Cambridge Writers’ Workshop Recommends: Here’s to 2016!

david-bowie-reading-list
Hello everyone, and a happy 2016 to all of you! We here at the Cambridge Writers’ Workshop are excited to begin a new year of creative literary expression. As we prepare for our retreats to Newport, Granada, and Barcelona/Narbonne, we have asked some of our staff members to share their literature and film recommendations for the new year. These are the books and movies that they recently discovered, have enjoyed time and time again, and that they most want others to know about. Thanks to Rita Banerjee, Alex Carrigan, Alyssa Goldstein Ekstrom, Casey Lynch, David Shields, Emily Smith, Diana Norma Szokolyai, and Emily Teitsworth for their recommendations. Check out our recommendations and stay tuned to an exciting year with the CWW.

-Alex Carrigan (curator)

CWW Lit Picks:

Tipsy-KobayashiNaomi by Jun’ichiro Tanizaki
(Recommended by Rita Banerjee)

Naomi was the first novel I read that I literally threw across the room when I was done with it.  For those bored by Nabokov for “his style,” Naomi, written by Jun’ichiro Tanizaki in 1924, gives Lolita a run for its money and then some.  The novel focuses on the story of Jōji, a mundane, over-educated, routine-driven Japanese salary man, who one day, as he’s walking around a particularly seedy part of Tokyo, spies a beautiful young Eurasian-looking girl named Naomi. Naomi, who’s put to work as a waitress in a café by her parents, is both young (she’s only 15, while Jōji’s a healthy 28!) and exotic (her face and eyes look Western as does her foreign-sounding name). Needless to say, Jōji falls head-over-heels in lust with Naomi and has to have her. He tells Naomi’s parents that he’d like to “adopt” Naomi. He promises to raise her like a daughter–give her a “good education” and all the luxuries a young modern girl could want in life. And somehow, Naomi’s parents agree (anything for a quick buck). So Jōji lures Naomi into his home. He promises that nothing untoward will happen between them until she’s at least 18 and can give him her consent. But in the meantime, he’s happy to attend to her daily bathing rituals (I think you know where this story is heading…). But alas, it turns out that Naomi has a mind of her own. She immediately notes that Jōji hopes to transform her into a Mo-Ga (モ-ガ, modern girl), and she raises his stakes. She comes to embody everything Western, everything sexy, and everything dangerous about modern women. She takes up dancing, she takes up Jōji’s wallet (spending and partying until his cash is through), and most of all, when Jōji approaches her for sex, she uses her body against him, and parades an ever-rotating line of boyfriends under his nose. In reading Naomi, it’s hard to figure out who’s the protagonist and who’s the antagonist. Jōji and Naomi seem equally conniving and crooked. At the end of the novel, you don’t know who you’re rooting for, and you don’t know how you could care for a character so perverse. Naomi might make you want to throw the novel across the room, straight out an open window, and shout a string of expletives after it. Or, it might make you do something completely opposite. And that’s where Tanizaki’s great power lies: in making you, the reader, feel.

GlengarryGlenRossGlengarry Glen Ross
by David Mamet

(Recommended by Rita Banerjee)

One of the best theatrical performances I’ve seen to date was “Stealing the Leads,” an all-female led adaptation of David Mamet’s 1984 Pulitzer Prize winning play, Glengarry Glen Ross. Mamet’s play focuses on the fall-out of late capitalism (a term that’s been hotly debated since at least 1848 ;-)). The play focuses on a crew of desperate and despairing business men in Chicago as they attempt to close deals, form alliances and mergers, and profit on real estate acquisitions before their rivals steal their leads or sabotage their careers. This is a story about businessmen and corporations in the middle of a meltdown. And it’s full of bites and stings (take those lacerating comments on the Patels and South Asian businessmen taking over finance…). But most of all, the play is an exercise in masculinity. In the world of Glengarry Glen Ross, the characters assume that in order to desire and have power, the most successful candidate has got to be an alpha-male. Mamet slightly destabilizes this notion through small sleights of hand. But the best kick to the patriarchy happens when an all female cast performs Mamet’s play. One of my favorite renditions of Mamet’s play, Stealing the Leads: Women Read Glengarry Glen Ross, was performed in Berkeley’s famed Pegasus Bookstore a few years back, and it was spooky to see these women transform into testosterone-driven business men. The play, once in the hands and voices of an all-female cast, takes on a new edge. The play’s do-or-die ethos and cast of saboteurs no longer revolve around the crisis of money and power. But what’s at stake itself is the underlying anxiety in Mamet’s writing: masculinity, itself.

DeathofaPunkDeath of a Punk by John P. Browner
(Recommended by Rita Banerjee)

In Munich, Germany, I teach creative writing classes at a pretty nifty little English-language bookstore called the Munich Readery. And one of the owners, John Browner, is not only an author, himself, but was part of the NYC underground punk scene in the late 70s and early 80s. His novel, Death of a Punk, combines the frenetic, no-fucks-allowed peroxide cool of CBGB’s with the beats and campy electricity of a noir thriller. The novel centers on what happens when Lenny Hornblowner, who moonlights as a private eye and is a fat middle-aged square (by his own estimation), is hired Mrs. “Call me Lisa” Perlont to find her “beloved” stepson, Blinky, a young man whose gotten himself lost in the carnival of New York’s first-wave punk scene. The result, as Browner labels it, is meant to be an “airport read” highlighting an alternative New York where the snarky ads in the Village Voice, three-chord punk spiked with cocaine, and the elegance of defending your turf with just a pair of brass knuckles reign supreme.

MFA vs. NYC, ed. Chad Harbach & Workshops of Empire by Eric Bennett
(Recommended by Rita Banerjee)

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Anything produced by N+1 is part magic.  And the press’s 2014 collection, MFA vs. NYC is no exception.  (I remember reading this anthology in one sitting on the airplane ride back home from AWP 2014). The anthology, edited by Chad Harbach, draws a fault-line between American creative writing communities: those centered in big, commercial, cocktail-party-driven metropoles such as New York, and those produced in well-groomed, well-crafted but often myopic literary networks of the American MFA program periphery. While Harbach’s categorization of these two diametrically-opposed literary spheres and successful enclaves of American fiction veers towards essentialism, MFA vs. NYC offers an eye-opening look into what it takes to be a writer in the 21st century. Essays such as “My Parade” by Alexander Chee, in which the author wryly interrogates the racial and gender politics inscribed in the very curricula of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, are thrilling to read. As are essays such as “Seduce the Whole World” by Carla Blumenkranz, in which the author examines the-larger-than-life persona of Raymond Carver, whose minimalist aesthetics, mystique, and influence were largely crafted and set in stone by his editor Gordon Lish. Other essays such as “Into the Woods” by Emily Gould and “Money (2006)” by Keith Gessen offer unapologetically candid looks at the financial woes and socioeconomic dilemmas which haunt contemporary American authors. And one of my favorite essays in the collection, Eric Bennett’s “The Pyramid Scheme,” examines how the Iowa Writers’ Workshop rose to the top of the American MFA empire in the mid-20th century, partly due to funding from the Fairfield Foundation, a dummy corporation set-up by the CIA. Bennett examines how Paul Engle, the second director of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, utilized CIA money to round-up left-leaning individuals from around the world and set the rubric for 20th century American literary tastes. Needless to say, I’m looking forward to reading Bennett’s new book Workshops of Empire: Stegner, Engle, and the American Creative Writing during the Cold War this Spring.

RobinCosteLewisVoyage of the Sable Venus
by Robin Coste Lewis

(Recommended by Rita Banerjee)

Robin Coste Lewis’s debut collection of poems, Voyage of the Sable Venus, just received the National Book Award for Best Poetry Book of 2015! The collection is a spiky, electric trip through confrontations of race, racism, agency, responsibility, and encountering other people and other cultures. The title of the collection takes its inspiration from the Thomas Stothard engraving, “The Voyage of the Sable Venus from Angola to the West Indies,” an infamous propaganda piece for the African slave trade. But in Lewis’s book, the fault and possibilities of history lie in all hands. In her opening poem, “Plantation,” the speaker confides, “I could tell you the black side / of my family owned slaves / I realize that perhaps / the one reason why I love you, / because I told you this / and you–still–wanted to kiss / me.  We laughed when I said plantation / fell into our chairs when I said cane.”  Discomfort, fascination, guilt, awe–these are only some of the series of emotions which weave through Lewis’s verse as she examines the ways in which images and narratives of black women, black bodies, and the black voyager have been depicted in art, propaganda, and in personal histories. Cultural and psychic ambiguity hover over Lewis’s work as the speakers of her poems reflect their own private travels and own private traps, or as the speaker of “Plantation” recalls, “You said, The bars look pretty, Baby / then rubbed your hind legs against me.”

HarariSapiens: A Brief History of Humankind
by Yuval Noah Harari

(Recommended by Rita Banerjee)

I first heard of Yuval Noah Harari a few years ago when I was researching MOOCs, and took his class on the History of Humankind, which was “telecast” from the University of Jerusalem. Harari’s lectures were engaging, self-deprecating, informative, and fantastic. In 2015, his book, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, was translated from Hebrew into English. The book, like Harari’s lectures, explores how Homo Sapiens came to be the dominant human species on earth and how they rose to power. Harari’s discussions on ethnicity and the genetic basis for race are eye-opening and provocative, as are his discussions of the cognitive, agricultural, and industrial revolutions. One of my most favorite sections from Harari’s text focuses on how human societies are formed: through fictive language and gossip culture. It appears that everything from our fascination with God to our fascination with Louis Vuitton and fascism derive from our very human love of myths. As Harari explains, it’s the storytelling that brings us together, and it’s the fictions of our lives and our understandings of the world that bind.

510iAdsKYdL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami
(Recommended by Alex Carrigan)

This book really hurt me. The latest book by acclaimed Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami follows a man whose group of friends cut off all ties with him for unknown reasons sixteen years earlier. Now middle aged, he goes on a journey to find his old friends and understand what happened back when they were teenagers. The book isn’t as weird as Murakami’s other books, but still carries much of the customary melancholy and heart. This book depressed me with its premise and the first fifty pages, but I think it was worth feeling that way if it meant I could read the rest of the story. I got to follow Tsukuru on his journey and grew to really understand how complex and sordid he and the other characters were, making it one of my favorite books in recent years.

51KwYPrCLjL._SX283_BO1,204,203,200_Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
(Recommended by Alex Carrigan)

I finally got into Neil Gaiman last year, and I found his collaboration with the late Terry Pratchett to be one of my favorite new books to read. The book follows the days leading up to the rapture, where an angel and a demon, who have both “gone native” after being on Earth since Eden, realize they’ve misplaced the Antichrist, throwing the entire prophecy out of order. The story follows them and dozens of other characters as the pieces of the end times begin to fall into place. It’s satirical, hilarious, and doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s one of the best interpretations of the end of days I have read, and I had a blast reading it.

51PXSCEFWZLA Separate Peace by John Knowles
(Recommended by Alyssa Goldstein Ekstrom)

Of all the books I read in high school, this one stuck with me the most, even years later. The story takes place at an all-boys boarding school right at the beginning of World War II. It is of course a time when tensions are running high, where boys who are at the very precipice of becoming men have the possibility of joining the war looming over them. But it’s also in these darkest times of uncertainty that great friendships can emerge, or at least a friendship that appears to be great. In Gene and Phineas, Knowles creates two characters who will stay with readers for a long time after the last page. They say opposites attract. Even in friendships, this proves true, for Phineas is everything Gene isn’t. He’s athletic, social, popular, extroverted. Gene is a loner and more reserved, and as the story unfolds, a boy tired of living in his best friend’s shadow. Gene’s jealousy quickly evolves into resentment and in a split second, a decision is made that has irreparable consequences. A most poignant novel about jealousy, friendship, forgiveness, and growing up.

412XH9UvpbLFangirl by Rainbow Rowell
(Recommended by Alyssa Goldstein Ekstrom)

Starting college in and of itself is a scary time, but when you add in a twin who is looking to gain a separate identity from that of her sister, a prickly roommate, a father who is frequently manic, and online fandom clamoring for the next chapter of your beloved fanfiction, that scared feeling is multiplied by one hundred. Meet Cather. Her twin sister, Wren, doesn’t want to dorm with her, and not only that, is pulling away from their obsession with Simon Snow. Think Harry Potter and you’ll understand. With Wren putting some distance between them, Cather is reluctantly left navigating the world of college as a freshman alone. Adding insult to injury, the fiction class that Cather has found herself in, the one class that should come easy to her, is proving to be much more difficult. And as if this isn’t bad enough, Cather’s goal of finishing her Simon Snow fanfiction before the last book comes out seems very unlikely. Lastly, among all of her other troubles, Cather can add falling for her roommate’s ex-boyfriend to that list. For anyone who has ever felt the pangs of growing up and struggled in finding their own voice, Fangirl is an incredibly relatable, funny book that should not be missed.

81M62hCovYLAbout a Boy by Nick Hornby
(Recommended by Alyssa Goldstein Ekstrom)

When I found out NBC was adapting Hornby’s About a Boy into a television show, I was super excited. I loved the book, adored the movie, so it seemed only natural that I would enjoy the show. And I did. But unfortunately NBC pulled the plug on it, which is a shame in my own humble opinion. However, fear not; for even without a show, About a Boy as simply a novel is good enough for me. About a Boy follows Will Freeman, a man who has never really grown up. Living off of the royalties stemming from his father’s one-hit wonder, Will lives a comfortable life. He doesn’t need to work and therefore, doesn’t. At his core, Will is a fairly shallow individual, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone when he joins a group for single parents, Single Parents Alone Together, and fabricates a son to boot, to meet women. Will’s plan is extremely flawed, seeing as he doesn’t actually have a child, but it is this lie that brings young Marcus and his mother Fiona into Will’s life.

At twelve, Marcus is having a rough time. His mother is depressed, and he doesn’t know how to help her. And her failed suicide attempt has only left him more rattled. At school he’s the awkward outcast who gets picked on. At first, Marcus intends to set Will up with Fiona, believing Will can be the person to bring her out of her depression, but when that plan backfires, Marcus decides to befriend Will. Soon Marcus is going by Will’s flat everyday after school and it seems that, finally, Will is growing up and learning to care about someone other than himself. But then it all appears to take a turn for the worst. Marcus finds Fiona crying again, and he fears she is going to attempt suicide once more. He needs Will’s help, but Will is unwilling after his own latest setback. Will meets Rachel at a dinner and leads her to believe that Marcus is his son. Rachel herself is a single mother of a twelve year old boy, and it seems Will has fallen hard for the first time. But when his lie is revealed, Rachel ends the relationship, leaving Will devastated and with the realization that he is not the person to help Marcus. But despite his best efforts, Will cannot stop caring about Marcus. In short, About a Boy is about one man’s lesson that there are connections we can’t sever and families we create for ourselves and it’s about the boy who teaches him this lesson.

51P7tPu16XL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_Self-Help by Lorrie Moore
(Recommended by Casey Lynch)

Need some help getting back into classes/work/general productivity after the summer break?  Self-Help can help! Self-Help is not, in fact, a self-improvement manual, but New York Times bestseller Lorrie Moore’s first collection of short stories. The book includes titles like How to Be an Other Woman and (the introductory creative writing class classic!) How to Be a Writer or, Have You Earned This Cliché?. While Moore writes primarily in the second person, the ‘you’s who populate these stories are very specific people, with problems a self-help manual aimed at the general ‘you’ would be wildly insufficient to mend. The collection tightropes so many lines so artfully: it is accessible and literary, witty and tragic, quirky and universal. Self-Help is a perfect first book of fall if you are looking to ease back into serious fiction after a summer of beach reads.

51khWutZqCL._SX325_BO1,204,203,200_The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
(Recommended by Casey Lynch)

“Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the Fall”—chances are, one of your Facebook friends will add this caption to a Fall-themed profile photo.  But how many will revisit the classic from which the line has been lifted?  These words are actually spoken by Jordan Baker of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. Though you probably already read it for high school English, the Great American Novel is always worth another look. If not for all the gossip and glitz, or for Fitzgerald’s warm, loping prose, then to weigh in on some newer theories being applied to the classic. Some of the most colorful contentions I’ve heard: Nick is in love with Gatsby, and Gatsby is on the Autism Spectrum. Think it’s hearsay?! Then reread!

41PB9UVybpL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
by Robert Louis Stevenson

(Recommended by Casey Lynch)

A wonderful novella, with a scarier rep than it deserves, is Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Though it features plenty of potions, alleys, and strangers, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is so much more than the guy-to-monster story we all know. It is a comment on industrialism and male professionalism, and an early study of bi-polar disorder. It is also chalk full of descriptions of late-nineteenth century London, written in beautiful, prim Victorian prose. If you are looking for a short, rewarding, not-too-scary classic this fall, Dr. Jekyll and Hyde is a great choice. If you want something a little scarier, I would still recommend it.  However, I would suggest that you read it under the conditions I did: from 2 to 4 AM the day the paper is due.

41KMMWCnkcL._SX310_BO1,204,203,200_Speedboat by Renata Adler
(Recommended by David Shields)

D. H. Lawrence: it’s better to know a dozen books extraordinarily well than innumerable books passably. In a documentary on Derrida, when he shows the filmmaker his enormous private library, she asks him if he’s read all the books. He says, “No, just a few—but very closely.” I’ve read Speedboat easily two dozen times. I can’t read it anymore. It’s one book I’ve read so many times that I feel, absurdly, as if I’ve written it; at the very least, I feel that I know a little bit what it must have felt like to write it. In any case, I learned how to write by reading that book until the spine broke. I typed the entire book twice.

41kL+aXv5JL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_The End of the Novel of Love by Vivian Gornick
(Recommended by David Shields)

The very embodiment of the critical intelligence in the imaginative position: literary analysis as farewell to feeling.

 

 

 

 

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The Isle of Youth by Laura van den Berg
(Recommended by Emily Smith)

The Isle of Youth, a short story collection by Laura van den Berg, explores the survival of women as they battle unhappy marriages, false magic, and a plethora of other dizzying scenarios. My personal favorite is “The Greatest Escape,” which follows the story of Crystal, a teenage girl, who works as an assistant for her second-rate magician mother. After years of pick pocketing her patrons and listening to her mother’s romantic illusions about magic, Crystal realizes that the greatest escape is more than a magic trick: it’s a cripple for her not so magical life in the middle of nowhere Florida. Many have compared Laura van den Berg to a young Margaret Atwood.

41cOaCCUlWLPlay It as It Lays by Joan Didion
(Recommended by Emily Smith)

Joan Didion captures the essence of ennui in Play It as It Lays, a story as scalding and brutal as the desert it takes place in. As the anti-heroine Maria notes, she is an expert on “nothing”: she’s from a town that no longer exists, is the mother of a child who’s dead, and generally exists as the bedfellow of absence. The story, which has an empty resolution, will be satisfying to anyone who’s ever felt restless without reason.

51qbFfsCU9L._SX355_BO1,204,203,200_Histories of the Future Perfect
by Ellen Kombiyil

(Recommended by Diana Norma Szokolyai)

Ellen Kombiyil’s Histories of the Future Perfect is an enchanting collection of poetry that explores the depth of our relationships to one another and the world through examining grammar, one-ness, the nature of water, mathematical equations, and the myth of return. Water is a motif that takes many forms in the book, but always flows. The sun is an interrogator of the heart. In one of the poems that is the cradle of the book, “How I Came to Love,” Kombiyil writes, “It was a game of Chinese whispers I played / with the tarot-reading parrot. She picked / the cards like pecking crumbs, trilling Perhaps, / Perhaps, her warning note loud as a tolling bell.” Reminiscent of Poe’s raven, and his trilling call of “Nevermore,” Kombiyil’s bird spells out a different kind of fate…the frightening revelation that there are many life paths lined with the fog of “perhaps.”

415dXipj-dLThe World Doesn’t End by Charles Simic
(Recommended by Emily Teitsworth)

This short collection of prose poetry is one that leaves its readers with an impression of humor and heartache. Simic does not shy away from logical or illogical extremes. The poems themselves move seamlessly between what is extraordinary and what is not, which leaves readers puzzled and pleasantly surprised. The poems never fail to end powerfully, with lines such as: “It’s so quiet in the world. One can hear the old river, which in its confusion sometimes forgets and flows backwards.”

41+a4c0P5+LBluets by Maggie Nelson
(Recommended by Emily Teitsworth)

This book is meant to be a comprehensive encyclopedic index of the color blue. It also acts as a poetic memoir that reaches into Nelson’s memories of honesty, confession, and sadness. It is a collection of poetry that gives readers glimpses of compassion, loss, hope, desire, sex, and everything blue. While the book is about Nelson’s own experiences and the color blue, the theme that ties the poems together is the reality of life being a messy thing. Nelson writes, “And it must also be admitted that hitting the wall or wandering off in the wrong direction or tearing off the blindfold is as much a part of the game as is pinning the tail on the donkey.”

517aTl9FTjLThe Inconvenience of The Wings by Silas Dent Zobal
(Recommended by Emily Teitsworth)

This is a collection of fictional short stories from one of my professors at Susquehanna University. It is not a collection that leaves your heart pounding by the end, but rather leaves you wondering whether your life is what you really want it to be. The stories inhabit a vast landscape of imagination that falls somewhere between reality and fantasy. They show us that what seems beyond us is as much a part of the world as the ground under our shoes.

CWW Film Picks:

Me-And-Earl-And-The-Dying-Girl-PosterMe and Earl and the Dying Girl
(dir. Alfonso Gómez-Rejón)

(Recommended by Rita Banerjee)

The first time I met Jesse Andrews, he was jumping out of the sky. Literally. It was about a year and a half-ago, and we were celebrating a mutual friend’s wedding. More specifically, Jesse, the groom, and their friends were celebrating the groom’s last days of bachelorhood by jumping out of a plane, flying three miles high over Newport, Rhode Island.  As you’d expect, Andrews made quite an entrance, as did his book, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.  In 2015, Alfonso Gómez-Rejón’s film of the same title made it’s stellar debut and won the Sundance Film Festival’s Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award.  The film follows the narratives of three mismatched characters, Greg, a loner and awkward film nerd who sits outside of all the usual social cliques in high school, Earl, his African-American fellow film buff and would-be friend, and Rachel, a girl of their acquaintance who has recently been diagnosed with leukemia.  Through the course of the story, Greg is forced by his mother to befriend Rachel who’s feeling increasingly isolated and alone due to her sickness. To cheer her up, Earl introduces Rachel to the pastiches and short fan parodies of classical art house cinema (like Rashomon, A Clockwork Orange, Breathless, etc.) that he and Greg have made in their spare time. Greg feels that showing Rachel their secret films is a betrayal of their trust, but as Rachel’s chemotherapy begins to worsen her health, he begins to change his mind (a lot). Soon Greg and Earl are commissioned to make a short film for Rachel by Madison (Greg’s crush). And as the stakes of the film are raised, the trio find themselves dancing around issues of friendship, trust, and vulnerability like particles drawn together and repelled apart. The film which Greg finally makes for Rachel is breathtaking and full of emotion.  That scene alone makes Me and Earl and the Dying Girl a film I wish I had made and a book I wish I had written.

HaiderHaider (dir. Vishal Bhardwaj)
(Recommended by Rita Banerjee)

Haider is a gorgeous little film made by Vishal Bhardwaj, a director who has adapted other Shakespearan classics such as Othello and Macbeth for popular Hindi cinema. Haider, an adaptation of Hamlet, is not exactly Bollywood, and it’s not exactly Hamlet either. The film is set in the turbulent political era of 1990s Kashmir, a territory continuously fought over by the Indian and Pakistani army since 1948. The drama of the film evolves from the story of one family. Hilal Meer is a doctor in Kashmir who secretly tends the wounds of separatists and insurgents, who are attempting to free Kashmir from Indian rule. One day as he is nursing a pro-separatist leader in his house, the Indian army pulls up and orders all men and women to appear before their council. When it is Dr. Meer’s turn to face the council, a hooded whistle-blower calls him out, and he is lead away somewhere (presumably to a concentration camp or to death). His ancestral home (along with the separatist patients hidden there) is subsequently destroyed. When his son, Haider, returns home, he realizes that not all is what it seems. For one thing, his mother Ghazala, a “half-widow,” is dancing and singing in the arms of his uncle, Khurram Meer, a well-to-do lawyer who later decides to run for office.  Haider is also haunted by the question of whether his father is actually dead or alive, and who betrayed his father’s trust. As the story unfolds, the relationships and tensions within Haider’s family and community take on a sinister twist. The implosion of family ties and trust on screen becomes symptomatic of the violence and greed which tear the sociopolitical fabric of Kashmir apart. And watching this story of Hamlet unfold in such unexpected ways is both heart-stopping and poignant.

MV5BMTQ0MjU1ODU5NF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwODE1NzAyNDE@._V1_SY317_CR5,0,214,317_AL_The Russian Woodpecker (dir. Chad Garcia)
(Recommended by Rita Banerjee)

I had a chance to see Chad Garcia’s gorgeously shot film, The Russian Woodpecker, at the Filmfest München last year.  A student of mine, inspired by our discussions on Marxism in class, recommended the film to me. The Russian Woodpecker follows the life story and quixotic hero’s quest of Fedor Alexandrovich, a painter and theatre artist, whose early childhood was nearly destroyed by the Chernobyl disaster in the Ukraine. Alexandrovich has a hunch that the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear plant meltdown is not what is seems and that somehow the history of the plant is intricately linked to Duga, a Cold War Soviet-Era signal tower near Chernobyl, which from 1976-1989 broadcasted a mysterious radio signal across the world known as “the Russian Woodpecker.” Was Duga a Cold War era spying device?  Was the Chernobyl disaster a cover-up for something more sinister?  Throughout the documentary Garcia follows Alexandrovich on his Herzogian hero’s quest as political tensions in Ukraine escalate and Putin’s army sets in motion the events that lead to the 2014 annexation of Crimea.

MV5BMTQ4NTY5NDAxN15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNzUxMTA3MTE@._V1_SX214_AL_Ivory Tower (dir. Andrew Rossi)
(Recommended by Rita Banerjee)

Ivory Tower is an eye-opening documentary film made by Andrew Rossi about the rising cost of higher education in the United States. The film asks several hard-hitting questions such as: Why has the tuition for colleges and universities sky-rocketed when fewer and fewer academics are being hired full-time or receiving tenure? Are universities in an arms race with one another to build better and more lavish facilities at the cost of more robust academic programs? When did universities become corporations and adopt the ethos of industry? The film is incredibly revealing in terms of investigating how universities wheel and deal their money. The day I defended my doctoral thesis, there was a lecture “Humanities and the Future of the University” at Harvard. And Homi Bhabha, Drew Faust, Sheldon Pollock, and other academic leaders discussed the rising cost of higher ed and the very viability of the humanities for future generations of students. One topic under fire, of course, was the ratio of administrators to faculty (4:1) and another was how increasing university tuition was creating a class-war between incoming students. Rossi’s film interrogates both of these questions especially as it examines the recent history of Cooper Union (an institution that was free-of-charge and tuition-free by decree until 2013). The rising cost of American higher ed offers a sharp contrast to the state-funded university systems of Europe. Faced with these costs many Americans are opting to earn their degrees abroad, and at LMU Munich, for example, the university only charges students €111 to study per semester.

41iRoDZTwxLA Girl Walks Home Alone at Night
(dir. Ana Lily Amanapour)
(Recommended by Alex Carrigan)

I spent 28 hours in an airport last July due to a canceled flight, and it took two attempts for me to watch this film. It was worth it, because this was one of my favorite films of 2015. This film is set in a dumpy Iranian town filled with drugs, prostitution, and general misery, where the residents have no idea one woman is actually a vampire who feeds on vile men. The film is creepy and atmospheric, and to get a western vampire story out of Iran by a female director in 2015 is something quite amazing, so I had a blast watching this film over two days while I battled exhaustion, sleep deprivation, and general airport misanthropy.

On_connait_la_chansonOn connaît la chanson (dir. Alain Resnais)
(Recommended by Alex Carrigan)

I watched this comedy/musical/drama a few days before heading to Paris, and it helped get me into the mood. The film follows six people over a few days in Paris as they deal with real estate, thesis projects, and love triangles. The main draw of the film is that, at random moments, the characters will start singing songs, with the lyrics filling in for dialogue. All the songs are classics by musicians like Maurice Chevalier and Edith Piaf, so the characters will be dubbed over by these songs with no warning, leading to some real great mood shifts. I began to watch the movie waiting for the next random musical number, and it helped make the film more of an experience for me.

91zWn2jJBfL._SX385_The Babadoo(dir. Jennifer Kent)
(recommended by Alex Carrigan)

I always feel like the best horror movies are the ones where, if the fantastic element is removed from the story, the film still manages to be really scary. Rosemary’s Baby without Satan is about a stressed out pregnant woman going mad from a difficult pregnancy. The Stepford Wives without robots is about misogyny and criticism of traditional gender roles. The 2014 Australian horror film The Babadook without the titular monster (who, by the way, is one of the creepiest film monsters in recent years), is even more unpleasant. The film follows a stressed single mother having difficulties raising her emotionally disturbed son, all while the two are harassed by a creepy children’s book monster. Without the monster, the film looks to be an examination of an abusive parent, her distressed child, and looks like the only possible ending for these characters is murder-suicide. The movie is atmospheric, scary as hell, and has a terrific leading role with Essie Davis as the mother. Just be warned if you start hearing ba-ba-ba-DOOK-DOOK-DOOK any time after watching the film.

81ZIWy4YZ4L._SY550_Breakfast at Tiffany’s (dir. Blake Edwards)
(recommended by Diana Norma Szokolyai)

One weekend this fall, I was visiting my mother, and after the movie she rented from Redbox turned out to be a dud with no plot, we turned to this classic.  It goes without saying that this movie is a masterpiece.  Audrey Hepburn gives a captivating performance as Holly Golightly (just one of her many pseudonyms).  Not only entertaining to watch because of the intriguing backdrop of an older New York and Hepburn’s iconic performance of “Moon River,” it is also a film that makes the viewer examine the many masks of and veneers of identity that one wears in society.  It takes Holly confronting her true feelings for Paul Varjak, the character who plays a struggling writer in the film, to confront her true self underneath all of the masks.  The real brilliance of Hepburn’s performance is that although she is playing a character who is putting on a superficial show to the world, we also feel a deeper person, a struggling person peeking through the lighthearted outward appearances.

imgresMaster of None
(Created by Aziz Ansari, Alan Yang)

(Recommended by Diana Norma Szokolyai)

A new Netflix Original Series that came out in 2015, Master of None is  exceptionally clever in its ability to make light of, yet at the same time, raise serious questions about important, yet often taboo topics. Tackling issues of the complicated contemporary dating scene, parenthood, sex, death, friendship, career, and racism, the writers have a style that will spur laughter and thoughtful reflection at once. The characters are multi-dimensional and full of surprises. Dev (Aziz Ansari) is the main character, an actor living in New York, struggling with getting roles that are not stereotypical. His friends are a multi-cultural group that include a strong-willed lesbian, black woman named Denise, a charming first generation Taiwanese-American named Brian, and Arnold, a tall, bearded white man who acts like a big kid. Dev’s girlfriend, Rachel, is a dynamic character who brings up issues surrounding vegetarianism and feminism. One of my favorite moments are when the fathers of Dev and Brian have a dramatic flashback during a brief interaction with their sons. It brilliantly highlights (in a humorous, yet compassionate way) the disparity between the immigrant parent vs. the first generation American child experience and how it effects relationships. Another favorite moment is when Dev puts a T.V. executive in his place for being outright racist. The writers use language that is very real, incorporating contemporary lingo, full of colorful expressions currently in use. One can see why The New York Times has called Master of None “the year’s best comedy straight out of the gate.”

Happy New Year, Writers! -♥️- Cambridge Writers’ Workshop

HappyNewYear2016-CWW

Happy New Year 2016 from the directors, staff, and board of the Cambridge Writers’ Workshop!  We hope you’re all as excited for 2016 as we are!  We’re planning a delightful, productive year for our writers and artists with plenty of opportunities to travel, write, practice yoga, and network, and we’re looking forward to seeing you at our retreats, workshops, readings, and literary fest events in 2016!

The Cambridge Writers’ Workshop had a wonderful year in 2015.  Over the last twelve months, we’ve had a chance to hold retreats and readings across America and the world, meet exciting writers, yoga practicioneers, and artists, and have found new ways to inspire our own writing.  Our year began with the Brooklyn Yoga, Aromatherapy, & Writing Workshop. We restored our minds with invigorating yoga, learned about Essential Oils, and inspired out writing. In February, we joined the 2015 Association of Writers and Writing Programs Conference in Minneapolis, Minnesota. At AWP 2015, we got a chance to promote CREDO: An Anthology of Manifestos & Sourcebook for Creative Writing, advertise our new literary internships, and discuss our Summer Writing Retreats in Granada, Spain and Paris, France, as well as our Spring Writing Retreat in Newport, Rhode Island. We also hosted our second AWP event at Boneshaker Books. At our Books & Bones event, there were featured readings from authors such as  Alex CarriganJonah KruvantDena Rash GuzmanLeah UmanskyAnca SzilagyiMicah Dean HicksMichele NereimBianca StoneJessica PiazzaJess BurnquistSheila McMullin, and Brenda Peynado.

After AWP 2015, we were off to our first annual Spring Writing Retreat in Newport, Rhode Island. We were joined by award-winning and internationally-renowned authors such as Kathleen Spivack and Stephen Aubrey, in addition to CWW directors Rita Banerjee and Diana Norma Szokolyai, and CWW yoga instructor Elissa Lewis. The event was a chance for writers to spend a long weekend in historic Newport and near the beach, participating in writing workshops (such as Aubrey’s workshops on theater and Spivack’s workshops on developing manuscripts) and craft of writing seminars, yoga classes, and cultural tours of the historic Newport village. We liveblogged the entire event as well, sharing dozens of photos from our trip while also allowing our writers to share their thoughts on the experience.

During the summer we hosted our Summer in Granada and Summer in Paris Writing Retreats. In Paris, we explored the city and all of its historical, literary, and romantic charm. The retreat included craft of writing seminars and creative writing workshops, literary tours of Paris, daily yoga and meditation classes, and one-on-one manuscript consultations. We were also joined by Guggenheim Fellowship recipient and New York Times bestselling author David Shields, who taught workshops about collage, appropriation, and collaboration. CWW directors Rita Banerjee and Diana Norma Szokolyai taught workshops on stakes and building character, and also led workshops for participants to share their work and use the Liz Lerman method for critiquing writing. We live blogged our Paris retreat on our website, so feel free to check it out and see our workshops, as well as our excursions to Shakespeare and CompanyVersailles and Au Chat Noir. We were really happy to experience this with all of our participants, who traveled from all over the U.S, as well as England and Australia, to come write and explore Paris with us.

In Granada, wrote in the city’s winding streets, absorbed its Moorish history, and were inspired by its evocative landscapes. The retreat included craft of writing seminars and writing workshops and yoga classes. We were joined by Guggenheim Fellowship recipient and Pushcart Prize winner Peter Orner, who led a workshop on Spanish literature. Diana Norma Szokolyai led workshops on voice and stakes, while Rita Banerjee led a workshop on narrative development. We also live blogged this trip, so you can see all the exciting things we did on this trip, such as seeing Poeta in Nueva York and shopping for fans.

We hosted a Brooklyn Bookend Reading at Muchmore’s during The Brooklyn Book Festival. Some of the writers had emerged onto the literary scene with a bang, while others had recently published their first or second books, and had received prestigious awards in the past. The event was moderated by Diana Norma Szokolyai and included writers Rita Banerjee, Jonah Kruvant, Brandon Lewis, Elizabeth Devlin, Lisa Marie Basile, Jessica Reidy, Gregory Crosby, Matty Marks, and Emily Smith.

In November, we also hosted our annual Pre-Thanksgiving Writing & Yoga Cleanse. The two day event kicked off with yoga lessons from Elissa Lewis, followed by creative writing workshops and craft seminars from Jessica Reidy. Our Pre-Thanksgiving Writing & Yoga Cleanse was an opportunity for the participants to cleanse themselves mentally, spiritually, and creatively before the bustling holiday season.

In 2015, we continued our work on CREDO Anthology of Manifestos & Sourcebook for Creative Writing. The collection will feature personal writer manifestos, essays on writing advice, and writing exercises to help spur creativity. Our staff has greatly enjoyed critiquing and conversing with writers on this publication, and more information about publication will be announced in the upcoming year.

In 2015, we welcomed our second round of interns to the Cambridge Writers’ Workshop, and these interns include the wonderful Emily Smith, Casey Lynch, and Alyssa Goldstein, all of whom have helped the CWW greatly this year. They’ve helped manage our social media and written up posts about our events, shown their talent for graphic design and corresponding with writers and hosts in French, Spanish, and English, and have provided much valuable assistance on our retreats and literary events this year.  We’re excited to have Emily, Casey, and Alyssa, on our team, and we can’t wait to show you what they’ve helped us plan for 2016!

This was also a good year for our individual staff members getting published. CWW co-director Rita Banerjee had her poetry published in Quail Bell MagazineRiot Grrrl Magazine, and The Monarch Review. Her interview with CWW visiting professor and Guggenheim Fellowship recipient David Shields was published in Electric Literature. CWW co-director Diana Norma Szokolyai reported for VIDA: Women in Literary Arts on”The Defensive Male Writer.”  CWW Executive Board Member Jessica Reidy‘s “Why the Pyres are Unlit” was released in Drunken Boat’s Romani Folio and her poetry was nominated by The Poetry Blog for “Best of the Net.” Managing Intern Alex Carrigan had his work published in Strike! and Quail Bell Magazine and Managing Intern Emily Smith became a Contributing Blogger for Ploughshares.

While 2015 proved to be a very exciting year for all of us, our staff is quite ready to move on to our next round of exciting events. The CWW will once again table at AWP in Los Angeles from March 30-April 2, 2016, and will be announcing our AWP Reading in downtown Los Angeles shortly!

Join us April 21-24, 2016 for our second annual Spring in Newport, Rhode Island Writing Retreat. Our Newport retreat offers the opportunity for writers of all genres and levels to work alongside award-winning authors & editors to hone their craft and expand their writing skills, while working on new or existing projects. In the past, faculty has included internationally renowned author and writing coach Kathleen SpivackStephen Aubrey, Diana Norma Szokolyai, Rita Banerjee, and Elissa Lewis.

The Cambridge Writers’ Workshop Summer in Narbonne & Barcelona Writing Retreat will take place July 18-26, 2016. The retreat offers participating writers of all genres and levels to work alongside award-winning authors and editors. Participating writers will hone their craft and expand their writing skills, while working on new or existing projects.  There will also be time to explore the city of Barcelona, Spain and the beaches of Narbonne, France.  Our past France retreats have included David Shields, Diana Norma Szokolyai, Rita Banerjee, Jessica Reidy, and Elissa Lewis as faculty members.

And from July 28-August 5, 2016, join the Cambridge Writers’ Workshop on our summer writing retreat to the cultural oasis of Granada, Spain. Located at the foot of the Sierra Nevada mountains in Andalucía, Granada is one of the gems of Spain and has inspired writers from Washington Irving to Salman Rushdie to Ali Smith. Let the old city stimulate your writing with its winding streets, Moorish history, and evocative landscapes. Or, indulge in delicious Andalucían cuisine and traditional Arab baths. Work with world-renowned authors on your manuscript, or look to the beauty and warmth of Granada to inspire all-new projects.  In our past Granada retreat, faculty has included Peter Orner, Rita Banerjee, Diana Norma Szokolyai, and Elissa Lewis.

We hope you are all as excited for our 2016 events as we are.  Information on our upcoming 2016 retreats and readings will be going live in January 2016!  If you have any questions we may not have answered, you can email us at info@cambridgewritersworkshop.org, and for inquiries, please email the CWW Directors, Rita Banerjee and Diana Norma Szokolyai, at directors@cambridgewritersworkshop.org.  You can also follow us on FacebookTumblr, and Twitter for more information and updates on any of these events. We look forward to making 2016 a year full of creativity, writing, and renewal, so join us as we make 2016 rock!

— Emily Smith & Alex Carrigan, CWW Managing Interns

Der Spiegel features Rita Banerjee’s “War is Beautiful: An Interview w. David Shields”

DerSpiegelOver the holidays, Germany’s Der Spiegel and Perlentaucher: Das Kulturmagazin featured Rita Banerjee’s piece from Electric Literature: “War is Beautiful: An Interview with David Shields.”  On Shields’s new book and Banerjee’s interview, Der Spiegel wrote:

“Etwas skeptisch liest Tim Parks im Blog der NYRB den neuen Essay von David Shields “War Is Beautiful”, der die New York Times anklagt, mit ihren Kriegsfotos den Krieg zu ästhetisieren. Ganz von der Hand weisen kann Parks das nicht: “Es ist beim Durchblättern dieser Fotos kaum zu leugnen, dass sie ihre Gegenstände mit voller Absicht ästhetisieren – und auf den Betrachter somit anästhesierend wirken. Das sind Glamour-Bilder, gemacht, bewundert zu werden und keine Dokumentarbilder, die der Gewalt und dem Horror Unmittelbarkeit geben… Kurz: Wir sind weit entfernt von den nüchternen Schwarzweißbildern, die den Vietnamkrieg in der selben Zeitung illustrierten.” Parks Gegeneinwand liegt in einer Frage: “Ist es uns überhaupt möglich, dieser Verwandlung der Bestie in eine Schönheit zu entkommen?” Rita Banerjee hat schon im November bei electricliterature ein Interview mit Shields zu dem Buch geführt.”

The text can be translated as:

“In the NYRB Blog, Tim Parks somewhat skeptically reads the new essay by David Shields, War is Beautiful in which [Shields] accuses the New York Times of aestheticizing war with their war-photos.  Parks cannot totally dismiss [Shields’s claim]: “When leafing through these photos, one can scarcely deny that they [NYT] with full intention aestheticize their materials and in doing so, anesthetize the viewer.  These are Glamour-photos, made to be admired and are not Documentary-photos that give immediacy to horror and violence… In short, we are far from the sobering black and white photos of the Vietnam War, which were depicted in the same newspaper.”  Parks’s counter-argument lies in the question: “In this transformation of the beast into beauty, is it possible for us to escape at all?”  Rita Banerjee already conducted an interview with Shields about [his] book via Electric Literature in November.”

Read more about Der Spiegel‘s culture and media reviews here.

“War is Beautiful: An Interview with David Shields” – Rita Banerjee, Electric Literature

WarisBeautifulEarlier this month, I sat down with David Shields to interview him about his new book, War Is Beautiful: The New York Times Pictorial Guide to the Glamour of Armed Conflict (powerHouse Books 2015). During our conversation, Shields spoke about the New York Times’s use of sanitized, sensually inviting front-page photography to glamorize the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq; these photos—in Shields’s view—desensitize readers to the cruelty and violence of these wars.

David Shields is the author of international bestsellers and critically acclaimed books, including The Thing About Life Is That One Day You’ll Be Dead (Knopf 2008), Black Planet (Three Rivers Press 2009), and Reality Hunger: A Manifesto (Knopf 2010), which argued for the obliteration of the distinction between fiction and nonfiction, the overturning of laws regarding appropriation, and the creation of new forms for a new century. Over the past several years, Shields’s work has become increasingly political.

Rita Banerjee:  The images of war in the book are very provocative. For example, in the Nature section, in the photo where you’re looking at a beautiful field of flowers and then you see the helmet of a soldier, it’s shocking. It grabs you. And even in the “Paintings” section, many of the images are so aesthetically inviting.

David Shields:  They look like Abstract Expressionist paintings. They might as well have been painted by Rothko or Pollock.

RB:  Reading War is Beautiful, you realize how cleaned up American media is. It’s weirdly Puritan, weirdly sanitized.

DS:  It’s quite striking how this process happened over the last couple of decades. First of all, the rise of digital culture so that a picture could be sent instantaneously from the battlefield to the Times. Second of all, the advent of color photography on page A1 (starting in October 1997).

In the book’s afterword, Dave Hickey points out how serious and great war photography was from Mathew Brady in the Civil War all the way through Robert Capa during World War II and, say, Tim Page in Vietnam. And basically what happened during World War II was the rise of something he calls the “swipe photograph”—the quick photograph that conveys a quick, blurry image; for example, Capa, with his famous picture of a fallen Spanish soldier during the Spanish Civil War. And then what Hickey argues is that with the rise of Abstract Expressionism, people like Diebenkorn, Rothko, Pollock, Gerhard Richter, the swipe image became a huge part of Abstract Expressionism. And now war photographs are not based on what the war photographer is actually seeing in war. Rather, he or she is trying to reproduce Abstract Expressionist tropes—swipe-image gorgeousness.

All of these pictures from the New York Times are remarkably hollow and bloodless, composed, and abstract. All of these photographs have come, to a staggering degree, from art history.  These pictures are beautiful but dead.

RB:  I was really struck by your commentary in the beginning of War Is Beautiful. You raise the point, Is the Times complicit in selling a certain kind of narrative to the United States? That is, the Times promotes its institutional power as a protector or curator of a death-dealing democracy. Who is responsible for it? We all are. We are all inscribed in that death-dealing democracy.

Maybe that’s why we’re so accepting of capitalism as well. We don’t see the devastation. If people are dying of chemical poisoning in an Apple factory in China, how much do we care? The same with Iraq or Afghanistan. As Americans, we’re so used to the idea of distance. When the political world is distant from us, not only are we desensitized and numb to it but it’s almost as if we’re watching cinema or playing in a video game; there’s even a certain aspect of pleasure in a weird way. We have power and yet we’re at such a great distance from what’s going on and what’s going down.

DS:  I try to make this emphatically clear via the book’s opening epigraph from Edmund Burke: “When danger or pain press too nearly, they are incapable of giving any delight, and are simply terrible; but at certain distances and with certain modifications, they may be, and they are delightful, as we every day experience. The cause of this I shall endeavour to investigate further.” Capitalism, distance, aesthetic pleasure, drone voyeurism are all part of one complicated cocktail. You’ve summarized it very well; it’s clearly capital that’s driving all this. We take pleasure in the privileged distance that capitalism buys.

Read the rest of the interview on Electric Literature.

Podcast Live for Shakespeare & Co. Reading feat. David Shields and Charles Recoursé

During our 2015 Summer in Paris Writing Retreat, the Cambridge Writers’ Workshop organized a reading at the famous Shakespeare and Company bookstore.  The reading featured acclaimed essayist, writer, and Cambridge Writers’ Workshop instructor David Shields, who read from his new book I Think You’re Totally Wrong with Charles Recoursé, who is an editor for Au Diable Vauvert and Shields’s French translator.  Following an introduction by CWW Creative Director Rita Banerjee, the two read select passages from I Think You’re Totally Wrong with Recourse’ reenacting the part of Caleb Powell, Shields’s co-author.  The reading was followed by a Q&A and a book signing outside the store.

A full podcast of the reading is now available on the Shakespeare & Co. SoundCloud.  And additional photos from the event can also be found on the Shakespeare and Co. Website.

– Alex Carrigan

Cambridge Writers’ Workshop teams up with Shakespeare & Company, Paris (July 23, 2015)

The Cambridge Writers’ Workshop is proud to announce that we will be hosting Guggenheim Fellowship and two time NEA fellowship recipient David Shields for a reading at Shakespeare and Company Bookstore in Paris. The reading will take place as part of our Summer in Paris Writing Retreat on Thursday July 23, 2015 from 7 p.m. – 8 p.m.  Rita Banerjee will introduce and moderate the event, which will feature David Shields and his French translator, Charles Recoursé, performing the dialogue of Shields and Caleb Powell from I Think You’re Totally Wrong: A Quarrel.  The performance will be followed by a discussion of collage and the literary essay by Shields and Recoursé, followed by a Q&A portion, which will be lead by Diana Norma Szokoloyai.

David Shields is the internationally bestselling author of twenty books, including Reality Hunger (named one of the best books of 2010 by more than thirty publications), The Thing About Life Is That One Day You’ll Be Dead (New York Times bestseller), and Black Planet (finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award). Forthcoming are War Is Beautiful (powerHouse, November 2015), Flip-Side (powerHouse, March 2016) and Other People (Knopf, 2017). The recipient of Guggenheim and NEA fellowships, Shields has published essays and stories in the New York Times Magazine, Harper’s, Esquire, Yale Review, Village Voice, Salon, Slate, McSweeney’s, and Believer. His work has been translated into twenty languages.

Shakespeare and Company became the “literary culture in bohemian Paris” after it was opened by George Whitman in 1951. The English-language bookstore was frequented by many Beat Generation poets like Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs, as well as other writers like Anaïs Nin and Henry Miller. The bookstore regularly hosts poetry readings and houses young writers.

To apply for the Summer in Paris Writing Retreat (July 22-30, 2015), visit cww.submittable.com and send an application by May 25, 2015.

Summer in Paris Writing Retreat Courses Announced!

Apply Now!

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Brevity (with David Shields)
Lecture. Exegesis. In-class writing/critique.
A sustained argument for the excitement and urgency of literary brevity in a hyper-digital, post-religious age; a rally for compression, concision, and velocity; and a meditation on the brevity of human existence. We are mortal beings. There is no god. We live in a digital culture. Art is related to the body and to the culture. Art should reflect these things. Brevity rules.

Collage (with David Shields)
Lecture. Exegesis. In-class writing/critique.
The novel is dead; long live the anti-novel, built from scraps./I’m not interested in collage as the refuge of the compositionally disabled. I’m interested in collage as an evolution beyond narrative./A great painting comes together, just barely. /It may be that nowadays in order to move us, abstract pictures need if not humor then at least some admission of their own absurdity-expressed in genuine awkwardness or in an authentic disorder./These fragments I have shored against my ruins./Collage is the primary art form of the twenty-first century.

Collaboration (with David Shields)
Lecture. Exegesis. In-class writing/critique.
A class on kinds of collaboration: collaboration with yourself, with your own material, with other texts, with other people, and the world in general. I’ll talk for a while about the kinds of collaboration I’ve done and ask people in the class to bring in an idea for how they might collaborate on their next project.

Workshop on the Evocative Object (with Diana Norma Szokolyai and Rita Banerjee)
Enjoy searching for and discovering evocative objects in your surroundings, and tell their stories through lyrical descriptions that will thrill the reader.

Literary Taboo: Playing With the Five Senses (with Rita Banerjee)
Learn to play a literary game that will keep you on your wordsmithing toes. You will have to think of new ways to write about subjects, while avoiding clichés!

Anaïs Nin & the Art of Journaling (with Jessica Reidy)
The great novelist Anaïs Nin kept a journal throughout most of her life and filled volume upon volume with a rich record of her personal, professional, and creative life (most of which was lived in Paris). She wrote far more volumes of her journals than novels, and after encouragement from other friends and writers she published excerpts of her journals. And while Nin feared that her journal consumed her, she also knew that it was the channel and source of her creativity. Creativity teacher and filmmaker Julia Cameron insists that, no matter the type of artist you are, daily journaling is an essential part of the artistic process. In this class, we will read and discuss some of the inspiring advice from Nin and Cameron, and try out a few different journaling techniques, invention exercises, and the practice of self-awareness and setting achievable goals. We will also practice using the journal as a ‘safe space’ for new writing projects, and a scrapbook or canvas for different ways of approaching a piece of writing (collage, drawing, etc).

Paris2015Schedule

The Cambridge Writers’ Workshop Summer in Paris Writing Retreat will take place July 22-30, 2015 in France. The retreat offers participating writers of all genres and levels to work alongside award-winning authors and editors. Participating writers will hone their craft and expand their writing skills, while working on new or existing projects.

There will also be time to explore the city of Paris in all of its historical, literary, and romantic charm. Situated in the heart of Paris’ Montparnasse neighborhood, amongst the fresh and popular open air markets and charming boutiques, the hotel where we will stay is full of charm and our Moroccan themed classroom will offer a wonderful oasis to practice the writing life.

Retreat activities will include craft of writing seminars and creative writing workshops, literary tours of Paris, daily yoga and meditation classes, and manuscript consultations. Optional add-ons include excursions to neighboring cities such as Versailles. If you’re serious about writing and want to soak in some exquisite French culture this summer, join our retreat in Paris! Tuition is $2950, which includes lodging in central Paris, daily creative writing workshops and writing seminars, manuscript consultations, daily breakfast, daily yoga and meditation classes, and a walking tour of literary Paris.

Faculty includes David Shields (nonfiction, book-length essay), Diana Norma Szokoloyai (poetry, nonfiction), Rita Banerjee (poetry, fiction), Jessica Reidy(fiction, poetry), and Elissa Lewis (yoga, meditation).

If you’d like to join us in Paris, please apply online at cww.submittable.comby May 25, 2015, and include $5 application screening fee and a 5-page writing sample.  (Due to limited seats, early applications are encouraged, but check for rolling admission after deadline, depending on availability).

applyDeadline: May 25, 2015

Featured Faculty:

jUSEu2sSo4RfT2C6eSXb6-plQPuQlknv-LggVh9tpUsDavid Shields is the internationally bestselling author of twenty books, including Reality Hunger (named one of the best books of 2010 by more than thirty publications), The Thing About Life Is That One Day You’ll Be Dead (New York Times bestseller), and Black Planet (finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award). Forthcoming are War Is Beautiful (powerHouse, November 2015), Flip-Side (powerHouse, March 2016) and Other People (Knopf, 2017). The recipient of Guggenheim and NEA fellowships, Shields has published essays and stories in the New York Times Magazine, Harper’s, Esquire, Yale Review, Village Voice, Salon, Slate, McSweeney’s, and Believer. His work has been translated into twenty languages.

Diana Norma Szkoloyai is author of the poetry books Roses in the Snow and Parallel Sparrows(Finishing Line Press). Her writing and hybrid art have appeared in Lyre Lyre, Dr. Hurley’s Snake Oil Cure, The Fiction Project, Teachers as Writers, Polarity, The Boston Globe, The Dudley Review, Up the Staircase, Area Zinc Art Magazine, Belltower & the Beach, andHuman Rights News. Founding Literary Arts Director of Chagall Performance Art Collaborative and co-director of the Cambridge Writer’s Workshop, she holds an Ed.M from Harvard and an M.A. in French Literature from the University of Connecticut.

rb1-e1425855638846Rita Banerjee is a writer, and received her PhD in Comparative Literature from Harvard University. She holds an MFA in Poetry and her writing has been published in Poets for Living Waters, The New Renaissance, The Fiction Project, Jaggery, The Crab Creek Review, The Dudley Review, Objet d’Art, Vox Populi, Dr. Hurley’s Snake-Oil Cure, andChrysanthemumamong other journals. Her first collection of poems,Cracklers at Night, was published by Finishing Line Press in 2010 and received First Honorable Mention for Best Poetry Book at the 2011-2012 Los Angeles Book Festival. Her novella, A Night with Kali, was digitized by the Brooklyn Art-house Co-op in 2011. She is a co-director of the Cambridge Writers’ Workshop, and her writing has been recently featured onHER KIND by VIDA: Women in Literary Arts and on KBOO Radio’s APA Compass in Portland, Oregon.

Jessica Reidy earned her MFA in Fiction at Florida State University and a B.A. from Hollins University. Her work is Pushcart-nominated and has appeared in Narrative Magazine as Short Story of the Week, The Los Angeles Review, Arsenic Lobster, and other journals. She’s a staff-writer and the Outreach Editor for Quail Bell Magazine, Managing Editor for VIDA: Women in the Literary Arts, Art Editor for The Southeast Review, and Visiting Professor for the Cambridge Writers’ Workshop retreats. She teaches creative writing and is a certified yoga instructor and Reiki Master. Jessica also works her Romani (Gypsy) family trades, fortune telling, energy healing, and dancing. Jessica is currently writing her first novel set in post-WWII Paris about Coco Charbonneau, the half-Romani burlesque dancer and fortune teller of Zenith Circus, who becomes a Nazi hunter. You can learn more at www.jessicareidy.com.

ElissaLewisElissa Lewis is the Yoga & Arts Coordinator of the Cambridge Writers’ Workshop.  She began her journey with yoga in 2006, when she moved to France and made the practice part of her daily routine. She saw yoga as a lifestyle, not only a class, helping her to clear her mind and have more compassion for herself and others. In 2010 she moved to New York and completed her teacher training at Laughing Lotus, a creative, soulful yoga studio that teaches the student to ‘move like yourself.’ She’s taught private and group classes in Manhattan and Brooklyn ever since. Visit her website for informative yoga sequences and information.

Apply to CWW Summer in Paris Writing Retreat by Deadline May 5, 2015!

CWW-Paris2015The Cambridge Writers’ Workshop Summer in Paris Writing Retreat will take place July 22-30, 2015 in France. The retreat offers participating writers of all genres and levels to work alongside award-winning authors and editors. Participating writers will hone their craft and expand their writing skills, while working on new or existing projects.

There will also be time to explore the city of Paris in all of its historical, literary, and romantic charm. Situated in the heart of Paris’ Montparnasse neighborhood, amongst the fresh and popular open air markets and charming boutiques, the hotel where we will stay is full of charm and our Moroccan themed classroom will offer a wonderful oasis to practice the writing life.

Retreat activities will include craft of writing seminars and creative writing workshops, literary tours of Paris, daily yoga and meditation classes, and manuscript consultations. Optional add-ons include excursions to neighboring cities such as Versailles. If you’re serious about writing and want to soak in some exquisite French culture this summer, join our retreat in Paris! Tuition is $2950, which includes lodging in central Paris, daily creative writing workshops and writing seminars, manuscript consultations, daily breakfast, daily yoga and meditation classes, and a walking tour of literary Paris.

Faculty includes internationally renowned author and writing coach Kathleen Spivack (fiction, poetry, nonfiction), David Shields (fiction, book-length essay), Diana Norma Szokoloyai (poetry, nonfiction), Rita Banerjee (poetry, fiction), Jessica Reidy (fiction, poetry), and Elissa Lewis (yoga, meditation).

If you’d like to join us in Paris, please apply online at cww.submittable.com by May 5, 2015, and include $5 application screening fee and a 5-page writing sample.  (Due to limited seats, early applications are encouraged, but check for rolling admission after deadline, depending on availability).

applyDeadline: May 5, 2015

Featured Faculty:

jUSEu2sSo4RfT2C6eSXb6-plQPuQlknv-LggVh9tpUsDavid Shields is the internationally bestselling author of twenty books, including Reality Hunger (named one of the best books of 2010 by more than thirty publications), The Thing About Life Is That One Day You’ll Be Dead (New York Times bestseller), and Black Planet (finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award). Forthcoming are War Is Beautiful (powerHouse, November 2015), Flip-Side (powerHouse, March 2016) and Other People (Knopf, 2017). The recipient of Guggenheim and NEA fellowships, Shields has published essays and stories in the New York Times Magazine, Harper’s, Esquire, Yale Review, Village Voice, Salon, Slate, McSweeney’s, and Believer. His work has been translated into twenty languages.

qpi9e9Kathleen Spivack is the author of A History of Yearning, winner of the Sows Ear International Poetry Prize 2010, first runner up in the New England Book Festival, and winner of the London Book Festival; Moments of Past Happiness (Earthwinds/Grolier Editions 2007); The Beds We Lie In (Scarecrow 1986), nominated for a Pulitzer Prize; The Honeymoon (Graywolf 1986); Swimmer in the Spreading Dawn (Applewood 1981); The Jane Poems (Doubleday 1973); Flying Inland (Doubleday 1971); Robert Lowell and His Circle (2011) and a novel, Unspeakable Things. She is a recipient of the Allen Ginsberg Poetry Award 2010, the 2010 Erica Mumford Award, and the 2010 Paumanok Award. Published in numerous magazines and anthologies, some of her work has been translated into French. Other publications include The New Yorker, Ploughshares, The Atlantic Monthly, Poetry, Massachusetts Review, Virginia Quarterly, The Southern Review, Harvard Review, The Paris Review, The Kenyon Review, Agni, New Letters, and others. Her work is featured in numerous anthologies. She has also won several International Solas Prizes for “Best Essays.”

Diana Norma Szkoloyai is author of the poetry books Roses in the Snow and Parallel Sparrows (Finishing Line Press). Her writing and hybrid art have appeared in Lyre Lyre, Dr. Hurley’s Snake Oil Cure, The Fiction Project, Teachers as Writers, Polarity, The Boston Globe, The Dudley Review, Up the Staircase, Area Zinc Art Magazine, Belltower & the Beach, and Human Rights News. Founding Literary Arts Director of Chagall Performance Art Collaborative and co-director of the Cambridge Writer’s Workshop, she holds an Ed.M from Harvard and an M.A. in French Literature from the University of Connecticut.

rb1-e1425855638846Rita Banerjee is a writer, and received her PhD in Comparative Literature from Harvard University. She holds an MFA in Poetry and her writing has been published in Poets for Living Waters, The New Renaissance, The Fiction Project, Jaggery, The Crab Creek Review, The Dudley Review, Objet d’Art, Vox Populi, Dr. Hurley’s Snake-Oil Cure, and Chrysanthemum among other journals. Her first collection of poems,Cracklers at Night, was published by Finishing Line Press in 2010 and received First Honorable Mention for Best Poetry Book at the 2011-2012 Los Angeles Book Festival. Her novella, A Night with Kali, was digitized by the Brooklyn Art-house Co-op in 2011. She is a co-director of the Cambridge Writers’ Workshop, and her writing has been recently featured on HER KIND by VIDA: Women in Literary Arts and on KBOO Radio’s APA Compass in Portland, Oregon.

Jessica Reidy earned her MFA in Fiction at Florida State University and a B.A. from Hollins University. Her work is Pushcart-nominated and has appeared in Narrative Magazine as Short Story of the Week, The Los Angeles Review, Arsenic Lobster, and other journals. She’s a staff-writer and the Outreach Editor for Quail Bell Magazine, Managing Editor for VIDA: Women in the Literary Arts, Art Editor for The Southeast Review, and Visiting Professor for the Cambridge Writers’ Workshop retreats. She teaches creative writing and is a certified yoga instructor and Reiki Master. Jessica also works her Romani (Gypsy) family trades, fortune telling, energy healing, and dancing. Jessica is currently writing her first novel set in post-WWII Paris about Coco Charbonneau, the half-Romani burlesque dancer and fortune teller of Zenith Circus, who becomes a Nazi hunter. You can learn more at www.jessicareidy.com.

ElissaLewisElissa Lewis is the Yoga & Arts Coordinator of the Cambridge Writers’ Workshop.  She began her journey with yoga in 2006, when she moved to France and made the practice part of her daily routine. She saw yoga as a lifestyle, not only a class, helping her to clear her mind and have more compassion for herself and others. In 2010 she moved to New York and completed her teacher training at Laughing Lotus, a creative, soulful yoga studio that teaches the student to ‘move like yourself.’ She’s taught private and group classes in Manhattan and Brooklyn ever since. Visit her website for informative yoga sequences and information.

James Franco’s Adaptation of David Shields’s I Think You’re Totally Wrong: A Quarrel Premieres May 3, 2015 at Vancouver’s DOXA Festival

ithinkyouretotallywrongI Think You’re Totally Wrong: A Quarrel
featuring David Shields, Caleb Powell, and James Franco
Director: James Franco | USA | 2015 | 87 minutes | DOXA – May 3, 2015
Genre: Documentary, Literary, Satire & Subversion | World Premiere

Author David Shields (guest curator from DOXA 2012 and Cambridge Writers’ Workshop’s Summer in Paris Writing Retreat Instructor) returns with a cinematic adaptation of his new book from director James Franco. What could possibly go wrong, you may ask? Well, almost from the start, just about everything. Shields and his collaborator and fellow-combatant, Caleb Powell, decide to up the ante by spending four days together in a cabin in the Cascades. The men barely make it down the driveway before an argument breaks out. On the drive to the cabin, things degenerate even further, as they variously debate the idea of life versus art. Powell, a father of three girls and a stay-at-home dad, has chosen to devote himself to family, while Shields, author of five new books in the coming year alone, is the champion of the arts.

On the first day of shooting, an actual fight breaks out over what and who can be talked about in the course of the film. Namely, whether Powell will or won’t be willing to invite his friend, a former stripper, to participate in the film. The director gets dragged into the mix. As the three men, and their respective egos, circle and jab at each other, you wait for someone to get punched in the face. The gladiatorial aspects of the film are only a beginning, as the weekend continues, something altogether more surprising happens — genuine and real communication. More than a deconstruction of the buddy film, I Think You’re Totally Wrong assails the divisions between reality and fiction, documentary and life, with subversive glee. -DW

james-francoJames Franco is an actor, director, screenwriter, producer, teacher and author. He began his career on Freaks And Geeks and received a Golden Globe Award for his performance in the biographical film James Dean. Notable film credits include Oz The Great and Powerful, Spring Breakers, “Harry Osborn” in the Spider-Man trilogy, Milk and 127 Hours for which he received Academy Award, SAG and Golden Globe nominations for Best Actor. He has directed, wrote and produced several features and has been published several times in magazines and through his own books. He is currently teaching college courses at UCLA, USC and Cal Arts and acting classes at Studio 4 and will make his Broadway debut in Of Mice & Men this spring.

Cambridge Writers’ Workshop 2015 Retreats featured in Poets & Writers Magazine

IMG_0036Writers such as David Shields, Kathleen Spivack, Peter Orner, Rita Banerjee, Diana Norma Szokolyai, Stephen Aubrey, Jessica Reidy, and yoga instructor Elissa Lewis are featured in the March/April 2015 Writers Retreats Issue of Poets & Writers Magazine for their instruction in fiction, nonfiction, poetry, playwriting, screenwriting, and yoga the CWW Newport, RI Writing & Yoga Retreat (April 2-5, 2015), CWW Summer Writing Retreat in Paris (July 22-30, 2015), and CWW Summer Writing Retreat in Granada, Andalucía, Spain (August 3-10, 2015).  In this special issue of Poets & Writers, the “Conferences & Residencies” section features the Cambridge Writers’ Workshop 2015 Spring and Summer Creative Writing Retreats in New England, France, and Spain.   Here’s some more information on each retreat:

CWW Newport, RI Writing & Yoga Retreat (April 2-5, 2015)

NewportThe 2015 Cambridge Writers’ Workshop Writing & Yoga Retreat will be held from April 2 to April 5 in Newport, Rhode Island. The retreat offers workshops in poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction, as well as craft seminars, manuscript consultations, time to write, daily yoga and meditation classes, and local excursions. The faculty includes poets and prose writers Rita Banerjee, Kathleen Spivack, and Diana Norma Szokolyai; and prose writer Stephen Aubrey. The cost of the retreat is $650, which includes tuition and some meals. Shared room lodging is also included. Using the online submission system, submit five pages of poetry, fiction, or creative nonfiction with a $5 application fee by March 15, 2015. Apply at cww.submittable.com

CWW Summer Writing Retreat in Paris (July 22-30, 2015)

ParisThe 2015 Cambridge Writers’ Workshop Summer in Paris Writing Retreat will be held from July 22 to July 30 at the Hôtel Denfert-Montparnasse in Paris. The retreat offers workshops in poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction, as well as craft seminars, one-on-one manuscript consultations, time to write, daily yoga and meditation classes, and local excursions. The faculty includes poets and prose writers Rita Banerjee, Kathleen Spivack, Jessica Reidy, and Diana Norma Szokolyai; and fiction and nonfiction writer David Shields. The cost of the retreat is $2,950, which includes tuition, lodging, and some meals. Using the online submission system, submit five pages of poetry, fiction, or creative nonfiction with a $5 application fee by May 5, 2015.  Apply at cww.submittable.com

CWW Summer Writing Retreat in Granada, Andalucía, Spain (August 3-10, 2015)

alhambra-granada-spain-900x1440The 2015 Cambridge Writers’ Workshop Summer in Andalucía Writing Retreat will be held from August 3 to August 10 at the Hotel Gar-Anat in Granada, Spain. The retreat offers workshops in poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction, as well as craft seminars, time to write, daily yoga and meditation classes, and local excursions. The faculty includes poets and prose writers Peter Orner, Rita Banerjee, Diana Norma Szokolyai, and Jessica Reidy. The cost of the retreat is $2,950, which includes tuition, lodging, and some meals. Using the online submission system, submit five pages of poetry, fiction, or creative nonfiction with a $5 application fee by April 20, 2015.  Apply at cww.submittable.com