Walter E. Washington Convention Center | February 9, 2017

Episode 153: The Imitation Game: Adapting Classic Narratives in Contemporary Literature

(Kathryn Locey, Lorraine Lopez, Blas Falconer, Lynn Pruett) Isabel Allende claims that all stories have been told and that writers merely retell these, sometimes deliberately. For example, Jane Smiley drafted 1,000 Acres to rebut Shakespeare’s King Lear. Authors, writing in four genres—fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and drama, speak to the conscious process of adapting classic literature, sharing ways to eke inspiration and avoid derivation in this practice that can provide new perspectives to highlight and enrich enduring narratives.

Published Date: August 9, 2017


Speaker 1 (00:02):

Welcome to the A W P podcast series. This event was recorded at the 2017 A W P conference in Washington dc. The recording features Lori and Lopez, Catherine, Los Lynn Pruitt, and Blas Falconer. You will now hear Lorianne Lopez provide introduction

Speaker 2 (00:30):

And welcome. You've had many choices. Thank you for coming to this panel. I know that we are competing with, I mean, I wish I could divide and go to different panels. There's so many great things happening, so we really appreciate you being here for this panel on titled The Imitation Game on Adapting Classic Literature for Contemporary Narratives. I'm going to introduce our speakers upfront and so as not to disrupt the flow, and then I will begin and we will move on in the order that I will introduce people. Unfortunately, a sad bit of news. Teresa Noval page, who is a playwright and was going to speak about adapting death of a salesman for a play about a Latina protagonist as a Latina. Willie Lowman has had a family emergency and she was not able to come. She's dealing with that now in Taos and I've just learned that she's not going to make it here. Apologies for that.

Speaker 2 (01:39):

I give my talk. Then we'll have Catherine Loey. Catherine teaches English and Creative Writing at Brunell University in Gainesville, Georgia. She publishes both short fiction and poetry often in response to other texts. And after Catherine we'll have Lynn Pruitt. Lynn Pruitt is the author of one novel and numerous stories and essays. Her work has earned her the Al Smith Fellowship from the Kentucky Arts Council, the Joanna Scott Award for fiction scholarship to Squa Valley and to Sewanee and a residency at Yado. She grew up in Kent County, Delaware and is a former resident of Silver Spring, Maryland. She teaches in the low residency M F A program at Murray State University. And finally we will have Bloss Falconer. Bloss is the author of two poetry collections, the founding Wheel and a question of Gravity and Light. His awards include an n e A fellowship, the Maureen Egan Writers Exchange, and a Tennessee individual artist Grant, a poetry editor at the Los Angeles Review.

Speaker 2 (02:40):

He teaches in the M F A program at San Diego State University and in the low residency M F A program at Marie State University. His third full-length poetry collection Forgive the Body. This failure from Four-Way Books is forthcoming in 2018 and I forgot to introduce myself. I'm Lorraine Lopez and wait, what? Okay, here I am. I'm an associate editor of the Afro Hispanic Review and I teach in the M F A program in creative writing at Vanderbilt University. I'm the author of six books of fiction and editor, co-editor of three essay collections. My most recent publication is The Darling, a novel that came out in 2015.

Speaker 2 (03:24):

Again, thank you for being here. The Imitation Game. When I was 19 years old, I fell for a story I met in college, compact and muscular. It cast a powerful spell over me. After the first sentences, I couldn't take my eyes off it. I read it once, twice, three times in the first weeks and then again and again. Over the years, this enthralled by the narrative, its dark humor and desperate protagonist. This story became for me an irresistible bad boy of fiction. But Chekhov's, the darling unspool the tale of a rather Simple woman, Olga Anova called Lenka, an empty headed sweetheart who falls under the sway of the men. She loves absorbing their pursuits with rapacious zeal, she first marries the theater manager, sparking her outspoken passion for the stage. After Lenka is widowed, she wids the manager of a lumberyard and she renounces the theater as time-wasting nonsense to crusade for the timber trade.

Speaker 2 (04:28):

When her second husband dies, Lenka takes up with a veterinary surgeon, a divorced man with the child. In this case her newfound fervor for animal husbandry. Soon alarms vet, he escapes her exhaustive and exhausting rants on cattle diseases as often as he can, leaving his son a schoolboy in her care. The focus of Lanka's Next all consuming campaign homework. Of course, the outrageous Demands teachers place on students. It's too much. She insists to anyone who will listen too much For a poor chap, yes, I was seduced by an anti love story. Like any transformative work of art Chekhov's story, the darling compelled me to talk back to it, to join the conversation. It opened and to respond in writing as if it were a missive. Checkoff had sent expressly and exclusively to me, but overwhelmed by the enormity of such an endeavor and at the same time underwhelmed by my skills.

Speaker 2 (05:24):

As a writer, I procrastinated mightily. When it came to composing my reply, the Checkov story insisted itself in my thoughts in the relentless manner of Lenka herself. Even so decades would pass before I summoned the resources and confidence to frame a response similar to Lenka, I too had multiple love affairs, other authors, other stories and novels that absorbed and compelled me. Still the darling stayed with me. Its thematic message and Checkov encourages us to think of theme as a problem or question that a story should articulate. Ringing in my head in stating this particular problem offers into evidence. Gentle Lenka, her soft voice and tentative smile be lying a robust, almost superhuman drive. Like most unforgettable literary figures, Lenka is a paradoxical creature of the first order. She's a mild mannered succubus as incapable of meanness, as she's powerless to resist her compulsion to absorb the thoughts and feelings of those she loves.

Speaker 2 (06:26):

She like Lady Lazarus eats men like air had her first two husbands not expired of natural though possibly stress induced causes. Lenka would surely but sweetly have devoured them from the inside out or she'd have sent them running for their lives like the veterinary surgeon in the end, his son, the hapless schoolboy left in her care, cries out each night and fever dreams begging Lenka to leave him alone. The story asks us to consider what becomes of a healthy and good natured woman. Those are chekhov's words, healthy and good natured woman when she's denied a life of her own. How does the patriarchy and delimiting options for such a woman harm the men? Lenka loves thereby threatening the system that enforces male dominance and privilege and homage to this unforgettable narrative. My long deferred reply to checkout's message, I could very well articulate the same problem that patriarchy after all endures or I could frame a new interrogatory.

Speaker 2 (07:24):

What happens when an ambitious woman derives strength and knowledge from the men who circumscribe her life, those with whom she has relationships and those with whom she engages on the page. Authors like Chekhov, Dreiser, Hardy Lawrence, James Tolstoy, and others who depict the limitations confronting their female characters. Ultimately, I chose to state both problems correctly or not. Along with a few more in the novel that I named for Chekhov, short story, the Darling Lenka, like my protagonist, Carida is a sweet tempered dairy flying from one man to the next in a drive to satisfy her longing for love and for knowledge. Instead of retelling the story that is already brilliantly told. I long to deconstruct it, to take it apart in order to see how it works and then put it together again in my own way so that it honors its inspiration but stands on its own for readers.

Speaker 2 (08:17):

Unfamiliar with the source work and curious about literary transvestism undertaken by Chekhov in the darling and by Dreiser in Sister Carey and Sister Carrie and by Lawrence. In later Chatterley's lover by Bert and Madame Boveri by Tolstoy, Nana Carina and so on. I yearned to peek behind the mask of fiction to understand why these canonical letters chose to dress up as women in their narratives imagining female perspectives with complexity and nuance. So in my novel I personify this curiosity through a transsexual character's third and best loved husband whom my name for the space he inhabits on the gender identity spectrum gray. Think of it. These authors though men foreground female protagonists, likewise intuiting characters experiences as women in moving and convincing ways in the historic context in which such narratives were written. This is revolutionary work. A startling is when a student writer these days features a middle-aged woman with more significance than a refrigerator in a story.

Speaker 2 (09:24):

And I am gobsmacked by how much these did white males get right and even more astonished when they let on as Lawrence does, and Lady Chatterley's lover, that they know where they fall short. So it is striking to note the marks that most of the authors revisited in my novel, miss Childbearing and Sexuality as to motherhood, some dispatch, the heroines offspring by early death, Hardy and James others avoid the subject altogether due to the protagonist, childlessness, checkoff and DRIs and the few that feature maternity. Bert and Tolstoy present children as an afterthought, usually off stage with regard to sexuality. Apart from Lawrence and arguably Flo Bear, these authors create a wide birth between their female protagonists and their sexual impulses. Poor Dreiser and James present this disconnection most egregiously for me, the latter compromising both character, motivation and plot through such a mission and neither Lawrence nor Flo Bear acknowledged much agency on the part of their heroines in satisfying their sexual desires.

Speaker 2 (10:29):

In my novel, I determined to look closely at what these men had overlooked, the profound transformation affected by childbirth on a woman's life and female sexual desire as a motivating factor. In further departing from Chekhov's story, I developed a protagonist with an inner life. Unlike Lenka, Carida has opinions of her own. Though she struggles to assert these, she often confronts contradictions between her way of knowing things and the perceptions of the men in her life. Gradually coming to understand that her faculties are not deficient or impaired, that her epistemological processes though uniquely formed owing to gender, social class, and culture are nonetheless valid. In fact, these provide a powerful optic allowing her to see what many particularly the men in her life miss. While Chekhov shows that Lenka is unable to generate opinions on her own, she too filters her experiences through a lens custom crafted by her milieu, one that focuses exclusively on what is most important to her love.

Speaker 2 (11:29):

And here's a quote from Chekov. She was always fond of someone. The story tells us and could not exist without loving herein. Chekov issues. Another thematic problem. Question, what's wrong with living just for love? Well, as it turns out a lot upon first reading the Darling as a naive undergraduate in a survey course on women in literature, my cheeks flared with heat, the shameful recognition of what I might become if I too lived only for love. At 19, I believed such a thing possible. I was married at the time to a ceramicist sculptor and instead of drafting the narratives I hoped to develop in my writing workshops, I spent a good deal of my time in the kiln room or the sculpture lab, and I devoted much of my energy to promoting my then husbands shows and arguing with his parents who encouraged him to consider teaching.

Speaker 2 (12:20):

Instead of creating art like Lenka, I championed my husband's endeavors with absurd, even Moish. Zeo great art I would say to anyone who would listen, changes lives, but I couldn't hear my own words until I read the darling with this story, Checkov opened my ears tuning me into a conversation I couldn't ignore. So isn't it enough to recognize oneself in a cautionary and life altering way on the page? Why write homage? Why revisit canonical narratives that are complete and completely brilliant on their own? Do we need to keep thinking about Lenka, about Ana Carina, about Te Ville, about Sister care and Madame Boveri when their creators have already provided such full and splendid consideration? I say yes, provoked by art, we construct homage to enter into the critical conversations that illuminate our inner lives, even over vast chasms of time and place. For me, the way to create homage aligns with how one best enters the conversation, not by parroting what has already been said, but by carefully considering the information transacted and providing insights born of our own perspectives.

Speaker 2 (13:39):

Ideas that build upon even if they redirect the exchange in composing homage, one runs the risk of producing writing that is derivative. Stories that are too closely related to the generative work will inevitably invite comparison, and this usually doesn't bode well for the newer work in her inability to formulate her own ideas and opinions. Olga, I mean Lenka herself is a derivative and embodiment of the problem storytellers face in retelling classic tales, successful fiction that pays tribute to classic literature remains mindful of honoring the source material while departing from it to present fresh perspectives that resonate within a contemporary context. Jane Smiley and retelling King Lear uses Shakespeare's play as a way to critique the sustainability of family farming. In our post-industrial age, Riera sets a Romeo and Juliet narrative in the criminal underworld of a futuristic and dystopic Mexico long endur showing long enduring conflict that threatens to outlast humanity itself.

Speaker 2 (14:42):

In my novel Carida the darling is a Mexican immigrant's child, an anchor baby. She not only departs from Lanka by having opinions and gaining strength from the men she loves and the men she reads. She's also a cultural outsider and this calls into question the legitimacy of her access to the forms of knowledge she acquires as events by this panel presentation or as will be events. The ways to create homage are rich and varied from Jane smiley's thousand acres to RA's, transmigration of bodies, examples abound in contemporary literature after reading Chekhov the Darling over four decades ago. The question for me is not so much why and in what ways is this done, but rather how can we not honor the stories that change our lives? How do we resist joining the ongoing conversation that is literature bringing to it our own observations and experiences?

Speaker 2 (15:34):

Most of us are familiar with the aphorism that asserts that only two basic narratives exist, posing that the stories we tell are but variations of these. Someone comes to town or someone leaves town if you leave out the boy meets girl, that kind of thing. But two basic narratives. Isabella NDA reinforces this notion by claiming that all stories have been told and writers merely retell these whether they recognize it or not, to one degree or another. We as storytellers are all playing the imitation game. Undertaking this with intentionality and the commitment to expand rather than merely echo the generative work provides means to honor such inspiration.

Speaker 3 (16:34):

How long has the imitation game this intentional reply from one writer to another? Writer's opus been going on well probably as long as writers have also been readers. Homer's Iliad and Odyssey had been familiar classics for 700 years. When Virgil pinned his response text the A approximately 20 years before the common era, I hazard a guess that the only new part of the imitation enterprise is the critical or meta piece, such as our focus today on examining our writerly motives, reflecting on our process and considering the effects achieved by intentional intertextuality, Henry Wessels proposes the term critical fiction to refer to a work of art that explicitly declares itself as a critique of another work of literature and explicitly makes use of that earlier source text. The earlier source texts that evoke fiction responses from me have been sacred books that I've had deep and complicated relationships with since childhood, the books of the Hebrew Bible and since early adulthood, the confessions of Saint Augustine.

Speaker 3 (18:04):

As a child, I accepted scripture uncritically from an early age I was entranced by its poetic language more precisely. Of course, I was entranced by the language of the revised standard version translators and in the case of St. Augustine for me, r s Pine coffin, the Bible texts were more than books to me. They shimmered with glory and offered a glimpse of the divine scheme. In early adulthood, I began as many do to look more critically at the divine scheme presented by my faith and its founding text. A pivotal moment arrived when I was reading a Bible story to my young children, one daughter and three sons. We turned to the story of Jeff's daughter and I seemed to be reading it for the first time. What kind of divine scheme called for an only daughter to be sacrificed to guarantee a battle win? As years passed, the symbolic power of this story stayed with me.

Speaker 3 (19:23):

How many daughters are sacrificed for ends that seem worthy and patriarchal not divine schemes? Later I would learn of the mid rash stories about the story that claimed jeha and pinhas the high priest were punished for carrying out and in Pinhas case for failing to prevent the death of JHAs daughter. Intellectually, my faith was somewhat restored that at least this murder of a daughter was not God approved, but the power of the story still seemed true Across the world, daughters are daily sacrificed to maintain the honor of powerful fathers, although not physically threatened. I was disowned by my father and mother for marrying a young man. They found religiously and socially unacceptable and this husband would eventually sacrifice our own daughter as well. And that was the moment when I felt compelled to write EPS daughter's story. My first attempt to tell the story from her perspective, which of course was really my perspective.

Speaker 3 (20:45):

How did she feel given the news that her only parent had made a vow that he considered more important than she was? His promise to God had been, if you deliver the ammonites into my hands, then whatever comes out of the door of my house to meet me on my safe return from the ammonites shall be the lord's and shall be offered by me as a burnt offering. For this version of the story, my story, I relied only on the biblical narrative and tried to empathetically inhabit the mind of a young girl approaching her own death at her father's hands. It was a sudden fiction piece of around a thousand words, and although I hoped to convey the intensity of the daughter's emotions, this version of the story ultimately felt static because the daughter passively accepts her fate When dealing with biblical texts, I gave myself the directive admittedly limiting that I could add to but not change the original material. It was the frost and net I put in place for myself to play with.

Speaker 3 (22:07):

So not quite satisfied with my passive jets daughter. I decided to switch genres and let her speak out from beyond the grave in a poem which with her heightened perspective, she could comment on her own demise. By questioning her father's mindset and false religiosity, she can join her pain to the woe that others feel when he inflicts death and destruction on them. In the poem, she asked other daughters to question vis code the final stanza. To give you an idea, I left it to the daughters of the 40,000 Quarrelsome cousin Israelites. He ordered slaughtered by the Jordan's muddy shores for fresh slights, old differences for failing to pronounce the in shibboleth. I left it to the daughters of the Fathers. He translated into the grave to question whether Jeha was capable of speaking God's language.

Speaker 3 (23:19):

Still, Jeff's daughter wouldn't leave me alone. She deserved more. Finally, mindful of Isabella Yez struggled to tell the story of earthquake victim Oma Sanchez's final hours from the victim's perspective and to instead make the primary character a witness Roth, the documentary maker in of clay. We are created. I determined to use this same strategy with my victim jet's daughter. The news story was told from the perspective of one of the maidens who had accompanied jet's daughter during the month respite in the mountains she's given to mourn her virginity before her father kills her. My witness narrator Rachel, does not merely witness as the month respite nears its end with no word of aay for zeba as I named the unnamed daughter Rachel, a considerable risk visits both jeha and high priest penha and tries to convince them that the father's vow should not be carried out when she fails, she and another friend Sarah accompany Zeba as she returns to her village to be sacrificed.

Speaker 3 (24:30):

The powerless women in this time and place cannot save Zeba, but they can offer her their presence and their witness. As the story concludes, the three women returned to the village. Just the last lines. Most of the villagers have already assembled though pen hus is nowhere to be seen in front of the altar stands jeha. His face darkened with ashes, the sacrificial knife in his hand. Some of the women sink to their knees, but no one looks away. Jeff's fingers reach for zebra, one sharp breath, a flash of blade, then silence shakes the mountains. Another semis sacred text that captured and kept my attention for years was the confessions of St. Augustine. I first read this book as a 19 year old in an undergraduate class. The history of Christian thought this first introduction was not the immediate attraction that Lorraine experienced with Chekhov's, bad boy the darling.

Speaker 3 (25:44):

But I did notice Augustine and appreciated and accepted at face value his presentation of himself as a bad boy. When I read closely and discussed the confessions 20 years later with a priest friend, I was startled at my altered perspective. Augustine's bad boy was not so convincing. Was it really such a damning sin for a boy to steal some pears? Even his famous Lord make me chaste but not now. Prayer taken in context loses its naughtiness. This man who once you figure out his timeline, remained faithful to his first mistress for 15 years. And who knows, he might've married her if the Roman legal system had permitted it. They had a son together, AOD DADUs whom Augustine dearly loved and mourned when the boy died in adolescence. Slips in the text keep revealing Augustine's inherent decency, especially for a man immersed in the macho world of the fourth century Roman empire having experienced and witnessed the coldness that fathers can show their children. I smiled wistfully at Augustine's quip. The difference between a wife and a mistress is that with a wife, you are trying to have children and with a mistress not. But of course we can't help loving the children no matter how they come.

Speaker 3 (27:23):

The sensuousness of Augustine's transferred love words to God now broke my heart. I have learned to love you late beauty at once, so ancient and so new. You called me, you cried aloud to me. You broke my barrier of deafness. You shone upon me. Your radiance enveloped me. You put my blindness to flight, you shed your fragrance about me. I drew breath, and now I gasp for your sweet odor. I tasted you and now I hunger and thirst for you. You touched me and I am inflamed with love of your peace. Yet as enchanted as I was by Augustine's way with words and the goodness he inadvertently revealed about himself, he was an ambiguous figure to me, steeped in misogynistic tradition. He participated in it too. A passage that really struck me comes in book six when he explains how the woman with whom I had been living was torn from my side as an obstacle to my marriage.

Speaker 3 (28:40):

And this was a blow that crushed my heart to bleeding because I loved her dearly. We never learn her name, but Augustine tells us that she left AODs with him and went back to Africa, vowing never to give herself to another man. He admits that he's too weak to follow her example, and he took another mistress while he was waiting for the two years he would need to be married. But the new mistress didn't help describing the loss of his first mistress. He reveals the wound showed no sign of healing. At first the pain was sharp and searing, but then the wound began to fester and though the pain was duller, there was all the less hope of a cure. What a human drama. I sympathize with Augustine. But what about this poor unnamed first mistress? How must she have felt if Augustine was bound by the stifling social realities of his time?

Speaker 3 (29:44):

What about this woman? She followed me around asking what about me until I simply had to write her story for my first attempt. I released the net, I'd been accepting for responding to biblical narratives and decided that she and Augustine deserved a happy ending. So I wrote a new version in which he makes different choices, stays with the woman he loves and Foregoes being a bishop and father of the church. To my mind though, this rendering was not completely compelling and even trivialized the heartbreak of the story. Plus Augustine was a real person and so was the mistress. I didn't feel quite right ignoring that. So for my second attempt, I decided to let the mistress write her own confessions of a woman from tete.

Speaker 3 (30:40):

She pins hers after reading a copy of Augustine's confessions. So both she and I are responding with a bit of outrage to his text. To the best of my ability, I mirrored features of Augustine's style such as God as assumed audience, and especially the seamless integration of an allusion to biblical passages. For instance, the woman's confession begins Have mercy. Oh Lord have mercy upon me for I have had more than enough of contempt. A woman, I am poor in spirit and weak of frame. But if you who made the ples and Orion can care for the birds of the air and the lilies of the field, I trust that you will not turn from any of your creatures. I allow her to complain about Monica, the mother-in-law from hell to voice her grief at parting from Augustine and her son and to share her sorrow at her son's death. I know the woman from Tega state doesn't feel better given the chance to tell her side of the story, but I do.

Speaker 4 (32:10):

You may see a theme emerging here amongst these talks. Okay,

Speaker 4 (32:19):

In the best American essays of 2015, editor Ariel Levy writes, crafting a piece of writing around an idea you think is worthwhile. An idea you suspect is an insight requires audacity. One of the most audacious essays I've ever read about literature was published in the New York Review of books in May of 1973. In seduction and Betrayal, Elizabeth Hardwick analyzes nine classics, which Lorraine has just described pretty well from Mozart Don Giovanni to Driss and American Tragedy. And she says that seduction a time honor literary plot is a euphemism for a protracted plan of premeditated rape. This audacious idea changed the way I read literature. I had thought of seduction as a romanticized plot where male's exhaustive gifts overcame his gaffes and eventually convinced the object of his desire to yield. And everyone lived happily ever after, but ever after I questioned stories and love of love and romance and their plots, I was a little bit skeptical about the idea of seduction.

Speaker 4 (33:32):

Now, last year I reread this essay and I was intrigued by her insistence that the woman's story is always about seduction and betrayal. And I wondered, is that still true? She ended her examination, she wrote it in 73, but the last book she'd written about was 50 years prior to that. So I decided to write an update on her findings in an homage of sorts. And I think an homage should do more than regurgitate a good old idea. It needs to present something fresh, worthwhile, audacious, and happily, I report at the end of this experiment, I did discover an audacious idea or two, which I will share at the end. Now, not all of her ideas were good ones. She's claimed that sex would no longer be the subject of novels I way off. So I felt free to ignore that one when I was doing mine.

Speaker 4 (34:31):

And she took on nine works and a criticism of that essay was that it had too much breadth and not enough depth. So I decided to choose four novels that were published within six years of each other, between 2010 and 2016, and try to see what they had done. And my essay loses the range of the centuries that she had, but because it appends hers, it adds onto it by reference, it actually extends her quest into our times. The same question is asked almost now, 200 years and works over 200 years. And so I claim that as a value of this homage and perhaps someone in 43 years will append my essay. I mean, we can just keep on going with this. Alright, the books I chose, you may know 'em, the Girls by Emma Klein, Lord of Miss Rule, by Jamie Gordon, the Darling by Lorraine Lopez and Salvaged the Bones by Jasmine Ward.

Speaker 4 (35:22):

And I chose 'em because they're really good and they're written by women who were voiceless in Hardwick's original sample, which is kind of odd if the women's story is about seduction betrayal, it's kind of nice to hear what women have to say about that. So that's what I decided to do. And so the question is, are they still about seduction and betrayal? And I'm going to give you a little summary of each story, each novel, and then kind of rapidly analyze the seduction, betrayal stuff that happened so that since many of you may have read all these books, many of you have read none of them. So that's what I'm doing. Okay, in the girls, Evie is a 15 year old suburban California essentially abandoned and unsupervised by her divorcing parents. This leaves her to freedom to fall in with the fictionalized Manson game gang.

Speaker 4 (36:09):

Okay, she seduced Russell, the Charlie Manson figure takes her to his bed. The first night on the ranch, she performs oral sex on him and feels, eh, so what? Okay, that was her main seduction, first one. But she continues to have sexual contact with him and his bidding, but they never have intercourse. So the issue of pregnancy, such a prominent feature in the novels, Hardwick analyze does not complicate the plot. However, in a fresh turn, Evie developed a mad crush on Suzanne, a slightly older teenage girl. These two do have sex, good sex. Evie is in love. She's seduced by Suzanne's plum personality and daring. Later, Suzanne betrays Evie by dumping her out of the car route to the massacre. So this betrayal saves evie's life and prevents her from committing murder. And this is a new twist in the plot where the betrayer and the betrayal actually saves the heroin rather than the heroin being condemned by the betrayal.

Speaker 4 (37:07):

So that's new. Now, Hardwick noted that in literary classics, women wronged in one way or another are given the overwhelming beauty of endurance, the capacity for high or lowly suffering for the radiance of humility, for silence, secrecy, impressive acceptance. So I took that and looked at the Lord of Miss Rule and that Maggie is seduced by Tommy the night they meet. Her sexual desire causes her to follow him into a life of poverty. At a low rent racetrack, she becomes his mucker of stalls. She falls in love with him. She's making soup and thinking those domestic thoughts so dangerous to women while he is in New Jersey, screwing a wealthy patronist who will provide him with money and more horses betrayed, but already broke and committed to this life, to this broken down horse they're trying to train. Maggie must endure the infidelity bucket up nobly in the tradition of the women that hardwick details.

Speaker 4 (38:08):

When Tommy returns a battle takes place in the sleeping quarters, he insists he must punish Maggie by physically binding her and having anal sex with her. But interestingly, she's in charge in this scene. It's told from his point of view and we learn of his vulnerability, his need and his lack of any other resource to maintain his balance in the relationship. But for Maggie, sex is now divorced from love. It's about power. Something Tommy understood from the beginning, but she did not. Yet Maggie endures morally. She has the upper hand. She's quite like a Victorian heroine who can suffer sexual degradation because she's good and therefore likable. Her story is classic. She's seduced, betrayed, she endures and triumphs. This novel won the National Book Award. Hardwick asks the question another great one, what do women want? And she answers it. Women desire to have mastery over their husbands.

Speaker 4 (39:08):

So we turn to the darling by Lori Lopez and what we find is Carida is a sensual woman who enjoys sexual pleasure but tends to disdain her partners. Now, this may be mischaracterization and Lorraine can certainly answer this at the end, so apologies right now. Okay. She gives her all to a relationship, but the men constantly fail to be as noble, hardworking, and intelligent as she is. Carida is actually more like a traditional hero, overcoming obstacles in his quest for glory, except that her glory is simpler. A profession that pays enough for her to support herself and her son, and a man who's intelligent and driven as he is, which she eventually finds in Lazar. This novel breaks from tradition in many ways, even though the quest is still through marriage. And Kado tries on the various guises of her husband's artist, writer, bookstore manager, nonprofit facilitator.

Speaker 4 (40:03):

She looms larger than any of the characters. The question then is she seduced sometimes, but when she wants to be seduced and sometimes she seduces men too, like that hot electrician in the bookstore, she is not bound by loyalty or chastised for sexual freedom. In general, all her husbands betray her in one way or another, yet she recovers and moves on. In her case, the betrayals are not devastating or defeating, but they act as catalyst for change, an improvement. And ironically, the author told me, an agent rejected the book because Carida was not likable. Yet Carida has with Hardwick claims as necessary to a heroin, a serious sort of independence and honor and acceptance of consequence that puts courage to the most searing test. And also literature also says literature also says Hardwick also says that literature tells us biology is destiny for girls only, and the novel always understands that the men must get on.

Speaker 4 (41:11):

This moves us to salvage the bones. Narrator s a rising junior in high school is the only girl in a motherless Mississippi family and she's responsible for the housework and the care of the others. This is an homage to as I lay dying, and it's another novel where the question of seduction goes moot because we asked the question, is Ash seduced? No? She's a modern heroine who desires sex and makes it happen with a boy she chooses. Manny is always described as the sun, as gold, as the one with higher privilege because his skin is light and ashes is dark. She's in love with him, but he's only interested in her for sex, which she never refuses. When she becomes pregnant, he betrays her. He denies the baby is his in a physical scene, she fights him like Madea wielding the knife. And like Hester prin, Ash will endure.

Speaker 4 (42:03):

She will have her baby and raise it as well as she can. Even though her fate is defined by adulterous love the central and enduring theme in fiction. S's fate is not tragic. Her endurance is a triumph and inspires a new union for her family as they rally around her. This book won the National Book Award. In each case, the writer challenged some of the old troops tropes, but maintained some new ones. Lopez gave Carida, many husbands a child and a career. Yet the husbands were the latter of the plot. Klein's protagonist fell in love with a woman, but she still suffered a traditional betrayal. Wards Esh lives in the modern world where her out of wedlock, pregnancy bears little shame, but her loss was romantic and Gordon's Maggie could have been a Victorian heroine or privilege who slumped for a while and returned home with her morality intact.

Speaker 4 (42:55):

It's kind of weird that this is still what we write about seduction, betrayal, sex, relationships. Maybe it's not such a mystery since today, the quality of a woman's life is still pretty dependent on the man she marries or the partner she lives with or the partner she marries. But that is life, not literature. The difficulty of homage is that we can't change the original questions, ideas, or tropes. We can revise or challenge them. So my first audacious idea seems a bit lame. Dare I suggest we've had enough novels about seduction and betrayal. Dare I say, women's stories can be about something else, but novels are about relationships and it seems false to mark any kind of plot out of bounds, particularly given that this plot is meshed into the origin of the novel itself. It's what it's about, people and relationships. Okay, my other audacious idea might be an insight with a strange discovery In each of these contemporary novels in the crisis scene, each female protagonist becomes a damsel in distress.

Speaker 4 (44:00):

Each is rescued by another person, often by the person who betrayed them. Suzanne pushes Evie out of the car before the massacre occurs. Tommy shows up just in time, pitchfork in hand to save Maggie from sexual violation and perhaps death at the hands of Joe Dale, falsely accused and betrayed by her current husband to protective services finds Lazar miraculously at her door when she has no place to go and esh whose family is fighting. Hurricane Katrina suffers more betrayal in the crisis scene. Her brother Scheta announces her pregnancy. At the moment when she's about to leap to safety, her father en rage pushes her into the flood and then Skea has to go and pull her out and save her life. So my idea would be I'm going to ask writers to imagine their female protagonists wielding more power in the crisis scene, taking more control and being the actor in novels that go ahead instead of being rescued even in these fantastic, marvelous books that are changing so many things. And then if so, the women's story will continue to evolve from the limited seduction and betrayal plot of the classics at Hardwick. So deliberately detailed. So somebody please in the future check in, update my essay. Two to let me know if my idea about the woman in the crisis scene is

Speaker 4 (45:29):

Pertinent, passe, plain wrong as Hardwick's conclusion that sex can no longer be the German fiction was so many years ago. Thank you.

Speaker 5 (45:49):

Thank you for coming. Thanks Lorraine for putting this together.

Speaker 5 (45:54):

I first read the Odyssey as a high school freshman at Bishop Dennis j O'Connell, not far from here in Arlington, Virginia. I young and foolish, but already well-versed in classical Greek mythology. My father having given me years before dole's, colorful book of Greek myths a volume, if I recall correctly, he too read as a young man. Aside from the soundtrack to West Side story, which he'd given to me for my 12th birthday. It was perhaps the gift that I cherished most. I poured over every story, daydreaming the gods and goddesses, flawed and operatic to life in my own imagination. As a young gay man afraid to come out of the closet, I had a rich interior life where these figures loomed large, so why wouldn't I be drawn to the story of Odysseus and his son Telemachus, A story of adventure and divine intervention, the great powers above granting and thwarting our hero on his long journey home.

Speaker 5 (47:14):

Even the description of the epic poems, rich landscapes, the islands and the sea seemed familiar to me whom had spent so much time on the southern coast of Puerto Rico, my mother's hometown, a second home for me where the trees always seemed heavy with fruit and the sea was the source of nearly everything from the food on our plate, which my grandmother bought from the fishermen on the shore each day to our adventures as we sailed out to the small uninhabited keys, climbing mangroves, picking sea grapes, I had seen the ocean angry and the ocean calm. I was drawn to Odysseus's 10 year epic journey, of course, for its adventure and suspense, the stuff of blockbuster movies, but also the sentiment that compelled our hero to find his way home. The emotional urgency, Odysseus sitting upon the beach with his eyes ever filled with tears and dying of sheer homesickness on the rocks and on the seashore, weeping, crying aloud for his despair and always looking out upon the sea. The larger quest allowed the poem to contain a collection of many smaller, heartfelt moments, and I was not only compelled to read for the hero's sake, but also for Telemachus and Penelope and calypso even who grieved to let Odysseus go.

Speaker 5 (49:05):

I found the poor creature sitting all alone. All his crew drowned. I got fond of him and cherished him and had set my heart on making him immortal so that he should never grow old all his days, although it would be years before I began writing seriously myself. I'm convinced that the stories of ancient Greece were my early teachers because they helped me to see how powerfully a story could resonate within a reader. As a writer, I often addressed the internal struggle to reconcile my own identification as a gay man and the person the world wanted me to be. Finally, after coming out of the closet, my home became a place where I faced a great deal of hostility and shame. For years, I wrote individual poems relying on the imagination that had transported me so often as a young man and the landscape of Salinas Puerto Rico, a place that once held such beauty and joy that it almost seemed a place of myth.

Speaker 5 (50:18):

And often I turned explicitly to my knowledge and familiarity with Greek myth to express conflict within my home, which seemed by that time so distant and my own psyche. By the time I started putting together my first book of poems, a question of gravity and light, I noted that many of these famous figures were present challenging the relationship between inspiration and good fortune. Calliope, the muse of epic poetry explains when their boats returned full of silver, I had nothing to do with it. Addressing a destructive relationship, one poem references the trials of Hercules. The first time I saw the body of the statue of Anas his body in the arms of another man, I thought it was love.

Speaker 5 (51:18):

Orpheus is addressed directly to question the notion of ever achieving a sense of fulfillment and lasting peace. You who never were. Did you look down on the world at last and see that more won't be enough? Not now, not ever want picks the human heart. You are the lie. I won't believe forever. I was considered deviant. So unlike other members of my family, my community, because I was somehow wrong in my very nature, monstrous one might say. But I ironically recasting these ancient myths. These archetypal figures through my own particular lens connected my personal and particular struggle to a human one. While the various myths influenced the individual poems over many years, I recall the moment when I recognized the parallel that I was drawing with the Odyssey. It was June, 2006. I was staying in Vieques, Puerto Rico at the house of a family friend for the month trying to finish my first collection. I had already written what I believed to be the bulk of the poems, but how would I put the poems together? What would be the organizing principle? I had poems about failed relationships, poems about desire, and my sexual orientation and the distance that my own identity created between myself and my family, between the life that I lived and the life that I hoped to have. But I needed some larger arc or recurring metaphor that would pull the poems together and carry the reader from beginning to end.

Speaker 5 (53:05):

Most people take the ferry to get from the island of Vieques to the main island. On one of these occasions, staring out at the sea, at the land ahead, the other island of Culebra. In the distance I began to wonder about the other passengers. Where was each one going? What waited for him or her on the other shore? What compelled each of them to make this trek? And I considered my own situation that day. I was traveling to visit my mother's hometown, but I couldn't help but note how it spoke figuratively to my life back in the States. For 10 years I had moved around Hungary, Texas, New Mexico, never really fitting in, never really belonging. At the time I was teaching at a public university in Clarksville, Tennessee. And though I was grateful for the work, it wasn't where I had since graduate school hoped to land.

Speaker 5 (54:04):

I wanted to be back home in Washington DC where I had grown up, where my family lived. As problematic as our relationship was, after living so far away for so many years, I wanted to be near people I loved who loved me. The next morning I wrote Dead Reckoning, which became the first poem in the book. It Ends. The sea was calm, you thought you saw the lights. They had said blue houses on the mountain side, they had said, on every roof tends to catch the rain. You thought the boat would take you there. Rereading my poems. I saw this recurring imagery of taking to the open waters as if determined to reach some other shore, but never quite making it. One begins before dawn, fishermen motor far into the open sea, the bay long dead their lanterns lit it ends. The lights disperse each a star beneath the stars, a boat, a man drifting out.

Speaker 5 (55:16):

I began to think of that journey on the ferry as a metaphor, as something much longer as any conflict, whether it be my struggle with my identity and history or my failed relationships. If home in the ideal sense is the absence of want, all our needs met, our conflicts, our comforts offered safety and love, then any expression of desire is a quest, a journey, a lunge toward that place of fulfillment toward Ithaca or wherever we are loved. I realized that the metaphor of crossing spoke to all of the conflicts within the book, regardless of subject matter. So that the recurring metaphor, not subject became the organizing principle. And I saw each poem existing somewhere on that continuum between departure and arrival. This was my odyssey, not an explicit retelling of the great epic, but an implicit one. There would be no cyclops, no skilla, but there would be mermaids, drownings in the treacherous sea.

Speaker 5 (56:28):

There would be death. A friend lost to aids. Calypso did not keep anyone prisoner, though the lovers would betray as they sometimes do. And I'm certainly no hero, not brave or strong or clever as Odysseus. But I wrestled whatever obstacles the fates lay before me. And of course there was the longing for home. Home. At the time I had only begun to realize that I had landed where I wanted to. I had just met Joseph who I would marry. I liked my job. I liked the city in which I lived. It was becoming a home of my own creation. And though I didn't know it then it was the place where Joseph and I would adopt our two boys, where we would begin our own family. So that the calling to go back to DC began to wane. And the efforts to build my own home with Joseph came to signify the journey, that ideal place that Eden, that home of my youth didn't exist any longer, but where I lived full of love and support and purpose was as good a place as any. And this epiphany seemed like its own arrival as the very last line in the book expresses the bay full of boats. They've come all this way. Thank you.

Speaker 6 (58:04):

Thank you all for coming. Thank you.

Speaker 7 (58:13):

Thank you for listening to the AWP podcast series. For other podcasts. Please visit our website at www awp writer org.


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