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Photo: Vandamm Studio.
Dorothy Parker in the backyard of her family’s residence in New York City, 1924.

Dorothy Parker, one of the founders of the literary powerhouse called the Algonquin Round Table, was outrageous enough to infuriate the powerful and funny enough to end up in poetry collections for children. (She was in one I used with sixth graders when I was a teacher.)

In this article from the Public Domain Review, Jonathan Goldman explains how getting fired from Vanity Fair launched Parker on the independent career that made her an icon.

“Dorothy Parker lost her job as Vanity Fair theater critic on January 11, 1920, in the tea room of the Plaza Hotel. Parker must have known there was trouble brewing as she sat down across from editor Frank Crowninshield. She had been in hot water for months. Her latest column had been a particularly biting one.

“Reviewing The Son-Daughter, Parker contended that David Belasco’s new play followed his old one, East Is West, ‘almost exactly,’ which Belasco made known he considered grounds for a libel suit. A couple paragraphs later, writing about the new Somerset Maugham play Caesar’s Wife, Parker zinged actress Billie Burke for performing ‘as if she were giving an impersonation of Eva Tanguay. The comparison to a risqué vaudevillian enraged Florenz Ziegfeld, one of Vanity Fair’s most reliable advertisers, who happened to be Burke’s producer — and husband.

“Ziegfeld and Belasco both took their umbrage to publisher Condé Nast. … Nast passed the buck to Crowninshield, who met Parker at the Plaza and fired her from the job she had held for two years.

Parker promptly ordered the most expensive dessert on the menu and left.

“In the days that followed, Parker’s cronies who hung out in the Rose Room of the Algonquin Hotel made the firing and its fallout at Vanity Fair into a media scandal. Parker herself would never again hold a desk job or draw a regular salary, finding success instead as a freelance critic, author of brilliant and acclaimed verse, short fiction, essays, plays, and film scripts. The incident changed her career and stature, and its response helped forge the legend of what would eventually be called the Algonquin Round Table.

“Parker may have learned from her parents the tendency to not quite accept the rules. She was … a child of once-forbidden love between Eliza Annie Marston, daughter of British burghers, and Jacob Henry Rothschild, child of Jewish immigrants, who married over the opposition of Marston’s parents. …

“Dorothy’s was not an idyllic childhood. Her mother died when she was five. When she was eighteen, the Titanic sank, taking with it a favored uncle, Martin Rothschild; Parker may have accompanied her distraught father to the docks to greet the shipwreck’s survivors and learn that her uncle was not among them. Henry Rothschild, devastated, fell ill and died less than a year later.

“Needing income beyond her father’s legacy, Parker found a job playing piano at one of many dance schools, which were faddish in the mid-1910s. But she wanted to earn money by writing. She went about it the old, hard way, sending in cold submissions of poetry until her number was called. In 1914 Vanity Fair accepted her poem ‘Any Porch,’ which satirized chitchat of society women …

I don’t want the vote for myself,
But women with property, dear …

“The editor, Crowninshield, was sufficiently impressed. In 1915 he hired her for Vogue, another magazine owned by Nast, to do editorial work and write captions for illustrations of women’s garments. …

“During her two years at Vogue, Parker worked under Edna Woolman Chase, a legend. … Though thrilled when she landed the job, Parker could only follow the leader for so long, and was soon plaguing Chase with unprintable captions, meant to challenge the Vogue sensibility. One nightgown, she suggested, could be worn as a sexual enticement: ‘When she was good she was very very good, and when she was bad she wore this divine nightdress…’ Such insinuation was a no-no for Vogue readers of 1916. The caption made it through several editorial stages before its twist on the ‘girl with the curl’ nursery rhyme was recognized.

“Crowninshield relieved Chase of her problem employee in 1918, bringing Parker over to the editorial staff at Vanity Fair and offering her the theater critic job that would change her career. …

“Parker loved being a theater critic, but she loved less and less Nast and Crowninshield’s attitudes toward the staff. In this, as in many things, she was supported (and egged on) by her two new colleagues at Vanity Fair, Robert Benchley and Robert Sherwood. …

Caesar’s Wife had its opening night in November 1919. … Parker’s review is not completely unkind until its conclusion: ‘Miss Burke, in her role of the young wife, looks charmingly youthful. She is at her best in her more serious moments; in her desire to convey the youthfulness of the character she plays her lighter scenes as if giving an impersonation of Eva Tanguay.’ This was in fact a toned-down revision; in her first draft, Parker had written that Burke ‘threw herself around the stage as if giving an impersonation of exotic dancer Eva Tanguay.’ …

“Eva Tanguay’s name was a byword for indecorum, eroticism, and unbridled physicality. … It also subtly invoked the dynamics of the Burke-Ziegfeld marriage and served as a swipe at patriarchal control. When Parker refers to the ‘young wife,’ and twice reiterates the ‘youthful’ qualities of the role, she loops in the public history of Ziegfeld’s relationships with younger women. …

“Ziegfeld and his women stayed in her sights. In her June 1920 column for Ainslee’s, Parker wrote warmly of Ziegfeld’s Frolics … but skewered the singing of Lillian Lorraine — the longtime Ziegfeld paramour who had been instrumental to Ziegfeld’s divorce. … Commenting sardonically on the show’s female chorus, she wrote: ‘Where the Ziegfeld girls come from will always be one of the world’s great mysteries.’ ”

She may have maddened people, but Parker sure is fun to read. More here.

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Photo: Jaida Grey Eagle / The McKnight Foundation
Marcie Rendon has received the McKnight Foundation’s 2020 Distinguished Artist Award. An enrolled member of the White Earth Nation, she is the author of poems, plays, children’s books, and novels that explore the resilience and brilliance of Native peoples.

This morning’s Google video about the famous Osage ballerina Maria Tallchief got me thinking about Native American women in the arts and how difficult their path to fulfillment often is. Consider the writer Marcie Rendon, whose reputation got a big boost when she received a McKnight Foundation award in August.

Mary Ann Grossmann reported the story for the Pioneer Press. “Marcie Rendon, award-winning poet, playwright, author of children’s books, short stories and the popular Cash Blackbear mystery series, is the winner of the $50,000 McKnight Foundation 2020 Distinguished Artist Award.

“An enrolled member of the White Earth Nation [Ojibwe], Rendon is the first Native American woman to receive this prestigious award, which honors artists who stay in Minnesota and make the state more culturally rich. …

“ ‘I’m kind of in shock and overwhelmed,’ Rendon said last week in a phone interview from her home near Lake Hiawatha in Minneapolis, where she lives with two granddaughters and a great-granddaughter. She has three daughters and 12 grandchildren.

“The Artist Award is always a surprise to the winner. The McKnight folks lured Rendon onto Zoom in August by telling her they wanted to talk about her work. But when she dialed in she found herself facing a roomful of people who told her she was the awardee.

‘I started crying. It just seemed unreal,’ she recalled. ‘Then somebody said, “Tell her how much the check is,” and I cried even more. I could give you a hundred names of people who deserve it. It never occurred to me I was in that category.’ …

“Rendon is pleased that her award turns the spotlight on Native artists.

“ ‘I grew up in northern Minnesota and never lived in the city. I didn’t even know book awards were a thing until one of my books was nominated. I don’t have an MFA. I’m writing because I love to create and because I love my community,’ she said. ‘Jim (Denomie) and myself getting this award says that Native artists are doing not just what is important for us as Native people, but important to the entire landscape of artists and people in Minnesota. It says we exist and have a significant impact on the arts. We are resilient and thriving. It says to non-Native people, “We are here, we never left.” ‘

“Among Rendon’s previous awards [is] the Loft’s 2017 Spoken Word Immersion Fellowship with Diego Vazquez. … Vazquez, a poet, novelist and editor, has known Rendon for years. ‘I am so excited for Marcie I almost cried when I heard about her award,’ he said. ‘I admire her for everything she does, in her writing and her life, where she is the central focus for her family. She gives her heart to everything.’ …

“Rendon is especially proud of partnering with Vazquez in the eight-year-old women’s writing project, in which they teach women incarcerated in jails in Ramsey, Sherburne and Washington counties. They have reached some 300 women and published 40 anthologies of their writing. …

“Rendon, born in the Red River Valley of northern Minnesota in 1952, was a voracious reader, creative writer and poet early in life. She was with her family, poor but happy, until she was in first grade and put into the foster care system. It was a bad experience, but she survived.

“While studying at Moorhead State College in the early 1970s, Rendon was part of a group of Native student activists who successfully demanded the launch of the university’s first American Indian studies department. She graduated with degrees in criminal justice and American Indian Studies and earned a master’s in human development from St. Mary’s University.

“Rendon moved to Minneapolis in 1978, because ‘this is where my people are, the birthplace of AIM (American Indian Movement),’ and worked as a counselor and therapist while raising her daughters.

“A 1991 performance by Canadian Cree-Saulteaux artist Margo Kane inspired Rendon to share her poetry and writing with a wider audience at venues such as Patrick’s Cabaret in Minneapolis. …

“ ‘I am super-excited for Marcie,’ said [writing buddy Carolyn] Holbrook. … ‘She’s multi-talented and sticks with it, all the while raising a family and putting up with the trauma of having been a foster kid. Her crime fiction knocks me out. Others write (mysteries) about Native Americans but she’s doing it from an authentic place.’ “

Read more at the Pioneer Press, here.

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Photo: The Economist
Ugandan writer Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi is part of an African literary Renaissance.

Other than a day trip from Spain to Morocco decades ago, I have never set foot in Africa. But I have experienced it, in a way, by reading African writers such as Wole Soyinka and Chinua Acebe. Today, a new generation of young writers is offering the world fresh insight.

The Economist writes, “In 2003 Harriet Anena was a schoolgirl in northern Uganda, a region then at war. The army had ordered people into squalid, crowded camps; insurgents stalked the bush.

“ ‘We scratch our destiny / from hands of a curtailing fate,’ she scribbled, sitting beneath a mango tree. In poetry she found a way to ask questions that children, especially girls, were not supposed to ask. ‘I started writing for therapy,’ she says.

“This month Ms Anena recited those lines on the stage of the National Theatre in Kampala, melding drums, dance and poetry in an arresting evocation of love and war. Her performance was the highlight of this year’s Writivism festival, an annual celebration of creative writing, and a testament to the vitality of the country’s small but flourishing literary scene.

“Uganda was once at the fulcrum of African literature. It was at Makerere University, on a hill above Kampala, that giants such as Chinua Achebe and Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o gathered in 1962 for the first African Writers’ Conference, a landmark event held on the eve of independence for many countries. …

“Yet in a place where history and politics weigh heavy, writers are finding fresh voice. A number of trailblazing authors have passed through FEMRITE, a non-profit founded in 1996 to publish and promote women’s writing in Uganda. Writivism, now in its seventh year, publishes an annual anthology and runs a short-story prize.

“And Ugandan literature can boast of an international superstar in Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi (pictured), whose debut novel Kintu is a multi-generational saga that ties oral myth to a recognisable present. …

“Encountering the names of familiar places in a novel ‘just blew by mind,’ says Nyana Kakoma, who runs a small publishing house in Kampala. ‘I said wait a minute, this is me, this is my life, this is Uganda as I know it.’

“Much of this new literature is strikingly political. The Betrothal, a play by Joshua Mmali, is a retelling of a multimillion-dollar corruption scandal that he covered as a journalist for the BBC; its performances at the National Theatre in Uganda last year were greeted with whoops of recognition from audiences. Bold writers can draw on the daily chronicles of hypocrisy and clampdowns recorded by a lively press. …

“War, corruption and sexism are not easy topics, and creative expression has its limits. Uganda has an authoritarian government, presided over by an ageing and increasingly testy strongman. This month Stella Nyanzi, an activist and academic, was sentenced to 18 months in prison after posting a poem on Facebook [about] the president’s mother.

“For all that, it would be a mistake to assume that Ugandan writing is glum, pious or austere. Young writers are finding humour in struggle, and joy in the everyday. There is the promise of freedom in their work. ‘Do not miss the chance to groove, my child,’ writes Peter Kagayi, a poet, ‘at the pattering of life’s raindrops.’ ”

More here.

 

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Illustration: Ben Kirchner
Raduan Nassar was 48 and at the height of his literary fame when, in 1984, he announced his retirement. He wanted to become a farmer.

I liked a recent article in the New Yorker about a Brazilian who left the writing life to become a farmer. Did literary perfectionism stress him out too much, or did farming just seem more real?

Alejandro Chacoff has the story.

“In 1973, the Brazilian writer Raduan Nassar quit his job. After six years as editor-in-chief at the Jornal do Bairro, an influential left-wing newspaper that opposed Brazil’s military regime, [he left] and spent a year in his São Paulo apartment, working twelve hours a day on a book, ‘crying the whole time.’ In ‘Ancient Tillage,’ the strange, short novel he wrote, a young man flees his rural home and family, only to return, chastened and a little humiliated, to the place of his childhood.

“ ‘Ancient Tillage’ was published in 1975, to immediate critical acclaim. … In 1978, a second novel appeared in print; Nassar had written the first draft of ‘A Cup of Rage’ in 1970, while living in Granja Viana, a bucolic neighborhood on the outskirts of the city. It, too, was received euphorically, winning the São Paulo Art Critics’ Association Prize (ACPA). …

Last year, Nassar’s two novels were translated into English for the first time, for the Penguin Modern Classics Series. …

“Nassar was forty-eight and at the height of his literary fame when, in 1984, he gave an interview with Folha de São Paulo, the country’s biggest daily newspaper, in which he announced his retirement. He wanted to become a farmer. … The following year, he bought a property of roughly sixteen hundred acres and began to plant soy, corn, beans, and wheat. …

“Nassar said that farming had always been his main occupation, whereas writing had ‘just been another activity.’ But his life in agriculture did not begin smoothly.

“ ‘For the first six years, we got killed; there were only losses.’ … Like his characters, he appears to have found solace in manual labor. ‘My life now is about doing, doing, doing,’ he told an interviewer, in 1996, when asked how he was faring after his literary retirement. …

“Both [Luiz Schwarcz, the editor-in-chief of Companhia das Letras, the country’s main publishing house,] and [Antonio Fernando de Franceschi, a poet and critic who became a close friend of Nassar’s,] believe that Nassar’s decision to quit came not from a waning of interest but from literary perfectionism. ‘He’s a guy who devotes himself so much to the craft that I think it’s hard for him to feel rewarded,’ Schwarcz said.” More here.

I intend to track down his books.

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Photo: Robert W Kelley/Time Life Pictures/Getty Images
Langston Hughes on the front steps of his house in Harlem, June 1958.

Before Suzanne and Erik moved to Providence, they were living in a lovely renovated brownstone in Harlem.

There’s a fine line between newcomers investing where there’s been too much disinvestment — and gentrification. The early changes seem to benefit a neighborhood and its people, but inevitably rising property values push out many longtime residents and institutions.

Today, a group of Harlem artists from various disciplines are banding together to keep a significant piece of the Harlem Renaissance around to nourish African American arts.

Tom Kutsch writes at the Guardian, “All that signifies the legacy of a house once occupied by the poet laureate of Harlem is a small bronze plaque, partially covered by a cedar tree’s branches and the green ivy that envelops much of the building.

“The onetime home of Langston Hughes has sat largely unoccupied for years, but a new movement is trying to reclaim, for a next generation of artists, the space of a man who is forever intertwined with the Harlem Renaissance.

“Spearheaded by writer, performer and educator Renée Watson, the collective effort is busily trying to raise the necessary funds to purchase a lease and make needed renovations to the house. …

“Watson plans to make the Hughes house the home of the I Too, Arts Collective that she launched alongside the effort, which aims to, in her words, have ‘programming that nurtures, amplifies, and honors work by and about people of color and people from other marginalized communities.’ …

“The collective gets its name from one of Hughes’s most famous poems – I, Too – in which his narrator concludes by intoning:

They’ll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed—
I, too, am America.

“Watson is using the crowdfunding website Indiegogo to solicit donations for the project, for which they’re hoping to raise at least $150,000 to cover a lease and begin the renovation process. By the time of publication, they had raised more than $54,000, already exceeding the $40,000 Watson says would cover at least a six-month lease. …

“For more than a century, Harlem has been inextricably linked to black life and culture in America; the birthplace of the aforementioned Harlem Renaissance, which fostered a wide array pre-eminent black artists and writers, from Zora Neale Hurston to Claude McKay and Duke Ellington. …

” ‘The erasure of black Harlem may come despite our best efforts …’ said Tracey Baptiste, a local children’s author who is involved with Watson’s collective. ‘But this project is about making sure that gentrification doesn’t also happen in the hearts and minds of our artists.’ ”

More here.

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I love experiments that garner a new audience for the work of writers and other artists. I remember one effort I tried to join: short fiction for postcards. My submissions weren’t used, but I received a postcard a month for a year, each with a tiny tale.

If you’ve traveled the subway in New York or Boston, you may also have seen posters with some very accessible, but not dumbed-down, poetry.

In France, there’s a vending machine. Alison Flood writes at the Guardian, “Readers in Grenoble can now nibble fiction instead of vending machine snacks, after publisher Short Édition introduced eight short-story dispensers around the French city. …

“Readers are able to choose one minute, three minutes or five minutes of fiction, and, just two weeks since launch, co-founder Quentin Pleplé says that more than 10,000 stories have already been printed.

“ ‘The feedback we got has been overwhelmingly positive … We are getting requests from all over the world – Australia, the US, Canada, Russia, Greece, Italy, Spain, Chile, Taiwan.’ …

“The French publisher hopes the stories will be used to fill the ‘dead time’ of a commute, ‘in a society where daily lives are moving quicker and quicker and where time is becoming precious.’

“ ‘In the bus, the tram or the metro, everyone can make the most of these moments to read short stories, poems or short comics,’ said a statement from Short Édition. ‘And they can be sure to enjoy the ending.’ …

“The stories are drawn from the more than 60,000 stories on Short Édition’s community website, with the publisher’s 142,000-strong reader community selecting the best 600 for the vending machines. Users are not able to choose what type of story – romantic, fantastical or comic – they would like to read. ‘Just the length, it’s the beauty of it,’ said Pleplé.”

More here.

Photo: Short Édition
A short story vending machine in Grenoble. 

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Photo: Jake Naughton/The New York Times
Ayun Halliday creating a new issue of “The East Village Inky”  as part of the MTA Zine Residency

Remember the Amtrak Artist Residency? Here’s what might be called a “stealth residency,” organized by a librarian in New York and taking place on the New York subway system.

Colin Moynihan writes at the NY Times, “Thirteen people formed a sort of mobile salon just after noon on Friday, boarding an F Train in the Gowanus area of Brooklyn with the aim of riding for hours through three boroughs while writing and illustrating zines — self-published, photocopied periodicals usually made by hand. …

“The two-day event, called the MTA Zine Residency, had been organized by a librarian and an archivist at the Barnard College library, which they said has the largest circulating collection of zines in an academic library. …

“Despite the initials in its name, the event was organized without the knowledge or collaboration of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which runs the subway system. The peaceful takeover of the subway car reflected the do-it-yourself spirit that is a basic prerequisite to zine making, said the other organizer, the archivist Shannon O’Neill. …

“ ‘Remember the promise and betrayal of the #AmtrakResidency?’ the organizers of the subway project wrote, while announcing their own subway and ferry trips. ‘We won’t pay for your MetroCard, but we also won’t demand to own your stuff!’ …

“Transit officials had no objection to the activities. ‘As long as they abide by our rules of conduct, we certainly welcome them in the subway system to nurture creative self-expression,’ said a spokesman, Kevin Ortiz.”

More here.

I’m thinking of several artistic readers of this blog when I say you may want to get on board this train the next time it comes around.

Photo: Jake Naughton/The New York Times 
Composing zines on the F train on Friday during the MTA Zine Residency. 

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If you want people to innovate, get out of the way. That’s what I think must have happened when Bill Littlefield launched his sports program at WBUR. Clearly, someone gave him freedom to do it his own kooky way, and when radio stations around the country wanted to carry the program, that laissez-faire manager must have smiled.

Both sports fans and non-sports fans like Littlefield’s show. He covers all the usual sports topics but also showcases offbeat competitions like this one at the Vermont College of Fine Arts in Montpelier. Karen Given was the reporter.

“Just 15 minutes before game time, the vast and serene campus green at Vermont College of Fine Arts showed no signs of the annual Writers vs. Poets softball game. There were no bats, no balls, no bases, and no players. Suddenly, Victorio Reyes stormed onto the scene.

“ ‘First of all I’m a poet,’ he said. … ‘There’s two things,” Reyes continued. “One: the United States invests way too much money in sports and too much emotion, okay? That’s the first thing. The second thing? This game is life or death. That’s all you need to know.’ …

“No one seems to know the overall record. Louise Crowley, director of the MFA in Writing program, said the game itself is similarly imprecise.

“ ‘We might have 50 people in the outfield. It’s just kinda an informal, crazy game.’

“ ‘Eventually, will there be bases?’ I asked.

“ ‘There will be bases, yes,’ Crowley said. ‘There will be bases, there will be a batter, there will be a catcher, you know. But other than that, it’s just sort of a free flowing, everything goes.’ …

“After dinner, there’s a reading, and then hours of painstaking writing and re-writing before workshops begin again early tomorrow morning. …

“Poetry instructor Matthew Dickman had a preexisting injury this time around, so his job was to provide inspiration — of the negative variety.

“ ‘Whenever a fiction writer gets to bat, a student, I’m going to sit behind them and talk about how difficult it is to get published,’ Dickman said. ‘How they’ll probably just go back to working wherever they work and their dreams will come to an end.’  …

“Every once in a while, the pitcher lobbed in a good one and the batter managed a hit — usually a pop fly that floated over the outfield. And, although the number of outfielders had ballooned to at least a dozen, every single one of those pop flies dropped to the grass.” More at Only a Game.

I laughed all the way through this report.

Photo: Going the Distance Blog
At the annual Vermont College of Fine Arts softball game, it’s war. Cats vs. dogs have nothing on poets vs. prose writers.

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Amtrak-trains-Boston

I love Amtrak, and I love writing, but I don’t think I am ever going to do an Amtrak Artist Residency, so I am passing along the info so you can apply. It sounds like fun. Just glimpsing the exposed backs of houses along the tracks with their hints of the private lives lived in them is inspiration for a ream of stories.

William Grimes writes for the NY Times blog ArtBeat, “The wheels have begun moving on Amtrak’s plan to offer writers a rolling residency aboard their trains. … Up to 24 writers, chosen from a pool of applicants, will be given a round-trip ticket on a long-distance train, including a private sleeper-car room with a bed, a desk, and electrical outlets. …

“The idea was born in December when the novelist Alexander Chee, in an interview with the magazine PEN America, casually mentioned his love for writing on trains, and added, jokingly, ‘I wish Amtrak had residencies for writers.’

“When Jessica Gross, a writer in New York, echoed the sentiment on Twitter, Amtrak arranged for her to do a trial residency on the Lake Shore Limited from New York to Chicago. She agreed.

“Her account of the trip, ‘Writing the Lake Shore Limited,’ published by The Paris Review in February, grabbed the attention of The Wire, The New Yorker and The Huffington Post. Soon after, Amtrak decided to turn the trial run into a full-fledged program.” More on when and how to apply.

Even before that series of events, there was the Whistlestop Arts Train, you know. I blogged about the rolling public art project by Doug Aitken last July, here.

Trains for dreaming. Holiday model train layout at Amtrak’s South Station, Boston.

model-trains-Amtrak-S-Station

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Thank you, Gwarlingo, for tweeting this. Looks like there’s hope for us all.

“All your excuses are invalid,” says Dustin Kurtz in an article at the Melville House site about “the seventy-five year old winner of a prize for emerging writers.

“The semiannual Akutagawa prize was awarded in Japan this past Wednesday, and this season’s winner was Natsuko Kuroda. The Akutagawa prize, begun in 1935, is awarded for stories published in newspapers or magazines by new or emerging authors. Kuroda is seventy-five years old.

“Her story, ‘ab Sango’ (it can be previewed and purchased here) is unusual in that it uses no pronouns for its young principle characters, and is written horizontally across the page from left to right, rather than the standard top to bottom. The result is strange and beautiful, and hints at a genealogy of Popper-esque fairy tale formulae, of mathematics or of sociology, and all of which is given subtle cultural freight by Kuroda’s horizontal lines. But again — because it bears repeating — this intriguing emerging writer is seventy-five years old.

“Kuroda is in fact the oldest writer ever to be given the Akutagawa prize, and she is nearly as old as the prize itself. Ryunosuke Akutagawa, the award’s namesake and perhaps Japan’s most celebrated story writer, famously killed himself when he was less than half her current age.

“Upon receiving the prize, Kuroda said, ‘Thank you for discovering me while I am still alive.’ ” More.

Photograph: Melville House, an independent book publisher in Brooklyn, NY.

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I have been reading a comic book by Jessica Abel, “How to Make Radio That’s Good,” about Ira Glass and his special brand of storytelling for Public Radio International’s “This American Life.” The book was recommended by a National Public Radio guest speaker where I work. The library was able to order it from WBEZ in Chicago, but it might be out of print.

I have to admit that I have never been a huge fan of “This American Life” or the Ira Glass style of speech. But I’m really liking his ideas on how to build a story from a central character and hooking onto “something surprising.”

And I love this little animation of one of the shows, which is a near-perfect illustration of the comic book’s precepts.

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As readers know, I really believe that “one and one and 50 make a million” (a concept articulated by folksinger Pete Seeger). That’s why I can’t resist a recent story from Moscow, where a few writers decided to have a “stroll,” and 10,000 individuals individually decided to follow.

Ellen Barry writes in the NY Times: “It was only four days ago when 12 prominent authors, disturbed by the crackdown on dissent that accompanied President Vladimir V. Putin’s inauguration, announced an experiment. They called it a ‘test stroll’ …

“No one knew quite what to expect on Sunday. But when the 12 writers left Pushkin Square at lunchtime, they were trailed by a crowd that swelled to an estimated 10,000 people, stopping traffic and filling boulevards for 1.2 miles. …  The police did not interfere, although the organizers had not received a permit to march.

“ ‘We see by the number of people that literature still has authority in our society because no one called these people — they came themselves,’ said Lev Rubinstein, 65, a poet and one of the organizers. ‘We thought this would be a modest stroll of several literary colleagues, and this is what happened. You can see it yourself. … I don’t know how this will all end, but I can say that no one will forget it.’ ” Read more.

I can’t help thinking that one and one and 50 have been growing for a long time in Russia and that the 10,000 who joined the march are just the tip of he iceberg.

Photograph: Dmitry Kostyukov for The New York Times

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