They’re After Salman Rushdie Again

Hardliners of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard
Hardliners of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard

Some Things Never Change

You would think that by now that the grand wizards of Iran would have come to terms with the renegade writings of Salman Rushdie……But apparently they have not. Believe it or not, Salman Rushdie is back on the Persian hit list of undesirables. (I’m not certain if he was ever free from those lists.) Obviously, there is one thing that is still true. And that one thing is, that for insulting the status quo of Revolutionary Iran, there are no statue of limitations. In fact, as the situation presently stands, the Fatwa on Rushdie was never taken off, but instead it was increased in recent weeks, possibly due to the changing economic picture in Iran. According to PEN, the bounty has received at increase of approximately $600,000 to the already existing 2.8 million.

Could Elections Actually Change Things?

Recently, Iran made international news by holding national elections that did not go quite go the way that the conservative hardliners wanted. However good this may sound, this is not a new struggle in Iran. Centrists, moderates and progressives have from time to time been able to create change in Iran, through elections and other means. Whether the country’s newly signed nuclear deal with the West will actually help secular Iran remains to be seen, but there is definitely a political divide in Iran between the fundamentalists and those who wish to see Iran modernized. This has been going on for years and it is possible that the agreement with the West could benefit these people.

A Not-So-Nervous American Resident

Currently, Salman Rushdie lives in the U.S., where he is relatively same from Iranian threats. Born into a Muslim family in Bombay, India, Rushdie has never lived in Iran. Today, Rushdie declares himself an atheist, as it was his fourth novel titled Satanic Verses that has fueled the wrath by Islamic fundamentalists in Iran and elsewhere. Rushdie also had the distinct honor of making an Al-Qaeda hit list in 2010. On the positive side, Rushdie has been knighted by the Queen of England, plus he has received numerous literary awards, including membership in the British Royal Society of Literature.

Death Threats

Every February Rushdie receives a not-so-friendly Valentine’s Day card from Revolutionary Guard of Iran, kindly reminding him that he is still on their hit-list. Though the threats have been numerous, the closest anyone has come to killing Rushdie occurred in London, England in 1999, when a bombmaker died, while trying to make a book bomb. The blast was strong enough to also take out two floors of a London hotel, where the bombmaker lived. At present, the current threats seem more rhetorical than real and hopefully the situation will stay that way.

Salman Rushdie in 2014
Salman Rushdie in 2014
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So You Think Writing In Your First Language Is Hard: A Look at ESL Novelists

Homer writing a letter
Homer writing a letter

So You Think Writing In Your First Language Is Hard

If you are tired of struggling with the oddities and peculiarities of trying to make a sentence make sense, then you might want to take a look at some of these noted novelists, who had to learn English, as a second or even a third language, before they could get their story finished. And that says nothing about getting it published.

A group portrait of some of the Beat writers
A group portrait of some of the Beat writers

The Most Influential of the Beats

Of all the beat writers, which includes the likes of William Burroughs, Allen Ginsburg, Jack Kerouac, Neal Cassady, Gary Snyder and Lawrence Ferlinghetti, most literary critics tend to agree that Jack Kerouac had the biggest impact on the American literary scene. Lesser known is that even though Jack was born in Massachusetts, he grew up in a French-speaking household. Jack didn’t even learn English until he was six; and never completely mastered the language into he was well into his teens. Nonetheless, he went on to produce a body of work that is still widely read today.

Most recently (Feb. 2015), a Quebec publishing house by the name of Les Éditions du Boréal, has recently announced that they will publish some of Jack Kerouac’s French writing. The collection, titled La vie est d’hommage, will feature a novella and Kerouac’s first attempt for On the Road, which was penned in his native French. This publishing effort will underscore the little known fact that Kerouac continued to write in his mother tongue, even after having achieved substantial financial and critical success with On the Road and The Dharma Bums.

 

Illustration for Cheer of Home Fires, drawing by Will James
Illustration for Cheer of Home Fires, drawing by Will James

The Strange Life of Will James

And while I am on the subject of French-Canadians, here is a tale of a Quebec man, who eventually ended up as one of America’s most appreciated cowboy writers and artists.

One of the strangest literary stories of the twentieth century concerns the western Cowboy writer, Will James. Over his lifetime James wrote over twenty books detailing the ranch hand’s life that he had known in such places as Montana, Nevada and also California, where he had briefly worked as a Hollywood stunt rider. Will James was also a gifted artist, evident by the numerous drawings and paintings that were included in his literary efforts. Nobody knew of Will James’ early life until he passed away in 1942 of severe alcoholism. Then a search for next of kin produced a brother living in Canada under a different name.

Will James was born Joseph-Ernest-Nephtali Dufault on June 6, 1892, at St. Nazaire de Acton in Quebec, Canada. Then as a teenager, he left the province of Quebec for the wilds of Saskatchewan, where he learned how to be a cowhand. Eventually Joseph went south-of-the-border (possibly to escape rustling charges), changed his name and became a Montana cowboy. After years of working on various ranches, a man now called Will James began to write down his working experiences. Amazingly, he was also able to illustrate his text with captivating drawings and paintings, like the one seen above. One of his stories, Smoky the Cowhorse received a Newbery award and was also made into a movie. Even today, his books are still available and read by many.

Khaled Hosseini with the two main actors in The Kite Runner.
Khaled Hosseini with the two main actors in The Kite Runner.

Out of Afghanistan

“I write exclusively in English now. I could likely feign my way through a short story—a very short story—in Farsi. But generally, I lack a narrative voice in Farsi, and a sense of rhythm and cadence in my head, because it has been decades since I wrote fiction in Farsi. English has become very comfortable for me.” Khaled Hosseini

So begins the story of Khaled Hosseni, whose first novel The Kite Runner, recently became a bestseller and a popular Hollywood movie. He was born in Kabul in 1965, but left with his family in 1980 to escape the Russian War in Afghanistan. His family relocated to Southern California, as Khaled also graduated from high school and college in the U.S. The Kite Runner was published in 2003.

Joseph Conrad learned to speak fluently in Polish and French, before tackling English.
Joseph Conrad learned to speak fluently in Polish and French, before tackling English.

Joseph Conrad

Conrad, who is probably best known for the novel Heart of Darkness, did not learn the English language until he was in his twenties. Polish was his native tongue, but he was also completely fluent in French, before he started writing short stories in English. Although he always spoke English with a heavy accent, his prose was clear. Born in the Ukraine, Joseph went to sea as a merchant marine when he has still a teen. At age 36 Joseph retired from a seaman’s life and began writing.

Other Writers

The list of other authors, who write in English, despite the fact that it is not their native tongue include, Gary Shteyngart (Russian), Salman Rushdie (Hindu), Nadeem Aslam (Pakistani), Francesca Marciano (Italian), Andrei Cordrescu (Romanian) and Yiyun Li (Mandarin Chinese). And then there is the Irishman, Samuel Beckett, who wrote in French despite the fact that his mother tongue was English.

Native American Authors

Poster by TC Cannon, an
Poster by TC Cannon, an Oklahoma Native American artist, who died tragically in 1978.

American Indian Arts in the Twentieth Century

November is Native American Heritage month and so I thought that I might shine a spotlight on U.S. Native American authors, writing in the English language. I was completely unaware of the official designation until I chanced upon a table of books authored by American Indians. This small  display was located in downtown Santa Fe at the Santa Fe Public Library. By coincidence, the Institute for  American Indian Arts (IAIA) exhibition space is located just down the street. This institution is a national arts college for American Indian students, where many disciplines are taught, including creative writing.

An Overview of American Indian Writing

Though American Indian oratory has been an important part of American history for many years, creative Native American writing has been largely a contemporary phenomena. In recent years, American Indian writers have become more noticeable in the literary marketplace. Perhaps, all of this began, when M. Scott Momaday published House Made of Dawn, a short novel that achieved literary fame, when the tale of the Southwest won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1969. Following is a quick look at Native American writers, who are readily available in most bookstores, along with a short selection of eclectic writers, who may not be as readily available.

The Big Names

Sherman Alexie – Mr. Alexie has been writing novels for years, but when The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian received the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature in 2007, the author from the Spokane reservation in Eastern Washington was suddenly thrust into the national spotlight. Most of his captivating titles are readily available in any bookstore.

N. Scott Momaday – Already mentioned for his Pulitzer Prize, Momaday is an Oklahoma native of the Kiowa nation, who has written may books of stories and fiction. Besides The House Made of Dawn, you might come across The Way To Rainy Mountain along with some of his more obscure titles in your search for Native American authors.

Louise Erdrich – Louise is an enrolled member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewas. She has written many novels and stories about Native life in the upper Midwest and Great Plains. She also owns and operates a Native American bookstore, Birchbark Books, in the Twin Cities of Minnesota.

Linda Hogan – Though more obscure than the above three authors, Ms. Hogan (Chickasaw) has over the years put out an impressive array of novels, short stories and non-fiction titles. Some of her more prominent titles include Mean Spirit, Solar Storms and People of the Whale.

Leslie Marmon Silko – Leslie grew up on the edge of Pueblo society in central New Mexico in the 50s and 60s. Nonetheless, she would receive national acclaim for some of her stories and books. Her short story, The Man to Send Rain Clouds, received a National Endowment for the Humanities Discovery Grant shortly after the story was first published in 1969.

Lesser Known

Not all Native American writers produce written works that go on to find national distribution and acceptance. Still, that does not mean that these “lesser works” are without inspiration, merit or good storytelling. Many of these writers have found an important niche as observers of the American scene on a local or regional level. Following are a very select few taken from a much larger group that always seems to be getting bigger. Please note that only a few of the following  poets and writers work solely in the literary mode.  Many have expanded their voice to the realm music. To paraphrase one Native American poet turned performer, Roxy Gordon, “you have to go where the audience is”

Louis “Little Coon” Oliver – Louis died in 1991 and during his lifetime he only published two books. Nonetheless, his ramblings about tribal life and modern society filled with his humorous and satirical observations were enjoyed by many. Louis was born in Oklahoma, when it was still a territory and was a part of th the Muscogee Creek nation. He was ostracized by many of his tribal members for attending high school and actually obtaining a diploma.

Joy Harjo and Poetic JusticeJoy Harjo is an Oklahoma (Mvskoke Creek) poet , who after publishing several books of poetry, decided to form  a band and go on stage. Still essentially a poet, Joy often performs around the country with her musical ensemble, Poetic Justice.

Joseph Bruchac – Though a long-time resident of the Iroquois country in upstate NY, Joe comes from Vermont, where he is connected with the Abanakis. Not only has Joe written numerous articles, stories and books about the Indian life in the Northeast and elsewhere, but also he is a major organizer of Native American literature and American Indian authors. Check out his Greenfield Review Press, for a major who’s who in tribal literature.

Without Rezervation – Without Rezervation was a Native American rap group from Oakland, California. During the 90s they cut 2 CDs and achieved some notoriety as on of the few (or possibly the only) Native American rap groups. The trio consisted of Chris LaMarr, Mike Marin, and Kevin Nez. The members of this group had Native roots in California (Pit River) and Arizona (Navajo)

 

 

 

Turmoil In The Land of the Pharaohs

 

Pyramids at Giza, photo by Ricardo Liberato from Wikipedia
Pyramids at Giza, photo by Ricardo Liberato from Wikipedia

With all the strife that is currently unfolding in Egypt, I thought I would take a quick look around the internet and see what I could learn about this fascinating country. I was especially interested in what kind of literary writing I might find on the subject. The results were quite revealing; for it seems that many fiction writers, when dealing with this large and populous North African nation are very much influenced by colorful history that goes back to the ancient population that flourished here long before the birth of Christ.

Many writers have chosen to set a story along the Nile, as did Agatha Christie, when she penned Death On the Nile, a mystery that was first published in 1934. This is one of her classics that features Hercule Poirot, as the main character, and is usually included with  “Murder On the Orient Express” and “Murder in Mesopotamia” as part of a mystery trilogy.

From here the list takes an interesting  journey into the past, including such titles as Memoirs of Cleopatra (by Margaret George), Nerfititi (by Michelle Moran), Palace of Desire (by Naguib Mahfouz), Crocodiles on the Sandbank (by Elizabeth Peters), Egyptian Art (by Cyril Aldred) and River God (by Wilbur Smith). All of these stories focus on either the near or distant past. Mahfouz is the one native son of the group. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1988 and died in 2006. Overall, he is one of the most recognized of Arabic writers. Incidentally, his trilogy is set in the early twentieth century and not during the time of the pharaohs.

For a look at a more modern setting in contemporary, readers might want to take a look at The Yacoubian Building, a novel by Alaa Al Aswany, a modern Egyptian writer. The title for this book was found at a Lonely Planet forum site that was posted several years ago. Aswany, who also writes in Arabic, has been described as a social realist.

It should be noted that these titles come from a short period of web surfing. I have not read any of these titles, but the titles did catch my eye and I actually came away from the searching process with a tiny bit more of knowledge than before. Whether any of these titles will shed any light on the major story in the day is a mystery to me.