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.

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.
Monday, October 30, 2017
It’d be easy for a poet to be pigeonholed by subject matter as readily sensationalized as this, but Brewer avoids melodrama in these earnest, confessional poems. The best ones aren’t about drugs so much as they use the processes of abuse as figures for the frequent failures and small triumphs of being human.
Wednesday, October 18, 2017
Wilbur won every major award available to an American poet: the Ruth Lilly prize, a term as Poet Laureate, two Pulitzers, and Sewanee’s own Aiken Taylor Award for Modern American Poetry, among many others. Wilbur’s insistence on form buttressed his confidence in the musical capability of language, producing a body of work that is deeply thought, deeply felt, and infinitely accessible. These qualities, coupled with his impact on the American stage as a lyricist and translator, made him the most significant public poet in the United States since Robert Frost.
Monday, October 02, 2017
Linear in its unfolding and hewing to a strict realism, Manhattan Beach begins in the middle of the Depression and ends near the close of World War II. Egan has also narrowed her focus, homing in on three protagonists: Anna Kerrigan, a Brooklyn naval yard’s first female diver; Eddie, her mysteriously absent father; and Dexter Styles, a mob boss that Eddie used to work for. The result is a more introspective, and perhaps more revealing novel than any Egan has previously written.
Monday, September 25, 2017
The Fall 2017 issue of the Sewanee Review, due out in October, is the magazine's five-hundredth, and marks the close of its 125th volume. The Review has had the privilege of publishing countless great writers since it was founded by William Peterfield Trent in 1892, but, as former editor George Core remarked, “Longevity alone does not guarantee a virtue.” With that in mind, in 2017 the Review underwent significant changes.
Tuesday, September 19, 2017
McDermott: In my case, a good part of imagination is memory—the familiarity of a place, but also of the people who inhabit the place (I don't think a fiction writer can separate the two)—but it is memory filtered, shaped, and transformed by what the heart imagines. For me, character is often first, and then, inseparably, the place the character inhabits—but these choices often seem incidental, material readily at hand. I'm more interested in getting to, getting at, what the heart imagines as the story unfolds. A roundabout way of saying: you begin with what you know to discover all you don't know.
Friday, September 15, 2017
Walking home from work not too long ago, I saw a snakeskin curled around the base of a tree. More bored than honestly curious, I picked up a stick and poked at the skin, which disintegrated, its broken bits floating up like ash from a campfire. Man, they say, is no friend to nature.
Monday, September 04, 2017
When he first arrived in Sewanee, Tennessee, in 1888, Professor William Peterfield Trent saw an opportunity to shape the intellectual destiny of the South. Just thirty years old, he had recently finished his historical training at Johns Hopkins and accepted a job at the University of the South over a higher-paid position at the University of Georgia. Sewanee, Trent hoped, would provide the foundation to invigorate the region’s literary and intellectual culture. Over the next few years, Trent did just that, compiling a wide network of friends and producing some of his most lasting work. In 1892 his biography of southern author William Gilmore Simms was published, and in the same year he produced the first issue of the Sewanee Review.
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