Visiting Writer Rita Banerjee reads at the New Hampshire Institute of Art this Week!

The Cambridge Writers’ Workshop’s Executive Creative Director Rita Banerjee will be a Visiting Writer at the New Hampshire Institute of Art this Spring.  She will be lecturing and giving workshops on topics such as “Rasa: Emotion and Suspense in Theatre, Poetry, and (Non)Fiction,” “Poetry and What’s at Stake,” and “Revising, Pitching, and Publishing” at NHIA on Tuesday, March 27.  In addition, she will be holding a discussion with Ayris editors and staff on Tuesday, March 27.  Rita Banerjee will also be reading from her debut poetry collection Echo in Four Beats at the French Hall Rotunda at NHIA from 5:30-7:30 pm on Tuesday, March 27, 2018.  The poetry reading and Q&A for Echo in Four Beats is free and open to the public.

Earlier this week, Rita Banerjee’s poetry debut Echo in Four Beats was featured on New Hampshire Weekly’s The Hippo.  In the article, entitled “Echo Speaks,” journalist Angie Sykeny interviews Rita Banerjee about her new collection of poems, and discusses gender roles, feminism, and speech acts with the author.  Here’s a short excerpt from the interview below:

The New Hampshire Institute of Art in Manchester welcomes a special guest writer, Rita Banerjee, on Tuesday, March 27, for a reading, signing and discussion of her debut collection of poetry, Echo in Four Beats, released earlier this month.

What is the idea behind Echo in Four Beats? 
It dreams of a common language. What happens when people from different backgrounds and places of power, with different ideas of masculinity and femininity, come together … and figure out how to connect, despite language barriers, and despite defined roles? How do they find ways to support that female agency and the female gaze? 

What would you like readers to take away from Echo in Four Beats?
I would like readers to kind of interrogate their own power and find where and how they can express their own voice. It doesn’t have to be in proper English to express ourselves and our complicated identities in an honored form. I hope people will read [the poems] and be able to relate, but I hope it also invites response, and that they will try to express themselves in that form. 

And you can read “Echo Speaks” on The Hippo here.

ritabanerjeeRita Banerjee is the Executive Creative Director of the Cambridge Writers’ Workshop and editor of CREDO: An Anthology of Manifestos and Sourcebook for Creative Writing  (C&R Press, May 2018).  She is the author of the poetry collection Echo in Four Beats (Finishing Line Press, February 2018), which was a finalist for the Red Hen Press Benjamin Saltman Award, Three Mile Harbor Poetry Prize, and Aquarius Press / Willow Books Literature Award, the novella “A Night with Kali” in Approaching Footsteps (Spider Road Press, 2016), and the poetry chapbook Cracklers at Night (Finishing Line Press, 2010). She received her doctorate in Comparative Literature from Harvard and her MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Washington, and her writing appears in the Academy of American PoetsPoets & Writers, Nat. Brut.The ScofieldThe Rumpus, Painted Bride Quarterly, Mass Poetry, Hyphen Magazine, Los Angeles Review of BooksElectric Literature, VIDA: Women in Literary Arts, AWP WC&C Quarterly, Queen Mob’s Tea House, Riot Grrrl Magazine, The Fiction Project, Objet d’Art, KBOO Radio’s APA Compass, and elsewhere.  She is an Associate Scholar of Comparative Literature at Harvard and teaches at Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich in Germany.  She is the judge for the 2017 Minerva Rising “Dare to Speak” Poetry Chapbook Contest, and she is currently working on a novel, a documentary film about race and intimacy, a book on South Asian literary modernisms, and a collection of lyric essays on race, sex, politics, and everything cool.

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

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

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

The text can be translated as:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the rest of the interview on Electric Literature.

CWW Interview with Peter Orner, Novelist, Guggenheim Fellow, & Granada Instructor

peter-ornerThis year, the Cambridge Writers’ Workshop’s Summer Writing Retreat in Granada, Spain, will take place from August 3-10, 2015. At the event, we’ll be hosting a wide variety of craft of writing seminars, creative writing workshops, and special readings from our Granada 2015 faculty, which includes Peter Orner, Rita Banerjee, Diana Norma Szokolyai, Jessica Reidy, and Elissa Lewis. One of our featured faculty members is Peter Ornera novelist and short story writer and winner of a Guggenheim Fellowship. The Cambridge Writers’ Workshop’s Katy Miller sat down to speak with Peter for an interview. Read below to see the interview, and be sure to register for our Granada retreat by April 20!

KM: You’ve taught many writing courses from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop to Charles University in Prague to your current position at San Francisco State. Does teaching affect your own viewpoint of the writing process?

PO: It’s such an honor that people trust me with their stories, and this is something I’ve never taken for granted. While I’m pretty sure writing can’t be taught, being a part of a group of artists who care about literature is in itself a great and often inspiring gift. This is lonely work—I spend so much time alone, either at my desk or wandering around the city.

Teaching has always been a kind of tether to the lives of other people, and like I say I’m very grateful for it. It doesn’t make my own work go any easier but it does help to know that other people – students, colleagues, share the same challenges. We’re all trying to say what maybe can’t be said as best we can…

KM: “Compression” is a word that’s often used when discussing your stories. Do these stories usually start off as clean and short as they end up, or is there a lot of cutting down and revision that goes into them? 

PO: Really depends on the story, sometimes they do start off much longer and then I chip away and chip away. Other times, they come out in sort of one breath, if this makes any sense. I do think if a story or a novel for that matter can be any shorter, I will try and make it so. I don’t like to waste words.

EstherStoriesKM: How would you compare your approach to writing the short story versus writing a novel or writing nonfiction?

PO: With a novel I settle in with my characters for the long haul—and I hope a reader will too. With a story I’m trying, in a sense, to grab onto a moment and hold steady for a bit. I want the moment to last longer, and for it to exist far beyond the page. Non-fiction is a whole different deal, and exciting in its own way. I spend so much time making stuff off, lying basically as a profession. There is something almost liberating about trying to hone as best I can to the truth.

KM: In Esther Stories and Last Car over the Sagamore Bridge, grief and pain in family relationships are recurring themes. What draws you to writing this subject matter?

PO: I think these are the stories that make us us. Our families, our griefs, our pain. Mixed in there, of course, is a great deal of joy and comedy. Got to have comedy. Funerals are always funnier to me than weddings. Am I alone here? And its strange, the comedy, the laughter, only makes the pain, the grief, the loss, more acute and vice versa.

KM: Geography is very present in your stories, from Fall River, Massachusetts to Nova Scotia. Do you begin a story from a sense or place? How do you typically choose a setting?

PO: Yes, I do start very often from place, a real place, and then I do my best to make a myth around that place. So it might be Fall River, or Namibia, or Chicago. I try to know as much as possible about the real place. Only then do I feel free to try to make my own fictional version of these real places.

LastCarCoverKM: What made you decide to weave characters from your older works, like the Kaplans, into your newer works like Sagamore?

PO: Sometimes characters just keep talking to me. It’s weird, I think I’m done with a character, like when a character dies for instance. And then the next morning I wake up and that dead character is talking to me again as if I didn’t kill him off. In fiction, you can bring people back to life, which is nice.

KM: Your stories often capture deep emotion but don’t rely on melodrama. Do you have any tips for writing tragedy without drama?

PO: Don’t push anything, don’t try and sell it. Emotion doesn’t need to be sold. I find readers will go with you if you don’t tell them what to feel.

KM: What projects are you currently working on?

PO: Pretty busy with new work, a new fiction, longer stuff and shorter, and new non-fiction, this one set in Haiti.

KM: What kind of workshops do you plan to offer when you join us on our Granada, Spain retreat?

PO: I’m so looking forward to Granada. What an unusual place to write and read. I’m going to do a story writing workshop where participants will leave with a number of stories in progress, as well as a craft/ literature class that will focus on Spanish literature in English translation.

KM: What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

PO: You’ve got time. I’ve never met a writer who says I have enough time to write, but the fact is that you do. We all do. In spite of our lives, our jobs, our families, our responsibilities. Even just a few quiet minutes a day can take you deep into a story. Dawn is always a good time to do some work.

Peter OrnerPeter Orner is the Chicago-born author of two novels, Love and Shame and Love (Little, Brown 2011) and The Second Coming of Mavala Shikongo (Little, Brown, 2006) and two story collections, Esther Stories (Houghton Mifflin 2001/ Little, Brown 2013 with a forward by Marilynne Robinson) and Last Car Over the Sagamore Bridge (Little, Brown, 2013). Orner’s fiction and non-fiction has appeared in the New York Times, the Atlantic Monthly, Granta, The Paris Review, McSweeney’s, Tin House, and has been anthologized in Best American Stories and twice won a Pushcart Prize. Orner was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship (2006), as well as the two-year Lannan Foundation Literary Fellowship (2007-2008). He is also the editor of two books of non-fiction from McSweeney’s/ Voice of Witness, one about immigration in the U.S., and the other about Zimbabwe, and is currently working on a new volume set in Haiti. A film version of one of Orner’s stories, “The Raft” with a screenplay by Orner and the film’s director, Rob Jones, is currently in production and stars Ed Asner. He has also been awarded the Rome Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Goldberg Prize for Jewish Fiction, the California Book Award, and the Bard Fiction Prize. Orner has taught at the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop, the University of Montana, Bard College, and is currently a professor in the MFA program at San Francisco State University as well as a member of the fiction faculty at Warren Wilson College. He lives in Bolinas, California where he’ also a member of the volunteer fire department. 

CWW Interview in Quail Bell Magazine about Yoga, Writing, Juice Cleansing, & our Pre-Thanksgiving Retreat

We are delijuiceghted that “Writing Through Holiday Stress: Cambridge Writers’ Workshop on Pre-Thanksgiving Retreat” is in Quail Bell Magazine. You’ll find our tips and tricks for cultivating our writing and self-care rituals; our perspectives on the supportive relationships between yoga, Ayurveda, juice cleansing, and creative regimen; our SPECIAL REDUCED RATE for registration (only lasts till Thursday!); more information about what the retreat entails; and even a juice recipe to get you started at home. We hope you can join us in New York this weekend, but if you can’t this is the next best thing.  Read the interview here and sign up for our retreat here!

CWW Creative Director, Rita Banerjee, interviewed in Speaking of Marvels for her novella A Night with Kali

KaliCoverWilliam Kelley Woolfitt, who runs Speaking of Marvels, a forum for interviews about chapbooks, novellas, and other short form literature, recently sat down to interview Rita Banerjee, the Cambridge Writers’ Workshop Executive Creative Director, about her novella, A Night with Kali (Brooklyn Art House Co-op, 2011).  In the interview, Woolfit asked Rita a series of questions from which were her favorite chapbooks and novellas, to questions on her current writing projects, and her advice to writers working on new projects and book manuscripts.  You can read the full interview here.  Here is a selection of questions from the interview:

What’s your novella about?

A Night with Kali is at its core a coming-of-age ghost story. The novella is about a taxi-driver, Tamal-da, who explains why he left his fishing village near Krishnapur, West Bengal, to work on the dirty and crooked streets of Kolkata. Against an oddly purple mid-day sky, the narration opens on the rain-clogged streets of Kolkata, where Tamal’s car gets stuck in a flood. To pass the time and wait for help, he begins to tell his passenger of how he came to this city and his past, which is filled inexplicably with undead things.

What are some of your favorite novellas? How did they influence your writing or your desire to make a novella of your own?

Novellas seem to capture a magical middle ground between the poignancy and sharp edginess of the short story and the more decadent, sprawling ruminations available to novelists.  Some of my favorite novellas include Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Notes from Underground, Leo Tolstoy’s Family Happiness, Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther, Joseph Conrad’s The Heart of Darkness, and Thomas Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49.  In Dostoevsky’s novella, the singular psychosis and at times, irredeemable actions of the narrator, an extremely likeable anti-hero, propel the narration forward.  In Tolstoy and Goethe’s novellas, both authors emphasize and exploit the desires and emotional uncertainties of their central characters to hook in the reader. And Conrad and Pynchon excel at exploring how objects, symbols, and terrain can reflect and provide commentary on the psychology and motives of characters.

What advice would you offer to an aspiring novella author?

First, read as much as you can, and don’t be ashamed to read those texts others may not consider “literature.”  Look back at the stories, essays, films, poems, speeches, etc., that inspired you the most.  Figure out what made them so effective.  Did it have something to do with the structure of the story?  The emotional authenticity and dynamism of certain characters?  The comedy and turn of events?  The ability of language to capture a lyrical moment persuasively and succinctly?  Figure out why you are drawn to certain narrative and lyrical works, analyze these texts for elements of their style, structure, and content, and from what you’ve learned, see if you can do it. Go ahead and experiment, grab some coffee or brandy if you need it, and write, write, write until you get it right.

excerpt from A Night with Kali

“By the time I reached the old Kali Mandir in the woods, I had lost sight of the shadowy white figure completely.  Walking by the main gate to the temple, I stopped in front of the arched entrance way.  The priest had not gotten up yet and had not opened the doors this early in the morning.  But through the grilled gates, I could see into the main temple hall, which rose majestically in the middle of the forest canopy.  Looking in, I saw the figure of Kali standing there, in the middle of the hall, with her wide and sinister grin. Her tongue was hanging out and in her hands, she carried a variety of weapons including a machete in one and a knot of severed heads in another.  Across her lithe, blue naked body a garland of skulls draped lightly over her breasts.  A short chain-mail skirt with links in the shape of human hands hiked up one of her hips as she stood with her legs parted wide on the body of her husband, Shiva.  Her tongue, thus, rolled down of its own accord.  Bracketed against the moonlight, she made a ferocious figure.  But there was something protective and eternal about her, too.  There was an air of mischief in her smile and the way her body posed provocatively for the spectator…

Watching the stationary figure watch me, I gave her a quick morning prayer… In the moonlight, the statue’s eyes glittered back at me.”

Full interview available at Speaking of Marvels: Rita Banerjee’s A Night with Kali

RBRita Banerjee received her PhD in Comparative Literature from Harvard.  Her writing has been published in Poets for Living Waters, The New Renaissance, The Fiction Project, Catamaran, The Crab Creek Review, and Amethyst Arsenic. Her first collection of poems, Cracklers at Night, received First Honorable Mention for Best Poetry Book of 2011-2012 at the Los Angeles Book Festival and her novella, A Night with Kali, was digitized by the Brooklyn Art-house Co-op.  She is Executive Creative Director of the Cambridge Writers’ Workshop, and her writing has been featured on VIDA: Women in Literary Arts and on KBOO Radio’s APA Compass.  You can follow her work at or on Twitter @Rita_Banerjee


Cambridge Writers’ Workshop Interviewed about France Yoga & Writing Retreat in Quail Bell Magazine

9520443_orig Jessica Reidy, Puschart Nominee, proud VIDA Member, novelist, and yoga practitioner, interviews Rita Banerjee, Diana Norma Szokolyai, and Elissa Joi Lewis for her new piece on the Cambridge Writers’ Workshop Summer Yoga & Writing Retreat at the Château de Verderonne in Picardy, France in Quail Bell Magazine.  In the article, Jessica Reidy discusses how daily yoga, craft of writing seminars, and workshops go hand in hand to spark creativity, encourage relaxation, and produce good writing habits.  She writes:

That’s when I heard about the Cambridge Writers’ Workshop (CWW), founded by writers Diana Norma Szokolyai and Rita Banerjee, and their Summer Yoga & Writing Retreat at the Château de Verderonne, France. I thought, A retreat—what a magnificent idea. Someone would say, “Jess, do yoga now. Here’s a pillow.” And “Jess, write now. I’ll take care of lunch.” I’d pay for that. A few months later, there I was.Retreats are immersions: they deepen and intensify your practice and afford the time, space, and experience to figure out how to transmute those teaching as rituals in your daily life. And Château de Verderonne feels like a sumptuous two week ritual. Yoga in the gardens or, weather not permitting, in our private salon, is led twice a day, before breakfast and dinner, by the wonderfully gifted Elissa Joi Lewis, who also teaches art classes.

And it was in the Château de Verderonne workshop that I got good advice on how to rein that puppy in. Outside of yoga class, there are allotted times for free-writing, workshops, and craft talks, all of which made me realize how much I needed a non-judgmental writing community. An MFA is a lot of great things, but most MFA workshops don’t necessarily give you room to make (many) mistakes. That’s what your community of writers is for—they are the friends you can trust (inside and outside an MFA) to look at your messy, fragile baby bird novel, as ugly and wet as it is, and not to smash it into the ground. Instead, they’ll give you advice to help it grow up into some more presentable stage of bird. And whether I was in yoga class or workshop at the retreat, I had room to experiment and could trust gentle yet wise guidance. Yoga asks the practitioner to sacrifice her ego, just as the writer must surrender her ego in order to allow herself the space to draft and try out those imperfect ideas. (Or lay those imperfect eggs? I don’t want to stretch this metaphor too much.)

With the combination of drifting around the Château with blissfully few responsibilities and the structure of the retreat, I was impressively productive even though I went on all the optional excursions to Paris, Chantilly, Picardy, and Versailles. I outlined the entire novel, wrote new scenes, and revised old ones, and came away with a real plan. I even shared some of the work I had written at Spoken Word Paris, an indie literary performance gathering, mostly comprised of expat writers.  – Jessica Reidy (Full Interview at Quail Bell Magazine)

Please Note:  Although Cambridge Writers’ Workshop Summer Yoga & Writing Retreat at the Château de Verderonne, France has passed its initial deadline, admissions are rolling until filled, and there are still a few spaces.  Apply A.S.A.P.  Rolling admissions will be accepted until June 15, 2014.


CWW Directors Featured in VIDA: Women in Literary Arts

tumblr_mjq8ojgEOr1ris3y8o1_250On March 4, 2013, VIDA: Women in Literary Arts published the 2012 VIDA COUNT which cataloged the number of women writers being published in the nation’s top literary, journalistic, and academic periodicals.  You can read more about their findings and assessments by Amy King here:

Also in VIDA news this week, writers Rita Banerjee and Diana Norma Szokolyai are featured guests on HER KIND, a blog powered by VIDA: Women in Literary Arts.  Check out their interview, “Community as Cathartic: A Conversation with Rita Banerjee and Diana Norma Szokolyai,” which was moderated by Rosebud Ben-Oni.