Thomas M. Disch Found Dead

Matt Staggs telephoned me this afternoon with extremely sad news. Science fiction legend Thomas M. Disch was found dead on July 4th. He committed suicide. I am especially stunned, because I interviewed the man only a few weeks ago for The Bat Segundo Show. And as soon as I get my emotions collected here, I’m going to work on mastering this hour-length conversation and get it up as soon as I can. I will have much more to say about this visit very soon.

But in the meantime, you can read Ellen Datlow’s remembrance here. To hell with genre. The literary world lost one of its most acerbic voices. And it’s a damn shame that so many of the snobs didn’t appreciate Disch because he “merely wrote science fiction.”

[UPDATE: You can now listen to the interview here. Disch lived in an apartment with scant decor. There were books and a few paintings. But that was pretty much it. He told me that his other home in the country had been overrun with mildew. And he had nowhere else to go, no place to live other than this apartment. In the end, Disch lived entirely for his art and paid the terrible price for daring to stick to his guns.

I have been informed that this was the last face-to-face interview that Disch conducted. Because of these circumstances, this was the hardest podcast I’ve ever had to put together. But I felt compelled to get it up as quickly as I could. It took a few minutes for the two of us to get into a groove, but he did seem to enjoy the conversation, smiling and laughing, lighting up and cracking many sardonic jokes. The discussion touched upon death and literary posterity. It seemed evident from Disch’s book that these were important themes for him. But because of the unexpected prescience of Disch’s answers, this podcast is now very painful for me to listen to. Listening to his answers in hindsight, part of me wonders if he had already made his decision.

When the conversation was over, Disch asked me many questions about what I did, the people I interviewed, and asked if he could get a tape of the podcast. I wondered if these inquiries arose because of his loneliness. I told him that I would certainly send him a copy of the podcast when it was finished, but I never got the chance. He also asked if our conversation would appear in print. I told him that I would do my best, but that I was at the behest of editors and shrinking newspaper space. I pitched a few editors on a profile piece, but these efforts fell on deaf ears. I remain extremely saddened that Disch, who merely wanted to be appreciated as a poet and who hoped that he could hold onto his apartment on Union Square West, felt that suicide was the only answer. Perhaps he was a lonely man still trying to come to terms with the death of his partner. Perhaps he had declared himself a deity so that the world would finally notice his literary contributions. I don’t know if I’m really in the position to judge. But I do hope that this conversation can, in some sense, allow others to appreciate his very special talent.]

[UPDATE 2: A number of remembrances can be found at Enter the Octopus.]

[UPDATE 3: Thoughts from William Gibson, Jeff VanderMeer, Quenchzine, Scott Edelman, Bruce Lewis, Tom Moody, Locus, Cory Doctorow, Wet Machine, Scott Woods, Stephen Frug, Mark Kelly, Suzanne Fischer, Dotan Dimet, Daily Kos, and Marc Laidlaw. As of Monday morning, there isn’t one obituary or notice in a single American newspaper, with many litblogs egregiously silent. Think Disch will get even a mention from Paper Cuts? Yeah, right.]

[UPDATE 4: I’ve been informed that there will be a memorial service for Disch in September.]

[UPDATE 5: Barista reports that Disch was fighting to stay in his home and that the landlord had won an appeal on the basis that the apartment was rented out to Disch’s partner, not Disch. Terrible. More here.]

[UPDATE 6: Here’s another of his last interviews. (Forget the Dr. Blogstein interview. It is outrageously idiotic, uninformed, and disrespectful. In fact, Dr. Blogstein is now sending really tacky emails to people trying to promote this garbage. As such, I have removed the link.)]

[UPDATE 7: Threads at Crooked Timber and Metafilter.]

[UPDATE 8: I’ve written a Disch tribute for New York Magazine.]

[UPDATE 9: Some tributes have rolled in from newspapers and magazines: Entertainment Weekly, the Los Angeles Times, and The Advocate. But there remains nothing from the New York Times.]

[UPDATE 10: Official obits from The Los Angeles Times and The New York Times.]

[UPDATE 11: A lengthy post at The Tomorrow Museum and an official obit overseas at the Telegraph. On the homefront, there remain no acknowledgments from the Observer, the Sun (You call yourself a books editor, David Wallace-Wells? All that space!), the Post, or the Daily News.]

[UPDATE 12: The Guardian now has an obit and a letter from Michael Carlson. And His Vorpal Sword has a devastating and well-researched post on the factors that the late Disch and other freelancers face.]

Photo credit: Flickr


  1. Knowing what would happen later, listening to the interview was quite eerie, especially when he spoke of not having time left to read the classics he couldn’t ever penetrate. I appreciate the posting of the interview, and the attention you’ve paid to Disch here, Ed.

    I’ve started to reread Camp Concentration, and it’s hard not to hear his voice in the narration: it would seem that Sacchetti is much more Disch than I had previously surmised.

  2. I have not sent any emails promoting our interview with Thomas M. Disch. I have little reason to promote it as I agree with you in that it was “outrageously idiotic” though I only take partial responsibility for that–Mr. Disch, God rest his soul, wasn’t the smoothest of interviewees.

    I find it incredibly disrespectful to the memory of a great man to use space in your tribute to launch personal insults at me.

  3. From an email with the subject header: “This week on Blogstein” sent from

    “Also, renowned psychotherapist Dr. Robi Ludwig will help us analyze what turned out to be the final interview conducted by author Thomas M. Disch before he committed suicide just days after appearing on last Tuesday’s show.”

    Not only are you a liar, but with statements like the above, you have no business preaching to ANYONE about respect.

    And I seemed to have no problem hitting it off with Disch after the initial two minutes. Maybe you just didn’t pass his intelligence test.

  4. That isn’t promoting the interview with Mr. Disch, it’s promoting tonight’s show where I’ve asked a psychotherapist to listen to last week’s interview to determine if there were signs we missed. Its an attempt to learn from this tragedy.

    And you’re right, we didn’t “pass his intelligence test” and if you had listened to the interview, you would have heard me acknowledge that several times.

  5. “Just two days after appearing on the Radio Happy Hour, Thomas M. Disch, AKA ‘God,’ was found dead of an apparent suicide.

    I hope it wasn’t something we said.”

    Wow. That speaks for itself.

  6. I listened to the Dr. Blogstein interview this morning. Well, to be accurate, I tried to listen to it, because twice now I’ve failed to get past beyond the four minute mark, it upset me that much. What’s even worse is that Blogstein’s alter ego is David Brown, Atria’s assistant director of publicity. I realize that Atria largely publishes commercial fiction and wouldn’t have had a clue what to do with or how to market any of Disch’s work – even at its most commercial – but to go on air with his cohorts and belittle Disch for being “too intellectual” and laugh at his expense because they are too clueless or too stupid to read even a few pages of THE WORD OF GOD is embarrassing, disgusting and a total blight on the publishing industry.

    I’d say that if I received an Atria book with David Brown’s name on the pitch letter I would automatically put it in my unread pile, but most of Atria’s authors – at least the ones on my regular radar – outsource their publicity anyway, so I don’t need to make that declaration.

  7. Sarah

    My show and my job are independent of each other. The Radio Happy Hour is a comedy show. Mr. Disch’s publicist told me that he knew the show and wanted me to interview Disch. The only information I received was that Mr. Disch had proclaimed himself to be God. I wasn’t sent a book or any other material and admittedly had never heard of Disch.

    I’m fully aware and acknowledged repeatedly that the interview was awful. I didn’t get him and he didn’t get us. It was quite obviously an inappropriate booking for us and for him. That happens from time to time.

    I find it a gross abuse of your position and highly inappropriate that you would dismiss any of my authors based on my radio show. I know nothing about your hobbies, outside interests or other ventures but if I did, no matter what they were, I’d separate those from the writing you do books and literature.

    You are 100% out of line.

  8. David: You have come to my website, outright lied about an email that you sent, further attempted to backpedal with Orwellian language, and demonstrated yourself to be both a moron and an outright asshole. Because you simply cannot understand the situation here, here’s a CliffsNotes summation for your microcephalic mind to grasp: Psychotherapy is predicated upon hours of face-to-face conversation with a subject. There is simply no applicable use of psychotherapy in relation to a ten-minute conversation, which the psychotherapist, in his infinite professionalism and wisdom, had the decency to inform you. But since you lack a basic understanding of science (and science fiction), you not only set this thing up like a schlocky Hollywood producer, but you then PROMOTED it by sending it to Disch-related parties.

    (For what it’s worth, I did not send out a promotional email at all about my Disch interview, as I felt that this would be in poor taste.)

    You were such a fucking incompetent that you didn’t even OPEN the book, or go out of your way to obtain the book before talking to Disch, judging THE WORD OF GOD only on the title. You could not even be bothered to read the plot summary on the website. Even the schlockiest talk show hosts have the decency to hire staffers to read the most ephemeral of press materials. But you run such an amateurish production that you couldn’t even be bothered to do this.

    I find it a gross abuse of human decency and professionalism that you continue to weigh in here like a drunken clod who doesn’t know he’s been ostracized from the bar and insists on another shot. And I urge you, in the strongest possible terms, to admit that you were wrong, say nothing more, and learn from your considerable fuck-ups here.

  9. Ed: Your profanity is unbecoming for a man of your intellect. And your name calling is kind of childish.

    That aside, let me further clarify the “promotional email” and why it was sent to Disch’s publicist. 1) I send out a weekly email promoting what is coming up on the next program.

    Following Disch’s appearance on the show, in an email dated Wednesday July 2, Disch’s publicist emailed me this in response to my email of which I said “I think Ekaterina might be too smart for us– think Disch went over our heads”:

    “LOL! I’m sure it went fine – you and your show are the talk of the town!
    I’m trying to keep track when you have a new guest up: if you think about it (or if you have a mail-out list you can add me to) drop me a line, and I’ll make sure your most recent program is listed in my Bookosphere post whenever you have a new one.”

    So, then I added him to my email list. That’s all. Nothing sinister.

    Why don’t you listen to last night’s discussion with Dr. Robi Ludwig before you comment on it? We used it as an opportunity to discuss this tragedy and learn more about suicide. We didn’t make light of it in any way–there’s nothing funny about it.

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