Mini Workshop #4 from “Habits of the Creative Mind”

To Read: Curiosity at Work: David Simon Pays Attention to the Disenfranchised

David Simon has excelled as a writer in many different roles: police reporter in Baltimore; author of two award-winning books, Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets and The Corner: A Year in the Life of an InnerCity Neighborhood; screenwriter for Homicide, a television series based on his book of the same title; head writer for the HBO series The Wire; and cocreator and coproducer of the HBO series Treme. In 2010, he was awarded a no-strings-attached $625,000 MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship, which the MacArthur Foundation says “is not a reward for past accomplishment, but rather an investment in a person’s originality, insight, and potential.” Not bad for a guy who graduated from the University of Maryland with a C average.

What made it possible for Simon to move from cub reporter to chronicler of the collapse of American cities? The decades Simon spent on the beat in Baltimore made him comfortable with not knowing in advance what he was going to see or hear or report: “To be a decent city reporter, I had to listen to people who were different from me. I had to not be uncomfortable asking stupid questions or being on the outside. I found I had a knack for walking into situations where I didn’t know anything, and just waiting.” Simon learned to listen closely to the people of Baltimore and to pay attention to their multiple points of view. Because of the way he listened, he fell in love with the crimeridden, impoverished city.

Why has Baltimore gone from being a major US port to a city with one of the highest murder rates in the country? This is a problem that can’t be answered in a sound bite. It takes Simon five seasons of storytelling in The Wire to bring to light the multiple variables that work together in postindustrial capitalism to create the toxic conditions in which humans are worth less and less with every passing moment, while glistening new buildings rise on Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. These rapacious economic and social forces can’t be understood in isolation; they have to be seen in action, degrading the value of the lives of gang members as well as those who work in the police force, the failing shipping industry, the city government, the public school system, and the local newspapers. Like a contemporary Charles Dickens, Simon employs a large canvas, multiple intersecting plotlines, and memorable hard-luck characters to voice his critique of the widening gap between the haves and the have-nots. In the four seasons of Treme, Simon continues exploring the fate of American cities, this time focusing on New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Looking beyond the image of New Orleans as the Big Easy, a place where the good times always roll, Simon tells stories about the city’s recovery from the hurricane through the eyes of local musicians, a neighborhood bar owner, a “Big Chief” in the Mardi Gras parades, a civil rights attorney, and a jazz musician who has made good in New York. Why does he use storytelling and not journalism or the documentary form to do this work? Simon explains: “By referencing what is real, or historical, a fictional narrative can speak in a powerful, full-throated way to the problems and issues of our time. And a wholly imagined tale, set amid the intricate and accurate details of a real place and time, can resonate with readers in profound ways. In short, drama is its own argument.” Note: The first Simon quote is from Margaret Talbot’s New Yorker article, “Stealing Life”; the second quote is from “HBO’s ‘Treme’ Creator

In the four seasons of Treme, Simon continues exploring the fate of American cities, this time focusing on New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Looking beyond the image of New Orleans as the Big Easy, a place where the good times always roll, Simon tells stories about the city’s recovery from the hurricane through the eyes of local musicians, a neighborhood bar owner, a “Big Chief” in the Mardi Gras parades, a civil rights attorney, and a jazz musician who has made good in New York. Why does he use storytelling and not journalism or the documentary form to do this work? Simon explains: “By referencing what is real, or historical, a fictional narrative can speak in a powerful, full-throated way to the problems and issues of our time. And a wholly imagined tale, set amid the intricate and accurate details of a real place and time, can resonate with readers in profound ways. In short, drama is its own argument.” Note: The first Simon quote is from Margaret Talbot’s New Yorker article, “Stealing Life”; the second quote is from “HBO’s ‘Treme’ Creator

Note: The first Simon quote is from Margaret Talbot’s New Yorker article, “Stealing Life”; the second quote is from “HBO’s ‘Treme’ Creator

Miller, Richard. Habits of the Creative Mind (Page 52). Bedford/St. Martin’s. Kindle Edition.

Essay to read and practice questions to answer: “Asking Questions”

Go to this link in Google Docs to finish #4

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1DoviJ2f-G6uUQBfKMKKpgbc5lBG76mssrWbSueRk6CI/edit

Last “All The Light We Cannot See” Book Discussion

Our last book discussion will be on Thursday the 27th. Here are some things I would like you to think about for that conversation:

    1. The narration moves back and forth both in time and between different characters. How did this affect your reading experience? How do you think the experience would have been different if the story had been told entirely in chronological order?
        2. When Werner and Jutta first hear the Frenchman on the radio, he concludes his broadcast by saying

“Open your eyes and see what you can with them before they close forever”

              (pages 48–49), and Werner recalls these words throughout the book (pages 86, 264, and 409). How do you think this phrase relates to the overall message of the story? How does it relate to Madame Manec’s question: “Don’t you want to be alive before you die?” (page 270)?
                3. Reread Madame Manec’s boiling frog analogy on page 284. Etienne later asks Marie-Laure, “Who was supposed to be the frog? Her? Or the Germans?” (page 328) Who did you think Madame Manec meant? Could it have been someone other than herself or the Germans? What does it say about Etienne that he doesn’t consider himself to be the frog?
                  4. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, a Russian writer,
                once wrote that “the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.”

All the Light We Cannot See

                is filled with examples of human nature at its best and worst. Discuss the themes of good versus evil throughout the story. How do they drive each other? What do you think are the ultimate lessons that these characters and the resolution of their stories teach us?
                5. What do you think are the themes of this book? Who was your favorite character?

 

 

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