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Un-silencing voices of writers who embody the courage of free expression.

Books Unbound – The American Crisis: Readings for the Fourth of July

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A special two-hour program broadcast on the Fourth of July, “The American Crisis” features readings from the Revolutionary era, contemporary poetry on national identity, and an impassioned profile of Phillis Wheatley, the first African American poet—and arguably the first truly American poet. The episode is narrated by Heather Perry.

Frank Buczolich reads selections throughout from the title work “The American Crisis,” a series of articles by the political pamphleteer Thomas Paine. Sarah Torbeck reads Abigail Adams’ famous “Remember the ladies” letter, an early American example of feminist writing, and Phil Kasper reads her husband John Adams’ retort.

Tony Brewer reads two poems from the Beat Generation, “I Am Waiting” by Lawrence Ferlinghetti and “America” by Allen Ginsberg.

The centerpiece of the episode is “The Difficult Miracle of Black Poetry: Something Like a Sonnet for Phillis Wheatley,” a slightly abridged version of the essay-profile by June Jordan. Renee Reed gives voice to a stunning evocation of what it meant for Wheatley, brought to the Colonies as a seven-year-old African and sold as a slave, to create herself as a poet within the tradition of white English literature.

“The American Crisis” includes a segment on the African American astronomer and surveyor Benjamin Banneker (1731–1806). Doug Storm reads a letter to Thomas Jefferson written by Banneker on racial justice, elegantly rebuking the author of the Declaration of Independence for perpetuating the institution of slavery while articulating the cause of freedom. The companion piece to the letter is the poem “Benjamin Banneker Helps to Build a City” by Jay Wright, read by Cynthia Wolfe, from his epic volume of verse Transfigurations. The segment in introduced with “Enlightenment,” by the multiracial poet Natasha Trethewey, which finds parallels between Jefferson’s contradictory attitudes toward slavery and the relationship of a white father and his black daughter.

The first Native American to publish in English, the Mohegan Christian convert Samson Occom (1723–1792), is represented by the opening of his memoir, in which he recalls the life of his people before the coming of Christianity. Martin O’Neill reads. Abenaki and French-Canadian poet Cheryl Savageau’s pointedly humorous “graduate school first semester: so here I am writing about Indians again” is read by Erin Livingston, who also reads examples of Phillis Wheatley’s poetry.

The episode closes with “lady liberty” by the Nuyorican poet Tato Laviera, who was born in Puerto Rico and died in New York in 2013, after a period of ill health and marginalization that included time spent in a homeless shelter. Cynthia Wolfe reads Laviera’s hopeful “lady liberty,” as well as the episode’s opening poem, “Of History and Hope” by Miller Williams, and “The History of America” by the Jewish feminist poet Alicia Ostriker.

The soundtrack for this episode features various works by the American composer Charles Ives (1874–1954), who has been described as “optimistic, idealistic, fiercely democratic … a Yankee maverick … among the most representative of American artists,” including:
selections from the album Ives: A Set of Pieces by the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra (Deutsche Grammophon, 1999)
“They Are There! (Fighting for the People’s New Free World),” performed by Kronos Quartet, from their album Black Angels (Nonesuch, 1990)
the Presto movement of Ives’ Trio for Violin, Cello, and Piano, performed by the Beaux Arts Trio on their album Beaux Arts Trio: Fifty Year Celebration in Music (Phillips, 2004)

Additional music in the episode:
Stanley Friedman, Sonata for Trumpet and Piano: Variations on “The Morning Trumpet,” performed by Eric Berlin and Nadine Shank on the album Calls and Echoes: American Sonatas for Trumpet and Piano (MSR Classics, 2013)
Larry Hoffman, Blues Suite for Violoncello, Movements I and II, performed by Kristin Ostling on the album Works of Larry Hoffman: Contemporary American Music (After Click, 2011)
John Adams, “American Berserk”, performed by Nicolas Hodges, from the album Road Movies (Nonesuch, 2004)
“Trumpet, Flute, and Little Drum,” from Tzotziles: Psalms, Stories and Music (Sub Rosa/Le Coeur du Monde: 1999), a documentary field recording of a people descended from the Maya culture

Fireworks sound effects from Freesound.org were created by HerbertBoland, atomwrath, bmlake, and others.

“The American Crisis” was produced, written and edited by Cynthia Wolfe, with assistance from Heather Perry, Sarah Torbeck, and Doug Storm.

Executive producer: Joe Crawford
Theme music: The Impossible Shapes

Books Unbound – Elizabeth Stoddard and the 1860s, Part Two: Relations

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The second part of Books Unbound’s summer series on Elizabeth Stoddard (1823–1902) features “Lucy Tavish’s Journey “ (1867), a romantic tale read by Renee Reed that throws a few satiric elbows. Young Lucy Tavish sets out in new clothes bought by hay and cheese to have her first independent adventure, exposing herself to an unpredictable, sordid world. But before she even gets off the train, she’s found a safe destination. Like most of Stoddard’s stories, “Lucy Tavish’s Journey” centers on male-female relationships, but her ostensibly happy endings are often perplexing. A self-declared “difficult” woman, Stoddard herself had a lasting marriage but was blamed for estranging her husband from his friends.

The Stoddards lost two of their three sons, one as an infant and the other at age six. Elizabeth published several poems of mourning for her sons, including “Unreturning” (1868), read by Antonia Matthew. “Unreturning” is accompanied at the end of the episode with the poem “Testament” by Carolyn M. Rodgers, which is dedicated to the congregation of Mother Emanuel AME in Charleston, South Carolina, in memory of their loved ones killed in the June 17 shooting at the church. Rodgers is a poet from the South Side of Chicago who was an early member of the Black Arts Movement. Her poem is read by Renee Reed.

Sarah Torbeck reads two of Stoddard’s letters from 1865 that mention Lincoln’s assassination, and the couple’s friendship with the actor Edwin Booth, the pro-Lincoln brother of John Wilkes Booth. Stoddard abruptly juxtaposes this event with personal, even narcissistic concerns, and with adoration for her surviving son—suggesting unresolved themes of family, blood, race and politics in the Civil War era that underlie her superficially conventional fiction.

Special music comes from the Piano Quintet in F Minor of Johannes Brahms, published in 1865. The quintet was performed by Jorja Fleezanis, Wu Han, Ian Swensen, Ralph Kirshbaum, and Cynthia Phelps, and was recorded live at the Music@Menlo chamber music festival in 2005. Music for the poetry segment comes from Brahms, the Adagio movement of his Piano Trio in B Major, performed by the Beaux Arts Trio.

“Elizabeth Stoddard and the 1860s, Part One: Mrs. Stoddard” was produced, written and edited by Cynthia Wolfe, with production assistance from Heather Perry, Sarah Torbeck, and Jack Hanek. The series will continue after a break for a special episode on July 4.

Executive producer: Joe Crawford

Books Unbound theme music: The Impossible Shapes

Books Unbound – Elizabeth Stoddard and the 1860s, Part One: Mrs. Stoddard

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Elizabeth Stoddard (1823–1902) wrote most of her published fiction in the 1860s, during the turbulent years encompassing the American Civil War. While Stoddard’s novel The Morgensons (1862) is recognized as the neglected masterpiece of a strikingly original woman’s voice, the Books Unbound Summer 2015 series focuses on her short works of the decade—stories, poems, letters, and excerpts from her journalism and 1866 diary—and on the shorter novel Two Men, which was published two months after the surrender at Appomattox and deals with the themes of race and national identity.

“Part One: Mrs. Stoddard” takes its subtitle from her frequent byline “Mrs. R.H. Stoddard”. She was well over thirty when she began writing seriously, and at first wrote poetry in the shadow of her husband—who today is universally regarded as the lesser writer. Prose became a way for her to assert her independent voice. The distinctive quality of her novels was recognized by reviewers, but she was considered difficult and never won over a wide readership. In many ways, Stoddard embraced Victorian values, including the centrality of marriage. But her interest as a writer in marriage lies in the constraints it places on women and their self-fulfillment, and her ostensibly happy endings require the wife to submit to compromises.

The featured story is “The Prescription,” read by Lauren Robert. For its time, “The Prescription” (1864) was a frank depiction of domestic abuse by a domineering husband. Though listeners today are likely to find the ending unsatisfying, the first-person narrator finds a gateway for the emergence of an independent self through writing a diary.

The episode includes an excerpt from Stoddard’s own diary and two letters read by Sarah Torbeck, and two poems read by Erin Livingston. Heather Perry hosts, and executive producer Joe Crawford is guest announcer.

Special music comes from the Piano Quintet in F Minor of Johannes Brahms, written in the same year as “The Prescription” and published in 1865. The quintet was performed by Jorja Fleezanis, Wu Han, Ian Swensen, Ralph Kirshbaum, and Cynthia Phelps, and was recorded live at the Music@Menlo chamber music festival in 2005. The Books Unbound theme is by The Impossible Shapes.

“Elizabeth Stoddard and the 1860s, Part One: Mrs. Stoddard” was produced, written and edited by Cynthia Wolfe, with production assistance from Heather Perry, Sarah Torbeck, and Jack Hanek.

Books Unbound – The Mulatto

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Books Unbound revisits “The Mulatto,” a short story that first appeared in 1837 in an anti-slavery magazine published by free people of color in France. Its author was the 19-year-old Victor Séjour, who had come as a student to Paris from New Orleans. Séjour was a French-speaking person of color whose baptismal record identifies him as a free quadroon. His father had come to New Orleans among refugees of the Haitian Revolution. “The Mulatto” is set in Haiti, and is thought to be the first short story published by an American of African descent.

It’s a frank melodrama, a mode of extreme passion and good-and-evil morality that permeated 19th-century fiction and drama. An oedipal tragic secret lies at the heart of a story fueled by rape, injustice, revenge and murder. Gothic elements of horror speak to the violence done to family within the institution of slavery. Séjour went on to have a highly successful career as a dramatist, with twenty of his plays in a variety of genres produced at the Comédie Française.

“The Mulatto” was originally part of a Books Unbound series on race in literature that was broadcast in early 2015. Indiana University associate professor Maisha Wester discusses the racial implications of gothic melodrama.

Our reader is Lauren Robert. Sarah Torbeck hosts, with Jack Hanek as the announcer. Special music comes from the Twelve Grand Études of Frédéric Chopin, which were published the same year as “The Mulatto”, performed by Martha Goldstein courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. The episode was produced and written by Cynthia Wolfe, with the interview produced by Doug Storm. Special thanks to Community Access Television Services for recording this week’s reading.

Executive producer: Joe Crawford

Theme music: The Impossible Shapes

 

Books Unbound – The Life of Lazarillo de Tormes, Conclusion

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The Life Of Lazarillo de Tormes, His Fortunes and Misfortunes concludes with an improbably happy ending. Lazarillo is a clueless but sly servant boy who learns to survive a series of abusive masters through trickery and petty crime.

Published anonymously in the 16th century, Lazarillo was one of only six novels banned by the Index of Prohibited Books during the Inquisition. This classic of Spanish and world literature is also an early example of the picaresque novel, episodic fiction in which a roguish protagonist evades conventional authority and navigates a series of predicaments. Novelist Jane Smiley calls Lazaro the first protagonist in fiction to represent the ordinary person whose primary concern is eking out a living. Set mostly in Toledo, Spain, the novella is also notable for its depiction of poverty amid the anti-poor laws enacted during the period, and the changing attitudes toward charity in an increasingly capitalist society.

Excerpted from the translation of Robert S. Rudder, the Books Unbook presentation of The Life of Lazarillo de Tormes is newly expanded from a version first broadcast in the fall of 2014 as part of a series on classic satiric fiction. Tony Brewer is the reader, Sarah Torbeck the host, and Berklea Going the announcer.

The episode was written and produced by Cynthia Wolfe, with production assistance from Robert Shull and Doug Storm.

Lazarillo features period music by the 16th-century Spanish composer Diego Ortiz, who was born in Toledo, as performed by Jordi Savali on his albums La Folia and Recercadas del Trattado de Glosas. Books Unbound theme music by The Impossible Shapes.

Series producer: Cynthia Wolfe
Executive producer: Joe Crawford

Books Unbound – The Life Of Lazarillo de Tormes, Part 1

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The Life Of Lazarillo de Tormes, His Fortunes and Misfortunes is a classic of Spanish literature, written anonymously and one of only six novels on the Index of Prohibited Books during the Inquisition. Lazaro is a clueless but sly servant boy who learns to survive a series of abusive masters through trickery and petty crime. The original book was controversial mainly for its satire of Catholicism and the clergy, and the version available to modern readers is an edition censored for re-publication. A sequel that was critical of the political power structure remained banned.

Written in the 16th century, Lazarillo is an early example of the picaresque novel, episodic fiction in which a roguish protagonist evades conventional authority and navigates a series of predicaments. Novelist Jane Smiley calls Lazaro the first protagonist in fiction to represent the ordinary person whose primary concern is eking out a living. Set mostly in Toledo, Spain, the novella is also notable for its depiction of poverty amid the anti-poor laws enacted during the period, and the changing attitudes toward charity in an increasingly capitalist society.

Excerpted from the translation of Robert S. Rudder, the Books Unbook presentation of The Life of Lazarillo de Tormes is newly expanded two-part program from a version first broadcast in the fall of 2014 as part of a series on classic satiric fiction. Tony Brewer is the reader, Sarah Torbeck the host, and Berklea Going the announcer.

The episode was written and produced by Cynthia Wolfe, with production assistance from Robert Shull and Doug Storm.

Lazarillo features period music by the 16th-century Spanish composer Diego Ortiz, who was born in Toledo, performed by Jordi Savali on his albums La Folia and Recercadas del Trattado de Glosas. Books Unbound theme music by The Impossible Shapes.

Broadcast on MCCSC Commencement day, the episode concludes with the poem “The Writer” by Richard Wilbur, read by Cynthia Wolfe and dedicated to the Class of 2015.

Series producer: Cynthia Wolfe
Executive producer: Joe Crawford

Books Unbound – Not Somewhere Else But Here

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“Not Somewhere Else But Here” is a companion piece to Books Unbound’s April 25th episode on Guantánamo Diary by Mohamedou Ould Slahi, and was originally broadcast as a prologue to a living reading of the memoir. Excerpts from classic fiction on incarceration and poems explore the theme of confinement, how it shapes identity, and the nature of escape. The program is structured in three conceptual sequences, the first locating the impulse to confine in the family.

I. familial repression and freudian crime

• “They Shut Me Up in Prose” by Emily Dickinson (read by Erin Livingston)
• “Captivity” by Louise Erdrich (Lauren Robert)
• “Cage” by Josephine Miles (Joan Hawkins)
• “last speakers of a dead language shut up” by Tony Brewer (Tony Brewer)
• “Black Woods” by Kevin Pruffer (Tony Brewer and Cynthia Wolfe)
• “Hole” by Matt Morris (Erin Livingston, Tony Brewer, and Cynthia Wolfe)

II. law and order: incarceration

• excerpt from “The Pit and the Pendulum” by Edgar Allan Poe (Jack Hanek)
• excerpts from Notes from a Dead House, Chapter One, by Fyodor Dostoevsky (Sarah Torbeck and Pavel Abramov, with additional music from “Motherland” and “Freedom” by Russian political and peace activist Yuri Shevchuk and DDT)
• “What Kind of Times Are These” by Adrienne Rich, with a statement from her 2001 column in the Los Angeles Times, “Credo of a Passionate Skeptic” (Joan Hawkins)
• “The Man in Question” by Daniel Borzutzky (Tony Brewer) listener advisory: this poem contains blunt statements about sexual activity
• “Before the Law” by Franz Kafka (Frank Buczolich)

III. confinement and the mind: escape

• “The Sail of Ulysses” by Wallace Stevens (Cynthia Wolfe)
• “Everyone Sang” by Siegfried Sassoon (Lauren Robert)

Heather Perry is this week’s host. Produced by Cynthia Wolfe with assistance from Heather Perry, Sarah Torbeck, and Jack Hanek. Script by Cynthia Wolfe with contributions from Sarah Torbeck, Tony Brewer, and Frank Buczolich. Edited by Cynthia Wolfe.

Special music for the episode from “Chitarra Ocarinistica Bad Reise” and “Seven Replies to Unasked Questions” by Fred Frith and his workshop, and “Elegy for an Angel” by Lindsay Cooper, Fred Frith, Gianni Gebbia and Lars Hollmer, from the album Angelica ’92; and from the album Voyage That Never Ends by Stefano Scodanibbio

Executive producer: Joe Crawford
Books Unbound theme music: The Impossible Shapes

Books Unbound – “Exploring with Robert McAlmon, Part Three”

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Robert McAlmon was a ubiquitous presence among the “Lost Generation” of American expatriate writers during the 1920s and ’30s in Paris. Bisexual, he entered into a marriage of appearances with the heiress and lesbian writer Bryher. With her father’s great wealth, he started a press that published the early work of many of the most famous Modernists—and paid bar tabs and hotel bills for his friends Ernest Hemingway and James Joyce. By the end of the 1930s, he was sinking into obscurity, bitterness, and alcoholism.

Books Unbound’s three-part program on this lesser-known Modernist concludes with poems and prose pieces from McAlmon’s 1921 collection Explorations, with a third short story from his fiction collection A Hasty Bunch (1922) to complement “A Vacation’s Job” and “A Boy’s Discovery” in parts one and two.

The first segment features McAlmon’s complete cycle of poems about what was then still the novel sensation of flying in an aircraft: “Aero-Rhythms” (Joan Hawkins), “Perspicuity” (Cynthia Wolfe), “Etherism” (Hawkins), “Aero-Metre” (Erin Livingston), “Consummation” (Tony Brewer), “Volplanetor” (Wolfe), and “Aero-Laughter” (Frank Buczolich).

The short-short story “Light Woven into Wavespray,” read by Phil Kasper, infuses gorgeous descriptions of seaside leisure with McAlmon’s pervasive ennui and contempt, and intimations of his sexuality. The central panel of the episode is “Mood Decisions,” a prose sequence (read by Brewer and Livingston) rife with biting humor, sharp images, and snark.

The episode closes with more poetry. Now almost a century old, the prescient “White Males” (Hawkins) treats its titular subject as a violent species facing extinction. Also included are “Today’s Music” (Wolfe), “Words” (Buczolich), and “A Modern’s Half Day” (Hawkins)

Special music for the episode comes from two classical composers who were active at the time of McAlmon’s literary career. The poems on flight are accompanied by excerpts from Igor Stravinsky’s symphonic poem “The Song of the Nightingale” (1917), conducted by Pierre Boulez and performed by the Cleveland Symphony Orchestra. McAlmon writes about Stravinsky in the prose piece “Thought Ghosts on Music” in Explorations:

“Strawinsky — a snigger chortled between Mozart and Schumann — ‘laughing up his sleeve at us, and not letting us in on the joke with titles as does Strauss,’ men behind me declared. The innovation jarred senses that ten conscientious years of musical training had grooved. An innovation that might cause them to retrain their senses. I could hear Strawinsky tittering up his sleeve, and hear the titter giggling along his ribs, making them to rattle — and that is another theme for modern music. I enjoyed Strawinsky. He might mean anything because he meant nothing.”

Additional music comes from Maurice Ravel’s Sonata for Violin and Cello, written during the time A Hasty Bunch and Explorations were published. The sonata is performed by Carlos Benito de la Gala and Alberto Gorrochategui Blanco on their album Kodaly and Ravel (KalilaDimna, 2011). Wind sound effect for the flight sequence was created by Mark DiAngelo via SoundBible.com.

Sarah Torbeck hosts, with announcer Jack Hanek. This episode was produced, written, and edited by Cynthia Wolfe, with production assistance from Heather Perry, Sarah Torbeck and Jack Hanek.

Executive producer: Joe Crawford
Theme music: The Impossible Shapes

Books Unbound – Exploring with Robert McAlmon, Part Two

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“Exploring with Robert McAlmon” is a three-episode series of fiction and poetry by one of the lesser-known Modernists. McAlmon has been called a leading “spokesman of the post-war nihilistic pessimism of the Lost Generation.” He was publisher and hard-drinking companion of many of the major Modernists writing in English, including James Joyce, William Carlos Williams, H.D., Gertrude Stein, and Ernest Hemingway.

Graduation day at Indiana University brings the conclusion of “A Vacation’s Job”, as a white male college student combats his intellectual ennui with a summer job supervising manual laborers. David’s “racial tourism” brings him into contact with the vital culture of African Americans in the 1920s, but his experiences are constrained by racist prejudices and sense of superiority. (Listeners are advised that the story contains offensive and derogatory racial and ethnic characterizations and language that reflect attitudes of the 1920s.) “A Vacation’s Job” is read by Phil Kasper.

The short “A Boy’s Discovery” deals with sexual identity and childhood vulnerability, and like “A Vacation’s Job, hints at autobiographical elements, such as the author’s own peripatetic upbringing and bisexuality. Shayne Laughter reads a wistful, comic but unsparing story about growing up in small-town America. Both stories come from McAlmon’s 1921 short-story collection A Hasty Bunch.

Sarah Torbeck hosts, with announcer Jack Hanek. This episode was produced, written, and edited by Cynthia Wolfe, with production assistance from Heather Perry, Sarah Torbeck and Jack Hanek.

Special music for the episode comes from the 1920s classics ““Take Me Away from the River” by Fletcher Henderson and His Orchestra; “Sidewalk Blues” by Jelly Roll Morton’s Red Hot Peppers; and Maurice Ravel’s Sonata for Violin and Cello, written about the time A Hasty Bunch was first published. and performed by Carlos Benito de la Gala and Alberto Gorrochategui Blanco on their album Kodaly and Ravel (KalilaDimna, 2011)

Executive producer: Joe Crawford
Theme music: The Impossible Shapes

Books Unbound – Exploring with Robert McAlmon: ‘A Vacation’s Job,’ Part One

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“Exploring with Robert McAlmon” is a three-episode series of fiction and poetry by one of the lesser-known Modernists. Born in 1895, McAlmon grew up in the small towns of the Midwest as the son of an itinerant Presbyterian minister, and he never developed the habit of staying in place. He knew and offered support as a publisher to many of the key figures of Modernism, publishing Ernest Hemingway’s first book and typing in the manuscript of James Joyce’s Ulysses. He also published Mina Loy’s Lunar Baedeker, selections from which were heard in the November 23 episode of Books Unbound.

The series begins with “A Vacation’s Job,” a selection for graduation season to be continued next week, published in McAlmon’s 1922 collection A Hasty Bunch. A smugly superior white male college student takes a summer job among manual laborers. He thinks of himself as an enlightened intellectual, but through techniques of ironic point of view, McAlmon reveals his unexamined racist hypocrisies. (Listeners are advised that the story contains offensive and derogatory racial and ethnic characterizations and language that reflect attitudes of the 1920s.) The story’s exploration of masculinist themes and male friendships is interesting in light of McAlmon’s own strong belief that bisexuality is normative, and that both homosexuality and heterosexuality are partial and restrictive.

The reader is Phil Kasper. Sarah Torbeck hosts, with announcer Jack Hanek. This episode was produced, written, recorded and edited by Cynthia Wolfe, with assistance from Sarah Torbeck and Jack Hanek.

The episode concludes with an observance for the deaths in Nepal after the April 25 earthquake. Cynthia Wolfe reads “Death Speaks” by Nepalese poet Dinesh Adhikari, in a translation by Wayne Amtzis.

McAlmon regularly refers to jazz and avant-garde classical in his work, and the episode features lavish portions of 1920s music. Special music for the Nepalese observance (and during a description of the desert in the story) comes from the Sonata for Violin and Cello by Maurice Ravel, written 1920–1922, and performed by Carlos Benito de la Gala and Alberto Gorrochategui Blanco, from their album Kodaly and Ravel (KalilaDimna, 2011).

Executive producer: Joe Crawford
Theme music: The Impossible Shapes

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