“When I was twelve years old, I became persuaded that I was the reincarnation of Edgar Allen Poe,” Michael Chabon began.
Speaking to a nearly full Owen L. Coon Forum, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Chabon reflected Monday about his childhood obsession with a rather grisly American author.
Chabon’s appearance was part of the Great Authors series organized by the American Studies program each year. According to Weinberg senior Mark Shpizner, who helped bring Chabon to campus, the series brings a contemporary American author to discuss another American author who has had a considerable impact on their writing.
“I’m a big fan of his,” Shpizner said of Chabon.
Chabon has authored seven novels, and several collections of short stories and essays. In 2001, he won the Pulitzer Prize for The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. Where Chabon’s early work spoke mainly to his own life, his recent writing has veered into the fantastical.
Pushing down on the podium and shifting his weight, Chabon crafted a tale of his childhood love and adult appreciation for one of America’s darkest writers. For someone who steers clear of the butcher’s raw meat at the grocery store, Chabon was not drawn to Poe’s signature blood and gore, but rather, a sense of connection.
“[Poe was] bookish, homely, clumsy, friendless, and self-pitying. I was all those things,” he said.
Chabon also drew connections between the lyrical qualities of their respective works. While Poe switched between poetry and prose, Chabon saw all of his work as holding the same poetic cadence. “Poe rocked the American language.”
Like Poe, Chabon said he believed that “words are the sworn enemies of stale thinking.” “I am a poet. My enemy is dead language,” he added.
Interspersed with several passages of Poe’s own work, Chabon spoke of the escapism Poe’s writing provided a young and bullied boy from Baltimore. Like the modern obsession with Harry Potter or the X-men, “it affirms your secret worth,” Chabon said.
Some in the public were willing to ignore the focus on Poe in order to hear a beloved author. “I’m not really a huge Poe fan truth be told,” said graduate student Daine Stevens. “[But] I really like Michael Chabon as an author.”
For others in attendance, it was the combination of unique American author perspectives that was so appealing.
“Michael Chabon is one of my favorite writers, and Edgar Allen Poe was my favorite author as a child,” said Christine Ranieri, a University of Illinois at Chicago student.
“It was like reliving things I hadn’t thought about in a long time,” she said, clutching a recently signed copy of Kavalier and Clay. “I remember reading, being so excited about this bigger world…you want to share it, but you also feel special because you understand it.”
It was this sense of belonging that Chabon loved as a child, and hoped to emulate in his own work. “The point is to feel yourself a part of something greater.”