4.29.2004

Tonight I was looking for a magazine at the newstand, and having heard that High Times relaunched with a new focus on politics and culture, I picked it up. Of course, we're talking about the newstand in the 125th Street subway station, so it's the February issue. The theme is "women," and although it's uneven (a feature on Carolyn Cassady's unsung role in the success of Beat writers goes up against a story on how to get back at your ex, "that lying bitch," with Friendster), it looks interesting. There's an intriguing article by movie critic Carrie Rickey (not online), entitled "A Hard Look at the Gaze." I only had time to skim it; according to the editor's letter: "In a reverse shot on cinema's current obsession with the camera's 'male gaze, Carrie Rickey illuminates 'the female gaze' in film." More on this later if it's as good as it sounds.

-Lauren
Lucky you: hear downtown literary goddess Amanda Stern read for a good cause!
An ALL AGES Rock Show to Benefit Ladyfest* East
Friday, April 30
@ Jane Doe Books

w/ Nakatomi Plaza
Rachel Jacobs
Amanda Stern
Welcome the Plague Year
$ 5
@Jane Doe Books
93 Montrose Ave
Subway: L

Here's more from Williamsburg's Block Magazine about Jane Doe Books, a terrific new feminist, activist literary space. Check it out!

-Lauren


via Small Spiral Notebook:

5.06.04 SAVE THIS DATE!: celebrate the launch of the small.spiral.notebook print edition at KGB BAR in New York City. 85 E. 4th St. 2nd Avenue. 7PM. $10 snags you get a copy of the print edition and makes you eligible for amazing raffle prizes! readers include: maggie estep, daniel nester, amy benson, felicia c. sullivan & meredith broussard. Possible guest appearance by Jonathan Ames.

Sounds fun! Maggie read a very juicy, intriguing excerpt of a new novel she's working on at Cupcake in April, and left us dying for more!

-Lauren

4.27.2004

But I give props to the New Yorker this week for Jane Kramer's big smart profile on Dorothea Tanning. The article is not available online, sorry y'all. You might want to buy this issue for this article though--details of Tanning's expansive, artistic life, full of beauty and determination to do whatever she wants in whatever medium she wants are inspiring. She points out that though she is known as a Surrealist painter, she actually only did that for twelve years, and then painted in other ways for the next fifty years.

And in 1997, at age 88, she decided to become a poet instead. How gorgeous.

Also of note is that she refuses to be a part of the National Museum of Women in the Arts, or any show just containing women. I respect this move: that old question of whether you want to be just a "writer" or a "woman writer" seems so moot to me. Ladies, do whatchalike, dance howyalike. Name yourself whatever you want.

--Elizabeth
Elizabeth's Weekly Spiritual Reckoning with the New Yorker

May 3, 2004 issue

Table of Contents
11 bylines:
1 woman
10 men*

*one of whom is named "Cass," which gave me hope there were maybe two women this week, but Google, that cad, dashed my big dreams again.

Total
(including Talk of the Town pieces and an obituary written by David Remnick)
16 bylines:
3 women
13 men

And while we're on the subject of readings by fabulous women writers, don't miss the chance to see A.S. Byatt read this week.

From Flavorpill:

A.S. Byatt writes fairy tales for adults — stories teeming with genies, monsters in forests, women who turn to stone, and country doctors whose complacent worlds are shattered by a glimmer of the fantastic. Both her stories and her novels (including the Booker Prize-winning masterpiece turned schlocky Hollywood romance Possession) are formidable investigations of life, death, and freedom. Byatt once again displays her skill with a new collection, Little Black Book of Stories. At turns beautiful and disquieting, the book reflects Byatt's dexterity at transforming the straw of the mundane into the gold of a mythology haunted by our foibles and dreams. (NN)

I loved Possession , which if you haven't read it is sort of a complex, dreamy romance between high-brow literary academics that has inspired its own scholarship. Details on the reading here.

-Lauren


MaudNewton.com guestblogger Carrie A.A. Frye (CAAF) discusses lots of intriguing topics today, like poets who are also explorers and their adventures She also posts the shortlist for the UK's Orange Prize for Fiction. There are some writers to take note of here if, like us, you're compiling your own shortlist, for summer reading that doesn't include boy meets girl.

via Carrie:

The shortlist:
Margaret Atwood, Oryx and Crake (Bloomsbury)
Shirley Hazzard, The Great Fire (Virago)
Andrea Levy, Small Island (Review)
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Purple Hibiscus (Fourth Estate)
Gillian Slovo, Ice Road (Little, Brown)
Rose Tremain, The Colour (Chatto and Windus)

She posts commentary, naturally, and provides a link to an interview with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Do check it out here (you'll have to scroll down).

-Lauren

You're in luck--Hannah Tinti is reading from her collection Animal Crackers this week and next:

Wednesday, April 28th @ 10:30 pm
Reading with Arthur Bradford & Andres Du Bouchet
How To Kick People Comedy Series
above KGB at 85 East 4th Street (btw. 2nd & 3rd ave.)
$7

Tuesday, May 4th @ 7:00 pm, reading with Robert Sullivan
Red Room Reading Series
Monkey Temple Bar, 558 Broome Street (btw. 6th ave. & Varick)
FREE

Sunday, May 9th @ 7:00 pm
Reading with Booker Prize winner James Kelman
KGB Bar, 85 East 4th Street (btw. 2nd & 3rd ave.)
FREE

If you heard her this fall at Lolita, you know what a pleasure it is to hear her read her genius stories, all complex and lush and compelling.

--Elizabeth

4.26.2004

I was thinking about chick lit, something along the if-it's-so-easy-why-don't-we-all-write-some-and-get-jimmy-choos line of daydream, so I decided to check out the requirements. I did a search for "chick lit" and "guidelines" and ended up at a large publisher's website, at the writing guidelines page for its chick-lit-goes-to-church series. What follows is the exact reason I won't be cashing in on this particular substratum of the trend:

Because [imprint that will not be getting any free publicity here] sells to both CBA and American Booksellers Association bookstores, we must adhere to CBA conventions. The stories may not include alcohol consumption by Christian characters, dancing, card-playing, gambling or games of chance (including raffles), explicit scatological terms, hero and heroine remaining overnight together alone, Halloween celebrations or magic, or the mention of intimate body parts. Lying is also problematical in the CBA market and characters who are Christian should not lie or deceive others. Possibly there could be exceptional circumstances (matters of life and death), but this has to be okayed by an editor.


I might actually read chick lit if it contained that many interesting story elements. Bonus points for inventing a word: problematical. Indeed.

-Lauren


Since the Cupcake blog was literally born yesterday, everything is newsworthy to us, even if it was posted more than ten minutes ago. Here's an excellent piece by Girls! Girls! Girls! author Claire Zulkey on chick lit:

Enter any bookstore and it’s right there near the door, possibly so we can save time and go right back to shopping or sipping Cosmopolitans. It’s the FemBook Table. You’d recognize it from a mile away, as the primary color on the FemBook Table is bright, scorching hot pink. These are books penned by authors who want to jump on the Bridget Jones’ Diary, 4 Blondes, Good in Bed, The Devil Wears Prada, Nanny Diaries bandwagon. These books are juicy, flirty, guilty pleasures and while some are not bad, the rest I can only assume (that’s right, I haven’t read them all) are of knockoff quality. While books are books and you can only say so much bad stuff about the written word, it is a little disturbing that what are essentially magazines or “Sex and the City” are making it into book form. It’s more disturbing that authors are making money off these whereas most of the female I writers I know are still toiling at day jobs.

So, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em, I say. Below you’ll find an excerpt from my upcoming FemBook. How hard can it be? And you lady readers, I’d like you to send some in, too. A sentence, a paragraph, a chapter, what have you, and we’ll run them next week. Send your submission to me with the subject line reading “Pink Cover.” We’re all going to be millionaires. See you at Jimmy Choo’s!


You can read Claire's hilarious parody here.

Here's a link to a review of her (non-Fem, and fabulous) book at Bookslut, another highly recommended site.

-Lauren

I love Choire Sicha's review, too. First of all, he uses a feminized language you almost never see in the Book Review or most other bastions of literary authority. Yet he never loses his own authority as a writer. Like: can you remember reading the word icky in one of these book reviews before? Listen:
If we can resist the temptation to burn Plum Sykes's book, we can smuggle it into the future. Perhaps the next breed of humanoids can learn from the holocaust of culture and commerce that destroyed our icky civilization."

What I call the newscaster voice--that voice of supposedly objective white male authority--gets tossed out the window here. Sicha is smart enough that he doesn't need it to give him authority. I love that the Book Review gave someone with such a funny, smart voice some space.

--Elizabeth


Essential reading: Choire Sicha's New York Times Book Review of Bergdorf Blondes by Vogue contributing editor Plum Sykes.

In ''Bergdorf Blondes,'' Sykes rounds up all the right satiric details, then never quite turns them into great farce or parody because the fascist force of the plotting insists that her narrator be strangely imbecilic. After all, if she were allowed much intelligence, she would too soon figure out her happy ending, and there wouldn't be much of a book to sell, right?

I think that about sums it up, non?

-Lauren

Some readers, writers, and editors love chick lit, and they have their reasons, just as we have ours. This space is intended to be a forum for a healthy conversation about women writers, in general, and specifically, related issues in literary fiction and contemporary publishing. While our blog doesn't have a built-in comments feature, please be assured that we would be delighted to publish letters to the editor.

Send them to: mail [at] cupcakeseries [dot] com.

-Lauren


Here's an interesting piece from NPR's On The Media about chick lit:

A Book for Every Girl & Boy
Six years after Bridget Jones charmed the world, the popular literary genre known as "chick lit" continues to spawn new sub-genres like bridal lit and Latina lit. And now, several titles on the shelves will test whether the formula that has worked so well for girls can work for boys, too. Brooke talks with the people who write, market, and criticize chick lit, about why the genre endures.

You can listen to host Brooke Gladstone discuss it here.

-Lauren

4.25.2004

The rationale for Cupcake has always been very clear to me--from my point of view as a woman writer, the lack of critical consideration for serious books by women is a daily problem of household finances: critical attention leads to a career, to awards, to teaching jobs. We wanted to put whatever focus we could, in a pleasurable way, on literary women writers whose books get so much less attention and press than similar books by men or than chick lit, which is for the most part a version of women's consumer magazines (although at this point some more substantive work by women--work that doesn't share the plot and the cadences of a standard Hollywood romantic comedy--seems to get published only by being coded with the standard chick lit pink cover, with shoes, legs, and a purse on it to indicate its narrative proximity to Glamour.)

I have a friend who is a decade older than I am, fabulous, juicy, married with two children, and the sort of feminist that Fox News dreams about in that she feels insulted when men open doors for her. (When she told me this it was a shocker to me--I would never think that anything other than gracious, and can't think of another friend who would disagree with me.) Anyway, my friend is also a big, big reader of women's fiction, yet she had never noticed the serious imbalance in the New York Times Book Review: 72% of their reviews are of books by men, according to a study by Brown University.

Over lunch one day, I explained the situation to her. She was like: oh, of course, god, why is that? The gender discrepancy is invisible to most people, even very literary, liberal-minded people. I guess the tricky state of affairs for serious women writers isn't so obvious unless you are one or live with one.

SO, to make it clear to the world, we wrote this little manifesta, originally posted on our main website, just for you:

Perhaps you have noticed a big pink pile of books in your local Barnes & Noble about women, shoes, wanting to lose fifteen pounds, snagging a husband, and working for bitchy New York ladies with harsh haircuts. Perhaps you are familiar with the term "chick lit" for this super-lucrative trend in publishing that has provided such unlimited opportunity (and large advances) for white women to write knock-offs of Bridget Jones's Diary so that they can ditch the pink-collar temp-job ghetto and finally put their liberal arts education to work. Perhaps you're a writer yourself, and you've noticed with slowly growing alarm that the guys you went to school with are publishing books that don't have anything to do with wanting to lose fifteen pounds or landing a rich spouse. (Although, actually, that's possibly pretty close to what is going through their minds, at least the ones who aren't Jonathan Safran Foer.) Perhaps you're feeling a little frustrated because you love these men, you love these guy writers as people and as citizens and as wordsmiths, but you're noticing that their careers seem to be moving at a much faster pace than those of the young women writers you know: the guy writers are getting NEA grants, they're getting published in the small, prestigious literary journals that are mostly edited by men and that lead to tenure-track teaching gigs, and they're getting those good teaching gigs.

Perhaps, week after week, you've counted up the 1-3 (exceedingly well-established) women published in the
New Yorker, counted up the 9-13 men, come to depressing conclusions, and wished someone had told you the deck was stacked against you this badly when you decided to become a writer and take out all those student loans. Perhaps you've done the same sort of count, week after week, for the New York Times Book Review as well. The New York Times Magazine. Perhaps the only thing you could think to do about this was to start a literary chapter of the Guerrilla Girls, but you had to check in with your temp agency first.

Perhaps you're a guy who wants to be around New York's most passionate and brilliant literary goddesses. Perhaps you simply want to hear some talented, serious, thoughtful, punk rock, accomplished, experienced, hilarious women writers read work that will inspire you and give you little tingles everywhere. Perhaps you have been wondering: where are the literary versions of PJ Harvey and Sleater-Kinney?

Perhaps you'd like a Cupcake:

Because you've had enough chick lit and it's time for dessert.


-Elizabeth

Hi, this is Elizabeth Merrick. I'm the curator of Cupcake, the reading series for New York's best women writers. Along with co-founders Lauren Cerand and Jen Kirwin, I started Cupcake as a way to put more focus on women writers and as response to the growing popularity of chick lit in the publishing world. It's vile, and I'm going to kill it and stomp it to death with my pretty shoe!

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