Sunday, February 13, 2011

Bradford Morrow

Bradford Morrow is the author of numerous acclaimed works of fiction and poetry, including Ariel's Crossing and Giovanni's Gift. He is also the founder of the literary magazine Conjunctions, which he has edited since 1981. He received a Guggenheim fellowship in 2007 and is a professor of literature at Bard University.

His new novel is The Diviner’s Tale.

Recently I asked Morrow what he was reading. His reply:
My reading at the moment is all over the map, but here goes. Two wildly imaginative first novels that are just now being published and which really impressed me are Karen Russell's Swamplandia! and Benjamin Hale's The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore. In a way, they're both bildungsromans--one about young, motherless, brave Ava Bigtree growing up in a world filled with ghosts, gators, and grief; the other a memoir by the world's first talking chimpanzee, a riotous and eloquent recounting of his intellectual, psychological, sexual maturation in a human universe that just doesn't know how to deal with him. Both writers are in their twenties, and both are masterful storytellers with astonishing gifts for language that crackles with energy, is richly metaphoric, and honed to razor-sharpness. Their debut novels are something to behold. (Karen Russell's was preceded by a remarkable collection of stories, St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves, which, like Swamplandia!, was mostly set in and around a surreal Florida--that one I've read more than once, also love, and talk about on street corners to anyone who will listen.)

On a very different note, I'm rereading Willa Cather's My Ántonia and Death Comes for the Archbishop, novels that are way more formally revolutionary, more modernist than they might appear at first glance. Cather's use of landscape as a kind of character in each of the books--one set in Nebraska, the other in New Mexico--is powerful stuff. Her unnamed but likely very autobiographical outer-frame narrator who introduces the reader to My Ántonia's second but primary narrator, Jim Burden, states that Ántonia “seemed to mean to us the country, the conditions, the whole adventure of our childhood.” But throughout the novel, that same country and its conditions interact with Ántonia and everyone else in such a way that people, places, and things are richly interwoven, interactive--inseparably so. Cather is, to me, one of the most underappreciated “famous” writers around. We all know of her, but it wasn't until I read through everything of hers a couple of years ago that I realized the vastness of her achievement.

On yet another front, I've been rereading Barry Cooper's biography of Beethoven as part of the research I'm doing for my next novel, The Prague Sonata. Cooper has a unique way of bringing Beethoven to life, gives the reader a palpable, earthy sense of the man even while exhaustively analyzing the music itself. Much as I admire Maynard Solomon's epic psychoanalytic Beethoven (his revised edition is the one to read), and much as I was persuaded by his thrilling quasi-detective account of the Immortal Beloved--and yes, it is actually thrilling, if you're into this particular mystery in Beethoven's life--I feel that Cooper offers a more empathetic, warmer portrait of the composer's often messy life, sidelining the Freudian elucidations that are part and parcel of Solomon's work. I'm coming away with a firmer grasp through Cooper's lens than that of Solomon of what the Enlightenment meant to Beethoven. Of course, Thayer's quintessential biography remains, well, quintessential. By the way, the title of Cooper's biography is Beethoven. What else?

Finally, I'm always marinating myself in Angela Carter, especially her short stories. The Bloody Chamber and Saints and Strangers (Black Venus it's titled in England) are pure genius.
Visit Bradford Morrow's website.

--Marshal Zeringue