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Reasons

By Urvashi Bahuguna

Poem

My mother had a wing that could not be
taken. A fox lived
at the backyard border.
The rain wouldn’t stop, wouldn’t
paddle back to the neighbour’s postal box.
I spent so much time looking at the snow, I
saw something beyond the cold.
My grandfather helped my grandmother’s
birds escape.
My mother had one good
wing and one made of sadness.

ss-mugYou received a lot of rejections before you finally started publishing and exhibiting your work. Do you have a favorite?

Yeah, an agent in NYC wrote to say I should take my typewriter and put it on the top shelf of my closet and then nail the door shut. I didn’t hate her but when I heard she died a while back, I felt pretty good.

 

Do you feel pretentious doing a self-interview?

Yeah, sort of.

 

Who are your favorite characters in BigCity?

Bitch Bantam, Slab Pettibone, Fritter McTwoBit, FuzzyWuzzy the Bear.

BIGCITY-COVER-frontCharlie Debunk drops two lead balls, plunk-plunk, into the flared mouth of his flintlock Blunderbuss. The balls tumble down the rusty barrel like fishline sinkers. He sets the antique weapon across his legs and picks up a red clay jug of cornjuice. He takes long happy drinks that scorch his gullet and muddle his head.

Charlie Debunk has been loading his Blunderbuss for a week and has yet to pull the trigger. He is waiting for something special to shoot. Five days and a hundred miles ago he and his two partners made a trade with a big lunking Polack who calls himself Big Polack. Big Polack gave Charlie the gun, along with a pouch of lead balls, a pouch of powder, a pouch of flints, a twenty-inch ramrod, and a pouch of gold nuggets easily worth five hundred dollars. Charlie and his partners, Eddie Plague and Skunk Brewster, in turn, gave Big Polack a ten-year-old aborigine girl they had liberated from a starving tribe of Chickasaws. Charlie figures they got the better end of the deal. The girl had not even been old enough to noodle and had whooped like a warrior when Charlie noodled her anyway.

Abigail-Ulman-Hot-Little-Hands

Now playing on the Otherppl with Brad Listi podcast, a conversation with Abigail Ulman, author of the debut story collection, Hot Little Hands, now available from Spiegel & Grau. 

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Mother could be you

 

A year ago I was pretty, people noticed me in the train. I had this way of not looking. That’s the trick, isn’t it? You present yourself, your perfumed body, soft at the right places, a straight back and tall, strong bones. Living the busy life, giving everything but. And that but is what the weak-hearted want. They’ll crawl for it; they’ll kiss your heels. I know this so well. It’s a model of love, handed over from generation to generation. Mothers who say: go play in the street honey because Mother is busy. Mother has her lover waiting. Mother wants to take a nap in the sun. You really want to play with the other kids, but you wait on the porch for Mother to open the door.

 

Kristin-Dombek-The-Selfishness-of-Others-An-Essay-on-the-Fear-of-Narcissm

This week on the Otherppl with Brad Listi podcast, a conversation with Kristin Dombek, author of The Selfishness of Others: An Essay on the Fear of Narcissism, available now from FSG Originals. 

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David_Berenbaum_Elf

This week on the Otherppl with Brad Listi podcast, a conversation with David Berenbaum, a screenwriter whose credits include the Christmas classic Elf, directed by Jon Favreau and starring Will Ferrell.

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Listen via iTunes.

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Big news! The Otherppl with Brad Listi podcast is now entirely free of charge. In the past, only the most recent 50 episodes were available at no cost. To access the deeper archives, a subscription was needed. Not anymore. All episodes—hundreds of them—are now available absolutely free. Hear in-depth conversations with authors like George Saunders, Cheryl Strayed, Susan Orlean, Edwidge Danticat, Aimee Bender, Eileen Myles, Maggie Nelson, Tom Perrotta, Hanya Yanagihara, Hilton Als, and many more. Listen online, via iTunes, Stitcher, iHeart Radio, Overcast, et al. Better yet, download the show’s (free) official app at your favorite app store. To view the full archive, check out the Episode Guide. Enjoy!

Sanderia Faye Author PhotoHave you always written?

I wrote little stories when I was very young and was encouraged by my high school English teacher to study creative writing in college. My family wasn’t about to have me spend four years at a university learning to write. I believed them and ended up with a BS in Accounting. Later, an editor for a newspaper overheard my conversation about sports, and was so impressed with my knowledge that she hired me as a freelance feature sports writer.

But it was not until the late nineties, when talk show host Oprah Winfrey, encouraged people to follow their passion that I got serious about it. I had no idea what I was passionate about, so I mimicked Oprah as a way to figure it out. She ran a half-marathon; later I ran the same one. She then trained and ran a marathon, and so did I, but I still felt empty inside until one day my friend said “I believe it’s writing.” Then I remembered how excited I was when my high school teacher had suggested I study creative writing, and how disappointed I was when my family didn’t agree with her. I believe not writing was why I felt the emptiness. (I feel it now when I’ve gone too many days without writing.) A few months later, I wrote my first thirty pages, which was required for the admissions application to Arizona State University and now I’m here.

Sanderia Fayes MOURNERS BENCH CoverIndoor plumbing was the last significant change in Maeby, Arkansas, before my mama left town. For as long as I could remember, my family and other colored folks kept our pigs, chickens, cows and all other animals in our backyards, and a little further back, always from the gardens, sat the outhouses. The all-white city council threatened to take the animals away from us if we didn’t clean up our yards and do something about that horrific smell. We didn’t pay them no mind, talked about it after they drove off in their city cars. Reverend Jefferson may have brought it up in one of his sermons, but generally, we went on back to minding our business and so did they until the next time they felt up to performing their civic duties. Then one day the city council members decided to make good on their promises. They bucked up and passed an ordinance that required us to remove all the farm animals outside of the city limits, and to get it done in no time flat. Just for the sake of it, they told us that we must tear the toilets out of the outhouses and replace them with flushable ones. All the grown folks were in a huff about it, especially over the toilets, but since I’d never seen or heard of one, I reserved my passion for when I would know what I was getting upset about.

In all those years having never really spoken it
except in classrooms and once or twice
in Spain as a young woman trying to impress
her advisors or of course
having spoken it in pleasantries
between friends—muy bien gracias y tu
who don’t speak Spanish
like she does but could, she thinks of all those years
having never dreamt in Spanish either
and how those dreams would have played
out had she been able to talk
to men in a language
that would’ve been foreign to them

y450-293Available from Harper

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“Lidia Yuknavitch is a writer who, with each ever more triumphant book, creates a new language with which she writes the audacious stories only she can tell. The Book of Joan is a raucous celebration, a searing condemnation, and fiercely imaginative retelling of Joan of Arc’s transcendent life.” –Roxane Gay, author of Bad Feminist

The 25 Most Anticipated Books by Women for 2017, Elle magazine

The 32 Most Exciting Books Coming Out in 2017, BuzzFeed

50 Books We Can’t Wait to Read in 2017, Nylon magazine

33 New Books to Read in 2017, The Huffington Post

Most Anticipated, The Great 2017 Book Preview, The Millions

The bestselling author of The Small Backs of Children offers a vision of our near-extinction and a heroine—a reimagined Joan of Arc—poised to save a world ravaged by war, violence, and greed, and forever change history, in this provocative new novel.

In the near future, world wars have transformed the earth into a battleground. Fleeing the unending violence and the planet’s now-radioactive surface, humans have regrouped to a mysterious platform known as CIEL, hovering over their erstwhile home. The changed world has turned evolution on its head: the surviving humans have become sexless, hairless, pale-white creatures floating in isolation, inscribing stories upon their skin.

Out of the ranks of the endless wars rises Jean de Men, a charismatic and bloodthirsty cult leader who turns CIEL into a quasi-corporate police state. A group of rebels unite to dismantle his iron rule—galvanized by the heroic song of Joan, a child-warrior who possesses a mysterious force that lives within her and communes with the earth. When de Men and his armies turn Joan into a martyr, the consequences are astonishing. And no one—not the rebels, Jean de Men, or even Joan herself—can foresee the way her story and unique gift will forge the destiny of an entire world for generations.

A riveting tale of destruction and love found in the direst of places—even at the extreme end of post-human experience—Lidia Yuknavitch’s The Book of Joan raises questions about what it means to be human, the fluidity of sex and gender, and the role of art as a means for survival.

Peacock at Hollywood ForeverThis is a love story, and it begins, for me anyway, with the death of Christopher Jones, “an heir apparent to James Dean who starred in such films as The Looking Glass War and Ryan’s Daughter before quitting show business at the height of his brief but dazzling career,” as he was summarized in the lede of his Hollywood Reporter obituary. He had been likened to James Dean since the late fifties, when he was a teenager living in a home for orphaned and abandoned boys in Memphis, Tennessee. He had Dean’s blondish bedhead and a similar build and stature, but with his snakelike eyes and exotic cheekbones, there was also a resemblance to Rudolph Valentino, as noted by a cameraman on the set of Chubasco, the first of six movies Jones made back to back in the late sixties. He played a rock star in the prophetically titled Wild in the Streets and a captive stud in Three in the Attic, and he was ideally suited to both parts as a real-life romantic rival of Jim Morrison and an exhibitionist with just cause, or as he would say to an interviewer long after his heyday, “I wasn’t John Holmes, exactly, but nearly.” He was dangerous to know and a danger to himself. He brandished guns and knives, and narrowly escaped death in two car crackups, the first in Italy, where he made another prophetically titled movie, Brief Season, and the second in Ireland, where he shot most of Ryan’s Daughter, a kind of Irish Madame Bovary directed by David Lean. He claimed to have had an affair with Sharon Tate while making Brief Season—she was working on a different film, her last, in Rome—and when he learned of her murder by the Manson Family a few months later, he snapped and disappeared from the spotlight, even as Ryan’s Daughter, released at the end of 1970, established him as a top-tier star. Offers poured in, and he was already committed to making more movies, but he ignored the commitments as rumors of schizophrenia, of drug addiction and turning tricks on the street, swirled around him. Pamela Des Barres, the celebrated former groupie and author, had an encounter with Jones outside the Psychedelic Conspiracy, a Sunset Strip head shop, in 1973, and as she wrote later in Movieline magazine, now defunct, “his long hair was disheveled, his clothes in tatters, his feet dirty and bare. Since he was obviously having a private conversation with himself, I didn’t intrude.” I read that story shortly after it was published in 1996, and it haunted me to the point where I eventually retooled it for Banned for Life, my novel about a punk-rock pioneer said to be panhandling on the streets of Hollywood following his perplexing withdrawal from the underground music scene.

Min-Jin-Lee-Pachinko

This week on the Otherppl with Brad Listi podcast, a conversation with Min Jin Lee, author of the novel Pachinko, available now from Grand Central Publishing. It is the official February pick of The Nervous Breakdown Book Club.

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The Nervous Breakdown Book Club is reading Ron Currie’s  The One-Eyed Man this month, available from Viking Press. Richard Russo calls it “a revelation, a wonder.”

Stay tuned for Ron’s appearance on the Otherppl podcast in the weeks to come.