Chapman, Clay McLeod
CHAPMAN, Clay McLeod
Born in Richmond, VA. Education: Attended Burren College of Art; graduate of Sarah Lawrence College.
Home—Brooklyn, NY. Agent—Heide Lange, Sanford J. Greenburger Associates, Inc., 55 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10003.
Playwright, storyteller, novelist. Founder of the performance group Pumpkin Pie Show.
Rest Area: Stories, Hyperion/Theia (New York, NY), 2001.
Miss Corpus (novel), Hyperion (New York, NY), 2003.
Also author of several plays, including Red Bird and Big Top.
Rest Area was adapted for audio (unabridged; cassette and CD), read by the author, HighBridge, 2001.
Clay McLeod Chapman's writing career took off just as he was about to graduate from college. He had written to a number of literary agents and included a short story and invitation to see his performance group, Pumpkin Pie Show, in the East Village. One week before graduation, Chapman had a two-book deal with Hyperion.
Chapman began writing plays at the age of twelve and later performed as a one-man show at the International Fringe Festival in New York. More than half of the stories in Chapman's Rest Area were written for Pumpkin Pie. Included in the twenty stories is the title tale in which a father loses his young daughter at a highway rest step.
Booklist's Ted Leventhal noted that Chapman often recites these stories as monologues on stage, but added that "they carry plenty of dramatic weight on their own." A Publishers Weekly contributor wrote that "this debut collection reveals a playwright's fondness for edgy, frightening setups.… The unholy carnival of 'Rodeo Inferno' is enjoyably creepy, and 'Second Helping,' about a pack of Cub Scouts run feral, is gleefully gruesome." Library Journal reviewer Mary Szczesiul commented that "amazingly, [Chapman] manages to squeeze character, plot, setting, and background into each."
Chapman next wrote the novel that was part of his deal. David Abrams wrote in January Magazine that Miss Corpus should be opened "carefully, lest the stench of rot waft out too quickly. The pages of this book are clotted with corpses: bloated limbs swell and split, a decomposed jaw falls into a decayed lap, road-killed possums are scraped off the asphalt.… And yet, Miss Corpus is poignant, even life-affirming."
The story follows the lives of two men who eventually make a connection on I-95. Will Colby comes home from a tour with the Merchant Marines to find the body of his bride decomposing on the kitchen floor, surrounded by the maps she was using to plan their delayed honeymoon when she fell and hit her head. The second man, who appears more than half way through the story, is Phil Winters, whose son's body has been found with his teen friends decaying in a van at the bottom of a swamp.
Both men set out on road trips, with Will taking the honeymoon drive south to Florida with his wife in a cooler in the trunk, while Phil makes the trip north that they had always planned with his son. Along the way, Chapman adds characters whose lives are lived in misery, including a woman who gives birth in a toll booth and a boy who receives, as a gift from Will, the chilled arm of his wife. Booklist's Whitney Scott wrote that "Chapman's powerful, intense gifts are not for the faint of heart or weak of stomach." A Publishers Weekly reviewer remarked, "The book is heavy with horror … but Chapman's knack for storytelling and his vigorous prose establish a dramatic momentum, moving the tale to a violent, tragic crescendo."
Chapman's plays, which are performed around the country and Off-Broadway in New York, include Red Bird, a series of vignettes named for the obsolete red subway cars that once spanned New York City. Show Business Weekly Online critic Brandon Wolcott wrote: "Chapman and a troupe of fine actors perform a kind of séance by summoning ghosts and personifying steel, an appropriate approach for a writer who often tells stories from the vantage point of the Southern Gothic."
Big Top is circus-themed and begins with Chapman himself sitting on the dunking seat at a carnival. Featured are the Great Throwdini and his wife, Niabi, a knife-throwing act, with music by One Ring Zero. Heather Grayson reviewed the show for OffOffOff, noting that "overall, Big Top is much less grotesque than Chapman's earlier work, but not short of fun or danger. His character voices, though you can still hear Clay in all of them, are starting to catch up to his juicy stories." Chapman often tries out new material in his hometown of Richmond, Virginia.
Pete Humes reflected on Chapman's work and career on the Punchline Web site, noting that his performance group is named for one of his stories about boys who have the need to release their pent-up sexual urges. "Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your tastes)," said Humes, "in the world of Chapman, it's with vegetables. This edgy approach to sex, death, and the struggle of the human being to find his place in the world is part of what makes Clay's repertoire so appealing (or unappealing, depending on your tastes). He has a finger on the pulse of the soft, slimy underbelly of the subconscious. A shared affinity for the darker, less traveled boroughs that he shares with cultural misfits and anyone who ever considered David Lynch a deity."
Humes said that the Pumpkin Pie Show "rolls on and gets tighter and has no plans for Broadway just yet. If anything, the traveling troupe of musicians and performers hopes to maintain a crowd that can still see the sweat on their brows and remain just a bit unsettled during the raucousness of Chapman's regurgitations. If anything, Clay envies the way musicians have earned themselves a sort of brand loyalty, a devoted fan base that will buy first and ask questions later. And after all, is an ever-expanding, profoundly devoted cult following too much to ask for?"
Chapman told CA: "I stumbled into writing at an early age, luckily. Not having the rhythm to play an instrument or the body to tackle any sports, writing seemed to be a worthy alternative—that, combined with time and practice, took over. Considering that, growing up, my mother would be on the road quite often, I was left to my own devices. As an only child, there's a certain resourcefulness that develops—where I guess my imagination had ample time to fill in whatever may have been lacking in group play activities. The solitary art of writing was there from the get-go."
When asked to describe his writing process, Chapman answered, "Wake up early, write for the morning. Have the afternoon to attend to business. Nap. Wake up in the evening, write for the evening. Have the rest of the night to attend to the rest… Fall asleep, repeat.
"Sadly, I feel as if I've learned more about what doesn't make me a writer than what does. The uphill battle of staying in the publishing industry is a heartbreaker. The challenge thus far has been to find a means in which to continue to write, to call myself a writer. The intention [for my books] is for a voice to resonate off from the page, to enter the reader's imagination as an emotional depth-charge—that, taken away with them, once the book's closed, that voice continues to echo through. It'd be great to create a colony of characters, another Winesburg, Ohio or a new Spoon River—adding on a new member with each short story, another era with every novel. A place that the reader can return to and feel already acquainted with by the style of my writing. That'd be great."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, December 15, 2001, Ted Leventhal, review of Rest Area: Stories, p. 702; October 15, 2002, Whitney Scott, review of Rest Area (audio), p. 438; January 1, 2003, Whitney Scott, review of Miss Corpus, p. 844.
Kirkus Reviews, November 15, 2001, review of Rest Area, p. 1565; November 1, 2002, review of Miss Corpus, p. 1549.
Library Journal, February 15, 2002, Mary Szczesiul, review of Rest Area, p. 180.
Publishers Weekly, February 4, 2002, review of Rest Area, p. 54; December 2, 2002, review of Miss Corpus, p. 32.
January Magazine,http://www.januarymagazine.com/ (July 1, 2003), David Abrams, review of Miss Corpus.
OffOffOff,http://www.offoffoff.com/ (June 5, 2002), Heather Grayson, review of Big Top.
Punchline,http://www.punchlinemag.com/ (July 1, 2003), Pete Humes, "The Boy Who Cried Pie."
Show Business Weekly Online,http://www.showbusinessweekly.com/ (July 1, 2003), Brandon Wolcott, review of Red Bird.