Where Is All The Salinger?

A decade ago, I remember the excitement around the impending publication of Hapworth, 16, 1924, a lost Glass-family novella that had been published in The New Yorker but never released as a book. The publisher was Orchises Press, a boutique outfit that had scrappily approached Salinger and obtained the author’s permission. This created some anxiety for avid readers as it would not be a large release and there would not be stacks of the new Salinger at the front tables of big box booksellers, or even at The Strand, where they could be easily obtained. I pre-ordered, I think, from Amazon and Powells and Tattered Cover.

Well, the book never happened. Our friend at Electric Literature report today that Salinger had wanted a limited, small press release which was thwarted by the concurrent ages of celebrity and Amazon.

In the meantime, those of us who cared were able to read the story in The New Yorker‘s digital archive. Nothing is truly lost anymore, except for the chance to own a beautifully designed and published physical Hapworth.

Meanwhile, reminds Electric Literature, we’ve been promised far more than this novella since Salinger’s death. Salinger’s later life biographers and contemporaries all say he continued to write long after he stopped publishing and went into seclusion.

J.D.’s son Matthew confirms a trove of unpublished materials, but not some of the specific novels that others have promised. He says we’ll get to see it, but he’s not promising anything soon.

Je Suis Charlie, Redux

Yesterday, Flatiron cancelled the remaining 35 appearances of a 40 city book tour for American Dirt author Jeanine Cummins. Cummins will return to the road later to conduct a series of town halls. What I find worrisome is that Flatiron cites threats made against the author and booksellers for motivating its decision. Publishers Weekly also reports that critics of the novel have received threats and been harassed as well.

It seems there are thugs and extremists on all sides of the issue and while I will not give them moral equivalence, I think that any threat of violence around the publication or sale of a book is just a short step away from the fanaticism that motivated the Charlie Hebdo massacre in 2015.

We should be having heated, passionate and sometimes even impolite fights over fiction, but violence should never enter into it.

Happy Birthday, Anton Chekhov!

I remember reading The Seagull in college, around the time when I’d delved head first into Sartre, Camus and Nietzsche and began nibbling around the edges of Dostoevsky. This is also when I’d begun studying playwriting and new professors exposed me to unfamiliar ideas. I entered the dramatic writing program at the University of New Mexico with Stephen Sondheim in my head as the master experimental writer. Soon, I was surrounded by Samuel Beckett, Harold Pinter, David Mamet and Tom Stoppard and then Bertolt Brecht and Max Frisch and Heiner Müller — just giving you a sense of where my head was at when I first cracked The Seagull. This was a huge period of awakening for a guy who really loved his Neil Simon and A.R. Gurney (and I still do!)

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Sovfoto/Universal Images Group/REX/Shutterstock (3827651a) Portrait of anton chekhov, Russian author and playwright, 1900. VARIOUS

I was so enamored of Konstantin’s passionate attempts to create new forms of theatre and storytelling and very much identified with his disappointment and despair at being ignored by the literary establishment, personified Boris Trigorin, who doesn’t even bother to cut the pages of the journals that publish Konstantin’s work. Also, I found Masha’s lovesick nihilism to be… quite profound.

So then I called a friend of mine, who was performing in a production of The Seagull at a college in the pacific northwest and talked about my take on the play and she had been cast as Masha in a production that, as was fashionable in the 90s, presented Konstantin as a sort of Kurt Cobain figure and she said to me, after listening patiently to my explication — “Don’t you think all of that is meant to be funny?”

Of course, she was right and I had to reread and reconsider The Seagull in that light and I also had to reread and reconsider everything that had led me to read so much earnest intent into the script in the first place.

It was a valuable lesson about how where I am in life so greatly affects my reading.

Happy birthday, Anton!

Brief Note on Saunders and Masters

I just read The Spoon River Anthology for the first time. Somehow, it had escaped me. Though the preface assures me that Edgar Lee Masters is among the pioneers of psychological naturalism and a sort of bridge from Walt Whitman to T.S. Eliot and the great American modernists, I’d never been taught that.

I was struck, reading Spoon River by its tonal similarity to Lincoln on the Bardo by George Saunders. Both are tales told from the grave and both rely on, as Masters put it, the idea that we’ll never know truth until the dead can speak for themselves. The main difference in style is that Bardo is a fully realized novel while Spoon River is a collection of related poems, tied by numerous narrative threads but less unified, even than Winesburg, Ohio (Sherwood Anderson also owes Masters a debt).

To me the most significant difference between Spoon River and Bardo is the treatment of Abraham Lincoln. Saunders simultaneously humanizes and lionizes Lincoln, in a manner very much in step with modern political thought. Masters, living and writing closer to the Civil War and a seeming pacifist (he criticizes U.S. military adventurism in the Philippines in the book and seems very much to believe that most wars are engineered by moneyed interests at the expense of everyone else) is highly critical of Lincoln. Already, in the early part of the 20th century and more than five decades removed from the end of the Civil War, Masters reveals himself as, at best, a political crank with his criticisms of Lincoln.

In many ways, Bardo is an answer to Spoon River and a corrective.

Even in the age of the Internet, literature remains our longest running an most vital conversation.

Looking Through the Glass, a play

“Looking Through the Glass” is a short play I wrote, based on Alice in Wonderland, originally for a 24-hour play festival for the Grex Group at the Player’s Theatre in Greenwich Village. It was later performed, with one member of the original cast, at a library reading series in Harlem and was also staged as part of the show Curious Conversations by the Eclectic Theatre Company of Los Angeles.

Download a copy of this easy-to-stage, ten minute play below:

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