Prison writing

Philip Gourevitch, whose most recent book is Standard Operating Procedure (with Errol Morris), is leading a discussion about torture and Abu Ghraib over at the Talking Points Memo Book Club. Joining him are the novelist Robert Stone, poet and essayist Mary Karr, author Rory Stewart, and journalists Jeffrey Goldberg and E.J. Graff.

Turkey continues to send writers and publishers to prison for "insulting the state."

Amitava Kumar points out the poem "On Reserve at the Library," which imagines Paris Hilton as a prison writer.


Guernica, the online magazine, has put up part one of the conversation between Mia Farrow, Bernard-Henri Lévy, and Dinaw Mengestu about the crisis in Darfur, which was an event at the World Voices festival (you can also listen to the whole event).

Via Three Percent, an online documentary about PEN America demigod Jorge Luis Borges, which is, according to one reviewer, "part biography, part literary criticism, part hero-worship, part book reading, and part psychology."

And, lastly, Albert Cossery, an Egyptian writer who lived in Paris and wrote in French, has passed away at age 94. Alyson Waters received a grant from the PEN Translation Fund to translate The Colors of Infamy into English, which I believe will be published by New Directions, though I'm not sure when.

(The image above is a drawing by Fernando Botero, published in the Virginia Quarterly Review.)


Virginia Woolf: four thoughts and one tattoo

Angelina Jolie allegedly has this remark from Virginia Woolf tattooed on her body: "As a woman I have no country. As a woman I want no country." This leads Scott Esposito to ruminate about "how American authors have dealt with the concept of national guilt."

It led me back to the Woolf tributes in PEN America 1: Classics, by James Wood, Mary Gordon, Elaine Showalter, and Michael Cunningham, which themselves contain some interesting ideas:

James Wood: "Woolf turns female absent-mindedness into the most searching philosophy of the self, and we suffer with her heroines, who are suspended between forgetfulness and remembrance, between their fulfillment and their irrelevance."

Mary Gordon: Woolf's "ideal is a fiction in which the stuff of realistic fiction—money, class, social placement, the details of family connection—is notable for its absence, and attention is paid only to that which reveals the inner life."

Elaine Showalter: "As an American, I’m always struck by how much importance Woolf placed on the story of Shakespeare’s sister, and on the coming of the great female literary messiah. Americans have not been so reverent, at least not American men."

Michael Cunningham (who says he read Woolf to impress a girl, and that "Mrs. Dalloway was the first great novel I ever read"): "If you look with sufficient penetration, and sufficient art, at any hour in the life of anybody, you can crack it open. And get everything."

Also included in that issue is a long piece from Woolf's own Common Reader: Second Series, called "How Should One Read a Book?"

PS. That's Woolf on the left, circa 1912 (when she was Virginia Stephen).

PPS. The most striking fictional exploration of guilt and recent American crimes that I've read is this book (which also happens to have the best website I have maybe ever seen for a novel).


Reading tonight + other news

As previously mentioned: debut author Uwem Akpan will read and speak with Anderson Tepper at Housing Works tonight at 7.

An expat zine in Moscow may be shut down by the Russian government. (See also.)

China is still detaining writers.

If you want even more Walser, the tribute from World Voices is now online. Other events continue to go up as the audio becomes available.

Lastly, a feature on the PEN Awards is up at PEN.org, and includes selections from such winners as Cynthia Ozick (a great piece from her latest book, Dictation) and Sarah Ruhl (part of her Pulitzer finalist, The Clean House)-- plus a bit from Richard Nelson's Conversations in Tusculum, which has come up on this blog before. You can also listen to awards ceremony and see Beowulf Sheehan's photos from the event.


Lit-fest drama

Two weeks ago I mentioned a pair of literary spats connected with magazine publishing and translation, respectively. Shortly afterwards, it turns out, a couple of literary festivals became unusually combative-- albeit in very different ways.

You may have heard about the attempt by George Monbiot, activist and journalist, to perform a citizen's arrest of John Bolton at the Hay-on-Wye Festival in Wales. (I got the heads-up from Amitava Kumar.) That attempt was unsuccessful, but Monbiot was undaunted: "I'm disappointed I couldn't reach him," he said, "but I made what I believe to be the first attempt ever to arrest one of the perpetrators of the Iraq war, and I would like to see that followed up."

In less world-political news, Derek Walcott hurled some carefully crafted insults at V.S. Naipaul, pictured above, down in Jamaica, at the Calabash Literary Festival-- attended by, among others, the editor of PEN America, M Mark. M tells me that the audience was stunned by Walcott's nastiness (the "most disturbing section of the poem," according to one account, "describes Naipaul returning to Trinidad and taking Walcott on a hunt for prostitutes"), a report echoed here. More details and reactions can be found here and here.

More generally, though, M said that Calabash was a joy-- one of the most inspiring and enjoyable literary festivals she's ever attended. You can read a detailed write-up by Calabash co-founder and Programming Director Kwame Dawes here.