Guest Post, Chauna Craig: Thanks and Ponies

Thanks and Ponies: The Art of Acknowledgment

 

Acknowledgments pageI am that reader who devours every word between the covers of a book—the dedication, preface, prologue, epilogue, notes, and everything in between. I even pay attention to the copyright page, like the one in Justin Cronin’s The Passage that catalogues the novel under the subjects Vampire-Fiction, Human experimentation in medicine-Fiction, and Virus diseases-Fiction, story clues that not even the book jacket copy gives away.

I especially enjoy reading the acknowledgements. While every other part of the book ultimately belongs to the reader, an author’s acknowledgments offer a glimpse into her own life. Who or what we acknowledge reveals what we value in writing and life. Who does the author recognize, care about, appreciate? Does she thank family, friends, mentors? (Most everyone does.) A place of employment? (Only if they provided time or money for the writing project.) Sorority sisters with spare couches? (Angela Flournoy). La Virgen de Guadalupe Tonantzin? (Sandra Cisneros). What about the person who bought the writer his first dictionary? (Junot Diaz scores big points with me here.)

I’ve been named in book acknowledgements, and it’s usually an unexpected honor from a former student or a writer whose manuscript I read, someone who wants to remind me I’m a small part of their work, a member of their tribe. Now that my short story collection approaches its publication date and it’s my turn to appreciate the village it takes to bring a book to a reader’s hands, I’m terrified I’ll forget someone I’m expected to thank, like when Oscar winners ramble the names of everyone from their director to their barista but forget to mention a long-suffering spouse. Alanis Morissette, in her song “Thank You,” takes an even wider view, recognizing everything from India, a country of over a billion people, to more abstract concepts like disillusionment.

But an acknowledgments page has a specific purpose: to give recognition to whomever or whatever supports the writing and production of a book. That narrows it down some. India has no role in my story collection and needs no thanks, and I don’t always appreciate my moments of disillusionment. Still, give credit where it’s due. Writers don’t create books alone. Sure, the actual act of writing is solitary. You alone plant your butt in a chair, turn on a computer, open your document, and conjure words. You pace the floor and cry on your own, and you alone decide to push past the urge to play Candy Crush or Pokemon Go. When you fail, which every writer does, over and over, you do that all on your own too.

But you never succeed on your own, as the very custom of acknowledgment reminds us. Every writer who keeps sitting in that chair depends on the invisible community of people carried into the writing space. Maybe it’s the teacher who taught you how to “nibble the pig” so your project seems less daunting (thanks, Ron Carlson, for all those years I kept a picture of a roast pig on a platter above my computer to remind me it was only possible to eat that thing one bite at a time). Or the relative who bought you books every birthday. Or the small town you thought you hated and wanted to leave, while the people there hang on in your mind, populating your pages.

The acknowledgments page is where writers honor the people and places that nurtured and mentored them. Writers frequently mention professors, workshop members, even the program administrators who made their MFA years easier. Junot Diaz, in four pages of acknowledgments in The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, goes well beyond that, thanking his many clans and the people who “bought me my first dictionary and signed me up for the Science Fiction Book Club” and also “Every teacher who gave me kindness, every librarian who gave me books.”

Acknowledgments also credit those people who provide whatever the writer needs to shape a book and usher it into the world, everyone from trusted friends who read and comment on drafts to agents, editors, designers and publicists.  And I discovered in a quick survey of books in my personal library that those people deserve not only gratitude, but small horses.  Justin Cronin offers “thanks and ponies” to his supporters, and Jenny Offill promises her “crackerjack editorial, publicity, and production staff at Knopf”:  “I owe each and every one of you a pony.”

Some writers share gratitude specific to a book’s content. Margaret Atwood, in Oryx and Crake, thanks the people from whose balcony she saw “that rare bird, the Red-necked Crake,” and Alice Munro’s acknowledgements for the collection Too Much Happiness focuses solely on the people and books that led to her discovery of Sophia Kovalevsky, subject of the title story.

Nearly every author saves their final thanks for those intimates who, as Margaret Atwood describes her husband, Graeme Gibson, “understand[s] the obsessiveness of the writer.” No surprise there, as those are the people who respect your closed door, nurse you through every “art attack,” and celebrate those small victories peculiar to writers, like a “good” rejection note. They deserve public recognition and your private appreciation—every day.

My acknowledgments page is already with my publisher. I still have a small window of time to add names. But really I think of those acknowledgments as formalizing what the people who support me—or any writer—should already know and feel, whether it’s between the covers of a book or not: their value exceeds what mere words can say.

Thanks. Just thanks. (But no ponies—they really don’t make good gifts.)

 

Guest Post, Michael Berberich: Ernie and Abe

America loves Hemingway. I love Hemingway. But I cannot write like Hemingway. When I try to write like Hemingway, my words ring with all the hollowness of a tin gong.

Michael BerberichThe voices that pulse through my literary being are the voices of the American West. They are the voices that celebrate tall tales and oral traditions. They are voices rural, voices plural, voices discursive, meandering, exploratory. They are voices at play, voices that sing. Think of the boisterous sounds at a Thanksgiving dinner table where tales are told, interjections are bold, and laughter abounds. Place names echo Español. Libations flow and, best of all, the night might run til the first cock crows. No one’s in a hurry. Why should they be? Efficiency is not the name of the game. The raconteur reigns.

I was once in a serious relationship where everything seemed to be going right yet ultimately fell apart. There was no centripetal hold. The feeble best I could offer about the breakup to friends who cared for us both was to say that she loved forests, I loved deserts. That worked. It was art, or at least artful. While the words function at a literal level, the force and weight of their meaning loom beneath the surface. The image appeals to our experiences more so than to our logic.

Please read these words aloud: “What is it the wind seeks, sweeping among the leaves, prowling round and round this house, knocking at the doors and wailing in the shutters? O Charity! Every frozen morning for awhile in winter you had a thin little winter moon slung like a slice of a silver Rocky Ford cantaloupe over the sawmill; and then I would go out to the well in the yard and snap off the silver thorns of ice from the pump muzzle and jack up the morning water and stand and look over across the fairy fields at you where you lay like a storybook town, and know that on all the little wooden roofs of houses there was a delicate trail of lacelike rime on the shingles. Then all the chickens and guineas of Charity would be crowing and calling and all the cattle lowing, and the Charity dogs barking (all with a sound that china animals might make if they could crow or call or low), and in that crystal and moonhaunted moment I would stand, dazzling in the first sunray of morning, and wonder what would ever happen to us all.”

The passage opens the second chapter of Texas writer William Goyen’s lyrical novel The House of Breath. The novel, with prose that sings, stands as an exemplar of American belles lettres. Hemingway this ain’t. Often praised by his contemporaries yet overlooked by the broad public, Goyen is mostly forgotten now. He shouldn’t be. His writing, redolent of uniquely American voices, stands outside the mainstream of American prose, the tonal center of which still remains in what Perry Miller once labeled “the Puritan plain style.” In other words say it straight, say it true, and find beauty in simplicity. At its most eloquent best, we get Abraham Lincoln.

Yet it is, as Goyen’s passage illustrates, a limited aesthetic. The admonishments of decades of eighth grade schoolmarms aside, we don’t all need to write like Ernie and Abe. There is a certain irony in the general exclusion of the discursive voices of the oral traditions. Voices quintessentially American find themselves outside of the plain style tonal center of American literature. To shift metaphors, there have been occasional cracks in the concrete, places where orality and discursiveness poke through, a nimble weed here and there sets root, takes hold, and pushes apart a jagged break in the sidewalk. Twain and Whitman come first to mind as writers who have written discursively (Roughing It, anyone?) and celebrated the vernacular. Yet even Twain gets nudged to the margin as a “regional” writer, i.e., as one writing in a voice that comes from those places (“out West”) never quite reached by the Puritans.

So where today are those whose taproots push apart the sidewalks? Some writers that accomplish this today are actually discoveries from the neglected past, e.g., Zora Neale Hurston. Others are recognized as great writers of voice. Sandra Cisneros, for example, is that skinny tree who displaced concrete to grow tall and sturdy. Her wonderfully plotless (wonderful because it is plotless) House on Mango Street carries itself as a tour-de-force of voice. Listen: “But my mother’s hair, my mother’s hair, like little rosettes, like little candy circles all curly and pretty because she pinned it in pincurls all day, sweet to put your nose into when she is holding you, holding you and you feel safe, is the warm smell of bread before you bake it, is the smell when she makes room on her side of the bed still warm with her skin, and you sleep near her, the rain outside falling and Papa snoring. The snoring, the rain, and Mama’s hair that smells like bread.”

Cisneros’ lilting rhythms find kinship in Goyen. Her aesthetic is the aesthetic of Mexican flower pots lining the porch, pots adorned with stylized birds in shiny bold primary colors. No plain style here!

I like to count myself as writing against the predominant tradition as well. My successes as a writer have been modestly steady, if limited. I attribute that more to teaching 5 and 6 classes per semester for 30 years than to the fact that I write against a 400-year-deep current of tradition. But writing against tradition does make demands of readers accustomed to the literary comfort food of reading within a predominant tradition and that fact alone will limit publication. The feeble best I can offer in explanation of that condition is to say that in a culture of readers that love dense forests, I write from a love of sere deserts. It’s a much smaller audience.

Launch of Superstition Review Issue 9

Launch of Superstition Review Issue 9

We are happy to announce the launch of Issue 9 of Superstition Review. Issue 9 features the work of 10 Artists, 10 Fiction Writers, 8 Interviews, 10 Nonfiction Writers, and 25 Poets. Following are some of the artists and writers featured.

Jonathan Faber

Jonathan Faber

 

Art: Jonathan Faber’s work has been exhibited at galleries and museums throughout New York and Texas, including David Shelton Gallery, Champion, Cue Art Foundation, Austin Museum of Art, and the Blanton Museum of Art.

 

 

 

H. Lee Barnes

H. Lee Barnes

 

Fiction: H. Lee Barnes has published three collections of short stories, a novel, and Dummy Up and Deal, a nonfiction narrative. He teaches in the English Department of the College of Southern Nevada.

 

 

 

Sandra Cisneros

Sandra Cisneros

 

Interviews: Sandra Cisneros is the author of novels: The House on Mango Streetand Caramelo, short stories: Woman Hollering Creek,  and poetry collections: My Wicked Wicked Waysand Loose Woman.

 

 

 

Adrienne Kalfopoulou

Adrienne Kalfopoulou

 

Nonfiction: Adrianne Kalfopoulou lives and teaches in Athens Greece, and is on the faculty of the creative writing program at NYU. Her most recent book is Passion Maps (Red Hen Press), a poetry collection.

 

 

 

Peggy Shumaker

Peggy Shumaker

 

Poetry: Peggy Shumaker is Alaska State Writer Laureate. Her most recent book of poems is Gnawed Bones. Her lyrical memoir is Just Breathe Normally. In 2013, Red Hen Press will publish Toucan Nest, a book of poems set in Costa Rica.

 

 

 

Submissions Period for Issue 10: We publish art, fiction, nonfiction, and poetry twice a year in April and December. Our Fall submissions will open September 1-October 31 for Issue 10, which will launch in December 2012.

What We’re Reading

This is what our interns are reading:

Christina Arregoces, Interview Editor: Currently I’m reading Autobiography of a Face, a beautifully written memoir by the talented Lucy Grealy. The memoir deals with the real life experiences that Grealy went through as she began her childhood struggle with Ewing’s sarcoma, a cancer that went on to almost kill her, demand multiple life-threatening surgeries, and severely disfigure her face. And though the book is interlaced with the nonfiction aspects of the scientific and the medical, Grealy’s literary talent emerges at every turn and through her highly relatable and witty tone, she draws in her reader and transports him or her back to the confusing days of childhood and the rawness of adolescence.

Autobiography of a Face is striking and sad and through it, Grealy works to redefine what beauty truly is.

Samantha Veléz, Content Coordinator: A close friend of my mom’s recommended Teacher Man by Frank McCourt. She brought it up because I was describing my first (and so far only) experience teaching a class. One or two kids listen intently, two doze off, and most don’t seem to be paying attention at all. I’m glad I said that because now I am reading a borrowed copy of a great book.

Teacher Man is a memoir about teaching English in New York high schools. It’s filled with anecdotal bits of wisdom, occasionally of adolescent and naivety and determination, and a personal look into the dilemma of adulthood: Where do I go from here? Will I ever fulfill my dreams?

This book has an enjoyable, lightly sarcastic tone that tells a heartfelt story. Those acquainted with his work will be used to his tearjerkers and enjoy this light, personal tale.

Stephanie De La Rosa, Blogger: Candide by Voltaire, in the original French. The humor doesn’t translate quite the same in English. It’s still a wonderful read, an interesting insight into eighteenth century European literature. To say the least, it is hilariously surprising, and not at all what I expected.

The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros. I am re-reading this book after about eight years. I absolutely love it; this is the novel that inspired me to start writing. It is whimsical, lyrical, little episodes that come together to make a comprehensive picture of what life was like for a little Hispanic girl growing up in Chicago and trying to come to terms with the person she wants to be.

Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart. Both stylistically and content-wise, Super Sad True Love Story is a polemic in novel form. Lenny Abramov, middle-aged and afraid of death, falls in love with a young woman who embodies the restless youth of his chaotic world. It’s funny and thought provoking, especially when one considers how social relationships, across the globe, are being affected by technology.

I recommend watching Shteyngart’s book trailer for this novel as well.