The Year in Review: 2018

The following highlights are not exhaustive.


Dodie Bellamy, entire body of work, and especially The Buddhist, When the Sick Rule the World, and Academonia 


In October I spent a week in San Francisco shadowing Dodie Bellamy for a writing project related to the Wattis Institute’s year of Dodie (whence I took the above book cover collage). She took me to community acupuncture and gave me a walking tour of her neighborhood; we had tea in the café at the bottom of Twitter Towers; and other adventures I will commit to the page in coming months. To support this project I’ve been slowly and reverently revisiting Dodie’s work, including early work like Feminine Hijinx and Pink Steam which I read and loved years ago without solid context for New Narrative. Reread When the Sick Rule the World with Liza as part of our book club offshoot (see below), exhilarated as ever by Dodie’s audacity and mirth, her vulnerability and candor, her genius in stretching the essay as a form. While rereading The Buddhist at Borderlands Café, I got cruised by someone who wished to chat about Buddhism, not Dodie, of whom they had not heard: Hard pass. Back home in Brooklyn, I just finished Academonium, and Dodie’s essays on sex writing, genre, and the academy/job market have been reviving my lapsed faith in writing sex. For this project I’ve also taken a few trips to the Beinecke Library at Yale, to see what treasures I might find in Dodie’s and Kevin’s shared papers. They are plentiful. A glimpse:


(an original letter to KK from Dodie’s alter ego Mina Harker)


Renee Gladman +++ Book Club


When my good friend and former book club co-runner Liza Harrell-Edge left New York for the Pacific Northwest early in the year, I did not know if my heart would go on. It has, in large part because we have kept up a semi-rigorous monthly reading group, just us. (Our Brooklyn book club has gone on, too, though we miss her dearly.) Originally our agenda was strictly to read and discuss Renee Gladman’s Ravicka series, now that the fourth and final volume, Houses of Ravicka, is out. We’re halfway to achieving this goal, taking our time as we weave in and out of the constantly fluctuating imaginary city-state of Ravicka to wander wherever our enthusiasms take us—a detournement Gladman would probably support. Over the summer we worked our way through Samuel Delany’s immense, slow-burning (literally! the city of Bellona is on fire) Dhalgren, as Gladman has acknowledged its influence on the Ravicka series. We took a side trip through The Bostonians, Henry James’s archly comic novel of the women’s movement, which has nothing to do with Ravicka really, it just came up that we both wanted to read it—though I guess it’s about the city, too. This month we wrapped The Ravickians, the second in the series, comprising an imagined metatranslation of the Great Ravickian Novelist’s diaristic musings, an absurdist poetry reading, and a multi-character dialogue that maps in language one journey through the city of Ravicka. Excited for #3. May our literary kinship continue in years to come.


Ron Athey, Acéphalous Monster at Performance Space New York, November 2018


bb’s first Ron Athey performance and as intense as expected—though not in the ways I anticipated: no live mutilations or blood-letting; a surprising amount of language. Acéphale was Bataille’s seceret society, its symbol the headless man, and Acéphalous Monster is a one-person performance made up of five different segments tracing an arc from fascism (Athey channeling Hitler/Nazism in costume and hairpiece within the confines of a grid) to the guillotine block (as Louis XVI) to the headless man (Ron as minotaur; then as some kind of floofy dandelion). Supplementing the performance were text and video projections, including footage of a ritual involving an elaborate peacock butt plug and other spectacular SM implements and events.

My initial reactions were a bit nonplussed, like okay, enough with Bataille, why retread such stale source material—though I’d just been discussing temporal drag in my Revision & Reenactment class—also, bring on the live mutilations. Yet mutilation was occurring on the body of the texts: Athey was cutting up cut-ups (and cut-ups of cut-ups), deploying Gysin and Burroughs’ famous method. There was a lot of attention to fascism in this performance—Ron, in the post-performance Q&A, described the first grid segment (a re-imagining of Gysin’s Pistol Poem) as creating chaos within rigid order via random permutations—all to say I’m embarrassed at how long it took me to draw connections between Bataille’s fascist context and our own. Then I got it: yes.

Side note: Dodie Bellamy’s Cunt-Ups, which also works with the cut-up, has recently been reissued by Tender Buttons Press. Hooray!


Kathy Acker events, Performance Space New York, March/April 2018

PSNY also put on a series of events celebrating Kathy Acker this spring. I attended an excellent film program curated by Matias Viegener and the marathon reading of Blood and Guts in High School. As someone who has been strongly influenced by Acker’s work but never met or shared space with her, I was moved to take part in, if peripherally, this ecstatic, convivial celebration of her writing and life.


Trap Door Launch at the New Museum with editors Johanna Burton, Tourmaline, and Eric Stanley and contributors Ché Gossett, Juliana Huxtable, Miss Major, and Toshio Meronek (February)


This event celebrating the publication of Trap Door: Trans Cultural Production and the Politics of Visibility was—a scene. Standing room only (a big room!), a field of very hot trans and queer people; I confess my friends and I did some shameless trans celebrity spotting, even pointing, so rude. What a treat to be in the presence of Miss Major and these other luminaries, and to see this cross-generational exchange. The volume itself is gorgeous and full. My Brooklyn queer/trans/feminist book club dedicated two meetings to it; group favorite was probably Morgan Page’s essay on her podcast One for the Vaults, which treats trans history as hot gossip.


Narcissister, Studies for Participatory Sculpture (solo exhibition, April) & Narcissister Organ Player (film, November) 

For her solo show at Participant Inc., Narcissister filled the gallery with dozens of small collages that juxtaposed images of monoliths in art with pornographic images of women, the artist playing skillfully with scale to create cheeky and unsettling visual effects. In the middle of the space, a live totem of masked performers and mannequins presided, their stony presence eerie and rattling. I was amused and unnerved, a combination I enjoy.

Narcissister Organ Player, the artist’s feature-length hybrid documentary/performance film, is captivating, lush, and unexpectedly moving: though known as a masked provocateur, the artist has made a revealing and relatively earnest (notwithstanding its formal experimentation) film about her relationship with her mother—surprise! Reading her body of work through the lens of this complicated, enmeshed relationship, the film illuminates her art without stifling or reducing it.


Madame X,directed by Lucky Kuswandi (2010)


I saw this film in July as part of the ongoing Cinema of Gender Transgression series at Anthology. Madame X is a cleverly wacky Indonesian film about a transgender superhero named Madame X—née Adam (note: this is not her deadname, she is trans and goes by Adam), a humble hairdresser who becomes victimized and politicized (and superheroinized) by anti-trans hate crimes in Jakarta. As the fearless and powerful Madame X, she uses her powers to fight the creeping control of the religious right in Indonesia. The film is a riot (a hoot and a rebellion), deploying camp as a weapon against anti-gay/trans sentiment. Very smart, thoroughly fun and deeply touching in parts.


Singlet by Erin Markey (June 2018, Bushwick Starr)


Jolting and genius as all Erin Markey’s work is, Singlet (written by Markey; directed by Jordan Fein) stars Markey and Emily Davis in singlets with hair and makeup like twins. It’s a performance about power and control in dyadic pairs of all kinds—Markey and Davis step into and out of different relational identities, from sisters to co-teachers to student/teacher to multigenerational daughter/mother/grandmother to daddy/daughter. And they wrestle: comically but they mean it, working out their conflicts on the mat (but there are no mats). The tri-generational scene is intricate and mind-blowing, as the roles shift and slide: Markey as Daughter speaks to Davis as Mom, then Davis as Mom speaks to Markey as Grandma (Grandma is dying), the identities pingponging around to form a triangle, with both mother/daughter sets getting to work out their shit. The intensity escalates to a scene on a couch with Markey and Davis in big bushy mustaches, acting out a father/daughter scene with both performing both roles, doubling the lines, making a shared experience of what feels like a reenactment of childhood trauma, all of this destabilized by the doubling, the absurdity, the plain weirdness, the anxious, too-quick tonal shifts. Then they start dancing.


Michelle Tea, Against Memoir (Feminist Press, May 2018)

against memoir

Speaking of Erin Markey, Michelle Tea has a terrific appreciation of her in Against Memoir—it’s among my favorites of Tea’s essays here, and I have a lot of them. Here’s Tea: “Erin Markey has a soft spot for preciousness. It’s like she wants to cuddle it and destroy it, kill it, eat it, and then, for our pleasure, become it. Families are precious. Babies are precious. We are all precious, our bodies and our longings. It’s sort of pathetic, we are, and also poignant, it depends on the angle. Erin Markey hits all the angles” (44). I reviewed Against Memoir for 4Columns in May.


Other book favorites this year:

Jordy Rosenberg, Confessions of the Fox (One World, June 2018)


An experimental alternate-history anti-colonial prison-abolitionist hella-queer (and very hot) feminist trans novel reimagining Jack Sheppard, master thief and prison break artist, as a trans man. In addition to the novel’s play with form (the interaction of the ‘old’ and new texts provides not just a critical framework but also an affective one) and its love for its characters, I was wowed by the protean linguistic skills on display and the book’s tightly wound, magnificently orchestrated plot. I interviewed Jordy for The New Inquiry in June.


Kristen Stone, That Which Girls Conjure Will Help Them Survive (Guillotine, May 2018)


Kristen’s first novel after the exquisite poetry collection Domestication Handbook, beautifully packaged by Guillotine. An intergenerational story of traumatic inheritance written in crisp, lyrical flashes with Kristen’s characteristic tender nerve. I interviewed Kristen for Fanzine in June.


Nikki Darling, Fade into You (Feminist Press, November 2018)

fade into you

Just out this month, Darling’s long-awaited Fade into You is a nonfiction novel that follows high school junior Nikki Darling in 1990s Los Angeles as she cuts class to smoke up, hang with friends, drive the city, come into uncertain ambivalence about being a girl, a brown girl, a mixed-race girl, a Mexican American girl, in the world. Nikki is a gem, and the book is deep-hearted and brimming with love for this time and place, these people: not nostalgic or wistful, really, but here and now, vividly—each detail-packed sentence sings. Take this passage, for example:



Amber Dawn, Sodom Road Exit (Arsenal Pulp, April 2018)


Amber Dawn’s second novel after Sub Rosa, one of my all-time favorites, and I love this book too. Best described as “lesbian supernatural thriller,” probably all the info you need. But here’s my blurb: “A fun park ghost story that tilts from horror to desire and back again, Sodom Road Exitis both the roller coaster and the scream—a long, death-defying scream that roars through pain and betrayal, forgiveness and new life. Amber Dawn’s Star will break your heart, if apparitional Etta doesn’t beat her to it; and the impact of their shivery, sensual touch across time will ripple fresh into the future. With ferocious compassion and an unforgettable cast of characters, Amber Dawn has written an extraordinary novel of queer love and survival. Consent to be possessed by it.”


Vi Khi Nao, A Brief Alphabet of Torture (FC2, September 2017)

Routinely in this astonishing collection Nao becomes a torture artist, peeling the skin off of story, slicing in with surgical precision and poking around in its insides. The surreal is absurdist; the violence is real; and Nao’s prose kills: artfully weaponized, surprising, superb. From “Sexual Dogs,” in which an affluent woman turns humans into dogs and trains them as her prostitutes: “The prostitute spent an entire day pleasuring her until her face cut open like light.” In “The Watermelon Body,” a woman wishes her suitor to be a watermelon: “She believed that sexually (there was no other way of looking at it), a watermelon was truly a perfectly designed man. Seeds dispersed throughout the body; his sexual belongings ubiquitously within reach. In other words, the woman found the body of a man with all the eggs in one basket as defective. Seeds should be scattered” (60). “The Bald Sparrow” is perfect. The title story is an index of cruel, imaginative horrors. I’m impressed and a little bit scared.


Casey Plett, Little Fish (Arsenal Pulp, April 2018)

Plett’s first novel after an outstanding first story collection (read A Safe Girl to Love if you haven’t yet!). I adored this, sped through too quickly in two days. A slice-of-life narrative—two months or so in the life of Wendy, a twentysomething trans girl with Mennonite heritage and a single father, part of a closeknit community of trans women in Winnipeg. A lot happens that is significant but the pleasure is in the time spent with this character and this author, who emphasizes community and love on each page.


Lauren Russell, What’s Hanging on the Hush (Ahsahta, Fall 2017)

An accomplished and tender first collection with quiet bite and tremendous linguistic dexterity—a debut I’ve eagerly awaited. Favorites include “The Art of Speaking,” which considers the actions of a general against the actions of the conversationalist to set up a parallel between talking and war—all very wry and curmudgeonly; and the final poem “___ than Cake” which meditates on desire and appetite in unexpected ways. Also “The Wind Is Rising”… Okay, many favorites, including the droll “On Loneliness” (“I am lonely because I do not have a television.”) and the rhapsodic “Dream-clung, Gone” (“this is the song of a dawned dance / this is the dance of a dusk-drawn song / this is the fall of a moaned trance / this is the clang of a dream-clung gong”).


Erin Dorney, I Am Not Famous Anymore: Poems after Shia LaBeouf (Mason Jar Press, April 2018)

“I am no longer wild. / I watched it happen.” These sparkling poems manipulate the language of Shia LaBeouf (who himself has played with plagiarism), harnessing and redirecting his restless energies into new prisms, neither mocking or parodic but listening closely, reflecting. Here’s an excerpt of the Introduction I wrote: “If Shia LaBeouf has fashioned himself into an open channel, Erin Dorney reorients that channel through her own curious light. The result is a paper bag with I holes: that is, a poem. It’s possible we haven’t known what to do with Shia LaBeouf for some time, but Erin Dorney does and it’s this.”


Jos Charles, feeld (Milkweed, July 2018)

A brilliant resuscitation of Ye Olde (Middle) English style. feeld is a field of experiments in bent language, frequently very funny, with winkingly bad puns somehow made not bad but deadpan in the faux medievalist transliteration, which also thrills, campily, in textspeak. I might compare feeld to Dodie’s Cunt-Ups (and the equally marvelous, more recent Cunt Norton, particularly “Cunt Chaucer”) in its mirth and fluidity. But “there is noting / funye bout this” (ha). Where Cunt-Ups performs a feminist carnivalesque with queer and trans effects, feeld is explicitly trans in its framing and politics, and the realness with which Charles addresses trans experience is not lost in the language play.


Rivers Solomon’s An Unkindness of Ghosts (Akashic, October 2017)

A most impressive debut! I’m excited to see what Rivers does next. From my review for Strange Horizons: “With an Afrofuturist premise grounded in a queer neuroatypical worldview, An Unkindness of Ghosts is the post-Butler novel many of us have been waiting for. Meet Aster, a healer, sharecropper, and rebel who lives in the lower decks of the spaceship HSS Matilda. …. Aster is black, intersex, genderqueer, neuroatypical, and multilingual: righteous, bold, tender, abrupt, stubborn as hell. Through Aster’s worldview, Solomon centers blackness alongside gender-variance and neuroatypicality, and they do so deftly, through characterization that eschews familiar identity categories. We are expected to see Aster on her own terms.”


Andrea Lawlor, Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl (Rescue Press, November 2017)

Since I had the pleasure of re-reading this novel (again!) for book club this spring, I may as well sing its praises once more; for there is much to sing about. Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl was released by indie publisher Rescue Press late last fall and has been generating steadily growing attention, enough to prompt a reprint from Vintage planned for 2019, thusly enabling more of us to read and reread for years to come—and with great joy, as Paul is wholly enjoyable: smart, funny, hot—Paul’s a reader—and fashionable. I introduced Andrea at one of their New York launch events and posted it here.


Tim Jones-Yelvington, Strike a Prose: Memoirs of a Lit Diva Extraordinaire (co-im-press, March 2018)

Long year: I can’t believe this book came out just this spring. I love TJY’s work with genre and form, always. Strike a Prose is a heady, campy, tragicomic cross-genre experiment in faux celebrity memoir, what more could one seek. Here’s my ridiculous blurb which, fun fact, Tim lifted from my notes on a draft he sent me years ago: “Strike a Prose smartly, hilariously reimagines the kunstlerroman as a (lit) celebrity memoir. The result is preposterous, provocative, and affirming!”



Lots of high and lows with two book projects, both of which have circulated among some editors, generating interest but no takers. After a week and a half remapping my novel in the company of my semi-annual semi-secret writing group in Chicago, I’ve spent the fall retyping from page one and revising as I go—which quickly led to tossing aside the printed draft and rewriting the whole fucking thing. The big question continues to be: is it or is it not—YA? The answer remains: Maybe. It’s about and inside adolescence but doesn’t adhere to YA conventions. It’s retro YA for adults. It’s a lot of things. A crime against genre! (I refer here to Dodie’s great essay, “Crimes Against Genre,” collected in Academonia.)

Anyway I’ve sent the new draft to a few trusted readers and as I await their feedback am back at work on a few stories, with plans to return to a new-ish nonfiction project in 2019.

Other News:

My short story “The Strands,” a work of speculative autofiction about the horrors of hair and bad boundaries, part of a collaborative breakup/processing chapbook project or whatever it may be with Sam Cohen, is forthcoming in Foglifter.


“Becoming Olivia Newton Dawn,” my hybrid essay/performance script on Trent Harris’s cult film The Beaver Trilogy, was published in unbag #3: The Reverie IssueI’ve been trying to write about this film for years, in several modes. This one combines a short critical reading of the film with a performance script originally written for Tim Jones-Yelvington’s launch party for Become on Yr Face. With thanks to Jami, Cynthia, and Madsen for feedback on earlier versions.


In March I organized an AWP panel on new speculative fiction featuring Jordy Rosenberg, Sofia Samatar, Rose Lemberg, and Maria Dahvana Headley. All were brilliant. Thank you.

In May I attended a small, intimate conference outside of cold Toronto called Embodiment in Science Fiction and Fantasy where I presented a paper called “Anorexia and the Nonhuman” thinking through queer inhumanism in Margaret Atwood’s The Edible Woman, Park Chan-wook’s I’m a Cyborg But That’s OK, Sarah Gerard’s Binary Star, and the French film Raw (with Han Kang’s The Vegetarian as shadow text). Yes, it is doing too much.


The collaborative short story “She Is Hovering,” written with Davis Schneiderman (a mash-up of my “Slug” and Davis’s “Baron Samedi Clan vs. Authority of the 1st-World All Stars” from ScatØlØgically Yours), is part of Davis’s new volume of collaborative work, There Is No Appropriate #Emoji, out in Fall 2019 from MadCat.


My 2016 chapbook The Feels, published in Black Warrior Review, has been made available online.


And an invitation: Currently open to collaborations, new reading partners and reading groups, manuscript exchanges, fantasy epistolary romances that promise never to become real, exchanges overall.

Here’s Claude.

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