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Steve Katz Biography - Critical Studies:, Steve Katz comments:

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Nationality: American. Born: New York City, 1935. Education: Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, 1952-56, A.B. (honors) 1956; University of Oregon, Eugene, M.A. in English 1959. Career: Staff member, English Language Institute, 1960, and faculty member, University of Maryland Overseas, 1961-62, both Lecce, Italy; Assistant Professor of English, Cornell University, 1962-67; Lecturer in Fiction, University of Iowa, Iowa City, 1969-70; writer-in-residence, Brooklyn College, New York, 1970-71; Assistant Professor of English, Queens College, New York, 1971-75; Associate Professor of English, Notre Dame University, Indiana, 1976-78. Since 1978 Associate Professor of English, and Director of Creative Writing, 1978-81, University of Colorado, Boulder. Has also worked for the Forest Service in Idaho, in a quicksilver mine in Nevada, and on dairy farms in New York State; since 1971 teacher of Tai Chi Chuan. Awards: National Endowment for the Arts grant, 1976, 1981; Creative Artists Public Service grant, 1976. Agent: Georges Borchardt Inc., 136 East 57th Street, New York, New York 10022.

PUBLICATIONS

Novels

The Lestriad. Lecce, Italy, Milella, 1962; Flint, Michigan, Bamberger, 1987.

The Exagggerations of Peter Prince. New York, Holt Rinehart, 1968.

Posh (as Stephanie Gatos). New York, Grove Press, 1971.

Saw. New York, Knopf, 1972.

Moving Parts. New York, Fiction Collective, 1977.

Wier and Pouce. College Park, Maryland, Sun and Moon, 1984.

Florry of Washington Heights. Los Angeles, Sun and Moon, 1988;London, Serpent's Tail, 1989.

Swanny's Ways. Los Angeles, Sun & Moon Press, 1995.

Short Stories

Creamy and Delicious: Eat My Words (in Other Words). New York, Random House, 1970.

Stolen Stories. New York, Fiction Collective, 1984.

43 Fictions. Los Angeles, Sun and Moon, 1991.

Plays

Screenplays:

Grassland (Hex), with Leo Garen, 1972.

Poetry

The Weight of Antony. Ithaca, New York, Eibe Press, 1964.

Cheyenne River Wild Track. Ithaca, New York, Ithaca House, 1973.

Journalism. Flint, Michigan, Bamberger, 1990.

*

The Life of Fiction by Jerome Klinkowitz, Urbana, University of Illinois Press, 1977; "Fiction and the Facts of Life" by J.K. Grant, in Critique (Atlanta), Summer 1983; article by Sinda J. Gregory and Larry McCaffery, in Dictionary of Literary Biography Yearbook 1983 edited by Mary Bruccoli and Jean W. Ross, Detroit, Gale, 1984.

(1991) The nature of our work is determined by our peculiar collaborative procedures. There are nine Steve Katz and each of us makes a contribution to each piece. Three of the Steve Katz are women, putting them in a minority, but allowing, at least, for some female input into all of the work, which sometimes invokes misogyny, but because of the female component in its composition transcends that inference. We break down into three groups of three, each one with a woman at its pivot most of the time, though sometimes the women collaborate as a separate cadre. Three of us live in New York City, three travel all over North America, and sometimes to South America, and are stationed in Boulder, Colorado, and the third three never rest as travelers of the remaining world. Sometimes for variety one Steve Katz from the New York triumvirate will replace one Steve Katz from the world travelers and etc., generally without disruption or conflict. Some of the works can be written by only five of us (this blurb, for instance), and some by seven. In these instances we arbitrarily eliminate the four Steve Katz, or the two, by a process we call "blistering." For more information about this process please contact our agent. We have never before revealed our method of composition because we had expected great financial gain from this unique procedure. Since this has not been forthcoming, voilà!

* * *

Steve Katz's fictions are woven from two distinct strands: from playful fable-like tales, often of serious intent, and from disruptive watch-the-writer-writing materials. The proportions in which these two narrative impulses are mixed vary from book to book, and give each its individual character.

Experiments in textual disruption dominate and shape The Exagggerations of Peter Prince. Devices used include crossed-out pages, notices of deleted passages, partially whited-out ads, and authorial injunctions to the characters and to the author himself. Despite the emphasis on technical manipulations, the emotional contour of a caring young man's struggles to do the right thing comes through—both from Peter Prince and from Katz. Katz's hope here, as in most of his quasi-autobiographical fiction, is that by writing Peter Prince he will invent for himself a better life. It is an admission of uncertainty about the future that the novel has no ending, that the planned ending is lost in the "archives of the unwritten." (The ending was to have been "America, with a rock and roll band at the castle, and all the new dances, formal and primitive …" This scene does appear, sixteen years later, as "The Death of Bobby Kennedy" in Wier and Pouce.) Between disruptive passages Katz also shows himself to be a visually oriented writer, with a gift for evoking realistic detail: "… trees like candelabra, holding vultures, their gray and carmine heads flickering, and the small dark kites circling the umbrella crowned acacias." With the stories in Creamy and Delicious Katz's neo-fable style hits its stride. This book collects the "Mythologies," satirical reworkings and defacings of the stories and images of Wonder Woman, Nancy and Sluggo, Dickens, and Greek mythology. The writing here shares with Peter Prince a tense feel, and a need to discomfit or shock the reader: "Wonder Woman was a dike, but she was nice." The plain speech style is in places extended and stylized, with results not unlike some of Gertrude Stein's work: "A man there was called Thomas who in the aged long ago time before I was a boy was the man of many creatures, a many-creatured man in the hills before my youth…." Katz's disruptive side is here confined to two short, comparatively unsuccessful pieces, and some short poems. Katz followed this collection with the erotic novel Posh, which he wrote in six weeks.

With Saw Katz finds his mature voice. The disruptive and the fabulous are blended in a much more confident and relaxed, even whimsical, way. Characters in the novel include Eileen, who feeds a puppy to a hawk; a sphere from the center of the earth; a cylinder; a talking fly; and an astronaut from a distant galaxy—who, as Katz confesses midway through the book, is really the author. The Astronaut has come to Earth seeking a substance which can revitalize his world, a substance which is an amalgam of "ambition, greed, bullshit, pride, envy, bourbon, and smut." If we can credit the authorial interruptions in Saw, this is identical with Katz's idea of the substance of fiction. So in some ways Saw is about, not the process, but the experience of creating fiction. The final chapter (titled "The First Chapter") is a detailed account of a long hot day filled with poets and worries, and concludes with Katz getting away from it all in the more genial company of The Astronaut; leaving his everyday life behind and going off to explore his fictional world.

Beginning with "Female Skin" in Moving Parts Katz's fables move into new territory, become more deeply reflective of modern life and concerns than was possible through the more conventionally satirical characters of the earlier "Mythologies." "Female Skin" takes literally the metaphorical idea of getting inside another's skin. Called a novel, Moving Parts contains stories, diary entries, photographs, and a log of encounters with the number forty-three. Katz's playful side is evident everywhere: a photograph of Katz with a beard is followed by one of a barber shop, then one of a clean-shaven Katz. The author's face is one more "moving part" employed in the process of creating his fiction.

In Stolen Stories the literary experimentalist and the fable-wright once again speak separately. Half the pieces here are disembodied monologues, which are disruptive not in the sense of any authorial intrusion, but through their staccato, Burroughs-like use of language ("come in: this is my tent: you carry the sickness:"). These monologues succeed only in evoking the sounds of the experiences and states Katz deals with, with little of the emotional depth of his best work. The fabulous stories here are Katz's best. "Friendship" makes a convincing case for cannibalism being the logical and loving end toward which all friendships should move. "Death of the Band" crosses John Cage-style compositional ideas with psychotic urban violence to prophesy a new musical form.

Wier and Pouce is Katz's masterpiece, an encapsulation of the spiritual/ideological crisis in America since the 1950s. (Wier and Pouce is a very American novel: it begins and ends with ball games.) The writing style varies to mirror the temper of the times, from the Horatio Algerish first chapter, through anagramic and alphabetical sections (covering roughly the years of Katz's early literary experiments), before settling into the mature Katz voice.

Dusty Wier is clearly Katz's stand-in here, but he is also representative of everyone who grew up in those times hoping for a better American Way to manifest itself. E. Pouce embodies the arrogance and ambition of the dark side of that Way: among his other deeds he drops napalm on his own party—this in the wake of "The Death of Bobby Kennedy," that is, of the death of 1960s idealism. Episodes and images subtly mirror one another from scene to scene and country to country, reinforcing the universal feel Katz is striving to establish. Fiction's role here is spelled out for the reader: "When the day gets short people must make up stories just to get through the nights." As at the end of Peter Prince, Katz here is uncertain about what is to come: an impossibly high fly ball is falling toward a long-dormant giant's glove as the novel closes.

—William C. Bamberger

Susan Katz (1945-) Biography - Personal, Addresses, Career, Member, Honors Awards, Writings, Sidelights [next]

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