Katrina benefit / New Stories from the South party recap & southern culture trivia quiz

Many thanks to all who made it out to the Katrina benefit / New Stories from the South party last night. It was a good crowd, and we raised $420 for KARES.

(Today, by the way, marks the 3rd anniversary of the storm. As Gustav bears down on the Coast, IFC is showing the new Katrina documentary, Trouble the Water, which includes harrowing footage shot by one of the city’s residents while floodwaters swept down her street, rose up her porch and filled her house, driving her and her husband into the attic and finally out into the streets.)

For those who couldn’t make it, a recap: We filled up on bread pudding and crawfish cheesecake from Mara’s Homemade, heard great readings from ZZ Packer, Brett Anthony Johnston, and Stephanie Dickinson, and took a southern culture trivia quiz that everybody said was too hard. (Totally my fault.)

Fellow blogger Ron Hogan won first prize — a bottle of JD, an Avett Brothers cd, and a pile of books — with 19/25, but I swear I didn’t pass him the answer key beforehand. I won’t identify the second and third prize winners, since I met them for the first time last night, and they might not want to be Googleable here forever.

An extended version of the quiz continues after the jump. (We cut it so everyone could be out in time to get home before Obama’s speech.)

1. Which author, who met and mentored William Faulkner in New Orleans, agreed to recommend Faulkner’s first novel, Soldier’s Pay, to his publisher, provided he didn’t have to read it first?

a. Tennessee Williams
b. Sherwood Anderson
c. Scott Fitzgerald
d. Ernest Hemingway

2. Which soul singer, born in Arkansas, suffered 2nd degree burns when his girlfriend dumped a pot of boiling grits on him?

a. Al Green
b. Sam Cooke
c. Wilson Pickett
d. James Brown

3. Which southern writer flung herself so relentlessly at Katherine Anne Porter while both were at Yaddo, following her around while dressed in dungarees and a man’s white shirt, that Porter, a lesbian-phobe, clung to Eudora Welty, whom she deemed “150 percent female.”

a. Carson McCullers
b. Djuna Barnes
c. Harper Lee
d. Shirley Ann Grau

4. Which novelist and short-story writer of Peruvian extraction is best known for fiction set in his birth country but grew up in Birmingham, Alabama, and argues against a literary culture that views only poor Latinos as “authentic.” (“That last name,” one woman told him at a literary dinner, “it reminds me of a bug that bit me when I was living in Mexico!”)

a. Oscar Hijuelos
b. Richard Rodriguez
c. Daniel Alarcón
d. Junot Díaz

5. What Kentucky band records its music in a silo? Continue reading…

Somewhere, someone treasures a Sedaris book signed “Abortions, $13!”

On the heels of that story about Stephen King, one weary night, autographing his novels in his own blood, Carolyn Kellogg of the LA Times’ Jacket Copy has a fun post about favorite signed books.

She shared one of her own treasures, and invited Saïd Sayrafiezadeh, Nam Le, Claire Zulkey, Jami Attenberg, Anne Fernald, Mark Haskell Smith, and me to join her.

In email, she writes: “I love that everybody has a different kind of story: yours is personal, Nam’s book is signed to someone else, Said’s is traumatic… well, you’ll see.” Click over for the goods — including the background on my Thomson signature, and a photo gallery.

Twittering Paradise Lost: A roundabout explanation

satan_fallsWhen I was a kid I used to sit in my closet with the light on at night and worry about religion.

What if God was a trap? What if Heaven didn’t exist and being Born Again was for suckers? What if Satan had the real paradise, and only people brave enough to reject the Bible would go there?

(Probably this was all due to being raised a heathen until three, then taken aside one afternoon by newly-converted parents and instructed to accept Jesus — a scary, bleeding man-god who died for my sins — into my heart, and then, when my parents parted ways denominationally a couple years later, being steeped in several different variations of Christianity, each of which rejected the others and insisted that it was The One True Way. [I know, I'm starting to repeat myself more than Margaret Thatcher.])

Beyond Good and Evil my neuroses were not — they were really just a variation on the everybody-else-is-a-robot anxiety — but I have a visceral, almost Pavlovian memory of the fear I felt then.

So Paradise Lost, a sympathetic portrait of Satan, has always held a particular fascination for me. In Milton’s rendering, the fallen angel isn’t a one-dimensional serpent and tempter, but a beguiling creature who at times seems the equal of God, and at times even seems His better.

I’ve been wanting to do a close re-reading, but, between work and writing and blogging and everything else, so far I’ve really only leafed through my collection of Doré’s illustrations. The actual text has spent several weeks collecting dust on my desk at the office.

Enter Twitter. I have mixed feelings about seeing literature broken into text messages and single-phrase tweets, but over the weekend I started looking in on the Twittered Moby-Dick. While I wouldn’t want to experience a classic (and glorious) work like Moby-Dick for the first time in this shattered format, it does highlight Melville’s phrasing and authorial logic in a different way from a more conventional presentation of the text.

And because I want to revisit Paradise Lost as a writer — to try to understand exactly how Milton makes God’s nemesis so complex and compelling — I decided to experiment with the capsule dose.

For the seven others out there who might have interest in collecting fragments of one of the great epic poems of the English language in 1-2 small shards a day: here’s my Twittered Paradise Lost.

P.S. If you know of any other Twittered public-domain classics, email me at maud at maudnewton dot com, so I can follow.

P.P.S. Hey look! Now my friend Russell is tweeting William Blake.

Local events, now through Labor Day


Every time Lauren goes on vacation, I get nervous she’ll breeze back into town, some fabulous new scent trailing behind her, and announce a revised life plan, which will involve a multimillion dollar business scheme and a great deal of European travel, but will mean the end of The Smart Set (her weekly events listing, which has been on hiatus this summer). She laughs when I tell her this, but as a fellow (easily-bored) Gemini, I’m not reassured.

Still, for now, good news! If you, like me, have spent many Monday afternoons this summer sighing and pressing your nose against the glass, your reward is at hand: The Smart Set is scheduled to return sometime shortly after Labor Day. Meanwhile, here are some events for the last of summer.

MON, 25: “Anna Winger writes about displacement and belonging, loss and connection with intelligent forthrightness and complex subtlety. Set in a modern-day, haunted Berlin, This Must Be the Place is a riveting, bittersweet, and bracingly unsentimental novel,” says Kate Christensen, and that’s only the beginning of the praise this first novel has seen from readers as diverse as Gary Shteyngart and Liesl Schillinger. Winger reads tonight at Housing Works, 7 p.m., Free.

WED, 27: Don’t know about you, but I’m hoping to catch Girl Cut in Two at Lincoln Plaza before it closes this week. Says the Times’ Stephen Holden: “The French master Claude Chabrol’s newest film, loosely inspired by the 1906 murder of the New York architect Stanford White, is an icy examination of class divisions, ruthless sexual gamesmanship and crushing social machinery. Its putative heroine (Ludivine Sagnier) is an attractive television weather girl who finds herself the object of a power struggle between a married, womanizing author who is decades older (François Berléand) and a spoiled multimillionaire playboy (Benoît Magimel) who wants her as his trophy. When the fight turns nasty, she becomes the victim.”

THURS, 28: ZZ Packer appears at this year’s New Stories From the South party, at Housing Works. The event, presented by Algonquin and Paste magazine, celebrates the 2008 anthology, which she edited, but doubles as a benefit for Katrina writers. I’ll emcee, Packer, Brett Anthony Johnston and Stephanie Dickinson will give short readings, and we’ll have Cajun eats from Mara’s Homemade and ACME. Right now I’m putting the finishing touches on a Southern culture trivia quiz. Prizes include a bottle of Jack Daniel’s, works by Flannery O’Connor, William Faulkner, Eudora Welty, Walker Percy, Zora Neale Hurston, Tennessee Williams, and Larry Brown, and cds from the Avett Brothers and others. If you’re in town, come on out and eat some crawdads with us. $5 suggested donation.

WEEKEND: A Sheepshead Bay fishing boat expedition — help save the fleet! — and the West Indian American Day Carnival.

Addendum: Lauren sends her love. She misses us, too.