In 2014, I wrote my first experimental book review and I’ve since written seven more, with plans to write as many as I can so long as people keep finding them interesting. Each one is a puzzle to write but I like what they allow me to do, as a form, compared to more traditional criticism. They’re written in third person about a critic, rather than as a critic. Each piece can stand alone, but if they are read sequentially, they show time passing for the critic, and her family, as her career goes on.
The latest review is about Russian author Ksenia Buksha’s novel, “Freedom Factory.” It was published this spring in the online cultural journal, The Critical Flame. Here’s an excerpt, with a link to the full piece below.
The next one will appear this summer in Textshop Experiments. It’s focused on “Aviaries,” a novel by the late Czech author Zuzana Brabcová.
Party On: An experimental review of Freedom Factory
The critic had missed her deadline and couldn’t bring herself to care.
On her couch, with her laptop on the coffee table, she looked at her notes about the book and read a quote: “The factory is a continuation of my father.” Ksenia Buksha had placed it near the end of her book, in one of the more experimental chapters. It had been meant, the critic thought, to convey a sense of something spiritual about the way the place a person works can enter their lifeblood. Continue reading
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.
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!
What motivations shape a critic’s decisions to write about the books they defend and those they dismiss? And what are the ethical or moral dimensions of those decisions? Beyond mere conflicts of interest, what lines do they draw for themselves in their work? Are there personal forces or experiences that affect their preferences about what to read and review?
In this ongoing series of interviews with critics, one of the central questions will be, “What is a critic’s role?” It’s a broad question, open-ended, but one which can be used, if the critic chooses, to address the personal side to their lives as critics, and perhaps how they see their work affecting society and culture.
Daniel Evans Pritchard took the time recently via email to talk about some of these questions during a discussion that ranged from his reflections on the effect of focusing solely on writing by women and writers of color for a year to the possible fates of respected literary journals that refuse to address biases in the kind of writing they support.