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Michael Mewshaw

Michael Mewshaw’s career spans more than four decades and includes award-wining forays into fiction, nonfiction, literary criticism, and investigative journalism. Regardless of the genre, the hallmark of his work is a persistent questioning of the relationship between literature and life, illusion and reality, and con-men and creativity. Plagiarism, bogus reporting, and outright fraud, Mewshaw suggests, can lead to a higher truth—or to horrifying tragedy. In his novel Year of the Gun (later made into a movie directed by John Frankenheimer, starring Sharon Stone), the protagonist is a journalist who signs a book contract for a factual account of the Italian terrorist group, the Red Brigades. Instead, he produces pure—or impure—fiction which predicts the kidnapping and assassination of Aldo Moro. Rather than a reporting scoop, this results in the death of the protagonist’s best friend and a former lover.

In a lighter, although no less iconoclastic, vein, Mewshaw published Do I Owe You Something?, a memoir of his encounters with some of the 20th century’s most celebrated authors—including Graham Greene, Paul Bowles, Anthony Burgess, Gore Vidal, Italo Calvino, William Styron, and Robert Penn Warren. In each case he recounts anecdotes that never made it into the authorized biographies of these august figures. Because “official” portraits are often as fictional as novels, Mewshaw’s candid snapshots convey an alternative image, and Larry McMurtry commented about the book, “The reader will be frequently amused, and only somewhat less frequently appalled, as what we might call the quirkiness of the literary life is revealed.”

Most recently, Mewshaw’s Between Terror and Tourism: An Overland Journey Across North Africa, is structured in part around a reassessment of the work of E.M. Forster, C.V. Cavafy, Lawrence Durrell, Andrew Gide, Albert Camus, and Paul Bowles—whose books still shape much of the American and European discourse on the area and on Islam. The journey ends in Tangier where Mewshaw tracks down Bowles’s last literary protégé, Mohammed Mrabet who, in a paroxysm of rage against colonialism, accuses his mentor of plagiarism and murder.

Online Resources

Alan Cheuse on ‘Do I Owe You Something?’
‘A Writer’s Life,’ Heidi Benson

Selected Bibliography

Between Terror and Tourism (2010)
Do I Owe You Something? (2003)
Year of the Gun (1984)