2004-2005 Writers at Rutgers Reading Series

Wesley Brown

Title: Jean Valentine
When: Wed, Oct 27 2004 | 8 PM
Where
: Rutgers Student Center. Multipurpose Room - New Brunswick
Category
: Writers at Rutgers Reading Series


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Admission: Free and open to the Rutgers community and the general public
The reading will be followed by a reception and book signing

Biography

The Writers at Rutgers Series is proud to present a reading by Wesley Brown, novelist, playwright, and English professor. The event will celebrate Professor Brown’s retirement this semester, after 26 years of teaching creative writing and literature at Rutgers.

As the author of two published novels and several plays, Brown is known for interweaving history and culture as the vivid background from which his characters come to life. His first book, Tragic Magic, is set in the 1960s. It follows the experience of a man jailed for refusing to serve in the Vietnam War, and the effect on his family and friends. Brown returns to these issues in Push Comes to Shove, a forthcoming novel that picks up the same characters later, as they struggle with a society that has become increasingly focused on violence as a means. Darktown Strutters, his second novel, is an account of the activities of Thomas Rice’s minstral show both before and after the Civil War. It describes the origin of blackface performance and the source of the “Jim Crow” stereotype in America, working to understand this important part of history by creatively reimagining it.

His new work, In the Land of Ooh Blah Dee, is a collection of interconnected short stories describing how fans of jazz change as the music they listen to transforms from big band swing to modern, solo-based jazz. “I’m interested in how people get caught up in, and shaped by, cultural changes,” Brown says. “Not just big historical shifts, but also transformations in art forms. Shakeups happen any time you challenge social or artistic conventions – and challenging conventions is a big part of what it means to be an artist. At moments like that, there’s a great feeling of exhilaration, but there’s also anxiety about what’s coming next.”

Wesley Brown is the author of two published novels, Tragic Magic and Darktown Strutters, and a novel in manuscript, Push Comes to Shove. His plays, Boogie Woogie and Booker T., Life During Wartime,A Prophet Among Them, and most recently, The Murderess, have been produced in New York and around the country. He has co-edited two anthologies of multicultural American writing, Imagining America and Visions of America. He holds an MA in creative writing and literature from The City College, CUNY, and since 1979, he has taught creative writing, American literature, and drama at Rutgers University.

Excerpt from Darktown Strutters

“I’m a tell you a story,” she said, facing the audience and standing on a portion of the rug. “It’s about a man trying to make his way but everywhere he turns the world is…”

Before Zulema could say another word, the man holding the rug yanked it. She scrambled to keep from falling and the crowd fell out laughing every time the story called for the world to be pulled out from under her. But with each character she played who was down on his luck and attacked by villains that people hissed every time she twisted her handlebar mustache, there weren’t as many laughs in the audience as before. And by the time Zulema took her final fall, the truth underneath what was funny about how she fell could only hold enough laughs to fill a cup.

Responses

Five Questions for Jean Valentine

(Questions by Kelly O’Toole)

Q1. Are there any major themes that run through the new poems in Door in the Mountain?

A1. Love, loss, the life of the spirit.

Q2. How has your writing changed over the years?

A2. My poems have gotten shorter, and I suppose more fragmentary.

Q3. To what extent do you think of your poetry as autobiographical?

A3. To some extent, but only as a starting point.

Q4. As a teacher, what advice do you give to young poets?

A4. To follow their own voice, and not be too swayed by criticism or praise.

Q5. What are you working on now?

A5. A new collection of poems – I'm about halfway along I think.