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

Grove. Jun. 2022. 272p. ISBN 9780802159786. $27. MEMOIR
Calhoun (Why We Can’t Sleep), the only child of New Yorker art critic Peter Schjeldahl, writes a memoir about their relationship. She’s published three successful books by her mid-forties but feels like she can’t get her father’s attention. When she discovers a cache of taped interviews dated 1976–77, leftovers from Schjeldahl’s unfinished project to memorialize the poet Frank O’Hara (1926–66), Calhoun resolves to write the book for her father, about a singular poet who more than any other captured what it was like to live in New York at mid-century. But O’Hara’s sister, executor of his estate, won’t let Calhoun study his personal papers; then the pandemic hits, Calhoun’s grandmother dies, her father is diagnosed with cancer, and her parents’ apartment burns down—whew! So instead of the O’Hara biography, Calhoun writes this odd memoir, partly about the poet but mostly about her own complicated relationship with a father she loves but finds exasperating, even hurtful, and who will too soon be gone.
VERDICT 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.
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