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Chaos Manor in Brooklyn Book Festival September 20

Chaos Manor, last year. Invisible Dog Art Center in Brooklyn. Photo by Kate Joyce. September 16-17, 2011.

For two and a half months a cast of colleagues (thank you Chris Sims and Dan Partridge) and associates have battled a nasty virus that struck this blog.  It was never a threat to readers, we’re told, it simply paralyzed things.

Now, we’re back, and the first note is an update on Chaos Manor, which will be a Bookend Event of the Brooklyn Book Festival again this year, Thursday September 20 at 8pm  Last year’s experimental multi-media extravaganza is followed this year by the first public reading of a more conventional play based on similar material, written by Jaymes Jorsling, who took part in all of last year’s workshops.  The event is directed again by Christopher McElroen, and presented by Brigid Hughes and her Brooklyn-based literary journal, A Public Space.  Again this year the event will be at the Invisible Dog Art Center.  More information can be found on A Public Space’s site.

-Sam Stephenson

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Time and the Archive

Last week I was in NYC working on Gene Smith’s Sink and Chaos Manor. My editor of Sink gave me a copy of a new book she edited, Exorcism: A Play in One Act (2012) by Eugene O’Neill, based on the writer’s attempted suicide in 1912.  Exorcism had a two-week life on stage in 1920 before O’Neill destroyed the script.  Elements of the play emerged in O’Neill’s masterpieces, The Iceman Cometh (1940) and Long Day’s Journey into Night (1956), but the original text was thought to be gone.  Nearly ninety years after Exorcism was written, the script was discovered in the papers of the late Philip Yordan, a screenwriter who had apparently received his copy from O’Neill’s second wife in the 1940s.  Yale University Press published the script this year, with a forward by Edward Albee and an introduction by Louise Bernard, former Curator of Prose and Drama at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University.

Bernard’s introduction, “Time and the Archive,” an essay on the metaphysical values of saving things – objects and memories, in this case the “lost” play of a Nobel prize winner, stunned me.  It’s one of the best pieces I’ve read concerning the enigma of archival research, with many ramifications for JLP and my work on Gene Smith’s Sink.  Here are Bernard’s first two paragraphs:

There is much to be said for the relationship between Time and the Archive, each term capitalized here as befitting its symbolic function.  Time – that ineffable thing which signifies the broad sweep of history – is at once deep and long and granular, an (in)finite string of fleeting moments that constitute something like duration.  Although human endeavor appears to follow a teleological thrust, chronology is equally tied to happenstance and hence to the host of disjointed patterns that refuse easy coherence.  Even as we break down time into digestible parts (days, years, centuries, or broad, expansive eras), such arbitrary units necessarily rub up against their opposite: the intangible stream of human consciousness as a fluid movement of thought, or elusive recollection.  Thus, when we speak of time, we also speak, inevitably, of memory, of piecing together the import of events large and small, which brings us, by association, to the figure of the archive itself.

The archive, as the careful assemblage and ordering of documents into discrete bodies of information that capture and record the various workings of the public sphere, provides much fodder for the ever-subjective production of history.  Yet, while the archive’s origins are bureaucratic in nature, the idea of the archive as it related to creativity acquires added resonance when we consider not only the aesthetic lure of the archive as a mode of artistic practice (the playful use of archival accoutrements – filing cabinet, typewriter, index card – in the work, for instance, of the Surrealists) but the way in which the paper trail itself presents an object lesson in the machinations of biography – the interplay of presence and absence that undergirds the telling of an individual’s life story.

- From Louise Bernard’s introduction to Exorcism: A Play in One Act, by Eugene O’Neill.  Yale University Press.  2012.

-Sam Stephenson

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The Secret to Selling Literary Journals


Photograph by Kate Joyce. February 2012.

Kate wandered upon this amusing scene in a magazine stand recently.  That’s the current issue of Tin House, which has my latest piece on Sonny Clark, and sitting there is also the Paris Review, whose Daily I contribute to (including once with Kate).

-Sam Stephenson

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Shelby, NC

Salisbury, NC. January 28, 2012. Photo by Helen Woolard.

Downtown Shelby, NC. January 28, 2012. Photo by Helen Woolard.

Saturday I drove 180 miles west to Shelby, North Carolina to conduct an interview for a project that will reveal itself soon (knock on wood).  Photographer Helen Woolard went with me.  For countless many, Shelby will always be known as the hometown of North Carolina State University basketball icon David Thompson.  DT and the University of North Carolina’s Phil Ford were the two best players to ever play in the Atlantic Coast Conference (the rest are chumps).  It occurred to me to try to find DT’s childhood home.  While wandering around downtown as Helen was shooting photographs, I sent a note to a listserv of college-basketball-oriented folks, asking if anyone had DT’s childhood address.  Nobody did.  Next time I’ll do more preparation.  An old friend on the listserv ran into DT at the State-UVA game in Raleigh later that night and mentioned to him that I had inquired about his home address earlier in the day.  It sounded like he was amused.

Phil Ford, by the way, was from Rocky Mount, the same hometown as Buck Leonard, Thelonious Monk (see, JLP is one degree away from anything), and Allan Gurganus.  I hope these small towns are still producing people like this.

Downtown Shelby was marked by more evergreen ‘live oak’ trees than I think I’ve ever seen in a downtown like that.  I find these towns to be fascinating, maybe because I grew up in a similar one.  In some ways these towns are all the same (the confederate soldier statue in front of the courthouse), but they are all different.

-Sam Stephenson

p.s. (I recently found UNC coach Dean Smith’s childhood home in Emporia, KS).

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Early Smith Photographs from Wichita

Courtesy of Mary Nelson from the Special Collections Library at Wichita State University, and Al Stephens, a researcher whose father and mother went to North High School with Smith in 1936, the year Smith’s father committed suicide.  Below is a photo by Smith of Al’s father Hubert Stephens, who was editor-in-chief of the yearbook and the school paper.

Hubert Stephens at Wichita High School North, 1936.  Photo by W. Eugene Smith

Hubert Stephens at Wichita High School North, 1936. Photo by W. Eugene Smith

Stories about Smith survive from Al’s mother, who remembers Smith cutting and hollowing the middle of a book in order to hide a camera inside it and carry it around the school.

East High vs. North High, 1936, Photo by W. Eugene Smith

East High vs. North High, 1936, Photo by W. Eugene Smith

Al notes that in scanning the local newspapers on microfilm from Smith’s teenage years, the photographers weren’t always given a by-line, but Smith seemed to always have one.  An early sign of his doggedness perhaps?

Many thanks to Al for these materials.


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The Notebooks

~44 pounds.

~44 pounds.

“Someday I think you should come down and weigh my scrapbook.” -W. Eugene Smith

We have now heard all of the digitized audio material made from the tapes found in W. Eugene Smith’s collection. These notebooks hold the paper version of my notes as well as the contributions of fellow listeners Hank Stephenson, Will Harris, Beth Turner, Lauren Brenner, and Margaret Hennessey. Special thanks to these individuals for sharing in the discovery of Smith’s audio. And to Sam Stephenson, for creating the Jazz Loft Project and allowing me to hear this collection, in addition to sharing in the discovery of the wonders found in and beyond Smith’s recordings.  We are grateful for the support of our friends at the Center for Creative Photography at the University of Arizona Libraries as well as our friends here in Durham at the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University.

This work would not have been possible without the generous support of the Reva and David Logan Foundation. Likewise, we are deeply grateful to the Heirs of W. Eugene Smith.

We are also thankful for crucial funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Historical Publications and Records Commission, the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (The Grammy Foundation), the Duke University Office of the Provost, the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation, Ken and Amelia Jacob, and Kimpton Hotels.

Many people have contributed to this listening and cataloging work. In thinking of people to thank, the list begins to grow towards the size of the list of names of people who passed through the loft at 821 Sixth Avenue. And there is a good deal of overlap in these two lists. We are very fortunate and most thankful to have met and heard the stories of many who lived in, worked in, and visited this loft building.  And we are fortunate to collaborate with a wonderful community of partners, archivists, audio  engineers, colleagues, advisors, work study students, interns, friends, and fellow Rome builders. Thank you!

At this juncture, we are working with our partner institutions on the next steps in the prospect of archiving this enormous collection so  that it may be made available to the public in the future.

-Dan Partridge

Photo by Harlan Campbell.

Photo by Harlan Campbell.

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Podcast: Sam Stephenson on W. Eugene Smith and Health Care


Last month I gave a talk at Duke University Medical Center.  You can listen to the podcast on the Center for Documentary Studies website.  Once my Eugene Smith days are over, among the projects I’m considering is a vast oral history project on primary caregivers – doctors, nurses, midwives from all walks of life, all over the map – over the age of seventy-five.


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Branford Marsalis Quartet in Durham

Put this on your calendars:  January 13-14, 2012, the Branford Marsalis Quartet in Reynolds Theater at Duke in Durham, NC.  The fidelity that Duke Performances director Aaron Greenwald and engineer Luc Suer have finessed in this 600-seat theater is second to none that I’ve heard, anywhere, over the last couple of years.  It will be a unique opportunity to hear this state-of-the-art quartet on back-to-back nights in this venue.  Here is a video of the quartet last year – Joey Calderazzo, piano; Eric Revis, bass; Justin Faulkner, drums.  This will be a home game for the band.  Branford and Joey have lived in Durham for about a decade and the band has recorded its albums in the Hayti Heritage Center sanctuary here over that time.

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The 1962 Ford is Still There

A Public Space offices, Dean St., Brooklyn. Chris McElroen at the table. August 17, 2011

A Public Space offices, Dean St., Brooklyn. Chris McElroen at the table. August 17, 2011. Photo by Sam

There’s talk of having the owner of the green truck drive it over to the Invisible Dog for the Chaos Manor performances on September 16-17.

The workshops this week have been different from the roundtable discussions of before.  This time, detailed decisions are being made on particulars:  AV needs (enormous), live music (from in to out), script (22 windows and three stories to map digitally, inside and out, plus characters), logistics (too many to name), etc.  All for a 35 minute experiment that may or may not ever happen a third time.  The big team will convene again September 6.

We got word today that pianist and loft alum Dorrie Woodson will be attending those performances with her son.  We like that.


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Homage to Terrence Malick

homage to terrence malick

Looking south from the north bank of the Pamlico River, just west of Bath, NC. July 30, 2011.

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