A writer and artist soaring in Suriname

Thursday August 30, 2012

WILLIAMSTOWN -- In his photographs, Karl Schroder has captured lush landscapes and skies framed by storm clouds. You might assume they were scenes of the African savannah. In fact, he took them on the New England side of the Atlantic. This evening Schro der, along with local author Alex Olchowski, will reveal the beauty he discovered on the northern coast of South America.

In "Buskondre: Fiction and Photographs Inspired by the Suriname Interior," Olchowski will read from his fourth novel, and Schroder will discuss his displayed prints over wines and cheeses at Wild Oats.

Olchowski is the founder of the Slow Book Movement, modeled after the Slow Food Movement. He wrote "The Farmer" over the course of 18 months in New Lebanon, N.Y.. He hopes readers will slow down and savor the 2009 book, which he sells at venues such as the Williamstown Farmers Market.

"I find reading a novel a way of counteracting the speed of the digital age," he said.

He named the sequel "Bus kondre" (pronounced Boos-cond-ray) after the Surinamese Dutch word for "The Interior." The dairy farm setting in "The Farmer" is loosely based on Olchowski's time at Ioka Valley Farm in Hancock; "Buskondre" takes up protagonist Jack's storyline again as he heads to South America.

Olchowski himself spent a month in Suriname, and his stay there inspired him to write "Buskondre."

"The physical journey, along with the one I take with writing, is so rewarding. It keeps me going," he said.

Olchowski sells Karl Schro der's prints of Suriname alongside signed copies of his works.

"My photos are sort of a grounding device to the settings Alex has created within. He's used them as a way of introducing new sections in the book," Schroder said.

For the past 14 years, Schro der has worked as a professional cinematographer for films and commercials. Though he has traveled widely, he said his time in Suriname with Ol chowski was unlike anything he'd ever experienced.

He added that he never would have embarked on the journey if not for his friend's suggestion.

"Flying over The Interior is very much like crossing an ocean, a green ocean," he said.

With a population of around 560,000, Suriname has been South America's smallest sovereign nation since 1975, when it gained independence from the Netherlands. The former Dutch colony blends the cultures of Portugese, Creole, African, and native South Americans.

In what Olchowski calls "reality fiction," he includes actual people and real events in his plot.

The novel is populated with Maroons, descendants of Af rican slaves who escaped from their masters, as well as the American Indians. The story involves mining projects, a planned dam that threatens to intrude upon the natural beauty of the landscape, and other irresponsible policies the country's government in the novel has passed.

"It's a book about cultures untouched. The Interior is hang ing in a delicate balance," Olchowski said.

The American Indians of Suriname have held onto many of their beliefs and their ways of living through cataclysmic up heavals in the last 500 years, and in the last 50.

One of Schroder's photos is of a shaman in a polo shirt and wrought chain necklace, attentively looking off-camera.

"The country is truly like being in a time capsule. However, with grass runways and visitors from around the globe, the last thirty years have really accelerated their assimilation into modern culture," he said.

Even a naturalistic and intimate scene where the perspiring man in a photograph has a bunch of leaves pressed to his lips is itself evidence of interaction and communication. The people of Suriname's interior are not isolated.

"My photos are intended to be a window on the beauty but also a view of how the people and their views have changed so dramatically. I have chosen landscapes to illustrate the raw, unfamiliar beauty and some portraits to show the people, how they are and how things have changed for them," he said.

Schroder with his photography and Olchowski with his novel want to inspire others to visit Suriname. "Buskondre" is a way to start a conversation with people here about this place that has moved them.

"I write to further my projects. It's a way to take myself back down there," Olchowski said.

What: Book talk and photogrpahy reception

Where: Wild Oats co-op, 320 Main St., Route 2, Williamstown

When: Tonight from 5 to 7 p.m.

Admission: Free

Information: www.wildoats.coop


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