Wickedly funny and utterly relatable in its depiction of human plights and personal tragedies, Wait Till You See Me Dance (200 pages; Graywolf Press) marks the return of Deb Olin Unferth to the world of short stories. From the banal life of an adjunct professor harboring an unrequited love in the titular story to a man held prisoner by his phobia in “Fear of Trees” (published in ZYZZYVA No. 108 along with three other pieces), each story within the collection is imbued with Unferth’s wit and dark humor, capturing the spectrum of human drama with a tinge of believable absurdity. […]
The following is the introduction from a conversation between our contributing editor Andrew Foster Altschul and Geoffrey and Tobias Wolff. You can read an excerpt of their conversation following the introduction, and, of course, can read the conversation in its entirety in Issue No. 107, which you can buy here.
It’s hard to think of a pair of writer-siblings as celebrated, or as prolific, as Geoffrey and Tobias Wolff. Between them, they’ve written nineteen books, including novels, short-story and essay collections, and a travel narrative. But it was their acclaimed memoirs Geoffrey’s The Duke of Deception (1979) and Tobias’s This Boy’s Life (1989)—that first earned them wide readerships. The brothers’ parents split up when Geoffrey was twelve and Tobias was five, and they grew up separately: Geoffrey with their father and Tobias with their mother. The memoirs deal with their unusual childhoods, from perspectives that overlap only occasionally—the brothers did not really get to know each other until they were young adults. Over their careers, both have won numerous accolades and have risen to positions of prominence in academia—Geoffrey as the director of the graduate writing program at the University of California at Irvine, Tobias as professor of English at Stanford University. I am one of only a few writers lucky enough to have studied with both Wolffs. In 2012, I invited them to the Center for Literary Arts at San Jose State University for a public conversation about memory, family, and the precarious art of writing one’s own life.
Clay Byars’ memoir, Will & I (192 pages; FSG Originals), could have opened on the car crash that changes Byars’ life at 20. It could have opened nine months after the crash when surgery that is supposed to fix the nerve damage in his shoulder results in a stroke that leaves him paralyzed and near death once more. It could have even opened on the stroke itself, the dizziness and life receding “to a dreamlike distance.” It could have opened on any one of the many dramatic circumstances punctuating Byars’ life, but instead it opens on a singing lesson. After […]
Lauren Alwan is a staff contributor at LitStack, a literary news and review site, and her fiction has appeared in StoryQuarterly, the Alaska Quarterly Review—and next spring—in the Bellevue Literary Review, for her story “The Foreign Cinema,” which won the Goldenberg Prize for Fiction. Her essay “Eldorado” appears in the Winter issue.
Set in the mid-1970s in Northern California, Alwan’s writes of the time she was a young woman, building a house with a boyfriend in Siskiyou County. This slice of memoir isn’t just about that, of course. It delves into the culture of people trying to live off the land, the harsh realities of rural life, and what it means to have a home. It also thoughtfully examines her relationships with her father and with her boyfriend (whom she knew she’d never create a life with, despite their house). The following is an excerpt from “Eldorado.”
In our continuing series of interviews and readings with our contributors, we talked to Glen David Gold about his nonfiction piece “The Plush Cocoon,” which appeared in ZYZZVYA No. 100. Gold is the author of the best-selling novels “Carter Beats the Devil” and “Sunnyside.” In “Cocoon” he explores his family history, particularly that of his mother’s. Gold discusses this piece as well as other topics, including how life has changed in San Francisco. To hear Gold read from “The Plush Cocoon,” click on “Continue Reading” below. […]
Kyle Boelte’s memoir, The Beautiful Unseen: Variations on Fog and Forgetting (Counterpoint; 176 pages), weaves together the author’s investigations into the mysterious San Francisco fog with an exploration of his memories of the life and suicide of his brother, Kris. On one side of this dual narrative, Boelte researches the fog from the standpoint of San Francisco history and the science behind the Bay Area’s climate. On the other, he remembers his life before and after his brother’s death. Juxtaposing these two themes, memory becomes reminiscent of the fog and vice versa. With remembering comes forgetting, and memories can cloud […]
In her memoir, Excavation (Future Tense Books; 244 pages), Wendy Ortiz looks to her journal entries and memories to piece together a narrative of her adolescent traumas. In the 1980s and ‘90s, Ortiz was seduced by her 8th-grade English teacher who instigated a relationship that would last five years. Now a registered sex offender, “Jeff Ivers” (as he is called in the memoir) is described in both flattering and disturbing terms, Ortiz’s attraction to him having as much to do with his charisma as with the danger his love promises. Now married, and with a child of her own, Ortiz […]
Lewis Buzbee uses his experiences in education—as student and professor—as the backbone for his newest book, Blackboard: A Personal History of the Classroom (Graywolf Press), which formulates a critique of the current state of the California public school system. The book is divided into two sections: “Orientation” and “Matriculation,” the first presenting us with the “simple” years—kindergarten to sixth grade—and the second focusing on seventh grade and beyond. Though each chapter is built upon Buzbee’s own experiences in each grade, the histories of the school system in the U.S.—such as the beginnings of kindergarten in 1837—as well as the histories […]
Years ago, when novelist Alexander Chee couldn’t sell his first book, a literary agent told him, “The first novel you finish isn’t always the first novel you publish.” The agent was right. Hunter S. Thompson, for example, wrote his first novel, the autobiographical story of a boozy Kentucky boy in the city titled Prince Jellyfish, in his early twenties. After numerous literary agents declined it, Thompson shelved the manuscript and finished a second novel called The Rum Diary, which Simon & Schuster released in 1998, nearly four decades after he had completed it. And just last month, De Capo Press published Jack Kerouac’s lost, semi-autobiographical […]
In 1998, author Walter Kirn (Thumbsucker, Up in the Air) agreed to drive a crippled Gordon setter from Montana to New York and deliver the dog to Clark Rockefeller. Kirn’s new memoir, Blood Will Out (Liveright, 272 pages) details his fifteen-year friendship with a man he long thought to be a Rockefeller, but turned out to be a wanted murderer. After the delivery of the dog, Kirn and Rockefeller maintain a long-distance friendship, with Kirn making one additional visit to the East Coast in 2002. But when Clark kidnaps his own daughter in 2008, Kirn, along with the rest of […]
In 1983, with a Guggenheim fellowship and his acclaimed novel A Boy’s Own Story in tow, Edmund White left what he calls New York’s “gay ghetto” and moved to Paris. The site of what White thought would be a jaunting continental vacation, a respite from the AIDS outbreak and the long shadow cast upon the utopian project of sexual liberation, Paris served as his home until 1998 and ushered in a renaissance for one of the progenitors of the gay novel. In his new memoir, Inside a Pearl: My Years in Paris (Bloomsbury, 261), White recounts these fifteen years abroad […]
I first had the pleasure of meeting Dani Shapiro in 2007 at Le Sirenuse on Italy’s Amalfi Coast at the initial Sirenland Writers Conference. Shapiro (who is the bestselling author of the memoirs Devotion and Slow Motion, and five novels including Black & White and Family History) established Sirenland in Positano, Italy, with Hannah Tinti “to provide an antidote to competitive, hierarchical writing conferences” that she “can’t imagine would be good for anyone’s creative process.” Her latest and well-received book is an extension of that intention. Still Writing: The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life (Grove Press; 256 pages), […]