On Becoming an American Writer

Essays and Nonfiction

Discover the unique mind and humane vision of an under-recognized American author. Encompassing themes of race, education, fame, law, and America’s past and future, these essays are James Alan McPherson at his most prescient and invaluable.

Born in segregated 1940s Georgia, McPherson graduated from Harvard Law School only to give up law and become a writer. In 1978, he became the first Black author to win the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. But all the while, McPherson was also writing and publishing nonfiction that stand beside contemporaries such as James Baldwin and Joan Didion, as this collection amply proves.

These essays range from McPherson’s profile of comedian Richard Pryor on the cusp of his stardom; a moving tribute to his mentor, Ralph Ellison; a near fatal battle with viral meningitis; and the story of how McPherson became a reluctant landlord to an elderly Black woman and her family.

There are meditations on family as the author travels to Disneyland with his daughter, on the nuances of a neighborhood debate about naming a street after Malcolm X or Dr. Martin Luther King, and, throughout, those connections that make us most deeply human—including connections between writer and reader. McPherson writes of his early education, “The structure of white supremacy had been so successful that even some of our parents and teachers had been conscripted into policing the natural curiosity of young people. We were actively discouraged from reading. We were encouraged to accept our lot. We were not told that books just might contain extremely important keys which would enable us to break out of the mental jails that have been constructed to contain us.”

The collection’s curator, Anthony Walton, writes, “In his nonfiction, McPherson was often looking for a way ‘beyond’ the morasses in which Americans find themselves mired. His work is a model of humanistic imagining, an attempt to perform a healing that would, if successful, be the greatest magic trick in American history: to ‘get past’ race, to help create a singular American identity that was no longer marred by the existential tragedies of the nation’s first 400 years. He attempted this profound reimagining of America while simultaneously remaining completely immersed in African American history and culture. His achievement demonstrates that an abiding love for black folks and black life can rest alongside a mastery of ‘The King’s English’ and a sincere desire to be received as an American citizen and participant in democracy. It is time for that imaginative work to be fully comprehended and for this simultaneously American and African American genius to assume a fully recognized place beside the other constitutive voices in our national literature.”

This is a collection is for any reader seeking a better understanding of our world and a connection to a wise and wickedly funny writer who speaks with forceful relevance and clarity across the decades.

On Becoming an American Writer is part of Godine’s Nonpareil imprint: celebrating the joy of discovery with books bound to be classics.

More to Say

Essays and Appreciations

As deeply rewarding as her fiction, a selection of Ann Beattie’s essays, chosen and introduced by the author. From appreciations of writers, photographers, and other artists, to notes on the craft of writing itself, this is a wide-ranging, and always penetrating collection of writing never before published in book form.

Ann Beattie, a master storyteller, has been delighting readers since the publication of her short stories in the 1970s and her first novel, Chilly Scenes of Winter. But as her literary acclaim grew and she was hailed “the voice of her generation,” Ms. Beattie was also moonlighting as a nonfiction writer. As she writes in her introduction to this collection, “Nonfiction always gave me a thrill, even if it provided only an illusion of freedom. Freedom and flexibility—for me, those are the conditions under which imagination sparks.”

These penetrating essays are stories unto themselves, closely observed appreciations of life and art. The reader travels with Ms. Beattie to Cedar Rapids, Iowa to learn about the legacy of the painter, Grant Wood, and his iconic painting American Gothic; to the famed University of Virginia campus with her husband, the painter Lincoln Perry; to Key West, Florida for New Years with writer and translator, Harry Mathews; to a roadside near Boston in a broken-down car with the wheelchair-bound writer Andre Dubus.

There are explorations of novels, short stories, paintings, and photographs by artists ranging from Alice Munro to Elmore Leonard, from Sally Mann to John Loengard. Whatever the subject, Ms. Beattie brings penetrating insight into literature and art that’s both familiar and unfamiliar—as she writes, “This, I think, is what artists want to do: find a way to lure the reader or viewer into an alternate realm, to overcome the audience’s resistance to being taken away from their own lives and interests and priorities.”

Ann Beattie’s nonfiction (originally published in Life, The New Yorker, The New York Times, and The American Scholar, among others) is a new way to enjoy one of the great writers of her generation. Readers will find much to love in this journey with a curious and fascinating mind.

More to Say is part of Godine’s Nonpareil imprint: celebrating the joy of discovery with books bound to be classics.

Darkness

Stories

Twelve stories of immigrants who navigate the ancestral past of India as they remake their lives—and themselves—in North America. These are stories of fluid and broken identities, discarded languages and deities, and the attempt to create bonds with a new community against the ever-present fear of failure and betrayal.

“The narrative of immigration,” Bharati Mukherjee once wrote, “is the epic narrative of this millennium.” Her stories and novels brilliantly add to that ongoing saga. In the story “The Lady from Lucknow,” a woman is pushed to the limit while wanting nothing more than to fit in. In “Hindus,” characters discover that breaking away from a culture has deep and unexpected costs. In “A Father,” the clash of cultures leads a man to an act of terrible violence. “How could he tell these bright, mocking women,” Mukherjee writes, “that in the darkness, he sensed invisible presences: gods and snakes frolicked in the master bedroom, little white sparks of cosmic static crackled up the legs of his pajamas. Something was out there in the dark, something that could invent accidents and coincidences to remind mortals that even in Detroit they were no more than mortal.”

There is light in these stories as well. The collection’s closing story, “Courtly Vision,” brings to life the world within a Mughal miniature painting and describes a light charged with excitement to discover the immense intimacy of darkness. Readers will also discover that excitement, and the many gradations of darkness and light, throughout these pages from the mind of a master storyteller.

Darkness is part of Godine’s Nonpareil imprint: celebrating the joy of discovery with books bound to be classics.

Midnights

A Year with the Wellfleet Police

Midnights is both a comedy of errors and an affectionate portrait of small-town police, those beleaguered souls charged with the task of keeping their neighbors in line….A reminder that those assigned to protect are often vulnerable and quietly heroic.”—Time

Funny, touching, revealing, here is the view from a rookie cop’s patrol car, during midnight shifts, in a (mostly) peaceful town. With a rich cast of characters, this is a classic memoir of the fear, surprises, excitement, embarrassment that comes with a protecting and serving a small community.

“When I was twenty-three years old, five months out of college, with a degree in music, and without any idea of what to do with myself, I took a job as a policeman in Wellfleet, Massachusetts,” so writes Alec Wilkinson. “Music, huh?” the police chief said during the job interview. “That’ll be a big help.” Wilkinson’s main qualification was familiarity with the town of 2,000 people from summers there growing up. Committing himself to a year wearing a uniform and carrying a gun, and with no training, Wilkinson was sent out to keep the peace, hoping nothing would happen.

There are high-speed chases and stopping drunk drivers, one of whom tries to set Wilkinson’s hair on fire. There are domestic squabbles. “The first six months were murder for me,” Wilkinson’s partner confides on his first night. “After that, when I found out the people I thought were my friends weren’t really my friends, I felt better off.” There is an attempted bank robbery. The teller convinces the robber that his haul ($300) is too much to carry around in cash. The robber is still listening to investment options when the police arrive.

Throughout there are conversations with his eight fellow officers who Wilkinson comes to respect and admire. “Nobody ever calls you when they’re behaving themselves,” one admits. “As a rule, you always get called when people are at their worst. It’s sad. It depresses me.” The job is often thankless. “Right now I work on the police force,” another officer says, “my wife stamps cans in the supermarket, and she makes more money than I do.”

This is experiential journalism at its most poignant and entertaining—and it launched the career of Alec Wilkinson: writer, interviewer, essayist, and author. This is for any reader looking for insight into the real lives of police officers, outside of large cities, across America. It is also for anyone looking for a marvelously engaging read.

Midnights is part of Godine’s Nonpareil imprint: celebrating the joy of discovery with books bound to be classics.

Bear Hibernating poster: “You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me”

Frameable and fun, this 12 x 18 inch poster by artist Andrea Wisnewski is ready for a wall near you. The detailed, colorful art depicts a bear set for the chilly nights of winter!

Mailed in its own tube, this poster also makes a great gift for a reader in your life—including you.

Also available:

Owl’s Library poster: “There is no friend as loyal as a book”

Frameable and fun, this 12 x 18 inch poster by artist Andrea Wisnewski is ready for a wall near you. The detailed, colorful art depicts a bibliophile owl while a cat looks on.

Mailed in its own tube, this poster also makes a great gift for a reader in your life—including you.

Also available:

Cat poster: “I prefer to read”

Frameable and fun, this 12 x 18 inch poster by artist Andrea Wisnewski is ready for a wall near you. The detailed, colorful art depicts a book-loving dog, cozy on a blustery day.

Godine is a company of readers. We publish books we want to read ourselves and then can’t wait to share. This poster, the first we’ve created for our annual holiday catalog, represents our core values and, we suspect, yours as well.

Mailed in its own tube, this poster also makes a great gift for a reader in your life—including you.

Also available:

Remainders of the Day

A Bookshop Diary

“Another rollicking account of running The Bookshop . . . equal parts preposterous and profound, sure to prove irresistible to fellow bibliophiles.”
—Publishers Weekly

New from the author of Confessions of a Bookseller and Seven Kinds of People You Find in Bookshops, another hilariously grumpy year behind the counter at The Bookshop. Through diaries of daily life, Shaun Bythell has created an endearing and cozy world for booklovers, a warm and welcome memoir of a life in books.

The Bookshop in Wigtown, Scotland is a book lover’s paradise, with thousands of books across nearly a mile of shelves, a real log fire, and Captain, the portly bookshop cat. You’d think that after twenty years, owner Shaun Bythell would be used to his quirky customers by now. Don’t get him wrong, there are some good ones among the antiquarian porn-hunters, die-hard train book lovers, people who confuse bookshops for libraries, and the toddlers just looking for a nice cozy corner in which to wee. He’s sure there are some good ones. There must be . . .

Filled with the pernickety warmth and humor that has touched readers around the world, stuffed with literary treasures, hidden gems, and incunabula, Remainders of the Day is a warm and welcome memoir of a life in books.

If you’re new to Shaun Bythell’s bestselling series, this is a great place to start. If you’re one of Bythell’s legion of fans, welcome back to The Bookshop.

CRITICAL PRAISE

“Delightful . . . the amusements are endless . . . set time aside for Remainders of the Day.”
Foreword Reviews (starred review)

“A charming look at a small-town bookstore, its owner, and the people he meets . . . Bythell’s dry humor and skeptical view of humanity make for a very funny take on his business.”
Library Journal

“Bythell’s understated wit is at its best in his observations of the many quirky people who find their way into The Bookshop . . . the author’s thoughtful eccentricity makes for entertaining reading. A refreshingly human narrative.”
—Kirkus Reviews

“What comes through strongly is Shaun Bythell’s obvious love of books and affection for those who spend their lives reading them, buying them—or giving him material for his next volume.”
The Guardian

Presence of Absence

“Tantalizing . . . some of the most beautiful prose of Van Booy’s oeuvre . . . The Presence of Absence runs blood-rich with declarations that make you inhale sharply.”
Washington Post

As a young writer lies dying, he has one last story to tell. A tale of devotion and a meditation on what might lie beyond death, this is Simon Van Booy at his visionary best.

Max Little is bedridden in a New York hospital. “Language is a map,” he reflects, “leading to a place not on the map.” As the hours slip away, Max recalls both the moving and ordinary moments of his life with his beloved wife Hadley, unsure of what lies ahead.

Simon Van Booy is not only a master storyteller but a writer of fiction rich with philosophical insights into things both mapped and undiscovered. In this innovative novel infused with poetic clarity and graced with humor, he asks the reader to find beauty—even gratitude—in the cycle of birth and death.

The Presence of Absence is a deeply affecting story that parts the darkness to reveal what has been just out of sight all along.

CRITICAL PRAISE

“Rich in setting and emotion. As ever with Van Booy, the reader is in good hands.”
Publishers Weekly

“In Simon Van Booy’s extraordinary novel The Presence of Absence, each well-wrought sentence builds upon the next, taking us deeper into Max Little’s life with staggering lucidity . . . A mind-bending, affecting story that breaks the heart open with startling clarity.”
New York Journal of Books

ADVANCE PRAISE 

The Presence of Absence amazed me. It’s so deftly, delicately written, it seems as if real breeze is blowing—this, in the context of serious, sad subject matter. It’s a perfect integration of form and content, though who would have imagined it this way except Simon Van Booy? Reading it made me think about the many things hidden in and from our lives that appear only when they do. It’s a moving, brilliant book.”
Ann Beattie, author of A Wonderful Stroke of Luck

The Presence of Absence is impossible to resist. Consistently insightful, symphonic in the music of its thought. A captivating fable that echoes in the mind long after the book is finished.”
Ilya Kaminsky, author of Deaf Republic 

The Presence of Absence is unfaltering in its tenet that if we’re here for nothing else, it’s to keep others going. That who we are is determined by our part in the ongoing story of others, and that we should celebrate that. Or rather, we must.”
Cynan Jones, author Stilliside

Seeing Like an Artist

What Artists Perceive in the Art of Others

“Beguiling and informative”—Wall Street Journal

Learn to see art as an artist does. Discover how a painting’s composition or a sculpture’s structure influence the experience of what you’re seeing. With an artist as your guide, viewing art becomes a powerfully enriching experience that will stay in your mind long after you’ve left a museum.

A visit to view art can be overwhelming, exhausting, and unrewarding. Lincoln Perry wants to change that. In fifteen essays—each framed around a specific theme—he provides new ways of seeing and appreciating art.

Perry is a disarmingly charming tour guide who makes art approachable and accessible. Along the way, he weaves in personal stories, from his own artistic journey as a painter and sculptor to the days when he could still spend nights in his beaten-up VW Bus in the Louvre’s parking lot.

Drawing heavily on examples from the European traditions of art, Perry aims to overturn assumptions and asks readers to re-think artistic prejudices while rebuilding new preferences. Included are essays on how artists “read” paintings, how scale and format influence viewers, how to engage with sculptures and murals, as well as glimpses into some of the great museums and churches of Europe.

Seeing Like an Artist is for any artist, art-lover, or museumgoer who wants to grow their appreciation for the kingdom of art.

PRAISE

“Go, look, love! A painter’s memoir of traveling to see great paintings with his own eyes becomes a passionate argument for the value of personal encounters with art….Beguiling and informative…Mr. Perry advises each of his readers to ‘create your own Grand Tour’ of the kingdom of art….this guidebook is obligatory.”Wall Street Journal

“Perry covers ‘how certain paintings and sculpture were made’ in his conversational debut, a convincing ‘plea to look closely.’ Across 15 essays, Perry combines memoir and art criticism . . . ‘Reading Paintings’ is a masterclass in technical components including color, shape, and what Perry calls velocity, or the speed with which the viewer is ‘asked to read through the fictional space of the picture’ . . . his guidance is well delivered: ‘I’ll try to evoke what I’ve come to love not because I believe it’s what you should love, but, rather, because I hope my enthusiasm might inspire you to find what you love.’ Budding art aficionados, take note.”
Publishers Weekly

“Lincoln Perry has written an irresistibly readable, companionable, and quotable artist’s memoir in this Grand Tour of commentary on museums (primarily European) and artists as varied as Rodin, Picasso, Corot, Bruegal, Veronese (the ‘group figure narrative’), Bernini, Courbet, R.B. Kitaj, Masaccio and Masolino, Rubens, Pollock, and Rothko. There is no substitute for seeing art ‘in situ,’ as Perry tells us, but accompanying this ideal observer, a practicing artist with the sharp, sympathetic eye of a fellow craftsman, is an exhilarating experience.”
Joyce Carol Oates, author of Babysitter

“So much writing about art seems like useless noise—abstract, pretentious, gassy. This is not that. Lincoln Perry takes us on a journey, showing us what he sees and how he sees, and it’s wonderful. There is revelation on every page.”
James Gleick, author of Time Travel: A History

 “Lincoln Perry writes so clearly and sees everything in a state of wonder. His visual experience embraces ancient Greece, the Renaissance, African and Asian art, Modernism. He finds the abstractionist in Michelangelo and the storyteller in Picasso. No one knows how to cite quotations better than he. He has looked into museums all over the world and literally lived in a camper next to the Louvre. He is a wonderful companion on the page and an unintimidating expert: this book will open your eyes.”
Edmund White, author of A Previous Life

Late Wonders

New & Selected Poems

“Wesley McNair is a kind of Chekhov of American poetry.”
—Ted Kooser, Pulitzer Prize winner and U. S. Poet Laureate

With a plain-spoken tenderness, Wesley McNair’s story-like poems celebrate the dreamers and the misfits, the small but hard-earned triumphs of everyday life. This career-spanning collection brings together his very best poems from the past four decades alongside his newest poems.

Since the publication of his first book nearly forty years ago, McNair has earned a reputation as an intimate observer and a poet of place—in these lucid, far-ranging poems, he proves his empathy and sense of place are endless. “Whole lives,” wrote Donald Hall of McNair’s work, “fill small lines.” He is truly, as Philip Levine wrote, “One of the great storytellers of contemporary poetry.”

Late Wonders: New & Selected Poems includes “The Long Dream of Home” the complete trilogy of McNair’s masterful, long narrative poems written over the last thirty years: “My Brother Running,” “Fire,” and “Dwellers in the House of the Lord.”

This is a collection for anyone who believes mixing a little sorrow and little comedy makes for poetry that moves the heart.

CRITICAL PRAISE

“At 81, Wesley McNair is writing the best poetry of his life—poetry uniquely capable of, and interested in, addressing our larger moment.”
Los Angeles Review of Books

“McNair’s poems are just sharp enough to open our eyes anew—and just smooth enough for us to think such wisdom arrived by grace alone. His work is melodic without being singsong; it is both sanguine and realistic.”
—Nick Ripatrazone, The National Review

“Not all poets are storytellers, not even close, but all of them wish they were, wish they had a better understanding of how words and images bind spells. Wesley McNair is the author of nine collections of stories in the shape of poems.”
Foreword Reviews

Late Wonders is the book to go to for either an introduction or a summation of one of Maine’s most prominent, skilled poets of the last fifty years.”
Kennebec Journal

ADVANCE PRAISE 

“We live in an age of rant, or of merely clever poems written by men and women who want to be loved for being amusing. Wesley McNair, though, quietly dares to tell ‘the stories that aren’t so funny.’ His poems are populated with people who still know one another and their circumstances. He doesn’t stand outside this neighborhood of making, but is an intimate part of it. I have relied on his craft and his vision all my adult life, and still can’t get enough. Late Wonders is as close to mastery as one is likely to get in this life.”
Samuel Green, author of Disturbing the Light

“For forty years, Wesley McNair has made gorgeous, sorrowing, wise, conversational, earthborn poems, creating his own narrative idiom. To the family—poor, rural, struggling in tough economic and social circumstances—he brings compassion and humor, forging dynamic throughlines across books and poems. The poet’s evocations yield unforgettable portraits of grit and failure, courage and resilience. Lovers of McNair’s poems and those new to them will cherish this profound collection.”
Robin Becker, author of The Black Bear Inside Me

“Wesley McNair’s home-spun stories seem to turn quietly into poems as they go along. They faithfully chronicle everyday rural life while touching on all the basic human themes. Late Wonders is a generous gathering, capstone of McNair’s career in poetry, and proof that he has always been in for the long haul.”
Billy Collins, author of Whale Day: And Other Poems

“There is a heft in Wesley McNair’s work, one built of well-observed lives of ordinary people—though in these poems, no one’s life is merely ordinary. Late Wonders presents stories that contain the stuff of great literature: epic choices, dangerous compromises, as well as the tendernesses of the everyday. With a fascination for all humansfrom small town philosophers to Walmart shoppers on their scooters to Charlton Heston as Christ—McNair sets the stakes high. He asks us to consider what life doesn’t deserve attention and justice, doesn’t worry the fine line between love and despair.”
Connie Voisine, author of The Bower

“Wesley McNair asks disarmingly in this abundant retrospective, ‘Would it matter if I told you people live here?’ Because it matters—and we matter—to McNair, he has become our great poet of American tenderness and loneliness. Amidst our general silence on the wounding of class, McNair has made that wounding—his own and others’—his theme, and so given us back an America we have all but thrown away. He has done this from a ‘stubborn allegiance to the heart,’ with deep love and respect for our common story as it is and not as it’s falsified in advertising, politics, and popular culture. Early and late, Wesley McNair’s democratic and generous body of work is a wonder.”
Thomas R. Smith, author of Storm Island

“Wesley McNair writes that early in his life as a poet he ‘already sensed the importance America would have in my future work.’ Indeed, the America he so thoroughly imagines and generously shares in these striking and compassionate poems is both surprisingly familiar and unlike any to be found anywhere else in American poetry. It’s a rural America that’s often hidden from view, but in McNair’s story we find the America we all live in, one fashioned out of endless striving, sorrow, and love for what’s best and most lasting in our intimate and collective selves. Yes, finally, it’s a love story, as new and ancient as our capacity to wonder, and praise.”
Philip Schultz, author of The Wherewithal

Fleurs du Mal

Bilingual Edition

Charles Baudelaire’s 1857 masterwork, translated into English by acclaimed poet Richard Howard.

Scandalous in its day for its portrayals of sex, love, death, the corrupting and oppressive power of the modern city and lost innocence, Les Fleurs Du Mal / The Flowers of Evil remains powerful and relevant for our time. American Book Award Winner. , along with the original French text.

In “Spleen et idéal,” Baudelaire dramatizes the erotic cycle of ecstacy and anguish—of sexual and romantic love. “Tableaux Parisiens” condemns the crushing effects of urban planning on a city’s soul and praises the city’s anti-heroes including the deranged and derelict. “Le Vin” centers on the search for oblivion in drink and drugs. The many kinds of love that lie outside traditional morality is the focus of “Fleurs du Mal” while rebellion is at the heart of “Révolte.”

The voice of Baudelaire lives in this masterful translation.

(NOTE: An English-only edition, The Flowers of Evil, is available at the link to the left.)

Richard Howard, generally esteemed as the finest American translator from the French of the postwar era, offers a new version of this masterpiece. It is the English edition to acquire.
The Washington Post

Baudelaire revoiced…Howard’s achievement is such that we can be confident that his Flowers of Evil will long stand as definitive, a superb guide to France’s greatest poet.
The Nation

Readers of English do not have to take Baudelaire on faith any longer. For the first time he is present among us, vivid and surprisingly intact, in these fine translations.
New York Times Book Review

A deft and patient new translation of Les Fleurs Du Mal…Howard, it seems to me, has done what he has set out to, has given us, in English and in verse, a Baudelaire both immediately recognizable and impressively varied…It is a considerable achievement.
New York Review of Books

A magnificent achievement…should be the English version for a long time to come.
Booklist

Not until now has there been an edition of the entire work which successfully captures the distinctive voice of Baudelaire…The level of success among 151 lyrics is so high as to guarantee that Richard Howard’s will be the definitive translation in the foreseeable future.
Boston Globe

[An] intelligent responsiveness to the poem’s meaning informs almost every translation in this volume.
New Republic