Category Archives: people

RIP: Kurt Vonnegut (1922 – 2007)

Vonnegut

I haven’t read much Vonnegut, but there is one thing he wrote that has stayed with me for a very long time. It isn’t even from the primary text of one of his books, but from the forward to Slapstick:

This is the closest I will ever come to writing an autobiography. I have called it “Slapstick” because it is grotesque, situational poetry–like the slapstick film comedies, especially those of Laurel and Hardy, of long ago.

It is about what life feels like to me.

There are all these tests of my limited agility and intelligence. They go on and on.

The fundamental joke with Laurel and Hardy, it seems to me, was that they did their best with every test.

They never failed to bargain in good faith with their destinies, and were screamingly adorable and funny on that account.

I first read that in 1986.

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Frank McCourt is No Performer

Frank McCourt is one of my favorite writers. On my desk at work I keep a little Saint Francis statue in Frank’s honor. The childhood memoir I’m currently working on is modeled after Angela’s Ashes. I like how he doesn’t try to intellectualize about his relationship with his father. I like how he isn’t afraid to let the story speak for itself. He never pontificates beyond the glib message that the miserable Irish Catholic childhood is possibly the worst of all childhoods. And then he goes on to show you that this may very well be an understatement. You have to appreciate a story teller so talented.

But Frank McCourt is no performer.

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Alice Sebold Taught Me How to Write Fiction

Sometimes I am so out of it, I shock myself.

Alice Sebold taught fiction writing at Hunter college in the early 90s, but I didn’t realize until last night that Alice is now the bestselling author of The Lovely Bones  and Lucky. She was one of my favorite teachers.

The last time I spoke with Alice she was leaving NYC to be the resident writer at some sort of writing retreat in California.  She said she had just discovered she  would be getting less than $500 a month in salary and wanted to know  what I thought. I said, “It could be worse.” I am so glad I didn’t say  something caustic. From her Wikipedia entry, it looks like she went from the  retreat to University of California: Irvine and the rest is–as they say–history.

I have no excuse for why I lost track of Alice until last night. For the past two years I have read primarily memoir and have even fingered the spine of her memoir, Lucky, in the book store. Somehow I just didn’t put it together. I am very happy. Success couldn’t have happened to a more deserving writer than Alice Sebold. I am also going to include her name prominently on all my future submissions: Tim Elhajj studied with Alice Sebold.

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