Author Archives: Zack Ravas

The Common Reader’s ‘James Baldwin & American Democracy’: Another Country, Another Time

Nobody knows his name. The literary and political legacy of James Baldwin is going through a revival through works like Raoul Peck’s Academy Award-nominated documentary, I Am Not Your Negro, and director Barry Jenkins’ film adaptation of If Beale Street Could Talk. Add to this, the newest issue of The Common Reader: A Journal of the Essay, published by Washington University in St. Louis, and its eleven essays that further explore the lasting work and meaning of the author. High points of the issue, titled James Baldwin & American Democracy, include Cecil Brown’s piece, “With James Baldwin at the Welcome Table,’’ in …Continue reading

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‘The Painted Forest’ by Krista Eastman: Thoroughly Acquainted with the World

Krista Eastman had been living away from her native Wisconsin for many years when she began writing her essay collection, The Painted Forest (144 pages; West Virginia University Press), and it was during this time that she began to consider the meaning of home. Once she left the small, working-class town in which she was raised, she told Poets & Writers, she found she often “had to explain myself and my home to others, putting a complicated place onto maps where previously there’d been nothing at all.” That’s when she “became interested in the role of telling about a place, …Continue reading

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‘Blackfishing the IUD’ by Caren Beilin: Inflaming Technologies

Just over halfway through Caren Beilin’s newest book, Blackfishing the IUD (165 pages; Wolfman Books), she states the simple truth that we have already learned, have already felt and suffered with, over the course of our engagement with this work: “Reading is ruining my life.” Recounting her own experience with medical gaslighting, rheumatoid arthritis (RA), the copper intrauterine device (IUD), and what it means to have metal—a toxic thing, an inflaming thing—placed in the uterus, Beilin’s text is part critique, part personal essay, and part platform for the stories, worries, angers, and generous advice of other affected women. Her voice …Continue reading

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Obsessions: A Visit to the Stephen ‘ESPO’ Powers ‘Daymaker’ Installation at SFMOMA

On a Friday afternoon, I visited the Stephen “ESPO” Powers “Daymaker” installation at SFMOMA. “Daymaker” includes two site-specific wall-size murals covered in Powers’ signature ideograms: a simple illustration of an everyday object accompanied by witty, semi-aphoristic text. (Powers began his career as a graffiti artist under the moniker ESPO.) Of the two murals, the one on the east wall is the more popular one for picture taking. It has more blank spaces between ideograms and better light. The picture-taking comes in two genres: selfies or portraits. You can pose next to the brick wall covered with the words “BACK GOES …Continue reading

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Jonathon Keats and the Pioneers for the Greater Holocene: Pessimism is Not a Scientific Way of Thinking

Unbeknown to many in San Francisco, we are in the presence of several brave species helping to terra-form the city and stave off a future defined by man’s carbon footprint. These “volunteers,” as experimental philosopher Jonathon Keats calls them, represent the first members of his new organization, The Pioneers for the Greater Holocene, and they’re closer than you might think—they might even be under your feet. These ambassadors are the plants that sprout from the sidewalk in even the wealthiest neighborhoods in the city. Though acknowledging that they are commonly dismissed as unsightly, Keats—previously known for creating Alien Instruments and …Continue reading

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‘The Tradition’ by Jericho Brown: Bursts of Ecstasy and Longing

To some extent, every poet creates a persona. Think of Berryman’s Henry, for example. But Jericho Brown has done so more fully and convincingly than most. Born Nelson Dimery III, he answered to the name Jericho in a dream. In that dream the name allowed him go through a door. He later learned that the loose translation of the name is “defense,” and he discarded his birth name and became the unmistakably singular poet Jericho Brown. In the same way, he has transformed his evangelical fundamentalist upbringing into spirituality, physicality, and song. This transformation is showcased in his latest book, …Continue reading

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‘A Special Kind of Freedom in Failure: A Conversation with Jim Gavin,’ ZYZZYVA No. 116

Jim Gavin’s fiction has appeared in The New Yorker, The Paris Review, Zoetrope, Esquire, Slice, The Mississippi Review, and ZYZZYVA. Based in Los Angeles, he is also the creator of the critically-acclaimed television series Lodge 49, now in its second season. You can watch Lodge 49 on AMC every Monday night at 10pm. Issue 116 features a Q&A with Gavin, an excerpt from which appears below: OSCAR VILLALON: As a prose writer, as somebody who conceives of narrative through the written word, how did you go about recalibrating your sense of telling a story for a visual medium? JIM GAVIN: I have a dumb …Continue reading

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ZYZZYVA Interview Series: Meron Hadero

Meron Hadero is an Ethiopian-American born in Addis Ababa who came to the U.S. in her childhood via East and West Germany. Her short stories appear in Best American Short Stories, Selected Shorts on NPR/PRI, McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern, ZYZZYVA, The Iowa Review, The Missouri Review, and other journals. Her writing has also been published in The New York Times Book Review, the anthology The Displaced: Refugee Writers on Refugee Lives, and others. Her work has been supported by the International Institute at the University of Michigan, the Elizabeth George Foundation, and Artist Trust. Hadero has held fellowships at the World …Continue reading

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‘Hard Mouth’ by Amanda Goldblatt: What Grief Can Do

When Denny, the twenty-something narrator of Amanda Goldblatt’s first novel, Hard Mouth (242 pages; Counterpoint Press), flees Washington, D.C., for a mountain cabin to avoid witnessing her father’s final cancer-ridden days, the reader hesitates to judge; after all, who’s to say we wouldn’t do the same in Denny’s place? We all grieve in our distinct ways, and in that regard Denny’s choice seems as sound as her father’s to reject treatment for his third round of cancer. After ten years of watching her father slowly decline, she realizes, “I needed an out…I did not yet understand that courage was unrequired …Continue reading

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‘Love and I’ by Fanny Howe: A Meander through a Singular Mind

Fanny Howe prefers to be alone—perhaps that’s what makes her such a perceptive poet. In her latest collection, Love and I (80 pages; Graywolf Press), the fruits of Howe’s solitude are on full display. Howe is introspective, curious, and content when she is by herself. Many of the poems in Love and I celebrate the comforts of being alone: I’ll sit at the window Where it’s safe to say no. Won’t go out, won’t work For a living, will study the clouds Becoming snow. That’s not to say Howe doesn’t grapple with the aches of loneliness as well: “Someone help …Continue reading

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Q&A with Cristina García: ‘Here in Berlin’ and Writing in Cuban

Fidel died three years ago. Obama is no longer President. Their absence from the American political landscape and Trump’s divisive posturing has given rise to the old Cold War rhetoric between Washington and Havana, bringing into question where U.S.-Cuba relations might be headed. These tensions challenge us to inquire where the literary response may be for those writers who live in the hyphen between “Cuban” and “American.” A telling answer can be found in Cristina Garcia’s arresting fiction. Over the last twenty years her work has steadily moved away from Cuba-centric fiction to explorations going beyond the political and sentimental …Continue reading

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Q&A with Brandon Shimoda: ‘The Grave on the Wall’ and Writing with Ghosts

How to capture a life, how to represent it, is a difficult if necessary question to address in writing. Brandon Shimoda’s The Grave on the Wall (222 pages; City Lights Books) relentlessly contends with this concern as it recounts the story of Midori Shimoda, the author’s grandfather, within the entangled histories of immigration, Japanese incarceration during World War II, mourning, and memory. The book is also an examination of writing itself, the mechanism available for, and sometimes burdened with, conveying these stories; with relaying and reimagining them, opening them to visitation. A chronicle of the living and the dead and the places …Continue reading

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