Category Archives: Carson McCullers

Links: Unstructured Play

Robert Coover: “A lot of what I do engages with the American myth. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with myths: we tend to need some sort of sustaining mythic notion or pattern or vision in order to get through each day. We need a little bit of structure to get out of bed, to keep going. But most of it is stifling, in some way corrupting. So, the challenge I always have in my work is to unmake the myth.”

Visiting the Orlando house where Jack Kerouac drafted The Dharma Bums.

Is blogging dying? (via) When people say this it’s a safe bet that what’s really being said is, “Blogging is dead as a way to make money.”

A reference librarian at Gallaudet University, a premier school for the deaf in Washington, D.C., on the deaf protagonist of Carson McCullersThe Heart Is a Lonely Hunter: “He is a surprisingly sympathetic deaf character, given that this novel was written in 1940, which was not a period in which deaf people were understood and accepted in mainstream society. His deafness—or at least muteness—appears to be a device that allows him to work as a “blank slate” on which the other characters project their own understandings of his responses—or lack thereof—to their needs.”

Tales from Norman Mailer‘s Brooklyn lair.

Rachel Syme asks what would constitute a revival of 90s books. You could make a small shelf of what you might call alt-rock lit, including Pagan Kennedy‘s The Exes; Bruce ThomasThe Big Wheel, a roman a clef about his bandmate Elvis Costello; and, of course, Nick Hornby‘s High Fidelity, increasingly an artifact from the time when record stores were cultural hubs.

Nelson Algren to a student: “Reading this was like trying to nap when somebody is pushing a lawn mower back and forth under your bedroom window.” Related: Chicago magazine’s Whet Moser unearths a 1988 feature on Algren chronicling his last days in Sag Harbor, where he lived—not particularly happily—in the orbit of Peter Matthiessen, Kurt Vonnegut, and Betty Friedan.

[Paul] Auster has even published six of his novels in Danish before they appeared in his native English.”

Victoria Best writes on how Willa Cather‘s books were co-opted by critics for their own purposes, and adds some excellent additional thoughts on the role of the critic in general.

Mark McGurl versus Elif Batuman on MFA programs, with additional thoughts from D.G. Myers and Seth Abramson. Questions of historical accuracy and needless snark aside, I’m struck by this bit from McGurl: “[P]art of my motive for adopting this position [that postwar fiction is the richest and most multifaceted body of fiction available], at first, was that no one else has ever wanted to occupy it. Some instinct told me that praise would, in this case, be a more powerful critical instrument than blame, troubling my colleagues in creative writing (What, he doesn’t hate us? What’s up with that?) just as much as it would the members of my own uncreative tribe, the literary scholars, for whom contempt for the discipline of creative writing had become lazily automatic.” McGurl later expresses actual respect and admiration for the stuff, but to say you like something because it is “rhetorically strategic” to, even in part, seems disingenuous. (I haven’t read The Program Era, so I don’t know if that attitude works its way into the pages of the book itself.)

Richard Ford: “Michigan is the place we think of when we think about work in America. It’s where people stick a thermometer when they want to take the temperature of the economy and understand how people are getting along.” Recommendations of great Michigan fiction welcome. (via)

David Foster Wallace‘s Kenyon College commencement speech inspired many of the graduates who were there. It may have done a little something for Mel Gibson too.

March Through the South

Next month marks the launch of the Southern Literary Trail, which honors 18 towns in Alabama, Georgia, and Mississippi that were home to some of the country’s best-loved writers. There’ll be readings on the grounds of William Faulkner‘s house; performances at the Margaret Mitchell house and museum; screenings of films based on the works of Carson McCullers; a whole bunch of events related to the centennial of Eudora Welty‘s birth; and more. The very idea of it was enough to get Harper Lee out of doors for a bit recently.

The Yaddo Files

It’s a wonder that nobody has yet filmed a thinky, sepia-toned, Oscar-bait-y film about Yaddo, given all the sexual, artistic, and political conflicts that seem to have occurred at the artists’ colony. A recent AP story on Yaddo, tied to a current exhibit at the New York Public Library, reveals some of the tensions:

In 1949, an Army report alleged that [executive director Elizabeth Ames] was a Soviet spy; FBI agents soon arrived. After interrogating Yaddo officials and artists, they concluded that no subversion had taken place, but not before convincing [poet Robert] Lowell and others that Yaddo was “permeated with communists.” Lowell, whose history of drinking and nervous breakdowns had well begun, demanded an emergency board meeting and the ouster of Ames.

A literary battle royale began. Critic Malcolm Cowley insisted that Yaddo was under siege from “the Communists, the fanatical anti-Communists, the homosexuals, the alcoholics and the Catholic converts.” Katherine Anne Porter thought Lowell’s crusade “vile beyond words” and critic Alfred Kazin wondered, “WHAT has happened at Yaddo?” Meanwhile, John Cheever consoled Ames: “It must have been a great shock to find yourself calumniated (slandered) by people you counted among your friends….”

Sex, drinking and general carrying on was an unofficial tradition. Yaddo resident Carson McCullers was madly in love with Porter and reportedly flung herself upon her fellow author’s doorstep, to no effect. Porter, in turn, despised Truman Capote, bragging that her students at Stanford University were wise enough to “vomit up such as little T.C.”

Lowell appeared to always be of two minds about the joint, if his letters to Elizabeth Bishop were any indication. In a recent review of their correspondence, Michael Dirda points out a choice line describing the Yaddo grounds: “rundown rose gardens, rotting cantaloupes, fountains, a bust of Dante with a hole in the head, sets called Gems of Ancient Literature, Masterpieces of the World, cracking dried up sets of Shakespeare, Ruskin, Balzac, Reminiscences of a Happy Life (the title of two different books), pseudo Poussins, pseudo Titians, pseudo Reynolds, pseudo and real English wood, portraits of the patroness, her husband, her lover, her children lit with tubular lights, like a church, like a museum . . . I’m delighted. Why don’t you come?”

The exhibit has been open for a while (it closes in February), but just last week the NYPL posted a brief video showing some of the highlights, including the very tall wall of books ostensibly produced by Yaddo residents:

Roundup: Boy, Are My Arms Tired

  • Catching up with a lot of things after returning from NYC last night. It was a good year for books I actually read (and liked) at the National Book Critics Circle awards: Alex RossThe Rest Is Noise won in criticism; Edwidge Danticat‘s Brother, I’m Dying won in autobiography; and Junot Diaz‘s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao won in fiction. The NBCC’s blog, Critical Mass, has a complete list of winners.
  • George Saunders pokes a few holes in the notion of realist fiction.
  • And discusses Lost, hard-ons, and other sundry matters with Etgar Keret.
  • The Guardian has an extensive study of Carson McCullersdark side(s).
  • Absalom, Absalom: Still impressing college professors.
  • “To be a significant American writer you need to be an engaged citizen of the world,” says poet Scott Cairns in an interesting piece on the growth of literary translation in the U.S.