Syncopations: Beats, New Yorkers, and Writers in the Dark

Overview

This compulsively readable collection of profiles and essays by James Campbell, tied together by a beguiling autobiographical thread, proffers Campbell's unique observations on writers and writing in the post-1950s. The book considers writers associated with the New Yorker magazine, including John Updike, Truman Capote, and Jonathan Franzen; African American writers, offering up an account of Campbell's legal battle with the FBI over James Baldwin's file and a new profile of Amiri Baraka; and "outsider" poets and...
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Overview

This compulsively readable collection of profiles and essays by James Campbell, tied together by a beguiling autobiographical thread, proffers Campbell's unique observations on writers and writing in the post-1950s. The book considers writers associated with the New Yorker magazine, including John Updike, Truman Capote, and Jonathan Franzen; African American writers, offering up an account of Campbell's legal battle with the FBI over James Baldwin's file and a new profile of Amiri Baraka; and "outsider" poets and writers such as Gary Snyder, Allen Ginsberg, Edmund White, and Thom Gunn. Campbell's concluding essay about his childhood in Scotland gracefully connects the book's autobiographical dots.

About the Author:
James Campbell writes a weekly column for the Times Literary Supplement and is the author of This Is the Beat Generation, Talking at the Gates: A Life of James Baldwin, and Exiled in Paris. He is a regular contributor to the New York Times Book Review

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Editorial Reviews

Sam Munson
The art of the literary profile is, if not dying, at least in some corporeal danger. Too often, it is a platform for inanities praiseful or damning, instead of what it ought to be: an examination of the mysterious third component of the relationship between book and reader, the person and personality of the author. James Campbell's new book, Syncopations—a collection of profiles, literary essays and reminiscences drawn primarily from the pages of The Guardian Review, The Times Literary Supplement and other British publications—suggests there's some life left in the form. Whether this impression stems more from Campbell's fluency and intimate tone of voice, or from his angled, trans-­Atlantic vision of mostly American writers, is hard to say. Whatever the cause, Syncopations should interest any observer of postwar American letters.
—The New York Times
Library Journal

A columnist for the Times Literary Supplement(TLS), Campbell (This Is the Beat Generation) is a perceptive critic of contemporary American and British literature. He loosely organizes the profiles and essays collected here into three groupings: New Yorker contributors, including John Updike, William Maxwell, Truman Capote, and Jonathan Franzen; African American authors, including James Baldwin, Richard Wright, and Stanley Crouch; and writers associated with the Beat generation, including Allen Ginsberg, Gary Snyder, Robert Creeley, and Alexander Trocchi. All but one of the pieces (a profile on Amiri Baraka) appeared previously in such publications as the Guardian review, the New York Times Book Review, Granta, and the TLS. Campbell's criticism is intelligent and absorbing, his prose free of critical jargon. While generally sympathetic to his subjects, Campbell does not hesitate to point out their artistic and human failings. Taken together, these articles, informed by Campbell's personal contact with many of the authors, provide an overview of three important streams of contemporary American literature. Recommended for serious literature collections.
—William Gargan

From the Publisher
"'Syncopations' should interest any observer of postwar American letters."--New York Times Book Review

"[Campbell's] best pieces deftly and economically capture the essence of their subjects, measuring the particular 'syncopations' that distinguish their work."--Times Literary Supplement (Tls)

"The object is neither to titillate nor to shock -- though certain of Mr. Campbell's profiles do both -- but to illumine. And this they accomplish splendidly."--New York Sun

New York Times Book Review - Sam Munson
“‘Syncopations’ should interest any observer of postwar American letters.”
Times Literary Supplement (TLS) - Bharat Tandon
“[Campbell’s] best pieces deftly and economically capture the essence of their subjects, measuring the particular ‘syncopations’ that distinguish their work.”
New York Sun - Eric Ormsby
“The object is neither to titillate nor to shock — though certain of Mr. Campbell's profiles do both — but to illumine. And this they accomplish splendidly.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780520252370
  • Publisher: University of California Press
  • Publication date: 7/7/2008
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 251
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.63 (d)

Meet the Author

James Campbell writes a weekly column for the Times Literary Supplement and is the author of This Is The Beat Generation, Talking at the Gates: A Life of James Baldwin, and Exiled in Paris. He is a regular contributor to the New York Times Book Review.

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Table of Contents

Pt. I New York New Yorkers 1

1 Sunshine and Shadows: A Profile of John Updike 3

2 Updike's Village Sex 13

3 William Maxwell's Lives 18

4 Notes from a Small Island: A Profile of Shirley Hazzard 28

5 Love, Truman: Capote's Letters and Stories 34

6 Franzen, Oprah, and High Art 41

7 Drawing Pains: A Profile of Art Spiegelman 52

8 Listening in the Dark: A Profile of William Styron 62

Pt. II Through the Grapevine 73

9 I Heard It through the Grapevine: James Baldwin and the FBI 75

10 The Island Affair: Richard Wright's Unpublished Last Novel 103

11 The Man Who Cried: John A. Williams 112

12 All That Jive: Stanley Crouch 119

13 Love Lost: Toni Morrison 123

14 The Rhetoric of Rage: A Profile of Amiri Baraka 129

Pt. III Syncopations 143

15 High Peak Haikus: A Profile of Gary Snyder 145

16 Between Moving Air and Moving Ocean: Thom Gunn and Gary Snyder 155

17 Was That a Real Poem?: Robert Creeley 160

18 Fifty Years of "Howl" 169

19 Personal/Political: A Profile of Edmund White 178

20 To Beat the Bible: A Profile of J. P. Donleavy 188

21 The Making of a Monster: Alexander Trocchi 198

22 Travels with RLS 213

Coda: Boswell and Mrs. Miller; A Memoir of Two Tongues 217

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