From Category: Books
Successful slam poet offers creative ways to support a career as a full-time writer. Also includes advice about how to give good readings, write effective press releases, and other practical skills.
By Harry Bauld. With mordant wit and erudition, the poems in this chapbook dissect artistic masterpieces from Rembrandt to Basquiat, to analyze the nature of fame, genius, and mortality. Several pieces are from the perspective of cogs in the commercial art machine—docents, consumers, or anonymous assistants to the famous painter (who are actually doing most of the work). Others remix words from news stories, textbooks, and artists' monographs, as if to warn that no body of work is immune to being decomposed.
By Nick White. In this contemporary Southern Gothic novel, a disaffected young man must confront his memories of an "ex-gay conversion" camp he was forced to attend as a teen, when another former camper makes a horror movie based on a death that occurred there. The book parallels the structure of traumatic memory recovery, converging on the pivotal time period with scenes set before and after the protagonist's fateful summer. His Christian family members are drawn with depth and compassion, and the surprising redemptive ending feels earned.
Winner of the 2012 Beatrice Hawley Award from Alice James Books, this electric debut collection embodies the vitality and struggle of becoming a man. The word "elegy" is not entirely right for such energetic, muscular poems, but there is mourning here for May's native Detroit and the men of his family who were scarred by addiction, war, and racism. The speaker of these poems fights back with beauty, noticing the shine of the handcuffs while enduring police harassment, or the inspiring message on the plastic bag that holds his relative's ashes "in a Chinese takeout box". In the age of e-readers, AJB's elegant book design makes a case for the pleasures of print. Poems titled after various phobias are interspersed through the book on black paper with white type, creating moments of visual "hush" amid the "hum" of text.
By Roxane Gay. In this starkly honest and courageous memoir, the bestselling fiction writer and feminist commentator shares her complex and ongoing story of childhood trauma, eating disorders, and navigating prejudice against fat bodies. After being gang-raped at age 12, Gay self-medicated her emotional pain with food and became obese as armor against the world. She offers no easy answers or tales of miracle diets, but rather something more valuable: a role model for learning to cherish and nourish yourself in a genuine way despite society's cruelty toward "unruly" bodies.
By Jessica Young, illustrated by Rafael López. This tender story, illustrated in rich, soothing colors, follows a brown-skinned mother and son as he grows up, has a child of his own, and feels her presence among the stars after she has become an ancestor.
By Joshua Jennifer Espinoza. This poet's first full-length book transforms the raw material of emotions into visionary language without losing their sincerity and immediacy. The untitled short poems can be read as sections of a single long work, as journal entries, or as miniature worlds in their own right, composed of clouds and hormones and rain on the freeway and blood and mirrors. Each represents the daily choice to feel everything, though pain coexists with joy. Espinoza writes with honesty and wit about her life as a transgender woman who manages anxiety and depression.
When her first daughter was born deaf, memories of feeling unheard by her own mother led Rosner to trace the history of deafness in her family and imagine how love might bridge the communications gap between parents and children. This beautifully constructed memoir from Feminist Press touches on themes of assimilation, identity formation, and healing. Interwoven with Rosner's tender and humorous memories of her children's early years are vivid fictionalized scenes of her Jewish immigrant ancestors, whom she imagines wrestling with the same challenges in a very different cultural setting. The technology and politics of deafness may keep changing, this book suggests, but the need to connect with the ones we love is universal.
By Carmine Dandrea. This noteworthy chapbook from Finishing Line Press is a unified 17-poem cycle voiced by a solitary older man inside a house in Michigan in deep winter. As the "prime suspect" of his own examinations, he reflects on mortality and time wasted. Women from his past reappear as nameless sirens and ghosts, arousing both desire and regret that he did not value their intimacy enough. Despite the assaults of unforgiving weather and the temptation to succumb to darkness, he also finds moments of sensual joy and radiance in the ordinary furnishings of his monastic cell. The recurring image of the garden comes to represent not only the literal promise of spring but the "seeds of love" and "sureness of life" that he wants another chance to cultivate in his soul.
This insightful, compassionate memoir tells of growing up within a breakaway fundamentalist Mormon sect that considered plural marriage a holy obligation. A theology of eternal family bonds, combined with the need to hide from persecution, drew her father's many wives and children closer together but also stifled their self-development. Amid the upheaval of social roles in the 1960s and '70s, the author strives to discover her own connection to God without rejecting her people. Personal narrative is well-balanced with historical background. First written in 1984, this book was reissued in 2009 by Texas Tech University Press.
Artistically designed limited-edition chapbook pairs poetic reflections with intricate abstract pen-and-ink drawings and collages suggesting forms from nature. Schulman keeps alive the tradition of books as art objects, creating an "illuminated manuscript" with a decisively modern feel.
Prizewinning first collection of poetry depicts the farming life unsentimentally yet with wonder at the mysteries of birth, death and transcendence. The language of these poems can be as stark and rugged as a Massachusetts winter, then blossom forth with the joy and terror of encountering the sacred in the cycles of nature. This book won the 2004 New England/New York Award from Alice James Books and the 2005 L.L. Winship award from PEN/New England.
By Joseph Osmundson. This daring flash memoir, which can also be classified as a prose-poem collection, looks from multiple angles at the arc of an emotionally abusive relationship between the white author and his African-American ex-lover. Like a mosaic of broken mirror fragments, each sliver of memory reflects larger themes of exclusion, power exchange, personal and collective trauma, and the nature of intimacy, raising as many questions as it answers.
By Mira Grant. Masterful pacing and character development distinguish this cosmic horror novel about a scientific voyage to discover man-eating mermaids, set in a near-future where climate change and pollution are reshaping our relationship to the ocean. On a state-of-the-art ship commissioned by an American entertainment company, a diverse team of researchers fight to survive (and even study) a mysterious predator that overwhelms their defenses and challenges their belief in humanity's dominance of the ecosystem. Several crew members have disabilities, which turn out to give them unique knowledge that proves integral to saving their shipmates. A lesbian romance subplot lends a spark of hope to a terrifying situation.
Brilliantly written novel-in-stories seduces the reader with witty sketches of Manhattanites in love and lust, but what began as social comedy ends as a surprisingly moving tale of darkness and redemption. Aspiring short story writers should study Schickler's way with the details that reveal character and milieu.
This standout first novel paints a tender, comical portrait of an Idaho small town in the 1980s, where a motley collection of trailer-park residents yearn for connection (and sometimes, against all odds, find it) across the barriers of class, sexual orientation, illness, separatist piety, drug abuse, and plain old social ineptness. You'll want to linger on the luscious writing, but keep turning the pages to find out what happens to the characters who've won a place in your heart.
By Charles Burns. This volume collects Burns' acclaimed graphic novels X'ed Out, The Hive, and Sugar Skull. Imagine that Samuel Beckett and Hieronymus Bosch dropped acid together and wrote a Tintin comic. These horror comics braid the real-world story of Doug, a photographer and failed performance artist obsessed with his lost love Sarah, with the nightmare visions of his alter ego, Johnny 23, a low-level functionary in a breeding factory where woman-like creatures produce monstrous eggs. The features of his grotesque dream world gradually reveal parallels to Doug's real life and the relationship patterns that trap him in isolation. Subtle clues toward the end indicate a Buddhist message about purifying one's mind to escape the wheel of rebirth.
Part memoir, part religious history, this compelling, controversial book by a Harvard-educated sociologist describes the fallout from her recovered memories of sexual abuse by her father, a leading Mormon scholar. Her anger is leavened by compassion as she delves into the complicity of a secretive church culture in creating and shielding abusers with split personalities. Though the topic is a dark one, readers who accompany Beck on her healing journey will be rewarded with her account of her strengthened connection to God's love and her own inner truth.
In this novel, a retired scholar in a working-class Midwestern town struggles to process her memories of childhood incest and unravel its effects on her psyche. This book's strengths are its sharp characterization of people and cultural settings, and the connections it draws between domestic abuse and sexist institutions that conspire to keep it secret. On her long journey to claim her truth, the narrator must rethink not only her family's official storyline of virtue and vice, but the messages from religious authorities and psychologists who dismiss a woman's perspective. Metaphors from her scientific research give her a creative way to resist. This book shows how trauma can give birth to an artist's intellect that notices and questions human behavior.
This engaging and accessible anthology features the winners and numerous runners-up from the first year of this contest, sponsored by a small press in Connecticut whose motto is "Delight, entertain and educate". Well-known contributors include Ed Frankel, Diane De Pisa, and A.D. Winans, alongside a number of writers who are just beginning their literary careers. A concluding section is devoted to the rediscovery of lesser-known authors including Jon Norman, Richard Harteis (partner of the late William Meredith), and Vernice Quebodeaux. The authors' bios are often as colorful as the poems themselves.
By Laila Ibrahim. In this timely, heartwarming novel, a conservative Christian mother is forced to question her beliefs about homosexuality when her son attempts suicide. Their journey to acceptance includes a realistic depiction of so-called conversion therapy and how it can tear apart a loving family with a witch-hunt for nonexistent trauma. Sympathetic to faith, this book shows the diversity of views even within evangelical families, as well as the social pressure to keep silent about one's doubts.
By Joolz Sparkes and Hilaire. This collaborative collection by two British poets creates a people's history of London spanning five centuries, through persona poems in the voices of women from diverse backgrounds. Notable athletes, activists, and literary figures share these pages with imagined characters who represent factory workers, strikers, and working-class girls enjoying a hard-earned holiday. This book would be a good resource for junior high and high school history classrooms.
Bold, original study of the invention of courtly love and its echoes in high and low culture through the centuries. Themes include the tension between romance and marriage, romantic ecstasy as substitute for religion, and the craving for union with the beloved as a disguised longing for self-annihilation. Nonscholars may skim some of the historical passages, but poets and fiction writers alike will benefit from reexamining the origins and implications of the romantic values we take for granted.
By Bracha Nechama Bomze. This debut poetry book from 3Ring Press is simultaneously a book-length love poem, a family memoir, and an epic of social change. The title's multiple meanings encompass generations of Jewish labor activism, winning the right to marry her lesbian partner, and the heartbreak of a closed adoption system that stigmatized her birthmother. Through all these personal and political traumas, the poet continues to praise the natural world that feeds her soul, and the life partnership that comes as a fairy-tale happy ending to a lonely childhood. The book is an inspiration and a delight.
Fierce, tragicomic poetry chapbook voices the struggles and desires of a lesbian whose masculine appearance leads her (not always voluntarily) to adopt alternate identities in response to others' preconceptions. This writer's fertile imagination was formed by a hostile world in which one best expresses one's true self by wearing a mask. "Who will believe us that deception is only/ a matter of cutting through the red tape?"
By Matt Ruff. This suspenseful and satirical novel-in-stories follows an African-American family in 1950s Chicago who tangle with a cabal of upper-class white occultists. Each chapter cleverly inverts the xenophobic tropes of one of H.P. Lovecraft's classic horror stories, with the implication that the heartless and greedy cosmic forces of the Cthulhu Mythos are more a self-portrait of Jim Crow's America than an enemy from beyond the stars.
A pregnant woman develops a craving for bugs. A couple bond over the failure of their wife-swapping party. A father consoles his child over the dinosaurs' extinction, while wishing his own parents had allowed him to believe in heaven. These are some of the seeds from which spring Randall Brown's quirky, brilliant, heart-rending short-short stories. This collection won the 2007-08 Flume Press Fiction Chapbook Competition. Their book design is also a standout.
Offbeat offerings in this winner of the Slope Editions Book Prize include "Hair Club for Corpses" and a sestina in which every line ends with "Bob". Winter can switch from serious to humorous and back again in a blink: "Everyone's losing at something./ It just matters more to some people, for example, Orpheus/ or Ty Cobb."
No modern poet captured the essence of a place as well as 20th-century master Richard Hugo, whose tightly paced free verse reveals the dignity of America's forgotten towns.
By Daniel Khalastchi. Winner of the Tupelo Press/Crazyhorse First Book Prize, this collection is a memorable addition to the literature of horror poetry, as well as the poetry of political witness. The narrator of these poems obediently submits to an endless sequence of bizarre procedures that are part surgical invasion, part public spectacle of punishment. Like someone brainwashed or anesthetized, he is quite clear about what is physically happening but has numbed out the normal reactions of fear, anger, or confusion. There is no narrative movement toward freedom or enlightenment, but a strange kind of beauty arises from the speaker's attention to detail.
By Frannie Lindsay. Winner of the 2009 Word Works Washington Prize, this spare and radiant poetry collection centers on acceptance of loss. Its key figures are a beloved sister who died of cancer, and their late father, a perpetrator of incest.
In this profound, witty memoir of spiritual transformation, an intense, high-achieving, activist intellectual goes to Thailand to research the unequal status of women in Buddhist religious life, but unexpectedly finds inner peace during her stint as a member of an ascetic order of nuns. The elegantly designed book pairs her current reminiscences with excerpts from her journals, side by side on the page like a Talmudic commentary.
Miller, Reiter & Robbins were all discovered by Hanging Loose magazine. "Distinctive voices even in their earliest efforts." Order from Amazon or directly from Jendi Reiter for $9.
There's more to this teen memoir than meets the eye. Beautiful, blonde Cheryl has a wise old head on her shoulders, which helps her survive encounters with all sorts of human predators as she tenaciously builds a career as a fashion model in New York City. She's also a sharp, funny writer.
Raw, sensual, touched with bittersweet humor, Glatt's poems take an unflinching look at women's bodies experiencing love and death.
By Margaret Atwood. This mature poetry collection considers history and warfare from women's perspectives. A father's death prompts a more personal turn to poems exploring memory and loss. The style is straightforward, declarative, assured. Yet the multi-layered meanings of these poems complicate our conventional wisdom and lead us into mysteries that can only be experienced, not mastered, through language.
By Lisa Dordal. A Christian girl wondering where her emerging lesbian-feminist consciousness fits into her faith. A woman grappling with the legacy of her alcoholic, possibly closeted mother. In her debut collection from Black Lawrence Press, Dordal makes these "confessional" themes fresh and strange again by centering her poems on a tangential detail which, after careful rereading, telescopes out into a larger narrative. The technique is reminiscent of those close-up photo puzzles in science magazines, where you must guess the whole animal from an abstract shimmer of scales or feathers.
By Gillian Cummings. This collection of sensual prose-poems is an imagined autobiography of the model Fernande, the subject of French photographer Jean Agélou's erotic postcards in the early 20th century. Slipping gracefully between English and French, her wordplay is as elusive as a woman desired by all, understood by none.
The enticing title says it all: this author embraces all the joys and sorrows of the body, flamboyant as a rock musician yet wryly wise as a philosopher. Unusual juxtapositions abound, but her words always discover that they enjoy each other's company.
Translated by Esperanza Ramirez-Christensen, illustrated by Tracy Gallup. This artistically designed, bilingual picture book features 20 poems by Japanese haiku masters such as Issa and Basho. Each poem has breathing room in its own two-page spread featuring the original Japanese verse (in script and Romaji), Ramirez-Christensen's translation, a dreamy painting reminiscent of Magritte's surreal images, and a prompt for imaginative reflection on the pairing of art and text.
By Laura Sims. The author's third collection from Fence Books is a haunting collage of fragments from writing by and about serial killers, juxtaposed with lyric passages and stark abstract visual elements such as square frames and all-black pages. There are no gruesome details here. Sims is interested in the philosophy of self-expression through crime, an exploration that is no less chilling for being primarily cerebral. The mind-field we enter in this book is fragmented, grandiose, and claustrophobic.
Dark, innovative, beautiful, strange variations on classic fairy tales from around the world. Some stories remain within the fantasy-horror genre, while others reenact the fairy tale's psychological themes in a contemporary realist setting. Each story is followed by the author's reflections on the source material and how it inspired them. Notable contributors include playwright Neil LaBute, poets Joyelle McSweeney, Kim Addonizio, and Sabrina Orah Mark, and fiction writers Michael Cunningham and Gregory Maguire. This book is not appropriate for normal children.
This anthology of oral histories by senior citizens in British Columbia, Canada, paints a collective portrait of resourceful working-class women who survived poverty, sexism, and the failure of their illusions about marriage and family security.
By Douglas Goetsch (now Diana Goetsch). Like a Garrison Keillor monologue at the end of an evening, humorous riffs and tender anecdotes prove only partially effective at warding off a deep melancholy in this poet's third full-length collection. You can laugh at light verse such as "Pee on Your Foot", and a few pages later, be slain by the self-lacerating loneliness of "Forgiveness Poem". Sometimes the shift stuns you with surprise in the same poem, as when a tongue-in-cheek tribute to 1989's morning radio mix ends with the questioning of a worker's hopeless endurance, reminiscent of Philip Levine. In their unpretentious way, these narratives hope to heal the deepest wound of ordinary life: that of never really knowing the people close to us, or being known. Both this theme and the title seem to take on an additional significance from Goetsch's post-publication gender transition. The book closes with a delightful, multi-part fantasy about names and whether they determine our destiny, the poem itself a gift for a boy who is named at the end.
This quietly heartbreaking and provocative novel is equal parts British boarding-school story, dystopian science fiction, and Kafkaesque fable about conformity. While the premise (human clones harvested for their organs) seems ripped from the headlines, the absence of plausible science in the plot suggests that the clones are a metaphor for the myriad ways we sacrifice our human potential by failing to question authority.
By Jerry Craft. In this engaging and important middle-grade graphic novel, Black 7th-grader Jordan Banks is transplanted from his Washington Heights neighborhood to a mostly white and rich prep school in Riverdale, where he uses humor and cartooning to process the challenges of making new friends and coping with microaggressions from students and teachers.
Innovative collection of short stories that integrate Buddhist precepts into contemporary settings. Some of the pieces use form as well as content to explore Buddhist concerns with present awareness and change.
By Darnell L. Moore. This passionate, eye-opening memoir chronicles the author's coming of age as a black gay man in Camden, NJ, his activism with the Movement for Black Lives, and his maturing understanding of his parents' troubled marriage. Moore places his personal story in the context of structural oppression in Camden's history, and shows the extraordinary resilience and devotion of black families under pressure.
A sacred quiet permeates this debut poetry collection, winner of the 2009 FutureCycle Poetry Book Prize. Abandoned barns are Cone's churches; the steady rhythms of farm work, his liturgy. The birth of a daughter is both miracle and memento mori, a sweet paradox held together in an extended lyric poem that envisions poetry as a transmission of love across generations.
The briny tastes and stormy weathers of the Pacific Northwest permeate this first poetry collection, voiced by a woman whose appetites for food and love are more than the world allows. These poems speak honestly of loneliness and pleasure. Winner of the 2006 Autumn House Press Poetry Contest.