a MobyLives guest column
by Steve Almond

14 February 2005 —Last Spring, I published an extremely strange book called Candyfreak: A Journey Through the Chocolate Underbelly of America, which I described to my publisher (and they described to readers) as "half candy porn, half candy polemic."
     The book is a memoir of my own lifelong sweets fetish, along with an account of my cross–country journey to various small, independent candy bar manufacturers.
     It got reviewed in a lot of unexpected venues, none, to my mind, more so than the right–wing magazine, The National Review.
     The Review review was a kind assessment most of the way. But then, perhaps inevitably, the reviewer expressed disapproval over my decision to include my political views in the book.
     She was hardly alone.
     Over the next couple of weeks a number of similar reader reviews popped up on Amazon.com.
     A few samples:

• "I have read this pablum and feel I am owed the four hours it took to read. Mr. Almond please send me a refund .... Your own paranoia about the Republican party and politics in general were as distastful [sic] as an Almond Joy candy bar."

• "The parts about candy are fun but I can't believe the author became political and stupidly at that .... A shame."

• "If you can relate to Almond's negative worldview and his extreme left politics then you might enjoy this book, but otherwise you'd be well advised to avoid it."

• "I literally threw the book across the room (where it still sits at this moment) after his progressive tantrum on page 204."

     It was a truly bizarre chain of events. I was pretty sure there was some relationship between The National Review and the Amazon.com reviews. Like, maybe a bunch of conservatives only read the first half of the National Review piece and raced out to get Candyfreak, only to discover that I was, in fact, a commie.
     Either that, or the vast right–wing conspiracy was a lot vaster than any of us realized. (The Clintons were in remission, Daschle was whupped. Now the attack dogs were going after obscure authors.)
     Whatever the case, I am happy to cop to the basic complaint of these readers, though I will not be providing any refunds.
     Alas, Candyfreak does include a few lefty diatribes.
     Here's the main one:

     What an embarrassment it was. The Bush tax cut had sopped the rich and wiped out the federal surplus. The economy was in the crapper. Dubya was doing everything in his power to hand the planet to Exxon.
     Two years earlier, I'd sat in front of another TV and watched him steal the Presidency in broad daylight. Then a bunch of vicious air–borne murderers had come along and scared the commonsense out of everyone. In one morning, they'd managed to bestow upon this evangelical simpleton an air of presidential dignity. He saw his chance and bounced the rubble in Afghanistan and kept the bellows of war going (Iraq was next) and now the democrats were too chickenhearted to oppose him. It was the poor who were going to pay, as they always do, and who gave a damn about them?

     This outburst — and I think that's a fair word — takes place toward the end of Candyfreak. I am on the aforementioned cross–country tour, in Boise, Idaho to be precise. I am sitting in a hotel room watching the results of the 2002 mid–term elections. I am quite depressed. This might help explain why I had politics on the brain.
     My intent was not to piss off those 59 million Americans who voted for Bush, but to express anguish over the net loss of humanity in this country. That's actually what the book is about, beneath all the confectionary mishagoss.
     Still, I was well aware that including such passages was going to ruffle feathers. My editor asked me, more than once, to consider the risks of "alienating Republican readers."
     To which I responded: "Republican readers — isn't that an oxymoron?"
     Obviously, I'm kidding. Plenty of Republicans read. That's why Tom Clancy is so popular.
     Again: kidding.
     My point here isn't to bash Republicans, but to suggest the sad disjunction that now exists between the arenas of art and politics.
     Because what really bummed me out about the Amazon haters wasn't that they disagreed with my politics, but that they immediately summoned such genuine outrage at me for deigning to express a political opinion at all.
     They regarded Candyfreak as entertainment, which meant, basically, that I was supposed to serve as a candy monkey for them: swinging from my zany licorice ropes and making funny gibbering noises.
     By including my political views, I was in direct violation of The First Law of Social Apathy, which holds a popular culture should exist divorced from any of the moral facts of its current political condition.
     What folks want from the pop — hell, what we deserve as tax–paying Americans — is a nice soothing mind bath. A few chuckles. A nice melodrama in which to park our emotions for a couple of hours. In a word: opium.
     This country's chief signifier is our staggering capacity to isolate ourselves from the effects of our political and lifestyle choices.
     This is the reason, for instance, that so many people can vote for a party that believes gays are sub–human but still watch "Queer Eye For the Straight Guy," (because fags are so darn funny!). It's also the reason liberals can drive around in SUVs, while decrying policies driven by oil–dependency.
     But of course it is one of the functions of art (yes, even popular art) to call people on such bullshit, to raise people's consciousness, to awaken their capacities for compassion.
     William Faulkner probably put this best in his 1951 speech, upon accepting the Nobel Prize: "The poet's voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail."
     It seems to me that the time has come answer this call.
     I don't mean to suggest that writers should begin cranking out polemics. Art resides in an argument with the self, not others.
     What I am suggesting is that artists need not regard their political identities as wholly separate from their artistic ones — especially given our unique historical circumstance.
     Look at what's happening: our country is being led down a path of almost unprecedented moral negligence, a kind of suicidal selfishness in which the civic discourse has been reduced to bumper stickers. Those in power stand ready to vilify anyone who threatens their power. The opposition has abdicated its duties to John Stewart.
     Virtually every writer I know recognizes this. (I do not know Tom Clancy.) They are all deeply distressed.
     My question is simple: when are we going to allow this grief to inform our art?
     Will it take another war? The loss of a woman's right to control her body? The conversion of Social Security into a Wall Street boondoggle? To what extent is our polite silence a form of collaboration?
     As I think about all this, I'm reminded of two anecdotes.
     The first stars Pablo Picasso. After the Nazis invaded Paris, they visited his studio. The officer in charge spotted "Guernica" and gazed at the canvas in dismay.
     "Did you do this?" he asked finally.
     "No," Picasso said. "You did."
     The second anecdote is of a more recent vintage.
     A famous author came to Boston just before the election to do a fancy reading. He was introducing a story that dealt with an alcoholic, when he made the following comment: "As the last four years have shown, there are some people who are better off never drying out." (I am paraphrasing.)
     After the reading, a woman approached the author and scolded him for making such an inappropriate comment.
     "But my dear woman," the author said. "Don't you realize? That's my job."

Steve Almond is the author of My Life in Heavy Metal. His new book of stories, The Evil B.B. Chow, will be published in April. Excerpts are available at BBChow.com.

Link to this column.

©2005 Steve Almond

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Friday 25 February 2005

Let us know as soon as you find out, Professor . . .
Turn of the century novelist Emma Dunham Kelley–Hawkins has long been celebrated as a pioneer of African–American women's literature. In fact, when Henry Louis Gates discovered one of her books, Four Girls At Cottage City, he was inspired to track down other "lost" texts by African#150;American women to put together the 40–volume Schomburg Library of Nineteenth–Century Black Women Writers for Oxford University Press. Still, as Holly Jackson observes in a Boston Globe article, "despite continual scholarly interest in Kelley–Hawkins as an important voice of the period, the woman who Gates credits with inspiring the Schomburg Library has never fit comfortably within the African–American canon. Most puzzling has been the apparent whiteness of her characters, who are repeatedly described with blue eyes and skin as white as 'pure' or 'driven' snow . . . ." Now, Jackson herself thinks she's found the answer: Kelly–Hawkins was white. Which leads to another problem: As Gates puts it, "I'm intrigued by the idea. . . that so many scholars have concluded that this woman was black, and it certainly will be interesting for us to figure out why."

Cannon owners making trek to Thompson's house . . .
"Dozens of cannon owners, from Civil War re–enactors in Pennsylvania to an Eagle pilot, who has specified in his own will that he be shot posthumously from a cannon, have offered the use of their weapons to Hunter S. Thompson's family" in order to fulfill Thompson's wish to have his ashes shot out of a cannon. According to a Denver Post article by Nancy Lofholm, among the "frenzy" of offers pouring in, "A California company, Angels Flight Inc., is offering to blast Thompson's ashes into the wild blue yonder in a 21-gun cannon salute or to shoot them off in a fireworks display. A Steamboat Springs radio station plans to shred some of Thompson's books and blow them into the sky from a cannon in a confetti of words on March 5, the same day Thompson's family and close friends will gather in a private ceremony of commemoration at an Aspen bar." Says Joshua Fleming, a disc jockey at the radio station, " I thought this would be a zany way to celebrate his life. I think that he would totally dig it."

RELATED: "He decided he'd done good work and was respected. His reputation as a serious writer has solidified . . . He was rested. He got a night's sleep. He was calm," says Thompson's son, Juan Thompson, in a Denver Rocky Mountain News story. "A lot of people figure it was the end of a five–night binge. It was a deliberate choice. It wasn't something made in a drug or alcohol fog."

"Street lit" — the real thing, or marketing handle? . . .
"After years in the literary underground, "street lit" — a sort of hip hop black literature that is often self published and sold on U.S. street corners — may finally hit the big time," says Diane Bartz in a Reuters wire story. " Religion, obsession with brand names and explicit struggles between right and wrong play a large role in the books, making them a combination of morality tales, Mario Puzo's most violent Mafia novels and chick–lit shopping fiction." While the genre has its roots in the books of the 1960s and 70s by Donald Goines and Iceberg Slim, the break–out book was Sister Souljah's novel "The Coldest Winter Eve," which has gone on to sell a million copies, says Bartz. Says Simba Sana, owner of the suburban Washington, DC chain Karibu, "It wasn't really a phenomena at first. They basically appealed to dudes who were just out of prison." But not everyone is happy about it now that it is a phenomenon. Howard University lit prof Tony Medina says "There's a whole wealth of literature out there that's more challenging, more redemptive. People are saying, 'At least they're reading.' That's garbage. That's a cop–out."

RIP: Dr. Nathan Wright Jr. . . .
Dr. Nathan Wright Jr., the author of seminal texts about the Black Power movement of the 1960s such as Ready to Riot, who was also a life–long Republican and strongly supported Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, has died. Wright, 81, died from kidney disease at his home in east Stroudsburg, PA. According to a New York Times obituary by Douglas Martin, Wright was an ordained minister and had a "scholarly demeanor, perhaps fitting for a man with six degrees, including a doctorate of education from Harvard He was an early mentor of Louis Farrakhan and Martin Luther King, and he also "emphasized that he shared most of the ideology of Stokely Carmichael and H. Rap Brown." In addition to Ready to Riot, he wrote 17 other books, starting, at age 16, with Good Manners for Good People.

Is that a trick question? . . .
After attending a recent conference on Jacque Derrida, Scott McLemee is prompted to recall that, "As it happens, Derrida himself became somewhat put out with the initial reception (and domestication) of his work by literature departments. As early as 1980, he referred to deconstruction as 'a word that I have never liked, and whose fortune has disagreeably surprised me.'" As McLemee notes in his newest column for Inside Higher Ed, Derrida "insisted that his work had consequences not only for the reading of literary or philosophical texts, but for understanding and changing institutions — in particular, scholarly institutions." But it went further than that: "Derrida's effort to push his thinking beyond the university" also took him "past the boundary lines of contemporary politics," says McLemee, to a discussion of "the democracy to come." In fact, says McLemee, "he was posing a subtle but powerful question — asking, in effect, 'What will democracy have meant, when we can begin to think about it, one day, in a democratic world?'"

NOTE: Daily newspapers often change URLs when archiving, so some links won't work beyond the day they're first posted.

Thursday 24 February 2005

Thompson sales soaring, soon his ashes will be, too . . .
Sales of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson's books are "soaring," according to an Associated Press wire story. The report says Thompson's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, for example, have lifted it to number 15 on the Amazon.com bestseller list, and the book's publisher, Vintage, is going back for a "significant" reprinting. Says Vintage spokesman Russell Perreault, "We usually sell about 60,000–70,000 copies a year of that book and our next printing will be close to that total." Meanwhile, a family spokesman, historian and author Douglas Brinkley, has reiterated that "Thompson did not take his life 'in a moment of haste or anger or despondency' and probably planned his suicide well in advance because of his declining health." And it looks as if Thompson will get his wish regarding having his ashes shot out of a cannon — "Colorado fireworks impresario" Marc Williams has apparently been contacted and says it's "doable." He tells the AP, "Oh, sweet. I'd love to. I would so love to."

When a book can sell too many copies . . .
Civic authorities in the German state of Bavaria, which holds the rights to Adolf Hitler's book Mein Kampf, say they are "seeking legal action to prevent the book from being published in Poland." According to an Associated Press wire story, "The book, which details the Nazi dictator's anti–Semitic views and other beliefs, is due to go on sale in a few days. Polish publisher XXL said it wants to make a historical record available, but it also cites 'a 1,000–year–old worry' among Poles about 'the German dream of vast fertile lands and natural resources in the east.'" But Bavarian Finance Minsiter Kurt Faltlhauser issued a statement reitierating that Bavaria owns the rights and "Bavaria applies those rights very restrictively to prevent the spread of Nazi ideology." Faltlhauser says Bavaria has "asked Germany's Foreign Ministry to instruct its diplomats in Poland to seek a court injunction against the book."

Mon dieu la France! . . .
The head of the national library in France, Jean–Noel Jeanneney, has raised a "war cry" over plans by Google to put the collections of some of America's leading libraries on line. As a Reuters wire story reports, Jeanneney says, "It is not a question of despising Anglo–Saxon views ... It is just that in the simple act of making a choice, you impose a certain view of things. I favor a multi*#150;polar view of the world in the 21st century. I don't want the French Revolution retold just by books chosen by the United States. The picture presented may not be less good or less bad, but it will not be ours." Partners in the Google project are Harvard University, Stanford University, Oxford University, the University of Michigan and the New York Public Library. "Here we find a risk of crushing domination by America in defining the idea that future generations have of the world," says Jeanneney. He has responded to the American effort "by announcing the national library would make editions of 22 French periodicals and newspapers dating back to the 19th century available on the Internet."

The consignment business known as publishing . . .
"This . . . is a plaintive cri de coeur, asking why, still, publishers allow booksellers to return books for full credit—or is it that booksellers require publishers to accept the return of books for full credit? Does anyone even know? If the origins of the returns policy are lost in the mists of time, why does the policy itself persist into the 21st century?" So asks publisher Doug Seibold is the president of Agate, at the beginning of an essay for The Book Standard. Seibold runs through the pros—and yes, there are some—and the cons, and notes that "the costs involved in maintaining returns create, in effect, the bubble that artificially inflates in turn almost every other aspect of publishing." He also notes that "popping it would mean a sharp shock of deflation that would rock all of us, publishers, retailers, and everyone else in the business." Still, he says, "doing so would ultimately force everyone involved in publishing to do their jobs better. The overall result? Less waste, more profit—and a more level playing field for indie publishers and booksellers to compete with their corporate brethren."

Slaying dragons with books . . .
On April 23, 400,000 books will be sold in Barcelona as part of the annual, ritualistic celebration of a holiday combining the death dates of both Miguel de Cervantes and William Shakespeare, UNESCO's declaration of the date as International Book Day, and the feast day of the city's patron saint, Sant Jordi (aka St. George the Dragon Slayer). As Barbara Wysocki details in a Christian Science Monitor report, St. Jordi's Day has become a major cultural event, with the streets "overflowing" with red roses (the flower of Sant Jordi), and "more than 300 bookstalls, festooned with the red and yellow of the Catalan flag," as well as "a potpourri of bookish events" including over 200 visiting authors making appearances. Says Wysocki, "Just steps from every flower stall are booksellers lining those famous shopping streets, hugging narrow passageways, and dotting city squares such as Placa de Catalonia and Placa Nova . . . For these ambling readers, choosing from overwhelming hardcover and paperback options may be the most strenuous challenge. Not every book on display is great literature, but since this vernal fiesta is also known as the Day of Lovers, women shop for the perfect books for the men they love." Of those books, says the report, "Especially prized are the Catalan–language volumes. The region's nativetongue has undergone periods of neglect and suppression. From 1939 until the early 1950s, the Franco regime forbade the printing of books and periodicals in Catalan."

A store buyer's lament . . .
"I have grown furtive at the keyboard, no longer able to look my staff in the eye as I plot what to drop," says the unnamed "stockmistress" of the QI Bookshop in Oxford, England. " The open–to–buy system — which allows me to purchase only as much as I've sold — continues its pincer-like attack on the health and happiness of staff and stock." In a diary she's keeping for The Daily Telegraph, she explains that "Deciding which titles to stock and for how long is all that I think about most of the time. From a bookseller's point of view — or at the least from the point of view of a small independent bookseller — the conventions of hardback publishing are antiquated and exasperating. Paperbacks are for reading, hardbacks for keeping. How do you know if you like a book well enough to want to keep if you haven't read it? The answer is you don't. So you wait for the paperback. So no one buys the hardback. So the small independent booksellers — who can't get their books on sale or return but who are none the less brave enough to stock new titles by promising–sounding unknowns — are stuffed. We can, of course, play safe and wait for the paperback ourselves. But that involves passing up on the new and where's the fun, really, in that?"

The atheist letters . . .
A set of letters written by Percy Bysshe Shelley protesting his expulsion from Oxford for "writing a pamphlet about atheism" has been discovered, and rescued, just before being put up for sale in a 'car boot sale" in England. According to a BBC wire story, Shelley wrote the letters to Ralph Wedgwood, "a member of the famous pottery family." The report does not say how Wedgewood was involved in Shelley's expulsion, nor why Shelley wrote to him. But the letters were "stowed away in a dusty trunk . . . at a house in Norbury, south–west London by one of Wedgwood's descendants." The letters will be auctioned off by Christie's in June.

NOTE: Daily newspapers often change URLs when archiving, so some links won't work beyond the day they're first posted.

Wednesday 23 February 2005

Muffled kerfuffle leads to shuffle . . .
The woman who "ascended to the role of Putnam president" three years ago—when Phyllis Gran "left in a kerfuffle" with corporate partner Penguin and parent company Pearson—is herself, "walking out the door"—due to a "kerfuffle" with Pearson of her own, one source says in a Publishers Weekly report by Steve Zeitchik. According to Zeitchik, Carole Baron is also leaving her position as president of Dutton, the imprint "she was credited with reviving." No one is saying why, however—at least not on the record. But one unnamed source tells Zeitchik Baron left because of "dissatisfaction" and that she "had reportedly been discussing her departure with Penguin for some time." She'll be replaced at Dutton by Brian Tart, and at Putnam by Susan Petersen Kennedy, current head of Penguin Group US—the person to whom Baron had reported, in "a chain of command that was memorialized at the time as the de–Putnamization of Penguin Putnam." As for her future, Zeitchik reports "Baron was non–committal about her plans."

Thompson: going out with one bang after another . . .
If the final instructions of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson are followed out, "the body of the late maverick journalist will be cremated this week and his ashes blasted from a cannon across his sprawling ranch in Woody Creek, Colo.," reports David Abel in a Boston Globe story. Abel learns this from Thompson's Boston –based attorney, George Tobia Jr., who also says that "in retrospect does it makes sense that the 67–year–old author sat in his kitchen Sunday afternoon, stuck a .45–caliber handgun in his mouth, and killed himself." Tobia says "There was no one thing you would point to and say, 'Oh . . . he's going to kill himself.' It wasn't clear last week suicide was imminent, but now it adds up." But as David Kipen points out in a San Francisco Chronicle commentary, "speculation in such matters is always reckless, and usually vile." Says Kipen, "What worries me is that Thompson's suicide may now make it easier for the forces of reaction to dismiss his achievement. "See what you get, they'll say, for taking drugs, for mocking authority, for making yourself part of the story?" But, he says, "in case you catch anybody from Fox News or the Cato Institute this week, going on about how Thompson's end only proves what a hack he always was, just remember that Cato himself fell on his sword rather than live in a world ruled by Caesar, and that after his friends found him and bandaged him up, Cato finished the job by ripping out his own intestines. Does all that unwrite a single word he wrote?" A Guardian tribute emphasizes those writings, listing some of the "best–remembered quotes from the master of the one–liner." For example, there's Thompson on the music business: "The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side." It resonates with David Kipen's closing point about Thompson's death: "To paraphrase Joe Hill, don't mourn, read. Pick up 'Hell's Angels,' or either of Thompson's 'Fear and Loathing"' books . . . . In the end, only Hunter Thompson knows why he did himself in. Speculation consoles nobody. All that's left is to keep reading those angry, funny, deeply patriotic books of his."

Jerusalem Book Fair getting better . . .
"For many Jerusalemites, and no doubt for many visitors to the capital, there was a distinct sense of relief" at this year's 22nd International Book Fair in Jerusalem, says Atira Winchester in a report for the Jerusalem Post. She says that "After the slump in previous years, both in the variety of publishing houses represented and the number of foreign literary agents, this year proved to be a turning point." Winchester takes a close look at the wide variety of publishers present, such as Des Femmes, "a French feminist press that publishes literature by women from the developed and developing world," the Polish translation house Polska 2000, and more. In the end, she says, "Visitors were clearly happy to have something to point to and say, "see, things can improve."

Eyre mail . . .
"In a brave move, the Royal Mail has chosen to mark the 150th anniversary of Charlotte Brontë's death by selecting an unorthodox image of [Jane Eyre's] eponymous heroine for a special commemorative stamp issue" due out tomorrow. A Guardian report by Vanessa Thorpe says the series of six first–class stamps will bear a "startling portrayal of the governess looking middle-aged and almost mannish." Images were taken from a collection of lithographs based on the novel by artist Paula Rego, who says, "I would never have imagined my work would be on a stamp, never in a million years." The stamps, says The Guardian's Thorpe, "will feature Jane and the object of her affection, Mr Rochester, at key moments in the story and attempt to lay bare the passion and repression of the book." The had of the Brontë Society says, "The paintings are slightly strange, but are unsettling in a way that will promote a lot of new interest in Charlotte's writing."

RIP: Guillermo Cabrera Infante . . .
Guillermo Cabrera Infante, the Cervantes Prize–winner who was a political exile from his native Cuba, died in London on Monday at age 75. A brief Agence France Presse report, says that according to his French publisher, the writer, whose novels include Three Trapped Tigers and Mea Cuba, "caught an infection in hospital where he was being treated for a fall."

Banned books still get to tell their story . . .
The Sameseong Museum of Publishing in Seoul is staging a show of books that have been banned in Korea's recent past. As Kim Joo–young reports in a story for Yonhap News, many of the "scores" of books on display were banned during the Japanese occupation. Everything from "history books, philosophical books, novels or poetry . . . magazines, written sheet music and bibles" all were censored by the Japanese, and "Writing things that did not conform to the Japanese government's beliefs meant the writer could be questioned by police for days and possibly punished." Says Shin Susie, one of the show's curators, "People who visit the exhibition are often amazed at the range and variety of the books banned." The books on display, says museum head Kim Jong–gyu, "show how desperate Korean people were to find out about their place in the world despite Japan's rule."

Another reason to avoid Amazon . . .
"Here's something weird," writes author Stephen Elliott. "My father, who was an awful and abusive father, is leaving bad reviews of my books on Amazon.com." In a short essay on his website, he details the one–star review (headlined "Awful") and says, "If there's a lesson here I guess it's that abusive parents don't stop being abusive just because they get older. Abusive relationships are psychological in nature and if you know an abuser, someone who lashes out and can't control their emotions, get away from that person. Cut the cord and never look back."

NOTE: Daily newspapers often change URLs when archiving, so some links won't work beyond the day they're first posted.

Tuesday 22 February 2005

Orhan Pamuk charged for "claims against the Turkish identity" . . .
Charges have been filed in Turkey against novelist Orhan Pamuk telling a Swiss newspaper that "30,000 Kurds and 1 million Armenians had been killed in Turkey," which is "a statement argued to constitute a crime according to the Turkish Penal Code," says a Turkish Daily News report. The prosecutor who filed the charges, Orhan Pekmezci, says, "Pamuk has made groundless claims against the Turkish identity, the Turkish military and Turkey as a whole. . . . He made a statement provoking the people to hatred and animosity through the media, which is defined as a crime in Article 312." Upon making the original statement, Pamuk added, "Almost no one dares to speak out this but me, and the nationalists hate me for that." In another report, from the Turkish Press, the prosecutor says, "I strongly condemn Pamuk" for those additional remarks.

Something the Times will no doubt cover . . . in two weeks: Website organizes class–action suit after University of Iowa employee wins the school's fiction prize . . .
The "cheatfest" continues at The University of Iowa, says an unattributed report at Foetry.com, which notes that for one of the school's recent awards, the John Simmons Short Fiction Award, the judge was an Iowa graduate who chose, well, an Iowa Workshop graduate. For another award, the Iowa Short Fiction Award, the report notes that winner Douglas Trevor "lives with his wife and son in Iowa City, where he is an assistant professor of English at the University of Iowa." Says Foetry.com, "Let that sink in for a moment. The University allowed current employees to both enter and win its contest. The University allowed graduates to both enter and win its contest. And besides being illegal, it's also pathetic. Would you want to be known as the writer who won a contest that was a scam?" Another report on the site also details similar conflicts in the school's poetry awards and publications. And Foetry.com's discussion forum includes a letter from Iowa's Holly Carver in response to the website's charges. "You can call the poetry world overly cozy, full of patronizing trade–offs and shady bargaining," Carver writes, "or you can celebrate the collegiality of its community." Foetry.com's response? "Foetry is calling for action. . . . Use our action form (anonymously or signed) to contact university officials and the attorney general. . . . And our most important call to action is this. . . . We would like to pursue a class–action suit against the University to recover victims' entry fees and end Foetry. If you entered one of their bogus contests, and would like to help us, we have a plan. Please contact us at any word at foetry.com. We will provide some financial support for court filing fees and telephone calls."

Gonzo memories . . .
Rolling Stone wasn't exactly known for political reporting when Dr. Hunter S. Thompson began writing for it. Now, in this remembrance, the magazine's James Sullivan remembers the publication's most famous contributor, and how he once said that "his realization that he could 'get away with' such an outrageous writing style convinced him to stop trying to write 'like the New York Times. It was like falling down an elevator shaft and landing in a pool full of mermaids.'" Meanwhile, an Associated Press wire story by Robert Weller says some friends are speculating that "the writer had been in a lot of pain after a broken leg and hip surgery." The owner of a local tavern where Thompson hung out tells Waller, "I wasn't surprised. I never expected Hunter to die in a hospital bed with tubes coming out of him." Mike Cleverly, a friend who spent Friday night watching a basketball game with Thompson, however, says, "Medically speaking, he's had a rotten year," he said. However, Cleverly says, "he's the last person in the world I would have expected to kill himself. I would have been less surprised if he had shot me." A moving appreciation by David Carr at The New York Times offers another theory: " Friends say that he appeared to be relatively happy of late, and was fully engaged in the writing projects he had before him. But a chronic series of physical infirmities — he had to use a wheelchair at times — left him feeling that he was finally being maneuvered by forces he could not medicate or write into obscurity. And his suicide had its own terrible logic. A man who was so intent on generating a remarkable voice that he retyped Hemingway's novels just to understand how it was done, gave a final bit of dramatic tribute in turning a gun on himself. "

Did solitary treatment kill Russian poet? . . .
The recent death in Russia of poet Tatyana Bek "has led to speculation that a falling–out with her fellow poets provoked her to commit suicide," according to a Moscow Times report by Victor Sonkin. The falling out concerned the announcement by poet Yevgeny Rein and others that they would "translate the poems of Turkish President Saparmurat Niyazo"; Bek said the announcement's "praise for Turkmenbashi [Niyazov's honorary title] the Great Poet more indecently pragmatic than outright crazy." Tensions apparently grew rapidly. "I spoke to her every day on the phone these last days; she was in very bad shape," her friend, novelist Vladimir Voinovich says. Sonkin reports "Some media outlets speculated that this 'falling–out with friends' was the real cause of her death, rather than the officially reported heart attack. The radio station Ekho Moskvy reported that Bek had committed suicide."

Few Brits make the cut of new Booker . . .
Late Friday the long list of the 18 nominees for the first ever International Book Prize were announced—not in England but in Washington DC, where American writer John Casey, chair of the judging panel, declared the $115,000 prize would become an "important part of the global literary landscape." As an Agence France Presse wire story reports, the nominees include five Nobel laureates: Saul Bellow, Gabriel Carcia Marquez, Gunter Grass, Naguib Mafhouz and Kenzaburo Oe. There were, however, only three Brits on the list: Ian McEwan, Muriel Spark, and Doris Lessing. "Unlike the Man Booker Prize, which is awarded annually to a specific novel, the international version will be awarded every two years to a living author in recognition of his or her entire body of work," explains the report. "Nominees must have published either originally in English or have their work generally available in translation in the English language." Winners will be announced in June.

They're tearing their hair instead of their bodices at Harlequin . . .
A "sharp fall in revenue" at Harlequin Books has parent company Torstar Corp. worried. According to a Globe & Mail report by Richard Blackwell, "The romance fiction publisher has been suffering from soft sales, and investors are holding their breath to see how — and if — the company can turn itself around by embracing more international markets and adding new lines of books." The problem, according to one analyst: "is that the company is shifting from its roots in the stable, high-margin business of selling books in series. It is now adding single-copy sales, a much more competitive and difficult business." But Harlequin v.p. Diego Castelli "blames the recent softness on a shift by traditional Harlequin readers to buying big blockbuster books — such as The Da Vinci Code and various Atkins diet books — from other publishers."

NOTE: Daily newspapers often change URLs when archiving, so some links won't work beyond the day they're first posted.

Monday 21 February 2005

Hail & Farewell: Dr. Hunter S. Thompson . . .
Hunter S. Thompson, the founder of furious and hilarious form of first–person journalism known by his coinage as "gonzo," and the author of several seminal books of American political and cultural commentary, including Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail, 1972, has died at his remote home in Woody Creek, Colorado. Thompson, who was 67, shot himself Sunday night, according to a statement released jointly by the author's son and wife. According to a Denver Post report by Troy Hooper and Claire Martin, the statement from Juan and Anita Thompson said in part: "Dr. Hunter S. Thompson took his life with a gunshot to the head. . . . The family will provide more information about (a) memorial service ... shortly. Hunter prized his privacy and we ask that his friends and admirers respect that privacy as well as that of his family." The local sheriff, Bob Braudis,confirmed the death and said, "Details and interviews may be forthcoming when the family has had the time to recover from the trauma of the tragedy." There is no word yet of a suicide note, but one close friend of the writer says in Denver Rocky Mountain News report that, "I knew this call was coming." The unnamed friend tells reporter John Aguilar that "she saw the day coming when Thompson's longstanding addiction to drugs and guns would culminate in a tragic ending," and that "he had 'hinted' at suicide many times." An Associated Press wire story by Robert Weller, meanwhile, recalls the outlandish style of Thompson's left–wing attack, such as when, in Campaign Trail he said of Hubert Humphrey, "There is no way to grasp what a shallow, contemptible and hopelessly dishonest old hack Hubert Humphrey is until you've followed him around for a while." In one of his many famous attacks on Richard Nixon, Thompson declared him "America's answer to the monstrous Mr. Hyde. He speaks for the werewolf in us." The AP story also talks to some of Thompson's associates, such as veteran radical journalist, Yippie activist and Realist editor Paul Krassner, who says, "He may have died relatively young but he made up for it in quality if not quantity of years. . . It was hard to say sometimes whether he was being provocative for its own sake or if he was just being drunk and stoned and irresponsible. But every editor that I know, myself included, was willing to accept a certain prima donna journalism in the demands he would make to cover a particular story. They were willing to risk all of his irresponsible behavior in order to share his talent with their readers." Aguilar's RMN story also cites a mainstream appreciation of Thompson from The New York Times former lead book critic Christopher Lehmann–Haupt, who says said he worried Thompson might "lapse into good taste" someday. "That would be a shame, for while he doesn't see America as Grandma Moses depicted it, or the way they painted it for us in civics class, he does in his own mad way betray a profound democratic concern for the polity. And in its own mad way, it's damned refreshing."

Shortened Holiday edition . . .
Today's shortened edition of MobyLives is in observation of the Federal holiday known as Presidents' Day, originally created to honor the memories of our first president, George Washington, an atheist, and Abraham Lincoln, who, as a recent book documents, may have been gay. MobyLives will return tomorrow, Tuesday, 22 February, with an all–new news digest and a new column.

NOTE: Daily newspapers often change URLs when archiving, so some links won't work beyond the day they're first posted.

Visit the mothership:



From Ig Publishing . . .

The International Bestseller
by Bernard–Henri Lévy


This week's fiction:

"Crank Call"
by Thomas J. Hubschman
(from Me Three)

"Brain Spiders"
(from Prose aX)

This week's poetry:

"Not Pee Wee"
(from Grain)

(from Briar Cliff Review)

Special edition:

First posted in October, 2001, Alicia Ostriker's anthology of poetry that she turned to after the 9/11 attacks — including the work of Stephen Dunn, C.P. Cavafy, Marianne Moore, and others — is far and away the most popular link ever posted on MobyLives. Find out why.


The Stories of Anton Chekhov

Zembla: The Official Site of the Vladimir Nabokov Society

The Complete Review

Poetry Daily

Everyone Who's Anyone in Adult Trade Publishing

The Collins Library Almanac

Author interviews at IdentityTheory.com

Stump the Bookseller

Online Etymology Dictionary

Project Gutenberg

Columbia World of Quotations


Herman Melville's Arrowhead

All material not otherwise attributed ©1998–2005 Dennis Loy Johnson.