Monthly Archives: April 2014

Blackout Poetry and the New York Times

I do love concrete, spine, and other sorts of shape poetry.  And so, on this final day of National Poetry Month, I enjoyed coming across  the  New York Times Blackout Poetry Generator:

Popularized in recent years by writer and artist Austin Kleon, blackout poetry encourages readers to create poems by redacting words from ordinary texts. During the last week of National Poetry Month, we will feature snippets of Times articles you can use to create and share your own short poems. 

You can see my effort here.

 

 

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Spring Lewis Carroll Society of North America Meeting

It is certainly no secret that I am a fan of Lewis Carroll.  And so one of the fun things for a Carroll fan is to attend the occasional meeting of one of the literary societies focused on him.  I’ve been to several hosted by the UK, US, and Canadian organizations, the most recent being the Lewis Carroll Society of North America‘s meeting in NYC this past Saturday.

Now the meetings can be quite varied, often reflecting the locale, the president’s preferences, and more.  For instance, I’ve never been able to make it to one of the West Coast meetings (due to school schedules), but I always have salivated at the agenda as they often avail themselves of movie making and some of the wonderful collections that are there. Here in NYC we often meet at NYU’s Fales Library which has some terrific Lewis Carroll material, but this time we were at the NYIT thanks to one of our members who is the president of the institution.

I hadn’t been to a meeting in a few years and so I really enjoyed reconnecting with old friends at this one. While I had been to a couple of meetings before it was at the 1998 celebration at Christ Church in Oxford that I really bonded with a number of fellow Carroll enthusiasts.

The meeting opened with an interesting panel of the society’s founding members including Morton Cohen, Edward Guiliano,Michael Patrick Hearn, David Schaefer, and Justin Schiller.  I found the contrast to the Oz Club to be especially interesting. (Justin started that organization when very young and Michael has been very involved with it too).

Craig Yoe‘s presentation  on his new book Alice in ComicLand was great fun as is the book (and Craig himself). The selections performed from Bruce Lazarus’ Carrolling project were lovely and clever all at once.  I also enjoyed very much Chris Morgan on Carroll’s games and puzzles. He alerted me to some great online resources, notably celebration of the mind,  futility closet and martin-gardner.org.

Poet Jessica Young spoke about her book, Alice’s Sister and we Carroll fanatics were amused that she was under the misapprehension that Alice Liddell had a sister named Mary.  We were very entertained by April Lynn James/Madison Hatta’s performance of excerpts from  her “The Twinkle Bat Variations,” intrigued by Mike Schneider’s presentation of The Wordless Alice Project, and tickled by Tim Manley’s Alice in Tumblr-land.

All in all, a very good meeting and day.

 


 

 

 

 

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Africa is My Home: Interview with Deborah Kalb

I had fun doing an interview with Deborah Kalb and it is now on her blog here.

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Laurie Anderson and Rebecca Stead Together With Others at the Met?

SPARK: A New Conversation Series
Laurie Anderson,
performance artist
Melanie Holcomb, curator in the Department of Medieval Art and The Cloisters, MMA
Rebecca Stead, author
SeungJung Kim,art historian, professor at the University of Toronto

We think we can measure time only in minutes and seconds, but artists and musicians can also play with, stretch, and compress it. Our awareness of the expanse of human time is shattered by our understanding of geologic time and the age of the stars. In this program, our sense of time is expanded and upended, as Met curator Melanie Holcomb describes how a whole day is compressed into a few square feet in a medieval frieze; astrophysicist-turned-art historian SeungJung Kim explores the double Greek notions of chronos and kairos; writer Rebecca Stead bends time in her novel When You Reach Me (2009); and performance artist Laurie Anderson meditates on time and space.

The Spark series explores vital ideas and issues through the lens of the Met’s collections. Each cabaret-style program gathers artists, thought leaders, and performers from theater, film, politics, literature, science, and pop culture to engage in wide-ranging, fresh conversations and performances. Spark is hosted by Julie Burstein, author and Peabody Award–winning creator of public radio’s Studio 360.

I don’t know about you, but this event at the Metropolitan Museum of Art next Wednesday, April 30th, looks incredibly cool to me.

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More About Endings, Ambiguous and Others

Endings have always been my Everest. Or, really, if writing a novel is like climbing Everest, then my tendency is to get within eyeshot of the summit and say, “Well, that’s far enough.” In the seventh grade my English teacher had only one rule: Our stories couldn’t end with it all turning out to be a dream. Thanks to me, this rule soon expanded to include everyone dying in a bus crash, an asteroid hitting Earth, etc., etc.

I just finished reading Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland to my 4th graders. When we got to the last few pages  I warned them to be irritated. Why? Because of the horrible ending. Not only does it all turn out to be a dream, but Carroll blathers on in the most twee and sentimental way. So, I’m with that 7th grade English teacher — no ending-with-a-dream.

But that 7th grade teacher’s admonition is only a tiny piece of Kristopher Jasma’s thoughtful NYTimes essay, “The End, or Something.” Jasma looks at many aspects of the struggle and importance of endings including those ambiguous ones and how and what is satisfying and necessary both for the writer and the reader.

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Star Wars, Spiderwick, Wonder, A Tale Dark and Grimm, and Orgami Yoda Together?

Yes indeed. Adam Gidwitz had for some time been hinting to me about a big secret project. At one point I thought it was a video game…but now I have learned  just what it is and it is indeed big.  And wild. Adam and three other big name children’s book writers will be writing brand new retellings (Adam is indeed perfect for that!) tied to the first three Star Wars movies.  They are indeed arguably as awesome as those grim Grimm fairy tales. Joining Adam are Wonder‘s R. J. Palacio, Orgami Yoda‘s Tom Angleberger, and Spiderwick‘s Tony DiTerlizzi.  From PW:

The Adventures of Luke Skywalker, Jedi Knight, a picture book encompassing all three films, written by DiTerlizzi and illustrated with Ralph McQuarrie concept art, will kick off the program in October. It will be followed by retellings of Star Wars: A New Hope by Palacio in April 2015, Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back by Gidwitz in July 2015, and Star Wars: Return of the Jedi by Angleberger in October 2015; all three will be illustrated by Iain McCaig. McCaig and the late McQuarrie are well known for their work as Star Wars concept artists.

Wild and wonderful. Congratulations to all those cool authors. 

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Albert Marrin’s A Volcano Beneath the Snow: John Brown’s War Against Slavery

I confess, until recently what I knew about John Brown was pretty much limited to a vague awareness of his foolhardy attack on Harper’s Ferry. Then, last summer, I read this review of James McBride’s historical novel about Brown, Good Lord Bird,  listened to it, thought it terrific, and  was very pleased when it won the National Book Award. And so, having Brown much more on my radar, when I first saw Albert Marrin’s nonfiction book A Volcano Beneath the Snow: John Brown’s War Against Slavery I was eager to read it. Having now done so I can say without reservations that it is excellent.

The excellently-titled A Volcano Beneath Snow is a book that is much more than a biography or history of one man. Rather, it is a book about slavery (both in history and in the United States), about politics, about war, about Lincoln, about religion, about history, about belief, and about terrorism. By placing Brown deeply within the context of his time, Marrin gives a unique and fascinating perspective on familiar and less familiar aspects of actions, people, and the ideas that led up to the Civil War. His portraits of Brown, Lincoln, and many other players are highly complicated, fascinating,  and thought-provoking. While the concepts in play are not always simple, Marrin writes about them clearly and elegantly, trusting in the intelligence of his young readers. This is a book that makes you think. Hard.

Highly recommended.

 

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Ah, those fairies, they do seem to like to be photographed

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I’ve long been besotted with the story of the Cottingley fairies (those that two little girls supposedly photographed quite a while ago, one of which is above).  So, of course, was amused to see the most recent photographs of those little beings.  This time it is the Rossendale fairies as photographed by adult college lecturer John Hyatt. (One of his photographs is below).

o-FAIRIES-3-900

 

While I don’t think I’m particularly fluffy-headed about fairies and such, I admit this lacks the magic of the Cottingley story. That one appeals to me due those two young girls’ imagination going hogwild.  This business by an adult is seems something else entirely.  (That said, I love to think what Elsie and Frances could have done with theirs using today’s technology!)

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26 Characters at Oxford’s Story Museum

In Oxford, England, there is a unique museum blending art, performance, telling, viewing, and pretty much everything else story-related in imaginative ways. This is the Story Museum. Here’s a bit from my post  reporting my visit there a couple of years ago:

Yesterday, Philip Pullman who is, unsurprisingly, one of their patrons took me to the museum where we got a fascinating tour with co-director Kim Pickin.  The physical space is a remarkable warren of rooms of all sizes with a fascinating history and, if they do even a smidgen of what they dream to do, it will be extraordinary. They’ve got some massive Alice cut-outs peering out of the windows, a dinosaur, some scary vaults (part of the space used to be the post office and there are rumors that gold bullion was stored there at one point), some very old printing presses, and lots of energy .

I’ve followed  them on twitter ever since and have often wished I could go visit their unique exhibits.  The one that just opened, 26 Characters, looks absolutely wonderful. They invited a number of familiar children’s book creators such as Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett  to “transform themselves into the characters they most loved as children.”  The resulting exhibit of photographs by Cambridge Jones is  “a gallery of rogues and rascals, wizards, witches and wild things, which unfolds through the Story Museum’s atmospheric and unfinished buildings.”

Highlights:

– see portraits hung in interactive themed spaces

– Listen to story extracts recorded by award-winning actors Olivia Colman and Christopher Eccleston

– Hear new stories specially created by Jamila Gavin, Geraldine McCaughrean, Kevin Crossley-Holland and Alex Kanefsky

– Listen to authors talking about their choice of hero and why they love stories (you can also hear them online here)

– Browse through everybody’s books and discover more in our comfortable library

– Dress up and have your photo taken for our digital gallery

– Make friends with our talking throne

For a taste, here’s Neil Gaiman as a Badger. Sure wish I could go!

Neil-Gaiman-as-Badger

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Deborah Wiles’ Revolution

Deborah Wiles’ Sixties Trilogy is set in the time of hers (and my) youth.  The first book, Countdown, is a vivid, compelling, and moving view of the Cuban Missile Crisis seen through the eyes of  eleven-year-old Franny and was, I thought, splendid causing me to wait on tenterhooks for the next one.  When I saw that the second book was coming out this year I was both elated and nervous. Could Wiles pull it off again?

Here’s my tweet after reading it:

 Mar 31 I spent most of the weekend reading ‘s Revolution and it is fabulous.

So, yes, Wiles pulled it off again. In spades.

Revolution is set during the civil rights movement’s Freedom Summer of 1964. Two smart young people are at the center of the novel, observing and wondering and questioning the vicious racism and segregation that has ruled their Mississippi community for so long. We meet our protagonist, white twelve-year-old Sunny as she and her slightly older step-brother take an illicit nighttime dip in the municipal pool. Relishing the cool water and thrill of doing something slightly dangerous, Sunny is mulling over the pleasures of the forthcoming lazy summer when she has an encounter that jerks her out of reverie and onto a path of profound knowledge and change. It is a path that Raymond also travels, a boy all too aware of what it means to be young and black in 1964 Greenwood, and who wants to do something about it.

Greenwood has been filled with “invaders” as Sunny calls them, young civil rights activists who have come to do voter registration, set up Freedom Schools, and otherwise support local blacks in gaining their rights. Wiles does a superb job weaving in the many threads of life for white and black Greenwood citizens at this time, powerfully and, sometimes brutally, evoking real life events. She also brings in wider pieces of the time, the Vietnam War, the Beatles, and Willie Mays among others.

Sunny and Raymond are beautifully drawn — highly believable young people of their time and place. There isn’t a false note.Those around them are nuanced too, from the young northern civil rights workers to those in both of the young people’s families who are responding in different believable ways to the changing events. And Wiles excelles at sensory detail, giving readers the sounds of the young people’s different neighborhoods, the feeling of summer heat, those fans and the occasional air conditioner, the shiny floors of the courthouse, and much more. Using present tense, she creates scenes of drama and action and others that are quiet and pensive, all moving and unforgettable.

Then there is the nonfiction material that, as in Countdown, is interspersed throughout. Photos, quotes, excerpts from documents and news articles, song lyrics, and more are evocatively presented, deepening and making even more real  what is going on around Sunny and Raymond.  The back matter offers more along with a solid bibliography. But for those who want to actually hear and see more I encourage them to explore Wiles’ Pinterest page.

Revolution is one spectacular novel. I highly, highly recommend it.

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