In This Annihilated Place

by Wanda Coleman

ZYZZYVA Volume 28, #1, Spring 2012

“Cast ’em out! For he deceives us all!” Some call him Preach, others call him Crazy John. We’ve called him out of his Christian name so much we’ve forgotten it. Most of us snigger at his ranting, sometimes to his face, daring the retort if he’s bold enough to make one. At those moments, he tightens his jaws, screws his lips sideways, and those crystal blue eyes either haze over or flash depending on who’s doing the taunting. Rarely does he remain silent. Usually, he’ll spit some variation on it, like it’s the only quote he knows. Maybe it’s the

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Christopher Hitchens

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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.”

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Oh, Oh, Oh

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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.

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In the Winter Issue

by ZYZZYVA

“If you care about contemporary fiction, if you want to know the future of the American literary scene, you need to be reading ZYZZYVA.”—Adam Johnson “Zyzzyva is a snouted beetle, as any dictionary kid knows. It’s a word that nearly can’t be played in Scrabble, on account of all the Z’s. But those are novelty uses. The real meaning is this superb literary journal, which has real meaning. If you want to learn the things that literature can do with language, read it.” —Ben Greenman The newest issue of ZYZZYVA offers the same engaging mix of compelling writing and art […]

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The Mr. Smith Syndrome

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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.)

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Cuba + Kids – Water

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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.”

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A Little Bit of Fun Before He Died

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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.”

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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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In the Fall Issue

by ZYZZYVA

“Zyzzyva is a snouted beetle, as any dictionary kid knows. It’s a word that nearly can’t be played in Scrabble, on account of all the Z’s. But those are novelty uses. The real meaning is this superb literary journal, which has real meaning. If you want to learn the things that literature can do with language, read it.” —Ben Greenman The latest issue of ZYZZYVA adds another dimension to the journal’s mission of spotlighting the West Coast’s best writers and artists. This Fall we present “Expats,” a selection of new work by John Freeman, Dagoberto Gilb, Edie Meidav, and Luis […]

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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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