Frederick-BarthelmeFrederick Barthelme is the author of fourteen previous books of fiction. Until 2010, he directed the writing program at the University of Southern Mississippi and Mississippi Review. He now edits New World Writing, an online magazine started in 1995.

I’ve known Barthelme for about twenty years or so, more or less to the day, which would be the day I showed up in Hattiesburg to interview him. Two hours before our scheduled interview I was still scratching out questions in a battered notebook, distracted by a gaggle of teenaged girls tugging at pale bikini tops, USM first year students who I was pretty sure would not wind up in any of his classes but could easily show up somewhere in one of his novels, wisecracking their way through another scene of exquisite and heartrending longing, dialogue going off like cherry bombs through the junk landscape of the Mississippi coast. Later, I’d come on board the old Mississippi Review, which morphed into New World Writing, with brief layovers in something called Rick Magazine, later Stand Away from the Vehicle, and Blip. With the help of some of his former students we’d also put together a private journal of opinion called Public Scrutiny, which died a dignified death some years back. I’m saying I’ve known Barthelme a bit, and publicly raved about his work in various places, particularly his novel The Brothers, featuring Del Tribute and his much younger sidekick Jen, two of his most memorable characters, who team up again in Painted Desert.

Seth Greenland is the author of the novels The Bones and Shining City and was a writer-producer on the Emmy-nominated HBO series Big Love. His play, Jungle Rot, was the winner of the Kennedy Center/American Express Fund for New American Plays Award and the American Theatre Critics Association Award. His work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, The Huffington Post, and the journal Black Clock.

Greenland’s latest novel, The Angry Buddhist, is a scathing satire of American family, marriage, and politics, situated at the intersection of the Old Testament, Penthouse Forum, and Elmore Leonard. I love Larry David’s blurb:

Jurgen Fauth has written a terrific new novel called Kino, the story of a silent film director in Nazi Germany and his granddaughter’s quest to redeem him. With a cast of characters including Joseph Goebbels, Fritz Lang and Leni Riefenstahl, Kino raises important questions concerning the nature and purpose of art at the intersection of politics and culture.

Jürgen Fauth is a writer, film critic, translator, and co-founder of the literary community Fictionaut. He was born in Wiesbaden, Germany, and received his doctorate from the Center for Writers at the University of Southern Mississippi. He lives with his wife, writer Marcy Dermansky, and their daughter Nina. Kino is his first novel. Follow him on Twitter at @muckster.

There was a time in the 1970s when getting The New Yorker magazine delivered to my house was something of an event. (I don’t feel that way now and it sometimes makes me sad.) In those days the magazine was posted with a brown paper covering. I tore off the brown paper, checked out the cover art, then turned to the Table of Contents looking for Ann Beattie’s name. When she was listed there (48 times now, and counting), I was happy. When she wasn’t, I made do.

Dani Shapiro is the author of two remarkable memoirs, Slow Motion and Devotion.

Slow Motion is the story of a twenty-three year old woman’s late awakening to adult responsibilities. When her parents have a terrible car wreck in New Jersey, Shapiro is at a health spa in southern California, a jaunt paid for by her lover, a married man twice her age. Shapiro emerges from her alcohol and drug addled life to discover that the blessing is next to the wound.

Devotion is a “spiritual detective story,” a personal exploration  of varieties of seeking and different kinds of devotion — among them, motherhood and daughterhood. With its appropriation of wisdom gleaned from spiritual resources as diverse as Shapiro’s Orthodox Jewish upbringing to yoga shalas and Buddhist meditation retreats, Devotion tracks the dialectical movements from fear to human faith. For her readers, Dani Shapiro’s spiritual journey home is uniquely hers and yet somehow universal in the way it opens a space to let our own lives speak.

who never arrived
have we lost even the morning air

we drove in silence
yellow fog
swallowed the headlights

atlantic wind
tangled your dark hair &
blued your watery eyes

damp air leaked onto
boardwalk faces
the day you disappeared

Photo credit:  Wah-Ming Chang.

On April 15, 2011, almost thirty years after Ayn Rand’s death in 1982, Atlas Shrugged opened in theatres around the country. The movie is based on Rand’s bestselling dystopian novel of the same name, a literary vehicle expressing her trademark worldview: the morality of rational self-interest, or, “Objectivism.” It was financed by a wealthy devotee of Ayn Rand’s work, and marketed aggressively to the Tea Party demographic by FreedomWorks, one of the prime movers in the Tea Party movement, which engaged in a massive campaign to encourage audience attendance, and to push the film into as many theaters as possible. The opening line of Atlas Shrugged — “Who is John Galt?” — has appeared on signs at Tea Party protests across America. Glenn Beck praises Atlas Shrugged regularly, and hosted a panel discussion dedicated to asking if Rand’s fiction is finally becoming reality. Once a shadowy cult presence in the margins of American life, Ayn Rand is now one of the central intellectual and cultural inspirations for the base of the Republican Party.

Mary Gaitskill published a novel called Two Girls, Fat and Thin in 1991. The novel featured a thinly disguised Rand character, Anna Granite, and her philosophy of “Definitism.” Like the character Justine in her novel, Gaitskill had actually interviewed followers of Ayn Rand.

It seemed an opportune time to ask Mary Gaitskill, what is it about Ayn Rand, and why is she still here? What inspired her to write about Ayn Rand? And some other questions. She graciously consented to an interview.

Rae Bryant’s short story collection, The Indefinite State of Imaginary Morals, releases from Patasola Press, NY in June 2011. Her stories have appeared in BLIP Magazine (formerly Mississippi Review), Opium Magazine, and PANK, among other publications and have been nominated and short-listed for several awards. She has work forthcoming in Puerto del Sol, Gargoyle Magazine and other journals. Rae has received Fellowships from the VCCA and Johns Hopkins University, where she earned a Masters in Writing, awarded as Outstanding Graduate. This summer she’ll be attending the Sewanee Writers’ Conference and Conference on Craft in Florence, Italy as a JHU Fellow.

We caught up to Rae at her home outside Washington, D.C. for this interview.

for danielle

something so small beneath the big bright sky

stands erect

in echo park

leaking tears from pores

from eyes & open mouth

all of us raining

everyone crying

soaking in the cruel los angeles light

watching her puddle the parched ground

rivulets of salt and bone

you imagine a new river to carry you both

to the pacific

past the vacant apartment buildings

toward the ghostly canyon

how many steps to the sea

how many graves

to ride this way

she can get you somewhere

a road trip through the painted desert

the amphitheatre rock of ouray &

unwashed backs of tractor trailers

lit like circus squares in the thin blank night


from fingertips

all of us dying

you think

but now you see tied around her tiny finger

a string

and knotted to tie her

to what we’ll pull behind us

the shattered sound of summer thunderstorms

tearing beneath us

she’s sliced

the road

as we speed back by

Your new novel, The Upcoupling— a contemporary take on Aristophanes’ comedy Lysistrata— is set in a suburban town in New Jersey called “Stellar Plains.” One day a cold wind blows and one by one the women, young and old, begin to say no to their men. Again and again in your writing you seem to return to the suburbs-and sex.

Both seem to me to be very vivid and durable territory for fiction. They each provide potential landscapes for all kinds of strong and paradoxical feelings.  I remember being in my bedroom late at night when I was little, and looking out my window into the window of the house next door, which wasn’t very far away; all the houses on our street were lined up and almost identical.  I saw the mother from next door through that window, and though I didn’t see anything unusual-no nakedness or fighting or anything-I had a jolting sense of proximity, and of how it was possible to have an entirely different life from someone else, and have an entirely different consciousness, even though you all lived in the same place.  As for the place itself-I think it sometimes depressed me, but I didn’t know it at the time.  There was so much turnpike, so many stores that held no interest: Dress Barn; the supermarket called Bohack’s.  Yet saying these names now after all this time, I find that they are weirdly electric to me, and still draw me in.

the ways we miss our lives
        are life
but today I remember the
        way a woman
looks when she lies fully clothed
        in bed
her face upturned to
        the ceiling
and the way she turns
        her head
to follow as you move in
        beside her
and that way she looks
        beneath you
as your head hovers above
        her lips
for just a second as you
        lock eyes
to see if she is willing to receive
        what is
coming and cannot be stopped
        but why
must we watch the snow fall into
        the fire
or come to trust only the saddest
        moments of
our lives or raise a glass to the
        smaller pleasures
when she in your memory
        pulled your
head into her strong hands
        and turned
over onto her small hip so that you
        faced each
other and your eyes were level
        the way
you always wanted to be with
        a woman
level eyed and face to face
        and then
she says hey you what else you got
        for me
but now i see how all things
        false fall
from the dead the slow voice
        of ruin.

Love, An Inquiry

(going counterclockwise with gary percesepe)

We hate to ask.

I know. It’s OK.

So is counterclockwise a poem about divorce?

It is, among other things.

And do you love her, even so?

I do.

Is it possible to stay too long in a marriage?

Of course.

Do you know it at the time?

Not always.

Why do you stay too long?

Because you remember and because you are afraid.

Can you overcome your fear?

Not easily.

How did you do it?

Supposing that I have?


I didn’t. I stayed too long.

But she was fine? When you left, I mean?

She was, as it turns out, but I couldn’t have known it at the time.

What is the mystery of marriage?

There is no mystery to marriage. Only questions you do not know the answers to.

So you could have left earlier and she would have been fine?

I’m not saying that. I’m not a big believer in fine, as a rule.

What do you believe in, then?

Oranges. Root beer floats. A hot bowl of pasta and a jug of water at my writing desk. The moon’s backwash hanging like a hairnet over the stadium. A ghost train lit against the snow shrouded moor.

I believe in these questions.

And the translation of all things into their opposites. Every virtue is a glittering vice. Every cup drips air, and all things are in blinding motion. Even the earth, though we forget to feel it.

Do you believe in being in love?

Not especially. Another form of narcissism, perhaps. In any case, a cultural product of the West, like capitalism. Marketed as such by the Mad Men. February 14, and so forth.

But you believe in love.

Yes, of course.

How many times have you been in love?

Four times. Each time an earthquake. Though there are different measuring systems, different orders of magnitude.

But you have loved many more?

Yes. Men, women, dogs, cities, continents, convertibles. The English word is weak.

Is there an end to love?

Yes, but we cannot know it. We love to our limit but then find that our capacity increases. We always surprise ourselves in love. The capacity to be surprised is an element of goodness.

What is love, then?

Torment & misery. A hunger. A violent upheaval. A lifting up and out of the ordinary order of things.

Should we seek it?

It seeks us. Though some are never found.

Some say love is eternal. And when a marriage fails, love is injured, perhaps fatally.

These are the ones who do not believe in their own humanity. Because marriage does not endure is no reason to hold temporality suspect. If contingency, chaos, sorrow and disorder are held to be invalidating, then nothing real succeeds.

Can one love too early in life?


What then?

Pray to endure.

Can one love too late?