Skip to main content


Showing posts from March, 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.

City Lights Bookstore and dinner nearby

Here is one image of the famous City Lights Bookstore... home turf of Ferlinghetti and where Allen Ginsberg read "Howl" 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 …

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 "f…

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 write…

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…

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 perio…

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. :-)

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 o…

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…

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 hand…

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?

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 …