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Posts Tagged ‘excerpt’

Visible Man

September 4, 2014 | by

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Richard Wright in a 1946 photograph by Carl Van Vechten.

Richard Wright was born on this day in 1908; he wrote Native Son and Black Boyamong dozens of other books, and his often controversial work helped to change race relations in the twentieth century. Wright hailed from North Carolina and in 1946 moved to Paris, where he befriended Sartre, Camus, and a number of expatriate writers, including Max Steele, one of The Paris Review’s founding editors. In our fiftieth anniversary issue, from 2003, the late Steele wrote “Richard Wright: The Visible Man,” a remembrance. Below is an excerpt from the essay.

I do not remember what month I saw him for the last time. He was strolling slowly in the light rain toward his flat on Monsieur Le Prince. He, in his double-breasted English raincoat and new beret, was walking upstream against the French with their umbrellas rushing down from the Comedie Française toward the Metro at Odéon.

I remember more vividly the first time I had met him at the Monaco (quite casually, even though I had arrived with a letter of introduction to him from our editor at Harper’s). When he learned I was from Chapel Hill he assumed immediately that I knew Paul Green, with whom he had written the play Native Son. He said, “The sleepiest man I ever saw.” He laughed and talked and laughed that laugh which he later admitted was his first line of defense, though it felt that afternoon like offense. He claimed that Green would go to sleep when they were writing dialogue for the most exciting moments in the play. “I’d say a line and look over and there Paul would be asleep.”

Five years later when I was again in Chapel Hill, teaching, I met Hugh Wilson, a cousin of Paul Green’s, who told me how exciting and dangerous those weeks were when Wright was in town working with Green on the play. “Of course he couldn’t stay at the Carolina Inn and there was no other place, so we got him a room down on Cameron Avenue in that big Victorian house behind those two giant magnolias. When the Ku Klux got wind he was there in a white neighborhood, they put out word they were going to kill him. Wright never knew that. Night after night Paul and I walked shotgun on that block. Paul would go up Ransom and I’d go down Cameron for a block or so and then we’d walk back and stand on the corner awhile, then patrol again. All night. I don’t know how Paul could write the next day. I didn’t care for Native Son. But Black Boy, that was one helluva book!” We admitted it had changed Wilson’s attitude and mine.

I heard later that Ellen [Wright’s wife] had placed a copy of Black Boy on Wright’s chest before the coffin was closed.

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A Freaky Friday Excerpt from the Next McSweeney’s

January 24, 2014 | by

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Illustration: Carson Murdach

Do not adjust your set. What you see before you is an excerpt from the latest issue of McSweeney’s, our alluring, laid-back, westerly sister. Curiouser still, the McSweeney’s site has an excerpt from our new interview with Geoff Dyer. Have we gone mad? Yes, because we’re also offering an insane deal: a dual, twenty-percent-off subscription to both our magazines. It’s bonkers—we’re practically burning money. Our accountants are tearing their hair out; our lawyers are sweating through their suits. But if you don’t take advantage of this deal, you’re the crazy one—and it’s only available for seven more days. Subscribe now.

 

SWAN DIVE

 

All those mornings, our bodies slicked with a sugary sweat. Pure alcohol. You could’ve tasted the night before just by licking our wrists. Stella arcing back so the girls could do body shots from between her perfect breasts. The men drinking and watching, You’re a flexible little thing, aren’t you, sweetheart?

We were inexhaustible in those final few months, throwing ourselves around every chance we got. Our heads might’ve rolled off and we wouldn’t have noticed. Mine probably did. Amanda and Stella started dancing at the Foxhouse two or three nights a week because the money was good and our rent was insane. Then it was three or four nights. They’d show up at the studio in the morning still smelling of tipping dollars. It’s okay if you’re smart about it, they said, stretching at the barre. If you don’t hate it enough to start looking for ways to forget about it.

You should think on it, said Stella, who was spending half the week as Lola.

That accent. They’d eat it up. Amanda was Ruby from Thursday to Saturday.

A swan dive, I guess you could call it.

Sometimes I want to tell you about this, but I won’t. How the hours slammed up against each other. I’d never seen so many sunrises. We’d peel away our damp costumes and step straight into three-dollar g-strings that were only good for a few nights, until the lace was discolored with sweat. The other girls at the club told us we should stick to darker colors: black, navy, even red. Then we wouldn’t be going through so many pairs. But we knew what we were doing. Pale blue. Sugar pink. White, white, white. Let them think we were angelic. We knew how to be angelic. Read More »

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Selections from Graveyard of Bitter Oranges: The Dead of Carinthia

January 3, 2014 | by

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Art credit Anthony Cudahy.

This week, we will be running a series of excerpts from Josef Winkler’s Graveyard of Bitter Oranges. Inspired by the author’s stay in Italy after leaving his native Carinthia, the novel was first published in 1990 by Suhrkamp Verlag and its English translation will be published by Contra Mundum Press in 2015.

As a child, I often heard it said that the inhabitants of the village of my birth who had died away from Carinthia had been repatriated and their bodies committed to the soil of their birth. Siegfried Naschenweng, who died in an automobile accident on Golan Heights, was brought first to Vienna in an airplane, and from there repatriated to Kamering in a hearse from the funeral home in Feistritz. One of my mother’s brothers, who fell in the war in Yugoslavia, was repatriated to Feistritz by train. My uncle picked up his mortal remains with a hay cart drawn by two horses and brought them to Kamering, where they lay exposed one more day in his parents’ farmhouse. Apart from all the deceased enumerated and described in this book, the arms, legs, and skulls nailed to the tall stakes that Wilhelm Müller, author of the text to Franz Schubert’s Winterreise, saw in passing from his carriage, while a young priest made the sign of the cross over every piece of the cadaver, are also repatriated to the graveyard of bitter oranges and coated with the ashes from the statue of Saint Florian, patron saint of fire, that the landholders of Kamering burned when the saint allowed the village, which had been built in the form of a cross at the end of the century before, to be reduced to ashes by two children playing with fire, so that it had to be rebuilt, once more in the form of a cross. The corpses of the then five-year-old children who were forced to live with a skull in their chambers in a Trappist monastery, to dine for years on nothing but bread and potatoes that they themselves planted, who were forced to wear a horse’s bit whenever they spoke a word without permission and had to sleep in coffins when they accidentally slept late in the mornings, once again open their eyes in grave number 24 of the graveyard of bitter oranges.Read More »

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Selections from Graveyard of Bitter Oranges: The Bloody Boar

January 2, 2014 | by

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Art credit Anthony Cudahy.

This week, we will be running a series of excerpts from Josef Winkler’s Graveyard of Bitter Oranges. Inspired by the author’s stay in Italy after leaving his native Carinthia, the novel was first published in 1990 by Suhrkamp Verlag and its English translation will be published by Contra Mundum Press in 2015.

The first night after we had moved into a sublet room in Rome, I dreamed of a girl who had a swatch of blood resembling a Hitler moustache on her upper lip. As she approached me, and I kicked my legs at her frantically, blood ran from down over her mouth and chin. I sprang awake, and tried to awaken Andrea, but I seemed to be paralyzed, and it was only minutes later that I could once more move around the bed. I said nothing, and waited more than an hour for sleep to return. After that dream followed a second. Bishops and cardinals in their vestments were dying in a hail of bullets; though they stayed dead in their seats, I could not distinguish a single wound on their bodies. I approached a cardinal and looked long at his body. Then I was jarred awake once more by the clangorous bell of the Convent in the Via Tolmino, which tolls every quarter of an hour and which had only allowed me, my first few nights there, to sleep in fifteen-minute increments.

You no longer show any sign of life? But I write about death, my friend!

I like to be among the dead, they do me no harm, and they are people, too. Read More »

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Selections from Graveyard of Bitter Oranges: The Torch

January 1, 2014 | by

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Art credit Anthony Cudahy.

This week, we will be running a series of excerpts from Josef Winkler’s Graveyard of Bitter Oranges. Inspired by the author’s stay in Italy after leaving his native Carinthia, the novel was first published in 1990 by Suhrkamp Verlag and its English translation will be published by Contra Mundum Press in 2015.

The monk from Assisi, who had removed his upper and lower dentures on Holy Saturday so that his cheeks would look as sunken as the tomb of Jesus after the resurrection, said repeatedly: Don’t give the dogs the gnawed leg bones of the Easter lamb, bury them in the cemetery, do not even think of giving them to the dogs!

At six-thirty in the morning in a café in Stazione Termini in Rome, when I was about to catch the train to Austria, I espied a dwarf who stood as tall as my knees and carried with him a gilded stool, to be able to sit down whenever he wished, and one of the bar patrons ordered him a cappucio. He leaned down to hand it to him, and I turned back and stayed in Rome. I believe the dwarf will be particularly beautiful in heaven, the painter said.

Once again I surprised myself as I thought how much I should have liked it had the boy, whom a passing car had grazed, been run over instead, so that I could lift up his body, still warm and bleeding—the boy’s body and mine, a pietà—and together, already adorned with cross-shaped funeral bouquets, we could have waited for the hearse to arrive.

I opened my chest with a scalpel, extracted my slippery heart, sliced it into shreds so that, with this red rag, as I called it in my dream, I could wipe off my ink-stained fountain pen, which lay atop a poem by Robert Musil: The sister sweetly separates / The sleeper’s sex and swallows it / Leaving in exchange her heart / in the same spot, soft and red. Read More »

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Selections from Graveyard of Bitter Oranges: The Blood of Saint Januarius

December 31, 2013 | by

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Art credit Anthony Cudahy.

This week, we will be running a series of excerpts from Josef Winkler’s Graveyard of Bitter Oranges. Inspired by the author’s stay in Italy after leaving his native Carinthia, the novel was first published in 1990 by Suhrkamp Verlag and its English translation will be published by Contra Mundum Press in 2015.

One day I asked my mother how she had found out that her three brothers, eighteen, twenty, and twenty-two years of age, had died in the matter of a year during the Second World War. Adam’s coming home too, but different! my grandmother seems to have said to my then sixteen-year-old mother, who had just returned home from an exam in Home Economics. His body was brought by train from Yugoslavia to Feistritz, where one of the other siblings transported his brother Adam, who was already lying in his coffin, in a horse carriage over the still unpaved road home to Kamering. My mother got word of her second brother’s death as she was climbing a hill, a rake on her shoulder, in the direction of the cemetery, and saw my grandmother standing in prayer in the distance over her brother Adam’s freshly dug grave. The sacristan’s wife, who was also in the cemetery, approached my grandmother and asked her why she was crying. Stefan is gone! my grandmother said. Stefan is gone! my mother heard as she walked, a rake over her shoulder, along the cemetery wall. She was informed of the death of her third brother by the mail carrier at the time, who herself lost her only son, more than ten years back, on Golan Heights. She brought to my mother’s sister, who was resting against the garden fence, a letter that my grandfather had written to his son Hans at the front. Over the envelope was a handwritten message: fallen for greater Germany! According to my mother, my grandfather’s legs shook when he read this note, and his wife, my grandmother, collapsed unconscious at his side. Read More »

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