By Srikanth Reddy
Publication Date: August 4, 2020
ISBN# 9781940696935 (5.5x8.25, 224pp, paperback)
ISBN# 9781940696942 (5.5x8.25, 224pp, limited edition hardcover)
Finalist for the Four Quartets Prize
Simultaneously funny and frightful, Srikanth Reddy's Underworld Lit is a multiverse quest through various cultures' realms of the dead. Couched in a literature professor's daily mishaps with family life and his sudden reckoning with mortality, this adventurous serial prose poem moves from the college classroom to the oncologist's office to the mythic underworlds of Mayan civilization, the ancient Egyptian place of judgment and rebirth, the infernal court of Qing dynasty China, and beyond—testing readers along with the way with diabolically demanding quizzes. It unsettles our sense of home as it ferries us back and forth across cultures, languages, epochs, and the shifting border between the living and the dead.
Palpable in Underworld Lit is the desire for something that is bigger and wiser than the tools we have for justice and a conception of the human that is not based in domination and genocide. If there is hope to be found in Reddy’s powerful collection, it is in the possibility of a literature that might repair our relationship with the dead.
Rachel Carroll, Los Angeles Review of Books
In this sardonic (until it’s tender), funny (until it’s sad), and surreal (yet strikingly real) prose poetry collection/fantasy tale/auto-eulogy…Deeply personal confession gives way to ironized academia, which in turn gives way to dreamscape narrative, accumulating course planning materials, texts, translations, and myths, often even in the same individual section.…These moments of true poetry, operating with an almost Homer-like surprise (and quasi-religious rhetoric), break through the professor’s mundane actions, the fireworks of the dream narratives, and the humorous intertextuality. This is, after all, a book of poetry, and the fragments of glass that catch the light in the writing undercut the professor’s weariness and dread, reminding of a beauty still capable of being expressed.
Tim DeMay, Chicago Review
How to describe Reddy's strange and remarkable third collection? An academic's nightmare? A hilarious exercise in invented autobiography? A guided tour of hell?...It's a harrowing, Dantesque journey, a class that, perhaps, should be required for all; thankfully Reddy has provided all the necessary materials for us to take it from home.
Craig Morgan Teicher, NPR
Underworld Lit is a book-length poem with a more than passing resemblance to the campus novel, and it may well rank as one of the masterpieces.
—Hong Kong Review of Books
Srikanth Reddy is the author of Underworld Lit (Wave Books, 2020), Voyager—named one of the best books of poetry in 2011 by The New Yorker, The Believer, and NPR—and Facts for Visitors, which won the 2005 Asian American Literary Award. He has written on poetry for The New York Times and The New Republic, and his book of literary criticism, Changing Subjects: Digressions in Modern American Poetry, was published by Oxford University Press in 2012. The NEA, the Creative Capital Foundation, and the Guggenheim Foundation have awarded him grants and fellowships, and in Fall 2015, he delivered the Bagley Wright Lectures in Poetry. A graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop and the doctoral program in English at Harvard University, he is currently an Associate Professor of English at the University of Chicago.
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