Mark Z. Danielewski (/ˈdænjəlɛfski/; born March 5, 1966 in New York City) is an American fiction author. Though his second novel, Only Revolutions (2006), was nominated for the National Book Award, Danielewski is most widely known for his debut novel House of Leaves (2000), which garnered a considerable cult following and won the New York Public Library's Young Lions Fiction Award. He has published one novella, The Fifty Year Sword, which until rereleased by Pantheon in the United States in 2012, remained relatively obscure due to only 2000 copies being published in the Netherlands (2005, De Bezige Bij). Although several shorter works have been published, notably "All the Lights of Midnight: Salbatore Nufro Orejón, 'The Physics of Eror' and Livia Bassil's 'Psychology of Physics'," "Parable no9: 'The Hopeless Animal and the End of Nature,'" "Clip 4," and "Parable no8: 'Z is for Zoo,'" they've almost all been completely ignored by critics (though not fans). His latest project is The Familiar, an ambitious 27-volume serial novel whose first installment, The Familiar, Volume 1: One Rainy Day in May, was released on May 12, 2015. The Familiar, Volume 2: Into the Forest was released on October 27, 2015. The Familiar, Volume 3: Honeysuckle and Pain was released June 14, 2016.
Danielewski's work is characterized by an intricate, multi-layered typographical variation, or page layout. Sometimes known as visual writing, the typographical variation corresponds directly, at any given narratological point in time, to the physical space of the events in the fictional world as well as the physical space of the page and the reader. Early on, critics characterized his writing as being ergodic literature, but recently, Danielewski, who has commented on his disappointment with criticism's inability to properly confront his work, has more poignantly phrased for readers the concept behind his certain brand of writing:
"Signiconic = sign + icon. Rather than engage those textual faculties of the mind remediating the pictorial or those visual faculties remediating language, the signiconic simultaneously engages both in order to lessen the significance of both and therefore achieve a third perception no longer dependent on sign and image for remediating a world in which the mind plays no part."
Since the release of The Familiar, Volume 1, Danielewski has been doing small tours for the release of each volume and releasing merchandise related to House of Leaves and The Familiar on his website. He has also not been seen publicly without donning a cat shirt since at least 2010.
The Familiar, Volume 4: Hades is set to be released February 7, 2017.
Danielewski was born in New York City to Tad Danielewski (born Tadeusz Zbigniew Danielewski), a Polish avant-garde film director, and Priscilla Decatur Machold. Mark was Tad's second child. Christopher, the first, was born to Sylvia Daneel (née Sylvia Jadwiga Łakomska), Tad's first wife. Mark was the first of two children born to Tad and Priscilla. Anne Decatur Danielewski, a.k.a. Poe, an American singer, songwriter, and record producer, was born 2 years after Mark. When Mark was a child and young man, the Danielewski family moved around continuously for Tad's various film projects. By the age of 10, Mark had lived in 6 different countries because of his father's work: Ghana, India, Spain, Switzerland, England and the United States. He and his sister, Poe, went to high school in Provo, Utah. Danielewski has said that this time in Utah as well as his experiences elsewhere helped him to gain an appreciation for creativity in all its forms, and the traveling showed him that "there was much to be learned out there." Not much else is currently known about Mark's early life, and critics continue to pull details from certain characters in his novels as evidence for biographical details that have never been confirmed (most notably from the character Johnny Truant in House of Leaves).
In 1985 Danielewski spent time in France visiting his brother who at the time was living on Rue des Belles Feuilles. There was a manual typewriter that he eventually found himself pounding away on. It was there that he remembers first enjoying the actual process of writing. During this period he wrote an unpublished story called "Where Tigers Dance." Danielewski has referred to the story as being "so unfinished it didn't deserve to be called incomplete," but that it has continued "to roam around" in his imagination. Fans have come back to this tangential story about an early work of fiction from his youth (Danielewski was 19 at the time) since the release of "Parable no8: 'Z is for Zoo'" and The Familiar.
In 1988 Danielewski graduated with a degree in English Literature from Yale, where he studied under John Hollander, Stuart Moulthrop, and John Guillory. He was also inspired by Harold Bloom. In 1989 Danielewski moved to Berkeley, California, where he enrolled in an intensive Latin course at the University of California, Berkeley. He then pursued graduate studies at the USC School of Cinema-Television in Los Angeles. During this time he became involved in the film Derrida, a documentary based on the career and philosophy of Algerian-born French literary critic and philosopher Jacques Derrida. Danielewski was an assistant editor, sound technician and cameraman for the movie, and he can be seen adjusting the sound equipment in Derrida's suit jacket at one point in the film. He graduated with an MFA in 1993, which was the same year his dad died. It is also the year he came upon the idea of a house that is bigger on the inside than the outside.
Danielewski has also been an avid cat lover throughout his life. They show up in a myriad of ways throughout his works and happen to be a main topic in his most recent book series The Familiar. In January 2016, Danielewski adopted two Devon Rex kittens, Archimedes & Meifumado, after his previous Devon Rex companions, Sibyl and Carl died.
House of Leaves
Danielewski dates the origin of his debut novel House of Leaves to 1990 and a story that he wrote after finding out that his father was dying:
"1990. My father was head of the USC School of Theater. I was living in New York. Then I got the phone call. The 'Mark your father is dying' phone call. He was in the hospital. Renal failure, cancer. I got on a Greyhound bus and headed west. Over the course of three sleepless nights and three sleepless days I wrote a 100+ page piece entitled Redwood. I remember using a fountain pen. I barely had the change to buy sodas and snacks along the way and there I am scratching out words with this absurdly expensive thing of polished resin and gold. I'd like to say it was a Pelikan, but I don't think that's correct. Another thing I seem to remember: the paper I was writing on had a pale blue cast to it. There was also something about how the pen seemed to bite into the paper at the same time as it produced these lush sweeps of ink. A kind of cutting and spilling. Almost as if a page could bleed. My intention had been to present this piece of writing as a gift to my father. As has been mentioned many times before, my father responded with the suggestions that I pursue a career at the post office. I responded by reducing the manuscript to confetti, going so far as to throw myself a pity parade in a nearby dumpster. My sister responded by returning later to that dumpster, rescuing the confetti, and taping it all back together."
House of Leaves was a 10-year project, and the task of finding a publisher for it was almost as daunting as the book was for its first readers. Between 1993 and 1999, Danielewski made a living as a tutor, barista, and plumber, and he eventually found a literary agent in Warren Frazier, who was a young agent at the time. Frazier, according to Danielewski, "fell in love with it." They then went to roughly thirty-two publishers before Edward Kastenmeier from Pantheon decided to take on the project. Small sections of the book were downloadable off the internet previous to the release of the first hard back edition of the book, and it is said that these sections "circulated through the underbellies of Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and San Francisco, through strip clubs and recording studios, long before publication"—though very few were able to experience the book this way initially.
Though the first edition hardbacks, which featured special signed inserts, were initially released on February 29, 2000, Pantheon released the hardback and paperback editions simultaneously on March 7, 2000. The novel went on to win the New York Public Library's Young Lions Fiction Award and gained a considerable cult following.
A 2013 New York Times article featured a conversation between Stephen King and his son, Joe Hill, and made reference to the novel:
"Joe [Hill] and Stephen [King] were having another typical conversation: hashing out what novel could be considered the Moby-Dick of horror. 'That one with all the footnotes, they argued — no, not that one, the other one: Mark Danielewski's House of Leaves.'"
House of Leaves has since been translated into numerous languages, including Dutch, French, German, Japanese, Russian, Serbian, and Spanish. It continues to be taught in universities in the United States and abroad.
In 2000, Danielewski toured with his sister, Poe, across America at Borders Books and Music locations to promote his book in conjunction with Poe's album Haunted, which has many elements of House of Leaves. Poe's album actually features Mark reading from House of Leaves on several tracks, as well as letters, in the form of audio recordings, that Tad Danielewski left for Mark and Poe. The two found the recordings after Tad's death. In 2001, a remake of Poe's song "Hey Pretty (Drive-By 2001 Mix)," which featured Danielewski reading from House of Leaves, reached #13 on Billboard's Alternative Chart. That summer, Poe and Danielewski spent three months as the opening act for Depeche Mode's 2001 North American tour. It was on this tour that he played Madison Square Garden.
He is also a fan of Biffy Clyro, as the band discovered when Danielewski attended one of their shows after they borrowed the title of his novel Only Revolutions for their own album. They collaborated for a performance on March 2, 2011 which included readings of Only Revolutions by Danielewski, musical performances by Biffy Clyro, and a Q&A exploring how the book inspired their album of the same name. All proceeds went to Homeboy Industries, a Los Angeles-based non-profit that offers training and support to at-risk and formerly gang-involved youth.
The Fifty Year Sword
In the years following the publication of House of Leaves (2000), Danielewski worked on two projects in tandem: his second novel Only Revolutions and his novella The Fifty Year Sword. The novella is an "adult ghost story" written by Danielewski before he created the physical book itself with the Dutch artist Peter van Sambeek. The novella does not feature any writing on the recto pages of the book. The only recto pages with anything on them, other than the page numbers lying lonely and flush right at their place halfway down each recto page, are the pages featuring the artwork of Peter van Sambeek. 1000 First Editions were published by the Dutch publishing house De Bezige Bij on October 31, 2005. 1000 Second Editions were published a year later on October 31, 2006, about six weeks after Pantheon released Only Revolutions. Little is actually known about the inspiration for the story, or the exact time period during which it was written.
While Danielewski was touring for House of Leaves and working on T50YS, he came up with the concept for his second novel, Only Revolutions. He'd initially wanted to write something along the lines of a House of Leaves, Part 2, with the house being set in China or elsewhere. However, his publishers pushed for him to do something more complex, with more colors, typographical intricacies and constraints. What emerged certainly seems to have been influenced by the publishers, seeing as there are seven colors in Only Revolutions, as opposed to four in House of Leaves. The novel also requires constant physical manipulation to read, whereas only certain sections of House of Leaves require readers to flip the book around. The book's content, of course, is purely of Danielewski's own invention, although he allegedly had a chance meeting with a couple of young lovers while on tour for House of Leaves who served as inspirations for his lead characters in Only Revolutions, Sam and Hailey and Hailey and Sam.
As the work progressed it became obvious to Mark that the novel was something of a counterpoint to House of Leaves; in fact, he has said in interviews that Only Revolutions is centrifugal while House of Leaves is centripetal. This aspect of the novel was brought to the forefront in the endpapers in the hardback versions of Only Revolutions, released September 12, 2006, as well as the "A Spoiler" published by the French literary magazine Inculte in 2007. A paperback edition of the book was published on July 10, 2007, an audiobook featuring music by composer Danny Elfman was also released that year, and an interactive ebook version was released through Apple's iBooks on December 15, 2015.
The stylistic and conceptual differences between House of Leaves and Only Revolutions have not inhibited the success of the latter novel; Only Revolutions was a finalist for the 2006 National Book Award and has been translated into French, Dutch, and German. Like House of Leaves, Only Revolutions has quite a cult following and has been taught in universities. In fact, in 2013 two graduate students at UC Santa Barbara created an Only Revolutions database called Vizor.
The Fifty Year Sword (Pantheon Edition) and Theatrical collaborations
In 2010, Danielewski announced that he was going to be doing a stage performance of the limited-release novella The Fifty Year Sword. The first of these performances was October 31, 2010 at the Roy and Edna Disney/CalArts Theater (REDCAT) in downtown Los Angeles. There were two back-to-back sold-out performances that night. The production featured music, guests performers, five people reading for the five speakers in the novella, and shadow casting on a large screen. Christine Marie was the shadow caster commissioned for the project. Betsy Brandt, who played Marie Schrader on Breaking Bad, was one of the five performers reading for the five voices in the novella. The following year, on October 31, 2011, Danielewski produced a slightly modified production of The Fifty Year Sword back to back at the REDCAT again. This time there was live music by Partch Ensemble percussionists Matthew Cook and T.J. Troy, as well as special guest performances. The production still featured Christine Marie's shadow casting and five actors reading for the five speakers in the novella. The two performances were again sold out.
The last REDCAT performance, on October 31, 2012, was another back-to-back, sold-out production. This last performance at REDCAT, a revised version of the earlier productions of The Fifty Year Sword, was the concluding performance in the five-city book tour for the Pantheon release of The Fifty Year Sword. Thanks to an ARC Grant from the Center for Cultural Innovation, the production of T50YS went to five cities around the United States in conjunction with the book release tour for the Pantheon release of The Fifty Year Sword. These performances, smaller in production than the REDCAT performances, featured different actors at every city, including Saturday Night Live alum Darrell Hammond in New York. World-renowned pianist Christopher O'Riley, who is a longtime friend and fan of Danielewski, also toured with Danielewski for these performances. The beginning of this tour was kicked off by the Pantheon Books release of The Fifty Year Sword in the United States This edition of the book includes more than 80 hand-stitched illustrations, new typography, and textual changes that were developed thanks to the REDCAT productions.
According to Danielewski's comments before his reading/performance of "Parable #8: Z is for Zoo," it was in 2006, around the time he was finishing up and releasing Only Revolutions, that he began work on The Familiar, the 27-volume project he is currently working on. However, it was not until September 15, 2010 that Danielewski announced the work on his message board: "Later this month publishers will receive the first 5 volumes of Mark Z. Danielewski's 27 volume project entitled The Familiar. The story concerns a 12-year-old girl who finds a kitten. . ." Danielewski expects the series to take him over a decade to complete.
The first volume, The Familiar, Volume 1: One Rainy Day in May, was released on May 12, 2015, The Familiar, Vol. 2: Into the Forest was released on October 27, 2015, and The Familiar, Vol. 3: Honeysuckle and Pain was published on June 14, 2016.
It was around the time of his 2010 announcements about the The Fifty Year Sword and The Familiar that Danielewski formed the group that would become known as Atelier Z. This group includes translators, researchers, graphic designers, professors, students, and other professionals who work directly with Danielewski on various aspects of his work. Taken from the French word atelier, the group functions like any artistic atelier, with a group of apprentice artists working in assistance to a master artist while they also work on their own artistic endeavors. The atelier has had various members since its inception, and it was formerly named as early as 2012. The members have been listed in the credits at the back of his books since 2012.
The formal creation, naming and practicing of an atelier seems to have grown directly out of the collaborative work on the Pantheon edition of The Fifty Year Sword, which also coincided with the first ever performances of any of Danielewski's work sanctioned, created and produced under his own guise. He has spoken in interviews about a group that was working with him on the stitching/artwork for the first Pantheon edition of T50YS to be published, and there has been evidence of some of these people working with him on the productions of T50YS. In 2015, the Danielewski and the Atelier released the first collection of Yarn + Ink, official House of Leaves and The Familiar apparel, which incorporates signiconic design.
- House of Leaves (2000)
- Only Revolutions (2006)
- The Familiar, Volume 1: One Rainy Day in May (2015)
- The Familiar, Volume 2: Into the Forest (2015)
- The Familiar, Volume 3: Honeysuckle & Pain (2016)
- The Familiar, Volume 4: Hades (2017)
- The Whalestoe Letters (2000)
- The Fifty Year Sword (2005)
Short Stories & Essays
- "The Most Wondrous Book of All" (2000)
- "All the Lights of Midnight: Salbatore Nufro Orejón, 'The Physics of Ero^r' and Livia Bassil's 'Psychology of Physics'" (2001)
- "Only Evolutions" (2007)
- "A Spoiler" (2007)
- "The Promise of Meaning" (2010)
- "Parable #9: The Hopeless Animal and the End of Nature" (2010)
- "Clip 4" (2012)
- "Parable #8: Z is for Zoo" (2014)
- "The Poetics of Space (Foreword)" (2014)
- Danielewski, Mark (2000). "A Riddle: Mark Z. Danielewski on the most wondrous book of all". Bookforum (Winter 2000).
- Danielewski, Mark (2001). "All the Lights of Midnight: Salbatore Nufro Orejón, "The Physics of Ero^r" and Livia Bassil's "Psychology of Physics"". Conjunctions (37): 77–84. JSTOR 24516320.
- Danielewksi, Mark (Fall 2007). "Only Evolutions". Gulf Coast: A Journal of Literature and Fine Arts. 19 (2). Retrieved 22 March 2016.
- Danielewski, Mark (2010). "The Promise of Meaning". Slake - Los Angeles: Still Life (A City and Its Stories). 1 (1). Retrieved 22 March 2016.
- Danielewski, Mark. "Parable #9: The Hopeless Animal and the End of Nature". Wallraf-Richartz Museum. Retrieved 22 March 2016.
- Danielewski, Mark (2012). "Clip 4". Black Clock (15): 164–186. Retrieved 22 March 2016.
- Bachelard, Gaston; Danielewski, Mark Z. (2014). The Poetics of Space. Penguin Random House. pp. vii–xvi. Retrieved 22 March 2016.
Criticism and interpretation
- Bray, Joe and Alison Gibbons (ed.). Mark Z. Danielewski. Manchester University Press, 2011.
- Pohlmann, Sascha. Revolutionary Leaves: The Fiction of Mark Z. Danielewski. Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2012.