You're Invited to West 10th's Poetry Workshop!

Attention all NYU undergrads: Our first workshop of the year is coming up! On Wednesday, October 19th at 7:30pm, join West 10th for a poetry workshop in Seminar Room A at Palladium Hall.Make sure to RSVP and check out the Facebook event, too!Bring up to two works of poetry (two pages maximum) to receive some feedback from your West 10th Editors. See you there!Just a reminder that we are still accepting submissions until December 15th!

From our Editors: LGBT Novel Recs from Allen Fulghum

Hi all, I’m Allen, one of West 10th’s prose editors. I’m a senior in Gallatin studying modernism, homosexuality and the First World War. When I sat down to make a short list of my favorite 20th century LGBT novels to share with you all, I realized that I’d chosen at least one representative of each decade from the 1910s to the 1960s—so here are six decades of LGBT literary history, condensed. 

Six decades, six brilliant LGBT novels

Maurice - E.M. Forster (1913)66ce77a8-5861-4597-ad54-795fc667828eWritten in 1913 but only published posthumously in 1971, Maurice was well ahead of its time in its nuanced depiction of a young man discovering and coming to terms with his sexuality. While Forster carefully examines the difficulties of identity and love, Maurice is ultimately founded on the belief that same-sex relationships have the capacity to be profound, beautiful and happy—a radical thesis for a novel written when men were still routinely arrested and imprisoned for having sex with other men.   
Orlando - Virginia Woolf (1928)d43caa20-84a8-4de0-81e5-6746f1f1a21eSubtitled “A Biography,” Orlando was written as a paean to Woolf’s friend and erstwhile lover, the aristocratic Vita Sackville-West. With typical élan, Woolf transforms Sackville-West into the novel’s eponymous protagonist, a sex-changing immortal who begins as an Elizabethan nobleman and ends as a successful female author in ‘the present day’ (that is to say, 1928). Traversing three hundred years of Orlando’s life, Woolf relentlessly questions conventional notions of history, authorship, gender and sexuality.   Nightwood - Djuna Barnes (1936)dc0d6d65-ee3c-4182-b604-469e86106307Contained in a deceptively slim volume, Nightwood is a superbly stylized portrait of a doomed lesbian relationship in the bohemian Paris of the interwar years, explicated through the head-spinning speeches of Dr. Matthew-Mighty-grain-of-salt-Dante-O'Conner (who is just as campy as his name suggests). This modernist masterpiece was lauded by T.S. Eliot as “so good a novel that only sensibilities trained on poetry can wholly appreciate it.”    Notre Dame des Fleurs/Our Lady of the Flowers - Jean Genet (1943)b9f2103a-0cad-446a-9298-e28f205ea50bSimilarly to Nightwood, this novel renders the Parisian underworld in prose so rich and revelatory it practically creates a new class of literature. The lives and loves of its central characters—sex workers, trans women, and teenage murderers, all bearing charming monikers like Divine and Darling Daintyfoot—are unspooled by a capricious narrator who creates the world of the novel while masturbating in his prison cell (!!!).   The Charioteer - Mary Renault (1953)Renault, having worked as nurse at a British military hospital during the Second World 938fdf19-6cb0-4cac-8085-f7edca07323fWar and later emigrated to South Africa to live with her female partner, was uniquely equipped to write this novel, which follows a British soldier who falls in love twice over as he recovers from a combat wound. With equal measures of heartfelt psychological insight and cutting social observation, The Charioteer struggles with the tensions between idealism and reality, individualism and community, and innocence and experience.  Another Country - James Baldwin (1962)An earlier novel of Baldwin’s, Giovanni’s Room, is often hailed as a masterpiece of gay literature, but while Giovanni’s Room is a claustrophobic investigation of one man’s psychology, Another Country seems to encompass an era. 2dedb81c-2e50-4c36-8d58-de261d3251ceThe characters are gay, straight, bisexual, questioning and in denial; white and black; working-class and middle-class and destitute and wildly successful. In a rhythm reminiscent of jazz, the novel traces the cast as they move in and out of each other’s lives, coupling and splitting up and getting back together, rising and falling in fortune—but always circling around the specter of a character who commits suicide at the end of the novel’s first act.

Prose Workshop Open to All NYU Undergrads

Our prose workshop, our second of the year, is coming up! It will be on Thursday, November 19 at 7pm, at Seminar Room B in Palladium Hall. Here is the Facebook event page, you could also RSVP here.12170691_10206922203350348_1892283009_nThis workshop is open to all undergrad students! So bring up to 1500 words of fiction/non-fiction prose to receive some feedback and comments from your West 10th Editors.Just a reminder that we are still accepting submissions until December 8th!

A Review of Das Energi by Paul Williams

Sifting through second-hand paperbacks at a musty bookstore on the Upper West Side I stumbled upon Das Energi, a hippie-spiritual classic from 1974 that I’d heard my friend’s parents talk about when they would reminiscence about times when music was political and LSD was legal. It was one of those popular books that everyone eventually forgot about as the decade passed and the peace and love mentality of that generation faded into the 80s.Usually these kinds of “Feel the world, heal the world” narratives can be hard to get through, mostly because they are repetitive and almost always vague, but this one struck a somewhat different note. Paul Williams manages to weave lyrical prose with hard slang into a strong and thoughtfully structured manifesto, a mantra for a new way of living life. The structure of Das Energi follows suit, each page as varied as the voice. Some pages are run-on paragraphs, set in a conversational tone Williams asks an obscure “you” why fear is so potent, why we choose to ignore the metaphysical implications of our existence. Others are only a line, something short and thoughtful to be repeated over and over again. Though he traverses a number of topics, from guiltless sex to our obsession with efficiency to the potency of religion, the one line he refers back to constantly is: “You are God”.  Williams seems to believe that worshipping a separate and nonhuman entity is pointless and detracts from the self-evolution and discovery that is necessary to contribute to the energy flow of the world.In some ways Williams came very close to sounding like the stoned middle-aged gypsies you might bump into at Burning Man while waiting in line for beer, but it is his stylistic voice that separates him from the ‘wishy washy’ aspects of spiritual culture that mainstream society can’t seem to handle. He has a very forceful approach to his doctrine and often ends up sounding much more like Karl Marx than Gandhi. His constant reference to “shedding old skin”, “setting yourself free” and of “not seeking but finding” are dispersed between urgent didactic lines like “Here and now, boys. Or else spend infinite future fighting quarrels of endless past.” He pushes forward the importance of responsibility and even outlines three self-made laws of the economics of energy. Admittedly Williams’ inconsistency in writing is sometimes shaky—it is harder to sink into a piece that chooses not to commit to any tone or mood—but he is nevertheless an earnest and often charismatic writer with enough skill to pull off a book that could have been excruciating. His words are familiar the way an old jazz tune at a coffee store is; you know the basic melody but the vocal riffs and trumpet solo always take you buy surprise.--Michelle Ling, Art Editor

Writer's Bloq

Have you ever felt that, even in this brave new world of online sharing, you are lacking in options for online creative writing communities? Where is the Flickr of poetry? Writer's Bloq seems poised to fill this niche. The Bloq is an online community for MFA and Undergraduate Writing, English, and Comparative Literature students, professors, and alumni to share work, connect with peers, discover new writing, and uncover the literary events. Students, alumni, and professors from top programs such as Austin, Brooklyn, Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Harvard, New School, Stanford, and Syracuse have already joined in creating a modern platform for writers.Writer’s Bloq is hosting its first event, “Unsolicited: MFA Mingle”, at the Strand on May 3rd. “Unsolicited” will feature the top writers from the site. To learn more about the event, check www.unsolicited.eventbrite.com. Interested in reading at the event, discovering the work of fellow writers, or showcasing your own skills? Join the Bloq today at writersbloq.com. Because writer's block isn't always a bad thing.

Books for People Who Aren't Sure If They Like Books.

Conor Burnett defends literature from its egghead stigma, recommends books that entertain."Odds are, if you're on this blog you like reading and writing a lot. This post is not for you. Though you totally can still read it. Please read it."Odds are, if you're on this blog you like reading and writing a lot. This post is not for you. Though you totally can still read it. Please read it.I read. I read well. But I'm not well-read. I can power through a million books a month, but I still have trouble getting interested in the books that are generally perceived to be important, or intelligent. I read a lot, not to absorb information, or to enlighten myself, or to show off. I read because books are a form of entertainment. And people don't seem to remember that.Books are good. There is nothing wrong with books. But dozens of my friends haven't read a book since high school. Hell, one of my friends hasn't read a book since 9th grade, and he managed to stay in Honors English for the entire rest of high schoolNow, to me, the stigma involved with books stems from the fact that we use them so often in classrooms, and libraries, that they catch a bad reputation by association. People associate books with being forced to sit down, and choke through a terrible one for a class you don't want to be a part of in the first place. Teachers cramming books into your brainhole day in and day out, 6 or 7 periods a day, is draining. What people forget is that being force-fed anything sucks.  Doing something against your will is the absolute worst. Plenty of times I quit things I genuinely liked because my life was over-saturated with it. I used to absolutely love playing basketball. After a year of playing Junior Varsity, on a team that won two games (they were our first two games, we thought we were going to be unbeatable) and for a coach that made us practice every day, even over winter break, I no longer enjoyed basketball. So I joined the school play, because I liked to perform for people too. Except the exact same thing happened: they drilled acting and performing into us literally 7 days a week, and it made me absolutely hate the school plays.Now, with some distance between me and my days as the starting center on an absolutely terrible JV team, I can safely say that once again I enjoy basketball. Mr. Steeves is no longer riding me to get plays right, and to "not to be afraid to use my body when grabbing a board."This is all a huge round about way of saying this: just because we were force-fed books for years, doesn't mean that they're something that we should permanently ditch when we can. Your crappy high school English teacher made you read 5 books a marking period, and set all these crazy deadlines, and assigned unimaginative projects. I swear, I won't do that.The cliche goes that "high school was like a jail." My blog posts are going to be the halfway house between said jail and the Real World. I'm going to suggest books that shoot the gap between entertaining and intelligent. And remain calm: there aren't any dead-lines, you don't have to write a paper, you don't have to do anything other than sit back and read. I don't expect anything out of you, friend. No pressure.Short stories are the perfect starting point for what I am trying to accomplish, here. I'm treating you as a skittish animal. I'm trying to lure you over to my side, and if I make any large sudden movements or chuck "War and Peace" at you, this entire thing will be for naught.That said, the book I suggest you read is CivilWarLand in Bad Decline. Rather than subject you to a long diatribe as to why I think it's brilliant, I'll sum things up fairly quickly. George Saunders wrote a book of short stories. Because George Saunders is good at what he does, this book is simultaneously intelligent, funny, and easy to read. And above all, the stories are entertaining.CivilWarLand in Bad DeclineI didn't hear about this book through a literary magazine, or a book reading, or from an English Professor. I read an interview with Ben Stiller where he talks about how he's been fighting for years to adapt the titular story into a movie. If you can't trust me, trust Ben Stiller. If you can't trust Ben Stiller, may God have mercy on your soul.

REVIEW: Yoko Ogawa's HOTEL IRIS

At a party about a month ago, I picked up a thin paperback that was sitting on my friend's kitchen table called One Hundred Strokes of the Brush Before Bed. I hadn't heard a thing about it but apparently everybody else had-- the cover claimed it was an international bestseller (translated originally from Italian) with over 1,000,000 copies sold. One Hundred Strokes is an ostensibly autobiographical novella that recounts a Sicilian schoolgirl's sexual exploits over about a year. It isn't really a coming-of-age story-- it's more like borderline soft/hardcore erotica, a strange book about a young girl who discovers her body and "wants to explore its limits," asking for help from a few older men she finds to seduce her on the way. I took it home with me and read it quickly, and it was quite a romp, as far as that kind of stuff goes. I say "romp" because it isn't a story of a sexually-curious girl who gets hurt and learns a lesson at the end after something tragically rape-y happens to her. Melissa P, the novella's protagonist, doesn't really learn many lessons. She is in control the entire time. She learns about her body as she goes along-- she is entirely conscious of what is being done to her and how her body reacts to it. So she's a likable protagonist, because she isn't stupid. Sure she's naive, as most sixteen year old girls are, but she has limits for herself and eventually knows when to hold her hands up and say "no." I wouldn't go as far to say that this book was a good book, because it wasn't. It's a translated text, and the prose just kinda pedals through until it gets you to the end.Similarly, Yoko Ogawa's Hotel Iris also follows a naive protagonist who goes through a journey of sexual enlightenment and awakening -- sort of. The difference between One Hundred Strokes' Melissa P and Hotel Iris's Mari is that while Melissa P falls in love (healthily, almost normally) with the idea of sex, Mari instead falls in love with a fifty eight year old sadist who lives on an island off the coast of her tiny Japanese shore town. He whips her, and binds her, and essentially makes her his slave, and she doesn't think twice-- because she loves him. And so all these things he does to her, she "LIKES IT", or thinks she does- because of how in love with him she is, she doesn't know anything else. Originally written in Japanese, the translated prose of Hotel Iris is really quite beautiful. There are moments in the story during which the writing itself is just as exciting as the suspense you feel during the graphic sex scenes between Mari and her "lover". (There is one chapter in particular in which Mari and the old Russian translator visit a traveling circus that does nothing to advance the plot but is gorgeously descriptive and sad, and may be the literary highlight of the entire book.)My one issue with Iris, though, is Mari herself. The author gives us reason enough to like her-- having grown up beneath her mother's strict grip, it's exciting to watch Mari invent excuses to leave her post at the front desk of her family's run-down motel to go gallivant with the old translator. But this is where Mari's agency stops. In any scene where Mari is with translator, her character draws inward and becomes-- boring, maybe? Although the observations she makes about her lover are certainly perceptive and intriguing (the old man is actually quite a fascinating character in his own rite and not at all entirely despicable), they all come from a place of utter entrancement, pure infatuation. The fact that Mari is so in love with this stranger, the fact that she never once questions her feelings towards him, makes her quite limited as a protagonist. Even during the climax of the story, during which Mari is exposed to a truly humiliating circumstance, her inner thoughts sway only slightly-- she's still so in love with the translator that her thoughts come close to being inconsequential in the context of the events she's experiencing. Mari's lack of any sort of emotional revelation, big or small, made me question how to feel at the end of the book-- is Mari's blamelessness what makes this story tragic? What makes the story good? Or is the ending a sort of triumph for Mari? It's difficult to decide. Which, I suppose, is a good thing.Unlike Hotel Iris, One Hundred Strokes doesn't leave you with much of a feeling at all. Because Melissa is never really hurt, although she is likable, there is no reason to really feel for her. It certainly made me question the thought that a protagonist has to be likable in order for a book to be good. In this case, with these two books, the answer to that was blurred for me. I'm certain I much preferred Hotel Iris to One Hundred Strokes.So:Do not read: One Hundred Strokes of the Brush Before Bed by Melissa PInstead, read: Hotel Iris by Yoko OgawaAlso, while we're on the topic, watch Secretary!Enjoy the snow?CD

Getting to Know the Bounties of the CWP Website

Hello! Long time no blog. I blush. And I digress. So right to business:The NYU Creative Writing Program website is chock full of fun things to listen to when putting off homework/studying. I want to bring two such gems to attention.Did you know that NYU CWP and Slate magazine collaborated to create the Open Book series of videocasts with famous writers? People you admire and envy? Intelligent, intelligent folks? You can now listen to them and SEE them moving and breathing and being alive and successful right in front of your eyes, being interviewed by our own Fearless Leader and Director Deborah Landau, along with Slate's (and now NYU's as well) Meghan O'Rourke. The likes of John Ashbery, Jonathan Safran Foer, and Junot Díaz reside in the link below.Check them out here.And this I did already know about: the CWP has been putting up lovely podcasts of the past couple of semester's reading series. If you missed out on catching your favorite writer visiting NYU--or if you desperately want to remember that astonishing turn of phrase that writer said and you without your writing implement repeated over and over on the walk back home but forgot right at the door--your problems are solved.Check the podcasts out here.Perhaps you have already discovered such corners and gems. Alack (changin' it up). You super sleuth.

The Revolution Was Not Televised

Hello all, hope you are keeping calm, and carrying on, and suchYesterday, an adventurous group of us headed uptown to the Community Church of New York for a special reading/fundraiser by Junot Diaz.  Since, I went with a group I was unaware of the details until we arrived.  I discovered that the event was part of an ongoing effort to save Revolution Books from closing.  It took me a while to recover from the shock that a store with decidedly leftist views was holding a fundraiser in a church.  But it certainly provided more space than a bookstore would have and Diaz really did inspire us from the pulpit like a priest would his congregation.Diaz is a great writer, but I've discovered the real fun in going to see him read is in the long Q+A's where he mixes hilarious anecdotes with highbrow descriptions of his process.  One minute he can be cracking jokes about a rich, but stingy friend who wanted to be comped a ticket...to a fundraiser, and the next he can drop pure wisdom: "isn't it the goal of all writing to make the language new again?  We want the reader to suddenly realize the strangeness of something they experience everyday."    The actual reading was brief--an older short story and then a new piece that he described as "absolutely terrible."  (Even though it was great writing by most standards, it was fascinating when Diaz articulated how he needed to fix it.) It was a true move of solidarity with the writers in the crowd who, as he aptly put it, "suffer through the pain of early drafts."Diaz also stressed the importance of Revolution Books as an independent bookstore, rather than as a political entity, and I agree.  I feel it would be a great loss if it were to close.  No matter your political views, the truth is independent bookstores are a precious resource.  While the call for money was a little heavy-handed throughout the night, it was easy to look past it and recognize the reading for what it was: an illuminating "Evening with Junot Diaz"Now peeps, one final thing.  Your assignment, should you choose to accept, is to write a love poem/story! Or better yet, an anti-love poem/story!

A Jagged, Gorgeous, Winter Day

...Nights filled with longer hours, HEY Happy Snow Day Y'all!Hope you are all having a great first week back.  While break was very relaxing, I'm definitely excited to be back in the bustle of the city.  Plus, now that I'm forced to walk everywhere, I can burn off all those holiday calories.  Question for the universe: can someone build a treadmill with a built in Kindle?  Or better yet, bookholder with automatic page-turner? Get back to me whenever.  My reading list over break was small, but considering their scope, I think, West Tenthers, you will forgive my lack of ambition.  I finished Freedom by Jonathan Franzen and White Teeth by Zadie Smith.  Though they were written a decade apart, with very different settings, I was struck by how similar these books were at the core.  They both observe the effects of modern society across generations by focusing closely on very dysfunctional (read: realistic) families.  What is the dark side of our cherished Western freedoms?  Can love survive despite sex/infidelity, difference of culture, and good ol' fate?  These are the types of heavy questions I contended with, but, after all, the heavy novels are the most satisfying kind, in a way.  And the two authors wrap their piercing observation in such humorous situations that you don't even recognize their full implications until you're forced (reluctantly in my case) to put them down.      One unfortunate consequence of this otherwise glorious snow day is that tonight's reading at the Writer's House with Michael Cunningham was canceled.  Although I had prior commitments, I would have highly recommended it.  In lieu of the real deal, we can use our free time today to get started on his celebrated works The Hours, A Home at the End of the World, or his newest By Nightfall.  And, if you're already worn out by your school reading, the movie versions aren't too shabby either.  The Reading Series this spring doesn't have as many, for lack of better term, star authors as in the fall, but I'm grateful that more time and  opportunity will be given to lesser-knowns.  Some readings at NYU that I will definitely be looking forward to this semester are ones by Matthew Rohrer, Nick Flynn, and Colson Whitehead.Stay warm chicos! Hot Cocoa and a good book are the doctor's orders... 

Defining Your World

Hello all!Welcome back to the real world (insert hard stare). The gloves come off!But do keep all gloves and mittens on because it was 6 degrees today and no one wants any fingers to fall off. You need them to write! And what good writing weather it is. Because you can’t go outside.During the last few days of freedom before the spring term began, I spent my time immersed in book called ROOM by Emma Donoghue, daughter of NYU’s esteemed Henry James Professor of English and American Letters, Professor Denis Donoghue.The book has been nominated for many prizes and has been on many best-seller lists since September 2010, when it was published. It is an utterly absorbing story told from the point of view of 5-year-old Jack. Jack is kind of amazing. And so is his story: he is the child of a woman who was kidnapped seven years before the novel begins. The novel takes place in the 11-by-11-foot room he and his mother have been trapped and living in.ROOM is by turns a thrilling escape story, a hilarious and frightening explorer’s tale, part literary horror film (horror…novel?), and the heartbreaking and heart-strengthening chronicles of a boy and his mother. The mother-son relationship is the life-blood of the book and if you were a child or have a parent (YES I MEAN EVERYONE YES THANK YOU) you should read ROOM. You won't put it down until you've finished it. Guaranteed.But besides giving a quasi-review of the book (OK a full-blown, passionate argument on its behalf)—I meant to post a writing exercise. In ROOM, Jack speaks of the objects surrounding him as if they were Close Friends. A rug is not just a thing on the floor. For Jack, it is Rug, a good friend and confidant who is there to be played with. So too with Table, and with Plant. He does this because his world is 11-by-11 feet wide. Your world is not this size, but try to scale everything down. This is an exercise in description.So: Try writing about an object like Jack might. You don’t have to write what it is, but try to write from a perspective that incorporates more than an object’s physical appearance—write in a way that informs what that object DOES to your world, how you interact with it. What does Lamp (that weird little lamp in your bedroom that your mom got you from an antique store when you were really young and didn’t care about presents that weren’t stuffed animals, that one with the peeling lace around the shade) mean to you? What light might this throw on the way you look at your surroundings? 

Gilded Ink Writing Contest

To all you fiction writers: want to enter a short-story contest judged by acclaimed author David Rakoff? Here's your chance!The College Group at the Met and Selected Shorts, a short story performance series at Symphony Space and on public radio around the country, co- present another student writing contest.  Students are asked to write 500 words or less about a “private paradise,” in celebration of the upcoming exhibition, The Emperor’s Private Paradise: Treasures from the Forbidden City, opening on February 1, 2011.  Four winning entries, selected by the CGM committee, Symphony Space, and special guest judge David Rakoff (author of  Half Empty and  Don’t Get Too Comfortable and frequent contributor to NPR’s This American Life), will be read aloud at The Metropolitan Museum of Art on Friday, February 4, 2011, recorded, and possibly aired later on Public Radio International.  The special event will be hosted by David Rakoff.Download the submission form here and start writing! GildedInk

Ten Minutes to Submit to West 10th Print Journal

It's Monday, what are you doing? Sitting in your jammies trolling the webs, procrastinating writing your term papers? Me too.But here's a more productive way to procrastinate: submit your prose or poetry to West 10th Journal! The deadline is today, Decemeber 6th, but with ten more minutes left in the day, it's not yet too late.Maybe you're computer is stuffed with short stories you've penned, but have been too nervous to show to anyone, or maybe you have the uncanny ability to write a haiku in seconds. Or maybe, you're so excellent at procrastinating that you've developed the ability to speed-write. Whatever the case, you've got nothing to lose.Plus there's a prize!Editors select one fiction and one poetry piece as "The Best" and the authors get $200, eternal bragging rights, something to put on their resumés, and to read they're stories at the West 10th launch party where Darin Strauss will probably shake your hand and then you'll feel pretty cool.So get your submission form here. And START WRITING!

Favorite Titles

Hello everyone! Now that we've had the first official flurry-sighting of the season, it's time to break out those down coats, drink warm things like soup (soup! Does anyone else miss soup like I miss soup in warm weather?) and hug your friends. Just go hug them.But onwards to the point of this post: I wanted to open up the stage for anyone to share their favorite TITLES of books. This way, if anything strikes your eye you can check it out and possibly request it or give it as a gift this holiday season. Writing a novel or collection of poetry--PAH! (That was the sound of air quickly exiting my mouth in a smug sort of way). Easy.We all know that the hard part of writing really comes down to creating The Title. The Epic Thing that Will Catch Your Audience's Eye and Not Let Them Leave The Book's Presence.Here are a few of my all-time favorites....Of Poetry:Pity the Bathtub Its Forced Embrace of the Human Form - Matthea Harvey. Also the title of one of her poems.Lunch Poems - Frank O'Hara. Just read the inscription on the back of book: "Often this poet, strolling through the noisy splintered glare of a Manhattan noon, has paused at a sample Olivetti to type up thirty or forty lines of ruminations, or pondering more deeply has withdrawn to a dark ware- or firehouse to limn his computed misunderstandings of the eternal questions of life, co-existence and depth, while never forgetting to eat Lunch his favorite meal..." GLORIOUS.Veinte poemas de amor y una canción desesperada - Pablo Neruda. Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair.Of, erm, Everything Else:A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius - Dave Eggers.Another Bullshit Night in Suck City - Nick Flynn. (Also a poet!)The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down - Anne Fadiman....What about you?

Thanks for the Ideas, Amazon

All of us have been afflicted with writers block at one time or another. It sucks. Weeks of over-caffeination mixed with imaginational stagnation leads to a downward spiral of keyboard smashing and moleskine burning. However, you don't have too look far for inspiration. Actually, your friendly corporation down the block has some wonderful ideas for characters, just in case you need some help. People say literature is dead, but I think we can bring it back to life with the following character sketches of the modern consumer.I ran across these archetype personalities while perusing Amazon on Black Friday. They're meant for shoppers who are having a hard time trying to find gifts for beloved ones. Said shopper is supposed to label their potential recipient as one of Amazon's helpfully re-invented American demographic categories. Then, Amazon will tell our intrepid yet uninventive shopper what that "character" wants. This prefabrication of character and desire provides great fodder for short stories. Wink wink.Take a gander at the cast of the next great American novel (descriptions are taken directly from Amazon.com):1. The College Student - When newly fledged adults leave the nest and head to the dorms, there's a lot they need to get their lives off the ground: home basics, college survival guides, and, of course, a few toys to make the flight enjoyable. (One of their suggestions is to buy your college bound kid a Guinness Book of World Records. Yes, I haven't touched one of those since fourth grade [Pamela Anderson: most downloaded female <you know what I'm talking about.>])2. The Dude - You know the one: the beer-drinker who would rather change his oil than escort a chick to the ballet. Here's a heap of gift ideas for the guy's guy: action movies, gourmet meats, gadgets, and more. (mmm MEAT)3. The Glamour Girl - Now this is a girl who knows what she wants. Lucky for you, we know what she wants too. Impress her with your up-to-the-minute taste by selecting one of these triple-t hottt gift ideas. Cool by-product: you're awarded instant fashion cred! (Be sure to buy at least two sizes too small to reinforce heroine chic! Ha! Ha!)4. The Geek - To be a geek is now très chic. Gone are the days of pocket protectors (who needs a pen when they have a PDA?) and horn-rimmed glasses. High-tech brainiacs now rule the world--and we've got some gifts to keep them entertained in their downtime. (I like how this implies Geeks must be entertained when they're not working on something... perhaps they turn violent if their geekery is not properly channeled.)5. The Grandpa - Whether your granddad's a wise old soul or a wiseacre, we've got plenty of gift suggestions to bring a smile to his face. (He can whittle away his last days playing with a new bathrobe or staring uncomprehendingly at a brand new genealogy software pack.)Whatever, you get the point. Write a story about a computer wise grandpa with a geeky wife and a community college bound, 45 year old son. The son goes to college and meets the Dude, who seduces him with gourmet meats. Meanwhile, the Geeky Grandma gets so bored with herself that she makes a uranium enrichment centrifuge in their basement with the help of a glamourous slave-girl. There, writers block broken!

You and the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day

We all have bad days: they can ruin our mood for a couple of minutes, for hours, for the entire day, or even longer. Some bad days are worse than others. So, choose the worst day you've had recently (go back a couple of days if you have to. If you're one of those lucky people bad luck can't seem to find, then go back even further.) Try writing a poem or a short paragraph of that day. However, don't write a point by point of everything that happened as if it was a report. Instead write an exaggeration of everything bad that could have happened to you. For example, instead of loosing your keys you could have left your cell on the bus and realized it when you got off. You start chasing the bus, only to slip on a puddle in front of a large crowd. So, the poem or paragraph (more if you want) should be something like "this is what happened but my day could have been so much worse". It'll make you laugh and get over your bad day... hopefully. If not, try some chocolates.

It's... it's...it's the start of---of what?

I, sadly, can't write poems that will leave everyone gobsmacked. I enjoy writing stories; I'm sure some of you like prose more than poetry as well. Well, I'm going to make your day if you do. I'm starting a  round-robin story; that  means you should all add lines (yes, as much or as little as you want. I would recommend writing more than a line everyone.) to the story to make it successful. Try it; make the story as grim, wacky, dramatic, etc... as possible. Later, we can post the entire story and see how great it is.Here we go:Marybelle huffed in annoyance as she hiked up the never ending material of her white gown. Blocks ago, she had thrown  her matching heels away. Grumbling under her breath, she crossed the street to the bus stop. A man walking by stared at her oddly."What? You've never seen a lady walking in her wedding dress?" She shouted at him. Eyes widening, he crossed the street hastily."Jerk," she muttered under her breath and rudely gestured at his back. So, what if she was walking barefooted in her  wedding gown? Who the hell cared if her hair was no longer in a stylish high bun and that her mascara was dripping down her face?Marybelle silently cursed at the people who stared at her like a zoo animal as they passed by. Finally, the bus came. Patiently, she waited for people to get off and ignored their curious faces.  Grabbing her ballooning skirts, Marybelle stepped into the bus.Well? Why don't you all continue and let's see where this goes?

A Brief Yet Wondrous Reading

96,ooo...Junot Díaz fans? holla...while the reading earlier tonight didn't pack that many fans into Cantor, the line was certainly impressive enough.  By 7:00, the line wrapped around and down University Place, past where I stood outside of Weinstein, and down to at least the Silver Center.  Know that I almost gave up and headed home West Tenthers,  but in a move worthy of those comic book heroes that inspire his work, Diaz agreed to have a second reading in an adjacent theater.  Though I nearly had a heart attack when I was stopped by public safety in the doorway of Cantor while they checked capacity, the forces of good prevailed, and I was able to swoop in for one of the last seats.  This happenstance was probably best for all parties involved...since hell really hath no fury like a New Yorker waiting in line for over an hour.  While I was one of the lucky ones, the plight of the fans left outside highlights a recurring space problem with such events (there was similar insanity when Jonathan Safran Foer read earlier this semester).  I sincerely hope the Reading Series can provide bigger spaces in future readings for well-known authors.  NYU boasts one of the biggest theaters in downtown Manhattan.  As Darrell, pronounced Da-rrell would say, "can we have it?"But, know what?  I'm willing to let it go because on this "comic-book thursday" Junot Díaz delivered. His charisma and wit won over an impatient crowd but the actual reading, from his short story "Nilda," only lasted about ten minutes.  And, while I believe everyone would have liked to have heard more, I'm cautioned by that oh-so-familiar maxim involving beggars and choosing.  I will say that the reading itself was completely overshadowed by the almost 30 min. Q&A session that followed.  Díaz used questions such as "what was your inspiration for Oscar Wao?" and "how do you handle criticism that suggests your book is sexist?" to delve into his motivations for writing characters such as Oscar, Yunior and Lola* that "map" the identities of the Dominican Diaspora, notions of masculinity, and lasting cultural trauma and legacy of dictatorships.  If it sounds deep, well that's because...it was.Perhaps Díaz's best advice came when answering a question from a writer in the room about the merits of gaining "outside approval" from others.  He responded along the lines of, "If you only want approval [for your work], you don't give people what will engage them, you give people what you'll think they like--that's entertainment, not art."

*Read The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, no but seriously, do it.