The Dead Writers’ Society (Transcription)

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Title: The Dead Writers’ Society

Below, author and illustrator David Gessner writes in parentheses: “Trigger Warning: Morbidity Ahead.” In small font he adds, “One day I hope to join.”

Below the title, an illustration shows five men. From left to right, a man (David Gessner) holds a walking stick, a tall man holds a bottled labeled XXX, a short, stout man with a curly beard and glasses points up, a man in a sailor’s cap and dark peacoat stands to the side with his hands in his pockets, and a man peeks out from behind the previous holding a syringe and appearing menacing. Below the illustration, David Gessner writes, “I read all the Beats when I was young… though I never got to meet them.”

In the bottom left, an illustration of a man (Lawrence Ferlinghetti) speaking at a brown podium. Ferlinghetti says in a dialogue balloon, “Strung-out citizens in painted cars and they have strange license plates and engines that devour America.” Below the illustration, Gessner writes, “I did get to hear Ferlinghetti read at my high school, which he also attended.”

In the bottom right, Gessner continues, “And I still hope to meet Gary Snyder.” Below, an illustration of a man running up a mountainous hill. Gessner continues, “Who I first got to know as Japhy Ryder gamboling up mountains in Kerouac’s The Darma Bums.”


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Gessner continues, “The closest I ever got to knowing a real Beat was my friend, Mark Spitzer. Below, an illustration shows Gessner holding a walking stick, the tall man with the XXX bottle, and a third man (Mark Spitzer) approaching the two. Spitzer holds a book and says, “Excuse me, fellas. Mind if I join you?” Below the illustration, Gessner writes, “Mark wrote fast and he wrote a lot.”

In the bottom left, an illustration shows Mark Spitzer typing while a radio plays music. A thought balloon above his head says, “First thought? Best thought!” Below the illustration, Gessner adds in parentheses, “He once wrote a whole novel to R.E.O Speedwagon’s “Ridin’ the Storm Out.”

In the bottom right, Gessner continues, “If his computer wasn’t handy, he’d whip out his trusty orange felt-tip pen.” Below, an illustration shows an orange pen writing on a knee. Gessner adds below, “If he had no paper, he’d write on his pants.”


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Gessner writes, “That was back in 1991 in grad school in Boulder.” Below, a photo shows Gessner hugging Spitzer around the shoulders.

To the right, an illustration shows a professor (Ed Dorn) throwing papers in the air. Gessner adds in a caption, “Our wild prof” and writes below, “We did bong hits and drank beer and went to a class called Literature of the High West with poet Ed Dorn.”

Gessner continues, “Mark moved into a house in the mountains with our classmates, Melinda and Nina.” Below, an illustration shows three people. From left to right: two women in front of a picture of a mountain. One holds a plate out to Spitzer for a pancake, who reaches to a high shelf for a cup.

To the right, Gessner writes: “Mark called himself their houseboy and he made them pancakes and got things too high for them to reach on the shelves. At some point he began spraypainting everything gold.” An illustration shows sparkling gold-colored shoes, a book, and hair. Gessner continues: “He turned us into characters in his novel. N and M were the mountain gals and they lived in the Mountain Palace.”

In the bottom left, a photo of an illustration on a brown piece of paper shows David Gessner holding a drink and saying “GRRR.” Below, Gessner writes, “I was Gruff Dave, drawing by Mark.”

To the right, he continues, “Like his Beat heroes, he spent months on the road.” A photo below shows the front of the bookstore “Shakespeare and Company.” Gessner continues, “He took up residence in Shakespeare and Company.”


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Gessner writes: “Back then, I was a perfectionist and Mark taught me to both write and send out my work more boldly. His own masterpiece from that time was a semi-slanderous essay about our old prof, Ed Dorn.”

Below, a large illustration shows the professor, Ed Dorn, on a podium labeled “Slinger.” Dorn is naked except for cowboy boots and a criss-crossing holster and gun on his hips. Spitzer stands on a step stool to the right holding a hammer and chisel and wearing a smock with sculpting tools.

To the right of Dorn’s head, Gessner continues, “It was cruel in some ways, but it was also very much in the tradition of killing one’s literary forefathers.”

In the bottom right, by Spitzer’s apron and stool, Gessner continues: “Mark and I drifted apart over the years, the way some friends do. But whenever I published a book, he would write me a letter about it. A long letter. Then, this past fall, he called. The news was not good.”


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Gessner continues: “He had stage IV cancer. It was terminal.” An illustration shows Gessner in a gold shirt holding a phone, saying “I can’t believe it.” The voice on the phone says, “I can’t believe it either.”

Gessner continues: “I visited him in Hyde Park, New York, in early October. He had lost fifty pounds, but we laughed like old times.” A photo shows Spitzer smiling with wild hair. He says, “I finally got my hair right!”

Below, Gessner continues, “It turned out Mark’s timeline for extinction would be almost exactly that of my father’s years before.” Below, a photo shows Gessner’s father holding a phone to his ear with a solemn expression.

Gessner continues, “The morning after visiting Mark, I drove an hour and a half to Arrowhead, Herman Melville’s Home.” An illustration shows a desk with papers, a quill in an ink well, and a candle. The desk looks out on a grassy area. Gessner continues, “And stared out the window Melville had stared out while writing Moby Dick.”

In the bottom left corner, Gessner continues, “It had always driven me nuts that Melville died thinking Moby Dick was a failure.” Below, an illustration shows Melville with a calm but frustrated expression in black clothing, thinking. In the thought bubble, his own face is angry and crazed.

In the bottom right corner, an illustration shows William Shakespeare in a coffin with the dialogue, “They have made worm’s meat of me” above his head. Gessner continues: “But of course it didn’t matter. No one is ‘immortal.’ These days Shakespeare cares little about the waxing and waning of his reputation.”


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Gessner continues: “I have seen a lot of death over the last three years. I know I’m not alone in this. But it has been the death of writer friends that twists the knife in a particular way. The idea that, despite their books, their imaginative lives, their inner landscape died with them…”

Three men are depicted. A photo shows a man (Brad Watson) in a cowboy hat, sitting casually with one leg bent over the other. Gessner writes, “It began with my good friend, the great writer Brad Watson.”

To the right, an illustration shows a smiling man (Reg Saner) holding a magnifying glass up to a pair of leaves. Gessner continues, “Then the luminous western poet and essayist, Reg Saner, who I saw as a mentor.”

In the bottom left, a photo shows a smiling man (Philip Gerard) sitting in front of a bookshelf. Gessner continues, “Just weeks after my visit to Mark came the sudden death of my steadfast colleague, Philip Gerard.”

In the bottom right, an illustration shows seven books. From left to right the books are titled: Cape Fear Rising by Philip Gerard, Creative Nonfiction by Philip Gerard, The Heaven of Mercury by Brad Watson, Last Days of the Dog-Men by Brad Watson, Miss Jane by Brad Watson, The Four-Cornered Falcon by Reg Saner, and Reaching Keet Seel by Reg Saner. Gessner continues, “The good news is they left evidence of their interior landscapes behind.”


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Gessner writes: “Mark would end up writing more than thirty books during his time on planet Earth.” Below, an illustration shows Spitzer holding a fishing pole. On the line, a large, gold-colored fish is hooked. Gessner adds, “Many of them about fishing.”

To the right, Gessner continues: “Unlike Melville, he wasn’t going after whales. But close…” A photo shows Spitzer holding a fish about four feet long. Gessner continues, “Whatever he did, he threw himself into it with that electric Mark energy.”

In the bottom left, Gessner writes, “Near the end he sent this gut-wrenching text…” A photo shows a received text message with a heart reaction. The message says it was sent on Friday, Dec 16 at 8:24 PM. The screen over the message appears cracked. The message reads: “It’s strange to suddenly not be planning the details of a book in my head or even on computer or paper for first time in life. This is surely a sign but also an opportunity to free up space and use self-spent energy more strategically.” Gessner writes, “What could be worse? No more books…”

In the bottom right, Gessner writes: “The last time he spoke to Nina and me, he made a promise…” An illustration shows David Gessner and Nina looking sad and holding a phone. The phone says, “I’ll visit you in your dreams…” Below, Gessner continues, “I haven’t seen him yet. I am waiting…”