The Asian-American Writers Workshop has published an anthology of essays (self-described as "a Forum") titled "After Yi-Fen Chou." In it, 19 Asian-American authors respond to the Best American Poetry 2015 controversy. Some of the pieces are hilarious. Many are furious at Michael Derrick Hudson for submitting work under the name Yi-Fen Chou. Others are furious at the book's editor, Sherman Alexie, for choosing to leave the poem in the anthology after he discovered that Hudson had appropriated another culture to submit his work. Others are mad at the whole goddamned system. And damn, the erasure by Minal Hajratwala is a real mic-drop moment. I haven't read a literary burn like that since Gore Vidal died. It's a fascinating collection of voices, and well worth your time. The AAWW has also created a White Pen Name Generator (the first one I pulled up was "Emily Bates") and, more substantially, they're encouraging the Twitter hashtag #actualasianpoet to encourage the discovery of, well, actual Asian-American poets.
Mark your calendars for Thursday, October 22nd — that's the date for Lit Crawl Seattle, the annual three-part literary pub crawl that happens all over downtown, Capitol Hill, and First Hill. Organizers at Lit Crawl just announced their full schedule and it's ridiculously packed with local talent. There are scores of readers — somewhere in the neighborhood of 80 — and dozens of readings to suit just about every literary taste.
A tiny handful of event titles include the self-explanatory "Native Writers from Seattle & Beyond;" "Quick & Dirty: A Reading by [awesome local publisher] Shotgun Wedding;" "Sin Is Always In: Writings About Sex, Drugs, & Violence;" and "Late Night at the Library: Spooky Stories in the Stacks." Organizations headlining events include Hedgebrook, the APRIL Festival, the James Franco Review, Poetry Northwest, Spartan, Tin House, Instant Future, and City Arts.
We'll be highlighting potential Lit Crawl routes for you in the weeks to come, but for right now, go soak in the glorious too-muchness that is the complete Lit Crawl schedule. You've got plenty of time to figure out what you'll be doing on the night of the 22nd.
JB Dickey happened to walk into the Seattle Mystery Bookshop on the day that they received their first order of books from late, lamented west coast distributor Pipeline in 1990. There were boxes everywhere. He made a deal with Seattle Mystery founder Bill Farley: “I traded him work for store credit” on that first day, Dickey says, and “a few weeks later, I ended up starting with him part-time so he could do other, non-bookselling things.” In those early days, Seattle Mystery Bookshop was one of hundreds of mystery-only bookstores in the US. Today, Dickey estimates that it's one of "about fifteen, maybe twenty."
Before he became a bookseller, Dickey was a painter — one of his originals hangs behind the register at the Bookshop today — and he never suspected that he’d one day wind up owning the store, even though “I’d been reading mysteries for most of my life, and I was on a heavy diet of mystery movies and TV shows, so I was familiar with all the conventions.”
Turns out, bookselling was in his blood. He concedes that “it was a nice fit.” First he worked one day a week, which quickly became a couple days a week. By the time his son was born in 1993, Dickey says, “it was really evident that it was time to close up my studio and just sort of give myself over” to the store. “I never set out to be a bookseller, and I never set out to be a small business owner.” But here he is.
It’s a Monday afternoon, and Dickey and Seattle Mystery bookseller Amber are on duty. Amber’s specialties include urban fantasy, golden age mysteries, Agatha Christie, and mysteries for kids. Dickey reads literary fiction, big-name authors like Lee Child, and true crime. On the staff, everybody knows everybody else’s beat, but their tastes evolve naturally. Dickey says, “I’ve never been one to assign reading. We all read whatever we want to read.”
Does Amber ever try to convince Dickey to give urban fantasy novels a try? “It’s just not his bag. If I had to recommend one, though, I think the author he’d like the most would be Jim Butcher. But you can’t force somebody to read something they’re not interested in reading,” she says.
So what do they do when someone comes in who says they don’t especially care for mysteries? Amber usually proposes a thought experiment: “think about what you watch on TV and think about the movies you like.” Most people don’t think of themselves as mystery fans, she says, but they'll spend hours a week watching mysteries. “Chances are we can find something for you.” Dickey adds, “sometimes people will say ‘I don’t really read mysteries,’ and then you ask them a few questions about their interests. Maybe they like to travel, so you can get them a mystery set in a foreign land. Some kids are interested in science or computers. There are mysteries that are set in every different kind of passion.”
With such a varied stock, do they ever fail to find a book for a customer? “We couldn’t find an accordion mystery,” Amber admits. Also, “we couldn’t find a mystery set in the French Revolution,” although a few days after that customer search happened, she said she realized that The Scarlet Pimpernel would have fit the bill. Dickey and Amber start sharing customer service stories. They recall the young man in his 20s who was despondent after the staff had to inform him that Sherlock Holmes wasn’t a real person. One woman asked if Jessica Fletcher (of Murder She Wrote fame) ever came in for a signing.
Amber and Dickey start talking about Sherlock Holmes, which turns into a conversation about James Bond. Soon, they’re discussing a wide range of subjects: whether the larger trade paperbacks that have largely elbowed out smaller, cheaper mass market paperbacks are “elitist;” ways the publishing industry could have better handled the transition to e-books; the importance of fan fiction. It’s a delight to listen to people talk about books with such passion and knowledge. When I say as much, Amber nods. “We love our books,” she says. “We love ‘em. You don’t get into books for the money. You have to love them.”
I was so excited to report the Man Booker Shortlist names (and the attendant Seattle connection) yesterday that I completely failed to follow the advice of Seattle author Nicola Griffith: I didn't count the number of women's voices on the list. Luckily, Griffith did do a gender count, and she finds the results to be "appalling." There are fewer women on the shortlist than usual, she says, and very few of the books are about the experiences of women.
This year, 2 of the 6 shortlisted books are written by women. Between them they wrote 6 protagonists, 5 of which are men.2 One male author writes about 1 woman (though he also writes about 3 men). So this year, of the 15.4% of protagonists who are female, a pitiful 7.7% are women written by women.
I interviewed Griffith on this subject a couple months ago, and it seems that I've already forgotten the lessons of that interview. I should have known better, and I should've done better in my post yesterday. If we want publishing to become more inclusive, we need to submit every literary prize to this kind of scrutiny.
Wordnik is the largest dictionary in the world, if you count by number of words defined. They do things a little differently, not unlike an OED for the twenty-first century. They are a data operation, and on every Wordnik definition page you'll not only find the word you're looking for and its definition, but etymologies, related words by type, a reverse dictionary, and some amazing discoveries that come in through their programmatic tools. Like, for example, lists of people on Twitter who has claimed they love or hate the word, or Flickr photos that use it. A good example is the word 'review'.
It's a logophile's delight, and even better, they have an open API for programmers to build on, making it the basis for many a tool or game that needs a corpus of information on which to develop their work.
Today they launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise $50,000 to help them find — programatically — a million words that are undefined in the dictionary. It's audacious and brash, and brilliant.
Today, local literary magazine The James Franco Review, which treats every submission as though it was written by James Franco, started rolling out an "Emergency Issue" on art and engagment. What does that mean?
Writers, editors, and artists around the country explored what it meant for them to be politically or consciously engaged in their work and to also examine literature’s relationship to safety.
The first piece, by Nancy Jooyoun Kim, is live now, and it's powerful stuff, about her own experience with a white writer who workshopped a story with a black protagonist.
Someone “hinted” at the “potential” problem of the protagonist’s race. That was enough for the writer to decide to make the character white. It’d be easier. A wave of relief washed over the room.
I'm so excited for this "Emergency Issue." And I love the idea of an Emergency Issue, too. It makes the act of publication so urgent and relevant. Go give the JF Review your attention.
And while we're talking about awesome local literary magazines, the Moss Kickstarter has already met its goal with 21 days left to go. If you're interested in owning an attractive print anthology of Northwest writing, you can go buy a copy for $10 and up. Moss generously makes their magazine available for free online, and this is a way to invest in the magazine's future.
And then there were six. Here's the Man Booker Prize shortlist:
A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James
Satin Island by Tom McCarthy
The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma
The Year of the Runaways by Sunjeev Sahota
A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
The last two books are by American authors, a first for the Man Booker Prize. Of those two Americans, Hanya Yanagihara is considered a frontrunner for the prize. And you'll have a chance to see her in person; Yanagihara will be reading at University Book Store on November 20th, in conversation with Shelf Awareness associate editor Dave Wheeler.
and you point to buildings and streets
that bear the scars around your own:
the elementary school that taught you
difference and its consequences; the law
firm where twenty-five years later your daily
prayer and hijab reinforced the lesson.
There, the bus stop where you last saw
your brother, out of his mind and out of your
reach, his mouth an open sore.
We’ve talked many times before about
what it means to be noticed, to be
threatening and invisible at the same time.
In this way, we are sisters. We stay close,
two brown women walking together.
This city’s always been very segregated
and it’s true that when you walk north
the prices rise and the faces pale.
We touch the Scotch broom and lilacs
erupted in spring, notice the renegade ferns
growing upon the stumps of old docks.
All along the water’s edge, we note the glorious blue
made bluer by the hulls of gleaming white boats;
upon a hillside suffuse in green, amid artifacts of rust,
people fly kites, edging out over the skyline.
On your left! Bikers zoom past us, their spandex,
the shine of their helmets, rejoicing.
It’s true that people here are different
when exposed to the sun; they crowd
the sidewalks with strollers and wagging dogs.
Sunglasses, then. Smiles and hellos.
We pass condo after condo, clustered houseboats,
marinas of artisan sailboats, luxury yachts.
Who are these people, we ask, looking in.
All day you’ve spoken the landscape of your life
as we walk among places that no longer exist —
neighborhoods reconceptualized and fenced off.
This city does not want me.
What do we do when the ground we claim
as home changes beneath our feet?
Landscape, layered. You can look back,
remember the stories beneath all this shine.
We part ways upon a freshly paved greenspace.
In the shadow of History and Industry, people
play bocce on gravel among orange café seating.
Beneath an awning along the water,
a man carves a canoe from salvaged cedar.
Catapult, a new publisher and online platform, launched today. (Yes, as the Wall Street Journal noted last week, it's funded by Koch money. Not that Koch money.) Their first print book is a short story collection by Padgett Powell, and there are plenty more on the way.
Everybody in the book business is very excited about Catapult for a number of reasons: first up, they're publishing a lot of great stories on the site for their first day, including one from Joy Williams. Also, they're inviting writers to share stories about their process; Sarah Gerard has written a story about teaching a writing class the day after the recent mass shooting in Charleston.
But maybe the most exciting part of the site is the Community page, which invites writers to share stories and invites readers to offer feedback on those stories. Catapult will publish pieces from the Community page and pay writers for their work. There have been plenty of attempts to offer aspiring writers a platform and a virtual workshop for their fiction, but like most attempts to build communities online, most of those sites have not worked out. (Wattpad is probably the closest thing to a success on that front so far.) Will Catapult become a home for aspiring authors? It's possible; someone will get it right at some point. In any case, based on my Twitter feed this morning, the site is building up a tremendous store of goodwill from virtually every aspect of the publishing industry. Let's hope Catapult uses that goodwill to launch (sorry) some exciting diverse voices into the publishing business.
In case you weren't keeping track, Arundel Books, which used to be a beautiful bookstore on 1st Avenue downtown, is now a beautiful bookstore in the old Wessel & Lieberman space facing Occidental Park in Pioneer Square. And Arundel founder Phil Bevis still publishes books, both under the Arundel Press shingle and, more expansively, as Chatwin Books. (One of Arundel Press's titles, Nicole Sarrocco's Karate Bride, is a Seattle poetry classic.)
Zaher's will be the first in the series. Titled Opting Out: Collected Poems (2000-2015), it will be out sometime this winter. Next will be Last of the Outsiders: The Collected Poems of Jack Grapes Volume I, out in late winter or spring 2016, with the second, still untitled, volume arriving later in the year. The Collected Poems of Rex Wilder will be published in spring of 2016. (Bevis thanks Red Hen Press for giving "generous permission to use work from" Wilder's two recent Red Hen releases.)
Wilder and Grapes are both California poets. Zaher is a proud Seattleite (by way of Egypt), and a substantial collection of his work is a big deal for the Seattle literary scene, even moreso because he's being published by a Seattle press. Expect to hear a lot about this book in the next few months.
The Seattle Review of Books recommends one literary event for every day of the week. As always, we aspire to a nice mix of national and local authors in a variety of venues. This week, we’re following the suggestion of one Jeff Youngstrom, who wants us to bold the author names in this post. What do you think? Helpful? Not helpful? If you have any suggestions, we’d love to hear them. You can always hit us up on Twitter or email.
MONDAY We start the week off with a huge name: Salman Rushdie reads at Town Hall. His newest book, Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights, “follows the lineage of the mythical Jinn and their part-human children with fantastical powers.” It’s reportedly a tribute to traditional Middle Eastern storytelling. While it’s true that Rushdie has not written a great book in a very long time and he’s been too easily distracted by celebrity nonsense over the last decade, he’s still one of the most important authors of our time. If you’re a young whippersnapper who doesn’t know about the fatwa against him, you should understand that it was a very big deal.
TUESDAY University Book Store hosts a celebration of a collection of essays from scientists and authors. All the essays are about dirt. Literal dirt. The book is titled Dirt: A Love Story. You’ve got to love books that focus on bizarre subjects with a passionate fastidiousness. Contributor David R. Montgomery will be reading and signing at this event.
WEDNESDAY You’ll want to head to Hugo House tonight for the latest edition of Wage Slaves: Tales of the Grind, which is a work-themed reading series that launched a couple years ago. Tonight features a doozy of a lineup: Bruce Barcott, Sam Ligon, and Brian McGuigan, in addition to SRoB-featured poet Anastacia Renee Tolbert and SRoB interviewee Kate Lebo, who’s coming back from Spokane just for this reading. Doughnuts and coffee will also be served, as is Wage Slaves tradition.
THURSDAY Seattle Review of Books co-founder Paul Constant — uh, that’s me — will be giving a talk about Seattle and the Future of Books as part of the 28th Ignite Seattle lecture series at Town Hall. I’m petrified of the Ignite format, a Powerpoint talk in which the slides advance every fifteen seconds whether the reader is ready for them to advance or not. So this could be a disaster. Fun!
However, we have a rule here at Seattle Review of Books. If we’re recommending an event in this column that Seattle Review of Books is taking part in, we’ll also recommend a second, non-SRoB event. We don’t like conflicts of interest any more than you do. So our ALTERNATE THURSDAY event is the Dock Street Salon at Phinney Books, featuring local authors Donna Miscolta and Allison Green. Miscolta is celebrating her new book contract and Green is the author, most recently, of The Ghosts Who Travel with Me. They’ll read and discuss their “publishing journeys” for the Salon part of the night.
FRIDAY For the last day of the work-week, you should head down to the downtown branch of Seattle Public Library for a reading from Erica Jong. The Fear of Flying author reads from her new book, Fear of Dying. Like the title says, it’s a rumination on mortality that plays on the title of her classic novel. (She also wrote a book titled Fear of Fifty.) Like everyone, I read Fear of Flying when I was way too young to appreciate anything but the sex scenes. I have not kept up on Jong since then. But she’s at an interesting place in her career and this is sure to be an interesting reading.
SATURDAY Go to Seattle First Baptist Church for a reading from Richard Blanco, who you probably know best as “the youngest, first Latino, immigrant, and gay person to serve” as an inaugural poet. Tonight, he’ll be reading from his memoir, The Prince of Los Cocuyos: A Miami Childhood, but you’ll probably be able to talk him into reading some poems, too. Though his poem at Obama’s second inauguration was frankly lackluster, he’s a very good poet.
SUNDAY The last featured reading of the week is The Buddhists in the House, a special poetry reading at Gallery 1412. Readers include Maged Zaher, Deborah Woodard, Norman Fischer, and Susan Schultz. Expect Buddhist-themed poetry and also, because Zaher and Woodard are involved, expect brilliance, too.
Sandra Newman — who is the funniest person on Twitter, and an amazing writer to boot — looks at the history of male tears.
So where did all the male tears go? The truth is, we don’t know for certain. There was no anti-crying movement. No treatises were written against men’s tears, and no leaders of church or state introduced measures to discourage them. Their decline occurred so slowly and quietly that no one seems to have noticed it happening. But by the 18th century, proponents of the Cult of Sensibility were exhorting men to be more sensitive, with an emphasis on free-flowing tears, which implies that males were already regarded as lachrymally challenged. By the Romantic period, masculine tears were reserved for poets. From here, it’s just a short leap to the poker-faced heroes of Ernest Hemingway, who, despite their poetic leanings, cannot express grief by any means but tippling and shooting the occasional buffalo.
Over at the Kenyon Review, poet Amit Majmudar takes a deep, nuanced, and fascinating looks at the Sherman Alexie white-poet-appropriating-Chinese-name-for-idiotic-reasons thing (white dudes: on't do it).
Editors often say they are looking for what is “unconventional” or “new,” but the new doesn’t exist (just ask Ecclesiastes), and literary conventions vary from clique to clique and era to era—is free verse conventional, or is a sonnet conventional? Depends on which century you’re referring to. What readers and editors alike desire is for the familiar language—English—to be estranged into poetry. For the familiar object to be perceived anew, as a strange thing, as if for the first time…so that a red wheelbarrow you have seen a thousand times before is no longer a red wheelbarrow you have seen a thousand times before. It is, forever after, the red wheelbarrow.
And that is what the byline “Chou” did to Hudson’s competent poem. “Chou” estranged what were thoroughly unstrange cultural references and sentiments. If we take a poem as inclusive of its byline—much as the word Monet at the bottom right hand corner is part of the painting of waterlilies—then that pseudonym is the most ingenious, most poetic part of a goodish poem; from this perspective, Alexie’s positive response to it was not a matter of nepotism at all.
Anybody who has read around ages-old racial stereotypes in popular kids books while reading before bedtime will appreciate this Leigh Anderson piece on just that topic. It starts with her deciding to order a copy of Little Black Sambo.
I remember the story primarily for its description of the tigers chasing one another round and round a tree until they melt into butter, butter that Sambo's mother uses for a stack of crispy pancakes. In the 35 intervening years, I knew the book had been relegated to the dustbin of racist cultural artifacts, but I didn't remember it well enough to know why.
The young woman at the bookstore register flinched when I asked for the book and said she couldn't order it for me; Amazon, until recently agnostic on race relations, dropped a copy in a plain brown wrapper on my doorstep. A quick skim revealed illustrations with the minstrel-show aesthetic — bright, white, round eyes, bulging red lips — of "darky" iconography.
Seattle teachers are striking. We absolutely love the gumption of the kids, in this Rich Smith piece from The Stranger, staging a read-in. First, what a fantastic form of protest. Second, we at the SRoB are behind the teachers 100%. My kid is sitting out his first few days of Kindergarten during the strike right now, and we couldn't be more proud of where his teachers have drawn the line in the abuse the legislature and school district keep dumping on them. No cost-of-living increase in six years means their salary goes down every year. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court fines our pathetic legislature, who only find constitutional adherence something to crow about on the national level.
I propose that today when you read, read for the teachers. When you read this link, or whatever book you're on right now, think back to the teacher that inspired you to learn and want to keep learning. Then maybe write a note to your state respresentative and tell them to get their damn acts together.
Eli Konsker said he organized the event in solidarity with the teachers' strike because teachers have supported him during his three years at Nathan Hale High School. But he also wanted to offer students a chance to be productive even though they weren't in school. "I invited people to work on college essays, finish up summer reading, anything educational," he said.
Our sponsor Priscilla Long is launching her new poetry collection Crossing Over September 19th at 7pm at Elliott Bay Books. For the next day, we're featuring one of her poems on our sponsrship page, and we hope you take a look.
Like all of our sponsors, Priscilla is a hard-working writer. She wants to get the word out about her upcoming event. Take a look, consider going to see her, and tell her you found out about the reading on the SRoB. Your consideration is the first step in our campaign to make advertising on the internet something we all like.
Every day, friend of the SRoB Rahawa Haile tweets a short story. She gave us permission to collect them every week. She's archiving the entire project on Storify
Short Story of the Day #248 Samantha Hunt's "The Removers" Tin House (2015) pic.twitter.com/ochvoEHcdn— Rahawa Haile (@RahawaHaile) September 6, 2015
Short Story of the Day #254 Lenore Weiss's "256 Shades" Carbon Culture (2014) pic.twitter.com/4B1VsVd792— Rahawa Haile (@RahawaHaile) September 12, 2015
Today is the 14th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. This morning, a Facebook user shared this Warren Ellis fan forum thread from the day of the attacks. Reading through it, I realized I'd forgotten so many details from that day: the confusion, the fear, the hope, the hatred, the ugliness.
In this one thread on a comic writer's forum, you can watch America turn itself upside down and rip itself apart. You can see the trajectory of the next 10 years, laid out in the frantic writings of a handful of scared people.
Every Friday, Cienna Madrid offers solutions to life’s most vexing literary problems. Do you need a book recommendation to send your worst cousin on her birthday? Is it okay to read erotica on public transit? Cienna can help. Send your questions to email@example.com.
I'm a young woman, I love to read, and I ride public transit. You can probably guess what happens next: do you have any short responses for me to say to men who insist on interrupting my precious reading time? I don't want to be confrontational, but my reading a book should not be seen as an open invitation to flirt.
In the words of Mother Theresa (not that one, another one), “If you didn’t want men accosting you in public you should have never grown dirty pillows.” My advice is slightly more helpful: Either cut them off or get comfortable with the idea of being confrontational. It’s easy! Fun, even!
Try memorizing these simple phrases so you have them ready when someone asks, “what are you reading?”:
“The scratch-and-sniff book of vaginal diseases.”
“Hitler and Pol-Pot: The BFF pop-up book.”
“Sex games you can play with your cat.”
The trick is to make men — many of whom have lived their lives without being made to feel true discomfort at the hands of a woman — feel as uncomfortable as they are making you at that precise moment.
Over at the Seattle Times, Mary Ann Gwinn has the exclusive story on this year's Washington State Book Awards finalists. You should click through for all the details, but here are some of the authors I'm especially rooting for: Kim-An Lieberman was posthumously recognized for her second poetry collection, In Orbit. SRoB contributor Kelli Russell Agodon is a finalist in the poetry category as well. Peter Mountford is a finalist for his excellent second novel, The Dismal Science. And Elissa Washuta is a finalist for her memoir My Body Is a Book of Rules.
Congratulations to all the writers! If you're looking for an overview of local authors who are doing good work in various fields, from young adult novels to picture books to memoir, you should check out the full list of nominees.