The Journals of Spalding Gray

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Overview

Riveting, funny, heartbreaking, at once raw and lyrical: these journals reveal the extraordinary inner life of the actor-writer who invented the autobiographical monologue and perfected the form in such celebrated works as Swimming to Cambodia.
 
Begun when he was twenty-five, Spalding Gray's journals reflect on his childhood; his craving for success; the downtown New York arts scene of the 1970s; his love affairs, marriages, and ...

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Overview

Riveting, funny, heartbreaking, at once raw and lyrical: these journals reveal the extraordinary inner life of the actor-writer who invented the autobiographical monologue and perfected the form in such celebrated works as Swimming to Cambodia.
 
Begun when he was twenty-five, Spalding Gray's journals reflect on his childhood; his craving for success; the downtown New York arts scene of the 1970s; his love affairs, marriages, and fatherhood; his travels in Europe and Asia; and throughout, his passion for the theater, where he worked to balance his compulsion to tell all with his fear of having his deepest secrets exposed. The Journals of Spalding Gray gives us a haunting portrait of a creative genius who we thought had told us everything about himself—until now.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“The publication of The Journals of Spalding Gray is a significant event in American arts and letters. . . . This is not only a great book, it’s an important book.” —Michael Cunningham, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Hours

“A document of wrenching and exhilarating honesty, shot through with unremitting humor and irony.” –Daphne Merkin, Bookforum

"Gray comes across as a genuinely noble, striving, seeking soul, felled by a malignant fate. . . . [His] work deserves to last." —Ron Rosenbaum, The New York Times Book Review

The Journals of Spalding Gray tell an important story that is painful to read but hard to put down. They bring you into a mind that is original and uncensoring even as it careens off the rails into deep destruction. Gray’s complex moods, dark imagination, and wit are often disturbing and deeply moving.” —Kay Redfield Jamison, author of An Unquiet Mind [set off in color or bold or something]
 
“[These] journals allow us to see the unreconstructed Spalding Gray. . . . The book has been superbly edited and annotated by Nell Casey; she also provides an excellent introduction. . . . Full of panic and despair, leavened with boyish misbehavior and dry wit…and lit with a kind of disembodied lyricism that honors even the blackest perceptions.” —Daphne Merkin, Bookforum
 
“One of the most disturbing yet insightful aspects of reading The Journals of Spalding Gray, Nell Casey’s distillation of Gray’s unpublished, personal writing, is learning how magnificently and artfully Gray constructed his appealing onstage and onscreen persona out of his own obsessions, neuroses, and troubled history. . . . These journals are perhaps most useful in helping one to understand the healing and purgative power that Gray and no doubt many other troubled artists have found in both writing and performing.” —The Boston Globe
 
“The brilliant, tormented performer mesmerized audiences with his autobiographical monologue, but most revealing are these diaries leading up to his suicide in 2004.” —O, the Oprah Magazine
 
“The journals in [the years after his car accident] record a harrowing descent into madness, when he turned one of his greatest talents as a storyteller—his ability to find connections between disparate observations and events—against himself.” —Nathaniel Rich, The New York Review of Books
 
“The publication of The Journals of Spalding Gray is a significant event in American arts and letters. If Walt Whitman was our great chronicler of American life toward the end of the nineteenth century, Gray was his ironic, darkly funny counterpart. He did more than anyone else to record what it was like to be human—achingly human—in the urban America of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. This is not only a great book, it’s an important book.” —Michael Cunningham, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Hours
 
The Journals of Spalding Gray…reveal a daring melancholic (he committed suicide in 2004) who mined his chaotic inner life, troubled relationships, and tragic family history to create sterling works onstage anchored by his signature desk, water glass, notebook, and microphone.” —Elle
 
“During his nearly 30 years as a man onstage alone, Gray perfected the art of turning his life into art. . . . Gray’s journals show a man who was constantly walking a line between trying to keep something for himself and believing it was his artistic duty to share everything with his audience.” —The Austin Chronicle
 
The Journals of Spalding Gray reveal someone who was at once addicted to the rush of self-exposure and yet was also deeply private. Brooklyn-based journalist Nell Casey has edited Gray’s literary anatomy down to a readable package. . . . As Gray’s journals show, he honed his craft carefully, tweaking and adjusting his stories for maximum narrative torque.” —The Globe and Mail (Toronto)

Library Journal
Casey (editor, Unholy Ghost: Writers on Depression) has created a fascinating look at Gray (1941–2004), the actor, writer, and pioneer of the autobiographical monolog (e.g., Swimming to Cambodia), through the lens of his own journals. Her goal was to reveal more about an intriguing figure who had already seemingly revealed so much about himself through his monologs. Kathleen Russo, Gray's widow, granted Casey access to Gray's journals, sketches, photographs, and audiotapes, now housed at the University of Texas at Austin's Harry Ransom Center. Casey selected from more than 5000 pages of Gray's journal entries from 1966 to 2004, including reminiscences from childhood to just before his death. She combined those chronologically with her notes and interviews with Gray's familiars, to place the journal in context. Like Frances McCullough's edition of The Journals of Sylvia Plath, which documents Plath's struggles with depression, this book provides the reader with an intimate look at Gray's life: his fight for success, complicated relationships, bouts of depression, and eventual suicide. VERDICT Biography fanatics, thespians, film buffs, and Gray fans will find this authoritative yet readable biographical work engrossing and moving. [See Prepub Alert, 4/4/11.]—Mark Manivong, Library of Congress, Washington, DC
Kirkus Reviews

The troubled ruminations of the celebrated actor and writer, entries that darken as they approach his death by suicide in 2004.

An undoubtedly talented performer, Gray (Life Interrupted: The Unfinished Monologue, 2005, etc.) comes across as profoundly insecure and self-absorbed in these erratic passages generously annotated by editor Casey (An Uncertain Inheritance: Writers on Caring for Family, 2007, etc.)—and Gray's journals certainly require annotation. He did not write every day; he used abbreviations; he alluded to things that only he and a handful of others could comprehend. Casey divides the text into decades, each of which she introduces with a long summary of Gray's activities. The entries begin in the 1960s, when Gray (born in 1941) was beginning to launch his career. The suicide of his mother in 1967 darkened the decade—and remained on Gray's mind the rest of his life. At the time it happened, he wrote "I MUST keep the outsidemealive!" Given the tortured testimony in these pages, it's remarkable that he did so until 2004. His sexuality remained an issue throughout. Although he did not consider himself gay, he did have same-sex experiences, and he wrote often and graphically about sex, recording his myriad betrayals of his partners. According to his journals, when he wasn't having sex, he was thinking about it, planning it and remembering it. He had alcohol-abuse issues as well, spent years in therapy, underwent electroshock treatments and lived in mental institutions. Yet he somehow found time to write, to perfect his celebrated monologue format and to find men and women—and audiences—who supported him, even during his times of personal implosion. Negative reviews bothered him, and he rarely felt entirely happy about his performances, or about anything else.

A journey into a darkness too deep for hope to brighten.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780307474919
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 10/2/2012
  • Series: Vintage Series
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 384
  • Sales rank: 780,870
  • Product dimensions: 5.32 (w) x 7.86 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Spalding Gray was born and raised in Rhode Island. A cofounder of the acclaimed New York City theater company the Wooster Group, he appeared on Broadway and in numerous films, including Roland Joffé’s The Killing Fields, David Byrne’s True Stories, Garry Marshall’s Beaches, and as the subject of the 2010 Steven Soderbergh documentary, And Everything is Going Fine. His monologues include Sex and Death to the Age 14, Swimming to Cambodia, Monster in a Box, Gray’s Anatomy, and It’s a Slippery Slope. He died in 2004.

Nell Casey is the editor of the national bestseller Unholy Ghost: Writers on Depression and An Uncertain Inheritance: Writers on Caring for Family, which won a Books for a Better Life Award. Her articles and essays have been published in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Slate, Elle, and Glamour, among other publications. Her fiction has been published in One Story. She is a founding member of Stories at the Moth, a nonprofit storytelling foundation. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and two children.

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Read an Excerpt

The following entries span five decades of Spalding Gray’s life and are culled from The Journals of Spalding Gray. The book is organized chronologically by decade. Each decade is given its own prologue, a passage from Gray’s private writing from that time that offers a glimpse of this era in his life. 
 
****
 
I had been brought up to look forward to heaven then began to think of heaven as history, that I would lie old and forever in the arms of someone while they accounted my life. That no matter what the pain, it would all have distance when it was recounted at another time. Told as a story in front of a fi re through a very long night, left with a slight memory of it in the morning. This was in a way what I came to see as hope. Hope was a fantasy of the future and now with age the future has shrunk and so has the investment of hope in that future. What was there left to do but to report to myself the condition of the world that is out there, as I saw it. What was there left to do but to ask you to listen?
 
Spalding Gray
(1941–2004)

The Sixties


Somewhere there was a war going on and back in Rhode Island, my mother was having her second nervous breakdown. Perhaps she was having it because of the war. I couldn’t stand being around her anymore. I didn’t know what to do. I’d try to read to her from the Alan Watts book Psychotherapy, East and West but it didn’t make sense to either of us. What she needed was something else no one could give. My father sent her to a psychiatrist but that didn’t help because she was a Christian Scientist and didn’t trust doctors so she wouldn’t talk to him. But she did call her Christian Science practitioner and he gave her some phrase to repeat like, “God is all loving and I’m His perfect reflection.” Then she’d hang up the phone and pace the living room while repeating that phrase over and over while tearing the hair out of the back of her head. There was a ratty bald spot there. Then, afraid that my father would catch her in that demented state and pack her off to yet another institution for more shock treatments, she’d begin to try to pull herself together by starting to make the evening meal. Mumbling to herself over the frozen peas, “Oh God, don’t let him see me this way. Oh God, help me get through another day.” I just watched it all like a very sad and confusing performance. A crazy show; I didn’t know what else to do.

Undated

The Seventies

I suddenly felt as though my life has been lived like a man from the press. I’m always telling a story to myself or someone else. I’m telling a story about my life.

May 29, 1973

The Eighties

There is always a constant precarious balance between dark and light. The yin and yang. Civilization and its discontents.
Looking back on it after the fact, I realize that “Swimming to Cambodia” is an attempt to balance those poles. Like any work of art it is an attempt to become God out of a loss of contact.

An attempt to create a tiny, balanced universe. An attempt to play at being God out of a lack of contact with the real or imagined source.

And like life it is a fixed and imperfect text.

April 1985

The Nineties

That is when suicide comes. It comes when the shadow part or let’s say the part of you that you hate starts to take over and fill up or push out all the other parts until you are all the part that you hate and there is this one little part left that is the killer and the killer is closely related to the self hate and at last it does its dirty little deed.

April 1, 1995
 

2000– 2004


But I still remember how my children have been a blessing and these memories burn in my heart like a religious icon.

A) Marissa toasting me on my birthday for bringing her brother Forrest into the world.

B) Forrest waking and kissing me in all my lost agitated state on the way to MV in the Ford Escort.

C) Theo’s face at birth and the honest confusion it expressed. Kathie told me later how she had to hold him and comfort him and tell him it was alright.

Love is stronger than death, but life is stronger than love. (DARK, DARK, we all go into the DARK— ELIOT)

Undated from his 2000 journal

I began to realize I was acting as though the world were going to end and this was helping lead to its destruction. The only positive act would be to leave a record. To leave a chronicle of feelings, acts, reflections, something outside of me, something that might be useful in the unexpected future.

1970

From the Hardcover edition.

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