On 7 November 1919, about a week after his arrival in Vitebsk, some three hundred miles west of Moscow, the artist and writer Kazimir Malevich wrote to a Moscow friend that his room gave “the illusion of being in Moscow.” What created that illusion? He didn’t say. But he did not need to say why the illusion merited mention.
Derek Mahon has responded to every letter I ever sent him. Our first exchange was in 2002, while I was writing an undergraduate thesis on his long poetic sequence “The Hudson Letter” (now retitled “New York Time”). I wrote to his agent, and, a week or so later, he phoned New Haven from Dublin.
In September 1976, Peter Matthiessen took me aside at a family wedding in Seattle. He was forty-nine and at the acme of his ambidextrous literary powers. Far Tortuga, his finest novel, about a doomed voyage of turtle hunters, had been published the year before, and his next book, set in the Himalayas, would be The Snow Leopard, his finest work of nonfiction.
In Dubai, I was taken for a prostitute. It was late, maybe midnight, far away from the city center in a bizarre hotel–a sprawling, deserted complex next to the largest horseracing track in the world. No races were scheduled that weekend, and the place was empty.
Ann Petry never liked the way she looked. She hated having her picture taken, and she despised the attention that went along with celebrity. Yet the limelight found her immediately upon the 1946 publication of her novel The Street, the first novel written by an African American woman to sell over a million copies.
John Ashbery’s 1971 ArtNews review of Four Americans in Paris, the Museum of Modern Art’s exhibition of Stein family collections, is the closest he ever came to spending an afternoon in Gertrude Stein’s company at 27 rue de Fleurus. He had arrived in Paris too late, nine years after Stein’s death in 1946, and this immersive show was a chance to experience a small part of what he had missed.
There are few subjects more difficult to think lucidly about at the beginning of the twenty-first century than myth. The term has suffered two extreme forms of intellectual degradation, forms which, in the history of ideas, often manifest side by side: a kind of mandarin idealization on the one hand, and an equal and opposite commonsense dismissal on the other.
Although the walls of just about every room in my house are covered with artwork and books, my most treasured possessions are in my bedroom: a wooden crucifix hanging directly over the head of my bed (“Made in France” is carved on the back).