Books

On Beautiful Writing: Zadie Smith Comes to Cambridge

By Kris Wilton   |   Tuesday, September 18, 2012
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Zadie Smith (photo credit: Dominique Nabokov/Penguin Group)

September 18, 2012

This is a great month for literary fiction readings around town–the best in years, at least as far as memory serves. Harvard Book Store’s hosting Paul Auster September 17 and Junot Diaz September 26; Diaz also doing several other readings in the area this fall. Porter Square has newcomer Justin Torres reading from his powerhouse debut We the Animals on September 18. But I’m most excited about Zadie Smith, reading September 19 at the Cambridge Public Library’s main branch, in an event also organized by Porter Square Books.

Smith’s been a big name since her acclaimed 2000 debut White Teeth, and she gained attention around here after partially setting her next novel, On Beauty, in the area. A Gen X success story, Smith’s known for the rich portraits she paints of her native London and for prose that is funny, incisive, street-smart, polished, and unleashed, all at the same time. It’s this combination of smarts, sass, and sense of humor that’s so refreshing, and that makes her readings especially fun. (Also, it doesn’t hurt that she’s got a fabulous accent.)

Her newest novel, NW, released September 4, takes place in the working-class neighborhood of Kilburn, in North West London, where Smith grew up. The book follows four Londoners trying to find their way in the city and in life, taking on class, milieu, societal expectations, and the particular dislocation of finding yourself in a world very different from the one you grew up in. I can’t wait to hear her bring it to life.

Zadie Smith
Cambridge Public Library
September 19, 2012
7:00pm

A Conversation with Author Gish Jen

By Bridgit Brown   |   Monday, November 7, 2011
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Author Gish Jen read from her fifth novel World And Town, recently republished in paperback, at the Harvard Bookstore in Cambridge, MA on October 26, 2011.  ArtSceNE contributor Bridgit Brown sat down with her after the reading.





Gish Jen’s fifth novel, World and Town, centers on Hattie Kong, a 63-year old, retired widow, and a descendant of Confucius. When very little seems to be happening in Riverlake, the small New England town that the narrator calls “American before America became American,” the Chhungs, an immigrant Cambodian family moves in right next door to Hattie in a trailer. With their arrival also come the rest of the world and an awakening of something in Hattie that had long been asleep. She takes an interest in the teenage Sophy Chhung, the oldest daughter in the family and a first generation Cambodian-American. Through their conversations, history intersects with the present, and what it means to be American is both refined and redefined.

For more about Gish Jen and her previous works, visit http://www.gishjen.com/home.


Denise DiIanni biographical sketch

By Denise DiIanni   |   Wednesday, September 14, 2011
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Denise DiIanni, Senior Executive in Charge, Research and Development, National Productions
Denise DiIanni is a long time WGBH Executive Producer responsible for more than 150 hours of local, regional and nationally syndicated programming each year. In 2011, DiIanni took on a new position as Senior Executive in Charge, Research and Development, National Productions, spearheading new production models for broadcast and broadband. Earlier in her career, DiIanni was an award-winning producer, writer and director for the NOVA Science Unit with more than two- dozen credits to her name. In addition to her expertise in documentary, studio and public affairs programming, DiIanni also spearheaded public media’s first user-generated content feature—the WGBH Lab and was the founding director of WGBH’s Filmmakers in Residence program, which ran from 2003-2010.

The Fallacy of Helping

By Bridgit Brown   |   Tuesday, September 13, 2011
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My grandmother washed white people's clothing for a living but she would never call herself "the help." The movie The Help, made me think about her. Out of all of the characters in this film, Minnie (played by Octavia Spencer) comes close - outspoken and charming, though she would never bake and serve her poop. The author of the book, Kathryn Stockett, said she based Minnie on Spencer, a very good friend hers. The man who made the movie, Tate Taylor, said that Spencer was his former roommate.
My grandmother never brought her work issues home despite the clear indication that Kathryn Stockett makes in her fiction. The lives of the white people that my grandmother worked for and the children that might have been in her care were not central to her life at all. The women and men that work for white people are more complex than what we see in the movie and read in the book.
Taylor was at the screening of the movie when I saw it. He spoke afterwards, calling Stockett one of his best friends. He said that a black woman raised him too. They clearly want people to know that there is something about being raised by a black woman that distinguishes one type of white person from the next. I get the sense that it’s about people helping people. This explains why Taylor said in an interview that he “peppered” the movie with friends and family, including his dad who played Sissy Spacek’s boyfriend or his mom, who had a one-liner. I wondered if the five black men in the film, each doing “domestic” work, were friends of Taylor’s too.
I hated The Help and Spencer should have her racial credentials lifted for helping her friends craft a big FAT lie.

The Fallacy of Helping

By Valerie Linson   |   Tuesday, August 30, 2011
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My grandmother washed white people's clothing for a living but she would never call herself "the help." The movie The Help, made me think about her. Out of all of the characters in this film, Minnie (played by Octavia Spencer) comes close - outspoken and charming, though she would never bake and serve her poop. The author of the book, Kathryn Stockett, said she based Minnie on Spencer, a very good friend hers. The man who made the movie, Tate Taylor, said that Spencer was his former roommate.

My grandmother never brought her work issues home despite the clear indication that Kathryn Stockett makes in her fiction. The lives of the white people that my grandmother worked for and the children that might have been in her care were not central to her life at all. The women and men that work for white people are more complex than what we see in the movie and read in the book.

Taylor was at the screening of the movie when I saw it. He spoke afterwards, calling Stockett one of his best friends. He said that a black woman raised him too. They clearly want people to know that there is something about being raised by a black woman that distinguishes one type of white person from the next. I get the sense that it’s about people helping people. This explains why Taylor said in an interview that he “peppered” the movie with friends and family, including his dad who played Sissy Spacek’s boyfriend or his mom, who had a one-liner. I wondered if the five black men in the film, each doing “domestic” work, were friends of Taylor’s too.

I hated The Help and Spencer should have her racial credentials lifted for helping her friends craft a big FAT lie.

Trading Reality For Theater, For A While

By Alicia Anstead   |   Friday, July 29, 2011
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My favorite time in a theater is just when the lights go down. It’s usually only a few seconds before the curtain goes up or the music begins, but that tiny moment is when the audience is filled with anticipation and takes the transformative step from reality to imagination. Many directors — Diane Paulus, for instance — are blurring that starting line so theatergoers will make fewer distinctions between art and life. Bravo to all that!

But I have to confess I’m nostalgic about those distinctions. Frankly, sometimes I need a moment to breathe between life and art. That’s what the popular musical The Drowsy Chaperone is about: the moment we surrender reality. The show starts in the dark with a man in a chair sitting alone and talking about his disappointment with theater. He prays to god before every show that it will be entertaining, short and not break the fourth wall. Amen.

I saw Drowsy Chaperone on Broadway in 2006 and then again recently at Boston’s SpeakEasy Stage Company, and both times I found myself cheering for this pathetic man who complains about the intrusions of reality in moments of art: A cell phone ringing, for instance. Or the power going off. His agoraphobic anxieties about modern life and his failure at marriage and intimacy are allayed by only one thing. Well, maybe two: A glass of brandy and listening to an old LP of a 1928 musical with superficial characters, a formulaic score and a ridiculous plot. And yet the show transports him from the misery of his shabby apartment and unfulfilled life to the glamour and glory of stars who have white teeth and tap dance. The cast magically materializes in his living room and sings its way through silly problems and zany stunts.

I asked Bob Martin, who co-wrote the musical and originated the role, if the show is a surreal moment or a figment of the chair man's imagination. In other words, is the play really happening in the man’s apartment or just in his mind? Martin was reluctant to answer. But he did tell me that every night after he performed Man in Chair, someone was waiting for him at the stage door to say: I am that guy. I am Man in Chair.

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote that as we read we must “become Greeks, Romans, Turks, priest and king, martyr and executioner.” We must “fasten these images to some reality in our secret experience, or we shall see nothing, learn nothing, keep nothing.”

In some way, all of us who give ourselves over to art are that man in the chair. Drowsy Chaperone is one of the smartest, funniest and saddest musicals ever written. It is also about the triumph of imagination. We may not get what we want out of life — or theater — but a great work of art can literally lift us out of a chair and make us feel we deserve the love we failed at, or walked away from, and that we, too, are stars.

About the Authors
Kris Wilton Kris Wilton
Kris is a freelance arts journalist who has contributed reported pieces and reviews to outlets including the Huffington Post, Slate.com, Artinfo.com, Modern Painters, Art+Auction, Art New England, New England Home, Entertainment Weekly, the Village Voice, Bostonist.com, ARTnews, Philadelphia Weekly, Emerging Photographer, Photo District News, and RL Magazine.
Bridgit Brown Bridgit Brown
Bridgit Brown is a graduate of the MFA program in Creative Writing at Emerson College ('98). She was a Fulbright Lecturing and Research Scholar in Cote d'Ivoire, West Africa, and her writing has appeared in the Boston Globe, Boston Herald, Bay State Banner, Color Magazine, BasicBlack.org: Black Perspectives Now, Colorlines of Architecture, Exhale Magazine, Ibbetson Street Magazine, and Somerville Review.
Denise DiIanni Denise DiIanni
Denise DiIanni, Senior Executive in Charge, Research and Development, National Productions

Denise DiIanni is a long time WGBH Executive Producer responsible for more than 150 hours of local, regional and nationally syndicated programming each year. In 2011, DiIanni took on a new position as Senior Executive in Charge, Research and Development, National Productions, spearheading new production models for broadcast and broadband. Earlier in her career, DiIanni was an award-winning producer, writer and director for the NOVA Science Unit with more than two- dozen credits to her name. In addition to her expertise in documentary, studio and public affairs programming, DiIanni also spearheaded public media’s first user-generated content feature—the WGBH Lab and was the founding director of WGBH’s Filmmakers in Residence program, which ran from 2003-2010.
Valerie Linson Valerie Linson
Valerie Linson is the Managing Producer for WGBHArts.  She is also the Series Producer for Basic Black and the Executive Editor for its accompanying website at WGBH.org. Basic Black is New England's longest-running television program devoted to explorations of the black experience.
Alicia Anstead Alicia Anstead


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