Category Archives: Writing

Happy Birthday to “Invisible Man” Author Ralph Ellison

“I am an invisible man. No, I am not a spook like those who haunted Edgar Allen Poe; nor am I one of those Hollywood-movie ectoplasms.”

American writer, essayist, and musician Ralph Ellison was born March 1, 1914.

One of my favorite books of all time is Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man: a complex, sprawling, and uncompromising rumination on race, class, and identity in Mid-Century America:

Invisible Man, First Edition, 1952.

” I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids–and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me.”

It is a book that reveals deeper levels and new revelations with each reading:

“Like the bodiless heads you see sometimes in circus sideshows, it is as though I have been surrounded by mirrors of hard, distorting glass.”

Invisible Man, 2012 cover designed by Cardon Webb.

Considered to be a seminal novel of the 20th century, it is a nightmarish journey of psychological angst and societal madness as told through the narrative of a nameless protagonist.

CODA: If you haven’t read the novel (or if you haven’t cracked it open since high school or college), I would highly recommend the experience:

“When they approach me they see only my surroundings, themselves, or figments of their imagination–indeed, everything and anything except me.”

 

Emily McDowell’s New Book Expands Upon Her Honest Design About Serious Illness

The book “There Is Not a Good Card For This” expands upon Emily McDowell’s line of cards to address serious illness.

Two years ago, I wrote a feature for TLS about Emily McDowell’s straightforward and often humorous line of empathy cards borne out of her own battle at age 24 with Stage 3 Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.

This small, personal project has evolved into a larger, collaborative book, There is No Good Card for This (the title, inspired by the name of one of Emily’s cards) with Kelsey Crowe, Ph.D. to help individuals chart a meaningful course of action “when life is scary, awful, and unfair to people you love”.

 

Divided into three parts, the book’s practical,  conversational prose perfectly mirrors Emily’s spare and insightful illustration style—she is masterful at distilling complex subjects and concepts into warm and meaningful forms.

Congratulations Emily and Kelsey on the new book. And thank you for transforming illness, struggle, and pain into meaning, purpose, and beauty that benefits us all.

Todd.

CODA: Listen to Emily discuss the new book on NPR’s Morning Edition.

Make a Mixtape (for Someone Who Doesn’t Know You)

Steal-Like-Artist-Journal

Austin Kleon’s brilliant book “Steal Like an Artist” has a companion journal with invaluable exercises to get one’s creative juices flowing with a bias towards action.

As a music aficionado, I was immediately interested in the exercise: “Make a Mixtape (For Someone Who Doesn’t Know You)”. I wrote down my list and created two playlists (“Make a Mixtape Vols. 1 and 2”) in my iTunes to listen to while I work throughout the day. Hopefully you will create a mixtape of your own and share it with a friend.

Enough writing, here’s the list:

SIDE A

  • Charles Brown—Black Night
  • Nina Simone—Please Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood
  • Jimi Hendrix—1983 (A Merman I Should Turn to Be)
  • Sun Ra—Calling Planet Earth
  • Madvillian—Shadows of Tomorrow
  • A Tribe Called Quest—Excursions
  • Wes Montgomery (with the Wynton Kelly Trio)—Impressions
  • Bad Brains—Sailin’ On
  • Alton Ellis—Reason in the Sky
  • King Sunny Adé—Sunny Ti De Ariya
  • Rhythm and Sound Featuring Cornell Campbell—King of My Empire

SIDE B

  • Hiatus Kiayote—Breathing Underwater
  • Los Destellos—Onsta La Yerbita
  • The Black Keys—Weight of Love
  • Gary Clark Jr.—When My Train Pulls In
  • Paul Weller—Whirlpool’s End
  • Three Dog Night—Easy to Be Hard
  • Leon Thomas—Echoes
  • Terry Callier—Love Theme from Spartucus (4 Hero No Skins Mix)
  • Arthur Verocai—Sylvia
  • Nostalgia 77—Quiet Dawn (Examples of Twelve Remix)
  • Miles Davis—Flamenco Sketches

Marvel’s Black Panther Gets a High-Octane Update from Author Ta-Nehisi Coates

MacArthur Genius Grant Awardee and National Book Award Winning Author (Between the World and Me), Essayist, and Social Critic Ta-Nehisi Coates reinvigorates the Wakandan warrior Black Panther for a new generation of readers.

Ta-Nehisi Coates and Brian Stelfreeze's update of Black Panther for the modern era.
Ta-Nehisi Coates and Brian Stelfreeze’s update of Black Panther for the modern era.

Infused with a social and political urgency uncommonly present in comics, the most advanced society on Earth (Wakanda) is in the midst of revolution and unrest and the warrior/prince T’Challa must deftly balance the duties of superhero and monarch. Brian Stelfreeze’s artwork is cinematic in its scope and movement.

Black Panther will have a major role in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) as Director Ryan Coogler (Creed, Fruitvale Station) helms the upcoming film starring Chadwick Boseman (42, Captain America Civil War).

If this comic series is any indication, Black Panther will be the prototypical hero for the new millennium.

Black Panther Marvel Online Update #1
Watch the video recap of Black Panther issue #1 paired with the music of Run the Jewels.

The response to this series (now in its third issue) has been overwhelming and Coates is providing a video update of each issue paired with exciting new music from artists such as Run the Jewels, Mobb Deep, and Prodigy.

 

10 Writing Tips From “On Writing Well” Author William Zinesser

Here are 10 writing tips from author, editor, and teacher William Zinesser who passed away last week at the age of 92. I must admit, I didn’t know of Mr. Zinesser’s work prior to his passing, but after hearing an thoughtful appreciation of him last week I intend to read On Writing Well immediately.

Writer, editor, and teacher William Zinesser's book, On Writing Well sold more than 1.5 million copies
Writer, editor, and teacher William Zinesser’s book, On Writing Well sold more than 1.5 million copies (Photo: Walter Daran, The LIFE Picture Collection, Getty Images)
  1. Don’t make lazy word choices: “You’ll never make your mark as a writer unless you develop a respect for words and a curiosity about their shades of meaning that is almost obsessive. The English language is rich in strong and supple words. Take the time to root around and find the ones you want.”
  2. On the other hand, avoid jargon and big words: “Clear thinking becomes clear writing; one can’t exist without the other. It’s impossible for a muddy thinker to write good English.”
  3. Writing is hard work: “A clear sentence is no accident. Very few sentences come out right the first time, or even the third time. Remember this in moments of despair. If you find that writing is hard, it’s because it is hard.”
  4. Write in the first person: “Writing is an intimate transaction between two people, conducted on paper, and it will go well to the extent that it retains its humanity.”
  5. And the more you keep in first person and true to yourself, the sooner you will find your style: “Sell yourself, and your subject will exert its own appeal. Believe in your own identity and your own opinions. Writing is an act of ego, and you might as well admit it.
  6. Don’t ask who your audience is…you are the audience: “You are writing primarily to please yourself, and if you go about it with enjoyment you will also entertain the readers who are worth writing for.”
  7. Study the masters but also your contemporaries: “Writing is learned by imitation. If anyone asked me how I learned to write, I’d say I learned by reading the men and women who were doing the kind of writing I wanted to do and trying to figure out how they did it.”
  8. Yes, the thesaurus is your friend: “The Thesaurus is to the writer what a rhyming dictionary is to the songwriter—a reminder of all the choices–and you should use it with gratitude. If, having found the scalawag and the scapegrace, you want to know how they differ, then go to the dictionary.”
  9. Read everything you write out loud for rhythm and sound: “Good writers of prose must be part poet, always listening to what they write.”
  10. And don’t ever believe you are going to write anything definitive: “Decide what corner of your subject you’re going to bite off, and be content to cover it well and stop.”

Source: http://www.openculture.com/2015/05/10-writing-tips-from-legendary-writing-teacher-william-zinsser.html