Posts Tagged ‘oral history’
May 9, 2016 | by Dan Piepenbring
- Today in the expenditure of effort: one reason serialization has become so popular, Juliet Lapidos, is that it curtails the reader’s (or viewer’s) setup time, encouraging a kind of economy in entertainment: “The most demanding part of any narrative art form is the beginning, when everything—the style, the plot, the characters, perhaps even the universe in which the characters operate—is new … Series minimize that period of difficulty relative to the total experience. You do the work once, and then you’re free and easy … For the last twelve years, I’ve been addicted to serial novels.”
- Gregory Woods’s new book, Homintern, is a history of gay conspiracy in the arts—a history that, as Caleb Crain writes, requires some paradoxical thinking to address properly: “Homintern was a portmanteau word, a mash-up of Comintern, the name of the international communist organization that flourished between the two world wars, and homosexual. It referred, originally in jest, to the notion that a clique of gay men and (in smaller numbers) lesbian women controlled the arts world from behind the scenes, giving undue preference to the work of their lovers, ex-lovers and would-be lovers, and skewing taste away from the ‘natural’ and ‘wholesome’ … [Woods] rightly debunks the idea of a Homintern, pointing out that it’s unfair to single out gay men for mixing romance and art—‘as if,’ he writes, ‘heterosexual people never dedicate their books to their lovers or spouses’ … Woods then proceeds, however, to devote the bulk of his book to recounting, and even celebrating, links between gay men in the arts that were half hidden and often sexual in nature—the same links that he thinks it would be unjust, if not paranoid, to make too much of.”
- Easy advice: when you’re feeling down, look at a painting of a Russian person’s face. You’ll be surprised, delighted, perhaps even moved. They’re formidable faces. Jenny Uglow is especially fond of the portraitist Ilya Repin, whose work is well represented in a new show at the National Portrait Gallery: “I found these serious, unsmiling portraits astonishing. They feel governed by the belief that a portrait—like an intense conversation between artist and sitter—can bring us closer to its subject than any new-fangled photograph could do … There is humor in Repin’s portraits as well as empathy and understanding. Great warmth, for example, in his sexy, self-possessed pianist Sophie Menter, Liszt’s brilliant protégé; and a keen wit in his classic swagger-portrait of the salonnière Baroness Varvara Ikskul von Hildenbandt with her wickedly pointed hat and veil. At once bold and restrained, this is painted with such enjoyment that we can almost feel the weight of the locket chain round her arm and touch the gathers of her scarlet blouse and sweeping skirt.”
- A century ago, James Reuel Smith could still recall the days when a New Yorker might reasonably expect to stumble upon a natural spring within city limits: “In the days, not so very long ago, when nearly all the railroad mileage of the metropolis was to be found on the lower half of the Island, nothing was more cheering to the thirsty city tourist afoot or awheel than to discover a natural spring of clear cold water, and nothing quite so refreshing as a draught of it.”(His book Springs and Wells of Manhattan and the Bronx: New York City at the End of the Nineteenth Century contains an abundance of photographs of refreshed spring-sippers.)
- It’s about time someone wrote a history of oral histories that isn’t also an oral history: “The term oral history has been around for decades, though, early on, it was primarily the domain of folklorists, archivists, and academics. In the 1930s, the Federal Writer’s Project, funded by the New Deal, gathered the first-person narratives of former slaves, still alive in America; people who had traveled West in covered wagons; and others with interesting stories, say, about meeting Billy the Kid or surviving the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 … Some early guidelines, penned by longtime oral historian Willa Baum, in her book Oral History for the Local Historical Society, included tips that remain relevant even now: ‘An interview is not a dialogue … Ask one question at a time … Ask brief questions … Don’t let periods of silence fluster you … Try to avoid “off-the-record” information … Don’t switch the recorder off and on … Don’t use the interview to show off your knowledge, vocabulary, charm or other abilities.’ ”
May 21, 2015 | by Lee Bob Black
In cities, trends come, go, and come again; causes rise to prominence, fall by the wayside, and emerge repackaged; neighborhoods flourish or fall out of favor. Condos, cupcake shops, and bike lanes become signifiers; shady buyouts and racist landlords fuel arguments about whether communities are being renewed or decimated.
The word gentrification is in the subtitle of DW Gibson’s most recent oral history, but the author has trouble with it: it’s too broad, he writes, to adequately capture a wide variety of experiences, contexts, and meanings. Several interviewees in his book also seem at odds with the word. One says gentrification doesn’t describe anything in the real world. Another says he doesn’t need to be able to describe it because he knows what it feels like.
To mark the release of The Edge Becomes the Center: An Oral History of Gentrification in the 21st Century, I spoke with Gibson, a journalist and documentary filmmaker, about bringing the human touch to the page, viewing a book as one long panning shot in a film, and the importance of using all the tools at one’s disposal, including cute daughters.
How do you make gentrification something people want to read about?
Most of the books out there are academic or have an academic feel to them. I think the way you get people to care about gentrification is to write about human beings. My goal was to show the human fabric of gentrification. People relate to people, to stories. Read More »
October 27, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
Today is the centenary of Dylan Thomas’s birth. Paul Ferris’s “Ink Is Wanted by Raving Brother: Dylan Thomas’s Swansea Years”—an oral history of the poet’s youth and early years in Wales—appeared in our Spring 2004 issue. The excerpt below explores Thomas’s brief, unhappy stint as a reporter.
In 1931, probably after the summer term, Dylan Thomas left school and went to work for the local newspaper, the South Wales Daily Post. He was sixteen years old. The paper was in fact an evening title, part of a London-based chain, and changed its name to Evening Post soon after. Its early editions circulated throughout southwest Wales, but the core readership was in the Swansea area. Local commerce and politics were featured to a degree unheard of in today’s vacuous local tabloids. The editor, J. D. Williams, assumed that his readers (some of them, at least) cared about music, theater, and poetry.
CHARLES FISHER (A lifelong friend of Thomas’s, and a fellow reporter.): His father probably got the job on the paper for him through J. D. Williams, as my father got me mine—he was head machinist there, he ran the rotary press. And since I had some talent for writing simple sentences, it was thought I could become a reporter. No one challenged that idea. I followed Dylan as a reader’s boy, a copyholder, and took that vacancy created when he moved on to be a junior reporter. I copyheld for about six months, then I was promoted to the newsroom. We wrote everything up in a strange, constricting, old-fashioned prose that really belonged to reporting at the start of the century. No one thought of treating news any other way. But our image of ourselves was a Chicago newsroom, the black hat turned down, the knowing look, the cigarette never removed once lit—which was a habit Dylan kept to the end.
ERIC HUGHES (A journalist, older than Thomas, and never very fond of his younger colleague.): I think Dylan was on the Post less than a year. I was a sub-editor, and when you saw his copy, it was appalling, with many lacunae. Nor was he reliable. To my knowledge, he wrote a crit of the Messiah at one of the St. Thomas chapels, to which he didn’t bother to go. Half his time was spent in the David Evans Café where they gave you a free State Express cigarette with your coffee. Read More »
April 25, 2014 | by Silvana Paternostro
In our Summer 2003 issue, The Paris Review published Silvana Paternostro’s oral biography of Gabriel García Márquez, which she has recently expanded into a book. In celebration of García Márquez’s life, we’re delighted to present the piece online for the first time—this is the last of five excerpts we’ve run this week. Read the complete text here.
ROSE STYRON: Somehow, everyone on Martha’s Vineyard seemed to know that he was coming to visit us. Everyone wanted to meet him. Harvey Weinstein, spotting me in Vineyard Haven, hurried over to say, “Please invite me—he’s my favorite author—I’ll sweep the floors.” President Clinton, whom Gabo admired and hoped to talk with, wanted Chelsea to meet him. We decided a large cocktail gathering on our lawn would be prudent, to be followed by a very small seated dinner so the president and Gabo and our Mexican guests, the Carlos Fuenteses and Bernardo Sepulvedas (he was the former foreign minister), could chat in relative quiet. At dinner Gabo’s goddaughter, our friend Patricia Cepeda, translated ably. Our Vineyard neighbors, the Vernon Jordans and the William Luers, and Hillary Clinton completed the table. We all remember that President Clinton’s sweater sported an Elvis crossword puzzle.
WILLIAM STYRON: Although I wasn’t listening closely, I could tell—I have enough Spanish to know—that Gabo and Carlos were engaging him in a talk about the Cuban embargo. They were both at that time passionate about the embargo. Clinton was resisting this conversation, I presume because his mind was already made up. He wasn’t about to be budged even by people that he admired as much as Gabo. So Bill Luers, sitting closer, seeing Clinton’s eyes glaze over, as an ex-diplomat spoke out firmly enough to change the tone of the conversation from politics in Cuba to literary matters. It changed the entire tone at the table. Someone, Bill Luers or perhaps Clinton, asked everyone at the table to give the name of their favorite novel. Clinton’s eyes lit up rather pleasurably. We had a sort of literary parlor game. I recall that Carlos said his favorite novel was Don Quixote. Gabo said The Count of Monte Cristo, and later described why. He said it was the perfect novel. It was spellbinding, not just a costumed melodrama, really a universal masterpiece. I said Huckleberry Finn just off the top of my head. Finally, Clinton said The Sound and the Fury. Immediately, to everyone’s amazement he began to quote verbatim a long, long passage from the book. It was quite spellbinding to see him do that because he then began to give a little interesting lecture on the power of Faulkner and how much Faulkner had influenced him. He then had this kind of two-way conversation with Gabo, in which Gabo said that without Faulkner he would never have been able to write a single word, that Faulkner was his direct inspiration as a writer when he was just beginning to read world literature in Colombia. He made a pilgrimage to Oxford, Mississippi. I remember him mentioning this to Clinton. So the evening was a great success, though a total failure as far as politics went. Read More »
April 24, 2014 | by Silvana Paternostro
In our Summer 2003 issue, The Paris Review published Silvana Paternostro’s oral biography of Gabriel García Márquez, which she has recently expanded into a book. In celebration of García Márquez’s life, we’re delighted to present the piece online for the first time—this is the fourth of five excerpts. Read the complete text here.
MARÍA LUISA ELÍO: I got a call from Spain about 4 a.m. that Gabo had been awarded the Nobel Prize. I put on a pair of pants and a sweater and left for his house, and there was Mercedes with all the phones off the hook. There was a big sign on the door of their house that said Congratulations. He had these big eyes wide open as if he were hallucinating.
JUANCHO JINETE: Obregon went to visit Gabito in Mexico. The address he had for the house was where rich people live, like Mexican soap stars. The day he went to visit was the day Gabo got the Nobel Prize. So when he got to the address, there were flowers everywhere, and he thought, Oh my! He’s dead!
HECTOR ROJAS HERAZO: When the Nobel came around, Colombia went crazy. Everybody was talking about Gabito. That must’ve changed him. The moment comes that he has to be faithful to the success he has achieved. Read More »
April 23, 2014 | by Silvana Paternostro
In our Summer 2003 issue, The Paris Review published Silvana Paternostro’s oral biography of Gabriel García Márquez, which she has recently expanded into a book. In celebration of García Márquez’s life, we’re delighted to present the piece online for the first time—this is the third of five excerpts. Read the complete text here.
MARÍA LUISA ELÍO: After a lecture, a group of us went to Álvaro Mutis’s house. On our way there, I had Gabriel next to me, and he started talking. When we got to Alvaro’s house—he had a tiny apartment—everyone had heard Gabo’s story so they scattered in various directions. I was so moved by what he was telling me that I latched on to him and said, “Tell me more. What happens next?” He told me the entire story of One Hundred Years of Solitude. From the very beginning. I remember he told me about a priest who levitates, and I believed him. I said to myself, Why can’t a priest levitate? After he told me the entire book, I said to him, If you write this, you will be writing the Bible. He said, Do you like it? And I said, It’s amazing. And he said, Well, it’s for you. I guess he saw me listening with such innocence that he thought, I’m going to dedicate my book to this fool. At that point he hadn’t started writing the novel. He had written notes but nothing else. I know because the room that Mercedes had built for him so that he could write all day hadn’t been built. They lived in a small house on La Loma, and in their living room Mercedes had someone build a wall up to the ceiling to avoid the noise, with a door. She put a pine table and a typewriter in the room. The room was very, very small. There was room for his table, a chair, and some sort of little easychair. Those were the only things that could fit. Above the easychair there was kind of a picture, something that resembled a calendar, a very tacky calendar that Gabo had hung there. Gabo went in that room and wrote all day. She built that room because Gabo had said, “I have to withdraw for a year, and I’m not going to work. See what you can do to manage.” She managed the best she could. She got credit at the butcher’s shop—later on when Gabo was famous he went back to the butcher to thank him. We started visiting them every night, one night with a bottle of whiskey, another night with a piece of ham. Read More »