The Sewanee Conglomerate

Named for the uppermost rock formation in Sewanee's corner of the Cumberland Plateau, The Sewanee Conglomerate is the magazine's blog. Check here for short pieces about books and current events written by SR staff and guest contributors.

Monday, October 01, 2018
In her first published essay, a 1961 piece for Vogue titled “Self-Respect,” Joan Didion wrote that “people with self-respect have the courage of their mistakes. They know the price of things.” Two years later, the late Andre Dubus published his first story, “The Intruder,” in the Spring 1963 Sewanee Review. The Collected Short Stories & Novellas of Andre Dubus—the first two volumes of which, We Don’t Live Here Anymore and The Winter Father, were released in June by publisher David R. Godine—are filled with characters coming to grips with “the price of things.”
Thursday, September 20, 2018
Charles Martin’s newest offering, Future Perfect, deals principally with things past. The book’s material includes sources as disparate as Euripides’s Medea, the Voyager 1 space probe, the mystery of Weldon Kees, Giuseppe Belli’s sonnets, four-million-year old hominin footprints from Tanzania, and Petronius.
Wednesday, August 01, 2018
Laura van den Berg’s second novel, The Third Hotel, piques our interest on the basis of setting alone: Cuba just after the easing of US restrictions. That’s only the first exotic touch. The protagonist, Clare, has come to Havana for a movie festival featuring an edgy new horror flick, and swiftly finds herself in a horror trope, coming upon her own private zombie: her dead husband Richard. In spite of these genre trappings, The Third Hotel amounts to more than thrills and chills. Van den Berg has swapped out the stages of grief for an alternative recovery process, one that refreshes old notions of female power and identity.
Tuesday, July 10, 2018
These serious little songs are colored by the racial and political context of our time, our anxious vacillation between online activism and lived apathy: “I ain’t mad at you, / Assassin. It’s not the bad people who are brave / I fear, it’s the good people who are afraid.” Binaries—courage and fear, sex and death, good and bad, past and future—inhabit many of these poems, because Hayes deals in facts that shouldn’t bear repeating, but desperately do. He enacts this in several poems; the ninth in the sequence literally repeats itself: “You don’t seem to want it, but you wanted it / . . . You don’t seem to get it, but you got it.” It’s a poem of essential truths, buttressed by contradiction, that near-anaphoric “You don’t . . . but you do . . .” The last line repeats the sixth: “You don’t ...
Wednesday, May 30, 2018
Shane McCrae’s fifth collection, In the Language of My Captor, examines a demographic fact foundational to our nation’s identity: that the ancestors of one in nine US citizens were brought to this country as slaves, and today those citizens are still subject to the inheritance of bondage. McCrae first approaches this fact, via metaphor, in “In the Language,” the final poem of the book’s first section, whose speaker we find caged up in a zoo. The zookeeper, a “fat white man,” guides the curious to the speaker’s cage with clockwork regularity. These zoogoers are us, the American reader, for whom the lives of African Americans are so often reduced to spectacle. The speaker’s voice is his only means of expression, but that voice, fed through English, a language forced upon him by historical...
Monday, April 30, 2018
For the past year, whenever I return home to San Antonio, I’ve been having lunch with my grandmother and her friend, an elderly woman named Marian. Both suffer from Alzheimer's disease. Because I didn’t know Marian before she lost her memory, you could say my relationship to her is like that of a reader to a character: I’ve stepped into her life in medias res, unbeknownst to her and without prior knowledge of her history except what I’m told by others.
Thursday, April 26, 2018
The Sewanee Review has received word that longtime contributor Earl H. Rovit passed away on April 16 at the age of 90. Rovit was a contributor of essays and criticism to the Sewanee Review for over forty years. A leading literary scholar of the writing of Ernest Hemingway, Ralph Ellison, Saul Bellow and William Faulkner, Rovit was one of the first in the early 1960’s to discern and explore what became known as the Jewish American literary tradition, including writers such as Bellow, Bernard Malamud, Norman Mailer and Philip Roth.
Friday, April 20, 2018
Danez Smith’s Don’t Call Us Dead opens with “summer, somewhere,” a long and remarkable, protest elegy, where the twin preoccupations of lyric poetry, eros and tragedy, buckle under the fact of racial violence in the United States. Smith evokes a series of stolen summers, a chronicle of black youth in which childhood ends far too soon. Its “boys brown/ as rye” live, play, and, too often, die at the hands of law enforcement, disease, or from suicide. This poem is both a prayer for the lost, a kaddish, and a spell, a desperate effort to bring the boys back home.
Thursday, April 12, 2018
A rusted-out Alfa Romeo, stranded in a grove of cherry trees; a one-armed, amnesiac veteran, estranged from his aristocratic family while living in their home; unshakable visions of an unnamed woman, her face hidden as though from the glow of a crescent moon emblazoned on her forehead—these images would be memorable even in a conventional novel. But place them in post-revolutionary Tehran, then filter them through a psyche that has literally split itself in two, and you get the first chapter of Shahriar Mandanipour’s Moon Brow, the most eye-opening novel I’ve read this year.
Wednesday, April 04, 2018
About ten years ago, Richard Powers began to try his hand at short stories. His novels, starting with Three Farmers on Their Way to a Dance (1985), had brought home honors of all sorts, including the 2007 National Book Award for The Echo Maker. Praise-singers, among them Margaret Atwood and Colson Whitehead, hailed his ability to wring drama out of hard science.
Thursday, February 22, 2018
In a moment when alternative music is dominated by bedroom auteurs, here is an honest-to-god rock band—one with accomplished musicians who know exactly how to complement each other, and a frontwoman whose words and voice can break your heart.
Tuesday, January 09, 2018
In the summer of 1937, Clark Mills McBurney and Tennessee Williams (born Thomas Lanier Williams) set up a “literary factory” in the basement of the McBurney family home. Huddled in the corner by the coal furnace and the washing machine, the factory consisted of two tables, two hard chairs, two typewriters, a bookcase, and a beat-up sofa.
Friday, December 22, 2017
Frank Bidart’s collected poems, Half-light, are this year’s selection for the National Book Award for Poetry. This honor is long-deferred; at seventy-eight Bidart has previously been a finalist for the Award once and the Pulitzer three times. Bidart’s selection, though well deserved, seems untimely. Given his age, his career output is greater than all of the other finalists combined. This makes for an uneven playing field. Fortunately, there’s much to discuss in the four other books on the shortlist. Here I’ll consider two.
Thursday, November 09, 2017
My grandmother wore long Mexican dresses every day, had nine children in thirteen years, and could smoke cigarettes with her toes. I love telling people about her, though less so the end of the story: she died of lung cancer. Does the fact of her death make her party trick morbid? Probably, but it still makes me smile, and, for reasons I cannot fully explain, it makes her more real to me. If she sounded like a character in a story at first, she might now sound like something more. In fiction as in life, there’s something to be said for embracing the shock value of the terribly funny cracks in our lives. Few writers dig into the decrepit, comical folds of human experience quite like Lucia Berlin, whose most influential story collection, A Manual for Cleaning Women, was published in 2015.
Monday, October 30, 2017
In the wake of Charlottesville, I felt like my uncle’s role in The Civil War was something I shouldn’t mention, as if advertising my indirect connection to Lee potentially allied me with ignorant, hateful, and dangerous people. But reluctance to discuss our complicated past contributes in its own way to the hate that leads people to violence, doesn’t it? That reluctance is precisely what Ken Burns’ films strive to overcome.
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