Thursday, April 02, 2009

Wit -- Wolves and Candy

8:00 pm Wednesday April 1, 2o09
Memorial Union, UND Writers Conference

Steve Almond's "I've never been to North Dakota before" was the refrain for a number of the authors, Klosterman excepted. It seems that is our claim to fame. A state to which no one has ever been before. I'd attempted to read Candyfreak once years ago, but had to return it to the library before I got very far. So, Almond was an author I had not read. Still I was curious what he'd have to say. It turns out he had to say "cock" about 50 times. He shared a short story about adolescence and hot tub masturbation and camp romances. It was funny but pretty edgy in ways that made me glad I'd planned to bring my students on THURSDAY night instead! Yikes.

In the author intro, his somewhat scandalous departure from Boston College's teaching staff was raised and he addressed that in the questions. Yes, he resigned because his university decided to offer an honorary degree to Condoleeza Rice and he couldn't be party to that. He read some fictional responses to the volumes and volumes of hate mail he received once CNN picked up his story.

Partway through his reading Almond lamented over a poorly worded sentence. He pointed out that once it's published you have to live with that poorly worded sentence for the rest of your life. He does have a point. Perhaps this is why I am less eager to publish.

Almond opened with an excerpt from an essay about Vonnegut. "Everything Was Beautiful and Nothing Hurt." I loved this bit and I am eager for more. I am intrigued by Vonnegut and everything Almond said about him. He talked about how he turned grief into laughter and how he and many other great writers and comedic folk seem to comprehend how sad life is and they try to make less that grief. He believed that all great cultural critics have been comedians.

4:00 pm April 2, Memorial Union
UND Writers Conference

Karen Russell read from her short story "St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves" the title track in her collection. I loved it. Though I hadn't read her work before hearing her read, I simply had to buy the book. I figure even if I don't love any of the other nine stories in the book, I'll at least have that one. She admits it's her favorite in the collection. The story is funny and sad. I guess I believe there is a pretty big connection between those things. I think that's why I love The Royal Tenenbaums so much. She talked about how the story is about progress and loss. How as we progress, things are lost, innocence if nothing else.

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