Archive for the ‘KANEKO’ Category

Passion Project – My new “Alexander Payne: His Journey in Film” now available at KANEKO




My life’s work is writing stories about people, their passions and their magnificent obsessions. I do this as an author-journalist-blogger. The gallery of people and pursuits I write about is quite diverse.

See for yourself by reading and following my work at– and

Though I am a generalist who writes about anything and everything, there are a few subjects I keep returning to again and again. Some of these are societal and cultural in nature, others historical. But there is one particular individual who occupies special emphasis among all my writing and reporting: Alexander Payne. The Oscar-winning filmmaker, who has given us such works as Election, About Schmidt, Sideways, The Descendants and Nebraska, is actually part of a larger interest in film I have cultivated for decades. I got hooked on movies as a teen. I did film programming for a decade-and-a-half. Since the mid-1990s I have written hundreds of stories as a film journalist. Many of my film interviews and profiles focus on Nebraskans in film. I am developing the Nebraska Film Heritage Project as a print, online, lecture and curriculum vehicle for documenting and celebrating the achievements of Nebraskans in film, past and present, both in front of the camera and behind the camera.

Payne is the epitome of the passionate creatives I interview and profile. His magnificent obsession with film ranges from an encyclopedic knowledge of world cinema to support of film preservation and education efforts to pursuit of great film projects. From his very first feature, Citizen Ruth, on through his last completed film, Nebraska, he has satirically, thoughtfully explored a wide expanse of the human heart and soul. He’s paid particular attention to relationships, but he’s also touched on abortion, politics, mid-life crisis, loneliness, identity issues, addiction, depression, love, romance, infidelity, death, family, alienation, old age. The film he’s making now, Downsizing, which releases in late 2017, will offer up his most expansive take yet on the world with the satire this time revolving around themes of depleted world resources, sustainability, technology, geo-political tensions, terrorism, corruption, exploitation, discrimination and civilization. He and co-writer Jim Taylor are exploring the very nature of what it means to be human and how we create society. Where his previous films have been more intimate in scale, he is working on an epic canvas here, though the ideas are distilled into the closely observed personal story of one character, Paul (played by Matt Damon), whose life is the prism through which all these intersecting storylines and themes are played out. In terms of ideas, it may be the most ambitious American film since Apocalypse Now or The Deer Hunter or at least since Avatar.

My extensive coverage of the acclaimed writer-director has resulted in a deep body of work about him and his films that I have collected into a book first published in 2012. I have a new edition out this summer featuring expanded and enhanced content that brings you right up to date with his latest project.

Introducing the new “Alexander Payne: His Journey in Film” 

I am very pleased to announce the new edition Alexander Payne: His Journey in Film releases September 1. You have an early bird opportunity to buy the book at KANEKO, 1111 Jones Street, in Omaha’s Old Market. It will be available for purchase during the remainder of the Storytelling Series run (through August 27) at this venue that is “an open space for open minds…”

The book will be available at other venues, including bookstores and gift shops, during the course of the summer and fall. The book will also be available on Amazon and for Kindle.

Alexander Payne: His Journey in Film charts the filmmaker’s rise to the elite ranks of world cinema. Articles and essays take you deep inside the artist’s creative process. It is the most comprehensive look at Payne and his work to be found anywhere. This new edition features significant new content related to Nebraska and Downsizing. We have also added a Discussion Guide with Index for you film buffs and students. The book is also a great resource for more casual film fans who want a handy Payne primer and trivia goldmine. The book releases September 1 from River Junction Press and sales for $25.95.

For inquiries and pre-orders, contact:




Strong praise for”Alexander Payne: His Journey in Film”–

“This is without question the single best study of Alexander Payne’s films, as well as the filmmaker himself and his filmmaking process. In charting the first two decades of Payne’s remarkable career, Leo Adam Biga pieces together an indelible portrait of an independent American artist, and one that’s conveyed largely in the filmmaker’s own words. This is an invaluable contribution to film history and criticism – and a sheer pleasure to read as well.” –Thomas Schatz, Film scholar and author (The Genius of the System)

“Alexander is a master. Many say the art of filmmaking comes from experience and grows with age and wisdom but, in truth, he was a master on day one of his first feature. Leo Biga has beautifully captured Alexander’s incredible journey in film for us all to savor.” – Laura Dern, actress, star of Citizen Ruth

“Last night I finished your wonderful new book and I enjoyed it so much! Alexander Payne is such a terrific director and I loved reading about his films in detail. Congratulations.” – Joan Micklin Silver, filmmaker (Hester StreetCrossing Delancey)

“Alexander Payne is one of American cinema’s leading lights. How fortunate we are that Leo Biga has chronicled his rise to success so thoroughly.” – Leonard Maltin, film critic and best-selling author

“I’d be an Alexander Payne fan even if we didn’t share a Nebraska upbringing: he is a masterly, menschy, singular storyteller whose movies are both serious and unpretentious, delightfully funny and deeply moving. And he’s fortunate indeed to have such a thoughtful and insightful chronicler as Leo Biga.” – Kurt Andersen, novelist (True Believers) and Studio 360 host

“Alexander Payne richly deserves this astute book about his work by Leo Biga. I say this as a fan of both of theirs; and would be one even if I weren’t from Nebraska.” – Dick Cavett, TV legend

“Leo Biga brings us a fascinating, comprehensive, insightful portrait of the work and artistry of Alexander Payne. Mr. Biga’s collection of essays document the evolution and growth of this significant American filmmaker and he includes relevant historical context of the old Hollywood and the new. His keen reporter’s eye gives the reader an exciting journey into the art of telling stories on film.” – Ron Hull, Nebraska Educational Television legend, University of Nebraska emeritus professor of broadcasting, author ofBackstage

“Perhaps the most intriguing feature of the book is Biga’s success at getting Payne to speak candidly about every step in the filmmaking process. These detailed insights include the challenges of developing material from conception to script, finding financing, moderating the mayhem of shooting a movie, and undertaking the slow, monk-like work of editing.” – Brent Spencer, educator and author (The Lost Son)

“This book became a primer for me, and introduced me to filmmaking in a way that I had never experienced in my years at film school. The intimacy and honesty in Biga’s writing, reporting and interviewing– and Payne’s unparalleled knowledge of cinema introduced me to filmmaking and film history from someone I quickly came to respect: Mr. Payne.” – Bryan Reisberg, filmmaker (Big Significant Things)

Watch for announcements about book signings and how you can get your copy for yourself, a friend, a loved one. Alexander Payne: His Journey in Film makes a perfect gift for the film lover in your life.

MAURO FIORE: WRITING WITH LIGHT – Yours truly interviews Oscar-winning cinematographer live on stage at Kaneko

Mauro Fiore is Nebraska’s best-kept secret cinema success story:

The native of Calabria, Italy is one of three Oscar winners residing in Nebraska.

This A-list director of photography is married to an Omaha gal he met on set.

He works with leading Hollywood directors.

He has been the cinematographer for James Cameron on Avatar, Michael Bay on The Island, Joe Carnahan on The A-Team and Smokin’ Aces, Peter Berg on The Kingdom and Wayne Wang on The Center of the World.

His collaborations with director Antoine Fuqua extend over five films, beginning with their breakout project, Training Day, followed by Tears of the SunThe Equalizer, Southpaw and coming this fall – The Magnificent Seven. Their work together is one of the longest-lived and most successful collaborations between a director and cinematographer in contemporary American cinema.

The art and craft of cinematography is the focus of the July 21 program at Kaneko in the Old Market. I will be interviewing Mauro live on stage for this Inside the Actors Studio-style event featuring clips from his stellar body of work.

Mauro’s journey in film encompasses 30 years. It began with a long apprenticeship. He paid his dues on low budget exploitaion films as a key grip, dolly grip, electrician and gaffer. He crewed on some make-wave films in the early 1990s, such as One False Move and Schindler’s List. His move into camera operating led to doing additional photography on a pair of Michael Bay mega-hits, The Rock and Armageddon. That led to Mauro getting the DP job for Bay’s The Island. He has sometimes worked with his close friend, mentor and colleague Janusz Kaminiski.

Mauro will discuss his approach to lighting sets and photographing scenes as an integral part of the storytelling process. He will also touch on his mentors, collaborators and inspirations. My conversation with Mauro will offer a rare, personal, behind-the-scenes look at how films actually get made and at what goes into capturing the arresting images, performances and physical action bits that entertain or move us and that in some cases become imprinted in our memory and imagination.

Link to my 2009 Reader cover story about Mauro at–…/05/04/master-of-light-mauro-fiore/

Link to a more recent Omaha Magazine piece i did on Mauro and his wife Christine at–…/omaha-couple-mauro-and-christine…/

For event tickets, go to–

NOTE: Earlier on that same day, July 21, I will be presenting about my trip to Africa with world boxing champ Terence Crawford for the Omaha Press Club Noon Forum. For details, visit–
MAURO FIORE: WRITING WITH LIGHT – Yours truly interviews Oscar-winning cinematographer live on stage at Kaneko, Omaha’s Old Market
Thursday, July 21, 2016,
KANEKO | 1111 Jones Street, 7:00 p.m..
Here is how Kaneko is touting the program:

KANEKO will host Mauro Fiore: Writing with Light on July 21 at 7 p.m.

Tickets are $10 for General Admission and FREE for KANEKO Members.

KANEKO will host Academy Award winning cinematographer Mauro Fiore for an audio-visual presentation exploring his career as a filmmaker. Fiore has worked on numerous films including Training Day, The A-Team, and Avatar, for which he was awarded the Academy Award for Best Cinematography. A veteran of the Holly film industry, Fiore is recognized for his skill with light and realism. The discussion will be moderated by professional writer and storyteller Leo Adam Biga, author of Alexander Payne: His Journey in Film.

Mauro Fiore: Writing with Light is a part of the Storytelling season at KANEKO June 3 – August 27. Learn more about the Storytelling exhibitions and programs HERE.


Come to my next ‘Alexander Payne: His Journey in Film’ book talk and signing at KANEKO-

December 6, 2013 1 comment

You are cordially invited to my next ‘Alexander Payne: His Journey in Film’ book talk and signing-

Wednesday Words Reading Series Featuring Leo Adam Biga

  • KANEKO-UNO Library, 12th and Jones St.
  • I will talk about my book “Alexander Payne: His Journey in Film,” describe my years writing about the filmmaker, and assess his new film “Nebraska.” A Q&A and signing follow. The book is only $20 and it makes a great Christmas gift.
    Our Featured Writer: Leo Adam BigaAward-winning Omaha journalist Leo Adam Biga has adapted his extensive body of work about acclaimed filmmaker Alexander Payne into a new book. “Alexander Payne: His Journey in Film” is a compilation of Biga’s many articles about the writer-director over a 16-year period. The book places readers deep inside Payne’s creative process and follows the progress of the cinema artist’s Oscar-winning career. Biga will share insights gleaned from visits to Payne’s sets and from a recent glimpse at the final edit-mix process on the filmmaker’s new feature, “Nebraska.” Biga’s one of the few outside the filmmaker’s inner circle and select festival audiences to have seen the film in its entirety before the Nov. 15 national release. The book is a must read for Payne fans and film buffs. Book signing to follow presentation. Sample the author’s work at

    Wednesday Words originated in 2009 as a special reading series featuring award-winning writers from the Nebraska Arts Council’s Individual Artist Fellowship in Literature program, sponsored by the Nebraska Arts Council and Nebraska independent publisher, The Backwaters Press.

    Spend your lunch hour at our final reading of 2013 with Leo Adam Biga. Treat yourself to a feast for your ears as you listen to some of the finest in Nebraska writing.

    FREE and open to the public.

Hope to see you there,

“I write stories about people, their passions and their magnificent obsessions”
“Payne is fortunate indeed to have such a thoughtful and insightful chronicler as Biga”–Kurt Andersen, NY Times bestselling author and host of Studio 360

Omaha Legends: Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce Business Hall of Fame Inductees Cut Across a Wide Swath of Endeavors

March 28, 2012 3 comments

Every city of any size has its movers and shakers and star performers in the world of commerce. One function of a chamber of commerce is to recognize its local impact players. It’s no different in my city, Omaha, or with the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce, which has a Business Hall of Fame for just this purpose.  The following story, to appear in the April issue of Metro Magazine, provides mini-profiles of the latest crop of hall inductees, whose diverse cross-section of endeavors proves there are all manner of ways to make a difference in the commerce of a city.  Most of those being honored are not well known outside of Omaha, but both couples being inducted this year are: Paul and Lori Hogan have created a mega national and international business in their heavily franchised Home Instead Senior Care, complete with a line of books and videos, all of which taken together have helped them nearly corner the market on nonmedical home services for seniors; Jun and Ree Kaneko are, outside of Warren Buffett and Alexander Payne, Omaha’s superstar residents for his much-in-demand sculpture and opera design work and for her artist residency administration expertise and, as a couple, for their much admired community art and creativity projects, including the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts and the KANEKO Open Space for Your Mind complex.









Omaha Legends: Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce Business Hall of Fame Inductees Cut Across a Wide Swath of Endeavors

©by Leo Adam Biga

Soon to be published in Metro Magazine

The latest Omaha Chamber of Commerce Business Hall of Fame inductees include a publisher, a PR maven, a businessman-turned-politician, two couples following their passion and “a cotton-picker from Texas” who turned sundries into gold. An April 24 Holland Performing Arts Center gala honors these legends.

Bob Hoig

Bob Hoig

Bob Hoig was bumming around New York City when he wound up in the Daily News building. He had no intention of being a journalist, but he needed a job, so he applied. The next thing he knew he was a copy boy. Thus began a 56-year and counting journalism career that’s wend its way from New York to Miami to Nebraska, where the Kansas-Colorado native had roots.

After reporting stints with United Press International and the Omaha World-Herald and editing the Douglas County Gazette, he formed the Midlands Business Journal in 1975 with Rapid Printing owner Zane Randall.

“I felt this market needed a niche paper that looked into small business success stories. That’s something nobody was doing at the time. All this came in the face of many prophecies of doom,” says Hoig, who went solo when Randall bowed out.

Hoig had confidence in his own abilities. “I’ve always been a good salesman and I think I’m a good enough writer and editor that I had the components you need to start a successful paper,” he says. Besides, he knows how to balance a ledger.

The veteran publisher has had hit and miss publications and he’s always learned from his successes and failures.

Satisfaction, he says, comes from “producing a good product that will survive, employ people and not be a burden on anyone,” adding. “I find this work very ennobling because it keeps me alive, involved and thinking.”



Linda Lovgren




Linda Lovgren

When Linda Lovgren left an ad agency to launch her own Lovgren Marketing Group in 1978 she says, “It never occurred to me I could fail. I just kind of looked at it as this is the next step in what I’m going to do, and if it works out that is spectacular, and if it doesn’t there will be another door opening.”

Going in business for herself, she says, was “a defining moment. It takes time to grow a business, to grow relationships, and one connection leads to another connection. It’s this large linkage you begin to build.”

With few women entrepreneurs around, her mentors were all men, among them then-Chamber president Bob Bell. She went on to be the Chamber’s first female president in 2003. She advises aspiring entrepreneurs find the right balance between work and family, just as she did as a new wife and mother.

The Iowa native’s long given back to her adopted Nebraska, volunteering with the State Fair board, Nebraska Kidney Foundation, Mid-America Boy Scouts of America and Habitat for Humanity,

She says she derives satisfaction from meeting the needs of clients, staff and family and “knowing you have accomplished something that has made a difference for all of those people.”



 Mike Fahey
Mike Fahey
CenturyLink Center Omaha



Mike Fahey

Heeding his older brother’s advice, Mike Fahey made “the most important” decision of his life when he moved here in 1971 to complete his education at Creighton University. It set him on a path to become an entrepreneur and two-term Mayor.

“It taught me you should never stop trying to improve yourself,” he says.

His next turning point was starting his own business, Land Title Company. “That certainly changed my entire life. It put me on the road to success. No longer was I working for a paycheck per se, I was really trying to build a business. There’s a lot of risk in that but I had confidence in my abilities. It taught me right away you’re only as strong as the people you have around you and I was very fortunate to get myself surrounded by some really good people.”

He regards growing his business his biggest success. “It brought me the greatest joy and with that it brought success. Creating jobs for other people was very rewarding as well.”

He says he applied a maxim from business to the mayor’s office: “Surround yourself with smart people, give them all the authority they need to do their jobs, and then hold them accountable for their outcomes. You get better results.”

He’s proud to have moved Omaha forward with signature projects like the CenturyLink Center and Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge. Today he chairs the Omaha Community Foundation and sits on several boards. “Community service is a great way to pay back a city that’s been extremely good to me and my family,”



Paul and Lori Hogan
Home Instead Center for Successful Aging



Paul and Lori Hogan

A confluence of events led Paul and Lori Hogan to conceive Home Instead Senior Care. As he learned the franchise model working for Merry Maids he noticed his failing grandmother rebound with the help of family caregivers.

“I saw that you didn’t have to be doctor or a nurse to really have a huge impact on   someone’s health, particularly a senior,” says Paul. “That experience helped me see the opportunity that existed. Back when we started there were just two options for seniors needing support, a nursing home or your daughter’s home. Now there’s a whole proliferation of options. We’re one of them. Preparation and opportunity met, and we took the risk.”

Lori says having a passion for what they consider their mission is part of their success. Another is filling “a real need” among seniors. Quality caregivers and franchisees are critical, too.

Paul credits mentors Tom Guy and Dallen Peterson of Merry Maids with helping make Home Instead a reality. But

The company’s success has allowed the Hogans to pay forward their good fortune through the Home Instead Senior Care Foundation, the Center for Successful Aging and various resources for family caregivers. “When you are given much, much is expected,” says Lori, “and we really feel it is important to give back to our community and we’re so grateful we’re able to do that.”



Jun and Ree Kaneko
Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts



Jun and Ree Kaneko

The former Ree Schonlau was an Old Market pioneer when artist Jun Kaneko came at her invitation. Among the few who saw potential for the old wholesale produce district, she established the Craftsmen Guild and Alternative Worksite, Artist-in-Industry Program. Jun shared her vision and the couple formed the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts, whose artist residency program is world-renowned.

More recently they opened KANEKO, a complex of creativity spaces.

Together, they’ve helped grow and put the Omaha arts community on the map. She’s one of America’s leading art residency advocates and experts. He found a nurturing place for his art in Omaha, where he’s developed his studio. Omaha is where he first made his popular dangos and began designing for operas.

They appreciate this community making their endeavors possible. “We’ve had patrons who are very inspiring and supportive, that believe in us and stand behind what we’re trying to do even though they know it’s a tough row and maybe a little avant garde,” she says. “Jun feels extremely fortunate, as I do, to be able to have realized those dreams here.”

She says there’s also pride in being recognized “as catalysts” for attracting commerce and attention to Omaha and for spurring the dynamic cultural renaissance the city’s enjoying. “Any mature city’s going to have the arts involved in it and now we have enough. I’m really pleased to see what’s happening. The cultural in-fill has finally caught up with those of us who were out here hanging on.”

Their multi-phase KANEKO project is a gift. Says Jun, “I always wanted to return something to this country. Lots of people helped me to be what I am now, so I feel I need to contribute something back. The best thing we know is creative activity” and thus their “open space for the mind.” He expects the organization and its mission “will keep progressing.”



A typical Pamida store
Witherspoon Mansion



D.J. Witherspoon

The son of a Texas migrant worker, D.J. Witherspoon was a teacher and coach in the Longhorn State before moving to Omaha in the Dust Bowl years and founding Gibson Products Company with his father-in-law. Witherspoon’s purchase of Marks Distributing Company introduced him to his future business partner, Nebraska native Lee Wegener, and together the two men formed Pamida, a chain of discount general merchandise stores serving rural America.

Pamida was a play on his three sons names: Patrick, Michael and David.

The company’s strategic expansion went viral in the 1960s and ’70s. Witherspoon, the cotton-picker from Texas, and Wegener, the corn-picker from Nebraska, followed a proven formula of acquiring existing businesses in underserved locales and converting them into Pamida stores. Known as an inspirational leader, Witherspoon engendered loyalty among his employees, many from rural backgrounds like his own.

Witherspoon, the company’s majority stock holder, sold Pamida to its workers through an employee stock option plan in 1981. He retired as chairman and enjoyed a life of conspicuous consumption and philanthropy.

Reservations for the 6 p.m. gala dinner and 7:30 p.m. induction ceremony are due April 17 by registering online at

Omaha Lit Fest: “People who like this sort of thing will find this the sort of thing they like”

October 7, 2011 14 comments

Seven years ago the quirky (downtown) Omaha Lit Fest began, and as an arts-culture writer here I’ve found myself writing about it and some of its guest authors and their work pretty much every year. The following piece for The Reader ( is a preview of the 2011 edition, whose guests include Terese Svoboda (Bohemian Girl) and Rachel Shukert (Everything is Going to be Fine). The festival’s founder and director, novelist Timothy Schaffert (The Coffins of Little Hope), is the subject, along with the event, of several articles on this blog. If you’re a local and you have never done the fest, then shame on you. Make sure you do this time around. If you happen to be visiting during its Oct. 13-15 run then make sure you check it out and experience a sophisticated side of Omaha that may be new to you. Sure, this kind of thing is not for everyone, but it’s a fortifying intellectual exercise you’ll be glad you did. Besides, it’s free, most of it anyway. This year is a bit different in that I’m serving on a panel of local arts-culture writers discussing our role in framing Omaha’s arts scene, including its artists and art oganizations.

Apert from the Lit Fest, this blog also contains many more articles on authors and books of all kinds. Go to the books category on the right and discover the many writers and works I’ve been fortunate enough to report on and read.




(downtown) Omaha Lit Fest poster 2011



Omaha Lit Fest: “People who like this sort of thing will find this the sort of thing they like”

©by Leo Adam Biga

Originally published in The Reader (


In his capsule of the 2011 (downtown) Omaha Lit Fest founder-director and novelist Timothy Schaffert draws a parallel with The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Specifically, to the humbug Wizard’s endowing the Tin Woodman with a heart made of silk and sawdust, with some soldering necessary to better make the heart take hold.

As Schaffert (The Coffins of Little Hope) suggests, the writer’s process is part alchemy, part major surgery, part inspiration, part wishful thinking in giving heart to words and ideas and eliciting readers’ trust and imagination. Thus, he writes, this seventh edition of the Lit Fest focuses on “the heart and mechanics of writing” as authors “lift the corner of the curtain on their methods and processes.”

Consistent with its eclectic tradition of presenting whatever spills out of Schaffert’s Wizard’s mind, the Fest includes panels, exhibitions, salons and workshops that feature the musings and workings of poets, fiction writers, journalists and artists.

Guest authors include native Nebraskans turned New Yorkers Terese Svoboda, whose new novel Bohemian Girl has received ecstatic reviews, and Rachel Shukert, now at work on two new novels, a television series she’s adapting from her memoir Everything is Going to be Great and a screenplay.

The free Fest runs Oct. 13-15 at the W. Dale Clark Library, 215 South 15th St. and at Kaneko, 1111 Jones St. “Litnings” unfold the rest of the month at other venues.

With Lit Fest such an intimate Being Timothy Schaffert experience, it’s hard gauging it’s place in the Omaha cultural fabric.

“What we do is fairly esoteric. I’m always meeting people who have never heard of it and I definitely wouldn’t be able to handle it if it was as large as some other cities’ lit fests, which draw hundreds and hundreds of people. So I like it the way it is. I’ve often thought I misnamed it, that I probably shouldn’t have called it a festival, but called it a salon or something. So it’s a fraud basically,” Schaffert says with an ironic lilt in his laugh.

He quotes Abraham Lincoln to sum up the event’s cognoscenti appeal: “People who like this sort of thing will find this the sort of thing they like.”

Mention how the programs feel peculiarly personal to him, Schaffert says, “It doesn’t always come together perfectly, but, yeah, I definitely try to shape it.” Ask if he pulls the strings behind the curtain, he says, “In the past it’s usually been just me but this year I’ve worked some with Amy Mather, the head of adult services at the W. Dale Clark Library. They’re cosponsors.”

That Schaffert pretty much conceptualizes the show himself is a function of limited resources and, therefore, a necessity-is-the-mother-of-invention approach. “We have virtually no budget. It actually strangely makes it even more interesting I think when you’re trying to do it on the cheap.” Of this labor of love, he adds,. “It is fun.”

Then, too, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln English instructor, Prairie Schooner web-contributing editor and Nebraska Summer Writer’s Conference director is well-plugged into writing circles. He’s also published by premier houses Unbridled Books and, soon, Penguin, which just bought his in-progress The Swan Gondola, a tragic love story set at Omaha’s 1898 Trans-Mississippi Exposition.

From the start, he’s viewed the Fest as a means of framing the local lit culture. Shukert appreciates the effort. She doesn’t recall a visible Omaha lit scene when she lived here, saying, “I actually think probably there was but it just hadn’t been identified yet, and once somebody is like, Wait, this is going on, then it’s like all these writers and book people can kind of like out themselves as part of a literary community and come together. I think that was an incredibly smart move on Timothy’s part to recognize there was this incipient thing that just needed someone to name it.”

She says, “I feel a nice balance he’s managed to strike is finding local people and native Omahans who have national profiles and people who have no connection to Omaha at all except this is a cool event they want to be at. It’s a nice mix, and that’s important.”

Schaffert notes the 2011 edition is heavy with native Nebraska authors “because so many local writers or writers with local ties have had new books come out in the last year and a half or so, so this is an opportunity to have them talk about their new works.” Those local scribes range from: Omaha World-Herald political cartoonist Jeffrey Koterba, whose memoir Inklings made a big splash, to OWH lifestyles columnist Rainbow Rowell, whose debut novel Attachments did well, to Mary Helen Stefaniak (The Califfs of Baghdad, Georgia) and David Philip Mullins (Greetings from Below).

Of the Nebraska ex-pats participants, perhaps the one with the largest national profile is Ogallala-born and raised Terese Svoboda, a poet and novelist praised for her exquisite use of language. In Bohemian Girl, she describes a hard-scrabble girl-to-womanhood emancipation journey on the early Nebraska frontier. The work contains overtones of True Grit, Huckleberry Finn and Willa Cather.

Peaking her intrigue were “pictures of 30 year-old pioneer women who looked like they were 70…and then they wrote diaries that were extremely cheerful — I just wondered what was going on there.” Charged by the feminist and civil rights movements’ challenge to let muted voices be heard, she says “in some ways Bohemian Girl was setting off to let those voices free or at least to talk about them.”

In some ways her book is a meditation on bohemianism as ethnicity, state of mind and lifestyle. “I was born in Ogallala as the oldest of nine children. My Bohemian father is a rancher, farmer and a lawyer, and my Irish mother painted. They read great books together and recited poetry they had memorized in high school in Neb. And I wore pointy red glasses in high school because I was the bohemian girl.”

Her proto-feminist heroine enlists Bohemian pluck and bohemian invention to survive hardships and seize opportunities in finding prosperity, if not contentment.


Terese Svoboda



Svoboda says “the picaresque story” sets out “to correct Willa Cather about Bohemians — they were more interesting than she portrayed them, and that’s dangerous territory I know to say, but I felt Cather was not a Nebraskan, she was from Virginia, and she looked at the people who settled there with that kind of eye. In fact, her point of view is always a little bit distant. So I wanted to get right inside a girl and show how hard it was and how the opportunities and the choices she makes are her own.”

As a reference point Svoboda drew on a creative pilgrimage she made to Sudan, Africa and to her own prairie growing up.

“I used the experience of my year spent in the Sudan for what it would be like to be a girl out in the bare prairie — blending that with my own experience in western Neb., the Sand Hills especially.”

Those lived vignettes, she posits, “contributed to the authenticity.”

Schaffert is among Svoboda’s many admirers.

“She brings a poet’s rich sense of language to her fiction. I feel like that’s what makes her novels and her short stories so exciting — they’re not weighty with language, they’re not inaccessible, but you do have to read them carefully to fully enjoy them. I think her new novel Bohemian Girl has eloquence. It’s eclectic, it’s whimsical, unsettling, and it has its heart in Nebraska and Nebraska history.”

The depth and precision of Svoboda’s language come from endless reworking.

“I do work hard at that. I am very attentive to each word. I am not a transparent writer — that is to say writing prose where the words are just something the reader falls into a dream for the characters and the plot. Because my background is a poet, I see each word as a possibility and each narrative exchange as a possibility, so nobody wastes any time going in and out of rooms or talking about the weather.

“I really respect the reader and their intelligence and hope that they appreciate I do that. I really think every word they read should be worthy of them.”

She didn’t plan on being a novelist, but a life-changing odyssey changed all that.

“I would have been perfectly happy to be a poet forever…but when I went off to Africa I had such a profound and emotionally difficult experience of being in practically another planet, I wrote a novel, Cannibal, about it. I felt I had to write prose.”

She only came to finish the novel, however, after struggling through 30 full length drafts over several years. A course taught by then-enfant terrible editor Gordon Lish awoke her to a new way into the story.

“At the end of that you learned that writing was the most important thing in your life and the words were a building block of the sentence…And it didn’t matter what you wrote — the minute you thought of someone else reading it or started weighing it against somebody else you might as well toss it away, so I tossed it away, I started all over again, although I had to still send it out 13 times before it finally did get published, and that excruciating experience brought me to the world of prose.

“I’m not one of those people that sits down and all the words come out right. Each of my novels seems to take 10 years from the beginning to the end, overlapping of course. I continue to go back to them. But some of my poems take that long, too.”

She’ll talk shop with Timothy Schaffert at An Evening with Terese Svoboda on Oct. 15 at 7 p.m. at Kaneko.

Shukert, along with fellow writers, will share thoughts about craft during a 2-5 p.m. salon at the library earlier that day.

“I’m happy to talk about process but I always do it with the caveat that I don’t expect it to actually be helpful to anybody. It’s not a formula,” says Shukert. “Very often people ask questions like, How do you do it? and the implication is, How can I do it? or How do I get a book published? or How do I finish my novel? And that’s the one thing nobody else can answer for you. Very early in your career it can be helpful to hear the way other people did it because you need to keep telling yourself it’s possible, it can be done.”

While Svoboda insists her process is not appreciably different writing novels than it is poems, Shukert says, “I find my process alters depending on what I’m working on. Like my process writing a book is very different than my process writing a play or a screenplay. My process writing fiction — now that I’m working on my first novel — is very different than the memoir process. It’s a lot slower. Switching from first person to third person has been interesting, especially as pertains to point of view.

“There are things that get easier and then things that get harder. I feel I have a much easier time, for example, just sitting down and writing and not being intimidated by the sheer scope of it. It’s a much more practiced muscle. But that doesn’t mean what I write right away is better.”



Rachel Shukert


Writing is one thing. Getting published, another. Conventional publishing is still highly competitive. Self-publishing though is within reach of anyone with a computer, tablet or smart phone. This democratization is the subject of a 11 a.m. Oct. 15 panel at the library and an Oct. 22-23 workshop at the Omaha Creative Institute.

Shukert says, “I feel like there’s more of an appetite to write than ever before but is there the same appetite to read? I feel, too, it’s about being able to cut through the noise. It’s one thing to publish your work, it’s another thing if anyone actually reads it or is able to find it.”

Yes, she says, self-publishing “does get voices heard that otherwise would not have been, but,” she adds. “there was a sort of curatorial process that I think is slowly falling apart. You want to know that what you’re reading is valuable. In a weird way I feel that attitude that anybody can be published, that I can publish this myself, oddly devalues the work of every writer. There’s still gotta be a way you can separate things. When there’s too much, there’s sort of too much.”

In the traditional publishing world, says Svoboda, an opposite trend finds “many more gatekeepers then when I started, or the gate has gotten a lot smaller, and so there are manuscripts in the world that deserve to get published that aren’t getting published. But I don’t know there would be that many more” (deserving manuscripts) now that the number of self-proclaimed writers has increased.

“The ability to publish so easily is probably a bad thing,” she adds. “Many people have stories and they are interesting stories but not everybody can write literature.”

Schaffert embraces this come one, come all new age.

“I think it’s a really great time to be a writer and I don’t think it’s yet necessarily interfering with the pursuit of the reader to find quality content. The stuff that the world responds to the world will still respond to and still find their way to. There are more ways to respond to the work you’re reading and more avenues to find new work thats more specific to your tastes. I mean, I think this is all great.

“If you’re sort of entrepreneurial by nature you can even venture to do for yourself what a conventional publisher might do, which is to promote your work, try to get attention for it…Even writers going through the old fashioned methods of publishing have added opportunities because you still have to promote your work. The world is your oyster.”

A 5 p.m. panel Oct. 13 at the library, moderated by blogger Sally Brown Deskins, will consider “the role criticism, arts profiles and cultural articles play in presenting artists and arts organizations to the community and to the world,” says Schaffert. “It seems to me every serious city needs serious coverage of what it’s doing. I think it’s integral there be writers we associate with coverage of the arts scene.”

Book design, objects in literature and fashion in literature are other themes explored in panels or exhibits.

An opening night reception is set for 6:30-9:30 at the library, Enjoy cupcakes, champagne and a pair of art exhibits.

For the complete Lit Fest schedule, visit



Read more of Leo Adam Biga’s work at


“Portals” opens new dimensions in performance art – Multimedia concert comes home for Midwest premiere

October 6, 2011 Leave a comment

Back in April I wrote a piece that appeared on this blog about a multimedia concert piece then in-progress called Portals. Omaha’s creative nurturing place, KANEKO, served as producer and its bow truss live event space is where some  of the project’s principal filming was done. My story then – “Open Minds, Portals Explore Human Longing in the Digital Age” – quoted creative director and virtuoso violinist Tim Fain and co-lead filmmaker Kate Hackett explaining the concept behind the project. In addition to his playing and her visuals Portals features the poetry of Leonard Cohen, the music of Philip Glass and a bevy of other top composers, and the choreography of Benjamin Millepied. A preview that month gave me and a few hundred others glimpses of the work. It was stunning and definitely whet the appetite for more, certainly for seeing the finished project. The completed Portals had its world premiere in New York City in late September and last night (Oct. 5) the piece made its Midwest premiere in Omaha. The multimedia concert mostly delivered on its promise to explore the open spaces between and betwixt the real and virtual worlds. My two more recent stories below appeared just in advance of the Omaha performance and tried to further frame what Portals intended. Something I meant to include in my print Portals stories were some notes about the violin Fain performs on, but I offer it here now for your information.





“I often find people are very interested in the violin I play,” he says. “After concerts I get a lot of people asking. It’s a beautiful old Italian violin that’s on loan to me right now. It was made in 1717 by Francesco Gobetti, one of the real Italian masters. It’s on loan to me through an organization called the Stradivarius Society of Chicago. My patrons, who live in Buffalo, Clement and Karen Arrisson, are part of this network of people who think it’s cool to loan their zillion dollar instruments to players.

“While I do consider myself the biggest winner, everyboy wins because the instruments, if they’re not played on, they deteriorate a lot quicker. I’ve had the Gobetti for almost four years now. You really get to know the instrument in an entirely different way. It’s almost like I have the feeling I’m communing with another soul. Makers were able to invest a part of themselves in the instruments they made. It’s very mysterious – I don’t claim to understand it really.”

I can attest that Fain is one with his instrument and whatever spirit it possesses.


Portals opens new dimensions in performance art – Multimedia concert comes ome for Midwest premiere

©by Leo Adam Biga

Published in The Reader (


An April program at KANEKO offered a preview of the mixed media work, Portals. Virtuoso violinist Tim Fain and filmmaker Kate Hackett provided tantalizing glimpses of a phantasmagoric experiment in performance and social media. KANEKO director Hal France and the Portals creative team also laid the groundwork for a residency in the collaborative arts.

There’s great anticipation for the finished piece making its Midwest premiere here. The two shows follow on the heels of the work’s September 25th world premiere in New York, where Portals was well-received. It’s hard not being curious about a work that integrates multiple mediums and styles into a seamless experience. There’s music by acclaimed composers Philip Glass, Aaron Jay Kernis, Nico Muhly, Kevin Puts, Lev Zhurbin and William Bolcom. Images are by Hackett and Benjamin Milliepied, whose choreography is also featured. There are the words of Leonard Cohen. And the musicianship of Fain and pianist Nicholas Britell.





So, what is Portals exactly?

Think of it as a performance piece bridging the divide between real and virtual, live and digital, all expressed through a merging of set design, lighting, music, video, dance, literature, spoken word and the Web. It’s about finding new portals of communication and connection between old and new forms. New York Times reviewer Allan Kozinn felt Fain “succeeded admirably” in finding “new ways to frame the music.”

Where does the social media aspect come in?

During the concert Fain will perform live on stage, as will his accompanist, but he will also interact with several performers, even a virtual version of himself, seen via rear-projected videos that give the impression of social networking exchanges. It’s meant to be an immersive, sensory, boundaries-breaking, genre-bending experience.

KANEKO, along with Silicon Prairie News and local universities, is hosting a Live Social Media event that seeks “experimenters” to participate in the Portals experience and offer feedback. To sign-up, visit

What about the team residency?

Portals principles will conduct free previews, lectures, master classes and conversations in Omaha and Lincoln. Students from local universities are encouraged to attend. To register, visit




‘Portals’ Unveiled

Last month a New York City audience embraced the world premiere of the multimedia concert piece, Portals, and now the work’s come back to its other home, Omaha’s KANEKO, for performances October 5-6.

As creative director, acclaimed violinist Tim Fain has integrated music by Philip Glass and other noted composers, including Pulitzer Prize winners Aaron Jay Kernis and William Bolcom, with the words of Leonard Cohen, choreography by Benjamin Millepied, visuals by Kate Hackett, and his own virtuosic playing.

KANEKO, whose Open Space for Your Mind mantra invites projects to explore creative boundaries, is a co-producer. The 1111 Jones Street venue’s bow truss space is where Hackett, a Los Angeles-based filmmaker known for multimedia work, did some principal taping-filming. KANEKO is also where Hackett, Fain and pianist Nicholas Britell presented a preview of Portals last April.

Portals is really a celebration of music that epitomizes what I love and what I think is worth sharing, and the presentation of that music is meant to push what’s possible in a performance and bring it into the digital age in a way that does justice to the music and also to our times,” says Fain.

At its core is a new seven-movement partita Glass composed for Fain.

“This piece has as its inspiration one little moment from Philip’s (song-cycle) Book of Longing, where the whole stage went black except for a spotlight that came down on me as I launched into a two-minute, really intense piece for unaccompanied violin.”

Fain also wanted to “recreate that feeling as a performer where you walk into a hall before the performance and nobody else is around. It’s just you and the stage … The lighting is golden and beautiful. There’s this almost seductive feeling of privacy, intimacy and communing with the music. All leading up to sharing it with the audience …”

Portals is a “fluid collaboration between music and film” Hackett says. “There’s going to be sort of three prongs to this evening, three different feels, all of which come together. All of the pieces are going to be interconnected by spoken-word text. The films accompanying those pieces will have a Webcam feel as they show a day-in-the-life sense of the different collaborators going about their daily business. We’ll get the feeling they’re speaking to each other via Webcam and Skype.”

“The second prong will have a much more produced feel, where Tim will be on stage playing and projected behind him will be films of a violinist and a pianist playing,” she says. “The idea is these players have come together in the Webcam-Skype world and now they’ve created a concert together that only exists in their head space. The third prong is the dance films Benjamin created in New York to accompany the Philip Glass piece. Those films additionally feel like a collaboration that happens through these different portals.”

“The whole idea behind Portals,” says Fain, “is really to … make the multimedia and film element not only something cool and exciting to look at but also a very necessary part of the experience. Musicians and dancers and the audience will all in a sense be signing on to collaborate in an artistic expression through the digital medium.”

At certain intervals, Fain seemingly becomes part of the images projected around him. He hopes this melange creates “something meaningful and beautiful and human.”

This convergence of forms and ideas is what KANEKO seeks, says executive director Hal France. “This as a collaborative project is perfect for us. It’s cross disciplinary. It has a purpose.”

The outside-the-box merging of live and virtual performance creates a new kind of immersion-ensemble experience, he says, sure to provoke dialogue. That’s the point.

For tickets to the 7:30 p.m. shows call 402-341-3800 or visit

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