Maggie Nelson (2013 Literature) has made a name for herself as a border-smashing writer of books that straddle poetry and prose, academic writing and cultural reporting, memoir and criticism. Today, Nelson’s Creative Capital-supported project, The Argonauts, is published in wide release by Graywolf Press.
The Argonauts centers on a romance: the story of the author’s relationship with artist Harry Dodge, who is fluidly gendered. Nelson describes the complexities and joys of becoming a stepmother to Harry’s son, as well as her journey to conceive the child who they are now raising together. Writing in the spirit of critics like Susan Sontag and Roland Barthes, Nelson’s experience serves as a way to explore how iconic thinkers and theorists have tried to untie the vexing knots that limit the way we talk about gender and the domestic institutions of marriage and childbirth. I spoke with Maggie to learn more about the development of The Argonauts.
Jenny Gill: I’m curious how your writing timeline overlapped with and unfolded alongside the life events you write about in the book. When did you start writing The Argonauts, and how did the book and your life change or evolve over that period?
Maggie Nelson: I didn’t set out to write The Argonauts as a book. In late 2010 I wrote a long piece on Eve Sedgwick, which I gave as a talk at CUNY in March 2011, then in early 2012 I wrote a long review of Sedgwick’s posthumous book, The Weather in Proust, for the LA Review of Books. Then my son was born. Later that year I wrote an essay for artist A. L. Steiner’s November 2012 show “Puppies and Babies,” in which I developed some ideas about “sodomitical maternity,” a great phrase set forth by critic Susan Fraiman. All of these pieces were basically me challenging myself to say “yes” to occasional writing, since I usually say “no” (I can be kind of mono-focused on book writing, at the expense of smaller outings). During all this time, I was also writing more diaristically, about my son, my relationship, my thoughts about family, politics, queerness, sex, gender and so on. It wasn’t until fall 2012 when I looked at a lot of this work and thought, maybe this could or should all go together. At which point I started fashioning it into a long essay of sorts. Continue reading
Paul Beatty‘s Creative Capital-supported project, The Sellout, is being released today by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. The novel is a biting satire about a young man’s isolated upbringing and the race trial that sends him to the Supreme Court. It challenges the sacred tenets of the United States Constitution, urban life, the civil rights movement, the father-son relationship, and the holy grail of racial equality—the black Chinese restaurant. The book is already receiving rave reviews, including one from Dwight Garner of The New York Times, who wrote, “The first 100 pages of The Sellout are the most caustic and the most badass first 100 pages of an American novel I’ve read in at least a decade.” We recently caught up with Paul to ask about his background in poetry, his study of psychology and his writing process.
Jenny Gill: You were a Poetry Slam champ and published two books of poetry before you published your first novel, White Boy Shuffle, in 1996. How did that background inform your approach to language when you started writing novels? Do you still write poetry?
Paul Beatty: Poetry has had a huge impact on how I approach literature. Slamming not so much. Poetry is the backbone to how I think about structure and the page. And I’ve yet to break myself of the notion that every word is vitally important—though I’m trying.
A still from 2013 Performing Arts Awardee Kyle Abraham’s “Pavement.” Photo by Carrie Schneider.
Today, we begin accepting applications for Creative Capital’s Awards in Emerging Fields, Literature and Performing Arts, due Monday, March 2 at 4pm EST. We’d like to take a moment to tell you about ourselves and the award, and to answer some of our most frequently asked questions.
What distinguishes Creative Capital from more traditional funders?
Now in our second decade, Creative Capital continues to consider itself the premiere provider of risk capital in the arts—taking chances on projects that are singularly bold, innovative and genre-stretching. We want to support the latest thinking in the field: ideas of scope and ambition expressed through audacious combinations of form and content; varied projects that engage or even create new technologies; and works that take traditional approaches into new territories, teaching us something new about the world and ourselves. We often provide early support for projects that initially have challenges receiving funding from other sources. Continue reading
Left: Book cover for “Song of the Shank,” published by Graywolf Press; Right: Photo of Blind Tom.
Jeffery Renard Allen‘s Creative Capital-supported project, the novel Song of the Shank, is being published by Graywolf Press on June 17. At the heart of this remarkable work is Thomas Greene Wiggins, a 19th-century slave and improbable musical genius who performed under the name Blind Tom. As the novel ranges from Tom’s boyhood as a sightless, probably autistic piano virtuoso to the heights of his performing career, the inscrutable savant is buffeted by opportunistic teachers and crooked managers, crackpot healers and militant prophets. In his symphonic novel, Allen blends history and fantastical invention to bring to life a radical cipher, a man who profoundly changes all who encounter him.
Song of the Shank is already garnering tremendous critical acclaim, including a forthcoming review on the front cover of the New York Times Book Review that calls the novel “masterly” and praises Allen as “a prodigiously gifted risk-taker.“ In the Atlanta Journal Constitution, Jeff Calder calls Song of the Shank “a landmark of modern African-American literature,” and concludes, “Reading through this sagacious volume is like stumbling on a crooked monument covered in celestial carvings, something that aims for the stars and ends up reconfiguring constellations.” In a starred review, Kirkus Reviews raves, “If there’s any justice, Allen’s visionary work, as startlingly inventive as one of his subject’s performances, should propel him to the front rank of American novelists.” Continue reading
Bernadette Mayer (2009 Literature) is the winner of the National Poetry Society’s 2014 Shelley Memorial Award. The judges, Ben Doller and Joan Larkin, wrote the following tribute: “For a generation of poets, Bernadette Mayer has stood as a brilliant example of how to live a life in poetry and how to create a poetry out of life. From her early performance-based work in which she explored the lines between memory, documentary, and presence, to her current work which excavates the DNA of the struggling city in which she lives (Troy, NY), Mayer’s writing has always been fiercely, independently ahead of its time. Feminist and expansive—in multiple directions—Mayer’s voice is one that cuts the wind, leads the charge, and always tells the smooth, hard truth. In a massive body of work that juxtaposes the quotidian with the spectacular, the public with the personal, Mayer has emerged as the chief poet of time in our time. Throughout her still-evolving career, Mayer consistently transcends category, genre, and label, carving open space for new forms of writing, thinking, and being. From her early work as the co-founder and editor of the influential 0 to 9 with Vito Acconci, to her deeply collaborative and creative poetry friendships, to her radical investigations into egalitarian pedagogy, Bernadette Mayer is a poet who has given more than she has taken—she has given proliferation back to poetry, and poetry back to art.”
Mayer received the Creative Capital award in 2009 for her project Helen of Troy, The Faces That Launched A Thousand Ships, a series of poems and photographs featuring women named Helen. Her book, The Helens of Troy, New York, was published by New Directions Press in 2013.
Tracie Morris (left) and Queen GodIs (right)
As part of our “Artist to Artist” interview series, Queen GodIs (2013 Performing Arts) and Tracie Morris (2000 Performing Arts) met up at the Brooklyn Museum to discuss commonalities in their work. The following is an excerpt from their conversation. You can listen online to the full podcast, or subscribe through iTunes.
Queen GodIs: This is Queen GodIs, Creative Capital grantee, 2013, with the honor of being with Tracie Morris, a Creative Capital grantee from…
Tracie Morris: The first class of Creative Capital—2000.
Queen: I’m excited. I think there are a lot of parallels that I’m interested in discovering between our work, and some new things. I’m excited to see what she’s up to in this time and figuring out what we’re doing now. I’m going to start with what I call a “check-in.” I think that before you start an interview and start with asking people questions about their business, you want to see what’s on their brain for the day. This check-in is actually inspired by a quote of yours that I heard in an interview that you did with Charles Bernstein. You said: “Our subconscious says things that our consciousness has to catch up to.” I thought that was an awesome statement—a profound statement—and one that rings true in so many ways. So for this check-in, it’s just a quick thought, word-association based on this year in America. So I’m going to throw out some words, and you just give me one or two words—short, simple, off-the-top, first things that come to mind.
Jen Bervin (2013 Literature) presented her project The Silk Poems at the 2013 Creative Capital Artist Retreat. You can watch more artist presentations from the Retreat on our Vimeo channel.
This video includes a clip from a TEDx talk by Fiorenzo Omenetto, a Professor of Biomedical Engineering at Tufts University who is researching biomedical silk.
Srikanth Reddy (2013 Literature) presented on his Creative Capital-supported project, Underworld Lit, at the 2013 Artist Retreat. You can watch more artist presentations from the Retreat on our Vimeo channel.
At our 2013 Artist Orientation Weekend, Creative Capital Literature Consultant Ethan Nosowsky led a focus session entitled “Working with Publishers and Developing a Publishing Strategy.” It offers general advice for artists in all disciplines who will be working with a publisher and outlines key moments in the publication timeline.
LISTEN: Working with Publishers and Developing a Publishing Strategy
SUBSCRIBE: Creative Capital Podcasts on iTunes
About Ethan Nosowsky
Ethan Nosowsky is Editorial Director at Graywolf Press and Literature Consultant for Creative Capital. He began his career at Farrar, Straus and Giroux, served as Graywolf’s editor-at-large from 2007–2011, and was most recently Editorial Director at McSweeney’s. He has edited books by Jeffery Renard Allen, Emily Barton, Elias Canetti, Geoff Dyer, Stephen Elliott, John Haskell, J. Robert Lennon and Isaac Bashevis Singer, among many others. He has taught in the Creative Writing program at Columbia University and has written for Bookforum, the San Francisco Chronicle and Threepenny Review.
Want to learn more from Ethan? Attend his webinar “Applying for Grants & Residencies: Strategies for Writers” on Monday, June 17 at 7:00pm EST.
Our friends at the Knight Foundation recently published this great article by Scott Cunningham on lessons learned in organizing a poetry festival for Miami-Dade County, an exceptionally diverse community of 2.6 million people. Scott and the Knight Foundation are putting these lessons to use as they prepare for the second O, Miami Poetry Festival, which will take place throughout the month of April in celebration of National Poetry Month.
Three years ago, a group of friends and I started to dream up what a lot of people considered impossible: a festival that would bring poetry to all 2.6 million residents of Greater Miami.
At that time, Miami’s cultural scene was exploding. Art Basel was in full force, and we wanted to do a festival that was the opposite of the “pipe-and-blazer” readings that most people associate with poetry. We wanted to do a festival that reflected Miami’s diversity and personality.
Knight Foundation had just finished the first round of its famous “Random Acts of Culture” and we liked how those events turned everyday occurrences into cultural occasions. What if we did something like that? What if we did it every day for a month? Continue reading