Below find, in order, one dispatch from Communal Presence, some news, and a pile of enthusiasms.
Last weekend I was in Berkeley for Communal Presence: New Narrative Writing Today, featuring the legends of New Narrative past and present: Bob Glück, Bruce Boone, Dodie Bellamy, Kevin Killian, Camille Roy, Renee Gladman, Dennis Cooper, Eileen Myles, Gabrielle Daniels, Matias Viegener, Roberto Bedoya, Rob Halpern, Gail Scott, yes yes and so on. Seeing all of these writers together in the same room was exhilarating and historical.
In the first plenary, devoted to Kevin and Dodie’s recent anthology Writers Who Love Too Much, Gabrielle, Matias, Roberto, Dennis, and Eileen each briefly shared their own histories and entanglements with New Narrative – how they found it, how it found them. Gabrielle, chronicling what she described as her “apprenticeship” with Bruce and Steve Abbott: “It was a time for my mind to be blown.” Roberto, on “being inside and outside of aesthetic ordering,” particularly as a writer of color: “in and out is a porous terrain of imagination.” Dennis: “Sometimes I was part of [New Narrative], like Kathy Acker, and sometimes we weren’t….now I’ve become lifelong friends with these writers.” Matias [I’m paraphrasing]: “all of us were thrown into these [given] families and then you get a choice, but so much randomness is involved…so many of the people here have become fixtures in my life, and it’s kind of miraculous.” Eileen: “I feel like I’m just hanging out with my teachers…in New York I had learned that you hung out with people who had what you wanted. Each of these guys had what I wanted and I happily took it.” Eileen on meeting Dennis: “We didn’t meet, our magazines met” (Eileen’s Dodgems meeting Dennis’s Little Caesar).
Later, Renee Gladman, in a panel called “New Enactments”: “To be in narrative now is to be in an already fractured state.” At the final marathon reading, she read a stunning piece that got cut out of Calamities; in it, she engaged with Gail Scott’s notion of “a community of sentences” to describe this whole moving architecture of interacting, communal language.
My panel was also a highlight! Sam Cohen and I organized “Bad Boundaries II: Ethics in New Narrative Writing” as a continuation of a panel we put on for the most recent &NOW Festival (2015 in Los Angeles). Maxe Crandall started it off with with a presentation on Poets Theater. “Why is Poets Theater ‘over,’” he asked, “when New Narrative is ongoing, ever-relevant?” He suggested that it may relate to a new cultural investment in the star system–“Poets Theater dies when the star system becomes real.” Three performances on Saturday revived Poets Theater works by Carla Harryman, Kevin Killian & Brian Kim Stefans, and Camille Roy; I trust Maxe (et al.) will keep the medium alive in new forms.
Our panel continued with Nikki Darling, whose paper made connections between New Narrative, magical realism, and experimental fiction as a whole, working to situate both Gloria Anzaldua and Lidia Yuknavitch within the tradition.
Then Sam and I read part of our chapbook in the works, which collects the two stories we each wrote about the other after our difficult breakup in 2015, and a conversation we’re calling “Processing: On Revision and Repair.” For the panel we read modified excerpts from that conversation, doing a kind of mutual overshare via public processing. The chapbook is an exercise in accountability and repair, and it’s a polarizing project: are we only poking at each other’s emotional leftovers, or are we working toward a new queer intimacy? We think the latter. Here we are with Stephen and Nikki post-panel.
Our panel competed with other good-looking panels, and there was much I missed overall. At the Saturday plenary, Rob Halpern and Camille Roy each read deeply affecting back-to-back pieces documenting care and grief for a lover’s gone body. And the opportunity to finally see OG New Narrativists Bob and Bruce read was a gift I don’t take for granted.
NEW OLD NAME NEWS
Presently going by both M. and Megan. For now I am liking holding onto my history in my name as I shift into a new embodiment.
I’ve got two books in the works and recently signed with Rachel Crawford at Wolf Literary Services, joining some of my favorite peer contemporaries: Tom Cho, Patty Yumi Cottrell, Sarah Gerard.
I’d been working on a Best-of-2016 (yes, 2016!) type post that got sidetracked repeatedly by national and world events. Now I’ve turned it into an early Best of 2017(+), and I have beaten you all. Here are some (mostly) recently published books that have delighted and devastated me the past, oh, year or so.
Myriam Gurba, Mean Gurba’s first memoir is officially out in a week or two; I’ve got a review forthcoming in 4Columns, so more TK. But for now: the links Gurba makes here between her own experiences of sexual assault and a much broader rape culture that pervades everything have new timeliness in connection with the Weinstein fallout and the #metoo movement. If you know Gurba’s work at all, you’ll be expecting clever, crass humor and Mean has it in spades: the book is both devastating and devastatingly funny.
Cat Fitzpatrick and Casey Plett, editors, Meanwhile, Elsewhere: Science Fiction & Fantasy by Transgender Authors
My basically glowing review of this important new SFF anthology, recently published on Topside Press, is now up at Strange Horizons.
Michelle Tea, Black Wave / Kai Cheng Thom, Fierce Femmes and Notorious Liars: A Dangerous Trans Girl’s Confabulous Memoir / Both of these novels play with genre in exciting ways, extending a tradition of queer autofiction that has operated a bit differently from the Lerner/Heti strand. Black Wave is a new kind of autofiction/anti-memoir/whatever/yes, simultaneously vintage Michelle Tea and something wholly new, even futurist. Adopting third-person and a thin fictional veneer, Tea retells “Michelle’s” past as, or through, fiction (“fiction”)—and as a painful history that has to die. The sardonic flippancy of Tea’s earlier memoirs is still here, but there’s an edge to it, self-loathing creeping through in the use of this detached, ironized third person point of view. It’s a sobriety narrative, it’s a post-adult queer coming-of-age narrative, it’s an apocalypse scenario, it’s a complex inquiry into the ethics of writing about others, it’s a hard, steely-eyed confrontation with the self.
Kai Cheng Thom’s Fierce Femmes and Notorious Liars similarly stretches the genre of memoir in super exciting ways—in this case, the trans memoir, here made “confabulous.” It’s potentially readable as fabulist autobiography, but probably safer to read as a novel presented as memoir, not just through the use of a constructed first-person narrator chronicling her experience but through a prologue that sets up the book as a corrective to the well-worn paths of most trans memoirs. As in Amber Dawn’s Sub Rosa, the use of magic and fantasy here is new and idiosyncratic. Thom mobilizes magic as revision and as rescue, while also emphasizing its limitations: magic might get rid of the dead cop but not the anxiety and paranoia the characters are left with. And! This book deconstructs both girl gang and princess narratives while recentering them around transfemme experience.
Juliana Huxtable and Hannah Black, Life In this beautifully designed book, Juliana Huxtable and Hannah Black become risk-assessment specialists and ex-lovers undertaking a collaborative assignment in the face of impending apocalypse. Epistolary theory from two of our most interesting minds: Our relationship has always been fleeting, on assignment, never fully realized. I have written you to come back, to for once take on our profession as something more and also as something linked to our feelings for each other. … I think it’s your responsibility to come to me—we have an impossible assignment to complete…
Marisa Crawford, Reversible Crawford’s second collection revels in 90s girlhood with verve and knowingness, and the heart-tugging wince of the look back. “I kept a log in the 1990s of every detail of every outfit that I wore every single day,” begins the poem “Sisterhood Isn’t Powerful.” This impulse to record is everywhere in the collection; and this poem’s speaker goes on to remember her painstaking process of memorizing lyrics. “I am worried about the next generation of girls. The ones who did not grow up exactly like me. The ones on the Internet all night long. The ones who have access to all the words to all of the world’s songs. The ones that look like deer in headlights.” The poems here are flooded with a nostalgia complicated by the cross-generational connections they draw — “The 70s,” for example, reflects on the pull of the 70s during the 90s. Full of warmth, humor, and cultural references that make up a past world. I heard Marisa read from Reversible last year, and I still can’t stop listening to the Cranberries.
Larissa Pham, Fantasian In this Lynchian erotic tale, part of Badlands Unlimited’s New Lovers series, a young Asian woman becomes infatuated with her doppelganger…and they begin to merge. Now that you know how you look, how can you possibly stop looking? Pham’s Fantasian is a fantasy of twinning that’s always teetering toward horror. Instead it stays hot—strangely, unnervingly hot.
Patty Yumi Cottrell, Sorry to Disrupt the Peace I’ll be honest: people kept telling me this novel, Cottrell’s first, was so good, so good, but I delayed reading it because the storyline—young woman goes home to her adoptive parents to deal with her adoptive brother’s suicide—sounded so, um, family-focused. But what could I do? The rave reviews kept coming in. Here’s another one: this novel is outstanding. Its perversely dark comedic sensibility is thoroughly compelling, this twisted narrative intelligence trying to make sense of profound yet baffling loss. It has a very complicated orientation to family—the narrator scoffs at family obligations even as she desperately, incompetently attempts to meet them. I met up with Patty for coffee a few months ago and she described the book as “rancid”—yes, and. Its sentences are wild and unnerving—and somehow tender and outward-reaching, too.
Gina Abelkop, “We Love Venus!” and Diana Cage, “The Husbands” in the new Fence I haven’t read everything in this issue yet but these two prose pieces are phenomenal. This excerpt from Gina Abelkop’s novel-in-progress is sensationally good, the kind of good that makes my eyes and face hurt from all the wows it’s giving me. Collective first person and eyeball births. This book is going to be amazing. Read the excerpt online here. Diana Cage’s CNF piece “The Husbands” is also online, also great, also involving Venus! In this case the Venus of Willendorf, “which your undergrad art teacher probably told you was a fertility idol, [but] was actually pornography.” The essay begins with one husband and ends with another and in between covers an abundance of life and sex and love.
Damien Luxe, Heather Ács, and Sabina Ibarrola, eds, Glitter & Grit: Queer Performance from the Heels on Wheels Femme Galaxy / Femmescapes / Yes Femmes Femme literature! Glitter & Grit collects writing, scripts, photos, and dispatches from Heels on Wheels: a Sister Spit-like femme roadshow that was brainchild of Damien Luxe, Heather Ács, and Sabina Ibarrola. This anthology stands as a valuable record of important recent queer/femme art/lit history. So much here: 350 pages of femme writing! Meanwhile, Femmescapes, edited by Charles Theonia and Julieta Salgado and based in NYC, is a print journal of multi-genre work, including poetry, prose, and photographs by mostly trans femme writers. Recent issues have featured KOKUMO, Raquel Salas Rivera, and Reina Gossett, among others, and are available here. And Yes Femmes, a new LA-based online multimedia journal edited by Sam Cohen and designed by Sandra Rosales, is headed towards its second issue on Fans soon after a femmetastic first.
Kristen Arnett, Felt in the Jaw / Dodie Bellamy, When the Sick Rule the World / Elizabeth Colen, Carol Guess, & Kelly Magee, Your Sick All of these books address the ill body. Arnett’s engrossing debut collection is deeply attentive to (queer female) bodies in distress. In the title story, the protagonist gets bitten by a poisonous spider while camping outside with her children; in another, a narrator develops a relationship with a tumor that may be a parasitic twin; and another character contends with a spectacularly heavy flow. And in Your Sick, Colen, Guess, and Magee imagine all sorts of sicknesses and sick bodies, an astonishing diversity of illness and disability, and often in fantastic registers. In “X-Ray Pine,” for example, the narrator is told his cancer is actually a twig. “This is your sick, Xavier,” the doctor says. “Your lungs grew into a tree.” Xavier and his partner Michael plant the surgically removed tree in their yard, and it quickly grows to overwhelm their home. And in the title essay of her new(ish) collection, Bellamy joins a community of the Sick then adopts a speculative nonfiction register to envision a world reoriented around ill people’s experience; among other phenomenal essays (“Phone Home,” in which Bellamy interweaves scenes from ET with a meditation on her mother dying, is among my favorites), this book also collects Bellamy’s terrific “Barf Manifesto,” which I wrote about…here:
Robin Silbergleid & Kristina Quynn, editors, Reading and Writing Experimental Texts: Critical Innovations This new volume of innovative scholarship on experimental literature is finally out after years in the works! My hybrid personal/critical essay on bulimic writing, working with theorizations by Dodie Bellamy and Kate Zambreno from a queer disability studies perspective, finds its home here, alongside essays on Lidia Yuknavitch, Clarice LiSpector, Amina Cain, and Cherríe Moraga, among others.
Andrea Lawlor, Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl (Rescue Press): I’ll be introducing Andrea at the NYC launch for Paul on November 1—join us!
Amber Dawn, Sodom Road Exit (Arsenal Pulp, spring!) I can’t wait to see what Amber Dawn does with the genre of lesbian supernatural thriller.
This year’s Naked Heart! World’s biggest LGBTQ literary festival. This will be my second time, and I’m joining a truly spectacular lineup. Last year I missed a lot owing to sickness. This year I will have fifteen months of NYC germs under my belt and hope to be in full capacity. See you in Toronto!