I started this post long ago! Will not pretend I didn’t. Here you will find: A recap of summer activities & reading notes / updates & announcements, etc.
June 2016: I’m in Lawrence for two weeks, participating in speculative fiction novel camp for two weeks with friends and friends of friends at the University of Kansas. Three weeks ago, I attended WisCon, the feminist science fiction convention in Madison. I’ve been participating in an Octavia Butler reading group, where we read Butler and other feminist science fiction. When I return, I’ll be teaching a workshop in speculative writing (sign up here!) (September update: This didn’t happen due to bad timing and low enrollment. Would love to try again.) Then moving to New York. (Update: DONE.) It’s been a specfic summer, in other words.
Highlights from novel workshop:
Group plotting FTW! Look how my M moved, became clean and possible! (By M, I mean the shape of the novel, in four arcs. Speaking of M’s: I’m going by M now, transitionally–more on that below.)
At the suggestion of fellow KU novel workshopper and fantastic writer Brooke Wonders, I picked up a copy of The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy, a new anthology series developed by John Joseph Adams; this year’s editor is Joe Hill. This first volume collects a ton of writers who participate in/are associated with WisCon (i.e., write feminist, antiracist, proqueer)—like Sofia Samatar, one of this year’s guests of honor, who has not one, but two stories here.
Her “How to Get Back to the Forest” is one of the best stories I’ve read: it appeals entirely to my interests. It recasts bulimia as a survival mode: girls at camp using self-induced vomiting in an effort to get rid of bugs that have been implanted at the bottom of their throats. In her notes on the story (included in the appendix), Samatar brings the story into conversation with Eileen Myles’ “Everyday Barf,” Dodie Bellamy’s Barf Manifesto, and Kate Zambreno’s chapbook Apoplexia, Toxic Shock, and Toilet Bowl: Some Notes on Why I Write. Really smart, horrifying, sometimes funny, tremendously moving story that thinks eating disorders in a speculative register.
Another recent read is Sarah Schulman’s The Cosmopolitans: which is fantastic in a superlative if not speculative way. I suggested it for my queer/trans/feminist book club and was so looking forward to talking about it with other people; but Book Club LET ME DOWN, i.e., I was the only one who finished it. Okay, in their defense, yes, we’ve all had busy summers, and as it’s a newer book on an independent press, there weren’t many library copies available. (This issue of accessibility has been an ongoing problem for our book club; if we want to read contemporary queer and trans literature, much of which is published on small independent presses, there usually are no or few library copies. We need to get more queer and trans lit into libraries.)
On The Cosmopolitans: structurally one of the most elegant and well-executed novels I’ve read. I was deeply impressed by Schulman’s mastery of the form; the depth of character, the links to theater, the surprises, the authorial intrusions, the winkingly anachronistic style: the book takes place in 1958 and has the affective and stylistic texture of a book of the 50s. Indeed, it’s very Baldwin-esque, and his Another Country is mentioned by the author as an informing text in her author’s note.
It’s a novel of friendship, and I think more successful than Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life in creating a complex worldview and addressing head-on the ways in which friendship is complicated by difference. The central relationship is formed between a white straight cis woman and an African-American gay cis man. Schulman carefully crafts a narrative that, at the same time as it prioritizes lifelong friendship over sexual/romantic relationships, also legitimizes Earl’s desire for a lover/boyfriend. The novel seems very interested in demarcating the gaps and fissures in Bette and Earl’s relationship, creating parallax by presenting it through both characters’ eyes to show that each one is getting something valuable—if different—from the relationship.
I haven’t read Balzac’s Cousin Bette, one of Schulman’s models for the book, but saw a connection to Henry James’s Beast in the Jungle, which similarly chronicles the lifelong nonsexual relationship between a (presumably gay or asexual) man, John Marcher, and a straight woman, May Bertram, who, the story suggests, wants more than friendship from John—but this uneven desire remains unspoken between them. Schulman’s novel can be read in some ways as a corrective to James’s story, which presents nonsexual hetero friendship as a beard, a pretense. In The Cosmopolitans the friendship is real, valuable, prioritized: although each individual is getting something different out of it, and ultimately Earl needs something else in addition to (not instead of) this friendship.
My main question for my book club, which hangs unanswered in my meeting notes, but maybe you’ll want to think through this with me, is as follows: is Bette’s desire for Truth, her relentless insistence upon and near-maniacal investment in it—heroic or tragic? Or both.
September/October 2016 Updates & Announcements
I taught Sofia’s speculative bulimia story in my intro to CW class last week. Still so impressed with it.
My own contribution to the conversation on bulimic writing is forthcoming in a scholarly volume called Reading and Writing Experimental Texts: Critical Innovations edited by Robin Silbergleid and Kristina Quynn. My chapter “Blah Blah Bleh: Bulimic Writing as Resistance” thinks through Bellamy’s and Zambreno’s theorizations from a feminist disability studies lens while engaging with literary criticism’s historical reliance on pathologizing reading practices. This is an essay that’s gone through many versions: first published in much different, more personal form in Mildred Pierce 5: Comedy and the Grotesque; later funneled through a Society for Disability Studies conference paper; now in happily hybrid semi-academic state.
I’m living in New York now, teaching and writing.
I’m going by “M” until I land on a new name. I’ve got this Name Tags series on names/naming in the works for Entropy but haven’t followed through with it while deliberating over my own name stuff. What’s my name? Is it Zig? Mason? Zegan? Maze? Marzipan? Taking votes.
Shortly before moving, I took one last trip to Chicago to see some friends and meet with Cheryl Wollner who interviewed me for Luna Station Quarterly.
Asexualities: Feminist and Queer Perspectives, which I co-edited with KJ Cerankowski, will be available in paperback soon–exciting! Will make it much more accessible to folks without access to academic libraries. We were never happy about the price tag of the volume.
I’ll be in Indiana in October as part of University of Indianapolis’s Kellogg Writers Series…
…and in Toronto in November as part of the Naked Heart LGBTQ Festival of Words.
Otherwise, not leaving. New York folks, say hi. Everyone else, come visit.