“His account of hitchhiking cross-country invades Kerouac territory, while his ink-stained memories of the comics industry rival Michael Chabon’s Pulitzer Prize–winning fictional portrait. Two years in the military gave Feiffer fodder for the trenchant Munro (about a child who is drafted). Such satirical social and political commentary became the turning point in his lust for fame, which finally happened, after many rejections, when acclaim for his anxiety-ridden Village Voice strips served as a springboard into other projects.”
In the past few months, Bruce Smith’s Devotions has been nominated for the National Book Award (which went to Nikki Finney, for Head Off & Split), the National Book Critics Circle Award (which just last night went to Laura Kasischke, for Space, in Chains), and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize (which will be announced on April 20). One of Smith’s previous collections The Other Lover (2000) was a finalist for both the National Book Award (taken home by Lucille Clifton’s Blessing the Boats: New and Selected Poems 1988–2000) and the Pulitzer Prize (awarded to Stephen Dunn’s Different Hours).
Phew. Bells and whistles. The list of also-wrotes? Those Pulitizer- and NBCC- and NBA-finalists who came so unnervingly close but just didn’t make the cut? What company to be in! Jean Valentine, Franz Wright, Adrienne Rich, John Ashbery, James Merrill, Allen Ginsberg, Robert Creeley, Harryette Mullen… .
Yesterday was International Women’s Day, and after embarking on our own etymological lesson on the Middle English plural, we learned about “womyn’s” slip into print, through the works of Scottish writer James Hogg. Though his work was later championed by André Gide, Hogg was a bit of a bumpkin (eulogized by Wordsworth as the “Shepherd-poet,” but with a grain of salt under the tongue—see W.’s notes on “Extempore Effusion upon the Death of James Hogg” at the University of Virginia Library). The Private Memoirs and Confession of a Justified Sinner is a gothic metafiction at its best—”Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” doing an H.P. Lovecraft short, as told to Umberto Eco, complete with editorial narratives and doubling anti-heroes—and the subject of some powerful thought by the late, great Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick (1950–2009) in Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire.
The third book—who knew there’d be a third book?—started from a very different place. Then as head of the SAIC Exhibitions Department in 2008, I was thinking: What can the Art Institute of Chicago’s Modern Wing mean for SAIC? What does modern mean today and in Chicago? How is it that we still define our society as modern? This was a big subject and we needed to get outside of ourselves institutionally, so I looked for collaborators and found a perfect partner in Justine Jentes at the Mies van der Rohe Society at Illinois Institute of Technology. This subject didn’t involve Buddhism (or so I thought), but it followed a similar process of talking and programming that I had long employed to speculate and collaborate, and which I found to be consistent with cultivating a Buddhist open mind.
The theme I focused on within modernism, and that I found spoke best through this process and which I felt needed to be revealed again was: the value of individual creativity and the development of the self in order to better society. Projects with classes, lectures, and a myriad of methods to probe ideas and turn our everyday work into creative work ensued. If there was an endpoint, it wasn’t a show—the exhibitions we did were a form of research—but the book that will be released in June 2012 is calledChicago Makes Modern: How Creative Minds Shaped Society.(Its working title had been Modern Mind.) And the Buddhism part: well, you’ll have to read it for yourself, but I’d say the focus, underscored by a deep and multi-faceted look at László Moholy-Nagy, is permeated by an ethos of creativity with responsibility. Understanding that the world depends on what we do, and that we often do wrong, we have enormous capacity to think in new and well-directed ways. It is a story of interdependence and interconnection.
A video interview with Maurie D. McInnis, whose Slaves for Sale: Abolitionist Art and the American Slave Trade takes on the work of young British artist Eyre Crowe (b. 1824), whose eyewitness paintings and sketches from an 1853 slave auction traveled the Atlantic, as their reception paralleled the international public’s grasp of slavery in America.
Crowe’s most famous painting Slaves Waiting for Sale: Richmond, Virginia (1861) appears below: