Bloomers At Large / Features

BLOOMERS AT LARGE: Other Identities

by Vicraj Gill

Bloomer Cari Luna interviews Mira Ptacin as part of the “Writer, with Kids” series running at Luna’s blog. In the interview, Ptacin describes her downward spiral following her son Theo’s birth. Ptacin “felt like a failure for not being able to ‘do everything,’” until she realized she was being unfair to herself. She also talks about how parenthood has revitalized her writing. Her thoughts tie in nicely with the insights shared by recently featured authors such as Karen Rizzo and Karen Skolfield, both of whom have written about their children.

Critic Phyllis Rose covers similar territory in “Prospero’s Daughter: Women, Writing, and the Question of Privilege,” an excerpt from her recently released book The Shelf in which she updates Virginia Woolf’s famous “Shakespeare’s sister” anecdote for contemporary times. Women who are writers are now “Prospero’s daughters”: equal to men in theory but often not in practice; encouraged to freely seek outlets for their creativity but also punished for the ones they choose; able to pursue dreams of writing, but only after discharging family duties first.

Both “writing and mothering” and the question of privilege come up in a great conversation between Lauren Francis-Sharma—whose debut novel, ’Til the Well Runs Dry, was excerpted at Bloom back in April—and Bernice McFadden about their lives as published writers of color. McFadden and Francis-Sharma attest to the sobering reality that racism in publishing “is often quite blatant.”

But writers do get to speak on behalf of the groups they’re a part of. Jamil Ahmad, who passed away this month, published the novel The Wandering Falcon in 2011 to show readers that the Afghan and Pakistani tribes he wrote about “are not savage.” Ahmad, a civil servant by career, was a Bloomer in all senses of the word. He wrote The Wandering Falcon in his 40s and published it at the age of 79 (after holding off for nearly 40 years to let the book “hibernate”).

Julia Alvarez is another Bloomer who wrote a book in honor of a people. As Juhi Singhal Karan explained in a recent “Five in Bloom” feature, In the Time of the Butterflies (2010) tells the story of the Mirabal sisters, dissidents who resisted the regime of Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo. Alvarez wrote the book to pay tribute to Dominicans who suffered under Trujillo. Now the National Endowment for the Arts will honor Alvarez: she was just announced as a recipient of the 2013 National Medal of Arts.

Filmmaker Paolo Sorrentino’s latest film, “The Great Beauty,” impressed our founding editor Sonya Chung—whose feature on Sorrentino discussed the director’s fascination with “the aging male in his unlovely twilight.” Emma Windsor Wood, writing for The Rumpus, also loved “The Great Beauty,” praising its depiction of “childlike” protagonist Jep Gambardella’s “stumble . . . into adulthood.”

At The New Yorker, Alex Halberstadt uses a bookstore event at which he talked about novelist Sergei Dovlatov (another Bloomer Sonya Chung has written about) as a springboard into the fascinating life of Daniel Genis, one of the event’s attendees. Genis, Halberstadt discovers, is astonishingly well-read—a fact Genis attributes in part to the 10 years he spent incarcerated on a robbery charge. During that time, his “most meaningful and frequent conversations were with authors.” Also notable is the conclusion Genis came to from reading Proust in prison. As Halberstadt puts it: “In prison, time was both an enemy and a resource, and . . . Proust convinced [Genis] that the only way to exist outside of it, however briefly, was to become a writer himself.” Genis is currently making good on that dream by pursuing a career in journalism, but he confesses to Halberstadt that he hasn’t finished a book since his release.

Bloomer Peter Ferry spent a week in early July as a guest blogger at Best American Poetry. During his time there, he wrote posts in appreciation of poets Michael Collier, Nick Courtright, and Bob Glassman, as well as an account of his relationship with David Lehman, founder of Best American Poetry, and a touching reminiscence about the way his mother’s love for poetry influenced his own. (Ferry has also written posts for Bloom; see his tips for ending writer’s block.)

Blogger Lee Mooks, mentioned in last month’s roundup, isn’t the only one excited by the recent publication of Jane Gardam’s collected short stories. Roslyn Sulcas, writing for The New York Times, notes the “rapture” with which the British press regarded The Stories of Jane Gardam, as well as the “cultlike following” Gardam’s had since the publication of her 2004 novel Old Filth (currently being adapted for television).

Eimear McBride, another writer featured in last month’s “At Large,” continues to earn praise for her debut novel A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing. At The Guardian, Justine Jordan gives the “jaggedly uncompromising” book a glowing review; and Susanna Rustin interviews McBride to hear the story of the seven years it took to find Girl a publisher.

At The Telegraph, Keith Miller reviews Bloomer Romesh Gunesekara’s Noontide Toll. He calls the stories in the collection “acute” and “sensuous,” and slips in a marvelous description of Gunesekara’s native Sri Lanka as a land that “hang[s] in the ocean like a tear shed by the subcontinent.”

Speaking of Sri Lanka, Ben Travis reports that Sonali Deraniyagala’s Wave—a shattering account of the 2004 tsunami, in which the author lost her entire family—has won the 2014 PEN/Ackerley Prize. Deraniyagala called the prize a reminder “that there is a beauty in struggle and a resting place in the eyes of others.” “I have found myself a writer,” she said, “another identity in the ongoing bewildering journey of my life.”

Bloom Post End

Homepage photo credit: sergeant killjoy via photopin cc

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