Wednesday, March 26, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-9893023-2-6
Retail Price: $12.00 on sale now for $10.00
116 pages 
6"x6" trade paperback 
Learn more HERE

Thursday, March 20, 2014

APPEARING APRIL 2014 in trade paperback:
 Vol.2 in the Atelier26 Samizdat Series

The Flickering Page: The Reading Experience in Digital Times
Three Guided Chapters (and a Preface) by M. Allen Cunningham
with 24 illustrations by Nathan Shields

the jacket copy:

Are physical books merely old media in need of an update?

What characterizes the electronic reading experience versus the reading of print? How significant are the differences?

As our reading media change, how will our reading and writing methods change? What effects might this have on our literature and our interactions with information overall?

A provocative casebook for our digital times, The Flickering Page is designed to jumpstart in-depth dialogue about the historical, cultural, civic, and scientific implications of a mass shift in reading methods. Originating in M. Allen Cunningham's ongoing work with the Oregon Humanities Conversation Project, arrestingly illustrated by artist Nathan Shields, this small volume weaves together some of the most cogent thought of the past fifty years, urging readers to consider anew -- and pose for themselves -- the many questions about our technological revolution that remain far from settled. 

the contents:
-a preface: Five Characteristics of an "E-book World"

-chapter 1: The Technology of Individualism: How Print Helped Shape the Renaissance
          Guide: Marshall McLuhan, author of Understanding Media and The Gutenberg Galaxy

-chapter 2: Technology & Ideology: Why Our Tools Are Never Neutral
          Guide: Neil Postman, author of Amusing Ourselves to Death and Technopoly

-chapter 3: Neuroplasticity: What Do a Story from Ancient Greece and Decades of Brain Research Have in Common?
          Guides: Socrates; Nicholas Carr, author of The Shallows

-appendix: some more key questions about e-books; more for reflection and discussion

ISBN: 978-0-9893023-2-6
Retail Price: $12.00 on sale now for $10.00
116 pages
6"x6" trade paperback 


Monday, March 10, 2014

Coming Very Soon

Volume 2 in the Atelier26 Samizdat Series.

6"x6" trade paperback,
 with 24 arresting illustrations by Nathan Shields. 

More info momentarily...

Monday, February 24, 2014

New Book Features Interview About M. Allen Cunningham's Lost Son

The new book Truthful Fictions: Conversations with American Biographical Novelists, out this month from Bloomsbury, includes a lengthy interview with me about my writing process for my second novel, Lost Son, which novelizes the life of Rainer Maria Rilke. 

A snippet from my interview with the book's editor Michael Lackey can be read below. But all the conversations in this volume fascinate and inspire, and I'm pleased to join the company of numerous other novelists whose work I greatly respect: Julia Alvarez, Russell Banks, Madison Smartt Bell, Michael Cunningham, Anita Diamant, Bruce Duffy, Ron Hansen, Sherry Jones, Rebecca Kanner, Kate Moses, Joyce Carol Oates, Lance Olsen, Jay Parini, Joanna Scott, and Edmund White.

Lackey: What’s the difference between [the] especially good [Rilke] biographies and your novel?

M. Allen Cunningham: I think in part it’s this dual dimension in Lost Son, in which Rilke’s story is constantly overlaid by a more personal story of this figure in the literary future dialoguing with this ghost. Certainly, there are informational things to be found in Lost Son that can be obtained from the factual record too. Readers will come away from my novel knowing a lot about the factual circumstances of Rilke’s life. But Rilke’s story as fiction, as this relentlessly complex human narrative that is sensual in detail, poetic in perspective, intimately imagined, and aesthetically configured as a series of rhyming biographical events — that amounts to a contribution to the imaginative record concerning Rilke. I think that’s something worth making special note of in any discussion about biographical fiction. With any life-story that’s been around for some time, that’s been passed along in various forms down a few generations, we develop a historical record and, alongside that, we develop a complementary imaginative record, a body of understanding that is somewhat folkloric — disarming, alluring, complicating — in its effects. Which is not to say that this imaginative record is always necessarily unfactual. In the case of good biographical novels, it often cleaves very closely to facts while taking logical imaginative liberties. I can think of any number of serious biographical novels that contribute greatly to the imaginative record — DeLillo’s Libra, about Lee Harvey Oswald, comes immediately to mind, and so does Brian Hall’s I Should Be Extremely Happy in Your Company, about Lewis and Clark and Sacagawea. This imaginative record is something to value in itself, because it exemplifies mind meeting mind aesthetically across time — that is, in the most complex and characteristically human way. We should value the imaginative approach as well, however, for the reason that such an approach can actually contribute to the factual record. These things intersect and interrelate and enrich each other.  

Order Truthful Fictions HERE.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014


How aptly dispiriting, while reading the praise for Jenny Offill's intriguing new novel The Dept. of Speculation as compiled by Offill's publisher, the enshrined Alfred A. Knopf, to note the following:
“If Rainer Maria Rilke had written a novel, it might look something like this . . . Lyrical . . . Philosophically rich . . . Moments of literary experimentation worthy of Virginia Woolf.” —Kirkus 
As it happens, this shriek-inducing literary blunder originates not with some meagerly paid, poorly read Kirkus reviewer, as the review quote would suggest. On the Kirkus site one may read the original sentence untrimmed: 
If Rainer Maria Rilke had written a novel about marriage, it might look something like this...
So it is the editorial and publicity staff of Alfred A. Knopf who have never heard of Rilke's The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge that defining work of modernism. One may hope that they know who Rilke is, though one has cause for doubt.

Alfred A. Knopf, let us reflect, has been the publisher of John Updike, Frederick Busch, Cynthia Ozick, Cormac McCarthy, Toni Morrison, Jayne Anne Phillips, and John Cheever. Would such an aliterate goof have passed muster at the Knopf of old? Times have changed, we know, and in-house standards are not so...uh, literary anymore. Bertelsmann, &etc. 

Shall we discuss what's wrong with the New York model of conglomerate publishing?

Thursday, January 09, 2014

Interview with a Recluse

A new reading of my work entitled "Interview with a Recluse."

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

In Lieu of a "Year-End List"

I answered a few questions for Oregon Humanities recently. While the inevitable spate of year-end "Best of" lists from the literary world get me dyspeptic, I can understand the urge to mark the calendar's closing with recommendations and anecdotes. For our purposes here, let this little Q&A stand.

What book did you read last year that you've recommended other readers read right away?

Madness, Rack, and Honey by Mary Ruefle — Published last year by Seattle’s incredible indie wellspring Wave Books, Madness, Rack, and Honey is by far one of the most impressive, inspiring books I’ve read this year, or perhaps ever. Collecting fourteen gloriously idiosyncratic essays by Ruefle, an accomplished poet and teacher, this book is never theoretical or academic. Ruefle’s mind is thoroughly alive to the vivid pleasures and discoveries of reading, and her means of communicating her enthusiasms are ingenious. I’d call Madness, Rack, and Honey indispensable for anyone who cares for the art and experience of literature, and anyone who wishes for a broader, more constant conversation about it.

What book or books are you looking forward to curling up with this winter?

Alain de Botton’s Art as Therapy, Annie Dillard’s An American Childhood, Sarah Hall’s The Electric Michelangelo, Dag Hammarskjöld’s Markings, Nicholas Roe’s new biography John Keats, W.G. Sebald’s Austerlitz, John Updike’s Self-Consciousness.

Where do you write? Is it a single space? What does it look like?

For my workspace I’ve refurbished a tool shed in my backyard. It’s a kind of micro Cape Cod with rough, yellow-painted cedar sides and moss-covered, tarpaper roofing. There’s a small colony of sparrows in the eaves and, seasonally, bees in some exterior chinks — both of which lend the place a healthy atmosphere of industry. Inside, it’s all file boxes, stacks of paper, and bookshelves overstuffed with around 400 volumes, nearly half of which (to echo Thoreau) I wrote myself. There’s an L-shaped IKEA desk, a green-keyed Royal HH typewriter, circa 1960 (a boon to my process), and, on index cards tacked or taped up everywhere, hand-copied quotations meant to goad and inspire. A favorite of late comes from John Berger’s book Here Is Where We Meet:  
“You put something down and you don’t know immediately what it is. It has always been like that. ... All you have to know is whether you’re lying or whether you’re telling the truth, you can’t afford to make a mistake about that distinction any longer.”

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Drone Resistance: Why Buying Books from Your Local Indie Rather than from an Online Retail Juggernaut Makes Sense

Inklings Bookshop, Yakima WA

As noted in far too many media channels, a certain monolithic online retailer recently announced its long-term "plans" for same-day delivery by drone. 
(For a consideration of why this prospect — and all the attention paid to it — is downright silly, see Kate Messner on the failure of journalism. Moreover, may we all appreciate the aliterate irony operating at Amazon HQ by recalling the role of drones in Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451.) 

Shelf Awareness recently shared the above snapshot from Yakima Washington's Inkling's Bookshop. It's a real drone, and it now hangs above the store's front registers. Inkling's owner Susan Richmond told Shelf Awareness that the sinister machine serves

"as a conversation starter for our smart, independent employees who are far from drones. We have 12 employees on our payroll who live in the community, support the economy and pay taxes and are excellent at helping customers face to face." 

She added that the store is also using the drone "to highlight the fact that 95% of the books we order every day are in the store the next day around noon and the whole experience for our customer is bracketed by delightful exchanges with real human beings every step of the way."

As for Amazon, by now we know that its propounded fealty to "The Customer" is its justification for every inhumane, thuggish, monopolistic, and openly creepy move it makes (e.g. the drone thing). 

Ethics and fair-play be damned, the Customer and The Customer's happiness are everything.  

Well, an all-consuming loyalty to The Customer may sound fine in itself, but in this case, if inhumanity, thuggishness, monopolistic actions, and creepiness do not make us think better, let us bear in mind that  
1) we are bound to live more and more by the rules of whomever we enrich,
2) this particular mega retailer has repeatedly demonstrated a rapacious desire to wreak fundamental changes both cultural (e.g., controlling the publishing landscape thanks largely to the data accumulated through e-reading over the shoulders of its device owners) and economic (e.g., predatory pricing and tax evasion).
Amazon may boast that its prospective use of drones is simply a further expression of its benevolent regard for The Customer, but for people everywhere a claim so outrageous ought to prompt some essential questions. For instance: 
Do I see myself as first and foremost a customer? Or as nothing else?
How many people would see themselves this way?
Do I see my neighbors this way?
We are all much more than customers. We are citizens, artists, community members, mothers and fathers, teachers, tax-payers, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Jews, and Hindus, and as such we can recognize that there are greater, more enduring values than rock-bottom pricing, short-term “customer satisfaction,” and, well, the blithe acceptance, in service to these things, of the invasion of drones into our neighborhoods.

(Deep breath!)

Anything that impinges upon the richness of our shared experience as a citizenry, as artists, as neighbors in a community inside local, regional, and national cultures — anything that serves to deplete these meaningful identities and dilute or pollute our common experience in order to render us mere “customers,” is a form of cultural and economic tyranny, and calls for resistance at once personal, mindful, and civic.

In this case, what better form of resistance than to visit your local indie, where you’ll find your fellow community members at work talking with readers face-to-face, placing real physical books into real readerly hands, and contributing to the quality and vibrancy of a real (drone-free!) neighborhood. 

As Roxanne Coady, owner of RJ Julia Booksellers put it in a holiday letter to readers: 

“You don't need a pie-in-the-sky technological Drone (perfect for indie skeet-shooting!) to help you with your last-minute holiday shopping this year. We — real human beings who have loved and sold books to you for nearly 25 years — are here to help you. Let us.”

All our finest indie booksellers around the country are echoing those sentiments. This holiday season, why not show them what kind of world you want to live in?

Find your nearest local indie via Indiebound

Warmest holiday wishes,

M. Allen Cunningham  

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Publication Day at Atelier26! Celebration Tonight at Books Inc!

Today is the official publication day for the newest and most widely available title released by my small press, Atelier26 Books. I am so honored to have a hand in introducing readers to Harriet Scott Chessman's luminously moving fourth novel The Beauty of Ordinary Things, which confirms her status as a literary treasure.

Come help us celebrate Chessman's book, and see why ForeWord Magazine hails it as "a beautiful étude of humanity. ... A song of the soul.

More info on this special event here. (And if you can't make it tonight, Chessman will be touring on both coasts in the coming weeks, so take a look at her schedule of appearances here.)

Thursday, November 07, 2013

New Novel Excerpt in Catamaran!

I'm very pleased to announce that an excerpt from my third novel The Silent Generations appears in the latest issue of the Catamaran Literary Reader, a robust and extremely stylish new lit-mag out of Santa Cruz, CA.

This issue also features Wendell Berry, Billy Collins, and Susan Vreeland.

Get thee a subscription to this sumptuous new publication!

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Enter by Nov. 3rd to Win The Beauty of Ordinary Things and Eight Other Fabulous Titles
Putting a literary spin on the idea of Halloween goodies, author and blogger Meg Waite Clayton (The Wednesday Daughters) is hosting a giveaway of the fabulous books pictured above, including our own Harriet Scott Chessman's The Beauty of Ordinary Things. Up to nine books for one lucky winner!

Sound good? We thought so. And entering couldn't be easier: simply visit each author's Facebook page (linked from the contest page) and "like" the authors whose books look appealing to you. 

For more information, visit the contest page.

Enter by 11:59 p.m. EST Sunday, November 3.

Good luck, and good reading!  

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Jayne Anne Phillips

My review of Quiet Dell, the new novel by Jayne Anne Phillips, can now be read in The Oregonian. Phillips' entire body of work is remarkably beautiful and moving, from the inimitable stories in Black Tickets (1979) to this newest masterwork. She's one of our very best.
...Her fearlessness is brilliantly and relentlessly evident from "Black Tickets" onward, whether she's writing about wild sexuality (a recurrent theme), about the numb grisliness of war, or peering through the spectral lens of extreme disability, as in her unforgettable rendering of a mentally retarded boy's muffled cognition and ultra-lucid consciousness in 2009's "Lark & Termite." Phillips is a preeminent anywhere-goer of contemporary American literature. ...

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Notes on Art and Politics by M. Allen Cunningham

“Unless we insist that politics is imagination and mind, we will learn that imagination and mind are politics, and of a kind that we will not like.”—Lionel Trilling, The Liberal Imagination

  1. At present, politics and artistic imagination tend to stand apart in our thinking. This is an artificial polarity and a root cause of many of our civic ailments, though we have yet to admit it to ourselves.
  2.  Politics we deem serious and prosaic, a matter of “expertise” or career for the few, or else we deem them hollow and reflexive, a matter of party slogans and empty patriotism for the many. Meanwhile we tend to view art as entertainment — an activity or diversion to be valued chiefly for its “extracurricular” nature (and often for its complete unseriousness).
  3.  But art is gravely serious — which is not to say it is always and only grim. Art is serious even when amusing, in so far as it conveys us to planes of thought, engagement, and empathy that lie far beyond ordinary, prosaic experience. Art differs substantially and qualitatively from entertainment inasmuch as it provokes in us a sui generis order of reflection, and sometimes even elicits meaningful action.
  4. What we want is not increasingly politicized art, but a more artful politics — a politics spun from the fiber of a polity, a society, a demos, in which the higher orders of the arts and artistic thinking are integral, not extraneous — characteristic, not inconceivable.
  5. “Only in so far as a society is rendered sensitive by the arts do ideas become accessible to it.”—Herbert Read
  6. Artistic thinking is about being at ease with uncertainty, to the extent of accommodating unconventional solutions; it’s about adaptability, sacrifice, honesty, authenticity, and the propensity to be “in the moment,” to surprise oneself and others; it’s about taking the long view while tending to the necessary (frequently mundane) intricacies of process; it’s about the practice of re-envisioning oneself and one’s world; it’s about inspiration and excellence, memory and enterprise, invention, entrepreneurship, lineage and legacy and belief; artistic thinking, while necessarily subject to realism and practicality for the sake of execution, is never less than thoroughly optimistic.
  7. Art consists of questions and conduces to enrichment and expansion via uncertainty. This in contrast to propaganda, which concerns itself solely with “answers,” a pugnacious surety obtained via incessant repetition (sometimes dogmatic but more often enticingly disguised).
  8. Art and artistic imagination require equivocation. The shape-shifting capacity, the propensity to escape the confines of the self and the pressure of the self’s narrow needs, the empathic ability to see and feel what “others” see and feel, the power to express all these things — this honorable equivocation is endemic to artistic imagination, and it is a kind of civic virtue.
  9. Never forgetting what came before, whether in order to draw strength or outrage from it, the artistic thinker moves forever forward, and the further he or she goes, the more deeply integrated he or she becomes in the human community.
  10. Artist and statesman Václav Havel: “A better system will not automatically ensure a better life. In fact the opposite is true: only by creating a better life can a better system be developed.”
  11. The arts speak of who we are, and who we are is how we govern. Undervaluing the arts, we can’t know ourselves, and not knowing ourselves we cannot govern. We cannot properly honor one another, nor honor our mutual responsibilities.
  12. Not knowing ourselves, we cannot be unified in any special identity. Because we are not unified, our politics can reflect little beyond fragmentation, dysfunction, an incapacity to address some rottenness at our core.
  13. Deeply suspicious of one another, we begin to actively dishonor our common experience. Empathy retreats, anomie moves to the fore. We become less capable of caring for each other, first in our politics, then in our communities. Retrenchment engenders violence — first violent sentiment, then violent rhetoric. Next come violent politics, and finally actual bloodshed. All the while, the increasing barbarism of our choice entertainments reflects our condition.
  14. Strongly we sense something fraying at the seams. We are anxious and alienated. Amid our threadbare civic life and the grinding gridlock of our larger politics, we nervously await improvements, feeling, because we are now so far from our own creative potential, powerless to create the improvements ourselves. Havel: “A person who has been seduced by the consumer value system, whose identity is dissolved in an amalgam of the accoutrements of mass civilization, and who has no roots in the order of being, no sense of responsibility for anything higher than his or her own personal survival, is a demoralized person.”
  15. We disparage even the age-old basis of all transformational events: inspiration. It is what we long for, and yet its primary instrument, eloquence, seems to our brutalized ears deserving of suspicion. Eloquence cannot penetrate (stirring as the speech may have been in the televised moment), so we end up deriding it: knowing how to make speeches doesn’t make you a leader, etc. “You don’t pass speeches, you pass budgets,” says Congressman Blaine Luetkemeyer.
  16. Politics having become a war, oratory feels irrelevant. Too close, to our tastes, to that other supreme irrelevancy — the after-hours, expendable, marginal, frivolous, basically embarrassing pastime deemed useful mainly as a status symbol: art.
  17. We must ask ourselves: To what extent might our lack of artistic thinking, our lack of artistically illuminated political vitality, be more than merely a symptom of our societal dysfunction, but an actual cause? That it may be a single cause among several does not diminish its significance.
  18. A five-year-old girl is busy with her blocks when her parent calls her to the dinner table: “You can play more after we’ve eaten.” The girl’s lucid response: “I’m not playing, I’m building!”