Sunday, December 4, 2011

Sunday Afternoon in the West Village: Marathon Reading of Frederic Tuten’s "The Adventures of Mao on the Long March" at the Jane Hotel

Although we have to teach on Sunday, we did get to go to the first ninety minutes of today's marathon reading of Frederic Tuten's postmodern fictional masterpiece The Adventures of Mao on the Long March to celebrate its fortieth anniversary and the seventy-fifth anniversary of New Directions, who published it in 1971.

The marathon was an extraordinary special presentation of The New Inquiry, BOMB Magazine, and ForYourArt, and the place was jam-packed with audience members listening to over sixty well-known readers, each taking a portion of the novel, which we first were entranced by in 1975 or 1976 when we were in the MFA program at Brooklyn College and working for the Fiction Collective.

The Fiction Collective is how we first came to Frederic Tuten's work, through his contribution to its 1975 anthology, Statements: New Fiction. (We had a story in Statements 2 two years later.) Jonathan Baumbach and Peter Spielberg, our teachers in the MFA fiction program and co-directors of the Collective, told us we had to read The Adventures of Mao on the Long March.

We met Fred Tuten at some of the Fiction Collective publication parties in the mid- to late 1970s and were always in awe of him. Teaching at the School of Visual Arts back then (as we still are now), we heard from several of his creative writing students at City College what a terrific creative writing workshop he ran.

And we learned so much from reading The Adventures of Mao on the Long March about the uses of history, appropriation of texts, humor, documentary, pastiche, irony, and that mixture of serious and playful narrative that makes it such an exhilarating read.

It was a pleasure to hear it read today by such great artists, editors and writers as Deborah Eisenberg, Laurie Anderson, Walter Mosley, Wallace Shawn, Grace Schulman, A.M. Homes, Paul La Farge, Ross Bleckner, Barbara Epler, and others.

Among the later readers would be Linsey Abrams, Dawn Raffel, John Haskell, Philip Lopate, Amy Hempel, Ernesto Quiñonez, Oscar Hijuelos, Lynne Tillman, Richard Howard,

Francine du Plessix Gray, Jerome Charyn, Edmund White, Dorothy Lichtenstein, Brad Gooch, Patricia Marx, Cecily Brown and Wayne Koestenbaum.

Our cellphone takes horrible pics indoors, but we're sure there will be lots of good photos of this event as well as better, more detailed accounts by smarter, cooler people (update: see a professional's work at Philip Turner's post at The Great Gray Bridge) but we're grateful to the folks at The New Inquiry, BOMB Magazine and ForYourArt for making today's marathon reading a reality. Most of all we're grateful for Frederic Tuten, who spoke charmingly at the start of the reading, talking about being a 15-year-old in the Bronx who dreamed of the world of Manhattan intellectuals, artists and writers, who began submitting to New Directions even at that age.

We can say for sure that Mao on the Long March and Frederic Tuten's other innovative books were inspiring to an outer-borough kid in his twenties who wanted to be a writer many years ago. Now, at sixty, we were happy to stand on a crowded staircase and squint at the author and his readers and listen to the magic of a book we first loved a long time ago.

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