Friday, May 30, 2008

For the love of story collections

I'm ashamed to admit it, but I've never read any fiction by Grace Paley. So I went out and bought her collected works last week, only to leave the book in the seat pocket in front of me on an airplane. I wonder who has it now, or if it ended up in the trash?

I've been thinking of story collections, about which collections have influenced me, and which I still love.

I love the stories of Kafka, Sherman Alexie, Alice Munro, Joyce, Gogol, Lorrie Moore, Katherine Mansfield, Isaac Babel, Borges, Nabokov, Salwa list can go on and on.

A writer I know recently said they saw collections as "MFA writing." When did this happen? Are stories doomed? I know this is a really old question, but I'm just now starting to feel sad about it.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

"What is happening in Palestine is a great and tragic wrong."

The participants in the Palestinian Lit Fest are back home, and they've got some things to say. Ian Jack, for one, went to the fest not wholly convinced that what was happening in Palestine was apartheid. He came home feeling differently.

UPDATE: You can see photos of the fest now at the website. Here is one against the wall, and here, one with most of the participants, the dome of the rock in the distance.

Further proof of Obama's Hotness

This photo makes me melt.

And no, I haven't read the Fareed Zakaria book. But now I want to...

Friday, May 16, 2008


Cannes debuted Ari Folman's Waltz with Bashir (Jamayil that is), an animated documentary about Sabra and Shatila. Check out the film's trailer.

Also at Cannes was the (crappy-looking) adaptation of Jose Saramago's Blindness.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

"I was always the depressed guy in the basement."

Sherman Alexie, one of my heroes, was recently profiled in the Guardian.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

60 years later...

There were mass protests at the Turin book fest opposing the festival's decision to celebrate Israeli writers. Meanwhile, Christopher Hitchens writes an eloquent and perfect little essay on the subject of the anniversary.

Monday, May 12, 2008

More on the writer as teacher

I've often wondered, debated, and meditated about the role of the writer who writes about "different" locales, nationalities, and sexualities. The first question is always: different from what? Normative, mainstream, larger society? In the cases of queer and/or hyphenated American writers, this would be straight, White America.

What responsibility does such a writer have to the reader who doesn't know much about the writer's background, world, people? Do some writers write specifically because they don't see a wider societal representation or mirror to their concerns and obsessions? Is all writing a cooperative, and therefore educating, undertaking?

There are many views and strong beliefs about this: indeed, possibly as many views as there are writers and readers. Some may think a writer's only responsibility is to tell a story; or to break readers' hearts; or to shed light on a criminally overlooked part of history/society/the world; or to entertain; or to only make, create something.

One thing is possibly true across the board: any good writer teaches readers how to read her book; how the world of her book functions; what her characters' beliefs, actions, and preoccupations are.

So, what about the readers who approaches certain texts because they are intrigued by characters who live lives "different" from their own? Readers who want to learn something about the culture from the foreign-named author on the cover?

Writers simply cannot control what or why or how their readers approach their texts. They can control how they convey their world; whether or not they'll explain its customs, traditions, foods, etc.; whether their books will include glossaries. Incidentally, it seems the glossary has gone out of style. More and more, I've noticed writers either hoping the reader will research words on their own, rely on the reader to deduce meaning from the sentence, or explain the word right then and there for the reader.

Some may argue that publishers today put out books that tell readers what they already know. But what if the reader doesn't yet know much?

When I taught at Detroit public schools last year, most of the children didn't know where the Nile, let alone Egypt, was, even though there was a map on the left-hand corner of the black board. It is my belief that geography is the primary school teacher's responsibility. And yet I know that school budgets are rapidly shrinking, and world geography is absent from most state tests.

And in the gaps left behind after an incomplete education, a reader hungry for knowledge about place is bound to try to satisfy it through reading. Isn't that, after all, one of the reasons we read about Victorian England, Muslim Andalus, the Roman empire?

A writer's burden is already too immense to take on the role of educator. I agree with Aleksander Hemon that it is each person's responsibility to educate himself about the richness and complicated histories of other cultures. If one starts by reading a novel-- starts, and continues elsewhere-- so be it.

"It's the Americans' problem if they don't know about other lands..."

That's Aleksander Hemon (lookin' fly, if I may say so) on Titlepage, about how being a writer isn't about being in elected office. Rabih Alameddine and Nam Le agree, Rabih saying he can't tell readers about cultures, only about personal stories.

Check it out; it's worth a viewing.

I'm really intrigued by the idea that (ethnic) books and writers aren't meant to inform or educate about place.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Summer Residency

I'm heading to Maine for a residency this summer. I haven't done a residency since Hedgebrook in 2006. I'm excited. I'll be taking my collection of stories with me.

At the end of my Hedgebrook residency, I found out that Lebanon was about to be decimated by the Israeli army. I am terrified to think of what news will not reach me about Lebanon while I am in Maine.

Monday, May 05, 2008

17 Authors to Visit Palestine for Lit Fest

Seventeen international authors will visit Palestine for the Palestine Lit Fest, including Mourid Barghouti, Roddy Doyle, Suheir Hammad, Nathalie Handal, Claire Messud, Pankaj Mishra, Andrew O'Hagan, Hanan al-Shaykh, and Ahdaf Soueif. From the press release: "In solidarity with the Palestinian people. In recognition of Palestine's cultural contribution to the world. In affirmation of the power of the word - And the responsibility ofspeaking it." Check out the website for more info. I wish I could go!

Friday, May 02, 2008

Review Copies Are Here

The review copies of my novel arrived yesterday. I sat around and caressed them for an hour.

I'm ecstatic with the way Other Press designed the book. I feel blessed to be working with so many talented people. The book looks so cool-- better than any of my greatest expectations.

And four months from now, you can have a copy, too :)