I am both delighted and honoured to announce that RhysTranter.com has been selected by the British Library’s UK Web Archive “as an important part of Wales’ documentary heritage”. The site has become part of the repository’s permanent collection, where it will “remain available to researchers in the future”. The UK Web Archive is a partnership between the British Library, the National Library of Wales, and the National Library of Scotland.
Reflecting on the decision to pursue my vocation in art, service, and simple living
One year ago today I made a decision to change my life. A cardiology appointment prompted me to think more carefully about my lifestyle choices, and I became motivated to start living according to values of simplicity, humility, and compassion. (more…)
Yesterday night, I was sad to hear that the American novelist Philip Roth had died of congestive heart failure at the age of 85. As one of the most important literary chroniclers of post-war America, his voice carries across the decades to cover some of the most bracing and stupendous events of the last sixty years.
I can still remember being introduced to his work as a college student, and sitting up on winter nights to read The Ghost Writer and the other Zuckerman novels. It was what I did in lieu of starting my essay assignments. I found Nathan Zuckerman, a complex or not-so-complex stand-in for Roth, a fascinating example of modern American identity, with all its inconsistencies, strange neuroses, and grand ambitions. For a long time, Zuckerman was the character who came to mind when I imagined the figure of the modern writer hunching over a typewriter: the bold American novelist who sought to capture the world on the page as it seemed intent on collapsing all around him.
I read Portnoy’s Complaint, of course, and then graduated to the stately, mature works on which so much of his reputation is based: Sabbath’s Theater (did I say stately and mature?), American Pastoral (perhaps my favourite Roth title), The Human Stain, The Plot Against America (which I anxiously carried through customs on a trip to California). But, for me, many of the favourites come right at the end: those short, intense novels (or are they novellas?) which tackle the great questions of life and death in the dwindling hours of the American century: Everyman, Nemesis, The Humbling, Exit Ghost.
There was a certain romance that surrounded Roth’s later years. His solitary life in deepest green Connecticut. His athletic writing routine spent standing at the window of his study, before retiring in the quiet evenings to read Turgenev by lamplight. A number of journalists and television interviewers were dispatched to marvel at the writer’s almost monastic self-discipline, and he improvised answers to their incredulous questions with a down-to-earth humility and street-smart dry humour.
When he finally announced his retirement from writing he began to focus on questions of life and legacy, welcoming an authorised biographer into his home, and working with the Library of America to produce a multi-volume edition of his works—a rare honour for any living man or woman of American letters. But while Roth helped others find their way around his earlier years, he remained an acute observer of contemporary culture and politics, a commentator whose words conveyed the wisdom of experience and a rare, often mischievous, humour. He will be missed.
What follows are a few of the interviews and articles that I have featured on the site in recent years:
Jodie Foster as Agent Clarice Starling in The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
“[Jonathan] Demme’s dive into the deviant undercurrents of America at the end of the Reagan-Bush era gripped audiences who had been primed by another auteur’s breaking of the barriers between art and exploitation. Moody and visceral as no prime-time series had ever been before, David Lynch’s Twin Peaks (1990–91) was a twisted tale founded on the naked corpse of a teenage girl—Laura Palmer. A quarter of a century later, viewers who had been bingeing on the original Twin Peaks as it was released on various digital platforms along with its prequel, the theatrical feature Fire Walk with Me (1992), avidly consumed Twin Peaks: The Return during its eighteen-episode run on Showtime, finding themselves trapped in a wormhole, also known as the Lynchian unconscious, where the homicidal law of the father is forever unchecked and unchanged. The return of Twin Peaks roughly coincided with the appearance of a new restoration of The Silence of the Lambs in theaters, and now in this release. This dialectician of gender in popular culture relishes the timing. […] One major thing that distinguishes Demme’s film from Twin Peaks—and from the vast majority of serial-killer investigative dramas, including those of another contemporary auteur, David Fincher—is the fact that his hero is a woman. “
In a recent essay published in Literary Hub, Madelaine Lucas shares her experience of reading Sam Shepard‘s personal notebooks at the Harry Ransom Center in Austin, Texas:
“In Sam Shepard’s notebooks there are lists of trees: cottonwood, dogwood, apricot, willow, polar, locust, crab apple, silver maple. There are guitar chords with Spanish lyrics, passages of prose that could be read as diary-entry confession or script, and unattributed quotations that might be lines picked-up from conversations overheard on the road or dialogue for a work-in-progress. In the back of one notebook, a photocopied review of Shepard’s 1983 play Fool for Love is folded up with an article about fly-fishing. Taped inside the dirt-red cover of another—a business card for Ray E. Ortiz ‘Horseshoeing’ in La Cienega. Between these pages, there is no separation between what makes up art and what makes up life.”
Today marks International Women’s Day, which has commemorated the struggle for women’s civil rights throughout the twentieth century. The day was originally known as International Working Women’s Day, and for most of its history has been connected with socialist movements and communist states such as China and Soviet Russia. In the mid-1970s, during the height of Second Wave Feminism, the UN recognised International Women’s Day and invited its member states to do the same.
Zadie Smith Answers Questions from Fans:“Zadie Smith has been a vital literary voice since her first novel, White Teeth, became an instant bestseller. [In The Observer,] she answers questions from famous fans, including Teju Cole, Philip Pullman and Sharmaine Lovegrove, and a selection of our readers”
“When asked why it makes her emotional, Chastain said that she ‘was playing a character who was the embodiment of love, so every day was just filled with so much joy.’
‘I was meditating on expanding my heart space and living with an open heart,’ she says. ‘Of course it affects you and how you treat other people. I loved those little boys so much, and I loved Terry so much. Watching the movie and seeing Mrs. O’Brien running through the streets with those little boys, I remember how wonderful it was. I’m heartsick for it.'”
Eric Schlosser (The New Yorker) reveals the surprising historical accuracies of the film, which celebrates its sixtieth anniversary this month
“Despite public assurances that everything was fully under control, in the winter of 1964, while “Dr. Strangelove” was playing in theatres and being condemned as Soviet propaganda, there was nothing to prevent an American bomber crew or missile launch crew from using their weapons against the Soviets. Kubrick had researched the subject for years, consulted experts, and worked closely with a former R.A.F. pilot, Peter George, on the screenplay of the film. George’s novel about the risk of accidental nuclear war, “Red Alert,” was the source for most of “Strangelove” ’s plot. Unbeknownst to both Kubrick and George, a top official at the Department of Defense had already sent a copy of “Red Alert” to every member of the Pentagon’s Scientific Advisory Committee for Ballistic Missiles. At the Pentagon, the book was taken seriously as a cautionary tale about what might go wrong. Even Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara privately worried that an accident, a mistake, or a rogue American officer could start a nuclear war.”
“Last week we were saddened to learn that photographer Robin Holland had passed away at the age of sixty. In the work she did for a long list of collaborators and clients, including publications like the Village Voice and the New York Times, Holland shot everyone from politicians and celebrities to ordinary New Yorkers. But she had a particularly keen eye for artists, and her unfailingly perceptive portraits of some of the world’s greatest directors—David Lynch, Lucrecia Martel, Chantal Akerman, Werner Herzog, Spike Lee—demonstrated a deep passion for cinema and a sensitivity to its creators, making her a trusted figure in New York City’s film culture.”
Sam Shepard‘s final work, Spy of the First Person, has been published this week by Knopf. In an early review for USA Today, Jocelyn McClurg describes it as “an autobiographical work of fiction” with a “fragmentary, disjointed narrative”. McClurg goes on to offer a pithy summary suggesting a debt to the Irish writer, Samuel Beckett, calling Shepard’s novel “Waiting for Godot in the desert.” (more…)