Author Archives: me

The Path Amid the Loblolly Pines: Q&A with Photographer Matthew Genitempo

Matthew Genitempo’s forthcoming book of photographs, Jasper (96 pages; Twin Palms Publishers; available for pre-orders now), explores a region of the Ozark Mountains in Arkansas where people live apart from the well-established norms of American life. Born and raised in the Houston area, now based in Marfa, Genitempo previously worked mostly in the Southwest; however, Jasper, his first book, represents a journey he made farther east while he was an MFA student at the Hartford Art School. The black-and-white photographs in this book capture a series of solitary men and the remote homes they’ve made in a lush and hardbound …Continue reading

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Reckoning with Ever-Changing Reality: ‘John Woman’ by Walter Mosley

In his newest book, John Woman (377 pages; Grove Atlantic), Walter Mosley reflects on truth versus perception as embodied in the life of a man who reinvents himself into the novel’s title character. Raised by a white mother with a habit of running away and a bedridden black father nearing death, Cornelius Jones experiences a childhood that is nothing if not difficult. As a boy he’s forced to pay his family’s bills by posing as his father (the first of more alter identities to come), assuming his job as a projectionist at a silent movie theatre. The pressure of covering …Continue reading

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Discovering Warmth Among the Desolation: Bernardo Atxaga’s ‘Nevada Days’

In Bernardo Atxaga’s autobiographical novel Nevada Days (352 pages; Graywolf Press), the gaudy emptiness of the Biggest Little City stands as an insufficient guard against the encroaching desolation surrounding it. Upon arriving in Reno, the acclaimed Basque author is struck by the suffocating silence of the place. Often enough, Reno appears just as much a ghost town as the actual ones Atxaga visits. To use the Daniel Sada metaphor he frequently invokes, the city appears as a stage-set version of the desert and, by extension, reality. Nevada Days (which was first published in 2013, but now sees an English translation …Continue reading

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ZYZZYVA Interview Series: Glen David Gold

Glen David Gold is the author of the bestselling novels Sunnyside and Carter Beats the Devil. His essays, memoir, journalism and short fiction have appeared in McSweeney’s, Playboy, Tin House, Wired, the New York Times Sunday Magazine, the Guardian UK, and London Independent. His most recent book is his memoir, I Will Be Complete (Knopf), portions of which first appeared in ZYZZYVA No. 100 and No. 108. In late June, Gold discussed his new book with Managing Editor Oscar Villalon at City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco.

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Seeing Anything Clearly in This Time and Place: Zachary Lazar’s ‘Vengeance’

Published earlier this year to respectful notices, Zachary Lazar’s painstakingly crafted novel Vengeance (272 pages; Catapult) takes on the complicated issues of race, the socially constructed questions of guilt or innocence in late stage capitalism, cultural appropriation and redemption. “What ‘Vengeance’ really attempts to unravel is the problem of injustice, although it is not a protest novel,’’ Katy Waldman noted in The New Yorker. Prison reform has been in the air—just ask Kim Kardashian—but news cycles come and go. Regardless, Vengeance merits a more sustained look. The novel was inspired by the author’s visit to Angola, a Louisiana State Penitentiary (and former …Continue reading

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All the News That’s Fit to Be Normalized: Hilary Plum’s ‘Strawberry Fields’

Strawberry Fields (Fence Books; 224 pages), the breathtaking new novel from Hilary Plum, and winner of the Fence Modern Prize in Prose, opens with what might be the common denominator in humanitarian crises around the world: a nameless American at a refugee camp in a nameless country. “The children’s suffering has been unimaginable,” the American begins—as if we did not already know this. But soon, one of the children is telling the gathered reporters and NGO representatives at the camp what he learned in school: the towns of his country, the names of its leaders, even the locations of rebel …Continue reading

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Interoffice Memorandum 2/15

Date: 15 February To: All Quest Industries Employees From: Judy Kemper, Vice President of Marketing Subj: Lost cardigan—please help! I seem to have misplaced a very important sweater and I’m almost certain I left it here in the office this past Friday. If you have seen my lime green Laura Ashley cardigan, size M, with pearl buttons, a small-to-medium gravy stain on one sleeve (left), and one frayed cuff (right), please tell me where you spotted it, and if this information leads to its recovery, I promise to give you a reward of your choosing, up to $10 in value. …Continue reading

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Strength of Kindness & Reason: Q&A with ‘Winter Kept Us Warm’ Author Anne Raeff

San Francisco writer Anne Raeff’s new novel, Winter Kept Us Warm’’ (304 pages; Counterpoint Press), officially out next Tuesday, is an ambitious, multi-generational tale that deals with the interlocking lives of three characters—Ulli, Leo, and Isaac—who meet in Berlin shortly after World War II has ended. A departure of sorts from Raeff’s 2015 story collection, The Jungle Around Us, winner of the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction, it shares a similar interest in the complexities of character, motive, and human nature, albeit on a different palette. (In a coincidence of fate, Raeff’s wife, Lori Ostlund, previously won the O’Connor …Continue reading

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Now & at the Hour of Our Death: Q&A with ‘The Immortalist’ Author Chloe Benjamin

I refuse, as a rule, to consult all fortunetellers, palm-readers, and tarot-card diviners. I won’t so much as glance at a horoscope; routinely, I forget what my own astrological sign might be. It’s not so much that I believe or disbelieve in what a fortuneteller might have to tell me, but that I distrust myself, not knowing how my future behavior might change in response to what any would-be oracle has to say. Chloe Benjamin’s second, much-lauded novel, The Immortalists (352 pages; Putnam), follows four siblings who, as children, go to a fortuneteller to learn when they’ll die. Afterward, tensions …Continue reading

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The Demands of Story: Q&A with ‘Outside Is the Ocean’ Author Matthew Lansburgh

In 2011, I was living in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, where I spent two years as the Kenan Visiting Writer shortly after the release of my first book, a story collection. One of these stories, “Bed Death,” appeared in the PEN/O.Henry Prize Stories, and it was this publication that led to my meeting Matthew Lansburgh. He sent me an email after reading it, and we struck up a friendship. In 2012, I moved back to San Francisco, and during a quick trip to New York in 2015, I finally met Matthew; we spent two days together, during which time he …Continue reading

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Interoffice Memorandum 1/15

Date: ​January ​15​ To: All Quest Industries Employees From: Mid-Level Management Subj: Live Plant Policies in the Office A short note on office policy regarding potted plants and floral bouquets: a) If you enjoy the company of a potted plant on your desk, please water it as needed in order to keep it from becoming an unsightly and dispiriting brown heap of tendrils, leaves, stalks, stems, pistils, stamens, husks, pods, and/or roots. b) If you have received a bouquet and are keeping it at your desk, please do not, under any circumstances, balance it on the edge of your cubicle wall where it will inevitably be bumped and dislodged by a passing coworker and …Continue reading

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Letting the Light in: ‘Recent Changes in the Vernacular’ by Tony Hoagland

Tony Hoagland, like Jack Spicer, is a master of wielding the needle of irony to inject you with the pain of being an aware human being. (Re-reading Spicer’s letters to Graham Macintosh in the July 1970 issue of Caterpillar reminded me of their shared sensibility.) Hoagland has a particular ability to pinpoint the ills and contradictions of the American psychic landscape using deadly serious humor. This was already evident in poems such as “Hard Rain,” “Dickhead,” “Foodcourt,” “At the Galleria Shopping Mall,” and “America.” Perhaps no one else in the contemporary poetry landscape creates such pitch-perfect expositions of our national …Continue reading

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