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April 12, 2010

CityLit Festival this weekend: Meet the 'City Sages'


One of my favorite free events, the CityLit Festival, is back on Saturday! And Dave and I are lucky enough to be moderating a really fun panel: City Sages, Baltimore.

The panel is the result of a new anthology edited by local author Jen Michalski, which includes the work of some of Charm City's best writers. We're talking Anne Tyler, Michael Kimball, Frederick Douglass, Madison Smartt Bell and, of course, Edgar Allan Poe.

So, in preparation of the event, I thought it would be fun to have a friendly little competition -- which Baltimore author reigns supreme in our hearts and minds?

We've selected 16 of the 36 authors featured in "City Sages," and now all we need is your opinion!

Tomorrow, the voting begins. But for today, let's introduce you to our contenders.

And don't forget to join us Saturday at noon for the panel!

For twenty years, Rafael Alvarez worked as a city desk reporter for the Baltimore Sun, which published two anthologies of his journalism, Hometown Boy (1999) and Storyteller (2001). His two collections of short fiction are The Fountain of Highlandtown (1997) and Orlo and Leini (2000). He has also published First and Forever: A People's History of the Archdiocese of Baltimore (2006.) His next publication is a collection of Baltimore Christmas stories — both fiction and nonfiction — tentively titled "Deep Fried Anchovies."

Madison Smartt Bell is the author of fourteen novels, including "Soldier’s Joy," which received the Lillian Smith Award in 1989. Bell has also published two fiction collections: "Zero db" (1987) and "Barking Man" (1990). Bell’s eighth novel, "All Soul’s Rising," was a finalist for the 1995 National Book Award and the 1996 PEN/Faulkner Award and winner of the 1996 Anisfield-Wolf award. Born and raised in Tennessee, he now lives in Baltimore, along with his wife, the poet Elizabeth Spires, and daughter. He is currently Director of the Kratz Center for Creative Writing at Goucher College and has been a member of the Fellowship of Southern Writers since 2003.

Jessica Anya Blau’s novel "The Summer of Naked Swim Parties" (2008) was chosen as a Best Summer Book by the Today Show, the New York Post, and New York Magazine. The San Francisco Chronicle, along with other newspapers, chose it as a Best Book of 2008. Her second novel, "Drinking Closer to Home" (Harper Perennial), will be out in February 2011.

Stephen Dixon is among the most prolific authors of short stories in the history of American letters, with over 500 published. Dixon has been nominated for the National Book Award twice, in 1991 for "Frog" and in 1995 for "Interstate." He is the author of fourteen novels and numerous story collections.

Frederick Douglass (c. 1818-1895) was born in a slave cabin near the town of Easton, Maryland. Separated from his mother when only a few weeks old, he was raised by his grandparents. At about the age of six, his grandmother took him to the plantation of his master and left him there. When he was about eight he was sent to Baltimore to live as a houseboy with Hugh and Sophia Auld, relatives of his master. It was shortly after his arrival that his new mistress taught him the alphabet. When her husband forbade her to continue her instruction, because it was unlawful to teach slaves how to read, Frederick took it upon himself to learn. In 1838, at the age of twenty, Douglass succeeded in escaping from slavery by impersonating a sailor. An important abolitionist, he published his own newspaper, The North Star, participated in the first women’s rights convention at Seneca Falls, in 1848, and wrote three autobiographies.

F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896–1940) is widely regarded as one of the twentieth century’s greatest writers. He finished four novels, "This Side of Paradise," "The Beautiful and Damned," "Tender is the Night," and his most famous, the celebrated classic, "The Great Gatsby." A fifth, unfinished novel, "The Love of the Last Tycoon," was published posthumously. When his wife, Zelda Fitzgerald, was hospitalized in Baltimore in 1932, Scott rented the “La Paix” estate in the suburb of Towson, where he worked on "Tender Is the Night." Both Scott and Zelda are buried in Saint Mary’s Cemetery in Rockville.

A novelist, folklorist, and anthropologist, Zora Neale Hurston (1891-1960) was the prototypical authority on black culture from the Harlem Renaissance. Her novels include "Jonah’s Gourd Vine," "Mules and Men," "Their Eyes Watching God," "Moses, Man of the Mountain," "Seraph on the Suwanee," and the travelogue and study of Caribbean voodoo, "Tell My Horse." Her autobiography, "Dust Tracks on a Road," was published in 1942.

Michael Kimball’s third novel, "Dear Everybody," was recently published in the U.S., U.K., and Canada. The Believer calls it “a curatorial masterpiece.” Time Out New York calls the writing “stunning.” And the Los Angeles Times says the book is “funny and warm and sad and heartbreaking.” His first two novels are "The Way The Family Got Away" (2000) and "How Much Of Us There Was" (2005), both of which have been translated (or are being translated) into many languages. He is also responsible for the collaborative art project “Michael Kimball Writes Your Life Story (on a postcard).”

Laura Lippman was a reporter for twenty years, including twelve years at the Baltimore Sun. A New York Times bestselling novelist, she is the author of the award-winning Tess Monaghan series and several stand-alone crime Baltimore novels. Her fifteenth novel, "I’d Know You Anywhere," will be published in 2010.

Alice McDermott is Johns Hopkins University’s Richard A. Macksey Professor of the Humanities. Her short stories have appeared in Ms., Redbook, Mademoiselle, Th e New Yorker, and Seventeen. Her novels include "A Bigamist’s Daughter" (1982); "That Night" (1987), a finalist for the National Book Award, the Pen/Faulkner Award, and the Pulitzer Prize; "At Weddings and Wakes" (1992), a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize; "Charming Billy" (1998), the winner of the 1998 National Book Award; "Child of My Heart: A Novel" (2002), nominated for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award; and "After This" (2006), a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.

Henry Louis “H. L.” Mencken (1880–1956), was an American journalist, essayist, magazine editor, satirist, acerbic critic of American life and culture, and a student of American English. Mencken, known as the “Sage of Baltimore,” is regarded as one of the most influential American writers and prose stylists of the first half of the 20th century. Among his many publications are "Happy Days," "Newspaper Days," and "Heathen Days." Mencken might be best known for his reporting on the 1925 Scopes trial, which he dubbed the “monkey” trial.

Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849) was an American poet, critic, short story writer, and author of such works as The Fall of the House of Usher, The Tell-Tale Heart, and “The Raven.” He lived in Baltimore during the 1830s, and mysteriously died there in 1849. Poe continues to slumber in the graveyard at Westminister Church.

Gertrude Stein (1874-1946) moved to Baltimore in the 1890s after the death of her parents. Th ere she enjoyed Saturday evening salons hosted by art collectors Claribel and Etta Cone, a social ritual that she replicated upon moving to Paris. While in Baltimore, Gertrude enrolled at the Johns Hopkins Meidcal School, but left in 1901 without a formal degree. In 1903, Stein moved to Paris with Alice B. Toklas, her lifelong companion and secretary. Her first book, "Three Lives," was published in 1909, followed by "Tender Buttons" in 1914. Her other influential works are "The Making of Americans" (1925), "How to Write "(1931), "The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas" (1933), and "Stanzas in Meditation and Other Poems" [1929-1933] (1956).

Author of eighteen novels, Anne Tyler was born in Minneapolis, Minn., in 1941 and grew up in Raleigh, N.C. Her eleventh novel, "Breathing Lessons," was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1988. A member of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, she continues to live in Baltimore.

Rupert Wondolowski recently returned to the small silver screen in Michael Kimball and Luca DiPierro’s film "60 Writers/60 Places." He is the author of "The Origin of Paranoia as a Heated Mole Suit" (Publishing Genius Press) and "The Whispering of Ice Cubes" (Shattered Wig Press). His writing has most recently appeared in the i.e. Series Reader, Lamination Colony, Fell Swoop, and Mud Luscious Press Stamp Stories. He is the editor and publisher of The Shattered Wig Press.

Joseph Young lives in Hampden. His book of microfictions, "Easter Rabbit," was released by Publishing Genius in December 2009. Stories from the book have appeared in Caketrain, Lamination Colony, FRiGG, jmww, wigleaf, Keyhole, and elsewhere. He often collaborates with visual artists, most recently with painter Christine Sajecki at Minas Gallery in March 2010.

(Bios courtesy of City Sages, edited by Jen Michalski.)

Posted by Nancy Knight at 1:30 PM | | Comments (9)


I would choose Fred Douglas- even if he didn't (wisely) join John Brown and tried to be a landlord in Fells Point- after all....

He did try to change things with his prose- like Bert Brecht- and those who are writing "for art's sake"? They better b really good- like Poe- because now we need comitted writing- unless it's really good- like Lippman and Tyler and Mencken.

We need good advise (vice?) (sp?)

Why weren't people from the Wire on the list? TV sells!!

"reigning supreme" is a really bad phrase- becuz there are so many different types of genius- it almost sounds sexist

Looking forward to see you both on Saturday! Although I won't get to your panel as there's another one I want to attend at the same time. :(

[And as a side note, my word verification phrase for this comment was "opening nuptials" - hilarious!]

i would choose jessica anya blau because of her unique style of putting her words down on the page for me to read exactly as if i were thinking them myself at that moment.... her descriptions are so very visual....i feel she has taken her true life experiences and put them into wonderful fictional stories, me this is the essence of a truly great writer.........

The Divine Edgar. It's not fair to put any writer, even legends on their own, such as Fitzgerald, up against Poe. He has transcended the earthly boundaries of artist, writer, even history, and become something larger, mythic.

I am a fan of nearly all on the list. Being forced to choose is tough, but I will go with Michael Kimball as he embodies - as a continuation of Dixon and peer of Wondolowski - an exciting way of looking at and presenting writing and the novel/story form.

Hmm. Fitzgerald vs Alvarez. I see the votes are close. Guess I'm not the only one torn here. Will always love Fitzgerald (Zelda, too) but have a very real affection for Alvarez, always touching on something that's so inherently Baltimore.

My vote is for Laura Lippman as of the bunch, she is the one I consistantly read, & more importantly, buy. She continues to improve. I 'm not much of a short story or a poetry reader. H. L. Menkin is a close second for his newpaper articles, but that works on another level entirely.

I love Laura Lippman. She is an amazing writer and always has something new. Of course, Edgar Allan Poe was unique and talented. I'm going for the more contemporary author, and I always read Laura Lippman's books.

Joe Young.

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About the blogger
Dave Rosenthal came to The Baltimore Sun as a business reporter in 1987 and now is the Maryland Editor. He reads a wide range of books (but never as many as he'd like), usually alternating between non-fiction and fiction. Some all-time favorites: A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole; Wind, Sand and Stars by Antoine de Saint-Exupery; and anything by Calvin Trillin or John McPhee. He belongs to a book club with a Jewish theme.
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