A staggering memoir from New York Times-bestselling author Ada Calhoun tracing her fraught relationship with her father and their shared obsession with a great poet
When Ada Calhoun stumbled upon old cassette tapes of interviews her father, celebrated art critic Peter Schjeldahl, had conducted for his never-completed biography of poet Frank O’Hara, she set out to finish the book her father had started forty years earlier.
As a lifelong O’Hara fan who grew up amid his bohemian cohort in the East Village, Calhoun thought the project would be easy, even fun, but the deeper she dove, the more she had to face not just O’Hara’s past, but also her father’s, and her own.
The result is a groundbreaking and kaleidoscopic memoir that weaves compelling literary history with a moving, honest, and tender story of a complicated father-daughter bond. Also a Poet explores what happens when we want to do better than our parents, yet fear what that might cost us; when we seek their approval, yet mistrust it.
In reckoning with her unique heritage, as well as providing new insights into the life of one of our most important poets, Calhoun offers a brave and hopeful meditation on parents and children, artistic ambition, and the complexities of what we leave behind.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
Essayist Ada Calhoun’s literary memoir is a sort-of biography—and like nothing you’ve ever read before. When Calhoun, the daughter of New Yorker art critic Peter Schjeldahl, stumbled upon a cache of 1970s interviews for a biography of poet Frank O’Hara in the basement of her parents’ Manhattan apartment building, she decided to finish the job. But Calhoun quickly runs into the same reluctant literary executor who stalled her dad’s bio, so instead, she uses the interview tapes as a jumping-off point for a quirky, insightful, and often hilarious memoir of growing up as the precocious, bookish daughter of less-than-attentive bohemian parents. Her personal stories are mixed with scenes from O’Hara’s life, as he blossoms from a closeted early ’50s Harvard student to the social-butterfly star of the New York School of poets and painters. Throughout, Calhoun’s complicated relationship with her father bubbles to the surface. Also a Poet—the title comes from the subhead of O’Hara’s 1966 New York Times obituary—is not what Calhoun set out to write, but it’s revealing, emotional, and wildly compelling.