Thursday, December 6, 2007



During the next few weeks I will be reading and then finding 800 words for Day the new novel by A.L. KENNEDY. On a whim I put her name into Google--- I still resist using Google as a verb--- and discovered: 1, A.L. Kennedy is Scottish, 2, she is a stand-up comedienne, 3, she has been a judge for a number of "prestigious" literary prizes.

Two thoughts came to mind: one, in the movie The Swimming Pool, CHARLOTTE RAMPLING plays a mystery writer who is complaining to her editor or agent (I forget which) about not winning any literary prizes. This guy replies, Why bother? Literary prizes are like hemorrhoids eventually ever asshole gets one.

That is the final definitive word word on such prizes.

two, by looking up A. L. Kennedy via Google I was 'knowing a writer', a little. That phrase, 'knowing a writer', was the title of an article I did for the Review of Contemporary Fiction about DAVID MARKSON. In the article I talked about knowing David Markson. Afterwards, he got very angry about what I had written. He wrote a threatening letter to me and disparaging letters to other people about me. It has always been unclear to me if he knew that I had not wished him any harm and in fact I had only been reporting on 'knowing the writer' and how that had not in any way affected what I thought about his writing. I do not know if he knew or knows that I had been one of the two essential early readers of the manuscript of WITTGENSTEIN'S MISTRESS, that had been turned down by every publisher in New York, after it was finally submitted to Dalkey Archive and thus contributed one of the essential voices that pursuaded John O'Brien that this was and still to this day an important novel which continues to be well read and appreciated.


I propose to publish at random moments annotated versions of letters exchanged between myself and John (Jack) O'Brien, the founder and publisher and editor for both The Review of Contemporary Fiction and Dalkey Archive press. I am publishing these letters because they provide an accurate and true account of the literary life in the 1980s and 1990s of the last century.

The First Letter
3July 1981
Dear John O'Brien:
I had written to Gilbert Sorrentino about his interest in the novel CADENZA and in the coarse of his reply he mentioned that you put out The Review of Contemporary Fiction with an issue devoted to him. I am enclosing a check for $5.00 hoping it will cover the issue. Later I'll probably subscribe. Do you plan to put the magazine in bookstores? I work at New Morning Bookstore Saturday and Sunday nights and I am sure they will carry it as would St. Marks over on St Marks Place.
I am editing the magazine adrift. The notice is attached.
all the best
Thomas McGonigle
--Gilbert Sorrentino in answer to a question of what he would be reading that summer (1981) wrote to the New York Times that he would be reading CADENZA by Ralph Cusack. Now(2007) published by Dalkey Archive.

--New Morning Bookstore was on Spring Street in SOHO. It was owned by the people who owned High Times Magazine. It was a key ingredient in defining the artistic environment of that moment in SOHO when that area was an artistic center in New York City. Nicholas Ray lived in a loft a few floors above the shop. The founder of the bookstore was a heroin addict and pusher. He blew his brains out with a .352 magnum revolver.

--Adrift, a literary magazine of Irish and Irish American Writing which Thomas McGonigle founded and edited. It received support from the American Irish Cultural Project. It was the first magazine of its kind and published as long as there was literary material of interest. It exhausted the idea of ethnic based literature for Thomas McGonigle.

The Second Letter
July 8, 1981
Dear Mr. McGonigle:
Thanks very much for your letter. I am very pleased you got in touch with me; Gil told me that you might be writing. By all means I would like to have copies of the Review in New Morning Bookstore and St. Marks Bookshop. So, if you are in a position to do so, please find out if these stores would be willing to carry the magazine and where, therefore, I should send copies. I very much appreciate your suggestion.
I am particularly pleased, however, that I am now in contact with someone who must know the work of Aidan Higgins. Could I perhaps persuade you to wrote something on him for the issue I am planning? The deadline is not until October 1, 1982. I would also welcome any suggestions you might have for other contributors to this issue. Aside from Gil, I don't think I have met anyone who has read Higgins. So you can see the problems I expect to have with the issue.

I am enclosing a few brochures which might help the bookstores decide whether they want to take the magazine and which you might show to potential contributors to the Higgins issue. I am also enclosing a check for a subscription to ADRIFT.

Thanks again, and I look forward to hearing from you.

John O'Brien
--Gil. Gilbert Sorrentino. Prolific American writer. His best books are The Sky Changes, Steelwork and Gold Fools. Another work, Splendid Hotel, would be the first book reprinted by Dalkey Archive, a press eventually established by John O'Brien and among many other books would re-publish most of Gilbert Sorrentinto's books and also two books by Thomas McGonigle, but in the latter case only in hardcover for some reason.

--Aidan Higgins. A writer who along with Samuel Beckett, Francis Stuart, Flann O'Brien, Ralph Cusack, John McGahren and Desmond Hogan are the only Irish prose writers worth reading after James Joyce if you are thinking along ethnic lines. Higgins' best books are Balcony of Europe and Langrishe, Go Down.