Spencer Holst (1926 – 2001) was an American writer and storyteller. Though he published several collections of stories, as well as volumes of translations, Holst was known primarily for the captivating live performances of his work that he regularly conducted, particularly in the New York City area, in a distinctive mellifluous, rhythmically cadenced voice. In his heyday he was often heard on the radio on New York’s listener-sponsored radio station, WBAI. For many years until his death, he lived at Westbeth Artists Housing in NYC. In addition to presenting readings there, he exhibited his watercolour paintings, many based on invented calligraphic motifs. The paintings were often shown with lengthy titles attached, some were small stories in themselves. Holst was a recipient of the Rosenthal Award from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters and from the Foundation for Performing Arts.
A legendary storyteller and writer who has charmed New York audiences for decades, Holst first evolved his oeuvre in the 1950s-60s milieu of Greenwich Village, influenced as much by sophisticated poets/writers...
A legendary storyteller and writer who has charmed New York audiences for decades, Holst first evolved his oeuvre in the 1950s-60s milieu of Greenwich Village, influenced as much by sophisticated poets/writers (e.g. Hart Crane, Jorge Luis Borges) as by fairy tales/tall-tales which his writings superficially resemble. Each of his sentences, paragraphs, and very, very short stories is a complete and independent act of narrative that delivers the very essence of narrative fiction. In spite of their brevity, these are works of great variety and complexity, displaying a fine intelligence and an inexhaustible capacity for verbal surprise. Holst breaks the very frame of what a story is and what language can do.
“Holst has long been treasured in the underground New York literary scene. His impish delivery is filled with a childlike delight in tale-spinning, and yet his work is recognized for its inscrutable mysteries. Containing every story Holst has ever written, nearly a third of them never before published, this collection should establish Holst’s reputation among a wider public. If there is a single aesthetic preoccupation in these tales, it is with storytelling itself. In the title piece, a Siamese cat speaks ‘Zebraic,’ bewitching zebras so that he is able to kill them, until he meets the zebra storyteller who has already imagined a Siamese cat speaking Zebraic. This allows him to kill the cat, and ‘that is the function of the storyteller,’ Holst concludes. Such postmodern concerns, however, do not become boorish. Above all, Holst seeks to entertain, not lecture; imagination and language receive no especial privilege here, but humor always does. In ‘The Language of Cats,’ at the end of one rather long and unsuccessful attempt to describe a confused state of mind, the narrator resorts to: ‘imagine how the world would appear to a person after finishing such a ridiculously lengthy, pointless sentence.’ Such authorial winks give a hint of what it is like to be in the presence of this master of the told tale.” —Publisher’s Weekly
“The fertile imagination of fable-fabricator Holst (The Language of Cats, etc.) appears in all its glory in his latest collection of 64 far-fetched stories and fragments, 18 of which are making their publishing debut. Juggling mind-bending juxtapositions in his eclectic view of the world, Holst often rearranges familiar scenes or institutions into terra incognita, but leaves enough of the old in place to serve as an unsettling reminder of how easily the known becomes strange. Cats and their inscrutable ways are a favorite subject, as Sherlock Holmes and Watson take on human guise at will and use their furry logic (‘Adventure of the Giant Rat of Sumatra) to solve a brutal killing of a fellow feline, while ‘The Cat Who Owned an Apartment’ discovers that patience, and a quick pounce, can bring unexpected but richly deserved rewards. New York City and other jungles of the world are used to good effect, with a mound of garbage proving the death of a family that inadvertently threw its life savings out in the trash (‘Finders Keepers’); but Africa is no more hospitable to a legendary jazz drummer, who leaves fame behind to search for a tribe of drummers only to find his death when he recalls his past at an inopportune moment (‘Tom-Tom’). The most sustained (though incomplete) saga here, ‘The Institute for the Foul Ball,’ features a bold new look at baseball, with a visionary young superstar proposing - at a time when club owners are keen to bolster sagging profits - a paradigm shift that would allow a batter only one strike. Whimsical but with a full complement of death and decay: a selection of primordial melodies and fantastic 'tudes played with a master’s touch.” - Kirkus Reviews