On September 18th I delivered a presentation about What Days Are Like When There Are Only Nights, a novel of mine that takes the form of a road, the pages black, the text displayed as an undulating series of white centerlines.
In particular I examined the the special suitability of hybrid texts to address the complexity of extreme social and personal circumstances.
“The unprecedented, when encountered, strips us of literacy and even identity—a literacy and identity that then reformulates as circumstances are absorbed by the mind, heart, and spirit. Form is a key tool to unearthing the drama because form, at the core, is an issue of identity played out on the page in front of readers. This narrative—a story concerning the continual displacement of a group of refugees—is not just a record of ‘what happened’ and ‘who is to blame’ but in addition strives to depict the deep and intense story of language’s power to reassert the humanity that no inhuman conditions can erase.”
Remembering looking out a Manhattan building office window and seeing a volcanic plume of fire twenty years ago when the second plane hit the World Trade Towers…the moment when my supervisor entered my office in tears, saying that she was unable to contact her cousin Brian, who worked in one of the towers, and then turning to try to call him again…the long walk to Brooklyn in the silver air, past empty gurneys in front of hospitals and milling doctors and nurses in scrubs waiting for the injured that were not coming…the faces of the missing posted on 7th Avenue walls and on Cobble Hill light poles in weeks to follow and the impromptu shrines in front of fire houses…
For the past four years I have been working in an editorial capacity with a Radcliffe Institute colleague based in Germany, Irmtrud Wojak, to develop the Fritz Bauer Library of Remembrance and Human Rights, a project aimed at publishing bi-lingual editions of books that tell important stories about courage in the face of tyranny.
The first volume—Full of Hunger and Full of Bread: The World of Jura Soyfer 1912-1939 by Dorothy James—will be published this year in English and in German by Buxus Edition. This compelling work recounts the life of the Austrian novelist and cabaret composer Jura Soyfer.
Jura Soyfer’s writing spoke to the dark era in which he lived and speaks, as well, to the era we are living through now. He is most famous for composing The Dachau Song while a concentration camp prisoner. The back of the English language version of the book features this translation of the last stanza of “Wanderlied der Zeit.”
Recently I learned that my essay “Sing Me a Song of 19 University Place,” which originally appeared in The Southern Review, was cited as a Notable Essay (pp. 220) in the Best American Essays 2019 volume, edited by Rebecca Solnit.
The journal AMP, out of Hofstra University, is the first to publish an excerpt from a new work I call Make.
Heeding the wisdom of Adrienne Rich’s comment “The notes for the poem are the only poem,” Make consists of a 70-page graphic poetic sequence that depicts the enigmatic, grinding, flighty, scary, fun, musical and atonal reality of “the page under the page” or the epic of a creative process at work. Its whispers—shouts—crowds of influences. Here the means is the end.
The manuscript, Meanwhile in the Dronx…, invents a sixth borough of NYC where people driven out of the other five boroughs retreat to resurrect their lives. Including a map and 25 drawings by a Brooklyn-based visual artist Dale Williams—harking back to the 19th Century publishing motif of illustrated socially-conscious literary melodramas—this work locates and adores humans struggling to recreate themselves amid the surreal wreckage of history.
This anthology is now available to the public. Edited by Carmen Maria Machado and Joyelle McSweeney, it includes Chapter 12 of it all melts down to this: a novel in timelines, a project of mine inspired by the drawings of Dale Williams. Below are two posts addressing the release: