Wednesday, December 12, 2012

TCR Recommends -- "Backward Ran Sentences:The Best of Wolcott Gibbs," edited by Thomas Vinciguerra

The Committee Room recently spoke with journalist Thomas Vinciguerra about writer Wolcott Gibbs, whose acerbic and expertly crafted essays, criticism, and parodies epitomized The New Yorker for thirty years. Vinciguerra is editor of Backward Ran Sentences, a collection of Gibbs' best work. Published by Bloomsbury in 2011, Backward Ran Sentences was welcomed by critics as a long overdue nod to an unjustly neglected talent.

Terry Teachout in the Wall Street Journal called Vinciguerra's Gibbs collection "a marvelous tour of another era of magazine writing." Time's Michael Scherer suggested that readers "do yourself a favor and buy the book." In the Washington Post, Jonathan Yardley wrote in his review of Backward Ran Sentences -- "In his time there was scarcely anyone more skilled than Gibbs in the construction of English sentences. He was a master...Exceptional prose is far more of a rarity in journalism than most of us in the trade like to believe, so when it occurs it should be treasured and preserved." 

Friday, November 30, 2012

TCR Story of the Month for November: An Intrusion by Tim Wirkus

Tim Wirkus
The Committee Room is proud to present "An Intrusion" by Tim Wirkus as TCR Story of the Month for November. In this brief, intense, and precisely rendered story a young couple find their marriage unraveling after discovering mysterious photographs.

Tim Wirkus's short fiction has appeared in Gargoyle, Cream City Review, Sou’wester and Ruminate Magazine. He has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, been recognized on the list of Other Distinguished Stories in Best American Mystery Stories 2011, and been selected as a finalist in Narrative’s 30 Below contest. He’s currently pursuing a PhD in creative writing and literature at the University of Southern California.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Reading and Writing of U.S. Presidents

Federal Hall, New York
The Committee Room marks the recent presidential election by taking a look at the reading and writing done by a few of the American Presidents.

In 1789, when the U.S. capital was New York City, President George Washington, famed for never telling a lie, borrowed a volume of transcriptions of British House of Commons debate and The Law of Nations by Swiss philosopher and legal scholar Emerich de Vattel from the New York Society Library. He never returned them. The library and the national government were both housed in Federal Hall in Lower Manhattan. Washington's overdue books became known to the library in the 1930s when a detailed "charging ledger" covering 1789 to 1792 was discovered in a trash pile in the library's basement.

In more recent years a conservation project on the ledger brought the missing books to the attention of the New York Daily News which published a brief article on Washington's debt to the library. In 2010, the Mount Vernon Estate and Gardens, which could not locate the borrowed books in its own collection, settled Washington's account at least in part by purchasing a copy of the same edition of The Law of Nations for $12,000 and giving it to the Society Library.

Charging Ledger (New York Society Library)
George Washington wrote between 18,000 to 20,000 letters but no books. He is sometimes credited with writing Rules of Civility, excerpts of which he copied into his notebooks as a youth. According to scholars at the Papers of George Washington, Rules of Civility was probably composed in the late sixteenth century by Jesuits in France and the young Washington copied from a seventeenth century English translation.

John Adams, serving as Washington's Vice President, borrowed a volume of Elements of Criticism by Scottish Enlightenment philosopher and jurist Lord Kames from the New York Society Library. Adams returned it  Despite having the Society Library's collection available to him Adams in 1789 wrote to his wife Abigail in Massachusetts to send him items by Hume, Johnson, Priestley, Livy, Tacitus, Cicero and Plutarch from his personal library. Adams knew Latin and Greek believed that knowledge of the classics was and should remain the mark of a learned man. He especially liked Cicero's essay on growing old, De Senectute, and turned to it throughout his life. Apart from the classics, Adams' favorites were Shakespeare, Swift, and Cervantes. "On board all day, reading Don Quixote," is the entry in Adams' diary for May 18, 1779 while he waited in Nantes, France to sail back to America.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Update on TCR Story of the Month Author Edward McWhinney

Edward McWhinney
Edward McWhinney, the talented Irish writer whose story "To Ipswich" was TCR Story of the Month for June, has three new stories published --

"On a Barge," a brief and searing portrait of man in an existential crisis, in Contrary (Summer 2012)

"After Mass," a work of creative non-fiction exploring an individual's place in the scheme of things, in Word Riot (August 2012)

"Adrift in the Ghetto," a mesmerizing tale of a stranger trying to find his bearings in an alien city, in Juked (8 November 2012)

TCR Story of the Month series locates and links to some of the best new fiction published online.

The Committee Room.  Interesting Articles for Interested Readers.  Since 2011.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

TCR Story of the Month (Classic) for October: Paul's Case by Willa Cather

Willa Cather, 1905 (courtesy of U. of Nebraska)
The Committee Room departs from its presentation of the best in contemporary fiction to offer a classic story, Willa Cather's "Paul's Case," as TCR Story of the Month for October.

"Paul's Case" has been called "a small masterpiece of sustained tone" and a story "justly admired for its narrative skill and its psychological portraiture."

The story of an opera and theater loving Pittsburgh youth who makes a desperate escape from the reality of his ordinary lower middle class life, "Paul's Case" was the seventh and last story in Cather's first collection of stories, The Troll Garden, published in 1905. All of the stories in The Troll Garden deal with art and artists. Soon after the collection's publication, "Paul's Case" reached a wider audience when it was reprinted in McClure's Magazine, a leading general interest magazine.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Writers on Time Magazine Covers

Joseph Conrad, 1923
The Committee Room looks at how literature has been treated by the mainstream American media as we take an accounting of the literary figures deemed notable enough for Time to put them on its cover.

Time was founded by two young Yale graduates -- bon vivant Briton Hadden and sober-minded Henry Luce -- with the aim of keeping the "busy man" well informed. Its first issue appeared on March 3, 1923. On the cover was elderly former Speaker of the House Joseph Cannon, an Illinois Republican who was retiring from his Congressional seat after a record breaking number of years in office.

Time's first author cover came early on. The cover of its sixth issue, published on April 7, 1923, offered a sketch portrait of Joseph Conrad. The accompanying article -- a few paragraphs about Conrad making his first visit to the United States -- was without a byline since all Time articles were supposed to be a collaborative effort of the staff, a practice the magazine continued for many decades.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

TCR Spotlight on Theater: Wendy Wasserstein

The Committee Room recently spoke with Julie Salamon whose widely praised biography of the late playwright Wendy Wasserstein -- Wendy and the Lost Boys: The Uncommon Life of Wendy Wasserstein -- was just released in paperback. Salamon is a journalist who has worked for the Wall Street Journal and New York Times. Her 1992 book The Devil's Candy, an examination of the making of the screen version of Tom Wolfe's novel The Bonfire of the Vanities, is a classic look at behind the scenes Hollywood.

Salamon came to the Wasserstein biography at the suggestion of her editor at Penguin who had been approached by a close friend of Wasserstein, Andre Bishop, artistic director of Lincoln Center Theater. Bishop serves as literary executor for Wasserstein's work including her best known play The Heidi Chronicles which won both the Tony Award for best play and the Pulitzer Prize for drama in 1989. Bishop realized that a biography of Wasserstein, who died in 2006, was inevitable and wanted the project done properly.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

TCR Story of the Month for September: How to Adopt a Cat by Dave K.

Dave K. 
The Committee Room is pleased to present "How to Adopt a Cat" by Dave K. as TCR Story of the Month for September.

Set in a steampunk world, "How to Adopt a Cat" follows a friendless man on his release from an insane asylum. With superbly rendered detail, this intense, offbeat story delves into the mind of a desperate character on the margins of life.

Dave K. is a writer and artist who lives in Baltimore. His work has been published in Front Porch Journal, Battered Suitcase, LOOP, Artichoke Haircut, and Welter, and he self-publishes through Banners of Death Press. A collection of his stories is Stone a Pig (2012). When he’s not writing, Dave K. is a valley on the southern side of Windwhistle Peak, in the Allan Hills.

Monday, September 24, 2012

TCR Forgotten Pulitzer Series: His Family (1918) by Ernest Poole

First edition, 1917
The Committee Room continues its TCR Forgotten Pulitzer Series with His Family by Ernest Poole, winner of the first Pulitzer Prize in the best novel category. Published in 1917 and given the award in 1918, His Family tells the story of Roger Gale, an aging widower coping with life and trying to keep his family together in rapidly changing Manhattan of the early twentieth century. A New Hampshire Yankee who moved to New York as a young man in the Gilded Age, Roger -- the owner of a news clipping agency -- now finds his single-family, gaslit home surrounded by massive apartment buildings wired with electricity. Motor cars are replacing horse-drawn wagons. Most importantly, the city teems with Catholic and Jewish immigrants and their children. Roger comes to terms with the idea that these newcomers will soon dominate New York, a new kind of New York, and perhaps a better one.

His Family was originally published by Macmillan. The dust jacket of the first edition, depicting the New York skyline dwarfing smaller older homes, was by E.C. Caswell, a leading illustrator. Larry James Gianakos, writing in says the His Family wrapper "may well have been Caswell's masterpiece...a work of great art in and of itself."

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

TCR Literary Journals Series: The Journal (Ohio State University)

The Committee Room is excited about continuing its Literary Journals Series with a look at The Journal, Ohio State University's venerable literary magazine. Founded as The Ohio Journal in 1973 by the Ohio State English department, The Journal, a quarterly which publishes its Winter and Summer issues in print and its Spring and Fall issues online, specializes in longer stories, excerpts from novels, and writing not easily classified by genre. Robert Duffer of New Pages says that "the patience The Journal provides its writers - and readers - gives it a traditional sense of authority, one that endures."

The Journal was edited from 1985 to1990 by poet David Citino and was then co-edited for many years by novelist and essayist Michelle Herman and poet Kathy Fagan.  In recent years it has become a student-run publication with editorial positions changing hands annually.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

TCR Literary Journals Series

The Committee Room's Literary Journals Series offers interviews with editors of some of today's top literary journals.  The editors discuss the challenges they face in putting together a literary publication in a period of economic crisis and rapidly changing technology. They also comment on what they like to see in the submissions pile.    

To read our interview with Nathan Grant of the African-American Review click here

To read our interview with Brenda Miller of the Bellingham Review click here

To read our interview with Chris Fink of the Beloit Fiction Journal click here

To read our interview with Diana May-Waldman and Mitchell Waldman of the Blue Lake Review click here

To read our interview with William O'Rourke of the Notre Dame Review click here

Get informed, not overwhelmed. Read The Committee Room

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Update on TCR Story of the Month Writer Jean Ryan

Jean Ryan
Jean Ryan, whose story "Paradise" was TCR Story of the Month for March 2012, has a new story, "Waiting for Annie" -- the emotional journey of a woman and a teenage boy brought together by a loved one's medical crisis -- in the Blue Lake Review (June 2012).

To read "Waiting for Annie" click here.

The Committee Room offers links to some of the best new fiction published online.

The Committee Room.  Interesting articles for interested people.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

TCR Bookselling Series

The Committee Room's Bookselling Series goes to the source -- booksellers themselves -- to report on the current state of bookselling.  So far, this popular series has profiled --

One More Page Books (Arlington, Virginia)
To read TCR's profile click here

Blue Bicycle Books (Charleston, South Carolina)    
To read TCR's profile click here

Look for more profiles in this timely series.  Coming soon.

The Committee Room.  Interesting articles for interested people.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

TCR Story of the Month for July: Something Like Culture Shock by Dennis Vanvick

Dennis Vanvick
The Committee Room is proud to present "Something Like Culture Shock" by Dennis Vanvick as TCR Story of the Month for July.

A well-told tale of an infatuated youth challenged by reality during a "meet the parents" visit to Colombia, "Something Like Culture Shock" is a witty and observant take on cultural differences.

Dennis Vanvick is a retired, self-employed technical consultant. He winters among the eight-million inhabitants of Bogota, Colombia and summers amongst the flora and fauna of northwest Wisconsin. His fiction has appeared in Rosebud, NOÖ Journal, Boston Literary Magazine, The Humanist, Flashquake, Clockwise Cat, Gold Dust, Birmingham Arts Journal, and Wilderness House Literary Review.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Bestsellers List Revisited -- 1962: Katherine Anne Porter Knocks Out J.D. Salinger

First U.S. edition
Fifty years ago, in 1962, Katherine Anne Porter's Ship of Fools spent six months at the top of the New York Times bestsellers list and went on the become the bestselling novel of  the year.  

Released on April Fool's Day, Ship of Fools received mostly positive, sometimes glowing reviews. It quickly moved to the top of the Times list, knocking J.D. Salinger's Franny and Zooey from the top position. Other books on the Times list that spring were The Agony and the Ecstasy, Irving Stone's fictionalized life of Michelanglo, and Harper Lee's now classic To Kill a Mockingbird, which had been on the list for nearly two years.

Friday, June 29, 2012

TCR Story of the Month for June:" To Ipswich" by Edward McWhinney

Edward McWhinney
The Committee Room is pleased to offer "To Ipswich" by Edward McWhinney as TCR Story of the Month for June.

A brief tale of a conference attendee seeking escape from a stuffy meeting, "To Ipswich" is a beautifully rendered account of an individual's search for a life of deeper meaning.  

Edward McWhinney lives in Cork, Ireland with his wife and son. His stories have appeared in many publications 
including CyphersBarcelona InkWord Riot, Fiction on the Web, and Juked.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

A Brief Discussion with Jay Parini on Thirteen Books That Changed America:

The Committee Room continues its exploration into the books that have been most influential in the shaping of American culture with a discussion of Promised Land: Thirteen Books That Changed America (Doubleday, 2008) by Jay Parini. Reading Promised Land is like taking a speedy cruise through American literature with a genial and well-informed guide. 

In his introduction Parini writes -- "this was never meant to be a list of the 'greatest' American books: not The Scarlet Letter, The Great Gatsby, or The Education of Henry Adams.  Although I love poetry, I knew that not even Walt Whitman and Robert Frost, let alone Wallace Stevens or Elizabeth Bishop, had noticeably 'changed' America in any significant way (except among that tiny group who actually read poetry)...I wanted books that shifted consciousness in some public fashion, however subtly, or opened fresh possibilities for the ways Americans lived their lives."  

Jay Parini is a poet, novelist, essayist, and scholar whose work includes major biographies of Robert Frost, John Steinbeck, and William Faulkner and the volumes of poetry The Art of Subtraction, Town Life, and Anthracite Country. One of his novels, The Last Station, about the final year in the life of Tolstoy, was made into an Academy Award nominated film.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

TCR Literary Journal Series: Beloit Fiction Journal

The Committee Room is happy to continue its Literary Journal Series with a look at the Beloit Fiction Journal.  Founded in 1985 by novelist and journalist Clint McCown, who was then a young professor of English at Beloit College in Wisconsin, and a group of enthusiastic Beloit College students, the BFJ has since its inception provided a showcase for both established and unknown writers. Fred Burwell, writer and blogger, was a member of the original student staff.  He sums up one of the BFJ's guiding principles when he recalls those early days -- "We discovered that manuscript cover letters with laundry lists of past publications meant nothing – it would be too easy to stock a magazine with names familiar to the literary magazine establishment. Only the quality of the story mattered."

Chris Fink took over as editor of the Beloit Fiction Journal when McCown stepped down in 2005.  A widely published writer of fiction and non-fiction, Fink's stories and essays have appeared in many publications including the Alaska Quarterly Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Malahat Review, North Dakota Quarterly, Other Voices, and Phoebe. His book of fiction, Farmer's Almanac, is forthcoming from Emergency Press in 2012.  He formerly edited the Cream City Review.

Fink graciously sat down for an interview with TCR.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

TCR Story of the Month for May: "I spent the summer gazing at the clouds" by Tony Rauch

Tony Rauch
The Committee Room is pleased to present "I spent the summer gazing at the clouds (the bubble)" by Tony Rauch as the TCR Story of the Month for May.

A brief and highly imaginative story that is widely open to interpretation, "I spent the summer gazing at the clouds (the bubble)," begins with a young man contentedly lying on a hillside watching the clouds drift by. His peace is disturbed by the arrival of a bubble floating down from the sky and bearing what seems to be a middle aged accountant.

"If William Burroughs and Garrison Keillor had a love child in a parallel universe, it would have to be Tony Rauch," wrote author Jonis Agee.

Rauch, who lives in Minneapolis, has three books of short stories published – I’m right here (Spout Press), laredo (Eraserhead Press), and eyeballs growing all over me . . . again (Eraserhead Press).  His new story collection, as I floated in the jar, which includes a slightly altered version of "I spent the summer gazing at the clouds," is forthcoming in 2012.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

TCR Literary Journal Series: African American Review

The Committee Room continues its Literary Journal Series with a look at the African American Review.

For nearly fifty years, the African American Review and its predecessors have published groundbreaking articles on the African American contribution to a variety of literary fields including science fiction, theater, children's literature, and literary theory in addition to offering contemporary fiction and poetry.

Houston A. Baker, writer, critic, and former president of the Modern Language Association, has called the African American Review "vibrant and invaluable" and a "foremost influence" within African American scholarship.

African American Review traces its roots to the Negro American Literature Forum, a newsletter-like publication founded in 1967 at Indiana State University and aimed at school teachers and college professors eager to introduce students to African American texts. Despite its modest format, Negro American Literature Forum quickly began attracting contributions from leading figures on the African American cultural scene including poet/novelist/librarian Arna Bontemps, scholar/educator Richard Barksdale, and film historian Thomas Cripps.  In 1976, Negro American Literature Forum updated its name to Black American Literature Forum and strengthened its commitment to presenting scholarly, theory-based material.  In 1983, the Modern Language Association's Division on Black American Literature and Culture named Black American Literature Forum the division's official publication.  In 1992, Black American Literature Forum changed its name to African American Review, a more encompassing title that reflects its goals of reaching a wider audience and making a broader cultural impact.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

30 Years Ago: Fonda, Ludlum, and Jakes

Thirty years ago -- May 1982 -- these books topped the New York Times Bestseller Lists --

Non-FictionJane Fonda's Workout Book by Jane Fonda (Simon & Shuster, $17.95)

Fiction: The Parsifal Mosaic by Robert Ludlum (Random House, $15.95)

By year's end Ludlum's Parsifal had edged out Fonda's Workout, the non-fiction champ, as the biggest selling book of 1982.

The Parsifal Mosaic was so popular it sold almost twice as many copies as the second bestselling fiction title, North and South by John Jakes.

Robert Ludlum died in 2001 at age 73. Before his death, he arranged for his authorial brand to continue after he was gone. The Sigma Protocol (2001) was the last book written entirely by Ludlum. Since then many authors have contributed to "Robert Ludlum" novels. Ludlum's friend, noted fantasy and thriller author Eric Van Lustbader, has continued the popular Jason Bourne series.

Jane Fonda, now 74, came out with a self-help book Prime Time: Love, Health, Sex, Fitness, Friendship, Spirit -- Making the Most of All of Your Life in 2011 and her autobiography My Life So Far in 2005.  She blogs regularly on her website

John Jakes, now 80, has published popular historical novels since the mid-1970s when the first installments of his Kent Family Chronicles (The Bastard, The Rebels, and The Seekers) were bestsellers.  His most recent works include The Gods of Newport (2006), about the Rhode Island resort in the 1890s, and Savannah or a Gift for Mrs. Lincoln (2004), a Civil War Christmas story set during Sherman's march to the sea.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Update on TCR Story of the Month Authors

Jean Ryan
Jean Ryan, whose story "Paradise" was TCR Story of the Month for March 2012, reads one of her latest stories, "Migration," an honestly observed and richly detailed look at how difficult it can be for humans to find their right place in the world, in the May issue of the audio publication The Drum Literary Magazine.  

To hear Jean read "Migration," click here

Gene Twaronite
Gene Twaronite, whose story "The Woman Who Came to Lunch" was TCR Story of the Month for January 2012, has come out with a new novel My Vacation in Hell, a darkly comic young adult novel about a teenage boy who, inspired by a reading of Dante's Inferno, creates his own Hell populated with the people who have wronged him over the years. 

For more information on My Vacation in Hell click here

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Bestseller List Revisited -- 1972: The Friends of Eddie Coyle

2010 edition
The Committee Room looks back forty years to the spring of 1972 when The Friends of Eddie Coyle, a slim novel by young Boston lawyer George V. Higgins, found its way onto the New York Times Bestseller List.  Topping the list that spring were The Winds of War by Herman Wouk and Wheels by Arthur Hailey, both mammoth tomes written by aging titans.

George V. Higgins, a Boston College and Stanford University educated writer turned lawyer turned back to writer, wrote several unpublished novels before getting The Friends of Eddie Coyle accepted at Alfred A. Knopf. Part of the novel's sixth chapter had appeared in a different form under the title "Dillon Explained That He Was Frightened" in the North American Review (Fall 1970).

In his introduction to its 2010 Picador edition, Boston novelist Dennis Lehane calls Eddie Coyle "the game-changing crime novel of the last fifty years.  It is also quite possibly one of the four or five best crime novels ever written.  It casts such a long shadow that all of us who toil in the genre known as American noir do so in its shade."

Elmore Leonard goes even further. In his introduction to Eddie Coyle's 2000 edition, he declares it "the best crime novel ever written – makes The Maltese Falcon read like Nancy Drew."

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Neglected Minor Masterpieces

In 1988, critic and essayist Noel Perrin published A Reader's Delight, a collection of essays examining neglected minor masterpieces of literature.  Perrin describes these works as those that fall just short of classic status and are not well known or may be completely unknown to most readers.

"Almost anyone who reads a lot is apt to have come across at least one such book -- something not in the canon, not famous, probably not even in print -- but all the same sheer delight to read,"  Perrin writes.  

The collection includes essays on sixteen novels, five memoirs, four books of short stories, four books of essays, a diary, a volume of letters, a book of animal stories, a science fiction novella, and a book of fables.

"This book has no overarching pattern or grand design," Perrin explains.  "It's simple purpose is to steer people toward a winter's worth or a summer's worth of unusually pleasing reading."   
Noel Perrin
 (Photo by Joseph Mehling)

Noel Perrin's List of Neglected Minor Masterpieces

  1. Indian Summer by William Dean Howells (1886)
  2. The Valleys of the Assassins by Freya Stark (1934)
  3. Kai Lung's Golden Hours by Ernest Bramah (1922)
  4. The Bottom of the Harbor by Joseph Mitchell (1960)
  5. The Journal of a Disappointed Man by W.N.P. Barbellion (1919)
  6. Watch the North Wind Rise by Robert Graves (1949)
  7. Fables in Slang by George Ade (1899)
  8. On Love by Stendahl (1822)
  9. Period Piece by Gwen Raverat (1953)
10. "The Exequy" by Henry King (1624)
11. Wild Animals I Have Known by Ernest Thompson Seton (1898)
12. All Hallows Eve by Charles Williams (1944)
13. Roman Wall by Bryher (1954)
14. Democracy by Henry Adams (1880)
15. The Blessing of Pan by Lord Dunsany (1928)
16. Guard of Honor by James Gould Cozzens (1948)
17. The Semi-Attached Couple by Emily Eden (1860)
18. The Diary of George Templeton Strong edited by Allan Nevins and Milton Thomas (1952)
19. The Walls Came Tumbling Down by Henriette Roosenburg (1957)
20. The Silver Stallion by James Branch Cabell (1926)
21. The Maker of Heavenly Trousers by Daniele Vare (1935)
22. Many Cargoes by W.W. Jacobs
23. Riding the Rails by Michael Mathers
24. The Best of Friends: Further Letters to Sydney Carlyle Cockerell edited by Viola Meynell (1956)
25. A Fine and Private Place by Peter S. Beagle
26. "Church Going" by Philip Larkin (1955)
27. The Three Royal Monkeys by Walter de la Mare (1910)
28. When the Snow Comes, They Will Take You Away by Eric Newby (1971)
29. Bridgeport Bus by Maureen Howard (1965)
30. Essays in Idleness by Kenko (1332)
31. The Green Child by Herbert Read (1935)
32. A Casual Commentary by Rose Macaulay (1925)
33. The Adventures of Jonathan Corncob, Loyal American Refugee (1787)
34. Instead of a Letter by Diana Athill (1962)
35. Islandia by Austin Tappan Wright (1942)
36. They Asked for a Paper by C.S. Lewis (1962)
37. Born to Race by Blanche C. Perrin (1959)
38. A Genius in the Family by Hiram P. Maxim (1936)
39. My Father's Glory and My Mother's Castle by Marcel Pagnol (1960)
40. Far Rainbow by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky (1964)

Monday, April 30, 2012

TCR Literary Journal Series: Bellingham Review

The Committee Room continues its Literary Journal Series with a look at the Bellingham Review. Founded in 1977 at Western Washington University by poets Knute Skinner and Peter Nicoletta, the Bellingham Review states its mission as publishing "literature of palpable quality: poems, stories, and essays so beguiling they invite us to touch their essence...a kind of writing that nudges the limits of form, or executes traditional forms exquisitely." BR's Editorial Advisory Board includes Tess Gallagher, Rita Dove, Henry Taylor and other stellar names.

Bellingham Review publishes twice annually -- a print edition in the spring and an online edition in the fall.  BR also sponsors three contests --

The 49th Parallel Award for Poetry (final judge 2012 Linda Bierds)

Annie Dillard Award for Creative Non-Fiction (final judge 2012 Sheila Bender)

Tobias Wolff Award for Fiction (final judge 2012 Robin Hemley)

BR's current editor in chief is award-winning essayist Brenda Miller. Miller is the author of Listening Against the Stone: Selected Essays (Skinner House Books, 2011), Blessing of the Animals (Eastern Washington University Press, 2009), and Season of the Body (Sarabande Books, 2002).  She is co-author with Suzanne Paola of Tell It Slant: Writing and Shaping Creative Nonfiction (McGraw-Hill, 2003).  Her work has appeared in many publications including Utne Reader, Georgia Review, and Missouri Review.  She has received six Pushcart Prizes.  

Miller recently sat down for a chat with The Committee Room.

TCR Talks with Bellingham Review Editor Brenda Miller

Q: Could you elaborate on what "literature of palpable quality" means?
A: We mean writing that is so vivid you feel you could literally “touch” it.  We mean writing that resonates for a long time.

Brenda Miller and her dog Abbe (photo by Anita K. Boyle)
Q: How many submissions does BR receive in a typical month during your submission period?
A: It depends. During open submissions, between September and December of each year, we usually receive about three hundred manuscripts a month. During our contests, between December and March, we’ll receive a little more.

Q: What happens when a manuscript is received at BR?
A:  We’re now encouraging authors to submit their work via an online submission program, Submittable, so it is automatically logged in to the genre readers’ mailbox.  The readers, read several pieces a week and write notes about them and assign them to the genre editors, who also read every piece that is submitted. Those they feel are publishable, or that have merit, are then submitted to me with their rationale. I then read those pieces and choose the ones we will publish. I will sometimes write to an author and ask for revisions before guaranteeing publication.

Q: What percentage of submissions are rejected after just one reading?
A: Probably about ninety percent of the work we receive is rejected after one reading.

Q: What are the most common reasons a manuscript is rejected?
A: The first page of a prose piece needs to be perfect, and it needs to grab our attention (in a good way). If the first page has awkward sentences or typos, or starts with an explicit, offensive scene, it will be rejected. If it starts with clichéd descriptions, it will be rejected. If it is about a time-worn theme, without evidence that the author has found an original form or voice for this theme, it will be rejected. The same goes for poetry. The writing needs to be original, vivid, sensory, with a distinctive voice.

Q: BR has impressive names on its Editorial Advisory Board.  What does the Advisory Board do?
A: The Advisory Board had more of a role in the establishment of the journal and its transition to the university. Now they do not have a real formal role in the running of the journal.

Q: BR recently came out with its first online issue.  Can you talk about the differences between editing a print journal and editing an online journal?
A: It’s very exciting to have two different versions of the journal now available, as this diversity allows us to publish more work. We look for the same quality of work for each edition, and often when I decide something seems right for the online version, it’s because I can envision the perfect illustration to go along with it. The online edition allows us more leeway with graphics and illustrations than we can have in the print edition.

Q: What is the circulation of the print version? Of the online version?
A: The circulation for the print journal is about 1,200. We haven’t tracked the number of hits we’ve received in the online edition, but our hope is that the online work reaches an even larger audience. We are going to be adding a podcast and enhancing the design of the online edition next fall.

Q: What separates BR from other literary journals?
A: I’d say it’s the consistent voice we’ve developed, though my editorial staff changes every year. If you read several issues, you can “hear” how our contributors are all quite diverse, but all seem to approach their material with a compelling blend of reverence and irreverence.

Q: Who are BR's readers?
A: Most of our readers have contributed to our three literary contests: The Annie Dillard Award in Creative Nonfiction; the Tobias Wolff Award in Fiction; and the 49th Parallel Poetry Award.  Since they receive a subscription with their contest entry fee, the majority of our subscribers have submitted to our journal in the past. So our audience is made up mainly of other writers.

Q: How does BR or any academic-based literary journal reach beyond people in the "field" of creative writing?
A: We’re always looking for ways to do that. We donate copies of our magazine to schools and shelters. We’ve had a poem from our magazine read on the air during a baseball game! But I think our primary role will always be to provide publishing opportunities for creative writers, a way to showcase their work and enhance professionalism.

Q: How do you balance your work as a writer with your work as an editor and professor?
A: It’s not easy! I do most of my new writing on writing retreats when school is not in session, and then revise and send out work during the school year. I write with my students to keep my writing mind going.

Q: Could you talk about the different skills required in writing, editing, and teaching?
A: In writing, I need to get very quiet and listen. In editing, I need to get very judgmental. In teaching, I need to be compassionate.

Q: As a writer, you specialize in non-fiction and have said in interviews that you weren't so good at writing fiction, especially plot.  Can you talk about the strengths needed for writing fiction and non-fiction?
A: For me, my strengths come from my poetry background; that is, I relish in language and imagery, in metaphor and connection. My essays can be quite fragmented, held together by shimmering threads. While some fiction can also work this way, my strengths are in revealing my own vulnerabilities through these kinds of lyric structures. Fiction has a different purpose, it seems to me.

Q: Does a short story really need a plot?
A: No, but it does need something that keeps it moving forward. As does nonfiction.

Q: Would you agree that contemporary readers are more interested in "real life" than in fiction and if so why?
A: Not necessarily. Fiction still sells really well.

Q: Can you explain what "creative non-fiction" is?
A: Well, I’ve written a whole book on the topic (Tell it Slant), but the nutshell version would be that creative nonfiction roots itself in fact, but uses imagination, memory, metaphor, scenes, and literary forms to enhance fact into literature.

Q: What is the biggest challenge in editing a literary journal?
A: $$$$$$$!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

TCR Story of the Month for April: "King of the Apes" by Benjamin Reed

Benjamin Reed
The Committee Room is proud to present "King of the Apes" by Benjamin Reed as the TCR Story of the Month for April.

With insight, humor, and imagination, the story uses the relationship of Tarzan with his creator Edgar Rice Burroughs as a means of exploring relationships of all kinds -- creative, familial, professional, romantic, platonic. When do relationships begin, when do they end, how important are they, what obligations do they entail, what claims on identity do they make, and who has the upper hand?

Benjamin Reed’s fiction has appeared in West BranchBlue Mesa Review, Sou’wester, and other small magazines. In 2010 he won Avery Anthology’s Second Annual Small Spaces Prize. Currently he’s pursuing his MFA at Texas State in San Marcos, where he’s at work on a novel. He lives in Austin.

"King of the Apes" was published by Arcadia Magazine.

To read "King of the Apes" click here

TCR Story of the Month highlights an outstanding work of short fiction published online within the preceding twelve months.

TCR Chats with Benjamin Reed

Q: How long have you been writing?
A: I think I’m pretty typical. I started taking my writing seriously in high school, but I didn’t start sending out my stuff until 2000, my last summer in college. But I started writing things here and there when I was a kid, sometimes on this old Royal typewriter that had been my grandfather’s. He was an immigrant, and that fact always felt magical to me. He and his family emigrated from Austria-Hungary, from a small village in what would become Czechoslovakia...This immigrant identity, though vicarious, has remained a part of my work. And it’s not just the association of my grandfather with my first typewriter. Franz Kafka was the very first “grownup” writer I read at ten or eleven, because I heard he was Czech, like my grandfather. In a little while I’d come to learn that Kafka was a Jew and my grandfather was technically Moravian, but that information was too late, and as trivial then as it remains now. The seed had been sown. Kafka completed the circuit between myself, my grandfather, my love of typewriters, and my sincere (if inauthentic) immigrant identification...Most of my work involves some aspect of what I imagine to be the immigrant experience, or focuses on a theme of a lost person, or a lost thing. I think this wistful incompleteness is part of that experience and identity.

Q: Where did you get the idea for "King of the Apes?"
A: It’s pretty simple, really. “King of the Apes” is a vaudevillian, almost slapstick approach to an everyday tragedy: a relationship is over, but one person realizes this long before the other does. It comes from personal experience, of course, though almost no biographical details made it onto the page. But I think the tremendous response I’ve received in regard to this story owes to the presence of certain staple character structures. Good stories often show relationships in transition. They often revolve around some kind of power imbalance. They travel, in some way, from ignorance to recognition. They have characters who are sympathetic and recognizable, and complex, but not too good or too beautiful to fracture our empathy.

Q: Who are some of your favorite classic authors?
A: Chekhov, Melville, Bruno Schulz. Kafka, as I mentioned. John Cheever and Raymond Carver, of course. Virginia Woolf. Also I think Colum McCann’s evangelism for Ben Kiely is starting to have an effect, if he’s not too recently deceased to be considered “classic.” If so, he can be a bridge to my favorite contemporaries.

Q: Who are some of your favorite contemporary authors?
A: Percival Everett, Tim O’Brien, Don DeLillo, Paul Auster, Etgar KeretAlice Munro and Helen Oyeyemi. I can’t wait to read Mark Leyner’s new book, as well as Murakami’s 1Q84. I occasionally find Kevin Brockmeier to be infuriatingly adept at writing things I wish I'd written.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

TCR Forgotten Pulitzer Series: Lamb in His Bosom (1934)

Early edition
The Committee Room begins its look at now mostly forgotten Pulitzer Prize winning fiction with 1934 winner Lamb in His Bosom by Caroline Miller.  The story of a pioneer family, the Carvers, scratching out lives in the "pineywoods" of southwest Georgia in the decades before the Civil War, Lamb in His Bosom is a richly detailed, often poetically written account of ordinary people struggling for survival.  Georgia-born Miller, a young wife and mother at the time she wrote Lamb, based the story in part on her own forebears and she makes it clear that the cliched trappings of the Antebellum south -- hoop skirts, cotillions, plantations, and especially slaves -- played no role in lives of the Carvers and other plain folks like them.

In its opening chapters Lamb seems to be offering up a plot, particularly when the Carvers' restless son Lias returns from a trip to "The Coast" -- a distant, exotic place that the menfolk occasionally visit in order to trade -- with a city-bred wife, Margot, who seems unsuited for the hardships of backwoods life.  Margot, however, quickly settles in and the novel plays out as a cycle of births and deaths in the Carver family as the decades pass with the focus on the Carver family's daughter, Cean.

"Lamb in His Bosom is written in the tradition of historical realism, which readers of today may find rather slow and overly detailed," literary scholar Emily Wright told TCR.  "On the other hand, Miller's lyrical descriptions of a woman's life lived close to nature, both internal and external, do stand the test of time, I think, and have the potential to be profoundly moving and meaningful even to contemporary readers.  Also, the novel retains its value as a historical document, being one of the few works available that describes, with remarkable accuracy, a group of southerners whom most readers know nothing about: nonslaveholding white pioneers."

Published in late 1933 and mostly well-received by critics, Lamb in His Bosom initially sold well only in the South.  Its popularity went nationwide after it was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in May 1934.  Lamb was second on the Publisher's Weekly bestseller list of 1934, surpassed only by another now mostly forgotten novel, Hervey Allen's Napoleonic-era adventure Anthony Adverse

Wright points out that Joseph Pulitzer's will required that the award be given to novels that "best represent the whole atmosphere of American life" and that in the 1930s "the award tended to go to works that displayed typical American life and also to works that achieved significant popularity with the American reading public."  She notes that three other Southern novels won the Pulitzer during the Depression years -- T.S. Stribling's The Store (1933); Margaret Mitchell's Gone With the Wind (1937); and Marjorie Kinnan RawlingsThe Yearling (1939). "In my analysis," Wright says, "this signifies that whereas throughout most of American history, the South has been looked down upon for being ignorant, poor, and bigoted, during a time of economic hardship the nation looked to the South for models of endurance and recovery."    

Caroline Miller
(courtesy of University of Georgia)
Caroline Miller, who died in 1992, published just one other novel, Lebanon (1944). The story of a backwoods girl much like Cean Carver in Lamb, Lebanon flopped with both critics and book buyers.  Miller blamed its failure on cuts made by editors because of the paper shortage during World War II but Wright says it is unlikely that Lebanon would have done well even if it had not been cut -- "The Depression era was receptive to a homespun tale of struggle and survival in the form of Lamb in His Bosom.  By the 1940s that appeal had faded.  [Also] the novel is rather melodramatic in some respects.  And finally, the popularity of historical realism was waning by the time this book came out."

Miller's final published work, the short story "Cricket," appeared in Ladies Home Journal in 1945.

"In the mid-forties," Wright says, "Miller underwent the first of several lengthy hospitalizations for what appears to have been some combination of mental and physical collapse. While the nature of her health problems remains unclear, she apparently was unwell to some extent throughout the remainder of her life.  Miller did continue to write, as her papers in the Emory University archives are full of drafts of stories, novels, and screenplays...from what I have read, they seem to be very vague and formless and incomplete."

Originally published by Harper and Brothers, Lamb in His Bosom has been available since 1993 by from Peachtree Publishers.

Peachtree edition
"Lamb in His Bosom came to my attention through Celestine Sibley, writer, reporter and beloved columnist at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution," explained Margaret Quinlin, Peachtree Publishers president, to TCR. "Celestine had been invited to speak at an event honoring the publication of Lamb in His Bosom in Baxley, Georgia, Caroline Miller’s hometown, in 1991. She wrote a column about her visit and how much she loved the book. She was distraught to discover that it was unavailable from the publisher, especially because it was the first work of fiction by a writer from Georgia to receive the Pulitzer Prize...Celestine encouraged me to read the book and I did. I loved it too. It reminded me of Growth of the Soil, a novel that I had loved by the Norwegian writer Knut Hamsun."

Quinlin was put in contact with Caroline Miller's son, Bill Miller, who was eager to see his mother's bestseller back in print.  Bill Miller cleared the way for a reversion of rights from Harper, which had long neglected Lamb, to Peachtree. The contract was signed in the summer of 1992, just before Caroline Miller's death.  "I believe she had been told that a new edition was forthcoming," Quinlin says.

Quinlin notes that the Pulitzer Prize "made a great difference" in Peachtree's decision to publish Lamb. "The market for literary fiction is challenging on many levels including reaching the audience with the right message about a book," explains Quinlin. "This challenge is magnified on the re-release of a work published decades ago. The Pulitzer label signals quality and increases the likelihood that the book will be mentioned in lists and reviews as well as included in library book purchases."

Here's more information --
Following Pulitzer (interesting and thorough blog examining all Pulitzer fiction winners)
20th-Century American Bestsellers (superbly detailed University of Illinois database)
Georgia Women of Achievement
Georgia Writers Hall of Fame
New Georgia Encyclopedia

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Poetry Podcasts for National Poetry Month

Poetry is best appreciated when read aloud, especially so when read by the poets themselves. Present-day technology has brought forth a wealth of opportunities to hear the voices of poets past and present.  A superb source of poetry read by the poet is The Poetry Archive which offers the voices of classic poets going as far back as Browning and Tennyson (yes, really!) along with contemporary poets and everything in between.

The Poetry Archive came into being as a result of a meeting, in a recording studio, between Andrew Motion, soon after he became U.K. Poet Laureate in 1999, and the recording producer, Richard Carrington.  Its mission statement reminds us that "poetry was an oral art form before it became textual. Homer's work lived through the spoken word long before any markings were made on a page. Hearing a poet reading his or her work remains uniquely illuminating. It helps us to understand the work as well as helping us to enjoy it. When a poet dies without making a recording, a precious resource is lost for ever and as time goes by that loss is felt more and more keenly. What would we not give to be able to hear Keats and Byron reading their work?"

To reach The Poetry Archive click here

These are other excellent sources of poetry aloud --

The Poet and the Poem (Library of Congress)

Poem of the Day (Poetry Foundation)

The Poetic Voice (Houghton Mifflin Publishers)

Classic Poetry Aloud (PodOmatic) (The Academy of American Poets)

PEN Podcasts (PEN American Center)

Monday, April 9, 2012

Books That Changed America

Robert B. Downs
In 1970, librarian and scholar Robert B. Downs created this list of twenty-five books in order to, as Downs put it,  "identify those writings which have exerted the greatest impact on our national history, direct or indirect."

Published by Macmillan as Books That Changed America, the list of twenty-five was Downs' response to those he called "denigrators of books, such as Marshall McLuhan, [who] would have us believe that books are obsolescent, being rapidly superseded by the newer media."

This is a reminder that the books versus new media battle was raging before the development of the internet or the personal computer. Also, Downs' list of twenty-five includes two books -- Rachel Carson's Silent Spring (1962) and J.K. Galbraith's The Affluent Society (1958) -- that were published within just twelve years of the time he was writing.  In his introduction Downs mentions two other even more recent books -- Ralph Nader's Unsafe at Any Speed (1965) and Jessica Mitford's The American Way of Death (1963) -- came close to being included in his list.

Today, in 2012, it's hard to think of any book of major importance published recently.

Robert B. Downs' List of 25 Books That Changed America

1.  Common Sense by Thomas Paine (1776)
2.  History of the Expedition by Lewis and Clark (1814)
3.  The Book of Mormon by Joseph Smith (1830)
4.  Experiments and Observations on the Gastric Juice and the Physiology of Digestion by William Beaumont (1833)
5.   Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville (1835)
6.   Annual Reports (of the Massachusetts State Board of Education) by Horace Mann (1837-1848)
7.   The Contagiousness of Puerperal Fever by Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. (1843)
8.   Resistance to Civil Government by Henry David Thoreau (1849)
9.   Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe (1852)
10. Looking Backward by Edward Bellamy (1888)
11. The Influence of Sea Power upon History by Alfred T. Mahan (1890)
12. The Significance of the Frontier in American History by Frederick Jackson Turner (1893)
13. The Shame of the Cities by Lincoln Steffens (1904)
14. The Jungle by Upton Sinclair (1906)
15. Medical Education in the United States and Canada by Abraham Flexner (1910)
16. Twenty Years at Hull-House by Jane Addams (1910)
17. The Principles of Scientific Management by Frederick Winslow Taylor (1911)
18. An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States by Charles A. Beard (1913)
19. Prejudices by H.L. Mencken (6 volumes, 1919-1927)
20. The Nature of the Judicial Process by Benjamin N. Cardozo (1921)
21. Middletown by Robert S. and Helen Merrell Lynd (1929)
22. The Mind of the South by W.J. Cash (1941)
23. An American Dilemma by Gunnar Myrdal (1944)
24. The Affluent Society by John Kenneth Galbraith (1958)
25. Silent Spring by Rachel Carson (1962)

Monday, April 2, 2012

Top Writers Read Their Favorite Story Written by Another Writer

In this beautifully done podcast series produced by the Guardian, leading contemporary writers read their favorite short story written by a writer other than themselves.  Hear Philip Pullman read Chekhov, Margaret Drabble read Katherine Mansfield, Julian Barnes read Hemingway, Helen Dunmore read Frank O'Connor, Ali Smith read Grace Paley, Anne Enright read Raymond Carver, William Boyd read J.G. Ballard, Colm Toibin read Eugene McCabe, Rose Tremain read Yiyun Li, Jeanette Winterson read Italo Calvino, Tessa Hadley read Elizabeth Bowen, and Helen Simpson read Angela Carter.

Click here to reach the podcast series website.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Phone Booths as Libraries

Perhaps phone booths won't entirely disappear from the scene after all.   In both the United States and Britain, some people think they make good libraries. The Committee Room isn't so sure.  
Check out (no pun intended) these articles --  

Repurposed Phone Booth Library in NYC. Designboom. February 2012 (photo above).

Image from Mystery Fanfare

Red Phone Box Turned into Little Eaton Village Library. BBC News (Derby). December 31, 2011 (photo at left).