Tuesday, October 13, 2020
Monday, August 24, 2020
Listen to "M. Allen Cunningham Presents PERPETUA'S KIN at Powell's Books" on Spreaker.
Thursday, August 20, 2020
Monday, August 17, 2020
Wednesday, August 12, 2020
In this video excerpt from a talk I recently gave to a class of brilliant young writers, I describe the interdisciplinary relationship between Rainer Maria Rilke and Auguste Rodin (a relationship depicted in my novel Lost Son).
What can creative writers learn from what Rilke learned from Rodin?
The talk includes my own translation of Rilke's great poem "The Panther" (also found below).
Sunday, August 09, 2020
Cunningham's autobiographical essay, with musical accompaniment and slightly abridged."Variations on a Beginning" was originally published in complete form in The Timberline Review, Issue No. 3 (summer/fall 2016). You can read the full essay HERE.
Friday, August 07, 2020
My new book Q&A will appear in print (and ebook) from Regal House Publishing in January 2021, and you can pre-order it now.
What's it about? Among other things: reality television, TV politics, the triumph of incoherence, and deception via screens. Sound familiar?
(My favorite designer Nathan Shields created that kick-ass cover, by the way. It's a custom linocut.)
Sunday, July 12, 2020
"Overflowing with thoughts, he yet looked around for more, because he was living so intensely that his own thoughts choked his utterance. This description will do for any young writer. Thoreau's advantage lay in his resolve to find out what he was living before he made a book about it--to be, as he said to Emerson, first the idea itself.
"When a deep excitement of the mind finds a favorable environment, as it did in this Concord which was, indeed, a power plant of idealistic energy stepping up the spiritual voltage of the nineteenth century, an authentic moment in the history of civilization often follows.
"The two conditioning factors for writing anywhere, any time, are the quality of the imagination and the nature of the market. Later comes the fork of the road -- one way toward the competent and salable, the other toward the excellent and possibly unsalable. The completely successful [person] of letters is not [they] who writes for nothing, but rather the writer who learns how to do what [they] want -- and how to make readers pay for it. The predestined commercial writer is seldom a frustrated [person] of letters. [Their] success in cash returns is due to a different set of qualities. Every author writes for money, for money represents an audience, and no creative mind writes for itself alone. The question is, how high a price will [they] pay for the money [they] get. That became Thoreau's problem; but at first his concern was with what he had to say, and to whom and how he could say it. When this was solved, the question of how he was to get paid enough to allow him to go on writing followed, and in solving that in his own original fashion he broke out of obscurity into fame.
"The great world had no need of him, and he in his turn found that, for him, the greater world was Concord. And so, having been an author without pay, and having learned how to place an occasional manuscript with insufficient pay, he came home [from a brief residence away at Staten Island] to take up from a new angle his problem of how to live and how to stay alive while living. He had learned that in order to do what he wanted in writing he would have to publish himself. And this inevitably led him to Walden Pond.
"The failure of [Thoreau's first book] 'The Week' when it was first published, must be charged to the failure of the audience to whom he finally addressed it, much as, I think far more than, to its own defects in composition.
"These ecstasies in prose, those hours of observation, this hard labor with the pen and hard study of science and travel, now, rather than Latin, Greek, and the Hindu classics, this daily filling up of reservoirs, and nightly refining of waters, all this was Thoreau's real business of living while he was by trade the surveyor of Concord. Surveyor indeed, but not only of lot lines and corners!
"Thoreau lectures in Boston  on his life at Walden, but to a handful only of people; the clerks at the other end of the reading-room would not put down their newspapers to listen, even when urged by [Bronson] Alcott."
From Thoreau by Henry Seidel Canby, 1939.
Saturday, May 30, 2020
Don your earphones, close your eyes, and see if you can muse again.
Thursday, May 14, 2020
In honor of the anniversary, I'm sharing my lecture on Woolf and Mrs. Dalloway given recently to my creative writing students at Portland State University. If you're a writer working against the grain of the times, you might find something here.
Listen to "M. Allen Cunningham Lectures on Mrs. Dalloway for Creative Writers" on Spreaker.
Tuesday, December 17, 2019
Episode 1: In the Absence of Yes
Thoughts on a subject all too familiar to every writer: rejection. Believing in the worth of what you've produced is no easy thing. And deserving work is all too often passed over in sluice tides of manila envelopes. All that matters is what you're committed to.
In the Atelier, a new weekly podcast premiering January 2020, is a place for occasional thoughts on literature, writing, and the life of the imagination. Each artfully crafted episode brings you reflections and real talk about subjects like the nature of creativity, the highs and lows of making art, inspiring works of literature and cinema, and the value and valor of staying true to your own creative vision. Produced by the award-winning literary press Atelier26 Books and hosted by author, publisher, and teacher M. Allen Cunningham.
Eager to hear more? Get exclusive early access to seven episodes with a tax-deductible donation to the Atelier26 Books 2020 Campaign.
Mentioned in this episode: Wallace Stegner; New York Times; Henry James; Andre Dubus; Gustave Flaubert
Music in this episode: "Door Knob" by Egon Stone; "Petrolchimica2" by Bottega Baltazar; "Rising Up" by OFRIN; "Seventh March" by C3NC (All music used by courtesy of the artists through a licensing agreement with Artlist)
Saturday, November 02, 2019
Listen to "The Artist of Kouroo" on Spreaker.
Wednesday, October 16, 2019
Listen to "M. Allen Cunningham" on Spreaker.
Friday, October 04, 2019
Sunday, September 29, 2019
Listen to "Right Click" on Spreaker.
Friday, September 20, 2019
"But now in this room, which I enter without knocking, things are said as if they had been written. I go to the bookcase. If I choose, I read half a page of anything. I need not speak. But I listen. I am marvelously on the alert. Certainly, one cannot read this poem without effort. The page is often corrupt and mud-stained, and torn and stuck together with faded leaves, with scraps of verbena or geranium. To read this poem one must have myriad eyes, like one of those lamps that turn on slabs of racing water at midnight in the Atlantic, when perhaps only a spray of seaweed pricks the surface, or suddenly the waves gape and up shoulders a monster. One must put aside antipathies and jealousies and not interrupt. One must have patience and infinite care and let the light sound, whether of spiders' delicate feet on a leaf or the chuckle of water in some irrelevant drainpipe, unfold too. Nothing is to be rejected in fear or horror. The poet who has written this page (what I read with people talking) has withdrawn. There are no commas or semicolons. The lines do not run in convenient lengths. Much is sheer nonsense. One must be skeptical, but throw caution to the winds and when the door opens accept absolutely. Also sometimes weep; also cut away ruthlessly with a slice of the blade soot, bark, hard accretions of all sorts. And so (while they talk) let down one's net deeper and deeper and gently draw in and bring to the surface what he said and she said and make poetry." -p.131-2
Virginia Woolf self-published The Waves through The Hogarth Press, 1931
Friday, September 13, 2019
Thursday, September 12, 2019
Our wide-ranging conversation touches on the day-to-day experiences of a New York editor, the role of luck in publishing, the value of mentors, what it's like to spend an hour discussing a single paragraph, the plight of "midlist" writers, and lots more.
"In any editing experience you have to make the art the most important consideration, even as you keep the artist’s personal feelings in mind while you’re doing that. This is why I feel so privileged. As the editor, I’m being invited into the workshop, where there’s sawdust on the floor and half-finished things. It’s a delicate space for the writer. You’re being trusted, and you need to acquit yourself well." -Ben GeorgeRead the complete uncut version of the interview online HERE.
Monday, September 09, 2019
Tuesday, September 03, 2019
Thursday, August 29, 2019
Sunday, August 25, 2019
"Curious that this second-rate book [Tortilla Flat], written for relaxation, should cause this fuss. In your dealings you need make no compromise at all for financial considerations as far as we are concerned. Too many people are trapped into promises by gaudy offers...we've gone through too damned much trying to keep the work honest and in a state of improvement to let it slip now in consideration of a little miserable popularity. I'm scared to death of popularity. It has ruined everyone I know...I suppose it is bad tactics but I am refusing the usual things--the radio talks, the autograph racket, the author's afternoons and the rest of the clutter--politely, I hope, but firmly."
Steinbeck to Joseph Henry Jackson, 1935. Upon learning that Tortilla Flat had won the gold metal for best novel from the Commonwealth Club of California, Steinbeck insisted that he could not attend the awards dinner:
"Nothing like this has ever happened to me before. The most I have had to dodge has been a literary tea or an invitation from a book shop to lecture and autograph. This is the first and God willing the last prize I shall ever win.
The whole early part of my life was poisoned with egotism, a reverse egotism, of course, beginning with self-consciousness. And then gradually I began to lose it.
In the last few books I have felt a curious richness as though my life had been multiplied through having been identified in a most real way with people who were not me. I have loved that. And I am afraid, terribly afraid, that if the bars ever go down, if I become a trade mark, I shall lose the ability to do that. When I do I shall stop working because it won't be fun anymore.
This is not clear, concise, objective thinking, but I have never been noted for any of those things. If I were a larger person I would be able to do this and come out of it untouched. But I am not...I have no social gifts and practically no social experience..."
Monday, February 11, 2019
Listen to "In Ludwig's Room" on Spreaker.
Wednesday, January 09, 2019
Listen to "Interview with a Recluse by M. Allen Cunningham" on Spreaker.
Saturday, November 24, 2018
Portland area friends, please come on out to Powell's Hawthorne (3723 SE Hawthorne) on Monday 11/26! I will discuss the 11-year germination of Perpetua's Kin, share anecdotes from my research, and read from this novel that Powell's bookseller Dianah H. calls "Gorgeous. Devastating. Lyrical. Addictive." (There will also be cookies.)
Thursday, October 18, 2018
Machine Dreams by Jayne Anne Phillips
A Sudden Country by Karen Fisher
Voss by Patrick White
The Eighth Day by Thornton Wilder
The Favorite Game by Leonard Cohen
The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje
Time's Arrow by Martin Amis
The Night Inspector by Frederick Busch
Raising Holy Hell by Bruce Olds
From A to X by John Berger
Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier
The Journals of Lewis & Clark, edited by Bernard DeVoto
Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman
Selves at Risk by Ihab Hassan
Fame & Folly, Art & Ardor, and The Din in the Head by Cynthia Ozick
The Liberal Imagination by Lionel Trilling
The Boys' Crusade by Paul Fussell
Friday, September 14, 2018
Thursday, September 13, 2018
Mit Dank an Erich Unglaub.
Monday, August 06, 2018
Perpetua's Kin appears in September, 2018, but you can secure an early copy now by ordering HERE. (Orders ship within 24 hours.)
Friday, August 03, 2018
MILKWEED BOOKSTORE, Minneapolis, MN
BETTY'S BOOKS, Baker City, OR
MRS. DALLOWAY'S BOOKSTORE, Berkeley, CA
Monday, July 30, 2018
You can pre-order Perpetua's Kin HERE.
Final version, 2018
Thursday, May 17, 2018
Wednesday, May 16, 2018
I believe Perpetua’s Kin offers a uniquely affecting and surprising reading experience. And let me be clear. when I say I believe, I’m not talking about stubborn, run-of-the-mill confidence or defensiveness (e.g., “I think it’s good!”). No, I’m talking about belief that comes of having paid the existential costs of the book’s composition and editing process.
I almost made that the parenthetical subtitle of this post, because part of what I’d like to do here, in providing my own professional history and personal perspective as an artist, editor, and publisher, is to complicate in some small way the stubbornly prevailing, mostly snarky understanding of “self-published author.”
- Between 2004 and 2007, publish 2 well-received novels with an established small press;
- watch your novels receive wide and laudatory coverage in mainstream outlets & publishing media (USA Today, Publishers Weekly, San Jose Mercury News, Booklist, The Salt Lake Tribune, Library Journal, &c.);
- watch as booksellers champion your novels (#1 Indie Next selection; Best of Indie Next; Indie Next Book of the Year Finalist; staff picks);
- in what will become the busiest 6 months of your life, fly from Oakland to Minneapolis, from Oakland to Memphis, from Oakland to Seattle, from Oakland to Los Angeles on a bona fide author tour through more than 15 U.S. cities, meeting lots of folks who have read your book(s) or are buying a copy in order to do so;
- speak publicly before thousands of people collectively; lecture; teach;
- start that “new” novel (novel 3) in February 2007, a year before your son’s birth;
- immerse yourself, as you’ve always done, in novelistic research (in this case the history of the telegraph; Civil War campaigns and prison camps; the geography of the U.S. south) & travel from your home in Oregon to Missouri and Iowa for this research;
- complete novel 3 & receive a publisher’s offer in 2010;
- decline the offer;
- wait, while your NY literary agent submits the novel to other parties;
- undertake your first Yaddo residency & start writing another novel (your fourth);
- back at home, observe the dissolution of Borders Books and the closure of Borders stores everywhere;
- continue writing like hell, still awaiting responses to your agent's submissions of novel 3;
- begin to realize, gradually, how much money Borders owed to publishers, and what those unpaid debts mean to the publishing industry as you’ve known it;
- receive the news that the publisher of your first two books is cutting its operations way back;
- watch the whole publishing ecosystem falter;
- watch newspapers & magazines vanish & with them scores of book review outlets;
- watch, dismayed, as independent bookstores (many of those that hosted you on tour) go out of business;
- meanwhile, receive rejections for novel 3 & realize, to your horror, that publishers are playing it safe & deciding acquisitions on the basis of Nielsen Bookscan sales figures & other faulty marketplace metrics more often than on the basis of literary quality; understand, chagrined, that this is the new M.O.;
- fret about the monopolistic ruthlessness of Amazon, the closure of more small bookstores, the hype surrounding e-books, the rise of the iPad;
- notice that online star ratings & customer reviews now stand in for literary criticism;
- compare the experience of fellow writers & note the industry’s new exclusive focus on gigantic advances and probable blockbusters, the all-but-conclusive disappearance of the long-endangered midlist;
- fret about the further conglomeration of mainstream publishing into just four major publishers all owned by multi-national media corporations;
- continue writing like hell;
- meanwhile you are your son’s primary at-home parent: he is an infant, he is a toddler, he is in preschool, he is in kindergarten... ;
- establish a publishing house called Atelier26 Books & try to help other writers by editing, publishing, & promoting their work (you will devote your more-than-full-time labor to this for years);
- return to Yaddo, still writing like hell, and start your fifth novel;
- receive grants & fellowships;
- learn that your NY literary agent is retiring — you are now sans publisher and agent;
- teach & lecture widely;
- continue writing like hell, producing 5 other books, in addition to publishing essays & stories in national & regional literary journals & magazines, & frequent essays & reviews in The Oregonian;
- rejoice to see the rise of innumerable new & viable small presses & the opening of many new independent bookstores;
- marvel that your son is in 2nd grade ... 3rd grade ... ;
- earn an MFA in Creative Writing after 7 books & 20 years as a writer;
- entrust that “new” novel — yes, novel 3, the one you started in 2007, a year before your son’s birth — to Atelier26 Books in 2018, your son’s 10th year.
Woolf founded The Hogarth Press in order to publish works of prose or poetry “which could not, because of their merits, appeal to a very large public.” Through Hogarth, Woolf published other authors in addition to her own books.
“The first demand any work of art makes upon us is surrender. Look. Listen. Receive. Get yourself out of the way. (There is no good asking first whether the work before you deserves such a surrender, for until you have surrendered you cannot possibly find out.)”
“We can judge any sentence or even word only by the work it does or fails to do. The effect must precede the judgment on the effect. The same is true of a whole work. Ideally, we must receive it first and then evaluate it. Otherwise, we have nothing to evaluate.”