The 100th Issue: Letter from the Editors

by editor

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

A House Well Furnished

by

There’s an unexpected sweetness to “A House Well Furnished” (ZYZZYVA No. 95), Brian Boies first published story, which was named to the Notable List for Best American Non-Required Reading 2013. (Also named to that list were ZYZZYVA stories by Rob Ehle, Dawna Kemper, and Bruce McKay.)

Boies’s protagonist is a young woman, lost in life and in San Francisco’s Mission District, living in a motel with Mark, a male companion. Her life is colorless and bleak, but she finds beauty in small things—the cleanliness of Mark’s childhood home, the look of him in the morning, of herself in the mirror. She and Mark take a day trip to Richmond; she dreams that Richmond will be all fields and creek. But when she arrives, reality intrudes. She ends the day how she began it; she is lost again. What follows is an excerpt from “A House Well Furnished.”

(Boies’s story is also the latest work from Issue No. 95 to be honored by the Best American series of anthologies. You can get a copy of that much-acclaimed issue here.)

[…]

Continue Reading

Christopher Hitchens

by

Vanessa Veselka is the author of the novel Zazen, which won the 2012 PEN/Bingham prize for fiction. Her work has appeared in Tin House, the Atlantic, Bust, Bitch, and other publications. And according to her bio, Veselka, who lives in Portland, Ore., has been at various times a teenage runaway, an expatriate, a union organizer, and a student of paleontology.

Her story “Christopher Hitchens” appears in ZYZZYVA’s 2012 Winter issue. Both funny and chilling, it tells of a young mother desperately looking to lose all her beliefs with the help of Lyle, an expert in such things who has a face like Eric Clapton’s. (“You’d never recognize him without context,” says the narrator.)

“Christopher Hitchens” is the second of three connected stories. The first, “Just Before Elena,” ran in Tin House No. 53. The third story is slated to run in SWINK.

The following is an excerpt from “Christopher Hitchens.”

[…]

Continue Reading

Oh, Oh, Oh

by

Chaney Kwak is an award-winning travel writer living in San Francisco whose work has appeared in the New York Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, and Condé Nast Traveler, among other places.

“Oh, Oh, Oh” is his first work of fiction in print and appears in ZYZZYVA’s Winter 2012 issue. Told in a cheeky, wised-up voice, it is the moving and hilarious tale of two very different men who share (mostly) the same first name. Despite the gulf separating their worlds, they are destined to meet–right at Christmas, making “Oh, Oh, Oh” perhaps the best holiday story ever involving furtive rest stop sex, over-the-top decorations, and online hustling.

The following is an excerpt.

[…]

Continue Reading

The Mr. Smith Syndrome

by

Luis Alberto Urrea is the critically acclaimed and best-selling author of fourteen books, including his most recent, the novel Queen of America (Little, Brown.) He is the winner of numerous awards for his poetry, fiction and essays, as well as a professor of creative writing at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Urrea grew up in San Diego, and that experience of being Mexican American and living close to the border has informed his writing. In his essay in ZYZZYVA’s Fall issue, “The Mr. Smith Syndrome,” Urrea brings to life a job he had as a teenager: frying up donuts for a sketchy boss (“Cigarette smoke. Body odor. Bad breath.”).

There’s a spirit of resolve in the piece, an understanding of what you need to overcome to find, perhaps, a state of grace in this life. The following is the essay in its entirety. (Warning: You may never eat another old-fashioned again.)

[…]

Continue Reading

Cuba + Kids – Water

by

Edie Meidav is the award-winning author of the novel Lola, California (Picador) and the forthcoming Dogs of Cuba. Raised in Berkeley, she’s a former director of the New College of California MA/MFA in writing and is now a writer-in residence at Bard College.

Her essay, “Cuba+Kids-Water,” appeared in ZYZZYVA’s Fall issue. Humorous and thoughtful, it recounts Meidav’s experience when she temporarily relocated to Havana with her family so she could do research on Cuba’s boxers. It’s a propulsive read, partly due to Meidav’s prose style and partly due to the expectant sense she creates around her family’s living situation. But for all the wonderful surprises, there are less than cheery ones, too.

The following is an excerpt of “Cuba+Kids-Water.”

[…]

Continue Reading

A Little Bit of Fun Before He Died

by

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.”

[…]

Continue Reading

The Monkey Look

by

F.X. Toole, who died in 2002, was the boxing trainer and author of the novel Pound for Pound and the award-winning story collection Rope Burns: Stories from the Corner (2000), from which the story “Million $$$ Baby” was later adapted into the Oscar-winning film of the same name. ZYZZYVA’s Spring 1999 issue marked Toole’s first time in print with the story “The Monkey Look,” which later would be published in Rope Burns.

“The Monkey Look” follows the life of a seasoned L.A. cutman, whose job it is to treat the bleeding and swelling suffered by boxers during a bout. Told in wonderfully engaging prose, it is a revealing, humorous, and entertaining story about the grim realities of the professional boxing world and the not always upstanding fighters, promoters, and trainers who people it.

The following is “The Monkey Look” in its entirety.

[…]

Continue Reading

The Real Joan

by

Janet Sarbanes, currently chair of the MFA writing program at Cal Arts, published her first story in the Fall 1999 issue of ZYZZYVA. “The Real Joan” follows graduate student Fiona on a quest to resume her Joan of Arc-themed dissertation amid a Los Angeles full of eerie spinsters and abandoned dogs. This is a world, Fiona thinks, that has “clutched at me with its long yellow nails and refused to let go.”

Precise and zanily brilliant, Sarbanes illustrates the emptiness of a young woman obsessed. The following is her story in its entirety.

[…]

Continue Reading

Do You Like It?

by

To Kay Ryan, former U.S. poet laureate, the gradual evolution of a poet is a strange and scaly one, full of bewilderment. It’s possible, even likely, in Ryan’s mind, that a person destined for the “ferocious religion” of poetry staves off the eventuality for a long time.

In her essay “Do You Like It?,” published in ZYZZYVA’s Winter 1998 issue, Ryan reflects on the unforeseen moment she decided to become a writer. The poet tested her dedication to the craft over the course of a 4,000-mile bicycle trip. Then, an epiphany: “All at once I no longer had to try to appreciate my experience or try to understand; I played with the phrase the peace that passeth understanding like turning a silver coin in my fingers. And with the peace-beyond-the-struggle-to-understand came an unprecedented freedom and power to think.”

The following is Kay Ryan’s essay, in full.

[…]

Continue Reading

Pinkville

by

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.”

[…]

Continue Reading

Víctor Comes Back

by

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.

[…]

Continue Reading