In this interview with Publicity Director Stacey Lewis, Rebecca Brown talks about American Romances, her history with City Lights, and growing up "with Seattle."
American Romances is the winner of the Publishing Triangle Judy Grahn Award for Lesbian Nonfiction.
Listen to Rebecca Brown read from American Romances at City Lights at our podcast home page.
This collection of mordant, poignant and playful essays shows Rebecca Brown at the height of her imaginative and intuitive powers. A wry and incisive social and literary critique is couched in a gonzo mix of pop culture, autobiography, fiction, literary history, misremembered movie plots and fantasy that plays with the notion of what it is to be "American."
The impulse to tell our worst to a bunch of strangers in order to be accepted into the community has been fueling American self-hood for 300 years: There's a direct line from the Puritan confession narrative to all of our seamy, lurid cultural voyeurism. Whose stories are ours to tell and whose are not? Despite the collection's mostly playful and entertaining tone, what's being discussed quite seriously are the ways in which America has tried and failed to craft and tell its own story.
Fully embracing the theory of the literary Romance as a place where the probable opens up into the impossible, Brown lets her imagination run wild and envisions unlikely meetings and fantastical connections that span the course of America's cultural history: the Beach Boys' Brian Wilson and Nathaniel Hawthorne intersect as representatives of west coast hedonism and east coast Puritanism; Gertrude Stein presides over a same-sex religious movement; John Wayne and Shane stand in for the author's father who may or may not have been JFK's wing man during the Cuban Missile Crisis; a mad Finnish-American painter turns Seattle's Hooverville into heaven; H.G. Wells' Invisible Man reveals his/her secret sex life.
Praise for American Romances:
"Everything and nothing is sacred in Rebecca Brown's essays. Tongue, word, thought, and intellect all conspire in a free language love of living history, divination, sex, solitude and amusement. She is America's only real rock n' roll schoolteacher. Lessons layered with profundity and protracted parallels. Where old world religion, Gertrude Stein and Oreo cookies co-exist in an actual and mystic world of wonder."
–Thurston Moore, Sonic Youth
"If Rebecca Brown's talent for prose were any tighter, it would be a lyric – to a pop standard. An homage – a menage – to America, exposing what's laid bare in a comic tragic redux. I laughed till it hurt."
–Van Dyke Parks, composer/arranger
"Anyone who can get from the Eucharist, to a Necco Wafer, to the goo between the wafers, to the Inquisition to the goo between the legs of excited young women is a distant sibling of mine. She can dash and she can drift and she is not much interested in the really bad parts that might qualify as confession. She likes the float of quotidian living and I like to read the words upon which she floats."
–Dave Hickey, author of Air Guitar
Praise for Rebecca Brown:
"A strange and wonderful first-person voice emerges from the stories of Rebecca Brown."
—The New York Times
"Throughout her writing career, Brown has exhibited a rare sensitivity in delving into difficult, uncomfortable material—death, disease, imperfect bodies and minds . . . there's also humor and sensuality so intense it's visionary . . ."
—San Francisco Chronicle
"The straightforward prose style belies Brown's penchant for brilliant narrative, which at any moment can turn from the gentle and intimate to the violent and bizarre."
Watch a video of Rebecca Brown's reading for the Creative Writing Program's BathHouse Events Series at Eastern Michigan University.