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Making ‘Of Lamb’

July 6, 2011 | by

In 1796, at the age of thirty-two, Mary Lamb had an attack of madness and killed her mother and wounded her father with a knife. She was institutionalized for three years until the death of her father, when, at the behest of her younger brother, Charles, she was brought to live with him. Charles Lamb was a clerk at the East India Company and a well-regarded essayist, and he remained Mary’s caretaker and companion for the rest of their lives. The Lamb siblings were part of a literary circle that included Samuel Taylor Coleridge, the Wordsworths, William Hazlitt, and Mary Shelley, and they are the subject of the biography A Portrait of Charles Lamb by David Cecil.

Their story is also at the heart of a strange new illustrated poem that was published as a book by McSweeney’s this month. Of Lamb is a collaborative project between poet Matthea Harvey and artist Amy Jean Porter. Harvey was fascinated by the process of erasures after seeing Tom Phillips’s A Humument and Jen Bervin’s Nets and decided to do one herself with the first book she could find for three dollars. “I picked up A Portrait of Charles Lamb completely randomly,” Harvey told me. “When I discovered that Mary and Lamb were on each page, a story in poems started to emerge.” There are echoes of Sarah Josepha Hale’s famous nineteenth-century rhyme “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” which tells the story of a young girl named Mary Sawyer who brings her pet lamb to school. But there are also weirder, more fascinating moments, too: “Nerves his family / Trouble his home / Dark spirits his company.”

Below are a few slides of Harvey’s erasures and the illustrations by Porter. Porter says she was “thinking of an illustrative tradition of a nineteenth-century British variety—Edward Lear, Beatrix Potter, Eleanor Vere Boyle” but also cites brass chandeliers, water towers, and artists such as Balthus and Gabriel Orozco as inspiration. Click to enlarge.

Join Harvey and Porter tomorrow, on July 7, at P.P.O.W. Gallery at 7:00 P.M. at 535 West 22nd Street, in New York, for a reading from Of Lamb.

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Plimpton! on Kickstarter

June 27, 2011 | by

For over the last year, Thomas Bean and Luke Polling have been working on a documentary about George Plimpton called, well, Plimpton!. Today they launched a Kickstarter project to help them cover the expensive costs of paying for archival footage. Watch the video above to see a short clip of the film, which combines Plimpton’s own narration with interviews from his family and friends such as Peter Matthiessen, Gay Talese, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., Mike Milbury, Elaine Kaufman, Robert Silvers, James Lipton, Jay McInerney, and Hugh Hefner.

If you donate $100 or more to the film, you’ll receive a Paris Review subscription along with a DVD of the film and other goodies. We can’t wait to see the finished project!

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A (Secret) History of Pseudonyms

June 14, 2011 | by

Join contributing editor Sadie Stein tonight as she talks to Carmela Ciuraru about her new book, Nom de Plume: A (Secret) History of Pseudonyms. In a series of biographical snapshots that range from Orwell to Eliot, Ciuraru examines literary figures who have adopted pen names—and the strange, tangled, fascinating history of noms de plume. Described as “part detective story, part exposé, part literary history, and an absorbing psychological meditation on identity and creativity” the book is sure to spawn engaging discussion. 7:00 P.M. at 192 Books at 192 10th Avenue, New York City.

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Making Art

June 2, 2011 | by

Sheila Levrant de Bretteville, who founded the Feminist Studio Workshop, with Judy Chicago and Arlene Raven. Here they are in de Bretteville’s house in 1973.

Toward the end of !Women Art Revolution, the performance artist Janine Antoni, who was born in 1964, recalls a moment when her professor, Mira Schor, asks if she’s heard of the work of Ana Mendieta, Hannah Wilke, and Carolee Schneeman. Antoni hadn’t, and she went to the library to learn more. She found nothing, so Schor brought Antoni clippings and catalogues she had saved at home. The moment was profound. “I looked at this work,” Antoni said, “And I thought, ‘I’m making the work of the seventies.’”

!Woman Art Revolution, which plays for just this week at IFC, is a documentary by Lynn Hershman Leeson. The film weaves together decades of interviews with female artists, which Hershman Leeson began recording in 1966 in her Berkeley living room, and she continued recording through the next four decades.

There are over four hundred hours of tape, and it took Hershman Leeson three and a half months to watch it all—once. It is incredible. Nancy Spero, who died in 2009, shares a humiliating appointment with Leo Castelli: “Ivan Karp saw me. I was wearing high heel boots at the time. I was really kind of tall. Ivan is small. … He had me put [my tablet] on the floor so every time I turned the page, it felt I was genuflecting to him. And then he said, ‘What’d you bring these to me for?’” Here’s the late art historian Arlene Raven: “I stopped doing the dishes, making the three meals a day, the laundry, and the house cleaning and so on. The process of personal liberation for me resulted in the break up of my marriage.” The Guerrilla Girls appear: “Do women have to be naked to get into the Met. Museum?” Marcia Tucker, the founding director of the New Museum, talks about how she was hired as the first female curator at the Whitney, but at $2,000 less than her colleague James Monte: “So I went into see my director and I said, ‘Listen this is what’s happening and you’ve got to change it.’ And he said, ‘Oh well, the budget, the budget, the budget.’ And I said, ‘The New York Times, The New York Post, The Daily News.’ So it got changed!”

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Francine Prose on ‘My New American Life’

May 13, 2011 | by

Photograph by Stephanie Berger.

Francine Prose is a pleasure to interview. She is quick-witted and gracious, and there is this way that she says my name—“Oh, Thessaly, that’s an excellent question”—that makes me feel, for a split second, as if I’m the award-winning novelist that has something interesting to say. Her latest novel, My New American Life, is about a young Albanian immigrant named Lula, who is working as a nanny for a teenager in a quiet, New Jersey suburb. Her boss has offered to help her get a green card, so Lula waits and waits, until one day, three visitors, unannounced, knock on the door. Will Lula be deported? Are they long-lost Albanian family? Through Lula’s eyes, we see the promise of the American dream as well as the ways it might never come true. Prose and I spoke on the telephone not long ago.

Your protagonist is a twenty-six-year-old Albanian immigrant named Lula who lives in New Jersey. Why Albania?

If you are going to write a novel, I would not suggest that you pick an Albanian unless you are an Albanian. I was writing about immigration, and I wanted to pick someone from the most psycho-isolated Eastern-bloc country. If you go to the Czech Republic now, it is deceptively easy to forget what happened there. But if you go to Albania now, you are not going to forget it— you just can’t; then is now.

In a strange way, the novel began ten years ago, when I was staying at this really crappy Hilton in Tampa, Florida, for a weekend. We got there and there was a plate of food outside someone’s door in the corridor. It was there when we got there and it was there when we left, and I thought, This is just like Eastern Europe, because no one really cares if you ever come back again. In the late eighties, I went with my family to former Yugoslavia. We showed up at some restaurant, ordered dinner, and the waiter came back two hours later and said, “What? I had to eat my dinner.” End-stage capitalism and Eastern-bloc communism have a lot of things in common, as Lula discovers in the course of the book.

So you visited Albania?

I did. I got about forty pages into the novel and I couldn’t go any further. It turns out that you can’t find out about Albania on YouTube as much as one might like to. I mean, you can learn about people’s vacations and weddings and so forth, but not much more. So I went on a trip with the State Department. I was there for about two weeks and I just loved it.

Do you think one has to acquire experience to be a novelist?

Well, I would, because nothing has ever happened to me. I had to go to Albania; I couldn’t make it up. It more often happens the other way around. It is not as if you go around saying “I think I will have a love affair, and then I will write about one.” It’s more “Blah-blah broke up with me and said the most cruel thing,” and ten years later you find a way to put it into a book.

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A Big Week!

May 4, 2011 | by

It’s a big week for friends of The Paris Review, one full of readings, parties, and performances that we thought you, our dear readers, might like to attend:

Saturday, May 7: FUNraiser for J&L BOOKS

Leanne Shapton and Jason Fulford will host a fundraiser for their imprint, J&L books, which dedicates itself to publishing well-designed books of previously unpublished or rarely seen work by contemporary artists. A $10 ticket will get you a letterpressed Mother’s Day card and a raffle ticket, as well as access to a sale of vintage clothes, and original art by J&L artists. Later that evening, J&L will celebrate the launch of Another Ventriloquist by Adam Gilders. Click here for more information.

Monday, May 9: David Bezmozgis and Francine Prose

The New York Public Library’s Cullman Center will host a conversation between David Bezmozgis and Francine Prose, who are the authors of The Free World and My New American Life, respectively. Tickets are free but must be reserved. Click here for more information.

Tuesday, May 10: Geoff Dyer Talks with Lorin Stein

At Greenlight Books, Geoff Dyer and Lorin Stein will discuss Dyer’s latest book, a collection of essays called Otherwise Known as the Human Condition at Greenlight Books. Click here for more information.

Wednesday, May 11: Pop-Up Magazine + ESPN Magazine

What happens when you make a magazine for just one night? Nothing is published, nothing goes online—it’s a live magazine. Join contributors to The New Yorker, This American Life, The New York Times Magazine, Harper’s Magazine, and others as they share stories, films, interviews, photography, and much more live on stage. Tickets are $25, click here for more information.

And keep up by checking out our events calendar!

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