Skip to content

Posts from the ‘Blog’ Category

Drunk on Ink Q & A with Kirsten Imani Kasai and ‘The House of Erzulie’

Drunk on Ink is a blast interview with writers, artists, filmmakers and more conducted by Soniah Kamal, Jaggery Blog Editor and author of the forthcoming novel Unmarriageable

Read Jaggery Issue 11 Spring 2018

Kirsten Imani Kasai writes very dark, very weird fiction. Her third novel, The House of Erzulie was published this February by Shade Mountain Press. According to Foreword Reviews, Kirsten “makes the macabre beautiful.” In addition to teaching English Comp, Advanced Literature and writing, she’s the publisher of Body Parts Magazine: The Journal of Horror & Erotica and owner of the MagicWordEditingCo. which offers a full range of services to creative writers, academics and scientists. She has an M.F.A. from Antioch University Los Angeles and lives in Southern California with her family.

 

About The House of Erzulie

The House of Erzulie tells the eerily intertwined stories of an ill-fated young couple in the 1850s and the troubled historian who discovers their writings in the present day. Emilie Saint-Ange, daughter of a Creole slave-owning family in Louisiana, rebels against her parents by embracing spiritualism and advocating the abolition of slavery. Isidore, her biracial, French-born husband, is horrified by the brutalities of plantation life and becomes unhinged by an obsessive affair with a notorious New Orleans vodou practitioner. Emilie’s and Isidore’s letters and journals are interspersed with sections narrated by Lydia Mueller, an architectural historian whose fragile mental health further deteriorates as she reads. Imbued with a sense of the uncanny and the surreal, The House of Erzulie also alludes to the very real horrors of slavery as it draws on the long tradition of the African-American Gothic novel.

Soniah Kamal: First author/book you read/fell in love with?

Kirsten Imani Kasai: Man, I’ve been reading since I can remember. The first book that I received as a gift was given to me by my Montessori preschool teacher: The Blow-Away Balloon by Racey Helps. I still have my inscribed copy, and have read it to my kids. Others that I read multiple times and loved as a child/teen were: The Egypt Game and Witches of Worm by Zilpha Keatley SnyderWatership Down by Richard Adams and Roll of Thunder Hear Me Cry by Mildred D. Taylor. Dare Wright’s Lonely Doll series absolutely fascinated me (though upon rereading as an adult, there are some disturbing undertones). I loved Michael Bond’s Paddington books and read of ton of Lois Duncan, and was really into the original Flowers in the Attic series when it first debuted. I read Carrie by Stephen King multiple times and remember sitting in my room, intently practicing my telekinesis. I was never able to bend a spoon or move an object from across the room, but oh! How desperately I tried!

 

To unwind: chai, coffee, water, wine?

Yorkshire Gold tea with vanilla cream to start my day. Zinfandels from Lodi and Paso Robles or New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs for wine, and once in a while, a really good Manhattan with Luxardo cherries.

 

A novel, short story, poem, essay, anything you believe should be mandatory reading?

The Autobiography of Malcolm X.

 

Any classic you wished you’d pushed through in your teens?

Moby Dick.

 

A favorite quote from The House of Erzulie.

My heart will beat for you until the coroner cuts it from my body.”

“Daylight is the charwoman who scrubs away night’s filthy stains.”

“I come alive then, peeling back my skin, unrolling that fine, fawn suede from my redbones and gristle.”

(Fine, fawn suede! Redbones and gristle!)

 

Your favorite book to film?

Gosh, I view book to film adaptations as beings entirely distinct from the source material, and they’re often restricted to fit the time restraints of a film. To expect a film to accurately reflect all the nuance of a novel is foolhardy because they’re such different mediums. That said, I ADORED “Room with a View” when it came out in 1986. I practically memorized the whole film, and my best friend and I would write letters to each other as the characters (usually Cecil). I even wrote a fan letter to Rupert Graves, c/o the studio, and he responded with a handwritten letter, which is still tucked away in a scrapbook somewhere. Actually, I have more affection for the film than the book.

 

Favorite Indie Book Store/s?

Mysterious Galaxy in San Diego and the Park Hill Cooperative Bookstore in Denver.

 

The one think you wish you’d known about the writing life?

All those hours hunched over a notebook or keyboard take a toll on your body. Now I have to remember to stretch, exercise and use correct posture at my desk to prevent back/shoulder/neck problems and carpal tunnel.

 

Does writing/publishing/marketing get any easier with each story/novel published?

Ha! Ask me again when I’m rich and famous. JK, yes, it does. It’s a learning experience and having built a great network of friends, allies, connections, writers, bookstores, etc., getting the word out and connecting with people has become easier. Also, my third novel was recently published, which gives me a little more professional credibility and industry gravitas.

 

Dog, Cat, Or?

Even though I’m asthmatic/allergic, I’ve had pets since I was 10. Several cats, two dogs, fish, birds, frogs and a hamster have lived in my household—some of which were for my kids. I have two dogs now but, that said, I’m ready to be unencumbered by animal care and clean-up when the time comes. Truthfully, I find pet ownership unsettling. It’s a weird form of cross-species slavery (mostly with dogs, because they have such terrible Stockholm syndrome). It’s odd to me that people who object to animals being used for meat, leather, etc. will still have a dog who is essentially their captive and completely dependent on them for its survival, who don’t want wild animals endangered yet will take a puppy or kitten away from its mother. I have a lot of (unpopular) theories about dog ownership as it relates to white privilege, class and socio-political hierarchies, but that’s an essay for another time.

Ideal vacation?

I’m desperate to visit Scandinavian countries and see the fjords, the aurora borealis and all the natural wonders. Finland, Sweden, Iceland,

 

Favorite book cover?

The cover for The House of Erzulie, obvs.  My actress daughter is the cover model!

Re: other people’s books, how can you choose? There are so many great ones.

 

Favorite song?

New Order’s “Age of Consent” always makes me happy. I so love the twangy guitars and effects of post-punk/New Wave 80s bands. I’ve had Hallucinations by DVSN on repeat lately. I can get completely wrapped up in songs and play them endlessly, just soaking them up. Other desert island albums include:

Ella and Louis”

John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman

Kate Bush’s “Hounds of Love

Once I was an Eagle” by Laura Marling

And a whole lotta’ Prince.

 

Recommend a Small Press and Literary Journal?

Shade Mountain Press, definitely! Rosalie Morales Kearns is incredibly dedicated and has amazing literary sensibilities. It’s been such a joy to work with her on The House of Erzulie.

 

Last impulse book buy and why?

I recently picked up Cindy Crabb’s book Things That Help: Healing Our Lives Through Feminism, Anarchism, Punk & Adventure. It’s an alphabetical compendium of her 90s Riot Grrrl zine Doris all typed and hand drawn. Reading it has completely resuscitated my sense of activism and hope. I’m currently coveting The New Annotated Frankenstein and Emily Wilson’s translation of The Odyssey because both of those works have influenced my own writing.

 

Soniah Kamal’s novel Unmarriageable: Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice in Pakistan is forthcoming from Penguin Random House. PRE ORDER . Her debut novel An Isolated Incident was a finalist for the Townsend Prize for Fiction, the KLF French Fiction Prize, and an Amazon Rising Star pick. Soniah’s TEDx talk, Redreaming Your Dream, is about regrets, second chances and redemption. Her story Jelly Beans was selected for The Best Asian Stories Series 2017 and her award winning and Pushcart Prize nominated work has appeared in numerous publications including The New York Times, The Guardian, BuzzFeed, Literary Hub, Catapult and The Normal School.

More Drunk on Ink Interviews:

Thrity Umrigar, The Secrets Between Us, novel

John Kessel, Pride and Prometheus, novel

Lisa Romeo, Starting with Goodbye: A Daughter’s Memoir of Love After Loss

Rachel May, An American Quilt: Unfolding a Story of Family and Slavery

Rebecca Entel, Fingerprints of Previous Owners, novel

Jamie Sumner, Unbound: Finding from Unrealistic Expectations of Motherhood

Falguni Kothari, My Last Love Story, novel

Tanaz Bathena, A Girl Like That, YA novel

 

Drunk on Ink Q & A with Thrity Umrigar and “The Secrets Between Us”

Drunk on Ink is a blast interview with writers, artists, filmmakers and more conducted by Soniah Kamal, Jaggery Blog Editor and author of the forthcoming novel Unmarriageable

Read Jaggery Issue 11 Spring 2018

Thrity Umrigar is the author of a memoir, a picture book and eight novels, including The Space Between Us, The Secrets Between Us and Everybody’s Son.  Her books have been published in over fifteen countries.  She is the recipient of the Nieman Fellowship to Harvard and is a professor of English at Case Western Reserve University.

About The Secrets Between Us

Bhima, the unforgettable main character of Thrity Umrigar’s beloved national bestseller The Space Between Us, returns in this sequel in which the former servant struggles against the circumstances of class and misfortune to forge a new path for herself and her granddaughter in modern India.Poor and illiterate, Bhima had faithfully worked for the Dubash family, an upper-middle-class Parsi household, for more than twenty years. Yet after courageously speaking the truth about a heinous crime perpetrated against her own family, the devoted servant was cruelly fired. The sting of that dismissal was made more painful coming from Sera Dubash, the temperamental employer who had long been Bhima’s only confidante. A woman who has endured despair and loss with stoicism, Bhima must now find some other way to support herself and her granddaughter, Maya. Bhima’s fortunes take an unexpected turn when her path intersects with Parvati, a bitter, taciturn older woman. The two acquaintances soon form a tentative business partnership, selling fruits and vegetables at the local market. As they work together, these two women seemingly bound by fate grow closer, each confessing the truth about their lives and the wounds that haunt them. Discovering her first true friend, Bhima pieces together a new life, and together, the two women learn to stand on their own.

Soniah Kamal: First author/book you read/fell in love with?

Thrity Umrigar: East of Eden by John Steinbeck.

To unwind: chai, coffee, water, wine?

Wine, baby.

A novel, short story, poem, essay, anything you believe should be mandatory reading?

Beloved by Toni Morrison

Any classic you wished you’d pushed through in your teens?

One Hundred Years of Solitude. I couldn’t understand it as a teenager, so I gave up reading it, back then.

Favorite quote from your book

Or perhaps it is that time doesn’t heal wounds at all, perhaps that is the biggest lie of them all, and instead what happens is that each would penetrates the body deeper and deeper until one day you fine that the sheer geography of your bones, the angle of your hips, the sharpness of your shoulders– as well as the luster of your eyes, the texture of your skin, the openness of your smile, has collapsed under the weight of your grief–

from The Space Between Us

Favorite book to film? And why?

Q&A, which became Slumdog Millionaire. Because it was one of those rare occasions where the film was better than the book.

Favorite Indie Book Store/s?

Loganberry Books in Cleveland; Powell’s in Portland; Book Passage in Marin County, California.

The one think you wish you’d known about the writing life?

That people like me—female, brown, immigrant–could tell stories and didn’t have to ask someone’s permission in order to do so.  And that everyone has a story to tell but most people get distracted by other things in life and so their stories remain untold.

Does writing/publishing/marketing get any easier with each story/novel published?

No. I still love the writing part.  But the publishing and marketing doesn’t get any easier because publishers want the new, the young, the undiscovered.  And more and more, writers are expected to market their own books on social media etc. so that you’re forever begging the same fifty friends to please buy your book.  It’s hard and embarrassing.

Dog, Cat, Or?

Cat. But all animals, really.

Ideal vacation?

Any city with bookstores, sidewalk cafes, and museums that’s on the water.

Favorite book cover?

Love the classic “billboard” jacket from The Great Gatsby.

Favorite song?

A Day in the Life by The Beatles

Any Lit Festival anecdote you want a share? A great meeting with a fan? An epiphany?

Favorite memory is when an Indian reader, who was temporarily in the U.S., came to a book talk and pulled me aside and told me about the time she’d dismissed her maid in India after she caught her stealing a bottle of milk.  After she read my novel, The Space Between Us, she said the novel changed her life.  She had sought me out specifically to tell me that she’d resolved that when she returned to India, she would provide food and milk for the new maid’s children everyday.  That’s the first time I realized the power of words to change hearts.

Recommend a Small Press and/or Literary Journal?

Unbridled Books publishes some great books.

Last impulse book buy and why?

Look At Me by Jennifer Egan because I love Jenny’s work but had never read this particular book.

Soniah Kamal’s novel Unmarriageable: Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice in Pakistan is forthcoming from Penguin Random House. PRE ORDER . Her debut novel An Isolated Incident was a finalist for the Townsend Prize for Fiction, the KLF French Fiction Prize, and an Amazon Rising Star pick. Soniah’s TEDx talk, Redreaming Your Dream, is about regrets, second chances and redemption. Her story Jelly Beans was selected for The Best Asian Stories Series 2017 and her award winning and Pushcart Prize nominated work has appeared in numerous publications including The New York Times, The Guardian, BuzzFeed, Literary Hub, Catapult and The Normal School.

More Drunk on Ink Interviews:

John Kessel, Pride and Prometheus, novel

Lisa Romeo, Starting with Goodbye: A Daughter’s Memoir of Love After Loss

Rachel May, An American Quilt: Unfolding a Story of Family and Slavery

Rebecca Entel, Fingerprints of Previous Owners, novel

Jamie Sumner, Unbound: Finding from Unrealistic Expectations of Motherhood

Falguni Kothari, My Last Love Story, novel

Tanaz Bathena, A Girl Like That, YA novel

Drunk on Ink Q & A with John Kessel and “Pride and Prometheus”

Drunk on Ink is a blast interview with writers, artists, filmmakers and more conducted by Soniah Kamal, Jaggery Blog Editor.

Read Jaggery Issue 11 Spring 2018

John Kessel’s speculative fiction includes the recently published Pride and Prometheus, the novels The Moon and the Other, Good News from Outer Space, Corrupting Dr. Nice, and Freedom Beach (with James Patrick Kelly), and the story collections Meeting in Infinity, The Pure Product, and The Baum Plan for Financial Independence and Other Stories. His fiction has received the Nebula Award, the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award, the Locus Award, the James Tiptree Jr. Award, and the Shirley Jackson Award. Kessel teaches American literature and fiction writing at North Carolina State University where he helped found the MFA program in creative writing and served twice as its director. He lives with his wife, the novelist Therese Anne Fowler, in Raleigh.

John Kessel with his wife, novelist Therese Anne Fowler .

In Pride and PrometheusPride and Prejudice meets Frankenstein as Mary Bennet falls for the enigmatic Victor Frankenstein and befriends his monstrous Creature in this fusion of two popular classics. Threatened with destruction unless he fashions a wife for his Creature, Victor Frankenstein travels to England where he meets Mary and Kitty Bennet, the remaining unmarried sisters of the Bennet family from Pride and Prejudice. As Mary and Victor become increasingly attracted to each other, the Creature looks on impatiently, waiting for his bride. But where will Victor find a female body from which to create the monster’s mate? Meanwhile, the awkward Mary hopes that Victor will save her from approaching spinsterhood while wondering what dark secret he is keeping from her. Pride and Prometheus fuses the gothic horror of Mary Shelley with the Regency romance of Jane Austen in an exciting novel that combines two age-old stories in a fresh and startling way.

Soniah Kamal: First author/book you read/fell in love with?

John Kessel: I can’t remember the first I ever read. I did fall in love with the early Andre Norton science fiction novels like The Stars are Ours, The Time Traders, Star Man’s Son. And my uncle gave me an anthology of sf stories he found in a house he rented, Groff Conklin’s Omnibus of Science Fiction, which I read cover to cover repeatedly.

To unwind: chai, coffee, water, wine?

Wine. I like Spanish reds.

A novel, short story, poem, essay, anything you believe should be mandatory reading?

The Poacher” by Ursula K. Le Guin

Any classic you wished you’d pushed through in your teens?

To Kill a Mockingbird. I might have read it then but at this point probably never will.

A favorite quote from Pride and Prometheus

“. . . she had no power to change what the world would think and do. But that was the nature of love: one did not offer it with any assurance that it would change the world, even if in the end it was the only thing that could.”

Favorite book to film?

The Maltese Falcon

Favorite Indie Book Store/s?

Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh

The one think you wish you’d known about the writing life?

You always feel like it’s Sunday night and your homework is due tomorrow morning.

Does writing/publishing/marketing get any easier with each story/novel published?

I may know more, but that does not make it easier. But it’s still worth it.

Dog, Cat, Or?

Cat, most definitely.

 

Favorite book cover?

My own or somebody else’s? I like the cover of Karel Capek’s 1936 satirical novel War With the Newts. Of my own, I like The Moon and the Other from last year.

 

Favorite song?

“Solitude” by Duke Ellington

Favorite Small Press and Literary Journal?

Tachyon Books of San Francisco

Last impulse book buy and why?

Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress, by Steven Pinker. I had never read anything by him; I knew he was controversial and suspected I might not agree with everything he says; I believe in science, reason, humanism, and the possibility of progress; I wanted to hear some good news about the human race.

Soniah Kamal’s novel Unmarriageable: Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice in Pakistan is forthcoming from Penguin Random House. PRE ORDER . Her debut novel An Isolated Incident was a finalist for the Townsend Prize for Fiction, the KLF French Fiction Prize, and an Amazon Rising Star pick. Soniah’s TEDx talk, Redreaming Your Dream, is about regrets, second chances and redemption. Her story Jelly Beans was selected for The Best Asian Stories Series 2017 and her award winning and Pushcart Prize nominated work has appeared in numerous publications including The New York Times, The Guardian, BuzzFeed, Literary Hub, Catapult and The Normal School.

 

 

Drunk on Ink Q & A with Lisa Romeo and ‘Starting with Goodbye: A Daughter’s Memoir of Love After Loss’

Drunk on Ink is a blast interview with writers, artists, filmmakers and more conducted by Soniah Kamal, Jaggery Blog Editor.

Read Jaggery Issue 11 Spring 2018

Lisa Romeo is the author of Starting with Goodbye: A Daughter’s Memoir of Love after Loss (University of Nevada Press). Her short nonfiction is listed in Best American Essays 2016, and has appeared in the New York Times, O The Oprah Magazine, Longreads, Brevity, Under the Sun, Hippocampus, The Manifest Station, Brain Child, Sweet, Inside Jersey, and many other places. She teaches in an MFA program and lives in northern New Jersey with her husband and sons.

Starting with Goodbye, published by University of Nevada Press, asks if it’s ever too late to (re)connect with a parent. When Lisa Romeo’s late father drops in for “conversations,” she wonders why the parent she dismissed in life now holds her spellbound. Lisa reconsiders her affluent upbringing and the emotional distance that grew when he left New Jersey and retired to Las Vegas. She questions death rituals, family dynamics, Italian-American customs, midlife motherhood, and her own marriage as their new father-daughter relationship transforms grief and delivers powerful lessons about the bonds that last past death.

Soniah Kamal: First author/book you read/fell in love with?

Lisa Romeo: From the time I could read at age 5, there were so many children’s books about horses that I read in nonstop gulps, and I can’t remember the name of a single one. The earliest books I remember for certain loving were National Velvet by Enid Bagnold, and Karen by Marie Killilea. The former because I lived and breathed horses, the latter I think because it was the first nonfiction book I read for pleasure and I was so taken by the idea that someone’s life—a non-famous person—could be in a book

To unwind: chai, coffee, water, wine?

One glass of Moscato or Riesling. Unless I’m hot, then I only want ice cold water!

A novel, short story, poem, essay, anything you believe should be mandatory reading?

Hmm…this is tricky. I want to ask, mandatory for whom? But absent that, the way I’m feeling most days, I’d say “The Second Coming” by William Butler Yeats.

Any classic you wished you’d pushed through in your teens?

A lot of them! I read nonstop, but my schooling didn’t include a lot of classics…or maybe it did and I can’t remember. Which I suppose means I need to read or re-read them all. I think in my teens I would have had more patience for Jane Austen, especially because I always longed to live in England.

A favorite quote from your book J

“This father is gone, never was, and is sitting right next to me.”

Your favorite book to film?

I’m so easily and consistently disappointed by most film adaptations of books I’ve loved. Purely for fun I’d say, Under the Tuscan Sun!   Based on the book by Frances Mayes.

Favorite Indie Book Store/s?

Just a few miles from home: Watchung Booksellers, Montclair, NJ. The staff really know their stock and make interesting recommendations but will also leave you alone; there are author events at the store several times a week; and it has that quiet but sublimely buzzy vibe I like in a bookstore.

The one thing you wish you’d known about the writing life?

How long the learning curve is, how that learning curve never ends, how you’re never really finished nor completely satisfied with what you’ve produced, even after it’s published!

Does writing/publishing/marketing get any easier with each story/novel published?

I’ve just published my first book, so I can’t speak to what it will be like to move on to book two. Though I’m guessing: equally difficult!  I’ve published hundreds of essays, articles, and other short nonfiction pieces, and each one poses its own challenge to write and place. It doesn’t get easier, you just know more and can avoid the obvious mistakes.

Dog, Cat, Or?

I’m a horse person from way back. I had five horses over about 17 years, and I rode and competed in hunter-jumper horse shows from my teens to my early 30s.

Favorite book cover?

This changes constantly! I suppose I should say my own, since it’s a photograph of my father that I took. But recently, my favorite cover is Still Life with Horses, a memoir by Jean Harper. A horse’s eye is very special and the artist (Benedicte Gele) captured it perfectly in pastels and chalk. Take a look, you’ll see.

Favorite song?

Strictly because it takes me back to meeting my husband and hearing him sing for the first time: “Cat’s in the Cradle” by Harry Chapin.  (My husband, I must note, became the anti-thesis to the neglectful father in the song!)

Recommend a Small Press and Literary Journal?

Sarabande Books does a lot of interesting things with essay and other nonfiction forms.

Missouri Review, for overall consistency and readability. I’m never disappointed.

Last impulse book buy and why?

Working Stiff: Two Years, 262 Bodies, and the Making of a Medical Examiner by Judy Melinek, MD and T.J. Mitchell. Because I was wandering through a bookstore after doing a reading, and my eye always lands on books about death and the many things that might come after! (I’m strange that way.)

Soniah Kamal’s novel Unmarriageable: Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice in Pakistan is forthcoming from Penguin Random House. PRE ORDER . Her debut novel An Isolated Incident was a finalist for the Townsend Prize for Fiction, the KLF French Fiction Prize, and an Amazon Rising Star pick. Soniah’s TEDx talk, Redreaming Your Dream, is about regrets, second chances and redemption. Her story Jelly Beans was selected for The Best Asian Stories Series 2017 and her award winning and Pushcart Prize nominated work has appeared in numerous publications including The New York Times, The Guardian, BuzzFeed, Literary Hub, Catapult and The Normal School.

Drunk on Ink Q & A with Rachel May and ‘An American Quilt: Unfolding a Story of Family and Slavery’

Drunk on Ink is a blast interview with writers, artists, filmmakers and more conducted by Soniah Kamal, Jaggery Blog Editor.

Read Jaggery Issue 11 Spring 2018

Rachel May is the author of two books of fiction, The Experiments and The Benedictines, and two books of nonfiction, Quilting with a Modern Slant and An American Quilt: Unfolding a Story of Family and Slavery, just out from Pegasus Books. She’s an Assistant Professor at Northern Michigan University and has been awarded residencies at the Vermont Studio, VCCA, and Millay Colony.

About An American Quilt  published by Pegasus Books   

Following the trail left by an unfinished quilt, this illuminating saga examines slavery from the cotton fields of the South to the textile mills of New England?and the humanity behind it. When we think of slavery, most of us think of the American South. We think of back-breaking fieldwork on plantations. We don’t think of slavery in the North, nor do we think of the grueling labor of urban and domestic slaves. Rachel May’s rich new book explores the far reach of slavery, from New England to the Caribbean, the role it played in the growth of mercantile America, and the bonds between the agrarian south and the industrial north in the antebellum era?all through the discovery of a remarkable quilt. While studying objects in a textile collection, May opened a veritable treasure-trove: a carefully folded, unfinished quilt made of 1830s-era fabrics, its backing containing fragile, aged papers with the dates. The quilt top sent her on a journey to piece together the story of Minerva, Eliza, Jane, and Juba?the enslaved women behind the quilt?and their owner, Susan Crouch. B&W illustrations throughout

Soniah Kamal: First author/book you read/fell in love with?

 

Rachel May:  Bread and Jam for Frances, a classic 😉 and then A Wrinkle in Time and then The Bluest Eye

To unwind: chai, coffee, water, wine?

Coffee, coffee, and more coffee…that doesn’t really lead to unwinding but gets me writing. J My students tease me for my coffee habit.

A novel, short story, poem, essay, anything you believe should be mandatory reading?

Zong! by M. NourbeSe Philip; Missing Persons, a new story collection by Stephanie Carpenter; everything by Anne Carson

Any classic you wished you’d pushed through in your teens?

War and Peace? I wish I’d been a better student freshman and sophomore years of college, when I was in all those survey classes.

A favorite quote from your book ?

“I look to the past and seek the people whose stories enliven a world I didn’t know but can still feel in present. I reach for the tactile—the clothes, a quilt, the thin paper on which loops of cursive huddle to fill the page…I learn about the food people made in the past, their daily habits, the authors they might have read, speakers they’d have heard—and this past seems to exist around me in the present, informing my days, changing the places I thought I knew.”

Your favorite book to film?

Alice Munro’s short story “Chance,” from Runaway, which was turned into the Spanish-language film Julieta. Also, Stuart Little (it’s impossible not to love that cartoon mouse).

read Chance

Favorite Indie Book Stores?

Porter Square Books in Cambridge, MA; Snowbound Books in Marquette, MI

The one think you wish you’d known about the writing life?

How lonely and uncertain it is—we do all this work for years on end, with no promise of it coming to anything—and, on the flip side, how many deep friendships I’d find through writing, how much I’d come to love interviewing people, how rewarding it can be to focus on stories in the world around me.

Does writing/publishing/marketing get any easier with each story/novel published?

Everything requires patience, which I have to work very, very, very hard to cultivate. Maybe that’s my life’s work—gaining patience! The more I’ve invested in a book, the more daunting it feels. I’m lucky I’ve gotten to publish, and I’m grateful for it. But it still feels like standing naked on a stage and offering up a baby to the world, with all this hope and fear that they’ll make it. I’ve learned to seek help from wiser people, which makes the process easier.

Dog, Cat, Or?

I love and own both. Also horses and goats. Here is Penny, my cat, and Piper, my dog.

A favorite book cover?

The new Little Women cover embroidered by Rachell Sumpter

A favorite song?

Right now: José Gonzalez “Heartbeats” and Etta James “Sunday Kind of Love

Recommend a Small Press and Literary Journal?

Siglio Press makes gorgeous image+text projects, Braddock Avenue Books is publishing great fiction (full disclosure: they published my novella in shorts!), and I love Michigan Quarterly and VQR

Last impulse book buy and why?

The Phantom Atlas, by Edward Brooke-Hitching. It’s a book about all the mistakes maps and atlases held—places that didn’t exist, impossible monsters—and it’s beautifully made with heavy pages and glorious illustrations.

Soniah Kamal’s novel Unmarriageable: Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice in Pakistan is forthcoming from Penguin Random House. PRE ORDER . Her debut novel An Isolated Incident was a finalist for the Townsend Prize for Fiction, the KLF French Fiction Prize, and an Amazon Rising Star pick. Soniah’s TEDx talk, Redreaming Your Dream, is about regrets, second chances and redemption. Her story Jelly Beans was selected for The Best Asian Stories Series 2017 and her award winning and Pushcart Prize nominated work has appeared in numerous publications including The New York Times, The Guardian, BuzzFeed, Literary Hub, Catapult and The Normal School.

Drunk on Ink Q & A with Rebecca Entel and ‘Fingerprints of Previous Owners’

Drunk on Ink is a blast interview with writers, artists, filmmakers and more conducted by Soniah Kamal, Jaggery Blog Editor.

 

Read Jaggery Issue 11 Spring 2018

Rebecca Entel’s first novel is Fingerprints of Previous Owners (Unnamed Press, 2017). Her short stories and essays have appeared in Guernica, Joyland Magazine, Literary Hub, Electric Literature, Cleaver Magazine, The Madison Review, and elsewhere. Rebecca is an Associate Professor at Cornell College, where she teaches multicultural American literature, Caribbean literature, creative writing, and the literature of social justice. She grew up in Cleveland and currently lives in Iowa City.

About Fingerprints of Previous Owners. At a Caribbean resort built atop a former slave plantation, Myrna works as a maid by day; by night she trespasses on the resort’s overgrown inland property, secretly excavating the plantation ruins the locals refuse to acknowledge. Myrna’s mother has stopped speaking and her friends are focused on surviving the present, but Myrna is drawn to Cruffey Island’s violent past. A wealthy African-American tourist arrives with new information about the history of the slave-owner’s estate, and tensions finally erupt between the resort and the local island community. Suffused with the sun-drenched beauty of the Caribbean, Fingerprints of Previous Owners is a powerful novel of hope and recovery in the wake of devastating trauma. In her soulful and timely debut, Entel explores what it means to colonize and be colonized, to trespass and be trespassed upon, to be wounded and to heal.

Soniah Kamal: First author/book you read/fell in love with?

Rebecca Entel: Beverly Cleary was a major force in my childhood. Once I finished all the Ramona books, I started writing my own.

To unwind: chai, coffee, water, wine?

Chai. Wine. Repeat.

A novel, short story, poem, essay, anything you believe should be mandatory reading?

Anything by Toni Morrison.

Any classic you wished you’d pushed through in your teens?

War and Peace. It’s still staring me down from the shelf.

A favorite quote from your book ?

“So many stars out the sky looked spangled with broken glass, like pieces of what had been a life.”

Your favorite book to film?

The Wizard of Oz

Favorite Indie Book Stores?

Indie bookstores are some of my favorite places! I live in Iowa City, where Prairie Lights is the heart of downtown. I sometimes forget how special it is to live somewhere where the bookstore is always full of people.

The one think you wish you’d known about the writing life?

How to get really skilled at making time for writing.

Does writing/publishing/marketing get any easier with each story/novel published?

The writing never gets easier – it’s always new – but I have gotten better at trusting the process. I’ll have to let you know about the publishing/marketing angle, but I think that’ll be different each time, too.

Dog, Cat, Or?

Dog (preferably wiener)

A favorite book cover?

I really love the cover of Lily King’s Euphoria and the edition of Lorrie Moore’s Birds of America that looks like a sheet of notebook paper.

A favorite song?

I’ll never get tired of Paul Simon’s “American Tune.

Last impulse book buy and why?

Samhita Mukhopadhyay and Kate Harding’s Nasty Women anthology. It’d been on my to-read list, and I picked it up while I was traveling.

Soniah Kamal’s novel Unmarriageable: Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice in Pakistan is forthcoming from Penguin Random House. PRE ORDER . Her debut novel An Isolated Incident was a finalist for the Townsend Prize for Fiction, the KLF French Fiction Prize, and an Amazon Rising Star pick. Soniah’s TEDx talk, Redreaming Your Dream, is about regrets, second chances and redemption. Her story Jelly Beans was selected for The Best Asian Stories Series 2017 and her award winning and Pushcart Prize nominated work has appeared in numerous publications including The New York Times, The Guardian, BuzzFeed, Literary Hub, Catapult and The Normal School.

Craft of Writing: If Wallace Stevens could talk to Toll Brothers

 

Disillusionment of Ten O’Clock

by Wallace Stevens

The houses are haunted

By white night-gowns.

None are green,

Or purple with green rings,

Or green with yellow rings,

Or yellow with blue rings.

None of them are strange,

With socks of lace

And beaded ceintures.

People are not going

To dream of baboons and periwinkles.

Only, here and there, an old sailor,

Drunk and asleep in his boots,

Catches tigers

In red weather.

 When I landed in the United States, my aunt drove me home from the airport to her house, where I would stay for a few weeks before going on to graduate school. I remember the deafening silence during the drive. My aunt and I had plenty to say to each other, but throughout the drive I was aware of a silence that began outside the raised windows of her car and extended to the moving scrim of houses and buildings in the neighborhoods we passed as we drove to her home in an expensive Cincinnati suburb. To me, the silence was tremulous. It hung like a cobweb, threatening to shatter into the noise and chaos I was used to on the city streets of India, which were filled with honking and the sound of engines sputtering, the discrete sounds of transport vehicles fashioned out of the cabins of small trucks, extended to contain seats for anywhere between 3 to 10 passengers, of scooters, of motorbike riders revving and roaring, all against the irrepressible tinkle and chime of bicycle bells, clanking obstinately between their fuel-driven counterparts. Only, it didn’t. The silence remained unbroken. When we pulled into her curving cobble-stone driveway and I stepped out of the car, the silence grew louder, broken only by occasional bird-call. The quietness made me so uncomfortable, I could not sleep for nights. Is it this silence that dresses the American suburb, and haunts its houses, bathed in the bright light of bulbs, in the white night-gowns of Steven’s poem? Not comforting like the silence of the woods, or a quiet garden scene, but a silence borne from the lack of necessary disorder, a silence that is artificial and curated by the very laws and regulations that make American suburbia the haven of safety and predictability that is its unique selling point?

Stevens’ poem is a commentary against the anodyne life of the American suburb. The sameness of the homes, the white-lit unity of their little blocks and fences and lawns, the trundling mail-truck. None of them are strange, he says, but why would we be, the houses might say in reply. The people who live here are not going to dream of baboons and periwinkles. There is no place here for the artistic and the frenzied, or for the outlier. It is only the poet who wants to  experience life in its many colors. The poet is alone in craving the sight of purple houses with green rings. For company, he has the drunken sailor, who, having rejected social mores and himself been rejected by society, dreams of catching tigers in red weather. Modern, civilized society is blind to its own delirium. Everything that is colorful and human and alive is lost in this ghost-country of perfect homes and perfect order. “Give me chaos, give me truth, give me danger,” is the implicit cry of the poet, but he will not be granted it; to have access to it, he too has to live on the fringes of society, like the sailor asleep in a drunken stupor, still wearing his boots. The cost of freedom is too high to pay for those who buy into the humming dullness of ordinary living. The American suburb is part of this American mythology — it is a product of the nearly mythical reach of urban and suburban sprawl, and the industries that run behind these systems to make them look and work the way they do. The poet pleads for the mythical qualities of color and wildness, of animals and exotic accoutrements, as absurd as lace and beaded belts, to somehow make their appearance and redeem modern American living of its curse of uniformity and conformity.

By using whimsical and absurd imagery that is the complete opposite of everything that the poet actually sees, Stevens evokes the vigor that is absent from modern living with its trappings of comfort and respectability. How wonderful that we can never know what exactly a tiger in red weather is. But we can dream of it. Yet even that dream, of a tiger bounding and leaping, borne from some deep and unexplored desire, is the luxury of a homeless sailor. The people who live in the neatly painted homes set in rows upon a street, have lost even the ability to dream of what they might truly want and need.

– Mary Ann Koruth

 

 

Drunk on Ink Q & A with Jamie Sumner ‘Unbound: Finding Freedom from Unrealistic Expectations of Motherhood.’

Drunk on Ink is a fun blast interview with writers, artists, filmmakers and more conducted by Soniah Kamal, Jaggery Blog Editor.

 

Read  Jaggery Issue 11 Spring 2018

Jamie Sumner is a writer and mom living in Nashville. She is the author of the book, Unbound: Finding Freedom from Unrealistic Expectations of Motherhood. She has written for The Washington Post, Scary Mommy and Parenting Special Needs Magazine and has an essay forthcoming in The New York Times. She is also an editor at Literary Mama. She can often be found at the park with her three kids, the dog and a large cup of coffee. All the writing happens when everyone else is asleep.

Publishers Weekly says…

Feeling imperfect? There are mom-books for that – offering solace in faith and welcome infusions of humor as well. Jamie Sumner, in Unbound: Finding Freedom from Unrealistic Expectations of Motherhood (FaithWords, April 10) describes her journey through infertility and special needs parenting. Her trip has not been easy, but Sumner found in the Bible stories of women who show her hope, companionship and triumph in releasing herself in God’s hands.

UNBOUND gives hope and encouragement to all women whose picture of motherhood is strained by disillusionment, otherness and even despair. Women do not talk enough about the reality of motherhood: the struggle it takes to get there, the loneliness of it, the unmet expectations. We are often too ashamed to share our difficult stories. We quietly absorb the posts of sonograms and happily messy houses on Facebook as we inwardly wonder what’s the matter with is. We struggle to meet the everyday needs and special needs of our kids, caught by surprise that this is what motherhood looks like. With honestly and vulnerability, JAMIE SUMNER walks readers through each stage of her own journey to motherhood through infertility and special needs parenting.

 

Soniah Kamal:  First author/book you read/fell in love with?

Jamie Sumner: I have two books that wooed me at two very different times in my life. The first was C. S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. It was the first book to make me believe that magic could be hiding anywhere. The second was Anne Lamott’s Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year. I read it in the NICU after my son was born and felt for the first time that no, it’s not just me and this particular situation, all mothers feel this crazy.

 

To unwind: chai, coffee, water, wine?

Coffee to start. Wine to end.

 

A novel, short story, poem, essay, anything you believe should be mandatory reading?

As a former English teacher, my list is long. But I will say, Lord of the Flies. It’s such a testament to the unraveling chaos of our human nature when all the rules disappear. It’s like every single episode of Survivor made real.

 

Any classic you wished you’d pushed through in your teens?

Ah yes. Grapes of Wrath. I just couldn’t get through it. Steinbeck is a genius, but it took East of Eden to lure me in and make me go back for this one.

 

A favorite quote from your book? 

I have two:

“Life is a continual etching and erasing. We form expectations and God forms reality. Sometimes they line up nicely, like tracings at right angles. And sometimes God plays Jackson Pollock and we’re all over the place.”

“Motherhood is often like this, a continually changing plan that has you kicking the tires and eating fried rice.”

 

Your favorite book to film?

The first Harry Potter. It is magic made perfect.

 

Favorite Indie Book Store/s?

Parnassus here in Nashville.

 

The one think you wish you’d known about the writing life?

I wish I had known that creation happens in secret, but promotion is one big loud shout through the megaphone. Being a professional writer in the modern world takes both the quiet and the noise.

 

Does writing/publishing/marketing get any easier with each story/novel published?

Nope. You build your platform and hope that street cred will get you places. But ultimately, each work must stand on its own. Marketing gets easier with practice, but the writing and publishing reset with each book.

 

Dog, Cat, Or?

Dog! I have had my Zoe longer than I have had my husband. She might be my soulmate.

Favorite book cover?

I love Rupi Kaur’s the sun and her flowers with the hand-drawn sunflowers. It’s simple and genius, much like her work.

 

Favorite song?

“Heavenly Day” by Patty Griffin. It makes me want to take a nap in a field.

 

Favorite Small Press and Literary Journal?

As an editor for Literary Mama, I have to vote for us on this one. We hit such a unique market—mothers who write, and write well, and writers whose works hit on the mother-child relationship. We celebrate the famous and the up-and-coming and the great small press finds. We love it all.

 

Last impulse book buy and why?

I bought The Power by Naomi Alderman because I was 39th in the hold list at the library and needed in now. It was worth it.

 

Soniah Kamal’s novel ‘UnMarriageable: Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice in Pakistan is forthcoming from Penguin Random House USA. Her debut novel An Isolated Incident was a finalist for the Townsend Prize for Fiction, the KLF French Fiction Prize, and an Amazon Rising Star pick. Soniah’s TEDx talk, Redreaming Your Dreamis about regrets, second chances and redemption. Her story Jelly Beans was selected for The Best Asian Stories Series 2017 and her award winning and Pushcart Prize nominated work has appeared in numerous publications including The New York Times, The Guardian, BuzzFeed, Literary Hub, Catapult and The Normal School.

Drunk on Ink Q & A with Falguni Kothari and ‘My Last Love Story’

Drunk on Ink is a fun blast interview with writers, artists, filmmakers and more conducted by Soniah Kamal, Jaggery Blog Editor.

Falguni Kothari is the author of unconventional love stories and kick-ass fantasy tales. Her four novels, most recently MY LAST LOVE STORY, are all flavored by her South Asian heritage and expat experiences. An award-winning Indian Classical, Latin and Ballroom dancer, she currently spikes her endorphin levels with Zumba. She resides in New York with her family and pooch.

My Last Love Story
Simi Desai is thirty years old and her husband is dying of cancer. He has two last wishes in his final months: first, that she’ll have his baby so that a piece of him lives on, and second, that she’ll reconcile with her old flame, who just happens to be their mutual best friend. And so over the course of their last summer together, Simi’s husband plans a series of big and small adventures for this unlikely trio, designed to help them say goodbye to each other and prove to Simi that it’s okay to move on without him—and even find love again. Beautiful and poignant, Falguni Kothari’s My Last Love Story will pull your heartstrings as only unforgettable love stories can. Read a review of My Last Love Story in the New York Times.

Soniah Kamal: First author/book you read/fell in love with?

Falguni Kothari: As a child, it was End Blyton’s The Faraway Tree series. I loved the idea of living inside a tree trunk like Moon-Face. I’d sometimes try to squeeze myself into small spaces and pretend I was living inside a tree. As a teenager, I fell in love with Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (Name one girl who was raised in South Asia and didn’t!). As an adult, my once-a-year re-read is Outlander by Diana Gabaldon.

 

To unwind: chai, coffee, water, wine?

It’s mostly chai, sometimes wine, rarely coffee…but Pindar! Water is best.

 

A novel, short story, poem, essay, anything you believe should be mandatory reading?

Try all of the above at least once in your life. It just seems a more complete education. Then, you can stick to the reading format you most prefer. Much like print or ebooks.

 

Any classic you wished you’d pushed through in your teens?

I don’t think I ever had to push through a book. I mostly love reading books. I have simply not picked up several of the classics, this not read them. I don’t know why. I should change that.

 

A favorite quote from your book

This is the quote that gave me this book’s title. My working title was something else entirely and absurd now that I think of it.

Why I love this particular excerpt? It gives you the crux of the book in a paragraph.

“I went back to my husband and explained something to him. “Imagine I’m an ocean. You are the bright sunlit part of me, and Zayaan, the darker depths. I need you both to be who I am. I love you both. Always have. Always will. But, Nirvaan, you are my last love story. I don’t want another one.”

 

Your favorite book to film?

Hmm. I think the Pride and Prejudice BBC miniseries with Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle. I even like the one with Knightly and MacFadyen. (That Darcy will never get outta my head!)

 

Favorite Indie Book Stores?

WORD Bookstore in New Jersey and Brooklyn, Anderson’s Book Store in Larchmont.

 

The one thing you wish you’d known about the writing life?

The publicity and promotion aspects of it. I am not talkative by nature, at least with people I’ve just met. As a writer, I’m continuously meeting new people now and it’s nerve-wracking. Also, at conferences and book events, I am so removed from my home bound comfort zone that I feel like popping a Valium a day. Luckily, popping a pill terrifies me more than speaking to strangers.

 

Does writing/publishing/marketing get any easier with each story/novel published?

It becomes worse. Or that’s the wrong word. It becomes bigger. The more books you have, the more people/ readers/ librarians/ bookstores know you and want to do events with you. So, you have to juggle that many more pins in the air. You do get more adept at the publicity and marketing though, and if you’re a planner, it’s a piece of cake.

 

Dog, Cat, Or?

I’m an animal-lover. Every animal except reptiles are my thing. However, I think dogs actually are man’s best friend. There is no better companion for a human than a dog.

 

A favorite song?

Anything by the late great George Michael, Ronan Keating and Arijit Singh. Their voices are soulful.

 

A favorite book cover?

I have many. But most recently, I was wowed by The Queen of Hearts by Kimmery Martin.

 

Last impulse book buy and why?

Tracy Wolff’s Lovegame. The cover was attractive, the price was right, and I’m in the middle of revisions for my 2019 women’s fiction release and I wanted to read something completely unrelated and raunchy. I like sexy, raunchy books. They make me relax and smile, maybe even laugh out loud.

Soniah Kamal’s novel ‘UnMarriageable: Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice in Pakistan is forthcoming from Penguin Random House USA. PREORDER here. Her debut novel An Isolated Incident was a finalist for the Townsend Prize for Fiction, the KLF French Fiction Prize, and an Amazon Rising Star pick. Soniah’s TEDx talk, Redreaming Your Dreamis about regrets, second chances and redemption. Her story Jelly Beans was selected for The Best Asian Stories Series 2017 and her award winning and Pushcart Prize nominated work has appeared in numerous publications including The New York Times, The Guardian, BuzzFeed, Literary Hub, Catapult and The Normal School.

 

A close read: “Mozart’s Final Hour”, a poem from the New Yorker.(Feb 26, 2018 issue)

1.
My father is playing the B-Flat Sonata
Hidden under the rented baby grand
I press one pedal or another,
“damper,” “sustain”—

My father is playing the B-Flat Sonata,” begins this poem, Mozart’s Final Hour” by D.Nurkse, in a recent issue of the New Yorker. In this short, but redemptive poem about a child and his father, the narrator—ostensibly, the poet himself— takes on the great themes of filial love and mortality in the fraught, but primal bond between father and son. Without wasting any time, the scene is set. The child seated, “hidden under the rented baby grand” is not merely innocent, and trusting, but filled with awe of his father, the pianist. Why else does he hide? In the act of hiding, with its echoes of wonder and shyness, perhaps even fear, and in the father’s blindness to the child’s position under the piano, literally at his feet, the poet captures an age-old trope of the relationship between boys and their fathers: the child’s yearning to be seen and recognized, and the parent falling short. The awe-filled child, rendered so real, by the grown son, who looks back at that awe, and at that parent, with sadness.

The opening movement of Mozart’s B-Flat Sonata has a quietness and yearning to it; even when it launches into a glittering piece of virtuosity, a liminal melancholy hovers over it like a cloud. The poem reflects this floating, lingering quality. The child attempts to help his father realize the piece by pressing the pedals that extend the sounds, or muffle them, but in doing so, the emotive register of the music changes. The music becomes inaccessible — the father is unable to evoke the musical magic of Mozart’s work; it is as if the music is no more able to speak to him. He cannot capture its magic in his playing even though this is all he wants to do.

Mozart grows pompous, prissy,
or strangely tongue-tied.

Is the joke on Mozart, or on the father, trying to play the piece to his best ability? Note that the poet calls Mozart pompous and tongue-tied, as if the entire interaction between father and child whittles to a stale, unemotional performance. Rather than directly criticize the father, the poet addresses the quality of his playing. This is the child’s reading of his father, and his accusation: even the beauty of Mozart turns into something cold and distant in his father’s hands. If Mozart’s sonata is representative of beauty, including the beauty of love between father and child, then the pianist has failed in his rendition of both music and love.

There is also the sense of how the child manages to distort his father’s earnest efforts. The child is well-meaning, just as the father is dedicated. Yet the music they produce together —the child at the pedals, the father at the keys—falls short, too.

You can watch the shadows come—
the elm in the French window
impenetrable as a score.
Rain is a diminished chord.

The weather changes, day moves into night, as if mimicking the difficulty and unpredictability of the father’s efforts. It is no surprise that the shadows of evening, the inner darknesses of boy and man, appear in the windows. Even the elegant elm is an obstacle. It begins to rain. Nothing provides inspiration. 

I press those huge slippers
that smell of fart and wax,
gently, and my father
adjusts his timing delicately.

Now the child inches closer, ensconced in the dark womb created by his father’s presence and his piano-playing, so close and so real that the rest of the world, the intruding elm, the rain, all cease to exist. With tentative hands, he presses his father’s slippers. Larger than life as his father might seem, his slippers quickly remove any pretense of this. They smell of “fart and wax”, and yet, the child touches them. He does not touch his father though. It is enough just to touch the old, smelly slippers. The little concert continues at the piano, and momentarily, something of beauty is born.

Its late.

Perhaps it is, too late.

Mozart bloated with sepsis says:
Fetch me my quill. I have an idea
that will make me famous.

The pathos of the dying artist, wanting to create — even when there is no hope left. Bloated Mozart, whose intricate genius the father tries to grasp in his playing, died prematurely, his work on earth incomplete. The poet’s repeated references to Mozart as arrogant, as remote, and finally as a sick man on his deathbed, are at odds with how we are used to thinking about a man of incredible genius and fame. There is a shift in language, from the lyrical (rain is a diminished chord) to the brazen (fart and wax) and a shift in subject. A dying Mozart reappears.  And in this dying, we see the failure of the promise of fatherhood. The child is the audience, the father the performer who cannot impress—don’t talk about ideas and quills, says the poet.

Now the room is entirely dark.
My father is playing by heart.
That stupid grief—he memorized it.

This is where the poem comes to a head. All its force collects in this one line: “That stupid grief—he memorized it.”  The narrator, disgusted and disappointed, finally breaks out of the trance of childhood and identifies his father’s mistake. His voice is conversational and furious—he abandons formal language and bursts out. The father could not forget his sorrow. It made its way into the Mozart piece, and it made its way to the little boy, who sat beneath the piano, looking up, to his father, for reassurance, but was denied it. The paternal figurehead is incriminated.

Our love is like nightfall
or a trill: you can see through it
but not it.

These simple lines appear at the end of the poem, full of grace and wisdom. The son, despite his deep disappointment with his father, recognizes that there is love, no doubt. He knows his father loves him, but the affection is inexpressible. Like nightfall or a musical trill, the son senses its existence, but does not have the luxury of experiencing it. This is not enough, and this is the poet’s sorrow. The observation is a commentary on poetics too. How does one express the inexpressible? Their interaction on a rented piano, however tender the image, in the end, just did not cut it, did not make the mark. 

Delicate lyricism is offset by a fierce thesis.

2.
Then time shall be no more.

This line, which comprises the entire second section of the poem, is a double allusion. James Joyce was paraphrasing the Bible in “Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man,” when he wrote, “Time is, time was, time shall be no more”. The meaning is that we are out of time, that time has run out. The narrator is in the present, when time is no more, and there is opportunity only for recollection and synthesis, in poetry. One day soon (if not already), the poet says, his father will be no more. And then, so shall time—his chance for change, for making amends to his son—all of these, will be no more.

I don’t think its a coincidence that the shape of the poem on the page is lean, like a column or a narrow pillar, and its language so simple. Neither its form nor its content convey abundance or excess of emotion. Though the themes of art are universal, we look to art –to stories and novels and poetry and movies– to bring those themes home, to situate ourselves in these investigations into life’s emotional truths, because art is the apotheosis of individual, human experience.  Art does not rationalize. Pure art possesses and projects pure emotion, and when we hear  from the son in this poem, who remembers sitting at his father’s feet as a boy, at the piano, listening to the longing in Mozart’s music, while filled with a longing of his own, we understand fathers and sons everywhere.  In Mozart’s greatness and in his death, we see the figure of the father.  Yet both are only human, and both are tragic, their creations fragile, left to fend for themselves. Mozart’s sonata does not live and breathe in the pianist’s hand in the way he wishes it to. It is the same with the child he created. Like shadows, they touch without meeting, they inhabit the same spaces, but without speaking and celebrating their bond.  In the end, they are tied to each other by the the very gulf of sadness that divides them.

Mary Ann Koruth

 

What we write about when we write about writing. (A response to Yiyun Li).

Dear Friend, from My Life I Write to You in Your Life, by Yiyun Li.

Dear Friend, from My Life I Write to You in Your Life, by Yiyun Li.
Hardcover, 208 pages, Random House Inc. 2017

In “Dear Friend, from My Life I Write to You in Your Life,” Yiyun Li’s intelligent and deeply nuanced memoir on her life and her writing and the interminable connection between the two, she quotes from her novella, “Kindness”. The episode she describes is of a little girl who wants to buy chicks from a peddler. Because her father cannot afford them, two women in the market pay for them. She takes them home and cares for them, but they die, eventually. The girl steals eggs from her kitchen and cracks them open, washing out the yolks and whites. She then tries to return the dead chicks to the eggshells, trying to fit their tiny bodies into the halves, but finds that she is unsuccessful. The excerpt ends with the girl making this observation, “I have learned, since then, that life is like that, each day ending up like a chick refusing to be returned to the egg shell.”

Li’s assertion, throughout this book, is that she has abandoned her native tongue, Chinese, and adopted English as the language she writes in. In addition to giving up Chinese, but also, as a result of this choice, she has abandoned elements of her childhood in China, and would like to live in a world that is as unpopulated by memories of her life, growing up in China, as is possible. The book was written over a two-year period during which Li was hospitalized twice for suicidal depression.

Though the questions that Li raises, and the statements she makes, are about writing, they become questions about life and living. This is why her book is so unusual and so profound. In giving up a past, in renouncing it as completely and unambiguously as Li has chosen to renounce Chinese, surely her writing is informed and influenced by the vacuum created by that choice, as much as it would have been informed and enriched by embracing it. Li is the first to admit this — in life, as in writing, our selves are as much a result of what we choose to be as what we choose to not be. Like chicks refusing to return to the eggshells, we are what we give up. We can choose not to retrace our steps, but there is no erasing; the erasure of memory and the revisiting of it — aren’t these almost equally unreliable?

Why write autobiographically? Li asks this question pointedly. The word “I”, in English, is melodramatic, she writes. “In Chinese one can construct a sentence with an implied subject pronoun and skip that embarrassing I, or else replace it with we. Living is not an original business.” Li insists that she does not write autobiographically — because she does not, or did not, at the time of writing this book, have a “solid and explicable self”. She refers to a state of “unraveling” in between her hospitalizations. She writes to erase the self — but that is impossible, because nothing brings us closer to our truest selves than the practice of art.

I can often trace an autobiographical element to my stories. But that is not what I am interested in, for this piece. It is the sense of self that Li grapples with, and that she describes other patients in her hospital grappling with, a sense of self so flung into sadness that she wanted to erase it completely. I cannot pretend to understand the depth of Ms. Li’s despair, but I cannot be alone in having known despair and emptiness. I write to escape myself; writers like Li, are talented enough to do so successfully in their stories and novels. In my own poems and fiction, I fear vanity; how much of memory, of pain recalled, is mere indulgence? The “I” that Li suspects and would dispose of, raises a similar question for me. Do our individual selves matter enough to justify autobiographical writing? My answer is no, yet I cannot help returning to that elusive “I”. In any case, all writing is personal, so that trying to escape the “I” is a bit of a bluff. So much safer to publish journalism and criticism. Fiction and poetry are hard, but until I am certain of the validity—and quality–of what I create, a lot of my other writing will remain an escape.

An Indian colleague of mine was surprised when I told her during her farewell party in the office, that two years ago, she had asked me, as I walked through the lobby, to show her to her interview, and though neither of us knew it at the time, her future boss. She did not recall our interaction.

“Am I that forgettable?” I laughed, which was silly, because she was thinking of her job prospects in an empty lobby on a blue, cloudy day. Anyone else, in my place, would have done the same for her. Yet when I took my son to the doctor last week, he told me he remembered me from a year ago, when I visited him with my daughter. I was surprised that he would, because I was, at the time, thinking only of her. I don’t recall saying anything that would make him remember me, but he did. Our ideas about ourselves are consistent only in our own eyes. Writing, unlike life, has the advantage of hindsight, which makes for more predictable results. You might be able to identify a writer by her voice or her oeuvre, but the truth of who she really is can be impossible to lay a finger on. And so, the writer, in search of a self, keeps writing, and her readers pick up the thread wherever she leaves it, in her books.

I have not yet completed Li’s book, partly because I want to linger and bathe in her many aphorisms, her entangled thoughts, which defy and provoke each other, reminding me that uncertainty is a state worth having.

What I take away from it, as far as my own writing is concerned is this: if I could speak with as much assurance as I write, how much more memorable I would be to the people I meet. But the page is more patient than a person, though what I write, I write for people. Perhaps I am simply too careful in relationships, even casual conversations — the fear of causing damage or hurt by saying what I think, or bringing into question my own immaturity, the fear of revealing weakness, seals my lips and distorts what I would naturally say. Writing, both fiction and non-fiction, is a lifelong exploration of the gap between truth and what I think is the truth — between absolutes and relatives, between the objective and the subjective, between negative space and positive space. I seem to have assumed that the truth (of life, of art) is unknowable — distant from my own experience of it. This is a form of posturing, but it is also true. A digression from things is often only a path of return. I can only speak for myself, and so, I write.

– Mary Ann Koruth