We Love You, Gilbert Rogin

photograph by Tony Triolo

We are so sad to learn of the death of Gilbert Rogin: Lowbrow Reader subject, contributor, and, above all, friend. Rogin was a titan who seemingly thrived at everything he tried. He ascended to the height of Sports Illustrated’s masthead, then turned to a career in the corporate magazine realm, helping Quincy Jones launch Vibe, among other achievements. We first encountered Rogin through his fiction: Through the ’60s and ’70s, he published a body of funny, dream-like stories, primarily in The New Yorker. These fueled a short story collection (The Fencing Master) and a pair of sui generis novels (What Happens Next? and Preparations for the Ascent).

Rogin was out-of-print and retired when he crossed our radar in 2009, via Lowbrow contributor Jay Jennings. A stray John Updike quote praising Rogin sent Jennings down a rabbit hole—he soon discovered, as too few had before him, the glories of Rogin’s fiction. As we were preparing to publish Jennings’s essay about Rogin, we discovered that the novelist himself was living mere minutes from Lowbrow headquarters, and became fast friends with Gil. Our subsequent issue, Lowbrow #7, featured Jennings’s Rogin appreciation alongside “My Masterpieces,” the first Rogin story to be published since 1980. (Both later appeared in The Lowbrow Reader Reader book, along with another wondrous Rogin contribution about his friendship with Muhammad Ali.) When issue #7 came out, we celebrated with a Lowbrow Reader Variety Hour show at the Housing Works Bookstore. Rogin read, appearing alongside the Fiery Furnaces, John Mulaney, Larkin Grimm, and Peter Stampfel & the Ether Frolic Mob. Better still: The following year, Verse Chorus Press returned Rogin’s books to print, publishing a handsome single-volume edition of his two novels. Jennings’s piece served as the introduction; Mike Reddy designed the cover.

Rogin was one of the brightest people in New York. The work he left behind is artful and eccentric, full of mystery, grace, and humor. We will be wrapping our heads around it for decades to come.