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Geoffrey Hilsabeck

July 2021
PB 978-1-952271-06-9
eBook 978-1-952271-07-6

In Place Series



At the heart of American Vaudeville is one strange, unsettling fact: for nearly fifty years, from the late nineteenth century to the 1930s, vaudeville was everywhere—then, suddenly, it was nowhere. This book tells the story of what was once the most popular form of entertainment in the country using lists, creation myths, thumbnail biographies, dreams, and obituaries. A lyric history—part social history, part song—American Vaudeville sits at the nexus between poetry, experimental nonfiction, and, because it includes historic images, art books.

Geoffrey Hilsabeck’s book grows out of extensive archival research. Rather than arranging that research—the remains of vaudeville—into a realistic picture or tidy narrative, Hilsabeck dreams vaudeville back into existence, drawing on photographs, letters, joke books, reviews, newspaper stories, anecdotes, and other material gathered from numerous archives, as well as from memoirs by vaudeville performers like Buster Keaton, Eva Tanguay, and Eddie Cantor. Some of this research is presented as-is, a letter from a now forgotten vaudeville performer to her booking agent, for example; some is worked up into brief scenes and biographies; and some is put to even more imaginative uses, finding new life in dialogues and prose poems.

American Vaudeville pulls the past into the present and finds in the beauty and carnivalesque grotesqueness of vaudeville a fitting image of American life today.



Creation Myths
Vanishing Act
Just What Was Vaudeville?
At the Wonderland
Bright Particular Star
The Jonah Man
The Muting of the Strings
Obituaries and Obsolescencies
The Playhouse

Illustration Credits


Geoffrey Hilsabeck is the author of the poetry collection Riddles, Etc. His poems and essays have appeared in the New York Times Magazine, the Believer, Paris Review Daily, Tupelo Quarterly, and elsewhere. He lives in Pittsburgh.


“Hilsabeck is intuitive, canny, penetrating, and wise, and he has absorbed and can play all the tones in the vast calliope of the American language. American Vaudeville is a short book, but it is dense with evocation, each sentence expanding to fill the room. You will read it more than once.”
From the foreword by Luc Sante