Latest Posts from the Blog

In the Spring & Summer Issue

In our newest issue, we gather contributors past and recent:

Rebecca Solnit’s “Grandmother Spider”: A meditation on the paintings of Ana Teresa Fernandez and the ways women are made to disappear from history.

Daniel Handler’s “I Hate You”: The story of a souring young man at a birthday dinner with old friends in Oakland. (The party is over.)

Elizabeth Tallent’s “Mendocino Fire”: The peripatetic life of a young female tree-sitter, raised, and perhaps forsaken, in the wilds of the forest.

Katie Crouch’s “To Bloom, to Burst, to Blaze”: An essay on Sylvia Plath, and a haunting failure of friendship set in the days of the first dot-com boom in San Francisco.

Erika Recordon’s “Normal Problems”: The tale of an otherwise perfect mate turning over a new leaf for his love … no more murdering women.

Glen David Gold’s “The Plush Cocoon”: In which the best-selling novelist recounts a short-lived childhood in a beautiful house full of amazing objects, and a dark past his young mother tries to keep at bay.

Also, fiction from Héctor Tobar (falling asleep is the hardest thing for a successful Mexican contractor in Los Angeles), Ron Carlson, Michelle Latiolais, Scott O’Connor, and artist Paul Madonna. Nonfiction from Jim Gavin (on the education of a high school sports stringer), David L. Ulin (why magical thinking gets us through plane flights, if not life), Edie Meidav (“What is the story of death? The first is that death creates stories.”).

And new poetry from two former U.S. poet laureates and early ZYZZYVA contributors—Kay Ryan and Robert Hass—as well as from Dan Alter, Valerie Bandura, Noah Blaustein, Christopher Buckley, Michelle Patton, and Austin Smith. Blueprints from artist and author Jonathon Keats on how to mechanically slow down time for entire cities, and incredible photographs of California on fire and in drought by Jane Fulton Alt and Bill Mattick.

You can get a copy of No. 100 here, or order a subscription to ZYZZYVA and we’ll start you off by shipping you the 100th issue.

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An Elegy and a Testament to a Culture: Joan Naviyuk Kane’s ‘Hyperboreal’

Hyperboreal“I could make passage / A thousand obscure, / Contradictory ways,” claims Joan Naviyuk Kane in “Mother Tongues,” a poem from the collection, Hyperboreal (University of Pittsburgh Press, 65 pages), winner of AWP’s Donald Hall Prize in Poetry. In five precise, prosodic quatrains, the poem navigates vast and difficult territory, memorializing both the poet’s mother and her mother’s native tongue, the King Island dialect of Inupiaq. An Inupiaq/Inuit, and among the last living speakers of the King Island dialect, Kane contends with biological, cultural, and political threats to her ancestral community, including climate change, language death, and the diaspora prompted by the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ forcible relocation of King Island residents in the mid-twentieth century. Yet as a mother and a daughter, an educator and an artist, Kane brings to these subjects a singular, sonorous voice and a lyric sensibility as alternatingly austere and lush as the land of her ancestral home.

“Mother Tongues,” like many of these poems, is studded with Inuit words: “Mother, / Aakaa; Woman, / Aġnaq.” Occasionally, these terms remain un-translated, as in “Time and Time Again” and “Nunaqtigiit.” While these entries may not offer most readers much in the way of semantics, Kane’s periodic refusal to translate testifies to the irreducibility of these messages, and to the impossibility of paraphrase from a language suffused with the knowledge of its own endangerment. As Spivak would have it, one cannot make widely legible an experience whose illegibility to dominant culture is among its fundamental experiential features. Or, in Kane’s own words, “The sky of my mind against which self- / betrayal in its sudden burn / fails to describe the world.”

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All the Lost, Autobiographical Novels

The Haunted Life and Other WritingsYears ago, when novelist Alexander Chee couldn’t sell his first book, a literary agent told him, “The first novel you finish isn’t always the first novel you publish.” The agent was right.

Hunter S. Thompson, for example, wrote his first novel, the autobiographical story of a boozy Kentucky boy in the city titled Prince Jellyfish, in his early twenties. After numerous literary agents declined it, Thompson shelved the manuscript and finished a second novel called The Rum Diary, which Simon & Schuster released in 1998, nearly four decades after he had completed it. And just last month, De Capo Press published Jack Kerouac’s lost, semi-autobiographical novella The Haunted Life, seventy years after Kerouac wrote it. It isn’t the Beat author’s first novel. That title goes to The Sea Is My Brother: The Lost Novel, penned in 1942. Nor is The Haunted Life Kerouac’s only “lost” novel; both it and The Sea Is My Brother took seven decades to reach print. The troubled twenty-two-year-old supposedly left the manuscript of The Haunted Life in a New York cab. But the novella surfaced in his friend Allen Ginsberg’s Columbia University dorm room closet, and much later in 2002, it sold at Sotheby’s for $95,600.


It might be true that the first novel you write isn’t the first novel you publish, but like many writers sitting on a finished manuscript, I used to want to publish mine anyway. It isn’t simply the first novel I’ve written. It’s the only novel I’ve written, possibly the only one I ever will write.

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The 100th Issue: Letter from the Editors

We don’t normally reprint letters from the editor here, but on the eve of Issue No. 100′s publication date, we’d like to share with you our thoughts about the journal—why we think the work is important (and why its print format is essential), and where we hope to take it. 

Dear Readers,

Ours is an era of profligate noise. Content and images clamor for our attention at every turn, in every medium. Opinion masquerades as information; information floods our senses. Distractions abound. The cacophony is merciless, and rapid fire.

At times it seems a literary journal may be hopelessly out of step with contemporary culture. It is a radically unhip project; a gentle kind of counter-cultural movement. Yet our endeavor here at ZYZZYVA answers an urgent need in this time and place—and here in San Francisco, at the relentlessly energetic heart of technological innovation, we have a distinct perspective on that need. We risk becoming strangers to ourselves amid this noise. It is all too easy, too seductive, to succumb to a perpetually distracted state. We need a space for quiet, for reflection. We need room to recognize what is meaningful, to linger for a moment in quietude, in sadness, in uncertainty, in joy.

From our offices in downtown San Francisco, we believe we are producing a literary journal that provides such a space. Since we started in 1985, our offices have moved from one city locale to another, but our view on the world has always been, and will remain, a distinctly San Franciscan perspective. Fueled by all that our greatly diverse, culturally driven city has to offer—an international yet American community; a place of wealth and prospects as well as poverty and despondency; a marvel of natural beauty and a landscape of urban grit; comical and heart-rending, imperiled and brave—we embrace our mission: to publish art and literature that speaks to the deepest wells of life’s struggle and joy, that acknowledges the mysteries of existence and sifts for glorious moments of revelation.

So now, at 100 issues in, having persevered through many a difficult time and many a close call, our hope is to keep this journal thriving and vibrant for as long as we can. With your help, we will continue the project that our founding editor’s vision and labor began, and honor this unique institution, the inimitable publication that introduced readers to Haruki Murakami and Jim Gavin; the journal of Richard Diebenkorn and Sandow Birk; of Kay Ryan and Sherman Alexie, Raymond Carver and Adam Johnson, Wanda Coleman and Elizabeth Spencer.

In an environment crowded with dazzling and questionable new technologies, ZYZZYVA asserts the cerebral and tactile pleasures of reading, of holding a well-bound book in your hands, of losing—and finding—yourself in the pages of a story. We value the technology of print and the way words on a page remove us, if just for a moment, from more immediate interaction with the rest of the world, allowing an incomparable depth of concentration.

We assert the value of the solitary reader, communing with humanity through text, through literature; and we will continue to do our part in fostering a culture that brings writers and readers together, to convene in the same room and share ideas.

We hope you will join us in celebrating 100 issues of preeminent and daring literary publishing, of Pulitzer winners and poet laureates, of the finest contemporary minds and astonishing raw talent, and twenty-nine years of cultivating a cultural community around the arts and letters.


Laura Cogan and Oscar Villalon

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The State of the Bracket

The NCAA’s Men’s Basketball Championship will be played next Monday. The field of sixty-four college teams has been whittled to four. Warren Buffet’s $1 billion bounty for correctly predicting the winner of each game in the tournament will go unclaimed. And for weeks, people asked—they had to ask—the question, How is your bracket?

So, how are your brackets, dear ZYZZYVA friends and contributors?

Kate Milliken: I’m offended by the question.

Ben Greenman: The way this tournament has gone, the only way to look at brackets is philosophically. What is victory, really? What is loss? Who can say for certain that the Stephen F Austin game even happened? We think we know, but do we know that we know? Bracketology, meet epistemology.

Vanessa Hua: My bracket’s busted. In the stack of books on my bedside table, I have books-by-friends, The Dismal Science by Peter Mountford and Soy Sauce for Beginners by Kirstin Chen, matched up against books-whose-structure-I’m-studying-for-my-novel, Monkey Hunting by Cristina García and The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman. The latest-book-by-a-favorite-author, At Night We Walk in Circles by Daniel Alarcón, facing off against an award-winning-book-by-an-author-new-to-me, The Miniature Wife and Other Stories by Manuel Gonzales

I’ve started on each. But the book I finish night after night, I am Invited to a Party by Mo Willems, features the adventures of Elephant and Piggie and illustrations of the fancy pool costume party, a tale my toddlers twins demand when we pile into bed to read before they sleep.

Paul Beatty: Mr. Speaker, Mr. Vice President, Members of Congress, fellow citizens, readers of ZYZZYVA:

Fifty-one years ago, John F. Kennedy declared to this Chamber that “the NCAA bylaws makes us not rivals for power but partners for progress … It is my task,” he said, “to report the State of the Bracket – to improve it is the task of us all.”

Tonight, thanks to the grit and determination of the American hoopster and Mercer, there is much progress to report. After a year of grinding up and down war, our brave men and women in basketball uniform are going to the rim. After years of grueling recession, our TV networks have created over six million new jobs–all bracketologists. We fill out more American brackets than we have in five years, and depend on less foreign oil and players than we have in twenty. Our mid-range jump shot is healing, our offensive rebounding is rebounding, and consumers, patients, and sports talk radio enjoy stronger protections than ever before.

The state of the bracket is strong.

Thank you,

Barack O’Beatty

(This a copy of the Prez’s 2013 State of the Union Address with very few changes.)

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The Truth About Harmony: Gordon’s ‘It Only Happens All of the Time’ at YBCA

Jacqueline Kiyomi Gordon's "IWYTWMTWYTWM (I Want You To Want Me To Want You To Want Me)," 2014, courtesy the artist

Jacqueline Kiyomi Gordon’s “IWYTWMTWYTWM (I Want You To Want Me To Want You To Want Me),” 2014, courtesy the artist

In one of the finest supermarket scenes in Don DeLillo’s novel White Noise (1985), the narrator, Jack Gladney, walks with his daughter past the exotic fruit bins where he suddenly becomes aware of the sounds of the space, the confusion: “I realized the place was awash in noise. The toneless systems, the jangle and skid of carts, the loudspeaker and the coffee-making machines, the cries of children. And over it all, or under it all, a dull and unlocatable roar, as of some form of swarming life just outside the range of human apprehension.”

“Dissonance,” Theodor Adorno famously remarked, “is the truth about harmony.” In DeLillo’s novel, listening, as distinct from something purely passive, reveals the dissonance that consumer America (“Kleenex Softique, Kleenex Softique,” “Coke is it, Coke is it, Coke is it”) obfuscates and conceals. DeLillo points to sound as that which manipulates and controls spaces and information. (As Hannah Arendt might have said, totalitarianism was the bastard child of modern technologies such as the microphone, the loudspeaker, and the radio.) It’s little wonder, then, that dissonance has become a favorite instrument in popular political demonstrations. In 2010, Cambridge University students used speakers to blast noise into the Vice Chancellor’s office in protest of budgetary spending cuts. More recently, in Kiev, thousands of protestors created uproar outside Parliament by pounding on oil drum containers and lampposts. Officialdom, however, is no stranger to the uses of dissonance either. Noise grenades were used on protestors in Kiev, for example; and “white noise torture,” first documented in the 1970s, when twelve suspected IRA terrorists were subjected to hissing sounds, is still rather common.

Los Angeles- and Oakland-based sculptor and sound artist Jacqueline Kiyomi Gordon’s small multimedia show It Only Happens All of the Time (March 7-June 15, 2014) at San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (YBCA) is a modest but no less engrossing display of work that addresses the tactical and violent implications of sound, its potential to both connect and alienate people, and its effects on space and the physical body. As Ceci Moss, assistant curator of visual arts at YBCA, observes, “Her practice…is an exercise in dissonance.” This is true; dissonance, at least, as Adorno understood it. Gordon consistently shows that harmony, in the realm of culture or politics, is distortion and subterfuge. It Only Happens All of the Time, which is an installment in YBCA’s program on technology called “Control” (curated by Moss), recalls the artist’s installation at the Pro Arts Gallery in Oakland last year. Gordon fixed transducers to the windows of the gallery and filtered sound from Frank H. Ogawa Plaza into the gallery. She blurred interior and exterior space, shifted visitors’ orientations, and nodded, it seemed, to the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations that took place in the plaza in 2011. For Gordon, both to listen and not listen is potentially dangerous; what you do not hear is equally as important as what you do.

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Stories of Resistance: Paz Errázuriz’s ‘La manzana de Adán’ & ‘Boxeadores’

Paz Errázuriz's "La Palmera, Santiago," from the series "La manzana de Adán," 1982; gelatin silver print; 19 2/3 x 23 ½ in. Photo courtesy the artist and Galeria AFA, Santiago.

Paz Errázuriz’s “La Palmera, Santiago,” from the series “La manzana de Adán,” 1982; gelatin silver print; 19 2/3 x 23 ½ in. Photo courtesy the artist and Galeria AFA, Santiago.

At the heart of a dictatorship is the ability to control a country’s narrative, to embed an authoritative view into the personal, to elide difference in favor of a universal meta-story. Characters and subjective viewpoints judged “out of line” are relegated to the margins where they are placed in an ontological vacuum. Against this totalizing force, art finds potency in its ability to assail the putative objectivity of the dictatorship’s narrative, to create new stories, to offer the gaze of the individual free from hegemonic forces.

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The Whole of the Iceberg: Rabih Alameddine’s ‘An Unnecessary Woman’

An Unnecessary WomanIn his fifth book, An Unnecessary Woman (Grove Press, 304 pages), San Francisco author Rabih Alameddine examines the past and present life of a 72-year-old Lebanese divorcee and translator, Aaliyah, who has distanced herself from family and lost her only two friends. As she holes up in her spacious Beirut apartment and braces for bombs during the Lebanese Civil War or wanders the streets of her city decades later, Alameddine’s novel stays lodged within the confines of Aaliyah’s erudite mind, where she bounces effortlessly between Fernando Pessoa and Bruno Schultz. Literature is her only salve. For sticking with Aaliyah, the reader is rewarded with gorgeous moments of wonder and cranky humor that ripen a narrative and a life.

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Reckoning With Seeing What We Want to See: Walter Kirn’s ‘Blood Will Out’

Blood Will OutIn 1998, author Walter Kirn (Thumbsucker, Up in the Air) agreed to drive a crippled Gordon setter from Montana to New York and deliver the dog to Clark Rockefeller. Kirn’s new memoir, Blood Will Out (Liveright, 272 pages) details his fifteen-year friendship with a man he long thought to be a Rockefeller, but turned out to be a wanted murderer.

After the delivery of the dog, Kirn and Rockefeller maintain a long-distance friendship, with Kirn making one additional visit to the East Coast in 2002. But when Clark kidnaps his own daughter in 2008, Kirn, along with the rest of the world, finds out that the man portraying himself as a Rockefeller was actually Christian Gerhartsreiter, a German immigrant wanted for the 1985 murder of John Sohus in San Marino, California. Wanting to know how he, along with everyone else, was duped by a simple con man, Kirn sits through Gerhartsreiter’s 2013 trial. “The trial was my chance to right all of this. To call off a deal I shouldn’t have agreed to.”

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The Archaeology of Gossip: Edmund White’s ‘Inside A Pearl: My Years in Paris’

Inside a PearlIn 1983, with a Guggenheim fellowship and his acclaimed novel A Boy’s Own Story in tow, Edmund White left what he calls New York’s “gay ghetto” and moved to Paris. The site of what White thought would be a jaunting continental vacation, a respite from the AIDS outbreak and the long shadow cast upon the utopian project of sexual liberation, Paris served as his home until 1998 and ushered in a renaissance for one of the progenitors of the gay novel.

In his new memoir, Inside a Pearl: My Years in Paris (Bloomsbury, 261), White recounts these fifteen years abroad in loosely strung vignettes that read like feuilleton, a vortex of societal gossip tinctured with White’s erudition and humor and dotted with anecdotes on an inexhaustible parade of celebrities: Alain Robbe-Grillet, Emmanuel Carrère, Alan Hollinghurst, Michel Foucault, Susan Sontag, Harry Matthews, Yves Saint Laurent, Azzedine Alaïa, Paloma Picasso and far-away glimpses of the Rothschilds. If this list sounds both fascinating and exhausting, it is because White’s social life is both of these things. Yet Inside a Pearl is underpinned by the morose awareness that death haunts each page. In the midst of the allure and maddening craze of it all, of the glint of celebrity, the lunches at La Tour d’Argent, Le Grand Véfour, Le Voltaire and Lapérouse, the holidays spent at Gstaad, the fantasy and ornate pretention of an expat flaneur in Paris, White’s frank portraiture of friends and lovers who have died from AIDS-related complications revolves at the center as larger concerns with gay identity are filtered through existential crisis.

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A Bag of Wheat, a Flood, a Fold-Out Couch: The Moth StorySLAM in San Francisco

The ten readers selected for The Moth StorySLAM at the Rickshaw Shop.

The ten readers selected for The Moth StorySLAM at the Rickshaw Shop at the night’s end.

In 1997, in hopes of recreating the experience of swapping stories with his friends on long summer nights in Georgia, poet and novelist George Dawes Green founded The Moth. Since its first event, held in the living room of Green’s New York City apartment, The Moth has grown into an influential organization known for bringing out original and affecting stories from everyday people around the world. The stories can be funny, or sad, or dramatic, or light, but, above all else, they must be true. The rules are simple: start with the theme for the night, come up with a story drawn from your own authentic experience, hone it until the stakes are real and the consequences apparent, and keep it within the constrained time. Then, if you are picked and get to climb up on stage, no notes are allowed.

This basic, but fundamental, formula has spawned multiple iterations of The Moth.  There’s The Moth Mainstage, which invites well-known artists, scientists, and celebrities (Salman Rushdie, Malcolm Gladwell, and Dan Savage have all spoken), as well as anyone with anything interesting to say, to tell their story, many of which are available to watch online.  There’s The Moth Radio Hour and The Moth Podcast, both of which collect the best Moth stories and sometimes even dig deeper, exploring how those stories came to be.  There’s a book that features adaptations of stories that have previously been performed, as well as several Moth community and education programs. But on a recent Monday night at the Rickshaw Shop, an event space decorated with bicycles and drab couches in San Francisco’s Hayes Valley, I had come to what was perhaps their most inclusive, interactive, and widespread program of all: the open-mic Moth StorySLAM.

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Claiming Her Origin and Her Life Apart From It: Gillian Conoley’s ‘Peace’

PeaceThe poems in Gillian Conoley’s Peace (Omnidawn, 112 pages) are characteristically spacious, speculative, full of breath and light. Drawing on a range of registers—the geographic and technologic, emotional and workaday—Conoley explores several categories of peace, broadly construed: the peace of armistice, of reflection, of liberation, of death. In her sparse, inventive lyric mode, Conoley weaves personal and political threads into an incantatory not-quite-narrative whose power lies in the gravid spaces between juxtaposed images and thoughts. It is in the emergent rhythms of “each euphoriant ephemery” that Peace finds its logic—and, perhaps, its peace.

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