"I am always at a loss how much to
believe my own stories."
-Washington Irving, Tales of a Traveler, 1824


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Welcome to PenHead.org, an oasis of uninformed analysis in a desert of educated guesswork. What is a penhead? Do you fancy yourself a writer? Enjoy a good read? Then you may already be a penhead yourself!

We are your source for original stories, the occasional interview with our favorite authors, book and play reviews, recommendations (of current and forgotten finds), and more.

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In the wake of World War II, the Absurdist movement - particularly pronounced in French theatre - burst onto the arts scene. A reaction to a world whose norms made little sense, especially the intolerant politics of fascism which modern Europe, in its darkest hour had just narrowly escaped, Absurdists took to the stage to expose its folly. With roots in existentialism, it took but a small leap for the movement to arrive at its main philosophical tenet: the ridiculousness of everything. All bark and no bite, Absurdists avoid offering solutions. Rather, in the words of Huggy Bear from Starsky and Hutch (2004), they "lay it out for y'all to play it out." For, if they'd learned anything from a decade of fascism, it's that the easy answer is almost always wrong.

Four Plays By Eugene Ionesco brings together four of the Romanian-born playwright's best-known plays, including his Absurdist masterpiece, The Bald Soprano (1950). Written in the wake of Nazi-occupied Europe, Ionesco was a preeminent force in the nascent Absurdist movement. With roots in existentialism, his plays, like others in the Absurdist vein, question the existence of meaning. Billed as an anti-play, Soprano's . . . more >

There is a scene from Eugene Ionesco's classic Absurdist piece The Bald Soprano (Grove Press, $1.95), that brings to mind Bell's Theorem. In the scene, the Fire Chief has come calling on the Smiths. The doorbell rings once, but there is no one there. It rings again; still no one. A third ring of the bell produces the same result. Then on the fourth ring, the Fire Chief is discovered on the step. He is welcomed by the Smiths, who are engaged in an argument:

    MRS. SMITH: We were arguing because my husband said that each time the doorbell rings there is always someone there . . . And I was saying each time the doorbell rings there is never anyone there . . . [which] has been proved, not by theoretical demonstrations, but by facts.
    MR. SMITH: That's false, since the Fire Chief is here. He rang the bell, I opened the door . . .
    more >

Few artists have achieved the level of fame in their lifetime as Andy Warhol did. In his relatively brief career spanning just over a quarter of a century, he made an impact on a multitude of mediums, including art (commercial and "pop"), film, stage and fashion. Warhol had a look all his own, which he carefully cultivated into one of the world's most recognizable personas, perhaps second only to Jackie O. To many, he was a star-struck boy from Pennsylvania; to others, a star-maker. The truth is probably somewhere in-between, but one thing is for certain about Warhol: He played the fame game better than any of them.

Klaus Honnef is the exhibition curator for the Rheinisches Landesmuseum in Bonn. Operated by the Rhineland Landscape Association, the museum's focus is on antiquities, making Honnef an unlikely choice as Warhol's biographer. Whatever he lacks in expertise on twentieth century artists though, he makes up for with a foundation in journalism and sociology, the . . . more >

In 1975 The Philosophy of Andy Warhol: A to B and Back Again (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $15.99) was published by Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. Part biography, part tabloid interview, the Manhattan-based artist shares his thoughts on love, fame, jewelry and Mussolini Stadium, among other things. A non-conformist, Warhol lived his life as he pleased, shocking the conventional while drawing out the less conformed to society's norms. He was, in the sense of Oscar Wilde's definition of the term, wicked: "Wickedness is a myth invented by good people to account for the curious attractiveness of others." In 2018, Penguin Modern published Fame, a compilation of choice excerpts from The Philosophy of Andy Warhol. It is number 47 in the series which strips select artists, activists and writers down to their basal elements for a succinct presentation of where they're coming from. It's kind of like Reader's Digest . . . more >

Identity plays large in most plots of mystery and intrigue. From Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to Agatha Christie, it's a major theme in suspense, and has been so since the genre's beginnings. When mistaken, identity begs to be corrected, set to rights, and a solution reached. Because as readers participating in the plot as mysteries demand of us we are not satisfied 'til everything is neatly wrapped up, the mystery novel unlike any other genre has a knack for consuming us until the solution is at hand, identity solved, case closed. Until then, our brains will not - cannot - rest.

Hal is a second generation psychic medium. It's a skill she doesn't really even believe in. When money problems - coupled with a chance summons to the reading of a will by a family she doesn't belong to - sets her on a path of fraud, it's soon evident she hasn't the stomach for deceiving others. Especially when the targets of her deception meet a need she's never had fulfilled: Family.

With The Death of Mrs. Westaway, Ruth Ware has meticulously built a story of mystery and intrigue. From the opening page to the final passage, Ware spins it with care and precision. Her characters are fleshed . . . more >

The basic elements of The Haunting of Hill House include a group of strangers, a creepy old mansion, and things that go bump in the night. Adapted from the novel by Shirley Jackson, Hill House (a play in three acts) holds the promise of a gripping psychological thriller for the stage.

Opening Acts
The play's protagonist, one Dr. Montague, is a paranormal researcher. He chooses to study Hill House for its reputation of holding ghosts. To conduct the study, he chooses a misfit crew of characters with a past history of paranormal/psychic encounters. Eleanor Vance, in her late twenties, was sought out by the doctor for an experience she had as a young girl. Shortly after her father's death, in the middle of the afternoon, stones began falling from the sky, seemingly intent on pummeling her house, and her house alone. Theodora is a woman also in her late twenties, with the touch of the exotic about her. She's described as "A creature of mood and sudden impulse," with a keen eye for humor under otherwise humorless circumstances. There is also a man named Luke Sanderson, the rightful . . . more >

The literary world holds a special place for Irish writers. Their Gaelic inspired prose flows off the page as easily as it falls from the tongue. At once cumbersome and lyrical, the Irish brogue can be easy on the ears, but hard on the eyes. Commonly generalized as tragedy, which, considering the emerald isle's history is understandable, the Irish yarn is so much more than that. Mark Twain once observed, "Inside of the dullest exterior there is drama, a comedy and a tragedy." Although he wasn't talking specifically about Irish writing, he might as well have been, as nothing better describes the literature sprang from Irish roots.

Upon reading Anne Enright, one gets the impression she has a gift for gab. She takes her time with characters, building them with meticulous precision until they leap off the page at you. This sort of attention to detail has won her numerous accolades, including the Man Booker Prize, and the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction. With The Green Road . . . more >

Set primarily in the mid-late 1910s, A Star Called Henry fits snug against its historical Irish backdrop. It's a fictional account of the making of a rebel during the Irish Revolution under which the IRA was formed, eventually leading to civil war.

Cause Celebre
Roddy Doyle has created an impresario in Henry Smart, the novel's protagonist. Celebrated as a babe (the que to see him wrapped around the block) Henry represented hope for Ireland's future. That he was a large baby wasn't cause enough for celebration, "big brats were ten a penny, and cheaper," but his excellent health was. Henry exuded the confidence born of good health, with a glow like no Dublin baby before him. Barely a week out of the womb, and he was already famous.

Tall for his age, Henry joined the resistance at fourteen, passing himself off as an older lad. Born to Henry Smart (senior), and Melody Nash who met lying in the mud of a Dublin alley, Henry is created of larger-than-life pen strokes infused with an Irish mythology of the author's own making. Pen strokes that cover the . . . more >

          I am always at a loss how much to believe my own stories.
                -Washington Irving, Tales of a Traveler
In 1996, Simon & Schuster published Frank McCourt's memoir, Angela's Ashes. It was his grim and moving account of growing up in Limerick, Ireland's depression-era poverty. Though originally born in Brooklyn, New York, his parents returned to Ireland after the Crash, and the death of Frank's little sister Margaret, whom family and friends alike regarded as a lucky talisman in life; a tragic reminder of the McCourt's bad luck in death. The critics loved his story, bestowing on McCourt not only the Los Angeles Times Book Award, but the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Pulitzer Prize as well. On New York Times' bestseller list for 117 weeks, everybody from critics to weekend bookworms seemed to love Frank McCourt. Then they forgot Ashes was a memoir.
Irish Eyes
McCourt's newfound popularity didn't rise from his chosen subject matter. Authors of all nationalities have been writing about extreme poverty for centuries, including the Irish. Rather, it was the vehicle which . . . more >


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