Archive for the ‘All Things Literary’ Category

3 July, 2014

One Book to Rule Them All

I’m over at AWP Writer talking about one of my all-time favorite writers, Jamaica Kincaid, and her work. You can read the full piece here. Below, an excerpt:

“Authors are notoriously relentless for culling the gems from the minutiae of their lives. There is a reason why the t-shirt embroidered with these words, careful, or you’ll end up in my novel, generates such awkward laughter. We all do it. Yet See Now Then is not simply a recounting of the entanglement, disappointment, betrayal, and quiescence that are the four corners of the institution of marriage, though it does that with great facility. I read it as a brilliant unpicking of the intricate tapestry of time, the time that it takes to get from one place to another, from being single and full of promise to being discarded and ridiculed, and all the dances in-between: the sultry samba of innocence, the salsa tempo of dreams, the slow tango of motherhood, the quickstep of parenthood, and the graceful sway of bowing off a stage from which one has been effectively, if impolitely, excused. It is about marriage, and it is about everything else.”

22 June, 2014

What is Love?

I’m over at NPR.org talking about one of my favorite books, Alessandro Barrico’s Silk. You can read the full piece here. Below, an excerpt:

Silk

“Baricco has set down a story enshrined in the acceptance that nothing will change, there can be no reversal, no comfort in the certainty that the wish made will one day be fulfilled. In reading the book again, I came to understand that I had been so preoccupied with where I was that I was blind to the journeys I could take with my mind. If bliss can be found in the mere existence of another reality, a country or a lover, distance eventually becomes immaterial.”

12 June, 2014

Books, Reviews, and all that Jazz

A friend sent this bit of the New York Times along to me yesterday, with the note, “how long have I had this now?” She had clipped it at my request, and not got around to sending it.

NYT

As I looked at the books on this list, I realized for the first time that Colum McCann (Transatlantic), and I made it on the same day with our books. I had been gifted that book before we did a panel together at the Brooklyn Book Festival and I was the book is signed both by the friend who gave it to me and Colum (something that the latter found a bit bemusing – how many writers have to sign a pre-signed book?)

Oh wow! I went looking for a link to the festival event that we did and came across this post from Greenlight Books which mentions our panel, and goes on to say where they heard about it – in the New Yorker! So what if I don’t have my fiction in there yet? That’s my name. In The New Yorker, people!!!

The Brooklyn Book Festival takes place this Sunday in Borough Hall Plaza, with dozens of free literary panels, workshops, and children’s events throughout the neighborhood. To name just a few: Hilton Als and the philosophers Alexander Nehamas and Simon Critchley will discuss the notion of beauty in the new opera “Anna Nicole”; Pete Hamill, Adelle Waldman, and Adrian Tomine will compare their literary depictions of Brooklyn; the Sri Lankan writer Ru Freeman, the Iraqi writer Sinan Antoon, and the Irish writer Colum McCann will discuss political conflict in fiction; and Jennifer Gilmore, Claire Messud, and Jamaica Kincaid will consider the role of motherhood in their latest novels. (Here is a full list of events.) Also taking place this weekend, Friday through Sunday, is the NY Art Book Fair at MOMA PS1.

Anyway, I loved meeting him and talking about our work on stage and after, about politics and the things that truly matter. And this clipping here – it reminded me of the high points we forget as we careen madly seeking the next milestone. I remember being so thrilled that I woke up at some ungodly hour in order to ambush the grocery store and buy 20 pounds worth of the NYT when the review itself came out. And then I left one copy lying around the house hoping someone would notice. Suffice to say, there wasn’t much notice – except of the “what’s for breakfast?” kind of notice that I wasn’t courting and certainly was not expecting on this biggest of all big days since I began writing.

Yet, no matter the reception on the domestic front, it was a magnificent moment and one I don’t for a moment take for granted, nor assume will ever be repeated. It reminds me of a feeling that came over me one early August morning in Maine as I got ready to head out to the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. Maine = pre-book deals, by the way. I remember feeling an immense sense of astonishment and gratitude thinking about myself, a girl who had come all the way from my small island country, without an aspiration in the world except to somehow do something worthwhile with my life though what that worthwhilian accomplishment would be was still a mystery. And how in that time I had somehow worked at two of the best organizatios in the U.S., The Institute for Policy Studies, and the American Friends Service Committee, and had also miraculously been invited to return to that campus in Ripton where so many brilliant American authors had first read their poetry and prose.

There’s a popular song, “Bubbly” – I can always come up with a popular song to go with my sentiments – talks about a feeling that starts in my toes/makes me crinkle my nose etc. That’s the feeling I get when I get to thinking about these things. They make me say, not that I deserved it, but that I was very fortunate. Somehow the people and events around me aligned right for these things to happen. Being at Yaddo is something I think about in this way, and being given the opportunity to converse with Jamaica Kincaid. Having a press that I admired for so long, Graywolf Press, publish my work, is another. As is having Julie Barer, someone I’d hoped might be interested in my writing, become both an agent and a kind and nurturing spirit in my life. And what about all the places I’ve been asked to come to, the people I’ve had the immense priviledge of meeting? What about that first publication of a personal essay, or the most recent, another personal essay? What about each small poem and bit of prose? What of all the deep and soul-sustaining friendships that have formed and thrived over these years?

So many things in this writing life of mine that have brought me such joy in such deep and immeasurable ways…There’s a vast world of generosity and beauty and real happiness that I’ve been asked to step into. How easy to forget.

It seemed important to note that gratitude in some way, to truly think about the fact that while we look to the end of a journey, we also climb and descend many peaks. Now is a good place to be, when I remember to be there.

25 March, 2014

Jen Percy Examines the Aftermath of War

Over at the Huffington Post interviewing Jen Percy on her research for her book, Demon Camp (Scribner). Her account of Caleb Daniels and his battle with PTSD, has been optioned by Paramount. . You can read the full interview here. Below, an excerpt.

RF: You met Caleb Daniels, the main character in this work, in 2008, when he had transformed from being a soldier trained and off at war to being a civilian un-trained at coming home, and you were an MFA student at Iowa. How difficult was it to build a sense of trust in him that you would be able to tell a story that was true to his experience?

JP: With Caleb the trust was immediate because that’s how he lives his life: by fate and intuition. He thought our lives intersected so that I could tell his story. But I’m not sure I’ve ever been faced with that question directly from a subject. Either they talk to you or they don’t. Caleb’s idea of himself is different than the way others perceive him. Which is true of all of us. But, for example, he told me he thought he was like Achilles from the Iliad taking revenge for the death of Patroclus (who we can understand as his best friend Kip Jacoby). But Caleb didn’t say the Iliad or Achilles, he said the movie Troy and the actor Brad Pitt that plays Achilles. So in many ways, there was his narrative of himself and there were my observations of him making sense of himself, and then there were my interpretations of these narratives. I think those layers need to be there for the reader. The “I” is always in the way, but we need to step back and let subjects do the talking as well. The tension between these layers is interesting. They are like the tectonic plates of nonfiction writing. When they collide, the earth cleaves, and something deeper is revealed.

21 March, 2014

On Influence

I’m over at AWP writing on influence. Check out the cool graphic they’ve added. The girth of my avatar in particular! Below, an excerpt. You can read the full piece here.

To acknowledge an influence is no loss of face, surely; the elemental bones of every story have been told before. To acknowledge is not to say that we are lacking in inspiration, but, rather, to take our place among the writers who have come before and to note that we might, in turn, be of use to those who will follow. Writing is the process of stating and creating human history—the things that preoccupy us in this milieu, the homelands yearned for, the future for which we might yearn. Story is also a distraction from those mindings, a way of leaving behind concerns, hence the popularity of fantasy and science fiction, or the way that tales of far away lands are most often read by those who have never left home.

24 February, 2014

Roger Reeves

I’m over at the Huffington Post, talking with Roger Reeves, whose new collection, King Me (Copper Canyon Press, 2014), has just been released. You can read the full interview here. Below, an excerpt:

King Me is, indeed, deeply connected to the roots of human conflict and love. It is an intense, transcendental experience to read this work, a collection whose wisdom grows until, its final lines: “Then, let us hold each other toward heaven/ and forget that we were once made of flesh/ that this is the fall our gods refuse to clean with fire or water.” Those words are a convocational plea, one that begs the reader to return to the beginning. And begin again.

18 December, 2013

Bourbon & (Mothers) Milk?

I am over at American Short Fiction today, talking about my favorite good/bad mothers in fiction alongside a group of excellent folk like Xhenet Aliu, Alexi Zentner, Eugene Cross, Shann Ray, and J. Capó Crucet You can read the whole piece here. Below, an excerpt (this one from Xhenet):

When I read Jamaica Kincaid’s “Girl,” of course I find myself oppressed by the mother’s admonitions and lessons. Of course I want to pluck the broom from that poor girl’s hands. Of course I want to insist that sluttery isn’t in the swing of a hip but in the eyes of those who are terrified of sex and any form that reminds them of their own fear. Of course I resent the overbearing, unnamed but monstrously present mother—and yet I find myself wondering, secretly, if the mother believes she’s actually doing something right, and if that counts for anything. I wonder if the mother thinks that doling out a little bit of pain will spare her daughter from a well of it. Even if the mother is wrong—about how best to armor a daughter, about where the biggest hurts spring from—I can’t help but find a teeny sliver of tenderness in there, the kind of maternal hardness that’s like an autoimmune response: a natural defense in functional, small doses, and painful, even fatal, when unrelenting.

15 December, 2013

Why Community Matters for Writers

I’m over at the Association of Writers and Writing Program blog (AWP Writer) writing about community. You can read the whole article here. Below, an excerpt:

Being among other writers, without any specific need for the approval or sign-off of any particular entity (agents, editors, professors, publishers), but rather the celebration of the written word and our love for it, has been the best inspiration for my work. The writers I met there grew exponentially as I placed myself not as a writer with a personal agenda of self-aggrandizement, but a writer among writers. Picture the rocks in a river and you will understand: we rocks (writers), of varying hue, girth, width and striation, tumble the waters (words) differently, but those waters live both upstream and down, they evaporate and come back to earth, they feed the soils and they make things grow and sometimes they come down hard and drown our harvests. The rocks, too, break down, splinter, are dislodged, pushed downstream, and eventually turn to sand and disappear. That river, that riverbed, remains, and there are other mountains that will supply the movement and disturbances required.

30 September, 2013

On Writing Residencies

I’m over at the new AWP blog site talking writing residencies. The full post is here. Below, an excerpt

An increasing number of writers have begun to create their own residencies by partnering with other artists and renting cottages that afford a view or privacy or both, figuring out that it would be easier to do this than to wait in the wings for what may seem like an eternity. Authors Robin Elizabeth Black (If I Loved You I Would Tell You This), and Shannon Cain, (The Necessity of Certain Behaviors), for instance, are coming up on their fifth anniversary of starting the year with a week on the Jersey Shore with a group of other women writers. According to Robin, they have “built a true safe space, and launched more than one book there,” including as it turns out, her forthcoming novel, Life Drawing (Random House, March, 2014), at this off-season-priced retreat. With a cost at one-tenth the price during high season and a hand-picked group of convivial spirits, where the group responsibility is dinner on one night, it is almost as good as an official apply-to-get-in residency.

14 May, 2013

Pub Date II

A long time ago, it seems, I wrote a post here called ‘On Publication,’ during pub-week for A Disobedient Girl. I just re-read that this morning. Funny how clarity of thought about some particular things comes to each of us when it is necessary to have it. I realize, looking back, that this is still how I feel about publication. If there is a difference, then it is that I am even more aware that the life of a book is not so much about the book but about the people who surround it – those who bring it forth, those who receive it, those who hand it to readers, and the readers who give it their time.

Yesterday I had the pleasure of reading in my “home” town of Philadelphia, among many friends and family, most of whom had played some role in the making of this book, either by taking care of all the rest of my life while I went missing for weeks at a time to write, or by turning a blind eye to the state of sleep-deprived, deadline-driven misery that I require in order to finish anything of worth, that glassy eyed look that comes when I realize that the world is beautiful and the days are sunny and oh dear god I cannot move, I must sit, sit, sit, and read and write and read and write and doesn’t anybody care?! Oh! Why doesn’t anybody care?! Yes, those people were there, dressed up, taking pictures, asking questions and making me feel good.

There will be many things to write about, many images to share, along the way. But for now I’m going to share a few photographs from the time along the way, a visual reminder that the glossy dust jacket and the nicely bound book had its own story before it got there.

In my room where I sat for eight hours each day with breaks for lunch, chocolate tea from David’s, and a solitary walk, and wrote the first draft of the book.

The grove I stumbled upon on the day of my arrival, and where I went to spend the first anniversary of my mother’s death, which also was the day I finished that draft. The flowers I placed on that grave, which belonged to a mother who lost everything and still found a way to make such an enduring gift to artists, lasted a long time in the upstate NY Fall cold, and many of my new-found friends would tell me how they were doing long after I had gone. On that particular day, I read this poem in memory of my mother, a poem given to me by the poet who made it:

Spell to Be Said Upon Departure
by Jane Hirshfield

What had come here to do
having finished,
shelves of the water lie flat.

Copper the leaves of the doorsill,
yellow and falling.
Scarlet the bird that is singing.

Vanished the labor, here walls are.
Completed the asking.
Loosing the birds there is water.

Having eaten the pears.
Having eaten
the black figs, the white figs. Eaten the apples.

Table be strewn.
Table be strewn with stems,
table with peelings of grapefruit and pleasure.

Table be strewn with pleasure,
what was here to be done having finished.

Editing in a different space. I would write notes to myself in the night after all the work was done and I was in reading mode, and then paste them on the desk so I could cross things off as I went. I’d work all day with a break for lunch and a quiet, solitary walk (except for a post-dinner walk which often included the lovely Cathy Chung, in which case we’d be fleeing cows and shrieking with laughter.

There is always time to kiss the horses on a walk.

More editing. Work all day, with a break for lunch and solitary mostly walk but sometimes run sojourn. Quaker quiet before meals. And watching the night-blooming primrose flower, in real time, sitting on the bench silently with others at the Quaker retreat where I was staying.

Final edits. Such desperation. Such angst. Such panic. Really? You want me to put this into the hands of a mail carrier? You don’t want me to scan and mail? I’m impressed the mail-carrier did not care that I looked like an un-washed, un-rested, bug-eyed lunatic in my shabby lounge-about clothes and boots with no socks. Oh, and that the precious words made it from here to Minneapolis.

Which is to say, I went through a great many changes that paralled the changes being made to this thing of beauty, and some aspects of those things made their way into the language and direction of this book. I would have loved to have been able to sign one of these in gift to my mother, but also know that losing her was folded into this creation, the way that everything we experience transforms everything we experience after.

People often asked me – after the first novel – how my book was doing. Whenever I heard that question, I would think of my friends, the ones who were brilliant and talented, but had no publisher yet, the ones who were not as gifted but who did have their work out, published, and everybody in between. In such a world, how does one judge how well a book is doing? In such a world, I celebrate the absolute miracle of seeing the stories that came to me without my going in search of them, that got written through so much else in my life, that found welcome in the heart of an agent and an editor I respect deeply, and was then made, with the assistance of many hands more accomplished than mine, into what they are now, these books.

How well is my book doing? My book is doing great!

The Books:

The Books:

On Sal Mal Lane

In the tradition of In the Time of the Butterflies and The Kite Runner, a tender, evocative novel about the years leading up to the Sri Lankan civil war.

A Disobedient Girl

A Disobedient Girl is a compelling map of womanhood, its desires and loyalties, set against the backdrop of beautiful, politically turbulent, Sri Lanka.


Twitter