On Taylor Koekkoek’s Defiant Disconnection


An article appearing last month in the Los Angeles Times book section opens with a nondescript picture of a young man in a Hawaiian shirt standing in front of a brick wall. The caption is arresting: “Taylor Koekkoek is one of the best short-story writers of his (young) generation. So why haven’t you heard of him?”

On March 21st, Koekkoek (pronounced, cook-cook) published his debut short story collection, Thrillville, USA. Those who have read it seem to love it. The Paris Review called it a “raw and remarkable debut story collection.” The author of the LA Times piece braved a blizzard in a rental car just for the chance to interview Koekkoek at his Oregon house. And yet, the book has so far escaped wide notice: At the time of this writing, its Amazon rank is around 175,000.

The LA Times provides some insight into this state of affairs:

“A Google search reveals very little about the writer: a few published stories, no social media trail, author bios at a handful of universities that feature the same photo of an amiable-looking young white man in a Hawaiian shirt. If one were to make up an identity for a fictitious writer, the results would resemble something like the sum total of Koekkoek’s online experience.” [emphasis mine]

It’s possible that Koekkoek will go on to make the standard moves for someone his age: engaging in social media, creating waves online, brashly carving out an audience. (Indeed, since his book came out, he seems to have started an Instagram account that currently features three posts.) But there’s a part of me that hopes he resists this well-worn path; that he continues to let his soulful words speak for themselves, and that, ultimately, the sheer quality of what he’s doing wins him grand recognition.

This would be a nice counterpoint to our current moment of instinctive self-promotion. A reminder for the rest of us, nervous about slipping into digital oblivion, that what ultimately matters is the fundamental value of what we produce. Everything else is distraction.

In other news…

  • My apologies for my recent radio silence on this newsletter. In a coincidence of scheduling, of the type that happens now and again, I had an academic, magazine, and book-related deadline all fall into the same three-week period, so something had to give. I should be back to a more normal pace of posting now.
  • I suppose I should mention that, a few weeks ago, I was profiled by the Financial Times Weekend Magazine. Believe it or not, I was the cover story (!?). You can read it here.

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