Archive for the ‘guest columns’ Category

Guest Column: Valerie Trueblood

Friday, December 7th, 2007

Seattle writer Valerie Trueblood contributes the column below about the famed traveler Isabelle Eberhardt, who, for much of her short life, lived and wrote about Algeria during the French occupation.

eberhardt.jpgHardly anybody who met the writer Isabelle Eberhardt at the turn of the last century thought she was an Arab man. But all of her physical and mental powers went into making believe she was one: she dressed like one, she rode and camped like one, she lived hand to mouth in the Algerian desert as a nomad and disciple of Sufism. At the same time, she wrote for the French newspapers and even sought to embed herself with the troops expanding French “protection,” having vague ideas of a fusion of Islamic and French culture in her adopted country. For herself, she chose firmly against European life in any form. The French in Algiers—other than officials who kept an eye on her movements—shunned her, despite their intense interest in her disguise and her exploits. As for the undeceived Algerians, they courteously received her as a man.



Guest Column: Valerie Trueblood

Wednesday, September 13th, 2006

This week, Seattle writer Valerie Trueblood contributes a column about Swiss writer C.-F.Ramuz. Valerie’s first novel, Seven Loves, came out this summer from Little, Brown. She is at work on an essay about the fiction of Ramuz, a book of dog stories, and a second novel.

In July, it got so hot in Seattle–a near-100-degree, breathless, un-Pacific-Northwest heat–that I thought of a novel I used to love, and took it off the shelf and read it again: The End of All Men. It made a hot night even longer. It’s not a book to take your mind off global warming.

The great Swiss writer Charles-Ferdinand Ramuz, who wrote of life on the steep pastures of the Swiss Alps, published Présence de la Mort in the twenties. Here we waited until 1944 for a translation, The End of All Men. Ramuz has been compared to Hardy for his depiction of rural life, but his barely individualized characters are no kin of Tess and Jude. Hardy would recognize the way their fates dog them, but fate, for a character in Ramuz’s disaster novels, is nothing deserved or tragically earned, it’s a blow dealt straight from earth and sky onto the body. Reading Ramuz is an exercise in giving up ideas of human cause and effect, and feeling the rumble of tectonic plates. But the humans are there, tiny figures living lives of great particularity on the ground-and somehow we want to go along on their hopeless errands. What is to become of them, these men and women in whom character is beside the point?


Katrina Denza’s Lit Mag Roundup 3.0

Thursday, July 20th, 2006

The Lit Mag Roundup is a quarterly feature at, in which North Carolina-based fiction writer Katrina Denza shares her literary discoveries of the season. Below is the summer roundup, where Katrina reviews the latest from The Pinch, Washington Square Review, Tin House, Night Train, and Ninth Letter.

One thing became clear to me as I set aside a batch of journals with the intention of reading and reviewing, if not all, at least most of the pile: there are so many quality journals publishing extraordinary work, I couldn’t possibly comment on as many as I’d hoped. And although those I did include in this summer’s column are not the only ones I’d recommend from the tall pile that sat on my desk, they certainly made enough of an impression for me to devour their contents and write about.

The first issue of The Pinch, formerly known as River City, is a strong one, with a sophisticated southern flavor. It’s named after the Pinch District, the residential area originally for Irish immigrants and Jewish merchants, which has enjoyed a resurgence of interest and has become a historical landmark. The issue is lovely with a glossy cover designed by Gary Golightly, and glossy, easy-to-read pages within. In the fiction category, Anna Baker illustrates the power of few words with her brief, but evocative piece, “Silent Couple Drinking Coffee.” In Carol J. Palay’s “Blue Plastic Bags,” a man impregnates another woman and his fiancée dreams of his baby’s death. A man and woman sort through belongings on the eve of their separation in Jim Tomlinson’s “Stainless.” Tomlinson’s ability to elicit emotion with subtle strokes makes his piece particularly powerful. I enjoyed Shellie Zacharia’s hilarious and poignant short-short, “What To Do On A Saturday Night One Week After Your Lover Announced, ‘Sayonara, Sweetheart,’ Even Though He’s Not Japanese And He Never Called You Sweetheart.” Laurel Jenkins-Crowe offers a different look at married life with her clever story, “Do It Yourself.” The unexpected is the theme in Carol Ghiglieri’s story, “Homecoming,” with both a surprise pregnancy and a surprising gesture of love. Kelly Magee writes of grief in her short-short, “New Orleans Isn’t There.” And in David B. Essinger’s “A Jar Full of Bees,” a man imagines an explosive end to a difficult life.


Guest Review: Katrina Denza

Wednesday, June 14th, 2006

voodooheart.jpegVoodoo Heart
Scott Snyder
Bantam Dell
276 pp.

The men in Scott Snyder’s debut collection of stories Voodoo Heart, are running–either away from constricting lives or after the objects of their affections. Each yearns deeply for that which is beyond his reach.

In “Blue Yodel,” a man drives his Model T across the country in pursuit of the blimp which carries his girlfriend away from him, toward the West Coast. The reader can only guess why the girlfriend has left him. Perhaps it’s the intensity of his feelings for her–feelings he describes as “an exhibit on hydroelectricity he’d seen at a fair.” The chase, which lasts through the whole story, serves as an apt metaphor for the ultimate surrender to the unknown course of love.

Snyder’s men possess the innocence and curiosity of children, and this sense of youthful wonder and outrage at the world is the very thing that endears the reader to them. The narrator of “About Face,’ has an appealing naiveté. Miles Fergus is twenty-nine, well-meaning but unlucky. He’s given a community service job playing the horn for troubled boys after a good deed goes wrong. The camp’s director enlists Miles’ help in driving his ill daughter to her treatments, and the reader is swept along with Miles as he begins to believe in a happy ending, but as in many of Snyder’s stories, happy endings aren’t so much a possibility as an anomaly.


Guest Column: Ayun Halliday

Wednesday, June 7th, 2006

dirtysugar.jpegThis week, writer Ayun Halliday contributes a column on zines. Halliday is the founder of the quarterly zine The East Village Inky and the author of four self-mocking autobiographies, most recently Dirty Sugar Cookies: Culinary Observations, Questionable Taste. She is BUST magazine’s Mother Superior columnist and has contributed to a vast array of low-paying forums. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband, playwright Greg Kotis, and their two well-documented children. Here is what she had to say about starting her own zine:

Long before I had kids or book contracts or Internet access, I was struck by something Spalding Gray said in an interview with Tricycle magazine. Asked what motivated him to start performing his autobiographical monologues, he replied that he got tired of waiting for “the Big Infernal Machine to make up its mind” about him. I never met him, and have long suspected that he might be one of those charismatic, neurotic handfuls best worshipped from afar, but he was one of my heroes, and those words meant a lot to me. At 31, I was loathe to relinquish my dream of a life in the arts, despite overwhelming evidence that, should I ever be tempted to offer myself up for serious consideration, the Big Infernal Machine would drop my resume in the shredder without even opening the envelope.

These days, blogs provide an excellent forum for those looking to claim a piece of the action without first securing the big infernal machine’s approval. Even a cavewoman like me can figure out how to publish (and promote!) on the Internet. Still, there’s something to be said for a good, old-fashioned print zine, the kind that gets stapled up on a dining room table and then stuffed into an envelope whose flap will be moistened by the publisher’s own tongue.


Guest Review: Colleen Mondor

Wednesday, April 19th, 2006

princeamong.jpgPrinces Amongst Men: Journeys with Gypsy Musicians
By Garth Cartwright
Serpent’s Tail
309 pp.

Garth Cartwright was already familiar with Gypsy music when he decided to travel across the Balkans in search of the truth behind Gypsy myths. He set out to not only interview well-known Gypsy singers and musicians but also to explore how the Roma people were surviving in the former Yugoslavia and other Eastern European countries. (The term “Roma” refers to people of an established ethnic group and is slowly coming back into use. “Gypsy” was a title conferred by Europeans on the first Roma to arrive in Europe a thousand years ago as they mistakenly believed them to have arrived from Egypt. It is now used somewhat negatively to refer to anyone who leads a nomadic life, regardless of ethnicity, but is still the accepted term for Roma music.) While it may sometimes be difficult for some readers to keep track of the many unfamiliar names and destinations that Cartwright rattles off with ease, his intense desire to know just what life is like on the ground for a people struggling not only to hold on to their traditions but also to keep a roof over their heads makes his book, Princes Amongst Men: Journeys with Gypsy Musicians fascinating reading.

In traveling through Serbia, Macedonia, Romania and Bulgaria, Cartwright found most Romas living in “mahalas” or Roma settlements. The poverty is staggering, with the musicians often proving to be the only community members who are able to afford indoor plumbing or electricity. This is the story that, as Cartwright explains, is all too often ignored by journalists investigating post-war Yugoslavia or the collapse of communism. As he writes in the book, “their role in history is reduced to a silent supporting cast. And the Roma know this – nobody’s listening – so [it's] feeding a sense of exclusion.” This feeling is supported by the fact that few historians acknowledge the Roma genocide in WWII, where they were one of the few groups specifically targeted by Hitler for extermination and lost approximately 500,000 people in concentration camps. Cartwright makes a serious effort toward combating this lack of information by discussing Roma history in each of the countries he visits, explaining how they initially came to live there and their political and social struggles to gain equality. His research reveals that it has not been an easy road for them, and each step of the way their struggle has been gone largely unrecognized.


Katrina Denza’s Lit Mag Roundup 2.1

Wednesday, April 12th, 2006

litmag2.1.JPGThe Lit Mag Roundup is a quarterly feature at, in which North Carolina-based fiction writer Katrina Denza shares her literary discoveries of the season. Below is the second installment of the spring roundup, where Katrina reviews the latest from Subtropics, Bellevue Literary Review, and Passages North.

I’ve enjoyed reading these next three journals; they include eclectic, and sometimes breathtaking, pieces. The debut issue of Subtropics, for instance, is handsome, inside and out, with its intriguing cover art and glossy inner pages. Edited by David Leavitt, it will be published three times a year by the University of Florida in Gainesville. If I were to choose a word to describe the contents, it would be ‘elegant.’

A retirement community is stirred up in John Barth’s story “Peeping Tom.” Eileen Pollack’s “The Bris,” is the story of a man who requests a bris on his deathbed so he can finally become the official convert he’d been pretending to be all along. A mathematician is confronted with the possibility that his most famous theorem is incorrect in Manil Suri’s “The Tolman Trick.” In Ariel Dorfman’s “Gringos,” a South American couple traveling in Barcelona accepts the help of a stranger with less than positive consequences. In Joanna Scott’s uniquely organized story “The Lucite Cane,” readers are introduced to people briefly connected by a man’s cane.

Kent Annan takes readers to Haiti with his essay “Sketches of Scarcity.” Harold Bloom discusses the work of Hans Christian Andersen in his essay, “Trust the Tale, Not the Teller.” In her memoir piece “Guilt,” Abigail Thomas writes openly of her feelings surrounding her husband’s life-altering accident. Chris Bachelder’s “Near the End of the Symphony Strike,” a musical prose poem, decorates the back cover, and Anne Carson’s “Grasscolored: A Threat Documentary” really struck me. Here’s an excerpt:

“…You may receive your own obituary in the mail. A person in black stops before you in the street then hurries away. And suddenly, at six in the morning, as if swept by winter rivers, everything will change. Your telephone, your kitchen, your driveway, all these things that had a notion of you now change their gaze and watch you from a different place, no, from two places. Everything now happens from two places. You brush your teeth in the second and third person, watching the driveway, waiting for your child who is late from school. You sweat from those places.”


Katrina Denza’s Lit Mag Roundup 2.0

Wednesday, March 29th, 2006

litmag-2.0.jpgThe Lit Mag Roundup is a quarterly feature at, 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.”


Guest Review: S. Ramos O’Briant

Wednesday, March 22nd, 2006

manwithoutcountry.jpeg endangeredvalues.jpeg

A Man Without a Country
Kurt Vonnegut
Seven Stories Press
192 pp.

Our Endangered Values: America’s Moral Crisis
Jimmy Carter
Simon & Schuster
224 pp.

At first glance, Kurt Vonnegut, author, pessimist and humorist might not seem to have much in common with Jimmy Carter, author, optimist and former President of the United States. But these two members of the so-called Greatest Generation are worried about America, and both have recently published books on the subject.

A Man Without a Country is a slender book of Vonnegut’s musings, opinions and insights about the state of humanity, specifically American humanity. It starts out grumpy — which brings my mother to mind, only eighty to Vonnegut’s eighty-three and Carter’s eighty-two. Like her, it focuses on all the bad news in the world: greed, religion, politics, and the curious admixture of religion with politics. He ventures into the last subject via an obscure reference to the Great Lakes people, apparently extinct except for Vonnegut, allowing him to mention Socialist Party candidate Eugene Victor Debs, which naturally segues into Stalin, Christianity, the Spanish Inquisition, Hitler and, ta ta ta ta, Karl Marx. Notice a trend here? And I don’t mean the K’s in Kurt and Karl. No? As with all Vonnegut books, a pattern will emerge. Or not.


Guest Column: Tommy Hays

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2006

Tommy Hays is the author of The Pleasure Was Mine, which comes out in paperback this month. A previous contributor to, he sends in this short column, titled “Church of the Big Legs.”

As a child, when I thought of Unitarians, I thought of pizza and women with big legs. My best friend across the street in Greenville, South Carolina, where I grew up, was Unitarian. One Sunday his family took me to their church, which was like no other church I had been to. I had had some inkling that it might be a little different because he had told me to bring my swimsuit and a towel, but I didn’t think anything could be much stranger than my own religious upbringing.

As a toddler, I had often accompanied my great great aunt and uncle to a small conservative Baptist church, where the preacher harangued, and I often screamed back in a kind of mutual and strangely satisfying hysteria. Then my father, who was from the Midwest and whose parents had been Christian Scientist and who had his own mystical leanings, decided we (at least my brother, my mother and I) should attend a Christian Science Church, while he stayed home and read the Sunday morning paper. At the time a Christian Science Church in a Southern town was a real anomaly, and when my teacher at school discovered I was Christian Scientist, she would ask me questions in front of the whole class like, “If you contracted malaria, would your parents give you quinine?” In my religious upbringing I had gone from fire and brimstone to Mary Baker Eddy’s murky mortal mind, from the heat of hell’s eternal furnace to the intellectual intricacies of Science and Health.

So the Sunday morning I accompanied my best friend’s family to a Unitarian Church I did not know what to expect. I certainly didn’t expect that their church would be a house in a neighborhood. Didn’t even have a steeple. No crosses. When we went in, no one was dressed in Sunday clothes. Among the men, there wasn’t a coat or tie in sight. Many of the women had on slacks. There was one woman in shorts who had the biggest legs I’d ever seen. I was nine-years-old and hadn’t seen that many women in shorts. My mother never wore them. No mothers I knew wore them. I certainly had never seen anyone in church wear shorts. While no one else was wearing shorts that day, I had the suspicion as I looked around, that all Unitarian women had monstrous legs.


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