Books Criticism Essay Film Interview

From the Archives: Reading Alan Sillitoe

“Albert Finney…is a very exceptional specimen” —The New York Times, review of the 1960 film SATURDAY NIGHT AND SUNDAY MORNING, based on the novel by Alan Sillitoe.

I was remembering the author Alan Sillitoe, who died in 2010 and found this great, over-the top promo. Sillitoe was a British, working-class writer who came up with the likes of Kingsley Amis, but rejected the Angry Young Man title given to Amis and his ilk. I’m not sure what he ultimately thought of the film, but the adaptation was a success and helped launch actor Albert Finney’s career as a film star (after he’d already wowed em on stage). Sillitoe’s novel, and his other work, especially the short story collection Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner deserves a second and third look. Tin House Magazine published a lost and found essay I wrote about Loneliness in their “Touch and Go” issue and I did an interview for them with Sillitoe in their “Winter Reading” issue (2006).


Modern Love Essay in the New York Times

Modern Love Essay in the New York TimesI hadn’t gotten around to posting this link but my essay on bipolar disorder, love and creativity  “Making a Hard Choice for a Soft Landing” was published in the New York Times’ Modern Love section.

Illustration by Brian Rea for The New York Times
Illustration by Brian Rea for The New York Times
Essay Excerpt News

Op-Ed: Mitt Romney as Shakespeare’s Coriolanus

In the aftermath of Sandy, it’s time to reevaluate what it means to be dependent on government. (Guernica Magazine, 11/1/12)

EXCERPT: Romney argues that dependency makes Americans “victims” because they believe “that government has a responsibility to care for them,” contrasting their dependency with his independence, not merely as a wealthy private citizen but as a political candidate. In declaring his independence from American voters, Romney is in fact speaking in a classical tradition of warrior-leaders like Shakespeare’s Coriolanus. The play Coriolanus was based on the life of a real Roman leader who had such success in battle that he is re-named for the city of Corioles which he had violently destroyed. Coriolanus returns to Rome, where he decides to run for Senate. But when he refuses to pander to the people to win their votes the Romans run him out of town (with a little egging-on by Coriolanus’ rivals). As Shakespeare scholar Stephen Greenblatt writes in his recent book Shakespeare’s Freedom : “It is Coriolanus’ proud refusal to participate in the popular rites of power—specifically the humble soliciting of votes and hence acknowledgement of dependency—that has lead to his exile” (107).

What is particularly troubling about Romney’s case is that the mutual dependency voters take for granted is for him a shameful sense of entitlement.

In Coriolanus, Shakespeare shows what happens when a leader rejects the democratic contract between the voters and the government. And though Shakespeare himself wasn’t quite comfortable with the idea of governance by the masses, Coriolanus demonstrates that it is mutual dependency, at least as much as freedom and independence, that defines democratic values. America’s tripartite system of government ensures that our leaders are necessarily dependent both on each other and on the voters who elect them. As legal scholar Lawrence Lessig wrote in a recent Boston Review article “Democracy After Citizens United,” “The framers intended Congress to be ‘dependent upon the People alone.’ But the private funding of public campaigns has bred within Congress a second, and conflicting, dependency.” [More at]

Environment Essay Excerpt

The Believer: Drying in the Wilderness

How unshakable myths about the West and its settlers helped lead to California’s current environmental crisis.

DISCUSSED: Propaganda for Manifest Destiny, A Proposal for Communal Grazing, Ruinous Aqueducts, Sprinklers, A Vision for the Arid Region, Cocktails with Ansel Adams, Root Causes, Green Ideas, The Endless Deferral of the Eureka Moment


In 1868, the West was a mythical place, a land associated with boundless acreage for the speculator, infinite glory for the intrepid mountaineer, and rich veins of ore for the prospector. Just a few years before the American centennial, very little was actually known about what lay beyond the 98th meridian. This invisible line––which runs through the heart of Texas and cuts the corners off Oklahoma, Kansas, and Nebraska––was at that time on the far side of America’s western border. Maps depicted the area with a few chicken-scratches for hypothetical mountain ranges and designated it with the words The Great American Desert.

As European explorers ventured into India and Africa, an American self-styled naturalist named John Wesley Powell took it upon himself to map the unexplored territory of the West and catalog its resources. Powell was an unlikely mountain man. Although physically fit, with a barrel chest and the full beard that was his trademark, he’d lost an arm as an officer in the Civil War, and much of his scientific training consisted of reading voraciously from books sold by traveling salesmen. With his characteristic energy, Powell mustered a small group of hunters and former Civil War soldiers, including his brother, to mount a cartographic expedition down the length of the Colorado River. The success of this expedition made Powell, for a brief time, a national hero, and gained him the financial support he needed for his most ambitious undertaking—to map the entire West, including every stream, river, and pool of runoff.

At this time, the American government was in thrall to the expansionist goals expressed in the idea of Manifest Destiny: Americans had the divine right—theresponsibility—to expand across the continent. The futurist writer and governor of Colorado, William Gilpin, did his part to aid Manifest Destiny. A speculator who believed his landgrabs to be divinely sanctioned, he vividly described the West to Eastern newspapermen and eager audiences as a second Eden, a fertile land with bountiful aquifers deep below the desert surface. Gilpin played fast and loose with scientific facts, inventing rainfall, diverting streams, and telling anxious farmers not to worry about rumors of aridity, because “the rain followed the plow.”

Powell, however, recognized early on that the West would be inhospitable to traditional large-scale farming, and foresaw that irregular rainfall would create a reliance on irrigation. This meant that the West would come to be defined by water rights. Without government regulation, he warned Gilpin and others in Washington, wealthy speculators would gain complete control over water, creating a feudal system that left farmers in the dust.

Powell published his preliminary findings in a federal report, still believing that there was time to create a plan for sustainable Western development. But while Powell believed he was writing a scientific report, to the government it was a dangerous manifesto. The federal commission had wanted him merely to create a map of irrigable land. But Powell’s report showed far less of that land than was hoped for, and his analysis of the problem and how to solve it resulted in a guide for limited, regulated settlement of the West. The commission responded by slashing Powell’s budget from $720,000 to $162,500. Powell’s report was, as his biographer Wallace Stegner later wrote, “loaded with dynamite.” [More at or buy the issue here]

Art Essay Excerpt

HuffingtonPost UK: The Rust Belt’s City of Murals

“Market Street” mural by Michael Wojczuk, photo Tony Nicholas

As steel mills and other industry began shutting down across the Rust Belt in the recessions of the 1970s and 80s, a small group of Ohioans got together to try save their town and do more with less. Over the next 10 years the sides of dilapidated buildings in Steubenville, OH began to blossom with murals celebrating the city’s history as an industrial town and –surprisingly– the home of early film icon Dean Martin. Steubenville was soon re-christened the City of Murals and the artwork that decorated the once-depressed town brought in thousands of tourists (and much-needed tourist dollars).

My father Michael Wojczuk was the muralist for several of the first City of Murals projects and the idea of a city of murals awoke my imagination. I remember dad bringing home Steubenville t-shirts imprinted with steam pipes and the city’s motto ‘you gotta be tough!’ which I wore every day to elementary school while feeling very tough indeed. [MORE] —Tana 

Essay Readings

Video from my Literary Death Match escapade

Reading from an unpublished essay on the murder of Agatha Christie at the Elbo Room in San Francisco. One week after I moved to the bay area.
Literary Death Match with Tana Wojczuk

Essay News Readings Uncategorized

Essay on Jack Kerouac for The Rumpus

My essay The Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at

Essay Film

Essay on The Future of Documentary Film for Bomb Magazine

I wrote a critical essay for Bomb focusing on the narrative innovations of Oscar-nominated documentaries Restrepo, Wasteland and Gasland. Check it out here.

Photo courtesy of “Wasteland” and Vic Muniz Studio


Lapham’s Quarterly: Charlotte Cushman, A Very Dangerous Young Man

I’m excited to have a new piece published online at Lapham’s Quarterly‘s Roundtable as part of their special “Celebrity” issue. It is a short essay about the real model for the Bethesda Fountain in Central Park: an actress named Charlotte Cushman, who played men’s roles and was known for being a “very dangerous young man.”

Essay News Readings

Reading Oct. 13th at the NYPL

The New York Public Library is my Mecca and Medina, it’s the most gorgeous temple to literature I’ve ever seen (unless you count Nature, though would literature be a temple then to nature…hmm).  So to be reading there is a huge, huge thrill.  The reading series is called “Periodically Speaking” and it’s hosted by CLMP (Council for Literary Magazines and Presses) who asks editors from literary magazines to introduce emerging writers from their pages.  I’ll be reading from a piece upcoming in Tin House (Fall Issue, on the shelves Oct 1st). Come!