Few exceptions aside, the most compelling, challenging, absorbing literary art is being produced by small presses and their respective writers. I asked a number of writers, editors, and publishers to send me a list of small press books to look out for in 2016. Below you’ll find my own list, which is informed by Kate Angus, John Cayley, Lauren Cerand, Samuel R. Delany, Rikki Ducornet, Andrew Ervin, Lily Hoang, Sean Lovelace, Scott McClanahan, Hubert O’Hearn, Jane Unrue, and Curtis White.
Below you’ll also find lists from Jeff Bursey, Tobias Carroll, Gabino Iglesias, Janice Lee, Dawn Raffel, Nick Francis Potter, John Reed, Adam Robinson, Michael Seidlinger, Terese Svoboda, Jason Teal, Angela Woodward, and Jacob Wren. All the abovementioned people are small press heroes and great writers in their own right. My thanks to all of them.
Is there a David Bowie of literature?—such an asinine question, as dumb as asking, “Is there a Virginia Woolf of music?”—arguing against it arguably as asinine as answering it at all, even on its own terms, which is to say, which “David Bowie”? which “literature”?; not to mention the problem of even locating a “there” with any kind of certainty, and of establishing what and/or where or whatever “Is” in this case is.
Rust Belt Bindery is “a book bindery that’s committed to producing and distributing new work as well as repairing and rebinding existing objects. Working collaboratively with artists and writers, Rust Belt puts out limited edition works of fiction and artist books.” I found out about Rust Belt Bindery when their literary editor, Blake Kimzey, sent me a copy of Ashley Farmer’s “Farm Town,” a beautiful chapbook of poems replete with hand-colored illustrations from Meredith Lynn. Here’s one of Farmer’s poems, “Gone to Waste”:
Adventure comic. Artist David B.’s Incidents in the Night unveils a conspiracy that involves the Napoleonic Wars, an ancient god of nothingness, and the enigmatic founder of an anthology that shares the book’s name. Our lead and narrator, meanwhile, shares his name with David B. The in-text David learns of the conspiracy as we do, and a narrative through-line like this—the pursuit of answers—is probably pretty essential to the project’s not going off the rails. David B.’s ambition seems to grow geometrically as the book advances, but Incidents is fundamentally an adventure story, and its strengths and weaknesses wrap around that structure like the snakes of the caduceus.
Bookstore elegy. It reads like one now, anyway. Incidents in the Night was first published twenty years ago in France. In the intervening years, bookstores have diminished in number, in their share of the bookselling market . . . These are things you already know. Our protagonist’s journey begins in a bookstore, and he visits other shops while collecting volumes of the Incidents anthology. Although David B. (the creator) drafted his story at a time when bookstores enjoyed relative security, he imbues these places with a sense of mystery, endless potential—a gesture that grows more poignant with time. Continue reading
Here’s the introduction I delivered before David Peak’s reading at Brown University’s Literary Arts Department’s Demitasse on April 18, 2013:
The first fiction I read from David Peak’s work was his chapbook Museum of Fucked, the curator-narrator of which has a thing for b-grade horror films, the narrator offering aching portraits of disturbed, hurting, and despairing people living in rundown Chicago neighborhoods, ne’er-do-wells, like crack addicts, homeless people, a blind man begging for change, a landlord who starves cats and dogs for pleasure, a woman with “burned out nostrils” with “rotten” teeth who claims her mother was Marilyn Monroe, and a desperate man swinging a baseball bat holding kids captive. Roaming Chicago’s “gray gentrified industrial neighborhoods,” its “people-packed, colorful shopping districts,” “hip neighborhoods filled with three-flats,” and the “dirty parts…with their broken glass and families,” these grotesques could easily be confused for the zombies of Dawn of the Dead and Night of the Living Dead (titles of two of Museum’s stories). The view of life here is encapsulated in the following lines from this brutal fiction: “God we’re all fucked, he says to someone on the other end of the line.”
I was recently asked to play a game of “Truth or Truth,” an asinine variant of an already asinine game, “Truth or Dare,” the game a transparent but ultimately futile attempt at sublimation: a redirection from the charged quality of being a stranger in a sleepy town: an escape from the anguish of having been uprooted, that uprooting being self-imposed doing nothing to assuage that feeling. After I said I was “game” (yes, I was willing to play, but I also meant less-than-half-jokingly that I was also permanently injured), I was asked: “What subjects are taboo in your writing?” Perhaps too quickly, I answered, “None.” And so the game moved on to someone else. I say, “too quickly” because after having just finished rereading (for what, the third time?) Christine Schutt’s Nightwork, preparing to teach it tomorrow, I can’t help thinking that Schutt’s writing demonstrates what I can only hope is evident in my writing, that is, a willingness to engage, to represent what is socially or culturally prohibited; to accept, that is, come to some kind of intelligent terms with the unacceptable; to sully the so-called sacred; to allow, in some way, what’s forbidden; to trespass whatever number of boundaries.