Indie Spotlight: Canarium Books

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With assistance from the University of Michigan, Canarium Books formed in 2008 out of the journal The Canary, which had been founded by writers Joshua Edwards, Anthony Robinson, and Nick Twemlow. Now based in Marfa, Texas under the collective editorship of Joshua Edwards, Nick Twemlow, Robyn Schiff, and Lynn Xu, Canarium publishes three to four collections of poetry or poetry in translation every year.

Canarium Books has compiled a carefully curated catalogue showing a breadth of vision in the style and content of its titles, as well as a commitment to its authors, many of whom are on their second book with the press. Titles include John Beer’s The Waste Land and Other Poems, a collection as intellectually ambitious as it is delightfully down-to-earth, Darcie Dennigan’s sharply crafted and many layered Madame X, and The Collected Poems of Chika Sagawa, translated by Sawako Nakayasu.

Sagawa, described by the New Yorker as “one of the most innovative and prominent avant-garde poets in early-twentieth-century Japan,” had virtually disappeared from the cultural map until Canarium published Nakayasu’s translations. The Collected Poems of Chika Sagawa was recently awarded the 2016 PEN prize for poetry in translation.

For the Ploughshares blog, Joshua Edwards will share what makes Canarium tick, and provide prospective Canarium authors some guidance on how to get added to their esteemed author list.

KF: The press was founded in Michigan and now is based in Marfa, Texas, a location giving new meaning to the term “middle of nowhere,” while also being a ridiculously unique cultural mecca. While not all of your editorial staff resides in Marfa, how does the location contribute to and complement Canarium’s vision?Continue Reading

Shelf Aware Machines

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When I was a kid, I loved the Barnes & Noble in Seattle’s University Village. It was one of Barnes & Noble’s flagship stores, at that time the largest bookstore I’d ever seen: forty-six thousand square feet over two floors. I spent hours in its expansive science fiction and fantasy section, ogling the covers and obsessively reading jacket copy, buying books one or two at a time. As an adult, I fell in love with other Northwest bookstores—Third Place Books and the Elliott Bay Book Company in Seattle, Powell’s in Portland, various dusty and labyrinthine used bookstores in Bellingham—but the University Village Barnes & Noble was the first bookstore I ever loved. I didn’t care that it was a chain bookstore or that it was in a tacky shopping center—I was ten, what did I know? When Barnes & Noble failed to renew its lease in 2011, the same year Borders declared bankruptcy and a huge number of independent bookstores across the country closed, it felt like a piece of my childhood was shuttering its doors.

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Stray Reflections: Korean Literature in France

Photo by hojusaram

Livre Paris, France’s annual largest book fair, took place last weekend, and the invited country this year was South Korea, in honor of the France-Korea Year, celebrating 130 years of cooperation between the two countries.

Interest in Korean culture has grown exponentially over the last few years. Lack of strategic marketing and distribution networks, cultural barriers, and differing conceptions of translations have been major hurdles for the overseas recognition of Korean literature, and their effects still linger; but things are starting to shift. The Korean shelf in indie bookstores is now expanding and being recognized as a major literature alongside its Chinese and Japanese neighbors. In France, small presses have been highly active in the circulation of Korean works: Decrescenzo, founded in 2012, devotes its whole catalogue and a literary magazine to contemporary Korean literature; Actes Sud, a well-known and respectable publisher, also has quite a substantial number of titles to its credit. Korean studies have been flourishing, and the number of French students learning the language is ever growing.

It’s hard to say whether this growing receptivity to Korean literature has been bolstered by hallyu (the Korean Wave of pop culture and entertainement), or whether it’s developed independently—something Livre Paris plays on, inviting manhwa and visual artists like Puuung, popular with the younger generation, alongside famous Korean authors, like Lee Seung-U, Kim Hyesoon, or Hwang Sok-yong. It’s also hard to assess the role exoticism and Orientalist curiosity play in this growing interest, even though they do shape to a certain extent the way Korea and Korean literature have been represented in media. In any case, Livre Paris sought to create transnational cultural connections between France and Korea, to move beyond mere economic partnership. Multiple autograph sessions were programmed throughout the weekend, as well as multiple conferences that both highlighted Korean culture and established a transnational dialog. Roundtables on classical Korean literature, contemporary women writers, and the influence of globalization, to name just a few, took place in the Korean Pavilion, managed by representatives of the country’s major cultural organizations. 30 prominent Korean writers and artists were present in total during the festival; Korean children’s books, K-comics, and ebooks were also showcased.Continue Reading

Indie Spotlight: Sarabande Books

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Founded in 1994 in Louisville, Kentucky by Sarah Gorham and Jeffrey Skinner, Sarabande Books began with a mission to publish and distribute with “diligence and integrity” books of poetry, short fiction and essays. Their first two titles appeared 20 years ago as winners of the Mary McCarthy Prize in Short Fiction and the Kathryn A. Morton Prize in Poetry (this year’s reading period for both prizes opens March 15). Now Sarabande publishes 10 to 12 titles per year and has added two regional prizes—The Linda Bruckheimer Series in Kentucky Literature and The Flo Gault Poetry Prize for Kentucky Undergraduates.

Even the shortest selection of Sarabande’s most recent titles shows the press’s impact on contemporary American literature. Kerry Howley’s collection of essays on the lives of two cage fighters, Thrown, made at least a half-dozen “best of” lists in 2014, Caitlin Horrocks‘ collection of stories This Is Not Your City earned a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers distinction in 2011, and Amy Gustine’s collected stories You Should Pity Us Instead with a hot-off-the-press February 2016 publication date is already piling up a year’s worth of accolades.

Adding to their award-winning offerings in fiction, poetry, and nonfiction, Sarabande has published a varied and valuable collection of anthologies as well as their Quarternote Chapbooks, a remarkable series of titles from contemporary American poets including Stephen Dunn, Louise Glück, C.K. Williams, and James Tate.

Sarabande’s careful expansion over the years extends beyond book publication. The press produces the online resource Sarabande in Education, which provides reading guides and interactive material for educators, runs a writers’ residency program at Bernheim Arboretum and Research forest near Louisville, and operates Sarabande Writing Labs, which delivers arts education to underserved communities in Kentucky.

For Ploughshares, Editor-in-Chief Sarah Gorham shares her insights on Sarabande’s place in independent publishing today, and gives readers and writers a preview of where the press is headed in the immediate future.

KF: Sarabande’s first two titles were Lee Martin’s short fiction collection The Least You Need to Know, and Jane Mead’s poetry collection The Lord and the General Din of the World. Martin has since gone on to publish several books of fiction and nonfiction and been nominated for the Pulitzer; Mead has collected Guggenheim, Lannan, and Whiting accolades. That’s quite a one-two punch for your first two authors, and your track record of plucking talent from the slushpile and prize entrants continues to be strong. What distinguishes a Sarabande author? How exciting is it to see your writers rise in respect and recognition?
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The High Art of Food Literature. Seriously?

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“The writer who never talks about eating, about appetite, hunger, food, about cooks and meals, arouses my suspicion as though some vital element were missing in him,” wrote the Italian writer Aldo Buzzi, in his book, The Perfect Egg: And Other Secrets.

Yet, writers who write primarily about food are called food writers, not just writers, as though writing in general or about the more serious subjects—whether fiction or nonfiction—ranks higher in the literary canon. Food writing brings to mind gastronomy, a luxury or a pursuit of the leisurely and well-heeled. Recipes? Puttering around in the kitchen and writing about the food prepared? Food is the domain of the frivolous, perhaps? Chef and writer Michael Ruhlman ponders this perception in an article in The Huffington Post. He wonders why writing “about what is all-important” should need justification.

For a long time, when I described myself as a food writer, the word got stuck in my throat like a fish bone. I was raised in Bengal, India, a region where fish dominates the diet. Could I be a “food writer” and be, well, a writer or an author? I started a blog years ago to document the food of my childhood and the experiences of cooking with my mother, now 80 years old. I began writing personal essays and features for a popular website, In Mama’s Kitchen, which unfortunately folded last year. The food I wrote about rooted me in a small town in the heart of India and my first forays into the kitchen of my mother as a child and adolescent. But I also sought to transcend the label of a food writer and be a writer of fiction and essays that shed light on the human condition.

Ruhlman says, “Cooking dinner is not a chore or a hassle, not simply the fulfillment of a bodily need, or even an indulgence, but is in fact fundamental to our humanity.” I am unsure about the cooking part—even though I delight in it—but food certainly is more than indulgence or even biological sustenance. The other attribute that makes us human is the ability of telling stories, says Ruhlman. Yes, stories! Food sure does tell stories, and food writers—the greatest of them, in any case—can create abiding literature that reflects human character or the history and culture of a place.Continue Reading

Circumflexes and censorship: on the French spelling reform

Photo by Alan Levine

Photo by Alan Levine

Behold: a diacritic has got an entire country in an uproar. And of course that country is France.

Let’s rewind a bit: in 1990, the Académie Française, prestigious gatekeeper of all things French, proposes a spelling reform that generates countless pamphlets and petitions to “save the French language.” Ultimately nothing much happens, the old spellings remain overwhelmingly present in textbooks. Twenty-six years later, the reform becomes official: starting in September, textbooks will integrate the recommended changes, starting with the circumflex. This accent, placed over vowels, is either a vestigial “s” (as in forêt) or a way to differentiate between homonyms. In a number of words, though, the Académie decreed that it no longer served any real purpose. Hence the suggestion: keep the circumflex when it reflects an etymological evolution, remove it elsewhere unless its absence causes confusion. Other aspects of the reform include simplifying the spelling of many words: nénuphar (water lily) can now also be spelled nénufar and oignon (onion) becomes ognon.

This has sent countless French people in a tizzy, for whom the reform amounts to nothing less than linguistic censorship. #JeSuisCirconflexe hashtags, a highly problematic reference to #JeSuisCharlie, have sprung up all over social media. And yet, here’s the most baffling part of the story: no one is forcing anyone to do anything. The Académie will not be sending a language police taskforce to your home if you decide to keep using the circumflex. The new spellings are alternatives: both old and new forms are allowed to coexist without one being marked off as wrong. Why then the general outcry?Continue Reading

Indie Spotlight: Pressgang

pressgangBegun in 2012 by fiction writer Bryan Furuness, Pressgang is based at Butler University and is affiliated with Butler’s MFA program and the Vivian S. Delbrook Visiting Writer Series. Pressgang’s initial publications have come from its Pressgang Prize, which awards $1,500 and publication to a book-length fiction or memoir manuscript. Its initial two titles show a determination to publish wonderful range of styles, from the quirky and poignant collection of stories by Jacob Appel, Einstein’s Beach House, to Teresa Milbrodt’s delightful collection of vignettes Larissa Takes Flight.

Pressgang’s current Editor-in-Chief is writer Robert Stapleton, and he is the force behind Pressgang’s newest and most ambitious title, just published this month. Flashed: Sudden Stories in Comics and Prose is a fantastic collection of stories both written and illustrated. Editors Josh Neufeld and Sari Wilson recruited several trios of writers and cartoonists to “respond to one another’s work with original pieces of flash fiction,” producing a rich collection of collaborative riffs from an amazing range of writers and artists. Lynda Barry, Aimee Bender, Junot Díaz, Steve Almond, Sherrie Flick, and so many more not only created the stories and comics in the collection, they also discussed the collective creative venture they took part in.

For Ploughshares, Robert Stapleton discusses Pressgang’s latest publication and current status, and shares what the press has in store in the future.

KF: Your submission guidelines request work that blurs boundaries: “Think Lorrie Moore, think Laurie Anderson, think Lemony Snickett,” and your initial publications exhibit that refreshing eclectic flavor. How will Pressgang’s editorial choices evolve now that the press is under your leadership?

RS: Bryan and I have had neighboring offices at Butler since 2010. We share many similar aesthetic and publishing interests, and Booth and Pressgang have naturally risen from our daily conversations. Since Pressgang’s inception, I have been intimately involved with its editorial board and the decisions of what to publish, just like Bryan has always been, and still is, integral to Booth’s editorial curation. The primary distinction is that I tend to champion graphic design whenever possible.

KF: You’re also editor of the online and print journal Booth. Do you see a collaborative future between the journal and press? How do you manage both enterprises?Continue Reading

Is International Fiction Relatable?

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Not too long ago, as a writer who was based in India, once a colony of the British, and who had once been a “citizen of the world” living in the United States, I wondered, with apprehension, whether my stories would resonate with American and global readers and editors. As a struggling writer, I presumed that great stories surmount barriers of geography and culture by bringing out universal themes. (Theme transcends plot and setting. Theme is a comment on the human condition. Cinderella is not just the story of a poor maid who overcomes the cruelty of her family and lives happily ever after with Prince Charming. The theme of the story reveals that people who are kind and patient are often rewarded for their good deeds.)

Then, fairly recently, I came across the word “relatable.” I did not have a language as convenient as that until then to ponder how my readers might relate to my stories, whether fiction or nonfiction. “Relatable” did not exist in the vocabulary of literary criticism until the mid-twentieth century, according to an article in Slate. In fact, the word has gained currency only over the past decade, writer Rebecca Mead says in her essay on the topic in The New Yorker. The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) lists the first and the oldest definition of relatable as “able to be told or narrated; suitable for relating.” The second meaning is more recent: “Able to be brought into relation with something.”

The third and final meaning, and the most recent, is “that which can be related to; with which one can identify or empathize.” According to the OED, the first use of this sense of the adjective dates back to 1965. The term became the buzz of the literary world, including The New Yorker magazine, when Ira Glass, host of a popular public radio program, said, after a performance of King Lear, that Shakespeare is not “relatable” and that he is “unemotional.”

Shakespeare was British and Western, and here a popular literary commentator based in the Western world was calling the Bard “not relatable.” Wasn’t Shakespeare “relatable” universally? Didn’t his plays have universal themes? Aren’t universal themes not “relatable” globally?

The word relatable, as used by Glass and others since, has brought both discomfiture and relief to me as a writer who often writes of cultures and settings different from Western. If Shakespeare is not “relatable,” how could I hope to be relatable? Continue Reading

What’s Self-Love Got to Do with It?

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Two years ago a generous woman handed me a spare key to the private office where she conducts her psychotherapy practice. I’ve since spent most weekends and some Jewish holy days, hours both glorious and mundane, in this Greenwich Village brownstone where I read and write and fret and nap on a red couch. I don’t receive therapy from Dr. X, but her gift of a creative private space—an ongoing residency of sorts—is its own therapy, free of charge.

Even if the shelf above her desk didn’t hold the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud bound in blue cloth (along with every secondary source on the man you can imagine), the paraphernalia honoring the father of psychosis scattered around the room clears up any doubt to the school of thought Dr. X follows: a plastic Freud action figure with hinged arms and the infamous cigar cinched between two tiny fingers; a Freudian Sips mug; a paper doll Freud with a hand cupped invitingly behind his ear; a framed poster of The New Yorker cover of Siggie driving a yellow cab while advising a patient reclined in the backseat; and a notepad of Freudian Slips.

When restless I read magazines in the waiting room or study the contents of the mini refrigerator in the adjacent kitchenette. I long ago developed the interloper’s eye, the art of looking and moving in places that don’t belong to me. I remember the objects I inspected in my early days of roaming when my mother took me with her on housekeeping jobs, objects I could not resist: a trophy with a small bronze eagle at its base, an old china doll with sharply-drawn eyebrows, a blue-flowered Japanese urn that lurched from my small hands, its extravagance deducted from my mother’s paycheck the following week.

I often imagine the people who come here during office hours, the stories they might tell Dr. X, all their vulnerabilities, traumas and despair, hubris, epiphanies, self-criticism or forgiveness. So many things released and reached within these walls. Hard questions that gnaw at their guts, questions realized and lived through again and again in the process of therapy. In form and in content, for me, it is the very stuff of art: the complexities and contradictions of human nature, a repeated return to obsessions, methods and processes of making the internal external, the need to locate and tell something that feels absolutely necessary—or even to invent that something—and have it be received.

And so, in this very specific space where people strive to understand themselves, I read and write. These days in the office I’m contemplating love—I wonder, do you have to love yourself to make art? Is art making, like choosing therapy, an act of self-preservation? At the very least, isn’t the desire to create something a gesture of self-affirmation, even if it leads to self-destruction?Continue Reading

Indie Spotlight: Small Beer Press

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Kelly Link and Gavin J. Grant, a writing and editing superduo based in western Massachusetts, began Small Beer Press in 2000, and immediately built a list of titles that garnered a number of awards for science fiction, fantasy, and horror and also landed on a variety of “best of” lists from publications as varied as Time, Salon, Booklist, and The Village Voice. Small Beer books defy genre while also celebrating it; their titles are wondrous and fantastical, blurring the line between the speculative and the concrete in ways that are sometimes dark, sometimes delightful, and altogether original.

Small Beer and its imprint Big Mouth (which publishes fiction for readers 10 and up) have quite the stable of authors, not least of which is Kelly Link herself. Joan Aiken, Holly Black, Peter Dickinson, Lydia Millet, Ursula K. Le Guin, Delia Sherman, and Howard Waldrop are just a few of their notable names.

New discoveries, like Ayize Jama-Everett, author of a trio of Small Beer novels featuring Chabi, a half-Mongolian, half-black female martial arts expert, and flash and short story writer Mary Rickert, whose collection You Have Never Been Here was published by Small Beer this fall, are just beginning to rack up the awards and notoriety to continue Small Beer’s quickly established legacy. Rickert’s book in particular is an excellent embodiment of the dance with genre that exemplifies a Small Beer book. You Have Never Been Here is full of fairy tales and ghost stories, otherworldly and gothic, but Rickert’s stories are also as frighteningly familiar as the nightly news headlines or the small town “strange but true” tales that get passed around at the beauty shop or the bar.

What might be most remarkable is that Small Beer Press still accepts unsolicited submissions the old-fashioned way; they ask writers to submit the first 10-20 pages via snail mail with a forever-stamped SASE to their PO Box in Easthampton, Massachusetts.

For Ploughshares, Gavin J. Grant and Kelly Link and share what goes on behind the curtain at Small Beer, what prospective authors need to know, and what surprises they have in store for readers in the new year.Continue Reading