I say former U.S. Poet Laureate and author of 12 books Mark Strand is a dead ringer for Clint Eastwood:
|Mark Strand||Clint Eastwood|
But City Paper web guru Marc Steel says he looks like the now-deceased Charlton Heston:
|Mark Strand, again||Charlton Heston|
What do you say? Do you have another old white man doppelganger for Mark Strand?
Either way, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author will give a free reading at Bryn Mawr College on Thu., March 25.
Mark Strand, March 25, 7:30 p.m., free, Ely Room of the Wyndham Alumnae House, Bryn Mawr College, 101 N. Merion Ave., Bryn Mawr, 610-526-5000.
|cover illustration | Thomas Pitilli|
Back in January, when City Paper published its annual writing contest issue featuring the fiction of Jessica Penzias ("Death by Oboe") and poetry of Sean Webb ("The Bridge"), we set Feb. 10 as the date for our winners reading, figuring blizzard season was over. How foolish we were.
It should come as no surprise that this evening's scheduled reading with Penzias, Webb, fiction judge Elise Juska, poetry judge Thomas Devaney and CP senior editor Patrick Rapa at the Tin Angel in Old City, has been POSTPONED due to the inclement weather.
City Paper, Tin Angel and the readers are working to reschedule for an upcoming Tuesday evening, so please stay tuned here and to the event's Facebook page for updates.
Last week I telephoned gay mega-author Christopher Rice to chat about his trip to Philly this weekend. He'll be in town hosting a cocktail-hour reading and fundraiser to benefit Giovanni's Room, which you can read more about in this week's A&E section. While I had him on the line, I also probed him for insight about current gay legislation, his writing process and if he got a free ride into the publishing world by having a famous mother Anne Rice.
City Paper: As a gay author, you probably have an especially personal reason to want gay bookstores like Giovanni's Room to stay in business.
Christopher Rice: Absolutely. I think the reasons are many not just the pure marketing reasons for gay writers. There's the idea that they're like community centers that aren't exclusively about the sale of alcohol and pursuit of sex. If we lose them, we better replace them with something and an Internet chat room is not a suitable replacement for a gay bookstore.
CP: You live in California. Do you feel the latest movement to repeal Prop 8 seems promising?
CR: I've always believed this battle will be won in the courts. The majority does not have the right to rule on the rights of the minority. That's not how this country works. I am concerned about how it will fare in the Supreme Court, though. With the way the court is stacked now it could be a very close call, but even if we do lose there, a victory at the federal level will be incredibly meaningful. The people in California who voted on Prop 8 were wrong. They voted out of fear, ignorance or the worst kind of childish selfishness. They withheld a right from a segment of the population that only wanted to do good with that right. I will never understand their position. I will never sympathize with it and I will never celebrate them.
CR: You get respected in the industry if you produce a product that sells. That's the bottom line. If I had been just Anne Rice's son and the first book hadn't gone anywhere, then you probably wouldn't be interviewing me today, but I'm still around and still given the opportunity to publish novels, which is amazing. I think the famous last name obviously opens a lot of doors, but it's still my responsibility to do something once they're open. You can't just coast right through and keep reminding everyone of who your mother is and expect to keep having a career at least in the publishing world. But if I were backed in the wall about it, it's been nothing but a blessing from the beginning. There are very few complaints I can make about my journey in publishing. I'm still around and my fifth book, called Moonlit Earth, is coming out in April.
CP: It sounds science fiction-y. Are you trying something new this time around?
CR: No, it's not sci-fi at all. It's a thriller. It's about a young woman whose gay flight attendant brother is on a security camera leaving a hotel in Hong Kong with an unidentified man when a bomb goes off that kills 60 people. Suddenly he's missing, he's not among the dead and he's not in touch with his family. The main character then flies to Hong Kong to find him, save his reputation and his life.
CP: The main character is a straight female? Does that mean there is less of a gay theme in this book than the ones you've written in the past?
CR: The central character is a female, but I think gay readers will be happy with it. It is similar to my last book. The first three books were about sexuality, period. There was gayness included but the stories were about sex. The last book, Blind Fall, and this book are about sexual identity. The gay people in the stories are seeking to remain in the closet so they don't lose their status and don't lose their career. They're lives aren't focused on sexual behavior. There are many gay characters in Moonlit Earth, but you won't meet them in the bathhouse. [Laughs]
CP: The storyline sounds like something you'd see on Nancy Grace. Do you get story ideas by watching the news?
CR: I think a lot of writers in the mystery and suspense genres look at how news stories are playing on TV or online and they say, "Well, based on the limited information given, I bet I could fill in the gaps of that story and give it a better ending that's more satisfying for everyone." I think a lot of us do that.
I've got the hardcore hots for New Yorker writer Tad Friend, who focuses on the entertainment industry and often writes their Letters from California. Friend's writing is funny and high-minded without being pretentious. He's one of the few New Yorker writers that can cover supposedly low culture without condescending to it. His piece about suicides at the Golden Gate Bridge also inspired the Sleater-Kinney song "Jumpers" and the excellently haunting doc, The Bridge. Is it hot in here or is it just Tad?
Friend will be at the Kelly Writers House tomorrow, Wednesday, January 20, most likely pimping his memoir Cheerful Money: Me, My Family and the Last Days of Wasp Splendor, and on WHYY's Radio Times tomorrow morning at 11 a.m.
Got some time on your hands? Read Friend's piece on Nikki Finke, blog goddess/Wicked Witch of the West Coast (depending on your perspective), who runs Deadline Hollywood Daily:
A combination town crier and volcano god, Finke evokes in her readers both anxiety and respect. One top studio executive says, "Nikki's blog you have to check, and the others you have to delete from your in-box. She's very, very, very accurate, extraordinarily soyou have a supposedly private conversation with two other people, and it's on her site within an hour." She usually posts five to ten stories a day, some of them just press releases or minutiae about elections at the Writers Guild, but many of them transfixing: anonymously sourced accounts of clandestine negotiations; photos of newly fired executives with red X's slapped across them (after she'd broken the news of their impending demise); boasts of "TOLDJA!" when something happens that she predicted, or, anyway, half predicted; and helpful career advice ("Stick it where the sun don't shine, you asswipe," she recently counselled a CBS publicist).
Tad Friend, 6 p.m., free, Kelly Writers House, 3805 Locust Walk, 215-746-POEM
Big giveaway today, folks: If you've been on Tatted watch ' either in the print edition of City Paper or on our blogs ' you already know that Grit City Inc./Marianne Bernstein's gorgeous coffee-table photography book, which captures South Street denizens' ink and the meaning behind it, has reached its long-awaited publication date.
|Grit City Inc., 160 pp., $34.|
Just in time for Pure Gold Gallery's Tatted launch party tonight (7-10 p.m., Piazza at Schmidts, 1050 N. Hancock St., suite 57, puregoldgallery.wordpress.com), we've got two signed copies to give away to our readers. But given the awesomeness of this book, we're not going to make it as easy as a simple Wiki-able trivia question.
Here's what you gotta do to win:
Send us an e-mail describing your tattoo ' pictures are welcome ' and tell us why you got it.
Tat-free? Then tell us what you'd ink yourself with if money/permanence/pain/etc. were no object.
Most interesting submissions win; best tat photos will be posted on CritMass. Shoot me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org to enter, and don't forget to hit up Pure Gold tonight for an evening of booze, giveaways and the chance to chat with Marianne and her crew.
In last week's City Paper, Julia West interviewed photog-about-town Marianne Bernstein, who asked South Street's most inked-up denizens to bare their souls ' and their tats ' for GritCity Inc.'s new coffee-table book, Tatted. Along with the photo shoot, Bernstein asked Philadelphians to write down the meaning behind their ink. Here's what she had to say about the results:
Each person's handwriting is unique ' some letters rounded, others sharp ' you can almost sense personality coming through. I love the layers of information in the shape and text of the handwritten notes. Watching each person write their note was very poignant. It was almost like receiving a love letter. I felt so fortunate again and again to have strangers offer up their time and give of themselves in such an open, personal way. And I think they were just as surprised as I was. It all happened so fast. They probably didn't have time to process it until later.
Tatted's official launch party is Thursday at the Piazza's Pure Gold Gallery, but citypaper.net reader/Head House Books event planner Debbie Rech let us know that the South Street-adjacent bookstore is also hosting a f'te this evening. The deets:
There is a launch event and book signing at Head House Books, at 619 S. Second St. (between South Street and Bainbridge) at 7:30 p.m., Dec. 8. RSVP at email@example.com. We look forward to a memorable evening and to celebrating Marianne's talent behind the lens.
Check back with CritMass later in the week for a chance to win a copy of Tatted, and don't miss Thursday's jam at Pure Gold, complete with music from DJ Frosty, free beer and rum, and GritCityInc. giveaways including books, tattoo sessions, 215 mag swag bags and more.
Every February, the Kelly Writers House at Penn connects students and the community with top talent representing various backgrounds, bringing the writers into a discourse about their work during two day events. While students meet with each fellow following six weeks of study of their work, there are also events open to the public, including a reading at night and a brunch the following day. With roughly 100 spots for each reading and 60 for the brunches, spots fill up quickly, especially with a bill topped by prolific juggernaut of American letters, Joyce Carol Oates, and strong support from poet Susan Howe and long time television writer David Milch (Hill Street Blues, NYPD Blue, Deadwood). Community is what the Writers House is all about. 'Joyce Carol Oates could fill Irvine Auditorium, but instead we opt to have a more intimate space so as to allow everyone to enter into the conversation,' says program coordinator Jamie-Lee Josselyn. She added that the inclusion of Howe has an added interest since it represents a reunion with fellow Language poet ' Penn's own Charles Bernstein. The idea of drawing people together is enhanced even further by the student and Writers House staff prepared post-reading dinner. The convivial atmosphere it adds to the already relaxed nature of the program. Brunch ain't bad either. Who wants eggs with their great literature. Learn more about the program and listen to podcast of past fellows.
Reading, Mon. 6:30pm, Brunch Tues. 10am, Feb. 15-16, Joyce Carol Oates, Susan Howe, Mar. 22-23, David Milch, Apr.26-27, rsvp to firstname.lastname@example.org, The Kelly Writers House, 3805 Locust Walk, University of Pennsylvania, 215-746-7636.
|Andy Warhol Museum|
Holy literary events: Tonight, there are at least three book signing/reading-type things that we'd like to attend. First up is the weekly Light of Unity Artists' and Writers' Series, which mostly features performances by poets and essayists, but also hosts music and theater acts now and again. Ian Wolf, Jeff Ingram, Ebony Malaika Collier are a few of the artists who'll be up to the plate tonight. (6 p.m., free, Free Library of Philadelphia, 1901 Vine St., 215-686-5322, library.phila.org.)
Also, Joe Sixpack, aka the Daily News brewsky reporter Don Russell, will discuss his book Joe Sixpack's Philly Beer Guide. (6 p.m., free, McGillin's Olde Ale House, 1310 Drury St., 215-735-5562, mcgillins.com.) Meanwhile, over at the Moonstone Arts Center, Richie Unterberger will read and sign his book on The Velvet Underground, White Light/White Heat: The Velvet Underground Day-By-Day. And you thought I wasn't going to get around to explaining that banana up top. (7 p.m., free, Moonstone Arts Center, 110 S. 13th St., 215-735-9600, robinsbookstore.com.)
|The New Yorker|
Before Jane Mayer, author of The Dark Side and an investigative reporter at The New Yorker, discussed her book about how the highest levels of our government became chock full of torturers and what, exactly, our country could do to rectify it, she tackled perhaps a more complex mystery: how did she ever get on the Philly Fun Guide? Talking about torture, especially at the Free Library, certainly couldn't be fun.
There are, though, a couple fun facts associated with torture that could really help you lift the spirits at the next company happy hour: did you know that Canada – Canada – has the United States on a list of rogue nations that employ, as they are called, “enhanced interrogation techniques,” along with Egypt? Did you know that some top administration officials are advised not to travel to other countries because they might be arrested? Did you know that when CIA interrogators couldn’t think of any new ways to inflict pain on a suspected terrorist, they would watch Fox’s drama 24 for ideas? If there were such a thing as “sadistic government Quizzo,” Mayer would walk out with the pot money, the bonus round money, and the deed to the bar.
Instead, she wrote a book. A killer book, one that actually accomplishes what many print and online news organizations today think they accomplish, but fail miserably at: connecting the dots. Mayer shows how Vice President Cheney outright told the country he was going to torture detainees on NBC five days after 9/11: “We've got to spend time in the shadows in the intelligence world. A lot of what needs to be done here will have to be done quietly, without any discussion, using sources and methods that are available to our intelligence agencies…” Mayer points out how the Bush Administration used a little-known office in the Justice Department, the Office of Legal Counsel, to upend centuries of Constitutional law with quack-level legal opinions. Mayer shows how information, bad information, retrieved from detainees under incomprehensible pain, made its way into President Bush’s speeches and Colin Powell’s case for war at the United Nations. And Mayer quotes people like a former top CIA official, who told her that after those torture tactics were used, “Ninety percent of what we got was crap.”
Though her opening comments were awkwardly read from a script -- and who can blame her, this is complex stuff – the central theme of her talk came out during the question-and-answer session: what the heck is the nation going to do about this?
Begin with the premise that Congress is, as she calls it, “spineless.” They were cowed the same way the news media and the judicial system were after 9/11: if you don’t agree with the President, you are unpatriotic. It took the other two branches of government and the Fourth Estate years to get over that.
That leaves the public. The decidedly older crowd seemed to be outraged at today’s lack of outrage. These are folks who lived though and were appalled by images of Vietnam beamed to their television sets, who watched Nixon get dismantled for white-collar crimes. Where is that today? As Mayer said, “The public has been much quieter than in Watergate -- those hearings were broadcast all day on television and people talked about it constantly.” Perhaps if Congress’ questioned Dick Cheney, or David Addington, or John Yoo while they danced with some stars, people would be more informed? “Torture is not an issue about being a Democrat or Republican, it’s an issue about American ideas,” she said. “But in shows like 24, people think that torture will somehow save you.”
The people that will save you, she said, are the heroes of this scandal. Several Justice Department attorneys, Army generals, and FBI agents, with both Democrat and Republican ideals, spoke out about torture and were ultimately silenced, fired, or, as she says, possibly threatened with bodily harm.
There was a feeling from Mayer, though, that even if she wrote another six books before Bush left office, it still wouldn’t change much right now. It’s essentially the fear that the The Dark Side won’t be used today as evidence of the president’s misgivings, but will instead be used years down the road as a key document in a graduate school thesis on America’s dark years as torturers. It’s the resignation that that it will be the history books, not a current groundswell of collective outrage, that will be left to fully judge Bush, Cheney, and the War Council. But hopefully, that won’t be the case. Already, she said, we should be looking to the next occupant of the White House as a “potential turning point,” if, that is, the next president is willing to “open the books” and give the public a better picture of what, exactly, has been happening for the past eight years.
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