Geoff Ward, Renowned Literary Scholar and Now Celebrated Novelist, Reflects on Being at Cambridge and in New York City

In 2014 Geoff Ward was asked to talk about something he is passionate about. He chose to talk about his life as an academic at Cambridge University and how his love of poetry drew him to New York City. His first book as a literary critic was Statutes of Liberty: The New York School of Poets. Here in this post Garn Press connects Geoff Ward’s glittering novel You’re not Dead with his passion for books, poetry, New York City and Cambridge.

New York City and Cambridge: Excerpt from You’re Not Dead by Geoff Ward

. . . Miles prayed for Manhattan to spare a little of its style, for him; a dash of its stardust, to save him from the sin of excessive fastidiousness. Just as testing to the personality in its subtle way as alcohol or hard drugs was the addiction, endemic in university life, to ever finer distinctions. He knew this. But Miles also knew that there were things he didn’t know . . .

Miles . . . concentrated on negotiating the West Village and finding the bookshop. On the way he passed a hotel and, as its door was held open briefly by a laconic bellhop, glanced at the cracked black-and-white chessboard of the lobby floor, not knowing that shortly he would be perched unexpectedly at the late morning bar, downing bourbon, a drink he never drank, in a mixed state of mind. But first he had to locate Mysteries of Gotham, which he did without difficulty, and entered. No bell-pull this time, just the old-fashioned jingle of an independent bookstore, door comfortably loose in frame, glass a little loose in door.

Entering, he almost fell, missing the step down after his attention was drawn upwards by the giant latex spider, grinning and nodding in the currents of air he had briefly disturbed, the coffin beneath it on a gurney piled with books fictionalising, concerning, or in some cases written by, the living dead. In the surrounding shelves and alcoves there mingled promiscuously 1920s pulp horror magazines on the verge of disintegration, the indestructible, leather-bound ravings of Puritan witchfinders, seriously rare books alarmed in all senses, the most esoteric offended at finding themselves immobilised under glass and guarded by a poseable Edgar Allan Poe action figure. Crystal balls, skulls and the odd rubber hand served as bookends. Watched over by the smiling giant spider, Miles paused over an array of fortune-telling packs.

Here was the Thoth Tarot, designed by the Great Beast himself, Aleister Crowley. A lurid thing, but not without charm. Carefully, Miles plucked out cards at random – there was a beautiful but sickly Moon, decorated with a scarab beetle. Here the passionate Prince of Wands, atop his lion-drawn chariot, but there, demurely waiting, the Princess of Cups. Perhaps the Great Beast had an unexpectedly romantic streak. But then his attention was drawn by The Faery Tarot, on the backs of whose outsized cards winged maidens took off from the helipads of pond lilies, while gnarled elves delved in cryptic loam. As he dwelt on the charms of one intricately beautiful flying nymph, the eyes in her card seemed to widen and stare as if pricked out in emerald. How did they do that, he thought, head suddenly spinning as the eyes grew still wider, and he a little faint, but now the eyes were baleful meteors hovering over a tower struck by lightning where soldiers caught fire and then fell to stony death, as Miles himself started to capsize, and the wording on the box, as he saw in the instant before it clattered to the ground, was (what’s happening to me, what’s wrong with me?) The Wrathful Tarot. Miles, eyes and other parts of his sentient self swimming, fell heavily.

Every gleeful customer and staff member turned to look daggers at the new pariah, the klutz who’d dropped the fairies. As Miles crouched and pulled himself together, hunting for spilled cards to return to their tin box, an old lady smelling of cat pursed her lips, while hand-in-hand students glided, giggling, away. The Englishman in New York felt air conditioning chill the sweat on his brow, blamed tiredness and time-zones, and shuffled apologetically towards the towers of newly arrived books, and the flame-haired young vendor in the grey high priestess robe. Even to one peering in from the street and able to see only Miles’ back, it would still have been obvious that what the oracle in crushed velvet had to say did not go down well . . .

Pulling out a College diary to get down some details, Miles was now parting with the Mysteries of Gotham on amiable terms. Reaching the door, he was even the recipient, or so he thought, of an absent smile from the old woman whose sense of bookstore decorum he had offended by dropping the tin box of cards, though now he could see that she had cataracts, and the balance in her smile between Go West Young Man and the depthless lacunae of extreme old age was impossible to weigh. But Miles had never been troubled by ambiguities. He was always one to hope for further, deeper mysteries. For some or for no reason the velvet guardian’s phrase ‘sight unseen’ hung in a corner of his mind, spinning fast and casting dice or shadows.

To square things further with College as well as conscience, Miles retraced his steps and was soon standing in a hotel phone booth, fingering a pyramid of quarters while the barman poured him a coffee and a shot, and dialling half in celebration, half in apprehension, a Librarian who was five hours ahead of and some degrees Fahrenheit below his present location, but all he picked up was a pre-recorded message: You have reached the extension of the College Librarian, John Spendrift. I will be in Cairo, attending the Annual International Conference of University Librarians until July 15th. Please leave a message when you hear the tone. And Miles, if this is you, just get that book. Do whatever it takes.


new-york-cityCambridge and New York City by Geoff Ward

Cambridge and New York have been the twin tracks that run through my academic work and indeed through the whole of my professional life. My first book as a literary critic was Statutes of Liberty: The New York School of Poets, which was the first book to look properly at the milieu of poets such as John Ashbery, still with us and living ten blocks away from this building, and his friend and contemporary Frank O’Hara, who died young in 1966. Along with James Schuyler, Barbara Guest and others, these were the poets who wrote while the Abstract Expression painters such as Rothko and Pollock, and their Pop Art successors Andy Warhol et al were identifying New York in the public mind with avant-garde painting. They are all to some degree painterly poets, and poets who include many references to the city of New York in their work.

It was a one-time Mayor of New York, Ed Koch, who remarked with a forgivable chauvinism that ‘anywhere west of the Hudson is just camping out’. And while I’ve lived in Washington DC and travelled widely in the States I do share that sense of something utterly, uniquely magnetic about Manhattan, the ‘mountainous island’ Frank O’Hara wrote about, the ‘canyons of steel’ that the other Frank, Sinatra, hymned. And likewise, moving from the Hudson to the Cam, while I’m aware that there are many other good universities in the UK, and I’ve worked in or had dealings with lots of them, none of them really comes close. I have some liking for Oxford (or at least for Harris Manchester College, who have kindly bestowed on me both an Honorary Fellowship, and a bicycle) but it was Cambridge that took me in when I was eighteen, and which, after a circuitous journey including Liverpool, Scotland, London plus stints in Japan and America, has taken me back again, this time as Principal of Homerton. Cambridge and New York, so utterly unalike, are alike in their Uniqueness, a uniqueness incarnated in the physical fabric of each city, like the stones of Venice or the pavements of Paris.

My love of American Literature didn’t quite start in Cambridge, but in Manchester in the North West of England where I grew up and where, in the late 1960s, I would spend hours in the one bookshop that sold poetry books imported from the US by, for example, Allen Ginsberg. His incendiary poem Howl was still only a decade or so old at that point. Willshaw’s Bookshop would position these books, almost hiding them, on a special little table at the back of the shop, almost as if they were sinful, which of course in the case of Howl, they were. Here is the beginning –

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked, Dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix,

Angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night,

Who poverty and tatters and hollow-eyed and high sat up smoking in the supernatural darkness of cold-water flats floating across the tops of cities contemplating jazz…

… and we’re not even at line 5 yet…Contemplating Howl, I got hooked, thinking it a new kind of poetry, which it was, and kind of wasn’t. I thought of Allen Ginsberg – denim, long hair, Old Testament beard when I got to Cambridge and read a book of poems published exactly one hundred years before Howl, Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman. Whitman looks out of the photograph or daguerreotype of the frontispiece long-haired, wearing denim, with an Old Testament beard. There was, I would learn, a direct connection from Whitman’s great ‘Song of Myself’ to the Beat generation, poetic as well as presentational. There had of course been poetry written in America before Whitman, but he is the founding father, the first poet to write in what would later be called free verse, the first poet to build a poetic adequate to America’s vastness, ambition, and above all its democracy. It’s all there in the title: we are, all, like leaves of grass, there for our brief season and then gone. In Song of Myself he writes of grass as ‘the beautiful uncut hair of graves’. But we are also at one with the earth we tread and will eventually return to, and whether we know it or not, at one with each other, at least in our better moments; Whitman takes the visionary nature-romanticism of Wordsworth and turns it into a practical politics for a new American democracy. The leaves of grass are a multitude, too many to count; if you tread them down, they spring up again. And leaves of grass of course are in one sense all the same. A sense of the sameness of humanity gives Whitman’s work compassion, and a marked sense of what we now call inclusiveness.

But I wasn’t in America, in 1972, though I was beginning to realize I would go there, I was in Cambridge. Who could teach me about all this poetry, and show me what to read next, and, important for a student studying English, how best to write about it? The short answer was a very tall person, a Fellow of Gonville and Caius College called Jeremy Prynne, who publishes his own poetry as JH Prynne, but who at this time gave a course of lectures each year called ‘Poetry & Language’. Jeremy was, and is, mildly terrifying. At eighteen years of age I wasn’t used to the concept of a lecture. Even less was I used to hearing lectures delivered as Jeremy’s were, without notes, and in completely formed, elegantly complex sentences and paragraphs entirely without the ums and ahs that the rest of us mortals resort to as linguistic props. And his lectures were difficult. And the poetry he lectured on was difficult. The first line from the first poem in the first collection by Prynne is ‘The whole thing it is, the difficult.’ I came to realize with hindsight that he was pitching his lectures above, but only just above, the cleverer heads in the room. He made you up your game. Underneath it all was a burning conviction that poetry worthy of the name was utterly serious in its attempts to find a language adequate to the condition of our selves and our world, and that the artifice of poetry, its rhymes and rhythms and puns and metaphors and metre (or for that matter the programmatic erasure of metre and all fixed forms) were not decoration but intellectually and in other ways intrinsic to poetry’s aim – to deepen understanding, as well as to charm. As Mr Prynne slept by day, and did his teaching, other than lectures, at night, I used to creep up to see him in Caius at about 10pm when he was just getting going. He is to this day the best read person I’ve met, fluent in Chinese among other languages and able to converse with scientists of different disciplines. One brief but relevant anecdote about poetry and science talking to each other.

Jeremy Prynne introduced me to many fascinating people including Nobel Prize-winning scientist Francis Crick, who, slightly improbably, was in Cambridge for a poetry reading by the American Beat poet Michael McClure. This would have been in 1976 or 77.  I could see a certain affinity between Crick and McClure; with neither was it the easiest of tasks to get a word in, both were supremely self-confident, and both possessed a strong sense of the underlying interconnectedness of things. I left the party that followed the reading with Rupert Sheldrake, then a Fellow of my own College, Clare, and we agreed that we’d had an extraordinary evening, not simply in terms of listening to some powerful personalities but people who restored the possibility, generally considered lost, of conversation and shared understanding between and across the Arts and Sciences. Sheldrake is himself an unconventional, indeed a maverick philosopher-scientist, who believes that the universe is alive and that nature has inherent purposes. In his latest book The Science Delusion he writes ‘Similar patterns of activity resonate across time and space with subsequent patterns. This hypothesis applies to all self-organising systems, including atoms, molecules, crystals, cells, plants, animals and animal societies. All draw upon a collective memory and in turn contribute to it.’ As we walked out into the night I can remember Rupert asking himself, me or the night air whether the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge was the last person who had read everything, i.e. whether Coleridge was the last figure, Prynne being the nearest contemporary analogue, who had sufficient reach to understand the scientific advances of his day fully alongside the literary and artistic endeavours of which he was a part, and moreover to see the affinities between them. This has stayed with me because it immediately became an important jigsaw piece in my sense of what a university, or a college, could be, on a good day.

In Cambridge we wear gowns a lot and have high table in colleges where snuff is sometimes served, where grace is said or sung in Latin, where after pudding and before dessert you may be asked to change places, and the dinner isn’t any old dinner but sometimes has a name, my favourite thus far being the annual dinner at Caius called ‘The Commemoration of Dr Banthwaite’. All of this can be viewed as silly or stuffy as tradition always can be, but, importantly, the social side of things can also be a bridge across which you find yourself walking unexpectedly into a different understanding. As with poetry, the artifice actually helps. High table and the common-room do exactly have the potential to create common room, shared intellectual space, for poets and scientists and students and visitors to talk. I like Cambridge for the way it exposes my ignorance, but then points me to the bridge.

Cambridge is having one of its power-surges at the moment. The driver, as often in that place, is science. A billion dollar investment is going into the area of South Cambridge where the college of which I’m Principal, Homerton, is situated. This is going to be the biggest biomedical campus in Europe, and biomedical and pharmaceutical companies will soon be springing up like mushrooms. They have great names, some of them – Bicycle Therapeutics. Crescendo Biologics. Discerna Eagle Genomics (perhaps a nod to the Eagle pub, where Francis Crick walked in with James Watson and announced the discovery of the double helix?) Ilumina. Imperial Innovations. Isogenica. Proximagen Population Genetics Technologies. And the one that says it all, Total Scientific. I get asked as a literary specialist if I think science is crowding out the arts in Cambridge? I don’t think so, partly because as I hope my little talk has already made clear, I’d see science and poetry as engaged in parallel activities of world-interpretation. And as Principal of Homerton College, not merely the newest and the largest college in the University but the nearest to the biomedical campus, I can’t help but be excited by the new developments.

English is my subject, and Cambridge English, which generated the New Criticism as it used to be called in the US and which still underpins English as a discipline worldwide, always did have a scientific inflection, even though it can never be a science. I am old enough and lucky enough to have met all the first founders of the discipline while a student. FR Leavis, a fierce moralist (to put it mildly), came to my college once, in his extreme old age, to speak to students, but only on condition that he be smuggled in by night, and that Fellows of the College, whom he viewed as hopelessly corrupted, be excluded from the event. My role was to look after him, at the end of his talk. Being young and callow, as well as somewhat in awe, I blurted out the first thing that came into my head, and asked him how he kept fit. He looked at me sternly and said ‘I run. At night.’ In retrospect, I seem to have spent a disproportionate amount of my time forty years ago shepherding scary old men. A few years later I invited the éminence grise of the Beat generation, William Burroughs, to give a reading from his new novel. This I did with some trepidation, in the knowledge that Burroughs, author of the once-banned novel The Naked Lunch, was an almost life-long heroin addict and alcoholic who had a criminal past, a thing about guns (having indeed shot and killed his second wife), and had written some of the darkest things, albeit the most darkly brilliant things, I’d ever read. After he’d divulged in conversation his age, which was advanced, I had the temerity to ask how did Burroughs view death, to which he shot back ‘well, it’s a step in the right direction’.

Going back to the foundations of English as a discipline in Cambridge, another founder was IA (Ivor) Richards, author of the 1925 book Practical Criticism. To this day, students at Cambridge reading English take a part 2 paper called Practical Criticism, which entails walking into the room and finding an exam paper on which are printed several poems and pieces of fiction, with no author’s names or extra information whatsoever, and from any period or periods between the middle ages and the present day. You are then asked to analyse three of the questions, which are really texts not questions, over three hours. It is fiendishly difficult, unhistorical, unfair – what do you do if you recognize one of the poems? Fess up, or hold back? Supervisors have been answering that question for many decades now and their answers are all evasive. But having taught it as well as sat it, I can safely say that for some reason it works. However, my own experience of sitting the Practical Criticism exam in the summer of 1975 was bittersweet. Picture me if you will, finishing my exam paper and thinking I’d done pretty well, or as well as I could do, then idly turning the paper over with five minutes of the exam left to go, and feeling, suddenly, utter astonishment and chagrin. Freeze that picture and we’ll come back to it.

I had come to a realization by the time I took my Finals, as they’re called, that I wanted to go on in academia and that I wanted to work on modern American poetry. Some of the poets I was working on were so obscure they weren’t even known widely in the USA, let alone Britain. At one point I thought I’d discovered the Tulsa School. More seriously, I wanted to be the first person to write about poets like Frank O’Hara, James Schuyler, Ted Berrigan. I wanted to commend them, so that people would read them, because literary criticism as I practise it is always fundamentally positive and warm and not negative. ‘Criticism’ can be an unhelpful term, in my book. ‘Literary recommendation based on informed textual analysis’ would be my preferred if more klutzy description. In particular I had become besotted, am still besotted, with a New York poet I have already mentioned, really the poet of New York, Frank O’Hara. He wasn’t well known outside New York, apart from in Cambridge, San Francisco and a few other places. An associate curator in the Museum of Modern Art at the time of his death, aged 40, in 1966 – his ironic fate was to be knocked down and killed by a beach buggy on Fire Island after he became separated from friends at a night-time beach party, and wandered off on his own, briefly and forever, into the dark. Frank O’Hara is also probably the funniest poet in English – which to me is no laughing matter. Ever since reading him I have asked my students to ask, of any writer they are reading, is this a comic or comedic writer and if so in what way? And if the writer isn’t, then why are they choosing to withhold humour, which is after all one of the qualities, like compassion or consolation or trust, which we can give to each other. I’m not asking for shallow jokes, or the so-called ‘wit’ of Alexander Pope and the eighteenth century, which just bores me to death. And I fully understand why the tragedies of Euripides or the major novels of Dostoievsky are not what you’d call rib-tickling, (not that humour is wholly absent from either). But the really great writers – Shakespeare, Joyce, Beckett, Proust, Emily Dickinson- and among recent American writers Richard Ford, Thomas Pynchon, David Foster Wallace, John Ashbery, – are subliminally, even when they’re not being overtly, funny. They persuade words to make life turn out comedically, to come out OK even in the teeth of tragedy, which is the genre to which our mortality ostensibly consigns us, and this I value. ‘Happiness’ wrote Frank O’Hara, ‘the least and best of human attainments’.

A quick poem by Frank O’Hara, called, as so many of his poems are, ‘Poem’, written, as so many of his poems were, in his lunch hour. O’Hara wrote on impulse, could write in a room full of people talking, and is the great poet of the fleeting instant or perception. This one is triggered by news of the movie star Lana Turner.


Lana Turner has collapsed!
I was trotting along and suddenly
it started raining and snowing
and you said it was hailing
but hailing hits you on the head
hard so it was really snowing and
raining and I was in such a hurry
to meet you but the traffic
was acting exactly like the sky
and suddenly I see a headline
there is no snow in Hollywood
there is no rain in California
I have been to lots of parties
and acted perfectly disgraceful
but I never actually collapsed
oh Lana Turner we love you get up

Apparently slight, throwaway, one of what O’Hara called his ‘I do this, I do that’ poems, this isn’t in one obvious sense a profound poem, precisely because it mistrusts profundity in favour of the truth – our preference for remaining vertical, ‘trotting’, breathing and living, to being suddenly supine, i.e., worst case scenario, dead. Yet the surface lightness is related to its opposite; as with Lord Byron, if O’Hara laughs, ’tis so that he may not weep. And there is an important, profoundly American drive towards cheering and encouraging. Allen Ginsberg had written about Walt Whitman as a ‘lonely old courage teacher’ and O’Hara, a descendant of Whitman also, is a courage teacher here. Come on. You can do it. Lana Turner we love you, get up. We need each other to do that, for each other, need poetry that says that, and need to say it to our students, to get them over the barrier of confidence, into their best attainments and optimal version of themselves.

But I’m not getting up, I’m sitting in an exam room in Cambridge in 1975, sitting my finals, having taken the Practical Criticism paper and checked my answers, and I idly turn the booklet with the questions in it over, and on the back is one last text, one last poem, which I’d missed. It is a poem called ‘Sleeping on the Wing’, one of my favourite poems by Frank O’Hara. It would have been my best answer. But I missed it because I was sleeping on the wing. I didn’t see anything remotely comic about this at the time, but I do now.

In the end, not that there is such a place-time, ever, I came to New York and stayed for long spells in the Chelsea Hotel, slept on floors in the Lower East Side in the 70s and 80s when the ‘lower’ bit in lower-east-side seemed as much an existential and moral category as it was an urban designation, shopped in the Gotham Book Mart, now gone, drank cocktails in the King Cole bar in the St Regis, (unfortunately for wallet and waistline, still there), had a friend called Arnold Weinstein who lived in the Chelsea and claimed to have written a musical with Frank O’Hara called Undercover Lover. My friendship with Arnold was cemented because on the day I met him he had just been told he was terminally ill. The only way was up, we decided. And good luck won out, for a while. Eventually communication petered out, so I expected the worst, and the next time I checked into the Chelsea the owner Stanley Bard put his hand on my shoulder and said Geoff, Arnold passed on. Then he suddenly brightened and said, but you know what, he said, we got a new resident in the Chelsea and he’s called Arnold Weinstein! I was quite content with my old Arnold Weinstein, I thought to myself, but then again, perhaps we are leaves of grass. Tread some of us down, some more of us spring up.

So my tale is of two cities, and how dependent on both I’ve been, and how much they have shaped me. And most importantly, how Cambridge and New York have connected unexpectedly, in circuitous and underground ways that led to new connections. The poet I’ve published most on is the New York poet John Ashbery, but I first met him in Cambridge, in 1975. Life has been full of these loops, and bridges. There are colleges in Cambridge, splendid places, which, like some of the UK’s more imposing independent schools, leave an impression on the student which can sometimes be almost too powerful. There’s nothing sadder than meeting someone who feels the best time of their lives was at school or university. If the school or university are doing their job – and this is something we might talk about in question time – should they not be nudging their charges gently but firmly on, and out, projecting as well as protecting – and projecting students towards the best time of their lives? As Principal of Homerton, the newest and also largest college in Cambridge University, I want a student population which has the confidence to strike out, move on, risk, make the adventurous and not the easiest next step. Find those unexpected bridges I mentioned earlier.

I finish with part of a poem by John Ashbery, ‘Soonest Mended’, which seems to align with these things, lighting on the pathos of time passing, but also on the blessings of chance and the unexpected, what he calls ‘the charity of the hard moments’, and the importance of uncertainty and not being sure that what one is about to step on is a bridge, and not simply, like Wily Coyote, the dangerous air.

It was still a shock when, almost a quarter of a century later,
The clarity of the rules dawned on you for the first time.
They were the players, and we who had struggled at the game
Were merely spectators, though subject to its vicissitudes
And moving with it out of the tearful stadium, borne on shoulders, at last.
Night after night this message returns, repeated
In the flickering bulbs of the sky, raised past us, taken away from us,
Yet ours over and over until the end that is past truth,
The being of our sentences, in the climate that fostered them,
Not ours to own, like a book, but to be with, and sometimes
To be without, alone and desperate.
But the fantasy makes it ours, a kind of fence-sitting
Raised to the level of an esthetic ideal. These were moments, years,
Solid with reality, faces, namable events, kisses, heroic acts,
But like the friendly beginning of a geometrical progression
Not too reassuring, as though meaning could be cast aside some day
When it had been outgrown. Better, you said, to stay cowering
Like this in the early lessons, since the promise of learning
Is a delusion, and I agreed, adding that
Tomorrow would alter the sense of what had already been learned,
That the learning process is extended in this way, so that from this standpoint
None of us ever graduates from college,
For time is an emulsion, and probably thinking not to grow up
Is the brightest kind of maturity for us, right now at any rate.
And you see, both of us were right, though nothing
Has somehow come to nothing; the avatars
Of our conforming to the rules and living
Around the home have made – well, in a sense, “good citizens” of us,
Brushing the teeth and all that, and learning to accept
The charity of the hard moments as they are doled out,
For this is action, this not being sure, this careless
Preparing, sowing the seeds crooked in the furrow,
Making ready to forget, and always coming back
To the mooring of starting out, that day so long ago.

For this is action, this not being sure: I love Ashbery’s rueful but ultimately courageous determination not to be overly determined, to find in what comes, what’s doled out, a way forward. Sowing the seeds of education, we should sow them crooked in the furrow, not provide solid answers that worked yesterday for the zigzag lives our students will live tomorrow, moving beyond us. Although we do graduate from college, we don’t ever stop learning, and the hesitation and uncertainty this often entails might be one of our most useful gifts to the students whose future has sent them to teach us.

Professor Geoffrey Ward FRSA
Principal, Homerton College, University of Cambridge


015-youre-not-dead-midnight-books-volume-1-geoff-ward-garn-pressYou’re Not Dead: The Midnight Books Volume One

By: Geoff Ward
Amazon | Barnes & Noble
Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-942146-28-5
Paperback ISBN: 978-1-942146-29-2
eBook ISBN: 978-1-942146-30-8
Hardover: $27.95
Paperback: $17.95
Ebook: $9.99 (also available through Amazon Kindle Unlimited)





“Geoff Ward’s glitteringly funny and scary novel sends his hero Miles on a wild pursuit, through this world and the next, of one of only three known copies of the rarest book in existence. Like the object of his obsessive quest, You’re Not Deadis both supreme fiction and grail, a one-off exemplar of a lost original.” – John Ashbery, Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, the National Book Award, and the National Book Critics Circle Award

About Geoff Ward

Geoff Ward has taught and published on English and American literature in Europe, the USA and Japan. He has written the first study of the New York School of Poets, Statutes of Liberty (1993/2001) among other books and essays.

A Life Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, he has written and presented documentaries on American writers for BBC Radio, and has published several collections of poetry, including Worry Dream (2013). He is currently Principal of Homerton College, University of Cambridge.

You’re Not Dead is his first novel, and the first in a series. It builds on a lifetime’s enthusiasm for fantasy and other forms of genre fiction, explored with the aim to entertain, but also to raise serious questions about time, memory and whether what we see – in life, as well as in the mirror – is what is really there. Hardcover, paperback and ebook are available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.


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