Brooklyn Rail: Michael Row the Boat Ashore


Brooklyn Rail: Michael Row the Boat Ashore, An Exposition Upon the Inspirations & Sources for my Historical Novel, “Row The Boat Ashore.”

May 2018 Issue, Fiction

Once upon a time, when I looked at the sky, I saw will. Today, the sky is the disappointments of my ancestors, as many lives as they had, as far as the eye can see.

In 1996, I wanted to publish a novel. I had already written a few, the third of which I believed was good enough to live on as a book—something which hadn't happened. It was not an easy time to publish, and I decided to distinguish myself with historical fiction, which is notoriously difficult to write—to research and invoke. I committed to reading about a period in America that interested me. That reading, principally concerned with a few years in the middle of the nineteenth century, would eventually turn into my first published novel, A Still Small Voice, which came out in 2000.

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Guernica: The Manson Family Dolls Pt. 1 & 2


Guernica: The Family Dolls, Featuring Charlie, Leslie & More

By John Reed

Parts 1 & 2

Why it's ok to play with Manson family paper dolls: an introduction to John Reed's Manson Family Paper Doll book. Print & Color Yourself!

Leslie had one of those big tooth smiles that makes you want to find a van and coax her in and drive her to the end of the earth and stay there with her.

She was attracted to smart bad-boy types, maybe because her father had some bad boy (alcoholic, divorced mom and remarried), maybe because living in the suburbs was like breathing in a plastic bag, maybe because being middle class in 1965 meant having to deal with the Vietnam War, how wrong it was, and how she and every other middle-class kid was culpable. She had an older brother who’d already served time in the brig; he wouldn’t fight.

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Guernica: Art & History & The Manson Family Paper Dolls


Guernica: Art & History

And why it's ok to play with Manson Family Paper Dolls.

By John Reed

I have not been good. I have stumbled into this life with the blessing of God, and rolled through 100,000 years of all the disappointments of my millions of mothers and fathers. I have lived as a cruel, selfish killer among my brothers and sisters. I have hurt those I love and been hurt by them. I have sought the destruction of strangers as casually as I glance to the sky, and have found that even the saints are devils, that cognizance itself is contradiction, hypocrisy, and that we are all liars, all the time. And I have learned, of course, that this isn’t the whole truth.

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The Seventh Wave: Claim + Thesis = Evidence


The Seventh Wave: Claim + Thesis = Evidence

A lecture, I can’t quite recall the course title: The Something Something of Power. I was fulfilling a requirement at Hampshire College. Hampshire is a hotbed for creative and political thinking; I was only there for the creative. The course was sought-after, and didn't look too terribly painful. Michael Klare, the professor, is/was a highly regarded activist, author, and political thinker. The course would explore the dynamics of power, policy making, the manipulation of democratic populations, and the history of civil disobedience in the United States — from the workers unions and the labor clashes of the early twentieth century to the non-violent resistance of the late 60's.

The class was held in a giant auditorium — even though there weren't that many of us. I sat way in the back. From the high seats, I looked down, absorbing the material from a distance, participating as necessary, and studying Michael Klare for my outside-of-class Michael-Klare impression — he had a distinct hand-waving mannerism, and overused the word "vis."

For the final paper, we had to identify a "cause of war." This, I did. My paper covered the span of what we had studied during the semester, and it was fairly well-structured and polished, and about 5,000 words, well-exceeding the 2,000 word minimum. Klare, however, wouldn't sign off on the form that said I had fulfilled my requirement (Hampshire is pass/fail) — so I gathered up my final paper and my form and went to his office. ...

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Observer: Sense & Sensuality, Isamu Noguchi’s Quest for the Perfect Ashtray


John Reed

Isamu Noguchi is the beautiful youth, part Dionysus, part future of mankind: curly-headed, bare-armed, enthralling and cosmopolitan. Sidewalk cafes, cigarettes and haloes of cirrus smoke. He is the acolyte: at the altar of Constantin Brâncuși in the expatriate days of Paris; and, in prewar China and Japan, still propelled by a 1925 Guggenheim award, a student of traditional Japanese forms—brush drawing with Qi Baishi, and ceramics with Jinmatsu Uno. Then, he is the master himself, and then the fading divinity, alongside Martha Graham and John Cage and luminaries of mid-century avant-gardism, summering through The Festival dei Due Mondi in Spoleto, Italy.

Noguchi, born in 1904, was of a generation that endured the Spanish Flu, decades of global economic depressions, and two world wars. As an American, Noguchi came of age when the nation was alit with the Red Summer race riots of 1919, and the Suffragette movement, which gained the right to vote for women in 1920. If Noguchi’s generation was necessarily constrained by the armatures and mores of the nineteenth century, they were also wildly progressive, and sexually promiscuous by even today’s standards. They were the contradictions of rapid change: the roaring twenties, prohibition, economic catastrophe, and empire in decline. 

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Slate: David Wojnarowicz at the Whitney


John Reed

The East Village culture scene, as it developed through the late 1970s into the ‘80s, sought to decapitalize art. The art was taken out of the sterile, inhumane gallery/museum space and integrated into the crowded, teeming East Village: small storefronts, former tenements, and basement dance floors. The art was not precious, rarely archival, and often unsellable, whether because the work was installation based or so concurrent with living that it couldn’t be isolated and packaged for sale.

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The Believer: The Age of Simulation

John Reed

If the twentieth century, as Walter Benjamin characterized it, was the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, the twenty-first century will be the Age of Simulation. Increasingly, there are no fields of expertise, because so much of what is “expert” can be downloaded, and even if it has to be learned, the information is so accessible—even micro decisions, like, do I want an H-pipe or an X-pipe on my 1967 Camaro—that to be anything, any kind of professional anything, has become, and will progressively become, little more than a commitment to pretend to a given status. And that, of course, can only last for so long, before people realize they can’t really adopt permanent professional identities. We will each be, in our own way, simulations of however many identities we have the time or patience to pursue.

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Harper's: Revisionist History


John Reed

Nikolay Kostomarov’s short story “Animal Riot” ii the likely source for Orwell’s “Animal Farm.”

… At its face, the possible source seemed like more than a big coincidence, but the Internet discussion around the subject, and a few academic consults with colleagues, were discouraging: Orwell didn’t read or speak Russian; Orwell wouldn’t have heard of Kostomarov; Kostomarov’s story was more minor than Kostomarov himself; Orwell was clear about the inspiration for Animal Farm. “I saw a little boy,” he wrote, “perhaps ten years old, driving a huge cart-horse along a narrow path, whipping it whenever it tried to turn. It struck me that if only such animals became aware of their strength we should have no power over them.”

That quote comes from the Ukrainian edition of Animal Farm, which was released in 1947 as part of the Congress for Cultural Freedom’s soft war on communism. (As a result of the British Secret Services’ Foreign Office, which worked hand in hand with Orwell, the CIA, and CIA’s Congress for Cultural Freedom, Animal Farm was arguably the most massively translated and distributed small-press book in the history of literature.) If anyone was to have made the connection to “Animal Riot,” it was the audience for the Ukrainian translation of Animal Farm. Kostomarov, according to the Encyclopedia of the Romantic Era, was one of “the three founders of the Ukrainian national renaissance.” Kostomarov was also a major influence of Mykhailo Hrushevsky, an author and political leader who was at the forefront of revolutionary Ukraine, a subject Orwell wrote about. Kostomarov, in Hrushevsky’s evaluation, was “the precursor of modern Ukraine.” So, it’s ironic that the Ukrainian edition is the evidence that Orwell came up with Animal Farm independently of Kostomarov. Ironic, as well, is the similarity of Orwell’s boyhood memory to a boyhood memory of Dostoevsky. In Crime & Punishment, Dostoevsky describes the cruel beating of a horse. In his notebooks of the period, Dostoevsky explains: “The dreadful fist soared again and again, and struck blows on the back of the head . . . This disgusting scene has remained in my memory all my life. . . . This little scene appeared to me, so to speak, as an emblem, as something which very graphically demonstrated the link between cause and effect. Here every blow dealt at the animal leaped out of the blow dealt at the man.” …

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The Forward: When Even A Boy Einstein Doesn’t Have ‘All The Answers’


Michael Kupperman grew up in Connecticut, hidden away in suburbia along with a family secret; Kupperman’s professor father, Joel Kupperman, had been a child star, one of the most popular and recognized child stars of his generation.

As the “genius” boy Einstein of the largely rigged show “Quiz Kids,” Joel Kupperman had been cast as exemplar to a less objectionable popularization of the Jewish people. His son, who characterizes his own childhood as isolated and singular, came of age in a manner nothing like that of his doted-on father, and his career could be best categorized as “graphic novelist,” a profession undreamable to the psyche of 1940s and ’50s network television, and a profession that promises, to the most successful practitioners of the oeuvre, near-anonymity. Even as a “graphic novelist,” Michael Kupperman’s published work has tended toward outliers; until now, Kupperman has been more concerned with off-kilter humor and parody than with narrative. ...

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The New York Times: 'Francis Bacon in Your Blood: A Memoir'


Reviewing 'Francis Bacon in Your Blood: A Memoir,' by Michael Peppiatt 

When Michael Peppiatt, at 21, met Francis Bacon, the 53-year-old artist was already all artifice, well spoken when well rehearsed, his bistro doctrines applauded by clinking glasses. Peppiatt, having taken over a student arts journal at Cambridge, had shown up in London’s Soho. It was 1963, and Peppiatt laid claim to but a tenuous introduction to the renowned painter he sought. At the bar of the French House, the youth was handled by the photographer John Deakin, who loudly advised: 'My dear, you should consider that the maestro you mention has as of late become so famous that she no longer talks to the flotsam and jetsam. . . . I fear she wouldn’t even consider meeting a mere student like you!' ...

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The Brooklyn Rail: 'The Solitary Twin' by Harry Mathews


During the years I was pursuing my graduate degree in creative writing at Columbia University, Harry Mathews was a beloved mentor, and in the years since, as I’ve been faculty at The New School graduate writing program, he has been not only a mentor, but a colleague and a friend.

Ok, actually, I did overlap with Mathews at Columbia University and at The New School, but I never took a class with him, and I never talked to him. I don’t know that I ever even met him, which seems impossible, but there it is. ...

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Times Literary Supplement: ‘Georgia’ a novel by Dawn Trip


Well, for those of you who subscribe to the Times Literary Supplement, I have a review of Dawn Tripp's novel, Georgia in this week's issue:

Wilully, Americans tell the story of Georgia O’Keeffe: the story of the southwestern female artist and pioneer. The story is wrong in three ways: once for the remnants of the arguments it contains, mounted by art critics in the 1920s, that O’Keeffe embodied the art of a woman, more sensual ...

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