Michael Cunningham was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, and grew up in Pasadena, California. He received his B.A. in English literature from Stanford University and his M.F.A. from the University of Iowa. His novel A Home at the End of the World was published by FSG in 1990 to wide acclaim. Flesh and Blood, another novel, followed in 1995. His work has appeared in The Atlantic Monthly, Redbook, Esquire, The Paris Review, The New Yorker, Vogue, and Metropolitan Home. His story "White Angel" was chosen for Best American Short Stories 1989.
Michael received the 1999 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the PEN/Faulkner Award, both for The Hours, and a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1993, a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in 1988, and a Michener Fellowship from the University of Iowa in 1982. Michael currently lives in New York City. Photo © David Shankbone.
A Walk in Provincetown
In this celebration of one of America's oldest towns (incorporated in 1720), Michael Cunningham, author of the best-selling, Pulitzer Prize–winning The Hours, brings us Provincetown, one of the most idiosyncratic and extraordinary towns in the United States, perched on the sandy tip at the end of Cape Cod.
Provincetown, eccentric, physically remote, and heartbreakingly beautiful, has been amenable and intriguing to outsiders for as long as it has existed. "It is the only small town I know of where those who live unconventionally seem to outnumber those who live within the prescribed bounds of home and licensed marriage, respectable job, and biological children," says Cunningham. "It is one of the places in the world you can disappear into. It is the Morocco of North America, the New Orleans of the north."
He first came to the place more than twenty years ago, falling in love with the haunted beauty of its seascape and the rambunctious charm of its denizens. Although Provincetown is primarily known as a summer mecca of stunning beaches, quirky shops, and wild nightlife, as well as a popular destination for gay men and lesbians, it is also a place of deep and enduring history, artistic and otherwise. Few towns have attracted such an impressive array of artists and writers—from Tennessee Williams to Eugene O'Neill, Mark Rothko to Robert Motherwell—who, like Cunningham, were attracted to this finger of land because it was . . . different, nonjudgmental, the perfect place to escape to; to be rescued, healed, reborn, or simply to live
in peace. As we follow Cunningham on his various excursions through Provincetown and its surrounding landscape, we are drawn into its history, its mysteries, its peculiarities—places you won't read about in any conventional travel guide.
Farrar, Straus and Giroux: 2010
Peter and Rebecca Harris: mid-forties denizens of Manhattan’s SoHo, nearing the apogee of committed careers in the arts—he a dealer, she an editor. With a spacious loft, a college-age daughter in Boston, and lively friends, they are admirable, enviable contemporary urbanites with every reason, it seems, to be happy. Then Rebecca’s much younger look-alike brother, Ethan (known in thefamily as Mizzy, “the mistake”), shows up for a visit. A beautiful, beguiling twenty-three-year-old with a history of drug problems, Mizzy is wayward, at loose ends, looking for direction. And in his presence, Peter finds himself questioning his artists, their work, his career—the entire world he has so carefully constructed.
Like his legendary, Pulitzer Prize–winning novel, The Hours, Michael Cunningham’s masterly new novel is a heartbreaking look at the way we live now. Full of shocks and aftershocks, it makes us think and feel deeply about the uses and meaning of beauty and the place of love in our lives.
In each section of Michael Cunningham's new book, we encounter the same group of characters: a young boy, an older man, and a young woman. "In the Machine" is a ghost story which takes place at the height of the Industrial Revolution, as human beings confront the alienated realities of the new machine age. "The Children's Crusade," set in the early twenties century, plays with the conventions of the noir thriller as it tracks the pursuit of a terrorist band which is detonating bombs seemingly at random around the city. The third part, "Like Beauty," evokes a New York 150 years into the future, when the city is all but overwhelmed by refugees from the first inhabited planet to be contacted by the people of earth.
Presiding over each episode of this interrelated whole is the prophetic figure of the poet Walt Whitman, who promised his future readers, "It avails not, neither distance nor place . . . I am with you, and know how it is." Specimen Days is a genre-bending, haunting, and transformative ode to life in our greatest city-a work of surpassing power and beauty by one of the most original and daring writers at work today.
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1998
"Best '98 Fiction"-- Publishers Weekly
WINNER: 1999 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction
WINNER: 1999 PEN/Faulkner Award
In The Hours, Michael Cunningham, who is recognized as "one of our very best writers" (Richard Eder, Los Angeles Times). draws inventively on the life and work of Virginia Woolf to tell the story of a group of contemporary characters who are struggling with the conflicting claims of love and inheritance, hope and despair.
The novel opens with an evocation of Woolf's last days before her suicide in 1941, and moves to the stories of two modern American women who are trying to make rewarding lives for themselves in spite of the demands of friends, lovers, and family.
Clarissa Vaughan is a book editor who lives in present-day Greenwich Village; when we meet her, she is buying flowers to display at a party for her friend Richard, an ailing poet who has just won a major literary prize. Laura Brown is a housewife in postwar California who is bringing up her only son and looking for her true life outside of her stifling marriage.
With rare ease and assurance, Cunningham makes the two women's lives converge with Virginia Woolf's in an unexpected and heartbreaking way during the party for Richard. As the novel jump-cuts through the twentieth century, every line resonates with Cunningham's clear, strong, surprisingly lyrical contemporary voice.
Passionate, profound, and deeply moving, The Hours is Michael Cunningham's most remarkable achievement to date.
Flesh and Blood
In Flesh and Blood, Michael Cunningham takes us on a masterful journey through four generations of the Stassos family as he examines the dynamics of a family struggling to "come of age" in the 20th century.
In 1950, Constantine Stassos, a Greek immigrant laborer, marries Mary Cuccio, an Italian-American girl, and together they produce three children: Susan, an ambitious beauty, Billy, a brilliant homosexual, and Zoe, a wild child. Over the years, a web of tangled longings, love, inadequacies and unfulfilled dreams unfolds as Mary and Constantine's marriage fails and Susan, Billy, and Zoe leave to make families of their own. Zoe raises a child with the help of a transvestite, Billy makes a life with another man, and Susan raises a son conceived in secret, each extending the meaning of family and love. With the power of a Greek tragedy, the story builds to a heartbreaking crescendo, allowing a glimpse into contemporary life which will echo in one's heart for years to come.
A Home at the End of the World
Michael Cunningham's celebrated novel is the story of two boyhood friends: Jonathan, lonely, introspective, and unsure of himself; and Bobby, hip, dark, and inarticulate. In New York after college, Bobby moves in with Jonathan and his roommate, Clare, a veteran of the city's erotic wars. Bobby and Clare fall in love, scuttling the plans of Jonathan, who is gay, to father Clare's child. Then, when Clare and Bobby have a baby, the three move to a small house in upstate New York to raise "their" child together and, with an old friend, Alice, create a new kind of family.A Home at the End of the World masterfully depicts the charged, fragile relationships of urban life today.
SELECTED REVIEWS FOR
"Cunningham's short book is a haunting, beautiful piece of work. . . . A magnificent work of art." —The Washington Post"
Easily read on a plane-and-ferry journey from here to the sandy, tide-washed tip of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, Land's End is that most perfect of companions: slender, eloquent, enriching, and fun. . . . A casually lovely ode to Provincetown." —The Minneapolis Star Tribune
"Cunningham rambles through Provincetown, gracefully exploring the unusual geography, contrasting seasons, long history, and rich stew of gay and straight, Yankee and Portuguese, old-timer and 'washashore' that flavors Cape Cod's outermost town. . . . Chock-full of luminous descriptions . . . . He's hip to its studied theatricality, ever-encroaching gentrification and physical fragility, and he can joke about its foibles and mourn its losses with equal aplomb." —Chicago Tribune
"A homage to the 'city of sand'. . . Filled with finely crafted sentences and poetic images that capture with equal clarity the mundanities of the A&P and Provincetown's magical shadows and light . . . Highly evocative and honest. It takes you there." —The Boston Globe
SELECTED REVIEWS FOR
*Starred Review* Peter Harris, a dispirited Soho gallery owner in his midforties, arrives home to find his wife in the shower and marvels at how lithe she looks through the steam, then realizes that he’s admiring her much younger brother. Called the Mistake, or Mizzy, he’s a lost soul, a junkie and moocher as sexy as he is manipulative. Mizzy appears just as Peter, brooding, romantic, and self-deprecating, is grappling with his failings as a father and an art dealer. Ceaselessly observant, Peter senses, or hopes for, “some terrible, blinding beauty” that will topple his carefully calibrated life, and why shouldn’t it be his alluring, feckless brother-in-law? Even if this mad infatuation stems from Peter’s deep grief for his brilliant and fearless gay brother, who died of AIDS. In his most concentrated novel, a bittersweet paean to human creativity and its particularly showy flourishing in hothouse Manhattan, virtuoso and Pulitzer winner Cunningham entwines eroticism with aesthetics to orchestrate a resonant crisis of the soul, drawing inspiration from Henry James and Thomas Mann as well as meditative painter Agnes Martin and provocateur artist Damien Hirst. The result is an exquisite, slyly witty, warmly philosophical, and urbanely eviscerating tale of the mysteries of beauty and desire, art and delusion, age and love. --Donna Seaman
SELECTED REVIEWS FOR
"A smashing literary tour de force and an utterly invigorating reading experience. If this book does not make you jump up from the sofa, looking at life and literature in new ways, check to see if you have a pulse." —USA Today
"An exquisitely written, kaleidoscopic work that anchors a floating postmodern world on pre-modern caissons of love, grief, and transcendent longing." —Los Angeles Times
"Cunningham has created something original, a trio of richly interwoven tales...his most mature and masterful work." —The Washington Post Book World
Kecia Lynn speaks with author Michael Cunningham, author of The Hours, Specimen Days, and A Home at the End of the World.
Michael Cunningham and James Franco Talk Writing
The two discuss writing fiction, MFA programs, and the importance of rigor.
Lectures, Readings, Appearances
For lectures, readings, and appearances unrelated to the publication of Specimen Days, contact:
Steven Barclay Agency
12 Western Avenue
Petaluma, CA 94952