Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Managua, January 22, 1982

Re-writing Nicaragua Beat: Allen Ginsberg and the Sandinista Revolution.  Composing an alternate version that doesn't rely on reproducing AG's 1982 and 1986 journals, that may only require permission to reprint "You Don't Know It" and  "On the Conduct of the World Seeking Beauty Against Government." This second text will not be standard academic treatise and leaden prose notation; rather, it will be discursive, non-linear, anecdotal, annotated, imagined, a work of literary archaeology: Excavating Allen Ginsberg in Nicaragua.

Note: Ginsberg handwriting sample from 1982 Nicaragua notebook journal.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

48th International PEN Congress, January 1986

 The 48th International PEN Congress (January 12-18, 1986) was a contentious affair. The event brought writers from countries around the world to New York City to discuss/dissect/examine "The Writer's Imagination and the Imagination of the State." The theme itself sparked controversy among many invitees and others who complained of its ambiguity. But discord over the theme soon gave way to other imbroglios.

Norman Mailer, as President of PEN and one of the leading organizers, was at the center of just about every intellectual scuffle and participant complaint. His unilateral invitation of then Secretary of State George P. Shultz to deliver the opening remarks and inaugurate the congress drew widespread anger and vitriol. Shultz's actual speech was disrupted by jeers, shouts, whistles and other expressions of protest.

As the week of panel discussions, readings, interviews, and parties progressed, a further controversy erupted over the lack of women panelists. Again, Mailer was widely blamed for this and a contingent of feminist writers was very vocal in denouncing him and, by extension, PEN for the female disparity.

In the months following the Congress, Norman Mailer was interviewed by Richard D. Heffner on the PBS show Open Mind. The interview is wide-ranging and not specifically about the PEN Congress but Heffner does ask Mailer about it and Mailer responds to some of the controversies. He takes particular umbrage with Betty Friedan, asserting that her protest over the lack of women panelists was more about grandstanding than about any serious affront to women writers. PEN is an honorable organization, he maintains, and in his opinion Friedan should know that and not besmirch it by accusing it of deliberately excluding women panelists.

You can watch and listen to the interviews here (parts I and II):

Part I:
Part II:

A young Salman Rushdie participated in the event later wrote about it for the New York Times Book Review:

Friday, April 23, 2010

Let The Great World Spin

Just finished Colum McCann’s Let the Great World Spin while sitting in the fading light on the upstairs back deck of a crisp spring evening, a high white half moon overhead in a milky blue sky. My first reaction was to stand up and look around at the neighborhood, the backyards of the neighbors that I could see from my elevated vantage point, and further, across the way to Priest St and the cars passing there, and it occurred to me how amazing literature can be, how it can reach right in and touch the essential part of us, the core place where humanity lurks within everyone, the love place, love between family members, the amazing place of universal oneness, and I felt sad then, looking across the houses and the parked cars, thinking about the poverty of people’s lives in this culture imbued as they are with the superficialities of sports and television shows, and I wondered admiringly about Colum McCann’s great achievement, his deeply rendered portrait of that human place, I felt it, embraced it, and despite whatever sadness I felt for the lack of this brilliance in the cultural ebb and flow, I also felt euphoric, amazed, enthused, my heart beating with a determined thump, my eye wide open to the beauty around me.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Guardian's Ten Tips for Writing Fiction

The Guardian (UK) asked a selection of writers to provide ten tips for writing fiction (Feb 2010). As one might expect, given that the responses involved a group of disparate writers, the tips ranged from the irreverent to the useful, the pissy to the pretentious. Nonetheless, they can be interesting to peruse.

Roddy Doyle, for example, offers rule #1:

"Do not place a photograph of your favourite author on your desk, especially if the author is one of the famous ones who committed suicide."

PD James suggests:

"Read widely and with discrimination. Bad writing is contagious."

There is a part II as well, with responses from Hilary Mantel (Wolf Hall) ("Write a book you'd like to read. If you wouldn't read it, why would anybody else?"), the ubiquitous Joyce Carol Oates, Will Self ("Always carry a notebook. And I mean always.") and others.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Let the Great World Spin

What's considerably impressive about Colum McCann's Let The Great World Spin is the subtlety with which he weaves the characters' lives into each other's orbits. And he so very ably conjures the world of 1970s New York City, convincingly situates his characters in that time and place. The novel works so well not because of dazzling prose innovation or experimentation but because the storytelling is masterful and evocative.

McCann is teaching a summer fiction workshop at the Norman Mailer Writers Colony, Aug 15-22, 2010 called "Becoming Other: Characters Places Scenarios." I'm grateful to be one of the applicants to receive a scholarship to the workshop.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Running Waiters

One way or another, we're all running waiters.