Monday, October 26th, 2009
Photo: Jill Krementz
“I’m eight years old. My mother and I come out of our apartment onto the second-floor landing. Mrs. Drucker is standing in the open doorway of the apartment next door, smoking a cigarette. My mother locks the door and says to her, “What are you doing here?” Mrs. Drucker jerks her head backward toward her own apartment. “He wants to lay me. I told him he’s gotta take a shower before he can touch me.” I know that “he” is her husband. “He” is always the husband. “Why? He’s so dirty?” my mother says. “He feels dirty to me,” Mrs. Drucker says. “Drucker, you’re a whore,” my mother says. Mrs. Drucker shrugs her shoulder. “I can’t ride the subway,” she says. In the Bronx, “ride the subway” was a euphemism for going to work.
I lived in that tenement between the ages of six and twenty-one. There were twenty apartments, four to a floor, and all I remember is a building full of women. I hardly remember the men at all. They were everywhere, of course - husbands, fathers, brothers – but I remember only the women. And I remember them all crude like Mrs. Drucker or fierce like my mother. They never spoke as thought they knew who they were, understood the bargain they had struck with life, but they often acted as though they knew. Shrewd, volatile, unlettered, they performed on a Dreiserian scale. There would be years of apparent calm, then suddenly an outbreak of panic and wildness: two or three lives scarred (perhaps ruined), and the turmoil would subside. Once again: sullen quiet, erotic torpor, the ordinariness of daily denial. And I – the girl growing in their midst, being made in their image – I absorbed them as I would chloroform on a cloth laid against my face. It has taken me thirty years to understand how much of them I understood.”
- from Fierce Attachments
Vivian Gornick, critic, essayist, memoirist, feminist. Her latest book is The Men in My Life.
Her revelation that she had made up some of the conversations in Fierce Attachments created a stir on Salon. Her response is at NPR.
Sunday, October 18th, 2009
…and it’s crisp, attractive, informative and easy to use. Included is a wonderful list of resources for writers. Check it out here.
Wednesday, October 14th, 2009
The nonfiction nominees are:
- Randall Hansen, Fire and Fury: The Allied Bombing of Germany, 1942-1945 (Doubleday Canada)
- Trevor Herriot, Grass, Sky, Song: Promise and Peril in the World of Grassland Birds (HarperCollins Canada)
- Eric Margolis, American Raj: Liberation or Domination? (Key Porter Books)
- Eric Siblin, The Cello Suites: J.S. Bach, Pablo Casals, and the Search for a Baroque Masterpiece (House of Anansi Press)
- M.G. Vassanji, A Place Within: Rediscovering India (Doubleday Canada)
Herriot and Siblin are also on the Writers’ Trust list.
Forgive me for asking, but where are the women on this list?
Lots of women in the fiction category. Only one in poetry, alas - but a worthy contender, the amazing Sina Queyras.
Wednesday, October 14th, 2009
Ann Rauhala is well known as former foreign editor at The Globe and Mail and as a documentary maker for CBC television’s The National Magazine. But I met her when I responded to a book review she’d written in the Globe. The book was written by an American and it had to do with adoption from China. Ann’s review was less than complimentary. I’d read the book in question, agreed wholeheartedly with her assessment, and was pleased (or should I say, smug?) to see my own opinions expressed with such elegance. Her signature line mentioned that she was compiling an anthology of memoirs by Canadians who had adopted from China, and since I’d recently written a piece on the subject, I decided to contact her. It took a few years longer than either of us had anticipated, but The Lucky Ones: Our Stories of Adopting Children from China appeared in 2008 and was chosen as an Adoptive Families Best Book of the year. I spoke with Ann about the process of putting this book together.
Q: What sparked the idea for this anthology?
A: People seemed curious about our adoption of a girl from China and rather than being offended by that –as some adoptive parents are- I felt an obligation to explain to them, to her, to myself. It hit me one day, walking across the schoolyard, that the obvious way to inform, amuse, maybe even enlighten the curious, given my background as a newspaper editor and columnist, was to bring together the voices of the many talented writers I knew who had adopted. And of course, by doing so, I’d get a chance to shape the narrative.
Q: Why did you choose an anthology of essays rather than poetry or fiction?
A: Collections and anthologies are a whole dinner party of viewpoints rather than a table for two. Although I read a lot of novels, when it comes to non-fiction, I like variety. Let’s carry on the food conceit and call it a preference for a smorgasbord. If I want to know about the Iranian election or mutual funds, for example, I much prefer to read four or five newspaper articles rather than one magazine piece.
Q: Does the essay genre offer something different to readers?
A: For me, essays are a more meditative genre, one in which I tend to mull over the arguments that are raised. While some great novels have changed my life, fiction nowadays feels more often an escapist sleeping potion rather than a stimulus.
Q: Was it difficult to secure contributors?
A: It wasn’t. Adoptive families are connected online and off and I tapped into that. A few people needed more encouragement than others. At least one person said yes only because I promised the book would not be sappy and self-congratulatory.
Q: Tell us something about the editing process.
A: I was a newspaper editor for almost 20 years so I knew a little bit about working with writers. I know that people, including writers, don’t always understand editing. One example: the best writers don’t get edited much so they don’t realize how much polishing may have gone on elsewhere. Ahem. Nevertheless, I was surprised sometimes by which parts went smoothly and which did not.
Q: What was the greatest challenge in getting this project off the ground?
A: Getting it off the ground wasn’t so hard – it was keeping it airborne. I knew it was a worthwhile idea but also knew that I wouldn’t be able to focus on it for a year or two after I sent out the first call for submissions. (I had started a new job teaching journalism, had a toddler and a school-age child at home and also did an MA part-time.) That year or two turned into several years.
Q: What has been the greatest reward, either in working on this book, or post-publication?
A: The greatest rewards have been my daughter’s exuberant delight in the final product and my 87-year-old mother’s quiet pride. I expect that as my daughter matures and appreciates the essays on a deeper level, there will be rewards to come.
Q: What advice might you offer to someone else who wanted to put together a collection like this?
A: It could take longer than you think but delays can enrich the final outcome. In my case, the longish time between the original notion and the delivery of the manuscript meant that the oldest cohort of adopted girls had reached 16 and had more insight about their experience and more to say than they would have at 11 or 12.
Ann Rauhala spent 16 years at The Globe and Mail, where she worked as a copy editor, assignment editor, beat reporter, foreign editor and featured columnist. From 1994 to 1997 she was a television reporter, making documentaries, mostly on health and social policy, for CBC television’s The National Magazine. She has also written editorials, business stories, book reviews, magazine articles and radio commentaries. She’s currently director of the newspaper stream at the School of Journalism at Ryerson University in Toronto.
Thursday, October 8th, 2009
Drawing by Janani Sreenivasan, 2006
I think essayists write for the sake of preservation; in order to find solutions to problems, in order to remain intellectually, emotionally, or spiritually awake amidst the full rumbling fury of the world. “An essay that becomes a lyric,” Plutarch once wrote, presumably about his own formally wayward work, “is an essay that has killed itself.” A prose line can stave off this death for as long as the seams of its syntax hold. And when they fail to hold, a run-on can seem less a sloppy piece of grammar than a desperate act to stay alive.
from The Next American Essay, John D’Agata
John D’Agata is the author of Halls of Fame, a collection of essays published by Graywolf Press in 2001, and the editor ofThe Next American Essay, an anthology of innovative modern American nonfiction. His forthcoming books include The Lifespan of a Fact, a meditation on the Yucca Mountain Project in southwest Nevada, and two historical companions to The Next American Essay. He has taught at Colgate University, Columbia, and the California Institute of the Arts and is the editor of lyric essays for Seneca Review.