Me Anthea, You Jane

Unedited JR onlyTwo days before Jane Raphaely arrived at the Eden Grove Blue lecture theatre to give her “free thinking” talk for Think!Fest, I encountered two academic friends grabbing a coffee. Well, they said, how do you think it will go, what will she say, and will she get a crowd? They looked at me quizzically: Who invited her? I did of course, I’ve had a long-standing relationship with Jane since my mother first began reading Fairlady in the 1960s, thereby making me an eavesdropper on the world of women’s magazines. I got my first whiff of feminism via my mother’s reading about Germaine Greer and Gloria Steinem (and the overheard conversations she then had with her female friends); I got my only real sexual advice from Fairlady (what a bizarre time the 60s were, sex was everywhere for some and nowhere for others); and it subliminally made me want to be not just a writer but a magazine editor (which eventually, I became, but nothing quite like the editor I had in mind in those days). Continue reading “Me Anthea, You Jane”

‘I believe in the epistemological value of telling tales…’

otisLaura Otis is an unusual professor and writer. She started out as a scientist and then she crossed over into comparative literature to do her PhD. She has a self-confessed “visceral repulsion” for post-structural theory but she spends her days among literary theorists who feed on this stuff. Otis came to Rhodes to be one of the keynote speakers (the other was postcolonial theorist Robert Young) at the recent AUETSA conference hosted by the English Department. Although she did her undergraduate work in molecular biology and biochemistry, her MA was in neuroscience, and its clear when she talks, that she’s very good at blending and hopping across knowledge systems and using them to generate new kinds of thinking. Continue reading “‘I believe in the epistemological value of telling tales…’”

Doing poetry with Carole Langille

Carole LangilleDoing poetry with Carole Langille is like slipping into honey — warm, viscous, strong, intense, and very,very productive.

This morning, just as the National Arts Festival got going, about 10 of us (among whose company are both published poets and those of us who have finally got up the courage to call ourselves poets) gathered in the St Peter’s building on Rhodes campus to expose ourselves to a poet none of us knew very well, but who’s visiting Grahamstown. Continue reading “Doing poetry with Carole Langille”

More lovely literary journalism stuff

  • The International Association for Literary Journalism Studies has a webpage and a very fine journal which you can find here.
  • David Abrahamson runs the IALJS newsletter, a good source of information and his site has links to further resources.

Then some gleanings from the keynote speaker Robert Boynton (who teaches at New York University):

  • fiction and nonfiction, short stories and articles, sign up and get email alerts.
  • again, sign up and get alerts.
  • a group of writers, editors, and software developers “dedicated to the art of storytelling”.
  • Hazlitt: Random House in Canada’s new “digital habitat” publishing everything interesting (nice site).

And don’t forget Mampoer, run by Anton Harber. And if you’re interested in my presentation (“Mark Gevisser’s Portraits of Power: Giving white South Africans interlocutors to negotiate a post-apartheid world”) you can find it here.

Next year Paris! (here’s hoping!)

A shot across the bowels

“The argument needs to be put forcefully: reportage is the norm (and the normal) globally, new journalism is a transgression,” Beate Josephi said in her paper on comparing criteria on literary journalism across countries. Josephi took issue with using one country’s experience and types of nonfiction as the norm and said that, for example, those studying literary journalism had concluded, by using the reference point of the journalism of the US, that there was no such practice in Germany, which, she said, had a rich tradition of eyewitness journalism called reportage. Continue reading “A shot across the bowels”

To I or not to I

Jo Bech-Karlsen reading the work of Norwegian journalist Asne Seierstad from the Middle East, had this to say about her shift from objective to subjective reporting (which when used by Newsweek was drastically edited for the use of I): “Sometimes the use of I is a ritualised genre convention.”

Richard Keeble responded by saying “there are many ways to express the I” and he refered to Orwell’s use of ‘you’ and ‘one’ which leave no reader in doubt as to whose mind is guiding the writing.

Mark Masse said perhaps the way to decide on the use of the personal pronoun is to assess whether it is tied to the structure, then it has rationale.

Chains of desire

Off to a good start at IALJS 8 with Robert Alexander using Susan Orlean’s The Orchid Thief to show that there is a narrative drive in literary journalism to produce a story that is satisfying as story but which also produces meaning. The narrative drive pushes towards closure but this might be so at odds with meaning that the story might not be able to achieve closure.

Alexander used the idea of desire to say that writer, source and reader (through their expectations of genre) all come to the story invested. “A chain of desires saturates the process,” he said. In Orlean’s quest to find the ghost orchid in the Florida swamps she depends on her guide John Laroche to immerse her into his obsession and lead her to it. Thigh deep in swamp they don’t find it, “the story depends on the stability of Laroche’s desire” but the actual source is unreliable and unable to sustain his passion and with it her narrative arc. “Sources cannot be reduced to types of their desires,” he said.


Dateline: Tampere, Finland
Subject: literary journalism around the world (with two contributions from South Africa)
Who: a whole bunch of literary journalism scholars
First up: “Subjectivities and agency in literary journalism” with Robert Alexander, Lindsay Morton, Hilde van Belle and Maria Vanoost.
Then: “Notes toward a supreme nonfiction: teaching literary reportage in the 21st century” by Robert Boynton.

It’s going to be a goodie! Watch this space for reports.

A dialogue with Dawn Garisch

“I think of reading and writing as having saved my emotional life. Only now that I reflect on it, I realise that Portrait of a Marriage is not only a poem about the breakdown of my relationship with my husband, but also about the strengthening of my ties with the spirit of writing.” Click here for the dialogue.

So onto… “Black”

Your encounter with a poem on the page (the black on the white) is like — or should be like — meeting a person, says Glyn Maxwell in the second chapter to On Poetry. And you should judge it just like you judge a person (Maxwell’s strong opinion is that if the poet doesn’t put something of themself onto the page, then what was the point, the point must be presence). But what follows next is somewhat surprising and gives you a whole new way of judging and weighing the poems you read and write.

Maxwell has four criteria (or “a word and four ways… of meeting, of meaning”, page 33): solar, lunar, musical and visual — you weren’t expecting that. Continue reading “So onto… “Black””

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