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The other day, I asked my industrious screenplay-writing son whether he thought it might be helpful to get a handbook on the art form, to help with the next leg of his journey. He has been too much like me, perhaps—trusting his own instincts, going his own way, paying little attention to the known "shoulds" of crafting stories for big and little screens. He's been at work as a writer for more than half his life now, and that work has become remarkably good—cleverly plotted, well-paced, full of dialogue zing. But what are the next steps? How best to take them?
I was thinking about this again yesterday as I read Gabrielle Hamilton's bestselling, nothing-if-not-vivid account of accidental chefdom, Blood, Bones & Butter. Hamilton had not set out to open a restaurant (the beloved Prune). Nor had she set out to become a writer. Both things happened, and her memoir tells us how. It reflects, most profoundly, on what education is—how it finds us, when it matters, what to do with the taught and the merely surmised.
A third of the way through the book, Hamilton tells of the time she spent enrolled in the master's program for fiction at the University of Michigan. She had drawn the conclusion (prematurely, as it turns out) that a writer's life might yield greater meaning than the life of a cook. She had made her way into the program based on talent, as opposed to provable familiarity with literary theory. But that master's program was, she discovered, a foreign, alien world, where the talk centered around, in Hamilton's words, "second person static point of view," "indirect interior discourse," "narrative strategy," "chiaroscuro," and "diction." It all threw Hamilton back onto her heels until she tipped forward and discovered (again) how much meaning there is in preparing food with one's hands, in doing, rather than theorizing.
I have never gone to graduate school and my education is rooted in the History and Sociology of Science, not literature. I empathize, then, with the marginalizing nature of lit theory talk, have had my share of being purposefully shamed by those who bandy about terms in my presence, just for the sake, it has often seemed to me, of bandying, elevating, and hopefully (their hope) dismissing others in the room. Yes, I have thought, you are right. I don't know what whatever it is that you just said means, and thus and therefore, you are smarter and more valuable than moi.
I have thought that, then shrugged and gone back to writing my books.
Hamilton, though, refuses to kowtow at all, as she fearlessly expresses here. I plan to share this passage with the many writing students who ask me whether graduate school is the next right step for them. I don't know the answer, because there is no single answer, because I will never pretend to know such things for absolute sure. Hamilton's experience is her experience, her stridency is, too. Still, it is worth listening to:
In the university program where I was supposed to be emancipating myself from the kitchen, preparing myself to go back to New York having at least answered the question of my own potential, the novelty and thrill had thoroughly worn off. I could not find the fun or the urgency in the eventless and physically idle academic life. It was so lethargic and impractical and luxurious. I adored reading and writing and having my brain crushed; but those soft ghostly people lounging around the lounge in agony over there "
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Today we bring you our weekly sampler of cool youth media and marketing gigs. If your company has an open position in the youth media or marketing space, we encourage you to join the Ypulse LinkedIn group, if you haven’t yet, and post there for... Read the rest of this post
The streets are packed. People are singing and shouting. They are wearing team colors; they are drinking, eating, fighting and betting.
These fans are not in Green Bay, East Lansing, Philadelphia or Madison. They are in Constantinople, capital of the Roman Empire in 500 AD. They are going to watch chariot races. Some of them will have buried curse tablets around the track asking the demons of the underworld to wreck opposing teams. Others would have been slipping around the stables to sniff horse manure to gauge how teams were going to do. One fan would be so distraught when a famous driver died that he would throw himself on to the funeral pyre! Whole sections of a city would back one team or another, and ancient sports bars provided spots where fans met their heroes.
How different are these people from those of us who pour into stadia around the country to watch their favorite football teams, whether professional or collegiate? Team sports shape communities, whether the short-lived ones assembling for three or four hours at a game, or the larger ones of people who might not get to every (or any) games in person, but still have the team colors, and identify, if only briefly, each week with the their team’s success or failure. Other fans are more proactive. A great win or loss can set off celebrations or sadness extending long into the night until they are lit by the glow of blazing cars or accompanied by the sounds of shattering store fronts. Faced with such a sight, a Roman would know exactly what to do. One riot in Constantinople ended with much of the center city in ashes and thousands dead.
Why do we have this culture, and why, for that matter, did they? Colleges and Universities turned to sports just before the turn of the last century to build bridges between themselves and their broader constituencies which could not participate directly in the excitement of academic discovery, and to forge links between groups of students studying specialized disciplines which divided them from their classmates. Stadiums became focal points of local pride because the activities within them were about people.
The organization that grew up to regulate College Sports, arose out of scandal (deaths on the football field which attracted the attention of Teddy Roosevelt as his son was about to take up the sport at the college level) while pro sports leagues developed in response to fan interest have proved very hard to regulate. Since they tend to reflect the convergence of fan interest with that of management, they are economically independent of theoretical regulators in governments that have largely ceded control to these very groups. Management historically has been interested in maximizing profit and prestige, while fans want greater access and greater excitement, but they can’t do it all on their own. Really powerful sports leagues are products of relatively stable political and economic times—much as the Olympics served as a surrogate for Cold War rivalries from the Fifties through the Eighties, the Olympic movement, and World Cup competitions, have exploded since the fall of the Soviet Union.
Ancient Greece and Rome offer us the only other time in human history when as much attention was paid to sport, especially in the first general peace and prosperity three centuries AD enabled a vast increase in spending on sport and continuing for a much longer period of time in major cities where sporting organizations were integrated into the political hierarchy. The most significant sports organizations of the Greek and Roman worlds—the self governing international association of professional athletes in Olympic contests, chariot racing organizations known as factions and gladiatorial troupes—came into being at points of weak governmental control. Circus factions existed in Rome when the state was
Our own social entrepreneur and founder, Kyle Zimmer, joined world leaders in Davos for the World Economic Forum last week. She presented an IdeasLab primer on the First Book Marketplace, in a session moderated by J. Gregory Dees, Professor, Practice of Social Entrepreneurship, Fuqua School of Business, Duke. Watch the presentation below and read more about Kyle’s inspiration for First Book after the jump.
Kyle’s mission is not to fight illiteracy but to end it. She began First Book in 1992 in Washington DC when she realized that children in low-income situations have little or no access to books or reading material. In fact, studies show that in middle-income neighborhoods the ratio of books to children is 13 to one, but in low-income neighborhoods, the ratio is 1 book for every 300 children.
According to esteemed researcher, Susan Neuman, Ph.D. University of Michigan, “Access to books and educational material is the single biggest barrier to literacy development in the United States and beyond. If we can solve the problem of access, we will be well on the road to realizing educational parity – a goal which has eluded this country for generations.”
The First Book Marketplace (FBMP) is designed to aggregate an untapped market to provide a steady stream of high-quality books at an affordable price for the first time ever to programs serving children in low-income situations, revolutionizing the way teachers and program leaders can educate these underserved children. At scale, the FBMP becomes self-sustainable and poised to deliver educational books and materials, including digital resources, globally.
Kyle didn’t rest after she found one way to deliver millions of books to children in need through the First Book National Book Bank; she created a true social innovation in the First Book Marketplace and she aims to deliver access to educational resources to the world.
We congratulate Kyle on her success at the World Economic Forum and on delivering nearly 70 million books to children in need.