Posts Tagged ‘Sarah Lawrence College’

Back to Sarah Lawrence College

Saturday, October 13th, 2012

Heading back to Sadie Lou, my old alma mater. Should be fun. And all because of one of the finest, unsung heroes of that place of higher learning: Charling (Sha) Fagan, head of the Sarah Lawrence College library.

Whatever Sha asks me to do, I will do. She is special.



Wednesday, June 13th, 2012

First wave of readings for BUDDHALAND BROOKLYN are coming in. Here the roll out so far.

Thursday, July 19
7:00 PM
Talk, Reading, Q&A, Signing
1805 Walnut Street
Rittenhouse Square
Philadelphia, PA 19103

Saturday, July 28
2:00 PM EST
Reading, Talk, Q&A, Signing
Milford Historical Society
608 Broad Street
Milford, PA 18337

August Date/Time TBA
Talk, Reading, Q&A, Signing
686 Fulton Street
Brooklyn, NY 11217

Thursday, September 20
7:00 PM CT
Talk, Reading, Q&A, Signing
811 Elm Street
Winnetka, IL 60093

September Date/Time TBA
Market Square
680 N. Western Avenue
Lake Forest, IL 60045

Sunday, October 14
7:00 PM EST
Sunday Night Fiction
85 E. 4th Street
New York, NY 10010

Lunch TBA
Talk, Reading, Q&A, Signing
40 Locust Lane
Bronxville, NY 10708

Mixing It Up In 11th Century Spain

Saturday, May 28th, 2011

The Arts Of Intimacy

I just read The Arts Of Intimacy, a fascinating book written by Sarah Lawrence College’s Dean, Jerrilynn D. Dodds, with co-authors Maria Rosa Menocal and Abigail Krasner Balbale. Not surprising the book was named as a Book Of The Year, by The Times Literary Supplement, and won the 2010 Albert C. Outler Book Prize. It’s crammed with startling information about how Spain’s Christians, Jews and Muslims lived side-by-side, their weaving cultures at times melding, opposing, and reinforcing each other in a fascinating period that runs roughly from the 10th century to the end of the 15th century (when Ferdinand and Isabella stamped out Spain’s religious pluralism during the Inquisition.)

On every page I learned something new: how Gibraltar is named after the Berber conqueror, Jabal Tariq; how the dhimma, the relatively tolerant method with which the Muslim rulers had governed the Jews and Christians during 700 years of Islamic Spanish rule, was initially adopted and adapted by the new Castilian Christian rulers; how the Mozarabs (Christians who spoke Arabic) distrusted the Catholic Alfonso VI when he retook Toledo in 1085 (they rightly feared their autonomy would be curbed) and were frequently inclined to support the parting Islamic rulers to the south.

But most of all I love this, just one example of how the living “arts” meld and mix opposing cultures: one popular and distinct form of Andalusian poetry was called “ring song,” or muwashshah in Arabic, and began with a very formal and classic verse in Arabic (or in Hebrew) before circling around to its final lines, which were usually impertinent and in a vernacular language. (That local language was usually a form of Romance, or Mozarabic, which was a local take on the Latin spread through Europe by the conquering Roman Empire almost a thousand years earlier, and a near-extinct language still spoken today by a minority of Swiss living in the Alps.) The first formal and classical stanzas of the muwashshaw were often “sung” by men waxing lyrical about a beautiful woman, and the woman finally answering, in the local tongue, with a slap-up-the-head rejoinder.

Fantastic stuff. Forgive the writer’s narcissism, but I was so taken by The Arts of Intimacy because Dodds and her co-authors are examining (albeit from a different angle) the colliding and accommodating and adapting that miraculously takes place when people of different cultures meet, that I, too, find myself exploring in my novels, The Hundred-Foot Journey and Buddhaland Brooklyn.

Coming Home To Zurich

Monday, May 9th, 2011

Richard Morais in Kindergarten at ICS, with friend Yuko, in 1966

In the 20th century masterpiece, The Magic Mountain, the great German writer, Thomas Mann, physically plays with our sense of time. He seems to be saying in this literary classic that there are moments in life that go by at such a painfully slow pace they seem like years, and then there are years that go by so fast they seem to disappear in an eye-blink. I experienced just such a Magic Mountain time-collapse last week while in Switzerland.

In 1972, at age 12, my family lived in Switzerland and that year I performed in Gilbert & Sullivan’s The Mikado, directed by the theatrically-inclined teacher Ray Wilcox, in the Primary Hall at the ICS Inter-Community School Zurich. Last week I found myself, at age 50, again “performing” in the same Primary Hall, this time to an audience of ICS students listening to me rabbit on about my life as a journalist and novelist.

As the Mikado in Primary Hall, circa 1972

Discussing writing with ICS students in Primary Hall, 2011.

I am not sure what it was – a perky girl turning her head, her ponytail swinging out, or perhaps a sad-eyed boy with shoulders slumped under the weight of teenage life – but suddenly I was not grey and balding in 2011, but a wide-eyed boy making my way down a school hall, trying to find my destiny (or at least the right classroom.)

But a little background before we proceed. My ex-pat parents (American and Canadian) were relocated from Lisbon, Portugal, to Zurich, Switzerland, in 1961. I was 10 months old at the time of our arrival in Zurich and had three older brothers. We all attended ICS in the 1960s and 1970s, and I personally went right through: from Reception at St. Andrews Church and music lessons with Mrs. Atkinson at Seefeldquai, to 3rd Grade in Regensdorf, to 7th Grade graduation from Zumikon.

I had reached this time portal in 2011 because my life as a writer actually started in Reception at ICS, when my teacher, Miss Margaret Evans, calmed us at circle time with a terrific character she herself had invented. Shirty Girty The Witch was a cross old witch who lived in a toadstool, and whenever Miss Evans regaled us with Shirty Girty adventures, made up on the spot, I was transported into a magical world. From then on, storytelling was my thing.

I eventually attended the American high school across the Lake of Zurich, and then, at age 16, left Switzerland altogether for Sarah Lawrence College in New York. Life took its natural course, and for the next 25-years I was a journalist at Forbes magazine. I have always been half European and half American, and I used this multicultural straddle to build myself a foreign correspondent’s life: My wife and I lived in London for 17 years, where I was Forbes‘s European Bureau Chief, and where our daughter was born and raised.

But we all have a destiny. Two years ago I left Forbes to pursue what I always thought was my true calling as a novelist, and I am blessed that my debut novel, The Hundred-Foot Journey, has done quite well. I suppose word got around, because on May 4th and May 5th my former teacher, Linda Kubler, arranged for me to come back to Zumikon to help celebrate ICS’s 50th Jubilee.

For two days I led writing workshops with students from Grades 6 to 10, and it was, for me at least, a deeply moving experience, possibly because I finally had what I have always wanted – a captive audience. They had to listen me.

Woohoo. The 6th Grade was working on “Myths & Legends”, and we identified traits of the Gods before collectively “writing” a story with modern characters exhibiting the same God-like attributes. With Grades 8 and 11, I told my macho war stories from the frontlines of journalism, and passed on some techniques for interviewing which they then tried out on me. (The great investigative reporters aren’t table-pounders, I pointed out, but are totally unthreatening and make the interviewee relax into revealing something they shouldn’t.) Grade 9, meanwhile, were writing their own short stories, and so I showed them how to rewrite a story, line by line.

Moved by the short stories they shared with me, earnest and sophisticated efforts well above student pay grade, I subsequently wrote detailed comments to each of the participating students. It was a privilege to be offered a glimpse of their imaginary worlds and I thought it only right that their best efforts were appropriately rewarded with my best efforts. This is not public relations puffery or alumnus ooze when I say ICS’s students struck me as extremely bright and alert and talented.

On the last evening, ICS organized an Indian dinner in the dining hall, and that night I read from The Hundred-Foot Journey, took some questions, before signing books for anyone good enough to buy my scribblings. My old friend, Ali (Moser) Frey, sat in the audience, her son now an ICS student, and Orell Füssli, the bookstore chain supplying the books, walked away from the evening very content with the number of books they moved.

Answering questions at the 2011 50th Jubilee dinner and reading

Towards the end of my delightful ICS visit, I experienced another one of those tipsy takes on time. I looked out at the dining hall and saw the regal white mane of big-hearted Ms. Kubler (Kindergarten), the high cheekbones and olive-skin of Ms. Will (3rd Grade, now Mrs. Zita), heard the infectious laugh of Ms. Marek (4th Grade, now Mrs. Stucki) rise above the butter-chicken air.

I was once again in class. This time, however, I was up at the blackboard and my teachers were sitting in the orange seats and dutifully giving me their attention. I confess it took all my restraint not to assign them some homework.

Sarah Lawrence College Comes Through

Friday, April 15th, 2011

Sarah Lawrence College

Bless Sarah Lawrence College. A double bless for its erudite and efficient librarian, Charling (Sha) Fagan.

I mentioned to Sha I was stumped about finding a Rilke poem in its German original, which in English is known as Sometimes A Man Stands Up During Supper. It had caught my imagination as a Robert Bly translation, and seemed to so well sum up my next novel, Buddhaland Brooklyn.

Literally 30 seconds later the Sarah Lawrence College librarian had the original poem at my finger tips. So here is the original, care of the fantastic Sha Fagan.

It is, despite Bly’s sensitive translation, better in German – the children of the second man are “ziehn,” which really means “drawn” or “pulled”, almost against their will. That’s better, although no question Bly caught the poem’s essence and meaning very well in English.

Manchmal steht einer auf beim Abendbrot

Manchmal steht einer auf beim Abendbrot
und geht hinaus und geht und geht und geht, –
weil eine Kirche wo im Osten steht.

Und seine Kinder segnen ihn wie tot.

Und einer, welcher stirbt in seinem Haus,
bleibt drinnen wohnen, bleibt in Tisch und Glas,
so dass die Kinder in die Welt hinaus
zu jener Kirche ziehn, die er vergaß
. -Rainer Maria Rilke

When An Audience Deserves My All

Friday, December 10th, 2010

I enjoy performing before an audience. It’s not just that I have great fun “acting” out my work; I equally enjoy the give and take with the audience. As my eye-rolling wife will tell you, I need very little encouragement to tell war stories about the writer’s life, and will happily recount in florid detail the private townhouse lunch I had with Malcolm Forbes and the Mayflower Madame. (We discussed the profit margins in the hooking business.) Or how precisely I wound up in the reclusive V. S. Naipaul’s London apartment. Or why I had a verbal dust-up with Tony Blair in his office at 10 Downing Street. It’s all part of the show and what we writers call “color.” But when someone asks me what I do exactly before a live audience, as happens on a fairly regular basis, I am usually stumped to explain it all.

No longer. I recently gave a reading at my alma mater, Sarah Lawrence College, and the school’s fantastic Director Of Libraries, Charling Fagan, just sent me a copy of the photographs taken by the house photographer, Dana Maxson. I think Maxson’s series of photographs explain what I do far better than any stuttering description I could come up with. So here’s his “story” in pictures:


Reading The Hundred-Foot Journey at Sarah Lawrence College.


Channeling the voice of my character, Abbas Haji, otherwise known as, Papa.


Having fun with the audience during the Q&A.


Schmoozing with the good folk who gave me their valuable time and bought my book.

If you are interested in booking me for a talk, please go to the bottom of the home page and click on the “Book A Reading” portal. But that’s a bit of a misnomer. After a 25 year career at Forbes, my talks tailored to each specific audience frequently include stories from the trenches of business journalism and the odd insight into the global economy. Either way, the purpose is always to entertain and inform and have some fun.

Or as they say in the clubs – Mix it up!

Sarah Lawrence College Reading

Monday, October 25th, 2010

Sarah Lawrence College

On Friday, October 29th, at 6pm I will be returning to my alma mater, Sarah Lawrence College, to give a reading celebrating the 35th Anniversary of the college’s Friends Of The Library. I received a terrific education there in Bronxville, New York, which still resonates with me 30 years later. That’s not hyperbole. The inspiration for the novel I am currently writing, Buddhaland Brooklyn, is The Year Of My Life, a slim volume of haiku and prose by the 18th century Buddhist poet-priest, Kobayashi Issa, assigned to me in Albert Sadler’s Comparative Religion course three decades earlier. (Albert Sadler took over Joseph Campbell’s spot when the mythologist retired after 38 years teaching at SLC.)

So please come help celebrate this unique institution on Oct. 29th – Sarah Lawrence has a wonderful evening planned, all free, complete with reading, Q&A, reception and book signing. Details can be found here.

Sadie Lou: Back To The Future

Thursday, September 23rd, 2010

At Sarah Lawrence College, as a young man, I studied fiction-writing with Grace Paley and Louise Rose. Both these writers – and other professors, like Albert Sadler (Comparative Religion), Charles and Gloria Carshon (Theater), and Hyman Kleinman (Literature) – all helped to shape the writer I became. Now, 30 years later, my alma mater has invited me back to give a reading from The Hundred-Foot Journey.

Specifically, I have been asked by the Friends Of The Sarah Lawrence College Library to help them celebrate their 35th anniversary. They have an elegant event planned for October 29th – a reading at the Donnelley Theatre, followed by a reception and book signing. I fully intend to give Sarah Lawrence my all, as it gave me, three decades ago.

I guess it’s an age thing – you get easily moved by the circle closing.

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