INITIAL REMARKS RE "THE TERM"
(FEEL FREE TO LOOK AWAY FROM THE SCREEN, AT YOUR GRAPHS, IF YOU WANT, WHILE I SAY THESE INITIAL REMARKS, OR WHILE I READ ANYTHING ELSE OFF THE SCREEN THROUGHOUT THIS "LECTURE.")
MY USE OF THE TERM TODAY IS ALWAYS "SARCASTIC" OR "IN QUOTATION MARKS," IMPLYING I'M QUOTING PEOPLE WHO HAVE USED THE TERM "LITERALLY," BELIEVING THAT IT LEGITIMATELY DESCRIBES A SET OF PEOPLE ACCURATELY.
I DON'T FEEL THAT ANY 2 WRITERS, HOWEVER SIMILAR IN WHATEVER MANNER, ARE EVER THE SAME, IN PART BECAUSE LITERALLY 2 PEOPLE, OR BOOKS, OR STORIES, ARE, TO ME, THE SAME, BECAUSE EVEN IF THEY'RE EXACT CLONES OR PHOTOCOPIES, THEY HAVE DIFFERENT CONTEXTS.
ANY DISCUSSION OUTSIDE THAT LEVEL OF ACCURACY SEEMS, IN PART, TO ME "SARCASTIC," OR "JUST SCREWING AROUND."
"KMART REALISTS," UNLIKE SOME OTHER GROUPS OF WRITERS GROUPED TOGETHER, HAVE LITTLE CONCRETELY IN COMMON—FOR EXAMPLE THEY DIDN'T READ THE SAME WRITERS, ATTEND THE SAME SCHOOLS, "HANG OUT TOGETHER," AND WEREN'T PUBLISHED BY THE SAME PUBLISHERS OR MAGAZINES.
[READ FROM MY PAPER]
[READ JOY WILLIAMS EXCERPT]
[READ ANN BEATTIE EXCERPT]
WHAT IS IT?
“Kmart Realism” is a derogatory term someone made-up some time in the early or mid-80's, commonly mis-attributed to Tom Wolfe, who used it in a 1989 essay in Harper's. I searched a database of "major periodicals & newspapers" and it was used multiple times in the mid to late 80s in The New York Times & Washington Post, but in manners like it originated elsewhere.
It seems to have no agreed-upon origin.
I think the main people in “Kmart Realism” are Ann Beattie, Joy Williams, Frederick Barthelme, Mary Robison, Bobbie Ann Mason, Raymond Carver. I think Larry Brown isn’t really included since he was perceived as poor, so had "real problems." He was also a fireman, which means he contributed in an obvious way to society, which I think disqualifies him from being a “Kmart Realist,” and he also wrote about war, a subject that also disqualifies Barry Hannah and some others from being a "Kmart Realist." I would not include Amy Hempel, Diane Williams, Sam Lipsyte, or most writers who've taken some instruction, or something, from Gordon Lish (more below), due mostly to tone, having a different tone, to me, than Ann Beattie, etc. Amy Hempel is often called a “minimalist," however, and is, via that, sometimes associated with "Kmart Realism." David Leavitt, whose first book, a story-collection, was published in 1984, cited Ann Beattie, Raymond Carver, Mary Robison as the "older writers" influencing him. Those writers are an average of ~15 years older than him.
“Kmart Realism” has been called “minimalism,” “dirty realism” (in the UK, via an issue of Granta), other things.
“Kmart Realism” was at its “height” maybe in the mid-80’s. Frederick Barthelme had 20-30 stories in the New Yorker, Mary Robison had many stories in the New Yorker, Gordon Lish was publishing other people’s books and stories as an editor at Knopf and Esquire and the editor of The Quarterly around then.
The funniest and most detached and "existential" “Kmart Realist," to me," is maybe Joy Williams. They are all funny and capable of controlling themselves from using dialogue tags not “said,” sarcasm (or just describing something without judgment), and a sense of hopelessness beyond what is acceptable in the mainstream today, I think.
I don't think any of these people are religious. Frederick Barthelme has said he admires, or likes, or something, writing by Jean Rhys and Jane Bowles. I think the people who wrote similar things to “Kmart Realism," but earlier, are James Purdy (“Color of Darkness”), Jean Rhys, Jane Bowles, Ernest Hemingway (“The Sun Also Rises”), Knut Hamsun ("Pan," "Mysteries"), Richard Yates ("The Easter Parade," "Liars in Love").
To me only Ann Beattie’s first 4/5 books are “Kmart Realism"-like. In the memoir “Double Down” (about losing something like $200,000 at casinos) by Frederick Barthelme and Steven Barthelme they said they did not think of themselves as “writers” or even “professors” (they've both been teaching for over 20 years, Frederick Barthelme is the director of the MFA in creative writing program at University of Southern Mississippi), which seems true, to some extent, based on what I've read, to all, or most, “Kmart Realism” people.
"Landmark texts" in its history (more on some of these later).
1985 "ON THE NEW FICTION," Missisippi Review
AN ENTIRE ISSUE OF THE LITERARY MAGAZINE DEDICATED TO DISCUSSION OF "KMART REALISM"/"MINIMALISM."
1986 "LESS IS LESS," HARPER'S
ARTICLE BY MADISON SMARTT BELL CONDEMNING, FINALLY, PUBLISHERS FOR PUBLISHING BOOKS THAT ARE "MINIMALIST." PRAISES MARY ROBISON FOR SOME REASON. MENTIONS NIHILISM.
1986 "A FEW WORDS ABOUT MINIMALISM," NEW YORK TIMES
ARTICLE BY JOHN BARTH ("John Simmons Barth (born May 27, 1930) is an American novelist and short-story writer, known for the postmodernist and metafictive quality of his work." DISCUSSING MINIMALISM THROUGHOUT HISTORY. NOTES THAT THE PHRASE "LESS IS MORE" HAS BEEN ATTRIBUTED TO SOMETHING LIKE SEVEN FAMOUS PEOPLE THROUGHOUT HISTORY. CONCLUDES, IN MY VIEW, THAT SOME PEOPLE LIKE SOME KINDS OF WRITING, OTHER PEOPLE LIKE OTHER KINDS, AND THAT IT'S OKAY NOT TO BE AGAINST ONE KIND, BUT TO "TRY" BOTH KINDS. [READ QUOTES].
1988 "ON BEING WRONG: CONVICTED MINIMALIST SPILLS BEANS," NEW YORK TIMES
ARTICLE BY FREDERICK BARTHELME DISCUSSING HOW HE "CAME TO" WRITE LIKE HE DID. SAYS HE AND EVERYONE HE KNEW WAS MOST INTERESTED IN JOHN BARTH, DONALD BARTHELME, WILLIAM GASS, JOHN HAWKES ("John Hawkes, born John Clendennin Talbot Burne Hawkes, Jr. (August 17, 1925 – May 15, 1998), was a postmodern American novelist, known for the intensity of his work, which suspended the traditional constraints of the narrative.").
1989 "STALKING THE BILLION-FOOTED BEAST: A LITERARY MANIESTO FOR THE NEW SOCIAL NOVEL," HARPER'S
ARTICLE BY TOM WOLFE DESCRIBING DIFFERENT MOVEMENTS OR PHASES, INCLUDES A PARAGRAPH ON "KMART REALISM."
1995/1996 [ARTICLES IN "STUDIES IN SHORT FICTION"]
"RECAPPING" THE ABOVE. [READ EXCERPTS.]
[ESSAY SUMMARIZING THE ABOVE]
GRAPH I MADE WITH THE X-AXIS DENOTING "BLEAKNESS" OF THE WORK
KMART REALISM CONTEXTUALIZED
1985 MISSISSIPPI REVIEW
In a 1985 issue of the Mississippi Review devoted to commentary about literary minimalism, Kim Herzinger's introductory article names the stories of Carver, Beattie, Robison, Bobbie Ann Mason, among many others—the list is repeated several times, with variations—as minimalist fiction, "work loosely characterized by equanimity of surface, 'ordinary' subjects, recalcitrant narrators and deadpan narratives, slightness of story, and characters who don't think out loud"
Kim Herzinger (also said in that introduction):
[FROM 1996 ARTICLE "STUDIES IN SHORT FICTION"]
Herzinger's second definition, published in the New Orleans Review, incorporates many of these traits: “Minimalist fiction is a) formally spare, terse, trim; b) tonally cool, detached, noncommittal; "flat," affectless, recalcitrant, deadpan, laconic; c) oblique and elliptical; d) relatively plotless; e) concerned with surface detail, particularly with recognizable brand names; f) depthless; g) comparatively oblique about personal, social, political, or cultural history; h) often written in the present tense; i) often written in the first person; j) sometimes written in the second person."
Frederick Barthelme said:
Experience of concrete reality, time "passing."
ANN BEATTIE (B. 1947)
Funny. Many non-sequiturs, sentence to sentence. Seems to like imaginative jokes or "fantasies" told by adults to children, for example "snake shoes" or "dinosaurs growing brains out of their heads to form antlers."
Seems to like characters that are "emo" (have a tendency to express self-pity, "calm self-hatred," or that they are depressed in order to feel better). Characters react to misfortune or "not getting what they want" with resignation, humor, or a kind of "nice wryness." Seems to not have many "mean" characters, in my view.
Encouraged by JD O'Hara, her professor, to submit her stories. He submitted for her w/o asking her sometimes. She was rejected twenty-two times by Roger Angell, who encouraged her (and who also later encouraged Bobbie Ann Mason) before acceptance.
(1976) "Chilly Scenes of Winter" (novel)*
(1976) "Distortions" (stories)
(1978) "Secrets and Surprises" (stories)
(1981) "Falling in Place" (novel)
(1982) "The Burning House" (stories)**
(1986) "Love Always" (novel)
*Movie (1979) released twice, once with bleaker ending
**is copyright by "Irony & Pity, Inc.," a "The Sun Also Rises" reference
***in sort of a different tone/style
JOY WILLIAMS (B. 1944)
Seems always aware of "death" and that life is scarily mysterious and messagelesss. Maybe the funniest of these, to me. Has non-sequiturs more than one sentence long, sometimes entire short scenes of non-sequitur ("ant in doorway," "envelope w/ nothing in it"). Seems to "delight" in people acting weirdly due to being naturally weird, senile, or "insane" to some degree. Very calming, to me, to read. Perhaps portrays the "bleakest" world, to me, out of these, but in a way that makes me happier when I read it.
Is the most abstract of these maybe. Often says "poetic" things, things aware that they don't make logical sense or aren't literal. Seems to enjoy, like Ann Beattie, having characters say imaginative/fantastical things, like that someone in Nevada "sleeps for them" so they don't have to sleep. Has magical realist elements, like dead people coming back to life. Has a story where the main character is the "spiritual teacher" Gurdjieff (he "chills" in Florida).
(1973) "State of Grace" (novel, more abstract than later work)
(1978) "The Changeling" (novel, more abstract than later work)
(1982) "Taking Care" (stories)
(1988) "Breaking and Entering" (novel)
(1990) "Escapes" (stories)
(2001) "The Quick and The Dead" (novel)
(2004) "Honored Guest" (stories)
*Florida guide book & essay-collection
FREDERICK BARTHELME (B. 1943)*
Most consistent. Has published the most novels. Characters are calm, Zen-like, despite near-constant marital "problems," to some degree. Almost every book features marital problems where there is some kind of separation or divorce. I enjoy rereading many of his novels ("Natural Selection," "Bob The Gambler," "Two Against One," etc.) once every one or two years.
Teaches at USM, edits Mississippi Review. I've read maybe 10-12 of his books. I've read maybe 4-6 of his books more than once. Was excited to read his recent book, "Waveland" (2009), which I bought it in hardcover, and was not disappointed. I bought the book before that, "Elroy Nights" (2003), in hardcover also. "Elroy Nights" was a PEN/Faulkner Award finalist.
(1970) "Rangoon" (stories, out of print, in a different style)
(1971) "War & War" (novel, out of print, in a different style)
(1983) "Moon Deluxe" (stories)**
(1984) "Second Marriage" (novel)
(1985) "Tracer" (novel)
(1987) "Chroma" (stories)
(1988) "Two Against One" (novel)
(1989) "Natural Selection" (novel)
(1993) "The Brothers" (novel)
(1995) "Painted Desert" (novel)
(1997) "Bob the Gambler" (novel)
(2003) "Elroy Nights" (novel)
(2009) "Waveland" (novel)
*Brother of Donald Barthelme
**NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER, 1983, WEEKS OF 8/7, 8/14, 8/21, 8/28, 9/4, "A first collection of stories, by turns funny, weird and sad, delineating the malaise of the unattached middle-class male."
***Collected stories & non-fiction book about gambling w/ his brother, in which Mary Robison makes a cameo, they lost hundreds of thousands of dollars of their inheritance and almost went to jail, while teaching at University of Southern Mississippi's MFA program
MARY ROBISON (B. 1949)*
Seems reclusive. Seems funny in a different way than other writes in this list. Characters seem to like amphetamines. I've read "Why Did I Ever" maybe 3 or 3.5 times. When I read it I want to write a novel like it. I emailed her a pretty long email in 2001 or 2002 after reading "Why Did I Ever."
I remember a story by her called "Pretty Ice," where the girl in it realizes, as her "boyfriend" in it is smiling at her, that it is the last time she is going to see him. I want to reread that story. Taught at "USM" for an amount of time with Frederick Barthelme before "moving" to the University of Florida, I think, where David Leavitt teaches.
(1979) "Days" (stories, out of print)
(1981) "Oh!" (novel, out of print)**
(1983) "An Amateur's Guide to Night (stories, out of print)
(1988) "Believe Them" (stories, out of print)
(1991) "Subtraction" (novel, out of print)
(2001) "Why Did I Ever" (novel)
(2009) "One DOA, One on The Way" (novel)
*Achieved a following on Flickr for her photography some time between 2001 and 2009
**Movie starring Crispin Glover entitled "Twister" (1989)
BOBBIE ANN MASON (B. 1940)
I like her first story-collection the most of our her books I've read. I like her story "Graveyard Day" the most out of the stories. It has a main character whose current boyfriend is named Joe, and who has two previous boyfriends named Joe, and sometimes she gets confused. Has a memorable ending, to me. I've read it between 4 and 8 times, I think.
Seems less bleak than other writers in this list.
(1982) "Shiloh and Other Stories" (stories)
(1985) "In Country" (novel)
(1988) "Spence & Lila" (novel)
(1989) "Love Life" (stories)
(1998) "Midnight Magic" (stories)
RAYMOND CARVER (B. 1938)*
I think I like his post-Gordon Lish stories more than his pre-Gordon Lish ones. I think my favorite story by him is in Cathedral, the story "Preservation" (the ending seems weird, to me, in a satisfying manner). I also like "Vitamins." I like the ending. Carol Sklenicka's biography of him was very funny. I thought.
I would like to read more of his poetry. I've read maybe 5 poems and I like them.
His characters seem to be in the most financial duress out of the writers in this list. They often seem depressed for "concrete reasons," due to being addicted to alcohol or having to work jobs they don't like, or not having enough money to pay rent or something, which is different than the other writers on this list. Sometimes his characters seem to feel depressed for both "concrete reasons" and "no concrete reason."
(1976) "Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?" (stories)
(1981) "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love" (stories)
(1983) "Cathedral" (stories)
(1988) "Elephant" (stories)
*Biography by Carol Sklenicka
"Ray confided to Carlile that he wasn't working. The resulting lassitude in turn prompted him to think about traveling to exotic destinations or buying new cars or houses."**Poetry, non-fiction, collections
"In early March, Ray read in the evening paper that he'd won a $2000 NEA grant."
"Carver considered using the last poem in the book, 'Drinking While Driving,' as its title piece."
[Will You Shut The Fuck Up?]
SUMMARY I CREATED IN 2005
BLURBS OF EACH OTHER'S BOOKS & OTHER NOTABLE BLURBS
"Mary Robison is the consummate librettist, a writer to whom each sentence, each word, each splatter of punctuation means everything. Reading Why Did I Ever brings to mind Jane Bowles and Jean Rhys at their best." - Frederick Barthelme, 2001
"Mary Robison has done for Hollywood culture of our time what Joan Didion did thirty years ago. Spare and ruthless, precisely chiseled, Why Did I Ever is the Play It As It Lays of the twenty-first century." - Madison Smartt Bell, 2001
"I admire Frederick Barthelme's peculiar grasp of the slant side of human relationships. Moon Deluxe is something else entirely—superbly written, and very funny." - Raymond Carver, 1983
"[Frederick Barthelme] is one of the most distinctive prose stylists since Hemingway, capable of writing sentences so sharp and crisp and suggestive they have a palpable glow." - Bret Easton Ellis, 1995
"Hypnotic...[Joy Williams is] one of our most remarkable storytellers." - Ann Beattie, 1982 (?)
"The world according to Williams is a world unlike any other in contemporary short fiction. Taking Care is a stunning collection of stories, and Joy Williams is simply a wonder." - Raymond Carver, 1982
"Joy Williams has produced a hard, sharp, comic novel about the off-kilter genius of adolescence—a work of maverick insight and rash and beautiful bursts of language." - Don Delillo, 2001, re The Quick and The Dead
"One-of-a-kind fiction—there's nothing to compare it to. An unnerving vision of the world that's genuinely shocking in its pitiless clarity and comic despair: you read every sentence rapt, and, often within the same paragraph, you find yourself gasping with horror and then laughing hysterically." - Bret Easton Ellis, 2001, re The Quick and The Dead
"A stunning debut...Bobbie Ann Mason is very impressive. I find myself completely immersed in the stories while I'm reading them, and they have a nice aftereffect image as well...these stories will last." - Raymond Carver, 1982, re Shiloh and Other Stories
At least half are women, as opposed to "Beats," "Modernists," "Post-Modernists," "Rat Pack" (Bret Easton Ellis, Jay McInerney), etc.
Articles against it distort its prevalence. [READ 1996 QUOTE, READ BASS STATS].
Influenced as much by those with writing that is the opposite, or very different, than their writing, as by those with writing that is similar to them.
Frederick Barthelme and Mary Robison studied with John Barth, a postmodern maximalist, before writing their first "minimalist" books.There seem to be something like at least 30 people named in various articles as writing "Kmart realism" or "minimalism." Had many "offshoot" groups.
Frederick Barthelme's brother is Donald Barthelme.
Frederick Barthelme and Ann Beattie and Bobbie Ann Mason admired Donald Barthelme's writing.
Donald Barthelme writes non-realistic, post-modern, surreal and at times "magical realist" stories.
Joy Williams admired the writing of John Hawkes and Malcolm Lowry, and in a 2008 interview, said, "I can tell you who I greatly admire—writers who always move and trouble me—Sebald, Coetzee, Delillo. They are rigorous, merciless novelists of great beauty and integrity.
Raymond Carver was friends with Don DeLillo who is probably almost the opposite of a “Kmart Realist” excluding non-realism things. Don DeLillo has dialogue that is like “Kmart Realism” dialogue I think sometimes. I think Don DeLillo was friends with Raymond Carver or something because he was friends with Gordon Lish, who edited Raymond Carver and also published many “Kmart Realism” writers in Esquire.
They all seem very productive.
Had no "manifesto," did not "attack" or "demean" any other kinds of writing (except perhaps only indirectly, through defense, though they rarely even defend unless asked directly in an interview).
SEEM TO REFRAIN FROM MAKING PRONOUNCEMENTS: 1985 PROFILE: [BOBBIE ANN MASON] PERCHES ON THE EDGE OF HER SEAT, SPEAKING THOUGHTFULLY ABOUT HER WORK IN HER SLIGHTLY TWANGY VOICE, INTERRUPTING HERSELF OCCASIONALLY TO INSIST, "I DON'T KNOW WHAT I'M TALKING ABOUT."
Didn't publish when very young, like most writers who get a lot of attention. Beattie (29), Williams (29), Barthelme (27/40), Robison (30), Mason (42), Carver (38).
BEST AMERICAN SHORT STORIES SERIES
# 1982: John Gardner (edited by)**Raymond Carver's mentor/"first influential teaceher"
- Raymond Carver, Mary Robison (appeared)
# 1983: Anne Tyler**
- Raymond Carver, Bobbie Ann Mason
# 1985: Gail Godwin
- Joy Williams
# 1986: Raymond Carver
- Ann Beattie, Joy Williams
# 1987: Ann Beattie
- Joy Williams, Raymond Carver
**Admirer of Ann Beattie, Joy Williams, etc.
"Less is Less" (1986)
NOON MAGAZINE (ED. DIANE WILLIAMS)
Rebecca Curtis, Deb Olin Unferth, Clancy Martin
MISSISSIPPI REVIEW (ED. FREDERICK BARTHELME)
Larry Brown, Curtis Sittenfeld, Amy Hempel
FREDERICK BARTHELME: TEACHES AT UNIV. OF SOUTHERN MISSISSIPPI
ANN BEATTIE: TEACHES AT UNIV. OF VIRGINIA
MARY ROBISON: TEACHES AT UNIV. OF FLORIDA
BOBBIE ANN MASON: NOT TEACHING, REGULARLY WRITING BOOKS
JOY WILLIAMS: TEACHES AT UNIV. OF WYOMING (I THINK)
RAYMOND CARVER: DIED IN 1988