Frank Warren and humility.

(Better four days late than never, I suppose!)

Frank Warren is, perhaps, one of the most fortunate men alive. By only spreading around a few postcards on a cold Maryland day, he has become the guardian for the secrets of thousands. What surprised me, however, was the gentleness of this man; he is not only lucky, but he is refreshingly aware of just how fortunate he is.

I went into the Warren talk expecting the man to be, at best, pretentious; artists often become a little over-proud of their work and tend to speak of it as though it is the key to human existence. Warren, as best as I can tell, does not even consider himself an “artist”. He never referred to himself as such; he never even referred to himself as an author. He refers to himself purely as a “guardian of secrets”, and acknowledges that the true authors of his book and website are legion. What surprised me the most was his quiet humility; he didn’t even play up how he had an “awesome idea” to get people to share their secrets, he was – and remains – genuinely surprised at how large his project has gotten.

This, to me at least, was exceptionally refreshing. As I’ve said, too many artists today become too wrapped up in their work, especially when it’s a bit “out in left field” as PostSecret is. Frank Warren could claim to be the genius messiah who gets people to reveal their secrets to him and then attempt to psychoanalyze them publically; instead, he publically takes the stance that the secrets he receives should be judged upon their own merits. He is not an artist; he is a gallery master, and he knows this and fills the role as best anyone could.

There was one thing I was tempted to ask him but I couldn’t bring myself to do so in public: had he ever considered the idea that, since the secrets are now shared publically, that many of his entries these days may in fact be fake and produced purely for artistic value? Certainly many of the more recent postcards have had comparatively high production values. But now, I realize, the question is moot: fabricated secrets or not, Warren has become something like a museum curator. Even fake secrets still state something about their author; they can still provoke thought. They are as worthy of publication as anything else he has received.

I can only hope that more artists – and artistas! – take the stance that Warren does towards his work. Art is meant to inspire and provoke thought, but that does not make the people producing the art superior. Warren relies upon free “art” which arrives in his mailbox daily. He knows he is dependent on others… and he approaches it with a wonderful humility.

A Heartbreaking Eggers Experience

Dave Eggers 10/05/06

During my freshman year of college, I was given by my best friend a copy A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. I read it from cover to cover in two days. I was going through a rough period of my life, and Egger’s humor, poignancy and beautifully written sadness really struck a chord with me. Until that point I had a preconceived notion that all books nominated for the Pulitzer prize were morose dramas that dealt with far more serious topics. Genius, however, was not. It was a good, family dramady that was written with more soul and passion than any book I had read that year. The idea that such a book could make it to the ranks of top prize wowed me. It changed my perceptions on the publishing and literary world, and encouraged me to take my writing seriously.

When I found out that Eggers was coming for the Fall for the Book festival, I was definitely too excited. So excited, in fact, that I misread the schedule and thought he was coming on Sunday instead of Thursday. Before the speech, I waited anxiously outside. It was like going to a seminar of the director of your favorite movie; you’re familiar with his material that is going to be discussed, and you’re dying to know the inside stories that inspired him.

Eggers took the stage and he was exactly as I pictured him: curly, no fuss hair; blazer paired with jeans; and a vaguely uncomfortable stance. Most of the writers I have seen have proven themselves to be pretty mediocre public speakers, and Eggers was no exception. But the difference between Eggers and everyone else: where I was bored with other authors, Eggers made me instantly feel comfortable. It was as if the audience and Eggers were old friends meeting after a long separation. It’s hard for me to believe that this guy was older than twenty-five; he was so informal and relaxed, he could have been a graduate student.

On a critical note, I was really disappointed with the lack of discussion of his novels. A more than generous portion of his presentation was on his 826 projects; while they were extremely funny and I was impressed with his charity and devotion, I wanted to know more about his upcoming novel about the Lost Boys and his previous works. Some important aspects of his writing process were revealed in his question and answer section, but before that, we weren’t given a sample of Eggers the award winning author, we were given a taste of Eggers the multi-tasking humanitarian.

Overall, though, I was impressed with his time on stage. I was disappointed that I did not have a book for him to sign, but I loved how he asked the audience to stick around, talk and ask him questions after he was done. Unlike other authors I have heard, he seemed to really be engaged with his audience, and really invested in their opinions. I could also tell this when he explained why they print their books so elegantly—Eggers cares about the people who read his books. He wants to give them an experience that not only lasts for the duration of reading, but for forever after.

Humor and Humanity Catch Me Off Guard

When I signed on to see Dave Eggers, the only thing I knew about him was this: “Dave Eggers, bestselling author of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius and founder of McSweeney’s, reads from his work and receives the 2006 Mason Prize, celebrating an author whose body of work has made extraordinary contributions to bringing literature to a wide reading public” (http://www.fallforthebook.org). I had never heard of his name, his bestselling book, his writing centers, or his journal, but based on this little blurb, I was not expecting much. To further my ignorance, I had never been to any literary reading; I walked in expecting some hot-shot author to come in, accept an award, read from one his literary hits, answer some questions like “What do you suggest we do if we want to become writers?” and leave. I was pleasantly surprised that this was not the case; instead of being bored out of my mind (which I can assure I would have been if the entirety of his presentation had been his reading), I was between needing stitches and a box Kleenex the entire time.
The most appealing thing about Dave Eggers was his candid humor; if I had read any of his work before his talk, I probably would have expected it. Whether he was describing the pounding lights in his face, the response of the audience to his typical “How are you tonight?” thing that many people on stage do, the concept of his 826 stores, or his work, Eggers maintained a sense of humor throughout the night that had me, and much of the audience, in hysterics. There was a fairly young crowd gathered to see him, and in the beginning, there was not much enthusiasm. The clapping after he received his Mason Prize was akin to “polite applause.” However, his humor definitely elicited a more keen interest in what he had to say, which was important. Admittedly, I was partially hoping that Eggers would strike me as pompous, boring, superficial, out-of-touch with the world, ignorant, or neglectful of issues, because that would make for a better assignment response, although I would have to suffer for an hour and a half to get it. My hopes were dashed, and better paper topic or not, I was thrilled with his talk; plus, I learned a valuable (age-old) lesson: you should never judge a book (or blurb) by its cover.
Indeed, aside from the fact that Eggers is charming and witty, what struck me most was his sincere interest in helping children with literacy. In fact, his talk lasted over an hour, and more than half of it was dedicated to informing the audience about his 826 project and how we, members of this community, can help. He appealed to his young, college-based audience to use our skills and free time and to help children in our community grow in writing. His stories about how the 826 project came to be were funny and endearing, but also proved the point that anyone can do something like this, that anything is possible. Eggers spent much more of his time explaining and promoting his writing centers that help the youth with literacy than he did on any one of his literary works, McSweeney’s included. However, if there was a close second, it was the horrible social situation in Sudan, and how Eggers came to be involved in raising awareness about it. The only reading aloud that Eggers did was from his new book, What is the what?, which explores the impact this social crisis has had on the Lost Boys of Sudan. I cannot express the relief that I felt going to hear an author talk, expecting to hear about their background, how they rose to the top, everything they have accomplished, and finding instead a person who uses humor to talk almost exclusively about projects undertaken for the greater good. Next year, I think I’ll forego the blurbs altogether, and dig a little deeper before I hear an author speak. Then again, maybe I’ll let myself be pleasantly surprised all over again.

Ron McClarty Writer? Actor?

On Monday the 2nd of October, I went to a Fall for the Book event. The speaker was a man Named Ron Mclarty, his book just got published called “The Memory of Running.” During his speech he read a couple of excerpts from his novel and also he read an article that he wrote concerning how he got his book publised, which is quite and interesting story.
Throughout most of his adult life Mr. McClarty was an actor. Having worked in such prestigous roles such as a Judge on “Law and Order” a Psychiatrist on “Sex and the City” and numerous hardley more than extra roles, he also spent much of his time writing. In the course of his life he has written about 10 novels and a couple of plays. Thirteen or so years ago he recorded an audio version of his book that would be given to libraries to rent out. THis was the closest he had ever come to getting published. However a couple of years ago, author Stephen King came across the audio record of his book. He listened to it, enjoyed and even wrote a column about the book in Entertainment Weekly. This eventually got the book, “The Memory of Running,” published in the traditional sense.
The best part about the reading, which was very good in its own right (McClarty being an actor has a great voice and executes speaking very well), was the introduction by some jerk from Dominion Power. I guess one of the sponsers for the Fall FOr the Book Festival was the power company. Part of the duties of the sponsers i guess is to introduce some of the speakers. He told us little about the Mr. McClarty and told use about his experience about reading the book. The most astute observation he could come up with concerning the reading of the novel was the fact that it was a really “fun” read. I’m sure Mr. McClarty was flatured. I dont think that the man from the power company was much of a bibliophile.
I think the main aim of the speech was to get across the point that anyone can get published. As Mr. McClarty said the “Cream doesnt alway rise to the top.” Meaning that just becasue something is good doesnt mean it will necessarily get noticed. So just keep cracking at it and maybe your work will get noticed. It wasnt very convincing anyway.

PostSecret and Frank Warren

“I let someone die.”

That was the first secret I read and despite this simple yet powerful sentence, it was not the most shocking secret I encountered on Tuesday evening. I had never before heard of PostSecret and while I was looking through the “Fall for the Book” brochure in an attempt to decide which author I wanted to see, I became immediately intrigued by the uniqueness of Frank Warren’s book/project. It was a tough decision for me because I so badly wanted to see Dave Eggars, but the opportunity to meet Warren and see his postcards in real life outweighed Eggards. It was a decision that I am thoroughly happy with.

Funny, sad, outrageous, and disgusting. Those are some of the adjectives to describe the range of content within the gallery on Tuesday night. I vaguely remember one postcard about someone using another’s toothbrush to clean poop off of a shoe and then letting the owner of the toothbrush use it in the morning without any comment about its previous nights use. My friend crinkled her nose and made a face while I overheard Warren telling someone that the most interesting thing about these postcards was not their content, but the reactions they evoke from the viewers.

I stood there some more, eavesdropping on their conversation and further immersing myself into the room of secrets. When I first saw him, Warren was seated in one of the two chairs in the room, just looking around and appearing mildly amused. I looked around for a while and wondering if it was really him, but I remembered his picture from the “Fall for the Book” brochure. I tentatively walked up to him and decided that either I was going to make a fool of myself and move on or be successful in identifying the author and engaging him in conversation. I was right and he was a really nice person which made me glad that I took the chance. I continued by gushing over how fascinating this project was and asked him how it all began.

He was patient with the questions and autograph requests. I don’t remember seeing him smile, but he seemed just amused and intrigued by everyone’s reactions and interest. With a very approachable demeanor, he soon drew on a small crowd and a slew of questions that ranged from “Where did you get this idea?” to “Have you ever called the cops on anyone?” The guy who asked this received looks of disgust from the audience. Warren took the time to answer them all.

The entire even impressed me. I have already been to the PostSecret website and I believe that I will definitely pass the word on to others. I read a post from a depressed girl who called the suicide hotline after seeing it in Warren’s book. She said that it saved her life. PostSecret is a remarkable idea with positive results on behalf of not only the secret bearers, but the readers as well. Who knows, maybe I will send something in.

“I was kidnapped by poetry”

On the eve of November third, I found myself sitting in Harris Theater among an anxious mixed crowd. We were all there for Fall for the Book’s presentation of award-winning and best selling poet Li-Young Lee. When Li-Young Lee entered the theater at about 7:25, it was not obvious to the crowd – they continued their conversations while the author walked past row after row until he sat himself in the center of the very front row. Lee was dressed in dark jeans, a loose button up white shirt and a black blazer; Lee seemed approachable, not intimidating at all with his black long hair in a samurai ponytail, dark wire-rimmed glasses and pleasant stance – he was very welcoming of his surroundings.

Once introduced, Li-Young Lee took the stage graciously and started with talking about poetry in general. Lee claimed that poetry was a sense of language yoga – that we are guests in language. He wanted to express this in his poems through style, tone, or form. He also discussed briefly about his heritage of being Euro-Asian and it’s place in his work. From this Lee branched off about his father, and from this into the nature of evil. Lee admitted that tonight’s reading was “kind of a workshop” – he was going to read new poems that he was in the process of completing. Lee opened the poetry reading with “Immigrant Blues” – where the first line of the poem is a statement that his father has been saying to him all of his life: “People have been trying to kill me since I was born.”

“Immigrant Blues” had to do with the connection of body and soul, space and time, and of the body and heart. The poem was about psychological parodimes: “I want to sing but don’t know any songs.” Lee’s second poem was titled “Self Help for the Fellow Refugees” – a poem about history where a child’s face is buried in the skirt folds of her mother’s dress so she would not see her father being beaten and dragged into the back of a truck. The father yells to the mother “Let her see! Let her see! Why are you turning the child’s face away from history?” Another line that struck me was: “don’t lament not being beautiful” – Lee is telling the refugee that being different is okay. Also, here in the poem is the first time that a recurring theme of bells is present. In “Untitled” and “Changing Places in the Fire,” they both have bells within the poem.

After the first four poems, he took questions from the audience. The questions ranged from “What is your creative writing process?” to “Do you like standing?” His responses were humorous yet conclusive…Lee said that he was not humble and that “the longer I write, the less I know what I’m doing.” He spoke on cosmic truth – about being a small part of something bigger, and he also stated that he “read to everything.” When reading poetry, Lee reads to not only to the person listening, but to everything: the cells that make up the wood in the chairs, the fibers of our clothes, the stars, the sky – everything! Lee believes that he needs saturation of meaning, and that is the reason why he reads poetry. Lee again touches on language: pauses preceded language, and that language is really used to inflect silence. This outlook on language mystified me and opened my eyes on the uses and stance on silence.

After answering several questions, Li-Young Lee finished with the reading of two poems: “The Mother’s Apple” and “Reap in Joy.” They both had bells in the text – again, the recurring theme. I wasn’t sure where the connection was, though. I didn’t get enough text to seek the real meaning of the “bells” in the poems (if there is a real importance or if it is just a coincidence), but it is something I do look forward to looking for in his work.

Stacy Schiff

I went to the fall for the book event with Stacy Schiff. I have not read any of her books, but her biography on Nobokov’s wife sounded interesting, and inticed me to go find out more. Once I was there I found out that all of her writing is biographical. I was excited about this because I like to read a good biography now and then. Also, I think it takes alot of talent to write a good biography, so I was interested to see if she could pull it off. Many of the biographies I’ve read really hide the authors style, which is unfortunate. They showcase the subject while the author takes the backseat. I’m always really impressed with a biographer who can maintain their voice while still showcasing their subject. Although I haven’t had a chance to read Stay Schiff’s text yet, from the bits and pieces I heard and read, she appears to do a great job of balancing her voice with her subject.

I was a little disappointed with the fact that she barely mentioned the text “Vera” (Nobokov’s wife) in her talk. She talked more about her biography of Ben Franklin, which I found less interesting. Her talk was very structured and well planned out. She had picked particular passages to read from, most of which were interesting and humorous. She read alot of exerpts fom this text, which helped me get an idea of what her writing was like. Although I apprecited her reading from the exerpts, I would have liked her to interject a little more. I would have preferred to hear more of her personal commentary and less reading. However, her exerpts did illuminate some aspects of writing style, which was helpful. I liked the fact that her style intertwined humor with facts. Sometimes biographies can get really dull, but from what I heard of her reading, her style appears to make the facts fun to read. Her speech was formal but friendly. She did not seem nervous, but rather calm and collected. This made it easy to listen to her and focus on her reading.

Once she was done reading, she opened the floor up for questions. One of the questions that I found espically interesting was “what is your reasoning for picking the people that you have to write biographies about?” Her answer was equally interesting. She stated that “Vera” had interested her because of the large role that she had played in Nobokov’s life and career. She was interested in showing how they worked as a team. Since she had alot of trouble finding information about Vera, she saw Ben Franklin as an appealing idea. The abundance of information was in large contrast to the discrete information available on Vera. However, she said this eventually ended up being a nightmare, which was kind of funny. She concluded this question by saying “I come up with different reasons everytime I’m asked.” I thought this was funny and candid. After her speech she signed my book and had congenial conversations as she was signing. Overall her talk was interesting, and I’m very excited to start “Vera.”

Investigation 3-PostSecret

The first encounter I had with the PostSecret project was a visit to the website in deciding which Fall for the Book event to attend. I was taken aback by the postcards. The postcards themselves were crafted so beautifully and the secrets that were revealed showed such a range of emotions. I was very interested to hear Frank Warren speak. Scanning the PostSecret display outside the Concert Hall, I wondered what Warren would say beyond explaining the project and how it got started. I also wondered, again what is his secret? After the introductions and a viewing of the “Dirty Little Secret” video, Warren took the stage.“My name is Frank and I collect secrets.” Frank Warren’s words and tone portrayed the serious yet comfortable tone of an AA or any other Anonymous leader. I realized this was undoubtedly intended, as Warren really is the head of “Secrets Anonymous.” I wondered, what is his secret?

Warren began by explaining how PostSecret started and shared some of his favorite secrets with his audience. Warren first started PostSecret in November 2004 as part of a project for an art exhibition. When the exhibition was over and he was still receiving postcards he started the website. Since 2004 Warren has received over 70,000 postcards. The website gets three million visitors a month. Warren’s first book was on the best seller list and a second book is due out later this month. Many of the secrets Warren shared in his talk were ones that for legal and privacy reasons were not able to be published in the book.

Warren told of many instances where one postcard lead to multiple emails of other people who found truth of the secret in their own lives. In some cases the emails related to the person that wrote the postcard and in some cases the emails shed light on another side of the postcard’s message.

I thought of this assignment and the idea of “revelation” of both the author and their work. While reading the postcards on display, a fellow student mentioned the possibility that the secrets sent to Warren could very well be made up. In my mind, the possibility that people have sent in false secrets, and that no one could possibly differentiate from those that are true or false, adds to beauty of PostSecret.

At other Fall for the Book events, authors will read from their work giving their audience insight into their own lives and how they write. Everyone has their own reading and understanding of a particular work based on our own experience. Hearing an author speak helps us understand how they see their own work and adds to how our own reading. PostSecret is not much different. Each postcard is only a few words and most are very explicit but we still process them through our own experience.

The materials people use to send in their secrets are almost as varied as the secrets they are sharing. Warren has received secrets on wedding invitations, funeral announcements, sandpaper, sonograms and one Starbucks cup. Throughout Warren’s talk, I identified with many of the secrets he shared. I had to laugh when Warren explained that the secret written on the Starbucks cup was from a Starbucks employee who serves decaf to her rude customers. I often do the same when getting coffee for my boss. It made me think of how similar so many of the secrets are. When Warren finally did reveal his secret, it cemented this idea. At least in the case of PostSecret, Fall for the Book was very revealing. It was revealing not only of Warren himself and the process of the PostSecret project but of how we respond and interpret individually.

Investigation 3-PostSecret

The first encounter I had with the PostSecret project was a visit to the website in deciding which Fall for the Book event to attend. I was taken aback by the postcards. The postcards themselves were crafted so beautifully and the secrets that were revealed showed such a range of emotions. I was very interested to hear Frank Warren speak. Scanning the PostSecret display outside the Concert Hall, I wondered what Warren would say beyond explaining the project and how it got started. I also wondered, again what is his secret? After the introductions and a viewing of the “Dirty Little Secret” video, Warren took the stage.“My name is Frank and I collect secrets.” Frank Warren’s words and tone portrayed the serious yet comfortable tone of an AA or any other Anonymous leader. I realized this was undoubtedly intended, as Warren really is the head of “Secrets Anonymous.” I wondered, what is his secret?

Warren began by explaining how PostSecret started and shared some of his favorite secrets with his audience. Warren first started PostSecret in November 2004 as part of a project for an art exhibition. When the exhibition was over and he was still receiving postcards he started the website. Since 2004 Warren has received over 70,000 postcards. The website gets three million visitors a month. Warren’s first book was on the best seller list and a second book is due out later this month. Many of the secrets Warren shared in his talk were ones that for legal and privacy reasons were not able to be published in the book.

Warren told of many instances where one postcard lead to multiple emails of other people who found truth of the secret in their own lives. In some cases the emails related to the person that wrote the postcard and in some cases the emails shed light on another side of the postcard’s message.

I thought of this assignment and the idea of “revelation” of both the author and their work. While reading the postcards on display, a fellow student mentioned the possibility that the secrets sent to Warren could very well be made up. In my mind, the possibility that people have sent in false secrets, and that no one could possibly differentiate from those that are true or false, adds to beauty of PostSecret.

At other Fall for the Book events, authors will read from their work giving their audience insight into their own lives and how they write. Everyone has their own reading and understanding of a particular work based on our own experience. Hearing an author speak helps us understand how they see their own work and adds to how our own reading. PostSecret is not much different. Each postcard is only a few words and most are very explicit but we still process them through our own experience.

The materials people use to send in their secrets are almost as varied as the secrets they are sharing. Warren has received secrets on wedding invitations, funeral announcements, sandpaper, sonograms and one Starbucks cup. Throughout Warren’s talk, I identified with many of the secrets he shared. I had to laugh when Warren explained that the secret written on the Starbucks cup was from a Starbucks employee who serves decaf to her rude customers. I often do the same when getting coffee for my boss. It made me think of how similar so many of the secrets are. When Warren finally did reveal his secret, it cemented this idea. At least in the case of PostSecret, Fall for the Book was very revealing. It was revealing not only of Warren himself and the process of the PostSecret project but of how we respond and interpret individually.

Fall for the Book – Investigation #3

I attended the talk given by local author Carolyn Freas Rapp, who spoke at the Circa Home & Garden shop in Old Town Fairfax on Friday, September 29th for Fairfax’s annual Fall for the Book Festival. Rapp is the author of the nonfiction book Voices: Stories of Women & Their Gardens.

I arrived at Circa a few minutes early, and I looked around and observed my surroundings. The shop was packed with decadent amounts of home and garden items such as sprays of dried flowers, galvanized steel buckets, wind chimes, sun dials, and too many other things to list. It’s the type of shop that carries things that, when placed consistently around your home, are supposed to make your house look like an American version of an English cottage. These kinds of stores attract a certain type of Martha Stewart-ish home decorator, and while their homes are quite lovely and well put together, it’s not something I’ve ever developed a talent for myself. I looked at the mostly middle aged women milling around the shop, sipping wine in their flowing dresses and silver barrettes in their neat, well-ordered hair, and wondered what I had gotten myself into for the next hour.

When Rapp began her talk, there were about 20 women in the shop to see her, all seated in chairs placed in the aisles at one end of the shop. She started by telling the audience how she had come to write her book. She had always enjoyed gardening, not only working in her own garden at her house, but also by participating in various community gardens throughout her life. Her original intention for the book was to collect various stories and legends having to do with gardens, but during her research she interviewed a lady who later ended up being included in her book. This lady had a very interesting story to tell about her garden, and by the time she had finished the interview and written the essay about this woman, she knew that the direction of her book had changed completely. She now wanted to interview other women who had stories about their gardens and make those into a book.

As Rapp continued to speak, I found myself becoming drawn into the idea behind her book. She spoke with many different women and wrote essays on each of them, one person per chapter of the book. The stories run the gamut of how she met her best friend through gardening to a woman who had breast cancer and who used gardening as a form of healing during and after her treatments. While her book is not as complicated or challenging as, say, House of Leaves, it’s the type of book that can inspire and encourage by its simple stories about real people. I haven’t yet read the book in its entirety, but the selections she read aloud during her talk seemed well-written. Although some of the topics are emotional, the sentimental language isn’t overdone, which is refreshing.

After Rapp had concluded her talk, she took questions from the audience. A few of the women who raised their hands had questions, but most of them wanted to share their own stories about gardening and how it had had helped them or someone they knew. Some stories were funny and others were heart-warming, but they all pointed out one of the best things about Rapp’s book: reading the stories she has collected reminds us of our own stories and the importance of sharing them with others.

“I write stories. I’m told.” – Deborah Eisenberg reading

I have not gone to many readings by authors, and for me, the sense of revelation in Deborah Eisenberg’s reading may just have come from the novelty of the experience. I was amazed even to find that some people had read the same stories I had (in fact, Eisenberg herself was surprised that I had read her collection of short stories “All Around Atlantis”). Still, much about the reading was odd and I found it, if not particularly revealing to some, absolutely enthralling.

Essentially, the reading took place in a hallway, granted one that was lit like a theatre, which from the beginning created a sense that we were meeting unofficially, after class perhaps. The author was late. She had been held up, apparently, for half an hour or so by the rain and the Virginia traffic. The audience was fairly small, however, mostly MFA students, and I don’t think it threw us off too much. At first, she spoke haltingly, in a quiet voice. Once she began to read, however, she seemed to find her pace and spoke very clearly and compellingly. From where I was sitting, the crowd did not seem to move until the last few paragraphs, but it’s entirely possible that they were more tired than enthralled.

Eisenberg broke up her work, giving us an excerpt and then summarizing for a bit and then reading another excerpt, which I think worked well. It gave us a different version of the story, really, without sacrificing much, and helped to keep us interested after waiting for so long. Of course, she stopped short of the ending, which was one of the reasons that I found myself, at the end of the night, with a signed copy of Twilight of the Superheroes tucked into my jacket.

The story she read was more along the lines of her earlier work, as opposed to her more recent pieces that deal greatly with a post-9/11 world. Perhaps the MFA student should not have mentioned the “fear and unease” of this new world in her introduction.

From what I’ve seen, Eisenberg’s writing does a very good job of capturing the feeling of moments that make up the modern world. It is so incredibly, naturally, smoothly complicated, Eisenberg’s matter-of-fact reading was not at all what I expected, but really did give the story another layer. One of the things I noticed about her work was the ambiguity, ultimately, in what her characters said. I was interested to see whether that ambiguity would still be there if the work was read out loud. I was delighted to see that when read aloud, her work lost none of ambiguity that I had loved when I first read it. I was rather disappointed that there were no questions, but I couldn’t think of any myself.

A two in one night – Fell for the book AND Dave Eggers!

I admit that when I entered the Center for the Arts on Thursday evening, my expectations were lower than low. Yes, Dave Eggers is best-selling author and enjoys a good deal of success with every new book, but that seemed to me all the more reasons to think he was nothing more than a commercial sensation and possibly even a hack-writer. Of course, I knew next to nothing about him when I sat down for his talk (making all of my preconceived notions absolutely groundless), so I was getting ready to refute his writer-rock-star status and put the final stamp of “commercial sell-out” on his image in this response. By the end of the night, though, I had tripped over the book and fallen for Eggers.

But let’s rewind to the beginning, back when I wanted to dislike him. Eggers comes up to the podium, wearing what I term as a standard, pretentious author ensemble – dark pants, white button-up shirt appropriately vented and sans tie, and a snappy blazer. He blinks as if someone had grabbed him out from his bed in the middle of the night and shoved him onto a stage before a large audience. I immediately jot down the awkwardness of this situation and wonder if he’s high on something. After cracking a few jokes, still a little awkward, Eggers explains that he has been fasting all day as part of an organizational effort to raise awareness for the situation in Sudan. He mentions cottonmouth though, so I remain unconvinced of his noble efforts. Sure you’re hungry Dave, munchies happen. Overly cynical in retrospect, but I was not about to give this guy any credit that he didn’t earn in the time-slot allotted to him.

Eggers’ next attempts at humor are more endearing and really, actually work to create a connection between him and the audience. Fine, I’m listening now. He begins to extol 826 Valencia, the after-school English tutoring center he helped start, and I can’t help but become impatient while he plugs this place. Evidently, though, there are lots of 826’s around the country and they’ve made noticeable improvements in the lives of mostly inner-city kids and has taken a load off of their teachers’ shoulders. I am now admittedly moved; I’m teetering on the edge of falling for Eggers and he hasn’t even mentioned to book yet. As the story of 826 unfolds, I’ve forgotten that I’m there to hear about some book or another that he’s written and think that I’m there to hear about the reading centers, or maybe just to hear him talk about himself. Turns out, the front for the original place in California is a pirate supply store. And he’s dead serious about it (arrrrgh). I’m totally gone. Not only does this man write novels that might, for all I know, actually be heartbreaking and reveal that his genius is in fact staggering; not only is he active in the campaign for literacy and aiding teachers; he is a pirate supplier. He must be crazy, but in the most endearing way possible. He realizes the lunacy of it all, but the place is real. It’s as if he chose something so outlandish so that he can speak seriously about the place and have people feel totally out of their element when they see that yes, in fact, this is an operating business that makes money. By the time he’s talking about his super-hero supply store, the audience is lost in laughter, yet seem to feel more and more respect towards what he’s actually accomplishing behind these creative fronts. I’m touched by his call for volunteers, not just to his non-profits, but to any literacy centers audience members could find. I haven’t even realized that close to an hour has elapsed and we haven’t heard a think about this book…

The rest was a whirl. The background to and talk of the book were compelling and since my admiration was already at fever pitch, I was mesmorized by all of his efforts and successes. During the Q & A, he only solidified the bond between him and the audience by answering conversationally and candidly. In the end, he was overly-apologetic for taking up so much of our time with his talk and urged anyone in the audience to stay and talk to him afterwards. The line was massive. So is Eggers a rock star of writing? Good looks. witty humor, definitely an audience – I think he qualifies. Eventually he read and spoke about writing, he explained the important topic of Darfur on a personal level, and he revealed much about his story. Fall for the Book promised, and as far as Dave Eggers’ talk was concerned, it delivered.

Investigation #3 — Dave Eggers

When I entered the Concert Hall at 7:55p.m. this past rainy Thursday evening, I immediately sensed a mood of mild anticipation buzzing through the audience. Upon finding my seat, I couldn’t help but overhear a young woman with waist-length fiery red hair say, “I am really excited to see Eggers.” Hailed as a Pulitzer Prize finalist for A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, Dave Eggers has also contributed to countless publications including Salon.com and Spin magazine. Judging from the grand title of the aforementioned memoir, I fully expected to witness a dry, conventional book talk delivered by a pretentious and aloof author. I was wrong.

After briefly accepting an award and being introduced as a man who probably never sleeps (due to his sheer number of literary achievements), Eggers received a warm welcome as he positioned himself at the microphone at 8:12p.m. Eggers expertly snared his audience by positioning himself as accessible, witty, and down-to-earth through his understated, clever sense of humor (“This is my ‘author jacket’ which I wear once a year”), his confession of leaving the University of Illinois without a degree, and his tales of selling taxidermy supplies to pay the bills. The thirty-something writer and editor continued to readily engage his college-aged audience by recounting his early twenties in Brooklyn, NY as a struggling, procrastinating writer who eventually opens a tutoring center in San Francisco at 1806 Valencia. Incidentally, the non-profit is operated under the guise of a storefront that sells pirate supplies. Laughter steadily rippled through the audience as Eggers commented on the storefront’s odd products, and then presented the amusing art work and prose of a precocious eight-year old boy who regularly attends the tutoring center. Although I was entertained, I couldn’t help but wonder how pirates and taxidermy and tutoring centers would relate to the book that he was about to present.

Soon, the laughing stopped. Swiftly putting the topics of taxidermy and sea-faring pirates behind, Eggers began to speak of Sudan’s Lost Boys and read an excerpt from “What is the What,” a novel narrated by Valentino, a man who left his country due to the civil war. Unfortunately, Valentino was unable to come to the festival, so Eggers read for him. Hearing Eggers read was not particularly enlightening; I suspect my listening experience would have been more satisfying, and ultimately more meaningful, if Valentino had verbally expressed his experiences. In addition, the sudden shift from oddball comedy to human tragedy appeared to make some audience members restless or even doze off in their seats. Nevertheless, this brief interlude did not permanently alienate his audience; in fact, Eggers had to end the question and answer period because the event was nearing 90 minutes long.

As I exited the Concert Hall at 9:25p.m., I slowly realized I had been somewhat tricked. Eggers had not only promoted “What is the What,” but he had succeeded in subtly advocating children’s education under the veneer of comedy, not unlike the tutoring center hidden behind the pirate supply storefront at 1806 Valencia.

Freedom is not free…

Angela Davis proposed an innovative idea of abolishing both prisons and the death penalty and reforming our democracy. She held history on her shoulders and walked as if she’d marched with those before her, and with that knew how change could occur. At first, she appealed to the whole audience with her intelligence and humor, but then started appealing to those of her race, her age, her gender, and her profession. I noticed a majority of African American women in the auditorium, and from that, I established she was the same (not having known beforehand). Also, someone down the row from me looked particularly like Susan Lori-Parks.

Davis did not read directly from her book Abolition Democracy but used it to spur a discussion she’s been having with America for almost forty years. She was arrested in 1970 for murder, kidnapping, and conspiracy. Immediately afterwards, a large movement began to regain her freedom; one woman in the audience had been a member and grinned widely as she thanked Davis for speaking to our school about her trials.

I’ve never considered myself racist, but when Angela Davis said that there was such racism in the current systems of punishment, I scoffed. However, as she traced her thoughts with history and reason, I found myself doubting my original reaction. Her statistics sealed the deal. So what seemed to me at first like an idea without a solution slowly came to be viewed as a potential life-changing occurrence that needed more support. She said, “It’s no coincidence that the majority of those in prison are illiterate.” This aided her argument that better school systems and other modes of punishment were a necessary for our democracy to truly give freedom to all people. I began to think further on the issue and on what I believed, not what other people do (my parents, my friends, my professors, my peers).

It could have been the early hour of the speech (nine am) or merely the more intimate discussion of the question and answer session, but the audience livened up once she turned off her computer. Loud clapping followed several of her statements, including “thousands too many” prisons and “war needs to be unthinkable in this era.” The clapping surprised me because of the original silence. The only other noise had been a brief chuckle as she started her presentation with an allusion to the north south debate, “I don’t know whether you all consider Fairfax the North or the South, but in the South, audiences say good morning back,” which we had done.

As I walked back to my dorm, her words still rang in my head. I felt her passion and her wisdom from experience as an activist, a person in prison, and now as a professor lecturing on a need for change. She forced me to ask several questions about capital punishment, our government, and the large impact of each small inconsistency.

First Impressions

In November of 2004, Frank Warren embarked on a simple project. He printed out flyers and handed them to strangers, explaining that he wanted to collect secrets. Although he got some strange looks, he also received a lot of secrets. Even after completing the project he had initially planned on, they kept coming. In just two years, about 70,000 secrets have reached his mailbox. Frank Warren told this story to an audience at George Mason University. It fascinates me to think of how such a simple idea turned into both a tremendous success story, and a way to allow ordinary people to contribute to a work of art.
When I first heard about Frank Warren’s project, I was a little skeptical. I wondered what the big deal was with people sharing their secrets anonymously. The people who told me about it seemed so excited, and it just seemed to me like a lot of hype over nothing. Then when I went to see the exhibit, I did not suddenly become gung-ho about PostSecret, but I did start to reconsider my initial judgments. The individually designed postcards formed a collage that made me feel like I was peeking into the heart of humanity. It was actually rather disturbing, and made me wonder what secrets I’m keeping. Seeing the exhibit made me want to discover more about the person behind PostSecret.
My first impression of Frank Warren was simply that he just seemed ordinary, like someone I would pass on the street. I don’t mean this in any insulting way, but I was expecting him to be more charismatic, strikingly handsome, or something else that would set him apart from the rest of us. As it was, he sat in the middle of the stage with a spotlight on him, scooting up his stool to get a little closer to the audience. The spotlight actually seemed a little out of place, because it starkly separated Frank Warren from the audience. The conventions of staged events were insufficient to contain the expressions of this project. I think that a more ideal setting would have been sipping tea or coffee, and sitting in a circle of no more than twenty people, talking to Frank and even sharing secrets with the group. Of course, the size of the audience made this scenario impossible.
The impression of Frank as an average guy startled me, but upon reflection it seems so appropriate considering the nature of his project. PostSecret is made up of artistic secrets submitted by ordinary people. These people anonymously come together to make something beautiful and engaging. One of the things that Frank Warren talked about is that he did not want to take credit for other people’s work. He was careful to remind the audience that thousands of people have contributed to this project. Then he brought attention to the fact that some art museums have even included exhibits of PostSecret. It is truly remarkable that everyday people can be involved in a work of art, and completely fitting that the leader of the project would be someone just like them.

Kari Hollenbeck

PostSecret at Fall for the Book

My favorite Fall for the Book event was Frank Warren speaking about PostSecret. I’ve long been a reader of PostSecret, and, fan girl that I am, was thrilled to see some of the secrets I’d previously seen online in person. Frank Warren isn’t necessarily the most thrilling speaker, but PostSecret is obviously a labor of love for him. I found it fascinating that all the secrets go to his actual address. That he uses his own address is an act of trust I have difficulty understanding. His address on the front of the book seems like his own sort of secret, and perhaps makes others more comfortable because he makes himself vulnerable as well. I can’t help but feel some pride that he’s from our area and got his start at an annual DC art event. With his manner, and his history in business, I was genuinely surprised that Frank Warren was the man who started this project. Then again, given his history in business, I’m less surprised that PostSecret has turned into the widely known and successful project it is now.

I was a little puzzled by the inclusion of Frank Warren in Fall for the Book because although he has a book, he isn’t a writer; he’s more of a creative compiler than anything. The idea was his (a brilliant one in my opinion), and it blossomed into this huge phenomenon. Rather than a writing effort, I see PostSecret as an art project that eventually developed into one with a conscience. The connection of PostSecret and Hopeline (a suicide hotline/prevention network) seems like a natural progression. Although PostSecret has many hilarious secrets, (a recent one from George Mason is on an envelope from parking services saying “I loathe George Mason University Parking Services”. I think all students share that sentiment), often times the postcards serve as an outlet for those who have no other avenue to express serious secrets and emotions. The act of creating a postcard is fun for some, while for others, it is a cathartic experience. In many of the postcards, I see my family and myself.

I’ve talked to others who think PostSecret is a self indulgent project fueled by hipster angst. While I agree that said angsty hipsters make up a large portion of the PostSecret following, I believe that particular categorization is unduly harsh and undeserved. PostSecret, even with the angst, is a project that truly provides a service and a voice to many people who otherwise would not be heard. I applaud Frank Warren, and I hope the project goes on for many more years.

Fell for the Book

One of the several Fall for the Book speakers I was fortunate enough to hear was Claudia Emerson, author of Pulitzer Prize winner Late Wife. She was mainly reading from and talking about Late Wife, but ended the talk with a few newer poems not from the book. Having just read the book in my English 463 class (women’s voices in poetry of the late 20th century), it was especially interesting to see her intentions and influence behind her poems juxtaposed to my own interpretations and those arrived at through class discussion.
The book is about the end and split of her nineteen year marriage. It is a plot driven book, but the plot is focused not on what happened, but why it happened. The first poem “Aftermath” from the “divorce epistles” is told from a future point of view, looking back on what had happened during this time putting the other poems of this section in context. Emerson commented on how the divorce epistles were written this way, looking back on the events with gained knowledge of why things happened the way they did. Her style consists of presenting events and occurrences of daily life with this gained experience so that through diction, tempo, tone and stylistic variation, these seemingly normal experiences are loaded with history and emotion. It is the events of her life presented through a slightly altered perspective that is the genesis of her poetry.
Hearing her talk about reoccurring themes and metaphors combined with my primary interpretation of the text allowed me to see the poems with a substantial increase in depth. The book came out in a quasi-linear fashion; the sonnets were written first, while the Divorce Epistles were written later. For example, the poem “Artifact” is one I had difficulty understanding. I knew it was about her new life with her husband Kent, but I could see little beyond its role in the overall plot of the book. Before the reading of the poem, Emerson explained how the poem is in reaction to the artifacts in her new home belonging to Kent’s late wife and what she learned about her through the artifacts found in their house. These artifacts gave her an identity in Emerson’s mind. It is at this point that I saw the ambiguity in the title of the book, referring not only to herself as a late wife but to the late wife of her new husband. It is also through her reading of the poem that I saw the struggle that must have taken place in the early stages of their new life together, both for Kent and Emerson.
The tone of the reading combined with the lightning and thunder storm outside the Third Level of the Concert Hall created an aura of sadness and loss in the audience. This sadness however, was combined with a feeling of optimism and hope. Emerson quickly moved into readings newer poems about youth and nature to brighten the atmosphere. As I sat there, listening and watching, I felt a new sense of happiness not just for Emerson, but for her new husband Kent. Seeing this transition in subject matter and tone showed a sense of overcoming in both husband and wife; both having suffered great loss, and both moving on to live life in happiness.
Reading and analyzing the poems, discussing them in class, and then hearing about their creation proved to be one of the most enlightening poetry experiences I have ever had. The most important thing I gained from her talk wasn’t clues and “hidden meaning” behind the metaphors throughout the poems. I had finally witnessed first hand what I believed to be a happy ending. Hearing her read about such a personal, painful and emotional topic caused me to re-evaluate my opinion of happy endings. I had previously thought that no good, thought provoking literature could have a happy ending. The only happy endings I knew were in Disney movies or cheesy romantic comedies. I now saw a happy ending that was deserved, authentic and genuine. Seeing Claudia and Kent’s transition from loss, despair and pain, to hope, happiness and love showed me that happy endings do exist in real life. There is no way I would have ever gained this much from Late Wife had I not attended her reading and saw and heard the product of their happy ending with my own eyes and ears.

deborah eisenberg reading

When the connection is right between a speaker and the audience at a Fall for the Book event, the experience can be worthwhile for everyone involved. But I do not think that this type of thing happens too often. It did not at the event I went to see, which was the Deborah Eisenberg reading on Thursday, September 28th. The crowd was not very big; it was mostly made up of graduate students from the MFA program, with a few other people smattered here and there. But this could have been because of the torrential downpour that was taking place outside. This downpour also apparently made the author herself late; we waited about 20 minutes before she finally made it into the Center for the Arts.

Her introducer was very nervous, and when Eisenberg started I was surprised at the way she read. Her background for the story was a jumbled list of characters. She read sections of the story out loud and very, very slowly. The story was about and a man and his lover living in New York City (of course), and their strained relationships with the man’s brother and sisters. The last section of the story was about the couple’s friends who had just adopted a baby from China. I did not really see how this section tied into the rest of the story. I also did not see the statement she was trying to make with it. Her opinions about 9/11, the war in Iraq, and the state of the US were very clear in Twilight of the Superheroes. But in this story I was left thinking “yea so?”. But this may have been different if I had read the whole story. I think that she could have come up with a more effective and engaging way to get the point of the story across.

In general, I did like the story. The main character was a dry, grumpy man, so I found him to be humorous. But for some reason I just was not engaged. Even though lightning was flickering behind Eisenberg, like this was some sort of monumental event, my mind still kept wandering. I would lose track of the story, and when I finally came around I would have to try and figure out what was going on. The other people around me seemed distracted also, on girl kept religiously flipping through her Fall for the Book booklet.

Despite all this, the audience, including myself, seemed to like Eisenberg, and she seemed to appreciate them being there. But there was no real connection made. No one even asked any questions after she was done reading. This whole reading to me seemed like it was a very good opportunity for something to have happened, but nothing did. She said thank you and I left. I felt that though the reading was enjoyable, it was not at all memorable.

Fall for the Book

The Fall for the Book event I attended was Frank Warren of PostSecret. The way that Warren wanted to present his work was in three ways-how it got started, where it’s going, what secrets make the book and what didn’t. He mentions that he began the project as an art exhibit by dropping post cards advertising his project anywhere and in anything he could think. Then once the project was over people never stopped replying, so he created an online site where every Sunday he places about twenty new secrets. Then he describes the online resources and its influences on people’s lives, how there is a community built up around PostSecret making a difference in the real world. For the most part, Warren seemed more focused on impressing upon the audience the power of PostSecret, what he describes as “four inch by six inch windows into their soul.” While presenting his project and its purpose Warren remains casual and steady, with very little inflection in his tone or rhythm of speaking. It seems as though the presenter, however compelled by his own work, presents the material in a somewhat emotionally attached manner. Not to say that his presentation of the material was insufficient, but the content of the concept that he presents means so much more to him and to those who contribute to PostSecret than was expressed by his demeanor. PostSecret gives people the power of revealing one’s suppressed glimpses of humanity, and by doing so, allowing strangers to converse via internet through universal feelings and secrets as a method of healing. To Warren it’s as if the sharing of secrets is what makes us human.

However much I did not want him to take his PostSecret quest in that direction, Warren somehow managed to point out a very obvious underlying meaning behind the thousands of those who have shared secrets to him and his form of art. The speaker drives home a message of suicide awareness to his young, predominantly student, audience. The purpose of the sharing of secrets not only acts as a release of repressed thoughts and emotions, acting as a healthy outlet, but by sharing the secrets online people can see that almost all secrets are universal glimpses into humanity. Everyone has secrets, insecurities, doubts, shame, etc. And these qualities are said, by Warren, to be the very essence of what make us human. Warren also advocates contributing to the suicide hotline 1-800-SUICIDE and states that “suicide is America’s secret.”

Investigation #3, Frank Warren

For my “Fall for the Book” even, I saw Frank Warren speak about his website and project, PostSecret. Prior to hearing him speak, I visited both the Gallery of post cards in the Johnson Center and the gallery in the Center for the Arts. It was hard to not be moved by the words on some of the postcards. I wondered at times, if the secrets on the postcards were the only way someone could express how he or she felt. I myself, saw a few secrets that are my own and as cliché or corny as it might be, it creates a community of people who have something in common. I also found many of the postcards to be humorous because some secrets were so absurd that it would be awkward to tell them to anyone except an anonymous postcard.

I gathered all of this information before listening to what Frank Warren had to say, so I was anxious to hear him talk more about the postcards. Although the audience consisted mostly of student, I did see some older people as well, and some who looked to be non-students. When Frank Warren came on stage to speak, he struck me as a very ordinary and average person. Also, when he spoke about how he started PostSecret, I was stuck as to how random it seemed in the beginning. I got the sense that he didn’t expect the project to turn out as huge as it is today. I also got the sense that he really cares about the postcards he receives. Warren spoke about the National Suicide hotline and their financial crisis during his talk. He really isn’t just out to necessarily exploit people’s secrets or make money off of them. He also seems genuinely concerned with these people’s well being.

Another aspect of Frank Warren’s work that I think is interesting is how the postcards are so intricately decorated and have become works of art within themselves. Warren mentioned that the postcards are in museums, which I think is a great way to spread the knowledge of post-secret. I also think the postcards are very deserving of being in museums because they are so beautiful despite the ugly secrets they may have on them. Frank Warren ended his talk by reading several e-mails he received about how posting secrets has changed and helped people’s lives. These e-mails show that the PostSecret project has gone beyond a project. It is an outlet and therapeutic for people.

The questions at the end of Frank Warren’s talk also reveal the fascination with the project. I hear various people speak about how the secrets help them as well as others who really wanted to know more about the project. For me, the talk made me want to think more in depth about my own secrets and maybe even write a postcard.

Investigation # 3-Chimamanda Adichie

Chimamanda Adichie’s book reading event was scheduled to start at 4:30pm on Wednesday September 27, 2006. The event started promptly on time, I arrived at 4:35 outside the JC and Adichie was already in the process of reading from her novel Half of a Yellow Sun. Adichie is a Nigerian born novelist and became famous for her first novel Purple Hibiscus. Adichie explained that Nigeria has some great novelist, but it is only now that these writers are being noticed. Half of a Yellow Sun was first published in the U.S. and then in the U.K. The novel has only published in English, Adichie wishes she could have published it in her native language but English is the main language of Nigeria and the native languages are not as widely spoken.

There was a moderate audience for Adichie’s reading. There were not enough seats for the attendees and most of the audience stood around the tent or sat on the grass like myself. Adichie read a passage from Half of a Yellow Sun which described the main character Ugwu’s relationship with his master who is a university professor. Ugwu refers to him as his master but he is employed by him as a houseboy. Adichie explained that the novel is written during the Nigerian revolution, however, a reader can understand the novel without any background information of Nigeria.

The crowd found Adichie’s reading intriguing because there weren’t any interruptions or people talking amongst themselves in the audience. The only interruption was when the microphone stopped working and the we couldn’t hear Adichie speak. The issue was quickly fixed with the replacement of another microphone.

A variety of questions were asked at the end of the reading. A majority of the questions were regarding Adichie’s opinion about the chaos in Africa. Adichie answered them in a wonderful manner by stating that the negative image of Africa was given by the media. She continued to state that she felt ambivalent when discussing war and her novel Half of Yellow Sun. Even though her novel is written during a historical time the narrative is a piece of fiction. Adichie admitted that she had a struggle with converting research into fiction. The historical context does exist in the novel however, it is only in the background, the characters are the main focus of the narrative.

Adichie mentioned that she is still a Nigerian citizen and only makes visits aboard. She usually writes about Nigerian immigrants but most of her novels are set in Nigeria. Adichie was inspired by Chinua Achebe and considers him as her role model. The reading was well received by the crowd and many stood up from their seats and the grass to applaud her. When the reading was done, Adichie came and sat in the seat that was in front of me. A book signing followed the reading but I don’t own any of Adichie’s books. Overall, It was a good event and even though I mainly attended it for an assignment my time was well spent.

Investigation 3 Blog Post

Background information: I attended Fall For The Book on Tuesday, October 3rd, 2006. The speaker was Geraldine Brooks; she gave her presentation at 6:00PM EDT.

From the Fall For The Book Pamphlet, Brooks’ description reads: Former correspondent in Bosnia, Somalia and the Middle East for the Wall Street Journal, won the latest Pulitzer in fiction for her novel, March, inspired by Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women.

The layout of this blog post is to capture my entire experience at the Fall For The Book Event and not just the speaker talking about her novel.

Since I had not known anything about the author, I was geared up to expect what was written about her from the pamphlet.

When attending the 6:00PM Fall For The Book Event, one of the assistants for The Center for The Arts exclaimed there were a lot of people for this talk, “wow” she said. Looking around me, all of the seats are taken before the speaker arrived. From the loud conversation beforehand, it was a very lively crowd.

At 6:09PM, I was wondering when the event would start, was the speaker late? Did she cancel?

Then at 6:10PM, the Fall For The Book organizer spoke for three minutes regarding the events that would be taking place for the following two days. It did seem to be a very popular event with possible press members snapping photos as I saw the light from the flash of their cameras.

At 6:13PM, Madeline, a professor at GMU took to the podium. It was her job to introduce Geraldine Brooks. She mentioned that Brooks began as a journalist and provided some basic background information. She mentioned that Brooks authored Nine Parts of Desire which outlined Islamic women and how they lived in the Middle East. Then she continued to explain in one book she wrote about a town in 1666 that had succumbed to a plague and isolated themselves from the rest of the world. Unfortunately the plague had turned in on itself and killed everyone in the village but Brooks was “able to leave us with a sense of optimism at the end of the novel.” This must be pretty impressive if you can take a novel where everyone dies from a plague and make the end seem optimistic. She then outlines what Brooks is going to talk about; in her book, March, Brooks writes about the absent father from Little Women. It is dated in the 1800s, an imagined character fighting in the Civil War.

At 6:16PM, Brooks took the stage with a round of applause even before she began to speak. She mentioned that she married to Tony Holwitz, who liked to write about the civil war. They both worked overseas, Sydney, Cairo, to name a couple places. They later moved to Waterford VA, population 250 people. Her husband was in ecstasy as there were hundreds of Civil War events and history in the surrounding areas. Her husband was more concerned about the Civil War than going to music concerts, she noted. She also stated that Little Women may have been one of the first novels to write about the Civil War. Brooks connected to Tony’s interests by understanding the men in the Civil War, understanding their emotions and how they felt. She mentioned that the people of Waterford, VA were the only members to fight in the union during the Civil War. For her book, she wanted to draw on the main character, the man who had so little written about him in Little Women. She mentions that March became something that just “happened.” She had been writing a piece that had to do with Hebrew manuscripts, but as soon as she went to the Civil War archives and found information about men in the Civil War, she soon embarked on writing March.

Around 6:25PM, she mentions that she likes to write with a first person narrator. For her first book, there is a girl who is the main character. Her dialect and dialogue was everything she had learned or picked up from Sunday at church. She did not want to use old, ancient dialect because “then nobody would read it.” During this time period she became hooked on 17th century abuse between couples, she said it was much worse than it is today and that rappers have no idea what it used to be like.

Around 6:28PM, she reads a passage from her book, by 6:35PM she is finished. She gave a description about a man from Connecticut who was considered a Yankee that then headed south. When she read her work, it was clearly seen that she spent a lot of time choosing exquisite vocabulary for almost every sentence. Most of the words she was reading I had never heard before or were not used in everyday conversation. Also apparent was her European or Australian accent, especially when she was reading her own work. When describing the characters in the passage she read, she included a lot of details describing the physicality of her characters, but she did not go overboard with description. It seemed to be “just right.”

At 6:35PM, she finished her passage. She mentions that the author of Little Women wrote the book for her publisher and that “it really did not come from herself.” Her favorite thing she said about the author of Little Women is one of her stories where she takes hash and runs off with a young man she does not know. Brooks states that she could re-title the story for that woman to “just say yes.”

At 6:37PM, she took questions. She mentioned she liked practical idealists as they moved society forward. The rest of us catch up and society moves forward. She wanted to show both sides of the man in her book, March. Having not read this book, I think the discussion left me slightly disconnected during the question and answer session. This is because other than the previous detail and background provided; I had no idea what she was talking about in regards to the book’s content. She continued by saying she wrote about was not from history per se but from a lot of her own, personal investigation. She mentions the soldiers came back from Iraq; it was hard for their wives to open a line of communication to the men, their husbands, who had been deployed to Iraq.

At 6:42PM, someone asked her what made her change her focus from being a journalist to a fiction writer? This was one of the most interesting points the whole night. She stated out saying it had to do with the Nigerian Secret Police. She explained that Shell polluted the Nigerian delta with oil spills from thirty-five years ago. The farmers then protested because it ruined their crops. Shell called on the dictatorship to kill the peasants. She went to the military in Port Anchor for an interview to get the real story. This is when they threw her in jail. They thought she was a French Spy. She thought about how other journalists spent nearly seven years and she was very afraid. When they let her out after three days she was back in the states and she was extremely excited to see her husband, she got pregnant and she had a son the following year.

Around 6:4PM, there was a question relating to her book Foreign Correspondence. Basically, it was about how she grew up and wrote to pen pals around the world. Through travel and adventure, she learned about putting together a narrative. She won an Australian prize which paid her $20,000; this seemed to shift her focus to fiction writing in my opinion. So she went for her, despite the worries she had writing fiction.

The final question was asked at 6:48PM regarding what she was working on now. She said she’s working on another historic novel about Sarajevo and a historic manuscript that was lost, or hidden in 1350. She became introduced with medieval Jewish art. She mentioned a short story that a German came looking for the book; however, the custodian at the library did not give him the book and hid it in his pants instead. She ended on a note that someone had wanted to adapt one of her novels into a playwright to be acted out. She was nervous at first; she said “my head exploded.” However, it was later adapted successfully and she was happy with how it turned out.

The event concluded at 6:52PM.