Tag Archives: gender

The Longest Word in Literature Is, Of Course, Greek

10 Dec


I always take a deep breath before I spell out my name for someone, a nonverbal warning to the person asking for it to prepare themselves. “N as in ‘Nancy,’” I say, then pause. “I-K.” Another pause, just like I heard my mother spelling it out so many times to credit card companies over the phone when I was growing up. The spelling out proceeded like that for some time, til all twelve letters were given.

Most of our friends get used to our long last name over time, so when I recently had to spell out the address of where my parents live in Greece for a family friend, I warned her to make sure she had enough room on the paper. This place name was long even for us.

I was not at all surprised, therefore, to learn via The Huffington Post, run by a Greek woman, that literature’s longest word can be found in a Greek play. Aristophanes’ Assemblywomen, an ancient comedy about the upheaval that occurs when women insert themselves in politics (things like: men must sleep with an ugly women before they sleep with a beautiful woman), contains a word that is 171 letters.

From Oliver Tearle:

Since you’re doubtless itching to know what this word is, I’ll give Aristophanes the final word: Lopado­­temacho­­selacho­­galeo­­kranio­­leipsano­­drim­­hypo­­trimmato­­silphio­­parao­­melito­­katakechy­­meno­­kichl­­epi­­kossypho­­phatto­­perister­­alektryon­­opte­­kephallio­­kigklo­­peleio­­lagoio­­siraio­­baphe­­tragano­­pterygon.

And if you’re curious what that looks like in Greek, I found it on Wikipedia:


It’s the name of a dish that has about that many ingredients in it (okay, maybe only 16 or so but that’s still too many ingredients, and it sounds disgusting).


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Burning Furiously Beautiful: The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road” is now available as an ebook and paperback!


On the Road Gets a Girly Makeover

4 Jun

book-coverimage via Cup of Jo

The cover of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road got a girly makeover last month as part of author Maureen Johnson’s challenge Coverflip, which asked people to imagine how the covers of famous books would look if they had been written by people of the opposite gender.

The experiment stems from the growing conversation surrounding how books are gendered. For more on this subject, I’d recommend reading Deboarah Copaken Kogan’s article “My So-Called ‘Post-Feminist’ Life in Arts and Letters” for The Nation, about the title and cover for her memoir Shutterbabe about her years as a war photographer. (See the disconnect? babe. war.)

The feminized cover of On the Road seen above—a fake, done in jest to prove Johnson’s point that covers are gendered—interestingly enough bears a resemblance to the real marketing materials for the recent film adaptation of Kerouac’s novel. Whether it was the film poster or the trailer, Kristen Stewart—who played LuAnne—was front and center. The US edition of the movie tie-in novel went with a collage effect but check out this Italian cover:



Lest you think the Italians are alone for some reason, it’s the same cover used for the Australian edition and the French edition.

What are we to make of the fact the movie-tie in editions look more like the fake Coverflip experiment than more recent printings of On the Road? Are the marketing teams behind these new editions trying to appeal to young women? Are they assuaging misogynistic critiques by giving a female character more attention—or are they actually embracing misogyny by using an image of a woman as a marketing tool?

For more on this subject, you might like:

Judging On the Road by Its Covers

Gender Bias Strikes Again in the Lit World

6 Mar

VIDA charted the number of male-versus-female book reviewers and authors reviewed—and it doesn’t look good. By and large, men are reviewing and getting reviewed much more often than women. And yet, according to this old article on NPR, women read more than men. Go figure.

Two years ago, I presented the argument I’d heard that women aren’t submitting as often as men to the big-name publications. I’ve heard it said that this is because men are more likely to take risks or feel like they could actually get published in these magazines and journals, while in contrast women feel like they aren’t good enough writers yet and so don’t query as often in general and that when they do it’s to smaller, lesser-known publications. I’d still like to see some hard evidence of this.

Tin House responded to this year’s VIDA report, with editor Rob Spillman saying:

Our unsolicited submissions are nearly 50/50 consistently year to year, and our acceptance rate is also 50/50. Agented submissions average closer to 2/3 men versus 1/3 women, with acceptance rates around 60/40. Interestingly, the number of agents who are sending these submissions are 2/3 women versus 1/3 men. We were also surprised to find that although we solicited equal numbers of men and women, men were more than twice as likely to submit after being solicited. This even applies to writers I’ve previously published.

History has taught us to read “dead white men” so I don’t think it’s all that surprising that even female agents would pass along more male writers than female. What I do find curious is that, according to Spillman, women writers are less likely to send work in when it’s directly asked for.


Anne Waldman Speaks on How Beat Poets Selling Out Helped Naropa

28 Jan

If you have about an hour to spare, this interview with poet Anne Waldman at the University of Texas at Austin touches on Jack Kerouac’s awareness of the arts world at the time, the New York School poets and Black Mountain poets, Beatnik-inspired clothing and selling out, how the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa got its name and why it’s not named after Gertrude Stein, the passing of Gregory Corso and Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs’ cut-up techniques, women of the Beat Generation, the Bowery Poetry Club, and her mother’s time in Greece. It’s a thoughtful interview that’s well worth listening to.

The interview was in conjunction with the Harry Ransom Center’s 2008 exhibit On the Road with the Beats.


The How-To Books in Men’s Apartments

26 Dec


The other day a friend invited me over to his apartment for the first time. As I surveyed the apartment—Christmas lights as everyday decorations, a well-stocked bar, a computer as the focal point of the décor: the essential makings of a man cave—I spotted a bookshelf. When I’d first met him, we’d talked about literature, and I’d been impressed by what he was reading at the time and by his exemplary knowledge of literature. I walked over to the skinny bookshelf, thinking I’d find inspiration for my next read, but instead I discovered a bunch of how-to books related to his profession. It was an interesting insight into who he is.

About a month prior to this, I visited another friend’s apartment for the first time. She’s subletting a furnished place from a guy who had multiple get-your-body-in-shape-without-even-trying books. I’d never met him yet I automatically judged him by the books on his shelf. One book about working out is acceptable to me. Multiple books that make promises of getting a ripped bod without breaking a sweat made me think he’s not only boring but also delusional. I bet he’s the type of guy who orders pepperoni pizza from chains and takes girls to Dave & Busters on dates.

Having snooped around people’s apartments, I’ve noticed that women generally devote more space in their apartments for housing their books. They tend to have kept the books they read in college as well as added new works of fiction, memoir, and photographic cookbooks. Men, more than women, have how-to manuals on their bookshelves. Of course that’s not always the case. The people I know with the most books are men, and they’re men who read fiction, poetry, and criticism. In fact, I know one man who supposedly has a whole apartment just for his books. I haven’t seen it with my own eyes, but I don’t doubt it. It’s just that these men are fewer and farther between.

Beat Poetry Competition at the Nuyorican

17 Dec


Checked out the Beat poetry slam at The Nuyorican Poets Cafe over on the Lower East Side during Beat Week. “We’re excited to be here in a proper poet’s cafe, celebrating a proper poet,” said host Mahogany Browne. The Nuyorican was cofounded by Miguel Algarin, who knew Jack Kerouac back in the day. Browne encouraged the audience to snap as she read a quote from On the Road “like the Beat poets” did “because they were too high to clap.” Of Kerouac’s famous novel, she said, “It’s a dude book. [The characters] get to travel all over the world and fall in love. I’d be too scared [to go on the road].” Hm… sounds familiar.

Browne, a poet in her own right, said the contestants would be “burning some poems on this motherf*cking mic.” She explained that slam is “the Olympics of poetry.” The poets were competing for a chance to win $50 and the soundtrack to the film adaptation of On the Road. The judges were told to rank each poet from 1 to 10, with decimals and exclamation points encouraged. The poets each had a unique style. Some poets appeared to be seasoned professionals, who had memorized their words, and others seemed like brave young artists. Even the quieter, dreamier poems were powerful. I love the way the photographs I took show the energy of the poetry.

There was also a Jack Kerouac trivia contest. I abstained from reading at the event and wasn’t planning on competing in the trivia contest, but when everyone was stumped, I couldn’t help but blurt out the answer. A teenaged girl in the audience wanted to win so desperately that she practically fell out of her chair trying to ask me for trivia answers. Instead of helping her cheat, I just gave her the winning copy of the On the Road novel. I’ve never seen anyone want to read a book that badly, and it was my little way of encouraging people to read Kerouac.

Afterwards I talked to one of the poets, a guy who’d been on the road himself. He was a truck driver and had also spent time studying painting in Syria. I liked how each poet had their own story to tell.


Clip: On the Highway of Love, Jack Kerouac Divides Men and Women

16 Aug

The Millions published my essay “On the Highway of Love, Jack Kerouac Divides Men and Women.”

The article made the headline in the Page-Turner section of The New Yorker.

It also made it into the On the Shelf section of The Paris Review.

The article was mentioned in The Atlantic Wire.

Poets & Writers mentioned the article in their Daily News on 8/14/12 … and then again on 8/15/12 to note the response the article has gotten.

That second P&W write up was mentioning Slate‘s response.

Jezebel also devoted a whole article to my article.

Guy Librarian referenced the discussion.

The article was also mentioned on The Daily Beast.

The Huffington Post added commentary to the discussion.

8/19/12; 8/22/12: This post was updated to include additional mentions.