Posts Tagged 'literary'

Write-in Paris (WIP) !

Boulevard Voltaire. Photo by Sean Fitzroy.

Boulevard Voltaire. Photo by Sean Fitzroy.

Closed shops with handwritten notes on their shuttered doors announcing vacation, emptier streets so tempting the urge to walk in the middle of them sometimes overtakes. Cafes are even more relaxed than usual. Linger, linger.

But crowds still appear in parks with picnic baskets and blankets to watch outdoor movies. Sunny enough this year, too, for Paris Plages (ends this Sunday). The tourist sites must be packed, as well, though I haven’t been anywhere near those for awhile.

It’s August in Paris. A slow, delicious month. Counterintuitively to some, it’s my favorite one. I love working during this time. Less pressure in the air as others holiday, I feel as if I’m getting ahead.

Corner cafe. Photo by Michele Filgate.

Corner cafe. Photo by Michele Filgate.

I’ve come up with an idea, friends, and I’m excited to share. I hope you will join if you can.

Starting in September, I will begin hosting “write-in” sessions in my home. Not a workshop. Not a class. Rather “communal scribble sessions in the City of Light.”

So often, the biggest challenge in writing is the most basic of steps: sitting down and staying there to do it. I think a lot about why it’s so hard to keep one’s butt in the chair – resistance, doubt, distractions, fear.

I know I’m not alone. It’s a solitary act, writing. And yet we, writers, are a tribe.

What if I created a community specifically to foster collective creative energy in a supportive environment? Offered a cozy space to focus on projects, our concentration on solo work buoyed by a group?

WIP websiteI’ve launched Write-In Paris (WIP) and would love for you to take a look. Think of it as a weekly date with your writing in good company. Consider it a membership to a writer’s gym – only this gym is always super fun with like-minded souls. You’ll commit to your writing practice and it’s a promise you’ll want to keep.

I’m looking forward to the rentree now. I can’t wait to put WIP into play!

Please visit the Write-In Paris (WIP) website for full details on schedules and pricing. Then, I hope you sign up!

Thoughts? Ideas? I welcome your suggestions of how to make WIP great and how to spread the word. Thank you!

International Pillow Fight Day + Literary Flash Mob

Looking for something original to do this weekend?

Tomorrow, Saturday, April 5 is International Pillow Fight Day. It’s exactly what it sounds like: a whole bunch of people get together in one place and battle with pillows. From Seattle to Seoul, cities across the globe organize this quirky event.

The Paris version ups the ante by asking participants to also come in costume. I’m not sure how I feel about that part (a pillow fight seems enough – and isn’t the horse head prop in the video from last year a little creepy?)

In any case, you know I love random events. I participated in a flash mob pillow fight years ago in New York and had a ton of fun. Check out the website to see if there’s one happening near you.

Meeting point in Paris is Place de la République at 3 PM.

ALP Paris Book Mob

If you’re looking for something more civilized, the American Library of Paris is organizing a literary flash mob next Saturday, April 12 at 5:30 PM.

Participants are asked to bring a book to the Eiffel Tower, spread out on the Champs de Mars, and at the appointed time strike a reading pose and freeze for 3 minutes. They’ll be filming, so get ready to look the part of literary star.

For more details, check out the Paris Book Mob page on the ALP’s website.

(The freeze flash mob in Grand Central station that inspired ALP is pretty cool, too).

Have a great weekend! And let me know if you get up to any hijinks!

James Baldwin in Paris (New Essay Published!)

JamesBaldwinEssayScreenshotHi friends,

This is an especially gratifying one for me.

I’m thrilled to have an essay about one of my literary heroes over on Hunger Mountain.

“Another Country: James Baldwin at ‘Home’ (and) Abroad” explores how the author of such seminal American works as Notes of a Native Son and Go Tell It On the Mountain was influenced by his many years living abroad, first in Paris, and later in Istanbul. Revisiting his rich oeuvre was an amazing way to delve into questions of home, identity, and expatriation.

I’m also particularly excited because my essay sparked the journal to assemble a whole tribute to the author!

This year marks the 25th anniversary of Baldwin’s passing. I highlighted this fact in submitting the essay to explain why it was a great time to examine his legacy. I am so glad they agreed. Not only did they accept my essay, but they then went on to solicit other essays from several noted writers. I’m humbled and proud (is it possible to be both at once?) that my enthusiasm for Baldwin contributed to this tribute. Baldwin had a great impact on me and I’m delighted to shine a light on him and his work, still so moving and relevant today.

Here’s the link. Enjoy!

Festival America: A Fantastically Awesome Literary Extravaganza

Festival America 2012 Every two years, Festival America brings “les littératures américaines dans tous leurs états” to France.

That is America in the largest sense, including the play on words that it’s literature in all its states.

For Festival America wasn’t just celebrating literature from the United States this past weekend; 70 writers from countries both North and South participated in a jam-packed extravaganza of panels and debates, discussing everything from the big questions of society to family relationships in fiction.

Perhaps it would be the same anywhere, but it seemed fitting that the focus of so many panels in this famed city of love was…love. “L’amour, un folie?” (Love, a madness?) was the very first panel after the opening event.

But how about that opening event? Which honored the festival’s special honored guest? TONI MORRISON, people! Noble Prize winner, lady of letters extraordinaire Toni Morrison reigned over this 10-year anniversary edition of Festival America.

(This recording is the entire opening event. All questions and discussion are in French, but Ms. Morrison of course speaks in English!)

Toni Morrison was not the only big name in the festival. In fact, I thought I had died and gone to fangirl heaven as it seemed all of my favorite contemporary American authors were there: Jennifer Egan (Pulitzer Prize winning author of A Visit from the Goon Squad) and Nicole Krauss (author of A History of Love, which I adore). There were other dear awesome ones: Chris Adrian, Russell Banks, Dinaw Mengestu.

Throughout the weekend I fell in love with Karen Russell (who said she recognized me from my laugh in the audience when she signed my book!) and Teju Cole. Gary Shteyngart could be relied upon to provide the comic relief.

Continue reading ‘Festival America: A Fantastically Awesome Literary Extravaganza’

First! Ever! Giveaway! David Downie’s “Paris, Paris”

See that book right over there to your left?

For the re-release this week of David Downie’s “Paris, Paris: A Journey into the City of Light,” Broadway Books has offered to give away copies to three lucky blog readers. Details on the giveaway at the end of the post!

Of course I wanted to know more about the writer behind this collection of essays. After a quarter century in Paris, veteran author and journalist David Downie has plenty to say about the City of Light…and a whole bunch of other things, too!

You describe yourself as an “accidental Parisian,” meaning that you didn’t necessarily set out to make Paris your home. After 25 years here, however, part of your identity must now be wrapped up in Paris, even though you’re American. Can you elaborate on this feeling of being an “accidental Parisian”? What has kept you in Paris for so long? (Will you stay?)

Before moving to Paris my world was centered on the San Francisco Bay Area and Italy—Rome, Milan and Padua. My mother is Italian, I spent a few crucial years as a child in Rome, my second language – actually my mother tongue – is Italian… I fell in love with Italy as a boy and with France as an adult.

In the early 1980s I moved back to Italy after finishing graduate work in Italian literature at Brown University. After a couple of years and a roller-coaster marriage to an Italian artist I needed a change of scenery. So I headed to Paris to stay with friends. That was in Oct 1985. I had such a wonderful time – it was maybe the fourth or fifth time I’d been to Paris – that I decided, what the hell, I’ll move here and rent a maid’s room and write the Great American Novel – about Italy! I did. Luckily it wasn’t published.

Continue reading ‘First! Ever! Giveaway! David Downie’s “Paris, Paris”’


long lonely road ahead

Countdown: less than 48 hours left in Paris before heading to the States for a month! The itinerary: Washington, DC, New York City, Montpelier, Vermont.

I’m going for the usual reason – wonderful, revitalizing, and truly necessary friend and family time.

There’s another reason for my trip, however. I’m returning to Vermont College’s low-residency writing program to continue a Master of Fine Arts degree in Fiction. I completed the first year of the MFA program a few years back. Then life sort of happened. You know, the whole living in another country and having my world turned upside down thing.

I’m not actually sure I’m ready to jump back in, but a fortuitous set of circumstances (read, some funding) made it possible for me to give it another go. I haven’t written much fiction the past few years and I’m also heading into a critical thesis semester in addition to the creative work I need to churn out, so it’s no exaggeration to say I’m nervous. But it’s also exciting and some focus (and adrenaline) is probably just what I need.

For those unfamiliar with the low-residency writing model, twice a year I go to an intense 10-day writing residency for workshops, lectures, readings, and all-around writing extravaganza where I’ll also talk with distinguished faculty and choose one as my semester advisor. For the next 6 months after the residency I will write from Paris and continue to get critical feedback and critique from my advisor. Pretty cool.

I’m not sure what this means for the blog yet; I’ll probably have to cut down on the frequency of my posting, but I sure as heck don’t want to give it up. Blogging has deepened my appreciation of Paris and my expat life more than anything else.

Bear with me if the new rhythm is a bit wonky at first. Thanks for taking the ride so far and I hope to have much more to share in the future!

A bientot!

Wall Street Journal! (Happy Loving Day!)

I’m pleased as punch to share some exciting writing news with you: I have an article in the Wall Street Journal today!

Yep, I’m pretty thrilled. There’s no denying it’s my biggest clip yet.

For those of you who read the piece, “The Language of Love,” your first reaction may be “Aw, that’s so sweet!” (And it is, isn’t it?) I get all warm and fuzzy myself and I already know the story!

Please sit with that feeling for awhile.

We Love Paris...

Ok, whenever you’re ready, I’m just going to remind you that this blog does use “(im)perfect” in its name. What’s astounding about how I fell in love and moved to France is that it’s true – just like a fairy tale.

But life doesn’t actually remain a fairy tale (little secret: marriage is hard!)

I have to be honest: hubby and I are going through rough times. I haven’t wanted to say too much out of respect for his privacy and feelings – and also to maintain the quiet I need in my own heart to process what’s happening – but I did want to acknowledge the ups and downs of any relationship. Even with Paris as backdrop.

One thing is certain, however: moving to France for love is the best thing I’ve ever done. I wouldn’t be who I am if I didn’t follow my heart. Nothing will ever tarnish the purity of our incredible meeting. I will always love Jerome. And I will always believe in magic – no matter what happens.

Just a little historical note: I would have been happy on any day my piece was published, but it’s an extra warm fuzzy to know that it’s also Loving Day.

On this day, June 12, 1967, interracial marriages were legalized in the United States. Richard and Mildred Loving (I love that this is their real name!) fought for years and all the way up to the Supreme Court for what today we can scarcely believe even needed saying: Two people love each other. Why on earth should they be kept apart? (Can you think of any parallels today?)

I am the product of such a union (mixed-race kids, unite!) Thankfully, interracial relationships are hardly taboo today. A lot of things are simply what we personally bring to the table. To keep it interesting (you know me), I of course ended up not only in an interracial relationship, but also an intercultural one – with someone whose native language I did not know.

These last two elements lay the groundwork for a lot of misunderstanding. But, also for many opportunities to learn and grow. It’s an interesting ride, in any case. And of course, I now speak the language of love everyday.

Happy Loving Day!

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James Frey, After the Fact

James Frey

Sex or violence?

This was the choice presented to us by author James Frey on Monday night at Shakespeare & Co. He would either read a passage of the sultry stuff or the gun stuff – the decision rested with us.

This being France, we went for the sex.

(Though wait! Immediately after, the audience then begged for the violence, too. I guess people always want it all).

For awhile, fact or fiction was the real question in regards to Frey. If you weren’t hiding under a rock around 2006, you probably remember him as the writer whose 2003 “memoir” A Million Little Pieces blew up into a big controversy. He was the man who duped Oprah. His memoir, you see, was partly “made up.”

I never read the book – I stayed above the fray (yes, pun intended) – but I can’t say I wasn’t curious to see the man behind the headlines, all these years later.

It’s a rare opportunity, really. Frey doesn’t do readings in the US anymore. Probably tired of answering the same questions.

But this is France, and Paris holds a special place in Frey’s heart. He came here as a 22 year-old, inspired by the “American writer in Paris myth,” he said. “Tropic of Cancer” by Henry Miller had “lit him up,” and he wanted to come here to experience the literary fire himself. It was something of a dream for Frey to return nearly two decades later as a visiting author to the famed Shakespeare & Co.

Shakespeare & Co

Frey struck me as a bit macho, but I liked him, even against my better judgment. Bearded, broad-chested, he looked like he could have been coaching rugby – he even cracked his neck several times while reading as if it were physical exercise.

Because he did have a unique reading style, no doubt about it. He read really fast, in a voice an audience member later remarked sounded robotic. Not until he hit dialogue, did it sound natural.

When he talked later about his past as a screenwriter, that made sense. His dialogue sounded as it should – just how people talk. He explained that he speaks everything as he writes – he doesn’t put anything down on paper until it sounds right.

Besides these process questions, he didn’t shy away from addressing the controversy, either. He remained quite defiant. He’s an artist, and he believes it his right to use anything at his disposal to tell a good story. “I want to make you feel everything,” he said. Fear, sadness, joy, anxiety, loathing, euphoria – everything. Whatever tools it takes to do that, he’ll use.

I did feel something as he read (more in the violence section actually – his sex passage sounded more like what men might fantasize). I understand the power of a good story – my hope when I open any book is that it will touch me in some way. A good story is one of those things that keeps me grounded to the earth, that helps me make sense of this crazy life.

I just think maybe you should simply call it a story, though. It takes nothing away from the writing to name it fiction, rather than fact. A good story speaks emotional truth – what more could you want?

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Forgetting Camus (and Other Literary Fumbles)

Watch out below! Name-dropping ahead!

“So there is a bathroom we can use in here,” I said to the woman as she sat back down next to me.

“Yeah, I wouldn’t have been able to stay otherwise,” she said.

This, my friends, is an example of my sparkling conversation with the literati at a recent Village Voice reading.

Actually, I had no idea who I was scrunched between at the time. All the better – I prefer my embarrassment after the fact. (Plus, I didn’t know that you could plead your way into the private bathroom in the bookshop if desperate. Good to know!)

Last week, Elizabeth Hawes, a former New Yorker contributor, presented her biography Camus, A Romance to a packed crowd.

I have to admit I wasn’t particularly motivated to go to the reading at first. I’ve been riding the positivity high of late, and an evening talk on Camus just sounded like, well, not exactly a funfest.

Thankfully I went (note to self: I’m always glad when I go). It was a fascinating talk, I picked up a new book, and I’ll soon be better equipped for literary cocktail conversation after reading it.

As I decided to go last minute, I arrived at the bookstore with hardly a second to spare. The only seat left was right in the front row (why is that? I like being up close!)

I clumsily made my way into the small folding chair (although the folding chairs are about the size of a nickel, so I’ll forgive myself for being less than graceful). I apologized to the older man behind me for blocking his view (I’m tall) and moved on to toilet talk with the woman on my left.

Camus Titles

To my surprise, Hawes was presented by Diane Johnson (author of many books, including Le Divorce). My knees practically touched Johnson’s she was so close. (And I truly felt like a giant next to her as she’s also so tiny.)

As soon as she sat down my neighbors started talking to the star pair like old friends. Ah-ha, I discovered, they were writers, too! (Witness my astounding feats of deduction). Later googling revealed I was next to Kathleen George and not far from her husband Hilary Masters. I never did find out who the other woman next to me was, but she knew everyone.)

But onto the real event:

“Albert Camus is a much simpler hero for Americans than for the French,” Hawes said at one point during her talk.

From my own limited perspective, that’s certainly true. I’ve read The Stranger, his connection to Sartre rang a bell. I knew Camus was Algerian by birth with a brooding Bogart look about him, a cigarette always between his lips. Basically, I had an almost cartoonish image of a bright existentialist thinker, if you will.

The talk (and I’m sure even more so the book, once I finish) set me straight on a lot of points (not least of which is that Camus rejected the label of existentialist and had a falling out with Sartre that would have implications for the rest of his life).

So it’s a bit of an existential faux pas this week, but wow, just how could I have forgotten Camus? And living in France, no less!

One of the most potent feelings I’ve had to contend with in France is that of being an outsider. I have lived in other countries (I studied in Ghana and Mexico), yet never experienced the ‘foreign feeling’ as much as I have here.

I even wrote a long essay recently about being a foreigner in France and the society’s (non)discussion of race (yes, I do sometimes tackle more serious topics). And yet I’d been ignoring Camus, the classic writer of alienation! (Better that I didn’t think about him too much while I was writing my essay, though. I probably would have put my pen down otherwise, realizing my own attempts futile).

Albert Camus street, Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico 7993 (Albert Camus Street in Guadalajara, Mexico, where I studied in the late ’90s)

I wonder what I’d make of Camus’ work now. Would it resonate with me more now that I have lived here? I might even be able to read them in the original French. (Though I have some perhaps surprising thoughts on translation vs version originale. Maybe for another post).

Near the end of the evening’s event, when the floor was open to questions, the older man behind me rose, and as he put it, “revealed” himself. He was William Jay Smith, a celebrated poet and teacher, and one time Poet Laureate to the Library of Congress. (Geez, as if I wasn’t already feeling like the riff-raff).

With tears in his eyes he recounted having met Camus and vouched for his integrity. (One of the most fascinating parts of the talk was the discussion about the rejection Camus suffered after initial fame. It’s only been recently in France – and Algeria – that he’s seen his reputation revived again. Even his own countries forgot him, in a way).

So, a moving and stimulating evening all around. I waited awkwardly to have Hawes sign my book – all the literati were now talking amongst themselves – and then she finally turned to me.

“Ah, I kept looking at you while I was speaking,” she said. “You have such a nice face.”

I am an active listener, interested and encouraging; it’s not the first time someone has said that to me.

I may be a faux pas, but I have a nice face. Fine trade-off, right?

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Paris and Her Remarkable Women

Village Voice Bookshop

Paris is blessed with several English-language bookshops. Thank god, because if I didn’t have easy access to novels in my own language, I’m pretty sure I’d be nuts by now.

Reading is a pleasure, an escape. If I had to read in French all of the time, it would quickly (hmm, make that instantaneously) become arduous. A chore.

The Village Voice Bookshop is one of these gems. Run by a French woman enthralled by Anglo-American literature, it often hosts readings and events.

I have a guest post about one of these events over on the wonderfully-titled website “No Country for Young Women.”

I learned a lot about “Paris and Her Remarkable Women” (the title of the book). Feel free to check it out!

paris (im)perfect?

Sion Dayson is paris (im)perfect. Writer, dreamer, I moved to France on – no exaggerating – a romantic whim. As you can imagine, a lot can go wrong (and very right!) with such a (non)plan. These are the (im)perfect stories that result.

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