The Vermont Arts Council awards Rita Banerjee a Creation Grant for her new memoir and manifesto on female cool

The Vermont Art Council announces that Rita Banerjee is among the 23 outstanding writers and artists who received a Creation Grant, one of its most sought-after award this year. The grant is funded in partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts, state, and private donors. Banerjee received a Creation Grant to support the creation of her memoir and manifesto of how female “cool” subverts social, sexual, and economic pressure. Recently, one of the opening chapters of Banerjee’s book “Birth of Cool” was named a Notable Essay in the Best American Essays 2020. Here is more information about her memoir-in-progress:

In Rita Banerjee’s new memoir and manifesto, she demonstrates that for women, and especially young women of color, keeping one’s cool is a psychic shield against social trauma.  Cultivating female cool is what allows women to subvert social, sexual, and economic pressure.  The memoir follows Banerjee as she keeps her cool through 9/11, the 2008 and 2020 stock market crashes, #MeToo, Trumpism, and the pandemic, and in doing so, finds her own agency and self-expression.

Among this year’s Creation Grant winning proposals are works that span visual arts, literary arts, dance, music, film, and multidisciplinary fields, including a music video exploring unjust land ownership for African Americans; a nonfiction book tracing five generations beginning in Iran and ending in Vermont; a tintype photography series capturing Vermont women and aging; and several works exploring social justice themes.

Artistic excellence is the most important criteria in evaluating an application for this highly competitive award. A record 202 applications were received for the FY2022 program, collectively requesting a total of $808,000.

The Council typically has funding to support approximately 12-15% of requests for the annual grant. But thanks to the Vermont Community Foundation’s Arts Endowment Fund, along with generous contributions from Vermont Performance Lab and individual donors, the Council was able to provide eight additional Creation Grants this year.

Recipients were selected by two independent panels comprised of 28 practicing Vermont artists and arts professionals. Applicants could submit audio or video files for their proposals in place of written applications.

“The range of artistic talent in Vermont takes my breath away,” said Vermont Arts Council Executive Director Karen Mittelman. “We are pleased that new partnerships and generous private donations — so vital in this pandemic year — have enabled us to support the creative endeavors of twenty-three outstanding artists.”

For more information about the Creation Grant program, visit https://www.vermontartscouncil.org/grants/artists/creation

Rita Banerjee’s “Birth of Cool” about 9/11 named Notable Essay in The Best American Essays 2020

Rita Banerjee’s essay “Birth of Cool,” which appeared in the Silence & Power issue of Hunger Mountain, was recently named a Notable Essay in The Best American Essays 2020 edited by André Aciman.

“Birth of Cool” is a braided essay about 9/11, love, coolness, and the death of her grandfather, her first icon of “cool.” In “Birth of Cool,” Rita Banerjee examines her growing infatuation with everything styled and aestheticized. She investigates how 9/11 signaled the death of irony, but not of cool, which she imparts from her idols, from Miles Davis and Jimi Hendrix to MTV and Jon Stewart. In “Birth of Cool,” Banerjee explains why she chose a life of aesthetics, style, and emotional distance over that of politics, righteousness, and explicit social engagement.  In this essay, she confronts her own agency and observes how her own sense of cool is birthed as a coping mechanism against social trauma.

You can read “Birth of Cool” online on Hunger Mountain here:
https://hungermtn.org/birth-of-cool-rita-banerjee/

You can read the print version of “Birth of Cool” by order Hunger Mountain, Issue 23: Silence & Power here: https://hungermtn.submittable.com/submit/68385/purchase-back-issue

Join Rita Banerjee’s Workshop on “Emotion & Suspense in Theatre, Poetry, and (Non)fiction” at the Ruth Stone House * October 2 & 10, 2021 * Online

Rasa

Emotion & Suspense in Theatre, Poetry, and (Non)Fiction
Saturday, October 2 & Sunday, October 10, 2021 * 1:00-4:00 pm EDT
Ruth Stone House | Online

Plato argues that human behavior flows from three main sources: desire, emotion, and knowledge. And before staging Kalidasa’s The Recognition of Śākuntalā, the director challenges his actress-lover: “As though in a painting, the entire audience has had their emotion colored through your melody. So now—what shall we perform to sustain the mood?” In this class, we will explore how creating vivid emotional worlds between characters and within storylines can build suspense, sustain drama, and lure the reader deeper in. If you’re currently working on a short story, novel, screenplay, theatrical play, lyrical essay, memoir, or narrative poem which has a unique emotional landscape, come stop by the Ruth Stone House for our next online creative writing workshop led by Rita Banerjee on October 2 and October 10, 2021. Students will read Rita Banerjee’s article, “Emotion and Suspense: The Essence of Rasa Theory” from Poets & Writers Magazine, do in-class writing exercises centering rasa, emotion, and suspense, and share out their work with classmates. Register at the Ruth Stone House. Workshop Fee: $150 for 2 Sessions.

Rita Banerjee joins the South Asian Avant-Garde as an Editor-at-Large

Rita Banerjee joins the South Asian Avant-Garde, an international collective of South Asian artists, writers, designers, filmmakers, and activists, as an Editor-at-Large. The SAAG Collective is currently producing the South Asian Avant-Garde: A Dissident Literary Anthology, a forthcoming anthology that features dissident fiction, essays, journalism, plays, poetry, and hybrid, multimedia work. It reclaims radical traditions that have long been excised from South Asian histories, and forges new communities and reinforces necessary solidarities. The digital platform allows work to travel everywhere South Asians live and practice.

In terms of its mission, SAAG states:

“Transgression, experimentation, and true radicalism are rare and expensive in a world structured around majoritarian consensus, conformity, and party-line loyalism. This is especially true for minority voices, who are routinely devalued. We must value creative labor, no excuses. Your support will go directly to the multitude of writers and artists who will be contributing to this project. In our shared commitment to respect creative labor, we’re happy to be partnering with the Asian American Writer’s Workshop, whilst reaching South Asians everywhere.”

To support the South Asian Avant-Garde, please consider donating to the SAAG Collective, or supporting the organization, its artists, writers, and activists through the artwork, books, and other items they have created on the SAAG Perks page here.

Every donation brings us closer to amplifying South Asian voices that are imagining and building better and freer futures for us all.

Celebrate the New York Immigration Coalition on June 8 * 6:30 – 8:00 pm EDT

The New York Immigration Coalition’s 2021 Immigrant Power Gala, A Virtual Celebration is coming up on Tuesday, June 8th at 6:30 p.m. ET.  The event will be hosted on Hopin and author Rita Banerjee will be serving as a host during the gala!

Broadway star Krystal Joy Brown from the musical Hamilton will be performing at the 2021 Immigrant Power Gala, A Virtual Celebration. Join us for this moving tribute to our powerful immigrant community on Tuesday, June 8, at 6:30 pm ET.

And we are thrilled to be honoring NYIC Member of the Year, Masa, and New York State Attorney General, Letitia James!

Register for the NYIC Power Gala on June 8 here!

May 14: VCFA’s MFA in Writing & Publishing Faculty Reading feat. Rita Banerjee, David Heska Wanbli Weiden, Ariel Francisco, Frances Cannon, Rob Spillman, Tim Horvath, Erin Stalcup, & more * Zoom, 5:30-7:30 pm

Join the MFA in Writing & Publishing program at Vermont College of Fine Arts as they celebrate the end of the 2020-21 school year with a final faculty reading.

The reading will be held on Zoom from 5:30–7:30 pm ET on Friday, May 14, as part of the Alumnx Weekend and Graduation festivities. Faculty readers include Rita Banerjee, Ariel Francisco, Rob Spillman, David Heska Wanbli Weiden, Miciah Bay Gault, Erin Stalcup, Frances Cannon, James Scott, Tim Horvath, and Sean Prentiss.

This event is free and open to the public, so join us to hear from our beloved writers and poets!

Join us on Zoom at 5:30 pm EDT!

Rita Banerjee’s essay “Birth of Cool” will be featured on Goddard’s “Bon Mot” Radio Program on 91.1 / 91.7 FM Vermont – February 28, 2021, 5-6:30 pm EST

Rita Banerjee will be be featured on Goddard College’s “Bon Mot” radio program from 5-6:30 pm EST on Sunday, February 28, 2021.  The radio program will air on 91.1 and 91.7 FM Vermont. The show is hosted by Rick Argan, and Banerjee will be be reading from her poetry collection Echo in Four Beats and her essay “Birth of Cool” from her new nonfiction manuscript on race, sex, politics, and cool.  The show can be live-streamed here: http://www.wgdr.org/ or listened to via podcast archive here: http://archive.wgdr.org/

Check our her essay “Birth of Cool” from her new nonfiction book on Hunger Mountain here: https://hungermtn.org/birth-of-cool-rita-banerjee/

Iterant 2 feat. Rita Banerjee’s Poetry & Flash Essay Launches


The Ruth Stone Foundation just launched its second issue of Iterant,  an interactive multi-media poetry and prose journal.  The October 2020 issue of Iterant, “But We Keep Fighting” features the poetry, prose, audio recordings, and art of Anne Carson,  Matthew Zapruder, Timothy Liu, Sharon Olds, Dara Weir, Charles Mason III, and Rita Banerjee among other poets and artists.

Rita Banerjee’s poems “String Theory” and “Sunlight over Reyjkavík” and her essay “Of Delight” are featured in the new issue of Iterant. Check out her writing here, and check out the audio recordings of her poems and prose here.

Here’s is a short excerpt from the poem “String Theory”:

… but like a child learning to speak
or a visitor in a foreign language, I blended the sounds
of their names together. Each hue was a mirage—

a trick of light, a fascination. Each fired
an unpredictable rhythm of cones and cylinders
in the eye. If color was biological, automatic,
mechanical, what sense could the eye hold?

Read more here.

Many thanks to Walter and Bianca Stone for their incredible editorial support and curation of this new issue of Iterant.

Sept 18: VCFA’s MFA in Writing & Publishing Faculty Reading feat. Rita Banerjee, Erin Stalcup, & David Shields * Zoom, 5:30-7:30 pm

VCFA W&P Faculty Reading
feat. Rita Banerjee, Erin Stalcup, & David Shields
Moderators: Rita Banerjee & Stephanie Reich
Friday, September * 5:30 – 7:30 pm EDT

Join via Zoom Online!
Join via Phone: +1 646-876-9923‬ (Meeting ID: 931-1529-9077)

About Our Readers

VCFA MFA in Writing & Publishing faculty Rita BanerjeeRita Banerjee is the Director of the MFA in Writing & Publishing program at the Vermont College of Fine Arts, and Executive Creative Director of the Cambridge Writers’ Workshop. She’s the author of several books including CREDO: An Anthology of Manifestos and Sourcebook for Creative Writing (C&R Press, 2018), the poetry collection Echo in Four Beats (FLP,  2018), which was nominated for the 2019 Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize at the Academy of American Poets, the novella “A Night with Kali” in Approaching Footsteps (SPR, 2016), and the poetry chapbook Cracklers at Night (FLP, 2010). She is the co-writer of Burning Down the Louvre (2021), a documentary film about race, intimacy, and tribalism in the United States and in France. She received her doctorate in Comparative Literature from Harvard and her MFA from the University of Washington, and her work appears in PANK,  Nat. Brut., Isele Magazine, Poets & Writers, Academy of American Poets, Los Angeles Review of Books, Vermont Public Radio, Electric Literature, Iterant, The Nervous Breakdown, Hunger Mountain, and elsewhere. She is currently working on a memoir and manifesto on how young women of color keep their cool against social, sexual, and economic pressure.

 

David Shields is the internationally bestselling author of twenty-two books, including Reality Hunger (recently named one of the 100 most important books of the last decade by LitHub), The Thing About Life Is That One Day You’ll Be Dead (New York Times bestseller), Black Planet (finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award), and Other People: Takes & Mistakes (NYTBR Editors’ Choice). Nobody Hates Trump More Than Trump: An Intervention was published in 2018; The Trouble With Men: Reflections on Sex, Love, Marriage, Porn, and Power appeared in 2019. James Franco’s film adaptation of I Think You’re Totally Wrong: A Quarrel, which Shields co-wrote and co-stars in, was released in 2017 (available now on Amazon Prime, iTunes/Apple TV, Vudu, Vimeo, Kanopy, and Google Play). Shields wrote, produced, and directed Lynch: A History, a 2019 documentary about Marshawn Lynch’s use of silence, echo, and mimicry as key tools of resistance (rave reviews in the New YorkerNation, and dozens of other publications; film festival awards all over the world; available soon on Sundance TV/AMC and First Look Media). A recipient of Guggenheim and NEA fellowships and a senior contributing editor of Conjunctions, Shields has published fiction and nonfiction in the New York Times MagazineHarper’sEsquireYale ReviewSalonSlateTin HouseA Public SpaceMcSweeney’sBelieverHuffington PostLos Angeles Review of Books, and Best American Essays. His work has been translated into two dozen languages.

 

Erin Stalcup is the author of the story collection And Yet It Moves and the novel Every Living Species. Her fiction has appeared in The Kenyon ReviewThe SunMonkeybicycle, and elsewhere, and her creative nonfiction was listed as a Notable Essay in The Best American Essays. Erin received her MFA from Warren Wilson College’s Program for Writers. She has taught in community colleges, universities, and prisons in New York City, North Carolina, Texas, Arizona, and Vermont, and is the Cofounder of Waxwing and the Editor of Hunger Mountain.

 

 

Nobody Hates Trump More Than Trump: A Conversation with David Shields & Rita Banerjee feat. on The Nervous Breakdown

The Nervous Breakdown recently published a conversation between David Shields and Rita Banerjee on Shields’s book Nobody Hates Trump More Than Trump.  During their discussion, David and Rita unpack Trump’s complicated family and personal psychology, what makes the president tick, Trump’s relationship with Jeffrey Epstein, & how to disrupt Trump this fall!  Take a listen to their live recorded interview on The Nervous Breakcast.  A selection of the written interview follows below:

Rita:    You quote several of Trump’s tweets, interviews, off-air conversations, and “witticisms” throughout the book. What was it like to allow Donald Trump’s ethos, his words, his violence, his misogyny, his racism, and his nonsense to inhabit your body and your psyche, as you’re writing this book? Do his words become part of how one could maybe reason or rationalize him?

David:    I certainly worry about that… It’s a book I wrote a couple of years ago, and now it’s a year and a half later. I’d write the book differently now, though I’m proud of it, and I think it holds up well. Any other approach seemed, to me, dead on arrival. To me, standing on a high moral promontory and wagging a finger at the  armies down below is not an approach that interests me. You’re just preaching to the proverbial choir. That doesn’t interest me;it has no animating energy for me as a writer and thinker. A politically left friend of mine was telling me about how he watched the news. He happens to be in a wheelchair, and he couldn’t get to the remote on his TV. When Hillary was talking, he knew what Hillary was going to say and so he didn’t bother to wheel over to the remote because her words were so predictable and so vetted that he didn’t really care what she was saying. Instead, he found himself wheeling over to hear what Trump had said. That is what I wanted to unpack. If I find myself weirdly riveted by Trump, then I can try to understand those 50,000,000 voters who actually voted for Trump. Regarding your question, maybe the book will get us into uncomfortable territory. Trump does have quite serious performative skills. He’s basically an old-fashioned Catskills insult comedian, and for a variety of reasons, it works or has worked so far. There’s this quote I love by Ralph Waldo Emerson: “The way to write is to throw your body at the target when all your arrows are spent.” I tried to do that, to throw my body at the target, which is Trump. I was boring everybody with my “Oh my God, can you believe what’s happening?” But in this book I say, what’s scarily riveting about him? In this journal, I’m going to be real. For decades, Republican strategists have learned to go to the very essence of someone’s strength. You go after the unassailable, and the whole edifice falls down. Trump went after McCain, who was this canonized figure, and just said “I like heroes who aren’t captured.” That’s verbally brilliant. On every level, that’s politics, that’s warfare. There’s this line that I quote, too, from Seneca: “Life is warfare.” Trump gets that. Like I say in the book, quoting a friend, the Democrats are playing badminton and Trump is playing ice hockey. It ain’t working. So how about if in this book, I try and play some ice hockey?

Rita:    Follow-up question–throughout the book we get a portrait of Trump’s interior psychology. What is his relationship to emotion, and do you see echoes of Trump’s relationship to his emotion within yourself, or within American culture at large?

David:    I think that’s one of the huge hidden topics of the book. I do talk a lot about that: we’re numb,  we’re broken, in a postmodern, hyper-mediated, and hyper-digitalized culture. In contemporary, culture, we’re walking dead people. It’s my own thesis, and again I can only speak from my experience. Maybe this is my condition, which I’m unfairly projecting onto the populace. But all these 19th century feelings that Hilary Clinton pretends that we still have, people just know that’s completely dead. In some ways, Trump is a very contemporary person, probably because he has Attention Deficit Disorder and might be on the  spectrum.. I think he is in touch with his reptilian self, and he knows how to access it. Yes, he is a racist and has been from a very early age (stemming from his father’s real estate dealings), but what Trump does quite consciously is extend his personality to reach a larger base. Not long ago, he was a pro-business, pro-choice, pro-gay, centrist Republican. He’s taken his incipient racism and performs it extensively to see how far it can go. If it’s slightly too far, he just dials it back slightly. It has to do with art, with understanding that politics is performance art. It’s theater, it’s symbolic theater. When the Democrats are droning on about something, it’s not working. Part of my argument about art is that it does go forward. Art, like science, progresses; you can’t rewind the clock. Additionally, this kind of demagoguery seems to play better on the right. If someone like Elizabeth Warren started acting very demagogice, we would say, “Stop that.” “The left tends to valorize discourse and intellection, and demagoguery tends to be a strategy of the right. The left is now confused because how you can have riveting political theater when the whole rhetoric of the left is that they’re smarter than you, or they’re more thoughtful, more empathetic? I do think a real key to Trump’s success is that I think he’s a really quite serious nihilist. Through a lot of the lines in the book, he sounds like he’s straight out of “Notes from Underground,” Dostoevsky’s novella about the underground man. Trump has no belief in any transcendental signifier. He has no belief in love and religion, in art, in history, in the continuation of culture. He’s obsessed with the fact of death, he’s terrified of death, as most people are, but most people find some kind of solace or consolation. Trump is a seriously nowhere man. I would argue we all, as 21st century people, struggle with a kind of numbness. In Leaving the Atocha Station, Ben Lerner talks about being in a museum in Madrid and how the only thing that moves him about being in a museum is that he’s moved by his own incapacity to feel anything. I think that’s a real insight into contemporary culture. You may not agree; t might be the super male or white or privileged point of view, but that’s Trump’s point of view as well. I think his numbness is absolutely crucial. People will do anything to feel a little bit of rage about their numbness. Hillary is an easy battering ram or a punching bag because she’s such an obvious perfect foil for Trump. She’s earnest in the way that he’s cynical. You think of the great anti-heroes of literature, whether it’s Petronius’ Satyricon all the way up to Camus’s The Fall, and that character is our worst self realized. We see a reflection of our own numbness in Trump, and I think that connects to Trump’s rage. He’s expressing the rage that people feel, that life is absolutely meaningless in a post-God, post-literate culture. That is absolute political theater. That’s how I mean the Democrats are playing badminton: “Here’s our policy suggestion which might improve things ever so slightly.” Trump is not playing that game, he’s playing existential theater. And it has sort of worked so far. That’s really the core of the book, that we’re broken, we’re dead, we’re numb, we’re the walking dead. Watch me at least express an insane rage, which feels better than feeling numb.

You can read the whole conversation on The Nervous Breakdown here.