Now playing on Otherppl, a conversation with Hilary Leichter. Her debut novel, Temporary, is available from Coffee House Press.
Hilary teaches at Columbia University, where she earned her MFA in Fiction. She has received fellowships from The Edward F. Albee Foundation, the Table 4 Writers Foundation, the Folger Shakespeare Library, and the New York Foundation for the Arts. She lives in New York.
During the quarantine, we were all in the living room,
the four of us, playing a game,
an unremarkable afternoon in April,
National Poetry Month,
and a small bird flew in through the dog’s foot-wide opening
in the sliding glass door to the backyard,
and the dog, Berkeley,
sprang up and barked and ran to the dining room
where the bird was fluttering against the glass and falling—
I could hear it, it was painful—
and before we could protest enough he had killed the small
gray-feathered bird with a swift, vicious bite.
Okay, let’s start with the title of your debut collection, ‘all these urban fields’ — what are urban fields? What does this mean to you?
Hey, me! A very good question right off the bat, if I do say so myself! A friend once texted me, ‘i was on the subway & saw all of these air conditioners sprawled out on the roof of an apartment building, like this whole field, & i finally got it, i got your title!’
If that text doesn’t fully answer your question, then let’s go with this: I lived in Brooklyn — urban — for two years, and while it was a daunting experience in many ways, it was also incredibly fulfilling. That being said, I could not have lived there, could not have fully survived, I don’t think, without drawing from the experiences I had on a farm in Vermont — pastoral – and my trips to smaller towns in Massachusetts. I think, in essence, the title — and the collection as a whole — is meant to be an ode to both types of landscapes, to how well they balance one another out.
Now playing on Otherppl, a conversation with Leigh Stein. Her new novel, Self Care, is available from Penguin.
This is Leigh’s third time on the program. She first appeared in Episode 105, on September 16, 2012, and again in Episode 407, with Lux Alptraum, on March 30, 2016.
Stein is a writer interested in what the internet is doing to our identities, relationships, and politics. She is also the author of the memoir Land of Enchantment, the poetry collection Dispatch from the Future, and the novel The Fallback Plan. Her non-fiction writing has appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the New Yorker online, Allure, ELLE, Poets & Writers, BuzzFeed, The Cut, Salon, and Slate.
From 2014 – 2017, she was cofounder and executive director of Out of the Binders/BinderCon, a feminist literary nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing the careers of women and gender variant writers. Nearly 2,000 writers attended BinderCon events in NYC and LA, to hear speakers including Lisa Kudrow, Anna Quindlen, Claudia Rankine, Jill Abramson, Elif Batuman, Effie Brown, Leslie Jamison, Suki Kim, and Adrian Nicole LeBlanc. Leigh also moderated the private Facebook community of 40,000 writers.
Returning from Dunkin’ with my daily order of large iced coffee with cream and sugar, large iced matcha with whole milk, everything bagel with strawberry cream cheese, hash browns, and the little bag they fill with small strips of seasoned bacon, I’d envisioned a Saturday spent watching the last half of the last episode of Evil Genius: The True Story of America’s Most Diabolical Bank Heist then working on writing until it came time to sleep, but the sparrow that appeared on the ledge had other plans. I can’t pinpoint why I was in the kitchen but I was, the window wide open without insect screen. The sparrow and I sized each other up in a sick twisted game of What Happens Next? I itched for it to do something other than sit and swivel its head because I wanted to milk it for a more interesting image—it didn’t budge. This is an autofiction novel so I can invent sparrow fiascos whenever the hell I want but everything on the page so far, save an inconsequential detail or three, has been true, so it didn’t cross my mind to ascribe actions to a bird that hadn’t performed them; I started to craft a sentence about disappointment—then, in an awkward flapping fit, it pulled itself to the dish rack, did a shit, and flung itself inside the drop ceiling. It got in through the missing section under the fluorescents and I watched it skitter across the other plastic panels, splattering them with well over a dollar’s worth of dime-sized defecations.
KnightKrawler Presents: Another Endless Knight, a review by Belinda Otey
ANOTHER ENDLESS KNIGHT is an intense read with a raw, neo-soul perspective mixed with the poetic voice of storytelling.
This author’s obvious zeal for poetry gives me the unsuspecting insight into his world, (unlike anything I’ve experienced in a first read.) In previous encounters with new authors of poetry, I often need to re-read the prose again and again before I can get a clear depiction of the written cadence in my mind.
Now playing on Otherppl, a conversation with Raphael Bob-Waksberg. He is the creator of the animated television series BoJack Horseman and the author of a new story collection called Someone Who Will Love You in All Your Damaged Glory (Knopf).
Bob-Waksberg was raised in Palo Alto, California. He attended Bard College and lives in Los Angeles. This is his first book.
Isidore and Lucille are two very different people. Isidore Strauss, known to his friends and family as Izzy, is a real estate developer with movie star looks. He’s part of that generation who broke free of middle-class Brooklyn to conjure up the hazy suburbs of Long Island, with streets so carefully paved and lawns so thoroughly maintained that they resemble a Hollywood back lot. On a lark, Izzy goes to a ridiculous party on the shores of Coney Island. Fred Trump (yes, Donald’s father) has funded a “destruction party” to rid the area of some it’s old-time charm to make way for large swaths of middle-income housing. It’s here, surrounded by local celebrities, that he spots Lucille Ball. She is not yet the Lucy that would be beamed into millions of American homes, but Izzy is taken aback by her sensuality and charm. Just as the party-goers raise their bricks to help demolish a “crystal palace that smacks of bygones”, Izzy chucks a brick at his own life, and maybe even his sanity, by falling in love. However, Izzy knows that committing adultery is: “…when you pull an illicit trigger, there’s a kickback; it changes the forensics of who you are.”
This dreamy novel, written as a fictionalized account of Darin Strauss peeling backing the layers of his family history, also asks the reader to reconsider their view of Lucille Ball. Many primarily see her as the easily-flustered housewife, constantly trying (and failing) to put out domestic fires. However, even though we spend some time with Lucille on set (one especially nice detail—to help with contrast issues on black and white film Lucy’s entire apartment, right down to the books and furniture, was gray) the woman we get to know is a very different beast. She’s a proud and acclaimed actress who is nevertheless convinced that she is past her prime. The movie business has taken a pass on her. She’s on the verge of staking her claim in the burgeoning field of television. Don’t buy this book expecting I Love Lucy fan fiction; Lucille makes it very clear that while Lucy does the dishes, Lucille does not. Lucille plots, broods about her troubled upbringing. fumes about her husband Dezi’s brazen affairs—in fact, it’s probably this fuming that sends her into the arms of Izzy (who she calls Hold-on because of a bit of banter the two of them had during their first encounter).
She says, Mama, I feel two beats on each side of me, so I think I have two hearts. I answer, When I was a little girl I read about the earth and the way it spins.Then at night when I lay in bed beside the big window in my room, and the crickets and cicadas sung to me through the dark while the scent of honeysuckle crawled past the window’s sash, I’d have moments where I felt myself spun too,whirling very fast, as if I’d returned to that playground ride where the older kids kept running the carousel faster and faster, and eventually I whipped into the air, a little flag of blonde hair and corduroy snapping to and fro, my scream lost in the wind.I thought I was going to die. I’d recall that chaos, that lost control,later when I’d been tucked into my sheet and my hair smoothedand my mother sang goodnight. When she left the roomI became the axis on which the world spun, whirling with it and growing dizzy from insect song and the scent of flowers openingin the humid dark. It is amazing what the mind draws forth. I tell her, I like your two hearts. I imagine they are birds,though I will tell you about your blood and the way it carriesa word, repeated, through the pathways of your body.I want you to believe me. And yet, I want for you those summer nights, too,when you lie awake and imagine all the ways you don’t.
Now playing on Otherppl, a conversation with Maggie Downs. Her new memoir, Braver Than You Think: Around the World on the Trip of My (Mother’s) Lifetime, is available from Counterpoint Press.
Downs is an award-winning writer based in Palm Springs, California. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Palm Springs Life, and McSweeney’s and has been anthologized in The Lonely Planet Travel Anthology: True Stories from the World’s Best Writers and Best Women’s Travel Writing. This is her first book.
Photo credit: Farah Sosa, Courtesy of the California Arts Council
Why are your Poems so Dark?
I hesitate to define poems as light or dark, because I think the poem exists as it is, in its own sphere, its own space. A poem tells its own story, and poems are supposed to tell some sort of essential truth. There is light in the world and darkness, of course. When we write from the dark space, we are simply tapping into one of the parts of the world that exists and needs a voice. Many people who read my poems, tell me that my work has opened up a space in them that they didn’t know existed , or didn’t give permission to exist. I think in order to be fully in touch with ourselves as a writer, we need to allow all of the shades of our writing to make an entrance into the room.