Our friend and former McSweeney’s editor Gabe Hudson passed away on Thanksgiving. As with any loss, the ache is dulled a bit when we can hear new stories about someone we’ve lost. It expands our sense of the person and adds pages to their story. So we’d like to invite all those who knew Gabe to help us remember him. Friends, family, colleagues, former students—please send us memories of Gabe. Doesn’t matter how short or long. Email them to firstname.lastname@example.org, and we’ll post new memories every day.
From Michael Matesich:
I hosted an event with Gabe in the summer of 2017 in Tampa, Florida. We were together for just two or three hours, which is, it is apparent, two or three hours more than Gabe needed to show you the whole of the beautiful, sensitive person he is. My mother was there at the event that day, and she met Gabe in the signing line. “Whether it’s about writing or not,” she told me after, “please, please be like Gabe.” We have kept in touch ever since.
Gabe told me the last time we spoke in August, that he had a kind of sixth sense for finding kindred spirits. But the thing about Gabe was that everybody he met turned out to be kindred. That is, to me, the great lesson of his work and his life. That it is a privilege—not an obligation—to be here with and for one another.
I think that’s what the “truth-telling” that Gabe so often mentioned on his podcast was all about. But to say that Gabe was merely “telling" the truth makes what he was doing sound too easy. Gabe’s truth was a vision not only of attention paid but attending to. Gabe’s truth—our beautiful capacity to be generous and present—is not told but lived. He was fighting hard to reveal this truth, to pull it out of thin air and lead it out of some of the most depraved places. And when it wasn’t there to be revealed, he created it himself. He held this jagged world until it was something we could all manage to hold. He shared with everybody and showed us all how. It was not, it turns out, about writing.
“I am trying to love everybody,” he told me in August. Gabe did far more than try. He aimed to give so much to the world, but what he was was the world, giving.
May we please, please be like him.
From Maxwell Neely-Cohen:
He would text at like, 11 pm, asking if it would be ok for him to call in a couple hours, and I would always say yes. We would talk until 3 or 4 in the morning and he was utterly there the entire time, never wavering, never focusing on anything else, just ear-glued, listening in this way that I wish I could listen. He would have these questions he wanted to ask you that had an ultra-specificity, a massive telescope trained on an area of inquiry, except a whole list of them, a battery of hyper-trained telescopes. But he also wanted to hear your bullshit, the lies you told yourself, your gossip. He let you wander. He wanted you to wander.
And if you wandered into something concrete, an idea, a collaboration, he was always willing to go for it. He was down. I once convinced this company in my neighborhood that makes holographic displays to hire a bunch of novelists to pair with video game developers to make tiny little holographic storytelling prototypes. I asked Gabe first because I knew he would say yes. He said he knew “nothing about how to make anything for that” and then said yes. This is the most underrated trait, in artists, writers, and people and Gabe had it. He was just up for it. If I had called him a couple months ago and said, “Hey, crazy idea, wanna work on this opera?” he would have said yes. I’m sure the opera would have been amazing too.
From John Dethloff:
Like many teachers during the COVID-19 pandemic, I missed my students. I longed for their voices and hand raises in the classroom. And because Hurricane Harvey, a few years earlier, had flooded the community college in Houston where I teach, and because our faculty had been teaching remotely then, too, I couldn’t help but feel especially forlorn, being forced fully online again.
So, I did something I thought I’d never do—I joined Twitter.
I was drawn to the literary community. Virtual authors’ readings were such a blessing. I am a shy, anxious person, and aside from a few old friends, I knew nobody on the platform. At times, trying to join a conversation reminded me of searching for an empty seat in a high school cafeteria, with its cliques and coteries.
That’s how I met Gabe.
He was tweeting about Kafka, as he was wont to do, and being a longtime fan of Gabe’s short story collection, I gave it a go, mentioning something about Kafka’s letters. To my surprise, Gabe responded, and after that, we would tweet to each other on occasion.
Months later, I noticed one of Gabe’s tweets, where he’d announced that he was looking to take on a writing client for a manuscript consultation, which, it seemed, he didn’t often do. When I inquired about it, he and I traded DMs for a good two or three weeks, his way, I would later learn, of “feeling me out.”
After that came the phone call one Saturday afternoon to discuss the details. The only thing, we didn’t discuss the details. In fact, we discussed everything but the details. Such a Gabe thing to do.
It turns out he and I had gone to high school just years apart, and on different sides of Houston. We had both been students at a community college, and when he learned that I teach at one, unlike some writer’s I’ve met, he didn’t look down on it, but instead spoke highly of the profession. Gabe had a genuine way of making you feel good about yourself.
From afternoon into night—I remember I had to plug in my phone, he had to recharge his earbuds, my wife and kids ate dinner without me—he and I practically shared our life stories with one another. It wasn’t until the next day, Sunday, when we spoke again, that he finally asked me to tell him about my writing life and experiences first, my manuscript second.
He wanted pages via email. Then he wanted a hard copy of the manuscript mailed to him. We joked we were GenXers who refuse to use Word’s blasted comments feature. Meanwhile, I was to pay him via personal check, but it didn’t feel transactional between us. I included in my package to him, shipped via USPS, a postcard that I thought he’d appreciate from my collection of Recovering the Classics, of Kafka’s Metamorphosis:
He got such a kick out of that, and he texted me a pic of it in his bedroom! And that’s how I became Gabe’s client.
But our story, which I believe Gabe would want you to know, doesn’t end there.
Months passed. As any writer worries, I worried. I worried that Gabe hadn’t returned my manuscript because it sucked and because he was sorely disappointed in me. Honestly, I am an expert at worrying. I can worry with the best of them.
When, finally, we did speak, Gabe offered to be my “writing coach” rather than just offer comments on my manuscript. No extra cost, he said. It was my choice. He could provide edits on this draft now, and we could be done and go our separate ways.
Or, instead, we could just discuss revisions over the phone and save edits for later. He said he believed so much in the manuscript, he said he’d work with me on it until it was ready, then he’d help me during the agent search. No guarantees, of course. What do you say to that offer?
Well, I was flabbergasted.
This was in 2020. I warned him that I’m a slow, methodical writer. I teach five classes per semester. I teach summers. I have kids on swim team! It may be years between drafts. “I’m in a race to Nowheresville,” I told him. “You do know who you’re speaking to,” he said, “don’t you?” We shared a good-natured chuckle at that.
Over the next couple of years, we would check in on each other from time to time.
When he was awarded a grant to launch a veteran’s journal, we talked about launching journals at the same time—as I was relaunching my community college’s student literary journal after the pandemic. We bounced ideas off one another as if we were colleagues, as if we were equals. In my humble experience, Gabe never acted as though he were superior to me.
We talked about the cancellation and subsequent relaunch of his podcast. He seemed so excited to create a venue for literary conversation, authentic conversation, not canned, prefab questions. He discussed his WIP with me, about the forgotten vets of The Gulf War, who were joining militias rather than society, and about the (sad) state of the current military. Of course, we talked too much about George W, too.
When Houston lost power for a week during the freeze of 2021, Gabe texted to check in on me and my family. That is to say, over the years, Gabe and I became more than a coach and client. We became friends. My friend, Gabe Hudson.
This past summer, I shared the most recent draft of my manuscript with him. Gabe had family coming in for July 4, and he told me that we’d speak after that. The worrier in me reared its ugly head.
Finally, we spoke on the night of July 9. My wife was out of town at a conference. My kids were asleep. This was it, I thought, the final verdict. After years of work. I can take it. Give it to me straight, Gabe.
Gabe and I had a short conversation, the shortest phone call that Gabe and I had ever had over the years. It was maybe twenty minutes, give or take. I’ll let his tweet from that night sum up our conversation for us:
I would like to say that we were finished at that point, but no! Gabe demanded one final draft out of me. He said then it would be ready to go; this must get published, but you have only one shot at publication, and “must” doesn’t mean anything these days.
Afterwards, I called my wife. I emailed a writer friend. I vented to them. I was so tired, after all these years.
But the rest of the summer and into fall, I set myself back to work. I worked like mad to finally finish the thing. The thing, it had become, around my neck.
The thing I’d been giving my life to, in the early morning, in the middle of the night, on weekends, on holidays.
The thing my wife had read repeatedly, every draft, before…
I would share it with you, and was supposed to share it with you, this one last time, as you’d asked me to. I’d set a deadline of December 1. And I’d kept up my end of the bargain. I kept that deadline. I am done. I am finished. Are you proud of me? I was ready to send it to you. What would you think? What would you tell me? What would you and I talk about?
I am not on Twitter, or X, any longer, as you know. Like others, I quit because it smells too musky to me. So, I didn’t hear about your passing until Wednesday, 11/29.
I happened to be in class, and while my students were revising their essays, I checked my email to find the subject line of the Counter Craft Substack to which I subscribe: “Remembering Gabe Hudson.” I clicked on it from behind the podium. My knees went weak. I read. I canceled the rest of class. I walked outside into the cold sunlight of the quad, and I called my wife. She’d answered, “What’s up?’ wondering why I’d call her during a class period.
A writer, by nature, is a selfish person. We spend time with ourselves rather than with other people. Our words on the page become our friends and our family. We give ourselves to them. The selfish, in that transformational way, becomes selfless. Gabe was a selfless individual.
In my predicament, I do not blame him. My thoughts and prayers are with his family. Yes, I’d be a liar if I didn’t admit that I’d thought about my manuscript, as any dedicated writer would. Am I an awful person for going there?
Gabe, I think, would want me to go there, and for me to press on with my work. We write for many different reasons. We write for our stories and for the ideas that haunt us. And we write for many different people, as well. Sometimes someone unexpectedly comes into your life, and we start to write for them. I feel honored to count Gabe among them.
And that’s how Gabe Hudson, my coach and friend, has touched my life.
From Lincoln Michel:
I first met Gabe Hudson when I was asked to profile him for Rolling Stone in 2017 when his second book, Gork, the Teenage Dragon, was coming out. He treated me like an old friend the second we met. It was clear Gabe had always loved literature. Talking about books energized him. We reconnected a couple years later when we were both teaching in the same MFA program. His course was titled “Storytelling Against Fascism: Weird Fiction as Political Tool,” which I think sums up his personality. We had a few students in common so I know his class was beloved. Gabe’s dedication to his students was very real. I remember he said he refused to finish his syllabus until he’d talked to the students about their goals and interests so that he could tailor the class entirely to their needs and desires. He “couldn’t imagine teaching a class any other way.”
I called Gabe a big-hearted literary booster before and that’s really how I think of him. I remember going to a bar when we started our classes and chatting for hours. Gabe didn’t really know me back then and I remember I was rather depressed about the state of my novel and the prospects of selling it. Gabe was effusive. Almost anything I said about the novel, he’d say, “See, I love that!” with the exclamation point very much included. And the thing was, you could tell he meant it.
Perhaps another way to say it is that Gabe was a consummate literary citizen. That’s a phrase that is often a lame cliche meaning little beyond the person hobnobbing with the right people. But in Gabe’s case I think it is apt. Gabe loved literature. He loved writers. He especially loved writers doing their own weird thing with humor and heart. He was at home boosting, cheering on, promoting, and championing writers. You can see that clearly from his social media presence and his podcast Kurt Vonnegut Radio, where he interviewed all sorts of writers about their work, social media, politics, and any other topic that came to mind.
By random chance, Gabe’s interview with me for Kurt Vonnegut Radio is the last one he posted. I know he’d interviewed others and hadn’t finished editing them. When Gabe wrote me to be on his podcast, it was with his typical effusiveness. Normally a podcast is a rather dry forty minutes of prefab questions. But with Gabe, he tailored all his interviews to his guest’s actual work and interests just like he tailored his classes to his students. We talked for more than two hours bouncing around topics from surrealism to punk rock to publishing (the podcast was edited down) and frankly could have kept talking for hours more. One thing I remember is how thrilled he said he was to be doing a podcast that let him connect on such a personal level with both writers and listeners.
Talking to him left me inspired. I wanted to go out and write, have big plans, make things. I know he inspired many others in the same way.
His absence will be felt in the literary world. His words and memory will live on. RIP.
From Mary Bergman:
Gabe reached out to me when the Twitter Verse podcast was in its early stages. He’d listened to an essay of mine on Cape Cod’s NPR station and he was interested in learning as much as he could about audio production and how to use your voice as another writing instrument. He quickly mastered the format, audio a natural vehicle for his storytelling gifts. Maybe it makes sense that most of our communication was via telephone calls, soundwaves traveling from Cape Cod, where he lived, across the water to Nantucket Island, where I am.
In writing, we talk so much of the voice, the rhetorical writer’s voice. Voice makes or breaks a story. But I’ve been thinking about Gabe’s speaking voice. He could be slightly melodic when rhapsodizing. His podcast on the passing of Sinead O’Connor is slow and sad, a dirge. His was a warm, open, expansive voice.
How fitting that Gabe’s transmissions rippled out from the shores of Cape Cod. The first transatlantic wireless message was sent from a beach in South Wellfleet, more than 100 years ago. Towards the end of his life, wireless’s inventor Guillermo Marconi started to believe that sound waves never died. He figured, with a powerful enough radio, you could listen back and back, to the voices of departed friends and loved ones.
I will be listening for Gabe’s voice.
From X.H. Collins:
I “discovered” Gabe in 2020 when he interviewed one of my favorite authors. It was in the height of the pandemic, and everything was on Zoom and free. I signed up to watch the interview and found him funny and insightful. I followed him on Twitter afterward. To my utter amazement, he followed me back. This was a big deal for me, as I was a nobody in the literary landscape.
I read Gabe’s novel, Gork, The Teenage Dragon (Knopf, 2017) and fell in love with his humor, voice, and prose. I laughed out loud on almost every page and tried to grab whomever nearby so I could read to them. Having just published my first novel with a tiny indie press and full of self-doubt, I appreciated every single note readers sent me, and I resolved to do the same as a reader. So I messaged Gabe to tell him how I enjoyed his book. He wrote back with such genuine gratitude and humbleness that I liked him as a person. In the universe of the online writing community, he did the unthinkable: always replying to comments, showing gratitude if complimented, and following people back. And his DM was always open. He was the relentless cheerleader for all writers. He used to post a peacock in full display of its plumage each Friday to salute anyone who wrote something that week. Recently he had urged writers to “write that book you want to see banned in the forthcoming fascism.” He was brilliant in his Twitterverse and Kurt Vonnegut Radio podcasts, my favorite to listen to when I tackle household chores (I told Gabe so).
As a writer with an untraditional path to writing and publishing, I often feel that the literary world, as any privileged world, has not always been the best place for the unconnected and un-pedigreed. It is easy for a newcomer to feel excluded from “the clique,” for the reasons of education, publication status, age, gender, geographic location, cultural and language background, etc. But Gabe wanted you to belong, no matter who you were. He was the person I felt comfortable enough to ask for a retweet of a finalist award I received. And typical for him, he retweeted it with a congratulatory comment. On whatever social platforms, he followed me back. He replied to my comments and commented on my posts. These all seemed like small gestures, but the truly kind deeds are always the small things we do for each other. We had become friends and planned to meet when he visited relatives in Burlington, Iowa, where his mother was born, and a place only one and a half hours away from where I live. On November 11, I messaged my friends and relatives who had served to wish them a Happy Veterans Day. That was the last time I messaged Gabe. I don’t know if he ever saw the message. I hope he did.
On the night of Black Friday, in my shock and grief, I searched for posts about Gabe. So many writers were heartbroken as I was, and the words I read over and over again were something like this: Never met him in person, but he had been so kind and generous to me.
Kind and generous. To everyone, not just the selected few. To strangers, not just friends. That was the radical hospitality Gabe extended to anyone who had crossed his path. I’m so lucky to have seen his bright light before it dimmed. And I’m glad I can still turn to his words.
From Daniel Gumbiner, author and editor of The Believer:
I never met Gabe in person, but I had the privilege of going on his show, Kurt Vonnegut Radio, just weeks before he passed.
He was such a perceptive and warm interviewer: the kind of person who you can tell truly wants the best for you and your book. We talked for an hour but could have gone on much longer. Then afterward, about a week later, he sent me a long email, recapping our conversation, describing what aspects of it had stayed with him. It was all so abundantly generous, so beyond the normal experience of a book interview.
But, as so many recent tributes attest to, this was who Gabe was: deeply human, always striving to make others feel seen.
The last line he wrote to me was: “I’m really happy to have you in my life, my friend.” I felt the same way, and I mourn the loss of that new friendship. But I also feel lucky to have gotten to commune with Gabe before he passed, to experience the remarkable energy he possessed, and the selflessness with which he moved through the world. I’ll carry that forward with me and remember it always. My deepest condolences to his friends and family.
From Jim Schneider:
I didn’t have the honor of knowing Gabe personally, but I loved his dark but relentlessly positive humor on Twitter and started following him. At the time, I was working on my first book, and in times of frustration and discouragement, I would so often find positivity and inspiration in Gabe’s posts.
Through him I became hooked into a community of writers, and that was vital in getting me to the finish line of my first book. I remember that just after I released my book, I had made a comment about it in response to a post Gabe made. He followed me back and took the time to write me an encouraging note and to congratulate me on my accomplishment. It’s impossible for me to properly communicate how much that meant to me.
There is so much I admire about Gabe Hudson. His writing, of course, but it was his love of the craft and his fellow writers that will always define him for me. He made me feel like part of the community of writers I always admired, and I can only imagine he made many others feel that, too. I never met him, but I felt like I knew him.
I will sincerely miss his humor, his encouragement, and sense of wonder. I wish I could have helped him understand just how wonderful and important he was. It will be impossible to replace Gabe’s wisdom and supportive energy in the writing community. He was one of a kind. But what he has done is inspire me and many others to do our level best to spread the love he had and find our own ways to contribute to the community. It’s up to all of us to honor and continue Gabe’s legacy.
From Marcy Dermansky:
I never met Gabe Hudson in real life, but his presence on Twitter was meaningful to me. He was constantly indignant about the state of the world, and his tweets, his anger was reassuring, heartening, even hopeful.
I appreciated his goodness. I sent him a fan message once and we sent messages after that. Gabe supported my work, the way he did so many writers. Anytime he reposted news about my book, I felt special. I sent Gabe some little drawings of his dog Coco. I wish they had come out better. I wish he was still here.
In my mind, one day, I would drive to the Cape, and when I was there, we would meet for coffee and talk and talk.
From Mark Tardi:
When I entered Brown University’s MFA program in the fall of 1999 as a wide-eyed working-class Midwesterner very much out of my element, Gabe was one of the first people I met.
Although I’m 6’1", Gabe was a large presence with his own gravitation field. He and poet Macgregor Card invited a group of us to the GCB, the university-subsidized bar—itself a concept I could barely wrap my head around at the time—and I remember being intrigued by a mysterious bottle of something called Goldschläger. I asked, “What’s that?” and Gabe, without missing a beat, explained that it was a liqueur with actual gold flakes in it. The idea of a liqueur containing actual gold seemed insane to me, but before I could even question it, Gabe said, “If you’ve never had Gold-schläger, we have to do something about that, brother.” And he got shots for the table.
It was an incredibly kind and empathetic gesture that made me feel immediately welcomed. When we were students, I didn’t see him often because we were in different genres and he was a year ahead of me, but he was quick with a kind word and conversation when we did bump into each other. His debut collection, Dear Mr. President, only made me admire him more.
He was immense, in talent and heart.
From Ben Marcus:
I met Gabe Hudson in 1995 when he was an undergraduate creative writing student at UT Austin. He was reading everything, writing weird and wild stories, spilling over with energy and an infectious sense of possibility. We connected again when he came to Brown for graduate school and I watched him carve out his own language and sense of story, antic and performative and strange and always his own. His book of stories, Dear Mr. President, used his military background and his narrative gifts to craft an uneasy kind of satire. His work was funny and unsettling, and if it made people uncomfortable, in person Gabe was just the kindest, sweetest, most generous guy. I am heartbroken that he is gone. Just heartbroken.
From John Warner, former McSweeney’s editor:
I woke up to the news on social media Saturday morning that Gabe Hudson had passed away at the age of 52. I don’t know how many of you know Gabe or his work, but he was an exemplary literary citizen, a writer who was relentlessly and publicly enthusiastic about writing and other writers. His podcast, Kurt Vonnegut Radio, is a great example of how he expressed his belief in the potential for writing to achieve something like a miracle in its capacity to bring people together. Perhaps start with his short episode explaining why he named his podcast after Kurt Vonnegut.
My first knowledge of Gabe came as a mix of awe and envy upon reading his story collection Dear Mr. President, published in 2002. Dear Mr. President is to the first Gulf War as Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried is to the Vietnam War, a work that perfectly captures the horrible strangeness of war, in Hudson’s case by primarily writing about living in war’s aftermath. Hudson had served in the U.S. Marine Corps and had emerged committed to anti-violence, not unlike Vonnegut after his experiences in World War II. The stories in Dear Mr. President are like Vonnegut cross-pollinated with Donald Barthelme, frequently resting on a surface-level comedic premise that generates genuine laughs while smuggling in equally genuine pathos and grief. As someone who endeavored to achieve something similar, I was blown away by the book. It is exactly what I thought literature should attempt to do.
The envy didn’t last too long, as our mutual association with McSweeney’s brought us into contact with some frequency, and I realized I was dealing with a kind and genuine soul. When I was editing McSweeney’s website, he was curating a series for us, born from his book, “Gabe Hudson’s Dear Mr. President Letters” in which he gathered and shared open missives to President George W. Bush from people expressing their desires, frustrations, and confusions regarding the world as it appeared in the aftermath of 9/11 and the president’s decision to take us to war in two countries. If you scroll through the 23 packets of letters, you will stumble across the occasional name of a recognizable writer, but the vast majority of them are just regular folks to whom Gabe provided an opportunity to be a public voice. Some letters are silly, one-off jokes. Others are profound testimonies of loss and disillusionment. Gabe’s inclusion of these different voices takes both these sentiments seriously, because why shouldn’t we take both of those things seriously?
Gabe was a long time between books, and when his second one came it was in the form of a high school coming-of-age story from the point of view of a dragon. Gork, The Teenage Dragon is sweet, sentimental, and funny. It is serious about its unseriousness, which allows it to come full circle, resulting in something quite moving. I don’t know if it’s the book I anticipated from the author of Dear Mr. President, but it seemed like it was very fun to write, and I hope that’s why he did it. Is it ungenerous of me in this moment to wonder what other stories Gabe Hudson might have had to tell because I would’ve liked to read them? Is that selfish?
I don’t know that I can claim Gabe Hudson as a friend, though I have a sense he might have used the word to describe me because of his belief that anyone engaged in the work he valued was a friend. We met in person only once, otherwise exchanging occasional emails usually at his initiation when he’d seen something I was associated with that he liked, a generous act made more meaningful because of the degree of my admiration for him.
Judging from my social media feeds, Gabe had many friends in the literary community, literally hundreds of writers, editors, booksellers, and readers recognizing and mourning his passing. Gabe was clearly a positive presence in the lives of many, many people.
What is there to say about a person who is gone too soon, who did so much good, who had much more good work and life in front of him, other than it is a loss?
Today it seems right and good to simply feel that loss.