"I cannot live without books." -- Thomas Jefferson

Friday, November 14, 2014

5 Questions with author Meline Toumani


1) You live in New York City, but I'm sure you're aware of L.A.'s massive Armenian population (I live in Little Armenia myself!) Have you experienced any differences in attitude toward the Turks between Armenian communities within the US, or do you feel the enmity is more or less universal?


If you don't mind, I'd like to re-orient this question a bit. I absolutely don't want to suggest that the most important thing about my book is the question of Armenians hating Turks or vice-versa. Even though I'm critical of the unchecked hatred that some Armenians feel toward all things Turkish, the most primary fact here is that this hatred is rooted in the genocide Armenians suffered under Turkish leaders in the final years of the Ottoman Empire, and the hatred has been fueled by the way modern Turkey continues to deny and obscure the full reality of what happened.

Having said that, there are all sorts of fascinating variations in the way different pockets of the Armenian diaspora in the U.S. relate to these issues. In the northeast--especially Massachusetts-- the Armenian community dates to the late 1800s, even before the genocide. It then grew into a robust and tightly-organized community when waves of genocide survivors settled there in the 1920s and onward. Now, that community is largely made up of people whose parents, grandparents, or great-grandparents were genocide survivors, so naturally the genocide looms large. At the same time, it's a very Americanized community--a large percentage of Armenian families in the northeast have been in the U.S. for generations--so there is also a phenomenon that was described and labeled by the Armenian sociologist Anny Bakalian in a book she published many years ago, called Armenian-Americans: From Being to Feeling Armenian. It's a complex idea, "from being to feeling" an ethnicity, but a simplified version is that as a diaspora community becomes more assimilated, collective symbols and rallying points (whether as benign as food or as charged as genocide) take on a greater role in the community's life. These symbols help prevent an identity from fading.  

By contrast, in Los Angeles, as any Angeleno knows, there are pockets of the Armenian community (and not just in Glendale!) where it seems as if assimilation has hardly made a dent, and there's much less of that transition "from being to feeling." To begin with, the community in LA is largely the result of more recent migrations-- people who left Iran or Lebanon or Armenia itself in the wake of revolutions in the past 30-40 years. They are newer immigrants. And a Los Angeles Armenian can live a fully Armenian life, having minimal contact with non-Armenians, if they choose. There are several Armenian private schools serving students from kindergarten through senior year, Armenian groceries and small businesses fulfilling absolutely any need you can think of, from hair styling to plumbing to real estate. For these Armenians, "being" Armenian remains intact in a different way, for better or worse.

A faster shorthand would be to say that Armenians have ended up in the diaspora after living in various other countries, each with its own context-- Armenia, Iran, Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, and of course Turkey. Members of the latter community-- Armenians who have come from Istanbul in the past 30 years or so-- are often still involved with Turkey to an extent, with relatives and friends there, with a grasp of the Turkish language, history and political situation, so although they know better than anyone the particular oppressions Armenians in Turkey have faced, they also tend to be more able to hold all the complexities and ambiguities in their minds-- to resist essentializing and stereotyping, to understand that one individual Turk is not the same as, say, a Turkish nationalist politician writing anti-Armenian propaganda. In the wake of the 2007 assassination of Hrant Dink, an Istanbul-Armenian journalist, the diaspora in general is just starting to learn from the complex experience of Istanbul Armenians. Before that they were regarded as black sheep for having stayed "among the enemy." I think this new learning and awareness is a very positive development.

2) You've said that when you were first starting out in your career as a journalist, you avoided writing about Armenian issues and the genocide. What changed and inspired you to write THERE WAS AND THERE WAS NOT?

The short answer: I couldn't avoid it; I had too many ideas and feelings that I needed to explore and attempt to resolve. The longer answer: I didn't want to be pigeon-holed as a person who was only writing about her ethnic background. And I doubted that these topics would be of wider popular interest (outside the Armenian community). But then I realized two important things: 1) Every American who writes, say, about Hawthorne or Melville, every southerner who writes about Faulkner, is also, in a sense, writing about his or her "tribe," drawing from the world he or she knows and feels and wants to interpret; I decided that embracing the intellectual and creative momentum I got from my own background wasn't something to be ashamed of; it would only be a problem if I failed to bring adequate self-questioning to the process. 2) Living and working in New York, surrounded by curious and brilliant writers and thinkers from all backgrounds, I started to understand how truly universal some of the dynamics of identity and tribe and self and "other" were, and I wanted to speak to these universal themes by mining, deeply and honestly, the conflict between Armenians and Turks. Every writer knows that the universal arises out of the particular. I've been deeply gratified by the way non-Armenian and non-Turkish readers have understood this about my book.

3) Can you tell us a little bit about what the title means to you?

Throughout the Middle East, including in Turkey and Armenia, There Was and There Was Not is the way you start a story: like "once upon a time." I was moved by the idea that Turks and Armenians could start their folktales and legends with these same words-- this same announcement of possibility-- but then, applying this logic to 1915, had ended up with such drastically different narratives. Of course, 1915 is not a legend or a folktale, and I'm not by any means saying that the two "versions" are equal. They aren't. But as a writer, I wanted to reach for this openness in my own mind-- not about what happened during the genocide, but about how I might try to understand the Turkish mindset, the learning process and emotional experience that the average Turk might be bringing to the table on the genocide issue: how did they learn what they learned? What did they truly believe? I felt that the only way to make a meaningful change in the endless "yes-it-was," "no-it-wasn't" rhetoric about the genocide was to embrace the absurdity and complexity of two nations living by these two clashing historical narratives. I also felt that although Turkey's denial of the genocide was a tragedy in itself, we are now at a point with this issue where that denial-- and the resulting natural response of even more extreme fixation among Armenians-- had come to hold the entire topic hostage, and so I wanted to frame my book by accepting this as a starting point, not for historiography but for the sociology of the situation. This is complicated because it can be misunderstood too easily.


 4) What do you hope readers will take away from reading this book, and how do you think non-Armenian and Turkish readers might be able to relate to it?

I'm still learning about this, and people's different reactions are fascinating. Ironically, I've discovered that among early readers of the book, the non-Armenian and non-Turkish readers tend to be most moved and most able to absorb the book's message. I won't try to summarize that message here; if I could, I wouldn't have needed 300 pages to get it right. But a reviewer on Amazon, of all places, put it in a way that I found perfectly accurate and valuable: she said that it would behoove us all to think about "our own version of Turkey"-- the family histories and prejudices we were raised with, the baggage, the sense of who we are and who is our "other," what are our own "unspeakables." The book is, among other things, my attempt to shed this baggage for myself: to examine it and then move into a mental space where I don't feel controlled by my history -- as a writer, as a human. And this process doesn't need to be a question of ethnic identity; the same can apply to family dynamics, or religion, or class, or sexuality, or a whole host of other labels and groupings we use to give our lives shape and meaning-- groupings that sometimes inhibit us as much as they give us security and purpose. My hope for the book, out in the world, is that it can be used in classrooms -- high school, college, or graduate school -- to generate debate among students about what the analogous identity issues are for them, whatever their background. 

5) What developments in the situation have you seen since you finished writing the book, if any?

While I was in Turkey, the country was undergoing major changes-- and it has continued to change. When I left, although Erdogan had already been Prime Minister for several years, he was still fighting to secure his power over Turkish society. Many progressive-minded people hoped that by challenging some of the harsh orthodoxies of Kemalism, and the military power that upheld it, Erdogan would make more room for minorities and underdogs, and for elements of democracy that had not fit into the Kemalist project. Unfortunately, he went far beyond that and has ended up replicating and even furthering the old autocratic model that those progressives hoped he would dismantle. Although there were some positive by-products along the way, such as increased dialogue around the Kurdish issue and even the genocide issue, for the most part the changes he's brought about now appear unhealthy for Turkish society in new ways. I feel a deep attachment to Turkey after having lived there for two and a half years, and watching from a distance, I feel sad to see his steamrolling of a culture and nation that, like any culture or nation, has so much beauty in it, despite its traumas and challenges.

Interviewed by Adriana Widdoes, Book Soup Event Host/Marketing Assistant

Meline Toumani discusses and signs There Was and There Was Not: A Journey Through Hate and Possibility in Turkey, Armenia, and Beyond on Tuesday, November 18th at 7pm. 
http://www.booksoup.com/meline-toumani-2014 

Monday, November 10, 2014

5 Questions with comics illustrator Drew Friedman

Photo by Greg Preston

1) You're known for your caricatures and portraits of people. Why did you decide to draw portraits of comic book artists in your new book? What interests you about them?

I’ve been a comic book fan almost my entire life, probably since I was three, so it was unavoidable. My dad, the author Bruce Jay Friedman, was a magazine editor in the 1950s and early 1960s at a company called Magazine Management, and he worked at the very next desk to Stan Lee, the editor of Marvel comics. As early as I can my remember, I had stacks of brand new Marvel comics deposited in my bedroom every Friday evening via my dad. I had amassed a huge collection by the time I was six. I loved to draw at an early age and my goal was to be a MAD magazine artist, to join the ranks of the "usual gang of idiots," something I would finally accomplish… at age 35! I also have had a fascination for comics history and wanted to learn as much as I could about the artists who I most admired, as well as learn what they actually looked like, something that was not always easy to accomplish. The great MAD comics artist Will Elder’s family commissioned a portrait of Will from me shortly after he died and that’s what triggered this series of portraits. Will’s longtime creative partner Harvey Kurtzman, who had been one of my teachers, as well as Will Eisner, at the School of Visual Arts in New York was the next portrait, then several more EC artists, leading to some Golden Age comics greats like Eisner, cover subject Jack Kirby, Stan Lee, and Siegel & Shuster, and then I realized I had the makings of a book.

2) Your work is visual. Without the luxury of words, how do you communicate each of your subjects' specific stories/personalities/pasts in your portraits? With what details?

I suppose I belong to the “Warts & all” school of illustration, meaning I don’t try to pretty things up with my work. I want to show what the individual really looked like, not a glamorized portrait, which people seem to appreciate. I like to draw people older or very old because you get to see their lives etched into their faces. Every line, wrinkle and liver spot tells the story of their life. Drawing younger faces is finally boring for me. It's too bland and uninteresting, although I do admire a beautiful face. I like Ava Gardner’s quote when she was asked late in life why she didn’t get a facelift: “Honey, I earned every line."

In many cases, what is going on in the background of my drawings is just as important, if not more important, to convey the “story” of the individual I’m depicting. Even a subtle gesture, a slightly raised eyebrow or a half smile, is essential in my communicating the subject’s story.

3) Do you like everyone you draw?

It does help to like and admire people I draw. I don’t necessarily want to spend days staring into the face of someone I loathe as I’m rendering their features. But it also sometimes helps to not admire someone. In Old Jewish Comedians, I included many comedians I don’t especially love as comedians. The majority of them I do love and respect, but I personally find Eddie Cantor and Red Buttons, among others, to be not very funny and even somewhat cloying. What I do love about them all are their wonderful, expressive faces, which still want to have attention paid to them even in old age and dotage, almost demanding it. That’s what I attempted to capture in my portraits, how in-your-face they all were. Even at the end none of them were shy or withdrawn, with the possible exception of Woody Allen. The Heroes of the Comics from my new book are for the most part more average looking, demure, low-key folks, not demanding attention aside from a few like notorious publicity hounds like Stan Lee and Bob Kane. Of course with much of my editorial political work, it certainly helped to dislike the likes of a Sarah Palin or Dick Cheney. How could one not? But I do pride myself on being an equal opportunity offender. I’ve taken shots at both Bill and Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama in my work. A good, honest political artist can never be one-sided.

4) Is there anyone you wanted to include in your latest book who didn't make the cut?

I had a long list that I finally had to cut down when the book was being planned, so finally I chose the 85 most essential early comic book artists, writers, publishers and editors, those who began in comics between 1935 at the very dawn of the industry, to 1955, when the Senate hearing on juvenile delinquency basically sanitized mainstream comic books and helped to put many creators out of work. I regret not including some creators who I greatly admire, among them Captain Marvel writer Otto Binder, artists Nick Carty, Don Heck and Gene Colon, and early DC editor/artist Vin Sullivan. I also attempted to include more female creators, but like most businesses of that era, it was mainly a men’s club. Still, I feel I included the most important and lasting, the cream of the crop.

5) What's next for you?

I have a few projects I’m weighing right now. I have considered doing a sequel to Heroes of the Comics, but I might not want to repeat myself. It’s also possible that I’ll jump a decade or so to the late 1960s and create a series of portraits (and eventual book) of more underground-type cartoonists like Robert Crumb, the ZAP artists, Jay Lynch, Rory Hayes, Bill Stout, Harvey Pekar, etc. I admittedly - with just a few exceptions like the early sixties Silver Age Marvel comics, Ogden Whitney’s baffling “Herbie," and the bizarre Jimmy Olson comics - pretty much lose interest in most mainstream comic books after the mid-1950s, when EC and Lev Gleason publications were driven out of business and comics for the most part became safe and bland. Underground comics exploded in the later 60s, a breath of fresh air, and honestly I still remember that jolt I got when I first was exposed to Robert Crumb’s work, and the other ZAP artists. If I do that book, it would also lead up to more contemporary creators I greatly admire who were also influenced by the undergrounds - artists like Chris Ware, Charles Burns and Daniel Clowes, whose portrait I just completed. So we’ll see. Stay tuned!

Drew Friedman discusses and signs Heroes of the Comics with special guest William Stout on Friday, November 14th at 7pm.
http://www.booksoup.com/drew-friedman-2014

 

Thursday, October 23, 2014

6 Questions for T. Jefferson Parker


1. You write mystery very well so well that you have written 20 crime novels. What got you started
down the path of mystery writing?


I was reading the authors they don't let English majors read, such as Raymond Chandler and John D. MacDonald and Ross MacDonald, and I thought: hey, I want to write a mystery. They're smart and fun to read. So I began conjuring what became Laguna Heat. 

2. Besides dreaming up the dark details and characters in your own mind where do you pull inspiration from?

Place inspires me. California small towns and cities. I also keep physical clip files, big plastic bins where I keep newspaper and magazines clippings, Internet stuff, anything that looks promising. I always dig through the bins when I'm fishing for a new story.

3. How do you feel your writing has developed since your first book? How have you grown as a writer?

I make fewer wrong turns. I deliberate more before I start a novel. I'm more economical with the words and I've learned to trust my instincts.



4. On the flipside of that, what areas of writing would you still like to grow in?

You can't write dialogue that's too sharp. When I look at Elmore or McCarthy or McGuane I think: man, that's good! I'd like to find room in my novels for humor. Not comedy, but the kind of out-of-left-field humor that brightens a scene.

5. You took a slight detour with Full Measure in that it’s not a mystery novel. How was your writing
process different with a literary novel than with mysteries?


With a literary novel you don't have the mystery/thriller conventions to either pen you in, or to lean on. So your whole viewpoint changes. I wrote Full Measure in between thrillers, in my "spare time," if you can call it that. I was able to work more slowly and deliberately because the book wasn't under contract. That allowed me to feel my way into the story. I wasn't sure I could pull it off until I'd written the last page and thought, yes, okay, you've written a good novel.

6. What authors inspire you? Who do you like to read?

I've been reading war literature lately, born of Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. So, Phil Klay, Kevin Powers, Ben Fountain, Karl Marlantes. I'm continually inspired by the Old Testament and Shaekspeare's tragedies, all the way up through Steinbeck, Heller, Jim Harrison and Don Winslow. The list is long and varied.

T. Jefferson Parker discusses and signs Full Measure on Monday, October 27th at 7pm. 
http://www.booksoup.com/jefferson-parker-2014

 

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Staff Review: Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay

By Hannah


    Recently, there has been a very audible exclamation of “feminism” in celebrity-land. Stars like Miley Cyrus, Beyonce, Amy Poehler, Emma Watson, and Patrick Stewart have all proclaimed their feminism. However, there are far more celebrities who shy away from the label than there are who proudly own it. Shailene Woodley rejects the word “feminist” because, she says, she “love[s] men.” Sarah Jessica Parker calls herself a “humanist, not a feminist.” So, why all this rejection of the word “feminism?” As Carrie Underwood so succinctly put it, “that can come off as a negative connotation.”

    Roxane Gay, whose favorite color is pink, who reads Vogue without irony, and who “willingly give[s] blow jobs,” explores, in her brilliant essay collection Bad Feminist, how the word “feminist” has been contorted into a synonym for “angry, sex-hating, man-hating victim lady person.” Beyond that, feminism, until very recently, seemed to only concern itself with the white, heterosexual, cisgendered, college educated, middle class experience of womanhood. This is, indeed, a problem. However, unlike Shailene Woodley or Carrie Underwood, Gay is unwilling to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Bad Feminist examines the humanity of the movement-- it is imperfect, it is messy, it has long strides left to make, but, does that mean feminism is unworthy of our association with it? After all, how many of us are perfectly clean, completely rational Adults-with-a-capital-A?


    The vulnerability and honesty with which Gay writes these essays is part, in my opinion, of what makes this collection so important. I, like Gay, am a both a “bad,” and a very vocal, feminist. I get more excited about new dresses than I do about political debates. I almost exclusively wear sparkly ballet flats, which aren't exactly practical footwear. I like for the man to pay when I go on dates and, sometimes, I think that all I really want in life is to have a gaggle of babies. This does not mean that I am not a feminist. On the contrary, my  emphatic feminism comes from my desire to be recognized as a multi-faceted, complex, messy, imperfect individual. In other words, I am a person. Unfortunately, in the current social climate, my femininity does not allow for my personhood.

    Bad Feminist is a valuable work because it delves into that personhood. It is not just about feminism. It's about race, it's about sex, and it's about privilege, but it's also about Scrabble and The Hunger Games. It is a multi-faceted, complex, messy, imperfect, and totally engrossing, book. It is both relatable and critical. It is simple, but intricate. It is a fantastic read that will make you consider who you really are.

Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay, Harper Perennial, $15.99

http://www.booksoup.com/book/9780062282712

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

A selection of ART book staff selections


From Keely
Jim Hodges: Give More Than You Take.
The only time I've ever been brought to tears by art was at an exhibition - this exhibition in fact - of Hodges's. Powerful installation art that socks you in the gut and kisses it all better afterward.
http://www.booksoup.com/book/9781935963028



From Hannah
What A Beautiful Day! Cindy Wang.
Too often, we forget how important it is to just be joyous and silly. Luckily, Cindy Wang is here to remind us!
Call the store for details! 310-659-3110



From Zane
The River Book. George Herms.
Over the last six decades, George Herms has recontextualized his artistic identity through rubbish. One of the last standing Beat-era assemblage artists, Herms's prolific body of work continues to provoke criticism and reflection on the inherent symbolism of detritus in an object obsessed culture.
http://www.booksoup.com/book/9780615953915


From Lexi
This Is Warhol. Catherine Ingram.
What a deliciously appropriate and concise look into Warhol. Littered with nifty little facts about the man behind the glasses!
http://www.booksoup.com/book/9781780670140




Tuesday, September 16, 2014

5 Questions with author Tom Sturges


1. You've published two great books about parenting. Tell us about your new book Every Idea Is A Good Idea? You talked to a lot of people for this, right?

EVERY IDEA IS A GOOD IDEA is a book about Creativity.  It profiles the methods and techniques of some of the many writers and artists I have worked with, who I signed, or whose story is legend.  Although I spoke with and interviewed many famous people, not every big name got dropped because not everyone knows exactly what happens when they create.  I also look back over the years to describe the process of some of the greatest creators who ever lived, including Mozart and Beethoven and Michelangelo.

2. Getting the most out of creative people came in handy when you were president of Chrysalis Records. What was the best and worst thing about the music industry at that time?

I was actually President of Chrysalis Music, the publishing arm of the Chrysalis Group here in the USA.   These were great years in the industry, and I signed some amazing talent, including Smashing Pumpkins, Outkast and Goodie Mob, Slaughter, Green Jelly, and Tripping Daisy, among many others.  Not usually mentioned was one of my favorite misses, Billy Bizeau, an artistic muse who never achieved his due.  The key to running any successful business, now or then, is to surround yourself with the most creative and talented people you can find and afford, and then letting them do what they do best, whether songwriters, artists, producers or executives.

3. You teach a course at UCLA on the Music Business Now. From the outside looking in, it would seem the adaptable are the ones who survive. Is the model always changing?
Creativity is a disruptive force.  It changes the status quo, in every setting.   Think about how the automobile changed the world when it arrived, how the telephone completely altered the way we communicate with each other, how television changed the way we look at each other and the events that shape our lives.  But nothing has been more disruptive (and amazing) than the internet.  It's effect on the music business was to destroy the distribution model and the marketing and promotion protocols that had been in use for the previous fifty years.  Only the companies and artists that were able to adapt to its complete takeover have been successful.  We teach our students that change is not only the norm, it is the inevitable.



4. Who are the  creative people that inspire you?
I am easily inspired.  It might be a sidewalk artist recreating the Mona Lisa with chalk or my son playing me a new song he's just written.  But at the same time I am struck by the nature of creativity flowing during difficult times in the life of the person creating.  When in doubt about that fact, I listen to the later Mozart symphonies (39, 40 and 41), which are not only masterworks of creativity and harmony and melody, but arrived during the most stressful and financially painful times of his life.  I also find the single vision of a writer like Paul Simon to be a constant inspiration and the fact that he does it on his own, without collaborators, without co-writers, without any external pressure but his own will to leave his mark, leaves me awe-struck. 

5. The book is just landing now. What projects are on the horizon?

I have already finished my next book, a semi-autobiographical noire-ish memoir about how to break up or divorce and stay friends with your ex.  I also wrote a children's book about dogs that figure out how to communicate with their owners.  And I’m working with a writer in the UK on a project about my father's last ten years on this earth, as told through his plays and screenplays, and the letters he wrote to my mother during this period.  

Tom Sturges discusses and signs Every Idea Is a Good Idea on Friday, September 26th at 7pm.
http://www.booksoup.com/tom-sturges-2014

Each purchase of Every Idea Is a Good Idea enters you into a raffle to win one of two signed and cancelled checks from film legend Preston Sturges!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

5 Questions with author Dawn O'Porter


1. You've had a colorful career as a television presenter, covering many topics with grace and humor. Did you balk at any assignments?
Ha, people always say I’m shameless and that I’d do anything on TV, but you’d be amazed what I’ve turned down. Most involve taking drugs on camera, having sex in the name of science and other big salacious ideas. I try to pick things that I think have a point. Like female issues and getting to know the weird and wonderful people in this world.

 2. Do you have a favorite?

Yes, I have a favorite. I made a documentary about Polygamy where I spent a week with a polygamous family. It felt exciting as, at the time, Polygamy was coming under a lot of fire in the media, and there I was, on the front line finding out what it was really about. You can’t beat that feeling in documentary making.


3. Paper Airplanes is loosely based on your childhood growing up in Guernsey. The two central characters are 15 year old schoolgirls, and wildly different but they forge an intense bond. How did you find a balance in humor and pain, and was it difficult to find those voices?

It was harder for me to find Flo’s voice because Renée is a version of me. But Flo isn't a version of anyone, I created her. I just wanted two girls who were very different to find a bond and so I had to start from scratch with Flo. Writing Renée felt very natural to me. As far as humor and pain goes, actually I found that easier than I expected. Many of the experiences the girls have I have experienced myself. From losing a parent to feeling misunderstood, and humor has always been present in my life. I think that especially as teenagers we are capable of switching from big emotion to big emotion, laughing and crying go hand in hand.



 4. You were born Dawn Porter and have worked for many years under that name. How did you arrive at O'Porter?


My husband’s surname is O’dowd and when we got married I couldn’t bear the idea of changing my name, it was never an option. But that wasn’t to say I didn’t want to do something, show unity in some way. Luckily the O’ was easy to take, so I changed my name my deedpoll and I absolutely love it. Around the time I was deciding what to do was when Paper Aeroplanes (UK edition) came out in the UK. We mocked up two covers, one with Porter and one with O’Porter. O’Porter looked better. So that was that, decision made.

 5. We love the wide variety of your projects. What's next?


I’m currently writing the third in the series of the Renée and Flo books, it’s called, Broken Eggs. After that, I have the fourth to write. I’m also launching my own fashion line called, BOB. Basically I am trying to carve out a future involving my two favorite things...books and dresses. Wouldn’t that be nice.

Dawn O'Porter celebrates the publication of her first (U.S.) novel Paper Airplanes at 4pm on Sunday, September 14th.
http://www.booksoup.com/dawn-oporter-2014

Read Dawn's blog here: http://www.dawnoporter.co.uk/



 



Tuesday, September 9, 2014

5 Questions with photographer & artist Glen E. Friedman


1. This book covers an extensive period which saw a major transformation in underground culture during the 70's up through the 90's. While reviewing your archive for this new collection, "My Rules", what prevailing feeling did the arc of your photography evoke for you?

it’s always exciting and inspiring!

2. Given the sometimes violent imagery of your photos, did you ever feel at risk while documenting your subjects?

I actually don’t see anything violent in any of my imagery, except for a very very few images that do have guns in them (which i have not used in images since 1993). While making these images, only at a few moments did i feel at risk. In fact i felt more at risk in trespassing skate spots in the 70’s, or getting hit by stage divers at some punk gigs. But indeed during one shoot in particular in South Central Los Angels just after the riots, it was uncomfortable at moments.

3. What contemporary youth cultures or outsider movements fascinate you?

At the moment there is nothing in particular, but The Occupy movement was of some inspiration and interest while it was in full gear.



4. As a veteran of counterculture, what qualities of an artist do you consider inherent to  become a catalyst to an evolution in the medium?

Being involved with the subjects, and the subject matter, personally, having a personal stake in the work, being responsible to your peers in the culture.
If it’s vital to you, then you may have a chance to do something important. If it’s just a hobby or it’s not something vital to your life, one can hardly expect the work to be worthy of others interest.

5. Do you feel the technology which has made photography available to everyone is reductive or invigorating to the form?

I think it’s both!! with a lot more bad comes a little more good (which is good). The quality of images on the whole is not very great, but it’s certainly entertaining and interesting at times, and lots of fun for people. I just think it’s kinda like when cell phones first got popular, and people’s etiquette took some time to get straight… hopefully people will stop getting in between subjects and other spectators holding up there cameras and phones for no good reason, as they do now so much. Over-documentation seems to be a word some have been using in the last few years. Every single moment of experience does not need to be photographed in my opinion.

Our questions were submitted by our staff member Zane Morris. 

Glen E. Friedman presents and signs Glen E. Friedman: My Rules on Monday, September 29th at 7pm. 
http://www.booksoup.com/glen-friedman-2014

 

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

5 Questions with author/bookseller Michaela Carter

 
Poet Michaela Carter discusses and signs her debut novel Further Out Than You Thought on Tuesday, September 9th at 7pm. She was kind enough to participate in our 5 Questions Survey. Enjoy!
 
1. There has been a lot of non-fiction writing/reporting about the LA Riots but it's difficult to name a work of fiction centered around it. How did this book come about?

I find it fascinating that more hasn’t been written about that time. Anna Deavere Smith wrote her phenomenal play Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992 in the voices of numerous Angelinos of various races and ages, both men and woman, which she performed as a one woman show, but other than that no creative work comes to mind.

I knew when I first started that the novel would focus on the lives of three twenty-something bohemians, people who came to L.A. to make it in the entertainment industry but didn’t have any real success. Worn down by the city, they still have their dreams, but their lives don’t look the way they thought they would. And there’s a pull between the beautiful, if squalid, life they’ve made for themselves, a life still shaped by their illusions and hopes, and the truth they don’t want to face.

The riots seemed to me to be about this very thing. It was a time when L.A., the city of dreams, had to face its own unpleasant reality. It could no longer overlook its race issues, economic disparities, its actualities—all those undercurrents were right out in the open.

During the 1992 Riots I lived in the Miracle Mile area and worked in Hermosa Beach. Like all the other Angelinos, I went to work the morning of what is now considered the second day of the riots. The afternoon prior, there was the Rodney King verdict, the white policemen were acquitted, and there were the angry protesters at the L.A. County Courthouse, along with the Reginald Denny beating, but they all somehow seemed like isolated incidents. No one anticipated the explosion of riots across the city the next day. So I found myself across the city needing to drive home. The 405 was bumper to bumper, and I decided to take South La Cienega, where I got stuck in my car, alone, in the middle of riots, with a gas station on fire sending all this black smoke over everything.

It was a day I’ll never forget. And it changed me—made me want to live a life that mattered, at least to me. The feelings the riots prompted were complex, and so, even years later, they continued to intrigue me. On the one hand, I felt terror, and real fear for my life, and on the flip side of that, I felt free in a way I hadn’t before. I’ve always been a perfectionist, the straight A student who tows every line, but on that second day of the riots, driving by fire after fire, when Los Angeles, a place I’d believed was predictable, became unrecognizable, I realized I could be anyone, do anything I wanted.

As a writer, I wondered what this sort of moment would cause my characters to do. I wanted to keep the riots very personal to them. They aren’t analyzing the political implications of what’s going on around them, they are just living their lives, trying to figure out what’s next.


2. You co-founded Peregrine Book Company in Prescott, Arizona and you're also the book buyer there. What led to your decision to jump into the book business?

Prescott needed a bookstore! Barnes and Noble was closing and we didn’t have a single store that sold new books. It’s a town of 100,000 people, and my partner, Ty Fitzmorris, and I thought that had to be enough to sustain at least one bookstore. Our friend, Tom Broderson, cofounded Changing Hands in Phoenix back in the 70s, and he owned another bookstore for a while in Prescott, and when he was willing to start the store with us, we knew we had to do it.

I love leading people to books, helping them find the perfect book for that moment in their lives. Books are so personal. Your experience of reading a book will always be different from another person’s experience, but a place where people can have the kind of discussions that books inspire—readings and talks, but also all those little conversations you have in the aisles—this is essential to the kind of town I want to live in. And it’s going really well—the community has embraced us profoundly.

3. You're also a poet and painter. How do you decide which creative outlet to pursue daily? Do you have to build in time for painting? Writing?

This sounds terribly unromantic for a writer, but lately I’ve taken to “clocking in” when I write, to make sure I devote real time to it. You have to make time for the things that matter to you but aren’t pressing. If I don’t get my kids dinner, they are going to have something to say about it. If I don’t respond to my students’ work, they’ll get upset with me. But I’m the one who will suffer most if I don’t make time to write—well, me, and the people who have to be around me. I get really grumpy when I’m not writing! Routine always helps here. I get my son off to school, make coffee, and sit and write for the rest of the morning.

Painting is different, at least for me. I started painting when my kids were young, one reason being that when my hands were covered with oil paint, I couldn’t drop everything and immediately be Mom again. I had to clean up a bit first. I’m usually reticent to start a painting because I know once I get into it I won’t be able to let it go. I get completely obsessed—the way I get when I’m writing a poem. I can stay up all night, the painting takes absolute precedence.


4. Tell us about teaching creative writing at Yavapai College.

I’ve been teaching at Yavapai for the last ten years. I used to teach composition as well as creative writing, but now I feel very fortunate to only teach creative writing, and mainly poetry. For the most part, students take these classes because they want to, and that makes a world of difference at a community college. The best classes have a wonderful mix of ages. There are people in their 70s alongside students just out of high school. This is an amazing mix for creative writing, when so much of what students write about and share comes from their lives.

My favorite class to teach is Writing and Healing, in which the whole focus is to reconnect with those impulses that made you want to write in the first place. So often, when we get further down the road as writers, we lose touch with those raw emotions that give the writing real power. It’s easy to play it safe and to do what you’re good at. But writing requires risk, and in this class students feel safe enough to be vulnerable.

5. If you could read your poetry aloud in performance with two other poets (living or dead), who would they be?

What a great question! It would be Anne Sexton and Patti Smith.

Anne Sexton used to read with a jazz band behind her. She’d get on stage, throw off her shoes, light her cigarette, and launch into her iconic poem “Her Kind.” “I have gone out, a possessed witch, / haunting the black air, braver at night; / dreaming evil, I have done my hitch / over the plain houses, light by light.” She must have been something to hear live.

And Patti Smith, from her descriptions in her memoir Just Kids, seems like she’d be equally free-wheeling, strong and sexy. Of course, her readings were also backed by musicians, which led to her idiosyncratic sound as a singer/songwriter.  

I’ve loved reading poems best when I have musicians on stage with me—everything from light percussion to a three-piece jazz band. Maybe it’s some unfulfilled desire I have to be a musician, or maybe it’s not feeling so alone up there and having others to play off of, or the fact that the readings are in bars or restaurants and I have a glass of wine to sip on, but these readings are the most fun I’ve had on stage. And if I could be alongside Sexton and Smith—that would be unthinkably cool.

Monday, September 1, 2014

The Way We Were

We have a pretty kick ass Art & Photography section here at the Soup, and as happens, some real gems slide in unnoticed from time to time. It was on a swing through the photography section recently that I happened upon Anthony Friedkin's gorgeous new black & white monograph The Gay Essay. It's the companion book to his current exhibition at the de Young Museum in San Francisco.


Friedkin documented the gay community (or what there was of it) in the late 60's and early 70's, from San Francisco to Los Angeles. He photographed drag queens, hustlers, community organizers, trans people, and even Divine! He shot them on street corners, in bedrooms, music halls and parades. 

It is startling to look at these photos in 2014 and think about how far we have come in the 40+ years since many of them were taken. There is a defiance in these photographs that is palpable. These were people who were used to being beaten by the police, kicked out of their homes and harassed on the street. Many of them would lose their lives eventually or have them otherwise ravaged by AIDS.  They couldn't imagine a world where they would be courted by politicians for votes, or allowed to marry the person they loved. To pose for a photo at that time was an act of courage and something I'm afraid our "selfie" obsessed culture would find difficult to relate to now. 

When you view the photos now it all makes sense. Of course we have come this far and nothing was given to us. We took it by forming bonds with people we loved, and creating safe spaces to be together, and marching in the streets. We put on dresses anyway, and smiled pretty for the camera, and reshaped the culture. 

I hope people find their way to this book or to the exhibit in San Francisco which I was lucky enough to stroll through one Saturday afternoon a few weeks back. It's a powerful and moving document.

Anthony Friedkin: The Gay Essay is published by Yale University Press and can be purchased at the link below:
http://www.booksoup.com/book/9780300206371
Visit the de Young Museum:
https://deyoung.famsf.org/exhibitions/anthony-friedkin-gay-essay