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When Edna O’Brien lost her brother, John, to suicide, she didn’t know where to seek comfort. She tried rereading his novel, Leaving Las Vegas, but she couldn’t make herself connect with the words between the covers. What she did absorb was one of the names of the authors who blurbed her brother’s book: Larry Brown. She contacted Mr. Brown and began a letter excahnge that would continue until Brown’s death in 2004.
Here is an excerpt from her essay, “Meeting Larry Brown”.
“I did know John, and he did know my work,” Brown wrote. “Just keep faith in yourself and keep on writing. That’s what John had to do, too.”
Thus began a six-year correspondence. I was the neophyte; Brown was my mentor. When the harsh reality of writing would crush me, I’d write him.
“Much as I’ve written, I’m still scared of it in some way until I sit down and start doing it again and then all the fear goes out the window and I feel safe,” he wrote once.
In all, Brown wrote me five letters, and I wrote him 10. Our unique relationship included one face-to-face meeting. In September 2003, driven by an undeniable urgency, I took a frenetic 700-mile road trip to hear him read at a bookstore in Louisville, KY.
You can read the rest here.
My fixation with The Last of Her Kind by Sigrid Nunez continutes. I thought I had gotten that monkey off my back. (My students would beg to differ, I think.) But at least I had stopped thinking about the novel quite so much. But now, my Spelman Sister Jennifer, sent me a link to an article explaining the origins of the lovely photo on the book’s cover.
I just had to share. The photograph titled, “They Needed to Talk”, was taken by William Eggleston, who is said to have reinvented color photography.
Where are the girls in the photo toady?:
Karen and Lesa are both 51 now and divorced. Karen uses her middle name, Lucretia, and her married name, Hampton; she has a son and works as a nurse in Memphis. Lesa has two sons and a daughter and teaches high-school English in Nashville. From this photograph, it’s hard to believe that a few years later the women sang in a Memphis punk band called Gangrene and the Scurvy Girls. (They were the Scurvy Girls.) The band didn’t last. However, Eggleston’s delicate image of their youth did. And for that, both women say, they’re grateful.
Yesterday, I treated myself to a fancy dinner at Kinkead’s, one of DCs nicer restaurants. I like to go to such places alone, pop up to the bar, and have my meal while reading a trashy mystery and people-watching. A charming older gentleman with similar plans sat near me and we struck up a conversation. He asked me to help him remember the name of a novel he’d read recently and enjoyed. I’m going to give you the description he gave me, word for word. The first person who gets it wins!
I am trying to remember the name of this book I read. It was quite good. Powerful, even. The author is a black woman. Older than you. The book is about a young man who has all these problems with his father, so he goes back to try and suss out the family history.
Let the brainstorming begin!
I don’t know what made me fall off The Artist Way wagon. Something happened around chapter seven and I just sort of drifted off. This is very unlike me. I am a follow-through kind of person. I am not even doing the morning pages any more….
Well, look what I got in the mail! Lauren sent me Hip Tranquil Chick: A Guide to Life on and Off the Yoga Mat. It got lost in the mail room, apparently and just made it’s way to my door. I’ll admit, I was iffy— as I bear little resemblance to the “hip chick” on the cover, and no one has ever accused me of tranquility. But Lauren sent it and if Lauren sent it, it’s got to be good. (She hipped me to Instant Love last summer, which I loved.) So, I peeled back the cover and looked inside. Lo and behold! A manifesto. Just what I needed as I am getting ready to move into my New York Life!
This book– I’ll admit to not having read it, just done some targeted page-flipping — seems to combine the get-yourself-togetherness of The Artist’s Way, with a little bit more fun and a lot more yoga. It’s like The Artist’s Way, with shoes and stretches.
I’m going to have to read The Honeymoon is Over. I was just telling my students last week that love gone right, is great fun for the participants, but as a spectator sport…(as Ladylee would say:) **crickets**.
Love makes for good (if guilty)reading when it goes terribly wrong. And this books is full of heartbreaking remembrances and serious drama. The star, of course, is Terri MacMillian, with 100 Questions she wishes she had asked while she was so busy getting her groove back. For the ultra-nosey, here is a recent interview with Ms. MacMillan.
Rebecca Walker’s second memoir, Baby Love, is out. I found her first memoir Black, White, and Jewish to be really disturbing, but oddly enough, my dad did enjoy it. Her new book is about her decision to have a child with her partner,
Mechell Ndegeocello. (**update: wrong partner.) And, according to the Publisher’s Weekly review, the novel also details her big fight with her mom, Alice Walker, about the way that Rebecca portrays her in the first memoir. (Major drama. Apparently, wills have been changed.)
And look, Rebecca Walker has a blog.
And speaking of memoirs, A.M. Homes new memoir, The Mistress’s Daughter is on the shelves. I tell you, when I had my idea for my third novel, I thought it was such a novel concept. I was wrong and keep getting wronger.
Richard McCann visited George Washington University last week and read from his excellent prose debut, Mother Of Sorrows. My students were in attendance, as we have used his work in our Advanced Fiction Class. The reading was wonderful– with material like that, how could Richard go wrong?
(Journalistic note: on the photo to the right, I begged him to strike that Mark Twain pose.)
One of the many interesting things that Richard said was, “I don’t worry about fiction or Non-fiction. I just think of it all as prose.” He said this in response to a question about the autobiographical aspects of Mother Of Sorrows.
The chapter of he read dealt with the brothers– both gay, one closeted– on a visit with thier disapproving mother. There is a passage in which Richard describes the characters physical features and it is as though he is staring into a mirror describing what he sees.
This is not to say that Mother of Sorrows is memoir. Richard mentioned the most significant diversion from the “truth” is thatthere is a third McCann brother, but in the novel, there are only two. He said what he feared most was that this brother wouldn’t approve of the book– not just because the third brother is very religious and might not like the gay themes, but also because the third brother was sort of erased from the history created by the novel.
I tend get really irritated when readers spend way too much time trying to decode the autobiography in my work. It makes me feel like they are looking under my clothes. When the first student asked the question, I cringed for Richard, but he seemed to be energized by the discussion.
If you haven’t read Mother of Sorrows, you should. It will break your heart, in a very good way.
Friends and neighbors, I need something to read. I’ve got novels on my shelf, but I can’t quite remember why I bought them. Chances are, I heard some buzz out there in the industry. Right now, I need something to read that is recommended by just a regular person. I don’t want to read something because it’s been published as the lead title from XYZ press, or its author won a major humungous prize. I don’t want to read something just because I met the author in an elevator and she was really cool. Right now, I need a strong personal endorsement of something. What have you read lately that knocked your socks off?
I don’t know if it’s the books I have been reading lately, or maybe it’s just a problem with my socks. Whatever the case, I am not getting the zing I used to get from reading. This is so not cool.
I’ve been feeling a little bit on the blue side. A friend said, “Is it because you’re not writing enough?” And the real answer it that is isn’t because I’m not READING enough.
I often bring poetry into my fiction classes. I often use this one by Lucille Clifton. (How an she tell a full story in so few–very beautiful–words?)
my sister Josephine
born in ’29
and dead these 15 years
who carried a book on every stroll.
when daddy was dying
she left the streets
and moved him back home
to tend him.
her pimp came too
her Diamond Dick
and they would take turns
a bible aloud through the house.
when you poem this
and you will, she would say
remember the Book of Job.
happy birthday and hope
to you Jospehine
one of the easts
may heaven be filled
with literate men
may they bed you
Last month, while hanging out with Remica Bingham, I noticed that she shared the same last name as the artist who designed the cover of her book.
“Are you related?” I asked.
She smiled and said, “It’s my father.”
“Really,” I said. “How did that happen?”
She answered me in writing.
by Remica Bingham
It’s a strange thing to find your father where you never thought he would be. So when I found my father pouring through the rows of poetry on my bookshelves I was a bit taken aback. He wasn’t reading any poems, just looking at spines and covers, examining each book, its texture, style. This was July 2006, after I found out I’d won the Naomi Long Madgett Poetry Award and that my book, Conversion, would be published, in a matter of months, by Lotus Press.
When Lotus Press asked me if I had any input as to what I’d like to see on the cover of the book, I knew this was the right press at the right time. I told them my father was an artist and that I’d like him to do the cover art. Not only were they agreeable, but they seemed fond of the idea as well, without even knowing our story. I suppose they had read the book, though, since they’d chosen it for their book prize, and did get to glimpse into our past. My father takes a bit of a thrashing (as do many others—myself included) in the book. I tell so much about the dark times in his life, in our lives. My father and mother divorced when I was twelve and remarried when I was twenty. After many years of turmoil and distance, they found their way back to each other, older, wiser and more open to the possibility of happiness, of trust.