Steve Erickson

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Steve Erickson
Born (1950-04-20) April 20, 1950 (age 72)
Santa Monica, California, United States

Stephen Michael 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 receive the Lannan Lifetime Achievement Award[1] previously presented to authors William Gass, William Gaddis 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. Erickson had a stutter which was more pronounced when he was child, 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 three non-fiction books, Leap Year, American Nomad and American Stutter, Erickson has published a total of ten novels in a dozen languages. Erickson appears 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.[2]

Considered a "writer's writer," Erickson frequently is mentioned as one of America's best living novelists[3] even as some readers in his country remain unfamiliar with him. His work has been cited by Thomas Pynchon, Haruki Murakami, David Foster Wallace, Dana Spiotta, Neil Gaiman, Richard Powers, Kathy Acker, Jonathan Lethem, William Gibson and Mark Z. Danielewski. Cultural essayist Greil Marcus has called Erickson "the only authentic American surrealist," and novelist Rick Moody has declared Erickson "in the league of Pynchon, DeLillo, Atwood, Rushdie, Okri, Pamuk, Ondaatje, Lethem—a maximal visionary."[4] 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.[5]

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.[6] In the December 2015 issue of Granta, Lethem called the then-still-unpublished Shadowbahn the best American novel of whatever year in which it was ultimately released.[7]

BBC Radio 4 broadcast an adaptation of Shadowbahn as part of its Dangerous Visions series in June 2018. A motion picture adaptation of Zeroville starring James Franco, Seth Rogen, Jacki Weaver and Megan Fox was released in September 2019.[8] In July 2021 the University Press of Mississippi published Conversations With Steve Erickson as part of a series that has included Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, James Baldwin, García Márquez and Toni Morrison. In early 2022 Erickson published on Zerogram Press the literary non-fiction American Stutter — which chronicled both the author's life and the nation's travails in the period of July 2019 to January 2021 — after more mainstream New York houses wanted to defer publication until 2024 because they were reportedly unnerved by the book's "ferocity."

Recurring motifs[edit]

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 Thomas Jefferson raping 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.

"For all his time-traveling, his dream logic, his cinematic jump-cuts, his erotic interludes, his post apocalyptic future worlds," Sarah Vowell wrote for Salon in 2000, "...[Erickson's] narrative voice never quite sheds its fundamental idealism." The preeminent theme of America dominates Erickson's novels from Rubicon Beach to Amnesiascope to These Dreams of You, culminating with Shadowbahn. Some of this work that has been described as apocalyptic or visionary 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, 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.[citation needed]




  • Leap Year (1989)
  • American Nomad (1997)
  • American Stutter (2022)


  • 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


  1. ^ New York Review of Books. "2014 Lannan Literary Awards and Fellowships" Winter, 2015. Retrieved July 3, 2017.
  2. ^ University of California, Riverside. "Writing faculty" Retrieved July 3, 2017.
  3. ^ Silverblatt, Michael. "Arts and Culture: Best Books of 2017" Bookworm, KCRW Fall, 2017. Retrieved December 16, 2017.
  4. ^ Moody, Rick. "Steve Erickson Interview" The Rumpus Winter, 2017. Retrieved July 3, 2017.
  5. ^ Mx Lane, James. "Steve Erickson Interview" BOMB Magazine Summer, 1987. Retrieved May 17, 2013.
  6. ^ National Book Critics Circle. "NBCC's good reads" Critical Mass Winter, 2008. Retrieved July 3, 2017.
  7. ^ Lethem, Jonathan. "Best Book of 2017" Granta Winter, 2015. Retrieved July 3, 2017.
  8. ^ D'Alessandro, Anthony (April 1, 2019). "James Franco's Delayed 'Zeroville' Saved By myCinema; Distrib's Slate Includes Julian Fellowes' 'The Chaperone' – CinemaCon". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved April 1, 2019.

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