Friday Lit News Roundup

With our sister magazine, Ecotone, we value a strong sense of place. In Wilmington, NC, where our imprint and magazine are based, it’s our good fortune to relish sights like this one nearly every day. 

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Now, for this week’s news—

We highly recommend that you make time this weekend to read Ben Fountain’s piece for the New Republic, highlighting the heartbreaking failure of Haiti’s recovery four years after the earthquake. “The day after my arrival, I was walking down a dusty, noisy street near the center of town and passed a rough-hewn cinderblock church, a cavernous space with crude turrets at the corners and iron bars across the windows. Inside, a choir composed of what must have been visiting angels was singing a Bach cantata, the angels hidden behind the walls and bars of the church but their song floating into the street like a break in the battle, a cool cloth laid over a fevered brow. And that’s how Haiti breaks your heart, with these hits of grace and beauty constantly sailing out of the wreckage.”

The media just can’t get enough of Astonish Me author Maggie Shipstead; this week her new novel is reviewed in Entertainment Weekly, the Washington Post, SFGate, and TIME.

If you missed his interview last Saturday evening, click through to listen to Astoria to Zion contributor Robert Olen Butler talk to hosts Catherine Cuellar and Randy Gordon on The Writers Studio.

Thanks to the Washington Independent Review of Books for including Astoria to Zion in its Best Books for April list.

Congrats to our friends at Sarabande Books on the opening of a second office in New York City. Located in Manhattan’s Flatiron district, it will be managed by Kristen Radtke, Director of Marketing and Publicity.

And, finally, we join readers and writers around the world in mourning Colombian novelist and master of magic realism Gabriel Garcia Marquez, whose One Hundred Years of Solitude established him as a giant of 20th-century literature.

Stay tuned next week, when we’ll finally unveil a few new blog departments we’ve been curating behind the scenes for a while now. On Location will showcase our favorite authors’ writing studios and other spaces that inspire them, and in Seven Questions, they’ll tell us which fictional character they’d go on a road trip with, and where, as well as the book they bought for its cover, among many other things.

And, as always, we’ll return on Monday to unveil a beautiful digital broadside, and on Wednesday, we’ll introduce another favorite from Astoria to Zion.

Until then, have a wonderful weekend, and happy reading. What’s on our nightstand? The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison, published by our friends at Graywolf Press and winner of their nonfiction prize.

design by Lookout intern Katie Prince

design by Lookout intern Katie Prince

Friday Lit News Roundup

First we want to send a huge Thank You to everyone who made the Astoria to Zion launch parties possible. The Center for Fiction and Doyle’s Cafe were gracious hosts, our readers were entertaining and enthralling, and we couldn’t have asked for better attendees. 

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image via LilyandVal

While we were busy in Boston and New York, Astoria to Zion authors and Ecotone contributors were also busy. And we’ve got some interesting lit news lined up for you so keep reading!

Rebecca Makkai had us rolling with her Ploughshares piece “Writers You Want to Punch in the Face(book).” I think we all know someone like Todd Manley-Krauss.

Benjamin Percy and Daniel Levine chat about Levine’s new book Hyde, martial arts, sleeve tattoos, and college memories. Don’t skip this Brooklyn Rail Q&A between two old friends. 

Would switching to Garamond save the government millions? Some think it might just be too good to be true

Even though college basketball championships are over with, Powell’s bookstore is keeping Poetry Madness going strong. Since last year’s bracket was dominated by women, this year features only female poets. Round 1 is already closed, but get your vote in for Round 2! #readwomen2014

Watch Douglas Watson’s promo video for his new novel A Moody Fellow Finds Love and then Dies.

The Atlantic also has a belated, but interesting, AWP summary

Speaking of amazing women writers, it’s hard to go a day without hearing about Maggie Shipstead. Here’s just a few outlets where people are praising her new novel Astonish Me

The Brooklyn Eagle says the novel is “gorgeously written.”

Bustle talks with Maggie about Astonish Me, ballet, and “Girls.”

Joan Didion reviews Astonish Me for Electric Literature’s blog The Outlet. She writes: “This is a keepsake about motion and longing. This is the imminent agony of a nail underfoot. This is a story about dreams being realized by the dreamer’s runner up. This is the leaden taste of disappointment, the muscle memory ache of not good enough.”

NPR writes of the novel: “It is full of the kind of prose you want to curl up and nest in like a cat: seamless and full of small elegances.”

And don’t miss The Atlantic's ByHeart series, in which Maggie writes about Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse and “explores the way novels—and writers themselves—manage time.”

Whew! That’s a lot for one week, but great news makes us happy. Do you know what else puts a smile on our face? It’s Friday. Go enjoy your weekend!

design by Lookout intern Heather Hammerbeck

design by Lookout intern Heather Hammerbeck

Friday Lit News Roundup

Fair warning: shameless self-promotion ahead for our two Astoria to Zion launch events in NYC and Boston next week. You won’t want to miss these!

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We’ll be at the Center for Fiction in New York on April 7 at 7 p.m., with contributors David Means, Maggie Shipstead, and Douglas Watson, who will read from their terrific stories in the anthology. 

The post-reading Q&A will focus on how technology affects writing and literature—and the short story in particular. How important is the concept of place in an age when our physical location is largely irrelevant as long as we’re within cord’s length of a power source and range of Wi-Fi? Are digital resources essential to conduct and organize research? How do Twitter and Facebook influence our thinking and writing processes?

A signing and wine reception will follow. Please come out and meet the Ecotone/Lookout staff, including publisher Emily Louise Smith, editor Anna Lena Phillips, and associate editor Beth Staples.

More details on the Facebook event page.

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And on Tuesday, April 8 at 8 p.m., we’ll gather at Doyle’s Cafe in Jamaica Plain. Featured storytellers, including award-winning writers Steve Almond, Bill Roorbach, and Matthew Neill Null, will join editors and readers to listen, laugh, discuss, eat, drink, and trade tales of risk and abandon. Ask the best question, and win a free copy of Astoria to Zion. A signing will follow.

More details can be found here.

We hope to see you there!

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And we also hope that these bookshelves can be ours one day!

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Gaby Wood of the Telegraph (UK) says the e-book revolution hasn’t even begun, adding that publishers tend to think of digital books and printed books as different versions of the same thing. “If they really saw the possibilities of the ebook and the virtues of the printed book for what they are, publishers would know the two forms are only very vaguely related … Publishers have got to stop thinking of their digital products as ‘books,’ and start imagining more expansive ways of communicating information.”

Entertainment Weekly calls Kevin Brockmeier’s memoir, A Few Seconds of Radiant Filmstrip, a “funny, poignant oddity.”

River Bend Chronicle author Ben Miller travels to North Carolina this weekend for the premiere of the collaborative project Cage Dies Bird Flies at the Black Mountain {Re} Happening Festival. Miller worked with artist Dale Williams to create eighty-five, large-scale black and white paintings inspired by his few-word stories.

The Huffington Post is talking about Maggie Shipstead’s new novel, Astonish Me, which comes out next Tuesday, saying that “the conflicts between characters both major and minor are resolved neatly and cathartically, making for an enjoyable meditation not only on ballet, but on desire, ambition, and love.” Come out to hear her on Monday at the Center for Fiction, and help celebrate her publication week!

Please come out to see us in New York or Boston next week, and until then, find a quiet spot to read in the sunshine. May we recommend Astoria to Zion?

Introducing “The Blue Tree” by Rick Bass

Before relocating to North Carolina for graduate school this past summer, I lived for eight years in New York City. The city offered some of the world’s finest food and culture—four-star meals at Daniel, La Traviata at the Metropolitan Opera House—but the one thing not readily accessible was natural beauty, though I tried hard to seek it out. My go-to spot was a small, nondescript bench at the peak of Fort Tryon Park, one of Manhattan’s highest points, where I could see the Hudson River laid plain. But as anybody in New York can tell you, nothing in the Big Apple comes easy, and enjoying the view was no exception. There were all manner of distractions to contend with: the endless noise of buses and trucks rumbling along the Henry Hudson Parkway a hundred feet below, the bleating of car horns, the smog roiling up from factory furnaces on the other side of the river bank. And yet if I sat there long enough, eventually the world would grow quiet, and I’d notice the elm tree branches overhead perfectly framing my view of the river.

The Blue Tree" by Rick Bass in Lookout’s recent anthology Astoria to Zion: Twenty-Six Stories of Risk and Abandon asks how we hold just such a moment. In it, the main character, Wilson, struggles in nature as much as he enjoys it, and grapples with the impermanence of youth. The story begins with him, his wife, Belinda, and their two daughters, arriving at their cabin in the woods the day before Christmas Eve. Tradition dictates that Wilson cut their tree that night; he wants everything—as in years past—in place for a restful Christmas Eve. Against Belinda’s better judgment, Wilson packs his daughters in the Subaru and heads north in the falling snow, deeper into the forest, where the best trees can be found. They get stuck, of course, just as his wife had predicted.

Wilson digs out the area behind each wheel. He climbs into the driver’s seat and presses the gas pedal, but his attempts only make matters worse. “The car has become an ice-making machine, a perfect arrangement of temperature, humidity, dew point, and snow depth … and Wilson realizes, with an unpleasant jolt, that they’re screwed.” As Wilson and his daughters begin the three-mile trek back to the cabin, his girls take sides in an impending argument. The eldest, Stephanie, rolls her eyes at her father’s stupidity; the younger, Lucy, defends his actions. 

Their fight is cut short when Stephanie perks to a noise in the woods. Wilson yells into the darkness to announce their presence. He assures the girls it’s just a deer, “But they can hear the lie in his voice, and they draw closer to him.” He lets out a throaty snarl, and the lion, or whatever threatens them, retreats. Before long they return to the magnificent spruce tree at the top of their own driveway, which Wilson has rigged with alternating blue and white lights. “The girls stop and stare at it without speaking … five seconds, six seconds, seven seconds, eight: they stand there catching their breath, gazing at this special thing.” As his daughters run toward the safety of their cabin, Wilson “lingers a moment longer, staring at the glowing blue tree—but already the moment is dissolving.”

It’s these last haunting lines that capture the feeling I had while sitting atop that bench in New York City: “He savors it, knowing it won’t always be this way. But it is now. More so than he could ever have imagined.”

Justin Klose,
Lookout intern

To enjoy the story its entirety, read “The Blue Tree” in Astoria to Zion: Twenty-Six Stories of Risk and Abandon from Ecotone’s First Decade.

design by Lookout intern Katie Jones

design by Lookout intern Katie Jones

Friday Lit News Roundup

This week we’ve got a bevy of interesting articles. Let’s start with two things we love from our Pinterest account: pooches and print. What font is your dog?image

Lorem Ipsum is typically used as placeholder text, but this article presents an interesting translation, and suggests several other placeholder options with a sense of humor.  

The New Yorker recently posted a great photo series of American Public Libraries Great and Small. 

Astoria to Zion author and Ecotone contributing editor Benjamin Percy is participating in the seventh annual Clemson Literary Festival, and his story “Dial Tone,” which appears in American Fantastic Tales, is one of Douglas Graham Purdy’s favorites

Thanks again to Harvard Review for their thoughtful review of Astoria to Zion.

Speaking of Astoria to Zion, we’re celebrating with a release event in New York City on Monday, April 7 at 7 p.m. at the Center for Fiction. Find all the details, including more about readers David Means, Maggie Shipstead, and Douglas Watson, on our Facebook event page.

And we’ll be in Boston on Tuesday, April 8 at 8 p.m., with featured readers Steve Almond, Matthew Neill Null, and Bill Roorbach. Come out to Doyle’s Cafe in Jamaica Plain for a night of storytelling, laughs, eats, drinks, and tales that explore the anthology’s themes of risk and abandon.

That’s all for this week, but be sure to check our Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter regularly for updates.

Rick Bass and Stellarondo

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image from prx.org

Even though we’re now several weeks removed from AWP, I find myself mentioning Rick Bass and Stellarondo to anyone who will listen. Don’t get me wrong—I went to several inspiring panels, including A Shapeless Flame: The Nature of Poetry and Desire, and I especially enjoyed The Sun's fortieth anniversary reading. But Rick Bass and Stellarondo presented something wholly different.

Because this was my first time experiencing AWP, and in an effort to narrow my choices, I gave myself the task of attempting to visit panels and readings of writers included in Lookout’s new anthology, Astoria to Zion: Twenty-Six Stories of Risk and Abandon from Ecotone's First Decade. I hoped this mission might help me more easily navigate the conference of 550 events and more than 2,000 presenters.

Which explains how I ended up sitting on the front row for this amazing collaboration of literature and music. I was introduced to the project when gathering items for Lookout’s weekly Lit News Roundup, and I had to hear it for myself.

Rick Bass sat onstage as band members readied instruments including a musical saw, pedal steel guitar, and vibraphone. The ebb and flow of the music followed the pace of the stories. As I realized the scenes in my imagination—the couple in a canoe (“The Canoeists”), or the old woman sitting with a bear at her picnic table (“The Bear”), or a live fish being skinned (“The Fish”), the music heightened the emotion. It reminded me how similarly literature and music provide entrance to another world. Based on the resounding applause at the end of the concert, I wasn’t the only one transported to a place few other AWP panels tend to take us.

If you have the chance to hear Rick Bass and Stellarondo perform live, don’t hesitate. You can thank me later. If they aren’t playing in your area soon, you can always sample the music here, or buy their digital album. 

Read Rick Bass’s story “The Blue Tree” in Astoria to Zion: Twenty-Six Stories of Risk and Abandon from Ecotone’s First Decade.

Introducing “Candidate” by Karen E. Bender

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I came across Karen E. Bender’s “Candidate” several months after I moved to a small Southern town and began working as a local news reporter. Diane Bernstein—the protagonist of Bender’s grittily realistic tale exploring the human side of staunch ideologies—works in the remedial writing lab of a private university. Like Diane, I was a city dweller, from the North, and progressive-minded. At least, that is, compared to the undergrads Diane teaches—students who come to class bearing diatribes against terrorists, “lazy people” and the “gay agenda.”

Diane is also coming to terms with her husband’s recent desertion, and bearing all the parenting responsibility for their two children, one of whom has spells of autism-related rage that result in the regular fleeing of babysitters. The story revolves around a single loaded episode, during which a conservative state Senate candidate calls on Diane’s family at home, for what turns out to be an extended and revealing visit.

This encounter made quite an impression on me, as it was more than a little similar to many which I’d been experiencing. For the first time in my journalistic career, I was interviewing elected officials and private citizens who believed in shuttering women’s health clinics, who favored slashing Medicaid benefits and cutting public-education funding in favor of vouchers for religious schools. And the thing was, a lot of the people I spoke with were otherwise nice, friendly, relatable. I was often left racking my own ideals, wondering how I could reconcile such wildly opposing values, maintain decorum, and truly feel I could fit in within my new community.

Getting to know Bender’s complicated main characters, Diane and Woody Wilson, felt essential, voyeuristic even. For instance, when Woody tells Diane that his opponent’s homosexuality “threatens family values,” I am envious of how straightforward she can be with him: “I don’t want to hear this bullshit.”

Like most politicians, however, Woody is congenial, and tries to relate to Diane. While she fantasizes about slamming the door on him, she is also, for her children’s sake, grateful for Woody’s paternal kindness, and perturbed when he collapses on her floor from exhaustion and, as he recovers, touches upon his own familial troubles. Though Woody is almost cheerfully vague about these matters, and believes faith in the Lord will solve all his problems, he is humanized before Diane, who previously saw him only as a talking head running a bigoted smear campaign. “She was afraid of him,” Bender writes, “which translated into a great and useless pity.”

By the time Diane finally works up the nerve to ask her visitor, “Why do you hate so many people? Why so intolerant? I just want to know,” I’m relishing the vicarious thrill of her candor. The author’s rendering of the mechanisms of this forced human interaction feels nuanced and precise, as do her characters. Part of what drives many readers—myself very much included—to seek great fiction is that ongoing quest for clarified insight into our own complex motives and belief systems. Bender’s masterful prose brings her flawed yet sympathetic characters alive. Their conflicts function as a prism through which I’m able to better contextualize my own dealings with humanity, and all their attendant strangeness and surprise.

Katie O’Reilly,
Ecotone staff reader