Monday, July 28, 2008

Good Medicine

Free stories online by leading Canadian Aboriginal authors at The Medicine Project -- including a brand-new story by the deliriously wonderful Richard Van Camp whose short stories Angel Wing Splash Pattern and novel The Lesser Blessed rocked my world one hot, sweaty Toronto summer. So enjoy the free taster at the Medicine Project...

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Representative Poetry

Hats off to the Library of Congress for selecting Kay Ryan as the next Poet Laureate. Not only is she a spare, elegant poet in these wordy times, but she is also a) female and b) an out lesbian.

No such luck here in the UK, where Carol Ann Duffy was mooted as Poet Laureate in 1998, but cast aside due to the unsavoury fact of her high profile lesbian relationship with another writer. Articles earlier this year (no, I can't be bothered to dig them out) implied that she might be in the running post-Motion, now that the relationship is over.

It's not often these days that the US pulls ahead of the UK in terms of rights & representation (perhaps not since Auden and Thom Gunn emigrated in search of pastures queer) -- it's about time the UK started celebrating (or at least recognising) the amazing contribution that lesbian, gay, bi and trans writers have made and are making to our literature.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Dear Aleister...

NYT Books leads with a surreal story about Portuguese nationalism and the letters betweenFernando Pessoa and Aleister Crowley. Apparently the Portuguese poet (or more properly, poets, as he wrote under multiple pseudonyms in several languages) noticed a miscalculation in the Great British Satan's astrological charts.

The letters are currently in the possession of his family, and the government want to keep them in the country, possibly installing them in the Pessoa house-museum, where poems pop up on flyleafs. I spent the afternoon working in a filmmaker's private archive, and there is a sheer delight in finding a note, a line, a page, a doodle that seems to hold a small, inexplicable key to their working process.

On the other hand, I hate the nationalist discourse that swirls around certain authors' papers having to be preserved 'for the nation.' It's especially rich coming from Britain, which led the world in ripping off cultural and sacred art and stuffing it in mausoleums in London.

But how great would it be to read the letters between Pessoa, one of the twentieth century's strangest writers, and Crowley, the suburban nutcase? Not least because I once had a penpal who was convinced he was the reincarnation of dear Aleister.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Gifted? Absolutely.

Rajasthani-born and Cardiff-raised Nikita Lalwani picked up the inaugural Desmond Elliott Prize for quality writing in popular fiction last night for her novel Gifted, and promptly donated her prize money to the fabulous human rights and free speech organisation Liberty. Liberty's director Shami Chakrabarti has been one of the most visible and outspoken leftist presences in the British media since the invasion of Iraq -- possibly the most high-profile woman of colour to be found on TV, radio and in the press since Moira Stuart was dumped by the BBC for being over the hill. As the current issue of Sable points out, things have improved under Greg Dyke in terms of representation at the BBC -- but not much.

Lalwani's welcome win hints at a turning point in British culture -- the critical and popular success of Gifted consolidates the long-overdue emergence of a generation of British women novelists of colour, writing diverse novels in different genres, on awards *and* bestseller lists (Zadie Smith, Diane Evans, Monica Ali, Andrea Levy). This is a considerable achievement given that study after study shows that all aspects of the UK book industry remain overwhelmingly dominated by white men, something that initiatives such as the Orange Prize (for women writers) and Decibel (a traineeship for people of colour in the creative industries) are working to change.

Not only that, but as a further sign of the times, Lalwani scooped the frontrunner for the award, Tom Rob Smith, who has been the subject of profiles in the UK press for his six-figure deal thriller. William Hill might have quoted odds of 1/2 on Child 44 taking the prize, but as Rumi Vasi, the child maths prodigy who is the protagonist of Gifted would have known, sometimes it's about more than the math. Congratulations to Lalwani for her award and her generosity in showing the true meaning of "gifted": the ability and desire to share.