Tag Archives: Paris Review

The Personal “I” in Literature: Narcissus & Literature at the Onassis Festival

12 Oct


Is writing inherently narcissistic? Even when writing in the third person, can the writer ever fully disappear from the page? Is the personal “I” more trustworthy in journalism because it acknowledges the reporter’s presence? Is the personal “I” in literary fiction more prone to becoming an unreliable narrator than a third-person narrator?

Lorin Stein, editor in chief of The Paris Review, sat down with Donald Antrim, Elif Batuman, and Jessica Moss to tackle the question of how writers interact with the mirror of the page in the panel Narcissism & Literature at the Onassis Festival‘s Narcissism Now: The Myth Reimagined on October 10, 2015.

Jessica Moss, professor of philosophy at NYU, opened the dialogue up by discussing Plato’s RepublicShe discussed Plato’s thoughts on writing in the first person versus the third person, literary concepts that didn’t quite yet have terms at the time. She revealed that Plato believed that a first-person narrator should be “a good, noble person.”

The author of The PossessedElif Batuman is also well-known for her journalism for n+1 and The New YorkerShe related that she likes putting herself into her journalism pieces because she feels she will be perceived as more trustworthy. Her editor, at times, disagrees, telling her to remove herself from the story. Batuman transitioned the conversation from the Greek Plato to the Russian Fyodor Dostoyevsky. She told how Dostoyevsky — or as Jack Kerouac would call him, Dusty — originally wrote Crime and Punishment in first-person diary form before switching to the third-person narrator of the published version. In discussing this, the panelists agreed that the third-person showed the story through more action.

Donald Antrim, who also frequently writers for The New Yorker, is the author of the memoir The Afterlife, which deals with his relationship with his mother, Louanne Antrim, and resulted in him writing in the third person to tell her life story. Antrim explained that one of the pitfalls of the first-person narrator is that he or she is constantly in the reader’s ear, justifying his viewpoint. Antrim said, “We’re not interested in a narrator who’s telling us all the time what to think.” Antrim brought the conversation from the Greek Plato and the Russian Dostoyevsky to the English Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s Frankenstein, an interesting exploration of narration, which starts out as a letter from a sea captain, transitions into Victor Frankenstein telling his story, and then transitions into the story of the monster.

Antrim said, “The third person doesn’t require having things figured out”; he explained that, in contrast, a first-person narrator either is telling the reader exactly how he or she feels in that moment or is reflecting on that moment. Stein said the first-person stories that interest him are the ones where there is dramatic irony because the narrator doesn’t know something. He suggested French novels use more immediate first person than American novels do. That reminded me of how Darcey Steinke once said French authors think American writers write “close to the house,” an expression, if I remember correctly, that suggested American authors over-explain themselves. As a memoirist, this is something I’ve spent significant time thinking about and working out in my writing. I once had someone in a workshop come up with what they thought was a revelation about why I acted and thought the way I did and she asked me if I realized that thing about myself, and I, frankly, was surprised that she’d asked me that because I had purposely written to reveal that very same thing. I had thought my subtlety was a sign of good writing, but their question made me wonder if people would think I’m not self-aware if I don’t spell things out for them. Unfortunately there wasn’t a Q&A for the panel because I would’ve been quite curious to hear the panelists thoughts on immediacy and self-awareness in memoir writing. I was surprised there wasn’t more talk about memoir, personal essay, semi-autobiographical writing, and the insertion of the personal “I” in journalism in a panel on narcissism. The discussion of narration in literature, however, was riveting.



A Collage of Art and Literature at the Guggenheim

14 Aug
Carol Bove, Vague Pure Affection, 2012, wood and steel shelves, paper, brass, concrete, and acrylic, 85″ x 35 1/2″ x 16″. © Carol Bove, photo courtesy Maccarone Inc., New York
When I was growing up, I wanted to be an artist. So I became a writer. At Scripps College, I majored in English literature and minored in studio art. I wrote my thesis on the influence the Abstract Expressionist painters had the Beat Generation. At The New School, I studied the collaboration between the poets and painters of the New York School, which also touched on a lesser extent on the Beats. Next month, at the Festival of Women Writers in the Catskills, I will be teaching a writing class called Cut-Ups, Jazz-Poetry, and Picture Poems: Writing Under the Influence of the Beat Generation.
So you can imagine how excited I am about the Storylines exhibit at the Guggenheim. Robert Anthony Siegel did a provocative write-up on it in The Paris Review.
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You can pick up your copy of Burning Furiously Beautiful: The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road” here.

That’s Cute that You Think You’re Subversive: How the CIA Promoted the Radical Arts During the Cold War

29 Jul




During a recent writing workshop that I’m part of with two female writers, our conversation rambled along to the topic of how the CIA had advanced abstract expressionism. That weekend one of the writers asked if I’d pass along the article I had referred to. I did a quick search for it online, and realized I’d actually read several articles about how the CIA had been involved in promoting artistic and intellectual communities that many people tend to think of as nonconformist, liberal, and subversive.

Here’s a quick roundup of articles about the CIA promoting nonconformist art and literature:

  • The article I was thinking of was The Independent‘s “Modern art was CIA ‘weapon,’” about how the CIA used art to show how free-thinking the US was in comparison to Russia during the Cold War
  • The Chronicle of Higher Education published “How Iowa Flattened Literature,” which shows the CIA’s involvement with the esteemed Iowa Writers Workshop
  • Work in Progress’George the Gentlemanly Ghost,” references the CIA being involved in The Paris Review.  It’s worth noting that Jack Kerouac’s first clip from On the Road was published in The Paris Review. (You can read more about that in my book Burning Furiously Beautiful.)
  • Encounter Magazine, the UK lit mag founded by poet Stephen Spender and journalist Irving Kristol in 1953, was funded by the CIA

I’m sure there are more, some we know of and some we don’t. Please add your stories and links in the comments section.

There’s a lot to be said here, but it raised a few questions for me:

  • Without the CIA’s help in funding and promoting modern arts, would these works have remained obscure?
  • Is modern art a scam, and traditionalists correct that it’s not real art?
  • Is the art and literature of the 1950s and ’60s a reaction to or a product of its times?
  • Can something be subversive even if it’s a political ploy?

Whole books could be written in answer to these questions. They’re important topics to consider and discuss, but I want to take a far less Big Brother approach and ask:

  • What are you trying to accomplish by being subversive?
  • Why do you want to be different?
  • Where do you get your information and how do you evaluate it?
  • Who is challenging you to think outside of your own box?

I’m all for dancing to the beat of your own drum. But is that what you’re really doing?


Jack Kerouac’s First Novel Translated in Persian, and It’s Not “On the Road”

3 Feb


More than fifty years after he rose to literary stardom in America, a novel by Jack Kerouac is being published in Persian for the first time, according to Iran Book News Agency.

Rozaneh Publications hired Farid Qadami to translate Kerouac’s The Dharma Bums.

Apparently you can get Farsi subtitles to the film adaptation of On the Road but the novel hasn’t been translated into Persian yet.

Although this may be the first time a novel by Kerouac is being translated into Farsi, the Iran Book News Agency reported in 2010 that Kerouac’s poetry volume Book of Haikus was translated into Persian by poet Alireza Abiz, a story that David S. Wills covered for Beatdom.

In his now famous interview with Ted Berrigan published by The Paris Review, Kerouac claimed to have Persian origins:

And it’s a Cornish name, which in itself means cairnish. And according to Sherlock Holmes, it’s all Persian. Of course you know he’s not Persian. Don’t you remember in Sherlock Holmes when he went down with Dr. Watson and solved the case down in old Cornwall and he solved the case and then he said, “Watson, the needle! Watson, the needle . . .” He said, “I’ve solved this case here in Cornwall. Now I have the liberty to sit around here and decide and read books, which will prove to me . . . why the Cornish people, otherwise known as the Kernuaks, or Kerouacs, are of Persian origin.”

Here is a story about Houman Harouni translating Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl” into Farsi, which I found via the Allen Ginsberg Project.


6 Best Books of 2013, According to Me

26 Dec

It’s that time of year when everyone’s doing their Best of 2013 lists, so I figured I’d add mine!

I know most people pick 5 or 10, but I picked 6. Why 6, you ask? For arbitrary reasons. Yes, I read more than 6 books this year. No, they weren’t all from 2013. And no, not every book that I read that was published in 2013 made this list. These just happen to be the very best of the books that I read that were published in 2013.

This isn’t a ranking, but rather a listing in a way that one theme flows into the next.



This Is Paradise by Kristiana Kahakauwila

I saw this face-out on a shelf at Barnes & Noble, picked it up, and read the first few lines. The prose was exquisite. I’d nearly given up on fiction, frustrated at how it can be so overwritten yet simple at the same time. This was the type of writing I’d been missing in my life. The language is just gorgeous. I want to reread it already.



The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer

I had read Wolitzer’s The Wife in grad school and felt it was too heavy-handed, so I cautiously picked this one up after hearing the high praise for it, which almost always dooms a book for me. The Interestings deserves to be on every best of 2013 list. Not only are the story and the themes (the nature of love, the nature of friendships, family, jealousy, career, money, art, New York) thought-provoking on many levels, but the writing strikes that perfect balance of appearing both deliberate and breezy, literary yet conversationally authentic. It’s the type of book I want to now read reviews of and discuss with others, especially women artists.



Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg

I read this for my Scripps College book club, which is composed of alumni from a wide range of class years from the women’s college. We’re all at various stages of our careers, including stay-at-home moms, working moms with infants, moms whose children have flown the nest, recent grads who have just entered the workforce, and mid-career-level women in relationships and not. Some have Ph.D.s, others want to be yoga instructors. The resulting conversation we had about this book is that, in the end, you have to find out what works for you and that may change depending on where you are in your life.

I also happened to finally get around to reading a book a colleague had given to me a few years ago: Patty Azzarello’s Rise: How to be Really Successful at Work AND Like Your Life, which came out in 2010. While Sandberg’s book is chock-full of important statistics and food for thought, Azzarello’s, though perhaps not as carefully edited, offers tips that are actually practical for people in the workforce.



A House in the Sky by Amanda Lindhout and Sara Corbett

This book, the true story about a Canadian journalist and her Australian ex-boyfriend photographer who are kidnapped in Somalia, gave me nightmares. Literally. I became obsessed with the story, reading articles,  watching interviews with the people involved, and following them on Twitter. It got me thinking a lot about perceptions of the West, feminism, and ambition.



Manana Means Heaven by Tim Z. Hernandez

The publisher sent me this book, and I was a bit leery going into it that it would come off as fan fiction, but Hernandez’s Manana Means Heaven is an incredibly important book to the Beat canon. Through poetic diction, this novel tells the moving story of one of the little-known people who crossed paths with Jack Kerouac. It gives voice to a woman who didn’t even know she’d been written about decades earlier in On the Road.

You can read my interview with Tim here.



My Heart Is an Idiot by Davy Rothbart

I’ve written about Davy Rothbart before, having encountered one of the stories in this book in The Paris Review and comparing him to Jack Kerouac and then going to see him read in Brooklyn, where I met his dad and pulled a sword out of his cohort. This book technically came out last year, but the paperback came out this year, and it is brilliant. I had to stifle my laughter quite a few times on the subway to keep people from staring at me as I read this book. The thing is, though, there’s a lot of heart in this book too. It’s more than just a bunch of stories that make your eyes bug with incredulity over the antics Rothbart gets himself in. It shows the tenderness and beauty and wonder of humanity in all its forms, from an aspiring DJ to a con-artist.


Tell me your favorite books of 2013 below in the comments section. I’m looking for some new reads, and I figure if you read my blog we probably have similar taste! …And by similar taste, that probably means all over the board.


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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!


Writing Wednesday: Is Greatness Sabotaging Your Writing?

18 Dec
For better or worse, I don’t recognize a lot of critics’ names. David L. Ulin is an exception. Book critic for The Los Angeles Times, Ulin writes reviews that do so much more than summarize or sweep up a book in a blanket statement. His reviews critique on a higher intellectual plane.
Of course, it helped that he articulated so much of what I felt when I’d read Bruce Bawer’s attack in the New Criterion on Jack Kerouac being included in the Library of America. That’s not to say he unscrupulously defended Kerouac’s poetry—he admitted the Kerouac poem Bawer quoted is “negligible”—but he called Bawer out on spending more time focusing on the so-called Beat label and the people associated with it than on digging into Kerouac’s individual style and innovations.
But I digress.
Ulin has an essay entitled “My First Book(s)”  in the Paris Review Daily that first-time and struggling writers should read. With humorous (not silly—witty) self-deprecation, he writes about what provoked him to write (jealousy, opportunity) and how he got so bogged down in ideas that he incapacitated his body of work. Perhaps my favorite line from the essay:
I was twenty that summer, turning twenty-one in August, and I felt a growing pressure to be (how do I put this without reservation or irony?) great.
That parenthetical itself says so much about not only writing but the human condition. Guarding ourselves through cleverness we can become inauthentic. Sometimes the more we strive to be “great,” the more we lose our true vision and voice. We lose our stories. We lose ourselves.
He writes:
But here’s what is important: I sabotaged my own book. I did this in two ways, first by overthinking and then by overtalking, by telling everyone I knew everything about the work.
Replete with quotes from renowned authors, “My First Book(s)” explores the expectations an author puts of himself, some of which are naïve (“I had gathered so much material—so much unused material—that I’d had the fantasy the book would write itself…”) and some of which are nearly impossible to live up to (“I wanted to write not just a novel but a landmark novel…”).
Ulin’s essay is a refreshing read for all of us who get overwhelmed by our own “big” ideas. It’s also a gentle reminder that all writing—including our unpublished writing—is worthwhile because it teaches us about the process and improves our skills.
In the same link roundup in which they mentioned Ulin’s essay, Poets & Writers linked to a blog post by Percy Jackson author Rick Riordan that also spoke to the slippery idea of greatness:
One thing I’ve discovered. People who believe they are awesome and wonderful at their profession are often . . . not. People who have more self-doubt, who question themselves and are always examining what they did wrong and how they might do better – those folks are often better than they think they are, and they are much more likely to improve. It’s a difficult balance, between self-confidence and self-reflection. No wonder writers are a little barmy. But it is an important balance to strike.
Riordan continues:
Writing is hard. Not everyone can do it. It requires a combination of innate talent and lots and lots of practice and endurance. It also requires the right story, and publishing that story at the right time.
Though they have dissimilar writing styles, Riordan and Ulin both suggest that writing requires humility and stamina.

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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!

The Coffee Habit of Jack Kerouac

25 Sep

I’m on a coffee kick! Following up on my post about coffee and personality, I wanted to take a look at Jack Kerouac’s coffee habits.

Although people are quick to point to Jack Kerouac’s proclivity for alcohol, he downed coffee while writing On the Road. Okay, he may have also been hopped up on bennies—that’s Benzedrine—but his intake of coffee during that writing spree is notorious.

In the famous Paris Review interview between Kerouac and Ted Berrigan, Kerouac said that it wasn’t until Satori in Paris that he “wrote with drink at my side (cognac and malt liquor).”

Of writing, Book of Dreams, he explained how coffee entered into his writing process:

Bleary eyes, insaned mind bemused and mystified by sleep, details that pop out even as you write them you don’t know what they mean, till you wake up, have coffee, look at it, and see the logic of dreams in dream language itself, see?

As for how he took his coffee, Kerouac apparently drank it black.

The Writerly Blog Hop

3 Apr


Huffington Post columnist and Burnside Writers Collective colleague Emily Timbol invited me to join a blog hop organized by writer Kirsten Oliphant of the wonderfully titled blog I Still Hate Pickles. You may remember that I participated in The Next Big Thing Blog Hop last year. I kind of feel like they’re the chain letters of the blog world and am infinitely curious who’s in my six degrees of separation.

Kirsten says in her “about me” section on her blog that she doesn’t like rules, so it should come as no surprise that she gave me and the other blog hoppers some general guidelines but told us we didn’t have to follow any set format or answer every question. Since I’m one of those creative types that tends to actually like rules (blame the editor side of my brain), I am taking a literal approach to the blog hop and answering her questions one by one.


What makes you (or makes a person) a writer?

A while back there was a funny meme going around called “What People Think Writers Do,” which shows just how relevant it is to discuss what makes a person a writer. There are all sorts of writers—some are political journalists, some write children’s books, some have their books turned into films, some are hobbyists. I don’t think it’s fair to place absolute judgment on who qualifies as a writer. There are many poets and fiction writers who only became famous late in life or even after death. Is a little girl writing in a diary a writer? What if I tell you her name is Anne Frank? Is a doctor who writes poetry on the side a writer? What if his name is William Carlos Williams? Okay, but what if that doctor is a career oncologist who writes nonfiction about cancer? Does it make a difference if his name is Siddhartha Mukherjee and he won a Pulitzer Prize for The Emperor of Maladies? Even if he never writes another book again? Is a blogger a writer? Is a grant writer a writer? Is someone a writer just because they have to write emails at work? Is there a difference between being a writer and writing? I wouldn’t say that whether someone is published or not or whether someone earns money or not means they are or are not a writer, but I would suggest that being a writer, in the sense of it meaning more than someone who occasionally writes their name on a check or writes a grocery list, means being intentional. This could mean being intention in carving out time for writing or being intentional in the selection of words, but not necessarily so: William S. Burroughs, for instance, used a cut-up technique that displaced authorial syntax yet he is still considered a writer.

So do I have the right to call myself a writer? Well, my name has appeared on book covers across the country and the New Yorker and the Paris Review have mentioned my writing. Then again, I don’t live off my writing—I didn’t even make a thousand dollars off my writing last year—and most people have never heard of me. I call myself a writer because even when I’m not writing I am thinking about writing.


Why is it sometimes hard to fess up to being a writer?

There are two big reasons why I sometimes have a difficult time admitting I’m a writer. The first is that when I introduce myself as a writer to people, they automatically ask who my publisher is—and I mean even people who aren’t in the industry suddenly want to know who the gatekeepers who let me through are or want some sort of proof that validates me as more than just the (in their mind) dreaded hobbyist. I feel like it’s like saying I’m a woman, and then someone asking who my gynecologist is. For the record, Barnes & Noble and HarperCollins Publishers have published books containing my writing. The truth, though, is that I sometimes don’t feel comfortable confessing to being a writer because I haven’t written, or published, a full-length book by myself—yet.

The second reason I don’t always like confessing that I’m a writer is because I am an editor. I personally feel that these two callings work well together, but I have noticed that people in publishing houses tend to think that the only reason I am an editor is because I’m trying to get published. I wish I was that savvy! The truth is that I began a career in book publishing because I love working with words. When I was starting out as a proofreader, the idea of being an author seemed like some far-off imagery dream, like being an astronaut. I always had a need to write, and even back then wrote for various publications, but I wasn’t diligently working on my own book. I really love working at a publishing house, seeing a book go from concept to finished product. I love working with authors and helping them achieve their dreams. From my experience, there are a lot of people in the industry who are editors and publishers because they love books and not because they themselves want to be writers. I just happen to be both.


How does writing affect your identity or otherwise impact your life?

I tend to view my experiences through the lens of being a writer. When I go to an art gallery, I automatically think that I have to write about the art I saw. When there’s a particularly momentous current event, I feel the need to write it down in my diary. It’s not just a matter of mining life for stories. I process information by writing. I often joke that I don’t really know what I think about something until I write about it.

Being a memoirist has helped me understand my identity beyond being a writer. Agents and editors tell writers that their main characters should never be a writer. But what do you do if you’re a memoirist and your main character is you, a writer? You dig deeper, you don’t allow your writerly self to speak for who you are. When you can’t rely on that shorthand of clichés about being a writer, that fancy wordwork that hides your true identity, you’re left with just yourself. Writing doesn’t just allow me to be myself—it forces me to be myself.

Want to join the blog hop? Answer the questions however you see fit on your own blog and post a link below as well as link to Kirsten’s post.

My Year in Review: 2012

4 Jan

What a full year 2012 was! Here’s a quick little recap:::


In January I announced that the rumors were true. But it took the full year for it to finally look like this.


In February I joined Pinterest to discover how it may help me as a writer and have been happily pinning ever since.


In March my personal essay was included in the book Creating Space.


In April I was one of the editors representing the Burnside Writers Collective at the Festival of Faith & Writing. It was so special to get to catch up with the other editors and writers, whom I just adore. I also had the opportunity to teach a writing workshop while I was there.



Image via On the Road with Bob Holman / Rattapallax

In April I also worked to create awareness about what we lose when we lose a language. My interview with poet Bob Holman appeared in BOMBlog.

In May I received my MFA in creative nonfiction from The New School. I had a fantastic thesis advisor and a beloved peer group, who challenged me to dig deeper in my memoir about growing up Greek American. After I read a snippet at our thesis reading, an instructor I’d never even had came up to tell me how much he liked my work!


Image via The Human Tower / Rattapallax

In June I witnessed the world record being broken for the tallest castell on a rooftop.


In July I heard Amber Tamblyn read for The Paris Review at the Strand. Afterwards we somehow ended up on the elevator together, and I didn’t say anything to her. I never know in those situations if it’s polite to say something like “nice reading” or if the person just wants her privacy. I know she’s involved in the Beat literature community, though, so I should’ve probably talked to her about that.


Image via The Millions

In August an article I wrote about a funny incident I had related to Jack Kerouac sparked a fiery debate and went viral, getting mentioned everywhere from The New Yorker to The Paris Review.


Photo via RA Araya

In September I had one of the most surreal moments of my life–reading with David Amram. I got to hear him perform again, this time as an enthralled audience member, in December.


Photo via RA Araya

That month I also read for poet Miguel Algarin‘s birthday bash.


I also road tripped through northern and central California, visiting Cannery Row, City Lights Bookshop, The Beat Museum, and attending my college friend’s wedding.


In October Hurricane Sandy hit New York, and I spent a lot of time in bed.


In November I failed miserably at NaNoWriMo, but I had a lot of fun creating this ever-evolving Pinterest board for the book I never wrote.

I also gave a reading that got upstaged by a wedding proposal.


In December there was a flurry of Jack Kerouac-related activities to promote the film adaptation of On the Road, and I got to see author Ann Charters and film director Walter Salles in person at IFC. I also got to take a writing class with screenwriter Jose Rivera at 3rd Ward.

I also went out to Lowell and got to meet Jack Kerouac’s friend and pallbearer Billy Koumantzelis.


What were the highlights of 2012 for you?

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.