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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Two New Workshops at the Writer's Center: Podcasting for Writers & Writing Dialogue

How to celebrate the 150th anniversary of 5 de mayo? I'm not too big on parades, but I love giving workshops on subjects that interest me, so I'll be giving two on the same day, both at the Writer's Center in Bethesda MD:

Podcasting for Writers
May 5, 2012
10 am - 12 pm

Audio podcasts, on-line digital files, not only serve as an important promotional tool for writers, but they can be storytelling vehicles themselves, whether as stand-alone works or complements to text. This workshop provides an introduction and overview of podcasting for writers, from basic concepts to nuts-and-bolts tips. The goal is that by the end of the workshop, you will be able to go home and use your iPhone or digital recorder and computer to generate and then post a simple podcast on-line.

How (and How Not) to Write Dialogue
May 5, 2012
1 - 5 pm
One of the most powerfully vivid ways to show character, relationship, conflict, and/or mood is through the use of dialogue. For both beginning and advanced fiction and nonfiction writers, this workshop focuses on the use and misuse of dialogue, with a series of mini-lectures interspersed with brief exercises. The goal is by the end of the workshop, your dialogue will be of notably higher quality.

For more about my workshops and many on-line resources for writers, including podcasts, recommended reading lists, 365 free five minute writing exercises, visit my workshop page.

Monday, March 26, 2012

A Conversation with Michael K. Schuessler, on Pita Amor, Elena Poniatowska, Sor Juana, and the rescue of Alma Reed's autobiography, Peregrina

As part of my series of occasional conversations with other writers:

Michael K. Schuessler, author of the biographies Guadalupe Amor: La undécisima musa (The Eleventh Muse) and Elena Poniatowska: An Intimate Portrait, and editor of journalist Alma Reed's long-lost autobiography, Peregrina: Love and Death in Mexico. Recorded in Mexico City on March 8, 2012. (Approx 1 hour and 7 minutes)

>>Click here to listen now.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Marfa Mondays Podcast #3: Mary Bones on the Lost Art Colony

Just posted: the third podcast in the Marfa Mondays Podcasting Project 2012-2013:

>> Click here to listen in

Yours Truly interviews Mary Bones, curator of the exhibit "The Lost Colony: Texas Regionalist Paintings," in the Museum of the Big Bend, Sul Ross State University, Alpine, Texas.

The Lost Colony refers to the summer art colony at Sul Ross which began in 1932 and ended somewhat mysteriously in 1950. Alpine is 30 minutes northeast of Marfa-- right next door. Of the region, as Michael Duty writes in the introduction to the exhibit's catalog, "It... has long called to artists who have been captivated by its natural beauty, its history, and its people. In recent times, the area has also drawn the attention of writers and reporters who have written numerous articles touting the area's prominence as something of a center, albeit a far flung one, for contemporary art. Those articles focus primarily on Marfa and the influence that minimalist sculptor Donald Judd has had on the town..." Later, Duty adds, that Judd "was certainly not the first artist to be so captivated".

Mary Bones explains the inspiration for the exhibit, and shares the stories about and friendships of some of the painters, in particular Texan Julius Woeltz and his teacher Xavier González, a native of Spain, both of whom made trips to Mexico City to study the Mexican muralists, including Diego Rivera and José Clemente Orozco.

Some of the other painters discussed are Mabel Vandiver, Anna Keener, Elizabeth Keefer, Coreen Mary Spellman, Harry Anthony De Young, Beatrice Cuming, Otis Dozier, William Lester, James Swann, Ethel Edwards, Alice Reynolds, and Juanita Montgomery. Several of these paintings can be seen in the article by Mary Bones, "The Lost Colony: Texas Regionalist Paintings - Rediscovering an Artistic Past," Cenizo Journal, 4th Quarter 2011.

>>Previous Marfa Mondays podcast: Charles Angell in the Big Bend.

>>For more Marfa Mondays podcasts, and to read about the project, please visit

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Guest-blogger Peter Behrens on 4 Canadian and 1 Irish Writers You Must Read

St Patrick's Day edition! My guest-blogger today is my Yaddo and VCCA amigo, Peter Behrens, whose most recent novel is The O'Briens (Pantheon, March 2012), which has been garnering glowing reviews as he takes it on a coast-to-coast tour. Behrens is also the author of the historical novel The Law of Dreams, and he blogs about trucks, cars, highways, aesthetics, and good writing at autoliterate. Where does he get his inspiration? Maybe it's from hanging out part of the year under the starry skies of Marfa, Texas. The New York Times recently profiled Behrens and his family in A Moth to Marfa's Flame: At Home with Peter Behrens by Penelope Green, along with a slide show, A Winter Home in the West Texas Desert. That said, the best novelists always draw inspiration from other novelists; here are five Behrens recommends.

Four Canadian and 1 Irish Writers You Must Read
By Peter Behrens

Alistair Macleod. His novel No Great Mischief won the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award in 1999. The novel is superb but the best of his short stories are transcendant. They were originally published in 2 collections: The Lost Salt Gift of Blood and As Birds Bring Forth the Sun. (The 2 volumes were collected and published in the United States as ISLAND in 2000. There are any number of Checkhov-calibre Macleod stories: two of my favorites are "Vision", and "The Closing Down of Summer". "The Tuning of Perfection" belongs right up there as well. Macleod was born in Saskatchewan, into a family of expatriate Nova Scotians. They soon returned to NS, and MacLeod grew up in Inverness County, on Nova Scotia's Cape Breton Island. The culture he grew up within was shaped by Catholic Highlanders and Islandmen who emigrated from Scotland in the middle of the 19th century. It's a world much involved with the sea, and with fishing and coal mining; where Scottish Gaelic is still a common language (more common on Cape Breton than in Scotland, in fact.) The ancient world infuses Macleod's stories, but they are anything but quaint, sentimental, or bucolic. The stories operate like novels: they contain worlds; they are often open-ended. They resonate.

Joseph Boyden so far has published two remarkable novels, Three Day Road and Through Black Spruce. Three Day Road is about Cree solidiers serving in the Canadian Army during WWI. Through Black Spruce which won the Scotiabank Giller Prize in 2008. It's protagonst is a legendary bush pilot, son of one of the characters in the first novel. Boyden has Mètis heritage and his characters come out of that rich, impoverished, complex northern world of mixed race and mixed identity. Sometimes they choose between the northern world and the world "away"; sometimes the choice is made for them. They engage with the history of their time. This guy knows how to write. Beautiful sharp sentences.

Alice Munro. Why hasn't this writer won the Nobel Prize? Call me paranoid, but could it be because she's Canadian? Canada is too safe, white, and familiar to be exotic, but does not have the heft and presence on the international literary stage that say the US, Britain, and France do. There has been a spectacular "naissance" (as opposed to renaissance) of Canadian literature in English over the last twenty-five years, and I believe that the clear, weird, dangerous, beautifully constructed, and deceptively simple Munro stories that over the last four decades have been appearing in The New Yorker and in collections like Lives of Girls and Women, The Moons of Jupiter, and The Progress of Love are part of the reason why. The best Munro stories operate as very dense, very rich, compact novels. Nothing gets tied up neatly. Try her story "The Albanian Virgin", for example. Nobel judges please sit up and take notice: there are few writers who have created such a brilliant body of work over a long career. The title of her 2001 collection was Hateship Courtship Friendship Loveship Marriage but Munro's no miniaturist: her themes are the major ones.

Clark Blaise Blaise is finally getting (overdue) attention this year, thanks to the success of his recent story collection, The Meagre Tarmac. I'm happy to consider Blaise a Canadian writer even though he was born in North Dakota, attended the Iowa Writers' Workshop (during the illustrious Ray Carver era), and has lived and taught in the United States for most of his life. His parents were both Canadians, from opposite sides of the cultural divide (English/French; Western/Quebecois; middle class/not middle class). Blaise grew up mostly in the Deep South, and in the Midwest, where his French Canadian father, Leo Blais, recreated himself as Lee Blaise, furniture salesman extraordinaire. Clark Blaise lived and taught in Montreal for a ten-year period, and that era produced some of his most remarkable fictions: (the stories in Tribal Justice, for example) I think Blaise found the city a perfect setting for stories that sift through the complexities of identity, heritage, the immigration experience, and the power and style of family myth. I wrote an introduction to his collection Montreal Stories. Blaise is married to the American novelist Bharati Mukherjee and has long been familiar with Indian expatriate culture in North America: the world of middle class Indian professionals is the universe he explores with deftness and panache in The Meagre Tarmac.

John McGahern Okay here's the Irish corner of my post. For me, McGahern's novel Amongst Women is about as perfect as a novel gets. McGahern is mostly known as a short story writer, and the stories are brilliant, but Amongst Women seems to draw deeply from the well of family background, and it is perfectly constructed and intense. A slender volume, it makes a reader realize that other novelists--particularly contemporary American male novelists--ought to think about leaving a lot more out of their tomes. McGahern's Irish men and women, in the hinterlands of Counties Monaghan and Roscommon, usually in the 1950s, live with ghosts and echoes and silences. His portrait of the father in Amongst Women--a bitter old man, once a rebel and a gunman--is stinging and humane. I haven't read his memoir, All Will be Well, but I'm going to.

-- Peter Behrens
Peter Behren's St Patrick's Day op-ed for the New York Times, "It's About Immigrants, Not Irishness"
The O'Briens on National Public Radio
Marfa Public Radio: Talk at Ten interview with Peter Behrens

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---> For the complete archive of Madam Mayo guest-blog posts, click here.
Recent posts include translator Harry Morales on Gregory Rabassa's 90th Birthday; Steve Sando on 5 Beans You're Not Eating; and novelist Andrew Dayton on 5 Books to Get Your Head Inside Iran. Last year's St Patrick's Day edition was Michael Hogan on the Irish soldiers of Mexico.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Mysterious Trousers, Future of the iPad, iBook Author App, La Tregua, Brian O'Leary, Feral Hog Plague, Marfa Mondays

Yay! Mysterious Trousers: I don't know these guys but I think the spirit of and products on their website are the future. Via Swiss Miss.

Is this the future of the iPad? Probably.

I am so totally psyched about the iBooks Author app and yes, I am turning my e-books into iBooks. More news about this soon.

My amigo Harry Morales is publishing his translation of Mario Benedetti's La Tregua in the Brooklyn Rail.

Speaking of the future and of on-line publications, Brian O'Leary offers his thoughts on the book as context, not container.

I say it's a mandala of consciousness. Ommmm.

On a completely different subject: Because I'm writing a book about West Texas, I've been following the feral hogs story. It's wild. Thousands have crossed the border into Mexico. Old Jules, a Hill Country Texan (a little east of my bailiwick) has this to say about the feral hog plague. Now if you really feel the need to blast a few of them to beyond bacon, you could sign up for a weekend at Dos Plumas outside of Abilene. There are a bunch of hunting ranches in the Marfa-Alpine-Fort Davis area. But I would think the ranchers would pay you to get rid of the feral hogs, not the other way around. (OK, OK, I know you gotta feed 'em and house 'em.) Where to git yer gun? Why, Walmart!

Stay tuned for the next Marfa Monday podcast on Monday March 19th. I'm interviewing Mary Bones, curator of the Museum of the Big Bend, on the lost art colony. (Listen to my previous podcast, a bit about Cabeza de Vaca and an interview with Charles Angell, owner of Angell Expeditions, about the Big Bend, here.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Guest-blogger Harry Morales Celebrates (As Should We All) Literary Translator Gregory Rabassa on His 90th Birthday

If you're picking up this blog on RSS feed, facebook, or, please note that this (below) is the correct text for Harry Morales' guest-blog post. (I mistakenly posted a basic bio a few hours ago. -- C.M.)

Friday March 9, 2012 is the 90th birthday of literary treasure, translator extraordinaire, Gregory Rabassa. In honor of his birthday, my amigo and fellow Spanish translator, Harry Morales, contributes this guest-blog post about his mentor.


By Harry Morales

"Since Kindness be the Venus-star of Friendship and that Bright Star doth Light the Lowest Hill, May Praise be Worthy of the Highest Good.” -Jack Kerouac, November 18, 1949

Today, Friday, March 9th, is the 90th birthday of my mentor, friend, surrogate padrino, and cronopio de primera clase, Gregory Rabassa. Greg, the modest dedicatee of this celebratory post, is the venerated Spanish and Portuguese literary translator of the finest Latin American authors in the world, including Julio Cortázar-- with whom he formed a deep and special friendship-- Mario Vargas Llosa, Gabriel García Márquez, Miguel Angel Asturias, these three winning the Nobel Prize for Literature, Jorge Amado, J.M. Machado de Assis, José María Eça de Queirós, António Lobo Antunes, José Lezama Lima, and Clarice Lispector, among many others.

In my estimation, he is the finest Spanish literary translator in the world, whose art is rivaled only by his enduring and unburdened skills as an educator. He is the recipient of numerous awards for his work, including the National Medal of Arts-- which “is the highest honor conferred to an individual artist on behalf of the people,” and presented by the President of the U.S. to only a dozen or so individuals per year across the country-- and most recently, the inaugural Thornton Wilder Prize for Translation from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the Order of Prince Henry the Navigator from Portugal. He has translated over 50 books from the Spanish and Portuguese, starting in 1966 with Rayuela (Hopscotch) written by his beloved friend, Julio Cortázar.

I salute you Greg, on bent knee and enduring love and respect for your guidance and unconditional friendship in this work of ours. I would not be the translator I am by a shaky third if I had not attended-- by conscious design-- your Literary Translation Course at the New York State Summer Writer’s Institute at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs. Since those two weeks, soon approaching 22 years ago, I have attempted to live up to your ideals and everlasting respect for the written word. Perhaps this post appears a little too formal and calculated, but alas, the sentiments herein indeed drop many miles away from what I dearly mean. In the end, I happily acknowledge the following poem, “Das Lied um die Guten Leute” (“The Song About the Good People”) by Bertolt Brecht, the subject of which can justifiably and easily be you, Greg, perhaps multiplied:

“One knows the good people by the fact that they get
better when one knows them.
The good people invite one to improve them - for
how does anyone get wiser?
By listening and by being told something.
At the same time, however, they improve anybody
who looks at them and anybody they look at.”

-- Harry Morales

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>> See Harry Morales' previous guest-blog post for Madam Mayo, on translating Mario Benedetti.

>>Morales' translation of an essay by Alberto Ruy Sánchez appears in my anthology, Mexico: A Traveler's Literary Companion (Whereabouts Press, 2006).

>>Listen to the podcast of the PEN Conversation with Gregory Rabassa, Edith Grossman and Michael F. Moore in which they discuss magical realism and the problem with “isms” the overwhelming influence of Cervantes; President Clinton’s favorite book; disastrous moments in translation; getting lost as a translator; the instinct of choosing the right words.

>> See the NYT article about Rabassa, "A Translator's Long Journey," May 25, 2004.

>> For the complete archive of Madam Mayo guest-blog posts, click here.

Monday, March 05, 2012

A Conversation with Artist and Writer Edward Swift

So why, when, where, and how am I podcasting? Read all about my Conversations with Other Writers podcasting series here.

New podcasts:

Edward Swift, artist and writer based in San Miguel de Allende, on the Orphic journey, Marguerite Young, the Big Thicket, the wonders of the Sierra Gorda, My Grandfather's Finger, The Daughter of the Doctor and the Saint, on being an ABT flower man, his house designed by Jesus Zarate, among a whole bunch of other things! This one hour plus interview with one of my very favorite writers was splendid fun.

>>Listen in right here.

>>Previous conversations with other writers: Sara Mansfield Taber, Solveig Eggerz, and Rosemary Sullivan.

Also new:

Abbreviated podcast-- just Yours Truly talking about my translation of Francisco I. Madero's secret book of 1911-- of the PEN / SOL Literary Magazine Reading Series event, February 22, 2012 in San Miguel de Allende is now on-line.

>> Listen here.