Other literary forms

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 144

Although Gilbert Sorrentino (saw-rehn-TEE-noh) started out writing poetry, his first novel, The Sky Changes, was published in 1966. The Sky Changes ignores time sequences and scrambles the past, present, and future. This was followed by a remarkable output of fiction: Steelwork in 1970, Imaginative Qualities of Actual Things the following year, Red the Fiend in 1995, and The Abyss of Human Illusion in 2009, among others.

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Sorrentino’s fiction was experimental and won praise from critics, but it was only with the 1979 publication of Mulligan Stew that Sorrentino earned popular success. The novel is considered Sorrentino’s masterpiece and won rave reviews in almost every influential newspaper. Mulligan Stew attacked the conventions of traditional novels, with their linear plot lines, “real” characters, and language subordinated to story.

Sorrentino also published a play, Flawless Play Restored: The Masque of Fungo (pb. 1974), and a work of nonfiction, Something Said, in 1984.


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The controversial Vietnam War and the social upheaval of the Civil Rights movement spurred an experimental writing movement that began in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Gilbert Sorrentino was among the literary avant-garde of the period, along with Thomas Pynchon, Robert Coover, John Barth, William H. Gass, and LeRoi Jones (Amiri Baraka). In 1956, while at Brooklyn College, he founded the magazine Neon with college friends. The issues that Sorrentino edited contained contributions from prominent writers, including William Carlos Williams, Jones, Hubert Selby, Jr., and Joel Oppenheimer. From 1961 to 1963, Sorrentino wrote for and edited Kulchur, a literary magazine publishing writers from the Black Mountain school, the Beats, and the New School.

In addition to many grants, including Guggenheim Fellowships in 1973 and 1987, Sorrentino won the John Dos Passos Prize for Literature in 1981, an Academy Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1985, the Lannan Literary Award for Fiction in 1992, and the Lannan Lifetime Achievement Award in 2005.


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Conte, Joseph. “Gilbert Sorrentino: A Crystal Vision.” Critique 51 (2010): 140-146. Conte, a friend and colleague of Sorrentino, remembers the poet-novelist in this brief but informative article.

Howard, Gerald. “A View from the Ridge: Back in the Old Neighborhood with Postmodern Prole Gilbert Sorrentino.” Bookforum, February/March, 2006. A detailed article on the life and work of Sorrentino.

Klinkowitz, Jerome. The Life of Fiction. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1977. Explores major developments in American fiction, with an emphasis on modernism and its nucleus in New York. Contains a chapter on Sorrentino.

Mottram, Eric. “The Black Polar Night: The Poetry of Gilbert Sorrentino.” Vort, 1974, 43-59. This is an exhaustive discussion of Sorrentino’s poetry, focusing on his color imagery, his humor, and his poetic techniques. Especially strong in documenting the poet’s bleak vision.

O’Brien, John, ed. Gilbert Sorrentino Number. Elmwood Park, Ill.: Dalkey Archive, 1981. Contains critical writings on Sorrentino’s work.

Sorrentino, Gilbert. “Shoveling Coal.” Interview by Barry Alpert. Jacket 29 (April, 2006). Sorrentino discusses his life and his works.

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Critical Essays