Paper vs. Digital

I was standing last week in front of my bookshelves, looking up at the dusty, colorful, but forgotten books I haven’t stared at in a long time. Searching for an empty spot where to place Irene Nemirovky’s Suite Francaise, I pondered the book’s heaviness. It’s quite a thick book, a precious book, and of course, I couldn’t find any place for it. I wandered around the house, then, and found myself seriously considering and struggling between my preference of reading in paper versus the physical impossibility of storing more books at home.

I actually read both digital (e-reader or tablet) and paper books, but I totally love the touch of the page and the old resin, foliage-sort smell of books. If I can choose, I choose to hold a printed book, caress it, breath its perfume. Then, have a close look at it, page by page, beginning from the end, slowly balancing the depths of the story before jumping into it. But there’s truth in my storage problem, and setting aside all romanticism, I think it’s fair to give a thought to the digital alternative to reading (and writing) as a storage solution. Read More

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Thoughts on the Harlem Renaissance

We are drawn to the [Harlem] Renaissance because of the hope for black uplift and interracial empathy that is embodied and because there is a certain element of romanticism associated with the era’s creativity, its seemingly larger than life heroes and heroines, and its most brilliantly lit terrain; Harlem, USA.

– Clement Alexander Price

It’s the 1920s, and the Thirteenth Amendment that was signed to abolish slavery was signed in 1865.  Under slavery it was deemed illegal for African-Americans to read and write and go to school; but in the 1920s, and despite the short time between slavery’s end and this time period, African-Americans had already made important and impressive strides in the literary world, strides that would influence the American literary scene.

The Harlem Renaissance is often seen as a literary movement, but in actual fact it was an art movement that included theatre, dance and music, among others. I’m no expert on the movement as a whole, having focused my time mainly on the literature, where my passion lies. Nevertheless, I know that even in literature I have barely scratched the surface, and there is so much more for me to discover from that era; I’ve yet to read writers and poets like Jean Toomer, Claude McKay, Countee Cullen, Jessie Fauset, or Dorothy West; yet so many of my favorites, Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Nella Larsen, Robert Hayden, James Weldon Johnson, come from the Harlem Renaissance, and the more I read their work, the more I realize just how important this era was. Read More

Opinion: Why Not All Creative Writing Courses Are Interesting

Photo by Alexis Brown

Creative writing is not new. It used to be a requirement of every student’s education for around 400 years, especially in the English-speaking world. In the nineteenth century, literary education was either weakened, or completely dropped from elementary and secondary education. Later on, colleges picked up all of literary education but creative writing. Creative writing was then missing for about a 100 years or so, but in the past 40 years, it has returned. Nowadays, there is a lot of controversy on the issue – some claim that creative writing courses are necessary and beneficial; while others claim that they are useless. I, myself, have participated in such a course, so I will share my experience and viewpoint. Keep in mind, however, that I might be biased because my judgment is based purely on one creative writing course.

As a devoted reader and not so devoted writer, I was curious about creative writing courses. When I heard from a friend, who is a poet, that he attends a creative writing course, I decided to join him. The course was held by one of the most prominent writers in my country. He had won many awards for literary fiction and poetry, and his books have been translated into English, German, French, and Hungarian. The course was for free and the only requirement was to be dedicated and hard working since it was an intense course. Read More

Publishing: The Weight of a Short Story

Courtesy of sachablack.co.uk

Before I go on about short stories, I should tell you I’m a proud product of the internet age. The truth is I’ve never done serious work as a writer without having one foot rooted in a digital space. You should know this at the outset, because context is crucial. I want you to understand where I come from, and understand the internet is as much a part of my life, and the literary work that stems from my life, as the language I speak or the life circumstances that shaped me.

Now I’m well aware there was a literary landscape that predates the internet, a big wide world I never had the chance to experience as a writer. If I’m being honest, it seems like it must’ve been a pretty difficult landscape to traverse. Maybe I’m just spoiled by search engines and social media, but when I imagine trying to network and get writing published without the internet to assist me, I nearly break into a panicked sweat. It’s simply an alien world to me, one that was perhaps a bit quieter, but also with far less open doors. It was also a space in which the short story was a more prominent feature of the landscape, and in my opinion the mode has declined as we shifted away from it, into a post-internet age. Read More

The Poetry Market

Walk into any bookstore in the United States and you will find rows upon rows upon rows of shelves dedicated to the various and nuanced genres and subgenres of prose. Along a back wall, there will be perhaps a shelf or two (or in the case of my local Barnes and Noble, half a shelf) dedicated to poetry. You may be able to find a couple of anthologies or the newest work of prolific poets – or famous people attempting to brand themselves as artistic. You may find the complete works of Maya Angelou, a copy of Beowulf, or a coffee table book of poetry from Instagram. You will watch the bookstore patrons stroll curiously by the shelf but not stop. No one is buying the poetry. This is true even in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where I live, a university town with a thriving local bookstore market. The following question is asked almost daily in my graduate department: Why poetry? What can poetry do that other mediums cannot?

From an analytic angle, it seems the answer is not much. According to Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble, two of the top-ten bestselling books of poetry in 2016 were The Odyssey and The Iliad by Homer. The fact that books like The Odyssey or Beowulf are bestsellers really reflects the idea that poetry is staid and passé. Even among my more well-read friends, most of them do not buy books of poetry. I decided to ask some of them why they did not seek out poetry. One friend of mine explained her apprehension towards the genre: “While I enjoy poetry, the part of literature that has always moved me the most is story and narrative.” Although poetry has some story elements, she felt that “often the purpose behind poetry is completely different than that of prose.” I recognize that I read more poetry than the average reader; I am literally branded with the language of American poet, Wendell Berry … via a tattoo. But even I at times feel frustration with the poets for binding their meaning in expressive language like a process of rime mummification. In the United States, most people are only exposed to poetry in high school or in university during literature classes; the focus remains heavily on canonized works, such as William Shakespeare, Emily Dickinson, or Walt Whitman. Readers are asked to analyze and discuss the seemingly archaic language, much of which has since fallen into the realm of cliché. For most people, reading poetry is associated with having to do the hard work to interpret it. Poetry demands much from its reader; it is asking us to dwell in a land of metaphor and language and of subtext and sounds, which is not easy to grapple with. Another of my friends noted she did not like poetry, feeling it was dense, perhaps too metaphorical, and often “went over her head.” This perception that poetry is something created for esoteric artistic minds and not for everyday people permeates the potential market. Read More

The Black Voice on Being a Public Text

I had the opportunity to attend a reading done by Roxanne Gay for her new memoir, Hunger. She began with this explanation of the book’s origin: “When you are fat, especially when you are fat and black, your body becomes a public text.” It resonated with me, as I was steeped in my own otherness at all times, held up to a harsh light and appraised from every angle through a loupe. The black writer knows that our otherness defines us, and that otherness creates our public text persona. The way we might talk about a new film with friends and strangers alike, the way we might have a roundtable discussion about a classic work of literature or a salient opinion piece, the black body must survive in that space. We are personified in all forms of media, and yet our own selves remain a mystery. It is tenuous place between the realm of being unknown and being constantly seen; a driving force in much of African American literature is the liminality of this running commentary. I would like to examine two poetry texts that really dig into this notion, but I would argue many texts talk about the running commentary of the white imagination placed upon African Americans, works as diverse as Kevin Young’s essay “Blacker than Thou,” the classic novel Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison, and even the hip-hop album To Pimp a Butterfly by Kendrick Lamar. The anxieties and pressure of being a public text are found within these texts, but by focusing on Citizen by Claudia Rankine and There Are More Beautiful Things than Beyoncé by Morgan Parker, I hope to illuminate how the African American writer uses their work to reconstruct life underneath this microscope. Read More

Trope or Cliché

Courtesy of Literaryterms.net

Who here knows what a trope is?

How about a cliché?

How about the difference between the two?

Did the last question leave you stumpped? Me too! So I went on a digital spelunking quest into the unknown. I also looked into other vintage sources like a dictonary or two, and do you want to know what I found out? Well… No one really knows, it’s kind of vague.

Ask yourself these questions:

  1. What is a trope? How do you pronounce it [troup]? Heck, I’ve been pronouncing it [troupy] because that’s how I learned it, the thing is, outside of literature university courses, you won’t hear many people speak it out loud, and if they do… case in point. It’s a little like genre, I honestly thought it was pronounced [genier] when I read it in articles until I realized genre was what I’d heard fancy people refer to as belonging to a style, or category = [jánre]
  2. What is a cliché?
  3. Which one is bigger? I ask this because it seems like cliché fits into the great encompassing shadow of the mighty trope. Trope, such a grand word, in the same category as genre, canon and the like. But, cliché just sounds right out bad.

Read More

Opinion: To Hell and Back… the Direction of U.S. Literary Fiction

Courtesy of Worthy of EleganceOriginally I planned to start the article talking about ebooks.  Talking about the Internet.  I was going to quote Calvino’s Six Memos for the Next Millennium.  I was going to say that more people are reading on screens than ever before, and that bloated, antiquated conceptions about “the novel” would have to change to meet the new ways in which we read.  This isn’t that article.  That one is still rattling around in my head somewhere, and I think it would’ve turned out pretty alright in the end.  But that’s not the article I’m writing right now.

This is going to be something else entirely, because, as of this writing, Donald Trump has been President Elect of the United States of America for five days.  In the first 72 hours alone there have been an alarming spike in incidents of hate across the U.S.  Protesters pour into the streets.  The tension is like nothing I’ve seen before, and I’m watching at a distance, seeing it all unfold from an ocean away.  It’s got me scared.  It’s got me angry.  And it’s got me—once I finally managed to shut the news and close Facebook and sat down to write this article—thinking about how truly irrelevant literary fiction has become in American culture at large. Read More