Seven Stories Press

Works of Radical Imagination

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Like Shaking Hands with God details a collaborative journey on the art of writing undertaken by two distinguished writers separated by age, race, upbringing, and education, but sharing common goals and aspirations. Rarely have two writers spoken so candidly about the intersection where the lives they live meet the art they practice. That these two writers happen to be Kurt Vonnegut and Lee Stringer makes this a historic and joyous occasion.

The setting was a bookstore in New York City, the date Thursday, October 1, 1998. Before a crowd of several hundred, Vonnegut and Stringer took up the challenge of writing books that would make a difference and the concomitant challenge of living from day to day. As Vonnegut said afterward, "It was a magical evening."

A book for anyone interested in why the simple act of writing things down can be more important than the amount of memory in our computers.

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“The title comes from Stringer's description of writing: 'It's a joy of discovery. I kind of would not like to know what I'm doing. I had a lot of fun trying to figure out how I was going to fill up these pages, and then, convinced that I'm not going to figure it out, bingo! something happens. It's like shaking hands with God. It's really a great payoff for the hours you sit around wondering if you can do what you're trying to do.' Stringer is contributing to four anthologies—two on homelessness, one about depression and one on racism—and writing more memoirs on his earlier life. But writing doesn't get easy: 'I still fear that I have nothing to say, but if I keep my butt in that chair long enough, I'll get somewhere, even if I don't always know where I'm going.'”

“Almost everyone I know is a fan of Kurt Vonnegut, and so the colorful and curmudgeonly wisdom he brings to the table here is no surprise. But who is this Lee Stringer guy? By the end, I began to think of him as a superior version of James Frey (author of the badly written pseudo memoir A Million Little Pieces ) with the main difference that Mr. Stringer (1) writes well and (2) his tales about life on Skid Row are true … Based on two conversations between two friends with a lot of respect for each other, these guys are smart, they know how to express themselves, and they've been around the block a few times. The book bills itself as "a conversation about writing" and it is that. But it's more of a conversation about being, but a kind of being that involves writing. For a lot of avid readers, that's a perfect fit.”

“Vonnegut and Stringer are passionate about one another's work, passionate about life, and passionate about writing, but not so much so that they ever, for a moment, lose their sense of irony or humor. In the age of the sound bite, literature can be deemed, on some level, useless. Stringer praises writing, in that context, as 'a struggle to preserve our right to be not so practical.' And Vonnegut? 'We are here on Earth to fart around,' he proclaims in Timequake (excerpted here). 'Don't let anybody tell you any different!'”

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Born in 1922 in Indianapolis, Indiana, Kurt Vonnegut was one of the few grandmasters of modern American letters. Called by the New York Times “the counterculture’s novelist,” his works guided a generation through the miasma of war and greed that was life in the U.S. in second half of the 20th century. After stints as a soldier, anthropology PhD candidate, technical writer for General Electric, and salesman at a Saab dealership, Vonnegut rose to prominence with the publication of Cat’s Cradle in 1963. Several modern classics, including Slaughterhouse-Five, soon followed. Never quite embraced by the stodgier arbiters of literary taste, Vonnegut was nonetheless beloved by millions of readers throughout the world. “Given who and what I am,” he once said, “it has been presumptuous of me to write so well.” Kurt Vonnegut died in New York in 2007.

Other books by Kurt Vonnegut