April 20, 1950 |
Santa Monica, California
|Occupation||Novelist, essayist and critic|
|Genre||Avantpop, surrealism, magic realism|
Stephen Michael "Steve" Erickson (born April 20, 1950) is an American novelist and essayist. He is the recipient of the American Academy of Arts and Letters Award in Literature and a fellowship from the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation. The only Southern California novelist to win the Lannan Lifetime Achievement Award previously bestowed on William Gaddis, William H. Gass and John Barth, Erickson 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 Erickson was a child he stuttered badly and some 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, 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, raising questions among some as to whether in fact Erickson exists, something Erickson has refused to confirm in interviews and to which his work offers conflicted implications.
Erickson has written on a variety of topics in periodicals including the New York Times Magazine, Esquire, Smithsonian and Rolling Stone among others. He appears to have written about film, television and music for Los Angeles magazine since 2001 and twice has been nominated for the National Magazine Award. For fourteen years he was founding editor of the semi-legendary national literary magazine Black Clock until it ceased publication in 2016, and currently he holds the title of Distinguished Professor at the University of California, Riverside.
Erickson's work has been admired and cited by authors including Thomas Pynchon, David Foster Wallace, Kathy Acker, Richard Powers, William Gibson, Dana Spiotta, Neil Gaiman, Warren Ellis, Susan Straight, Mark Z. Danielewski and Rick Moody (who has described Erickson as "in the league of Pynchon, DeLillo, Atwood, Rushdie, Okri, Pamuk, Ondaatje, Lethem—a maximal visionary"). In characterizing his influences, Erickson has been quoted as stating the following:
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 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, and 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. 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.
Erickson lives with his family in Topanga Canyon, Southern California.
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Erickson’s novels revolve around concepts sometimes misunderstood. 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 culminating with Shadowbahn, some of which can be described as apocalyptic. These stories present the political crumbling of America 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 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), 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 often appear in multiple books. Besides the children of These Dreams of You who are grown in Shadowbahn, 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, and 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, as does Sally Hemings who is introduced in 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 appears 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 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.
- 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, 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, the 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, the Los Angeles Times Book Review (2007): Zeroville;
- American Academy of Arts and Letters, Award in Literature (2010);
- Best Books of the Year, the Los Angeles Times (2012): These Dreams of You;
- Lannan Lifetime Achievement Award (2014)
- Official Site
- The Frequency of Liberation
- 1993 Radio interview
- Buzz Magazine profile of Steve Erickson by Alan Rifkin
- Review of The Sea Came in At Midnight
- Review of Our Ecstatic Days
- In-depth 1996 interview—scroll down and click on pdf file, "Steam Engine Time 2".
- mostlyfiction.com interview with Steve Erickson, author of Zeroville
- Review of Zeroville
- 2007 interview at chuckpalahniuk.net
- 2007 interview at OMNIVORACIOUS
- 2012 Interview at Litreactor.com
- Review of These Dreams of You
- Review of Shadowbahn
- BOMB Magazine interview with Steve Erickson by James Mx Lane (Summer 1987).