Steve Erickson

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This article is about the American surrealist. For the Canadian fantasy author of Malazan Book of the Fallen, see Steven Erikson. For the sailor, see Steve Erickson (sailor).
Steve Erickson
Born (1950-04-20) April 20, 1950 (age 66)
Santa Monica, California
Occupation Novelist, essayist and critic
Nationality American
Period 1985-Present
Genre Avantpop, surrealism, magic realism

Stephen Michael Erickson (born April 20, 1950), pen name Steve Erickson, is an American novelist and essayist. He is the recipient of the American Academy of Arts and Letters Award in Literature, a fellowship from the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation and the Lannan Lifetime Achievement Award, and is considered an important representative of the Avantpop movement.


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 he was a child he stuttered badly. Because of his stuttering some teachers believed that he could not read. This motif occasionally has recurred in his 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.

Since 1985 Erickson has published nine novels and two non-fiction books, Leap Year and American Nomad. Erickson himself appears briefly as a fictional character in Michael Ventura's 1996 novel, The Death of Frank Sinatra.

Erickson has written on a variety of topics in periodicals including The New York Times Magazine, Esquire and Rolling Stone among others. Fourteen years he was founding editor of the national literary magazine Black Clock until it ceased publication in 2016, and currently he is a teacher with the Writing Program at the University of California, Riverside. He has written about film for Los Angeles magazine since 2001 and twice has been nominated for the National Magazine Award in criticism.

Erickson's work has been admired and cited by other authors including Thomas Pynchon, David Foster Wallace, Richard Powers, Jonathan Lethem, Kathy Acker, William Gibson, Susan Straight and Mark Z. Danielewski. In describing his influences, he states:

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.[1]

Erickson's novel 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, Erickson's Zeroville was named one of the five favorite novels of the previous year; and in the fall of 2014 the motion picture adaptation of Zeroville began filming starring James Franco, Will Ferrell, Seth Rogen, Jacki Weaver and Megan Fox for release in late 2016.

He lives with his family in Topanga Canyon, in Southern California.

Recurring motifs[edit]

Erickson’s novels revolve around concepts that appear in many of his works. One of them 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 the selling, buying, owning and disowning of women appears; as often, the men are the more profoundly trapped by what they seek or purport to possess. In virtually all of his novels, the female protagonist is the catalytic figure who sets events into motion, particularly in The Sea Came in at Midnight and Our Ecstatic Days where female characters are dominant. Another important theme in Erickson's novels, particularly in Our Ecstatic Days, 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.

Sometimes Erickson relies on autobiographical information filtered through an unconventional imagination. Erickson's narratives often take place in Los Angeles. Amnesiascope is almost a memoir in which actual people and events from Erickson’s life mix with his imagination. One recurring theme is 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). Sometimes the films are transgressive, misunderstood and rejected by the audience.

Some of Erickson's novels can be described as apocalyptic. They present the slow obliteration of the world in which his characters live. Often nature turns against people (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 characters of the novels usually live in metropoles: L.A., New York City, Berlin, Paris or Tokyo, in which unexpected natural phenomena cause chaos and show 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) and the extraordinary gifts of some of his characters (Catherine from Rubicon Beach). 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 often appear in multiple books. Adolphe Sarre from Days Between Stations comes back in Amnesiascope and is alluded to in Zeroville. Lauren from Days Between Stations appears in Arc d'X. Carl appears 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 mentioned in Tours of the Black Clock as characters appearing in the mind of the latter book's protagonist. Wade and Mallory from Rubicon Beach emerge as major characters in Arc d’X. Viv from Amnesiascope returns years later as the adoptive mother in search of her daughter's past in These Dreams of You. Maxxi Maraschino from The Sea Came In At Midnight appears on a concert poster in Zeroville. Kristin features in both The Sea Came in at Midnight and Our Ecstatic Days. Jainlight from Tours of the Black Clock reappears, in an altered incarnation but with the same name, in Our Ecstatic Days. Cale from Rubicon Beach reappears, in altered form and with his name spelled Kale, in Our Ecstatic Days. Erickson's friend and fellow novelist Michael Ventura appears in Leap Year, Amnesiascope and American Nomad.




  • Leap Year (1989)
  • American Nomad (1997)


  • National Endowment for the Arts (1987);
  • Notable Book of the Year, The New York Times Book Review (1987): Rubicon Beach;
  • Notable Book of the Year, The New York Times Book Review (1989): Tours of the Black Clock;
  • Best Books of the Year, The Village Voice (1989): Tours of the Black Clock;
  • Notable Book of the Year, The 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, The 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)


  1. ^ Mx Lane, James. "Steve Erickson Interview" BOMB Magazine Summer, 1987. Retrieved May 17, 2013.

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