News & Updates

News & Updates 2021

At the beginning of 2021 I initiated a feature for the Ninth Letter website: “A Book You May Have Missed.” This feature is designed to call attention to those books published at the height of 2020’s Covid surges that perhaps didn’t receive their due at the time (and how could they, being launched in the middle of a world health crisis?). The first book featured in this series is Michele Morano’s brilliant collection of essays, Like Love. Beside calling attention to Like Love, we reprinted Morano’s edgy essay from the book, “Crushed,” which we initially published in the magazine back in 2012.


My seventh music essay for 3 Quarks Daily, and the first for 2021, “My Fan Notes,” tells the story of my sometimes unusual displays of fandom for the 1960s rock group the Byrds (such as, at the age of 15 I called Columbia Records and pretended to be a record store owner so I could find out the release date of the group’s forthcoming album, Younger than Yesterday). Though the music of this group remains important to me to this day, I’ve never previously written in any detail about the Byrds. I write here about how the Byrds’ creating the genres of folk rock, psychedelia and country rock (in the heady span of four years) was an inspiration to me as a budding writer.


My eighth 3 Quarks Daily music essay, “Some Songs from a Fallen Empire,” chronicles another music I have long loved: the wide range of musical traditions created in the former colonies of the world-spanning Portuguese empire (an empire that lasted over 500 years).

In particular, the musical traditions of Brazil, Cape Verde and Angola were forged in the crucible of colonialism’s grip–such unlikely beauty rising from so much pain.


On March 10th, I gave a Zoom talk at the International House of Rhode Island about my curating and editing of the Ninth Letter 2020 pandemic anthology, “my heart, your soul,” an anthology that includes writers, artists and musicians from around the world. Somehow, in the talk I found myself discoursing about the Fuddles, a strange people made of puzzles pieces, from Frank L. Baum’s The Emerald City of Oz. The Fuddles take great pleasure in falling apart, so visitors can put them back together. The trick is to find a puzzle piece with a mouth, so you can get advice about where to find the other pieces–a good illustration, I think, of the creative process of revision (and of literary editing).


Also in March, my ninth music essay for 3 Quarks Daily launched, “Confessions of an Accordion Addict.” Luckily, my appreciation for the instrument wasn’t damaged by the schlock of the 1950 and 60s TV variety staple, the Lawrence Welk Show. The accordion is the backbone of so much excellent music across the globe, and my essay examines examples from Finland, Madagascar, Ivory Coast, Belgium and Tunisia.


In late March, Ninth Letter featured an essay by New Zealand writer Ingrid Horrocks, “Days Bay,” in support of the launch of her new book, Where We Swim. Horrock’s essay describes in loving detail a three-generation family gathering–such a rare gift to read about, in the midst of pandemic quarantines that have lasted over a year.


Next up on my music series of essays for 3 Quarks Daily was “In Praise of Anthologies,” which gives a shout-out to the eclectic French radio station FIP, and the online music service Bandcamp–both of which serve as musical anthologies for music lovers everywhere. In this essay, I delve into the work of some of my favorite finds from around the world, such as Michel Banabila, Spellling, Allysen Callery, Meszecsinka, and Kokoroko, to name a few.


In early April my wife Alma and I, fully vaccinated, ventured on an airplane in order to spend six weeks at our Santa Fe condo in New Mexico, in order to visit our son Nathaniel and his wife and two children, after an absence of 17 months (happily, we were also able to stop on the way to visit with our daughter Hannah in Brooklyn). Such joy to see, in three dimensions, one’s loved ones and to actually embrace in greeting!

In this photo I’m pausing during a walk along the Santa Fe River, and if I weren’t wearing that ubiquitous mask, you’d be able to see my great grin of pleasure and thankfulness.


The second entry in the Ninth Letter series “A Book You May Have Missed” is Sarah Minor’s superb Bright Archive, which combines nonfiction, art, architecture and mapmaking. In this feature we have reprinted Minor’s essay from the book, “Foul Chutes: On the Archive Downriver,” which we originally published in 2018.


My eleventh music essay for 3 Quarks Daily, “My Briefest of Musical Careers,” chronicles my six-second “triumph” singing in the middle of a performance of John Cage’s paean to silence, 4’33”, and the subsequent media attention. The long journey to my musical performance debut includes the minimalism of Philip Glass and Steve Reich, Talking Head’s “Burning Down the House,” and Edgar Allan Poe’s story “The Pit and the Pendulum.”


In June Ninth Letter published a first-rate essay by Annie Penfield, “The Rain Gauge,” about her coming-of-age year of hard living on a sheep ranch in Australia when she was young.


My last music essay for 3 Quarks Daily appeared in June, and marked the end of my twelve month gig. Titled “Hit Songs in the Radiation Room,” the essay describes what it was like listening to pop music hits piped into the sound system of the radiation room where I was being treated for cancer.

Though I was diagnosed in December of 2019, my primary treatment was delayed because of the pandemic (the hospital overwhelmed with Covid patients for months, as all hospitals were) until July of 2020. I received a month of radiation treatments in the middle of a heat wave in the middle of the continuing pandemic, and I’m happy to report that I am fully recovered and as grateful as I can be to a world-class team of doctors and technicians.


In July Ninth Letter was honored to publish the 2021 winner of the Disquiet International Literary Program Prize in Nonfiction, Seth Fischer’s “Speaking of Chaos.” His essay takes place in the short time of a car drive to a waterfall in Hawaii, though he manages expertly to fold in a world of personal and family memories. Bravo!


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