Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Horton Foote Legacy

The New Yorker recently featured an article on the life and work of Horton Foote (10/26/09 by John Lahr). In his writing, Foote "made meaning of the world he sought to preserve." He believed the first lesson of good writing was an ability to listen--to really listen. An inquisitive person by nature, he was "haunted by the often inexplicable result of how a person's life turned out." It led him to become a master storyteller for both the stage and screen. He won a Pulitzer Prize and two Academy Awards.

I had the privilege of meeting and speaking with Mr. Foote after seeing a revival of A Trip to Bountiful a few years ago. He was a strikingly humble and gracious man. (I also saw the last play he wrote before his death in March 2009, Dividing the Estate; I think it's his best.) In Foote's plays, "the big dramatic events happen offstage." Foote examined "the ripple not the wave. He was a quiet voice in noisy times." He won numerous awards and was probably best known for Tender Mercies, a film starring Robert Duvall, and for having written the screenplay for To Kill a Mockingbird (by Harper Lee). He is also credited for writing a brilliantly-inspired film adaption of "Tomorrow," a short story by William Faulkner.

Lahr states in the article: "It was not (Foote's) style, in life or in writing, to call attention to himself. As a result the quality of his work is high; the public awareness is low." If you're not familiar with Horton Foote's plays and/or his writing, you might want to catch "The Orphans' Home Cycle," a play in three parts that Foote wrote to "understand and forgive" his own father. It is currently being featured at the Signature Theater, which is honoring the Horton Foote Legacy for the 2009-2010 season.

Photo of Horton Foote by Marion Ettlinger/Corbis Outline

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis

Head, Heart

Heart weeps.
Head tries to help heart.
Head tells heart how it is, again:
You will lose the ones you love. They will all go.
But even the earth will go, someday.
Hearts feels better, then.
But the words of head do not remain long in the ears of heart.
Heart is so new to this.
I want them back, says heart.
Head is all heart has.
Help, head. Help heart.

--a short story by Lydia Davis

There's been a lot of buzz over The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis recently released (as a 752-page tome) by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. The longest story tops out at nine pages (3-4 is the average), while others are as short as a single sentence. Each story--long or short--is a gem. The range of Davis's prose is intellectual, insightful, witty, poetic and always profound. It takes surgical-like precision to work in such brevity, and Davis is a master of language and form.

The New Yorker recently ran a feature on the book, as did The Village Voice.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

A Stairway to Bibliophile Heaven

Too many books?
Too little space?

The Bookshelf Staircase has become a London icon sporting "a classic design that frees up space in any small flat."

Levitate Architects remodeled this London apartment by creating "a new bedroom level and increasing the floor area of the flat by approximately one-third." The staircase is both the way to access the bedroom and a great place to store books. "With a skylight above lighting the staircase, it becomes the perfect place to stop and browse a tome," says Levitate's Tim Sloan, who also pointed out the unique structure of each step, allowing for anyone to comfortably sit down while searching for the perfect read . . . Something, huh?

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Memorial Service for Frank McCourt

"In school if they told me write an essay of 150 words,
I'd write 500 words."
Frank McCourt

Symphony Space and the nationally-syndicated NPR radio program "Selected Shorts" announced today that they will be featuring a webcast of the memorial service (from 10/6/09)honoring the late author, Frank McCourt. Below is the press release:

Click here to view the event entitled, "Remembering the Remarkable Frank McCourt: An Evening of Reminiscence, Music, Poetry and Laughter." The video will be available until November 4th, courtesy of Susan Moldow, publisher of Scribner Books.

This memorial service celebrates Frank McCourt, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Irish-American writer and educator. Mr. McCourt shared many memorable evenings at Symphony Space, performing passages of James Joyce’s Ulysses each year at Bloomsday on Broadway, and performing short stories at Selected Shorts: A Celebration of the Short Story.

Mr. McCourt, who passed away July 19 at age 78, taught in New York City’s school system for nearly 30 years; he is perhaps best known for Angela’s Ashes, his best-selling memoir of growing up in Limerick, Ireland, as well as his subsequent memoirs, ‘Tis and Teacher Man, and his children’s book, Angela and the Baby Jesus.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The (Professional) Bookworm

" . . . An interview on the air is so much more than what gets said. You hear the laughter, the emotional flow. And it’s only then that the listener starts to feel comfortable and really listens. That’s the point at which they say, 'I might read that book.' And I want to get the reader to that point. And it really involves a lot of give and take, a lot of emotional sharing. I generally read about six to eight hours a day, and try to read the author’s complete work before I interview them. And you’d be surprised at how few authors have ever met someone who’s read everything they’ve written. I’m like a mirror to them. Then they start trying to see themselves in the mirror, and then we’re really in something like the equivalent of a psychoanalytic transaction between a person and their image. That’s when you get the things that are generally interesting.

"I think we have a spiritual and imaginal dimension that I never hear referred to, so I wanted my half-hour to be a place where every kind of seriousness about the value of life — its preciousness or its wastefulness, its insanity, its possibility — could be a valued subject for conversation. And I wanted listeners to say, “God, I never hear people talking about this.” --from Malibu Magazine

He only talks about books he likes. He has an engaging voice--quiet, slightly nasal, yet somehow hypnotic--that epitomizes understatement. He asks sensitive, insightful questions that probe the foundations of literature--text and technique. Who is he? He's Michael Silverblatt, the host of Bookworm, a nationally-syndicated half-hour radio program (broadcast on KCRW in Los Angeles, CA) where he sits down with authors--with names like T.C. Boyle, Marilynne Robinson, Junot Diaz and Joan Didion--and talks, compellingly and personally, about books.

Silverblatt was always a "reading geek," as he calls himself. He studied literature at SUNY Buffalo and started grad school at Johns Hopkins University. Disillusioned with academia, he dropped out and headed for New York, but he found "the publishing world too insular and too peopled with young trust-fund-subsidized editors for his taste." In the 1980s, he moved to California and tried to write screenplays. During that time--to support himself, he worked at bookstores and read voraciously--his life took an unexpected turn. At a dinner party, the general manager from KCRW overheard Silverblatt discussing Russian poetry and, sensing his passion for literature, she invited Silverblatt to start a radio program that would later become Bookworm. That was 20 years ago. The rest is history.

I download podcasts of Bookworm regularly. This month, Oprah Magazine is running a profile on Silverblatt and his program. A great feature--it sheds light on the man who helps readers look through writers' eyes.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

EVENT: Upcoming Reading in The Village

I'm pleased to announce that I will be participating in a literary reading to celebrate the launch of the current issue of VIA: Voices in Italian Americana (Volume 20, November 2009). This literary journal--published for the past 20 years by the University of Central Florida and Bordighera Press--features a short story of mine.

I'll be reading a short section of the piece, along with other prose writers and poets whose work is also featured in VIA (Vol 20) including:

Phyllis Carito
Michael Cirelli
Edward DeFranco
Joanna Clapps Herman
Mary Giaimo
Maria Terrone
Robert Viscusi

The event is hosted by the new VIA Poetry Editor, Peter Covino
George Guida, Director

Copies of the latest issue of VIA will be on sale at the event!

Please join us @
183 W. 10th Street at 7th Avenue
Saturday, October 10 from 5-7 pm ($6 cover charge)