round-up

  • frederick douglass & photography & “semi-barbarous America” according to the ever-luminescent Jill Lepore via The New Yorker
  • this bad-ass collection of short stories by joanna walsh
  • serial killers are back in fashion, apparently.
  • the playwright suzan-lori parks was doing this cool performance piece/writing workshop called “watch me work” where she sits at a desk in the lobby of a museum and writes (on a typewriter; infuriating) in front of an audience. the audience (probably 100% of them writers) is instructed to write along with her. this last for a period of time and then is followed by a talk-back session in which the audience talk to/with parks about “their creative process.”i do find the idea little tacky and disingenuous. like just have a workshop. but parks is avant garde and always undertaking some new project-endeavor, and on the other, completely contrarian hand, i kind of like the idea. i like how she’s at once down to earth and completely out there. in any case, i found old livestreams on youtube and did it along with the video. i couldn’t interact (obvs!), but i did feel a sense of community. not sure why i’m mentioning this. every day there’s some atrocity on the news, i can’t keep up. i’d be more afraid of the world except i rarely go out in it, which is perhaps the epoch we are approaching, where we live in our computers.
  • last november, michael cunningham quietly released a collection of short stories called “a wild swan” that are modern, adult re-tellings of classic fairytales. i say “quietly released” because i didn’t know about it until last week, when i chanced upon it at the library. i was browsing, enjoying the free air-conditioning, and i very spontaneously thought to myself, see what they have by michael cunningham. at the time i didn’t think much of it and i wasn’t expecting anything new, but now i wonder if cunningham’s spirit wasn’t calling out to me from the dusty library shelves. i’ve been reading him since high school and own all of his books, some of which i’ve read more than once. there are passages from flesh and blood and the hours and speciman days i have committed to memory. as an adolescent i used to get off to some scenes in a home at the end of the world and i thought by nightfall fixed everything i think is wrong with death in venice. in any case, i was so surprised by the new book i questioned whether i was thinking correctly. i was unwilling to believe a new book had come out and i’d simply missed it, so for confirmation i quickly opened the book in search of an author photo–he likes that one where he’s wearing the black shirt and has his hand on his chin and leather bracelets on his wrist, his hair spiky and hip, not quite smiling, vaguely evoking a daddy at the beginning of a porno flick. There wasn’t one. But the bio confirmed it: i’d been asleep. i immediately commenced reconciling the situation. the highest praise i can personally give the book is to say that it reminded me that michael cunningham is my favorite writer. traditionally a novelist, it was interesting and fun to see him tackle the short story. we already know what he can do with works in re-telling: see the hours, in which he inhabits both virginia woolf and her novel mrs dalloway, and speciman days, in which he uses the poetry of walt whitman to fuck around with genre in literature. he is a master prose stylist. these stories–updates on rapunzel, snow white, jack and the beanstalk, and hansel & gretel, among others–are at turns funny, tragic, cloying, sad, campy, even ernest, and cunningham’s pure talents with language and form are on full display. i breezed through the book and it made me want to go back and read the rest of his books.
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