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Posts Tagged ‘Charles Wright’

Ishmael Reed on ‘Juice!’

September 13, 2011 | by

Ishmael Reed © Terence Byrnes.

Seventy-three-year-old Ishmael Reed has been a major figure in American letters for more than four decades. In April, Dalkey Archive published Juice!, Reed’s first novel in more than fifteen years. Juice! tells the story of a struggling African American cartoonist whose personal and professional life is disrupted by the media frenzy surrounding the O. J. Simpson murder trial. Earlier this summer, Reed, who is based in Oakland, California, responded to some of my questions about his latest work.

Juice! is your first novel since 1993. What inspired you to write another novel after all these years?

I began this one as soon as I heard about the murders. I was vacationing in Hawaii, and the murders ruined my vacation. The media went berserk over the murder of Nicole Simpson, the kind of ideal white woman—a Rhine maiden—one finds in Nazi art and propaganda, murdered allegedly by a black beast. It was a story that reached into the viscera of the American unconscious, recalling the old Confederate art of the black boogeyman as an incubus squatting on top of a sleeping, half-clad white woman. It was also an example of collective blame. All black men became O. J. The murders ignited a kind of hysteria.

Juice! does not have a conventional structure. The novel incorporates courtroom documents, television transcripts, and pieces of visual art. It also plays around quite a bit with time. What gave rise to the novel’s peculiar shape?

I try to experiment. Writing a conventional novel would be boring for me. In this novel, I added cartoons. Cartoons were probably my introduction to storytelling as a child, because on Sundays we got The Chattanooga Times, and I’d read the funnies. A publisher wanted to publish Juice! but decided that the cartoons weren’t up to par. So, at the age of seventy, I studied at the Cartoon Art Museum of San Francisco, and the cartoons improved so much that I now do political cartoons for The San Francisco Chronicle’s blog, City Brights.Read More »

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Eugenio Montale Comes to New York

February 23, 2011 | by

A young Eugenio Montale.

“So you know Italian?”

I suddenly experience an obscure and unwelcome pang of solidarity with Christina Aguilera.

“Not very well.”

I look down at my shoes. Perhaps they will help.

“Or at all.”

But, I want to add, I do know Eugenio Montale. Or, at least, I’ve read him in translation. This matters because I’m at the handsomely furnished apartment of Professor Riccardo Viale, the Director of the Italian Cultural Institute of New York, where a distinguished crowd of diplomats, writers, and journalists have assembled for a dinner to honor Montale. The occasion is a two-day celebration of the last century’s greatest Italian poet and a Nobel Laureate, which itself forms part of a broader program of events devised by the American Academy in Rome to mark the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the unification of Italy.

The above lines of dialogue are repeated a number of times over the course of the evening, but nobody seems to mind my genial ignorance. I may be stoutly and unheroically monoglot, but I don’t share the cultural introversion of my compatriot Kingsley Amis. I’m here to learn, which is fortunate because the room is full of enthusiasts and newcomers alike. Burrowing into a blond hill of steaming polenta, I chat with a business reporter for Corriere della Sera, the newspaper to which Montale contributed reviews of books and opera productions. Meanwhile, over a glass of wine, the playwright John Guare explains to me how he has only recently come to Montale but is determined to explore his work in more depth.

Fortunately for us, these events are also about translation and, more particularly, about how one of the principle gifts that Italy has bestowed upon the world came to be unwrapped. We have all just attended a busy recital at the nearby Metropolitan Club, where the actor Fausto Lombardi read from a selection of Montale’s lyrics, while Farrar, Straus and Giroux publisher Jonathan Galassi and poet Charles Wright delivered their translations, and poet Rosanna Warren introduced us to those of William Arrowsmith. To emphasize his appeal to American poets and readers, three different versions of Montale’s most famous poem, “The Eel,” were read, but out of a collegial spirit of shared excitement rather than any sense of rivalry.

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