Monthly Archives: November 2012

Brazil’s Complex Past, Recounted from a Deathbed: Chico Buarque’s ‘Spilt Milk’

Musician and author Chico Buarque came of age with the installment of a brutal military dictatorship in Brazil, one that was to last for more than twenty years until it toppled in 1985. A pioneer and experimenter within bossa nova, Buarque wrote subtle lyrics protesting the regime’s violent suppression of dissidents, songs that made it into his country’s popular consciousness. To this day Buarque is regarded in Brazil as a vital cultural stalwart, an artist who, since the early ‘60s, continues to examine his country and instill large social change. His most recent novel, Spilt Milk (Grove/Atlantic, 177 pages, translated …Continue reading

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Humanity Bewildered in the Remotest of Places: Erica Olsen’s ‘Recapture’

Erica Olsen’s story collection, Recapture (Torrey House Press, 161 pages), presents the American West as a cabinet of curiosities, containing the artifacts, animals, and lonely people abandoned along man’s quest for the coast. These sixteen diverse tales (one of which, “Reverse Archaeology,” originally appeared in ZYZZYVA) emerge from the geography of America’s remaining vacancies, where the civilized go to escape the mess of civilization. Olsen, acting as chief archeologist, presides over these sparsely populated landscapes. With each story, we gain access to unknown physical and emotional territory.

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The Mr. Smith Syndrome

Luis Alberto Urrea is the critically acclaimed and best-selling author of fourteen books, including his most recent, the novel Queen of America (Little, Brown.) He is the winner of numerous awards for his poetry, fiction and essays, as well as a professor of creative writing at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Urrea grew up in San Diego, and that experience of being Mexican American and living close to the border has informed his writing. In his essay in ZYZZYVA’s Fall issue, “The Mr. Smith Syndrome,” Urrea brings to life a job he had as a teenager: frying up donuts for a sketchy boss (“Cigarette smoke. Body odor. Bad breath.”).

There’s a spirit of resolve in the piece, an understanding of what you need to overcome to find, perhaps, a state of grace in this life. The following is the essay in its entirety. (Warning: You may never eat another old-fashioned again.)

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Cuba + Kids – Water

Edie Meidav is the award-winning author of the novel Lola, California (Picador) and the forthcoming Dogs of Cuba. Raised in Berkeley, she’s a former director of the New College of California MA/MFA in writing and is now a writer-in residence at Bard College.

Her essay, “Cuba+Kids-Water,” appeared in ZYZZYVA’s Fall issue. Humorous and thoughtful, it recounts Meidav’s experience when she temporarily relocated to Havana with her family so she could do research on Cuba’s boxers. It’s a propulsive read, partly due to Meidav’s prose style and partly due to the expectant sense she creates around her family’s living situation. But for all the wonderful surprises, there are less than cheery ones, too.

The following is an excerpt of “Cuba+Kids-Water.”

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A Little Bit of Fun Before He Died

Dagoberto Gilb is the author of six books, most recently the story collection Before the End, After the Beginning (Grove). The recipient of many awards and fellowships, he is the executive director of Centro Victoria: Center for Mexican American Literature and Culture.

Gilb’s literary essay, “A Little Bit of Fun Before He Died,” which appears in ZYZZYVA’s Fall issue, is both a meditation on his relationship with the late writer Bill Ripley (“my first fiction-writer role model”) and on the vagaries of life—the writing life, in particular. Ripley gained some renown because of the Sheryl Crow song “All I Wanna Do,” which was based on a poem about him. The essay examines Ripley’s intoxicated misadventures even as it details Gilb’s understanding of himself as a writer, one who doesn’t come from a world of privilege and its received notions of what the writing life is. “I knew nothing about creative writing,” he states early on. “What I knew of the contemporary writing business came out of a used copy of Writer’s Market.”

The following is an excerpt from “A Little Bit of Fun Before He Died.”

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Rural Doesn’t Equal Empty: Lisa M. Hamilton’s ‘I See Beauty in This Life’

I See Beauty In This Life, photographer Lisa M. Hamilton’s exhibition of her own work as well as images she pulled from the California Historical Society’s vast archives, attempts something seemingly impossible: in Hamilton’s words, to “cover a history dating from 2012 all the way back to a time when California was essentially nothing but rural” in about 150 pictures. This presents a gargantuan curatorial challenge. How do you address California’s geographical vastness, the scope of its industries, and the numerous complexities of its rural labor history? “Rural” is different than “empty,” and the exhibition’s images nearly all emphasize the …Continue reading

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The Monkey Look

F.X. Toole, who died in 2002, was the boxing trainer and author of the novel Pound for Pound and the award-winning story collection Rope Burns: Stories from the Corner (2000), from which the story “Million $$$ Baby” was later adapted into the Oscar-winning film of the same name. ZYZZYVA’s Spring 1999 issue marked Toole’s first time in print with the story “The Monkey Look,” which later would be published in Rope Burns.

“The Monkey Look” follows the life of a seasoned L.A. cutman, whose job it is to treat the bleeding and swelling suffered by boxers during a bout. Told in wonderfully engaging prose, it is a revealing, humorous, and entertaining story about the grim realities of the professional boxing world and the not always upstanding fighters, promoters, and trainers who people it.

The following is “The Monkey Look” in its entirety.

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The Poetry of Apples, Maple Syrup, Blackberries, and Sandwiches: ‘The Hungry Ear,’ edited by Kevin Young

The need for food and drink is universal. The preparation and partaking of meals mark events ordinary and extraordinary. Because of this, food has naturally found itself a subject of poetry for as long as can be remembered. Celebrating the many facets of food and drink, poet Kevin Young, author of seven books of poetry and editor of six previous anthologies, has compiled The Hungry Ear: Poems of Food & Drink (Bloomsbury, 336 pages). In his introduction, Young writes, “Love, satisfaction, trouble, death, pleasure, work, sex, memory, celebration, hunger, desire, loss, laughter, even salvation: to all these things food can …Continue reading

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The Real Joan

Janet Sarbanes, currently chair of the MFA writing program at Cal Arts, published her first story in the Fall 1999 issue of ZYZZYVA. “The Real Joan” follows graduate student Fiona on a quest to resume her Joan of Arc-themed dissertation amid a Los Angeles full of eerie spinsters and abandoned dogs. This is a world, Fiona thinks, that has “clutched at me with its long yellow nails and refused to let go.”

Precise and zanily brilliant, Sarbanes illustrates the emptiness of a young woman obsessed. The following is her story in its entirety.

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