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March 20, 1963 |
Reading, Pennsylvania, US
|Alma mater||University of Albany|
|Occupation||Poet, musician, writer|
Chris Stroffolino is an American poet, writer, musician, critic, performer, author of 12 books of poetry and prose, and probably best known to the general populace for working alongside Steve Malkmus and David Berman on The Silver Jews "American Water" album (1998 Drag City). Stroffolino, (born in Reading, Pennsylvania March 20, 1963) attended Albright College, Temple University and Bard College, The University of Massachusetts Amherst, before receiving a PhD at Suny-Albany with a dissertation on William Shakespeare in 1998.
Early Performance Poetry
After moving to Philadelphia in 1986, Stroffolino auditioned for Lamont Steptoe of the Painted Bride Art Center, and soon became one of the young stars of Philly's burgeoning spoken word scene, alongside writers such as C.A. Conrad, Linh Dinh, Candace Kaucher and Jerome Robinson. Stroffolino's first book of poems, "Incidents", published by David Roskos's Vendatta Books (Iniquity Press) in 1990, collected the more popular of these performance poems. Stroffolino co-edited The Painted Bride Quarterly from 1988–1990, worked on the Philly anarchist 'zine, Talk Is Cheap, and co-founded the underground punk warehouse, KillTime Place in 1989 while organizing reading series at The Schmidt-Dean Gallery and Borders Books.
Stroffolino's next book, "Oops" (published by Boulder Colorado's backyard press in 1991, republished by Pavement Saw Press in 1994), while sharing many of the themes and personae of his first book, consisted of poems published in magazines but seldom performed at readings. Often considered Stroffolino's homage to protracted adolescence, the poems in Oops got Stroffolino's page-based poetry to a national audience and set the tone for the subsequent books of the 1990s.
New York years
With the dissolution of the spoken-word and punk scenes in the early 90s, Stroffolino left Philadelphia to attend the University of Massachusetts-Amherst and SUNY-Albany, receiving a PhD in 1998 with a dissertation on Shakespeare's middle-comedies. In the meantime, he published "Cusps" (Edge Books, 1995), "Light As A Fetter" (1997) and "Stealer's Wheel" (1999), performing his work from the more populist "Lollapalooza Tour" alongside Jeffrey McDaniel and David Baratier to SUNY-Buffalo's more academic New Coast Conference.
Light As A Fetter is a collection of hit singles with tight grooves, while Stealer's Wheel branches out more ambitiously, if slightly more unevenly. These books still stand out as Stroffolino's best, all sharing what Mark Ducharme, in "The St. Marks Poetry Project Newsletter", referred to as an "intellectual romanticism," a discursive lyricism, characterized by dense post-Ashberian sentences that "bend sense into music without losing sense, or space for pause." Both John Ashbery and James Tate praised its brilliance; Graham Foust in Lagniappe wrote "there's more of what's great in Ashbery and Tate in [Stealer's Wheel] than there is in most Ashbery and Tate.”
What critic Steve Evans calls the "mordant recursivity" of Stroffolino's style owed much more to writers such as Bob Perelman, Laura (Riding) Jackson, Robert Creeley, Samuel Beckett, and above all, The New York School Poets, such as Stroffolino's early mentor, John Yau, than it did the Brechtian/Beat inflections of his earlier work. In the 21st century, Stroffolino continued to publish "Scratch Vocals"(2002), "Speculative Primitive" (2004), and An Anti-Emeryvillification Manifesto (2007)
Stroffolino joined David Berman and Steve Malkmus to play on The Silver Jews American Water album; his keyboard and trumpet are most prominently featured on "The Wild Kindness" and "Random Rules" A longtime busker, this was Stroffolino's first experience in studio; as he puts it in "Still Life With Silver Jew," “American Water may have been the end of David and Steve, but It was a beginning for me.”
In the 21st century, Stroffolino has recorded or performed with Sir Lord Von Raven, Brian Glaze, Greg Ashley, Steve Albini, Rising Shotgun, Jolie Holland, Continuous Peasant, Flowers & Bulls, The Root Rats, Babycakes, The Graves Brothers Deluxe, Hudson Bell, and members of Essex Green, Drunk Horse, Flipper, Sweat Lodge, & Jello Biafra's Dick Army.
In 2000, Stroffolino collaborated with conceptual artist Christine Hill in her Volksboutique project while acting in HBO's Sex and the City and recreating Anne Sexton's rock band for the Poetry Society of America; and, with the band Volumen, contributing to the soundtrack of Esther Bell's "Goddass.”
In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, he returned to the style of his first book with his controversial piece, "You Haven't Done Nuthin'." This rant-like poem helped gain Stroffolino an international audience, while alienating some of the fans of his work in the previous century. He often performed this piece backed by a loud improvisatory rock band. In other contexts, he performed political hip-hop songs in a style similar to Randy-Newman or Tom Waits style. In 2005, he toured the U.S & Canada with Continuous Peasant and rejoined Silver Jews on stage in 2006 and 2008.
Stroffolino's one-off topical songs have appeared in Raw Story, The Thom Hartmann Show, Deep Oakland, and Not Broken (a film about post-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans). In 2010, Stroffolino is released his first solo album, Single-Sided Doubles, on Pop Snob Records, as a vinyl/CD hybrid. In 2013, his piano playing and singing caught the attention of American film director and screenwriter Jeff Feuerzeig. Feuerzeig began videotaping Stroffolino on the piano during "street sessions" while Stroffolino performed out of a van that he lives in. Feuerzeig also decided to make an "instant record" of Stroffolino performing, resulting in a 12-track album, "The Piano Van Sessions". Feuerzeig's agent has heard Stroffolino's record and story, and is helping him get a publishing and label deal.
Criticism, Prose, Teaching, Awards
After co-editing, with Lisa Jarnot and Leonard Schwartz, An Anthology of New (American) Poets for Talisman House in 1998, Stroffolino published a critical edition of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night with Daniel Rosenthal (2000); the next year saw his collection of literary criticism (Spin Cycle). Critic Charles Altieri admired the populism of Spin Cycle's "Radical Dogberry" essay, while "The American Book Review" lauded this collection for holding out an olive branch between the various warring factions in the literary world, especially in its "Against Lineage" essay, adding "but sometimes that branch seems to be on fire." More recently, Stroffolino has published music and culture criticism in The Bigtakeover, Kitchen Sink, Viz, and Caught in the Carousel. In 2011, Self Portrait As Silver Jew is slated for release as an e-book (45RPM).
A recipient of a 2001 NYFA Grant, and a 2008 grant from The Fund For Poetry, Stroffolino was Visiting Distinguished Poet at St Mary's College in Moraga, California from 2001 to 2005. He is the subject of a Contemporary Authors monograph. Although Stroffolino has curtailed activities after a bike accident left him permanently disabled in 2004, he has done stints at Mills College, San Francisco Art Institute, University of California, Berkeley and Laney College.
- Mukherjee, Aryanil (2005). "Bipolar Worlds: an interview with Chris Stroffolino". Rain Taxi.
- Johnson, Jeff (September 24, 2003). "Continuous Peasant". SF Weekly. Retrieved January 27, 2011.
- The Bay Area Crew (May 20, 2013). "The Piano Van on the Streets of LA". Amoeba Music.
- Feuerzeig, Jeff (March 5, 2013). "'Indie, Punk, Motown, Brill Building and Velvets': Meet the Street Karaoke Maestro of Los Angeles". Dangerousminds.net.
- Stroffolino, Chris (November 20, 2006). "Alissa Quart on Toronto's Breaking Social Scene". The Big Takeover.
- Stroffolino, Chris (1998). "Chris Stroffolino : Three poems". Jacket.
- Payne, John (March 12, 2013). "Chris Stroffolino Lives and Plays in His Van. Is He the Next Daniel Johnston?". LA Weekly.