Category Archives: Books + Literature

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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For Sylvia Plath’s Birthday, Looking Back at Women’s Reproductive Agency in Three Women

Sylvia Plath Three Women

Via British Library. University of Essex Theatre Arts Society: © University of Essex Theatre Arts Society, Richard Demarco Gallery: © Richard Demarco Archive.

Today—October 27th, 2016—would have been Sylvia Plath’s 84th birthday. Plath’s work is remembered for being many things, but one important aspect of her poetry that often doesn’t get enough attention is its complex depiction of motherhood and women’s reproduction. Looking back at Plath’s 1962 play in verse, Three Women: A Poem for Three Voices, it’s striking how well this piece speaks to our current political climate around reproductive rights—to Trump’s ridiculous claims about late-term abortion, his promise to appoint anti-choice justices to the Supreme Court who would “automatically” overturn Roe v. Wade, and to the widescale Republican war on women’s reproductive rights. It’s incredible, and terrifying that we’re still having this conversation. Right-wing anti-choicers could learn a lot from Plath’s play, which takes place in a maternity ward, and depicts—through three series of monologues—three distinct women’s very different experiences with pregnancy. The first is a married woman who’s excitedly welcoming her new baby; the second is a secretary who experiences a miscarriage, and the third is a student who places her child up for adoption. Plath’s play can be read as a meditation on the complexity of women’s feelings about pregnancy, why reproductive options are right and necessary, and why men, the government, and other structures of power really have no right to have any say about it.

Each of the play’s monologues hold equal weight within the piece, and the title, “Three Women,” conveys an equalizing recognition of all three perspectives on motherhood as valid, natural female experiences. Two of Plath’s women speakers have deep feelings of love for their unborn children—Woman 1 excitedly anticipates her son’s arrival (“I cannot help smiling at what it is I know./ Leaves and petals attend me. I am ready.”) and Woman 2 feels shattered by the loss of her pregnancy (“I am dying as I sit. I lose a dimension.”). Woman 3, on the other hand, expresses feeling trapped by her unwanted pregnancy:

“I wasn’t ready. The white clouds rearing
Aside were dragging me in four directions.
I wasn’t ready.
I had no reverence.
I thought I could deny the consequence–
But it was too late for that. It was too late, and the face
Went on shaping itself with love, as if I was ready.”

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To Cut / To Snap :: An Interview with Kelly Luce

kelly-luce

If you weren’t already tuned into Kelly Luce after her debut story collection Three Scenarios in Which Hana Sasaki Grows a Tail hit shelves in 2013, now’s the time to change things. Kelly Luce’s first novel Pull Me Under, coming out November 1, is primed to astound. Following the life of Chizuru, a woman who’s left Japan after she ages out of the juvenile detention system (it’s no spoiler to say this here: Chizuru , in a fit of rage, fatally stabbed her classmate at the age of 12), Pull Me Under uncovers a story of redemption, truth, and how the past continues to touch the present. Read on to hear some questions from this brilliant young voice:

 

Kati Heng: Can you tell me about the time you spent in Japan? What did you do there, and in what ways did it influence the novel?

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FROM THE STACKS: The Last Woman Alive – Marlen Haushofer’s The Wall

From the Stacks is a series on Weird Sister wherein we pull a book—old, new, or anything in between—from our bookshelves, and write something about it.

*Marlen Haushofer’s The Wall

I first encountered Marlen Haushofer’s The Wall (originally published in German as Die Wand) searching for audiobooks to listen to at a Sisyphean temp job, in the second level basement “B2” of the downtown library. I put books on carts and scanned them, I boxed them and stacked the boxes five high. I did this every day for eight hours. I can’t recommend the audiobook version of The Wall because it’s mostly whispered, a reading that does disservice to the confidence of its narrative. There is no word in the text that wavers. It is a near perfect book, a quiet meditation on the end of the world, a thriller that could put you to sleep. Written in 1963, The Wall still feels prescient. It knows the end is near, and also not.

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Marlen Haushofer, 1935

The Wall is a dystopic Walden, written with total control and impassive cool. The style reminds me most of Elena Ferrante, but the “weird family” of The Wall comprises only one woman, one cow, one dog, one cat and her kittens. The title refers to an invisible wall that shows up one evening and separates the narrator from the rest of the world, who appear to be dead anyway. The Wall nearly ignores the most fundamental rule of writing human beings, namely, that there has to be two of them. Emphasis on nearly; it’s hard not to talk about the genius of this book without spoiling the ending, which is swift, elegant, and gemlike in its precision. It happens in a gasp. Continue reading

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Our Baby-Sitters Club, Our Selves: I Wanted to Be a Claudia but I Know I’m a Stacey

Baby-sitters Club 30th anniversary Claudia Stacey

I always wanted to be a Claudia, but I know deep-down that I’m a Stacey.

Let me explain. I think of Claudia Kishi and Stacey McGill—two characters from Ann M Martin’s The Baby-sitters Club book series, for those of you living sad, BSC-free lives—as two sides of the same very beautiful, exquisitely complex coin. Claudia and Stacey are BFFs, of course. They met in seventh grade when they literally ran into each other in the hallway. As Stacey put it, “We realized we were dressed alike — in very trendy clothes — and somehow we hit it off.” Stacey and Claudia are by far the most fashionable members of the Baby-sitters Club. But Claudia is a “wild dresser” while Stacey is “sophisticated.” Claudia is a spangle of braided belts and homemade earrings, while Stacey is Benetton and black ballet flats. Claudia hides candy all over her room—there are literally chocolate bars and Lifesavers spilling out of her pillowcases—while Stacey is diabetic and daydreams about rivers of chocolate that she cannot drink from.

Looking back at the Baby-sitter’s Club series, which turned 30 this past summer, I started thinking about how Stacey and Claudia each approach art, style, creativity, and, yes, sugar—and what they’ve come to represent for me along the way. I think of Claudia as joy and creativity topped with even more creativity; Stacey is joy and creativity restrained. Religiously reading the BSC books when I was younger, I related most to Stacey’s struggles, but I aspired most to be like Claudia. I think that combination of inspiration and identification was what made the series so important for so many of us. Each book helped us to navigate our struggles and goals while figuring out our places in the world—and, of course, what we wanted to wear along the way. Continue reading

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White Space, Banana Ketchup & Karaoke: A Review of Kimberly Alidio’s After projects the resound

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I was introduced to Kimberly Alidio at Effie Street in Silverlake, Los Angeles, at a quaint reading in the backyard of a professor’s house. I was intrigued by the book Alidio held in her hands—a sky blue volume with a longhaired figure on all fours, seemingly ingesting or expelling pink and orange confetti. Soon I was even more jarred and enthralled by the pieces she read aloud, poems speaking, stuttering, and singing about empire, migration, diaspora, and queerness—subjects I had become familiar with as a queer Filipina American and budding academic. After projects the resound (Black Radish) does not only interrogate these concepts, but transforms them, remakes them, and melds them through reverberating word play, experiments with sound, and even through the strategic use of white space. The final stanza in “All the Pinays are straight, all the queers are Pinoy, but some of us” demonstrates this:

                                                                      I will never not 

want to be violent with you (dare you to say 

this isn’t love, queen)

pray for

her resurrection every easter

  

“I’m just so bored and so pretty and not white” (66)

Although you may need to take a second to comprehend what is occurring, the sleek alliteration of the “w” and “n” sounds in the first two lines allows the poem to roll off your tongue, a slow, accentuated, but nevertheless pleasurable foray into the complexities and obscurities of Pinxy queerness. The enjambments, line breaks, and spaces in between help anchor and pace the reader, allowing us to appreciate the various intonations of sound. These rhetorical, sonic, and spatial devices showed me that I did not need the convenience of clarity to enjoy and appreciate Alidio’s work. Her delightfully playful and musical words and sounds, for me, emulate the witty banter between Pinxys as we process the intersections of Catholicism, queerness, and brownness together in conversation. Continue reading

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Identity is a Fickle Thing: An Interview with Marisa Silver

A child is born in an unknown country and two things are immediately noticed: The girl, named Pavla by her parents, is both beautiful and her growth is absolutely stunted. So begins Marisa Silver’s magical new novel, Little Nothing, which traces Pavla’s transformations from a young girl with dwarfism to a beautiful non-dwarf teenager, and finally, into a wolf. The story bursts with magic, with the longing to discover identity, and, perhaps unsurprisingly, a forbidden love between Pavla the wolf and the man who protects her. I spoke to author Silver about this new novel, so read on to reveal more of the magic:

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Kati Heng: Is there a metaphor hiding inside Pavla’s transformations from dwarf to beauty to wolf?

Marisa Silver: When I wrote the book, I avoided thinking about what it meant. I know that’s probably an odd thing to say, but if I decide in advance what a novel is supposed to be about, what its big themes are, then the resulting work will not find its way towards surprise. I just put my head down and write characters and try to make their actions and behaviors true for them during any given emotional moment or situation.

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FROM THE STACKS: The Honesty of Jean Rhys

From the Stacks is a new series on Weird Sister wherein we pull a book—old, new, or anything in between—from our bookshelves, and write something about it.

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The Collected Novels of Jean Rhys

The Collected Novels of Jean Rhys #feministshelfie

I recently had a conversation with a man about Bukowski. Had I read much Bukowski? I said I’ve avoided a lot of the bro-writers: Bukowski, Burroughs, Miller, Kerouac (though I’ve come to love Kerouac). He said, Yeah, those guys are great writers, but, you know, they’re not really great toward women.

It’s not surprising we have a whole genre of literature by men who disrespect, objectify, reduce, and silence women. A more interesting question is, who are the women—especially the early women writers—of whom we might say the same: they aren’t really great toward men, you know, but they’re still worth reading.

I posed this question to a brilliant poet friend, who responded that while male writers are often being sexist when they write about women, women are often being honest. So the comparison doesn’t really work, she said, laughing. She then made some contemporary suggestions: Dodie Bellamy. Kathy Acker. Rebecca Solnit.

But what about going further back into the archives?

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Between Memory and Forgetting: An Interview with Gabrielle Lucille Fuentes

Photograph by Brittainy Lauback

Photograph by Brittainy Lauback

I’m lucky to have known Gabrille Lucille Fuentes for several years now– we both live in Athens, GA and attend the same PhD program, and we co-curate a reading series together at our local indie bookstore. The first time I got to hear Gabrielle read her work aloud I was spellbound– not only was her prose riveting, but her ability to embody the work as she read it made for a thrilling listening experience. I knew she was a serious workhorse when it came to writing– working on several novels at once, and more diligently than most writers I know– and brilliant to boot, so it would only be a matter of time before her work began to enter world as books. Fuentes’ first novel, The Sleeping World, is out tomorrow (9/13) from Simon & Schuster/Touchstone, and it is ferocious, a book hot with searching and loss, tension thrumming constantly at the periphery. Per the jacket copy:

“Casasrojas, Spain, 1977. Military rule is over. Bootleg punk music oozes out of illegal basement bars and fascists fight anarchists for political control. Students perform protest art in the city center, rioting against the old government, the undecided new order, against the university, against themselves. At the center is Mosca, an intelligent, disillusioned university student, whose younger brother is among ‘the disappeared,’ kidnapped by fascist police, missing for two years, and presumed dead. Spurred by the turmoil around them, Mosca and her friends carry their rebellion too far and a violent act sends them spiraling out of their provincial hometown. But the further they go, the more Mosca believes her brother is alive and the more she is willing to do anything to find him.”

You can feel this novel in your bones– when the characters are sore and tired, sweatily roaming through Spain and France, your body meets the book in feeling. I was excited to ask Fuentes some questions about her writing process, the seeds of the book, and much more.

Gabrielle Lucille Fuentes is a writer and teacher. Her first novel, The Sleeping World, will be published by Touchstone  (Simon & Schuster) in 2016.  She has received fellowships from Yaddo and Blue Mountain Arts Center and was a Bernard O’Keefe Scholar in Fiction at Bread Loaf. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in One Story, Slice, Pank, The Collagist, Tweed’s, NANO Fiction, Western Humanities Review, The YokeSpringGun, and elsewhere.

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Gina Abelkop: What and when were the first seeds of this novel planted? Where were you living? Did it begin with a plot, character, or an emotional impluse?

Gabrielle Lucille Fuentes: Song lyrics often start stories for me. I’ll become obsessed with a song—especially one with a scrap of narrative and want to enter into the world of the song through my writing. Or the song will provide entry into a world I’ve carried but didn’t yet have access to. The Sleeping World began as a short story I wrote while listening to The National’s song “Runaway.” I was living in Boulder, Colorado and had just started my MFA. Boulder is a surreal town—it’s surrounded by gorgeous mountains but the town itself like a play-land created by Patagonia and Disney. Very new, very expensive, very white. The initial story came quickly, transported by a few of the lyrics. I wanted to communicate a tension between forgetting and memory, and when I went back to the story, I found that I was writing my own, despite the distance between me and the narrative. My brother had recently passed away and writing was a way for me to grieve, to speak to the dead and carry him with me in the living world.

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