New York State Writers Institute

Martin Nakell
October 17, 2001

4:15 p.m. Reading

Humanities 354
UAlbany, Uptown Campus

Poet and fiction writer Martin Nakell has published poetry, The Myth of Creation (Parentheses Writing Series), a chapbook of fiction, Ramon, and the novels The Library of Thomas Rivka (Sun & Moon Press) and Two Fields That Face & Mirror Each Other (2001, Sun & Moon Press). Winner of the Gertrude Stein Award in Poetry for 1996-199 and an NEA Interarts Grant, he was also a finalist for the America' s Award in Fiction, 1997 (for The Library of Thomas Rivka), a finalist in the New American Poetry Series for 1999.

Nakell has published poetry and fiction extensively in journals, including recent publications of poetry in Proliferations (San Francisco), Ribot (Los Angeles), ReMap (Boston and Los Angeles), and fiction in Literal Latte (New York), Hanging Loose (New York), Hyper Age (San Francisco), Subvoicity (London). Three chapters from Two Fields That Face and Mirror Each Other have been published in literary journals, including Washington Review and Onyx.

He has held fellowships from the Fine Arts Work Center, Provincetown (poetry), from the Blue Mountain Center (fiction and screenwriting), from Writers and Books (poetry and fiction), from the State University of New York at Albany; he has received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, from Chapman University, from the University of California. He was a panelist for the America Awards in fiction for 1998, a panelist for the Los Angeles Arts Commission in 1999, and serves on the panel of the " 100 Most Important Books of the Twentieth Century" for The Encyclopedia of Twentieth Century Literature of The Contemporary Arts Educational Project, Inc. Recently, Visual Poetics, Inc., a Los Angeles film company, optioned three of his short stories (Ramon; Thomas; Monsieur B., the Irish Poet), for a film entitled A Heisenberg Trilogy.

Martin Nakell earned a Doctorate of Arts from the State University of New York at Albany, and is Professor of Literature at Chapman University, and Visiting Professor in Creative Writing at the University of California at San Diego.

"I very much admire the diversity and accomplishment of [Nakell's] writing projects. He is certainly a very engaging poet and his prose seems to me a solid complement in every way to that same work."(and of The Library of Thomas Rivka) ". . .an impressive and very engaging book!" - Robert Creeley

"...Nakell is a most accomplished writer of fiction and poetry." - William Kennedy

"What gives it its relentless will to penetrate the mysteries of our lives while at the same time never pretending to know what it does not know," and that in the work "the universe of the story, unlike those of the old traditional well made story, is suddenly more complex than [the reader] had realized." - Eugene Garber

" though very modern; it maintains its points of interest in older texts...and in history. The author of these books is learned...even when the book is concerned with domestic and working matters. There is a detached, almost translator-like tone to the telling that never spills into irony or skepticism, although it is poised to do so." - Fanny Howe on The Library of Thomas Rivka

" With humor, a versatile writing style, and a thoughtful approach to reading and knowledge, The Library of Thomas Rivka is one of the better examples of contemporary fiction," - The Front Table

" is a unique and fascinating work that could well serve as a template for others." - The Bookwatch

Two Fields That Face and Mirror Each Other

The novel takes place in a day and a night.

During the day, Grey Hunt, a politically radical lawyer in New York who grew up in rural Michigan, sits on the porch of his parents' Michigan house in a self-styled vigil, meditating on the things that have troubled him lately. He remembers the funeral the day before of his childhood friend, George Klimitas, who died a violent death after getting involved with a rural White Supremacist group, White Storm. During his vigil on the back porch of his family home, Grey often thinks about a trial in New York in which he is defending a member of a group of mostly black revolutionaries who, in the midst of a bank robbery staged to support their cause, killed two people and were caught. And, Grey wonders about his complex relationship with his girlfriend, Gloriana.

The legal case involving the black revolutionary group is based on an event which took place in upstate New York in 1980. The group at one time had support from major political figures in America, but steadily veered toward violence. Grey is struggling with the righteousness of the political cause against the violence of the political action.

Grey's family owns the farmland surrounding the family house, and leases some of that land to a local farmer. As Grey Hunt sits on the back porch meditating, he leads the life Grey might have led, a life Grey still imagines to be a more simple, rural farm life.

Grey Hunt's girlfriend, Gloriana, is a theater director. They live together on East 6th Street in New York City. Gloriana, who works with masks in the theater, owns a large collection of masks which line the walls of their apartment. Gloriana's love of masks plays into one of the novel's central themes, the flittering presence and/or absence of identity .

During the night of the novel, beginning at 4 o'clock on the afternoon of July 1, 1981, Gloriana, feeling restless, leaves her apartment. She wanders Manhattan thinking of various issues which recur for her. She wonders about the source of her own restlessness. She is unsure about certain central aspects of her relationship with Grey. Much of the novel involves Gloriana's inquiries into life as she wanders Manhattan that evening and that night. Manhattan offers ample material to stimulate Gloriana's meditations, as it also offers ample opportunities to engage with different people. Gloriana gets involved in one situation after another--with a homeless guy, with a Jewish mystic, with a Guatemalan immigrant, with her friend Mariel, with a photographer .

At the end of her nighttime journey, Gloriana spontaneously boards a train to go join her boyfriend. Thus, as Grey sits still on the porch in Michigan, Gloriana moves towards him.

Several pairs of fields face and mirror each other in the novel. Some of them are concrete, like rural Michigan and urban New York City, some are basic human qualities, such as female (Gloriana) and male (Grey), some are political, like the anti-racist violence of the revolutionaries Grey is defending vs. the racist violence of the midwestern white supremacists George Klimitas joined. Some of these fields are more philosophical and abstract (although grounded in character and event), such as reason and passion (one of Gloriana's obsessions), order and chaos (one of Grey's obsessions), identity and emptiness. Some of them are more novelistically structural, like stasis and movement.

Two Fields is written in many voices. The three main characters, Gloriana, Grey Hunt, and Farmer John each have a voice of interior monologue, while Gloriana and Grey each have a third-person narrative voice. The novel itself has a voice of first-person past-tense narrative, third person past-tense narrative, second-person present-tense narrative, a voice as poem, and, at one part, as a play. Furthermore, there are silences in the novel where no one speaks.

Each of these voices at times works alone, while at times they interact, intersect, and overlap.

Thus the novel, made of fragmented parts and voices, is made continuous by the narrative of Gloriana's wandering, the progression of Grey's and Farmer John's meditations, the interweaving of event, voice, character, theme, and setting. Each of these elements has at times a more realistic aspect, at times a mythical aspect, at times a surrealistic aspect. The action of the novel in one important sense concerns the inter/action of these voices, these people, and the things that concern and affect them.

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