Tag Archives: San Francisco

All the Lost, Autobiographical Novels

Years ago, when novelist Alexander Chee couldn’t sell his first book, a literary agent told him, “The first novel you finish isn’t always the first novel you publish.” The agent was right. Hunter S. Thompson, for example, wrote his first novel, the autobiographical story of a boozy Kentucky boy in the city titled Prince Jellyfish, in his early twenties. After numerous literary agents declined it, Thompson shelved the manuscript and finished a second novel called The Rum Diary, which Simon & Schuster released in 1998, nearly four decades after he had completed it. And just last month, De Capo Press published Jack Kerouac’s lost, semi-autobiographical …Continue reading

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The 100th Issue: Letter from the Editors

We don’t normally reprint letters from the editor here, but on the eve of Issue No. 100′s publication date, we’d like to share with you our thoughts about the journal—why we think the work is important (and why its print format is essential), and where we hope to take it.  Dear Readers, Ours is an era of profligate noise. Content and images clamor for our attention at every turn, in every medium. Opinion masquerades as information; information floods our senses. Distractions abound. The cacophony is merciless, and rapid fire. At times it seems a literary journal may be hopelessly out …Continue reading

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The Whole of the Iceberg: Rabih Alameddine’s ‘An Unnecessary Woman’

In his fifth book, An Unnecessary Woman (Grove Press, 304 pages), San Francisco author Rabih Alameddine examines the past and present life of a 72-year-old Lebanese divorcee and translator, Aaliyah, who has distanced herself from family and lost her only two friends. As she holes up in her spacious Beirut apartment and braces for bombs during the Lebanese Civil War or wanders the streets of her city decades later, Alameddine’s novel stays lodged within the confines of Aaliyah’s erudite mind, where she bounces effortlessly between Fernando Pessoa and Bruno Schultz. Literature is her only salve. For sticking with Aaliyah, the …Continue reading

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A Bag of Wheat, a Flood, a Fold-Out Couch: The Moth StorySLAM in San Francisco

In 1997, in hopes of recreating the experience of swapping stories with his friends on long summer nights in Georgia, poet and novelist George Dawes Green founded The Moth. Since its first event, held in the living room of Green’s New York City apartment, The Moth has grown into an influential organization known for bringing out original and affecting stories from everyday people around the world. The stories can be funny, or sad, or dramatic, or light, but, above all else, they must be true. The rules are simple: start with the theme for the night, come up with a …Continue reading

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What It Means to Be Alive and Dying at the Same Time: Jack Mueller’s ‘Amor Fati’

Amor Fati, a thick volume of new and selected poems from Beat affiliate and once San Francisco fixture Jack Mueller, truly lives up to its name (Lithic Press; 177 pages). “Love of fate,” as the title translates, appears in these pages in many forms: as contemplative acceptance, surly fatalism, awed joy. One moment pondering the nature of death, the next exuberantly describing a bird, Mueller vacillates between optimism and resignation as he moves between the registers of philosophical abstraction and concrete observation. Distinctly the work of an older writer, Amor Fati tackles almost exclusively cosmic questions—about mortality, love, and our …Continue reading

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Balancing Being Herself and Being True to the Author: Q&A with Silvia Pareschi

In his novel Freedom, Jonathan Franzen has one of his characters make a pun that would make anyone groan. “Nor-fock-a-Virginia!” a character says in a fake Italian accent. When his German translator asked for clarification, Franzen explained: “Punchline of a pun about an Italian who won’t fuck virgins. The pun refers to the city of Norfolk, Virginia. Anything that works in German and is both dirty and refers to Italy or Italians would be fine with me.” If it was hard to come up with a solution in German, it was almost impossible in Italian: “It had to be something …Continue reading

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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 …Continue reading

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Lessons in the Fictional Life of a Substitute Teacher: Q&A with Emil DeAndreis

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 …Continue reading

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Betting on a Better Tomorrow in ’90s New York: Ali Liebegott’s ‘Cha-Ching!’

Ali Liebegott’s Cha-Ching! (City Lights/Sister Spit; 248 pages) is a book worthy of its pleasingly onomatopoetic title. Though the plot is familiar—lost woman on the edge of thirty moves to New York City out of a desperate need to find herself, but becomes disillusioned by the city’s gritty reality yet manages to hoist herself up by her bootstraps—it is made fresh and compelling because of Liebegott’s optimistic and sincere protagonist, Theo, and her particular struggles as a “sirma’amsir” lesbian in ‘90s San Francisco. And it’s because of Liebegott’s carefully tempered rendering of Theo that the novel offers a subtle and …Continue reading

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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 Mind Is a Dangerous Country: ‘The Chairs’ at the Cutting Ball Theater

I heard somewhere that it’s easier to dream lucidly as a couple. If, before going to sleep, you turn to your lover and say, “Darling, tonight let’s dream of boats,” and then you both go to sleep, the odds are much greater that you will both dream of boats. The Cutting Ball Theater’s production of Eugene Ionesco’s The Chairs (a new translation by Rob Melrose, directed by Annie Elias) is the story of a superannuated couple who create a new reality together as they fight off the tedium and irrelevance of old age. They live in a crumbling apartment building …Continue reading

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Documenting Life Amid the ‘Dragon’s Jaws’: Q&A with Thomas Alleman

From 1985 to 1988, photographer Thomas Alleman worked in a jimmy-rigged laundryroom-cum-darkroom to document the life, passion, and spirit of one of the most prominent and historic gay neighborhoods in the world—San Francisco’s Castro District—in the face of AIDS. His latest show, “Dancing in the Dragon’s Jaws: Gay San Francisco, 1985-1988,” runs at the Jewett Gallery in the San Francisco Main Library from December 1 though February 10. His photographs—stirring, necessary, and often deeply joyous—depict a brave set of San Franciscans propelled by a spirit that was unable to “be extinguished by something as dispassionate as a plague.” We spoke …Continue reading

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