Pollack, Neal 1970–
Pollack, Neal 1970–
Born 1970, in Memphis, TN; son of Bernard (a transportation consultant) and Susan (a Spanish teacher) Pollack; married Regina Allen (a painter and art teacher), 2000; children: Elijah. Education: Northwestern University, B.S., 1992.
Writer. Timothy McSweeney's Quarterly Concern and McSweeney's Web site contributor; Chicago Reader, Chicago, IL, staff writer, 1993-2000; freelance writer, Philadelphia, PA and Austin, TX, 2000-02, for Vanity Fair, The New York Times, Men's Journal, Philadelphia Magazine, and The New York Press; vocalist with the Pine Valley Cosmonauts and The Neal Pollack Invasion.
Firecracker Award for best independently-published fiction, 2001, for The Neal Pollack Anthology of American Literature.
The Neal Pollack Anthology of American Literature (collected works of author), McSweeney's Books (Brooklyn, NY), 2000, expanded version, Harper-Collins (New York, NY), 2001.
The Neal Pollack Anthology of American Literature, (music CD), Bloodshot Records, 2002.
Never Mind the Pollacks (novel), HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2003.
Beneath the Axis of Evil: One Man's Journey Into the Horrors of War, So New Media (Eugene, OR), 2003.
(Author of introduction and chooser of excerpts) John Adams, Neal Pollack on John Adams: A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America, Akashic Books (New York, NY), 2004.
(Editor and contributor) Chicago Noir (crime stories) Akashic Books (New York, NY), 2005.
Alternadad (memoir), Pantheon Books (New York, NY), 2007.
Short noir fiction published in anthologies, including Los Angeles Noir, Stephen Elliot's Politically Inspired, and Lit Riffs, and in periodicals, including Mississippi Review Online, and Swink. Also contributor to the music CD Never Mind The Pollacks, Telegraph Records. Wrote Bad Sex column for the Nerve.com Web site. Guest edited a fall edition of The Believer, the literary journal with ties to McSweeney's.
Alternadad has been optioned for film by Warner Brothers.
Neal Pollack's The Neal Pollack Anthology of American Literature was the first book published by McSweeney's Books. Pollack has been a frequent contributor to Dave Eggers's satirical journal, Timothy McSweeney's Quarterly Concern, and to his Web site. Eggers, also author of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, has helped authors by publishing and marketing their books. The McSweeney's Web site has a large following, and Eggers has been able to successfully sell as an independent. Many of the pieces in Pollack's book were originally published in the journal. Entertainment Weekly contributor Brian M. Raferty noted that The Neal Pollack Anthology of American Literature is "the completely fictional work of a well-studied satirist."
Pollack, who at the time was an alternative weekly newspaper reporter in Chicago, told Ashley Gauthier of the Stranger Web site that "McSweeney's proves that people want to read good writing … there is a market out there for quality literature. The book industry panders to everybody but the people who actually like to read, and that, to me, is inexcusable." Pollack continued: "Why can't book tours be like rock tours? Why not have authors read in bars? That's where people like to go. I want to open for Beck. Sure. Authors could be like rock stars, demanding special food on tour, playing to the wild crowds, and attracting groupies." Pollack's success with McSweeney's Books did catch the eye of a mainstream publisher, HarperCollins, which offered him a deal for an expanded paperback version of The Neal Pollack Anthology of American Literature that Pollack accepted.
Writing for the Badger Herald online, Matthew Rodbard commented that the "McSweeney's clique," which includes Eggers, Pollack, Arthur Bradford, Zadie Smith, and Sarah Vowell, "recently established itself as the Brat Pack of a virtuosi nu-fiction movement that has all of a sudden made even the most prude traditionalists moist." Rodbard wrote that in reading Pollack's first piece in the magazine, it "instantly recalled familiar voices. Thompson, Burroughs, Wolfe all jumped out of Pollack's prose, work that he later deemed ‘the greatest literature ever written.’"
Jack Shafer wrote in the New York Times Book Review that Pollack "has imagined the entire corpus of a name-dropping, self aggrandizing, oversexed littérateur, also named Neal Pollack." Shafer felt that at first glance, Pollack seems to be modeling his character after Gore Vidal. "But Pollack's target isn't just Vidal," noted Shafer. "He's drawn a bead on every high-paid magazine writer and alpha-male novelist to swagger through the pages of GQ, Esquire, or Rolling Stone; every New Yorker or Vanity Fair puffer fish to file first-person, ego-enriched letters from exotic datelines; every overwriter interviewed by the Paris Review. Think Norman Mailer. John Gregory Dunne. Christopher Hitchens. Gay Talese, Michael Herr. Mike Sager. Truman Capote. Peter Matthiessen. Martin Amis. Think Norman Mailer again."
While Pollack's essays address social issues such as racism and poverty, it is the media's inability to write about them with any kind of realism that he focuses on. His character is an Exeter and Harvard graduate, now in his seventies, who considers himself the greatest of poets, novelists, and journalists. Laura Miller, who reviewed the book for Salon.com, commented that, although the narcissistic Pollack presents himself as someone who has been successful in every facet of life, including his hundreds of love affairs, "the dismal truth is that most journalists' egomaniacal fantasies really are this cheesy." Essays include "The Burden of Internet Celebrity," "Why Am I So Handsome?" and "I Am Friends with a Working-Class Black Woman." Also included are "Things I Did in Denver," a report about the 2000 Green Party convention, and a lifestyle article titled "A Report on the Habits of the Sexually Ravenous Single Women of New York, Who Also Have Jobs."
Chris Wright wrote in the Boston Phoenix that the book "makes no bones about the author's many accomplishments." Indeed, the book portrays a life full of glamour, adventure, erudition, and raw sex. Pollack, thirty, tells tales of sparring with Richard Nixon and dining with Salman Rushdie. He recalls his award-winning articles about the Gulf War and poverty in Albania, his affairs with Brooke Shields and Madonna, his time as editor of the New Yorker. Wright interviewed Pollack, who was in character. In response to Wright's question about awards Pollack has received, he replied: "I've won three National Book Awards. I won the Booker Prize (I was briefly a British citizen in the 1980s). I've won some human-rights awards, and some PEN/Faulkner thingamajobbers. But I would say my NAACP Image Award is the thing I'm proudest of. Because I'm not black, yet I was recognized as a black man by the NAACP. To me, that shows that they really get what I'm about, which is solidarity." Pollack noted that he was friendly with the Kennedys, George Orwell (Uncle George), and Fidel Castro. "I met Fidel in 1957," Pollack told Wright. "I was on an international softball team with him and Che Guevara and a young Salvador Allende. It was all leftist Latins—I traveled in some leftist circles then. Fidel and I still talk once or twice a week."
In Chicago, Pollack studied improv with the late Del Close, whose students included John Belushi, Chris Farley, and Mike Meyers. He was on a six-week tour promoting the Perennial/HarperCollins edition of The Neal Pollack Anthology of American Literature when he told Bret McCabe in an interview on the Baltimore City Paper Web site: "Improv trained me to prepare for whatever situation arises." Pollack was then beginning his novel Never Mind the Pollacks, a satirical history of rock and roll as told by two rock critics. McCabe noted that during the The Neal Pollack Anthology of American Literature book tour, Pollack's first album, also titled The Neal Pollack Anthology of American Literature, was being released by Bloodshot Records. McCabe wrote that while the print version "can be read as a lampoon of the Modern Library edition of classic books, the album takes Harry Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music as its object of admiration-qua-satire. Smith's 1952 triple-LP Anthology was an eclectic compendium of early American folk music organized and presented through Smith's peculiar world view." McCabe went on to write that "Pollack's single CD mimics Smith's box set in aesthetic and sound—the music performed by Mekons mainstays Jon Langford and Sally Timms, Bloodshot chanteuse Kelly Hogan, and others is a grab bag of folk styles and recorded with a hiss that recalls old records." Instead of folk songs and ballads, however, Pollack's album interprets, through narratives, essays from his book. "Having a two-front media presence gives Pollack more ammunition for his arsenal of self-promotions," commented McCabe.
"Book tours are boring," Pollack told McCabe. "If I'm going to be doing this for six weeks, I want it to be fun. I can be a Norman Mailer-like literary figure or I can be a fake rock star. I can make it whatever I want to make it. There is no one consistent joke. All I'm trying to do is put on a good show when I make public appearances. And whatever it takes to put on a good show is what I do. And I veer in and out of whatever kind of character I need to."
The novel Never Mind the Pollacks was published in 2003 and features a dead rock critic, named "Neal Pollack," and his arch rival, who is writing a biography of Pollack, who not only helped launch the career of Elvis Presley but also the careers of the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, and other rock-n-roll luminaries. Benjamin Segedin, writing in Booklist, commented that the author "spares no one in his satirical jeremiad aimed at popular music and the critics who take it so seriously." Library Journal contributor David Wright noted the author's "pitch-perfect parody."
In his memoir Alternadad, Pollack writes about his role as a parent and raising his son Elijah in a low-income section of Austin, Texas, populated by drug addicts, criminals, and others on the fringes of society. Robert Ito, writing in Los Angeles magazine, noted that the author "is a funny guy who clearly loves his son." A Publishers Weekly contributor wrote that the author "hasn't lost his flair for tongue-in-cheek commentary." Pollack is also editor of and contributor to Chicago Noir, a series of crime stories that give "homage to the city's musical, criminal, and gritty past," according to Library Journal contributor Bob Lunn.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Pollack, Neal, Alternadad, Pantheon Books (New York, NY), 2007.
American Book Review, May-June, 2006, Elizabeth Hatmaker, "A Dark and Windy City," p. 15.
Book, January-February, 2002, "The New Dave Eggers: Neal Pollack."
Booklist, October 1, 2003, Benjamin Segedin, review of Never Mind the Pollacks, p. 301; December 15, 2006, David Pitt, review of Alternadad, p. 10.
Boston Phoenix, September 21, 2000, Chris Wright, "A Writer's Journey" (interview).
Entertainment Weekly, October 20, 2000, Brian M. Raferty, review of The Neal Pollack Anthology of American Literature, p. 72; February 23, 2001, Matthew Flamm, "Between the Lines: The Inside Scoop on the Book World," p. 155; October 3, 2003, Carina Chocano, review of Never Mind the Pollacks, p. 78; January 19, 2007, Warren Cohen, review of Alternadad, p. 87.
Kirkus Reviews, October 15, 2006, review of Alternadad, p. 1059.
Library Journal, September 15, 2003, David Wright, review of Never Mind the Pollacks, p. 93; September 15, 2005, Bob Lunn, review of Chicago Noir, p. 60.
Los Angeles, February, 2007, Robert Ito, review of Alternadad, p. 70.
New York Times Book Review, March 11, 2001, Jack Shafer, "I'm Neal Pollack and You're Not," p. 7; January 7, 2007, Elissa Schappell, "Exile on Sesame Street," p. 13.
Poets & Writers, January-February, 2007, Joe Woodward, "A Satirist Shows His Soft Side," p. 26.
Publishers Weekly, February 11, 2002, Marion Ettlinger, John F. Baker, "Comic Author Sells Out," p. 74; July 18, 2005, review of Chicago Noir, p. 188; November 13, 2006, review of Alternadad, p. 46.
Texas Monthly, January, 2007, Mike Shea, review of Alternadad, p. 52.
U.S. News & World Report, March 18, 2002, Dan Gilgoff, "Undressed for Literary Success," p. 10.
Vanity Fair, March 1, 2003, Neal Pollack, "Neal Pollack's Having a Baby," p. 229.
Badger Herald,http://www.badgerherald.com/ (March 14, 2002), Matthew Rodbard, "Short Cuts: Neal Pollack."
Baltimore City Paper,http://www.citypaper.com/ (March 27, 2002), Bret McCabe, "Neal Pollack Knows Neal Pollack Is the Greatest."
Identitytheory.com,http://www.identitytheory.com/ (January 6, 2004), Robert Birnbaum, "Author of Never Mind the Pollacks Talks with Robert Birnbaum."
McSweeney's,http://www.mcsweeneys.net/ (June 6, 2002).
Neal Pollack Home Page,http://www.nealpollack.com (June 6, 2002).
Salon.com,http://www.salon.com/ (October 23, 2000), Laura Miller, review of The Neal Pollack Anthology of American Literature.
Stranger,http://www.thestranger.com/ (October 12, 2000) Ashley Gauthier, "King of the World" (interview).
Washington Post Live Online,http://discuss.washingtonpost.com/ (April 10, 2002), chat with Pollack.