades on the other side of the table, Cliff Graubart looked right at home at this week’s Atlanta Press Club Holiday Author Party, signing copies of his debut short story collection, “The Curious Vision of Sammy Levitt and Other Stories,” (Mercer University Press, $26). Since 1971, the owner of Atlanta’s iconic Old New York Book Shop has thrown book release parties for his famous writer friends and shoppers, including Pat Conroy, Terry Kay and Anne Rivers Siddons. This fall, to mark Graubart’s literary debut, Conroy and Kay returned the favor, co-hosting a Carter Center release party for “The Curious Vision of Sammy Levitt and Other Stories,” a heart-warming, fascinating and funny novella and five short stories inspired by the New York native’s boyhood growing up Jewish in 1950s Washington Heights.
Praises Conroy in his dust jacket blurb for the book: “‘The book is swift and beautifully written and the loveliest account of Jewish family life I have ever read.”
Graubart began work on the collection 30 years ago and ended up shelving it. “I didn’t know it was finished,” he told me this week, somewhat sheepishly. “Finally, a writer friend of mine was visiting from New York and asked, ‘So, how’s the book coming?’ and I said, ‘Eh, it’s only 50 pages long.’ He told me to bring it up on the computer. So I brought it up on the computer, he took one look at it and said, ‘You schmuck, it’s single-spaced. You’ve got a hundred [expletive] pages here!’ I knew what the ending was to the main story so I added that and I already had the other stories so suddenly, I had a finished book.”
For the beloved Atlanta bookseller (after a shop on Piedmont Road where Conroy first walked in as a customer in 1973 and a location on Juniper Street, the Old New York Book Shop still exists, but largely now as a digital shop via oldnewyorkbookshop.com and by appointment only), publishing a book of his own has always just a dream.
“The Carter Center event was really great,” said Graubart. “You know, Conroy was one of the best customers I ever had. He just devoured books. For me, this has always been a fantasy.” And after decades of attending the Southeastern Independent Booksellers Alliance trade show as a vendor, this year at the event in Naples, Florida, Graubart was featured on the “Books: We Sell Them and We Write Them” panel discussion. Reflected the writer: “I used to go every year with all of my books and to go there this year as an author was a fantasy coming true for me.”