POSTED ON OCTOBER 24, 2012:
It's All in the Cards
TU's Lit Journal does the risky shift
Will Tim Burton's super quirky Frankenweenie flick do better than average in Tulsa? Are carbon dioxide levels truly rising at a disastrous rate -- a rate that foretells an uncontrolled descent into a hellish, climate-deformed world? Have the trillions of sensor counts and supercomputing calculations spawned by the CERN lab and the world's high-energy physics community actually found the ghostly particles that make matter possible? Will Barack Obama actually win the electoral college, given the 70 percent likelihood estimate yielded by the pro betting (Intratrade) community and political-numbers maven Nate Silver last Friday? What is the likelihood that you will be injured in a car accident next year? How much would you wager that you'll be bitten by a dog in 2013? What are the chances that the Vision2 Tulsa economics/quality-of-life package will be approved by voters in November?
We live in a kaleidoscopic landscape roiled by epic data streams, super niche TV, endless polling and wild, often fuzzy odds. But it is also an era sadly tethered to tabloid trash, superficial sensibilities and the trivial. Fortunately, there are some brave artists and strong supporters of writers -- navigators and creatives, who are happy warriors -- pleased to help creative people embrace risk, upend convention, and evoke skill to improve the odds -- and some of these folks live here among us.
Flipping Some Cards
We've just passed the 100th anniversary of the first showing of Russian composer Igor Stravinsky's Rite of Spring, an event starkly conveyed in author Modris Eksteins' new book, Rites of Spring: The Great War and the Birth of the Modern Age. Eksteins telegraphs the shocking day in 1913, at the newly opened Théàtre des Champs Élysées in Paris: in the event, the audience nearly rioted because the music/dance debut strayed radically from all expectations.
In 1959, Ray Charles wrote a totemic song, "What I'd Say" -- a breakout piece, heralded in Taylor Hackford's 2004 film Ray. Many of Charles' fans initially greeted the song with deep puzzlement -- even anger -- since the tune was an impossible conflation of gospel music and rhythm and blues, a wild-hair piece that wandered willfully from the church choir space to the bedroom.
Barely six years ago, former Tulsa mayors Bill LaFortune and Kathy Taylor forged ahead, despite rapidly escalating risks, with completion of Tulsa's fabulous Bank of Oklahoma Center. They pressed forward, wrangling through explosive price increases in glass and steel spawned by the '05 Katrina disaster aftermath and a red-hot Chinese construction economy -- a wild-card take that jump-started Tulsa's stagnant downtown.
This month, British writer Salman Rushdie finally felt safe enough to publish a piece on his over 15 year saga under the threat of a "Fatwa" -- a call to kill him because of the "heretical" religious content of his late '80s book The Satanic Verses. He does so via a thinly-veiled fiction piece about a similarly situated writer.
Last week, Tulsa master photographer Don Thompson staged a striking abstract-painting exhibition at Tulsa Artist Coalition -- taking a big risk with a vastly different skill set: gallery viewers gleefully proclaim that "we hardly knew ye."
And this week, Fran Ringold and crew stage "Nimrod 34," a fusion of a writers development conference and author confab, at the University of Tulsa with a constellation of stellar guest writers and a propulsive "It's in the Cards: The Meeting of Risk and Skill" theme.
Make no mistake, Tulsans are fascinated by the risk, skill and chance nexus. It's in our DNA. Think wildcatter, black gold and our hyperkinetic genesis with the 1889 Land Run.
What Tulsa has on offer in a few days is a polished, episodic "pop up" of the world of letters from an all-points warren of crafters of novels, poetry and things in between. Long-time Tulsan Dr. Fran Ringold, and her crew at Nimrod, the University's storied lit journal, will lead a cadre of invited writers, their supporters and newbies on an exploration. How can writers "re-stack" the card deck? How can writers prevail in a world festooned with video, Facebook, anti-intellectual sentimentality, a feckless "list mentality" and retching changes in publishing? T-Towners can witness, the event -- one occurring in Green Country, but involving dozens of writing gurus from across the realm.
The 34th annual Nimrod International Awards and Writer's Conference, is slated at the TU campus Friday, Oct. 26 and through the weekend. Part of the fun, part of the boundary-busting character of the conference starts with the cover artist for the event/companion journal. Dr. George Hart was selected by Reingold after a web search for playing-card art. Hart is an interdisciplinary sculptor, a mathematician and a computer scientist. He is also a pioneer in the use of 3-D printing technologies -- a realm, as some of our readers may know, at the core of a revolutionary regimen for fashioning physical objects of every kind -- an emerging world that Tulsans can see at our Fablab facility on South Lewis.
Nimrod Conference 34 looks to be a rich, living matrix filled with opportunities to engage and observe over three dozen distinguished writers, including the annual contest judges for the Nimrod writing awards. Ellis O'Neal, a writer and one of the senior managers for the conference, told me that the line-up includes U.S. Poet Laureate and Pulitzer Prize-winner Philip Levine and Gish Jen, author of World and Town and a National Book Critics Circle Award Winner. Other guests include one of my personal favorites, steampunk/fantasy writer Gail Carriger, creator of The Parasol Protectorate series and many other books.
Ellis writes in a statement:
"The conference will feature master classes, readings, panel discussions, and one-on-one editing sessions. Each workshop and panel is designed to stimulate ideas and discussion and to inspire and improve participants' writing. Not only will participants be able to attend classes with award-winning authors, but they will be able to interact with them during coffee breaks, lunch, and informal talk sessions."
Pick up the card deck, take a little risk, ratchet up your skill set, chance some bracing encounters and sign up for TU's Nimrod big throw down. Visit utulsa.edu/nimrod for more information.
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