We were sorry to learn that the poet Bill Berkson has died at seventy-six. Berkson’s poems appeared in two issues of The Paris Review, from Winter 1968 and Fall 1970; he was also an accomplished art critic, contributing regularly to Artforum and Art in America. In a column for Harriet in 2013, he wrote of “poetry’s sensational impact”: Read More
Jenny Diski died yesterday. You might have discovered that fact if you happened to visit the London Review of Books, where Diski published essays, reviews, and blog posts for nearly twenty-five years. Or maybe, like me, you learned it on Twitter, where, hours before the obituaries arrived, old tweets of Diski’s, some of them years out of date, started swirling back into circulation. They joined a tumble of appreciative links and quotations, an accumulation whose size quickly disqualified the possibility of happy coincidence. This is how death announces itself now, at least for the artists who don’t rate a breaking-news alert on our phones: a surge of mentions on social media, a collective attempt to plug up the vacuum of absence with digital abundance. For a moment you think you’ve lucked into an outpouring of spontaneous enthusiasm. Finally! you tell yourself. We’re talking about her now! But then quickly enough the rational brain reasserts itself and begins working down the checklist: Are they handing out Nobels today? A genius grant, maybe? Was someone quoted by Beyoncé? No? Oh. Oh, no. Read More
Remembering Phife Dawg—a family perspective.
I lived in New York for the first time for the summer of 2006, between my junior and senior years of college. I was in love with words. I’d started writing, but I needed a job, so I entered book publishing. Two days a week, I read manuscripts in the magnificent but decaying Flatiron Building; at night, I worked the coat check at a white-tablecloth restaurant on Union Square for spending money (the perfect gig, as in the summer I had few customers, and spent most of my time reading). After my shifts at the restaurant, I took the 5 train uptown to Harlem with the typical collection of bleary-eyed late-night workers and drunk revelers, where I slept on a cot in the living room of my aunt’s two-bedroom apartment.
The apartment was modest but warmly decorated in pinks, oranges, and turquoises—colors that undoubtedly reminded her of Trinidad, her island home. Our sleeping arrangement mirrored that of my great-grandmother’s house. She’d lived till she was ninety-eight: a former caretaker who’d immigrated from a rural part of the island, she’d saved enough money to buy a semidetached three-bedroom house in Jamaica, Queens.
As several family members and friends before and after her did, my aunt, the poet Cheryl Boyce-Taylor, had stayed with my great-grandmother to get on her feet in America. She married young, had a child, and, after an amicable divorce, started dating women—a shock to our family of devout Seventh Day Adventists. When I was younger, my parents, in a typical move of the time, never discussed her sexuality. I only knew that she had many female friends, and after a while, sometimes they would be gone from her life in a way that was unusual for just friends. In that apartment, she finally gave me a name for what she was, speaking to me openly about her life like I was an equal, capable enough to understand and not to judge.
On the wall of the apartment hung a portrait of Malik Taylor, aka Phife Dawg of A Tribe Called Quest, who was her son and my cousin. She told me that when visitors came by, they would uniformly exclaim how much they loved him. Why do you have a picture of him? they’d ask, before dropping one of his verses, and she would answer with pride, He’s my son, her perfect white smile beaming. Read More
We’re away until January 4, but we’re re-posting some of our favorite pieces from 2015. Please enjoy, and have a happy New Year!
Remembering Lucia Berlin.
Lucia Berlin was not PC. And she was not New Age. She never talked to me about “recovery” or “karma.” We never spoke of the Twelve Steps. It was understood: she was sober now. No need to talk about it. Especially when she could write about it. Her stories, populated with alcoholics and addicts, are rendered with an empathy, disgust, and ruthless wit that echo the devastating circumstances of her own life. She’d moved from isolation to affluence to detox and back again, and Boulder, Colorado—inundated with massage therapists, extreme athletes, and vegans—was an unlikely place for her to end up. Yet she spent much of the last decade of her life there. First in a clapboard Victorian beneath the red rocks of Dakota Ridge; later, when illness nearly bankrupted her, in a trailer park on the outskirts of the pristine town.
News of the trailer depressed me until I managed a visit, finding her at ease amid the shabby metal homes stacked on cinder blocks. It’s likely Lucia would have felt more comfortable watching a bull be gored in a Mexico City arena or huddling among winos on a corner in Oakland than she ever felt at her first place on posh Mapleton Hill. But that was where we spent nearly all of our time together. Usually at her kitchen table. Read More >>
We’ve received word that the poet Christopher Middleton has passed away at eighty-nine. Guy Davenport called him “an incomparable stylist, a wry ironist, a philosopher of words. The only category in which he fits justly,” he added, “is that of poet.” The Review published Middleton throughout his career, beginning in our Summer–Fall 1960 issue, from which the poem below, “Edward Lear in February,” is taken. Read More
We were saddened to learn that Bill Becker, a longtime friend of The Paris Review, died this weekend at eighty-eight. As today’s obituary in the New York Times explains, Bill was “a theater critic and financier who acquired Janus Films with a partner in 1965, expanded its catalog of art-house and Hollywood classics and broadened their distribution to university audiences and home viewers.” A cineaste and a shrewd businessman, he was instrumental in bringing works by Renoir, Fellini, Bergman, Antonioni, Truffaut, and dozens of other filmmakers to new American audiences, a legacy his son Peter carries on as president of the Criterion Collection.
We knew Bill as a familiar face at our annual Spring Revel, and a generous, loyal benefactor. A close friend of George Plimpton’s, he was quick to champion the writers he admired—James Salter credited him with bringing A Sport and a Pastime to Plimpton’s attention. After George died, Mr. Becker continued to support the Review under each of its new editors. We join his colleagues at Janus Films and the Criterion Collection in offering our condolences and our gratitude.