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Advice from the King, no not that King

Yes, yesterday was Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, and although his memory deserves much more than one blog post – today, I prefer to discuss a different King, a literary king, Stephen King.

Amid the hefty stack of books I slated for my winter-break reading, Stephen King’s nonfiction piece, On Writing, claimed the top of the pile. Before this summer, I had never read one of his novels, but a literati friend put Green Mile into my hands. I was impressed by his storytelling ability and found myself willing to forgo my predilection for writers who teach me a new vocabulary word each page for solid, page turners like King churns out. Next, my same wise friend recommended On Writing to me, King’s autobiography and advice book for nascent writers.

Now, like many of my peers who study arts management, I struggle to make time for my own art while spending time studying the management of it. After reading about the challenges King overcame to produce his first novels – juggling marriage, small children, factory shifts and teaching – he reminded me that yes, it’s possible to keep artistic focus despite all the life happening around us. But it takes discipline. Amid the many sage observations in this book (including my favorite aphorism – “The road to hell is paved with adverbs”) what most resonated with me is his topic of muses.

How often do we as artists wait for that illusive moment for our inspiration to strike? We avow there will be a perfect moment to begin our opera, our painting, or our novel, but the time we have now does not seem quite right. Chances are, that instant will never come unless we pave the path. King puts it this way:

“There is a muse, but he’s not going to come fluttering down into your writing room and scatter creative fairy-dust all over your typewriter or computer station. He lives in the ground. He’s a basement guy. You have to descend to his level, and once you get down there you have to furnish an apartment for him to live in. You have to do all the grunt labor, in other words, while the muse sits and smokes cigars and admires his bowling trophies and pretends to ignore you. Do you think this is fair? I think it’s fair… It’s right that you should do all the work and burn all the midnight oil, because the guy with the cigar and the little wings has got a bag of magic. There’s stuff in there that can change your life.”

How I envision King's muse

We must not wait to strike when the iron is hot, but rather, we must work on what we love when the iron is tepid, downright frigid even. In order to be a successful arts manager, it’s paramount to foster my enthusiasm for the arts by being an active participant. Perhaps if we all find time to keep creating, then maybe, our reluctant muses will snub out their cigars and help us create work that can, in fact, change lives.

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Little Reads

This week I had the joy of writing for the NEA’s Big Read Blog about some “little reads” for little hands. I’m talking about children’s books of course!

I love children’s books. I loved Jan Brett as a little girl. I freaked and and had a case of the shakes when I got to meet her at a reading of The First Dog. I still treasure my tattered copy of The Story of Ferdinand, my little brother’s all time favorite (if Ravi was a bull, he’d be Ferdinand). My mom taped herself (back in the days of cassett tapes) reading Blueberries for Sal for me to listen to when she had to work late. Who doesn’t have fond memories wrapped up in children’s books?

So that’s why around this time of year when the nostaligia hits home hard I chose to write about children’s books! Of course How the Grinch Stole Christmas and A Christmas Carol are my go-to classic favs BUT I diverged when I came up with my top 5 (plus a bonus!) list of holiday favorites. Check out the post HERE and let me know in the comments what your favorite holiday reads are!

Alternative Arts Expression

Imagine drawing a Shakespearean sonnet. Or hearing a Matisse painting. Playing a book as a video game.

Well for anyone who was rocking the internet back in February of this year, The Great Gatsby Game gave you the ability to do exactly that.

I got a great chance to interview the brilliant minds behind this amazing little experience. Taste some tidbits below or read it HERE.

NEA: The Big Read is about inspiring people across the country to pick up a book. Do you think those who play The Great Gatsby Game need to have read the book in order to enjoy it? Or do you think people could be inspired by the game to pick up the book?

PETER SMITH: When we were making the game, we really thought no one would like it if they didn’t really love both the book and the games we were referencing—we thought it was going to be a pretty small audience. But it turned out that a lot of people on either side liked it anyway. My parents always wanted me to read books instead of playing games. But then my dad got hooked on the game and played it every night for a month. I was really touched when he finally beat it. And on the flip side, you have people…who never read the book but got a kick out of the game. The game really comes from a place of love for both of its sources, so there are a lot of little jokes for fans of either to enjoy. And if people pick up the book, I’m thrilled.

CHARLIE HOEY: The game definitely is funniest if Gatsby’s pretty fresh in your mind; there are a lot of jokes that are only relevant to the reader. Our process for vetting jokes was to never sacrifice gameplay for a literary reference, to never make a joke too much at the expense of either The Great Gatsby or old video games. It was important above all else for it to really feel like something from this era, with all the technical limitations and gameplay conventions and terrible translations. At the same time, we love the book and wanted to carry some of our favorite passages and scenes across the vast divide between these mediums more or less intact.

More than a few people have told me they’re going back to read the book after playing the game, which is really a great compliment. I’ve also gotten emails from a few English teachers that used it in class or in homework assignments, making kids compare and contrast references to the novel. Always makes my day.

Is this the future of the arts? Specifically of literature? While I know Charlie and Peter would agree: there’s no substitute to reading the real thing… sometimes I wonder if perhaps we can increase ACCESS through other alternative artistic forms.

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