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tv   Discussion of The Contemporary American Essay  CSPAN  November 25, 2021 2:46pm-3:42pm EST

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always selling books is very difficult, and i would like to take this all the way to the top, not for myself, but to show everyone that the people who are in this book matter the most. please help me with that. i need your help. i really do. but i have a hat for you. someone has a hat. >> repyour crew. >> we have fiction, we have nonfiction, and of course, we have the yellow hat that says open book, for all of you who are like me and really just can't decide. >> i just want to thank all of you for participating. and all of you for coming on a sunday morning. thank you, brooklyn book festival, which is an incredible event. i know there's a paper that says something that i'm supposed to say but i don't have it. the closing. >> i stole your paper. you already said everything. it's that we're going to be over there, it's thank you for coming, and we have to bring our name tags. >> yes, and min and emma will be signing their books, too. come gets your books. >> thank you, guys. >> thank you.
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>> book tv's coverage of the brooklyn book festival continues. >> before we begin, i would like to let you know, yes, thank you, mom. thank you. i would like to let you know that books by authors in the program can be purchased by books on magic here in the plaza, where the authors will also be signing their books immediately following the program. authors, at the conclusion of urprogram, please go directly to the signing table. so we're here today to commemorate the publication of the contemporary american essay, which is the third in a series of anthologies that i edited dedicated to the american essay. the first was the glorious american essay. the second was the golden age of the american essay, and this is the third, the contemporary american essay, which is the essay of the present moment.
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which was in a way the hardest and scariest way for me to edit because i knew i would have to leave out some of my friends and they would be very angry at me. and also, it's easiest to tell what is enduring if you're looking at essays from the 19th century or early 20th century. as soon as you get to the present moment, all you can do is lay a few bets and try to get a sense of what the range of the conversation is. but today, we have three of the contributors to the contemporary american essay, and each of them is going to read a snippet from their essay, and then we'll talk about issues involving the contemporary american essay. to my left, i have sloan crossly.
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i always tell them there will be cake and look alive out there, and other books. to my right is clifford thompson, author of love for sale and what it is. and to my far right -- so we're going to start out with sloan reading from her piece. >> hi, thank you guys for coming. and thank you for getting us in this. i'm just going to read a little bit, the essay that was selected from the book, look alive out there, is called the doctor is a woman. the very beginning will give you no clue as to what it's about, which is probably not great for a essay, but i set a painting on
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fire. so i guess know that happens. it's about ambivalence about children. most children are okay once you get to know them. they're like your flakiest, least employable friend who sleeps through brunch, terrible art, and name drops characters you have never heard of. old as there is the little difference between what amuses me and a 7-year-old. as someone who has pregnant women, i can tell you that babies pound your bladder into a pancake and put your stomach level with your heart. this would be funny if women were men, because the bladder. this would be funny if women were men. deep down ien thaug it was a mo point any way. i thoughtht if i ever wanted to become pregnant, a doctor woul
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tell me uterus was not broken but a absentee. there's a bunch of insulation foam where a uterus might go. the one time i had a reason to purchase a pregnancy test, i paid on the stick and waited for one blue line or two. when the timer went off, i went to check on the stick. the window was blankho like a magic 8 ball without the magic. i tried again with the second stick. same deal.ll i called my mother who is generally useless but knocked it outuy of the park after i said guy i was dating never heard of gloria stineman. i thought this comment ushered in a new era of wisdom. i was mistaken.e clearly you're not pregnant. i'm not not pregnant, i said. i'm nothing. which would you rather be she asked, pregnantt or nothing.
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those were my options. for sons much of history to note pregnant was to be nothing. while we have mostly sloughed off such beliefs, some animal part of me was speaking up, making a s strong case for m pregnant. another minute passed before a solid blue line appeared in the window. a i sighed relieved. we will never w know who was th remedial one, me or the stick. i'm going to skip ahead. father and von int. a car accident. the father diesson instantly an the son is taken to nearest hospital. the doctor comes in and explains, i can't operate on this boy. why not asked the nurse. because he's my son. the doctor replied. how is this possible? the riddle is a good litmus test doing as a e society. how quicklyty does the person
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being riddled to register that the doctor is a woman. it's hard to imagine a grown individual being confounded by this brain buster. even the language hence that every one in the riddle has a one another.ith i remember being stumped by it as a little kid. probably because my medical advisersst consistented of a pediatrician, an allergist, and an orthodontist, all of them men. i reallyi don't understand the doctor's reaction. why't can't a mother operate on her son? obviously, it'ss not ideal. her judgment could be obscured byon emotion. someone el should really do it. i alwayss picture the riddle taking place in a rural town where she'si the only doctor on duty. i imagine her pacing the hall while her son bleeds out because
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she can't pull itoc together. she seems like a bad doctor and hysterical woman t which transforms thess riddle from feminist to sexist. was this lady responsible enoughno to have a child in first place or perhaps she just absorbed so many outside opinions that she failed to develop one of her own. >> i'm going to read from the case of the 5 angry doctor. my 5-year-old daughter who was been called the buddha baby. not by me but friends. oncen, she starts kindergarten, she becomes abruptly no longer thee buddha baby. she weeps and begs not to go to
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school. in the morning, s the same. she's sad but also especially raged. she kicks me for not having a banana. r she punches me in the stomach. he says repeatedly she's leaving to find a new family. these are normal. a transition.do it doesn't seem normal for her. she ran into her classroom in the morning at preschool. at most, she wanted me to draw a turtle op a post it for her to wear during thea day. she's still a loving and express ive girl but i'mt, the seconds the worst mom in the whole wild world.d. there will be more to come. i don't know that then.
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how do you spell soul. how do you spell until? k i don't know what she's doing. then she shows me. the letter go across the page left to right and takes the corner and return back ward right to left. beneath them is a spooky figure that the holding a lollipop. no she says, a magnifying class. there's a red rectangle with an x through it and another figure standing by. that means i'm not available when playing the piano. she tapes sign on the the wall of the living room. something she's never done before. the maker of informative signs is a change from minutes earlier when she slams d her door, went and shoud if that happens again be eating by fish. that in this case, i had not
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gotten herte a pumpkin for halloween. she shows she's become attached to the idea of being a detective. she finds keys and wallets. the reluctance kind who is never sure if there's been a crime. >> thank you all for coming. now i have to find my essay. this is called eric garner and
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me. please permit me a crude analogy. the fall of 2014 was like an unforeseen rainstorm. a cracking open of a cloudless the kind that used to occur on bad ausitcoms of days gone by. these people heading to that awning. those people to another.n in this rain in this analogy is the non-indictment of the police officers who choked eric garner to death as shown on the video tape seen by the entire world. >> all right. the close on the heels of the non-indictment who shot michael brown to death. the awnings are made opinions of it all. t this is the kind of justice blacksbl can expect in a white society which is no justice at
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all. i don't mean to suggest i was neutral in the debate. in fact, i was shutting down traffic while chanting, i can't breathe. to stretch this analogy further than it willil go, i went out t the protest ino the falling rai, the squall blinding me what i had long believed, perhaps blinding me to the existence of other who is maybe- were gettin drenched along with me. i amm black. the unpunished killing of men with skin like me got me angry enough to voice a statement. this must stop. the cover is merely being black. blackness like a press secretarr
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determines their responsive to life and events. the b beginning is the family i was born into 52 years ago now becoming its 7th member joining me parents, three much older siblings and myh maternal grandmother in an entirely black, working poor neighborhood ofs washington, d.c.
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we had a basement and backyard where the view of the housing project in which our friend livered remiebdsed me that i was not poor. it's not that i thought i was rich. rich is what you saw on today. seeing that most of the tv rich were white since not all tv whites were rich.es i had in scarring experiences. in fact very fewf experiences o anyit kind with white unless yo count my being told by classmates that i talked like one. i knew about slavery. every one knew about slavery but i also sinced that a new day had come. there were still racists but racism as the law of the land had ended.
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maybe once white people had been evil but that was over. the clock had been reset. when a plaque student expressed the needdd to around about whatd blacks suffered, i honestly did not know what he was talking about. i felt like i landed in a 3-d movie house with i, alone, was without glasses. i filled out housing forms but had not chosen.
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myri pride did not require a whe dorm. i was assigned a to a residence where another surprise, i turnel out to be the other black male. i dated one for far too long and later another. it was after moving into another dorm and making black friend, i learnedf how much contempt a lo of black students
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-- o companion. > it's not the same as a writer. you have to construct a persona in order to beru that convincin
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and believable. it's not skrus -- it isn't just transparency. you mentioned that your love of dead writers, which i also have. a lot of the essay in the past have been a conversation not just between two part of your brain but a conversation with your dead ancestor and also essayist. how important for an essayist to know the linage. to know the essay. >>to it helps. it helps. ifif only to distinguish yourse from it. it's great in your essay that you -- you evoke this sort of super man of the essay.
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you put daylight between you and him. i know in the essay which is partly about baldwin too. he uses it as a lens through which to look a t a lot of things. that can be useful. >> pay them residuals.
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>>m you should know. it's notpr necessarily about getting out. >> some awareness of, again, to your point, so at the pair minimum you don't imitate it and embarrassmb yourself. >> sometimes you have to start by imitating. i'm not against imitating. i think wem all start by imitating. when we fail to imitate our heroes that got between what we write and what they wrote is the nature of our originality. that's how you find out. >> that's true. >> what is your voice? >> that's true.
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>> any other thoughts about this form? i think h one question i have sd there was the essay in the present moment because a lot of people are experimenting with hybridization, with mixing fiction and nonfiction with visual forms of the essay. even with essay films. there's a lot of interest in deconstructing form in a way now. what do you think about that? >> i feel like there are irreducible elements in an essay. when i think it's -- i have trouble with rules against doing this or that. i think anything you want to do ist fine.
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i think you'rein right when you identify a i sort of shift at se point in the essay as the thing you're looking for so it's not -- so it doesn't stay on one emotional oplane. i feel like there has to be some sort of change at some point. whatever the -- whatever you want to call the genre, the essayy or whatever, some sort o shift and some sort of sense of why i'm being told this. however subtle that might be. i think that's -- i read a lot of student essays and i really like mostt of them and often wht i find is missing is this is an interesting event. why are youou telling me about ? what does this mean to you? i think that's the other irreducible -- the other irreducible element to me. >> how do you get the students
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to say why they -- buz they are very uncertain. why are they telling this. >> revision. that's wherem the action is. what you had to say about that and that process figuring out what you have to say about it. figuring outro what it's about,f you can look through that lens at what you've written then you start to see y the situation is what happened. thee story is what you made of what happened. we have time for few questions.
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yes.s. [ inaudible question ] >> could you repeat that. >> what separates what we're proud of -- oh. >> i wasas interviewing a write who has written like 19 novels and whoho told thing was he doesn't 9revise them.
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his w take was like who am i to say whether my book was good. that washt his take. i'm not going to say do i become board when i reread my book and i decide if it's good or not or if i should change it. that's quite radical. i thought it was an interesting extreme. he was sort of saying i'm the last toe know. i don't advocate it but i thought it wast interesting. >> right. >> i wrote a couple of weeks ago. they both eesaid, well, you kin of complaining. you realizeou you're complainin. it need to see what i need to sy beyondt complaint. complaints of their own, they don't need yours.
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>> i'm sort of looking for density of intelligence. if i read something that i wrote and it seems like the intelligence s is condensed, th fact there's anyct intelligence. >> i was going to say that i think it's sort of like the vivian thing or the fiction version is like virginia wolfe said rainbow and granite. there's two o elements of her especially narrative stuff. you have the story. you have what happened. happened.
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>> one comes first and the other comes first. i have this amazing story or is there any sort of bullet point of experience that i can put underneath it. if theyer don't, it's like magns or sort of electricity. if they don't match up ever well enough or just not touching well enough is the best way i can think to describe it. you end up complaining or pontificating. you have stopped entertaining ot making a point. in the spirit of that, i'll stop. >> we have time for just one more question. >> when i first read your collection, one of your an thol
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-- essays, it was about social media and everybody having platform. when i read like modern love column, things start to sound repetitive. i'mol wondering do you think th art form has suffered from over exposure or lowering of the barrier to entry. none of you all, included in that comment. >> i think it's always been a real minority. the good work has been a minority. ive mean, just like how many novels are good, how many poems are good. how many essays are good. it's always going to be a
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minority. i don't think that's shrunk. >> survival of the fittest, basically. >>k. thank you all for coming.in the authors will sign their book at the signing table. >> thank you.

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