Office at Night
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Office at Night

Novella by Kate Bernheimer and Laird Hunt

The lives of Marge Quinn, stenographer, and Abraham Chelikowsky, sometimes painter, are improvised from Edward Hopper’s iconic “Office at Night.”

June 2014
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Description

Nominated for 2014 Shirley jackson Award for Novellette

Edward Hopper’s painting “Office at Night” is open to endless interpretation. In this collaborative novella, Kate Bernheimer and Laird Hunt borrow from his practice of improvising on “the facts” of observation to create a work of art, imagining the lives of its characters: stenographer Marge Quinn and her boss, the sometimes painter Abraham Chelikowsky.

Co-commissioned by Coffee House Press and the Walker Art Center, and inspired by Edward Hopper’s “Office at Night” (1940) from the Walker’s collection, the writers describe their process as “taking up residence” inside the painting, imagining the lives and relationships between the enigmatic characters in Hopper’s iconic painting. The story will be released as a serial on the Walker’s website throughout the month of April and published as an e-book by Coffee House Press in June 2014.

Supported in part by the McKnight Foundation.

Image courtesy the Walker Art Center.

Edward Hopper (1882-1967)
Office at Night, 1940
Oil on canvas, 22 3/16 x 25 1/8 in.  (56.4 x 63.8 cm)
Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; Gift of the T.B. Walker Foundation, Gilbert M. Walker Fund

Reviews

“Hunt and Bernheimer, whose books are published by Coffee House, were asked to “take up residence” in the painting and write a story about what’s going on in that office. Hopper, who died in 1967, probably would have blessed this unique project since he commented that there was a narrative to “Office at Night” that would have to be supplied by the viewer.” Pioneer Press

“The flat light, the blue shadows, the angle of observation — from above, as though from a surveillance camera — all give the painting a mysterious, almost sinister air. Who is the woman? What is the man reading? What is their relationship? What is the story? We are about to find out.” —Star Tribune

“[T]he Walker—always an adventurous museum—has gone one step further with Office at Night. As Schultz explains, she and Chris Fischbach, publisher of Coffee House Press, were brainstorming when they came up with the idea of asking two prominent writers, Laird Hunt and Kate Bernheimer, to collaborate on a novella inspired by Office at Night—in essence, Schultz says, “to take up residence in the painting, coming up with one of a thousand stories that could be told about it. . . It’s an experiment in narrative invention.” Smithsonian

“Traditionally, curatorial institutions like the Walker and Coffee House Press are viewed as tastemakers presenting “great art” to audiences. Walker Education Director Sarah Schultz and her colleagues, as well as my colleagues at Coffee House, have been striving to subvert that dynamic. With much of our new programming, we seek to create opportunities for audiences to engage with the art we present, to use it as stepping stone, or tool, to make something new, to inspire.” Walker Art Center Edward Hopper Painting Hosts Writers’ Residency

“Critics have noted that Hopper’s paintings are open to interpretation. Authors Hunt and Bernheimer are ready to give their take on the story presented here.” City Pages

“The approach taken by Bernheimer and Hunt in their story is an experimental and unpredictable one, lending equal weight to every scene’s participants, both alive and inanimate.”—Hazlitt