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139. Lee Upton | Tabitha, Get Up: a comic novel, biographers, and playing with forms

Arts Calling Podcast | Down-to-earth conversations with independent artists about craft, community, and a life well-lived.

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Hi there,

Today I am so excited to be arts calling author Lee Upton! (

About our guest: Lee Upton’s comic novel Tabitha, Get Up is forthcoming in May 2024. Another novel, a literary mystery, will be out in May 2025. Her books include her seventh collection of poetry, The Day Every Day Is (Saturnalia Books 2023), two short story collections, a novella, four books of literary criticism, and an essay collection. Her poetry has appeared in The New Yorker, Poetry, and Southern Review, as well as three editions of Best American Poetry. She is the recipient of the Pushcart Prize, the National Poetry Series Award, Poetry Society of America awards, the Miami University Novella Prize, the Open Book Award, the Saturnalia Book Prize, and other honors.

Thanks for this wonderful conversation, Lee! All the best!

TABITHA, GET UP is forthcoming May 22nd, 2024 from Sagging Meniscus Press, is now available for pre-order:

ABOUT TABITHA, GET UP: Tabitha is a lonely fifty-year-old biographer who, in order to restore her self-respect and pay her rent, attempts to write two biographies simultaneously: one about an actor so famous his face is on the side of buses, and the other about a popular writer of children’s books recently outed as an author of erotic fiction. Is Tabitha ready to deal with interviewing an actor so handsome and charismatic she thinks he should be bottled and sprayed on belligerent people as a form of crowd control? Can she form a genuine friendship with a cult novelist who pressures her to compromise her values? While facing these and other challenges, Tabitha is bedeviled by memories of her long-ago divorce and the terrible wedding when, accidentally bumped on a balcony, she shot off into the shrubbery. Is it true, she wonders, that there’s probably a dead body beneath the floating rot of any marriage? When surrounded by pretentious beautiful people does it help to imagine their intestines are full of worms? Are champagne bubbles the devil’s air pockets? Is it ever too late to change your life—from the bottom up?


“For starters, Lee Upton’s novel Tabitha, Get Up is funny—really, really funny. On top of that, narrator Tabitha’s clumsy, desperate, charming search for human connection—not to mention a paying gig—is also a serious look at whether it’s possible to bluff and hustle a life together. You’re going to love this book.”

—David Ebenbach, author of The Guy We Didn’t Invite to the Orgy

Tabitha, Get Up is another remarkable book by the irrepressible Lee Upton, a novel that might remind you of the work of some of our finest living comic novelists—Elizabeth McCracken, Jincy Willett, Elizabeth McKenzie—but in the end is a book only Upton herself could have written. Its protagonist, Tabitha, is a glorious piece of work: a biographer with a feverish mind and a long list of antagonists and an indomitable spirit and an unforgettable voice and major money problems. I wouldn’t want anyone to live her life, but I very much want everyone to read her book. It’s Lee Upton’s best, funniest, and most ingenious work of fiction yet. Which is to say, it’s the best, funniest, most ingenious work of fiction you’ll read this year, and most other years, too.” —Brock Clarke, author of Who Are You, Calvin Bledsoe? and I, Grape

“There is no form of the novel. The novel has no form. The novel takes no form. The novel takes forms. It is a voracious form, the novel. Tabitha, Get Up, Lee Upton’s comely new novel, presents as a series of exquisite “Notes,” and thus a “Notebook,” a book of Notes, to self, to random others, to you who finds them. A compendium of memorandums makes up the meat of the matter, a tender texture to the text, marginalia that has been turned outside in, has migrated edgily into the heart of the heart. Formally the form is perfectly organic to this novel new novel, parts being greater than the sum of the whole, this map more detailed than the thing it represents, this round-up of resuscitation, reconstitution, and reply. Riding herd, Upton wrangles a novel that writes itself and rights itself. —Michael Martone, author of Plain Air: Sketches from Winesburg, Indiana

“Tabitha lives! In Tabitha, Get Up, Lee Upton has created an ebullient, witty, slightly nutty, and totally lovable character whose distinctive voice will stay with you long after you’ve closed the book. Smart, funny, crazy in the best sense, and a total joy!” —Iris Smyles, author of Droll Tales

Arts Calling is produced by Jaime Alejandro (



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