Q&A with Christine Hume: ‘Saturation Project’ and Resisting the Myth

by Lily Nilipour

Christine Hume’s Saturation Project (192 pages; Solid Objects) is a boldly ambitious piece of experimental nonfiction that defies easy categorization. The book is split into three parts, and in each one we witness the story of a life, and hear the sounds that underlie it, whether it’s the “hum” that grants its name to the middle section of the book or the wind that commands much of Hume’s attention in the third section. Whatever this current might be, it rushes beneath her words like subterranean rivers moving undetected until they either emerge gradually from the depths. Hume spoke with ZYZZYVA […]

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The Ever-Evolving Condition of Emigrating: Q&A with ‘Infinite Country’ Author Patricia Engel

by Oscar Villalon

In Patricia Engel’s new novel, Infinite Country (208 pages; Avid Reader Press/Simon & Schuster), the acclaimed author of Vida and The Veins of the Ocean explores a desolating aspect of the immigrant experience in the United States: the bifurcation of the heart, split between yearning for a better future and longing for the towns and cities left behind. As her protagonists contend with an immigration status that leaves them terribly vulnerable, and leads to a dreadful family separation—far from each other and from the places they still think of as home—the weight of loss is ever felt. It’s an emotion […]

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Q&A with R.O. Kwon and Kim Fu: Challenging the Narrative with ‘Kink: Stories’

by Corinne Leong

Sex in literature is the backdrop of the volta, of awakening. Sex represents the moment in which the character most deeply occupies their body, is most aware of their being, whether the experience incites joy or regret. But for all of the artful depictions of sex present in contemporary literature and other media, sexual kink has been largely neglected. The few representations of kink that do exist have assumed an exoticizing, alienating gaze, framing kink as something to be gawked at, commodified, rather than experienced. Editors R.O. Kwon, author of The Incendiaries, and Garth Greenwell, who released his novel Cleanness […]

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Q&A with Bryan Washington: Making a ‘Memorial’

by Colton Alstatt

Memorial (320 pages; Riverhead Books) is author Bryan Washington’s first novel and currently in development as an television series from acclaimed production house A24. The book centers on the relationship between Mike and his partner, Benson, as the former departs for Osaka, Japan to locate his ailing father, leaving Benson behind to contend with Mike’s mother in their shared Houston apartment. Washington tells a tightly-woven story about a young, mixed-race, queer couple comprehending their febrile love in the oppressive contexts of a larger world. Washington, whose story “Community Plot” appeared in our 35th Anniversary Issue, spoke to ZYZZYVA about the […]

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Q&A with Nina Revoyr: Looking back on ‘Postcard from L.A., April’

by Corinne Leong

Our recent Los Angeles Issue (No. 119) featured an essay by novelist Nina Revoyr titled “Postcard from L.A., April,” a meditation on mortality, privilege, and mindfulness during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. In it, Revoyr reflects on her past encounters with illness and other threats to life—severe lung damage following chemical exposure, a cancer scare, plummeting sixty feet down the face of Mt. Shasta—in order to contextualize her experiences of the pandemic as they occurred in April 2020 in Los Angeles. Having intimately faced her mortality, Revoyr recognizes certain comforts that accompany L.A.’s stay-at-home orders. While she acknowledges […]

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Of Girls and Golems: An Interview with Riva Lehrer

by Christine Sneed

Artist, activist, writer, and professor Riva Lehrer’s debut memoir, Golem Girl (448 pages; One World), is a book defined by its author’s witty and confiding voice and the numerous paintings and photographs populating its pages. It is at once a work of serious literature and an artist’s book: a beautifully produced physical object. And it was recently named as one of the finalists for the National Book Critics Circle Awards in Autobiography.   Lehrer, born with spina bifida in Cincinnati in 1958, spent the first two years of her life in the hospital and would have been forced to stay […]

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The Manuscript in the Corner: A Conversation with Wendy C. Ortiz

by David L. Ulin

Wendy C. Ortiz and I met when she was an MFA student and I became her graduate mentor. She was working on the first draft of the manuscript that would eventually become Excavation (Future Tense; 2014), and even then, it was clear that this was remarkable work. Ruthless, self-interrogating, resolute in its unwillingness to look away, Ortiz’s book—which involves the sexual relationship she had with a teacher when she was an adolescent—represents an astonishing act of reclamation, an author writing her way back to her own life. Ortiz is not looking to lay blame so much as she is interested

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An Interview with John Marx: Balance, Beauty, and Burning Man

by Colton Alstatt

ZYZZYVA: The poetics of études are compelling. The poems within play with open space, linework, and non-invasive markings to texture and guide the flow of reading. In their verbal substance, the pregnant subtlety of some poems remind me of Master Basho’s enigmatic haikus. What were some influences on the spatial, serene nature of your writing? JOHN MARX: There are two parts to this.  First is my background in the visual arts, specifically architecture and photography. Within these there is a quest for a spareness and economy of form, alongside an emphasis on compositional clarity and dynamic flow. The internal spacing […]

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Q&A with Rachel Swearingen: ‘How to Walk on Water and Other Stories’

by Christine Sneed

One of the best story collections I’ve read in the last several years, Rachel Swearingen’s How To Walk on Water and Other Stories (182 pages; New American Press), winner of the New American Press Fiction Prize, is defined in no small part by its author’s ability to immerse her readers in the complex and varied interior lives of the characters who populate her stories. Whether Swearingen is describing a graduate student’s attempt not to be driven to murder and madness by rude undergraduate neighbors or is offering us an intimate and highly specific view of a widower still grieving over […]

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Q&A with James Richardson: ‘For Now’ and the Small Things

by Troy Jollimore

There is no such thing, any longer, as a “mainstream” of American poetry—if there ever was. So each of us is forced, or encouraged, or provoked, to make up our own. In my personal conception of the American mainstream, James Richardson dwells near the center and looms large. His books are, in my view, some of the most beautiful produced by any American writer of the past few decades; they contain echoes of many poets distributed throughout many countries and centuries, yet they always sound contemporary, as if they were written last night—or ten years from now. Also, his work […]

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Q&A with Garth Greenwell: ‘Cleanness’ and Finding Beauty on the Margins

by Chia-Chia Lin

Garth Greenwell’s celebrated new book, Cleanness (FSG; 240 pages), which follows a gay teacher searching for intimacy and purpose in Bulgaria, is both quiet and explosive. Wherever Greenwell’s attention lands—a hushed conversation, a sexual encounter, a political protest—there’s heat and urgency and a concentrated, almost unbearable feeling of aliveness. Much has been said about the sex scenes in Cleanness; Sheila Heti wrote, “Most American literature seems neutered by comparison.” And it’s true, where so many writers fail or grasp for clichés or simply give up and elide the act of sex, Greenwell zooms in and stays. And stays and stays. […]

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