On Wednesday, November 10, the Upper School welcomed a best-selling
writer, a musician, and a college professor to its annual Fall
Convocation at All Souls Church. More precisely, they met Rick Moody,
author of numerous short stories, a memoir, and nine novels, including
The Ice Storm, Garden State, and his latest, The Four Fingers of Death.
Mr. Moody came to BWL through Jessica Lichtenstein, our Director of
Communications and his classmate at Brown University, where the two
shared a writing seminar led by the postmodern novelist John Hawkes.
Recalling the young author’s contribution to those workshops, Ms.
Lichtenstein says it was “Like when you hear a really good musician, you
felt he just set himself apart.” To honor his visit, Admissions
Coordinator Billie Williams sang Carole King’s “Tapestry,” a choice
inspired by the 70s era of his novel The Ice Storm.
From his formative days at St. Paul’s School, in New Hampshire, Mr.
Moody went on to Brown, then, shortly thereafter, to the Master of Fine
Arts program at Columbia University. With the high school audience, he
shared some of his own early literary experiences, confessing he was
such a voracious reader that his parents had remind him to go outside on
beautiful days. A prolific artist who experiments with form, his
passion is clear: In a 2009 interview, he said, “Language is a spiritual
system of a kind. So, it’s possible to feel like, when I do my job very
well, I am evangelizing, but not in the sense of [recommending] you a
specific sect or approach, but making a case for the numinous, and the
things that are out there besides just the hard and fast evolutionary
rules of daily life.”
Mr. Moody displayed this principle as he read two selections from The
Four Fingers of Death, a 735-page tome published this past July. The
story is set in 2025 and is told by Montese Crandall, who takes a job
writing the novelization of the remake of the B-movie The Crawling Hand.
The action largely concerns a doomed U.S. mission to Mars, as reported
through an astronaut’s blog posts. The three-month space odyssey
contains the comic and tragic turns of love and its aftermath. One by
one, all but a single astronaut go mad and eventually die from a virus
contracted on the surface of Mars. Only the blogger survives the return
to Earth, but upon impact, he is blown up and only his arm and hand,
with a notably missing finger, remain. Then the story really begins.
Indeed, Mr. Moody has composed a book about composing a book about an
invented remake of a real film. The New Yorker calls it “Entertaining
and often poignant, probing the limits of technology, consciousness, and
language in the face of grief.”
A frequent judge of literary contests, Mr. Moody is no stranger to
accolades for his own work. His first novel, Garden State (1991),
published when he was 30, won the Editor’s Choice Award from the
Pushcart Press. The title story from his 1994 collection The Ring of
Brightest Angels Around Heaven won the Aga Khan Award from the Paris
Review. In 2000, he received a Guggenheim fellowship, and in 2002, his
memoir, The Black Veil, won the PEN/Martha Albrand Award for the Art of
the Memoir. His work has appeared in Esquire, The New Yorker, The New
York Times, and Harper’s.
Mr. Moody, along with Ethan Hawke and three others, established the
New York Public Library Young Lions Fiction Award in 2001. Each year,
its committee reads the novels and stories of writers 35 and under and
grants the winner a $10,000 prize. He has also taught at the State
University of New York at Purchase and at Bennington College.
Mr. Moody is also a musician and composer. He plays with a group
called the Wingdale Community Singers, whose style he describes as
“woebegone and slightly modernist folk music of the very antique
variety.” Their 2005 release followed his 2004 “Rick Moody and One Ring
Zero.” His second album, “Spirit Duplicator,” came out last year.
During the question and answer period that followed his reading at
All Souls, Mr. Moody spoke of his literary inspirations, his editing
process, and the importance of connecting art to life. He made a case
for the relevance of fiction in today’s world of reality television and
memoir. Leaning on this inspiration and the mysteries it opens, students
gained something out-of-the ordinary from this writer who himself