Blogs Field Guide Roger Nieboer

Nieboer's thirty-three plays cover a wide range of subjects and styles. Producers include the American Conservatory Theatre, New Dramatists, Bay Area Playwrights Festival, Great American History Theatre, Intersection, Magic Theatre, Minnesota Opera and Winnipeg Folk Festival. In 1983 he co-founded lesser mortals, a theatre/research/performance group, and continues to serve as their artistic director and rhythm guitarist. He has received playwriting grants from the California Arts Council, the Minnesota State Arts Board and the National Endowment for the Arts.. His essays appear in Drama Review, American Theatre, and Theatre Forum. He has taught playwriting at the University of California-Davis and the University of California-San Diego and served as a Visiting Professor of English at NKJO, a teachers training college in Bydgoszcz, Poland. Currently he resides on a five-acre compound in rural Kanabec County where he conducts experiments in organic horticulture and avant-garde landscaping, and collects cultural artifacts (i.e., junk). He teaches at Nay Ah Shing, the tribal school of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe and serves as moderator of The Artist’s Bookshelf, the monthly book club of the Walker Art Center.

Keep on rockin’ in the free (post-colonial) world

I just finished reading The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai when the phone rang. A friend of a friend of a friend offered to drive me around Beijing. As we cruised by Tiannamen Square in his black, leather-interiored, tinted windowed Nissan, with Neil Young wailing on the CD player, and the AC cranked to […]

I just finished reading The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai when the phone rang. A friend of a friend of a friend offered to drive me around Beijing. As we cruised by Tiannamen Square in his black, leather-interiored, tinted windowed Nissan, with Neil Young wailing on the CD player, and the AC cranked to the max, this international businessman extolled the virtues of Chairman Mao, “He was a poet and a philosopher, not a politican. The people loved him. They still do. He should have stayed out of politics.”

Maybe. Who knows? The world might be a different place. But certainly no stranger than presnt-day China, or India, or any other part of the world that’s developing at a pace previously unimagined.

What’s the fall-out to this mad-cap pace? Only time will tell. But meanwhile, we are blessed with writers like Ms. Desai to help us put it all in perspective. We will discuss her latest novel at Thursday night’s meeting of The Artist’s Bookshelf.

To prepare for our discussion, please consider the following:

1) What is the significance of the title of this novel? What are some of its intended meanings or resonances?

2) The novel follows the intertwining personal journeys of several primary characters. Why did the author utilize this approach as opposed to the more conventional one central protagonist?

3) What observations does the novel provide regarding globalization and post-colonialism?

4) What is the significance of the dog named Mutt?

5) What does the novel have to say regarding social class?

6) The literary world has come to know and appreciate several major authors of the Indian diaspora. Yet, Kiran Desai distinguishes herself as the voice of a new generation. How does she achieve this?

7) What is the most poignant scene of the novel?

All of this and more! Thursday, Aug. 9th. Tour at 6 pm, discussion at 7 pm.

See you there.

Cubism and multi-voiced narrative: Who knew?

We began last night’s book club discussion of Louise Erdrich’s The Painted Drum by focusing on the drum itself: its metaphysical qualities, its unique history, its cultural significance, and its power as a literary symbol. We then talked about the author’s conscious decision to employ a multi-voiced narrative technique, and generally agreed that this strategy […]

9780060515119.jpgWe began last night’s book club discussion of Louise Erdrich’s The Painted Drum by focusing on the drum itself: its metaphysical qualities, its unique history, its cultural significance, and its power as a literary symbol.

We then talked about the author’s conscious decision to employ a multi-voiced narrative technique, and generally agreed that this strategy served the novel well.

One member of the group then made an interesting connection to the exhibition Picasso and American Art, which we had toured earlier under the guidance of the amazingly enthusiastic Gary White (his passion for the art is surpassed only by his encyclopedic knowledge).

Our fellow reader likened Erdrich’s use of multiple narrative perspectives to Picasso’s cubist approach to multiple visual planes.

I’d never thought of that, and was once again humbled by the wide range of insights provided by the participants of our group. I realized that’s part of what makes viewing art and discussing literature as a group such an incredible social experience: you just never know what’s going to pop up next.

Speaking of popping up next, during August’s edition of The Artist’s Bookshelf we will read and discuss Kiran Desai’s Booker Prize-winning novel, The Inheritance of Loss.

I can hardly wait.

Can you hear The Painted Drum?

If you recover quickly enough from Independence Day revelry, be sure to join us Thursday for our discussion of Louise Erdrich’s The Painted Drum. As usual, we gather at 7 pm in the Art Lab, immediately following our 6 pm gallery tour. Though this novel plunges deeply and directly into stories of unimaginable loss and […]

If you recover quickly enough from Independence Day revelry, be sure to join us Thursday for our discussion of Louise Erdrich’s The Painted Drum. As usual, we gather at 7 pm in the Art Lab, immediately following our 6 pm gallery tour.

Though this novel plunges deeply and directly into stories of unimaginable loss and grief, a strong sense of hope and redemption seems to run just below the surface, as the various stories intersect in unexpected ways.

We supply the following questions merely as pre-discussion fodder. As with celebratory fireworks, use a long fuse, and place on ground before igniting.

1) The title provides a particularly strong central image for the novel. What are some of the symbolic or metaphoric ramifications of the drum? What are some of its metaphysical properties?

2) The author uses three distinct voices to narrate the four sections of the novel. Why does she employ this multiple voiced technique? What is gained from this approach?

3) What is the significance of Faye’s ancestry? Could the novel have worked as well without it?

4) How are animals portrayed in the novel? What is their significance to the telling of the various tales? How do they help lend a “mythical” quality to the novel?

5) How is the use of alcohol portrayed in the novel? What are its cultural ramifications?

6) What does the novel seem to suggest about the importance of stories or legends to any given community of people?

7) Why does Faye take the drum? How does she justify her actions? Are the moral, ethical and legal issues of this act ever resolved?

All of this and more.

Have a safe a happy holiday! And remember, if you stand too close to the firecrackers, you might not hear the drum

…is this the funny part?

At last night’s meeting of The Artist’s Bookshelf, we tackled what many fans of Mr. Vonnegut consider to be his masterwork, Slaughterhouse-Five. We approached the novel as a contemporary “mythology” and focused most of our discussion on the author’s fragmented narrative technique, which seemed to parallel the subconscious journeys of the loveable but “alienated” protagonist […]

At last night’s meeting of The Artist’s Bookshelf, we tackled what many fans of Mr. Vonnegut consider to be his masterwork, Slaughterhouse-Five. We approached the novel as a contemporary “mythology” and focused most of our discussion on the author’s fragmented narrative technique, which seemed to parallel the subconscious journeys of the loveable but “alienated” protagonist Billy Pilgrim.

As always, the diversity of our group led to a wide range of opinions and observations. We encompassed at least three “war generations” (WWII, Vietnam, and Iraq), ranged in age from 18-85, and broke down into two distinct groups: those who had actually experienced encounters with UFO’s and the 4th dimension, and those who had not.

(For personal reasons, I will refrain from revealing my category.)

Some of us appreciated the dark humor and found portions of the book hilarious, others, not so much. We reached some consensus on the potency of Mr. Vonnegut’s anti-war message, and generally agreed that it had not diminished over time.

And in the end, we took some degree of comfort in the author’s cynical hopefulness, expressed so poignantly in the final chapter:

“If what Billy Pilgrim learned from the Tralfamadorians is true, that we all live forever, no matter how dead we may sometimes seem to be, I am not overjoyed. Still– if I am going to spend eternity visiting this moment and that, I’m grateful that so many of those moments are nice.”

— p.186, Slaughterhouse-Five

So it goes…

Thursday evening June 7th we will kick off the summer season of The Artist’s Bookshelf by tackling one of my all-time favorites: Slaughterhouse-Five by the wonderfully droll and cynically hopeful Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. We’ll try to discuss the novel in the context of contemporary mythologies, and will tour the Mythologies gallery of the permanent collection […]

Thursday evening June 7th we will kick off the summer season of The Artist’s Bookshelf by tackling one of my all-time favorites: Slaughterhouse-Five by the wonderfully droll and cynically hopeful Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

We’ll try to discuss the novel in the context of contemporary mythologies, and will tour the Mythologies gallery of the permanent collection at 6 p.m.

As always, we aim for a free-wheeling and wide-open discussion, but just in case you find yourself in need of some synapsal stimulation, we offer the following food for thought.

1) Whether we’re talking about contemporary design or post-modern lit, we’re still likely to hear the adage “form follows function.” What is the relationship between content and structure in this novel? Is the relationship artistically successful? Why or why not?

2) Vonnegut writes with the same bold strokes by which many painters of his era — the 1960’s — applied paint to canvas. What other similarities does his work share with the Pop Art movement?

3) How does Vonnegut use irony and black humor to aid in his thematic concerns?

4) Vonnegut utilizes elements of science-fiction throughout this work. Even the title sounds like a B-grade sci-fi movie. Why is he drawn to science-fiction as a literary form? How does it influence this particular work?

5) How does Vonnegut use the device of time-travel to further his thematic concerns?

6) Vonnegut uses the horrors of WWII, particularly the fire-bombing of Dresden, to make a strong statement against the absurd inhumanity of war in general, and the conflict in Viet Nam in particular. How well does his central thesis hold up against current U.S. military involvement in Iraq?

7) What is the intention of the repetitive use of the phrase “so it goes”? What is its cumulative effect?

All of this and more Thursday night.

So it goes.

and the winner is…

We tried something different in the selection process for our August book. The Artist’s Bookshelf nominated five outstanding choices, and asked you, the reading public, to decide. We are pleased to announce that the winner is: The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai We think this is a great choice, and will finish off our […]

We tried something different in the selection process for our August book. The Artist’s Bookshelf nominated five outstanding choices, and asked you, the reading public, to decide. We are pleased to announce that the winner is:

The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai

We think this is a great choice, and will finish off our summer season with a literary bang. Ms. Desai is one of Britain’s most exciting contemporary writers, and weaves intriguing tales of her native India with great compassion and conviction. It should be on the top of everyone’s summer reading list, and we’re now happy to say it’s on ours.

We’ll begin our summer by tackling one of the great anti-war novels of all time Slaughterhouse Five by the late Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., who met his untimely demise just last week.

I first encountered this book while an impressionable teen, and will never forget its impact. While re-visitng it this past month, I was again amazed and saddened by its humorously poignant plea for an end to the absurd human behavior we call war. “So it goes.”

In July, we will focus on The Painted Drum by Minneapolis writer Louise Erdrich. For those of you unfamiliar with Ms. Erdrich’s work, be prepared for a powerful, muliti-voiced narrative full of love, loss, dark humor, and ultimately, hope.

Happy reading!

You decide… what we should read…

Now is your chance. You get to decide which book will be read and discussed by THE ARTIST’S BOOKSHELF for our August gathering. After perusing the five nominees outlined below, simply e-mail your selection to: artistsbookshelf@walkerart.org It’s as easy as that. People often ask how books get chosen for THE ARTIST’S BOOKSHELF. It’s a highly […]

Now is your chance. You get to decide which book will be read and discussed by THE ARTIST’S BOOKSHELF for our August gathering.

After perusing the five nominees outlined below, simply e-mail your selection to:

artistsbookshelf@walkerart.org

It’s as easy as that.

People often ask how books get chosen for THE ARTIST’S BOOKSHELF. It’s a highly subjective and unscientific process that begins by browsing in local bookstores, involves a great deal of talking with readers we respect, and ends in a mad flurry of googling and last minute e-mails.

As always, we consider a myriad of factors when determining which book might work best for THE ARTIST’S BOOKSHELF. We’re always interested in diversity, whether it involves the gender, ethnicity, and geographic origins of an author, or the literary style and subject matter of the book. We lean strongly towards contemporary fiction, but have included works of non-fiction, as well as classics suitable for re-examination.

Of course, we try to choose books that relate in some way to something happening at the Walker, but we have been known to choose books simply because we felt the need to share them with a wider audience.

All that being said, considered and processed, we present you with the following nominations for our August selection:

1) Snow by Orhan Pamuk

This one tops many “ must read” lists. The author has gained notoriety in his native Turkey for bravely writing just exactly what’s on his mind. The story is set in a remot Turkish town, where the stirrings of political Islamism threaten to unravel the secular order. A quick read of this book reveals a very complex mind, indeed.

“ Richly detailed….A thrilling plot ingeniously shaped…Vividly embodies and painstakingly explores the collision of Western values with Islamic fundamentalism….An astonishingly complex, disturbing view of a world we owe it to ourselves to better understand.” –Kirkus Reviews

2) The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai

Our British friends tell us this is the real deal. Already a book-world superstar in Britain, Ms. Desai brings the voice of a new generation to the forefront of post-colonial lit.

“… manages to explore…just about every contemporary international issue: globalization, multiculturalism, economic inequality, fundamentalism and terrorist violence.” –New York Times

3) Where No Gods Came by Sheila O’Connor

A local writer who teaches at Hamline, Ms. O’Connor takes the requisite coming-of-age novel to the next level. (Disclaimer: Ms. O’Connor’s son once acted in a play I wrote. Though he’s a great actor, this small-world coincidence in no way influenced our decision.)

“ … a memorable portrait of the artist as a scrawny young girl. . . . It’s a story about the power of love and guts and imagination to sustain a skinny kid in a hard world.”

Buffalo News

4) Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie

What can you say about Salman Rushdie? This Fatwah-survivor, continually proves that he’s really not afraid of any one or anything. I loved this book for its epic scope, beautiful imagery and mastery of language. Some of our friends: not so much.

“Huge, vital, engrossing…in all senses a fantastic book.” –Sunday Times

5) Kafka On The Shore by Haruki Murakami

Japanese lit sensation Murakami has been labeled a surrealist, a visionary genius, a fraud, and everything in between. I lean towards the genius moniker, but his work can be challenging for those accustomed to more conventional faire.

“[W]hile anyone can tell a story that resembles a dream, it’s the rare artist, like this one, who can make us feel that we are dreaming it ourselves.” –Laura Miller, The New York Times Book Review

We encourage you to further research our nominees. We have found www.powells.com, www.metacritic.com and www.nytimes.com to be particularly helpful.

Please feel free to include a sentence or two in support of your choice. And yes, write-in candidates are allowed. Polls remain open until April 11th.

Results will be announced later this month on this site.

VOTE!

Black slave owners: Who knew??

Thursday night’s 6 p.m. tour of the ever-provocative Kara Walker show should provide enough fodder for a lively 7 p.m. discussion of the equally provocative novel The Known World by Edward P. Jones. But just in case you need further cerebral stimulation to get the neural synapses firing at top speed, we provide the following […]

Thursday night’s 6 p.m. tour of the ever-provocative Kara Walker show should provide enough fodder for a lively 7 p.m. discussion of the equally provocative novel The Known World by Edward P. Jones. But just in case you need further cerebral stimulation to get the neural synapses firing at top speed, we provide the following catalysts:

1) Kara Walker’s work seems to revolve around issues of race, gender, sex, class, domination, subservience, and power, as examined through the social institution of slavery. How are these issues further complicated by the novel’s depiction of “freed blacks” as slave owners?

2) Ms. Walker cites The Known World as an influence and describes it as “slow and drawling and rich.” Why are both artists (Walker and Jones) so fascinated with images of the pre-Civil War South?

3) Both artists focus a great deal of attention on sexuality, and use it as a metaphor with broader social implications. How does the sexual relationship depicted in the novel between black female slave owner (Caledonia) and black male slave (Moses) further compound an already complicated dynamic?

4) Recent discussions at The Artist’s Bookshelf regarding Toni Morrison’s Beloved revealed a self-avowed ignorance on the part of many members regarding American history in general, and the intricacies of slavery as a social institution in particular. Works such as those by Walker, Morrison, and Jones force us to confront that ignorance head-on, and demand that we re-examine the legacy of slavery from a fresh perspective. What insights can be gained from such artistic “confrontations”?

5) The title of the novel The Known World comes literally from a map hanging in the sheriff’s office. What is the significance and/or irony of that title?

We could spend the entire evening on any one of these questions. But as always, we’ll try to keep things moving along at a lively pace.

In addition, we will have a very special announcement regarding future Bookshelf selections.

Toni Morrison, Rev. Sharpton and Kara Walker

One only has to skim the headlines to realize the toxic cloud of slavery’s legacy still hangs heavily overhead. Recent revelations connecting the families of Rev. Al Sharpton and the late Sen. Strom Thurmond will only fan the flames of discourse Thurdsay night, as The Artist’s Bookshelf dives headfirst into a heated, but as always […]

One only has to skim the headlines to realize the toxic cloud of slavery’s legacy still hangs heavily overhead. Recent revelations connecting the families of Rev. Al Sharpton and the late Sen. Strom Thurmond will only fan the flames of discourse Thurdsay night, as The Artist’s Bookshelf dives headfirst into a heated, but as always civil discussion of Toni Morrison’s exquisite Beloved, and its thematic links to the current Kara Walker show.

Please consider the following:

1.) Artist Kara Walker references Toni Morrison as an influence. In what ways are their approaches to African-American history and the legacy of slavery similar? In what ways do they differ?

2.) Both Walker and Morrison have been accused and/or praised as being provocative. What is it about their work that provokes such strong responses? Is this provocation intentional, and if so, should it be considered an important measure of the significance of their work?

3.) Beloved was recently named THE most important work of American fiction of the last twenty-five years. What qualities led to such high praise?

4.) Morrison uses multiple points of view and a wide range of narrative techniques in the composition of Beloved. What is the cumulative effect of such fragmentation? Would the novel have been as powerful (and artistically successful) if the author had limited herself to a more standard literary format?

5.) Who is Beloved? What is her significance as the title character of the novel? There are at least two potential interpretations of her character. The first is of her as the displaced ghost of the child killed by Sethe, and now returned in an adult body. The second is of her as, as Stamp Paid puts it, “a girl locked up by a white man over by Deer Creek. Found him dead last summer and the girl gone. Maybe that’s her”. Both seem to be supportable by the text, yet the intentional ambiguity opens the door for several other possibilities as well. What was your perception?

6.) In a 1987 New York Times interview, Toni Morrison said, “ I really think the range of emotions and perceptions I have had access to as a black person and as a female person are greater than those of people who are neither. I really do. So it seems to me that my world did not shrink because I was a black female writer. It just got bigger.” Do you agree with her premise? What light does this statement shed on Beloved?

7.) Early on in Beloved, we are told, “ For a used-to-be-slave woman to love anything that much was dangerous, especially if it was her children she had settled on to love.” Let’s ponder the significance of this remark.

Gallery tour starts at 6 pm, followed by discussion at 7 pm.

Lucy in the sky with… Gauguin?

All of usattending last night’s gathering of The Artist’s Bookshelfseemed to agree that the novel at the center of our discussion (Lucy by Jamaica Kincaid) offered some profound insights into contemporary American culture. These insights, delivered via the voice of the immigrant protagnistfrom a fresh, rebellious, and at times quite angry perspective,proved often times to […]

All of usattending last night’s gathering of The Artist’s Bookshelfseemed to agree that the novel at the center of our discussion (Lucy by Jamaica Kincaid) offered some profound insights into contemporary American culture. These insights, delivered via the voice of the immigrant protagnistfrom a fresh, rebellious, and at times quite angry perspective,proved often times to be just as humorous as they were provocative.

We began the evening with a guided tour of the Body Politics, which in many ways turned out to be an ideal introduction to the themes of the novel. The very first image of the show (a slightly abstracted representation of a topless, grass-skirted “native” woman, supposedly gyrating and freely expressing her inner-child,romantically exoticized and eroticizedin a manneronlyEuro-males from previous centuries seem capable of mustering) said it all.

That woman could very well be Lucy, or how people in her new land perceive her, or how she perceives others perceiving her. (Please note the exponential layering of complication.)

Some of us liked the novel’s simple and direct narrative style, others faulted its lack of descriptive detail and traditional narrative drive. We found it to be refreshingly void of sentimentality, and continually surprising and revealing in its observations of human relationships.

Like the very bestpost-colonial literature, the novel works simultaneously on a number of levels. As if to drive home that point, we ended with a discussion of a somewhat disturbing but highly revealing passage:

“I thought on one hand there was a girl being beaten by a man she could not see; on the other there was a girl getting her throat cut by a man she could see. In this great world, why should my life be reduced to these two possibilities?”

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