Literary roundup: Sad and sentimental ends, Prague cafés and Ganja

I write about the American-European literary divide often enough, and just as often hear from people convinced that no such thing exists. Yesterday though another compelling piece of evidence that it does reached my inbox. It was the announcement of the winner of the Boston Review’s 2012 Aura Estrada Short Story Contest.

Now I realize that characterizing a lot of American fiction as a kind of bland, suburban exploration of the interaction of different ethnic groups facing generational conflicts and melodramatic incidents is a gross simplification. But then here is contest judge Samuel R. Delany’s description of the winning story: “…an astonishingly moving story about a young Chinese American lawyer who inadvertently becomes entangled with a tragedy in the life of her suburban next-door neighbor.”

No!!!! And yet, yes. It checks all the boxes and even throws in a comparison of dead children “in Palestine, or Darfur, or Queens, even” (this last “even” a nice reminder to the literary community that children die even in their neighboring borough).

I don’t want to say the story is bad – it’s okay, I guess, but its choice seems all too typical and downright conservative, in a literary sense, which would be ironic in such a politically liberal magazine except that the link between literary conservatism and progressive politics is nothing new.

Then again, maybe I’m just angry that the astonishingly un-moving, non-tragic story I submitted didn’t win – in which case, never mind.

Lost worlds

Czech Position has breathed its last, and though on a personal level this plunges me into further financial peril I can at least enjoy the fact that its final front page features my article on the similarly lost and vanquished world of Prague’s pre- and interwar cafés (please don’t misunderstand me though – I am not comparing the people who pulled the plug on Czech Position with the Nazis and Communists who suppressed and partially destroyed Prague’s café culture. That would be mean.)

World Book Capital 2014

I know it is old news at this point that Nigeria’s Port Harcourt was selected as World Book Capital in 2014, and congratulations to them. What surprised me in the very little reporting of the selection process that included Central and Eastern European cities such as Krakow, Pula, Vilnius and Moscow was that another of the applicants was a city in Azerbaijan called Ganja.

On the day that the death of US Senator Al Franken’s former comedy partner, the brilliant Tom Davis, has been reported, I can’t help thinking what a great SNL sketch he would have made of the Ganja Tourist Board meeting to discuss how best to market their city now that they have been passed over for World Book Capital.

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