Archive for May, 2005

New York, New York

Tuesday, May 31st, 2005

I’ll be heading off to New York later this week, to visit with family and friends, and to attend RAWI’s first annual conference. RAWI is an Arab-American writers organization (the word ‘rawi’ means ‘storyteller’ in Arabic), and the theme for its first gathering is: “Kallimuna: Speak To Us.” The conference takes places June 3rd through the 5th at Hunter College in New York, and features workshops with the likes of Naomi Shihab Nye, Elmaz Abinader, and Hayan Charara, and panels on topics as diverse as “Sexuality, Gender, and Silence,” “The Global Hood,” and “Hybridity in Arab American Literature.” I will be moderating a panel on blogs on Saturday, with partners in crime Randa Jarrar (a.k.a. Rockslinga), and Leila Abu Saba (a.k.a. The Dove). I’ll post a reminder on this site at that time.

I’ll also be attending Book-Expo, which also takes place June 3-5, and which will be an entirely different sort of animal. It will be my first time at BEA, but the presence of a few familiar faces will help, I’m sure. I’ll be taking part in the Emerging Voices Panel on Friday, to read an excerpt from my first book, Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits. (Don’t look for my name on the site, it’s not there. But I will be.) And then chilling out on the floor and trying to take it all in.

I’ve posted a bunch of things for you below, but I doubt I’ll get a chance to post anything tomorrow, as I pack up and head out to NYC. Posting should resume from there on Thursday.


Stephen Elliott Recommends

Tuesday, May 31st, 2005

bissell.jpg“There are so many underappreciated books. It’s a tough question,” Elliot says. Instead of picking just one book, he rattled off a few that deserve more readers: “Tom Bissell’s Chasing The Sea was underappreciated, I thought. It’s a travel story about a former Peace Corps volunteer returning to Uzbekistan but it’s also a history of the region, and it’s also the story of the Aral Sea, the greatest man-made environmental disaster in history. Wow, what a book! Reads like lightning. It’s one of the best non-fiction books I’ve ever read even though I have zero interest in Uzbekistan (no offense to the Uzbekistanis).

rentgirl.jpgThere’s also the great Chicago novel, The Beggar’s Shore by Zak Muncha which was published by Andrew Vachss in paperback original. Also the illustrated novel Rent Girl by Michelle Tea and Laurenn McCubbin which came out last year and really pushed the mix of art and lit to its next level. People are going to be copying that book for years though I don’t think it sold that many copies.

Then there’s Craig Clevenger’s The Contortionist Handbook and Dennis Cooper’s Try, but both of those books have large cult followings. I could name some of Nelson Algren’s lesser works, and also Notice by Heather Lewis but if I’m going to push someone in the direction of something they should read I prefer to encourage indulging living writers and thereby taking part in our cultural conciousness.

At any rate, we should appreciate books that are more gritty, that have something to say about class stratification. Every book published by Softskull Press or Manic D Press is underappreciated, as are many, though not all, by Last Gasp.”

elliott.jpg Stephen Elliott is the author of four novels, including the critically acclaimed Happy Baby, and the editor of the anthology Politically Inspired. His most recent book is Looking Forward to It, an account of his experiences on the campaign trail in 2004. His work also has been published in GQ, the Village Voice, the San Francisco Chronicle, and The Believer magazine. He lives in California.

If you’d like to recommend an underappreciated book for this series, please send mail to llalami at yahoo dot com.


Men Don’t Read Books By Women, But They’ve Learned To Pretend That They Do

Tuesday, May 31st, 2005

The Observer reports on a study on sex differences in reading habits, which found that, “while women read the works of both sexes, men stick to books written by men.” The article says:

The research was carried out by academics Lisa Jardine and Annie Watkins of Queen Mary College, London, to mark the 10th year of the Orange Prize for Fiction, a literary honour whose women-only rule provoked righteous indignation when the competition was founded. They asked 100 academics, critics and writers and found virtually all now supported the prize.

But a gender gap remains in what people choose to read, at least among the cultural elite. Four out of five men said the last novel they read was by a man, whereas women were almost as likely to have read a book by a male author as a female. When asked what novel by a woman they had read most recently, a majority of men found it hard to recall or could not answer. Women, however, often gave several titles. The report said: ‘Men who read fiction tend to read fiction by men, while women read fiction by both women and men.

I think that in a male-controlled world, women have long learned to place themselves in the minds of the dominating gender, and to view the world through its eyes. Men have no incentive to see the world through female eyes, unfortunately. At least some men recognize they have a problem.

The article goes on, perhaps more worryingly:

‘Consequently, fiction by women remains “special interest”, while fiction by men still sets the standard for quality, narrative and style.’

Basically male authors have the advantage of having both male and female readers, which helps them get a greater hold on the literary conversation, and define what constitutes literature. The study concludes:

Jardine said: ‘When pressed, men are likely to say things like: “I believe Monica Ali’s Brick Lane is a really important book – I’m afraid I haven’t read it.” I find it most endearing that in 10 years what male readers of fiction have done is learn to pretend that they’ve read women’s books.’


R.I.P.: Martin Lings

Tuesday, May 31st, 2005

Some sad news: Sufi scholar and author Martin Lings has passed on. Read the NY Times obit, which provides some interesting tidbits. (I didn’t know, for instance, that Lings had studied under, and was close friends with, C.S. Lewis.) If you are new to Lings’s work, I highly recommend his biography of the Prophet, Muhammad: His Life Based on the Earliest Sources.


Mid-East a Hot Trend: In Publishing, as in Empire

Tuesday, May 31st, 2005

I missed Anne-Marie O’Connor’s article on Mid-East books when it came out in the Los Angeles Times last month, but here it is, reprised in the Register-Guard. It’s essentially about the current craze in U.S. publishing for all things Middle-Eastern:

Charlotte Abbott, the book news editor at Publishers Weekly, said the demand for [books on the Middle-East] has been driven by a widespread curiosity about Middle Eastern countries in the news since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

“Publishers really woke up to the fact that there really weren’t a lot of books that could satisfy that kind of hunger,” Abbott said. “Publishers went out and pursued acquiring those books.”

And so O’Connor briefly rounds up a whole bunch of current titles, including Azadeh Moaveni’s Lipstick Jihad, Azar Nafisi’s Reading Lolita in Tehran, Asne Seierstad’s The Bookseller of Kabul, Riverbend’s Baghdad Burning, Mohammed Moulessehoul/Yasmina Khadra’s The Swallows of Kabul, Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis, Roya Hakakian’s Journey From The Land of No, and Afschineh Latifi’s Even After All This Time, among others.

Amid all this hodge-podge of fiction books and memoirs, the only clear point is that “the Mid-East is hot in publishing right now,” a point that I’ll concede easily enough, even if that attention seems myopic to me at times. What troubles me is the tone in the latter end of the article, which seems to intimate that there’s one or two interesting books coming out of a country:

In Saudi Arabia, a male author, Yousef Mohaimeed, has written a book called “The Bottle.”

This is just bloody ridiculous. People in the Arab world have been writing books long before the U.S. publishing industry took an interest in their stories.


Stop The Presses! You Mean To Say Women Want To Break Out Of Stereotypes?

Tuesday, May 31st, 2005

Interesting article in yesterday’s Guardian, profiling young Japanese author Hitomi Kanehara, whose first, best-selling novel, Snakes and Earrings, has supposedly shocked the country with its “violent and graphic opposition to the traditional cultural expectations of how Japanese women should be.” Reporter Angela Neustatter writes:

Kanehara is part of a burgeoning subculture of contemporary women expressing the same loud, emphatic message through fashion, graphics, comics, subversive graffiti, photography and fiction. It underscores a growing generational divide, a significant shift in values and attitudes.

Only later in the article does the trend supposedly embodied by this new author get placed in a more historical context. Worth a look.


Ruland on NPR

Tuesday, May 31st, 2005

Moorishgirl pal and sometime guest blogger Jim Ruland has a piece on NPR’s Day to Day, called “Vets? No, But They Write What They Know.” In addition to being a fine writer and punk rock enthusiast, Jim is also a Navy veteran. In his most recent incarnation, he is teaching a composition class for Santa Monica Community College. He designed the course specifically for veterans, except that part was left out of the catalog description, resulting in an unexpected enrollment: most of the students were teenagers, most of them were female, none of them were vets. Listen to what happened next.


Debut Books

Tuesday, May 31st, 2005

Over at the Herald, Alastair Mabbot discusses first books and their importance in the artist’s career.

It’s the music business cliche known to everyone: an artist gets his whole life to write a first album, but a few months to write the second.
That’s usually true of books as well. There’s a unique quality to debut novels, most of which were written with as much passion, intensity and conviction as an author can hope to experience, but usually without any hope of being published.
“This is something they might well have been working on for as long as they can remember,” says Pru Rowlandson. “Whereas, the second book, most of them manage to get out in a couple of years. It is also likely to be the most autobiographical thing you ever write.”

I guess I went about it the wrong way, then. Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits isn’t autobiographical in the traditional sense (I’ve never tried to cross the Mediterranean on a boat, never hustled for a job, etc.) while the novel I’m working on now is much more personal. One of the two main characters is a Moroccan woman who comes to the United States to study, for example, and the other is a man with a very conflicted relationship with his father.


On Lit Blogs

Tuesday, May 31st, 2005

The Daily Telegraph ran a piece about lit blogs a couple of weeks ago, and now it’s finally online. It features several popular and deserving blogs, among which The Elegant Variation, Maud Newton, Edrants, and, of course, The Complete Review, whose proprietor I’ve had a huge online crush on for a while.


Reagan Arthur on Case Histories

Thursday, May 26th, 2005

Over at the Lit Blog Co-Op site, editor Reagan Arthur talks about the selection of Case Histories for Read This!

So, no, CASE HISTORIES was not lurking shyly in the corner, waiting for someone to notice it but I can tell you that despite all that good news and good fortune, it has not hit the New York Times bestseller list, and its sales, while certainly respectable, are not so stratospheric that the Read This! recommendation is the blog equivalent of sending coals to Newcastle. I get the sense that some readers are disappointed enough in the book’s success and its corporate publisher that they’ll give it a miss on principle, and that old maternal stand-by comes to mind: don’t cut off your nose to spite your face! Borrow it from a friend, or the library — I’m not interested in boosting our sales figures, only, like the estimable folks behind the LitBlog Co-Op, in sharing the rare satisfaction to be found in reading a great book.

Agree? Disagree? Hit the thread with your comments.

BTW, while this doesn’t have the same weight as the hallowed NY Times bestseller list, the selection seems to have at least some impact on online sales. Over at’s bestseller list, Case Histories is currently at #21.


Free Moroccan POWs

Thursday, May 26th, 2005

Please take a moment to visit, a new website that seeks to bring world attention to the plight of more than 408 Moroccan POWs–the world’s longest-held prisoners of war. Captured in the early days of the conflict in Western Sahara between Morocco and the Polisario Front, these people have been held for nearly 30 years. Senator McCain, a former POW, has recently joined the Free Them Now group.


Our Guests Go On To Bigger Things

Thursday, May 26th, 2005

Frequent Moorishgirl contributor Dan Olivas has joined La Bloga, a group of kick-ass Chicano bloggers posting on all things literary. Something to add to your bookmarks.


New Anthology for Young Writers

Thursday, May 26th, 2005

Random House editor Jillian Quint writes in to inform us of a contest for young writers called Twentysomething Essays By Twentysomething Writers. Says Jillian:

Basically we’re looking for cool, short nonfiction essays by good (but not super famous) writers in their twenties. The top essay wins $20,000 and up to 28 others get published in a book due out in September 2006.

Check out the website for more details.


Jonathan Edelstein Recommends

Tuesday, May 24th, 2005

habiby.jpg“Emil Habibi’s The Secret Life of Saeed: The Pessoptimist is classic satire and may also be one of the first examples of peculiarly Israeli Arab literature,” Jonathan says. “The Arab Israelis are ethnically Palestinian, but their experiences have been shaped by life in an Israeli society to which they simultaneously do and do not belong, and this has given rise to a distinct literary voice. Habibi – who was a communist member of the Israeli Knesset – experienced these contradictions in full, and the exploits of his absurd anti-hero illustrate how surreal they must have seemed to those living through them.

The term “pessoptimist” – the author’s coinage for a pessimistic optimist – is a good one to know for those who follow Middle Eastern politics, because the news from that region is often both hopeful and depressing. The continuing validity of Habibi’s satire a generation after it was written inspires the same mix of emotions.”

Jonathan Edelstein is a lawyer practicing in New York City and the author of The Head Heeb, which analyzes Middle East affairs and democratization in the developing world.

If you’d like to recommend an underappreciated book for this series, please send mail to llalami at yahoo dot com.


Alarcon Asks: What Kind of Latino Am I?

Tuesday, May 24th, 2005

Over at Salon, Daniel Alarcon analyzes some of the reactions he’s been getting recently while on tour promoting his collection, War By Candlelight.

Last April I was invited to a literary fundraiser of sorts. It was a fancy affair, full of very wealthy people and well-dressed waiters carrying trays of wine and strange-looking appetizers. A couple of dozen writers had been invited, and we were plied with alcohol and dispersed into the party. I fell into a few pleasant conversations with some very kind people, all of them genuinely excited for me — You’re so young to have published a book! etc. — and then was seated at dinner next to a woman in her 60s, who spent her meal asking me about the exotic origins of my last name. I’m Peruvian, I told her. But that last name, it reminds me of a bug that bit me when I was living in Mexico! Oh, I said. Where does it come from? she asked. I explained to her at one point that most words in Spanish that begin in “Al” are Arabic in origin, that the Moorish influence transformed the language, so that my last name may have been Arcon or Arco. I’m not sure why I told her this. I’m neither Spanish nor Moorish, and certainly not a linguist, but I felt she needed something to keep her occupied for a bit.

She gave me this wide-eyed look: That is so topical, she said. Like al-Qaida.

Even in the dim light, I’m sure she sensed she had stunned me: not that I’m saying you’re one of those people.

Oh, no, I stammered. Because I’m not.

She patted me on the shoulder. I understand, she said in a conspiratorial whisper; my daughter married a Mexican.

It goes downhill from there, with Alarcon getting increasingly frustrated that he doesn’t fit the image that is expected of the Latino writer, which is to say that of the struggling immigrant who writes novels or stories that are merely thinly disguised versions of his autobiography, how it’s all heartbreaking and so, so real.

Oh and the answer to that question? Clearly, one who can write.


Uncle Tom’s Cabin: Masterpiece or Racist Fluff?

Tuesday, May 24th, 2005

Over at Slate, Stephen Metcalf deconstructs reactions to Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, starting with how it affected 19th century readers to how it is loathed (or rehabilitated by more modern readers, including African-Americans and women.

James Baldwin, in a famous essay for The Partisan Review in 1949, saw the priority of Tom over Harris as anything but innocent and pious. Harris, Baldwin argued, is a “race apart” from the novel’s blackest characters the little girl Topsy, and Tom himself. Harris’ dignity is therefore tied, as Baldwin puts it, to his being “sufficiently un-Negroid to pass through town, a fugitive from his master, disguised as a Spanish gentleman, attracting no attention beyond admiration.” It is tied, in other words, to his whiteness. Tom is therefore Stowe’s “only black man,” whom she has “robbed of his humanity and divested of his sex.” Baldwin loathed the novel, which he felt yoked a terror of blackness to a “terror of damnation,” then “saved” Tom by rendering him an intellectual and sexual eunuch who gives himself over entirely to martyrdom. Baldwin finally sets his thermometer on roast: “Uncle Tom’s Cabin then, is activated by what might be called a theological terror, the terror of damnation; and the spirit that breathes in this book, hot, self-righteous, fearful, is not different from that terror that activates a lynch mob.”

Metcalf also cites Jane Smiley’s reactions to the work (she considers it passionate and insightful). I tend to agree more with Baldwin than Smiley on this one. Metcalf concludes by saying that “maybe we can delineate the understandable limits of its heroism and admit its manifest crudity as a work of literary art.”


Penguin: Mostly White, It Turns Out

Tuesday, May 24th, 2005

Michael at Lit Saloon links to this Observer article about Penguin’s plans to celebrate its 70th anniversary by issuing 70 short titles–but only two of the authors are non-whites.

Although Penguin has published two of the most important figures in modern black literature, James Baldwin and Chinua Achebe, neither is included on a list that finds room for popular modern names such as Jamie Oliver, Marian Keyes, Gervase Phinn and India Knight, as well as paying tribute to significant white landmarks of world literature such as Gustave Flaubert, Albert Camus, Jorge Luis Borges, Paul Theroux, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Vladimir Nabokov, Sigmund Freud and even Homer, a segment of whose Odyssey gets a look in.

The only two black authors included are Zadie Smith, the young Briton who made her name with the award-winning novel White Teeth, and Hari Kunzru, who is best known for The Impressionist and Transmission, and has a worldwide following.

If this is a list meant to represent the best of Penguin’s work, then the exclusion of Achebe makes no sense. And if it is meant to represent their best selling authors, then Achebe–who is routinely assigned in high school and college classes–should certainly have fit the criteria. The publisher’s response is that they weren’t going to do “quotas,” that they were looking at “sales only.” In that case, what about Salman Rushdie? Isn’t he published by Penguin (through Viking)? The sales from The Satanic Verses alone probably surpass those of any writer on that list. And he’s not included either. Next time I hear someone moaning about a minority-only prize, I’ll have to remind them of things like this, which are far more common than people think.


Women Writers of the Arab World

Monday, May 23rd, 2005

wwaw_poster.JPG Hedgebrook‘s latest initiative, in partnership with the Arab American Community Coalition, is nothing short of groundbreaking. It’s called Women Writers of the Arab World and it brings together six writers from different countries and different experiences: Raja Alem of Saudi Arabia, Suheir Hammad of Palestine and the US, Choman Hardi of Iraqi Kurdistan and the UK, Alia Mamdouh of Iraq and France, Somaya Ramadan of Egypt, and Ibtihal Salem of Egypt. The women were awarded a month-long residency at the Hedgebrook Writers’ Retreat, where they worked on a fiction or non-fiction project. In addition to this gift of time and space, the writers were given the rare opportunity to meet with each other and with readers from the Northwest, through readings, panels, and workshops (listed here.)

wwaw_panel.JPGThis weekend, Alex and I drove up to Seattle to attend one of the events, which was held in a packed auditorium at the University of Washington. Moderated by Therese Saliba, the panel featured Raja Alem, Choman Hardi, and Ibtihal Salem. They read from their work (poetry for Hardi, short fiction for Salem and Alem) and discussed the role of translation in their lives. Hardi made a conscious choice to start writing in English; she was dissatisfied with translations of her poetry from the Kurdish, which came out sounding ‘precious’ and so she preferred to write directly in English and to reach English readers that way rather than through translations. Salem stressed the importance of culture in translation. “It’s important,” she said, “that the translator be not just familiar with the language but with its people. Ideally the translator has lived in the cuture he/she translates.” And Saudi-born Alem talked about how, despite her country’s censors, she has managed to have her voice heard within the Kingdom. “The trouble,” she said, “is getting heard outside of it, because all the outside world wants is stereotypes of veils.” After writing seven novels in Arabic, Alem has now written her first in English.

laila_and_fadia.JPGLater, at the post-event reception, I spent way too much money at the Elliot Bay Book Company stand, which had a very impressive array of literature by Arab and Arab American authors. I also got to meet and chat with uber-cool poetess Suheir Hammad, and with the amazing Fadia Faqir, who was due to fly back to the U.K. the next day. A wonderful event. I only wish that there were more like these in the Northwest.

Seattle P.I.: Arab women writers take part in ‘an amazing event.’
Seattle Times: Arab women writers making Seattle appearances.
Seattle Weekly: Unveiling the Middle East.
Moorishgirl: At Hedgebrook, Peace and Quiet, At Last.


The Snows of Kilimanjaro

Monday, May 23rd, 2005

Over at the Guardian, Caryl Phyllips reports on how he and Russell Banks climbled Mount Kilimanjaro earlier this year.

Russell and I first talked about this climb in Saratoga Springs during the 2004 summer programme of the New York State Writers Institute. One night, in a bar called The Parting Glass, we found ourselves bragging to each other, and the assembled writing students, about how we had both climbed Kilimanjaro. I had done so three times, and Russell once, but it was some time now since either of us had been on the mountain. Also, Russell had gone up the easier Marangu route, and over drinks I was trying to introduce him to the idea that the more difficult Machame route was the way to go. Predictably, by the time the barman called last orders we had talked ourselves into an expedition.

I read the article with a mixture of awe and dread. In one of my weaker moments, I promised Alex (an inveterate hiker/backpacker) that someday within the next ten years, I would hike up Kilimanjaro with him. We’re now three years into that promise, so I have some time yet, but I can’t imagine how I will do it–I can barely summon enough energy or excitement to do Mount Whitney. Besides, I find reading about the Kilimanjaro hike much more exciting.


Blurry Distinctions

Thursday, May 19th, 2005

Over at the Telegraph, Philip Henscher reviews Tim Winton’s The Turning, and wonders:

What is this book? Is it a novel? Is it a collection of stories with recurrent characters? Well, it might just be an example of a new literary genre. Genres don’t come into existence every day, but in the past few years a good number of writers have started exploring the previously blank territory that lies between the collection of short stories and the novel proper. It starts to look like a new form altogether.

Why worry what to call it? I mean–Shouldn’t we be asking if it’s any good? But Henscher’s point isn’t really about quality. It’s more about a trend he’s noticed over the last 10 years:

first noticed that something was in the air when I started being asked to judge competitions for novels, about 10 years ago or so. In one competition after another, a book came up for consideration and someone on the panel would say: “This is a terribly good book: but isn’t it really a collection of short stories, rather than a novel?” Judging the 2001 Booker Prize, for instance, we finally shortlisted two books of this sort – Rachel Seiffert’s The Dark Room and Ali Smith’s Hotel World. Another writer on that shortlist, David Mitchell, clearly finds the form congenial; his first book, Ghostwritten, and his third, Cloud Atlas, are constructed out of a succession of near-unrelated narratives.

These, and others, such as Rachel Cusk’s beautiful The Lucky Ones, shortlisted for the Whitbread Novel prize, don’t follow exactly the same tactics. The Dark Room is three separate stories, bound together by a single theme; despite their lack of connection, you couldn’t really excerpt one of them for an anthology. Hotel World is a single narrative, told from such different perspectives that the reader does have the sense of starting freshly with each episode.

This resonates particularly strongly with me because my debut book Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits, has been described by one reader as “neither fish nor fowl,” an expression I tried my hardest to take as a compliment. My publisher has billed it as a short story collection, but in its overall themes it feels more like a novel where the chapters build on one another. Even while I was focused on details of the individual narratives, I always had the overall picture in mind. So it’ll be interesting to see, when the book comes out, whether this is something that readers and reviewers respond to.


Giveaway: The Resilient Writer

Thursday, May 19th, 2005

wald.jpgRejection is part of the writer’s life and so Catherine Wald’s book, The Resilient Writer: Tales of Rejection and Triumph by Twenty Top Authors is of particular interest to those who’ve experienced the sting of the unsigned rejection (or, worse, an empty SASE.) My personal favorite remains one by C. Michael Curtis of The Atlantic, which managed to be both flattering and insulting in just two lines. This week’s giveaway is for you writers. The first person to email me a request at llalami AT yahoo DOT com will receive the book. Good luck.

Update: The winner is L. Alves from Brazil.


Readers Respond: On Book Burning

Thursday, May 19th, 2005

Shaun Bythell, the Scottish bookseller mentioned in this post about book burning, wrote to me to explain why he’d chosen this method for disposing of unsold volumes:

There was a good reason for burning the books, and it wasn’t based on censorship or oppression. At the moment we currently send the stock we cannot sell to charity shops but some of it is in such bad condition they won’t take it – this we put in a skip and it ends up in a landfill site.

Of course book burning is not a more environmentally friendly solution than landfill but this is where most second-hand books with no value currently end up. My argument for having this event was based on the fact that if the alternative fate of the books was to rot in a hole in the ground why not do something more interesting and use them to make a fire sculpture as a publicity stunt to get people talking about the problem, and to raise the profile of Wigtown as Scotland’s National Book Town. Richard Booth who set up Hay on Wye as Booktown about 30 years ago once told me that he got far more press coverage from declaring war on the Welsh Tourist Board than from setting up a successful Book Town, and to some degree I agree that the media engages far more enthusiastically with a controversial story which polarises opinion than one of small rural town which is enjoying economic regeneration. So, yes it was a publicity stunt rather than a practical measure and it has worked – a full page in the Financial Times, half a page in the Sunday Times, a quarter page in the Sunday Herald and a five minute interview on Radio Scotland all of which mention Wigtown and discuss the issue of “dead” books.



Chiasmata Festival

Thursday, May 19th, 2005

Chiamasta is a three-day literary festival celebrating South Asian writing, and it takes place May 20-23, 2005. Here’s the blurb I received by email.

The South Asian Women’s Creative Collective (SAWCC) invites you to our third annual literary event, celebrating the works of South Asian writers.

In this event, we explore and celebrate chiasmata, spontaneous connections that spawn diversity and birth the motley spaces we inhabit. Spaces between the old and the new, the established and the subversive, the familiar and the novel. Spaces that serve as bridges towards a new self.

Participants include Amitava Kumar, Abha Dawesar, Ginu Kamani, Mary Anne Mohanraj, Meera Nair, Tahira Naqvi, S. Mitra Kalita, Bushra Rehman, Shahnaz Habib, Prageeta Sharma, Alka Bhargava, Anna Ghosh, Pooja Makhijani and Neesha Meminger.

What: Literary festival including two evenings of readings and discussion, a writing workshop for emerging writers, and a panel discussion of South Asians in publishing

When: May 20, 21, 22

Where: the Asian American Writers’ Workshop and the Queens Museum of Art

Please visit for further details.

For more information, and to reserve your spot for the writing workshop, email:


Selected Shorts at the Getty

Thursday, May 19th, 2005

In a previous incarnation, I worked as a thesaurus editor for the Getty, so it was a special treat to hear about the Selected Shorts event at the Getty.

What: Selected Shorts: The Love Story Weekend
Where: The Getty Center, Los Angeles.
When: Friday
Who: A reading of Tessa Hadley’s “Mother’s Son” by Shohreh Aghdashloo (“House of Sand and Fog”) and “Cultural Relativity” by Regina King (“Ray”).



Word Theatre Celebrates Swink Issue 2

Thursday, May 19th, 2005

Here’s a party we probably would be at if we were still in Los Angeles, but since we can’t, we’d love to hear from those who do go: Word Theatre celebrates Swink Issue #2.

Saturday, May 21, 2005
1253 N. Vine St
SW corner of Vine
6:30 Cocktails
7:00 Buffet Dinner
8:00 Readings

Wilson Cruz (“My So Called Life”, “Party Monster”) reads Manuel Mu


Lit Lite Soirees

Wednesday, May 18th, 2005

Lola Ogunnaike’s description of Lit Lite, a weekly series where performers select and read from their favorite bad books, made me want to check it out. Recent selections include work by Ethan Hawke, Naomi Campbell, and Eve Ensler.

“I am unfortunately one of those lonely sad people that reads a lot,” said [Lit Lite creator] Mr. Hendrix in an interview, “and I’ve always been drawn to bad books.” Asked why he prefers cringe-inducing texts to works from the literary canon Mr. Hendrix said, “Good literature is a little bit boring and precious.” He pointed to Jonathan Franzen’s “Corrections” and the works of David Foster Wallace to illustrate his point, saying he would rather curl up with “I Was a White Slave in Harlem,” the autobiography of the drag queen Margo Howard-Howard. Speaking of slavery and drag queens. Originally, Flotilla DeBarge, a statuesque drag queen who bears more than a passing resemblance to the talk show host Star Jones, was to read that evening from “Swan,” a novel by the model Naomi Campbell. Ms. DeBarge and Mr. Hendrix decided that while Ms. Campbell’s book was awful, it was not gripping; instead they opted for Harriet Beecher Stowe’s “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.”

The show’s curators don’t just pick from the fiction shelves–their next selection is the Abercrombie and Fitch catalog (What? It has words?)


30 Days In My Shoes? Dude, I Want To Try 30 Days In Yours

Wednesday, May 18th, 2005

Morgan Spurlock (of Supersize Me fame) is producing a new TV show for the FX network. The reality series, called 30 Days, places people “in unfamiliar social circumstances” for a month and documents their reactions. One of the shows is about a “fundamentalist Christian” who is taken to Dearborn, Michigan for a month. Says Spurlock:

“We took a fundamentalist Christian from my home state of West Virginia, somebody who is very pro-war, pro-‘us versus them’, that when you hear Muslim the only thing he thinks of is a guy standing on a mountain with an AK-47,” Spurlock said.

The man leaves his wife and children at home and goes to live with a Muslim family in Dearborn, Michigan, home to one of the largest Muslim populations in the United States.

“He dresses as a Muslim, eats as a Muslim, he prays five times a day, he studies the Koran daily, he learns to speak Arabic, he works with an imam, a Muslim cleric, to learn the history of Islam, what are the five pillars, why are they important.”

“And the transformation this guy goes through in 30 days is miraculous, it’s incredible,” Spurlock said.

The documentary maker, who has visited more than 100 schools as part of his campaign to improve school food programs, says the television show is driven by the desire to make people think about societal problems.

Another show has Spurlock and his fiancee trying to survive on minimum wage for a month. Now that I’ll watch. Maybe I’ll set my TiVo.


Anne Frank Translator Speaks

Wednesday, May 18th, 2005

B.M. Mooyart-Doubleday, who translated The Diary of Anne Frank from the Dutch, gets some recognition via a profile in the Journal Gazette.

For many readers of the diary of the teen hidden in an attic in her father’s office building in Nazi-occupied Amsterdam, Mooyart-Doubleday and Frank became one and the same – even though the former was hardly an experienced translator of Dutch.

Instead, she was a 31-year-old mother of two who had married a pilot in the Dutch equivalent of the Air Force and moved to Holland, teaching herself the language in the process.

Shortly after the war ended, she recalls, she received a letter from an old friend in London who worked at a small publishing house.

“He said, ‘We have had a man called Otto Frank come to our office telling us about his daughter’s diary, and we think it’s an interesting document, but we have no one in this office who reads Dutch,’ ” she recalls.

“So I jumped on my bicycle and bought the book and read it in one breath, and I was very moved, and I wrote back telling him I thought it was a very good book indeed.”

The book had been published in Dutch as “The Secret Annex” in 1947.

Mooyart-Doubleday received only 60 pounds for the translation, which she had to complete in a little over two months. French and German translations of the book, she says, did not sell initially, but the English translation did well.

The Anne Frank Museum has exhaustive information about her, and you can even take a virtual tour of the house and watch rare footage. By far the most moving moment of my trip to Amsterdam a few years ago was standing on the second floor of the building at 263 Prinsengracht and peeking out at the secret annex where the Frank family hid for two years.


In Writers’ Terms, 50 is the new 30

Tuesday, May 17th, 2005

A study of bestselling authors reveals that 50 is the perfect age to write a novel. Actually, that’s kind of misleading. Make that “the perfect age to write a novel that makes it to the NY Times bestseller list, which novel might not be your first, nor your last.” But still. When you compare that to the average age at which musicians top the Rolling Stone list, it’s nice to see that maturity is not a liability in writing.


Place It On The Shelf Next To Hawke, Ethan

Tuesday, May 17th, 2005

Bookdwarf reports on Macaulay Culkin’s first novel, which the publisher’s catalog describes thus:

In a dizzying kaleidescope of words and images, actor and writer Macaulay Culkin takes readers on a twisted tour to the darkest corners of his fertile imagination. Part memoir, part rant, part comedic tour de force, Junior is full of hard-won wisdom of Culkin’s quest to come to terms with the awesome pressures of childhood mega-stardom and family dysfunction. He understands that “having fun and being happy are two totally different things,” yet at the same times he warns, “the end of the world is coming—and I’m going to have unfinished business.” Searingly honest and brainteasingly inventive, Junior is breathtaking proof that Culkin has found his own utterly original voice.

Now, I know that catalogs are supposed to indulge in hyperbole about the author’s talent, but “brainteasingly inventive”? “Breathtaking proof”? Time to put down that thesaurus.

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