Bazodee – a film by Claire Ince (CWW Alumna) reviewed by Anna-Celestrya Carr

Bazodee: a state of dizziness or confusion often used with regards to love or infatuation. In other words, caught up in a magical moment. I experienced this last week when I attended the international premier of Bazodee at the Playstation Theater, in the heart of Time’s Square.

Bazodee is a film combining the styles of a Bollywood musical, the American rom-com and the cultural aspects of the Caribbean. Dubbed “Trini-wood” by members of the cast.  The story is of Anita Panchouri (Natalie Perera), the dutiful Indian daughter of a deep-in-debt businessman (Kabir Bedi), who is about to marry a family friend and wealthy Londoner (Staz Nair) when a chance encounter with a local singer, Lee de Leon (Soca music star Machel Montano in his film debut) sets things askew. After failing to become internationally known as a musician in London, Lee returns home to Trinidad disheartened.  In search of a muse, Lee agrees to perform at the engagement party for both families. Unable to deny their mutual attraction, and with the excitement of Carnival approaching, Anita must now choose between the answer to her family’s financial prayers and the possibility of real love.

Bazodee stars legendary soca and calypso artist Machel Montano, along with internationally acclaimed actor Kabir Bedi, Staz Nair, Natalie Perera, and scene stealers Valmike Rampersad, Cindy F. Daniel and Chris Paul Smith.

Representing the Cambridge Writers’ Workshop (CWW), I stood in line next to Roger Paperno, the director of the music video “I Forget,” one of the original songs written for the film. The line attending the premiere extended to Broadway and down the block. The pre-show reception continued past 7:30pm while people filled the theatre. In attendance were television, print and online media from several South Asian countries as well as from Europe and the US that covered the red carpet as Machel Montano and other main actors arrived.

Susanne Bohnet, CEO of Serafini Pictures and Producer of Bazodee, opened the night with “We at Serafini Pictures, we are here to bring you relevant stories from a view point which has nothing in common with the white supremacy of Hollywood. We believe to honor who we are and to celebrate who we are. Our films will feature in the leading rolls Africans, African Americans, Asians, West Indians, Latinos, the LGBT community and everybody who we feel deserves a strong voice and an authentic viewpoint. Bazodee is a passion project of many; it’s a film we’re very proud of.”

Directed by Todd Kessler, former show runner and a co-creator of Blue’s Clues. The cinematography captured the atmosphere of Carnival and the striking beauty of Trinidad and its people. The film boasts a full cast of people of color. Every actor in Bazodee is authentic, and their actual background is close, if not identical, to the background of the character they are playing. Most of the actors in the film are Trinidadian, which I found refreshing as compared with the standard Hollywood whitewashed rom-coms.

The film was a labor of love that was in development for 10 years. It was written by Claire Ince, who is an alumna of the 2015 Cambridge Writers’ Workshop Spring in Newport, RI Writing Retreat, where she workshopped the script.  All of us at the CWW are so proud of her and happy to see such a worthwhile project come to fruition.  I, myself am an alumna of the 2016 CWW Spring in Newport Writing Retreat, so it was a unique experience to be able to attend the event as a fellow CWW Newport alumna.

The film is a universal love story, one could say a bit cliché, but set against the backdrop of Carnival on the vivid, colorful islands of Trinidad and Tobago, it becomes fresh.  The film’s themes include unity and honesty triumphing in the face of adversity. The story has potential to be a serious drama exploring the struggle of an inter-racial/cultural relationship and the sacrifice Anita experiences for the sake of her family. However, Bazodee has a lightheartedness throughout.

Watching the film, I realized that as an Indigenous woman, I’ve never been in a theater that had an audience almost completely of people of color. It was incredible to witness the audience react to and connect with a film that was made predominantly for them. Sitting in the theater, there was a dialogue between the screen and the people. I believe there is a real sense of freedom when people are able to see themselves represented in media. The small moments of female friendships had the women in the audience cheering. Scenes that were written for the audience were a riot. One man yelled out “informer!” at a confrontational point of the movie.

The on-screen chemistry between Montano and Perera was believable and they looked good together. The most impressive performance was from UK-based Trini actor Valmike Rampersad. His creepy, uptight, lurking, always suspicious character Nikhil provided the gravity and suspense to the film. He was as charming off screen as he was villainous onscreen.

Soca is the heartbeat of the film. The music felt like another character throughout the story. Most of the musical numbers were taken from Montano’s discography reinterpreted and remixed for film. Passionate and beautiful. The film is a good introduction to soca music.

The most obvious flaw in the film was with the editing. There were some continuity issues, and there were points that could have been brought up earlier in the film that would have made the ending more authentic. However, that didn’t stop the film from being entertaining and becoming a valued part of Trinidad’s filmography.  The premiere ended with an after party and special live performance by Machel Montano and Friends.

Bazodee opens in movie theaters across the United States on August 5, 2016.

Anna-Celestrya Carr, CWW Media (Audio/Visual) Development Intern

Announcing our New Media (Audio / Visual) Development Intern: Anna-Celestrya Carr

The Cambridge Writers’ Workshop is delighted to announce our new Media (Audio/Visual) Development Intern, Anna-Celestrya Carr. A participant on our 2016 Spring in Newport Retreat, Anna-Celestrya will be helping our group develop new audio and video projects for our website.

Anna-CelestryaAnna-Celestrya Carr is a Metis/Anishinaabe artist, filmmaker, writer, dancer and speaker.  She graduated from both the Vancouver Film School and the National Screen Institute’s New Voices program in Canada. While at NSI she created Dreamcatcher: A short dramatic fantasy of Aboriginal mythology.  In 2012 she created Tik-A-Lee-Kick, an honest and candid telling of a young Aboriginal woman’s perspective on the role of the Little People funded by the Video Pool Aboriginal Media Art Initiative. She has previously attended the University of Manitoba School of Art.

Anna-Celestrya has worked for the National Film Board of Canada and Urban Shaman Contemporary Aboriginal Art Gallery.  In 2009, she received the Sybil Shack Human Rights Youth Award for her work on violence against women.  She was one of the core organizers for the RebELLEs Pan-Canadian Young Feminist Gathering, attended by over 350 young women from across Canada on May 20 -23, 2011. Later that year she represented RebELLEs as an attendee of the 8th World March of Women International meeting in Quezon City, Philippines from November 20th to 25th, 2011.  In 2012, she received the YMCA-YWCA Women of Distinction Award in Public Awareness and Communications for her continuing work.  She became one of Ace Burpee’s 100 most fascinating Manitobans, a distinction given out yearly by a beloved and influential radio host.

Anna-Celestrya focuses her creative energy on her Aboriginal roots and on advancing the rights of Aboriginal women in North America. She has worked with many organizations and institutions to promote human rights and peace. The artwork that she is best known for is The Men’s Banner Project. This work is a combination of interactive performance and installation, about which she also lectures.

The Men’s Banner Project is an award winning visual, performance and interactive based artwork. Through her art Anna-Celestrya asks men to make the promise not to use their hands in violence against women, not to ignore or tolerate the violence they witness. The banner is a tool to begin dialogue, show support and build a stronger community through art. She is not an organization, she’s an artist and this is part of her body of work.  To her art is answering a question. Trying to solve a problem. The Men’s Banner Project is her response to the missing and murdered women from the Aboriginal Community. She felt compelled to do something artistic and interactive. She noticed that there are many actions, organizations and campaigns run by women for women. She needed to involve men in a positive way.

This year Anna-Celestrya will be launching two blogs, one documenting her 9 years of work with the Men’s Banner Project and another dedicated to her writing, art and adventures with her family. 

Please give a warm welcome to Anna-Celestrya Carr!  We’re excited to work with her this year!

– Cambridge Writers’ Workshop

Bazodee – A New Film by Claire Ince – A CWW Spring in Newport Alumna – Premieres Nationwide August 5, 2016!


The Cambridge Writers’ Workshop is proud to announce that Claire Ince, a talented writer, playwright, and alumna of our 2015 Spring in Newport, RI Writing Retreat, has written a new film called Bazodee.  Bazodee, which is directed by Todd Kessler, will open in movie theaters across the United States on August 5, 2016.

Bazodee, set on the island of Trinidadfollows the story of Anita Panchouri (Natalie Perera), the dutiful Indian daughter of a deep in debt businessman (Kabir Bedi) is about to marry a wealthy Londoner (Staz Nair) when a chance encounter with a local singer, Lee de Leon (Soca music star Machel Montano in his film debut) sets things askew. In search of a muse, de Leon agrees to perform at the engagement party for both families. Unable to deny their mutual attraction, and with the excitement of Carnival approaching, Anita must now choose between the answer to her family’s financial prayers and the possibility of real love.

newprofileClaire Ince is the writer-producer of the movie musical Bazodee. An MFA graduate of New York University’s Dramatic Writing Program, Tisch School of the Arts, Claire previously produced the reality adventure show Run’bout for AT&T/Cingular Wireless Caribbean and the children’s TV pilot The Baobab Tree (a selection of the Chicago International Children’s Film Festival.) Claire won best screenplay for Bazodee (formerly known as Scandalous!) at the Bahamas International Film Festival’s Film Residency Program in 2008.  She is also an alumna of the Cambridge Writers’ Workshop Spring 2015 in Newport, RI Writing Retreat.

Writing Yourself Naked, Collaborations, Straight Outta Character and more: Unveiling our 2016 Retreat Schedules!

Write Yourself Naked with Jade Sylvan, find out What’s at Stake with Diana Norma Szokolyai, and take Energizing Yoga with Elissa Lewis in Newport.

In Barcelona & the South of France, experience Brevity with David Shields, go Straight Outta Character with Bret Anthony Johnston, create Emotion & Suspense in Theatre with Rita Banerjee, and delve into the Troubadours in the South of France with Diana Norma Szokolyai.

Finally, discuss Historical Fiction with Alexander Chee, piece together Collage with David Shields, immerse yourself in the Evocative Poetry of Flamenco with Diana Norma Szokolyai, and explore Revision & Publication techniques with Rita Banerjee in Granada.

Below you’ll find our Spring and Summer Retreat Schedules along with course descriptions and faculty bios.

If you would like to join us on any of our retreats,  please apply online at cww.submittable.com by April 15, 2016, and include a $5 application screening fee, along with a writing sample of either five pages of poetry or ten pages of prose. (Due to limited seats, early applications are encouraged, but check for rolling admission after deadline, depending on availability).

applyDeadline: April 15, 2016

Spring in Newport, Rhode Island (April 22-24, 2016)

newport-2016-schedule

Class Descriptions:

Writing Yourself Naked (with Jade Sylvan)
From nonfiction memoirs to poetry, from sci-fi to fantasy, it can be hard to wade through all of our associations, defenses, and unconscious belief systems to find what we really want to say.  Through a series of writing and personal reflection exercises, we will begin to slough off the layers of social, environmental, and biological noise to excavate the core of our authentic voice.

What’s at Stake? (with Diana Norma Szokolyai)
Any good piece of writing makes clear to the writer what is at stake.  But how do we, as authors, clarify what is at stake?  In this craft of writing seminar, we will examine the central driving force of our narratives.  Taking examples from literature and applying them to our own writing, we will explore what is at stake in terms of several paradigms: the personal, professional, social, and ideological.

Your Voice: Performing Your Words (with Diana Norma Szokolyai)
In this workshop, we will examine the elements of voice related to performing our work.  Whether you are a performance poet or doing a reading at a local library from a short story, novel, or nonfiction work, it is useful to think about how you can craft the delivery of your performance and leave the audience wanting more.  We will analyze the performances of several established writers and performers as well as experiment with recording and performing our own work.

Energizing Yoga (with Elissa Lewis)
Expect a breath-centered vinyasa class designed to bring clarity and lift your spirits.  A morning yoga practice is a lovely way to begin your day!  We will end on a relaxed note; with some combination of meditation and writing in your journal.

Restorative Yoga (with Elissa Lewis)
Gentle yoga to alleviate stress in the body.  Expect foundational and restorative poses as well as breathing exercises.  Class will end with some combination of meditation and journaling.

Summer in Barcelona & South of France (July 18-26, 2016)

barcelona-narbonne-2016-schedule1

Class Descriptions:

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.

Straight Outta Character (with Bret Anthony Johnston)
This course will be a hands-on and practical exploration of how writers create characters in narrative.  Using classic and contemporary examples of dynamic characters and a good many craft-based writing exercises, we will develop strategies and techniques to create nuanced characters in our own work.  We will consider how other elements of successful narratives are formed and informed by choices of character.  If character is fate, and of course it is, then character is also plot, setting, and point-of-view.  Our goal is to find the means to surrender to our characters, to find the courage to let them quicken to life in our and our readers’ imagination, and to find the faith to follow—rather than lead—them through the stories that they’re using us to tell.

Spatial Poetics: (with Diana Norma Szokolyai)
In this craft of writing seminar, we will examine how theories in spatial poetics apply to the structure of our writing.  Using literary theory, elements of visual design, sociological paradigms, and our imaginations, we will explore the concept of spatial form in our narratives as it relates to concrete and abstract places and spaces.

Troubadours in the South of France: (with Diana Norma Szokolyai)
The south of France was once a land rich with the culture of the troubadours, and these poets spoke in the local vernacular, Occitan.  “Troubadour” comes from the Occitan, trobar, meaning “to invent, to compose, or to find.” In this class, we will learn about the rich traditions of the troubadours and their influence on French poetry.

Science: Fiction – How to Build Literary Worlds  (with Rita Banerjee)
In this class, we will explore how the fabric and rules of literary worlds in realist and speculative fiction are created.  By examining the parameters of social and behavioral codes, human interactions and psychology, and the materiality of worlds, we’ll explore that volatile space where truth and lie meet, where conflicts crystallize, and where storytelling disturbs and delights.

Emotion & Suspense in Theatre, Poetry and (Non)fiction: (with Rita Banerjee)
Plato argues that human behavior flows from three main sources: desire, emotion, and knowledge.  And before staging Kalidasa’s The Recognition of Śākuntalā, the director challenges his actress-lover: “As though in a painting, the entire audience has had their emotion colored through your melody.  So now—what shall we perform to sustain the mood?”  In this class, we will explore how creating vivid emotional worlds between characters and within storylines can build suspense, sustain drama, and lure the reader deeper in.

Summer in Granada (July 28-August 5, 2016)

granada2016schedule2

Class Descriptions:

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.

Historical Fiction (with Alexander Chee)
War and Peace holds a strange place in literary history, participating in the crowning of realism as a substantial and serious literary mode in America, even as the novel also contributed to the argument that historical fiction could be by nature dangerous, illegitimate, and inaccurate. This is the reason historical fiction is sometimes reviewed by historians, who may evaluate the novel for how much it has gotten right, instead of for its literary merit—as if the only thing for a historical novel to do is to authentically replicate the past. In this class, we will explore what historical fiction is and how to write it.

The Evocative Poetry of Flamenco (with Diana Norma Szokolyai)
In this class, we will explore the fantastically concise and heel-to-floor transmission of passion through the lyrics of flamenco music. Packed with intense rhythms, rhymes, and imagery to match the intensity of the music, flamenco songs are a form ofpoetry developed by Romani people to express the deepest human experiences of love, death, and oppression. We will examine symbols and structures in the poetry of flamenco, learning the distinctions between siguiriya, tango, playera, soleá, and carcelera. Complementary to the class, we will visit an authentic flamenco performance and get a tour of the Museo Cuevas del Sacromonte, where Romani people have traditionally lived in cave dwellings and practiced the art of flamenco.

Poetry & What’s at Stake (with Rita Banerjee)
“What’s at stake” reveals how and why a poem is being told. What’s at Stake builds urgency, conflict, and pivotal turns within a lyrical or narrative poem, and drives engagement. It reveals what’s on the line for the speaker and the reader in terms of personal, emotional, psychological, physical, social, and political investments. In this class will read work by poets such as Elizabeth Bishop, Allen Ginsberg, Jamaal May, and Ocean Vuong, and will explore how writers and readers become more invested in a poem, its performance, and its narrative by raising the stakes.

Revision & Publication (with Rita Banerjee)
In this class, we will explore techniques for revisions, effective methods for submitting work, resources for publication, and of course, post-publication escapades.

Featured Faculty:

jadesylvanJade Sylvan (they/them/their), called a “risqué queer icon” by The Boston Globe, is an award-winning author, poet, screenwriter, producer, and performing artist heavily rooted in the literary and performance community of Cambridge and Somerville, Massachusetts. Jade’s most recent book, Kissing Oscar Wilde (Write Bloody, 2013), a novelized memoir about the author’s experience as a touring poet in Paris (sponsored by a travel grant from The Foundation of Contemporary Arts), was a finalist for the New England Book Award and the Bisexual Book Award.  Other work has appeared in The Washington PostBuzzfeedThe Toast, Mudfish, Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, and many other publications.  Jade has toured extensively, performing their work to audiences across the United States, Canada, and Europe.  They are currently overseeing the production of their first full-length stage play, Spider Cult the Musical, opening June 24th, 2016 at Oberon Theater in Harvard Square.

DAvidShields-AuthorPhoto1-727x1000David 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 YorkTimes bestseller), and Black Planet (finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award). Forthcoming from Knopf in February 2017 is Other People: Takes & Mistakes. The recipient of Guggenheim and NEA fellowships, Shields has published essays and stories in the New York Times Magazine, Harper’s, Esquire, Yale ReviewVillage VoiceSalonSlateMcSweeney’s, and Believer. His work has been translated into twenty languages.

baj-bio-pic-2Bret Anthony Johnston is the author of the internationally best-selling novel Remember Me Like This, and author of  the award-winning Corpus Christi: Stories, which was named a Best Book of the Year by The Independent (London) and The Irish Times, and the editor of Naming the World and Other Exercises for the Creative Writer. His work appears in The Atlantic Monthly, Esquire, The Paris Review, Glimmer Train Stories, Virginia Quarterly Review, The Best American Short Stories, and elsewhere.  His awards include the Pushcart Prize, the Glasgow Prize for Emerging Writers, the Stephen Turner Award, the Cohen Prize, a James Michener Fellowship, the Kay Cattarulla Prize for short fiction, and many more. His nonfiction has appeared in The New York Times, the New York Times Magazine, The Wall Street Journal, Tin House, The Best American Sports Writing, and on NPR’s All Things Considered.  A graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, he’s the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Literature Fellowship and a 5 Under 35 honor from the National Book Foundation. He wrote the documentary film Waiting for Lightning, which was released in theaters around the world by Samuel Goldwyn Films. He teaches in the Bennington Writing Seminars and at Harvard University, where he is the Director of Creative Writing.


cheeAlexander Chee
was born in Rhode Island, and raised in South Korea, Guam and Maine. He is a recipient of the 2003 Whiting Writers’ Award, a 2004 NEA Fellowship in Fiction, and residency fellowships from the MacDowell Colony, the VCCA, Ledig House, the Hermitage and Civitella Ranieri. His first novel, Edinburgh (Picador, 2002), is a winner of the Michener Copernicus Prize, the AAWW Lit Award and the Lambda Editor’s Choice Prize, and was a Publisher’s Weekly Best Book of the Year and a Booksense 76 selection. In 2003, Out Magazine honored him as one of their 100 Most Influential People of the Year. His essays and stories have appeared in Granta.com, Out, The Man I Might Become, Loss Within Loss, Men On Men 2000, His 3 and Boys Like Us. He has taught fiction and nonfiction writing at the New School University, Wesleyan University, Amherst College, and the Fiction program at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. He lives in New York City and blogs at Koreanish.

diananormaDiana Norma Szokolyai is a writer/interdisciplinary artist/educator and Executive Artistic Director of Cambridge Writers’ Workshop. Based in Brooklyn, NY, she is author of the poetry collections Parallel Sparrows (honorable mention for Best Poetry Book in the 2014 Paris Book Festival) and Roses in the Snow (first runner-­up Best Poetry Book at the 2009 DIY Book Festival). She also records her poetry with musicians and has collaborated with several composers. Her poetry-music collaboration with Flux Without Pause led to their collaboration “Space Mothlight” hitting #16 on the Creative Commons Hot 100 list in 2015, and can be found in the curated WFMU Free Music Archive. Szokolyai’s work has been published in Quail Bell Magazine, Lyre Lyre, The Fiction Project, The Boston Globe, Dr. Hurley’s Snake Oil Cure, and Up the Staircase Quarterly, as well as anthologized in The Highwaymen NYC #2Other Countries: Contemporary Poets Rewiring History, Always Wondering and Teachers as Writers. Szokolyai earned her Ed.M. in Arts in Education from Harvard University and her M.A. in French Literature from the University of Connecticut, while she completed coursework at the Sorbonne and original research in Paris for two years. She is currently at work on three books and recording an album of poetry & music.

RitaBanerjeeRita Banerjee received her doctorate in Comparative Literature from Harvard and her MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Washington.  Her writing has been published or is forthcoming in the Los Angeles Review of BooksElectric Literature, VIDA: Women in Literary Arts, AWP WC&C Quarterly, Queen Mob’s Tea House, Riot Grrrl Magazine, Poets for Living Waters, The Monarch Review, The Fiction Project, Quail Bell Magazine, Jaggery, Catamaran, The Crab Creek Review, The Dudley Review, Objet d’Art, Amethyst Arsenic, Vox Populi, Dr. Hurley’s Snake-Oil Cure, Chrysanthemum, and on KBOO Radio’s APA Compass in Portland, Oregon.  Her first collection of poems, Cracklers at Night, was published by Finishing Line Press and received First Honorable Mention for Best Poetry Book of 2011-2012 at the Los Angeles Book Festival, and her novella, A Night with Kali, is forthcoming from Spider Road Press in 2016.  Creative Director of the Cambridge Writers’ Workshop, she is currently working on a novel and a book of lyric essays.

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 Recommends: Winter 2015 – Books to Keep You Warm

EveningSnowatKanbara
Hello everyone!  Happy Valentine’s Day!  We hope you’re all enjoying 2015 and staying warm through all that snowy weather!  To celebrate February and the snowy tidings of 2015, our CWW staff has written about their favorite reads to keep you warm through this winter season!  Some of these works that have inspired our own writing and changed how we think and see the world, and other works have just stayed with us, entertained, or made us stop, stare, or smile for a little while.  Special thanks to Stephen Aubrey, Rita Banerjee, Alex Carrigan, Gregory Crosby, Katy MillerDavid Shields, Emily Smith, Christine Stoddard, Diana Norma Szokolyai, and Megan Tilley for sending in their favorite winter lit picks & recommendations! – Alex Carrigan (Curator)

CWW Winter 2015 Lit Picks:

pillowman theThe Pillowman by Martin McDonagh
(Recommended by Stephen Aubrey)

In an unnamed totalitarian nation, a Kafka-esque fiction writer called Katurian is detained and questioned by two policemen after a string of gruesome infanticides resembling dark fairytales Katurian has written. As Katurian seems unconcerned about the ramifications of his art, the police officers—playing a twisted game of “good cop/bad cop”—inform Katurian that his intellectually-disabled brother Michael, who is currently being tortured in an adjoining room, has been coerced into confessing to the crimes. What follows is a harrowing meditation on our responsibility to our art and our family, one without easy answers or reassurances. Small and contained (it’s a four-person cast in two small rooms) yet with very high stakes, it’s one of the most tightly-written and surprising of contemporary plays. It’s also funnier than any play centered around murdered children has any right to be, that’s Irish theatre for you.

91gug5d5wlL._SL1500_A Field Guide to Getting Lost by Rebecca Solnit
(Recommended by Stephen Aubrey)

Rebecca Solnit is one of the most interesting nonfiction writers around today. As both a writer and an activist, she’s made a career exploring issues related to the environment and its impact on politics, our sense of place, art, and society. In A Field Guide to Getting Lost, perhaps her finest work and certainly the best introduction to her formidable intellect, Solnit explores her own past in a series of linked essays as she explores questions of identity and the importance of the unknown. In a wonderful instance where form imitates function, the essays don’t necessarily build to a cohesive argument so much as they meander from Solnit’s Russian Jewish ancestors to her own youthful dabbling in punk rock and experimental film to a love affair she once had with a desert recluse. Each is tinged with a painterly lyricism that makes the settings Solnit writes about as vivid as the people who occupy them. Come with no expectations; simply agree to follow Solnit wherever she leads you and you will find this a perfect book to get lost in.

whereeuropebegins_300_411Where Europe Begins by Yoko Tawada
(Recommended by Rita Banerjee)

Yoko Tawada is a force of nature.  She has mastered the art of defamiliarizing the familiar whether it be language, gender, the facets of the body, or the interplay between imagination and reality.  She is a master of writing fiction, memoir, and gorgeous lyrical essays in both Japanese and German (for which she’s won the Akutagawa Prize and Goethe Medal, respectively), and she’s given some impressive speeches in English quoting Japanese, German, and even Italian idioms and literary texts at free will.  (I had a chance to see her recently at Munich’s 2014 Shamrock festival and was floored by her performance and also later when she spoke to me in Japanese!)  Where Europe Begins explores the strangeness and uncertainty one encounters when looking at things just a little too closely.  In these short stories and musings, one’s body, one’s relationships and feelings towards others, one’s language, and even one’s existence become irrevocably uncanny and peculiar.

Akashic’s Noir Series
(Recommended by Rita Banerjee)

SFNoir2BostonNoir

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A few years ago, I picked up my first Akashic Noir Series book in the famed City Lights Books in San Francisco while I was working on my dissertation at Berkeley.  I selected San Francisco Noir 2: The Classics because for every flower in someone’s hair, San Francisco was also pretty cold and gritty, and the ghosts of Dashiell Hammet, Jack London, and Mark Twain seemed to hang around downtown, just lurking in the air.  And this volume did not disappoint.  Frank Norris’s chilling, uncomfortable view of Chinatown still haunted in “The Third Circle,” and you could see why Hitchcock was so mesmerized by the city by the bay.  Flitting back to Cambridge for work, Boston Noir also provided a delightful read.  Don Lee’s “The Oriental Hair Poets” seemed especially à propos in the atmosphere of Cambridge.  The story centers around two female Asian poets who compete with one another for men and literary accolades, attempting to sabotage each other’s poetic careers and prestige, until something goes horribly wrong…

TreadwindsTreadwinds by Walter K. Lew
(Recommended by Rita Banerjee)

During my MFA days, Walter K. Lew’s Treadwinds was a poetry collection that I returned to again and again.  Like Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s novel Dictée, Lew’s Treadwinds was unique and powerful for its unusual collage-like form and ability to breakdown and rethink linguistic barriers.  Lew presents poems written in English alongside phrases and texts written in Japanese, Korean, and Chinese in order to demonstrate the narratives of colonial occupation, immigration, and cultural assimilation felt by Koreans and Korean-Americans in the 20th century.  He juxtaposes images from film, photography, news stories, and idioms from folk songs, jazz, and old family anecdotes and tales of trauma to convey the complexity and multifaceted voice of the Korean in the modern era.  In the namesake poem, “Treadwinds” language and grammar itself breakdown as Lew explores what it means to return, hungry and dwindled, to home and “the sounds of spring.”

moon-mountain-banerjeeMoon Mountain
by Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay

(Recommended by Rita Banerjee)

Moon Mountain or Cāndēr Pāhaṛ  (চাঁদের পাহড়), is a famous Bengali novella by the much-loved Bengali novelist, Bibhutibhushan Bandopahdyay (author of the renowned novel Pather Pāncālī, which was later made famous on the silver screen by Satyajit Ray).  Set between 1909-1910, Moon Mountain focuses on the story of Shankar Roy Chowdhury, a young Bengali man, who goes to Africa and winds up working for the Uganda Railway.  Hungry for adventure, Shankar meets a strange cast of imperialists and prospectors from Britain, Portugal, Holland, and elsewhere as they try to exploit the riches of Africa and its people.  One prospector, the Portuguese Diego Alvarez, a Kurtz-like figure, tells Shankar about his trials and misfortunes hunting for diamonds in the caves of the Moon Mountain, a legendary place deep in the jungles of Richtersveldt, which is haunted and guarded by a spirit called bunyip.  Shankar then has to decide whether or not he will follow Alvarez and his thirst for adventure with open eyes or with eyes wide shut.

tolstoy-family_happinessFamily Happiness by Leo Tolstoy
(Recommended by Rita Banerjee)

There’s really nothing like setting the mood for Valentine’s Day in the middle of a snowy winter than reading some dark, deeply existential Russian Literature.  Leo Tolstoy is a master of examining the minutae of social relationships and the unpredictably psychology of human behavior.  In “Family Happiness,” he takes a hard look at romance and bourgeois obsession of finding the perfect romantic partner and creating the façade of the perfect family.  The story follows Masha, a young seventeen-year-old girl, and Sergey, her much older would-be paramour as they engage in a courtship which leads to “romance” and a very unexpected ending.

PoeticScientifica Poetic Scientifica by Leah Noble Davidson
(Recommended by Rita Banerjee)

Leah Noble Davidson’s poetry collection, Poetic Scientifica, is a beautiful experiment.  The collection follows the breakdown of a romantic relationship as it simultaneously explores memories of past sexual violence, individual agency, and female empowerment.  In doing so, Poetic Scientifica explores the roles of double-identities, mirror images, Norma Jeane & Marilyn Monroe, beauty, and its lovelorn echo.  Perhaps, the charm and play of Davidson’s work can be best described by the hidden poem in her collection which introduces all others: “Oh careful readiness, oh cinders in the jaw / you: fountains of birdsong and / velvet ropes, aspiring Marilyns / maybe I covet you / the way you would have me, do so / Climbing into our story / we build your image together / a person to love, an echo / of the anecdotes strangers tell each other / I can not hate you for being the bathtub / I drain my culture into / for shining myself into / so many lights.”

JulesVerne-VoyageExtraodinaire Voyages Extradonaires by Jules Verne
(Recommended by Rita Banerjee)

When I was studying at the Sorbonne, I would always carry a Poche paperback of a Jules Verne classic with me and would devour it as I made my way through the undergrounds of Paris each morning.  Some of my favorite reads were Voyage au centre de la Terre, Vingt milles lieues sous le mer, De la Terre à la Lune, and Paris au XXe siècle.  While the stories were familiar from childhood, there was just something about cracking a secret code or cipher with Axel and Lindenbrock in French.  The scope and worldview of Verne’s novels, which are set in Baltimore, Hamburg, Paris, China, and India, was also impressive as was his mastery of the scientific romance genre.  Characters in his novels always seemed to be at the brink of discovery, whether in realizing the potential or limitations of science and technology or in understanding the potential and limitations of their own humanity.  The future could materialize crystal clear in a Verne novel, full of possibilities and full of failures.  And now as I am writing my own futuristic novel, it’s wonderful to go back to the pillars of modern day science fiction with writers like Jules Verne and H.G. Wells, and try to find answers to those big and scary questions like, “what is science?” “what is fiction?” and “what might tomorrow bring?”

schomburg-themansuitThe Man Suit by Zachary Schomburg
(Recommended by Rita Banerjee)

The Man Suit is a memorable, must-read collection of poems by Zachary Schomburg.  The poems in The Man Suit dance a fine line between melancholy, dark humor, and unnerving absurdity.  Images of forests, monsters, stars, death, white and black telephones, music bands, and theatre pepper the collection.  And stories of late barons, experiments gone awry, John Wilkes Booth and Abraham Lincoln, and a singular tale of a lost love and a girl named Marlene appear, disappear, and remix like constellations across the page.  Read in another way, Schomburg’s collection takes a hard look at the values of Americana and the changing shape of the American social and political landscape in the waning years of the Bush presidency.  In “Last President of a Dark Country,” the speaker of the poem, states “Trying being the last president of a dark country.  It is lonely as hell here.  You should come. / …if you are careful, you can find the railing.  It will lead you to a dimly-lit hole that you can climb down into.  You’ll find me there, most likely.  I’ll be working on my last presidential address.  It will be a list of everything that haunts me.  No matter how much you ask me to read it, I probably won’t.”

Haunted511a1mqxnhl-_ss500_ by Chuck Palahniuk
(Recommended by Alex Carrigan)

This short fiction anthology by Chuck Palahniuk was every bit as morbid, disgusting, and shocking as I hoped it would be, with tons of awesome stories involved. The novel’s frame story is a bunch of writers going on a writing retreat where they spend three months locked in an old theater with all the amenities provided by the benefactor and his assistant. They all individually get the idea to write a tale about how they were held captive and tortured, each going about destroying their new home and forcing themselves into acts of mutilation, cannibalism, and murder. The stories in the book are all written by a character in the story and cover a variety of subjects from angry feminists to reflexology to masturbation accidents. This book really gripped me because all the stories are so unique and weird. It’s also very postmodern in design, something I’m always a fan of and want to attempt in the future.

{D89C61A6-9DA2-409A-9A9E-ADFD027A9D27}Img100Riotous Assembly by Tom Sharpe
(Recommended by Alex Carrigan)

This was a book I had to grow up to read. It’s a book my father loved a lot and told me about when I was younger. The story, detailing the incompetence of the racist police force in an Apartheid South Africa town, is a screwball satire showing how a crime of passion was turned into a full-blown political scandal due to how just darn stupid everyone is. It’s satirical, funny, and full of political commentary. It’s also a book with a really creative writing style and humorous voice that Sharpe uses when describing events. It will have you looking at elephant guns differently, so you should check it out.

wernerherzog_guidefortheperplexedWerner Herzog: A Guide for the Perplexed
by Paul Cronin

(Recommended by Gregory Crosby)

It’s a huge series of conversations with Herzog about his film and career, but it’s also the only self-help book any artist will ever need, whether they make films, write, paint or engage in any creative endeavor that requires courage, persistence, and endurance. Herzog is also dryly funny in only the way a German can be.

 

the_dream_songspicThe Dream Songs by John Berryman
(Recommended by Gregory Crosby)

If you’re suffering from heartache and pain and want to know how to sing the blues, you should avail yourself of John Berryman’s The Dream Songs. It sounds like hyperbole, but this was a book that more or less saved my life when I was at my lowest point.

 

 

81XbzO1loHLEverything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
(Recommended by Katy Miller)

Opening with the ominous sentence “Lydia is dead,” Everything I Never Told You unspools the deep, psychological layers of the Lee family as they deal with loss and tragedy. For the first half of the novel, Ng tells the reader only sparse details about Lydia herself—the oldest child of Chinese-American James Lee and his white wife Marilyn—and focuses instead of the dreams and disappointments of her parents. Set mainly in the 1970s midwest only just after the Supreme Court overturned the interracial marriage ban in 1967, Everything I Never Told You beautifully captures the quiet desperation of crushing familial expectations coupled with heartbreaking loneliness. Ng deftly writes the inner life of the five family members and how difference affects each one, expertly weaving their voices into the suspenseful narrative.

41FP9H01AjLThe Thing Around Your Neck
by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

(Recommended by Katy Miller)

The characters in this 13-story collection are just as vivid as those in Adichie’s marvelous novels. The majority of these narratives are written from a female perspective, and Adichie fully explores their struggles to settle into American lives, their complex relationships, and their diverse motivations in beautiful detail. A thoughtful writer, she delights in revealing uncomfortable observations, such as in the inner monologue of a Nigerian waitress in Connecticut in the titular short story: “He told you he had been to Ghana and Uganda and Tanzania, loved the poetry of Okot p’Bitek and the novels of Amos Tutuola and had read a lot about sub-Saharan African countries, their histories, their complexities. You wanted to feel disdain, to show it as you brought his order, because white people who liked Africa too much and those who liked Africa too little were the same—condescending.”

51A1wj3p3eL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_The Book of Embraces by Eduardo Galeano
(Recommended by David Shields)

Galeano marries himself to the larger warp-and-woof by allowing different voices and different degrees of magnitude of information to play against one another. A mix of memoir, anecdote, polemic, parable, fantasy, and Galeano’s surreal drawings, the book might at first glance be dismissed as mere miscellany. But upon more careful inspection, it reveals itself to be virtually a geometric proof on the themes of love, terror, and imagination. This is perhaps best exemplified by this mini-chapter: “Tracey Hill was a child in a Connecticut town who amused herself as befitted a child of her age, like any other tender little angel of God in the state of Connecticut or anywhere else on this planet. One day, together with her little school companions, Tracey started throwing lighted matches into an anthill. They all enjoyed this healthy childish diversion. Tracey, however, saw something which the others didn’t see or pretended not to, but which paralyzed her and remained forever engraved in her memory: faced with the dangerous fire, the ants split up into pairs and two by two, side by side, pressed close together, they waited for death.”

A1ShzwjgyDL._SL1500_Remembrance of Things Past by Marcel Proust
(Recommended by David Shields)

This is the book that I think of as mattering the most to me ever, but I read it more than thirty years ago and find that I have trouble re-reading it now. Seems sad—do I still love it, did I ever love it? I know I did. Has my aesthetic changed that much? If so, why? Does one resist that alteration? I think not. The book still completely changed me, still defines me in some strange way. Proust for me is the C.K. Scott-Moncrieff translation in paperback, its covers stained with suntan oil since I read all seven volumes in a single summer (supposedly traveling around the South of France but really pretty much just reading Proust). I came to realize that he will do anything and go anywhere to extend his research, to elaborate his argument about art and life. But his commitment is never to the narrative per se, it’s to the narrative as a vector on the grid of his argument. That thrilled me and continues to thrill me—his understanding of his book as a series of interlaced architectural/thematic spaces.

41Mm2ZM0NvL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_For Love & Money by Jonathan Raban
(Recommended by David Shields)

For twenty-plus years I’ve been showing drafts of my books to Jonathan, who within days of receiving the manuscript will call and not only insist that it can be so much better but show me how. For Love & Money, which he calls “only half a good book,” is one of my favorite books ever written—a brutal, ruthless coming-of-age-of-the-author disguised as a miscellany of essays and reviews. Jonathan comes out of what is to me a distinctly British tradition of showing respect for the conversation by questioning your assertion rather than blandly agreeing with it. He’s exhaustive and disputatious, never settling for received wisdom or quasi-insight. More than anyone in my life, he encouraged me to think off-axis about “nonfiction.”

rent-girl-michelle-teaRent Girl by Michelle Tea
(Recommended by Emily Smith)

Rent Girl is a gritty and blunt graphic novel/memoir that focuses on Michelle Tea’s history as a prostitute in the early 90s.Throughout the novel, Tea is unapologetically honest about her many shocking exploits: appeasing her clients — one a self-proclaimed warlock — to a terrible case of crabs, Tea never shies away from reality.

margaret_atwood_the_handmaids_taleThe Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
(Recommended by Emily Smith)

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood follows the story of Offred, a handmaid living under a totalitarian Christian regime responsible for usurping the United States. The novel explores how women gain agency, especially under a government that enforces trope-like roles: wives, handmaids (surrogate mothers) and Jezebels (prostitutes).

 

51SvR6tvD2LGather Together in My Name by Maya Angelou
(Recommended by Christine Stoddard)

This year we lost one of the greats. Her stunning life inspired not only poetry but prose. Gather Together in My Name is an autobiographical account of Angelou’s early years as a single mother shortly after World War II in a deeply segregated America. A story of hope and redemption, it’s the perfect read to inspire you to seriously reflect on your own flaws and make meaningful and sincere New Year’s Resolutions.

 

948009Intimacy by Jean-Paul Sartre
(Recommended by Christine Stoddard)

This collection of four short stories and a novella is complex and unnerving. All of the stories deal with intimacy or, more aptly, the lack thereof. They deal with sex, perversion, sensuality, and ugly truths. My personal favorite is the first story “Intimacy,” for which the collection is named, because of its stream of consciousness, changing narrators, and obsession with hypocrisy in love. Intimacy is a great winter read because it will chill you to the bone, not for its otherworldliness but for its raw portrayal of reality.

Unknown-4The Theory of Everything (dir. James Marsh)
(Recommended by Diana Norma Szokolyai)

Would I be wearing my heart on my sleeve if I admitted to crying upon just seeing the trailer to this film?  After watching the film in its entirety, I saw that this was not just a historical tearjerker, but a deeply moving and realistic account of the life and love between Stephen and Jane Hawking.  Of the movie, Stephen Hawking has said that it was “broadly true” (Variety.com) and that, at times, he felt as though Eddie Redmayne was himself.  Indeed, the actor has done such a marvelous job that he is nominated for a 2015 Oscar for best actor in a leading role—we shall see at the end of February if he gets this well deserved award.  After watching this film, you will feel closer to the emotional world of cosmologist Stephen Hawking, one of the greatest minds of our time.  The hope, heartbreaking honesty, and intensity of Stephen and Jane’s story will rekindle your faith in the true potential of the human spirit.

safe_amy_king_0I Want to Make You Safe by Amy King
(Recommended by Diana Norma Szokolyai)

Amy King’s poems examine the delicate boldly.  The visual imagery is unforgettable and leaves the reader with impressions to ponder long afterwards.  Consider these lines and you’ll understand: “I can’t imagine the heart anymore/now that it presses my ribs apart,/a balloon of such gravity I ache for stars in a jar,/wasps whose love reminds be of fireflies tonight.”  King is the 2015 recipient of the prestigious Women’s National Book Association Award.  John Ashbery described her poems in I  Want to Make You Safe as bringing “abstractions to brilliant, jagged life, emerging rather than out of the busyness of living.”  The book was also one of the Boston Globe’s Best Poetry Books of 2011.  Read it!

Unknown-5Someone Else’s Vows by Bianca Stone
(Recommended by Diana Norma Szokolyai)

I first heard Bianca Stone read at the Couplet reading series in Manhattan, organized by Leah Umansky.  Her poems seemed so ripe, containing an urgency.  In reading Someone Else’s Wedding Vows, you’ll enter a world of vulnerability and fireworks, where the past and present converge in a magnificent display of words. Here is an excerpt from her poem “The Future is Here”: “Man burns at a certain degree/ but I always burned a little slower./ When I went into school/ I left a trail of blackened footprints/ to my classroom of spelling words,/ never starred. At the end of the earth/ we’ll be locked in our own spelling mistakes,”.  Read this book.  It will make you question the world around you in beautiful ways.

Unknown-6Prelude to a Bruise by Saeed Jones
(Recommended by Diana Norma Szokolyai)

I recently heard Saeed Jones read at The Difficult to Name Reading Series run by Ryan Sartor.   I was immediately hooked.  His voice was electrifying, his delivery so precise and rich.  I bought the book from him immediately after the reading and devoured it.  Jones started his reading saying that his poems were the cross section of where race, sexuality and America meet.  Reading his work, you can certainly see him examining that triad so effectively.  Take his title poem:  “In Birmingham, said the burly man—/Boy, be/a bootblack./Your back, blue-back./Your body,      burning./I like my black boys broke, or broken./I like to break my black boys in.”   He is a 2013 Puscart Prize Winner and is now up for a National Book Critics Circle Award.  Reading this book will change you—it is that important.

11529868The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson
(Recommended by Megan Tilley)

This 2013 Pulitzer Prize winner by Adam Johnson follows a citizen of North Korea through his rise and fall in North Korean society. The author read first hand accounts of defectors from the Hermit Kingdom and also travelled to North Korea to better acquaint himself with the unique political and social situation in the country. This is not a light read, but is a great choice for those interested in North Korea and in first hand accounts from the country. Meticulously researched and beautifully crafted, this is a novel that will change the way you look at North Korea.

51EvRAIqG0LThe Poisoner’s Handbook by Deborah Bloom
(Recommended by Megan Tilley)

Written by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Deborah Bloom, The Poisoner’s Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York is a fascinating look into the beginnings of forensic medicine. Organized into sections by poison, the book details not only crime cases involving that poison, but also the politics surrounding forensic medicine and the advances in medical science made by the tireless advocates of this new branch of crime investigation. A great book for anyone interested in true-crime, medicinal history, or Prohibition, it’s an easy and fascinating read.

CWW Interview with David Shields, Essayist, Paris Instructor, & Author of I Think You’re Totally Wrong (2015)

Author photo of David Shields, 2012.This year, the Cambridge Writers’ Workshop’s Summer in Paris Writing Retreat will take place from July 22-30, 2015. At the event, we’ll be hosting a wide variety of craft of writing seminars, creative writing workshops, and special readings from our Paris 2015 faculty, which includes David Shields, Kathleen Spivack, Rita Banerjee, Diana Norma Szokolyai, Jessica Reidy, and Elissa Lewis. One of our featured faculty members, David Shields, an essayist and nonfiction writer, recently co-authored a new book with Caleb Powell titled I Think You’re Totally Wrong: A Quarrel. The Cambridge Writers’ Workshop’s Alex Carrigan sat down to speak with David for an interview. Read below to see the interview, and be sure to register for our Summer in Paris Writing Retreat t by May 5, 2015!

AC: Your writing style is said to be very much like a “collage,” in that you blur genre, autobiography, fiction, and essay. How did you develop the form of the literary collage?

DS: I wrote three novels that were relatively traditional, although increasingly left. I wrote a book called Heroes, a very traditional novel, a growing-up novel called Dead Languages and then a book of stories called Handbook for Drowning. I was trying to write my fourth novel, a book called Remote, and I found all the traditional gestures of the novel just really were not conveying what I wanted to convey.

I was watching a lot of self-reflective documentary films, especially films by Ross McElwee who is from Cambridge. I was reading a lot of anthropological autobiographies by people like Renata Adler and George W.S. Trow and listening and watching a lot of performance art and stand-up comedy.

What was going to be my fourth novel became my first work of literary collage called Remote: Reflections on Life in the Shadow of Celebrity, published in 1996. Ever since then, I’ve been continuing to explore boundary jumping work, the limits of autobiography, and the limits of genre-jamming. By no means am I the progenitor of literary collage. Collage is an ancient form going back to Heraclides’ Fragment 3,000 years ago and coming up to all the way to, say, Maggie Nelson’s Bluets. It’s a beautiful form that lets me do what I want to do on the page.

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AC: How did the idea of I Think You’re Totally Wrong develop?

DS: A lot of what I do on the page is to question myself. I write what I call “self-deconstructive non-fiction.” It’s a term someone applied to my work. I’m interested in exploring myself but also in demolishing myself as a way to get at large cultural and human questions. The canvas in my work is myself, only as an avenue to approach broader questions. I’m not interesting in anything like conventional autobiography or conventional memoir.

In a way, I was tired of debating myself in my work, in books from Remote to How Literature Saved My Life. I wanted to have somebody embody the opposition. I have always been a fan of books of dialogue from Plato and Socrates in Plato’s Dialogues all the way up through The Magliozzi Brothers in Car Talk. I just love the form of two guys arguing.

I sought out a former student of mine (Caleb Powell) who tends to have a different point of view from me. Three years ago, we went off to a cabin and argued for four days. Then we radically edited the transcript into a book, then we took the book and made it into a film with my former student, James Franco, directing the film.

AC: The book references My Dinner with Andre’ and The Trip as influences for the novel. What aspects of those works do you feel I Think You’re Totally Wrong best encapsulates? Do you feel the book does something those works didn’t?

My_Dinner_with_Andre_1981_film_theatrical_release_poster

DS: It seems sort of foolish to not acknowledge the predecessors from Boswell and Johnson, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, Laurel and Hardy, Car Talk, Sideways, and The Trip. A wonderful book I really love is David Lipsky’s book on David Foster Wallace in which the two of them argue for three or four hundred pages.

It’s not up to me to say what the book does better or worse, or what the film does better and worse than previous ones. The challenge I placed before myself and Caleb was to make it… I think what our book and film do well is being more naked, more raw, or more vulnerable. A few of these other projects, they might have more talented performers or whatever.

There’s a wonderful quote on the back of the book by Peter Brooks, my former teacher. He says “Confession makes sense only when it costs something, when it’s courting disaster; I found that risk-taking in this book, and it’s bracing.” That’s a very generous quote, and it goes to what we were trying to do. In a way, we wanted to court disaster, where something like The Trip is never seriously courting disaster. Even My Dinner with Andre’ is an incredibly polished performance.

I’m very fond of this quote by Walter Benjamin: “A work of literature should either invent a genre or dissolve one.” Our attempt was… to dissolve a genre or extend it, by making the quarrel between two people be just unusually naked and raw and vulnerable and discomforting. That’s our attempt at contribution.

AC: In the book, you and Powell briefly criticize the notion of “show, don’t tell.” Was that something that played into how you presented I Think You’re Totally Wrong since the book presents almost entire transcripts of your conversations?

I think it’s because I’m very invested in the essay and the contemplation, the meditation. In our book, it’s beside the point to do long description of what the woods look like. It’s essentially a play or screenplay.

It’s mainly “show, don’t tell,” because it’s two guys arguing. Any time Caleb goes to too great length on a story, I always imagine asking him “Okay, but what’s the point?” I think the book embodies “tell, don’t show” not because we don’t give scene descriptions, but because we don’t waste time doing a lot of dialogue. We’re trying to cut to what actually matters and to contemplate existence directly.

AC: Do you ever see yourself going on a trip similar to the one in I Think You’re Totally Wrong ever again, even if it’s not to write a book?

DS: No. Everything I do is related to books, and I guess that’s part of the comedy of this project. I’m really busy; I teach, I write, and a lot of the book is about how I really like to write. I might go off with my wife and daughter to hang out. To me, words are very precious, and I don’t give them to people for the hell of it. If I’m trying to use words well, I want to make it part of a book. I’m not going to spend five days thinking about existence and not try to make it part of a literary project.

DavidShields_DirectorFranco

David Shields with Caleb Powell & James Franco

AC: How did the film version of the book come to be?

DS: James [Franco] was my student at Warren Wilson College (Masters of Fine Arts: Low Residency program). James is an actor, a writer, and a director. We were getting to know each other better, and we both share an interest in self exposure, nakedness, recollection, awkwardness, and in breaking the fourth wall. We have a shared aesthetic, so that we’re working not only on this film (which is completed) but also with two other books of mine that we’re making into film. We have a kind of shared ethos in self-deconstructive non-fiction. That’s not all I’m interested or all James is interested in, but it’s a shared interest.

James wanted to do a film of one of my books. I showed him I Think You’re Totally Wrong, and he said, “this is a movie, let’s do it.” Caleb and I wrote a screenplay, a scene sheet, a beat sheet, and a treatment. The irony of it, which I sort of love, was that on the first day of shooting, we wound up throwing away the script because a real life, real time argument broke out on the first day which was all about what can and what can’t be used in the film. It was a perfect embodiment about the whole life/art debate, which was what the book and film are actually about. We stumbled quite serendipitously into an actual argument and we filmed the actual argument.

AC: In the film, you and Powell play yourselves. Was there anything challenging about becoming “actors” and reliving the weekend?

DS: In many ways, it wasn’t reliving. It wasn’t like we act out our scenes from the book, which is what we thought we’d do. We created an entirely new work, which has a relationship to the book, but we basically started arguing on camera.  Franco and I started yelling at Caleb; Franco and Caleb started yelling at me. Ot was a real argument about a real thing.

I was just being myself and wanted to win the argument. You have to be aware there is a camera and that you are trying to make a good movie. Just like I do on the page, I took who I naturally am and was aware of projecting, amplifying, and exaggerating that for drama, which I think is what any personal essayist does.

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AC: Was there anything that had to greatly changed in the adaptation of the book, such as certain scenes that had to be cut or reworked?

DS: It’s an entirely different narrative that has a whole different strategy and purpose. It’s about an argument that develops when James and I urge Caleb to incorporate certain material into the movie. He refuses, I feel awful about badgering and bullying Caleb, then I apologize to Caleb, then James accuses me of being a theoretician and not a practitioner of riffs, then I accuse James of the same, then Caleb has a meltdown as he recounts this war movie he is telling us about, then we all worry that we don’t have an ending, and then out of nowhere we find an ending by, in a way, rediscovering what the whole film was about.

I think it’s a lovely little film and I’m quite proud of it. We were writing the film hour by hour over the four days that we shot it. Any time that we weren’t shooting I was madly scribbling notes about what we should do next. On one hand, I was trying to respond to the actual argument and on the other, I was trying to make a film. It was a completely different experience, much different from the book in my view.

AC: Do you have any upcoming works you’d like to talk about?

I have four books coming out in the next year. I Think You’re Totally Wrong just came out and the film will be out this spring. In April, I have a book coming out with Hawthorne Books called Life is Short- Art is Shorter: In Praise of Brevity. I’m the co-author of that book with Elizabeth Cooperman. In June, I have a book coming out with McSweeney’s Books called That Thing You Do With Your Mouth: The Sexual Autobiography of Samantha Matthews As Told to David Shields. It was kind of an amazing project.

life_is_short_247_400_80

In next September, I have a book with Powerhouse Books which is a photography and art publisher called War Is Beautiful: A Pictorial Guide to the Glamor of Armed Conflict. It’s a book about war photography. Then in January of 2016, I have a book coming out with Knopf again called Other People: A Remix. I’ve taken about 60 essays of mine that I’ve written over the last 30 year and rewritten them all to make an entirely new book with a contemplation on a particular theme.

Those are all keeping me busy for the next year, just ushering these new books to print.

AC: Since you’re going to be coming on our Paris retreat later this year, what are you looking forward to and what are you planning to teach?

DS: I’m looking forward to meeting my French publisher. I’m looking forward to meeting some friends I know in Paris. I’m looking forward to giving a reading at Shakespeare and Co. Those are the side things.

The core of the experience is the Cambridge conference. I look forward to talking about brevity; I’ll be using my brevity book as the core of that seminar. I’m going to talk about collage, and I’m going to talk about collaboration. Three of the things I’m most passionate about (collage, brevity, and collaboration) will form the basis for three workshops. I’m still working out exactly what, but I teach out of my passion, and those are three of my literary passions.

AC: Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

The best thing I can think of comes from a wonderful line of William Butler Yeats who said “Out of the quarrel with others we make politics; out of the quarrel with ourselves we make poetry.” That’s sort of the essence of what I’m interest in: to harvest the arguments with yourself, and out of that to create what you hope is memorable.

Author photo of David Shields, 2012.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.

I Think You’re Totally Wrong: A Quarrel, can be purchased on Amazon. The book was named one of Amazon’s Ten Best Nonfiction Books for January, 2015 and one of Powell’s Books Favorites for January, 2015. The film version will be premiering at Vancouver’s DOXA Documentary Film Festival in April, 2015.

Cambridge Writers’ Workshop Recommends: Summer 2014 Literature & Film

the_master_and_margarita_by_confusedlarch-d5y4f47

We at the Cambridge Writers’ Workshop hope all of you are planning to have a nice summer. Whether you use this summer to relax, to work, or to start something new, we hope you choose to use the summer days and nights to the best of your abilities. However, if you need a little help finding new books to read and new movies to watch, we’re here to help.  Our staff has compiled a list of books and films we’d like to share with our audience. We’ve got a wide variety of genres and topics on our list, so we hope you check these books and films out and discover something new.  A special thanks to Rita Banerjee for her help with editing this list, and to our contributors, Rita Banerjee, Alex Carrigan, Gregory Crosby, Elissa Lewis, Jessica Reidy, Ian Singleton, Kathleen Spivack, Christine Stoddard, Diana Norma Szokolyai, Megan Tilley, and Roxy van Beek, for their recommendations!  – Alex Carrigan (Curator)

CWW Summer 2014 Lit Picks:

Gone_Girl_(Flynn_novel)Gone Girl  by Gillian Flynn
(Recommended by Rita Banerjee)

This is the novel I wish I had written.  Gillian Flynn’s writing is stylistic, clever, and full of wit and menace. Every word of Flynn’s novel from her first sentence to her last is gorgeously crafted and razor-sharp.  Gone Girl centers around the story of Amy and Nick Dunne, a supposedly happily married couple about to celebrate their 5th wedding anniversary.  Following the 2008 Stock Market crash and the ensuing Great Recession, Amy and Nick are forced to move to North Carthage, Missouri after losing their jobs in the glittery, larger-than-life publishing world of New York City.  The novel, told from alternating points of view follows the fairy tale beginning and then increasingly volatile relationship between Amy and Nick.  Flynn does a masterful job of capturing Amy and Nick’s distinctive voices, psychology, and increasingly dark secrets, and her essay on the “Cool Girl” is a magnificent, and to-die-for moment in the novel.  To add insult to injury, Amy’s parents are the perfect married partners and are in a decades-long happy romance.  They are also authors of the children book series, Amazing Amy, which presents a parallel but laudable version of Amy’s own life, that is, “Amazing Amy” never makes the wrong decision or encounters grievous hardships whereas Amy Dunne’s life seem punctuated by increasingly harsher realities.  The novel begins on the morning of Amy and Nick’s 5th wedding anniversary when everything seems normal, mundane, and annoyingly routine until Amy Dunne goes missing.  And we find Nick, who spends too much of his free time contemplating size and permeability of the Amy’s skull, as the prime suspect.

EmmaGoldmanEmma Goldman: Revolution as a Way of Life
by Vivian Gornick
(Recommended by Rita Banerjee)

For anyone who has read The Situation and the Story: The Art of the Personal Narrative, you know that Vivian Gornick is a rock-star in the contemporary creative writing scene.  She is a master of the personal essay and definitely one of the most fluid, honestly intellectual, and vividly personal non-fiction writers out there.  In Emma Goldman: Revolution as a Way of Life, Gornick traces the life and times of Emma Goldman and how Goldman, a young Russian Jewish émigré who came to the US in 1885, not knowing a word of English and only enough Yiddish and German to communicate with German and Jewish intellectuals in New York City, became the little anarchist that could.  Under the tutelage of Johann Most and radicals from the Lower East Side, Goldman became a great orator, a supporter of worker rights and basic human rights for all, and most of all, a successful practitioner of civil disobedience.  Her speeches in support of anarchy, free love, and ethical labor conditions drew hundreds of thousands of supporters in New York, Chicago, and even in California before she went on to stump in Europe, the UK, and Canada.  Jailed for her anarchist sentiments, Goldman quickly learned to read, write, and orate in English while serving time.  She also successfully subverted the hierarchical order of her prison and subtly promoted communal rights.  Overall, Gornick’s biography of Goldman is witty, full of vivid imagery, and so well-crafted that the revolutionary zeitgeist of Emma Goldman’s life and times leaps off the page and completely surrounds the reader. Emma Goldman is intriguing as a character, a thinker, a revolutionary, and a refusenik.  Perhaps what makes her so enchanting and so commanding can be summed by her own motto: “If I can’t dance, I’m not coming to your revolution.”

AnnVeronicaAnn Veronica by H.G. Wells
(Recommended by Rita Banerjee)

H.G. Wells may be best known as a master of science fiction and stories which exam what seems ordinary but uncanny, but his novels of social realism and turn-of-the-century politics in England deserve much praise and definitely a favored spot on your shelf.  H.G. Wells, who received Emma Goldman during her travels to England in the early 20th century, was part of the political left.  Ann Veronica, which examines the consequences of capitalism, England’s suffragist movement of the 1900s, and emergence of the “New Woman” in British society, is undoubtedly one of Wells’s most radical, thought-provoking, feminist, and best novels.  The novel centers on the story of Ann Veronica, a young 22-year-old woman, who studies biology at a university in London and who is continuously reprimanded for her exerting her own free will at her father’s house.  Ann, thus, decides to leave the suburbs and her childhood home behind to carve out a career and independent life for herself in London.  In London, Ann faces a series of increasingly terrifying social obstacles–from trying to rent an apartment on her own as a single woman, to securing a job for herself, to continuing to individually fund her college career, to her encounters with paramours and the well-meaning but chaotic world of radical suffragists.  Ann takes each problem she faces in stride, and her choices and life story are unpredictable and incredibly refreshing.  Ann, who may have been based on Wells’s own lover, Amber Reeves, demonstrates how well Wells can create feminist, complicated, and dynamic female characters who are both emotionally realistic and intellectually captivating.  As E.M Foster notes on “[Wells’s] power of observation stronger – he photographs those he meets and agitates the photos.”  With Ann Veronica, Wells has captured the dreams and desires of a young girl in the turn-of-the-century, and has found a away to agitate her narrative into a captivating, three-dimentional hero’s quest.

the-kennedy-chronicles_coverThe Kennedy Chronicles: The Golden Age of MTV Through Rose-Colored Glasses
by Kennedy

(Recommended by Rita Banerjee)

For anyone who grew up in the Golden Age of MTV when the network still used to air music videos and was a bastion for American alternative culture, new voices, and underground bands, this memoir by Kennedy, that in-your-face, pajama-d, combat-boot wearing, off-the-wall feminist VJ is a must read.  In her memoirs, Kennedy takes shows us what life was like on Alternative Nation and behind the Moon Man.  She gives us behind-the-scenes tours of MTV luminaries like Jon Stewart, Tabitha Soren, and Kurt Loder, and shares some amazing reveals about Trent Reznor and NIN, Billy Corgan, Radiohead, Björk, Nirvana, and Pearl Jam.  In recalling her escapades, Kennedy writes, “I did all of these things because that’s what you do when you’re twenty and wild and living in the moment in a special universe where your future may be uncertain…and it sure as hell is fun to relive those passionate, earnest moments when music mattered and timed stopped.”

cww one hundred yearsOne Hundred Years of Solitude
by Gabriel García Márquez

(Recommended by Alex Carrigan)

This novel by the late, Nobel prize winning author tells the tale of the Buendía family over seven generations in the South American village of Macondo. The novel is filled with tons of unique characters and features many incredible scenes of magical realism. At the same time, it’s more than just a tale of magical realism. It’s also a look at Columbia in the 20th century, adding in events from Márquez’s life such as plantation strikes and war and giving them new context in a village where it can rain for years and gold butterflies can follow a young mechanic at all times. If you’re looking for a story about humanity with a magical twist, this is one for you.

cww kitchenKitchen by Banana Yoshimoto
(Recommended by Alex Carrigan)

This novella is about a girl named Mikage who moves in with a friend and his transgender mother after her grandmother dies. It’s a short and sweet love story about the importance of family and food. It’s a fairly simple story, but it’s also an interesting tale about loss and how important human relationships are. The version of the book I read also had a second story by Yoshimoto called Moonlight Shadow, which is just as good and just as adorable. That story is about a girl whose first boyfriend dies in an accident, and how her encounter with a strange woman gives her one last chance to see him. They’re both really great stories to read, and they both have incredible descriptions of Japanese food, so check it out.

cww art of crueltyThe Art of Cruelty by Maggie Nelson
(Recommended by Gregory Crosby)

Absolutely vital cultural criticism that’s balanced and insightful without pulling punches (or gratuitously throwing them). Anyone who has wrestled with the representation of violence in art, or pondered our culture’s attraction to cruelty, should read Nelson’s book.

 

 

cww motherlandsMotherland Fatherland Homelandsexuals
by Patricia Lockwood
(Recommended by Gregory Crosby)

Lockwood is one of those astonishing poetic voices that walks the tightrope of the sublime and ridiculous, and somehow always manages to stumble into the sublime just when you think she’s going to slip the other way. Her second book of poems isn’t for everybody, but it’s absolutely worth a look.

 

cww yoga boook 1Yoga Mind, Body and Spirit
by Donna Farhi

(Recommended by Elissa Lewis)

This book gives a gentle approach to yoga that is easy to incorporate into everyday life.  Farhi explains simply the seven basic priciples of movement that you can apply to every yoga posture. You will find a selection of at-home yoga practices with nice photographs and illustrations.

 

cww yoga book 2The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
by Sri Swami Satchidananda

(Recommended by Elissa Lewis)

If you are interested in yoga philosophy this is a good place to start.  The yoga sutras are like the “bible of yoga”.

 

 

 

cww yoga book 3Chakra Yoga: Balancing Energy for Physical, Spiritual, and Mental Well-being by Alan Finger
(Recommended by Elissa Lewis)

Chakra yoga will teach you to balance the subtle energy centers of the body.  The use of mantra (sound) and yantra (visualisation) and pranayama (breath) are like the tools in your toolbox to help you dive right into your meditation practice. It is written by my amazing meditation teacher, Alan Finger.

cww artists wayThe Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron
(Recommended by Jessica Reidy)

This is a creativity workbook that takes a positive, Jungian approach to dissolving creative blockages and opening yourself to creativity, productivity, and career happiness. It’s a great way to work through your hang-ups and move on with being an artist. Cameron is a successful screenwriter, director, and producer who teaches creativity workshops for all types of artists.

cww bones
Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg
(Recommended by Jessica Reidy)

This is a book of writing exercises and advice from esteemed writer Natalie Goldberg. She takes a Zen-approach to writing, inspired by her years of study with Zen Master Roshi. Her meditative approach to writing lends itself very well to the kind of yoga/writing balance we cultivate on the retreat.

 

cww parisParis Was Yesterday by Janet Flanner
(Recommended by Jessica Reidy)

This is the first book of Flanner’s collected “Letters from Paris” from her days as the Paris correspondent for The New Yorker, covering the years 1925-1939. The other book, Paris Journal covers post WWII 1944-1955. Her letters were meant to give Americans in New York an understanding of Parisian culture, and both volumes are a gorgeous walk through historical Paris filled with political, artistic, and socialite gossip, intrigue, and commemoration. This will acquaint you with Paris’ cultural history and will ultimately prepare you for understanding France’s nature of the moment.

cww maidenhairMaidenhair by Mikhail Shishkin
(Recommended by Ian Singleton)

The story begins with interviews by Swiss immigration authorities of Russian-speaking asylum seekers. Their stories become the narrative itself, and within the first chapter we are in Vlad the Impaler’s time. Other texts enter into the narrative, including the journals of a Russian chanteuse, Izabella Yureva, an epic by Xenophon, and voices from the Russia-Chechnya conflict. As the novel goes on, these narratives interweave more and more.  (I wrote an essay about this book here.)  Because of its odd interweaving of different texts, I recommend it for the summer, when readers might have more time for a slow read of a complex but beautiful narrative. Also, it is contemporaneous, considering how much Ukraine and Russia’s involvement with it have been in the news lately. It discusses the naive view the West often takes with regard to Eastern Europe.

cww tenth of decemberTenth of December by George Saunders
(Recommended by Ian Singleton)

These are the latest stories by Saunders, in which he has taken his self-help/lolz/Orwellian Newspeak language to a further degree. His penchant for futuristic dystopic moments shines through, but he also uses this language to describe the lives of those inundated with it–namely, the lower to lower-middle classes of the United States, such as those in upstate New York. The story “Escape from Spiderhead” depicts a not-too-distant futuristic prison, where various drugs are tested on the inmates. It’s not hard to believe such a thing would happen in our country. The protagonist’s particular story, why he ended up in prison, in the “spiderhead”, is as well-executed as any writer of straightforward realism might have put it.  Because of his ear for contemporary American English, in all of its interesting and unfortunate mutations, I think Saunders is an important writer to read. The language he satirizes might be completely different in 10 years.

nabokovSpeak, Memory by Vladimir Nabokov
(Recommended by Kathleen Spivack)

Nabokov wrote this memoir first in English, then again, wrote the whole thing again in Russian. And then he wrote the final draft in English all over again. before submitting a word to the New Yorker, and to his publisher.   Each sentence is resonant and beautiful, and the story as a whole is amazing.  You feel his great mastery of vocabulary, his delight in the nuances, ans a great swathe of Russian history  and memory.  Makes one  understand why Nabokov is still considered one of our greatest writers.

cww love and darknessA Tale of Love and Darkness by Amos Oz
(Recommended by Kathleen Spivack)

This poignant memoir was first written in Hebrew, and translated into English by Nicholas de Lange.  A very readable translation, the book deals with Oz’s experience of Israel, the first kibbutzim, what it meant for his family to be settled  there during chaotic but formative times. It is the story of the writer, and of his family, and their experience of displacement and belonging. A very important book whose secret’s are revealed slowly and with great subtlety.

cww goldfinchThe Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
(Recommended by Christine Stoddard)

I recommend Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch, this year’s Pultizer winner in fiction, because it is a tale of rebirth that explores the human fascination with art. Theo’s rebirth raises questions about the mind-body connection that are sure to inspire yoga novices and experts alike. The story’s central motif of a painting seems so relevant for a group about to study in the shadow of Paris, one of the art centers of the world.

cww bell jarThe Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
(Recommended by Christine Stoddard)

I also recommend Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar. Perhaps use Esther as a case study. She faces plenty of challenges as a frustrated Mid-Century woman longing for independence. She even ends up in an insane asylum. How might her life have been different if she felt truly encouraged to write meaningful things? How might have yoga and meditation empowered her? Would you recommend any particular writing and yoga practices to her?

cww helpThe Help by Kathryn Stockett
(Recommended by Christine Stoddard)

Kathryn Stockett’s The Help reminds me of a more positive version than The Bell Jar in some ways. While the novel is also about a young female writer to-be, what I love about Skeeter is that she learns to think beyond herself, beyond her own story, and use that as an impetus to write, get published, and make a difference. She rallies up the black maids of Jackson, Mississippi to disclose what it’s really like to work for white families in the Jim Crow South. This is no easy feat, but with Aibileen, her childhood friend’s maid, Skeeter gets the attention of Harper Collins—and her whole town. This is a good book for writing students looking for hope (sans corniness.)

LifeofPoetryThe Life of Poetry by Muriel Rukeyser
(Recommended by Diana Norma Szokolyai)

I came across this book at the Paris Press booth at AWP this year, and it was wholeheartedly recommended by a representative of the press, as their very first book they printed.  Paris Press brings new life to out-of-print books by women.  Once I started reading it, I did not understand how such a landmark work could even go out of print–it is a classic.  Rukeyser brilliantly illustrates what poetry has to do with democracy, and how necessary it is in our lives.  She furthermore illustrates how we can use poetry to empower ourselves and ignite our beliefs.  An eloquent and essential work of literature that contemporary writers should read.

shadowsIn Praise of Shadows by Jun’ichirō Tanizaki
(Recommended by Diana Norma Szokolyai)

This essay on the Japanese sense of beauty, written by a Japanese novelist, is daring and riveting in its style.  The reader is taken on a journey to restaurants lit by candlelight and lanterns, darkened puppet theaters lit only by gas lamps, and other places where shadows play a part in the beauty of the scene.  Tanizaki compares the flood of modern, electric lights with the dance of dim lighting and shadows honored in old times.  Although at times, there are sweeping generalizations made about “Western” aesthetics, I can sympathize with the author’s disdain for an overall contemporary obsession with illuminating places with sterilizing lights.  Moreover, the author’s reflections on aesthetics are written with exquisite details that offer deep insight.

Page 3 - AlexandriaThe Alexandria Quartet by Lawrence Durrell
(Recommended by Diana Norma Szokolyai)

Recommended to me by the Estonian poet Elo-Mal Toomet some years ago, The Alexandria Quartet is a tetralogy of novels reflecting on a set of events before and during WWII, told from three different perspectives in the first three novels, with the fourth novel set six years later.  When she saw me reading it, my former British landlady informed me that it was, in fact, a beach read craze in the sixties.  However, Lawrence Durrell’s novels (published between 1957-1960) promise so much more depth than the contemporary “beach read.”  As intertwining love stories are told against the backdrop of the fabulous city of Alexandria, the reader is taken on a journey of breathtaking inner and outer landscapes. Each paragraph is so masterfully crafted that it could be a prose poem in itself.  The work, which has received critical and commercial success, is a thrilling exploration of relativity and reality, and is considered to be one of the first examples of quantum fiction.

FirstFictionFirst Fiction: An Anthology of the First Published Stories by Famous Writers
(Recommended by Megan Tilley)

This is a great summer read, mostly because you can pick it up and put it down again without worry. Its a compilation of the first short stories published by authors, as the title indicates, which makes for some very interesting reading. Some are a lot worse than expected, and some show clear marks of their later genius.

 

cww house leavesHouse of Leaves by Mark Danielewski
(Recommended by Megan Tilley)

This book is not light reading. An experimental fiction novel that toys with ideas of time, fear, plot, reality and God, it is one of the more interesting books to come out of the early 21st century. It’s hard to describe, but if you’re interested in unique experimental fiction that doesn’t flinch in taking inspiration from past, surrealist fiction and combining it with lush modernism throughout two concurrent plot lines, House of Leaves is for you.

cww madmenCity of Saints and Madmen by Jeff Vandermeer
(Recommended by Megan Tilley)

Another collection of short stories, these are all set in the same world of Ambergris. Realistic fiction with strong magical themes, one of City of Saints and Madmen’s many strengths is how original it is – I’ve never come across anything like it. Gritty, dark, and sometimes outrageously funny, City of Saints and Madmen is entertaining to say the least.

 

cww animal dreamsAnimal Dreams by Barbara Kingsolver
(Recommended by Roxy van Beek)

Animal Dreams follows Codi Noline as she returns to her hometown to take care of her father. Codi deals with feelings of alienation, as well as some trauma from her past, all while blending Hispanic and Native American themes.  Major themes include family, Arizona, culture, birth, and loss.

 

cww belovedBeloved by Toni Morrison
(Recommended by Roxy van Beek)

Beloved follows a former slave named Sethe who suspects her home is haunted by the child she chose to kill rather than let be recaptured by slavers.  Major themes include slavery and ghosts.

 

 

 

cww his dark materialsHis Dark Materials Trilogy
by Philip Pullman (The Golden Compass; the Subtle Knife; the Amber Spyglass.)
(Recommended by Roxy van Beek)

His Dark Materials is set in a parallel world where human souls are materialized as animal forms, and follows Lyra Belacqua as she travels across parallel worlds uncovering secrets of how the multiverse works.  Major themes include religion, philosophy, and parallel universes. (DO NOT watch the film instead).

 

cww snakesSnakes & Earrings by Hitomi Kanehara
(Recommended by Roxy van Beek)

Snakes and Earrings follows a girl named Lui as she descends further into the underground youth culture of Japan, starting by splitting her tongue.  Major themes include Japan, youth culture, and violence.

 

 

cww asleepAsleep by Banana Yoshimoto
(Recommended by Roxy van Beek)

Asleep is a collection of three stories by Yoshimoto. Each story centers on a woman narrator and has similar themes about sleep, love triangles, dreams, and death.  Major themes include emptiness and femininity.

 

 

 

cww god small thingsThe God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
(Recommended by Roxy van Beek)

The God of Small Things is set over a period of time in India, following a pair of fraternal twins as their lives are shaken by the changing times in India, as well as through class and social discrimination.  Major themes include India and family.

 

 

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CWW Summer 2014 Film Picks:

the-workhorse-and-the-bigmouthThe Workhorse and the Bigmouth
(2013, dir. Yoshida Keisuke, Japan)

(Recommended by Rita Banerjee)

The Workhouse and the Bigmouth, or Bashyauma-san to Biggumausu in Japanese, is a wonderful contemporary comedy-drama about two young screenwriters trying to making it big on the mean streets of the publishing and media worlds of Japan.  The story centers on the aspirations of 34-year-old Michiyo Mabuchi and 26-year-old Yoshimi Tendo as they compete with one another and try to break into the screenwriting world of Japanese film and television.  Michiyo, who has been taking creative writing workshops and screenwriting classes for the past ten years but has yet to be published or to be successful, is our frustrated, anti-hero workhorse.  Yoshimi is the self-proclaimed screenwriting genius and Wunderkind, who finds himself facing a blank screen when he finally sits down to write his first screenplay.  Together, they exchange diatribes, work philosophies, and ideas about what makes a good story work and what can make a writer fail.  Overall, Yoshida Keisuke’s film gives us a wonderful insight into the contemporary creative writing world of the Japanese, the fierce competitiveness of the Japanese publishing and media industries, and how much courage and sheer determination it takes to become a noteworthy and successful writer.  (Recommended for writers and dreamers everywhere).

AranyerDinRatriDays and Nights in the Forest
(1970, dir. Satyajit Ray, India)
(Recommended by Rita Banerjee)

Aranyer Dinrātri, or Days and Nights in the Forest, is a comedic and lovely story on what can happen on lost weekends by Satyajit Ray.  The film is based on a story by the Bengali modernist poet and historical novelist, Sunil Gangopadhyay, and focuses on the adventures and mishaps of four young male friends who decide to leave their stiff, box-wallah office jobs in Kolkata behind to spend a week-long vacation in the forests of Bihar.  The four men, who come from middle-class backgrounds, transpose their classist views onto the Santhal communities they meet in the forest.  They also meet two lovely young women who are vacationing in their summer cottage nearby, and missed connections, summer picnics, and one very memorable memory game ensue.  Ray, who is known for his socially realist films and participation in the Parallel Cinema movement of South Asia, is a masterful storyteller and lyrical cinematographer in this film.  Days and Nights in the Forest is a must-see of anyone who has wandered out in the wilderness in the middle of the night, contemplating a mid-summer night’s dream.

BroenThe Bridge (2011-, dir. Bjorn Stein and Charlotte Sieling, Denmark/Sweden)
(Recommended by Rita Banerjee)

The Bridge was recommended to me by my partner, and is a thrilling mini-series that’s perfect for summer nights.  The story begins at midnight when the lights on the bridge between Sweden and Denmark suddenly go out, stopping all traffic.  The black out is unexpected but ordinary, until the police notice a woman lying on the road, directly in the center of the bridge.  On closer inspection, it appears to be a dead body, and there’s surveillance footage indicating that a black car dropped her off on the bridge precisely at the time when the lights went out and traffic had to be halted.  It looks like an ordinary murder, and the commuters, stuck on the bridge, become more agitated as they wait to be let across to the other side.  A woman is in an ambulance trying to rush her husband from Denmark to Sweden but is stuck behind the traffic barrier lines, and as she yells towards the detectives to hurry up, the wind begins to pick up.  That’s when the detectives from Denmark and Sweden note that the dead woman’s body has been sawed in half directly across the invisible cartographic line that separates Sweden from Denmark.

the_master_and_margarita_by_confusedlarch-d5y4f47

The Master and Margarita (2005, dir. Vladimir Bortko, Russia)
(Recommended by Rita Banerjee)

If you haven’t read Mikhail Bulgakov’s novel, The Master and Margarita, go out to your local library, bookstore, ebook dealer, etc., and grab a copy now!  The novel focuses on three intersecting storylines.  The first narrative involves the atheist, political dissenter, and editor Mikhail Alexandrovich and his young friend, Ivan Nikolayevich, a poet who goes under the pen-name Homeless.  The second narrative is set in the ancient Roman Empire and follows the conflict between Pontius Pilate and Jesus Christ, a young, charismatic political and religious dissenter.  The third follows the story of a writer, simply called the Master, and his muse and married lover, Margarita.  Thrown into this mix is the strange, foreign “Professor W,” his oddly attired traveling companion, and a vodka-drinking black cat that seems to be able to do magic tricks and perform menacing acts.  Set during 1920s and 1930s during Russia’s Soviet reign, this novel and mini-series blend political satire, commentary on ethics and spirituality, the writers’ role in society, and elements of the uncanny and the fantastic into a witty, comedic tale.  The mini-series stars a wonderful cast of talented actors, and is a must-see for anyone who’s a fan of modern Russian literature and theatre.

Her2013PosterHer (2013, dir. Spike Jonze, USA)
(Recommended by Rita Banerjee)

Finally, one last must-see film for the summer.  Her, directed and written by Spike Jonze, is a visually stunning and emotionally lyrically film about what happens to human beings when they literally fall in love with technology.  The lush warm hues of the film, gorgeously crafted sets, and lit panels, which mimic the shades of camera filters, draw the viewer into the protagonist’s emotionally vulnerable world.  Set in a beautifully designed, architectural near-future, Her centers on the story of Theodore Twombly, who has separated from his wife and is facing an imminent divorce, and who works full-time writing personal letters for clients who cannot write anything personal themselves.  Lonely and disenchanted, one day Theo stumbles upon an exhibit advertising an even more personal operating system–something that’s more than a computer or secretary, but promises to be an avid companion and close friend.  Intrigued, Theo buys this new OS, which after asking him a series of too-close-to-home questions, installs itself into Theo’s life as the with the voice of Scarlet Johansson as the OS named “Samantha.”  Soon Theo and “Samantha” start developing a closer bond, and Theo finds himself falling in love, not with a machine, or a piece of code meant to replicate a human being, but with a persona and human being that cannot really exist.

cww beforeBefore Trilogy (dir. Richard Linklater, Before Sunrise, 1995; Before Sunset, 2004; Before Midnight, 2013, USA)
(Recommended by Alex Carrigan)

A series of movies with a new film released every nine years, Richard Linklater’s Before Trilogy follows American Jesse and French Céline at different stages in their relationship. It starts when they meet in their twenties on a train and spend a day in Vienna (Before Sunrise), cuts to their thirties when they finally reunite in Paris (Before Sunset), and continues on to their forties when they’re on a family vacation in the Greek Peleponnese (Before Midnight).  Each movie is better than the previous, and each film takes a different approach to showing the relationship. No film takes place over any longer period of time than a single day, but in the time shown, we get a clear idea of the characters, while also listening to some really great dialogue. The leads are fantastic, especially Julie Delpy as the effervescent Céline. I recommend watching these movies fairly close together just to see how the characters, the actors, and the director grow with the story.

cww naked kissThe Naked Kiss (dir. Samuel Fuller, 1964, USA)
(Recommended by Alex Carrigan)

This movie follows Kelly, a prostitute who gives up the trade to settle into a normal life in a quiet town. While she tries to adjusts to her new life as a nurse and romances the wealthiest man in town, she finds there are things in life she can’t escape. She begins to realize the corruption and evil that lays dormant in the small town she’s made her home, and she’s made it clear she won’t tolerate it. What follows is a tale of vengeance, feminism, sexuality, and death.  This movie was really daring for the time, and it’s a prime example of neo-noir. Constance Tower’s Kelly is a total badass, and she’s honestly one of my favorite female protagonists ever. It’s a film that attacked some really serious subjects at the time, but did so in a very smart and reasonable way, creating a very atmospheric drama with an incredible leading performance.

cww talk to herTalk to Her (dir. Pedro Almodóvar, 2002, Spain)
(Recommended by Alex Carrigan)

This is a movie about two men whose lovers fall into comas. Benigno is a hospital orderly who falls in love with a dancer and imagines a relationship with her as he cares for her in the hospital, talking to her comatose body and acting as though she is fully conscious. Marco is a sensitive journalist and writer of travel guides whose bullfighter girlfriend is gored by a bull in an accident. The two men meet in the hospital and bond over their similar circumstances. These involve long talks about love, family, dreams, and regrets.  The movie starts off as a good meditative drama, with a fairly benign friendship displayed, but suddenly twists for the unexpected. Once the twist happens, the film changes drastically, and the characters and story are never the same. The film is Almodóvar’s masterpiece, and it’s one of the best films to come from Spain.

cww only loversOnly Lovers Left Alive
(dir. Jim Jarmusch, 2013, USA)
(Recommended by Gregory Crosby)

Jim Jarmusch’s latest is a touching, sardonic, poetic portrait of addiction and marriage that’s only incidentally a vampire movie, brimming over with dry visual wit instead of buckets of fake blood. The cast is top notch, especially Tilda Swinton, who is so… so… well, Tilda Swinton.

 

 

cww duneJodorowsky’s Dune
(dir. Frank Pavich, 2013, USA)
(Recommended by Gregory Crosby)

A documentary about the ill-fated attempt by cult filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky at adapting Frank Herbert’s Dune—it’s the sort of film that reminds you why you ever wanted to make art in the first place. Visionary, fascinating, hilarious.

 

 

cww gadjo diloGadjo Dilo (The Crazy Stranger)
(dir. Tony Gatlif, 1997, France)

(Recommended by Jessica Reidy)

This film set in Romania, is an honest look at the trials and joys of rural Romanian Romani (“Gypsy”) life through the eyes of a French gadjo (non-Romani person, or stranger) who is looking for his deceased father’s favorite singer. He meets Sabine, a resilient outcast in her community, and becomes involved in her tragedies and her dreams. The Roma are an ethnic group originating in India in the 11th century who then became nomadic because of persecution. Roma are better known as “Gypsies,” although that word is both incorrect and offensive to many (though some Roma choose to reclaim the word). The film draws complex Romani characters with beautifully human yearning and motivations where, in film, usually Romani characters are one-dimensional stereotypes. (In French, Romanian, and the Romani language Rromanes, but mostly French).

cww steal a millionHow to Steal a Million
(dir. William Wyler, 1966, USA)

(Recommended by Jessica Reidy)

Audrey Hepburn and Peter O’Toole are beautiful and funny together in an art heist/romantic comedy set in Paris. That’s enough reason to watch it.

 

 

cww budapestThe Grand Budapest Hotel
(dir. Wes Anderson, 2014, USA)
(Recommended by Ian Singleton)

This is a great film, a bit darker than Wes Anderson’s last, and an inviting homage to the work of the Austrian-Jewish writer Stefan Zweig. His genteel humanity was a perfect antidote to the brutality of the Nazi regime, and one can’t help but think of the world’s contemporary wars and violence seeing that depicted in the film. But it’s not sentimental–like Zweig’s life, it ends up as a tragedy.  This is a good film for the reasons mentioned above, but also because Anderson is stepping out of his Joseph Cornell-ian cuddly kunstkamera and taking on some very serious subject matter. At the same time, he’s still having fun, especially if you watch the credits until the little Russian dancer comes out.  The works of Stefan Zweig are also highly recommended.

cww amelieAmélie (dir. Jean-Pierre Jeunet, 2001, France)
(Recommended by Christine Stoddard)

Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Amélie is a must, if not a cliché, for its magical Parisian love story and gorgeous production design.

 

 

 

 

cww 400 blowsThe 400 Blows
(dir. Francois Truffaut, 1959, France)

(Recommended by Christine Stoddard)

François Truffaut’s 400 Blows (Les quatre cents coups) is a classic coming of age film set right in Paris.

 

 

 

cww hedgehogThe Hedgehog (dir. Mona Achache, 2009, France)
(Recommended by Christine Stoddard)

As for the unexpected, I suggest The Hedgehog (Le hérisson) by Mona Achache for a more recent release by a female director. It is an enchanting story of an 11-year-old who decides to commit suicide until she discovers the world of literature through a surprising new friend. It, too, is set in Paris.

 

 

KorkoroKorkoro (dir. Tony Gatlif, 2009, France)
(Recommended by Diana Norma Szokolyai)

During WWII in France, a young boy, Claude, follows a Romani (Gypsy) family after he is orphaned.  With a deftness unlike any other director, Gatlif captures the tragic situation of Romani people during this difficult time, as well as their resilience of spirit and ability to make what is heavy a little more lighthearted.  As itinerant people are pursued by the Nazis, French people of the Resistance attempt to help the Romani family, but ultimately, their freedom is at stake.  In addition to great storytelling and acting, the movie includes a wonderful soundtrack typical of Gatlif’s films.

The-Dance-of-Reality-Poster-1000WThe Dance of Reality
(dir. Alejandro Jodorowsky, 2013, Chile)

(Recommended by Diana Norma Szokolyai)

I saw this film at Landmark Sunshine Cinema in the village recently and found it in a word: STUNNING.  Visually captivating, the narrative focuses on the autobiographical childhood years of legendary, cult film director Alejandro Jodorowsky   Using elements of magical realism and masterful storytelling, Jodorowsky recounts the story of his family in the harsh, anti-Semitic political climate of Chile in the 1930s.  Alejandro’s father in the film is played by his son in real life.  His mother is played by soprano Pamela Flores, who sings all of her lines in true operatic fashion, creating both comedic and deeply moving effects as she interacts with the other characters, who speak to her normally throughout the film.  At times self-mocking and hilarious, and at other times deeply mystical and insightful, this film is now on my list of “most magical films of all time.”

moodindigo_poster_lowres__largeMood Indigo
(dir. Michel Gondry, 2013, France)
(Recommended by Diana Norma Szokolyai)

This one is on my wishlist, as it hits American theaters on July 18th, so I have not seen it as of yet.  The synopsis on IMDB is ” Wealthy, inventive bachelor endeavors to find a cure for his lover Chloe after she’s diagnosed with an unusual illness caused by a flower growing in her lungs.”  The trailer makes the film look very promising, and I am a fan of Gondry’s previous films Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and The Science of Sleep.  Also, actors Romain Duris and Audrey Tautou seem to have a convincing on-screen chemistry.  The film is based on the 1947 novel Froth on the Daydream by Boris Vian.

cww the fallThe Fall (dir. Tarsem Singh, 2006, USA)
(Recommended by Megan Tilley)

Taking place in a hospital in the early 20th century, an injured stuntman tells a little girl a fantastic story which is shown with stunning cinematography. As the movie progresses and the man’s mental state becomes more unstable, the worlds of the story and the hospital start intertwining.  It’s a visually unparalleled movie with excellent story telling and a phenomenal cast.

 

cww shadow vampireShadow of the Vampire
(dir. E. Elias Merhige, 2000, UK)
 

(Recommended by Megan Tilley)

A fictionalized rendition of the filming of the classic vampire film Nosferatu, this film is a breath of fresh air in the stuffy world of cliche vampire films. Filmed in both black and white and color, it follows the film crew of Noseferatu as they make the iconic movie. Strange things keep happening on set, and it seems that maybe the movie’s star is hiding a dark secret…