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In Conversation

What it Contains, What it Obscures

Full disclosure, I’ve had the great honor to recently work with five (mostly) debut authors—Neile Parisi (Today My Name is Billie), Sarina Prabasi (The Coffeehouse Resistance: Brewing Hope in Desperate Times), Judith Krummeck (Old New Worlds), Stephani Nur Colby (Walking with the Ineffable:A Spiritual Memoir (with Cats)), and Sharyn Skeeter (Dancing with Langston)—all of whom have written work that blurs fact and fiction.

In Conversation


Clifford Thompson’s What It Is: Race, Family, and One Thinking Black Man’s Blues meticulously details one black man’s loss of innocence after the election of Donald Trump. In searing, sometimes funny prose, Thompson tells of his growing up in working-class, African American Washington DC, his marriage, and fatherhood.

Joyelle McSweeney’s Toxicon and Arachne and Rachel Eliza Griffiths’s Seeing the Body: Poems

Together, Joyelle McSweeney’s Toxicon and Arachne and Rachel Eliza Griffiths’s Seeing the Body: Poems go a long way towards providing this dark moment its definitive accompaniment. More astonishing still, the poets bring off triumphs distinctly different. You’d never mistake McSweeney’s heartbroken stammer for Griffiths’s blue wail, yet either outcry will set your back-hairs prickling. Either could wind up a prizewinner—though good luck choosing between them—and in any case the texts will go on providing their unique, adult consolations for whatever sorrows lie in wait.

In Conversation


With Hold Me Tight, the poet’s newest collection, Schneiderman does not rest on his laurels or try to repeat the formula of his former books. As he admits below, each of his projects is markedly different from the one that precedes it. This acknowledgement demonstrates the poet’s searching intelligence as he finds new ways to mine persistent obsessions.

Lily Tuck’s Heathcliff Redux: A Novella and Stories

The collection’s best story is “Carl Schurz Park,” which concerns a murder and one of the murderers. In other stories, a woman finds a dead swan; people pictured in a 1950s photograph inspire a character study; and a fellow called Yann Johansen harasses a woman, once a Rajneeshee cultist, with odd and accusatory emails.

Kathy Valentine’s All I Ever Wanted

Whenever I read a celebrity memoir, I ask myself, “Why does this story matter? What can readers learn from this?” There has to be more to a celebrity memoir than just tales of sex, drugs, name dropping, fame, and survival. What Valentine provides is not only a thorough accounting of her harrowing childhood, her hard-fought rise to stardom, subsequent collapse and redemption; she provides a window into an important part of rock history.

Camille A. Collins: The Exene Chronicles

While offering a slice of punk rock nostalgia around influential punk band X and frontwoman Exene Cervenka, the book also explores racism, sexuality, and the ways society often positions young women as transactional commodities with their worth based on their whiteness, their appearance, and their ability to please men.

Emily Nemens’s The Cactus League and Luke Geddes’s Heart of Junk

Both debut novels are broad, multi-character stories circumscribed within a fairly small framework in terms of time and locale, and both offer, in ways unrivaled by much recently, such welcome release and relief from the wildness of daily life that I'm bereft having finished them, even if neither was without flaw.

In Conversation

Activations: NICK FLYNN with Boo Trundle

Seeing how one passage talks to a passage from another book was interesting. In any book, in any project, each piece, each line, each word is a hologram of the whole book and so any part you take would have the energy of the whole in it. That's why you make books, I think.


The Brooklyn Rail

JUNE 2020

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