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Reasons

By Urvashi Bahuguna

Poem

My mother had a wing that could not be
taken. A fox lived
at the backyard border.
The rain wouldn’t stop, wouldn’t
paddle back to the neighbour’s postal box.
I spent so much time looking at the snow, I
saw something beyond the cold.
My grandfather helped my grandmother’s
birds escape.
My mother had one good
wing and one made of sadness.

ss-mugYou received a lot of rejections before you finally started publishing and exhibiting your work. Do you have a favorite?

Yeah, an agent in NYC wrote to say I should take my typewriter and put it on the top shelf of my closet and then nail the door shut. I didn’t hate her but when I heard she died a while back, I felt pretty good.

 

Do you feel pretentious doing a self-interview?

Yeah, sort of.

 

Who are your favorite characters in BigCity?

Bitch Bantam, Slab Pettibone, Fritter McTwoBit, FuzzyWuzzy the Bear.

BIGCITY-COVER-frontCharlie Debunk drops two lead balls, plunk-plunk, into the flared mouth of his flintlock Blunderbuss. The balls tumble down the rusty barrel like fishline sinkers. He sets the antique weapon across his legs and picks up a red clay jug of cornjuice. He takes long happy drinks that scorch his gullet and muddle his head.

Charlie Debunk has been loading his Blunderbuss for a week and has yet to pull the trigger. He is waiting for something special to shoot. Five days and a hundred miles ago he and his two partners made a trade with a big lunking Polack who calls himself Big Polack. Big Polack gave Charlie the gun, along with a pouch of lead balls, a pouch of powder, a pouch of flints, a twenty-inch ramrod, and a pouch of gold nuggets easily worth five hundred dollars. Charlie and his partners, Eddie Plague and Skunk Brewster, in turn, gave Big Polack a ten-year-old aborigine girl they had liberated from a starving tribe of Chickasaws. Charlie figures they got the better end of the deal. The girl had not even been old enough to noodle and had whooped like a warrior when Charlie noodled her anyway.

Abigail-Ulman-Hot-Little-Hands

Now playing on the Otherppl with Brad Listi podcast, a conversation with Abigail Ulman, author of the debut story collection, Hot Little Hands, now available from Spiegel & Grau. 

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Mother could be you

 

A year ago I was pretty, people noticed me in the train. I had this way of not looking. That’s the trick, isn’t it? You present yourself, your perfumed body, soft at the right places, a straight back and tall, strong bones. Living the busy life, giving everything but. And that but is what the weak-hearted want. They’ll crawl for it; they’ll kiss your heels. I know this so well. It’s a model of love, handed over from generation to generation. Mothers who say: go play in the street honey because Mother is busy. Mother has her lover waiting. Mother wants to take a nap in the sun. You really want to play with the other kids, but you wait on the porch for Mother to open the door.

 

Kristin-Dombek-The-Selfishness-of-Others-An-Essay-on-the-Fear-of-Narcissm

This week on the Otherppl with Brad Listi podcast, a conversation with Kristin Dombek, author of The Selfishness of Others: An Essay on the Fear of Narcissism, available now from FSG Originals. 

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David_Berenbaum_Elf

This week on the Otherppl with Brad Listi podcast, a conversation with David Berenbaum, a screenwriter whose credits include the Christmas classic Elf, directed by Jon Favreau and starring Will Ferrell.

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Big news! The Otherppl with Brad Listi podcast is now entirely free of charge. In the past, only the most recent 50 episodes were available at no cost. To access the deeper archives, a subscription was needed. Not anymore. All episodes—hundreds of them—are now available absolutely free. Hear in-depth conversations with authors like George Saunders, Cheryl Strayed, Susan Orlean, Edwidge Danticat, Aimee Bender, Eileen Myles, Maggie Nelson, Tom Perrotta, Hanya Yanagihara, Hilton Als, and many more. Listen online, via iTunes, Stitcher, iHeart Radio, Overcast, et al. Better yet, download the show’s (free) official app at your favorite app store. To view the full archive, check out the Episode Guide. Enjoy!

Sanderia Faye Author PhotoHave you always written?

I wrote little stories when I was very young and was encouraged by my high school English teacher to study creative writing in college. My family wasn’t about to have me spend four years at a university learning to write. I believed them and ended up with a BS in Accounting. Later, an editor for a newspaper overheard my conversation about sports, and was so impressed with my knowledge that she hired me as a freelance feature sports writer.

But it was not until the late nineties, when talk show host Oprah Winfrey, encouraged people to follow their passion that I got serious about it. I had no idea what I was passionate about, so I mimicked Oprah as a way to figure it out. She ran a half-marathon; later I ran the same one. She then trained and ran a marathon, and so did I, but I still felt empty inside until one day my friend said “I believe it’s writing.” Then I remembered how excited I was when my high school teacher had suggested I study creative writing, and how disappointed I was when my family didn’t agree with her. I believe not writing was why I felt the emptiness. (I feel it now when I’ve gone too many days without writing.) A few months later, I wrote my first thirty pages, which was required for the admissions application to Arizona State University and now I’m here.

Sanderia Fayes MOURNERS BENCH CoverIndoor plumbing was the last significant change in Maeby, Arkansas, before my mama left town. For as long as I could remember, my family and other colored folks kept our pigs, chickens, cows and all other animals in our backyards, and a little further back, always from the gardens, sat the outhouses. The all-white city council threatened to take the animals away from us if we didn’t clean up our yards and do something about that horrific smell. We didn’t pay them no mind, talked about it after they drove off in their city cars. Reverend Jefferson may have brought it up in one of his sermons, but generally, we went on back to minding our business and so did they until the next time they felt up to performing their civic duties. Then one day the city council members decided to make good on their promises. They bucked up and passed an ordinance that required us to remove all the farm animals outside of the city limits, and to get it done in no time flat. Just for the sake of it, they told us that we must tear the toilets out of the outhouses and replace them with flushable ones. All the grown folks were in a huff about it, especially over the toilets, but since I’d never seen or heard of one, I reserved my passion for when I would know what I was getting upset about.

In all those years having never really spoken it
except in classrooms and once or twice
in Spain as a young woman trying to impress
her advisors or of course
having spoken it in pleasantries
between friends—muy bien gracias y tu
who don’t speak Spanish
like she does but could, she thinks of all those years
having never dreamt in Spanish either
and how those dreams would have played
out had she been able to talk
to men in a language
that would’ve been foreign to them

Min-Jin-Lee-Pachinko

This week on the Otherppl with Brad Listi podcast, a conversation with Min Jin Lee, author of the novel Pachinko, available now from Grand Central Publishing. It is the official February pick of The Nervous Breakdown Book Club.

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516+fA415+L._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_

The Nervous Breakdown Book Club is reading Ron Currie’s  The One-Eyed Man this month, available from Viking Press. Richard Russo calls it “a revelation, a wonder.”

Stay tuned for Ron’s appearance on the Otherppl podcast in the weeks to come.

Shout Outs

By David Zoby

Essay

NWA

Late for class again, late and permanently disorganized, wearing my jeans jacket despite the chill. I could cut class and what difference would it make, but for a brief feeling of regret? Who was I letting down? The lush grasses between academic buildings? The professors who seemed there and not there? The low and somewhat jumbled Allegheny Mountains to the west framed my 1989. I was a senior at Virginia Tech, living in an all-male dorm, one semester away from drift. It felt as though I was living in a diorama where everything was multiple choice, colored in with a number two pencil, or left blank. Fog was flowing in from the ridges and hollers. It was a fogbank that told you a cemetery was nearby, that battles took place near here. It was tattered and worn on the edges, like the comforter I had rolled myself in for the last four years. Of course I cut my Human Development course and went back to the dorm to boil some ramen. Who wouldn’t? I was rolled so tightly in that fog I could hardly hear the students coming and going to classes, the refitted elevators ascending and descending, a door closing, the hallways hushing. My books were in there, rolled in the cocoon with me: Edith Wharton, Ralph Ellison, and Sherwood. I guess this is where it all started, my resistance to 1989.

I was the head resident advisor in Pritchard Hall, a towering, Cabrini-Greene-like building completed in 1967 with questionable ventilation, but otherwise solid construction. Intimidating on the outside, Pritchard was steel and Hokie Stone, common granite that the university hung on all its buildings. Pritchard contained nearly 1,600 college males between eighteen and thirty years old. We RAs had to show up a week before the students. The scent of fresh paint hung in the air near the lobby. The painters knocked off at noon to attend the annual staff barbeque. I lay awake all night listening to workmen putting the final touches on the breaker boxes, testing the fire alarms, water pressure. The elevators were sliding nicely on new oil.

David-Shields-Other-People

Now playing on the Otherppl with Brad Listi podcast, a conversation with author David Shields . His new book, Other People: Takes and Mistakes, is available from Knopf.

David last appeared on the program on Episode 26, in December 2011.

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