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Archive for the ‘Writers & Writing’ Category

“Author Barry Hannah, whose fiction was laced with dark humor and populated by hard-drinking Southerners, died Monday at his home in Oxford, Miss. He was 67. . . .

“Hannah’s first novel, ‘Geronimo Rex,’ was published in 1972. It received the William Faulkner prize for writing and was nominated for a National Book Award. His 1996 short story collection, ‘High Lonesome,’ was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize.

“Novelist and Mississippi native Richard Ford called Hannah ‘a shooting star.’

“‘Barry could somehow make the English sentence generous and unpredictable, yet still make wonderful sense, which for readers is thrilling,” Ford said from his home in Maine. ‘You never knew the source of the next word. But he seemed to command the short story form and the novel form and make those forms up newly for himself.'” (more @ NY Times)

Related: Writers Remember Barry Hannah (via Vanity Fair)

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J. D. Salinger, who was thought at one time to be the most important American writer to emerge since World War II but who then turned his back on success and adulation, becoming the Garbo of letters, famous for not wanting to be famous, died Wednesday at his home in Cornish, N.H., where he had lived in seclusion for more than 50 years. He was 91. . . .

“Mr. Salinger’s literary reputation rests on a slender but enormously influential body of published work: the novel ‘The Catcher in the Rye,’ the collection ‘Nine Stories’ and two compilations, each with two long stories about the fictional Glass family: ‘Franny and Zooey’ and ‘Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction.’

“‘Catcher’ was published in 1951, and its very first sentence, distantly echoing Mark Twain, struck a brash new note in American literature: ‘If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.’

“Though not everyone, teachers and librarians especially, was sure what to make of it, ‘Catcher’ became an almost immediate best seller, and its narrator and main character, Holden Caulfield, a teenager newly expelled from prep school, became America’s best-known literary truant since Huckleberry Finn.” (more @ NY Times)

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“When Jack Kerouac wrote his will shortly before his death in 1969, he was broke. Forty years later, a ferocious battle rages over his multi-million dollar literary estate. Kerouac, at odds with his third wife, Stella Sampas, had left everything to his mother, Gabrielle Kerouac. But when Gabrielle Kerouac passed away in 1973, her will indicated that the entire estate would go to Sampas, news that had shocked Kerouac’s remaining blood relatives—his daughter, Jan, and his nephew, Paul Blake Jr. When Sampas died in 1990, her siblings inherited the Kerouac literary estate, with the youngest brother, John Sampas, acting as executor. It was a stunning series of events for Kerouac scholars and fans, but the real surprise was yet to come. Last July, a judge in Tampa, Florida ruled that Gabrielle Kerouac’s 1973 will was a forgery.

“Gerald Nicosia, author of the acclaimed Kerouac biography, Memory Babe, first suspected foul play in 1994, when Jan Kerouac saw a copy of the will for the first time and noticed that her grandmother’s name was misspelled.

“‘We are dealing with perhaps the most influential American novelist of the twentieth century, after all, and it is now proven that his $30 million estate was stolen, plain and simple,’ said Nicosia.” (cont’d @ Fine Books & Collections)

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“It turns out that ‘low-intensity’ negative moods are linked to better writing than happy moods. As shown in the research of University of New South Wales Psychology Professor Joe Forgas, when we’re not walking on clouds or doing a happy dance, we tend to be more careful and mindful of details.

“Forgas has worked extensively on the effects of mood, and his most in-depth work with writing was described in the 2006 article ‘When sad is better than happy: Negative affect can improve the quality and effectiveness of persuasive messages and social influence strategies.’ . . .

“So why do crappy moods have such un-crappy consequences? Forgas said, ‘The most likely explanation is based on evolutionary theorising—affective states serve an adaptive purpose, subconsciously alerting us to apply the most useful information processing strategy to the task at hand. A negative mood is like an alarm signal, indicating that the situation is problematic, and requires more attentive, careful and vigilant processing—hence the greater attention to concrete information.'” (more @ GOOD)

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“Why do novelists write essays? Most publishers would rather have a novel. Bookshops don’t know where to put them. It’s a rare reader who seeks them out with any sense of urgency. Still, in recent months Jonathan Safran Foer, Margaret Drabble, Chinua Achebe and Michael Chabon, among others, have published essays, and so this month will I. And though I think I know why I wrote mine, I wonder why they wrote theirs, and whether we all mean the same thing by the word ‘essay’, and what an essay is, exactly, these days.” (cont’d @ Guardian)

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“In an online poll conducted by the National Book Foundation, [Flannery O’Connor’s] collection ‘The Complete Stories’ was named the best work to have won the National Book Award for fiction in the contest’s 60-year history. The competition was steep: other finalists in the poll were ‘The Stories of John Cheever,’ William Faulkner’s ‘Collected Stories,’ ‘The Collected Stories of Eudora Welty,’ Ralph Ellison’s ‘Invisible Man’ and Thomas Pynchon’s ‘Gravity’s Rainbow.'” (more @ NY Times)

Related: Colum McCann Wins National Book Award

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“The story of the seduction of a lesbian by an ageing stage actor, which includes an eye-watering scene with a green dildo, has won Philip Roth the dubious honour of a place on the shortlist for the Literary Review’s bad sex in fiction award.

“Roth can comfort himself with the fact that a roll call of literary fiction’s great and good, from Booker winner John Banville to acclaimed Israeli novelist Amos Oz, Goncourt winner Jonathan Littell and Whitbread winner Paul Theroux, have made it into the line-up for this year’s bad sex prize, set up by Auberon Waugh to ‘draw attention to the crude, tasteless, often perfunctory use of redundant passages of sexual description in the modern novel, and to discourage it.'” (cont’d @ Guardian)

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D'Lugoff“Art D’Lugoff, who was widely regarded as the dean of New York nightclub impresarios and whose storied spot, the Village Gate, was for more than 30 years home to performers as celebrated, and diverse, as Duke Ellington, Allen Ginsberg and John Belushi, died on Wednesday in Manhattan. He was 85 and lived in the Riverdale section of the Bronx. . . .

“Opened in 1958, the Village Gate was on the corner of Bleecker and Thompson Streets. The cavernous basement space it occupied — the building’s upper floors were then a flophouse — had once been a laundry. . . .

“The club closed its doors in 1994, amid rising rents, a changing market for live music and the aftermath of some unsuccessful investments by Mr. D’Lugoff. It briefly reappeared on West 52nd Street in 1996 but sputtered out after less than a year. . . .

“The Gate may have lacked the cachet of the Village Vanguard, a more intimate West Village club, but it was a bright star in the city’s cultural firmament for decades. A young Woody Allen did stand-up comedy there. The playwright-to-be Sam Shepard bused tables there. A waiter named Dustin Hoffman was fired there for being so engrossed in the performances that he neglected his customers, though service was by all accounts never the club’s strength. Dozens of albums were recorded there, by musicians like Pete Seeger and Nina Simone and by comics like Dick Gregory.

“Though most often thought of as a jazz space — among the eminences heard there over the years were John Coltrane, Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk — the Gate offered nearly every type of performance imaginable. There were blues artists like B. B. King; soul singers like Aretha Franklin; rockers like Jimi Hendrix; comics like Mort Sahl and Richard Pryor; and Beat poets.” (more @ NY Times)

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Levi-StraussClaude Lévi-Strauss, the French anthropologist who transformed Western understanding of what was once called ‘primitive man’ and who towered over the French intellectual scene in the 1960s and ’70s, has died at 100. . . .

“A powerful thinker, Mr. Lévi-Strauss was an avatar of ‘structuralism,’ a school of thought in which universal ‘structures’ were believed to underlie all human activity, giving shape to seemingly disparate cultures and creations. His work was a profound influence even on his critics, of whom there were many. There has been no comparable successor to him in France. And his writing — a mixture of the pedantic and the poetic, full of daring juxtapositions, intricate argument and elaborate metaphors — resembles little that had come before in anthropology. . . .

“A descendant of a distinguished French-Jewish artistic family, Mr. Lévi-Strauss was a quintessential French intellectual, as comfortable in the public sphere as in the academy. He taught at universities in Paris, New York and São Paulo and also worked for the United Nations and the French government.

“His legacy is imposing. ‘Mythologiques,’ his four-volume work about the structure of native mythology in the Americas, attempts nothing less than an interpretation of the world of culture and custom, shaped by analysis of several hundred myths of little-known tribes and traditions. The volumes — ‘The Raw and the Cooked,’ ‘From Honey to Ashes,’ ‘The Origin of Table Manners’ and ‘The Naked Man,’ published from 1964 to 1971 — challenge the reader with their complex interweaving of theme and detail.” (more @ NY Times)

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ToniMorrison“The most overrated novel ever has got to be Beloved. Upon its initial publication, it was rightly passed over for the 1988 National Book Award, which went to Larry Heinemann’s Paco’s Story, while the National Book Critics Circle handed its fiction award instead to Philip Roth for The Counterlife. In protest, forty-eight ‘black critics and black writers’—their own self-description—wrote to the New York Times Book Review, ‘asserting [them]selves against the oversight and harmful whimsy’ by which white males were preferred to Toni Morrison. ‘The legitimate need for our own critical voice in relation to our own literature can no longer be denied,’ the forty-eight declared.

“Not quite ten weeks later Beloved was awarded the Pulitzer Prize. Everyone quoted on the record agreed that the protest and demands for recognition did not influence the prize committee’s decision—not a chance, no way, no how. Just to be sure, the Swedish Academy gave Toni Morrison the Nobel Prize in literature four years later. ‘She is the first black woman to receive the prize’ the, Times helpfully noted on the front page.” (cont’d @ A Commonplace Blog)

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lowboy“The last dozen years or so have seen the emergence of a new strain within the Anglo-American novel. What has been variously referred to as the novel of consciousness or the psychological or confessional novel—the novel, at any rate, about the workings of a mind—has transformed itself into the neurological novel, wherein the mind becomes the brain. Since 1997, readers have encountered, in rough chronological order, Ian McEwan’s Enduring Love (de Clérambault’s syndrome, complete with an appended case history by a fictional “presiding psychiatrist” and a useful bibliography), Jonathan Lethem’s Motherless Brooklyn (Tourette’s syndrome), Mark Haddon’s Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (autism), Richard Powers’s The Echomaker (facial agnosia, Capgras syndrome), McEwan again with Saturday (Huntington’s disease, as diagnosed by the neurosurgeon protagonist), Atmospheric Disturbances (Capgras syndrome again) by a medical school graduate, Rivka Galchen, and John Wray’s Lowboy (paranoid schizophrenia). And these are just a selection of recently published titles in “literary fiction.” There are also many recent genre novels, mostly thrillers, of amnesia, bipolar disorder, and multiple personality disorder.” (cont’d @ n+1)

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Roth NewarkPhilip Roth came home again Saturday, which is not so unusual because he’s been a frequent visitor in recent years. ‘As you get older, you get closer to home.’ Roth said this as he entered the Newark Museum yesterday as the surprise guest on a bus tour of Newark. Now 76, the man once called one of America’s greatest authors is now called America’s greatest living author as contemporaries like Saul Bellow, Norman Mailer and John Updike have passed on in recent years.

“Saturday, he was among another group of contemporaries, though a decade younger: graduates of Weequahic High, 1960, who, as part of their 50th reunion, signed up for ‘Philip Roth’s Newark.’ Still, the ‘kids’ knew him. As Roth stepped on to the bus, the murmurs turned into buzz, the cell phones and digital cameras flashed. America’s greatest living author is also Weequahic High’s most famous graduate. . . .

The author, who today lives in Connecticut, had never done the whole route. But on the first tour, he was honored at his childhood home at 81 Summit Street, where the block was ceremoniously named Philip Roth Plaza and a marker unveiled on the house.” (more @ NJ.com)

Related: (10/21/09) Philip Roth Unbound (Video interview with Tina Brown @ The Daily Beast)

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jim_carrollJim Carroll, the poet and punk rocker in the outlaw tradition of Rimbaud and Burroughs who chronicled his wild youth in ‘The Basketball Diaries,’ died on Friday at his home in Manhattan. He was 60. . . .

“As a teenage basketball star in the 1960s at Trinity, an elite private school on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, Mr. Carroll led a chaotic life that combined sports, drugs and poetry. This highly unusual combination lent a lurid appeal to ‘The Basketball Diaries’ the journal he kept during high school and published in 1978, by which time his poetry had already won him a cult reputation as the new, Bob Dylan.

“‘I met him in 1970, and already he was pretty much universally recognized as the best poet of his generation,’ the singer Patti Smith said in a telephone interview on Sunday. ‘The work was sophisticated and elegant. He had beauty.'” (more @ NY Times)

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Orwell“[Orwell’s] classic was published on 8 June 1949 – and has had a deep impact on millions. Andrew Johnson talks to writers about it – and asks them to cite their favourite reads.” (via The Independent)

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Kerouac Baseball“Almost all his life Jack Kerouac had a hobby that even close friends and fellow-Beats like Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs never knew about. He obsessively played a fantasy baseball game of his own invention, charting the exploits of made-up players like Wino Love, Warby Pepper, Heinie Twiett, Phegus Cody and Zagg Parker, who toiled on imaginary teams named either for cars (the Pittsburgh Plymouths and New York Chevvies, for example) or for colors (the Boston Grays and Cincinnati Blacks).

“He collected their stats, analyzed their performance and, as a teenager, when he played most ardently, wrote about them in homemade newsletters and broadsides. He even covered financial news and imaginary contract disputes. During those same teenage years, he also ran a fantasy horse-racing circuit complete with illustrated tout sheets and racing reports. He created imaginary owners, imaginary jockeys, imaginary track conditions.

“All these ‘publications,’ some typed, some handwritten and often pasted into old-fashioned composition notebooks, are now part of the Kerouac archive at the Berg Collection of the New York Public Library. The curator, Isaac Gewirtz, has just written a 100-page book about them, ‘Kerouac at Bat: Fantasy Sports and the King of the Beats,’ to be published next week by the library and available, at least for now, only in the library gift shop.” (cont’d @ NY Times)

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duffy“Few positions in public life, apart, perhaps, from Pope or manager of the England football team, have proved quite so unattainable to women over the years as that of Britain’s Poet Laureate. For centuries, from Ben Jonson onwards, the prestigious honour with its peppercorn salary and liquid remuneration of a ‘butt of sack’ has been a masculine stronghold, handed down from man to man.

“But that dominance could well be set to come to an end this week after it was let slip that the name of Carol Ann Duffy has been put forward for the Queen’s approval to assume the role from the outgoing Laureate Andrew Motion. If all goes as planned, the Glasgow-born poet will become not only the first woman to hold the post but the first openly gay one.” (more @ The Independent)

Update: (5/1/09) After 341 Years, a Woman Is British Poet Laureate

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wordsworth-grave“The 23rd of April is a bad, bad day to be a poet. It’s the cruellest day in the cruellest month, as TS Eliot almost said.

“Lots of people know that today is the day William Shakespeare, the greatest poet in the language, was born in 1564 and that it’s the day he died in 1616. I don’t want to sound like a local radio DJ doing a less than cheery ‘on this day’ feature for dark times, but for poets in particular, and for creative literary people in general, this day really is hard to ignore: William Wordsworth wandered his last lonely walk on this day, as did the great Spanish author CervantesHenry Vaughan, the Welsh metaphysical poet, breathed his last lungful of gorgeous Welsh air on this day. Rupert Brooke died today in 1915, and Harold Arlen – whose songs such as Stormy Weather and Let’s Fall in Love (mind you, he didn’t write the lyrics) approach the status of poetry – passed to the far side of the rainbow on 23 April 1986.” (more @ Guardian UK)

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“Good writers show us new places. Great writers give us new ways of looking at the old one. Just as Ruskin enabled a generation of Europeans to see the landscape that was actually in front of them rather than the conventionalized approximations they carried around in their heads, so is Gaitskill one of those rare artists who can endow us with braver, more vigilant senses. You step out of her books and into a whole new world.”

So says William Deresiewicz in his fine review of Mary Gaitskill‘s novels and early short fiction.

But not so, concludes Deresiewicz, with her new short story collection, Don’t Cry:

“A young writer pours her agonies of soul into work of uncompromising honesty. She stares into an abyss of pain so that we may see the truth. But few have the energy to sustain such effort indefinitely. Eventually, the spirit seeks rest–seeks comfort, seeks consolation, seeks peace. It happened to Wordsworth and Conrad, and now it seems to be happening to Mary Gaitskill. The hunger has gone out of her work. Gaitskill was a great poet of youthful suffering. Whether she can reinvent herself as a chronicler of maturity remains to be seen.”

I am among the many fans of Gaitskill’s fiction disappointed by the largely unfavorable reviews for Don’t Cry. Readers new to Gaitskill’s work — and she deserves a wide audience — are best to begin at the beginning, with her first short story collection, Bad Behavior.

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shakespeare-on-bookBaptized on April 26, 1564, William Shakespeare‘s actual birthday is unknown but is traditionally observed on April 23rd, St. George’s Day. But how likely is it that today is the Bard of Avon’s real birthday?

“There is no evidence, alas, to support the popular belief that William Shakespeare was born — as fifty-two years later he was to die — on 23 April, the date celebrated in England since 1222 as the feast day of dragon-slaying St George. As the poet’s posthumous fame grew, securing a unique niche for his country in the cultural history of the world, it was a natural enough temptation for posterity to unite the birthday of England’s national poet with that of its patron saint. But the tradition is based on a false assumption, that Elizabethan baptisms invariably took place three days after the birth.” (more @ English History)

Related

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Whatever the future holds for printed books, this much is certain: there is no shortage of ink being spilled presently by writers offering their visions of the digital future –

In “How the E-Book Will Change the Way We Read and Write,” author Steven Johnson points to two key developments, “the breakthrough success of Amazon’s Kindle e-book reader, and the maturation of the Google Book Search service,” and proposes that “2009 may well prove to be the most significant year in the evolution of the book since Gutenberg hammered out his original Bible.” (more @ Wall Street Journal)

Related: The Social Dilemma of e-Reading

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