NEA Literature Fellowships

Peter Gadol

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(2014 - Prose)

Excerpt from American Modern: A Novel

Some students and a few instructors back down and file out toward the street, while others rush back toward the workshops, and the police begin streaming in. It sounds like a hundred horses have been set free at the Bauhaus, and some of the students run. Running where and to do what, who knows, but they are fleeing and therefore giving chase, which makes the Kommandant grin as he stares again at the little man in the poster: Now he can make arrests.

Someone bolts past Franz up the stairs and Franz follows him up, skipping steps. The other student peels off toward the metals lab, and Franz is alone again as he drags himself back through the atelier, passing the drafting tables lining either side of the factory attic like the abandoned galley of a sinking ship. He makes it to his own desk. He can’t breathe. He opens a window to let in cold air.

The officer with the sore hand obeys his command and searches the main studio for propaganda. Until two weeks ago when he enlisted, he considered his prospects varied—he always wanted to enter a profession, banking before the banks collapsed, accountancy or the law. He’s supposed to be looking for pamphlets and the like, that’s the order, yet even he senses that it’s not the printed word that matters in a crafts school but rather the craft itself. His fellow officers, sweeping students out to the street and working their way back to the faculty offices, are missing what is in plain view, which might explain why then he gingerly unbuttons his jacket and, as discreetly as he can amid the present ransacking, tucks two polished brass candlesticks into the fold of his coat. His belt is cinched tightly enough to hold the loot. His mother’s birthday is coming up, the candlesticks will please her a great deal, and they will remain in the family and become heirlooms of a sort, until some years later after she is gone and he is gone, too, his own son will notice the Bauhaus mark on the base of the sticks, appreciate the provenance, and make a gift to a new museum, a minor atonement in the scheme of things, yet a reckoning just the same.

Mies has ignored the various policemen who have politely asked him to exit and instead been sitting at his desk in his office with the door closed. He thinks about how the leaders of the new state will want him to give them Rome. They’ll want corinthian columns and pediments and the friezes of empire. He’s doomed to that sort of work unless he can finally rustle up some commissions in America. There are railroad heiresses and department store princes with new American money, and they won’t understand what he is about either, but they are more likely to let him build the way he wants. He has a reputation—in that he’s secure—but not enough connections yet, and so he needs to plan better. The new state will want obelisks and arches, and he needs to be on a boat in five years or less.

The Kommandant enters Mies’s office without knocking, and Mies tells himself he’s kept the place running longer than he thought possible, but honestly, he is a man of science, it comes down to that. The science of architecture, not politics. They will seal the school today. His faculty will never vote to reopen under the new mandate, and maybe that’s the way it should be.

Peter Gadol is the author of six novels, including The Long Rain, Light at Dusk, and most recently Silver Lake, which was nominated for awards from the Southern California Independent Booksellers Association and the Lambda Literary Foundation. His work has been translated into several languages, and his short fiction has appeared in Story and Tin House. He has received fellowships from Yaddo and the Djerassi Resident Artists Program, and he has taught at the California Institute of the Arts. Gadol is currently a professor of graduate writing at Otis College of Art and Design. He lives in Los Angeles.

Photo by Laura Gabriela Amador

Author's Statement

First there is the honor: I’m deeply flattered to be keeping company with this year’s other NEA fellows and also to know my name will be added to the roster of past recipients, the many writers whom I’ve long admired.

Then there is the light-headed sense of freedom, a certain anxiety lifting: For the next year I won’t worry so much about being eternally late with the next book. (Okay, yes, I will worry a little bit, but I promise, not too much.)

And then there is the time: Time to conduct research, time to travel, time to scribble in my journal, time to turn around sentences, time to revise those sentences, time to think, time to dream.

I am incredibly grateful for this grant.