The votes are in! Decision time!
After reviewing folks’ comments, working with my designer, and weighing the options, I have selected the final front cover for my new book, Diving for Pearls: A Thinking Journey with Hannah Arendt.
We followed carefully several design points, as well as looking at MANY covers of other books, as suggested, and here is the final design:
The back cover will wrap the “watery effects” around and also have space for “blurbs” as well as a small photo and author bio along with the necessary ISBN and scanning codes needed on all books.
I know several of you liked the younger Arendt, but this “older” Arendt is more iconic…including her smoking, which was signature for her. The “writing” that you see on the right part of the cover is actually a small excerpt of her notes from the Eichmann trial in her own hand.
I have completed all edits and sent the MS to my editor for one final review!
And I have completed the formatting of the book for a small paperback trim size of 5.25 x 8.00, which is a fairly standard size for books in my genre.
Finally, after some back and forth with several folks, who responded to the blog and privately, I have named my new imprint:
Thinking Women Books
Having purchased the url for ThinkingWomenBooks.com I am now in the process of working with my web designer on getting that up and ready for launching the new press. The site is simply a placeholder for now, but stay tuned. There will be a call for book proposals to be reviewed and vetted, once I get the editorial board fully in place.
Mean time, I was delighted to hear from fellow writer, Mary Duncan, that she has launched a press of her own, Paris Writers Press, and has recently published the second edition of her Henry Miller is Under My Bed: People and Places on the Way to Paris.
Thanks to all of your for your suggestions and support and I look forward to your staying in touch as my adventure continues.
These past two weeks I have been working non-stop on the recommended edits for my manuscript, hoping to bring Diving for Pearls: A Thinking Journey with Hannah Arendt into the world some time in the fall. As I near the end of this process, my attention turns toward the production angle of independent publishing, and has me thinking more and more about what to do to make my endeavor successful.
The first thing is tofinalize the design of my book. This includes both the cover and interior design.
COVER: I asked folks to respond to the cover options, and several subscribers did, but I am still looking for more feedback. (If you can look back to the previous post and see what you think of the options, sending me your votes—either as comments to the posting, or a separate message to me, I would appreciate it).
INTERIOR: Having selected a trim size (likely 5.25” x 8.00”), conforming to industry standards for memoir or literary non-fiction paperback titles, I’ll want to decide on fonts and layout. For that, I will likely turn to the services of a book designer, using one of the available templates to transform the WORD document of the manuscript into the required format for digital printing. Working with a designer will help insure layout and formatting are the most professional they can be.
DISTIBUTION: After much consideration, I’ve decided on Ingram’s Lightning Source for print-on-demand distribution. Lightning Source stood out for me as the best option for distribution, preferable to Amazon’s CreateSpace, because of the paper, trim size and cover design options (I wanted creme paper and a matte finish) Lightning Source offer. And if all this is sounding boringly technical to you, it’s just part of what you have to learn when you take on independent authorship. Which brings me to the main topic for today and something I’d like your input on.
A ROSE BY ANY OTHER NAME?
To distribute a title as an independent author I become a publisher, and that means creating my own imprint. So, I need a name for my press!
The first thing that came to mind, given my Arendt interests, is to call my imprint SELBSTDENKEN PRESS. The German word “selbstdenken” will be recognizeable to some of you; it translates into “thinking for oneself,” and was a watchword for Arendt’s conceptualization of thinking. Still, it might strike some folks as, well, a little odd. So for an alternative, what do you think about the inexact but more felicitous (to English speakers) THINKING PRESS?
Or, perhaps you have a name to propose? Comment or send me your suggestions as a message.
Another reason why the name of my imprint is important is my aim to publish more than one book, and not only my own titles!! YES! Since I am going to all this trouble gaining knowledge about publishing, I thought, why not offer a service to others, who might have books looking for presses?
A NEW IMPRINT WITH A FOCUS
The focus of my press will be on “historical and contemporary women’s stories with a personal is political slant,” which is the description I use on my Twitter account, but it also very much represents the focus of my own writing over the last thirty years or so.
This new imprint might appeal to a number of folks who have fiction or non-fiction works on this theme that they’d like to see in print, but who don’t want to take the time and energy—and face the often inevitable frustration—involved in searching for a traditional publisher, or even take on self-publishing. Some academic writers who have books that fall outside the narrower and narrower considerations of even academic presses might find my press an appealing option, assuming certain obstacles can be overcome.
More and more academics are looking for ways to get their creative research and other writing available and into print without having to deal with increasingly bottom-line decision-making being displayed by just about every publisher today. (See this recent article discussing the interest). For academics, and even some non-academic writers, having a proposed book vetted or peer reviewed in advance of publication is a necessity. Without that, an independently published book might not be considered part of one’s professional profile or C.V, even if it’s popular and sells well.
My press can fill this gap.
It will be a small enterprise of two to three books a year. To address the “peer review” issue, I plan to create a “board of advisors” made up of researchers and writers I know who would be willing to read proposed manuscripts and evaluate them for publication, much as many of us already do for traditional or university presses. (Any of my writer friends out there who want to volunteer, you are welcome to be considered!)
I’ll keep you posted on the press’s development.
Once again, please send ideas for PRESS NAME, advice on COVER DESIGN for my new book (see previous posting) and any other ideas/responses you may have in relation to my new project.
Enjoy the remaining months of summer!!
I am a few days late with this week’s posting and for good reason. I got distracted into writing an essay about Hannah Arendt’s female friendships by a question my editor Louise Bernikow posed after reading part of my manuscript. Louise wanted to know more about Rosalie Colie, one of Arendt’s lesser known friends (lesser know than, say, Mary McCarthy), and Louise’s professor at Barnard in the late 1950s. I had a lot more material on Colie than I’d brought into my book so far and Louise’s comment sent me back to the drawing board or, rather, the computer screen. Within a week I’d written a piece entitled Passionate Thinking: Hannah Arendt’s known and less known female friends. My essay offers much-needed perspective on the complexity of Arendt’s friendships with women, and on female friendship more generally, providing a view not fully appreciated, even by recent commentators.
For instance, in the aftermath of the new film on Hannah Arendt by Margarethe von Trotta, which includes the first filmic representation of Arendt’s friendship with McCarthy, several reviewers have weighed in on whether the portrait of this iconic friendship in von Trotta’s film does justice to the kind of friendship that existed between these two intellectually self-confident women. Michelle Dean wrote of her disappointment in The New Yorker book blog.
Nearly every exchange between the two women is about men and love….Women talk about ideas among themselves all the time. It would be nice if the culture could catch up.
I don’t disagree with this assessment in general, but think there is much more to the story of Hannah Arendt’s friendships with women than has been explored so far. And that’s what I do in this new essay. I’d love to share it with you, but can’t post it on my blog until it’s gone through the review process at Guernica, “a magazine of art and politics,” where I sent it for publication consideration. So, stay tuned.
Apart from that productive distraction, while waiting for Louise’s final comments, which will take me back to my manuscript for edits, I’ve been busy designing my book.
Jeanette Vieira, my graphic designer, sent me new ideas for the cover. We’d been playing around with the idea of creating the cover as a visual allusion to the most recent edition of Arendt’s biography of Rahel Varnhagen. But that idea was hampering Jeanette’s creativity. So, at the brilliant suggestion of someone else, I began to think about images more directly related to my title—Diving for Pearls—and encouraged Jeanette to experiment with them, allowing her visual associations to wander into watery depths.
It turns out it was exactly what Jeanette needed to allow her imagination to soar (or dive, in this case)! She wrote me an enthusiastic email:
The underwater visual provides so much opportunity to illustrate the deeper meaning of the book…Seems there is psychology of the underwater realm that fits well here. I’m much more inclined to, and inspired by this direction after reading the text.
And then she asked me to associate to the places and emotions that emerged for me through the writing. This kind of collaborative process, which I’ve experienced before in my work in theater, underscores why the self-publishing route, though time-consuming, can result in so much unanticipated and exciting learning for anyone who takes the leap.
Last week Jeanette sent me four samples and, with her permission, I’m sharing them with you now and invite you to comment on which one you think most effective. (I have my own favorite, but really want to hear your responses. Click on the pictures and you’ll be able to view them separately in larger format).
As you will note, the differences between the two basic designs are subtle shifts of color and resolution. I’d also like to hear your suggestions on font/typographic design.
I want to avoid the pitfall that Tim Kreider described in a recent posting on the New Yorker’s book blog. Designs are becoming bland and formulaic, he wrote, explaining how and why “most contemporary books all look disturbingly the same, as if inbred.” It’s because of what he called the two rules of book cover design:
The main principles of design—in books, appliances, cars, clothing, everything—1. Your product must be bold and eye-catching and conspicuously different from everyone else’s, but 2. Not too much!
I don’t want my book to succumb to this trend. In fact, most book design blogs that I’ve been reading emphasize the importance of the cover to help make a book stand out from the crowd. So, even though I know most readers will come to my book based on recommendations from friends or fellow readers and writers, I still want it to have a distinctive aesthetic; I want my book to become a “conspicuous exception.”
We’ll continue to experiment until we get exactly the right look to grab a reader’s attention and also communicate what the book is about.
I’m looking forward to your comments and suggestions!
A few months ago I spent some time in the archives of Elzbieta Ettinger, author of Hannah Arendt and Martin Heidegger, a book about the intimate relationship between Arendt, a Jewish woman who wrote about totalitarianism and the Holocaust, and Heidegger, who had once been her teacher and who later became a member of the Nazi party. When it was published, Ettinger’s book caused a scandal in the world of Arendt scholars and set off a debate almost as heated as the affair itself had created when it first became publicly known. How could Arendt have become involved with such a man? More to the point, how could she have rekindled a friendship with him long after the war had ended?
Since I have been working on a memoir (Diving for Pearls: A Thinking Journey with Hannah Arendt) that tracks Arendt’s influence in my own life and thinking, taking up, among other subjects, the meaning this affair had in Arendt’s life, and what it has made me think about my own life, I was familiar with, and critical of, Ettinger’s interpretation of the event. I also knew that Ettinger had intended to write a fuller biography of Arendt. But, for various reasons, she had separated out the Arendt/Heidegger story, publishing it in a short book. She never completed the longer biography. So when I learned of the availability of Ettinger’s archives I wondered whether anything else she might have discovered in her research would prove valuable for the book on which I was still working.
It turns out that the trip I made this past fall to the Schlesinger Library of Harvard University, where the Ettinger archives are housed, was both a boon and a burden. What I uncovered in the archives is invaluable to my work. Interviews, letters, and other materials Ettinger gathered from those who knew Arendt will help me craft a more fully realized portrait of the person Hannah Arendt, who assumes the role of interlocutor in my memoir. But such bounty also proves a burden.
A few months earlier, thinking I was near the end of the revision process, I had determined to pursue self-publishing the manuscript in its then current form. But the wealth of materials I have just added to my ever-expanding research files has forced me to confront the difficult question of how these new documents might reshape my manuscript.
Part of the joy of writing is what you discover about what you really want to say in the process of revision. Searching for exactly the right phrase and precisely the correct shape for a paragraph you begin to uncover what you have been trying to say all along. My immersion of the Ettinger archives has brought me face to face with this process in the work of another.
Reading through several drafts of her unpublished work, and comparing these drafts with the research materials she used to create her work, I could literally see the author’s formation of her subject, watch her confront her resistance to an interpretation of her subject at odds with her own, and discover the places where she resolved to draw her own conclusions.
So, I am taking a deep breath and diving back into my manuscript again, convinced that the changes I will make will add depth to my story without fundamentally altering its shape. And since the story I am trying to tell is about the thinking relationship I have had for nearly thirty years now with Hannah Arendt, a woman long dead but one who has become even more alive to me now as a provocative, yet irksome, companion, whose life and work continue to make me think and rethink, write and revise my own, revising my manuscript one more time seems fitting. I do hope, though, it will be the last!
Reports from Belarus in this morning’s New York Times painted a grim, but not unexpected, picture of the state of affairs following the re-election–if one can call it that–of Aleksandr Lukashenko to the presidency of Belarus. Despite the window-dressing of opposition candidates that appeared in the weeks of campaigning leading up to Sunday’s balloting, Lukashenko claims to have commandeered nearly 80 % of the vote. There are, of course, actual supporters of Lukashenko. But, as I recall from a visit I made to that country a decade ago, measuring accurately levels of support and protest is almost impossible, given Lukashenko’s iron hold on the country.
It had been little more than a decade since the fall of the Berlin wall, when, in December 2000, I attended a conference entitled “Women, Education and Democracy,” sponsored by ENVILA, a non-governmental institute of women’s education. Arriving in Minsk airport in that bitterly cold winter, I was immediately struck by its Soviet feel, a design, I soon learned, that continued to pervade not only the buildings, but the mind set of those who dominated its political and cultural scene.
And yet, partly with the support of international organizations, ENVILA had been able to sponsor a conference that brought together a number of scholars with different perspectives on gender and women’s studies from various parts of the world. As I discussed in formal and informal sessions their work with these scholars, I became increasingly impressed with their bravery at seeking to introduce new ideas into the former Soviet Republic as a way to foster a democratic transition. How had they done it?
As Galina Shaton, one of the founders of ENVILA had explained to me in an interview in 2000, to become an organization approved by the state Ministry of Education, ENVILA had to be perceived as supporting education that was not threatening to the established order. Although they worked hard to secure the endorsement of the Ministry—because without it they would have been unable to function—they continued to believe that their work would grow ideas unable to be contained within the confines of the present Belorussian order. She hoped that by fostering gender equality and the development of feminist perspectives in scholarship, cracks in the old regime might be made more visible.
Only last year, in an article in Social Research, Shaton noted how humanities scholars continue to be the particular targets of to censorship and control in Belarus:
“In undemocratic political contexts, limitations on academic freedom are predominantly connected with attempts by powerholders to impose a ban on certain dimensions of inquiry and discourse. Of course, they primarily affect explorations in the field of humanities, which go beyond the borders of the dominant ideology. These constraints are obvious to the majority of scholars involved in research activities. Being under constant control and criticism from the side of powerholders, they try not to express their views explicitly.” (“Academic Freedom in Belarus,” Social Research, vol. 76, no. 2, Summer 2009, p. 615)
The same situation prevails among the arts. As protestors filled the streets of Minsk on Sunday night, following the election, government forces attacked, intimidating and arresting political activists, including some of the leaders of the Belarus Free Theater, who have subsequently gone underground.
Yet the troupe remained eager to make it New York, where they had been scheduled to present new work in the Under the Radar Festival. As Natalia Kolyada, one of the theater’s founders, put it to New York Times: “we still hope to go to New York, because we understand it is important to speak on behalf of Belarus, so that the voices of those arrested can be heard in the world.” (December 22, 2010, C1). She called on American artists to “make statements in solidarity.”
“Voices that need to be heard around the world.” And theatrical works may be one of the most compelling ways to make those voices heard.
Hannah Arendt once called theater “the political art par excellence.” (The Human Condition, p. 188) In the theatre, “actors and speakers…re-enact a story’s plot” (p. 187) to convey its significance and meaning to us, a living audience. The action of the spontaneous intervention against a regime’s perpetuation of itself is “imitated” in theater. And its meaning and reach are thereby expanded and widened.
Action in concert with others brings something new into the world, breaks with the past. Theater, as re-enaction, remembers this action and, bringing it to life again on the stage, makes it mean something by “memorializing, however tentatively, the ‘new things’ that appear and shine forth.” (The Human Condition, p. 204).
Let us hope that Belarus Free Theater makes it to New York. In the mean time, let’s see who answers Kolyada’s call to lend their voices in solidarity, like those in London did earlier this week.
For nearly a half century, Helen Redman has been making art. Her stunning portraits and evocative mixed media track events, both momentous and ordinary, in women’s lives. Much more than a visual, representational account of one woman’s perspective on life, her works illuminate something transcendent: they compose a visual memoir of the flux and flow of embodiment and identity across a woman’s life cycle, a memory-laden landscape of time’s passing in a life lived through a certain era and in a particular body.
In prose works of personal non-fiction, a writer creates movement, achieves a dynamic tension in her subject through a kind of self-investigation that establishes empathy by enabling readers to “see the ‘other’ as the other might see him or herself.”[i] No mean feat, its achievement depends on the creation of a narrator who can tell the self’s story in just the right tone, and at the distance needed to sustain the reader’s engagement, while also implicating the story-teller in the situation described, allowing us to observe “the mind puzzling its way out of its own shadows.” [ii] One can see the same process at work in Tensions in the Journey: From Child to Crone.
Like memoir, Redman’s portraits and self-portraits create something larger out of a singular life. Although drawn from the artist’s own experiences, often tracking changes in her own body, her visual self-investigations arc toward angles of insight and remembrance wider and deeper than one woman’s life. Turning her steady gaze toward scenes from her own life, Redman captures in bold, even garish, yet always emotionally resonant strokes, the varied, sometimes conflicted, experiences of womanhood’s vicissitudes. Her portraits offer a visual representation of a “mind puzzling its way out of its own shadows.” And because we see the thinking mind at work, these representations push beyond the boundaries of the figurative aesthetic they share, gesturing toward the conceptual art of a later period.
In the mid-1970s, Adrienne Rich was among the first feminist writers to articulate how, at the heart of birth-giving, anxiety twins with awe:
Nothing could have prepared me for the realization that I was a mother….Nothing… prepared me for the intensity of relationship already existing between me and a creature I had carried in my body and now held in my arms and fed from my breasts…No one mentions the psychic crisis of bearing a first child….No one mentions the strangeness of attraction…to a being so tiny, so dependent, so folded-in to itself—who is, and yet is not, part of oneself. [iii]
A decade before Rich’s commentary, Helen Redman began plumbing the depths of our being “of woman born.” An album of visual discoveries, a memory bank of images, her portraits are reflections on the complexities—the tension and delight—at the heart of female embodiment and sensuality.
In Nicole on My Knees–the artist’s early portrait of her daughter –we see the child seated on her mother’s lap, her head cradled in the right angle made by her mother’s knee while the mother’s right ankle rests across the thigh of her left leg. The child’s gaze fixed on the mother, the mother’s torso framing the child, we see the child, literally, from the mother’s perspective. But since the artist’s point of view is simultaneously the mother’s point of view, which becomes the viewer’s point of view, the portrait achieves a visual triangulation that defies the culturally presumed contradiction between the activities of mothering and art-making.
Unlike the traditional voyeuristically rendered and romanticized “Madonna and child,” this portrait announces the possibility of nurturing life while sustaining one’s art. Yet, notice something further. Below the bench where the mother/artist is seated the pattern and color of the carpeting mimic, in angle and tone, the positioning of the viewer in the place of the mother/artist, suggesting that both mothering and art-making require “worldly” support, or repetition, to ground, sustain, and renew them. Receiving the child’s gaze through the mother/artist’s eyes enables the viewer to question both the traditional assumption that motherhood negates women’s subjectivity, and the early second wave feminist assessment of motherhood as the root of women’s oppression.
Still, the anxiety Rich describes about mothering lingers thematically and aesthetically in Redman’s image. Having “cut off” the rest of the woman from the part of her body on which the child rests, the portrait risks evoking an uncanny “corps morcelé”[iv]—an adumbration or mutilation of the mother’s body. Has the child’s wholeness been achieved at the expense of the woman’s? Yet, the artist’s imaginative rendering of herself both inside and outside the frame renders the lived body of woman/mother/artist whole again. The artist brings the almost-forgotten living body/mind of the image’s creator to our consciousness, enabling the woman/mother/artist to re-emerge in our mind’s eye, shimmering with multidimensional life.
If Nicole on My Knees explores the anxiety around the woman artist’s disappearance into the role of the mother, Nicole and Her Shadow focuses tensions surrounding the daughter’s “second birth” into adult womanhood. Echoes of the myth of Demeter and Persephone abound in this rich, allegorical oil painting of what, at first glance, seems a testament to a young woman’s sensual, sexual awakening.
Nicole’s posture and demeanor suggest the naïf her mother (and who else?) imagines—or wishes?—her still to be. Notice, though, how the young girl’s skirt parts open, willfully or not, revealing a dark triangle, the entrance to sexual pleasure, already aroused. As the viewer’s eye is drawn to this space it is as if the more mature, seductive Nicole—Nicole’s “ shadow” —has only been waiting to be seen; she begins to loom larger, becoming more potent.
The field where the younger Nicole sits now curves toward this darkened upper portion of the painting, framing the Nicole of the shadows as if in the oval of a mirror. In contrast to the younger Nicole’s seemingly demure posture, this “other” Nicole, arms raised behind her head, framing her voluptuous face, beckons us closer with an eroticism unsettlingly frank and self-possessed, taking as much pleasure in her own image as in its imagined effects on the viewer.
And just as Demeter’s grief at Persephone’s annual return to the underworld leads Demeter to render the fields fallow, so does this doppelgänger Nicole-in-the-underworld stand against a darkening background littered with shriveling red flowers. Is this painting, then, a warning, or a plea to return to innocence? The eye travels between these two Nicoles, the girl birthing the woman, the woman rebirthing the girl, and suddenly the painting’s gesturing toward the cycle of departure and return takes on a deeper meaning.
“To ‘feel into’ the season of winter; to take into one’s self the barrenness, the dormancy, the separation from and seeming cessation of life; to experience it all as if it were the loss of the Kore child [Persephone]…raging over all of the places where life spirals downward… is the start of initiation,” wrote the psychologist Kathie Carlson about this ancient Greek myth. “But to follow Persephone on this path, to see her in Nature, is also to experience return…She returns and, with her, the dead are reborn, blossoming forth like flowers and grain…only to begin….the whole cycle again.”[v]
Neither warning, nor plea, the painting reminds the viewer how we are each implicated in life’s cycle of loss or separation: no transformation without shadows following behind, and those ahead beckoning us on.
Feeling into the winter season of her own life’s odyssey, Redman’s stark images in The War at Home, offer a comic, yet sobering, look at menopause, a time of brittle bones and bitter herbs, when a woman becomes more aware of death’s knocking on the door of her consciousness.
Redman stages this war in the home of her body and at the wisdom sight, what yogis call “the third eye,” pathway to the true self. On one side the aging physical body sits comfortably, in half-lotus pose. Is this body in a state of delusion, ignoring its inevitable demise? No matter. Death, that ghoulish boxer, delivers a quick right jab to the head: Eyes and ears open! Arise from your slumber! Don’t give up! Like Krishna’s advice to the warrior Arjuna in The Bhagavad Gita, the visualized response of that rakish boxer in Redman’s portrait startles the complacent skeleton back to life: “From the world of the senses comes…pleasure and pain. They come and they go. Arise above them, strong soul.”
And just below this battle, positioned at the throat chakra, or the region of one’s inner, truthful voice, a prostrate figure of the artist lies in the solemn yoga pose, kurmasana, or turtle pose. Hunched over, she honors the last long flow of blood emanating from her body, accepting that body’s own future in the outstretched skeletal arms formed by the exposed clavicle above the heart, before she begins the long journey home to what remains.
In one of her most recent compositions, On Our Path, two pairs of feet, standing in an interlocked pose, symbolize the intergenerational nature of Redman’s continued journey, as an artist and as a woman. “The golden young feet moving forward are those of my granddaughter Shira. The old wood textured feet astride and behind her are mine. The setting is shoreline and our interlocking stance is a caress…The vision…came to me one morning while doing Qi Gong.”
Redman’s interpretation of her own work provides important perspective on her aesthetic and thematic choices. As in her other mixed media pieces, textures matter as much to the painting’s narrative as color and line. “The river of life, a stylized water pattern of intense blue and white, is unpredictable, both caring and cutting in its randomness,” the artist continues. Below the surfaces, in between the images, lies the invisible traces of the deepest truth Helen Redman’s art has plumbed: we are the women we have made ourselves become with the circumstances of a life none of us chooses to start on our own.
[i] Vivian Gornick, The Situation and the Story, 35.
[ii] Ibid., 36.
[iii] Of Woman Born, 17.
[iv] According to Jonathan Kim-Reuter, “Corps morcelé” is a term associated with the Jacques Lacan’s psychoanalytic theory and “refers to what he understood as the earliest sense of the body registered by the human being in the infant condition, when, prior to the stabilizing effects of what is known as “the mirror experience” [seeing the reflection of one’s image as a coherent whole], the body image is mostly a chaos of affective and sensory phenomena.”(personal correspondence). The sense of being a part and not a whole can recur, in adulthood, through trauma. Rich describes the woman’s sense of being “out of body” in birth and mothering in terms echoing the anxiety surrounding corps morcelé. Nicole on My Knees acknowledges this anxiety, yet transcends it.
[v] Life’s Daughter/Death’s Bride, Shambala, 1997.
In the last month or so, I have been thoroughly immersed in adapting a series of Grace Paley’s stories for the stage from The Collected Stories of Grace Paley. the play, Acts of Faith, will be a world premier in San Diego in March 2009, produced by our non-profit company, Laterthanever Productions.
Adaptation of a literary work for the stage is a major challenge. Theatre critic Charles Isherwood contended last week in the NYT that he couldn’t “think of a single page-to-stage transfer that…came close to equaling–even approximating–the achievement of the book.” He continued, “more often than not these efforts came across as dehydrated-and-reconstituted Readers’ Digest versions of literature.” Ouch! Of course, he was talking about adaptations of novels, I’ve discovered that adaptations of stories, too, can risk losing the “distinctive authorial voice and imaginative scope” found in the print versions themselves.
The key challenge is to create a dramatic arc about what, in literature, as Isherwood notes, is often characters reflection on experience, rather than the experience itself. And this challenge is there not only for the playwright, but also for the playgoer, when we move from page to stage.
Isherwood: “Reading is an inward, intimate experience…the images and experiences [books] evoke are brought into being in the mind of the reader…Books happen inside us, theater happens to us…The theater is a collaboration between audience and writer, but it is a communal one, mediated by directors, designers, and actors.”
What it boils down to, for Isherwood, is how to not sacrifice thought to narrative.
Something critical for me to keep in mind as I try to take Grace Paley’s ruminative, and frequently interior-monologue rich, prose onto the stage.
The first draft had entirely too much character-addresses-audience, a too facile device I had relied on to solve this problem of dramatizing thought. Partly because I was taken by the comic force of Paley’s distinctive voice, I had not yet figured out how to find another way to link the experiences of the characters in the stories into a narrative. I didn’t want an entirely linear narrative. But I needed a narrative. And all this has been compounded by the fact that the stories I chose are not actually linked, although some characters–including the central one, Faith– and themes appear in all the stories I selected.
In what is now my fourth revision, I am moving toward solution–partly, a narrator/character to explain what is happening, and partly more elaborate dialogue rather than too much interior monologue turned outward by force.
Stay tuned for news about the final product!