Tag Archives: psychogeography

Kingfishers, herons, news

9 Sep

photo-24I’m back from a family trip to Orcas Island. Waiting for the ferry in Anacortes, we spotted skittering kingfishers and a great blue heron in flight–its path strangely loping. Then, in Orcas, there were the requisite cows, sheep, and horses; a buck crunching on dead leaves; and sweet doe eating dandelions. We went to the old strawberry barreling plant in the hamlet of Olga, where there are no longer any strawberry fields. And M & I baked our bones in a sauna that may have been close to 200° F. How refreshing!photo-27

Now I’m in back-to-school mode. A few tidbits of note:

  • On Sunday, September 18, I’m teaching a free one-day class on contemporary fairy tales at the Capitol Hill branch of the Seattle Public Library.
  • On Saturday, October 22, I will be one of 40+ featured artists at Artist Trust’s 30th Birthday Party. Tickets are $25 and proceeds support this amazing organization and all the hard work it does in Washington State. I have felt their impact profoundly as a recipient of their inaugural Gar LaSalle Storyteller Award. But they have been a helpful resource for me long before that; I attended a number of their grant writing workshops and compiled some of my notes in a post here.
  • Finally, I’m pleased to be offering one-on-one writing coaching via Hugo House’s new manuscript consultation program. You can learn all about here.

In other news, I have a few pieces forthcoming–a collage essay about a fruit (in the meantime here’s a post I wrote about nectarines), a short story inspired by my recent trip to the Netherlands, and two short-short fairy tales. I’ll be sure to post links to these pieces as they become available.

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Women in Translation Month

26 Jul

Women in Translation Month is around the corner! Last year, I compiled a list of translated books by women that I enjoyed and created a Women in Translation Bingo game. I also wrote about novellas by Marguerite Duras and Eileen Chang and poetry collections from Rocío Cerón and Angélica Freitas.

This summer has been a bit more hectic as I’ve been teaching more, taking my second novel through an eighth draft, and researching my third novel. However! I’m excited for Women In Translation Month and wanted to share with you four books on my to-read pile.

What have you been reading? WITMonth2016

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.

Eight Million New Yorks, Thirteen Million Tokyos

22 Jun

716I like big cities and I cannot lie. They’ve fascinated me for a long time. Spike Lee, Woody Allen, Lena Dunham, John Dos Passos, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Sapphire, and Betty Smith all have wildly different visions of New York City. Sometimes I feel apologetic for writing about New York, because of some perception that most writing about New York is stereotypical and/or because New York stories dominate the landscape and are therefore overdone.

But, having grown up in Brooklyn, it is impossible for me not to write about it. And, as with any piece of writing, of course, the deeper you dig into something, the more you unpack a city or character’s complexities, the farther away you get from tired old narratives. Write the story only you can write, advice I picked up at the Tin House Writers Conference, has been enormously valuable to me in moving forward with stories and novels and embracing my own peculiar vision. New York is the city I know best and the one I can endlessly burrow into.

New York is not, however, the only city that fascinates me, whose identity offers multitudes. I fell head over heels in love with Tokyo and can’t wait to get back there one day to walk its ancient alleys and zoom by its blinking towers. Reading 1Q84 after experiencing Tokyo made palpable the dreamy and unsettling alternate universes cities offer.

Working on my first novel, I swam in a pile of books set in Buenos Aires. Fiction, memoir, reportage, poems. Anything I could get my hands on, starting with Borges. Then I was fortunate enough to take the leap and visit. That city’s mix of architectural traditions (Spanish, English, French) creates the strange sensation of being in South America and Europe simultaneously. And the simultaneity feels more real because of my different encounters with the city through literature.

Chicago is a place close to my heart, but whose literature I’m less steeped in. I love how the El downtown feels like a mash up of the outer boroughs of New York with stately old Chicago buildings. I know Saul Bellow writes Chicago, and he’s been on my to-read list for quite some time, but I’m wondering about all the literary versions of Chicago. Other than say, Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, also in my to-read pile.

I’m wondering, too, about the literary versions of Seattle. Truth Like the Sun, Where’d You Go Bernadette, and Blueprints from the Afterlife have been in my to-read pile for some time. Now that I’ve lived in Seattle for over five years, I may find myself writing about it too. That is, after I get through novels two and three. One day.

What are your favorite writers who have particular visions for the cities they write?

Walking to Write

6 Jun
Little donkey I found on a recent walk

Little donkey I found on a recent walk

Just in time for those real long summer wanders I love, my seventh set of writing prompts for the Ploughshares  blog tackles the wonders of walking and the importance of place, with wisdom from Luis Urrea. The uber-talented Melanie Masson was very generous in lending a few of her gorgeous landscape photographs to the post.

As I’m nearing the half-way point in this year of blogging about writing prompts, I’ll just put it out here: any requests for particular topics? So far I’ve covered portraits, eavesdropping, architecture, objects, dance, and music. I have other topics lined up, but I’m open to suggestions. Leave a comment here, tweet at me, or send me an email. And thanks!

Parking Signs to Power Lines

6 Mar

Last month, I took an afternoon class at Richard Hugo House with Shin Yu Pai called “Maps for a Narrative Atlas” to, as it were, tickle my psychogeographic fancy. After some discussion of Denis Wood’s Everything Sings and Rebecca Solnit’s Infinite CityShin sent us out into Capitol Hill to map some specific, observable aspect of the neighborhood and then try to transcribe what we found into text. I decided to focus on everything visible between parking signs and power lines, plus any sounds. I ended up with a catalogue of mostly tags and graffiti animals, an “urban bestiary” as one of the workshop participants noted (incidentally, this is a topic for another post I’ve been meaning to write as well as the title of a fascinating forthcoming book).

Here’s that catalogue.

E. Olive Street, from 11th Avenue to 12th Avenue

shoes

crows

propeller affixed to pole, swaying

crows

parking sign: Hellawasted, Action for Animals, sad ghost

bright yellow bits of a torn flier

crows

fuzzy green tree buds

Z overlaying U

Nasty Nate Comfy

faded blue outline of a skeleton

Lost Cat: Adult Male Mostly Black with a White Belly. Will Give Generous Reward if Found and Returned to Owner. Contact Arlene.

bright yellow flier, intact: Our Neighborhoods Under Attack! scary black towers descending upon single family homes with crash-pow comic book bursts

Notice of Public Meeting

fuzzy green tree buds

police car siren

12th Avenue

shoes

crows

guttural other-bird song; rattle and click

11th Avenue from Howell Street to E Olive

crows

parking sign: Hello My Name Is Nick Nack Records

4 hour parking sing: No Big Deal, smiling prehistoric fish with wings, Nasty Nate Comfy, Blink

children squealing

stick man with a briefcase and devil horns apparently going to hell

4 hour parking Valid Here: love birds

night owl with steaming cup of something

shoes

Minuet For Guitar

27 Mar

Greetings from Kyoto! Just a short note to share my review of Vitomil Zupan’s Minuet For Guitar, up on the Ploughshares blog. This time, I tried to do something a little different, composing the review in lists, and had a lot of fun changing things up this  — I just might do it again!

More on my trip to Japan in mid-April, when I return. In the meantime, here’s a picture of the rabbit that delivers cherry trees to the moon.Image

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