The Cost of Pursuing Art

Joan Didion, 1972. (c) Jill Krementz
Joan Didion, 1972. (c) Jill Krementz

From Laura Bogart via Dame:

The best thing that ever happened to my writing life was breaking my ankle. Painful, yes, but it bought me seven weeks of forced bed rest—kind of like a paid writer’s retreat, except for the part where I had to figure out how to get myself to the bathroom.

I’ve written in the margins of life since I was a college student selling cardigans at Lord & Taylor; a graduate student tutoring kindergarteners on the alphabet and prepping high-school seniors for their SATs; an adjunct with a five-class courseload across two campuses; and a late-twentysomething/early-thirtysomething “in marketing and editorial.” Lunch breaks bled into long nights, and long nights bled into weekends. All the while I was chafed raw: I had to eke out my passion in the hours between helping other people achieve their dreams—or at least get what they wanted.

This prolonged, uninterrupted time out of the office was the silver lining of a catastrophic injury.

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Richard Blanco, 2013 Inaugural Poet

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Richard Blanco, chosen by President Obama to deliver the Inaugural Poem. Photo (c) 2013 Craig Dilger for The New York Times

From the New York Times:

From the moment Barack Obama burst onto the political scene, the poet Richard Blanco, a son of Cuban exiles, says he felt “a spiritual connection” with the man who would become the nation’s 44th president.

Like Mr. Obama, who chronicled his multicultural upbringing in a best-selling autobiography, “Dreams From My Father,” Mr. Blanco has been on a quest for personal identity through the written word. He said his affinity for Mr. Obama springs from his own feeling of straddling different worlds; he is Latino and gay (and worked as a civil engineer while pursuing poetry). His poems are laden with longing for the sights and smells of the land his parents left behind.

Now Mr. Obama is about to pluck Mr. Blanco out of the relatively obscure and quiet world of poetry and put him on display before the entire world.

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It’s Fathers Day

It’s just another day created by the Hallmark folks, but I find myself thinking about my father. His spirit is captured in this scene from Esperanza Farm I wrote years ago:

It’s Cuba, around 1963. A father’s small business has just been nationalized by the government. He’s going home to tell his wife. His son is with him.

Dad handed me a brown paper bag with two ham sandwiches inside. He had bought them from someone that had stopped by earlier in the day. We walked outside where the rain had been waiting for us. The mist rising was a splashing welcome to our faces.

I watched as my father locked the door, pushing it twice to make sure it was locked, the way he always did. Dad then turned the sign on the string to the side that read ‘closed’. He looked for a few seconds at the door and then he turned to me. He took the bag with the sandwiches from me and said: “I leave with more than I came.” He smiled at me, but I could tell that he was ‘this’ close to crying.

I waited for him to take the first step into the rain-covered street. The intensity of the rainstorm was increasing. Vapor was rising from the broken asphalt. The rain drops sounded like little whips against the concrete sidewalk.

Asking me to follow him, my father ran into the downpour, without looking back. I smiled and followed him. But before he got to the other side of the street, Dad slipped and fell.

I saw him go head first into the wet pavement.

I stopped, not knowing what to do, unsure of how to help him.

He had slid hard, falling on his elbows and knees, but, like a good outfielder making a diving catch, Dad had held on to the sandwiches.

He got up just as quickly and turning to look at me, he smiled with his whole face. He then started running again towards home, laughing as he ran, looking back often to see if I was keeping pace.

His laughter was piercing the gray clouds.

May you spend the day with your Dad, laughing under the rain. If he’s gone, may his memories brighten your day.

Thanks, Pipo.

The Never-Ending Novel After “Invisible Man”

Ralph Ellison

From The Chronicle Review via @davefenton:

Ralph Ellison is most famous for two things: writing the classic Invisible Man and never publishing another novel during his lifetime. The story of his supposed writer’s block has become almost as familiar to many readers as anything he did publish.

Adam Bradley, an associate professor of English at the University of Colorado at Boulder, wants to rewrite that story. In Ralph Ellison in Progress (out this month from Yale University Press), he argues that the work Ellison did in the second half of his life reveals even more about the writer’s artistic agenda and ambition than Invisible Man does—and allows us to read that classic work with fresh eyes.

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A Young View on the Future of the Book

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Via The Millions:

The rustle of textbook pages turning, the hasty unzipping of oversized book bags hardly disrupts this venue’s overflowing intellectual energy. The pounding clatter of fingers pressed against greasy laptop keyboards – a soothing symphony to knowledge, it seems – fills the second-floor air, redolent of fresh Starbucks coffee. College students donning the ubiquitous ‘H’ logo, tourists doing likewise, a few bums clad in sweatpants, and the other denizens of Cambridge flock here, traveling up the cascading staircase past the stack of Malcolm Gladwell books to check out all three floors of the establishment.

It is June 2009 and I take my place among the overstressed, sleepless, and nascent literati at the Harvard Coop, a popular bookstore just outside the campus of one of the nation’s most prestigious universities. School is never out here. A seventeen-year-old high school student, I wasn’t researching a thesis. However, I had enrolled in two creative writing classes for the summer and desperately needed to begin on my final project: a piece of creative non-fiction of up to fifteen pages.

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“War Dances” Wins PEN/Faulkner

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Via HuffPost:

Sherman Alexie has won the PEN/Faulkner Award, the PEN/Faulkner Foundation announced Tuesday morning. Alexie’s 2009 novel, “War Dances,” came out on top of a list of finalists that included literary greats Barbara Kingsolver and Lorrie Moore, along with Coleson Whitehead and Lorraine N. Lopez.

Sherman Alexie has previously won the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, awarded in 2007 for “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian,” as well as the Native Writers’ Circle of the Americas Lifetime Achievement Award in 2010 for his contribution to Native American writing. Alexie’s writing, which includes four novels, three short story collections, and poetry, focuses on Native American characters and issues, though he is well known for making these topics widely accessible and relatable.

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