French Reading Series at Cornelia Street Cafe

By Nicolle Elizabeth

Cornelia Street Cafe is a restaurant in the West Village of New York City that has historically been a venue for incredible works of literature to be shared. The walls are blue and lined with mirrors and there’s an old upright piano on the stage. I’ve had the opportunity to read fiction twice there now and both times it was a lot of fun.

This week “French Reading Series” night was full of people who love French literature and I was happy to see international publishing champion Jill Schoolman in the audience, and even happier when she sat next to me, and happiest when she handed me an armful of things to read this summer and graciously answered questions I hadn't prepared ahead of time, but first, let's talk about why we were there.

The Reading Series is dedicated to the sharing and enjoyment of contemporary French Literature and translation. Hosted by Lucinda Karter, this week's readers were translator, professor and International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award nominee John Cullen, reading from his translation of Stephane Audeguy's íFils Uniqueë (The Only Son). The work is a fictitious biography, both vulgar and hilarious, adolescence revealed through the eyes of a young man considering his experience with a salty interpretation. íI grew up in an atmosphere surrounded by the scent of rot,ë he read. íIt would continue as the scent for the rest of my life.ë

Alyson Waters, prolific translator, read from her translation of Albert Cossery's íUn Complot de Saltimbanquesë (A Plot of Traveling Acrobats) Described as íA conspiracy of street entertainersë by Waters, the book is dripping with gorgeous prose. íWith the courage of a condemned man, heading for the gallows…filling their lives by flaunting their brand new erotic knowledge.ë

Regis de Sa Moreira read from his novel Marie et Femme en francais with his wife Kate Grader onstage reading in English (as translated by Jeff Rubenstein). The work is about a couple who wake one morning to find one another in each other's bodies. It reminded me of the Etgar Keret story in which the protagonist’s girlfriend turns into a heavy, hairy man at night and back to a woman in daylight. Provocative and charming, it was sweet to see the couple blushing while reading together, and the text also had people in the room blushing. Now and then, surprisingly poetic parts popped up, í…so this is what has become of you. You don't know what has become of you.ë

As part of our summer reading list, and just because I thought I'd ask to share here, I asked Jill Schoolman what was forthcoming and if she had any suggestions for summer/fall reading. Ever the incredibly humble woman, not only did she give me recommendations from Archipelago, the publishing house she heads up, but she even introduced me to a friend, another íway famousë publisher in the room, who confided in me, to confide to you, that next year, we should be expecting íPoema A Fumettië or, íPoem Stripë from the cult classic, most lovely, Dino Buzzati. íA graphic novel,ë he told me, and I am expecting the release to be one of the most exciting of the year.

In the meantime, read these if you haven't already, Ms. Schoolman knows what she's talking about:

The Plants Don't Drink Coffee by Unnai Elorriaga translated from the Basque by Amaia Gabanxto (Archipelago Books, May 2009)

The Twin by Gerbrand Bakker translated from the Dutch by David Colmer (Archipelago Books, March 2009)

Voice Over by Breyten Breytenbach (Archipelago Books, April 2009)

The French Reading Series will continue at Cornelia Street the last Thursday of the month.


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