Thursday, September 26, 2013

Adjunct Gilmour?

I'd never heard of David Gilmour before his unfortunate descent into toward-dead-white-maleness (or would that merely be a transnational voyage through middle-aged Caucasia of the heterogametic sex?), but by now, of course, I have of course been subject to numerous notifications of his indecency, idiocy, sexism, racism, homophobia, and more.

And I've chimed in with my own two cents, too. Under one facebook update, I wrote, "word on the street is that Hemingway, Mailer, and fifty Dirty Realists are gonna go after this guy hard for not being mentioned in the interview. . ." The poet who originally posted was kind enough to give me a "like" for that.

But, also, of course, curiosity did indeed get the better of this cat, and so I searched for him where they can hopefully, or unfortunately, find us all, in this case Amazon's Canadian store. Low and behold, it does seem as if negative publicity effectively sells books.

According to, as of this writing, Gilmour's book rankings are 261 overall in Canada, 21 in literary fiction, and I look once more to see he is already sliding to 339 and 29, so ignorance, or honesty?, alone does not keep us at the top. He also has a couple one-star reviews from his new "fans," both published originally at the wider-webbing site.

It is what it is. For at least fifteen seconds, that is.

Also, now that it's established that he is a mere "instructor," just like so many of us who do assign the Kincaids and Walkers and Paleys and Jins and Krasikovs and more, the sad truth is that Mr. Gilmour is possibly in need of additional funds in this late stage of his life.

Impossible in Canada, the land of universal health coverage?

So in this sad way, it could just be, from north of the border, another bleak story about the writing life, career earnings, and contingent employment.

Okay, now I'll just sit back and wait for someone to prove Gilmour is a man of means by posting a photo of the Canadian literary giant climbing into his rugged manly man's 4 x 4 V8 made-tough pick-up truck after another hard day of boxing with the bull in Marcel Proust.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

orizont, encore

A few days after I read that Philadelphia poetry will be well represented in a future issue of Contemporary Literary Horizons, my current print issue arrived from Romania. It features poetry and prose from Chile, Romania, England, Germany, America, and beyond.

Thank you, Dr. Daniel, for your contribution to global literature.

Monday, September 23, 2013

ban the books and can the poor

Although started-small-but-went-viral "The Death of Adjunct Story" is most specific to adjunct-instructor and retirement-age poverty as well as coverage gaps in Medicare and Medicaid, there's news that working-age poverty and poverty for full-time workers have been increasing during the recent "recovery." But if you're living in this country, you probably didn't need me to tell you that, and you don't have to be Warren Buffett to know that inequality is getting worse.

In other news, Ralph Ellison's 1952 National Book Award winner Invisible Man was banned in Randolph County in North Carolina, and school board member, Gary Mason, stated, "I didn’t find any literary value."

But I doubt this relates to any current poverty trends. Unless it does. A lot.

Back to Pittsburgh, based on what one-time three-rivers-area contingent Dave Newman, the novelist I just exchanged interviews with, wrote, a scary aspect of Duquesne adjunct pay is that it could be high for the Pittsburgh area. In relation to what he wrote in Raymond Carver Will Not Raise Our Children, I asked Dave whether an adjunct teaching three courses would actually earn only $9,000 total per year while his full-time, but non-tenure-track, officemates could earn 30K with benefits. Dave responded:

Second, what’s sad about my novel is that those numbers were pretty accurate at the time for an adjunct teacher in Pittsburgh. I think Duquesne pays $3500 per class now but that’s a recent increase from $2500. I think Robert Morris pays $1750 per class. Community colleges pay around $2200. It’s insane. You really could go from being a lecturer making 30 grand to teach a 3/3 load to teaching a 3/3 as an adjunct and making $12,000. It’s scary. Again, I can’t imagine anyone thinking this is acceptable, but the general consensus is: oh well; what did you expect, dummy; if you don’t like it, go to Wall Street; then they’ll accuse you of being a Wall Street scumbucket. 

This reminds me of how, because I was conscientiously trying not to exaggerate, some of the pay numbers for university presidents and athletic directors are too low in Fight for Your Long Day.

Back to the wealth gap, one of my main points of curiosity about Philadelphia was that we had two of the first university presidents (or CEOs) to earn over a million dollars in annual compensation, this in the 1990s, and we had entrenched poverty throughout the city. So in my particular contingent experience in Philadelphia, it was always easy to see, highly visible in train stations and city parks and libraries and other public places, that many of us adjuncts were doing better, in terms of total pay, than plenty of folks surrounding us. That's how bad it was, and is, out there, so to speak. My observations about such extreme inequality were significant enough that grim but comic absurdity became natural circumstances for Protagonist Duffleman once one factored in egregiously high college tuition and much of what we're taught about America's great wealth, freedom, and democracy from K through 12.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Dave Newman responds

Novelist-trucker-teacher-father Dave Newman included some great lines in these responses to my interview questions. Excerpt, you ask?

On writing and the married life:

I didn’t ever plan on marrying. I figured it was an either/or situation. You either wrote, which required hours of reading and writing, or you got married, which required hours of marriage stuff, whatever that was. Then I found myself in Vegas, getting married to a woman I barely knew, and I was unbelievably happy about it. My wife is awesome, and she’s a great writer, and we support each others’ writing in every way possible. It really speeds up the process to know you have someone in the other room who wants to read your writing, not is willing to, but wants to. We both have three published books now. We had a combined total of zero books before we were married.

Be sure to check out the full interview at Karen the Small Press Librarian.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

toilet talk

It's good to see that there are international officials who refuse to censor themselves and are willing to speak sincerely about some of the major global issues of our time. Because literature is written, at least in part, to inform, I've enjoyed pairing George Packer's essay "The Megacity" and Uwem Akpan's short story "Baptizing the Gun." Both concern Lagos, Nigeria and, at least in part, address open-air squatting. Indoor-pooping progress anywhere will lead to healthier lives everywhere.

Indeed, in these potty times, it's good to see The New Yorker take the lead in offering full and extended coverage of all that surrounds the bathroom scene.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

fist fights

At 9:11 p.m. on the anniversary of 9/11, I felt compelled to post some thoughts on fist fights, literature, summer camp, and more. Enjoy.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Off the tenure track in Pittsburgh, PA

But thanks to the matchmaking of Karen the Small Press Librarian, Dave Newman and I had an opportunity to interview each about our novels of academic life off the tenure track. Karen posted part one, Dave asked and I answered, earlier today. If you're a fan of novels of working life, and you also appreciate Pittsburgh, writing, teaching, drinking, or living, you'd probably enjoy Dave's Raymond Carver Will Not Raise Our Children. My interview with Dave should be posted on Karen's blog relatively soon.

Friday, September 6, 2013

washing dishes

I'm pleased to note that "Awash in Barach & Bolono" will appear in CHM's July-August 2013 special print edition on Chilean poetry. It's yet another story of mine with a dish-washing scene, and it's one I've fiddled with on and off for almost my entire six years teaching at Clemson. Originally inspired by seeing President Obama give his stump speech on campus in late winter or early spring of 2008, it also concerns pounding the pavement in Paris, searching for restaurant work or any employment I could get. With Roberto in the title, it feels right to find it in an issue dedicated to Chilean poetry.

I also noticed online that editor Daniel D. Peacemen has recently translated some Amy Tan into Romanian.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Daniel Kalder's 10 favorites of Russian fiction

Partly inspired by his recent piece on Vasily Grossman's Life and Fate, partly in honor of the recent chill in Russian-American foreign relations, partly so I could recommend his intriguing post-Soviet travel narratives Strange Telescopes and Lost Cosmonaut, partly because F.D. Reeve's passing is still floating around the psychic swamps, and partly just for the hell of it, I recently asked travel writer and anti-tourist Daniel Kalder to supply me with a list of his top-five Russian novels from both the 19th and 20th centuries, and he thoughtfully included a story collection as well as a 21st-century text (I, too, am one of those people who "loves Gogol" but has never read Dead Souls, and I probably would have included Babel, Chekhov, and Shalamov even if asked for novels).

Here is what Kalder sent to L.U.S.K.:

In no particular order and with no claim to finality, these are the books that came into my head the day I was asked. They’re all good, but I can’t say I would pick exactly the same ones if I were asked on a different day after a better night’s sleep:

19th Century
1) The Devils (or The Possessed), Feodor Dostoevsky.

I could probably fill an entire 19th century list with books by Dostoevsky, but I shall attempt to branch out. This novel is an exceptional study of terror and political extremism in 19th century Russia, and Dostoevsky’s insights into human evil and perversion are as apposite today as they ever were. Also: it’s funny.
2) Petersburg Stories, Nikolai Gogol

Not exactly a novel, but some of these stories are quite long at least. Divine lunacy, fantastical grotesques, plus a bit of satire, all written by a man who- legend has it- was buried alive. I’ve read his novel Dead Souls, but it was years ago and in a horrible translation… I’ll revisit it one day.
3) Notes from Underground, Feodor Dostoevsky

Actually let’s do Dostoevsky again. A slim novella featuring a very nasty protagonist, celebrated for its penetrating exploration of man’s irrational and self-destructive impulses. If more politicians, journalists and think-tank parasites read this, then they would understand the human species better and our public discourse would be much less asinine.
4) Anna Karenina, Lev Tolstoy

I recognize Tolstoy’s greatness--who doesn’t? But I’m definitely more of a Russian grotesque- fantastical kind of reader. At the same time, this book constantly astounds with its perpetual stream of psychological insights, and for that I can forgive the now very dated waffly bits about agriculture, serfdom, etc.
5) Oblomov, Ivan Goncharov

The Russian 19th century canon is pretty much established and although Oblomov is certainly not better than War and Peace I mention it here because of its uniqueness, specifically in regard to the author’s 50-odd page description of the stupendously lazy hero’s epic struggle to move from his bed to a chair. After that you can stop reading--it’s downhill all the way.
20th Century

1) Soul, Andrei Platonov

Soul tells the tale of a man who returns to his tribe in the wastelands of Soviet Turkmenistan after receiving an education in Moscow. He wants to lead them to happiness and the bright communist future. Unspeakable suffering ensues as the tribe wanders in the desert starving and dying. Remarkably, Platonov was a believing communist- or at least he tried to be one.
2) Life and Fate, Vasily Grossman

Epic doorstopper about Stalingrad, written by a Soviet war correspondent who was present at and who was also among the first to write about Hitler’s mass executions of Jews in Europe. Highly critical of Stalin, the Soviet state confiscated it and Grossman never saw it published in his lifetime. It also has interesting reflections on science--Grossman was a trained scientist. More authors should know about science. It’s important, after all.
3) Cancer Ward, Aleksandr Solzhenitysn

Solzhenitsyn is pretty unfashionable these days, but I found this book very affecting when I read it some years ago, and it was still powerful when I read it again a few years after that. Solzhenitsyn’s reputation as anti-Sovet warhorse no doubt leads a lot of people to expect didactic political hectoring in his novels, but in Cancer Ward he views the regime through the eyes of its foes, supporters and fellow travelers alike, and it is a gripping, human story about illness besides.

4) The Letter Killer’s Club, Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky
Few people have heard of Krzhizhanovsky, not least because he only ever published one story in his life or something ridiculous like that. This is the strange tale of a society of storytellers who vow not to write down their bizarre narratives but only relate them to each other orally at the meetings of a secret society in Moscow. It’s strange, philosophical and very good.

5) The Ice Trilogy, Vladimir Sorokin
Post-Soviet literature took a decade or so to really get in gear, and this book is the work of a once underground author who started his career in the 80s, but became very famous in the 21st century. I am cheating here as The Ice Trilogy was written this century, but I feel it is my duty to mention it as it’s a unique and deranged concoction mixing 20th century history, SF tropes and apocalyptic theology in a blend that may or may not make sense, and I’m not persuaded that it ultimately matters either way.       
(Back to L.U.S.K.) 
At a glance, I've read his first three from the nineteenth century, and they'd all get strong consideration for my own list, and then I've always wanted to read his next two (and I've hardly read any Tolstoy at all, I must confess), and although I've even taken a college course in 20th Century Soviet Literature, I've only read one of his listed authors (you guessed it, Solzhenitsyn) and none of the specific books. Kalder's published books, Lost Cosmonaut: Observations of an Anti-Tourist and Strange Telescopes: Following the Apocalypse from Moscow to Siberia take us through post-Soviet Russia, and some of the absurdity he chances upon, from Siberian traffic-cop Messiahs to architecture that could pass for a sci-fi film set, would ring quite true to fans of Gogol and many other Russian writers. 

"What," you scream at your screen, "No Olesha or Biely?"

Well, you're welcome to submit some favorites of your own. 

Monday, September 2, 2013

Labor Dreams

A lot Atticus Books fiction concerns how blue-collar Americans struggle to make ends meet, but I'm sure their newest book, Paper Dreams, has a lot on how folks wielding manual and electronic writing and printing devices have also struggled to stay afloat. You don't have to be Edmund Wilson to know the writing life is suffered more favorably on a wealthy patron or partner's dime.

Anyway, it's Labor Day, and a slither or two of unrefined reflection on my father's own "downturn" in the early nineties is partly what I thought of just now after reading this Counterpunch article that insists these are not good times. Its notable statistics include President Obama's economic approval rating is down to 35 percent, a record 36 percent of all "millennials" (aged 18 to 31) are living at home, and that 936,000 of the 963,000, or 97 percent, of new hires in the past six months report that their new jobs are part-time. And then over at gawker, this cynical breeze through Labor Day's past and present moment appeared.

I must say, though, I attended the Dayton, Ohio County Fair earlier today and saw what appeared to be extremely happy working families, thousands of folks with little polish or pretense easily dropping fifty to a hundred dollars on amusement rides and concessions, and no feeling that we were living in a world of bread lines or worse. Of course, it could well be that the stats above support a less visible malaise.

So happy Labor Day?

You tell me.

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The Chronicle of Higher Education " Considering Adjunct Misery " by William Pannapacker at The Chronicle of Higher Education (Ma...