Writers Logo

Jonathan Lethem
Jonathan Lethem

NYS Writers Institute, October 21, 2003
4:15 p.m. Seminar | Assembly Hall, Campus Center, Uptown Campus
8:00 p.m. Reading | Recital Hall, Performing Arts Center, Uptown Campus

The only novelist listed among Newsweek's "100 People for the New Century," Jonathan Lethem reinvents familiar genres every time he sits down to write. In his latest novel, Fortress of Solitude (September 2003), Lethem plays with the conventions of superhero comics. Set in the 1970s and 1990s, in both Brooklyn and California, Fortress of Solitude follows the friendship of two boys, one white, one black, against a larger landscape of political, social and racial conflict. What makes the novel utterly Fortress of Solitudedifferent from typical coming-of-age stories is the fact that both teenagers have superhero powers. And, like many adolescent males, they use their powers mostly to ruin their own lives.

". . .a grim, brave, soaring American masterpiece." - Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Richard Russo

Jonathan Lethem has a particular fondness for mixing sci-fi with hard-boiled detective fiction, as did his hero, the immortal sci-fi novelist Philip K. Dick. Even more than Dick, however, Lethem defies the clichés of these well-loved genres with reckless abandon.

Gun, with Occasional Music

In his first novel, Gun, with Occasional Music (1994), Lethem plunged his detective hero, Conrad Metcalf, into a world populated by mutant human infants, rabbits, kittens, dogs, and a murderous kangaroo. "Publisher's Weekly" named it one of the Best Books of 1994.

"Marvelous… Stylish, intelligent, darkly humorous, and highly readable entertainment." - San Francisco Examiner

"Lethem has talent to burn." - Village Voice Literary Supplement

In Motherless Brooklyn (1999), Lethem's tough-talking detective, Lionel Essrog, is afflicted with Tourette's Syndrome. Essrog makes involuntary animal sounds and suffers from strange verbal outbursts as he attempts to solve the murder of a mobster who rescued him, as a boy, from life on the streets.

Motherless BrooklynMotherless Brooklyn is widely regarded by American critics as a masterwork of contemporary fiction.

"Utterly original and deeply moving." - Esquire, naming it the Best Novel of the Year

"One of the greatest feats of first-person narration in recent American fiction." - Washington Post

[Essrog's verbal outbursts are] "a barrage of sheer rhetorical invention that has tour de force written all over it: it's an amazing stunt, and, just when you think the well is running dry, Lethem keeps on topping himself." - Kirkus Reviews

Motherless Brooklyn received the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction. Indie filmstar Steve Buscemi narrated the audio version of the novel.Girl in Landscape

In Girl in Landscape (1998), a family flees post-apocalyptic Brooklyn in order to help pioneer a distant planet. Set on a "wild frontier," the novel also pays homage to Western genre fiction, and particularly to Lethem's favorite Western film, The Searchers, directed by John Ford and starring John Wayne.

Lethem's other books include This Shape We're In (novella, 2001), As She Climbed Across the Table (1997), The Wall of the Sky, the Wall of the Eye: Stories (1996), and Amnesia Moon (1995). Lethem is also editor of The Vintage Book of Amnesia: An Anthology (2000).

With Carter Scholz, he co-wrote Kafka Americana (2001), a collection of spoofs and stories written in the Kafka vein. A Publisher's Weekly reviewer said, "These stories are fluff, but extremely witty and intelligent fluff, making them a lot more solid than some more ostensibly serious writing."

Related Links:
Times Union Article
Writers Online Magazine Article

For additional information, contact the Writers Institute at 518-442-5620 or online at https://www.albany.edu/writers-inst.