About The Tolstoy of the Zulus

Called by Lawrence Ferlinghetti “certainly the best poetry critic in sight” for his previous collection of essays from El León, Moving Targets, Stephen Kessler in this companion volume applies his personal and critical vision to a larger canvas, responding to a great range of phenomena, artists, filmmakers, musicians and writers with characteristic wit, style and insight. Kessler’s lens is wide but his focus is sharp as he surveys, with deep clarity and fresh understanding, both famous and unsung figures of contemporary culture.

Selected from more than thirty years of journalism, The Tolstoy of the Zulus includes 55 essays on such diverse topics as the creative repercussions of September 11, the art of the letter, a trip to Disneyland, Google’s Universal Library, the Watts Towers, Marlon Brando, Charles Manson, Bob Dylan, Luis Buñuel, J. D. Salinger, Romare Bearden, Philip Roth, Harry Belafonte, Edward Hopper, Thelonious Monk, Charles Bukowski, Saul Bellow and an array of other, less celebrated but equally remarkable players in the multifaceted cultural life of our times.

Critical Praise

As an auxiliary career to his work as a poet, translator and novelist, Stephen Kessler has over the past four decades spent his considerable cultural acumen penning...articles that expound the hidden humility in Charles Bukowski and the triumph of the postcard in an age of instant messaging.

In The Tolstoy of the Zulus (El León Literary Arts; 368 pages; $20), a panoramic collection of essays and asides written for Bay Area alternative weeklies like Outlook, Santa Cruz Weekly and Kessler's own literary newspaper, the Redwood Coast Review, the reader is exposed to the tender side of Charles Manson, as well as an appreciation for the gray works of Vincent van Gogh.

A generalist with a penchant for integrated individuals who, like Harry Belafonte and Henry Miller, through their art express irony alongside political ire, Kessler is most poignant when talking up lesser-known luminaries. In his appreciative obit of Greg Hall, Kessler describes the underground poet as having no ambition to publish: "He was one of those rare poets not only totally authentic in his devotion to the art, but even rarer, utterly indifferent to public recognition."

Admirers of populist-minded cultural criticism, in which the elitism of Mencken meets the anarcho-flair of Bob Black, will be thankful that Kessler...has had ambition enough to see that his musings make it into print.

—Roberto Ontiveros, San Francisco Chronicle

Praise for Previous Books by Stephen Kessler

“There’s never a dull moment here, and Kessler’s concern with the precision of language, which derives largely from his work as a translator, leads him to create really memorable phrasing… Moving Targets offers the rich harvest of Kessler’s intellectual labors, and proof, if one wanted it, that the art of cultural criticism is alive and vital today.” 

“More than likely, there are as many ways to translate a poem as there are translators to take up the challenge. Stephen Kessler [in Luis Cernuda’s Desolation of the Chimera] has confronted the enormous problem admirably, bringing over into an alien system highly complex language and rhythms and profound emotions, creating in the process a work whose language, rhythms, and emotions are just as complex and just as profound.” 

“The voice [in The Mental Traveler]becomes a voice in your own head, mesmerizing, licking your temples, drawing you into the words, carried by words into unfamiliar and dangerous ideas.  The music it creates is heartbreakingly funny and gloriously cruel, with just enough glimmers of crazy wisdom to make you hold on, gasping, and just in time bring you back to the arc of the story.” 

“In many ways, Stephen Kessler represents the intelligent, dedicated artist and organizer at the grassroots level who has kept literature and independent thinking on all topics alive in the United States in the second half of the twentieth century.”
MORTON MARCUS, Striking Through the Masks

To read a review in the Santa Cruz Sentinel, go to: http://www.santacruzsentinel.com/ci_18705062.

To read a review on the SantaCruz.com website, go to: http://news.santacruz.com/2011/08/23/a_writers_writer_in_santa_cruz.

About Stephen Kessler

Stephen Kessler is the author of eight previous books and chapbooks of original poetry, fourteen books of literary translation, a collection of essays, Moving Targets: On Poets, Poetry & Translation, and a novel, The Mental Traveler.  His other recent books include The Sonnets by Jorge Luis Borges (as editor and principal translator) and Desolation of the Chimera by Luis Cernuda (selected by Edith Grossman for the Academy of American Poets’ Harold Morton Landon Translation Award). He lives in Northern California and is the editor of The Redwood Coast Review. For more about Stephen Kessler, visit www.stephenkessler.com.

The Tolstoy of the Zulus
By Stephen Kessler


ISBN 978-0-9795285-8-3

El León;
Published: August, 2011
Non-Fiction/Essays/Literary Criticism

Related Links: http://www.stephenkessler.com

Interview: http://sanfranciscobookreview.com/2011/12/interview-stephen-kessler-part-one/

Dune Child, Ella Thorp Ellis