Long Live the Memoir
There was speculation earlier this year that James Frey busted the memoir market into a million little pieces when he confessed—not to contritely—that he basically wrote fiction. His blatant violation of readers' trust raised an old flag—at least for me. I have heard memoirists—in front of classroom of graduate students—command them to combine events and create composite characters for the essence of the memoir is not the reality but the essence of the reality. It makes sense. Whose life is as dramatic as most people write in memoirs? How many individuals go home at night and write down what happened to them that day—attempting to recall dialogue and facts as best they can? (Few.) Has psychology shown that recollection becomes increasingly tainted by rationalization within minutes of the event? Therefore memoirists have no choice. They have to fudge it. Well Jimmity Crickets, isn't that fiction? Yes it's fiction by any sane definition of fiction. Today fiction does not sell as well as memoir. Readers find it more appealing to read about the redemption of a real individual, rather than a fictitious one. If there was hope for that man or woman, and God knows that they were wrecked individuals, then there's hope for me. There's also the there-go-I-but-for-the-grace-of-God voyeur reader who wants to live in the gutter for a while without getting dirty. Two pitiful positions therefore could not be shaken by Frey's follies. One wonders if Frey actually played out a memoir in reality, igniting curiosity about the genre. This year publishers will publish twice as many memoirs as they did last year, according to the book-tracking company Simba International. In a
Wall Street Journal article, Robert Hughes notes that bookstores have a choice of more than 500 memoirs and a score how-to write memoirs. Heck I'm working on a memoir—draft stage. There are memoirs from essayists/journalists such as Joan Didion, Augusten Burroughs, and Anderson Cooper who have made careers in recording facts, and any reader should trust their words. Then there's just plain crappy fiction being passed off by the writer as memoir.

Writers or Their Writing from the Guardian, Where Else?
The
Guardian is offering two extracts of a story by Haruki Murakama. A Japanese woman visits Hawaii after a shark kills her teenage son. She is drawn to the site of his death. Dervla Murphy cycled from Ireland to India more than 40 years ago, and now she writes about her winter Siberian ride. “Perhaps the best Sunday morning of my life happened in June 1970, when I walked across Hampstead Heath from an interview with Harold Evans, which closed with his saying that I'd got a job on his newspaper.” That's the start of Granta Editor Ian Jack's Guardian essay about a different London. Then there's Poet John Burnside reading about the avian flu unfold in his former home town. While reviewing Hey Yeah Right Get a Life by Jelen Simpson, John Mullan analyzes why the writing works—from a writer's point of view.

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Genius Grants Awarded
The John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation has awarded $7.5 million in grants in the fields of the creative arts, humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences. The following are the awards for writers.

Poetry: Catherine Barnett, Scott Cairns, Martin Espada, Daisy Fried, Judith Hall, Mark Halliday, Brigit Pegeen Kelly, Cole Swensen, Anne Winters, John Yau.
Fiction: Emily Barton, Jill Ciment, Helen DeWitt, Rebecca Newberger Goldstein, Allan Gurganus, Suki Kim, John L'Heureux, Gina Ochsner, Peter Orner, George Saunders, Steve Stern, Darin Strauss, Lynne Tillman, Jennifer Vanderbes.

Script Writing: Linda Svendsen.Biography: Tracy Daugherty, Carla Kaplan, William Taubman.General Non-Fiction: Judy J. Blunt, Sally Denton, Ruth Ellen Gruber, Lewis Hyde, Patrick Radden Keefe, Garret Keizer, Joseph Mazur, Richard McCann, Susan Brind Morrow, Carlo Rotella.

April 9, 2006

Da Vinci Code Remains Unbroken
London's High Court ruled recently that Dan Brown, author of the Da Vinci Code, did not violate English copyright laws as the authors, Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh, of the The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail accused. Read the
BBC report for more information. In a more intriguing BBC story, the news agency analyzes where does the ruling “leave the law.”

When to Stop
I don't know why
I don't know what
Makes me do the things
I know I should stop

That's the poem John Crace wrote six years ago when he was addicted to cocaine: “I really thought I was going to die and I just wanted my three-year-old son Kai to have some idea of how the most famous drug addict in the world was struggling to cope.” Those words are from the Guardian's digest version of Crace's book The Other Side of Nowhere.

Returning Home for a Poet
Adopted at birth and raised in Glasgow, the poet and novelist Jackie Kay four decades later flew to Nigeria to meet her birth father: “Jonathan is suddenly there in the hotel corridor leading to the swimming pool area. He's sitting on a white plastic chair in a sad cafe. There's a small counter with a coffee machine and some depressed-looking buns. He's dressed all in white, a long white African dress, very ornately embroidered, like lace, and white trousers. He's wearing black shoes. He's wired up. My hearet is racing. “Jonathan? I say…Read more in the her account in the
Guardian.

McGahern Comtemplates Religion
The writer John McGahern wrote an essay about the role of religion a week before he died: “I grew up in what was a theocracy in all but name. Hell and heaven and purgatory were places real and certain we would go to after death, dependent on the Judgement. Churches in my part of Ireland were so crowded that children and old people who were fasting to receive Communion would regularly pass out in the bad air and have to be carried outside….” Read more in the
Guardian.

Khmer Rouge Remembered
Thirty-one years have passed since the KR overpowered Cambodia with its rabid nationalism and virulent form of Maoism. By estimates, they killed from than 37,000 intellectuals, leaving only three hundred. They are making a return. “Pal Vannarirak, the host of a new Cambodian TV show about books and authors, has written more than 100 short stories and 40 novels. Having survived the Khmer Rouge, Vannarirak found work for the Vietnamese-backed government as a censor. She had to ban her own novels.” This is what
Geoff Ryman discovered.

You Can't Handle the Truth
“And what is the truth about publishing—the title of an ancient book-trade memoir by Sir Stanley Unwin—that authors need to be told? Macmillan's starting point was a deduction, here expressed in a Bookseller article by Nicholas Clee, that 'more people want to write fiction than read it.'” For more read
D.J. Taylor.

Howling Good Times
Fifty years ago, Allen Ginsberg wrote “Howl.” To celebrate
Jason Shinder collected a series of essays about the poem in a new book called The Poem that Changed American: “Howl” Fifty Years Later. The New York Times also has a featured section about the famed Beat poet and a photo slide show.

Fiction/Poetry/Theater

April 5, 2006

Fiction
Scandal Follows Author
Two summers ago, Tony Hendra, former editor for National Lampoon, had a best selling memoir called Father Joe. His daughter then accused him of sexually abusing her as a child. He's now promoting his new novel, The Messiah of Morris Avenue with a first printing of 150,000. With litigation still pending about his daughter's case, Hendra cannot speak. So why does Publisher's Weekly and New York magazine make a point of publishing such stories?

Why Secrecy? Why Noms de Plume?
Novelist Jonathan Freedland explains why he is publishing his new novel, The Righteous Men, under the nom de plume Sam Bourne.

Smiley Reads
Novelist Jane Smily will read 100 novels. She hopes to "illuminate the whole concept of the novel." It's an ambitious undertaking, one worth undertaking. In an essay for the Guardian, she explains that her first plan was to read 275, but then it took her a month to read Anna Karenina and almost another to read Moby Dick. She explains that her list of novels is not intended as the 100 Best. Any 100 good novels would suffice. Smiley's study of The Tale of Genji is available here.

While Smiley is reading novels, Melvyn Bragg came up with a dozen British books that have changed the world. One of them is the Football Association Rule Book and not a single novel. Why?

Just Write
It seems a simple concept. For Orhan Pamuk it feels like a luxury after being imprisoned and tried in Turkey for publishing an historical fact. He talks with Aida Edemariam of the Guardian.

Contest Draws Huge Entry
"A new writing prize set up as 'unashamedly elitist' has drawn a big response from hopeful authors. The antional short story contest attracted more than 1,400 entries, between a third and tw0thirds more than its organisers expected–and 10 times the level of the Man Booker or Whitbread novel prize." Read more.

Poetry
Cooke on Williams
Rachel Cooke, writing for the Observer, chats it up with poet Hugo Williams. He is "exactly how you want a poet to be, almost as if 'poet' was a part he landed in an extremely long-running play." You can hear Rachel moving nervously around the man's home.

Freedom of Expression–not at Gitmo
The Guardian reports that the United States will not return the 25,000 lines of verse that Abdul Rahim Muslim Dost spent in Guantanamo Bay. "My interrogators promised I would get them back. Still I have nothing." Sounds all too similar to Orhan Pamuk's plight.

Grolier Poetry Sold
The oldest poetry bookstore in America–Grolier Poetry Book Shop in Harvard Square–recently was sold to Ifeanyi Mentiki, poet and professor of philosophy at Wellesley College. His latest book–OfAltai, the Bright Light, was published by Earthwinds Editions. The bookstore was a favorite of E.E. Cummings, T.S. Eliot, and Marianne Moore. Read more in Lawrence van Gelder's New York Times article.

Poetry and the News
The assistant managing editor of the Metro section for the Newark Star-Ledger has landed a deal for poetry about the "maligned and grimy practice of journalism." The poet: David Tucker. The work: Late for Work. The book woun the Katharine Bakeless Nason Prize for poetry. Philip Levine says of the poet: "He draws from areas that American poetry hasn't been involved in..David was able to aestheticize his own work in a way that seemed miraculous." Read Dinitia Smith's New York Times article.

Theater
Brecht the Obnoxious
There they were. Letters in a Swiss garage owned by Victor Cohen, who recently sold them to German's Academy of Arts. They are from Bertolt Brecht. Read Luke Harding's Guardian article.

Lambs or Wolves?
That single question has thousands of Chinese readers, including its intellectuals and industrial moguls, wondering. It is the thesis of a 650-page Wolf Totem written by an individual using the nom de plume Jiang Rong. The book has earned 10 literature prizes for its combination of autobiography, animal stories, and ethnological observations. For more, click.

Another Writing Trend?
In an article for Canada's Globe & Mail, Tralee Pearce argues that more authors are writing what amount to be 12-month memoirs, that being memoirs covering a annual span. There's A Year in the World, The Year of Magical Thinking, A Year in Provence, The Year of Yes, and My Year in Iraq.

Blog Writer Up for Award
The author using the nom de plume of Riverbend is on the longlist for the Samuel Johnson award, which would give the author approximately $60,000. The 26 year old wrote Baghdad Burning. The book, listed as a biography and memoir, already came in third for the Lettre Ulysses prize for Reportage and was shortlisted for an Index on Censorship freedom of expression award. Riverbend began the blog: “I'm female, Iraqi, and 24. I survived the war. That's all you need to know. It's all that matters these days anyway.” Read more. An extract of the book is available from the Guardian.

Mary Lee Settle Dead
She won the National Book Award for Blood Tie in 1978, and she worked to organize the PEN/Faulkner Award. George Garrett called her Charlottesville's dean of letters. The Virginia Quarterly Review, which called Settle a “writer of radiant fiction and nonfiction and tireless advocate for southern literature,” provided links to three of her VQR works.

February 14, 2006

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Bloglogo4.jpgBlurb Seekers Beware
Before the recent memoir brouhaha, Josh Kilmer-Purcell was anticipating the release of his memoir I Am Not Myself these Days. He received marketing gold: an endorsement blurb from a best selling author. Unfortunately the author was James Frey, who has encased the memoir industry in a froth of bad-will because of his fabrications in Million Little Pieces. Sara Ivry explains the rest in the New York Times article “Attention, Authors: Pick those Fawning Blurbs Carefully.”

In Rap’s Footsteps
Rap took off when performers exploited their street credentials, and with that posture, Gangsta rap took off, giving rap a much needed shot in the commercial arm. Apparently “literature” is following in rap’s footsteps. Corey Kiogannon explores the lucrative nature of Street Lit in “Street Lit with Publishing Cred: From Prison to a Four-Book Deal.”

Benchley Dead/
Larkin Back to Life

Jaws author, Peter Benchley, recently died in his Princeton, NJ, home from a fatal, progressive scarring of his lungs. The Guardian recalls what inspire Benchley to write the blockbuster. The paper also noted that 21 years after the death of poet Philip Larkin, tapes of him reciting nearly 30 poems were discovered in a Yorkshire garage. Martin Wainwright describes him as sounding “like a slightly miffed schoolmaster and occasionally interrupting his dry, unemotional style with bursts of good humour.”

A Conversation with Lois-Ann Yamanaka
Anderson Tepper of the Village Voice captures the writer and individual known as Lois-Ann Yamahaka in his “Trouble in Paradise” article: “She sets off sparks with every book, each one a new chapter from the life of the islands. There was the salty humor and in-your-face pidgin of Saturday Night at the Pahala Theatre and Wild Meat and the Bully Burgers; the teenage soul-ache of Blu’s Hanging and Heads by Harry; the lacerating despair of Father of the Four Passages, where abuse and abandonment, fetal alcohol syndrome and the ghosts of the unborn hound her characters and whittle her language down to a skeletal, skid row poetry of rage and terror. Is this really Hawaii?”

Drinkard Reveals the Inspiration
In a recent posting for http://www.beatrice.com, Michael Drinkard, husband of Jill Eisenstadt, tells how he found inspiration for his unusual new novel, Rebels, Turn Out Your Dead, which is about an 18th century Brooklyn hemp farmer. He writes: “My office is in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, on Wallabout Bay in the East River, just across from Manhattan. A few years ago a security guard pointed to the water and said, ‘That’s where the British tossed ten thousand dead Americans.’ Did I know that during the Revolutionary War more people died on Brooklyn prison ships than in all the battles combined? No, I did not.”

February 2, 2006

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A Word by Any Other Meaning
Would Mean Something Else

BlogLogo2.jpgAccording to the Chicago Tribune, English Professor James Bosch of Calvin College has been attempting to get the OED to list his invented word: presticogitation. Not being registered to access the Trib’s story, I went to Chimes, the publication of Calvin College. Here’s what I found: “The English Department: the perspicacity and clever presticogitation of James Vanden Bosch, the friendly modernist swagger [read: an amiable James Joyce] of Chip Pollard, the desert-dry humor and witty sarcasm of Dean Ward, the intellectual fortitude and Solzhenitsian dignity of Ed Ericson, the tranquil Coleridgian ‘Frost at Midnight’ gentleness of John Netland… and we could go on.” What’s in a word? Ask James Bosch to find out.

Muslims Ticked Off about Cartoon—
No Protection from Satire?

Images of Muhammad as depicted by Danish cartoonists last September in a Danish newspaper and reprinted by a Norwegian magazine have drawn thousands of protesters into the streets of Gaza City, Baghdad, and Yemen. Saudi Arabia has removed its ambassador in Copenhagen. Libya closed its embassy. Islamic law and tradition consider images of Muhammad and Allah as idolatrous. According to the London Times, six European newspapers have reprinted the images. The French tabloid Jyllands-Posten printed the headline: “We have the right to caricature God.” France Soir captured my sentiment with an annoyed Muhammad sitting with Buddha and a Christian God and a Jewish God. The Christain God says, “Don’t complain Muhammad, we’ve all been caricatured here.”

Later France Soir fired its managing editor and apologized for running the cartoon, according to a reported in the Guardian. The story also noted: “On Monday, gunmen from al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigarde briefly occupied the EU’s [European Union’s] office in the Gaza Strip, demanding that Denmark and Norway apologise.”

Additionally, last night, Editor-in-Chief of the Danish newspaper Jyllands Posten, Carsten Juste said: “The 12 cartoons…were not intended to be offensive, nor were they at variance with Danish law, but they have indisputably offended many Muslims, for which we apologize.”

Yet no one from the Muslim world protested in the streets when the Taliban destroyed two massive and ancient statues of Buddha in Iraq. Ironically most individuals—regardless of their cultural or religious affiliations—usually define freedom of expression with one additional word—my freedom of expression—and never our freedom of expression.

Did these individuals take to the streets when Orhan Pamuk was put on trial for “publicly denigrating Turkishness.” No. (See an “The Trials of Orhan Pamuk and Turkey” by Can V. Yeginsu in the Times Literary Supplement.

Writers Writing about Writing
Six year s ago, Alice McDermott wrote the following for Writer’s Chronicle: “I am happy to see fiction writers gainfully employed and serially published, but I am always hit with a wave of disappointment when a fiction writer I admire brings forth a book or an article about writing fiction.” The rest of what she has to say is worth reading and even re-reading.

Along a more sarcastic but sincere line, editor/writer Binyavanga Wainaina provides tips on how to write about Africa. “Some tips: Sunsets and starvation are good.” Before you get upset with the Kenyan writer, give his Granta essay a chance.

The Last Frey Stuff
I don’t care.