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The Bay Area Issue: Editor’s Note

One day in July I ran into a colleague on my way to lunch. We commiserated about the state of the world, briefly, and then he asked me if I’d been to the Flower Piano program at the San Francisco Botanical Garden yet. He said he’d just been, and that after one of the professional performers finished her set, a few of the people milling around took turns playing. One played David Bowie’s “Life on Mars,” singing softly under his breath. Another, a child of about ten, played a classical sonata, with astonishing beauty.

There’s still art here, he said with a half smile as we parted ways. We’re still here, I said in agreement.

It was only the second or third time someone had made a remark in that vein to me in the past few weeks.

There’s a palpable sense that the pressure on creative folks in the San Francisco Bay Area is nearly intolerable—a widespread and reasonable feeling that is nevertheless at odds with the exceptional density of people still doing creative work of the highest caliber here. There’s a sense that we’re all hanging on by our fingertips, and maybe only the fingertips of one hand, while the other hand continues writing, continues playing.

Will the region that has always been our home endure as a generative hub of literary and artistic innovation? I want to say, Of course it will. But nothing is a given. If we don’t make deliberate efforts to make the Bay Area a sustainable place for bakers and musicians, teachers and translators, poets and playwrights to live, we could see a major transformation, one that will incalculably diminish the fundamental identity of this place.

In the meantime, the pressure from the sense of transience and the precariousness of it all naturally filters in and shapes the work we’re seeing. As always, remarkable work can emerge from struggle and heartbreak, even from despair. We can celebrate that, but it’s impossible not to worry about the cost. Because on the other side of that coin, the less romantic side, is all the unseen, unknowable work that could have been, but was stifled by lack of opportunity and support.

At a concert at the Fox Theater in Oakland in August, I chatted with a neighbor. The conversation quickly turned to lament, as it so often does: he’s a San Francisco native, and grew up taking the N Judah out to Candlestick (more lamenting) to see the Giants play. He was living with family while searching for housing, he told me, and increasingly widening the search area. He paused and then said, “I’m not sure whether the Bay Area is really a place people live anymore. Maybe it’s more of a temporary place to be for a few years.” He was thinking of leaving the state entirely, maybe moving to Scottsdale, Arizona, so he could visit the Giants at spring training.

At times it seems there’s as much despair about the inevitability of this transformation as there is about climate change: the decline is so far advanced and powerful in its own momentum, and the problem so expansive and multiform, and the leadership necessary to tackle it effectively and efficiently so lacking.

But then I’ll find myself in a certain neighborhood, or in certain company, and somehow all that disruption seems muted or far off, as though the fog had cast a protective spell on that corner of the Bay.

And if it’s not a foregone conclusion, if such pockets of neighborhoods and community persevere, then we have to try to protect the culture that we still have.

With that in mind, and on the cusp of our 35th anniversary next year, we bring you an issue dedicated to this unique place. If for you, too, it sometimes feels that this transformation of home is already a fait accompli, I hope this sampling, drawn from the wealth of our local talent, from all stages of career and across genres, pushes back against that notion—and, in so doing, makes an eloquent case for all we stand to lose, and all we must invest in conserving.

Some of us are still here; others have left. Some are poised to go, reluctantly or bitterly or enthusiastically seeking new terrain. Amid the tension and pressure, amid the injustice and anxiety, art and literature endure and blossom in the Bay Area with uncommon ingenuity, vision, and persistence.

Order ZYZZYVA No. 117—The Bay Area Issue—here.

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In the Winter Issue

In this issue:

New writing from the East Bay to San Francisco, from the North Bay to the Peninsula

“This Is Why We Can’t Have Nasty Things” by Charlie Jane Anders: “San Francisco used to have a million pockets and folds in her long flowery skirts, where the strange and barely loved could create their own reality. But lately, not so much.”

“Andi Taylor vs. Artemis Victor” by Rita Bullwinkel: “The fact of the two girls’ bodies was not lost on Artemis Victor or Andi Taylor or on any of the young women in the Daughters of America tournament. Their body was the only tool they had at their disposal.”

“Island of Beginnings” by Lydia Conklin: “Sometimes Posey forgot that she’d emerged on this side of her marriage middle-aged. That she’d grown a potbelly and her hair was stringy from years of dying it what she had thought until recently was a striking crimson.”

“Ring Around the Equator, Pockets Full of Acres” by Chia-Chia Lin: “It mimicked her life at work, when she calculated the hours until lunch, or how much of the day was left, or how much of the week or year. But her new athletic life was a different kind of life. A second, better life?”

“Strangers” by Nina Schuyler: “Then I heard the coyotes howling—they were always moving, large packs at night, displaced from the never-ending construction. I imagined them sprinting on the dirt paths like veins on the hills, illuminated by the moon, sprinting to catch a rabbit, a mouse, sprinting for the sheer pleasure of sprinting.”

And First-Time-in-Print “Channel 4” by Michael Sears and short short stories by Ingrid Rojas Contreras and Andrew Roe

Paul Wilner on Lowell High School and youthful literary pursuit, Gloria Frym on the wide resurgence of a late writer and beloved friend’s work, and Lydia Kiesling on the grasping for home, and its slipping away.

sam sax, Meg Hurtado Bloom, Luiza Flynn-Goodlett, W.S. Di Piero, Sara Mumolo, Kevin Simmonds, Lady Nestor Gomez, and Matthew Zapruder

Dodie Bellamy and the late Kevin Killian—stalwarts of the New Narrative and the unconventional life—on poets, art, and San Francisco.

The notebook sketches of Lawrence Ferlinghetti (introduced by Mauro Aprile Zanetti) and the photography of Janet Delaney (introduced by Nathan Heller).

You can purchase a copy of No. 117 here, or order a subscription to ZYZZYVA now and we’ll start you off by shipping you the Winter issue.

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How to help those affected by the California fires

Northern California is once again faced with wildfires. We encourage you
to explore this link from the Northern California Grantmakers on ways
you can help the many people displaced by the fires. NCG provides a
number of options, including vetted wildfire relief and
recovery funds such as the Center for Disaster Philanthropy and the
Solano Disaster Relief Fund.

Please feel free to share links to similar relief efforts in the
Comments below.

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Letter from the Editor – Issue 116

ZYZZYVA Volume 35, #2, Fall 2019Dear Readers,

At the risk of stating the obvious, most of us will spend a large portion of our waking hours working. For many people, the work they must do is in tension with the life they want to lead. For others, work is the site of the most profound expression of their life force. Many of us labor somewhere in the middle, as both our work and our sense of self are subject to major change over the course of time. And while work and life are not the same, the sheer number of hours devoted to work (or consumed by it) makes it an inescapably important part of our existence. What we do at work— and how we think about it—can inform much of how we experience life itself as we go through our days.

It would be, probably, too strong to call this a themed issue. But threaded throughout many of the selections here—sometimes in the foreground, sometimes as an integral part of the underpinning architecture—is the theme of work. It’s the generative engine of conflict or a burgeoning worldview, the site of alienation or community, a place of escalation, ambition, escape, or beauty. At cosmetics counters and grocery stores, restaurants and cafes, newspaper offices and production sets, the stories, essays, and the interview here are laced with concerns about labor, class, money, and identity.

In Dagoberto Gilb’s story, a former construction worker and a writer sit across a table as wide as a canyon, trying to truly see each other and understand what happened between them years ago. Jim Gavin speaks with uncommon candor about money and its attendant anxieties. Michelle Latiolais’ poignant essay describes the grace and dignity she found in restaurant service. Michael Jaime-Becerra recalls how the experience of his first summer job—following in his father’s footsteps working at a Viva Mart—ultimately crystallized his understanding of the radically different life, and work, he’d need to seek out.

Reviewing the issue, I’m struck by how many of these pieces subtly, organically, challenge lazy clichés about what kinds of work are valuable, who should do which jobs, and how we’re expected to then feel about it.

Whatever you’ve worked on today, however you’ve spent your precious time and energy, I hope you’ll read something here that resonates. In some ways, I think the conversation opened here about labor is just a beginning—and something we may want to explore again in a future issue.

Yours, L.

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ZYZZYVA Issue 116 – Now Available for Pre-Order!

ZYZZYVA Issue 116 cover artDear friends, the newest issue of ZYZZYVA is here! Issue 116 is now available for pre-order, and you won’t want to miss what we have in store for you. You can look forward to a collection of writing on the subject of labor, including fiction by Tommy Orange and Dagoberto Gilb; an interview with Jim Gavin, the creator of AMC’s Lodge 49 (catch the the premiere of Season 2 tonight at 10pm!); and essays by Michael Jaime-Becerra and Michelle Latiolais.

You’ll also find poetry by Cedar Brant, Rage Hezekiah, Major Jackson, and Carl Phillips; and more prose by Andrew Altschul, E.K. Ota, Micah Stack, and others.

Pre-orders are live now, so don’t delay!

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In the Fall Issue

In this issue:

Work Stories

“Mrs. Sorry” by Gabriela Garcia: The young woman tending a luxury cosmetics counter knows of ravages beyond the aesthetic.

“Wilshire and Grand” by Dagoberto Gilb: A construction worker’s coffee date with an old flame picks at knotty threads of memory.

“Session Drummer” by Tommy Orange: More than the studio gigs, it’s managing an unstable father that’s truly challenging.

“Todo Se Acaba” by Michael Jaime-Becerra: Working at the same supermarket chain that employs his father fuels Jaime-Becerra’s longing for other ways of being in the world.

“Hospitality” by Michelle Latiolais: Every aspect of providing service at a restaurant, Latiolais recalls, can turn into a beatitude.

Jim Gavin on lower middle-class Southern California, television writing, the taboo of money, and his TV show Lodge 49.

Other Prose
Andrew Altschul’s “They Hate Us for Our Freedom” (an ex-pat in South America refuses to reckon with being American), William Hawkins’s “Swing-Truss” (a father-and-son trip to Alaska gets upended by an interloper), E.K. Ota’s “Lockstep” (a former pastor’s deep pain and its lasting consequences), and Micah Stack’s “Locket” (“I don’t remember yesterday like it was yesterday.”).

Cedar Brant, Rage Hezekiah, Major Jackson, Hanae Jonas, and Carl Phillips.

Featuring the work of Jake Scharbach.

You can purchase a copy of No. 116 here, or order a subscription to ZYZZYVA now and we’ll start you off by shipping you the Spring issue.

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ZYZZYVA wins CLMP’s 2019 Firecracker Award for Best Magazine: General Excellence!

2019 Firecracker AwardWe’re thrilled and honored to have won CLMP’s 2019 Firecracker Award for Best Magazine: General Excellence! We want to thank CLMP for all they do to support independent publishing; thanks to Poets House for hosting this event; and thank you to all our readers, contributors, and colleagues for inspiring and sustaining us in this work. And congratulations to all the finalists! The event in New York City proved a beautiful night of literary community.

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America Was Hard to Find

Kathleen Alcott novel America was hard to findKathleen Alcott is the author of three novels, her newest being America Was Hard to Find (Ecco). Her new book tells the stories of Fay Fern and Vincent Kahn, and in doing so considers the cultural watersheds (such as the anti-Vietnam War movement and NASA’s space program) that occurred over pivotal decades of the United States’ recent history. The following is an excerpt from America Was Hard to Find.

Alcott will be in conversation with Managing Editor Oscar Vilallon about her novel at The Bindery in San Francisco on Thursday, May 30.



Letters from Charlie, unopened, asked what her plans were, when she might be leaving, why she hadn’t responded, whether it was money she needed, whether it was a car. She kept them in a neat stack on her bureau under the childhood ribbons Claudette had saved and repositioned here on the mirror, reminders as she fell asleep about who they believed her to be. The spelling bee where she had cried hidden in the red velvet wings, the tennis tournament she had won in the middle of a heat wave. I have a child, was the first thing she thought when she woke up, whether she could hear him or not, a slow fear that poured her out of bed. She kept waiting for the news to change.

He held blocks in primary colors, mystified by them, possessive. A banana was a gavel, he commanded the room with his judgment. Who she was didn’t matter, she thought, what she had believed or fought against—the life she had chosen in reaction to her parents’ had ultimately folded her right back into theirs. Claudette spoke to her and to Wright in almost the same voice, asked almost the same questions. What would you like to do today? What would you like to eat?

It was welcome to them, how she was diminished. At the dinner table her paralysis presented as excellent manners, no, yes, either is fine with me, thank you. If she wept over the roast beef, or while sitting out the afternoon on the wraparound porch, they presented her with the baby. A year passed like a matinee she pretended not to have mostly slept through, accepting what had changed and working out the events behind it. He took his first steps in the green-gold grass with the view of the town hung in fog behind him.

She watched television with her father, game shows, the news, an activity that rewarded her muteness, her lack of anything to say. Truth or Consequences, flat riddles posed by a jaunty host to faces as indistinguishable as loaves of white bread. Why was the wife concerned that her husband was a light drinker? Because he’d drink until it was light. Her father laughed at them, slippered feet crossed at the ankles, the same delay as the studio audience. There were commercials that mystified her, the joy of them. Why do girls in love always look so beautiful, the television asked. A woman in plastic twirled to unheard music. It’s because they always walk in the rain. Noxzema.

Her allowance each week was twenty dollars. His first words were a sentence, “No please.” On the last day of July they watched the footage of the partial eclipse, men streaming out of tall buildings in San Francisco holding cereal boxes to their faces. In the fall a black boy enrolled for classes at a college in the South and her father changed the channel on the riots, cars turned over on a lawn before the Doric columns of the lyceum. After a silent dinner, meat loaf shot through with a ribbon of orange cheese, she returned to the couch and changed it back. Her son remained in the dining room, sitting high on a booster and refusing to eat. When James heard what Fay was watching he did not enter, although from the frame of the door he made his dismissal clear, a hand waved in diagonal across his face as if at a bad smell. There was a shot of the governor’s car rolling onto campus, white faces warped in joy at its arrival, and it took her a moment to understand he was there in protest of the student, an Air Force veteran, the grandson of a slave. This event her parents did not discuss, life on land with people, but when the country had prepared for its first orbit they behaved as if in anticipation of a celebrity at their dinner table. Claudette baked in advance, shortbread cookies that looked like rockets.

Her parents stood by her door in the morning, tapping together without rhythm, her son in Claudette’s arms pawing at it, too. They had brought her coffee and she blinked, gathering a robe around her gauzy nightgown as she stood in the door frame. The coverage was already on in the living room, and the sound of it unsettled her, as did the benign smiles of her mother and father, people who had seemed incapable of delight for as long as she had been aware. Cronkite’s voice had never comforted her, that low bleat sounding like someone reporting from the bottom of a pit. A freckled man from Ohio, his face calm and clean, rode an elevator up the tower and boarded the capsule shaped like a badminton birdie. He was to ring the planet, hurtle around it waving bravely. On the enormous Atlas rocket, thirty stories tall and pale as milk, he waited as his audience did for the boom. When it came it disfigured the whole image, filled the frame with smoke, and then the camera struggled to keep up, losing it and finding it, losing it and finding it, the point of the rocket darting in and out until it was a nebulous white shape in a sphere of gray. The image was like a disease seen through a microscope, a vivid, frantic mutation, and all of it, the great furnace of the takeoff and the low human babble and the wind’s dilating of the reporter’s talk, sounded to her like an evil distraction … Has passed through the area of maximum dynamic pressures, the television said. Fay’s parents clapped politely, stunned, unaware of the look on her face. It was the first day their country encircled the earth, and the first day she hated her country.


Something had changed, they knew. She was always leaving her shoes somewhere, then the slippers they offered as corrective. It was a kind of self-neglect that enraged them: barefoot by the refrigerator at midnight, barefoot as she carried him up the stairs, a sideways angle that made him laugh, singing the songs her sister had. As though a solution were just a matter of the right slip-on loafers, Claudette suggested a day in the city, see the Easter displays at the department stores. Wright stayed behind with James, something Claudette suggested, girls’ day out, with a wink her daughter did not acknowledge.

In San Francisco, Fay could not be moved to touch the dresses, hold up the bracelets. Her mother, tired of looking behind to find Fay seated again, reading on a mirrored stool, handed her the car keys. “Why don’t you listen to the radio. I’ll meet you in the garage in two hours,” she said. Dressed as her mother had instructed her, in a just-purchased celery chiffon dress with a high collar and empire waist, she took the first bus she saw.

Against the concave orange plastic seats she was aware how she appeared, how people might imagine her. A young bride glowing between two parts of her life, money in her purse, a collection of Pyrex in her cabinet, some man who knew her childhood nickname with her photo on his desk. There was no way to correct these assumptions, the looks from denim-clad people her own age that went right past her. She committed herself instead to the window, rode the whole way curled around to look out it. On the street from which the bus got its name, Fulton, she pushed the door open. She thought she could see a stretch of green several blocks down, a place where the city opened, and she walked with a hand on her abdomen, her few things in a white leather coin purse swinging at her as she went.

The Victorians she walked under were trimmed like cakes, pinks and blues and violets competing for attention, some with balconies full of plants and others with hand-dyed curtains, and when they let onto the green horizon line of the Panhandle, a long and narrow park you could see across but not around, she was taken by a muted panic, thinking she could not remember the last hour she had spent that was free to her direction of it. She was not in possession of her life, she knew. Suicide crossed her mind like a breeze, nothing that could be helped.

It was the stands of eucalyptus, their smell, and the streets across the park that led in dramatic angles upward, that urged her onto the lawn, where she lay down in a triangle of sun and waited for a thought that was calm enough she could follow it.

Gathered in a loose circle—the girls in linen jumpers and blouses that tied at the neck, the boys with glasses pushed midway up their foreheads, the collars unbuttoned—were a group of students, no older than Fay. She sat five feet away, pretending at contentment. Their scratched leather book bags weighed down foreign newspapers, encircling their talk, one continuous, mutual, angry sentence, elaborating, diverting, returning.

“Special forces, they say—”

“Advisers, they’re calling them, they’re calling people who are terrorizing a country the size of—”

“A country smaller than California—”

“Smaller than California, this nation, and operating pretty much the same since the fifteenth century, and what kind of advice are they giving? Have you ever extracted any wisdom from a chemical that—”

“—kills forests, eviscerates crops that have only served as the primary source of food for hundreds upon hundreds of years, not to mention what kind of—”

“—effect that’s going to have on, oh, people, little kids, babies not born yet, old men trying to live out the rest of their time, and Kennedy meanwhile—”

“—has got a good show we can watch, a dazzling program about celestial exploration that will affirm our country’s inherent valor! He’s our nation’s hope, our nation’s cleft-chinned blue-eyed hope, he’s got a—”

“—beautiful wife so he must be virtuous above all else, for only the good end up with the beautiful.”

There came a collective sighing, reshuffling of papers, and they sat back on their hands or forearms, seeming certain, to Fay, in a way she wanted to be. It was this that moved her, that admitted the boldness required to stand and approach them, looking like she did, a frilly confection, a person who did not belong to herself.

“Excuse me.”

As they looked her over their disdain was a unified front, even their collarbones thrown forward in a way that indicated disapproval.

The boy who had talked the loudest sat up, twisting a dandelion between his thumb and forefinger in quick, angry rotations.


“Actually not a missus at all.” She prepared for the next moment like a swimmer, surveying a distance and committing her breath to mastering it.

“Costume courtesy of a deeply embarrassed maternal figure, a disguise for the mother of a bastard. Fay.” She flashed her left hand, bare of matrimony, waggled it. In the air was the suggestion of the ocean, in the mild temperature the threat it would drop.

They opened around her admission, relaxing their jawlines, tugging their socks up. One canted a hand over his eyes to see her better.

“Given my current incarceration, I’m wondering whether I could borrow one of your newspapers there. I could send it back by—”

“Take it,” someone said.

“Subscribe to it.”

“Get that special jelly and mimeograph it and—”

“Give it to someone else.”

The boy with the tortoiseshell glasses who had called her Mrs. unfolded and refolded the paper, aligning the sections, running a firm index finger down the seams where the crease had loosened.

She waved goodbye, the thing she had asked for held between her ribs and bicep, crossed to the roads she’d admired before, the houses set at forty-five-degree angles, and took Central up to Haight, the strain in her thighs a discomfort that nudged her more awake. Another park waited for her, and it was there she unfolded it, on a plane of grass that followed a sharp incline. The wind that moved the pages almost animated the images, girls bent over rubble, corpses lined up with their shorts around their ankles, men with the waterline at their hips as they crossed the mangrove swamp with a gnarled child on a gurney. Once she saw them they were a part of her, the mosquito netting of the makeshift hospital dropping into the depth of the water, the limp penises of dead men exposed for their families to see.


Saying her name later, crippled at the elbow by shopping bags where she stood in the driveway, her mother rapped on the passenger-side window. Fay stayed as silent as she’d been on the ride home, an artifact behind glass, what happened around her immaterial.


From AMERICA WAS HARD TO FIND by Kathleen Alcott. Copyright 2019 by Kathleen Alcott. Reprinted courtesy of Ecco, and imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

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ZYZZYVA & Ploughshares Subscription Bundle!

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Get the best literature from coast to coast this Memorial Day Weekend with ZYZZYVA & Ploughshares!

Subscribe now and get two great literary journals –– ZYZZYVA & Ploughshares –– for one low price of $49.99. That’s 35% off the cover price!

Beginning with the next issue of both Ploughshares and ZYZZYVA, subscribers will receive:

  • 4 issues of Ploughshares (print and digital)
  • 4 issues of ZYZZYVA
  • Free submissions to the Ploughshares regular reading period

Don’t delay –– subscribe now before this offer ends!*

*Offer valid though May 28th, 2019.

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‘What My Mother And I Don’t Talk About,’ edited by Michele Filgate: A Complex Bond

Michele Filgate editor What My Mother and I Don't Talk AboutIn What My Mother And I Don’t Talk About (288 pages; Simon & Schuster; edited by Michele Filgate), fifteen writers grapple with the unexpected developments and shortcomings of their relationships with their mothers. In her introduction, Filgate explains that while each individual essay is an achievement in itself, together they work to address the ways we tend to idealize our mothers, as well as reflect honestly on the imperfect relationships we forge (and sometimes end) with them over the course of our lives:

Acknowledging what we couldn’t say for so long, for whatever reason, is one way to heal our relationships with others and, perhaps most importantly, with ourselves. But doing this as a community is much easier than standing alone on a stage.

The essays range in both tone and subject matter: some authors have been estranged from their mothers for years, having suffered abuse and neglect throughout their childhoods, while others are only beginning to understand their mothers as they become parents themselves or think deeply about their family dynamics. This collection engages with tough questions about holding accountable the people we’ve been taught to revere, recognizing the impression our mothers’ greatest strengths and flaws have left on us, and the importance of putting oneself first. At the center of that conversation is the difficulty all children face as they try to understand their parent as a person and not simply a mother.

In “16 Minetta Lane,” Dylan Landis tells an episodic story about her mother’s friendship with noted artist Haywood “Bill” Rivers that taps into the curiosity many of us have about our mothers’ lives before they gave birth to us:

Tell me, what did you do with your glittering mind? Did you make the right choice? Marry the right man? Would you have studied at the Sorbonne, Erica? Laughed with writers at Les Deux Magots?
Did you lock up that dazzling wit of yours, or did you write a book?
Did you get to stroll in Paris? Would you care if your daughter were a perfect doll of a brown baby?
Who would you love, Erica?
Who would you be?

Others writers in the collection show us how, as Filgate writes in her introduction, mothers can be set up to fail. In “Xanadu,” Alexander Chee explains how he survived things his mother couldn’t shield him from: the difficulties of growing up queer and Asian, the traumas of sexual abuse, and the death of his father. Chee unpacks the complications of trying to protect one’s protector:

It is the night before my first novel’s publication in the fall of 2001, and my mother is about to travel to New York for my launch at the Asian American Writers’ Workshop. If I don’t make the call, I will read from the novel in front of her, a novel about surviving sexual abuse and pedophilia, inspired by events from my childhood—these autobiographical events, events I have never described for her—and she will find out the next evening in a crowded room full of strangers. And she will never forgive me if I do…Our family had passed through a season of hell, and this was what I’d done to survive it. I know at last: I never told her about this because I was sure I was protecting her.

Careful not to omit moments of love and tenderness, these fifteen writers also reach striking realizations that could potentially alter or destroy their connection with their mothers. What My Mother And I Don’t Talk About captures the complexity of the bond between mother and child, each of the authors conveying their relationships in a way that seems both universally understood and uniquely experienced. Readers are likely to express gratitude to these these writers for diving headfirst into the mental health issues, feelings of loss, and constant learning we all go through, mothers included.

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In the Spring Issue

In this issue:

On Art

Sallie Tisdale on touring the antiquities of Rome, Glen David Gold on tracking down a Gorey original, Heather Altfeld on the enduring gaze of John Berger, Paisley Rekdal on erasure and Paul Klee.

Ben Greenman’s “Polyptych” (a divorced man and a painting that must be observed just so), Toni Martin’s “Director’s Cut” (a woman’s life as reconfigured through a foreign filmmaker’s sensibilities), and Peter Orner’s “Pacific” (an elderly couple—a sculptor and a potter—and the very end of things).

Dan Alter, Denver Buston, Troy Jollimore, Rusty Morrison, Mira Rosenthal, and Alexandra Teague.

In Conversation
Dean Rader and Jordan Kantor on the visuals of poems and the textual of artwork.

Further Stories & Poetry
Rebecca Rukeyser’s “Pirates and Cowboys,” and Susan Steinberg’s “Machines” (“Parts of my brother’s brain, these days, don’t connect with other parts of his brain.”), poems by John Freeman, Molly Spencer, and Cate Lycurgus, and debut fiction from Min Han and Matthew Jeffrey Vegari.

Art: Featuring the work of Diana Guerrero-Maciá.

You can purchase a copy of No. 115 here, or order a subscription to ZYZZYVA now and we’ll start you off by shipping you the Spring issue.

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On Creating the Orcas Island Lit Fest

Ayn Gailey, (left), Jami Attenberg, Robin Sloan, Kim Fu, and Scott Hutchins at the Orcas Island Lit Fest in 2018.

Ayn Gailey, (left), Jami Attenberg, Robin Sloan, Kim Fu, and Scott Hutchins at the Orcas Island Lit Fest in 2018. (photo by Kads Photography)

When my friend Jule Treneer asked me if I wanted to start a literary festival, we were standing in a park, watching his son bounce up and down on a trampoline. It was summer, and I felt, like the boy, that I had excess energy to burn. The festival’s shape and focus were amorphous, but the location was definite. Orcas Island, a beautiful, two-lobed protrusion of volcanic plate in the San Juan archipelago in Washington State, but so far north the island is tucked into Canada. Orcas was a key place for Jule growing up, and his mother had recently moved there permanently. I lived in California, but was besotted with the San Juan landscape and seascape—the long clouds, the purple hills, the fjords. Taking the ferry to Orcas felt not like a boat ride, but a journey into a dream.

Like a poetic form, Orcas imposed constraint. We weren’t looking at a 100,000-person festival, a Miami or a Portland. We’d need to go smaller. But what would that “smaller” look like? Jule and I actually met at a reading—Richard Powers, The Time of Our Singing—and our friendship always had books at its center. Talking about them, swapping them, arguing over them. We decided we wanted an intimate festival full of real conversation and aimed at readers. That is, a festival a little like our friendship.

How do you conjure a festival from thin air? Well, San Juan County supports the arts. Jule created our nonprofit legal organization (a process that will turn your hair gray), researched every angle of what it would take organizationally, brought a proposal to San Juan County, and walked away with $10,000 in starting money. That was half the needed budget—and was the moment I realized we were really going to do this thing. Jule and I roped in our first additional board member, Shannon, who introduced us to Jill, who introduced us to Iris. The Gaileys came on, and then Theresa. Suddenly we had a board. An intimidatingly competent board, from web design to institutional structure to communications to wrangling favors from local businesses. Each member also happened to be a writer, which was helpful for my anxiety. I kept fearing one of them would say, sorry, I can’t do all this work for free. Because we all worked for free, and it was a LOT of work.

Now we just needed writers who were so exciting and interesting they would entice people to an island. It was a high bar, and I thought I would start with people I knew. This was my role, after all. My first invitation was a Hail Mary to Jami Attenberg. She wrote back immediately, “What the heck, let’s do it!” Then we got yesses from two Pulitzer winners, Adam Johnson and Gil King. From there the board worked all our publishing, agenting, and friend channels to get Tara Conklin, Victor LaValle, Rick Barot, Robin Sloan, and many others. Our proximity to Seattle helped us bring in younger writers like Kim Fu and Urban Waite. Willy Vlautin, the novelist and singer-songwriter, said he would read and play a song. Then the panel proposals rolled in. Such bright ideas from such talented writers. We organized a lit walk event, a kid’s event, a late-night literary game show, and a Saturday evening variety show Words + Music.

Spoiler alert: the weekend was fantastic. I worried about timing and people being where they needed to be, but because of the festival’s size I actually got to talk to the attendees. The beer distributor from British Columbia, who’d taken a weekend to come down and see Robin Sloan. The on-island radical leftist who was most excited about Jami. The Seattle thriller aficionado who came for Urban Waite. We also did what too few literary festivals can accomplish: we sold stacks of books. I waited for Victor LaValle’s signing hand to cramp.

Last year, we had a modicum of funding and an abundance of talent. That remains true this year. But our line-up dazzles: Nicola Griffith, Mat Johnson, Terese Marie Mailhot, Judith Thurman, Eric Puchner, Rick Barot (again—thanks, Rick!), Kiwi Smith, Nicole Chung, and many more. Our children’s author and musical excitement is Laura Veirs. Laura Veirs! ZYZZYVA’s own Oscar Villalon will be moderating a panel on the short story and participating in another panel on what an editor looks for in great narrative. Check out the full schedule at (The festival runs April 5-7.)

To my surprise, that conversation Jule and I had while his son bounced up and down has grown into the Orcas Island Lit Fest. A few board members have left (Shannon, the Gaileys); two have come on (Paula and Mia). But we’re otherwise much the same. I hope the festival will develop into a long-lasting and solvent institution, but these early, scrappy years are magical. Out of nothing but an idea, a friendship, an incredible board, and a thousand little and large acts of generosity, we get to bring writers and readers together in a real and genuine way. For an entire weekend, over an entire island, everyone gets to talk about books.

Scott Hutchins, OILF vice president and cofounder, is a former Truman Capote fellow in the Wallace Stegner Program at Stanford University. His novel A Working Theory of Love was a San Francisco Chronicle and Salon Best Book of 2012 and has been translated into nine languages. He lives in San Francisco.

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