Awesome Literature Event: Amina Gautier Visits Monday

An invitation to you (and your classes) from Jacob Wilkenfeld (English):

A reading by award-winning fiction writer Amina Gautier, author of At-Risk (2011)  
 
Monday, October 7, 2013 at 6:00 p.m. in Room 1115
 
Dr. Amina Gautier is the winner of the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction for her short story collection At-Risk.More than seventy-five of her stories have been published, appearing in Best African American Fiction, Glimmer Train, Iowa Review, Kenyon Review, North American Review, and Southern Review among other places. Her stories have won the Crazyhorse Fiction Prize, the Danahy Prize, the Jack Dyer Prize, the Schlafly Microfiction Award, and the William Richey Award as well as scholarships and fellowships from the American Antiquarian Society, Breadloaf Writer’s Conference, Sewanee Writer’s Conference, and Ucross Foundation, as well as artist grants from the Illinois Arts Council and the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts.
 
Event Sponsored by the HWC Student Government Association and the Creative Writing Club 

Things You Could (Have) Do(ne) Over Break #3: Literature Edition

Why literature? Because it’s good for you and tastes better than brussel sprouts.

~Use THIS, which is glorious, to teach narrative, interpretation, personification, metaphor, whatever. Or just watch it. It’ll be a highlight of your day. Promise;

~Consider irony. Don is doing it. And in response to the article that prompted his reflections, many others did too, though they came to different conclusions about the merit of the original piece (as here and here);

~Check out this article on the top Literary Heroines of 2012 (with links to other such lists) or this list of great books from 2012 (Hologram for a King was entrancing; I read it in two sittings only because I wanted to slow the experience down a bit to enjoy it longer. Really, really great.) or this longer one (with poetry!);

~Think about translation and how it affects what you read (you read stuff in translation, right? RIGHT?)

~Read up on the various perspectives and associated controversies surrounding the latest Nobel Prize Laureate, Mo Yan (whose book, for the record, Life and Death Are Wearing Me Out was one I enjoyed greatly) and the difficult intersections of politics, language, and art;

~Let Poetry make you weird;

~Have you read Lawrence Durrell’s Alexandrian Quartet? I loved it when I was in college. I’ve been a little fearful to go back to it, lest it disappoint, and it hasn’t come up since, except in my own mind when Alexandria is mentioned. It was in those books that I first found C.P. Cavafy, whose work I love. And someday, I hope to visit. In the meantime, I was happy to find this;

~Learn about Wayne Booth’s helpful distinctions of narrator, implied author, and actual author (or at least the implied author part) as applied to political punditry. Or, learn about Wayne Booth. He was awesome;

~Read about epigraphs and their history, one way that books talk to each other, as Umberto Eco might put it.

~Did you know “Toni Morrison” is a pen name? Or that she did this with Rokia Traore (who put on one of the most amazing live music experiences I’ve ever had–you should check her out if and when she comes back to town) I didn’t, until I read this;

~Imagine life as an editor. Nothing but commas everywhere. And errors;

~Read this absorbing essay about Literature and Digital Humanities. A bit of it:

At the advent of print, the humanities emerged, under the aegis of Erasmus and others, to negotiate the spread of the classical tradition out of the monasteries into private hands. Today, with the advent of the Internet, Google’s self-described project is to make the world’s information “universally accessible and useful.” Academia could have done what humanists have done throughout history and tried to add to Google’s mandate: make the texts legible and available. They could have tried to bring out the contemporary relevance that only historical context, knowledge of literary tradition, and scholarly standards can provide. But this ancient task was anathema, for the simple reason that it would have involved honest work. Much easier to remain in the safe irrelevance of mass publication in the old mode, what Kingsley Amis called “the pseudo-light it threw on non-problems.” For at least 50 years, humanities departments have been in the business of creating problems rather than solving them.

All in all, it’s fair to say that the conversion of literature into data could not have gone much worse, which does not bode well for the second, oncoming phase, where we decide what to do with the literary data we now have…

But the really great part of the essay (I think) comes in the second half when the author discusses literature as “resistance to data.”  Which is another reason to love Lit.

~Read a difficult book; or, better (?) read about other people’s picks for the ten most difficult books;

~Check out these two interviews with Junot Diaz (here and here)–both great;

~Or find some other author talking about her or his book;

~Read this letter from Steinbeck to his editor about books and reading and audiences and life;

~Consider what should (and should not) be “required reading” or think about re-reading;

~Or read about a snob’s opinion of Stephen King’s work;

~Have you read any lit crit lately? Are you wondering what Terry Eagleton is up to?  Or wondered why contemporary lit is “gutless” (as compared to the work of Rabindranath Tagore–do you know Tagore? You should. Interesting dude.)? Anyway, not to fear–postmodernism is dead. Unless it isn’t;

~Finally, to bring it around, you might (re)-consider the effects of literature and its limits:

When we’re practiced in sympathy it is easier for us to notice “what is not seen.” When we have tried, over and over again, to put ourselves into others’ places and to see the world from where they are standing, we’re better people, living in a more civil world. Because we’ve read Alice Adams, we might not go over the top trying to impress people the next time we’re under great social pressure and we might not be so harsh on those who do. Because our children have read, and have had read to them, stories that help them think about the perils of greed, or the importance of kindness, or the dangers of drinking from bottles marked “Drink me,” they will grow up to be more considerate and more careful of themselves and others.

It’s tempting to close with promises about how if we all just read a few more books—better books—support our local arts scene, visit museums, attend concerts, read to our children and make them take piano lessons, our problems will be solved. Surely, a society that’s grounded in civility and sympathy and learned in the humanities would not be plagued with financial irresponsibility and ethical misconduct. Surely it wouldn’t be run by politicians and reported on by journalists who use language that would have shocked Lady Chatterley. Unfortunately people who offer easy answers to complicated questions are usually trying to sell you something.

The humanities can teach us civility and sympathy, but they can’t make us perfect and they can’t fix our problems for us. They can help us be more aware of the “unseen,” but they cannot help us predict unintended consequences. There isn’t a philosophical theory or a novel or a painting or a piece of music in the world that can solve the Middle East or clean up an oil spill or make the economy recover. The best the humanities can do is to remind us that, as Auden put it, “We must love one another or die,” and then show us how to do it.

 

One Book, One Chicago: Augie March

This fall’s One Book, One Chicago choice is Saul Bellow’s The Adventures of Augie March, which is a semi-autobiographical bildungsroman of a young man growing up in Chicago back in the day, with one of Chicago literature’s most famous opening lines–“I am an American, Chicago born–Chicago, that somber city–and go at things as I have taught myself, free-style, and will make the record in my own way: first to knock, first admitted; sometimes an innocent knock, sometimes a not so innocent. But a man’s character is his fate, says Heraclitus, and in the end there isn’t any way to disguise the nature of the knocks by acoustical work on the door or gloving of the knuckles.”

When I read it, I didn’t think too much of the plot or the characters to be honest, though Augie was interestingly drawn–reminded me of a young Rabbit Angstrom years before there was a Rabbit Angstrom, but I loved seeing the picture of life in historic Chicago, and the language, my word, Saul Bellow could write a sentence…gorgeous passage after gorgeous passage. Stunners.

To celebrate, I’m going to post some of my favorite passages this week, leading up to Thursday’s panel discussion of the book featuring Professors Domenico Ferri and Stephen Burnett, hosted by Professor Judy Rivera-van Schagen.

And This Is Great Writing

It’s called, “Why Literature?” and it comes from the latest Nobel Prize (in Literature) winner, Mario Vargas Llosa:

It has often happened to me, at book fairs or in bookstores, that a gentleman approaches me and asks me for a signature. “It is for my wife, my young daughter, or my mother,” he explains. “She is a great reader and loves literature.” Immediately I ask: “And what about you? Don’t you like to read?” The answer is almost always the same: “Of course I like to read, but I am a very busy person.” I have heard this explanation dozens of times: this man and many thousands of men like him have so many important things to do, so many obligations, so many responsibilities in life, that they cannot waste their precious time buried in a novel, a book of poetry, or a literary essay for hours and hours. According to this widespread conception, literature is a dispensable activity, no doubt lofty and useful for cultivating sensitivity and good manners, but essentially an entertainment, an adornment that only people with time for recreation can afford. It is something to fit in between sports, the movies, a game of bridge or chess; and it can be sacrificed without scruple when one “prioritizes” the tasks and the duties that are indispensable in the struggle of life…

[I feel sorry] for the millions of human beings who could read but have decided not to read.

They earn my pity not only because they are unaware of the pleasure that they are missing, but also because I am convinced that a society without literature, or a society in which literature has been relegated–like some hidden vice–to the margins of social and personal life, and transformed into something like a sectarian cult, is a society condemned to become spiritually barbaric, and even to jeopardize its freedom. I wish to offer a few arguments against the idea of literature as a luxury pastime, and in favor of viewing it as one of the most primary and necessary undertakings of the mind, an irreplaceable activity for the formation of citizens in a modern and democratic society, a society of free individuals.

Read the rest and then start a book this week. Make the time.

h/t to Adriana Tapanes-Inojosa for the find.

A New Fiction Culture in America

Twice now, I’ve printed this article out and twice, I’ve handed it to a student whom I know to be interested in writing. Both times, the recipient glanced down at it, then, still talking, started skimming through a paragraph or two, then kind of stopped talking–reading by then–before saying, “Well, I’m going to go sit down and read this now.”

It’s that interesting. Print it out and pass it on to a writer you know (or at least forward the link). A taster:

There were 79 degree-granting programs in creative writing in 1975; today, there are 854! This explosion has created a huge source of financial support for working writers, not just in the form of lecture fees, adjunctships, and temporary appointments—though these abound—but honest-to-goodness jobs: decently paid, relatively secure compared to other industries, and often even tenured. It would be fascinating to know the numbers—what percentage of the total income of American fiction writers comes from the university, and what percentage from publishing contracts—but it’s safe to say that the university now rivals, if it hasn’t surpassed, New York as the economic center of the literary fiction world. This situation—of two complementary economic systems of roughly matched strength—is a new one for American fiction. As the mass readership of literary fiction has peaked and subsided, and the march of technology sends the New York publishing world into spasms of perpetual anxiety, if not its much-advertised death throes, the MFA program has picked up the financial slack and then some, offering steady payment to more fiction writers than, perhaps, have ever been paid before.

Everyone knows this. But what’s remarked rarely if at all is the way that this balance has created, in effect, two literary cultures (or, more precisely, two literary fiction cultures) in the United States: one condensed in New York, the other spread across the diffuse network of provincial college towns that spans from Irvine, Calif., to Austin, Texas, to Ann Arbor, Mich., to Tallahassee, Fla. (with a kind of wormhole at the center, in Iowa City, into which one can step and reappear at the New Yorker offices on 42nd Street). The superficial differences between these two cultures can be summed up charticle-style: short stories vs. novels; Amy Hempel vs. Jonathan Franzen; library copies vs. galley copies; Poets & Writers vs. the New YorkObserver; Wonder Boys vs. The Devil Wears Prada; the Association of Writers and Writing Programs conference vs. the Frankfurt Book Fair; departmental parties vs. publishing parties; literary readings vs. publishing parties; staying home vs. publishing parties. But the differences also run deep. Each culture has its own canonical works and heroic figures; each has its own logic of social and professional advancement. Each affords its members certain aesthetic and personal freedoms while restricting others; each exerts its own subtle but powerful pressures on the work being produced.

Read the rest. It’s worth it. Even if it isn’t until next week…

 

A Series to Follow on Bookslut

I don’t know if you know about Bookslut–you should. The story of the site is great, the story of the founder is great, the writing on the site is great (it’s an old example, but I love it–there’s plenty more of more recent vintage), and they just started a new series that, at the risk of being redundantly repetitious, is great.

As part of the Nobel Reprise, the writers Pauls Toutonghi and Ben Greenman have set out to read and reflect upon at least one book by every Nobelist, in letters. Letters are a way that books stay alive; a conversation, about them, and their ideas, in dialogue on the page.

The books will not necessarily be the best-known. Laureates will not be handled in chronological order. But Pauls and Ben will read every author who has won a Nobel Prize in Literature — starting today.

The explanation of the series, and the first two letters are here; the third is here, and the fourth, here.

Happy reading.

Nobel Prize Winners (Especially Literature)

Speaking of great literature, did you see that the Nobel Prizes winners were announced this week?

Oh, sure, you might be interested in the Chemistry winners, or maybe Physics, or possibly Medicine–they’re all great. The Peace prize (announced before this is published but after it is written) gets all the glory, and Economics gets more attention in Chicago, but it’s literature that sets my heart racing…and this year’s winner is an exciting pick: Mario Vargas Llosa.

If you’re wondering what you should read first by the man, you can check this list out or find out more about him and his writing here. Or you can just listen to the interview with him, given in the glow of the news.

h/t to Adriana Tapanes Inojosa for the heads up.