King of Shadows
King of Shadows

Fiction Advocate

"Aaron Shurin's book of essays, King of Shadows, is bubbling over with stunning sentences. A poet and an essayist, the author of 11 books of poetry and prose and handfuls of awards, Shurin’s poetic sensibilities are everywhere in King of Shadows."--Nina Schuyler


"His luminous descriptive prose . . . injects lightness. . . . Shurin scatters several short pieces about gardens and flowers throughout the collection; these read like gorgeous, airy confections. Gradually these disparate essays coalesce into autobiography, and a picture--appealing in its completeness--emerges of Shurin as thinker, as poet, as member of the San Francisco gay community, and as human." —Katherine D. Stutzman

How do I love Aaron Shurin?
Sep 12, 2009

"1. His prose in King of Shadows, tiny essays of jeweled perfection.

2. His seamless transitions of unrelated ideas: a visit to the ballet blossoming into a meditation on Turgenev's "The Singers."

3. An entire essay inspired by the word 'abattoir.'

4. His generous love of his adolescent self in the chapter 'In the Bars of Heaven and Hell.' The way he maps San Francisco in the late 1960s onto his teenage desire. The hidden terror and enormous suppressed joy as he takes the bus to a backroom college student gay bar. The way he's forced to hide his 'shtetl hair' through an elaborate straightening regimen that is almost undone by the winds whipping through the city's financial district."

- Digestibles, Beginning With O

Pansy Poetics

"Consisting of twenty-two short essays, King of Shadows deals with nature, the writing life, San Francisco past and present, the intersection of growing older and queerness . . . Writing epiphanies are a predictable and dangerous thing, sometimes an outright lie. Shurin does something different. Unlike most memoirists, Shurin refuses to impose phony conflict, drama. He chases the aggressively banal moments of life. This sort of aggression causes Shurin to stand out from other memoirists." —Steve Fellner

Book Notes: King of Shadows by Aaron Shurin
Aug 8, 2009

"I discovered King of Shadows on a recent trip to San Francisco. Rooting through the shelves of City Lights Books, trying to limit the number of books I left the store with, I picked up Aaron Shurin's collection of essays. Thankfully, King of Shadows seemed to contain a little bit of everything that I craved on one plate. I desired nonfiction that I could pick up and set down as needed. As well as to read about San Francisco—something both literary and queer if possible.

Shurin's twenty-one essays range in topic from taking walks through San Francisco’s parks, the aesthetics of bars that no longer exist and a meditation on the flux of time and memory in connection to reading Proust."

- Jory M. Mickelson, Literary Magpie

Colorado Review

"Shurin's nonfiction writing owes much to his shared vocation as a poet, so lushness of language and a honed attention permeate each of the pieces in this book . . . I was practically sniffing the page to capture the essence of the sweet pea that Shurin promised would send tendrils up my hand if I let it hang still for too long."

—Elizabeth Robinson

Instinct Magazine
"'Birds are scary as shit, it's as simple as that.' So starts this lovely little book . . . Shurin finds beauty in small places: minnows swimming, a garden of flowers/a garden of children, the way we gay men connect and collide and—most gloriously—imagining himself into a scene from Proust."
—Jonathan Riggs

Gay and Lesbian Review

"Mainly known as one of the royal of the San Franciscan avant-garde poetry scene, Aaron Shurin has produced a collection of 21 short prose pieces, King of Shadows, which offers up some of the joys of reading a poet's prose. . . . The pieces Shurin assembles in King of Shadows range in tone from the ecstatic to the elegiac. . . . Throughout the book he shares epiphanic moments brought on by the natural world and he contemplates growing older as a gay man. . . . Shurin can be writing about his first introduction to ballet or the discovery that his father had a gambling problem, but he's always also considering the art of poetry."

—Christopher Hennessy

Lambda Book Report

"An astonishing precision of language pervades these twenty-one portraits of a mind's intercourse with the world . . . . Whether writing about sex, flowers, or home decor, sharp and surprisingly shaped perceptions tumble forth . . . . [T]his master miniaturist has no fear of passionate, even Proustian, excess . . . . Cherishing the complex specificities of language and experience is clearly Shurin's ambition and creed. In King of Shadows, he brilliantly succeeds."

—Robert Marshall

Mar 8, 2009

Aaron Shurin reading from his new book, King of Shadows at Lone Mountain in San Francisco, CA.

- New Lakes Audio

Aaron Shurin reads from King of Shadows
Sep 26, 2008

"Aaron Shurin reads 'In the Bars of Heaven and Hell' from his new book is King of Shadows, a collection of narrative essays, just out from City Lights. @ Timken Lecture Hall, California College of the Arts, 9/26/08."

- Dublit

Bay Area Reporter
"One of [San Francisco's] best local shining stars is Aaron Shurin, an impressive, prolific, home-based talent whose latest collection of essays is his best work to date . . . Because he is a skilled wordsmith, Shurin's sentences flow like poetry. Each sentence seems to be carefully constructed, as if the author pondered his word selections painstakingly, only to polish them further still on other revisions. Yet for all his literary spit-shining, Shurin retains a sense of humor that permeates many of his pieces . . . King of Shadows may be a small, compact book, but it's immensely durable in prose, substance, and feeling."
—Jim Piechota

The New Gay
"Shurin is a respected West Coast language poet. His first published book, The Night Sun, came out from gay liberationist publishing company Gay Sunshine in 1976, and over thirty years later, he has released what I believe is his first book of essays. The poetic essays in King of Shadows cover a lot of territory, but the longest essays and the centerpieces of the book address Shurin's development as a gay man. "King of Shadows" movingly recounts his participation in a high school production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, screwing up the courage to don ballet shoes in his role as Puck. “In the Bars of Heaven and Hell” does more in a few pages to show the paranoia of living as a gay man in the 1960s than any three more-traditional histories put together; its uplifting ending is earned."

Book Marks Top 10s of 2008
Dec 15, 2008

"Shurin's brief essays reveal a multitude of selves: the young student diving with sensual pleasure into sexual San Francisco; the homemaker enthralled by how sunlight adds sheen to his natural pine floors; the 'lovechild of Denise Levertov and Robert Duncan' dedicating his soul to the purity of poetry. Resonant fragments coalesce into a vibrant mini-autobiography."

- Richard Labonte

The Month of Bests
Dec 9, 2008

"King of Shadows by Aaron Shurin. Essays that take small moments and blow them up into epic lyrical insight. Or that take big transformations and focus them down to the telling details. My favorite piece is called 'In the Bars of Heaven and Hell' and it's about coming out in Berkeley in the late '60s. Every memoir should transport you like this. Buy it."

- K.M. Soehnlein

Aaron Shurin reads from his latest work
Jun 18, 2008
Listen to Aaron Shurin read from King of Shadows at Moe's Books in Berkeley.

K.M. Soehnlein

"Essays that take small moments and blow them up into epic lyrical insight. Or that take big transformations and focus them down to the telling details. My favorite piece is called "In the Bars of Heaven and Hell" and it's about coming out in Berkeley in the late '60s. Every memoir should transport you like this. Buy it."

Jun 6, 2008
"Catherine Brady and Aaron Shurin last night before his reading at City Lights of his new collection of autobiographical essays, King of Shadows, published by City Lights Books. (One of these essays appeared in ZYZZYVA.)" - Howard Junker, ZYZZYVASPEAKS

Michael Palmer
"King of Shadows is at once celebratory and elegiac as it presents a life informed and impassioned by poetry.  However unblinking, Shurin is less interested in confessional self-revelation than in the vertiginous mystery and complexity of Self during its passage through the daunting maze of experience.  He has produced a beautifully realized and intimately resonant work of discovery."

Robert Glück
"Aaron Shurin gets it so right in this collection of essays.  He slows down the heedless world and takes a good look.  Sometimes he jumps on the moment with predatory glee, other times he fashions wreaths of words with it.  I watch and admire these flights that are way over-the-top and yet scrupulous.  At some point his watchful explorations become autobiography and the whole scrupulous, over-the-top, magnificent man steps forward."

Publishers Weekly
“emotionally potent collection . . . conjures up an apparitional dreamscape of a very specific moment in American history — a new sense of personal and literary freedom, a new period of progressive political and literary ideas . . . one of Shurin's best.”
—Publishers Weekly, STARRED REVIEW

" Aaron Shurin is an elder statesmen of SF poetry, chronicling the vicissitudes of gay life in dense lyrical entanglements that flit between public and private registers. Having written a deeply moving memoir (Unbound: A Book of AIDS, 1997), the USF professor is no stranger to prose. His newest collection of autobiographical essays, King of Shadows, fills in much of what happened before and after the plague years: his high-school awakening to poetry and homosexuality via Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream; his awkward forays into San Francisco's pre-Stonewall bar culture; and his relationships with poetry mentors Robert Duncan and Denise Levertov."
Matt Sussman

San Francisco Chronicle
“In a collection of 21 autobiographical essays, Aaron Shurin explores his identity as both a poet and a gay man who has been living in the Bay Area since the 1960s. …In the humorous essay ‘Along the Way,’ Shurin describes a side effect of the writer's life. His narrative impulse is so strong that when he goes on walks, he can't help narrate events in the past tense even while they're happening. … Known for his unique ability to combine lyric poetry with postmodern experiments in language and form, Shurin explores ownership, and the subversion of its traditional role, throughout ‘King of Shadows.’… ‘The Dancers’ accomplishes all that a personal essay should, leaving the reader wiser for the experience. By juxtaposing a detailed description of Tchaikovsky's three-part ballet ‘Jewels’ with Turgenev's story ‘The Singers,’ Shurin seeps into the minds of the dancers…There is no question Shurin - director of the Master of Fine Arts in Writing Program at the University of San Francisco and author of 10 books of poetry and prose - is an exceedingly literate writer.”
—Meghan Ward

Midwest Book Review
"San Francisco is known for its large gay community, and King of Shadows is one gay man's reminiscence upon living in the city as a poet. With twenty one essays, each heartfelt, personal, and filled with emotion, King of Shadows is a clear look into a life lived out in the open, unafraid of society's homophobia. A strong pick for any personal, academic, or community library gay studies collection."

Aaron Shurin's King Of Shadows
Apr 25, 2008
"If the professor of pop could write as brilliantly as Aaron Shurin (co-director of USF's MFA in Writing program) he would quit his job next month & devote the rest of his life to writing fiction. Aaron has thought very deeply about the nature of words in the modern world. And he has a new book of essays just out, published by City Lights, called King of Shadows." - Professor of Pop

Book Marks, Seattle Gay News
"A memoirist honest enough to reveal that he can't sit down to write until he's made his bed is comfortably in confessional mode. In these 21 essays—an intimate charting to more than four gay decades—Shurin reveals a multitude of selves: the young student diving with sensual pleasure into sexual San Francisco; the homemaker enthralled by how sunlight adds exquisite sheen to his new natural pine floors; the 'lovechild of Denise Levertov and Robert Duncan,' dedicating his soul to the purity of poetry; and, in several of the essays, the reader relishing the perfect book on a perfect summer's day in the perfect vacation retreat. In one entry, he's cruising an attractive man in a café; in another, he's a silver-haired single man drinking alone in a bar where everyone else is 20 years his junior; in yet another, he's bringing poetry into the world of second-graders  who greet him joyously with 'Aaron! Yay! Poetry!' One by one, these resonant fragments—drawn from everyday life with a poet's delicate touch—coalesce into a vibrant mini-autobiography."
—Richard Labonte

Open Books: A Poem Emporium
"Like the flowers he describes with such savory accuracy, poet Aaron Shurin's essays gathered together make for a captivating bouquet, a compelling mix of autobiography and social and literary history and criticism. The pieces glide from the informative to the delightful to the touching, gracefully removing the ampersand that separates life & art. He writes as a voracious reader… and a canny observer of flora and fauna (humans included and himself in the bunch). His prose is often lyrical, at times rocking with iambic motion, perhaps not unusual for one smitten with Shakespeare at an early age…It's a pleasure to follow Shurin's attention, whether it's turned toward gay bars or birds or Proust. '[T]he poem's everyday agenda,' he writes, 'is to read the world's hidden text of correspondences.'  That seems to be his everyday agenda no matter what he's doing."