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Talk to Me

Talk to Me: Bill Callahan's Letters to Emma Bowlcut

Nearly two feet of newly fallen snow proved little obstacle for fans to clap their eyes on musician Bill Callahan on a recent winter's night. Callahan, known to many by the name Smog, drew a hip crowd to Spoonbill and Sugartown in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, for a reading from his novel, Letters to Emma Bowlcut. The book, read in the author’s halting, sonorous voice, consists of correspondence written by a man to a woman he met at a party. Readers aren’t provided much context for the meeting but can sense the relationship develop as the letters progress.

During the lengthy question-and-answer session that followed his reading, Callahan admitted he was attached to the art of letter writing. “If I was younger and had never experienced life without the Internet, then it probably would have been e-mails, but I’m still holding onto pen and paper,” he said. Callahan also noted that he’s focusing on his music these days, but that he might publish another book in five years or so, which was how long it took him to write Letters to Emma Bowlcut.

Click the audio player above to hear the full reading. Here are our bon mots from the event:

Reading from Letter 37: "My voice has a strange accent lately—wistful Korean grocer chiding a pyramid of pomegranates."

Reading from Letter 39: "It smoothed me out to read your letter. Despite your strife, you are so tender to me. I was certain it was going to be a Vicodin night, as I needed some pinning down. But I lost that feeling when I read what you wrote."

Reading from Letter 40: "Everything that I have done today could have been done by a bear. The long seasoned sleep. The lumbering out of bed. Tearing at a hard roll dipped in honey. And then sprawling lazily in the grass where the sun hit. I was going to take a bath but decided that would have been too much bear activity."

Below, listen to excerpts of Callahan's answers from the question-and-answer session. He discusses what he's currently reading and names the two songs that were originally written as poems.