Thursday, May 21, 2009

Colson Whitehead

Last night, I was about to go to Ron Carlson's reading at UCI when I got a call from R, who was still on campus. "Don't come to the reading," he said. "There's a guy on campus with a gun. The swat teams are out. Stay home!"
He didn't have to argue; I didn't go to the reading. But I did make it to campus tonight to hear Colson Whitehead read from his novel Sag Harbor. I hadn't really read any of his work before, though I'd picked up one of his novels in the library and even taken it home, intrigued by the concept of a black female elevator inspector who discerned the problems with elevators by intuition rather than by deep knowledge of engineering. But I didn't finish it. However, this reading was very appealing.
Whitehead's language spins circles around the subjects he is writing about, sending out tendrils so intricate that you forget about the ostensible topic and just enjoy the sentence in its own right. He's funny and clever and pays attention to things, so I am looking forward to reading one of his books, which I will be doing soon. He drew a hilarious "visual aid" to instruct the audience about 70speak of young black males like the characters in his book. There was the "in verb" construction, centering on a verb ending in in' (lookin, for instance) and the suffixes and prefixes of this verb, such as Gorbachov-lookin-bitch, to describe someone with a large and distracting facial marking. There were a million laughs in this reading, which is all too rare, and I loved it.
And I got to take Michele Latiolais aside and tell her how much I have loved reading her book, A Proper Knowledge. If you haven't seen it, go and look at it. Marly, you especially would love it, I think, since the main character is a child psychiatrist who treats patients in the autistic spectrum. I didn't want to finish it; I liked it that much.
It was a wonderful evening, and they even fed us! Wow!


marly said...

Hi Robbie,

Thanks for the recommendation!

The Whitehead reading does sound amusing--and you're right, so few are.

Perhaps there would be more people at readings if they were always fed...

Robbi said...

Amen. At poetry readings, one rarely gets a cookie! Remember the petit fours at Hollins?