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Archive for the ‘Writers & Writing’ Category

“On inauguration day, Tom Brokaw was moved to compare Barack Obama’s election to Czechoslovakia’s 1989 Velvet Revolution. At the eye of each storm, of course, was an icon who merged the political and the aesthetic–Václav Havel, the rock-star poet and prophet, and Barack Obama, the post-soul master of his own story. Both struck down eras of monocultural repression with their pens.

“Artists played a largely unheralded role in Obama’s victory. But they had been tugging the national unconscious forward for decades, from the multiculturalist avant-gardes of the 1970s and ’80s to the hip-hop rebels of the ’90s and 2000s, plying a fearless, sometimes even unruly kind of polyculturalism. By the final months of the election season, these artists had secured Obama as the waking image of change.

“Every moment of major social change requires a collective leap of imagination. Political transformation must be accompanied not just by spontaneous and organized expressions of unrest and risk but by an explosion of mass creativity. Little wonder that two of the most maligned jobs during the forty years after Richard Nixon’s 1968 election sealed the backlash of the ‘silent majority‘ were community organizer and artist.

“Obama was both. So why haven’t community organizers and artists been offered a greater role in the national recovery?” (cont’d @ The Nation)

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baseball-lingoWhere would pols, pundits and morose mucky-mucks be without the language of baseball?

“Here’s the pitch: Despite distractions, you have to keep your eye on the ball. You have to be aware of something unexpected coming out of left field, and only if your ad-libbed response is not off base will your home team go to bat for you. You can’t be born on third base and think you hit a triple. Last year, candidate Obama took the sting out of criticism by the scribes for playing ball with a Chicago fixer by admitting, right off the bat, that his property purchase was boneheaded. Palin showed she had something on the ball, considered 2008 a warm-up in the bullpen and took a rain check for 2012, when she hopes to knock the ball out of the park, unless she gets thrown a curve by the rise of Romney, now in the catbird’s seat.” (more @ NY Times)

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rossetFrom NPR, a profile of publisher Barney Rosset, former owner of Grove Press and The Evergreen Review, in advance of the publication of his autobiography, The Subject Is Left Handed, which takes its name from his FBI file. The article includes a clip from Obscene,” a film biography (2007) of Rosset, in which Rosset discusses acquiring Samuel Beckett‘s Waiting for Godot.

“Independent publisher Barney Rosset was there for some of the most important — and controversial — developments in 20th century American literary history. The first to publish Samuel Beckett in the United States, Rosset has been honored by the National Book Foundation, the Association of American Publishers and the French Ministry of Culture.

“Born to a wealthy Chicago banker, Rosset served as a photographer in World War II and afterward tried his hand at filmmaking and writing before buying a small, nearly defunct publishing company named Grove Press in 1951. . . .

“Rosset knew nothing about the business of publishing, but one of the first books Grove put out in 1954 became one of its most important: Waiting for Godot, by Samuel Beckett. . . .

“Over the years Grove did have a couple of best-sellers, including A Confederacy of Dunces, by John Kennedy Toole and Games People Play, by Eric Bern. And Grove championed the avant garde and politically inflammatory. It published the work of noted 20th century playwrights like Eugene Ionesco, Harold Pinter, Tom Stoppard and David Mamet, as well as The Autobiography of Malcolm X, which had been dropped by Doubleday.

“In 1957 Grove Press got into magazine publishing; The Evergreen Review became one of the most important magazines of the counterculture . . . Two years after launching The Evergreen Review, Rosset stepped into the national headlines when he decided that Grove would publish Lawrence’s novel Lady Chatterley’s Lover, which other American publishers had shunned because of its frank sexuality. After the postal service impounded more than a hundred copies of the book, Rosset went to court claiming it was protected under the First Amendment. He won, but that was only part of his strategy. His real goal, Rosset says, was to publish another banned book: Henry Miller’s 1934 autobiographical novel, Tropic of Cancer.” (more @ NPR)

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[INTERVIEWER: Didn’t you say somewhere, “I am for obscenity and against pornography”?

MILLER: Well, it’s very simple. The obscene would be the forthright, and pornography would be the roundabout. I believe in saying the truth, coming out with it cold, shocking if necessary, not disguising it. In other words, obscenity is a cleansing process, whereas pornography only adds to the murk.]

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nabokov“Penguin is to publish Vladimir Nabokov‘s unfinished final novel, The Original of Laura. Penguin Classics editor Alexis Kirschbaum bought the book, together with continuing rights to the Nabokov backlist, in a six-figure deal through Andrew Wylie. The Original of Laura will be published as a Penguin Classics hardback at £25 on 3rd November, and simultaneously by Knopf in the US.

“Nabokov left the novel unfinished when he died in 1977, asking for it to be destroyed. His son Dimitri Nabokov finally took the decision to publish, bearing in mind that his father once also intended to burn his best-known work, Lolita. . . .

“The novel is narrated by a man who, when young, fell obsessively in love with a young girl, but who is now unhappily married to a promiscuous wife with whom he is infatuated. Kirschbaum said the book was both dark and comic, and continued the theme of nostalgia for young love begun in Mary and continued in Lolita and Ada.” (more @ The Bookseller)

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andrew-sullivan“Andrew Sullivan’s story is inherently implausible. How did an HIV-positive gay Catholic conservative from the poky English town of East Grinstead end up as one of the most powerful writers in America?

“Today his blog, the Daily Dish, is regularly named as one of the most influential in America, and in November it reached 23m hits in the month. Politicians from Condoleezza Rice to Barack Obama himself have courted Sullivan in the hope of friendly posts. After he moved his blog to the website of the venerable Atlantic Monthly magazine, the traffic there rose by 30%.

“This is all the stranger since—unlike other big-name bloggers such as the liberal-Democratic Markos Moulitsas of the Daily Kos or the libertarian Republican Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit — he has no obvious political constituency. Sullivan is regarded by his critics as an attention-deficit bundle of contradictions. He is a conservative Christian who rages against the self-proclaimed forces of conservative Christianity. He is a pioneering crusader for gay marriage savaged by the gay left as ‘chief faggot’, herding homosexuals on behalf of The Patriarchy. He admits: ‘I’m very uncomfortable with audiences who agree with me… I’ve never really had a place where someone didn’t dispute my right to be there.’ So what is the glue that holds together the blogger-king?” (cont’d @ Intelligent Life)

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evesedgwickEve Kosofsky Sedgwick died in New York yesterday, at the age of fifty-nine, following a long battle with breast cancer. The literary critic, who taught most recently at the CUNY Graduate Center, is best known for her formative work in the field of queer theory (in the books ‘Between Men’ and ‘Epistemology of the Closet’), including a number of provocative — and often scandalous — readings of classic literary texts. In the nineteen-eighties and nineties, her visibility as a member of Duke University’s English Department placed her at the forefront of the culture wars, but her largely symbolic role in those conflicts meant that criticism of her work seldom did justice to the subtlety and searing wit of her writing, nor to her sensitivity to the social and sexual bonds that tie us to each other and to the world.” (more @ The New Yorker)

RelatedEve Kosofsky Sedgwick, a Pioneer of Gay Studies and a Literary Theorist, Dies at 58

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kurt-vonnegutKurt Vonnegut’s longtime publisher, Delacorte Press, has announced it will issue 14 never-before published short stories by the author, who died in 2007, in a new collection, Look at the Birdie, slated for publication in November 2009. . . .

Look at the Birdie will include original Vonnegut illustrations and a foreword by Sidney Offit, a longtime Vonnegut confidant and the current curator of the George Polk Awards in Journalism. Bantam Dell publisher and editor-in-chief Nita Taublib and editor Kerri Buckley put the collection together. Taublib said, ‘Considered independently, these are 14 exceptionally intricate short pieces by an author whose voice we miss immensely. Taken together, they give the reader a clear sense of Kurt Vonnegut’s development into one of the most beloved and original American writers of all time.'” (more @ Publishers Weekly)

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bannedbooks“‘American Psycho’ is Bret Easton Ellis’ story of a sadistic murderer. ‘Unfriendly Fire’ is a well-reviewed empirical analysis of military policy. But it’s ‘Unfriendly Fire’ that does not have a sales rank — which means it would not show up in Amazon’s bestseller lists, even if it sold more copies than the ‘Twilight’ series. In some cases, being de-ranked also means being removed from Amazon’s search results.

“Amazon’s policy of removing ‘adult’ content from its rankings seems to be both new and unevenly implemented. . . .

“Our research shows that these books have lost their ranking: ‘Running with Scissors’ by Augusten Burroughs, ‘Rubyfruit Jungle’ by Rita Mae Brown, ‘Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic’ by Alison Bechdel, ‘The History of Sexuality, Vol. 1’ by Michel Foucault, ‘Bastard Out of Carolina’ by Dorothy Allison (2005 Plume edition), ‘Little Birds: Erotica’ by Anais Nin, ‘The Diving Bell and the Butterfly’ by Jean-Dominque Bauby (1997 Knopf edition), ‘Maurice’ by E.M. Forster (2005 W.W. Norton edition) and ‘Becoming a Man’ by Paul Monette, which won the 1992 National Book Award.

“Books that remain ranked include: ‘Naked’ by David Sedaris, ‘Tropic of Cancer’ by Henry Miller, ‘American Psycho’ by Bret Easton Ellis, ‘Wifey’ by Judy Blume, ‘The Kiss’ by Kathryn Harrison, the photobooks ‘Playboy: Helmut Newton’ and ‘Playboy: Six Decades of Centerfolds,’ ‘Naked Lunch’ by William Burroughs, ‘Incest: From ‘A Journal of Love” by Anais Nin, ‘The Diving Bell and the Butterfly’ by Jean-Dominque Bauby (2007 Vintage International edition), ‘Maurice’ by E.M. Forster (2005 Penguin Classics edition). . . .

“But as troubling as the unevenness of the policy of un-ranking and de-searching certain titles might be, it’s a bit beside the point. It’s the action itself that is troubling: making books harder to find, or keeping them off bestseller lists on the basis of their content can’t be a good idea.” (more @ LA Times)

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short-storiesIn Sunday’s New York Times, A.O. Scott writes in praise of the American short story (long my favorite literary form), challenging “the conventional wisdom in American letters . . . that size matters, that the big-game hunters and heavyweight fighters . . . go after the Great American Novel,” and posits this fascinating future for short fiction:

“The new, post-print literary media are certainly amenable to brevity. The blog post and the tweet may be ephemeral rather than lapidary, but the culture in which they thrive is fed by a craving for more narrative and a demand for pith. And just as the iPod has killed the album, so the Kindle might, in time, spur a revival of the short story. If you can buy a single song for a dollar, why wouldn’t you spend that much on a handy, compact package of character, incident and linguistic invention? Why wouldn’t you collect dozens, or hundreds, into a personal anthology, a playlist of humor, pathos, mystery and surprise?

“The death of the novel is yesterday’s news. The death of print may be tomorrow’s headline. But the great American short story is still being written, and awaits its readers.” (more @ NY Times)

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chabon“Thirty years ago the American Jewish fiction of Philip Roth and Saul Bellow was all about Yiddish insults, blonde shiksas, and getting away from the past. Today’s talented crop of young Jewish writers, such as Nathan Englander, Michael Chabon, and Dara Horn, are weaving tales bound in a newfound ethnic pride that has revitalized Jewish literature in America.” (cont’d @ Vanity Fair)

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The Crumpled Press, the brainchild of [Jordan] McIntyre and [Alexander] Bick, publishes work by new authors and sets previously unpublished, notable lectures and articles into proper books — hand-sewn — on culture, politics, self-reflection, and poetry. ‘It’s original, thought-provoking work that might otherwise be tossed aside,’ says Bick, who is pursuing a history PhD at Princeton. ‘Hence the name Crumpled Press.’ In the four years since the outfit’s birth, they’ve published nine titles — from a series of fictional voicemails placed on 9/11 to a meditation on Darwinian selection, sexuality, and fashion — priced from $5 to $25. . . . 

“Today the four editors work with each author to create a book’s artisanal feel, reproducing journal sketches or deliberating fonts, flyleaves, and covers, to savor the printed-page aesthetic in an era of digitized technology — including sites for e-books, such as Google Books or the Amazon Kindle. [Anthony] Grafton’s Codex in Crisis reflects on this very topic. Expanded from a 2007 New Yorker article, the book was first released in a limited edition of 250 copies, each hand-numbered with a letterpress cover and holding a fold-out color plate.” (more @ University of Chicago Magazine)

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sontag“Authorities in Sarajevo plan to name a city square after the late U.S. author and activist Susan Sontag, who, during the Bosnian war, staged Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot there. . . .

“Sontag’s insistence on staging the existential play in the besieged city drew attention to the country’s civil war. The Washington Post dubbed Sontag’s production ‘Waiting for Clinton.’

“‘Beckett’s play, written over 40 years ago, seems written for, and about, Sarajevo,’ noted Sontag at the time.

“The writer died in 2004 at age 71 from leukemia.” (more @ CBC News)

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schindlerpapers“A list of Jews saved from the Nazi death camps during World War II by the German industrialist Oskar Schindler has been found in research notes at an Australian library and will go on public display on Tuesday.

“The list of 801 Jewish men was found among six boxes of papers that belonged to the Australian author Thomas Keneally who wrote the book ‘Schindler’s Ark’ that was the basis for the Oscar-winning film ‘Schindler’s List‘ by Stephen Spielberg. The 13-page, yellowing, document was found tucked between research notes and German newspaper cuttings by a researcher at the New South Wales Library in Sydney sifting through the boxes of manuscripts acquired by the library in 1996.” (more @ Reuters)

RelatedSchindler’s List found in Sydney

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“He is the 82-year old giant of Latin American literature who pioneered the school of magical realism and inspired a generation of novelists. But Gabriel García Márquez has barely written a word since his last novel, Memoirs of My Melancholy Whores, came out to distinctly mixed reviews five years ago.

“Now fans of the Colombian author are facing the prospect that, after a career spanning half a century, Garcia Marquez has finally laid down his pen for good.

“His agent, Carmen Balcells, told the Chilean newspaper La Tercera: ‘I don’t think that García Márquez will write anything else.'” (more @ Guardian UK)

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pizzatheactionPuns are the feeblest species of humor because they are ephemeral: whatever comic force they possess never outlasts the split second it takes to resolve the semantic confusion. Most resemble mathematical formulas: clever, perhaps, but hardly occasion for knee-slapping. The worst smack of tawdriness, even indecency, which is why puns, like off-color jokes, are often followed by apologies. Odds are that a restaurant with a punning name — Snacks Fifth Avenue, General Custard’s Last Stand — hasn’t acquired its first Michelin star.” (more @ NY Times)

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amherst250logoAs part of the celebration of the 250th anniversary of Amherst, Massachusetts, home to the Emily Dickinson Museum, Amherst College, Hampshire College and the University of Masachusetts, a number of literary events are scheduled for the month of April. Events include a “Children’s Literary Scavenger Hunt,” an “Emerging Young Writers Event,” and “A Reading by Poet, Essayist, Editor and Translator: Martin Espada,” to name a few.

A complete schedule of events in the “Amherst Lit Series” can be found here.

Additional information “About Amherst 250” can be found here.

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walker_percyA previously unknown short story by Walker Percy, whose first novel, The Moviegoer, won the National Book Award for Fiction in 1962, will be published in the April, 2009 issue of The Hopkins Review, a literary quarterly produced by Johns Hopkins University Press.

“‘A Detective Story’ is a breezy tale of William Pinckney, a Mississippi businessman who goes out for a pack of cigarettes and never comes home. The yarn is narrated by Jamie Rodgers, a long-time friend of Pinckney’s. At the request of Pinckney’s wife, and to appease his own curiosity, Rodgers sets out on a quest – to Memphis, Atlanta and other places — to find the vanished man.” (more @ NPR)

It is unclear when Percy wrote “A Detective Story.” Logan Browning, a lecturer at Rice University, thinks Percy may have written the piece in the late 1950s before he wrote The Moviegoer.

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bookfairArguably the most important annual book fair in the United States will be held this coming weekend, April 3-5, at the Park Avenue Armory (643 Park Avenue, at 67th Street) in New York City. General information (hours, entrance fees, etc) about the 49th annual event, organized by Sanford L. Smith and Associates and sponsored by the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America can be found here.

The list of international exhibitors can be found here.

The annual New York fair is well worth the admission price even for those uninterested in writing large checks – as an exhibition of incunabula, rare and unusual books, periodicals and literary ephemera, the New York event is unrivaled in the United States, and probably the rest of the world as well.

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“Short, lucid writing is needed in these uncertain times, according to the Booker prize-winning Nigerian author Ben Okri, who is releasing a new poem line by line on Twitter. . . .

“‘I sing a new freedom,’ Okri Twittered yesterday, following it up today with the second line of the poem, ‘Freedom with discipline’, today. The poem was written to mark the release of Okri’s new book, Tales of Freedom, in April. The book brings together short stories and poetry in what Okri’s publisher described as ‘a fascinating new form, using writing and image pared down to their essentials, where haiku and story meet’. The entire poem will be posted on Okri’s Facebook and MySpace pages once it is completed.” (more @ The Guardian)

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hemingwayhopkinsAnthony Hopkins will play Ernest Hemingway in an indie titled Hemingway & Fuentes, to be produced and directed by Andy Garcia. . . .

“Garcia, who also co-wrote the script with Hemingway’s niece, author Hilary Hemingway, will costar in the film as well, playing the real life fishing-boat captain Gregorio Fuentes, who befriended Papa Hemingway in the last decade of the alpha-male writer’s life. Fuentes was said to be the model for one of Hemingway’s most enduring literary creations: the grizzled fisherman Santiago in The Old Man and the Sea, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1952.” (more @ Entertainment Weekly; via Books, Inq.)

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