April 20, 1950|
Santa Monica, California, United States
|Occupation||Novelist, essayist and critic|
|Genre||Avantpop, surrealism, magic realism|
Stephen Michael "Steve" Erickson (born April 20, 1950) is an American novelist. The recipient of the American Academy of Arts and Letters Award in Literature and a fellowship from the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, he is the only Southern California novelist to win the Lannan Lifetime Achievement Award previously bestowed on William Gaddis, William H. Gass and John Barth.
Steve Erickson was born and raised in Los Angeles. For many years his mother, a former actress, ran a small theatre in L.A. His father, who died in 1990, was a photographer. When Erickson was a child he stuttered badly and teachers believed he couldn't read. This motif occasionally has recurred in novels such as Amnesiascope.
Erickson studied film at UCLA (BA, 1972), then journalism (M.A. 1973). For a few years he worked as a freelance writer for alternative weekly newspapers. His first novel, Days Between Stations, was published in 1985. Along with two non-fiction books, Leap Year and American Nomad, Erickson has published a total of ten novels in a dozen languages, and there are unconfirmed rumors that 2017's Shadowbahn may be his last. Erickson himself appeared briefly as a fictional character in Michael Ventura's 1996 novel, The Death of Frank Sinatra.
Erickson has written for the New York Times Magazine, Esquire, Smithsonian, Rolling Stone, Conjunctions, American Prospect and Los Angeles magazine among others, and twice has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award. For fourteen years he was founding editor of the literary journal Black Clock until it ceased publication in 2016. He is a Distinguished Professor at the University of California, Riverside.
Considered a "writer's writer," Erickson has been called "one of America's five greatest living novelists" and his work has been cited by Thomas Pynchon, Haruki Murakami, David Foster Wallace, Dana Spiotta, Neil Gaiman, Richard Powers, Kathy Acker, William Gibson and Mark Z. Danielewski. Cultural essayist Greil Marcus has called Erickson "the only authentic American surrealist," and Rick Moody has declared Erickson "in the league of Pynchon, DeLillo, Atwood, Rushdie, Okri, Pamuk, Ondaatje, Lethem—a maximal visionary." In characterizing his influences, Erickson was quoted early in his career as stating:
When I think of writers who have had an impact on me, I come up with people that never get named [by my reviewers]. Faulkner, Henry Miller, the Brontës, Stendhal, Paul Bowles, Philip K. Dick, Raymond Chandler. I would have to include in that group Márquez, who is one writer that has been cited, and you’ve probably got to include in that group Pynchon, simply because Pynchon is a little like Joyce. His influence is so pervasive these days that you can’t help but be influenced by him.
Erickson's Tours of the Black Clock appears on critic Larry McCaffery's list of the 20th Century’s Greatest Hits: 100 English-Language Books of Fiction. In a winter 2008 poll by the National Book Critics Circle of 800 novelists and writers, Zeroville was named one of the five favorite novels of the previous year. In the December 2015 issue of Granta, Jonathan Lethem called the then-still-unpublished Shadowbahn the best American novel of whatever year in which it was ultimately released.
In late 2014, a motion picture adaptation of Zeroville began production starring James Franco, Will Ferrell, Seth Rogen, Jacki Weaver and Megan Fox. A finished film has yet to be released. BBC Radio 4 adapted Shadowbahn as part of its Dangerous Visions series for broadcast in June 2018.
Erickson lives with his family in Topanga Canyon, California.
Erickson’s novels revolve around controversial and sometimes misunderstood concepts. One is slavery, both actual and metaphorical. Arc d'X begins with the story of the love affair between Thomas Jefferson and a slave girl, Sally Hemings. In a number of Erickson’s novels men are profoundly trapped by what they seek or purport to possess, and in virtually all of his novels—particularly The Sea Came in at Midnight and Our Ecstatic Days where female characters dominate—a female protagonist is the catalytic figure who sets events into motion. Another important theme in Erickson's novels is parenthood and the loss of a child. Our Ecstatic Days follows a mother's search for her missing son over the course of a quarter century. The Occupant from The Sea Came in at Midnight is left by his wife and child. In Days Between Stations Adolphe and Maurice Sarre are abandoned by their mother and Lauren’s son Jules dies. The profound estrangement from his father of Zeroville's central character, Vikar, leads to his obsession with movies, and later he becomes a paternal figure to the teenage Zazi after her mother dies. In These Dreams of You, the adoptive parents of the four-year-old Ethiopian orphan Sheba set out to find the girl's birth mother; in turn Sheba and her brother reappear twelve years older in Shadowbahn on a road trip to reunite with their mother and reconcile with the memory of their father.
Sometimes Erickson relies on autobiographical information filtered through an unconventional imagination. Amnesiascope is almost a memoir in which actual people and events from Erickson’s life mix with his imagination. Recurring themes are music (in These Dreams of You and Shadowbahn) and filmmaking, presented from the perspective of a director (Days Between Stations and The Sea Came in at Midnight), screenwriter (Rubicon Beach), critic (Amnesiascope) and film editor (Zeroville). Often the films are transgressive and rejected by the audience.
As with his nonfiction books, the preeminent theme of America dominates Erickson's novels from Rubicon Beach to Amnesiascope to These Dreams of You and culminates with Shadowbahn. Some of this work that has been described as apocalyptic now appears prescient. Since the late 1980s these stories have anticipated America's political crumbling and the slow obliteration of the world in which Erickson's characters live. Long before general public awareness of climate change, nature itself became an alien force out of control in Erickson's books (the long winter in Paris, sand storms in L.A. and the disappearance of water in Venice and the Mediterranean region in Days Between Stations; the earthquake in Amnesiascope; the lake that floods L.A. in both Rubicon Beach and Our Ecstatic Days; the vanishing rain in Shadowbahn). The characters of the novels often live in metropoles—L.A., New York City, Berlin, Paris or Tokyo—in which unexpected natural phenomena cause chaos and reveal how brittle civilization actually is. Erickson makes occasional use of somewhat supernatural elements such as bizarre artifacts (a bottle with human eyes from Days Between Stations), the extraordinary gifts of some characters (Catherine from Rubicon Beach), and impossible historical events (the Twin Towers' reappearance in the Dakota Badlands from Shadowbahn). The most powerful force of Erickson’s universe is love, often passionate, sensual, overpowering, unstoppable. Lovers hurt each other but at the same time cannot live without each other. When the love is lost, people become empty, bitter or full of hatred. The affection is almost like possession.
Erickson’s characters appear in multiple books. Besides the children of These Dreams of You who are grown in Shadowbahn, Adolphe Sarre from Days Between Stations is alluded to in Zeroville and Amnesiascope, Lauren from Days Between Stations reappears briefly in Arc d'X, and Carl has recurring cameos in Days Between Stations, Tours of the Black Clock, Amnesiascope and The Sea Came in at Midnight. Lauren and Jeanine from Days Between Stations, and Catherine and Leigh from Rubicon Beach, are imaginings of the protagonist in the subsequent Tours of the Black Clock. Wade and Mallory from Rubicon Beach reemerge as major characters in Arc d’X as does Sally Hemings who is introduced in the supposedly nonfiction Leap Year. Viv from Amnesiascope returns years later as the adoptive mother in search of her daughter's past in These Dreams of You, and Maxxi Maraschino from The Sea Came In At Midnight is mentioned on a concert poster in Zeroville. Kristin features in both The Sea Came in at Midnight and Our Ecstatic Days while Banning Jainlight from Tours of the Black Clock manifests as an altered incarnation with the same name in Our Ecstatic Days. Cale from Rubicon Beach returns, in altered form with his name spelled Kale, in Our Ecstatic Days. Erickson's friend and fellow novelist Michael Ventura shows up in Leap Year, Amnesiascope and American Nomad.
- Days Between Stations (1985)
- Rubicon Beach (1986)
- Tours of the Black Clock (1989)
- Arc d'X (1993)
- Amnesiascope (1996)
- The Sea Came in at Midnight (1999)
- Our Ecstatic Days (2005)
- Zeroville (2007)
- These Dreams of You (2012)
- Shadowbahn (2017)
- Leap Year (1989)
- American Nomad (1997)
- National Endowment for the Arts (1987);
- Notable Book of the Year, New York Times Book Review (1987): Rubicon Beach;
- Notable Book of the Year, New York Times Book Review (1989): Tours of the Black Clock;
- Best Books of the Year, Village Voice (1989): Tours of the Black Clock;
- Notable Book of the Year, New York Times Book Review (1993): Arc d'X;
- Best Fiction of the Year, Entertainment Weekly (1993): Arc d'X;
- Best Novel nominee, British Fantasy Society (1997): Amnesiascope;
- Notable Book of the Year, New York Times Book Review (1999): The Sea Came in at Midnight;
- Best Books of the Year, Uncut (1999): The Sea Came in at Midnight;
- Best Novel nominee, British Fantasy Society (1999): The Sea Came in at Midnight;
- 2001 MacDowell Fellow;
- 2002 MacDowell Fellow;
- Best Books of the Year, Los Angeles Times Book Review (2005): Our Ecstatic Days;
- Best Books of the Year, Uncut (2005): Our Ecstatic Days;
- John Simon Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship (2007);
- Best Books of the Year, Newsweek (2007): Zeroville;
- Best Books of the Year, Washington Post BookWorld (2007): Zeroville;
- Best Books of the Year, Los Angeles Times Book Review (2007): Zeroville;
- American Academy of Arts and Letters, Award in Literature (2010);
- Best Books of the Year, Los Angeles Times (2012): These Dreams of You;
- Lannan Lifetime Achievement Award (2014);
- Best Books of the Year, Los Angeles Times (2017): Shadowbahn;
- Best Books of the Year, Bookworm, KCRW (2017): Shadowbahn
- New York Review of Books. "2014 Lannan Literary Awards and Fellowships" Winter, 2015. Retrieved July 3, 2017.
- University of California, Riverside. "Writing faculty" Retrieved July 3, 2017.
- Silverblatt, Michael. "Arts and Culture: Best Books of 2017" Bookworm, KCRW Fall, 2017. Retrieved December 16, 2017.
- Moody, Rick. "Steve Erickson Interview" The Rumpus Winter, 2017. Retrieved July 3, 2017.
- Mx Lane, James. "Steve Erickson Interview" BOMB Magazine Summer, 1987. Retrieved May 17, 2013.
- National Book Critics Circle. "NBCC's good reads" Critical Mass Winter, 2008. Retrieved July 3, 2017.
- Lethem, Jonathan. "Best Book of 2017" Granta Winter, 2015. Retrieved July 3, 2017.
- Official Site
- LA Weekly profile by Michael Ventura (1986)
- BOMB magazine interview (1987)
- The Frequency of Liberation (1993)
- Buzz magazine profile by Alan Rifkin (1993)
- SF Commentary interview (1996)—scroll down and click on pdf file, "Steam Engine Time 2".
- Agony Column review of The Sea Came in At Midnight
- The Believer essay by Brian Evenson (2003)
- Bookslut review of Our Ecstatic Days
- Agony Column review of Our Ecstatic Days
- MostlyFiction interview (2007)
- The Nation review of Zeroville
- New York Times review of Zeroville
- The Cult interview (2007)
- LitReactor Interview (2012)
- National Public Radio review of These Dreams of You
- Los Angeles Review of Books review of These Dreams of You
- Chicago Tribune review of Shadowbahn
- New York Times review of Shadowbahn
- KCRW Bookworm interview by Michael Silverblatt (2017)
- The Rumpus interview by Rick Moody (2017)
- Here's the Thing interview by Alec Baldwin (2017)
- BBC4 adaptation of Shadowbahn (2018)