News & Updates 2014

The excellent website Essay Daily is featuring a 2014 Advent Calendar of essays, leading up to, you know. Make sure to check out the daily offerings! My thanks to Ander Monson for mentioning, in his Advent announcement, my essay “The Man Behind the Beard: Santa Confesses,” an account of my long-ago experiences as a Santa Claus for Saks Fifth Avenue.

And thanks also for Essay Daily including my recommendations from my nonfiction reading of the past year that affected me most powerfully: Claudia Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric, and James Baldwin’s The Devil Finds Work and Notes of a Native Son.



My many thanks to the great writer Douglas Glover (who hails from the equally great land of Canada) for his generous piece, in the excellent literary web journal, Numéro Cinq, about the Dzanc Books e-book reprints of my three books of fiction: “Philip Graham Redivivus.” The article includes the complete introduction to The Art of the Knock, by Kyle Minor, and the entire short story “Light Bulbs,” from that collection, which originally appeared in The New Yorker.


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I recently interviewed one of my former students, John Warner, on the occasion of the publication of his latest book, Tough Day for the Army, a short story collection that is already garnering a number of rave reviews. The interview is in two parts, and appears on the always excellent website Fiction Writers Review. The first part is about John’s story collection, and the second part concentrates on John’s literary Internet personae. He is the Biblioracle, and a commentator for the annual Tournament of Books, a blogger for Inside Higher Ed, and much, much more.


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The marvelous writer Michele Morano has written an essay that has just appeared on The Millions website: “The Afterlife of Travel: On the Work of Philip Graham and Alma Gottlieb.” She writes about the two memoirs of Africa that Alma and I have written, Parallel Worlds and Braided Worlds, and how our experiences living among the Beng people have influenced my fiction writing, particularly the three books that have recently been reprinted in Dzanc Books’ e-book reprint series, The Art of the Knock, Interior Design, and How to Read an Unwritten Language (the books are available at the Dzanc website, and now are also available in the iBook, Kindle, and Nook formats).

Our thanks to Michele Morano, for a beautifully written article.


More good news from former students.

Andrew Marshall has a new and sweetly unsettling flash fiction, “A Lover,” appearing at Vestal Review. Meanwhile, Debra Baldwin has just begun an awesome new job as the Associate Publisher of The Sun, and Rebecca Cook has published her first novel, Click, in the New Rivers Press Electronic Book Series. Can’t wait to read it . . .

It’s always a pleasure to see my former students thriving. Congratulations!


I’m delighted to announce that the e-book reprints of my first three books of fiction are now available for ordering at the Dzanc Books website. It’s a real honor to be a part of this contemporary literature reprint series. Each book has a new and stunning cover, three to four pages of review excerpts (only the positive ones!), and introductions written specifically for these editions.

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The Art of the Knock: Stories (originally published in 1985 by William Morrow). Here is a quote from the introduction by Kyle Minor:

“We begin in the idea that we’re reading detachable ‘Stories,’ yet we soon realize we’re in the midst of a terrible, fearful, and ultimately wonderful design, which emerges slowly as we move through it, which has direction and symmetry, in which the preoccupations recur and recur, and in which all the parts are in conversation.”


How to Read an Unwritten Language (originally published by Scribner in 1995). This is a newly revised version of the novel, which I now consider the official edition.

Here’s a quote from the introduction by Alex Shakar:

“Graham’s novel is tantalizingly rife with seeking and hiding, pining gazes meeting thousand-yard stares, children and lovers reaching out, parents and spouses pulling away. Michael’s mother, the emotional epicenter of his narrative, goes by innumerable names, donning a fresh personality every day. The behavior, which begins as a game with her children, devolves into a torment for them: behind her masks, she will never admit to being more than a passing stranger. Later in life, Michael’s sister Laurie flirts similarly with emotional masks and disappearing acts, to the desolation of those who try to get close. One of the central and deeply empathic insights of How to Read an Unwritten Language is that knowing others and allowing ourselves to be known are inextricable acts, and that, therefore, our efforts to hide our pain can prevent us from being available for the witnessing and mending of the pain of others.”


Interior Design: Stories (originally published by Scribner in 1996). The following quote is from the introduction by Roy Kesey:

“In each of the stories in this collection, ritual is invoked: to bring sense to the past, or meaning to the present, or some sense of control for the future. Workaday objects and processes are recast in powerful talismanic light. The defamiliarized gaze of the foreigner and the power of the creative mind are brought to bear, and experience is reformed, reshaped, understood newly. The line between what is real and what is imagined is blurred intentionally with the goal of letting events slide from one side of the line to the other according to the needs of a given psyche. These are the services Philip Graham has rendered us over the past several decades, services of which we are ever more in need. How good it is at last to have this new edition of Interior Design in hand.”

My many thanks to Kyle Minor, Alex Shakar and Roy Kesey, three superb fiction writers, for writing such generous introductions for the work of a wretch such as me.

All three books will soon be available in the iBooks, Kindle and Nook formats, and I’ll report that when it happens!


Many thanks to James Crossley for his praise of my book The Moon, Come to Earth, in his recent article, “Literary Traveling Companions,” at Book Riot. Especially nice that he includes me in the stellar travel writing company of Anthony Doer and his Four Seasons in Rome, and Adam Gopnick and his book Paris to the Moon.


I’m pleased to be able to announce terrific recent news from three of my former MFA advisees at the Vermont College of Fine Arts:

Mary Stein is a recipient of a Minnesota Emerging Writers Grant, as well as a Loft Mentor Series Award; Jodi Paloni has published a new short story, “Blue Moon,” in Contrary Magazine; and Karen D. Taylor’s musical, Riffs on Race, Love and War, will be performed at the New York International Fringe Festival in August: get your tickets here.

Congratulations to everyone!


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My interview with Shelagh Shapiro, for the radio show Write the Book, is now available for your listening pleasure as a podcast. In the interview we talk about the forthcoming Dzanc Press ebook reprints of my first three books of fiction, the use of objects as a form of characterization in my fiction, and how my work has been influenced by living multiple times in small African villages over the years.

And if you like that, you might want to burrow around in the Write the Books archives, lots of goodies there, including interviews with Joshua Ferris, Collum McCann, Ann Patchett, and many, many others. More than 300 episodes, which have drawn over half a million listeners . . .


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An interview with Kyle Minor, “A Conversation with Philip Graham,” has just appeared on the HTML Giant website, and my thanks to Kyle for the challenge of his excellent questions.

Kyle Minor is one of the finest young writers out there (author of two of my favorite recent story collections, In the Devil’s Territory, and Praying Drunk), and he was kind enough to agree to write the introduction to the forthcoming Dzanc Books ebook reprint of my first story collection, The Art of the Knock.

That collection, plus my story collection Interior Design and How to Read an Unwritten Language, will be available this summer, and I will of course tout the releases on this page when that happens!


I’m happy to report that my essay on the work of the writer David Jauss, “Rethinking How to Write While Speaking in Tongues: the Craft Essays and Fiction of David Jauss,” is now up on the Fiction Writers Review website. Jauss is that rare writer who achieves excellence in fiction, poetry and essays on the craft of writing, and I quite enjoyed writing this appreciation of his wide literary range.


I’ve recently received a spate of excellent news from my former students, it’s so good to hear how they’re thriving.

Rosalie Morales Kearns has just launched a new press, Shade Mountain Press, which is dedicated to publishing literary fiction by women writers. The press is about to launch its first two books, Egg Heaven: Stories, by Robin Parks, and Her Own Vietnam by Lynne Kanter. The press also has August deadlines for submissions for the next two books. Best of luck, Rosalie, with this terrific new venture!

Rebecca Cook has recently published an impressive collection of prose poems, I Will Not Give Over (Aldrich Press, 2013). Lots of haunting work here.

Meanwhile, I just received the galleys for the short story collection Tough Day for the Army, by the one-of-a-kind John Warner. The collection will be published in the fall by Louisiana State University Press. Good luck to you too, John!

Also, Ellen Sprague has an essay, “Braking for Buntings,” coming out soon in Emrys Journal, and my current student, Roya Khatablou, just published a short story, “Dog Tired,” in Hayden’s Ferry Review.

Congrats to all!


At Ninth Letter we’re currently publishing on our website, as a five-part series, a long excerpt from Inside the Secret, a memoir of traveling in North Korea by the Portuguese writer José Luís Peixoto. I’m a big fan of Peixoto’s novels, and so I’m especially pleased we have the opportunity to feature his remarkable look at such a secretive country. Already the Los Angeles Times, Christian Science Monitor and NPR have reported on the series, so don’t hesitate to drop by here and see for yourself what’s getting so much attention.



I recently served as the judge for the 2014 Disquiet Literary Prize in Nonfiction. The winner is Daisy Pitkin, and her powerfully unsettling memoir of a childhood in rural Ohio, “Sowing Cycles,” will be published in Ninth Letter. She will also receive a scholarship for the Disquiet International Literary Program, to be held in Lisbon (as always!) this July.

I also chose five finalists, and each one of them is an excellent writer as well: Amina Asim, Kate Duva, Jennifer Hildebrandt, Henry Leung, and Rick Whitaker.

It was a pleasure to read everyone’s work. My congratulations to the winner and finalists!


After a delightful stay in the Princeton area (where my wife Alma Gottlieb was a fall semester visiting professor of anthropology at the university), now Barrington, Rhode Island is home for the spring semester. I remain on sabbatical leave and continue working on the final revisions of my novel, Invisible Country, while Alma does research on Cape Verdeans living in Rhode Island and Massachusetts. We’re renting a converted farmhouse near lots of water (a big change from midwestern living).

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Meanwhile, our son Nathaniel and his wife Emily have bought a house in Albuquerque, and he continues to work as a software engineer for Apple, though now remotely. Bravo to them for giving the house an extensive makeover while managing the energy of Dean, their nearly two-year old son! Our daughter Hannah continues to thrive in her first year at Sarah Lawrence College, and now in her second semester she has also snagged a plum internship at the design/architecture/fashion magazine Surface, in downtown New York. So, the Gottlieb-Graham consortium has so far met the challenges of our various transitions this year . . .


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I’m just back from the lovely city of Seattle, where the 2014 Associated Writing Programs annual conference was held. Besides the pleasure of connecting with scads of friends, I was the organizer for a panel titled “Out of the Classroom: Possible Adventures in Creative Writing.” My fellow panelists were Harmony Neal, one of my former students from the University of Illinois and an excellent writer and teacher; Dana Sokolowski, a stellar student of Harmony’s; and the ever-awesome writer/editor/guru Dinty W. Moore.

We all spoke about our efforts to send our students out into the world to do research or take field trips outside the college bubble (a roller derby, a Civil War reenactment, a pet cemetery, etc), in order to find possible new inspiration for writing fiction and nonfiction. The crowd in the large room was goodly sized, and the Q & A period was lively. Already, two blog postings have given us a shout out, at Brevity and the Abington Review.

While at the conference I also attended the Monster Mags of the Midwest reading, which was hosted by Ninth Letter, Mid-American Review and Cincinnati Review at the rather creatively decorated Unicorn bar. A terrific group of readers, including Colin Winnette reading from his aptly titled short story “Super Awesome Sexy Weekend,” which appears in the very latest issue of Ninth Letter.

I also attended the Vermont College of Fine Arts reception at the Seattle Art Museum, and met up with so many esteemed colleagues and former students, almost too many to count! But first, I had to make it past an exhibition of the artist Cai Guo-Qiang’s exploding cars . . .

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I’m pleased to report that I’ve just given permission for my story “Angel” to be included in the forthcoming e-book version of The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror: Tenth Annual Collection, edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling, which first appeared in 1997. This anthology has been a good place for my story, I think, as “Angel” is both a horror and fantasy story–it’s about how a person’s fantasy (in this case, an imagined guardian angel) can turn one’s inner life into a horror.


Uber writer/editor/internet impresario (and former Illinois student of mine) John Warner has recently written an article for Inside Higher Ed (and reprinted in Slate), “There Is No Demand for Higher Education–Just What It Represents,” about the failures of massive open online courses (MOOCs). In the article John says quite graciously that I have been one of the two most important persons in his life. A real honor, though why I have to come in second after his wife is a mystery to me.

Don’t forget, by the way, to follow The Morning News 2014 Tournament of Books (the best and most transparent literary prize in the country), beginning soon. John Warner will be, as usual, one of the two play-by-play literary commentators. You can download the Tournament’s Bracket pdf here.


The latest issue of Ninth Letter is out (Fall/Winter 2013-2014), and what a great treat—the entire issue is in 3D, and comes with complementary 3D glasses!


I wish I could say that as a Ninth Letter editor I influenced this innovation (I am, after all, fully 3D), but I cannot. The art & design folks spark their own light, and we on the literary side of the magazine bask in the glow of it.

Speaking of the literary side, as a non-fiction editor (working with Janice Harrington), I’m proud of the CNF offerings in this issue. Angela Woodward’s “Punctuation Essay,” creates its own territory of truth about the rules we writers live by. “You Are Looking Almost Good” by Nalini Jones is an utterly charming (and wistful) take on the cultural beauty divide between India and America. “Holiday,” by Ariel Lewiton, takes Thanksgiving as but the nub of the wider history of a troubled, ailing family. Finally, congratulations to Jessica Wilbanks for winning the Ninth Letter 2013 Literary Award in Creative Nonfiction (judged by Lia Purpura), for her haunting essay set in Nigeria, “On the Far Side of the Fire,” also included in this issue.

This issue was my last as nonfiction editor before taking a year-long sabbatical leave from the University of Illinois (to finish revisions on a new novel). While I’ve been away, though, I’ve kept busy as an “editor-at-large,” responsible for finding intriguing and exciting work to feature on the Ninth Letter website. I’ve very proud of the work we’ve presented so far:

An excerpt from the novel The True Actor, by Jacinto Lucas Pires, and a fabulous song, “Quando Ela,” by his band Os Quais.

A serialized long essay by Patrick Madden, “Miser’s Farthings.”

Ander Monson’s cool and creepy video essay, “Hide & Seek.”

“Cheap Rooms. Low Rates,” a bracingly sad and humorous collaboration between writer Jeff Parker and photographer Brendan Barry examining motel rooms across the country.

Another collaboration, “False Friends,” by poet Terri Witek and artist Cyriaco Lopes, about language and translation, that beautifully incorporates sound clips and video.

An engagingly tense excerpt from British writer James Scudamore’s latest novel, Wreaking.

“That’s What the Tumor Says,” a text performance by caraballo-farman (Leonor Caraballo and Abou Farman), a virtuoso collaborative art team.

Nance Van Winckel’s wonderful “Sit Down & Shut Up,” an altered-text version of an actual official guide to the 1964 New York World’s Fair.

And there’ll be more to come in the following months!


I’ve received copies in the mail of the new updated cover for the second printing of Do Lado de Cá do Mar (the Portuguese translation of my travel essays, The Moon, Come to Earth). Pretty much the same, except now the subtitle is given more prominence–probably so that the large, highlighted word “Lisboa” will sell more copies!

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I’ve always loved this cover photo, as it displays one of my favorite Lisbon street views of the Tejo River. Many thanks to the good folks at Editorial Presença for their continuing support.


News & Updates 2013

News & Updates 2012

News & Updates 2011

News & Updates 2010

News & Updates 2009

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