Commentaries - November 2008

Writers without Borders presents Lebanese novelist Hanan al-Shaykh on November 18 at the Writers House. The program is cosponsored by the Middle East Center and Al-Bustan Seeds of Culture.

Hanan al-Shaykh was born in Lebanon and grew up in Beirut. Her most recent novel, Only in London, was shortlisted for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize. She was educated in Cairo and wrote her first novel there when she was nineteen before returning to Beirut to work as a journalist for Al-Nahar newspaper Al Hasna magazine. In 1975 she left Beirut because of the civil war and moved to the Arabian Gulf, dividing her time between London and the Gulf States for the next nine years. Since 1984 she has lived in London with her family.

A few of us created the project (one of the first of its kind in the U.S.) through which undergraduates received “front-line” computing support in their residences. House calls, as it were. It was, at the time, a revolutionary approach: after all, think, circa 1994–96, of how “computing support” was conceived. You have a problem with your computer, you pick up and carry it to a centrally located “Help Desk.” But by ’95 and ’96 the first issues were those of connectivity — not something well done away from the connection! And then of course, after a while, students need less strictly technical help — and more in the way of guidance about using software, connecting with academic materials on this newish thing called the web, and playing, sandbox-like, with the new tools. We needed people who wouldn’t mind getting sand on their hands and knees. Thus: the ITA, Information Technology Advisor. At some point KYW Radio (all news all the time) got wind of this and did a super-quickie little radio story about it. Very slight and barely broke the surface. I recently found the cassette they sent me after airing the story and now have converted it digitally, so here it is.

Poets & Writers, quite pre-professional, nonetheless fairly often admits or implies that young writers who get MFAs might want or need to do things other than join the academy, where “Creative Writing” programs as such are often if not mostly deemed fringe zones of mere practice. Anyway, I was pleased to see that the magazine’s latest stab at alternative options includes advice for young writers to “Help out a literary organization,” and mentions the Kelly Writers House as one such site. Below is the relevant passage (click on the image for a larger view). And click here for the whole article.

Partly because I create and produce a regular podcast series in collaboration with the Poetry Foundation of Chicago (PoemTalk), partly because I’ve become about as electorally wonky as anyone in the past year or so, and partly because I subscribe to about two dozen ongoing podcasts ... there was no way I’d miss the new “Poetry Off the Shelf” episode, which (surprise!) features poems for and about Obama. Here’s your link to the Poetry Foundation site’s link to the audio. You can also get it (and subscribe to the series) in your ITunes music store. Just search for “Poetry Foundation Shelf.”

Choice reviewed my recent book back in August. Click here for the text.