Solitude Atlas

To celebrate the 25th anniversary of Akademie Schloss Solitude, this summer the Akademie and Edition Solitude put together a phenomenal book project called Solitude Atlas that brought together 145 participating authors (all former or current fellows) to contribute vignettes of varied form that describe the cities where they live. It’s quite a project. By the numbers, Solitude Atlas includes letters, poems, essays, and illustrations from nearly 100 different cities and 48 countries. When I was back at Solitude in February I talked to designer Phil Baber about the process he was going through to put together the book and the difficulties of making contributions that are in 20 different languages and feature numerous non-Latin alphabets all work in a single volume. It’s pretty remarkable.

Check out an interview with the book’s creators here.

For my contribution I ended up doing a few brief folk histories of infamous Omaha intersections–something that interests me a lot and is important to my process, listening to stories, digging up the history of a neighborhood or street corner or building. Looking at maps and atlases is one of my favorite pastimes too, particularly old maps that are useless except for the history they tell, so this narrative strategy seemed a natural fit to me.

A glimpse of the contribution from Palestinian architect and cartoonist Samir Harb.

Here’s a bit of it:

40th & Farnam

A lot of bars, two breweries & a coffee shop with tables outside coffee-shop-people sit at. Things have been cleaned up recently. Sullivan’s moved into the gutted & redone corner spot. Before that it was called Cheaters, which is clear what the owners were thinking. The city shut them down after an off-duty cop shot a 15-year-old boy in the street outside here. Both were drinking. When the teenager started trouble a melee bloomed. The off-duty chased the teenager into the street & wounded him about as benignly as a service revolver can wound. Dropped him in the middle of the street. The off-duty got in a bunch of trouble over this. Cheaters was pretty notorious so it was shut down. The spot was very ugly. There was white siding & a wood-panel door that looked like it had been kicked in a few times. The new guys, Sullivan’s, tore off the siding & cleaned up the original brick underneath, & there’s a fluorescent sign above the front door. A long time ago the same building was the Omaha Community Playhouse—founded by Dodie Brando, Marlon Brando’s mother. In its first season Henry Fonda got his start as an actor on that stage at the Omaha Community Playhouse. Fonda had a big career as an insurance actuary all lined up before he went into acting. There are lots of actuaries in Omaha—it’s a big city for that sort of thing. Marlon Brando also made his debut on that stage, at 40th & Farnam, where years later an off-duty cop would chase a drunk teenager out of a bar called Cheaters & put a bullet in a meaty part of the kid’s leg.

Be sure to check out Solitude Atlas at the Akademie’s online store. Whether you’re connected to Akademie Schloss Solitude or not, the book offers an interesting perspective into how artists see the world while demonstrating how these perspectives and voices come together under a single roof at Akademie Solitude (or in this case, between the the two covers of a book).

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