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.
Pick up a copy at Sententia Books!
In this multifaceted collection of dreamscape stories and arabesque concrete poetry, Keith Nathan Brown invokes a wide range of literary and non-literary forms—from poetry to scientific report, from short story to mathematical proof—as a way to explore the gray area between mind and body where selfhood finds its origin. These thirty three fictions, poems and hybrid texts are arranged in thematically-related sets and subsets to simulate a travel guide to “cross-conscious interstates.” Whether induced by illness or intoxication, or inspired by music or meditation, each psychoactive text offers itself as a node in a larger conversation about time, identity, meaning and the human bond. Philosophical in scope, psychological in depth, at turns witty and cerebral, at turns brooding and surreal, Embodied twists language—literally and figuratively—to open up portals of heightened reality and, more importantly, to activate a sense of discovery and awe in the face of everyday existence.
Sample work: “The Tongue” (elimae) | “The Makings of an Amateur Meteor” (Abjective) | “Clock Time” (PANK)
[A guest post from Matt Dube. Matt Dube is the fiction editor for the online journal H_NGM_N. He teaches creative writing and American lit at a small mid-MO university. His short story manuscript _Pay What You Owe Me_ is unpublished but unpublishable.]
Add it up: I’m not Lydia Davis (thirty-four stories in Break It Down) or Etgar Kertet (I counted thirty-five stories in his latest, Suddenly a Knock on the Door), but my manuscript is twenty-four self-consciously separate stories. There are themes that connect them, of course, but those same themes will probably connect everything I ever write. Twenty-four is just about double the usual recommended number for a book of stories coming out of an MFA program, isn’t it? And more importantly, who can think about twenty-four things at once? Didn’t someone say you’re a genius if you can mange two? I got a handle on how to order them by cheating: I broke the book down into four sections of about thirty-five pages. Then, I put the four sections in order: the first stories introduce the book’s themes (being in debt to other people) and the methods (lightly surreal, often about family); the stories in this last section sound to me, at least, like the last word on the subject. Think Beckett, and that good kind of exhaustion. The sections between those poles? That’s where the stories go that try out different versions of the initial set-up, stories that make sense in relation to other stories, stories that show I’m a schematic thinker and an improviser, a tinkerer and a clown. Within the sections, I tried mostly to not do too much of the same thing: not too many first person stories in a row, not too many that and on an image, not too many in a row with plots that hinge on surprise. In a chapbook, I think I’d call that kind of limited range a strength, but in the collection, it became a liability. Continue reading
You know the difference between plain old “sci-fi” and “hard science fiction”? One’s boring.
Nah. I’m just joking. The distinction, according to Wikipedia, reflects the division in “hard” (read: natural) and “soft” (read: social) science, thus neatly reflecting the split between my own weaknesses/blindspots/most-hated-fields-of-study and my (thoroughly relative) strengths/interests. I never could swallow the idea that learning how to think involved so much memorization (which is only a trick our chemistry plays on us (or doesn’t), after all). There are apparati for remembering; once I had fallen for the book, the computer, the tape, those organs of recording, the natural sciences were lost to me (and yes, I realize that there is more to the natural sciences than memorization, but those first steps (high school Biology, Chemistry, etc.) are steep, and I am weak). The act of remembering is even potentially deleterious (those who do so too often “live in the past”; insomnia is, often, a result of remembering too much or too well; traumas (or really, anything, in excess) remembered (whether falsely or “truly”) haunt our present, produce erratic behavior (see: the Lifetime network)). I was/am engaged by the imagination, the dark side of the orbiting chunk of ourselves we call memory; memory served only to tell me which of my lies had worked and which had not. Facts were to be shed at the earliest possible moment following the assessment of the depth and success of my memorization of them. I was, in other words, a B student.
But this post isn’t about a B, it isn’t about my blindnesses and biases. (No, it probably is. They all are.) Continue reading
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
Writing the title of this post actually felt very silly; it seems such an arbitrary way of gathering a list of writers to look out for. What could be sillier than singling out writers in this way, according to their age? Surely, there are more worthy criteria. Well, there is an answer to what could be sillier than singling out over forty writers over forty to watch, namely, singling twenty writers under forty to watch, especially largely mainstream writers writing, for the most part, conventional and redundant fiction. And the New Yorker has done just that. But this isn’t surprising. Theirs is an idea once again institutionalizing, reinforcing our decayed culture’s obsession with youth, not to mention its eyes wide shut wallowing in mediocrity. So, not only have they missed, for the most part, who are the best fiction writers under forty to watch, but, with their unapologetic valorization of youth, they missed entirely. The following writers (and I include poets, essayists, and theorists among them) are writers who have consistently written great work. I anticipate great things from each of them in the years and years to come. With full awareness of how a corrective sometimes ironically and paradoxically legitimizes what it seeks to correct, here, in the order in which I thought of them, are over forty writers over forty whose work I will be busy watching.
Frank Miller’s Charlie Brown
I call them persona art. You enter an already established persona, and work from their viewpoint. I think the formula is PERSONA + WRITER = A THIRD THING. You aren’t trying to write of the celebrity/persona/entity, but rather through it.
I am recalling a Sontag quote about not writing to find the self, but to escape the self.
Sometimes maybe the persona visits the narrator, like in Dan Chaon’s smart text, “Raymond Carver.”
I am wondering if you have a favorite persona piece (For me, Michael Martone writing through Dan Quayle)? Martone uses persona to actually bend the wirings of truth/untruth. Or, as he says…
“I want to think of what I do as writing and let the speciation to others. Many artists draw, use watercolor, paint in oils, sculpt, construct, assemble, paste. They mix their media but it is all seen as art, and issues of its fact or fiction seem beside the point to me. Well at least beside the point when the thing is in the making. I am in the fabrication business and there are different gradients on that scale of fiction and non-, I suppose, but none I worry about as I am doing them. I have a fiction in the voice of Dan Quayle who is writing an essay; a book about Michael Martone written by Michael Martone in the voice and form of his, Michael Martone’s, biographer; I have an essay in the voice of Michael Martone on the fictional creation of a character named Bobby Knight. To me the differences are in the details at a microscopic scale, not at the much larger one of genre.”
(Full wicked interview here)
How did I head down this treacherous path?
Do you write persona? Why, or why not? Do so. Now.