Thursday, October 31, 2013

Enter by Nov. 3rd to Win The Beauty of Ordinary Things and Eight Other Fabulous Titles
Putting a literary spin on the idea of Halloween goodies, author and blogger Meg Waite Clayton (The Wednesday Daughters) is hosting a giveaway of the fabulous books pictured above, including our own Harriet Scott Chessman's The Beauty of Ordinary Things. Up to nine books for one lucky winner!

Sound good? We thought so. And entering couldn't be easier: simply visit each author's Facebook page (linked from the contest page) and "like" the authors whose books look appealing to you. 

For more information, visit the contest page.

Enter by 11:59 p.m. EST Sunday, November 3.

Good luck, and good reading!  

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Jayne Anne Phillips

My review of Quiet Dell, the new novel by Jayne Anne Phillips, can now be read in The Oregonian. Phillips' entire body of work is remarkably beautiful and moving, from the inimitable stories in Black Tickets (1979) to this newest masterwork. She's one of our very best.
...Her fearlessness is brilliantly and relentlessly evident from "Black Tickets" onward, whether she's writing about wild sexuality (a recurrent theme), about the numb grisliness of war, or peering through the spectral lens of extreme disability, as in her unforgettable rendering of a mentally retarded boy's muffled cognition and ultra-lucid consciousness in 2009's "Lark & Termite." Phillips is a preeminent anywhere-goer of contemporary American literature. ...

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Notes on Art and Politics by M. Allen Cunningham

“Unless we insist that politics is imagination and mind, we will learn that imagination and mind are politics, and of a kind that we will not like.”—Lionel Trilling, The Liberal Imagination

  1. At present, politics and artistic imagination tend to stand apart in our thinking. This is an artificial polarity and a root cause of many of our civic ailments, though we have yet to admit it to ourselves.
  2.  Politics we deem serious and prosaic, a matter of “expertise” or career for the few, or else we deem them hollow and reflexive, a matter of party slogans and empty patriotism for the many. Meanwhile we tend to view art as entertainment — an activity or diversion to be valued chiefly for its “extracurricular” nature (and often for its complete unseriousness).
  3.  But art is gravely serious — which is not to say it is always and only grim. Art is serious even when amusing, in so far as it conveys us to planes of thought, engagement, and empathy that lie far beyond ordinary, prosaic experience. Art differs substantially and qualitatively from entertainment inasmuch as it provokes in us a sui generis order of reflection, and sometimes even elicits meaningful action.
  4. What we want is not increasingly politicized art, but a more artful politics — a politics spun from the fiber of a polity, a society, a demos, in which the higher orders of the arts and artistic thinking are integral, not extraneous — characteristic, not inconceivable.
  5. “Only in so far as a society is rendered sensitive by the arts do ideas become accessible to it.”—Herbert Read
  6. Artistic thinking is about being at ease with uncertainty, to the extent of accommodating unconventional solutions; it’s about adaptability, sacrifice, honesty, authenticity, and the propensity to be “in the moment,” to surprise oneself and others; it’s about taking the long view while tending to the necessary (frequently mundane) intricacies of process; it’s about the practice of re-envisioning oneself and one’s world; it’s about inspiration and excellence, memory and enterprise, invention, entrepreneurship, lineage and legacy and belief; artistic thinking, while necessarily subject to realism and practicality for the sake of execution, is never less than thoroughly optimistic.
  7. Art consists of questions and conduces to enrichment and expansion via uncertainty. This in contrast to propaganda, which concerns itself solely with “answers,” a pugnacious surety obtained via incessant repetition (sometimes dogmatic but more often enticingly disguised).
  8. Art and artistic imagination require equivocation. The shape-shifting capacity, the propensity to escape the confines of the self and the pressure of the self’s narrow needs, the empathic ability to see and feel what “others” see and feel, the power to express all these things — this honorable equivocation is endemic to artistic imagination, and it is a kind of civic virtue.
  9. Never forgetting what came before, whether in order to draw strength or outrage from it, the artistic thinker moves forever forward, and the further he or she goes, the more deeply integrated he or she becomes in the human community.
  10. Artist and statesman Václav Havel: “A better system will not automatically ensure a better life. In fact the opposite is true: only by creating a better life can a better system be developed.”
  11. The arts speak of who we are, and who we are is how we govern. Undervaluing the arts, we can’t know ourselves, and not knowing ourselves we cannot govern. We cannot properly honor one another, nor honor our mutual responsibilities.
  12. Not knowing ourselves, we cannot be unified in any special identity. Because we are not unified, our politics can reflect little beyond fragmentation, dysfunction, an incapacity to address some rottenness at our core.
  13. Deeply suspicious of one another, we begin to actively dishonor our common experience. Empathy retreats, anomie moves to the fore. We become less capable of caring for each other, first in our politics, then in our communities. Ideological entrenchment engenders violence — first violent sentiment, then violent rhetoric. Next come violent politics, and finally actual bloodshed. All the while, the increasing barbarism of our choice entertainments reflects our condition.
  14. Strongly we sense something fraying at the seams. We are anxious and alienated. Amid our threadbare civic life and the grinding gridlock of our larger politics, we nervously await improvements, feeling, because we are now so far from our own creative potential, powerless to create the improvements ourselves. Havel: “A person who has been seduced by the consumer value system, whose identity is dissolved in an amalgam of the accoutrements of mass civilization, and who has no roots in the order of being, no sense of responsibility for anything higher than his or her own personal survival, is a demoralized person.”
  15. We disparage even the age-old basis of all transformational events: inspiration. It is what we long for, and yet its primary instrument, eloquence, seems to our brutalized ears deserving of suspicion. Eloquence cannot penetrate (stirring as the speech may have been in the televised moment), so we end up deriding it: knowing how to make speeches doesn’t make you a leader, etc. “You don’t pass speeches, you pass budgets,” says Congressman Blaine Luetkemeyer.
  16. Politics having become a war, oratory feels irrelevant. Too close, to our tastes, to that other supreme irrelevancy — the after-hours, expendable, marginal, frivolous, basically embarrassing pastime deemed useful mainly as a status symbol: art.
  17. We must ask ourselves: To what extent might our lack of artistic thinking, our lack of artistically illuminated political vitality, be more than merely a symptom of our societal dysfunction, but an actual cause? That it may be a single cause among several does not diminish its significance.
  18. A five-year-old girl is busy with her blocks when her parent calls her to the dinner table: “You can play more after we’ve eaten.” The girl’s lucid response: “I’m not playing, I’m building!” 

Thursday, October 03, 2013


I'll be at the Wordstock Book Fair here in Portland this Saturday and Sunday, October 5th and 6th from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., stationed at the Atelier26 Books booth (#1007), near the McMenamin's stage.

I hope you'll consider stopping by to see what Atelier26 has on offer, which will include:

1) Hot-off-the-press copies of Harriet Scott Chessman's amazing new novel The Beauty of Ordinary Things (available for early purchase -- it won't officially be released till next month).

2) Copies of my own illustrated limited edition story collection, Date of Disappearance and nonfiction volume of solidarity and sound advice for writers and artists, The Honorable Obscurity Handbook (Atelier26 Samizdat Series).

3) Free prose samples!

4) T-shirts!

5) Literary conversation!

6) Prize drawings!

...and more!

Wordstock Book Fair
Saturday Oct. 5th and Sunday Oct. 6th from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. 
Oregon Convention Center
777 NE Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.
Portland, OR 97232