News & Updates 2010

I’m still basking in the glow of the latest Nonfiction Now conference, held in Iowa City this November, which displayed, over three days, the vibrant diverse energies of creative nonfiction. Where to start? John Edgar Wideman gave a great talk on the story behind Romare Bearden’s collage, Farewell Eugene; Alison Bechdel (seemingly impersonating a youthful K.D. Lang), offered an intimate, multimedia look at the creative process behind her graphic memoir Fun Home and its forthcoming sequel; and Marilyn Freeman, John Bresland and Joseph Squier (a fellow co-founder of Ninth Letter) led perhaps my favorite panel, on the video essay.

Not that there wasn’t an excess of back-to-back excellent panels, from women travel writers, to Australian nonfiction, to a panel discussion of David Shield’s notorious Reality Hunger, and I had a fine time serving on two panels, “Containing Multitudes: The Discovery of Voice in Nonfiction,” and “When the World Changed.” Kudos to Robin Hemley for another first-rate, well-oiled conference.

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The September 2010 issue of Brevity is now online, and it includes a lovely review, by the very kind Dinty W. Moore, of The Moon, Come to Earth. He writes, “Philip Graham shows us how to write honestly and well about an unfamiliar culture . . . [W]ritten like a poem, and full of the poignant details one only notices when embedded in a new culture, not just passing through . . . The Moon, Come to Earth should be required reading for all those about to travel abroad, especially if they plan to pack along pen and paper.” Thank you Mr. Moore!

The issue also includes essays by David Huddle and Lia Purpura (author of the fabulous On Looking), as well as many other fine writers, and a review of my Vermont College colleague Sue Silverman’s Fearless Confessions: A Writer’s Guide to Memoir. All worth looking into . . .

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The Daily Illini, the campus newspaper of the University of Illinois, featured a report on my fiction and non-fiction that have been influenced by my experiences volunteering near Ground Zero after 9/11, in an article titled “Literature Explores a Post-9/11 World.” May all restless souls find peace.

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It’s hard to fully express what an honor it is to have my pre-obituary posted on the website Boomer Death Counter (“Tracking the quickening demise of the ‘Me’ generation . . . 3 . . . 2 . . . 1 . . . Gone!”). If I have one complaint, it’s that the informational paragraph on my nasty, brutish and short life is just a touch skimpy on specific details.

I should also note that the website also offers this bright red cavil: “NOTE: Philip Graham (writer) has not yet died.” Whew.

Meanwhile, two bloggers have recently posted kind mentions of their reading The Moon, Come to Earth, at Materfamilias Reads, and Martin in the Margins, the latter too generously comparing me to Adam Gopnik. Thank you both.

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Harmony Neal, one of my Illinois MFA advisees from a few years back, recently published her nonfiction piece, “Serendipity,” in the literary journal Gulf Coast, and now an excerpt from that essay appears online at Harper’s. Congratulations, Harmony! You can read the excerpt here, which should prime you for reading the entire essay here.

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I’ve recently returned from teaching at the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA summer residency, where I also presented a craft lecture and gave a reading from my forthcoming (fall 2011) book of nonfiction, Braided Worlds.

I was delighted to attend the graduation craft lectures and readings of three of my former advisees, Renee Giovarelli, Kate McCahill, and Mayumi Shimose Poe–each presentation an exhilarating example of what a Vermont College degree can inspire. Bravo, everyone!

I go to Vermont College not only to teach but to learn, and this residency was no exception. A writing exercise that Sue Silverman offered during her craft lecture on Flash Nonfiction unlocked for me a scene that I’d been struggling to revise for weeks; a lecture by Trinie Dalton, “How Easy It Is To Enter,” introduced me to the work of Can Xue; a lecture on the writing of memoir by Sara Mansfield Taber mixed humor and insight to great effect in her description of the squalling babies of memory; and the lecture on graffitti as poetry and art by Nance Van Winckel was a multimedia revelation (and you can view her video on the subject here).

I attended more excellent readings of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, by faculty and graduating students, than anyone would dare shake a stick at. Perhaps the highlight was visiting poet (and Pulitzer-Prize winner) Claudia Emerson, who topped off her reading by singing (accompanied by her husband on guitar) a country blues tale of revenge!

Already, I have saudade for my colleagues and the campus. Until next summer . . .

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I’m just back from Toronto, Canada, where I attended the 11th International Conference on the Short Story in English, “The Border as Fiction.” I participated in the panel “In A Land Far, Far Away: Travel and the Short Story Writer,” reading four brief selections from my short stories that have been influenced by my various travels. A real pleasure to share the podium with the writers Michele Morano, Christine Sneed and Xu Xi.

I returned home with more international news: the Portuguese publishing house Editorial Presença will publish a translation of my book The Moon, Come to Earth: Dispatches from Lisbon, in April 2011. I’m looking forward to reading what the Portuguese equivalents might be for “whatchamacallit,” “yukking it up,” and “jitters,” among others.

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My dispatch “I Don’t Know Why I Love Lisbon,” about the pleasures of eating grilled sardines in a Portuguese tasca while watching a World Cup game, has been reprinted at Leite’s Culinaria, the website of chef and writer David Leite, author of the fabulous cookbook The New Portuguese Table. It’s the World Cup season! And as for eating grilled sardines, well, that’s forever.

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The latest issue of Ninth Letter is out (Spring/Summer 2010), and though I’m semi-famous in the magazine’s offices as the guy who always says, “This is our best issue ever,” I’m gonna have to say it again: this is our best issue, ever.

I’m especially proud, as fiction editor, of our newest roster of writers. Angela Woodward, in “The End of the Fire Cult” (an excerpt from her forthcoming novel), introduces us to the complex border disputes between the two countries that a wife and husband have imagined and continually, strategically revise; Sheila M. Schwartz somehow managed the small miracle of combining harrowing honesty with humor–however dark–in her story “Critical Mass,” which channels the intricate resolve of a growing cancerous tumor; “What Rough Beast,” by Stephen Marche, explores the worldwide reaction to the startling discovery that the radiant face of God has been revealed (in the corner of the screen) during a busy moment in a porn video; in “Below the Salt,” an excerpt from a novel-in-progress by Katherine Vaz, a starving mother and son, imprisoned for their religious beliefs on the Portuguese island of Madeira, learn how to eat the music of birds; Douglas Glover demonstrates just how lonely it can be at the top when you’re a “wealthy and famous forensic archeologist” in his story “The Sun Lord and the Royal Child”; finally, the eponymous hero of the story “Paint,” by Whit Coppedge, navigates through his adolescence in an awkward body that may or may not be two-dimensional.

Our new issue abounds in terrific poetry and nonfiction as well, and the art and design folks have outdone themselves this time—I don’t think anyone will contradict me when I say that this is the most gorgeous issue we’ve ever produced. But don’t take my word for any of this. We’re already running teaser excerpts from the issue’s contents, which you can check out here, and here.

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My essay “Traveling with Children” (a much revised version of a panel presentation I delivered at last month’s AWP conference in Denver) has been published at Chantal Panozzo’s excellent website Writer Abroad.

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Last night I discovered (okay, by accident, I admit) how to display a favorite website as a hovering icon on the screen of my new iPad. Immediately, I applied this nifty transformation to 3 Quarks Daily and The Millions and placed them right next to the Settings icon. Then this morning, soon after waking up I pressed the icon for The Millions, and–surprise!–what should pop up but the front page featuring a sweet and generous review of The Moon, Come to Earth, by the eloquent but apparently internationally clumsy (like me) Andrew Saikali.

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At Writers Read, I offer reviews of four of my favorite books that I’ve read recently, by Wolf Haas, Kyle Minor, Midge Raymond, and Lori L. Tharps (and a brief nod to Hillary Mantel and David Kirby, authors of books I’m currently in the middle of reading). The round-up is also available at Campaign for the American Reader.

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My essay about the secret histories behind a love of books, “Every Day I Open a Book,” has been published at the marvelous literary/book reviewing website, The Millions.

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At Critical Mass, the blog of the National Book Critics Circle, I confess in a guest post my history of either kissing or (more rarely) throwing books, and how these impulses won’t adapt well in a future world of e-books.

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One of my advisees this past fall at the Vermont College of Fine Arts low-residency MFA program, Sheila Stuewe, has won an AWP Intro Award in Creative Nonfiction, for her essay “Residual Value.” Congratulations, Sheila! Meanwhile, another of my Vermont advisees from the fall semester, Kate McCahill, has won a Mary Elvira Stevens Traveling Fellowship, which will finance a writing trip from Guatemala to Patagonia. Bravo, Kate!

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Writer and editor extraordinaire Dinty W. Moore offers some gracious words about The Moon, Come to Earth at the Campaign for the American Reader website: “I am currently reading Philip Graham’s The Moon, Come to Earth, a fascinating blend of travel writing and family memoir set in Lisbon. I love the way the book refuses to limit itself to one mode or the other, and how Graham’s various turns and twists eventually combine to make a whole much greater than the sum of the parts. He is also just a clear, enjoyable, funny writer.”

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My recent reading in Tallahassee, at The Warehouse (sponsored by the creative writing program at FSU) is now available at The Southeast Review as a podcast.

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Writer, editor, and my former student John Warner interviews me for The Morning News, inducing me to talk about consulting a diviner in Africa for writer’s block, feeding my mentor Grace Paley one of her last meals, the experience of having an issue of the New Yorker (with one of my stories inside) stalk me across three continents, and my family connection to the iPad. You can read all about it here.

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Two literary websites have kindly featured interviews with me about The Moon Come to Earth: Miriam’s Well and Writer Abroad.

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Luso-Americano, the national circulation Portuguese-American newspaper, has a full-page feature on The Moon, Come to Earth, complete with an article and review, interview and photos, in the February 26 issue.

Maria do Carmo Pereira writes: “Conseguiu captar a essência dos portugueses e transmiti-la para um livro onde nos podemos ver ao espelho, como um reflexo. Estamos, ali, retratados por um observador imparcial, que consegue interpretar exactamente o que nos diferencia, e captar a beleza das coisas mas simples que nos passam despercebidas no corre-corre diário.”

Or, in my unbiased attempted translation, “he was able to capture the essence of the Portuguese and transmit it to a book where we are able to look into a mirror’s reflection. We are, there, portrayed by an impartial observer who can interprete exactly what differentiates us from others, and he captures the beauty of the simplest things that we pass by unknowingly in our daily rounds.”

If you’d like to give your Portuguese reading skills a try, you can find the February 26th issue here, then scroll to page 12.

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I’m returning to the road for a brief spring leg of my book tour for The Moon, Come to Earth, which will include readings, panel appearances and book signings. If you’re in the area of any of these events, please drop by!

Wednesday, March 17th
4:30 PM
Reading
Early Spring Literary Festival
Illini Union Bookstore
809 South Wright Street
University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

Friday, March 19th
2:00 PM
Panel and book signing
Virginia Festival for the Book
“The Writer Travels” (with Alan Cheuse & Lori Tharps)
Old Dominion Bookshop
404 East Main Street
Charlottesville, Virginia

Tuesday, March 23rd
8 PM
Reading
The Warehouse
706 West Gaines Street
Tallahassee, Florida
Sponsored by Florida State University English Department

Thursday, April 8th
4:30 PM
Reading and panel
“Baby on Board Abroad: Travel Writing and Family”
Room: 210, 212 CCC
Associated Writing Programs conference
Denver, Colorado

Friday, April 9th
9:00-10:15 AM
Book signing
Exhibit Hall A, E7
Vermont College of Fine Arts booth
Associated Writing Programs conference
Denver, Colorado

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This March 15-17, the Creative Writing Program of the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, will host our first annual Early Spring Literary Festival: a rousing three days of panels, craft talks and readings.

The first event will be an National Book Critics Circle-sponsored panel titled “The Next Decade in Book Culture: The Rise of the E-Book.” I’ll be on the panel, along with the president of the NBCC, Jane Ciabattari; Martin Riker, Associate Editor of the Dalkey Archive Press; and Harriet Green, the English and Digital Humanities Librarian of the University of Illinois. You can read more about the panel at Critical Mass, the web blog of the NBCC, and more about the festival and view the entire schedule here.

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The third edition of Janet Burroway’s Imaginative Writing: The Elements of Craft (Penguin Academics) has been published, and it includes a section on the value for writers of keeping a journal. Burroway includes a couple pages from one of my writing journals, the one I kept while living in the small village of Asagbé in the Ivory Coast in the summer of 1993. The entries include bits and pieces of two novels I was working on; a mention of a malaria drug, Halfan; a sentence of a review I was writing for the Chicago Tribune of John Hawkes’ novel Sweet William; and this observation of a bit of activity passing by me in the village: “the choppy, swaying gait of goats.”

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Ninth Letter has a new issue out (volume 6, number 2), and as the fiction editor of the magazine I couldn’t be prouder of the six stories we’re featuring.

The story “Deciduousness: the Mechanism,” by Ander Monson, combines love and betrayal, an unobtrusive yet terrifying machine, and the approaching end of the world; we’ve published it as a stand-alone set of six combined booklets. “Stomp Tokyo,” by Viet Dinh, takes place on the super-secret island where all the giant monsters of Japanese movies are kept safely–one hopes–penned away from the rest of humanity. Marianne Jay’s story (and her first published fiction) “Cherry Ripe,” about adolescence and mysterious radio signals, is written beautifully in the difficult-to-master first person plural. The conflicted narrator of “Return to Sensibility Problems After Penetrating Captive Bolt Stunning of Cattle in Commercial Beef Slaughter Plant #5867: Confidential Report,” by John Warner, takes us step-by-step into the moral complexities of the slaughterhouse. “Your Book: A Novel in Stories,” by Cathy Day, tells the story of a novel as it is written, published and marketed, and then over the years makes its way into the minds of readers. Benjamin Percy, in “Terminal,” will remind you of every fear you’ve ever entertained while flying.

What a great line-up. And I’m not even mentioning our new issue’s first-rate nonfiction, poetry and art!

If anyone’s interested in some of the inner workings of the magazine, you can read this interview with me at the Sequoya Review.

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The Significant Objects Project pairs writers with objects that have been bought at a yard sale. Each writer is asked to write a story (500 word limit) that invents for the object a secret history and significance. The object plus its story is then auctioned on e-Bay, and all proceeds are donated to 826 National, the community of nonprofit organizations across the country that help students ages 6-18 with expository and creative writing. A good cause! Writers who have contributed in the past include Nicholson Baker, Jonathan Letham, Aimee Bender, Margot Livesey, Colson Whitehead, David Shields, William Gibson, and many others. And now a ringer like me. My object is a pepper shaker, and you can find a photo of the object and my story here.

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The literary magazine Hunger Mountain has begun its Exquisite Corpse Project, a collaborative story titled “The Malleable Morning Bruises,” which will be published in monthly installments. “No one knows exactly where this is leading,” the editors announce, and certainly not me, since I’ve written the first installment and am as curious about what will follow as anyone else. You can read all about it here.

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News & Updates 2009

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