Now on stage in Boston, Ralph Ellison’s 1952 novel “Invisible Man” seethes, groans, pummels, sighs, and dreams. Gunshots ring out but you also hear music that Ellison mentions in the novel — blues, jazz, and the recordings of Louis Armstrong.
Through the entire production, the unnamed narrator, played by Teagle F. Bougere, remains on stage, sometimes peering into the audience in a way that makes you feel he is addressing you, personally. That’s especially true when the house lights go up, and there is no darkness in which to hide.
The dialogue in the Huntington Theatre’s production is drawn solely from the novel, though the verb tense is changed in some places. Oren Jacoby, a documentary filmmaker who adapted the novel for the stage, told the Globe in a piece published earlier this month, “I am just the tailor cutting the beautiful garment.” He wasn’t kidding.
“Invisible Man,” which won the National Book Award in 1953, is recognized as one of the great literary works of the 20th century and an essential book about race in America. I imagine any teacher who has ever tried to bring great literature alive for students will feel humbled by this “Invisible Man.” The play closes Feb. 3. Catch it if you can.
Literary — and other — firsts
Boston writer Carissa Halston bills her Literary Firsts, founded in 2010, as “the sexiest reading series in Cambridge.” She’s spiced up the typical format for an evening of readings by reserving one of the four slots for a confessional tale about an initial sexual experience. (The other three spots are for a poet, a fiction writer, and an essayist.)
In an e-mail, she told me, “As I like to tell the audience before each reading — it’s not necessarily about the first time, just a first time that the writer did something with someone. You’d think it would result in wall-to-wall embarassment, but the confessional readings are so honest and heartfelt and resonant and not-at-all embarrassing that the audience loves them.”
She winds up with a crowd of about 50 people at the quarterly readings she hosts at Middlesex Lounge in Cambridge. The new season opens Monday at 7 p.m. The confessional tale will be read by Sarah Sweeney, whose essay about stalking was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Other readers include Anthony D’Aries, author of “The Language of Men,” a memoir about his father, a Vietnam veteran.
This year Halston’s adding a fifth reading to coincide with the Associated Writing Programs Conference being held in Boston. On March 9, the final day of the event, one of the biggest literary conferences in the United States, she’ll invite up to eight writers to read at the usual time and place.
■ “Suspect”by Robert Crais (Putnam)
■ “Private Berlin”by James Patterson & Mark Sullivan (Little, Brown)
■ “The New York Times Sweet & Simple Crosswords,”edited by Will Shortz (St. Martin’s)
Karen Frank of Northshire Bookstore in Manchester Center, Vt., recommends “The Painted Girls” by Cathy Marie Buchanan (Riverhead): “At the end of the 19th century, Paris was the center of the world for all arts, and humanity struggled with massive changes in the very structure of society. Degas and Zola were players on this stage as were three sisters who aspired to the world of ballet. Based on historical figures and incidents, this novel of family, romance, degradation, and fulfillment delivers great atmosphere and fully-realized characters.”Jan Gardner can be reached at JanLGardner
@yahoo.com. Follow her on Twitter @JanLGardner.