Eight Novels to Prepare You for the End of Civilization at Talking Writing

March 21, 2017 § Leave a comment

9622480490_57c0de302d_zYet another new article up, this one at Talking Writing. Here’s a quick excerpt:

Novels act like beacons in stormy weather. Even when they promise an escape from the daily onslaught, novels light a path forward in ways nonfiction can’t. They allow readers to live out life’s worst-case scenarios from within the safety of their own imaginations so that when something terrible actually happens—a personal tragedy, a natural catastrophe, a deadly plague—it’s not a complete surprise. As a reader, I’m an easy mark for dystopian and post-apocalyptic fiction, and I’m often struck by the unique way such novels deliver not only practical strategies for surviving the unthinkable but emotional strategies, too—which ultimately may be more important. It’s hard to overstate the solace good fiction can provide even in the darkest of times.

So, if you’re stocking the shelves of your survival shelter, don’t forget to throw in a few gripping novels. Here are eight that strike me as especially pertinent right now.

Read the full article here!

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Hemingway’s Ghost in Havana at The Millions

March 21, 2017 § Leave a comment

hemingwayNew essay up up at The Millions, in which I trace Hemingway’s 30 year love affair with Havana and try to get to the bottom of what his lingering influence says about both the writer and the city. Read the whole thing here. A brief excerpt:

In Havana, Ernest Hemingway’s restless ghost lingers more palpably than in any of the other places in the world that can legitimately claim him: Paris, Madrid, Sun Valley, Key West. Havana was his principal home for more than three decades, and its physical aspect has changed very little since he left it, for the last time, in the spring of 1960.

I’ve been traveling to the city with some regularity since 1999, when I directed one of the first officially sanctioned programs for U.S. students in Cuba since the triumph of Fidel Castro’s 1959 Revolution. As an aspiring novelist, I’ve long been interested in Hemingway’s work, but I had no idea how prominently Havana figured in the author’s life — nor how prominently the author figured in the city’s defining iconography — until I began spending time there.

New craft article out at Fiction Writers Review

March 20, 2017 § 2 Comments

logoI’m a big fan of Fiction Writers Review and it’s an honor to be welcomed home from a trip abroad with the news that they’ve published my article, “Shadow Play: Dreams, Visions, & Hallucinations in Fiction.” Here’s a brief excerpt:

A vibrant inner landscape is something fiction can offer far more fulsomely than any other narrative art, which is the reason novels and stories will never be fully supplanted by movies or TV or video games. Fiction is irresistible because it offers the reader a defamiliarized version of the universal mind, in all its wisdom and agony and strange, conflicted beauty.

For fiction writers, this is where it gets fun. The inner landscape is our native domain, and we have certain freedoms and privileges within it that are not readily available to other artists. Our stories unfold primarily as refracted through our characters’ minds, meaning that we’re uniquely positioned to push against the outer limits of objective reality. We can play around with space and time and perception in really interesting ways—including via dreams, visions, and hallucinations.

Read the full article here.

Back to Havana at a momentous time

November 26, 2016 § Leave a comment

fidelThis morning we have the news that Fidel Castro has passed out of this world. Whatever you think of his policies there can be no question that he was one of the most colorful and important world-historical figures of the 20th century. I’m heading to Havana in a few days, traveling with a small group put together by the Brattleboro Museum & Art Center. One of the things I’ll be doing is giving an illustrated lecture about the history of the Cuban Revolution. I’m sure we’ll be talking quite a lot about Fidel, both with among my fellow travelers and with Cubans. It will be a very interesting time to be there.

img_9704Historical moment aside, I’m extremely happy to be heading back to the island of Cuba. It’s been several months, and it will be great to check in with old friends, breathe the tropical air, reconnect with the familiar sights and smells and sounds. And yes, it will be be a welcome relief to make a quick escape from social media and the constant reminders of our new electoral reality. In this context, nine packed and fascinating days away sound pretty good. We’ll be in Havana, Cienfuegos, and Trinidad, with highlights including Hemingway’s house at Finca Vigía, world-class traditional music everywhere but especially on the steps in the main square of Trinidad, a few special paladares, and visits to certain unspoiled regions on and near the southern coast.

img_7832Particularly looking forward to visiting the old sugar central of Soledad (near Cienfuegos), the site of some fascinating research I’ve been doing on Edwin Atkins, a Bostonian sugar planter who was the largest foreign property owner during the war of 1895-98 and an influential adviser to both the Cleveland and the McKinley administrations. Atkins’ old mansion still stands, and I’ve played a small role in the process of a local initiative to restore and conserve the house and to create a new museum.

If you’re looking for ways to get to Cuba yourself during what may prove to be the short-lived window of the recent relaxation of U.S.-Cuba relations, don’t hesitate to send me a note. Happy to share my experience and reach out to essential contacts, or at least point you in the right direction. ¡Viva Cuba!

 

Brattleboro Literary Festival

September 23, 2016 § Leave a comment

This year's logo is based on a painting by the magnificent Vermont artist Julia Zanes

This year’s logo is based on a painting by the magnificent Vermont artist Julia Zanes

Very much looking forward to this year’s Brattleboro Literary Festival! This has evolved into one of the premier literary events of the year, anywhere in the country, and I’m so pleased to be part of it. As a member of the author committee, I’ll have the great honor and pleasure of introducing fellow writers Sunil Yapa, Nancy Marie Brown, Jonathan Lee, and Meg Little Reilly.

If you’re anywhere near southern Vermont the weekend of October 13 – 16, 2016, you’d be crazy not to stop in. All events are free and open to the public!

The Life & Times of Goya at the Brattleboro Museum

July 18, 2016 § Leave a comment

31-112Very much looking forward to giving this illustrated talk on one of my favorite Spanish artists and the times that produced him. The late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries encompass a  fascinating era in Spanish history, well into the decline of the great Empire, with plenty of corruption and chaos to go around, culminating in the Napoleonic invasion of the Iberian Peninsula and the dark times that followed.

Among other things, we’ll be tracing Goya’s evolution from a designer of light-hearted tapestry cartoons to First Court Painter to an artist who captured his age with a darkness and power that sent western civilization’s understanding of what creative art is and can be hurtling into the future.

We’ll also be serving tapas and summer wine. So if you’re in the area on Thursday, July 21, at 5:30 PM, stop by BMAC in downtown Brattleboro!

National Geographic Student Expeditions in Cuba

July 1, 2016 § 2 Comments

DSC04327Very excited to be participating in the first ever NatGeo student programs to Cuba. I’ll be starting out with the first group toward the end of their program in the province of Santa Clara, a few hours east of the capital, and then joining the second group for the beginning of their program in Havana. Traveling to Cuba, by now, feels something akin to going home for me. It’s been a few months, so I’m looking forward to checking in on the evolving situation!

IMG_8931I’m also excited to be traveling with student groups, because leading student groups is how I spent most of my early career in educational travel. I relish the sense of adventure that usually arises within such groups—and in my experience NatGeo students are an exceptionally positive, creative, and intellectually curious bunch. It will be hot this time of year, but that’s nothing to worry about, as we’ll be on an island surrounded by crystalline blue water!

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