Links: From a Flask With Unknown Contents

Whiting Award winner Adam Johnson says the aspiring writers in his classes these days are being a little too cute with the subtleties. “‘What happened? What was it about?’ he asks his students. ‘I didn’t want to hit you over the head with it,’ they reply. ‘Hit me over the head with what?'”

Lizzie Skurnick on a star-studded event honoring Judy Blume: “Her controversy wasn’t based on her attention to the illicit. It was based on her attention to the ordinary.”

Tom Perrotta figures people don’t cheat on their spouses nearly as much as novelists suggest they do.

A comprehensive collection of Ernest Hemingway‘s letters is nearing completion.

Cormac McCarthy has signed a few copies of The Road, and no, you can’t have them.

The Idaho Review, which has published a host of major authors from the West, celebrates its tenth anniversary with a 296-page issue. (via New West)

William Faulkner‘s old residence in New Orleans is holding up well, post-Katrina.

Shanthi Sekaran: “When an Indian American writer portrays India, a reader will already have seen five other portrayals in other books and inject what they’ve seen before…. That leads readers to overlook other aspects of an immigrant experience.”

The owners of Chicago bookstore Women and Children First aren’t buying the statement that there are as many as 30 feminist bookstores in the country.

Daniel Alarcon on Americans’ disinterest in reading works in translation: “There’s a certain curiosity about the world that’s not matched by a willingness to do the work…. So what happens is that writers of foreign extraction end up writing about the world for Americans.” (via Bookslut)

A great wide-ranging interview in the Morning News with Tobias Wolff about writing programs, the state of short fiction, the novel he’s working on, the Richard Price novel he’s reading, and more.

Dear Stanford Daily: Here’s the thing. If an anonymous student tells you that Wolff regularly takes swigs “from a flask with unknown contents” in class, it’s pretty much imperative upon you to ring him up for a comment. Then he could tell you whether what’s in the flask is innocuous or not, avoiding any need for golly-who-knows-what-he’s-drinking weasel-wording. Regardless, you’re bound to get a story out of it, and telling stories is something he’s pretty good at. Give it a try.

The Bobbasheely Business

The AP reports that the Dictionary of American Regional English, a multivolume, comprehensive reference text that has been in the works since the mid-60s, is nearing completion. According to the story, the fifth volume (“S-Z”) should be published next year, thanks to a $295,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to the staff at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Joan Houston Hall, current editor of the project, tells the AP that once the final volume is finished, the next step will be to get the book online. Hall’s favorite word out the batch? Bobbasheely, a Gulf Coast word meaning good friend, or to hang out with a friend; she notes that William Faulkner used it in one of his novels, though the story doesn’t mention which one. Turns out Faulkner preferred the verb definition. It appears in 1962’s The Reivers in this sentence: “You and Sweet Thing bobbasheely on back to the hotel now, and me and Uncle Remus and Lord Flaunteroy will mosey along.”

Hall inherited the project in 2000, after the death of the dictionary’s first editor, Frederic Cassidy. His headstone reads, “On to Z!”

March Through the South

Next month marks the launch of the Southern Literary Trail, which honors 18 towns in Alabama, Georgia, and Mississippi that were home to some of the country’s best-loved writers. There’ll be readings on the grounds of William Faulkner‘s house; performances at the Margaret Mitchell house and museum; screenings of films based on the works of Carson McCullers; a whole bunch of events related to the centennial of Eudora Welty‘s birth; and more. The very idea of it was enough to get Harper Lee out of doors for a bit recently.

Jayne Anne Phillips’ Southern Accent

Most reviews of Jayne Anne Phillips‘ beautiful, curiously structured new novel, Lark & Termite, suggest a connection to William Faulkner‘s The Sound and the Fury. It’s hard to avoid that impression—the novel is a Southern story, and Termite is a child who can’t walk and can only parrot back what others say. But it’d be a mistake to characterize Termite as a Benjy Compson-esque boy, and for her part Phillips is avoiding the comparison. She changes the subject in an interview with the Oregonian:

When Phillips is reminded of Faulkner’s inspiration for “The Sound and the Fury,” she has no direct reaction but talks about how “there was a lot of kismet around this book.” She once admired a sketch by her friend, artist Mary Sherman, who immediately tore it out of her sketchbook and gave it to Phillips. The sketch is the frontispiece to “Lark and Termite” and contains Sherman’s scribbled note with the word Termite, a gift of the character’s name and image.

And besides, though Faulkner tinkered often with structure, the arrangement of Lark & Termite, shuttling between nine years in West Virginia and Korea, is wholly her own. The central incident in the Korean sections, in fact, only came later:

Much later, after she knew that part of the book would be set in Korea, Phillips read the Associated Press story about the events at No Gun Ri, when South Korean civilians were killed by U.S. troops. Phillips can remember the day she read the story, “in 1999, Sept. 30, to be exact,” and what accompanied it.

“There was a big color photo of a tunnel, and as soon as I saw it, I knew that’s what happened to (one of her characters),” she said.

Hanging Out at William Faulkner’s House With Neko Case

This year’s edition of the Oxford American‘s music issue is a monster, with features on artists from the Residents to Arthur Lee to Jerry Lee Lewis and on and on. There’s plenty I need to get to, but I immediately gravitated to the piece on Neko Case by Jack Pendarvis (who wrote one of my favorite novels of the year). Pendarvis hung out with Case and her band for a few days, and though there wasn’t much drama, they did get to hang out at William Faulkner‘s home, Rowan Oak, in Oxford, Miss., where everybody got excited about Bill’s typewriter:

[Pedal steel guitarist Jon] Rauhouse ran over and started banging on the keys. Banging on them urgently! The hammers sounded like a machine gun. It was the one time I saw [Rowan Oak curator] Bill Griffith get ruffled. He made suffering gestures. He swallowed something. He stepped forward and in the nicest way imaginable, indeed with no discernable effort, sort of willed Rauhouse to stop.

“I should take your picture sitting at the typewriter,” said Neko. She meant me.

I sat down but couldn’t make myself touch the instrument. Everything about it seemed backwards: Neko Case taking my picture, me sitting there. I was having difficulty throwing myself into the experience. I felt like a rubber glove.

The Arab-American Translation Gap

What works of American literature should be translated into Arabic? The government of Abu Dhabi is asking: Kalima, an initiative founded last year by the country’s Authority for Culture & Heritage, is soliciting suggestions for American novels, short stories, and poetry in conjunction with this year’s National Book Festival in D.C. Kalima’s first to-do list, announced last year, includes William Faulkner‘s The Sound and the Fury, Isaac Bashevis Singer‘s Collected Stories, and Robert Heinlein‘s Stranger in a Strange Land. Kalima’s head, Dr. Ali bin Tamim, tells the United Arab Emirates Daily News: “It is noteworthy to mention that the complete works of great American writers such as Nathaniel Hawthorne, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, and William Faulkner—are inaccessible to Arab readers.”

War Stories

At the Oxford University Press blog, Keith Gandal writes something of a, er, call to arms to academic critics to engage more deeply with the subject of literature and war. Gandal is a Northern Illinois University English professor who’s written The Pen and the Gun, which has a great thesis: “Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and William Faulkner were motivated, in their famous postwar novels, not by their experiences of the horrors of war but rather by their failure to have those experiences.”

Gandal figures he knows what’s created the dearth of war stories in academia:

We know why the subjects of war and the military have fallen out of favor, and why most professors in English, as well as history, prefer to oppose war and criticize the military rather than to study them. The Vietnam War changed the meaning of war and of the military in this country, at least on the left, and the cohort of professors that for the most part has dominated and set trends in these fields in the last twenty years is of the generation that came of age during the Vietnam era; most of these professors were students when the huge protest against the war took place, and most of them were against the war.

What struck me here is that thinking back to my high school and college days (late ’80s and early ’90s), I can recall that a great many novels about war were recommended to me, appearing on supplementary reading lists and the like, but I can’t think of an occasion when they were actually taught as part of the syllabus. I had to find Catch-22 and Going After Cacciato on my own; I never even heard of books like Dog Soldiers until I was out of college. This may speak more to the shortcomings of my schooling, but it’s interesting how rarely war literature made it to the discussion table.