The Canadian literary landscape is currently adapting as best it can to its second pandemic in recent years (the first being terrible men) — but, as Adam Pottle points out, we are just really experiencing now what so many people in the the disabled community experience every day: being uninvited by circumstance. Good food for thought and cause for action here.
The pandemic has exposed certain flaws and strengths in our society – our over-reliance on capitalistic models being first and foremost – and it is no different for the Canadian literary industry. COVID-19 has forced the general population into the same isolation that many Deaf, disabled, and chronically ill people have long experienced. Advocates for accessibility are gritting their teeth, for they know that we have always had the capacity for positive change. We have always had the ability to make the world more accessible; it just took a pandemic to get us to realize it. It proves an old disability adage: no change happens until able people feel the same pain.
By every metric that we use to measure literary greatness—including overall achievement, scope and variety of subject matter, striking and fully realized style, duration of career, originality and formal innovation, widespread influence here and abroad, production of masterpieces, consistency of excellence, pertinence of themes, density of critical commentary, and dignity in the conduct of a literary career—Don DeLillo, now eighty-three, scores in the highest possible percentile. Since the publication of his ebullient and film-drenched first novel, Americana, in 1971—imagine if Mad Men had actually realized its literary pretensions instead of merely displaying them—he has produced sixteen novels and one story collection, not one of them without great value and interest and several of them regarded as among the supreme monuments in postwar American fiction. A recurrent criticism of American literature is that our writers are somehow stunted in the overall development and unfolding of their careers by the thinness of our cultural soil, as opposed to the more nurtured and stately European model. DeLillo’s career, so fecund and dazzling no matter what part of it you examine, so marked by growth from early promise to jaw-dropping midlife mastery to late-stage and highly personal autumnal richness, puts paid to that critique. I would go so far as to argue that no other American novelist in our literary history can match him for consistency matched with productivity. Even Roth, who, despite his astonishing late-career spurt, produced a fair number of duds.
Given the space and time I could fill an entire issue of this publication with extended praise songs of DeLillo and his novels. I have read his work since the early ’70s with the utmost attention and admiration, and—you should know—I edited one of his supreme masterpieces, Libra, an exalting experience, an editor’s dream. For now, though, let’s focus on the major justifications for a DeLillo Nobel. The case rests, I believe, on four propositions.
The current public health emergency has triggered an economic crisis for self-employed workers across Canada. Professional literary creators have been especially hard hit. Within a matter of days, book tours, lectures, performances, and school visits were cancelled. Other sources of income in the form of contracts for publishing-related or non-related projects have disappeared or been indefinitely postponed. Many professional writers and visual artists are left struggling to buy groceries or medications or pay rent.
Each year the Writers’ Trust distributes money to writers in need through its emergency grant program, the Woodcock Fund. These grants are invaluable, but demand during the present crisis exceeds what that program can match. The Writers’ Trust and Writers’ Union have approached partners to develop a coordinated response to this urgent need. They have collectively raised $150,000 so far for this project, and continue to talk to other participants and funding bodies about the possibility of increasing the pool of funds available.
Imagine if you were supposed to release a book this year. Hell, I’m worried about my wife’s book next spring and my book in the fall of 2021. I’m used to poetry getting lost in the reviews/sales game, but you fiction and non-fiction people must be scared shitless. It gets easier, being invisible, if it’s any consolation. That said, some folk, like old Bookninja pal Laila Lalami, are suffering. You should order her book through your local independent.
Some of the most anticipated titles of the spring have been delayed by weeks or months — including the latest by the best-selling children’s book author Jeff Kinney, literary novels by Graham Swift and Ottessa Moshfegh, and nonfiction books by Representative Eric Swalwell of California, the Netflix chief executive Reed Hastings and the comedians and late-night television hosts Desus and Mero.
“Bookstores are shuttered, everyone right now is worried about their health and their livelihoods, there’s so much anxiety,” said the writer Laila Lalami, whose new nonfiction book, “Conditional Citizens,” was scheduled to come out from Pantheon in April, but has been moved to the fall. “It makes sense to postpone it until there’s a bit more clarity, until we know what’s going to happen.”
I am sort of already sick of making coronavirus updates. Let’s assume everything is cancelled and we’ll revisit in the fall. So, today I’m going to try to mix the apocalypse news in with the regular news to normalize things. Let’s hope we don’t suddenly need separate posts again.
On Hydra, Johnston took a pen to the fresh manuscripts that young Leonard brought him, and taught him the value of fierce editing. It was he who encouraged Cohen to play his first concert of his own material. Johnston’s former colleague from his war reporting days, photojournalist James Burke, was living in Athens and is responsible for recording the event with his Leica. Burke took 1,573 photographs of the colony that year, commissioned by LIFE magazine for a feature that never appeared.
From the body language in those pictures, it is hard to dismiss the idea that Charmian and Leonard might have become lovers. It’s something I discussed with Jason Johnston, who was born on the island and is the only survivor of the family. As his father was impotent from TB medication and his mother, still in her 30s, such a ravishing beauty, it was something he’d wondered himself.