Critical Notes

Friday Roundup 1


NBCC fiction finalist Aleksandar Hemon has a way cool website for his new novel, “The Lazarus Project”—bells, whistles, accordion, melodica, words from the novel, contemporary photographs by Sarajevo born Velibor Bozovic , archival photos from the Chicago Historical Society. And the eyeball from the cover image moves. Eerie.

NBCC board member Lizzie Skurnick, honcho on the upcoming upgrade of the NBCC website, has a new book in the works, drawn from her Friday “Fine Lines” column on Jezebel.

NBCC board member Celia McGee on Sam Shepard’s new play, “Kicking a Dead Horse.”

NBCC member Tim Brown on the history of ‘zines.

Former NBCC board member Peder Zane’s latest Raleigh News & Observer video, on “Biking to Work.”

NBCC member Xujun Eberlein, whose new short story collection,“Apologies Forthcoming,” is just out, has won a Massachusetts Cultural Council fellowship in fiction/creative nonfiction. I was a judge for this category this year, along with NBCC members Robin Hemley and Natalie Danford, novelists Brad Kessler and Thisbe Nissen; we worked hard, reading sine 473 initial manuscripts, all with author’s names removed, over a period of weeks, then meeting in Boston for several days of nonstop consideration. (Plus a good fish dinner!) The winners in fiction/creative nonfiction: Kim Adrian, Steve Almond, Xujun Eberlein, D.M. Gordon, Noy Holland, Rachel Kadish, Lisa Nold, William Peters, George Rosen, Cam Terwilliger, Joan Wickersham, and Tracy Winn. Finalists were Michael Downing, Suzanne Matson, Elizabeth Porto, and Jane Rosenzweig.

The Massachusetts Cultural Council poetry fellowships, with judging help for the 352 applications this year from NBCC board members Rigoberto Gonzalez and Kevin Prufer:Ben Berman, Patrick Donnelly, Rebecca Kaiser Gibson, Elizabeth Hughey, Caroline Klocksiem, and Michael Teig. The poetry finalists: Susie Patlove, Monica Raymond, and J.D. Scrimgeour.

NBCC member Nigel Beale on Rawi Hage’s “DeNiro’s Game” from Steerforth Press, winner of the 2008 IMPAC Dublin Award for fiction published in English, which, incidentally, is Hage’s third language. From Hage’s acceptance speech:

“Here I am reminded of the Cuban Painter Marcelo Pogolotti, who said: “In an era as turbulent and painful as the one we are living through, art is bound to show its rough, bitter and violent side.” And I would add, its inherently beautiful and humane side as well.

“To all those women and men of letters, and all artists who have gone beyond the aesthetics of the singular to represent the multiple and diverse, to all those men and women who have chosen the painful and costly portrayal of truth over tribal self-righteousness, I am grateful. We should all be grateful. To all those librarians who currently and historically have gathered and diffused knowledge, beauty, and resistance, even as the waves of hatred and ignorance periodically cover words, burn books, and stifle thought, I say: I am an admirer and an ally.

“My gratitude also extends to my father, who always surrounded me and my brothers with books and stories of travels and wonder; and to my mother, who hid me under the dining room table away from the falling bombs, and whose farewell tears on the day of my leaving my native Lebanon are printed in my memory.

“Little did I know then that my departure would transform me into a creature who loathed borders and their violent winds that give importance to the flags of warriors marching to the battlefield; and little did I know then that my journey would open and close doors until all doors and locks lost their meaning and made me seek the open squares instead….

“I am myself the product of divisions and mergers—my childhood was marked by the geographical and sectarian divide of a nation in war. It is ironic, familiar, and also reassuring that I am talking to you tonight from Ireland, a nation once war-driven, and now a peaceful and prosperous land; a nation with a history that parallels the history of my native Lebanon. I am also the product of many exposures to various civilizations, languages, and religious influences. Born as a Christian Arab, a group whose existence is an integral part of a great Arabic and Islamic civilization, I grew up learning two languages and different histories, and at the age of eighteen learned the English language and imbibed the canon of its great poets and writers. Later, as a traveler, a citizen, a worker, a reader, and a writer, I was, fortunately, bound to become a global citizen.

“The history of mankind is full of wars, divisions, the flow of blood, the flight of refugees, and misery. I long for the day when an African child will be able to roam the world as if it is rightly his; I long for the day when Palestinian, Guatemalan, Iraqi, and Afghani children will have homes to keep and build upon. I long for the day when we humans realize that we are all gatherers and wanderers, ever bound to cross each other’s paths, and that these paths belong to us all.”