Critic Maureen Corrigan recommends two graphic novels — one about a Yiddish advice column in the early 1900s and another about a regiment of African-American soldiers who fought during World War I.
Also: Nobel laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez's health is said to be stable but "very fragile"; Dave Eggers' new book is called Your Fathers, Where Are They? And the Prophets, Do They Live Forever?
The steady incursion of new skills and perspectives in the leadership of the Lambda Literary Foundation is vital not only to its growth but also to its connection to the community it serves. The Foundation is pleased to announce the addition of three new members to its Board of Trustees.
Sandra Nathan, of Marin County, California, has a long history of effective leadership, particularly in the nonprofit sector. She brings to the Board executive-level experience in areas as diverse as aging, LGBTQ issues, and communities of color. Ms. Nathan joined the Foundation Board due to her “deep passion and interest in LGBTQ literature,” noting “there is no other organization solely devoted to ensuring our voices are fully reflected. I am also a frustrated writer, and hope to slow down long enough to become an author in my own right. Having served on the boards of several national organizations, I hope to make a meaningful contribution by supporting the effective governance and growth of the foundation, and ensuring it has the resources to fully actualize its mission and vision.”
John Rochester, of Santa Fe, New Mexico, reads up to a dozen books a month, mostly LGBTQ. “As an avid reader of LGBTQ literature of all types and genre, I felt it was time to give back and share some of my non-literary talents with an organization that has helped provide me with such joy.” Along with his enthusiasm, he adds a rich experience in fundraising and community leadership, having earned a 2010 Point of Light Award.
Amy Scholder, a New York City resident, is a legendary figure in the world of independent publishing. “I look forward to deepening my relationship with the Lambda Literary Foundation, an organization that cares about LGBTQ diversity and creativity,” says Ms. Scholder, who brings to the Board a broad understanding of the current literary landscape.
The Lambda Literary Foundation is delighted to have these three talented, dedicated individuals join the Board of Trustees. Founded in 1989, the organization nurtures, celebrates, and preserves LGBT literature through programs that honor excellence, promote visibility, and encourage development of emerging writers.
Sandra Nathan currently serves as Vice President, Programs and Loans for the Marin Community Foundation in Novato, California. In a previous stint in philanthropy, she served as CEO of the Richmond(California) Community Foundation.
Professionally, Sandra has over 25 years executive level experience,which has included positions at the national level with organizations including AARP and the National Council on Aging; and within California’s cities and counties, including San Diego County, Santa Clara County, San Francisco County and the City of Oakland. During her stint at the national level, she worked diligently on social and economic justice issues facing older adults, and at the local level,ensured there are culturally sensitive services and supports for diverse populations, including LGBTQ and people of color. She pioneered in the development of the one of the first outreach programs to older adults at risk of HIV/AIDS and oversaw a strategic plan for older adults who are gay and lesbian.
Currently, Sandra also serves on the Board of Directors of Generations United, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and Grantmakers in Aging.
John Rochester is a Vice President, Portfolio Manager, Wealth Advisor for Morgan Stanley. He currently serves as the Board President for Santa Fe Performing Arts – a children’s education, outreach and adult contemporary performing arts organization. He has served on local community and national boards that address diverse issues such as health/social services, hunger, the arts, children’s education and several LGBTQ organizations. John has received a number of awards for his charitable work including the National Volunteer of The Year for Colin Powel’s America’s Promise, The Alliance for Youth, What a difference a day makes as well as the Point of Light Award - the United States President’s Volunteer Service Award.
John received his Bachelor of Arts from Simpson College and has been actively involved in media and the performing arts his entire life. In addition to continuously working in the financial industry for the past 27 years, John has been active in national print and video promotion and he hosted a nationally syndicated financial radio show from 1995 through 2007. He currently resides with his husband in the town in which he grew up – Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Amy Scholder is the editorial director of the Feminist Press. She has been editing and publishing progressive and literary books for over twenty years. Her visionary style has brought high visibility to her authors, and has been praised for its contribution to contemporary literature and popular culture. She has also served as editor-in-chief of Seven Stories Press, US publisher of Verso, founding co-editor of HIGH RISK Books/Serpent’s Tail, and editor at City Lights Books. Over the years, she has published the work of Sapphire, Karen Finley, June Jordan, Kate Bornstein, Kathy Acker, David Wojnarowicz, Dorothy Allison, Mary Gaitskill, Joni Mitchell, Kate Millett, Elfriede Jelinek, Muriel Rukeyser, Laurie Weeks, Justin Vivian Bond, Virginie Despentes, Ana Castillo, and many other award-winning authors.
Mimi Pond's graphic memoir is a rose (or in this case aqua) tinted recollection of her time waitressing at a bohemian diner in Oakland in the 1970s. Reviewer Etelka Lehoczky says it's a sweet tribute.
All the Heat We Could Carry is a compelling, fierce, vivid, yet sometimes understated and curiously dry in tone, collection of poems by Charlie Bondhus, describing life as a gay soldier in Afghanistan. Bondhus cultivates a theme of heat: sustained, transferred, endured, enjoyed or suppressed, whether in the desert, the bedroom, the front porch, or the end of a pier. His decision to cloak volatile, profoundly disturbing content may seem counter-intuitive, but is actually dead-on, as this kind of material demands a kind of nonchalance. Otherwise it might feel manipulative and purple. Overblown. There is a quiet precision to Bondhus’ poems, like sealing something dangerous, despairing or grotesque in a glass jar.
In a calmly perverse turn, Bondhus compares the deconstructing of a gun to a boy’s natural sense of curiosity and awe in ”Rifle Cleaning.” A man’s boyish appreciation for the phenomenal is twisted into a fascination for weaponry. “First, disassemble /into the major groups: /upper, lower, bolt carrier./ Handle each piece like a young boy/ unpacking a box of seashells, striped rocks, pine cones ; / marvel at how something this metal / could be so breakable. Think about the body.” Consider how the poem gropes for definition in the line: “marvel at how something this metal”. It’s as if the narrator is searching for the dividing line between the hard organic substance of natural treasures, and the fabricated skin of steel. When he says, “Think about the body,” a transformation is implied. The mundane task of maintaining one’s tools becomes a reflection, a reverie on what it means to assume the role of warrior, with its contained or subjugated humanity.
In the poems describing the narrator’s connection to a lover (perhaps partner) we sometimes gather the partner is also a soldier. Not all of Bondhus’ poems raise this issue of shared experience, though it’s implied that two men who have seen warfare, and understand the other’s difficulties. In “July” he paints a wry tableau of domestic tranquility. Two men manifest spousal validity by enduring the heat, on a day when the more cautious have chosen to stay indoors: “No one else on their porch; / it’s hot, and everything sticks / to everything. Still we resist / spending this golden day – / the clearest of the year- / behind curtains./” Further down, the protagonist mentions how “The neighbors got used to us/ a long time ago, but sometimes kids, / the more observant ones, stare.” Like so many of the poems in All the Heat, “July” is cunning in its subdued rhetoric. Bondhus takes a very ordinary scenario, reading books and drinking ice tea in the summer sunshine, and turns it into quiet defiance. Rather than evoking a confrontational stance, the contact he explores between lovers (both men) is detailed, but not lurid. In “At the Grappling Tournament” he considers how fluidly conflict can change to consortium: “…searching out the trick spot/ where muscle and bone fail/ while I knotted my arms about your shoulders, / in the soft violence of an embrace.”
Much of All the Heat submerges us in the subdued atrocities of the battlefield. In “A Quiet Day in Kandahar” the narrator describes a card game in which they are killing time, using a deck featuring delectable naked ladies. Bondhus carefully places this situation in context, creating a rare moment of relief from the devastation, relatively innocent fun tainted by ghoulish humor and mortality they need to forget. A steppe eagle appears, “…gliding on a heavy breeze which rolls into camp/ and scatters the cards, / every which way / filling the air/ with a flurry of tits and ass./ ….Two civilian casualties, Mendoza snickers, / dumping his cards on the table.” In another blindingly subtle piece, Bondhus has evoked the sad, cruel instruments necessary to survival as a soldier, the distraction, cynicism and frozen emotion required to simply function, from day to day. Everyone’s future is subject to calm, arbitrary fate.
It is challenging to find the words to adequately praise All the Heat We Could Carry. Charlie Bondhus takes excruciating, sometimes nightmarish, sometimes melancholy ordeals and makes them accessible, by the meticulous use of restrained, pointed, focused language. He taps into extraordinary subject matter by refusing to shift gears into something frantic or tawdry. The protagonist might be stuffing another soldier’s corpse into a body bag, or gathering firewood in the back yard, or tussling naked, joyously, with his flawed yet perfect boyfriend. He draws us into these scenarios with sharp, intense, yet nuanced wisdom. He refuses to assign blame, yet none of us are off the hook. All the Heat We Could Carry is a truly remarkable collection.
All the Heat We Could Carry
by Charlie Bondhus
Main Street Rag
Paperback, 9781599484365, 72 pp.
Get ready to return to Litchfield prison. The trailer for the second season of the series Orange is the New Black was released this week, and things are looking particularly severe for the inmates this season.
Based on the bestselling memoir by Piper Kerman, the entire season will be released June 6 on Netflix.
Ellah Allfrey reviews Kinder Than Solitude, by Yiyun Li.
A crackling new translation of Giorgio Scerbanenco's crime novel Private Venus has just been released. Critic John Powers read it in a single sitting.
The announcement of the winners and finalists for the Pulitzer Prizes gives us an opportunity to herald great journalism that illuminates matters relating to race, ethnicity and culture.
Ian McEwan talks about having dinner with Salman Rushdie, who had a fatwa out against him; Man Booker winner Eleanor Catton writes about the process of finding inspiration.
Lambda Literary Foundation (LLF), the country’s leading national nonprofit organization advancing LGBT literature, is pleased to announce the renewal of a grant of $25,000 from Amazon.com for a fifth year in a row, a continuation of Amazon.com’s support for the Writers Retreat for Emerging LGBT Voices. This year’s Retreat will be held August 3rd through August 10th, 2014 in Los Angeles.
LLF’s Writers Retreat is the only residency in the world established specifically for talented, emerging LGBT writers. Since 2007 when the program began, LLF has graduated over 240 Fellows from its summer Retreat. For one rigorous, immersive week, Retreat students in fiction, genre fiction, nonfiction or poetry work on their manuscripts in small, individualized workshops, forge critical connections to publishing industry professionals and build a community of peers on whom they’ll depend for years of encouragement, inspiration and friendship.
“Amazon’s ongoing and generous grants have helped the Writers Retreat grow and establish a stellar reputation nationwide,” said Tony Valenzuela, LLF’s Executive Director. “Amazon’s support reflects its commitment to nurturing emerging voices in the LGBT community. Lambda Fellows are not only among our community’s most talented up-and-coming writers, they graduate from our program and go on to publish prolifically, winning other fellowships and literary awards along the way.”
“LLF’s Writers Retreat empowers emerging LGBT writers with the professional and creative skills, and supportive community, necessary to grow and succeed as storytellers,” said Jon Fine, director of Author & Publishing Relations for Amazon.com. “The faculty and staff are unparalleled in their commitment to developing these voices. Amazon is proud to continue our support of LLF and the Writers Retreat, and look forward to great new stories from these young talents.”
Amazon.com’s $25,000 grant is a significant contribution to the mission of the Lambda Literary Foundation. As in years past, the grant will enable emerging writers with talent and promise to participate through scholarship funds. The Retreat this summer will also establish the publication of an annual e-book anthology of writings by Fellows that will be available on Amazon.com before the end of the year.
The Writers Retreat provides an unparalleled opportunity to learn from the very best writers in the LGBT community. This year’s main faculty:
Lucy Jane Bledsoe is the author of a collection of short stories and four novels, the most recent of which is The Big Bang Symphony. Her fiction has won a Yaddo Fellowship, the 2013 Saturday Evening Post Fiction Award, the Arts & Letters Fiction Prize, a California Arts Council Fellowship, an American Library Association Stonewall Award, and two National Science Foundation Artists & Writers Fellowships. Five of her books have been Lammy finalists. Her stories have been translated into Japanese, Spanish, German, Dutch, and Chinese. She’s traveled to both Cuba and Antarctica as a visiting writer.
Eduardo C. Corral is a CantoMundo fellow. He holds degrees from Arizona State University and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. His poems have appeared in Best American Poetry 2012, Beloit Poetry Journal, Jubilat, New England Review,Ploughshares, and Poetry. His work has been honored with a “Discovery”/The Nation Award, the J. Howard and Barbara M. J. Wood Prize from Poetry, and writing residencies to the MacDowell Colony and Yaddo. He has served as the Olive B. O’Connor Fellow in Creative Writing at Colgate University and as the Philip Roth Resident in Creative Writing at Bucknell University. Slow Lightning, his first book of poems, was selected by Carl Phillips as the 2011 winner of the Yale Series of Younger Poets competition. He’s the recipient of a Whiting Writers’ Award and a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship. He lives in New York City.
Randall Kenan is the author of a novel, A Visitation of Spirits; two works of non-fiction, Walking on Water: Black American Lives at the Turn of the Twenty-First Century and The Fire This Time; and a collection of stories, Let the Dead Bury Their Dead. He edited and wrote the introduction for The Cross of Redemption: The Uncollected Writings of James Baldwin. Among his awards are a Guggenheim Fellowship, the North Carolina Award, and the American Academy of Arts and Letters’ Rome Prize. He is a Professor of English and Comparative Literature at UNC-Chapel Hill.
Elizabeth Sims is the author of short stories and novels, including the Rita Farmer Mysteries (St. Martin’s Minotaur) and the Lambda award-winning Lillian Byrd crime novels (Alyson Books). A Contributing Editor at Writer’s Digest magazine, and a popular instructor at workshops and conferences across the country, Elizabeth has helped thousands of fledgling writers find their wings. Her instructional title, You’ve Got a Book in You: A Stress-Free Guide to Writing the Book of Your Dreams (released by Writer’s Digest Books in 2013), became a bestseller at Barnes & Noble and Amazon. “Writing is easy,” says Elizabeth, “if you get the hell out of your own way and unleash your natural talent.” Elizabeth earned degrees in English from Michigan State University and Wayne State University, where she won the Tompkins Award for graduate fiction. She belongs to several literary societies as well as American Mensa.
Distinguished guest faculty, whose names will be announced at a later date, will also present workshops and lectures.
Lambda Literary Foundation is one of a diverse range of not-for-profit organizations receiving support from Amazon.com for programs dedicated to developing new writers and creating and publishing new works. Other recipients include The Kenyon Review, One Story, Writegirl, Narrative Magazine, Copper Canyon, The Loft Literary Center, Seattle Arts & Lectures, Pen American Center, the New York Writers Coalition, National Novel Writing Month, the Council of Literary Magazines and Presses, Hedgebrook, 826 Seattle, the Alliance for Young Artist and Writers, Girls Write Now, Public Space, Slice, the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, Bomb, Brooklyn Book Festival, Words Without Borders, The Moth, the Association of Writers and Writing Programs, Milkweed Editions, Coffee House Press, Graywolf Press, The Moth, Clarion West, Center for the Art of Translation, Shared Worlds, the Center for Fiction, Archipelago Books and the Asian American Writers Workshop. All of these organizations share Amazon.com’s dedication to fostering the creation, discussion, and publication of new writing and new authors.
Learn more at www.amazon.com/authorgrants.
La JohnJoseph is a bona fide art star, having performed all over the world as a pop singer, theatrical actor, and cabaret icon. Throughout her career on stage, she’s also been writing criticism, plays, and short stories for a number of outlets. This month, however, sees the publication of La JohnJoseph’s debut novel, Everything Must Go, edited by Bruce Benderson and published by ITNA Press, the new imprint founded by author Christopher Stoddard. In full disclosure: I’ve been a devoted fan and personal friend of JohnJoseph for many years now, and my over-eager expectations were totally blown away by her book. A post-apocalyptic coming-of-age adventure, centering around the high-femme heroine Diana’s mission to both save herself and destroy the world, the story introduces what feels like an entirely new literary voice. JohnJoseph’s writing careens from the conversational stage banter of a vaudevillian comedian to the gnomic proclamations of a spiritual guru. The context in her novel is in constant flux. The narrative hints at its own undoing, yet lurches forward without hesitation. The language is both brutal and beautiful, nuanced and crafted, and yet at times cunningly overwhelming. The novel’s heroine is tasked with ending existence as we know it, and through her reckoning with her awesome responsibility, La JohnJoseph depicts an unquenchable thirst for life at the end of the world. It was my great honor to get to interview La JohnJoseph about her book.
I’m curious about your views on morality. As anarchic and free-wheeling as many of the characters and scenes in the book are, they seem to exist in a deeply moral world—people know what they want and are out to get it. I’m curious how you’ve created these characters who love each other, yet are informed by different morals and values. It’s very romantic.
You know, I read The Birth of Tragedy on Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv. It was quite the place to read, such a promenade, and after twilight, fruit bats started squeaking and swooping and dropping berries to the ground, and so I would cycle home and think about what I’d ingested. One of the sentiments that stayed with me from Nietzsche was his rejection of morality as a fixed moral code. I don’t know if morality is quite as you put it, knowing what you want and going out to get it, but it is true that the characters all have their own agendas and their own sense of what is right and wrong, acceptable and not acceptable, what is in good taste and what is in bad taste. That, I suppose is closer to my own view of morality, that a pre-determined set of rules that apply to each applicable situation is actually closer immorality than a morality.
But obviously in the book I was satirizing manners, morals, taste and etiquette. I’m very aware that although a certain level of politeness is necessary to grease the wheels of interpersonal interactions, manners can also be suffocating and repressive. At my core I detest hypocrisy and I feel that we live in an epoch almost defined by it, even in fringe circles. The idea that as long as you commit the horrible act through the socially sanctioned steps, you have acted correctly, is so common. It’s recognizing la régle du jeu I suppose, and trying to use them to your advantage.
One of the things I know about you personally and from following other work of yours throughout the years, is your relationship to and with history. The world of Everything Must Go is in many ways post-historical. Characters from different time periods all show up together, and yet they all know who each other are, as if everyone has the same relationship to history that you do. How did you come up with this kind of flattening of time?
I think that’s actually how I experience time. I’m a huge daydreamer and whatever I am reading, or watching or musing upon, becomes my reality. I’ve experienced religious visions and trips where figures from the past have been present, so this mode of writing wasn’t much more than an extension of that state.
Given that we’re basically living online, we’re all bombarded with images and narratives from other times, aren’t we? On your browser now you might have a tab with an essay on riot grrrl open, one with a Tumblr page dedicated to Edwardian transvestites, a Mozart Requiem mass playing, a vine video showing you 10 seconds of some puking club kid, an email conversation with your mother – and you tab between them. The Internet has altered our relationship to time more profoundly I think than anything since the writings of Sartre and De Beauvoir.
I don’t think anyone believes time is linear anymore, certainly not me. I wanted the book to feel like a trip to Athens, where you see ancient ruins being excavated in the shadow of horrible 70s apartment blocks, where gorgeous dilapidated nineteenth-century houses, with trees coming through the roofs, threaten to collapse onto the McDonalds next door, and everything is covered in graffiti and the police carry machine guns and packs of dogs roam the city looking for food, but stop at the street crossing with everyone else.
I’m curious about the role of mothers in the book. Was there a conscious decision to investigate different archetypal mothers or was it more organic?
No, that was very organic, although it is quite a prominent theme now, with Diana being a mother, the appearance of the Virgin Mary, and Diana’s own long-lost mother. More than exploring mothers and motherhood, I think I wanted to describe a sort of mad, matriarchal world similar to the one I grew up in, to make it feminist and socialist but still terribly flawed. Penny Arcade once said that “People always complain about patriarchy but what about matriarchy?” I always thought that was very funny and very true.
Also, children: children are portrayed throughout the book (Baby, the Valeries) as the active agents in a post-apocalyptic world. While the aesthetic relies on a kind of gorgeous violence, children are rarely the victims, and often the perpetrators. How did you come to this vision of kids?
Oh yes, I love babies. The Valeries were both an homage to Henry Darger and also a critique of the British tabloid press with its obsession with sexual violence, specifically centered on little girls. I suppose it’s not unique to the British press but they do excel at it. And again, it’s hypocrisy, it’s graphic, sensationalist, gore porn recycled in a glorious common man morality, which appalls me.
The women and girls who commit atrocities in the novel, are almost always justified, the major crimes in the book are the executions of rapists and C.E.Os. Children don’t die in the book (except in battle) because I don’t want to see children die – it’s as selfish as that. I was always haunted by the stories of the Children’s Crusade in 1212. That was a sad source of inspiration for these child soldiers, alongside the Khmer Rouge of course. That’s really what is so sick about the book I think, that people ask me, “How did you come up with such gruesome scenes?” when in reality they’re so very close to real life horrors.
Speaking of history and mothers, I’m curious about how you feel the Bible factors into the story, both as a kind of compendium of western culture, as well as the specific context of Christianity.
I don’t think there’s much of the Bible in the novel actually. Of Christianity, yes, but not specifically the Bible. Most of the religious figures are from much later. Besides the Virgin Mary, none are contemporaries of Christ or predate him, I don’t think. I was much more interested in religious mystics and visionaries than in Biblical stories, although there is obviously more than a slight reference to the Book of Revelations in the novel. Figures like Saint Bernadette, Saint Terese d’Avilla and Saint Joan of Arc always resonated with me, and I think informed the tone of the book, these women who had holy visions. I was always very jealous of them, as a child I would stare at my hands for hours, willing my palms to bleed but it never happened, although I was visited with some frequency by the spirit of Jackie Curtis. I told Penny about it and she told me the same thing had happened to her with Diamanda Galas’ brother. I recognize now that many things that appeared to me may actually have been the product of starvation, like Saint Marguerite’s visions, because (like anyone who leaves an economically disadvantaged background in their teens and sets off across the world following their art with no visas and no financial support) I was half-starved for about a decade.
Tell me about where you were when you were writing the book; what were you thinking about? Were there any writers, books, artists, etc. that you feel particularly influenced you during the making of the book?
When I wrote the book I was in a total rage of wrath and destruction, I wonder if that is apparent? I had basically been deported from the United States and felt horrified at being forced to live in the UK again, a place I felt I had absolutely no association with. At the same time someone very close to me told me about sexual abuses they had suffered as a child at the hands of a close relative. I felt such guilt at not knowing, not having prevented it, not having been there to support this person whom I loved so much, and utterly pathetic for not seeing what had happened right under my nose. In amongst all of this, my mother told me of a friend of hers who had, after almost 40 years of abuse at the hands of her father, turned to her husband for help. Her husband blamed his wife herself for it, and began abusing her, along with his best friend, threatening to rape her daughter if she told anyone.
The woman had gone to the police and been told that the burden of proof lay with her, and had been basically driven back home. She was frantic obviously, and had only my mother to confide in. I remember my mother asking her husband for advice, and him replying, “Stay out of it, it’s not your problem.” I was so utterly horrified. I felt so disgusted and powerless hearing about this brutalized, victimized woman who seemingly no one could help. I had nightmares about it, clearly having combined her situation with what had happened to the other person in my life.
Compounding this was an immense shame surrounding my gender. I had never wanted to be male, and yet being born and socialized as so, I felt that I was in fact culpable in a power system which enabled these heinous crimes to be perpetrated and left unpunished. More so I felt that I could do nothing to help, that my apparent maleness aroused a suspicion in anyone I might try to assist. That, more than anything was the impetus to write the book. There’s a Karen Finley quote somewhere in which she says that she made her work to give voice to her mother and the countless other women she felt were unable to speak out for themselves. I think I wrote this book from a similar starting point. For me it’s as much as a vengeance novel as anything else, as much as it is a quest or an adventure.
In short, I was listening to PJ Harvey’s To Bring You My Love and Is This Desire on a loop, constantly, for days and days. I was drinking whiskey and taking codeine (the combination which killed Tallulah Bankhead ) and watching Bergman, Tarkovsky, Fassbinder and Jarman unceasingly. It was a very strange time for me, I was devastated and electrified by anger and pain, almost suicidal, definitely homicidal, and this book was the product of that.
How did you come to work with Christopher Stoddard and ITNA? Could you speak about being edited by Bruce Benderson? I definitely see a similar tenderness and empathy in both your writing, used to great effect. Do you feel there are similarities between your work?
Being edited by Bruce was swell, very straight forward and actually quite fun. We met in Berlin when he was visiting and writing an article for Tetu on the wild boys of Berlin. Quite how I ended up on that list, I don’t know. It was probably Travis Jeppesen’s fault. Bruce is a living encyclopedia and has an incredible eye for detail, so he really helped to give the book a rigorous logic, which holds it together. I loved Pacific Agony so it was a treat to have him as an editor. Plus he’s pure filth, which I love, obviously.
The book is inundated by news reports, pop icons, information and entertainment. I’m curious about how and why you reference it in the book. Where do you get your news from? What role do you think media has in your writing?
I read everything. I go to Democracy Now, the BBC, Salon, Jezebel, The Times online. I also love The Economist for plane trips. In my writing, this book especially, the media functions simply as another voice to facilitate the narrative. I’m manipulating it, much like real life. This week in London a new TV channel launched, and there was a front page new story in The Evening Standard. It was only a few lines into the article that I recognized the owner of the newspaper and the owner of the TV station were of course the same person! That’s genius. I refer to the media as a form of spectacle and I really try to be careful about how I interact with it. There are many things I won’t talk about in interviews, and to be honest, when I’m not acting in a professional capacity I avoid the whole business. If I’m not onstage I don’t want to be photographed and I certainly don’t want to manifest as a talking head spewing sound bites.
You’re a performer and a musician in addition to being a writer, and involved in a number of cultural métiers, much like Diana in the novel. How do you think your being a member of so many overlapping communities informs your work?
Yes, that’s quite exhausting, especially if projects overlap. But it’s also quite marvelous to be able to leave the stage for six months or so to write, or to leave writing for a month on the road. To be able to drop in and out of circles and cities means I keep myself very busy and very stimulated, without ever feeling bored or overexposed. I think that at the core of everything I do is an investigation of memory, gender and identity, and how to perform memory, gender and identity – that’s what holds it altogether. Working across media means I am always bringing over influences and experiences, unexpectedly, it’s why my music meditates on morals and quotes Proust, and why my stage work is so writerly, and why my fiction works so well when performed aloud. Usually people know me for one set of outputs, and are unaware of my other lives, which I find comforting. It sort of lets me off the hook. Then occasionally I find someone who follows everything I do and has connected the dots, and that I find even more gratifying.
With the release of the book you’ve been doing readings all over the world. Are there particular parts or themes you generally like to read? How does “performing” the book differ from your other performances?
I love reading from the book actually. I love that the book basically performs itself. I just have to say the words – it’s divine. After playing parts like Duchess of Malfi, which required me to memorise three acts of seventeenth-century verse, or performing my own show “Boy in a Dress” for 27 consecutive shows at the Edinburgh Festival, or touring Europe singing in a different city each night after three hours sleep and eight hours on a bus, book readings are terrific. I’m actually really into pretending that I’m Kathleen Turner in Serial Mom for my readings. I like to put on my antique crystal earrings and a chic frock, and reading in an almost bedtime story style, this utterly malicious and repugnant novel.
Who are some of your touchstones, in terms of craft and aesthetics? Are there any writers who inspire your work in terms of style?
Writing Everything Must Go I actually had no stylistic references in mind. I was clearly deranged at the time. I was, however, knowingly modeling it structurally on a lot of fantasy fiction – C.S. Lewis, Tolkien, and Terry Brooks, who wrote things like The Sword of Shannara. I can’t believe I’m admitting to being such a dork, but it’s true. As a child I read the Bible, Shakespeare and fantasy fiction almost exclusively so the book has a sort of bombastic feel to it. Even though it’s only 196 pages it seems epic because it’s so saturated. Specifically, I borrowed the narrative tropes of setting out on a mission of global importance, finding a rag-tag band of cohorts, travelling unbelievable distances, and overcoming insurmountable odds from fantasy fiction. I took all of that and made it wildly mundane. The conclusion is so unremarkable it’s hilarious, and there are endless little chit-chats which puncture the tension. This contrast between extreme horror and very prosaic interactions, side by side, is what makes the book so weird in retrospect. It’s a little like the movie Eat the Rich which I just saw and am absolutely in love with now. In the most tender, touching, good bye scene, the protagonists stop to pass a bag of candy back and forth. So genius. It’s Brechtian, and very camp, and yet very workaday.
In terms of style I recognize now the influence of Kathy Acker, Angela Carter and Ronald Firbanks, though they weren’t deliberate references as I wrote [the book]. Genet I think was the keystone, though that might not be apparent. His writing gave me a real license, I felt, to explore reality as I felt fit. And reading Wojnarowicz opened up a portal for dealing with immense personal horror in a vicious way, a courage I suppose. Virginia Woolf (naturally, with Orlando, but also Mrs. Dalloway) was I felt justification for taking dreamy tangents, and using them to paint a landscape. Also, without being a total kiss-ass, your writing also was very important in the writing of the book. Your exceptional sexual psychedelic throbbing helped me escape a lot of shame about being so queer, and about wanting to write dirty stuff.
Who would play Diana and Candy Bar and Thackeray and Baby in the movie version of the book?
Candy Bar I think should probably be played by Miranda Richardson, and I think you should play Thackeray and I’ll play Diana so we can each get a million dollars and spend eight weeks snuggled on set in New Mexico. Baby is the hardest casting decision. I think she should be played by either Skeeter from the Muppet Babies or the dancing baby from Ally McBeal. What do you think?
Photo credit: Leon Csernohlavek
The racism Gandhi encountered in South Africa helped spark a lifetime of activism. Historian Ramachandra Guha says without that experience, "he would never have become a political animal."
For the past decade Pakistan has faced war, political instability and the rise of religious extremism. But those crises have fueled a new generation of Pakistani writers and artists.
In a new book, New York Times correspondent Carlotta Gall offers new information about how Pakistan has helped the Taliban in Afghanistan and may have helped hide Osama bin Laden.
Have you checked out Glitterwolf Magazine yet? If not, you should. Glitterwolf Magazine is a new well-curated, well-designed, UK-based literary and arts magazine that “publishes poetry, fiction, art and photography by contributors identifying as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.”
Glitterwolf editor Matt Cresswell took some time to talk with Lambda about starting the magazine, aesthetics, and what constitutes queer writing.
What was the impetus for starting Glitterwolf?
Pure nostalgia. I’d been out in the real world wage-slaving for a few years, and the sense of writer’s community I’d experienced while studying Creative Writing at university seemed a very long way away. So three months into a global recession, I thought, “A-ha! Small press literary magazine is a great business model!”
As for why an LGBT magazine: partly because that was my little corner of fiction; I’d read and written in that area, and I knew other people writing in that area, and there was a wealth of great but largely ignored stuff. No one really standing up and shouting about it—especially in the UK, where Chroma had just closed its doors.
What challenges did you face when starting the journal? How did you meet those challenges?
Starting up, the biggest challenge was simply having to feel blindly around to produce this grand idea. I’d worked as an editor and a graphic designer before, and I’ve read countless literary magazines, so I had deliriously expected that I had the full necessary skillset, but as with anything, there’s a lot of learning along the way.
After that, there was just simply being heard—especially before anything was published, and we were seeking the first round of submissions. I had this terror of having to compile an issue from two short stories, a couple of poems and a stick drawing.
Of course, once we had been heard, I found myself tangled up in complaints from lots of people online about the editorial policy of ‘LGBT contributors only’—lots of claims of discrimination, generally from, to be honest, straight white males. I can see the logic of their arguments, but at that point the whole enterprise felt in danger of wobbling and collapsing in the face of it. I had to remind myself that there was a reason I was championing LGBT writers and artists, and stick to my guns.
Did you have an audience or readership in mind when you decided to pull it all together?
No—all I had in my head was to make the magazine into a stage for talented creatives, I hadn’t considered who’d actually come through to doors to sit down and watch. I didn’t want it to be explicitly for a gay audience, I wanted to feature things that could appeal universally. Of course, we would still be a good home for fiction, poetry or art with gay characters or themes, but not every LGBT person is just queer, and so I didn’t want the magazine to be either.
In terms of aesthetics and craft, what kind of work were you looking to be included in Glitterwolf?
I look for two things in anything that’s submitted. Heart and feeling, and self-awareness. I get so, so many stories that are the same thing every time: horny man in a dingy, depressing gay bar. Meaningless hook-up. Probably some drugs involved. It’ll all be very hollow.
And when I read them I think, I bet the writer thinks he’s making a statement about gay life. So many writers seem to be wanting to suck out the spark in order to be considered ‘meaningful’—it’s starting to feel a bit like writing for the literary establishment. I will nearly always steer clear of that. Don’t get me wrong: stories can be serious, stories can be literary, but that doesn’t mean that all heart and emotion has to be pulled out, and I look for anything that flies in the face of that, because stories—and poetry, and art—can be magical, and emotional, and shocking, and sad, and they can do all of them at once, and the same can be said of gay life.
I sense a little bit of well-crafted irreverence–a sly mixing of sincerity and irony. Would you say that this is the kind of work that speaks to you.
Absolutely. I like nothing more than literature gives you a bit of a nod and a wink. That’s what that feeling of ‘self-awareness’ in a story comes down to actually—that idea that whoever has crafted this knows what game they’re playing, knows you probably know it too, and so can tip the balance. The first three issues of Glitterwolf featured the poet Chris Black, who I think pretty much sums this aesthetic up. He can tip you from a cock joke to Shakespearean lyricism in a few lines, or he can use a cock joke to be incredibly sentimental and bring you to tears. I think that sort of thing appeals to me because, mostly, that’s actually what life is like, and a lot of literature seems concerned with bundling the experience into one narrow genre or style at once.
You are based in the United Kingdom and I am sure you get a lot of international submissions. What are some of the commonalities and differences you found in the global queer writing community? How is the work similar or different depending on the locale of the writer (i.e. London-based writers versus say Portland-based writers).
It’s fascinating, actually, because I so rarely pay attention to their origin as I’m writing, and it so rarely makes itself noticed. I think it probably says a lot about the “queer experience” that there is that much commonality. There’s a lot of the themes I think you’d expect, being felt and told as stories everywhere. The outsider. The links between “queer weird” and actual “fantastical weird.” What I am starting to see turning up a lot is stories addressing the building of families, slotting together LGBT family units as things like gay marriage and family become more integral to our lives, and having to negotiate new versions of traditional ideas. But between the UK and US? Well… we seem to be a lot more scared of writing sex scenes in the UK, but that’s about it!
There has been a lot of talk over the last couple of years about what constitutes “queer” writing. Is it style? Is it content? I wanted to know your thoughts on what constitutes queer writing and how does that personal philosophy inform the work you publish in Glitterwolf?
My god… this is an answer that could go on and on.
Superficially, there’s your fiction that makes an effort to deal with, or give exposure to, gay characters, gay relationships, gay concerns, and there’s definitely a need for that, and always will be until the time that ‘queer fiction’ is just ‘fiction’, because it’s still often some way left of mainstream. But as I mentioned, Glitterwolf publishes fiction that isn’t superficially gay, and I think there is still a marked difference in those stories that, if you were wise, you could pick out as ‘queer fiction’ without knowing.
I think queer writers make excellent storytellers because we’re so used to observing the mechanics of people and second-guessing their actions and motivations, and you can see—or feel—that perspective of the outsider even when there isn’t a gay character in sight. And then, we also have speculative fiction stories that seems to gel incredibly well with LGBT characters. It’s the sense of finding something beautiful in what some see as weird and monstrous, I don’t think the monsters in the closet feel like a big step for queer readers.
Overall, though, it nearly always feel like queer writing is for itself, for the actual purpose of just creating something, unlike much ‘mainstream’ writing that can feel like it’s writing for the establishment, for respect, for status.
Glitterwolf looks spectacular. Can you tell me a little bit about what goes into the design of each issue?
Mostly simplicity and deadline panic…! I always just try and stick to ‘keep it simple’ in terms of design. It’s very kind of you to describe it as spectacular, and I think that mostly comes down to the strength of the photography that graces the cover and the interior, which is almost entirely out of my hands. Glitterwolf is lucky to have a talented photographer who lets me bully him, Thom Vollans, who for three issues running now has produced me some excellent cover photography that somehow seems to completely capture whatever I set him as a brief. I don’t know how he does it. The man’s the devil. The third issue (and collected edition) actually features myself, painted up as a skeleton, which despite the sunny look was photographed in the freezing cold. I wonder how many other lit mag editors can say they’ve suffered for their art quite like that?
What advice would you give anyone who is looking to start a literary journal?
- Have a clear image of what kind of magazine you want to create, and stick to it.
- Don’t feel embarrassed to shout about your magazine at every opportunity and in every venue you can—and talk to as many people as you can, especially the wonderful people behind lots of the other literary magazines and small presses that are around.
- Proof-read. That one’s really important.
Photo courtesy of Matt Cresswell
Dixon Place Presents New! Work! Now!: A Reading Featuring John Weir, Sarah Schulman, Saeed Jones, and Morgan M. Page
John Weir, Sarah Schulman, Saeed Jones, Frederick McKindra, Morgan M. Page, Diana Cage, Bryn Kelly, Cat Fitzpatrick, Morgan Goode
Date: Monday, April 21, 2014
Time: 7 pm
Place: Dixon Place Lounge, 161A Chrystie St.
The Dixon Place Lounge is open before, during, and after the event. Proceeds directly support Dixon Place’s artists and mission.
Also: Willy Blackmore writes about the several identities of his grandfather, John Farrar of Farrar, Straus and Giroux, and research on reading comprehension for printed vs. digital books.
Something mysterious stalks a shepherdess on a remote British island in Evie Wyld's visceral new novel, All the Birds, Singing. Reviewer Annalisa Quinn calls it "a museum of sinister curiosities."
Kelly McEvers talks to Leslie Jamison, author of the new essay collection, The Empathy Exams: Essays. The book takes the writer on a quest to figure out how others feel empathy.