Sol Stein, a prolific novelist and playwright, publisher, and editor who helped fashion a collection of essays by James Baldwin, a former high school classmate, into a literary classic titled Notes of a Native Son, died Sept. 19 at his home in Tarrytown, NY. He was 92.
As editor in chief of Stein and Day, a publishing house established by Stein and his then-wife, he worked with Elia Kazan; also Jacques Barzun and Lionel Trilling, his former professors at Columbia; David Frost, Budd Schulberg and Dylan Thomas.
Mr. Stein’s lifelong association with Mr. Baldwin began when both were editors of The Magpie, the literary magazine at DeWitt Clinton High School in the Bronx. It was perhaps an unlikely bond: As Mr. Stein would say, he was white, Jewish and attracted to women while Mr. Baldwin was black, the stepson of a Pentecostal minister, and attracted to men.
He was the author of more than a dozen books, including how-to guides for novelists. In Stein on Writing (1995), he offered this advice to writers: “Be sure you don’t stop the story while describing. You are a storyteller, not an interior decorator. Good writing is supposed to evoke sensation in the reader — not the fact that it’s raining, but the feeling of being rained upon.”
[Editor’s note: Every year, a new crop of how-to-write books is published, and I have read or at least perused most of them. Not one is as clear and helpful as Stein on Writing. I recommend it to my classes of memoir writers every term. SB]