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Tuesday, January 9, 2007

Big words and good diction

posted by on January 9 at 14:05 PM

Margit Rankin, the executive director of Seattle Arts and Lectures, reminds me of all the girls who always got As in my IB English class in high school. She has remarkable elocution and knows about the French epistolary tradition (authors writing letters). She is also nervous and boring. And she ruined what could have been a fine “conversation” with Haitian-American writer Edwidge Danticat last night at Benaroya Hall. I will not bludgeon you with the entirety of her questions. They all concerned bookish subjects like how Danticat “edges up against the line” between short story and novel. Whenever Danticat meandered into actually interesting territory, like the savage poverty and violence of her homeland, squeamish Margit put on the breaks with meek responses that consisted of a sour expression and trailed off sentences. “Well, that’s…,” wince, end.

Finally, Danticat read a section from her forthcoming nonfiction book about an uncle who died in the custody of Homeland Security. I think I will check out the book. She also took questions from the audience, which were far superior to Margit’s queries. They asked substantive questions, about politics, culture, real shit. The evening ended with Danticat getting the audience to help her come up with examples of parables from Haiti. The best one had this gist: the dead are always wrong.

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Wasn't Josh Feit in a hardcore band called Squeamish Margit?

Posted by SEAN NELSON, EMERITUS | January 9, 2007 2:15 PM

“Well, that’s…,” wince, end.

Ha! Nicely done.

Posted by foghorn | January 9, 2007 2:58 PM

Man this nails Rankin's personality on the head. She is a snore. She's the wife of a friend's friend's neighbor or something so I have met her socially and it's no better up close and personal. I'd rather have met the later Rev Dantica.

That said, I don't think that this is a unique experience in Seattle. Most readings/talks I've been to are all icing and no cake. The questions from the audiences seem to be steer clear of anything 'controversial' like the existence of the poor and brutalized or an opinion not held by sanitized sources like New York Times Book Review or New York Review of Books. Come to think of it, the last really smart and entertaining author talk I attended was Michael Eric Dyson about a year-and-a-half ago. The most boring question was posed by a over-educated Rankin type.

Posted by Wondering Willa | January 9, 2007 3:55 PM

Well, to be fair, much as I dislike the over-educated pretentious type, I also know that I prefer these sort of questions to another round of 'What inspires you? Who is your favorite author? Are your characters based on real people?' and so on. I expect if the audience hadn't been such a good one, you might have been glad for even some pretentious twaddle.

Posted by Megan | January 9, 2007 4:09 PM

I love Danicat's books and I wish that I could have seen her last night. I did not know that her uncle died in US custody. That is such so terrible.

Posted by Papayas | January 9, 2007 7:06 PM

That nails it!!! My entire notes of the evening were: "blah, blah, blah" -- because of Margrit! She doesn't understand that her entire job is to be INTERESTED in the speaker. Margrit wants to come off as the smartest person in the room -- but she's an idiot! Save us from Margrit! She should be "promoted" into another job.

Posted by Pretentious Brian | January 10, 2007 3:36 PM

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