Tuesday, June 1, 2010


Leslie Scalapino
(July 25, 1944 – May 28, 2010)

It was with tremendous sadness and grief that we received the news of Leslie Scalapino's passing last weekend.

Leslie Scalapino was a major writer as well as a beloved teacher in the Bay Area, at Bard, at Naropa, and at numerous other institutions. The publisher of O Books and an active member of the SPD community, Leslie was tireless in the cause of small press literature.

Leslie did so much for SPD it is difficult to ennumerate everything, and even more difficult to express our gratitude and respect for so many decades of support for this organization.


(Above: SPD Open House 1998, from l to r:
Ellen Ullman, Camille Roy, Leslie, Steve Dickison)

In her lifetime, the majority of Leslie's poetry and writing appeared on SPD publishers. The earliest catalog we can find containing one of Leslie's books is a stocklist from 1983 that includes CONSIDERING HOW EXAGGERATED MUSIC IS (North Point, 1983, out of print). There are still over 25 of her books in stock in the SPD warehouse, encapsulating a lifetime of literary experimentation and philosophical/spiritual investigation.


(Author photo from WAY, 1988)
(photo: Tom White)

Leslie, via O Books, was also a key SPD publisher. She founded her press in 1986 as a publishing outlet for young and emerging poets, as well as prominent, innovative writers. The first SPD catalog to contain an O Book came out in Winter of 1987. It listed Robert Grenier's PHANTOM ANTHEMS (still in stock). In that catalog there is also an advertisement for the Grenier book and for the then-forthcoming DREAMING CLOSE BY by Rick London (also still in stock).



From such modest beginnings over 20 years ago, O Books now has nearly 100 titles in stock at SPD. Its list easily constitutes one of the richest troves in the SPD warehouse.

But Leslie's positive influence on contemporary literature reverberated well beyond even her own writing and publishing projects. Cliff Becker, the legendary Literature Director at the National Endowment for the Arts from 1999 until his death in 2005, regularly mentioned Leslie in many of his presentations. He used her as his example of the sort of challenging work the NEA existed to support and cultivate. To Cliff and many others, even those far beyond experimental writing circles, Leslie stood as the very symbol of a committment to literary re-invention, to work that invigorates and even redefines the expectations of its readers. Such writing may not be everyone's cup of tea--almost by definition it can't be everyone's cup of tea--but according to Cliff and to many legions of Leslie's readers it is absolutely irreplaceable to those who need and live by it.

We are inexpressibly sorrowful that Leslie is no longer here. We want to extend our sincerest condolences to her family, and to all her many friends. We are grateful that she has left such a wealth of great writing behind, even if it will never replace the pleasure and great intensity of her person.

Laura Moriarty
Brent Cunningham
&
the entire SPD Staff

  • The obituary notice prepared by the family can be found here.
  • Ron Silliman has put up an extensive list of online links to tributes, remembrances, condolences, and works by Leslie here.
  • There will be a memorial event for Scalapino at St. Mark’s Poetry Project on Monday, June 21st.
  • A Zen Buddhist funeral ceremony will be conducted by Abbott Norman Fisher in about a month with the arrangements in a subsequent announcement.

3 comments:

et said...

beautiful post, thank you guys.

Michael Cross said...

Thanks for this, guys...

moazzam sheikh said...

Rest in peace, Ms Scalapino. And thank you Laura for a graceful farewell!
-moazzam sheikh

 
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