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About This Lish Dish

While some books acquired and edited by Gordon Lish during his time at Alfred A. Knopf (1978-1994) are canononical (and cannons of) American literature (Raymond Carver, Barry Hannah, Amy Hempel), there are hundreds that were equally great but were, for various reasons, forgotten and/or ignored by the general literati, known only to a small cult group of writers and readers — say, books by Michael Hickins, Ben Marcus, Raymond Kennedy, Leon Rook, Thomas Glynn, Anderson Ferrell, Michael Martone, Mary Robison, Christine Schutt  come to mind, and many many others. (Will you please suggest any we might not know, please…)

This blog fills the whole hole of that deficit. Yes, yes it does, and it does it well, we say.

This blog is also an extension of the book, Gordon Lish and His Influence on Contemporary American Literature by Michael Hemmingson (forthcoming, Routledge).

This blog will also take a look at recent titles from former Lish students and writers, like Dawn Raffel, Terese Svaboda, Peter Markus, Norman Lock, Daryl Scroggins, Cooper Renner, Gary Lutz, Yannick Murphy, etc.

This blog will also look at young writers and new journals that are influenced by Lish’s theory of fiction and the style of his writers, like New York Tyrant, Caketrain, Unsaid, Sleeping Fish, etc; and new voices with a Lish-bent Blake Butler, Tao Lin, Justin Taylor, Eugene Marten, Kevin Sampsell, etc.

This blog will also examine Lish’s novels, stories, and texts as well as what is said (or unsaid) about him in the press, past or present.

This blog will eventually discuss every issue of The Quarterly.

This blog will write you a postcard (see Derrida’s The Postcard on fragmented texts).

This blog will read your mind about your secret of secret thoughts on Lish.

This blog will touch your heart of hearts.

This blog is your friend.

This blog will save your life.

This blog wants your hawt first sentences.

This blog loves you.

This blog fondles you.

This blog will stab your brain via the eye.

This blog will murder you in the sandbox.

This blog will show you how (not) to write a novel.

This blog will edit 45% of your words.

This blog talks about talking about love.

This blog asks, “Since you are drinking from the bottle, are you a slut?”

This blog believes equally in monogamy and infidelity.

This blog is ambiguous.

This blog is good to fall asleep with, the page clear on your tablet.

This blog needs your support: talk about it, link it, blog about it.

Is this blog right, or is this blog right?

23 responses »

  1. Some typos. Unsaid, not Umsaid. Also, do you mean Eugene Marten? Never heard of Edward Marten.

  2. William Tester

    In 1988-90 Gordon guided me in weeding umpteen hundred pages of iambs, sprung rhythm, manic rant and fourteeners from a crate of prose poems Knopf would publish as Darling. He had a brilliant hand. Loved the man. Much is owed by me also for his work on my collection, Head, which Knopf passed on to Sarabande.

  3. Typos fixed! Thankee thankee hanky panky.

  4. Hi Wm Tester, what do you mean Knopf passed Head to Saraband? Didn’t it win their fiction competition, picked by judge Amy Hempel, your friend? Confused. 😀

  5. This going to be fun. This is going to give me bad dreams.

  6. Tao Lin, Justin Taylor and Blake Butler should not be included in your “new voices.” Not trying to be a hater, just trying to correct a mistake. They are all fine writers, but ask Lish about any of them sometime and see what he says.

  7. William Tester

    Ms. Boise, hello again! Believe we’ve met. Must say I’ve loved your work and much thanks for your very kind words. Yes, you’re absolutely right. I found myself fortunate, truly, to be chosen for The Mary McCarthy Prize for Fiction and to have Sarabande Books publish Head, my story collection. Sarabande ranks among the finest independent literary houses left in the country, and certainly as one of the classiest, thanks to Sarah Gorham and co. As to their most brilliant judge that sweet year, the inimitable and ever honorable Amy Hempel, oh snap! Boy, was I happy we had also met, ages passed (classes), and that she wasn’t one of the too, too, too many writers, editors, agents, journalists, publicists, MFA grads, fellow faculty (visiting or just down the hall), hosts of literary festivals, conference doyennes, reading groupies, Yaddo, McDowell or Suwannee summer scribes, publishing heiresses, benefactors and such, the kind Rosenthals, Getty’s, Albees and Steins with whom I’ve been ’embedded,’ as it were, or have more than broken bread beside over the last long decades (you, and only you, know who you are. And, well, we won’t kiss and tell.) Just know, Sandra, that on this silly stage, this crowded little world of ours (cash bar, for now), everyone but everyone it more than seems, soon comes to know just about every other one. So what, pray, is one to do but make the best of it, be judicious and honor the work, friend, foe, neophyte, fool or philistine. Be polite, stay gracious, have great compassion for the overlooked the lost and long suffering. Be true, modest and kind above all else, and write.

    • Sounds like a press release by a PR firm!

      But, Mr. Tester, first you state Knopf gave Sarabande the book, now you say you won the contest and it is just fine that your old friend, who knows your writing style, was the judge. Which is it?

      Sarabande Books clearly states in their guidelines …

      To avoid conflict of interest, students in a degree-granting program or close friends of a judge are ineligible to enter the contest in the genre for which their friend or teacher is serving as judge.


      In this case, you should have not been qualified, or recused yourself, or Hempel shoud have changed her choice when she found out her former classmate was in the running, and she probably knew your style.

      Unless this was all a fix to help an old friend out.

      This is why publishers with contests want to avoid the conflict of interest problem, you know…and why CCLMP has adopted an agreement on these matters, because it has been brought to light that some publishers start a contest to generate funds from entry fees to publish a book already chosen, either by nepotism or downright fraud.

      This is why one should be cautious of what contests one submits to and ask are they on the up and up.

      I liked HEAD, but the fact that you knew the judge on a friend basis, you were, by Sarabande guidelines, not supposed to enter, and they should have altered the decision or publioshed your book outside the contest.

      Do not take offense please, but you must admit it looks suspicuously rigged, and I am not the only one, I have seen a few questions arising about Sarabande online, that its contests are bogus and just a way to get funds for books already chosen.

  8. William Tester

    Wow, oh boy, delicious. Sui generis. Am cheered to hear you liked Head, and how very kind and thoughtfully put. Charmer. Sandra, dear heart, you had me at “PR firm” don’t you know? (Aren’t you something else.) Hey honestly, you know, this might almost be of some slight, winnowing interest–to us, maybe (the quickening thrill of vitriol, literary slights and fisticuffs among we outlaw types, your sweetly desired schadenfreude, the whole minor league, low rent badmouthing ‘vibe’) but I most sincerely doubt how anyone else could really care, or bare the sheer toxicity. Mendacity. Geeze Louise. Okay. All right, try as one may to remain civil in belles lettres. Please allow me to set this straight, this once, for record, to spell it out and mirror the lawyerly parsing, crikey.

    Ms. Amy Hempel, a canonical American author held in damn-near universal high regard, and I, were neither, never, were not now, not then–as you quoth, ‘students in a fucking degree-granting program’ or ‘close friends’ or touchy-wouchy or whatever you wish to ascribe. Sorry to disappoint! Actually, I’m not. You see, your comments about us, about Hempel and Sarah Gorham…about literary editors laboring in penury over the annual tons of dreck from thankless, tactless, soul-dead drudges, hacks, montebanks, poseurs and children, were written, well frankly, in just bad form. I’m sure you’ll have a promising future in publishing, such as it is. Again, thanks for your kind words about Head and good luck with your writings.

    Wait! Wow, right! Oh boy, now I remember where we met.

  9. Are you sure your last name isn’t Testy? You act like a child with his hand in a cookie jar and quickly trying to find a way to explain it, pointing fingers.

    You have been caught.

    Explain what you meant by Knopf giving your book to Sarabande. You wrote it here. You slipped.

    Look it is obvious some of these contests are rigged. For whatever reason, it is out and if not so long ago I would say Sarabande should give all entry fees back that year, for giving the award to a disqualified entrant.

    Then again, how many copies did it sell really and it is worth the effort?

    I just loathe these bogus nepotistic contests.

  10. William Tester

    Ms. Boise, kindly note that I have answered your literary query to the best of my knowledge. Again, thank you for your kind words about Head and good luck with your writing endeavors.

    [number unpublished by request]

    • We were going to stay out of this but Bill, take chill pill, friend. The excessive name-dropping and horn-tooting does not always put one in the best light, nor does the sarcastic and sardonic tone you adopt in the above responses … is it not more civil to just say hey you are wrong? We think Ms. Boise may be referring to the Andrson Ferrell post where we mention letters to Lish by Hempel that mention you and Ferrell in the class.

      We are reading DARLING right now and enjoying the heck out of its refined elegance. Any stories you have behind the book are most welcome.

  11. Saw Denis Donoghue a few weeks ago and of course GL arrived in the conversation and then I thought is Thomas Glynn still alive as he taught briefly at John Jay College CUNY and was telling me about being forced to change grades of students at Brooklyn College and even if he didn’t give permission they change them anyway

  12. I used to see Gordon on my messenger route for Maple Vail. Rick Whitaker was his front desk man… GL had a sort of expanded cubical as I remember..he always or Rick always gave me free books…I remember the huge piles of manuscripts around Rick’s desk. From agents from authors.. The sheer folly of submitting novels… I think I might have sent GL something but knew it woukd not work… I had the sense he wanted a follower.. I seemed not to fit… I also knew the George Garrett take on GL… But I have always known GL’s edited books and he reminded me of David Segal… Husband of Lore who died young but who had published even more adventerous books than GL and GL knew I knew this…

  13. Thanks for this blog. I look forward to reading more.

  14. thanks so much for this website

  15. Thoroughly enjoying the blog. Just discovered it. Fascinating, especially on Lish/Hannah. Will you discuss Lish’s relationship with Harold Brodkey (a famously difficult fellow)? Did Lish actually edit Brodkey? A few sources I’ve come across state that he worked with Brodkey, but Brodkey’s prose is so…well…’maximalist’ compared to the minimalism of Carver, Schutt, and most of the others that I remain skeptical.

    Thanks for your work.

  16. Brodkey’s Ceil is one of the greatest stories ever written… HB like GL were finally their own worst enemies… They destroyed by their every interview, statement any genuine acclaim, understanding… I interview and wrote about Brodkey for Newsday… Some day maybe our children will dissever himas they did Melville… Lish will take longer


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