When not combing through our copy looking for misspellings and grammatical glitches, proofreader Luc Sante often casts a critical eye toward other copy. He's a book critic renowned for his meaty, literate writing.
In fact, Sante's prose has won him a $25,000 Whiting Foundation prize, 10 of which are given annually to promising writers. In addition to his reviews, Sante has written numerous essays and recently completed a novel called Summer with a Thousand Julys. His social history of 19th-century New York City slums, entitled Low Life, will be published soon.
The Belgian-born Sante, now 35, was five when his family moved to Summit, N.J., where his father, an out-of-work millworker, found a job in a Teflon factory. Luc got stuck on surrealist writing at age 13, when he read Andrè Breton's Anthology of Black Humor. "I admired the surrealists' scavenger mentality," he says. "They had an eye for odd details and for finding the fantastic in everyday life that goes with living in cities."
Sante lives in an East Village tenement known as the Poets' Building because it is the residence of a number of them. Allen Ginsberg, for one. April Bernard, for another. Bernard, also a book editor and occasional SI proofreader, whose 1988 collection, Blackbird Bye Bye, won the Academy of American Poets' prestigious Walt Whitman Award, is Sante's wife. They met at the offices of The New York Review of Books, where she was an editorial assistant, he a mail clerk. Sante, who joined our proofreading staff in 1985, now contributes frequently to the Review. He has also written about movies for Interview, crime for Spy and killer pop tops for Manhattan, inc. "A pop top is an exploding manhole cover," he says, "that results from underground gas buildups."
Sante is something of a slanguist. Sports lingo enchants him. "A term like redshirt is a wonder to me," he says. "How did that start?"
Recently, while researching a book on Broadway characters, he became intrigued by Tad Dorgan, a sports cartoonist for the old New York Journal. Dorgan is credited with coining the terms 23-skiddoo, dumbbell, bee's knees, cat's pajamas and, perhaps most impressive, hot dog. "Imagine being the guy who came up with hot dog," says Sante. "I mean, that's like Shakespeare."
Sante's prize prose earned him $25,000.