A Twenty Minute Silence Followed by Applause, Shawn Wen
A Twenty Minute Silence Followed by Applause, Shawn Wen
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A book-length essay on the mime Marcel Marceau, informed by interviews with his students, closely observed performances, and archival research. Remarkably innovative in structure and style, the book employs lists, prose poems, syllabi, a travel itinerary, a catalog of his possessions, and more. A Twenty Minute Silence Followed by Applause is a celebration of Marceau's transcendent creation.
Shawn Wen is a writer, radio producer, and multimedia artist. Her writing has appeared in The New Inquiry, Seneca Review, Iowa Review, White Review, and the anthology City by City: Dispatches from the American Metropolis (Faber and Faber, 2015). Her radio work has broadcast on This American Life, Freakonomics Radio, and Marketplace, and she is currently a producer at Youth Radio. Her video work has screened at the Museum of Modern Art, the Camden International Film Festival, and the Carpenter Center at Harvard University. She holds a BA from Brown University and is the recipient of numerous fellowships, including the Ford Foundation Professional Journalism Training Fellowship and the Royce Fellowship. Wen was born in Beijing, raised in the suburbs of Atlanta, GA, and currently resides in San Francisco.
Praise for A Twenty Minute Silence Followed by Applause:
"A unique, poetic critical appreciation of Marcel Marceau. . . . A fascinating book. . . . Readers will marvel not only at Marceau, but at the book itself, which displays such command of the material and such perfect pitch."
—Kirkus Reviews, starred review
“Effectively pays homage to both the history of mime and its solitary master, Marcel Marceau. . . . Wen crafts diamond-cut paragraphs that place the reader in Marceau’s enthralled audiences. . . . These invaluable descriptions by a writer versed in the tradition of making the nonvisible vibrant should be read slowly and with the same seemingly effortless focus Marceau gave to his art.”
—Booklist, starred review
“It isn’t easy to turn a biography into poetry. But Shawn Wen does exactly that with her portrait of mime artist Marcel Marceau, who introduced the world to this wordless art form. Wen, a radio producer and multimedia artist, has written her first book with the kind of poetic zeal that suits an artist who practically created silent cinema on stage. . . . Wen’s evocative writing invites us into the audience to watch the powdered face arch into emotional heights, the body sway against unseen wind. . . . With A Twenty Minutes Silence Followed by Applause, Wen offers an invigorating and memorable paean to Marceau’s talent and tragedies, wrapped in a melodic critique that is unafraid to show the pain of an artist who sometimes felt trapped in a box.”
—The Washington Post
“Shawn Wen’s debut book, the novella-length essay A Twenty Minute Silence Followed by Applause, is a captivating exercise in style and form. It immortalizes the silent man in words. . . . Wen distills Marceau’s life by allowing his eccentricities, words, life, and work to speak for him. Wen’s admiration for Marceau is most evident in her beautifully wrought descriptions of his best-known performances; these careful renderings and thoughtful observations bring Marceau’s movements to life on the page.”
—The Los Angeles Review of Books
“[Shawn] Wen’s whimsical ode to Marcel Marceau showcases the performer’s determination to ‘fill the blank spaces’ with a silence that stirs.”
—O, The Oprah Magazine, “10 Titles to Pick Up Now”
“Artist and radio producer Wen’s first book is about one of the most fascinating performance artists of the last century: French mime Marcel Marceau, known for his ‘Bip the Clown’ persona. Wen uses videos of Marceau’s performances, as well as interviews with him, to pay tribute to the enigmatic actor and Holocaust survivor.”
—Men’s Journal, “The Seven Best Books of July”
“Amazing . . . Sarabande knew I wanted a book about Marcel Marceau before I did.”
—Liberty Hardy, BookRiot editor and judge for Book of the Month Club
"As in the work of Marcel Marceau, Shawn Wen crafts a language of silence and absence around the life of her subject to give a much richer picture of a true and unusual talent. These are essays as pantomime, drawing readers in to reveal work of simple and delicate elegance, executed with the utmost precision.”
—Jarrod Annis, Greenlight Bookstore, Brooklyn, NY
“Wen uses the omnivorous form of the essay to full effect in this elegant, winsome biography of the iconic mime Marcel Marceau. Through an intricately structured series of scenes, lists, quotes, and breathy meditations on the body and voice, Marceau comes alive on the page: dancing with an unseen woman, ducking bullets on a silent battlefield. ‘He is not exactly a comedian,’ Wen writes. ‘Not a tragedian. He swings between these two poles.’ Between those poles, and between the covers of this deceptively slim volume, the full range of human emotion is splayed and felt.”
—Mairead Stead, Literati Bookstore, Ann Arbor, MI
“If you’re into elliptical meditations on silence, performance, the weirdness of bodies, and loss, this is the book for you.”
—Stephen Sparks, Point Reyes Books, Point Reyes Station, CA
"Shawn Wen’s A Twenty Minute Silence Followed By Applause is a loving tribute to a most untranslatable figure: Marcel Marceau, the mime who defined his art for the 20th century. A connoisseur of silence who could out-talk Studs Terkel, a world-famous performer who felt like a failure, Marceau presents contradictions that make him hard to grasp, but these nimble essays rise to the task beautifully. You don’t need to know anything about mime, or Marceau, to appreciate Wen’s lyrical and innovative take on biography."
—Travis Smith, Flyleaf Books, Chapel Hill, NC
"A Twenty Minute Silence Followed by Applause is the sort of book that makes every line feel like a revelation. A meditation on the French mime Marcel Marceau, Wen weaves a mixture of poetry and journalism to create a beautiful look at a misunderstood art. Reminiscent of Maggie Nelson and Sarah Manguso, Shawn Wen is a an exciting and talented new voice."
—Emily Baillaine, Green Apple Books on the Park, San Francisco, CA
"If writing about music is like dancing about architecture, then what is writing about mime like? In Shawn Wen's capable hands, it can be descriptive and fresh, aphoristically wise, and artfully somber. Whether Wen's animating, with her precise words, the motions of Marcel Marceau's famous stage persona ("Bip the Clown"), or spotlighting his private life through lists of his holdings, or revealing scraps of speech (interview answers, commercial transcripts, his advocacy for fencing as a "school of humility," or his belief that Michael Jackson had "the soul of a mime"), A Twenty Minute Silence Followed by Applause rivets and rewards its reader. Read it to learn a new kind of body language, from an exciting writer worth watching."
—John Francisconi, Bank Square Books, Mystic, CT
“Intellectually agile and tenderly imagined, Shawn Wen’s incandescent essay reminds readers that writing is gesture, that movement is a language of thought, and that the union of the two is a thing of beauty.”
—Alexandra Kleeman, author of You Too Can Have a Body Like Mine
“Like pulling a ghost from a dark room, this is an accomplished work of historical portraiture: precise in its objects, complex in its melancholy, and insightful in its humor.”
—Thalia Field, author of Experimental Animals
“In A Twenty Minute Silence Followed By Applause, Shawn Wen draws a portrait of Marcel Marceau that is equal parts heart breaking and delightful. Her poetic and tender prose gorgeously captures the man whose body and life were inextricable from his art, an art written by silence. The play of the mime through Wen’s loving gaze becomes the play of us all as we live, and love, and like him, eventually pass off the stage into our own ultimate quiet.”
—Hannah Lillith Assadi, author of Sonora