Monday, March 26, 2018

A Few Comics

From time to time to amuse myself I draw comics, I guess you could call them. They're really visual gags. I've posted a few in the past, and here are three new ones. My apologies if any of the text isn't clear, but my usual handwriting can veer between post-calligraphy and hieroglyphics.

Please click on the image to see a larger version, and enjoy!

Hail the Combover

The Mustache Reigns

Cheshire Tillerson

All copyright © John Keene, 2018.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Prize Season (Republic of Consciousness, Whitings, Jhalaks, & Windham Campbell)

I've titled this post "Prize Season," but when it comes to literary awards in the US and UK, I should be more precise in noting that various honors now appear in a steadily rolling tide from January through December. Since they now tend not to go to the same author or presses, unless there's a consensus book or candidate whom the zeitgeist homes in on, this unfurling calendar is a good thing, especially for writers and independent publishers who tend to remain under the radar.

One such award is the UK-based Republic of Consciousness Prize for Small Presses, founded by writer and publisher Neil Griffiths and now in its second season. Griffiths established the prize to highlight innovative fiction by independent publishers, and more specifically as the prize's name indicates, to reward work that delves deeply into the consciousness of its characters, the worlds it creates. So far he and his jury have managed to do that, generating considerable excitement about British and Irish small press novels and collections of short stories. The Republic of Consciousness Prize proceeds from a fall longlist to a shortlist, and then names a winner early the next year. This year, the shortlist comprised the following six books:

Die, My Love by Ariana Harwicz, tr. Sarah Moses & Carolina Orloff (Charco Press)
Gaudy Bauble by Isabel Waidner (Dostoevsky Wannabe)
Blue Self-Portrait by Noémi Lefebvre, tr. Sophie Lewis (Les Fugitives)
We that are Young by Preti Taneja (Galley Beggar Press)
Attrib. and other stories by Eley Williams (Influx Press)
Darker with the Lights on by David Hayden (Little Island Press)

As tally shows, the prize also encompasses works in translation, a rarity among most prize competitions that are not specifically so designated. This year's winner was Influx Press, which published British writer Eley Williams' highly praised Attrib. and other stories. Williams' book has received extensive praise for its playfulness and profundity. Congratulations to the press and Williams, and I highly recommend her collection! (I should add that last year, my British publisher, Fitzcarraldo received the award for Counternarratives, a turn of events I still find astonishing; though I've met Jacques Testard, the founder and head of Fitzcarraldo, I do hope one of these days to return to the UK and participate in a reading over there.)


Another set of honors that graces the first quarter of each year are the Whiting Awards, awarded by the Mrs. Giles Whiting Foundation in New York. Since 1985, the Whitings have been given annual to ten emerging writers of promise, who are secretly nominated by figures in the literary and publishing world, and then selected by the foundation. This year's winners include some of the brightest new lights in contemporary American poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and drama:

  • poet and essayist Anne Boyer
  • fiction writer Patti Yumi Cottrell
  • playwright Nathan Alan Davis
  • playwright and director Hansol Jung
  • poet Rickey Laurentiis
  • playwright Antoinette Nwandu
  • poet Tommy Pico
  • author, dancer, performance artist, and musician Brontez Purnell
  • novelist Esmé Weijun Wang
  • fiction writer and public health scholar Weike Wang

2018 Whiting Award winners
Congratulations to all these writers and artists, and you can learn more about them and find links to their books at the Whiting site, linked above!


2017 Jhalak Prize shortlisted titles
Several years ago, authors Sunny Singh and Nikesh Shukla, working with the organization Media Diversified, and with the support of the Authors' Club and an anonymous donor, established the Jhalak Prize to honor outstanding writing by writers of color, or in British terminology, British and British-resident BAME (Black, Asian and Middle Eastern) writers. This is the only prize of its sort presented in Great Britain. The jury selects a longlist, shortlist, and then one winner, who receives a £1000 ($1413) prize. Like the Republic of Consciousness Prize, this was the Jhalak Prize's second iteration; last year, Jacob Ross received the inaugural prize for The Bone Readers (Peepal Tree Press), a crime thriller set in the Caribbean.

This year, on March 15, author Reni Eddo-Lodge received the 2017 Jhalak Prize for her collection of essays Why I'm No Longer Talking to White People About Race (Bloomsbury Circus). The Guardian described Eddo-Lodge's process of writing the book, which began with...a blog post!

Eddo-Lodge’s collection of essays began as a blogpost of the same title in 2014. Opening with her statement: “I’m no longer engaging with white people on the topic of race,” Eddo-Lodge wrote she could “no longer engage with the gulf of an emotional disconnect that white people display when a person of colour articulates our experiences. You can see their eyes shut down and harden. It’s like treacle is poured into their ears, blocking up their ear canals like they can no longer hear us.”

After the blog went viral, Eddo-Lodge spent five years writing the book about “not just the explicit side, but also the slippery side of racism – the bits that are hard to define, and the bits that make you doubt yourself”. Britain, she wrote, “is still profoundly uncomfortable with race and difference”.

Other writers on the shortlist include

  • Nadeem Aslam, The Golden Legend (Faber)
  • Kayo Chingonyi, Kumukanda (Chatto & Windus) 
  • Xiaolu Guo, Once Upon a Time in the East (Chatto & Windus)
  • Meena Kandasamy, When I Hit You: Or, A Portrait of the Writer as a Young Wife (Atlantic Books)
  • Kiran Millwood-Hargrave, The Island at the End of Everything (Chicken House)

Congratulations to Reni Eddo-Lodge, whose book I'm looking forward to reading, and to all of this year's Jhalak Prize-listed authors and titles!


Last but not least, I recently learned that I was among the newest cohort of recipients of this year's Windham Campbell Prizes, administered by the Beinecke Library at Yale University. Like the Whiting Awards, recipients cannot apply for these awards; a committee selects prize recipients from a set of nominees.

This year's recipients also include:

  • Sarah Bakewell, a nonfiction writer from the UK;
  • Lorna Goodison, a poet from Jamaica and Canada (who taught for many years in the US);
  • Lucas Hnath, a playwright and actor from the US;
  • Cathy Park Hong, a poet, essayist and my new Rutgers-Newark colleague, from the US;
  • Olivia Laing, a nonfiction writer from the UK;
  • Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi, a fiction writer from Uganda and the UK; and
  • Suzan-Lori Parks, one of the major living US playwrights.

The prize committee calls out of the blue, so this award was even more of a surprise than usual. Additionally, for each recipient, they write a citation; mine, which was awarded for Fiction, reads, "With coruscating imagination, language and thought, John Keene experiments with concealed scenes from history and literature, stepping outside the confines of conventional narrative." That's about as fine and concise a summation of nearly all my work as anyone might devise.

Congratulations to all of my fellow Windham Campbell Prize recipients, many thanks to the nominators, prize committee, and foundation! There will be a series of events, including a prize ceremony, this upcoming September, so I will be sure to post more then.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Cross-Posting: Song of Myself (Linda Norton)

Below is a reply that author, blogger and educator Linda Norton sent back in January 2018 via the FRSGA Yahoo account, in response to one of the vouchers I posted in December, which Karen Cantrell had previously responded to. The card read:

Here is her full response (note the references to an array of artists):

Song of Myself

Filmmaker, star, a doctor examining the culture—me on a walk. On the pavement, I notice an electric-blue Post-It from that batch I stole when I quit my job: “taylor * negritude * milk and you” – My dirty to-do list. I must have walked this way last week and dropped it.

In December sun, I hurry past the cathedral like it might get me. Then I saunter, Thoreau-like, sans-terre in California, and again I’m everything—the spinsters Thoreau disparaged, the turtles he saw copulating and tried to separate, the mother who saves him from civilization. Open to alms. My loneliness is like a poem by Fanny.

By this time my parka is off. In the co-op bakery when I get to the counter, the cashier is dazzled for a minute. “You look like Elizabeth Taylor.” But then he wonders if he’s right not to offer me the senior discount yet. “That’s right. Not yet.”

--Linda Norton; a response to a prompt on John Keene’s “Emotional Outreach” blog, 12/2017

Many thanks to Linda for her collaboration, and I will post most responses as they come in. Any readers of this blog should feel free to respond to the instructions above, and write a response along the lines of Linda's and forward it directly to fieldresearchgroup[AT], or center your QR reader app and utilize the QR code below.

"Song of Myself," Copyright © Linda Norton, shared by permission with the Emotional Outreach/FRSGA blog, 2018.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Shakespeare & Co. To Open New Stores in NYC, Philly

The old Shakespeare & Co.
on Broadway (via Yelp)
Independent bookstores in New York City and elsewhere experienced a fatal period from the late 1990s through the early 2010s. A number of the iconic (Gotham Book Mart, A Different Light,  St. Marks Bookshop, Left Bank Books, Coloseum, Barnes & Noble flagship, etc.) and less well known indies and mini-chains (Posmans, Bent Pages, 12th Street Books, New York Bound Books, Revolution Books, Book Court, etc.) in the city shuttered their doors, sometimes with the promise or at least hope of reopening, and, as was the case with St. Mark's, eventually doing so only to close their doors permanently. Between the assault by larger chains, the exorbitant rental prices, the dip in readers, and other problems, the once bookstore-rich has become a comparative desert over the last 25 years, though some indie bookshops, like McNally-Jackson and Greenlight Books, and chains, like the financially precarious Barnes & Noble have hung on.

One survivor, now under new ownership, that is now on the verge of expanding is Shakespeare & Company. After having shrunk to a single store, its 939 Lexington Avenue space next to Hunter College on the Upper East Side, the holding company that took over the lease for the remaining store and bought its trademark in 2015 now plans to open two new Manhattan stores, one on the Upper West Side at 2020 Broadway (between 69th and 70th Streets), and a new one in the West Village, at 450 6th Avenue, near 11th Street, in what was the old Jefferson Market. Both have planned openings in the fall of 2018. Alongside these new stores, S&Co. also will open a café right outside the Hunter-68th Street 4/5/6 (Green line) train station, at Lexington Ave. and 68th Street. As the press release notes, the UWS store is a homecoming, since the first Shakespeare & Company opened in that neighborhood in 1982 and closed in 1996, but the West Village store will also be a significant return for the bookseller, since its Broadway storefront next to NYU's campus also had a major following up through its closing in 2014. (Other branches, in Brooklyn and on 23rd Street, had also disappeared.)

That branch was one of the first to carry my first book, Annotations, and it also is where I met the Canadian poet, director and intellectual James Oscar Jr., now in Montréal. He worked there, and we used to have long, illuminating conversations about literature, life and everything else. One other significant component of that old Broadway branch was its section featuring British imprints, which it updated and sold at reasonable prices. This is hardly a big deal today, when you can order books from almost everywhere in the world and get them in a reasonable amount of time, but in the mid-to-late 1990s, it was tough to find any bookstores, including most in NYC, that had British versions of US-published books, as well as rare finds that weren't available anywhere else, on the bookshelf. I can think of a number of volumes, including editions of novels by J. G. Ballard, Will Self and Peter Kalu, and several anthologies, that I found there and nowhere else.
The old Shakespeare & Co. on
Broadway, in Manhattan (via Yelp)
In addition to the New York openings, S&Co. plans to open a Philadelphia branch as well, in the Rittenhouse Square area of Center City, at 1632 Walnut Street. This will be the company's first store outside Manhattan. All the stores will have an Espresso Book Machine, which are produced by On Demand Books, a sister subsidiary to Shakespeare & Co. headed by CEO Dane NellerMcNally-Jackson currently has an Espresso Book Machine, which allows visitors not only to print published books on demand, but also self-publish books as well. S&Co. is already experimenting with customizable children's books, and will feature some of the self-published works near the Espresso Book Machines. I've watched books being printed up and have done so once myself at McNally-Jackson, and I find the process and machinery spell-binding. I think it may be a possible way to get Seismosis, now completely sold out and thus out of print, back into readers' hands (at far less than the $50-$100+ it now sells for online.)

One worrisome note is S&Co. CEO Dane Neller's comment that "My vision for Shakespeare & Co. has always been to create the biggest little bookshop in the world." (You can find a longer interview with Publishers Weekly here.) I understand the expansive dreams, but haven't we seen this before, with disastrous results on multiple levels? I immediately think of Barnes & Noble, which became a behemoth and drove many smaller chains and indie stores out of business, only to fall prey itself to an even more massive beast, Amazon, which has undercut bookstores and retailers of all sorts and continues to grow with abandon. Perhaps I'm reading too much into Neller's comments, but I sincerely hope that as the company grows, it takes into account the broader publishing and literary ecology. Jeremiah's Vanishing New York, which covered the closing of the Broadway store, features a brief, positive interview with Neller about the new stores.  My fingers are crossed that this will all work out!

Monday, March 12, 2018

AWP Presentation: Notes on Literary Style in Fiction

UPDATE: The full and corrected version of this essay is now up at LitHub, as "Elements of Literary Style." I'm keeping the introduction here, with one quote. Please check out the full version at LitHub, and many thanks again to Christian Kiefer, and to Jonny Diamond at LitHub, for agreeing to run the piece.


Yesterday I mentioned that I would post my remarks for the AWP 2018 panel "Profundity as Purpose: Thoughts on Sentences, Vocabulary and Style," organized by writer and critic Christian Kiefer. Other panelists included Coffee House Press editor Caroline Casey; acclaimed writers Kim O'Neill and Christine Schutt. I should note that I slightly modified the introduction below when I read it aloud, and also read only a portion of the full set of notes, to which I added a few quotations, by panelists O'Neill and Schutt, based on their remarks and readings. Many thanks to Christian, Caroline, Kim, Christine, and everyone who attended the panel, which was held at 9 am on Saturday, and drew a full house. Many thanks to Christian and my fellow panelists, and to all who attended the event!

(I should also note that at the panel Caroline and I offered the name of some living authors whose styles exemplified what Christian, others on the panel, and I were talking about--ourselves included--but I decided not to list them here, because there are so many great fiction writers, and I do mention but a few of the many I admire and regularly read with enthusiasm in my notes. I encourage J's Theater readers to add names of distinctive living fiction stylists they admire in the comments, if you'd like, and I'll aim to post them at some point soon if there are more than a handful.)

Lastly, I also want to note another highlight of this year's AWP, which was attending the Jack Jones Literary Arts' welcome event at the Columbia Cafe in Tampa! Many thanks to Kima Jones and Allison Conner, and it was so much fun to meet everyone on Jack Jones' roster--which includes yours truly--and its fans!



I want to begin by thanking Christian for organizing this panel, and thank all of my fellow panelists for their thoughts on this topic, I initially thought I would write a short essay, but instead I decided to draft a series of provisional notes on the topic of literary style in fiction, interlaced with quotations on the topic by various writers of note. (You can find a number of these quotes online, as well as on the website "Some Literary Criticism Quotes," which is where I culled them.) Unless otherwise noted, however, the comments and thoughts are mine.

Two quotes:

Is there an ethics of style? How might we talk about it? What happens when we consider how one template for now-dominant literary styles, emphasizing craft and de-emphasizing politics, that are taught in many—most?—MFA and undergraduate programs, may have their possible origins in the US government-funded approaches instituted at Iowa and Stanford, as Eric Bennett argues us in his 2015 scholarly study Workshops of Empire: Stegner, Engle and American Creative Writing During the Cold War (University of Iowa Press)? Even setting this particular history to the side, as usually occurs in most creative writing programs, doesn’t every artistic act require some level of ethical inquiry? Are there styles and stylistic approaches we might label more ethical or less, and if so, why? Or might another way to speak of the ethics of style be to raise questions not just of historicity and genealogy, but also of the truth(fulness) of representations in relation to a given narrative? What role or roles do the larger social, political, economic, and cultural contexts hold in this line of questioning?


“In order to find his voice he must first have mastered style”

–A. Alvarez, The Writer’s Voice


Prose (fiction) should not be musical; this is the province of poetry. (“Poetry is music set to words” –Dennis O’Driscoll.) This is another dictum I have always worked under, and to some degree, because of my inner sensibility, against. Yet so much of the most memorable prose, not just poetry, appears to aspire to, as the old phrase goes, and often achieves the condition of music. What lines in prose fiction do you most readily recall? Even the ideas and statements that engrave themselves on your consciousness do so not just because of their aptness and timeliness, but because of how they were written, how they unfold, almost like lyrics or lyric, as prose.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

AWP Reading: Letters to the Future: Black WOMEN/Radical WRITING + Poem: Evie Shockley

I'm back from a few days at this year's annual Associated Writing Programs (AWP) conference, which was held over the last week in an unseasonably cool Tampa, Florida. AWP has grown considerably since I first attended it years ago, with several generations of new writers and students now attending, and though I find the sheer number of people and events overwhelming at times, I once again found it an enjoyable and invigorating event to attend since it provides an opportunity to see so many friends that I otherwise would not run into, and meet, hear and learn about the work of so many writers I was not already familiar with, or only knew in print and not in person. C joined me, and we had a great time over all.

R. Erica Doyle
I participated on two panels, one that I moderated, titled "Translating Blackness," sparked in part by my 2016 Poetry Foundation essay. It included translators and authors Aaron Coleman, Kristin Dykstra, Tiffany Higgins, and Lawrence Schimel; the second focused on style, and included Christian Kiefer (organizer and moderator), Caroline Casey, Kim O'Neill, and Christine Schutt. Both were full houses, I was happy to see, and I plan to post my notes for the second within the next few days. In lieu of the kinds of reports I've posted on this blog in the past, I thought I'd feature a few photos, and poem, from one of the events I attended, a reading and pre-launch of the forthcoming must-read anthology Letters to the Future: Black WOMEN/Radical WRITING, edited by Erica Hunt and Dawn Lundy Martin, and on bookshelves in June from Kore Press.

L-r: Ruth Ellen Kocher, Dawn Lundy
Martin, and Erica Hunt

According to its description on Kore Press's site, the collection

celebrates temporal, spatial, formal, and linguistically innovative literature. The anthology will collect late-modern and contemporary work by Black women from the United States, England, Canada, and the Caribbean—work that challenges readers to participate in meaning making. Because one contextual framework for the collection is “art as a form of epistemology,” we envision the writing in the anthology will be the kind of work driven by the writer’s desire to radically present, uncovering what she knows and does not know, as well as critically addressing the future.
It continues:

This anthology will help re-write the misnomer that innovative writing is white writing and do it with a particularly interest in gender. Is it a coincidence that #blacklivesmatter was coined and put into action by black queer women in the same moment that there is a proliferation of black women writing experimental work? We don’t think so. This anthology is part of our means of investigation, or of simply looking at, what we are doing together to re-write the future world as unfamiliar. Indeed, it is the familiar, the well-worn racial and racist past that is killing us.
The audience
The reading, on International Women's Day, took place at the Floridan Palace hotel, in downtown Tampa, and featured a handful of writers whose work appears in the collection, including LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs, R. Erica Doyle, Duriel Harris, Ruth Ellen Kocher, Tracie Morris, Evie Shockley, and giovanni singleton. Given this lineup, every poet's performance sparkled, and made a very strong case for getting a copy of the anthology, which will be perfect not just for reading from cover to cover, but in a wide array of courses.

Dawn Lundy Martin and Evie Shockley reading
Below is one of my Rutgers colleague Evie Shockley's poems, "What's Not to Liken," from the anthology, which I found especially moving, and a few photos from the event. The poem also appears in Evie's most recent collection, semiautomatic, Wesleyan University Press, 2017. This is one poetry collection you definitely want to add to your bookshelf; it is fantastic! You can pre-order the anthology at Kore Press's site, or via Small Press Distributors.

Copyright © Evie Shockley, from semiautomatic,
Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 2017

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

Poem: Lucie Brock-Broido (RIP)

Lucie Brock-Broido
(Concord Poetry Center)
The award-winning poet Lucie Brock-Broido (1956-2018) passed away yesterday at the age of 61.

The Washington Post offers a brief obituary, with an overview of her work. The Poetry Foundation, which has links to a number of her poems, shares a deeper picture of her life and career.

Some years ago, when her collection The Master Letters, invoking her--and our--ancestral American poet Emily Dickinson, appeared in 1995, Brock-Broido, already praised for her distinctive voice, became one of the most highly regarded poets of her generation. She was, as many online testimonies underline, a beloved, rigorous teacher, and a crucial mentor for many.

In 2013, critic and poet Dan Chiasson thoughtfully discussed her collection Stay, Illusion, in The New Yorker; a good deal of his praise in that essay could stand for all of her work. is one of her poems, so many of which have unforgettable titles: "The Supernatural Is Only The Natural, Disclosed," from Ploughshares, Vol. 17, No. 2/3, Twentieth Anniversary Issue, Fall 1991, pp. 137-38.

May she rest and write in peace.

Tuesday, March 06, 2018

Around the Horn (Other Bloggers & Blogs)

It has been eons since I posted links to what other blogs and bloggers on my blogroll are up to, so here are some links to current blogs J's Theater readers might want to check out.

At Gukira: Without Predicate, Keguro reminds us that this year marks the 50th anniversary of Paulo Freire's landmark text The Pedagogy of the Oppressed, and notes that he will be blogging about it roughly once a month for the rest of the year. Anything Keguro blogs about is worth reading--and his essays on New Inquiry are no less brilliant--so I highly recommend checking back as he thinks through and theorizes, with the deepest and deftest touch, in relation to contemporary education in Kenya.

In The Public Gardens: Poems and History, writer Linda Norton shares excerpts from her forthcoming work Wite-Out. Here's a tiny quote:
In New York for a reading of Pressed Wafer authors. Went up to 125th and bought a black slip at H&M and had an over-priced lunch at a place where the eggs tasted like disinfectant. Then on to the Schomburg where, years ago, I worked on the Marcus Garvey papers. I visited an exhibit of WPA photos and eavesdropped. I left as it was getting dark. I’d heard that Harlem had become gentrified and white, but I saw very few white people up there. The trees were bare and I had all the haunting feelings about architecture and oncoming winter that I had when I lived here. Feelings I don’t have in California.
Definitely check out the rest of Linda's new project.

EJ Flavors, a blogger I've been following since before this blog existed (he was on it back in 2002), has a February mix (Cupid's Hunt) that you can download and listen to, if you want a little (more) love in the air.

coldhearted scientist وداد has an eyeblink of a post on labor, linked to another, that will become a collaborative article for the Academe blog.

Poet Mom is blogging again, and I'm glad she is.

Poet Harmony Holiday, at nonstophome, features a poem about Al Sharpton, among other treats.

Shigekuni is someone I learned about via that often deafening public forum known as Twitter; I immediately found his tweets intriguing, and he doesn't disappoint. Writing in several languages (German, English, among others), blogging about literature and the arts, brimming with engaging quotes, it's a blog I make a point to visit especially around Nobel Prize time. (I still have not written my post about this past year's Nobel laureate, Briton Kazuo Ishiguro.) His most recent post takes a peak at a 1967 dictionary of American slang. "The Mokers"....

Poet Guillermo Parra translates a prose poem by Antonia Palacios, from her 1989 collection Ficciones y affliciones.

At Heatstrings, the blog by poet and scholar Aldon Nielsen, you can find photos from the recent Louisville Conference on Literature and Culture after 1900. I have heard this is a conference to attend, so perhaps I will figure out a way to be there one of these upcoming years. As Aldon's photos show, some pretty superb writers and thinkers (I see Nourbese Philip, Nathaniel Mackey, etc.) did make the trip.

Edward Winkleman, whose blog appears under my Art Blogs links, writes about virtual reality and augmented reality/mixed reality, touching upon artists who are now using in their work. (I have a secret fear that eventually masses of us will be lying in dark rooms, immobilized by VR and a soma-like drug, as the overlords run amok--or even more so than they already are.)