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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Q&A with Daniel Handler: ‘Bottle Grove’ and a Changing San Francisco

by Oscar Villalon

In Daniel Handler’s seventh novel, Bottle Grove (227 pages; Bloomsbury), which was published in the fall, San Francisco gets both a kiss on the cheek and a flick to the ear. For those who have lived in the city for two or more decades, the novel has a magnetism perhaps unfelt by others who’ve only known the place in its most recent incarnation—as that of a giant Lego set, one pulled apart and restacked according to the heedless whims of the tech industry. Handler, a longtime San Franciscan, evokes the city in its beloved pre-boom familiarity, but because he’s telling […]

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Q&A with Heather Christle: ‘The Crying Book’ and a Nourishment from Sharing

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Over the course of The Crying Book (208 pages; Catapult Press), Heather Christle examines the phenomenon of crying from every possible angle: social, cultural, biological, and historical. She asks the tough questions, ones that science still can’t answer: Why do we cry? And what does it mean to cry? Christle’s inquiry is rigorously researched, but it is also deeply personal. While she was writing The Crying Book, she was doing a lot of crying herself, grappling with depression, mourning the passing of a dear friend, and preparing to become a mother. The scope of The Crying Book is surprisingly vast—we […]

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Q&A with Seth Borgen: ‘If I Die in Ohio’ and Some Extraordinarily Unremarkable True Thing

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The stories in Seth Borgen’s collection If I Die in Ohio (160 pages; New American Press), winner of the New American Fiction Prize, are like bars where I have learned more about people and about writing than anywhere else, except perhaps from books. And like those bars, they are places where people who would never have crossed paths come together—a retired, well-known architect and a young high school dropout, for example; a slacker, stoner, atheist and a Mormon. The characters do not seek each other out, but once they do, something happens. Nothing huge or life-changing but something that helps […]

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ZYZZYVA Interview Series: Meron Hadero

by ZYZZYVA Staff

Meron Hadero is an Ethiopian-American born in Addis Ababa who came to the U.S. in her childhood via East and West Germany. Her short stories appear in Best American Short Stories, Selected Shorts on NPR/PRI, McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern, ZYZZYVA, The Iowa Review, The Missouri Review, and other journals. Her writing has also been published in The New York Times Book Review, the anthology The Displaced: Refugee Writers on Refugee Lives, and others. Her work has been supported by the International Institute at the University of Michigan, the Elizabeth George Foundation, and Artist Trust. Hadero has held fellowships at the World […]

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Q&A with Brandon Shimoda: ‘The Grave on the Wall’ and Writing with Ghosts

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How to capture a life, how to represent it, is a difficult if necessary question to address in writing. Brandon Shimoda’s The Grave on the Wall (222 pages; City Lights Books) relentlessly contends with this concern as it recounts the story of Midori Shimoda, the author’s grandfather, within the entangled histories of immigration, Japanese incarceration during World War II, mourning, and memory. The book is also an examination of writing itself, the mechanism available for, and sometimes burdened with, conveying these stories; with relaying and reimagining them, opening them to visitation. A chronicle of the living and the dead and the places […]

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