The Sheepskin Email

Posted: February 18th, 2024 | Author: | Filed under: DFW, Uncategorized | Tags: , , | No Comments »

This is a little something I wrote a long time ago, for the first DFW Conference at Illinois State University, in 2014.

I remember submitting a proposal to that conference and wanting to do something short and easy but also something that relied on Wallace’s archive at the Ransom Center. I think the only place it was published before was in the volume of conference papers.

The Sheepskin Email by Matt Bucher

One day I was sitting in the well-appointed and hallowed space of the central reading room at the University of Texas’s Harry Ransom Center, and at my large oak table, I was gently handling a manila folder with plain white sheets of printed-out emails. I was carefully turning through 8.5” x 11″ xeroxes of emails written by when I noticed two librarians approaching me, wheeling a massive cart. Apparently the woman at the table across from me had requested a four-foot high, leather and sheepskin-bound Latin processional book published in Spain in 1462. It came wrapped in a custom velour blanket, and was transported in its own cart. It required two librarians to lift the heavy object from the cart onto the table’s special pillowed, bookstand, the way two paramedics might lift a dead body off a gurney. As I watched this ceremonial procedure take place, I wondered if I was not watching a brief morality play about the progress of technology. It was as if the future of literary archives had set these two endpoints before me, leather and sheepskin at one end and email at the other.

And yet, even as an object, that turdnagel email address interested me more than the Latin processional tome. I had gone out of my way to read these emails (on paper) because they make up part of the officially archived correspondence of David Foster Wallace. And I was curious about how a writer born on one side of the digital divide interacted with technology over the course of his career. The way he chose to communicate matters, I think. Do many writers working today bother to preserve their emails or digital files for archivists?

David Foster Wallace began his writing career in the analog era—and he remained distanced, skeptical, and downright resistant to computers, email, and the Internet in general, but he did use them eventually.

Some of the purest evidence of Wallace’s life in the analog era comes in the form of the handwritten drafts of Infinite Jest available in the Ransom Center. The drafts are extensively worked over, with annotations and edits, often in different colors of ink. The pen is clearly an extension of the author here. This makes the editing and creation process transparent. And yet here is little-to-no evidence of how his edits worked on his own Word documents. The archives include no printouts of PDF markup tools or Word’s track-changes function. How did the computer, the machine influence his creative process? It’s an interesting question, but today I want to focus on his correspondence.

Wallace’s first manuscripts written on a computer came in the early 1990s, but it was not until 2001 in Illinois that Wallace began using email, though he had certainly tried out the World Wide Web before then. The process that initiated his adoption of email was his need to communicate with his agent, who was in California, his publishers in New York, his research assistant (on Everything & More) in Bloomington, and his family and friends. Up until 2001, DFW had communicated with his agents exclusively through phone calls and mailed letters (and occasional in-person meetings).

By 1994, most college campuses had system-wide email, but it was relatively easy for the stubborn professor or two to shrug it off—at least until the turn of the century or so. In “Tense Present,” published in 2001, he wrote “You don’t, after all (despite withering cultural pressure), have to use a computer.” Any professor shunning email or computers entirely these days is the stuff of legend.

In 1988, Wallace told Steven Moore, “I’m shitty at computers.” His initial forays into electronic publishing and word processors made him feel old. Although he eschewed fancy pens and bonded paper, he preferred the comforts of a simple Bic pen and legal pad. Computers, and technology in general, were a cause of frustration in his life and work.

In late 1999, Wallace accepted an assignment from Rolling Stone magazine to cover the McCain campaign and the 2000 presidential primary in South Carolina. His turnaround time from traveling with the campaign to submitting his piece was incredibly tight: he had fewer than three weeks to write and edit the piece. The leisurely editing pace Wallace experienced with longer lead-time publications was gone and he had to do most of the editing over the phone or, shudder, by driving across town to a Kinko’s to fax in revisions.

This brutal experience informed his decision to perhaps give email a try once he began the process of writing and researching his book on Georg Cantor in earnest in late 2000. This book on mathematics took so much longer than he had anticipated and greatly distracted him from writing fiction. Some of the first emails Wallace sent were to a graduate student he hired to check some of his proofs and mathematical reasoning. Unfortunately, she introduced as many errors as she fixed and Wallace had to complete another round of revisions after the hardcover was published.

Wallace did have a computer at home in 2000, but he tells Steven Moore in April of that year “I don’t even have a modem yet, which people here regard as weird and Ludditic, but mostly I just don’t want to have to see any more ads than I already see every day.” The David Wallace of The Pale King says “I can’t think anyone believes that today’s so-called ‘information society’ is just about information. Everyone knows it’s about something else, way down.” Giving up pen and paper for a username and a password is a significant shift, a loss of control, and one Wallace approached with skepticism and dread.

In February of 2001, he was still faxing cuts of “Tense Present” to Harpers via “Borrowed Fax.” Wallace loved, or at least had fun with, the now obsolete convention of the Fax Cover Sheet. In fact, he held on to faxing until at least 2004. He was an extremely creative person and the impulse to draw and scribble and add smiley faces and the general lexical mess he could make of a page were stifled by email. However, email did not stop him from sending handwritten postcards and letters—a practice he continued until the end. And he did eventually adopt a unique email signature –  /dw/ – and adopted basic smiley-face emoticons.

Wallace’s first email address was Why he chose over the more popular Hotmail, Yahoo, and AOL, remains a mystery. Who knows? The name TPDRITZ appears to be a fictional character name, as “Herb Dritz” shows up in The Pale King as a Schedule F Specialist, but it’s obvious why he didn’t want an easily recognizable handle: if word got out that actually reached the Man Himself, he would surely have been inundated by mail from strangers, which he would have felt obligated to respond to. No doubt some part of Wallace found the relative anonymity of the internet very appealing.

“I allow myself to Webulize only once a week now,” he wrote to Erica Neely in July 2001. However, most of his writing at that point still began with a pen and not a keyboard. When he moved to Pomona in 2002, he kept the tpdritz handle on the Pomona email system, but in the “real name” field he added “Ryan Trask.” The only literary connection I could find to that pseudonym was the character Myrnaloy Trask from his story “Order and Flux in Northampton.” It served as a good foil, though, because it sounds like a student’s name.

Wallace later switched his official work email account to Comcast rather than Pomona. His personal email address was and his school email was Obviously, Ocapmycap is a reference to Walt Whitman’s poem about the death of Abraham Lincoln (made famous in Dead Poets Society, wherein the earnest young students are told they can address their literature professor as “O Captain My Captain” if they feel daring enough). It’s a testament to both Wallace’s humor and belief in the triumph of art that he had his students effectively address him as such by emailing if they were daring enough to email him at all.

“Turdnagel” is also mentioned in The Pale King as a diminutive of sorts, a cross between a plebe and brown-noser. But the word also shows up in Don Delillo’s “Players.” I think it’s just a funny, scatological word that Wallace liked. He also called one of his dogs “Turdnagel.” Lee Konstantinou has a theory that the term is related to philosopher Thomas Nagel. It also appears that Wallace used the handle “turdnagel” to play a game of online chess in Spring 2008 on the website RedHotPawn.

Online chess:

Turdnagel – joined 23 Mar 08 / last move 10 June 08

He stopped using Pomona’s email system altogether in 2004 and at some point in late 2006 or early 2007 he consolidated all of his email correspondence into

The printouts in the archive do not include any of the attachments included with the emails Wallace and Nadell sent to each other. Future archivists should make sure they are included in the original acquisition and writers should take care to preserve original attachments whenever possible. Curiously, there is no evidence in the archive that Wallace emailed anyone at Little, Brown directly – he always emailed his agent or wrote paper letters to Little, Brown. He was somewhat secretive about his own email habits and kept his authorial distance.

If we examine the email printouts closely, we see a few details—like the fact Bonnie Nadell’s email client is Yahoo—but not as much “personality” comes across as in his handwritten letters. And these plain white pieces of paper really require no special archival handling, nothing remotely approaching that sheepskin behemoth I saw. The copy paper could easily be Xeroxed without any damage done to the originals. I assume that most if not all of the electronic versions of these files are lost or deleted now and we will have to rely on the printouts for the rest of eternity. Of course, this is not ideal. The printout itself, with its corporate logos and metadata and uniform fonts, are deeply banal and boring. I would hope that some forward-thinking author preserves digital backups of their email archive (and computer files in general) or even shares all of their account passwords with their literary executor or spouse. One could envision a virtual inbox where scholars might be able to search and emulate a logged-in version of an author’s own email.

There are hundreds of Wallace’s letters in the Ransom Center’s archive, but there is just no way that the Ransom Center has anything near a fraction of the emails Wallace sent or received. It will be interesting to see how many of them Stephen Burn will be able to collect for his upcoming volume of letters, but it’s highly likely that some of the emails Wallace sent to translators, friends, agents, editors, and colleagues, have already been deleted or lost. Most of his correspondents are still living and some consider the emails and letters too precious or private to share with fans or scholars. So we will never have a complete picture of his correspondence—and no idea really how incomplete it is.

Presidential scholars are already faced with this task – how do you archive and collect an administration’s digital assets, which might include everything from eight years of tweets, Facebook posts and comments, millions of staff text messages, emails, Instagram pics, Reddit AMAs, and the administration’s unique data architecture? Do you try to print it all out and put it into manila folders? It makes much more sense to turn over that vast amount of data and metadata to scholars in a digital format, so why haven’t authors and literary archives followed suit?

The value of an author’s archive lies not just in the amount of information it contains, but also in the shared sense of identity we create about literature by collecting these specific things and that in turn teaches future generations wherein our values lie.

The scholar who requested that huge processional volume in the reading room told me that it required up to five animals to be slaughter to provide the skins necessary to craft a single page. Hundreds of animals were led to slaughter to preserve a single processional song. The current leading lights of literature could preserve their correspondence for future researchers with considerably less bloodshed—just a drop or two of foresight.

More Belan Deck Updates

Posted: January 30th, 2024 | Author: | Filed under: Literary, personal | Tags: , , , , | No Comments »

Chris Via of Leaf by Leaf awarded my book “Best Debut” in his 2023 awards video!

Literary critic Daniel Green reviewed my book in this issue of his “Unbeaten Paths” Substack:

Booktuber Marc Nash reviewed the book here:

More Belan Deck reviews

Posted: January 5th, 2024 | Author: | Filed under: personal | Tags: , | No Comments »

2024 is off to a great start for my little book!

  1. Jonathan Lethem wrote a review of the book for his 2023 newsletter wrap-up:
  2. Austin Kleon blurbed the book for his massive newsletter:
  3. Chris Via reviewed The Belan Deck for the latest print issue of Rain Taxi:

A Few Recent Updates

Posted: December 1st, 2023 | Author: | Filed under: DFW, personal | Tags: , , , , | No Comments »
  1. I did win the recent Wells Branch Library Board election. I’ll be sworn in for my next two-year term in January 2024.
  2. I was recently on the Eminent Americans podcast discussing DFW with my friend Daniel Oppenheimer. Be sure to follow his podcast and Substack!
  3. Hannah Smart reviewed The Belan Deck over at the Sunlight Press.
  4. Rick Harsch also had this very entertaining video review of The Belan Deck on his YouTube channel.

Matt Bucher, candidate for Trustee at Wells Branch Community Library District

Posted: September 17th, 2023 | Author: | Filed under: personal | Tags: , , , , | No Comments »

I will be on the ballot this coming election, November 7, 2023, as a candidate for Trustee for Wells Branch Community Library District.

I’ve served on the Board as a Trustee since November 2021 when I was elected unopposed. I currently serve as the Vice-President of the Board.

Here’s what I stand for:

  1. Free speech and the first amendment. Library employees and trustees are often asked about this issue, but for our library it hasn’t been a major topic because we are truly independent (not a division of city government or a larger library system). The last word sits with the Director of the Library and the Board of Trustees and so far we have agreed and not faced many (if any) real attempts to ban books. But, if this does become a significant issue, you want Trustees who are willing to stand up for their beliefs. In my case that means protecting freedom of speech and not banning books. I support the American Library Association’s statement on the Freedom to Read.
  2. Equitable access – this means that the public library should work to accommodate access to materials for everyone in the District: homeowners, renters, the elderly, the home-bound, people with disabilities, people without a car, children, LGBTQIA people, the unemployed, etc. They all deserve equal access to library materials.
  3. Access to physical media – Our Library does a LOT! We are so lucky to have the wonderful programs and spaces to meet, computers, storytimes, the list goes on. If you have not checked out an ebook or audiobook from Hoopla, you are missing out! But at its core, I still believe that a Library should be full of printed books. Full accessibility includes print and electronic materials, braille, and other accommodations.

About Me

For people who don’t know me, I wanted to share a little bit about myself here. I’ve lived in Texas for the past 18 years and in Wells Branch for 17 years. My wife Jordan and I have two boys, ages 13 and 16. They have attended Round Rock ISD schools all their lives: Wells Branch Elementary, Deerpark Middle School, and McNeil High School.

I currently serve on the Board of the Deerpark MS PTA, the McNeil Wrestling Booster Club, and I’ve served on the Board of the Wells Branch PTA for several years in the past. I work in the marketing department of Charles Schwab and have a degree in English from the University of Denver. I’ve previously worked in educational assessment, textbook publishing, and book publishing in New York. I’m also a writer and podcaster in my spare time (among many hobbies). I’m a member of the Texas Library Association and I serve on the Board of the International David Foster Wallace Society.

What a Trustee Does

Over the past two years I’ve learned that a Trustee’s job is mainly about good governance. In our case, one of the primary roles of the Board of Trustees is to provide oversight for the Director of the Library. We are lucky to have an excellent Director. Our Director has enjoyed the full confidence of the Board for many years. This makes the Trustee’s job much easier. Replacing the Director would cause a lot of disruption and uncertainty in our Library. But if it ever does become an issue, Trustees should have a good working knowledge of how the Library functions in order to find a suitable candidate.

Another part of good governance involves oversight of finances. Again, our Library is lucky to have a financing model that relies on sales tax collected within the District. Sales tax revenues have been high the past few years. This allows us to fund projects such as Library renovations, increased programming, and pay increases for the staff. So, it really is important to shop local and keep your spending close to home when you can. It makes a real difference! You can read more about the Board and see our agendas and minutes on the Library’s website.

If you are interested in learning more about what a Trustee does or doesn’t do, I’d be happy to speak with you!

Election Day

If you live in the District, I’m asking for your vote.
You can select up to 2 candidates for Trustee.

Early voting begins October 23 and election day is November 7.

Make a plan to vote!
You can find more information about polling places and registering to vote at:

Last Day to Register to VoteTuesday, October 10, 2023
First Day of Early Voting in PersonMonday, October 23, 2023
Last day to Apply for Ballot by Mail (received, not postmarked)Friday, October 27, 2023
Last Day of Early Voting in PersonFriday, November 3, 2023

How to be a Fan in the Age of Problematic Faves

Posted: August 24th, 2023 | Author: | Filed under: DFW, personal | Tags: , , , , | No Comments »

This academic article is really a series of letters between Dr. Grace Chipperfield and me. It was published in January 2021 in the journal “Life Writing” and the subsequent book titled Essays in Life Writing. The question that Grace and I were grappling with is still one that stalks DFW Studies (and plenty of other fandoms): is there an ethical way to be a fan of a problematic artist?

I’ll paste the official abstract below.


In 2018, author Mary Karr tweeted about her abusive relationship with David Foster Wallace. This was at the height of #MeToo and cancel culture, where the phrase ‘problematic fave’ was commonplace. Wallace, dead for ten years but still alive in the public imagination, was suddenly brought into the conversation. Wallace’s fans, too, were implicated in his bad behavior, particularly by their reputation for being ‘lit-bros’. At the time, Grace Chipperfield was writing a doctoral thesis on Wallace, which eventually turned into a collection of essays that reckoned with both Wallace’s complicated legacy and her relationship to him as a fan, a scholar, and a woman. The final essay in the collection was a deep dive into Wallace fandom, and to write this Grace corresponded with members of the Wallace community, including one of its most dedicated and active participants: Matt Bucher. Here, then, is a sample of that correspondence. This essay is a series of letters between Grace and Matt throughout which they consider their moral obligations as fans in the age of the problematic fave.

Grace Chipperfield is a Fulbright Scholar and tutor in English and Creative Writing at Flinders University, South Australia. She recently completed her PhD in Creative Writing, a collection of essays on David Foster Wallace and his fans. She is on the board of the International David Foster Wallace Society and an associate editor for The Journal of David Foster Wallace Studies. Email:

New Reviews of The Belan Deck

Posted: June 10th, 2023 | Author: | Filed under: personal | Tags: , , , | No Comments »

I’ve received several great reviews of The Belan Deck over at Goodreads, but I wanted to call out two other lengthy reviews.

Biblioklept reviewed the book here and had this to say:

The Belan Deck isn’t a straightforward guidebook or manifesto or map, but it nevertheless, in its elliptical, poetic approach, offers a winding, thinking, feeling path of opposition to not only the machines themselves, but also the hollow men who would gladly replace artists and creators and thinkers with those machines. It’s also really fun to read. Great stuff.

Jay Innis Murray reviewed the book at The Visionary Company and I also did a short interview with him there. Here’s an excerpt of his review:

The book will seduce you to turn pages whether you chase the clues or you don’t. But if you do there is so much more to think about. I’ll close by pointing out that there is now a rabbit hole connecting David Foster Wallace to Matt Bucher via David Markson and there is a rabbit hole connecting David Foster Wallace to David Markson via Matt Bucher. This is pretty cool.

I was also fortunate to get this blurb from acclaimed Gaddis scholar and literary critic Steven Moore:
Very smart, witty, insightful, very literary, and a lovely homage to Markson.“—Steven Moore, author of The Novel: An Alternative History

The Belan Deck

Posted: April 13th, 2023 | Author: | Filed under: personal | Tags: , , , , | No Comments »

I have a little book coming out soon. It is called The Belan Deck. It’s set mostly during a layover at SFO and it centers around a person who maybe doesn’t really fit in at their AI tech job but still needs to produce one final PowerPoint deck.

Here is the cover:

You can order it online at the following places:

Amazon – The Belan Deck

Barnes & Noble – The Belan Deck – The Belan Deck

Powell’s – The Belan Deck


Here is a little excerpt from the book:

I am standing at the corner of Folsom and Embarcadero waiting for an Uber. 

I can see the cars on the Bay Bridge frozen, stationary. 

No MUNI trains are barreling down the Embarcadero at this time of day. 

Beyond a few palm trees outlined in the aquamarine sky, just below the descending clouds, I can see the top of the arrow of Claes Oldenburg’s Cupid’s Span. 

There is the breeze and the smell that seemingly never leaves San Francisco. 

Fifty eight degrees.

I have the Uber app open, SFO as destination but have not yet hit Confirm.

I glance at the Teslas and SUVs in the intersection, glance back at my phone again.
There are several cars stopped on the Embarcadero, almost all Uber and Lyft drivers I’m certain. 

Once I tap Confirm I know my ride will be accepted in seconds and I will get into one of these cars. 

Just then I had an incoming call: Jimmy Chen.
I hate incoming calls and the immediate panic they induce.
Breathe in. Accept. 

Hey Jimmy, I’m on my way to the airport right now. Gotta get back to Austin tonight. Can we talk later?

No, no, it’s fine. Totally understand. Just thought I’d give you a heads up that the meeting I mentioned, the one with the Board, that’s actually happening on Monday now and I just wanted, I mean, wanted to call you.

I can barely focus on what he’s saying. The traffic is muffling all other sounds and I need to get into this Uber right now. 

I squint at a black sedan. The driver saw me looking at my phone. 

Jimmy, is this regarding the issue of my ongoing employment?

That’s on the agenda. I mean, yeah, but I mean, I just wanted to give you a heads up. So I’ll need that deck on Sunday. The one for Belan.

A tech bro wearing a hoodie and a gray backpack shoots past me on a skateboard. A mother with a stroller maneuvers around me.

Can we talk about this later, please? I’m obstructing pedestrians and I’m on my way to the airport.

Yeah, yeah of course. Just wanted to give you a heads up. But I need that deck sooner rather than later, OK? Sunday morning if you don’t mind.

Got it.


Tap Uber. Confirm.

Your driver is now arriving. Black Mercedes S580. License plate PEV4391.

The Embarcadero morphs into the 101 and soon we are stuck in the usual parking lot traffic. I don’t mind. I have an hour or three to spare. 

I like to get to the airport early.

I don’t like to entertain the idea of being late. 

Maybe that’s an understatement.

And, despite some awful experiences in the past, I don’t mind SFO. 

It feels familiar. An old friend.

And I don’t think of myself as a typical business traveler. Whatever that means.

Weathered men, pale in drab suits, or, more likely now, in Salesforce-logoed Patagonia vests and quarter-zips, always on their laptops, racking up millions of miles, discussing sports or crypto. 

That ain’t me. 

Most of the time, at the airport, I can’t bring myself to do that sort of work anyway. 

Physically, mentally, I don’t find the space conducive to office work. 

I am a traveler. Even while commuting.

My preference is for a paper book, a pencil or pen, a paper notebook to write in, a restaurant or bar where I can watch the never-ending flow of humanity, then to go browse the shops, read some more.

Do nothing, in a way. For once. 

I always have several paper journals on me at all times, especially when I travel.

Claes Oldenburg died of complications from a fall. 

Falls are the leading cause of injury-related death among adults age 65 and older.

Belan is the Chairman and CEO. When I first met him, after I’d been hired and flown to San Francisco, I was shocked when I saw his name. 

My great-grandfather had been named Belan when he was born, but had been adopted later at the age of 21 and he changed his name. 

We call him Leo Steven. But I never met him.

When I met this Belan, the CEO, this was the first thing I told him.

Belan was a family name. On my dad’s side.

Just as I started to launch into the story, he cut me off: Interesting. Huh. Well, about this strategy deck you’re working on…

I’d never met another person named Belan in my life, and I doubt he had either but that apparently didn’t matter to him at all. He was all business, all the time. I could feel the stress emanating off him like steam. 

I made it through the precheck line, no bags to check, and headed toward gate B39. 

My phone vibrated. It was Amanda. She wasn’t my assistant, exactly. But she “supported” everyone on the team by doing things like booking travel and ordering office supplies and scheduling meetings. 

Flight delayed 2 hours. Go to gate C42. 

Thanks, I text back. Then I text my wife: Flight delayed, don’t wait up.

Belan had a few weird rules, like insisting no one use the word “I” in any memos or decks. Meetings must start at 10 minutes past the hour. No ties.
Jimmy told me: crack a golf joke to get on his good side, loosen him up. He loves the Kentucky Derby.

Incredibly, SFO has a bargain book store. Or at least I have never seen another airport bookstore with a large bargain section. And one stocked with many small-press books. I headed there before leaving B terminal.

One thing I spent too much time worrying about was the title of the PowerPoint deck.

New Episodes

Posted: April 1st, 2023 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , | No Comments »

So far in 2023 I have stuck to my resolution of publishing a new episode of my Monthly Audio Newsletter on the first day of each month:

February: Vladimir Nabokov

March: Randall Jarrell

April: Gertrude Stein

I’ve decided that my Monthly Audio Newsletter, Mostly About Nothing will, for now, not feature my voice but only feature dead writers. Only dead writers will be featured.

Monthly Audio Newsletter, Mostly About Nothing

Posted: January 3rd, 2023 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: | No Comments »

In 2023, I am launching a new, experimental audio experience called “Monthly Audio Newsletter, Mostly About Nothing.”

Episode 1 on Anne Sexton is now live.

Listen on Apple Podcasts

Listen on Audible

Episode 2 coming soon! Please like and subscribe, etc.