books

event musings: harvardwood: sallie bingham

When:  Wednesday, November 10, Reading at 7 p.m.
Where:  The Barclay Bar & Grill, 111 East 48th Street

Sallie Bingham and "Red Car". Photo: Martha Wade Steketee.

Harvardwood, the Harvard alumni arts organization with branches in Hollywood and New York City, hosted author Sallie Bingham at the Barclay / Intercontinental Hotel in midtown Manhattan.  An intimate and enthusiastic gathering enjoyed pampered service (the bar man came to us)  in a small room at the end of the lobby bar for a literary meeting of the minds.  Bingham, 1958 graduate of Radcliffe and writer of plays, prose, poetry, and autobiography, entertained us with readings from a recent collection of short stories and a new collection of poems.

Bingham began by reading the title story from her 2008 collection Red Car.  I purchased a copy so am able to share, accurately and with Bingham’s punctuation, an early sequence from that story that is a terrific example of prose poetry.  Human story in object in relationship. (p. 3):

“To tell the story of this car is to tell the story of marriage; not their marriage, not the marriage, but marriage as it generally happens: a state, a place, a condition that gives rise to certain thoughts and attitudes, certain conclusions.  Marriage equals the red car.”

My my.  Bingham also graced us with readings of several of her poems from a 2010 collection If In Darkness that address geography, a rose growing in a hardscrabble high desert garden, an annual marketplace, a woman’s journey, the ownership legacy of a small decorative woman’s purse.

Bingham entertained a few questions from the audience.

  • on writing in so many forms (theatre, poetry, prose, memoir)

“It takes some gall”, she noted, reflecting that most writers stay within a single field, especially when they’ve had some success.  She has always had ideas that don’t fit in any one form, that “can’t be confined in one form”.  She continued: “I am also a restless, impatient person.  It allows me to shift.”

  • on moving from the East to Santa Fe

“I had burned my bridges” and wanted a fresh start.  She noted that she wrote a memoir about this time in her life that “caused a ruckus”.  She visited  the West and its mountains, the “dry freezing cold sunlit air”, and thought “this is my place”.

  • on readings

She does not read works that are in development.  At this point, pre publication, she reflected that the work (and by extension she) is “too vulnerable”.  She doesn’t read prose and poetry until its been in print. To read earlier is “too dangerous”.   A question about whether she has similar self-prohibitions against pre-publication developmental readings of her theatrical works led her to reflect on her 2008 play A Dangerous Personality about the philosopher Helena Blavatsky (Playbill pre-production piece here: http://tinyurl.com/24zyhr8).

She closed with a reference to an archive at Duke University that is dedicated to women writers, where she will archive her own papers, the Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture.

© Martha Wade Steketee (November 11, 2010)

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