An Indie Next Pick for July 2017
"7 Best Books of July," Men's Journal
"10 Titles to Pick Up Now," O, The Oprah Magazine
"Most Anticipated Books of 2017," The Millions
"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
As a fledgling radio producer, Shawn Wen became fascinated by the one subject who seemed impossible to put on air: French mime Marcel Marceau, the internationally acclaimed “artist of silence.” At the height of his fame, Marceau was synonymous with Bip, the red-lipped, white-faced mute in a sailor suit who conjured scenes, stories, and sweeping emotion through the gestures of his body alone. Influenced by Charlie Chaplin’s Little Tramp, credited with inspiring Michael Jackson’s Moonwalk, Marceau attempted in his performances to “reveal the fundamental essences of humanity.”
Beyond Bip, Marceau was a Jewish Holocaust survivor and member of the French resistance; a bombastic iconoclast; a collector of failed marriages, masks, antique knives and doting fans; an impassioned workaholic who performed into his eighties and died deeply in debt soon after leaving the stage. In precise, jewel-like scenes and vignettes, A Twenty Minute Silence Followed by Applause pays homage to the singular genius of a mostly-forgotten art form. Drawing on interviews, archival research, and meticulously observed performances, Wen translates the gestural language of mime into a lyric written portrait by turns whimsical, melancholic, and haunting.
Shawn Wen is a writer, radio producer, and multimedia artist. Her writing has appeared in The New Inquiry, The Seneca Review, The Iowa Review, The White Review, and the anthology City by City: Dispatches from the American Metropolis (Faber and Faber, 2015). Her radio work has been broadcast on This American Life, Freakonomics Radio, and Marketplace. She is the recipient of numerous fellowships, including the Ford Foundation Professional Journalism Training Fellowship and the Royce Fellowship.
Why this black box?
Bip is born
Scene 1 Bip the soldier
Scene 2 Bip, great star of the traveling circus
M. on speech
M. on Marceau
The empty stage is a universe!
Bip at a society party
Collections: Work-related reading
M. on America, 1955
Scene 4 Bip plays David and Goliath
M. on the connective tissues
M. on his own
Scene 5 Bip attempts suicide
M. on boundaries and borders
Scene 6 Bip, the Bullfighter
M. on man's modern problems
M. on Chaplin
Marceau's show returns in fragments?
Scene 7 Bip as skater and spectator
M. on Chaplin II
Collections: Reading for a well-rounded education
M. interacts with fans
M. on mastering one's feelings
Collections: items from Japan
M. on failure
M. on technology
Bip as sleek creature of the deep
M. on video
Camille on M.
Collections: ancient dolls
M. versus M.
Collections: Japanese dolls
"Marcel Marceau has no private life."
A twenty minute silence followed by applause
Clive Barnes on materialism
Seeing is a way?
M. writes about M.
Bip the stoic
You are ever the beholder?
M. on most mimes
Collections: performing dolls
Collections: sacred dolls
M. on the king of pop
"It was the winter of-"
M. on Theriensenstadt
From Marcel and Me...
Collections: the furniture
Collections: the boxes
Critics on aging
Scene 17 Bip hunting butterflies
Bip gets left behind
M. on aging
Pere Lachaise Cemetery
Collections: pleasure reading
Collections: Roman tableware from the 2nd century
M. on the truth
"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
“Marceau was a case study for Wen’s personal queries of selfhood—what it means to be an adult, what it means to be a good person, or an artist, or both. It was also an exercise in form and its limits and capabilities. . . . Her lyric essays observe the life of Marceau from slanted angles: traces of performance scenes, brief excerpts of his views drawn from interviews, lists of Marceau’s gleaming collections of worldly possessions whose accumulation reflects an emptiness. The terse, often poetic vignettes leave a quality of hauntedness appropriate to someone like Marceau.”
—San Francisco Chronicle
“[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”
“The book is by turns a journalistic endeavor, an imaginative inroad into the artist’s world, and a history. Like Leslie Jamison, Wen is a rigorous investigator. And like Maggie Nelson, her prose is artful without being precious or gaudy. Throughout, Wen carefully pulls her subject into focus for the reader, even as she acknowledges the contradictions and complications inherent to Marceau’s legacy.”
—American Short Fiction
“Rare is the book about which one can say, in earnest, ‘I’ve never read anything like this before,’ yet with A Twenty Minute Silence Followed by Applause, Shawn Wen has written such a book. From its idiosyncratic area of interest to its chameleonic formal modalities, Applause resists easy categorization at every turn, and this is one of its many strengths. What begins as an inviting and imaginative gesture toward a biography of the mime Marcel Marceau branches out into a broader consideration, at turns lyrical and philosophical, of the conflict that exists between silence and language. . . . a truly magnificent debut.”
—Kirkus Reviews, feature profile
“Wen . . . provides powerful words to fill in for all the silences [Marceau] nevertheless left behind. A standard biography would have crushed the subtlety of his performances. Instead, Wen’s range of approaches mirror performance pieces that call for their own applause.”
"Wen offers us an experimental book-length essay on the renowned mime Marcel Marceau, playing with form much as Marceau played with human expression."
—The International Examiner
"With great rigor and a feeling patience, [Wen] writes into the empty space created by Marceau’s wheeling arms, his gesturing eyes, his open and soundless mouth."
“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
“Wen...unfold[s] the mime's most powerful revelations about humanity. She may redefine mime for you, just as this little volume redefines terms like poetry, prose, biography, and book...Wen is infusing every word with as much power as Marceau used in each muscle to mime.”
—Indy Week, online, "Shawn Wen's Unorthodox Book About Mime Somehow Gives Voice to the Eloquent Silence of Marcel Marceau"
"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
“A Twenty Minute Silence Followed by Applause is as mesmerizing as a performance from Marceau himself. With perfect concision and vivid prose, Wen depicts a legend with humor, empathy, and keen observation. I loved this book.”
—Katie Eelman, Papercuts J.P., Boston, MA
“Shawn Wen’s book isn’t just an exploration of the unique genius of Marcel Marceau, but also of how performers, writers, and other artists shape the space of our thoughts. Wen dives through one of the most misunderstood forms of performance to reach for more fundamental ideas of how and why we try to communicate with each other. A strange and beguiling book.”
—Josh Cook, Porter Square Books, Cambridge, MA
"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
“Shawn Wen has written a surprising, impressionistic portrait of a man who was among the best-known artists of his day.”
—Nancy Updike, producer, This American Life
"A Twenty Minute Silence Followed by Applause. . . establishes critic Shawn Wen as [a] strong new voice in literature."