THE BLOG @ TIR
February 26, 2012
Working Group Theatre's production of The Toymaker's War, playing through this afternoon at Iowa City's Riverside Theatre, is about writing and responsibility, the ineffable mix of trauma, journalism, and art that troubled much of the twentieth century and, as evidenced by the recent polemic over John d'Agata's work, still troubles us today.
The five-character, 90-minute play has twin plots, one in a Bosnian village in 1995, where all the adults have disappeared and only children are left, the other in present-day New York, where a journalist has just been subpoenaed by the UN War Crimes Tribunal as a witness to something that happened in that village nearly twenty years ago. The movement back and forth between the two historical moments, one in the midst of an unfolding catastrophe, the other looking back and trying to make sense of it, create multiple points of tension, the simplist on the level of plot--we want to discover what happened, but the others are more complex.
The character of Sylvie (played by Ottavia DeLuca) is young and idealistic, but also ambitiously single-minded about getting a story that will launch her career. She gets it and is successful and admired as a result, but the cost to her conscience is clear from the start. Her earnestnes makes her attractive. Her willingness to manipulate others, their stories, and her own, is more troubling. The shifts between her younger and more mature self, which coincide with the movement from one plot to the other, are handled quite efficiently on stage, with minimal set or costume changes, a fluidity that helps to see Sylvie as one person, even if she's rather split in two inside.
Sylvie's doubled quality is hinted at in the cultural, lingustic, and religious mixture that she highlights (French Catholic and American Jew) in her conversations with the Bosnian children. They too are mixed, Serb and Muslim, and the mixture of languages on stage creates an almost hopeful atmosphere of sharing for a short moment. But here too one wonders about Sylvie's motives. Is she just trying to win their trust in order to get her story, painting a version of herself that she thinks they will be more likely to find attractive and worthy of their trust?
Finally, there is the audience's involvement, our watching of a spectacle based on real-life trauma that is not really that old, and even if it was, would be no less difficult to understand and represent. Our complicity in watching. The playwright's complicity in telling this story. The players' complicity in playing it. This is a familiar problem to anyone who has thought about the literature of trauma, the poetry of WWI, holocaust fiction, atomic bomb novels, seige memoirs, and so many others. We do need to be reminded, and this play has a memorializing aspect to it, too: the reading of the names of those who died. It is, properly, Sylvie who pronounces them.
The Toymaker's War, written by Jennifer Fawcett and directed by Sean Christopher Lewis will be touring throughout the Midwest in the coming months. For more information, check out their website here.
February 25, 2012
He seems to have had a good father.
February 24, 2012
What: 1913 Press, Canarium Books, & Iowa Review authors read from their new work
When: Wednesday, February 29, 7:00-8:00 p.m.
Location: The Empty Bottle, 1444 W. Chicago
Join Dan Beachy-Quick, Srikanth Reddy, Darcie Dennigan, and Anthony Madrid as they launch their books with short readings, generous pours (cash only), and lots of smiles.
Then stay for the AWP Chicago Kick-off Party!
Srikanth Reddy & Dan Beachy-Quick, collaborators on Conversities
"The written 'I' is famously slippery, and never more than in this seamless collaboration that places the pronoun's definition at its constantly decentered center. In four distinct sections, all perfecting a language rich in intriguing specifics and delightfully sharp surprises, the collection shows two contemporary masters in a brand new light, creating a new 21st century poet right on the spot, and one with a particularly promising and important voice." —Cole Swensen
(Reddy's poetry appeared in our Fall 2010 issue.)
Anthony Madrid, I Am Your Slave Now Do What I Say
Allusive, oracular, heretical, brash, learned, apocalyptic, astronomical, funny, lustful, and deceptively wise, Anthony Madrid's long-awaited first collection, I Am Your Slave Now Do What I Say, is a book of ghazals that assault conventions while often reading like deranged love letters. (Madrid's poems appeared in our Winter 2010-11 issue.)
Darcie Dennigan, Madame X
Darcie Dennigan's second collection, Madame X, expands on the powerful accomplishments of her first book (Corinna, A-Maying the Apocalypse), as she sings difficult songs of self-awareness and interrogates the devotions that divide the world.
For more information, view the official list of AWP off-site events.
February 20, 2012
The latest issue of eXchanges: a journal of literary translation, a publication of the MFA program in literary translation at the University of Iowa, has just gone live!
The Winter 2012 issue, edited by Rachael Small and Andres Alfaro, features translations of poetry and prose from German, Modern Hebrew, Spanish, Polish, and Bulgarian, as well as a short history of the magazine by founder Daniel Weissbort, and an oneiric letter by the editors.
February 7, 2012
We're thrilled to announce that Robin Hemley, TIR senior editor and director of the University of Iowa's Nonfiction Writing Program, has a new book forthcoming from The University of Georgia Press. Due out in March, A Field Guide for Immersion Writing: Memoir, Journalism, and Travel "recalibrates and redefines the way writers approach their relationship to their subjects."
More from the UGA Press:
For centuries writers have used participatory experience as a lens through which to better see the world at large and as a means of exploring the self. Considering various types of participatory writing as different strains of one style—immersion writing—Robin Hemley offers new perspectives and practical advice for writers of this nonfiction genre.
Immersion writing can be broken down into the broad categories of travel writing, immersion memoir, and immersion journalism. Using the work of such authors as Barbara Ehrenreich, Hunter S. Thompson, Ted Conover, A. J. Jacobs, Nellie Bly, Julio Cortazar, and James Agee, Hemley examines these three major types of immersion writing and further identifies the subcategories of the quest, the experiment, the investigation, the infiltration, and the reenactment. Included in the book are helpful exercises, models for immersion writing, and a chapter on one of the most fraught subjects for nonfiction writers—the ethics and legalities of writing about other people.
Suitable for beginners and advanced writers, the book provides an enlightening, provocative, and often amusing look at the ways in which nonfiction writers engage with the world around them.
If you're planning to attend this year's AWP Conference in Chicago, check out Robin's panel on immersion writing, "The Writer in the World," where he'll be joined by writers Melissa Pritchard, Joe Mackall, Christopher Merrill, and Stephanie Elizondo Griest to discuss the immersion/travel writer’s relationship and responsibility to the world at large.
Date: Friday, March 2
Time: 10:30 a.m.
Location: Chicago Hilton, Continental B
From 12:00-1:00 p.m., Robin will be signing copies of his book at the University of Georgia Press table at the AWP Bookfair.