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The Artist I Grew Up With
It’s always exciting to think about works of art or literature in relation to the person who made them, especially if you have some direct acquaintance with the artist. The usual order of events, of course, is that you grow familiar with the work and later meet the man or woman behind it, at an opening or a reading or some social event. What matters, then, is that the artist be on a par with the art, and for a serious admirer, disappointment is almost inevitable. But things are quite different when you know the artist well before you see the work, and even more so when you actually grew up with him.
November 20, 2012
South Africa's AIDS Orphans
When I first visited South Africa in 2000 to report on the AIDS epidemic there, one adult in five was HIV positive, and a million children had lost one or both parents to the disease. But what really amazed me was that no one was talking about this. Silence gripped the nation like a spell. People with obvious AIDS symptoms told me they were suffering from “ulcers” or “tuberculosis” or “pneumonia.” Orphans said their parents had “gone away” or had been “bewitched” by a jealous neighbor. Now, five courageous teenagers from a Cape Town slum have made a fifteen-minute film called *Young Carers: Through Our Eyes* about what it’s like to lose a parent to AIDS. It’s one of the most powerful films about the epidemic I’ve ever seen.
July 18, 2012
There is so much action in New York one is sometimes perversely excited by those moments, or those places, when one is not part of it. Where nothing is happening. These places, in turn, become little air-pockets of possibility—what I call negative space. They are unidentified, off the grid, the staging areas for trysts, seductions, encounters. They are the places where crimes are committed, of one kind or another. The most conspicuous, hiding-in-plain-sight negative space in New York is Central Park.
April 16, 2012
All writers have some secret about the way they work. Mine is that I write in bed. Big deal!, you are probably thinking. Mark Twain, James Joyce, Marcel Proust, Truman Capote, and plenty of other writers did too. Vladimir Nabokov even kept index cards under his pillow in case he couldn’t sleep some night and felt like working. However, I haven’t heard of other poets composing in bed—although what could be more natural than scribbling a love poem with a ballpoint pen on the back of one’s beloved?
February 10, 2012
Twain's 'Advice to Little Girls'
If at any time you find it necessary to correct your brother, do not correct him with mud—never, on any account, throw mud at him, because it will spoil his clothes. It is better to scald him a little, for then you obtain desired results. If your mother tells you to do a thing, it is wrong to reply that you won’t. It is better and more becoming to intimate that you will do as she bids you, and then afterward act quietly in the matter according to the dictates of your best judgment.
July 15, 2011
On 'The Phantom Tollbooth'
When I was a boy I read, in a biography of Daniel Boone, or of Daniel Beard, that young Dan (whichever of the two it may have been—or maybe it was young George Washington) had so loved some book, had felt his heart and mind inscribed so deeply in its every line, that he had pricked his fingertip with a knife and, using a pen nib and his blood for ink, penned his name on the flyleaf. At once, reading that, I knew two things: 1) I must at once undertake the same procedure and 2) only one, among all the books I adored and treasured, was worthy of such tribute: *The Phantom Tollbooth*. At that point I had read it at least five or six times.
April 21, 2011
Lost Rituals, Found Poems
When I was a child growing up in a drab college town in Indiana, our family received an annual New Year’s visit from a vivid woman named Erika Strauss. The high point of Erika’s visit to our house was the old European New Year’s ritual known as “Bleigiessen,” or lead-pouring.
January 7, 2011
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