From Category: Books
Claudia Rankine, Beth Loffreda, & Max King Cap, eds. An essential anthology of poetics and politics in the 21st century, this essay collection from Fence Books grew out of Rankine's "Open Letter" blog that solicited personal meditations on race and the creative imagination. Contributors include poets Francisco Aragón, Dan Beachy-Quick, Jericho Brown, Dawn Lundy Martin, Danielle Pafunda, Evie Shockley, Ronaldo V. Wilson, and many more, plus contemporary artwork selected by Max King Cap. The writers span a variety of ethnic backgrounds, points of view, and aesthetics, united by honest self-examination and political insightfulness.
Austere moments of beauty illuminate this collection whose theme is finding peace in the midst of suffering. Though battered by a lover's betrayal and the onset of multiple sclerosis, the speaker of these poems is renewed by the transcendent qualities of nature and her own courage in seeing clearly. Winner of the 2003 Levis Poetry Prize from Four Way Books.
Winner of the 2010 Slipstream Poetry Chapbook Competition, this collection of prose poems and flash fictions is indeed about the "realpolitik" of our sexuality as it collides with poverty and loss and makes a beautiful explosion. Dead fathers return as jaunty ghosts, budding teenagers remind mothers of the sexy stockings they renounced, tough girls find power in submission and abandonment. This is the honky-tonk woman as sacred prostitute, speaking in tongues as men "plowed away the weight of hard hurt lives" in union with her body but not, perhaps, her elusive soul. Small typeface makes the page look less inviting, but close reading will be rewarded.
No one understands the American alpha male like Wolfe, who brings his boisterous journalistic voice to the story of the first astronauts. Published in 1979, this book has aged well, and reads now as a commentary on the brevity of fame as well as an incomparable glimpse into the Cold War zeitgeist.
By Reena Ribalow. This stately, melancholy collection of poems is steeped in sensual memories of bittersweet love, be it for a holy city or a forbidden affair. Her roots are planted in Jerusalem, sacred and war-torn, harsh and captivating. Her more personal poems show the same mix of pleasure and pain in romantic relationships. One way or another, history is inescapable.
Members of a Jesuit-led expedition to another planet face the ultimate test of their wisdom and endurance when they encounter two intelligent alien species, one of which uses the other as both servants and prey. This well-written novel and its sequel, Children of God, raise profound questions about the spiritual meaning of suffering and the unforeseen consequences of our actions.
By Theodora Goss. Suspenseful but basically light-hearted, this series opener is a fun feminist talkback to the Victorian literary tradition of mad scientists who viewed women as raw material for monstrosities. The daughters of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde team up with the Bride of Frankenstein, Nathaniel Hawthorne's poisonous Beatrice Rappaccini, and other not-quite-human women from Gothic fiction to track down a secret society that is performing murderous experiments. The third-person narrative includes frequent first-person intrusions by the characters, teasing each other or disputing how the story is framed. Some might find this editorializing a little too cutesy, as it does lower the dramatic stakes by reassuring the reader that the whole team survives to the end of this adventure. However, the style has the serious purpose of offering an alternative to the solitary hegemonic perspective of the male genius, as well as highlighting its monstrous heroines' common origins in the Victorian Gothic fear of hybridity. Not enough plot threads are resolved at the end, in order to leave an opening for the next book—a structural weakness, but one that does not unduly diminish the reader's warm feelings as the book closes.
This important anthology from The Feminist Press spans a century of women's short fiction. The large women who populate these stories may be sensual goddesses, lesbian feminists, sideshow performers, battered wives, or troubled teens, but each poses a question about our discomfort with embodiment and female power. A bonus feature of this anthology is an excellent critical essay by Koppelman, a literary historian and the leading expert on short fiction by US women. View her author page at The Feminist Press website for other themed anthologies in this series.
By Rajiv Mohabir. Taxidermy is the organizing metaphor for this ambitious, passionate debut poetry collection: a stripped and reconstituted skin as shapeshifting for survival, as forbidden gay intimacy that always carries the hint of violence, and as inescapable and often misread ethnic identities in a dominant white Christian culture. (Mohabir descends from Indian indentured laborers who were transported to British Guyana's sugar plantations, and grew up in Florida.) The poet is willing to lay his own veins bare in order to create an artifice that is painfully and beautifully true to life. This book won the 2014 Four Way Books Intro Prize.
Gentle, profound coming-of-age story about an orphan boy in postwar America and his introduction to the mysteries of sex, love, art and faith. The boarding-school setting allows insightful readings of literary classics and Christian beliefs to be skillfully woven into the narrative. Readers of all ages will feel for young David Lear as he matures from observer to author of his own life, with help from a strong-willed, unforgettable girl. This book is the sequel to Leaving Maggie Hope but can be enjoyed on its own.
Every story is a masterpiece of voice, setting, and emotional depth in this collection of short fiction from the 1970s and '80s. Contributors include Dorothy Allison, Allan Gurganus, Mary Gaitskill, Ron Hansen, Chris Offutt, Susan Power and John Edgar Wideman. This anthology stands out for the genuine diversity of its authors and subject matter (race, class, gender, location, historical period) and the absence of intellectual anomie and cynicism: something truly human is at stake in every tale.
The profane becomes sacred under this poet's unflinching attention, in earthy poems about illness, sex, and prayer (and sometimes all three tangled up in bed together). The heart of this chapbook is a series of unforgettable narratives about homeless and mentally disabled clients of The Dining Room, a soup kitchen in Oregon where the author volunteered. This book was selected by Terry Wolverton for the Main Street Rag Author's Choice Chapbook Series.
Deftly drawn portraits of intimate relationships explore how the people closest to us may be the most mysterious. In the title piece, an elderly nun in a fiction writing class writes her memoirs in defiance of the teacher's expectations, but the exercise reveals that the true story is different from what she had thought it to be. Other pieces gently probe the strengths and weaknesses of long-married couples, and how they are held together as much by the fictions they believe as by the truths they know about one another.
Winner of the 2013 PEN Center USA Award in Poetry, this exquisite collection surveys the cultural history of New Orleans over three centuries, in poems that quiver and shake with music and surge with the violence of floods. End-notes provide background on the incidents that inspired each poem.
By Molly Knox Ostertag. This lovely middle-grade graphic novel features a youth whose magical skills transgress the gender roles of his community. All the girls in Aster’s extended family are supposed to become witches, and the boys, animal shapeshifters who defend them from evil spirits. However, Aster’s passion is for witchery. With the help of Charlie, a non-magical girl from the neighboring suburb, he uses his forbidden talent to fight a monster in a way that only he can. Charlie, who has two (off-page) dads, is uniquely sympathetic to Aster’s dilemma because she’s a female athlete struggling for equal opportunities at her school. Both children are people of color, and Aster’s extended family includes a variety of ethnicities. The artwork, in cozy earth tones, is clear and expressive, and not too scary for younger readers.
The wives of mythic figures get their say at last.
By Phillip B. Williams. This debut collection from Alice James Books is a formally innovative, visceral and intense collection of poems through which the American tradition of violence against gay and black male bodies runs like a blood-red thread. From concrete poetry collages to experimental sonnets, Williams makes us contemplate murder as a twisted outburst of intimacy across caste lines, and love as a battle cry. Winner of the 2017 Kate Tufts Discovery Award.
By Tiffany Jewell. This social justice handbook for middle-grade and young adult readers offers tools for understanding your identity and social position, unlearning myths of American history, affirming yourself in a prejudiced world, and using your privileges to disrupt racism. Upbeat, energetic illustrations by Aurelia Durand create a mood of hope and momentum for dealing with tough truths. Jewell's background in Montessori education is reflected in her trusting and empowering young people to make mature moral choices.
Light verse from the Georgia Poetry Society's former vice president, featuring both original works and translations of French poems by La Fontaine, Baudelaire, Verlaine and Rimbaud.
This luminous collection of linked stories takes the risk of positing a universe where tragedy and confusion do not get the last word. The narrator's acerbic wit and unsparing assessments of human nature, particularly her own, earn credibility for the moments of grace that always break in to redeem her family's love-hate relationships.
In this fantasy novel loosely based on the myth of Cupid and Psyche, an unloved queen recounts her grievances against the gods, only to discover the struggle between selfish and unselfish love in her own soul. This is Lewis' most "feminist" book, showing a remarkable grasp of women's experiences in a male-dominated society.
By Sandra Hunter. With startling breadth of vision, this short story collection reveals the raw and tender material of our common humanity across borders—from a Sudanese refugee in Glasgow, to the survivor of a Colombian paramilitary kidnapping, to young soldiers in the Middle East whose emotional armor is breached by defiantly joyful children. The standout tale "Brother's Keeper" channels Flannery O'Connor to expose the underside of white Christian benevolence toward Africans. For immigrants and wanderers everywhere, gratitude takes a backseat to homesickness, and rescue is not the same as safety. Hunter restores these displaced persons to the center of their own life story.
By Ellaraine Lockie. Prolific poet Ellaraine Lockie has a gift for revealing the spirit of a place with a perfectly chosen character sketch or a quirky interaction that invites us to think twice about how we move through the world. In her work, travel produces enlightening friction between an unfamiliar environment and the unnoticed edges of ourselves. This collection, her 13th chapbook, takes us along on her tour of the American West, from her Montana birthplace to her native California and points between.
In this earthy, revelatory poetry collection from Main Street Rag Publishing, bodies eat, sweat, climax, and die. Some of them are stuffed. All are handled with reverence. Humorous or embarrassing moments open up suddenly into a vision of fellowship that levels social distinctions.
By Helen Leslie Sokolsky. This distinctive poetry chapbook from Finishing Line Press contains a portrait gallery of urban characters. Their alienation is healed, momentarily, by the author's mature and compassionate re-imagining of the lives she glimpses in passing. These narratives show us recognizable scenes made fresh by Sokolsky's original metaphors.
Speaking in sonnets seems as natural as breathing for this author, whose effortless mastery of poetic forms is employed to tell the story of a young woman's discovery of her lesbian identity. Some explicit passages.
The root vegetable, as metaphor for the unearthing of secrets and the renewal of aging bodies, unifies this satisfying chapbook from Cervena Barva Press. In Woodworth's inventive poems, nuns peeling potatoes could be fantasizing about Marilyn Monroe's striptease; a woman puzzled by hints of her father's infidelity might try to call her childhood home by speaking into a rose shaped like an antique telephone.
By Nancy Craig Zarzar. Winner of the 2007 Main Street Rag Chapbook Contest, this poetry collection depicts intimate relationships cleaved by silences, frustrated by communication barriers both psychological and inter-cultural, but capable of being healed by empathy. Divine grace helps some of these characters find the willingness to enter into another’s strange mental world, like the husband who alone appreciates the creative visions of his stigmatized, mentally ill wife. Others remain on the opposite side of the barrier, perhaps because their intentions were not as pure, like the male narrator who is intrigued by his hairdresser’s quiet daughter.
Memorable chapbook whose poems are always about so much more than their literal subject matter. Cleland trusts her readers to recognize the story of an unhappy marriage in a cat's transformation into a dog, or the divine-human power struggle over forbidden knowledge in a guided tour of a factory. This book was one of the three winners of the 2006 Templar Poetry Pamphlet and Collection Competition. Their book design and materials are above-average.
By Naila Moreira. This poet and science journalist's second chapbook marries the majesty of High Modernist style with a humble attention to our nonhuman neighbors on the planet. Like Yeats and Eliot, she speaks with prophetic sureness about cosmic themes, but where they might have recoiled from nature's messiness into the cool chambers of intellect, Moreira shows us the fatal consequences of such detachment. She quickens our conscience to protect our fragile environment, then invites us to be awestruck by meteor showers and comforted by the cycle "of being and of killing, of eating and of rot", as our tiny breaths "fuse with the world's bedlam of respiration".
By Kaitlyn Greenidge. This ambitious, unsettling debut novel delves into the secret history of primate research and race relations in America. The Freemans, a high-achieving middle-class black family, accept a live-in position at the (fictitious) Toneybee Institute in rural Massachusetts to teach sign language to a chimpanzee. Their narrative is braided with that of Nymphadora, a maverick black schoolteacher in the 1920s who was seduced into taking part in the Toneybee's questionable experiments. In both timelines, the black protagonists' lives unravel because they underestimated how the white scientists saw them, too, as animal test subjects.
Provocative poetry chapbook by a Palestinian-American writer whose creative and academic work on Middle Eastern and women's issues has been widely anthologized. The title poem in this collection was a finalist in our 2004 War Poetry Contest.
Autobiographical collection is an elegy to the poet's brother, who died young from AIDS. These verses are poignant and true.
Raw, tender poems of gay male love and lust, and the blurry line between them. This chapbook won the 2008-09 Stonewall Competition from BrickHouse Books.
By Ellaraine Lockie. This widely published writer is known for narrative poems that capture the unique character of a place and its people. In her eleventh chapbook, winner of the 2014 Encircle Publications Chapbook Contest, she returns to her native Montana to honor the land that her parents and grandparents farmed. The collection includes humorous character sketches, elegies for towns hollowed out by economic collapse, and love songs to the landscape that revives her spirit.
Small masterpieces of melancholy from acclaimed Irish writer. Like a scalpel, Trevor's prose is delicate yet piercing, exposing unnamed but all-too-familiar psychological truths about his characters and ourselves.
By Ruth Thompson. This poetry collection, earthy yet mythical, celebrates the spiritual wisdom of the Crone, the woman with crows (and crows' feet). Because of her conscious kinship with nature, the speaker of these poems embraces the changes that our artificial culture has taught us to dread. Fatness recurs as a revolutionary symbol of joy: a woman's body is not her enemy, and scarcity is not the deepest truth. For her, the unraveling of memory and the shedding of possessions are not a story of decline but a fairy tale of transformation.
Powerful, heartfelt poems and prose by 95 incarcerated women from the Voices From Inside project. This anthology has received high praise from Billy Collins and Ellen Dore Watson among others. Voices From Inside, located in western Massachusetts, facilitates writing workshops with women in prison, encouraging them to write their stories in their own unique voices. This volume brings the women’s writing into the larger community, promoting a deeper understanding of the human costs of incarceration. All profits from book sales support the program. Copies are $17 plus $3 shipping; make checks out to Amherst Writers & Artists Press and mail to Voices from Inside, P.O. Box 60443, Florence, MA 01062. Email codirector Carolyn Benson for more information and discounts on bulk orders.
Make your moods work for you, judge if and when to quit your day job, get along with the others in your home and tap the power of positive and negative thinking.
Contributors to this profound and heartfelt anthology of spiritual memoirs include Mark Doty, Andrew Holleran, Alfred Corn, Fenton Johnson, and Lev Raphael. The authors touch on such topics as the connection between spiritual and erotic ecstasy, family secrets and reconciliations, and AIDS as a modern crucible of faith.
A witty and practical guide to finding the best contests for your work. Topics include identifying the judges' tastes, "popular" versus "literary" styles of writing, preparing a professional-looking manuscript and avoiding scam contests. Though his examples are drawn from fiction, poets will also find this guide indispensable. John Reid is the founder of the Tom Howard poetry and prose contests, now sponsored by Winning Writers.
Edited by Robert Lee Brewer, this annual directory profiles 1,000+ reputable agents with their specialties and requirements. Also included are articles on a writing book proposal and synopsis.
The Iowa Review, a prestigious literary journal, has compiled a list of writing resources for military veterans. These include articles on how to run a veterans' writing workshop; journals and contests specializing in military-affiliated writers and themes; and links to workshops around the US.
This short fiction anthology from Main Street Rag celebrates the creativity and perseverance of women who don't play by normal rules. The eclectic cast of characters includes an HIV-positive senior citizen, a spunky lesbian drama teacher fighting her school's bureaucracy, and a teenage girl with a crush on Abe Lincoln.
Flawless prose captures emotions that are almost too subtle for words. Though his dark themes may seem familiar to readers of literary fiction (several tales feature bereavement and mental illness), these stories shine with moments of wisdom discovered and hard-won love, lifting them far above most examples of the genre.
Everything you need to know about pitching your novel to agents and editors. Includes advice on selecting an agent, plus how to write query letters, synopses and book proposals, with many helpful samples of each.