Robert Pirsig: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance author dies aged 88

Book telling the father-son story of a motorcycle trip across the western United States was published in 1974 and quickly became a best-seller

Robert Pirsig, author of the influential 1970s philosophical novel Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, has died at the age of 88.

Peter Hubbard, executive editor of his publisher William Morrow & Co, said in a statement that Pirsigs wife Wendy had confirmed his death at his home in Maine after a period of failing health.

Published in 1974 after being rejected by more than 100 other publishers, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, was the father-son story of a motorcycle trip across the western United States. Loosely autobiographical, it also contained flashbacks to a period in which the author was diagnosed as schizophrenic.

The book quickly became a best-seller. Pirsig said its protagonist set out to resolve the conflict between classic values that create machinery, such as a motorcycle, and romantic values, such as experiencing the beauty of a country road.

Born in Minneapolis, Pirsig had a high IQ and graduated high school at the age of 15. He earned a degree in philosophy and also worked as a technical writer and instructor of English before being hospitalised for mental illness in the early 1960s.

His philosophical thinking and personal experiences during these years, including a 1968 motorcycle trip across the US West with his eldest son, Christopher, formed the core of the narrative of the novel.

Pirsig worked on the sequel, Lila: An Inquiry into Morals for 17 years before its publication in 1991. The story traced a sailboat journey taken by two fictitious characters along Americas eastern coast.

Pirsig lived the last 30 years in South Berwick, Maine and is survived by his wife Wendy, two children and three grandchildren. His son Chris died in 1979.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/apr/25/robert-pirsig-zen-and-the-art-of-motorcycle-maintenance-author-dies-aged-88

She Came From Afar

Story Summary: After a stirring dream, Courtney Lindberg was inspired by the voice of God to go to Africa and adopt a baby. This is the story of a family’s evolution, beginning with a decision to push the boundaries of their comfort zone out of the country-literally. But She Came From Afar is much more than a tale of international adoption. It’s about trusting that God will lead you out of the desert and fill you with purpose, ultimately fulfilling the deepest desires of your heart. This book tells the story of their inspirations and challenges, their search for answers, and the loving family they created in the process.

Kirkus Review – https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/courtney-b-lindberg/she-came-afar/

An American mother recalls the arduous process of adopting a child from Ethiopia.

5 Stars From San Francisco Book Review – https://sanfranciscobookreview.com/product/she-came-from-afar/

Each family is different, and this is especially true for families who have adopted children. Not only do they have to deal with all the typical struggles of raising a child (sometimes from infancy), but they also need to face questions from the people around them and from their own children. It is a trial, but a common enough one that there are many adoption stories, several of which are beautiful and filled with the grace of parents who manage to pass through the trials and keep their heads held high. She Came From Afar is one such story.

Amazon Link – http://amzn.to/2rP6mWe

Bahia Shehab: 1,000 ways to say no in Arabic

(CNN)In 2011, when the revolution swept through Egypt, Bahia Shehab stood on the streets of Cairo with a spray-can in her hand determined to deliver one message: No. A thousand times no.

No to military rule. No to violence. No to dictatorship. And no to beating women.
On walls across Cairo she spray painted a series of quotes objecting Egyptian authorities.
    The Egyptian artist, designer and Islamic art historian became interested by how the word “no” is portrayed in Arabic calligraphy in 2010 when she was invited by theKhatt Foundation to participate in an exhibition commemorating 100 years of Arabic art in Europe.
    She created a series of graffiti images that were inspired by 1,000 different ways “no” — which is written as ” in Arabic — had been stylized.
    Since then, her artwork has appeared in galleries and on streets across the world. Now, she’s become the first Arab woman to receive the UNESCO-Sharjah Prize for Arab culture.
    Established in 1998, the prize rewards two laureates each year who have used their work to “disseminate a greater knowledge of Arab art and culture.” The other winner this year is French artist eL Seed.
    Its international jury says Shehab’s street art “plays as a fresh tool for the young to build networks for active change and to voice their objections.”
    Prior to the award ceremony, CNN caught up with Shehab.

    What inspired your project “No, A Thousand Times No”?

    I looked through a very big database (of) material to come up with a thousand nos. I looked through museum archives, buildings, books, materials from different places around the world to be able to collect that data. It took me a year.
    It was actually surprising. I thought it was going to be really difficult to find a 1,000 (nos) in different forms, but then you stop at 1,000 and then you’re surprised that there’s so much more — and this is what was amazing for me.

    Can you remember the first time you spray-painted in the streets of Cairo?

    It was one of the best moments of my life. It’s still vivid now in my head. It felt so liberating. I felt like I was actually screaming.
    I really admire these strong women who would stand in rallies and raise their call and be the first ones to call. I was so jealous because I could never do that and then I had the spray can and I said “Yes! This is my place, this is my medium.”
    (It) was extremely liberating as a form of expression.
    For somebody who doesn’t have a very loud voice, my voice was my spray can.

    How does it feel to win the UNESCO-Sharjah Prize for Arab Culture?

    I didn’t think (“No, A Thousand Times No”) would get me a UNESCO prize, I wasn’t expecting that.
    (The work) was important to me as a cultural bank … and it made me feel very proud of my heritage. (But) I feel like we still have a lot of work to do. I am honored, of course, but what I’m really happy about is that they’re honoring street art and I’m receiving it with a very, very dear friend of mine, eL Seed (which) is an even a greater honor as we both work on the street.
    It’s a form of recognition of street art in the Arab world as an important art form.

    What do you say to people or governments who try to prevent you spray painting?

    We are finding other outlets. If Cairo is not my canvas, then the world is. There are other cities that will welcome my message (and) we have the internet now — the physical space is no longer important.
    When I don’t get a visa, I go on Skype and I give my presentations and the idea gets there. I don’t need to physically be in a place anymore.

    What are you working on?

    I am still painting in different cities. I’m painting poetry and I think this is what’s helping me deal with our current situation. Many activists are either in prison or exile or they’ve committed suicide and this is unfortunately the state of events. So for me to deal with the trauma of our current state I paint words all around the world, of poetry (and) of our dreams.

    What walls have you painted?

    The first wall I painted was in Vancouver and (the text is) all by the same Palestinian poet, Mahmoud Darwish, and says “stand at the corner of the dream and fight” and then I painted in New York, Madison, in Marrakesh, Tokyo, Istanbul and Beirut and each poem has a different message — either related to the city where I’m painting or just about the state of the Arab world, in general.
    For example on Kefalonia — the Greek island — I painted for the refugee crises of the people who are drowning and I painted the poem “Those Who Have No Land Have No Feet.”
    So each poem is also a bit site specific.
    The above interview has been edited for brevity.

    Read more: http://www.cnn.com/2017/04/17/arts/bahia-shehab-arabic-thousand-times-no-unesco/index.html

    Tiny, family-run Iowa newspaper wins Pulitzer for taking on agriculture companies

    Art Cullen owns the 3,000-circulation Storm Lake Times with his brother John. His wife and son also work at the paper

    A small-town Iowa newspaper with a staff of 10 people – most of whom are related to each other has won a Pulitzer Prize for taking on powerful agricultural companies over farm pollution.

    Art Cullen, who owns the Storm Lake Times with his brother John, acknowledged it wasnt easy taking on agriculture in a state like Iowa where you see hundreds of miles of farm fields in every direction. The Cullens lost a few friends and a few advertisers, but never doubted they were doing the right thing.

    Were here to challenge peoples assumptions and I think thats what every good newspaper should do, he said.

    Among the other staff members at the Storm Lake Times is John Cullens wife Mary, Arts wife Dolores and their son, Tom. The familys dog, Mabel also hangs out at the newspaper offices most of the time, Poynter reports.

    Kevin Pang (@pang)

    Here’s the masthead of the Storm Lake Times, a 3,300-circ paper that just won the Pulitzer in Editorial Writing https://t.co/DRSoQHuICx pic.twitter.com/UNkdQMYoJ5

    April 10, 2017

    Cullens writing was lauded by the Pulitzer committee for editorials fuelled by tenacious reporting, impressive expertise and engaging writing that successfully challenged powerful corporate agricultural interests in Iowa.

    As well as hard-hitting news and editorials, the paper also includes local stories. On Monday, a front-page story told of how a second-grader found a four-leaf clover in the field behind her school.

    Cullen told the Washington Post that he knows what readers like. We strive to have a baby, a dog, a fire and a crash on every front page, so, yes, we do pander, he said.

    But it was the papers dogged coverage of farming issues affecting the state that won them the coveted journalism prize.

    Buena Vista county, where the 3,000-circulation, twice-weekly newspaper is based in north-west Iowa, was one of three counties sued by Des Moines Water Works for allowing too much nitrogen to be released through farm drainage systems into rivers from which the utility draws its drinking water. The counties fought the federal lawsuit using money provided by undisclosed sources.

    The newspaper worked with the Iowa Freedom of Information Council to force the release of documents showing funding came from the Farm Bureau and other agricultural groups.

    Anyone with eyes and a nose knows in his gut that Iowa has the dirtiest surface water in America, Cullen wrote in a March 2016 editorial.

    Iowa map

    It is choking the waterworks and the Gulf of Mexico. It is causing oxygen deprivation in Northwest Iowa glacial lakes. It has caused us to spend millions upon millions trying to clean up Storm Lake, the victim of more than a century of explosive soil erosion.

    Cullen, 59, says he feels vindicated that the information was released.
    A judge, however, dismissed the water utilitys lawsuit last month, giving the farm groups and counties a clear victory.

    Cullen is proud that the Pulitzer committee recognised his small newspapers efforts alongside those of larger papers. The two other finalists in the editorial writing category were from the Houston Chronicle and The Washington Post.

    Weve always believed that the Storm Lakes Times should be as good at covering Storm Lake as the New York Times is at covering New York, he said. Theres no reason why an editorial written in Iowa shouldnt be as good as an editorial written in Washington.

    Associated Press contributed to this report

    Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/apr/11/tiny-family-run-iowa-newspaper-wins-pulitzer-for-taking-on-agriculture-companies

    Vanessa White on life after The Saturdays – BBC News

    Image copyright Vanessa White

    She made her name as the youngest member of girl band The Saturdays – but Vanessa White has ditched the squeaky clean pop of All Fired Up and What About Us for an altogether more intriguing foray into sultry and infectious R&B.

    It’s two o’clock on a crisp November day and Vanessa White saunters up to the gates of Ealing Studios in west London.

    The film studio has played host to Shaun Of The Dead, Bridget Jones and the entire “downstairs” set of Downton Abbey – but she’s not here to film a cameo (“Can you imagine?” she giggles).

    Instead, the 27-year-old climbs the fire escape of a dilapidated high-rise building, enters a propped-open door and navigates the corridors to a small back room that’s been converted into a recording studio.

    Like all such facilities, it’s painted black and littered with empty liquor bottles. The walls are haphazardly decorated with polaroids of previous occupants – including US hitmakers The Chainsmokers – and, in the corner, there’s a tiny figurine of Ariel from The Little Mermaid.

    Inside, Vanessa’s producers are ready and waiting, sorting through various tracks they’re hoping she might choose for her forthcoming EP.

    But first, the singer has a confession: “I’ve got a sore throat and I’m a bit hung over.”

    It doesn’t seem to matter. If anything, the consensus is that a husky voice is better for the material – a sultry and sumptuous serving of downtempo R&B; all heavy breathing and soaring harmonies.

    Image copyright Vanessa White

    Staving off the hangover with a “nourishing” lunch box, Vanessa explains her musical state of mind to the team.

    “Everything I’m doing now is so dark,” she says, cueing up a song on her phone. “Not like I-want-to-kill-myself dark, but it’s quite angry.”

    One of the tracks – tentatively called Trust – is seething with vitriol.

    I won’t stroke your ego,” she spits. “I’m onto you, I’m onto you. Don’t underestimate my intelligence.

    The song was inspired by encounters with “snaky people” in the music industry, she explains.

    Specifically, it tackles a toxic situation in her immediate team that ended up “with the lawyers” last year.

    She can’t discuss the details, but says her solo career was significantly delayed as a result: The EP she’s working on today was originally due last summer.

    “There were certain songs I loved that I couldn’t use any more,” she explains. “So I’ve basically had to start again, which is why it’s taken this long.

    “The silver lining is it’s given me something to write about. I’m in a much better position now, mentally.

    “I used to get so scared of going in the studio with people I didn’t know but now, you could put me anywhere and I’d be fine.”

    Image copyright Vanessa White

    Vanessa certainly takes charge in the studio. Having brought the producers up to speed, she sits cross-legged on a sofa as they scroll through a few skeleton songs, looking for “an uptempo track with a dark heart”.

    One by one, Vanessa dismisses them. “That’s too light,” she says of one. “I’m not instantly drawn to it,” is her verdict on the next.

    After half a dozen tracks are waved off, engineer Day Decosta brings up a simple loop built around a gooey, pulsing bass groove.

    Vanessa instantly sits up, alert. “Oh, I like this.”

    She starts ad-libbing vocal riffs over the top, trading ideas with co-writer Celetia Martin, a former vocalist for Groove Armada whose credits include Skepta, Conor Maynard and, yes, The Saturdays.

    Within minutes, she heads to the vocal booth. “I don’t really know what I’m doing right now,” she laughs. “I’m just going to sing loads of random nonsense.”

    Image copyright Vanessa White

    Slowly, painstakingly, the song takes shape. Some of the improvisations stick and are pieced together into a coherent melody. Every so often, Vanessa emerges from the booth to kneel on the floor with Celetia, and the pair go back and forth over lyrics and harmonies.

    When inspiration dries up, they scroll through Instagram, gossip about TV box sets, and goof off doing the Mannequin Challenge for Vanessa’s Instagram page.

    Conversation eventually turns to the singer’s upcoming holiday, a “juice retreat” in Portugal, where solid food is forbidden for an entire week.

    It sounds awful (although photos from the journey suggest otherwise) – but it’s apparently the standard sort of torture female pop stars endure before the promotional round of video and photo shoots begin.

    “It sounds worse than what it was,” laughs the singer when we catch up four months later.

    “Honestly, if you were hungry it wasn’t like they starved you. They added more to the smoothies or they’d give you a piece of fruit. It was actually fine.

    “I feel like I need another one now, that’s the problem!”

    Image copyright Salute The Sun Records

    In any case, the 27-year-old counts dressing up and being photographed as a perk of her job… although it wasn’t always that way.

    “When I was in The Sats, it actually got a bit boring having to be made up every single day,” she says. “I stopped appreciating it.

    “Now I can come to the studio looking like this and it’s fine. Dressing up has become more of a treat again.”

    Back at Ealing Studios, work continues late into the night – long after the BBC has left the building, having contributed precisely zero to the writing process.

    The song is ultimately destined for the scrapheap, but Trust (completely overhauled and re-titled Trust Me) makes it onto Vanessa’s Chapter Two EP, which was released last Friday.

    As she predicted, it set the tone for a collection of brooding neo-soul that’s surprisingly candid about anger, lust and sexuality. Fans of The Saturdays’ chirrupy chart fodder are in for quite a surprise.

    “I guess people are going to question it,” she admits of her new direction. “But I feel pop is not very me at the moment.

    “It took a bit of time to find a sound that was completely right for me. Now I feel like I’ve really nailed it, and it’s obvious it’s coming from me. Once people believe that, you’re half-way there.”

    Image caption Born in 1989, the star was just 17 when The Saturdays formed

    Certainly, the sophisticated harmonies and complex ad-libs reflect the US singers she grew up idolising – Janet, Alliyah, Brandy and Mariah – without sounding like a cheap, plastic counterfeit.

    “We’ve had a problem with that in the UK in the past,” she acknowledges. “I don’t know why we haven’t really got the sounds right before – but this is what I listened to for years and years, so I guess that’s where it’s come from.”

    The EP has been well-reviewed on the sort of music sites that would have given The Saturdays a wide berth. But it’s hard to see where the music fits in the current charts, crammed full of Ed Sheeran’s acoustic pop and The Chainsmokers’ emo EDM.

    “To be honest with you, I’m not even thinking about that,” says the singer. “With everything that’s happened this year, including the label stuff, I’ve ended up doing this on my own – and at this point I’m preferring it, to be honest.

    “I feel like I have to run with this. I’m not going to be hard on myself and expect it to be [huge] at this point.

    “Whatever happens will happen.”

    Image copyright Vanessa White
    Image copyright Vanessa White
    Image copyright Vanessa White

    Vanessa White’s Chapter Two EP is out now on Salute The Sun Records.

    Follow us on Facebook, on Twitter @BBCNewsEnts, or on Instagram at bbcnewsents. If you have a story suggestion email entertainment.news@bbc.co.uk.

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    Read more: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-39479581