- December 11, 2013
Winter Issue Celebration/Holiday Party
Location: 7:30 p.m. The Booksmith, 1644 Haight St., San Francisco
Description: Celebrate the launch of the Winter issue, and have a drink and a snack with ZYZZYVA. Contributors Lisa Teasley, John W. Evans, & Monique Wentzel among the evening's readers. Free.
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Sid Dullaney, the protagonist of Don Waters’s first novel, Sunland (University of Nevada Press; 200 pages), is thirty-three, newly single, and unemployed. He has moved from Massachusetts back to his hometown of Tucson to care for his widowed grandmother. Nana lives in Paseo del Sol, an old folks’ home Sid struggles to afford. To pay the exorbitant cost, he starts making runs across the border to buy her medication, and gradually, medications for almost all of Paseo del Sol’s residents. “I began introducing myself to Nana’s neighbors and friends, showing off my best smile. The business, born from necessity, grew.”
There’s an unexpected sweetness to “A House Well Furnished” (ZYZZYVA No. 95), Brian Boies first published story, which was named to the Notable List for Best American Non-Required Reading 2013. (Also named to that list were ZYZZYVA stories by Rob Ehle, Dawna Kemper, and Bruce McKay.)
Boies’s protagonist is a young woman, lost in life and in San Francisco’s Mission District, living in a motel with Mark, a male companion. Her life is colorless and bleak, but she finds beauty in small things—the cleanliness of Mark’s childhood home, the look of him in the morning, of herself in the mirror. She and Mark take a day trip to Richmond; she dreams that Richmond will be all fields and creek. But when she arrives, reality intrudes. She ends the day how she began it; she is lost again. What follows is an excerpt from “A House Well Furnished.”
(Boies’s story is also the latest work from Issue No. 95 to be honored by the Best American series of anthologies. You can get a copy of that much-acclaimed issue here.)
“American life asks us to engage in an act of triumphant recovery at all times or get out of the way,” notes Celia Cassill, the protagonist and narrator of Amy Grace Loyd’s first novel, The Affairs of Others (Picador, 272 pages). Celia has been all too happy “to get out of the way.” Since becoming a young widow, she has been hiding herself, her past, and her fears in plain sight as the landlady of a Brooklyn brownstone.
When an upstairs tenant is confronted with heartbreak, he pleads with Celia to allow him a sub-letter while he escapes to France. Celia reluctantly consents, and Hope, a woman slightly older than Celia, whisks into the building. “She was the sort who created intimacies when there were none,” remarks Celia upon first meeting her. Immediately, Hope is disrupting Celia’s perfectly controlled life. As the moans of Hope and her lover drift from her ceiling, Celia is set on a path that slowly strips away the emotional façade that’s protected her for years. With that unraveling comes a chaotic chain of events that cause one tenant to go missing, a husband to leave, and a psychotic man to threaten Celia.
The protagonist of Paul Harding’s new novel, Enon (Random House; 256 pages), is Charlie Crosby, a bookish, New England house painter and the grandson of George Crosby (the protagonist of Harding’s Pulitzer Prize-winning first novel, Tinkers). Enon takes as its subject a year in the life of Charlie Crosby as he grieves for his only child, Kate, who is killed by a car while riding her bicycle home from the beach. In the days that follow, Charlie’s wife, Susan, departs for her parent’s house, a move that, even at the time, Charlie knows to be equal to the dissolution of their marriage.
Despite these losses, the early passages of Enon are, paradoxically, quite measured and calm. Granted, much of the first half of the novel takes place in the past as a couch-ridden Charlie recollects being with his daughter out in nature, hiking by the river or the bird sanctuary. As grief-stricken and self-destructive as he may be (Charlie breaks his hand punching a wall and shortly thereafter becomes hooked on painkillers), Charlie can only remember the good times, seemingly because that’s all there ever was. Enon, an otherwise highly realistic novel, is utterly free of any notes of parental regret. While Kate was alive “the world was love,” Charlie remarks. With her dead and him still “yoked to this life,” Charlie is “forced to suffer the joy of [his] life with Kate, unbreachable as it may be, in stark and ruinous contradiction to [his] life without her.”
San Francisco—the Bookstores, the Landscape, the Kids: Q&A with Nathan Heller, Molly Young, & Willy Staley
Nathan Heller, Molly Young, and Willy Staley are three working writers in New York. Heller was recently named a staff writer at The New Yorker and is also a TV and film critic for Vogue. Young is a feature writer at New York magazine, and Staley (who I used to skateboard with in high school) writes regularly for the New York Times and the New York Times Magazine.
All three are in their late twenties, and, interestingly, all three grew up in San Francisco. (Heller rode the 43 Masonic to high school, Young the 38 Geary, and Staley the 24 Divisadero.) Young, who recently profiled Tumblr’s David Karp, learned to surf in Bolinas. Heller, who has a piece on San Francisco’s new entrepreneurial culture in the latest New Yorker, has not forgotten the pleasures of a burrito at La Corneta. And before interviewing Earl Sweatshirt of Odd Future for the Times, Staley perfected his craft, in part, writing a well regarded blog on the Bay Area rap scene called nationofthizzlam.com.
We asked them about growing up in San Francisco, how that may have shaped them as writers, and what they miss about the city and the Bay Area.
ZYZZYVA: You attended Lick-Wilmerding, a socially conscious, private high school in San Francisco. In what ways did this institution help you discover yourself as a writer?
Nathan Heller: One of Lick’s goals at that time—probably still—was to bring together a pretty eclectic mix of people. I was there essentially as part of the weirdo quota. But this meant it was a really fun place to be. I’ve learned it’s fashionable to have hated high school, but this wasn’t the case for me. I really liked my classmates. I had a great time. The principle of eclecticism applied to teachers, too. Faculty members had these really colorful previous lives. For instance, Robin von Breton, who was an English teacher—I’m still in touch with her—had studied under Robert Lowell during his medium-crazy period in the late Sixties and then co-founded a weekly newspaper in New Orleans. She’s kind of a genius. Another English teacher, James Harris, had done some broadcasting and, I believe, is now on the East Oakland school board. Don Negri, a French teacher, was amazing on Candide because, decades earlier in a galaxy far away, he’d done a doctorate in Enlightenment philosophy. I have a hunch that if you’re raised on a weird mix of ideas and experiences as a kid, it’s easy to end up a certain kind of writer. It seems of a piece with the intellectual flavor of the Bay Area, too.
For the last four years, Emil DeAndreis has been substitute teaching while he completes his MFA in creative writing from San Francisco State. Educated in San Francisco’s public schools, DeAndreis never dreamed of being a sub, but the position has granted him an intriguing view of the classroom and the current state of learning. His new collection of short stories, Beyond Folly (Bluecubiclepress.com; 150 pages) is a hilarious, brooding, and sometimes frightening portrait of the life of the substitute in the city today.
Beyond Folly follows 27-year-old substitute Horton Haggardy on nine different assignments—from librarian to AP English teacher to Computer Lab Specialist—for which he is always under-prepared and sometimes overmatched. Initially, Horton gets into substitute teaching so he can have time to work on his poetry after college: “It was a great job for someone in a transition period; only, he had been transitioning now for years.” Still struggling to be published, and writing less, Horton now must face his vanishing youth, the unlikelihood of his dream being fulfilled, and the fact that no one ever plans to become a career sub.
I met DeAndreis almost ten years ago, when we both were students at Lowell High School, and last spring, we coached the Lowell baseball team to a city championship. We talked about his work over coffee at a small café in the Outer Sunset.
We announced here earlier in the year the inclusion of two ZYZZYVA pieces in the forthcoming Best American Essays and Best American Short Stories: respectively, Dagoberto Gilb‘s “A Little Bit of Fun Before He Died” (Issue No. 95, Fall 2012) and Karl Taro Greenfeld‘s “Horned Men” (also Issue No. 95).
Today we learned ZYZZYVA made the Notable lists for both prestigious anthologies, too. Ron Carlson‘s story “Line From a Movie” (Issue No. 96, Winter 2012) won recognition in BASS, and two nonfiction works were similarly recognized in Best American Essays: Rick Barot‘s “Morandi Sonnet” (No. 96) and Luis Alberto Urrea‘s “The Mr. Smith Syndrome” (again, No. 95, unofficially known as Our Most Acclaimed Issue Thus Far—and by the way, if you don’t have it, why not get a copy?)
Upcoming and recent contributors to ZYZZYVA also appear in both anthologies for work published elsewhere. Vanessa Veselka (No. 96) will have her GQ piece “The Truck Stop Killer” republished in Best American Essays. J. Malcom Garcia, whose work in McSweeney’s lands him on the Best American Essay Notable list, has a story coming out in our Winter 2013 issue.
On the BASS Notable list this year are Don Waters (Issue No. 94), for work in Southwest Review, and Elizabeth Spencer, for a story in Epoch. Waters also has a story in the Winter issue, and you can read Spencer’s story ”The Wedding Visitor” right now in the latest ZYZZYVA. And making the Notable list of both anthologies is Peter Orner (No. 94) for work in Ecotone and Fifth Wednesday.
Congratulations to all! We are honored to be working with and supporting such fine writers.
UPDATE: The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2013 named four ZYZZYVA stories on its notable list: “A House Well Furnished” by Brian Boise (Issue No. 95), “Chemistry” by Rob Ehle (Issue No. 94), “Joshua Tree” by Dawna Kemper (Issue No. 96), and “The Wheel at the Cistern” by Bruce McKay (No. 96).
Dan O’Brien is an award-winning Los Angeles playwright and poet whose poetry appeared in ZYZZYVA No. 95 (Fall 2012). His most recently published work, War Reporter (Hanging Loose Press; 132 pages), is a collection of poems focusing on the Pulitzer Prize-winning Canadian reporter and author Paul Watson. We talked to Dan O’Brien via email about his work focusing on the life and career of Watson, a subject, he says, that “has helped me find a way to write both intimately and politically at the same time.”
ZYZZYVA: Before working on these poems, you wrote a play, directed by Bill Rauch, focusing on Paul Watson called “The Body of an American” (2012). Could you tell us more about your choice to address this material through poetry, since (I think?) you might describe yourself first as a playwright, and drama was your initial approach to the material?
Dan O’Brien: I’ve always been fairly fuzzy about genre. Though yes it’s fair to say I’ve spent much of my career writing plays. I got an MFA from Brown University in Playwriting and Fiction (and I continue to write and publish stories and essays from time to time). The truth is that I’ve been writing poems as long as I’ve been writing, but I’ve kept it private, largely. Partly it was working with Paul that gave me the courage and the drive to get these poems in print. Writing about Paul Watson has helped me find a way to write both intimately and politically at the same time, and it’s felt like a revelation.
Spanish writer Javier Marías’s newest novel, The Infatuations (352 pages; Knopf)—wonderfully translated by Margaret Jull Costa—is a heady, noir-tinged trip deep inside the consciousness of María Dolz, a book editor who finds herself dragged into the dangerous drama of a couple she is obsessively observes from afar. When the novel begins, María describes how she has come into the habit of watching Miguel and Luisa, “The Perfect Couple,” as she terms them, while she eats breakfast near them in a café. She quickly finds herself dependent on the couple’s presence for her happiness; she needs their stability and the perfection of their distance in order to bear the repetition of her own mundane life. One day, though, Miguel (whose surname alternates between Desvern and Deverne, starting in the very first clause of the novel: “The last time I saw Miguel Desvern or Deverne was also the last time his wife, Luisa, saw him”) is violently and apparently randomly killed, stabbed in the back by a “gorrilla,” a homeless man who helps park cars for tips. Soon after, with the sole source of contentedness in her life stripped away, María decides to speak to Luisa. Thus, she enters into the lives of those who were previously held in the hermetic space of the observed, and slowly learns the secrets behind Miguel’s death.
Her book (Milkweed; 76 pages), the latest poetry collection from Éireann Lorsung, is a surprising and eloquent look into a highly physical, sensuous world. In particular, Lorsung is concerned with the delineation of the (female) self as it relates to its surroundings, both natural and constructed. Through many small moments that are exactingly crystalized, she builds a powerful, wider vision of a woman’s life.
The first part of Her book, “Fifteen poems for Kiki Smith,” revolves around artist Kiki Smith, lingering on Smith’s treatment of the female body (in which she subverts the blatant sexuality traditionally surrounding the female form in art, focusing instead on its fertility and hidden interior), and her treatment of nature, and the mythic and religious imagery linking these two (that is, woman in nature). Each of the fifteen poems is titled after one of Smith’s pieces, and though it’s not necessary, it certainly helps if the reader is familiar with Smith’s work. Continue reading
In our newest issue, ZYZZYVA asks: Having kids—what could possibly go wrong?
In Eric Puchner’s “Heavenland,” a stalled L.A. artist finds his style—and his relationships—severely cramped after the birth of his son.
In Vanessa Hua’s “A River of Stars,” a pregnant mistress in Southern California is cornered by the wishes of her married lover in China.
In Nana K. Twumasi’s “Pica,” a widowed father tries to make sense of his young daughter’s troubling eating compulsion.
And in Kate Milliken’s “A Matter of Time,” a suburban mother hopes a dinner party with an old and successful friend can salvage her dreams.
Plus stories from Kirsten Chen (on a Singapore teen’s complex bond with her family’s Filipina maid), Kimberly Lambright (in which a direct connection is made between a foundering marriage and God’s angst), and Southern great Elizabeth Spencer (on a family wedding serving as the wistful homecoming for a divorced cousin).
There’s also new verse from acclaimed poets Zubair Ahmed, David Biespiel, Rebecca Foust, John Glowney, Miriam Bird Greenberg, Diane K. Martin, Annie Mascorro, Jill Osier, Jacques J. Rancourt, and Caitlin Vance, as well as a portfolio of work from the outstanding Dean Rader.
In nonfiction, Anne Raeff ‘s “Lorca in the Afternoon” offers a requiem for a once estranged, anger-filled ex-boyfriend. And we introduce new writer Rosie Cima and her story (“Going Solo”) of a solitary young man haunting the neighborhoods and bus lines of Buenos Aires.
Tess Taylor’s first book of poetry, The Forage House (Red Hen Press; 88 pages), is a far-ranging exploration of a family’s role in the United States’s past. Called “brave and compelling” by U.S. Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey, Taylor’s collection mediates the historical record that too often embellishes or deletes the legacy of slavery. Framed as a first-person lyrical attempt to understand family history, The Forage House contains no easy solutions to the problems of inherited guilt. Rather, Taylor’s poems outline emotional experience within archival reality, achieving a personal historicity that poet Timothy Donnelly calls “scrupulous and artful.”
We talked with Taylor, an East Bay native, about the intricacies and challenges of composing The Forage House.