Friday, May 1, 2009

Photo, Art, Klezmer, Word

Yesterday was amazing.

First I went to Brooklyn and met Phillip Lopate. I am designing a poetry book for him and he wanted to show me the photographs and designs he loves. He has a voice rather like my fathers, who also grew-up working class in Brooklyn, and became a writer and professor... Lopate's home is full, naturally, of books, art, photos, and comfortable places to sit. He was gracious and well informed about design. This is no surprise given his passion and expertise in the arts but he is also married to a great book designer, Cheryl Cipriani. He spread out books of photographs (including ones he wrote introductions for) on his coffee table, we talked about why certain shots went better with what he was writing or didn't seem right even if they were great photos. He told me how much he loves a Bau Haus feel in design. We looked at some of his published books, ones where he loves the designs. I took snapshots of covers, photos, interior pages to help me see what compositions and typefaces he loves. I understand why he gravitates to photography on the covers of his books. For this project, he is drawn to the immediacy of people, images of people on the streets, going about their lives, urban scenes. Upstairs I was delighted to enter the room where he writes. It was an aerie with windows opening onto his quiet Brooklyn street and had a large desk properly facing some wall. It had the expected shelves of books, piles of papers, eye-catching posters, photos, and a row of tin soldiers marching across a mantelpiece. I borrowed a gigantic Jan Tschichold retrospective book that hefted like a plate of armor.

I brought samples of books I've designed, he told me how much he likes generous white space and I heartily agreed. I gave him a copy of my book of poems, The Elephant House. Since I designed my own book, it was a little less shameless than it sounds. He liked the design of it. I hope he finds a poem or two he enjoys, but I don't worry so much about that anymore. A book of poems is rather like a box of chocolates, people find the ones they like (or tell you they never eat any chocolate, give it to someone else). I didn't sign the book so he can donate it with no hesitation.

I left his place and just had time to look at beautiful Lafont frames on sale in a eyeglasses shop and then eat a croissant with an egg at a small cafe near the subway station. The coffee was good, the croissant heaven. I rarely eat bread or any gluten products anymore. Oh god it was good. I could ode to its flaky buttery heaven...

Then I took the train to the Village and met Deborah Atherton at the Manhattan Theatre Source near NYU. We had been invited to attend a reading and discussion of The Witches of Lublin a radio play by Ellen Kushner, Elizabeth Schwartz & Yale Strom with music composed or arranged by Yale Strom. This is a radio play with klezmer! It was wonderful to be transported to 1797 Poland with three Jewish women musicians! The play feels like a fairy tale or legend (a delightful invention) and yet it is also true to history. The actors gave a moving performance. We didn't have a full musical component, Yale played only one instrument with abbreviated songs. But I got the feel of it. I really look forward to hearing it once it is done. The discussion afterwards delivered many suggestions, some brilliant and excellent, it will be interesting to hear which ones the creative team decides to use. Ellen was her usual buoyant self, she has such energy, wit, and passion for theatre. For anything she does. I love her novels, I am now a fan of all things theatrical that she brings her talents to. I was able to introduce the story teller and author Diane Wolkstein, whom I took a class from many years ago, to Deborah. Deborah, in addition to being a novelist and short story writer, has written book and lyrics for opera and musical theatre.

After the discussion, Deborah was ready to head home and I took the opportunity to go to a free PEN panel, Leaps and Bounds, Fits and Starts: The Evolution of a Children’s Book Writer, with Neil Gaiman, Mariken Jongman, and Shaun Tan; moderated by Andrea Davis Pinkney. I am a fan of Gaiman and Tan's work, I buy their books and enjoy their thinking about the creative process. I don't know Mariken Jongman's books. But I knew of Andrea from years ago when I did paste-up for Dial Books. She and her husband, the illustrator Brian Pinkney, would stop by the office. She was a very young lovely woman then and everyone knew she was going places. She is a self-assured publishing executive now. I also recognized Arthur Levine, from my Dial days, when he sat in front of me, he is the publisher of Shaun's American editions.

The discussion was just what I love. Davis Pinkney did a good job moderating. Tan was asked what books he read as a child and said his mother, who wasn't literary but wanted her sons to be literate, had taken Animal Farm out of the library, thinking it was for kids, and the boys had loved the weirdness of the story, the inconclusive ending, the dark fates of some characters, and not until college had he recognized it was political satire. He went on to say that the boring sameness of the suburbs he grew up in became a character to be explored as an adult. That he came to celebrate the weirdness under the surface.

Gaiman talked about mining nightmares for material in his Sandman decade of writing. And once his semi-conscious writers mind started saying mid-nighmare "cool, I can USE that bit about the dead killer baby!" the beings that supply nightmares gave up! Also said that as an adult, when someone loves a book they may read it every few years but when a child loves a book the parent is reading it to them 3 or 4 times a day! And I can relate to that. He memorized some bad stories his kids adored and was determined to write books for children which adults could enjoy too.

The third panelist, Jongman, did her best despite not being fluent in English and I think I must read some of her work, in translation. She seems smart and fun.

I sketched Neil and Tan. Sat next to an 8th grade English teacher named Lisa. She bought the graphic novel version of Coraline, thought it would interest her class, they don't read much...Will add the sketches to this post once I hook-up scanner. Old scanner won't work on new laptop... Neil had to leave a bit early to catch a plane. I was able to go up right after and give Tan a copy of the poetry book I designed with his student art on the cover. Levine was there and looked and said it was cool. I (re)introduced myself to him. Had a brief chance to say hi to Shaun and fill him in on my illustrating gigs. He commented I was just like him, get the go ahead to do an ambitious project and THEN figure out how to do it! I waited on line and had him sign my copy of his latest book Tales of Outer Suburbia. He also added his autograph and a pencil sketch to my sketch of him that I did while he talked on the panel. Hopefully I'll get to see him at another convention at some point.

It was a fine day.


Ellen Kushner said...

Leonard Lopate, Neil Gaiman, Shaun Tan & Yale Strom all in one day . . . whew!! I love Lopate. Cool to see that he feels the same about your design as I do - the space you don't use is as beautiful as the space you do. Thanks for your good words about "Witches." It was great to have you & Deborah there. And you studied with Diane Wolkstein, too? The connections keep piling up! Clearly, we were meant to know each other.....

Deborah Atherton said...

I wonder what life would be like if all our days were like that? Well, maybe half - we'd need every other day to recover! But it was great fun going to Ellen's play, and listening to the Great Minds discussing everything after.

Here's to more fabulous days!