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Hispanic Authors-Artists Part of Omaha Lit Fest Experience

August 8, 2018 Leave a comment

Hispanic Authors-Artists Part of Omaha Lit Fest Experience

©by Leo Adam Biga

Originally published in El Perico (el-pericp.com)

 

The September 10-11, 2010 (downtown) Omaha Lit Fest gathers authors and artists to investigate the theme Curiouser & Curiouser: The Book in Flux.

Some guests, like University of Nebraska-Lincoln Ph.D. candidate Sarah Chavez, are Hispanic, Others, like first-time festival panelist Peter Kuper of Manhattan, New York, are not, but explore Hispanic themes.

Nebraska native Belinda Acosta, the Latina author of two Quinceanera Club novels, was a panelist last year and the Austin, Texas resident would like to come back again.

Chavez, a Fresno, Calif. native poet, has completed a chapbook she’s expanding into a full-length volume. This will be her first Omaha Lit Fest. She read some of her original work at an August 26 preview. She looks forward to the fest, saying she’s “impressed” by the supportive literary community here and by the diversity and quality of writers presenting at area lit events.

In her poetry Chavez explores the working class character of Fresno. She also explores borders and boundaries of identity. Her father is a first generation Mexican-American migrant worker. As a girl she joined her father laboring in the fields. Her Irish-American mother comes from upper middle class roots.

Chavez said by phone, “I was always sort of aware of this transferring back and forth between cultures. My parents divorced fairly early on, so I was always going back and forth, crossing like city and cultural borders, learning you act like this in this environment but then you can act like this in this other environment.

“So I was always aware of this mobility and the tenuous nature of environment. I was also aware of being, like my sister and I joke, ‘half breeds.’ Because of that mix we’re able to pass in different areas. I go to minority programs and have cultural cachet as a Mexican there but then people don’t automatically assume I am of that heritage. I don’t quite fit, I don’t look like this but I don’t feel like this other group.”

She considers different cultural expectations attending Latinas or African-American women and white women. She examines what it means for women of color to move away from traditional domestic duties to inhabit professional and academic roles.

Curiouser and curiouser.

Political cartoonist and illustrator.Kuper anticipated a two-year siesta in Oaxaca, Mexico with his wife and daughter, but when a teachers’ strike there was violently put down by government forces, he went from casual tourist to engaged reporter. His visceral Diario de Oaxaca journal sketches and commentaries capture how nature and civilization, history and modernity, bounty and deprivation are intertwined there.

He prized playing the role of first-hand witness and participant. In a phone interview he said this active, intimate experience “made it feel we were inside of Mexico rather than standing on the edge regarding it from a slight distance.” He said when he first arrived he made up for his “lousy” Spanish by using his sketches to communicate with people, adding that his habit of walking the streets offered interactions that drew him deeper into local rituals and customs.

His work expresses the surreal-like quality of nature run riot amid a busy tourist trade, an oppressive regime, crushing poverty and citizen protests.

“It’s fascinating. I kept on feeling I was walking through a metaphor.”

Perhaps most striking to him is how people risk everything to oppose an unjust ruling class. He’s quite taken by the politicized street art there. He’s also impressed by how every day people make art an expressive part of their life, whether arranging flower and candle homages for Day of the Dead festivities or painting murals.

“There’s so much creating of art that goes on in daily life as a natural thing to do,” he said. “It really gives me a sense of art having purpose, enriching and playing a role.”

He said the whole experience shook him up artistically, putting him on a different track once he returned home.

“It challenged and opened me up to trying different approaches. I had to sort of reinvent myself with the new information.”

Acosta grew up in Lincoln. She was active in Omaha theater, helping found the Center Stage Theatre and touring a one-woman show on Midwestern Latinas, before attending the University of Texas at Austin to focus on writing.

A freelance journalist by trade, she’s a contributing writer for the Austin Chronicle and Texas Observer. Her books Damas, Dramas, and Ana Ruiz and Sisters, Strangers, and Starting Over chart family relationships within the backdrop of the quinceanera, which she finds ironic since she never had a quince herself. But she said she researched the coming-of-age celebration in preparation for her books.

She’s presently working on a new book set in Nebraska.

For event details, visit www.omahalitfest.com.

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Lit Fest delves into what we fear, how we relate in extremis

October 9, 2015 2 comments

By now, anyone familiar with the (downtown) Omaha Lit Fest knows that it is the epicurious and somewhat eccentric run off from whatever spills out of the overactive mind of founder-director Timothy Schaffert, who just happens to be one of America’s finest novelists.  His intellect, imagination and interests run deep, as do that of his writer friends, and so every year he concocts a distinclty stimulating event that plays very much like his own personal salon.  His 2015 Lit Fest on October 16-17 at the downtown W. Dale Clark Library features, as always, a diverse collection of national, regional and local authors who will participate in panels moderated by Schaffert himself.  There are also exhibitions and other activities centered around literature. The theme for this fest is Nervosa: Science, Psyche & Body and that’s just both specfic and open-ended enough to give writers and readers alike a fertile field to play in.

Lit Fest delves into what we fear, how we relate in extremis

©by Leo Adam Biga

Originally appeared iin The Reader (www.thereader.com)

The 2015 downtown Omaha Lit Fest, whose theme is “Nervosa: Science, Psych & Story,” celebrates the reflective power of literature to explore human vulnerability.

Worry over terrorism, the economy, climate change, the singularity, genetic engineering and zombie apocalypse dread is backdrop for the free Oct. 16-17 fest at the W. Dale Clark Library.

The 6:30-9:30 Friday night opening party, Anxiety, features the Poetry Brothel by burntdistrict literary journal, paintings and drawings by Eric and Shari Post and wire and book sculptures by Jay Cochrane.

Starting at 1 p.m. on Saturday founder-director-novelist Timothy Schaffert (The Swan Gondola) moderates panel discussions and interviews with local and visiting authors.

The intimate annual fest plays like Schaffert’s personal salon.

“If you don’t like me you probably won’t like the show,” he quips .”I have the freedom to develop it the way I want and I do so with the support of the Omaha Public Library. They let me invite who I want to invite, they provide the space and they promote the event. It’s exciting to take on a project that isn’t mired in bureaucracy.”

He arrived at this year’s theme by noting what authors in his lit circle were writing about. He feels these times induce a collective high tension literature’s better prepared to reflect than social media.

“Literature is really competing with the social networks for that immediate connection people are seeking with each other and their desire to remain on top of every horrifying incident that occurs in the world. Ultimately there can be this overwhelming sense of everything is treacherous, that there’s terror waiting at every turn.”

He says where online communiques incite anxiety, literature brings analysis and rumination.

“We read books differently than we read most other text. We immerse ourselves in the world of the story. We’re looking for authoritative voice, for unique and useful perspective, and that requires a great deal of attention. A book calls for you to put everything else aside to spend time with it and to let the writer speak. I think that has historically been soothing to readers.”

For the panel “Diagnosis” two Omaha doctor-authors will discuss drawing on medical backgrounds in writing.

Retired transplant surgeon Bud Shaw says, “My essay ‘My Night with Ellen Hutchison’ is about a devastating personal and professional episode in my early career.”

“As I sat down to write about it, I discovered just how stubbornly I still held onto a version of that story that blamed others, that let me off the hook for the death of a patient during a liver transplant. I had to revisit that night over and over again for weeks to reconstruct a view that wasn’t about the cause of the failure so much as it was about the results. It wasn’t easy. I needed a fresh and far more human perspective, and that required a lot of processing I hadn’t done before. Now I don’t seem able to stop.”

His new book is Last Night in the OR: A Transplant Surgeon’s Odyssey.

Practicing physician Lydia Kang writes young adult sci-fi novels and scientific thrillers (Catalyst, Control).

“I find myself drawn to particular stories and struggles and often there is a medical-forensic-genetics aspect that happens along the way.”

Researching a congenital breathing disorder led Kang to cast the hero of Control with that condition.

Kang says wanting to “explain the details, whys and hows of things” in prose can result in “too much info-dumping.” “Curating the details for the sake of smooth reading and the storyline must work in concert with doing factual justice to the fictional patient and scenario.” Through her blog she consults writers dealing with health-science matters.

 

 

Schaffert is “fascinated by any effort to make science more readable and accessible.” At the University of Nebraska-Lincoln he teaches a Humanities in Medicine Minor course, “Illness and Health in Literature.”

“We look at everything from science journalism to personal essays.”

Another panel with Neb. writers will consider “Treachery” and outcasts. Novelist Douglas Otis Wesselman, aka radio host Otis Twelve, says, “Treachery is best understood by the old. We’ve had more practice at it – from both sides. We come to know we are betrayed and betrayers by nature. Our human lives seem to revolve around duplicity and it usually comes down to the ultimate deceit – our ability to lie to ourselves.”

In his new novel Tales of the Master a character deals with the anguish of undermining himself and others.

He says writers well fit the outcast bill – “at least if they write the truth.”

Ted Wheeler, author of the chapbook On the River, Down Where They Found Willy Brown and the related novel Kings of Broken Things, says, “So much of interesting literature is about social outcasts. I see that as the central duty of a writer – to tell the stories that shouldn’t be told, to make personal demons public, to dredge up buried history or explore the parts of society that have been pushed out to the margins. The literary writer’s job is to say what can’t be said in polite company.”

Schaffert says the work of Wheeler, Wesselman and fellow panelist Marilyn June Coffey has “a kind of mythology, whether folklore or historical incident or ancient mythology.”

Wheeler explores Will Brown’s 1919 lynching in Omaha.

“My main intention was to give it treatment in a way I hadn’t seen done in any history books. The trick wasn’t really in explaining why this horrible event happened here, but more about resisting the urge to rationalize a mass act of treachery by exploring what it was like to be at a race riot and get caught up it the swerve of violent extremism.

“What’s interesting to me and what’s unspeakable about it in a certain way is this point where mundane life intersects with a notorious crime.”

Coffey revisited Charles Starkweather and Caril Ann Fugate in an Atlantic Monthly cover article. She broke ground with her 1973 novel Marcella for its exploration of female autoeroticism. Her new book is Thieves, Rascals & Sore Losers: The Unsettling History of the Dirty Deals that Helped Settle Nebraska.

The panel “Empathy” will examine the psychology of identification.

“Reading literature builds empathy,” Lincoln, Neb. author Joy Castro says. “It asks us to imagine the lives and perspectives of people very different from ourselves, faced with situations we’ve never encountered. Entering into their stories expands our hearts. My new book How Winter Began is a collection of 28 short stories which pivot on the challenge of empathy.”

Arizona-based writer Julie Iromuanya, raised in Neb. by her Igo Nigernian immigrant parents, says, “To write, one has to practice the central feature of empathy – one has to imagine. It’s a complicated business to move beyond one’s subject position in order to inhabit the body of another. To me, beauty is about seeing characters in their most unvarnished form. My way into my characters is through their truth, but it’s a risky endeavor. Veer a little too far left and writing is sterile. Veer a little too far to the right and we’re left with sentimentality. Hit the right spot and there is a backdoor elegance.”

For her debut novel Mr. and Mrs. Doctor, she says, “One of the ways I leveraged this was through through humor, albeit dark humor, I’m both inside my characters and outside them. They act, they live their lives on the page, but I don’t let them get away with anything.”

Seattle writer Jennie Shortridge’s novel Love Water Memory considers the limits of love, trust and knowing through the prism of amnesia.

Schaffert will ask Canada native and New York City resident Emily St. John Mandel about the human psychology examined in her post-apocalyptic best-seller Station Eleven.

“It occurred to me an interesting way to consider the modern world would be to contemplate its absence,” Mandel says. “I was less interested in writing a narrative of collapse and more interested in writing about what comes next. The question I’ve attempted to address is, What remains? What might we long for and try to recreate if all of the trappings of the modern world were to fall away?”

Visit http://www.omahalitfest.com.

Omaha Lit Fest Offers a Written Word Feast

October 18, 2013 2 comments

It’s Omaha Lit Fest time again.  Chances are you didn’t even know Omaha had a literature festival but it does.  Nine years strong.  It’s all the brainchild of Omaha-based novelist Timothy Schaffert.  The 2013 edition brings authors together from near and far for panel discussions and shop talk.  There’s also a cool exhiibtion entitled Carnival of Souls that has top local designers showing their takes on cult movie posters..  It happens Friday and Saturday, Oct. 18 and 19, at the W. Dale Clark Library downtown.  I’m serving as a panelist on one panel and as a moderator for another panel.  Visit omahalitfest.com for details.  My story about Lit Fest is now appearing in The Reader (www.thereader.com).

 

 

Omaha Lit Fest Offers a Written Word Feast

Appeared in The Reader (www.thereader.com)

©by Leo Adam Biga

 

Writer predilections take precedence at the October 18-19 (downtown) Omaha Lit Fest, an annual orgy of the written word organized by acclaimed resident author Timothy Schaffert (The Coffins of Little Hope).

Nine years running Schaffert’s partnered with the Omaha Public Library for the free event that calls the W. Dale Clark Library, 215 So. 15th St., home. As usual, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln assistant professor and Nebraska Writers Summer Conference director has gathered an eclectic roster of authors for quirky panel discussions. This year’s theme is Literary Obsessions and Cult Followings. Helping him explore these musings are authors from near and far and on different publishing paths. Ohio author Alissa Nutting‘s novel Tampa and its frank distillation of a sex deviant was published by Ecco/Harper Collins. Omaha author Thom Sibbitt self-published his Beat-inspired pseudo-memoir The Turnpike. Nebraska author Mary K. Stillwell’s dual biography-critical study of poet Ted Kooser was published by the University of Nebraska Press.

“I like inviting writers that I think are doing work that has a lot of edge and maybe not getting all the attention the other writers are getting and yet are worthy of that attention,” says Schaffert, who like any good host mixes and matches authors to enliven the conversation.

The intimate, idiosyncratic fest offers opportunities to talk-up authors, some of whom will be at Friday’s 6:30 to 9:30 opening night party and exhibition, Carnival of Souls. Creatives from the Nebraska chapter of AIGA, the professional association for design, will display their takes on classic movie posters from cult cinema. Beginning at 12:30 p.m. on Saturday a series of panels unfolds, including one billed Cinematic that considers movies as subject, inspiration and influence and another, Trigger Warnings, that promises a provocative spin on sex lit.

A 5:30 signing by Lit Fest authors concludes the festival.

As an academic and a former newspaper editor Schaffert tracks currents and poses questions. That’s how he arrived at the panel Obsessed and its topic of authors doggedly pursuing biographical subjects. Panelist Mary K. Stillwell’s book The Life and Poetry of Ted Kooser grew out of a dissertation she began years before. She says she discovered Kooser’s work when a poetry instructor “started bringing me in work by all the Nebraska poets and he kept saying, ‘You come from this fertile land of poetry, look what your people do.’ It really turned me on. Here were people from my own neighborhood talking about things I knew, so it was really a gift to me. We have this long history that goes all the way back to the Pawnee. It got me to thinking of the (Ogallala) Aquifer – there must be something poetic in that water.”

Her fascination resulted in the anthology Being(s) in Place(s): Poetry in and of Nebraska. She cultivated an association with Kooser, the 2004-2005 U.S. Poet Laureate. Then she decided to make him the subject of a book. Researching it meant visiting his childhood home of Ames, Iowa, interviewing his friends there and elsewhere, corresponding with Kooser and immersing herself in his poems

“Going back to his poems you can see the depth of his literary knowledge, you can see the influence of (John) Keats or Thomas Transformer or even (Robert) Frost. Some of his images just seem to be in brotherhood with Frost. So each time you go back you get another layer. It’s sort of an archaeological expedition when you study a Kooser poem over time.”

She says Kooser proved a “cooperative” and “generous” subject who was “patient” with her many questions.

Research comes in many forms. New York state-based author Owen King informed his new novel Double Feature about a famous B-movie director by watching unholy hours of old flicks.

“Taking a survey of the B-movies of the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s was essential to the book,” says King, the son of authors Stephen and Tabitha King and the husband of fellow Lit Fest guest author Kelly Braffet. “I had seen quite a few before I started but I gained a newfound respect for them in the process of watching and rewatching so many in a relatively short period. There’s an earnestness at work in most of the films that I didn’t fully grasp beforehand. Which is why, although I have some fun with B-movies in Double Feature, I also hope aficionados feel like I did them justice.”

Portland, Oregon author Monica Drake partially drew on her own experiences as a clown for her novel Clown Girl. Her observations working at a zoo and her adventures in parenting helped inspire her novel The Stud Book.

Timothy Schaffert became a virtual 19th century explorer researching his new novel The Swan Gondola set at the 1898 Trans-Mississippi Exposition in Omaha. He enjoyed the immersion in all things Victorian for his novel due out in February.

“it was completely pleasurable. It was valuable to learn about the history of the world’s fair and also the general development of the city of Omaha. When I embarked on that research I knew nothing about how people lived day by day in the 1890s and so reading newspapers and books published at the time I did feel myself drawing closer and closer to that age,”

“It got to the point,” he says, “I would get up in the morning and read from the Library of Congress website that day’s news of 1898. You get sort of hypnotized by it so that you’re even imagining yourself living in that period, driving some place in a horse and buggy.

“The 1890s were kind of a terrible time for anyone who wasn’t a wealthy white man. Despite all the racism and ugliness I began to feel more comfortable there than in the 21st century.”

He says his investigation “did require a great deal of time and concentration,” adding, “I was kind of writing and researching at the same time, so I’d write a scene and then go back and figure out how close that scene could be to the reality of the culture of the time – to the social customs and habits and gestures. I wanted it to be an authentic representation of the day.”

Schaffert’s among a handful of Lit Fest authors with novels at some stage of development for the screen. Local crime and suspense fiction writer Sean Doolittle has The Cleanup in development with director Alex Turner (Dead Birds). Unlike Schaffert and author Monica Drake, whose Clown Girl was optioned by Kristin Wiig, Doolittle’s taken an active hand in the process.

Doolittle says Turner “wrote the initial draft of the screenplay, then asked me if I’d be interested in rewriting it. That was my introduction to screenwriting. I’ve been with the project through a number of additional rewrites, until the screen version evolved into both a faithful representation of, and a significant departure from, the original story.

On “the metamorphosis” from novel to script, he says, “I learned a lot about structure – looking at an existing story from different angles and moving as much weight as possible with each narrative decision.”

Most writing’s done in isolation and if you’re self-publishing it can be an especially lonely but rewarding journey. Thom Sibbitt will join fellow lone wolf authors on the panel Experiments: Writing Around the Mainstream that discusses risk, invention, small-press publishing, dangerous subjects and the literary underground. Given that his novel The Turnpike is “this not for everybody material” Sibbitt says he felt it best served by self-publishing. Despite the hard work the process entails he says “it’s been great – I actually feel super empowered to have been able to do it myself.”

Schaffert says today’s digital platforms and micro presses are viable options that allow authors to get their work out as never before. “This is a really exciting time for writers.”

In an era of shrinking attention spans and publications that values technology over literature, Lit Fest celebrates the enduring power of the written word.

Omaha Public Library marketing manager Emily Getzchman says the event aligns well with OPL’s mission. “This event inspires people to think critically and look beyond the words on the page. It provides a rare opportunity to combine authors, art and their works with the community who consumes it. Our hope is that the ideas and perspectives that emerge will inspire people to continue conversations about life and culture.”

For event details visit omahalitfest.com.

NOTE: Leo Adam Biga is the author of Alexander Payne: His Journey in Film. Read more of his work at leoadambiga.wordpress.com.

 

 

 

Leo Adam Biga, Author of ‘Alexander Payne: His Journey in Film,’ to Serve as Panelist and Moderator at (downtown) Omaha Lit Fest

September 30, 2013 2 comments

Yours truly will be a panelist and a moderator at the 2013 Omaha Lit Fest, October 18-19, at the downtown W. Dale Clark Library.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Under the Skin:
Literary Obsessions & Cult Followings
Featured authors delve into their own preoccupations, nervous habits, bad influences and literary obsessions. Nationally acclaimed writers will discuss the appeal of dangerous characters, the danger of appealing characters, the experimental, the sentimental, the personal and the impersonal. Hosted by Omaha Public Library, the (downtown) omaha lit fest features author panel discussions, an art exhibit and an opening-night party.

FRIDAY, OCT 18, 6:30-9:30 pm
In a partnership with AIGA: Nebraska, (downtown) omaha lit fest kicks off on Friday night with A Carnival of Souls opening-night party & exhibit. Members of AIGA: Nebraska, a professional association of designers, will exhibit their own versions of classic movie posters from the golden age of low-budget horror and drive-in theater (think: Attack of the 50 Ft. WomanLittle Shop of HorrorsNight of the Living DeadMothra), in celebration of B-grade cult cinema, cheap thrills, exploitation and scary carnivals.  Among the authors in attendance is Owen King, whose debut novel Double Feature tells the story of fictional B-movie actor Booth Dolan.

SATURDAY, OCT 19 / 12:30 pm
Love/Hate: The villain as hero in contemporary fiction.
Moderator Annasue Wilson kicked off a national debate earlier with a 2013 controversial interview in Publishers Weekly on the topic of whether literary characters should be likable. Annasue will explore this topic with Lit Fest authors: Carolyn Turgeon, whose The Fairest of Them All tells the story of a fairy-tale heroine-turned-villain; Monica Drake, whose The Stud Book is “the freshest look at the tyranny of the baby bump since Rosemary got pregnant,” according to Chelsea Cain; Alissa Nutting, whose Tampa was declared the “sickest, most controversial book of the summer” by Cosmopolitan; and Kelly Braffet, whose Save Yourself is “an electrifying tomahawk missile of a thriller with honest-to-God people at its core,” according to Dennis Lehane.

SATURDAY, OCT 19 / 1:30
Obsessed: Research and biography.
Authors discuss the rigorous, obsessive (and sometimes unhealthy) pursuit of their subjects. Panelists: Author and journalist Leo Adam Biga (Alexander Payne: His Journey in Film), who’s long followed the career of the Oscar-winning filmmaker and visited the set of Nebraska; Mary K. Stillwell, whose The Life and Poetry of Ted Kooser is the first critical biography to consider the poet’s life and work together; Owen King, who researched Double Feature by watching hours and hours of horror films and is now furthering his obsession with baseball; and Timothy Schaffert, whose forthcoming novel The Swan Gondola involved full immersion into 1898 Omaha.

SATURDAY, OCT 19 / 2:30
Experiments: Writing around the mainstream.
Authors talk about risk, invention, small-press publishing, dangerous subjects and the literary underground. Panelists include: Elwin Cotman, author of Jack Daniels Sessions EP: A Collection of Fantasies; Brion Poloncic, author of Xanthous Mermaid Mechanics; and Thom Sibbitt, who explores sex, death and drugs in his novel The Turnpike.

SATURDAY, OCT 19 / 3:30
Cinematic: Movies as subject, inspiration, and influence.
Leo Adam Biga, whose extensive journalism about Alexander Payne is the basis of his book Alexander Payne: His Journey in Film, moderates a panel on how movies shape a novelist’s vision. Panelists: Owen King; Monica Drake, author of Clown Girl (optioned for film by Kristen Wiig); Carolyn Turgeon, whose novel Mermaid has been optioned for film; and Sean Doolittle, recently involved with the development of an adaptation of his thriller The Cleanup.

SATURDAY, OCT 19 / 4:30
Trigger Warnings:
Our semi-annual “writing about sex” panel. Panelists: Alissa Nutting, whose Tampa centers on a sexual deviant; Kelly Braffet, whose first novel was written with a “restraint” that “lends the novel a prim mystery, deepening its creepy intensity,” according to the New York Times; and Elwin Cotman, who is a “synthesizer… of lewd dialect and high lyricism,” according to Karen Russell.

SATURDAY, OCT 19 / 5:30
Book signings by lit fest authors.

For more details, visit http://omahalitfest.com.

Omaha Lit Fest puts focus on Women Writers and Women in Publishing

October 6, 2012 7 comments

There’s nothing else quite like the (downtown) Omaha Lit Fest in these parts.  Oh, there’s plenty of literary events to go around, but you’d be hard-pressed to find something as quirky as this annual assemblage of writerly concerns and pursuits.  The wording of this year’s theme, The Lit Fest Guide to Etiquette for Women Writers, is in keeping with the sardonic leanings of novelist and event founder-director Timothy Schaffert (The Coffins of Little Hope).  The October 19-2o festival just goes its own way in following whatever trail of thought and literary trend that suits the quixotic Schaffert.  He brings in a great lineup of authors and artists every year for never less than interesting conversations and presentations about all things related to writing, editing, publishing.  It’s well worth checking out.

 

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Omaha Lit Fest puts focus on Women Writers and Women in Publishing 

©by Leo Adam Biga

Appeared in The Reader (www.thereader.com)

 

It should be no surprise the author of languidly paced satirical novels (The Coffins of Little Hope) that delight in peculiar, piquant details should fashion a literary happening along the same lines.

Novelist Timothy Schaffert has done just that with the (downtown) Omaha Lit Fest, a free celebration of prose, poetry and other word-made-art expressions.

He founded Lit Fest eight years ago and continues organizing the annual literary salon today. This year’s event luxuriates in its delightful otherness Friday and Saturday, October 19 and 20, at the W, Dale Clark Library, where there will be a gender-centric focus to the readings, panels, topics and performances.

The 6:30-9:30 p.m. opening night party promises local female slam poets unleashing from 7 to 7:30, an altered books exhibit, an edible books contest and an all-girl string quartet.

Well-attuned as Schaffert is to literary currents he hit upon 2012’s theme – The Lit Fest Guide to Etiquette for Women Writers – after reading about disparities females face in publishing.

Featured guest authors Elizabeth Crane (We Only Know So Much), Lisa Knopp (What the River Carries), Marilyn Coffey (Marcella) and Joy Castro (Hell or High Water) will no doubt have plenty to say on the matter.

With Great Plains writer Coffey and Cuban-American academy product Castro Schaffert’s attracted two authors squarely in the Zeitgeist.

Coffey’s 1973 novel Marcella broke ground and generated push back for its frank depiction of female masturbation. The book was banned in America, though Quartet in London published it in paperback. Pol and Ms. Magazine excerpted it. Danish newspapers serialized it. Now it’s being republished in book form by Omega Cottonwood Press in Omaha, along with a collection of Coffey’s poems, Pricksongs.

Marcella was a featured work during National Banned Book Week events in Omaha, including a marathon reading at the Benson Branch Library.

At Lit Fest Coffey’s slated to be on the Saturday, 5 p.m. panel Your Guide to Unladylike Demeanor that examines “women writers making people nervous.”

Meanwhile, Castro’s debut novel Hell or High Water is drawing praise for her ability to sustain a taut thriller amid a complex subject and to evocatively exploit its New Orleans setting. The University of Nebraska associate professor of English and ethnic studies also has a book of personal essays out, Island of Bones, eliciting rapturous praise.

Liz Kay of Spark Wheel Press and burtdistrict in Omaha will address the entrepreneurial publishing scene. New Yorker Festival director Rhonda Sherman will discuss building an audience for the literary spectacle.

 

Timothy Schaffert

 

All of it’s filtered through the perspective of women engaged in a lit world not always friendly to them. Recent counts by the women in literary arts organization VIDA show far more men than women published in leading literary publications. That concerns Schaffert enough that he’s making it a point of public discussion.

“If the VIDA Count had not come into existence I might not have even been aware of the disparity, but it really kind of commands attention,” says Schaffert, an UNL assistant professor of English and director of the Nebraska Summer Writers Conference.

He doesn’t doubt women writers confront bias.

“Obviously some editors are going to focus on that work that crosses their desk that seems most vital and other editors aren’t necessarily going to have the best ear for writing by the opposite sex. And I think for decades there’s been some level of condescension towards the subjects women writers take on. There’s some sense of what women’s writing is that may or may not be based on anything authentic in terms of the assumptions people make about the topics of interest to women.

“I’ve heard of editors be dismissive of a story by nature of its topic as too domestic, for example, or too focused on the sentimental, as if that denigrated the work somehow.”

Castro says VIDA, whose creative nonfiction committee she serves on, has been “working to figure out all kinds of ways to address this, in some cases publishing essays about it,” adding, “In my case I got involved with guest editing an issue of a really cool online journal, Brevity Magazine, that’s responding to that count.”

She says her own anecdotal observations have long made her sensitive to the paucity of minority authors published in select periodicals (The Atlantic, Harper’s, The New Yorker) “that determine who’s a big deal and who’s not.” The VIDA breakout, she says, confirmed “it’s not just my imagination.” She says when editors are called out on the disparity they either deny a gender-based agenda or agree to proactively strive for more balance.

 

Joy Castro

 

 

 

Castro will join Kay, Knopp and Sherman for a 1 p.m. Saturday panel on the professional aspects of writing, editing and publishing. She’s interested in exploring how it is more women writers come out of MFA programs than men do yet fewer get published.

“So there’s like this attrition,” she says. “Then where do they all go? Why don’t they continue to write and publish? It’s a good question. I hope people will come out and talk about it and have a really exploratory attitude about it.”

That said, Castro and many other women authors fare well getting their work out and finding it well-received. Her Hell or High Water (Thomas Dunne Books) is a good illustration. The widely released book has been called “exquisite,” “fierce and intense,” “captivating.” Dennis Lehane (Mystic River) termed it “a terrific thriller.”

The book”s been optioned by film producers and Castro’s already working on a sequel. She’s excited that her Cuban-American protagonist, Nola, may headline a mystery series because the genre rarely features Latinas or issues of Latinidad.

Nola, a green Times-Picayune reporter assigned to investigate what happened to the registered sex offenders who went off the grid after Hurricane Katrina, serves much the same role a detective does in classic mystery tradition.

“That’s the story she gets assigned and she’s reluctant because it’s kind of creepy. But it’s sort of her first big break as a journalist, so she goes after it and of course gets in a lot of trouble,” says Castro.

“In the first chapter a young woman tourist is abducted from the French Quarter and that mystery is going on at the same time and Nola starts to investigate that as well and then the two stories intertwine.”

Much as Castro did in her own life, Nola comes from poverty and feels pressured to hide her past and prove herself. Castro’s interest in legendary archetypes comes into play when Nola intersects with believers in the Cajun legend rougarou, which warns of a person normal by day but predatory at night. Santeria spirits also show up. By the end, Nola calls on whatever powers she can muster to protect herself.

Best known before this for her nonfiction essay collection The Truth BookHow I Survived a Childhood of Abuse Among the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Castro will read from her novel and discuss her research in a 2 p.m. Saturday program.

About choosing to write a genre book for her first novel, she says, “I guess I would have anticipated I would write a literary fiction kind of novel, but I have always loved mysteries and thrillers. In deciding what to write this was the genre I got most excited about and the story seemed to keep suggesting itself to me and so I listened and paid attention and started writing.

“Writing a novel was new for me. I went through a lot of drafts. I was a slow learner.”

For event details visit http://www.omahalitfest.com.

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Litniks Unite! The Downtown Omaha Lit Fest brings writers, artists and readers together in celebration of the written word

June 19, 2012 7 comments

Why I post what I post when I post it is sometimes a mystery even to myself.  The subject of this story, the Omaha Lit Fest, doesn’t happen again until the fall and in this case the piece is about the very first fest from several years ago.  But that’s precisely the point of my quirky blog: to get my work out there regardless of when I wrote it because, well, I feel like it.  Besides, a good read is a good read no matter whether its story currency is in the here and now or in the past.  All that’s relevant is whether the story holds your interest or not.  I trust this will.  Anyway, I’m quite partial to the festival and its founder-director, novelist Timothy Schaffert, and his offbeat sensibilities.  From the start, his fest has found exceedingly clever ways to consider literature in panels, readings, exhibitions, and performances.  I look forward to writing about this year’s event and you can be sure I’ll be posting that story in the fall.

 

 

 

 

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Litniks Unite! The Downtown Omaha Lit Fest brings writers, artists and readers yogether in celebration of the written word

©by Leo Adam Biga

Originally appeared in The Reader (www.thereader.com)

 

When the inaugural Downtown Omaha Lit Fest “turns the pages” for the first time September 16 and 17 in the Old Market, it will unloose a roster of star scribes discoursing their work and offer a whimsical schedule of events, some predictable, some not, in celebration of the written word.

Recognizing the breadth of written expression, the festival does not play favorites, except for a preponderance of Nebraska writers, by embracing a sampler format exploring literature in all its variegated forms, minus such distinctions as “high” or “low” lit. When all is said and done, the event may just help unassuming Omaha finally shake off the last vestiges of the “aw-shucks” mentality dogging it all these years to assert its claim as a genuine cultural hotbed.

To the casual eye, Nebraska may lack the cache of a hip, plugged-in literary hub. But as even a cursory reading of festival participants’ credits reveals, there is a confluence of literary work connected to this place, by writers born or transplanted here or moved away, penning across a wide range of media and genres and, in many cases, writing about Nebraska, that compares favorably with any region’s collective body of work. The novelists, poets, essayists, journalists, scenarists, playwrights and so forth scheduled to give readings and participate in panel discussions represent some of the best contemporary practitioners of literary writing, period.

Then there’s the fact Nebraska writers are hot right now. Natives Michael Rips (The Face of a Naked Lady), Sean Doolittle (Burn) and Chris Ware (Jimmy Corrigan) are just killing it with their new works. Former Omaha radio DJ Otis Twelve is riding high after winning Britain’s Lit Idol contest for his novel On the Albino Farm and a Kurt Vonnegut prize for one of his short stories. Alexander Payne shared an Oscar for scripting his critical-commercial hit Sideways. Gerald Shapiro’s published collection Bad Jews and Other Stories served as the basis for the well-received film King of the Corner, whose screenplay he adapted with actor-director Peter Riegert. Ted Kooser is the reigning U.S. Poet Laureate and a Pulitzer Prize winner to boot. They’re joined by stalwarts Richard Dooling (White Man’s Grave), Ron Hansen (Mariette in Ecstasy), Kurt Andersen (Turn of the Century), Brent Spencer (Are We Not Men?), Susan Aizenberg (Peru) and many others in creating a vibrant literary pulse here.

Fest founder Timothy Schaffert is himself a major new voice on the national lit front between his first published novel The Phantom Limbs of the Rollow Sisters (2003), which earned high praise, and his forthcoming The Singing and Dancing Daughters of God (2005).

”It just seems there’s something about the writing of people in and from Nebraska that’s entering the national consciousness in a way that’s pretty huge. Alexander Payne won his award for writing Sideways, a movie that’s shaped pop culture and continues to do so. Conor Oberst has won a great deal of attention for his songwriting, as have other songwriters from here. There’s a fantastic poetry scene here. And there’s Ted Kooser, of course. So, there’s definitely some energy and some excitement about proclaiming Omaha as a cultural center. And it’s organic, too,” Schaffert said, rather than some glommed-on movement imported here or some fabricated event dreamed up by pricey consultants.

To be sure, this grassroots deal grew out of Omaha’s own literary community with a “Let’s-put-on-a-show” zeal for showcasing some of its best and brightest talents.

 

 

 

 

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No less a cultural observer than Kurt Andersen, the Omaha born, New York-based satirist behind Spy magazine and public radio’s Studio 360, sees a rich lit stew brewing from his vantage point a coast away, where he’s coming from for the fest.

”It’s always been clear to me a youth spent in Nebraska correlates strongly with good writing later on, i.e. Willa Cather, Weldon Kees, Ron Hansen, Meghan Daum, Michael Rips, et cetera. However, when I was a kid in the ‘60s in Omaha, and former Nebraskan Ted Sorenson infamously said, more or less, Nebraska was a place to leave or a place to die, I took note, and left. But today with novelists like Richard Dooling and Timothy Schaffert doing their great work in Omaha, it seems to me it’s become a place for writers to live and not necessarily leave. In other words, from 1500 miles away the literary culture looks fairly healthy to me.”

Schaffert feels the props coming native writers way speak well for the area’s cultural currency and confirms, as Andersen said, this is a place where one can make it happen. “Each and every one of them are bringing great prestige to Omaha as a city of writers, which is what I think it’s becoming,” said Schaffert.

Omaha Public Library director Rivkah Sass applauds “the model” Schaffert’s come up with for the fest. “It’s quirky and edgy and fun and interesting and will open people’s eyes to what’s going on here, which is a literary scene that’s alive and wonderful, and I find that very exciting,” she said. She sees the event as a “convergence” of the arts that posits the library as a major cultural access point and center. “There’s every reason why Omaha should have a great library and why the library should be part of any number of great cultural events,” Schaffert said. “It’s been a great fit.”

The fest’s design of readings and panels interspersed with mixed media performances and exhibits interpreting literary works, all held in the center of the arts community, is the kind of Bohemian street fair once only associated with more cosmo burgs like Denver, Minneapolis or Chicago. But as more and more Omahans have begun saying — If they do it there, then why not here? — there’s a growing synergy underway that sees cool, indigenous developments, some already in place and others on the drawing board, breaking out on the local music, film, theater, art and literary scenes. These are the very elements that will help sustain and enliven the 24/7 downtown/riverfront lifestyle environment soon to take shape via Omaha’s planned urban condo, mixed-use neighborhoods.

 

 

 

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The Lit Fest is right in line with the homegrown indie music phenomenon, led by Saddle Creek Records, making Omaha a pop culture reference point and pilgrimage stop. It’s part of the emerging cinema colony that has new film projects popping up every few weeks, the inaugural Omaha Film Festival slated for March and the Film Streams art movie house coming to No Do next summer. It complements the wide art experience available at the Hot Shops, Bemis, Kaneko, Joslyn and the town’s many diverse galleries. It spins off the lively theater scene, where funky new works, Broadway road shows and the classics can be had. Ambitious new theater projects in the offing promise bringing artists of national stature to area stages. That’s not to mention the new Holland Performing Arts Center and the leap it represents in local music hall aesthetics.

All this has traditionally self-effacing Omaha coming out of its shell. As large as area contributions are to jazz, blues, R & B, soul, gospel and indie folk/rock, Nebraska’s impact on the literary world is far greater. Such giants as John Neihardt, Willa Cather, Mari Sandoz, Wright Morris, Karl Shapiro, Loren Eiseley and Ron Hansen called Nebraska home. The Prairie Schooner published by the University of Nebraska is one of the oldest, most prestigious literary journals in the world. The creative writing and English programs at UNL, UNO and Creighton are well-regarded and staffed by leading literary figures in their own right.

The fest’s lineup of active writers with Nebraska ties is a who’s-who of the state’s deep talent pool. ”Nebraska’s always had a strong literary heritage,” Schaffert said, “but it seems like it’s at its strongest perhaps since Willa Cather’s time. It may be even stronger.”

Some of Nebraska’s finest writers will miss the event, such as writer-director Payne, who’s off in Paris shooting a vignette for the I Love Paris omnibus film, and novelist Ron Hansen, whose book The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford is being filmed as a big screen western starring Brad Pitt. Regrettable as their absence is, the fest is bringing passionate writers and readers together in what should be an intimate, invigorating forum that’s all about sharing the love.

”It’s definitely a celebration of the written word and the writing process,” Schaffert said. “But with sort of a central focus on writers with some Nebraska or Midwestern connection. And I always want it to be kind of that way, you know. I want writers that speak to the voice of the Midwest or the Great Plains or the Greater Plains, or whatever we’re in.”

Future fests may add workshops and venues and run an entire weekend, he said. He’s steering the event free of the elitist imprimatur of, say, a university-museum sponsored conference or the drab propriety of a school or rotary reading, while still making it a serious gathering of litniks.

”I wanted to create an opportunity for writers to meet their readership in a way that is a little more festive, a little more sophisticated. So many times when you’re asked to read someplace, you’ll be reading under fluorescent lights in classrooms. I mean, to have any opportunity to present your work is great, but I thought it’d be cool to do it in the Old Market, in the gallery spaces, and to be able to have something to eat and to make it a more casual atmosphere. As well as great writers, Omaha has great resources and spaces to do that sort of thing in.”

Schaffert is a regular at the Nebraska Book Festival, a rather dowdy affair held mostly in back water venues long on scholarly rigor and short on impromptu charm, and while he appreciates the event, it’s a drag and it largely ignores contemporary fiction writers in favor of literary ghosts.

“Its focus has always seemed to me to be literary history. Willa Cather and Wright Morris…which is all extremely important, but I think sometimes the contemporary fiction writers end up kind of like afterthoughts. So that was something that after last year’s event novelist John McNally (The Book of Ralph) and I talked about. There was some conversation about how there could be a different kind of, maybe more urban event that was actually in more the heart of the city as opposed to a university campus. I wanted something that incorporated a variety of genres, that was relaxed and that was in my favorite part of the city, which is a lot of people’s favorite part of the city,” Schaffert said.

Another motivation, he added, was to provide a forum for fiction writers free of the hidebound, institutional restraints that make readings an awkward affair for writers and audiences alike. “Where poetry is very conducive to being read aloud, fiction reading — at the very mention of it — has this sort of feeling of having to sit through something and pay attention and show appreciation.”

Making it a folksy, communal gig will hopefully overturn notions of cranky, head-in-the-clouds writers reciting things beyond the reach of mortals.

”In reality, the stereotype of the crabby, solitary writer does not fit most of the people I know,” he said. “They’re gregarious, interesting, lively, charming, witty people that are great to hang out with. And they’ll all be reading and discussing their work in sessions that I’m sure will really sort of pop as people have the opportunity to come out behind their typewriters and go into the nuts and bolts.”

It’s not hard for him to imagine aspiring writers in the crowd hanging on their literary icons’ every word, as it wasn’t long ago he was an acolyte himself.

“I know when I was starting out writing at UNL in the writing program, they would bring writers in and we would literally sit at their feet. We’d go to their readings and then we’d see them in the classroom and then we might hang out with them at a party afterwards. You wanted every opportunity to soak up their presence and get a sense of the literary life. I don’t know if young writers are still like that, but it sure seems to make sense that an event like this could be a great opportunity to feel a little closer to the process and to the literary world in a way you don’t often get the opportunity to experience.”

New York author Liza Ward, who will read from her Outside Valentine, a novel about the Starkweather killing spree that claimed, among others, her grandparents, said even established writers like herself benefit from the interaction. “There is always something to learn from other writers, and because we tend to work alone, it is hard to connect with other people who understand what it’s like to face the blank screen every day — to invent something out of nothing and call it a job. It’s also nice to be around people who think books are important,” she said.

Gerald Shapiro, who teaches at UNL, said, “On the whole, being a writer is a lonely business. You don’t get to talk to people about what you’re doing and you certainly don’t get to hear people’s reactions to your work, so it’s a wonderful thing Timothy’s doing.”

It’s not only a chance for writers to interact with each other and the public, but for readers to discover writers and works for the first time.

“I’ve heard from a few people that they’ve been using the list of participants as like a summer reading list, and that’s exactly the point of the whole thing — all of us getting together and just letting people know that these writers and artists and works are out there for the taking. I love hearing that,” Schaffert said.

As for writers, it’s a chance to catch up or meet for the first time. Doug Wesselmann, better known as Otis Twelve, looks forward to renewing ties with Ward, Kava and Rips and getting to know  “a favorite” — Andersen. O.T. is enough of a rising star to be an invited panelist on the crime writing panel, Criminal Behavior, and enough of a beginner that he’ll be an eager fly on the wall.

”I hope I can reveal just how amusing a book about crime can be and how deadly serious humor is at its heart. It will be good to hook up with writers working in my genre. Crime writers are, in my experience, a collegial lot. But, listen…I’m a rookie in this game, and I expect to pick up a few pointers – read: ‘steal stuff’. I expect I’ll learn more than I’ll impart”.

Andersen will read from his just finished Wonderstruck, a period novel partially set in what is now Omaha. He’ll also expound on writing funny for the panel Drink and Be Merry. His advice to would-be satirists?

”If you’re funny, let yourself be funny in your writing sometimes. But if you’re not, don’t force it. And writing doesn’t have to be either funny or very serious,” Andersen said. “My favorite things tend to be both.”

What does a lit fest really have to do with anything? Ward said, “A literary festival speaks to the fact the book will never die. There will always be loyalists who support good writing, who understand that it is fundamentally important. It will be wonderful and encouraging to be around so many people who make literature a part of their lives.” Andersen views it as a kind of rally for the lit crowd. “People who fever for good writing need to come together and celebrate that fever now and then, especially in places where there are fewer writers-per-capita than in, say, New York City. And I feel eager enough to be part of this iteration of that group hurrah to buy an airplane ticket and come.”

Out-of-town headliners like Andersen and Ward are coming on their own dime, too, as Schaffert’s “just above zero budget” precludes any air fare, lodging or honorarium support. If they can do it, then locals have no excuse not to show. Besides, there are cool opening and closing night parties to make like F. Scott and Zelda at. It’s a good cause, too, So, c’mon down and get your lit groove on.

Check out the full schedule of events and list of participants at www.omahalitfest.com.

 

Omaha Lit Fest: In praise of writers and their words: Jami Attenberg and Will Clarke among featured authors

June 19, 2012 1 comment

You’ll find several stories on this blog that I’ve written about the Omaha Lit Fest.  I’ve been covering the fall event since its inception in the mid-2000s.  This is a piece I did on the eve of Lit Fest II.  I feature two of the featured authors from that year’s event, Jami Attenberg (Instant Love, The Kept Man) and Will Clarke (The Worthy).  The founder and primary organizer of the festival is Timothy Schaffert, who also happens to be one of America’s finest novelists (The Phantom Limbs of the Rollow Sisters, The Coffins of Little Hope).  I expect I’ll be writing about Lit Fest 2012 come the fall.

 

Omaha Lit Fest, In praise of writers and their words:

Jami Attenberg and Will Clarke among featured authors 

©by Leo Adam Biga

Originally appeared in The Reader (www.thereader.com)

 

The Sepember 15-16 (downtown) Omaha Lit Fest will offer the literati such bookish delights as readings, panel discussions, an altered book exhibition and the performance of a play. Guest writers from near and far will talk craft. Artists will pay homage to the written word. This second annual fest is the brainchild of Omaha author Timothy Schaffert. He promises a “whoopdeedoo” both more streamlined and expanded than 2005’s version.

Held at venues in and around the Old Market, the festival emulates the kind of hip, bohemian salon happening that Schaffert, a former editor of The Reader, said one expects to find in a cosmo city with a lively underground press and lit scene.

“In some ways, the festival has become an extension of the alt weeklies I’ve worked on, conveying some of the same sensibilities,” he said. “I take all of this very seriously, but I don’t want the event to feel at all stuffy. As a matter of fact, I want it to seem almost dangerously informal. Events often want to appeal to the biggest number of people imaginable, and homogenization ultimately results. It’s not my mission to convert non-readers into readers. My mission is to give the small cult of passionate booklovers a chance to meet writers, and to learn about other writers.”

For this year’s shindig, Schaffert said “we have loosely applied a theme: the literary fringe, with panels on small-press publishing, blogging, literary sex, death on the plains and stretching the truth in memoir, among others. We also salute the vanished poet, cult figure and Nebraska native Weldon Kees, and show his rarely screened experimental short film, Hotel Apex.”

Schaffert said the fringe is an apt theme for a gathering of writers whose work doesn’t “quite fit in the mainstream” and who make “speaking the truth, speaking their minds” a priority. “Very few of us on the list are best-selling authors,” with the exception of Omahan Alex Kava, whom he said “nonetheless writes some grisly, edgy stuff. So we know well the experience of trying to balance expressing ourselves honestly and getting published and promoted.”

How does Schaffert define the fringe? “Writers writing about things that move them, rather than what the marketplace demands. Writers working in different forms, genres, stepping along the margins,” he said. “Several of our fiction and nonfiction writers, and our poets, are published by small presses; and even those writers published by commercial presses often have to struggle to get word out about their work, while also asserting an original voice. I think most of us at the literary festival are inspired by the notion of creating work that is challenging and intriguing to the reader, rather than just spoon-feeding readers more of the same.”

He said if there’s a lesson to be gleaned from those who toil on the fringe “trying to make their work fit into a publisher’s marketing scheme,” it is that these “writers take their own direction, deal with the frustration and keep writing.”

Festival web site musings showcase Schaffert’s satiric style and include a send-up of the proverbial product “warning” list: “Do not attend Lit Fest if you’re hemorrhaging, cranky, prone to touching strangers inappropriately without an invitation or wear large view-obstructing hats; Lit Fest has not been approved by the FDA, and may cause drowsiness in small children; enjoy in moderation, but overindulge freely.” Gentle readers welcomed.

Most fest events are free. For more details, go to www.omahalitfest.com.

Profiled here are two of the writers featured at this year’s Lit Fest:

Jami Attenberg

 

 

Jami Attenberg

Brooklyn-based Jami Attenberg travels to “out of the way places” to write. It’s no surprise then she’s spent the last few weeks in a residency program at Art Farm, a rural retreat for artists near Marquette, Neb., where she’s enjoyed her first real break from a recent book tour. Her debut collection of stories, Instant Love, charts with humor and candor the light-dark love journeys of three women, sisters Holly and Maggie and little girl lost Sarah Lee, over a two-decade period of experimentation, commitment, entanglement and self-realization.

Her soon-to-be-out new novel, The Kept Man, tells the story of a married woman whose artist husband is in a coma, the crucible that causes her to sell off his paintings one-by-one in order to keep him alive. In the process of elimination, the wife realizes her marriage isn’t what she thought it to be.

Attenberg feels she has something to say about the whole love trip. “I tend to fall in love in a sort of very temporary way very easily,” she said, “and I think that comes from living in New York and traveling, which I do.” With Instant Love “I guess I wanted to talk about the instant connection people can have and how each one of those connections is valuable, even if it’s fleeting.”

The author, whose work has appeared in Salon, Nylon, Print, the San Francisco Chronicle and Time Out New York, doesn’t pretend to dish out advice, but her own experiences in the game inform her very personal first book.

“When I think about love I think about an accumulation of things,” she said. “When I think about the person I might fall in love with there’s all these different qualities and all these different moments…and all those things are going to add up one day to just one person. So I guess I just wanted to kind of burrow a little bit into that.”

At readings she’s often asked what she’s learned about love. “What I can tell you,” she says, “is I understand what it takes to fall in love, but I have no understanding of what it takes to make a relationship work after that. The one thing I do know about making a relationship work is that it’s all about compromise. I’m terrible at compromise. I’ve certainly been in love and had good relationships and everything like that, but the book is not about how to make it work.”

She said men ask her, “Am I going to like this book as a guy?” She tells them, “No one gets off easy in this book. The women don’t get off easy and the men don’t get off easy. It’s honest about everybody.” She added, “It’s not like a I-Hate-Men book. I don’t think I would even say I’m cynical about love.”

The title is a wink and nod at people’s “tendency” to “fall in and out of love really quickly,” she said. In this disposable era of immediate gratification, lovers are dumped and replaced like old socks. She said we enter-exit trysts with the expectation “there’s always something better around the corner. And then, you know, with e-mail and IM and all these things to distract you from focusing on love, it’s amazing people can sort of work around it or integrate it to their lives.”

She can “definitely” imagine doing a book “in about 10 years” in which she checks back with Instant Love’s three female characters to “see how they’re doing.”

The book was originally a zine series and she expects to do a zine again next year. She touts the “many great small presses out there doing really cool things.” She said fringe publishers focus on authors “without having to worry about best-seller lists or large print runs. They know who their audience is.” The goal of Attenberg is to one day “work only on stuff I really enjoy…but you have to earn it, you have to constantly be working to get to that point, and I still have a long ways to go.”

Check out her blog at www.whatever-whenever.net or her web site at www.jamiattenberg.com.

Will Clarke

 

Will Clarke

Dallas, Texas-based author Will Clarke skewers the college Greek fraternity system in his second novel The Worthy: A Ghost’s Story. For his narrator Clarke uses the dispossessed soul of a frat boy killed in a hazing fit of rage. It is through the eyes of Conrad, the dead Louisiana State University pledge, we witness the excesses of a tradition grown as corrupt as the humid air in Baton Rouge.

As an LSU grad who pledged Gamma Chi Clarke is well-schooled in the cruelties of frat life. As a Shreveport native he’s well-qualified to describe the clashes that result when the state’s jambalaya of cultures — the north half Pentecostal and dry, the south half Catholic and wet — collide on campus. “Those two worlds do not really jive and that makes for a really interesting mystical satire,” said Clarke, whose first novel, the originally self-published Lord Vishnu’s Love Handles, is a genre-busting foray into good old boy magic realism. Both novels are being adapted into feature films.

Clarke, who said “I always knew I wanted to be a writer,” recognized even as his college experience unfolded that he was getting fertile storytelling material. “I just remember paying very close attention and thinking this could be a book,” he said. He made a kind of running commentary in his head. “I’ve always found myself giving narration to events going on around me,” he said. “Even as I was going through all that stuff I was a bit detached, not unlike a ghost.”

He wrote The Worthy not long after leaving LSU and Louisiana for Dallas, the closest oasis he could make in his Ford Festiva. Again, not unlike his ghost protagonist who pines for his physical self, Clarke was “longing for a life that was left behind.”

Hazing baffled him then and continues to now. “Hazing always perplexed me,” he said. “I never understood why there was a baptism of fire that had to occur.” But he contends the tenets of this practice are widespread. “I think in any fraternity, in any place you have pledgeship, where you have to prove you’re worthy, there’s hazing. You can say there’s not, you can hope there’s not, but there is.”

Pranks that may seem like harmless fun, he said, can “turn out to be phenomenally dangerous” when performed by “hormonally-challenged” young men fueled by “binge drinking.” Clarke reserves his greatest disdain for Ryan, Conrad’s killer and a symbol of the alpha male type.

“He represents that idea of All-American malehood,” Clarke said. “On the outside he’s the male ideal…athletic, handsome, the big man on campus, but on the inside there’s something really dark and crazy going on. It’s very hidden. That’s kind of what goes on with a lot of fraternities. On the outside it looks like the golden handshake, but on the inside there’s something really dead and morbid. It makes all of these golden promises to guys but to get there you have to undergo abuse.

“I think sometimes the shinier the facade, the less trusting I am of things. This forced image of perfection Ryan has makes him scarier to me. It’s amazing to see what these respectable, perfect people do in those circumstances. It turns Lord-of-the-Flies pretty fast.”

Clarke, who sees the characters in his books as extensions of “the imaginary friends” he cultivated long past when “it was age-appropriate,” is at work on a new novel about a man who doesn’t sleep. No insomniac — the guy just doesn’t need to. After the grind of a recent book tour, which Clarke found too much “like selling Amway,” he’s found himself contemplating the nature of sleep or the lack of it.

Visit his web site at www.willclarke.com or www.booktourvirgin.com.

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