March 2011

Maji, maji, where’s my maji? Living with Zanzibar’s severe water crisis

by Amanda Leigh Lichtenstein March 30, 2011

I just had another flurry of rude text message exchanges with my landlord, Mohammed. The subject? Maji. (Water). No running water now for days. No shower. No cooking. No cleaning. No water. I called him, no answer. Then I texted him. His response? Sijui. (I don’t know [what to tell you.] Texted him again: say [...]

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Our Grace Wells wins the Strong Award

by Contrary Magazine March 29, 2011
Cover of When God Has Been Called Away to Greater Things by Grace Wells

Grace Wells, a frequent contributor of poems and book reviews to Contrary, has been awarded the Rupert and Eithne Strong Award, which goes to the best first book of poetry by an Irish poet. And in a land of poets, that’s no easy feat. Wells won for When God Has Been Called Away to Greater [...]

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Willie Nelson to sing for his freedom

by David Alm March 29, 2011

God love Willie Nelson. On his way back into the United States from Mexico last November, the 77-year-old country crooner was arrested for possessing six ounces of marijuana. Border patrol agents in Sierra Blanca, Texas searched Nelson’s tour bus after smelling weed wafting out of it, they say, which isn’t hard to believe — Nelson is [...]

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Toni Morrison’s $30,000 payday

by David Alm March 28, 2011

By now you’ve probably heard about Toni Morrison’s next big speaking engagement: the commencement address at Rutgers University in New Jersey. The Nobel Laureate will receive $30,000 and an honorary doctorate for the speech, scheduled for May 15th th is year. Let me state upfront that I like Toni Morrison. I first read her as [...]

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What Mary Oliver has done with her one wild and precious life

by Jeff McMahon March 26, 2011
Poet Mary Oliver reads one of her poems during the lunch session at The Women

For a lifetime Mary Oliver has gently secluded herself, walked the woods, sent bottles out on the tide bearing simple messages that reconnect humanity to a beauty beyond us. Now we know why. In an interview with Maria Shriver Mary Oliver reveals she was sexually abused when very young, that with eroded trust she withdrew [...]

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Journalism, exquisite torment

by Jeff McMahon March 25, 2011
Publicity still from the movie

I left the daily life of journalism at the turn of the Century, just before the daily life of journalism collapsed. That left me feeling a bit like Charlie Chaplin, who sold all his stocks in 1928. Since then I’ve maintained journalism as a practice more cyclically, and less cynically, focusing more on reporting and [...]

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The squad: goon 3

by Cynthia Newberry Martin March 24, 2011

Each chapter of Jennifer Egan‘s A Visit From the Goon Squad can  stand alone as a story, but united, these chapters took my breath away. I got chills as I discovered yet another connection between them: Characters who age and reappear. Younger selves revealed. Shadows filled in. Events alluded to that come to pass. The language [...]

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Stitched secrets, public poetics: My obsession with kanga text/iles in East Africa

by Amanda Leigh Lichtenstein March 23, 2011

Some people think it was my love for a certain local fisherman that brought me back to Zanzibar. True, I did fall in love. But it was my obsessive love for kangas — those vibrant textiles inscribed with poetic Swahili text messages at the bottom — that truly seduced me. The ubiquitous kanga, worn by [...]

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The digital quadrangle

by David Alm March 22, 2011

I recently designed a syllabus for a course at NYU on writing for digital media. Unlike most of my writing courses, which focus on journalism, this was meant to have broader appeal: marketing, advertising, blogging, and public relations were included in the weekly readings and assignments. And the university had a unique request: try to [...]

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Paging Stevie Cavallero

by Rafael Torch March 21, 2011
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My co-workers greeted me in the faculty lounge of the Las Vegas private school where I teach American literature with hugs and slaps on the back, as if I’d just finished a long, grueling race, a race I’d run with such speed, made up with such endurance and stamina, that I’d broken records. We stood [...]

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The spring Contrary has sprung

by Contrary Magazine March 21, 2011
Blue Iris sprouting for spring

Now and then, Shaindel falls in love. Sometimes years will pass without an episode, but when it happens, it’s a blazing passion. When a new flame flares up, I’ve learned, it’s best for me to stop what I’ m doing and read. Last week in the midst of a downpour of sorrows—which she se nt [...]

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Healing Chant in the Face of the Nuclear

by Marilyn Kallet March 20, 2011
Nuclear Plant

That was my arrogant title for a poem I wrote a few years ago when I was living in Auvillar, France, a few miles from a nuclear plant. Though the French seem at home with nuclear power, that very summer had been one of the hottest on record, and the rivers were heating up, causing [...]

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What does it mean to write like a girl?

by Rebecca Lehmann March 20, 2011

In light of the VIDA count, and the LA Times’ snafu of posting a picture of Jonathan Franzen in an article re: the winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award, Jennifer Egan, under the heading “Egan Beats Franzen in National Book Critics Circle’s fiction prize,” I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it [...]

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Pure Egan

by Cynthia Newberry Martin March 20, 2011

In her selected shorts interview, Jennifer Egan talked about how, years ago, she abandoned a story because she couldn’t find any way to rein in the material. Well, in A Visit From the Goon Squad, Egan is the master of compression. In Chapter 1, she creates a shortcut based on a time period idiosyncratic to [...]

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Loitering in the valley of unemployment

by Angela Argentati March 19, 2011

If I am subject to any more carping about our nation’s unemployment problem, my eyes might permanently glaze over, zombie-like. Fourteen million Americans struggle in the throes of joblessness according to NPR’s Michele Norris, who quoted this figure during All Things Considered earlier this week. I’m not sure about you, but I tend to avoid [...]

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