In spite of her desultory M.O., Eisenberg has somehow managed to produce one of the most original and accomplished bodies of work in contemporary literature. With the exception of a play, a book about the painter Jennifer Bartlett and a handful of critical essays, her output consists entirely of short stories, and yet as a portraitist and interpreter of the moral and political chaos of American life she is the equal of any novelist of the past 30 years. Her stories rove from the Midwest, where she was born, to the metropolitan centers and foreign outposts of American power and concern the fate of artists and intellectuals, bankers, movie stars and C.I.A. apparatchiks, as well as drifters, dropouts and dead-enders, the politically displaced and the existentially homeless. Like their creator, her dramatis personae are beings of an almost extraterrestrial sensitivity and confusion; they look at the world with a kind of radical naïveté, as though they had never before encountered cars, buildings, trees or clouds, let alone the ambiguous workings of human social life. Just how strange it is to be that lost and lonely creature, oneself, is a realization that Eisenberg’s world-dazed men and women arrive at time and again.
I first became aware of Abraham Verghese through his best-selling book, My Own Country, which chronicled the AIDS epidemic in a small Tennessee city (which also happens to be my hometown). Dr. Verghese wrote the book based on his own experiences, and I can tell you that it is completely accurate.
Since then, Dr. Verghese has gone on to write nonfiction about losing a tennis partner to addiction as well as fiction. Dr. Verghese currently works at Stanford University.
Avocado, coyote, chocolate, peyote. These are a few Nahuatl words that you know.
Nahuatl is the main pre-Columbian Mesoamerican dialect in central Mexico. Learn as much as you can!
Toni Morrison, who has died aged 88, was the only African American writer and one of the few women to have received the Nobel prize for literature. The announcement of her 1993 award cited her as a writer “who, in novels characterized by visionary force and poetic import, gives life to an essential aspect of American reality”. In her acceptance speech Morrison emphasized the importance of language “partly as a system, partly as a living thing over which one has control, but mostly as an agency – as an act with consequences.”
She expressed her own credo, and indicated the core preoccupations of her fiction, in the fable at the heart of her speech, where she imagines young people telling an old black woman: “Narrative is radical, creating us at the very moment it is being created … For our sakes and yours forget your name in the street; tell us what the world has been to you in the dark places and in the light … Tell us what it is to be a woman so that we may know what it is to be a man. What moves at the margin. What it is to have no home in this place. To be set adrift from the one you knew. What it is to live at the edge of towns that cannot bear your company.”
If you’ve ever read Hunter Thompson (Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Hell’s Angels) you’re probably aware of the cover art that captures Thompson’s fevered prose perfectly. I’ll let Ralph Steadman himself in the following article explain the synthesis:
“When I arrived at something I wanted to draw. I’d stop reading and draw it right then. It’s like arriving at a cafe or a truck stop: You don’t go any further. No pencils, otherwise you lose the virgin moment. I was using a pen, although sometimes I’d whack the art with a brush, when I wanted a big flash of ink, because it explodes on the paper. The drawings were what we call A-1 size over here — that’s American letter-size paper, times eight.
The idea of the cover was a motorbike flying over the journalists in a bar. There was also a landscape, a bit of sky. But the rider was completely attached to his motorbike, almost swallowed up by his gearbox. The second cover, for Part Two of “Fear and Loathing,” the magazine chose the picture of the 250-pound Texan necking with his wife in the back row. After those two issues, Rolling Stone had a blueprint of where to go next: It wasn’t only rock & roll, but something different, something social and political.
It was wonderful to do printing that was so primitive — and to finally have a job where the remit was to be weird.”
Sci-fi master Gene Wolfe passed away in April of this year.
Between 1970 or so and the turn of the century, through a seemingly unending flow of novels and stories, the American science fiction writer Gene Wolfe, who has died aged 87, enjoyed a creative prime more intense and rewarding than any of his contempories.
Wolfe became famous for the polish and skill of his more conventional seeming sci-fi, though even early readers detected complexities under the surface. There were hints of the more hidden master, a dark artificer whose haunted, potent myths about human destiny have increasingly attracted the kind of intense study more usually given to authors outside the sci-fi field such as William Gaddis or Thomas Pynchon.
In Wolfe’s work, some very deep issues of identity and destiny secretly shape that dream. Seemingly innocent children who know us too well were frequently found in his early work, though he almost never wrote for younger readers. The tales assembled in The Island of Doctor Death and Other Stories and Other Stories (1980) and The Wolfe Archipelago (1983) are exemplary.
His full-length fiction plumbs the same depths, but expresses the soundings very differently. The finest of his novels, some of them published in several volumes, are invariably told in the first person by highly unreliable narrators, no longer children, ancient beyond their years. Usually their stories are presented as manuscripts passed down to us over time through unknown channels.
Bending spoons with your mind. ESP, ouija boards, telekinesis, psychic surgery, and alien artifacts. These are some of the magical beliefs that some people claim have been ” proved.”
Ahem. I started thinking about this the other day when I saw this article in Slate featuring the Amazing Randi – the original Mythbuster. Randi was a professional stage magician who delighted in exposing frauds such as psychic spoon-bending Uri Geller.
Following in the footsteps of the Amazing Randi were several pro-science, anti-magical thinking public figures.
Here are some further resources for you:
Gordon Parks was a multi-talented photographer, writer, film director, and more. Not only does Gordon Parks have a critical reputation as a photographer, he also directed the movie Shaft, wrote The Learning Tree, and co-founded the magazine Essence.
His first books were the instruction manuals Flash Photography (1947) and Camera Portraits (1948). His books also include five collections of his photos accompanied by verse, including Gordon Parks: A Poet and His Camera (1968) and Eyes with Winged Thoughts (2005). Born Black (1971) is a collection of his biographical essays, with photographs. One of his photo essays for Life led to his book Flavio (1978), about a poor, gravely ill Brazilian boy for whom he was instrumental in obtaining lifesaving medical treatment.
Parks wrote three novels: The Learning Tree (1963), a best-seller based on his childhood in Kansas, the historical novel Shannon (1981), about Irish immigrants in the early 1900s, and The Sun Stalker (1981), a fictionalization of the life of the British painter J. M. W. Turner. He published the memoirs A Choice of Weapons (1966), To Smile in Autumn (1979), Voices in the Mirror (1990), and A Hungry Heart (2005) and the quasi-memoir Half Past Autumn (1997), published in conjunction with a touring exhibition of his photos.
Parks became the first African-American to write, produce, and direct a feature film for a major Hollywood studio when he made the screen version of The Learning Tree (1969). In Hollywood he later directed the hit blaxploitation action-thriller Shaft (1971) and its sequel Shaft’s Big Score! (1972), the action-comedy The Super Cops (1974), and the film Leadbelly (1976), about the folk singer/guitarist Huddie Ledbetter. On TV he directed several hour-long documentaries, including The World of Piri Thomas (1968) and the Emmy Award-winning Diary of a Harlem Family (1968), as well as the made-for-TV movie Solomon Northrup’s Odyssey (1985), about a northern-born black man kidnapped into slavery in the 1840s. He himself was the subject of the TV documentary Half Past Autumn: The Life and Works of Gordon Parks (2000). In 1970 he helped to found the monthly magazine Essence.
Did you enjoy the film In Bruges? Discover the world of Martin McDonagh.
Thinking about being Irish only came into my life when I decided to write Irish plays. Before that I tried to write a few re-workings of Irish fairy tales, or myths I’d heard growing up. But none of them were specifically Irish at that point. The whole history of Irish storytelling didn’t really come into it, and has only come into it in the last two or three years. So I couldn’t say that it had any kind of influence at all. It’s interesting when I hear it said about the stuff I do, but honestly I couldn’t say there is an awful lot of truth in it. If I was Italian or Luxemburgian, they would be the same stories. It depends on the way you see the world, to me anyway, more than the way you’ve been brought up or your history of storytelling. I suppose most of my storytelling influences weren’t Irish, they were mostly American films. Novel-wise, and short-story-wise, mostly American or, like Borges, South American. I didn’t read many Irish books or short stories when I was younger, I read what my brother had, and they were mostly American books. So Irish stuff didn’t have any kind of influence really, certainly not when I was growing up. Now it’s become a bit more clearly defined, but even now, I’m more aware of the idea of Irish storytelling, the tradition, but I still haven’t studied it or taken enough time out to actually see what it’s all about. Although I am interested in the general myth of the Irish storyteller and I’ve just finished the third play in the trilogy that begins with The Cripple of Inishmaan. It isn’t as good as the other two but it’s all about the Irish storytellers, the seanchais. I find it interesting to play around with that from a fictional point of view. And it’s interesting to play around with it. Now that I am an Irish storyteller, I’ve told Irish stories. It’s interesting to come back and see things with that perspective, knowing that there were Irish storytellers in the countryside telling the myths, the stories, the legends. I think that was the spark that gave me the idea for The Banshees of Inisheer. But it would be phony of me to say I have anything to do with Irish storytelling. The plays are Irish stories, and I hope someday they’ll be recognized as Irish stories . . . But for me, now, I feel kind of phony. Maybe I’m just having a bad morning. I hope someday they’ll be regarded as true Irish stories, I don’t think they are at this minute. It will take a long time for the baggage of me being a Londoner to be in the past.