Codrescu, Andrei 1946-

views updated

CODRESCU, Andrei 1946-

(Betty Laredo, Marie Parfenie, Urmuz)

PERSONAL: Born December 20, 1946, in Sibiu, Romania; immigrated to the United States, 1966; naturalized U.S. citizen, 1981; son of Julius and Eva (Mantel) Codrescu; married Alice Henderson, 1968; children: Lucian, Tristan. Education: Attended University of Bucharest.

ADDRESSES: Agent—Jonathan Lazear, 930 First Ave. N., Suite 416, Minneapolis, MN 55401. E-mail—[email protected].

CAREER: Writer, journalist, editor, and translator. Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD, visiting assistant professor, 1979-80; Naropa Institute, Boulder, CO, visiting professor; Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, professor of English, beginning in 1984. Regular commentator on National Public Radio's All Things Considered. Appeared in the Peabody Award-winning documentary film Road Scholar, directed by Roger Weisberg, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1993.

MEMBER: American-Romanian Academy of Arts and Sciences, Modern Language Association of America, American Association of University Professors, Authors League of America, PEN American Chapter.

AWARDS, HONORS: Big Table Younger Poets Award, 1970, for License to Carry a Gun; National Endowment for the Arts fellowships, 1973, 1983; Pushcart Prize, 1980, for "Poet's Encyclopedia," and 1983, for novella Samba de Los Agentes; A.D. Emmart Humanities Award, 1982; National Public Radio fellowship, 1983; Towson University prize for literature, 1983, for Selected Poems: 1970-1980; National Endowment for the Arts grants, 1985, 1988; General Electric/CCLM Poetry Award, 1985, for "On Chicago Buildings"; American-Romanian Academy of Arts and Sciences Book Award, 1988; George Foster Peabody Award, Best Documentary Film, San Francisco Film Festival, Best Documentary Film, Seattle Film Festival, Cine Award, and Golden Eagle Award, all for Road Scholar; ACLU Civil Liberties Award, 1995; Romanian National Foundation Literature Award, 1996.



License to Carry a Gun, Big Table/Follett (Chicago, IL), 1970.

A Serious Morning, Capra Press (Santa Barbara, CA), 1973.

The History of the Growth of Heaven, George Braziller (New York, NY), 1973, originally published in limited edition chapbook, Kingdom Kum Press (San Francisco, CA), 1973.

For the Love of a Coat, Four Zoas Press (Boston, MA), 1978.

The Lady Painter, Four Zoas Press (Boston, MA), 1979.

Necrocorrida, Panjandrum (Los Angeles, CA), 1982.

Selected Poems: 1970-1980, Sun Books (New York, NY), 1983.

Comrade Past and Mister Present, Coffee House Press (Minneapolis, MN), 1986, 2nd edition, 1991.

Belligerence, Coffee House Press (Minneapolis, MN), 1991.

Alien Candor: Selected Poems, 1970-1995, Black Sparrow Press (Santa Rosa, CA), 1996.

It Was Today: New Poems by Andrei Codrescu, Coffee House Press (Minneapolis, MN), 2003.


The Repentance of Lorraine, Pocket Books (New York, NY), 1976.

Monsieur Teste in America and Other Instances of Realism, Coffee House Press (Minneapolis, MN), 1987, Romanian edition translated by Traian Gardus and Lacrimioara Stoie, published as Domnul Teste in America, Editura Dacia (Cluj, Romania), 1993.

The Blood Countess, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1995.

Messiah, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1999.

Casanova in Bohemia, Free Press (New York, NY), 2002.


A Craving for Swan, Ohio State University Press (Columbus, OH), 1986.

Raised by Puppets Only to Be Killed by Research, Addison-Wesley (Reading, MA), 1988.

The Disappearance of the Outside: A Manifesto for Escape, Addison-Wesley (Reading, MA), 1990, Romanian edition translated by Ruxandra Vasilescu, published as Disparitia Lui Afara, Editura Univers (Bucharest), 1995.

The Muse Is Always Half-Dressed in New Orleans and Other Essays, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1993.

Zombification: Stories from NPR, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1994.

The Dog with the Chip in His Neck: Essays from NPR and Elsewhere, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1996.

Hail Babylon! In Search of the American City at the End of the Millennium, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1998.

Ay, Cuba! A Socio-Erotic Journal, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1999.

The Devil Never Sleeps and Other Essays, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 2000.


Why I Can't Talk on the Telephone (stories), Kingdom Kum Press (San Francisco, CA), 1972.

The Here What Where (poetry), Isthmus Press (San Francisco, CA), 1972.

Grammar and Money (poetry), Arif Press (Berkeley, CA), 1973.

A Mote Suite for Jan and Anselm (poetry), Stone Pose Art (San Francisco, CA), 1976.

Diapers on the Snow (poetry), Crowfoot Press (Ann Arbor, MI), 1981.


Traffic au bout du temps (poetry reading), Watershed Intermedia (Washington, DC), 1980.

American Life with Andrei Codrescu, National Public Radio (Washington, DC), 1984.

New Letters on the Air: Andrei Codrescu (poetry reading and interview), KSUR Radio (Kansas City, KS), 1987.

An Exile's Return, National Public Radio (Washington, DC), 1990.

Common Ground (radio series on world affairs), Stanley Foundation, 1991.

(With Spalding Grey, Linda Barry, Tom Bodett, and others) First Words (tape and compact disc; introductory recording to "Gang of Seven" spoken word series), BMG Distribution, 1992.

No Tacos for Saddam (tape and compact disc; "Gang of Seven" spoken word series), BMG Distribution, 1992.

Fax Your Prayers, Dove Audio (Los Angeles, CA), 1995.

Plato Sucks, Dove Audio (Los Angeles, CA), 1996.

Valley of Christmas, Gert Town, 1997.


(Editor, with Pat Nolan) The End over End, privately printed, 1974.

(Translator) For Max Jacob (poetry), Tree Books (Berkeley, CA), 1974.

The Life and Times of an Involuntary Genius (autobiography), George Braziller, 1975.

In America's Shoes (autobiography), City Lights (San Francisco, CA), 1975.

(Editor and contributor) American Poetry since 1970: Up Late (anthology), Four Walls Eight Windows (New York, NY), 1987, 2nd edition, 1990.

(Editor) The Stiffest of the Corpse: An Exquisite Corpse Reader, City Lights (San Francisco, CA), 1988.

(Translator) Lucian Blaga, At the Court of Yearning: Poems by Lucian Blaga, Ohio State University Press (Columbus, OH), 1989.

The Hole in the Flag: A Romanian Exile's Story of Return and Revolution (reportage), Morrow (New York, NY), 1991.

Road Scholar (screenplay), directed by Roger Weis-berg, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1993.

Road Scholar: Coast to Coast Late in the Century (reportage), with photographs by David Graham, Hyperion (New York, NY), 1994.

(Editor) Reframing America: Alexander Alland, Otto Hagel & Hansel Mieth, John Gutmann, Lisette Model, Marion Palfi, Robert Frank, University of New Mexico Press (Albuquerque, NM), 1995.

(Editor, with Laura Rosenthal) American Poets Say Goodbye to the Twentieth Century, Four Walls Eight Windows (New York, NY), 1996.

(Author of essay) Walker Evans: Signs, J. Paul Getty Museum (Los Angeles, CA), 1998.

A Bar in Brooklyn; Novellas & Stories 1970-1978, Black Sparrow Press (Santa Rosa, CA), 1999.

(Author of introduction) Kerri McCaffety, Obituary Cocktail: The Great Saloons of New Orleans, 2nd edition, Winter Books (New Orleans, LA), 1999.

(Author of commentary) Land of the Free: What Makes Americans Different, photographs by David Graham, Aperture (New York, NY), 1999.

(Editor, with Laura Rosenthal) Thus Spake the Corpse: An Exquisite Corpse Reader, 1988-1998, two volumes, Black Sparrow Press (Santa Rosa, CA), 2000.

An Involuntary Genius in America's Shoes and What Happened Afterwards, Black Sparrow Press (Santa Rosa, CA), 2001.

(Author of essay) Walker Evans, Walker Evans, Cuba, introduction by Judith Keller, J. Paul Getty Museum (Los Angeles, CA), 2001.

Also author, under pseudonym Betty Laredo, of Meat from the Goldrush and 36 Poems by Betty Laredo. Author of novella Samba de Los Agentes. Contributor to anthologies, including The World Anthology, Bobbs-Merrill, 1969; Another World, Bobbs-Merrill, 1973; The Fiction Collective Anthology, Braziller, 1975; Kaidmeon: An International Anthology, Athens, 1976; The Penguin Anthology of British and American Surrealism, Penguin, 1978; The Random House Anthology of British and American Surrealism, Random House, 1979; Longman Poetry Anthology, Longman, 1985. Author of columns "La Vie Boheme," 1979-82, and "The Last Word," 1981-85, and a biweekly editorial column, "The Penny Post," all for the Baltimore Sun; author of monthly book column "The Last Word," for Sunday Sun and Philadelphia Inquirer, 1982—; author of weekly column "Caveman Cry," for Soho Arts Weekly, 1985-86; author of weekly book column "Melville & Frisby," for the City Paper in Baltimore and Washington, DC; author of the column "Actual Size," for Organica, and of weekly book review for National Public Radio's Performance Today.

Contributor of poetry, sometimes under pseudonyms Urmuz and Marie Parfenie, to periodicals, including Poetry, Poetry Review, Chicago Review, World, Antaeus, Sun, Confrontation, Isthmus, and Editions Change; also contributor of short stories and book reviews to periodicals, including Washington Post Book World, New York Times Book Review, American Book Review, Chicago Review, Playboy, Tri-Quarterly, Paris Review, World Press Review, Co-Evolution Quarterly, and New Directions Annual. Poetry editor, City Paper, 1978-80, and Baltimore Sun, 1979-83; contributing editor, San Francisco Review of Books, 1978-83, and American Book Review, 1983—; editor, Exquisite Corpse: A Journal of Books and Ideas, 1983-1997; contributing editor, Cover: The Arts, 1986-88; editor, American Poetry, 1970—. Member of advisory board, Performance Today and ARA: Journal of the American Romanian Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Codrescu's writing has been translated into six languages. A collection of Codrescu's manuscripts is kept at the Hill Memorial Library, Louisiana State University.

ADAPTATIONS: The Blood Countess has been recorded by Simon & Schuster Audio, read by Codrescu and Suzanne Bartish, 1995.

SIDELIGHTS: A Romanian-born poet, fiction writer, editor, and journalist, Andrei Codrescu was expelled from the University of Bucharest for his criticism of the communist government and fled his homeland before he was conscripted into the army. Traveling to Rome, the young writer learned to speak fluent Italian; he then went to Paris and finally to the United States. Arriving in the United States in 1966 without any money or knowledge of English, Codrescu was nonetheless impressed with the social revolution that was occurring around the country. Within four years he had learned to speak colloquial English colorfully and fluently enough to write and publish his first poetry collection, License to Carry a Gun. The collection was hailed by many critics who recognized Codrescu to be a promising young poet.

Although Codrescu enjoys the artistic freedoms that exist in the United States, he is still as critical of bureaucracy in his adopted country as he was in his native Romania—a skepticism that is made evident in his poetry and his autobiographies, The Life and Times of an Involuntary Genius and In America's Shoes. "In Mr. Codrescu's native Transylvania," Bruce Schlain observed in a New York Times Book Review article on the author's poetry collection Comrade Past and Mister Present, "poets are social spokesmen, and that perhaps explains his fearlessness of treading on the languages of philosophy, religion, politics, science or popular culture. His focus on a pet theme, oppression, is as much concerned with the private as with the public."

Just as Comrade Past and Mister Present compares East and West through poetry, in The Disappearance of the Outside: A Manifesto for Escape Codrescu discusses the matter in direct prose. He addresses here such subjects as the mind-numbing effects of television and mass marketing, the sexual and political implications that are a part of language, and the use of drugs and alcohol. "In line with his literary modernism," wrote Josephine Woll in the Washington Post Book World, "[Codrescu's] tastes run to the whimsical, the surreal (about which he writes with great understanding), even the perverse. He means to provoke, and he does. His ideas are worth thinking about." Codrescu's skill as an observant commentator about life in the United States has been praised by critics.

Codrescu returned to Romania after twenty-five years to observe firsthand the 1989 revolution that shook dictator Nicolai Ceausescu from power. The range of emotions Codrescu experienced during this time, from exhilaration to cynicism, are described in the volume The Hole in the Flag: A Romanian Exile's Story of Return and Revolution. Initially enthusiastic over the prospects of a new political system to replace Ceausescu's repressive police state, Codrescu became disheartened as neo-communists, led by Ion Iliescu, co-opted the revolution. Iliescu himself exhorted gangs of miners to beat student activists "who represented to Codrescu the most authentic part of the revolution in Bucharest," according to Alfred Stepan in the Times Literary Supplement. "It seemed to him the whole revolution had been a fake, a film scripted by the Romanian communists."

In preparation for the 1993 book and documentary film Road Scholar: Coast to Coast Late in the Century, Codrescu drove across the United States in a red Cadillac accompanied by photographer David Graham and a video crew. Encountering various aspects of the American persona in such cities as Detroit and Las Vegas, Codrescu filters his experiences through a distinctively wry point of view. "Codrescu is the sort of writer who feels obliged to satirize and interplay with reality and not just catalogue impressions," observed Francis X. Clines in the New York Times Book Review, who compared Codrescu's journey to the inspired traveling of "road novelist" Jack Kerouac and poet Walt Whitman.

The title of Codrescu's 1995 novel The Blood Countess refers to Elizabeth Bathory, a sixteenth-century Hungarian noblewoman notorious for bathing in the blood of hundreds of murdered girls. "While during the day she functions as administrator for her and her husband's estates . . . at night, in her private quarters, she rages at, tortures, and frequently kills the endless supply of peasant maidens. . . . Convinced that blood restores the youth of her skin, she installs a cage over her bath, in which young girls are pierced to death," noted Robert L. McLaughlin in the American Book Review.

Codrescu tells Bathory's gruesome story in tandem with a contemporary narrative about the countess's descendant, Drake Bathory-Kereshtur, a U.S. reporter working in Budapest. Of royal lineage, Drake is called upon by Hungarian monarchists to become the next king (although the true goal of this group, which Drake soon suspects, is to install a fascist government). During the course of Drake's travels in Hungary, he meets up with various manifestations of Elizabeth and eventually is seduced by her spirit to commit murder. "Pleating the sixteenth century with the twentieth, Codrescu is nervously alert for recurrent patterns of evil and its handmaiden, absolute authority," pointed out Time contributor R. Z. Sheppard. "Both Elizabeth's and Drake's Hungarys are emerging from long periods of totalitarian culture," commented McLaughlin in the American Book Review. The critic further stated, "These monolithic systems, by tolerating no heresy, were able to establish virtually unquestioned order and stability for a period of time. But when these periods end, the societies are thrown into chaos." During the era of communist repression in Hungary, the violence inextricably linked to the land was dormant. But in the words of Nina Auerbach in the New York Times Book Review, "ancient agents of savagery" are roused from sleep in The Blood Countess after the fall of communism and during the resultant political upheaval—these evil forces "overwhelm modernity and its representative, the bemused Drake."

While some reviewers commented on the horrific aspects of The Blood Countess, Bettina Drew pointed out in the Washington Post Book World that "Codrescu has done more than tap into a Western fascination, whipped up by Hollywood Draculas and vampires. . . . He has written a vivid narrative of the sixteenth century . . . [and] has made the history of Hungary and its shifting contemporary situation entertaining and compelling." Although McLaughlin observed in the American Book Review that The Blood Countess's "historical foundation is interesting; the incidents of its parallel plots keep one turning the pages; it has much to say about our world." Sheppard observed in Time that "The Blood Countess offers stylish entertainment," while Entertainment Weekly contributor Margot Mifflin found the book "beautifully written and meticulously researched."

Like Zombification, the volume of essays that precedes it, The Dog with the Chip in His Neck: Essays from NPR and Elsewhere collects Codrescu's commentaries for National Public Radio's "All Things Considered" along with other essays and addresses that Codrescu has published or presented, as the title suggests, elsewhere. In an interview with New Orleans Magazine, Codrescu commented on the experience of writing poetry and fiction and of writing prose: "I write poetry and fiction for pleasure, and nonfiction for money. [Nonfiction] is plenty of fun; it's just slowed-down poetry." In this collection, Codrescu attempts to slow down the motion of mass culture in America. Joanne Wilkinson, writing for Booklist, noted that "Codrescu is a very distinctive writer, displaying a formidable command of the language, heady opinions, and a mordant sense of humor. This potent combination makes him perfectly suited to address America's strange brew of high culture and low."

In Ay Cuba! A Socio-Erotic Journey, Codrescu addresses another strange brew, this time the mix of exotic sensuality and heavy-handed dogma in Castro's Cuba. Growing out of Codrescu's visit in late 1997 "to see for myself a decomposing ideology," the book "takes the form of an ironic travelogue-cum-report from the front," according to a Publishers Weekly contributor. What Codrescu found was an island surviving on a black market catering to Western tourists, including a number of Americans defying the U.S. travel ban, presided over by an aging revolutionary who keeps the faith while turning a blind eye to the hustlers, prostitutes, and illegal entrepreneurs who actually keep the economy from collapsing. But this is not a political exposé. Instead, it is a series of revealing encounters with a wide variety of Cubans, from street people to doctors, bureaucrats, and Santeria practitioners. "The result is a lively, tragicomic look at Cuba, enriched by insights gleaned from Codrescu's own experience with communism," noted Library Journal reviewer Boyd Childress. "In the end, it is refreshing to read a Cuban account where the human takes such firm precedence over the political," concluded Henry Shukman in the New York Times.

Codrescu returned to the novel with Casanova in Bohemia, again fictionalizing a real historical figure and providing an odd connection to modern times. This time his subject is the legendary Giacomo Casanova, but at a time when old age has generally reduced his sexual adventures to voyeurism and storytelling. The stories are told largely to Laura Brock, a maidservant at the castle where Casanova works as librarian to Count Waldstein and completes his fascinating memoirs. "There is no plot to this novel. Rather it follows the ramblings of a nostalgic and learned man as he looks back in delight and forward with dread," noted reviewer Brigitte Weeks in the Washington Post. Along with the seductions that have made his very name part of the language, Casanova recounts his travels throughout Europe and his encounters with Benjamin Franklin, Mozart, Marie Antoinette, and other notables from his long and illustrious life. He also muses on a vast range of subjects, reminding the reader that he has authored books on physics, mathematics, and even the history of cheese. "Taking full advantage of the factual eccentricities of his subject, Codrescu succeeds in probing the depths and details of his fictional subject. The reader feels as if he or she has had a close, almost intimate relationship with the elderly roué. Codrescu's imagination is astounding," wrote Weeks.

But of course the sexual escapades, both real and imagined, play a central role throughout the novel, and "Codrescu fans will enjoy this tongue-in-cheek patchwork of bawdy escapades," noted Chicago Tribune Books reviewer Brian Bouldrey. "This is ultimately a fun and sexy romp through a libertine's freely fictionalized life," observed a Kirkus Reviews contributor. The main character is every bit the rake that has been imagined, but with one major difference: he is not the cold-blooded seducer some have portrayed, eagerly corrupting virgins before moving on to his next victim. "As Codrescu points out, Casanova's image has been reimagined and degraded 'by the likes of Federico Fellini and other unfair or rancorous assassins of his character.' . . . Codrescu's novel is a valuable corrective and a useful piece of pop history. It's also a blast," concluded Times-Picayune reviewer Phil Nugent. In the novel, Casanova gets to see that degradation up close, living well past his "official" death in 1798 to see his name dragged down and his works either banned or hopelessly sanitized, until 1960 when a proper French edition of his memoirs is finally published.

Codrescu returns to poetry in It Was Today, once again displaying his wide range. In one poem, he imagines a dialogue between two lovers in fourteenth-century China. The collection itself moves between lighter, everyday poems and more serious pieces, harking back to a grim youth in communist Romania and the struggles of a refugee in a foreign land. "No matter which poet is speaking, the effect is arresting," observed Library Journal reviewer Rochelle Ratner. For a Publishers Weekly contributor, these poems express the wisdom of a radical "whose pop and zing has been mellowed not with age so much as the bodily memory . . . of having seen more than most."



American Book Review, September-October, 1995, Robert L. McLaughlin, review of The Blood Countess, pp. 16, 23.

Booklist, July, 1996, Joanne Wilkinson, review of The Dog with the Chip in His Neck: Essays from NPR and Elsewhere, p. 1796.

Entertainment Weekly, September 8, 1995, Margot Mifflin, review of The Blood Countess, p. 76.

Kirkus Reviews, January 1, 2002, review of Casanova in Bohemia, p. 7.

Library Journal, March 1, 1999, Boyd Childress, review of Ay Cuba! A Socio-Erotic Journal, p. 102; August, 2003, Rochelle Ratner, review of It Was Today, p. 88.

New Orleans Magazine, October, 1996 (interview), p. 13.

New York Times Book Review, January 25, 1987, Bruce Schlain, review of Comrade Past and Mister Present, p. 15; May 9, 1993, Francis X. Clines, review of Road Scholar: Coast to Coast Late in the Century, pp. 1, 22-23; July 30, 1995, Nina Auerbach, review of The Blood Countess, p. 7; March 28, 1999, Henry Shukman, review of Ay Cuba!, p. 19.

Publishers Weekly, January 18, 1999, review of Ay Cuba!, p. 19; July 21, 2003, review of It Was Today, p. 188.

Time, August 14, 1995, R. Z. Sheppard, "Gothic Whoopee," p. 70.

Times Literary Supplement, October 9, 1992, Alfred Stepan, review of The Hole in the Flag: A Romanian Exile's Story of Return and Revolution, p. 26.

Times-Picayune (New Orleans), February 24, 2002, Phil Nugent, "Lover, Come Back," p. D8.

Tribune Books (Chicago), April 14, 2002, Brian Bouldrey, review of Casanova in Bohemia, p. 14.

Washington Post Book World, July 29, 1990, Josephine Woll, "Persistence of Memory," p. WBK8; August 6, 1995, Bettina Drew, review of The Blood Countess, pp. 3, 10; July 7, 2002, Brigitte Weeks, "Lothario in Winter," p. 13.*