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Infinity Net: The Autobiography of Yayoi Kusama

26 Apr

KusamaLast summer, I had the good fortune of catching Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors at the Seattle Art Museum. I’d had a taste of her work at the Museum Boijmans van Beuningen  in Rotterdam, which owns a Mirror Room in its permanent collection, so I was ready to soak up more polka dots and tubers. One thing I learned at the SAM was Kusama’s obsession with pumpkins. (See Infinity Mirrored Room–All the Eternal Love I Have for the Pumpkins, 2016.) Pumpkins are a fairy tale-ish interest of mine (an essay for another time), and when I saw her autobiography Infinity Net (trans. Ralph McCarthy) in the museum shop, I needed to have it.

Well, I was disappointed that Kusama has little to say about that purported obsession, beyond this: “I was enchanted by their charming and winsome form. What appealed to me most was the pumpkin’s generous unpretentiousness. That and its solid spiritual balance.” Painting that gourd, and onions, was a form of practice. I’ll just have to think on what she means by “solid spiritual balance.”

Pumpkin-disappointment aside, Infinity Net is a fascinating portrait of an artist’s ambition and drive. Escaping her hometown of Matsumoto City, where it was respectable to be a patron of the arts but not be an artist, she landed in New York City after a brief sojourn in Seattle. She received early encouragement from Georgia O’Keefe, who worried she’d starve in New York City and invited her to New Mexico. But Kusama declined; NYC was where stars were made. So she would suffer, working despite conditions such as this: “New York is almost as far north as Sakhalin island, and I froze to the bone and developed a pain in my abdomen.”

Between her singular focus on repetition (to counter hallucinations, to obliterate herself, to lose herself in infinity), an incredible work ethic, and caring friends like O’Keefe and Donald Judd, she soon gained notice. She also developed a relationship with the reclusive Joseph Cornell; he was the only woman he’d had a relationship with, and would keep her on the phone for hours. His neediness eventually led to some shocking meanness. While recovering from prostrate surgery, he asked if she’d come visit. She said, “When Dali wants to see me…he sends his Rolls Royce for me. Shouldn’t you show more respect for the love of your life?” Yowzah. So he sent a woman in a Mercedes, and she describes their last encounter in graphic, unflattering terms. Still, she calls him her greatest artist friend, and I’m not sure if it is to make up for her admitted cruelty or because she genuinely feels that way, and/or whether she feels that way because he wrote her many poems and worshiped her, and she seems pretty set on lasting fame and stardom.

Kusama returned to Japan in the 1970s and has been voluntarily living in a mental institution there since 1977. The final chapter, on her drive to make lasting art as she comes nearer to death is particularly moving: “And no matter how I may suffer for my art, I will have no regrets. This is the way I have lived my life, and it is the way I shall go on living.”

Guest Post at Lisa Romeo Writes: “Whatever Works: Looking at Visual Art to Write Inspired Prose”

7 Feb
Self_Portrait_with_Seven_Fingers (1)

Marc Chagall, Self-Portrait with Seven Fingers

Paintings helped me grope through the dark of my first draft of Daughters of the Air. I wrote a guest blog post about that process on Lisa Romeo’s blog. Here’s how the piece begins:

When I was just starting to write seriously, I fetishized notebooks—and, like an eight-year-old—stickers.  I preferred black, hard-backed notebooks with graph paper that forced my writing into small, neat boxes.  My favorite treat was popping into a stationary store in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, to buy a cheap book of Dover Art Stickers depicting famous paintings by Michelangelo, Kahlo, Goya, and the like. I was trying to write the first draft of my first novel, Daughters of the Air, using Hemingway’s supposed model of 300 words a day, no more, no less, stopping mid-sentence and all that jazz.

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Years later, still enraptured with the process, I ended up teaching several classes on writing from art for Hugo House at the Henry Art Gallery (you can see my students’ work alongside the art that inspired them in these e-booklets the Henry made here and here) as well as several blog posts for Ploughshares, including this one on writing from abstract art. And, my next novel features an artist. And, many of my essays engage with art in one way or another, like this one on Goya, in the Los Angeles Review of Books. All this writing about writing—it’s time for me to get back to a gallery and refill the well!

DAUGHTERS OF THE AIR Playlist on Largehearted Boy

5 Feb

Published by Lanternfish PressIt was super fun creating a playlist of music related to Daughters of the Air for David Gutowski’s literature and music blog, Largehearted Boy. I’ve included music from the time of the book, the late ’70s and early ’80s, as well as music that fits the atmosphere (dark, weird). Grace Jones and Klaus Nomi and Arcade Fire and Antony and the Johnsons and more! Have a listen right here.

“Scrolling Through the Feed” in Cascadia Magazine

30 Jan
Eric Carle's illustration of "Big Klaus, Little Klaus"

Eric Carle’s illustration of “Big Klaus, Little Klaus” in Seven Stories by Hans Christian Andersen has haunted me since childhood. When I imagined the bandits in “Scrolling Through the Feed” doing something nefarious in Interlaken Park, I pictured them in smudgy colors like this.

Over the summer, while immersing myself in Jess Walter’s fiction in preparation for interviewing him in December (you can now watch his Word Works talk on time, and the Q & A,  here on YouTube), I reread his story “Don’t Eat Cat” and felt compelled to write my own zombie story. And, because it’s me, it’s a bit a fairy tale-ish. “Scrolling Through the Feed” went online this morning in Cascadia Magazine, a new publication focusing on the Pacific Northwest, from British Columbia to Oregon. I’m happy there’s a new venue gathering long-form journalism, fiction, and poetry from the region, and one that that thinks beyond our borders.

It feels somehow appropriate for the story to go up on the same day of the State of the Union, which I will not watch. Thankfully, I’m reading tonight at the Literary Happy Hour at Capitol Cider, alongside Bill Carty, Jarret Middleton, and Jekeva Philips, hosted by Josh Potter. It runs from 5-7 pm. In line with their “drafts and drafts” theme, I’ll give a micro-craft talk on one of the earliest inspirations for Daughters of the Air.  Speaking of which, this is your last chance (ever?) to enter to win a free copy of the novel on Goodreads.  Go get it!

“How to Finish a Novel in Only 15 Years” in The Nervous Breakdown

8 Jan

Wassily Kandinski [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Wassily Kandinski [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

I am pleased with how fitting it is to have an essay called “How to Finish a Novel in Only 15 Years” in The Nervous Breakdown today. Here’s how it begins:

1.  Choose a horrific moment in history you know little about, in a country, Argentina, you know little about, but which seems to have troubling similarities to the here and now. Research for years. Images from the Dirty War sear into your mind.

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In other news, I made a handy-dandy card with all of my upcoming out-of-Seattle readings (as always everything is on my appearances page).

Anca L. Szilágyi on Tour for Daughters of the Air

Huzzah!

DAUGHTERS OF THE AIR Reviewed in The Seattle Times and Included in Seattle Review of Books’ “Seattle Novels That Made My Year”

4 Jan

The term “dumpster fire” has been used in reference to 2017 at least several million times. At one point in October, I considered taking some classes on how to cope with anxiety and insomnia that were organized specifically in response to our collective ongoing sense of doom. I didn’t though—because I was overwhelmed! Ha.

ALICE IN WONDERLAND, illustrated by Yayoi Kusama.

From my New Year’s Day reading, ALICE IN WONDERLAND, illustrated by Yayoi Kusama.

Despite everything, I need to celebrate 2017 on a personal level. Daughters of the Air, which I’d toiled over for years, finally came out, and people are reading it and telling me they are enjoying it! Michael and I celebrated the holiday season with candles and latkes and lights and dim sum and snow (!) and The Shape of Water (a beautiful love story!) and chocolate peanut butter pie and New Year’s Eve back at the Hotel Sorrento’s Fireside Lounge for reading (me, Teffi’s Subtly Worded, him Hanna Krall’s Chasing the King of Hearts, which I’m happily adding to my Women in Translation Month queue), writing, live jazz, people watching, and bubbles. What more could I ask for?

Dark chocolate with candied roses

Dark chocolate with candied roses, a holiday treat. Resolution: eat more flowers.

The day after Shelf Awareness called Daughters “a striking debut from a writer to watch,” The Seattle Review of Books included it among five Seattle novels that made Paul Constant’s year:

Anca Szilágyi’s Daughters of the Air is a fantastic debut — a magical realist fairy tale set in gritty New York City. It’s the kind of book that leaves you utterly confounded at the end, as you try to remember all the twists and turns that you took along the way. It feels like an impossible book, somehow — a product of alchemy, a creation of unearthly talents.

Wow! The book hasn’t been panned yet, but when it does, I’ll hang on to these two reviews for dear life. I was also super happy to see Tara Atkinson’s novella Boyfriends included in the end-of-year list; I gobbled it one sitting and highly recommend it.

Yesterday afternoon, I was thrilled to see The Seattle Times reviewed Daughters too—my first review in a major American newspaper!

Anca L. Szilágyi’s intense debut novel, “Daughters of the Air,” locates a deeply personal story against the surreal backdrop of [Argentina’s Dirty War].

 

 

I’ll be moseying up to a newsstand later today so I can rustle up the paper and feel the newsprint on my fingers.

In other news…

  • Every year, I strive to collect 100 rejections. (Why? See this wonderful Lit Hub article by Kim Liao.) In 2016, I made it to 106, plus eight acceptances. In 2017, I garnered 93 rejections and 16 acceptances. This is actually bad in terms of my other annual goal, which is to be rejected 90% of the time. I need to aim higher.
  • There are just four spots left in my online Fiction II class at Hugo House, which begins on January 14. You can sign up here.

Thank you for reading all the way to the end of this longer-than-usual blog post! As a gift, here is a Goodreads giveaway for you. Already read Daughters? Leaving a review on Goodreads, Amazon, or Powell’s would help spread the word! You can do this regardless of how you obtained the book (other bookstores, my publisher, the library, and all that fun stuff).

Onward!

Read Learn Live Podcast & The Woodsy on DAUGHTERS OF THE AIR

22 Dec

Earlier this week, I spoke with Jon Menaster on his podcast Read, Learn, Live. We talked about researching Daughters of the Air, coping with loss, takoyaki (which I am sometimes so eager to eat, I burn my tongue), and more!

Also, there’s a beautiful write up of the Daughters of the Air launch party by Julia Ugarte over on The Woodsy:

 I was lucky enough to receive an advance review copy, and I am enjoying this book immensely. It is a deeply involving story that jumps between 1980’s Brooklyn and the late 1970’s Argentina. The story, characters, and writing are, in a word,  transporting. If you’re looking to get truly lost in a narrative, this is an excellent choice for you.


Oh! Have you added Daughters of the Air to your Goodreads?

Monkeybicyle’s If My Book

12 Dec

I’ve written an If My Book column for Monkeybicycle, wherein I compare Daughters of the Air to weird things. Here’s how it begins:

If Daughters of the Air were fruit it would be blood orange and pupunha.

If Daughters of the Air were cheese it would be Roquefort. Also: Kraft saved from a dumpster.

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Launch Week Glow: A New Essay, A New Story, an Interview

10 Dec

Discussing Daughters of the Air with Corinne Manning at the Hotel Sorrento

The Daughters of the Air launch party Tuesday night was a dream. The Fireside Lounge at the Hotel Sorrento was all decked out for the holidays: twinkly lights, garlands, and the lounge’s quintessential warm glow. I was astounded at the turn out—and relieved we splurged on 100 alfajores! The books sold out within half an hour. Then Hugo House hurried over with more books. Then those sold out. Then Michael hurried to the car to get a box of my own books. Then we hauled out the second box.

Christine Neulieb, Editorial Director of Lanternfish Press, opened the night with a few words about publishing Daughters of the Air. My dear friend and Furnace co-founder Corinne Manning read a beautiful excerpt from her novel Potential Monsters. And, we talked about metamorphosis, the pungent air by the Gowanus Canal, the inverted landscape of fairy tales. You can see more photos from the party here.

Saturday night, Salon published by essay “Writing a Holocaust novel without writing about the Holocaust.” in which I discuss exploring the Holocaust obliquely in Daughters of the Air. Last week, I spoke about this theme in an interview with Erin Popelka over at Must Read Fiction, along with how reading poetry and teaching ESL informed my creative writing. (If you retweet the interview or like it and follow Must Read on Instagram, you’ll be entered into a giveaway for a copy of my novel.)

Finally, I have a new short story, “Healers,” in Geometry,  a new magazine based in New Zealand. The .pdf is available for free, but you can buy a beautiful print copy for $15 and support a literary magazine that pays writers.

What a week! All the excitement has given me a cold, but I love an excuse to flood myself with big bowls of noodle soup.

 

“Building Artifacts from Artifacts”: An Interview with Thea Prieto at Propeller Magazine

4 Dec

I had a lovely time discussing the craft of writing with Thea Prieto of Propeller Magazine last week! We touched on research, breaking workshop “rules,” and a handful of the books that enriched the “broth” that was the manuscript of Daughters of the Air.  You can read the interview right here.

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