The Real Joan

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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.

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Do You Like It?

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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.

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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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The Sasquatch Poems

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In ZYZZYVA’s Summer 1996 issue, there appeared a long poem on an unusual topic by Sherman Alexie, whose work had already appeared in Issues No. 26 and 39. (His eighth book, the novel “Indian Killers,” would be published by Grove/Atlantic that fall.)

Despite its seemingly jokey title, “The Sasquatch Poems” is anything but. Humorous, yes, but also a sharp consideration of the cultural presumptions behind the dismissal of the Pacific Northwest’s creature of legend. As the poem’s speaker suggests, “Indians can only be proven superstitious/ if non-Indians are proved to be without superstition.”

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East of the 5, South of the 10

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In its Fall 2005 issue, ZYZZYVA published a short story by Margaret Weatherford titled “East of the 5, South of the 10.” The tale–a witty and wised-up L.A. story in which Zeus and Hades have divvied up the Southland between them–marked her first time in print. Margaret Weatherford, born in 1966, died of cancer on March 30.

Along with her story in ZYZZYVA, she was also published in Paris Review Daily and in Little Star. The following is Ms. Weatherford’s story, in its entirety, from our Fall 2005 issue.

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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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