Tag Archives: immigrant writer

Immigrants à Gogo

22 Jan


garychangimage via Vulture

Discussing how all immigrant writing is dystopian, the unique pressures of being the children of immigrants, and critiquing their own cultures, Boris Kachka’s interview with Chang-rae Lee and Gary Shteyngart in New York magazine offers brilliant insight on the state of immigrant literature.

Here’s a quote from Shteyngart that particularly resonated with me:

And to jump off of that, I teach Native Speaker in my “Immigrants à Gogo” fiction class at Columbia. I read it every year, and there are phrases like “my mother’s happy kimchi breath” that bowl me over. I didn’t know one had permission to write like this about one’s ethnicity. I was absolutely shocked that one could get away with that. And I didn’t see that with a lot of immigrant writers. I still don’t. I can think of Junot Díaz, a few other immigrant writers, but there’s a lot of this sort of endless overcoming of obstacles, racism, the triumph over adversity, and off we go. And that’s not what Chang-rae writes.

Growing up, I wasn’t at all interested in immigrant fiction because I so often found it to be depressing studies of being the Other. Or else, the overriding factor of the book was ethnic pride or the mystery and allure of that culture. As Lee said:

And the people leading those ethnic pride parades are those members of your group that you probably least admire.

Kachka’s interview with Lee and Shteyngart brings to the forefront many of the concepts I’ve been thinking about for my own memoir, which deals not so much with a personal immigrant experience but more so with expectations and identity from a tangential viewpoint.

You can read the full interview here.

Lowell Celebrates Kerouac: The Typewriter

9 Oct


One evening, a student came into our writing workshop at The New School and announced he’d bought a typewriter.  We were all very impressed.

“What kind?” we asked.

“Where did you get it?”

Most of us were in our twenties or thirties and had grown up using computers.  Many of us had entire mini computers—smart phones—jammed into our pockets and purses at that very moment.  We’d attended readings in bars across Manhattan, where authors had read poetry off their iphones.

But a typewriter!  Now that sounded really literary.  The click-clack of the keys echoing in a bare-bulb room.  Allen Ginsberg’s first-thought-best-thought mantra forced upon a generation accustomed to the “backspace” button on our keyboards.  Facebook procrastination less accessible.

And the history!  Continuing the beautiful tradition of authors attached to specific models of typewriters.

This evening, the documentary The Typewriter will screen at the Lowell National Historical Park Visitor Center Theater (245 Market St.) as part of the Lowell Film Collaborative with Lowell Celebrates Kerouac.  Here’s a little bit about the film from its website:

Three typewriter repairmen the filmmakers have interviewed all agree that their business is better than it has been in years.

Perhaps it is a reaction to the plugged in existence of today’s 24/7 communications world. Perhaps it is mere nostalgia and kitsch. Perhaps it is an admiration for the elegance of design and the value of time-tested workmanship. And for some, like typewriter collector Steve Soboroff, it is the appeal of owning machines on which American writers like Ernest Hemingway, Tennessee Williams, Ray Bradbury, John Updike and Jack London typed some of their finest work. (He also owns typewriters once owned by George Bernard Shaw and John Lennon)

The film is directed by Christopher Lockett and produced by Gary Nicholson.  You can read fascinating typewriter stories here.

As for Jack Kerouac, he owned several typewriters throughout his lifetime but most famously used a 1930s Underwood typewriter.  His father was a printer, so even from a very young age, Kerouac was in a world full of language, literacy, typography, and printing presses.  Not surprisingly, he had a reputation for being a speed typist.  myTypewriter.com offers some background information on Kerouac’s—as well as other literary figures’—use of typewriters.  Burning Furiously Beautiful: The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road will also include information about Kerouac’s typewriter.  Larry Closs‘ novel Beatitude also includes a plot involving Kerouac and typewriters.

Here’s a tip for those of you attending Lowell Celebrates Kerouac or if you happen to find yourself in Lowell any other time: you can see one of Kerouac’s Underwood typewriters, and other memorabilia firsthand at the Mill Girls and Immigrants Exhibit at the Morgan Cultural Center.  It may sound like an unlikely place to view some of Kerouac’s possessions, and it’s not really well advertised, so it’s easy to miss if you don’t know about it, but the exhibit is open 1:30-5:00pm except on major holidays.  It’s free, but even if it weren’t the entire exhibit is fascinating.  The case display for Jack Kerouac is very small, but literary pilgrims will appreciate it nevertheless, since it’s rare to have opportunities to view his personal travel gear and typewriter in person.  The exhibit is engaging in retelling the story of immigration to Lowell.  Many of the immigrants were from Greece so the exhibit gives insight into the influence of Greek culture on Lowell.

Happy 90th Birthday, Jack Kerouac

12 Mar


Today would’ve been Jack Kerouac’s ninetieth birthday.

On March 12, 1922, French-Canadian immigrants Gabrielle and Leo Kerouac had their third, and last, child.  He was born at home, on the second floor of the brown house sitting at 9 Lupine Road in Lowell, Massachusetts.   This was in the West Centralville neighborhood, affectionately called Little Canada, of Lowell.  They baptized the baby boy in the Catholic Church.  His baptism certificate reads: Jean Louis Kirouac.  Although that was the standard Quebec spelling of the surname, the family spelled the name Kerouac.  They would call him Ti Jean, meaning Little John.  In fact, he would publish his first book, The Town & the City as John Kerouac.



I visited Jack Kerouac’s birth home when I attended Lowell Celebrates Kerouac! last October.  Apart from the plaque on the front of the house, nothing sets it apart as a any sort of landmark.  Today a new family lives in Kerouac’s birth home.  When the bus dropped my tour group off, the people came outside and gawked at us pilgrims just as we gawked at their regular-looking house.  I love touring authors’ homes and wish Kerouac’s had been preserved for visitors, but it seems fitting that it wasn’t.  After all, the Kerouacs moved often, and the house at 9 Lupine Road is just one of many that Kerouac lived in in Lowell.  Although he lived much of his life with his mother, Kerouac spent much of his time on the road and crashing at friends’ pads.  “Home” for Kerouac didn’t seem to be a house.