A Beautiful Excuse for Rumination: César Aira’s ‘The Seamstress and the Wind’

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César Aira’s The Seamstress and the Wind (New Directions; 144 pages), translated by Rosalie Knecht, is simultaneously minimalist and epic. Aira’s voice is clear, his characters are palpable, and his ideas — elucidations on literary theory, existential ruminations, and thought experiments — are evocative and infectious. The story, which concerns a seamstress and her husband who travel the Patagonia desert in pursuit of their accidentally kidnapped son, careens with each chapter at dizzying speed. Seamstress might be thought confusing and possibly incomplete, because the story’s inciting incident — the kidnapped child — goes completely unresolved, even forgotten by the seamstress […]

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The Famous Artist as Art: ‘Seeing Gertrude Stein: Five Stories’

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In a 1924 print by Henri Manuel, featured as part of a new exhibition at the Contemporary Jewish Museum, Gertrude Stein is at work. Avoiding the camera, she sits dressed in a dark jacket and regal brooch, a pen in one hand; before her, a single sheet of paper glows luminously against the desk. The retrospective show, which examines both the biography and cultural influence of the lauded American-Jewish writer, contains innumerable inventions of both portrayal and homage. Stein, a patron of renowned artists from Picasso to Thorton Wilder and collaborator with musicians such as Virgil Thomson — with whom […]

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The Bay Area Benefit for Dean Young

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ZYZZYVA and the Squaw Valley Community of Writers present an evening of readings from some of the nation’s finest poets and writers in a special Bay Area fundraiser for Dean Young, the acclaimed poet recovering from heart transplant surgery. The event is at 7 p.m. on Thursday, June 23, at Wheeler Hall, Maude Fife Room 315, at the University of California, Berkeley. Admission is free.

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An Embarrassment of Riches: The California Book Awards

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Year after year — since 1931 — the California Book Awards, sponsored by the Commonwealth Club of California, has steadfastly proven what anybody living in the Golden State should already know: We’re not hurting for fine authors. All kinds of authors. Authors who go on to win National Book Awards, PEN/Faulkners, Pulitzers, even Nobels. (If you go here, you can see for yourself the long list of distinguished authors bestowed with a silver or gold medal from the California Book Awards over the decades. The long list includes John Steinbeck, M.F.K. Fisher, Wallace Stegner, Czeslaw Milosz, Gina Berriault, William Saroyan, […]

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

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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 […]

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Other Voices, Other Rooms

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BookExpo America has wrapped up, so now we can sift through the rubble of lanyards and business cards, of wine-stained plastic cups and mistakenly pocketed linen cocktail napkins, and see what stands out: The big book of the convention sounds like it might be Jeffrey Eugenides new novel (coming out in October), The Marriage Plot. Here are nine other “hot” books from BEA, including the Bay Area’s Adam Mansbach‘s “Go the Fuck to Sleep.” (Its pub date has been moved up from October to next month.) Maile Meloy will have a new book out in October — The Apothecary, a […]

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Piropo

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Leticia del Toro is a writer living in El Cerrito. Her short story “Piropo,” which was published in ZYZZYVA’s Spring 2011 issue, marks her first time in print. (Not counting the liner notes she’s written for Tex-Mex CDs from Arhoolie Records.) The story’s narrator, Carolina, is a woman asserting herself in a man’s world of manual labor. (She disguises her sex to get work). Meanwhile, she contends with Joaquin, the feckless father of her little boy back in Mexico, and navigates the unpredictable world of well-meaning Anglos. The following is an excerpt from “Piropo.”

On June 4, Leticia del Toro will be reading with D.A. Powell, Michael Jaime-Becerra, Peter Mountford and others as part of Babylon Salon in San Francisco.

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Ruins of the Real: Inger Christensen’s ‘Light,’ ‘Grass,’ and ‘Letter in April’

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Reading the late Inger Christensen’s poetry collections Light, Grass, and Letter In April (New Directions; 148 pages), as translated by Susanna Nied, is akin to stepping into a river of deceptive depth. The long-celebrated Danish poet doesn’t parade with fanfare the complexity of her work. (The first poem in Light is just six lines.) Yet progressing through these poems, a strong, invisible current pulls on the reader with gathering strength. With a plaintive tone easy to underestimate, Christensen allows her algorithmic language to work as a sort of vortex that warps one’s perception of reality. In Nied’s crystalline translation of […]

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Everything That Happens Can Be Called Aging

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Carl Adamshick, who lives in Portland, Ore., is the 2010 recipient of the Walt Whitman Award. His first poetry collection, Curses and Wishes (Louisiana State University Press), was just published in April. “Everything That Happens Can Be Called Aging” is one of his two poems in the Spring 2011 issue of ZYZZYVA.

The poem evokes the giddy moment when we realize how much we love our somewhat average existence, when we grasp how remarkable and vibrant our seemingly unremarkable lives really are.  “I need no resolution/just the constant turmoil of living,” says the speaker, who notes in the poem’s first line: “I have more love than ever.”

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A Fight Against the Meanness in This World: Q&A with Matthew Dickman

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Matthew Dickman’s first book, All-American Poem, received the 2008 American Poetry Review/Honickman First Book Prize in Poetry, and his second book is slated to appear in 2012 from W.W. Norton. Featured in ZYZZYVA’s Spring 2011 issue, Dickman’s work has also appeared in The New Yorker, AGNI Online, and Tin House, where he works as an editor. The twin brother of poet Michael Dickman, his poems function as both paeans and laments of the zeitgeist of modern American life — tessellating mythology with reality, Beat zeal with modern nods toward restraint. The Oregon native sat down with ZYZZYVA at Stumptown Coffee […]

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Fever Dreams: Roberto Bolaño’s ‘Between Parentheses’

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It’s a little embarrassing to recognize, when reading Between Parentheses (New Directions; 352 pages) — a collection of Roberto Bolaño’s essays, speeches and newspaper columns, translated by Natasha Wimmer — not only how little one knows of Spanish-language literature, but how much more Bolaño knew of English-language and European literature. Yes, he was on intimate terms with Poe (who could be seen as Borges’ older brother from Baltimore — and Borges, writes Bolaño, “is or should be at the center of our canon”), but he could speak with equal authority on ancient Greek epic poetry, Provençal troubadours, and Snorri’s Edda. […]

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Son of the General

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Pamela Rivas was born in San Francisco and grew up on the Peninsula. She is a bilingual educator for Santa Cruz County. “Son of the General,” which appears in the Spring 2011 issue of ZYZZYVA, is her first work of fiction in print. Her tight, concise story was inspired by her family’s first trip to Central America. Something like a prose poem, Rivas’s fiction here delineates a legacy of societal brutality, a legacy that dovetails with the well-deep, universal anxiety of parenthood — how to protect one’s children.

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