Tuesday, December 7, 2010
WOMEN WARRIORS: The local literary scene has long been dominated by macho ghosts of the past: Steinbeck. Henry Miller. Kerouac. Robinson Jeffers. Their achievements are inarguable, but it’s hard to escape the fact that more than half of the population is being largely ignored in the mythology surrounding the Fab Four, who depicted farm workers, fornication, the freedom of the road and the frightening disconnect between Man and Nature.
All the more appropriate—and overdue—then, that two contemporary women authors from this area are also getting some well-deserved plaudits.
Start with Carmel Valley’s Jane Smiley, whose recent novel, “Private Life,’’ was recently named one of the year’s Top Five fictional works by The Atlantic magazine.
She also recently penned a piece for the Huffington Post’s divorce blog, which has become one of the site’s most widely visited areas (about 500,000 page views after it’s debut last month), asserting that divorce was better for children than remaining in a loveless marriage. As she dryly noted: “My HuffPo article making light of divorce has 255 mostly negative comments, but 650 FB likes. What does that mean?’’ Sample responses: “Your FB friends have no sense of humor?’’ And this: “Like the American Tea Party, many Huff Post readers do not have a three-digit IQ.’’ Ouch!
Smiley’s newest book, “The Man Who Invented The Computer: The Biography of John Atanasoff, Digital Pioneer,’’ has been raking in critical kudos, with the notable exception of New York Times reviewer Kathryn Schulz. Smiley could not resist a bemused Facebook response from the author: She writes: “‘it leaves out the rivalry, the betrayal, the mysterious death, the international espionage and, to top it off, the Second World War.’ Those are exactly the things I thought I put in! Goodness! Did she read the book?”
Carmel-based writer and artist Belle Yang’s graphic novel memoir, “Forget Memory” also was recently named one of the top books of the year in the holiday edition of the San Francisco Chronicle’s book section, and the Los Angeles Times’ holiday books gift guide. In an interview about the book last May, Weekly staff writer Walter Ryce observed: “Yang employs the cinematic breadth of the graphic novel form. She folds the story back into itself when she draws herself writing, and her father critiquing, the first manuscript of the book we hold in our hands – like Charlie Kaufman’s inverted narratives.”
Yang’s first venture into the graphic novel form also was named one of the Top Ten comic books of the year by the Nexus Graphical website.
Good for her and for Smiley. It’s time—past time—for the testosterone-driven figures of the past to make way for writers of worth who happen to have different biological attributes.
NOW EAR THIS: We suffered through the recent Grammy nomination broadcast, waiting for the part about Justin Bieber to be over, only to be pleasantly reminded by the Monterey Jazz Festival about recognition for some real artists familiar to local fans. Included in this year’s nominees: Trombone Shorty, who wowed the crowd at this year’s MJF, in the running in the “Best Jazz Album’’ category for Backatown the inimitable Dee Dee Bridgewater’s Lady Day tribute: Eleanora Fagan (1915-1959): To Billie With Love From Dee,’’ nominated as Best Jazz Vocal Album; Herbie Hancock, Keith Jarrett, the late Hank Jones and the ubiquitous Wynton Marsalis nominated for Best Improvised Jazz Solo; and Bay Area home boy and MJF clinician Wayne Wallace, a “Best Latin Jazz’’ nominee for BienBien! Bueno!
And, just to keep the feminist theme going, the gifted (and gorgeous) bassist/singer Esperanza Spalding, the surprise star of MJF 2009, was nominated for “Best New Artist’’ category. Somehow we doubt she’ll triumph over the adenoidal Bieber, or that we’ll see much of these genuinely gifted musicians when the show airs in February, but it’s good to see their work acknowledged. (Yet another of our favorite musicians, Maria Muldaur, a frequent visitor to venues like Sly McFly’s, received a well-deserved nomination in the Traditional Folk Music Category.)
DIGGING DAVE: But let’s not discriminate against old white guys, either. Dave Brubeck, who turns 90 on Dec. 6, is the subject of a masterful new documentary Dave Brubeck: In His Own Sweet Way that aired on his birthday on the Turner Classic Movies station. The movie is directed by Bruce Ricker and executive produced by Clint Eastwood, who recalls sneaking into long-gone clubs like the Burma Bar near Lakeshore Boulevard in Oakland to hear the young Brubeck, downing “Acme beers’’ with fake i.d. We think the statute of limitations has run out on Clint’s youthful transgressions.
But we won’t soon forget Brubeck’s appearance at the MJF to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Time Out, let alone his Cannery Row Suite, or the Ansel Adams tribute he co-composed with his son, Chris, and performed last year with the Monterey Symphony. If anyone doubts the power of music over medicine, the inimitable Mr. Brubeck is living proof. (Just to stay on message, fellow nonagenarian Pete Seeger, whose appearance was one of the high points of the 2009 Jazz Festival, received a “Best Children’s Album’’ Grammy nomination.)
Speaking of the Eastwoods, Clint and Dina co-hosted an event at the Tehama Golf Club last weekend benefiting Freedom Fields USA, a Carmel-based nonprofit group dedicated “to the humanitarian removal of abandoned landmines in war-torn countries.” Other hosts at the high-end affair included former astronaut Daniel Bursch; Erin Clark; Cindy McCain; James Lawrence, acting director of the Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement for the State Department’s Bureau of Political Military Affairs; broadcaster Stone Phillips and Cambodian human rights activist Luong Ung. For more information about this worthy group, go to http://www.ffusa.org . Overtone, the South African a cappella boy band the Eastwoods discovered while researching the film Invictus, and which Dina now manages, appears in a Christmas concert at the Mission Ranch Inn’s large barn at 7 pm. Dec. 10, says general manager Sue Carota. Tis the season. Information: http://www.missionranchcarmel.com.
STAR SEARCH: The death of Irvin Kershner, the director of The Empire Strikes Back, perhaps the greatest work in the Star Wars trilogy on Nov. 27, got lost amidst the encomiums to Leslie Nielsen, who passed away the same day. I liked Airplane too, but that shouldn’t detract from Kershner’s achievements. Kershner’s visit to Monterey in 2009 for an Empire screening at the short-lived Golden State Film Festival at the Golden State Theater, then being programmed by Warren Dewey, was a highlight of the excellent, but otherwise under-attended fest, which also brought in Peter Bogdanovich and Maria Bello. May the Force be with him.
UNDER HER UMBRELLA: And…Cal Am spokeswoman Catherine Bowie will be making what she describes as her “first foray into drama’’ (wait a minute – what about all those regional water plan meetings?) at the MPC Theatre Company’s production of Taffeta Christmas on Dec. 9. (www.ticketguys.com). Bowie, who was once referred to as a local version of Ava Gardner by former Weekly food columnist Ray Napolitano, reports that she has “no speaking part’’ but appears as one of the dancers.
In other theatrical news, casting suggestions for the film version of the ongoing WikiLeaks drama are gratefully accepted. Should Jeremy Irons, John Malkovich or James Franco play rebel Julian Assange? Will Meryl Streep, in full Devil Wears Prada regalia, or Glenn Close, have a fatal attraction for the Hillary role? Your suggestions will be forwarded to the Screen Actors Guild, but all royalties are reserved for this correspondent.
Over and out, at least for this initial foray. Too many subjects, too little time and space (even in cyberspace). Contact me with your thoughts (and tips) for the blog at email@example.com.