Thursday, November 29, 2007


A colleague from the English Department (where I taught from 1997-2003) has won a literary award! Gay Gibson Cima won the 2007 Barnard Hewitt Award for her 2006 book, Early American Women Critics: Performances, Religion, Race.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Theatre review: Mojo Mickybo

It was always in the plan to include theatre reviews in this blog, but the year got away from me. Mostly I want to focus on plays based on books (to stay with the publishing theme), but I can't resist starting off with an Owen McCafferty gem that was written as a play: Mojo Mickybo. You can watch an interesting preview here, and this is a link to the theatre and a slew of reviews.
It is an absolute must that you have seen Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid before attending this play... some of the wittiest parts including the music will make absolutely no sense unless you do! I don't know why they don't emphasize this more in the play's materials, but since the story is about two boys who love the movie and transpose its hipster outlaw themes to their war-torn world in 1970 Belfast, it surely makes sense to have experienced the movie yourself. Perhaps the playwright thought everyone has seen it, and I'll grant that it was a cultural phenomenon when it came out, but many people born after 1980 probably missed it, even on video or DVD.

Overall I felt that Mojo Mickybo is less a play than an extended riff: it's a way of putting the audience in the minds of the children of Belfast. But could it or should it have been more? The actors, Christopher Dinolfo and Mike Innocenti, are spot-on, even with simulated accents (an affectation I normally loathe, but they handled it well), and director Eric Lucas demonstrates cleverness beyond mere technical skill... he drew children out of these grown men on the stage, and we seldom remembered that we were watching actors at least 20 years older than the boys they portrayed. But why did the playwright stop there? At a mere 85 minutes we have some laughs and a poignant portrait of McCafferty's Belfast to stand alongside Brian Friel's fictional Ballybeg, Roddy Doyle's Dublin, or (perhaps) Frank McCourt's Limerick (albeit with many of the same, tired stereotypes of Ma at the ironing board and Da at the pub). Now I would love to see a richer play with two full acts and substance beyond mere interest.

Should you see the play? Absolutely, if only for the great buzz of watching two talented actors in the hands of a gifted director fully embody these boys. Also, the charming and comfortable Church Street Theatre in Dupont Circle charges an entirely humane $25 rather than the nosebleed ripoff prices of some other DC theatres I could name, and that sanity in pricing should be rewarded with full houses. But what will you get out of it besides a sense that the playwright is really onto something, and ought to expand that idea? Please see it and comment here with your thoughts.

There is no such thing as literary competition

When creating trade book proposals, it is standard to include a "competition" section examining other similar books in the marketplace and demonstrating that there is room for yours. The concept of competition is an especially keen one in the university press world, where scholars are supposed to make original contributions to their various fields. Authors are urged to check Forthcoming Books in Print and make sure that nothing too close to their topic is on its way. A gap in the literature is supposed to indicate room for a new title.

I beg to disagree, however, and now Harvard University Press has offered some backup. According to Publisher's Weekly, HUP originally planned to publish Jeremi Suri's Kissinger and the American Century this fall. But last Spring they moved the pubdate earlier. Why? To capitalize on the appearance of a HarperCollins title by Robert Dallek, Nixon & Kissinger: Partners in Power.

Conventional wisdom would say "Oh no! Competition! Two Kissinger books in one season!" But HUP knew better. Books tend to sell each other by demonstrating the viability of a market. Interested readers may want to pick up both titles. Booksellers have an easier time displaying multiple titles, and so-called competing publishers can even team up and share the cost of in-store displays. Apparently HUP also hoped that Suri and Dallek would be invited onto the same talk shows. You can even buy the books together at a combined discount on
If you have a big book planned and then you learn to your horror that another one is coming out from a competing publisher, relax. Or better yet, pop some champagne. No two scholars will ever write the same book anyway, and literary company is a fine excuse to make a new friend of the other author and combine your resources to promote your books together.