Most Anticipated Small Press Books of 2016!

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.

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Kellie Wells’s Fat Girl, Terrestrial

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Chronology commits you to a straight line, I said. This story’s ovoid.” But no, not ovoid either. Vertical. Kellie Wells’s Fat Girl, Terrestrial looks up rather than out. There’s that “terrestrial,” right there in the title, to remind of us the orientation the book intends us to have; the language comes from Wallace Stevens (as do several names, or else maybe that’s coincidence), but instead of pointing me to Stevens, it had the effect of making me feel alien to myself somehow. Continue reading

Noy Holland’s Swim for the Little One First

Noy Holland’s new collection of short fiction, Swim for the Little One First, came out in September. I would like to encourage you to buy it and read it. I read the first page, and, despite my enormous stack of books-in-progress, I felt compelled to read the rest, immediately. Maybe you will, too:

Rose called.

I said, “Hello, Rose.”

“You sound funny.”

I was lying on my back with my legs in the air trying to make a baby with my mister. I had his seed in there. My poor egg had slipped out to meet it.

“Can’t you come out here and help me?” Rose pleaded. She had bunions. She had busted her elbow stirring oatmeal.

I was busy. My mucous was of a quality. I had just the least clutch of eggs left out of the millions I got when I started.

“Get off,” my man said, “and I’ll do it again.”

“Is that Tonto I hear?”

Tonto snorted. “She’ll talk all day if you let her.”

But maybe you need more convincing. Continue reading

The North American Innovation Crash of 1993

The Ombudsman of the Washington Post has this to say about “innovation”: “I’m wondering, and readers are too, whether there’s just a bit too much innovation, too fast.” Aren’t we all always wondering that? Isn’t that what Facebook and Twitter feeds devolve into every month? There’s always something new that is the straw that broke the camel’s back. Andy Rooney made a pretty great living off just that sentiment for, I don’t know, thirty years? But not even Andy Rooney was against innovation for innovation’s sake (well, maybe sometimes — but only because there was a paycheck in it for him) and I don’t think that Pexton is, either.

What Pexton is arguing against isn’t exactly “too much innovation”: what he labels innovations are really just adjustments to form that the Post is making to reach the audience it once had without really even thinking about form. You got your news from a newspaper, and the Post was a newspaper. But now people get their news from all over, and so the Post is trying to get itself into many of those places. So, great. But he’s right, too — they don’t seem to have given much thought to what these new forms should do, only what they can do.

After the jump, what happens when you get wrapped up in the packaging, in the form. Continue reading

#AuthorFail 4: Jeffrey DeShell

It’s Monday morning. The yawning gulf of your workweek stretches before you like a festering baby mouth. How long until the cold monotony of this unmatched abyss becomes heated, for a short moment, by the weekly report known in your heart of hearts as #AuthorFail?

Ho! The time for failure, my cubicle-bound friend, is now.

In this edition, Jeffrey DeShell’s entire career stands as one long flatline. He ignores the initial call (you too, may participate) to write about one specific failure–and so expands into the existential depths of Sartrean gloom, Keirkegaardian trembling, and Kafkaesque comedy. Yes, such writers are a sad and surly lot…yet we love them all the same.

For me, the concepts of failure and success slide easily into one another.  When I publish a novel, when I hold it in my hand, touch the cover, turn the pages, I feel like the object is both a success (in that it’s finally an object, existing in the world) and, inevitably, simultaneously, a failure.  The feeling of failure is real, oppressive, discouraging.

The novel as object marks, to me, a failure of possibilities.  The book is the (grave) marker of infinite options narrowed and drained into a shadow.  A shadow of what it could have been, yes, as all the choices taken, restricted and created by language in the translation from the perfect and luminous image/story in my mind to the (oft) mistaken and imprecise sentences now fixed on the page certainly marks a type of failure.  I once possessed something ineffable and beautiful, something I could only approach by writing.  But by writing, I destroyed that perfect image/story.  And so writing becomes the impossibility of communication; an impossibility that ruins the original image/story.  If writing communicates, it communicates only that impossibility. Continue reading

An Interview with Yuriy Tarnawsky, Part 2

Yuriy in La Sainte Chapelle, Paris, c. 1968.

Part 1

Let’s back up a bit. When did you move to the US?

I came to this country in 1952, having left Germany at age 17. My 18th birthday I celebrated on the boat a week before landing in New York. I had just graduated from High School. This was in February, and in the fall I enrolled at Newark College of Engineering (now New Jersey Institute of Technology) in the BS program in the department of Electrical Engineering. I didn’t feel I had any other choice. Having spent my formative years in post-WWII Germany, I saw of how little use was liberal arts education during times of crisis so, like most of my Ukrainian friends, I decided to study engineering. Being “technical” was the answer. This kind of thinking permeated the whole Ukrainian immigrant community. New Jersey had a lot of recent Ukrainian immigrants at that time; I believe that about 10% of the students at the college were Ukrainian. (Both my brother and stepbrother later followed in my footsteps.)

I had no particular interest in engineering as such (I hated to tinker around with things and never put together a radio as some of my friends did), but loved math, so I chose Electrical Engineering, which was the most theoretical of the engineering disciplines. I took lots of math and physics, and actually enjoyed the technical subjects more than the less technical ones, such as economics, “principles of engineering,” and even English. I preferred dealing with clear-cut issues. But there was another reason I went in for engineering. While in High School, I avidly read Dostoyevsky, and one of my favorite characters of his was the nihilist Kirilov from The Possessed, which I mentioned earlier. He, as you may recall, was an engineer. I fancied myself similar to Kirilov in many ways and like him wanted to be an engineer.

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An Interview with Yuriy Tarnawsky, Part 1

I first encountered Yuriy Tarnawsky‘s writing in 1998, when I stumbled across a copy of Three Blondes and Death (FC2, 1993) in a Philadelphia bookstore. (A college professor, having noticed my interest in less-than-realist fiction, encouraged me to be on the lookout for any books published by FC2 or Dalkey Archive Press.)

Three Blondes was unlike any other book I’d ever seen: it consisted of hundreds of short chapters, each one a solid block of prose, describing in meticulous detail the simultaneously outlandish and banal lives of the protagonist, Hwbrgdtse, and three blonde women—Alphabette, Bethlehem, and Chemnitz—that he grows, in turn, infatuated with. The chapters are not always presented in chronological order, and more than half of them relate the characters’ dreams. It very quickly became one of my favorite contemporary novels. (When I moved to Thailand in 2003, it was one of the few books that I brought with me.)

Later, in the summer of 2004, I met Yuriy in New York, at Ron Sukenick’s memorial service; we began talking, and soon became friends. I’m pleased now to be able to post here, in multiple parts, a lengthy interview I’ve conducted with him. I’ll also be posting and linking to excerpts from Yuriy’s writing; my hope is that this will encourage more people to seek out his unique and deliriously fascinating work. Continue reading