Thursday, November 30, 2006

Monday Night at Mo Pitkin's: AVERY reading with Dominic Preziosi and Richard Grayson

At Mo Pitkin's House of Satisfaction on Monday, November 27, 2006, at 7 p.m. there was a reading for the inaugural issue of Avery: An Anthology of New Fiction with contributors Dominic Preziosi and Richard Grayson. It was part of Mo Pitkin's Reader's Room series.

Here's the post by editor Andrew Palmer from the Avery blog on November 29:

Andrew: Avery takes on New York

Avery pulled off a big coup earlier this month when Francis Ford Coppola's Zoetrope: All-Story cancelled a reading in Manhattan and Avery was invited to take their place. The reading went down with a healthy dose of fanfare this Monday night on the second floor at Mo Pitkin's House of Satisfaction in East Village--a small, wood-panelled, night-clubby, noirish room with three long tables stretching from a curtained stage to the back of the room. It seemed to me to be about half-full--a more than respectable turnout for a new literary anthology that hasn't even been published yet. Leigh Newman, one of our writers (and our informant for this reading series) hosted, I nervously said a few words about Avery, and then I gave up the floor to our two readers for the night--Avery contributors Dominic Preziosi and Richard Grayson, both of whom I was meeting for the first time.

Dominic held us in thrall with his Avery story about a man and a woman in a hauntingly familiar semi-post-apocalyptic Manhattan. The first sentence is "In the aftermath of everything we meet up with the one-eyed priest." Now we're listening!

Richard read, in an appropriately neurotic, hyper-self-conscious voice, his Avery story about, about . . . . it seems to be about trailing off, about starting things and never being able to finish them--whether it's a PhD thesis or sexual intercourse or a hamburger. In any case it's hilarious, and everyone laughed a lot. My favorite part is where the narrator--oh I'll just quote it:
When I was young, Rilke admonished me nearly all the time. That “You must change your life” written so earnestly.
But mostly I was tired and preferred to close my eyes.
You must, Rilke would say.
But I just can’t now, not right now, I thought.
You must change, he said.
Tomorrow. Tomorrow I’ll do it.
Change your life, he kept saying.
Yes, yes. But not at this minute.
Your life, Rilke said.
So I reached for my pills, the little red triangular ones, the ones that helped me sleep. I swallowed two of them without water, and Rilke became silent.

Brilliant, Richard. Thanks again, really many many thanks, to Richard and Dominic for providing the meat of the entertainment on Monday--and of course to Leigh for hosting. (If you're in New York you need to check out the weekly Reading Room series at Mo Pitkin's.) We got the word out to a few more people, made a couple more connections, and had a wonderful time.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Flatbush Life and Kings Courier cover Richard Grayson's AND TO THINK THAT HE KISSED HIM ON LORIMER STREET

Flatbush Life and Kings Courier report on Richard Grayson's And to Think That He Kissed Him on Lorimer Street was the subject of an article today (November 20, 2006):

'Lorimer Street' Writer Turns the Pages on Brooklyn

by Helen Klein

Here [is]autobiography seen through the lens of fiction, fiction created through the maze of past life re-imagined – not Proust, considerably less dense, for one thing, but certainly not the unProust.

This is not to say that the stories in Lorimer Street are inaccessible to anyone who did not share Grayson’s college days or his clearly not-forgotten youth. To the contrary, in some ways they are an evocation of the quintessential school days, the bittersweet portrait of the artist as a young man. Not coincidentally, the son of the narrator of the story after which the book is named, asks his father, “Hey, Dad, how’d you like a chance to relive your past?”

Not only do the stories fictionalize a past life, they evoke a Brooklyn of times gone by, a Brooklyn fading in memory as the old-timers move to Florida or die, leaving behind the vanished movie theaters and other borough landmarks recreated in Grayson’s book, written by him while he lived thousands of miles away.

Joyce may have been the first writer who dramatized the need to articulate his memories of his home from a vast distance; he is certainly not the last.

“It’s very much so that you have to leave a place to write about it,” agreed Grayson, who cited emotional distance as well as chronological distance as important elements in shaping memories for the translation into fiction. But, he pointed out, leaving does not mean abandoning. Throughout his adult life he has left the borough and returned, living in different neighborhoods for a month or a season at a time.

Which may be one reason why, unlike Joyce, Grayson doesn’t confine himself to the past. One of the stories in his most recent collection centers on a man taking his son to a concert at the Williamsburg hot spot, Northsix. Another is entitled, “Diary of a Brooklyn Cyclones Hot Dog.”

“There are a lot of writers who’ve written about Brooklyn,” mused Grayson during a phone interview that felt, many times, more like a conversation. “It’s different for every person because the borough is such a treasure trove of different experiences.”

Grayson’s Brooklyn was one not only defined by the movie theaters and branch libraries, but by the buses, which he rode, criss-crossing the borough. “I always liked to explore Brooklyn,” he recalled. “I used to collect bus transfers so I would ride every bus line from one end to the other, so I actually did see a lot of Brooklyn.”

Grayson has already written about the tension between the Brooklyn of 30 or 40 years ago and the Brooklyn of today, in the book’s title story, which, he said, “Is really about two Brooklyn’s. The narrator is probably around my age and he lives with his wife and his teenage son from his first marriage.”

While the story is set in Williamsburg, circa 2005, it features recurrent flashbacks to Canarsie in the 1960s, a time when Brooklyn was a borough defined by the middle-class families who had moved from cramped apartments in older buildings into newly built homes somewhat distant from subway lines, such as the one lived in by the Grayson family in Flatlands.

Now, he stressed, the borough is different. There has been a new wave of middle class immigrants, Grayson noted, as well as a massive dose of gentrification. “It’s shedding its destitute art student image,” he remarked, in a reference to a Post article. “It’s not the Brooklyn I grew up in.”

Wednesday, November 8, 2006

The Outsiders' Book Review from Underground Literary Alliance Reviews HIGHLY IRREGULAR STORIES & AND TO THINK THAT HE KISSED HIM ON LORIMER STREET

The prolific author Jack Saunders reviews Richard Grayson's two Dumbo Books short story collections for the Underground Literary Alliance's Outsider Writers' Book Review:

Richard Grayson: Highly Irregular Stories; And To Think that He Kissed Him on Lorimer Street and Other Stories
Reviewed by: Jack Saunders

Jack Saunders has met Richard Grayson, and Richard has met Jack.

Highly Irregular Stories (2006) and And to Think That He Kissed Him on Lorimer Street and Other Stories (2006), by Richard Grayson. Dumbo Books of Brooklyn, 72 Conselyea St., Brooklyn, NY 11211-2211.

And to Think That He Kissed Him on Lorimer Street and Other Stories is Richard Grayson’s 10th volume of fiction. Or metafiction. Or autobiography. Or stand-up comedy. Or short form narrative. He’s published two other books. What are they? Nonfiction? Reportage? I always think of Jonathan Winters saying he is in gar-bahj, when I hear re-por-tahj.

I believe you could call the writing avant-garde. It’s out ahead of the pack. The avant-garde is a tradition, like any other. Like commercial fiction, or literary fiction. It’s anti-commercial. Anti-literary. The literary is a set of conventions an iconoclast wants to bust up.

An iconoclast is aware of his place in the scheme of things. He knows the history of what he’s doing. He is aware, or self-aware, and self-awareness leads to irony.

Irony lends itself to short pieces. You don’t want to be long-winded. That’s for novels, a more expansive form, where you can stretch out. In one sense, you could say the avant-garde leads the way. In another, profounder sense, you could say it doesn’t go anywhere, it just is. It is what it is. Take it or leave it. As it is. This makes reviewing a collection of short pieces either very easy or very hard.

What is the author trying to do, and is he succeeding, on his own terms? Larry wrote the other day that he found himself at looking at books in a rummage sale, and found he was reading them to see what bias they had; not to see what the book was about or to read for enjoyment or to get taken up by it.

What happens when we approach books like that? How do we not approach books like that?

Do collections of stories become something in the aggregate they were not, separately, as lone stories, in magazines that pay in copies and go belly up, or self-published chapbooks, issued in editions of hundreds of copies? Are they clever, amusing, cute? Do they hold up? Do we see a design to the works, over time? A pattern? Is a collection of them more impressive, more authentic, does it have a gravitas scattered fragments cannot demonstrate? Are we impressed? Are we surprised? Did we disremember? Do we see things we didn’t see the first time through?

You can buy the books from for $12.95 or $16.95. Highly Irregular Stories is a collection of four chapbooks, which are out of print, and rare. A copy of Eating at Arby’s was recently listed online at $350. It’s good to see the stuff back in print. The stories in And to Think That He Kissed Him on Lorimer Street haven’t been collected before. It’s nice to see them in one spot.

What is One Life in the Short Form Narrative Business like? We get a good feel for it, in these two collections, which span three decades.

What is America like? It’s like Richard Grayson says it is, it’s how Richard Grayson sees it. He’s a Jew from Brooklyn, I’m a cracker from Delray Beach. We have different accents, different life-experiences, different expectations, about life. I’m older than he is, and was in the Air Force for eight years. I boxed. I went ten rounds with Bukowski. I fought the Creature from the Black Lagoon underwater, at Wakulla Springs.

Now I just sit around and watch my boot turn blue, from mildew.

But his America rings true, to me, a deep and eclectic literary sensibility in a pop-culture milieu of glitz and flash, the shallow and the hyped, pinball-machine moths, attracted to the light, the noise, the buzz. Love-bugs, smashed on the windscreen. In the throes of their mating ritual. Up around Gainesville on a two-lane blacktop. Harry Crews afraid to leave his writing studio because he might miss something. And Harry Crews ain’t afraid of death or taxes.

A reader said he kept my books on the back of the crapper, and he started every day with a good old country shit and a belly laugh.

That’s a good thing to do with Richard Grayson’s books. Keep them on the back of the crapper and read them every day. They will make you laugh. The stories are short enough you can read one at a sitting.

My theory is that we are attracted to a writer’s voice, and every time we find a writer we like, we buy everything by him or about him we can find, regardless of genre. If he’s any good, he has invented his own genre, conflated one or more genres into a form of his own, which we recognize, because of his distinctive voice.

Bud Powell had small hands. Mary Lou Williams had hands that looked like $10 worth of spareribs in 1937. They’re not going to sound the same. Why should they? If the short pieces have a unity of form, a consistency of vision, a continuity of effort, a tone, an outlook, when do they begin to be less self-contained short pieces and constituent parts of a longer work composed of short pieces, if they do? If they do, was it an accident?

Public taste is fickle. A writing career is a tradeoff and a crapshoot. You can make a fortune writing but not a living. Not even the living you’d make at more mundane tasks. You have to have a sense of humor about it.

A sense of black humor, like the old comics Lenny Bruce, Mort Sahl, and Shelley Berman. The writers Woody Allen, Richard Brautigan, and Terry Southern. Would you choose writing for a career? You don’t choose it, it chooses you. What if you choose it and it doesn’t choose you?

Can you be funny about that? For 30 years? It’s not as easy as Richard Grayson makes it look.

The stories in the second book are newer and darker than the stories in the first book. Branch libraries are closed, movie houses shut down, neighborhoods gentrified, people moved away, friends died, what was not there, then was new, and ugly, is now shabby, with people hanging on, because they have no choice. There are constants. The stock market rises and falls, real estate goes up, people have careers, careers have an arc, not all careers have the same arc.

Richard Grayson once observed to me that writers advise you to do what they did. If they teach writing, they advise you to teach writing. If they are some other kind of professional, they advise you to be some other kind of professional. He was a lawyer. Journalists advise people to write for newspapers or magazines. Or television. I was a paraprofessional. A technical writer. Not an engineer or a programmer. On a par with a draftsman or a logistician (supply specialist). A white collar job, but not a full-fledged profession.

What is true is you need a job that pays enough so you can live comfortably, and are not so tired by your work that you are too tired to write, after work. And that can mean too tired emotionally. Then you just do your job and write before and after work. Or during work.

Maybe you’ll have a year off now and then, when you win a grant, inherit some money, or, in my case, once, are able to draw 49 weeks of separation pay, unemployment, and extended unemployment benefits, plus social security, or, another time, cash in the retirement you rolled over into an annuity when your last corporate employer laid you off and live on that for a year. Or mortgage the house you inherited when your grandfather died and run up the balance on a line-of-credit home-equity loan.

I’m always curious about how a writer supported himself when he wrote the books, and think that should go in the books. I think a reader has a right to know that.

Did he kiss a Stalinist’s ass in Macy’s window?

I enjoyed reading these books and I think you will too. I think they’re worth going to some trouble to find out about and buy. And tell your friends about.

And tell the author about them, if you liked them.