Featured Writer #47: Nance Van Winckel

Nance Van Winckel

excerpts from Sit Down and Shut Up

2014 marks the 50th anniversary of the 1964 New York World's Fair, a 650-acre exposition mainly showcasing American corporate know-how and consumer products, plus a number of obligatory international exhibits: you could wander through a Belgian village, view the Pietà in the Vatican pavilion, and sample foreign delicacies at a food court while listening to music from other cultures. All for a $2.00 admission price. And now, a half-century later, Ninth Letter is pleased to be able to feature select pages from an actual Official Guide to the 1964 World's Fair, but this guide has been altered, underlined, written over, and generally messed with by the poet, fiction writer, and conceptual artist Nance Van Winckel.

The Official Guide itself is a time capsule of when the 1960s still looked like the 1950s, though maybe a slightly space-age version of it, and optimism reigned about progress, progress, and more progress! Van Winckel beautifully undercuts the glistening assumptions of the Fair with something like a prophet's voice of doom from the future that is our present.

In the summer of 1964, when I walked the Fair grounds with my parents, I must have been awed by its vision of a future I would soon enter. The 120-foot-tall steel globe of the Earth--touchingly named the Unisphere--particularly impressed me, as well as the Equitable Life Insurance building's huge electronic board showing instant by instant the growing population of the United States, which was clocking in ever closer to a neat 200 million citizens.

At the time I may have sported a flattop buzz cut and thick horn-rimmed glasses, but my twelve-year-old mind was also buzzing with a different possibility of the future--after all, the Beatles' A Hard Day's Night was playing in American movie theaters at the same time. Yet as stirring as the ringing unapologetic energy of "I Should Have Known Better" and "Things We Said Today" sounded at the time, who knew that a mere two years away the same band would cook up the wacked-out rock electronica of "Tomorrow Never Knows" that echoed, and even presaged in some ways, the tumultuous world of the late 1960s.

So as Nance Van Winckel brilliantly garishes up the Official Guide's smugness and underlines its inadvertent ironies, her Cassandra-like voice seems to be asking, Is this what you really want? Or perhaps hers is a voice brimming with regret over so many missed chances. Or both. Or more. In any case, we hope you will enjoy this unofficial official guide to the 1964 New York World's Fair, and happy anniversary!

--Philip Graham


ARTIST'S STATEMENT: I'm having a dialogue with pages from The 1964 Official Guide to the New York World's Fair. I am responding from the future to the version of the future I received in the past. My altered version of the book is called: Sit Down & Shut Up. Besides altering the text, I usually add other graphic bits and refine to my own purposes all that had been in the vast before.



Nance Van Winckel's text-based collage work has appeared in Handsome Journal, The Cincinnati Review, Em, Dark Sky, Diode, Ilk, Western Humanities Review, and other journals. Excerpts from a collage novel are forthcoming in The Kenyon Review and Hotel Amerika. She has had visual work in galleries, juried and solo shows, and museums. Her sixth collection of poems is Pacific Walkers (U. of Washington Press, 2013); a fourth book of linked stories, Boneland, was recently published by U. of Oklahoma Press. A new photo-collage novel, entitled Ever Yrs, will be out next year. She teaches in the MFA in Writing Program at Vermont College of Fine Arts.

More of Van Winckel's text-based collage work may be viewed at:

  © Ninth Letter, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.