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ZYZZYVA news.

In the Spring Issue

In this issue:

On Art

Nonfiction
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.

Fiction
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).

Poetry
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 oilf.org. (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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Make a Patron-Level Donation and Receive an Amazing Incentive Gift

Lucia Berlin offerBecome a supporter of ZYZYVA at the Patron level today, and receive an amazing incentive gift as our thank you!

For a donation of $200 or more, not only will you get a complimentary subscription to ZYZZYVA, but thanks to our friends at Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, you’ll get copies of Lucia Berlin’s Evenings in Paradise: More Stories and Welcome Home: A Memoir with Selected Photography and Letter plus a Lucia Berlin tote.

You’ll also get a copy of Lydia Kiesling’s acclaimed novel, The Golden State (named one of the Best Books of 2018 by NPR, Bookforum, and Bustle), and A.G. Lombardo’s novel, Graffiti Palace (praised by David L. Ulin as “an audacious debut … Beautiful, hard-edged, challenging, and unexpected”).

We are now down to only two of these gift packages. Don’t delay! 

Make your donation today. 
(Enter the code LUCIA in the “Write a note” field as you make your donation.)

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A Tote & Subscription Bundle brings you our new Winter Issue just in time for the holidays

unnamed (9)Looking for a gift for the holidays? How about our Tote & 4-Issue Subscription bundle, or even our Tote & 8-Issue Subscription bundle (Or perhaps as a gift for yourself? You’ve earned it!)

Order a Bundle by Tuesday, December 18, and have it delivered in plenty of time for your lucky recipient. We’ll start off the subscription with our newest issue, No. 114, featuring Tales of the  Uncanny from Kate Folk, Jim Ruland, Shawn Vestal, and David Drury; a Q&A with Michael Ondaatje by Caille Millner, poetry by Bruce Snider, Austen Leah Rosenfeld, and Heather Christle, the art of Kate Ballis, and much more.

 

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Rock ‘n Roll Suicide: ‘Destroy All Monsters’ by Jeff Jackson

Destroy All MonstersTo the young, music can be a religion. Destroy All Monsters (357 pages; FSG), the latest novel from Charlotte-based author Jeff Jackson, trades in the kind of punk fervor that inspires teenagers to thrash in mosh pits, raid merch booths, and obsessively listen to the same album. The power of what a few kids and some amped instruments can do is clearly a subject near to Jackson’s heart; not only does he perform in the self-described “weirdo pop band” Julian Calendar, but he’s allowed the vinyl single format to influence the design of the novel itself: Destroy All Monsters features an A-Side­­––which constitutes the novel proper­­––and a reverse B-Side, an alternate follow-up to the main story that follows some of the same characters in radically different incarnations. The novel contends frankly with both the difficulties of maintaining youthful passion for loud, distorted noise as one grows older and how the resentments and obligations of adulthood begin to accrue.

Destroy All Monsters centers on the music scene in a “conservative industrial city” called Arcadia. The prologue opens with a memorable performance by hometown heroes the Carmelite Rifles at a show attended by a motley assortment of locals:

“The strip-mall goths, the mod metalheads, the blue-collar ravers, the bathtub-shitting punks, the jaded aesthetes who consider themselves beyond category. Everyone in line has imagined a night that could crack open and transform their dreary realities.”

Also present at the show are two of the characters who will drive the rest of the novel: budding musician Florian and the forlorn but enigmatic Xenie. Not long after the Carmelite Rifles show, which ripples through the audience’s lives with the impact of an early Velvet Underground gig, a mysterious plague grips the entire country. All around the United States, club patrons are being transfixed by some unknown spell that causes them to gun down or otherwise attempt to murder the bands onstage:

“The noise duo at the loft party in the Pacific Northwest. The garage rockers at the tavern in the New England suburbs. The jam band at the auditorium on the edge of the Midwestern prairie. The blue grass revivalists at the coffeehouse in the Deep South. There was never any fanfare. The killers simply walked into the clubs, took out their weapons, and started firing.”

Although the killers’ motives remain largely ambiguous (most of them appear to be in a trance-like stupor as they go about their attack) the parallels to recent events are chilling. After terrorist attacks on music venues in Manchester and Paris in the last few years, it is all too easy to imagine the same violence occurring on this side of the Atlantic. The threat of danger feels heightened for the young people at the heart of Destroy All Monsters, to the point that the question of whether or not to perform a scheduled show becomes a matter of life and death for Arcadia’s local acts.

When tragedy ultimately does strike (“The band is heading for the [song] bridge when the first shot is fired”), Florian and Xenie are left to figure out how to privately mourn the loss of a close friend when seemingly everyone in town is doing so in a very public, outsized way. The spat of murders across the country also force Xenie to reckon with the fact that so much of the music playing at local venues and taking up space on her hard drive is, in a word, mediocre. “I used to have a huge music collection,” Xenie relates. “I was obsessed and even saved my concert stubs in a red cardboard box. Sometimes I’d open the box, and just touching the tickets was enough to give me a rush…These days I crave silence.”

Her statement is a lament for an age that has come to be defined by noise, much of it meaningless. Xenie and others in Arcadia’s music scene must grapple with the difficulty of conveying authentic expression in a world drowned out by sound. As Florian contemplates after the last show he’ll ever play: “It’s too easy to transform a moment of truth into a cheap performance.”

Destroy All Monsters understands the impetus to pick up a guitar and strum a power chord, perhaps out of the misguided notion that the result could lead to some change in the world. And the novel understands the disheartening fact that the country is full of numerous small towns like Arcadia, with its dive bars, shuttered factories, and hobo camps, each of them with their would-be punk rockers like Florian. Amid the story’s nationwide epidemic, Jackson’s characters display crucial growth: what ultimately comes to matter––more than selling out concert halls or recording a promising demo––is remaining true to the memory and last wishes of their friends after they’re gone. “Not everything has to be a performance,” Xenie concludes. “Some things should stay pure.”

Jackson, whose prose registers as punchy and acerbic, leading the reader through multiple act breaks and perspective changes with ease, is sincere in his depiction of provincial youth yearning for an escape. In the 21st century, rock ’n roll might not mean as much as it once did, but Jackson has written a fitting tribute to its lingering spirit.

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Your Support Makes a Difference – Please Donate Today

unnamed (8)Dear Friends,

As we close in on the end of the year, we have so much to be thankful for. It is a blessing to have the opportunity to produce good work and to be of service to our community. We hope that you feel ZYZZYVA is a meaningful part of your life, both as a reader and as someone who wants to see culture thrive, especially in these days of turmoil. So we ask:

Will you help us continue our work?

We do need your support.
No gift is too small.
Every dollar counts.

Thanks to the generosity of one of our champions, the first $10,000 we receive between today and the end of the year will be matched dollar-for-dollar. So please make a contribution today and see your support doubly rewarded!

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How we can help those affected by the California fires

Camp FireRaging wildfires have devastated both Northern and Southern California over the last several weeks. The situation has been impossible to ignore here in the Bay Area, as smoke from the fires has led to tremendously poor air quality. We feel for those more immediately impacted by the fires –– the numerous missing and displaced –– and have assembled a list of places seeking donations.

7×7 has compiled a list of local causes we can contribute to, including Disaster Relief funds and donation collections. The San Francisco SPCA has set up a fundraiser, specifically to provide care and treatment for animals affected by the fires. Eater SF offers a list of bars, restaurants, and breweries offering specials to benefit fire recovery. The Yuba-Sutter Habitat for Humanity has created a fund to help Camp Fire evacuees with essential needs.

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

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In the Winter Issue

In this issue:

Tales of the Uncanny

“Shelter” by Kate Folk: the concrete vault in the basement of a rented house exerts a strange pull on the woman living above it.

“Take the Water Prisoner” by Shawn Vestal: when the sins (and pains) of the father are visited upon the son.

“The Canyon” by Jim Ruland: the struggle for sobriety leads Lindsay to a confrontation she couldn’t have imagined.

“The Lake and the Onion” by David Drury: “There once was a lake who fell in love with an onion. This is merely what we 100 percent know.”

Interview

Michael Ondaatje on character, plot, West Marin, and diaspora.

Nonfiction

Fabián Martínez Siccardi on revisiting his family’s stoical estancia (“Patagonian Fox”) and Teresa H. Janssen on relief work and refugees (“Adrift at Sea”)

And More Fiction and Poetry:

Meron Hadero’s “The Street Sweep” (a young man’s future may be decided at a hotel gathering in Addis Ababa), Karl Taro Greenfeld’s “The Golden Age of Television” (the particular tyranny of the writers’ room), Jane Gillette’s “Ten Little Feet” (a less-than-innocent tradition at a tony school for boys), plus new work from Jessica Francis Kane and Olivia Clare.

Poems by Bruce Snider, Austen Leah Rosenfeld, Flower Conroy, Ryanaustin Dennis, Heather Altfeld, Allison Adair, Moriel Rothman-Zecher, and Heather Christle

Art: Featuring photographs from Kate Ballis’s “Infra Realism” series.

You can purchase a copy of No. 114 here, or order a subscription to ZYZZYVA now and we’ll start you off by shipping you the Winter issue.

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Secretly Wishing for Impossible Futures: ‘Her Mouth as Souvenir’ by Heather June Gibbons

Her Mouth as SouvenirHer Mouth as Souvenir (88 pages; University of Utah Press), winner of the 2017 Agha Shahid Ali Prize in Poetry, is a breathtaking and lyrical debut collection from Heather June Gibbons. Gibbons’ voice is a strong one, as she leads the reader through well-crafted and captivatingly honest free verse.

Pressingly urgent and timely, Her Mouth as Souvenir is a study of action in the face of anxiety. The poems’ context includes larger societal trends, such as the technologizing world that presents “a strange kind of convenience, / to access at the tap of a fingertip / so much information without / the ability to understand it,” and more personal attempts to uncover the how and why of past events.

There are three sections in the book that serve to mark the passage of time. The first section is a recognition of the past, of the prophets and ancestors that walked before Gibbons and “whisper, you owe us.” It also serves as an explication of the frustration that runs through the work, frustration without a culprit.

The second section is an attempt at self-understanding, through memory and causality. (The speaker can “pinpoint the exact moment / I become boring, but only in retrospect.”) A number of the poems here are titled “Sore Song” (drawn from Gibbons’s chapbook of the same name), and a musical thread runs through many of them. References are made to musical terminology and the free verse—sonically descriptive and rhythmically careful—often has a musical quality of its own. In the onomatopoetic “Longest Song,” repetitions of shh and mutter-mutter lay beside lyrical descriptions of sound:

            …how come broke

           

stereo breaks into mono

            with the low amp hiss of

            a house built of matchsticks

 

            and lit…

All sounds, even the boom of San Francisco’s Golden Gate foghorn, are treated as music.

The third and final section turns to elegy as Gibbons considers loss. There are requiems for the sudden deaths of acquaintances (“Knife Girl”), the state of society under capitalism, and even for a past self. The poems here are often longer and denser, with more narrative complexity. As the past is mourned, the poems also look toward a bleak and perhaps dystopian future. In “The Green Rose Up,” the issue of climate change is tackled, as the poem sets the scene of cities overtaken by algae and natural devastation, its inhabitants ignored by the institutions meant to protect them.

            It didn’t matter that we wore our silver suits.

Cities welled up and were overwhelmed.

            The green kept rising until we waded in algae

            and at night a phosphorescent bloom

lit the pathways our limbs had traveled

and pocked the surface of the water with sparks.

There is a helplessness to the poem, of secretly wishing for “impossible futures,” but also longing to forget such desires in the face of their impossibility. Living in the moment is nothing more than wanting to live without the fear of what’s to come. The poem serves as a warning, showing us a glimpse of a possible future we are all but resigned to.

Throughout Her Mouth as Souvenir, perception and the failure thereof are explored. The idea that perception equals perfect reality is scoffed at. There is a constant awareness of parallax; one of the “Sore Song” poems leans into the warping of perception:

            ….How I’ve missed

scanning the horizon for you, wary of parallax–

 

decadent, the way it screws with the curves.

The collection emphasizes the inherent deception in how we see the world: “In a quick smear before full focus, the eye / misreads what it wants to see.”

The vivid imagery Gibbons employs is central to her book as a whole, as are her poems’ intricate yet simple moments— acupuncture visits and getting carded while buying cigarettes after a yoga session. These form a larger collage, a larger commentary on the nature of regret and the passage of time, capturing the anxiety, but also the beauty, of the world we inhabit.

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Welcome Fall in Style with ZYZZYVA’s Tote & Sub Bundle

Labor Day PromoWhether you’re heading back to school or merely bracing for the BART commute, ZYZZYVA has you covered with our special Tote & 4-Issue Subscription Bundle. For little more than the price of a regular subscription, you’ll also receive one of our new and beautifully designed tote bags, handy for both taking several books (or issues of the journal) with you on the go, and letting those on the street know you Always Get the Last Word.

Your Subscription will begin with Issue No. 113, our special issue centered around themes of Environmental concerns & conservation. Our first issue featuring full-color artwork throughout is adorned with the beautiful watercolor paintings of Oakland artist Obi Kaufmann, and makes for ideal reading at home, on the bus, or at your favorite coffeehouse on a crisp autumn day. Grab your Tote & 4-Issue Subscription Bundle today!

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Don’t miss our Creative Nonfiction Workshop with ‘The Golden Road’ author Caille Millner on November 3rd!

Caille Millner WorkshopApply for our Creative Nonfiction Workshop on November 3rd and experience a craft-intensive masterclass with Caille Millner, followed by conversation with ZYZZYVA’s editors. Millner is an essayist and author of the acclaimed memoir The Golden Road: Notes on my Gentrification as well as a columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle. Don’t delay – the deadline to apply is approaching!

A ZYZZYVA Workshop is an opportunity you don’t want to pass up. Here’s what some past Workshop attendees have to say:

“Everything was great, from the location to the [instructor] to the other writers in the room. I enjoyed our post-Workshop conversation and seeing the ZYZZYVA offices too, which have a great atmosphere. I left the whole experience feeling inspired to keep writing and grateful for the work of  ZYZZYVA in supporting writers and their craft.”

“I felt like I had entered an oasis where paying attention, language, books, literature, relationships, and excellent communication and connection were the main priorities…I’m still thinking about all the novels-in progress and stories and vivid characters.”

“The workshop was one of the best I have attended. Like many serious writers, I need and value the interaction with other writers and instructors. I am also careful about which workshops to which I apply. This day exceeded my expectations and I came out of it energized. The attention to the organization of the day was excellent, the instructor was insightful and nurturing, and the other students were equally so.”

Apply today and we hope to see you November 3rd! 

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In the Fall Issue

In this issue:

Of & About the Environment

Héctor Tobar on living in Los Angeles, before and after air quality regulations; Lauret Edith Savoy traces “the geology of us”; Juli Berwald on “the blob,” the mysterious oceanic phenomenon that left destruction in its wake; Obi Kaufmann on the importance of reframing the language of conservation.

Arundhati Roy discusses with John Freeman her work as an activist and a writer, and examines the great danger before us all.

Poems by Jane Hirshfield, John Sibley Williams, Rebecca Foust, Daniel Neff, Maggie Millner, Sophie Klahr, and Emily Pinkerton.

Fiction by Ben Lasman (ceding the field of work to the robots), Manuel Muñoz (the vulnerability of those who work our fields), and Louis B. Jones (the tea compost isn’t the only rancidness found living off the grid).

And More Fiction and Poetry:

Stories by Emma Copley Eisenberg, Elena Graceffa, and, marking his First-Time-in-Print, David Paul; poetry by Ruth Madievsky, Jennie Malboeuf, and Paul Wilner.

Art: Featuring Obi Kaufmann’s watercolors of California’s fauna and flora.

You can purchase a copy of No. 113 here, or order a subscription to ZYZZYVA now and we’ll start you off by shipping you the Fall issue.

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