Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

Why a good book is a secret door

Childhood is surreal. Why shouldn’t children’s books be?

In this whimsical talk, award-winning author Mac Barnett speaks about writing that escapes the page, art as a doorway to wonder — and what real kids say to a fictional whale.


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Kurt Vonnegut Urges Young People to Make Art and “Make Your Soul Grow”

The Quirky Philosophical Drawings of Jean-Paul Sartre
in Art, Letters, Philosophy | April 21st, 2014

We’ve established something of a tradition here of featuring drawings by famous authors. It seems, unsurprisingly, that skill with the pen often goes hand-in-glove with a keen visual sense, though admittedly some writers are more talented draftsmen than others. William Faulkner, for example, created some very fine pen-and-ink illustrations for his college newspaper during his brief time at Ole Miss. Franz Kafka’s expressionistic sketches are quite striking, despite his anguished protestations to the contrary. And Jorge Luis Borges’ doodles are as quirky and playful as the author himself. Today we bring you the sketches of that great French existentialist philosopher, novelist, and playwright Jean-Paul Sartre—a collection of six rough, childlike caricatures that are, shall we say, rather less than accomplished. It’s certainly for the best—as the cliché goes—that Sartre never quit his day job for an art career.


But there is a certain wicked charm in Sartre’s visual satires of human moral failings, which he calls a “series de ‘douze vices sans allusion’”—roughly, “a series of twelve vices without reference.” Either Sartre only completed half the series, or—more likely—half have been lost, since the author assures the recipient of his handiwork, a Mademoiselle Suzanne Guille, that he presents to her a “série complete.” Who was Suzanne Guille? Your guess is as good as mine. Yale’s Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, which houses these sketches, gives us no indication. Perhaps she was a relative, perhaps the spouse, of Pierre Guille, Simon de Beauvoir’s last lover? Given the many complicated liaisons pursued by both Sartre and his partner, the possibilities are indeed intriguing. As for the drawings? Their subjects hold more interest than their execution, providing us with keys to Sartre’s moral universe.


The first caricature, at the top, is titled “Le Contentment de soi”—“Self-Satisfaction”—and the character’s pompous expression says as much. Below it, the curious little fellow with the curlicue nose is called “L’Esprit Critique”—“The Spirit of Criticism.” And above we have “Le respect de la consigne et de la jurée”—“Keeping a Sworn Oath.” You can see the remaining three drawings, and read Sartre’s letter (in French, of course) to Mademoiselle Guille in pdf form here.

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James Joyce, With His Eyesight Failing, Draws a Sketch of Leopold Bloom (1926)

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The Art of Sylvia Plath: Revisit Her Sketches, Self-Portraits, Drawings & Illustrated Letters

Walter Kaufmann’s Classic Lectures on Nietzsche, Kierkegaard and Sartre (1960)

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

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The Origins of Michael Jackson’s Moonwalk: Vintage Footage of Cab Calloway, Sammy Davis Jr., Fred Astaire & More
in Dance, Video – Arts & Culture | April 21st, 2014

Michael Jackson took one giant leap for pop history on March 25, 1983 when he gave an adoring public their first taste of his signature moonwalk in honor of Motown Records’ 25th birthday. (See below)

Novelty-wise, it wasn’t quite a Neil Armstrong moment. Like many artists, Jackson had many precedents from which he could and did draw. He can be credited with bringing a certain attitude to the proceedings. The expert practitioners in the video above are more ebullient, tapping, sliding and proto-moonwalking themselves into a state of rapture that feeds off the audience’s pleasure.

The line-up includes artists lucky enough to have left lasting footprints—Cab Calloway, Sammy Davis Jr., Fred Astaire, as well as those we’d do well to rediscover: Rubberneck Holmes, Earl “Snakehips” Tucker, Buck and Bubbles….

Lacking the Internet, however, it does seem unlikely that Jackson would’ve spent much time poring over the footwork of these masters. (He may have taken a sartorial cue from their socks.)

Instead, he invested a lot of time breaking down the street moves, what he referred to in his autobiography as “a ‘popping’ type of thing that black kids had created dancing on the street corners in the ghetto.”

Jackson’s sister, LaToya, identified former Soul Train and Solid Gold dancer Jeffrey Daniel, below, as her brother’s primary tutor in this endeavor. (He went on to co-choreograph Jackson’s videos for “Bad” and “Smooth Criminal“.) As to the story behind his moonwalk, or backslide as he called it before Jackson’s version obliterated the possibility of any other name, Daniel gave props to the same kids Jackson did.

via Metafilter

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Ayun Halliday is the author of seven books, and creator of the award winning East Village Inky zine. Follow her @AyunHalliday

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Sir Patrick Stewart & Sir Ian McKellen Play The Newlywed Game
in Comedy, Random | April 21st, 2014

I’m gonna go out on a limb and guess that this is the first time two knighted cultural figures have played The Newlywed Game – a version of that wince (and nostalgia) -inducing game show that ran from the 1960s through the 1990s. Although Stewart and McKellen aren’t married, they know each other plenty well. They’ve worked together on stage (in a production of Waiting for Godot) and in film (they’ll be appearing together in an upcoming X-Men movie.) And suffice it to say, they’ve formed a tight friendship. When Stewart married Sunny Ozell last year, McKellen officiated at the wedding ceremony.

This little bit took place at a BuzzFeed Brews event back in February. You can watch their full 48 minute appearance here. Also find the two in a deeper conversation recorded at the Screen Actors Guild Foundation just last month.

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Painter Paul Gauguin Plays the Harmonium with No Pants or Shoes (Circa 1895)
in Art, Photography | April 20th, 2014
gauguin plays

What do we have here? Painter Paul Gauguin playing a harmonium at the Paris studio of Alphonse Mucha, a Czech Art Nouveau painter, in or around 1895. How this came about — how Gauguin decided to strip off his pants and shoes and start playing that pump organ — we’ll probably never know. But we’re certainly glad that this light moment was saved for posterity.

via @SteveSilberman

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Kurt Vonnegut Urges Young People to Make Art and “Make Your Soul Grow”
in Creativity, K-12, Letters, Literature | April 19th, 2014

Art not only saves lives, it casts ripples, as Kurt Vonnegut surely knew when he replied—at length—to five New York City high school students who’d contacted him as part of a 2006 English assignment. (The identities of the other authors selected for this honor are lost to time, but not one had the courtesy to respond except Vonnegut.)

Dear Xavier High School, and Ms. Lockwood, and Messrs Perin, McFeely, Batten, Maurer and Congiusta:

I thank you for your friendly letters. You sure know how to cheer up a really old geezer (84) in his sunset years. I don’t make public appearances any more because I now resemble nothing so much as an iguana.

What I had to say to you, moreover, would not take long, to wit: Practice any art, music, singing, dancing, acting, drawing, painting, sculpting, poetry, fiction, essays, reportage, no matter how well or badly, not to get money and fame, but to experience becoming, to find out what’s inside you, to make your soul grow.

Seriously! I mean starting right now, do art and do it for the rest of your lives. Draw a funny or nice picture of Ms. Lockwood, and give it to her. Dance home after school, and sing in the shower and on and on. Make a face in your mashed potatoes. Pretend you’re Count Dracula.

Here’s an assignment for tonight, and I hope Ms. Lockwood will flunk you if you don’t do it: Write a six line poem, about anything, but rhymed. No fair tennis without a net. Make it as good as you possibly can. But don’t tell anybody what you’re doing. Don’t show it or recite it to anybody, not even your girlfriend or parents or whatever, or Ms. Lockwood. OK?

Tear it up into teeny-weeny pieces, and discard them into widely separated trash recepticals [sic]. You will find that you have already been gloriously rewarded for your poem. You have experienced becoming, learned a lot more about what’s inside you, and you have made your soul grow.

God bless you all!

Kurt Vonnegut

via Open Culture


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Ray Bradbury: Love (1968)

“Jump off the cliff and build your wings on the way down.” This—writes Sam Weller in his introduction to a 2010 interview with sci-fi and fantasy luminary Ray Bradbury—was the author’s “lifelong credo.” Weller writes of discovering an unpublished Paris Review interview from the 1970s in Bradbury’s garage, with a note from editor George Plimpton that read “a bit informal in places, maybe overly enthusiastic.” The irony of this judgment is that it is Bradbury’s enthusiasm, his lack of formality, which make him so compelling and so copious a writer and speaker. Bradbury didn’t self-edit or second guess much—his approach is best characterized as fearless and passionate, just as he describes his writing process:

I type my first draft quickly, impulsively even. A few days later I retype the whole thing and my subconscious, as I retype, gives me new words. Maybe it’ll take retyping it many times until it is done. Sometimes it takes very little revision.

It’s that unfettered expression of his subconscious that Bradbury discusses in the short clip above, in which he re-invigorates all the sort of carpe diem clichés one hears so often by framing them not as self-help suggestions but as imperatives for a full and healthy life. Responding in the moment, says Bradbury, refusing to “put off till tomorrow… what I must do, right now,” allows him to “find out what my secret self needs, wants, desires with all its heart.” For Bradbury, writing is much more than a formal exercise or a specialized craft—it is a vital expression of his full humanity and a means of “cleansing the stream” of his mind: “We belong only by doing,” he says, “and we own only by doing, and we love only by doing…. If you want an interpretation of life and love, that would be the closest thing I could come to.”

Bradbury doesn’t limit his philosophy to the writing life; he advocates for everyone an unabashed emotional engagement with the world. For him, the man (and woman, we might presume), who cannot “laugh freely,” cry, or “be violent”—which he defines in sublimating terms as any physical or creative activity—is a “sick man.” Bradbury’s “overly enthusiastic” explorations of creative passion were almost as much a part of his output as his fiction. His interviews, televised and in print, are inspiring for this reason: he is never coy or pretentious but pushes others to aspire to the same kind of authentic joy he seemed to take in everything he did.

By the way, the first person we see above is legendary Warner Bros. animator Chuck Jones (as one Youtube commenter says, we get in this clip “two visionaries for the price of one”). Bradbury’s “vitality,” says Jones, “rubs off on the people who work with him.” And, he might have added, all of the people who read and listen to him, too.

via Open Culture


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Ira Glass on Storytelling

Ira Glass’ Advice on Achieving Creative Excellence presented in two videos.

Via Open Culture


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“Lucha Libro” explained

Peru makes book writing into a spectator sport and invites aspiring writers into combat.

From a story at PRI:

It’s a twist on Lucha Libre, Mexico’s version of pro wrestling, where competitors put on masks and pseudonyms to duke it out in a ring.

Peru’s Lucha Libro is kind of like that, without the violence. It’s literary “wrestling.” New writers don masks, and head onto a stage where they’re given three random words, a laptop hooked up to a gigantic screen, and five minutes to write a short story.

At the end of a match, the losing writer has to take off his or her mask. The winner goes on to the next round, a week later. And the grand prize? It’s a book contract…

The first contestant is a guy who goes by the name “Chicken Wilson.” He’s tall and goofy, but when he sees the three words projected on the screen behind him, he gets serious. He’s got monkey, plane ticket, and dictionary to work with.

The announcer counts to three, and the clock starts. No one’s talking, but just a paragraph in, Chicken Wilson freezes. The seconds are ticking by, so the crowd starts cheering him on. He rallies, dashing off a short story about monkeys living in the city, and an American girl on vacation in Peru…

“It’s also about changing the idea that literature is boring. This turns it into an event. Because it’s not just about the opportunity for a young person to become a writer,” he says. “It’s also about having a place for young people to hang out – and to read.”



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MakeOurMark on the Modern Frontier

In September, a train is travelling from New York to San Francisco, with the world’s creative pioneers on board. Join our global art projects to collaborate with the likes of Dave Eggers and Stephen Shore as they journey cross-country in search of the Modern Frontier. Embark now.


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Writing Tips for Aspiring Writers – Elmore Leonard

“If it sounds like writing,” says Elmore Leonard, “I rewrite it.”

“You have to listen to your characters.”
“Don’t worry about what your mother thinks of your language.”
“Try to get a rhythm.”

Here are the rules:

Never open a book with the weather.
Avoid prologues.
Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue.
Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said.”
Keep your exclamation points under control!
Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose.”
Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.
Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
Same for places and things.
Leave out the parts readers tend to skip.

“It takes four pages of writing to get one that I like.” said Elmore

Elmore wrote from 10 am to 6 pm every day.

via Open Culture


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Make Good Art – Neil Gaiman Commencement Address 2012

Make mistakes.
Make good art.
Do what only you can do best.
Make up your own rules.


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Neil Gaiman on the future of publishing: be dandelions!

The audience for Neil Gaiman’s talk on the future of publishing at the London Book Fair apparently greeted his talk with stony hostility

Going against a column yesterday in which Booksellers Association chief executive Tim Godfray argued that Amazon was the “foe”, and has “the ability to destroy the book trade as we know it”, Gaiman believes that “Amazon, Google and all of those things probably aren’t the enemy. The enemy right now is simply refusing to understand that the world is changing”.

The novelist went on to urge the assembled publishers to be more like dandelions – an analogy he stole, he said, from Cory Doctorow.

“Mammals spend an awful lot of energy on infants, on children, they spend nine months of our lives gestating, and then they get two decades of attention from us, because we’re putting all of our attention into this one thing we want to grow. Dandelions on the other hand will have thousands of seeds and they let them go where they like, they don’t really care. They will let go of 1,000 seeds, and 100 of them will sprout,” Gaiman told the Guardian.

“And I was really using that analogy for today, saying the whole point of a digital frontier right now is that it’s a frontier, all the old rules are falling apart. Anyone who tells you they know what’s coming, what things will be like in 10 years’ time, is simply lying to you. None of the experts know – nobody knows, which is great.

“When the rules are gone you can make up your own rules. You can fail, you can fail more interestingly, you can try things, and you can succeed in ways nobody would have thought of, because you’re pushing through a door marked no entrance, you’re walking in through it. You can do all of that stuff but you just have to become a dandelion, be wiling for things to fail, throw things out there, try things, and see what sticks. That was the thrust of my speech,” said the author.

Via Boing Boing


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