Coulson, Joseph 1957–

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Coulson, Joseph 1957–


Born 1957, in Detroit, MI. Education: State University of New York at Buffalo, Ph.D.


Home—Cambridge, MA.


Author. Former teacher; former editorial director, Great Books Foundation, Chicago, IL.


Gray Writing Fellowship; Book of the Year Award, Gold Medal in Literary Fiction, ForeWord magazine, for The Vanishing Moon.



The Letting Go, Hundred Pound Press (Detroit, MI), 1984.

A Measured Silence, Hundred Pound Press (Detroit, MI), 1986.

Graph, Bombshelter Press (Los Angeles, CA), 1990.


The Vanishing Moon, Archipelago Books (New York, NY), 2004.

Of Song and Water, Archipelago Books (Brooklyn, NY), 2007.


(With William Relling, Jr.) A Saloon at the Edge of the World, produced as Edge of the World, 1996.

(With William Relling, Jr.) Junkyard of the Gods, 1999.


(Editor, with Peter Temes, Jim Baldwin) Modern American Poetry, Great Books Foundation (Chicago, IL), 2002.

(Editor, with Nancy Carr and Steve Hettleman) Reader's Guide to "The Scarlet Letter," Great Books Foundation (Chicago, IL), 2003.

(Editor, with Donald Whitfield and Ashley Preston) Keeping Things Whole: Readings in Environmental Science, Great Books Foundation (Chicago, IL), 2003.

(Editor, with Mike Levine and Steve Hettleman) Reader's Guide to "Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave," Great Books Foundation (Chicago, IL), 2004.


Joseph Coulson is an American poet and novelist. His 2004 novel, The Vanishing Moon, is "a somberly beautiful family saga," according to Booklist reviewer Donna Seaman. The book opens in the worst years of the Great Depression and follows the fortunes and misfortunes of the Tollman family: children Phil, Stephen, Maggie, and Myron, and their blind mother and less-than-competent father. At one point the family is so poor that they live in a tent near Cleveland. Set there and in Detroit, where Coulson was raised, the novel is told through the eyes of many characters. It follows the Tollman children through the Second World War, into the era of the Civil Rights Movement, and on to the 1960s and the Vietnam War. Coulson particularly focuses on the difficult relationship of the brothers Phil and Stephen over several generations. Seaman went on to observe: "Assured and purposeful, first-time novelist Coulson infuses each surprising and evocative moment with great feeling and mythic resonance as he leapfrogs forward in time." Reba Leiding, writing in Library Journal, had further praise for this first novel: "Coulson movingly evokes the feel of Rust Belt cities in hard times." Curled Up with a Good Book critic Luan Gaines also had high praise for the book, writing that "Coulson balances the heartbreak of reality with scenes of unearthly beauty, the tenderness and passion of first love and the impulsive yearning of young men for a world that has a place for them." Gaines further commended the "fully-fleshed characters" in this debut novel.

Coulson's second novel, Of Song and Water, features an itinerant jazz guitarist Jason "Coleman" Moore in a tale that once again spans the decades. This time the author covers the 1930s through to more contemporary times, with the plot again partly set in Detroit. Michael Lindgren, writing for KGB Bar, described this novel as an "overtly poetic Midwestern Gothic," as well as a "convincing if static portrait of loss and regret." Told in flashbacks that leap through time, Of Song and Water delves into the lives not only of Coleman, but also his grandfather and father, who were both sailors on the Great Lakes, just like Coleman once was. Down on his luck and drinking too much, Coleman can no longer play guitar because of injuries to his hand. The book details his difficult relations with the women in his life, from his ex-wife to his lover to his teenage daughter. Also complicated are the relationships between the white Coleman and other jazz musicians, many of whom are black. Seaman, writing again in Booklist. pronounced Of Song and Water a "complexly elegiac tale [that] is, in part, a tribute to [Coulson's] mentor, poet and Great Lakes mariner Stephen Tudor." Library Journal contributor Christine DeZelar-Tiedman felt that despite some confusion caused by Coulson's nonlinear story line, "the book has a certain flow and rhythm that seems appropriate to its themes, and all loose ends are tied up satisfactorily." Higher praise came from a Publishers Weekly reviewer who commented that "Coulson moves fluidly between the past and the present, and the novel is ultimately quiet, affecting and redemptive." Likewise, Lindgren concluded: "The novel's evocative power stems largely from its deftly-managed narrative structure."



Booklist, January 1, 2004, Donna Seaman, review of The Vanishing Moon, p. 820; March 1, 2007, Donna Seaman, review of Of Song and Water, p. 59.

Boston Magazine, April, 2007, Sara Corrigan, review of Of Song and Water, p. 30.

Library Journal, December, 2003, Reba Leiding, review of The Vanishing Moon, p. 164; January 1, 2007, Christine DeZelar-Tiedman, review of Of Song and Water, p. 88.

Publishers Weekly, January 15, 2007, review of Of Song and Water, p. 31.


Archipelago Books Web site, (September 14, 2007), brief biography of Joseph Coulson.

Curled Up with a Good Book, (September 14, 2007), Luan Gaines, review of The Vanishing Moon.

Five Branch Tree, (August 13, 2007), review of Of Song and Water.

Joseph Coulson Home Page, (September 14, 2007).

KGB Bar, (September 14, 2007), Michael Lindgren, review of Of Song and Water.

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Coulson, Joseph 1957–

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