Archive for the ‘George Mason University’ Category

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Book Launch: Tara Laskowski, Modern Manners for Your Inner Demons

October 22, 2012

On Saturday, October 27, at 5 p.m., Tara Laskowski (my wife!) will celebrate the publication of her first book, the short story collection Modern Manners for Your Inner Demons (Matter Press), with a launch party at One More Page Books, 2200 North Westmoreland Street, Arlington, VA. Here’s the Facebook page about the book launch, and here’s Tara’s own description of the collection:

There are many etiquette books from Emily Post and others that tell you what to do when attending a wedding, setting the table, asking for a promotion, introducing yourself at a party. What I became interested in is the darker side of etiquette—the way people conduct themselves in situations that Emily Post would never write about. This book started with the story “The Etiquette of Adultery.” I loved that title and all that it suggested. Was there an etiquette, a set of unwritten rules, for a situation that seemed to break all the rules of a “decent” society? From there, the collection grew—exploring the etiquette of obesity, dementia, infertility, arson, etc. These stories were really fun to write for two reasons. One, they allowed me to experiment with form, writing in small sections, chapters, definitions and other pieces of a suggested larger text. And two, I loved seeing how the characters emerged from each story. Each person in these ten stories ends up writing their own codes of etiquette, which I think is actually true in life. We all have our rules, our moral codes, our lines that we won’t cross. It’s when we cross those lines that things get really interesting.

The launch party will feature a short reading of one of the stories from the collection as well as a new, unpublished story, “The Etiquette of the Happy Hour,” and a special numbered limited edition printing of that story will be available to everyone who comes out to the big event. Another perk (given the happy hour theme), our good friend Professor Cocktail has conjured up a special drink for the occasion: The Mild-Mannered Bibliophile (and take our word for it: it’s delicious). All that and cake too? We’ll look forward to seeing you there!

(But of course, if you can’t make it, you can get the book direct from Matter Press here, too.) — Art Taylor

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Upcoming Event: Fall for the Book Festival, Sept. 26-30

September 19, 2012

Neil Gaiman

The annual Fall for the Book Festival is one of the biggest events on my calendar each year — and with good reason, since I’m on the staff that helps to put the festival together! But it should also be one of the starred events on the calendars of all readers and writers in Northern Virginia, DC, and Maryland, since the program regularly welcomes some of the biggest names in the literary world to our backyard. And this year — the festival’s 14th — is no exception, with headliners including Alice Walker (celebrating the 30th anniversary of The Color Purple), Neil Gaiman, Michael Chabon, Rita Dove, and Katherine Boo, among the nearly 125 participants on this year’s schedule. Each of these writers anchors one of the festival’s five days, Sept. 26-30, as follows:

  • Rita Dove, former Poet Laureate of the United States and recent recipient of the prestigious National Medal of Arts from President Barack Obama, will receive this year’s Busboys and Poets Award on Fall for the Book’s opening night, Wednesday, September 26, at 8 p.m. in Harris Theatre on George Mason University’s Fairfax, Virginia, campus. Dove’s most recent collection is Sonata Mulattica. The Busboys and Poets Award is sponsored by Busboys and Poets, a restaurant, bookstore, fair trade market and gathering place based in Washington, DC.
  • Alice Walker will discuss The Color Purple, her other writings, and her social and political activism on Thursday, September 27, at 3 p.m. in the Concert Hall, Center for the Arts, on Mason’s Fairfax campus. Among Walker’s most recent publications is Overcoming Speechlessness: A Poet Encounters the Horror in Rwanda, Eastern Congo, and Palestine/Israel.
  • Neil Gaiman will accept the 2012 Mason Award, recognizing authors who have made extraordinary contributions to bringing literature to a wide reading public, on Friday, September 28, at 7:30 p.m. in the Concert Hall of Mason’s Center for the Arts. Gaiman is the creator and writer of the DC Comics series Sandman, winner of 12 Eisner Comic Industry Awards and a World Fantasy Award for best short story—making it the first comic ever to receive a literary award. Other works include American Gods; The Graveyard Book, the only title ever to win both the US’s and UK’s most prestigious awards given to children’s books, the Newbery and the Carnegie Medals; and Coraline, the latter the basis for the Oscar Nominated 2009 film.
  • Katherine Boo will accept this year’s Mary Roberts Rinehart Award, presented annually to a woman writer of nonfiction, on Saturday, September 29, at 7:30 p.m. at the Sherwood Center, 3740 Old Lee Highway, in Fairfax, Virginia. Boo’s first book is Behind the Beautiful Forevers, which presents portraits of hope, injustice, and violence in the city of Mumbai, India. The Mary Roberts Rinehart Award commemorates the life and work of Rinehart, who for 45 years prior to her death in 1958 was one of America’s most popular writers.
  • Michael Chabon will accept this year’s Fairfax Prize, honoring outstanding literary achievement and presented by the Fairfax Library Foundation, on the festival’s closing night, Sunday, September 30, at 6 p.m. in the Concert Hall of Mason’s Center for the Arts. Chabon’s novels include The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, a Pulitzer Prize winner among its other honors; The Yiddish Policeman’s Union, winner of both the Hugo and the Nebula Awards; and Telegraph Avenue, just released earlier this month.

But there’s also plenty more to be excited about, with a schedule that includes everything from mystery to history and from poetry to philosophy — along with a few topics as fresh as each morning’s headlines, such as the future of higher education and the issues driving the upcoming election. The full festival, with dates, times, and venues, can be found at www.fallforthebook.org — but here are just a few of the other events I’ve already tagged for my own calendar:

  • Wednesday, Sept. 26, 8 p.m. — Karen Russell, whose debut novel, Swamplandia!, joined Denis Johnson’s Train Dreams and David Foster Wallace’s The Pale King as this year’s finalists for the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction.
  • Thursday, Sept. 27, 10:30 a.m. — Clifford Garstang, debuting his new novel-in-stories, What the Zhang Boys Know, along with short story writer Edward Belfar
  • Thursday, Sept. 27, 6 p.m. — David Taylor, Andrew Wingfield, and David Ebenbach — recipients of the 2008, 2010, and 2012 fiction prizes from the Washington Writers’ Publishing House — reflecting on the craft of developing a short fiction collection
  • Friday, Sept. 28, 1:30 p.m. — Contributors to Amazing Graces: Yet Another Collection of Fiction by Washington Area Women, edited by Richard Peabody, including Julie Agnone, Beth Konkoski, Tara Laskowski, Teresa Burns Murphy, Susan Sharpe, and Eugenia Tsutsumi (plus events featuring Christopher Coake and Dallas Hudgens just beforehand and featuring Nick Arvin and Matt Bondurant just afterwards)
  • Friday, Sept. 28, 5:30 p.m. — Mystery Writers of America panel featuring Thomas Kaufman, Tracy Kiely, Sandra Parshall, and Joanna Campbell Slan, and moderated by Alan Orloff
  • Saturday, Sept. 29, 10 a.m. — A self-publishing panel with Karen Cantwell, Matt Iden, Scott Nicholson, and Michael and Robin Sullivan
  • Saturday, Sept. 29, 6 p.m. — Bestselling novelist Laura Lippman with her new book, And When She Was Good
  • Sunday, Sept. 30, 1:30 p.m. —  National Book Critics Circle Panel examining literary fiction and genre fiction and featuring acclaimed novelists Julianna Baggott, Louis Bayard, and Alma Katsu, and critic and Salon.com co-founder Laura Miller

Hope to see you at the festival! — Art Taylor

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Interview: Laura Ellen Scott, author of Death Wishing

October 31, 2011

Very pleased to be hosting another interview between two fine writers. Tara Laskowski, who interviewed Steve Almond here recently, chats this time with Laura Ellen Scott, currently on tour with her first novel, Death Wishing. Thanks to both authors for taking the time to set this up. — Art Taylor

Set in post-Katrina New Orleans, Laura Ellen Scott’s debut novel, Death Wishing, is also set in a delightful alternate reality in which the dying wishes of some of the populace are magically fulfilled—though often with unexpected results. The book follows Victor Swaim, a cape and corset maker trying to recover from a divorce in carefree New Orleans. After a series of those deathbed wishes come true—including the curing of cancer, the elimination of cats, the return of Elvis (1967 vintage), the clouds turning orange, mothers growing third eyes, and cups of coffee becoming bottomless—the hysteria that grows around “Death Wishing” forces Victor into action. He is forced to consider: What would he wish for the world without him in it?

Scott teaches fiction writing at George Mason University. Her work has been selected for The Wigleaf Top Fifty of 2009 and Barrelhouse magazine’s “Futures” issue. She has twice been nominated for Dzanc’s Best of the Web 2010 anthology. She will be reading from Death Wishing at various locations in November; find out just where on her website here. Additionally, you can also email her through her Wish Tank website and tell her what your own dying wish would be. Even if she can’t make it come true, your wish might be chosen for publication on the web.

In the meantime, Scott helped our wishes to come true by answering a few questions about the new book.

Tara Laskowski: Where did the idea for this novel come from?

Laura Ellen Scott: This Army PR guy died and left a statement that there were aliens at Roswell in 1947, so my husband and I were joking around with the old saying: “wishing doesn’t make it so.” I was already writing in the narrator’s voice, having him struggle with weight loss in New Orleans when I thought, why not introduce an element of the fantastic, see what happens? I’d written some ghost stories before, but nothing with this sort of altered reality. I guess my fantasy-obsessed students finally got to me. But basically, I had all the different ideas cooking in small pots before I realized how well they all went together (sidesteps gumbo reference).

Were there any death wishes that you had happen in earlier drafts of this book that never made it in the final cut? Or are there any that you wish you’d put in?

All the wishes made it in, but some were modified along the way. At one point I thought Elvis was too obvious, so I tried to write about Conway Twitty instead. That idea never made it out of a single paragraph.

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Interview: Manuel Muñoz, author of What You See in the Dark

September 5, 2011

Manuel Muñoz’s What You See in the Dark, released earlier this year by Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, boasts what Booklist called “a killer premise: the making of Psycho set against [a] real-life murder.”

The victim of that killing is Teresa Garza, a young shoe store salesgirl who has caught the attention of Bakersfield, California’s townspeople in a number of ways: the day laborers who whistle at her, including the shy Cheno, who slowly begins to court her; Dan, the handsome bartender who offers her a real start on her dreams of a singing career and wins her heart in the process; and the audiences at her initial performances, including an unnamed co-worker at the shoe store, burning slowly with jealousy over Teresa’s accomplishments and affairs.

That co-worker and rival is the first of three women whose perspectives dominate this story. The second is Arlene, a waitress at the local diner, owner of a small motel, and mother to Dan, simmering with her own worries and frustrations. The third is the Actress, come to town for a small scene in her upcoming feature, pondering her role, her career, her future.

The film that shadows this book is never mentioned by name and neither are the primary players in that filmmaking, referred to instead as the Director and the Actress. But several of Psycho’s more famous and more provocative scenes get plenty of attention, and elements of the film are mirrored frequently in the parallel story: the mother who owns a motel, the son she wants to protect, the potentially shameful series of relationships, that murder itself.

While What You See in the Dark is Muñoz’s debut novel, he is also the author of two short story collections, Zigzagger and The Faith Healer of Olive Avenue. He’ll be appearing at this year’s Fall for the Book Festival at George Mason University, in Fairfax, Virginia, on Friday afternoon, September 23. In advance of that visit, he indulged a few questions here about his new book.

Where did the idea originate for What You See in the Dark — for placing these two stories together?

Novelist Manuel Muñoz (Photo by Stuart Bernstein)

Because I write exclusively about California’s Central Valley, I feel the pressure to make my fiction relevant to the American literary landscape. The pressure I feel has its root in being labeled a “regionalist.” I kept thinking of ways in which the “outside” world visits people in the place I come from and the answer was simple: movies. Movies (and television) are the way that many people get stories into their lives—it’s easier than the kind of attention required for books to work the same power.

I could have picked any film moment that demonstrated some sort of social shift, like Sidney Poitier slapping the town’s head honcho in In the Heat of the Night. I chose Psycho because careful viewers will pick up the visual clues about the film’s geography: it’s set in the Central Valley, but the film refuses to name it. And that’s the aim and mission of my writing life: to show that place does matter and that stories do happen in places like that. I was just lucky that the film has such a storied history in American cinema.

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Interview: Andrew Wingfield, author of Right of Way

September 12, 2010

Andrew Wingfield is the author of the novel Hear Him Roar and of the new short story collection Right of Way, winner of the 2010 fiction prize from the Washington Writers Publishing House. Right of Way focuses on the community of Cleave Springs, a fictional world which drew its inspiration from Wingfield’s own Alexandria neighborhood. The stories reflect the complex challenges of quickly changing communities in today’s urban and suburban communities but with always with focus on individual people and specific personal dramas.  In “Lily Pad,” for example, the stories of a young musician and a waitress at the local hangout parallel, intersect, and inform one another — stories of love, loss, longing and redemption (or at least the potential for redemption). Wingfield, an associate professor in George Mason University’s New Century College, will read from and discuss his new book as part of the upcoming Fall for the Book Festival; his talk takes place on Thursday, September 23, at 10:30 a.m. in Dewberry Hall in the Johnson Center on Mason’s Fairfax, VA Campus. In advance of that appearance, Wingfield answered a few questions about the inspirations for the novel — both literary inspirations and lessons from the real world.

Art Taylor: The linked stories in Right of Way are centered on Cleave Springs, a neighborhood similar to the one in which you live now. What was it that inspired you to give this place the Winesburg, Ohio treatment?

Andrew Wingfield: Place has always interested me, as a reader, a writer, and a human being. It was natural for me to tune into what was happening in my neighborhood and maybe it was inevitable that I’d get intrigued and want to write about it. But this project snuck up on me. My wife gave birth to our fist son about six months after we moved in to our place, and I started teaching full-time a few months after that. I became a busy man, a writer whose writing time was very fragmented. I had written one novel and had a couple of ideas for new novels that would require a lot of reading and research. But I had no time for reading and research. As soon as he could walk, my son would stand at the top of the stairs in the morning and holler until someone took him outside. I walked all over the neighborhood with him in the stroller or on my shoulders; and I spent many, many hours with him at the playground down the street. As I pushed him on the swing, I’d watch the action on the slab of pavement nearby, where the mostly black, mostly poor children of our neighborhood’s longtime residents biked and skated and scootered among the helmeted children of the mostly white, mostly well-educated, mostly middle class new arrivals. I might see the tall, handsome chauffer with the three pet whippets walk past. I might be harangued by the old Polish immigrant who was eager to start dropping bombs on Iraq. I might eavesdrop on the construction crew that was working on the house next to the park, renovating yet another of the neighborhood’s dilapidated homes in hopes of a quick and profitable flip. One day it struck me: I’m surrounded by stories here. Thiswhat I’m doing right now— is my research!

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Interview: Kathryn Johnson, author of The Gentleman Poet

September 6, 2010

Kathryn Johnson’s new novel, The Gentleman Poet: A Novel of Love, Danger, and Shakespeare’s The Tempest, starts from an intriguing premise: Scholars have long cited a real-life shipwreck saga as one of the inspirations for the Bard’s late great play, but what if instead of simply reading about it, Shakespeare had himself been a passenger on the ill-fated voyage of the Sea Venture? The ship, en route from England to the Jamestown in the New World, encountered a strong storm and was ultimately steered into the reefs of Bermuda, where 150 passengers (including John Rolfe, who would later wed Pocahantas) disembarked and tried to make a home for nine months until two ships could be built for the survivors to continue the journey. Dramatizing this already suspenseful tale — and injecting the possibility that Shakespeare might have been on board —  Johnson’s novel works on a number of levels: as minutely researched historical drama, as speculative fiction, as literary homage and gamesmanship, and even as romance, since the book’s focus is as much on a young servant girl named Elizabeth Person and her budding relationship with the ship’s cook as it is on that distinguished title character.

The Gentleman Poet hits bookstores on Tuesday, September 7, and Johnson has a full schedule of events ahead, including an appearance at George Mason University’s Fairfax, VA Campus as part of the upcoming Fall for the Book Festival; she’ll be speaking there on Monday, September 20, at 1:30 p.m. in the Sandy Springs Bank Tent, just outside the Johnson Center.

In advance of her tour, Johnson indulged a few questions about the new novel, and I’m glad to share our chat here.

Art Taylor: A simple question to begin with: What inspired you to write a novel about Shakespeare? Are you a longtime fan of the Bard’s work? Of The Tempest in particular?

Kathryn Johnson

Kathryn Johnson: Actually, my interest in writing The Gentleman Poet began in just the opposite way. I felt that I’d read far too few of Shakespeare’s plays in college. I wanted to learn more about him and what has made his poetry and plays so enduring. But as a working writer it’s very hard to find time for exhaustive reading and study unless it’s devoted to producing something. I think that’s why I so appreciate Bill Bryson and his books. He finds something that interests him, like hiking the Appalachian Trail or sampling historical high points (A Short History of Nearly Everything), and feeds his curiosity by going off to research until he has enough for a book. Before I could write anything, I needed to read not just from the plays but also some of the excellent nonfiction works that have recently been written, like Marjorie Garber’s Shakespeare After All, Ron Rosenbaum’s The Shakespeare Wars, and Stephen Greenblatt’s wonderful, Will in the World. At first, just writing a story with Shakespeare somehow involved, something like the film, Shakespeare in Love, that was all I had in mind. Focusing on The Tempest came later.

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Tara Laskowski Interviews Jessica Anthony

August 31, 2009

I’m pleased today to host an interview between two great writers — and to present this interview as the first post of my recently redesigned site. Here, Tara Laskowski, the Kathy Fish Fellow at SmokeLong Quaterly, talks to Jessica Anthony, author of the highly praised novel The Convalescent. The two writers were classmates in the MFA program at George Mason University, and Anthony returns to Mason on Wednesday, September 23, for an alumni reading as part of the 2009 Fall for the Book Festival. Tara introduces the novel — and the interview — here:

Jessica Anthony’s debut novel, The Convalescent, hit the shelves earlier this summer to rave reviews. (Check out this one at the San Francisco Chronicle.) Anthony was the winner of McSweeney’s Amanda Davis Highwire Fiction Award and graduated with an MFA in Creative Writing from George Mason University. As McSweeney’s proudly writes on their web site about The Convalescent: “It is the story of a small, bearded man selling meat out of a bus parked next to a stream in suburban Virginia . . . and also, somehow, the story of 10,000 years of Hungarian history.”

I’ve been a big fan of Jessica Anthony’s work ever since we shared a fiction workshop class in grad school, and I can see why Barnes & Noble chose the book as a recommended summer reading pick, part of their “Discover Great New Writers” series. It’s a sharp, smart book that’s as weird and charming as its main character.

Tara Laskowski: In many writing classes, professors will say, “Write what you know.” You obviously haven’t stuck by that rule with this novel. What are the challenges of that, and what are the benefits?

Jessica Anthony

Jessica Anthony

Jessica Anthony: When I started writing fiction, I often struggled with real life and invention. I felt bogged down by all sorts of things: whether I was being unfair to a person I knew; how I could use something interesting that happened to my advantage—but as soon as I let go of writing what I “knew,” as soon as I began aiming for pure unadulterated invention, the boundaries suddenly disappeared. There was no need to sort out what in my life was useful to fiction because it was suddenly all useless. It was a very freeing, happy feeling not to have to rely on experience to tell a story. So I don’t see much benefit for ‘writing what you know,’ whether in fiction or non-fiction. I have never had much interest in heavily autobiographical fiction, because I always found myself asking: “Why isn’t this an essay?” And what do we know of anything, really? If you have a character who has lost a parent and you have also lost a parent, you and your character experience that loss in wildly different ways (usually for the story to work, the further you are from your own experience the better, otherwise you may suffer defending the weaknesses in your story with that embarrassing insistence: “But it actually HAPPENED that way…”). If you are an essayist, memoirist, journalist, or fiction writer, it seems to me that you’re probably better served by writing what you learn, observe, or investigate. Reading what a writer has sought out in truth and fiction is far more interesting than reading what a writer knows.
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