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Archive for November, 2012

Literary Awards in Chicago

Monday, November 19th, 2012

  

My wife and I were delighted to be invited to the Carl Sandberg Literary Awards Dinner for the benefit of the Chicago Public Library and Foundation. It was held at the Forum at the University of Illinois in downtown Chicago.

Chicago has a cavalcade of talent when it comes to literary achievements. Bill Kurtis, the CBS News anchor, was the master of ceremonies for the evening, and introduced 67 local authors, representing a variety of media and genres, in the collections of the Chicago Public Library. As these authors paraded onto the stage to appreciative applause, Bill Kurtis informed the audience of each author’s achievements. As he pointed out, Chicago is a city with a long history of literary talent, consider Saul Bellow and Studs Terkel to name just two.

 

From this parade of talent, three authors had been selected to receive the Carl Sandberg Literary Awards. The 21st Century Award was given to Nami Mun. She grew up in Seoul, South Korea and in the Bronx, New York.  Her first novel, “Miles from Nowhere,” received a Whiting Award and a Pushcart Prize and was shortlisted for the Orange prize for new Writers and the Asian American Literary Award.  Chicago Magazine named her the best new novelist of 2009.  She talked to the audience about her amazing history. She had been homeless, a street vendor,  waitress, an activities coordinator for a nursing home, an Avon lady, photojournalist and criminal defense investigator. After earning a GED, she went on to get a BA in English from UC Berkeley and an MFA from the University of Michigan and is currently an Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at Columbia College in Chicago.  She was modest about her achievements but pointed out that America had given her enormous opportunities to succeed, despite her lack of education, background and immigrant status. This is a true American success story and perhaps a lesson as to why we should not be so quick to abandon Government intervention and programs to help immigrants and the poor.

The moderator Scott Simon co-host of NPR’s weekend edition, interviewed on stage Don DeLillo and Walter Isaacson, recipients of the Carl Sandberg Literary Awards for fiction and non-fiction. DeLillo is the author of 15 novels.  He published his first short story when he was 23, has won the National Book Award, the Pen/Faulkner Award for fiction and the Jerusalem prize. In 2006 his masterpiece “Underworld” was named as one of the best novels of the last 25 years by the New York Times book review. DeLillo has said his books could not have been written in the world that existed before the assassination of President Kennedy. The after-effects of that moment of violence were caught on film and informed his work generally and contributed directly to “Libra” his acclaimed novel about the assassination.

The non-fiction award given to Walter Isaacson, President and CEO of the Aspen Institute and nonpartisan educational policy studies, is based in Washington DC and has also been chairman and CEO of CNN and the editor of Time Magazine. Most recently he is the author of “Steve Jobs” and also wrote the biography of “Einstein” “Benjamin Franklin” and “Kissinger.” Isaacson was born in New Orleans and began his career at the Sunday Times of London.  He joined Time Magazine in 1978 and served as a political correspondent.

The patter between these learned authors and Scott Simon was entertaining and informative.  Particularly when Isaacson said that he would now only do biographies of people who had died, recounting the pressure that he received from Kissinger on a daily basis while he was writing his biography.  DeLillo said he likes to mix historical fact with fiction and while Isaacson was writing about the great men in history, the nearest he came was writing about Lee Harvey Oswald. This received appreciative laughter from the audience.

The Chairman of the Public Library Foundation Board of Directors, announced the evening had raised one million dollars for the Chicago Public Library. He also expressed his gratitude to the various sponsors who made the event possible.

My wife and I thoroughly enjoyed the evening and of course the company of our hosts. We now have enough books between us to keep us busy for the next 12 months.

 

Ellis M. Goodman, author of Bear Any Burden: www.bearanyburden.com

America’s Challenges

Monday, November 12th, 2012

English: The United States Capitol in Washingt...

The new Obama administration in Washington, and the Congress needs to face up to America’s challenges, and tell the American people like it is. The New York Times recently published some insights into the American way of capitalism compared to other developed rich countries in the world.  Some alarming statistics.

  • Our average income per person has grown 71% over the last 30 years after adjusting for inflation. Even though this appears to have given the American people an improved standard of living, this puts us in 16th place among the list of 29 advanced countries tracked by the International Monetary Fund over the period.
  • The income of Americans working in the middle of the economic process has grown less since the mid-1980s than in virtually every other developed nation.
  • More American children die before reaching age 19 than in any other rich country in the O.E.C.D.
  • More American children live in poverty, and many more are obese, than in other developed countries.
  • American teenage girls are much more likely to become pregnant and have babies than teenagers anywhere else in the industrial world.
  • Public spending on early childhood education is the most meager of the advanced nations.
  • The rate of enrolment for 3 to 5-year-olds in preschool programs is among the lowest amongst the advanced nations.
  • Our 15-year-olds placed 26th out of 38 countries in the international test of mathematical literacy according to the O.E.C.D.
  • The United States has dropped from the top to the middle of the pack of economically advanced peers in terms of college graduation rates.
  • The American healthcare system is astronomically expensive and does a poor job in combating many of the run-of-the-mill ailments, while leaving millions of its citizens uninsured.
  • There are 733 Americans in jail, for every 100,000 citizens. That is more than in any other country in the world.
  • Americans work longer hours than workers in any other of the highly developed countries.

When you see these statistics, it brings home the challenges that the new administration and the Congress should be addressing. If we don’t address these problems the US will become a country of a few “haves” and multimillions of “have nots.” There are no quick solutions and the American people should be told that. It will require blood, sweat and tears to address these issues and reforms in many areas of our capitalist system, from healthcare, to taxation, to education, to our role in the world.  If Congress kicks the can down the road yet again, and the problems are swept under the carpet in an orgy of self-congratulation and misrepresentation about our greatness, the prospects for our children and our children’s children are dim.

However Americans are the most resourceful hard-working, optimistic and innovative people in the world. With solid leadership, honesty and commonsense legislation, we can tackle our problems, reduce our deficits, create jobs, bring back prosperity, and overcome challenges. Let us pray that this is the path that will be followed in the years to come.

 

Ellis M. Goodman, author of Bear Any Burden: www.bearanyburden.com

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A Pleasant Treat

Monday, November 5th, 2012

Kate Zambreno reading Heroines tonight

Columbia College is hosting a “Creative Nonfiction Week” starting today. I enjoyed its “Story Week” program before and stopped by the reading with author Kate Sambreno and essayist Colette Brooks tonight, partially to escape from my desk as I got stuck on a chapter of my own writing, and partially because the place where the reading was held was only two blocks from my office.

What a nice treat! Sambreno’s reading from her latest book, a memoir, titled Heroines, was simply brilliant. The insight on women (and the wives of famous men being silenced), the crisp language, and the honesty that were revealed from the excerpts she selected to read, touched me, and apparently many others since a line was formed with people having her sign the books they just bought. Since I moved to the city and my living space shrank to less than half of what I used to have, I’ve gone digital and seldom bought books in print. I made an exception tonight—I bought a copy of Heroines and had her sign it, too. I look forward to reading it! The only pity for today’s event was that there was no “conversation” and no Q and A session.

Having Zambreno sign the copy of Heroines I just bought

Tomorrow evening’s event will be focused on election and will be held at 33 E. Congress Parkway. It sounds interesting. I plan to attend it. The program will end on Thursday evening, and it’s open to the public. Check it out if you are in the vicinity. It’s part of the beauty a city like Chicago can offer—a rich cultural life. Take advantage of it.

 

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China, which has been developed into an award-winning feature-length documentary film by Susan Morgan Cooper and is narrated by Jacqueline Bisset. Visit www.mulberrychildmovie.com for more information.

Voter Block

Monday, November 5th, 2012

  

 

So here we are. At the end of a grueling, vicious, manipulative and unfruitful campaign, we are now about to exercise our right and cast our vote in the 2012 presidential election. This has not only been the most expensive campaign in history but has also been the first campaign to be influenced by the Citizens United Supreme Court decision, allowing vast sums of money to be spent under the guise of outside groups, Super Pacs, without disclosing the donor sources. This has allowed hundreds of millions of dollars to be spent, on behalf of candidates with a barrage of negative television advertising, containing manipulated messages, half-truths, and downright lies. Personally I hope that after the election when I am sure a detailed analysis will be made by both sides, it will be shown that the influence of this outside money had little or no effect on voters’ decisions. However I recognize this may be a vain hope, because clearly those groups believe and have tested the fact that negative advertising works with the potential voter.  This has also been the most sophisticated technology driven election ever. Every state, every county, and every voter has been sliced and diced and analyzed down to the nth degree.

So now, finally we come to vote.  My wife and I decided that we would vote early and so we headed to our local library. It was after lunch but there was still a small line to get into the Boardroom of the library where the voting machines, volunteers and verification processes were set up. There were 18 voting machines in this small area and bench seating for a maximum of 36 people. The volunteers were elderly. The gentlemen at the door was handing out clipboards and forms to be completed by the voters.  He was advising voters, which part of the form they had to fill in, and then arranging for them to sit on the benches consecutively, to be called forward to vote on completion of the forms. There was a large table against one wall, around which there five volunteers with machines that would verify and record the voter’s registration, and other personal information.

The five volunteers were also elderly. As each voter was called to the table, one of the volunteers took their form and punched the information into a machine sometimes with difficulty, after asking for ID verification, driver’s license or similar. When this was completed, a card was handed to the voter for one of the 18 voting machines to complete the process of making their selections. The waiting and voting process took my wife and I approximately 45 minutes. The volunteers around the table were slow, and so there were vacant voting machines because they could not process the prospective voters quickly enough. Since there are only 36 seating places, I could see very long lines accumulating as voting takes place tomorrow. Hundreds, possibly thousands of voters may wish to vote at this particular library. How will these volunteers be able to cope?

Nevertheless, we got to complete our citizen’s right to make the votes of our choice in perhaps, the most democratic part of the whole election. And in some ways, I found it quite endearing to see, that at the end of this sophisticated and brutal campaign, were half a dozen elderly volunteers making sure that we could exercise our “Legal” rights.  I think it is also quite sweet, heartwarming and in some ways encouraging, to know that despite the billions of dollars that have been spent on this campaign, in the end it comes down to the citizen and some elderly volunteers, to make the voting process decision.

I am writing this the day before the election, with the hope that voting is allowed to proceed smoothly and legally, and provides a result, without legal battles, thousands of lawyers and God forbid another Supreme Court decision like 2000. We shall see.

 

Ellis M. Goodman, author of Bear Any Burden: www.bearanyburden.com

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The Woman in White, the novel

Sunday, November 4th, 2012

My reading group gathered together over the weekend to discuss this month’s selection of reading: Wilkie Collins’ novel The Woman in White.

A month ago, when we first decided to read the book, we went to watch the play based on the novel. We all enjoyed the play enormously (blog on Oct. 10). Now that we’ve finished reading the novel, we have the pleasure of comparing the two and exploring deeper into the narrative.

Our reading group of seven is a perfect number—small enough to sit around one table and large enough to have different perspectives. It has always been a joy discussing books we’ve read together.

I enjoyed the novel, despite having known the plot from the play; and my favorite characters in the book are Marian and Count Fosco—both witty, strong, and smart. Even though Fosco was a villain, one could not help from being charmed by his good manners, ability to engage his listeners, and the tenderness in a man who could be ruthless. Everyone in my group resonated with me, and by hearing their view, I also gained a better understanding of the setting in the Victorian period and why, intelligent and strong as Marian was, the best outcome for her might be what the author set her to be—living with her sister, Laura, and caring for her child vs. having a life of her own.

First edition

In many ways, it was amazing that Collins created such a strong woman character, despite having Marian diminish herself because she was so helpless at times as woman.

As a “sensation novel” in a detective genre, the plot was so meticulously constructed that it felt almost too perfect. The narrative from the perspective of different characters, an innovation at the time, still provide joy for a reader to get into the head of the perspective narrator, and the voice of each person, from the protagonist Marian, Walter Hartright, to the servants, each came alive, and the tune and language in line with their education and social status. Quite amazing.

I neglected to notice that the only key character who didn’t have a narration in the novel was Laura, the beautiful young woman that Hartright fell in love with head over heals, and eventually, like in a Hollywood movie, married.

“The dumb blond,” one referred her in our group.

“I’m so glad she didn’t have a narrative in the book,” another commented.

We all laughed.

The book is well written, entertaining and meticulously constructed. The play certainly did the justice to the novel, though the ending was a bit different.

Worth checking it out if you haven’t read it.

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China, which has been developed into an award-winning feature-length documentary by Susan Morgan Cooper and is narrated by Jacqueline Bisset. Visit www.mulberrychildmovie.com for more information.

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