Category Archives: Books + Literature

I Can’t Rank My Loyalties: An Interview with Rowan Hisayo Buchanan

Rowan Hisayo Buchanan’s debut novel Harmless Like You is not a comfort read. At least, for me, a woman who has yet to be married or have a child, its themes revolve around a marriage at the point of potential break and a child abandoned by his mother. Reading the novel, I couldn’t help but fear “what if I do it all wrong, too? What if motherhood and marriage are jobs some people just aren’t meant for?” Luckily, I got to right to the source of the novel’s intense themes and ask Hisayo Buchanan about these questions and more:

Kati Heng: Harmless Like You touches on the hard questions many of us without kids are most scared to ask: What if I’m not meant to be a parent? What if I’m bad at it? The novel explores this idea; but, taken from your side and not the characters: Do you believe parenthood is a choice you make, or a role that naturally suits some and not others? Does it fall somewhere in the middle? Continue reading

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On the Road: 20 Years of Sister Spit

20 Years of Sister Spit

I’ve always understood the allure of the road. A chance to play at something else, something bigger, get swallowed up, get away.

My childhood was filled with curly lipped churchgoers who spoke in tongues, an aunt with curious hands, a stultifying fatphobia that ripped my tongue out of my mouth, and an unstable mother who liked meth houses.

I survived this through the pathological pursuit of achievement, a rabid dick-hunger that activated an ancient understanding of pussy as barter, and the most meticulously crafted isolation—a rococo house with no doorknobs. I built a road out of my past one trophy, one fuck, one stifled meltdown at a time. Roads—metaphorical and literal—are precious to me, representing motion, change, and the promise of a novelty that touches me and awakens my heart.

I’m about to hit the (literal) road with seven other writers and artists for the Sister Spit 20th Anniversary Tour. Started in 1997 by Michelle Tea and Sini Anderson, Sister Spit was a brazen response to the dude-saturated open mic scene of 1990s San Francisco. The tour is legendary for having started as an all-girl lineup traveling the country by road and bringing provocative observations about the strange world that had built itself around them—stories of sex and love and survival and the million ways a country can disappoint you. Continue reading

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Beauty Doesn’t Seem to Go Anywhere: An Interview with Catherine Lacey and Forsyth Harmon

There’s a sort of guilty pleasure that comes with reading a book illustrated on every page. Even more delicious is an illustrated book filled with exposed affairs, connected relationships, and literal-drawn-out lines of influence exposing our favorite artists from the decades gone by. When these elements come together in The Art of the Affair: An Illustrated History of Love, Sex, and Artistic Influence, the result is the most electric read with which to start the new year.

I had the chance to ask writer Catherine Lacey and illustrator (and Weird Sister contributor!) Forsyth Harmon more about their new book, their favorite tidbits of gossip, and more:

Kati Heng: I know you had to cut down and leave out sooo much to include so many of these relationships in your book. If you were to write and illustrate a single book about the intermingling affairs of one couple or group (since it seems like every didn’t just settle for one partner!), who would you focus on and why?

Catherine Lacey: Anaïs Nin was a big inspiration for the early research and looking back, she was also one of the most prolific characters in the book as far as friendships, affairs and alliances go. Her diaries and letters reveal a sort of fervency she had about the people in her life and she left troves of writing about her relationships.

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The Nuclear Family / The Nuclear Bomb: Revisiting Kate Zambreno’s O Fallen Angel in Trump America

O Fallen Angel Kate Zambreno

The first time I read Kate Zambreno’s O Fallen Angel was in 2012, not too long after it was first released on Chiasmus Press in 2010, and it felt like something I’d been starving for: the story of a girl raised by a housebound Mommy whose constant care is a form of creepy control, whose love is both dollifying and cannibalizing. The girl—Maggie—is stifled and self-seeking and, with limited tools with which to construct a self, self-destructs instead.

O Fallen Angel is Zambreno’s first book—she went on to garner a larger readership with her novel Green Girl and her critical book Heroines, both of which establish Zambreno as a formal innovator who is in constant conversation with dead critical theorists and Hollywood starlets, who returns from these conversations with new language with which to write the experience of the girl. Compared to Green Girl and Heroines, O Fallen Angel feels young, but in the best way—it’s desperate, searing, hurting, angry and unforgiving.

When I first read the novel five years ago, I loved it because I related so hard. Finally there was a mother in literature who wanted to “freeze [her children] when…they’re at the age before they start disagreeing with you,” who wanted to keep her self-harming girlkid out of therapy because psychologists “blame everything on the Mommy.” Maggie’s Mommy’s dollification is so extreme it even leads her to fantasize about Maggie’s death—in death, “finally Maggie will let Mommy dress her…and finally Maggie will be her girl yes her girl.” Finally there was a girl in literature who, raised by such a mother and just like me, was so unequipped to live her own life that she was fired from all her waitressing jobs, that she sought self-worth in the beds of brooding, bohemian boys, that she got rejected from in-patient psychiatric care because even her suicide plan wasn’t specific enough. And maybe it’s true that we see girls like Maggie in stories from Mary Gaitskll and her acolytes, but O Fallen Angel is the first book that I’ve read that is some degree of diagnostic, that shows the reader how the girl got that way.

And maybe—like the therapist of Mommy’s fantasies—Zambreno’s narrator blames the Mommy, but Mommy’s story, albeit judgmentally, gets told, too, and so O Fallen Angel gives us an intergenerational story of women teaching girls how to accept oppression, how to self-oppress, and why.

O Fallen Angel is told in the form of a triptych, narrated closely in turns to Mommy, Maggie, and the god Malachi. Mommy’s sentences are long and smushed together, free of the constraints of commas and periods, often including rhyming folk-wisdoms and bits of Bible verses that seem to be Mommy’s only external reference points with which to make sense of the world, but for Mommy they are enough. Maggie’s references expand to include fairy tales and Hollywood movies from the 50’s and 60’s, clearly inherited from Mommy, which have taught her to be prince-seeking; that the only way out of her Mommy’s American Dream is to latch her sense of self to a boy who looks like Marlon Brando and run to the other side of the proverbial tracks. Maggie’s also got what she’s learned from her brief stint as a psychology major. Maggie is drugging and slutting but she’s also reading desperately, reading in order to discover or assemble a self, but the thing is she’s too young and too sheltered; she hasn’t read enough to have left her hometown ideology behind for good, she hasn’t read enough enable her to know how to move around safely in Chicago, the city to which she’s relocated.

In 2012, maybe I hadn’t read enough, and I was reading desperately, self-seekingly, too, and I glossed over the cultural differences between Maggie’s family and my own, made the book into a book about me. But it’s 2017 now and I’ve gone through my Saturn return, and O Fallen Angel is being re-released on Harper Perennial in the very same month that Donald Trump has been inaugurated into the U.S. Presidency, and it feels like a different book. It’s no longer just a book for sad girls raised to be selfless dollies by controlling moms—it turns out to be a book about those 53% of white women voters so many of us were so shocked to learn about, and many others weren’t; a book about the constant and attentive labor those women do to uphold patriarchy and racism and corporate capitalism and anti-environmentalism as the True American Values, the constant and attentive labor they do in service of their own oppression. If the election had gone another way, the characters in this book might seem quaint, obscure, like a dying breed. Instead, the timing of O Fallen Angel’s re-release fuckedly transitions it from Sad Girl Cult Classic to Great American Novel in écriture féminine. In Mommy’s colliding sentences, we’re able to see how thoughtless associations and oft-repeated phrases and rhymes take the place of logic: Continue reading

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Dark Continent Dubfeed: On Vidhu Aggarwal’s The Trouble with Humpadori

Vidhu Aggarwal The Trouble with Humpadori

The smashing spectacle of Bollywood, the feminine grotesque of Gurlesque mashed with the colors and sounds of sci-fi and fantasy comics—all these obsessions assemble in Vidhu Aggarwal’s electric debut poetry collection, The Trouble with Humpadori (The Great Indian Poetry Collective Press, 2016). Aggarwal’s poetic range includes text art, sound, video and live performance.  Aggarwal, both an artist and Professor of Postcolonial/Transnational Studies, surely embodies a new kind of artist-scholar. In her book, Aggarwal creates the interstellar character Humapadori (“Hump” for short) who acts as a messenger for extraterrestrial beings, a medium sent down from the cosmos. Move over Ziggy Stardust. It’s time for Humpadori’s time to occupy the international stage.

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Love Doesn’t Save Anyone from Themselves: An Interview with Angeli Cabal

Angeli Cabal

I first encountered Angeli Cabal’s work as the co-editor-in-chief of {m}aganda Magazine. My staff and I were blown away by the pieces she submitted–poems critiquing colonialism, Western beauty standards, and the figure of the Filipino woman. I was stunned to see that in addition to being a poet, Cabal is also a visual artist and multi-genre writer who creates sleek, intricate, highly clever illustrations and incredibly heart-wrenching creative essays. In addition, Cabal has been a devoted fanfiction author since age 12 and has garnered an impressive online readership on Tumblr. In 2013, Cabal self-published her first chapbook, True Love and Other Myths, which sold out after the first printing. She went on to publish a second chapbook, The Anatomy of Closed Doors, joining the ranks of  poets and writers who use social media as their vehicle. Cabal’s work is raw, evocative, hands-on, and accessible. She joined me for a conversation where we discussed fanfiction, our immigrant parents, and which three fictional characters she would invite for a session of afternoon tea.

MV: I’m not sure if you’ve read this recent Buzzfeed article about women and fanfiction, but they argue that fanfiction is a central genre for women writers because it allows us to create narratives that are not available in everyday life. Why fanfiction? Why should we keep writing and reading fanfiction? What power does this form of creation give us?

AC: It’s been 14 years since I started writing fanfiction and I’ve never grown out of it. Fanfiction is so much more accessible for me because of world building. In fanfiction, you already have this world created for you so there’s less pressure and you can focus on the narratives you want to tell, particularly characters you want to transform and flesh out. When you have these characters presented to you and you see all the paths and avenues the author could have taken to make them more human, these are awesome opportunities to take. It is also such a supportive community, I can’t even read some of the stuff I wrote back then because it was so horrible but I get reviews that say, “Hey, this is really good, keep it up.” That was so important for me as a young writer because no one else knew I was writing fanfiction. It really encouraged me and is one of the reasons why I still write fanfiction today. Continue reading

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To All the Young Adult Novels I’ve Read Before: A Look at Jenny Han’s Lara Jean Song Covey Series

 

Jenny Han's series about the charming Lara Jean Song Covey

I was skeptical when I first picked up Jenny Han’s To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, the first volume about Lara Jean Song Covey, a Korean American girl living in the suburbs of Virginia with a single dad and two sisters. I don’t usually read young adult fiction, but when I saw that the novel was about a biracial girl, I decided to give it a go. It’s not everyday when Asian American girls are stars of YA novels, and as a scholar of Asian American Studies and literature, I knew I had to give the world of YA a shot.

Lara Jean is a dreamy-eyed baker, scrapbooker, middle child, and high school junior. Dreamy-eyed because instead of running around chasing boys, she writes a heartfelt letter to every boy she has ever loved and stows it away in her hatbox. She is a master at the art of scrapbooking, claiming: “A good scrapbook has texture. It’s thick and chunky and doesn’t close all the way.” She looks up to her older sister, Margot, and cares for her younger sister, Kitty, completely devoid of the middle child syndrome that plagued me during my teen years. She is kind, creative, intelligent, prone to accidents, and gets a little too lost in her head sometimes, but other than that, she is a charming, well-rounded character. Continue reading

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FROM THE STACKS: Black-Hearted Woman – David Foster Wallace’s The Broom of the System

unnamed-1I read my first piece by David Foster Wallace, a (relatively) short first-person essay about attending a tennis match, when I was a sophomore in college and began buying each and every one of his books at a rapid speed almost immediately. He quickly became my favorite author for the rest of my college years, and still shares the title of favorite author in my mind (the sharing is new, and I think, a good sign of an adult openness to trying new things).

Between his works, I can’t pick a favorite piece of writing. The dark mastery of The Pale King can’t be pitted against the bizzaro-rawness of his short story collection Girl with the Curious Hair. You can’t set aside the fact his (perhaps) magnum opus Infinite Jest annual gets readers to commit to an Infinite Summer, in which they read the 1,079 page masterpiece over the course of three months.

So no, I don’t have a favorite work by Wallace. But, The Broom of the System has become the one of the books most treasured on my shelves.

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WE WERE THERE: Readings and performances in response to Zoe Leonard’s I want a president

I want a president

“I want a president” on display at the High Line

Readings and performances in response to Zoe Leonard’s “I want a president,” featuring: Eileen Myles, Justin Vivian Bond, Sharon Hayes, Pamela Sneed, Wu Tsang, Fred Moten, Morgan Bassichis, Mel Elberg, Malik Gaines and Alexandro Segade, and Layli Long Solider

Sunday, November 6th, 2016

Chelsea Market Passage, on the High Line at West 16th Street, NY, NY

 

To make the private into something public is an action that has terrific repercussions on the reinvented world.
David Wojnarowicz

Spotted at Interference Archive

Spotted at Interference Archive

The night before I went to see readings and performances at the High Line in response to Zoe Leonard’s work I want a president, I found myself in front of a poster that said “Defeat Reagan in 1984.” I couldn’t believe how much it felt like I was staring into the present when I looked at it. It was probably the most simultaneously punk rock and haunting image I’ve seen this year.

I got to the High Line the next afternoon with a few minutes to spare. Then I remembered how long the High Line is (1.45 miles) and how I hadn’t looked up where this event actually was. As I walked along, annoyed at tourists who simply walked the pace I would walk if I was on vacation—I thought about the first time I ever went to the High Line. I was on what I thought was a date or didn’t think was a date until we were there. That’s the feeling the High Line gives me. By the time my maybe-date and I finished dinner and got up there it was sunset. It was beautiful. I thought we should kiss. And when we didn’t, I still thought it was beautiful, just disappointing. We never went out again. But that’s what I think of when I think of the High Line—somewhere that bourgie people go to kiss because of the view. I say this all to explain why it feels so completely radical to have Zoe Leonard’s I want a president installed there.

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Playing with the Written Word: A Review of ABRA: A Living Text

This past summer, scholar and artist Christina Corfield introduced me to Edward Bellamy’s prescient book, Looking Backward: 2000-1887 (Ticknor & Co.). In his book, which was published in 1888, Bellamy describes musical telephones, disposable paper clothing, and open publishing platforms for any citizen interested in writing (and the benefit of no censorship or requirement of approval from a country’s governing body). Bellamy may have successfully predicted Internet services such as Spotify, Amazon, and a vast number of publishing platforms such as WordPress or Tumblr.

While books and publishing have significantly changed since 1887, I’m certain Bellamy would spend a countless amount of hours marveling at the mobile technology we have today. Reading and writing are, literally, at our fingertips. Within seconds, anybody with a smartphone or tablet can publish a photo, moving image, or narrative of whatever they desire for the entire world to access.

The familiar streaks of natural oils from our fingertips on a pitch-black, shiny surface serve as a visual reminder of the human body’s connection to small high-powered devices. For some people, this tethering ushers in the age of singularity when we become intertwined with technology. Yet, with the massive amount of applications to produce digital books and publications, what happens to the senses over time? What happens to the feel and touch of books? What happens to how information is consumed, and how is text-based art created? Continue reading

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