October 14, 2016 | by Dan Piepenbring
If you’ve exhausted the Internet’s rich store of Bob Dylan think pieces, you might turn your attention to another Nobel laureate: Dario Fo, the Italian playwright, who died this week at ninety. The Vatican once declared his play Mistero Buffo, a kind of one-man political-satire revue, to be “the most blasphemous show in the history of television.” (If you’re confused, this was in 1977, well before the undeniably satanic Pretty Little Liars hit the airwaves.) As the New York Times has it, Fo and his late wife–collaborator, Franca Rame, did more to upend the art of political theater than anyone in their generation: “Basing their art on the tradition of the medieval jester and the improvisation techniques of commedia dell’arte, Mr. Fo and Ms. Rame thrilled, dismayed and angered audiences around the world. Together they staged thousands of performances, in conventional theaters, factories occupied by striking workers, university sit-ins, city parks, prisons and even deconsecrated churches.” Read More »
September 18, 2016 | by The Paris Review
If one can talk at all about a general reaction to your plays, it is that, as convincing and brilliant as their beginnings and middles might be, the plays tend to let down, change course, or simply puzzle at the end. To one degree or another this complaint has been registered against most of them.
Perhaps because my sense of reality and logic is different from most people’s. The answer could be as simple as that. Some things that make sense to me don’t make the same degree of sense to other people. Analytically, there might be other reasons—that the plays don’t hold together intellectually; that’s possible. But then it mustn’t be forgotten that when people don’t like the way a play ends, they’re likely to blame the play. That’s a possibility too. For example, I don’t feel that catharsis in a play necessarily takes place during the course of a play. Often it should take place afterward. If I’ve been accused a number of times of writing plays where the endings are ambivalent, indeed, that’s the way I find life.
August 10, 2016 | by Cynthia Payne
Although I didn’t yet know of his dying, I was thinking of James McPherson in the hours afterward, as I listened to President Obama’s speech at the Democratic National Convention. I wanted very much for him to explain how these two lodestars of our current political life, Obama and Trump, could exist in the same galaxy. Years ago, at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, I had witnessed Jim’s unerring ability to find the pulse of the weakest story. Similarly, during the reigns of Reagan and Bush the First, he had listened intently to the whispering of a far right wing not easily heard in the din of that era’s culture war. I knew I had neither Jim’s wisdom nor imagination, and the night of the convention I could only sense that he again, in a way that most of us could not, would understand the spiritual impoverishment that drove this most incredible of political narratives.
I had to content myself with remembering the rumble of his laughter, the way it could start from the tips of his splayed feet and rise up to his fraying straw cap. I thought, too, of the hesitations in the murmur of his hushed voice, the result perhaps of a stutter long mastered, or the refusal to speak anything other than the truth—his truth perhaps, but a truth that many of his students learned to rely on. Read More »
August 8, 2016 | by Shivani Radhakrishnan
“Please don’t write more books. I can’t read so many books,” a little girl once said to Rabindranath Tagore, the Bengali poet and Nobel laureate. The little girl was Mahasweta Devi, who grew up to be one of India’s best-known writers and activists. When Mahasweta died, on July 28—Devi is an honorific—she left behind no small collection herself: she had written more than a hundred books, including fiction and nonfiction about India’s tribal communities, Maoist insurgents, and women. Read More »
July 4, 2016 | by Jeffery Gleaves
Elie Wiesel, Nobel Peace Prize winner, died Saturday at his home in Manhattan at the age eighty-seven. Best known for Night, an autobiographical account of his experience in Nazi concentration camps toward the end of World War II, Wiesel, “more than anyone else, seared the memory of the Holocaust on the world’s conscience,” wrote the New York Times.
June 27, 2016 | by Matt Gallagher
No one could write like Michael Herr. We all tried: scribes and grunts, killers and chroniclers, fool novelists and crackpot journos. Herr’s work doesn’t so much loom over contemporary war writing as course within it, a dark ideal and omen all at once. The electricity of the language. The power—and futility—of bearing witness. The howling, howling rage. Whether you were reading him for the first or the hundredth time, you always felt like his pages were offering a strange air; not oxygen exactly, but still something vital. Dexedrine breath, maybe, like dead snakes kept too long in a jar.
That’s one of his lines, of course. No one could write like Herr.
Herr, a titan of New Journalism, died last week, at the age of seventy-six. He made his name in Vietnam as a young Esquire correspondent who shunned official briefings for infantry patrols in the jungle and helo assaults with the air cav. He sometimes carried a rifle to gain access, and once told the Boston Globe, “I only had to use a weapon twice. And I had to, I had to. It was impossible not to.”