Contributors Archives

Julie Foster

Breaking Conventions to Reshape the American Palate: Q&A with Dana Goodyear

Anything-that-Moves-678x1024If you’re finding yourself bored with the same old menu choices, which always hover near the top of the food chain, but you can’t imagine consuming large sarcophagid maggots, scorpion, spleen, lungs, lips, or even a bite of an endangered species for dinner, let Dana Goodyear navigate for you the outer limits of this emerging American food scene.

In her new culinary narrative, Anything that Moves: Renegade Chefs, Fearless Eaters, and the Making of a New American Food Culture (272 pages; Riverhead Books), New Yorker contributor Goodyear explores the outer shoals of foodie culture with narrative skill and aplomb. More than just a recitation of bizarre foods preferences, Goodyear, who teaches at the University of Southern California, underscores her research into this gastronomic underground by providing the historical background, philosophical tenants, and legal framework that created America’s culinary landscape—a place, she claims, undergoing rapid change due in part to social media.

“Food porn is the most popular content of Pinterest, one of the fastest-growing Web sites in history, and it dominates the photo-sharing sites Instagram and Flickr. It’s all over the TV. As with birders and pornographers, the more outlandish and rarefied a find, the more a foodie likes it,” Goodyear writes.

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Striving for the Lyrical, the Pleasurable in ‘Drunken Botanist’: Q&A With Amy Stewart

Amy Stewart (photo by Delightful Eye Photography)

Amy Stewart (photo by Delightful Eye Photography)

Readers were introduced to Amy Stewart in 2004 upon the publication of her book The Earth Moved: On the Remarkable Achievements of Earthworms. Using her small backyard in Santa Cruz as a starting point, Stewart took the reader on a delightful tour through the unexpectedly fascinating world of earthworms. “Ten tons of garbage. It is staggering to think of the amount of waste that people produce. Californians dispose of about thirty-eight million tons of waste per year. I did the math; it works out to seventy-two tons per minute.” Then Stewart relates how earthworms provide a remedy to the trash problem. Throughout this chronicle, Stewart artfully makes connections between various disciplines including botany, organic gardening, biology, geology, taxonomy and Charles Darwin, for exploring earthworms.

Since writing The Earth Moved Stewart has delved into the worlds of wicked bugs, wicked plants and the flower industry. In her latest book, The Drunken Botanist: The Plants that Create the World’s Greatest Drinks (381 pages; Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill), Stewart again makes illuminating connections when none at first are readily apparent.

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The West as ‘Lonely, Heartbreaking, Scary, Sacred’: Q&A with Rubén Martínez

Ruben-MartinezIn her 1985 book, Desert Passages: Encounters with the American Deserts, historian Patricia Nelson Limerick pondered the reactions to the desert from people such as Mark Twain, explorer and surveyor John C. Frémont, irrigation promoter William Ellsworth Smythe, and art historian John Van Dyke. In her introduction she writes, “While the actual landscape is of considerable importance in this story, the intellectual focus rests on the different appearance and meaning available to different viewers.”

That passage could describe the running theme of Rubén Martínez’s riveting new book, Desert America: Boom and Bust in the New Old West (Metropolitan Books). “The notion of the desert as a spiritual and healing place,” Martínez writes, “or Native land, or cowboy cool, or the big Empty—all these are supported by structures of feeling, by human history, by contradiction and desire.”

In Desert America, Martínez—an Emmy Award-winning journalist and a poet, and holder of the Fletcher Jones Chair in Literature and Writing at Loyola Marymount—allows his gaze to roam over the contemporary Southwest, including Joshua Tree in California, northern New Mexico, Marfa, Texas, and Arizona’s Tohono O’odham reservation. As he seeks differing interpretations of the American West in the 21st century, he deftly contextualizes the stories of “outsiders” and “locals” and their relationships to place—whether that’s the ritzy art scene in Marfa or a drug-plagued village in northern New Mexico. Along the way Martínez asks, “Who belongs here and who doesn’t?”

Wading into the economic, cultural, political, and racial divides of the new Southwest—and offering perceptive musings on how art, literature, history, and film create a framework for the idea of the mythic West—Martínez who is in search of traces of the authentic. Along the way he examines gentrification and the resulting displacement of local populations and how America’s recent economic turbulence has affected the region. “The story of the great American boom of the 2000s and its culmination in the Great Recession is told well as a Western,” Martínez explains.

We talked to Martínez in-depth via email about Desert America and its potent mix of reportage and memoir, and about the region the book attempts to gain a broader understanding of.

ZYZZYVA: Growing up as a boy in Los Angeles you formed your own “idea of the West.” How did popular culture, especially films and literature, infuse your vision of the West?

Ruben Martínez: I grew up in Hollywood’—literally on the edge of the actual place, within a few hundred yards of the locations of some of the earliest motion picture studios. My father worked at a print shop in the heart of Hollywood “stripping” negatives (as they said in the pre-digital days) for movie posters. My father was a huge film buff; he took me to revival houses to see the films of his youth—World War II flicks and Westerns. And of course in the late Sixties and early Seventies the TV was constantly on at home as well—the Marlboro Man and “Bonanza” and the occasional John Ford movie.

The intensity of Hollywood is how its representations rival and shape reality—the overlap, as it were, of reel and the real. The screened image took up plenty of space in our house, but the printed word wasn’t far behind. My mother is a poet and on the bookshelves were volumes of Neruda and Garcia Lorca, novels by Carlos Fuentes and Gabriel García Márquez. I grew up on the border between the screen of pop culture and serious literature and the idea of the writerly vocation. All this set up the way I would imagine the West, which I experienced both in TV and film and on our regular family vacations into the actual place. The tension between these imagined and lived spaces became kinetic for me when I took up residence in the desert for almost a decade beginning in the late 1990s.

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From Iguala to Los Angeles, the Making of a Writer: Q&A with Reyna Grande

Reyna Grande

Each year thousands of children are left behind as their parents cross the border into the United States looking for work. Often these children set out on journeys of their own in hopes of finding their parents. These terrifying treks, and their devastating effects on families, have been chronicled by others.

In 2006, journalist Sonia Nazario wrote a spellbinding account of a young boy’s trek from Honduras to the United States in Enrique’s Journey: The Story of A Boy’s Dangerous Odyssey to Reunite With His Mother. In 2009, the documentary film Which Way Home captured the plight of two young Ecuadorian boys crossing the U.S.- Mexico border “to pursue their dreams of having enough to eat.”

Reyna Grande’s remarkable story, The Distance Between Us: A Memoir (Atria Books, 336 pages) is a worthy successor to these previous immigration sagas. Grande chronicles her early life of dire poverty, following her father’s, then her mother’s departure for the United States; her illegal border crossing years later with her father; her tumultuous and painful early years in the United States; and her success as a writer and teacher.

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Truly Knowing What You Eat: ‘Field Guide to California Agriculture’

America’s appetite for all things culinary seems boundless. The saturated media environment tempts with food blogs, hundreds of new cookbooks, and on-line restaurant reviews. Wait staff routinely reel off the provenance of every item on the menu, and some reality television offers meals as entertainment. Visiting with vendors at a local farmers’ market provides a closer encounter with the “who,” “what,” and “where” surrounding California’s food supply. For those wanting to dive deeper, though, the recent Field Guide to California Agriculture (475 pages; University of California Press) offers an illuminating and entertaining trek into what authors Paul F. Starrs and Peter Goin describe as “the most dramatic modern agricultural landscape in the world.”

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Connecting With the Unknown, Unexpected in Nature: Q&A with David Rains Wallace

David Rains Wallace (photo by Betsy Kendall)

David Rains Wallace was born in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 1945 and grew up in New England. He attended Wesleyan University in Middletown, Conn. (B.A. 1967) and Mills College in Oakland (M.A. 1974). His first published writing on natural history and conservation appeared in Clear Creek Magazine in 1970. Since then he has published seventeen books, and his work has appeared in many anthologies and periodicals, including The Norton Anthology of Nature Writing, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, Harpers, Mother Jones, Greenpeace, Sierra, Wilderness, Country Journal, and Backpacker.

Wallace received the 1984 John Burroughs Medal for Nature Writing for his third book, The Klamath Knot: Explorations in Myth and Evolution, which also won a 1984 California Book Award. The San Francisco Chronicle and Chicago Tribune included it in their lists of the best books of 1983.

In 1999, the Chronicle included The Klamath Knot in its list of the 20th century’s 100 best non-fiction books west of the Rockies.  Other awards include a 1979 California Book Award for his first book, The Dark Range: A Naturalist’s Night Notebook, and Ohioana Library Association Medals for Literature in 1981 and 1990.

His most recent books are The Bonehunters’ Revenge: Dinosaurs, Greed, and the Greatest Scientific Feud of the Gilded Age (1999), a finalist for a 2000 PEN West book award; Beasts of Eden: Walking Whales, Dawn Horses, and Other Enigmas of Mammal Evolution (2004), a New York Times Notable Book; Neptune’s Ark: From Ichthyosaurs to Orcas  (2007); and Chuckwalla Land: The Riddle of California’s Desert  (2011) which was recently reviewed in ZYZZYVA. He lives in California with his wife, Elizabeth Kendall. We talked to him via e-mail about his books and about nature writing.

ZYZZYVA: You grew up in the East and attended Mills College in Oakland. Was there something, other than graduate school, which prompted your move to California?

David Rains Wallace: Growing up, I thought of California as a big beach with palm trees and movie stars. On the other hand, I had vivid dreams of a place with high cliffs overhanging wild surf, very unlike Long Island Sound.

I first came here in 1968 to visit a friend who had a fishing boat on Bodega Bay. Nature had always excited me, but I’d never experienced it in such a wild state—just like my dreams– so it was a revelation. I spent the next four years doing odd jobs so I could explore the West Coast, south to Central America and north to Alaska. I then went to Mills for two years to write my first book (The Dark Range, based on the Yolla Bolly Middle Eel Wilderness and other northwest California places) as an M.A. thesis. Mills was friendly to such oddball projects then, under English Department Chairman Elizabeth Pope: they even gave me some money. Then I got a job with a park agency in Ohio for the four years it took to get the book published. Then I came back to California to write The Klamath Knot, which got attention—not all positive—won prizes and “established” me as a writer, more or less.

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A Wandering Artist: Philip L. Fradkin’s ‘Everett Ruess: His Short Life, Mysterious Death, and Astonishing Afterlife’

I first heard about Everett Ruess, a 20-year-old wander and fledging artist who disappeared in southern Utah 75 years ago, when I lived in Santa Fe, New Mexico, during the ‘80s. His story – a longstanding mystery — was one you eventually got to know if you spent anytime roaming around the backcountry of the high desert.

Many years later, on April 30, 2009, the New York Times published an article titled “A Mystery of the West Is Solved.” The article explained that researchers at the University of Colorado, using DNA analysis, claimed to have identified human remains found in 2008 that were purported to be those of Everett Ruess. Major papers, NPR, Outside Magazine, blogs and websites also carried the story. It was even the cover story of the tenth anniversary edition of the now defunct National Geographic Explorer. When Philip L. Fradkin, the Northern California environmental writer and biographer heard the news, he was unconvinced. Fradkin was familiar with the story, first encountering it in the late 1970s while reading Wallace Stegner’s Mormon County, which mentioned Ruess.

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How the Desert Got There: David Rains Wallace’s ‘Chuckwalla Land’

David Rains Wallace admits that for years he never really noticed California’s dry, empty spaces. It wasn’t until 1983, when writing about a Central Valley riparian woodland on the Kern River, that his attitude shifted from indifference to curiosity. Prior to that, whenever the award-winning nature writer found himself crossing California’s deserts he dismissed what he saw as an enormous vacant lot rather than a living landscape. In Chuckwalla Land: The Riddle of the California Desert (280 pages; UC Press), he explains this transformation.

Wallace’s revamped attitude toward the desert and its denizens took shape during a serendipitous side trip on a two-lane road, often a gateway to consciousness-altering experiences. “The grotesquerie was unexpectedly enchanting. The weird formations seemed to act directly on my mind, to knead and stretch it, squeezing aside the worn furniture of normal perception. Two black army helicopters that thundered overhead failed to dispel the strangeness; in fact, they fit right in, more like mutant dragonflies from an atomic hinterland than enforcers of agroindustrial growth.”

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‘The Docks’ Reveals the People Inside the Behemoth Port of Los Angeles

The Port of Los Angeles has earned the not so inviting nickname of the Diesel Death Zone, due to the tons of particulate matter it produces. Yet it’s a facility of such monumental importance, that if disrupted the disturbance “would cause an economic heart attack for the country.”  The Docks (University of California Press; 341 pages) is Bill Sharpsteen’s wildly enlightening trek through this mammoth, messy, and mesmerizing spot.

A journalist and a photographer who possesses a penchant for stories with heft, Sharpsteen honed his narrative skills in Dirty Water: One Man’s Fight to Clean up one of the World’s Most Polluted Bays. Working landscapes often melt into everyday consciousness without revealing much about their inner workings. Prior to writing a magazine article on female dockworkers, Sharpsteen paid little heed to this behemoth tucked between the Southern California cities of San Pedro, Wilmington, and Long Beach.

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