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Posts Tagged ‘Virginia Woolf’

Socially Displaced

September 6, 2016 | by

Photo: Gene93k.

I had been out of college for a couple years when a friend got me a gig studying the “socially displaced.” This wasn’t as lofty as it sounds; what I really did was spend a couple months going around asking bums about their problems. The arrangement was fairly straightforward: they’d give me their stories and I’d give them a dollar. So I spent a few days roaming Castries—the capital of Saint Lucia—with a cheap recorder and a heavy bag of coins, tracking the street people and hoping a few would talk to me.

I’ve never been great at interviews, mainly because I don’t like bothering people, including vagrants. I felt like I was invading their private space, which I sort of was. But surprisingly some of them were willing to tell me their life stories even without the promise of money. They had nothing better to do—and clearly neither did I. Read More »

What a Good Book Can Be: An Interview with Edwin Frank

April 7, 2016 | by

In 1999, Edwin Frank founded New York Review Books to reintroduce out-of-print works—many in first translations from around the world—to the reading public. “From the beginning, it was our intention to be resolutely eclectic, and build our classics series as different voices build a fugue,” Frank told the New York Times last year. “We set out to do the whole mix of things that a curious person might be interested in, which would take you back and forth from fiction to certain kinds of history.” In the last seventeen years, you’ve likely picked up a New York Review Book—maybe because you were taken with its arresting design, or because you recognized a work you didn’t know by a major author: Walt Whitman’s unexpurgated Drum-Taps, say, or unpublished stories by Chekhov, or new versions of Aeschylus and Balzac, Dante and Euripides, or essay collections by Sartre, Lionel Trilling, Renata Adler, and Janet Malcolm.

Since its inception, the series has won dozens of awards for its translations; the New York Times chose Magda Szabó’s The Door as one of the ten best books of 2015. New York Review Books have met not just with critical plaudits but commercial success, which naturally leads the curious reader to wonder: Who is Edwin Frank, anyway? We met in his apartment in Park Slope, Brooklyn to discuss his process: how he finds the books he publishes and what provokes his interest. Frank has a soft-spoken manner and a reader’s excellent dispatch of vocabulary, but he clearly enjoys regular punctuations of loud laughter, provoked by his knowing, bone-dry sense of humor.

You’ve published two books of poetry. Has your background as a poet affected your tastes as an editor? 

Well you could say that reading and writing poetry saved me from ever being a professional reader or writer. I had a Stegner Fellowship after college, but the main thing I took away from it was a permanent aversion to the world of writing programs, and poetry is also a pretty effective inoculation against commercial publishing. And I was always sure that I wanted to have nothing to do with the academic study of literature. Then again, poetry did in some sense lead me to publishing—a kind of gateway drug—since in the nineties my friend Andy McCord and I started a small press, Alef Books, in which we published Joseph Lease, Ilya Kutik, Melissa Monroe, Michael Ruby. But that was a labor of love. In fact I came to editing very late, in my midthirties, which is unusual in publishing, a business people mostly go into right after college. It was a lucky break. I needed a job and I thought that having put out a handful of books of poems would make me of interest to publishers, which of course was dead wrong.
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Feel-Good Candle

April 4, 2016 | by

Henri Rousseau, The Pink Candle, 1910.

The other day, our Southern editor, John Jeremiah Sullivan, drew our attention to a really interesting recent episode of the BBC’s History Hour. It was a program dedicated in part to the death of Virginia Woolf, who took her own life on March 28, 1941. 

Now, here in the northeast, it’s a particularly dreary day: damp and drizzly, and—after a brief tease of spring—cold. It’s also a Monday. And perhaps, you’re thinking, listening to a discussion of someone drowning herself is not precisely what you need. Read More »

Whither the Fog Machine? and Other News

March 24, 2016 | by

Photo: Antje Naumann.

  • What does Chris Bachelder’s new novel The Throwback Special have in common with Leonard Michaels’s 1981 book The Men’s Club? Both, as Miranda Popkey writes, are excavations of a certain kind of American white-dude frustration, and both have a chorus of male voices. But The Men’s Club was all sexual bluster and aggression, and The Throwback Special shows how masculinity has changed in the intervening decades: “Bachelder’s reliance on sub-rosa psychological churnings partly reflects his strengths as a novelist: he excels as an analyst of the anxieties that undergird social mores rather than as a dramatist of extravagant scenes. But it also reflects, I think, something about the lives and fears of a number of white American men, circa 2016. These men, Bachelder’s novel seems to argue, see themselves, relative to their forebears, as smaller and weaker and more cautious creatures; they shy away from the overblown tantrums, the explicitly dominant displays, that were once their due … Where The Men’s Club offers over-the-top operatics, The Throwback Special gives us hidden neuroses; as a result, the men of Bachelder’s novel can tend to look, in comparison, diminished.”
  • All right, everyone, we’ve been putting it off for long enough. It’s time to have a good think about the physical properties of stage fog. “Stage fog is a delicate creature: whether as haze that hangs in the air, a thicker vapor, or the low-lying kind that the lighting designer Natasha Katz calls Brigadoon fog—the stuff that wafts like a cloud around the actors’ ankles when it’s kept really cold, and rises higher when it’s not … Often water- or oil-based, sometimes made with dry ice, fog is difficult to control and as evanescent as theater itself—especially the fast-dispersing variety. Actors’ Equity has a whole host of guidelines about using it safely … ‘Fog and its compatriot, low fog, the super-chilled stuff that hugs the floor—those two things eat up more tech time than anything else. You can go for a week and just keep tweaking.’ ”
  • There exists a shadowy cabal hell-bent on overthrowing the modernist artistic tradition. These men loathe Picasso. They spit on Rauschenberg. Graffiti makes them weep. They gather at night … Wait, no, sorry, they gather at eight thirty in the morning in their efforts to restore classical painting to its lost glory. Jacob Collins is their leader. “The stories surrounding Jacob Collins all tend to go like this: a young artist, lonesome in a love for premodernist painting, stumbles upon Collins, who has built a life out of the premise that the twentieth century nearly ruined art … Collins doesn’t just want to revive premodern painting; he wants to live like a classical painter … Collins’s own rigorous studies—starting with classical fundamentals and working up to the live figure—form the basis of the pedagogy. In the first year, students dedicate mornings to cast drawing and cast sculpture, and afternoons go to master copies, block-ins, figure drawings, and perspective. The next year, students spend mornings on cast paintings and afternoons learning figure grisaille and anatomy. Year three involves figure painting in color and color theory, and year four focuses on figure painting in color, figure sculpture, and still life.”
  • You could throw a rock out your window and hit a fan of Mrs. Dalloway or To the Lighthouse. Advocates for Between the Acts, Woolf’s last novel, are harder to come by. Why is it so often overlooked? “Despite the inherent comedy that its setting and action allows—the book describes a pageant staged in the grounds of a country house—it evokes and encompasses, as Woolf herself hoped it would, ‘all life, all art, all waifs, all strays.’ Its ambition and execution—complete with moments of fragmentation, passages of prose poetry and darting movements from one character’s consciousness to another—are strikingly original, daring and yet assured.”
  • While we’re in the more esoteric section of Brit Lit: “Unless you are a scholar of sixteenth and seventeenth century literature you have probably never heard of John Taylor the Water Poet. Or for that matter Robert Greene, the bohemian university wit, or Richard Barnfield, the sodomitical sonneteer … They subvert our expectations of what we have come to consider canonical … We can take this ferryman Taylor, this self-declared ‘water poet,’ as representative of these marginal poets. Considering his conservatism, it may seem contradictory to argue that there is anything transgressive about him. Taylor, who liberally sprinkled his pamphlets with jokes at the expense of his wife, seemed almost achingly conventional … In his poetry, reportage, pamphlets, and reviews Taylor provided a voice so common that it was overlooked in his own time and sadly still often overlooked today.”

A Thing That Wants Virginia

March 9, 2016 | by

William Strang, Lady with a Red Hat (A portrait of Vita Sackville-West), 1918, oil on canvas.

Vita Sackville-West, born on this day in 1892, and Virginia Woolf exchanged the letters below in January 1926. The two began an affair in the midtwenties that inspired Woolf’s novel Orlando. These letters came after their first separation; their affair ended in 1929. Original spelling and punctuation have been retained. Their correspondence is collected in The Letters of Vita Sackville-West to Virginia Woolf.Read More »

Come for the Secrets, Stay for the Art, and Other News

February 23, 2016 | by

Artist unknown, Independent Order of Odd Fellows banner (detail), c. 1900–20), paint on canvas with wood and metal, 88.5" x 71". Photo: José Andrés Ramírez. Courtesy of American Folk Art Museum). Photo via Hyperallergic