And the Monkey Learned Nothing is my second volume of travel writings, a sequel to Drinking Mare's Milk on the Roof of the Word. The third and fourth volumes are on their way.More info →
As I attempt to visit every corner of the globe, on an obsessive quest to go everywhere, I have tried to figure out why—what drives me toward the unknown, what pushes me down the most obscure roads I can find, what is this compulsion, this wanderlust, all about?More info →
In a major statement on the relation of art and politics in America, Tom Lutz identifies a consistent ethos at the heart of American literary culture for the past 150 years. Through readings of Sherwood Anderson, Willa Cather, Hamlin Garland, Ellen Glasgow, Sarah Orne Jewett, Sinclair Lewis, Edgar Lee Masters, Claude McKay, Edith Wharton, Anzia Yezierska, and others, Lutz identifies what he calls literary cosmopolitanism: an ethos of representational inclusiveness, of the widest possible affiliation, and at the same time one of aesthetic discrimination, and therefore exclusivity.
At the same time that it embraces the entire world, in Lutz's view, literary cosmopolitanism necessitates an evaluative stance, and it is this doubleness, this combination of egalitarianism and elitism, that animates American literature since the Civil War. The nineteenth century's realists and sentimentalists, the writers of the Harlem Renaissance and of the Southern Renaissance, the firebrands who brought in the new canon and the traditionalists who struggled to save the old all ascribe, Lutz argues, to the same cosmopolitan values, however much they disagree on what these values demand of those who hold them.More info →
Originally published in The Messenger, these essays are collected here for the first time, and include pieces on their home states by Wallace Thurman, Anita Scott Coleman, Alice Dunbar-Nelson, Charles S. Johnson, E. Franklin Frazier, Wallace Thurman, & George Schuyler.More info →
Hysteria, insomnia, hypochondria, asthma, skin rashes, hay fever, premature baldness, inebriety, nervous exhaustion, brain-collapse—all were symptoms of neurasthenia, the bizarre psychophysiological illness that plagued America's intellectual and economic elite around the turn of the century.More info →
I have no nostalgia for my childhood. I don’t remember it well — maybe less than I should — and I don’t miss it or long for it. I am in fact, grateful it’s over, as I don’t recall it being particularly fun or easy. As far as I can tell, childhood is a pretty scary time, with little control over your life, little understanding of what’s happening and why, and much to be afraid of (both real and unreal terrors).
Let’s start with a love story. A few years ago, Rose, my partner’s 97 year old grandmother, met a man named Hardy in her retirement home. This may be apocryphal, but I heard that Hardy saw Rose walking in the courtyard and thought, “That is a nice lady.” This is the part I’ve always loved because Rose walks very slowly and with difficulty, usually with a walker. He was completely right — she is a very nice lady — and they have been inseparable ever since. Rose and Hardy exercise together in the mornings; they watch movies in the evenings. Hardy has proposed to Rose though she doesn’t want to get married because of the hassle. Hardy is in his early 90’s, which makes him a younger man. The last time I saw Rose, she said to me incredulously, “I never thought I would meet the love of my life in my 90’s!” (Never mind that Rose had three children with her late husband — he was obviously not the one.) Hardy and Rose have been the King and Queen of their local Mardi Gras celebration for three years in a row.
I sometimes imagine genius as a very fast moving body of water. People naturally slip in and out but it’s impossible to jump in. Or it’s like living in a house, where I’m generally free to wander at will, but the upper floors are boarded up. I know there are people up there, I can hear them, but who knows how they got upstairs, it looks pretty locked to me. This isn’t something to take personally — you either have access or you don’t. And besides, I can’t think of a more appropriate application for that Groucho Marx quote: genius is exactly the kind of club I would resign from if it ever accepted a person like me as a member.
We went back and forth about whether this should be the “Comedy” or the “Humor” issue and eventually, as you can see, landed on the former. Comedy, after all, has connotations that humor doesn’t have. It implies a certain professionalism — it can of course, be a job and a big job at that; it also has an implicit goal. Comedy is meant to be funny or entertaining. Comedy also evokes its opposite — tragedy — and, in that evocation, lets its audience hope for a happy ending. It goes beyond something as amorphous as a sense. A sense of humor is certainly a good thing to have, more people should consider acquiring one, but right now the concrete seems more interesting. If humor is tragedy plus time, then comedy is humor plus politics, plus current events, plus social and economic circumstances. Comedy is humor plus the business of the world.