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Women in Translation

25 Jun

August is Women in Translation Month (WITMonth), designed to encourage readers, reviewers, publishers, and translators to explore more books in translation by women. If you’ve been following the VIDA count, then the grim statistics around women in translation (gathered diligently by Meytal Radzinski) is, unfortunately, not a surprise: women writers comprise only about 30% of books translated into English. As I’m passionate about cultivating a diverse literary ecosystem, this is a project near and dear to my heart. And though I’m happy WITMonth is an annual event, I’m getting started right now. Because there are SO MANY good books and I’m sure there are SO MANY MORE out there waiting to be picked up by a publisher and gobbled by readers.

I immediately pulled all the books from my shelves that fit the bill. I made a read pile and a to-be-read pile. Of the read pile, I’d like to make some recommendations, for those of you who’d like to join me in WITMonth. Read these books! And I’ll be diving into the to-be-read pile and writing about the gems in that pile in August. Read those books too! Let’s talk about ’em!

Recommended Books

Tasty pile of books in translation

Tasty pile of books in translation.

Death in Spring by Mercè Rodoreda, translated from Catalan by Martha Tennent (Open Letter, 2009). A gorgeously written and harrowing novel about cruelty among humans and violence in nature.

Days of Abandonment by Elena Ferrante, translated from Italian by Ann Goldstein (Europa Editions, 2005). A dark, slender novel about a woman abandoned by her husband spiraling into terrifying psychological territory, with a helpful dash of absurd humor and redemption. After devouring this book, anything else was VERY difficult to get into. So good. This brief review in The New Yorker is spot on. I have not cracked open her more recent Neapolitan series, but it is definitely on the docket.

The End of the Story by Liliana Heker, translated from Spanish by Andrea G. Labinger (Biblioasis, 2012). Another dark novel. I’m sensing a trend? This metafictional work explores Argentina’s Dirty War. I reviewed it for Ploughshares.

Death as a Side Effect by Ana Maria Shua, translated from Spanish by Andrea G. Labinger (University of Nebraska Press, 2010). As I note briefly in my review of Heker’s novel, Shua‘s is “dark and wry and screwed up in the best possible dystopian way.” Is it weird to quote myself? Oh well.

Dreams and Stones by Magdalena Tulli, translated from Polish by Bill Johnston (Archipelago Books, 2004). I adore Archipelago for focusing on translation and producing truly beautiful books. Dreams and Stones is probably the least dark book on my list, a kind of treatise on cities and imagination.

Mile End by Lise Tremblay, translated from French by Gail Scott (Talon Books, 2002). I read this novel a few times, starting in a class in college on literary Montreal. It’s set in the neighborhood I lived in while at McGill, which may be part of my attachment to it. And, yes, yes, this is another dark story, about an obese pianist at a ballet school teetering toward psychosis.

The Land of Green Plums by Herta Muller, translated from German by Michael Hoffman (Metropolitan Books, 1996). Muller, winner of the 2009 Nobel Prize in literature, paints a grim picture of life in Romania under Ceausescu. The language is highly poetic, and I’ve been working on an essay about it (among other things) for quite some time. In fact, the assignment I’ve given myself for the next few weeks is to cut that essay up paragraph by paragraph to figure out how to keep going with it.

Why the Child is Cooking in the Polenta by Aglaja Veteranyi, translated from German by Vincent Kling (Dalkey Archive Press, 2012). Told from the point of view of an unnamed young woman, this is the story of Romanian refugees who travel through Europe as circus performers. Yes, yes, dark. But also with absurd humor. (Some criticize Muller for being humorless. I say, bah. Read her still. Not everything is funny ha ha.)

Phew. That’s a lot of recommendations. There are more in my pile. I may write more about them. More likely I will tweet my favorite bits from them in August. But not just August. Probably all year. WITForever!

My To-Be-Read Pile. Stay tuned for reviews & more !

Another tasty pile of translated books.

Another tasty pile of translated books.

On the Docket for 2015

2 Jan
A partial reading list for Novel #3.

A partial reading list for Novel #3.

In 2014, I focused my blogging attentions to 16 posts on writing prompts for PloughsharesNow that the series is done (though stay tuned–I have plans for them), here’s a little update on what I’ve got on deck for 2015.

What are your plans for 2015?

All-Time Favorite Writing Prompts

18 Dec

My sixteenth set of writing prompts for Ploughshares, and the last post in this series, compiles 29 all-time favorite prompts from writers and writing teachers across the internet. Here’s how it begins:

To round out this year of blogging about writing prompts, I polled writers and writing teachers for their favorite writing prompts–generally, simple prompts that have been useful to them as writers, students, and teachers. One such prompt that I found extremely useful in my early days of writing was, “Write about an obsession.” From this straightforward suggestion, I learned a lot about what can drive a compelling story.

Some of these prompts are accessible and instructive; others offer wonderfully evocative images and ideas. For ease of reference, I’ve grouped the prompts into several categories, but certainly some would fit into multiple boxes. It is my hope that these twenty-nine prompts–some specific, some quite open-ended–will help you jump-start any stalled works-in-progress and generate lots and lots of new material.

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The prompt I mentioned as one of my favorites encountered as a writing student, “write about an obsession,” resulted in my story “Go East,” published in Pindeldyboz back in 2006. It’s about one of the most addictive computer games ever. Guess which one!

Triangular Relationships

1 Dec

My 15th set of writing prompts for the Ploughshares blog explores triangular relationships in fiction, with discussions of Mavis Gallant’s “Lena”, Gunter Grass’s The Tin Drum, and Peter Mountford’s The Dismal Science, and featuring Kathleen Skeels’ wonderfully suggestive drawings. Here’s how it begins:

In a previous blog post, I mentioned my difficulty with conflict and tension.  For this reason, I love triangular relationships, which bring up conflicting desires, competing loyalties, and dilemmas. All the things that make a juicy story go. When I was just starting out writing fiction, when my writing tended to be a formless blob and I learned that good writing needs a shape, a design, I turned to the idea of things happening in threes, and then I turned to triangles. As I learned along the way, there are many, many ways you might use triangles in your fiction.

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Hugo at the Henry: Senses in Reading and Writing

25 Nov

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On March 21, I’m teaching a special one-day Hugo House class at the Henry Art Gallery. As I mentioned in a recent Ploughshares blog post, I’ve been helping out with the literary component of Ann Hamilton: the common S E N S E, the exhibit that has taken over all of the Henry from October to April. The show explores the sense of touch and our relationship to nature as well as being touched–emotionally, intellectually–through the private act of reading.

The exhibit has filled the galleries with scanned images of taxidermy animals from the Burke Museum of Natural History, with children’s ABC primers and bestiaries from the University of Washington’s Libraries Special Collections, and with clothing made from animal products both from the Burke and from the Henry’s collections. Throughout the galleries, at different times, chorale singers sing to the objects. And, reader/scribes read aloud to objects of their choice, like a bedtime story, from a common text that will change over the course of the show–the first is J.A. Baker’s The Peregrine, a beautiful book. These reader/scribes, when particularly moved by a passage in the text, record that passage into a log book. These log books will accumulate over time, becoming a record of a collective reading experience.

There are a number of ways to participate in this rich exhibit:

  • Submit a fragment from your own reading that deals with the sense of touch (literally or intellectually) to this tumblr site; your submissions may be included in the exhibit!
  • Volunteer to be a reader/scribe. I’ve done it four times so far; it’s a powerful experience, and I’m writing about it now and hope to share it with you soon. Perks: free admission, a free pass to return to the exhibit, and an invitation to participate in a discussion of the experience with other reader/scribes and facilitated by a member of the literary community (including me!).
  • Take my Hugo House class Senses at the Henry on Saturday, March 21, 12-3 pm. We’ll do the reader/scribe activity, contributing to the exhibit itself (exciting!), discuss the experience, and then dive into creative writing in response to the show. Member registration begins on December 9 and general registration opens on December 16.

Hope to see you around the Henry in the coming months!

The Tangible, The Visceral

3 Nov

My latest blog post for Ploughshares explores the sense of touch in writing, with wisdom from Aristotle, Ann Hamilton: the common S E N S E at the Henry Art Gallery, Natalie Goldberg, Diane Ackerman, and John Edgar Wideman, and with a bit of inspiration from Hieronymus Bosch. Here’s how the post begins:

Touch is the sense common to all species. So wrote Aristotle in Historia Animalum and De Anima. And so is the premise for the art show Ann Hamilton: the common S E N S E, which I’ve been helping out with here in Seattle, and which explores the sense of touch and our relationship to nature, as well as our ability to be touched, emotionally and intellectually, through the private act of reading.

This got me thinking about the importance of touch in writing. Like the sense of smell, touch is a tad neglected when compared to the senses we gravitate toward first: the visual and the auditory. But think about how connected you’ve felt to a text when the author captures a particular tactile sensation or visceral reaction? How do those moments create emotional and intellectual resonance?

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Escalating Conflict

13 Oct

My latest blog post for Ploughshares offers suggestions for inserting and escalating conflict in fiction, with advice from Stephanie Kallos, Janet Burroway, and Merrill Feitell. Here’s how it starts:

In fiction, only trouble is interesting. For the conflict averse, instilling a story with juicy conflict may take some practice. Someone who has read many drafts of many of my short stories once dubbed me “Anca Did She Forget the Conflict Szilagyi”–a moniker that has become helpful as I work on second and third drafts of stories. As is often the case in learning something, I was aware, theoretically, that I had this problem. But how to proceed?

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Experiments in Perspective

29 Sep

My twelfth set of writing prompts for the Ploughshares blog explores writing from the perspective of characters unlike yourself, with insight from Jodi Angel, Chris Abani, and Keith Ridgeway’s great short story “Rothko Eggs”. Here’s how it begins:

A crucial lesson I learned early on in my attempts at writing fiction is that every character is you–and not you. Characters have parts of you inside of them because you wrote them. But they are still not you. Chris Abani once said in a workshop that readers will always wonder if your characters are you–even if your main character is a Chihuahua. There’s not much to do about this wondering except write the characters you want to write with complexity and empathy.

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Thoughtful Imitation

11 Sep

In the spirit of back to school season, I wrote a blog post for Ploughshares on rolling up your sleeves and learning by imitating the writers you admire. I’ve done the prompt on structure a couple of times now with Chekhov stories; one of the stories that came out of that exercise ended up in Propeller Magazine last December. As always, do let me know if you try out the prompts and if they’re helpful!

Follow Your Nose

30 Jun
Mural at the entrance to the Kobe Ropeway. I imagine this scene smells like ice cream & heliotropes.

Mural at the entrance to the Kobe Ropeway. I imagine this scene smells like ice cream & heliotropes.

My eighth post for the Ploughshares blog digs deep into a somewhat-neglected sense, smell.  Take a whiff. (Did I miss any synonyms for smell in this post’s tags?)

Related:

The Kobe Ropeway

The High Line’s Debut

The Winter Garden

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