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ZYZZYVA Literary News.

A Best American Short Stories and Best American Essays One-Two Punch (Update: And Now a Pushcart: We Hit the Trifecta)

ZYZZYVA95_Fall2012_CoverFINAL_PrintIt looks like the Fall 2012 ZYZZYVA (No. 95) has some sort of magic working for it. Earlier this year, we were thrilled to learn that a story from that issue, Karl Taro Greenfeld’s “Horned Men,” would be included in the 2013 Best American Short Stories. And today, we received a call informing us that Dagoberto Gilb’s nonfiction piece from the same issue, “A Little Bit of Fun Before He Died,” will be included in the 2013 Best American Essays.

We offer our warmest congratulations to Dagoberto Gilb and Karl Taro Greenfeld. And if you don’t have the Fall 2012 issue already and want to know what all the fuss is about, you can order a copy here. (Just scroll a little bit down on the page.)

Update: A letter arrived from the Pushcart folks informing us that W.S. Di Piero’s poem from the Spring 2012 issue (No. 94), “There Were Such Things,” will be published in the Pushcart Prize 2014 anthology. (Di Piero has had an essay appear before in the Pushcarts. This would be his first poem to be honored by the anthology.) Our congratulations to W.S. Di Piero.

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ZYZZYVA Makes Best American Short Stories 2012 Notables List

We’re happy to announce two stories published in ZYZZYVA last year—Tom Bissell’s “Love Story, With Cocaine” and Andrew Foster Altschul’s “The Violet Hour”—made the Notables list for Best American Short Stories 2012.

Bissell’s story (you can read an excerpt here) appeared in ZYZZYVA No. 92 (Fall 2011) and Altschul’s story in ZYZZYVA No. 93 (Winter 2011).

Among the other stories named to the Notables list are pieces from The New Yorker, Harper’s, Tin House, and McSweeney’s and work by such authors as Jonathan Franzen, Alice Munro, and T.C. Boyle.

Of special note to our readers: ZYZZYVA will be publishing or will have published work from six other writers named to this year’s Notables list: Will Boast (Fall 2011), Ron Carlson (Winter 2012), Jennifer Dubois (Winter 2012), Karl Taro Greenfeld (Fall 2012), Peter Orner (Spring 2012), and Don Waters (Spring 2012).

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Margaret Weatherford: 1966-2012

Margaret Weatherford (photo by Mary Weatherford)

When I met her at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop in 1989, Margaret Weatherford was the California girl the Beach Boys never imagined: a black-haired, amber-eyed bombshell with her own professional pool cue and a dude’s tolerance for rail whiskey. I was her fan before I was her friend, because – if the first rule of writing school is to write what you know – it was obvious that Margaret knew things no one else could have possibly dreamed up. Her stories were populated by melancholy children, oracular father figures, animal grotesques and obsolete muscle cars. Like me, she had just graduated from college, but to read her you’d have thought she’d been circling the canyons and freeways of Los Angeles for centuries, honing a hawk’s omniscient view of its dive bars and roadside alliances, its secretive, peripherally glanced creatures and its inexorable undergrowth, which always seems poised for imminent, impersonal takeover.

As it turned out, Margaret was the rare guys’ girl who was also a steadfast friend to a certain kind of woman, and over the years I was lucky to be around to watch her become a bride, a mother, a published author, an artist’s muse, a first-time novelist: a self-deprecating success at everything she put her mind to. Less than two weeks ago I sat beside her in her canyon-top home as she named me her “literary executrix,” a title she’d scarcely pronounced before she dissolved in laughter, dropping her usual unflappable monotone to shout, “I feel like such an idiot!”

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Shig Murao: The Enigmatic Soul of City Lights and the San Francisco Beat Scene

Shig Murao at Caffe Trieste (photo by Allen Ginsberg, courtesy of the Allen Ginsberg Trust)

On October 3, 1957, a judge ruled that Allen Ginsberg’s Howl and Other Poems was not obscene. It was a decision that would pave the way for publication of works from Henry Miller, D.H. Lawrence, William Burroughs, and others. A key  figure from the Howl trial was Shig Murao. His life and legacy has been documented in a website that launches today, www.shigmurao.org. This essay is adapted from a much longer biography with multiple supporting documents published on the website created by Richard Reynolds, a longtime friend of Murao’s.

Shig Murao was the clerk who on June 3, 1957, was arrested and jailed for selling an “obscene and indecent” book—Allen Ginsberg’s Howl and Other Poems—to two undercover San Francisco cops at the City Lights Pocket Book Store. City Lights publisher Lawrence Ferlinghetti was subsequently booked and charged with publishing the book. While Shig is primarily remembered as the clerk who was arrested for selling Howl, he was much more than that. He managed City Lights for its first 22 years and crafted the unique atmosphere that made the legendary San Francisco bookstore into the institution it remains today.

Even so, Shig is in danger of being written out of the history of City Lights and of the San Francisco Beat era, too. (For instance, in the 2010 film about the obscenity trial resulting from the arrest, Shig was nowhere to be seen, even though he and Ferlinghetti were co-defendants and sat next to each other throughout the proceedings.) He was a close, life-long friend of Allen Ginsberg’s until the poet’s death in 1998. Whenever Ginsberg came to San Francisco, he would stay in Shig’s Grant Avenue apartment. And no one who frequented City Lights in the early years could miss Shig. When you walked into the store he would be on your left, a Coke can in hand, sitting on a high stool behind the book-piled counter. If he didn’t like you or suspected you had an agenda, he could be coldly dismissive. But once he knew and accepted you, he was warm, charming, and very funny.

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ZYZZYVA on KQED’s ‘Forum’

Managing Editor Oscar Villalon spoke to Michael Krasny of “Forum” about what he and Editor Laura Cogan were up to at ZYZZYVA. You can hear their conversation here.

(One thing to note: Oscar had not had any coffee before this morning interview. Had he had some coffee, he would have easily answered Krasny’s question about naming great writers from the state of Washington. He would have said, right off the bat, “Raymond Carver” — Carver whose poetry was published in ZYZZYVA nonetheless. Please forgive his lapse.)

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Just Follow the Train of Her Perceptions: “Gertrude Stein’s Reality”

Gertrude Stein’s legacy today is strangely cleft. While her work continues to earn the reverence of a strong academic cohort, most everyone else – even much of the literary community – encounters her most often as the butt of jokes, made at the expense of both her uniquely inaccessible way with words and her eccentric celebrity personage.

Take, for example, Ben Greenman’s “Gertrude Stein Gets Her New iPhone,” or Kathy Bates’ portrayal of her (this actor-role pairing is itself something of a joke) as the brusquely opinionated but unerring cultural sage in Woody Allen’s recent “Midnight in Paris.” These are recognizable as parody and caricature, respectively, but are made all the more hilarious by the extent to which they do seem to approach veracity.

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Other Voices, Other Rooms

Longtime editor and former bookstore owner Philip Turner has an essay on getting William Styron interested in a book he was editing, Dead Run: The Shocking Story of Dennis Stockton and Life on Death Row in America (1999). The core of the piece is really how editors become passionate about a manuscript and do all they can to get a book to succeed. As Turner writes:

“As a person, I am not overly concerned about what people seem to think of me, nor do I crave lots of personal validation from others. Yet it’s an occupational hazard of the book business; as an editor and publisher I am invariably focused on what people think of my books—by colleagues inside publishing houses and among booksellers, agents, foreign scouts, critics, and readers. … In the case of Dead Run, I was blessed with the enthusiasm of Loomis and Styron, which nourished my hopes for the book with such ardency that I was inspired to mint a quip I’m still fond of sharing about my profession: ‘Being an editor allows me to express my latent religiosity, since I spend so much time praying for my books.’”

Journalist, author and Los Angeles Times reporter Sam Quinones has been conducting on his website “an experiment in storytelling” called Tell Your True Tale. People send in an essay, in Spanish or in English, about something that’s happened in their lives. Then Quinones will edit the piece and post it for others to read. The two latest pieces he’s posted are “Speed Kills,” by writer and fashion designer Monah Li, about a day in her meth addiction years ago. And “The Green River Camp Fire” by Carrie Gronewald, about her day hiking with her husband along the stomping grounds of the Green River serial killer before he had been caught. Gronewald writes:

“We found some red lingerie torn and cut apart. A few pieces had been burned in the campfire. Looking closer, we noticed a paperback book lying half in and half out of the ashes. My husband bent over, brushed away the ashes and picked it up. It had been partly burned around the edges, but was mostly intact. The title was ‘How to Have Sex.’”

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Poetry and Its Public: One Conversation Within A Long-Running Discussion

David Orr

The debate on poetry’s responsibility, or lack thereof, to an audience is undoubtedly as old as the art itself. Recent movements have taken noted stances on the “for” and “against” poles, from hermetic aesthetic-worship to cries for accessibility. Critic and author David Orr took up the debate via a review of several new books in Poetry’s April issue — and continued the discussion by responding to my Letter to the Editor in the June issue regarding his essay.

Using releases by Thomas Sayers Ellis, Timothy Donnelly, C.D. Wright, and Eleanor Wilner as points of departure, Orr’s original piece, “Public poetry?”, discusses the various challenges, merits, failings, and nuances of the relationship between an author and his or her readers. “All poetry is public, in the sense that every poem implies an audience,” Orr wrote. He continued: “But some publics are more public than others. Most contemporary poets, for example, address a public that consists only of close friends, professional acquaintances, and a few handy abstractions like the Ideal Reader and Posterity.”

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The Bay Area Benefit for Dean Young

ZYZZYVA and the Squaw Valley Community of Writers team up to present a Bay Area evening of esteemed poets and writers celebrating Dean Young’s successful heart transplant with readings from their own work and from Dean Young’s poetry, too. The event is at 7 p.m. on Thursday, June 23, at Wheeler Hall, Maude Fife Room 315, University of California, Berkeley. Admission is free.

Part of a growing, national fundraising campaign to help cover the enormous expenses around the heart transplant, this event will feature a who’s who of poets and writers from the Bay Area and from across the country. (Dean Young and his new book were recently featured on NPR’s “Morning Edition.”)

  • Robert Hass – served as Poet Laureate of the United States from 1995 to 1997 and directs the Poetry Program of the Community of Writers at Squaw Valley.
  • W.S. Di Piero – is a poet, translator, and essayist whose latest works include Chinese Apples: New and Selected Poems
  • Octavio Solis – is the nationally recognized director and playwright of several dramas, including El Paso Blue and Santo & Santo
  • Brenda Hillman – is the author of eight collections of poetry, the most recent of which are Pieces of Air in the Epic and Practical Water
  • D.A. Powell – is the award-winning author of several poetry books including Cocktails and Chronic
  • Troy Jollimore – is a winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for his poetry collection Tom Thomson in Purgatory
  • Michael Wiegers – is the executive editor of Copper Canyon Press
  • Dora Malech – is the author of the poetry collections Shore Ordered Ocean and Say So
  • Joseph Di Prisco – is a writer, novelist, and poet and author of the poetry collection Poems in Which
  • David Breskin – is a writer, poet, and record producer and author of the poetry collections Escape Velocity and Supermodel

Oscar Villalon, managing editor of ZYZZYVA, will emcee

Donation stations will be set up for the event. Signed copies of Dean Young’s new book, “Fall Higher,” as well as specially commissioned broadsides of his poems, will be available. A reception featuring wine and snacks will follow the readings. People unable to attend can help by visiting www.transplants.org/donate/deanyoung and making a donation there.

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PEN World Voices Heads to the West Coast

Rahul Bhattacharya

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 Lianke, whose newest novel, “Dream of Ding Village” (Grove), recounts a blood-selling scandal in China that resulted in an AIDS epidemic, are the headliners.

On May 2, Bhattacharya and Lianke will be at Powell’s in Portland, Ore. On May 4, they will be at the Elliott Bay Book Company in Seattle, in conversation with stellar author Sherman Alexie (a past ZYZZYVA contributor). And on May 3, they will be at the Readers Cafe in San Francisco, at an event co-hosted by ZYZZVA and the Friends of the San Francisco Public Library. Stellar author Daniel Alarcon will be there, too, joining the conversation moderated by ZYZZYVA Managing Editor Oscar Villalon.

So plan ahead, and do come out.

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