Shelf Life | 20th Anniversary | Hudson Valley | Hudson Valley; Chronogram
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Shelf Life 


It's been nearly a decade since Brian Mahoney tapped me to expand Chronogram's books coverage into a monthly section that surveys the literary scene on both banks of the Hudson, stretching roughly from William Kennedy's Albany to Washington Irving's Sleepy Hollow. In that time, we've reviewed nearly 1,000 books with some Hudson Valley connection (local author, publisher, subject matter, or upcoming event at one of the area's great local bookstores). We've also profiled well over a hundred authors, from the late great Bard professor Chinua Achebe to High Falls newbie Koren Zailckas.

There may be a dreamier day job than talking with writers, but I can't imagine one. Through Chronogram, I've met Pulitzer Prize-winning poet John Ashbery in his stocking feet, shared a pub lunch with the McCourt brothers, fed chickens with New Yorker staff writer Susan Orlean, touched the Orphic lyre of Woodstock poet laureate Ed Sanders, eaten vindaloo with novelist Joydeep Roy-Bhattacharya, perched in Esmeralda Santiago and Nancy Willard's magical writing nests, talked Talk Talk with Peekskill homeboy T. C. Boyle, and trailed National Geographic adventurer Jon Bowermaster to the Saugerties Lighthouse. Some of these encounters are gathered in River of Words: Portraits of Hudson Valley Writers (SUNY Press, 2010) with photos by Chronogram's Jennifer May. All are archived at, alongside profiles by my talented colleagues.

Why do writers and book lovers flock to the Hudson Valley? It may be the soul-stirring beauty, and the short commute from publishing's company town. But it's also the sense of community: the library fairs, bookstore events, writers' workshops, literary festivals, open mics, art walks, and poetry readings in caves. It's a privilege to write about books in this valley, where words are a natural resource.

Nina Shengold is Chronogram's books editor and the author of novel Clearcut (Anchor Books, 2005), and her alter ego "Maya Gold" writes for young adults. She once thought we would eventually run out of local writers to profile in this magazine. Not bloody likely.

click to enlarge PHOTO BY MEGAN MCQUADE
  • Photo by Megan McQuade

Danny Shanahan, cartoonist, 12/03

If you've opened a New Yorker in the last twenty years, chances are you've seen a Danny Shanahan cartoon, and chances are you've laughed out loud.  Shanahan's signature, printed in a neat schoolboy's hand, with the final "N" oddly distended, matches his humor:  it's easy to read and just slightly off-normal.

click to enlarge PHOTO BY JENNIFER MAY
  • Photo by Jennifer May

Shalom Auslander, memoirist and fiction writer, 1/10

Auslander's metaphors for his creative process are grueling. "I've spent the last year and a half wielding a scalpel, cutting through bone, wincing as I reach inside and fiddle around with the organs," he says. "It's Kafka's Hunger Artist—you lock yourself in a cage and starve to death. That's the job. You perform open-heart surgery on yourself."

click to enlarge PHOTO BY JENNIFER MAY
  • Photo by Jennifer May

Jo Ann Beard, essayist and novelist, 5/11

There are writers who thrive on high drama, and writers who make the everyday sing. Beard is defiantly in the latter camp. In the movies, she'd be a genius character actor, her craft evoking the plainspoken truths, buried emotions, and glinting weirdness of real people's lives.

click to enlarge PHOTO BY JENNIFER MAY
  • Photo by Jennifer May

Robin Palmer, young adult author, 6/12

"I write for the girls who sit on the side in the cafeteria. They have no idea how cool they are," she asserts, adding that popular girls reach their peak in high school. "They peak and we blossom."

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