Friday, May 31, 2013

“Cunningham Has Wrestled Alligators Professionally,” Or: Variations on My Author Bio

Gone, gone are the days when back-flap author bios were actually biographical in nature. Consider this artifact, from the rear of Cormac McCarthy’s 1965 debut, The Orchard Keeper. “Cormac McCarthy was born in Rhode Island in 1933,” it begins, “but moved to Knoxville, Tennessee, at the age of four.” We go on to learn that the author graduated high school in 1951 and then enrolled at the University of Tennessee where his performance “was so poor that he was asked not to return,” that he joined the Air Force in 1953 and spent of half of his four-year enlistment in Alaska, that he returned to university for four years but never got that degree, and that he “began work on The Orchard Keeper in 1959, but the necessities of life delayed its completion.”

From our distant vantage point in this age of “platforms” and all-encompassing commodification, doesn’t the McCarthy sketched here look distinctly, even perversely “unreliable”; i.e. unmarketable? Where are the guy’s creds? Where, for heaven’s sake, is the branding?

Today’s author bio, we all realize, is prime real estate. It is an ersatz CV precisely calibrated to persuade potential consumers of the author’s “content-providing” capacity and — more importantly — to encourage the outlay of cash in the amount of the cover price. Let us move units and never pause. Not only do I understand this, but I’ve done a great deal of market research. So today, after an in-depth comparative study of years, I’m proud to announce that I have identified each of the discrete author classifications (seven in all) that characterize contemporary publishing. I’ve done so, dear reader, in order to furnish you my own author bio in each of the seven variations! For the first time ever, the M. Allen Cunningham you prefer most can be yours, and you will, I trust, happily proceed therewith to your purchase of his latest title, The Honorable Obscurity Handbook. I am here to serve. Behold:
1)      The Author
M. Allen Cunningham is the author of two acclaimed novels, The Green Age of Asher Witherow and Lost Son, and the illustrated, limited-edition story collection Date of Disappearance. He is the co-founder of the cultural commentary blog Soul Shelter and the recipient of fellowships from the Oregon Arts Commission, Literary Arts, and Yaddo. Cunningham lives in Portland, Oregon.
2)    The Collegiate
        M. Allen Cunningham earned his MFA at the University of Long Walks and Artistic Struggle. The recipient of numerous trans-chronological fellowships, he has studied at Walden Pond with Henry Thoreau, in Northern California with John Steinbeck and Wallace Stegner, in Switzerland, Germany, and France with Rainer Maria Rilke, and in London with John Keats and William Shakespeare. He is a current Writer in Residence in the Blue Room at Powell’s Books, Portland, Oregon. He teaches writing to himself on a daily basis.

3)    The Everyman (aka The Working Stiff)
        M. Allen Cunningham has worked as a swimming instructor, a housepainter, a hospital purchasing agent, a file clerk, a commercial mortgage administrative assistant, a housepainter, a retail merchandiser, a copy-machine operator, a housepainter, a ranch caretaker, and a bookseller. He has delivered flowers in the middle of the day and newspapers in the dead of night, and he has painted houses. He’s lived in seven different apartments in six different cities and agrees that life, like housepainting, can be tough and you’ve got to be resilient. Through it all, he’s kept on writing.

4)    The Embellisher (aka The Personality)
        M. Allen Cunningham mastered the art of miming at nineteen months of age and later, a toddler runaway, supported himself as a sought-after street performer in Las Vegas. At seven he joined a cult in Delaware having to do with oven mitts, but upon his selection as the cult’s new Grand Master he elected to leave in order to devote himself to a prize career wrestling alligators. He is the founder of the Antarctic Thespian Society, is a nationally accredited porcupine-trainer, and has memorized Moby-Dick in its entirety.

5)    The Honored
        M. Allen Cunningham is President Emeritus of the American Academy of Words, Phrases, and Sentences. He is Chair of the Board of American Paragraphs, which he founded with Gore Vidal in 1958. He has received all of the highest literary honors, including the Eminently Finished Manuscript Prize, the Novelist’s Gratification Award, the Four-Hundredth Draft Literary Fellowship, and the Best Possible Book of All Books With This Particular Title Award. Just hand him the next prize, please. He will place it beside his Royal HH typewriter.
6)    The Wit
        M. Allen Cunningham gets a kick out of anagrams like Prenatal/Parental, often brings up Maslow’s Pyramid in spousal arguments, and wishes Occam’s Razor were considered more cutting edge. He lives in Portland, Oregon, in an old creaky house with fourteen cats but no mice, where he tinkers away on a Royal HH typewriter. He hopes you like the sweater vest he’s sporting semi-ironically in his author photo.  
7)    The Abbreviator
        M. Allen Cunningham is a writer.  
The Honorable Obscurity Handbook is now for sale from Atelier26 Books.