Thursday, October 1, 2015

Readings by the Windham Campbell Prize Winners 2015

There are nine winners of the Windham Campbell Prize. A friend said "if you want to know what a million dollars looks like, just look at those winners", each one gets $150,000.00
Last night's reading at the Yale Art Gallery was a good chance to hear the winners read from their own material with only a small amount of commentary from the host.

Jackie Sibblies Drury: She read from a work in progress that has to do with surveillance, information, enhanced interrogation, all taking place in an NSA-like building. Watching how she distinguishes each character was interesting--she raises a hand to identify which character is talking. Must seek out some of her work. Part of the reason to go to the festival is to listen to people you know of and to discover new writers.

Helena Edmundson: Did not attend.

Debbie Tucker Green: Did not attend.

Teju Cole: He read from Open City, his 2011 novel. The passage read was about the evoking of memories while hearing something. It was cinematic in its description. I have read some of his non-fiction, now it's time to read his fiction.

Helon Habila: He read from his book Oil on Water. There is a deliberateness to his writing, a slowness almost, making you feel what the characters feel. The passage involved a reporter, a kidnapping and a fever. Definitely going to find his books.

Ivan Vladislavic:He read from his non-fiction Portrait with Keys: The City of Johannesburg Unlocked. His descriptions are so evocative. In this case he read about a snowstorm in Jburg (as he referred to it). It takes politics, people and nature and wraps it all up. Definitely deserves a follow up to read.

Geoff Dyer: He read a "lecture" about Jackson Pollock that was both funny, sad, and true. It was also in a sense a bit of satire about holding up artists as these people who can do anything and get away with it.

John Jeremiah Sullivan: He read a story that involved Jefferson and Meriwether (yes, that Jefferson and that Meriwether) and Robert Penn Warren. You have to read it to believe. It involved the murder of a slave named George. It is a horrible story yet crafted and well told by JJ Sullivan. Can't wait to read more by him.

Edmund de Waal: He read from a new book, The White Road, that debuts October 2 in London, It's about porcelain and its history but it is also about de Waal himself and his pursuit. He wrote the The Hare with Amber Eyes which I can't wait to read--it's about a collection of netsukes but that hardly does it justice.

Really, that auditorium should have been filled. The opportunity to see world class writers read from their work for free was a privilege. I learned, I was inspired and I was reminded of the power of the printed word.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Windham Campbell Prizes 2015

Living in New York City it is easier to connect to great writers and other artists. Still, living in Connecticut doesn't shut you out of that access. After all, New York City is still about two hours away and you can still see great things.
The great part about living not that far away from Yale is that they have amazing events that are free all the time.
The part of the year I look forward to most as a writer is the Windham Campbell Prizes Festival. It is a nearly week long event during which nine people are awarded a prize ($150,000.00 each) and there are events the entire week.
Last year's event featuring Zadie Smith meant there was a line out the door. This year with Hilton Als there was no line but there was a profound speech about being black, gay, and living New York City. It was a microscopic view into a world that was being ravaged by AIDS.
I go to the talks not only to hear people I already know about but to listen to others I've never heard of. The prize winners are a diverse group of people from all over the world.

The Art of Fiction: Teju Cole, Helon Habila, Ivan Vladislavic; moderated by Michael Cunningham.
This was a great opportunity to hear, as a writer, that you are not alone in that universe. As Teju Cole said (approximately) "you don't want to go into the basement alone so you take the writer with you."
Hearing a short portion of their writing was a delight, particularly the piece from Mr. Vladislavic which involved taking a photo and its shutter acting as a guillotine.

A Life of White Bowls: Edmund de Waal; moderated by Tim Barringer.
The FT has called him "the most accomplished British potter alive today". Mr. de Waal only produces white pottery yet it is the history behind those pots that informs us. And yes, it felt as though my very British influenced undergraduate education served me well during this talk.