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Archive: Arts & Culture / Spokane and North Idaho

Brunelleschi’s Duomo tells a tale of Florence

Above: No matter where you walk in Florence's city center, you're usually only a few steps from a sight of Filippo Brunelleschi's famous Duomo, which sits atop the cathedral Santa Maria del Fiore.

Nothing beats rising early on a Saturday morning in Florence, Italy, and getting your first glimpse of the famous Duomo. It's nice to see the masterpiece of architecture anytime during the day, but its especially nice when the streets have yet to fill with tourists, who come in the thousands.

The Duomo, of course, sits atop one of the world's most famous buildings — the cathedral Santa Maria del Fiore — which has been standing in the center of Florence since the early 14th century. The city's leaders wanted the cathedral to be a sign of Florence's magnificence, and they hoped the cathedral's Duomo (or dome) would be the world's largest.

Only problem was, no one at the time knew exactly how to build something so big. Thus the cathedral sat for decades open to the elements.

Then came the announcement: A competition would be held to see who could come up with a workable plan. One prize was 200 florins, which was a lot of money considering, from one source, staff at the Medici bank made between 14 and 50 florin per year. The other prize was enduring fame.

Both prizes went, ultimately, to "a short, homely, and hot-tempered goldsmith named Filippo Brunelleschi." Though not without controversy, mainly because Brunelleschi was a somewhat unknown quantity and because he refused to share specifics of his plans. Even so, the leaders eventually decided to award Brunelleschi the job.

This being Italy, intrigue occurred from the start, involving personal and professional jealousies. But the project, and Brunelleschi, endured, and the Duomo was completed on March 25, 1436. Brunelleschi died a decade later.

But his crowning achievement lives on — to the delight of everyone who has the pleasure of seeing it.

Come and color with Christopher Paolini

At age 15, Christopher Paolini began what would eventually become a publishing sensation.

Paolini, who will appear in person at 6:30 tonight at Auntie's Bookstore, is the author of what is known as the Inheritance Cycle, which comprises the four novels "Eragon," "Eldest," "Brisingr" and "Inheritance." The four books have, to date, sold some 35 million copies. "Inheritance" alone has been published in 53 countries.

In many ways, Paolini's own story is just as interesting as his books. Home-schooled, he graduated from high school just at the time he began writing his first novel. That novel was self-published, and Paolini traveled dressed in costume to publicize it. Eventually it was picked up by a major publisher, movie deals were made — and the rest is history.

Paolini's appearance at Auntie's will be in support of an ancillary project: "The Official Eragon Coloring Book" (see embed below). 

Crime writer Zafiro to read tonight at Auntie’s

It's probably a good thing to separate artists from their art. Sometimes it's disappointing to meet someone whose work you admire and to discover that they're nothing like what you expect.

Other times, though, artists are exactly what you hope they will be when you meet them. In my career, I've enjoyed interviews with such celebrities as Bob Newhart, Dick Cavett, Salman Rushdie and even Kurt Vonnegut and was amazed at how humble and gracious they were — even when I asked the stupidest questions.

Thing is, we can't help but want to know more about people whose work we're familiar with. Which is why I'm posting this link to an interview with author Frank Zafiro.

Zafiro is a former Spokane police officer who has written a number of genre novels, mainly detective, mystery or noir. He will be reading from his latest novel (with Lawrence Kelter), "The Last Collar," at 7 tonight at Auntie's Bookstore.

The interview mentioned above is from 2010. Following are a few snippets from it:

"Stephen King has been an inspiration for a long time.  Not just his personal story (and his book, 'On Writing'), but the masterful way that he writes." 

"Dialogue is my strongest suit and I think of ways to work description into those threads, but finding the balance between painting a picture for the reader without losing her in the exposition is always a challenge."

As for advice, Zafiro offered this in a single word: "It comes from Joe Konrath, who told us that there is a word for a writer who never gives up." 

And that word: "Published."

Prison author on virtual tap at Auntie’s tonight

Book readings typically follow the same routine. Someone introduces an author, who then reads from his/her work. After a brief question-and-answer period, the real objective occurs: the author signs copies of the work purchased by audience members.

Tonight's author event at Auntie's Bookstore at 7 p.m. will be a bit different. The work being highlighted is "Zek: An American Prison Story," the first long narrative — fiction inspired by real experience — by the writer Arthur Longworth.

Don't know the name? Pretty much everything you need to know about Longworth can be found in this Seattle Times story by reporter Jonathan Martin. But the quick view is that Longworth, in 1985 at the age of 21, murdered a 25-year-old woman named Cynthia Nelson. Longworth, who was on probation at the time, was sentenced to life without parole. Around the age of 40 he began writing, and his tales of prison life have won him a number of literary awards.

Longworth's book follows the character of Jonny, whose whole life is changed when he picks up a book. For obvious reasons, Longworth won't be at the reading. Instead, the event will feature guest readers Layne Pavey and Jeff Coats, plus Pacific Northwest Inlander reporter Mitch Ryals.

Here is a review of "Zek: An American Prison Story," written by Paul Constant for the Seattle Review of Books. And here is an excerpt from that review:

"You’ll be repeatedly stunned by the barbarism of 'Zek,' at the way the whole prison system works to crush the individual spirit. But if, in the middle of the story, you find Jonny’s experience too much to handle, I suggest turning back to the front of the book and reading the prologue again. It’s right there in plain English: one book can make a difference."

Auntie's readings tend to fill up quickly. Good to get there early.

Churchill quote on arts funding: fake news

If you're active on social media, you might have noticed an item going around that involves Winston Churchill and arts funding. It goes something like this:

Along with a photograph of the late British prime minister, this statement is prominently displayed: "During World War II, Winston Churchill was asked to cut funding for the arts. He replied, 'Then what are we fighting for.' "

Great sentiment, right? Especially given today's political climate, which is proposing drastic cuts to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities . Only problem is, the quote is false.

That's not to say that Churchill didn't support the arts. After all, he himself was a writer — and, in fact, was awarded the 1953 Nobel Prize for Literature.

But let's not continue to spread fake news. There's too much of it out there. Especially on Twitter.

Author examines ‘catastrophic’ Columbia River Treaty

If there's one thing that fuels the work of writer Eileen Delehanty Pearkes, it's love — specifically, she says, "my love for the landscape (and) the people who live here."

The "here" Pearkes is referring to is Columbia River country, an area she wrote about in her most recent book, "A River Captured: The Columbia River Treaty and Catastrophic Change." Pearkes will read from her book at 7 tonight at Auntie's Bookstore.

A native of the United States, educated at Stanford University, Pearkes has lived in Canada since 1985. She is the author of six books, including "A River Captured." In December, she was named the cultural ambassador for Nelson, British Columbia. As she told the Nelson Star newspaper, she found the honor "very honouring and humbling."

Pearkes' book, says BC Booklook, "explores the controversial history of the Columbia River Treaty and its impact on the ecosystems, indigenous peoples, contemporary culture, provincial politics and recent history of southeastern British Columbia and the Pacific Northwest."

As usual, the reading is free and open to the public.

Above: The Arrow Lakes Reservoir, which was created when the Hugh Keenleyside Dam was constructed to bound the original Arrow Lakes and the Columbia River.

Catch Megan Kruse at Auntie’s tonight

One of the literary treasures of Spokane — besides Auntie's Bookstore, of course — is the annual Get Lit! literary festival that Eastern Washington University sponsors. In its glory years, that festival helped bring such international stars as Salman Rushdie and Kurt Vonnegut to Spokane.

These days Get Lit! adheres to a more modest, if equally important, role. While many of the names of the 2017 festival aren't as readily known to many in the mainstream audience, those who will be coming (April 17-23) are established and/or rising talents.

One such author who hails from the Northwest will be reading at Auntie's tonight. Megan Kruse, who lives in Olympia, will read from her first novel, "Call Me Home," at 7:30.

In prose that Seattle Times reviewer Wingate Packard calls "vivid, precise and promising," Kruse has written a novel about an abused woman who flees with her children from an abusive man.

"The violence in the subtly efficient language with which Kruse captures the effects of physical abuse is well-tempered by the humor and humanity in minor characters outside this family circle, whose dialogue is pitch-perfect," Packard wrote.

Kruse will be available to sign copies of her book after the reading. 

Auntie’s to host Visiting Writer Bynum on Friday

If you don't have plans for Friday evening, you might consider reading to Auntie's Bookstore for a literary reading. Sarah Shun-lien Bynum, who is appearing courtesy of Eastern Washington University's 2016-2017 Visiting Writers Series.

The 7:30 event is free and open to the public.

Bynum, who was profiled in The New Yorker, is the author of two novels: "Ms. Hempel Chronicles" and "Madeleine Is Sleeping." Her short fiction appears in a variety of publications, including — again — The New Yorker.

In its review of "Madeleine Is Sleeping," Publishers Weekly called it a "remarkable debut" and added that "Replete with Kafkaesque metamorphoses, Freudian fantasies, Aesopian justice and religious metaphor, the novel is equal parts fairy tale, fable, romance and bildungsroman."

Nothing better than a good old bildungsroman.

Auntie’s to honor Washington Book Award winners

Above: Sharma Shields, author of "The Sasquatch Hunter's Handbook."

For a couple of years in the early '90s, I had the honor of serving on a committee to choose what was then called the Governor's Writers Awards. Now dubbed the Washington State Book Awards, the process retains pretty much the same intent: to honor "outstanding books published by Washington authors the previous year."

Two of the area authors who won awards during my tenure were John Keeble for his nonfiction book "Out of the Channel: The Exxon Valdez Oil Spill in Prince William Sound" and Ursula Hegi for her novel "Floating in My Mother's Palm."

The most recent area winner was Sharma Shields for her book "The Sasquatch Hunter's Handbook." The fiction winner in 2015 was Bruce Holbert for "The Hour of Lead," while the the poetry award went to Tod Marshall (now the Washington State Poet Laureate) for his collection "Bugle."

On Friday from 7 to 8:30 p.m., Auntie's Bookstore will recognize all the area winners who have won state book awards over the years. Expected to attend, among others, are Shields, poet Marshall, Mary Cronk Farrell, Gregory Spatz, Nance Van Winckle, Shann Ray, Paul Lindholdt and Bill Youngs.

The event is free and open to the public. And I imagine some books will be for sale. It'd probably be a good idea to buy one. Or three.

Hiding out in Hillyard: Kate McLachlan reads tonight

Like many public school teachers, Kate McLachlan hit a patch in which — these are her words — "she developed a case of temporary insanity." Her main symptom, however, was unique: She entered law school.

McLachlan gradually recovered her senses. And she didn't just trade grading papers for writing legal briefs. She also began writing fiction, the most recent example of which she will be reading on this frigid evening at Auntie's Bookstore.

"Alias Mrs. Jones," which was released Sept. 30, is set in 1902 Spokane, specifically the neighborhood of Hillyard (McLachlan lives in Eastern Washington). It involves a woman who, in her attempts to hide her true identity, takes a job as a teacher — something she knows nothing about. But even as she begins a relationship with a woman doctor, a murderer is on her trail. Who can she trust? (For a more complete preview, click on the embed below.)

McLachlan has written a number of books in various genres, including two in a time-travel series ("Rip Van Dyke" and "Rescue at Inspiration Point") and "Return of an Impetuous Pilot" (which won a Goldie Award).

McLachlan is an interesting story in herself. In this 2014 interview, she explains her period of "temporary insanity" and how it led her to become the author she is.

As usual, the reading is free and open to the public. And, one hopes, the streets will be clear. Located at the corner of Main and Washington, Auntie's is — of course — situated right next to the Davenport Grand Hotel.

Skoog will run the red lights at Auntie’s tonight

It's barely past Thanksgiving and Christmas is already in the air. Lights are up in neighborhoods across the city, TV ads feature all shapes and sizes of Santa Claus and every business is offering some sort of holiday discount.

So, yes, Christmas is coming. It's only natural, then, that I should share a link to a poem titled "The Carolers.

The poem was written by Ed Skoog, a poet who will be reading at 7 tonight at Auntie's Bookstore. A native of Kansas, Skoog earned a MFA from the University of Montana and is the author of both chapbooks and full-length collections (such as 2013's "Rough Day").

Skoog will be reading from his new book, "Run the Red Lights." Sounds like something that might make a good gift.

For Christmas. 

Veterans Day: a time to remember, reflect

Tomorrow is Veterans Day, which is the day we set aside for — as the quote goes — "honoring those who serve."

All too often, that intent — honoring the men and women who serve — gets mixed up with the mission that they are duty bound to tackle. It's an age-old conundrum for those of us who have seen enough of war, sort of like loving the person but hating the crime.

If the past is any indication — and it typically is — too many celebrations tomorrow will focus on glamor and glory instead of on the grief that war causes, on the loss and horror and wrenching sadness.

Too many celebrations will involve waving the flag and singing songs and feeling the kind of pride that I did when I stood and recited the Pledge of Allegiance in third grade.

I, however, will do something different. I will silently and reverently remember those who served with me during the Vietnam War, and I will grieve the loss of the 58,220 Americans who lost their lives there, plus the million or more Southeast Asians who also died.

And I will read, again, Mark Twain's "The War Prayer." For a transcribed copy, click here.

If reading the words of one of America's national literary masters is too much for you, click on the embed below. It's an animated version of Twain's story, and its meaning applies as much today as it did more than a century ago when it was written.

Busy poet laureate Marshall speaks at Shadle

Above: A ballot box sits in front of the Shadle Branch of the Spokane Public Library

Tod Marshall gets around. Washington State's Poet Laureate not only has a day job as a professor of English at Gonzaga University, but he continues to write poetry when he can — that is, in between teaching, grading papers and making public appearances as part of his laureate duties.

Marshall will make another of several regional appearance tonight at 6 at the Shadle Branch of the Spokane Public Library. His topic: "Great Poems That Tell Tales," which is a shorthand way of talking about "poets who use narrative effectively."

In past posts involving Marshall I've included poems of his. This time I'm including a link to an interview that Marshall gave to fellow poet and teacher Yusef Komuntakaa for the Poetry Foundation.

It's called "Every Tool Became a Weapon." Here's an excerpt that seems apt on this day before a presidential election:

"Certain blacks and whites during the 1960s and 1970s went into the streets and forced change here in the United States. We must accept this: numerous oppressive laws wouldn’t have changed in this country if some progressive-thinking people hadn’t put their lives on the line in the name of freedom and change. That’s recent history."

Enjoy bedtime with Kenn Nesbitt on Saturday

One of the tasks of a parent is to make sure the kids get to bed. As any parent can tell you, it's seldom easy.

Which is one reason to applaud the work of writers such as Kenn Nesbitt. A former Children's Poet Laureate, an honor bestowed by the Poetry Foundation, Nesbitt has written several collections of poems aimed at children. He has performed them in front of audiences all over the country.

At 7 p.m. on Saturday, at Auntie's Bookstore, Nesbitt will appear with his new book — "One Minute Till Bedtime: 60-Second Poems to Send You Off to Sleep" — along with several other contributors. Among others scheduled to read with Nesbitt: Chris Cook and Verla Kay.

The reading might be past the bedtime of those youngest readers out there. Then again, it might be just the antidote for those young readers who keep their parents up till all hours.

Note: An earlier version of this post mistakenly listed this event as occurring on Friday.

Poet Laureate Marshall to read on South Hill

Above: The South Hill Public Library is a comfortable place to read.

If you've never heard of Tod Marshall, now's your chance — both to hear of him and from him.

For the record, Marshall is the Poet Laureate of Washington State. He also is a professor of English at Gonzaga University. That's who he is. What he has to offer, besides a body of poetry, is a lecture on "Great Poems That Tell Tales," which he will deliver at 6 tonight at the South Hill Public Library.

Here is a sample of a Marshall poem titled "First World Concerns":

Parking. Carbon. Peak oil. Free Range. What gets hard
and with what frequency, whether to turn off cable
and just stream. The second world is populated by bad habits:
worry, impatience, fill in the blank. The third world
is the body, what is felt in the blood, vulnerable girl or boy.
The fourth world is what the squirrel, the sparrow,
the skunk might do: to squirrel, to sparrow, to spray
smelly scent all over offenders, the many offenders.
The fifth world is everyone’s search engine history,
that stale air. There is no sixth world, only the imperative
to gather six things and keep them safe. Really safe.
See if you can. See if you can hold them and still run
fast enough. See if you can leave the rest at the curb.
Have faith: a seventh worlder will arrive to haul it away.

Tonight's reading is free and open to the public.