Feats of Greatness, Feet of Clay: Authors, Flaws, and the People Behind the Stories

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(Orson Scott Card poses at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, in 2008. Wikimedia Commons/ Nihonjoe)

“Just because someone’s a member of an ethnic minority doesn’t mean they’re not a nasty small-minded little jerk.” ~ Terry Pratchett, from Feet of Clay 

There is a reason I frequently shy away from reading biographies:  people suck.  Even the best people suck.  If you want to go on admiring someone, don’t know them personally.  The art, of course, speaks for itself.  It need not be burdened by the shortcomings of its creator.  But (at least for me) it is difficult to separate the two once you know.  You cannot, as the saying goes, unsee something.

Today, a lot of people, including myself, were surprised to learn that beloved science fiction writer Orson Scott Card (Ender’s Gameis an anti-gay activist, and has been for a very long time.  In 2008, he wrote that “marriage has only one definition, and any government that attempts to change it is my mortal enemy. I will act to destroy that government and bring it down.”   Responding to the Supreme Court decision on the topic of gay marriage, Card told Entertainment Weekly  “it will be interesting to see whether the victorious proponents of gay marriage will show tolerance toward those who disagreed with them when the issue was still in dispute.”

Hmmmm…. interesting that someone who is against tolerance wants to see how people with tolerance respond….

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Guerrilla Poetry Projects

T.S. Eliot once observed that “genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood.”  This is a sentiment that  “guerrilla” poets embrace.  Guerrilla tactics, whether in war or in art, often rely on hit-and-run assaults, leaving the subjects of their surprise attacks a bit dazed and hopefully more aware.

This week, the website Flavorpill (by way of booooooom.com) published a variety of  guerrilla poetry projects that are sneaking poetry into the lives of the largely unsuspecting public.  Here are ten of the best:

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1.  Scottish artist Robert Montgomery installs subversive poetry on billboards, stripping away the large-scale ads for his black-and-white text. Other poems are set on fire. The anonymous works about modern life offer a moment of reflection, away from the consumerist gaze.

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2.  The Itaewon neighbored of Seoul, Korea is littered with colorful dolls. American poet Andy Knowlton creates the tiny figures from found materials he collects on the streets. Each doll is outfitted with a bottle that contains a poem. “I want to surprise people going about their daily routines,” he told website Chincha. “Also, I’ve been writing poetry for several years now and I’m always trying to figure out new ways to get people interested in poetry. These dolls are just another approach to getting the good word out on poetry.”
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3. New York City writer Audrey Dimola started the Compass Project in 2012. She stickers her poems around the city, releasing her work into the wild. They’re tiny signposts for eagle-eyed daydreamers.
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4. London-based artist Anna Garforth is inspired by guerrilla gardening groups, which is why she transformed excerpts from several Eleanor Stevens poems into mossy wall text. The green words are attached with organic materials. Garforth creates the work with the hopes that the letters will grow and spread across the wall in time.
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A Shakespearean Mash Up

This summer the Los Angeles based Troubadour Theater Company is reprising its role as masters of the Shakespearean mash up. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you A Midsummer Saturday Night’s Fever Dream.

You may have guessed it, though you might not believe it: one theater company has poured all the funk, bellbottoms, and embarrassing dance moves of 70s disco into the world’s most timeless romantic comedy ever to be written in iambic pentameter. But lest you think this is a joke, you should know that the Troubies (as they’re affectionately known round these parts) are old hands at the genre. After all, these are the folks who brought you…

OthE.L.O., Fleetwood Macbeth, As U2 Like It, and every actor’s dream Hamlet, the Artist Formerly Known as Prince of Denmark

                      

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Before I Die: Communities, Art, Purpose, Reflection

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A few years ago, artist Candy Chang lost a good friend. The experience left her thinking a lot about death, what in her life was of value, what she wanted to do while she had time, and with whom she should spend those hours.  While she knew she wanted to define these objectives, Chang says that she “struggled to maintain perspective.”  She wondered if others felt similarly adrift.

Chang noticed that there was an old, abandoned home in her New Orleans neighborhood, a perfect canvas for expression. She, along with a group of friends, painted one side of the home in chalkboard paint and created a “Before I die ___________________ ” stencil:

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Chang had no idea what to expect. But she and her friends attached little baskets of chalk to the sides and stepped away to wait and see:

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To Chang’s great delight and surprise, the very next day, ” the wall was bursting with handwritten responses and it kept growing: Before I die I want to… sing for millions, hold her one more time, eat a salad with an alien, see my daughter graduate, abandon all insecurities, plant a tree, straddle the International Date Line, be completely myself…”.

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The Daily Rituals of Ten of the World’s Most Creative People

Do you have a daily ritual when you write? I don’t know of a single writer who does not.  Maybe it’s summoning the Muse…everything must be just so if there is any hope of words appearing on paper.  Most of us are NOT like the writer, Muriel Spark who, Ann Lamott notes, “is said to have felt that she was taking dictation from God every morning — sitting there, one supposes, plugged into a Dictaphone, typing away, humming. But this is a very hostile and aggressive position. One might hope for bad things to rain down on a person like this.”stephen_king_desk

No, most writers have certain things they are committed to doing every day: common milestones are a starting time, and ending time, and a number of words that must be met. Oh, and a reward at the end (or perhaps that’s just me…. but I doubt it). Here are ten creative people who know that while the result may appear effortless, the process is paramount.

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Happy 109th Birthday, Dr. Seuss!

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Theodor Geisel, best known to fans as Dr. Seuss, would have been 109 years old on March 2.  He is beloved for his intricate rhymes and curious, inimitable style. But Dr. Seuss was about more than a curious turn of phrase and the creator of fantastical creatures. He was a serious writer and artist with a social agenda.

Personally, I learned about prejudice from his book The Star-Belly Sneetches:

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Now, the Star-Bell Sneetches had bellies with stars.
The Plain-Belly Sneetches had none upon thars.
Those stars weren’t so big. They were really so small.
You might think such a thing wouldn’t matter at all.

But, because they had stars, all the Star-Belly Sneetches
Would brag, “We’re the best kind of Sneetch on the beaches.”
With their snoots in the air, they would sniff and they’d snort
“We’ll have nothing to do with the Plain-Belly sort!”
And, whenever they met some, when they were out walking,
They’d hike right on past them without even talking.

When the Star-Belly children went out to play ball,
Could a Plain Belly get in the game? Not at all.
You only could play if your bellies had stars
And the Plain-Belly children had none upon thars.

I learned about conservation from The Lorax:

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At the far end of town
where the Grickle-grass grows
and the wind smells slow-and-sour when it blows
and no birds ever sing excepting old crows…
is the Street of the Lifted Lorax.

And deep in the Grickle-grass, some people say,
if you look deep enough you can still see, today,
where the Lorax once stood
just as long as it could
before somebody lifted the Lorax away.

What was the Lorax?
Any why was it there?
And why was it lifted and taken somewhere
from the far end of town where the Grickle-grass grows?
The old Once-ler still lives here.
Ask him. He knows.

Now that I am an adult and a writer myself, I marvel at Geisel’s technical expertise and his ability to make the seemingly simple deeply meaningful. Here is his explanation of what it means to “write simply.”

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Happy birthday, Dr. Seuss.


Cozy Up with a Classic

Who hasn’t read a 1,488 page epic of the French Revolution and thought, there should really be a version of this for infants. Nobody. Finally, two brothers are filling the void of classic literature for children under the age of 3. Okay, all mockery aside this is actually seriously cute. (So cute I had to borrow the felt versions of Darcy and Bingley for the cover of our latest Kindle Fire competition.) Meet “Cozy Classics”:

Brothers Jack and Holman Wang teamed up in 2012 to create Cozy Classics, an infant primer board-book series that adapts classic novels into twelve simple,  words that appear alongside photographs of handmade figurines. The brothers create the characters, sets, and props themselves through the painstaking process of needle-felting, a handcraft that involves the shaping of woolen fibers with a barbed needle. Each figure takes between eighteen and twenty-five hours to create. The first two titles—Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick and Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice—were released this past November by Vancouver-based Simply Read Books; the next release, a cozy take on Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables, is forthcoming in April.

Here’s a glimpse of each of Cozy Classics’ titles so far, every page accompanied by its child-friendly word. Though the series may be developed for children, I have to say these might be too adorable (and adultly ironic) not to pick up for myself. Look for them in an Urban Outfitters near you soon.

Moby Dick

Sailor

Find

Whale

Pride and Prejudice

Friends

Mean

Muddy

Les Misérables

Poor

Fire

Sad

To find out more about Cozy Classics, head to its website here. Still to come in Spring 2013, the Cozy version of War and Peace!

 


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