First of all, thank those of you for the kick in the ass. I was really treating this as a kind of bloggy personal diary and not really thinking that anyone (besides me) was reading it. That said, I am flattered by the interest as well as the encouragement, and I will try to be more dutiful about getting here.
So I recently read James Hannaham’s novel God Says No, and I loved it, and there’s a bit a backstory: James and I were briefly both teaching in same academic writing program at Eugene Lang College at the New School—and when he was a newbie, I hastily tried to give him some pedagogical advice and inadvertently insulted him, (I gathered based on his sharp reaction, a grimace followed by a hard breath). I’m sure his response was warranted as I can be presumptuous on occasion, but even though I agreed with his response, I got an attitude about him, and when his book came out, I was like he ain’t shit! (Yup, petty me!) Anyway, his book is great, and the feat he pulls off most impressively is treating the subject wholeheartedly, with sincerity and seriousness, when I expected, given the subject of converting Gays via Christianity, much more derision and sarcasm though he maintains a brilliant use of irony. Kudos to James!
I’ve finally snagged a copy of Lauren Groff’s novel Fates and Furies, and though, I’m just getting into it, I realize that I’m in the presence of a master, one of our time’s literary geniuses, and she’s definitely going on my must read the day it comes out list along with the likes of Toni Morrison, Milan Kundera, and all my other dawgz! With some writers, I don’t necessarily concern myself with whether a particular book is good or bad, per se, but I just relish in the opportunity to be in the presence of a great mind.
That said, I ran into a former student of mine at Lang, Sarah Fogel, a maddening young genius who’s always a step ahead of me, and in fact is the one who gave me my professorial name of “Professor Marvel” in honor of that Kansas City conman who, like Dorothy, tornado-ed into Oz, and he thus became the “Wizard of Oz.” I loved Sarah for honoring me that way, and despite what you might think, it does feel like an honor to me personally because I’m the first to tell you that I’m more huckster than anything else. But I will remind you that Marvel in the movie is in the end a great wisdom teacher however he bumbles and then stumbles upon the truth. (At that, there are a lot tricks in that bag!)
Sarah indirectly challenged me to consider my novel The Ape is Dead! in relation to Ta-Nehisi Coates Between the World and Me, and I got a little defensive, competitive even, suggesting that while Coates’ book was a good read, it was pretty familiar territory. Actually I’m quite annoyed by my friends and those readers in general, who have no doubt read Baldwin, actin’ like they haven’t heard those ideas before; indeed, isn’t Coates in Paris now?, c’mon! The protagonist of my novel quickly realizes in the chapter “Ten Days in Paradise,” right after touching down in the great city, that he’s no Baldwin or Wright but his own man, and that his experience, his authentic experience, is to be found following his heart, which leads him to return immediately to the States, Pittsburgh, Pa of all places (which he unimaginatively refers to as the “Pitts,” from Paris to Pittsburgh, ugh!, to be with the woman he loves). It gets interesting from there as the would-be-expat and radical reconciles with the bougie black, and it’s on!