Posts Tagged ‘Edmund White’
August 5, 2016 | by Dan Piepenbring
- You might, if you’re lucky, retire someday, and it’s never too early to start thinking about what you’ll do with all that free time. You may think you’ve got it all figured out—I’ll just build a wacky Disneyland spin-off in my backyard, you say to yourself. But that’s been done: “After retiring from a thirty-year career in auto manufacturing in the late eighties, [Dmytro] Szylak began work on his folk-art installation, tenuously mounted to the roof of the garage behind his Hamtramck duplex on Klinger Street and that of the adjoining property … Hamtramck Disneyland looms like a Cubist carnival. The superstructure is mostly wood, strung with lights and painted in the bright Ukrainian national colors of yellow and blue, as well as red, purple, and green. This forms the base for an avalanche of found objects—Szylak was seemingly obsessed with propellers and fans, American idols like Elvis, and particularly the type of blow-mold horses employed in bouncy toys for toddlers. An entire herd of them runs wild across the installation, and two of them rear up inside the arch constructed over the front gate—one of the only indicators on the street side of what lies behind the house.”
- Reviewing Colson Whitehead’s new novel, Brit Bennett looks at the difficulties inherent in telling stories about slavery: “The problem with the slave narrative is its predictability: A person is born in bondage to a cruel master; he or she observes a first whipping, struggles to obtain literacy, attempts to flee, fails, and later successfully escapes to the North. If the purpose of autobiography is to uniquely render a unique life, then slave narratives often feel formulaic, the narrators indistinct … Unlike white autobiographers, black authors could not expect that readers would approach their works on good faith—they anticipated a skeptical, if not hostile, audience. To make their stories seem authentic, ex-slave narrators came to rely on certain established patterns. ‘This was perhaps the greatest challenge to the imagination of the Afro-American autobiographer,’ Andrews writes. ‘The reception of his narrative as truth depended on the degree to which his artfulness could hide his art.’ ”
- There’s one slave narrative I’m not sure anyone predicted: Ghostwriter, the PBS children’s show from the nineties, where a bunch of Brooklyn kids solve mysteries by following a colorful, zippy phantasm-blob thing that draws their attention to the letters and words around them. Per Nick Ripatrazone, “After the series ended, the writer Kermit Frazier revealed that Ghostwriter was a runaway slave ‘killed by slave catchers and their dogs as he was teaching other runaway slaves how to read in the woods.’ Though viewers at the time wouldn’t have known this backstory, these tragic origins are also somehow fitting: During both his life and his existence as a spirit, Ghostwriter finds truth and freedom in words … Ghostwriter often focused on the humbling idea that literature—an endeavor sometimes seen as elitist or inaccessible—is for everyone and can bring people closer together.”
- Jill Soloway, of Transparent fame, is adapting Chris Kraus’s I Love Dick for TV—as Jason McBride writes, “she’ll be turning one of the most compelling cult novels of the last twenty years into a television show with the potential to be as groundbreaking in its examination of gender politics as her first … [Soloway] identified intensely with Kraus’s decision to use her own name, biography, and, as Soloway put it, her ‘horribleness.’ It helped her, she says, to reframe the shame she herself once felt about her TV writing: ‘I don’t know how to write about anything other than myself. I can’t write about dragons, I don’t care about crime, I don’t want to write a hospital show. I only want to write about somewhat unlikable Jewish women having really inappropriate ideas about life and sex.’ ”
- In which Edmund White comes to a sound conclusion about Nabokov: “I have recently reread Pale Fire (1962) which is, I realize only now, the great gay comic novel, an equally funny and sometimes tender portrait of a homosexual madman, Charles Kinbote … What is perhaps the funniest scene involves a putative assassin, Gradus, and a lad named Gordon. Since this is a moment completely imagined by Kinbote (and, by any standard, not observed), the king’s imagination runs wild. He ‘dresses’ the comely Gordon in one clichéd gay outfit after another. At first the tanned fifteen-year-old (‘dyed a nectarine hue by the sun’) is in a ‘leopard-spotted loincloth.’ Then he is ‘wreathed about the loins with ivy.’ A second later he is fellating “a pipe of spring water” and wiping his hands ‘on his black bathing trunks.’ ”
June 28, 2016 | by Iris Smyles
Hosting a national blurb contest.
Walt Whitman, the “American bard,” who was named after a shopping mall in Huntington, New York, where I grew up, is often credited with having invented the book blurb. On the spine of his debut, Leaves of Grass, he had printed in gold leaf a line teased from a letter he’d gotten from Ralph Waldo Emerson: “I greet you at the beginning of a great career.” Emerson was right: Whitman continues to rank among America’s finest careerists.
Gertrude Stein, unable to break through to the literary mainstream, wrote herself a novel-length blurb entitled The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas. Writing as Alice, her live-in companion, she described at length Gertrude’s prodigious, if misunderstood, genius. This 252-page press kit was an immediate best seller, prompting Stein to embark on a national tour, which she described in Everybody’s Autobiography, a sequel explaining why you should hire her for speaking engagements.
Ernest Hemingway’s first short-story collection, In Our Time, was published with no fewer than six blurbs—on the cover. I can’t remember if he won the Nobel before or after he finished taping the beer commercials. With Toni Morrison, it was definitely before: Pulitzer, Nobel, Chipotle wrapper, in that order.
Will my novels secure my literary legacy the way Morrison’s and Hemingway’s did theirs? Will I ever see my name engraved on a line of high-quality toilets, I sometimes wonder, after hours of furious literary labor? Will I be immortal, like Whitman, transcending with my “song” the conventional boundaries of self? Will Kohler, the premier name in luxury flushing, ever ask me to be their spokeswoman? Read More »
June 20, 2016 | by Nathan Gelgud
September 18, 2015 | by The Paris Review
I’ve been reading Lewis Warsh’s collection Alien Abduction this week, and it’s pretty great. Many are prose poems, and even those that aren’t read like they are: conversational, plain-dealing, unpretentious. Among my favorites is “Once,” a paragraph of a poem about taking mescaline and going for a drive and the miraculous feeling that comes from arriving back home in one piece and to a domestic scene that is oblivious to the adventure. There’s a loneliness to these poems, even when the poet isn’t alone, but he doesn’t seem heedful of this, or bothered by it: it may be more of a gentle, yawning solitude than loneliness. “There’s a difference between being with someone and being alone,” Warsh writes, “but I can’t tell you what it is.” —Nicole Rudick
The Paris Review was forced to move its offices in 2013; like every other building on our Tribeca block, ours—built in 1869, with a beautiful cast-iron facade, and chock-full of various arts organizations—was sold to a developer who planned to convert its units to high-end condos. For the staffers who were relatively new to the city, it felt like the end of an era—though, of course, the era that established Tribeca as an art haven has been over for a very long time. New York’s abandonment of its identity as a gritty, crime-ridden, artistically productive city is the subject of Edmund White’s essay “Why Can’t We Stop Talking About New York in the Late 1970s?,” published last week in T Magazine and accompanied by the hauntingly beautiful photographs of Peter Hujar. White is too exacting (and too honest; New York of forty years ago, despite its appeal, was a thoroughly unpleasant place to live) to be wistful: he gives the city’s vices more coverage than its virtues. But the piece is undeniably a lament, at least in part, for the New York of the seventies—“the city that, while at its worst, was also more democratic: a place and a time in which, rich or poor, you were stuck together in the misery (and the freedom) of the place, where not even money could insulate you.” —Stephen Hiltner
Some things I learned from Ted Conover’s “Cattle Calls,” a look into the lives of Iowa livestock veterinarians from the new issue of Harper’s: that more than 10 percent of the nation’s pigs died in a year from porcine epidemic diarrhea; that you can castrate a bull simply by tying a rubber band around its scrotum, and that dogs love to eat raw bull testicles; that agribusiness has made it all but impossible to survive as a vet with a private practice in a rural area; that bald eagles have taken to eating a slurry of dead hog parts sometimes used as fertilizer. Conover’s piece opens with a doctor inserting his arm into a cow’s rectum and ends with an assisted cattle birth; and lest you feel misled by the lurid details I’ve cherry-picked, it’s a generous, evocative portrait of an increasingly rare kind of working life. The photography, by Lance Rosenfield, is strong and lived-in—here in New York, where Fashion Week has just ended, it feels like an authentic rebuke to the parade of editorials glamorizing blue-collar work wear. —Dan Piepenbring
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March 7, 2013 | by David McConnell
Writers often hate talking about the book they’ve just written. On the one hand, books are an exercise in preservation, an old-fashioned sort of external hard drive. But for the author personally, a book can also be an elaborate act of forgetting. I wonder sometimes whether I’m driven to write about certain things, especially difficult things, just so I’ll never have to deal with them again; I’ll capture my subject and be done with it. From a particular angle, the writing life for me is a gradual process of self-erasure—first the crisp details go, then the plot, the underlying obsessions—or else each book is a box in which something of myself can be stored away forever.
I’ve never felt this shrinking, unpublic side of writing as strongly as I have with the book about real-life murders I just finished—work it’s just not possible for me to be “done with.” The book tells the stories of killings, but I didn’t want to recount the cases with the heavy hand typical of stories that turn on crime and justice. The buffoonish, Wayne LaPierre–esque division of the world into good guys and bad guys may be an easy, reflexive way to organize the life around us, a busy firing of synapses that adds up to something less than thinking. I never saw the point of it, but I admit, in this instance, it would have made terrible stories easier to forget.
It’s stressful to keep in the forefront of our minds how real lives are pixelated with good and bad acts. It’s even worse when the real lives you’re writing about belong to murderers, and the acts—at least one of them—are as bad as possible. After all my research and all the interviews, I felt the weariness I imagine sin-eaters feel—the people who take responsibility for the world’s sinful deeds so others won’t have to. Read More »
February 28, 2013 | by Stephanie LaCava
I had planned my disclaimer before he even opened the door. What kind of an idiot, I had realized belatedly, brings noted francophile and former Paris-dweller Edmund White bootleg, neon, NYC-made macaroons for tea at his apartment? “Mr. White, I am so embarrassed ...”
I never had a chance to tell him. He was kind and warm, thrilled with the fat, ersatz cookies, even claiming he loved them, got them himself sometimes. We sat down together in White’s living room with a pot of English tea and two Fiesta teal-colored teacups, me on the couch facing him, in one of a pair of battered brown club chairs. He was wearing a pale-blue checkered shirt and navy pants. I’d interrupted his taxes, visible on the den table.
We’d been put in touch by Kathryn Hamilton, press attaché of the Cultural Services at the French Embassy, in regards to the Marcel Proust exhibit they organized with the BnF at the Morgan Library for the upcoming centennial of Swann’s Way. This was our initial point of contact, at least. Paris gossip was more pressing. I’d just gotten back from the city where White lived for many years, the subject of his upcoming memoir, Inside a Pearl. He’d initially wanted to call it Paris Gossip, but the publisher wouldn’t have it. They wanted more depth. “I don’t think it will ever be published in France,” White told me, because of French invasion-of-privacy laws. “I used to call myself an archaeologist of gossip,” he said. “That’s sort of Proust, too—not to make a comparison between my humble self and the great Proust.” Read More »