Jeffrey Thomson’s most recent book, fragile, is a memoir that covers years and many miles, exploring our relationship to the natural world and to risk. It’s a story that gives us unfettered access to Thomson’s thoughts; we share his experiences with travel, teaching, fatherhood, and the edge between living and dying. In addition to being a memoirist, Thomson is a poet, translator, and teacher. I spoke with Thomson about place, collaboration, and his current project—a historical novel inspired by Thomson’s own ancestry set in the 1700s. He also shares the most important lessons he hopes to impart to his students and reminds us: “Writing is about learning. Always.”
Mira Ptacin’s debut memoir, Poor Your Soul, about the grief of losing an unexpected pregnancy at twenty-eight, is not depressing. This might be surprising; between that event and the braided-in story of her brother’s sudden death at sixteen, you expect tears before you’re done reading the dust jacket summary. But the slice of her history that Mira’s book offers is full of color and nuance, peppered with details and even humor that breathe life into all its layers. The result will probably still make you cry. But it’s the familiar details that bring it home, the flashes of recognition of sticky youth, new love, New York City sidewalks, iron-willed parents, teenage cigarettes, petulant silences, 80s fashion, puzzling neighbors, unexpected joy—and of grief and pain, yes, but also of irrepressible resilience.
Skyping from her home on Peaks Island, Maine, while her newborn daughter Simone mostly napped, Mira shared some thoughts about the book, what she’s learned, and what keeps her from Googling herself.
In considering Midwestern states, there are lots of things that the general population doesn’t know—that even the residents of those particular states don’t know. Consider Kansas. Were you aware that the largest-circulating Socialist newspaper, Appeal to Reason, was published in Kansas City? Or that women were granted the right to vote in Kansas eight years before the federal government made it an amendment? Or that male impotence can be cured by the implantation of a goat testicle? Actually, that one is not true, but a man named John R. Brinkley was pretty good at selling the claim, and he had several unsuccessful bids for governor of Kansas.
All of those things I learned about Kansas upon reading Andrew Malan Milward’s story collection, I Was a Revolutionary (HarperCollins). And after reading, I had the chance to ask Milward about what drew him to Kansas (aside from being born there), and what it was like to take curious historical fact and create illuminating historical fiction. He also touched on important things like writing stories versus writing novels, writing processes in general, and what writing journeys he’s bound for next. Please, meet Andrew Malan Milward.
Here’s the sixth and final installment in our special collection of In the Telling podcasts: stories, essays, and poetry by our 2015 Pushcart Nominees. Each episode includes an introduction by our editors. The series is curated by Joseph Scalora.
In this episode, nonfiction editor Christopher Locke discusses why he nominated Chris Offutt’s essay “At Last, Sex” (Issue 17) for the Pushcart Prize, and then Offutt reads his essay.
Here’s the fourth installment in our special collection of In the Telling podcasts: stories, essays, and poetry by our 2015 Pushcart Nominees. Each episode includes an introduction by our editors. The series is curated by Joseph Scalora.
In this episode, editor-in-chief Elizabeth Blachman discusses why she nominated Mona Awad’s story “Hearts and Minds” (Issue 17) for the Pushcart Prize, and then Awad reads her story.
Bruce Bauman’s second novel, Broken Sleep (Other Press, 2015), is one where rock music, politics, art, religion, and love all come crashing together in epic proportions. But more than that, it’s a book about family. Broken Sleep is what happens when a writer bridges the magic between their pen and their mind. It’s innovative, it’s heartbreaking, it’s beautiful, it’s emotional—it opens with a bang, and it’s one of the best books I’ve read this year.
Which is why I was thrilled to talk to Bruce about it, where I was able to find out about his writing process, what he loved most about this book, and the relationships writers have with their characters. I also got some pretty cool pieces of advice. Read more
A friend of a friend told me I needed to read this poet named Anders Carlson-Wee, a young man living off the grid and hopping trains. “He just won an NEA in Poetry,” my buddy said. Okay, I thought, that has my attention. But then I read his poem “Dynamite,” from his award winning chapbook of the same name, and was absolutely knocked for a loop. Carlson-Wee crafts images that are raw, precise, and immediate, his language both spare and visceral. In his poems, he effortlessly pairs violence and pain with plain-spoken beauty in such a way as to make the reading experience almost transformative; you can only be fully alive when reading his work. But most importantly, he proves a trustworthy narrator and these poems bear scars, literal at times, that feel lived in and fully earned—nothing phony about Carlson-Wee. When I reached out and asked for an interview, he and his brother Kai (who is also a published poet) had just won an award for innovation in documentary filmmaking from the Napa Valley Film Festival for their short film Riding the Highline, which chronicles their time hitching rides on freight trains from Minneapolis to Washington state. The film is shot beautifully by both brothers, and their poetry is interspersed through the film as voice-over, adding an extra layer of intrigue and complexity to their time illegally riding in boxcars and hiding from “the bulls” (railway enforcers). I’m grateful we were able to exchange these questions-and-answers over the past 6 weeks.
Here’s the second installment in our special collection of In the Telling podcasts: stories, essays, and poetry by our 2015 Pushcart Nominees. These episodes are curated by series editor Joseph Scalora. Each episode includes an introduction by our poetry, fiction, and nonfiction editors.
This episode features Sarah V. Schweig. Poetry Editor Tom Haushalter nominated her poem, “Contingencies (II),” which appeared in Issue 16, for the 2015 Pushcart Prize.
Sarah V. Schweig is the author of the chapbook S (Dancing Girl Press). Her poetry and criticism has appeared or is forthcoming in Black Warrior Review, BOMB Magazine, Boston Review, Everyday Genius, HTML Giant, Maggy, Painted Bride Quarterly, Publishers Weekly, Tin House, Verse Daily, The Volta, Slice, West Branch, and Western Humanities Review, among others. Her prose appears regularly at The Dodo, and occasionally at The Huffington Post. A graduate of the University of Virginia and Columbia University, where her manuscript was the recipient of the David Craig Austen Memorial Award, and previously a 2012 Emerging Poet Resident at Poets House, a 2010 Tennessee Williams Scholar at Sewanee Writers Workshop, and a 2010 Ruth Lilly Fellowship finalist, she studies philosophy at The New School for Social Research and lives in Brooklyn.
Episode by Joseph Scalora
Music by Gabriel Lane & Ian McConnell