Sunday, March 30, 2014

Clemson Literary Festival

The Clemson Literary Festival came and went, and as best I can tell, it was a huge success. For me, highlights were hearing U.S. Poet Laureate Natasha Tretheway read her own poems, and then driving three other talented poets--Denise Duhamel, Natalie Shapero, and Craig Morgan Teicher--to or from the airport, and exchanging thoughts on topics ranging from writing to survival to teaching to raising kids.

Why did I drive writers to the airport?

Boredom, procrastination (instead of grading or writing), and making effort to keep my job count, but I was mainly inspired by some short pieces by Jonathan Ames, where he takes on various roles for the sake of adventure, and also by John McNally's After The Workshop, whose main character survives by driving writers around Iowa City. The driving seemed to go well, and I'm rather proud of the fact that with passengers in the car, I miraculously avoided one of my usual highway routines of suddenly and desperately pushing it to an exit whereupon I park in a gas station and dash for the men's room.

In fact, just a couple weeks ago, this was exactly what I was doing when Alexander Chee's voice came on NPR to further discuss the writers residency he invented for Amtrak. Alas, then, I missed most of the train talk as well as the delicious fried chicken that Travelers Rest gas station is known for. Although I have begun to swim laps again, I'm in no condition to order fried chicken.

So that's the news. . .

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

death on the nile

So I randomly posted a Roberto Bolano quotation from a story about a photojournalist's adventures in India, which I've often paired with a section of The Savage Detectives about journalists and photographers in Liberia, Africa, and then within 24 hours I read about the death of Matthew Power.

According to The Huffington Post, Power died in Uganda while on assignment following an explorer who was attempting to walk the length of the Nile. Heatstroke is believed to be the cause of death, and he was only 39-years-old.

I didn't know Matthew, but because I've been a Harper's Magazine subscriber for years, I did know some of his wonderful writing, particularly, "Continental Drift: River vagrants in the age of Wal-Mart" and "The Magic Mountain: Trickle-down economics in a Philippine garbage dump." I read these when they first appeared in the print issue and heartily recommend them both.

Life is short, and for many far shorter than it should be, but it sounds like Matthew Power made the most of his 39 years of living. Here's a nice tribute by Power's friend, V.V. Ganeshananthan, and another by Donovan Hohn.

Carry on, then.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Eye

"He was somewhat surprised to discover that it was not nearly as far away as he had thought; his flight had followed a spiral path, and the return journey was relatively short."

Roberto Bolano, from "Mauricio ('The Eye') Silva"

Sunday, March 23, 2014

i'm not the first

For years, I assumed that I was the first person named Alex Kudera to live in the United States, and then one day during my thrice daily narcissism, the googling of my name that is, I came upon this fellow from the 1940 Census in Akron, Ohio.

I'll add to this later, hopefully with stronger detail and more interesting content.

Friday, March 21, 2014

pay adjuncts, work hard, live below your means

I didn't know Joseph A. Domino's article in The Huffington Post was coming, but I have known Joe through various e-mails since the spring of 2010, soon after I first learned that Fight for Your Long Day would be published. His early enthusiasm for the novel led to his testimony as a blurb on the adjunct situation at the front of the book.

Reading Domino's HuffPo piece, good writing that presumably didn't earn him a dime, it struck me that 1) Joe left out a lot of personal adversity he's faced; 2) in several fluid paragraphs, he captures the 1970s recession as well as the present moment for far too many; and 3) the man has worked hard, forty plus years of it, and he deserves his retirement with a degree of dignity.

Also, Joe says that some might call him "cheap," but I'd suggest that the way he implies he has handled his money over the years is very reasonable given the elasticity of the American economy with all of its downsizing, outsourcing, unpredictable inflation, artificial bubbles, and market gyrations. In fact, we're at an intraday all-time high for the S&P 500 right now, but everyone knows that the S&P index is unpredictable and recently has become less reliable as a predictor of the average adult American's fate.

So if there are any younger workers or students reading this blog, I'd encourage you to live like Joe, below your means, and, if possible, save more than a penny for a rainy day and try to navigate the world of lower-expense safer investments. On this topic, for younger Americans, student-loan debt is often a significant obstacle, and so I also wanted to share again one government website and additional information on possibilities for safely and legally lowering payments and even having some debt forgiven outright.

If you work hard, live modestly, and save diligently, there are still plenty of ways to imagine the worst, everything from personal emergencies to total ecological collapse, but it's also possible you may enjoy a little breathing room as an older worker and retiree.

(This post's final paragraphs are dedicated to the good friend who has recently expressed concern that the narrator of "Frade Killed Ellen" has a far too pessimistic view of America. The same friend likes to remind his college students of how we can go through major life changes throughout our middle years, and how it can feel like turning the corner at age 40 is when life really begins. Of course, I realize that for many of us, there's a strong sense of what's done is done and what will be already is, and I wish I knew how to snap my fingers, get rid of this feeling, and improve various lives all at once.)

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Hemingway, Hunger, and "My Old Man"

There are novels I've read at least three times, and both Hunger and The Sun Also Rises would fit this category. In the most recent rereads, I'm getting a lot more from the Hamsun than the Hemingway; for the former I've written down several quotations whereas when I was reading Papa in Suzhou, I found the book did not wear well with me.

In fact, just like my story "My Old Man" which began as a parody of a Hemingway story, or maybe, more so, a parody of my life, The Sun Also Rises, read in 2012, seemed to be an elementary tale about a bunch of drunks who were or felt like failed writers. That struck more than anything, that everyone from the opening Jew, Robert Cohn, to the narrator had a novel or an aborted effort somewhere in his dossier. So that's the ultimate writer's novel, but it's also the essential parody of all of us.

In the past though, particularly when reading it at my father's in his 1990s, $400-per-month studio by the sea in Ponte Vedra, Florida, I appreciated the book a lot more. Here's a section on Hemingway's slim novel that I wrote into my twenty-page story almost twenty years ago:

      Out of the sun, and with the wind blowing from the water and cooling his place, I have energy for the first time since morning. As my father drifts off, I peruse his bookshelf, looking for something special among a shelf of sallow paperbacks. He has kept all his trade-paper Russians and Kunderas, and more recently added newer self-help and how-to-writes for memoir and screenplay, but I select from a section of Hemingway and pick out The Sun Also Rises.
      It is my father’s copy from college, the Scribner Classic edition. When I was in Paris, I felt proud to read the same copies of Dostoyevsky as Hemingway read at Shakespeare & Company. Hemingway wrote his first stories in Paris, and as a busboy, un commis, I broke my first wine glasses there and wrote only a little in a journal each day.

I'd certainly still recommend The Sun Also Rises if you've never read it. But if you only have room for one Hemingway in your life, I'd go with A Farewell to Arms or my personal favorite, his memoir, A Moveable Feast. For the latter, I have yet to read the new "restored edition" that includes chapters cut from the first published version.

As a final note, yesterday, from a public library sale, for fifty cents I picked up some poetry by Lucille Clifton, another Dave Newman favorite, and this old Paris Review paperback with an all-star cast of more contemporary writers. From the library's lending side, I checked out The Old Man and the Sea, which I haven't read since high school, and To Have and Have Not, a title I've yet to read.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

a final quote from Hamsun's Hunger

"The intelligent poor man of course is a much finer observer than the intelligent rich man. The poor man has to look carefully around him every time he takes a step, he wisely mistrusts every word he hears from others, for him the simplest acts involve obstacles and problems. His senses are sharp, he is a man of feeling, he has experienced painful things, his soul has been burned and scarred. . . ."

Knut Hamsun, Hunger (published in 1890)

vintage selfie

Colin Powell took time to post a vintage selfie, and it reminded me of my dad's efforts at such from the 1970s.

Below my father's photo rests his college copy of The Sun Also Rises, which I enjoyed rereading in Suzhou, China in May of 2012. The book, as in the copy depicted (originally posted two years ago), figures prominently in "My Old Man," a story included here, about visiting my father when he had only forty dollars in his pocket but was happily living by the beach, writing poetry, and soon to return to the world of work as a cashier at a local gas station's convenience store. That was twenty years ago when I first plucked it off Jay's shelf near St. Augustine, Florida, began reading, and took it back with me to Philly (not my first time through that novel, but my first time through my father's copy).

In Suzhou, among other places, I read from it in a faux Italian gelato cafe in a small shopping mall near my daughter's four-year-old kindergarten. Alas, I'd feel I was dissembling if I didn't also confess to doing much of my editing and proofreading at a McDonald's in the same "retail environment."

Sunday, March 9, 2014


So it should come as no surprise to anyone who reads this blog that I'm now reading Hunger for the third or fifth time. It's a novel that has found its way to this blog several times before, including this early entry. Like several other great writers of the period, late in his life Knut Hamsun was on the wrong side of fascism, but, regardless, he was indisputably on the right side of literature (in the sense that he wrote it).

Here are a couple early quotations I've appreciated:

"I was beginning to be drawn in. The plot ran away with me, and one lie after the other popped into my head." p.27

"Despite my alienation from myself that moment, and even though I was nothing but a battleground for invisible forces, I was aware of every detail of what was going on around me." p.15

(Both are from the Noonday edition, Robert Bly trans. with an intro from Isaac Bashevis Singer.)

If by chance Hamsun's Hunger is one you've missed, please do grab a copy and read it right away.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Two Small Coincidences?

Late last night, as I tore through a section of Dave Newman's Two Small Birds where the narrator expresses his admiration for Knut Hamsun's Hunger, I turned to my left, and sure enough it was the only book on the stool by my bed (linked to the edition I own, translated by Robert Bly and with an introduction by Isaac Bashevis Singer).

This reminded me of the other Pittsburgh novel, Said Sayrafiezadeh's When Skateboards Will Be Free, and how I was about to fall asleep early after reading a page with the sentence, "The clock on the wall read 8:50." I checked my cell phone, and sure enough, it was 8:52 p.m.

I'll just tidy up, find the Hunger links, and escape this entry without mentioning Mr. Coincidence, Paul Auster (who, by the way, has written an introduction to a different edition of Hunger).

Sunday, March 2, 2014

more 44

Forty-four continues to chase me around the interwebs, this time showing up in the first sentence of a New York Times Op-Ed by Pamela Druckerman.

Some of her thoughts are fun ones although I'd say, to the contrary, on today's college campuses the girl you see him with is almost always the daughter, not the girlfriend (Druckerman's penultimate words of wisdom).

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Two Small Birds

"One of the only true sins is to resent those who have less, who live harder lives, and I did it and felt ashamed."

from Dave Newman, Two Small Birds, page 146

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