The role of a critic in any field, whether in the arts, food, fashion and so on, is a balancing act. If a critic is too “nice,” (s)he is often suspected of being in cahoots with what is being evaluated. If a critic is too harsh, (s)he is often branded as someone who has lots of bad days and is taking it out on someone else. And if a critic is wishy-washy, readers often question the critic’s credentials and move on to the critiques of other writers.
A few weeks ago, a friend sent me an e mail mentioning a new novel which features Gertrude Stein as a central character. It was written by a respected Moroccan poet, Hassan Najmi , and has recently been translated into English. It is simply called GERTRUDE, but that is where the simplicity ends. My response to the book after reading it is far from simple and is, in many respects, very complicated and perplexing. The book is published by Interlink Publishing whose tagline is “Changing the Way People Think About the World.”
How about replacing a few words making it “Changing the Way People Think About Literary Icons by Dragging Them Through the Mud?”
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A 3-day conference at the University of Copenhagen celebrating the 100th anniversary of Gertrude Stein’s book TENDER BUTTONS ended yesterday.
I brought a few things from my collection, including the first edition seen above, to exhibit in the library and had a short presentation about them and how my GertrudeandAlice obsession began.
There were presentations about performing Stein, how new technologies can be used to consolidate and make available information about her, perspectives on GertrudeandAlice’s relationship, their salon’s significance and many more. One of the keynote speakers was Catherine Stimpson, one of the Grande Dames of Stein research, who is really not at all Grande-Damey, but instead very approachable, only too eager to share, most candidly, her expertise and genuinely interested in learning what is going on in the realm of Stein research. She is also an incredibly engaging speaker.
Several performances, both musical and theatrical, were interspersed throughout the conference. One of the highlights was a performance of Gertrude’s “Miss Furr and Miss Skeene,” which many consider the first literary work to use the word “gay” in its contemporary meaning. Check out the text online – there are various links.
Don’t know who these ladies are, but they could be Miss Furr and Miss Skeene!
One evening featured an Alice-cookbook-inspired dinner coordinated by my friend Karen Hagen, who is the publisher of the Norwegian edition of the cookbook. The various courses were punctuated by readings from the cookbook and I had the honor and pleasure to read the “Haschish Fudge,” recipe. A good time was had by all!
It is so encouraging to see the broad interest in GertrudeandAlice and how it continues to develop more and more.
A few additional days in wonderful, wonderful Copenhagen and then homeward.
Last night we watched the finale of the Eurovision singing competition, a mixture of the finals of American Idol, The Voice, Dancing with the Stars, and Oscar night. The winner was from Austria – a full-bearded, drag queen named Conchita Wurst! What more can you ask for during a trip to Europe?