“I had scarcely begun when I realized that what I had here at the very least was the Great American Novel. I sent off the first 150 pages to [agent Bernice Baumgarten] and hung around the post office for the next two weeks. At last an answer came. It read as follows: ‘Dear Peter, James Fenimore Cooper wrote this 150 years ago, only he wrote it better, Yours, Bernice.’ On a later occasion, when as a courtesy I sent her the commission on a short story sold in England, she responded unforgettably: ‘Dear Peter, I’m awfully glad you were able to get rid of this story in Europe, as I don’t think we’d have had much luck with it here. Yours, Bernice.’ Both these communications, quoted in their entirety, are burned into my brain forever—doubtless a salutary experience for a brash young writer. I never heard an encouraging word until the day Bernice retired, when she called me in and barked like a Zen master, ‘I’ve been tough on you because you’re very, very good.’ I wanted to sink down and embrace her knees.”
Peter Matthiessen, on his first novel.