Riggio Forum: In Celebration of William Gaddis / Josué Rivera

Teetering on my lap is a staggering 600-pag book, titled Letters of William Gaddis and published by the literary journal Conjunctions and Dakley Press. The book chronicles 70 some years of letters written by author William Gaddis. The letters reveal introspections, conversations, disillusionment, complications of work and family, experiences of revolution, and the forging of seminal works of literature by America’s postmodern literary darling, described by the New York Times Book Review as, “a presiding genius . . . of post war fiction.”

Bradford Morrow, founder of the literary journal Conjunctions, introduces an exceptional panel of readers—Robert Coover, Francine Prose, Samuel R. Delany, and Rick Moody—who will speak of their experiences with Gaddis and read a letter from the publication Letters of William Gaddis, and frames the evening in Gaddis’ statement that, “writers should be read, not heard, let alone seen.”


Robert Coover reads Gaddis’ letter with an effortless rhythm, “10:24 brought typewriter into kitchen to be near phone. 10:28 decide to have a nap ’til suppertime when I can have corn beef. 10:29 sat down in living room chair. 10:33 woke startled by ghastly, liquid snoring decided I had horrible cold and should have drink.” Francine Prose shares a candid thought that “reading his letters is like reading a secret.” Samuel R. Delany’s voice profoundly echoes, “all art is forgery, steal the substructure, the form must be taken; the form is the story.”  The panel reading concludes with Rick Moody looming over the microphone reading, “New York is already in ruins and nobody knows it,” and in defiant excitement I write on my notepad, “Why can’t I be a part of the myth?”

Letters of William Gaddis gives the reader a momentary glimpse into a profound, relentless drive to shape language into strange wondrous forms. Before the lights spark and auditorium empties, Sarah and Matthew Gaddis take the stage. Sarah’s soft voice reads a letter Gaddis wrote her in 1969 for her birthday, “Sarah if you keep your sense of humor you’re a step ahead anywhere you go.”  And Matthew concludes the evening with a poignant thought something close to, “it’s great hearing my father’s words as voices in rhythm.”


Josué Rivera is a contemporary media artist, writer, and activist. He is editor and creative director for Clearly Stated, and will be publishing Minor Scale Over White Sands through New York-based independent, nonprofit publisher, ¿COLORBLIND?.

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