The Sunday Post for June 3, 2018

Each week, the Sunday Post highlights a few articles we enjoyed this week, good for consumption over a cup of coffee (or tea, if that's your pleasure). Settle in for a while; we saved you a seat. You can also look through the archives.

When a Person of Color Tells Conference Organizers Their Conference Is Too White

In February, award-winning Seattle writer and frequent Seattle Review of Books reviewer Donna Miscolta wrote in her blog about attending the San Miguel Writers’ Conference in Mexico. In addition to the marvelous phrase "in a bat of an eye out of hell" (yes) and praise for San Miguel de Allende's beauty, the post includes an account of overwhelming racial imbalance among conference attendees and outright racism in some of the classes.

This week Miscolta published an update describing the conference organizers' response when she contacted them to suggest a different approach next year. The story is told with her trademark directness and precision — Miscolta isn't afraid of emotion, but she knows how to achieve it in other ways than being loud — which makes it easy to imagine the pragmatism with which she would have approached the conversation. And that makes the response from the organizers all the more stunning. Miscolta's advice to them is dead on and valuable for anyone wondering why good intentions alone haven't brought diversity to their platform.

I got a reply the next day, bubbly and breathless in its defense of their desire and efforts to be diverse. She listed all the brown and black people they had featured as keynote speakers over the years. She assured me that the list of general faculty was even more impressive. She described the Spanish-language element of the conference and its Mexican faculty. She expressed regret that “Unfortunately, we receive very few proposals from African American or Asian writers.”

She ended with, “If you know of writers of color whom you can encourage to apply to teach at our Conference, please do encourage them to apply. We need more applications from people of color.”

Could I possibly let this go?

'Once Upon a Time' and Other Formulaic Folktale Flourishes

I know from personal experience (once upon a time) that there is no end of hyperintelligent, hyperscholarly discussion of how fairy tales and folk tales work, including their iconic opening formulae. My hat’s off to Anthony Madrid for aerating those discussions with just the right mix of irreverance and affectionate astonishment. Seriously, this is so much fun, if you have even five volumes of Andrew Lang or just a dozen books edited by Zipes on your shelf …

Forget “upon a time.” Look at the “once.” That part really is standard from the beginning, and not only in English. Just this past weekend, I paged through fifteen volumes of the Pantheon Fairy Tale and Folklore Library, and I’m here to tell you: The word once is in the first sentence of almost every single folktale every recorded, from China to Peru. There is some law of physics involved.
Hazardous Cravings

Men feel shame when their bodies don’t fit the social standard, they swallow down those cruel, mocking voices just like women, they destroy their bodies from the inside to make the outside “fit” — all complicated by the expectation that men will be worthy and loveable no matter what their shape (and other myths of masculinity). Alex McElroy tells that story with devastating directness in the setting of a teen job at a Dairy Queen.

I was terrified that the pills would work. Taking one would become taking them regularly, then obsessively, until they snuffed my heart like fingers pinching a flame. But I couldn’t confess this to Boots. Perhaps we weren’t, as I’d liked to believe, enacting some vulnerable version of masculinity but applying its worst expectations — sacrificing our bodies, refusing to care for ourselves — to a traditionally feminine project: becoming thinner. Because as open as we were with each other, we nevertheless refused to acknowledge the damage we caused to ourselves. We couldn’t. We lacked the language to see our sickness as sickness. He could not be “anorexic,” just as I could not be “bulimic.” For men, those words were locked houses.
Icelandic fiction: a family affair

“Any resemblance is purely coincidental” doesn’t hold much water when you live on an island so small that the population approaches dating with a genealogical pre-check. Fríða Ísberg on the peculiar challenges of being a writer (or, more exactly, the family and friends of a writer) in Iceland.

Autobiographical fiction has become widely popular across Scandinavia, and Iceland has proven to be no exception. But Iceland, with its small population, poses unusual ethical problems concerning what one can, and should, write: how does one balance the reputation of real characters against the liberty of the author? And what are the consequences in a country the size of Iceland when a writer, perhaps following the model of Karl Ove Knausgaard, exposes those around them?
Traumatic License: An Oral History of Action Park

You can go see Action Point, the oddball movie about the amusement park geared toward allowing its guests to do maximum bodily harm to themselves, or you can read this amazing oral history of the real park on which the film is loosely based. Owned by Eugene Mulvihill, Action Park was open in Vernon, New Jersey for more than a decade starting in 1983. I mean, this park had rides that put you in the water with snakes and snapping turtles, rides that could break your face, rides that could strip the top layer of skin from your entire body. I can barely choose a quote from this, it’s astonishingly, gloriously ridiculous from start to finish.

Al Rescinio (Guest): It wasn’t like you were armored going down this thing. You’re wearing a T-shirt and bathing suit or shorts. You didn’t know how unstable these little carts are the first time you go on them.

Thomas Flynn (First Aid): The primary ingredient in those tracks was asbestos, by the way.

DeSaye: People would bounce off. That’s why we called them Gumbys. Down in first aid, at the end of the night, you’d be having pizza and inevitably someone would come in looking like they had a giant burn from head to toe.

Benneyan: It was the Action Park tattoo.