IN LOVING MEMORY OF CAROL NOVACK
Founder/Publisher/Editor Mad Hatters' Review
CAROL NOVACK – A Life Remembered
Posted on January 5, 2012 by marc
(photo: Jeff Davis)
by Marc Vincenz
Carol Novack’s work is populated by singular, breathtaking glimpses of the human condition, garnered from within a hair’s breadth of the abyss. There are notions in her work of a primordial Übermensch, a shadowy figure hidden within “the collective experiment called mankind.” She once said, “I rage against the dark forces within all of us, and the conformity that sickens me.” Yet she approached her work and life with humor and verve. She embraced the absurd, the surreal and the mythological, rubbing them up against each other with her own unique rhythm and lyricism.
Proponents of conventional narrative sometimes criticized her visionary work for its lack of cohesion, a missing red thread; yet Carol was not an experimentalist for its own sake. She sought to discover a voice of reason within the hubbub of myths and neon road signs; along the way, she broke convention to re-discover, to re-emerge. In her own words: “I don’t believe in rules. I take dictation from the flow of metaphors that surface from my unconscious as I write, think of my writing self as a metaphorist.”
Of her 2010 book Giraffes in Hiding: The Mythical Memoirs of Carol Novak (Spuyten Duvyil), American Book Review observed: “ Carol poses metafictional questions about who or what controls our narratives, and what kinds of power is or is not available through narrative…If only for an instant, the giraffes go into hiding, and the minnows emerge.” PANK Journal enthused: “Whilst reading this unique book, I felt I was deep-sea diving, surrounded by exotic and breathtaking words-as-creatures, but mindful too of the murkiness, sinister and danger that also lurk both under and above water.”
In an interview in the Canadian literary journal Metazen, she said she had reached “the overwhelming realization that one must create one’s own meaning, the isolated self’s confrontation of its own short-lived existence, the significance of being human and humane.”
She spurned literary prizes, institutionalized creative writing programs and all forms of elitism, not only in the arts, but in society in general. In her twenty-year career as an appellate and trial lawyer, she gave voice to the silenced and marginalized. “Law,” she said, “is a white rabbit that falls into black holes.” She told Glasgow poet, Dee Sunshine in an interview, “The battles were almost always up very steep hills, and I mistrusted and disliked the ‘justice’ system for various reasons.” Nonetheless, she took pride in her legal work, particularly her written motions and appellate briefs, and won an important federal constitutional action on behalf of visual artists (Bery v City of New York, et al.).
Born February 19, 1948, she grew up in Bell Harbor, New York, the single child of musicologist Saul Novack, Dean of Arts and Humanities at Queens College, and Phyllis Novack, librarian. Of her childhood, she once said, “I grew up with wonderful music permeating our house like a bouquet of luscious scents.”
She completed her BA at the University of Rochester in East Asian Studies, moved to Sydney, Australia where she worked as an editor for the Australian Cosmopolitan, and began publishing her poetry during the seventies. A chapbook, Living Alone Without a Dictionary, was published by the University of Queensland Press, and her work was included in The Penguin Book of Australian Women Poets. She was the recipient of an Australian Council of the Arts writer’s grant, remaining in Australia until 1977.
After a traveling in India and Europe, Carol returned to New York City where she received her J.D. from New York Law School in 1983. As an attorney, she worked first in the Criminal Appeals Bureau of the New York Legal Aid Society and later as a solo practitioner, championing the causes of artists and the underprivileged.
She went on to receive her master’s degree in social work (community organizing), and teach lyrical fiction writing at The Women’s Studio Center in NYC, returning to the serious pursuit of her own writing in 2004. “The muse just suddenly reared her jerky head again,” she said.
From the mid-2000s, she began publishing her gender-bending hybrid metafiction— “her little aliens,” as she called them—in many journals and anthologies, including: American Letters & Commentaries, Exquisite Corpse, La Petite Zine, LIT, Missippi Review, Notre Dame Review and Caketrain.
In 2005 she founded the Mad Hatters’ Review, one of the first online journals with a true multimedia approach, marrying literature, film, art and music in an annual collage of some of the most explosive arts on the web. “I envisioned something real flashy and eccentric, experimental, collaborative, multicultural, playful and even meaningful, in the social change/progressive sense,” she told the webzine Web Del Sol. “The name of our annual reflects our view of the world as essentially demented and nonsensical, too frequently a nightmare or ‘non-dream’ that needs to be exposed to the light for what it is, as well as what it is not. However, we, as artists, can also see another side of this world by voyaging into our own unique terrifying and joyful wonderlands and sharing our visions with others.”
Carol curated the successful Mad Hatters’ Review reading series at KGB Bar in New York, and performed herself at many venues in New York City and elsewhere. After re-settling in Asheville, North Carolina in 2010, she began a new reading series at The Black College Museum & Arts Center and founded a non-profit arts organization, MadHat, Inc., which now includes the Review; MadHat Press, a print publisher; and an artists retreat at her mountain home in Asheville.
As an editor, Carol was impressed by wordplay, originality, and writing with the courage to confront the political. She published and befriended many authors, poets, artists, and filmmakers including, Harold Jaffe, Andrei Codrescu, Hugh Fox, Alasdair Gray,George Szirtes and Raymond Federman. As a multimedia and spoken-word artist, she collaborated with Sheila E. Murphy and many others, recording a CD, Inventions II: Fictions, Fusions and Poems, with Don C. Meyers and Benjamin Rush Miller in 2009.
Carol’s full-length book of hybrid works, metafictions, prose poems, rants, raves and whatnots, Giraffes in Hiding: The Mythical Memoirs of Carol Novack, was released by Spuyten Duyvil Press in 2010.
When Dee Sunshine asked Carol where she would chose to travel via time machine, she said, “Eons of light years from now, towards or back to a cosmos inhabited by wise sentient beings, including cats.” And on life after death, she said: “Take away life, take away the breast and breath. Of course, I’m not expecting to meet ‘God’ before I die. I don’t believe in religions or fairy tales except as metaphors of the human experience, the wish to be saved, the wish for happy endings, the absurd trials we set up for ourselves, the meaningful journeys, and always the rules, the rules, the rules. We’re a very limited species.”
Before her death, Carol was working several new projects, including the novella Felicia’s Nose, in collaboration with Tom Bradley. Both Felicia’s Nose and a collection of Carol’s shorter works are anticipated for publication in the near future.
Mad Hat Arts, Inc., including Mad Hatters’ Review, MadHat Press and the Asheville Artists and Writers’ Little Mountain Retreat is expected to continue operations under the guidance of Carols’ designated successors, with several books forthcoming, including, Primate Fox, the last collection of poetry by the late Hugh Fox.
No doubt Carol saw her own resemblance to the protagonist from her unfinished novella, Felicia’s Nose: “Thus, Felicia is neither ‘kind,’ ‘good,’ ‘haughty,’ ‘hot,’ nor ‘pugnacious.’ Nor is she not. Like the rest of us, she is wending her way through the minefields of existence, too frequently with tight shoes that pinch her feet and will ultimately grow loose with age…”
Carol died peacefully with her friends at her bedside in the Elizabeth House Hospice in Flat Rock, North Carolina.
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