Tag Archives: essay

Out of Notebooks

W.S. Di Piero, who lives in San Francisco, is the author of several acclaimed books of poetry (his most recent being Nitro Nights (Copper Canyon)) and is the recipient of many awards and honors, including the 2012 Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize from the Poetry Foundation of Chicago.

Di Piero’s poetry has appeared in ZYZZYVA’s Fall 2011 and Spring 2012 issues. (His poem in the Spring issue, “There Were Such Things,” received a 2013 Pushcart Prize.) And now his nonfiction can be read in ZYZZYVA’s Spring/Summer issue. “Out of Notebooks” is an essay of sorts, a collection of thoughts and observations, ranging from subjects such as physical pain to the nature of poetry, and taking as its settings places such as a BART car or a museum room. The following is an excerpt.

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The Mr. Smith Syndrome

Luis Alberto Urrea is the critically acclaimed and best-selling author of fourteen books, including his most recent, the novel Queen of America (Little, Brown.) He is the winner of numerous awards for his poetry, fiction and essays, as well as a professor of creative writing at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Urrea grew up in San Diego, and that experience of being Mexican American and living close to the border has informed his writing. In his essay in ZYZZYVA’s Fall issue, “The Mr. Smith Syndrome,” Urrea brings to life a job he had as a teenager: frying up donuts for a sketchy boss (“Cigarette smoke. Body odor. Bad breath.”).

There’s a spirit of resolve in the piece, an understanding of what you need to overcome to find, perhaps, a state of grace in this life. The following is the essay in its entirety. (Warning: You may never eat another old-fashioned again.)

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Cuba + Kids – Water

Edie Meidav is the award-winning author of the novel Lola, California (Picador) and the forthcoming Dogs of Cuba. Raised in Berkeley, she’s a former director of the New College of California MA/MFA in writing and is now a writer-in residence at Bard College.

Her essay, “Cuba+Kids-Water,” appeared in ZYZZYVA’s Fall issue. Humorous and thoughtful, it recounts Meidav’s experience when she temporarily relocated to Havana with her family so she could do research on Cuba’s boxers. It’s a propulsive read, partly due to Meidav’s prose style and partly due to the expectant sense she creates around her family’s living situation. But for all the wonderful surprises, there are less than cheery ones, too.

The following is an excerpt of “Cuba+Kids-Water.”

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A Little Bit of Fun Before He Died

Dagoberto Gilb is the author of six books, most recently the story collection Before the End, After the Beginning (Grove). The recipient of many awards and fellowships, he is the executive director of Centro Victoria: Center for Mexican American Literature and Culture.

Gilb’s literary essay, “A Little Bit of Fun Before He Died,” which appears in ZYZZYVA’s Fall issue, is both a meditation on his relationship with the late writer Bill Ripley (“my first fiction-writer role model”) and on the vagaries of life—the writing life, in particular. Ripley gained some renown because of the Sheryl Crow song “All I Wanna Do,” which was based on a poem about him. The essay examines Ripley’s intoxicated misadventures even as it details Gilb’s understanding of himself as a writer, one who doesn’t come from a world of privilege and its received notions of what the writing life is. “I knew nothing about creative writing,” he states early on. “What I knew of the contemporary writing business came out of a used copy of Writer’s Market.”

The following is an excerpt from “A Little Bit of Fun Before He Died.”

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Do You Like It?

To Kay Ryan, former U.S. poet laureate, the gradual evolution of a poet is a strange and scaly one, full of bewilderment. It’s possible, even likely, in Ryan’s mind, that a person destined for the “ferocious religion” of poetry staves off the eventuality for a long time.

In her essay “Do You Like It?,” published in ZYZZYVA’s Winter 1998 issue, Ryan reflects on the unforeseen moment she decided to become a writer. The poet tested her dedication to the craft over the course of a 4,000-mile bicycle trip. Then, an epiphany: “All at once I no longer had to try to appreciate my experience or try to understand; I played with the phrase the peace that passeth understanding like turning a silver coin in my fingers. And with the peace-beyond-the-struggle-to-understand came an unprecedented freedom and power to think.”

The following is Kay Ryan’s essay, in full.

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Keep Writing

Cristina Rivera Garza is a Mexican novelist and two-time winner of the Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz Prize (the only writer to have won the prestigious award twice). A professor at the University of California at San Diego, she writes a weekly column for the newspaper Milenio in Mexico.

“Keep Writing,” her essay in ZYZZYVA’s Spring 2012 issue, originally appeared in Milenio in October 2010. Translated into English by John Gibler, the piece tries to answer the question, What is the point of being a writer amid times of madness, whether it be Mexico’s drug war or other, similar episodes of violence and despair? Garza Rivera offers as many reasons she can, not least among them being, “Because through that rectangular artifact that is the book, we communicate with our dead. And all dead are our dead.”

The following is an excerpt from her essay.

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