Writer-in-Residence and Writer-at Large Initiative

A series of residencies and programs exploring the role of writing in debates on public trust


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Slought is pleased to announce a new series of Writer-in-Residence and Writer-at-Large programs and fellowships, beginning October 1, 2022. Each year, this program will select three writers—with "writer" defined in the broadest sense and not restricted to any particular form or genre of writing—who will be affiliated with Slought for a year, with the possibility of a renewal for a second year. The writers will be selected in relation to their proposed projects and to the conversations they can assist us in promoting.

While there are no predetermined set of expectations—the writers can pursue their work in any way they wish—we are hoping that each writer might offer a public presentation of their work during their affiliation and contribute to our present efforts to imagine what a robust sense of public trust might be and how we might approach it. To this end, each writer will be invited to contribute a small text on the role that writing might play in these debates around public trust, and what kinds of writing might be most conducive to them. What does it mean to write in dark times, and what might activist writing look like today?

In its first year, we will appoint one Writer-in-Residence and designate two Writer-at Large fellows. In French, "Au large" is the expression a ship uses to hail a craft about to cross her course and, in this case, the title brings the writer closer to us even as this encounter also implies a passage or transition. In this way, all three writers will play a role in our programming. The program's first three recipients will be our inaugural writer-in-residence Sara Nadal-Melsió, and our inaugural writers-at-large Peter Zilahy and the Receding Borealis Collective, with their appointment beginning October 1, 2022.

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Sara Nadal-Melsió is a NYC-based Catalan writer, curator, and teacher. She has taught at the University of Pennsylvania, Princeton University, SOMA in Mexico City, and New York University. Her essays have appeared in various academic journals, edited volumes, and museum catalogs. She is the co-author of Alrededor de / Around, and the editor of two special issues on cinema, The Invisible Tradition: Avant-Garde Catalan Cinema under Late Francoism and The Militant Image: Temporal Disturbances of the Political Imagination. She has cocurated an exhibition on Allora & Calzadilla for the Fundació Tápies in Barcelona and has written a book essay about it, as well as edited a companion volume on the Puerto Rican crisis entitled A Modest Proposal: Puerto Rico's Crucible. She is also co-author of Politically Red, a book on the role and place of reading and writing in the political domain that is forthcoming from MIT Press in 2023. She will be in residence for the 2022-2023 academic year completing a book-length manuscript entitled Europe and the Wolf: Political Variations on a Musical Concept, under contract with Zone Books.

Europe and the Wolf: Political Variations on a Musical Concept begins by recuperating a Baroque musical concept that acquires a renewed meaning amidst contemporary aesthetic practices that respond to the histories, violence, and promises contained in Europe, understood as the name for an ongoing conceptual and political problem. The "wolf" is the name Baroque tuners gave to the dissonant and resilient sound produced in any attempt to temper and harmonize an instrument, the greatest challenge to the dream of complete harmonization. The first mention of the "wolf" as an emblem of disharmony, however, predates tuning efforts against dissonant notes and comes from the Latin proverb "homo homine lupus est" or "man is a wolf to man," an endlessly appropriated and translated phrase that traces the pervasive fear, and even hate, for what is foreign or unknown, for what marks the borders of a community. The book examines the ruination of Europe as an idea and traces its re-assemblage through a collaborative and performative reactivation of its musical heritage in the work of the late Catalan artist and composer Carles Santos, the experimental filmmaker Pere Portabella, the Albanian artist Anri Sala, and Allora & Calzadilla. The "wolf," then, names a problem within the logic of community when that community is understood as the product of a social harmony predicated on the violence of exclusion and the expropriation of rights.

Peter Zilahy has written five books and works in all genres including plays, essays, and opinion pieces for The New York Times, The Guardian, and The Financial Times. His award-winning novel, The Last Window Giraffe, has been translated into 22 languages, and a new American paperback edition is forthcoming next spring from Sandorf Passage independent publishers. Besides his literary and scholarly work, Zilahy is a versatile artist who has performed on stage for large audiences from New York's Broadway to Kyiv, where the The Last Window Giraffe won The Book of the Year Prize of Ukraine. He has lectured at, among other places, the University of Pennsylvania, Princeton University, New York University, George Washington University, The New School, Boston University, Tufts University, Melbourne University, and Sciences Po in Paris. He has held numerous prestigious residencies all over Europe, including at the Akademie Solitude (selected by Herta Müller, Nobel laureate) and the Albert Einstein Fellowship in Potsdam, and he held the position of Stadtschreiber of the city of Graz for a year. He has been a Visiting Scholar at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, a Writer in Residence at Tufts University in Cambridge, and a fellow at the Kluge Center of the Library of Congress in Washington. In 2015, he was interviewed by Anthony Bourdain in Budapest for an episode of CNN's Parts Unknown. On January 15, 2017 he gave a speech and read a poem on the steps of the New York Public Library in front of three thousand people at Writers Resist as part of a collective effort to defend free expression during the Trump era.

During his appointment, he will be completing a modern-day Odyssey with an extensive visual use of concrete and fictional maps. He has been researching and writing his novel for years, including months of research at the Library of Congress and at the New York Public Library. The plot takes place in a dozen countries in Europe, Asia, and the Americas. It starts with the lucky escape of the protagonist from a European dictatorship during the Cold War and follows his journey around the world through a kaleidoscope of identities he takes up in his quest for a new home, finally culminating in his return to his home country to take part in a revolution to end the rule of the dictator.

Receding Borealis is a collaborative writing project of Christina Daniel-Mckee and YY Daniel-McKee. Christina studied urban planning at Hunter College, served as a facilitator with the Strike Debt campaign, and worked as a site coordinator in with the community-based relief network that sprang up in New York city following Hurricane Sandy, returning in 2018 to the northern borderlands of so-called Minnesota--where her family has lived since arriving as settlers in the early 20th century. YY was trained as an art historian at Columbia University and the CUNY Graduate Center, taught at institutions including Cooper Union, Queens College, and Parsons School of Design, and has published in venues including October, Grey Room, Oxford Art Journal, South Atlantic Quarterly, Waging Nonviolence, Yes! and The Nation. Animated by the axiom that "when we eat, we eat together" and informed by the experience of working in the food system, the current project of Receding Borealis is devoted to the histories and futures of the food system in the Northern borderland under conditions of climate-driven regional gentrification, intensifying food insecurity, and widespread health injustice, underpinned by the ongoing dispossession of Indigenous lands and waters. Working with research partners and student-fellows via Koochiching County Food Access (KCFA), Borderland Center for Art, Music, and Place-Based Study (B-CAMPS), and Climate Action Lab, Receding Borealis is currently facilitating the collective composition of a Borderland Community Food Plan (BFP). Understood as a question-driven process rather than a blueprint known in advance, the BFP aims to support practices of collective participatory food security grounded in regional foodways, including but not limited to Indigenous food infrastructures such as those of wild ricing and fish-processing, for instance. From hunting and fishing to foraging and gardening, these regional foodways involve various degrees of entanglement with and autonomy from the largely unhealthy, expensive, and ecologically destructive products of the corporate food system, whose ever-precarious supply chain reaches a terminus in the northern borderlands.

The BFP process proceeds in the spirit what educators at Bemidji State University call Niizhoo-gwayakochigewin ("two ways of doing the right thing in the right way") and acknowledges the many generations of ongoing work in this spirit by community-based teachers, artists, scientists, and advocates in the borderland and broader ancestral region of Ojibwe and other First Nation peoples. Among the guiding principles of the BFP process are 1) Food touches everything and concerns everyone; 2) Food is essential to the practice of freedom; 3) Food justice requires the restoration of Indigenous lands and waters, and a redressing of the racialized bases of the corporate-colonial food system in general a local, national, and global scales; 4) Food justice requires de-gentrification and the fulfillment of the right to housing 5) Food justice requires centering the collective power of food-workers in the process of a just transition to a healthy, vibrant, and egalitarian regional food system that serves the needs and desires of the people. In surveying the food system of the northern borderland, the BFP will of necessity also concern itself with the political economies of timber extraction, on the one hand, and wilderness tourism on the other. These are two sides of the same dialectic of settler modernity that links notorious timber baron E.W. Backus, responsible for flooding large areas of the borderland watershed for hydroelectric paper mills, to his supposed nemesis Ernest Oberholtzer, a co-founder of the Wilderness Society and architect of what would eventually become Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and Voyageurs National Park. Fueled by the theft of land and labor, this feedback loop between extractivism and conservation has marked the northern borderland as a kind of paper graveyard, with printed matter of all kinds--surveys, maps, censuses, architectural plans, photographs, newspapers, magazines, books, advertisements, guides, postcards, billboards, packaging--woven deeply into its unfolding and contested history. Old and new media arts of all kinds have a crucial role to play in re-imagining the regional food system, with food itself understood as among the most potentially vital of art forms of all.

"The true alchemists do not change lead into gold; they change the world into words."

— William Gass

"Books are a form of political action. Books are knowledge. Books are reflection. Books change your mind."

— Toni Morrison