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Fiction Spotlight: Contributor Benjamin Percy

Benjamin Percy’s stunning work of flash fiction called “Revival” appeared in the seventh issue of Memorious. At the time, his second collection of short stories was due out, after his first outstanding collection, The Language of Elk. In the decade since, Percy’s gone on to publish three novels—The Wilding, Red Moon, and The Dead Lands—with a fourth on the way (The Dark Net), and he’s worked on a slew of screenwriting projects, as well as the current DC Comics titles, Green Arrow and Teen Titans. Steeped in both the literary tradition as well as the language of film, Percy is known for his suspenseful plots, his action-packed set-pieces, and his sharply precise style, which is why Graywolf Press was eager to publish a collection of his essays on craft and technique. Released last October, Thrill Me: Essays on Fiction has received wide acclaim and is already on the list of numerous fiction workshop syllabi. In support of the book’s release, Percy was excellent enough to answer our questions about the text for his second appearance in our “Fiction Spotlight” series.

Graywolf has been a big supporter of your work for years, and you’ve published both Refresh, Refresh and The Wilding with them. How did you develop this project for a craft book on fiction?

I’m a regular at the Tin House Writers’ Workshop—and I used to teach in the low-res MFA program at Pacific University—at which I always gave an hour-long craft lecture. It became my standard to polish these lectures into essays that were then published by Kevin Larimer in Poets & Writers magazine.

I was gratified to hear from people who tore the craft essays out, photocopied them, taught them in creative writing workshops. It wasn’t my intention to write a book. I was just refining my own thoughts on fiction and sharing my half-assed wisdom with whoever would listen. But then Jeff Shotts at Graywolf approached me about the possibility of collecting the essays into a single volume.

So I worked with Shotts and Steve Woodward [Graywolf’s associate editor] on expanding some of the essays, merging others, building a toolbox of storytelling devices themed around suspense and momentum, the borderlands of genre and literary fiction.

One of my favorite quotes from Thrill Me comes from the essay, “Get a Job:” “Every story I write is a research project.” You go on to discuss various modes and methods of research you’ve had to do in order to figure out a draft’s details and mood more precisely. That said, can you give an example of some research you’ve had to perform in preparation for your next novel, The Dark Net? What would you say was a detail within the research that surprised you or changed a misconception you had?

Thanks. That was one of my favorite essays to write.

darknetFor The Dark Net—which comes out this summer—I read articles, watched documentaries. But the most helpful research came from speaking to people involved with digital security. Every tech expert I talked to—over a year ago, when researching the novel—warned me about China and Russia.

Employees at Google, Apple, Verizon, and a half-dozen hacker nerds I can’t name—they all said to wait and watch. A major attack was coming. They were certain. Not a breach, not an intrusion, as people might expect. Because the Chinese and Russians were ALREADY inside the walls of our government. The question was, what did they plan to do with the information they already had access to…

…and then came the US election and the headlines we’re enduring right now. Early investigations seem to indicate that Russian involvement with US politics could be the biggest political scandal since Watergate.

You’ve talked elsewhere that you shape your fiction around the juxtaposition of images and events until they work together, even going so far as to use the cork board and the old developer’s closet in your house as a sort of diorama of story. How does this process differ than, say, structuring a comics storyline in Green Arrow and Teen Titans, or building a TV pilot like Black Gold?

I use the same process, no matter the medium. My office closet is papered with story maps and character charts and lists of ideas. I need a visualization because I can’t keep it all in my head. I’m religious about outlining before I set out to write. The only difference is structure considerations.

If I’m working on comics, for instance, I need to keep in mind the twenty-page format, which generally equals five to seven scenes, two “splash” images, a B storyline, and a dominant action set-piece.

In your essay on modulation, you mention that you’re “bad about favorites” since you have so many of them, but if you had to pinpoint a craft book that was most influential on your own understanding of writing, which one would you pick? What’s a particular lesson you learned from it that stays with you today?

Like I said, I’m bad with favorites. Charles Baxter’s The Art of Subtext is brilliant. So is Stephen King’s On Writing. But books like Syd Field’s Screenplay and Robert McKee’s Story might have changed me more than any other. Because they gave me a language and vision for structure and causality that I wasn’t getting from any creative writing workshop, where “plot” was considered such a dirty word.

Who are some writers and artists you’ve recently encountered—in fiction, comics, or elsewhere—that are taking plot, structure, and suspense in new directions?

Check out Tom King’s The Vision (with artist Gabriel Hernandez Walta) and Sheriff of Babylon (with Mitch Gerads). He’s very particular about the paneling of his comics. I’m especially interested in his use of cyclical/repetitive designs and language.

I love the three-part design of the film Moonlight. And the fragmented mosaic featured in books by Terry Tempest Williams and Nick Flynn.

Along those same lines, which author (or director or playwright, etc.) do you wish more students of writing were reading these days? What should they be picking up from that person in terms of craft?

I could list off fifty names here, but instead I’ll say that everyone should read Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud. It’s so smart and witty and a perfect example of form serving function. It changed the way I watched movies and read everything from comics to novels to essays to poems.

Last but not least: in “Feckless Pondering,” you recall the legend of Barry Hannah pulling a gun on a workshop student in order to prove the point about immediate danger and introspection within a scene. From your time as an instructor, what’s a specific workshop moment you want to be known for decades later—legend, truth, or somewhere in between?

Any class I teach, I want to leave people jacked up about fiction and excited to get to the keyboard. I’m becoming more and more hermitic and am not really interested in a reputation outside of my fiction, so I’ll settle for, “He was mostly helpful and not an asshole.”

Interviewer Barrett Bowlin is a contributing editor for Memorious. Recent stories and essays of his can be found in places like Ninth LetterHobartThe RumpusMid-American ReviewMichigan Quarterly Review, and Bayou, which awarded him last year’s James Knudsen Prize in Fiction. He teaches film and literature classes at Binghamton University, and he writes inappropriate things on Twitter (@barrettbowlin).

For original poetry, fiction, art song, and more interviews, please visit our magazine at http://www.memorious.org.

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Rebecca Morgan Frank’s Anticipated Books of 2017

As editor-in-chief, I get the honor of bringing you the last installment of our week-long Anticipated Books countdown to 2017 and wishing you a Happy New Year– may books continue to challenge us; to bring joy, pleasure and solace; to expand our knowledge and compassion; to introduce us to new perspectives and voices; to connect us; and to call us to action in the year ahead. We hope many of you will join us and writers across the country on January 15th for Writers Resist, where  “invited speakers will read from a curated selection of diverse writers’ voices that speak to the ideals of Democracy and free expression.” Memorious is a co-sponsor of the event here in Boston: join us here or find an event near you.

Meanwhile, as you’ve seen from our lists this week, 2017 much to offer us as readers. Here are a few must-read poetry books for 2017:

41ovs9gjs1l-_sx331_bo1204203200_-1Molly McCully Brown, The Virginia State Colony for Epileptics and Feebleminded (Persea Books, March 2017)

Persea Books’ 2016 Lexi Rudnitsky First Book Prize has a terrific history of introducing new women poets, and recent winner Molly McCully Brown’s debut collection looks to be a highlight for the series. The Virginia State Colony for Epileptics and Feebleminded takes its title from an institution in Virginia that was central to the twentieth century eugenics movement: thousands of residents were legally sterilized there into the 1970’s. This collection, which imagines the lives of these residents, as well as the colony’s staff, promises to bring this terrible history to light with poems such as “The Blindroom” (the colony’s term for solitary confinement) and to bring us poems that allow for experiences of a variety of bodies in the world. Brown, a young Virginia native whose essays about moving through the world with cerebral palsy have appeared in The Rumpus and Image, is a bright new poet to watch out for in 2017.

51jilwdqncl-_sx331_bo1204203200_-1Erika L. Sánchez, Lessons on Expulsion (Graywolf, Fall 2017)

There is so much to look forward to on Graywolf’s list for 2017 and beyond–contributor Sally Wen Mao has her second book coming out with them in 2019 and contributor Tarfia Faizullah’s second collection is slated for 2018! This year, I am particularly looking forward to Erika Sanchez’s debut collection, which explores her experience as the daughter of undocumented Mexican immigrants and promises to be unflinching in its gaze, moving from violent murders and sexual assaults to the struggles of suicide attempts. The poems I’ve seen are densely image-driven and compelling. A CantoMundo and Ruth Lilly Fellow, Sánchez has also written a young adult novel, I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter, forthcoming from Knopf Books for Young Readers, and she was formerly the sex and love advice columnist for Cosmopolitan for Latinas. You’re going to hearing a lot about this dynamic writer in 2017.

91wqfkpnxulBill Knott, I Am Flying into Myself: Selected Poems, 1960–2014, edited by Thomas Lux (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, February 14)

One of the marvelous things about Bill Knott (1940-2014), who graced us with an interview in Issue 6 and allowed us to use one of his collages for cover art for Issue 7, is that at his readings he would hand out chapbooks, often with revised versions of poems published elsewhere. Later in life, he became determined to provide most of his work online on his blog. He was known for seeing himself as an outsider, from his childhood as an orphan through his days publishing books and teaching at Emerson College. As Jonathan Galassi says in The New Yorker, “Belonging was not his thing.” James Wright once brought him bananas on a lonely Thanksgiving: this was how they met. It seems fitting that a poet who, in his younger years, published a supposedly posthumous book under the pseudonym Saint Geraud, might become most renowned after his own death; in the case of Knott, this is somehow still heartbreaking. Here’s to breaking our hearts with this collection of this one-of-a-kind poet’s work.

Finally, there are so many great books ahead from our poetry contributors that I couldn’t choose only one or two. Please stay tuned to our blog over the year ahead for spotlights on many of these contributor books:

Hadara Bar-Nadav, The New Nudity (Saturnalia Books)

Michael Bazzett, Our Lands Are Not So Different (Horsethief Books)

Andrea Cohen, Unfathoming (Four Way Books)

Alex Dimitrov, Together and By Ourselves (Copper Canyon)

Jehanne Dubrow, Dots and Dashes (Southern Illinois University Press)

Leslie Harrison, The Book of Endings (University of Akron Press)

Derrick Harriell, Stripper in Wonderland (LSU Press)

*K.A. Hays, Windthrow (Carnegie Mellon UP)

Jill McDonough (Reaper, Alice James Books)

Karyna McGlynn, Hothouse, (Sarabande)

Kiki Petrosino, Witch Wife (Sarabande)

Christina Pugh, Perception (Four Way Books)

Jacques RancourtNovena (Pleaides Press)

Lloyd Schwartz, Little Kisses (University of Chicago Press)

Tara Skurtu, The Amoeba Game (Eyewear)

Jennifer Tseng, Not so dear Jenny (Bateau Press)

Jessica Goodfellow UenoWhiteout (University of Alaska Press)

Erica Wright, All the Bayou Stories End with Drowned (Black Lawrence Press)

PS: And a bonus shout-out to more 2017 in poetry: Patricia Smith’s Incendiary Art (TriQuarterly/Northwestern Univ. Press), Natalie Shapero’s Hard Child (Copper Canyon); Allison Benis White’s Please Bury Me in This (Four Way Books); Marcus Wicker’s Silencer (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

*added on 1/6/17

Rebecca Morgan Frank is the editor-in-chief and co-founder of Memorious. She is the author of two collections of poems, The Spokes of Venus (Carnegie Mellon UP 2016), and Little Murders Everywhere (Salmon 2012), a finalist for the Kate Tufts Discovery Award. Her third collection, Sometimes We’re All Living in a Foreign Country, is forthcoming from Carnegie Mellon in October 2017. She is the Jacob Ziskind Poet in Residence at Brandeis University.

For original poetry, fiction, art song, and more interviews, please visit our magazine at http://www.memorious.org.

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Joanna Luloff’s Anticipated Books of 2017

At the end of this tumultuous year, it is tempting to want to move on and train our gaze onto the new. Like many of us, I imagine, I’ve been thinking about what reading and writing can do—politically, socially. To me, these seemingly solitary acts encourage empathy, curiosity, engagement, and self-scrutiny. I hope, too, that they force us to look, carefully and critically, at our present lives in the context of the past and the future. Many writers I’ve long admired and enjoyed have books coming out this year (J.M. Coetzee, Joan Didion, George Saunders, Arundhati Roy, Haruki Murakami, Hari Kunzru) as well as writers newer to me whose earlier books looked thoughtfully and unflinchingly at the history and the present (Jesmyn Ward, Han King, and Viet Thanh Nguyen). I’m also incredibly excited to read books by friends and colleagues and contributors whose writing has inspired and energized me (Robert Long Foreman, Emily Ruskovitch, Marc McKee, Ian Stansel, Wendy Oleson). But I’ve chosen to focus this post on writers who are very new to me. As I looked back over this list, I saw some common themes developing. Each of these books, in varied ways, is engaging with questions of place and belonging in a quickly changing world. Through ghost stories, dystopian futures, and quieter realism, these novels and stories seem prescient in the questions they are asking about our new year. The close of 2016 also marks the end of my role as fiction editor at Memorious. I feel privileged to have been in the company of so many generous writers and readers and editors at the journal.

akkadwarAmerican War by Omar El Akkad (Knopf, April 4, 2017)
Akkad’s novel takes place in 2074 and imagines a second American Civil War. At its center is Sarat Chestnut, a young girl who grows up witness to flooding and a sky filled by unmanned drones. After her father dies, she grows up at Camp Patience, a community for displaced persons. Here is what Emily St. John Mandel has to say about the novel: “American War is an extraordinary novel. El Akkad’s story of a family caught up in the collapse of an empire is as harrowing as it is brilliant, and has an air of terrible relevance in these partisan times.”

hanfairytaleThe Impossible Fairy Tale by Han Yujoo, Translated from the Korean by Janet Hong (Graywolf Press, March 7, 2017)
The description of Yujoo’s novel reads a bit like Lord of the Flies set at a Korean grade school. The story follows two girls, one spoiled and the other nearly invisible. Here is what Graywolf says about the novel: “At school, their fellow students, whether lucky or luckless or unlucky, seem consumed by an almost murderous rage. Adults are nearly invisible, and the society the children create on their own is marked by cruelty and soul-crushing hierarchies. Then, one day, the Child sneaks into the classroom after hours and adds ominous sentences to her classmates’ notebooks. This sinister but initially inconsequential act unlocks a series of events that end in horrible violence. But that is not the end of this eerie, unpredictable novel. A teacher, who is also this book’s author, wakes from an intense dream. When she arrives at her next class, she recognizes a student: the Child, who knows about the events of the novel’s first half, which took place years before. The Impossible Fairy Tale is a fresh and terrifying exploration of the ethics of art making and of the stinging consequences of neglect.”

europa20842084: The End of the World by Boualem Sansal, translated by Alison Anderson 
(Europa Editions, January 31, 2017)
Sansal’s novel is in conversation with George Orwell’s 1984. It takes place in Abistan, a kingdom honoring the prophet Abi, where remembering is outlawed and citizens are surveilled at all times. Individual thought is forbidden, but a group of independent thinkers and outlaws live hidden in caves, where they plan a revolution. Europa describes Sansal’s novel: “2084 is a cry of freedom, a call to rebellion, and a gripping satirical novel of ideas.”

arimahskyWhat It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky: Stories by Lesley Nneka Arimah
(Riverhead Books April 4, 2017)
I’m excited to read Arimah’s collection of stories that engage a range of storytelling strategies and smash fable up against realism. In one story, a woman works as a grief mathematician, whose job it is to “exorcise” trauma and grief from a client’s consciousness. In another story, a woman who longs to have a child creates one out of her own hair. Her stories are imaginative and often unsettling, but written with a contrasting matter-of-fact prose. From Aimee Bender: “How does she make these stories so distilled and spacious at the same time? They are drained of excess but still expand so fearlessly.”

the-gurugu-pledge-cover-rgb-300x460The Gurugu Pledge by Juan Tomas Avila Laurel, translated by Jethro Soutar
(And Other Stories, August 2, 2017)
And Other Stories press is publishing some really exciting translations, and I’m eager to read this novel crafted out of first-hand accounts of refugee migrations. Here is how the press describes The Gurugu Pledge: “On Mount Gurugu, overlooking the Spanish enclave of Melilla on the North African coast, desperate migrants gather before attempting to scale the city’s walls and gain asylum on European soil. Juan Tomás Ávila Laurel has written an urgent novel, by turns funny and sad, bringing a distinctly African perspective to a major issue of our time.”

The Leavers by Lisa Ko (Algonquin, May 2, 2017)
Ko’s novel won the 2016 PEN/Bellwether Prize for fiction, awarded by Barbara Kingsolver for a novel that addresses issues of social justice. The story follows eleven-year old Deming Guo who is adopted by a white couple after his mother, an undocumented Chinese immigrant, never comes home from her job at a nail salon. Laila Lalami describes the novel as “a rich and sensitive portrait of lives lived across borders, cultures, and languages. . . one of the most engaging, deeply probing, and beautiful books I have read this year.”

(And briefly, because I’ve already exceeded my limit! SJ Sindu’s A Marriage of a Thousand Lies, Temporary People by Deepak Unnikrashnan, Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin, Things we Lost in the Fire by Mariana Enriques, Salt Houses by Hala Alyan, No One is Coming to Save Us by Stephanie Powell Watts.)

Joanna Luloff is a fiction editor at Memorious. Her short story collection The Beach at Galle Road was published by Algonquin Books in 2012. Her novel is forthcoming from Algonquin. She teaches at the University of Colorado Denver.

For original poetry, fiction, art song, and more interviews, please visit our magazine at http://www.memorious.org.

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Natalie Mesnard’s Anticipated Books of 2017

In Full Velvet, Jenny Johnson (Sarabande, February)
Sarabande’s Marketing and Publicity Director Ariel Lewiton recently gave me a sneak peek at some of their 2017 titles, and I admit to falling in love with the soft, sensual cover of Johnson’s forthcoming debut poetry collection. Inside, Johnson, a Whiting Award winner and the 2016-17 Hodder Fellow, writes an intellect that digs in and expands. Poems wind through dyke bars, barbershops, diners, and Southern rivers, revealing a nature that is familiar, and yet wholly singular.

Dear Friend, from My Life I Write to You in Your Life, Yiyun Li (Deckle Edge, February)
Yiyun Li has a phenomenal new essay out in the latest issue of A Public Space; having had the privilege of reviewing it prior to publication, I couldn’t be more excited about an entire collection of Li’s nonfiction work. Described as being written “over two years while the author battled suicidal depression,” the book promises pages of crystalline insight into how we endure through literacy.

Common Ancestor, Jenny Irish (Black Lawrence, January)
I got hooked on Jenny Irish when I read her story, “Borning,” in the Fall 2016 issue of The Georgia Review, so I was glad to find out she has this collection of prose poems forthcoming next month. It’s an elusive form, and I’ll never stop being fascinated by writers who can do it well. Besides that, Cynthia Hogue claims, “She scrutinizes violence with rare sangfroid,” making this book from Irish sound both devastating and necessary.

The Art of Death, Edwidge Danticat (Graywolf, July)
I’ve been a huge fan of Graywolf’s Art of series since I read The Art of Recklessness by Dean Young. Back then, I wished Graywolf would release a boxed set of these small books on creative writing aesthetics, so I could own all of them at once. What happened was better: new ones kept coming out, including this simultaneously grave and illuminating title from Danticat.

Assistant Fiction Editor Natalie Mesnard was the Web Edition editor for the Summer 2015 and Summer 2016 issues of Ninth Letter Online. She earned her MFA from the University of Illinois and is now based in Ossining, New York. Her fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and book reviews have appeared online and in print with journals such as Copper NickelThe Gettysburg ReviewGreen Mountains ReviewThe JournalKenyon Review Online, and Tampa Review. She can be found online at nataliemesnard.com.

For original poetry, fiction, art song, and more interviews, please visit our magazine at http://www.memorious.org.

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Wendy Oleson’s Anticipated Books of 2017

Writing this list reminds me, at a time I so need it, that there’s much to look forward to—particularly emerging voices from small, independent presses. There are many talented writers who coming to us with urgent messages, and we are desperate to hear them.

educationriveraThe Education of Margot Sanchez, Lilliam Rivera (Simon & Schuster, February)

Rivera’s debut, a YA coming-of-age novel described by the publisher as “Pretty in Pink comes to the South Bronx,” reminds us of the danger against blanket boycotts of publishers—even when they’ve recently made very dubious choices. Rivera, who won a Pushcart Prize in 2016 and has published work in Tin House, The Los Angeles Times, and Bellevue Literary Review has written about the “many Latinx voices being launched” in contemporary publishing, and the influence of her own coming of age in the Bronx.

thingsfreemanAmong Other Things: Essays, Robert Long Foreman (Pleiades Press, February)

Winner of the 2015 Robert C. Jones Prize for Short Prose, Robert Long Foreman’s essays disarm us with their honesty and directness. Contest judge, John D’Agata calls the collection “a delightful reminder of how satisfying it can be to watch a single mind roll over the folds of its own thinking.” I first read Robert Long Foreman in Copper Nickel 20; in his essay, “Why I Write Nonfiction,” Long Foreman’s voice is a mixture of vulnerability and irreverence. Then, I found his Weird Pig stories, which I’ll only describe as “Bojack Horseman meets factory farming.” Long Foreman’s strange and flexible mind is not to be missed.

Her Body and Other Parties, Carmen Maria Machado (Graywolf, October)
I found Carmen Maria Machado while lying on a pleather couch post dog walk, tired and sweaty, broken A/C unit heaving. My thighs fused to the pleather while Twitter buzzed about a short story in Granta called “The Husband Stitch.” I clicked the link and read that story on the couch on my cell phone in one unbroken breath. This, I thought. THIS. A Clarion alum, Machado twists horror genre conventions with literary prowess to spare. Experimental structures make for explosive originality, as in “Especially Heinous,” described by the publisher as the novella “in which Machado recaps every single episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, dropping Benson and Stabler into a phantasmagoria of doppelgängers and girls-with-bells-for-eyes.” I can’t wait for this collection. This collection. THIS.

Dead Girls, Emily Geminder (Dzanc Books, Fall)
Winner of the Dzanc Books Short Story Collection Prize, the title of Geminder’s debut collection nods to Kim Addonizio’s poem of the same name, a reminder of the dead girl’s narrative power: “a dead girl can kick a movie into gear…just by lying there.” I first read Geminder in American Short Fiction, her darkly comic short-short runner up in the 2015 fiction contest. I then found Geminder’s marvelous essay in Prairie Schooner 89.2 Coming To: A Lexicology of Fainting.” Just weeks ago, I spotted Geminder’s prose poem in the KR Online, “Interior with Ghost,” proving she’s talented, prolific, and a triple-genre threat.

Other Notables:
Common AncestorJenny Irish (Black Lawrence, January)
Swimming Lessons, Claire Fuller (Tin House, February)
South and West, Joan Didion (Knopf, March)
What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky: Stories, Lesley Nneka Ariman (Riverhead, April)
The Gift: A Novel, Barbara Browning (Coffee House Press, May)
The Worlds We Think We Know, Dalia Rosenfeld (Milkweed, May)
Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body, Roxane Gay (Harper, June)
You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me, Sherman Alexie (Little, Brown & Co., June)
We Are All Shipwrecks: A Memoir, Kelly Grey Carlisle (Sourcebooks, Fall)
The Boat Runner: A Novel, Devin Murphy (HarperCollins, September)
The Impossible Fairytale, Han Yujoo, translated by Janet Hong, (Graywolf, October)

Looking to 2018:
Ponti: A Novel, Sharlene Teo (Picador/Simon)
The Collected Schizophrenias: Essays, Esme Weijun Wang (Graywolf)

Wendy Oleson’s forthcoming chapbook, Our Daughter and Other Stories, won Map Literary’s Rachel Wetzsteon Chapbook Award. In 2015, Wendy received the storySouth Million Writer’s Award and was a fiction fellow at the Vermont Studio Center. Her poetry, prose, and hybrid works appear/are forthcoming in Cimarron Review, Normal School, the Journal, Copper Nickel, and elsewhere. She teaches fiction online for the Writers’ Program at UCLA Extension.

For original poetry, fiction, art song, and more interviews, please visit our magazine at http://www.memorious.org.

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Barrett Bowlin’s Anticipated Books of 2017

Patty Yumi Cottrell, Sorry to Disrupt the Peace (McSweeney’s)
When you see Cottrell’s work in so many literary mags and online ’zines, and when every sentence of hers stands out to you like a sutured line of poetry, you’re waiting for her work to get its proper introduction. And that’s hopefully what will happen when her debut novel (which focuses on the return of a woman to Milwaukee after her adoptive brother’s suicide) comes out in March.

Keith Lesmeister, We Could’ve Been Happy Here (Midwestern Gothic)
A few years ago, I had the pleasure of reading a brilliant short story by Lesmeister called “Blood Trail,” and then, last year, the same story that would serve as the title of his debut collection of short fiction. Both works were incredibly, sharply good, as have each of the other stories I’ve read of his, and I’m looking forward this spring to seeing how his Midwest collection connects and builds a narrative of place.

Sarah Manguso, 300 Arguments (Graywolf)
The poet and diarist extraordinaire returns this February with a collection of threaded and interwoven aphorisms. Hearkening back to some of her early, standalone pieces with McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, the collection looks like it will function as a philosophical tapestry in miniature, with every sentence of hers serving as a thought worth repeating aloud.

Joe Oestreich, Partisans: Essays (Black Lawrence)
This is a collection that’s been on my wish list for a long time now, and I’m glad to see it’s finally coming to print in May. One of the genre’s most rocking-est authors, Oestreich is not only a frequent contributor to places like Creative Nonfiction, River Teeth, and The Best American Essays “Notables” list, he’s also one of the founding members of the band Watershed, which is quite possibly the best thing to come out of Columbus, Ohio. Ever.

Ian Stansel, The Last Cowboys of San Geronimo (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
Stansel’s debut story collection, Everybody’s Irish, was so deservedly excellent that I promised myself I would pick up whatever would come next from him. As it turns out, Stansel’s next book was to be a western, a novel that looks to put him up into the ranks of Larry McMurtry, Annie Proulx, and John Vernon. (Plus, as he’s Memorious’s former fiction editor, he can do no literary wrong in our proud, beaming eyes.)

Other Amazing Authors to Look out for in 2017
This January sees the publication of the unimaginably busy Roxane Gay’s second(-ish) collection of short stories, Difficult Women (Grove), along with her memoir, Hunger (Harper), which is slated for June. For the stacked month of February, I’m looking feverishly forward to John Darnielle’s second novel, Universal Harvester (FSG), along with Pulitzer-winning badass Viet Thanh Nguyen’s first collection of short stories, The Refugees (Grove), and then George Saunders’s (!) debut novel, Lincoln in the Bardo (Random House). Later in the year comes Eleanor Henderson’s second novel, The Twelve-Mile Straight (Ecco), which is as hopefully punk as her first, and then Memorious contributor Benjamin Percy’s new novel, The Dark Net (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt).

Barrett Bowlin is a contributing editor for Memorious. Recent stories and essays of his can be found in places like Ninth Letter, Hobart, The Rumpus, Mid-American Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, and Bayou, which awarded him last year’s James Knudsen Prize in Fiction. He teaches film and literature classes at Binghamton University, and he writes inappropriate things on Twitter (@barrettbowlin).

For original poetry, fiction, art song, and more interviews, please visit our magazine at http://www.memorious.org.

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Katy Didden’s Anticipated Books of 2017

When you say “2016,” it sounds benign, a choriamb of grinning “t” and “e” sounds. Looking back now, it seems clear that the rhythm signaled the start of a march. As it turns out, 2016’s most defining characteristic was being too easily divisible. We lost David Bowie, Prince, Leonard Cohen, and George Michael, and we lost major stars in the poetry constellation (or maybe they’ve become the stars) as we mourn poets C.D. Wright, Michael Harper, Lucia Perillo, Brigit Pegeen Kelly, Max Ritvo, and most recently, Monica Hand. Meanwhile, the United States continues to go through turmoil; we face an identity crisis in high-definition, with a surveillance view of the people we are and have been all along. How do we move forward? Can we speak our truth and trust justice? Memorious will be joining other literary lighthouses to shine forward through the dim prospect—we’re co-sponsoring a Writers Resist reading at the Boston Public Library and we hope you can join us there: January 15, 2017, 1:30-4:30.

Many people have written about why we turn to poetry in times of hardship. This year, I’ve watched people answer crisis after crisis by flooding newsfeeds with poems, and poems are an answer. I believe poetry is a real antidote to warfare, and a means to stay alive—every poem, even or especially a poem of outrage, is a sign of alert attention, and of our desire to connect, to organize, to build relationships. I have spent the last month thinking about the books I’m looking forward to in 2017. These are the shields I will be holding up as I join other writers to march against oppression—each is a testament to hope, trust, beauty, community.

Layli Long Soldier, Whereas (Graywolf, March)

whereasLong Soldier, a member of the Oglala Lakota Nation, wrote a series of poems in response to The Congressional Resolution of Apology to Native Americans. President Obama authorized the resolution in 2009, but because he never read the document out loud, and because no tribal leaders were present at the initial signing of the document, many refer to it as the “silent apology.” In Whereas, Long Soldier writes poems that adapt, re-purpose, and defy the official language of the treaty. You can preview some of the poems on the Pen America website. Here’s an excerpt from “Whereas”:

WHEREAS I tire. Of my effort to match the effort of the statement: “Whereas Native Peoples and non-Native settlers engaged in numerous armed conflicts in which unfortunately, both took innocent lives, including those of women and children.” I tire

of engaging in numerous conflicts, tire of the word both. Both as a woman and a child of that Whereas.

In these poems, Long Soldier highlights the instability and changefulness of language, and she also shows the way that governmental texts, laws, resolutions, and treaties can be literally imposed on places, and how those texts in fact alter the natural world. I’m curious about how Long Soldier’s collection will take shape, because I’ve encountered the poems in so many different formats, from the recordings on Fishhouse.org to the photos of the “Whereas: We Respond” project she installed at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. I believe that the spirit of resistance Long Soldier has nourished in this project is kindred to the protests in Standing Rock—along the same river. Long Soldier’s work is a poetry to break all boundaries, and I can’t imagine it contained, unless it will exist both on the page and as the means to galvanize audiences, to arrange happenings.

Contributor Tarfia Faizullah, Register of Eliminated Villages (Graywolf)
Update: this book will arrive in 2018, not 2017!
As the title suggests, Faizullah’s vision is one that takes in entire communities, and one that works to re-inscribe and preserve the personal stories of threatened histories. Her first book, Seam, featured a sequence of poems centered on her experience interviewing the birangona, Bangladeshi women who were raped by Pakistani soldiers during the Liberation War of 1971. The poems I’ve seen from her second book are more highly lyric and fragmented, but true to the poems in her first book, they confront the world’s atrocities with a disarming (and prevailing) music.

Here’s an excerpt from “Register of Hunger,” which you can find over at Hobart:

O arrogant, tongue-slung, leaf-

broad, oceanrun closets of our
lives, in which we assume we can leave

(timelessness)

a bare lightbulb burning.

You can also read one of Tarfia’s poems in Memorious Issue #10.

Contributor Marc McKee, Consolationeer (Black Lawrence)
There is no poet I turn to for consolation more than Marc McKee. Next year, Black Lawrence Press will be publishing his third full collection, Consolationeer. No one else would know how to re-structure market forces in such a way that consolations—the things you bid for—boost the soul. Reading Marc’s poems never fails to restore my fierce affection for people and the planet. Here’s an excerpt from the poem “Recharger”:

On our trek through this tunnel
overgrown with spoons
licked into blunt spears, the intercessions
of various music are stars
luminously breathing
across strings of river.

You can also read one of Marc’s poems in Memorious Issue #24.

Contributor Gabriel Fried, The Children Are Reading (Four Way Books)
Many of you might know Gabe not only as a poet but also as the editor of so many beloved poets, including many Memorious authors like Gabrielle Calvocoressi, Sydney Wade, and Kimberly Johnson. He is a person who champions other writers faithfully, and I couldn’t be happier to see that his new book will be published by Four Way Books, a press renowned for the kind of care and dedication to its authors that matches his own. Gabe’s poems have the sonorous quality of someone re-telling ancient myths, of calling us back to the movements of the heart. We published Gabe’s poem “Pan” in Memorious Issue #20.

Elizabeth Arnold, Skeleton Coast (Flood Editions, January)

.Next month, Elizabeth Arnold will release her fifth book of poems, Skeleton Coast, from the impeccable Flood Editions. Elizabeth Arnold was my professor at the University of Maryland, and her seminar taught me to love poets like Frank Bidart, George Oppen, Louise Glück, Lorine Niedecker, and Basil Bunting. She also edited Mina Loy’s lost novel Insel. Maybe you can see, as I do, how this assembly of influences points back to the particular genius of the one who loves them all. By my lights, Arnold has one of the most interesting sonic palettes going—her poems read like shining desert fragments or waves through tide pools or jagged canyon echoes. Here is a description of Skeleton Coast by poet Jennifer Clarvoe:

These poems alternate between spare, psychological explorations and more expansive descriptions of difficult terrain: the Sahara, Egyptian ruins, and the dry riverbeds of the Skeleton Coast in the title sequence. The goal is to read what is truly there, as if we are all wrecks and deserts, to understand our dislocation from the forces that have made us and the sources that might feed us. What is buried is both violence and clarity, “like a fault deep in the ground // with its / inexact though statistically measurable need // to relieve stress over time.”

I can’t wait to read this book!

2017 will also be a banner year for debut poetry collections. Here are a few that I’m excited about:

Contributor Jacques J. Rancourt won the Lena-Miles Wever Todd Prize from Pleiades Press for his book Novena. I’ve been reading and loving Jacques’s poems for a few years now, and we published his work in the latest issue of Memorious. I am looking forward to this collection (go team Pleiades!!).

Carl Phillips selected Airea D. Matthews’s book, simulacra, for the 2016 Yale Younger Poets Prize, and it will be published by Yale University Press. These poems are astonishing, and so layered with sonic patterns they will rearrange your brain! Listen to this incredible crown of vowels (plus every other sound) in this excerpt from “Sexton Texts During the Polar Vortex.” You can find more selections in Four Way Review:

Sat., Jan. 21, 8:01 am

(1/5) Every day, my father fell six
feet into a vat of tar. Burned
his neck, ankles, veins. We
saw his viscous shoeprints
blanched blisters and salve.
Hours after, when
he touched any door-
knob, steam rose
from the brass.

portrait_of_the_alcoholic_kaveh_frontKaveh Akbar is the editor of Divedapper, and one of my favorite poets to follow on Twitter because he shines the spotlight on so many great poets. His chapbook, Portrait of the Alcoholic, will be published by Sibling Rivalry Press, and is due to hit the shelves in January. His first full length collection, Calling a Wolf a Wolf, will be published by Alice James Books in 2017. Here’s an excerpt from “Fugu,” which you can find on Gulf Coast:

that I struggle to love other men is
a lie I’ve uttered with confidence at
certain convenient moments in my life
I can’t imagine anything less true
now with the dizzying sweet fruit still stuck
in my teeth      my gums and tongue tinted green
a quiet question answering itself

I heard Erin Adair-Hodges read her poems this past summer, and she brought the house down. Her first book won the Agnes Lynch Starrett Prize, and will be published by the University of Pittsburgh Press. These poems are not merely witty, they’re outrageous, feminist, and electrifying. Here’s an excerpt from “Of Yalta,” from The Georgia Review

I’ve been rejected in two centuries, lonely
in millennia, pride of my generation.
This old story. Women who like men
love them until the men are holes

and the women turn back to bone.
Every time a man left me, I burned
something I loved until I was left
with only the gear knob of a Dodge Omni

and wine stains round my mouth.

I’d like to give a shout-out to a few books that hit the shelves at the end of 2016:

Rosalie Moffett: June in Eden, from Ohio State University Press. Here’s an excerpt from “Weird Prayers” which you can find on Blackbird:

I address the terns. Really,

I address my own hand, curled into a horn.
I tip it up. I say

I am caught floor-side of the trapeze net

Contributor Catherine Pierce: The Tornado is the World, from Saturnalia Press. We published one of Catherine’s Tornado poems in Memorious Issue #22. Also, check out this terrific videopoem of “The Mother Warns the Tornado.”

Matthew Olzmann: Contradictions in the Design, from Alice James Books. Here is an excerpt from “Astronomers Locate a New Planet”:

On Earth, when my wife is sleeping,
I like to look out at the sky.
I like to watch TV shows about supernovas,
and contemplate things that are endless
like the heavens, and, maybe, love.
I can drink coffee and eat apples whenever I want.
Things grow everywhere, and so much is possible,
but on the news tonight: a debate about who
can love each other forever and who cannot.

Finally, let this blog post also be a love letter to all of the editors who are working to publish this work (and as we all know, not for fame or money). These are brilliant people who are making this poetry possible, and their commitment to promoting these poets may be the most radical thing of all. Bring on 2017!!

Assistant Poetry Editor Katy Didden is the author of The Glacier’s Wake, which won the Lena-Miles Wever Todd Prize from Pleiades Press, and was published in 2013. She has published poems in many journals such as Image, Poetry, 32 Poems, and The Kenyon Review, and her work has been featured on Verse Daily and Poetry Daily. She was a Hodder Fellow at Princeton University, then served as a Visiting Assistant Professor in the MFA Program at the University of Oregon. She is currently an Assistant Professor of English and Creative Writing at Ball State University.

For original poetry, fiction, art song, and more interviews, please visit our magazine at http://www.memorious.org.

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