New Fiction is Psychic Occupation
Fiction—or more generally, longform narrative text—has long been the handyman of culture, serving whatever functions are most urgently needed at a historical moment. The Greek oral tradition, famously, functioned in part to preserve cultural histories and customs—hence the sprawling lists of names and figures, or lengthy descriptions of hospitality, in Homer. Arabic maqamas synthesized and preserved the collected wisdom of the medieval Iberian peninsula through proverbs and fables. Victorian novels provided an escapist entertainment for members of the aristocracy, while the Bible, Quran, and Mahābhārata operated as normative unifiers.
We no longer need literature to provide heavily plotted absorption: drug-like escapism, the loss of ego, more easily come from other mediums. Likewise, our encyclopedias, our etiquette guides, our microfiche handle our cultural history just fine. Television, film, non-fiction, and the Internet spent the 20th century eating away at literature’s territory, and once again the discipline transforms from generalist to specialist. The best literature of the modern day does what only literature can do—allow readers to inhabit other minds, other worldviews, other consciousnesses. Continue reading
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.
One-third of the finalists for the awards are small press books. Bravo, N.B.C.C.!
While I’d love to see Paul Beatty’s The Sellout win the fiction award, and Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me the criticism, tonight, I’m rooting for the small presses: the following books in their respective categories:
In March of this year, Alex Gallo-Brown sent me an email about a book of poems called The Language of Grief, with a link to a Kickstarter page and [in part] this message:
[I]mportant to the publication of my book is the development of a gift-giving community: the idea of giving around the corner, people’s artwork, their gifts, moving through the world to places they cannot yet conceive. Many of you are poets, writers, artists, whether you are published, whether you show your work or not. Many of you make things other than traditional artwork in your spare time — spoons, sweaters, etc. Others of you have access to knowledge that is unusual, that is valuable. I hope that you will pledge to give this secret knowledge, this artwork, this poem, to someone else. In return, I will provide the name and contact information of another person in the community in addition to a copy of my book. In the event that it costs you money to deliver your gift — to transport a painting, say — I would be happy to apply some of the money raised to offset that cost.
As an enthusiastic fan of Lewis Hyde’s The Gift, I wanted to know how and even if this would work, so I asked Alex a few questions about the book and about the gift-giving community. Continue reading