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Orchid Stories by Kenward Elmslie

Orchid Stories by Kenward Elmslie

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Like the orchids that provide their leitmotif, these interwoven stories by Kenward Elmslie are exquisite, exotic, and oneiric, as if they had been written in another world. Although each of THE ORCHID STORIES stands alone, their characters and moods recur frequently, in a swirl of visual echoes and the bewildering clarity of a dream. Even the characters themselves, with their shifting names and genders, have an illusive reality that enhances the pleasure of these tales.

The Song Cave is honored to present this new edition of Kenward Elmslie’s out-of-print masterpiece, first published by Paris Review Editions in 1973. With an introduction that provides a fresh sense of Elmslie’s oeuvre by Michael Silverblatt, host of KCRW’s “Bookworm,” this spectacular and spectacularly overlooked book is at last available to a new generation of adventurous readers.


“Kenward Elmslie’s The Orchid Stories is, to use Balzac’s term, a chef d’oeuvre inconnu, and one of the funniest, most gorgeous American prose fictions of the latter 20th century. It’s wonderful to have it in print again.” John Ashbery

“Like Franz Kafka and Raymond Roussel, Kenward Elmslie has created throughout his oeuvre - but nowhere more strikingly than in The Orchid Stories - a human universe that both reflects our own and stands at a bizarre angle to it. Unlike those other those two other greats, Elmslie has depended neither on genre nor hidden methods to achieve his creation. He apparently has a Great Hadron Collider lodged in some nook of his brain into which he feeds the totality of the English language, high and low, and propels its words at explosive speeds into one another until they pulverize and settle over the society he has conjured up in luminous lexical dust. The result is bewildering, often hilarious, and utterly original. Ultimately it is also tinged, I feel, with an implicit deep melancholy that haunts all great works of art.” Harry Mathews


Poet, librettist, novelist, editor, and performance artist Kenward Elmslie was born in New York City in 1929. Elmslie became a central figure in the New York School and, as the editor of Z magazine and Z Press books, promoted the work of fellow poets John Ashbery, Bill Berkson, Joe Brainard, Edwin Denby, Joanne Kyger, James Schuyler, Anne Waldman, and numerous others.

Among his many poetry collections are Pavilions, Girl Machine, Motor Disturbance (winner of the Frank O’Hara Award), Tropicalism, and Routine Disruptions: Selected Poems & Lyrics. Elmslie is also the author of six opera librettos, including Lizzie Borden, as well as the musical plays Lola, The Grass Harp (based on the work by Truman Capote), Palais Bimbo, and Postcards on Parade.

Elmslie’s honors include a grant from the Ford Foundation, the Gertrude Stein Award for Innovative Poetry, and an award from the National Endowment for the Arts. He lives in New York City and Calais, Vermont, in a home he shared with his longtime partner and artistic collaborator, Joe Brainard.


Videos on Kenward Elmslie

Excerpt from The Orchid Stories in BOMB Magazine


Angel City Review

Paris Review

Dennis Cooper's Bolg


Kirkus Reviews

New York Times Obituary

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