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O'Neil's 'Netherland" wins PEN/Faulkner Award

Irish-born novelist Joseph O'Neil is the winner of the 2009 PEN/Faulkner Foundation Award for Fiction for his novel Netherland (Pantheon Books) it was announced on Wednesday in at the foundation's offices in Washington, D.C.
The novel--which tracks the life of a Dutch-born stock analyst and his family in New York City and London during and after the terrorist attacks of September 11th--had been a finalist for both the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award as well as an early favorite for the U. K.'s Man Booker Prize, but had been shut out until Wednesday. 
The PEN/Faulkner Award, which is administered by the writer's organization International PEN with an endowment created out of novelist William Faulkner's 1949 Nobel Prize winnings, is "the largest peer-juried award for fiction in the United States" and tends to be awarded to the "novel most admired by other writers" as opposed to the National Book Award, NBCC Award and Pulitzer Prize in fiction, which are selected by mixed panels of writers, critics and editors.  Recent PEN/Faulkner winners have included Kate Christensen, Philip Roth, E.L. Doctorow, Ha Jin, John Updike, and Ann Patchett.

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For Marvin Hamlisch, here's that rainy day

Marv Marvin Hamlisch, left, who is coming to town to lead the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra on Saturday night in a tribute to Jerome Kern, recently gave an interview to the Miami Herald. In it, he carried on pessimistically about how kids these days no longer know their way around the Great American Songbook.

''It's getting scary,'' said Hamlisch. ``You ask a kid today who Cole Porter is and they don't know. That shouldn't be. The variety show went away and we got into the world of iPods. It changed everything and not for the better.''

And: ``I don't mind listening to Britney Spears as long as you give me something else: Frank Sinatra.'' That made me giggle.

"Do they know there is this thing called Ella Fitzgerald?" Hamlisch also says. "I'm not against the new things being heard. We've got a huge palette of colors out there, but you wonder if they know of other songs.''

Hamlisch has been known to make gloomy speeches on stage at Kleinhans Music Hall, pondering the future of orchestras, changing musical tastes, etc. Though I sympathize with his concerns, I wonder if he should consider changing his tune. I have an i-Pod, and I know that like the farmer and the cowman, the i-Pod and the Great American Songbook should be friends. Who says you can't load up Cole Porter onto that i-Pod? Who says that people don't?

Why not accentuate the positive? Headlines like "Composer Marvin Hamlisch is now a bit afraid" -- that was how the Miami Herald began its story -- don't do anyone any good.

Mr. Hamlisch, we're looking forward to that Kern tribute. Don't let the smoke get in your eyes.

-- Mary Kunz Goldman

Sam Hoyt on arts funding

The American Repertory Theatre of Western New York has tagged New York State Assemblyman Sam Hoyt to write a letter in support of the arts, now posted on its Web site. An excerpt:

There are still those who view the arts as either something that benefits only those who are actively engaged in them or else as something inessential - an extra. Of course I know that you all don't feel this way, but sometimes it's an uphill battle to get people to recognize that the arts and cultural [sic] offer something so much more and that they provide essential contributions to our state's economic viability.

I'm not talking here about the inherent challenges of simply selling more tickets to more events, or bringing in more out-of-market tourist dollars - as important as those goals are. What I'm talking about is a new way of re-conceptualizing the role of the arts and the humanities in our state's economy.

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Franco to play Ginsberg in "Howl," the film

Actor James Franco will portray the younger version of poet Allen Ginsberg in a film about creation and controversy surrounding the long poem Howl financed by the independent production company Werc Werk Works, Poets & Writers Magazine and Variety reported on Monday.

Academy Award winning documentary filmmakers Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman (The Celluloid Closet) co-wrote the screenplay for the project and will direct the feature, which has the eponymous working title "Howl" and is slated to begin filming in New York City on March 16th.
The film will reportedly use a number of narrative techniques (including animation) to depict the creation of the poem and its centrality in Ginsberg's early work and the legacy of the "Beat" movement.  The focus of the film, however, will be on the obscenity trial that Ginsberg and his publisher, Lawrence Ferlinghetti of City Lights Books, faced following the publication of the poem in 1956.
Franco, who was born in 1978, is perhaps best known for his Golden Globe winning performance as James Dean in the 2001 Mark Rydell directed made-for-television bio-pic about the film icon.  He was most recently seen alongside Seth Rogen in last year's comedy Pineapple Express  and, more memorably, as Scott Smith--a lover of Harvey Milk (played by Oscar winner Sean Penn)--in Gus Van Sant's 2009 Academy Award nominated film Milk.
Franco's background and interest in writing is significant, if not widely known.  His mother, Betsy Verne Franco, is a California based poet, author, and editor.  He holds an undergraduate degree in English from UCLA, where he prepared his honors thesis under the supervision of the noted (Anywhere But Here) novelist and former Paris Review fiction editor Mona Simpson.  He is currently enrolled in Columbia University's MFA Writing Program and in the filmmaking program of New York University's Tisch School for the Arts.
--R.D. Pohl

Fun with paper airplanes

Sam Fuller, a New York City-based video artist, offers this charming little video of a paper plane launched from the 31st story of New York skyscraper [via VSL]:

Flying from Sam Fuller on Vimeo.

--Colin Dabkowski

Met to close shops, freeze hiring

New York City's Metropolitan Museum of Art, as the most important museum in the United States and in many aspects the world, is a closely watched barometer of what's happening around the art world. So though it comes as little surprise, it's a sign of concern that the museum announced today it would shutter seven of its satellite shops and enact a hiring freeze. From the release posted on its site:

The Metropolitan Museum is a robust institution, but despite its manifest strengths has not been immune to the consequences of this turbulent economy.

The New York Times reports the museum's endowment has shrunk from $2.8 to $2.1 billion (oh boo-hoo, the nation's smaller and more put-upon arts institutions might say). The Albright-Knox Art Gallery, which has also instituted a hiring freeze and raised its admission prices, is also obviously not immune to the recession/depression. Let's hope this thing turns around quick.

--Colin Dabkowski

Starcherone novel a finalist for Young Lions Award

Buffalo based Starcherone Books has scored another coup on behalf of its brand of cutting edge literary fiction.  Fresh off the bounce in recognition it received from founder Ted Pelton's spotlight interview in the January/February issue of American Book Review, the publisher of independent, innovative fiction and prose has landed one of its titles on the list of finalists for the 2009 Young Lions Award sponsored by the New York Public Library. 
First time novelist Zachary Mason, winner of the 2008 Starcherone Prize for Innovative Fiction for his The Lost Books of the Odyssey, is one of five authors under age 35 who have been shortlisted for the award, which carries with it a $10,000 cash prize.  The other finalists are Jon Fasman for The Unpossessed City, Rivka Galchen for Atmospheric Disturbances, Sana Krasikov for One More Year, and Salvatore Scibona for The End.  The winner will be announced on March 16, 2009 at a ceremony hosted by Young Lions co-founder and actor Ethan Hawke, held in the Celeste Bartos Forum of the Humanities and Social Sciences at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street in New York City.

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Baz and Beyonce's Oscar night medley

Did you see Baz Luhrmann's insane tribute to musical theater at the Oscars last night? If not, you really need to check it out:

I think (or hope) I speak for all fans of musical theater everywhere when I say: what?

It's tough to know where to start with this one. First of all, how many songs were packed into this five-minute number? 46? Secondly, transitioning from "At Last" to a song -- any song -- from "High School Musical" and overlapping it with "Maria" from "West Side Story" and the title song from "Mamma Mia!" should be the musical theater equivalent of a felony. Thirdly: Beyonce.

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'Theater of War' at the Hamburg Palace


Attention all Bertolt Brecht fanatics (you're out there, right?): Hamburg's Palace Theater is planning to screen the critically hailed 2008 documentary "Theater of War," which looks at recent Public Theatre production of Brecht's "Mother Courage," starring Meryl Streep and Kevin Kline, through the lens of Brecht experts like Tony Kushner, Eric Bentley and others.

Filmmaker John Walter has trained his lens on a wide swath of history, from Brecht's time in Germany to the war in Iraq. The film, though not widely released, has received swimming reviews from The New York Times and elsewhere.

"There is much to admire in a movie in which intelligent adults... discuss art as if it matters (because it does) and without the self-flattering grandiosity that sometimes emerges when the subject turns to actors," wrote the Times' Manhola Dargis.

The Palace will screen the film for three days only, from Feb. 24-26. See their Web site for more information.

--Colin Dabkowski

"Nickel City Nights" samples erotic writing in WNY

"Nothing manifests the conflict of being human like sexuality.  We are simultaneously drawn to sex and repulsed by it, aroused and ashamed of our arousal, liberated by sexual experience but tangled in its complex rules, implicit and explicit," writes editor Gary Earl Ross in his introduction to Nickel City Nights: Erotic Writing in Western New York, a new anthology that receives its official book launch with a reading and book-signing tonight at 7 p.m. at Talking Leaves Books, 3158 Main St. in Buffalo.
On hand will be several of the 62 contributors to this 170 page anthology published by The Writer's Den publications, including many of the Buffalo area's best known and most widely published poets, playwrights, and prose writers.  Dedicated to the late Rosemary Kothe, the Buffalo based poet who prior to her death in 2005 drew an entire generation of Western New York writers out of their repressive shells, Nickel City Nights grew out of "Desire by Design" an 1990's era Just Buffalo Literary Center sponsored writing workshop series led by Ross and an annual reading of erotic writing by Buffalo area authors hosted by Karen Lee Lewis that succeeded it. 
What is it that makes a particular kind of writing "erotic" as opposed to say, "clinical" or "analytical"?   It's worth noting that not a single one of the contributors to Nickel City Nights can be thought of exclusively or even primarily as a writer of "erotica," not even Ross, an award-winning mystery and suspense fiction writer, playwright, essayist and UB professor whose story collection The Wheel of Desire and Other Intimate Hauntings  (2000) combined tales of erotic fantasy with elements of supernatural fiction in a mix so seamless and narratively concise as to possibly make even Anne Rice envious.
Although this is a regional compilation, there is little here that ties it specifically to the climate, geography, culture or even the sexual etiquette of the Buffalo area.  Instead Ross's approach is humanistic and his scope universal: "It is no wonder people have always tried to understand the machineries of their own desires, in everything from cave paintings to fertility carvings, from Renaissance sculptures to modern nudes," he writes.  "[In erotic writing] Language is an extension of that effort to get control of something contradictory and elusive by defining it, picturing it, framing it, naming it...But sex [inevitably] defies control and categorization."
--R.D. Pohl

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