Call for Essays About Any Aspect of Popular Culture, Present or Past

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Tuesday, Feb 1, 2011
The lure of mystery and dread in Catholicism that attracted the fatalistic author.

Religion, the Marxist “opium of the masses”, was a bright cynosure that I curiously indulged and eventually dispensed with early in my youth, an adolescent dalliance with romance that was more about lustful infatuation than anything resembling true love. My one true faith is and always has been literature, and my first introduction to the cathedral of books was through organized religion.


In Parkersburg, West Virginia, in the summer of 1965, when I was six-years of age, my younger brother and I attended Vacation Bible School at our community First Baptist Church; it was there that my attention was arrested by the spellbinding stories, symbols, and imagery of Noah and the Great Flood, Moses and the Ten Commandments, Joshua and the Battle of Jericho, Daniel in the Lion’s Den, and the Sermon on the Mount. The Biblical tales were laid out in vibrantly illustrated children’s Bibles (the saints and prophets always smiling and benevolent) with easy-to-read verse and we were also gifted with Holy Bible coloring books. Who said religion can’t be fun?


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Tuesday, Jan 11, 2011
For every moment of brief tedium in Sandburg’s masterpiece, the master suddenly hits the reader with a scene or a moment that is breathtaking in its prose and cold, dispassionate observation of life during wartime.

Since I have commenced writing a new novel, I have been forced on a literary diet: most novels and other works of fiction have been strictly eliminated from my daily intake of reading material to reduce external influence. I am ingesting instead heaping loads of non-fiction with a savory accent on history, beginning with Pulitzer Prize winner Joseph J. Ellis’s terrific American Creation (2007), a masterly examination of the founding years of the United States.


After Creation I moved on to Storm Over the Land (1942), Carl Sandburg’s exploration of the American Civil War. Known primarily as a poet, the Illinois-born writer was an absolute fetishist for American ballads and folklore (he was an avid collector and editor of books on the topic) and there is scarcely a more folkloric figure in the history of the United States than Sandburg’s fellow Illinois native and 16th President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln.


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Thursday, Sep 16, 2010
Playwright Brooke Berman talks to PopMatters about the experience of writing and publishing her first prose work, No Place Like Home: A Memoir in 39 Apartments.

Five years ago, when I was an intern screening submissions in the literary development office of a Broadway theater company, I read a play called Hunting and Gathering,by Brooke Berman. At 22, I was morbidly fascinated by the emotional and physical transience experienced by the characters. New Yorkers of all ages were utterly unable to settle into homes or relationships. Was this real life or real melodrama?


This summer, Berman published her first book, No Place Like Home: A Memoir in 39 Apartments, inspired by Hunting and Gathering. The book engages similar themes and events with a new tone and raw emotions. It slaked my thirst for more explanation and insight, but it also inspired new questions about what it was like to move from playwriting to memoir writing. I got in touch with Berman and had the opportunity to ask her some questions about this transition, and her process.


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Friday, May 7, 2010
Ben Tanzer is a writer with enough heart to pump life into nearly any literary scene. He encourages the reader to use their empathy for his characters to explore their own relationships, decisions, and identity.

Sometime in the early 1990s, Geoff and Paul are having drinks with Jen and Rhoda. The conversation takes a hostile turn when Jen announces that the “best hour of television” is Knots Landing. It has Gary, “the tortured family man,” Alec Baldwin as a “sociopathic priest,” and the “awesomely hot Nicollette Sheridan.” Geoff, visibly appalled, submits that Knots Landing is simply an “incredibly derivative spin-off” of the far superior Dallas. The argument shifts and shakes both ways until Jen closes by conceding that Dallas was a more influential and clever show, but that it “never had the heart of Knots Landing.” This discussion follows Paul explaining that he and Geoff bonded over mutual love of “Bob Dylan, Yoda, and John Hughes.” When Jen says that she never “got” people who like Star Wars, Geoff asks, “Is there something wrong with you?” To Geoff, this is much like Jen’s endorsement of Knots Landing — an issue of the heart.


Ben Tanzer is a writer with enough heart to pump life into nearly any literary scene. He encourages the reader to use their empathy for his characters to explore their own relationships, decisions, and identity. He wears his enormous heart on the jacket of his books, including his second novel Most Likely You Go Your Way and I’ll Go Mine (Orange Alert Press) — in which the above scene takes place — and often transplants it directly into character interactions that use pop culture not only as fodder for clever dialogue, but also as a means to examine how people formulate their own identities, view the external world, and slip into or rise out of isolation.


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Friday, Jan 29, 2010

I’m comfortable being a cliché. It suits me. I realize I’m one of a zillion dumb hipster-types living in Brooklyn, blogging about ultimately meaningless nonsense, and I’m okay with that. I like record shops and coffee shops and book shops. I like irony and sarcasm and even more irony and sarcasm. I eat hummus (occasionally). I think Joe Strummer died for our sins.


Given my personal pedigree, it should come as no surprise that two of my all-time favorite books are Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger and Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States. I’m no more bothered what their popularity says about me than I am about what the books themselves say about me, or what you or anyone else says about me for that matter. I’m gonna like what I’m gonna like, whether it’s good, bad or ugly. Or overrated, overwrought or overcooked. And that goes for books, though I wouldn’t consider either Salinger or Zinn’s accepted masterpieces as any of those descriptives. I’m not going to get into all that.


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