Last Saturday, Sara Gruen (above) read from her novel Water for Elephants and then wrapped up her reading by briefly discussing her upcoming novel, Ape House, which deals with a family of language-capable bonobo apes. Such primates do exist, Sara told us, and they communicate by way of a specialized computer. I bring this up because last week The Key West Citizen ran a letter from Katha Sheehan, proprietor of The Chicken Store, in which Sheehan expresses similar hopes for chickens. Sheehan writes: “I intend to introduce chickens (and other animals) to technology.” She concludes: “My prediction is this: By Jan. 1, 2050, animals will be buying and selling stuff on eBay. Be there.”
(If the Citizen link expires, the letter is also available on The Green Parrot Bar No Sniveling Zone.)
Chauncey Mabe of the Sun-Sentinel has been covering the Seminar on the paper’s blog.
The Studios of Key West, a sort of sister organization to the Literary Seminar, is hosting photographer Curt Richter as their artist in residence. He’ll be photographing some of the Lit Sem’s speakers for a show next year–here you see him (right) with Mark Hedden, husband of board member Nancy Klingener, an author himself and a leading authority on Florida’s birds..
Every year at the seminar, I see a few souls knitting. And I envy them. Though I am a knitter, I am still shy about knitting in public (known on knitting blogs — and yes there are more than a few knitting blogs — as KIP; if you don’t believe me, just try googling “knitting in public”). I am right up against a knitting deadline on baby blankets for a friend (she’s having twins) so maybe I’ll make my big move soon. Then again, it would make taking notes for the blog a tad complicated …
Some not-quite-random quotes from Saturday sessions:
Vestal McIntyre, in a conversation with Edmund White and Patrick Ryan on gay voice in literature: “Most of us share the experience of growing up, guarding this secret, and you start wondering about everyone else’s secrets.”
McIntyre also said in his family of seven children, four of them are gay, including the brother closest to him in age.”We were obsessed with the TV show ‘Dallas’ and we made tapes of ourselves playing all the roles. He was JR/Sue Ellen and I was Bobby/Pamela.” Ryan immediately responded, “Please tell me these tapes still exist — if Youtube was made for anything, it was this.”
White also noted that many gay men are practiced in telling their coming out stories, a narrative with all the elements of a good novel. “It’s just one step from that kind of pillow talk to real writing.”
Vestal and Edmund
Edmund and Patrick
Mark Doty led a discussion on poetry with Tina Chang, Terrance Hayes and Brenda Shaughnessy. “Nobody actually chooses to be a poet — poetry comes and finds you in some way,” he said. Hayes said he attended grad school telling his parents he was studying English in order to become a teacher and never told them he was writing poetry. He didn’t even tell them when his first book was published. “The book won an award and was on NPR and my mother found out,” he said. For Tina Chang, poetry found her after she took a job at Cosmopolitan magazine (“My big article was ‘The Big O From A to Z,'” she said) and she realized she was miserable. Shaughnessy got $1,000 from a relative, decided she was rich and moved to New York. She credits her naivete with her ability to stick with writing. “I had to be incredibly stupid for an incredibly long time to become a poet,” she said.
Tina and Terrance
When Robert Richardson introduced Maggie Nelson on Saturday afternoon, he mentioned Louis Menand. This reminded me of something Menand wrote about voice in his introduction to the 2004 edition of The Best American Essays. Here’s an excerpt:
“The real basis for the metaphor of voice in writing is not speaking. It
is singing. You cannot know a singer from her speech, and although
“natural phrasing” and “from the heart” are prized attributes of song,
actually singing that way requires rehearsal, preparation, and getting
in touch with whatever it is inside singers that, by a neural kind or
the grace of God, enables them to turn themselves into vessels of
musical sound. Right before he walked onstage at the opera house,
Luciano Pavarotti is reported to have taken a big bite of an apple.
That’s how he helped his voice to sound fresh, spontaneous, and
What writers hear, when they are trying to write, is
something more like singing than like speaking. Inside your head,
you’re yakking away to yourself all the time. Getting
down on paper is a depressing, Desmond McCarthy-like experience.
What you are trying to do when you write is to transpose the yakking
into verbal music; and the voice inside, when you find it, which can
take hours or days or weeks, is not your speaking voice. It is your
singing voice–except that it comes out as writing…”
We’ll be posting plenty of photos from the Seminar here on the blog, but if you want even more, check out our Flickr page.
On Friday afternoon Susan Shreve’s reading of a passage from her memoir was punctuated, with an almost eerie accuracy, by a brief power outage.
Judy Blume, beloved writer and KWLS board member, took the stage Friday afternoon for a conversation with Mary Hays. It turns out these two are old friends — Mary worked for Judy as an assistant back in 1978 — and Mary published a few stories in magazines back then. But her first novel, “Learning to Drive,” was published in 2003. “What took you so long?” Judy asked. The answer was, of course, complicated and simple at once: Mary had a story to tell, about growing up in a Christian Science household, but the telling was difficult after decades of “hiding” by NOT telling people about it.
“Why do we write when it provokes such anxiety in us?” Judy asked. The answer, was of course, because we can’t help it. Mary actually went to school and worked as an elementary school teacher for 10 years in the interim — until she found herself being a “renagade in the faculty room.” “Maybe I should think about actually trying to write that novel after all,” she said. “So I did.”
There are lots of young writers at this year’s seminar, on stage and in the audience, but Judy also made a welcome point: “A new voice does not necessarily mean a young writer.” (“Thank you!” someone called from the audience.) “A new voice can come at any time,” Judy said, “and we celebrate its arrival.”
Welcome words indeed, especially for those of us on the far side of 40 …
Uzodinma Iweala signs books.
Jason readies the crowd for Patrick Ryan.
Mark Doty and others, front and center for Edmund White.
So far, so good, on this first day of New Voices. Uzodinma Iweala slept
in, as one ought upon arriving from New York to the subtropics, and,
when I tracked him down buying a toothbrush in Fausto’s, wasn’t even
aware that he was running late. Uzo (pronounced Ooz-ah), it’s clear,
will fit in in Key West as well as he fits into the lustrous language
his first novel, Beasts of No Nation, is written in. The story of Agu,
a fictional child soldier in an unnamed African country, is told in the
first person in a sort of high-literary treatment of pidgin English.
Iweala’s articulate, impassioned reading from it held the audience
rapt, and his presence during the question and answer session which
followed was, by turns, charming, insightful, self-deprecating, and
richly literary. There’s a “newness” to his voice, I think, similar to
the sort of newness much-spoken of lately regarding Barack Obama’s
candidacy–that sense of a post-racial American identity, allowing a
less-burdened approach toward the future. It is utterly refreshing. –Arlo Haskell (Sand Paper Press), KWLS stage manager