Author Archives: me

‘Pain and Loneliness in Equal Measure’: Q&A with Peter Orner

Peter Orner’s Am I Alone Here? Notes on Living to Read and Reading to Live (316 pages, Catapult)—which concerns Orner’s favorite stories, the lives of their authors as well as Orner’s own—has a modest subtitle. It suggests the essays in the collection, which was recently named a finalist for a National Book Critics Circle Award, are rough, unfinished. (One of the essays in the collection, “Since the Beginning of Time,” appeared in ZYZZYVA No. 107.) Because Orner maintains this Midwestern-like self-deprecating tone throughout the book, his intellectual rigor might catch you off guard. He takes stories—telling them, reading them—very seriously. …Continue reading

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Poems of a Man ‘Robbed of His Country’: ‘In Praise of Defeat’ by Abdellatif Laâbi

Abdellatif Laâbi is perhaps Morocco’s most well-known poet-activist-writer, and a well-respected Francophone poet as well His personal history—founder of leftist Moroccan/Maghrebi magazine Souffles (Breaths) in 1966, imprisoned for “crimes of opinion” against King Hassan II from 1972 to 1980, and exiled to France since 1985—is staggering on its own, and his writing reflects each stage of his life in haunting and affective ways. This is perhaps what makes In Praise of Defeat (824 pages; Archipelago; translated by Donald Nicholson-Smith) so incredible. The book is a veritable brick—it’s almost intimidating in its scale, refusing to let the reader forget Laabi’s illustrious …Continue reading

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Love (and Lives) on the Balance: ‘Lucky Boy’ by Shanthi Sekaran

In her new novel, Lucky Boy (472 pages, Putnam), Shanthi Sekaran plunges readers into the drastically different yet irrevocably intertwined lives of two women, and in doing so explores facets of motherhood, immigration, and the American experience. Solimar Castro Valdez is eighteen when she leaves the impoverished cornfields of Santa Clara Popocalco in Oaxaca for “the promise of forward motion” in California. Her journey north is nightmarish; she is nearly forced into drug smuggling, she survives a rape, witnesses the horrific death of a boy, and for days rides in the bed of a truck, gagging on the stench of …Continue reading

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Three Poems for Inauguration Day: ‘I Used to Be Much Much Darker’ by Francisco X. Alarcón

On the occasion of Donald Trump’s Inauguration Day, we would like to share with you three poems from our early volumes—poems we believe speak to values that will be very much challenged by the incoming administration.

“I Used to Be Much Much Darker” by Francisco X. Alarcón (who died last January) appeared in ZYZZVA No. 3 (Fall 1985). A playful even jovial poem, it tells, in English and in Spanish, of the speaker’s love of self, of reveling in his “darkness”—something others would deem unworthy of celebration. Indeed, as the speaker plangently notes: “but anyway/ up here ‘dark’/ is only for/ the ashes:/ the stuff lonely nights/ are made of.” Yet it’s the poem’s indefatigable cheerfulness—could we even call it optimism?—that remains with the reader.

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Three Poems for Inauguration Day: ‘Snake’ by Sherman Alexie

On the occasion of Donald Trump’s Inauguration Day, we would like to share with you three poems from our early volumes—poems we believe speak to values that will be very much challenged by the incoming administration.

“Snake” by Sherman Alexie appeared in ZYZZYVA No. 77 (Fall 2006). In the poem, a driver recounts the accidental running over of a bull snake. But what is really being recounted is how the speaker takes responsibility for the creature’s body, and how respecting the dignity of others, and holding oneself to account for actions that affect them, is akin to holiness.

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Three Poems for Inauguration Day: ‘Justice Without Passion’ by Jane Hirshfield

On the occasion of Donald Trump’s Inauguration Day, we would like to share with you three poems from our early volumes—poems we believe speak to values that will be very much challenged by the incoming administration.

“Justice Without Passion” by Jane Hirshfield appeared in ZYZZYVA No. 12 (Winter 1987). In the poem, the speaker observes a friend’s son practicing the piano, noting “he is like a soldier or a saint: blank-faced, and given wholly/ to an obedience he does not need to understand.” Perhaps, the poem suggests, justice rests in understanding when obedience is merited, that justice requires us to be aware if we are only playing “for playing’s sake.”

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A Political Awakening in Haiti: ‘Dance on the Volcano’ by Marie Vieux-Chauvet

Dance on the Volcano, by Haitian author Marie Vieux-Chauvet (1916-1973), was originally published as La Danse sur le Volcan in 1957. Previously translated into English by Salvator Attanasio in 1959, Archipelago Books has published a delightful new translation by Kaiama L. Glover. Glover, a scholar of Caribbean fiction, translation, and Francophone literature, seems like the natural candidate for translating Vieux-Chauvet’s stunning novel. She has already translated two other works of Haitian fiction, and her scholarly knowledge and apparent pleasure in making the sights and sounds of colonial Haiti accessible to an Anglophone audience are palpable. Dance on the Volcano tells …Continue reading

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Landscape as Character, Characters at a Distance: ‘Ema, the Captive’ by César Aira

César Aira’s books often shrug off the shackles of genre, tradition, structure, or sense. They’re also often short. Usually around 100 pages, these novellas are complete in and of themselves. However, readers will most likely leave an Aira text in a completely different mental state than from the one they entered with—such is the challenge and the pleasure of reading him. Aira’s latest book, Ema, the Captive (128 pages; New Directions; translated by Chris Andrews), is fairly straightforward in substance and story. A 19th-century Western set in Argentina is probably the most succinct way to describe it but to box this book …Continue reading

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‘Three Wishes’ by Rolf Yngve, ZYZZYVA No. 108, Winter Issue

 Rolf Yngve’s short fiction has recently appeared in Kenyon Review, Fifth Wednesday, Glimmer Train, Indiana Review, and elsewhere. He lives in Coronado, California. His somewhat holiday-themed story—a lone traveller driving along snowy roads—”Three Wishes” appears in the new issue of ZYZZYVA.

In “Three Wishes,” the aforementioned traveller stops to pick up a stranded motorist and her dog. As they drive along, the protagonists’s cell phone may or may not be guiding the trio in ways beyond simply giving directions. The following is an excerpt, but you can read the story in its entirety by getting a copy here.

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‘The Urban Forest’ by Ella Martinsen Gorham, ZYZZYVA No. 108, Winter Issue

Ella Martinsen Gorham is writer in Los Angeles and is at work on a collection of stories. “The Urban Forest,” which appears in the new issue of ZYZZYVA, is her first work in print.

Dan, the protagonist, is a young single man who tries to keep his life as orderly as possible. His efforts to stay in control are challenged when he buys a house and realizes the tree that comes with it constantly splatters his property with “rank-smelling berries.” The huge tree is also home to the neighborhood’s feral parrots. The following in an excerpt of “The Urban Forest.” You can read it in its entirety in Issue No. 108, which you can get here. (Ella Martinsen Gorham will also be reading with Matthew Zapruder, Kathleen Alcott, and Scott O’Connor at ZYZZYVA’s Winter Issue Celebration at Diesel in Oakland on Thursday, January 26.)

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Otherwise Known as Love: ‘Pretend I’m Your Friend’ by MB Caschetta

MB Caschetta’s recent story collection, Pretend I’m Your Friend (Engine Books; 200 pages), explores what one of its characters calls “terrible love.” In eleven entwined stories, Caschetta examines confusing and often painful friendships, romances, and familial bonds: a set of parents who share a sexual desire for their kids’ babysitter, a dying mother who wishes cancer on her daughters instead of herself, a clairvoyant whose visions the end of her marriage. Just when you think you have wrapped your head around the root of a character’s issues, Caschetta will offer a different perspective in a later story. One problem bleeds …Continue reading

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‘Flood Control’ by Rebecca Thomas, ZYZZYVA No. 108, Winter Issue

winter2016coverRebecca Thomas, who is currently working on a novel, has had her work appear in Prairie Schooner, The Massachusetts Review, Gulf Stream and other publications. Her essay, “Flood Control,” appears in the new issue of ZYZZYVA.

An English instructor at West Virginia University, Thomas grew up in Orange County. Though known as a region afflicted by drought, Southern California has long had to contended with deluge, too. “Flood Control” is Thomas’s examination—personal and historical—of a place’s fraught relationship with water. The following in an excerpt but you can read the essay in its entirety by getting a copy here.

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