Sunday, January 29, 2012

[Interview] Elizabeth Wood

Elizabeth Wood - head of digital publishing at Worldreader, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting literacy in the developing world by bringing books to all using e-books - talks about how authors and publishers are making e-books available to readers in rural Africa:

What motivates Worldreader?

As you know, many people in rural parts of Africa have limited access to books. Using new technology (e-books, e-readers, mobile phones, etc), we can provide people in the developing world with access to hundreds of thousands of books and stories.

Worldreader currently has e-reader programs in schools in Ghana and Kenya. This week, we began an e-reader program in Uganda, and soon we kick off in Rwanda.

If efforts to find new ways to bring more books to more people, Worldreader is testing a reading application for mobile phones, that will work on almost any mobile phone thanks to our partner biNu’s technology that turns feature phones into smart phones. As mobile penetration continues to grow in the developing world, this could be a way for millions of folks to have access to books.

Where are the e-books you are making accessible in this manner coming from?

Many international publishers and authors are donating the use of their e-books to our e-reader programs. These publishers include Random House and Penguin. Recently Puffin in the UK decided to allow our kids access to Roald Dahl's brilliant e-books - a huge win for us and for our kids!

We also aim to give people in Africa access to great African writers, both of yesterday and today. We partner with local publishers across Africa, digitizing their books and using them in our programs.

And we partner directly with African authors. We are fortunate to have Chika Unigwe, Meshack Asare, Brian Chikwava, Jackee Batanda and other great African authors donating work to our programs. And we'd love to add more African writers to this list!

If there are writers out there who are are interested in taking part in the programme, what should they do?

One way to get involved would be to contribute one or more short stories - which we would publish digitally and send to the e-readers in our programs. We will pay for conversion costs, which are minimal, so there is no cost to an author. In 4 or 6 weeks' time, we could have our students reading your work!

For example, Chika Unigwe contributed 6 short stories, which we published as a collection of stories. Although the collection of short stories is available to folks in the USA at 99 cents, it is given free of charge to students and teachers in our programs across Africa and will be available free of charge on the book reading application for mobile phones.

In your view, how has this project affected people who have had access to it?

We are passionate about the project and we are already seeing clear proof that our programs are working to improve literacy. The kids in Ghana who have had e-readers for the past year are spending 50% more time reading, and they have improved dramatically in reading fluency and comprehension.

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Updated: February 9, 2012

Thursday, January 12, 2012

[Interview] Mathias B. Freese

Mathias B. Freese lives in Henderson, Nevada in the United States. He has worked as a teacher and a psychotherapist and has been writing for over 42 years.

His books include a Holocaust novel, The i Tetralogy (Wheatmark, 2005); a collection of short stories, Down to a Sunless Sea (Wheatmark, 2008); the mixture of memoir and essay, This Mobius Strip of Ifs (Wheatmark, forthcoming) and a second collection of short stories, I Truly Lament (___, forthcoming).

In this interview, Freese talks about his writing:

When did you decide you wanted to be a writer?

In 1968 I wrote a short article, “Is Content Enough?” for an education journal of some note. It was my first publication, but not a literary one, although I devoted a few months to perfecting the article. I had no idea that I would become a writer, much like I had no idea that I would become a psychotherapist, or have children, or lose my wife in an accident. Often such happenings are made randomly or we just walk into them. Much of life is a wild run through a corn field like Cary Grant in North by Northwest.

By 1974 I was listed in The Best American Stories of 1974, with such writers as Joyce Carol Oates, Isaac Bashevis Singer, John Hawkes, etc.

Me?

Martha Foley, who had edited Hemingway, among others, was the editor and through a series of errors my name was mixed up with H. T. Kirby Smith, a poet. To make a long story very short, Mensa Bulletin, 2011, just published my award-winning essay, “To Miss Foley, With Gratitude,” which is the tale behind “Herbie,” the first story of note that I ever had published, and credit given to Kirby-Smith. That’ll show you.

As I look back, it was a terrific gift to a new writer. To know you’re good at something doesn’t mean you have to hear it from others. The inner-directed writer needs no acclaim.

As an English teacher I wrote stories during lunch breaks, study halls, during the evenings late into the night and over the week-ends; my trusty second-hand Smith-Corona was repaired several times as the letter “e” got an intense battering. Rejections were rife, but as an autodidact I continued to self-learn. I had to feed my family and had no time for "conferences", and all that folderol.

I made a promise to myself during these difficult years as a husband, father and as a teacher who loathed the mediocrity in high schools, that whatever stories I could not get published I would publish someday. I waited about 30 years for that to happen. In 2008, I self-published Down to a Sunless Sea and won the Finalist Indie Excellence Award. I persevered. I am the turtle behind the turtle racing against the hare. Think on this for a moment and you can get a handle on me!

How would you describe your writing?

All my writing is visceral and passionate. I favor the passion of the mind as well as that of the soul.

As to my "target audience", that is part of the marketing world and I do not respond to that at all. I have always written for myself, believing that if I do it well the person reading it will connect to me. I have a conversation always with myself. Apparently some people like that.

All literature is an internet among people. To understand this about me is to understand why I take risks and dare in my writing. What I really do know is that fearlessness makes for authenticity in writing. I do not write to be remembered. I write in the now and for the interaction and discussion it might bring about. I have my close ones to remember me. In short, I write to give off my scent.

Which authors have influenced you the most?

Authors have not influenced me. I read to be moved.

Kazantzakis’s The Last Temptation of Christ and his Saint Francis are intensely, vividly splendored works; his Report to Greco is one of the great confessionals of the last century. His existential epitaph has served as a guiding light for me: “I hope for nothing. I fear nothing. I am free.” He wrote a two volume sequel to The Odyssey in verse and by all accounts he equalled Homer.

Have your own personal experiences influenced your writing in any way?

In all my writing I try to make the reader feel – as a psychotherapist with over two decades experience, in this culture we are conditioned not to feel.

Having lost a wife in a horrific automobile accident, my daughter being terribly wounded but surviving, her boyfriend dead, and the early death of an older daughter by her own hand have devastated my life and all of this has impacted upon my writing. What is that impact? To weigh carpe diem with tempus fugit on a moment to moment basis, to live in the moment, right now, to deprogram myself of this rather decadent society’s need to swallow us up through conditioning. I step aside and askance of the writer’s world, for often new writers sell their souls very early on. Older writers as well. I revel in being a stranger in a strange land; in America I am an ex-pat.

What are your main concerns as a writer?

I really don’t have main concerns as a writer. I don’t view myself as a "writer". I am Matt who happens to write. Being a writer is a role and with that comes all kinds of delusions and mischief. I am not my occupation! I do my best at what I am doing, no more, no less. I strive not to write a glorious sentence. If anything, I struggle to engage you, the reader, to shake you, turn you upside down, rub your face in my own grit. I teach you nothing. I observe.

In my graphic and violent Holocaust novel, The i Tetralogy, the work of a lifetime, I engage the inherent violence of this species-devastating event, the lens through which we all can observe man. As a psychotherapist, writer and human being I struggle for two things:
  1. to see 
  2. to struggle to be psychologically free.
The triumvirate for me is – Krishnamurti, a remarkable spiritual teacher, Kazantzakis, and Freud.

Do you write everyday?

There are no rules for me as a writer. I think in fractals. I write when I am moved to do so. I spent years learning the craft and am still a novice. The serendipitous consequences of being self-taught is that one may venture into areas loaded with landmines and emerge safely, perhaps wisely so. To write 500 words a day or more does not a writer make. Ask Homer, ask Joyce, ask Dickens. Thank god they never went off to schools to learn how to write.

I believe with conviction that the very next book I will write is already being assembled in my unconscious. My unconscious has rarely failed me; indeed, I get really excited when it makes its appearance in my writing and I go on for pages. When I teach writing, I urge students to tap into that, to not censor it.

I wrote an early version of i in about one week; it entirely poured out of me. It was a remarkable event and changed everything in how I approach writing. In short, I channel it all.

How many books have you written so far?

As to the books I have written, The i Tetralogy (Wheatmark, 2005) explores the relationship between victim and perpetrator during the Holocaust in great depth as well as the relationship between the perpetrator and his own family in the States after the war, where he fled to. Very intense and graphic, it has been described as both “pornographic and holy.” High praise in my eyes since it was reviewed by a survivor.

Down to a Sunless Sea (Wheatmark, 2008) is a collection of stories dealing with the deviant and damaged. Duff Brenna, novelist and editor, considered it Proustian.

At this time I have two books readied for publication:

I Truly Lament is a collection of short stories about the Holocaust, ten of them published last year to my joy. I can never let go of the Holocaust, although I am not a survivor.

This Mobius Strip of Ifs will be published in early January 2012 and is a series of related essays over the past four decades of my life, a kind of Bilsdungroman of my psychological life as a writer, spiritual seeker, teacher and curmudgeon. It is a mixture of memoir and essay, with me breaking the rules again. It is my happiest effort in years. Not bad for this 71 year old.

To come full circle, the essay on Miss Foley leads off the collection for it is emblematic of my experience as a writer. I self-published the book and I find Wheatmark more than capable of producing a fine product. Working with the editor is for me a growing experience, not something to resist. After all, the whole art of writing, for me, comes down to revising. When you revise, you sharpen who you are.

The Mobius Strip of Ifs is a compelling compilation of observations, psychological insights, and reminiscences for those possessing the requisite courage to feel and think, to struggle against cultural conditioning, and to create artistically inspite of an environment that impedes the awakening of intelligence. I summed it up: “Although we are passing ephemera, human lint on this planet in transit, it is a powerful and nourishing feeling for me to have paused long enough to have observed the passage of time and my place in it.”

What will your next book be about?

At this time my next effort is at the starting gate.

I Truly Lament is a varied collection of stories, inmates in death camps, survivors of these camps, disenchanted Golems complaining about their tasks, Holocaust deniers and their ravings, and collectors of Hitler curiosa (only recently a few linens from Hitler’s bedroom suite went up for sale!) as well as an imagined interview with Eva Braun during her last days in the bunker.

The intent is to perceive the Holocaust from several points of view. An astute historian of the Holocaust has observed that it is much like a train wreck, survivors wandering about in a daze, sense and understanding, for the moment, absent. No comprehensive rational order in sight.

I am seeking to find a publisher for this.

In the meanwhile, I will be entering contests.

What would you say has been your most significant achievement as a writer?

The most significant achievement as a writer, you ask, makes me reply: It is in the totality of who I am. I work on myself to hope for nothing, to fear nothing, so that I can be free.

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