Monthly Archives: April 2009

All About Us

This is PJKM here, unable to post myself for reasons mysterious and irritating. Before the semester fizzles into nothingness, please note: Tulane’s creative writing faculty are constantly in the news.

Peter Cooley is feted by the Times-Picayune; Paula Morris drones on to the New Wave; Tom Beller comments in the New York Observer. You can’t keep us quiet (or in town for the summer).

Over the summer, there’ll be fewer posts, but we’re hoping to lure some students, past and present, over here to talk about their great achievements – winning prizes, going to MFA programs, undertaking internships, embarking on glorious careers, publishing stories and poems, etc.

Also, next week we’ll be posting the names of this year’s Creative Writing prizes, including the winner/runners-up in the Academy of American Poets Contest – judged by this year’s Arons Poet, Nicole Cooley – and the Dale Edmonds Short Fiction Award, judged by Michigan-based novelist Rebecca Johns.

In the meantime, congratulations to Philip Matthews, who will take up a place on the MFA program at Hollins University in Virginia this fall, and to Mark Clements, who will be terrorizing his fellow fiction writers at the MFA program at Colorado State University.


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Joan Didion reads at McAlister, Lit Event group sighs with relief

On Monday night, the event for which we have been slaving (planning, flyering, postering, bookmarking, calling, talking, ushering, greeting, etc.) finally occured, and went very well, I have to say.  Joan Didion read at McAlister, a bunch of people came, there were no fires, and only one or two inane questions.

There are more details about the event in (Times-Picayune Book Editor) Susan Larson’s blog, here, although I think her guess of 700 attendees is a little low.  Tulane creative writing senior Catherine Freshley’s article in the New Wave gets it closer:  there were over a thousand people.

I felt like I handed out about that many programs, or maybe four times that.  Jordan, who also handed out programs and greeted people as they arrived at McAlister, can attest to how unexpectedly hard a job it is.  Not to mention conflicting instructions from our boss, Literary Event Overlord Paula Morris–“Make sure you’re smiling and welcoming them”/”Stop scaring everyone with your freakish smiles.”  To be fair, I did notice that my voice for “Hello, welcome to Tulane, enjoy the reading” slipped uncontrollably, over the course of the hour I was handing out programs, from extremely pleasant to faintly sinister, until it sounded like I was trying to seduce everyone walking up the McAlister steps.

(Note: This is still not the worst job you can get.  Chocolate Kudos to Phil/Lianna/Hunter, who held up a Didion banner in a chilly windstorm, and endured multiple “Couldn’t they have got you some rope?”-comments.)

About the reading itself, I won’t say much.  The writer at (here) mentions seeing a Twitter from an attendee who described Didion’s “camel colored Uggs” and voice, “dry w/o emotion.”  I would say of Didion’s reading voice–admittedly somewhat monotone and slowly paced–that it actually matches her material very well.  That is to say, The Year of Magical Thinking is a book miraculously without sentimentality, analytical and intelligent, that somehow grinds its emotional impact into you osmotically.  The reading might not have been overtly exciting, but it was more than gripping.

The Uggs, on the other hand, are indefensible,  as Uggs usually are.  Stylish glasses, though.


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Joan Didion, Tonight, 7PM: McAlister Auditorium

This evening, April 6, Joan Didion will speak at Tulane University in McAlister Auditorium at 7pm. Her visit is expected to fill the venue and it’s highly recommended that those interested in attending the event arrive early. The doors will open at 6:00pm.

Personally, I’m enthused for the event to finally be underway. Her visit, and the work planning and leading up to it, has been the culmination of work of the Literary Event Management class and the greater Tulane faculty for months now. Posters have been tacked up throughout the city, local high schools in the community visited, radio announcements broadcasted, and newspaper advertisements published, each of which has presented their own unique set of challenges. So, by the way, if anyone has been confused by recent, conflicting advertisements in one of the publications we chose to advertise in: The event has NOT already occurred, in fact, it’s tonight at 7PM in McAllister Auditorium on Tulane’s campus.

Let me give directions:

If you’re headed from I-10W I suggest you take the Carlton Exit. Then follow Carlton until you hit St. Charles. If you’re not familiar with the city of New Orleans, then remember: do not over shoot St. Charles and take it too far to River Rd. Just turn left as soon as you cross over Streetcar tracks, or as soon as you pass La Madeleine on your left. Next, follow St. Charles all the way to Broadway St., Turn left and drive about ½ a mile until you reach Freret St. From here you will take a right turn and drive until you reach Willow. Then turn left and find the next available parking space. McAlister Auditorium will be on your right side.

If you’re driving from I-10E please follow the directions above once you exit onto Carlton.

If you’re a local New Orleans resident, I suggest you take Claiborne as traffic could be a problem. Once you reach Broadway turn onto the street driving towards the Tulane campus. You will drive until you reach Freret and then turn left following the street to Willow where you will make a left hand turn. McAllister Auditorium will be on your right, find parking as soon as possible.

Other suggested parking spots: Tulane Library, Audubon Blvd, Calhoun St (though it may be a walk).

Didion INFO:

In 2007, Didion was honored with the National Book Foundation’s prestigious Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, joining the ranks of literary legends like Norman Mailer, Arthur Miller, Eudora Welty, Philip Roth and John Updike.

Didion’s visit is the third in Tulane’s annual Great Writer Series, sponsored by the Creative Writing Fund of the Department of English. Since its establishment in 2006, the Creative Writing Fund has enhanced literary programming both at Tulane and in New Orleans, hosting visits by Toni Morrison in 2007 and Salman Rushdie in 2008.

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We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live

I first discovered Joan Didion as a lowly Barnes and Noble employee, spending my high school afternoons shelving novels in a suburban branch of the bookstore. I happened upon the 2006 collection of her nonfiction writing We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live, and because it was an impressive and lovely book, I spent my pennies on it. Non-fiction was what I had set my sights on and Joan Didion seemed a fit figure to emulate, and so I carried the book around as a model for my future. I didn’t open it, however, until the summer after my high school graduation, when I found myself pregnant, confused, and very far from the career aspirations that Didion had inspired. Nonetheless, at the most stressful of times, I’d open the gigantic collection and just read pages at random, submerging myself in her words. The book contained the full texts of Slouching Towards Bethlehem (1968), The White Album (1979), Salvador (1983), Miami (1987), After Henry (1992), Political Fictions (2001), and Where I was From (2003), and spanning Didion’s prolific career, stood as testament to the greatness of creative non-fiction. Prefacing Slouching Towards Bethlehem, Didion defined exactly how I felt when perusing her book, writing, “I went to San Francisco because I had not been able to work in some months, had been paralyzed by the conviction that writing was an irrelevant act, that the world as I had understood it no longer existed. If I was to work again at all, it would be necessary for me to come to terms with disorder.” The collection offered me snapshots of how unromantic Haight-Ashbury really was in its heyday, the chill paranoia following the Manson murders, the US’s political puppetry of Latin America, the Cuban exodus into Miami, the Reagans as “actors on location,” the political theater of the 1990s, and a taste of the California Didion was trying to understand. In Didion’s musings were rooted my own, and through the turmoil that teenage pregnancy and childbirth instilled, the life of my mind continued, feeding upon her essays. After my son’s birth, I read him excerpts of the collection aloud, hoping to somehow instill the meaning of language into his infant mind. To me, the act of writing became the more relevant through the words of Joan Didion, perhaps America’s greatest non-fiction writer, whose career has also branched into fiction, journalism, autobiography, and screenwriting. The act of writing, of cataloguing one’s surroundings, is the act of writing history to be read as grains of truth by the generations to come.

Joan Didion will read excerpts from her work tonight at 7 pm in McAlister Auditorium at Tulane University. Doors open at 6 pm, and the event is free and open to the public. This event is part of Tulane University’s Great Writers Series, sponsored by the Creative Writing Fund, which previously brought Salman Rushdie and Toni Morrison to the New Orleans campus.

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First Lady of Prose to Speak at Tulane Tonight

Renowned essayist, memoirist, novelist, screenwriter Joan Didion will read selections from her work tonight at 7 pm in McAlister Auditorium at Tulane University. Doors open at 6 pm, and the event is free and open to the public.

I’ve recently read Didion’s The White Album, in which every essay is incredibly fresh and well-crafted. In the title piece, she progresses from her own psychological “alienation” experienced “shortly before [she] was named a Los Angeles Times ‘Woman of the Year,'” into her fascination with The Doors, particularly with Jim Morrison (14-15). As she admits, “on the whole my attention was only  minimally engaged by the preoccupations of rock-and-roll bands (I had already heard about acid as a transitional stage and also about the Maharishi and even about Universal Love, and after a while it all sounded like marmalade skies to me), but The Doors were different, The Doors interested me. The Doors seemed unconvinced that love was brotherhood and the Kama Sutra. The Doors’ music insisted that love was sex and sex was death and therein lay salvation” (21).

Her connection to Morrison’s lyrics enhances the revelation of her own emotional solitude. One might expect a 60s narrative  to purport the benefits of acid as eye-flinging, presumption-wringing, fire-singing transport. Yet Didion rejects the “marmalade” sugar-coating reality, and presents The Doors as individuals with personal mental depth. When Morrison arrives late to a rehearsal, Didion notes that “the curious aspect of [his] arrival was this: no one acknowledged it” (24). This is not the “I am he as you are he as you are me as we are all together” scene; instead, she zooms in upon an active force in the 60s counterculture, comprised of persons who maintain their individualities, but seem to struggle against their image as band; that is, their image as one entity. As Didion says, “there was a sense that no one was going to leave the room, ever. It would be some weeks before The Doors finished recording this album: I did not see it through” (25).

Didion advocates her own psychological privacy by subtly representing a group who records, tours, lives as a group, but remain separate in significant ways. And it seems that that contradiction between individuality and entity induce a certain level of madness, especially as Morrison “studies flame awhile and then very slowly, very deliberately, lowers it to the fly of his black vinyl pants” (25). It is as though Didion smirks to her readers, my life may have been “maintained for the present by a variety of defense mechanisms including intellectualization, obsessive-compulsive devices, projection, etc, etc,” but at least I never pyro-ed my crotch (14).

Indeed, Didion successfully crafts her own inner contradicitons into a relevant cohesive Album. No where is this mastery more beautifully symbolized as in the fluidity of “Holy Water,” which details Didion’s “reverence” for water and its astounding mobility (59). As she affirms, “the water I will draw tomorrow from my tap in Malibu is today crossing the Mojave Desert from the Colorado River, and I like to think about exactly where that water is.” She goes on to visit “the Operations Control Center for the California State Water Project” in Sacramento, where she learns that “so much water is moved around California by so many different agencies that maybe only the movers themselves known on any given day whose water is where” (60).

The metaphorical resonance of water’s proprietorship enhances the fluidity of Didion’s identity as writer: the diverse essays in this collection present Didion as mother, psychiatric patient, political journalist, wife, traveler, movie correspondent, funeral attendee, etc. Just as water is compartmentalized, claimed by different vendors in different locations, so, too, is “Didion” self-sectionalized— and it is her ability to flow effortlessly through a variety of selves that makes Joan Didion the widely-accomplished writer she is. Is it any wonder then that she “wanted to be the one, that day [in Sacramento], who was shining the olives, filling the gardens, and flooding the daylong valleys like the Nile?” —that she “want[s] it still? (66)”

Didion’s visit marks the continuation of the annual Great Writers Series, sponosered by the Creative Writing Fund of the Department of English. She is the Series’ third honoree, following Salman Rushdie and Toni Morrison.

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