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Archive for November 2009

A Streetcar Named Desire at BAM

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Last Friday, the 27th of November, Tennessee Williams’ formidable play A Streetcar Named Desire opened at BAM’s Harvey Theatre to a sold-out audience. The staff at New Directions were lucky enough to attend the dress rehersal that afternoon, which, due to prevailing illness amongst the cast, was the first time the actors had done a full run-through of the play.

Under the direction of Liv Ullmann, the production was a tour de force from start to finish. The two-story set design opened the cramped Kowalski apartment onto the audience, with the upper story left stark and minimal—a gray, outer wall of the upstairs apartment featuring just a single window. The levels were joined by the fire escape, and there also featured two doors onstage— both within the Kowalski kitchen—effectively used throughout the play to convey emotion (with characters like Stanley stomping through and slamming them), as well as forming literal and liminal thresholds between the prison-like interior of the apartment and the outer world of New Orleans. In the blank space beyond these doors, this outer world was perfectly evoked through the use of sound effects and lighting.

Within these spaces, the actors played their parts with staggering virtuosity. Joel Edgerton ensnared the audience with his Brando-inspired portrayl of Stanley Kowalski, a man unafraid to mark what little territory in the world is his with aggressiveness. From the outset, his Stanley was commanding and comedically ignorant, forceful and violent, a man who feels he has to shout in order to be heard. Uncouth in his relationships both with women and with men, Edgerton gave Stanley his due dose of machismo, aptly defining the role in relation to his female counterparts— his passion-fuelled marriage to Stella, and his relentless bullying of Blanche. Indeed, Robin McLeavy gave a brilliant perfromance as Stella, a woman who is young and benign in the face of her husband’s truculence. She portrayed Stella’s gentle and unassuming nature with poise, and infused the role with emotion, particularly in the final scene, her tearful breakdown over Blanche further highlighting Stanley’s sadistic nature.

But it was Cate Blanchett, as aging Southern Belle Blanche DuBois, who stole the show. From the opening, Blanchett captured Blanche’s nervousness and charm, and injected as much humour as she did tragedy into the character, particularly in relation to Blanche’s obsession with her fading looks and her fondness for alcohol and young men. She played the part with creativity and precsion, seemlessly bringing to life one of Williams’ most fatal heroines, a woman tormented both by her ruinous past and by the brutish figure of Stanley. Indeed, it was in her scenes with the male leads (Stanley and suitor Mitch (played by Tim Richards)) that Blanchett deftly cut to the core of Blanche’s character; a displaced woman on the edge, who is desperate for security and admiration, yet is ultimately abused and abandoned by the men in her life. The drunken rape scene that culminates in Blanche’s inevitable demise was  harrowing, the climax of the scene drowned out by the sound of the passing streetcar, a flickering of lights and an eventual blackout.

––posted by Katie Raissian


Written by New Directions

November 30, 2009 at 11:04 pm

Some Thanksgiving Treats from New Directions

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Thanksgiving heralds a change in season and commences a period of relative hibernation. It confronts the ambiental recession we commonly experience through slower breathing, lower body temperature, and possible metabolic depression. We feel it coming, so we cook all we can reap. We sit together, we eat, and then we eat some more. For our culture with its expansive appetite for consumption, Thanksgiving returns each year with an ironic bend of surplus.

While the economic recession this year may have induced many into hunger unusual, this merry-making season will certainly not be short of gifts for which to be grateful. At New Directions, we have prepared a literary harvest ripe for the picking, including works by William Carlos Williams, Denise Levertov, Bernadette Mayer and Tennessee Williams. To satisfy your desire to feel full and warm this this fall, compliment your cranberry and celebrate your stuffing with some great American poetry.

In In the American Grain, William Carlos Williams “sought to re-name the things seen, now lost in a chaos of borrowed titles, many of them inappropriate, under which the true character lies hid.” He  has “recognized new contours suggested by old words so that new names were constituted.” From old records—letters, journals, reports of happenings, Williams preserves the original flavor and peculiarity while creating wholey unique recounts of American History. Since the earliest attested Thanksgiving celebration was on September 8, 1565 in what is now Saint Augustine, Florida, our excerpt begins with a newly-appelled rendition of De Soto’s arrival in the Americas. Against the passionate forebearers, WCW juxtaposes the puritans, and we visit Sir Walter Raleigh, the said founder of the colonies. Our selection concludes with The Voyage of the Mayflower the traditional “first Thanksgiving” is venerated as having occurred at the site of Plymouth Plantation, in 1621. This Thanksgiving, taste anew the tales and personages of The New World, and the “grain of the landscape in which they flowered.”

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Midwinter Day, an epic poem about daily routine, written on December 22, 1978 in the Northeast, takes us from morning dream to night again with rich, linguistic flavor. Called “consummate” by Robert Creeley and “ a poet of extraordinary inveniveness, erotic energy and challenge, and ironic intellgience” by Michael Palmer, Bernadette Mayer might just provide the extra heat you crave in this bluster. Four morsels from Midwinter Day, a poem in six parts, will whet your poetry-prose palette.

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Such a pre-determined day of reflection and gratitude can run the risk of religiousness; luckily, it is impossible during this holiday to overlook the nourishing break from daily tedium, and treat of partaking with kin in taste and creation, in indulgence and rest, in stirring and smelling together.  But, perhaps this sensuousness is not so far from a practice of giving thanks. Denise Levertov, a poet often recognized for themes of politics and war, understands well the implicit blessing in all things. Her poetry touches upon family, relgion, taste and the outdoors, in addition to its activist edge. To remain present in  ‘the times’, both in an urgency for peaceful actions and in gratitude for the light of the hour, we recommend excerpts these from Oblique Prayers

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Tennessee Williams, a household name for those at home for the holidays. But who of you awaits seemless chemistry when thrust back into habitual family roles? Certainly Tennessee’s home life was not without strife, as the pained beauty in his drama seems to suggest. Instead of entertaining bitterness or speaking on behalf of an old role during these few cherished days of vacation,  find something fresh in an otherwise familiar voice. Not many people know that Tennessee Williams published two volumes of poetry published during his life: In the Winter of Cities and Androgyne, Mon Amour (now available at New Directions in single collection with a cd of the author reading).This holiday you will have the opportunity to  redefine and experience anew (whether with your family or alone)  America’s great dramatic poet.

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We hope you have enjoyed our a stimulating, euthermic medley. We worked hard to get the recipe just right.  But if what we have chosen doesn’t quite make your stomach growl, it is, as the saying goes “if you don’t like pumpkin pie, there’s some turkey on the table.”

Posted by Leonora Zoninsein

Written by New Directions

November 25, 2009 at 7:45 pm

A Visit to the Studio of Rodrigo Corral, ND’s Creative Director at Large

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The walls in Rodrigo Corral’s office are covered with movie posters, four Alvin Lustig designs we’ve also hung in our office (including the original cover for Amerika by Franz Kafka), the photo of a sprinkle-covered hand featured on the cover of James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces, large paintings, and posters for art exhibitions. On the top of the bookcase just after the entrance is a display of one of the studio’s recent designs–-Mrs. O: The Face of Fashion Democracy by Mary Tomer. Beneath, the shelves are packed with books, including some New Directions titles Corral has designed (in the quick glance I got, I saw Kenneth Patchen, Nathanael West’s Miss Lonelyhearts, and Tennessee Williams).

Rodrigo Corral, New Directions’ Creative Director at Large, welcomed five ND interns––Katie, Cathy, Leonora, Georgie, and me–and assistant editor Michael into his office on Thursday. While we sat around a ping-pong table discussing design and New Directions and world domination, a designer to the side worked in Photoshop on a potential cover for ND’s new Pearls series.

Since he began designing for New Directions more than three years ago, Corral’s designs have become a distinctive part of the catalog. Among many others, his portfolio for ND includes the eerie gray cover for Ghosts by César Aira; the red-speckled cover for The Halfway House by Guillermo Rosales, featuring a stenciled man with his head stuck in a house, and a thought-bubble surrounding the title; the cover for My Unwritten Books by George Steiner which made use of empty-space between two metal bookends; the pink and metallic Love Poems by Pablo Neruda with romantically curled type.

Corral says he hasn’t been designing ND books with continuity in mind — he focuses on each text as its own entity. His covers stand out as visually appealing and do seem to have an overall idea, even if its nothing definite or intentional. There is an organic, natural feel to the designs, even when the design is a minimalistic photo, as in the case of My Unwritten Books.

The book as a physical object is important to Corral. “One of the first things I did when I started designing there was to make sure the paper quality of the books improved.” The covers for the books he designs are often matte and pleasant to hold; the labyrinthine cover for Borges’ Labyrinths was printed on metallic paper, making the mirrors in the image physically glint.

Many of the covers he has done for us are redesigns, including Siddhartha by Herman Hesse and Labyrinths by Borges. As Leonora told Corral, the copies of Siddhartha with its new textless cover quickly disappeared off our table at the Brooklyn Book Festival in September – even if the buyers already had a copy.

Corral said that for his designs he tries to find an overall symbol or idea to represent the text. For the cover of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, he built off of Junot Diaz’s descriptions of Oscar, Oscar’s obsessions with comic books and his incredible imagination, and the violence of the book. “How do you depict violence like that?” So Corral chose the now infamous paint-splattered side-silhouette of Oscar – a whimsical but unsettling depiction.

Often, Corral will have an idea for a cover and need an artist to execute it. When he first started designing, at FSG, he would run around to the art departments at local colleges and grab as many cards as he could. He’d tell artists he wasn’t able to pay, but was able to offer a potentially great opportunity, to have a piece of their artwork featured on the cover of a book.

Since then, Corral’s pool of artists has grown. While conceptualizing the cover for Nausea, he went to Leanne Shapton. “That’s watercolor. I couldn’t do that. I knew I wanted something that was hard to read but that I could read, and she did great.”

Corral is careful to ask for help from the correct artist for the job – “If I know a photographer who’s great with people, I’m not going to go to him for a still-life. It requires a different eye to get the light exactly right on a pile of gumballs.” Here he pointed to a glass of gumballs in the middle of the ping-pong table as an example.

Our conversation also touched on his work with Mary-Kate and Ashley for their recent release, Influence, a book full of photos and interviews, all to show a glimpse into the lives of the famous twins;  relations with authors – he thinks it important to keep a middleman between author and designer; and the future of book design.

His answer to the question of publishing’s future is much more optimistic than some.

“I think it’ll go back to where it should be,” he said, mentioning how only a few years ago design offices were bloated. “They’d have five people on mechanical. You don’t need five people on mechanical.” Corral strongly believes the quality of books will go up, production won’t be rushed, and they’ll become much more luxury and quality items dedicated to representing the integrity of the text, as it should be.

Just before we left, Corral pulled out a copy of Coupe Magazine and flipped open to a page featuring his redesign for The Crack-Up by F. Scott Fitzgerald. He lent Michael a copy to bring back to the ND office.

A gallery of some of Corral’s designs for New Directions can be found here and more images from our visit here.

Corral also helped design The Way it Wasn’t by James Laughlin – which we are serializing in parts at this blog.

– posted by Kelsey Ford

A preview of the upcoming spring season

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There’s a lot to look forward to in our upcoming spring and summer seasons – Bolaño’s Big Bang, a book-in-a-box, Beat poetry, pigeons and chat rooms, a man with a sexy body and face of a village idiot, Walser’s microscripts, household servants and accidental guests….

Antwerp by Roberto Bolano April
As Bolaño’s friend and literary executor, Ignacio Echevarria, once suggested, Antwerp can be viewed as the Big Bang of Roberto Bolaño’s fictional universe. From this springboard – which Bolaño chose to publish in 2002, twenty years after he’d written in – as if testing out a high dive, he would plunge into the unexplored depths of the modern novel. Antwerp‘s fractured narration in 54 sections – voices from a dream, from a nightmare, from passers-by, from an omniscient narrator, from “Roberto Bolaño” all speak – moves in multiple directions and cuts to the bone.
If you can’t wait, an excerpt can be found in Conjunctions:53. In July, Antwerp will be followed by another Bolaño title, The Return.

Bird Lovers, Backyard by Thalia Field April
Field’s illuminating essays, or stories, in poetic form, place scientists, philosophers, animals, even the military, in real and imagined events. Her open questioning brings in subjects as diverse as pigeons, chat rooms, nuclear testing, the building of the Kennedy Space Center, the development of seaside beaches… Throughout, she intermingles fact and fiction, probing the porous boundaries between human and animal, calling into question “what we are willing to do with words,” and spinning a world where life is haunted by echoes.

Nox by Anne Carson April

Carson’s first book of poetry in five years comes as an accordion-fold-out “book in a box”, a facsimile of a handmade book Anne Carson wrote and created after the death of her brother. The poem describes coming to terms with his loss through the lens of her translation of Poem 101 by Catallus “for his brother who died in the Troad.” Carson pasted old letters, family photos, collages, and sketches on pages.

The Rose Tattoo by Tennessee Williams April
The Rose Tattoo is larger than life–a fable, a Greek tragedy, a comedy, a melodrama–it is a love letter from Tennessee Williams to anyone who has ever been in love or ever will be. Professional widow and dressmaker Serafina delle Rosa has withdrawn from the world, locking away her heart and her sixteen-year-old daughter Rosa. Then one day a man with the sexy body of her late Sicilian husband and the face of a village idiot stumbles into her life and clumsily unlocks Serafina’s fiery anger, sense of betrayal, pride, wit, passions, and eventually her capacious love.

The Literary Conference by César Aira and Everything and Nothing by Jorge Luis Borges May
These two new titles will be released as part of our new ‘Pearl’ series. The Literary Conference focuses on César, a translator fallen on hard times who is also an author and a mad scientist hell-bent on world domination. On a visit to the beach he intuitively solves an ancient riddle, finds a pirate’s treasure, and becomes a very wealthy man. And yet, his bid for world domination comes first and so he attends a literary conference to be near the man whose clone he hopes will lead an army to victory: the world-renowned Mexican author, Carlos Fuentes…. Everything and Nothing collects Borges’ highly influential work – written in the 1930s and ’40s – that forsaw the internet, quantum mechanics, and cloning. In one essay, he discusses the relationship between blindness and poetry. As Roberto Bolaño succinctly said: “I could live under a table reading Borges.”

The Microscripts by Robert Walser May
Robert Walser wrote many of his manuscripts in a highly enigmatic, shrunken-down form. These narrow strips of paper (many of them written during his hospitalization in the Waldau sanatorium) covered with tiny ant-like markings only a millimeter or two high, came to light only after the author’s death in 1956. At first considered a secret code, the microscripts were eventually discovered to be a radically miniaturized form of a German script: a whole story could fit on the back of a business card. Selected from the six-volume German transcriptions from the original microscripts, these 25 short pieces are gathered in this gorgeously illustrated co-publication with the Christine Burgin Gallery. each microscript is reproduced in full color in its original form: the detached cover of a trashy crime novel, a disappointing letter, a receipt of payment.

Not to Disturb by Muriel Spark May
A winter’s night; a luxurious mansion near Geneva; a lucrative scandal. The first to arrive is the secretary dressed in furs with a bundle of cash, then the Baron, and finally the Baroness. They lock themselves in the library with specific instructions not to be disturbed for any reason. Soon, shouts and screams emerge from the library; the Baron’s lunatic brother starts madly howling in the attic; two of the secretary’s friends are left waiting in a car; a reverend’s services are needed for an impromptu wedding–and despite all that the servants obey their orders as they pass the time playing records, preparing dinner, and documenting false testimonies while a twisted murder plot unfolds upstairs.

Other great titles to look forward to:
Mysteriosos and Other Poems by Michael McClure — April
The Collected Poems of Dylan Thomas by Dylan Thomas — April
A Splendid Conspiracy by Albert Cossery — May
William Carlos Williams: An American Dad by William Eric Williams — May
The Three Fates by Linda Lê — June
The King of Trees by Ah Cheng — June
From a Broken Bottle Traces of Perfume Still Emanate: Volumes 1-3 by Nathaniel Mackey — July
The Return by Roberto Bolaño — July

View the upcoming covers in full-size at our Flickr account here.