Thursday, April 27, 2006

World Voices Fest

[Via Maud] The Literary Saloon reports on PEN's Faith and Reason: Writers Speak deal yesterday. All the writers invited spoke and behaved exactly the way you'd expect them to: Rushdie declined to praise himself; Zadie Smith exuded a false modesty and said she was not qualified to do something; Elias Khoury tried to show he was a moral man by (very publicly) declining a government-sponsored event; and Jeanette Winterson
took center-stage -- literally, not taking a stand behind one of the two lecterns on either side of the stage that the other readers (save wheelchair-bound Achebe) had used. No notes, no reading, just a few relevant stories from her life -- an expert performance, and captivating (and relevant) stuff. She told of being adopted into a strict religious household, where there were only 6 books (the Bible and five books on the Bible) and where, when her mother read her Jane Eyre, it came to quite a different ending. Her mother was a smart woman, she acknowledged, and among the basic truths she taught her was: the trouble with books is you never know what's in them until it's too late. And that and other experiences taught Winterson that the one way no one can take a text away from you is by memorizing it.
Brilliant. I wish I could have gone.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Department of Awesome Books

I can't wait to read this.

Better than Paris

The Yacoubian Buildings Movie debuts at the Tribeca Film Fest. The Daily Star has a review of it here. From the TFF page:
The most expensive Egyptian film ever made, The Yacoubian Building is a sprawling, star-studded epic that spans all the social classes populating contemporary Cairo. In three fast-moving hours, it dramatizes topical issues like adultery, political corruption, Islamist terrorism, and the hitherto taboo subject of homosexuality. First-time director Marwan Hamed crafts a gripping drama out of Alaa Al Aswani's novel, an Arabic-language bestseller already in its 12th printing. The famous Yacoubian Building was constructed in downtown Cairo in 1937 to house the city's upper crust. Today the tenants of its spacious apartments are a bit down-in-the-dumps, while its rooftop laundry rooms have been converted into homes for the poor.
And from the Daily Star's review:
According to Egypt's most celebrated writer, Naguib Mahfouz, "You can tell whether a man is clever by his answers. You can tell whether a man is wise by his questions."... After stumbling out of a bar onto the empty, shadow-filled streets of Downtown Cairo, [Adel Imam's character] screams: "This is a time of deformity," his tears mixing with the booze on his breath. "This country was better than Paris. They've ruined it." That this film dares to ask what went wrong is, ultimately, its wisest achievement.
I have mixed feelings about statements like "They've ruined it." Who are "they"? And is it wise, afterall, to compare an enormous country like Egypt to a metropolis like Paris? We all know Egypt was "better than" anything: it was the seat of civilization, once upon a time. To compare it to a relatively new city in the West gives away exactly what went wrong...imperialism followed by reverence for all things Western.

Anyway, I still can't wait to see it.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Things I'll miss about Austin

I know it's a bit soon to be nostalgic (I can't help it; it's genetic), but please: Indulge me.

I will miss my son's school. It's a badass little anti-institutional institution with classrooms as big as my apartment--about 1,100 square feet. Which means my kid can be loud and dramatic and run around. Plus there are no grades, no homework assignments, and they garden and hike. He made these papier-mache masks in art class. His art teacher is wonderful.Coffee shops. I know there'll be coffee shops in Ann Arbor, but there's something about Austin coffee shops that can't be replicated, such as the presence of things like sit-down hair driers:in the middle of the yard. I'm also going to miss yummy bakeries like Quak's:
Again, there are tons of awesome bakeries in Ann Arbor. But do they make Marvelous Morning Muffins (nuts, cranberries, apples, carrots, sugar, sugar, sugar, and bran)??? Gosh, I'm going to have to sleep with a baker to get the recipe. Don't worry about me. It'll be fun: he's hot. And I'm also going to miss Almost-Perfect blue skies:

By the way, these pics were made with an old Hi-Matic E Minolta, and the film speed was off...


I'm moving soon, and lately, I've been dreaming of nothing but movement. A few nights ago I dreamt I was driving down the highway in a kiddie pool with wheels.

My son said the funniest thing yesterday. I asked him to clean up the living room, which was littered with plates, a robe, a can, magic trick supplies, and a tangle of play station/x-box wires. He obliged, but when he got to the wires, he was stumped, and picked up the mass of mess, which looked like stubborn giant-lady dreads, and said, "Look at all these wires! How are we going to move all these wires?!" It was a poignant question, because I've been living in my apartment for 4 years, in Texas for 8, and I think there were moments when I was more willing to stay for the tangled wires than leave. Also, I think it's hilarious to picture a family saying, Oh, we can't move. First off: there's all those wires.

My parents called this morning to check if I called them earlier, which I thought was funny. My father got on the phone and said I should move the (old, tattered, ugly) plaid couch with me to Michigan, even if I take nothing else. I think I laughed for about half a minute. It was apparently a very expensive couch, and was foisted upon me-- along with the 12-year-old dining room table and some chairs (which have since broken)-- when I first moved down to Texas, 20 years old and bright-eyed and dying to get away from my family and from my ex. I've been lugging the stuff -- both the literal and figurative baggage--around for 8 years. I'm so ready to let it all go.

I woke up at 5:45 this morning (courtesy of my lovely neighbor) and forgot my dreams immediately, but was launched into frantic thoughts about these characters I've been dreaming up for a possible third book (which could very well dethrone the second and demand to be written first). They were all suddenly present, and so vibrant, and I was grateful for their movement.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

More Lobby

Tony Judt in an Op-Ed on the Israel Lobby in the NYT:
The damage that is done by America's fear of anti-Semitism when discussing Israel is threefold. It is bad for Jews: anti-Semitism is real enough (I know something about it, growing up Jewish in 1950's Britain), but for just that reason it should not be confused with political criticisms of Israel or its American supporters. It is bad for Israel: by guaranteeing it unconditional support, Americans encourage Israel to act heedless of consequences. The Israeli journalist Tom Segev described the Mearsheimer-Walt essay as "arrogant" but also acknowledged ruefully: "They are right. Had the United States saved Israel from itself, life today would be better ...the Israel Lobby in the United States harms Israel's true interests."

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

He wrote The Graduate, but he's got no dough

This story is incredible:
Novelist Charles Webb, 66, and his partner have only days to pay two months' overdue rent, totalling nearly £1,600, on their flat in Hove.

Mr Webb wrote the book on which the 1967 movie starring Dustin Hoffman and Anne Bancroft was based.

The Californian author accepted a one-off payment of £14,000 for the novel, while the film made £60m.

Mr Webb, who based The Graduate on his relationship with his partner Fred, has spent five years caring for her after she suffered a nervous breakdown.

He is still writing but has not had anything published for some time.
There are many lessons to glean from this sad, sad tale, but the two majors ones are:

1. One-off payments are a very bad idea.

2. Never marry people who have nervous breakdowns, especially if you're a writer. You're the one supposed to be having the breakdowns.

Dustin Hoffman should send the £1,600 to the guy, pronto. I mean, who would Hoffman be today without him?

Sunday, April 16, 2006

HEB closed easter

I'm getting a lot of hits from people who googled the phrase above. Yes, HEB is closed today. Happy Pesach! I leave you with this play, which I wrote 2 years ago about this lovely time of year.

Juan Goytisolo

... is fascinating. He's profiled in today's Sunday Times Magazine. I wanted to quote the entire profile here...

Friday, April 14, 2006

Jaime Hernandez Does the Sunday Times, 4/23

I forgot to mention this in the last post: Jaime will be doing Maggie stories for the Funny Pages section of the New York Times! There'll be a new story on April 23rd! He's taking it over from Chris Ware. I can't wait.

Merit publisher wins

From IFEX/
The Association of American Publishers (AAP) has conferred the 2006 Jeri Laber International Freedom to Publish Award to Mohamed Hashem, an Egyptian publisher who has been threatened and harassed for defending the right to freedom of expression.
Congratulations, Hashem! I'm thrilled for him, and for Merit, which really publishes some of the best books in the Arab World.

I met Hashem in Cairo a couple years ago, and wrote about it here.

[Link sent by writer Karen Olsson]

Ahdaf Soueif profiled in El-Ahram

Maggie Morgan went to see Soueif speak at AUC last week, and had this to report:
She began her talk by discussing the evolution of her own reception as an Egyptian in Britain. Initially, she encountered questions like, "Do you go to school on camels?" This gave way to "Tell us how oppressed the women are" and, later, "What are the censorship obstacles that you had to face as a writer?" and "Tell us about the conflict of identity you feel, are you an Arab or a Westerner?" Nowadays, she is expected to be the emblematic Muslim woman, invited to photo-shoots to represent "creative Muslim women". She sees herself as continuously trying to fit "under the lines of a grid".... More significant, though, than the obvious content of Soueif's talk was her attitude. As I understood it, she was re-drawing the lines of her persona. In her introduction, Ghazoul described Soueif as a "linguist, author, critic, translator and activist". The "activist" is relatively recent. At last Thursday's talk Soueif demonstrated how she has crossed over from being a critic and a novelist to becoming an activist -- not to say that the notions are mutually exclusive. She was more ironic and more involved than I have ever heard her before. But she also made more generalisations, more "us" and "them" statements. She simplified to make a point as activists often must; in order to critique racist imagery she resorted to a polemic based in absolute binaries.
Read the rest here.

I wasn't there, but this seems somewhat unfair to me: to imagine we live in a world where there is no "us" and no "them" is naive. The whole idea of a mezzaterra implies that there is a land there and a land here, and that some are citizens of (t)here, no? I don't know if that's an "absolute binary," only that seperation does occur when you are both one thing and another, and attempting to stand for something. I'll just leave it at that.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

"I was going crazy, locking myself in the bathroom, drawing women."

Many people are astonished by a heterosexual man's ability to draw lesbians, and women characters in general, so generously and accurately. When asked how he does it, Jaime Hernandez taps his foot against the floor-- an endearing nervous tic-- and says that, to him, his characters are always "people first."

Jaime was in Austin yesterday to kick off the fourth annual celebration of Latino culture, ¡A Viva Voz! He spoke to a few dozen new and old school fans at UT's Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection.

About Maggie, the character he's been drawing and following for 25 years, he says, "I wanted to create a female character I could do anything with: I could put her on Mars, I could put her on a ranch, I could make her a superhero."

Most readers love Love & Rockets for its versatility and its magical sense of storytelling, others because it holds up a mirror to them, and gives them a voice. This is appropriate, since it stemmed from a dearth of images or representations of Hoppers (Oxnard, CA, where Jaime is from) and punk rockers. Seeing early images of punks pulling blades on people in super-hero comics always prompted Jaime to think: "I never met a punk like that in my life." It made him want to draw them, represent them right.

Jaime's influences include Dennis the Menace and random old comics, and he loved the dialogue, "the back and forth" between Alice and the caterpillar in Alice in Wonderland, which he re-read compulsively. But the comic which he declares had the most influence on him was Archie: "Every summer my mom would pull out a huge sack of Archie comics," he says, and mimics his mother carrying a sack. He says he hoped that Maggie and Hopey would someday be their own Betty and Veronica. At this, a few people cheer.

He displays a keen sensitivity to his characters. He explains that the purpose of the 6 pages he added to "100 Rooms" was to clarify that Maggie hadn't been raped. He'd heard someone say something about Maggie's rape, and he freaked out, since he'd never intended her to be raped, or for anyone to think she was. After all the clarifications, he found out that the person who'd misconstrued the event as a rape was none other than his sister-in-law.

The only time a bookstore refused to carry L&R was when a drawing of a naked gay man appeared in its pages. "Of course-- we'd been showing naked lesbians for years," he says, and laughs. He says the more people become angry or raise eyebrows at his work, the more he wants to provoke them.

A female audience member mentions how happy she is that he'd "let Maggie get fat" over the years. He says he chose to do so because the more he drew her, the more he wanted to add curves, and the bigger he drew her, the more he liked her. He said she truly blossomed as a character ("No pun intended") when she expanded in size. And he tells us he got the most response from male readers: "they didn't want fat chicks in their comics." It was the only truly negative response he'd ever received, and it excited him, and, of course, made him want to keep going. And thank god for that.

Best euphemism for pussy ever?

This article cracked me up a little. I love how the word pussy/kis is replaced with the words "[a word often used by Beirut taxi drivers]".
Recently I visited my friend Khaled Mattawa's Arab American lit class at U of M, Ann Arbor. They had just read two of my stories. The last words I said to them were, "I mean, hymen reconstruction? That's just silly." Very eloquent, no? Anyway, vaginas. Yeah.

It's too bad Dale Peck's queer...

because I'd totally blow him for this.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006


Will Youmans writes about Diwan, the conference that brought together writers, visual artists, comedians, and more, at the Arab-American National Museum a couple of weeks ago:
The Museum served as the perfect location for this event, which many felt was a historic one – a national gathering of Arab-American artists. As a testament to this growing community and its achievements, it facilitated the sense the artists had of being part of something greater. Some of the artists from far-off places felt they toiled away in relative isolation, but seeing the Museum, and fellow artists, made them feel part of something bigger.
Read the rest here.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Bjork + Barney = Whales

Dude. Wow.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Getting over the flu, etc.

I got back yesterday from a gambling weekend. My best friend is getting married and we all drove out to Lake Charles in Louisiana to help her celebrate by gambling our April money away. My friend M made tons of money playing craps and roulette and slots. It was awesome to watch, almost like the feeling you get when there's a cool twist in a book.

I am exhausted and trying to kick the flu's ass. I caught the flu in the junkie motel I stayed at in Michigan last week. And the constant travelling hasn't helped. I keep trying to find something good to read, but instead I am reading the newest A.M. Homes book, which is like the US Weekly of literature and is really fun to read.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Notes from Ann Arbor

# of $10 BLTs purchased and eaten: 1
# of times I said, "Mmm" while eating $10 BLT: 4
# of bookstores persused: 4
# of bad cups of coffee consumed: 1
# of ugly clothing stores walked by: 9
# of hot black men spied: 5
# of hot Arab men spied: 2
# of hot Arab women spied: 1
# of hot white guys spied: 0
# of hot Jewish guys spied: 1
# of indy movie theaters: 2
# of times I felt guilty: 1 (The chick at the motel front desk said she's been living in Ann Arbor for 24 years and never went to college because she couldn't afford to. And here I am hesitating about going to school when they're throwing money at me.)

Monday, April 03, 2006

Top Ten Stories of 2005

Storysouth has announced the top ten stories of 2005:

"Light at the End of the Tunnel" by John J. Clayton (Agni)
"The Rules of Urban Living" by Kara Janeczko (Anderbo)
"Two Lives" by Michael Croley (Blackbird)
"Down and Out in Brentwood" by Neal Marks (Crime Scene Scotland)
"Diamonds and Lemons" by Omar Beer (Fiction Warehouse)
"The Black Tongue" by Anjana Basu (Gowanus Books)
"Nang Fah Jam Laeng: Angels in Disguise" by Cynthia Gralla (Mississippi Review)
"Wedad's Cavalry" by Mohja Kahf (MWU: Muslim Wake Up)
"Famous Fathers" by Pia Z. Ehrhardt (Narrative Magazine)
"There's a Hole in the City" by Richard Bowes (SCIFICTION)

Go vote for your favorite now!!!

Monday Morning Mare

As if Springing Forward wasn't a big enough event to knock me on my ass this morning, the NYT online went and changed its format. I just finished wiping away my tears. Why do people have to fuck with a good thing? Why? I am in a state of despair.