October 1, 2016
This is my 150th issue as Chronogram’s books editor, and my last. Since 2004, I’ve had a vantage point with a spectacular view of the Hudson Valley’s burgeoning literary scene. I’m insanely grateful, and—not to roll out my Oscar speech—I want to thank Chronogram editor Brian Mahoney for sending me up the cliff.
May 26, 2009
Susan Orlean is not a fictional character. True, Meryl Streep won a Golden Globe for playing someone by that name in the 2002 film Adaptation, one of the loopier high dives in the annals of screenwriting, and seven years later, readers still tell The Orchid Thief author how much she resembles Streep. “Talk about power of suggestion,” Orlean laughs. “There is not one feature we have in common!”
September 1, 2013
Kiese Laymon is in the zone. Agate Bolden Books just released his fireball essay collection How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America, and—fueled by the title essay’s cult status on Gawker and a recent appearance on NPR’s Morning Edition—it’s climbing the charts. So is Laymon’s debut novel, Long Division, which came out in June to glowing reviews. It’s the kind of one-two punch writers dream of at night, and it’s been a long time coming.
September 29, 2011
Hailed as “a droll Kafka” by the Portland Oregonian and favorably compared to sliced bread by the usual suspects, Gary Shteyngart was born in Leningrad in 1972. When he was seven, his family of “small furry immigrants” came to America, settling in Little Neck, Queens. Shteyngart’s novels include The Russian Debutante’s Handbook (Riverhead, 2002), Absurdistan (Random House, 2006), and Super Sad True Love Story (Random House, 2010), an instant New York Times bestseller that appeared on more than 40 “Best Books of the Year” lists and probably caused a great deal of food to come out of readers’ noses. Winner of the Stephen Crane Award and National Jewish Book Award for Fiction, Shteyngart was also named a New Yorker Best Writer Under 40, an honor he finds rather ominous at age 39.
December 29, 2008
When you look at Ed Sanders, even his hair leans left. The asymmetrical frizz and bushy mustache have been trademarks for decades. In February 1967, Life magazine featured the owner of the Lower East Side’s Peace Eye Bookstore, publisher of Fuck You: A Magazine of the Arts, and co-founder of The Fugs on its cover (“Happenings: The Other Culture”). A few months later, Sanders led thousands of antiwar marchers in an attempt to exorcize and levitate the Pentagon.
June 1, 2014
Beverly Donofrio is butting heads with herself. Young Bev and Older Bev are characters in a play the bestselling memoirist is writing, and they don’t agree on much.
Young Bev, a smart-girl rebel who’d probably deck you if you called her feisty, first hit the spotlight in Riding in Cars with Boys (William Morrow, 1990); a film version starred Drew Barrymore as the small-town cop’s daughter who becomes a teen mother.
February 1, 2016
There’s snow on the ground, but Will Lytle comes to his front door barefoot. “Did you find me all right?” he asks, with a grin that implies it might take a few tries. (It did.) Approaching his handbuilt house in West Hurley for the first time, a reader of Lytle’s visionary Thorneater Comics may feel a thrill of recognition, coupled with the sensation that she really should be arriving on owlback. There’s the clearing amid the tall trees, the triangular roof and small stained-glass window. And yes, there’s that furry-chinned wizard, inviting you into his lair.
January 1, 2012
Two brothers, born to an aristocratic Russian family, emigrate during the chaos of the Bolshevik revolution. Vladimir Nabokov goes on to become the celebrated author of Lolita, Pale Fire, and dozens of other works. His brother Sergey is arrested for homosexual activity and dies in a Nazi concentration camp, nearly forgotten by history.
September 1, 2016
Sunil Yapa is not sure what time zone he’s in. The Woodstock-based novelist just returned from a book festival in Australia. On the first leg of the 20-hour flight, he watched two movies, took a nap, and woke up with five hours still to go. “There’s a panic moment: get me off this plane! Then you realize it’s over Fiji.”
October 1, 2015
Ashley Mayne lives on the edge of a deadwater marsh once known as Hell’s Acres. Near Millerton, the valley was legally part of Massachusetts until the 1850s, but it was cut off by the Berkshires, and New York lawmen had no jurisdiction there. “So it was kind of a hideout for horse thieves and brawlers,” she says, sounding pleased.
February 1, 2013
358. To make a perfect sentence is a hard day’s work.
Michael Perkins has put in a lot of hard workdays. His new book, Life Sentences: Aphorisms & Reflections (Bushwhack Books, 2012) includes 500 deft observations, as polished as stones in a creekbed.
The aphorist lives in a sage-green house at the foot of a mountain in Glenford outside the village of Woodstock. His driveway is lined with bare winter lilacs and filled with snow. Perkins doesn’t drive.
March 1, 2016
Robert Burke Warren lopes into the Phoenicia Diner a few minutes late, hair windblown. He sprawls in a booth, orders black coffee and steel-cut oats, and says with a grin, “Let’s talk with our mouths full.”
Warren has the easy charisma of someone who’s stood on a lot of stages. Two things are making him happy today: It’s his son’s 18th birthday, and his first novel Perfectly Broken (The Story Plant, 2016) is racking up stellar reviews.
May 1, 2011
You know you’re in good hands when a teenage narrator starts her story with, “We can’t believe the house is on fire. It’s so embarrassing first of all, and so dangerous second of all. Also, we’re supposed to be in charge here, so there’s a sense of somebody not doing their job.” The opening lines of Jo Ann Beard’s just-published novel In Zanesville (Little, Brown, 2011) burrow deep into the 14-year-old mind, where being embarrassed is worse than death and every disaster is “somebody’s” fault.
December 1, 2014
Some interviewees take a while to warm up, like a car in cold weather. Porochista Khakpour takes off like a hummingbird.
Scarves and skirt swirling, she bursts into Bard’s Shafer Hall, apologizing profusely for being a minute late. By the time we reach Red Hook— a five-minute drive—she’s talked about Shafer’s eccentric design (there’s a moat), the Written Arts Program’s faculty “dream team,” her recent appointment as visiting writer in residence, her other teaching gig at Wesleyan, commuting by Zipcar and train, conversations with cabbies, Manhattan apartments, dog walking, her struggles with Lyme disease, Obamacare, and more. We’ve laughed like old friends. “Off the record” is not on the table.
January 29, 2009
There’s a little-known tunnel that goes straight from the Upper West Side to Woodstock,” says Alphie McCourt. Angela Sheehan McCourt’s youngest son has just published a memoir, A Long Stone’s Throw. You might say it’s a family tradition: His brother Malachy has two bestsellers under his belt (A Monk Swimming and Singing My Him Song), and big brother Frank is the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Angela’s Ashes, ’Tis, and Teacher Man.
October 26, 2010
There’s a high body count in David Means’s fiction. The Nyack resident’s fourth story collection, The Spot (Faber & Faber, 2010), includes haunting descriptions of deaths by crucifixion, stabbing, strangulation, drowning, gunfire, and spontaneous human combustion. True, there are stories in which no one dies—“Reading Chekhov” is a delicate tale of a waning affair; “A River in Egypt” portrays a desperate father and son in a hospital testing room; “The Knocking” is a comically stylized take on the noisy neighbor from hell—but the book has a magisterial bleakness, leavened by prose of surpassing beauty.
September 25, 2008
No one will ever go hungry at Laura Shaine Cunningham’s table. The author’s summer suppers are the stuff of local legend: cocktails and appetizers by the pool (reclaimed from a 12-foot-deep cistern, its construction hilariously described in her second memoir, A Place in the Country) and entrees on the porch. We’ve been writers group colleagues for over a decade, and while most of us settle for putting out bagels and coffee, a meeting at Cunningham’s house is a three-course affair.
March 1, 2012
How many writers live in a modest white house overlooking a field on the outskirts of Red Hook?
Like any riddle worth its salt, it’s a trick question. If you’re counting physical bodies, just two. But if you’re counting bylines, it isn’t so simple. There’s bestselling novelist writer Carol Goodman, whose latest outing is Arcadia Falls (Ballantine, 2010), and her husband, poet Lee Slominsky (Logician of the Wind, Orchises Press, 2012). These two are joined at the hip—or perhaps fused at the trunk, like a centaur—as urban fantasy author “Lee Carroll” (Black Swan Rising; The Watchtower). And they’re now shacking up with one “Juliet Dark” (The Demon Lover, Ballantine, 2011), who writes deliciously literate erotic fantasy.
Amitava Kumar opens the door with a warm smile, welcoming me into a small kitchen bursting with family life. He lives in faculty housing with his wife, SUNY New Paltz professor Mona Ali, and their two children. There’s a treadmill under the window and a table layered with books by Teju Cole and Ivan Vladislavic, as well as books on Lego and Star Wars.
A lot can happen in a hundred years. Just ask Jane Smiley ’71. The Pulitzer Prize–winning novelist has just completed a century-spanning trilogy that follows the tangled fortunes of an Iowa farm family and its bicoastal diaspora over five generations. From Walter and Rosanna Langdon greeting their firstborn on New Year’s Day, 1920, to descendants abetting Wall Street scams and flirting with eco-terrorism, it’s a complex literary tapestry. In fact, the New Yorker called the second novel in the trilogy “a king-size American quilt.” Each chapter of the three novels—Some Luck, Early Warning, and the just-released Golden Age—covers a single year, starting just after World War I and arching into the not-so-distant future.