The breath and the way


Credit: M. Jakubowski

As for this site, I have the urge to get back into the habit of posting regularly. (I’ve decided for better or worse not to edit too much.) Maybe a change is needed, would be fun, we’ll see, in my writing approach/approaches—this thought after reading some of Duras’s essays and articles and fragments that roil and startle with enough ego to power a new sun.

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Another Life


My latest experimental book review is now online at Full Stop. (It originally appeared last year in the Full Stop Quarterly.) It’s part four in an ongoing series of experimental reviews I’m writing about literature in translation. I’ve been publishing them pretty slowly, about once a year. They’re a bit hard to place, being so different from traditional reviews, but I enjoy writing them. Many thanks to Helen Stuhr-Rommereim for believing in this piece and making it happen.

Another Life
On Recitation by Bae Suah, translated by Deborah Smith.

The critic read Suah’s novel, Recitation, on the train to and from a writers conference. At a panel about the art of criticism featuring Pulitzer Prize-winning critic Margo Jefferson the discussion turned to writing, the personal process of coming to terms with bias against different sorts of texts, the ways critics develop an approach for each piece. In the audience the critic listened as Jefferson described the nature of critical writing as “giving real coherence to ambiguity,” saying that not unlike a fiction writer a critic must also, “play different parts, very much adjusting your voice,” when interpreting a book’s potential meanings.

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Damp & splotchy


The splotchy thing above is a detail from a finger-painting my son did. He has no idea he created it. He just made it and brought it home from school before disappearing beneath a pile of Legos. I pinned the painting up by my desk at work and there it hung for many months until I noticed the intricate webbings inside the mess, and snapped a photo last week. Not sure why, and I’m probably overthinking it a bit, but it feels like I’m supposed to learn something from that somehow. Or not. I just like it.

Meanwhile, I was very happy in May to have two stories in The Brooklyn Rail. They are both very short stories, and appeared in print and online, so if you need a quick read, they’re on the same webpage. One is about death, and the title even says so: “Particles of Death.” The other is about love and is called “The Breath of Life.” I’m grateful to Donald Breckenridge for publishing them.

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Through winter


The recent election results have affected the time I devote to my writing, and demanded an adjustment to remain focused on my work. Like many other people, it’s important to me to stay engaged in steady, consistent resistance against Trump’s administration, even before he takes office. It requires time set aside daily for research and choices about which actions to take. Millions of people are adjusting their lives a bit to do this work. First there was dread, then annoyance at all the effort that resistance requires, but this is the way it is, steady work, coping with the fear. Staying informed and connected to others has eased things along.

Now that I know my representatives’ contact info and have the hang of leaving quick, pointed, polite messages, it takes less time overall to act. And it’s nice when we win on certain issues. It helps to see other writers sharing their publication successes, their victories as activists, and effective methods of resistance.

In terms of my writing, looking back briefly on 2016, it was a significant year. I finished a novel, got a wonderful agent (Sarah Yake at Frances Collin), and for the first time earned more from my fiction than nonfiction. Which isn’t to boast, only to say that at 42 good firsts can happen.

Recent writing & upcoming events:

  • In December, I published two new stories with Great Jones Street, a free short-story app. (To publish in an app may sound strange, but GJS pays well for fiction, and they run a tight operation that is genuinely supportive of writers.) If you download the app, you can find my work by searching for my last name. The two new pieces are called “Flowers Floating Past” and “The Good-Bye Window.” (Website link.)
  • For Cleaver magazine, I reviewed Marc Anthony Richardson’s experimental first novel, “The Year of the Rat” (FC2, 2016).
  • On January 18, I’ll be on a panel called, “Marginalized Work, Innovative Critique” at the Kelly Writers House at the University of Pennsylvania. It’ll be a stellar group of experimental, small-press authors: Vi Khi Nao, Steven Dunn, Hilary Plum, and Caren Beilin. It’s co-sponsored by Full Stop magazine, in honor of their first print anthology.
  • I’m co-editing an upcoming issue of The Critical Flame on the theme of parenting. Submissions of reviews, essays, interviews and hybrid nonfiction are being accepted until Jan. 27.
  • I’m reading manuscripts again this year for the Open Prose Series for Rescue Press. Submissions accepted until Jan. 31, seeking nonfiction, fiction, or “sui generis prose.”

Best wishes to everyone in 2017. Good luck with all your work, in all its forms: artistic, political, and everything in between!

The Family

This essay of mine  originally appeared at the Broad Street Review. It’s about public art and personal loss. (With thanks to Inga Saffron and Timothy Duffield.)

“The Family,” by Timothy Duffield. (Photo by Christopher William Purdom /

The Family

I walked past 1835 Market Street one afternoon and saw the sculpture was gone.

It had been there since I moved to Philadelphia from Chicago in 2008, a tall bronze sculpture about a dozen feet high depicting the naked forms of a woman and man, arms stretched upward, holding aloft a young girl and boy.

I’d felt mildly shocked by their nudity, but I liked seeing them doing something wild and joyous together, and felt proud of the artist and the building’s owners for presenting those bare elbows, bellies, knees, and rear ends among the corporate towers. Their nakedness was brave, flaunting the capacity of the natural, daring body. Two adults working hard, literally lifting up the next generation, vulnerable to anything and everything under the sun.

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through summer & into fall


Scary “best books of the year” lists are here. Dare to look away.

It’s been an eventful time lately.

In early summer I signed on with the wonderful Sarah Yake from the Frances Collin Agency. Just like that, my novel, which looked like this in early 2016, is now “making the rounds,” as they say, going out to great editors far and wide. It feels crazily amazing. So, good luck, novels, mine and all the others out there.

In August, I got to read for the first time in New York City, at Brooklyn’s Unnameable Books, to be exact, where I bought a copy of a Janet Frame novel for $7. The occasion was the launch of Vestiges_02 from Black Sun Lit. We heard from a fantastic group of writers and poets, and there was even a surprise appearance by Russell Bennetts, who just happened to be in town and was kind enough to stop by and celebrate. (In case anyone’s curious, I read this short piece from Minor Literature[s].)

I found out that I’ll have two short-short stories in The Brooklyn Rail. They’ll be published sometime in the next few months or so. One’s about love, the other’s about escaping death.

For The Kenyon Review Online, I wrote a review of Caren Beilin’s experimental novel, “The University of Pennsylvania,” from Noemi Press, 2014.

That’s it for now. Now on we go into fall reading and submission season, complete with those “best books of 2016” lists, which are popping up all over. I sort of love to hate them. I’ve said I won’t read them because they’re cruel to writers, just reductive clickbait designed to maximize holiday book-buying, but I do end up looking at a few. It’s hard not to feed the monster a little.

Berfrois interview: Adrian Nathan West


Writer and translator Adrian Nathan West’s first novel, “The Aesthetics of Degradation,” was published by Repeater Books earlier this month. Nate’s one of the smartest people I know, so it was a pleasure to interview him about his book for Berfrois.

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