I Have No Formula: Q&A with ‘The Secret Habit of Sorrow’ Author Victoria Patterson

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Victoria Patterson’s eye is trained on Southern California. But she’s not only writing about the Los Angeles we know from cinema and television screens. Her stories trace tales of disappointment and regret across the senior living centers, grocery stores, and backyards of cities like Long Beach, Newport Bay, Costa Mesa, and others. Much like the work of Alice Munro, each of the stories in her latest collection, The Secret Habit of Sorrow (224 pages; Counterpoint), read as though they could be the start of a novel, with a breadth of complexity to her characters and the trying situations they find themselves in. We come […]

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ZYZZYVA Interview Series: Lydia Kiesling

by  Ismail Muhammad

Lydia Kiesling is the editor of The Millions, where she has been writing reviews, essays, and the semi-regular Modern Library Revue since 2009. Her writing has appeared at a variety of outlets including The New York Times Magazine, The New Yorker, The Guardian, and Slate, and was recognized in Best American Essays 2016. Her debut novel, The Golden State, was published in fall 2018 by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux’s MCD imprint. Kiesling recently spoke to ZYZZYVA Contributing Editor Ismail Muhammad about The Golden State at Green Apple Books on the Park in San Francisco. […]

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ZYZZYVA Interview Series: Vanessa Hua

by Oscar Villalon

Vanessa Hua (whose stories “The Third Daughter” and “River of Stars” appeared in ZYZZYVA No. 91 and No. 98, respectively) is an award-winning, best-selling author and columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle. Her novel, A River of Stars, which has just been released, has been called a “marvel” by O, The Oprah Magazine, and “delightful” by The Economist. Her short story collection, Deceit and Other Possibilities, received an Asian/Pacific American Award in Literature and was a finalist for a California Book Award. Hua spoke to ZYZZYVA Managing Editor Oscar Villalon about her debut novel at the Booksmith in San Francisco last month. […]

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A Maddening System: Q&A with ‘The Golden State’ author Lydia Kiesling

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Essayist and critic Lydia Kiesling’s first novel, The Golden State (304 pages; MCD), already long listed for the Center for Fiction’s First Novel Prize, is an enrapturing torrent of a narrative, exploring the daunting beginning of motherhood and the complications of marrying a foreign national. New mother Daphne must balance caring of her sixteen-month-old daughter, Honey, with handling the stress of getting her Turkish husband, Engin, back into the U.S., all while dealing with her job at the Al-Ihsan Foundation in San Francisco. These circumstances send her on a ten-day epic roadtrip, beginning with a drive to Daphne’s late mother’s […]

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A Tacit Acceptance of Unknowability: Experimental Philosopher Jonathon Keats and His Alien Instruments

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Recent years have seen tribal lines drawn across the globe, with an increasingly divisive and xenophobic political climate both in the United States and abroad. It’s a change in tenor we perhaps should have seen coming, but many of the most strident political analysts have been taken aback by the “Us vs. Them” rhetoric that has become so prevalent since the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Experimental philosopher Jonathon Keats, known for past endeavors such as the Pangaea Optima and Superego Suits, has proposed one idea for alleviating the current culture of hate: to turn our eyes – and ears – to […]

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Bending Towards Instinct: Q&A with ‘Invitation to a Bonfire’ author Adrienne Celt

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Adrienne Celt’s Invitation to a Bonfire (256 pages; Bloomsbury) is a novel delightfully unconcerned with passing literary trends. Celt has her eye trained on the past, on both the esteemed literary works that have influenced her and the massive social upheaval that was the Russian Revolution. Invitation to a Bonfire opens on the young Zoya Andropova, an orphan of the Revolution who makes her way to safety in the United States only to become the victim of petty cruelties at New Jersey’s prestigious Donne School. Zoya observes the strange customs and practices of American culture while finding solace in tending […]

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The Wilds of Embarrassment: Q&A with ‘For Single Mothers Working as Train Conductors’ author Laura Esther Wolfson

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Laura Esther Wolfson’s debut memoir is eye-catchingly titled For Single Mothers Working as Train Conductors (176 pages; University of Iowa Press). Wolfson is a translator, not a train conductor, yet both professions lend themselves to traveling across borders while maintaining a certain distance—throughout the collection of short stories, Wolfson moves between countries, from the USA to France to Georgia; between languages, from Russian to French to Yiddish; and between her own story and the stories of others. Wolfson’s crossings are propelled and connected by a variety of forces, including her love for her two ex-husbands, her research into her previously […]

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The Texture of the Light: Q&A with ‘Edith’ author Meg Freitag

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Meg Freitag’s Edith (83 pages; BOAAT Books), winner of the inaugural Book Prize from BOAAT Press, comprises a series of vivid, voice-y lyrics addressed to a pet parakeet—the titular Edith—who dies halfway through the book. It turns out speaking to a pet bird makes a certain kind of affectionate disclosure possible; the experience of reading these poems is often one of overhearing an earnest speaker struggling to explain herself to a tiny, mute beloved. But the speaker’s love for her pet is also inextricable from her tenderness toward the world, and her mourning for Edith is bound up in other […]

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Endless Fascination: Q&A with ‘L.A. Man’ Author Joe Donnelly

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You can’t accuse Joe Donnelly of taking it easy. In a decades-spanning career, the Los Angeles writer has profiled the “who’s who” of Hollywood—from America’s sweetheart Drew Barrymore to iconoclast filmmaker Werner Herzog—in the pages of publications like L.A. Weekly, where he served as deputy editor for a number of years. During that time, his short stories have earned him an O. Henry Prize (“Bonus Baby,” from ZYZZYVA No. 103) and have been adapted into short films. Donnelly also co-founded and co-edited Slake, a short-lived but highly acclaimed journal that gathered journalism, fiction, poetry, and art, all with a distinctly […]

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National Poetry Month: A Q&A with ‘I Know Your Kind’ author William Brewer

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It’s rare that any book of poems, not to mention a first book, is as powerful as I Know Your Kind (96 pages; Milkweed) by William Brewer. This book, rooted in the physical and spiritual landscape of West Virginia, tackles the opioid epidemic in verse. Focusing on the small town of Oceana (nicknamed Oxyana for the record number of overdoses there), Oceana acts as a stand-in for West Virginia as a whole, which has the highest OD rate in the country. The book is at once dreamlike and visceral, and the images in it draw on the beauty and pain […]

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When Art Must Step In: Q&A with ‘Bullets into Bells’ Editor Dean Rader

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The poetry collection Bullets into Bells (Beacon Press) stands as an innovative response to American gun violence. The work is a collection of poetry, each poem paired with a prose response written by an “activist, political figure, survivor, or concerned individual.” Many of the poems are in response to widely reported shootings, such as Sandy Hook or the murder of Tamir Rice, but there are also several accounts of less publicized shootings. Despite the high coverage of gun violence in the media, reading this book gives the sense that this type of violence is even more pervasive than it seems, and that nearly […]

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ZYZZYVA Interview Series: Matthew Zapruder

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Poet, translator, professor, and editor Matthew Zapruder was born in Washington, DC. in 1967. He earned a BA in Russian literature at Amherst College, an MA in Slavic languages and literature at the University of California, Berkeley, and an MFA in poetry at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, where he studied with Dara Wier, James Tate, and Agha Shahid Ali. Zapruder is the author most recently of Sun Bear (Copper Canyon, 2014) and Why Poetry, a book of prose about poetry (Ecco/Harper Collins, 2017). An Associate Professor in the MFA at Saint Mary’s College of California, he is also editor […]

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