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Life is a 'fairy tale' for next UHV/ABR speaker

Feb. 14, 2011 at 4:05 p.m.
Updated Feb. 13, 2011 at 8:14 p.m.

Kate Bernheimer

Other Spring Reading Series writers:Beverly Lowry, March 10 - Lowry is a Guggenheim and National Endowment for the Arts award winner and has served as president of the Texas Institute of Letters. The author of seven novels and two nonfiction works, Lowry was a former instructor at George Mason University, and she now resides in Austin.

Rolando Hinojosa-Smith, April 21 - Hinojosa-Smith specializes in life and literature of the Southwest, and was the first Chicano author to receive the prestigious Premio Casa de las Americas award. He has devoted most of his career as a writer to his 15-volume "Klail City Death Trip" series.

Authors who are part of the Spring Reading Series attend roundtable discussions with UHV faculty and students, make classroom visits to area schools, give lectures open to the community, and go to receptions hosted by Friends of ABR patrons while they are in Victoria.

ABR is a nonprofit, internationally distributed literary journal that is published six times a year. It began in 1977, moved to UHV in 2007 and has a circulation of about 8,000. The journal specializes in reviews of works published by small presses.

For more information about the reading series, call ABR Managing Editor Charles Alcorn at 361-570-4100 or go to www.americanbookreview.org.

If You GoWHAT: ABR Spring Reading Series

WHO: Kate Bernheimer

WHEN: Noon Thursday

WHERE: Alcorn Auditorium of UHV University West, 3007 N. Ben Wilson St

COST: Free


An old dinosaur lived in a big city, and one evening he sat in his room all alone, thinking how he had first lost his wife, then his two children, then little by little all of his relatives, and that very day, his last friend, a small child who had walked with him daily through the park blocks. He was alone and forsaken. He was sad at heart.

Hardest of all to bear was the loss of his two daughters, and in his grief he blamed humans for his misfortunes. He was sitting quietly, deep in thought, when all at once he heard bells ringing from the church down the street. He was surprised to find that he had sat up all night in his armchair by the fire. Usually, he climbed into bed in his giant pajamas on which were printed little pandas and rainbows.

He lit a lamp and left his apartment by the window; he was a flying dinosaur, the rarest on earth.

The church down the street was lighted, though not with candles, but with a strange and diffused glow in the air. It was crowded and all seats were taken. When the old dinosaur came to his usual seat it was occupied and so was the pew in front of it and so was the pew behind it as well. When he looked around at all the humans, he saw that each one held a photographs of one of his relatives who had died.

There the people sat in all manner of vintage clothes, elegant and dusty and black. Their faces were pale and they did not speak and they did not even sing. The church was filled with a buzzing murmur - it reminded him of bees, who also were gone.

An elderly woman stood up and walked over to him. As she got closer, he saw that she was, in fact, a dinosaur - and not only that, his beloved great aunt! She was dressed in the manner of humans, and wore a black bonnet with lacy white trim. Her pale green dinosaur face peeked out at him. In her hands, she held a photograph of herself torn out of a children's history book.

"Look at that altar over there," she said, taking his arm. "You will see your two daughters. He looked and he saw one hanging from gallows, the other tied to a wheel. "You see," said his great aunt. "That is what would have happened to them if they had lived, and not turned into light. They were only innocent children."

The old dinosaur flew home - it was difficult as he was trembling - and when he got in the window, he kneeled on the hard, wooden floor of his apartment. He had been shown mercy, he thought. He kept sitting there. And on the third day, he lay down and died.

He was the last dinosaur. There are no others; my story is done.

Tucson-based writer Kate Bernheimer has lived her life much like the dreamy, mythical literature she reviews.

Bernheimer, founder and editor of the Fairy Tale Review journal, will bring her unique take on literature and its fairy tale influences during her talk Thursday as part of the University of Houston-Victoria/American Book Review Spring Reading Series.

The Boston-raised Bernheimer said she became fascinated by fairy tales as a child and rekindled her love for them in college. For her, they are a legitimate art form, far more valid than a popular stereotype of them as syrupy stories might suggest.

"I just fell in love with them as a child, starting with Disney movies and moving on from there into the classic collections," she said. "I love their themes of survival of the weak, of underdogs overcoming the strong. There is a political motif, both artful and clear, that I quite admire."

Bernheimer, who has written seven books and edited three anthologies, said the different forms of fairy tales taught her a lot about writing.

"Their form and philosophies really intrigued me," she said. "Their structure, the way they're shaped; they're rigid but wild at the same time. It's not anything goes, even though it can feel that way, but the elements are placed very carefully."

She said fairy tales, whether "Peter and the Wolf" or the Brothers Grimm, can be viewed as the foundation of most literature.

"Show me any poem, any short story, any play, and I can show you where the fairy tale is," she said.

Her love of fairy tales sprang somewhat from her heritage, which traces back to Latvia and Germany, and a growing knowledge of Eastern cultures.

"I heard a lot of Yiddish growing up, and the oral stories from that tradition and from around the world were truly enchanting to me," she said. "I have a Chinese-American daughter and have delved even more deeply, lately, into the Eastern tradition, as well. There is overlap in these stories from all over the world. They never run out, and there always seems to be a new tradition to explore and learn from."

The writer said she had an idyllic childhood growing up in Boston's outlying areas. Her grandfather was a promoter in Boston and got advance screenings of popular animated movies, feeding her interest in magical and other-worldly stories.

"I grew up on a wonderful dead-end street with woods and ponds, and I got to experience tadpoles and deer almost every day," she said. "It was not just a cookie-cutter suburb, but a wonderful place to explore and let my imagination go."

Bernheimer now lives in Tucson, Ariz., with her husband and daughter, and teaches half the year at the University of Louisiana in Lafayette as a writer-in-residence, leading a graduate fiction workshop each spring.

Her most recent book, "Horse, Flower, Bird," is a collection of short stories with illustrations.

"There are eight really spare tales that I wrote over a few years," she said. "It's my homage to children's books, even though the stories are not at all for children."

The final book in a trilogy about three sisters is almost out. "The Complete Tales of Lucy Gold" will be published by Fiction Collective Two, which is housed at UHV and specializes in innovative fiction. Bernheimer said the trilogy is about sisters, one sad, one mad and one happy, and can be read in any order.

"It's a lot about childhood reading and falling away from that, which so often happens," she said. "We grow up and lose that childhood wonder, which is tragic. These are not happy books, but they are childlike in a way."

Bernheimer also edited an anthology of 40 new fairy tales in "My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me," which has drawn praise from The Paris Review, National Public Radio and The New Yorker, to name a few. She hopes to finish a novel called "Bog" later this year.



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