The longest day of the con kicked off early with a talk from Eric Miles Williamson about his unconventional path to writing and academia. From a tough Oakland childhood to the ivory tower or at least the Texas equivalent, along the way he’s been a jazz musician as well as a novelist, and now sits on the prestigious Board of Directors of the National Book Critics Circle, editor of the American Book Review, Boulevard, and Texas Review. He uses his influence to promote people who are distinctly not the typical Ivy Leaguers, so I’m on board with that.
Next up Tom Nolan interviewed Fuminori Nakamura, winner of the David Loeb Goodis Award for Literature and the Art of Writing in the tradition of David Goodis) with Sam Bett translating, though as his publisher pointed out both Nakamura and his wife had spent the last year working on English as the west began discovering this award winning writer. A fascinating discussion of influences (many European) and philosophies. Nakamura comes across as very charming and thoughtful, completely awed when Nolan showed him the full page, glowing spread in the LA Times Review of Last Winter, We Parted (which I picked up). He seemed genuinely bowled over by the attention, as it’s only the third of his books to be translated into English. I’m looking forward to reading it and got him to sign it because, as Barton Fink might write, I think we’ll be hearing a lot more from him and I don’t mean a postcard.
Many of the Japanese writers he admires have died, some by their own hand. Nakamura spoke of the very different attitude toward suicide in Japan, and there was some general discussion about the prevalence of it in the north of lands (i.e. Scandinavia too) though he was so glad that he got to meet Nobel Prize-winner Kenzaburō Ōe after winning the prize named after him.
The Stray Dogs panel featured Williamson and a bunch of newer voices, some of whom he’d mentored, talking about the ways that noir gives voice to traditionally marginalised voices. Ron Cooper, Patrick Michael Finn, Larry Fondation, Michael Gills, Joseph D. Haske, William Hastings, and Vicki Hendricks offered up their tales from off the beaten tracks all the way from carpentry with the great apes in Florida to calling out Hemingway’s depiction of the U.P. (AKA the upper peninsula of my home state, Michigan). It’s good to see noir continuing to morph into new forms all the time.
The Politics of Noir panel suffered a bit from technical difficulties, so rather than a panel discussion it was a series of statements from the panelists, Richard Godwin, John Grant, Jon McGoran, Stuart Neville, and Asali Solomon. Nonetheless they were entertaining and offered a lot to chew on. Neville spoke with great emotion about feeling an obligation to the dead in Northern Ireland, to making those losses anything but political games.
The Jewish Noir panel picked up on this note and panelists Michael J. Cooper, M.D., Alan Gordon, Marshall Stein, and Kenneth Wishnia spoke of the profound effect of tradition and history on Jewish writers like Goodis. The peripatetic life of many Jews has created a particular kind of despair for a land that no longer exists.
That sentiment helped segue into the Existential Noir panel I was on with T. Fox Dunham, William Lashner, Carole Mallory and Paul Oliver. I joked about being on the panel because I was a doctor of philosophy but my philosophy was ‘get away with whatever you can’ and mentioned being a tenured English professor without ever being an English major. I’m not sure any of us knew exactly what we were there for (meta!) but it seemed to stay lively and the audience was entertained, so that’s all that matters. Carole’s write up for the HuffPo is here.
Okay, gotta go grade some more, so I’ll wrap things up in the next post. Here’s a teaser: