One of us lives on the east coast. One of us lives on the west.

One of us lives in a rural community. One of us lives in a city.

Both of us wander. Both of us witness. Both of us write.

This is a record of what we find.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Repost: Landscape, Architecture and Literature


I am off on a camping trip and then an adventure in Honduras so I have decided to repost this, about landscape, architecture and literature.  Matteo Pericoli still AMAZES me, and I still think about the shape of my stories because of him.  His ideas are well worth contemplating…

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Hello everyone!  Summer is well under way, isn't it? We had crazy torrential rain for the first 4 weeks or so, followed by extraordinary heat, and then...this...lovely sunny, warm, breezy days. One floating into the other.  I love summer for its lack of schedule and plentiful light.  I only wish I could work a little less, and enjoy some spontaneous time with my kids more...but its a tiny wish, really.  One that I am content to have take a back seat for now.

So without any further ado...

The Nose by N. Gogol
I just read a very cool article in the New York Times titled Writers As Architects, written by Matteo Pericoli*. Matteo teaches a course called "Laboratory of Literary Architecture", at Scuola Holdin, a creative writing school in Turin, Italy, and most recently in the MFA program at Columbia University School of the Arts, in New York City.  In the course, students find---or as Matteo says, extract---the literary architecture of a text and then physically build it. Physically build it! He describes the way writers and architects have similar intentions:

Great architects build structures that can make us feel enclosed, liberated or suspended. They lead us through space, make us slow down, speed up, or stop to contemplate. Great writers, in devising their literary structures, do exactly the same.
 Matteo asks his students to bring a text to class and then analyze it; break it down to its most basic elements and then explore how those elements are in relationship with one another and with the overall structure. He explains the process as one of reduction. In architecture, he says, once you strip a structure of walls and ceilings and floors, you are left with space. The same is true of literature. When you take away language (literature's walls), what are you left with?  Yes! Space!  How do we use space in literature? How do we incorporate it, in a conscious way, into our work? How do we build, not on top of it, but around its very specific, very unique shape?

The Distance of the Moon by I. Calvino
The students then team up with architecture students and, in pairs, they design a physical representation of the essence of the text. (I imagine it like a picture book writer getting to work with an illustrator!  Such luck!  Such fun! Such magic!)  Matteo lists the kinds of issues the teams discuss: tension, repetition, pacing, sequence, and of course spatial relationship, among others.  Familiar issues to us writers, eh?  Architectural issues are addressed through the literature and literary issues are tackled physically.  

How cool is that? And more than the coolness factor---which is high---how much could you learn about the foundational, essential elements of your story if you had to build a physical manifestation of it?  I am just enamored with the idea.

I have been pondering and exploring space in my own work all summer, as I revised a middle grade novel that has been through a few revision processes already. I focused intensely on where to leave space; where to extract words and remove answers...and also what shapes the space would take, what shapes the novel was intuitively asking the space to take. I forget to leave room for the reader, I forget to offer... nothing... to offer inviting, specific, well-thought spaces for the reader to enter and muck around and leave prints within.

The Corrections by J. Franzen

Now I want to team up with an architect!

Anyway, I'd love to hear what you all think of  S     P     A     C     E     ...

Gratefully yours,

* Matteo Pericoli is AWESOME by the way.  Check out some of the books he has written and drawn, such as World Unfurled, which is a book version of the 397 foot mural he created for the American Airlines Terminal at accordion-style fold-out of a 70-city journey around the world, with an essay by Colum McCann, and published by Chronicle Books.  He has also written and illustrated a few picture books, like Tommaso and the Missing Line, about a boy in search of a line that has disappeared from one of his own drawings!  [All architecture images can be found here.]

Gratefully yours,

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