Monday, December 19, 2016

Madame Realism and Monsieur Lower East Side

Date: November 22, 2016
Venue: 192 Books
Author: Lynne Tillman
Free Drinks: No
Drone-On-Meter : negative
Lit Celebs in Attendance: Fran Leibowitz, Ron Kolm
UE check collect: n/a, benefits long gone

One of the things I look for in setting my readings schedule is whether the event will be crowded. Sorry Salman and nearly anybody else that gets booked at the Union Square Barnes & Noble. So Lynne Tillman’s reading in support of the publication of her latest book “The Complete Madame Realism and Other Stories” at 192 Books two nights before Thanksgiving was ideal.

It was the perfect storm of a well-known author reading on a night when a lot people would be out of town. Plus, I thought the audience would be hard-core readers for whom a performance by Lynne Tillman might well be their main holiday event.  
192 is a small space and Tillman’s fans filled both sides of the room.

Tillman’s Madame Realism is an alter ego she has been using for decades to comment on a number of subjects, most of them visual arts-related. The first appearance of the character was in a collaboration Tillman did with the artist Kiki Smith back when, as the author said, “you could get grants for that kind of thing.”
The engrossing piece she read at 192 was based on her reaction to an installation by the artist Jessica Stockholder. It demonstrated the way that Tillman is rightfully considered a predecessor of writers like Maggie Nelson and Chris Krauss who also use the fine arts as jumping off points for personal investigations.

Tillman’s latest also features stories written in the voice of another fictional mouthpiece, Paige Turner. These stories cover the waterfront from mediations on love to the work of Cindy Sherman.
One of my favorite Lynne Tillman stories I’ve gathered from attending her events, and which is “live only” as far as I know, is her recollection of doing a book tour with Colm Toiben in the north of England. Apparently, Toiben camped out in the back seat and serenaded the driver and Tillman with Joni Mitchell songs. I’d stack that scene up against anything in the David Lipsky and David Foster Wallace movie about a book tour.

Apparently, Tillman’s Madame Realism pieces have been published in different books and magazines over the years, some of the first appearances so long ago that the author had some trouble piecing together the chronology.
Fortunately, Tillman had a live “aide memoire” present in the form of a friend of hers, the poet and fiction writer Ron Kolm. He knew when the early Madame Realism pieces came out, either as magazine articles or anthology pieces.

Whether as a writer, editor, bookseller or publisher, Kolm has been a fixture of the Lower East Side literary scene since he moved to New York in 1970. I found talking with Kolm about books to be a pleasure, not only because he knows everybody and everything, but also because of his unique focus on the physical aspect of books.

He talked about how much he’s enjoyed Tillman’s work over the years. He tried to goose his memory about aspects of her output by remembering whether a particular work was perfect-bound or not. (Perfect bound is when a layer of adhesive holds the pages and cover together.)
Kolm said the best reading he’d been to was one in which he, Tillman, and novelist Patrick McGrath performed at the Ear Inn on Spring Street. He offered the following tip for readings attendees, “You should buy the book and get it signed because it might be worth something someday.” 

There was another man in the audience who Tillman knew. He might have been a painter because she showed him the newly published collection of Donald Judd’s writings that I doubt would be featured at the Union Square Barnes & Noble.
I guess I’m a readings snob because I prefer events at independent bookstores. It’s important that we all support independent bookstores because they play a vital role in ensuring that readers have access to a diverse selection of voices, which is so vital to maintaining a vigorous literary culture. Plus, it's easier to shoplift from them.


Friday, October 7, 2016

Vita Brevis, Ars Unemergis

Brent Shearer’s Reign as City’s Oldest Unemerged Writer Celebrated at AG’s Brooklyn event
Date: October 7, 2016
Venue: Powerhouse Arena
Hosts: Kathleen Alcott, Megan Lynch, Kirby Kim and Katie Kitamura
Free Drinks: yes
Lit Celebs in Attendance: Paul Morris (PEN), Maris Kreizman (writer, tastemaker)
UE check collected: n/a, benefits long gone

Brooklyn, N.Y. (October 8, 2016) – New York City’s oldest unemerged writer, Brent Shearer, gave a short presentation at last night’s Authors’ Guild event in Dumbo. 

The downtown writer explained his career arc to a spellbound audience of about 200 writers, publicists, agents and editors.

Shearer addressed such topics as what it’s like to be an unemerged writer in one’s sixties and for the first time, spelled out the details of his plan to “do a Lampedusa,” the specifics of which have become the New York publishing industry’s No. 1 topic of gossip and mystery now that Elena Ferrante appears to have been outed.

“Doing a Lampedusa” refers to the process by which a writer emerges late in life. Named after the Sicilian novelist Giuseppe Lampedusa, author of “The Leopard,” the phrase has come to mean a writer who produces a masterpiece and promptly dies as the Prince did (Lampedusa was a member of the Sicilian nobility).

Heinz Gault in Austria, Rene Swoon in France, and Shearer are usually considered the major adherents of this career strategy. Compared to Shearer and his European colleagues (Swoon is 67, Gault, 66) a supposed late bloomer like the novelist Nell Zink, who published her first book around 50, is practically a prodigy.

Lampedusa’s biographer David Gilmour wrote, ““The tragedy of Giuseppe Lampedusa was that his period of artistic creativity coincided with his physical decline and death.” For Shearer and his European colleagues, the idea is to match or outdo the Prince by leaving as little time between the publication of their masterpieces and their deaths.

In his remarks, Shearer also touched on some of the lighter aspects of being the city’s oldest unemerged writer. He mentioned the way that in conversations with younger editors and writers, he is often the beneficiary of the advice to ‘keep on writing,” which makes sense when doled out to students and younger writers, but has a different resonance when applied to the 64-year old Shearer.

Shearer is often, despite his unemerged status, asked to weigh in on such career strategies as the often-discussed question of “MFA or Brooklyn.” In another recent public appearance, Shearer addressed the members of St. Catherine’s Classics, a social group for senior citizen parishioners at St. Catherine’s Church, Spring Lake, N.J., on a similar topic, which he called “MFA, Brooklyn, or Assisted Living.” For the record, though he receives no financial consideration from the institution, Shearer recommends the Book Thug Nation Assisted Living Facility in Williamsburg.

One challenge for the geezer ingénue, as Shearer refers to himself and Gault and Swoon, is to keep up with the conversation of the generally much younger writers he meets at events hosted by Word bookstore in Greenpoint, Mellow Pages in Bushwick and H.I.P. Lit in Bushwick (see below).

There are occasional rough patches as when Shearer stumbled into a conversation with one pierced, cropped female readings organizer at a Manhattan performance space. She was wearing a ripped Sleater-Kinney t-shirt. His comment that the band was “more punk than he expected, really like the Clash or something,” exposed two things the would-be Lampedusa would rather have kept hidden: a.  how little he knows about the iconic trio and b. his eagerness to brag and show off his questionable hipness.

Another embarrassing moment for the Social Security recipient was the time he dove into a conversation with a group of young music writers and didn’t realize that apparently, one pronounces Dr. Dre with the last letter sounding like “a.”

In fact, Shearer often feels almost like an erudite perv (Swoon’s phrase which touches on one possible motivation for mature writers making the scene at cafes in Buttes Chamont or Bushwick) when he enters conversations with young writers about the novelist Michelle Tea’s work by saying, “I loved Valencia.”

However, Shearer has learned to draw the line at striking up conversations with younger readers on the subway just because they’re carrying a New Inquiry tote bag. He no longer uses the claim that he wants to be the Mallory Ortberg or the Chloe Caldwell of the boomers in his Twitter profile. His colleagues Gault and Swoon say they have learned to edit themselves in similar ways.

One compensation for the geezer ingénue on the literary circuit occurs when writers bring their mothers to their readings. This offers Shearer a chance to have  a conversation like the one he had with one young author.

Shearer: “I’m hitting on your Mom.

 Author: “Go for it, she’s single.”