A Little Bit of Fun Before He Died

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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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Pinkville

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Tatjana Soli is the author of two novels: The Lotus Eaters, a New York Times-bestseller and winner of the James Tait Black Prize, and her newest book, The Forgetting Tree (St. Martin’s Press), which publishes this month.

“Pinkville,” her story in ZYZZYVA’s Fall 2012 issue, “is one of two stories I wrote about the [Vietnam] war since coming back from Vietnam last year.” While her first novel, The Lotus Eaters, details the experiences of an American female combat photographer during the Vietnam War, “Pinkville” jumps around in time and deals “more with the [war’s] aftereffects.”

“When I came across the story of Hugh Thompson“—the U.S. Army helicopter pilot who, along with his crew, intervened between U.S. soldiers and Vietnamese civilians in the My Lai massacre—”I knew there was one more part of the war that I had to write about.”

The following is an excerpt from “Pinkville.”

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Víctor Comes Back

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Tomás González, according to translator Joel Streicker, has “been called the best-kept secret of Colombian literature, although the word has been getting out the past couple of years. He’s a generation younger than García Márquez and a generation older than the current crop of young or youngish writers (e.g., Juan Gabriel Vásquez, Ricardo Silva Romero, Pilar Quintana).”
González’s story “Victor Comes Back,” which was translated by Streicker (who won a 2011 PEN American Center Translation Grant) and appears in ZYZZYVA’s Fall 2012 issue, is characterized by “a profound sense of loss and dislocation.”
“There is an air of menace beneath—and, at times, in the midst of—his narratives,” says Streicker, “that somehow seems animated by the more overt threats to ordinary people’s lives and livelihoods that, sadly, Colombians have lived with for so much of their history.”
Streicker will be reading from his translation of “Victor Comes Back” as part of ZYZZYVA’s Fall release event at City Lights Bookstore at 5 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 30. The following is an excerpt from the story.

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Eye

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Jesse Nathan is an editor at McSweeney’s and a doctoral student in English literature at Stanford University. He is also the author of a poetry chapbook, Dinner (Or, a Deranged Event Staged in a Theoretical Mansion in Which Time and History Have Been Grossly Dismembered and What We Know as the Laws of Physics Wildly Subverted, Conducted as an Inquiry into the Genius of Madness and the Art of the Faux Pas, and Having as a First Course to be Served to a Cast of Sixteen Eccentrics A Dish of Carrot Cabbage Salad Meant to Tickle Every Palate).

“Eye” is one of two poems by Nathan in the Fall 2012 issue of ZYZZYVA. An ode of sorts, it begins “Voice low, father, you are/ hurting aloud from the book of your life on this earth.” The images and ideas flowing from there prove arresting and surprising.

Jesse Nathan will be one of the readers at ZYZZYVA’s Fall Issue event at City Lights Bookstore at 5 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 30.

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Keep Writing

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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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Get In And Toss the Gun in Back

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Mauro Gallardo is a writer and ukulelist living in Monterrey, Mexico, and recently completed his first novel, I Liked You Better When You Were A Junkie.

In Gallardo’s short story in ZYZZYVA’s Spring 2012 issue, “Get In and Toss the Gun in Back,” translated by ZYZZVA Managing Editor Oscar Villalon, we encounter a narrator who relies on good humor and quick thinking to deal with the mayhem that has come to define his city. (Monterrey is Mexico’s third largest city and one of the hardest hit by the ongoing drug war.) Coming back from a disastrous date, he diverts a carjacking into something like a joyride. Funny and surprising, Gallardo’s story could be viewed as one young man’s way of staying human amid a wretched situation.

The following is an excerpt from his story.

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In a Way That Satiates

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The writing on Mexico’s drug war in ZYZZYVA’s Spring 2012 issue featured some harrowing pieces of reportage by young authors and journalists Diego Enrique Osorno and Marcela Turati. (You can read their pieces in full here and here.) But it also featured impressive pieces of fiction, such as this short story by the internationally-acclaimed Mexican author Daniel Sada (1953-2011).

Translated by Katherine Silver, “In a Way That Satiates” tells of a narco-party that goes sideways when three heads are discovered in an ice chest otherwise full of beer. It’s a striking piece of fiction, both funny (“At first the drinks were cola sodas: Coca and Pepsi, each according to his preference, but then they brought out the Fantas, Mirindas, and Orange Crushes. Not a lot of diversity, one might say.”) and sinister (“Female wake-weeping that waned with time, it had to; especially because the mental always ends up defeating the sentimental. That’s the way of the world.”).

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On the Drug War in Mexico: An Introduction

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From mid-August through mid-September, the Caravan for Peace will wend its way across the United States, having started in San Diego and eventually arriving at Washington, D.C.  Part of the Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity, an organization in Mexico “dedicated to giving voice to the families of victims of [the drug war] and to publicizing the real costs of this war,” the MPJD believes “it is the Mexican government’s responsibility to provide justice and reparations” to the thousands upon thousands of victims of the drug war and is doing what it can to hold that government accountable.

The Caravan for Peace seeks the same from the United States, and will be traveling the country, meeting with various folks and organizations that agree several urgent issues must be addressed here, too, to help end the chaos. They are “the need to stop gun trafficking; the need to debate alternatives to drug prohibition; the need for better tools to combat money laundering; and the need to promote bilateral cooperation in human rights and human security in two priority areas: promotion of civil society and safety, as well as protection and safety for migrants.”

With that in mind, this month ZYZZYVA will run excerpts from our section on the drug war in the Spring 2012 issue. (The section is available as an ebook, too, from Byliner.) We begin with journalist and author John Gilber‘s introductory essay, presented in full. Gibler’s essay gives context to the various works appearing in the section (a couple of which he also translated). Published in April, the themes of the essay still hold true (though you can read an update to the essay here.) The statistics are grim, but they do not occlude the fact that there are valiant people–among them, poets, writers, and artists–peacefully seeking a change.

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Final Letter from a Crossing Guard

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Patrick McGinty, who was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, is a graduate assistant in the MFA program at Portland State University. His story “Final Letter from a Crossing Guard,” published in ZYZZYVA’s Winter ’11 issue, marks his first time in print.

A dark but humorous missive from a mother at the end of her rope, “Final Letter” does carry emotional heft, despite the narrator’s occupation, which could lend itself to easy ridicule but doesn’t here. The following is an excerpt from McGinty’s story.

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Terra Incognita

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Melina Draper is a poet living in Fairbanks, Alaska. Her most recent book is Lugar de Origen–Place of Origin (Oyster River Press), a bilingual book of poetry co-written with Elena Lafert.

“Terra Incognita” is one of her two poems published in ZYZZYVA’s Winter ’11 issue. Both poems take Charles Darwin’s travels through Argentina in the 19th century as their theme. In “Terra,” as Darwin uncovers fossils in a place that “quaffed blood, ingested gristle, guts, and bone,” it’s hard not to think of Los Desaparecidos, the thousands upon thousands of people who “disappeared” during Argentina’s so-called Dirty War of the late ’70s and early ’80s.

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The Bull

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Josh DuBose, who lives in North Hollywood, is an actor and and a writer, as well as the owner/operator of a small transcription firm catering to entertainment journalists. His story “The Bull,” published in ZYZZYVA‘s Winter ’11 issue, is his first work to appear in print.

A riff on the Ugly American, “The Bull” details a honeymoon destined to go wrong. Bawdy but thoughtful, the story ultimately goes to a surprising place, playing the narrator’s laugh-out-loud misadventures against a yearning he can’t quite define. The following is an excerpt.

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The Winning Crowd

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The recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, an Andrew Carnegie Medal, and PEN Center West Best Book Award, Gary Soto is the author of thirty-five books. His most recent are the e-novel When Dad Came Back (University Press of New England) and the YA story collection Hey 13! (Holiday House).

“The Winning Crowd,” his nonfiction piece in ZYZZYVA‘s Winter 2011 issue, is Soto’s account of attending a 49ers game (pre-Harbaugh era) with a friend, arriving at the stadium dressed “to the nines.” Funny and sinister, the piece could be read as a straight-ahead story of civility and elegance stirring the wrath of slovenly, crude sports fans. (As anybody who attended games at Candlestick Park last season could tell you, there was plenty of uncivil behavior at Niners games.) But it also works as a broader tale of how signs of culture and style can upset the very community you consider yourself part of.  The following is an excerpt.

Soto reads with Faith Gardner and Blossom Plum at 7 p.m. on Thursday, March 8, at Mrs. Dalloway’s Bookstore in Berkeley.

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