Archive for June, 2010


NC News & Events: Fred Chappell To Receive John Tyler Caldwell Award

June 30, 2010

The trustees of the North Carolina Humanities Council have just announced that they will award their highest honor, the John Tyler Caldwell Award for the Humanities, to author Fred Chappell later this year. The award “pays tribute to individuals whose life and work illuminate one or more of the multiple dimensions of human life where the humanities come into play: civic, personal, intellectual, and moral,” and previous recipients have included: John Hope Franklin, Doris Betts, Sam Ragan, Charles Kuralt, William Friday, Reynolds Price, Louis Rubin, Emily Herring Wilson, Walt Wolfram, and Marsha White Warren, among others. This year’s award ceremony is scheduled for Friday, October 8, at 7 p.m. at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro’s School of Music Recital Hall. The event is free and open to the public.

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New Story: “Mrs. Marple and the Hit & Run”

June 19, 2010

I’m both thrilled and honored that Prick of the Spindle, a fine literary magazine, has published my short story “Mrs. Marple and the Hit & Run.” In it, an aging woman is the victim of a hit & run, and her reflections both on the accident itself (and the fall-out from it) and on her own relationships with various men in her life (father, husband, son) prompt her to undertake a daring mission: to save the driver of the car that hit her. For many reasons, this is one of my favorites among all the stories I’ve written. It began as a very, very long (overlong and rambling) draft, and then I decided to take it apart and put the pieces back together in a very different structure — a modular structure, as Madison Smart Bell calls it in his study Narrative Design, a textbook I didn’t know at the time I struggled with all this but that I now use in all of my own fiction workshops (and which came in handy as well for my wife, Tara Laskowski, with a story she’s recently revised and had accepted for publication). Despite some fleeting interest here and there, “Mrs. Marple” has had difficult finding a home. I won’t belabor the process-behind-the-story any further, but do want to thank Tara for her patience with all the times I’ve talked about it and the editors at Prick of the Spindle, especially Laura Ellen Scott, for finding it interesting and worthwhile.

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Review: Carolyn Parkhurst’s The Nobodies Album

June 16, 2010

Today, the Washington Post published my review of Carolyn Parkhurst’s new novel, The Nobodies Album — a book that charmed and impressed me from beginning to end. Here’s the opening of the review:

A number of ambitious and winning novels have been written about novelists themselves, from Margaret Atwood‘s “The Blind Assassin” to Ian McEwan‘s “Atonement” and Carol Shields’s “Unless.” Add to the list now D.C. author Carolyn Parkhurst’s “The Nobodies Album.” Not just a book about a novelist in action, it’s also a meditation on writing itself and on the curious intersections between the imagined world and the real one.

Read the rest of the review here. While you’re at the Post, don’t miss Ron Charles’ take on Jennifer Egan’s new book, A Visit From the Goon Squad — another one that headed straight for my t0-read list. (And watch Fall for the Book’s website too, which may soon — shh! — have an announcement about Egan as well!)

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Interview: Kevin Watson of Press 53

June 11, 2010

Press 53, founded in 2005 and based in Winston-Salem, NC., has quickly established itself as a leading independent publisher of fiction, poetry, and nonfiction. The core editorial staff is small — founder and short fiction editor Kevin Morgan Watson, poetry editor Tom Lombardo, and novel/memoir editor Robin Miura (more information on each here) — but the press’s output has been impressive: original works in each of those forms, occasional reprints of classic regional novels, a number of successful anthologies, including the popular Surreal South series, and the establishment of the Press 53 Open Awards, devoted to encouraging and discovering new talent.

Having followed Press 53 for some time, I finally met Watson earlier this year at the annual AWP conference and was as impressed by him personally as I’ve been by his work. We chatted again recently by email — about independent publishing in general, about Press 53 in particular, and touching on a new literary magazine the Press is debuting next month — and I’m happy to share our conversation here.

Art Taylor: Over the last couple of years, we’ve seen the big New York publishing houses going through some major upheaval and causing some serious ripples throughout the publishing world. How has all that impacted you as an independent publisher?

Kevin Morgan Watson

Kevin Watson: I really don’t pay attention to what the big publishers are doing, but the force behind the upheaval in the publishing industry as a whole is the Internet and Print-on-demand (POD) technology, both of which have proven to be powerful levelers. Small presses that are embracing these technologies, like Press 53, are blooming and growing, while some of the larger presses are having to rethink their model. The Internet allows publishers and writers to find their readers, and small presses and individual writers don’t need to sell millions of books to be successful. Print-on-demand technology has made it more affordable for small publishers to enter the industry, too. Rather than spending a few thousand dollars using traditional print methods to bring a book into print and then deal with inventories and distribution, POD costs only a few hundred dollars per title with reduced inventory and distribution built in. Every large publisher is now using POD to an extent, so the entire industry is shifting gears. But the bottom line is that readers have more options when it comes to finding what they want to read, and rather than choosing from a few titles from a few big publishers, there are now a few thousand publishers producing every kind of writing you can imagine. No matter your interests, thanks to the Internet and POD, you can probably find a book about it. So people are still buying books, but the money is being spread around in a wider area.

Press 53 has a distinguished range of titles — poetry, short fiction, novels, memoir — and you’ve established a successful run of anthologies too, with the Press 53 Open Awards series and the Surreal South series and then the upcoming collection What Doesn’t Kill You…. How would you define what you’re looking for as a publisher? How do you know when a book is right for Press 53?

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Review: Nani Power’s Ginger and Ganesh

June 10, 2010

I’m pleased to host today guest critic Agatha Donkar, whose writings (and photography) I’ve very much admired for some time now; her own blog, Brand New Kind of Photography, is sheer pleasure to read. Here, Donkar takes a look at Nani Power‘s latest book, the memoir Ginger and Ganesh (a follow-up of sorts to her previous memoir, Feed the Hungry; see my interview on that book). Power will be officially launching the new book on Tuesday evening, June 15, at Bambule Restaurant in Washington, DC. More information is available at Power’s own website.

Ginger and Ganesh: Adventures in Indian Cooking, Culture and Love

By Nani Power

Reviewed by Agatha Donkar

Nani Power takes to the internet — the most modern of conveniences, changing the way we think, talk and communicate — in search of teachers in the field of traditional international cuisine, posting on Craigslist “Please teach me Indian cooking! I will bring ingredients and pay you for your trouble. I would like to know about your culture as well.” That confluence of anonymous internet communication with the strictly traditional Indian home and kitchen is what grabbed me first and foremost about Ginger and Ganesh. The idea that someone could find guides through this highly structured and traditional world in a venue as wild and wooly as the internet stopped me in my track a little, but as everything else is readily available there, I shouldn’t have been surprised that teachers in a traditional discipline would be as well.

Power’s memoir is a study in contrasts. She notes with interest the husbands who hover while their wives or daughters instruct her in preparing recipes that have been passed through families for generations, and she uses the Indian families and the feelings raised by her cooking lessons and interactions with those families to examine her own life, as a single mother to two teenaged boys, making her living as a writer.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Power’s journey through a multitude of Northern Virginia kitchens — as well as the least detailed (there are no recipes for love, unfortunately) — is the romantic relationship she begins with V., the college-aged brother of one of Power’s early teachers. Her relationship with V. colors the path of her cooking as she learns from others how to fix the dishes he likes best, and it simultaneously colors her emotional journey. She writes eloquently of the knowledge she gains of Indian culture from her cooking lessons, but the knowledge becomes a concrete lesson as V. returns to India to care for his ill father. Power presents a situation that she understands intellectually but struggles with emotionally, missing V. while she revels in a renewed independence, the life she led before meeting him, and it is one of the most compelling threads that runs through the story.

Unfortunately, the book’s weakest point is its structure. To build a book around recipes is a perfectly serviceable conceit, but the timeline of the events that flow around the recipes is not chronological, and even the recipes themselves lack an overwhelming organizing factor, be it ingredients or location, beyond a half-hearted attempt to link Power’s teachers to them. (Not all recipes have teachers attached, nor do the groups of recipes seem to have their own distinct similarities.) Some chapters are heavy on cooking instructions and processes, while others concentrate on the melodrama of Power’s relationship with V. and the cultural challenges of the relationship. There is no rhyme or reason, neither chronology nor cooking, to the path of the book, which results in its meandering, disjointed quality — one which is helped, but not quite redeemed, by the book’s ending, because Ginger and Ganesh doesn’t so much conclude as simply stop.

That ending seems to be an interesting meditation on the force of life changing events. The possibility that momentous endeavors can change us without providing a concrete turning point or end cap is one that many people do not consider. Power has written a memoir that accurately reflects life: the things we expect to learn from experiences are not necessarily the ones that we do learn, and then life continues simply to spool out in front of us. It was a refreshing end to an unusual story — not quite complete, but not unsatisfying.

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