Saturday, March 28, 2009

Steve's Sunny University City

As noted before, we have boots on the ground in West Philly, yes, spies, relatives, odd souls, and old shoes. One offers some beautiful photographs of where it all began for this author. If you are a fan or frequenter of the 34 trolley line, you may notice you've passed these houses before. It's soggy-dog rain in South Carolina this Saturday, so I'm loving the view of 48th Street on a sunny day. Thanks, Steve.

Monday, March 23, 2009

City Lights Bookstore and dinner nearby

Here is one image of the famous City Lights Bookstore... home turf of Ferlinghetti who famously published Allen Ginsberg's Howl and Other Poems and was later arrested on an obscenity charge. In the alleyway by the bookstore there are smooth stones with writing from Maya Angelou, an excerpt from Jack Kerouac's On the Road, some Chinese proverbs, and other literary tidbits. Inside, they have fiction and non-fiction as well as plenty of Ginsberg souvenirs. I saw many academic titles too, not always easy to find if you are interested in browsing them, along with a strong selection of books with social-justice themes. I almost purchased a nifty, newer annotated Communist Manifesto but then resisted the overly commodified moment of late Kudera-ism.

If eating more than reading is what satisfies your soul, within two minutes, you can walk into Chinatown and enjoy the extremely affordable Sunshine Breakfast where they serve both Chinese and American dishes. I ate American eggs, sausage, and pancakes for $2.50 and took some tasty veggie dumplings for the road. (I should note they do not serve Chinese rice porridge aka congee.) If you are looking for something more authentic and amazing, House of Nanking is nearby. As we walked into this small "New York Table" dinner restaurant, another visitor said his cabbie told him this was the best restaurant in Chinatown. After eating there, I don't doubt it one bit! Our entrees included fish, tofu, chicken, and lots of veggies and delicious noodles. We added soup for three, avoided the wine list, and ate a filling meal for $20 per person included tax and tip. The R & G Lounge and one called Chinatown were also quite good. For more middling but affordable meals, it is not difficult to find eight-dollar entrees in San Francisco's Chinatown although it is worth noting that rice is often served separately. (In a fashion similar to what I experienced in Seoul, South Korea, they will provide a small bowl for a dollar.) Mangez bien mes amis!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Kudera in the City of Lights!

Alas, my friends, readers, spies, and countryfolk, Kudera was not in Paris... but he did get to the City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco. His "Dispatch from San Francisco" should arrive soon from if he finds time to write it. For the moment, he is still savoring the food and sights and homeless and mountains, rather hills, found in the most eastern of Left Coast cities. City Lights in particular is snug between Chinatown and North Beach's variety of amazing Italian restaurants. Kudera has calculated he need only five thousand after-tax American dollars to rent a cozy two bedroom and eat well throughout these neighborhoods. He has learned that for a modest quarterly fee there is free health coverage for any resident of San Francisco, an intriguing variety of subsidized coverage that only works as long as the resident gets vertigo, hepatitis, or leukemia within city limits. That kind of health coverage renders new meaning to the phrase "final destination." So the goal? Brainstorm like a madman for the five K monthly and then move to Frisco. Aim high in tough times! Donations anyone??? Look for the paypal icon soon to appear at a near you.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

An Interview with Cassendre Xavier

Cassendre Xavier does it all in locations ranging from Kalamazoo, Michigan to Philly to New York City. Her words are found in stories, poems, blogs, and songs; you can access Ms. Xavier online or look for her live at a performance near you.

USK: When did you first know you wanted to be a writer?

CX: I’ve written since age 4. (In Haiti, school starts when you can talk, so at age 3 I was taught to read and write). At 4 I was writing love letters, at 8 I wrote my first song, around 13 I was writing erotica (Nancy Friday’s “My Secret Garden” was very inspiring!). Around 16 I was writing music reviews for my high school paper, took a journalism class, and wanted to write for Rolling Stone. At around 22 I started writing for publication in periodicals and anthologies. Then around 26 I officially started wanting to write my own books and be a full-time multi-media artist.

USK: When did you first identify as a writer?

CX: Intellectually I called myself a writer in my early 20s when I was in writers’ groups and submitting my work, but it was really brought home to me when I got paid to do a reading and then when I saw my work in print, I mean, actually holding a paper product in my hands that had my name and writing on it made me feel like a writer. Every time I’m paid for my writing I feel like a writer. The rest of the time, I just feel crazy to have all this creative energy and so urgently need to write it down all the time! But that’s my own story, style, or supposed hang-up – to only feel my work is valid when I’m properly compensated or given praise for it. The good news is that I’m not trying to fix that. I’ve embraced it. Show me the money!

USK: How do you balance your working life and your writing life?

CX: I don’t, because I don’t separate the two. I consider myself a working artist, therefore the work I do is make art. That’s what I came to do this time around – make stuff that talks about my story, make stuff that entertains, hopefully enlightens a little bit, but mostly to inspire people to live juicier – more passionately. Some time ago, I realized that using the term “day job” for anything other than my art/work was doing a disservice to me as an artist – it was seriously blocking my progress in obtaining regular gainful employment in my chosen fields of music, writing, acting, and visual art. I no longer use the term “gig.” When I’ve been commissioned to do art for money – I now call it a “job." That’s my work.

So, how I grow as a working writer – to answer what I think you’re asking – how I become more efficient, is to create assignments for myself, and to always have projects going. I also now have a mentor who encourages and works with me several times a week – a writer I’ve admired for years and whose work I’ve carried with me in the same folder as my own work, inspiring me to someday be just like her in many ways. In that time, I’ve watched myself make progress – to the point where my collection of work looks more like hers, and to the point where I finally mustered up the gumption to ask her to mentor me. She was thrilled and honored. Not only is she encouraging me as a writer, but as a recording artist, and as a visual artist as well. (She’s a writer, recording artist, and potential visual artist.) Another thrill is seeing how I’m helping her to grow, just by being her mentee. Those are some ways I improve as a working writer – always working on a project, having and reaching goals, and I think a mentor is very, very important – someone who has what you want and is willing to show you how they did it and help you get it, too. It should be a pairing and mentorship that ends up making you both look great and be proud of each other.

USK: What is your advice to fledgling writers?

CX: Find out what you like and why. I prefer mediocre writing by people leading interesting lives (I’m not a fiction person, and I’m barely a poetry person). I really like what Anais Nin, Maya Angelou, and Cookie Mueller did – they lived amazing lives and wrote about it. I’ve learned that what’s important to me is living an interesting life, then writing about and sharing my experiences. That along with building community among co-creators and making things that hopefully inspire and make people feel good is what I like. Find out what you like and do it. 2) If you’re a natural writer, you probably read and write a lot anyway. As a kid I was such a writerly nerd. I read everything. I even loved the no-frills cornflakes box because it had 21 ways you could use the stuff in a recipe – as breading for fried chicken, you name it. That was fun to me. I wrote a diary, I made up interviews with George Michael - I was unstoppable. If you’re a writer, you’re probably that way, too, so start telling yourself that you’re a writer. 3) Send your stuff out for publication a lot if getting published is important to you. It will prepare you for rejection, which is a big part of the game. 4) Seriously consider self-publishing. Not only is it an excellent way to get your work out there, but if it sells well or creates a buzz, it could be a fast track to finding a publisher. It worked for lots of people, including one of my Philly faves, Lord Whimsy – another person living an interesting life and writing about it. 5) Don’t listen to a word I’ve said. Be your own guru. Follow your heart and what makes you happy, trying anything you would regret having missed if you died tomorrow. Do it all, do it imperfectly, and die happy.

USK: How can we access your art and/or writing?

CX: Send a blank email to with “Subscribe” in the subject. I’ll send you my free e-newsletter “the renaissance negresse museletter: art inspiration community,” which, in addition to being a great place to post your event, announcement or classified in the “Community Bulletin Board,” will include all my currently available recordings and publications. Of course you could also Google me, but it wouldn’t be nearly as fun! So as not to be a complete tease, in the meantime, you can read my blogs at

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

An incomplete list of the incomplete novel???

Even within the most exclusive of canons, there are novels that were considered incomplete by their authors. Others were attacked by critics for "not being novels"; that is they were accused of lacking character development, proper trajectory, conflict, or a proper ending. A third group were left as unpublished manuscripts for diligent relatives, literary executors, or next generations to decipher and define. In no particular order then, I offer a list of favorites with brief notes:

Franz Kafka, Amerika, The Trial, and The Castle. The trifecta as far as brilliant but imperfect manuscripts go. You know the details, death by burning rudely interrupted by good Uncle Max, who manages to make Kafka one of the most powerful authors, images, and ideas of the twentieth century. From words coined in his honor to bars in South Korea to novel and movie titles far and wide, part of our Kafkaesque existence includes our inability to escape the writer's influence.

Herman Melville, Billy Budd. Tell me this forgotten manuscript is not a novel. I dare you!

Thomas Pynchon, The Crying of Lot 49. Does Oedipa's character properly develop? Is he allowed to end it that way? Is it legal to include a long, tangential "play within the play" as early as chapter 3? Could the rumors be true he is rapping as the artist Tommy Pi? "This is America, you live in it, you let it happen. Let it unfurl."

I have a few others in mind, but I encourage you to add to this list.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Don Riggs on Writers and Writing

Don Riggs is a poet as well as a professor at Drexel University in Philadelphia. He responds to both “Ma” and “Herr Doktor”; in other words, he holds a doctorate in comparative literature from UNC—Chapel Hill and a masters in the art of creative writing from Temple University.

USK: When did you first know you wanted to be a writer?

DR: I don’t know that I knew I wanted to “be a writer,” but I started writing poetry – actually, really verse, and that wasn’t very successful from a technical point of view – when I was in sixth grade, and published some of my products in The Pine Cone, which was the “newspaper” of Pine Crest elementary school. I stopped writing for a few years, then one evening when walking to a rehearsal, I was so struck by the full moon rising over the Beltway bridge, that I started composing a poem as I was walking along, and I used that mode of “writing” for years (i.e., working out each line in my head, then going on to the next, so that most of the poems of that period I memorized as I was composing them). Only when I was in graduate school did I discover the “modern poetry” of one generation older – the Beats, Black Mountain School, the Deep Image poets, the New York School – and then I, in self-conscious imitation of 3 of these, starting composing at the typewriter, and sometimes continuing my old mode with the Deep Image poets’ style.

USK: When did you first identify as a writer?

DR: I suppose that was in grad school, when I was trying to deny that I was a graduate student probably headed for a straight academic career. I defined my “true calling” as my writing, and partook of open readings/performances in the 1970s in Chapel Hill, NC.

USK: How do you balance your working life and your writing life?

DR: I write a sonnet (a 14-line decasyllabic-line poem) each morning after breakfast and before my commute to work. My writing life leaks over into occasional columns that I write for an online journal, occasional readings that I give/participate in, and my therapy sessions, when I have a fresh poem that I think has something worth pursuing.

USK: What is your advice to fledgling writers?

DR: Read. Read widely and deeply, both in the works of writers you love and in works of writers you don’t know. Also, write constantly. W.H. Auden once said that good poets write more bad poems than bad poets do, because good poets are always writing, and simply slough off the dross.

USK: How can we access your writing?

If you can figure out how to work this, here’s me reading:

Saturday, March 7, 2009

The Crying of Lot 49 at

Check out this rare-bookstore website for some original covers of The Crying of Lot 49:

You will learn it was named one of Time Magazine's best books for 1966.

Email if you are interested in learning more about the rare-book business or ready to invest in first-edition hardcovers. :-)

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Kundera on memory and forgetting

Milan Kundera, a minor “Franco-Czech” novelist—not at all to be confused with the great States of Kudera you are presently perusing (oy veh)—has written new non-fiction called The Curtain and subtitled An Essay in Seven Parts. In the seventh part, he describes great obstacles to our reading of novels—memory and forgetting. For those who read Kundera, the ideas will seem familiar:

The novel, on the other hand, is a very poorly fortified castle. If I take an hour to read twenty pages, a novel of four hundred pages will take me twenty hours, thus about a week. Rarely do we have a whole week free. It is more likely that, between sessions of reading, intervals of days will occur, during which forgetting will immediately set up its worksite... Someday, years later, I will start to talk about this novel to a friend, and we will find that our memories have retained only a few shrouds of the text and have reconstructed very different books for each of us. (148-9)

Kudera’s point is an excellent one; I suspect we all remember conversations with friends about shared favorites, and how it turned out we could not remember each other’s favorite scenes, and in fact, it was even unclear if we had read the same book.

Despite Kundera’s clarity, his ideas are so pessimistic that I thought I’d dish some optimism for the day. After all, we do want to encourage our wandering youth to read!

According to my 11th grade English teacher, the trick to remembering much more of the novel is to read in great chunks. Give yourself a few solid hours with your book and try to avoid picking up the book for a few minutes at a time. A couple years later, my freshman history professor taught me that we are mistaken if we believe the more we read the more content we will have fighting for space in a limited brain. In fact, according to Professor Morgan, the brain works in the opposite way. We will remember more if we read more. My first two years of undergrad were two of the greatest reading years of my life, and I believe Professor’s Morgan’s encouragement was part of the reason.

So all thee young and old, before you submit to the boob tube or the Belgian beer, sit very still with book in lap, read for a few hours, and then sit back and savor the company of your memories. Need a good title? Immortality and The Unbearable Lightness of Being are said to be Kundera’s best books, but I recommend The Joke. If you like short stories, check out, “The Hitchhiking Game” or “Let the Old Dead Make Way for the Young Dead.”

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The Crying of Lot 49 hits closer to home

My first job after college was at a Borders Bookstore, a seasonal temp at six dollars flat toward the end of the first Bush recession. It was 1991 to be exact. When given a chance to facilitate a book discussion at the store—indeed, a chance to use my college education—I chose Pynchon’s short novel, The Crying of Lot 49. Most of us who attempt to “teach” Pynchon feel we must apologize if this is the book of our choice; yet, it is very rare that we would choose another. If we consider all the trends working against the extended reading of novels as part of a college education, it would be almost unimaginable to hand college students V or Gravity’s Rainbow and tell them with a straight face that the book will be covered in three or four weeks. (I did read Gravity's Rainbow as part of a 7-week seminar focused solely on that book.) It took me a couple “seasons” of teaching from a standard syllabus before I risked assigning Pynchon’s short novel to today’s college students, but overall I’m pleased I’ve tried.

Back to teaching, on Tuesday in class, I read the novel in a new context. I was no longer the instructor teaching the students about the Yoyodyne executive who, “found himself, at age 39, automated out of a job” (91). In fact, it occurred to me, from behind the podium, I am 39, and I am not entirely certain I have a job past May! Although I am acclimated to "unsteady" employment—commissioned sales and teaching on short-term contracts—the most recently estimated 675,000 jobs lost (added to several million from last year) seem so rather disturbing and new. Are we in a downturn? A demise? A decline and fall? I would have been unable to answer those questions in class, and most likely, would have retreated to some moderate tone concerning an ebb and flow or elasticity of the economy. When in doubt, choose a truth that leaves room for hope.

In class, it was quite the “eureka!” moment. At least for me, but my sense is the students were listening and many were understanding in several senses of the word. There we were—a group of students, a teacher, and an imaginary “downsized” friend—recognizing that the fiction of the text was in fact the facts of the day. Even if this particular teacher, the figure behind the podium, is fortunate enough to maintain his position, it became clear to students that unemployment could come even to the chosen few “rigidly instructed in an eschatology that pointed nowhere but to a presidency and death” (91). Alas, for some students in 2009, it could be that employment has never seemed like a given; they were not raised with the concept of social contract or a guaranteed job.

So this then became a truth of our moment, and I believe as a group, a knowledge we could share. At the very least, something was taught that seemed consistent with the representation of reality they’ve been watching on that “filthy machine,” the TV (73). Tune in this Friday at 8:30 a.m. to learn to what extent our economic lull is extended.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

More on George W. Bush's fav Frosty poet

In Spring of 1999, when I first taught a college-level "literature" course (as opposed to composition, argument, or business writing), I had little idea we were to get a strong dose of W. for 8 consecutive years. I did already know Bush--his name was on the political map if not yet the placemats in West Texas diners. It was a few years later that I greeted with a chuckle the pertinent information that Robert Frost was George W. Bush's favorite American poet.

George Creeger first introduced me to Robert Frost in a survey course in the Spring of 1988. Creeger was an excellent professor with a voice for literature and an ability to project from behind the podium of any large hall. Toward the end of our class on Frost, he introduced us to the subtextual possibility that all of Frost's poems have a potentially erotic undertow to them, often mono- or homo-, but not necessarily devoid of heterosexual hidden meaning. "Birches" for example gives us:

Like girls on hands and knees that throw their hair
Before them over their heads to dry in the sun.

That certainly is not any "normal" way for young women to dry their locks. As a child of the 1970s and 80s it is hard not to see that famous poster image of Farrah Fawcett-Majors (no major hyphen these days) whenever I read those lines. How did their hair get so wet anyway?

I wonder which lines and meanings mean the most to our former President? Has he too enjoyed his peace with nature? I've heard he is an early riser as well as a good napper, but could it be that within the White House he became "Acquainted with the Night"? Perhaps King George has felt "weary of considerations,/ And [that] life is too much like a pathless wood"? Many of course saw his Presidency as one in which not enough was considered, but although he never once asked for or earned my vote, it did seem to me like the weight of the world was on his shoulders much of the time. He seemed like one who could identify with a Frost narrator, a person alone at night or at odds with the world, its practices, or ideas.

Anyway, for more Robert Frost, check out The Literature Network or another free source of poetry. I hope you enjoy the less Dubya of your future.

Happy Tuesday.

Alex Kudera

Monday, March 2, 2009

Happy Snow Day, East Coast

It came down stronger than the Dow Jones Industrial Average. In Clemson, we had substantial accumulation on the ground. The temperature rose above 40 fahrenheit by noon and snow fell from the pine trees all afternoon. On my afternoon walk, I saw nature's beauty--white snow on barren branches, bright sun and three inches on the ground. I used to teach Robert Frost's "Birches" every Spring, from about 1999 through 2007; with no other walkers out and about, for a stroll, I felt close to the poem. No swinging on trees but no cobwebs and "crazes" either. One could do worse than be between young and old, and yet we disappoint ourselves with the expression, "middle aged." Richard Ford referred to these years as our "existence period." Did Ford see snow on the ground today? Did Ford see Frost in his trees?

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Contributor to Scott Stein's

Kudera here. Back for more. For those in need of Kudera online, good news! I am going to blog twice a week at The United States of Kudera, and I will be contributing writing at least twice a month to Scott Stein's (a journal of american culture or the lack thereof).

For, I will write satire of personal finance, including "how (not) to," book reviews, and short fiction. The site seems to have a wide range of writers from the famous in Philly (Clark Deleon) to the well respected in academia to the published novelist (Michael Antman and Scott Stein among others) to the obscure but talented.

For either this blog or my writing at, you are welcome to try the "Correct Kudera" feature. Indeed, you can criticize, edit, spellcheck, applaud, or add a coda to any Kudera writing. Please email me at

Further, if you are an agent, editor, or conscientious reader who would enjoy being included in a published novel's acknowledgements, please let Kudera know at Kudera plans to wade into the murky waters of self-publication by the end of this coming summer if no book deals miraculously appear. On this note, he is considering to create the entire book himself, and he would certainly enjoy your feedback on this book creator/publisher or another. Any help is appreciated.

Good luck with your own ventures in this tumultuous 2009.



Featured Post

Auggie's Revenge: Reviews, Interviews, and Excerpts

Book Reviews: "The Teaching Life as a House of Troubles," by Don Riggs, American, British and Canadian Studies , June 1, 2017 ...