Thursday, November 27, 2008

Fence Launch !

Since 2007, when Fence Magazine and Fence Books joined forces with the Writers Institute, there has been a launch reading to inaugurate the newest issue. And now, we're all pleased to celebrate Fence's 20th issue.

On December 4, Edward Schwarzschild, Ira Sher, and Shelley Jackson, all contributors to the current issue, will read from their work at 7pm in the University at Albany's Standish Room.

Shelley Jackson, a remarkable artist of diverse talents is best explored through her inimitable website: Have a look at Skin: A Mortal Work of Art, or The Interstitial Library, or The Doll Games. This is all magic in an internet bottle.

Ed Schwarzschild, author of Responsible Men and The Family Diamond, is a Fellow of the Writers Institute, and one of its great talents. Check out his work at

Ira Sher may best be known to NPR This American Life listeners for his haunting story "the Man in the Well," of a man fallen in a well and the children who ignore him. The story has been read many times to great effect. Look it up:

Ira will revisit the Writers Institute in MArch of 2009 to read from his new novel, Singer.

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Saturday, November 15, 2008

Ms Hall Regrets

Due to a medical emergency Courtney Hall was unable to join the Writers Institute for the Nov 14 screening of Frozen River. She assures us she will revisit the Writers Institute in the months to come. We wish her well.

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Friday, November 7, 2008

Alice Fulton

Friday, November 7, 2008

“Troy is where love comes to die….”

Alice Fulton takes Irish Times feature writer Anna Mundow on a tour of her hometown, Troy, New York, which is the setting for her critically-acclaimed story collection, The Nightingales of Troy (2008).
“FOR AN ACCLAIMED poet, fiction writer and Cornell University professor, Alice Fulton is surprisingly considerate. She urges me to eat another muffin, drink more iced tea before we set off to explore Troy, New York, her hometown. She thanks me again for coming here even though hers has been the far longer journey. Fulton has returned to show me the sites depicted in her sublime new short-story collection, The Nightingales of Troy , which portrays four generations of the fictional Irish-American Garrahan family.
She responds plainly, modestly, to praise of her fiction which has been compared to that of Alice Munro, Grace Pailey, Annie Proulx. But she prefers to talk about the past; about the Callahan ("Garrahan") women who inspired her short stories, about the dashing father and vivacious mother who was "the first in the family to go astray by marrying a divorced, Protestant bootlegger, 15 years older than she" and who, at 95, is still cared for by her daughters.
We briefly peruse photographs and yellowed newspaper clippings, many depicting her father's entertainment ventures: the Phoenix Hotel, the Rainbow Gardens, the Ship of Joy, names that conjure up the muted wail of a 1930s dance band. Then a surprise. "It's today," Fulton says, handing me a page from the Troy Record for July 3rd, 1919. "It happened ninety-nine years ago today."
That is strange. The day on which we choose to meet is the date on which Fulton's great-grandmother drowned in the city canal. "It was a perfect night: calm and desolate," Fulton writes in Queen Wintergreen, imagining the fictional Peg Flynn's last moments, "she sat down on the bank, dangling her feet over the darkness like a girl . . . easing herself into the state waterway, which at first felt coldly foreign, then as her skirts turned to fetters, warmer, more familiar"….
The full text of the article is available at

Note: Poet and fiction writer Alice Fulton will visit the Writers Institute on Tuesday, November 11, 2008. She will hold an informal workshop at 4:15 PM in Assembly Hall, Campus Center, on the University at Albany’s uptown campus, 1400 Washington Ave. In the evening, at 8 PM, Fulton will read from and discuss her new interlinked story collection, The Nightingales of Troy, in the Recital Hall of the Performing Arts Center on the uptown campus.

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Wednesday, November 5, 2008

A New Day

from Bruce:

Spirits above and behind me
Faces gone, black eyes burnin' bright
May their precious blood forever bind me
Lord as I stand before your fiery light

Li,li, li,li,li,li, li,li,li

I see you Mary in the garden
In the garden of a thousand sighs
There's holy pictures of our children
Dancin' in a sky filled with light
May I feel your arms around me
May I feel your blood mix with mine
A dream of life comes to me
Like a catfish dancin' on the end of the line

Sky of blackness and sorrow (a dream of life)
Sky of love, sky of tears (a dream of life)
Sky of glory and sadness (a dream of life)
Sky of mercy, sky of fear (a dream of life)
Sky of memory and shadow (a dream of life)
Your burnin' wind fills my arms tonight
Sky of longing and emptiness (a dream of life)
Sky of fullness, sky of blessed life (a dream of life)

Come on up for the rising
Come on up, lay your hands in mine
Come on up for the rising
Come on up for the rising tonight

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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

David Hackett Fischer, Great Historian

David Hackett Fischer, a writer who can tell a story....He has written on Washington's Crossing of the Delaware (for which he won a Pulitzer Prize), on Paul Revere, on the cultural contexts of economic disasters (relevant), and on the cultural folkways that served to define American culture.

David Hackett Fischer visits the Writers Institute on October 30.

Here is a sampling of views on his newest work, "Champlain:"

"Champlain's Dream is a comprehensive, exhaustively researched, yet always lively biography. Besides narrating a life it also, as its title suggests, tells the story of Champlain's vision for North America, which, Fischer maintains, was one of tolerance and humanity and remains worthy of admiration today."-- Boston Globe

"To the 'father of New France' [David Hackett] Fischer applies his signature blend of social history and classic narrative."-- The Wall Street Journal

"A lucid portrait of a man given too little attention in standard American textbooks. Fischer's work should make it impossible to ignore Champlain's contributions henceforth."-- Kirkus Reviews (Starred)

"The definitive biography of Samuel de Champlain...Fischer once again displays a staggering and wide research...[an] epic story [and] outstanding work."-- Publishers Weekly (Starred)

"Narrating Champlain's activities in North America is where Fischer excels, both in his chronicle of events and his analysis of Champlain's leadership, political and commercial backing, and diplomacy with the native peoples. Fischer's comprehensive, incisive portrayal will enthrall the Age of Discovery audience."-- Booklist (Starred)

Product Description
In this sweeping, enthralling biography, acclaimed historian David Hackett Fischer brings to life the remarkable Samuel de Champlain -- soldier, spy, master mariner, explorer, cartographer, artist, and Father of New France.

Born on France's Atlantic coast, Champlain grew to manhood in a country riven by religious warfare. The historical record is unclear on whether Champlain was baptized Protestant or Catholic, but he fought in France's religious wars for the man who would become Henri IV, one of France's greatest kings, and like Henri, he was religiously tolerant in an age of murderous sectarianism. Champlain was also a brilliant navigator. He went to sea as a boy and over time acquired the skills that allowed him to make twenty-seven Atlantic crossings without losing a ship.

But we remember Champlain mainly as a great explorer. On foot and by ship and canoe, he traveled through what are now six Canadian provinces and five American states. Over more than thirty years he founded, colonized, and administered French settlements in North America. Sailing frequently between France and Canada, he maneuvered through court intrigue in Paris and negotiated among more than a dozen Indian nations in North America to establish New France. Champlain had early support from Henri IV and later Louis XIII, but the Queen Regent Marie de Medici and Cardinal Richelieu opposed his efforts. Despite much resistance and many defeats, Champlain, by his astonishing dedication and stamina, finally established France's New World colony. He tried constantly to maintain peace among Indian nations that were sometimes at war with one another, but when he had to, he took up arms and forcefully imposed a new balance of power, proving himself a formidable strategist and warrior.

Throughout his three decades in North America, Champlain remained committed to a remarkable vision, a Grand Design for France's colony. He encouraged intermarriage among the French colonists and the natives, and he insisted on tolerance for Protestants. He was a visionary leader, especially when compared to his English and Spanish contemporaries -- a man who dreamed of humanity and peace in a world of cruelty and violence.

This superb biography, the first in decades, is as dramatic and exciting as the life it portrays. Deeply researched, it is illustrated throughout with many contemporary images and maps, including several drawn by Champlain himself.

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Monday, October 20, 2008

Films: Stekler, then Thomson and Bach

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Paul J. Stekler
October 22 (Wednesday)
Seminar — 4:15 p.m., Science Library 340
Discussion and film screening — 8:00 p.m., Recital Hall, Performing Arts Center

Paul J. Stekler, award-winning producer and director of American political documentaries, is co-producer most recently of the PBS “Frontline” special, The Choice 2008 (October 14, 2008), a film that explores the backgrounds and divergent political paths of Barack Obama and John McCain, in order to shed light on their electoral battle. Stekler received the Sundance Film Festival Special Jury Prize for George Wallace: Settin’ the Woods on Fire (2000), which he produced and co-directed. Stekler also produced and co-directed Vote for Me: Politics in America (1996), winner of Emmy, Peabody, and DuPont-Columbia Journalism awards. More recently, he produced, directed, and wrote the PBS special, Last Man Standing: Politics, Texas Style (2004), about a 2002 contest for the Texas State Legislature. Stekler currently serves as director of the newly-founded Center for Politics and Governance at the LBJ School of Public Affairs of the University of Texas at Austin.
Cosponsored by UAlbany’s Documentary Studies Program

How He Makes You Argue!

On the whole, reviewers have generally regarded British-born movie critic David Thomson’s new book, “Have You Seen…?”: A Personal Introduction to 1000 Films, as a pleasurable provocation, a rare opportunity to fight with— and just as often agree with— one of the wittiest minds in film criticism.

Here’s John Walsh in the London Independent (October 3, 2008):
“David Thomson is the world's leading sage about film. Dulwich-educated and now living in San Francisco, he's a polymath rather than a critic. His works include biographies of Orson Welles and David O Selznick, major considerations of Warren Beatty and (Thomson's dream girl) Nicole Kidman, and the brilliant Suspects, in which he imagined the off-screen lives of characters from Hollywood's golden age. His New Biographical Dictionary of Film is a masterpiece of analysis, detail and strikingly personal judgements. His The Whole Equation was nothing less than a history of Hollywood.”
“About the only thing he hasn’t given us is his opinion of the actual movies. Until now. Have You Seen...? is half a million words long, over 1,000 pages, and deals with 1,000 films. Just as Thomas Macaulay was supposedly the last man to have read every worthwhile book published, Thomson may be the last critic to have seen every worthwhile movie from the Lumière brothers' L'Arrosseur Arrossé (1895) onwards.”
“It soon becomes clear that this isn't Thomson's selection of favourites. He's often scathing about acknowledged masterpieces: on Visconti's Death in Venice, ‘you can measure the shift from one man intent on making a masterpiece to something like a monstrous parody... by the Monty Python boys.’ Lean's Lawrence of Arabia is ‘a thinking man's epic (without the thought)’ and Peter O'Toole's performance ‘insufferably swish, without ever really examining homosexuality.’…”
“How he makes you argue! I may have given the impression of disliking this book. On the contrary: it's hardly been out of my hands for two weeks, and it's a constant source of fascination and pleasure to see what Thomson says about Rear Window or Don't Look Now. It's like having the most film-literate pal you can imagine sitting beside you in a multiplex, showing off his knowledge, provoking you to agreement or (more likely) fury.”
Full review:

Note: David Thomson will share the stage with fellow film critic Steven Bach following a screening of Jean Renoir’s 40-minute film, A DAY IN THE COUNTRY [PARTIE DE CAMPAGNE] at 7:30 PM, Friday, October 24th in Page Hall on the University at Albany’s downtown campus.

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Thursday, October 9, 2008

Major Jackson and Dexter Filkins coming up

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Long Road to Chaos

Dexter Filkins, author of The Forever War (2008), and renowned for his coverage of the violence in Afghanistan and Iraq, now turns his interest toward the incipient chaos in Pakistan. This is from the New York Times, Sunday, September 28.

“It was more than a decade ago that Pakistan’s leaders began nurturing the Taliban and their brethren to help advance the country’s regional interests. Now they are finding that their home-schooled militants have grown too strong to control. No longer content to just cross into Afghanistan to kill American soldiers, the militants have begun to challenge the government itself. “The Pakistanis are truly concerned about their whole country unraveling,” said a Western military official, speaking on condition of anonymity because the matter is sensitive.”

“That is a horrifying prospect, especially for Pakistan’s fledgling civilian government, its first since 1999. The country has a substantial arsenal of nuclear weapons. The tribal areas, which harbor thousands of Taliban militants, are also believed to contain Al Qaeda’s senior leaders, including Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahri.”

“It’s all the greater a paradox, then, that the Taliban militias now threatening the stability of Pakistan owe their survival — and much of their present strength — to a succession of Pakistani governments that continues to the present day.”

Read the full article at

Note: Journalist Dexter Filkins will visit the Writers Institute on Thursday, October 16, 2008. He will hold an informal workshop at 4:15 PM in the Assembly Hall, Campus Center, on the University at Albany’s uptown campus, 1400 Washington Ave. In the evening, at 8 PM, he will read from his work in the Recital Hall, Performing Arts Center, on the uptown campus.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

A Paradise of Kale

For those of us reaping backyard harvests in October, here is a poem by Major Jackson, whose evocation of a beleaguered backyard Eden in North Philadelphia was selected for the Washington Post’s “Poet’s Choice” column in April 2006:

Urban Renewal


The backyard garden wall is mossy green
and flakes a craggy mound of chips. Nearby
my grandfather kneels between a row of beans
and stabs his shears into earth. I squint an eye,--
a comma grows at his feet. The stucco's
an atlas, meshed-wire continents with leaders
who augured hate, hence ruins, which further sow
discontent. We are weeding, marking borders,
a million taproots stacked in shock. Forty years
from a three-story, he has watched the neighborhood,--
postwar marble steps, a scrubbed frontier
of Pontiacs lining the curb, fade to a hood.
Pasture of wind-driven litter swirls among greasy
bags of takeouts. Panicles of nightblasts
cap the air, a corner lot of broken TVs empties
and spills from a suitcase of hurt. Life amassed,
meaningless as a trampled box of Cornflakes.
When a beggar cupped for change outside
a check-cashing place then snatched his wallet,
he cleaned a .22 revolver & launched this plot. Tidal
layers of cement harden men born gentle as the root
crops tended south, the city its own bitter shrine.
We crouch by watering cans. He pulls a paradise of kale
and shakes root-dirt that snaps like a shadow lost in time.
Tomato vines coil by a plot of herbs. Far from the maddening
caravan of fistfights, jacked-rides, drunkards,
my pen takes aim from the thumbnail of his yard.

Note: Poet Major Jackson will visit the Writers Institute on Wednesday, October 15, 2008. He will hold an informal workshop at 4:15 PM in the Standish Room, 3rd Floor, Science Library, on the University at Albany’s uptown campus, 1400 Washington Ave. In the evening, at 7:30 PM [NOTE EARLY START TIME CHANGE] he will read from his work in the same location.

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Friday, October 3, 2008

F.D. Reeve Blue Cats and Jazz Poetics; Astrid Gibral and Geckos

“I’ll Be Damned!”

In August 2007, long-time TV weather anchor (most recently of the CBS Saturday Early Show, 1999-2006), MFA grad and published poet Ira Joe Fisher interviewed F. D. Reeve for the New York Quarterly (Issue 63). The interview may be found at Fisher gets some of the basic questions over with early:

NYQ: When you write, is it paper and pen or computer and keyboard?

It’s everything. It’s everything. Years ago, it was just pen and ink. But now I can put it on the computer and I can actually correct it. You get so that the computer becomes invisible. But I still have to work from a hard copy.

NYQ: Is there a special where or when?

No. Riding along on these big highways [in rural Vermont] is a very good time [for writing]. You have pen in hand. You just watch the road and you think of your line and you get it. Sometimes you can get four, five, six or eight lines. And there is going to be a stop. There is going to be a red light, something to stop. There is no bad time to write. You get some good ideas in the middle of night, you should have put a pen and paper near you. You can’t write on the pillow. [If you don’t write it down] it’s gone, all gone. Like a charming dream.

NYQ: Do you remember your first poem?

No. How would you do that? It’s good we forget so much, so many mistakes, so many tries. The challenge is always to see more, know more, broaden your range, extend your themes. I began to get serious in college. My first nationally published piece was in college.

NYQ: Is the reader’s (or listener’s) sigh at the end of reading a piece, the poet’s applause?

I don’t know what I think. That’s a neat question. What’s wrong with a smile? Or just, “Holy Jesus!” Or, “I’ll be damned!” Or, “Hey! I never thought of that.” Or …whatever. It’s surprise. It’s pleasure. It’s excitement. It’s that you can go back and look at it, again. It’s being ready to look at the next thing.

Note: Poet F. D. Reeve will visit the Writers Institute on Tuesday, October 7, 2008. He will hold an informal workshop at 4:15 PM in Science Library 340, on the University at Albany’s uptown campus, 1400 Washington Ave. In the evening, at 7:30 PM [NOTE EARLY START TIME CHANGE] together with The Three Blue Cats jazz band, Reeve will present a musical setting of poems from his new collection, The Blue Cat Walks the Earth (2008) in Page Hall on the downtown campus, 135 Western Ave.

Sister to the Gecko

Brazilian poet and environmentalist Astrid Cabral was a featured poet this summer on the not-for-profit website Poetry Daily ( The site republished some translations of her poetry by Alexis Levitin in the Summer 2008 issue of The Cincinnati Review. The poems also appear in her new bilingual collection Cage (2008), about the animals of her childhood home city, Manaus, in the heart of the Amazon rainforest.


Blessed be the morning
of childhood when
I found myself
sister to the gecko
On the wall of the room
utterly at ease
just like me
on the edge of the planet.

Note: Poet and environmentalist Astrid Cabral and translator Alexis Levitin will visit the Writers Institute on Wednesday, October 8, 2008. They will hold an informal workshop at 4:15 PM in the Standish Room of the Science Library, on the University at Albany’s uptown campus, 1400 Washington

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Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Anne Enright

The Milk Surprises Me

Anne Enright ranks among the most candid writers in the English language on the subject of motherhood. Her essay, “My Milk,” about the experience of nursing her first child, appeared in the London Review of Books, October 5, 2000, and is collected in the book of essays, Making Babies: Stumbling into Motherhood (2004):

“The milk surprises me, above all, because it hurts as it is let down, and this foolish pain hits me at quite the wrong times. The reflex is designed to work at the sight, sound, or thought of your baby – which is spooky enough – but the brain doesn’t seem to know what a baby is exactly, and so tries to make you feed anything helpless, or wonderful, or small. So I have let down milk for Russian submariners and German tourists dying on Concorde. Loneliness and technology get me every time, get my milk every time. Desire, also, stabs me not in the heart but on either side of the heart – but I had expected this. What I had not expected was that there should be some things that do not move me, that move my milk. Or that, sometimes, I only realise I am moved when I feel the pain. I find myself lapsed into a memory I cannot catch, I find myself trying to figure out what it is in the room that is sad or lovely – was it that combination of words, or the look on his face? – what is it that has such a call on my unconscious attention, or my pituitary, or my alveolar cells.
“There is a part of me, I have realised, that wants to nurse the stranger on the bus. Or perhaps it wants to nurse the bus itself, or the tree I see through the window of the bus, or the child I once was, paying my fare on the way home from school. This occasional incontinence is terrifying. It makes me want to shout – I am not sure what. Either ‘Take it!’ or ‘Stop!’ If the world would stop needing, then my body would come back to me. My body would come home.

Note: Fiction writer Anne Enright will visit the Writers Institute on Thursday, October 2, 2008. She will hold an informal workshop at 4:15 PM in the Assembly Hall of the Campus Center, on the University at Albany’s uptown campus, 1400 Washington Ave. She will also present a reading of new work, and offer a Q&A at 7:30 PM [NOTE EARLY TIME CHANGE] in the Recital Hall of the Performing Arts Center on the uptown campus. Free and open to the public.

The Skull Beneath the Skin

Richard Widmark, an actor who has been called “the most frightening person on the screen” (David Thomson, The New Biographical Dictionary of Film), and “a star who mastered a new moral ambiguity (Dave Kehr, The New York Times), passed away on March 24th of this year at the age of 93.

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Friday, September 26, 2008

Lifting Belly High Conference - Reports from the Field

Two Takes on Lifting Belly High: Women’s Poetry, a Conference in Pittsburgh

Organized by Elisabeth Joyce, Linda Kinnahan, Elizabeth Savage, and Ellen McGrath Smith and sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities, “Lifting Belly High: Women's Poetry since 1900” was hosted at Duquesne University September 11-13. The varying panel sessions made up of poets, publishers, and professoriate covered topics ranging from futurism to lyric revival. While not absent from our discussions, gender wasn't often a foregrounded subject. Rather, the talks focused simply on poetry—its range, complexity, and craft.

My interest in going to Pittsburgh was in part spurred by Linda Kinnahan's participation; as I poet working in lyric modes, I read her book Lyric Interventions in 2004, and was happy to discover a compelling interrogation of what constitutes experimental writing. I was curious to see how this line of argument had developed since, and to go to presentations and readings by her colleagues that are also inspired thinkers. Participants included Rachel Blau Duplessis, Mei-Mei Berssenbrugge, Kathleen Fraser, and Claudia Rankine.

Rankine's featured event was a multimedia presentation of new work along with a reading from Don't Let Me Be Lonely. John Lucas, Rankine's husband, collaborated with Rankine, using his photographs of airplane travellers in one of the digital works. Another poem used footage of Zinedine Zidane head-butting Marco Materazzi during the 2006 World Cup match, voiced over by Rankine's poem that used pastiche, drawing together fragments from canonical texts on race—from Shakespeare's Othello to Fanon's The Wretched of the Earth. The discussion that followed the reading—and coursed throughout the conference—is a testament to the vitality of poetry's stakes, and the rigorous work happening in women's poetry.

--Charmaine Cadeau


The women of Fence Books traveled to Pittsburgh, PA a couple of weekends ago to attend the first Lifting Belly High conference on women’s poetry. Despite the rain and the grey towers of the financial district, the main room of the conference was fortuitously in the midst of cocktail hour when we arrived, bleary-eyed from eight hours on the highway.

On the drive, we had discussed our conceptions of Feminism and personal feminisms. We agreed: the efforts of first-wave and even second-wave feminists seemed given, raised as we were by strong mothers (and fathers) in atmospheres of occupational possibility. But we wondered at the definition of the third-wave, and our places in it, and the place of Fence, which publishes mostly female poets from an aesthetic and mostly (we thought) apolitical editorial standpoint.

With wine in hand, we asked Joyelle McSweeney, Lara Glenum, and Arielle Greenberg to nail down this elusive term for us. The third-wave, they told us, is defined by its opposition to essentialisms of femininity, and sees gender more as enacted role-play than as a biological determined set of characteristics. Ahhh, we thought, yes.

Our generous educators would later convene for an early morning panel entitled “Radical Remakings: Strategies of Excess.” (It often seemed that panel titles barely fit their content, but in this instance the title was appropriate.) Participants included Ms. McSweeney, who spoke on Hannah Weiner; Cathy Park Hong, who focused on Inger Christensen’s and Harriet Mullen’s use of the ABCeDarius and other methods to “talk back” within the confines of ordered systems; Catherine Wagner, who introduced the little-known British poet Maggie O’Sullivan and her use of text as an object for performance, as presentation of “the face of the world before it was born”; and Lara Glenum, who further distilled the category of “Gurlesque,” coined in 2002 by Arielle Greenberg.

The term Gurlesque was new to me, though I’ve been reading Gurlesque works for some time. It’s a perfectly appropriate name for a style of writing that is perfectly inappropriate, that uses cuteness and youthful femininity alongside and against the physically grotesque, the kitschy, the violent, and the sentimental. “Gurlesque poets are unafraid of making poems that seem silly, romantic or cute,” said Greenberg, “rather, they revel in cuteness, and use it to subversive ends, complicating the relationship between feminism and femininity. Gurlesque poems own their sexuality, wear it proudly, are thoroughly enmeshed in the visceral experiences of gender; these poems are non-linear but highly conversational, lush and campy, full of pop culture detritus, and ultimately very powerful.”

Hence the Gurlesque as a perfect example of third-wave feminism, with a highly performative and in-yr-face mentality that is refreshing though often disturbing, easily misunderstood for its superficial “bad”ness (see Ron Silliman’s review of Chelsey Minnis’s “Bad Bad”; June 30, 2008).

Here’s an excerpted example of the Gurlesque from Ariana Reines’s “Coeur de Lion”:

Your arms are brown
And have beautiful veins
That you like. I like your hands.
Your eyes are blue but
Because they need so much light
Your pupils are always dilated and
Your eyelashes are nice. You cannot
Cry but sometimes you whimper as
Though you are crying when
You want to show that you are feeling
When you shaved your beard
Your mouth was too big
And I liked it.

To find out more, read Arielle Greenberg’s 2002 talk online at
and visit

Many thanks to the organizers and participants of Lifting Belly High.

-- Colie Collen

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Monday, September 22, 2008

Shepard: Too Busy Being Enthralled

Monday, September 22, 2008

Too Busy Being Enthralled

See the rave review of Jim Shepard’s new story collection by child-lit phenomenon “Lemony Snicket” (AKA Daniel Handler):

In all his work, Shepard is after something our current literature far too often avoids. The short-story form, in particular, has fallen lately into two camps: the realistic kind (in which one of a small quiver of pyschological tropes is played out quietly in a few scenes) and the experimental kind (in which an unusual premise or point of view that would grow tiring in a novel is explored, often with a sudden twist). These are both very readable forms, and much gorgeous prose can be found stretched on their frames. Yet Shepard somehow manages to write simultaneously in both of them — and neither of them. His far-ranging plots aren’t illustrations of the usual conclusions, and he doesn’t tackle an unusual premise just to prove that he can. Instead, he has found a route through these terrains that leads to end points both surprising and inevitable. In other words, he’s telling stories. That this should feel like an original approach is testimony to how bracing his work really is…. Shepard is an impressive writer, but I wasn’t impressed until I finished the book: I was too busy being enthralled.

Note: Fiction writer Jim Shepard will visit the Writers Institute on Thursday, September 25, 2008. He will hold an informal workshop at 4:15PM in Campus Center 375, on the University at Albany’s uptown campus, 1400 Washington Ave. He will also present a reading of new work, and offer a Q&A at 8PM in the Standish Room of the Science Library on the uptown campus. Free and open to the public.

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Event Time Changes for Oct. 2, 7, 15

Due to the presidential and vice-presidential debates, the Writers Institute evening readings for Thursday October 2 (Anne Enright), Tuesday October 7 (F.D. Reeve), and Wednesday October 15 (Major Jackson), will each be moved from 8p.m. to 7:30p.m.

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Saturday, September 20, 2008

Some Notes on Kate Christensen and Valerie Martin

September 23 Visitors to the Writers Institute

Lentil Stew with Merguez Sausage and Artichoke Hearts
Kate Christensen talks about the central role of food in her fiction in an interview on ( ):

BF: Teddy, who is perhaps the most sexually vibrant septuagenarian in the novel, can seduce anyone with her cooking. You started integrating food writing into your fiction with your last novel, The Epicure’s Lament.

KC: I like food and sex so much: I think it takes a simultaneous sense of sensuality and cerebrality to get it on the page and put it into language. M. F. K. Fisher drives me absolutely insane because usually what she is writing about is not immediately accessible to the reader, and you have to go out and get the ingredients and make it. But she gets me to cook [laughs]. And I invent all of the recipes in my novels. In a way, it’s the same as imagining, say, a conversation between people.

BF: You didn’t test the meals before committing them to the page?

KC: No, not until recently. I’ve been making them all, like tonight. Teddy’s chicken stew came out incredibly well. But the lentil stew with the merguez sausage and the artichoke hearts was so-o-o good. When I write, I think: What would be incongruous yet sound good on the page? Because readers have an inner mental palate.
Note: Kate Christensen will be making a joint appearance with author Valerie Martin at the Writers Institute on Tuesday, September 23, 2008. They will hold an informal workshop at 4:15PM in the Standish Room, Science Library, on the University at Albany’s uptown campus, 1400 Washington Ave. They will also present a reading of new work, and offer a Q&A at 8PM in the Assembly Hall, Campus Center on the uptown campus. Free and open to the public.
Friday, September 19, 2008

Poachers Welcome
In a discussion of her newest novel, Trespass, Valerie Martin relates how she transmutes the “found objects” of personal experience into fiction. This is from the website of her UK publisher, Orion Books ( ):

“Wandering through the wild woods around her country house, Valerie Martin stumbled across a man carrying a gun. He was a poacher and his presence was not wholly unwelcome. ‘I just stumbled across him,’ she recalls, her voice cool and emotionless. ‘I had the impression that he had an accent, and it turned out that he was Albanian.’ The reason she sounds cool and collected is that the encounter inspired her. Athough readers of her new novel Trespass will shudder with recognition of the scene. An encounter between a mysterious poacher and middle-aged artist Chloe Dale is a pivotal point in the plot of the novel, a dystopian tale of family life and strife. But this is no domestic tale of dysfunction. As Valerie’s many fans have come to expect, in Trespass she deals with far bigger issues than those on the home front and in doing so reminds us that the personal and the political are never far apart – in this case in the form of the Balkans War and US policy in Iraq.”

“Another inspiration for the novel was the discovery through her partner of an enclave of that troubled Eastern European area tucked away in the Deep South. ‘I found that all the oystermen in the very bottom of Louisiana were Croatian and had come there many generations ago – around 1915,’ recalls [Martin, a New Orleans native]. ‘They had been there for generations but continued to speak their language.’ Following the bloody war in Bosnia, relatives of the oystermen fled to America to seek refuge from the suffering in their home country, just like the Drago family in Trespass.”

Note: Valerie Martin will be making a joint appearance with author Kate Christensen at the Writers Institute on Tuesday, September 23, 2008. They will hold an informal workshop at 4:15PM in the Standish Room, Science Library, on the University at Albany’s uptown campus, 1400 Washington Ave. They will also present a reading of new work, and offer a Q&A at 8PM in the Assembly Hall, Campus Center on the uptown campus. Free and open to the public.

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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

rare soviet silents

The Writers Institute is proud to screen some astonishing film work from the early period of soviet cinema. Here are some film notes for the event, which will take place Friday, Sept 19 at Page Hall in Albany, NY

Film Notes

Man with a Movie Camera [Chelovek S Kino-Apparatom]
(Soviet Union, 1929, 68 minutes, b/w, DVD)
Directed by Dziga Vertov
Silent with live piano accompaniment by Mike Schiffer

NOTE: The main feature will be preceded by Vsevolod Pudovkin’s short silent film, CHESS FEVER [SHAKHMATNAYA GORYACHKA] (Soviet Union, 1925, 28 minutes, b/w, DVD).

“There are Russian films that we will never see, and nobody made (or supervised) as many of them as Dziga Vertov. For that reason alone, we should be cautious about defining him. Nevertheless, he seems not only the director most engaged with the Constructivist enthusiasm to make a new art for a newly conscious people, but also the most appealing. The Man with a Movie Camera is more touching, more historically informative and comic than any Russian film of the period...Like Godard, Vertov had an instinctive love of cinema and a relentless need to intellectualize and politicize his enthusiasm.” - David Thomson (The New Biographical Dictionary of Film, 2002)

The following is from an Images Journal review by Grant Tracy that appeared Dec. 21, 1997:
Dziga Vertov's Man With a Movie Camera (1929) is a stunning avant-garde, documentary meta-narrative which celebrates Soviet workers and filmmaking. The film uses radical editing techniques and cinematic pyrotechnics to portray a typical day in Moscow from dawn to dusk. But Vertov isn't just recording reality, he transforms it through the power of the camera's "kino-glaz" (cinema eye). Vertov's rich imagery transcends the earth-bound limitations of our everyday ways of seeing.
Vertov was a working-class artist who desired to link workers with machines. His film opens with a manifesto, a series of intertitles telling us that this film is an "experiment," a search for an "absolute language of cinema" that is "based on its total separation from the language of literature and theater." This manifesto echoes an earlier one that Vertov wrote in 1922, in which he disavowed the films of D. W. Griffith and others as psychological dramas--cliches, copies of copies, films overly indebted to novels and theatrical conventions. Vertov desired to create cinema that had its own "rhythm, one lifted from nowhere else, and we find it in the movements of things." For Vertov an emphasis on the psychological interfered with the worker's "desire for kinship with the machine." And as a peoples' artist, Vertov felt that the peoples' cinema must "introduce creative joy into all mechanical labor" and "foster new people."
And foster he does. The Man With a Movie Camera is divided into nine orchestral-type movements, and several of them use rapid-fire editing, wild juxtapositions (e.g. blinking eyes with shutter blinds) and multiple exposures to mesh workers with machines in a simultaneity of reverence and celebration. Levers and wheels turn and workers synchronously turn with them. Later, Vertov reveals more mechanical reality as he juxtaposes a woman getting her hair washed with another washing clothes, and then shows a barber shaving a man, and sharpening a razor's edge. The sequence ends with newspapers rifling along a printing press, and a young woman packing cigarettes, watching the machine's quick slap pressing, while smiling at her labor.
As Vertov revealed the joys of work, the rhythm of workers and machines, he also felt that filmmaking (as a largely technological medium) was also a component of that mechanical reality. In the aforementioned sequence of a cigarette worker and her machine, Vertov also splices into the mise-en-scene his wife and editor, Yelizavela Svilova. As shoes are shined and a woman gets her hair cut and fingernails polished, an edit reveals Svilova rubbing emulsion off the film strip, suggesting that polishing the beauty of cinema is synchronous with the peoples' visit to the beauty salon. More importantly, Svilova's appearance stitched into another montage (a woman sews, fabric linked with thread, while Svilova edits, film threaded through a splicer) strongly suggests that filmmaking is workmanlike, the perfect analog to the worker's life.
Besides celebrating workers, machines, and filmmaking as constituting Soviet reality, Vertov uses kino-eye to transcend the very reality he celebrates. In a 1923 manifesto, Vertov wrote "I am kino-eye, I am mechanical eye, I, a machine, show you the world as only I can see it." And he boldly asserted: "My path leads to the creation of a fresh perception of the world I decipher in a new way a world unknown to you." Again this ground-breaking film brings to fruition Vertov's earlier vision of what cinema should be. His camera, in the hands of brother Mikhail Kaufman, is never static; it travels where we can't--up smokestacks, under train tracks--and through continuous explosions of cinematic trickery--variable camera speeds, dissolves, split-screen effects, the use of prismatic lenses, and tightly structured montage--Vertov transforms not only reality, but traditional narrative cinema. He moves outside of Hollywood storytelling (three-act structures, goal-oriented characters), and closer to an absolute language of cinema that he seeks.
The film's middle section captures some of the absolute language of the kino-eye. The sequence begins with a low-angle canted shot of a traffic light turning. Then from on high, the camera visible frame right, kino-eye overlooks a busy Moscow street. Cut to a joyous couple walking into a municipality, where they sign a wedding registration. Kino-eye then returns to the previous establishing shot, as the camera pans the street, and then cuts to the traffic signal reversing. This switch cues a shift in mood which is reinforced as next cut shows the camera, frame right, spinning around and portraying a darker side to life's dialectics. Kino-eye now shows a disconsolate couple entering the municipality to fill out a divorce registration. Their pending separation is foregrounded in kino-eye's shot selection: an occasional two-shot mixed with six separate shots of the woman, chin in her hands, and four separate shots of the man, looking weary and angry. Kino-eye follows this with a prismatic image of streetcars crossing in V-shaped diagonals and then offers more dialectics: a crosscut sequence of automobiles heading to a funeral and an agonized woman, awaiting the birth of her child. The sequence concludes with the cameraman superimposed over a prismatic street, buildings leaning at weirdly oblique angles, and in a graphic punctuation, a baby born from kino-eye's doctorly point-of-view. In three minutes, Vertov's kino-eye has ordered material reality in fresh, original ways, revealing a range of motion (high/low compositions and stunning taboo images of the baby's birth) and emotion (marriage/divorce; death/life).
The film's conclusion is aesthetically beautiful and ideologically committed. Oddly, in the 1930s the Stalinists didn't think so. Vertov fell into disfavor with their regime and this film and others were accused of formalist error, of placing aesthetics ahead of ideological commitment. It's unfortunate that a man who wanted to link the cinematic machine with the people could be so mistrusted, because Man With a Movie Camera has a wonderfully rousing coda that links spectators within the theatrical diegesis to their onscreen counterparts (the film within the film). And as they watch their images everything coalesces: machines (typewriter keys, spinning wheels, mechanical spinners, streetcars) and people (walking the streets, driving cars, resting at the beach) in rhythm, and in kinship. But perhaps the cameraman riding above the sea of prismatically coalesced imagery bothered the Stalinists. Perhaps they saw in that cameraman not formalist error but a brilliant representation of the powerful kino-eye to not only see and know all then (1929), but to possibly further see and expose a darkening future threatened by totalitarianism.

The following is from a Guardian (UK) article by Jonathan Jones on Chess Fever director Vsevolod Pudovkin:
"The foundation of film art is editing," Pudovkin wrote. He was not just a theorist, however, and his contribution to cinema is anything but academic. In the second half of the 1920s, when the Soviets finally got their hands on film and equipment, and established subsidised studios, Pudovkin made some of the liveliest and most perversely moving films of all time…. Pudovkin uses [his trademark] montage techniques… in his most-seen film today, Chess Fever (1925), whose popularity is as much for its rarity value (a Soviet comedy!) as its wit. Chess Fever is a fascinating glimpse of everyday life in Lenin's Moscow. Pudovkin plays a classic montage trick, this time on the international chess stars who have gathered in Moscow for a tournament. Sending his crew to the tournament under the pretence that they are making a newsreel, he intercuts the players' concentrated faces with shots of his own actors in a frivolous love story about a woman driven half-mad by her chess-addict boyfriend.
Chess Fever was made in a welcome break from filming The Mechanics of the Brain, a documentary about Pavlov's mechanistic behaviourism, which is a little harder to watch. Very deliberately and repetitively, the film shows us what happens when you electrocute a frog: here, now here, and this is what happens when you sever its spinal cord . . . see, the back legs no longer respond. The film's title can't help but make you think of Stalin's demand that the artist become "an engineer of human souls".
Chilling, but it's naive to completely separate the cinema of the avant-garde in 1920s Russia from what came afterwards. They were propagandists, and Pudovkin's emotive editing gets inside you to produce gut responses at odds with any scepticism you might feel about his melodramas of revolution. At the same time, there's a scope and richness that elevates them beyond propaganda and will help them survive as long as cinema itself.
By the end of the 1920s, the golden age of Soviet culture was over. Pudovkin carried on working into the 1950s, trotting out the Stalinist line. Only his early films demonstrate genius. The Russian spring was brief, but unforgettable.

Mike Schiffer, silent film accompanist, was a student at Kenyon College in the late 1940’s when upper classman Paul Newman started a film festival. For his opening selection, Newman chose an early silent classic, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. The musical score arrived too late for anyone to prepare, and young Mike, a budding jazz musician, stepped in to improvise the music. He has played for dozens of films since then, many for the Classic Film Serie

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Saturday, September 13, 2008

David Foster Wallace, Dead at 46

David Foster Wallace was found dead last night, an apparent suicide by hanging. His was a great voice of experimentation and liveliness that continually challenged literary expectations. No matter his broad reputation as a writer, he once compared literary fame to the recognition of a small television media market weathercaster.

In the days to come some appreciation of his broader work will be eclipsed by the profile he wrote of John McCain for Rolling Stone while following McCain on the campaign trail in 2000.

He was asked about that by Christopher John Farley, a reporter for the Wall Street Journal, in a phone interview last spring. Here's an excerpt of what DFW had to say then:

Just Asking
David Foster Wallace
The novelist and essayist on his book about John McCain's 2000 campaign
May 31, 2008; Wall Street Journal; Page W2

David Foster Wallace, author of the novel "Infinite Jest," was asked by Rolling Stone magazine to cover John McCain's presidential campaign in 2000. That assignment became a chapter in his essay collection "Consider the Lobster" (2005); the essay has now been issued as a stand-alone book, "McCain's Promise." In a phone interview, Mr. Wallace said he came away from the experience marveling at "how unknowable and layered these candidates are." Mr. Wallace also answered questions via email about presidential hopefuls, the youth vote and smiley faces.

WSJ: So why would a novelist want to travel around on a campaign bus?

Mr. Wallace: What made the McCain idea interesting to me, was that I'd seen a tape of his appearance on Charlie Rose at some point the previous year, in which he spoke so candidly and bluntly about stuff like campaign finance and partisan ickiness, stuff I'd not heard any national-level politician say. There was also the fact that my own politics were about 179 degrees from his, so there was no worry that I'd somehow get seduced into writing an infomercial.

WSJ: Have you changed your mind about any of the points that you made in the book?

Mr. Wallace: In the best political tradition, I reject the premise of your question. The essay quite specifically concerns a couple weeks in February, 2000, and the situation of both McCain [and] national politics in those couple weeks. It is heavily context-dependent. And that context now seems a long, long, long time ago. McCain himself has obviously changed; his flipperoos and weaselings on Roe v. Wade, campaign finance, the toxicity of lobbyists, Iraq timetables, etc. are just some of what make him a less interesting, more depressing political figure now—for me, at least. It's all understandable, of course—he's the GOP nominee now, not an insurgent maverick. Understandable, but depressing. As part of the essay talks about, there's an enormous difference between running an insurgent Hail-Mary-type longshot campaign and being a viable candidate (it was right around New Hampshire in 2000 that McCain began to change from the former to the latter), and there are some deep, really rather troubling questions about whether serious honor and candor and principle remain possible for someone who wants to really maybe win. I wouldn't take back anything that got said in that essay, but I'd want a reader to keep the time and context very much in mind on every page.

WSJ: You write that John McCain, in 2000, had become "the great populist hope of American politics." What parallels do you see between McCain in 2000 and Barack Obama in 2008?

Mr. Wallace: There are some similarities—the ability to attract new voters, Independents; the ability to raise serious money in a grassroots way via the Web. But there are also lots of differences, many too obvious to need pointing out. Obama is an orator, for one thing—a rhetorician of the old school. To me, that seems more classically populist than McCain, who's not a good speechmaker and whose great strengths are Q&As and small-group press confabs. But there's a bigger [reason]. The truth—as I see it—is that the previous seven years and four months of the Bush Administration have been such an unmitigated horror show of rapacity, hubris, incompetence, mendacity, corruption, cynicism and contempt for the electorate that it's very difficult to imagine how a self-identified Republican could try to position himself as a populist.

WSJ: In the book, you talk about why many young people are turned off by politics. What do you think could get young people to the voting booth this election?

Mr. Wallace: Well, it's a very different situation. If nothing else, the previous seven years and four months have helped make it clear that it actually matters a whole, whole lot who gets elected president. A whole lot. There's also the fact that there are now certain really urgent, galvanizing problems—price of oil, carbon emissions, Iraq—that are apt to get more voters of all ages and education-levels to the polls. For more interested or sophisticated young voters, there are also the matters of the staggering rise in national debt and off-the-books war-funding, the collapse of the dollar, and the grievous damage that's been done to all manner of consensuses about Constitutional protections, separation of powers, and U.S. obligations under international treaties.

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Thursday, September 11, 2008

Libel Tourism

Some articles on “Libel Tourism”

Here are a couple of news pieces on the phenomenon of “Libel Tourism.”

And now a series of pieces from PW, Publishers Weekly….

Free Speech Groups Urge Passage of Libel Tourism Bill

by Jim Milliot -- Publishers Weekly, 9/10/2008 3:03:00 PM
Nineteen organizations involved with free speech issues have signed a statement sent to the Senate Judiciary Committee asking them to support the Freedom of Speech Protection Act of 2008 (S. 2977). The bill would prohibit foreign libel judgments from being enforced in the U.S. if the speech would be protected by U.S. laws. The bill was introduced after a series of libel judgments were handed down against American authors in foreign courts where speech does not does not have the level of protection it does in the U.S. Earlier this year, New York State passed a law, The Libel Terrorism Protection Act, that prohibits the enforcement of a foreign libel judgment unless a New York court determines that it satisfies the free speech and free press protections guaranteed by the First Amendment and the New York State Constitution.
Chris Finan, president of American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, one of the 19 groups to sign the statement, said the so-called practice of “libel tourism” “is a serious threat to American writers and publishers who face the nightmare of defending themselves before unfriendly courts where their books were never published.” Finan said the statement was sent to the Judiciary Committee with the hope that they will act on the bill before the current session ends. Finan noted that the New York bill moved quickly so it is possible Congress could pass the legislation in the current session.

New York Approves Libel Tourism Bill

By Lynn Andriani -- Publishers Weekly, 5/1/2008 10:14:00 AM
New York State Governor David Paterson signed a bill into law yesterday that will make it harder for “libel tourists” to threaten authors and publishers with foreign libel suits. The Libel Terrorism Protection Act prohibits the enforcement of a foreign libel judgment unless a New York court determines that it satisfies the free speech and free press protections guaranteed by the First Amendment and the New York State Constitution. It also allows New York courts, under certain circumstances, to exercise jurisdiction over non-residents who obtain foreign libel judgments against New Yorkers.
AAP president and CEO Pat Schroeder congratulated Paterson and thanked the association’s members, many of whom are located in New York, in helping to get the bill passed: “The enactment of this important legislation sends a strong message that New York is committed to protecting the free speech rights of its citizens.” Schroeder said she hopes the law will push other states to follow New York’s lead.
One author who is happy with the passing of the law is Dr. Rachel Ehrenfeld, the New York-based author whose battle to have a British default libel judgment against her declared unenforceable in the U.S. inspired the law’s introduction and passage. Ehrenfeld acknowledged the hard work of everyone who worked on introducing the law, which she called "a wonderful precendent.” Ehrenfeld said she fully intends to “go back to court and win the case” and hopes “other American authors will continue to expose what needs to be exposed and that publishers will not be shy in publishing it.”

New York Fights “Libel Tourism”

New bill will protect authors from foreign lawsuits
by Lynn Andriani -- Publishers Weekly, 1/21/2008
In the wake of two recent highly publicized libel cases against American authors in the U.K., New York State legislators last week introduced a bill that would help protect authors from “libel tourist” cases in plaintiff-friendly foreign courts. Senate deputy majority leader Dean Skelos and assemblyman Rory Lancman announced legislation that they say will make it harder for “libel tourists” to threaten American authors and publishers in New York by bringing meritless defamation actions in overseas courts.
The proposed legislation would amend New York's code of civil practice to prohibit enforcement of a foreign libel judgment unless a New York court determines that it satisfies the free speech and press protections guaranteed by the U.S. and the New York State constitutions. The legislation would also amend New York's “long-arm” statute to allow courts, under certain circumstances, to exercise personal jurisdiction over nonresidents who win foreign libel judgments against New York residents in order to grant resident writers declaratory relief in those cases.
The legislation was introduced in response to a Dec. 20, 2007, ruling that New York courts lacked jurisdiction to hear American author Rachel Ehrenfeld's lawsuit seeking to have a British default libel judgment against her declared unenforceable in the U.S. Ehrenfeld, author of Funding Evil: How Terrorism Is Financed and How to Stop It (Bonus Books), was sued by Saudi billionaire Khalid bin Mahfouz in a London court under U.K. libel laws. In her book, Ehrenfeld identified bin Mahfouz as a financial supporter of terrorist organizations. Bin Mahfouz sued Ehrenfeld even though the book was never published in Great Britain and neither he nor Ehrenfeld resides there. Ehrenfeld refused to participate in the suit, but was nonetheless hit with a default judgment of $225,000 in damages and legal fees to bin Mahfouz, as well as a “declaration of falsity” against Funding Evil and a promise to destroy existing copies of the book, a demand for a public apology and an injunction against U.K. publication.
Ehrenfeld will not be subject to the U.K. ruling as long as she stays in the U.S. “Why doesn't [bin Mahfouz] sue me here? Because he doesn't have a chance here,” she said. She will not travel to England because the judge there issued a ruling of contempt of court against her. But Ehrenfeld hopes the bill “will encourage others to write about the people who are funding terrorism without any fear of persecution in foreign lands.”
Bin Mahfouz is infamous for silencing authors and journalists—he has sued or threatened suit in the U.K. 33 times against writers who linked him to terrorism—and his legal actions against Cambridge University Press's Alms for Jihad by J. Millard Burr and Robert O. Collins resulted in the press pulping its copies and putting the book out of print (the writers are reportedly near a deal to publish the book in the U.S.). The new bill, however, would extend writers protection beyond the realm of books just about terrorism. Judy Platt, who directs AAP's Freedom to Read program, said, “It's not really a terrorism issue. It is a broader First Amendment issue” and confirmed that the bill would apply to any work by a New York writer.
Although both Ehrenfeld and Platt said U.K. law has recently loosened slightly regarding libel issues, it is still far tougher than in the U.S. It is for just that reason that Andrew Morton's new Tom Cruise unauthorized bio carries a note on the back jacket from St. Martin's saying the book is not for sale in the U.K. or Ireland. “The laws in the U.K. and Ireland could make it difficult to defend there,” said St. Martin's v-p. director of publicity, John Murphy.
Ehrenfeld hopes that libel law in the U.K. could be further reformed. “The new law in New York will help those in England who want to make the change in their law,” Ehrenfeld said. She also said the new bill could create opportunities for English authors to publish in the U.S.

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Thursday, September 4, 2008

A New Season, A New Style

The blog has been sleeping for a while, but now you'll see a variety of writeups in the weeks to come - references to our writing guests, evaluations of reading events, books that we're interested in, and more communication with our readers.

Here's a new run of postings relating to the Writers Institute's first guest of the season, Andre Dubus III, and the screening of the first film in our fall series: House of Sand in Fog.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

No Protagonists. No Antagonists.
In December 2003, Canada’s National Post featured an interesting joint interview with Andre Dubus III and House of Sand and Fog director Vadim Perelman, who adapted the novel for the screen:

“Perelman and Dubus both insist there is no single correct interpretation of their collaborative work -- including their own. ‘Readers and audience members should know that it’s their right to explain this to us. I mean, just because I wrote the book and he made the movie doesn't mean we can't learn from what we've wrought,’ Dubus says.”

“This openness to meaning is rooted in Dubus’s writing, which by the author’s own account renders him little more than a conduit to record the independent actions of the characters he brings to life.”

“The author and director share a belief in the ambiguous nature of human beings that is reflected in their characters, who are simultaneously sympathetic and contemptible. ‘There’s not a protagonist or an antagonist. It’s like an anti-protagonist and a pro-antagonist,’ Dubus sums up.

“Perelman concurs: ‘There's nothing I hate more than villains -- or heroes, for that matter -- because there's no such thing. We have a bit of both in us.’

(Shannon Proudfoot, National Post, December 26, 2003).

Note: House of Sand and Fog will be screened Friday, September 12, 2008 at 7:30PM in Page Hall, on the University at Albany’s downtown campus, 135 Western Ave., Albany. Free and open to the public.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

I Tend to Feel a Bit Naked
Andre Dubus III on writing (Catherine Tung, Granta, August 5, 2008):
“I write five days a week and have since I began writing in my early twenties, so I’m always working on something, though I have to say I don’t know if I’ve ever been ‘excited’ about anything I’ve worked on. The emotions for me are part hope, part dread, part anxiety that what I’m working on is shit, part hope again that I’m wrong and should just keep going no matter how I feel about it. What I’m saying is this: writing is work, and I learned a long time ago not to trust how I feel about what I’m working on. If I’m writing well, I tend to feel a bit naked, stupid, slightly inappropriate, nasty and wrong.”
Note: Novelist Andre Dubus III will visit the Writers Institute on Tuesday, September 16, 2008. He will hold an informal workshop at 4:15PM in the Standish Room, Science Library, on the University at Albany’s uptown campus, 1400 Washington Ave. He will also present a reading of new work, and offer a Q&A at 8PM in the Recital Hall of the Performing Arts Center on the uptown campus. Free and open to the public.
Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Meditations from a Movable Chair
Readers are encouraged to revisit the remarkable life and work of short story writer and essayist, Andre Dubus (1936-1999), the father of novelist Andre Dubus III.

Here’s a Salon review of his final essay collection:

“Much of Meditations From a Movable Chair, including its title, is haunted by the accident in 1986 when Dubus, then 49, was struck by a car [while stopping to help a stranded motorist], costing him one leg and severely damaging the other. He is too honest and brave a writer to pretend that the accident did not change him in fundamental ways (just as his marriages and divorces and the births of his six children have also changed him) or that he did not suffer from self-pity and despair as well as excruciating physical pain while recovering from it. He consistently describes himself as ‘crippled,’ and despises the journalistic clichés that are invariably hauled out to discuss the disabled: ‘To view human suffering as an abstraction, as a statement about how plucky we all are,’ he writes in ‘Song of Pity,’ ‘is to blow air through brass while the boys and girls march in parade off to war. Seeing the flesh as only a challenge to the spirit is as false as seeing the spirit as only a challenge to the flesh.’”
Note: Novelist Andre Dubus III will visit the Writers Institute on Tuesday, September 16, 2008. He will hold an informal workshop at 4:15PM in the Standish Room, Science Library, on the University at Albany’s uptown campus, 1400 Washington Ave. He will also present a reading of new work, and offer a Q&A at 8PM in the Recital Hall of the Performing Arts Center on the uptown campus. Free and open to the public.

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Sunday, March 2, 2008

Jean Valentine and Mary Gordon Inaugurated as State Poet and State Author of New York State

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Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Writers Institute Announces Its Spring 08 Series; A New Faculty Member; Some Words From Norman Mailer; A Take on Upcoming Films

The Writers Institute is set to launch a new series for the spring of 2008 with celebrations of theatre, poetry, film, and fiction.

The series in Albany starts off on February 7 with the 12th Annual Burian Lecture on Theatre with Michael Mayer, director of the stunning Spring Awakening, along with many traditional accomplishments, important revivals of Chekhov and Arthur Miller among them. Later in the season we will be workshopping a new play-in-process by renowned science writer Dava Sobel, on Copernicus.

Writers to follow include the powerful novelist Susan Choi; novelist and critic - indeed the best public literary critic of our times - James Wood; and the series goes on with at long last a surfeit of poetry - readings by Marie Howe, Campbell McGrath, Li-Young Lee, and Frank Bidart.

Richard Price, Russell Banks, Nicholas Delbanco, and Cristina Garcia extend the offerings in fiction. In what we expect to be a regular feature of our spring series, we have worked with PEN American Center's program, World Voices, to being to the Institute a bevy of internationally renowned writers.

Among our extra-curricular activities are four programs at the Associated Writing Programs Conference in New York City (Jan 30 - Feb 2), and our much-awaited inauguration of a new State Author and State Poet for the State of New York (March 3rd in Albany, with Governor Eliot Spitzer).

This is a heckuva lot of good stuff! Take advantage.


The Institute proudly welcomes to its faculty novelist and poet (and screenwriter, critic, translator, and travel writer) James Lasdun. We are lucky to have him. James, who has taught in our seminar program before, is among the best and the brightest. He recently taught at Columbia, Princeton, and the New School, and will be teaching a seminar (or two) with us in the spring term. More on that in postings to come.


A note of interest from our archive:

An interview with Norman Mailer on May 1, 2007, purposely couched in our broader posting. The aeronautics engineer speaks.

On being asked about the difference between fiction and nonfiction:

I'd say that it's all fiction. I'd say that one of the great swindles that civilization has been pulling on itself is that there are two literary forms - fiction and nonfiction, and that there really is a profound separation between them. And, as far as I'm concerned, nonfiction is fiction. Because you never get it right - in those times which I've really tried to get it absolutely right, when all was done...and I have much more contempt and respect for facts than most nonfiction writers, because I think that most facts are skewed, warped, and twisted in one form or another, whether outright lies or almost correct. And they get put together in these rickety structures which are then called history until somebody else comes along and casts it down for a new structure, and so forth. So, in that sense, it's fiction. Whereas in fiction, what you're doing is dealing with things that are not facts, but you're trying to move truthfully among several imaginations when you're writing. And that makes for some very interesting structures, which I think have more tensile strength, and - how should I put it - when you twist them, they tend to twist back, whereas with history, once you twist it - once you demolish a fact in history - it's gone. The history is savaged. It was a serious fact, and now it's seriously wrong.


The spring Classic film Series opens with one of the least-seen most important films of our time: Charles Burnett's Killer of Sheep, a cinema landmark by one of the significant of African-American filmmakers.

Along the way, we will bring in documentarist Perry Miller Adato, whose work includes the film Paris: The Luminous Years, and we will bring in four more documentarists during February: Sheila Curran Bernard, Bernadine Mellen, Christiane Badgley, and Penny Lane. See the Institute calendar for details. Among the other films of note, the Institute recognizes a master of Bollywood, Indian, cinema with a screening of Sholay, directed by the recently deceased Ramesh Sippy.

Other films of note include Clando, by the Cameroonian filmmaker Jean-Marie Teno; an unearthed chestnut, Dragonwyck, a gothic film with Vincent Price about the Van Rensselaer family; a film preceding Richard Price's visit, Mad Dog and Glory; and our bi-annual silent screening with Mike Schiffer's piano accompaniment, a film not screened at the Institute heretoforeL Charlie Chaplain's City Lights.

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