I met Jim Haynes at the first Frankfurt Book Fair I attended, in 1976. I would see him every year when I went back to Frankfurt and any other time I was in Paris, where Jim lived. I think I was one of his ten or fifteen thousand closest friends.
Jim’s recent passing in his late 80s has been memorialized by The Guardian, the Times (London), the Scotsman, and the BBC, among others. He was best known for two things: having been one of the founding organizers of the “Fringe” at the Edinburgh Arts Festival and for his Sunday night dinners at his atelier in Paris, which took place just about every week from 1976 when he started them until he died.
I was impressed when I first met Jim to learn that — before he became an American ex-pat and started the first paperback bookstore in Britain in Scotland in 1959 — he had been a college age friend of professional basketball star Bob Pettit. It also turned out that Jim knew John Lennon and Yoko Ono before they knew each other (although he never claimed to have introduced them) and it was Jim who suggested the bed-in they staged at the Amsterdam Hilton in 1969.
This was just before Jim moved to Paris, where he got himself hired as a teacher at the Sorbonne. I believe the first “topic” for his classes was “sexual politics”. It wasn’t long before Jim moved into his atelier opening on a courtyard. He told me it had previously been owned by Matisse!
Jim’s raison d’etre was bringing people together. If there were political barriers, he knocked them down. The Iron Curtain was very much in place the first decade we knew each other. Jim’s solution was to publish books for people-to-people contact, essentially the names and addresses of Poles and Hungarians and Czechs who would be happy to meet westerners.
The Sunday night dinners were Jim’s signature. Anybody who wanted to attend could get on the list by simply sending Jim an email reserving their place. (Of course, this all started before email when more cumbersome means, mail and phone, were required.) The entrance to Jim’s atelier from the courtyard was directly into the kitchen, where somebody (who probably did this for a living) would be cooking the dinner as you arrived.
Jim knew every name and every face. If you were a guest coming for the first time, he knew that. As each new arrival came to the door, Jim would announce them by name and then go around the kitchen-dining area saying the name of every other person then present. You “paid” by leaving an envelope with some cash in it to support the effort. I think Jim might have suggested an amount, but there was no “enforcement”.
Seeing Jim once most years, twice in a few, over some decades was always fun and upbeat. He had friends at every publishing company in the world. He had friends in every city in the world. Free love was one of Jim’s causes, and passions, but there never seemed to be a steady. He had a son, Jesper, whom I never met but with whom Jim clearly maintained a relationship. Never knew about Jesper’s mom, or whether there had ever been a steady. I think Jim was too all-embracing for that.
His life was a combination of structured and unstructured. On the one hand, there was Edinburgh and Frankfurt every year and Sunday night dinners at the atelier every week. On the other hand, the cast of characters was constantly changing. The 20 people at dinner this Sunday would have almost nobody in common with the 30 people from last Sunday or the 25 for next Sunday.
One more idiosyncracy about Jim. He lived in Paris for more than 50 years, but he didn’t really speak French. He had friends from every country in the world, but he communicated with them all in English. I have a Welsh friend who says that English “is the Lingua Franca”. It certainly was for Jim Haynes.
In some ways, Jim’s passing early this year is exquisitely well-timed. Jim’s life was all about personal contact, people in the same room talking with and embracing each other. That behavior is sharply curtailed these days. If there was any appropriate time for Jim to excuse himself, this would be it.
He leaves behind literally thousands of us who will meet each other in the future and realize that we have a friend in common named Jim Haynes.
I don’t know who these folks are or why they invited me to be a participant, but there’s this thing called World Class Performer that posts thoughts from people they choose, answering their questions into what amounts to a quirky bio. Here’s mine. I have also linked to this post from the right nav bar where it says “Interview with Mike Shatzkin”.