The 14 short stories contained within Mark Morganstern’s newly published Dancing with Dasein and Other Stories are populated with vivid characters experiencing some sort of internal conflict with the current situation in their lives. Dasein is a German word usually translated in English as “existence” or “to be there”: a concept espoused by the Existentialist philosopher Martin Heidegger to refer to the experience of living in relationship with other humans while being ultimately alone with oneself. To be human is to experience dasein, “to be there” immersed in the tangible, day-to-day world.
Morganstern’s protagonists – who include an Italian American Zen master from the Bronx who dispenses advice in the Hudson Valley, a failed graduate student who runs into his former Heidegger professor and finds him in reduced circumstances, a young curator assigned to coddle an infamous avant-garde artist whose assistant threatens her marriage and a reincarnated ancient Egyptian chef who travels thousands of years forward in time to open a bakery in a southern California surf town – are “all basically dancing with dasein,” says the author.
Morganstern will do a reading from Dancing with Dasein and Other Stories at the Rosendale Café on Sunday, November 29 at 3 p.m. There is no charge to attend. (Morganstern is co-owner of the Café along with his wife, Susan; he jokes that he’s doing the reading there because “nobody can stop me.”)
The author first honed his craft in the writing program of the City University of New York, earning a Master’s degree in English and Creative Writing. He has had stories published over the years in magazines and small journals, but this is his first collection published as a book. The stories were written over the course of years.
Morganstern was born in Schenectady, but says of the Hudson Valley, “This is my place.” Many of the stories take place locally, although not all of them, he points out. Still, most of them do, and it was a story that he had published in a collection of Hudson Valley stories that introduced him to his editor, Brent Robison. He says that Robison allowed him latitude in taking his stories as far as he wanted to take them before “roping them back in, only stopping me when I went really ridiculously too far.”
Asked about his writing process, Morganstern says that he never sets out to write a certain kind of story; it’s more organic than that. “I usually just start with a sentence, then write another sentence, and eventually I start to understand what the story is about.” Some ideas are inspired by a real-life incident, while others may start with something he read or overheard in the café that he owns. “None of the characters are based on a real person,” he adds, “but having a café… all you have to do is pay attention.”
Dancing with Dasein and Other Stories is available on Amazon.com along with local sources that include the Rosendale Library, Half Moon Books in Kingston and the Golden Notebook in Woodstock.
The cover art for the book is a luminous watercolor of a local scene painted by Hudson Valley-based artist Staats Fasoldt, also vice president of the Woodstock School of Art. “He is a friend and a reader,” says Morganstern, “and one day after I had sent him a couple of the stories, I got that art in an e-mail as a gift. I looked at it and said, ‘That’s the book cover.’ I really like the idea of the book having an original book jacket, created by the artist based on how they feel about what they read.”
The reading at the Rosendale Café this Sunday will be an informal affair: just him reading from some sections of the book. “It’ll be a fairly short reading,” Morganstern says, “then we’ll let people get at the cheese, crackers and wine.”
Mark Morganstern reads Dancing with Dasein & Other Stories, Sunday, November 29, 3 p.m., free, Rosendale Cafe, 434 Main Street, Rosendale;(845) 658-9048, www.rosendalecafe.com.