4.50 Linear Feet
"[M]y mother gave me a dollar a day for food, and two dollars pocket money on each day of the weekend To this day she doesn't know I kept the nine dollars. I didn't eat, figuring I'd be fed at night, and kept the money to spend on books. Every Friday and Saturday night I traveled from Brooklyn into Manhattan via the picturesque "D" line, the subway which crosses over the Manhattan Bridge.Barnes's writing inspired in Cohen a passion for book collecting. He discovered the House of Books, a shop owned by Marguerite Cohn on New York's Madison Avenue.
"My favorite bookstore was the famous and greatly-missed 8th Street Bookstore, renowned for the quality and variety of its selection.
"One night, browsing through the fiction section, I came upon the book that changed my life: Nightwood. Its title, the extraordinary photograph of the three leaves on the New Directions paperback cover, caused such a strong reaction, that thirty years later, it is still my classic Proustian experience. It was mystery itself. Somehow I knew that this book would be important to me. And when I turned the book over and gazed at the photo of its author, I knew this book and this woman were about to change my life.
"Seeing the photograph of Djuna Barnes was the end of my adolescence and the beginning of something unknown: I fell in love.
"I read Nightwood and was moved beyond anything I could imagine by Djuna Barnes's exquisite prose. There has not been a time when I reread the book that it did not mean something different to me, depending on my state of mind. Each time I go back to it I encounter new treasures."
"I went to the shop, walked in, and spoke to the owner of my new passion for Djuna Barnes. I was amazed by what she told me.
The day before, Ms. Cohn had just purchased a collection that contained, among other items, The Collected Works of Djuna Barnes, inscribed by the author to Natalie Barney. The inscription read, 'After all these years with the author's affection, Djuna Barnes.'
"I was stunned.
"This was the beginning of a journey that lasted twenty years. I was determined to collect everything by her and associated with her. In approximately my fifteenth year of collecting, an extraordinary thing happened.
"My wife, Francesca, was the senior designer at The Dial Press, and was assigned to work on Djuna Barnes's last book Creatures in an Alphabet. Miss Barnes's editor, Frances McCullough, took Francesca to meet Djuna Barnes at her tiny Patchin Place apartment. My surprise and delight at this turn of events were overwhelming. I loved the thought that my wife was working on a new book by my favorite author.
"Ms. McCullough thought that perhaps I might be of some service to Miss Barnesperhaps organizing her papers, or whatever she might needand offered to arrange a meeting.
"The idea frightened me to death. Djuna Barnes was someone I had loved from afar. Did I really want to meet her and risk having years' worth of dreams shattered?
"I didn't know how to respond at first, but I finally agreed.
"It was one of the best decisions, though ultimately the saddest, I have ever made.
"I courted her. I brought fancy food items from Balducci's, the gourmet store in Greenwich Village, to tempt her nearly non-existent appetite. But all she really wanted was a concoction that we often shared long past midnight on our nights togetherHaagen-Daz coffee Ice cream in a glass of ginger ale.
"She was so set in her ways I was never really able to organize anything for her, but we had a number of long visits during which I listened entranced to her stories and observations.
"Some of my happiest memories are from those nights. She was witty and clever. I saw glimpses of the glamorous, intelligent, beautiful woman of the Berenice Abbott photographs, the woman I wished I could have known when those photographs were taken.
"But the darkness that was such a part of her being finally made its presence felt and I had to stop visiting her.
"Still, I am so grateful to have met her. She made me laugh 'til I cried." (Irwin Cohen's account is taken from his 25 October 1999 letter to Beth Alvarez and Adina Wachman.)