Bill Schubart: Lila and Theron (A Novel)

December 13, 2017 by  
Filed under Fiction, WritersCast

Lila and Theron (A Novel) – Bill Schubart – Charles Michael Publishing – Hardcover — 9781682613566 – 192 pages- $19.95 – ebook versions available at lower prices – June 6, 2017

This small book is short and sweet in a very good way. Through well written fiction, the book documents and celebrates an imagined place and people in time, that have only recently disappeared from the American landscape. It’s difficult for most of us moderns to imagine life without all the technological conveniences we have come to take for granted today. It was not that many years ago that the isolated mountain communities of northern Vermont were still home to small farmers, whose daily lives were closer in rhythm to the nineteenth century than to even the twentieth, much less the technologically advanced twenty first century of today. Some of these hardy folk still farmed with horses into the 1960s, and many small-scale daily and truck farming operations managed by dint of endless toil, to support the families on the land they had worked for generations.

To most of us, these lives will be as foreign as science fiction. Harsh circumstances often make people harsh, but Schubart’s characters find a way to access their humanity despite all the struggles of life which which they must cope. It’s a joy to get to know these characters and to share the stories of their lives. Schubart, now in his seventies, bridges this time frame. He grew up in northern Vermont, and while his life experience was vastly different from the farm people he writes about here, these are people he knew and loved during the his youth, and it benefits us all that he has brought them to life in this lovely novel.

Thelma dies at nineteen giving birth to a son, Theron. When the son first meets his father, he learns his mother’s death is his fault and can only muster the question, “How did she die?”

Looking away, the father mutters, “She died givin’ birth ta you. An’ I lost all her help and comforts.”

“I have long considered Bill Schubart to be the wisest columnist in America. That same wisdom, deep life experience, and empathy come shining through on every page of his new novel, Lila and Theron. Full of joy, sadness, humor, and insight, Lila and Theron is a clear-eyed celebration of our almost boundless capacity, despite all our human frailties, to love both one another and the place we call home. Over the years, I have known many true and good country people like Lila and Theron, whom I have been proud and honored to call my friends. This is a beautiful book.” – Howard Frank Mosher, author of Marie Blythe and Walking to Gatlinburg.

Bill Schubart has lived with his family in Vermont since 1947. He writes about Vermont in fiction, humor and opinion pieces, is the author of several books, is a regular commentator on Vermont Public Radio, and active in Vermont community and political life. Learn more about him and his work at his website.

It was a true pleasure for me to share a conversation about Vermont and its people, small-scale farming, and the art of fiction with my old friend, Bill Schubart.

Christopher Benfey: Red Brick, Black Mountain, White Clay

November 26, 2017 by  
Filed under Non-Fiction, WritersCast

Red Brick, Black Mountain, White Clay: Reflections on Art, Family, and Survival – Christopher Benfey – Penguin – paperback – 9780143122852 – 304 pages – $16.00 – ebook versions available at lower prices – February 26, 2013

I found this lovely and compelling book by complete happenstance while visiting North Carolina earlier this year. The redoubtable Regulator Bookshop in Durham had a copy out on its “local interest” shelf, and the cover grabbed my attention immediately.

Not knowing anything about author Benfey, I was surprised and pleased to learn about his background through this complex and rewarding memoir. It’s a book that combines so many different areas of his interest – and mine – built around a complex interweaving of his family’s story and his desire to learn about and understand the people in his life story.

Benfey was raised in Richmond, Indiana, where his father was a chemistry professor at Earlham College. His father’s side of the family were German Jews who escaped Hitler, including aunt and uncle Josef and Anni Albers, who were both central figures at Black Mountain College, in North Carolina (and central also to modern arts and crafts in 20th century America). North Carolina is a nexus, as Benfey’s mother grew up in the longstanding folk pottery region of the state as well.

So Benfey’s story starts as a family history, but moves assuredly through art, geography, cultural history and his own personal journey of discovery as a writer and thinker; as the title itself suggests, “names the three paths, each mapping the experience of relatives or ancestors of mine trying — by art, by travel, or by sheer survival — to find a foothold in the American South.”

There are many well-told stories here, and North Carolina is at the core of it all. Even if you have never explored the cultural and geographical riches of that state, this book will capture your imagination and bring you there. Benfey builds his story much as a brick layer does, carefully assembling the pattern from materials at hand to create a fully formed story all the while.

This is a book I am happy to recommend to almost any reader.

Chris Benfey is a professor at My. Holyoke College, where he is Andrew W. Mellon Professor of English. He was educated at the Putney School, Earlham College, Guilford College, and Harvard (Ph.D. in Comparative Literature). Benfey is also a journalist, having served as the art critic for Slate, and also is a contributor to The New York Review of Books, The New York Times Book Review, and The New Republic, among many others. Chris is a renowned Emily Dickinson scholar, and author of four highly regarded books about the American Gilded Age. His edition of essays on the Iliad by Simone Weil and Rachel Bespaloff appeared as War and the Iliad in 2005.

Benfey’s poems have appeared in The New Yorker, the Paris Review, and Ploughshares.

This book is among my favorites and I hope you enjoy the conversation I had with the interesting and well-spoken Christopher Benfey as much as I did.

Thomas McNamee: The Inner Life of Cats

November 12, 2017 by  
Filed under Non-Fiction, WritersCast

The Inner Life of Cats: The Science and Secrets of Our Mysterious Feline Companions – Thomas McNamee – Hachette Books – Hardcover – 9780316262873 – 288 pages – $27.00 – ebook versions available at lower prices – March 28, 2017

What a fun read! Thomas McNamee’s story begins with the story of finding his own cat, Augusta, and that story becomes the framework for a comprehensive understanding of how cats develop both physiologically and psychologically, and of course how their owners do as well.

McNamee recounts the evolution of cats and much more as he tells the story of his own cat’s adventures. He talks to all kinds of experts, animals behaviorists, activists and researchers to help his readers understand these strange and different animals who have lived with and among humans for so long. His book is well grounded in every way.

The author has strong opinions about these animals. He is clearly someone who loves cats and wants to improve the way other cat lovers live with and treat their pets. He aims for them to have happier and better relationships with them, and I suspect that reading this book will in fact help make that happen for them.

While I am decidedly not a cat person, Tom McNamee is such a fine writer and storyteller, I found this book impossible to put down. I am guessing true cat loving humans will as well.

McNamee is the author of several successful books, including The Grizzly Bear; Nature First: Keeping Our Wild Places and Wild Creatures Wild; a novel, A Story of Deep Delight; The Return of the Wolf to YellowstoneAlice Waters and Chez Panisse: The Romantic, Impractical, Often Eccentric, Ultimately Brilliant Making of a Food Revolution; The Man Who Changed the Way We Eat: Craig Claiborne and the American Food Renaissance; and most recently, The Killing of the Wolf Number Ten.

McNamee also  wrote the PBS documentary Alexander Calder, which won a Peabody Award and an Emmy. In 2016, he was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship to work on The Inner Life of Cats.

He was a board member and chairman of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He has also served as a board member of Rare Conservation and the Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture. After two decades in New York City, he then lived on a cattle ranch in Montana for eight years. He now lives and writes in San Francisco.

Thomas McNamee’s website is here.

The Inner Life of Cats is filled with shining prose, moments of sheer cat joy–and intimate, careful scientific observation. Thomas McNamee’s naturalist’s eye, combined with his humor and heart, bring the always wild, yet domesticated cat into delightful, insightful focus.”
―Cat Warren, New York Times bestselling author of What the Dog Knows

Talking with Tom about this book was a true pleasure. Full disclosure: I published his excellent book, The Killing of Wolf Number Ten (a great book – it is the story of the return of wolves to Yellowstone National Park).

Elizabeth Hand: Fire

May 11, 2017 by  
Filed under Fiction, WritersCast

Fire (Outspoken Authors Series) – Elizabeth Hand – PM Press – paperback – 978-1-629632-34-6 – 128 pages – paperback – $12.98 (ebook version available at $9.99)

Over the years, I had heard of Elizabeth Hand, and knew she was a writer to be reckoned with, but I had never read her science fiction and mystery novels or stories. She was just not on my radar. Now, having read this fantastic short collection of some of her fiction and nonfiction, I have belatedly begun to understand the scope of her work and enjoyed the opportunity to experience her powerful writing.

Fire is a short book that packs a big punch. Maybe it is the ideal introduction to Hand’s work, and maybe that was PM Press’ intention in publishing it. The title story was written especially for this book. It is a powerful post-apocalyptic short story set in a world – our own – approaching global conflagration.

In a useful essay, “The Woman Men Couldn’t See,” Hand examines the work and life of Alice Sheldon, who wrote some stunning science fiction novels under the pseudonym “James Tiptree, Jr.” in order to conceal identity from both readers and her bosses at the CIA. In another nonfiction contribution called “Beyond Belief,” Hand talks about how she went from being a troubled teenager to a serious writer. Other pieces include some of her short fiction, a bibliography of her writing, and PM’s own interview with the author (which I tried to not replicate in my own conversation with Elizabeth).

After seeing Patti Smith perform, Hand became involved in the nascent punk scenes in DC and New York. She worked at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. Hand is the author of a number of novels and three collections of stories and her work has been recognized by the Nebula, World Fantasy, Mythopoeic, Tiptree, and International Horror Guild Awards. Her novels have been chosen as notable books by both the New York Times and the Washington Post. Hand is a regular contributor to the Washington Post Book World and the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, and lives with her family on the coast of Maine.

Talking to Elizabeth Hand was great fun for me. She is as good a conversationalist as she is a writer, and has alot to say that I think listeners will find interesting.  I hope this interview with Elizabeth Hand will be a useful and meaningful contribution to our literary landscape. Now that I have become familiar with her work I intend to add Elizabeth Hand’s fiction to my ever expanding list of “must-read” books. Thanks to PM Press for introducing me to this wonderful writer’s work.

Tilar J. Mazzeo: Irena’s Children: A True Story of Courage

October 17, 2016 by  
Filed under Non-Fiction, WritersCast

27276379
Irena’s Children: A True Story of Courage – 9781476778501 – Gallery Books – Hardcover – $26 – ebook versions available at lower prices.

Author Tilar Mazzeo is a terrific storyteller, who took on the task to tell the world about an inspiring, heroic and terrifying story with this book, the true story of one woman who, with a network of associates, saved 2,500 Jewish children from the Nazis during World War II. The main subject of the book is Irena Sendler, who was a young social worker in Warsaw, living in a socially and politically progressive milieu, when the Germans began World War II by invading Poland.

Poland, of course, was quickly defeated by the larger and more modern German army. The conquered country’s resources, human and otherwise, were turned toward the use of the German war effort, with hundreds of thousands of Poles used as slave laborers as their country was occupied by a brutal military regime. And the Germans then began their concerted efforts to destroy the large Jewish population of that country. While many Poles opposed the Nazis, with partisans fighting them from the outset of the war, some Poles were active collaborators with the Fascists, and many more simply did their best to survive under impossible conditions.

Some Poles risked everything to rescue Jews from the near total eradication of that community that the Germans sought.

Irena Sendler and a close circle of her friends and work associates undertook what we now can recognize as an heroic effort to save some of the children of the Warsaw ghetto. For almost four years, they took immense risks and dangers upon themselves and their families, to rescue innocents from the horrors they could see were happening all around them.

While everything in this book reads like a terrifying, fast-paced novel, Mazzeo has pieced together a completely true story of unimaginable heroism by many “regular” citizens of Poland. Irena Sendler, together with the help of a network of local people and the Jewish resistance, was able to save upwards of 2,500 Jewish children from likely death in the brutal concentration camps to which most Polish Jews were sent. Irena herself went back and forth into the Jewish ghetto, sneaking children out in a myriad of ways, and then found refuge for the children with local Polish families, convents, churches and farmers.

It was an incredible effort. Irena Sendler knew the terrible risks – she was at one point brutally tortured by the Gestapo – but also knew she could not fail to act.

It is incredible that she and so many of her cohorts survived the war. But then, of course, she and Poland had to survive the takeover of her country by the Soviets, and that meant that the story of her wartime heroism could not be told until long after the war had ended. Mazzeo’s effort here to celebrate and tell this amazing story is extraordinary, and much appreciated. Irena Sendler and her network of heroes serves as inspiration and constant reminder that we “regular citizens” must be prepared to face moral choices at any time, sometimes with dire consequences. So many good people were killed in this terrible war.

It is impossible to read this book and not wonder how any of us would have responded then. And of course we must each ask our selves honestly, how will we respond when our time to act is upon us?

I really enjoyed reading this book. It brought up powerful emotions and important questions. Mazzeo is both a fine writer and a terrific researcher, and in this book displays both those talents in full flower. We had a really interesting conversation about this book. There is so much in it I did not want to discuss in detail, so readers will be able to have the full experience of the book for themselves, but we had much to talk about nonetheless.

Tilar Mazzeo is the Clara C. Piper Associate Professor of English at Colby College, in Waterville, Maine. She is the author of numerous works of narrative nonfiction, including the New York Times bestselling The Widow Clicquot.

There’s a wonderful portrait of Sendler, written while she was still alive here and a website devoted to her life and story called Life in a Jar.irena-sendler-in-a-nurses-outfit-during-wwii_6110710895_o-226x30067071f_6a1d197c9c954c6184997bd0cfee928b-mv2

Clara Bingham: Witness to the Revolution

September 19, 2016 by  
Filed under Non-Fiction, WritersCast

witness-to-the-revolutionWitness to the Revolution: Radicals, Resisters, Vets, Hippies, and the Year America Lost Its Mind and Found Its Soul
9780812993189 – Random House – Hardcover – $30 – (ebook versions available at lower prices)

There have been many books written about the politics and culture of the sixties, but I don’t think there has ever been a book quite like this one.

Clara Bingham is a journalist who grew up just a bit too young to join in the festivities of what is now known as “The Sixties.” That term is actually a misnomer, as most of us know, since the decade of turbulence and strife really started in the mid-sixties and ended, more or less, with the close of the Vietnam War in 1975. However it is measured, and measuring time periods in history is never easy or altogether clear, that time was full of energy, social discord, cultural change, political engagement, joy and tragedy.

Ms. Bingham had relatives and family members who were old enough to participate actively in the youth culture explosion of that time, and we are lucky that their experiences inspired her interest in this historically significant era. She took upon herself a seriously daunting task, to try to understand what happened in the culture through the words of some of its key participants. It’s an altogether brilliant, inspiring effort.

She has chosen to focus on a single year to create a lens through which to see America in the throes of cultural upheaval. The book covers the period from August 1969 to August 1970, during which there were nine thousand protests and eighty-four acts of arson or bombings across the country. It was an incredible year, one that included so many key events of the time, both at home and abroad, including the rise of the Weather Underground, the invasion of Cambodia, Woodstock, May Day in New Haven, and the massacre at Kent State – and so much more.

As an active member of the counter culture myself in those halcyon years, this book brought back many memories, and reminded me of some of the things I’d forgotten about, as well as some of the people who were so important to us in those years. There’s so much in this book, there are some events and people I had not even thought about for almost 45 years. The first-hand accounts included in this book are important and powerful. These reminiscences can help us understand an era that is so much with us still – both culturally and politically. This book can help us understand why America is still in the throes of cultural and political upheaval, and is so culturally divided. While there were many failures in the sixties, and many terrible things done in the name of good intentions and beliefs, we are awash in the cultural forces unleashed then. The baby boomers who created the youth culture of the sixties are aging out of the population now, but the effects of that time continue to reverberate today.

There is so much of importance to be found in this book. I was really pleased to have a chance to speak to Clara about Witness to the Revolution. It’s an incredible effort and I hope it will help spur further conversations about the Sixties and what we can learn from that incredible era.

If you want to listen to Clara reading from the book, there’s a short segment over in Author’s Voices.clara-bingham2

Chris Offutt: My Father, the Pornographer: A Memoir

June 6, 2016 by  
Filed under Non-Fiction, WritersCast

my-father-the-pornographer-9781501112461_lg9781501112461 – Atria Books – 272 pages – Hardcover – $26.00 – ebook versions available at lower prices

Chris Offutt’s father, Andrew Offutt, left behind an unusual legacy – a massive quantity of pornography he wrote over a long swatch of his life. Besides being at one time a respected insurance agent, and subsequently a successful but still minor science fiction writer, Andrew Offutt spent years writing pornography, and made himself the “king of twentieth-century smut.”

During the 1970s, after Grove Press and other publishers had helped break down the barriers to legal publishing of pornographic and erotic literature, the floodgates of erotic writing opened up to meet a formerly unreachable demand. Several specialized, but relatively small commercial publishers created a mini-industry to satisfy an emerging market for written pornography and erotica of all kinds. During the height of the popularity of these books, some writers were able to make reasonable livings by turning out massive quantities of what was essentially pornographic pulp fiction.

Andrew Offutt was one of these writers, but unlike so many other high volume writers,  he was singular in his commitment to good writing and real plot lines, among other features of traditional fiction. As one might imagine, Andrew Offutt was an unusual man, and a strange and awkward parent keeping secrets about his work and the toll it took on his psyche.

Chris Offutt therefore grew up in a highly unusual world. His mother was the typist for all his father’s books. The family lived in the Kentucky hills, where most kids grew up hunting and fishing, and learning the pleasures of traditional country woodcraft.

Andrew Offutt was more than a little eccentric, and was a fiery and unpredictable father. When he closed the door to his home office, he demanded silence and to be left alone to concentrate on his writing, terrifying and controlling his family. And Offutt took the entire family with him when he went off to science fiction conventions, where he was a sought after figure, playing the role of the exotic sci fi novelist. In the seventies, Chris’ parents were evidently active swingers at these conventions.

During this time, Andrew Offutt wrote an incredible number of books – in total, more than four hundred novels, including pirate porn, ghost porn, zombie porn, and secret agent porn.

In 2013, after his father died, Chris Offutt returned to help his mother move out of his childhood home. In order to make sense of his father and his own childhood, Chris took on the herculean task of reading and organizing his father’s manuscripts and the vast trove of memorabilia, journals, and letters that accompanied them. It was only through the lens of his father’s writing that he was finally able to bring some closure to his understanding of this difficult and sometimes brilliant man. And at the same time he was able to gain a better understanding of himself as a person, father and of course, his own life as a writer.

This book is a remarkable literary and personal effort of psychic and literary exploration, truly one of the best memoirs I have read. Perhaps because my own father was similarly a writer who made his living through his work with words, this book meant a lot to me.

It was a great pleasure to have the opportunity to speak with Chris Offutt about his courageous and beautifully written memoir, and his own creative work as a writer.

Chris Offutt was born in 1958 in Lexington, Kentucky and grew up in the small town of Haldeman in the same state. He went to Morehead State University, and then to the University of Iowa, where he earned an MFA from the famed Iowa Writers Workshop. His first short story collection was Kentucky Straight, published in 1992. Along with fiction and memoirs, Chris has also written comics and journalism for several magazines and newspapers. In recent years, he has written for television as well (Weeds and True Blood).

Chris has received awards from the Lannan Foundation, the Guggenheim Foundation, the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the National Endowment for the Arts. He received a Whiting Award in Fiction and Nonfiction.

“Chris Offutt owns one of the finest, surest prose styles around, ready and able to convey the hardest truth without flinching. Now Offutt enters the darkest and most mysterious of places—the cave of a monstrous enigma named Andrew J. Offutt—armed with nothing but his own restless curiosity. Spoiler alert: He makes it out alive, walking into the daylight to bring us a deeper, funnier, more tender and more heartbroken truth—and his masterpiece.” —Michael Chabonchris offutt

I’m as impressed as Michael Chabon is with this fine book.

And Offutt knows how to give a great interview too.

Ursula Le Guin: Late in the Day (Poems 2010-2014)

January 16, 2016 by  
Filed under Fiction, Poetry, WritersCast

Ursula K Le Guin

Ursula Le Guin has had a long and wonderful career as a writer. Her extraordinary work has influenced many other writers, particularly in science fiction, for which she is probably best known, but Ursula has also written extensively about the art and craft of writing, as well as children’s books, and books for young adults. She is also a poet of some note, with four poetry collections published. Altogether she has had published almost fifty books and more than a hundred short stories.

Ursula was born and raised in Berkeley, California, where her parents were the anthropologist Alfred Kroeber and the writer Theodora Kroeber, author of the very famous book, Ishi. She went to Radcliffe College and did graduate work at Columbia University. Ursula married Charles A. Le Guin, a historian, in 1953; they have lived in Portland, Oregon since 1958.

Le Guin’s best known fantasy works, the six Books of Earthsea, have sold millions of copies in America and England. Her first major work of science fiction was The Left Hand of Darkness, whose radical investigation of gender roles and literary complexity have made the book a classic and a must read work of literature. Among her books for children, the Catwings series has become extremely popular. She also published a translation of Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching, after forty years of working on it and practicing Taoist principles in her life.

Three of Le Guin’s books have been finalists for the American Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize, and among her honors are a National Book Award, five Hugo Awards, five Nebula Awards, SFWA’s Grand Master, the PEN/Malamud Award, and in 2014 she was awarded the National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters.

While Le Guin is no longer writing fiction, she continues to write poetry, as she has done virtually her entire life. With the appearance of this new collection of poems from 2010-2014, Late in the Day, published by the excellent PM Press, I had the opportunity to speak with her about her writing and her recent writing. In these poems she explores a variety of poetic forms, all of which she easily masters. The poems are most often about relationships, connecting to the natural world, to myth, story, and of course, other humans, always with a careful eye and a deft understanding of the complexity of all things.

And the Afterword on poetic form and free verse is itself a small masterpiece of explication and joy. Ursula Le Guin is truly one of the great writers of our time. It is my great honor to have had the chance to speak with her here for Writerscast. If you are not aware of Ms. Le Guin’s work as a poet, this new collection of sharp and compassionate compressed expression is definitely worth your time to read. We talked about many subjects, including writing, her career, Oregon, the recent occupation at Malheur, a place with which she is very familiar, and of course the poems in this book, one of which she was kind enough to read aloud for us.

There is an excellent interview transcription with Ursula by Choire Sicha in Interview Magazinethe author’s own website is a rich source of material by and about her great body of work.detail_744_le_guin_enlarged

 

Jesse Kornbluth: Married Sex

November 18, 2015 by  
Filed under Fiction, WritersCast

25378531._UY475_SS475_978-1504011259 – Open Road Media – paperback – 246 pages – $12.99 (ebook versions available at lower cost)

I’ve been a subscriber to Jesse Kornbluth’s excellent newsletter, HeadButler, for awhile now, and have very much enjoyed his approach to books, music and art (politics and culture too). In many ways, he represents to me the quintessential New York intellectual: smart, well read, opinionated and caring about the future of humanity and our civilization. He’s a writer of screenplays and a number of interesting and successful nonfiction books, and he has long been involved in the emerging forms and formats of online digitally-based culture, going back to his days as editorial director at AOL.

Married Sex is his first novel. It is short, extremely well written, and completely compelling. Jesse has brilliantly portrayed his characters, both male and female, and pinpoints them for the reader in very few words. It’s also a fun book to read. Sex with intelligence, you might say.

Without giving away very much of the story, let’s just say that the focus is on a couple who have been together a long time in a committed, deeply sexual romantic relationship. Then something happens that changes everything. You have to read the book to find out more. I think you will enjoy this book a lot. I love this line about it from Kirkus: “A libidinous fairy tale with an unusual Prince Charming.”

And I also think you will enjoy listening to my conversation with Jesse as well. He’s funny and trenchant, and we had a great time talking to one another about the book, his work, and how this book fits into his life. And oh yes, let’s get this settled right away – it’s a novel, not a memoir.

I often recommend Jesse’s newsletter and website to friends, HeadButler.com, what he calls “a cultural concierge site.” I’ve discovered and sometimes rediscovered a number of books and records through his literate and intelligent recommendations. It’s all free, based on the perhaps dubious concept of readers buying things he recommends from Amazon.

Jesse Kornbuth was the Editorial Director at AOL, was a contributing editor to Vanity Fair and New York magazines and is the author of four nonfiction books, including Highly Confident: The Crime and Punishment of Michael Milken. He has written several screenplays for ABC, PBS, and Warner Bros.

Married Sex is Kornbluth’s first novel. He lives in Manhattan with his family. I am looking forward to reading his next book.Kornbluth headshot

Mia Alvar: In the Country (Stories)

September 30, 2015 by  
Filed under Fiction, WritersCast

alvar_11-10978-0-385-35281-9 – Alfred A. Knopf – Hardcover – $26.95 – 356 pages. Ebook versions available at lower prices.

Mia Alvar is a young writer who was born in Manila. She grew up first in Bahrein and then her parents came to America, so from her pre-teen years onward, she was raised and now lives in New York City. She went to Harvard and got an MFA at Columbia.

These bare facts don’t tell you much, but the stories collected in her first book, In the Country, most of which are well written and compelling, dig deeply into the Philippine diaspora experience. There are many different characters, different settings from Manila to Bahrein to America. Narrative voice changes depending on who Alvar wants you best to understand. There are a couple of interconnected stories, but otherwise, each piece stands alone, and as all good short stories, they are worlds unto themselves.

I liked each of the nine stories, and was struck by Alvar’s love for her characters and sympathetic to their predicaments and foibles. Each of the stories is fine, but I do have a favorite and will wonder if listeners who take the time to read this book will agree that the strongest story here is The Virgin of Monte Ramon.

It seems that every writer who publishes a collection of short stories, no matter how brilliant and powerful the stories may be, will be expected to be working on a novel. I can’t understand why being a great short story writer is not more respected in literary culture. So I feel the need to encourage writers to be comfortable continuing to work in short form if that is what they want to do. Nonetheless, Mia is indeed working on a novel and I expect it will be as good as her stories are. I just hope she will not leave behind the short form in which she excels.

Mia is smart and self possessed, and has alot of good things to say about writing and other things; our talk together was rewarding for me and I hope as well for you.

I think this author is going to be an important writer, so recommend you find this book and buy it.

I have to mention that this is a beautifully produced book, props to Knopf for continuing to make books you want to hold in your hands and read. And I also must mention that the book’s cover, which completely captures the ethos of the book, it is terrific work that both captures and equals the writing inside the book.

Author website here.JCkMunBB

Next Page »