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Frequently Asked Questions

Updated 10/05


Who is Henry William Brownejohns, and why should we care?
Who is Alexander Swartwout, Eliza Anne Bonney, and Jonathan Ephrain Underhill?
Are they real?
Are there any pictures of them? Has anyone ever interviewed them?
What was "Three Weeks"?
What else have they done?
When did all this happen?
What was the "Eavesdropper?"
Did they really write about the weather in every issue?
Why haven't I heard of Henry William Brownejohns?
What is the Philadelphia Independent?
What are they doing now?
How did you find out about them?
Where can I read their writing?

Who is Henry William Brownejohns, and why should we care?

Part of the intrigue is that apparently no one knows who Henry William Brownejohns actually is. I have heard a lot of theories, including that he is Dave Eggers or Daniel Handler or even Thomas Pynchon, or someone else who might write under a pseudonym just to attract a different audience or as a publicity stunt. But he gets no publicity, so that wouldn't make much sense. And I've heard from lots of people that they swear they know someone who knows someone who knows who Brownejohns is... But no one ever just knows. (As for the other rumors: I'm pretty sure that they are youngish, so Pynchon is out (some people think any writers that don't go out in public or get their pictures in the paper are either Pynchon or J.D. Salinger!); and the writing is too complex and different to be someone like Dave Eggers. HWB does write at one point about "colleagues" at McSweeney's - though he describes lots of people this way. Whoever they are, the secret of their actual identity is clearly part of the plan. We may as well just enoy the writing.)

What I do know is that one day at a coffee shop in Brooklyn, I found a copy of a little newspaper called "Three Weeks," and ever since, I have been devoted to reading everything Henry William Brownejohns has written. In "Three Weeks" he gives us some clues: he is in Brooklyn or Queens (or was); he is the editor-in-chief of "Three Weeks;" he boasts of a literary reputation that might be overstated or else was earned with some other name; he has an uneasy relationship with cats. He mentions a sister in issue #10. When "Three Weeks" stopped publishing, in 2002, Brownejohns was next to be found listed as a Contributing Editor of The Philadelphia Independent.

Before that happened, Jonathan Shainin of the Philadelphia Independent had written a review of "Three Weeks." I am working on putting it up on this site, but he says it pretty well:

"Our lack of facility with language today poses several problems; it is in the first place an aesthetic disappointment, which dulls our apprehension of the world in general. But worse, it casts a reactionary pall over this apprehension; we are limited in our understanding of current situations by the weak words we possess and employ to describe them."

Brownejohns, Swartwout, Underhill, and Bonney write with a style and an eloquence that is very old fashion, but they are writing about current events, and about the modern world. Too much literature today is oversimplified, dumbed down to attract a bigger audience. And the literature that does have some style is never actually about the real world, like McSweeneys and all the 'new young' novelists. That stuff is nice to read, but after I do, I feel like I only temporarily escaped from real life, and now here it is again, the same as before. "Three Weeks" made me feel like language could actually be used to improve how we see the world. I think they are the most important writers in America right now - which might seem crazy, since they aren't overexposed like some other famous writers, but which is exactly why I think it's true. They seem to take the role of literature more seriously than those others, while at the same time their writing is a lot funnier.

Who is Alexander Swartwout, Eliza Anne Bonney, and Jonathan Ephrain Underhill?

These are the three other editors/writers that started "Three Weeks" with Henry William Brownejohns. Besides that there isn 't much to say. They all write with their own distinct style, but all of them share Brownejohns's beautiful style and literary fearlessness. After "Three Weeks" stopped publishing they all claimed to be "going their separate ways," though they all showed up now and then in the Philadelphia Independent. At least Underhill (sometimes called Jonathan and sometimes just Ephrain) spent time in Morocco, while Brownejohns was in Cuba, reporting for the Independent. I don't know if Swartwout or Eliza Bonney went anywhere - all I know of Bonney after "Three Weeks" is that she edited the book "Fodder" and wrote the Foreword for it. Swartwout has gone on to write some of the strongest political essays of anybody in the United States over the last couple of years.

Are they real?

It doesn't seem very likely that their names are real, but there's no doubt that somebody is writing all this stuff. I sometimes wondered how many people might really be behind these pen names - are there really four of them, or fewer, or maybe there's a bigger group that all pitches in? I can't really say, but based on reading all their writing and figuring what it takes to put out a newspaper/magazine, I guess there has to be at least two, and then each of the writers does have such a distinct voice, that it seems more likely there are four of them.

Then there's the theory, mentioned above, where it is all done by some famous or semi-famous writer as a side project or a publicity prank. It's really good writing to be just a side project, but who knows?

Are there any pictures of them? Has anyone ever interviewed them?

There aren't any pictures that I know of - and I'm sure they do their best not to attract much attention. I know of one interview: it was in the New York Press from August, 2002 and was written by John Strausbaugh. (I didn't see it when it came out, but I was told about it a couple months later and found it online). In it Alexander Swartwout is apparently personally interviewed by the reporter, who described Swartwout:
"either a small, baldheaded man in a mustache and tortoise-shell spectacles, or a normal-looking young man who just happens to affect the high-collar writing style. He turned out to be the latter.
On the record, Swartwout declines to divulge much about the editors, their ages or backgrounds. "Mr. Brownejohns comes from old money. Mr. Swartwout comes from newer money. Mr. Underhill’s the family man. And Miss Bonney is the femme sole. She does what she wants when she wants to."
I tell him he’s probably not what people expect when they meet a Three Weeks editor. "Everybody has expectations of who we are," he replies. "Most people think we’re overweight, and we don’t dress fashionably, and we’re old." Then again, he sniffs, "People have accused us of being graduate students. We deny it outright.""

It sounds like he's kidding around, but it's hard to tell. (The whole article can, usually, be seen in the archive here.) But this is the closest thing I know of to a description anywhere. Besies this, there is also the review by Jonathan Shainin in the Philadelphia Independent, Issue 5 from Winter 2003. This is all about the paper, though, without any description of the writers. (It's a great article, with images of pages from "Three Weeks." I always mean to put it up here somewhere.) Both these reports mention that Brownejohns is reluctant to do interviews. I guess they have stopped doing them at all now.

What was "Three Weeks"?

"Three Weeks" was a 7" by 11" newsprint "pamphlet of essays," which appeared around the five boroughs in October 2001 and came out every three weeks for a year. There are eighteen known issues (click here to take a look at the scanned covers and the complete text of all 18!). In the introduction to the first issue, Brownejohns writes:
"what we are here doing has been done before, and it shall be done again, countless times; but it has not yet ever been done by us."

A little further on, he asks:
"Why, then? Because: nobody has asked us what we think, and it occurs to us, as we get a little older, that probably nobody ever will.  Therefore, we will not sit idly around and wait for our hope to spoil, but rather fire up the presses ourselves - towards our own purpose, unsponsored, and at nobody's request."

(A lot of questions can be answered by Brownejohns' "Introduction" to Issue 1, as well as his co-authors' "Addenda".)

According to a review in the Philadelphia Independent, only 1000 copies of every issue were printed, and left at coffee shops and bookstores all over New York. I'm not sure if this is true, since I remember a lot of people talking about it while it was being published. For the first three issues, "Three Weeks" cost $1, and then after that it says "Price, Two Cents" at the top. There was no advertising inside - just two columns of articles, a few black and white pictures (no photos), and sixteen pages of politics and opinions and whatever else they felt like doing. It's great. And beautifully designed, I might add. On the back page of every issue, there was an essay on "The Weather." There were also occasional optical illusions, under the title "An Interesting Effect," and a column called "The Eavesdropper," which was apparently just a copy of a conversation they had overheard somewhere and written down. Their office was either in Queens or Brooklyn (they say different things at different times), but they kept a PO Box in Long Island City, Queens, and an email address. Here is the masthead from the inside cover:

What else have they done?

I don't know of anything by Brownejohns, Swartwout, Underhill, or Bonney written before the first issue of "Three Weeks." If so, they weren't writing with those names. After "Three Weeks" stopped publishing, Brownejohns turned up as a Contributing Editor at the Philadelphia Independent, and, along with Swartwout, put in several articles. Then, in 2004, they put out two books of material from the "Phindie", called "Fodder, or Essays Against the Administration," and "To Vote, or Not."

"Fodder" is a collection of their political essays from the Philadelphia Independent, and contains writing by Brownejohns, Swartwout, Underhill, and the Phindie editor Mattathias Schwartz. It was edited by Eliza Bonney. "To Vote, or Not" is a series of letters sent to that paper, and the paper's replies, all about the subject of voting. It has writing by Alexander Swartwout, and Robert Helms and Mark Lotto. It was edited by HWB. These are also both great-looking little books, they are very Three Weeks-ish, though a little different. (Here's a scan of the covers.)

When did all this happen?

Like I said, "Three Weeks" came out on October 15, 2001 and lasted until October 19, 2002. In the last issue, Brownejohns wrote:

"even as we inaugurated our periodical, we calculated our energy and our tolerance for collaboration, and made a secret oath that in one year, we should pause and review our position, and determine from there how to best serve those principles we had devoted ourselves to.  Well we tell it to you now, to cut short your complaints about our inadequacy.  It has been one year since our cautious pact, though a year is a rough measure, granted, based upon a relative motion about the Sun that is impossible to measure with perfection, or to presume has any significance beyond our puny realm – we would not have been so outlandish to give ourselves a Jovian year to test our faculties, if we were feeling robust, or a Mercurial one, if our confidence was frail.  But we chose a terrestrial year, and now are bound by our promise to re-consider our purpose, and decide if we can, must, or ought to continue. 

     And it is fairly clear, looking about our offices, that we shall not."

After that, Brownejohns appears in the Philadelphia Independent in the Spring, 2003 issue, with an article called "On Zealotry," about George W. Bush. (Before this, I found in TPI #5, a review of "Three Weeks" by Jonathan Shainin, which came out just as "Three Weeks" ended. I haven't put this up on this site yet, but I'm hoping to do that soon. So first TPI did a review and then Brownejohns is working for them... )

What was "The Eavesdropper?"

"The Eavesdropper" was a regular column in "Three Weeks" that was where the editors printed actual conversations they had overheard. The picture of the monkey at the top of this page was the logo for "The Eavesdropper." These conversations were sometimes only two or three lines long, and other times they were a whole page. Check out the full text of all eighteen "Three Weeks" to read the Eavesdropper.

Did they really write about the weather in every issue?

The back page of every issue of "Three Weeks" had an essay named "The Weather," and sure enough that is what it was about. These are some of my favorite essays, because they are usually the most beautifully written, and they treat this subject with so much humor and seriousness that it is like a refreshing mint at the end of a long issue. If you don't read anything else from "Three Weeks," DEFINITELY read a weather report.

Why haven't I heard of Henry William Brownejohns?

It's strange for something as great as "Three Weeks" to come out and then disappear without too many people taking notice. This is part of why I'm so interested, I think. It seems like there's more information to be had, about who HWB and the others are, where they came from, what else they've done. It is my hope that this web site might help to answer some of these questions. But since they're so obscure, it means that they're yours to discover. I never get tired of telling people about them, and feeling like I'm spreading some kind of gospel. I guess it's just one of the reasons to live in a place like New York - you can discover something amazing and it can be all yours, and you can be the first person to read something that might take off someday.

HWB definitely seems to want to stay out of the public eye, though. According to "An Erotic Excerpt" in Issue #7, he and Swartwout have a literary agent but she doesn't think their writing is "sexy" enough. Maybe they publish other stuff for money under other names. Either way, Brownejohns, Bonnney, Swartwout, and Underhill only seem to publish themselves, or are published by the Philadelphia Independent.

What is (was) The Philadelphia Independent?

The "Phindie" is a big, broadsheet monthly newspaper published in Philadelphia by Mattathias Schwartz. It has a similar, retro design like "Three Weeks." According to the masthead, it was established in 2001, and ran for a couple of years until just recently when it stopped after issue twenty-one. As I mentioned, in Issue #5, Jonathan Shainin wrote a long review of "Three Weeks," and then, since Issue #7, HWB, Swartwout, and occasionally Underhill have published essays and articles in it - apparently the only other publication in which they write under their names. Some of these articles and other materials from the Independent were put together for the books "Fodder, or Essays Against the Administration" and "To Vote, or Not." Check out their website for more about them, and lots of other online articles.

What are they doing now?

Your guess is as good as mine. After the books came out and the Philadelphia Independent went on "hiatus," the world hasn't heard from Brownejohns, Swartwout, Bonney, or Underhill. I'm keeping my ear to the ground, though, and anything that comes up I'll put up on the News page. Likewise, anybody reading this who has heard one thing or another, or who spots any published writing, please let me know! I (hopefully) doubt that we've heard the last of them.

How did you find out about them?

My lucky break came at my local brunch/coffee shop hangout in Brooklyn. In the corner with all the other free newsletters was a little pile of "Three Weeks," and I picked one up. I didn't read it until I got home, though, and when I started I went straight through. I felt like everyone must already know about this amazing thing, and when I started talking to everyone I know about it, no one had ever heard of it. The first one I got was issue #3, with the front page editorial "Your Congressional Representative has Already Betrayed You." By the time Issue 5 or 6 came out, everyone I knew had seen it, and I felt like it was showing up more and more. Maybe I was just looking for it by then, but it felt pretty ubiquitous for a while. Of course this was only in New York - I don't think it was available anyplace else.

My friend Dave in Philadelphia tipped me off when they started writing for the Independent, because he had remembered me telling him about "Three Weeks". (I annoyed a lot of people about it, but I had to let them know!) Sure enough, then the Independent went on sale here in Brooklyn, so I could follow along with their work.

Where can I read their writing?

Since HWB wrote in the first issue of "Three Weeks" that they chose not to copyright their work, so that it can be shared with the public (and reiterated this on the inside of the books), I am happy to say that you can read (almost) all of their writing right HERE on Brownejohns.org. For all the issues of "Three Weeks," click here, and for their articles from the Philadelphia Independent and the books, click here. All the credit, of course, goes to the authors of those works: the great and enigmatic Henry William Brownejohns, Alexander Swartwout, Eliza Anne Bonney, and Jonathan Ephrain Underhill. Enjoy!

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