Alf Evers, Life of An American GeniusBy Ed Sanders
Meads Mountain Press, 2021, $24.95
It’s often said that it takes one to know one. And as a literary embodiment of that maxim, Alf Evers, Life of An American Genius is about as perfect an example as you’re likely to find: one American genius writing about another. Author, poet, musician, and all-around cultural polymath Ed Sanders (The Family; America, A History in Verse; Tales of Beatnik Glory) has written a loving biography of Catskills historian and author Alf Evers (Woodstock: History of An American Town; The Catskills: From Wilderness to Woodstock; Kingston: City on the Hudson). It’s an evocative account of the life of Sanders’s scholarly mentor and Woodstock neighbor, and by extension, an account of Evers’s beloved Catskills themselves.
At roughly 300 pages, the book pieces together the arc of Evers’s life and his passion for history in a way that’s illustrative of the very research methods that Evers passed down to Sanders during his final years, when the Fugs founder was the typist and research assistant for Evers’s book on Kingston. Throughout the central, interview-sourced text, the timeline of Evers’s work and his earthly existence is punctuated, corroborated, and illustrated by pertinent kernels of information plucked straight from the banker’s boxes of archival materials and the tens of thousands of handwritten three-by-five-inch index cards Evers relied on for his own books (fittingly, Life of An American Genius is also available as a boxed, unbound, and numbered edition, signed by Sanders). The resulting volume reads like a verité-style documentary, with dreamlike glimpses of personally formative moments and locally historical events materializing from the mist to settle permanently on the page and form a narrative.
Born in 1905 to a creative household in the Williamsbridge section of the Bronx when that area was still comparatively rural, Evers moved with his family to Ulster County in 1914, and it was here that he’d spend the better part of his long, writerly life. Growing ever more fascinated with local lore, he interviewed old timers for his files and burrowed deeply into the surrounding hollows to rescue items of historical interest that otherwise would’ve been lost, recognizing their importance as, in many cases, the only remaining evidence of who and what had gone before. “Over the decades he had gathered in his house…a large library of books, maps, periodicals, photographs, stereographs, photocopies, posters, ephemera, and pamphlets on the regional history of New York and United States history in general,” writes Sanders. “He was a total historical data hound, always on the prowl at estate and garage sales, obscure books stores, and heading up into dusty attics sleuthing for data!”
An early 1950s split with his illustrator wife Helen ended the couple’s long run of popular children’s books but also seemed to provide the push Evers needed to fully embrace his role as the chronicler of the Catskills. Amid more children’s books, he stepped up his writing for local papers, began lecturing, penned poetry and puppet shows, and, through his next companion, singer Barbara Moncure, began running with the folk music scene. In 1960, he became Woodstock’s first town historian, and soon after embarked on the intensive writing and research that led to 1972’s The Catskills: From Wilderness to Woodstock, which drew acclaim and set him on the path for his likewise essential books on Woodstock and Kingston (he finished the latter—and was still working on a biography of Byrdcliffe Colony founder Hervey White—a mere two weeks before he died in 2004, at age 99). Along the way intrigue swirled around activist Evers that echoes more recent events: red baiting at Phoenicia’s progressive Camp Woodland, where he taught folklore, and within the Woodstock Historical Society, of which he was charter member, and even a false arrest seemingly connected with his vocal stance in favor of zoning conservation.
Sanders readily admits how Evers’s processes for collecting and referencing information directly influenced his work on his own epic, multi-volume America, A History in Verse, and Life of An American Genius sees its subject on the shelf beside Sanders’s biographies of other authors he views as mentors: Anton Chekov, Charles Olson, and Allen Ginsberg. Good company, indeed.
How to Raise Kids Who Aren’t Assholes
G.P. Putnam’s Sons, $27, 2021
Melinda Wenner Moyer, Cold Spring resident and award-winning science journalist, debuts her first book, a hilariously helpful parenting guide. A contributing editor at Scientific American and regular contributor to the New York Times, Moyer’s areas of expertise include parenting and medicine. The deeply researched guide combines scientific reasoning with practical advice and a humorous tone, arming readers with actionable strategies that will give them a fresh perspective on the world of parenting. Subtitled “Science-Based Strategies for Better Parenting—From Tots to Teens,” this book provides parents data-driven tools to guide the next generation toward generosity, compassion, and antiracism.
Harper, $21.99, 2021
Prose’s 18th novel delves into the moral ambiguity of the Red Scare, as Simon Putnam, a young editor in 1950s New York, edits a bodice-ripper improbably based on the trial and execution of suspected Russian spies Ethel and Julius
Rosenberg. But with secrets mounting, Putnam finds himself in a dangerous world that starts to spin out of control. In The Vixen, Prose, Distinguished Writer in Residence at Bard College, crafts a compelling narrative about the cost of success and reconciling personal identity during the height of McCarthyism.
Someone Should Pay for Your Pain
Gibson House Press, $16.95, 2021
Franz Nicolay, member of rock band the Hold Steady and a Bard College music professor, debuts his first novel. Punchy and wise, the story follows middle-aged musician Rudy Pauver, who perpetually lives on the road touring in the shadow of his more successful protege, Ryan Orland. But when Pauver’s runaway niece shows up asking to join him on the road, he must reconcile his ambition with his ties to his family. Through Pauver’s journey, Nicolay constructs a brutally funny and heartfelt novel about the creative process, failure, endless wandering, and uncensored perspective of life for most musicians.
Selected Poems 2002-2021
Serving House Books, $14.59, 2021
J. R. Solonche’s 23rd book is a carefully curated anthology of his favorite poems. Solonche, an Orange County resident, has published poetry in over 400 magazines (including this one, many times), journals, and anthologies since the early `70s, and much of this most recent book was constructed from his previous work. Featured works include poems from Shelf Unbound Notable Indie Book Porch Poems and two books nominated for the Pulitzer Prize: Invisible (2017) and Piano Music (2020). With an accessible style full of wit and hidden meanings, Solonche’s poetry creates a collection for poetry lovers as well as those newer to the poetic form.
What They Didn’t Burn
Spark Press, $16.95, 2021
Cold Spring resident Mel Laytner tells the inspiring true story of his father’s life as an Auschwitz camp survivor. As a longtime journalist, Laytner has worked as a foreign correspondent in London and the Middle East for NBC News and United Press International. Subtitled “Uncovering My Father’s Holocaust Secrets,” this book blends personal memoir with detailed investigative journalism in order to follow shaky Nazi paper trails and discover the layered truth behind his father’s stories. Uncovering documents the Nazis didn’t burn and interviewing survivors who remember his father from ghettos and camps, Laytner’s book follows the complex reality surrounding his family history.