Here are some compelling forthcoming March 2021 small press books that captured my attention, including Big Other contributor Urayoán Noel’s Transversal, which includes “Coral,” originally published in Big Other in 2020.
From AK Press: “Through stories at once poetic and poignant, There Is Nothing So Whole as a Broken Heart offers a powerful elixir for all who rebel against systemic violence and injustice. The contemporary renewal of Jewish anarchism draws on a history of suffering, ranging from enslavement and displacement to white nationalism and genocide. Yet it also pulls from ancestral resistance, strength, imagination, and humor—all qualities, and wisdom, sorely needed today. These essays, many written from feminist and queer perspectives, journey into past and contemporary trauma in ways that are humanizing and healing. They build bridges from bittersweet grief to rebellion and joy. And via concrete illustrations of how Jewish anarchists lovingly transform their own ritual, cultural, and political practices, they clearly illuminate the path toward mending ourselves and the world.”
From Akashic Books: “With echoes of Toni Morrison’s Beloved, Yejidé’s novel explores a forgotten quadrant of Washington, DC, and the ghosts that haunt it….Morowa Yejidé’s deeply captivating novel shows us an unseen Washington filled with otherworldly landscapes, flawed super-humans, and reluctant ghosts, and brings together a community intent on saving one young boy in order to reclaim itself.”
From Columbia University Press: “Barriers Down considers debates over civil liberties and censorship in Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, and elsewhere alongside Americans’ efforts to circumvent foreign regulatory systems in the quest to expand markets and bring their ideas to new publics. Lemberg shows how in the decades following the Second World War American free-flow policies reshaped the world’s information landscape, though not always as intended. Through burgeoning information diplomacy and development aid, Washington diffused new media ranging from television and satellite broadcasting to global English. But these actions also spurred overseas actors to articulate alternative understandings of information freedom and of how information flows might be regulated. Bridging the historiographies of the United States in the world, human rights, decolonization and development, and media and technology, Barriers Down excavates the analog roots of digital-age debates over the politics and ethics of transnational information flows.”
From Columbia University Press: “Reinhold Martin argues that the material infrastructures of the modern university–the architecture of academic buildings, the configuration of seminar tables, the organization of campus plans–reveal the ways in which knowledge is created and reproduced in different kinds of institutions. He reconstructs changes in aesthetic strategies, pedagogical techniques, and political economy to show how the boundaries that govern higher education have shifted over the past two centuries. From colleges chartered as rights-bearing corporations to research universities conceived as knowledge factories, educating some has always depended upon excluding others. Knowledge Worlds shows how the division of intellectual labor was redrawn as new students entered, expertise circulated, science repurposed old myths, and humanists cultivated new forms of social and intellectual capital. Combining histories of architecture, technology, knowledge, and institutions into a critical media history, Martin traces the uneven movement in the academy from liberal to neoliberal reason.”
From Deep Vellum: “In this modern classic of global feminist literature, the only novel by one of Romania’s most heralded poets, a woman meanders through a cosmic retelling of her life from childhood to adulthood with visionary language and visceral detail. Styled as a long letter addressed to the man she is ready to leave, she spins captivating tales that create space in the cosmos for the female experience. Her stories invite the reader through a dreamlike thread of strange images and passing characters, from the small incidents of their lives together to the intimate narrative of her relationship to womanhood, crescendoing in a fantastical vision of love, loss, and femininity.”
From Deep Vellum: “The four novellas in Arriving in a Thick Fog typify renowned Korean cult writer Jung Young Moon’s emphasis not on events, but on the meticulous and convoluted paths the narrator’s minds take as they navigate through life. Through a deep, filterless gaze into the narrators’ heads, Jung shares thorough musings that manage to be both spontaneous and complex. Arriving in a Thick Fog takes the reader on a discombobulating yet captivating stroll. Like ‘a person looking for a path that stretches forever in the wrong direction,’ the reader traces the steps of one who is walking endlessly toward a false destination, through a maze of layered stories.”
From Dzanc Books: “Set in small-town West Virginia in the twilight of the eighties, Call It Horses tells the story of three women—niece, aunt, and stowaway—and an improbable road trip…Frankie records the journey in letters to her aunt Mave’s dead lover, a linguist named Ruth, sketching out her troubled life and her complicated relationship with Mave, who became her guardian when Frankie was orphaned at sixteen. Slowly, one letter at a time, Frankie exposes the ruins of herself and her fellow passengers: things that chase them, that died too soon, that never lived. With lush prose and brutal empathy, Frankie tells Ruth—and herself—the story of liminality experienced by a woman standing just outside of motherhood, fulfillment, and love.”
From Graywolf Press: “In an ingenious structural approach, Jakob Guanzon organizes Abundance by the amount of cash in Henry’s pocket. A new chapter starts with each debit and credit, and the novel expands and contracts, revealing the extent to which the quality of our attention is altered by the abundance—or lack thereof—that surrounds us. Set in an America of big-box stores and fast food, this incandescent debut novel trawls the fluorescent aisles of Walmart and the booths of Red Lobster to reveal the inequities and anxieties around work, debt, addiction, incarceration, and health care in America today.”
From Graywolf Press: “A resplendent life in sonnets from the author of Four-Legged Girl, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. ‘The sonnet, like poverty, teaches you what you can do / without,’ Diane Seuss writes in this brilliant, candid work, her most personal collection to date. These poems tell the story of a life at risk of spilling over the edge of the page, from Seuss’s working-class childhood in rural Michigan to the dangerous allures of New York City and back again. With sheer virtuosity, Seuss moves nimbly across thought and time, poetry and punk, AIDS and addiction, Christ and motherhood, showing us what we can do, what we can do without, and what we offer to one another when we have nothing left to spare. Like a series of cels on a filmstrip, frank: sonnets captures the magnitude of a life lived honestly, a restless search for some kind of ‘beauty or relief.’ Seuss is at the height of her powers, devastatingly astute, austere, and—in a word—frank.”
From Nightboat Books: “A vibrant work of lyric, conceptual, and confessional poetic modes pitched to enact a queer politics of liberation[,] Active Reception is a book of bottoming lovers, the world around us, and a history of letters, that thinks through a queer mode of writing from the bottom, a kind of coalition based politics of receptivity and expansion that is open to the world around us, its myriad life forms, its systemic oppressions, its hidden ghosts.”
From New Directions: “The Gentle Barbarian is Bohumil Hrabal’s homage to Vladimír Boudník, one of the greatest Czech artists of the 1950s and 1960s, whose life came to a tragic end shortly after the Soviet invasion of 1968. Boudník and Hrabal had a close and often contentious friendship. For a brief period, in the early 1950s, they worked together in the Kladno steel works and lived in the same building in Prague. Written in the early seventies, Hrabal’s anecdotal portrait of Boudník includes another controversial member of that early group of the Czech avantgarde: the poet Egon Bondy. While Hrabal and Bondy were evolving their aesthetic of ‘total realism,’ Boudník developed his own artistic approach, ‘Explosionalism,’ in which the boundaries between life and art become blurred, and everyday events take on the appearance and the substance of art. Hrabal’s portrait of Boudník captures the strange atmosphere of a time in which the traditional values and structures of everyday life in Czechoslovakia were being radically dismantled by the Communists. But as The Gentle Barbarian demonstrates, creative spirits are able to reject, ignore, or burrow beneath the superficial ‘revolutionary’ atmosphere of the time and find humor, inspiration, and a kind of salvation amid its general intellectual and creative poverty.”
From New Directions: “Benjamin, on the verge of becoming a father, discovers a tragic family secret involving patrimony and determines to get to the root of. Those most immediately involved are all dead, but their three closest confidantes are still alive—Isabel, his grandmother; Haroldo, his grandfather’s friend; and Raul, his father’s friend—and each will tell him a different version of the facts. By collecting these shards of memories, which offer personal glimpses into issues of class and politics in Brazil, Benjamin will piece together the painful puzzle of his family history. Like a Faulkner novel, Beatriz Bracher’s brilliant Antonio shows the expansiveness of past events and the complexity of untangling long-buried secrets.”
From Open Letter Books: “A few years ago, Andri Snaer Magnason, one of Iceland’s most beloved writers and public intellectuals, was asked by a leading climate scientist why he wasn’t writing about the greatest crisis mankind has faced. Magnason demurred: he wasn’t a specialist, he said; it wasn’t his field. But the scientist persisted: ‘If you cannot understand our scientific findings and present them in an emotional, psychological, poetic or mythological context,’ he told him, ‘then no one will really understand the issue, and the world will end.’ Based on interviews and advice from leading glacial, ocean, climate, and geographical scientists, and interwoven with personal, historical, and mythological stories, Magnason’s response is a rich and compelling work of narrative nonfiction that illustrates the reality of climate change—and offers hope in the face of an uncertain future. Moving from reflections on how one writes an obituary for an iceberg to exhortation for a heightened understanding of human time and our obligations to one another, throughout history and across the globe, On Time and Water is both deeply personal and globally-minded: a travel story, a world history, and a desperate plea to live in harmony with future generations. Already a massive bestseller in Iceland, and selling in two dozen territories around the world, this is a book unlike anything that has yet been published on the current climate emergency.”
From Pluto Books: “Artificial Intelligence is a seemingly neutral technology, but it is increasingly used to manage workforces and make decisions to hire and fire employees. Its proliferation in the workplace gives the impression of a fairer, more efficient system of management. A machine can’t discriminate, after all. Augmented Exploitation explores the reality of the impact of AI on workers’ lives. While the consensus is that AI is a completely new way of managing a workplace, the authors show that, on the contrary, AI is used as most technologies are used under capitalism: as a smokescreen that hides the deep exploitation of workers. Going beyond platform work and the gig economy, the authors explore emerging forms of algorithmic governance and AI-augmented apps that have been developed to utilise innovative ways to collect data about workers and consumers, as well as to keep wages and worker representation under control. They also show that workers are not taking this lying down, providing case studies of new and exciting form of resistance that are springing up across the globe.”
From Semiotexte: “We are living in apocalyptic times. In Capital Hates Everyone, famed sociologist Maurice Lazzarato points to a stark choice emerging from the magma of today’s world events: fascism or revolution. Fascism now drives the course of democracies as they grow less and less liberal and increasingly subject to the law of capital. Since the 1970s, Lazzarato writes, capital has entered a logic of war. It has become, by the power conferred on it by financialization, a political force intent on destruction. Lazzarato urges us to reject the illusory consolations a technology-abetted ‘new’ kind of capitalism and choose revolution over fascism. This offensive was made possible by the cycle of revolutions coming to an end. But while it was unfolding, critical thinking announced the suppression of social relations and the advent of a new capitalism, a milder one, more attentive to the comfort of workers. Today, the prophets of technology even boast of a solution to the climate crisis or an exit from capitalism by the very means of capital. In the face of these illusory consolations and the growing threat of fascism, Lazzarato argues it is urgent that we rediscover the meaning of strategic confrontations and the means of rebuilding a revolutionary war machine. Since capital hates everyone, everyone must hate capital.”
From Spuyten Duyvil: “Ire Land (A Faery Tale) tells the magical story of Sandra Dorn, a woman who’s seemingly vanished. Smart, fervent, funny, Sandra is an exposed nerve, like Beckett’s Molloy or Malone, but in an old woman’s body. Recounting one disastrous event after another, Sarah’s finally forced to face a past that has come back to hunt her down. She might even be turning into a hare. Ire Land unfolds as a compilation of correspondence between Sandra, a wannabe artist turned professor of Women and Gender Studies, and ‘Madmaeve,’ a young member of Feministas UK (FUK) from Northern Ireland. Their correspondence has been retrieved, edited, annotated, and illustrated by Malachi McLaughlin, who’s a Queer Studies professor or a member of a secret paramilitary organization or a faery or all of the above. Lyrically engaging sex, gender, identity, and the ‘self,’ Ire Land evocatively depicts an aging female body, witheringly exposes the constraints, both cultural and linguistic, against which that body and mind rage.”
From Sublunary Editions: “The literary world owes a great debt of gratitude to the executors who, charged with burning the remaining papers of their authorial charges, refuse, instead publishing them for the fanatic and meddlesome among us. Collected here are the remaining unpublished works—diaries and drafts, aphorisms and ephemera—of the late Thomas Pilaster, compiled by Marc-Antoine Marson, a longtime friend and fellow writer with whom Pilaster maintained a healthy rivalry. With rough edges and glints of genius present in equal measure, scholars and lay-readers alike will treasure these curious texts—So Many Seahorses, The Vander Sons Company, and Three Attempts at the Reintroduction of the Man-Eating Tiger Into Our Countryside, to name a few—for generations to come.”
From Tin House: “In the wake of his father’s death, the speaker in Raymond Antrobus’s The Perseverance travels to Gaudí’s cathedral in Barcelona. Ruminating on the idea of silence and sound, he wonders whether acoustics really can bring us closer to God. ‘Even though,’ he says, ‘I have not heard / the golden decibel of angels, / I have been living in a noiseless / palace where the doorbell is pulsating / light and I am able to answer.’ So begins a stunning examination of a D/deaf experience alongside meditations on loss, grief, education, and language, both spoken and signed. With a global scope and a deep intimacy, Antrobus draws on family and historical figures to create a chorus of voices: on the page, in our mouths, in our hands and ears. The Perseverance is a book about communication and connection, about cultural inheritance, about identity in a hearing world that takes everything for granted, about the dangers we may find—both individually and as a society—if we fail to understand each other.”
From Turtle Point Press: Glenn Mott’s Eclogues recast a classic pastoral form, making it uniquely suited to our times. He considers the inheritance of authority with a mixture of candor and humor in observations on social, natural, and metaphysical transactions. Inspired by China’s Manual of the Mustard Seed Garden, these epigrams, poems, and prose meditations achieve a heightened perception, transcending the garden variety truths of both East and West.
Urayoán Noel’s Transversal
From University of Arizona Press: “Transversal takes a disruptive approach to poetic translation, opening up alternative ways of reading as poems get translated or transcreated into entirely new pieces. In this collection, Urayoán Noel masterfully examines his native Puerto Rico and the broader Caribbean as sites of transversal poetics and politics. Featuring Noel’s bilingual playfulness, intellect, and irreverent political imagination, Transversal contains personal reflections on love, desire, and loss filtered through a queer approach to form, expanding upon Noel’s experiments with self-translation in his celebrated collection Buzzing Hemisphere/Rumor Hemisférico. This collection explores walking poems improvised on a smartphone, as well as remixed classical and experimental forms. Poems are presented in interlocking bilingual versions that complicate the relationship between translation and original, and between English and Spanish as languages of empire and popular struggle. The book creatively examines translation and its simultaneous urgency and impossibility in a time of global crisis. Transversal seeks to disrupt standard English and Spanish, and it celebrates the nonequivalence between languages. Inspired by Caribbean poet and philosopher Édouard Glissant, the collection celebrates Caribbean practices of creolization as maximalist, people-centered, affect-loaded responses to the top-down violence of austerity politics. This groundbreaking, modular approach to poetic translation opens up alternative ways of reading in any language.”
From Verso Books: “An exhilarating challenge to the way we think about work, technology, progress, and what we want from the future. In the nineteenth century, English textile workers responded to the introduction of new technologies on the factory floor by smashing them to bits. For years the Luddites roamed the English countryside, practicing drills and manoeuvres that they would later deploy on unsuspecting machines. The movement has been derided by scholars as a backwards-looking and ultimately ineffectual effort to stem the march of history; for Gavin Mueller, the movement gets at the heart of the antagonistic relationship between all workers, including us today, and the so-called progressive gains secured by new technologies. The luddites weren’t primitive and they are still a force, however unconsciously, in the workplaces of the twenty-first century world. Breaking Things at Work is an innovative rethinking of labour and machines, leaping from textile mills to algorithms, from existentially threatened knife cutters of rural Germany to surveillance-evading truckers driving across the continental United States. Mueller argues that the future stability and empowerment of working-class movements will depend on subverting these technologies and preventing their spread wherever possible. The task is intimidating, but the seeds of this resistance are already present in the neo-Luddite efforts of hackers, pirates, and dark web users who are challenging surveillance and control, often through older systems of communication technology.
From Zone Books: “In thirteen interlocking chapters, Absentees explores the role of the missing in human communities, asking an urgent question: How does a person become a nonperson, whether by disappearance, disenfranchisement, or civil, social, or biological death? Only somebody can become a ‘nobody,’ but, as Daniel Heller-Roazen shows, the ways of being a nonperson are as diverse and complex as they are mysterious and unpredictable. Heller-Roazen treats the variously missing persons of the subtitle in three parts: Vanishings, Lessenings, and Survivals. In each section and with multiple transhistorical and transcultural examples, he challenges the categories that define nonpersons in philosophy, ethics, law, and anthropology. Exclusion, infamy, and stigma; mortuary beliefs and customs; children’s games and state censuses; ghosts and ‘dead souls’ illustrate the lives of those lacking or denied full personhood. In the archives of fiction, Heller-Roazen uncovers figurations of the missing — from Helen of Argos in Troy or Egypt to Hawthorne’s Wakefield, Swift’s Captain Gulliver, Kafka’s undead hunter Gracchus, and Chamisso’s long-lived shadowless Peter Schlemihl. Readers of The Enemy of All and No One’s Ways will find a continuation of those books’ intense intellectual adventures, with unexpected questions and arguments arising every step of the way. In a unique voice, Heller-Roazen’s thought and writing capture the intricacies of the all-too-human absent and absented.”
John Madera is the author of Nervosities (Anti-Oedipus Press, 2024). His other fiction is published in Conjunctions, Salt Hill, The &Now Awards 2: The Best Innovative Writing, and many other journals. His nonfiction is published in American Book Review, Bookforum, The Review of Contemporary Fiction, Rain Taxi: Review of Books, The Believer, The Brooklyn Rail, and many other venues. Recipient of an M.F.A. in Literary Arts from Brown University, New York State Council on the Arts awardee John Madera lives in New York City, Rhizomatic and manages and edits Big Other.