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Cathy DaveCathy Alter: We spent a lot of time thinking about celebrities and thinking about what our crushes (and by “our,” I mean the collective our) meant to us back when we had them and what they mean to us now. So the first thing I want to ask you after bathing in the stew is this: If you could be any celebrity for a day, who would you be?

CRUSHcoverWhenever I am asked about my favorite books, I inevitably mention the Little House on the Prairie books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. As a child, I read these books with devotion and obsession. They were so full of vivid descriptions of settler life. Oh, how I wanted to make candy with maple syrup and snow. Laura, aka Half Pint, was bright and willful and charming. These books showed me that it was possible to tell stories about being a girl from the Midwest, like I was, and have those stories matter.

And then, of course, there was Almanzo “Manly” Wilder. If I have a first love, it is that man of good Midwestern stock. I loved him because he was always steady, true, handsome, courageous, strong. He tamed wild horses. He was a hard worker. He was good in a crisis. He loved fiercely, deeply, and knew how to be romantic in subtle, unexpected ways.

Transcendental Meditation 

51VevgN9+YL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_When I was five, my father, an alcoholic playwright, left $50 on the kitchen table and vanished. My mother quickly found herself broke, unable to keep up with the rent for our Upper West Side apartment in New York.

She had no money, but she did have something else very precious to her: a guru, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who earlier that year had issued a call to his followers around the globe. Come to Iowa, he’d said, to meditate and create world peace. So after a tumultuous year of moving, getting evicted, and living with my grandmother in Florida, my mother decided that our path to stability would be found in the endless cornfields of Fairfield, where Maharishi was founding a Transcendental Meditation community, complete with a university and a private school for the children of his followers. My mother, my brother, and I moved to the heartland along with 7,000 others. It was 1982.

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In your most recent collection, The New Testament, you wrote in one of your poems, “Hustle”: “I eat with humans who think any book full of black characters is about race.” Overall, your work seems to revolve around issues of sexuality, love, violence, masculinity, family, spirituality, mortality, and race (among other things, of course). When someone attempts to categorize you exclusively as a “homosexual” or a “gym rat” or a “Southern black man” or a “’religious’ poet,” etc (while misrepresenting or failing to acknowledge the other parts of your identity), how do you resist such curtailment or oversimplification of your identity? 

Well, I don’t exactly “resist” any identifiers because I don’t automatically think of it as “curtailment” or “oversimplification.”  So yes, the parenthetical phase in your question is of utmost importance.

You come with a little
Black string tied
Around your tongue,
Knotted to remind
Where you came from
And why you left
Behind photographs
Of people whose
Names need no
Pronouncing. How

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Ho Chi Minh City, 2000. A US Marine in plain clothes sat in the waiting area. I’d done enough overseas trips as a White House advanceperson to guess he was a Marine Security Guard detailed for this presidential visit, the first since the war ended.  He exuded youth and boundless strength, with the kind of pectorals earned on a family farm. He looked at me sheepishly. Did he feel caught? I wanted to laugh with him: this wasn’t some neon-lit storefront we were patronizing. This was the hotel spa—where the clerk looked sharp, posh even, his polo shirt buttoned to his neck, like everyone else in this Vietnamese five-star hotel, all of them making wartime seem forgotten. The same hotel where the leader of the free world would stay just as our advance teams had for days. If there was anything sordid about this place we wouldn’t be here.

Cyntha_DAprix_Sweeney_The_Nest

Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney is the guest on the latest episode of Otherppl with Brad Listi. Her debut novel, The Nest, is available now from Ecco Books. 

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Your signature scent is the apple pie
Yankee Candle on the toilet in your grandmother’s
powder room in La Jolla, which I light
just after I finally shit for the first time in a week
full of casseroles, cobbs and clubs, plus
the hours of sitting in your grandfather’s Lincoln
driving through desert hills decked out in
ranch-style manses, old money, oil and gold,
a wheeling and dealing history as he tells it,
feeling something acidic push up in my throat
as we cruise and swerve through what should be just desert.

Missile ParadiseLove Slaves of Helen Hadley Hall

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ron Tanner, author of Missile Paradise, and Jim Magruder, author of The Love Slaves of Helen Hadley Hall, discuss their new novels.

 

Ron Tanner: Let’s dispatch the most obvious question first: in 1983, you were a grad student at Yale, where you dormed in Helen Hadley Hall. Your novel, Love Slaves of Helen Hadley Hall is about a diverse, rowdy, and randy group of grad students at Yale in 1983 and they live in Helen Hadley Hall.  How much does it matter that this story is autobiographical?

 

Jim Magruder: With two exceptions, the entire cast is based on people I knew. That said, there is a lot of me in every love slave (“Becky Engelking, c’est moi”) even if only one of them most corresponds to the facts of me in ‘83. It turns out readers don’t care who was real and what was invented. They create their own versions of the characters as they go along.

Jung_Yun_Shelter

Jung Yun is the guest on the latest episode of Otherppl with Brad Listi. Her debut novel, Shelter, is now available from Picador. 

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Todd Baker photo print_BWBy a series of magical events at the end of part one of your novel, your hero has a full-blown nervous breakdown. Was this shameless plotting to capture The Nervous Breakdown’s admiration?

Yes. A lie detector test result stating the opposite is also available upon request.

Adobe Photoshop PDFThe Venice headquarters of advertising agency Nicaida & Knight occupies a campus of wood plank buildings that once served as a cooperative dairy. Now, the white barns from the 1910s have pegged maple floors, halogen lights, and conference rooms with Aeron chairs. But the sun still flashes through the barns’ clanking rooftop vents, like it did when Los Angeles was home to spotted cows.

Luke parks in his reserved space at Nicaida & Knight and heads for his office. Though the day has barely started, the pace inside is already rushed. Still, Luke comes to work with a sense of relief—his return to employment has been a difficult climb, and he is grateful for good luck.

Even better, he’s being given his due. And it looks like he’ll be able to promote his assistant into accounts. However, Stacy is out until mid-morning on a personal matter and won’t be around to hear the good news.

Taking a moment with his coffee, Luke reflects on his most recent work—storyboard mock-ups tacked to the wall. Luke mastered the campaigns and pleased difficult clients—a big win for all. Only, Luke’s thoughts turn dark and suddenly, he’s remembering the dreams that tricked him into The Bubble.

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When did you write your first poem?

I wrote my first poem in 1967 when I was a freshman at the University of Southern California. It was my first time away from home, the war in Viet Nam was going full force and I was a confused, angst-filled adolescent who didn’t know what I thought about anything. I had a huge crush on my French professor, Dr. Robin Blake, and one day — I usually sat in the front row of class — he saw that I had scribbled the beginnings of a poem on my notebook. He stopped and picked the poem up off the notebook and said to the class that Ms. Bogen had written a poem and that it was pretty good. For the rest of the semester, I would strategically leave poems on the side of my notebook although he never singled me out again. I probably would have stopped writing but at the end of my freshman year I became the first freshman to ever win the (college) award from the Academy of American Poets at USC.

1.
I tell you the skin alone cannot contain
the brawl of a generation —
we burned flags before the helmets
and the dogs rabid with our parents’ teeth.
Then we locked arms, swaying
and cheered when the match struck.
We watched, swore the jelly of napalm
would not silence the corpses
pulled from rice paddies in another world.

Nayomi_Munaweera_What_Lies_Between_Us

Nayomi Munaweera is the guest on the latest episode of Otherppl with Brad Listi. Her new novel, What Lies Between Us, is available now from St. Martin’s Press. 

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