About me

author photo, Caleb Crain, 3 Aug 2012, credit Liza Johnson

My name is Caleb Crain. I’m a writer—of fiction and nonfiction—and I live in Brooklyn with my husband, Peter Terzian, and our dog. I’m the author of the novel Necessary Errors, which has received generous reviews in the New York Times, the New Yorker, the New York Review of Books, and elsewhere, and is available as a paperback and an e-book.

A few background notes: I translated Eda Kriseová’s campaign biography of the Czech playwright, politician, and philosopher Václav Havel, which was published by St. Martin’s Press in 1993. In 1999, after getting a Ph.D. from Columbia University’s English department in early American literature, I worked for about a year as a senior editor at the magazine Lingua Franca. My first book, a scholarly study titled American Sympathy: Men, Friendship, and Literature in the New Nation, was published by Yale University Press in 2001; it was reviewed by American Literary History, Early American Literature, Common-Place.org, and Newsday, among others. I wrote introductions and notes to the Modern Library’s 2002 editions of Royall Tyler’s Algerine Captive and Charles Brockden Brown’s Wieland. In the 2002–2003 academic year I was a fellow at the Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers at the New York Public Library. From 2003 to 2006 I taught as an adjunct assistant professor at Columbia.

For a number of years I’ve written reviews and essays for the New Yorker, the New York Review of Books, The Atlantic, Harper’s, the London Review of Books, The Nation, the New York Times Book Review, and The New Republic. You can find many of these articles, along with a few scholarly essays published in peer-reviewed journals, through a page on this website. In a number of cases, when an essay appeared, I published on this blog a reporter’s notebook—a sort of annotated bibliography of print and online sources that I consulted in my research.

The literary journal n+1 published my novella “Sweet Grafton” in its winter 2008 issue. The journal Little Star has published my short story “Quitting Time” in its 2014 issue.

On 8 December 2009, I moderated a panel for n+1 on “Evangelicalism and the Contemporary Intellectual” (video here). On 23 September 2010, I gave a lecture on “Melville’s Secrets” at SUNY Geneseo, for the annual Walter Harding lecture (video here). From time to time I’ve been interviewed on the radio.

My novel Necessary Errors was published by Penguin in August 2013; more info here.

This blog won the 2007 Cliopatria Award for Best Writer. The title comes from The Trippings of Tom Pepper, a novel by Charles Frederick Briggs first serialized in 1846. The hero, a boy named Tom Pepper, has stowed away on a schooner. The sailors hear him knocking things over and decide he’s a ghost. This puts them in a melancholy mood, and one evening in the forecastle they reminisce about the good old days, while the hidden Tom Pepper eavesdrops. One of them says, self-pityingly, “Steamboats are ruining everything.” What I love about the quote is that you get the sense that Briggs, who was himself a runaway sailor in his youth, like his friend Melville, thinks the same thing, but prudently puts the sentiment into the mouth of a superstitious, nostalgic old coot.

The image in the left sidebar and again in the footer is of the steamboat The Royal Tar, which caught fire and sank in Penobscot Bay on October 25, 1836; a menagerie of wild animals on board perished. The engraving is from Steamboat Disasters and Railroad Accidents in the United States (Worcester, 1846).


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