Dessert & Literature: Flannery O’Connor

I anticipate that this posting will be the first of many in a similarly-themed series, as my favorite meal of the day is dessert and one of my favorite types of literature is southern lit! Why not combine the two? We’ll start this series off with Flannery O’Connor, one of the most well-known southern writers of the twentieth century. You can find O’Connor’s short fiction in either of two volumes: A Good Man is Hard to Find and Everything that Rises Must Converge.

I found a great article about O’Connor written by Hugh Ruppersburg, Interim Vice Provost and Senior Associatate Dan of the Arts & Sciences at the University of Georgia at: http://www.georgiaencyclopedia.org/articles/arts-culture/short-stories-flannery-oconnor. His article is a helpful introduction to O’Connor as a writer, and it also serves as a brief and understandable review of her writing style. Ruppersburg aptly notes that the defining characteristics of O’Connor’s short fiction are: “economy of form, biting satire, vivid characterizations, and a stern moral vision.” I generally agree with this description, as well as his observation that O’Connor sets opposing forces against one another in her stories, including “the modern secular world with its emphasis on science, social programs, humanism, and progress, and the God-centered spiritual world with its emphasis on sin and salvation.”

Not only is O’Connor’s  short story “A Good Man is Hard to Find” undoubtedly her most famous work, this piece also conveniently (and probably unsurprisingly) serves as an archetypal O’Connor short fiction piece, showing many defining elements of her style as shortly described above. We see the juxtaposition of an ordinarily dull family against an undercurrent of evil. Basically, this is one creepy story, like a horror movie you see by peeking through your hands—you know the ending will be bad, yet you just keep reading, drawn to the strangeness of the story. At least, that’s my experience reading this story.

I paired two desserts with “A Good Man is Hard to Find,”  because a good dessert, while not hard to find, is certainly hard to choose (much like choosing which of O’Connor’s short stories to use for this post!). Plus, two desserts symbolizes an internal conflict I have while reading the story: while I am not particularly a fan of the family, as each member has apparent flaws and no real redeeming qualities, I also don’t think they deserved what the Misfit had in store for them.

Chocolate ganache mousse + strawberry cheesecake

The first dessert is a chocolate mousse with dark chocolate ganache and chocolate cake on the bottom. With this dessert, I added a strawberry cheesecake. I ended up putting portions of each on the fork to combine them for a delicious chocolate-strawberry combination that went well with the juxtapositions taking place in the story. We have your average strawberry cheesecake flavor set against the dark, rich backdrop of chocolate. Much like the ordinary bickering among the family members, we don’t really see value in or feel empathy for them until they are set against the dark backdrop of the Misfit and his lackeys.

What I love about “A Good Man is Hard to Find” is that no matter how many times I read it, I always feel like I’ve gotten some kind of insight into O’Connor’s idea of a real human truth. The Misfit’s cruelty is so abrupt and inevitable, and the family’s squabbling subsequently seems so trivial,  I can’t help but think O’Connor is giving us many life lessons, albeit cynical ones. This story seems to imply that there can be no escape, not even pleading with a higher authority, from absolute evil that permeates ordinary life. I for one do not think life to be always so hopeless or cruel (O’Connor perhaps did not either), but “A Good Man is Hard to Find” is still an incredibly intriguing story that I hope you enjoy reading or rereading as much as I have!

Leave a Comment

Filed under dessert and literature, prose and cuisine, Uncategorized

Independent Press Profile

2LeafPress

A few months ago, I had the pleasure of talking to Gabrielle David, publisher of 2LeafPress, an independent poetry press out of New York. The origins of the press are quite interesting, and I hope my notes do it justice!

2LeafPress aims to promote a diverse crowd of multicultural writers–and its view of multicultural is broad: “Oh, by the way, we consider all writers multicultural.” Whether the story comes from a writer’s personal background or his or her travels and observations, 2LP knows there’s a multicultural angle there, and it wants those stories! The press accepts literary works of poetry, fiction, memoir, and nonfiction, as well as collections and anthologies of short stories and translations, and it looks for works in those fields that speak with directness and honesty about the human experience.

Technically, the basic idea of a press along the lines of 2Leaf’s current mission has been around since at least 2001–which is actually when the name for the press emerged. David’s father was going through some health problems and was on a homemade pie-cooking spree (because homemade is healthier than prepackaged options and he loves pie!), and he had trouble making the decorative leaves for them–How do you get the two leaves?! he asked, but she didn’t know what he meant, and now it’s a long-standing family joke. But the idea of the leaves worked for David, who had the idea of a press brewing. People wrote on leaves in ancient times (so we have the theme of past revived), and the imagery of green leaves, falling leaves, and dead leaves have been tropes in fiction and poetry practically since that time. So David liked the symbolism she saw in the name, and she decided to go with it.

But back to how the press’s origins are actually much earlier than the past few years. Currently 2LP operates as an imprint of the IAAS (Intercultural Alliance of Artists & Scholars, Inc.), which somewhat ironically started out as an independent press itself (but that’s a whole other story). Colleagues of David had been asking her for years to start making books because those she had published previously were really beautiful books, ones that people appreciated and knew were made with dedication and care.

The press started with an open call for submissions, as most do, but it was quickly inundated and soon changed its policy to closed submissions. Luckily, though (said David), some unsolicited submissions still slip through. For example, Whereabouts, a recently released anthology of the best nonfiction stories from Outside In Literary & Travel Magazine, wouldn’t have made it through if not for one of 2LP’s volunteer employees. David said she would have passed on its proposal but was convinced to take another look by the employee’s enthusiasm for the project.

And that kind of enthusiasm is exactly what David loves about working with a diverse group of people. Thanks to others’ inputs, the press is moving in all kinds of directions that she never imagined. Currently, it’s making quite a name for itself in the academic world for its translations, spurring a series of translated works within the press. And the press’s work with the Nuyorican poets has really raised some noise.

The best part of being a small press, according to David, is being able to find writers and “groom” them–really give them the attention they need to be great and to grow and develop their craft. Rather than turning to the big publishers and begging for a contract, 2Leaf writers really get to converse with the press, and they always ask, “When’s the next book?”

The hard part, she says, is the money and marketing. How does a small publisher organically build its audience and still stay afloat? It’s a dilemma 2LP is still learning to navigate, but it’s doing a great job in its experiment. We’re excited to keep watching what comes out from this “small press with big ideas.”

You can connect with 2LP on Facebook and Twitter. Plus, check out their up-to-date website!

 

Leave a Comment

Filed under Independent Poetry Press Profile

Wine & Poetry: British Romantics II

Oodles have been written about the British Romantic poets who follow, so only a brief commentary on their lives is provided, most of which comes from the Dover Thrift English Romantic Poetry: An Anthology, edited by Stanley Applebaum that I’ve had for years. When I came back to the male Romantics for this post, I realized I had forgotten how much I like them. Could it have been the wine? Eh, I’m sure it contributed, but beautiful words are beautiful words with or without a little intoxication.

The Poets

William Blake is considered probably the earliest male Romantic poet, though he was not well known during his time. As many of us know, he was quite the odd ball: he made up his own religion (which his poetry defines), illustrated his works, used his own variety of spellings, and self-published his books. He’s best known now for his Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience, from which many of us read “The Lamb” and “The Tyger” for high school literature, but he’s also well known for The Book of Thiel, his rejection of the English Church.

  Because of the contrasting nature of his Songs, I had to go with a dual pairing for Blake’s work, it was difficult to choose between red and white–so in the end, I didn’t. Instead, I decided I’d just have to drink something dark and bold for Experience and something more fresh and spirited for Innocence. I went with the Gnarly Head Old Vine Zinfandel and Chardonnay.

Hogue Savignon Blanc

We covered William Wordsworth’s sister in the first British Romantics pairing, and obviously he makes an appearance on this list. As most likely the most influential poets of the movement, Wordsworth’s poetry embodies the religion of nature that much Romantic work is associated with. He cowrote Lyrical Ballads with Samuel Coleridge, marking the beginning of the movement. He spent much of his life in walks, most notably during his walking tour of France, Italy, Switzerland, and Germany in 1790. The Prelude, which is considered his greatest work,  did not make my reading list this time, but maybe I’ll down another bottle of wine and give it a try next week.

 I found a really nice Savignon blanc that went well with Wordsworth’s work. The Hogue Savignon Blanc from the Columbia Valley in Washington has flavors of sage and honey dew. Not nectar sweet, but floral and refreshing, the wine was perfect with Wordsworth dominate nature themes.

 

Samuel Coleridge was not thought of in his time as a poet, although his “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” and “Kubla Kahn” are iconic pieces of the Romantic movement today. He spent his writing immersed in literary criticism, social thought, and philosophy, among other things. He was a teacher and nurturer of young poets (notably among them Byron, Shelley, and Keats–all included here). He was also an opium addict, which is where much of his ideas for Kubla Kahn stem from.

  Since Coleridge wasn’t considered as poetic as the rest of the bunch, I thought an alternate pairing would be good for him, so I picked up a good winter beer (New Belgium’s Accumulation) and dove into Coleridge’s opium-addled writings head first.

 

Odd among greats, Lord Byron (George Gordon) was the most known and best admired Romantic poet during his time. He was a looker, and his club foot played an interesting role in his life–which was interesting enough as it was. He was involved in many affairs. Despite his less-than-traditional lifestyle, Byron’s verse, considered later, actually has the most traditional rhyme and meter among the other poets listed here. He used especially ottava rima, an Italian-style structure, notable in Don Juan. He was fascinated with the Mediterranean landscape, and he wrote more than just poetry–verse plays and prose letters are available.

  Even though I feel like Byron had a mega-ego, he definitely deserves to be paired with a big, bold red. To me, that means a Cabernet Savignon. Honestly, any one–pick your favorite vintner. You won’t regret it.

 

This maybe strays too much from my other short notes, but I just have to say, whenever I think of Percy Chariot GypsyShelley, I am reminded of my twelfth-grade English teacher saying, “Oh, that Percy Bysshe,” with a toss of her hand and knowing smile. So, that’s been my impression of him my whole life. Later, I dislike him a bit for his treatment of the women in his life, starting with his first wife, Harriet, whom he left to marry Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin (daughter of Mary Wollstonecraft, who wrote A Vindication of the Rights of Women–how did you fall for him Mary?!) Shelley was also friends with Byron, which doesn’t bode well for him in feminists’ books. I digress, he is remembered as a quintessential Romantic, and afterall, he did write “Ozymandias” and “Ode to a Skylark,” so at least he contributed some beauty to the world. Plus, he met an unfortunate end, which is a little redeeming.

  I reread some Shelley with a glass of Chariot Gypsy 2012 red blend, apparently one of the best years for this blend in a while. With a fresh-fruit sweetness, this wine still achieves a bit of complexity in its spicier notes.

 

Orvieto ClassicoPoor John Keats, so much potential, and such a tragically short life. Perhaps if he had lived longer, though, he would have written some stupid things we all hated and ruined his reputation (unlikely). He developed massively as a poet over a very short period of time. After contracting tuberculosis from his mother and brother (while he was caring for them in their illnesses), he traveled to Rome for his health and ended up dying there. Before he left, he fell in love with a woman named Fanny Brawne, which just makes the story that much sadder.

  Red wine seemed too sad to pair with Keats’s already sad tale, so I went with an Italian white–an Orvieto region grape to be exact. The Ruffino 2012 Orvieto Classico is fruity and floral with hints of pears and everything you want while musing over “Ode to a Grecian Urn.”

Leave a Comment

Filed under poetry and cuisine, Wine & Poetry