Ever wonder about the editing of the Big Book manuscript?

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From the Spring 2014 issue of Markings: Your Archives eNewsletter

In mid-1938 Hank P. , Bill W.’s business partner, met with Janet Blair (nonalcoholic), an editor he knew from Peekskill, New York. In November 1938, Hank wrote to Janet about Bill’s progress, revealing that Bill should be finished with the writing by December 19, 1938. Meanwhile, another editor, Tom Uzzell (also a nonalcoholic) who was a member of the New York University faculty, was contacted to work on the format.

According to Bill, Tom Uzzell “sharpened up the English but didn’t change much of anything excepting to take my story out of the story section where it had been the number one story and insisted on using it to open the book. What is now Chapter 2; I had intended to be Chapter 1.” This quote is significant because it reveals to us that in the early manuscript, Bill’s story appeared in the “Personal Stories” section and it was Tom Uzzell who moved “Bill’s Story” to Chapter 1.

By February 6, 1939, Mrs. Blair had mailed Chapters 1 and 2 to Hank, with the other chapters to follow. Excerpts from her letter note that her suggested amendments to Chapter 1: “Mr. P. , may I say a word about the continuity? It bothers me a little. Chapter 1, is Bill’s story. Right? Bill’s story includes a description of the terrible dilemma in which he was when his friend came to him; it includes what the doctors thought; it includes a brief account of the fellowship. It tells of the solution.

“When I started Chapter 2, I thought from the first line I was beginning the story of another man, as the first page is just that. On page 2, you leave him, and go on to tell of the fellowship and alcoholics in general. On page 8, you return to the man, and for about a page tell us more about him; the rest of the chapter is general. In Chapter 2, you never mention Bill or his friend, although the ‘solution,’ as you call Chapter 2, is given in Chapter 1.

“I’m not suggesting a change. Maybe I am the one who is befogged; but I am supposed to represent a reader, and I felt I should tell you this. At this moment, it seems to me it would have been smoother, to start Chapter 2 on page 2, ‘We, of Alcoholics Anonymous, know one hundred men who were once just as hopeless as Bill,” and so on.’

Bill W. replied on February 8th, thanking Mrs. Blair for having “the perception to understand what it is I want to say and the ability to say it so well. You have certainly cleared up our manuscript.”

The editing of the manuscript was likely completed by the end of February 1939; the first printings of the First Edition was completed by April 10, 1939.

On April 21, Hank wrote to Janet Blair enclosing a signed First Edition of Alcoholics Anonymous, in grateful appreciation of her work.

Markings is now known as Markings: Your Archives eNewsletter. Markings is only available electronically. To sign up for digital delivery, please register on the G.S.O.’s A.A. website, www.aa.org. Markings is also available in French and Spanish.

 

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