- I had the pleasure and honor of joining Dimitri Anastasopoulos, Dave Kress, and Anne-Laure Tissut for “Purple Brain: A Paul West Panel.” The panel was both well attended and well received. Dimitri took as his starting point PW’s throwaway line “Much fiction is like mustard rubbed on the belly–take it or leave it,” and from it worked an engaging probe into the heart of PW’s project. This included a fresh look at the questions raised by J.M. Coetzee’s character Elizabeth Costello, who takes PW to task for presenting with unaverted gaze the horrors of execution in The Very Rich Hours of Count von Stauffenberg. Anne-Laure, Sorbonne scholar whose many works include her important contributions as editor of Reading Paul West, plied her long experience and keen perception reading West to a compelling examination of the significance of Paul’s work. I presented “The Paul West Experience: Liberating the Microcosms”. The capstone of the panel was Dave Kress’s account of his touching plan to help PW recuperate from his recent stroke by building a model glider, the design of which was created and published by Paul as a boy, and sending the glider to Paul. We hope to have Dave’s account published here at Maximum Fiction in the not-too-distant future.
- I also had the great honor to enjoy lunch with Percival Everett, Nathaniel Mackey, and Mary Caponegro, three stunning authors whose warmth and generosity of spirit put me, a nervous late/slow bloomer with little to recommend him, quite at ease. Many thanks to Dimitri for hosting the lunch, inviting me to join, and much else!
- Attended “Gender,Writing, Innovation: an American Book Review Special Issue,” a panel taking the nature of women’s innovative writing on which Dave Kress held his own admirably as the “token male.” The panel comprised authors who contributed to the ABR special issue mentioned in the panel title: Christina Milletti (moderator), Rebecca Goodman, Christine Hume, Joanna Howard, Dave Kress, and Angela Szczepaniak. The discussion was lively and provocative, but some times drifted away from the matter at hand into questions of literary criticism and theory, and at one point the thought occurred to me that there was a level of discomfort at how women’s innovative fiction is received compared to innovative fiction written by men. Of course, once we launch a work into the literary atmosphere there’s no controlling how it will be received and commented upon. The discussion began to devolve into a question of whether the modifier “innovative” was useful, but Rikki Ducornet intervened, righted the ship, and played a role that qualified her for provisional panelist status! As always, there’s never enough time to fully explore issues related to gender and, well, anything, but the panel served to stimulate a lot of thought and consideration of the matter.
- Attended a spirited reading at Hallwalls featuring Mary Caponegro and Brian Evanson. Brian read his eerie story “Windeye” and an hilarious short short concerning the pitfalls of a woman’s one night stand with a mime. Mary read “Junior Achievement” from her new collection, All Fall Down, a disturbing and darkly humorous piece which on the surface presents an abortion clinic staffed by children.
- Capped off the day’s events by attending an impressive reading by Nathaniel Mackey who presented from, among other works, his lapidary novel Bass Cathedral. This made a fitting bookend to my day, which started with the West panel, because Mackey is a remarkable stylist who soars in the same rarefied air as Paul West.
By the end of the day, I no longer felt I’d missed the train (see yesterday’s post). The art of intelligent prose rendered in an unapologetically personal style not only survives but, in the hands of writers like Caponegro, Everett, Mackey, and Evanson, thrives. Perhaps the troubling point here is that these are writers of my generation and older. Where are the young prose innovators and stylists?
Drinks at the Founding Fathers bar, dinner at Gabriel’s Gate (authentic Buffalo Wings set to a soundtrack of 80s alternative numbers–solid!). Happily, I was joined by Dave Kress and the bright, sprightly contingent of graduate students who also made the trek from U. Maine to Buffalo.