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Books  >>  Biography

Spalding Gray

Journals of Spalding Gray, THE

Spalding Gray Journals Of Spalding Gray The
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Riveting, funny, heartbreaking, at once raw and lyrical: these journals reveal the complexity of the actor/writer who invented the autobiographical monologue and perfected the form in such celebrated works as Swimming to Cambodia.

Here is the first intimate portrait we have of the man behind the charismatic performer who ended his life in 2004: evolving artist, conflicted celebrity, a man struggling for years with depression before finally succumbing to its most desperate impulse. Begun when he was twenty-five, the journals give us Gray’s reflections on his childhood; his craving for success; the downtown New York arts scene of the 1970s; his love affairs, marriages and fatherhood; his travels in Europe and Asia; and throughout, his passion for the theater, where he worked to balance his compulsion to tell all with his terror of having his deepest secrets exposed.

Culled from more than five thousand pages and including interviews with friends, colleagues, lovers, and family, The Journals of Spalding Gray gives us a haunting portrait of a creative genius who we thought had told us everything about himself—until now.

“For all its seeming straightforwardness, Gray's confessional enterprise raised thorny questions about the nature of autobiographical performance. One of the things that kept his audience coming back was the mixture of revelation and reserve, self-lacerating candor and self-mocking comedy the low-key New England native employed. How much of Gray's art was a transcription of reality, and how much was a refraction or deflection, a carefully cultivated fiction packaged as the ‘truth’? Now, in a book sure to be carefully sifted for fresh evidence, The Journals of Spalding Gray add another provocative layer to the story. Selected by Nell Casey from some 5,000 pages, these edited entries begin in 1967, when the 25-year-old Gray was working as a regional theater actor in Houston. They end in 2003, as he spiraled toward suicide. Gray died in 2004, after an apparent jump from the Staten Island Ferry. Casey supplies useful and well-made narrative bridges. The result is a kind of memoir in fragments, frank and elliptical, unsparing and occluded. . . . Gray was full of shadow parts. A number of them emerge with more clarity and starkness in his journal than they did onstage. . . . The Journals of Spalding Gray reveal a tangle of interlocking identities. There's the thread of the artist coming of age and finding his singular theatrical voice and another about the backstage exploits of a demi-celebrity. We get gossip and jealousy (Gray was riveted by the amount of money Dustin Hoffman made), travelogue and therapy, marriage and the lurking demon of suicide. Finally this is a book about self-consciousness, which was both the engine and the anguish of Gray's life.  . . . One puzzle is whether the journal itself, presumably a zone of private contemplation, was just another form of mediated experience. Casey makes the case, at one point, that Gray wanted to have his journal entries published. But in a way that's beside the point. Whether onstage or alone with his notebook, Gray was forever tracing and retracing the pathways that made him who he was.”
—Steven Winn, The San Francisco Chronicle

The Journals of Spalding Gray reveal someone who was at once addicted to the rush of self-exposure and yet was also deeply private. Brooklyn-based journalist Nell Casey has edited Gray’s literary anatomy down to a readable package. . . . Like Gray, who riveted millions just by sitting at a desk and talking, the best practitioners of self-revelation make it look effortless—as if they’ve delivered a spontaneous laying bare of the facts. In fact, it requires a literary sleight of hand—the ability to show all and reveal nothing—that is anything but simple. As Gray’s journals show, he honed his craft carefully, tweaking and adjusting his stories for maximum narrative torque. I miss Spalding Gray. His death was not just an untimely tragedy among the litany of talented, creative folk who are cruelly dragged away by attendant demons before their time (Kurt Cobain, Chris Farley and Amy Winehouse come immediately to mind) but a loss that has resonated with me for years. Even now, I’ll be walking down a city street somewhere or hear a song come on the radio, and think, ‘I wish Spalding Gray were here for this.’”
—Leah McLaren, The Globe and Mail 
 
“During his nearly 30 years as a man onstage alone, Gray perfected the art of turning his life into art . . . Gray’s journals show a man who was constantly walking a line between trying to keep something for himself and believing it was is artistic duty to share everything with his audience. . . . Even for a born confessional raconteur like Gray, that line between the public and the private must have been hard to walk. . . . A romantic might even say Gray sacrificed himself for a greater purpose, that he was the truest kind of artist—the kind for whom there was no life outside of what he created with it.
—Josh Rosenblatt, The Austin Chronicle 
 
“Reading these journals one is impressed with the highly aestheticized provenance of Gray’s truth-telling. Plainly the monologue was as much a theatrical as a personal form for him, despite how much he depended on the candid and at times almost sensationalized rendering of his life experience. On the other hand, the exploitation of personal experience is itself one of the darker obsessions that Gray reveals in these journals. . . . In [them], Gray has no audience to spare, and the unmediated rawness with which he confronts his own death wish, particularly toward the end when he recapitulates his mother’s earlier trauma in his own move out of a beloved house during a period of mental instability, is perhaps the most profoundly disturbing element these entries reveal. If his audience would be shaken and surprised by the lack of forthcomingness in an artist who sought to create the illusion of truth-telling, then in his journals Gray was seemingly unafraid to unravel his own dark thoughts.”
—Francis Levy, The East Hampton Star 
 
The Journals of Spalding Gray, edited by Nell Casey and culled from the Swimming to Cambodia performance artist’s notebooks, letters, and tapes, plus interviews with his widow and friends, reveal a daring melancholic (he committed suicide in 2004) who mined his chaotic inner life, troubled relationships, and tragic family history to create sterling works onstage anchored by his signature desk, water glass, notebook, and microphone.”
—Lisa Shea, Elle 
 
 “The conflict found throughout Gray’s extensive journals [is] between his own relentless search for transcendence and the often shocking absurdity of worldly contingency of the sort that will, eventually, tragically, short-circuit him. . . . It’s distressing to read the way happiness generates sadness and terror in Gray’s psyche, because his work could be the source of so much pleasure to his audiences. Even offstage: one friend tells the editor Nell Casey—who has done an admirable job knitting together a selection of Gray’s journal entries with interviews, and her own thoughtful take—that Gray was so seductive a storyteller that just sitting around a downtown loft, hearing him recount the mundane details of his day, could ‘torture you with pleasure.’ He invented a performance genre out of this narrative prowess. But the dark side, the journals reveal, was just how much Gray himself was tortured with self-torture. He’d make light of it in his monologues, [which], stripped


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