Which #Fiction #Authors would still be read in the 22nd Century?


Books that would stand the test of time

Books that would stand the test of time

Writers are often concerned with posterity. Would their work outlive them? I personally don’t give a damn about my work post my death– I don’t think any of it’ll be any good, and even if it is, I believe nothing lasts– so a few stories or books lost is neither here nor there.

But as a reader, I wonder what books from our century would folks be reading in the next?

This article in the Smithsonian gave me pause.

In 1936, a quarterly magazine for book collectors called The Colophon polled its readers to pick the ten authors whose works would be considered classics in the year 2000. Sinclair Lewis, author of the 1935 hit It Can’t Happen Here, was a natural choice for the top spot.

Just five years earlier Sinclair had been the first American to win the Nobel Prize for literature. But some of the authors are likely forgotten names to even the most ardent reader here in the year 2012:

  1. Sinclair Lewis
  2. Willa Cather
  3. Eugene O’Neill
  4. Edna St. Vincent Millay
  5. Robert Frost
  6. Theodore Dreiser
  7. James Truslow Adams
  8. George Santayana
  9. Stephen Vincent Benet
  10. James Branch Cabell

The editors at the magazine supplemented the published list with their own ideas of who might still be read in the year 2000. Their list included authors like Thomas Wolfe, H.L. Mencken, Ernest Hemingway and Hervey Allen.

If I had to bet on some authors who would be respected and known in the next century, I would list, in no particular order: Alice Munro, J K Rowling, Ernest Hemingway, Haruki Murakami, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, John Green, Maragaret Atwood, Hilary Mantel, Cormac McCarthy, Ian McEwan.

This is a biased list, as any list is bound to be. I’ve picked (some of the) authors whose work I’ve enjoyed the most– and who I believe have enough human resonance in some of their work to outlast the huge technological changes that would take place in the coming decades.

How many of the authors from the 1936 list do you recognise? Given that ebooks last ‘forever’, do you think this improves the chances of some of the current batch of authors? If you had to vote, which are the five (or ten) authors from the last century and this one who you would put your money on? Why? Do you agree with any of the authors in my list?

Malala wins the Nobel Peace Prize!


Damyanti:

Aptly so.A girl with a book is a redeemer.

Originally posted on Charity Spring:

Two Champions of Children Are Given Nobel Peace Prize – NYTimes.com.

“With her courage and determination, Malala has shown what terrorists fear most: a girl with a book,” said Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations secretary general.

View original

Got questions for a noted #author and creative #writing teacher ?


Since I live and write out of Singapore, it features in a major way on this blog and in my writing. I’ve been posting writing advice and interviews from creative writing and publishing experts, and today, one of the luminaries of the current Singapore literary scene, Felix Cheong, has agreed to a chat here at Daily (w)rite. I get to ask him a bunch of questions about creative writing, his work, Singapore,  and how all these three mesh together. Feel free to add questions of your own after you’ve read his interview.

1. You write both poetry and prose. Do they feed into each other, and if so, how?

There’s a creative – and necessary – tension at work when I’m writing fiction. The story sometimes rushes ahead, the characters taking the narrative into this situation and that. But the language has to catch up – the attention to detail, the ability to crunch descriptions crisply and precisely. So the poet gets to work, forcing the story to slow down, take a breath, pay attention. But too much of this fiddling with language can stop the manuscript from moving forward. Which is why the poet has to be killed before the story can live.  But it can be a struggle – I’ve abandoned my first novel because after three chapters, the poet refuses to die a quiet death and I keep revising the language!

2. What do you enjoy most about teaching creative writing?

I enjoy the interaction with students, giving them triggers to find their own creativity. I enjoy hearing them read their on-the-spot written pieces, which sometimes surprise me with their spark and spunk. And most of all, I enjoy hanging around creative people!

3. What qualities would you look for in your ideal student?

Well, someone who is observant, who is alive to the world around him, who opens his senses and is open to inspiration in his day-to-day life. Someone who reads, loves reading and will possibly die without reading. Someone who has the imaginative capacity to dream and be able to put down in words that dream. Someone who has something to get off his chest, driven by that human need to tell stories. Someone who is willing to work hard, to see a work through to its eventual form.  

4. Could you tell us something about your favourite authors, and why do you like them?

At different junctures, I have different favourite authors. It’s as though they came at the right time to teach me what I needed to learn to become a writer. For instance, in my undergrad years, as I was struggling to find my poetic voice, it was TS Eliot, Dylan Thomas and Lee Tzu Pheng. Later, it was Joseph Heller, Kurt Vonnegut, John Steinbeck, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Haruki Murakami, Milan Kundera etc. Too numerous to count!

Vanishing Point author Felix Cheong

Vanishing Point: Felix Cheong

5. Which of your works should a reader unfamiliar with your work start with?

For my poetry, start with Sudden in Youth: New and Selected Poems, which puts together the best-of in a slim volume. They are arranged thematically – from love poems to poems about my struggle with faith – and juxtapose my early poems with some of my later ones. For my fiction, check out Vanishing Point, inspired by real-life cases of missing people, and Singapore Siu Dai: The SG Conversation in a Cup, which satirises life in Singapore – from our obsession with Hello Kitty toys to the national pastime of queuing – in fun, bite-size stories.

6. Tell us something about your works in progress.

I’m currently putting the finishing touches to Singapore Siu Dai 2: The SG Conversation Upsize!, which is due to be launched in November. For some reason, these short satirical pieces have come out in a torrent over the past six months, triggered, no doubt, by Singapore politics. The stories are edgier and bolder than the first book, often taking the mickey out of politicians and their policies. For instance, their peculiar fondness to dress themselves up in a defamation suit.

7. As a literary activist, what is your opinion of the current literary scene in Singapore?

The literary scene is really exciting now and I sometimes feel the pressure to catch up with them! More new writers are being published; they are energetic and they have something to say, though some of them could do with more finesse and internalisation of craftsmanship. What is lacking, though, is the growth of a discerning readership. Not enough people are buying Singaporean writers’ books.

8. For someone new to Singaporean literature, what books — prose or poetry– would you recommend?

You can’t go far wrong with a few “best-of” anthologies. Value for money for a buffet sampling of voices!

i. No Other City: the Ethos Anthology of Urban Poetry (Ethos 2000): A swirling cauldron of emerging and established poets, stirred vigorously around the theme of Singapore’s urban landscape.

ii. Best of Singapore Erotica (Monsoon 2006): Even in squeaky-clean Singapore, there is nothing like the erotic to open the proverbial can of worms. Best read with your loved one already asleep.

iii. Reflecting on the Merlion: An Anthology of Poems (NAC 2009) Love it or photograph it, the Merlion has become iconic of the island state – and a conversation starter between poets about its significance in Singapore history and culture.

iv. Here and Beyond: 12 Stories (Ethos 2014): The latest anthology of made-in-Singapore short stories, edited by award-winning writer Cyril Wong. This will be in the ‘O’ level Literature text come 2016.

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Felix Cheong Singaporean poet

Felix Cheong

Felix Cheong is the author of nine books, including four volumes of poetry and a collection of short stories, Vanishing Point, which was long-listed for the prestigious Frank O’Connor Award. His latest book is a collection of satirical flash fiction, Singapore Siu Dai.

Conferred the Young Artist of the Year for Literature in 2000 by the National Arts Council, he was named by Readers Digest as the 29th Most Trusted Singaporean in 2010. Cheong has been invited to read at writer’s festivals all over the world: Edinburgh, West Cork, Austin, Sydney, Brisbane, Christchurch and Hong Kong. He holds a Masters in creative writing from the University of Queensland, and is currently an adjunct lecturer with Murdoch University, University of Newcastle, Temasek Polytechnic and LASALLE College of the Arts.

Have you read literature from Singapore or from Asia ? Are you familiar with Felix’s work? If you have questions for Felix on creative writing, Singapore, or creative writing in Singapore, leave them in the comments below!

What was the last city you traveled to and how did it make you feel?


Last week, I went to Paris.

I would have posted excited pictures, breathless descriptions. I would have told you I saw the Eiffel tower, arriving there after two missed trains, just when the lights began to blink, that I stared up at it against the clouds, that it seemed to rise and hover in the air, like a golden tower made not of steel, but strings of light.

Paris evening

An evening in Paris

I would have told you that the bridges gleam day and night, that the coffee is lighter than in Rome, that the croissants and crepes disappointed me somewhat–not that they were bad, that sitting outside watching the world go by seemed overrated when tourists sat by the Seine in traffic smoke, that the Notre Dame looked like calligraphy in air, like a papier-mâché thing I dared not visit for fear that the illusion of its lightness would disappear.

That the Mona Lisa underwhelmed, the ladies taking selfies with her made more of an impact, but that the Louvre made me feel like I wanted to lie down and die, because surely then I would be reborn inside of it, as a guide, a cleaner, a waitress. And wouldn’t have to leave. That d’Orsay does not do justice to the Impressionists, shutting away all their shimmering outdoorsy light in a smallish hall, where you have to peer over heads and shoulders to see them from a distance. That Van Gogh looks sadder in his swirly blue self-portrait than I remembered from prints, that his starry night over Paris looks far better than the sky today. That Rodin’s Thinking Man makes just as massive an impression as I imagined from the pictures.

But it is the people who remain with me.

The waiters who looked down their noses as they took orders, unsmiling, the pretty girls in snug scarves, that tall man crossing an alley shouting in French on his phone trying to look manly, the Chinese model being photographed at the Tuilieres Garden, who joined us minutes later in the metro wearing frayed shorts and golden eyeshadow, the artist at Montmarte drawing a smiling little girl’s portrait who would be oh-so-disappointed in a few minutes, a group of old women dressed in black lace, hobbling uphill on walking sticks, laughing, lugging loaded Desigual shopping bags, the Arab women covered top to toe, being led along by their husbands in shorts, the tall black men at shops and restaurants, regal despite their valet coats, the young couples, kissing in parks, eating long sandwiches, sipping wine, smoking, always smoking. I’ll remember being stuck in a jam in a back alley, looking up at the sky, only to find a bald old man and his Persian blue cat staring straight down at me from their red-flowered window.

I will, of course, go back, given half a chance. And this time I would spend more time watching people in the less tourist-infested areas. I’ll sit down and get lost, merge, disappear. A writer’s job is to paint what she sees, not interfere with the picture.

But on our way back now, on this long haul flight back to Singapore this is all I can think of: each of us, the protagonist of our lives, is just a part of the picture in someone else’s eyes. Note to self: no matter where you go and what you do, you’re just a tiny, insignificant part of the picture, remember that. The world is bigger than you, it would go on. Be here, now, and let that be enough.

Been to Paris? What is the one thing you remember the most? Would you go back again? What was the last city you traveled to and how did it make you feel?

Have you heard of the New York #Writers #Workshop ?


Here at Daily (w)rite, I run a series of interviews of publishing industry experts: I’ve had poets, authors, and creative writing professors. Today, I’m chatting with Tim Tomlinson, who teaches at the New York University’s Global Liberal Studies program, and is an author and poet in his own right.

My first encounter with him was through his book, The Portable MFA in Creative Writing, one of the first books that gave me the confidence to go on writing without an MFA, and not lose heart. I took a writing workshop with him some time back, and speaking from experience, if you have the opportunity to go for one of those, do not hesitate.

1. You’re one of the founders of the New York Writing Workshop. What was the impetus behind it?

Solidarity and frustration. The founders were all teaching for another organization whose demands began to clash with our values. We met, somewhat conspiratorially, and we decided that we could do it better on our own. The rest is a combination of history and farce.

2. What do you enjoy most about teaching creative writing?

Meeting new writers, hearing their material, and giving them ideas for presenting the material most effectively. I recently finished two long sessions in Baguio, Philippines. Lots of talent, many wonderful people, but with a need for craft, useful practice, and self-belief. In two days, we made great progress in all those areas, and that’s gratifying.

Portable MFA in Creative Writing

Portable MFA in Creative Writing

3. Tell us about your book, The Portable MFA in Creative Writing. How would you like a reader to approach it?

The Portable MFA in Creative Writing was meant as something of a substitute to MFA programs, or more accurately, a substitute for the expense of MFA programs.

At New York Writers Workshop we encountered hordes of recovering MFAs—aspiring writers damaged to varying degrees by destructive MFA programs. Writers who’d become convinced their work was garbage unless it matched whatever criteria were being pushed in whatever program (if, indeed, any criteria were being pushed). The Gordon Lish survivors were the most crippled: they couldn’t get beyond sentence one (which, according to Captain Fiction, must be perfect before one can proceed to sentence two). So we wanted to offer an alternative to spending $50,000 on nothing, or worse than nothing. For $16.95, the conceit had it, one could avail oneself of some, many, or close to all of the lessons of the MFA program.

But, and this is a big but, the book can’t provide community, or readers, or encouragement. MFA programs can (although none of these is guaranteed). The book also encompasses a range of disciplines: fiction, non-fiction, playwriting, poetry. Some programs prohibit movement between disciplines; our book encourages movement.

4. Can creative writing be taught? Why/ why not?

It most certainly can, and as we say in the book, one should run away from any program or instructor who says that it can’t. Talent can’t be taught, luck can’t be taught, discipline can’t be taught. But talent can be recognized and nurtured. And when it is, discipline follows – it’s more fun to sit down to the grind and discover that good work, or better work, is forthcoming. And when disciplined practice becomes part of the routine, luck often follows—one creates one’s luck. You teach the craft, you suggest the discipline, good things follow.

5. What advice would you give someone who is applying for MFA Writing programs?

Ask tough questions, of the program, and of yourself. Who will be teaching? What is her approach? (Does she believe creative writing can be taught?) What’s the rate of acceptance? How many nonsense requirements will intrude upon my writing time? Can I afford this? How deep will I fall into a financial hole? Can I achieve the same goals through less costly means?

6. If you had three pointers to give an aspiring writer, what would they be?

Read a lot, write more, and spend time far away from books (or universities). The work of too many young writers is informed by university experience solely, or predominantly. That creates the kind of provincialism you see in American fiction and poetry today.

7. You have taught creative writing in the West, as well as in Asia. What would you say are the key similarities and differences in the two experiences?

Very broadly speaking, Asian writers have more humility, which is a good thing for the development of craft, but maybe not the best thing for career advancement. Aspiring writers in Asia, too (again, broadly speaking) have far greater awareness of global realities than most aspiring writers in the U.S. American writers are freer in their diction, less formal.

8. Which is the last novel you read that you would recommend and why? Which authors would you name as influences on your own writing?

I liked Xiaolu Guo’s Twenty Fragments of a Ravenous Youth: A Novel. Her fragments are fairly large (in comparison to the fragmented fictions of Maggie Nelson, for instance, or Evan Lavender-Smith), but they’re still discrete units of narrative that enable Guo to focus on smaller moments, which build like blocks to a full coming-of-age story.

As for influences, in fiction no one has been more important than Henry Miller, particularly his Tropic of Cancer, for language and spirit. John Cheever for structure, Denis Johnson for lyricism, Robert Stone for rhythm, James Salter for vision, Lydia Davis for options, Junot Diaz for freedom, Mary Gaitskill for awareness, Edmund White for honesty, Chekhov for neutrality. The diction of cowboy movies. Sam Shepard. And the diction of gangster movies. Martin Scorsese, and David Mamet. So many. In poetry, I don’t know if I’ve been influenced. Rather, there are sounds and visions to which I aspire. Charles Wright, Li Po, Merlie Alunan, Mary Oliver. And subject matters that enable my own. Kim Addonizio, Jason Shinder, Philip Levine.

9. You help run a literary journal Ducts.org. Tell us more about it.

I’ve edited the fiction section for the past six or seven years (we also run essay, memoir, poetry, art, and humor). I’ve tried to make the representation global, and non-New-York-centric. I’ve run stories from Vietnam, the Philippines, Australia, England, India, as well as from many places in the U.S. Our readership has grown, the quality of submissions has elevated, and publication has become more and more competitive. We have two best-of anthologies: How Not to Greet Famous People, and The Man Who Ate His Book.

Tim Tomlinson New York Writers Workshop

Tim Tomlinson

Tim Tomlinson is co-founder of New York Writers Workshop, and co-author of its popular text, The Portable MFA in Creative Writing. Stories and poems appear or are forthcoming in The Blue Lyra Review, Caribbean Vistas, Coachella Review, Writing Tomorrow, and the anthologies Long Island Noir (Akashic Books), and Fast Food Fiction (Anvil Publishing). He is the fiction editor for Ducts. He teaches at New York University’s Global Liberal Studies program.

Do you have questions for Tim Tomlinson? Have you taken an MFA or considering applying for one? Would you like to talk about your experience?

 

What’s Your Story? #socialmedia


Fishy thoughts

My thoughts on Social Media

Today, I had a minor setback. My first instinct– to go and share it on Facebook.

I don’t share much of my private life on my blog, nor on my Facebook or Twitter. But recently, I’ve noticed a tendency– or maybe a temptation– because I don’t give in to it, of sharing about my life on social media.

I recently read this article in the New Yorker by author Dani Shapiro, about exactly how damaging giving in to this temptation can be for writers:

I worry that we’re confusing the small, sorry details—the ones that we post and read every day—for the work of memoir itself. I can’t tell you how many times people have thanked me for “sharing my story,” as if the books I’ve written are not chiseled and honed out of the hard and unforgiving material of a life but, rather, have been dashed off, as if a status update, a response to the question at the top of every Facebook feed: “What’s on your mind?” I haven’t shared my story, I want to tell them. I haven’t unburdened myself, or softly and earnestly confessed. Quite the opposite.

In order to write a memoir, I’ve sat still inside the swirling vortex of my own complicated history like a piece of old driftwood, battered by the sea. I’ve waited—sometimes patiently, sometimes in despair—for the story under pressure of concealment to reveal itself to me. I’ve been doing this work long enough to know that our feelings—that vast range of fear, joy, grief, sorrow, rage, you name it—are incoherent in the immediacy of the moment. It is only with distance that we are able to turn our powers of observation on ourselves, thus fashioning stories in which we are characters.

There is no immediate gratification in this. No great digital crowd is “liking” what we do. We don’t experience the Pavlovian, addictive click and response of posting something that momentarily relieves the pressure inside of us, then being showered with emoticons. The gratification we memoirists do experience is infinitely deeper and more bittersweet. It is the complicated, abiding pleasure, to paraphrase Ralph Waldo Emerson, of finding the universal thread that connects us to the rest of humanity, and, by doing so, turns our small, personal sorrows and individual tragedies into art.

I am given to Facebook updates and blog posts about the small things in life. Now I’ve begun to wonder whether that’s affecting my storytelling. Maybe I’m not building up enough steam over the years, by letting it out through my social media updates. Maybe the fact that I talk about small, impersonal-sounding details on my blog is affecting my storytelling abilities.

What’s your take on this? How much of your inner life/ rants/ life news do you share on Facebook and other social media? If you’re a writer, do you think sharing life experiences on social media detracts from an author’s ability to tell a story?

Have you read the Indian Game of Thrones?


Writing fiction takes a lot of talent, of practicing the craft, of endless learning. As part of learning craft, I’ve had the good fortune of interviewing authors, teachers and agents– and sharing their wisdom with you on this blog. Today, as part of this series, I bring you one of India’s promising authors, Krishna Udayasankar, author of mytho-historical series, The Aryavarta Chronicles, an exciting part of an emerging trend of historical fiction set in India.

Govinda by Krishna Udayshankar

Govinda by Krishna Udayshankar

1. Your first book, Govinda is based on an Indian epic, the Mahabharata. To an audience that doesn’t know the background, how would you sum it up in a teaser?

I’m going to borrow a reader’s comment here and call it: The Indian ‘Game of Thrones’. My own teaser would probably be to call it a story of political intrigue, war, action and social transformation set in what is often called the ‘Epic Age’ of Indian history. Read it also particularly for the characters.

2. Mahabharata is full of magic and myth. You’ve stripped fantasy from it and given your readers a historical socio-economic novel. What was the impetus behind that?

Understanding the history, the kernels of fact behind what has subsequently been aggrandized and used to legitimize or justify social elements, is an essential way of understanding the cultural and moral fabric of the society we live in. Consequently, I wanted to explore the scriptures as the epics as tales of humanity, not divinity; as something that could have been history and not some improbable fantasy-tale that defied all logic and science. The more I tried to find these explanations, the more I caught on to the idea of the epic ages as a time of socio-political revolution, and my story as one of change in the status quo.

3. For you, what are the challenges of writing historical fiction, and what are the rewards?

The biggest reward is a sense of closure. The attempt to demystify these stories and their injunctions is almost like a quest for a more believable truth, an attempt to make these amazing characters and stories more ‘real.’ If I can take the liberty of being dramatic: it helps me make my peace with the world around us.

As for challenges, research is an enjoyable but tough part of the process. It can take many months, even years of painstaking work trying to reconcile legend with logic and scholarly evidence and variations in popular narratives across the world – depending especially on what region and eras you are writing about.

I think the other bittersweet dimension comes up when what I write questions deeply ingrained beliefs or contravenes popular versions of the stories that people know. It has, on occasion, led to pretty strong feedback (if I can call it that) from readers. Don’t get me wrong; I enjoy a good debate any day and more than open to discussion on my books. But the comments do get personal sometimes and I’m still learning to laugh at them, rather than get upset.

4. Who are your favorite authors, and why?

Rudyard Kipling, Isaac Asimov, Kalki Krishnamurthy and J.R.R. Tolkien, to name some. As for the why – it’s the mythopoesy, the world-building, not to mention Kipling’s way with words and phrases. I’m also a fan of the Calvin and Hobbes comics by Bill Watterson. My favourite book, though, is Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha. I also enjoy poetry a lot.

 5. What was the last book you read?

Kaurava by Krishna Udayshankar

Kaurava by Krishna Udayshankar5. What was the last book you read?

I finished both Julian Barnes’ ‘Levels of Life’ and Terry Pratchett’s ‘A Blink of the Screen’, recently. Am now reading John Williams’ ‘Augustus’ and have Vasari’s ‘Lives of the Artists’ lined up on my shelf.

6. What is the aspect of writing that interests you the most?

Daydreaming! Wordsmithy. Writing pithy dialogues, especially between characters that are good friends. Describing emotions usually not explored. Detailing sensations and feelings. Reading to write. Reading, wishing I could write that way. Writing crap and feeling miserable enough to go into existential angst.

Oh wait, you asked me for the aspect that interests me the most, right? That one is easy – I hang out with a really awesome bunch of imaginary friends almost all the time.

7. As an author of historical fiction, what is the one concrete piece of advice you would give to an aspiring fiction writer?

In general, I believe all writers should listen to, and then promptly ignore, all advice. Having said that, I’ll also add, more as a reminder to myself than for the benefit of aspiring writers: Treat your subject/story/material with respect. The story (and this is particularly true for historical fiction) has endured in memory and myth for a long time; it has a life of its own and is bigger than you are. Respect that and engage with the story. It was here before you and your writing, and will probably stick around long after you are gone.

8. Tell us something about your forthcoming publication. Where can readers find the Govinda?

Both Govinda and Kaurava are available in major bookstores as well as online. They are also available as e-books. Kurukshetra, the third volume in the series is expected to be out by this November.

Krishna Udayshankar

Krishna Udayshankar

Krishna Udayasankar is the author of Govinda and Kaurava: Books 1 and 2 of The Aryavarta Chronicles (Hachette, 2012; 2013) a bestselling series of mytho-historical novels that have received critical acclaim. She is also the author of Objects of Affection (Math Paper Press, 2013), a collection of prose poems. A co-editor of Body Boundaries: The Etiquette Anthology of Women’s Writing (The Literary Centre, 2014), Krishna holds a PhD from Nanyang Business School, where she works as Lecturer. Her current projects include a novel based on the mythohistory of Singapore’s founding by a Srivijayan prince. She lives in Singapore with her family, which includes two dogs with varied literary tastes.

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Do you read or write historical fiction?  Have you read any historical fiction set in India? Would you like to read the Aryavarta Chronicles? (Fire away in the comments and one of the commenters would win a copy of Govinda!)