It seems we at Room 220 can’t avert our gaze even for a moment from the riveting world of books and literature in New Orleans without missing exciting new stories and developments. While we were busy stuffing our faces with Christmas fudge, playing with our shiny new toys, and sleeping in airports on the eastern seaboard waiting for the goddamned plane to get fixed, the writers kept writing, the readers kept reading, and the people who do stuff related to these activities kept on doing stuff related to these activities.
We were tickled upon our return to duty to find an excellent feature in the Columbia Journalism Review, written by local journalist Michael Patrick Welch, about Bywater denizen Joseph Makkos and his treasure trove of old Times-Picayune copies that he acquired last year from some nut on Craigslist. Said nut, who shall remain nameless, bought the collection of an estimated 30,000 sections of the Picayune, spanning 1888 – 1929, from a newspaper dealer who got them from the British Library in 1999 (where they survived Nazi firebombings, evaded capture by Nicholson Baker, and undertook other Indiana Jones-esque feats you wouldn’t expect bound printed matter to be capable of). Makkos has devised myriad machinations for the old papers, including museum exhibitions, chapbooks, and other methods of repurposing and distributing the information contained within (perhaps most importantly, he plans to create a highly usable digital archive of the papers, which doesn’t currently exist). From the first reference to the term “po’ boy” to the first female publisher of a U.S. newspaper, Makkos’ collection enfolds uncountable gems, more of which we’ll know about as soon as he gets the damned thing organized.
The English program inside Orleans Parish Prison, which Room 220 featured last year in a three–part series, got yet another nod, this time from the folks at the Prison Poetry Workshop, who produce a series of podcasts that explore “the little-known, and even less understood literary tradition of prison poetry.” The producers showed up in the midst of the OPP videotape scandal, which Sheriff Gusman shrugs off in a brief introductory interview, and then move to the classroom, where poet Mark Yakich is teaching a course on Walt Whitman . Although the podcast host’s description of why Whitman might be a person your average OPP inmate can relate to seems a bit of a stretch, at least one student expresses appreciation for the way in which the depth of “Song of Myself” yields new meanings after repeated readings. Another notes that Whitman’s cool demeanor in his cover photo makes him look like he’s got boucoup ladies.
Disappointing news came from Tchoupitoulas Street as the owner of McKeown’s Books and Difficult Music announced that the store will close at the end of January. The book shop, besides offering a solid selection of used books (and, yes, some difficult music), has served as a venue for live avant-garde musical performances since February 2005. Owner Maggie McKeown cites financial woes caused, she said, by the proliferation of e-books as the prompt for her decision. The building’s wraparound awning will likely continue to provide shade for patrons of Hansen’s Sno-Bliz, which is across the street.
As soon as we get our act together we’ll be back up and running with regular posts about new releases, literary events, and other relevant happenings around town, but for now we recommend you check out Room 220 contributor Michael Allen Zell’s appearance at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 8, at Octavia Books (513 Octavia St.) in support of his new collaboration with photographers Louviere + Vanessa, Oblivion Atlas. Room 220 will feature a review of that book in the coming weeks.