Michael Ondaatje; Davis on Proust; "Urban Virgins"

Amitava Kumar describes Michael Ondaatje’s visit to Vassar, where he delivered the annual William Gifford lecture and told students, “What I love about English is that it is revived every fifty years by someone who is not English”—for example, G.V. Desani, with his novel All About H. Haterr. Also check out Ondaatje’s conversation with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in PEN America 7.

This Space calls attention to The Cahiers Series from Sylph Editions, the fifth installment of which will have three linked pieces by Lydia Davis.
First is 'A Proust Alphabet', which gives an account of several words and issues of particular interest, encountered during the author’s recent translating of Marcel Proust's Swann's Way. There follows a short article on the French thinker and novelist Maurice Blanchot, entitled 'The Problem in Summarising Blanchot'. Finally comes a series of dreams and dreamlike moments, recounted in 'Swimming in Egypt: Dreams while Awake and Asleep'. The cahier is accompanied by photographs by Ornan Rotem.
The cahier comes out in a month; in the meantime, you can read Davis’s thoughts on Proust in PEN America 2.

Lastly, as if the new Latin America issue of The Virginia Quarterly Review was not impressive enough on its own, they have also created some fanastic web features, like this interactive map which links to various pieces from the issue-- or this collection of photographs and poetry:
Urban Virgins” shows a series of paintings by Ana de Orbegoso paired with poems by Odi Gonzales. De Orbegoso has created 5′ tall wearable Spanish paintings of saints and virgins that have been mashed up with photographs of contemporary Peruvian women. Then she has people walk around Cusco, Peru in these costumes, bringing art to the streets.
(And speaking of Latin America, here’s yet another November event: The News from Latin America, hosted by the Overseas Press Club and the National Book Critics Circle, featuring Francisco Goldman, George de Lama, and Peter Kinoy, and hosted by Calvin Sims.)


Online Gass

Courtesy of the Literary Saloon, news that William H. Gass has won the St. Louis Literary Award, and, on the occasion, has been profiled in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, under this lovely headline: "In the heart of the country, an honor for Bill Gass."

I thought of that article yesterday when I read, over at Conversational Reading, about Tunneling, an online archive and directory of Gass's work with links to everything available online. Stephen Schenkenberg, the editor of St. Louis Magazine, is behind the project.

All of this sent me back to two pieces by Gass that appeared in PEN America: the first, "Toward Total Recall" is a tribute to Marcel Proust, from our second issue; the second, "Lifetimes Out of Moments," is a tribute to Gertrude Stein, from PEN America 5: Silences.

Here's the end of Gass's beguiling tribute to Stein:
The human mind makes lifetimes out of moments, particulars into generalities, quirks into characters. The human mind can entice human nature into Elysium; though it can do nothing with the quaint, for, as Stein said, quaint ain’t . . . yet we are all witness to that transformation, when the human mind sips the tea and tastes the biscuit, to turn the simple offer: Have some? into a summation; for we’ve seen how a paltry pun, a phrase, those perceptions personal to style, how the right writing can drag daily life in its drudgery and exhilaration, with its restless elevators, its solemn ceremonies, from one present tense to another and another and another—for today my little dog did deign to know me, and though I was not a warrior returning in rags, I was a warrior returning in rags; a saucer enabled my cup to warm my fingers, and I felt an old friend on the lip of a story, for Gertrude Stein, as so often, was right: Every rhyme in Mother Goose is still well with us, and so, for that matter, is the Mother Goose of Montparnasse.
Read the rest here. And the tribute to Proust here.

Also, Chekhov's Mistress praises Gass's translations of Rilke, and Stephen Schenkenberg reads The Tunnel. Above, an illustration of Gass by Charles Burns for The Believer.


More November Events: Grace Paley Tribute & Periodically Speaking

A few weeks ago I mentioned the upcoming events at Southpaw in Brooklyn: Noah and Jonathan Baumbach with Amanda Stern on the 11th; Sufjan Stevens and Wesley Stace, aka John Wesley Harding, with Rick Moody on the 28th.

Here are two more November events of note, on the first and second Tuesdays of the month (that's the 6th and the 13th):

A Tribute to Grace Paley: An Evening of Readings and Remembrance

When: Tuesday, November 6, 2007
Where: The Great Hall of Cooper Union: Cooper Square, New York City
What time: 7 p.m.

Participants include: Michael Cunningham, Eve Ensler, Amy Hempel, Walter Mosley, Richard Price, Katha Pollitt, Francine Prose, Victoria Redel, Scott Spencer, Sonia Sanchez, Vera B. Williams


Periocially Speaking: Editors Introduce Emerging Writers

When: Tuesday, November 13, 2007
Where: DeWitt Wallace Periodical Room, The New York Public Library, Fifth Avenue and 42nd
What time: 7 p.m.

A reading series put together by CLMP and the NYPL. Editor David Hamilton (Iowa Review) introduces fiction writer Stellar Kim; Editor Robert Arnold (Memorious) introduces poet Beth Woodcome; and Editor M Mark (PEN America) introduces nonfiction writer Sarah Messer.


For more information on these two events, go here and here, respectively.


"Neatly transcending space-time"

On the spot where I write all this hodgepodge of verses
stands Edward Hopper, in fact, who engenders them

and who, neatly transcending space-time, sends me

the signals.
Lawrence Venuti translates Ernest Farrés for Words Without Borders, devoted this time around to literature in Catalan.

Speaking of translation, you can download a PDF of To Be Translated or Not to Be, "a report on the state of international literary translation" put together by International PEN and the Institut Ramon Llull of Barcelona.

PEN American Center is currently accepting nominations and submissions for the 2008 literary awards-- including the new PEN/Jacqueline Bograd Weld Award for Biography. There are also awards for drama, poetry, work in translation, and debut fiction. Deadlines are in December and January; more details here.


"I sympathized with Tarzan"

The new issue of PEN International, the literary magazine published by International PEN, is now online. (Click on "Magazine Download" at the bottom of the page; it's a PDF file.)

The issue is called Context: Africa, and includes poems, stories, interviews, and essays in English, French, and Spanish.

In an excerpt from her debut novel, Everything Good Will Come, Sefi Atta provides a young girl's impressions of watching television in Nigeria in the late 1960s:
Television in those days didn’t come on until six o’clock in the evening. The first hour was news and I never watched the news, except that special day when the Apollo landed on the moon. After that, children in school said you could get Apollo, a form of conjunctivitis, by staring at an eclipse too long. Tarzan, Zorro, Little John, and the entire Cartwright family on Bonanza were there, with their sweet and righteous retaliations, to tell me any other fact I needed to know about the world. And oblivious to any biased messages I was receiving, I sympathised with Tarzan (those awful natives!), thought Indians were terrible people and memorised the happy jingles of foreign multinational companies: “Mobil keeps your engine – Beep, beep, king of the road.” If Alfred Hitchcock came on, I knew it was time to go to bed. Or if it was Doris Day. I couldn’t bear her song, “Que Sera”.
Everything Good Will Come received the inaugural Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature in Africa, and it comes out in paperback from the independent Interlink Books next month.


Monday Miscellany

Tonight at 7, at the Donnell Library in midtown Manhattan, PEN will celebrate the winners of this year's Beyond Margins awards: novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (for Half of a Yellow Sun), poet Harryette Mullen (for Recyclopedia), critic Ernest Hardy (for Bloodbeats Vol. 1), and poet Alberto Álvaro Ríos (for Theater of Night).
Jaime Manrique and Sonia Sanchez will host an evening saluting the winners of the 2007 Beyond Margins Award. Joining in the celebration will be writers Adam Haslett, Marie Ponsot, and Monique Truong.

The evening will feature readings and conversation with this year's winners, as well as a reception following the event.
It is free and open to the public.

John Freeman has been blogging from the Frankfurt Book Fair, and he gives a mention to Eurozine, the multi-lingual online magazine with some great pieces on literature in several different languages. (Don't miss the "set language" button to the above right of those pieces.) Freeman mentions a piece on the "next great Estonian novel"; looking it over quickly, I didn't see any mention of the Truth and Justice pentalogy. Too old? (See also: Conversational Reading.)

Lastly, courtesy of Janaka Stucky of Black Ocean, those who have either worked on or submitted something to-- or possibly even read-- a literary magazine may enjoy The Futility Review, "dedicated to the non-publication of the best works of the best poets in the English-speaking world," where "any poet, no matter whether accomplished or beginning, will be rejected in the same open-handed manner." Be sure to check out the submission guidelines:

Does your submission contain any of these words: shard, limn, or numinous?

Regrettably, Yes

Do your poems mention grandma or your first dog?

What's wrong with that?

Is there any mention of butterflies or unicorns in your work?

Just in that one place

PS. Italo Calvino was born on this day in 1923. (He died on September 19, 1985.) Read tributes to Calvino by Umberto Eco and Salman Rushdie, from PEN America 1: Classics.


Satrapi & Spiegelman

This Sunday, Persepolis, a movie based on Marjane Satrapi’s graphic novel, will close the New York Film Festival. So far, the reviews are terrific.

While you wait for the movie’s post-festival run, have a listen to this 2005 conversation between Satrapi and Art Spiegelman, the Pulitzer-winning author and illustrator of Maus and, more recently, In the Shadow of No Towers. (From which the below image is taken; the above image is from Persepolis. Both books are published by Pantheon; click on the photos to enlarge.)


Doris Lessing and the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952

Doris Lessing, the newly crowned Nobel laureate, was one of many writers once barred from entering the United States thanks to the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952, which became law during the height of the Cold War.

As you might imagine, that law has taken on new resonance in recent years.

For more on Lessing, go here, here, and here. And here.


"One on one with a world that does not want you"

The one-year anniversary of Anna Politkovskaya's murder took place over the weekend. Yesterday, the New York Times passed along a report from her old paper, the Novaya Gazeta, that Russian prosecutors know the identity of her murderer, but have not yet arrested him. They do not, reportedly, know who ordered the killing.

PEN has been following the case since the news first broke, and, in December of last year, held a tribute to Politkovskaya called "The Writer's Conscience." There, Katrina Vanden Heuvel read a piece titled "Conversations in the Kitchen" from a collection of Politkovskaya's writing translated by Alexander Burry and Tatiana Tulchinsky and called A Small Corner of Hell. In "Conversations," Politkovskaya talks with a group of women in Grozny enduring the second Chechen war.

Here is the end of that piece:
The women at the table do not cry, although they would like to. You rarely hear crying in Grozny. They've all cried their eyes out long ago. Whether or not a woman cries indicates how long it's been since she returned to Grozny from the refugee camps.

Outside, it is dark and quiet. Even the dogs haven't been barking for a long time.

Somewhere far off, there is a glow from sporadic, noiseless bombing. It resembles thunderstorm lightning a bit. After midnight, the armored vehicles start screeching again. Everyone bends down and hunches over, making herself smaller. Is it coming for you?

In five minutes, there's a feeling of relief. It's not for you. The armored vehicle rumbles past.

"This is what we've come to: we're glad it's for someone else," Fatima concludes.

It's five hours until the next blockade dawn, and we need to survive them. This is a very intimate affair. You survive as you are born, alone. You need to part company, so you can lie down, close your eyes and remain one on one with a world that does not want you.
Listen to the rest here, and read more of Politkovskaya's writing here.


Friday Miscellany: Fantastic Women

PEN member Natasha Radojcic has co-founded, with Alison Weaver, a new literary journal, H.O.W., "dedicated to publishing quality fiction and non-fiction while giving voice to those suffering in silence worldwide." (H.O.W. = Helping Orphans Worldwide.) Jonathan Lethem is a contributing editor.

The new Tin House (pictured at left) is called Fantastic Women, and has work from Rikki Ducornet, whose "Tangible Dreams" appeared in PEN America 5: Silences. ("The best books cause us to dream," she writes there, "the rest are not worth reading.") It also has an essay from Rick Moody about Angela Carter, whose "The Kiss" appears in PEN America 2: Home & Away.

Three Percent provides the list of Prix Goncourt finalists, including Lydia Salvayre and PEN America 6 contributor, Marie Darrieussecq.

Lastly, Laila Lalami has some interesting thoughts about
Albert Camus' L'étranger, which she first read at fourteen:
Meursault's killing of the character referred to simply as "the Arab," the complete absence of any dialogue from the three Arab men who confront Raymond and Meursault on the beach, the fact that the only Arab character who says anything is Raymond's abused and oppressed girlfriend, the absence of the Arab man's family or any Arab witnesses at the trial: these are not coincidences, naturally, but clear narrative choices Camus made. One might argue that Meursault's fight with the chaplain and his realization at the end are an assertion of the Self in the face of an indifferent universe and a moralizing society, but I think that assertion about the absurdity of life comes by way of victimizing the Other.
Afternoon update: The amazing Edwidge Danticat testifies before the US Congress' Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees, Border Security and International Law.


Noah & Jonathan Baumbach + Sufjan Stevens & John Wesley Harding

Some exciting news from my colleagues here at PEN: The PENultimate Lit series, put together with the help of Rick Moody, has its first two events penciled in for November.

On Sunday, November 11, at 7 pm, filmmaker Noah Baumbach will speak with his father, the fiction writer Jonathan Baumbach. Amanda Stern will host.

On Thursday, November 28, at 8 pm, songwriter and highway enthusiast Sufjan Stevens will speak with songwriter and novelist Wesley Stace, aka John Wesley Harding. Rick Moody will host.

Both events will be at Southpaw on 5th Avenue in Park Slope, Brooklyn.

PENultimate Lit "explores the intersection of literature and the arts and poses the question of what, in the 21st Century, makes writing matter."

(Speaking of Noah Baumbach and PEN, check out this interview with the filmmaker by fellow Brooklynite and devoted PEN member Jonathan Lethem, from the great and venerable arts & culture quarterly, BOMB.)