CWW’s Diana Norma Szokolyai Reviews Tara Skurtu’s Poetry Chapbook in LUNA LUNA

Skurtu,+RomaniaOn a journey that begins in South Florida and ends up in Romania, the country of her family’s forgotten history, Tara Skurtu plays “the amoeba game,” a game that has no rules. With subtle and serious humor, with the vivid spontaneity of memory and dreams, and with surgical precision, these compelling, mysterious poems hold up a lens that reveals the slippery and changing dimensions of our many selves.

If you’ve ever longed to name the nameless space between lovers, or searched for home under foreign skies, Tara Skurtu’s chapbook Skurtu, Romania, will leave you haunted with traces of those journeys. This poetry collection reads like a verse novella told from the first person point of view. It is a search for the self in a foreign land, a quest for the shape of love and how to interpret it. The collection opens with the speaker’s attempts at situating the body in a place and in relation to the intimate, yet silent interlocutor ‘you.’ At the beginning, in the poem, “Limit,” the poet sets us up for the kind of archaeological dig we are about to embark upon, removing layers from languages and relationships, “My body, a strange passenger/surrounded by walls/of books in a language/I don’t understand. I’m trying/for sleep in another country./I’m taking pictures of/pictures of you.”

The imagery in the poems beautifully oscillates between a bird’s eye view and a macro lens perspective, from “everywhere” to the graphite at the point of a pencil, from a speck to a forest, from a dream to “a lattice of wormholes.” The particular moments captured between the lovers reveal a space that is at once intimate and isolating. There are as many moments shared as there are forgotten, and there is something lost in the translation of memory. In “Spoiled,” the reader is reminded of the disappointment that expectations can lead to, as the lover brings the speaker “a perfect apple,” but although it looks perfect in the palm, “I bite the apple and wish/I hadn’t—the flesh mealy, a mouthful of sweet mashed potatoes I spit/into the garbage.” The disconnect between desire and experience, between dream and reality, is playfully examined in exquisite detail.

What is revealed so delicately in these poems are the unexpected small sacrifices a lover makes to connect with a beloved, and in a strange land, that means being “stuck in your village, walking/a chicken on a leash” or eating “the one thing I told myself/I’d never eat—I swallowed/the bite whole.” The difficulty of being stuck during the search for a place in a new country, new language, and new relationship is paralleled with what the speaker observes, like “a fly [that] zips/into the flytrap. Its body puttied/to the glue strip, legs waving/like six wet strokes of black ink.”

What is most profound can be boiled down to the movement of a knee, as Tara Skurtu masterfully choreographs words to create a visceral dance between the flight and fog that characterizes searching, making the quest for a common language palpable. “I press the nib, I push out words—place words, blank words.” As the collection progresses, we see the speaker taking solace not in abstract language, but instead in the concrete, sensorial experience of the world. “I couldn’t unstick the poem/on my walk in the rain, but when/I reached the market in Berceni,/the curbside cabbages calmed me.”

By the end, the speaker is beginning to dream in the language of her lover, learning to see in a new language. Closure is not complete, it is a story about to be told over a nightcap, and we end on the brim of the glass, smelling the cognac. The poet has set the chapbook up to be read with a kind of cyclical fluidity, and it beckons to be read again. “Let me be a line, a word/ in the middle of a line.” I urge you to read Tara Skurtu, a compelling and important contemporary poet.

The poetry chapbook Skurtu, Romania was published by Eyewear Publishing last winter, and Tara Skurtu’s first full length poetry book, The Amoeba Game is coming out this October (2017), also from Eyewear Publishing.

Tara Skurtu received a 2015-17 extended Fulbright, a Robert Pinsky Global Fellowship, and two Academy of American Poets prizes. Her poems have appeared in The Kenyon Review, Poetry Review, Poetry Wales, and Tahoma Literary Review. Tara’s debut poetry collection, The Amoeba Game, is forthcoming from Eyewear Publishing.  She lives in Romania.

Diana Norma Szokolyai is a writer and Executive Artistic Director of Cambridge Writers’ Workshop. She is author of the poetry collections Parallel Sparrows and Roses in the Snow, as well as co-editor of CREDO: An Anthology of Manifestos and Sourcebook for Creative Writing.

Read it on LUNA LUNA here:



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

Cambridge Writers’ Workshop Named One of BookSparks’s 10 Favorite Writing Retreats Around the World

BookSparksWe are thrilled to be named one of BookSparks’s 10 Favorite Writing Retreats Around the World! Crystal Patriarche writes of our Spring in Newport, Rhode Island Yoga & Writing Retreat:

“Have you always daydreamed of charming coastal life on Rhode Island but never had a chance to experience it firsthand? Here is your glorious, picturesque and everything-you-ever-dreamed-of chance. Nestled directly on the coast with plenty of time for sailboat watching, this stunning location will surely inspire your greatest summer hit (especially if you’re a beach-read type of author).

We expect you to stop reading now and to book your dream retreat immediately. Go ahead; you know you want it.”

Join the Cambridge Writers’ Workshop 2016 Summer in Barcelona and South of France Writing Retreat (July 18-26, 2016) and Summer in Granada, Spain Writing Retreat (July 28-August 5, 2016).  Our featured 2016 Summer writing faculty includes Harvard Director of Creative Writing Bret Anthony Johnston, Guggenheim-award winning essayist and nonfiction writer David Shields, novelist Alexander Chee, poets Rita Banerjee and Diana Norma Szokolyai, and yoga instructor Elissa Lewis.  Sign up for the retreats at by May 30, 2016, and apply for scholarships by June 10, 2016!

“Narrative as Provocation” by Rita Banerjee featured on The Poetry Foundation

poetry_foundationThe Poetry Foundation has featured Rita Banerjee’s article, “Narrative as Provocation” on their Harriet: A Poetry Blog today.  The Poetry Foundation writes:

Poet Douglas Piccinnini’s Story Book: A Novella (The Cultural Society, 2015) “suspends and electrifies narration mid-creation,” writes Rita Banerjee in a review of the work at LA Review of Books. “Piccinnini’s training as a poet illuminates his work, the structure of his prose echoing the long-lines of Ammons and Walt Whitman,” she writes.  More:

“These rolling lines are less biting than Ginsberg’s, but through a Stein–like interplay of sense and nonsense, his diction evokes vulnerability and makes evident the emotional, psychological, and cultural stakes involved. In this space of confusion, syntax and grammar break down as the speaker attempts to reformulate his own expression and empower his own disabled tongue. As language learns to articulate itself, ready-made forms of cultural capital — such as the privilege of being an American or speaking in the neo-colonizing tongue of English — are challenged by the speaker’s very inability to give them significance or import. In this Chapter 1 and in others, the parameters of the speaker’s life, of his identity, and of his sexuality are called into question by the birth and death of language.”

Read more about the The Poetry Foundation’s post on “Narrative as Provocation” here.

“Narrative as Provocation” by Rita Banerjee – Los Angeles Review of Books


In this week’s edition of the Los Angeles Review of Books, Rita Banerjee reviews Douglas Piccinnini’s Story Book: A Novella.  She writes:

DOUGLAS PICCINNINI’S Story Book: A Novella suspends and electrifies narration mid-creation. Story Book explores narratives of self-imposed amnesia, bloody encounters at home and on the road, Oedipal rage, suburban cocoons and the anxiety of marriage, male sexuality and therapy sessions gone awry, Catholic school and homosociality, confrontations with love, death, and surveillance, and of course, the purported cure-all of worst-case scenario guides. The “novella” is composed of a series of short stories which all begin with the title, “Chapter 1.” Each Chapter 1, laced with metatextuality, develops its own existential confusions before arriving at a moment of implosion or interruption.

Story Book is thus about a modern man, a modern artist, and a modern thinker disabled by language. The ghosts of Gertrude Stein, A. R. Ammons, and Samuel Beckett haunt Piccinnini’s prose as each chapter performs its role as self-confrontation or self-interview. Piccinnini’s power as a writer emerges when his disabled speaker learns how to articulate himself, and how to use the very language that hinders his understanding of himself, in order to climb out of existential dilemmas and tailspins…

Another Story-Book“Chapter 1” begins with the simple provocation: “What did I love?” In this chapter, the speaker sits alone at his computer trying to decipher the meaning of his relationships with women and his odd infatuation with words. He ponders the difficulty of writing an address, a story in which the perspectives of the “you” and “I” combine and trade places. He considers how easily days of productivity disappear as the writer attempts to get a sense of urgency on paper. He writes, “I feel the quotation of an afternoon, emptied — empty before me,” and then reveals:

This is the third time I’ve lived with a woman.

I’ve been in love before. I’ve been loved. I’ve also wanted to have sex with the same person over and over again but that is not love, I think.

Sex can be love. But love and sex are different, obviously. Is it obvious? Sometimes you’ll want to have sex with someone you don’t know and never want to know. You’ll find yourself destroying a complete stranger in some compromising position. It would seem to be some biological failure, love and how we live.

This is the first time I’ve been married. I love my wife. I read recently, “Love is a condition of understanding.” I’m quoting from memory. It sounds like something you might read anywhere.

A nagging sense of quotation, of living a life built on quotation marks haunts the novella. The speakers of his stories are troubled by the thought that their very human existence and their desires for creative expression have already been written and have found a home in someone else’s prose. The fear of living a life already recorded and already performed by literary archetypes creates a start-and-stop motion in Piccinnini’s prose.

Read the rest of the review on the Los Angeles Review of Books.

RitaBanerjeeRita Banerjee received her doctorate in Comparative Literature from Harvard and her MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Washington.  Her writing has appeared in Electric Literature, VIDA: Women in Literary Arts, Queen Mob’s Tea House, Riot Grrrl Magazine, Poets for Living Waters, The Fiction Project, Objet d’Art, and on KBOO Radio’s APA Compass in Portland, Oregon. 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, is forthcoming from Spider Road Press in October 2016. Creative Director of the Cambridge Writers’ Workshop, she is currently working on a novel and a book of lyric essays.

The Queen of the Night by Alexander Chee: A Review by Alex Carrigan

QueenoftheNightWhat makes a great opera? Is it the music? The costumes? The story? Or can it become great for the performer who helms the leading role? Novelist and CWW 2016 Summer in Granada Writing Retreat faculty member Alexander Chee’s latest work, The Queen of the Night is a historical fiction novel that follows Lilliet Berne, a Parisian opera sensation in the late 19th century. Lilliet receives an offer for an original role, an honor most opera performers only dream of. However, when she discovers that the opera is based heavily on her past, she embarks on a journey to discover how the work came to be. The novel traces Lilliet’s journey, beginning with her childhood as an American frontiersman’s daughter. Readers watch as Lilliet joins a circus and a brothel, serves the Empress of France, studies under opera legends, and ultimately arrives at her current status as one of France’s most famous opera singers.

Chee’s novel is a historical epic, and Lilliet is a character in the vein of a Dickens protagonist. Her life takes so many turns, and she is forced to navigate using her wit and talent for assuming new roles.

alexandercheeThough this shape-shifting proves convenient, Lilliet struggles to discern how much control she has over any one of her personas. While she cycles easily through roles, she finds herself influenced, even dominated, by others, and most of the conflict in the book comes from run-ins with authority figures. The most dangerous is a tenor singer who tries to morph Lilliet into the opera legend of his fantasies. Lilliet, dubbed a Falcon soprano due to her unique and potentially temporary style of singing, is often associated with falcons and other avian imagery. Lilliet is a master at “flying” from dangerous people and situations and finding a way to survive.

It is true that Chee’s novel is a hefty read, but I never found myself losing interest. I found Lilliet fascinating–multidimensional and endowed with a unique voice.  She is strong and clever, but she also possesses very human faults.

I also admire the way Chee conveyed opera in the story. It can be difficult to communicate performance, which relies so heavily on visual and audio, in prose. However, Chee’s book manages to convey all the operas and performances via detailed imagery and clever diction. Even the more abstract operas were so well fleshed as to remind me of a George Méliès film.  I only wanted to see them realized on the stage.

Overall, The Queen of the Night is a wonderful novel. Liliette is a strong and fascinating character, and Chee tells her story in precise, rich prose. I am very excited to read more Alexander Chee, and I am very excited for the Historical Fiction course he will be teaching at our Granada retreat.

–Alex Carrigan, CWW Managing Intern

For more information on Alexander Chee and The Queen of the Night, visit his website here.

Unspeakable Things by Kathleen Spivack: A Review by Alex Carrigan

9780385353960Last year, the Syrian refugee crisis became a point of international discussion.  The Syrian Civil War has seen millions of Syrians displaced and fleeing into neighboring countries. In between news reports of nations closing their borders and celebrities advocating for refugee aid, we heard stories about the people who made it out. We heard about what and who they lost escaping the war zone, the challenges they faced fleeing the country, and the difficulties of starting new lives in different nations.

When I picked up the newest book from poet, educator, former CWW faculty member, and CREDO contributor Kathleen Spivack, I found myself entrenched in a different mass exodus, though one of equal gravity. Unspeakable Things, Spivack’s first novel, follows several characters who escaped World War II-Europe and are attempting to start anew in New York City. These characters include a beautiful and physically deformed former countess, her Esperanto-speaking cousin, his institutionalized wife, his granddaughter who is going through a physical and emotional crisis, a pediatrician who dabbles in genetic experiments for his Führer, and a string quartet who were driven out of their home following a disastrous concert and the loss of their little fingers. These characters influence each other’s tales, as the unspeakable events of the War continue to effect them.

Spivack’s characters are united by an almost obsessive interest in memory and the past.  Some characters are haunted by their pasts, some still bear the marks of terrible events, and others embrace the past as part of a progression. What differentiates Spivack’s characters on a thematic level is how they choose to let the past affect them–whether it will be saving, destructive, or something else.

6odLzoK-ReQPwOcvZbfWrdFOulc08fdeMOZ6m28nwOUSpivack imbues her tale with a lovely attention to music. For many of Spivack’s characters–the Tolstoi Quartet (so named because they consider Tolstoi the most universal writer, which I love), for example– music is life. These musicians once lived together, sharing beds with their instruments while their wives slept on the floor. When they lose their little fingers and the ability to play as a result, they are only concerned about steadying their instruments. Additionally, the institutionalized woman is a former concert pianist, and it is the prospect of her music that keeps her husband striving to improve her health. Spivack even gives the author’s dedication “To music, which forgives everything.”

Part of what makes Spivack’s tale unique is her use of magical realism. It is rare that a novel treats World War II via magical realism, so I was intrigued by Spivack’s use of genre. In this book, inanimate objects can react and emote, reflecting the mental and emotional states of their owners. In one chapter, the countess character spends two weeks in an affair with the mystic monk Rasputin, who then leaves his hand prints burnt onto her inner thighs. For her, the prints mark shame and sacrifice and continue to throb, burn, and react decades after the affair. For another character, the ghost of her son is a reminder of what the family lost when they fled Europe, but also a symbol for her fractured mental state.

In terms of critique, I did feel at times that Unspeakable Things lacked subtlety. While I thought that some symbols, such as Rasputin’s hand prints and the ghost son, were interesting and fitting, there were times where things were a little too on-the-nose, or too deliberately provocative. For example, we know that the pediatrician is a bad guy because he molests his child patients and has their mothers pay for checkups with their bodies, all while conducting genetic experiments to create a super race. Did we also need to see him wear lingerie and makeup while masturbating to a photo of Hitler? Probably not. There were times where I thought Spivack could have tried to work certain elements in more organically, or just removed them altogether.

Despite this, I did enjoy reading Unspeakable Things. I loved that there was always a turn when I thought I knew what was going to happen.  Overall, it reminded me of Japanese filmmaker Nagisa Oshima’s In the Realm of the Senses. Oshima’s is a film that, while extremely erotic, contains important political and social criticism and a fascinating storyline.  Additionally, I give Spivack credit for making the transition from poetry to fiction; her language and writing style are often beautiful. I hope that she continues to write novels, and I hope that she returns to certain ideas and images from this book. For those readers who want an erotic, magical historical fiction novel, with great imagery and style, Unspeakable Things is worth the read.

–Alex Carrigan, CWW Managing Intern

For more information on Kathleen Spivack and Unspeakable Things, visit her website

New Review by Rita Banerjee: Paging Ms. Marvel: The Perks & Perils of Creating an Islamic, Feminist Superhero

Kamala_KhanRita Banerjee’s review of the new Ms. Marvel series, “Paging Ms. Marvel: The Perks and Perils of Creating an Islamic, Feminist Superhero,” has just been published on Jaggery: A DesiLit Arts and Literature Journal.  In the review, Rita Banerjee writes:

“The new Ms. Marvel comic series focuses on the trials and tribulations of Kamala Khan, a Muslim Pakistani-American high school student from Jersey City. The series is a reboot of the original Ms. Marvel comics made famous by the character of Carol Danvers, who debuted as Ms. Marvel in 1977 and eventually rose to become Captain Marvel in 2012. This new Ms. Marvel, written by G. Willow Wilson and inspired by the adolescence of Marvel Comics editor Sana Amanat, is full of surprises—from sly observations on cultural stereotypes to explorations of geek culture and the fan fiction–verse to redefining concepts of female beauty and empowerment. Or as Amanat writes at the end of the premiere issue of Ms. Marvel, “this book is a victory for all the misfits in the world,” as embodied in the “loveable, awkward, fiercely independent” Kamala. But in attempting to create an Islamic feminist superhero in the guise of an adorable and awkward teenager, Kamala Khan, the new Ms. Marvel has its fair share of both perks and perils.”  Check out the full review here.

Cambridge Writers’ Workshop Recommends: Summer 2014 Literature & Film


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 (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…

New Release: The Dismal Science by Peter Mountford

DismalSciencePeter Mountford’s second novel, The Dismal Science (Tin House, 2014), was recently reviewed by The New York Times.  We are proud to have had Peter read with us in Seattle in our A Night at the Victrola Reading.  Since graduating from the University of Washington’s MFA program in 2006, Peter’s short fiction and essays have appeared in The Atlantic, Best New American Voices 2008, Conjunctions, Salon, Granta, ZYZZYVA, and Boston Review, where he won second place in the 2007 contest judged by George Saunders. He’s currently a writer-in-residence at the Richard Hugo House and at Seattle Arts and Lectures.

The plot follows D’Orsi as he quits the bank in a “kamikaze’s strategy” over a seemingly small argument with a colleague, about funding for Bolivia if the leftist Evo Morales wins the presidency. D’Orsi is being asked to cut off aid, putting politics above the bank’s mission. Because of his daughter, her activist colleagues, boredom and grief, “exhausted by the bank’s bloated ineptitude and inefficiency,” D’Orsi gives the story to his best friend, a reporter for The Washington Post. Its publication causes a spectacular and very public blowup, unfurling D’Orsi’s career and life. “It had an appealingly straightforward quality: He resented the bank and despised himself for participating in its work, so he torpedoed himself into the bank.” – Martha McPhee, The New York Times