Before Goldman Knew of Great Loss There Was First Knowing Great Love

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On a hot, bright July day in 2007, author Francisco Goldman waded into the Pacific surf off Mazunte, Mexico. His wife, Aura Estrada, watched him bodysurf, catching a wave and riding it twenty yards back toward the shore, and decided she’d like to do the same. As the next wave approached, she called out, “This one’s mine!” That powerful wave left Aura unconscious, floating in the shallow waters near the beach, and although she regained consciousness and fought for her life in the hours that followed, she did not survive. Say Her Name (Grove; 350 pages) is Goldman’s wrenching but […]

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Frida & Diego, or Among Musicians Only

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Willy Lizárraga was born and raised in Peru and arrived in San Francisco as a teen. A teacher at Berkeley City College, Lizárraga is also a novelist. His novel in Spanish, Mientras Elena en su lecho, won the 1995 Letras de Oro Literary Prize, University of Miami. Frida & Diego, Or Among Musicians Only appeared in the Winter 2010 issue of ZYZZYVA. (You can get a copy here.) The following excerpt gives a strong sense of Lizárraga’s vibrant English prose, as well as his powerful depiction of place. Here, San Francisco’s Mission District is a “cemetery” after midnight. “Why aren’t they flooding the streets of this supposedly world-class city, me cago en Dios?” a character asks. “Why isn’t everybody enjoying the night como gente civilizada, hostias?” (If you read Spanish, the story is also joyfully profane.)

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Things Lost in Translation

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Devreaux Baker is a Northern California poet and the author of many collections, including Red Willow People (2010), published by Wild Ocean Press in San Francisco. She also produces the Mendocino Coast Poetry Reading Series and produced “The Voyagers Radio Program of Original Student Writing,” which aired on KZYX Public Radio.

“Things Lost in Translation” appeared in the Winter 2010 issue of ZYZZYVA. (You can get a copy here.) Baker’s poem could be described as a romantic plea, urging the beloved to allow the speaker full knowledge of his or her life. “Empty the words from your pockets/rearrange the stars if you have to,/ but tell me something untold before/”

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Tennessee Williams’ Bird-Girl of Glorious Hill: Theater Review

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The Eccentricities of a Nightingale, a lesser-known work by Tennessee Williams being staged by the Aurora Theatre Company in Berkeley, is the story of Alma Winemiller, the odd, intelligent daughter of the Episcopalian rector in the town of Glorious Hill, Mississippi. When the play opens, Alma’s attempts to fit in are driving her frantic, while even her most modest pleasures (organizing a cultural club, feeding the birds in the town square) make her an object of ridicule. Her father, Reverend Winemiller (played by Charles Dean), suffers continually under the burden of his mad wife and the scandal of her sister’s […]

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Discovering Shostakovich’s True Voice in His Fifteen Quartets

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Before he could reach the keys of a piano, Dmitri Shostakovich showed a secret interest in music. “When our neighbors played quartets, I would put my ear to the wall and listen.”  As Wendy Lesser points out in her new book, Music for Silenced Voices: Shostakovich and His Fifteen Quartets (Yale University Press; 368 pages), this image — of the composer as an eavesdropping child — is an apt one for an artist who spent his life under surveillance by the Soviet regime. In her ninth book, Lesser, founding editor of The Threepenny Review, argues that the man best known […]

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‘The Docks’ Reveals the People Inside the Behemoth Port of Los Angeles

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The Port of Los Angeles has earned the not so inviting nickname of the Diesel Death Zone, due to the tons of particulate matter it produces. Yet it’s a facility of such monumental importance, that if disrupted the disturbance “would cause an economic heart attack for the country.”  The Docks (University of California Press; 341 pages) is Bill Sharpsteen’s wildly enlightening trek through this mammoth, messy, and mesmerizing spot. A journalist and a photographer who possesses a penchant for stories with heft, Sharpsteen honed his narrative skills in Dirty Water: One Man’s Fight to Clean up one of the World’s […]

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Our Brave Little Soldiers

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How to describe this beautifully strange story by Erika Recordon? It’s brief, but it’s haunting. “Our Brave Little Soldiers,” one of two stories by Recordon in the Spring 2011 issue of ZYZZYVA (which you can buy here), is dream-like in the truest sense: familiar yet alien, operating by an elusive yet recognizable logic. Along with Matthew Dickman, her fellow Portland, Ore., writer and ZYZZYVA contributor, Recordon reads tonight at the Rumpus event in San Francisco.

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My Father in Russia

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Portland, Ore., poet Matthew Dickman won the 2008 APR/Honickman First Book Prize and the 2009 Stafford/Hall Award for Poetry (Oregon Book Awards) for his first poetry collection, “All-American Poem” (American Poetry Review). His second book of poems, “Maykovsky’s Revolver,” will be published by W.W. Norton & Co. in 2012.

The Spring 2011 issue of ZYZZYVA (you can buy a copy here) features three new poems from him, including “My Father in Russia,” an ecstatically comic vision of the new East (and of the West, for that matter). He’ll be reading with his fellow Portland writer and Spring 2011 contributor Erika Recordon at the Rumpus in San Francisco on Monday, April 11.

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The Kangaroo Communique

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When ZYZZYVA published a Haruki Murakami story in its Spring issue of 1988, it was notable for a couple of reasons. It marked the first publication in English of a story from the soon-to-be award-winning and internationally known author. And his by-line read “Murakami Haruki.” J. Philip Gabriel, who would go on to translate Murakami’s other works, including the novel “Kafka on the Shore,” for which he won a PEN prize for translation, was a graduate student at Cornell then. He now teaches at the University of Arizona.

‘The Kangaroo Communique’ is suffused with a tristesse found in much of Murakami’s fiction, particularly his novel “Norwegian Wood.” It’s also slightly sinister and otherworldly, another characteristic of Murakami’s work. This story originally appeared in his first story collection, Slow Boat to China (1983), which along with a couple of novels, had yet to be translated into English in 1988.

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Lady Grey (in ever lower light) and Other Plays by Will Eno: Theater Review

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In Lady Grey (in ever lower light), one of three new short plays by Will Eno performed together by San Francisco’s Cutting Ball Theatre, the title character never introduces herself.  The only person mentioned by name in the piece is a little girl named Jennifer — because according to Lady Grey (Danielle O’Hare)  “a story needs a girl, and a girl needs a name.” As the piece develops and we learn of Jennifer’s difficult day at show-and-tell, we come to think of Lady Grey as the name given to a collection of verbal tricks designed to protect and conceal Jennifer. […]

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Otherwise Known as Piercing Perception

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Geoff Dyer, the British novelist, critic and essayist, sums up his new collection of essays and reviews from the past 25 years, “Otherwise Known as the Human Condition” (Graywolf; 432 pages) as “a glimpse of a not-unrepresentative way of being a late-twentieth-early-twenty-first-century man of letters” — one who writes on assignment, covering a vast range of subjects, in addition to creating fiction. “It’s a job for life; more accurately, it is a life,” he writes in the introduction, “and hardly a day goes by without my marveling that it is somehow feasible to lead it.” Dyer’s gigs include magazine essays, […]

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The Photosynthetic Restaurant

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Artist and writer Jonathon Keats says he’s honestly surprised no one has ever thought about it before he did. “For nearly a half billion years, plants have subsisted on a diet of photons haphazardly served up by the sun and indiscriminately consumed, without the least thought given to culinary enjoyment. Frankly, it’s barbaric.” From April 16 to July 17, Keats will be addressing that oversight by running a restaurant for plants at the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento. “The Photosynthetic Restaurant: Gourmet Sunlight for Plants as Catered by Jonathon Keats” will feature colored acrylic panes arranged throughout the museum’s gardens, […]

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