Saturday, August 06, 2005

New Books this summer and fall

Narrativist par excellence and literary visionary Renee Gladman, whose handsewn chapbook series leroy published a vanfull of the most innovative and exciting contemporary writers in America, now has a new perfect-bound imprint, Leon Works. She recently released the first volume in what I hope will be a long-running series, California resident Mary Burger's Sonny (2005, ISBN 0-9765820-0-7). I received a copy of the beautifully designed volume a few weeks ago, and have dipped into it with enjoyment. Burger is the author of four previous books, has edited the Second Story series since 1998, is a co-editor of the online journal Narrativity, and of the related anthology, Biting the Error: Writers Explore Narrative.

Here's a fair-use length excerpt from Burger's lyrical, philosophical weave of specific and generic stories, one of which draws upon the biography of Manhattan project pioneer and A-bomb visionary J. Robert Oppenheimer:

Desert--canyon--mountain range. A boy who knew the West as a vacation. A boy who knew nothing else.

The boy who threaded his horse through canyons.

As stone heads and wooden masks stood in for the terror they made themselves.

They made themselves.

Who would declare,

I am become Death.
I am nine times brighter than the sun.
I eat the air.
You can purchase the book, and many others (like Renee's superb novel The Activist) at Small Press Distributors.

My former classmate's and friend Martha Witt's debut novel, Broken as Things Are, has just been published in paperback by Picador (ISBN 0312424868). The lovely novel tells the story of North Carolina siblings Morgan-Lee and her troubled older brother Ginx, whose obsession with her becomes clear as the novel progresses. Martha's literary grace, humor and poetic touch with observation are evident throughout the book, as this passage demonstrates:

When he was around five, Ginx started to practice his figureeight drawings. It was after our father gave him a train set with a track in the shape of a figure eight. We put the train on that track and let it run. Ginx sat in an overstuffed armchair, and I sat on the ground. "Look," he said. "Pannot." And the train went round and round in its figure eight, the circles melding into one another. I never spoke about our train, because I soon realized that other kids built towns or made tunnels over their tracks. Other kids had their trains run on bridges or stop to load and unload pretend cargo. Ginx didn't even open the box of toy houses, trees, and tunnels that Aunt Lois had given him for his birthday. We would just sit, watching the train. Sometimes, Ginx would rock, but usually he sat in the armchair, digging at the cloth in the armrest. By the time he was six, the armrest was covered in dug-out circles, and our father gave the chair away.
Some forthcoming books that I'm looking forward to reading include:

Cultural and music critic and longtime friend Scott Poulson-Bryant's eagerly awaited non-fiction exploration Hung: A Meditation on the Measure of Black Men in America, which will be published by Doubleday (ISBN 0385510020) this October. From the description, this ought to be a provocative, exciting read. For more information about Scott's book and his other writings, check out his blog, The SPB-Q.

Acclaimed poet, teacher and friend Elizabeth Alexander's fourth book of poems, American Sublime, is due out from Graywolf Press (ISBN 1-55597-432-5) this September. At some point in the next few weeks I hope to post my reading of one of my favorite poems in the book, the remarkable quasi-sonnet "When." I can say with confidence that in addition to "When," the collection is full of amazing poems, including some very novel and memorable artes poeticae that Elizabeth read a few years ago when she read and spoke at the university I teach at.

Writer, activist and friend Thomas Glave's first book of essays, Words to Our Now: Imagination and Dissent, will be out from the University of Minnesota Press (ISBN 0-8166-4679-1) this fall. Like his extraordinary debut story collection Whose Song? And Other Stories (City Lights, 2001), the pieces in Words to Our Now actively challenge formal conventions of prose (genre, style, voice and address, objective feeling), while exploring some of today's most pressing topics. Thomas, I'm delighted to say, will be on campus during the winter quarter, so I'll once again get to hear him read his work in person.

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