Journal – No. 13
Spring/Summer 2010 – Vol. 7, No. 1
G.C. Waldrep, “Eight Short Films About Architecture”
Angela Woodward, excerpts from “The End of the Fire Cult”
Anna Carson DeWitt, “Triptych in Salt Water,” “Walk Down the Mine”
National Book Award 1960, Revisited (Sarah Shun-lien Bynum, Michael Griffith, Brock Clarke, Steve Almond)
“…in a most dangerous manner” (Benj Gerdes, Sabine Bitter/Helmut Weber, Lize Mogel, Steven Lam, Sarah Ross)
Where We’re @
Here at Ninth Letter, we’ve never been known for our strict adherence to genre definitions; on the contrary, we’ve actually been pretty outspoken about our interest in examining, stretching, blurring, and even shattering the boundaries that define all types of creative genres. We came to focus on the topic of genre definition more explicitly than usual when putting together the contents for this issue; staffer Matthew Minicucci, in his note that follows this, will describe the results of our conversations in more detail. Author Cathy Day has some fascinating things to say about genre in her conversation with Brian Kornell that appears in this issue’s Where We’re At section. We also asked the writers featured in this issue to weigh in on the topic—their answers can be found in the Contributors’ Notes section. Many thanks to all for participating in this particular conversation—and for readers interested in further consideration of the genre matter, check out our blog, where we regularly feature author interviews covering this and countless other literary and writing-related subjects.
We are honored to feature in these pages a story by Sheila Schwartz, author of the award-winning story collection Imagine a Great White Light and the critically acclaimed novel Lies Will Take You Somewhere. “Critical Mass,” in its original and unflinching examination of how one comes to terms with living with, and dying from, cancer, represents the combination of risk-taking and emotional authenticity we are always looking for in stories (or indeed in essays, poetry, and all areas in between). Sheila herself succumbed to ovarian cancer in 2008; we are grateful to her husband Dan Chaon for allowing us to include “Critical Mass” in this issue.
Many, many thanks as well to our generous supporters, without whom we could not exist. With your help, we hope to carry on these creative explorations for years to come, with (we hope) interesting and successful results.
Art Director’s Note
I was asked to join Ninth Letter when I was on my way to, but had not yet arrived at the University of Illinois campus. In my first year as a Visiting Design Professor, I have been afforded the opportunity to take in all that this school and program have to offer. After a short time here, I soon discovered that participating in Ninth Letter is a goal of any undergraduate design student—and why wouldn’t it be? It is a great opportunity to take real world content and put together a wonderfully smart/exciting/challenging publication over the course of the semester.
On the design side of things, this issue focuses on how we as viewers ‘read’ an image, both formally and conceptually. As a class our design direction was to capture one’s personal ‘read’ of the text—and then try to illustrate it such a way that produces further discussion. Each piece was then shot, designed, and produced by expressing the ‘read’ that the students felt best suited the content. As much as the text plays the leader, the image participates as mimicked and supportive visual device. To take from the essay The Photographic Message, 1977, Roland Barthes, “…the image no longer illustrates the words; it is now the words which, structurally, are parasitic of the image.” We as a class were trying to find the intersection between the written word and the visual descriptor in an effort to unveil those ‘parasitic’ moments.
Throughout the course of the semester, we also documented what it meant to be a ‘designer in the heartland.’ Taking cue from the Where We’re @ portion of the book—we as designers wanted to describe what it is like to be a daily design participant while a) still in school and b) in the ‘heartland’ of America. As a daily exercise throughout the course of the semester, each student was asked to participate in a group image collection where any and every image that answered the question was collected and electronically labeled with a short description. These images make up the book wrap (included with subscriber copies and copies purchased through ninthletter.com)—a visual diary of the design student in the ‘heartland.’
I am very proud of the outcome of this issue. Working with Jodee and her editorial staff has been both fantastically easy and rewarding. The students have been phenomenal and I thank them for all their hard work—and I hope that you ‘read’ this issue as much as you read this issue.
On Genre: An Introductory Note
The two pieces in this issue of Ninth Letter by G. C. Waldrep offered a unique voice, approach, and, most interesting to me, a unique need for classification. It was the decision of this Editorial Board that “Eight Short Films About Architecture” would be published as nonfiction, and “In Memory of Domestic Life” as a poem. Longtime readers may remember Waldrep’s poetry appearing in our second issue; subsequently, in our Fall/Winter 2007-8 issue, we published a series of his short prose pieces. It’s worth mentioning that these were submitted to our editor without the benefit of a genre assignment, the sole note on the matter being, if you will allow my paraphrasing, I’m just not sure what these are. Do with them as you see fit. (We ended up classifying them as fiction.)
In our short history Ninth Letter has made strides in defending different kinds of work, much of which may have not found a place in the public forum merely because it did not easily conform to classic genre standards. What was unique about these new pieces from Waldrep was that they were thrown into the editorial fray for us, as editors, to decide not only their value to the magazine, but also how they would be presented. Some easily recognizable characteristics helped sort out the genre question for each piece. Eight Short Films is longer, and broken up into its eponymous sections, where as Domestic Life was only twenty stanzas. This isn’t to say that a poem couldn’t be longer than an essay, but, in general, this is not usually the case.
But as the discussion picked up, and different voices found their footing, it became clear that there were deeper reasons for the classification. Both pieces concentrated themselves on the unification and destruction of things, how unique elements, in language, film, architecture, could only be produced by “fusion” or “the complicated alchemy of recognition and exchange.” Waldrep says it beautifully in Domestic Life, describing stained glass as “a way of transforming light into story.” Eight Short Films retains this moving language while concentrating more on proof and argument, rather than observation. Limiting myself to these two pieces, I would argue that poetry seeks to bear witness to the world, while creative nonfiction attempts to struggle with the questions that arise because of it. Eight Short Films is circular, always collapsing in on itself in argument, from the use of Bruce Naumann’s art to the statement that “it is possible that all architectures, everywhere, are tangent to one another.” Tangent, which is to say, a line that just skips along the surface of the larger curve, or two circles on the same plane that meet at only one point.
It’s this “point” that Waldrep so beautifully engages with in both pieces, albeit with different methods and tools. It seemed clear, after lengthy discussions, that there was some risk in taking them and deciding for ourselves their individual genres; that perhaps only one could be taken to avoid this decision. But I think these two pieces need each other, to talk back and forth between the pages of this issue. Each is different, perhaps even better, as a result of their “complicated alchemy.” We hope you feel similarly.
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Ninth Letter is partially supported by grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Illinois Arts Council, a state agency.
Information about supporting Ninth Letter can be found at www.ninthletter.com/support; all donations and gifts to Ninth Letter are tax-deductible to the extent allowed by law.
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Issue No. 1 Sp/Su 2004