David Wilk Interviews Richard Grossinger of North Atlantic Books

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Publishing Talks began as a series of conversations with book industry professionals and others involved in media and technology about the future of publishing, books, and culture. As we continue to experience disruption and change in all media businesses, I’ve been talking with some of the people involved in our industry about how publishing might evolve as our culture is affected by technology and the larger context of civilization and economics.

I’ve now expanded the series to include conversations that go beyond the future of publishing. I’ve talked with editors and publishers who have been innovators and leaders in independent publishing in the past and into the present, and will continue to explore the ebb and flow of writing, books, and publishing in all sorts of forms and formats, as change continues to be the one constant we can count on.

It’s my hope that these conversations can help us understand the outlines of what is happening in publishing and writing, and how we might ourselves interact with and influence the future of publishing as it unfolds.

Over the past few years, I’ve talked to a number of independent publishers in an effort to document the extraordinary period of the past 40 years, which has been a sort of golden age of innovation and creativity, as publishing has literally been redefined. The number of great publishers established during this time in almost every category of publishing is pretty incredible.

One of the presses that has had a special impact on my own work is North Atlantic Books, founded by Richard Grossinger and Lindy Hough, as a transformation of their literary journal, Io, which they began together in 1965 as undergraduates at Amherst and Smith Colleges respectively. Richard and Lindy have been important mentors, friends, and colleagues to me for more than forty years, and their influence on my thinking about writing, ideas and books has been profound.

Since both Richard and Lindy are writers and editors with their own individual interests and styles, I thought it would make sense to interview each of them separately for this Publishing Talks series of conversations. Each of these conversations can stand independently or together. They tell two versions of an almost mythologic story, which I hope listeners will find as compelling as it was for me when I spoke to them.

Io is one of a number of influential literary magazines established in the sixties and seventies, publishing poets, film-makers and visual artists, many of whom were related to what has become known as the New American Poets, with influences ranging from Black Mountain College and the New York School to hermeticism and mystical spirituality. Io was singular in that it was most frequently a one-subject magazine, and this led eventually to the establishment of North Atlantic Books, which was incorporated in 1974 as a non-profit literary publisher in California.

Richard Grossinger was born November 3, 1944, and grew up in Manhattan. He graduated from Amherst College in June 1966 with a B.A. in English. That same month he married Lindy Hough, who attended Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts.

He received a Ph.D. in anthropology from the University of Michigan for an ethnography incorporating economic and ecological studies of fishing communities in Eastern Maine and subsequently taught anthropology and other subjects at the University of Maine and Goddard College.

Io published 23 issues through 1976 before merging with North Atlantic and converting its publications to anthologies thereafter. Richard and Lindy served as the co-publishers of North Atlantic Books from 1974 onward, and Grossinger now functions mainly as acquisitions editor, while the press is run by its staff and board of directors.

Grossinger is the author of many books including Planet Medicine, The Night Sky, Embryogenesis, New Moon, Migraine Auras, On the Integration of Nature, and The Bardo of Waking Life.

This is the “official” description of North Atlantic Books, taken from its website:
North Atlantic Books is a nonprofit publisher committed to an eclectic exploration of the relationships between mind, body, spirit, and nature. Founded in 1974 by Richard Grossinger and Lindy Hough, NAB aims to nurture a holistic view of the arts, sciences, humanities, and healing. Over the decades, it has been at the forefront of publishing a diverse range of books in alternative medicine, ecology, and spirituality. NAB is the publishing program of the Society for the Study of Native Arts and Sciences, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational organization that promotes cross-cultural perspectives linking scientific, social, and artistic fields. With more than one thousand books in print, NAB has operated from Berkeley, California, since 1977.

My conversation with Richard Grossinger was recorded in December, 2016. This interview runs 52 minutes.

More about Richard Grossinger here.

Richard’s history of North Atlantic Books is on his website here. Companion interview with co-editor and co-publisher Lindy Hough is here.

9781623170134_0175eb72NorthAtlanticBooks

David Wilk interviews Lindy Hough of North Atlantic Books and Io Magazine

lindyPublishing Talks began as a series of conversations with book industry professionals and others involved in media and technology about the future of publishing, books, and culture. As we continue to experience disruption and change in all media businesses, I’ve been talking with some of the people involved in our industry about how publishing might evolve as our culture is affected by technology and the larger context of civilization and economics.

I’ve now expanded the series to include conversations that go beyond the future of publishing. I’ve talked with editors and publishers who have been innovators and leaders in independent publishing in the past and into the present, and will continue to explore the ebb and flow of writing, books, and publishing in all sorts of forms and formats, as change continues to be the one constant we can count on.

It’s my hope that these conversations can help us understand the outlines of what is happening in publishing and writing, and how we might ourselves interact with and influence the future of publishing as it unfolds.

Over the past few years, I’ve talked to several independent publishers in an effort to document the extraordinary period of the past 40 years, which has been a kind of golden age of innovation and creativity as publishing has literally been redefined. The list of great publishers established during this time in almost every category of publishing is amazing.

One of those presses that has had a special impact on my own work is North Atlantic Books, founded by Richard Grossinger and Lindy Hough as an outgrowth of their literary journal called Io, which they began together in 1965 when they were undergraduates at Amherst and Smith Colleges respectively. Richard and Lindy have been mentors, friends, and colleagues of mine for more than forty years, and their influence on my thinking about writing, ideas and books has been profound.

Since both Richard and Lindy are writers and editors with their own individual interests and styles, I thought it would make sense to interview each of them separately for this series of conversations. These two conversations can stand independently or together. They tell two versions of an amazing and almost mythologic story, which I hope listeners will find as compelling as it was for me when I spoke to them.

Io Magazine traveled with Lindy and Richard, moving to Michigan, Maine, Vermont and eventually California. Io is one of a number of influential literary magazines established in the sixties and seventies, publishing poets, film-makers and visual artists, many of whom were related to what has become known as the New American Poets, with influences ranging from Black Mountain College and the New York School to hermeticism and mystical spirituality. Io was singular in that it was most frequently a one-subject magazine, and this led eventually to the establishment of North Atlantic Books, which was incorporated in 1974 as a non-profit literary publisher in California.

North Atlantic Books has become one of the most successful and influential independent presses in America with a strong focus on spirituality and alternative health, while continuing its commitment to literary publishing.

Lindy graduated from Smith College and received an MFA in Creative Writing at Goddard College. She is the author of seven books of poetry, non-fiction, and fiction (including one book I published in 1978, the excellent Outlands & Inlands). She has taught literature and writing in Michigan, Maine, Vermont and California, and is currently finishing a novel.

This is the “official” description of North Atlantic Books, taken from its website:
North Atlantic Books is a nonprofit publisher committed to an eclectic exploration of the relationships between mind, body, spirit, and nature. Founded in 1974 by Richard Grossinger and Lindy Hough, NAB aims to nurture a holistic view of the arts, sciences, humanities, and healing. Over the decades, it has been at the forefront of publishing a diverse range of books in alternative medicine, ecology, and spirituality. NAB is the publishing program of the Society for the Study of Native Arts and Sciences, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational organization that promotes cross-cultural perspectives linking scientific, social, and artistic fields. With more than one thousand books in print, NAB has operated from Berkeley, California, since 1977.

Richard and Lindy are now retired from full time work with the press they founded, and each is now actively writing and editing books.

Our conversation was recorded in December, 2016. (55 minutes runtime)

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occupy-spiritualitynab-logoRichard-and-Lindy

Mary Volmer: Reliance, Illinois (a novel)

May 2, 2016 by  
Filed under Fiction, WritersCast

Reliance-Illinois-Cov-2-400x6009781616956721 – Soho Press – 368 page – Hardcover – $27.00 – ebook versions available at lower prices

Mary Volmer’s novel, Reliance, Illinois is a beautifully written historical novel that takes place in midwestern America in 1874.

The story revolves around thirteen-year-old Madelyn Branch. She comes to the town of Reliance with her mother, Rebecca, who is being married through an in the Matrimonial Times, but there was no mention of a daughter to the suitor involved. So Madelyn’s entire life in Reliance is based on the fiction that she is Rebecca’s sister.

Madelyn is thoroughly unhappy in her new home, and is emotionally wounded by her mother’s deception, so she soon leaves her mother and her new family to work for Miss Rose Werner, the daughter of the town’s founder, a strong and independent figure who stands out in this small conservative town.

Miss Rose is not only an early suffragette, she is also the supplier of black market birth control devices to women in the town. Miss Rose sees Madelyn as someone she can help mold into her vision of a modern woman. But for the most part, Madelyn, whose face is strongly birth marked, simply wants to feel beautiful and loved. She pines for William Stark, a young photographer and haunted Civil War veteran.

As the story unfolds, and events in this small town become increasingly fraught, Madelyn learns secrets she could never have previously imagined, and becomes a woman who is ultimately in charge of her own destiny.

There’s a tremendous amount of historical research underpinning this wonderful story, great characters, and quite a bit that will resonate for modern readers (yes, there is an election in the town, which I found interesting to read about in our current election season).

I was very taken by this book, and am looking forward to reading more by this excellent writer. I hope my conversation with Mary Volmer will help listeners discover a new voice in American fiction.

I agree with this reviewer’s sentiments:
“Mary Volmer’s Reliance, Illinois grabbed me from the first page. Staggeringly beautiful prose, a poignant story, the whip smart heroine Maddy who I rooted for all the way. Volmer brings a universal theme of the reliance—all of us who search for it—to be found in ourselves. Do yourself a favor, clear your schedule and drink in Volmer’s radiant Reliance, Illinois.”
—Cara Black, New York Times bestselling author of Murder on the Quai

Mary Volmer’s first novel is Crown of Dust, which takes place during the Gold Rush in California. Her  website is here.Mary-Volmer

A.J. Hartley: Sekret Machines Book One: Chasing Shadows

April 4, 2016 by  
Filed under Fiction, WritersCast

sekret-machines-chasing-shadows-cover_1024x10249781943272150 – To the Stars Media – Hardcover – 704 pages – $24.95 – ebook editions available at lower prices.

Recently, I’ve had the good fortune to be working with musician Tom DeLonge and the energetic staff of To the Stars Media, helping them develop their book publishing projects. To the Stars is an independent production and publishing company that creates trans-media projects, all done with a tremendous level of creativity and imagination.

To the Stars began its publishing program last year with the wildly successful young adult novel, Poet Anderson: Of Nightmares, co-written by DeLonge and best selling novelist Suzanne Young (The Program series).

The newest project from this team is a thriller called Sekret Machines Book One: Chasing Shadows, that reflects Tom DeLonge’s specific interests in UFO’s and secret government programs. Tom is best known as the former leader of Blink-182 and founder of Angels and Airwaves. He is also a serial entrepreneur, film maker and writer, who is an authority on UFO’s and government involvement with them (this Billboard article and interview with Tom is a must-read).

The Sekret Machines project includes some forthcoming nonfiction books as well as this series of novels that is a collaboration between DeLonge and best selling YA and sci fi novelist AJ Hartley. Between them, they have created a thrilling and complex weaving of four stories told from multiple perspectives.

Sekret Machines Book One: Chasing Shadows is fiction based on secrets drawn from the the mostly hidden realities of alien contact known to our military and intelligence communities. It’s an exciting and engrossing story, the first in a trilogy that promises excitement and action for anyone interested in great storytelling and compelling characters.

AJ Hartley is a prolific writer of fiction for all ages, as well as being an accomplished Shakespearean scholar and professor at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte. His novels for kids include the wonderful Darwen Arkwright series, among others, and the YA novel called Steeplejack is coming from Tor this spring.

I have now read several AJ Hartley books, and have concluded that he is one of the best new writers I have come across in a long time. His work is really remarkable, and the collaboration with the effervescent Tom DeLonge has resulted in a really terrific novel. I had the opportunity to speak with AJ about the writing of Sekret Machines and his collaboration with Tom while we were both visiting To the Stars in Encinitas, California in February, 2016. We had a great time talking about this very cool project.sekret-machines-chasing-shadows-digital-bundle_1024x1024

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The great writer Jim Harrison

March 28, 2016 by  
Filed under Pipeline

jim-harrisonJim Harrison has passed on. Not too long ago he said “at my age you don’t think about the future because you don’t have one” but that is true only in the narrowest sense. His future is assured, because his words are still with us. I don’t think Jim really saw time as finite anyway. He was too busy experiencing life and thinking about how it felt and how to express the beauty of the world and all of us in it.

His novels are beautifully written and always humane. He loved people, but understood their foibles, failures and ultimate transcendence. He loved the natural world as only a person who lived in it can do.

I’m not sure there are too many writers like him anymore. Nor will there be.

Though best known for his fiction and essays (and large appetites), Jim was first and foremost a poet: “in poetry our motives are utterly similar to those who made cave paintings or petroglyphs, so that studying your own work of the past is to ruminate over artifacts, each one a signal, a remnant of a knot of perceptions that brings back to life who and what you were at that time, the past texture of what has to be termed as your ‘soul life’.”

His latest book of poems is Dead Man’s Float, published by Copper Canyon Press, in which this poem is found.

February

Warm enough here in Patagonia AZ to read
the new Mandelstam outside in my underpants
which is to say he was never warm enough
except in summer and he was without paper to write
and his belly was mostly empty most of the time
like that Mexican girl I picked up on a mountain road
the other day who couldn’t stop weeping. She had slept
out two nights in a sweater in below-freezing weather.
She had been headed to Los Angeles but the coyote
took her money and abandoned her in the wilderness.
Her shoes were in pieces and her feet bleeding.
I took her to town and bought her food. She got a ride
to Nogales. She told us in Spanish that she just wanted
to go home and sleep in her own bed. That’s what Mandelstam
wanted with mother in the kitchen fixing dinner. Everyone
wants this. Mandelstam said, “To be alone is to be alive.”
“Lost and looked in the sky’s asylum eye.” “What of
her nights?” Maybe she was watched by some of the fifty
or so birds I have in the yard now. When they want to
they just fly away. I gave them my yard and lots of food.
They smile strange bird smiles. She couldn’t fly away.
Neither can I though I’ve tried a lot lately to migrate
to the Camargue on my own wings. When they are married,
Mandelstam and the Mexican girl, in heaven they’ll tell
long stories of the horrors of life on earth ending each session
by chanting his beautiful poems that we did not deserve.

Johanna Skibsrud: Quartet for the End of Time (A Novel)

March 6, 2016 by  
Filed under Fiction, WritersCast

Quartet for the End of Time PBK_9780393351828.indd9780393351828 – W.W. Norton – 480 pages – paperback – ebook versions available at lower prices.

I’ve been interested in Canadian writer Johanna Skibsrud’s work for several years, in fact since interviewing independent publisher Andrew Steves of Gaspereau Press. The small Nova Scotia based press was the original publisher of Skibsrud’s first novel, The Sentimentalists, selected for the prestigious Giller Prize in 2010. It was a major literary event in Canada for such a tiny press to be recognized for publishing a fine novel that ultimately became a commercially successful book.

Skibsrud is a prolific and multi-talented writer. Her short story collection, This Will Be Difficult to Explain and Other Stories was published in 2011 and shortlisted for Canada’s Danuta Gleed Award. She has also published two books of poetry: Late Nights With Wild Cowboys (2008), which was shortlisted for the Gerald Lampert Award for the best first book of poetry by a Canadian poet, and I Do Not Think That I Could Love a Human Being (2010), which was short-listed for the 2011 Atlantic Poetry Prize.

Skibsrud now teaches at the University of Arizona in Tucson, returning to Canada with her family every summer. Since I had the good fortune to be visiting Tucson in January, 2016, I interviewed Johanna there about her newest novel, The Quartet for the End of Time.

This book is inspired by and structured to follow Oliver Messiaen’s chamber piece of the same name (Quatuor pour la fin du temps). Messiaen’s piece was composed and first performed in 1941 while he was a prisoner of war in a German prison camp. His beautiful and haunting composition was in turn inspired by a text from the Book of Revelation:

And I saw another mighty angel come down from heaven, clothed with a cloud: and a rainbow was upon his head, and his face was as it were the sun, and his feet as pillars of fire … and he set his right foot upon the sea, and his left foot on the earth …. And the angel which I saw stand upon the sea and upon the earth lifted up his hand to heaven, and sware by him that liveth for ever and ever … that there should be time no longer: But in the days of the voice of the seventh angel, when he shall begin to sound, the mystery of God should be finished ….

Skibsrud’s novel is centered on a single moment of betrayal and how it affects the four characters whose stories are woven together during the period of the Bonus Army march and the 1930s, leading up to and then through the period of World War II.

The novel’s beginning is about Bonus Army marcher and World War I veteran Arthur Sinclair, who is falsely accused of conspiracy and then disappears. The mystery of this event will affect his son, Douglas and also Alden and Sutton Kelly, the children of a U.S. congressman who become connected to Arthur and Douglas while the marchers are camped in Washington, D.C. The book then follows these characters as they live through the period of massive social change that took place during the period leading up to and during World War II.

This novel is thoroughly compelling, beautifully written, complex in form and lyrical in language. I think Johanna has succeeded in her effort to imagine a story of loss and love through the lens of a complicated period of modern history. Tim O’Brien said this about the book, praising “…its intimate and completely compelling portraits of human beings struggling to do the right thing under ambiguous moral circumstances.”

I very much enjoyed talking with Johanna Skibsrud about this book and her work as a writer. She is as intelligent and interesting to talk to as she is to read. This interview was recorded in her office at the University of Arizona. If you want to learn more about this author’s work, I recommend visiting Johanna’s website.

And if you’re interested in the Bonus March, which is a far too little known, and truly disheartening episode of American history, you might also be interested in Georgia Lowe’s novel, The BonusI talked to her about this book and the Bonus March story for Writerscast in 2012.Johanna Skibsrud

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

David Wilk talks with Carmen Giménez Smith of Noemi Press at Woodland Pattern

November 11, 2015 by  
Filed under Publishing History, PublishingTalks, The Future

Carmen Gimenez Smith visits NPR headquarters in Washington on MondayPublishing Talks began as a series of conversations with book industry professionals and others involved in media and technology about the future of publishing, books, and culture. As we continue to experience disruption and change in all media businesses, I’ve been talking with some of the people involved in our industry about how publishing might evolve as our culture is affected by technology and the larger context of civilization and economics.

I’ve now expanded the series to include conversations that go beyond the future of publishing. I’ve talked with editors and publishers who have been innovators and leaders in independent publishing in the past and into the present, and will continue to explore the ebb and flow of writing, books, and publishing in all sorts of forms and formats, as change continues to be the one constant we can count on.

It’s my hope that these conversations can help us understand the outlines of what is happening in publishing and writing, and how we might ourselves interact with and influence the future of publishing as it unfolds.

I recently had the honor of interviewing editor, writer and teacher Carmen Giménez Smith at the renowned Woodland Pattern Book Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Carmen is the current editor of the now 50 year old literary magazine, Puerto del Sol, sponsored by New Mexico State University in Las Cruces. She is also the co-publisher and co-founder of the very fine literary publisher, Noemi Press.

Our conversation took place in on Friday, October 16, 2015 at Woodland Pattern in front of an active and interested audience. This live recording will enable listeners to learn a great deal about two dynamic literary organizations. Happy 50th birthday to Puerto del Sol, and congratulations to Carmen and her colleagues at Noemi for building a long lasting press that has been purposely constructed so that it will continue as a dynamic, living organization long into the future.

More about Carmen Giménez Smith here; she is an extraordinary poet, writer and teacher in addition to her work as editor and publisher. Her newest book is called Milk and Filth from the University of Arizona Press. She is a brilliant writer whose writing I have been grateful to discover. She is tough and politically engaged, her heart and soul showing through the words at every moment. I am sure she is a terrific teacher as well.

Length alert: this conversation is about 53 minutes. I hope you can find the time to hear it through to the end.

And special thanks to Chuck, Mike, Karl and Anne at Woodland Pattern for the opportunity to conduct this conversation in their space. It was really fun and I hope to be able to do this kind of thing again.

More about WP in this Writerscast interview with founders Anne Kingsbury and Karl Gartung from earlier this year.DeepCity_coverpuerto50cover-231x300WP Logo

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Mark Burstein: The Annotated Alice: 150th Anniversary Deluxe Edition

November 2, 2015 by  
Filed under Children's Authors, Fiction, WritersCast

Annotated Alice_mech 4p_r1.indd978-0393245431 – W.W. Norton – Hardcover – 432 pages – $39.95 – by Lewis Carroll (Author), Martin Gardner (Editor), Mark Burstein (Editor)

I suspect many of us take Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Lewis Carroll for granted, assume we know all about the book and its eccentric author from what we read when young and subsequently have picked up over the years. This beautiful and wonderfully produced book is the corrective – for most of us, everything we could possibly want to know about the author and his work will be found here – and more. Charles Dodgson – Lewis Carroll’s real name – was a thoroughly interesting man, mathematician, scholar, an odd Victorian whose fascination (obsession?) with the young Alice Liddell prompted him to invent a strange and compelling world that has fascinated so many of us. And that, of course, included Martin Gardner, himself a brilliant thinker, writer, and mathematician whose own oeuvre is incredibly rich and diverse.

Annotated Alice was first published in 1959, and since then it has sold over half a million copies worldwide. Gardner worked diligently through the text for many years, and decoded many of the mathematical riddles and wordplay that lay ingeniously embedded in Carroll’s two classic stories, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass.

The Definitive Edition of The Annotated Alice, published in 1999, combined the notes of Gardner’s 1959 edition with his 1990 volume, More Annotated Alice, as well as additional discoveries drawn from Gardner’s broad knowledge of the Carroll works. It was illustrated with John Tenniel’s classic art—along with many recently discovered Tenniel pencil sketches.

This newly released 150th anniversary edition includes a great deal more – especially wonderful are the brilliant Alice illustrations by a wide range of artists and illustrators, including Ralph Steadman, Salvatore Dali and Beatrix Potter, among others. Also included are more than 100 new or updated annotations collected since the publication of the Definitive Edition of The Annotated Alice, a preface by Mark Burstein, president emeritus of the Lewis Carroll Society of North America, and all of Gardner’s introductions to other editions plus a really interesting filmography of Alice-related films compiled by Carroll scholar David Schaefer.

This is an eye opening collection for those of us who have not studied Carroll’s work closely before, and a rich trove for those who have.

I had the pleasure of interviewing the entertaining and knowledgeable Mark Burstein about this book. Mark is the president emeritus of the Lewis Carroll Society of North America and the editor of or contributor to fourteen books about Carroll. Burstein owns some 2,000 editions of Alice in Wonderland in sixty languages, and around 1,500 books by or about Lewis Carroll.Mark Burstein 51rosEa1tLL._SX150_

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

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