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Cartographer, Sculptor, Thief: Michael Ondaatje in conversation with Kamila Shamsie at Worlds 2012
Petra writes about one of her literary heroes; Michael Ondaatje who visited Norwich for an event with Kamila Shamsie:
Metaphor abounds when talking about Michael Ondaatje. There is a need, or a desire, to describe him as something other than purely a writer. Is he an archeologist revealing objects inch-by-inch from the soil? Is he the clever thief you cannot help but like - like his character Caravaggio? (Are all writers thieves – or “fancy talking pickpockets” – as Tommy Wieringa suggested earlier in the week of Worlds? (Read our earlier blog about Novelists as pickpockets) Is he a sculptor? Or a cartographer, drawing maps of fantastical places? I’d like to identify him with Herodotus, that master storyteller of whom Ondaatje writes in The English Patient: someone who has traveled far, gathered stories, and is reporting back, all the while remodeling reality in some secret way…
Ondaatje's work has always haunted me, inhabited me. Thus, it was an honour to see him read his poetry and prose at the Worlds 2012
literature conference, followed by a great discussion with novelist Kamila Shamsie.
There is a delicious, languid lucidity contained in Ondaatje’s writing. He is also a natural reader. The lines of his work wove together, slowly, erotically, over the listening crowd in the Playhouse. He uses language to encompass weighty themes: history, memory, war, philosophy, love and yet in the next moment he is terrifyingly, revealingly intimate: his language is close to the body and close to the earth. Another Worlds guest, Teju Cole, has written of Ondaatje: “I'm unsure if I'm reading or if I'm the one being read.” (Read the full article)
Ondaatje began by reading two poems, The Great Tree
and Last Ink
from his collection Handwriting
. An excerpt from Last Ink
In certain countries aromas pierce the heart and one dies
half waking in the night as an owl and a murderer’s cart go by
the way someone in your life will talk out love and grief
then leave your company laughing.
He then read from his novel Anil’s Ghost and from his latest novel, The Cat’s Table, which follows the journey of an 11-year-old boy called Michael on his journey from Sri Lanka to England.
I was mesmerised by his description of boyish wonder in The Cat’s Table
, where the young narrator and his friends watch an Australian girl swimming in the pool aboard the ocean liner: “When she left we followed her footprints, which were already evaporating in the new sunlight as we approached them.”
Kamila Shamsie - a brilliant, lively interviewer - walked Ondaatje through the intersection of memoir and fiction that appears to lie at the heart of The Cat’s Table and many of his other works. Ondaatje spoke about the age of eleven being a sort of liminal age for him – the age where you change, move, forget or become.
Pressed on the line between fiction and memoir, he compared the Western narrative experience with Eastern notions of narrative, where truth is not something to be defined in an empirical or absolute way. He said works like The Cat’s Table or his novel/memoir Running In The Family, written about his family in Sri Lanka, have meant that he has come to accept certain stories or narratives as true, even if they didn’t start off that way – even if they started off as an exchange of tall tales. He felt strongly that the narrative act was never static. Ondaatje’s work, at its best, seems to circle constantly around truth as a multiplicity of experiences.
Ondaatje spoke about the processes surrounding his writing practice. He writes without a plan and said there was an “enjoyable tension” for him in finding out what will happen. The conversation lingered over his tendency to write in vignettes and he mentioned his process of constructing a novel via notebooks, each containing a new draft, enabling him to cut and paste bits until he achieves the right balance. Ondaatje said he likes to engage in the “drama of writing the story”.
Shamsie mentioned a line from In the Skin of the Lion
: “Let me now re-emphasise the extreme looseness of the structure of all objects”. Ondaatje said that he felt his process was very much “loose in writing, tight in editing”. He spoke of drafting being akin to moving furniture and spoke of his joy in setting up a sort of thematic or narrative echoing within his novels. Shamsie brought up Ondaatje’s love of film, and of editing in particular, noting that the end of The English Patient
- where Hannah knocks a glass off the shelf in one life, and Kip reaches down to scoop up the dropped fork of his daughter in another - is a very filmic moment, a splice.
The discussion turned then to power, Shamsie bringing up another line from The Cat’s Table, where the narrator learns: “What is interesting and important happens mostly in secret, in places where there is no power.” Ondaatje said that he learned this as a young man and how he’s remained interested in the bizarre strata of power, something that was very apparent when he came to England as a boy. There was discussion of his love of the ‘outsider’: the charming thief, or the outlaw – like Billy the Kid. (For those of you who haven’t read Ondaatje’s The Collected Works of Billy the Kid: Left-Handed Poems, I highly recommend it – it’s a favourite of mine.)
Ultimately, Ondaatje said he was drawn to writing what cannot be filmed, and was fascinated by exploring the space of the narrator. An audience member asked if he still wrote poetry, to which he said, sadly, no he didn’t. But I’d argue he does, still – it’s just that we don’t classify it that way. To me, all of his works are a sort of poetry.
Listen to the event on SoundCloud:
An Evening with Michael Ondaatje & Kamila Shamsie by Writers' Centre Norwich
Summer Reads 2012; Events So Far...
It hasn’t been much of a summer so far this year, but our Summer Reads reading programme has been in full swing since May. With a host of author events, book club meetings and library events going on, it hasn’t seemed to matter so much that it’s been rainy and miserable.
Our first event was with SJ Watson, author of best-seller Before I Go To Sleep. I read Before I Go To Sleep last year and loved it, so I was thrilled to discover that it had been chosen as one of WCN’s Summer Reads books for 2012. The event was held at the Norfolk and Norwich Millennium library. The room quickly filled up with readers who sat patiently, clearly filled with anticipation. I noticed that the audience was a diverse mix of people- it’s always interesting looking at the audience for individual events, because it gives a much better idea about who the book appealed to- Before I Go To Sleep is a novel which seems to engage almost everybody!
SJ Watson began the event by reading an extract from the beginning of Before I Go To Sleep. Sam Ruddock, the man behind the Summer Reads programme, began a conversation with SJ Watson which ranged from medical accuracy, to gender, to the nature of the debut novel. SJ said that he didn’t find it difficult to write from the perspective of a woman, because, as a writer you should be able to write from other people’s perspective. The audience laughed when SJ mentioned that he found it odd that people seemed to be comfortable with the idea of individuals writing as serial killers but not comfortable with a man writing as a woman! He did say that he asked his female friends to read the novel and fact check it for him too however...
When the floor was open to the audience for questions there was a constant flow of interested queries. SJ Watson spoke at length about the difficulties of balancing medical accuracy (as he worked for the NHS for a number of years, medical accuracy was imperative!) whilst maintaining the plot and pace of the story. SJ Watson said that he'd thought he had made up Christine’s precise medical complaint, but discovered that there is a very similar case when the book was published.
The SJ Watson event was a great success, and a brilliant start to our Summer Reads reading programme!
During our Worlds Literature Festival
we had THREE of our Summer Reads events, making it a jampacked schedule of bookish joy. Our first event was ‘An Evening with Dame Gillian Beer, Jeanette Winterson and Jo Shapcott’ and was completely sold out. Jo Shapcott read from Summer Reads book Of Mutability
, which won the Costa Book Award. Jo’s poetry was emotionally charged, and worked perfectly in companion with Jeanette Winterson’s reading of Why Be Happy When You Could be Normal
. (Read more about the event in Petra’s Blog.)
Anna Funder, whose novel, All That I Am
, was our first Summer Reads book, participated in an event with JM Coetzee and Tim Parks. These three very different authors created a smorgasbord of literary delights. Anna Funder read from All That I Am
and then discussed her motivation for writing the novel and the difficulties when crossing over from writing non-fiction to fiction. Throughout the event the audience were clearly hanging upon her every word. During Worlds festival Anna Funder won the Miles Franklin award for All That I Am
and was even interviewed from the Writers’ Centre offices for Australian television!
Last, but by no means least, came our event with Teju Cole, author of the multi-award winning Open City.
Teju Cole read an extract from Open City
and discussed how his work was influenced by his street-photography. (Take a look at some of his photos on Flickr)
The event was so successful that Waterstones almost sold out of Teju’s books! (You can read a long blogpost about the Teju Cole event here)
Listen to a podcast of the Teju Cole event below:
World Voices featuring Teju Cole, Vesna Goldsworthy and Arturo Dorado by Writers' Centre Norwich
Still coming up is an event with Stefan Tobler, the publisher of Down the Rabbit Hole, and with Rosalind Harvey, the translator. Taking place on the 25th of July, you can buy your ticket for only £2 from our website or the Norfolk and Norwich Millennium Library. (Find out more about the event) This is sure to be a fantastic event, and as a big fan of Down the Rabbit Hole I can’t wait to find out more about the book!
As ever, we have a regular book club which meets to discuss the Summer Reads books. It’s been great to see so many new faces, as well as the regulars of course, so please do come along if you’d enjoy a relaxed evening of chatting about books. Our next Book Club Sessions are for Of Mutability (in partnership with Norwich Poetry Book Club) on the 10th July
and for Down the Rabbit Hole on the 24th of July.
We’re also running a new series of events in libraries across Norfolk. Sam has been visiting the libraries across the county and enjoying chat, Mexican chocolate and intriguing Mexican fizzy drinks.
‘The Get Involved library events are all about meeting readers across Norfolk, and having a relaxed conversation about books with them. It has been a pleasure to visit libraries that are supporting Summer Reads so well this year, and to see all the great work they do with their communities. I’ve been struck by the warmth with which these events have been received and delighted with the atmosphere and willingness to share that everyone involved has created. I’ve enjoyed every minute of delivering them. Not only have we succeeded in introducing the delights of Summer Reads to lots of readers and book clubs, but I’ve discovered lots of books I’d never heard of too! What could be better?’
Find out more about our Summer Reads reader events.
We love to chat with you about these books, so please do tweet us @WCNbookclub
, follow us on Facebook
, and check out our Summer Reads Pinterest page
If you love our Summer Reads illustrations too, check out this blogpost
from the illustrator Lauren Marina.
Vote online for your favourite Summer Reads book and you could win book tokens!
Find out more about our Summer Reads reading programme.
Reading is just the start...
What is British Literature? The Launch of Granta Britain
In my mind Granta is the literary magazine. At my parents house there are two shelves full of Granta issues, stretching over a period of about five years. First established in 1889, Granta has evolved over the years- note the striking cover design- but has always included brilliant writing from debut and established authors. So, even before the event began I knew I was in for a treat...
Issue 119 of Granta was on the theme of ‘Britain’, making it the perfect closing event for our international Worlds Festival. Throughout the week discussions had focused around identity, with nationality playing an important role in the examination of the self.
The evening began with John Freeman, the editor, introducing the writers and introducing Granta. Edmund Clark was the first contributor to take to the stage. He is a photographer who is best known for his images which explore control and incarceration. Edmund Clark’s photo Home from his collection Guantanamo: If the Light Goes Out is included on page 192 of Granta: Britain. (View images from Guantanamo: If the Light Goes Out on the Guardian website)
The series of images within Guantanamo: If the Light Goes Out can be divided into three separate ideas of home; the naval base at Guantanamo where the guards and their families lived, the complex of camps that the detainees lived in, and the homes of the detainees themselves, whether the homes are new or old. The contrast between the homes that the detainees lived in out of choice and the rooms they were forced to live in, was stark.
The photo which was included in Granta was Home, (Number 3 on the Guardian slideshow) and it depicted an image which epitomised an archetypal British household: two armchairs, a flowering plant, net curtains. Edmund said that these images of British domesticity were thrown into sharp relief when placed next to the images from Guantanamo, and that he realised when he was putting the images together that what he “was actually exploring were the homes that the detainees remembered and dreamed of” whilst in the space that they hoped to escape.
The images within Guantanamo: If the Light Goes Out are mixed, with images from the guards’ quarters, the cells of the detainees, and the homes of the detainees. This mix of photographs deliberately creates feelings of disorientation and confusion in the reader and reflects the prisoners’ experience of Guantanamo. Edmund said that throughout the project he realised that he was depicting the memory between the spaces. There are deliberately very few images of people within the collection, as Edmund wanted to subvert the stock image of prisoners in orange jumpsuits, and the empty spaces are given far greater emotional weight.
Edmund’s collection explored identity through living spaces. By including images from Guantanamo and from the detainees past and present home he is depicting the identities that the detainees choose, and the identity that the detainees had forced upon them. Our expectations and assumptions are challenged through the images, making us reassess our default opinions and stereotypes.
Rachel Seiffert was the second reader. She read from an extract from a not yet published novel; Hands Across the Water.
The extract described a blossoming relationship between an Ulster girl and a Glaswegian boy. Rachel’s writing focuses on individual characters within a broader historical perspective.
Rachel talked of the Irish troubles with particular reference to the Orangemen. She said that she researches thoroughly but once writing she focuses in on the characters themselves; and from then on it’s about writing with empathy and finding your way into your characters lives. Writers, by necessity, need to be able to shrug on and off others identities- writing characters well is so much about assuming others’ perspectives.
Andrea Stuart, the third reader, spoke of a different kind of history- the history of her family; of migration, slavery and dreams of a better life. She traced her family tree in her latest book, Sugar in the Blood and “revived her slave ancestors from absence”. Andrea’s book gave her slave ancestors back the identity which was taken from them, as they were stolen from their homelands. (Read a review of Sugar in the Blood from The Independent.)
This writing of her family history allowed Andrea to claim her story and her family’s story, a story which otherwise might have been lost like so many other slave narratives. It creates an examination of intrinsic facets of her own identity- that of an Afro-Caribbean British citizen and as a writer. Andrea spoke of the necessity of writing Sugar in the Blood, not only for her own illumination but because it gave the forgotten a voice and a place in history.
Across the week identity has been a crucial discussion point- look through the earlier blogs to find out more about the Worlds events and themes. For writers individual identity is fluid, at least when they are writing. However, one of the recurring questions throughout all the events and conversations has been how does my identity effect what I write? Whether we’re referencing the African writers who have been told they are not “African” enough, or the middle-class authors who feel hindered by their background, or the writers who have been translated from their own language into a foreign speech which they cannot understand, identity is as an inescapable part of writing as it is of life.
Identity, Censorship and Culture: Challenges Writers Face Across the Globe
The World Voices event was organised as part of our Worlds Literature Festival, our Summer Reads reading program and to celebrate Refuge Week. Naturally, expectations were high. Luckily Arturo Dorado, Teju Cole and Vesna Goldsworthy more than exceeded them.
Arturo Dorado, the City of Refuge Writer in Residence, began the evening with a startlingly honest account of his oppression. A political refugee, Arturo encountered such prejudice and censorship in Cuba that he found he was unable to write. He explained that he found Cuba to be a country with a society built around lies and falsehood and that he believed a totalitarian society was one of perversion and destruction.
Living in a democratic country it is often easy to forget that there are people all around the world who live in a society of censorship, and are denied that most basic human right of free speech. Arturo’s introduction was a well-timed reminder that those of us living in the UK have benefits and rights that people are fighting for in many other countries. He closed his speech by saying that when he first moved to England he felt lonely and homesick, but he hoped that in Norwich he could start his life over again. For many in the audience, and certainly for me, that was a poignant moment where I felt very grateful for all of the advantages that I take for granted.
Vesna Goldsworthy read from her memoir Chernobyl Strawberries. The extract she read described her father-in-laws funeral. Vesna said her choice was motivated from hearing another Worlds participant, Alvin Pang, discuss his mother-in-law’s funeral and the different customs of mourning around the world. One of the fantastic things about the Worlds Literature Festival is that it inspires and sparks off discussion points and explorations, meaning that you’re constantly forming new ideas whilst struggling to document the old ones.
Vesna’s reading explored the contrast between her country of birth (the former Yugoslavia) and Britain, her adopted country. This comparison of nationalities was described in great detail, with beautiful imagery. As Vesna read about the conflicting customs of Yugoslavia and England I found myself pondering the idea of a mass identity through nationality. It is a strange thing to think that people can be identified not by skin colour, or accent, but instead through some unconscious collective behaviour. (Watching the English: The Hidden Rules of English Behaviour by Kate Fox is a great book to read if you’d like to find out more about being peculiarly English) Vesna’s writing seemed to aptly describe the less obvious gaps between cultural practises. Vesna finished by reading two poems from her latest collection The Angel of Salonika.
Teju Cole, author of Summer Reads pick Open City
, wore traditional African clothing for his reading. Cole, born in the US to Nigerian parents, grew up in Nigeria then returned to the States for university, and has lived there ever since. Open City
tells the tale of a Nigerian immigrant, who moves to New York and learns the city by walking it. Teju Cole describes himself as a writer, art historian, and a street photographer. His writing very much touches on all these aspects of his life. Teju writes as an African in America and he writes visually. As Teju said, he writes the pictures he cannot take. This cross-over between worlds creates a rich reading experience.
This event was named World Voices, and voices from around the world were certainly encountered. The evening was an inspiring examination of different cultures and writing from across the globe which left me wondering about identity, and how nationality can help define us. As the overarching theme of Worlds 2012 was ‘Fiction, Memoir and the Self’ questioning the meaning of identity seems to fit in perfectly.
Listen to the World Voices event on SoundCloud:
World Voices featuring Teju Cole, Vesna Goldsworthy and Arturo Dorado by Writers' Centre Norwich
Jeanette Winterson and Jo Shapcott explore ideas of Truth in Writing
Petra Kamula, who completed an internship with WCN last year, returned to Worlds Literature Festival. Read about her experience of the event with Jeanette Winterson, Jo Shapcott and Dame Gillian Beer:
How to describe the pleasure the moment before a literary event begins? A dark room packed with people, bright lights on a blank stage, three chairs and a microphone. Jostling, muttering, anticipation, the firefly flashing of mobiles. Then, silence hits: the authors enter and begin casting words into a deliciously hungry crowd.
That was how Worlds 2012 began for me, last week, when I had the pleasure of listening to writers Jo Shapcott and Jeanette Winterson read from their work.
The event began with an introduction from Dame Gillian Beer, who set up the key themes of the evening. Beer began by introducing the idea of a tension existing between individual experience and imaginative experience in Shapcott and Winterson’s works. Beer discussed the fluidity of memory and the fragmentary nature of experience, exploring the role of the story to excavate meaning from the many layers we build up across a lifetime.
These ideas echoed through the evening, as Beer suggested both writers, and indeed all writers, were in some way engaged in a pursuit of the self, whilst also pursuing what lies beyond the self, in order to inhabit all other selves.
Beer introduced Jo Shapcott as supple, surreal, flirtatious, light-winged, probing. On the stage, Shapcott cast an effective spell: a gifted and warm reader, she created an immediate connection and intimacy with the audience. Shapcott read her poems in a strong, steady rhythm – each word exact – allowing the audience to grasp the poetic lines she was casting out, like the expert fly fisherwoman, each word glinting before hitting the water of the ear.
Shapcott read first from a sequence of bee poems, an unsettling narrative about bees becoming part of a woman’s body following a failed relationship. A highlight, for me, was her reading of ‘The Deaths
’ from her prize-winning collection Of Mutability
, which she introduced, tongue-in-cheek, as “quite spooky”. The poem evoked an encounter with an unfamiliar persona, not the grim reaper, but another, softer, stranger version of Death. The poem was surprising, sharp and meditative.
In introducing Jeanette Winterson, Beer discussed the freedom of fiction, and the release in being able to write not merely what was, but what might have been.
As a reader and performer, Jeanette Winterson captured the audience immediately with a spiky, rock star charm. Lively, direct, puckish, Winterson launched into a reading from her latest book Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal, a memoir that explores her childhood, which she drew on in her first novel Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit. Diving in and out of reading and recounting personal anecdotes (and more often than not fusing the two), Winterson raised the idea that stories are a mode of control: they are a version, but never the final version.
On her website, Winterson notes: “As this life story is a work of fiction, it is true to the way we recall our lives, rather than the way we actually live them. We live in linear time - we have no choice - but the curve of our memory is never a straight line. Happenings that lasted an hour can obsess us for years. Years of our lives can be forgotten.”
She discussed humour in her work, saying it was an essential part of keeping the reader engaged. She described humour as a way to change gear or tone “like in music or on the stage”. However, she was quick to point out, her smile quirked, “in the North of England we have a better sense of humour”.
During the lively Q&A, both Winterson and Shapcott agreed that the best work emerges in the excitement of discovery. “English is a ragbag, exuberant, crazy language!” Winterson said, drawing attention to how language can be used to frame, contain and, ultimately, remake experience.
I am reminded of a quote I heard later in the week, via the poet Frances Leviston. Quoting Adrienne Rich, Leviston argued that truth is an “increasing complexity”. This is a wonderful device for considering the work of both Jo Shapcott and Jeanette Winterson.
The Salon at Worlds 2012
Catherine Cole, Professor of Creative Writing at Wollongong Univeristy, writes about Worlds 2012:
We arrive in Norwich on a day which defies the weather-doomsayers' predictions about a summer no-show. UEA is lushly green, warm and sunny, the lawns dotted with rabbits.
Writers Centre Norwich Worlds' authors come from all the corners of the world, Uganda, Holland, Iceland, New Zealand, Italy, Australia, Nigeria, America, Singapore, Germany. There is always something remarkable about this annual conference, well, more than a conference really, a gathering of writers from everywhere who meet each morning to discuss their ideas about writers and writing and in the afternoon and evening to read their own work. In part it's the creative friction between different people, places and experiences but it's also the commonality of experience, the ways in which it doesn't matter where you come from, as a writer you struggle with similar problems.
The theme of this year's worlds is Fiction, Memoir and Truth. Already the buzz is apparent. What will people have to say and what new things will we discover about one another, our approaches and ideas?
Salon 1: Provocations from Dame Gillian Beer and John Coetzee
How best to describe a salon? It's held in the UEA Council Chamber, a space of gravitas and university governance. For Worlds writers it's also a space of deep listening, of provocative ideas, questions, argument, reflection. When you write alone, struggle with your ideas and the challenges of structuring a story, it's pure luxury to participate in such an immersive discussion. At the salon writers generously give full voice to their worlds - and in so doing open them to the scrutiny and comment of their peers. Thus Worlds in the context of the weeks name is shown for its full meaning - the geographical world, the places from which we all come, the worlds we inhabit imaginatively, the worlds we create and also the world of reflection and immersion in shared ideas.
The session opens with welcomes from Chris Gribble and Jon Cook and then each 'provocateur' begins with their paper - a drawing in.
On day one, Dame Gillian Beer speaks of the reader who resists. Gillian ranged widely, over memoir particularly and it's offering of special knowledge. It's a fictive dialogue between reader and writer, its distances tempering the reader's desire for possession.
John Coetzee opened his talk by exploring the special broadcasting service in Australia which claims that it tells 7 billion stories, a comment on the wealth of the world’s stories and our claim on them. In his provocation John posed a number of questions:
Do you have to be human to have a story?
What is it to have a life?
What is the difference in the case of human beings between having a life and having a life story?
The stories of others have meaning for us as a form of meaningful empathy. If we identify with a stranger then his or her story becomes ours. Are our life stories ours to compose?
Day 2: Provocations from Gail Jones and Alvin Pang
Gail talked about the notion of self, and constructing a specific kind of self in place. She used the Broome cinema of her childhood as a metaphor for the ways in which the world is mediated through our access to space. Her image of an aboriginal boy on an upturned crate in her classroom provided an additional metaphor for alienation, for otherness and isolation for the observer/writer.
Alvin spoke of a family funeral, evoking the way in which the dead are honoured by being indrawn, literally and metaphorically. The dead person's ashes are drawn into the lungs and carried home to live within the bodies of living. How aptly this describes the role of the writer who draws into themselves the stories of others and carries them inside, as new stories to be written.
Gail and Alvin prompted some questions:
Is a writer a solitary being?
Do we resist this community?
Is the writer at the centre of community and ritual or should they resist being drawn into this?
Day 3: Provocation from Chika Unigwe and Plenary from George Szirtes
In the final provocation, Chika Unigwe spoke about the danger of not having your own stories, regardless of nationality, race or place. The pressure on African writers to only write stories about all that is wrong in Africa. Do writers have an obligation to those who have not been liberated?
Collective identity comes to writers with a range of complexities. Do writers from some areas of the world not have the luxury of writing whatever they want?
The decision about what is published is determined largely by white British or Americans who act as the gate keepers of what can be published from Africa.
Chika was raised in a culture where there is little distinction between memoir and fiction. Things are remembered through the memories of other people. She asked:
1. Can beauty be a part of justice?
2. Does truth matter more than art? Should we privilege truth more than art?
3. Should art be interested in morality?
4. Should writers feel they should be political in a direct way? Is there a difference between between writing and political activism?
How do you wrap up Worlds?
In the plenary session George Szirtes took us through the week of discussions and activities, reflecting on some, revisiting others poetically. George says writing involves being asked questions and being given a chance to answer them in the widest possible ways.
Some further, provocative questions that were asked in conclusion argued that writers write:
- because we want to be liked
- to be admired
- we want to get sex
- we want money
Do we write ironically?
Do we recognize the ego-drive at the heart of memoir and fiction?
Chika says she writes to avoid ironing.
Around the room we go, saying our farewells via a series of final comments about how we've found the week. The diversity of views is significant - we are all different, from different backgrounds but we have been surprising like in our ideas. What does this tell us about ourselves - and other writers? That it's a struggle, a privilege, a job, an exorcism, psychoanalysis, a desire to change the world and to do good. Whatever prompts us to write, no-one would do anything else.
Professor Catherine Cole
Deputy Dean, Faculty of Creative Arts
Professor of Creative Writing
University of Wollongong
New South Wales, Australia
The Silence Of Stones
Writer Jeffrey Angles with a thought-provoking blog tracing through his childhood, the Neolithic stones of Avebury and the Worlds festival in Norwich.
Stone Writing by Jeffrey Angles
After a quick trip to London and Oxford, I made a short side trip to Avebury before coming to Norwich to attend Worlds 2012. This little Wessex village, nestled in the middle of a massive, Neolithic henge created five thousand years ago, had fascinated me as a boy, and I had read all I could about it. I knew that Avebury’s great stone circle is the largest in Britain, erected five centuries after the ditch and causeways had been completed. I knew from my boyhood readings that there was one gigantic stone circle, which enclosed two smaller stone circles, and in the middle of each of those, there were other formations. One was a group of stones spread out in a shape much like the letter D, and the other, a handful of intimately arranged stones, not unlike the letter C. Even as a boy, it had struck me as a beautiful coincidence that the stones are positioned in the shapes of modern letters, even though the people who erected them did not have any writing of their own.
Outside the circle there were originally two avenues of parallel stones that led into the distance, one stretching well over a mile to The Sanctuary, another Neolithic site containing several concentric rings of standing timbers. Although I only knew these sites through photographs and diagrams, I often had seen the stones in my dreams, and I knew all their colorful nicknames—The Portal Stones, The Barber Stone, The Vulva Stone, The Cove, and The Devil’s Chair. (Walk around the large circle ninety-nine times, and Satan will appear seated on a crag on the latter stone to grant a wish.)
Ultimately, what was most enticing to me was the fact that all knowledge about the ancient people who had created this monument had disappeared. We have not only lost their names to the prehistoric past, we have lost their belief systems, their ceremonies, their worldviews. Even the names I had memorized were medieval or modern attempts to assign meaning to things that stubbornly resisted our modern understanding. The language of the stone circle was gone. We do not know what they were called, nor how they were used. The stones stand as tantalizingly uncommunicative signs, signifiers without a signified. The empty, stone rings gape like gigantic letters arranged in a grammatical structure we cannot interpret.
The sky was shockingly blue as the bus from Devises approached Avebury. Suddenly, there were the gigantic stones—grand, lichen-covered intruders into the bucolic landscape. I got off the bus in the middle of town, located right inside the stone circle. Still pulling my luggage, I walked to one tall, squarish stone that stood in the sheep-mown grass. I had read something about the magnetic qualities of the stones. I am skeptical by nature, and so I had dismissed the many stories about psychic forces and the stones’ magical properties as mere fantasy, but somewhere deep inside me, there was an illogical notion that the stones must somehow feel special, if for no other reason than their age. Tentatively, I lifted my hand and placed it gingerly upon the gray, waiting surface.
And now, here we are in Norwich, sitting around a megalithic conference table talking about history, truth, and narrative. Stories, we all seem to agree, are created as performative acts. People are meaning-making creatures. We take our own tales, our inchoate and often contradictory desires, our traumas, and all of the wild ramblings of imagination, and use the grammar of our languages to sort and pull elements together to form constellations of meaning. The meanings we produce are, of course, not fixed, absolute or always objectively true. Still, these subjective truths are often as important to us as other more concrete forms of history. Certainly, that was the case with me and my enthusiastic boyhood readings. It was the very lack of a grand master narrative about the stones that opened the raw physicality of the stones to infinite possibilities. That absence created a space for me to write a narrative into the stone circle and make it my own.
The Portal Stone was pleasantly warm beneath my hand. The lichens were soft upon its surface, giving them a feeling that was as much organic as mineral. The stone, however, conveyed nothing—no electromagnetic vibration, no shock. The provocatively silent stones were in fact more story than reality, and I realized the stones were just the raw material that I had used to write my own childhood tale about the far away places I would one day visit.
The things around us have a tendency to retreat into the stories we tell about them. When we speak of places, events, or happenings, we become Neolithic men and women, pulling the sarsens of raw experience across the ancient countryside, digging ditches, and erecting them in our own specific constellations of meaning. There, in my own personal henge, the disassociated Os, D, and C had formed a miniature alphabet that told a story in of my own creation.
And with the addition of just two letters, stories become histories. Walking about the circle, I feel the narrative I am already constructing out of this experience—my memories of the touch of the stones, the intimate domestic space created within them, the rushing blue sky overhead—becoming a part of my history. I re-erect the stones. I inhabit the circle, and ultimately, I emerge along the path of language.
About Jeffrey Angles
Jeffrey Angles is an associate professor of Japanese and translation at Western Michigan University. He is the author of the academic study Writing the Love of Boys (University of Minnesota Press, 2011). He is also an award-winning translator who has translated dozens of Japan’s most important modern writers. In particular, he focuses on Japanese modernist texts and contemporary poetry, which he feels have been largely ignored by the English-speaking world. His recent translations include Killing Kanoko: Selected Poems of Ito¯ Hiromi (Action Books, 2009); Forest of Eyes: Selected Poems of Tada Chimako (University of California Press, 2010); and numerous other works of prose and poetry. In 2008 he was awarded grants from both the PEN American Center and the National Endowment for the Arts (US). He is also the recipient of the Japan–US Friendship Commission Prize for the Translation of Japanese Literature (2009) and the Landon Translation Prize from the American Academy of Poets (2010). He also writes poetry, primarily in Japanese, his second language.
Novelists- Fancy Talking Pickpockets?
The first of our free Afternoon Reads explored ideas of Language and Experiment. The Worlds readers who participated were Jeffrey Angles, Joe Dunthorne, Alvin Pang, Yoko Tawada, Tommy Wiringa and Manon Uphoff. Joe Dunthorne was our first afternoon reader. An author of prodigious talent, I was very much looking forward to hearing him read from his work.
Joe read from a short story titled Four Seasons with Two Summers. This story was written by Joe as part of a translation project for McSweeney's magazine which took several authors of different nationalities and asked them to translate and re-imagine the original story, Four Seasons Without Summer by Youssef Habach el Ashkar, in their own language. This project, and Joe's reading, perfectly suited the theme of the Afternoon Reading, which was Language and Experiment.
Joe's story, as befitting a project which blurred the boundaries of language and culture, seemed to explore and test liminality. Partly taking place in a mirrored room, the story refracted and reflected itself, twisting and turning within its own tale and yet giving glimpses of the original text which it used for its inspiration. Joe's version of Four Seasons Without Summer was brilliant, and it certainly whetted my appetite to read the other stories within the series.
Valerie Henituik, chair of Tuesday's Afternoon Reads, introduced Manon Uphoff as the author of 'quietly devastating stories'. Manon proved Valerie right. She read from a short story which portrayed a couple in a mutually destructive relationship. The fairy tale quality of her story lulled me into an imaginary world of words and mythology.
Alvin Pang began by declaring that a lot of his work has to do with keeping secrets - an intriguing beginning to any reading (the minute you hear that someone has a secret you immediately want to discover what it is!). He began by reading from a beautiful poem which explored possibilities and could-have-beens- the line which stood out for me was 'To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow'.
The last poem Alvin read was entitled 'Candles' and left the audience giggling in delight. Written in 'Singhlish', a dialect birthed by England and Singapore, it documented a conversation between father and son in a language of their own making. Funny, but also touching, it explored family relationships and the parallel relationship between colonies and the empire which dominated them.
Yoko Tawada read two poems in Japanese, which was a very odd but quite brilliant experience. Listening to poetry without understanding the language means that you become very aware of the importance of the sounds and the rhythm of the poetry- and even end up creating your own words for the poem in a bizarre onomatopoeic creation. Later, Yoko was joined by her translator Jeffrey Angles, and together they read a poem which took inspiration from the Japanese word characters. Each character spring-boarded a short stanza which examined the appearance of the symbol and the meaning of the word, in an incredibly clever interpretation of symbolic language.
The final Afternoon Reads participant was Tommy Wieringa, a Dutch author whose author photo is fantastic. He read from a piece of prose which left the audience enthralled. There was a phrase Tommy read which compared novelists to fancy-talking pickpockets- and that's the thought which I'd like to end this blog on... are all novelists fancy-talking pickpockets who borrow and steal words to make stories?
Lander Hawes Reviews Open City by Teju Cole
Lander Hawes, author of Captivity, reviews Open City by Teju Cole, one of our Summer Reads 2012 books:
In the opening pages of this thoughtful, complex and critically applauded novel, the narrator informs us that New York City has ‘worked itself into my life’ via a recently acquired habit of evening walks. He goes on to describe a second, relatively recently acquired habit, of watching bird migrations from his apartment window. It is the recurring theme of migration, and the circular pattern of the narrator’s meandering walks, which both provide this novel with its core subject and establish a narrative framework ideally suited to repeated dramatisations of it.
The novel follows Julius, the newly single narrator, on his walks and journeys: his social visits, his errands, his habitual evening walks and on an extended visit to Brussels. A certain iconography, a relay of certain similar experiences and reflections, soon establish themselves, and the reader experiences the subtle amplification of particular thoughts and observations as the novel progresses and the walks and journeys accumulate.
In those opening pages, Julius listens to classical music radio stations from several European countries, and hears ‘voices speaking calmly from thousands of miles away’. This is our first exposure to the narrator’s encounters with foreign voices; sometimes anonymous and distant, sometimes affectionate and intimate; and sometimes terrifying, and intrusively close. We accompany Julius: on his visits to Professor Saito, his aged Japanese/American former professor; during his interactions with North Africans of fundamentalist inclinations; in his memories of his Nigerian childhood and early adolescence, and on his futile visit to Brussels to locate his maternal grandmother.
Early on the particular character of Julius’ metropolitan isolation is established. Any persistent reader of contemporary US fiction is familiar with first-person solitude in New York. And the elements of Julius’ solitude are in many ways recognisable: his serious cultural preoccupations, his self protecting distance, his preference for learned conversation. However, Julius’ solitude has another layer, another level of complexity; one which concerns his condition as a migrant.
It is this preoccupation with the migrant experience which makes Open City
unique, and provides a distinctive point of departure from its predecessors and influences. Critics have compared it to W.G Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn
, and the similarities between the novels, both in style and in structure, are undeniable. What separates these two novels is the focus of their anxiety. In Sebald’s work the narrator is preoccupied with how passing time both engenders calamities and removes us from the necessity of contemplating their inevitability. In Open City
the narrator is preoccupied with how the migrant experience both implants isolation into a life and inexorably erodes the opportunities to alleviate that isolation.
In its most immediately comprehensible passages, Open City
steadily builds this realisation of and dismay at the common migrant fate. During his first few evening walks Julius witnesses the street life in Harlem, and goes to the cinema to see The Last King of Scotland.
Amidst these events he reflects on a patient of his who has become clinically depressed by her research on the treatment of Native Americans by Dutch settlers. This account of her depression, set amongst the narrator’s interactions in contemporary New York, is startling. The patient’s pain appears to originate in coloniser’s guilt, and it is a testament to Cole’s skill that he provides us with a glimpse of the coloniser as migrant. Here, the process of colonising has corrupted the Dutch settlers into murderous monsters, and it is their inhumanity and violence that has touched Julius’ patient.
Another of Julius’ memories has similar associations. This time it concerns a Ugandan-Indian he knew, robbed and expelled by Idi Amin, but now, like Julius, living in America. Julius remembers the bitterness of this Dr Gupta towards Africans, and in the context of the novel, the reader is led to conclude that this Dr Gupta was once a migrant in Africa, and has suffered accordingly. Further on, Julius is robbed by African-Americans, and comments on the inevitability of the incident. Again, it is a testament to Cole’s skill that at this later stage ‘inevitability’ has acquired a particular resonance, and can be conceptualised by the reader in a way which is distinct to the novel’s vision.
One of the most effective recurring motifs is Julius’ frequent encounters with African-Americans and African migrants. These taxi-drivers, security guards, internees, shoe-shiners, post office employees and internet café supervisors tend to behave in an overly personal, confessional way towards the narrator. In this novel they are people of heightened emotions, men who are lonely, desperate and voluble; and, it is implied, men whose conditions are all exacerbated by their migrant existence. As the novel reaches its end, and some of the people closest to Julius, for various reasons, become distant from him, it becomes more difficult to imagine Julius’ future condition as being any different from that of these men.
On a first reading, Open City
seems to weaken in those moments when the narrative grasp of its subject loosens. For example, Julius’ interest in classical music feels extraneous to the storyline, and increasingly, a piece of character embellishment included solely to add substance to the narrator’s authority. Equally, there are moments when the Sebaldian influence, manifested in historical anecdote, fails to divert the narrative into the kind of meaningful digressions so characteristic of The Rings of Saturn
. Instead there is a sense, as with Julius’ obsession with classical music that these passages are there to impart a particular tone or flavour. When first encountered they appear to have an opposite, dissonant effect; and the reader is left wondering what the novel must be lacking to make them so necessary. Both these problems contribute to an initial apprehension that the novel fails to pursue its subject as fully as it might. This seems best represented by the narrator’s unresolved quest to find his grandmother in Brussels; in another writer’s hands the success of this mission might have yielded the finest, most intense prose in the novel.
Towards the very end of the story Julius is accused of having committed a serious crime in his adolescence. It is an entirely surprising moment, and one which seems designed to encourage a reader to reconsider their view of the narrator, and his story. The accusation seems intended to present Julius as a compromised figure, reducing his credibility, and to make him a man with less transparent motives and compulsions than we’ve imagined. It is in the process of re-examining the novel, in the light of this accusation, that some of the narrative detours which appear so non-integral on first reading begin to configure into a possibility of meaning.
Earlier on in the novel Julius recalls an incident at the Nigerian Military School; when an adolescent there he was accused of stealing a teacher’s newspaper. In his memory he did take the newspaper, but only on assuming that it had been discarded. After the accusation at the end of Open City
, the reader is inclined to doubt not only Julius’ account of this incident, but the entire structure of selfhood that he has so painstakingly established. In a Guardian review, Giles Foden (http://snurl.com/23lqhye
) points to the implausibility of some of Julius’ musical references; ones which the novel presents as fundamental to Julius’ sense of himself as an urbane, cultural insider.
If then we cannot take Julius at his word, the implications of his self- deceit seem significant for any attempt to come to terms with this novel. To my mind these doubts place the narrator even more firmly into the milieu so much of the novel seems to be pitching him towards. We are returned again to the familiar realm of the desperate, isolated, fantasizing migrant. However this time our subject has minutely changed; it is now the migrant’s perception of his surroundings failing to fit securely with any enduring realities. Peculiarly, this vision of the novel does offer some hope; perhaps the tragedies of these migrant men are more imagined than experienced, and perhaps this novel has been less about migrant experience than about how migrants perceive and make sense of their experiences; and about how these perceptions are shaped by their embellishing the roles they inhabit through unrestrained acts of imagination and identification.
As the novel closes we return to the subject of migrating birds. This time they appear not as flying in view of Julius’ apartment window, but dead, clustered on and around the Statue of Liberty, fatally confused and disoriented by the flame of the torch. It is hard not to see parallels between these unfortunate birds and those other migrants that the novel is filled with, and think of their non-fatal, human tragedies.
Find out more about Open City.
Book your place to meet Teju Cole.
Find out more about about our Summer Reads.
Visit Lander Hawes' website.
Lander Hawes author of Captivity.
Exploring Literary Heritage in Celebration of Refugee Week.
Some of us are born and bred into a town or city, some adopt a new home and some people are continual travellers, be that across the country or around the world. Then there are the people who are forced away from their homes, through economic necessity, war or persecution. Refugee Week 2012 takes place from the 18th to the 24th June and aims to celebrate the diversity which refugees and asylum seekers bring to their adopted country, and to acknowledge the hardships many of them will have had to face.
Across Norfolk there will be a month long series of events from arts, to music, to food for all culminating in the national celebration of Refugee Week next week. (Take a look at the Refugee Week Events in Norfolk) This is an event which acknowledges and celebrates the contributions which refugees and asylum seekers make to our society. The influences of international music and food are often obvious- is your regular takeaway pizza (Italian), curry (Indian) or Chinese (self-explanatory)? Yet, literature is also deeply influenced by international culture, as demonstrated by our Refugee Week events.
Writers’ Centre Norwich regularly participates in Refugee Week, and this year is no different. Michael Ondaatje, author of Booker-prize winning The English Patient, Kamila Shamsie, Teju Cole and Vesna Goldsworthy will all be taking part in events.
World Voices with Teju Cole and Vesna Goldsworthy
is our first event of the week. Teju Cole was born in Nigeria, but now lives in Brooklyn, New York. His first full length novel Open City
won the PEN/Hemingway Award, the New York City Book Award for Fiction, and the Rosenthal Award of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Clearly, Teju Cole is one to watch!
Vesna Goldworthy emigrated to the UK from Yugoslavia (now Serbia). Her memoir Chernobyl Strawberries was serialised in The Times and chosen as BBC Radio Four’s Book of the Week. (Read a review in The Guardian) As a writer, she is in the unique position of not only having lived in very different countries, but belonging to a country which exists only in memory. At the event Teju Cole and Vesna Goldsworthy will read from their work and explore ideas of exile, displacement and acceptance in a fascinating exploration of identity and nationality.
Michael Ondaatje and Kamila Shamsie
will be the participating authors in our other Refugee Week event. Ondaatje is a world-famous writer who has lived in Sri Lanka, England and Canada. Kamila Shamsie is Pakistani by birth, and currently lives in England. (Read my earlier blog about why I can’t wait for the Ondaatje and Shamsie event
) The evening is going to be an unmissable experience, and will provide a fascinating new perspective of international writing.
I find it particularly interesting that so many accomplished writers have multi-cultural backgrounds, and that all of our Refugee Week authors have adopted homelands as well as their birthplaces. It seems obvious that cultural diversity enriches literature and society as a whole. I’m really looking forward to finding out more about the writer’s influences and heritage because it seems a factor which is oft referenced with individual writers, but not frequently explored as a grouping theme.
Book your ticket for World Voices with Teju Cole and Vesna Goldsworthy.
Book your ticket for an Evening with Michael Ondaatje and Kamila Shamsie.
These events are also part of Worlds Literary Festival.
Michael Ondaatje and Kamila Shamsie Visit Norwich for an Unmissable Event
Although our Worlds Literature Festival includes many brilliant writers- JM Coetzee, Jeanette Winterson, Jo Shapcott to name a few - the event that I am most anticipating is ‘An Evening with Michael Ondaatje and Kamila Shamsie’. Ever since reading The English Patient I have been an avid fan of Ondaatje's novels, and I can’t wait to hear him discuss his writing and inspiration.
Earlier, I was discussing The English Patient with my colleague Sam, and he described the novel as gloriously indulgent and startlingly panoramic. This summary, I feel, describes Ondaatje’s work aptly. His prose style has been honed over the years, but still holds the same lyrical joy of his poetry and his writing continues to embrace the microcosm.
Teju Cole, another author who will be visiting Norwich for Worlds, described Ondaatje as his hero. Cole wrote that “Ondaatje makes language translucent” in this recent Guardian article. Clearly, Ondaatje is a highly influential author, for both readers and writers. For Worlds Ondaatje will be reading from his latest novel, The Cat’s Table, a book which is inspired by his journey from Sri Lanka to England. (Read Annie Proulx’s review on the Guardian)
Kamila Shamsie is Pakistani by birth but is currently living in London and, amongst other things, working as a trustee for English Pen. She is often courted as providing a voice for women in Pakistan. Her most recent novel, Burnt Shadows, was shortlisted for the Orange Prize and has been translated into more than twenty languages. Shamsie's Pakistani heritage informs her writing but she believes the human experience is very much universal and this is apparent in her novels. (Listen to an interview with Shamsie.)
Both Ondaatje and Shamsie are of multi-nationality, and as such, provide a unique examination of their birth-countries and adopted countries. The idea of identity will be a major discussion point over the evening and I’m looking forward to hearing how they explore the links between their lives and their writing.
Since reading Jeanette Winterson’s Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal I have been intrigued by the idea of authors rewriting and mediating life experiences through their fiction. (Jeanette Winterson is also participating in Worlds 2012). I know that the event with Ondaatje and Shamsie is sure to offer a fascinating new perspective on fiction and the writing process.
Book your place before it's too late.
Find out more about Worlds Literature Festival.
A Free Pass to the Best in Contemporary Writing
Our series of Afternoon Reading Sessions coming up at Worlds offer you the chance to experience many fascinating voices. If you’re at all interested in contemporary writing you will devour these events - and best of all they’re free!
On June 19th Joe Dunthorne Alvin Pang, Manon Uphoff , Yoko Tawada and Tommy Wieranga will read, hosted by Valerie Hentuik. I’m particularly excited about hearing Joe Dunthorne, author of Submarine and Wild Abandon. I read Submarine last year, and went on to recommend it to almost everyone I knew. Tommy Wieranga is the other author who I’m intrigued by (despite not having yet read his work) because of his amazing author photo! (See right.) The writers will be examining the theme of language and experiment: so this event is a must if you’re interested in post-modern literature or writers who challenge conventions.
On the 20th of June Frances Leviston, Goretti Kyomuhendo, Eleanor Catton, Chika Unigwe and Alex Miller will muse on ‘the real’ in fiction and poetry. Eleanor Catton’s first novel, The Rehearsal, was hailed as “a glimpse into the future of the novel itself” and I’m hoping that she will inspire me to pick up my pen and start writing again- she is lavishly praised as a writer and a speaker. I’m also looking forward to Frances Leviston who visited us earlier this year and wowed the audience with her emotionally pitch-perfect poetry- watch the video on youtube below.
The final session features Jonty Driver, Samantha Harvey, Sjön, Catherine Cole and Robin Hemley on the theme of ‘Strange Lands’. Sjön is a lyricist, poet and prose writer, best-known in the UK for collaborating with Björk. (Listen to one of their songs). An amazingly prolific and accomplished writer, Sjön’s appearance at the Afternoon Reads will definitely be a highlight for me.
Together, these Afternoon Reading Sessions aim to explore the theme of ‘Fiction, Memoir and the Self’. Although each session will be a wonderful experience individually, as a set they will gain far more significance and meaning- I recommend you come to all of them if you can!
Each session will take place at the UEA Drama Studio, from 2 till 3.30pm.
Find out more and book your tickets below:
Language and Experimentation
with Joe Dunthorne, Alvin Pang, Manon Uphoff, Yoko Tawada and Tommy Wieringa.
Tuesday 19th June, 2-3.30pm, UEA Drama Studio, FREE event.
Truths: Representations of the Real in Fiction & Poetry
with Frances Levison, Goretti Kyomuhendo, Eleanor Catton, Chika Unigwe and Alex Miller.
Wednesday 20th June, 2-3.30pm, UEA Drama Studio, FREE event.
Strange Lands: Themes of Loss, Otherness and Home
with Jonty Driver, Samantha Harvey, Robin Hemley, Sjön, and Catherine Cole.
Friday 22nd June, 2-3.30pm, UEA Drama Studio, FREE event.
Reports From The Worlds Literature Festival Salon 2011
Each year towards the end of June the Worlds Literature Festival brings together around forty writers in Norwich. As well as a week of public events, the writers take part in three morning sessions of round-table discussion called The Salon. There is a different overarching theme each year, and the 2011 theme was Influence
Warm up for Worlds 2012 by catching up with what happened last year including Maureen Freely, (Professor of Creative Writing, novelist and Orhan Pamuk’s translator) speaking openly about being Orhan’s translator; how Japanese fiction differs to English; a discussion on what technology is doing to writing and much more.
The Salon starts with a group of writers from around the world coming in to the reception room of the University Council Chamber for coffee and biscuits. Then everyone filters through into the chamber, takes a name badge and finds a seat at the large oblong table set up with comfortable leather chairs and microphones. People settle down. Some people cough, others look a bit pale. Portraits of ex-Chancellors adorn the room, and everyone turns to the head of the table where Professor Jon Cook, the Chair of proceedings sits.
Each of the three mornings comprises two one and a half hour sessions. At the start of each session there are one or two short provocations, designed, well, to provoke discussion and debate. Each provocateur is given a topic and will take his or her own route in addressing it.
There is no final outcome expected from the discussions, but as Professor Jon Cook mentioned at one point, each year at The Salon there is always a point where writers state that they are taken beyond their own horizons and learn something new. That is why writers remain so enthusiastic about it.
This report is our chance to carry on the discussion.
There is a link to a document covering each Salon session below. There you can listen to recorded podcasts of each provocation direct, or if you prefer, you can read abridged notes from the provocations. Then you will find abridged versions of the fascinating discussions that took place afterwards.
It is worth noting that whether you're a writer who took part in the event, or a reader interested in the ideas, the notes made here are by necessity an approximate translation of what was said, and are inevitably much reduced: they are not intended to be precise transcriptions, but an attempt to catch some of the spirit of the discussions. (It is also possible that there may occasionally have been wayward influences on the note-taker; the thought of a cup of coffee perhaps, a brief foray onto twitter.) Please bear all this in mind when reading!
Given the theme, it was interesting to note how hard it was to keep editorial influences out of the ‘translation’ of the notes on the Salon sessions. Quite apart from the unintentional editorial that went on when making the notes, editing them and putting them online meant making further decisions. When laid out solely as text, the documents looked unwieldy – website based documents call out to become linear and themed; the eye wants something to jump to like a title. As such, some of the comments have been grouped under headings simply to make them easier for readers to navigate on the page. However, as far as possible all ideas and opinions presented should be read as echoes of those of the writers in the room - any deliberate editorial opinions have been avoided.
Unmissable Events at Worlds Literature Festival 2012
Worlds Literature Festival happens every year towards the end of June in venues across Norwich. This year’s Worlds Festival is taking place from the 18th of June till the 22nd and features evening events from world-renowned authors Michael Ondaatje and J.M. Coetzee amongst others. The Afternoon Reading Sessions are open to the public and are completely free- giving you the opportunity to hear from brilliant writers in a more intimate environment.
Jeanette Winterson is returning to Norwich for an evening event with Jo Shapcott and Dame Gillian Beer. I was lucky enough to hear Jeanette Winterson read and discuss her latest book, Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal last year, and I promise you her memoir is even better when read by the author herself! Jo Shapcott’s newest collection of poetry, Of Mutability, is incredibly moving and has been in great demand in the office. I'm sure that Of Mutability will attain even greater poignancy when Jo Shapcott discusses her motivation and writing processes.
I also can’t wait to hear Nobel Laureate J.M. Coetzee reading from his work. I’ve been a big fan of his work for years and this event is made all the more special because Coetzee rarely appears at public events. Anna Funder and Tim Parks are also appearing alongside J.M. Coetzee. Our other unmissable event stars Michael Ondaatje and Kamila Shamsie. Michael Ondaatje’s novel The English Patient won the 1992 Booker Prize and was adapted into an Oscar winning film. Both of these events are available as part of our multi-buy deal (£20 or £15 concessions for both events).
Teju Cole, whose novel Open City won the Hemingway/Pen Award is visiting Norwich to participate in World Voices, an event which celebrates Refugee Week. Bestselling author Vesna Goldsworthy will also be reading at this event. The closing event of Worlds will celebrate the launch of Granta Britain. How better to commemorate the year of the Jubilee than with wonderful writing?
This over-arching theme of Worlds Literature Festival 2012 is ‘Fiction, Memoir and the Self’. Each of the events will be loosely focused on exploring the relationship between biographical truth and fictional representation.
Find out more about Worlds Literature Festival.
Join The Twitterview: Got A Question For Katie Kitamura? Please Send It In Now
On 13th July at 3pm we’re hosting our first ever Twitterview. (Twitterview = Twitter + 'Interview' - see?). We’ll be speaking live on the internet to the author of The Longshot Katie Kitamura.
Check back here after the interview to read her answers in full, or keep an eye on twitter accounts @katiekitamura
at 3pm Wednesday 13th to follow it live!
The video beneath is a recent film of Katie Kitamura at the Norwich Millennium Library, where she was reading for our Summer Reads and Worlds Literature Festival event. Stay tuned - there’ll be more from this event to follow.
Video produced and edited by Digital Media Officer Edward Cottrell - this position was made possible by the DCMS Jerwood Creative Bursary Scheme.