Who do you see when you walk into a coffee shop? Writers, of course (or at least those who fancy themselves writers). I’ve recently become aware of a fantastic little cafe in East Harlem aka Spanish Harlem aka El Barrio. Because of the fantastic group, Harlem Writers’ Circle, and the equally fantastic literary journal, Crescendo City, the East Harlem Cafe has become the unofficial literary homebase for emerging talent that call Harlem and its surrounding areas home.
In a neighborhood that is plagued by social problems, the East Harlem Cafe is trying to reach a fundraising goal so that they are able to update their equipment and introduce healthier options (yogurt, fruit, etc.) to the neighborhood (Spanish Harlem is notorious for its lack of fresh food options). Also, the owner has been kind enough to host readings, etc. but must keep the cafe open later than intended. Without her hospitality, there would be no readings or open mics. Most people think of the writerly scene being down in the East Village or whatnot, but there is plenty of totally rad writing happening uptown. Last night, the cafe hosted a reading by some of the writers published in Crescendo City’s inaugural issue.
So, if you can support, please donate or if you’re in New York, stop by the cafe for a coffee or on a Monday evening for a Writers’ Circle workshop.
After a lovely time abroad, I have returned to the Big Apple. With suitable jet-lag still in tow, I found myself awake in bed at 5:30 this morning trying to finish my engaging airplane read (perhaps, a review soon?). Even though I have been gone for only 2 weeks, I feel very behind in my life in Manhattan (I was chastised for not realizing The Hunger Games film had come out).
A few weeks ago, I was at a book festival promoting a book that has a literary translation I worked on and a piece of original fiction. It was the first time this writer of no significance felt like a 10%-big-shot. In total, I participated in 4 readings/panels/etc. I then took a much needed vacation in Prague for a week where I received a surprising tan.
Sitting in my small bedroom next to my giant pile of undeclared Czech chocolate bars, I am making a to-do list for the near future:
1. find travel grant to return to Europe.
2. find a new part-time job, ideally in a small bookstore, perhaps? I have much in the way of bookish expertise!
3. translate translate translate
and most importantly…
4. write write write
Looking forward to catching up on all of my favorite writerly blogs!
Medieval cellar where I participated in a reading.
This writer of no significance is hopping a flight and jet-setting to Europe for a book festival! Posts will be scarce because I’ll be sans internet for a little while but hopefully, I’ll be able to share some photos and anecdotes later in the week.
That’s how I will sum up the past two days. A few friends and acquaintances organized an annual conference this year. The topic was broad and it took me some time to figure out what the thesis of it all was but for the most part, the papers presented and the panels held were interesting. The participants consisted of PhD students from the US and Europe.
Of course, when you’re in a room of academics, you’re mostly thinking about how obvious your seat-squirming is and when will they be done talking so you can head over to the coffee and cookie spread. This did happen the first day, however, there was some fascinating papers presented. The one that stood out to me was about Gerard Manley Hopkins. The speaker was clear and concise, and was clearly passionate about his topic and engaged with the audience. He discussed how a writer becomes popular and/or canonical. He stated that Manley Hopkins was not popular in his own lifetime for various reasons, 1) he only sent his poems to Catholic publications, 2) his publisher barely publicized the book, 3) the book was printed by a private printer which made the book look archaic and was not able to be marketed to a larger audience because of the price tag. Thus, resulting in a lack of awareness by critics and readers. It wasn’t until the first half of the Twentieth century when the poet entered into the public conscious. A second printing in 1930 resulted in 2000+ sales of his book over the following few months.
I didn’t attend much of day 2, only making it to the final presentation/panel (my mind was definitely tired and needed to rejuvenate by watching hulu and eating tacos). The non-native English speakers were a bit hard to follow but a graduate student from Vanderbilt presented a paper on the notebooks of Nietzsche and Brecht. She touched upon the actual entries of the notebooks but focused more on the work as a physical entity. A back-and-forth broke out in the audience during the panel Q&A about whether books should be preserved only in archives or facsimiles should be available to the public even though they are pale omparisons to the original text. That was finally squashed and then it was onto the chitting and chatting.
Last night, the Center for Fiction hosted a reading of Gregor von Rezzori’s An Ermine in Czernopol. The evening was in honor of the recent release of the new English translation. Rezzori’s widow, Beatrice Monte della Corte, gave the opening remarks. She was such a riot with a quick wit. She commented that she thought the new translation was fantastic. Debbie and Wally (as they so casually referred to each other) read excerpts from this hilarious novel.
Some people from the New York Review of Books were also there. They have been doing a wonderful job publishing quality translations of international books. The physical aesthetics of the books are quite lovely, too.
I snapped a few photos of the two reading, but most of them were obstructed by the back of Edmund White’s head. I resisted the temptation to whisper I loved Forgetting Elenainto his ear.
After the reading, my friend and I moved to the back where we chatted and sipped free literary wine (meaning, out of plastic cups). Wallace Shawn was charming and silly. Deborah Eisenberg came over to us and chatted till the end of the evening. We asked her how she got to know Rezzori. Apparently, he was a fan of My Dinner with Andre and wanted to meet her boyfriend, Wallace Shawn. All is in the past but Deborah couldn’t stop singing the praise of the late Rezzori.
Everyone likes a good literary festival, right? Well, sometimes I’m not sure. In NYC, I always get the impression that they are filled with academics and literati (this might be totally a syndrome of the 5 boroughs and not the rest of the country). Why doesn’t a more diverse audience attend events like these in the city? The only one that I know of that attracts a mixed crowd is the Brooklyn Book Festival. It’s sprawling with tables and panels both inside and outside.
I’ve been thinking about literary festivals recently because I will be participating in at least two in the next few months (hence, the reason for my inconsistent and lighter blog posts recently). I am 103% sure that the first one will be swarming with academics which can be a letdown but I hope a good crowd attends the panels and soirees.
A great thing about literary festivals is you don’t have to even be familiar with any of the participants. They are a great way to learn about new writers, trends, genres, publishing houses, etc. and if there is an author you like, it’s also a great way to hobnob.
And let’s not forget about the free wine!
post script, if you have a favorite book festival(s), please leave the info in the comments section; I’m collecting a list so everyone can have these resources.
Who says puns are the lowest form of wit? Not the many who line up to take part in Brooklyn’s monthly pun competition known as Punderdome 3000. As a close friend of the “official judge,”I-Lean Reynolds, my name is on the schmancy guest list. Otherwise, the cover is a mere $5 for a night of some of the best (and worst) punnery in the 5 boroughs.
In regards to Punderdome 3000, the definition of pun has been simplified to “play on words” for the integrity of the competition. Merriam-Webster defines it as,
the usually humorous use of a word in such a way as to suggest two or more of its meanings or the meaning of another word similar in sound
The contenders are giving a topic then 90 seconds to concoct their related puns. Each gets a turn at the mic to present their best to the audience. Even the funniest puns elicit a minor groan from the crowd, but are followed by an overwhelming applause. By the final round, what was once 24 competitors is now a head-to-head match up of the best 2 of the evening. What ensues is an epic battle of wits! The winner is decided by the applause from the audience and the grand prize is usually a kitchen appliance (think: waffle maker).
I’ve only been to a couple of these competitions but the night is always silly and laugh-filled. The real question is: Is there actually a funny pun? Even the punsters who receive the most applause also receive the aforementioned groan. Alas, this is a rhetorical question and is unimportant to the competition at hand. What is important is the Brooklyn Lager and masterfully constructed punnery from such luminaries as Black Punther, Puns & Roses, and the duo of Pun Pals to just name a few.
In I-Lean’s article she mentions an interesting looking book by John Pollack called The Pun Also Rises. According to his Amazon bio, Pollack “who won the 1995 O. Henry Pun-Off World Championship, was a Presidential Speechwriter for Bill Clinton.”