Friday, December 24, 2010

Voodoo persecution and voodoo validation

This Reuters story ( out of Haiti on the lynching of voudou priests is disturbing on so many levels. First, that the violence stems from utterly preposterous attacks on the religion last January after the earthquake, when evangelicals and other mostly right-wing Christian religious figures tried to blame the disaster on the presence of the voudou religion in Haiti. This is a direct consequence of that.

Second, if the orisha truly were to be held accountable for natural acts of destruction such as earthquakes and hurricanes, why would they punish their own followers? Ochosi and Ogun and the other protectors of the faith would be among the many orisha who would argue for punishment of those who have enslaved, oppressed, murdered and otherwise harmed the religion and its adherents, whether in Africa or in the New World. Haiti would be protected and a paradise for its people if voudou really were in charge there. But of course pursuing this whole line of ascribing powers and affixing blame to supernatural entities is pointless on its face and is the cause of much violence and destruction globally. The current wars in the Mideast and Southwestern Asia cases in point.

Killing anyone in the name of religion reaps nothing other than more killing, in an endless and irrational loop of revenge and righteousness.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Why write? For whom?

A friend and veteran author/journalist now teaching at a respected state university is trying to answer, for his students, one of the enduring questions about writing. Without elaboration, here is his letter posting the issue, and then a brief answer following. With any luck, some of the students might chime in:

The question: This semester I have tried to teach a course in "creative" nonfiction to a class of creative writing and poetry majors.
The main thing I've noticed is that they say "I write for myself," and compose accordingly. They don't like the idea of having to make note of facts or write in standard, grammatical ways. It's all self-expression to them.
Seeing them drove to ask what I thought. I came to the conclusion that all communication is an attempt to manipulate and that, other than knowing how to write a clear sentence, the most important skill is assessing the minds of readers. In nonfiction, we write to seduce them, it seems. In a sense we write for ourselves--we avoid stories we don't think we'd like--but we also must answer to editors, readers and bureaucracies.
I kept thinking and finally I came up with a nearly sloganized form of this: we are all the prisoners of other people. Writing is an attempt to enlarge the space of our confinement. One has to be wary of the jailer--the reader--in order to get away with as much.
Do you agree? Or am I condemning the "creative" types based on knowing on the naive or mediocre ones?

My reply: I think that "writing for myself" is logically disingenuous. Writing is per se an act of communicating with others. Now, it's possible that one wants to achieve a high standard of artistic merit, either "artistic" based on standards common to the leading theories of the genre or perhaps some additional personal standards. I think an artist who has very high sense of esthetics, for example, may exceed those of the leading theories and that's why artists (including writers) have to above all be loyal to their own sense of what is good or artful. But I don't believe that anyone would engage in any of this without an implied audience. Aristotle: speaker, subject, audience. So there's always an implied receptor. A writer who says it is for self-expression is probably just lying to himself or herself.

That opens the door to what the audience should get, what should be provided, and so on, and that is just basically endlessly contingent.

So what you say that writing is an attempt to "enlarge our confinement" is true, in my opinion. It doesn't matter if it's fiction, nonfiction, poetry, etc....poetry in particular requires an audience, same as plays or screenplays. I don't think any form is inherently superior, for that matter. For myself, fiction offers a greater avenue to life-truths by far; but nonfiction is the grist of the world-as-we-know-it.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Paris Review interviews-a friendly WikiLeaks for literature

This new access to the great reviews in The Paris Review (I love the '60s interviews--Waugh, Kerouac, etc.) are a remarkable gift to the world and a must-bookmark for writers. It's like a friendly WikiLeaks for literature.

Thanks, Paris Review.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

NewSouth Books authors definitely care about Katrina

A recent article in The New Republic made the argument that novelists have done little in writing about Hurricane Katrina. Maybe in TNR circles, but not in those of NewSouth Books, the acclaimed independent publisher based in Montgomery, Alabama [and publisher of my novel, Corina's Way].

Have a look at this post linked below to a new entry on NewSouth's blog:

One thing not mentioned is that Tony Dunbar's novel, Tubby Meets Katrina, was the first post-Katrina novel published, and remains a good read and a vivid reminder of those days during and after the storm.

I don't think there's a statute of limitations on when fiction can illuminate an event, or an era, or an idea--or anything. But the illuminations of Katrina are definitely in progress.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Keeping voudou validated

Check out Adam Nossiter's story in the NYT about a priest in Benin seeking to create validation of the ways and importance of the voudou religion. Link below:

This is an enduring issue for Western media, not to say the general public and the religious community. Coverage of the Haitian earthquake devastation has brought the Haitian practice of vodun a little more attention, but I think mostly it continues to view the religion as a cult practice at the fringes of respectability. This isn't many steps from the outright suppression of the religion that followed its importation under slavery into the Caribbean and the Americas. Today, in the U.S., where I have principally studied voudou (the New Orleans term), the religion remains at the fringes of acceptance and mostly is treated as a stereotype based on centuries of falsehoods. In American Voudou, I tried to bring the American practice to light as much as I could. I think the title character in Corina's Way also shows the strength and passion of the practice here. And I do believe there has been something of a revival of interest in voudou or orisha worship within these shores, but I can't say it's really make great inroads outside of limited communities or some segments of academia. But something is better than nothing.

I continue to hope that the orishas and their followers will be accorded the respect given any other religion, although it is a constant struggle to make inroads, even among those who seem to be willing to extend tolerance to other kinds of beliefs.

But the gods of Africa remain among us.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Katrina five years after

Five years ago today, Hurricane Katrina made landfall and within 24 hours the surge pushed into to breech the levees in the city, flooding 80 percent and creating the diaspora and abandonment that remains today. I left San Antonio, where I worked for the Express-News, for New Orleans by the end of that first day, and soon met among the evacuees Teddy Duet and his family. He was a boat captain and had lived all his life along the Bayou LaFource, so Cajun that his grandmother still only spoke French.

In the course of the following several weeks that I remained in and around the city, I met all manner of the survivors of the storm--a man who, having been rescued from the deep flooding in the Lower Ninth, promptly waded back into the chest-deep water, distraught and disoriented, saying he had left someone back in his apartment, and none of the rescuers could stop him. I saw houses along 17th street literally blasted off their foundations and houses near Pontchartrain so filled with ceiling-high mold after the waters retreated that it was toxic just to open the doors, and yet all the returning residents did, not knowing what they would find. I stayed for a night in an Uptown house used by Hearst for its reporters and guarded by Blackwater security, and traveled across the city daily in what became a kind of witness-bearing.

I drove to Grand Isle, where an entire town seemed to have been sand-blasted away. I saw the forests and communities around New Orleans, the obliteration of beaches and highways into Mississippi. I was one of the first journalists to go inside the Convention Center, where evacuees were forced to stay even against their will, and where bodies were found inside and out; I watched the 82nd Airborne come into the 7th ward and all manner of heavily armed "officials" move into town as though they were entering Baghdad, when in fact it was a city where the only real danger was not being able to help enough. In time, most of the troops figured that out, even if the NOPD didn't.

Every year about this time I go back there in my head, and in my heart. It has taken me most of this time to feel that I could write about it in fiction, which I am now doing for a new novel for NewSouth Books. I can't write about everything in this space, now, but I wanted to leave a note as witness. We all remember what happened, and what didn't happen, and what needs to happen. I hope Teddy and his family are well, and that the BP spill didn't harm them further.

I think everyone who cares about the South can never forget the meaning of Katrina. And not just the damage from the storm. The way the most important city in the South, if not the U.S., was left to die. And that it has not done so.