In Person

September 17, 2013

Places of Remembrance 1


German has two words that we might translate as memorial in English. A Mahnmal is something meant both to remind and to warn, it pleads for remembrance not for the purpose of glory but for the purpose of heedful acknowledgment, even shame. A Mahnmal takes the idea of “never again” and gives it shape.

September 9, 2013

Racetrack Diary: Down the Home Stretch 3


On Labor Day, my first customer looks as weary as I feel, and I ask him how he’s doing. “Oh, you know, just another day in paradise,” he says with a sigh. “It’s the last day in paradise,” I remind him.

September 5, 2013

The Love Carousel: Literary Speed Dating at Housing Works in SoHo 0


Each participant found at the entrance a neon green envelope, including a library card in manila sleeve for taking notes on each “date,” and a name tag featuring the handle of a character from a favorite book. These would be our pseudonyms for the night. Each date would last an almost militantly enforced four minutes. A single case of lingering could cause the entire caterpillar crawl to go legs up. There was to be no lingering. Lingering is for books.

August 30, 2013

Chasing the Light: On Not Quitting the Writing Life 5


What is it that can still seize me, after years of failure, and make me seek to write, to make art? I have no idea. All I know is that I do not have it in me to give up.

August 7, 2013

Racetrack Diary: Opening Day 1


For all the nostalgia and the celebration of tradition, at the track you have to take it one race at a time.

July 17, 2013

Does Speaking English Rot Your Teeth?: On Wanting to Be Mavis Gallant 1


It didn’t seem like a fantastical proposition, not at the start, especially since an heiress I was helping with a book project was eager to dispatch me to Paris. There, I’d heard, lived a genius phonetician. This man claimed that achieving native-like speech was a matter of mere mechanics.

July 12, 2013

My Little Library in Anatolia 3


Although the books were old and deep in hibernation, the people who came to read them were very much alive. So in my small library in a distant Anatolian town I learned an awful lot about what young Turkish men enjoyed reading under the gun. I watched them as they read for relief. I watched them as they read for pleasure. I watched them as they read for keeping sane.

June 4, 2013

The Bee Years: The Tales of Two Spelling Bee Hopefuls 1


The 1998 Minnesota State Spelling Bee. Only five competitors remain on stage, including me. I approach the microphone and listen for my assigned word: “nascence.” I fumble it. It’s a clear-cut defeat, but it’s also an escape, a leap into freedom, a birth. I am born, so that I can be reborn.

May 31, 2013

Losing My Book Fair Virginity at the BEA Swag-A-Thon 3


The vast autograph area at BEA brought to mind the cattle pens in a Midwestern feed lot. Indeed, many of the people waiting in line looked like beasts of burden, draped with bulging bags of swag and hankering for more.

May 7, 2013

Zora Neale and My Sister 1


Before my trip to the birthplace of Zora Neale Hurston, I had a vague notion of what manner of suffering might make a person accept death. Love, I suspect — or at least companionship — sustained my sister after the return of her cancer.