Burning Books

No other writer since e. e. cummings has inspired such a wealth of innovative music.
— A Dictionary of the Avant-Gardes

There have been few precedents to this kind of sustained avant-garde literature with a moving human content.
— The Oakland Tribune

The most musical prose since Gertrude Stein.
—The Village Voice

MELODY SUMNER CARNAHAN's innovative fiction has found form for decades in collaborations with musicians, artists, and composers. She has thirteen books in print and over forty short works published in national and international periodicals and anthologies.

Her latest, Anyone, an aphoristic tale, is available now. Her first novel, Only a Messenger, was released as part of the Burning Books Quadrants Series. You Are Not Asleep, her 4th story collection, was published by Teksteditions, Canada. Her award-winning compilation, The Time Is Now, was produced as book/audio CD from Frog Peak Music.

Composers and artists have commissioned words, including: Morton Subotnick commissioned 4 stories for his Gestures surround-sound interactive DVD/CD with the voice of Joan La Barbara (Mode Records). Woody Vasulka commissioned “The Maiden” for his installation, The Brotherhood, at NTT/ICC Tokyo, with Steina on violin and Gene Youngblood, voice. Simon Wickham-Smith commissioned the libretto for A Hidden Life, based on the life of the 6th Dalai Lama, with the voices of Robert Ashley, Laetitia Sonami, and Joan Stango (Tanuki Records). Barbara Golden commissioned "Instructions" for Wendy Reid (C4NM YouTube), and her classic, At the Corner of Alive & Jesus, recently reissued by fo’c’sle music.

Carnahan received an MFA from Mills College, working at the Center for Contemporary Music with Robert Ashley and Maggi Payne, and in the Book Art Program with Kathleen Walkup. At Mills, she began collaborating with composers and musicians to present her writing “off the page.” Her words have found form for over thirty-five years as intermedia creations in which she provides stories, lyrics, and prose for recordings, installations, video, film, posters, and live performance, notably the widely praised “performance novels” of Laetitia Sonami.

As writer and editor, Carnahan has worked with many other artistic innovators including John Cage, Yoko Ono, Laurie Anderson, Robert Ashley, Charles Shere, Madeline Gins, George Lakoff, and Evan S. Connell.


Awards and acknowledgements have come from the Art Institute of Chicago, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Whitney Museum of American Art, Experimental Intermedia Foundation, and others including:

• Bronze Medal, IPPY Independent Publisher Book Award for Only a Messenger (as part of the Quadrants Series, Burning Books) 2013.

• Eric Hoffer Book Award, Legacy Fiction Honorable Mention, for One Inch Equals Twenty-Five Miles (interpreted by J.A. Deane with the Out of Context ensemble, performance and audio CD. See article in Leonardo Music Journal.) 2010.

• Associate Artist at the Atlantic Center for the Arts with writers William Gass, 2005, and Rick Moody, 2014.

• KUNM-FM’s AetherFest commissioned a half-hour audiowork, Dido’s Revenge, with the voices of Jay Cloidt and Susan Stone, edited by Steve Peters, Nonsequitur Foundation, 2003.

• Creative Media Arts Fellow, ABC Radio / Univ. of Technology in Sydney, Australia, for creation of The X, Y, Z of It, a half-hour audiowork broadcast internationally, featuring the voices of Robert Ashley and Joan La Barbara, 2000.

• IPPY Independent Publisher Award in Audio-Fiction for book/CD, The Time Is Now (Frog Peak/Burning Books) 1999.

New American Radio commissioned 2 audioworks: Manananggal and The Bench with Laetitia Sonami, broadcast nationally and archived, 1995, 1994.

Other collaborators include Jay Cloidt, Amy X Neuburg, Elodie Lauten, Chris Jonas, Molly Sturges, John Flax, Pamela Z, Susan Stone, Elizabeth Wiseman, Margarita Cordero, Susanna Carlisle, Elizabeth King, Larry Polansky, Patrick McFarlin, Mark Weber, Thomas Ashcraft, Jerry Wellman/Axle Contemporary, and Theater Grottesco, on works from Elektra Nonesuch, Zerx Records, 4Tay Records, and High Mayhem.

Carnahan’s short fiction has appeared in numerous publications, including Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s City Lights Review, Leonardo Music Journal, At a Distance (MIT), THE Magazine, Santa Fe Reporter, Rampike (Canada), Alcatraz 2, Factorial (Japan), The Closets of Time (Mercury Press), and Permission to Speak and What Is the Sound of Smoke (Teksteditions), The Brotherhood (NTT/ICC Tokyo, Japan), Void California (CCA, Wattis Institute, 2016), Local Coloring (Axle Contemporary, 2017), and Telepoem Booth (Santa Fe, 2019).

Melody Sumner Carnahan
photo by Jennifer Esperanza