Friday, May 15, 2015

"Rivers" in VICE + "The Lions" (& Interview) in The Offing

Brazos (de) Santiago, Texas, where
the final battle of the US Civil War occurred
One of the stories in Counternarratives, "Rivers," is also one of the riskiest. Not because of its form or style, but because it takes up the thread of--and takes on, it's fair to say--one of the greatest writers and books in American literature, Mark Twain's 1885 novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Or, more precisely, it revisits one of that novel's central characters, the enslaved man Jim, without whose presence the novel could not exist, but whose perspective throughout it remains mostly on the periphery, except in rare glimpses that are played for comedy.

My goal with the story was not so much to revise Twain's novel, whose main story stays mostly offstage in "Rivers," but rather to imagine Jim's life, particularly after freedom, his freedom, both the convenient legal version given by Twain and whatever subsequent freedom(s) Jim earned himself. Before the novel appears next week, thanks to VICE magazine and its editors, and New Directions, you can read "Rivers" in The VICE Reader and see where the character of Jim, as well as Huckleberry, led me, discover the significance of the story's title, and find out what it was like to participate in the final battle of the U.S. Civil War. Accompanying the story are photographer Alec Magnum's stunning, stirring photos from his series "Sleeping by the Mississippi."


In another fascinating coincidence, another story in Counternarratives, "The Lions," appeared this week in The Offing, the new literary publication of the Los Angeles Review of Books. About "The Lions" I'll say only that it is the last story in the collection and deeply disturbing. There are many inspirations for each of the characters, which is one reason neither is named, and you can take your pick about who seems to fit which role. (It is set in contemporary Africa, but could take place, with some adjustments, all over the globe.) Many thanks to the editors at The Offing and at New Directions.

Accompanying the story is a brief online interview, "No Whitewash," on The Offing's Tumblr that Bix Gabriel conducted with me, about the new collection and this collection, so please do check it out. (Thank you, Bix!)

A snippet:

Other stories or aspects of the book you’d like to readers to know about?
Spirituality and religion, in their multiple manifestations, flow throughout many of the stories, and some, like “A Letter on the Trials of the Counterreformation in New Lisbon,” turn in part on the clash between spiritual systems, which are also systems of knowledge. What does it mean to know, and can knowledge lead to freedom? Liberty and fugitivity are throughlines in the text. How might freedom be lived, embodied? Also, queerness in the many senses of that term is another current throughout all of these stories. Lastly, I hope it’s clear that I had a lot of fun creating and then following the stories of many of these characters.

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