Literary Review

Jane Eaton Hamilton's Genderqueer Weekend

"I just wanted to write a silly little romance," says Jane Eaton Hamilton on the phone from Canada, about her new novel, Weekend. Hamilton accomplished that, if you consider a riveting, frank, nuanced exploration of adult sexuality and love silly or minor. A tale of two couples -- all female, but not all identifying as such -- whose relationships come into focus over an intense few days, the novel sends new lovers to an island owned by someone with whom each has a tricky history -- at which point their host's own happy life begins revealing troubling undercurrents. Weekend wears its gender, racial, and economic politics lightly. Yet the intelligence of Hamilton's observations and the spare beauty of her language elevate highly specific dynamics into a work that crosses all boundaries.

After having amassed a body of incisive essays, nine books of award-winning short stories and poetry, and a memoir about having children with a man who turned out to be a pedophile rapist, the Canada native is starting a new chapter of sorts with Weekend. "I actually quit writing in 2003 because of lousy reception," she says. "And then my marriage broke up in 2011 unexpectedly." She decided to give writing another shot. "Although I mourn the work I didn't write during those years, I came back to it so invigorated and refreshed that it's like an entirely different career."

Music and Sex #11: Music, Music, and More Music

Music and Sex: Scenes from a life - A novel in progress (first chapter here).

Walter had been so busy with midterms that he hadn't gone record-shopping recently. Neither had he spent his income on anything else, other than eating on the weekends, though he'd eaten better than usual. He'd wandered into a fast-food place on Broadway called Amy's and, for the first time in his life, had tried a falafel sandwich. Well, not really a sandwich, at least not as he thought of a sandwich, which was (mostly) meat between two separate pieces of bread, but he didn't know what else to call these things stuffed into pita bread. He'd liked it, not least because just one sandwich was very filling, so he had gone back regularly for lunch on weekends. It was a nice change of pace from the food at John Jay cafeteria. There never seemed to be many customers, though.

The Street Writing Man

Tony Warren 8th July 1936-1st March 2016

'The first Coronation Street writing team contained some of the biggest homophobes I've ever met. I remember getting on my feet in a story conference and saying "Gentlemen, I have sat here for two-and-a-half hours and listened to three poof jokes, a storyline dismissed as poofy, and an actor described as 'useless as he's a poof'. As a matter of fact he isn't! but I would like to point out that I am, and without a poof none of you would be in work today." So reflected the writer & television dramatist Tony Warren on his early uphill, but routine struggle with homophobia of late 1950s Britain. It was a brave and brazen stance given that homosexuality was still illegal. He also stated later that "the outsider sees more, hears more, and has to remember more to survive" and that in those days if you were gay you needed to be three times better than your competitors in order to succeed.

Dean Dixon: Negro at Home, Maestro Abroad by Rufus Jones Jr.

 
This is, I'm pretty sure, the first book-length biography of conductor Dean Dixon (1915-1976), the first African American to conduct the New York Philharmonic, and his story is so interesting yet largely unknown that it makes for a fascinating read.

Born and raised in New York City by immigrant parents (from Jamaica and Barbados), he started playing violin when he was three, at his mother's instigation, studying technique with a Russian teacher; by nine, he was playing on WNEW. He was also encountering racism; one prospective teacher cut off his lessons after Dean's second appearance, apparently because the building's residents didn't want a black child there.

Dixon was a good enough (if sometimes reluctant, it seems) student that he was consistently accepted into progressive, integrated schools.  Once he determined to make music his career (after his mother was persuaded not to push him into studying to be a doctor), he passed an audition with Frank Damrosch to enter the Institute of Musical Arts. 

Patti Smith: M Train (Knopf)

Patti Smith: M Train (Knopf)

Smith's previous book, Just Kids (winner of the National Book Award in 2010), was straightforward biography and much loved by fans of the '70s downtown NYC music scene for its insight into her development into one of the major figures of the punk movement. M Train is also autobiographical, but has a quite different effect, reflecting, one could say, the fact that she was a writer before she was a rock 'n' roller -- and hey, the French Ministry of Culture named Smith a Commandeur des Arts et des Lettres, the highest artist honor of the French Republic, two years before she was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

M Train is unconcerned with her music career (though her tastes in music are occasionally alluded to); instead, it bounces among what she's reading and her literary influences, her trips to various points on the globe as either a literary celebrity or a fan paying homage to her lit heroes, musings on her favorite TV series, recountings of her dreams, vignettes from her life with her deceased husband, Fred "Sonic" Smith, and time spent in cafes and buying/renovating a house in the Rockaways. Much of it is documented with artily artless photos.