The Lit Mag Roundup is a quarterly feature at Moorishgirl.com, in which North Carolina-based fiction writer Katrina Denza shares her literary discoveries of the season. In this installment, she reviews the latest from The Baltimore Review, Small Spiral Notebook, A Public Space, and Gulf Coast.
It’s the end of March and evidence of spring’s arrival can be found outside my house in various forms: forsythia and hyacinths were the first to bloom; narcissuses, daffodils, irises, violets have now risen up vibrant and lovely from beneath the ground and the first of the azaleas have blossomed. Just as the first flowers have appeared in the yard, so have the latest issues of some of my favorite journals begun to fill my mailbox–and some brand new to me as well.
The Baltimore Review‘s Winter/Spring issue begins with a note from managing editor Susan Muaddi Darraj, acknowledging the hard work of the editorial staff (fourteen volunteers in addition to the founding and managing editors). Of the six pieces of fiction, the first is Jacob M. Appel’s “Waterloo,” the hilarious story of a man who attends a birthday party for his girlfriend’s dead niece. In Clifford Garstang’s “Heading for Home,” tension builds as a sheriff is confronted with prejudice and doesn’t release until the last sentence. Shawn Behlen’s “As Children Do,” tells of a man struggling with the truth of his parents’ relationship. Told in alternating POVs, “The Middle Stretch,” by Holly Sanders, is an expertly controlled story of an exchange between a woman and the trooper who pulls her over. In Louis Gallo’s “Dark Matters,” a man and his wife ponder dark matters and dreams on the way to the podiatrist. Three siblings use their imagination to cope with violence in their home in the last story of the issue, Alaura Wilfert’s “Indians.” There are three pieces of creative nonfiction: Melanie Hoffert’s prizewinning “Going Home,” about the author’s connection with the land she grew up on and her attempt to speak openly of her sexuality on her return home; Marcia R. Aquíñiga shares her childhood experience of acting as translator for her Mexican grandmother in “Doing All the Talking;” and Jerry D. Mathes II has a riveting essay on fighting fires in north-central Idaho called, “Falling into Fire.” Of the ten poems, my favorites were Colleen Webster’s “Voices Along the Yangtzee;” Daniele Pantano’s “Patrimonial Recipe;” and Margaret J. Hoehn’s prizewinning “Five Prayers of Apples,” part of which reads:
Near the place where I stopped to rest,
what hung to the ground, like a bird’s injured wing,
was a branch that had splintered
beneath the ripening fruit, a way of saying
that even abundance has burdens,
that beauty sits side-by-side with loss.
The issue ends with six book reviews and a fascinating interview with author Tristan Davies by Nathan Leslie.
Small Spiral Notebook‘s latest issue is appealing in its elegance, but don’t let the slenderness of the volume fool you: it’s loaded with rich, sophisticated material. The fiction is impressive. In Aimee Pokwatka’s “Perennials,” a couple mourns their inability to grow a lush garden. Paul Yoon tells of a friendship between a sea woman and a wounded boy in “So That They Do Not Hear Us.”
In the current issue of The Boston Review, Khaled Abou El Fadl reviews Messages to the World: Statements of Osama bin Laden, edited by Bruce Lawrence, and translated by James Howarth.
But how are we to read this book? On one level, reading bin Laden is like reading the writings of a criminal who aims to rationalize his acts by explaining the circumstances of political and social oppression that forced him into criminality. At another level, reading bin Laden is not materially different from reading the tracts of a committed revolutionary who is struggling to liberate his people from foreign domination. But bin Laden himself insists that he be read neither as a criminal blaming the system nor simply as a radical defending its overthrow. He fancies himself a theologian and jurist who, besides acting to defend Muslim lands, is struggling to educate and exhort Muslims to act according to the dictates of their faith.
So who is bin Laden? Is he a criminal, a revolutionary, a theologian, or perhaps a historically unique and significant blend of all three—one who, like a medieval Crusader (perhaps a Bernard of Clairvaux), is armed with a righteous sense of aggression and feels compelled to preach violence while crying out, “Deus lo volt!” (“God wills it!”)?
I am not quite finished reading the essay, but it’s so interesting I wanted to bookmark it and post it here.
Hamsa (Hands Across the Middle East Alliance) is sponsoring an essay contest about civil rights in the Middle-East, under the theme “Dream Deferred.” (The title comes from a poem by Langston Hughes.) The first prize is $2,000, and the panel of judges includes a whole bunch of people we at Moorishgirl approve of, including Tel Quel editor Ahmed Reda Benchemsi. The deadline is coming up, so hurry up and submit your essay.
Here’s something quite au point. In the current issue of The Nation, Corey Robin reviews two interesting books about immigration: Caroline Moorehead’s Human Cargo: A Journey Among Refugees and Seyla Benhabib’s The Rights of Others: Aliens, Residents, and Citizens.
Despite the efforts of postmodern theorists to convince us that exile is the emblematic condition of modern life, when it comes to immigrants and refugees we still seem incapable of the barest gesture of recognition, much less empathy. We remember Oedipus Rex: lover of one parent, killer of another. We forget Oedipus at Colonus: exiled king who wandered twenty years in search of “a resting place” near Athens, “where I should find home” and “round out there my bitter life.” We feel Medea’s rage over Jason’s betrayal, driving her to kill their two sons. We scarcely notice her equally poignant–and more frequent–lament that she is “deserted, a refugee,” with “no harbor from ruin to reach easily.”
Read it all here.
I came across these two videos last night… I nearly dropped my laptop: Jamel Debbouze and Gad El Maleh spoof rai stars Faudel and Cheb Mami. You can also watch their “infomercial” for “la barre de faire.”
I know I’m a day late to this, but, hey, I’ve got a novel to finish. Anyway. Some good news from across the pond: Riverbend’s Baghdad Burning, which is based on her blog, is in the running for the Samuel Johnson prize in the UK.
The small literary publisher Marion Boyars brought out Baghdad Burning last year, classifying it under biography and memoir. The publishing house says it knows Riverbend’s identity but respects her wish to remain anonymous.
It has already come third in the Lettre Ulysses prize for Reportage, winning £14,000, and was shortlisted for an Index on Censorship freedom of expression award.
Riverbend began the blog with the words: “I’m female, Iraqi and 24. I survived the war. That’s all you need to know. It’s all that matters these days anyway.”
The Guardian has more.
Thanks to Danielle for the link.
I’ve been biting my tongue about this, but now that it’s been announced on Rockslinga, it’s safe to shout it from the rooftops: Randa Jarrar has sold her debut novel to The Other Press, with a publication date sometime in Fall 2007 or Spring 2008. Hop on over to her blog and say congrats!
Over at the Observer, Jonathan Haywood, director of the English chapter of PEN, writes about the responsibility and difficulty that writers face when they speak about repressive regimes.
When Orhan Pamuk was charged last year over remarks he made about the numbers of Kurds and Armenians killed in Turkey in the last century, he said that at least he could now hold his head up among his more inflammatory colleagues.
Having decided early on to concentrate on writing rather than go looking for trouble, Pamuk was a stranger to the legal system and his trial last December for ‘denigrating the Turkish state’ caught the attention of the world’s media. This attention, and the support of free-speech advocates, may have helped Pamuk get off, but it played into the hands of ultra-nationalists who claim that liberal writers are in the pay of outside forces.
The tall, bespectacled Pamuk has a donnish, distracted air. When I track him down to the kind of literary cafe that British writers can only dream of – hidden up three, tall flights of stairs in a seedy apartment block behind a locked door; walls of caricatures wreathed in the smoke of a thousand Turkish cigarettes – he is genial, but unwilling to talk of his recent experiences. Pamuk has told friends that he is caught between two poles. On the one hand, it his duty to write. On the other, he believes that authors must engage with the society around them.
I’m endlessly fascinated by this double-duty that writers in repressive states face. (In the immortal words of Tahar Djaout: “Silence is death. If you speak, you die. If you are silent, you die. So, speak and die!”) They have to create art and they have to be engagé. The rules of “engagement,” though, are not theirs to set. Some stances can earn them respect, and others can get them scorn, depending on the when and where of their actions, as both Orhan Pamuk and Elif Shafak have found. Read it all here.
Antonya Nelson has a new collection of short stories out, called Some Fun, and Joyce Carol Oates reviews it for the New York Times Book Review. “Rarely has the dysfunctional middle-class Caucasian-American family been so relentlessly dissected and analyzed, and rarely with such patience, sympathy and verve,” Oates writes.