Tag Archives: essay

The Common Reader’s ‘James Baldwin & American Democracy’: Another Country, Another Time

Nobody knows his name. The literary and political legacy of James Baldwin is going through a revival through works like Raoul Peck’s Academy Award-nominated documentary, I Am Not Your Negro, and director Barry Jenkins’ film adaptation of If Beale Street Could Talk. Add to this, the newest issue of The Common Reader: A Journal of the Essay, published by Washington University in St. Louis, and its eleven essays that further explore the lasting work and meaning of the author. High points of the issue, titled James Baldwin & American Democracy, include Cecil Brown’s piece, “With James Baldwin at the Welcome Table,’’ in …Continue reading

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Obsessions: A Visit to the Stephen ‘ESPO’ Powers ‘Daymaker’ Installation at SFMOMA

On a Friday afternoon, I visited the Stephen “ESPO” Powers “Daymaker” installation at SFMOMA. “Daymaker” includes two site-specific wall-size murals covered in Powers’ signature ideograms: a simple illustration of an everyday object accompanied by witty, semi-aphoristic text. (Powers began his career as a graffiti artist under the moniker ESPO.) Of the two murals, the one on the east wall is the more popular one for picture taking. It has more blank spaces between ideograms and better light. The picture-taking comes in two genres: selfies or portraits. You can pose next to the brick wall covered with the words “BACK GOES …Continue reading

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‘The Collected Schizophrenias’ by Esmé Weijun Wang: A Map into Rarely Charted Waters

Esmé Weijun Wang’s The Collected Schizophrenias (202 pages; Graywolf Press) consists of twelve essays addressing the technical definitions, medical prognosis, and personal challenges of schizophrenia. In the first essay, Wang discloses her own diagnosis to the reader: during her time as an undergraduate at Yale, she was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder (bipolar type), which she describes as an illness that combines certain behavioral markers of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. She makes it clear the schizophrenias (of which there are a few types) are both complex and vast in how they are perceived and experienced. Wang manages to discuss such a …Continue reading

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Some Notes on Salinger

“If you really want to hear about it…” 1. He’s not really talking to you, it’s a ruse. Nor is he someone you want to chat with on the phone. Trust me on this. But don’t let it hurt your feelings. Like most of us, he’s talking to himself. It’s performance art, a term that contains its own contradiction. He (or his characters, whichever you prefer) is trying very hard not to go crazy. Holden Caulfield: “I kept walking and walking up Fifth Avenue, without any tie on or anything. Then all of a sudden, something very spooky started happening. …Continue reading

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Ted Chiang’s Impersonal Universe

I close my eyes and see a flock of birds. The vision lasts a second or perhaps less; I don’t know how many birds I saw. Were they a definite or an indefinite number? This problem involves the question of the existence of God. If God exists, the number is definite, because how many birds I saw is known to God. If God does not exist, the number is indefinite, because nobody was able to take count. In this case, I saw fewer than ten birds (let’s say) and more than one; but I did not see nine, eight, seven, …Continue reading

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Coda, or a Ninth Case: Trump v. Hawaii

Three years ago, my essay “Shiftiness: The Border in Eight Cases” approached the border from eight different routes. The years since have only increased the urgency of dealing with the border in a humane and just way. “The law constitutes a ‘we’ through an official story,” scholar Priscilla Wald wrote in her 1994 book, Constituting Americans: Cultural Anxiety and Narrative Form. But: “An official story of ‘a people’ invariably lags behind the seismic demographic changes and corresponding untold stories that ultimately compel each revision.” These days, we’re immersed in the conflict that churns beneath the changing text. When Donald Trump …Continue reading

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A Selection of the Writing You’ll Find in our Spring Issue No. 112

Here’s a sampling of some of the writing in Issue No. 112, which you can get today with a subscription to ZYZZYVA: San Francisco Loved Us Once, an essay by JOSHUA MOHR: We stampeded to this magnificent speck known as San Francisco because we were too queer, too punk, too arty. We were the wrong color or born with the wrong genitalia. We were too fat or too tattooed or too sick or our own family simply despised us. Other places, we were easy targets. We were gristle trapped in a bully’s teeth. So we flocked here because it called to us, San …Continue reading

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Some of What You’ll Find in our Spring Issue No. 112

We strive to fill each issue of ZYZZYVA with a dynamic and challenging blend of contemporary fiction, poetry, and non-fiction. Here’s a sampling of some of the writing in Issue No. 112, which you can get today with a subscription to ZYZZYVA: An interview with Man Booker Prize-winning author PAUL BEATTY: I think the real reason I set The Sellout there [in Dickens] is that there’s this weird neighborhood in L.A…There are a lot of weird neighborhoods in L.A. [Laughs] This one is called Richland Farms. It’s a small little section of Compton. My sister teaches there, and when we were little my …Continue reading

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‘Understanding, Misunderstanding, and then Sitting Down to Write’ by Andrew Tonkovich: ZYZZYVA, No. 111, Winter Issue

Andrew Tonkovich is the co-editor of the anthology “Orange County: A Literary Field Guide,” published by Heyday, and editor of the Santa Monica Review. To ring in the new year, we’re presenting in its entirety his essay “Understanding, Misunderstanding, and then Sitting Down to Write” from ZYZZYVA No. 111:  The following is an edited version of the closing talk given at the Community of Writers Workshop at Squaw Valley in July, 2017.  “I live in terror of not being misunderstood.” —Oscar Wilde I’m proud of at least the title of this talk, and the epigraph. If the rest of it falls …Continue reading

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Giving Thanks: ‘Old Men at Sea’ by Andrew D. Cohen

Presented here is an essay we published back in our Spring 2016 Issue that we feel displays a sense of tenderness and empathy appropriate for this Thanksgiving holiday. We hope you’ll enjoy reading “Old Men at Sea” by Andrew D. Cohen in its entirety: I’m driving my sons, nine and almost six, to their small, alternative private school here in Portland, Oregon, a school we send them to for the same reason we don’t let them watch television or use the computer—to keep back the world and its anguish for a few more years— even though some part of me, …Continue reading

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Making the Case for Hidden Wonder: ‘In Defense of Monsters’ by B.J. Hollars

B.J. Hollars’ short essay collection, In Defense of Monsters (Bull City Press; 40 pages), opens on a world with no mysteries left. Now that seemingly every corner of the globe has been charted, and Google Earth allows one to zoom in on any coordinate one desires, the encroachment of human civilization on the natural world leaves us with little to explore. It wasn’t always the case: in the 20th century, even as horror spread across Europe and a racially divided America, the World’s Fairs promised a tomorrow full of discovery, and pulp novels sold readers on the idea of lost …Continue reading

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Shiftiness: The Border in Eight Cases

airport-1897716_1920President Donald Trump’s revised travel ban—an executive order targeting Yemen, Sudan, Iran, Syria, Somalia, and Libya, and reducing the number of refugees allowed into the country from 110,000 to 50,000 people—was to have taken effect today. The order was met with legal challenges in three states, challenges in which groups such as the ACLU and the Northwest Immigration Rights Program argued that it remained, among other things, a thinly disguised ban on Muslims. But yesterday, as the New York Times reported, Judge Derrick K. Watson in Hawaii issued a nationwide order blocking the ban.

In April 2015, ZYZZYVA published Julie Chinitz’s essay “Shiftiness: The Border in Eight Cases” in its Spring/Summer issue. Chinitz, who volunteered with the Northwest Immigration Rights Program in the early ’90s, carefully considers in her piece the ideas of borders, of immigration, of refugees, of what it means to come to this country and what it means to be an American. Her insights remain significantly relevant, given the objectives of the Trump White House. The fifth section of the essay—”Borders and Bodies”—especially so, as she looks at the case of United States v. Montoya de Hernandez. Because of that Supreme Court ruling, she writes, it’s “why to this day people can find themselves locked up at the border, hours on end, with no idea what they’re suspected of having done wrong. … In his dissent in Montoya de Hernandez, Justice Brennan raised a warning about this kind of abuse … ‘Indefinite involuntary incommunicado detentions “for investigation” are the hallmark of a police state,’ he wrote, ‘not a free society’.”

She further notes: “In legal terms, border points such as those at airports are called the ‘functional equivalent of the border.’ They also include territorial waters, spots where roads coming from the actual border converge, UPS sorting hubs, etc.: places that aren’t exactly the border, but close enough.”

We believed at the time of publication that Chinitz’s essay was important, and the weeks since Inauguration Day have only confirmed our view. The following is “Shiftiness: The Border in Eight Cases” in full. We urge you to read it.

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