top of page

Narrative portion of Guggenheim application

Saturday 9/18/21

This was due yesterday, and it was written yesterday. I know how it works, and knowing how it works, I'm simply going to say the truth. And if I get what I should get, great, and if not, and I cause offense or injury, it also does not matter, because of who I am to begin with. And I have only spoken the truth. I actually did make a change before I sent this--I removed "fucking" as the penultimate word. I called that a compromise.


I wasn’t sure how I might handle this Narrative this year, but I thought I’d change things up from what I’d done the previous two times I applied for the Fellowship, and simply focus on a week of my career. It’s a typical week. The week that is concluding today, on this Friday.

I’m not anyone’s friend in publishing. I have no cronies. I’m a man who’s published 2500 works in just about every major magazine and newspaper one can name. I have eight books. There’s no career like mine.

What happens is I go on NPR, I have fiction in Harper’s, I have an op-ed in The New York Times—in the same week—and there is a backlash. I pay a price. People make it harder for me to advance in a profession where the husband and the wife, both of whom are writers, who write very little, who come from money, who publish once every five years, who have everything handed to them, who went to the right school, have the right agents, get pushed forward, awarded, feted, and there’s no actual vetting of their work. It’s not about the work. Publishing I’ve learned, in what is now a twenty-five-year career, has nothing to do with how well you write. What you know. How much you produce, where it appears. Save that the better you write, the more legit you are, the more you know, the more you produce, the more people will wish to knock you back. Keep you away from what you’ve earned.

But let me tell you about my week. I’ve written five short stories this week. That brings my total of short stories, going back to June 2018, up to 315. I had a book come out in Bloomsbury’s popular 33 1/3 series, on Sam Cooke’s Live at the Harlem Square Club, 1963. The book argues that this country’s most important song—Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come”—was largely written on stage in the “colored” Overtown neighborhood of Miami in January 1963. That book has been the #1 new release in its category on Amazon. It’s a book about music, but also about the Civil Rights Movement, and much more. Bloomsbury is having me write five “guest” posts for their blog, and I’ve done two of them thus far, totaling 3000 words.

I wrote an op-ed on the NFL and “Lift Every Voice” that ran in the New York Daily News this week. I have a personal essay in Salmagundi on running stairs inside of an obelisk, Salmagundi being a magazine that has featured many Fellowship recipients. They’ll be publishing a short story of mine next issue. I wrote a personal essay on nightmares that will run next week in The Smart Set. I have a feature on John Coltrane in the September issue of JazzTimes. Yesterday, JazzTimes published a different piece I wrote on Miles Davis.

I signed off yesterday on edits for the Times Literary Supplement for a piece on Edith Wharton’s ghost stories. I had a short story come out in the fall issue of Post Road. I have short fiction in the September issue of Portland Monthly. I gave a half hour interview on the radio on Tuesday about baseball, college football, the recordings Muddy Waters made for Alan Lomax of the Library of Congress at a plantation in 1941, the Beatles, and John Keats. Ken Burns was a guest the same day I was.

I am presently doing a final sign-off on my book on the 1951 film Scrooge, which comes out December 1. Someone contacted me via my website, having read an an advanced copy of my story collection coming in January (in other words, I will have published three books in four months), and commenced a discussion about movie rights.

This afternoon I will do final edits on a feature that is running in The Wall Street Journal. BOMB is running some fiction. An editor from The Daily Beast wrote and said that they would like to excerpt my Sam Cooke book, and asked me to provide a selection. That will appear next week.

There will be no reviews of my Cooke book in the entire country. Because I am blackballed. Because this is what I do every single week and the incestuous community of publishing does not like it. I am a threat. I make insecure people feel less secure, simply by dint of what I do, how much I do of it, and how well I do it every time.

I have a very popular blog, and in this same week, there are a dozen new entries upon it. That blog was launched in June 2018, and totals over 1200 entries. It’s longer than the whole of Pepys’ diaries, or Thoreau’s unabridged journals.

I just spoke to Bloomsbury today about doing another music book for them, given how much people are enjoying the Sam Cooke title, which if I do it will be on the influence of African American musicians on British bands like the Beatles and Rolling Stones.

That’s a week here in my life. People in publishing don’t understand it, they don’t like it. Success doesn’t beget more success for me—it begets resistance. A “not anything else on my watch” element.

I almost didn’t do this application this year. I know who gets this award. I know the kind of person. I know their background. I know how little they write. I know what they have given to them. I have known, at some point, every last person in this business. I know how the editor at McSweeney’s takes the story sight unseen. Because of the name. The connection. Someone being the proper kind of person. A system person. I see the emails.

But I am exactly who—more than anyone—this Fellowship, in theory, exists for. My week is anyone else’s career. Week in, week out.

Someone prevailed upon me, saying, “Just fill out the form, try not to think about it,” and I thought, okay, I’ll do it fast. I won’t, as they say, stop and tarry. I come from no money. I am given nothing, and I am rarely granted what I deserve. I get better every day. And there is no one who can debate what I am, if they look at my work with any honesty. Look at its quality, its range. If they go to my website.

I am a whole different kind of animal than a Laura van den Berg. I am the actual real deal. I am as real as it has ever gotten as an artist and a writer.

You grant me this, you empower me to keep going. What I’m doing makes a difference. There isn’t anyone doing what I’m doing. It will open some doors that certain people want to keep shut. It will allow me to sweat money a little bit less. I work twenty hours a day. Every day of the year. I have done so since 2012.

You’re going to do what you’re going to do, and I’m not in anyone’s clique, but there has never been, nor will there ever be, anyone who deserves this more, and that’s the real narrative.


Commenting has been turned off.
bottom of page