Emdashes—Modern Times Between the Lines

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Before it moved to The New Yorker:
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Best of Emdashes: Hit Parade
A Web Comic: The Wavy Rule

Dame Iris Murdoch, 79, Celebrated Novelist

By Emily Gordon

Dame Iris Murdoch, a novelist whose mastery of the English language was equaled by her confidence in the world of ideas, died Monday in Oxford, England, at the age of 79.

In his recently published book, “Elegy for Iris,” critic John Bayley, her husband of more than four decades, confirmed that she had been suffering from Alzheimer’s disease for the past five years.

Murdoch, who wrote more than 30 books - including the novels “The Sea, the Sea,” which won the 1978 Booker Prize, and “The Green Knight” (1994) - had lost contact with her intellectual faculties, though she and Bayley continued to be, as he wrote, “fused together.” (continued)

Obituary: Poet Laureate Ted Hughes

By Emily Gordon

Ted Hughes, Britain’s poet laureate, died Wednesday of cancer at age 68 in his Devon home. Known as much for his tragic marriage to American poet Sylvia Plath as for his own formidable work, Mr. Hughes spent decades in the light of a public scrutiny that was highly unusual for a modern-day poet.

He was born Edward James Hughes in 1930 in Mytholmroyd, England, the son of a carpenter. After serving two years in the Royal Air Force, Mr. Hughes went to Pembroke College, Cambridge, first studying English, then switching to archaeology and anthropology. Upon graduation he moved to London, where to support his writing he worked as a script reader, as a gardener and at a zoo. (His extensive knowledge of animals would become crucial to his poetry, which often drew on the violence of the natural world.) (continued)

Speaking From Memory

By Emily Gordon

HANDWRITING, by Michael Ondaatje. Knopf, 78 pp., $22.

THERE IS SOMETHING almost boyishly game about Michael Ondaatje’s poems: He takes risks he rarely approaches in his prose, despite the tremendous ones he ventures there. It can be startling to come upon such tender honesty, so much personal reflection and detail, in fragments from a writer whose characters and narratives—like those in his best-known book, “The English Patient”—are so well formed. We may catch ourselves wondering whether this material would be better served in fiction or memoir. But these stories are undeniably his, and his to make into poetry. (continued)

On Mother’s Day, friend of Emdashes Caledonia Kearns writes:

For years I thought my father was the story, though I knew nothing of his day to day. I just knew that his life was more cinematic than mine and my mother’s—for one thing, he was dealing his way through the grit and graffiti of 1970s and ’80s Manhattan. A surviving beatnik, he went from burning his draft card and feeding the poor on the Bowery at the Catholic Worker, to selling marijuana in a loft with special built-in bins for the various varieties he sold. (continued)

mrs-potts-angela-lansbury.jpg“I get recognized here and there as the voice of Pocahontas. It happened a lot more at the time when it had come out. I couldn’t go grocery shopping without some little kid in the front of the cart going, ‘Mommy—Pocahontas!’”
Irene Bedard

“[Children] don’t know that I’ve done those other things. They know me by my voice because children hear me in a supermarket; sometimes I’ll be chatting with a friend about lettuce, and suddenly a child will say, ‘Mrs. Potts!’ It’s enchanting.”
Angela Lansbury

Image from Voice Actors Who Look Like Their Characters (continued)

This site turned eight at the new year, which is almost a million in internet years. What have we been doing with ourselves? After a couple of years in Chicago writing theater reviews, I’m back in New York, getting to work with longtime hero Jen Bekman at 20×200 and living in hilly and historic Peekskill with wonder duo Todd Londagin, on the trombone, and Merideth Harte, on the Wacom tablet. (Todd has a new album out, by the way, and you gotta hear it. Look Out for Love!)

How about my friends and co-conspirators? Emdasher Martin Schneider is writing Box Office Boffo. Paul Morris (a.k.a. Pollux) is, as usual, a whirlwind of visual productivity, from Art-o-Mat to, well, everything. And the erudite Jonathan Taylor is grad-schooling and writing. (continued)

Emily Gordon writes:

Once upon a time, from 2004 to about 2010, Emdashes was a New Yorker fan blog. But now that The New Yorker has so many blogs of its own for people to follow and be-fan, we’ve slowly started morphing back into what we intended to be in the first place: a punctuation blog.

Fortunately, sometimes our first love, The New Yorker, venntersects with our second love, punctuation. Today marks one such occasion. You probably already know that the magazine sponsors a weekly Twitter contest, Questioningly, in which people tweet entries (along with the hashtag #tnyquestion) in response to editor Ben Greenman’s inspired and loopy challenges. Greenman just posted the results of the most recent contest: Invent a new punctuation mark. Some of the winners: (continued)

Emily Gordon writes:

Lately, when I’m not at work, cooking up a blog redesign, or buffaloing cartoonist and critic Pollux into coming up with a comic (drawn and debuting soon!) to herald the site’s new focus on images and symbols, I’ve been noting sentences that strike me in this Tumblr, The Beautiful Sentence. If you submit a sentence you like (from anywhere you like—a novel, a blog, an article, a cereal box) and I like it too, I’ll post it. A beautiful sentence can be funny, wise, intricately constructed, or just cool. (continued)

saint-exupery-snake.jpegBill Haast, 100, Florida Snake Handler, Is Dead
Snake Handler Bitten by One of World’s Most Poisonous Vipers
Snake Handler Hospitalized After Suffering 102d Bite
Snake Handler Dies of Bite, As His Father-in-Law Did
Snake Handler Recuperating
Jolo Journal; When the Faithful Tempt the Serpent
Kentucky Man Killed by Rattler In Rite of Snake-Handling Cult
Defiant Snake Handler Dies
Drought means booming business for Southern California snake handlers
Handling Hogs
SNAKE BITES A SHOWMAN; “Rattlesnake Pete” Gruber Thought to be Dying at Rochester
Zoo Burglar Tries to Steal Deadly Cobras; Mystery in Raid on the Bronx Reptile House
One African Takes Fangs Over Fido As a Sentry (continued)

Maud Newton puts the noble in Barnes & Noble in this terrific interview with Alison Bechdel. Here’s an intriguing pair of passages about Bechdel’s use of a digital font (made with Fontographer, as I recall from a recent event with the cartoonist at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago) instead of hand-lettering for her graphic novels:
BNR: …Apart from all your second-guessing of your writing itself, I’ve noticed that you’re really hard on yourself for using a font based on your handwriting to letter your frames.

AB: I do feel guilty about it, like it’s somehow cheating to use a digital font, and to not actually hand-letter my work. But at the same time, I have these lengthy passages of quotations from [Donald] Winnicott or from Virginia Woolf that I have obsessively hand-lettered.


2008 Webby Awards Official Honoree