Celebrate the release of 04 with poetry editor John Hennessy, contributors, and special guests, including Richard Wilbur, the subject of Robert Bagg‘s “The Poet in Rome,” and South African literature expert Stephen Clingman, who will introduce the issue’s anthology of South African poetry. Held at Amherst Books in Amherst, MA
SN: Your short story “Doleo Ergo Sum,” which appears in Issue 4 of The Common, features several characters from The Brothers Karamazov. When did you first read Dostoevsky?
RE: I first read Dostoevsky when I was seventeen. Crime and Punishment was on my high school’s summer reading list. I’ve been reading him ever since. He was an extraordinarily complex literary genius, a man of great flaws, great faith, and great energy. When you go into his world, you’re there from the first page to the last.
SN: Would you consider your story historical fiction or an homage to Dostoevsky? Or perhaps literary fan-fiction?
RE: I think of everything I write as literary fiction, whether it has roots in historical events or literary phenomena. I use history extensively but don’t feel excessively tied down to it. For me, literature possesses its own reality, and that’s what literary-minded writers seek to explore. We don’t write “about” things; we use words and stories to create unique experiences for readers of our work.
In New York City, where I live, thousands were displaced before and during Sandy: living in cramped quarters with friends or family, limited by downed transit and, in many cases, cut off from the instant, continual communications that we’ve all come to take for granted. Even so, there were, in my small world, such a wide range of experiences — from horrific to inconvenient to a nice break from normal obligations. For some, displacement and/or disconnection were traumatic; for others, they were a welcome disruption.
Annals of Mobility: On the Forced Mobility of Exile
Inside Orhan Pamuk’s Museum of Innocence and other Turkish wonders
Some places become museums because they’re ruins. Other museums are houses built to hold the relics.
In fifth century Constantinople, believers built a small Greek Orthodox chapel called The Church of the Holy Saviour in Chora. The Greek chora refers to the church’s place in the fields outside the city’s thick defensive walls. Rebuilt, restored, destroyed, and raised again over the centuries, the church became a truly glorified house of God in the fourteenth century under the stewardship of a powerful intellectual named Theodore Metochites, whose vision and funds decorated the interior with some of the finest mosaics and frescoes remaining from Byzantine times.
Three months ago, shortly after moving to Italy for the year, I was walking along via Montenapoleone in Milan, gazing at lovely summer togs and shoes in the shops (beauty is overrated?), when I nearly stumbled into a bearded man wearing dirty shorts and old sneakers. He sat spread-legged on the sidewalk, an empty, leaning-Tower-of-Pisa paper cup between his knees. Not the right street for such begging, I found myself thinking—too upscale, everyone carrying credit cards rather than change. Nobody wanting to be bothered, what with the insufferable humidity and all the gorgeous distractions in the shop-windows.
From the Stone House: Reading Stevie Smith in Milan
I live a few blocks from a cruise ship terminal. When ships dock there, they tower above the nearby buildings, which top out at four or five stories high. At night, their decks and windows glitter in neat rows, like high-rise apartment buildings, as if downtown Manhattan has suddenly been pulled close. When the ships finally depart, their horns boom dramatically, out of place in my quiet, unassuming neighborhood of Red Hook, Brooklyn.
Last week, as Hurricane Sandy bore down on my waterfront neighborhood, I found myself worrying about the future of coastal areas across the country. I live in Red Hook, Brooklyn, a low-lying area that has always been prone to flooding, but which saw new levels of damage with Sandy. For years, people have been predicting a rebirth of Red Hook, in part because of its spectacular ocean views, but perhaps those same views will spell its demise. Will neighborhoods like mine eventually be washed away? In short, is geography destiny?
The first Honeycrisp of the year carries more significance than any piece of fruit should. Its annual appearance in September’s produce aisle—a brindled globe of green, yellow, and red—is still a shock to me. Shelves on each side are stocked with plastic cartons of withering raspberries and the last crate of pluots, still summer-sweet but invariably mushy-bottomed. The lustre of summer is spent. The bin of Honeycrisp apples—peeking out from beneath the words, “NEW CROP” — announces that fall is on our doorstep.
Grocery Domestic Product: Inside the Park Slope Coop
EXODOS. I deciphered the Greek letters, extrapolating from the Cyrillic alphabet learned in college Russian. Exodus! A hairy Charlton Heston parting the Red Sea in The Ten Commandments popped into my mind. A domestic Moses, my husband spurred our lagging, quarreling kids on to baggage claim and immigration.