Friday, May 01, 2009

this going around cafes

One of the intriguing things about the younger writers I know is that they aren’t so young anymore. They have grown up and are old enough to be masters of their craft. I had an interestingly dissonant experience lunching recently with Renee Gladman. The protagonist of To After That (Toaf), Renee’s excellent and popular book from Atelos, is about a young unsure writer who has a hard time writing her first book. I had such an image of this person in my mind as I read the book, that, in spite of knowing Renee and seeing her off and on over the years, I found myself surprised by the assurance of the person across from whom I was sitting at a recent lunch. There really was a moment of time travel as I assembled all the Renees I know, including the new one having lunch with me. Of course I myself am older and different. I like to think I have more writing skills to play with and I know I have a lot more contentment that I had as a younger person. You would think it was a bad thing to age but I swear it’s mostly good, at least from my perspective.



Even, or especially, the person who does not get to sit across the table from Renee should read Toaf because it shows how one lives a writing project in a really useful way that you can apply to your current writing project, particularly if you actually are a young writer. My experience with recommending it is that almost every single person I have told to read it already has.



A parallel with this event occurred also recently when Kazim Ali was here. I seem to remember him years ago at MLAs, just a ravishing little slip of a thing and now he has many books, including one due out from Wesleyan in the fall, also a memoir, Bright Felon:Autobiography and Cities, which I have read and which, again, portrays an individual of much less assurance than the suave, knowing person who sat across from me at Gratitude Café in Berkeley as Kazim did when he was here to read at St. Mary’s.



And then working forward or maybe backward, Norma Cole just read in a couple of places in New York and at City Lights to celebrate her new selected, Where Shadows Will which you can buy at City Lights. (It is not in at SPD yet, but I will let you know the minute it comes in!) It is a beautiful collection and it was moving to hear Norma read work I knew from the past. Actually, it all sounded new to me, such is the effect of recontextualizing that occurs with a new book. I went to the reading with Suzanne Stein and she took this shot of me at Cafe Puccini. I am fairly sure this is what the above folks were seeing as we sat across from each other in the café, as writers do.

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