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A Message From Michael Cunningham: Electric Lit

abstract:Why does history remember some novels, and forget others? Okay, because most novels are forgettable. But there are some, a handful or two, that brush up against greatness itself, and yet don’t seem to get a ticket on the literature train. Hence, Glenway Wescott’s The Pilgrim Hawk.

I’m urging you to experience something like what I did, in consenting to read an obscure novel, an experience that involved not only the discovery of the novel itself but the attendant realization that the world is host to such novels—call them the “invisible classics.” Call them “Canon B.” It makes for a richer, more fabulous sense of what might be out there, beyond the titles one read (or pretended to have read) in college. - Signed,
Michael Cunningham, Electric Literature

Electric Literature is an e-magazine put together by a core of literary minded folks based out of Brookline, NY. Not only are they at the center of emerging writers' primordial goo, they offer treasures like this as tasty inducements to broaden membership at nominal charges.

Click on their link and join the party. Often in our book group when members can't decide between books, we ask the host to "read the first paragraph of the first chapter". Here is the first tantalizing paragraphs of Pilgim's Hawk...

NOW CULLEN HAD RISEN and was standing at his wife’s elbow, shaking his finger at the falcon teasingly. I thought that the bird’s great eyes showed only a slight natural bewilderment; whereas a slow sneer came over his face and he turned pale. It was the first revelation I had of the interesting fact that he hated Lucy.

He would willingly have sacrificed a finger tip in order to have an excuse to retaliate, I thought; and I imagined him picking up a chair or a coffee table and going at her with smashing blows. What a difference there is between animals and humans! Lucy no doubt would be disgustingly fierce when her time came; but meanwhile sat pleasantly and idly, in abeyance. Whereas humanity is histrionic, and must prepare and practice every stroke of passion; so half our life is vague and stormy make-believe.

  • Electric Literature Website
  • Literary Review of Books
  • Michael Cunningham's Website


    September 26, 2012
    — Here is an excerpt from Cunningham's conversation with the editor who publishes this book. It serves as a kind of behind-the-scenes look at how publishers who seek to revitalize a book that deserves attention (and a new cover, re-print at their expense) does it.

    One summer day several years ago, I got a call from Edwin Frank, editor of The New York Review of Books Classics, asking if I’d like to write the introduction to a new edition of Wescott’s The Pilgrim Hawk.

    Edwin told me that The Pilgrim Hawk was surprisingly good. Possibly even great. I told him I’d never heard of it.

    He assured me that hardly anyone had, which was a crime. Which was why he wanted me to write the introduction.

    I confess that I thought, but didn’t say, If it’s that good, why doesn’t anyone know about it? Which is, of course, precisely how the sentence of obscurity, once imposed upon a book, is hard to get reversed.

    What I said was, Thanks for asking. But I’d rather write novels than introduce them. Edwin told me that the book was short. Quite short. Read-it-in-a-couple-of-hours short. I hesitated. He moved in. He asked if he could send me a copy, just so I could take a look at it, no strings attached. I told him he could.

    The book arrived a few days later. I knew, by the time I’d read its opening page, not only that I’d write the introduction, but that it would be an honor.



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