Hilton Als once called the essay “a form without a form”—a description equally applicable to his work as a staff writer and theater critic for The New Yorker, but also to his work as a curator. For this virtual studio visit, writer and editor Mary Wang will use clips from films foundational to Als’ practice to discuss the formal transgressions in his work and how such methods can help bring muddled presents into shape.*
A FORM WITHOUT A FORM—HILTON ALS IN CONVERSATION WITH MARY WANG*
Wednesday, September 23.
5 pm on the West Coast; 8 pm East Coast.
This event will be held via Zoom. To receive a link to attend, please RSVP firstname.lastname@example.org your name and the event you plan on attending.
Robert Silvers was a brilliant, demanding, funny, painstaking, and inspiring editor, a walking chronicle of postwar literary-political history, an intimidating sweetheart, and very dear to me. At the end of an editorial session, once he had identified all your piece’s weaknesses, evasions, and missed opportunities, he would close with a brusque, even peremptory, but always, somehow, hopeful, “See what can be done.” In the world according to Silvers, there was always something to be done. — Michael Chabon
The Review was an immediate success, and during first decades published Mary McCarthy on Vietnam, James Baldwin (“An Open Letter to My Sister, Miss Angela Davis”), Isaiah Berlin, Hannah Arendt, Gore Vidal, Norman Mailer, Joan Didion, Richard Hofstadter, Edmund Wilson, Susan Sontag, Noam Chomsky, I. F. Stone, W. H. Auden, and many more. Today, Zadie Smith, Yasmine El Rashidi, Zoë Heller, Janet Malcolm, Hilton Als, Darryl Pinckney, James Fenton, Colm Tóibín, and Daniel Mendelsohn continue the intellectual tradition.
Before Silvers died in 2017, Martin Scorsese and David Tedeschi filmed the editor in his domain. The resulting film—THE 50 YEAR ARGUMENT, narrated by Michael Stahlbarg—documents the history of the paper with in-person interviews and a rich selection of clips. The film is available through HBO Max and is streaming free in September, courtesy of the Review.
Performers really write with their bodies. If you give them a piece of writing, it becomes a completely different thing once it’s spoken and acted by a performer. The strange alchemy that they’re able to do has everything to do with energy and the force of their imagination…
What I love about actors, really, is that they only have their history and their observation of the world to call on. It’s actually sort of like learning how to play poker really well: you have to make that decision so quickly… They’re in touch with the cosmic reality of life and also the memory of life. In the way that writers excavate, actors embody. — HiltonAls, PARIS LA 16
LAXART and the Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens present LIVES OF THE PERFORMERS, a work-in-progress by Hilton Als.
The piece is directed by Peter Born and will be performed by Helga Davis and Victoire Charles—the Los Angeles stand-in for Okwui Okpokwasili, who was in a previous iteration.
A THOUSAND CROSSINGS—a major survey of the work of Sally Mann, organized by the NationalGallery of Art in Washington, D.C., and the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachussetts—will be at Jeu de Paume for three more weeks.
The exhibition catalog is edited by the show’s curators—Sarah Greenough and Sarah Kennel—and includes essays by Hilton Als, Malcolm Daniel, Drew Gilpin Faust, Greenough, and Kennel.
“I didn’t want to speak for black people. I wanted to speak to, and among…”
And it is shocking, in Greenfield-Sanders documentary, to come across such benighted critical voices as, say, Sara Blackburn’s in 1973, in America’s supposedly liberal newspaper of record:
“Toni Morrison is far too talented to remain only a marvelous recorder of the black side of provincial American life.”*
Removing the white male gaze as the dominant voice is a key element of Morrison’s practice, and she doesn’t hesitate calling out black writers who seemed to write to white audiences. Citing RalphEllison, she asks, “The Invisible Man? Invisible to whom?”
As a senior editor at Random House throughout the 1970s, Morrison discovered and championed books by Gayl Jones, Toni Cade Bambara, and Bettie Wysor (author of TheLesbian Myth). She also persuaded Angela Davis—then in her late twenties—to write her autobiography.
“Eventually I learned that the book she wanted to publish was the book I wanted to write… She helped me access my imagination in ways I continue to be grateful for today.” — Angela Davis
Song of Solomon (1977) was Morrison’s first best seller, and five years later she left her editor’s post to devote her time to writing and teaching. She’s professor emeritus at PrincetonUniversity, and often told her students, “I know you’ve been told, ‘write what you know.’ I don’t want you to do that. You don’t know anything.”
TONI MORRISON—THE PIECES I AM features interviews with Morrison’s friends and colleagues—Walter Mosley, Farah Griffin, Fran Lebowitz, Paula Giddings, Hilton Als, Sonia Sanchez, editor Robert Gottlieb, and Davis—as well as a rich selection of contemporary artwork by, among others, Mickalene Thomas, Jacob Lawrence, Gordon Parks, David Hammons, and Rashid Johnson.