I’ve been supervising a graduating high school senior for the past month. He wanted to try his hand at being a full-time writer, bless his heart, and he’s writing a novella for his final project. At our weekly meetings, he turns over a chapter or so of writing, and we discuss the previous week’s work. It’s been more than a decade since I’ve taken the teacher’s seat, but the old neural pathways started firing right away: show, don’t tell; omit needless words; keep dialogue spare. Though my role is more advisor than teacher, I can’t help myself. At our first meeting, I bled feedback all over his manuscript in black ink. What follows is a roundabout apology.
‘Baltimore Writers Club’ is an occasional series by Marion Winik introducing new books from Baltimoreans.
One of the sweetest things about living in Baltimore has been the opportunity to be part of the active community of writers here, including the teachers and students I work with at UB, the authors I hear at readings, and many of those who sit in the audience with me. From this pool has come a group of friends who are the first readers and editors of each other’s work, something all writers need.
In this occasional series I’ll introduce new books from Baltimoreans I admire, and prevail on their authors to answer a few questions for Baltimore Fishbowl readers.
The MSE Symposium isn’t the only free Johns Hopkins lecture series that brings brilliant minds to campus. The President’s Reading Series, started in 2013 by university president Ronald Daniels, aims to bring top writers to Baltimore to read their work to students, staff, faculty, and the public. Last year’s list of authors was impressive; this year’s is even more so.
Local writer and former Sun reporter Sujata Massey, author of the award-winning Rei Shimura series, will discuss her new novel, a love story set during the political and cultural upheaval of late Raj India at The Ivy Bookshop on Thursday, September 12 at 7:00.
About the Book
The term “sleeping dictionary” was coined for young Indian women who slept with British men and educated them in the ways of India. Set between 1925 and the end of World War II, The Sleeping Dictionary is the story of Kamala, born to a peasant family in West Bengal, who makes her way to Calcutta in the 1930s. Haunted by a forbidden love, she is caught between the raging independence movement and the British colonial society she finds herself inhabiting. This portrait of late Raj India is both a saga and a passionate love story.
Living a bit hand-to-mouth? Not particularly flush with the rush of economic recovery? Feeling singularly unappreciated for your artistic contributions?
Wander over to the new exhibit at the George Peabody Library, “For Love or Money: Art, Commerce & Stephen Crane.” You’re sure to be uplifted when you see that you are not alone; moreover, your problems are a cliché that’s a little more than 100 years old.
What better place than Baltimore, and what better time than now, to showcase the American literary genius who penned The Red Badge of Courage and saw himself as a soldier in the “beautiful war for truthful art?”
Crane, who was the quadruple threat of journalist, poet, short story writer and novelist, could have been the poster boy for the starving artist. In the turn-of-the century photographs on display throughout the exhibit, his lean, angular face has the faraway yet unflinchingly driven expression of an Amy Winehouse. It’s eerily, disturbingly familiar—almost as if there’s a genetic marker for the look of artists who die in their late 20s.
“Any Baltimorean can tell you I’m not a real Baltimorean,” Anne Tyler admits. She fears that when she answers questions about the city, somewhere “the grandmothers are whispering, ‘She doesn’t know a thing about Baltimore!’ ” Spoken like a true Baltimorean, we say. Even though she was born in Minnesota and grew up in North Carolina, the Pulitzer-winning novelist has lived in Baltimore for 45 years, writes about it constantly, and has an honest affection for our city’s eccentricities. “It’s a city with grit and sort of a feisty spirit to it. I think it’s a very funny city and I love it,” she says.
Unsurprisingly, our city is the backdrop for Tyler’s nineteenth novel, The Beginner’s Goodbye, released this month. The story follows Aaron Woolcott, a youngish editor at a Baltimore vanity press, who lives in a house off Cold Spring Lane. (Tyler lives in Roland Park.) After his wife is killed by a tree that falls on their house, Woolcott starts seeing her ghost in the strangest places. The book has received flattering reviews from Publishers Weekly, which called The Beginner’s Goodbye “an uplifting tale of love and forgiveness. By the end of this wonderful book, you’ve lived the lives and loves of these characters in the best possible way.”
And Tyler gets some positive words from none other than Mr. Baltimore himself, John Waters: “She beautifully captures regular people who are not trying to be noticed. She writes about real life.” And though it may not appear so at first, Waters sees similarities between his own work and that of Tyler: We concentrate on the eccentrics,” Waters says. “I always am interested in people who think they’re normal and yet are totally insane. She writes about people who think of themselves as normal, and are normal, but also eccentrics who don’t know it.” We’re pretty sure the grandmothers of Baltimore would approve.
“I’ve had so god-damned few epiphanies in my life that I’m suspicious of them,” writer Charles Baxter told the Atlantic in 1997. “And most of them have been wrong anyway!”
To that end, the Minneapolis-based fiction writer has been turning out stories and novels that, as his publisher describes them, “twist and turn in unexpected directions before reaching surprising yet nearly always satisfying conclusions…He specializes in portraits of solid Midwesterners, regular Joes and Janes whose ordinary lives are disrupted by accidents, chance encounters, and the arrival of strangers.”
He’s also funny and just seems like a pleasant kind of guy to spend an evening with. (And if you’re the kind of person who cares about prizes, you’ll be pleased to know that Baxter is also a National Book Award winner, for Feast of Love.) Thanks to the Johns Hopkins Future Seminars lecture series, this Thursday you’ll get to hear Baxter speak (along with poet Jane Shore) about being both a teacher and a writer. The seminar takes place from 4-6 PM in Mason Hall on the Homewood campus, and will be followed by the one thing in life that feels better than an epiphany: a reception!