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JLP Based Documentary Film Opens September 23 in NYC



Opening in Theaters and On Demand Platforms in Fall 2016

Theatrical Debut Appears on Friday, September 23 at the Metrograph in New York City

(NEW YORK, NY – September 7, 2016) – FilmBuff announced today that it has licensed worldwide rights to distribute THE JAZZ LOFT ACCORDING TO W. EUGENE SMITH, the first original production from venerable New York media institution and leading podcast producer WNYC Studios.

FilmBuff will release THE JAZZ LOFT ACCORDING TO W. EUGENE SMITH in select theaters – including the Metrograph in New York City – on Friday, September 23, followed by a digital release on all major On Demand platforms, including iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, and Vudu, on Friday, October 7. WNYC’s award-winning radio host and producer and Emmy Award-winning film editor Sara Fishko, the director of the film, will be on hand to do a live Q&A after the evening show at the Metrograph.

The film, a follow-up to Fishko’s Jazz Loft Radio Series, as well as author Sam Stephenson’s book, The Jazz Loft Project, brings hundreds of photographs by acclaimed LIFE Magazine photographer W. Eugene Smith to the screen for the first time, as well as some of the 4,000 hours of audio he recorded, The film features commentary by musicians Steve Reich, Carla Bley, Jason Moran, Ronnie Free, and many others on this fascinating chapter in jazz, photography, and New York City history.

In the 1950s, dozens of jazz musicians jammed night after night in a dilapidated New York loft building, not realizing they were all being captured in sound and pictures by Smith, who lived in the loft space next door. Thelonious Monk stopped by to rehearse; drummer Ronnie Free got hooked on hard drugs; Smith began to tape-record his own phone calls; the ‘50s gave way to the ‘60s. In a layering of interviews, vignettes and powerful music, Fishko recreates these stories of the vibrant culture of New York’s mid-century jazz era, resurrecting some of the characters captured in Smith’s evocative photographs.

In tandem with the film’s release, WNYC Studios will make available an updated version of the original award-winning Jazz Loft Radio Series – which takes listeners on a deep-dive into the music, voices, and sound Smith captured on audio tape – as a 10-episode podcast series on, iTunes and other places where podcasts are available.

“Jazz is an integral part of the fabric of New York City culture, so we’re excited to bring THE JAZZ LOFT to audiences in our hometown and beyond,” said FilmBuff’s Jake Hanly. “It’s a fascinating time capsule of an historic moment in our city, and FilmBuff is excited to be partnering with WNYC, a quintessential New York institution, on their first original production.”

“What gets us excited every day is the chance to tell stories that inform while delighting. And we’re always looking for new ways to do that,” said Dean Cappello, Chief Content Officer of WNYC Studios. “THE JAZZ LOFT project started as a radio series that showcased the incredible and unheard Gene Smith recordings. The chance to bring these characters to the screen with FilmBuff in WNYC Studios’ first film feels like the best way to honor these musicians and artists in a way that audiences will love.”

“We’re still not sure exactly what Gene Smith was trying to create in the loft,” said Fishko. “But he did remarkable work there, and his pictures by the tens of thousands and stacks and stacks of audio tape reels tell us things about community, music-making, obsession and art that we couldn’t learn in any other way.”

THE JAZZ LOFT ACCORDING TO W. EUGENE SMITH screened at Cleveland International Film Festival 2016, Full Frame Festival 2016, Buenos Aires International Festival of Independent Cinema 2016, International Film Festival Rotterdam 2016, Copenhagen Jazz Film Festival 2016, DOC NYC 2015, and New Orleans Film Festival 2015.

The film was written, produced and directed by Sara Fishko, edited by Jonathan J. Johnson and photographed by Tom Hurwitz, ASC.  Producers include Calvin Skaggs for Lumiere Productions and Sam Stephenson. The deal was negotiated by Jake Hanly of FilmBuff with John Chao of WNYC.

THE JAZZ LOFT ACCORDING TO W. EUGENE SMITH is funded in part by grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, The Reva and David Logan Foundation, Oliver Kramer, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and the New York State Council on the Arts.

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The Most Haunting Band Picture I’ve Seen, Pt. 2

The staff band at Cherry Hospital, formerly known as the “Asylum for Colored Insane,” also known as “the State Hospital.” Goldsboro, North Carolina. Circa 1920s.

Earlier this year I made a JLP blog post about this photograph.  This week I was treated to an unexpected email from a descendant of two of the men in the picture.  Her name is Bianca M. Rhym and over the course of several generous and compelling emails, she filled out the story.  With her permission, here are excerpts:

“My great grandfather, Albert Hill Whitaker, pictured second from right in the rear row and holding what looks like a french horn, was the grounds superintendent at the hospital from the early 1920s through mid 1970s. His older brother, William Clemon Whitaker, pictured third from left in the rear row with the trombone, was a fireman on the hospital grounds. They were born in 1898 and 1900 and they were the best of friends. I’ve seen this picture before and always liked it.

I have an old newspaper article that was once accompanied by this picture.  It’s from the 8/17/1969 edition of the Goldsboro News-Argus and was written by Joan Broyles. It’s a remembrance piece on the band.  I’ve included the text from the article below:”

Photo Caption: ‘HOSPITAL BAND OF THE 1920s — This picture of the now defunct Cherry Hospital band was taken in the 1920s. Members, who also performed at a number of social and civic occasions, were employees of the then State Hospital. Left to right, kneeling, are William Staten and Will Eller. First row, standing left to right, are Ervin Ashford, John Shines, Oscar Hines, Willie King, William Henry Simmons, Levi Hamilton (band director). Second row, left to right, Clyde James, Eugene Patterson, William Whitaker, Will Odom, a Mr. Whitfield, Albert Whitaker, and A. B. Howell. Albert Whitaker, who tells the story of the band elsewhere on this page, says that many members are now deceased.

Article Text:  A former employee of Cherry Hospital reminisced recently about a hospital band of which he was a member in the mid-1920s.

“The band was organized during the administration of Dr. W. W. Faison when Cherry was still known as State Hospital,” Albert Whitaker recalled.

“A. B. Howell and the late Levi Hamilton interested Dr. Faison in having a band which would bring amusement and entertainment to the patients,” he continued.

Whitaker, 67, was a supervisor at Cherry Hospital until his recent retirement.

The band, in which Whitaker played an “upright baritone instrument,” consisted entirely of hospital employees.

“Mr. Hamilton selected and gave Dr. Faison a list of instruments needed for the band, which were paid for by the state. Many employees agreed to be band members before the instruments were purchased, and they also agreed to pay for half of the instructions.”

Whitaker said Hamilton selected suitable instruments for each one. “We then began to learn to fill our horn, learn our lines and spaces, valuation of notes, flats and sharps.

“We were soon able to play for patients in different courtyards two times a week and board meetings once a month,” Whitaker remembered. “Dr. Jackson and Wiley Thompson of Goldsboro would join us on these occasions, and there was always barbecue and plenty of good eating.”

Whitaker said the band rendered many concerts at the hospital and performed on many other occasions as well, such as laying of the corner stone of First African Baptist Church, the opening of James Theatre, parties at Judge Robinson’s twice a month and other functions.

“Mr Hamilton resigned eventually to take care of personal business and an Englishman named Roberts succeeded him as director,” Whitaker continued. “Professor Roberts, a violin teacher, stayed with us only a short while.

“Our last instructor was Mr. Basden who was band director at Goldsboro High School. He stayed with us for quite a while and when he left we were playing a very high grade of music.”

Whitaker said the band broke up about 1930. “Members of the band began to leave to seek better employment and the group was eventually discontinued.”

But Whitaker says he kept up his interest in music. He changed to trumpet later and performed solos in his church.

Bianca Rhym continues:

“Albert Whitaker was my maternal grandmother’s father. He and William were born in Henrico, Virginia and grew up near Rocky Mount, North Carolina.  They had another brother, Eddie, who died from Typhoid fever at 15 years old, and a sister named Rosa, who died as a toddler or small child.  They also had three other sisters, Alice Arrington, Beulah Silva and Bertha Smoot, who relocated to New York City.

“They moved to Goldsboro sometime after 1920 to work at the state hospital. They are each listed in a Nash County, NC census in 1920.  They are listed as living on the grounds of the state hospital in the 1930 census.  Albert’s occupation is listed as ‘attendant’ and William’s is listed as ‘fireman’.  Albert went on to become the building and grounds superintendent at the state hospital.  He was a leader at the state hospital and in the Goldsboro community, as a member of a Masonic lodge and St. Mark’s Baptist Church.  Albert said he planned to write a book about his experiences working at the state hospital.  I’ve seen a note written by one of the physicians at the hospital calling him an amazing man who could jump a six-foot fence with just a running start.  William eventually relocated to New York City, and then came back to Goldsboro where he was laid to rest.

“Albert and William each had children and grandchildren born in homes built on the state hospital campus, and they both retired from the state hospital.  Albert has children still living in Goldsboro, one of whom will be 90 years old soon, and William has one daughter living in Atlanta.  Albert was married twice and William was married four times, so they both have a lot of grandchildren, great grandchildren, great great grandchildren and even great great great grandchildren living around the world.

“They were the descendants of Annie Whitaker, born around 1820, on their paternal side, who was a slave in Nash County, NC, and her Whitaker ‘master’.  Their maternal lineage leads back to free African Americans, native Americans, so-called ‘Melungeons’ and European Americans.

“So, after reading the article again, I’d say the picture is from the early to mid-1920s. I also found pieces of Grandpa’s sheet music for the song ‘The Beautiful Garden of Prayer’ by J. H. Fillmore, which I’m assuming was one of his favorite songs to play.

“I grew up in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  Albert’s oldest daughter – my maternal grandmother – moved to Boston with her husband around 1950.  I now live in Charlotte, NC with my husband and daughter.

“I think that about covers the pertinent facts, but if you have any questions, by all means, ask away.  Thank you so much for posting what motivated me to take another look at my family history.  I look forward to reading your updated post.

Bianca M. Rhym”

I’m very grateful to Ms. Rhym, and more curious than ever about this picture and the hospital.  What these men might have been able to tell us about Thelonious Monk’s father after his commitment there, for example, is one particular thing that comes to mind.  There might be no way to track that down in 2012.  The imagined and unimaginable undocumented stories from the general history cast a spell.  Ms. Rhym’s info makes this a less “haunting” band picture to me.  I had imagined that the band members were patients, not hospital staffers.

A final thought:  Goldsboro, North Carolina is remembered in John Coltrane’s song, “Goldsboro Express,” named after the railroad line that his uncle worked on.

-Sam Stephenson

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Doug Ramsey on Overton, Monk, & Jack Reilly

I’m overdue (due to the nasty recent JLP blog virus) in linking the invaluable Doug Ramsey’s blog post on Overton, Monk, and Jack Reilly from 2+ weeks ago.  Enjoy.  I also recommend Doug’s recent posts on Hampton Hawes, among others.  As followers of this blog may know, I’m assembling what will probably become a book on Sonny Clark (pieces one and two for Paris Review Daily and a longer third piece for Tin House), and Hawes will figure deeply into that story.


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Nina Simone & Jazz Books for the Time Capsule

Nina Simone

Yesterday I was on North Carolina Public Radio’s State of Things show, hosted by Frank Stasio, to talk about Nina Simone, who grew up in Tryon, NC.  During the show I described drummer Arthur Taylor’s book, Notes and Tonesas a “time capsule jazz book.”  A friend emailed to ask what other jazz books I’d put in the time capsule.  Here they are:

Whitney Balliett’s “Collected Works” and “American Musicians II.”

A.B. Spellman’s “Four Lives in the Bebop Business,” republished as “Four Jazz Lives.”

Paul Berliner’s “Thinking in Jazz.

The collected jazz writings of Nat Hentoff, in all formats including his liner notes, a collection that hasn’t been assembled or published, yet, unfortunately, but is essential.  Like Balliett and Spellman what separates Hentoff is that his story of jazz is not just a story of the recordings, but a record of the human beings in their own voices.  (I volunteer to edit Hentoff’s jazz work into a massive compendium, which would immediately become perhaps the most indispensable non-audio jazz document in the literature).

Michael Ondaatje’s novel about Buddy Bolden, Coming Through Slaughter.

Sue Mingus’ memoir, Tonight at Noon.

Art Pepper’s memoir, Straight Life.

Robert O’Meally’s anthology, Jazz Cadence of American Culture.

Robert O’Meally’s introduction to Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finnin which he calls that novel the first “blues” novel.

Rafi Zabor’s novel, The Bear Comes Home.

Robin D.G. Kelley’s biography, Thelonious Monk.

Pannonica de Koenigswarter’s, Three Wishes.

Dan Morgenstern’s, Living with Jazz.

Ben Ratliff’s, The Jazz Ear.

Lawrence Gushee’s Pioneers of Jazz: The Story of the Creole Band:  Gushee did the impossible.  He documented the undocumentable.  The Creole Band was a New Orleans band that existed entirely west of the Mississippi, mostly in vaudeville theaters on the West Coast, a band that was never recorded and perhaps never played in New Orleans.  Gushee spent 20-30 years scouring locals newspapers in the western US and he put together this mind-blowing history of a band that was only a myth before his work.

-Sam Stephenson



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Scenes from Thelonious Monk Highway Marker Ceremony

The event on Friday May 4 at the Booker T. Theater in Rocky Mount was magnificent.  I was honored to be part of the program.  As I told the warm, engaged audience of a couple hundred, one of my passions is to reconnect jazz to the South (other than New Orleans, which in my opinion gets more than enough credit).  The people of Rocky Mount and the NC Department of Cultural Resources deserve some credit for their efforts in this reconnection, in particular Mavis Stith and James Wrenn, President and Vice President, respectively, of the Phoenix Historical Society.  It was also wonderful to spend more time with Thelonious Monk’s cousins Pamela Monk Kelley and Edith Monk Pue.  Their father, Conley Monk, was a first cousin of Thelonious, and Pamela is a family historian.  Monk’s son T.S. Monk contributed a video commentary, and Monk’s esteemed biographer Robin D.G. Kelley, an old JLP friend, contributed poignant remarks that were read by James Wrenn.  In my remarks I focused on my childhood and youth seventy-five miles east of Rocky Mount and some of the findings in my Oxford American article.  Here are some photos:

Early arrivals for the 5pm event.

Early arrivals for the 5pm event.

The Booker T. Theater on the Douglas Block

The Booker T. Theater on the Douglas Block, the black business district of Rocky Mount during segregation.

Monk family members gathering for a photo.

Monk family members gathering for a photo.

Pamela Monk Kelley, middle front, Edith Monk Pue, second from right.

Pamela Monk Kelley, middle front, Edith Monk Pue, second from right.


Pamela being interviewed by local TV.

Pamela being interviewed by local TV.

-Sam Stephenson

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Thelonious Monk N.C. Highway Marker Unveiling


This Friday May 4 in Rocky Mount, NC I’m proud to take part in a couple of ceremonies to unveil a North Carolina Historical Highway Marker in honor of Thelonious Monk’s birthplace and childhood home.  HERE is a piece about the events from Rocky Mount’s Chamber of Commerce and HERE is a piece from the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources.

Also, HERE is my 2007 piece in Oxford American about Monk’s return to North Carolina late in his career.

-Sam Stephenson

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Bull City Party

We would be remiss if we didn’t mention some of the excellent work that’s happening right here in the Jazz Loft Project’s administrative home town: Durham, The Bull City. This April, in particular, offers a lot of wonderful documentary work, much of it in kindred spirit to the JLP.

As part of the Bull City Soul Revival, an exhibition called “Soul Souvenirs: Durham’s Musical Memories from the 1960′s and 1970′s” opens tonight, April 19, at the Hayti Heritage Center in Durham, NC. Follow those links to read more about tonight’s opening event, featuring several veterans of Durham’s soul scene and next Friday’s concert with a similarly powerful lineup (April 27).

Simultaneously, at the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University, there’s another remarkable exhibition opening: “Full Color Depression: First Kodachrome’s From America’s Heartland.” It’s curated by Bruce Jackson and he’ll be in house to give a talk and sign his new book In This Timeless Time: Living and Dying on Death Row in America (co-authored by Diane Christian and published by the University of North Carolina Press and CDS Books of the Center for Documentary Studies).

(And those are only the events with two miles of each other pertaining to tonight at 7pm. Looking forwards and backwards through this month, there’s more. A reminder for this similarly nearby exhibition opening showed up while I cobbled this entry. Fortunately, it starts at 4pm. )

The Full Frame Documentary Film Festival happened here in Durham last weekend. The Center for Documentary Studies Filmmaker Award went to an extraordinary film called Special Flight. This documentary focuses on a Swiss detention center in Frambois, where a group of immigrants live in purgatory after they’ve been denied requests for asylum while they await a (forcible) “Special Flight” away from a country that had become their true home. It shows another sort of “timeless time” or placeless place.

Full Frame also featured a new documentary with a direct tangent to the Jazz Loft Project. Radio Unnameable covered the career of late night NYC DJ Bob Fass, whose shows W. Eugene Smith often recorded. I talked with Fass on the telephone about a year ago and he alluded to a friendship with Smith. It’s not surprise that Smith would gravitate to a kindred-spirited night owl. On Smith’s tapes, there’s one night when Smith was listening to Fass’s radio show, Radio Unnameable. Smith left the recorder running and made his way to the station, onto the airwaves, and back onto his own tape that was being recorded in his loft. Smith went to the radio station for a number of reasons that night. He wanted to bring Fass a Peter LaFarge record that couldn’t be found at WBAI. The record was one of thousands in Smith’s collection and he wanted to support  folk singer Peter LaFarge, who was Fass’s guest that night. And it’s clear on the tape that LaFarge is struggling with whether or not he will sing again,k among other things. Smith had met LaFarge during the singer’s childhood while visiting New Mexico on another project. Fass interviews Smith, who facilitates a live performance by LaFarge, and they all wind up on Smith’s reel-to-reel tape in the Jazz Loft Project collection. I touched on it here.

Where can you find a similar collection of visual arts, spoken word, and musicians these days? Next week, in Durham: The Center for Documentary Studies and The Hinge will launch Professor Diablo’s True Review at the Casbah club on Tuesday, April 24. Then you’ll be able to check out the Bull City Soul Revival on Friday the 27th. This week you’ll have to choose between some great events. Next week you can go to both. There’s a lot more happening in Durham this month. If you can’t attend the events, there is plenty to take in by exploring the website links above. To quote Smith, “I’m saying it very badly.” But the word is out.  So many worthy projects may seem like a rambling list in this blog entry. These events, exhibitions, and books can’t be contained summarily in a blog’s box. They need to be experienced in depth, in real time where they might truly live and breathe.

-Dan Partridge

(At last weekend’s Full Frame Documentary Film Festival, there was also a documentary about letterpress printing called Kiss the Paper. Head down to Durham’s own letterpress studio,  Horse & Buggy Press for Maji Moto: Dispatches from a Drought to see their shop, new book, beautifully pressed broadsides, and exhibit).

Bull City Party!

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The Connection


JLP radio series producer Sara Fishko alerted me to a new 35mm restoration of Shirley Clarke’s film “The Connection” that will premier at the IFC Theater on 6th Avenue on May 4.  There are many overlaps of “The Connection” and the goings on at 821 Sixth Avenue.  Here’s what I wrote in the JLP book:

Jazz musicians spend a lot of time waiting.  Waiting to get called for gigs, then waiting for the gigs; waiting for a pianist or drummer to show up; waiting for a turn to solo; waiting to get paid by a club or label owner.  Bassist Bill Crow said, “There was a lot of idle time in the afternoons.  We learned which museums and galleries were free and we’d go look at art in the afternoons, when we weren’t practicing.”

The drug users also spent time waiting for a fix.  In 1959 Jack Gelber’s play, The Connection, dramatized this particular brand of waiting at the Living Theater on Sixth Avenue and 14th Street, just fourteen blocks from 821 Sixth Avenue.  The loft could have served as the play’s stage set and Gelber sought to achieve a realism that broke down the boundaries between the stage and an audience.  The “connection” was a dealer named Cowboy and jazz musicians – Freddie Redd and Jackie McLean, among others – were languishing in the theater space, playing tunes to pass time and escape boredom.  Gelber attempted to break down boundaries between the stage and the audience in a manner not unlike Smith’s fly-on-the-wall loft recordings.  Loft musicians Ronnie Free and Frank Hewitt were stand-ins for The Connection and Redd remembers the opening night party for the play’s cast and crew being held at 821.

In December 1959, Smith recorded Symphony Sid’s radio show on WEVD and he caught this mention of The Connection:

Ladies and gentlemen, have you seen The Connection? This is a play written by Jack Gelber. And a play with jazz featuring the Freddie Redd Quartet with Jackie McLean on alto. It’s called ‘a play with jazz,’ the Village Voice explains because there’s a quartet onstage which provides lots of good jazz and lots of good acting. Of course, there are fourteen other people in the play. And this is the first production of any sort, not just theater, in which modern jazz is used dynamically to enhance dramatic action rather than merely decorate or sabotage it, with music written by Freddie Redd.  The Villager says, ‘It’s jazz of an exceptionally superior sort, almost alone worth the price of admission.’ And all the musicians are making their acting debuts. The Connection is now playing at The Living Theatre, 14th Street and Sixth Avenue. And you can call for a ticket reservation at Chelsea 3, 4569. Weekdays, The Connection starts at 8:30. Saturday shows are at 7 and 10:30. And there’s a Sunday show at 8:30 PM. The New York Post said, “Fascinating, a real gone slice of life that you won’t find unless you know the right path.”

The Living Theater revived The Connection in 2009.

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Coming Soon: JLP e-Book

News just in from Knopf.  Details soon.


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Time and the Archive

Last week I was in NYC working on Gene Smith’s Sink and Chaos Manor. My editor of Sink gave me a copy of a new book she edited, Exorcism: A Play in One Act (2012) by Eugene O’Neill, based on the writer’s attempted suicide in 1912.  Exorcism had a two-week life on stage in 1920 before O’Neill destroyed the script.  Elements of the play emerged in O’Neill’s masterpieces, The Iceman Cometh (1940) and Long Day’s Journey into Night (1956), but the original text was thought to be gone.  Nearly ninety years after Exorcism was written, the script was discovered in the papers of the late Philip Yordan, a screenwriter who had apparently received his copy from O’Neill’s second wife in the 1940s.  Yale University Press published the script this year, with a forward by Edward Albee and an introduction by Louise Bernard, former Curator of Prose and Drama at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University.

Bernard’s introduction, “Time and the Archive,” an essay on the metaphysical values of saving things – objects and memories, in this case the “lost” play of a Nobel prize winner, stunned me.  It’s one of the best pieces I’ve read concerning the enigma of archival research, with many ramifications for JLP and my work on Gene Smith’s Sink.  Here are Bernard’s first two paragraphs:

There is much to be said for the relationship between Time and the Archive, each term capitalized here as befitting its symbolic function.  Time – that ineffable thing which signifies the broad sweep of history – is at once deep and long and granular, an (in)finite string of fleeting moments that constitute something like duration.  Although human endeavor appears to follow a teleological thrust, chronology is equally tied to happenstance and hence to the host of disjointed patterns that refuse easy coherence.  Even as we break down time into digestible parts (days, years, centuries, or broad, expansive eras), such arbitrary units necessarily rub up against their opposite: the intangible stream of human consciousness as a fluid movement of thought, or elusive recollection.  Thus, when we speak of time, we also speak, inevitably, of memory, of piecing together the import of events large and small, which brings us, by association, to the figure of the archive itself.

The archive, as the careful assemblage and ordering of documents into discrete bodies of information that capture and record the various workings of the public sphere, provides much fodder for the ever-subjective production of history.  Yet, while the archive’s origins are bureaucratic in nature, the idea of the archive as it related to creativity acquires added resonance when we consider not only the aesthetic lure of the archive as a mode of artistic practice (the playful use of archival accoutrements – filing cabinet, typewriter, index card – in the work, for instance, of the Surrealists) but the way in which the paper trail itself presents an object lesson in the machinations of biography – the interplay of presence and absence that undergirds the telling of an individual’s life story.

- From Louise Bernard’s introduction to Exorcism: A Play in One Act, by Eugene O’Neill.  Yale University Press.  2012.

-Sam Stephenson

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