Posts by tag: Michael Silverblatt

Open letter to Michael Silverblatt

I think if I’m lucky I’m a mentor to people I’ve never met – Michael Silverblatt

Among them, Michael, count me. Your Bookworm Audio Archive is vast, a national treasure-house. It would only be absurd to try to number the hours I’ve spent there, or to attempt a comprehensive list of the writers whose voices it preserves. There’s no usable index to the archive as far as I know, and no easy way to browse… but, it’s staggeringly complete… : Mailer, Didion, Sebald, Morrison, Markson, Kraznahorkai, McElroy, Delillo, Mathews, Vonnegut, Updike, Beattie, Sontag, Vidal… that’s just a start to the endless, endless procession. If this is news to whoever reads this, they’re hereby informed. (See also Silverblatt’s role as host and interviewer of writers at the Lannan Foundation.)

Naturally, I first started going to Bookworm to hear Silverblatt in conversation with particular writers. My thesis supervisor had referred me to the Sebald interview, since I was working on his novels. But it soon became obvious that Silverblatt is himself a most unique and fascinating figure, very experienced, and that he’s gifted with a brilliant mind and a warm, rarely generous temperament.

So thanks, Michael Silverblatt, for that mentorship.

– Jacob


And for other bookworms, anyone curious — here’s some places where it’s Silverblatt who’s being interviewed for a change. Enjoy.

* Colin Marshall’s hour-long podcast with Silverblatt, from which the two quotes that lead this article are transcribed (Notebook of Cities and Culture, April 2012);
* Sarah Fay’s interview with Silverblatt (The BelieverJune 2010);
* J. Robert Lennon’s half-hour of audio spent chatting with him (Writers at Cornell, Oct 2010); and, lastly,
* “An evening with Michael Silverblatt” (1:30 audio recording, Cornell, iTunes U).

The Bio-Work of Art

I can’t be the first one to see an uncanny resemblance between Christian Bök’s Xenotext project and the bio-art of Orfeo‘s protagonist, can I?

Novelist Richard Powers is on the latest episode of Bookworm, talking with Michael Silverblatt about his latest book Orfeo. (Word to the wise — start listening to Silverblatt’s show, if you don’t already know it.) The book’s protagonist is apparently an avant-garde composer of music at work on a project to embed his musical masterpiece in the genetic code of a germ. As Silverblatt puts it, he’s “on the threshold of creating virtual, terroristic music.” Or, as Powers says, he’s trying to “encode a private musical message, embed it into the nucleus of a living cell, and have that cell propagate in the world carrying his little MP3 cassette with it, filling up a world that’s absolutely incapable of hearing it.”

Bök’s Xenotext is described as a nine year project to engineer “a life-form so that it becomes not only a durable archive for storing a poem, but also an operant machine for writing a poem.” (Read about it in Bök’s own words here.)

In both cases, the appeal of the idea of genetically encoding the work of art is to to make something that will be “legible” to life for a period longer than any material artifact.

Powers mentions two bio-artists during the podcasts: Brazilian Eduardo Kac, and American Steve Kurtz. Incredibly interesting stuff, even to skim.

A Joseph McElroy Web bibliography

All in one place: a compendium of resources on the open web for those interested in exploring American literature’s best-kept secret.

[caption id="attachment_736" align="aligncenter" width="236"]Joseph McElroy photographed by Steve Hall. From page 235 of Anything Can Happen: Interviews With Contemporary American Novelists (conducted and edited by Larry McCaffrey and Tom LeClair; Champaign: U of IL P, 1983). Joseph McElroy photographed by Steve Hall. From page 235 of Anything Can Happen: Interviews With Contemporary American Novelists (conducted and edited by Larry McCaffrey and Tom LeClair; Champaign: U of IL P, 1983).[/caption]



Official website (

See site for a full McElroy biography. Available gems from Reading Room and Essays are: ‘Neural Neighborhoods and Other Concrete Abstracts,’ an essay written while McElroy was in the thick of Lookout Cartridge  (Triquarterly, 1974). ‘9/11: Emerging’ (2001), ‘Attractions around Mt. St. Helens’ (ebr, 1997), ‘Thoughts about Consciousness While Cutting in the Brain’ (Shambhala Sun, Sep 2004), and these essays on water: ‘Water on Us’ (ebr, 2010), ‘If It Could Be Wrapped’ (ebr, 2004).

McElroy on Twitter (@watrwake)

‘Failure. Building. Embrace.’ (Interview). By Trey Strecker (RainTaxi, Fall 2003)

What can happen?’. Short essay by McElroy on his use of inquiry and interrogative narrative forms. (the story prize blog, Nov 2011)



Trey Strecker’s fall 2003 RAIN TAXI interview, “Failure. Building. Embrace.”

Taji Maheen’s July 2013 Vice Magazine interview, “Postmodernism and Sumo Wrestlers: An Interview with Joseph McElroy.”

Jason DeYoung’s Dec 2013 interview in Numéro Cinq Magazine, “Sentences are like Home for Me, Even a Wilderness.”

Reviews and appreciations

‘The lost postmodernist,’ by Garth Risk Hallberg; a review of Women and Men for LA Times book review

Joseph McElroy,’ by Andrew Walser; and ‘The Courage of Joseph McElroy,’ by Mike Heppner; both in Golden Handcuffs Review

Scott Bryan Wilson on collecting McElroy in hardcover

‘On Joseph McElroy’; short review (tales from the reading room weblog, Jan 2012)

Other reviews of Night Soul and Other Stories (Dalkey Archive Press, 2011): by Emmit StinsonDan Visel, and Stephen Burn.

Journal issues dedicated to McElroy

Electronic Book Review (‘a J.M. festschrift, 2004’)

Including an essay by fiction writer and professor William S. Wilson, to whom Lookout Cartridge (1974) is dedicated. See also Yves Abrioux’s ‘Vectoral Muscle in a Great Field of Process.’

Golden Handcuffs Review (Vol. 1, No. 14, 2011)

With contributions from Rick Moody, Flore Chevaillier, Mike Heppner, Andrew Walser.

All posts on this site about Joseph McElroy are archived here.

Continue Reading