By Deb A.
Last week 24 exceptionally creative Americans of whom you may never have heard were lauded as geniuses and given the opportunity to pursue their ideas freely with a five-year MacArthur Fellowship. For your information and inspiration, here are the four writers and one photographer of the 2013 Fellows—which may be the only group that effortlessly includes an astrophysicist, an audio preservationist, and an agricultural ecologist—who are expanding the boundaries of knowledge and human interaction.
By Deb A.
Identifying the 'best book of the year' is a highly subjective endeavour that takes place every year in various permutations across the globe. Nevertheless, a few awards have managed to build an aura of authority that leaks on to the dust jackets of proud nominees. Today we take a look at just a handful from the English-speaking world in case you're in need of a new bedtime read. If you're unsure of where to begin, only one title appears more than once here: The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri; the Indian-American author made it onto both the Man Booker shortlist and the National Book Awards longlist.
Man Booker Prize: To "the very best book of the year"--as long as it's been written by a citizen of the United Kingdom, the Commonwealth, Zimbabwe, or the Republic of Ireland. (Controversially, all English-language writers--including Americans--will be eligible as of 2014.) After much ado and a few rounds of wagers, the winner will be announced on October 15.
National Book Award for Fiction: To the best book written by an American citizen and published by an American publisher. The finalists will be announced on October 16, which gives you just under a month to pack the follwing longlist on to your e-reader. The winner will be announced on November 20.
PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize: To an author whose debut work represents distinguished literary achievement and suggests great promise.
Pulitzer Prize for Fiction: For distinguished fiction by an American author, preferably dealing with American life.
Women's Prize for Fiction: A celebraton of excellence, originality and accessibility in women's writing around the world. Formerly the Orange Prize for Fiction, this will be known as the Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction as of 2014.
By Deb A.
On a pretty, bustling corner of Berlin's Prenzlauer Berg, one can sip a coffee and pluck at a three-tiered brunch and watch people browse the local trees for a new read.
The Bücherwald (Book Forest) consists of several tree trunks with hollowed out shelf spaces sporting plastic flaps that do a decent job of protecting the books stacked inside from the city's notoriously unpleasant weather. The concept, from BAUFACHFRAU, is not unique; the organisation credits similar initiatives in Bonn and around the world (like this one) as inspiration. This public booksharing site is particularly charming. It's a delight to tourists who stumble upon it and a perfect spot for locals to give their dusty titles the chance at a new life.
A more famous but equally subtle landmark is just one neighbourhood over. Near invisible in the centre of Bebelplatz (and, somewhat oddly, surrounded by an underground parking lot) is a pane of glass that looks down onto enough white bookcases to hold 20,000 books -- the number of titles that were destroyed on the site in a Nazi book-burning ceremony in 1933. The shelves stand starkly empty, and a plaque by the glass quotes Heinrich Heine: "Where they burn books, they will, in the end, burn people."
And so, through no fault of its own, a delightful booksharing site reaches beyond friendly gesture and becomes a quietly poignant statement.
By Deb A.
... eventually, no matter what, you've got to erase it.
Armed with handfuls of pastel rainbows, Peter Han's ratio of time spent creating worlds to time spent destroying them may be a bit of an outlier in artistic circles. Before his pulsingly lifelike creatures can make good upon their promise and blink an eye, they are gone, their particles dispersed in a swipe of a brush and a puff of chalk dust.
Mr. Han believes that being beholden to a final, lasting product means accepting limitations on his work. Chalk is therefore a perfect medium for whisking a drawing away and making room for the next process of discovery.
Many would uphold Peter Han's focus on his creative journey –as opposed to his end product –as a symbol of true artistic spirit; it is therefore all the more interesting to hear him explain that he prefers to refer to himself as a designer, not an artist. Regardless of his title of choice, his mindset is one with which every artist should engage: when the ephemeral nature of chalk is practical, not problematic, one is free to let go and take risks with one's ideas.
Luckily for those unfamiliar with Peter Han and his dynamic sketching, the sleek twist of Pardon My Dust, a short film directed by Adriel de la Torre, is that at least a handful of the chalkboard worlds that he nonchalantly erases live on.
Seamus Heaney (1939-2013)
By Ariana L.
There is something compelling about the Irish literary sensibility that transcends the canon of English Literature. It rebukes the cultural prison of authority and validity by creating a dynamic literature distinctly apart. This sensibility is elaborated by a collective voice that measures equal parts strength to strife, and balances hefty doses of intellectualism with an extraordinary specificity to articulate the quotidian and the commonplace. Indeed for a country of only 32,000 square miles, there has been a disproportionate amount of suffering resulting from social and geopolitical injustices. And yet, despite all of the hardships and indignities, somehow a disproportionate profusion of talent —of greatness— has emerged.
Seamus Heaney was amongst the greatest of Irish literary heroes (including Oscar Wilde, W.B. Yeats, James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, Patrick Kavanagh and Brain Coffey). Renowned poet, critical thinker, humourist and literary professor (most notably at Oxford and Harvard), Seamus Heaney has served as one of the key figures not only of Anglo-Irish writing, but indeed of contemporary world literature. In his lifetime, he published over 20 volumes of poetry, numerous anthologies, and achieved success in his definitive translation of the Old English heroic poem, Beowulf. In 1995, he was awarded the Noble Prize for Literature for "works of lyrical beauty and ethical depth, which exalt everyday miracles and the living past."
Heaney reminded us that literature does not have to exist within confines to be meaningful. Rather, he challenged the boundaries by investigating his own fears and uncertainties. He drew upon the visceral interplay between the past and the future, and in his inimitable fashion, refused to eulogize it.
"It is always better/to avenge dear ones than to indulge in mourning./ For every one of us, living in this world/ means waiting for our end./ Let whoever can/ win glory before death. When a warrior is gone,/ that will be his best and only bulwark."
—Seamus Heaney, Beowulf: A New Verse Translation
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