Monthly Archives: April 2011

The Giraffe

Robin Ekiss, a former managing editor at ZYZZYVA, has been a waterslide attendant and an AFL/CIO meat cutter. She’s also an accomplished poet. Her first collection of poems, The Mansion of Happiness (2009), was published by the University of Georgia Press. Her work also has appeared in The Atlantic Monthly, APR, POETRY, TriQuarterly, Ploughshares, The Kenyon Review, New England Review, Black Warrior Review, and VQR.

“The Giraffe” is one of her two poems in the Spring 2011 issue of ZYZZYVA. Only ten lines long, its compactness belies its intricacy. Along with Tom Barbash and Vanessa Hua, she will be reading at the Booksmith in San Francisco on May 4.

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Deb Olin Unferth’s ‘Revolution’ and the Costs of Memoir

Save some long-mothballed, early twentieth-century avant-garde movements, memoir may be the only literary genre requiring a statement of principles. This applies to readers and writers alike. Do you expect a memoirist to show perfect recall, to reconstruct a past with vividly described environments, clear dialogue, and novelistic scenes? Or do you want a memoirist to admit the fallibility of her memory? Perhaps in an introductory preface, and to confess that some scenes, characters, and timelines may be elided, compressed, combined — i.e., do you mind if she makes things up, as long as it’s in the service of a good …Continue reading

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Do You Know Los Mejores Narradores Jovenes en Español?

Some seven years ago, Granta, a journal that has become synonymous with the finest literary writing coming out of the United Kingdom – to say nothing about it featuring some of the best writing coming out of the United States – published its first issue of Granta en español. In “a culmination of a dialogue” with the Spanish-speaking world it initiated back then, Granta published The Best of Young Spanish Language Novelists last year. Just as its landmark issue from 1983 spotlighting young novelists from the U.K. (Salman Rushdie, Kazuo Ishiguro, Martin Amis, Julian Barnes, Pat Barker, Ian McEwan, Graham …Continue reading

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The Third Daughter

Born and raised in the Bay Area, Vanessa Hua is an award-winning journalist whose work has appeared in the Economist, The New York Times, and Newsweek. A graduate of UC Riverside’s MFA program, she she won the Atlantic Monthly’s student fiction contest in 2008, and in 2005 won Cream City Review’s fiction contest.

The following is an excerpt from her story in the Spring 2011 issue of ZYZZYVA — a story taken from her finished unpublished novel, Without Heaven. The novel was inspired, Hua says, by “documentary footage of Chairman Mao swing dancing with teen age girls … After stumbling across a short clip, I wanted to learn more about the recruits for this dance troupe. There wasn’t much information available, which gave me the room necessary to work on a novel.”

She will be reading from her story at the ZYZZYVA event at the Booksmith in San Francisco on May 4, and at the ZYZZYVA event at Skylight Books in Los Angeles on May 14.

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How to Fall

Tom Barbash, who lives in Marin County, is the author of the California Book Award-winning novel The Last Good Chance, (which among its many fine attributes is its portrayal of life as a reporter on a community newspaper) and the nonfiction best-seller On Top of the World: Cantor Fitzgerald, Howard Lutnick, and 9/11. His work has appeared in many publications, including McSweeney’s and Narrative, and he has written the best account ever of what LeBron James’ career as a pro bowler might have been.

The following is an excerpt from his story from the Spring 2011 issue of ZYZZYVA. It gracefully shows how love-loss is both comic and stomach-punching, an impossible situation we somehow endure and even come out of somewhat intact. He will be reading May 4 at the ZYZZYVA event at the Booksmith in  San Francisco.

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Mistakes Were Made, Errors Happened

Journalist Karl Taro Greenfeld is perhaps best known for Boy Alone, his searing, candid memoir of growing up with a severely autistic brother. In this story published in the Fall 2010 issue of ZYZZYVA, Greenfeld turns his talent for unsparing prose on a young man’s turbulent summer in Japan. The title, derived from a characteristically restrained Japanese turn of phrase, offers a dry counterpoint to the magnitude of the missteps chronicled here. What was meant to be a summer-long interlude between high school and college (sustained by a respectable job as a messenger) devolves rapidly into a debauchery of theft, drugs, and prostitution. As our confident and careless young narrator careens headlong into chaos, Greenfeld keeps the up the tension amid a dark cloud of  humor.

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PEN World Voices Heads to the West Coast

The PEN World Voices Festival of International Literature begins April 25, but you don’t have to live near Manhattan to get a taste of what the festival has to offer: stellar authors from around the globe communing with their American peers and readers. Along with stops in the Midwest, the Northeast, and the Eastern Seaboard, the PEN World Voices Festival tour will be coming to the West Coast from May 2 to May 4. Rahul Bhattacharya, whose first novel, “The Sly Company of People Who Care” (FSG), has earned him comparisons to V.S. Naipaul, and acclaimed (and banned) author Yan …Continue reading

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Before Goldman Knew of Great Loss There Was First Knowing Great Love

On a hot, bright July day in 2007, author Francisco Goldman waded into the Pacific surf off Mazunte, Mexico. His wife, Aura Estrada, watched him bodysurf, catching a wave and riding it twenty yards back toward the shore, and decided she’d like to do the same. As the next wave approached, she called out, “This one’s mine!” That powerful wave left Aura unconscious, floating in the shallow waters near the beach, and although she regained consciousness and fought for her life in the hours that followed, she did not survive. Say Her Name (Grove; 350 pages) is Goldman’s wrenching but …Continue reading

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Frida & Diego, or Among Musicians Only

Willy Lizárraga was born and raised in Peru and arrived in San Francisco as a teen. A teacher at Berkeley City College, Lizárraga is also a novelist. His novel in Spanish, Mientras Elena en su lecho, won the 1995 Letras de Oro Literary Prize, University of Miami. Frida & Diego, Or Among Musicians Only appeared in the Winter 2010 issue of ZYZZYVA. (You can get a copy here.) The following excerpt gives a strong sense of Lizárraga’s vibrant English prose, as well as his powerful depiction of place. Here, San Francisco’s Mission District is a “cemetery” after midnight. “Why aren’t they flooding the streets of this supposedly world-class city, me cago en Dios?” a character asks. “Why isn’t everybody enjoying the night como gente civilizada, hostias?” (If you read Spanish, the story is also joyfully profane.)

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Things Lost in Translation

Devreaux Baker is a Northern California poet and the author of many collections, including Red Willow People (2010), published by Wild Ocean Press in San Francisco. She also produces the Mendocino Coast Poetry Reading Series and produced “The Voyagers Radio Program of Original Student Writing,” which aired on KZYX Public Radio.

“Things Lost in Translation” appeared in the Winter 2010 issue of ZYZZYVA. (You can get a copy here.) Baker’s poem could be described as a romantic plea, urging the beloved to allow the speaker full knowledge of his or her life. “Empty the words from your pockets/rearrange the stars if you have to,/ but tell me something untold before/”

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Tennessee Williams’ Bird-Girl of Glorious Hill: Theater Review

The Eccentricities of a Nightingale, a lesser-known work by Tennessee Williams being staged by the Aurora Theatre Company in Berkeley, is the story of Alma Winemiller, the odd, intelligent daughter of the Episcopalian rector in the town of Glorious Hill, Mississippi. When the play opens, Alma’s attempts to fit in are driving her frantic, while even her most modest pleasures (organizing a cultural club, feeding the birds in the town square) make her an object of ridicule. Her father, Reverend Winemiller (played by Charles Dean), suffers continually under the burden of his mad wife and the scandal of her sister’s …Continue reading

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Discovering Shostakovich’s True Voice in His Fifteen Quartets

Before he could reach the keys of a piano, Dmitri Shostakovich showed a secret interest in music. “When our neighbors played quartets, I would put my ear to the wall and listen.”  As Wendy Lesser points out in her new book, Music for Silenced Voices: Shostakovich and His Fifteen Quartets (Yale University Press; 368 pages), this image — of the composer as an eavesdropping child — is an apt one for an artist who spent his life under surveillance by the Soviet regime. In her ninth book, Lesser, founding editor of The Threepenny Review, argues that the man best known …Continue reading

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