Jane Eaton Hamilton

"I cannot and will not cut my conscience to fit this year’s fashions.” – Lillian Hellman

Tag: The New Yorker

“Matthew Klam’s New Book Is Only 17 Years Overdue” and other tales of failure

 

the new book

Over at Vulture, Taffy Brodesser-Akner has a terrific feature about Matthew Klam’s career and his new book. Every writer should read this. We all deal with self doubt and castigation, I think. The article is a really a good look at Klam’s early fortune; about how just as he was deciding he’d quit writing, he got a yes from Dan Menaker, editor at the New Yorker, for one of his stories. (My stories got lots of comments from Menaker in my time, and once we even moved into editorial, but I never quite got the yes. The story that came closest was published in the Alaska Review.)

The world opened for Matthew Klam, and his list of early awards and honours was daunting. He had it all except for a second book. As the years passed, he still didn’t have a second book. He wrote continually, he tossed continually, he taught instead for its anonymity.

For me, the world never opened, and my talent, which was substantial but wanting, withered from lack of support. I didn’t have an MFA program to weed out weaknesses. I learned slowly. Sometimes folks went mad for one story or essay, but when they wanted more, the more was always so different they didn’t like it. This is a problem with range and writing across genres (and letting my heart have its way).

I needed an imprimatur I didn’t have. A Menaker imprimatur, maybe. Once Ellen Seligman at M+S spent six months telling me yes, telling me no, telling me I don’t know, I go one way, I flop the other way, and I wonder what would have happened if she had said yes eventually, whether that profound novel about child rape in the world of wild mustangs I was then working on would have come to fruition. All these years later, I’m still curious about what would have broken out of me if by chance I had just been valued and nurtured, and really had to work to an editor’s expectations. I would have risen, I know, because I am like that, but in what way, to what end?

What literature did I not produce because I:

a) wasn’t quite good enough?

b) wasn’t repetitive enough?

c) there was discrimination (even inborne and unacknowledged) against certain categories of writers (disabled/queer/feminist)?

d)  wasn’t from the US?

What would those stories and books have been?

I was low-income and a sole-support parent a lot of those years. And of course I asked the same questions Matthew Klam asked himself: What does this matter? Who needs another story? Another novel? To what purpose? To win a prize and still be unable to pay the bills? I certainly never cared about a postmortem reputation–that and $5 I’d get a plastic glass of latte at Starbucks to set on my gravestone.

I won the CBC contest a couple times. I published in the NY Times, the Sun and other strong periodicals (back then and again this year). But no successes ever built, no one ever tucked me under her mentor wing. I still write in my self-propelled bubble without much response. I certainly write now without any hopes at all for the marketplace–really, only to please myself.

I had my perfect form and lost it. I quit writing stories and nobody noticed. I quit writing stories and only a friable piece of my heart noticed. I struggle to write novels, but I am no novelist. I am no novelist.

Maybe Matthew Klam is. I look forward to reading Who Is Rich?

The Vulture

 

 

Elizabeth Bishop’s last lover

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Megan Marshall has written beautifully for the New Yorker about the last love of Elizabeth Bishop.

“Adrienne Rich’s Poetic Transformations” by Claudia Rankine

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Adrienne Rich remains one of my favourite writer and a touchstone to me as a lesbian poet in the 1980s and beyond. Here is the astute Claudia Rankine in The New Yorker talking about her legacy. I, with my partners, dreamed of accessing this common language. That it remained a dream was as much our personal failures as the then pressures of patriarchy and homophobia.

“Lying is done with words, and also with silence.”
Adrienne Rich

“Responsibility to yourself means refusing to let others do your thinking, talking, and naming for you; it means learning to respect and use your own brains and instincts; hence, grappling with hard work.”
Adrienne Rich

“No one has imagined us. We want to live like trees,
sycamores blazing through the sulfuric air,
dappled with scars, still exuberantly budding,
our animal passion rooted in the city.”
Adrienne Rich, The Dream of a Common Language

Today a backhoe divulged out of a crumbling flank of earth
one bottle amber perfect a hundred-year-old
cure for fever or melancholy a tonic
for living on this earth in the winters of this climate.

Today I was reading about Marie Curie:
she must have known she suffered from radiation sickness
her body bombarded for years by the element
she had purified
It seems she denied to the end
the source of the cataracts on her eyes
the cracked and suppurating skin of her finger-ends
till she could no longer hold a test-tube or a pencil

She died a famous woman denying
her wounds
denying
her wounds came from the same source as her power. ”
Adrienne Rich, The Dream of a Common Language

“That’s why I want to speak to you now.

To say: no person, trying to take responsibility for her or his identity, should have to be so alone. There must be those among whom we can sit down and weep, and still be counted as warriors. (I make up this strange, angry packet for you, threaded with love.)

I think you thought there was no such place for you, and perhaps there was none then, and perhaps there is none now; but we will have to make it, we who want an end to suffering, who want to change the laws of history, if we are not to give ourselves away.”
Adrienne Rich, Sources

“That’s why I want to speak to you now.

To say: no person, trying to take responsibility for her or his identity, should have to be so alone. There must be those among whom we can sit down and weep, and still be counted as warriors. (I make up this strange, angry packet for you, threaded with love.)

I think you thought there was no such place for you, and perhaps there was none then, and perhaps there is none now; but we will have to make it, we who want an end to suffering, who want to change the laws of history, if we are not to give ourselves away.”
Adrienne Rich, Sources

“My heart is moved by all I cannot save:
so much has been destroyed
I have to cast my lot with those
who age after age, perversely,
with no extraordinary power,
reconstitute the world.”
Adrienne Rich

“Brilliant, Troubled Dorothy Parker”

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Over at NY Review of Books, Robert Gottlieb has a look at the troubled legend of Dorothy Parker.

NYBooks

Out of the slush and into print

How to get out of the slush pile, from editors at Ploughshares and The New Yorker.

Roundup

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