Signed with an XO: Q&A with ‘XO’ Author Sara Rauch

by Christine Sneed

Most readers (all?) live for the books that compel them to ignore worldly distractions in order to reach the final page with as little delay as possible. I had that experience recently when I read Sara Rauch’s new memoir, XO (172 pages; Autofocus Books), which chronicles the author’s inexorable trajectory from a monogamous relationship with a female partner to a dizzying, disorienting affair with a heterosexual man whom she met as a student at her West Coast MFA program. He was an established, much-published writer. He was also married and one of the program’s faculty. Years ago, I read a […]

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Q&A with Juhea Kim: ‘Beasts of a Little Land’ & Suffering in the Name of Love

by Shelby Hinte

Juhea Kim’s first novel, Beasts of a Little Land (416 pages; Ecco), is an epic tale of occupied Korea that spans nearly five decades. Beginning in 1971, the highly ambitious narrative delves into Korean history and mythology and grapples with the dilemma of seeking meaning in a perilous world. Kim was born in Incheon, Korea , and moved to Portland, Oregon, when she was nine. She is a climate advocate, and her story “Biodome” appeared in ZYZZYVA Issue 120. She recently spoke to ZYZZYVA over Zoom about her new novel, writing compassionately, and suffering for love. The interview has been edited […]

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Q&A with David Huebert: ‘Chemical Valley’ & Gasoline Rainbows

by Supriya Saxena

David Huebert’s story collection, Chemical Valley (224 pages; Biblioasis), explores the ways in which humans cope with living in an imperfect and polluted environment. The stories are varied, featuring oil refinery workers, teenage climate activists, long-term care nurses, and more, showing the issues and intricacies of their lives in lush detail. The grim explorations of wealth inequality, illness, and bereavement are counterbalanced by the rich and lyrical prose, providing heartfelt insights into today’s damaged world and the individuals who inhabit it.  Huebert’s writing has won the CBC Short Story Prize, The Walrus Poetry Prize, and was a finalist for the […]

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Q&A with Robin McLean: ‘Pity the Beast’ and Living in Wild Places

by Peter Schlachte

Robin McLean’s first novel Pity the Beast (384 pages; And Other Stories), has all the trappings of a traditional Western—the grime and the guts, the hard people amid an austere, extraordinary landscape—but McLean isn’t satisfied with the traditional. The novel revolves around Ginny, a rancher in the American west who cheats on her husband Dan and is gang-raped in a flurry of vengeance and violence. Ginny, left for dead, escapes into the mountains and is pursued by a posse of five townsfolk: her husband, her sister Ella and Ella’s husband Saul, a tracker named Bowman, and a mule-driver named Maul. […]

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Q&A with Jackson Bliss: ‘Counterfactual Love Stories and Other Experiments’ & The Rules You’re Allowed to Break

by Peter Schlachte

Jackson Bliss’s debut book of fiction, Counterfactual Love Stories and Other Experiments (200 pages; Noemi Press), is exactly what the title claims—a collection of exciting, bold experiments that stretch the notion of what a story can be. Of the thirteen stories in it, no two share the same form. Yet underneath the narrative invention, the genre-bending fireworks, and the speculative characters, Bliss’s stories are meditations on classic themes: time, autonomy, race, and, of course, love. Bliss is the winner of the 2020 Noemi Prize in Prose, holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Notre Dame, and a […]

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Q&A with Jenny Qi: ‘Focal Point’ and a Full Picture of Grief

by Chiara Bercu

Jenny Qi’s first poetry collection, Focal Point (98 pages; Steel Toe Books), sees release this week. Written over the course of Qi’s graduate study in oncology, and upon the loss of her mother to cancer, Focal Point quilts together meditations on memory, bereavement, racism, divinity, and motherhood. Victoria Chang describes the collection as a “book of crossing.” Its sixty poems forward a fresh, intertextual probe into experiences of transition and bring delicate attention to life in the wake of loss. Qi was the winner of the 2020 Steel Toe Books Poetry Award, and her essays and poems appear in the […]

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Q&A with Former U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky: Into the Den

by Laine Derr

ZYZZYVA: In Thousands of Broadways: Dreams and Nightmares of the American Small Town (2009), you write fondly of your dad, a star basketball player, trophy in hand. Is there a game/sport you enjoy playing? Robert Pinsky: In high school I was not bad at the team sports, and as a Stegner Fellow at Stanford I was a standout in Sunday morning softball games, (Not saying much—as tiny a distinction as the Hemingway character’s boxing championship at Princeton.) For years I got great pleasure from tennis, but at some point, writing became the one theater for all my efforts of a […]

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Q&A with Kaveh Akbar: ‘Pilgrim Bell’ and Learning Out of Order

by Ray Levy Uyeda

In his new book of poetry, Pilgrim Bell (Graywolf Press; 80 Pages), Kaveh Akbar plays with the spiritual, familial, and corporeal. The poems meditate on the places of our origins; the land from which we came, the people through which we arrived, and the languages we spoke among and after those places and people. Kaveh is the winner of a 2017 and 2018 Pushcart Prize and is the Poetry Editor at The Nation. ZYZZYVA spoke to Kaveh, whose poems appeared in Issue 107, to discuss the book, God, and miracles. ZYZZYVA: The first and the second to last poem of […]

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Q&A with Ashley Nelson Levy: ‘Immediate Family’ and Diverging from the Adoption Narrative

by Oriana Christ

In the opening pages of Immediate Family (192 pages; Farrar, Straus & Giroux), the unnamed narrator’s brother calls and asks her to give a speech at his wedding—and so begins the complex and careful family portrait that is Ashley Nelson Levy’s unshakeable debut novel. The time between this phone call and the impending speech is spent grappling with questions of what she should say, what she won’t say, what she has a right to say. In her attempts at finding answers, the narrator takes us through her life in the form of a letter to her younger brother Danny, detailing […]

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Q&A with Mick LaSalle: ‘Dream State’ & the American Soul

by Zack Ravas

Local readers likely know Mick LaSalle as the longtime film critic for the San Francisco Chronicle, where he’s worked since 1985. What they may or may not know is that he’s also an accomplished author: we featured his short story “Fresh Kills” in Issue 108, and he has several books to his name, including Complicated Women: Sex and Power in Pre-Code Hollywood, about the actresses who rose to fame during that brief window of time before Hollywood censorship took hold; and The Beauty of the Real: What Hollywood Can Learn from Contemporary French Actresses. His latest book, Dream State: California in the […]

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Q&A with Carribean Fragoza: ‘Eat the Mouth That Feeds You’ and the Wounds We Carry

by Ray Levy Uyeda

Carribean Fragoza’s debut book of fiction, Eat the Mouth That Feeds You (144 pages; City Lights Publishers), is a collection of supernatural, almost mythical short stories. Set in Fragoza’s home town of South El Monte, a suburb east of Los Angeles, the collection explores what kind of violence is exchanged intergenerationally and what happens when the resulting wounds are not attended to. Fragoza’s characters, all of whom are Chicanx or Mexican women, explore the many worlds of their bodies, minds, and lineages. Carribean Fragoza recently spoke to ZYZZYVA via Zoom about Eat The Mouth That Feeds You. ZYZZYVA: The first […]

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Q&A with Joshua Mohr: ‘Model Citizen’ and Pointing Out the Frictions

by Kyubin Kim

Model Citizen (336 pages; Farrar, Straus and Giroux) is Joshua Mohr’s memoir on addiction, sobriety, and fatherhood. It’s a brutally sincere addition to his repertoire that includes the previous memoir Sirens and five novels. Told in a series of non-chronological vignettes, Model Citizens begins with Mohr’s jagged path to recovery in episodes of self-destruction and regret. We’re pulled so viscerally into San Francisco bars where one drink turns into a blacked-out night that we feel like the gears in Mohr’s brain, trying to make sense of how we got here. We also experience the anguish of recovery and relapse, drawn […]

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