Carmela Ciuraru in conversation with Andy Hunter
1. Evidence: Andy and (Russell) Brandy. 2. Andy and Carmela announcing the winners of the pseudonym contest.
There’s some college nostalgia going around in this July heat. First, I’m trying to figure out what to do with Google+ like I was trying to figure out what to do with Facebook freshman year. Then, someone sent me this unprompted, and if that doesn’t make you yearn for a Bud Light purchased with your old fake ID, then move along and pay no heed to the misty-eyed Outlet contributor on your way. Finally, capping this month on Lake Wobegon’s campus, Carmela Ciuraru and Andy Hunter sent me, along with a standing room-only crowd, back to the classroom (in a good way) last Wednesday.
Ciuraru and Hunter overtook the lower level of McNally Jackson on Wednesday night to talk about the stuff inside Ciuraru’s new book Nom de Plume: A (Secret) History of Pseudonyms. She is the editor of two poetry anthologies, a graduate of Columbia’s journalism school (roar, Lions, roar), and a past or current contributor to a long list of jealousy-inducing news publications including the Times (NY and LA, natch) and the WSJ. If the conversation was true to the content, her latest book is wicked smart and maniacally researched. It is a sixteen-story compilation of writers whose bylines belied their identities, making it worthy of a place on the syllabus of almost every English class you ever wanted to take. The writers Ciuraru chose to profile range from the pre-feminist feminist Brontë sisters (somber); to the cross-dressing George Sand (fun); to the fun-turned-somber Frenchman Romain Gary, who won the Prix Goncourt twice (not supposed to happen), once as himself and again as pseudonym Émile Ajar, and died by his own hand in 1980. Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa had dozens of “heteronyms,” as he called them, who corresponded with each other and occasionally disagreed on the quality of one another’s work. Ciuraru was unfailingly articulate in relaying every account, and Andy (sorry Andy, “Hunter” seems so cold for Dish) was the perfect host: thoughtful questions, valuable comments, seemingly not distracted by the looming portrait of Russell Brand on the cover of My Booky Wook in direct sightline. The intelligent conversation was followed by intelligent questions and everyone politely waited for a lull before refilling their cheese plates.
1. Just two photogenic literary people hanging out on a Wednesday. 2. Nikolina Nedelkkova and Adrian Saich, both of whom won prizes for pseudonyms they don’t really need, since they both have already great names.
In fact, it seemed the whole event would all be very composed and grown-up, when Ciuraru unexpectedly announced a contest that was “not mandatory, but it is required.” She handed out index cards and everyone was instructed to submit their best pseudonym for judgment (and prizes!). Among the winners: Bob Birdbody, Ebenezer Layne, Sasha Raskolnikov, Aroline Marshbloom, and Jiggles McGee.
1. Peter Miller, Julia Hyland Bruno, and Brian Gittis, the last an FSG and recent contributor to the Paris Review Daily. 2. Winner for pseudonym Cardamom Black, because if she had twins she’d name them Cardamom and Saffron.
This is where I would normally try for charming thematic closure, but normally I’m not trying to follow the name Jiggles McGee, so let’s leave it at that, shall we?
-Kai Twanmoh is a sometimes regular contributor to Electric Dish.