Yuriy Tarnawsky’s Interview with Steve Tomasula

is now up at Rain Taxi. FYI.


The Big Other Interview #87: William Gillespie (Oh what a tangled webwork we weave!)

11/11/10 is not only Armistice Day/Veterans Day, but the day the world-as-we-know-it ends—one year before it happens—in William Gillespie’s stunning new novel Keyhole Factory.

The novel’s intersecting narrative structure draws from the “webwork” plot composition method of all-but forgotten mid-twentieth century writer Harry Stephen Keeler, and is perhaps the most fully realized postmodern version of the method.

A few of the novel’s 22 sections, or themes contained therein:

“The Bad Poet”—a fierce academic satire of overstuffed conferences keyed into the argument between earnestly literary poetry (good poetry) and a “mechanical approach to the art” (bad poetry).

“Morpheus Biblionaut”—a poet astronaut speeding to Alpha Centauri and back, also offered on the delightful CD-ROM companion);

A perhaps Monsanto-sponsored super-virus that liquefies like something out of Naked Lunch: the Pandora virus.

“Keep the Change”–a six-page narrative splits into an additional column on each succeeding page, tracing six initial victims of Pandora.

Crazed test monkeys escaping from their cages.

A convict who remembers the future and so becomes a test subject for the virus.

An inoculated population of scientists and government elites who spend the post-apocalypse inside a Blade Runner-like pyramid city.

A society of free farms operating on near-Luddite socialist models, terrorized by a distraught killer from the inoculated elite, exiled from the pyramid, who makes “art” through his elaborate staged murders of the commune dwellers.

In short, this is the most exciting book I’ve read since Steve Tomasula’s VAS: An Opera in Flatland.

So forget Franz Ferdinand, the Triple Entente and the Triple Alliance, and surrender—as Gillespie has, when we met in a sort-of-café the where sort-of-intellectuals might gather—to the trench warfare known as The Big Other Interview.

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Over Forty Writers Over Forty to Watch

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.

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On Lance Olsen–4 years later

I’ve been thinking a lot about Lance Olsen lately—not only because he tied up and duct taped my mouth during the AWP 2010 session on copyright a few weeks ago, and not only because we’ve become friends over the years, but also because he is A) so damn prolific, and B) so damn insightful in his fictions.  Read Head in Flames (Chiasmus 2009), which I recently discussed here, for the most recent example.

Some years ago (2006), I conducted the following conversation with Olsen for the now-defunct econoculture.com. Two notable developments since then:

1)    Olsen has returned to academia at the University of Utah.

2)    My editor for this piece at Econoculture, Matt Kirkpatrick, has too gone to academia after years in the private sector, and, in an odd happenstance, is now one of Olsen’s Ph.D. students (and a damn fine writer himself) at Utah. They did not know each other when this interview was published.

Rereading this, I’m struck by the way it’s a snapshot of a great writer at a particular moment.
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what you read what i read, part ii

because folks liked my last version of this, for your viewing pleasure, below are the books i read last week. it’s a pretty exciting list:

1. Patrik Ourednik’s Europeana: A Brief History of the Twentieth Century (Dalkey Archive, 2005): The twentieth century boiled down to painstakingly concise and shocking truths. No one is left unscathed or uncriticized in this book. Ourednik’s dry humor pairs well with sentences that are dense in their simplicity, that makes sense. For instance: “Psychiatrists said that in many people the First World War provoked traumas that had been previously hidden in the unconscious, and in the 1920s and 1930s the people started to be neurotic because they were not adapted to their inner or outer state, and in Europe in the 1960s, 25% of women and 15% of men were neurotic, and journalists called it the disease of the century. And in the 1970s the number of people suffering from depression also started to rise, and at the end of the century every fifth citizen of Europe was depress” (65). Every sentence in Europeana reads this way: biting, revealing, absurd, contradictory, a slap across an entire century’s big sweaty face.

2. Urs Allemann’s Babyfucker (Les Figues, 2010 but available now!): This is a book to talk about. This is a book you want to carry around with you, just so people can ask you what it’s about. Last week, as I was sitting at a cafe in South Bend, this slender volume lying on top of my usual stack of library books. It’s cover is a lovely yellow, it’s spine an unobtrusive pink. But the title! The title is what interests people most. So someone asks me: What’s that you’re reading? And I say: Babyfucker. Just like that. And that person responds: Hmm. There’s no follow-up question. I have to force their discomfort. I say: It’s a book about a man who fucks babies, or not. It’s this little Beckettian book, this man obsessed with the sentence, ‘I fuck babies,’ constantly repeating, ‘I fuck babies. That’s my sentence.’ Whether or not he actually fucks the babies is irrelevant to the reader, but to that person standing by your chair at the cafe, that’s the only question that matters. Here’s the thing, I haven’t even started touching the substance or the incredible writing in this book, but it’s all solid. This is an inadequate review of a truly stunning book, but I’ve only managed to do exactly what I’ve criticized that person at the cafe of doing: getting lost in the spectacle. Continue reading

&Now Conference: A Conference of Innovative Writing & the Literary Arts


I went to the &Now Conference held in Buffalo, New York, October 14-17, and enjoyed it on a number of levels. First of all, it was great to cross that cold digital divide and finally meet so many people that I’ve been corresponding and/or working with, and/or reading their work for a while, people like Matt Bell, Cara Benson, Blake Butler, Donald Breckinridge, Ryan Call, Mary Caponegro, Kim Chinquee, Rikki Ducornet, Tina May Hall, Lily Hoang, Joanna Howard, Matt Kirkpatrick, Josh Maday, Kendra Grant Malone, Lance Olsen, J.A. Tyler, Bill Walsh, and John Dermot Woods, as well as reconnecting with Brian Evenson and James Yeh. I also had a chance to meet Dimitri Anastasopoulos, Donald Breckenridge, Rikki Ducornet, Shelly Jackson, Steve Katz, Dave Kress, Christina Milletti, Pedro Ponce, Davis Schneiderman, and Steve Tomasula. Have I missed anyone?

And if it was only that, it would have been well worth it, but I also attended many dynamic, energetic, informed, inventive, and stimulating panels and readings. Below are some capsules of some of the events as well as recordings of some of them.

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