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Showing posts from April, 2012

April 29 (John Warner On Failure)

I was doing some a.m. search and rescue for something I could share as the next-to-last blog of the month, unless I get inspired and overcome this morning's fatigue, and I found John Warner writing "On the Possibilities of Failure" at Inside Higher Ed. In a world where finishing second is often counted as such, you'd think this would be a 20,000-part essay, but in fact, he manages to make some good points in one piece of reasonable length. I've always found failure to be a positively inexhaustible topic, indeed the only topic of great literature or at least a primary topic of my literature, so it took me only a second to decide to share it with you.

Now, if I could only get this hyperlink function to work.

April 28 (Meg Pokrass's impending fame)

The Less United States of Kudera is not doing nearly enough to advocate for Meg Pokrass, and all the Meg Pokrasses of the world, who could be delivering to us juicy, tell-all memoirs of their moderately famous authority figures, bosses in particular, with just a pinch of fiction to make it even more enticing and fun. Of course, instead, Meg chooses the high road and posts only about all things evangelical and Romnified as well as word lists we are to use to impress our own minions. Our peeps, as it were, or perhaps the Gud Christian youts we have opportunity to speechify in front of.

Here she is on full display:

And then here she is moving up in the world:

But for the most part, she tends to her own flock and generously gives back to the literary community by interviewing and being interviewed by various folks writing in the current moment. Writing now, as it were. What I should be doing as I'm almost certain that blogging doesn't count. Or maybe it does? I don't know. I n…

April 27 (Dow Mossman and Fred Exley)

This spring, for contemporary literature (after 1945), I'm finishing the semester with the documentary film The Stone Reader which connects so well to so many of the challenges faced by novelists in the current marketplace. It also provides an enthusiastic "talkie" look into some of the great literature from the 20th century that proves impossible to assign in bulk for general-education courses. It's also a look at the very real life of Dow Mossman, and how a big fat book from his young adult years almost killed him in order to get written, and then how he survived and endured the rest. To the best of my knowledge, he is still enduring.

The contrast between the happy elderly thesis advisor from Iowa and the nearly broken writer-student is not one to be taken lightly, and certainly connects to all the online chatter about the value of MFA degrees (a degree I don't have, but one the protagonist of Fight for Your Long Day does possess as his highest and doesn't …

April 25 (To Have Not)

Last night, I finished Frances Lefkowitz's To Have Not, and although I'm still digesting it, I do recommend the book. I think it will resonate with anyone who can see their life in terms of being both a "Have" and a "Have Not"; for me, some points of comparison include:

1) being a "Have" at least compared to some citizens of the multicultural urban area we were both raised in (for me, Philly; for "Frankie" San Francisco) and then

2) feeling decidedly like a "Have Not" once financial aid sent us to an elite private university where we met the genuinely affluent and the filthy rich

3) divorced parents, and

4) one is Christian and one Jewish


5) some holidays where money was extremely tight although overall it sounds like my folks did a better job of remaining gainfully employed

I never knew that Hemingway's title To Have and Have Not must come from the Cervantes quotation at the beginning of Lefkowitz's book:


April 23 (free book!)

Free of charge (!), no shipping costs (!!), in honor of world book day and all the good, if literate, capitalists who make trade paperbacks available across the globe, I'll send a free copy of Fight for Your Long Day to the first publisher who agrees to publish my second novel. We can open at AWP 2013 (Boston!!!) if you like it like that.




Hey, stop that!

April 22 (Teju Cole on KONY 2012)

Teju Cole's essay on KONY 2012, published online at (in?) The Atlantic, is one that caught my eye this week.

I certainly remember my own, perhaps similar, cynical thoughts surrounding my experience at Wesleyan University and all of the seemingly affluent students intent on changing the world (or resisting locally or whatever Teach for America, the Peace Corps, or grad school in social work was supposed to be called). It felt like they all had automobiles and car insurance paid by their parents, and I vividly remember the brand-new SUVs a few of them drove off in at the end of their glorious four-years of somewhat radical undergrad.

But I never met one who ever called himself a "saviour" or wouldn't have acknowledged and appreciated at least some of the nuances and complexities to all the different kinds of hegemonies circulating throughout and within. There was one friend who would describe it all in matter-of-fact terms: "X's parents have dough, so he can …

April 21 (poorest county)

Philadelphia is the poorest county in Pennsylvania and the only major metro area aside from Baltimore (if we count Baltimore as such) to appear in this slide show of poorest counties in each state. Congratulations! In fact, our leadership in poverty does help maintain the reasonable pricing of rents and restaurants, at least compared to other cities.

Maybe along the lines of "the city that loves you back," we could have something like, "the poverty that sleeps on your park bench," or "poverty with a smile," or "Philadelphia: bringing poverty to the twenty-first century."

I'm hoping I have a few more liveable years before I slide back into our leading indicator. I'm hoping for a few more years of teeth, too, because there's nothing quite like poverty with a blue solution in a glass for the dentures while one's food is being mangled and made mushy by one's gums.

And then, reminded of my own slim margins, I chance upon this poor…

April 20 (420)

If you like to keep the flame lit with commencement angst or eternal recurrence, this could be the story for you. In other news, it sounds like the police at Colorado--Boulder are intent on bogarting the festivities with sprinkler systems and the college-ID requirements. I'm guessing the local convenience stores and sandwich shops may have mixed feelings about this intent to douse the fires of commerce.

It is somewhat amusing that a stoner holiday would depend upon such an exacting time constraint, the official 4:20 spark up, etc. Maybe someone can get through to Spicoli and find out if he'd like fries with that.

April 19 (let the old content make way for the new content)

More or less, I got nothin', but I'll be teaching Roberto Bolano tomorrow (haven't decided yet as to what lessons he'll learn) and thought I'd share a favorite passage from late in The Savage Detectives:

In Paris, it's different. People drift away, people dwindle, and you have time to say goodbye, even if you'd rather not. Not in Africa. People talk there, people tell you their problems, and then they vanish in a cloud of smoke, the way Belano vanished that night, without warning. And you never even consider the possibility of running into X or Y again at the airport. The possibility exists, I'm not saying it doesn't, but you don't consider it. So that night, when Belano disappeared, I stopped thinking about him, stopped thinking about loaning him money, and drank and danced and then fell asleep in a chair and when I woke up with a start (more out of fear than because I was hungover, since I was afraid I'd been robbed, not being in the habit…

April 18 (drizzling Kunderas)

It's drizzling outside, a fitting complement to this evening's early a.m. insomnia. Earlier in the evening (in the yesterday part of tonight), I scribbled a few pages of the rough stuff and called it "My Life as Kundera" although I may ultimately use "Think and Grow Kundera" as the title, taken from my earlier tweet in support of the idle twoughts of Alexander Chee. Anyway, the topic was my meandering musing on the Kudera-Kundera likeness, my father's interest in Milan's writing, me not being him, etc. It could become a section of The Book of Jay (see bottom links for rough-draft excerpts), but of course, I'll have to improve it a lot before it becomes anything at all.

It passed the time, though.

Speaking of J. Robert's engagement with the K., here's a photograph of some of my father's Kunderas, the paperback copies he discovered in bookstores decades ago:

The photograph is from earlier today, or I should say yesterday, but this copy…

April 17 (The South Will Rise Again)

At the very least, the price of gas in the South will rise again. I enjoyed this article full of hyperlinking to all kinds of Southerners--scholars, writers, designers, musicians, and more--but don't follow the Bill Maher link if you want to believe in the strength of our union (the whole "one nation" biz). Maybe Maher should get fined for using the guy with no teeth?

My Aunt Nancy's tasty grits were a highlight of my first trip to the true deep South, a visit to the Florida panhandle on the hot, humid Gulf on Mexico. Not too far from Pensacola, I met my Southern cousins and watched MTV for the first time. One of the most memorable lines of my entire childhood was Cousin Billy's, "You mean you ain't never heard of Jimmy Buffet?" To the best of my knowledge, thirty years later, Bill is doing quite well as a resident of the great state of New Jersey, the same place his Mom and my Dad were so ready to escape from.

In addition to everything else I have…

April 16 (Radical Teacher)

Radical Teacher's Jennifer Gaboury has a review of Fight for Your Long Day behind its $18 pay wall, but it's possible you can get free access through a local university library. They kindly call me  Alex Kundera, so we can sit back and see where that leads. If you followed the last hyperlink, then to answer your question, "I doubt it," but this is not the first case of the added "n" and surname confusion.

So, in any event, thank you Professor Gaboury for the review, and I'll certainly love you ever more madly if you can squeeze Cyrus Duffleman into one of your Political Science or Gender Studies courses for fall semester.

April 15 (mentors)

Michael Leone's creative nonfiction went live at Connotation Press (An Online Artifact); he tackles the tricky topic of literary mentorship in Worcester, Massachusetts.This one has it all, from Christmas Eve surprises to flights to Prague to one-word dismissals of all the great contemporary writers.

On the topic of mentoring, I learned that Professor Joan Mellen, my faculty advisor within Temple University's creative writing program, will have a book on Haiti arriving this fall, and then two more due for publication within the following year. Her pace and endurance amazes me, and these publications push her past twenty for a remarkable literary career which has included film criticism, biography, and JFK scholarship.

April 13 (Daniel Peaceman and his CHM entourage)

Literature is on the horizon in sunny Romania. Fight for Your Long Bucharest!

April 13 (covers and spines)

The Caustic Cover Critic rummaged around Atticus Books and found a couple he liked. What else can we say but that the man has good taste: "Atticus's first book, Alex Kudera's Fight for Your Long Day, is a very different creation, but definitely my favourite of the Atticus line so far."

Sorry, the insomnia and isolation are getting to me. . . feels like the right time for Rice Krispies with honey and milk and maybe another article from the new print issue of Harpers Magazine.

April 12 (Meg Pokrass asks Frances Lefkowitz)

Over at Jurgen Fauth's fictionaut, a social-media site for fiction readers and writers, I posted a story for the first time, and also found Meg Pokrass's new interview with Frances Lefkowitz.
Below is a photograph of the serious-minded fool, aka me, immersed in egg salad on wheat and Lefkowitz's To Have Not. I'm washing it all down with sweet tea at The Starving Artist Cafe, a pleasant establishment across the wide road from Poor Richard's Booksellers in Easley, South Carolina.

April 10 ("Ode to Antoine" by Alan Heathcock)

It's hard to blog everyday, even to write just a couple crummy paragraphs, but to help take up the slack, I'm pleased to share with you a quickie poem from a guy who spent ten years on an award-winning story collection. Here's Idaho resident and Volt author Alan Heathcock's words of wisdom on the recent retirement of former NBA star and recent D-League Boise baller Antoine Walker:

Ode to Antoine

The man could ball
The mighty do fall
Like the banks don't say please
Age works on the knees
You've paid your debt Antoine
No sense in going on
Pinch your pennies
Love your memories
and get your hand loosed
to sit by the blue ribbon goose
and sign ball cards at the state fair
for folks like me, the few who still care

Carry on, but don't palm the ball.

April 9 (another one)

Here's another one of those long, dreary, unemployed-youth articles that some of us find positively intoxicating. I tell you many of us get drunk off the wines of depression, reading these things, until we are nearly comatose, barely able to lift our bodies, weighted down so by our bleeding hearts and midnight snacks, off the lazy boy and onto the rest of our lives.

When Gertrude Stein told Hemingway he was part of a lost generation, she probably wasn't thinking of a future where we'd have millions of college grads living at home and tweeting from their basement "grad caverns."

I wonder where the 21st-century version of Stein's salon is taking shape. And what they're reading, writing, and thinking there.

April 8 (the limits of welfare to work)

The New York Times has an article exploring the limits of welfare to work during periods of economic contraction, enemic growth, millions of lost jobs, etc. In it, we read that many states have done what the law stated they had to do--drop folks from welfare when their time limits expired. I remember reading an article from about ten years ago, on how other states were quietly shifting welfare recipients to other kinds of aid to maintain some type semblance of humanity. I once described this to students in a freshman English class, and some had looks of disbelief--aghast that the states would defy their will, offend the "taxpayer," and break the spirit of the law. I suspect others of course didn't see it that way, but for whatever reason, they weren't the ones to speak out in that class.

Although it was partly rationalization because on Tuesdays I was working twelve-hour shifts that could stretch to fifteen if I found an "up" while walking the lot in the p.…

April 6 (fan mail)

I haven't received any snail-mailed hating stuff, and there's been no rock with a message thrown through the window, and alas, not one pilgrim has shown up at the door of the Duffler looking for soup or a signature, but I did receive this intriguing note by
e-mail earlier in the week.

Dear Alex -

I've been meaning to write you for well over a year, having read F.F.Y.L.D. at that
time.  I had a mixture of praise and a word of constructive criticism or two.  Life
being what it is - I now find that all that time has passed, and I can't remember
what the hell I had to say, save for a pleasant memory of the book, of course. 
But your work has been sitting on my desk for the better part of 9 months, and in an
effort at reorganizing my office - to say nothing of sending along some non sequitor
of praise for your work -I thought the story of how I picked up your novel in the
first place would do.

At the time, I was a whirling dervish of agony, recovering from a horrible breakup
with an …

April 5 (Anis Shivani asks, and Richard Burgin answers)

I drop this now in case I forget to blog later today, or in the part of the day when it is normal to be awake.

Anyway, this great interview with Richard Burgin has it all--Philip Rahv, Isaac Singer, Borges, Brandeis, Drexel, Boulevard, agent angst, and more.

Here's an excerpt from The Huffington Post:

Shivani: I think good writing is not fundamentally about self-expression. Do you agree or disagree? If it's not, then what is it about?
Burgin: I agree that good writing is not fundamentally about self-expression but rather the creation and exploration of the writer's own emotional territory. If the writer concentrates on populating his world mainly with images of him or herself, his writing will be narcissistic and fail. The self is expressed in good writing but subtly or secondarily as a byproduct, as it were, of their created world.
Shivani: What is the single most self-destructive thing a writer can do to harm his or her growth?
Burgin: Don't get addicted to any drugs …

April 4 (Dogplotz Dice Roll)

Over at facebook, I just survived getting tagged by the Emporer of Dogplotz, aka nine-time Atlantic City dice champion Barry Graham, so I thought I'd follow up by mentioning the book he mistakenly had me down as citing. It's Nothing or Next to Nothing, and I just picked up an eight-dollar copy from Main Street Rag, and if you follow this link, you can, too. Based upon what I read in The National Virginity Pledge, if you can get into Dan Fante, Bukowski, SaFranko et al, you may like Barry's writing.

One of my favorites from Virginity was Graham's gambling story. It was one of the longest in the collection of sometimes flash-length fiction, and the tale also reminded me a bit of other recent reads: The Rag's "D-Gen" and Steve Almond's lead story in the 2010 Best of American Short Stories, "Donkey Greedy, Donkey Gets Punched." Within twenty years, it could be legal to strip search and pepper spray anyone seen gambling at less than a grand a th…

April 3 (Diminishing Returns)

The Philadelphia Inquirer posted a long one on college's high costs and "diminishing returns." Here's an excerpt on what some recent grads are doing:

Benjamin Landau-Beispiel, 23, and Eric Augenbraun, 24, both graduated from Masterman High School in 2006, where they became friends and fostered a love of history.

Landau-Beispiel, from East Falls, went on to Harvard University, where he graduated with a 3.5 grade-point average; Augenbraun, from Roxborough, went to Penn and graduated with a 3.7.

Between them, their educations cost nearly $400,000. But now, Landau-Beispiel is a janitor in a synagogue in Roxborough, while Augenbraun is a chess tutor for elementary-school kids and does research for a national political journalist.

The compelling article, which, of course in fine blogger fashion I did not read in its entirety, goes on to note, "On a quiet Sunday, Landau-Beispiel scrubs toilets, then turns on a giant Titan vacuum cleaner in the Mishkan Shalom community roo…

April 2

So April 2 is a National Day for Higher Education. I did see that thirty-six students were arrested in DC for protesting student-loan debt, but I could not find any news about the protests on the front page of The Washington Post, which, seemingly by coincidence, did have this article on how student-loan debt adversely affects seniors. At the protest, the arrested students had been chanting, "Sallie Mae, you can't hide. We can see your greedy side."

In more local news, the students look tired. Worn down. Four weeks away, but they are ready for a tidy conclusion to this spring's educational experience. A student in my 9:05 a.m. class burst out in dismay, and I could hear she was distraught, when the topic of capitalism itself rose from the waters of a novel with environmental themes. "Do you mean that capitalism might not be the best system!?" A few others smiled quietly, as if we were sharing tacit knowledge. . . sneakily questioning the national mythology…

April 1

This isn't a joke, and I know this is a lame post, but I intend to blog everyday in April. Sorry this one is late. I promise it won't happen again.