Making Literature Now
Amy Hungerford



A scholar of contemporary literature is privileged to be able to talk in real time to writers and others in the business of making literature. In this project I embraced that privilege and turned my research to the archive of the unfolding present. In that open-air library I met many makers and thinkers who changed me and whose company made research a joy.

I am grateful first and foremost to Jordan Bass at McSweeney’s for opening the door for my initial research trip to the press’s offices in San Francisco. During that visit many members of the staff talked with me about their work and their aspirations and I enjoyed a brief conversation with Dave Eggers, who had given his permission for the visit. Those interviews became the kernel of my thinking in the book; it would be a lesser thing without that core of urgent, humane conversation early in the project. Radiating out from the McSweeney’s staff are the writers, literary entrepreneurs, and editors with whom I spoke during the development of this book. I am deeply indebted to Richard Nash for several long interviews about his work, and to Deb Olin Unferth, who taught me much, both in her writing and in conversation.

Russell Quinn, whom I met at McSweeney’s in 2010, continued to talk with me after he left the press. It was a privilege to get to know him and his art. Eli Horowitz, true to his vocation as an editor and creator, was generous with his time, energy, and conversation. He was willing to converse about his projects and mine over several years, always responsive and engaged when I reached out to him. Best of all, Eli always asked questions that made me see in an utterly new light some idea, sentence, or fact that had crept unexamined into my work. I am honored by the friendship he extended to me and to this project.

I am not sure that any of these people—all makers in their own right—will either like or agree with the analyses and conclusions of this book; the opinions and mistakes here are all mine. I venture to hope that we are committed to the same thing: to a capacious vision of what it means to make literature now.

The intellectual company found in my own institutional home—the university—sustained me as always. My friends and colleagues in the Post45 collective brilliantly dissected many parts of this book between 2009 and 2015. The thanks would have to start with J. D. Connor, Florence Dore, Mary Esteve, Loren Glass, Kate Marshall, Sean McCann, Deak Nabers, Debbie Nelson, and Michael Szalay, but there are so many others from our symposia—particularly Mark McGurl—whose comments left an imprint on this book. The work also benefited from the responses of audiences at Case Western Reserve, Indiana University, Johns Hopkins, Princeton, Stanford, Tufts, UCLA, the University of Maryland, and the University of Michigan, as well as the editors, faculty, and graduate students at the Arizona Quarterly symposium in 2011 and the participants at Günter Leypoldt’s “Acquired Taste” conference at the Center for American Studies at the University of Heidelberg in June 2013.

My graduate students—especially the members of our dissertation working group—were kind and energetic intellectual companions while I was writing this book: special thanks to Tony Domestico, Merve Emre, Soren Forsberg, Chris Grobe, Len Gutkin, and Palmer Rampell. Jonathan Freedman was my intellectual sounding board on many summer runs in Vermont; those conversations were as pleasing and wild as the hills and bears. Lanny Hammer’s advice on ethnographic research and our gossipy talks about our work at the Kitchen Zinc bar never failed to recharge my thinking and my pleasure in the task.

Gordon Hutner, David James, and Andrzej Gąsiorek edited pieces that appeared in ALH and Contemporary Literature; I am grateful for their commitment to helping my work (and in Gordon’s case, so many others’ work) achieve its best form. And more, it is humbling to realize that seven people have read and commented on something resembling the full manuscript. Kathryn Lofton and Leslie Jamison read all I had at different points during the year before the manuscript went to the press for review. Their readings—personal, invested, sparking with intellectual wattage—had a profound impact on my conception of the book as a whole. My only regret is that Making Literature Now is not as brilliant as their different visions of it, visions they shared with me over summer cocktails and purple-rice sushi, respectively. The two readers for Stanford University Press—Mark Greif and another anonymous reader—gave me incisive advice to which I tried to live up. Mark, a gifted editor himself, suggested how to revise the structure of the chapters, which has made, I hope, for a much more shapely book. At Stanford University Press, Emily-Jane Cohen, supportive from the first, offered a level of attention that is rare these days, reading the manuscript from cover to cover and helping me retune my evolving prose style. Florence Dore and Loren Glass, the Post45 series editors, offered feedback and enthusiasm for the manuscript that helped push it into port. Stanford honored my wish to find two readers beyond the members of the Post45 Board (who were already familiar with my work) rather than the customary one. I think this was crucial to the book’s final growth.

Closest to home, my mother, Valerie Hungerford, housed me, fed me, and graciously ignored me during several key writing retreats at her house in New Hampshire over the last few years. Those stints of concentrated work were beyond price and I treasure the memory of them. My sister, Laura Bachmann, cheered me on, made well-timed quips when needed, and helped me decide what to put first when many things demanded my attention. My children, Clare and Cyrus, endured my preoccupation and grounded me always in the pleasures of love and play. My spouse, Peter Chemery, opened up the time for me to go away for those writing weekends, and gave me the mental space to continue when at home. He has been faithful to my vocation as a scholar and writer even when I have not. To borrow some words from a favorite John Barth story: it is he who best espouses me.