In the rush of the pre-holiday hubbub, I somehow missed that my story, “Birdie,” originally published by Granta’s New Writing, as part of their American Wild Issue was recommended by Longform. Thanks to whomever read this & made it happen! If it’s nearly as cold where you are as where I am right now, maybe you need some more winter reading? http://longform.org/posts/birdie-by
“A Bright Hand in Darkness”, 2014 by Eliza Swann. HD Video Still, 6:16, The Blizzard
Touched and honored to have a new story up in the latest issue of Apogee. Check out this visually enticing new interactive issue. Sex, tricycles, young love and the performance of grief. Here’s the full text of my story. Or, Check out this video recording of my reading of “Old Maid” from the Catskills.
Here’s a sample:
We were just two small twigs then, riding a red tricycle, getting high on pizza in the back of a pickup, jet-setting in Ohio, bass fishing with his father.
“Just look,” he said from where we stood on the pier. “And let me push you.”
Overjoyed to have had the chance to sit down with the indelibly luminous soul that is Darcey Steinke on the occasion of celebrating her new book, Sister Golden Hair, just out from Tin House this month. Sister Golden Hair engages with Darcey’s traditional themes of religiosity, loss, sexuality, violence and the body but also with something larger – the time period of the 1970’s in which the book is set and its corresponding social / popular culture. In the interview we examine what it is to have written novels set during a specific time period, feminism and the crisis of self-fulfillment, the “throbbing amazingness of a round full female body,” “Devolution:” Grandness, An Unconstant God, And Inventing Faith, and the architecture of physical place. With thanks to editor Lincoln Michel at Electric Literature for publishing our words. Below is an excerpt. For the full interview, please read here:
DeWitt: I was looking back on that famous Didion essay “The Morning After the Sixties” from The White Album and there was a line in there that reminded me of your novel where she said, “We were all very personal then. Sometimes relentlessly so. And at one point we either act or do not act. Most of us are still. I supposed I’m talking about just that. The ambiguity of belonging to a generation distrustful of political highs. The historical irrelevancy of growing up convinced that the heart of darkness lay not in some era of social organization but in a man’s own blood.” That made me think a lot about your novel, this description of it on the back says, “It’s all about awaiting new sexual mores, and muddled social customs and confused spirituality.” But more than that it specifically reminded of the father character in your novel and how he becomes a cipher for this change that’s somehow happened between the 60s and the 70’s. And I didn’t know if you could talk about what that “morning after the 60’s” was for you and what made you write about this time period?
Steinke: I’ve always wanted to write about the 70’s because—I mean there’s some good stuff about the 70’s. The Ice Storm would be a great example of a book that’s similar to my feeling of the 70’s. There are also a lot of things culturally about the 70’s that are ridiculed. It’s all about That Seventies Show and smiley faces and tube tops. And I always feel like when you get that, it’s usually because there’s been a lot of pain.
Very honored to have new fiction up today at Granta in celebration of their American Wild issue. Vandalism! Warhol Whoopie Pies! And a new currency system of “Opportunity Tickets!” Thank you to the ever-brilliant Yuka Igarashi for publishing my story, “Birdie,” in which I imagine an alternative response to Detroit’s urban decay.
“The city had earmarked them as tear-downs during the first stage of a larger urban planning initiative – a large ‘D’ for Demolition had been written in white chalk on the front doors of the dilapidated multi-family structures, veterans of a time when Detroit was still a factory town, a place where the music of Motown fumed larger than the gusts of exhaust unleashed from the chains of cars which tumbled off the assembly lines at the auto factories and straight onto those glistening American freeways.“
For the full story, please read here.
“Writing is a lonely sport.” I tell my students this at the start of every semester. For all those days of solitary trying in what is this often lonely and troublesome sport of writing, there comes that one crystal clear fall morning where a publication long in the pipeline emerges and you can finally set a Linda Ronstadt album spinning on the record player and dance with your cats in the kitchen with a cup of coffee and a good pair of wool socks. This fall gifted me with one of those exceptional days and I am so grateful.
I am beyond honored and excited to have new fiction in the latest issue of The American Reader along with Rebecca Schiff and the inimitable Luke B. Goebel. With great thanks to Ben Marcus for publishing my story “The Big Bleed.” I’ve long admired Ben’s fiction ever since my days as a bookseller in Cambridge before graduate school when Thalia Field, a great poet and teacher and mentor of mine, first recommended his “The Age of Wire And String.” Now all these years later it somehow feels like the wheel has, for a moment, come full circle, which makes it worth all those lonely days of “sport.”
Copies of the issue are available in bookstores or online here.
Very honored to have a “Lost And Found” piece in Tin House’s new fall “Tribes” issue in which I pay tribute to Frank Stanford, his raucous and heart-felt young life & the epic poem, “The Battlefield Where The Moon Says I Love You,” which resulted from his boyhood in the American South. With great heart and speed to Bob Holman, founder of the Bowery Poetry Club, legend and preserver of languages, for lending me his annotated copy of the text, a bible of the soul truly. And many thanks to the wonderful editor, Emma Komlos- Hrobsky, for championing such incredible literature and soliciting this piece.
The editors describe the “Tribes” issue so evocatively:
“Globalism’s ascendance was supposed to send tribalism the way of the dodo. Yet from Waziristan to Williamsburg, tribal affiliations still dictate social order. There may now be more societal fluidity, but finding one’s tribe within nomadic urban cultures has never felt more urgent. And the tales told within ancient or temporary tribes shape and define these societal organizations. In this issue we turn to our favorite storytellers and poets, hoping to arrest time long enough for them to show us what life is like in our contemporary tribes. There are Julia Elliott’s cavemen and cavewomen wannabes in her story “Caveman Diet” and Alice Sola Kim’s teenage Korean American adoptees trying to find their place in the suburban jungles of “Mothers, Lock Up Your Daughters Because They Are Terrifying.” Roxane Gay looks at the complicated way her Haitian American family handles the consumption of food from both countries. We asked five very different writers—Stacey D’Erasmo, Tayari Jones, David Shields, Zak Smith, and Molly Ringwald—to give us short takes on moments of belonging (or not). The poets, including Tony Hoagland, Cate Marvin, and Eavan Boland, naturally cut to the emotional core of what it means to claim or to be claimed by a tightly bound group.Whatever your other tribes, because you have read these words, we now consider you part of the Tin House tribe. No initiation rituals or signifying tattoos necessary, just please enjoy the issue.”
For more info on this incredible issue and to order a copy, please click here.
I’ve always had a literary crush on Susan Sontag. For her intelligence, her insistence that photography was a “program of populist transcendence,” her self-admitted fascination with beauty (as though to be gorgeous were a talent!), and her belief that life was built on the ad hoc. Honored to have the next extended essay from the “Various Paradigms” series up today on The Believer Logger looking back at Annie Leibovitz’s photographs of Sontag after her death.
Discussed: memento mori, Whitman, Kodak, Hal Foster, Richard Halliburton’s “Complete Book of Marvels,” illness as metaphor, the non-nuclear family, death & the surreal, and “immoderate appetite.” With great thanks to my fantastic editor, Hayden Bennett, for posting! For the full text read here.
It’s always amazing to receive mail here in the Catskills. Today’s news from the world included a contributor copy of La Granada with works in translation by Lincoln Michel, James Yeh, Maya Samat, Diane Williams, Lydia Davis, Christine Schutt, Paul Auster, Ben Lerner, myself and many others. Warmest thank yous to editor Ingrid Hafredal for her care in translating my story, “Those People In The Garden,” into Norwegian and to Diane Williams for publishing the original story in English!
A whole-hearted ballyhoo to Luke B. Goebel for shouting his thunder this direction and asking me to participate in this tête-à-tête! And too my hat’s off to Rae Bryant for starting this train on its tracks – I hope I don’t run it off into third gear!
Also, with great spirit and huge affirmations from afar to Lauren Spohrer and Anya Yurchyshyn, incredible word-smiths and women in the world, both. These two power-houses of the literary clap will be up for next Monday to answer these same questions and to each tap two new writers. I’m including bios below, but I know their work needs no introduction…
PLEASE do yourself an act of great joy and check out these two women writers and their blogs if you have not already. Their works will knock you dead with innovation and courage.
Upcoming Bios from next week’s writers:
Lauren Spohrer is a writer and public radio producer living in Durham, NC. Her fiction has been published in NOON, Unsaid, the Mississippi Review, and GIGANTIC. She’s the founder and editor of Two Serious Ladies, an irregular online magazine to promote writing and art by women. She also makes a true-crime podcast called Criminal.
Anya Yurchyshyn, has written for Esquire, Granta, N+1, Ploughshares, Buzzfeed, West Branch, Mod Art, Guernica, and Elimae. She is a frequent contributor to NOON. She received her MFA in Fiction from Columbia, where she also taught writing. Her memoir, My Dead Parents – based on her amazing blog! – is forthcoming from Crown.
1) ON what am I currently working?
I recently finished my first novel, White Nights In Split Town City, which is headed out to editors this fall. The setting for the novel initially emerged from a story I’d written about the rural, backcountry road where I grew up. Fay Mountain was wired with full-circuit eccentrics, people who could talk a blue streak to a cow. Even the drive-till-I-die-hermits could swap convincing war-stories about learning to play “Greensleeves” as a child, women’s lib, or the trials of midwifery. Shot through with a crossed-eyed hunger that ran straight from the power lines and into people’s wells, the inhabitants of that road took exception seriously. In a lot of ways, the voice of the novel I recently completed comes from that simple place, a folkloric retelling.
At the time the initial story behind the novel emerged, I was reading Lydia Millet’s My Happy Life and Christine Schutt’s Florida, both of which I admire tremendously. I began to wonder what a novel written without judgment would look like, what the rules would be, what sort of prose would handle that. In terms of influences, I was interested in how the spareness of prose like Millet’s and Schutt’s transcends incident. Things—even dark things—just happen.
The architecture of the novel came into focus when Sam Lipsyte recommended Barry Hannah’s Yonder Stands Your Orphan. I’ve always loved Hannah’s stories – in fact one of the only two novels I allowed myself to read while writing the first draft of my book was Hannah’s novella, Hey Jack, which is incredibly voice driven and just moves along at such a crazy alliterative pitch that you start to get off on it. So, when I read Yonder – which I actually never finished, admittedly because I got too inspired and needed to write – I began to think of the novel as a voice-driven picaresque, a tale about a town full of people where each character/household/local event rolls into the next fluidly and with an internal velocity. The novel too is really voice driven. It builds itself through a lyrical accrual of incidents, the themes of which act as recurring refrains through the book.
On a basic level, the novel I just finished writing is a picaresque about a young girl who functions as a symbol of a rural town’s isolation and naiveté. The novel is set on an unpaved road on the outskirts of the town. It takes place over the course of a single summer. In the background is the experience of the town that summer. Due to the number of horse farms on the road, there is fear of equine encephalitis. As the threat of airborne illness spreads, united in their isolation, the town itself becomes a character in the novel. Animals are dying and people keep an unspoken curfew. The men in town, including Jean’s father, begin holding bonfires each night at the butte overlooking the highway. Neighbors become suspicious of one another. Having grown up surrounded by the isolation of a rural road inhabited primarily by the elderly and eccentric, the young narrator’s interior world becomes populated with fantasies of escape and adventure which eventually leads her to cavort with a troupe of abandoned boys on the street, the Steelhead brothers. In her mother’s absence, the young narrator, Jean, also falls prey the exoticism of Otto Houser, an elderly horse trainer across the street. There’s a bit a Lolita story in action here… Just as the narrator’s mother is confronting her desire to fulfill her individual goals beyond those ascribed to her through motherhood – and joins a feminist group called The Separatists – her daughter Jean is confronting her own sexuality.
The book started with a strong sense of place – having grown up on this unpaved road myself as a child and witnessed the strange ways adults act when in isolation. But, what’s been really interesting to work on in these final drafts has been the relationship between place and time. The book takes place in the early Nineties during the first Gulf War. In addition to its own isolation and suspicions, the town is experiencing harbingers of the impending advent of the 21st century as we now know it, the beginning of America’s conflicts in the Middle East, the use of the personal computer / and eventually the internet. These changes are relayed through the narrator Jean who herself is torn between the adult world as it presents itself to her that summer and the surreal memories of her childhood on that road. As I was working on this sense of time and how it presents itself, I was reading novels like Don DeLillo’s White Noise, Jeffrey Eugenides Virgin Suicides, and Rick Moody’s The Ice Storm, which all deal very much with the role of a small town and also, particularly in Moody’s novel, a sense of the decade in which it is set – it’s aesthetics, sexual politics, etc. I think each decade experiences it’s own series of regrets – I found myself reflecting back on what I thought those were for our generation growing up in the 90’s, in that pre-internet moment when Madonna was still wearing cone bras and Ryan White died of AIDS and we were trying to save the whales form Exxon Valdez…
I’m also working on an essay collection, called Various Paradigms, inspired by the column I run over at The Believer, which was the impetus for this non-fiction collection. Various Paradigms is a tribute to conceptual artist Lawrence Weiner’s typographic texts, which I recently saw in a great show at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam called “Written On The Wind.” Weiner once wrote, “Bits and Pieces Put Together To Present A Semblance of A Whole.” The essays this non-fiction collection comprises, hope to follow in that tradition of engagement, intimacy and experiment. The collection engages with words, art, film, politics and poetics – merging the intimate with the academic, rhetoric with confession, criticism with contemporary reflection – and covers both archival and imaginative texts.
Now that I’m done with the novel – Is that even possible, who knows? Fingers crossed! – I’m also thinking about starting a fling with short stories… really short ones ;)
2) How does your work differ from others’ works in the same genre?
Words, to me, beg similar questions to those that artists ask of the brushstroke or the lens – Where does print betray the stroke of the artist, how does it seek to stand alone, when does language become autonomous? How do questions of scale, composition and perspective translate into issues of plot, dialogue and voice? The films of avant-garde film maker Stan Brakhage and his superimposition of images onto single reels of film originally led to my own experimentation in my stories with the ability of text to simulate emotional collage – the idea being to reveal something raw about yourself and to continue to reveal it, almost like a series of retellings. If you’ve ever seen his film Dog Star Man – a five part epic inspired by Ezra Pounds Cantos – you begin to wonder how we retell simple stories – stories of life, death, sex, birth, etc. anew. Brakhage shoots live footage of his wife giving birth in a little cabin in the woods of Oregon, or him making love to his wife, and then superimposes images which he records on the same film, which he records through the projector backward, images of the sun and the moon and a series of narrative portraits of him just trying to climb the same mountain in the snow with his dog – and you begin to realize that the beauty of life is in these small moments and how they reveal themselves.
When I first started the novel I was really interested writers such as Marguerite Duras and the French nouveau roman, who really believed that the artistic development of the narrative in writing was and is ripe for a renewal, that the traditional confines of the novel and the short story, which have often outlined the mimetic representation of realism and the traditional elements of plot, character and psychological development, need be reevaluated. To me, the most exciting contemporary writings are those which increasingly join the larger artistic dialogue, making use of the larger questions posed by the use of space, perspective, repetition and alliteration, creating stories which question the very authenticity of experience itself.
On a side note, unrelated to the novel or my stories, the exploration of hybrid text became a part of my work several years ago after a trip to Santa Fe. I’m completely untrained in photography and am a bit of a techno-phoebe, but I became really interested in how word and image could create dramatic interplay – a conversation that wasn’t about the text explaining the image but rather re-evaluating it. I ended up staying up all night in the desert in a small dorm room at St. John’s college where I was taking some grad classes that summer through Middlebury’s Bread Loaf program and I ended up with a multimedia project entitled, “13 Images on the Horizon,” a digital narrative I created in response to Simon Ortiz’s book of poetry From Sand Creek about the underrepresented narrative of the Native American experience in this country. The project combines the superimposition of text on digital images to create a story through graphic interface. The title and the genesis behind the thirteen frames was inspired by Wallace Stevens’ poem “13 Ways of Looking at a Blackbird.” I’d like to do more of these just for fun, now that the novel is finished. I recently moved upstate to a small hamlet in the Catskills, where there are so many interesting people to capture on film.
3) Why do you write what you do?
I recently read “Woman to Woman,” a series of interviews between Marguerite Duras and the French journalist Xaviere Gauthier. I am interested in these writers because of the way silence and repetition seems to be as much a part of their writing as the actual words themselves. There is a longing and absence to so much of their work. The unsaid becomes a voice. In the Xaviere interview Duras calls these silences “blanks,” “anesthesia – suppressions.” I am interested in her explanation: “In the outside there’s an extraordinary surveillance so that nothing escapes. But what it’s about is simply noticing … the accidents: this is, a displacement, a voice.” I think ultimately it is this same sense of displacement from which my novel begins, as much of the setting is drawn from memories of having spent my early childhood on one of the last unpaved roads in a rural town. The silence of that place was its most exhilarating factor.
To me, really good writing occurs in the unsaid. Maybe I’m a romantic. But somehow I believe that it is in the autism of words, those moments of silence, where you encounter what is really at stake for characters. Sort of the way you do when you start falling for someone. There’s that kind of synergy between words. That kind of bodily calling out. Some words just belong in sequence. It’s fun to try and find them out…
4) How does your writing process work?
I suffer a series of heartaches – familial, romantic, existential and visual. Then I suffer them again.
Annie DeWitt’s writing has appeared in NOON, Guernica, BOMBlog, Esquire’s Napkin Fiction Project, The Believer Logger, art+culture, Everyday Genius, The Faster Times, elimae, and Dossier Magazine, amongst others, and is forthcoming in Tin House and the American Reader edited by Ben Marcus. Her work was recently anthologized in Short: An International Anthology of 500 Years of Short-Short Stories, Prose Poems, Brief Essays, and Other Short Prose Forms, edited by Alan Ziegler. Ann holds a B.A. from Brown University and an M.F.A. in Fiction from Columbia School of the Arts. She was a Founding Editor of Gigantic: A Magazine of Short Prose and Art in 2008. She currently teaches in the Undergraduate Creative Writing Program at Columbia University. For more of her work, please follow her column at The Believer: http://logger.believermag.com/tagged/various-paradigms
Rae Bryant: Rae Bryant is the author of the short story collection The Infinite State of Imaginary Morals (Patasola Press 2011). Her stories, essays, and poetry have appeared in print and online at The Paris Review, The Missouri Review, McSweeney’s, Huffington Post, New World Writing, Gargoyle Magazine, and elsewhere. Her intermedia has exhibited in NYC, D.C., Baltimore, and Florence Italy. She has won prizes and fellowships from Johns Hopkins, Aspen Writers Foundation, VCCA, and Whidbey Writers and has been nominated for the PEN/HEMINGWAY, Pen Emerging Writers, the &Now Award, and multiple times for the Pushcart Award.
Rosebud Ben-Oni is the author of SOLECISM (Virtual Artists’ Collective, 2013) and a CantoMundo Fellow. Her work appears in The American Poetry Review, Bayou, Arts & Letters, Puerto del Sol, The Feminist Wire, Dialogist, B O D Y, Lana Turner Journal, Slice Magazine, Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review and elsewhere. In 2010, her story “ A Way out of the Colonia” won the Editor’s Prize in Camera Obscura. Please read more about Rosebud at rosebudbenoni.com She does good things at VIDA: Women in Literary Arts.
Tessa Fontaine graduated from the University of Alabama’s MFA program and joined a traveling circus sideshow. As an instructor for Alabama Prison Arts and Education Project, she taught creative writing and performance in prisons across Alabama. More of her work can be found in Creative Nonfiction, The Normal School, Seneca Review, DIAGRAM, Pank, and more. Stay tuned for more updates from the road
Luke B. Goebel is the author of Fourteen Stories, None of Them Are Yours (FC2 2014). He won the Ronald Sukenick Prize for innovative fiction for the above-mentioned novel. He is a fiction writer and an Assistant Professor. His fictions are forthcoming or have appeared in The American Reader, PANK, The New York Tyrant, Unsaid, Elimae, The Collagist, Greenmountains Review, Gigantic, and elsewhere. He wont the Joan Scott Memorial Fiction Award in 2012.
Electric Literature “The Tribe of Collective Grief: On Philip Seymour Hoffman & Developing The Third Eye”
Very honored to have an extended personal essay up at Electric Literature this afternoon. This is a new piece from a collection of essays I am working on inspired by conceptual artist Lawrence Weiner’s typographic texts. Weiner once wrote, “Bits and Pieces Put Together To Present A Semblance of A Whole.” This collection hopes to engage with words, art, film, politics and poetics – merging the intimate with the academic, rhetoric with confession, criticism with contemporary reflection – and covers both archival and imaginative texts. This is perhaps the most personal essay from the collection to date on witness, addiction, collective grief and developing the third eye. This one’s for you, “My Hoffman,” with much love always, Annie.
“I first pulled up to New York in front of our little studio in a fancy building on Central Park West in “My Hoffman’s” grandfather’s old Oldsmobile. His Polish grandfather, Ja-Ju, owned a casket-making business in the working-class town of Lowell, MA. Ja-Ju used to carry around the long wooden boxes that housed the dead in the back of the car where our towers of cardboard IKEA boxes now peeked out of the back window. This was the only car that would fit us and the collective detritus of our mutual dreams as we made the pilgrimage from small-town Massachusetts to these city lights…”
For the full text read here.