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Book Cover for: Also a Poet: Frank O'Hara, My Father, and Me, Ada Calhoun

Also a Poet: Frank O'Hara, My Father, and Me

Ada Calhoun

Critic Reviews


Based on 17 reviews on

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A staggering memoir from New York Times-bestselling author Ada Calhoun tracing her fraught relationship with her father and their shared obsession with a great poet

When Ada Calhoun stumbled upon old cassette tapes of interviews her father, celebrated art critic Peter Schjeldahl, had conducted for his never-completed biography of poet Frank O'Hara, she set out to finish the book her father had started forty years earlier.

As a lifelong O'Hara fan who grew up amid his bohemian cohort in the East Village, Calhoun thought the project would be easy, even fun, but the deeper she dove, the more she had to face not just O'Hara's past, but also her father's, and her own.

The result is a groundbreaking and kaleidoscopic memoir that weaves compelling literary history with a moving, honest, and tender story of a complicated father-daughter bond. Also a Poet explores what happens when we want to do better than our parents, yet fear what that might cost us; when we seek their approval, yet mistrust it.

In reckoning with her unique heritage, as well as providing new insights into the life of one of our most important poets, Calhoun offers a brave and hopeful meditation on parents and children, artistic ambition, and the complexities of what we leave behind.

Book Details

  • Publisher: Grove Press
  • Publish Date: Apr 18th, 2023
  • Pages: 272
  • Language: English
  • Dimensions: 8.20in - 5.40in - 0.90in - 0.50lb
  • EAN: 9780802162137
  • Categories: MemoirsLiterary FiguresWomen

About the Author

Ada Calhoun is the New York Times bestselling author of St. Marks Is Dead, Wedding Toasts I'll Never Give, and Why We Can't Sleep. She has written for the New York Times, the New Republic, and the Washington Post.

Critics’ reviews

Praise for this book

Praise for Also a Poet

A Best Book of the Year for the New York Times, Washington Post, Kirkus Reviews, Audible, Hudson News, Esquire, Chicago Public Library, Oprah Daily, NPR's Fresh Air, Apple Books, Literary Hub, Publishers Lunch, Bookpage, PBS Newshour and Paris Review

Longlisted for the 2023 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction

A July 2022 IndieNext Pick

"A grand slam of a new memoir...Also a Poet is packaged as a love triangle: father, daughter and O'Hara. It's actually a tetrahedron from which all kinds of creative characters pop forth. It's a big valentine to New York City past and present, and a contribution to literary scholarship, molten with soul." -- New York Times Book Review

"Brave, blistering... Fierce, dissonant, yet compelling." -- Washington Post

"A scintillating work of personal quest and cultural history....[Calhoun] writes with bracing vulnerability and a dreamy sweetness about her adolescence, light of touch but long on skill... [Also a Poet] shares a propulsive energy with such vivid oral histories as Gillian McCain and Legs McNeil's trippy "Please Kill Me" and Jean Stein's stylish "Edie." As Calhoun's earlier books attest, she's a hell of an observer, writing with flair and putting herself on a tightwire, a high-risk gamble that mostly results in high rewards." -- Boston Globe

"Is Also a Poet a biography of Frank O'Hara? Of writer Ada Calhoun's father, art critic Peter Schjeldahl? Or, as its title page insists, is it Calhoun's memoir? Whatever it is, it's dazzling." -- Star Tribune

"Trenchant and controlled, a work of quiet, or sly, virtuosity." -- Bookforum

"No one else could have written this brave, intimate memoir in which [Calhoun] insists on her own worthiness to speak and be heard. Also a Poet will appeal to readers who enjoy what Granville-Smith dismisses as "gossip," enjoy hybrid forms that bend genres, and admire authors who take you along with them as they figure things out. Calhoun and her book are more than interesting enough in their own right." -- Chicago Review of Books

"Also a Poet is a mélange of cultural history and a poignant cri de coeur." -- Oprah Daily

"Calhoun's voice is clear and cogent, a winning and personable guide." -- Vogue, Best Books of 2022 So Far

"A memoir that does surreptitious triple duty as a partial, unauthorized O'Hara biography, a meditation on the purpose and function of the genre, and an unanticipated investigation into the powers of literary estates to determine what, when, and how we read." -- Los Angeles Review of Books

"Trenchant and controlled, a work of quiet, or sly, virtuosity." -- Bookforum, Writers on Their Favorite Books of 2022

"A beautiful book in what feels like a brand new genre." -- Literary Hub, 29 Works of Nonfiction You Need to Read This Summer

"In this heartfelt memoir, Calhoun recounts how going in search of O'Hara revealed so much more--namely, the painful complexities of parents, children, art, and ambition." -- Esquire, Best Books of Summer 2022

"A portrait of Schjeldahl that feels much clearer and intimate than any we might have gotten of O'Hara by way of overheard interviews. It's a portrait informed by love and candor, threading together disparate chapters of a complicated man's life into a thoughtful, cohesive whole." -- Ploughshares

"A project generations in the making, this inventive memoir weaves together Ada Calhoun's attempt to finish a biography of the titular poet started by her father and a reckoning with her own complicated family history. Ideal for fans of books like Small Fry." --Chicago Review of Books, Best Books of June

"Quirky, insightful, and often hilarious... [Also A Poet] is not what Calhoun set out to write, but it's revealing, emotional, and wildly compelling." -- Apple Books, Best Books of June

"Also a Poet isn't about the study of poetry so much as about living with it--and this energetic living with poetry was something that Frank O'Hara very industriously did... Like all lives, his was a messy one; but at times, no life seemed more gloriously messy than his. And it is the glorious messiness of O'Hara's life (and of Ada Calhoun's own) that this little book captures elegantly and transparently." -- New Republic

"Ada Calhoun entwines memoir, literary history, and biography into gorgeous narrative... Weaving transcripts of Schjeldahl's interviews with O'Hara into her own research, Calhoun shines a bright new light on the poet's life and work while also gleaning a new understanding of herself." -- National Book Review

"Ada Calhoun is one of those writers who can craft masterful prose that, no matter the genre, reveals the universal truths behind our inner machinations... [Also a Poet] is a fascinating examination of not just literary history but also Calhoun's own history as an artist, daughter, and New Yorker." -- Shondaland

"What starts as the author's desire to finish a project her father never could turns into a meditation on the meaning of family, art, and love. And like Patti Smith's Just Kids, it brings back to life a New York City many of us have longed to experience--and helped me fall back in love with the city we inhabit now." -- Fortune

"A must read memoir about artistic ambition and a complicated father daughter relationship." -- Town & Country

"[A] sly, eminently readable account of a complex filial relationship." -- Globe and Mail

"Mesmerizing... As [Calhoun] attempts to course-correct Schjeldahl's shortcomings--which she details at length (in the book and to his face)--she crafts a masterpiece entirely her own, tapping into the 'perpetual wonder' that imbued O'Hara with an 'enlightened, saintlike quality' to radiantly explore her knotty relationship with her father, 'the saddest part of my childhood and the greatest gift of my life.' It's a dazzling thing to behold." -- Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"Absorbing and insightful...Fearless...A singular perspective on the timeless issues of family relationships, most especially the vulnerabilities of following in a father's eminent footsteps and the elusive possibility of ever fully understanding our parents. Calhoun's honesty and willingness to push beyond her own resentments make Also a Poet a potent account of a daughter reaching out to a perhaps unreachable father before it's too late." -- BookPage

"Fascinating...A wonderfully convoluted, catty, candid, and clever piece of work."--Kirkus (starred review)

"In this fluidly morphing, magnetically candid chronicle... Calhoun offers an arresting and provocative carousel of family dynamics, creative paradoxes, literary history, unnerving dilemmas, thorny questions of inheritance and legacy, wry humor, and love." - Booklist (starred review)

"Deeply moving and exceptionally well written, this offbeat memoir will please anyone interested in the NYC art scene from the 1950s on. Every father should have a daughter as loving, perceptive and honest as Calhoun." -- Library Journal (starred review)

"Deceptively tender and cleverly conceived...With Also a Poet, Calhoun seems to have created a new nonfiction genre: the biographical profile within a biographical profile within a memoir." -- Shelf Awareness

"Also a Poet covers turf that is delicate, fought-over, and sacred. What poet is not one complicated creature? Whose father is not a confounding mystery to a daughter? What era of New York was not a fevered, fervent time? Let Ada Calhoun be our guide through all, but hold her hand tight--the journey is wild!"--Tom Hanks, New York Times-bestselling author of Uncommon Type

"Also A Poet contains multitudes...a celebration of one of America's greatest poets, an ode to New York of today and yesterday, an investigation into legacy and memory, a meditation on art and writing, a humane yet fiercely candid look at the anxiety of influence, a memoir about Calhoun's fraught but fruitful relationship with her father, who put his art above all else. This extraordinary book, full of wisdom, beauty, and generosity of spirit, proves that we can be 'good' and also great."-- Susannah Cahalan, New York Times-bestselling author of The Great Pretender

"This book is a gift to fans of Frank O'Hara, fans of downtown New York, and fans of queer history. It's also a gift from one writer to another. The fact that that writer is a daughter paying tribute to her complicated father makes the work all the more resonant and beautiful." -- Alysia Abbott, author of Fairyland

"In Ada Calhoun's hands, this one-of-a-kind story of a mercurial father, a conflicted daughter, and the artistic idol they both share is marvelously universal -- by turns touching and laugh-out-loud funny and endearing and wise. If you are interested in parents or children or New York City or poetry and art -- or have ever wondered about the legacies we leave, the lives we touch, without even knowing it -- then Also A Poet offers observations and insights that you'll carry with you for a long time to come."--Robert Kolker, New York Times-bestselling author of Hidden Valley Road

Praise for Why We Can't Sleep

One of Vogue's Best Books to Read this Winter

One of 10 Most Anticipated Books of 2020 by Forbes

Named One of Lit Hub's Most Anticipated Books of 2020

"[C]andid and engaging. [Calhoun] is a funny, smart, compassionate narrator.... I admired her insistence on taking women's concerns seriously." ―New York Times Book Review

"[A]n engaging hybrid of first-person confession, reportage, pop culture analysis, and aspires to something larger than memoir." ―The New Republic

"Calhoun speaks directly to her own generation, peppering the book with so many specific cultural touchstones... that I found reading Why We Can't Sleep to be a singular experience - driving home her point that Gen X is so often overlooked. ―Minneapolis Star Tribune

"A superb mix of personal stories and deep research about a generation of women who are facing unprecedented pressure as they enter middle age. It's at once realistic, but positive, asking women to face up to reality, let go of expectations, find a support system and accept this stage isn't forever." ―Huffington Post

"Marriage implosions, rising debt, and a constant sense of failure pop up throughout this brief but potent and sometimes funny book... Why We Can't Sleep might do much to let readers like the women Calhoun writes about that they are not alone."―Literary Hub

"[A] Bracing, empowering study... Women of every generation will find much to relate to in this humorous yet pragmatic account." ―Publishers Weekly

"Calhoun's latest will be useful for those interested in feminist theory, especially insofar as it intersects with age and class, as well as a useful resource for people struggling to find balance in their personal and professional lives." ―Library Journal (Starred Review)

"This is a conversation starter (as well as a no-brainer for book groups that count Gen X women among their members) that might get Boomer and Millennial readers curious, too." ―Booklist

"Ada Calhoun provides a thoughtful, incisive account of the myriad challenges facing Generation X women." ―Shelf Awareness