Distancing Essay in The Believer

Some of my best writing has originated from prompts. Writer Daniel Levin Becker, a member of OULIPO, has provided at least two of them. The most recent piece was for the column he’s doing at The Believer Magazine called Distancing: A Homebound Registry of Other Places and Times and the Albums That Take Us There. Here I wrote about being twenty and feeling lonely as an international student on the campus of Rochester Institute of Technology.

Sheltering in place is making me sentimental, I fear. This conversion project has been on my to-do list for a decade, and suddenly I’ve made the time for it, so now I’m listening to Goodbye Yellow Brick Road and it’s 1999 and I’m on the campus of Rochester Institute of Technology, a former farm that still sounds like a farm at night. I can hear all kinds of insects whose names I don’t know in English or in Russian, because—well, this is a different continent from the one I grew up on, and surely these are different insects. I have no idea. I’m studying business. It’s July, two in the morning, and I’m circling the athletic field with headphones in my ears.

https://believermag.com/logger/distancing-7-goodbye-yellow-brick-road/

Read the rest of my essay and don’t miss the other pieces in this column, taken together they make for an amazing musical mix.

Profile of Marie Ross published in World Literature Today

I recently posted a review of Marie Ross’s recording of Brahms’s Clarinet Sonatas and Trio, and now World Literature Today published my profile of Marie Ross where she talks about her journey to this recording and the problems she’s encountered on the way. She’s got such a fascinating story to tell.

Until recently, Ross says, musicians studying historic performance overlooked the late Romantic period. Brahms died in 1897, removed from our time by only a few generations of players, and many believe that contemporary performing practices and instruments have only Brahms Brahms wrote his four clarinet pieces for chamber ensembles late in his career, in 1891 and 1894, having already declared his intention to retire from composing. He was inspired to write these works after hearing Richard Mühlfeld, a clarinetist whose sound he found particularly warm and expressive. To approach Mühlfeld’s sound, Ross found clarinets made by a legendary German maker, Oskar Oehler. She uses two instruments, one that was made in the 1890s, and the other in 1905. The latter instrument has ties to a musician in the same orchestra in which Mühlfeld also had played. Mühlfeld, Ross says in the liner notes to her CD, is on the record for recommending Oehler clarinets.

https://www.worldliteraturetoday.org/blog/cultural-cross-sections/marie-rosss-brahms-olga-zilberbourg

Read the review online, and buy the CD. Buying the music is the best way to support our recording artists!

Help Independent Bookstores Survive Quarantine

Punctured Lines

In the approximately month and a half that California has been on lockdown, I have barely read anything. This seems counter-intuitive, since I basically read for a living. It also feels like a particularly vulnerable admission, given how much of my personal identity is tied to being a serious reader of “high” literature; not reading feels like failing somehow. But all I’ve managed in the last few weeks is Pushkin’s very short “Пир во время чумы” (“A Feast in Time of Plague”) because it was mentioned on Twitter, a few pages of Proust’s Swann’s Way (thanks to a Twitter reading challenge), and skimming the Chekhov stories I’m teaching this quarter (which I’ve read many times before because I would never skim for teaching. Just to be clear.). My concentration, which was bad even before the pandemic, is abysmal. Zoom has taken over my life. I spend too much time on…

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Podcast on International Literature

Huge thanks to Rita Chang-Eppig for organizing and leading this delightful conversation for GrottoPod about the joys of reading across borders and languages. Tune in here or find us on a podcast reader of your choice!

“What can international literature teach us about our collective past, present and future in these chaotic times? In the latest GrottoPod Gabfest, producer and Grotto fellow Rita Chang-Eppig talks to Jesus Francisco Sierra, Mathangi Subramanian and Olga Zilberbourg about the appeal of international literature, its necessity in our increasingly connected world, and our favorite authors and books, including Akram Aylisli’s Farewell, Aylis! (translated by Katherine E. Young), Perumal Murugan’s One Part Woman, Wendy Guerra’s Revolution Sunday (translated by Achy Obejas), and Yoko Ogawa’s Revenge (translated by Stephen Snyder). “

My review of Margarita Khemlin’s Klotsvog, in Lisa C. Hayden’s translation

I’m delighted to see my review of Margarita Khemlin’s powerful novel Klotsvog in Lisa C. Hayden’s translation up on The Common. Huge thanks to Nina Sudhakar for editing.

The piece is available online for free, and I urge you to spread the word, subscribe, and donate to this wonderful publication that focuses on writing of place. And they pay their writers, too!

“The year is 1950 in Kiev. A twenty-year-old college student, Maya Klotsvog, falls in love with her professor, Viktor Pavlovich. He’s eight years older and married. One day, the professor’s wife, Darina Dmitrievna, catches up with Maya at the tram stop and reveals that her husband loves Maya and has asked for a divorce. He wants to marry Maya and have children with her. But Darina Dmitrievna adds something else: “You’re Jewish and your children would be half Jewish. And you yourself know what the situation is now. You read the papers, listen to the radio. And then that shadow would fall on Viktor Pavlovich himself, too. Anything can happen. Don’t you agree? Babi Yar over there is full of half-bloods.”

https://www.thecommononline.org/review-klotsvog-by-margarita-khemlin/

A Forum of Reflections on Audre Lorde’s Notes from a Trip to Russia

Posted this week on Punctured Lines!

Punctured Lines

Audre Lorde’s name and work is familiar to many of us who have studied feminist movements in high school and college. Some of her seminal essays, including “Poetry Is Not a Luxury” and “Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power” are commonly included in syllabuses of literature classes and used as entry points into the conversation about the politics of literature and how combinations of race, gender, and sexuality affect one’s construction of self and point of view on the world.

Less well known is Lorde’s essay “Notes from a Trip to Russia” that opens her book Sister Outsider. A footnote to this essay explains that Lorde spent two weeks in the Soviet Union in 1976 as an American observer to the African-Asian Writers Conference sponsored by the Union of Soviet Writers. Having returned from that trip, she finds herself haunted by it in her dreams, including a…

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