Guest Post, Lois Roma-Deeley: Still and in Our Own Age: Why Creative Writing Matters

Lois Roma-DeeleyYou have heard it all before: No one reads anymore, buys books anymore, supports small presses anymore. Fiction is taking a beating from crass consumerism and poetry has been bludgeoned to death by a stylized ennui that has no patience for long sentences like this one.  Plays are either musicals or revivals of musicals. Anyone untalented can publish anything bad at any time in any format so no one has time to find the good writing.  The whole culture of American literature is in one sorry state.  Why should you—why should anyone—bother to write at all?

I am here to tell you that your poetry/short stories/essays/plays/novels—whatever your creative writing genre happens to be—matters. That your contribution to making the culture of our time matters. That your devotion to the craft of writing and your efforts to sit down and write with considered purpose and focus, or as Lucille Clifton has said, with major intent, matters.

I can say all this to you with some impunity because I have witnessed firsthand how the power of language—despite the protestations of all the cynics and the naysayers—moves audiences and readers in profound ways.

In 2012 I was nominated for U.S Professor of the Year, an awards program sponsored by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE). Of the award, The Chronicle of Higher Education writes: “The honor is the nation’s most prestigious teaching award.”

However, as a poet and a community college professor who teaches creative writing and women’s studies, I was certain I would never win such an award. I was certain I would not win—not because I was insecure or doubted my abilities as a poet and teacher, but precisely because I believed these abilities were at best misunderstood and, at worst, completely disregarded by most of America.

I only completed the application for the award because the very earnest and very sweet student who nominated me insisted that I do so. She sat in my office with her moon-eyes and her Tinkerbell-sweet voice insisting that I simply had to fill out the application which, as it turned out, wound up taking me 20-plus hours to complete.  I simply did not have the heart to tell her no.  And even as she thrust the application material into my hand, I told her yet one more time that I was not going to win. “Poets don’t win these kinds of awards, Carolyn. Please don’t be disappointed when I don’t win. I’m not going to win.”

But she was right and I was wrong. I did win.

In fact, I am the first national winner of this award that Arizona has ever had in any category.  As a national winner, I was asked to give a speech at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. to an audience that included the U.S. Under Secretary of Education as well as college presidents and chancellors, deans and professors from all over the country.

Indeed, during the last few years I’ve had other successes, awards and honors, all of which have given me opportunities I would never have imagined possible when I was first starting out as a serious writer.

I have been invited to give poetry readings, speeches and workshops to audiences across the country, and I have seen the cultural cynics proved wrong many times over.  As I look into the faces of strangers whose eyes seem to lock onto mine with an intensity I find both humbling and scary, I have learned—rather I have re-learned—that language used with “major intent” is still a powerful, transforming force. People tell me they are moved by my words. People tell me they have been changed. People tell me the words matter.

So, to all of you who are sitting down today to write with major intent, know that your efforts—though solitary and so often fraught with frustration, longing and despair—matter.  Know that there may be one person or whole rooms of strangers who need and want to hear what you have to say. It matters to them the work you do.

It matters.

Guest Post, Matthew Blasi: The Many Lessons of Barry Hannah, Part 1: The Good Love

It is difficult—nigh impossible—for me to contain my surprise when, in heated talk of great American writers, Barry Hannah fails to surface. Such happened amidst a recent conversation with a friend. We were discussing at length great books and writers who have largely flown under the radar and when I broached Hannah my fellow conversant turned curious. She’d never heard of the man or his many good works. So I went into my routine. I thrashed and barked. I got guttural. Not only was Hannah one of the greatest American writers, I told her, he was perhaps the most loving. I handed over Hannah’s The Tennis Handsome and told her to let me know her thoughts. But since we’re on the subject, here are mine.

Barry Hannah Oxford AmericanA strong argument could be made for Hannah to be ranked among the very best America has ever cultivated if for nothing save the depth of love present in his stories. His characters need it, seek it against dire circumstances. The whupping Levaster puts on French Edward at the beginning of The Tennis Handsome is not purely selfish, productive. It’s as much about pity, remorse, as it is the clobbering of the soft-brained tennis pro. Levaster needs Edward as much as us. He’s less a foil than a co-conspirator in the comic drama, the conduit for Levaster’s electricity. No wonder lightning strikes him dead on, gives him strange new wits, canny thoughts. Edward acts on our impulses. We’re often Levaster, like it or not, prodding the tennis prodigy on to haphazard glory. We want him to win because we love the man regardless of the density of his soggy brain. Don’t we too often have heads full of river water, days of foggy acquiescence? There’s a little French Edward in us, too. Maybe more than a little. Hannah’s loving craft gets right down to the truth roots of fiction. His loving shapes us as much as his characters.

Even the most vile of Hannah’s characters—Man Mortimer, villain of Hannah’s last novel, Yonder Stands Your Orphan, for example—desire it, this love, the balm to their poisonous beings. But it is a warped love, deranged, stretched and rubbery over circus tent souls, folk who have no right idea how to get it across, communicate. Levaster’s late-night forays into Central Park, his burning need to confront villainy amidst the trees, the dirt, hearkens back to Southern fiction’s struggle to move from the rural to the urban. Edward’s dangerous play with the crossbow is little different. Love so potent runs the risk of spoiling, curdling like milk left sitting. It’s a journey perilous, the kind defined by the Snopes, by Hazel Motes. Yet unlike Faulkner’s and O’Connor’s characters, the journeys undertaken by Hannah’s characters are not voyages of destruction, pilgrimages of religious catharsis. Theirs are the movements of the loony in love, the moon smoochers who know, the great swaying love made possible through strife. They’re too real for me sometimes. I sit abashed that the man much less his characters might succeed when I often fail to find the words to communicate the pitch of my own combat.

Mostly it’s a warped love because it is not pure. I’m not sure a pure love exists in Southern fiction—it’s the tradition, the Antebellum promise, mythic. It’s present on Levaster despite his many shortcomings, his dark needs, and it’s certainly present on French Edward though the book might easily have treated him as nothing more than a buffoon. Yet he is held up to us, a model of sorts, not only in body but in simplicity of purpose and at times of generous feelings of the heart, a battery of good feelings. Both Edward and Levaster love and are loved by the author, by us. That was Hannah’s plan all along. He served it up, made sure we had our fill, and didn’t leave us wanting.

How about that? Hannah loves his readers as much as his characters.

Three days later my friend returned, book in hand. She told me she’d devoured it, wanted to know what she ought to next read. I was pleased, informed her that a strong dislike or even slight impartiality would have been grounds for immediate dissolution of the friendship. Just about meant it, too. That good love Hannah teaches, it’s not always easy to locate, nurture. I think that’s the point. We got to fight it out the way Baby Levaster and French Edward fought it out, got to get in the dirt and roll around to know what it is we’re mucking up with our ungainly wants, our bad habits. We chew our nails, we spit. We’re bad all through.

SR Pod/Vod Series: Poet Catherine Bailey

Each Tuesday we feature audio or video of an SR Contributor reading their work. Today we’re proud to feature a podcast by Catherine Bailey.

Catherine BaileyCatherine E. Bailey is a Ph.D. candidate in English at Western Michigan University. Her creative writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Pomona Valley Review, Line Zero, Femspec, Broad!, Rose Red Review, Scythe, Lingerpost, Poetry South, Bricolage, and other publications. She has also published academic writing on queer female superheroes in Colloquy: Text Theory Critique and various articles and reviews in Yes! Magazine, Afterimage: The Journal of Media Arts and Cultural Criticism, Worldchanging, and Three Percent. A play she wrote, based on interviews with over 50 women, was produced at the University of Rochester’s Festival of One-Acts in 2011.

You can listen to the podcast on our iTunes Channel.

You can read along with the work in Superstition Review.

Guest Post, Sam Gridley: Literature and the Season of Depression

“We have to honor our depression,” my friend Stephen Berg said to me a few years ago. It was a passing remark, the context now lost, but it seemed a profound idea at the time. Later I discovered that the expression had been used by psychologists and therapists (James Hillman perhaps the first) since the 1970s, but I refrained from finding out what they meant by it or what my friend meant by it (likely quite different, Steve being a poet and an original thinker). Instead, I’ve let the notion molder in the back of my mind like an old shoebox in the closet, occasionally bringing it out for inspection.

On the surface, the idea suggests to me that our culture’s approach to depression—as a mental disturbance to be eliminated as fast as possible with feel-good drugs—stifles the important truths our minds are trying to tell us. There are so many things to be sad and upset about that depression in a sense is simple realism. If we gulp SSRIs and play with our smartphones and multitask ourselves into concealing our despondency, what are we missing?

I opened the shoebox again this December, a month that for me has become a depressing lead-in to a dismal season. Why dismal? Partly it’s a touch of what many people experience, the reaction we now call seasonal affective disorder (“prevalence in the U.S. ranging from 1.4% in Florida to 9.7% in New Hampshire,” says a 2007 article in the New York Times). More deeply, winter dismays me because it begins with the holidays we used to spend at my grandmother’s house, the one place I experienced a true sense of family.

When my childhood nuclear family fissioned, my grandparents became the new emotional nucleus, the stable point, throughout my youth and into adulthood. As young marrieds, my wife and I would drive from the big city to Grandma’s small town, children in the back seat, presents in the trunk, looking forward to days crowded with relatives, cheap decorations, ugly sweaters  and foods we would never cook ourselves (potato soup laden with salt and butter!). With Grandma gone and the children dispersed, the winter holidays now seem empty, as fruitless as a cardboard fruitcake. It’s not that I envy those who are celebrating with their families; rather, I kind of wrap them in my own self-pity, feeling sad for them as well as myself, and that state of mind permeates the months that follow.

This year in addition, at the start of winter, I’ve been reading some books with depressed protagonists. Is it stupid to dig into these at this time of year? One is Lauren Grodstein’s latest novel, The Explanation for Everything, in which a widowed biologist finds his trust in science challenged by a student who believes in God. The protagonist, Andy Waite, has been researching the effects of alcohol ever since his wife was killed by a drunk teenage driver. His experiments aren’t going well, though—the mice he carefully tends and then dissects aren’t proving what they’re supposed to prove—and he might lose his funding as well as his chance for tenure. His romantic life is dead, and a female neighbor’s attempt to revive his libido does not go well. He’s a decent father to his young daughters, but otherwise his life seems perpetually on hold.

“Depressed people,” says Wikipedia, “feel sad, anxious, empty, hopeless, worried, helpless, worthless, guilty, irritable, hurt, or restless,” and Andy Waite matches at least several of those adjectives. He might continue in that mode for many more years, but a challenge arrives in the form of Melissa, a Christian student who asks him to supervise her independent study on Intelligent Design. As a scientist, and in particular as the instructor of a course on Darwinism, he considers Intelligent Design a ludicrous attempt to dress religious irrationality in scholarly garb, but Melissa maneuvers him into agreeing to work with her, and the more he gets to know her, the more she undermines his emotional and cognitive foundations. Without quite succumbing to her beliefs, he begins to find them comforting. He reads and rereads passages from a book written by her pastor: “how he was here for a reason, how everyone is on this earth for a reason, and the reason belonged to God.” And without exactly falling in love with Melissa, he finds himself romantically connected, which presents a further threat to his career.

Another book I’ve read recently is Joan Didion’s best-selling memoir The Year of Magical Thinking, a dissection—with as sharp a knife as Andy Waite uses on his mice—of the author’s own deranged state of mind in the year following her husband’s sudden death. Grief, she points out, is a truly disturbed condition, one of both mental and physical changes, and in her case no Melissa arrives with a Good Book of Succor; instead Didion uses her journalist’s work ethic, driven by the need to “get it right,” to catalog and analyze the distortions of mind, body and spirit that she endured. “Grief turns out,” she says, “to be a place none of us know until we reach it.” And when we do all reach it, we will be unprepared, even though she tells us the particular ways we will be unprepared:

“Nor can we know ahead of the fact (and here lies the heart of the difference between grief as we imagine it and grief as it is) the unending absence that follows, the void, the very opposite of meaning, the relentless succession of moments during which we will confront the experience of meaninglessness itself.” (Chap. 17)

Immediately after this passage, she describes how, as a young woman, she found meaning in geology, the “inexorable shifting” of the earth being evidence of some “scheme in action.” Though the scheme she intuited was indifferent, not benign, contemplating it was “deeply satisfying.” This recognition in turn gave significance, in her mind, to a key passage from the Episcopal litany: as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end.

That line is not exclusive to Episcopalians, of course; translated from the Gloria Patri, it appears in many other Christian doxologies. I remember it from Christmas Eve services, held just before midnight, at my grandmother’s Lutheran church, and though I’m as much a nonbeliever as Joan Didion and Andy Waite, I found it both comforting and inspiring. In a typical translation, the “world without end” line is preceded by “Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit” and followed by “Amen”—an appropriate Amen, since after glorifying the world without end, what else is there to say?

As Didion suggests, there’s solace in this evocation of the eternal, whether you connect it with a god or not. It has always been thus. It ever shall be thus. What’s the point, then, of complaining? And isn’t there some beauty in the fact that it all goes on forever (at least until the asteroid hits)?

Grandma’s small-town Lutherans, gathered on a cold Christmas Eve in a drafty church, creating warmth by their massed human numbers, would chant world without end, amen in unison. To me they felt—all these people I saw only once a year, the bald, the fat, the sniffly children, the sexy young mothers, the bored teenagers, the starched businessmen—like extended family. I imagined that by gathering together for ritual we resisted the encroaching freeze outside. For those few moments I believed in these people’s essential nobility, no matter what bastards they were in their daily lives. I believed that human suffering had dignity. I believed there was some point to existence, even if I couldn’t define it.

To conclude the service, we would light handheld candles, each person passing the flame to the next, until the entire sanctuary glowed with tiny lights—for just a minute or two, until we snuffed them out.

These brief flashes of meaningfulness have surprising influence in our daily lives, like an energy bar that keeps us going through the lean times. But for me it’s difficult to recreate them without the congregation snugged in surrounding pews, and especially without Grandma’s hip next to mine. The meaning arises from the people.

Where is all this taking me? To a recognition, I guess, of the courage it takes for all of us to plow through the unavoidable winters of the body and spirit. Joan and Andy and the rest of us—we’re actually pretty brave, aren’t we? Perhaps acknowledging this stalwartness, even celebrating it, is one good way to honor our depression.

And this is something literature can help us do. Maybe it’s not so silly, then, to read books about depressed people in the winter.

Okay, bring them on, the grim tales. With a mug of cocoa, please, for extra comfort.

Guest Post, Kat Meads: The Fun Stuff

In a Paris Review interview Julian Barnes dubbed weekends “a good working time because people think you’ve gone away and don’t disturb you.” Christmas, also. “Everyone’s out shopping and no one phones. I always work on Christmas morning—it’s a ritual,” he said.

Sounds a lovely time for Mr. Barnes.

My ritual during the quieter-time Christmas stretch is to devote an afternoon to excavating the catch-all contents of a dresser drawer in my study. What’s in there? Eleven plus months of paper scraps on which I’ve scribbled notes, ideas, books I’ve read, quotes—whatever my reading/writing brain took in and took up during that time frame. Reacquainting myself with that cache counts as a kind of holiday gift to myself. It can spawn a plan of action, writing-wise, for the year ahead. But even when it doesn’t, there’s fun to be had in the sifting through.

Some of what I took the trouble to write down gets immediately tossed, of course. (Typically the “possible titles” category takes the heaviest hit.) Still, in the sorting process, I try to give even my bad ideas their moment of reverie, if only to recall what prompted the clunker—and when. (It’s good to laugh during the holidays, isn’t it?)

A random sample of what made the cut for further mulling, 2014:
• Remember/use: Southern phrase “Hug on her a little.”
• Remember/use: “dog bread” (Corn meal and/or various leftovers, fried)
• Remember/use: the word noctuary
• Quote: Jane Austen in letter to sister Cassandra: “I hate tiny parties. They force one into constant exertion.”
• Quote: “God is not stoic.” Jack Miles
• Quote: “…the way the color sat…” Julian Schnabel
• Quote: “Hanging on to dreams is like trying to eat a smell.” Robert Coover
•Quote: “Go ahead, Lilly. Buy a sable coat.” Dashiell Hammett
• Character names: Tick. Adabelle. Jaybird. Pess Kight.
• Title: Bugs and Adultery
• Title: The Likelys
• Title: Vic Did His Best, But
• Spam email received, subject line: your life is to (sic) empty try our drugs
• Fact: Highway Act of 1956 funded 42,000 miles of interstate highway
• A thought: Historical characters are by necessity caricatures to us.
• A thought: Irony requires funding.

In 2013, I seemed to have gone on a (by and about) Lady Caroline Blackwood binge (For All That I Found There, The Stepdaughter, Great Granny Webster, The Fate of Mary Rose, Nancy Schoenberger’s Dangerous Muse, Ivana Lowell’s Why Not Say What Happened?). Followed by a Janet Malcolm binge. Followed by an Alan Dugan (rereading) binge. Followed by a Margery Allingham binge. Followed by a Sam Shepard binge. Among the year’s one-off reading pleasures: Claire Vaye Watkins’s Battleborn, David Canter’s Forensic Psychology, Carmen Bugan’s Burying the Typewriter and Philip K. Dick’s classic Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said.

And because I haven’t broken free of my Russian obsession—even though my novel For You, Madam Lenin is finished and published—I read Bertrand Patenaude’s Stalin’s Nemesis: The Exile and Murder of Leon Trotsky. And because a Los Angeles road trip was in the works, I hastened to finish a Ross Macdonald biography that included several of the author’s Santa Barbara addresses which I loaded into the car’s GPS for a bit of literary touristing along the way. And because as an insomniac I am a sucker for any title that aligns itself with my malaise, I read Jacqueline Rose’s On Not Being Able To Sleep: Psychoanalysis in the Modern World.

Best of the best part of my end-of-year assemblage, though, is my find it/buy it/read it note pile. The mere sight of all those titles-a-waiting puts me in a celebratory mood. If I have those volumes to look forward to, how awful can 2014 turn out to be?

Guest Post, Joe Neal: On Being Moved

Joe NealWe read Where The Red Fern Grows aloud in Mrs. Howard’s seventh grade English class. It was the kind of droning, affectless reading young teens are best at. For two weeks, a student would stumble through the required pages until relieved by the next student in the row. With no thought given to punctuation, stress, or intensity, we lumbered through Billy Coleman’s time with his hounds Old Dan and Little Ann. Mrs. Howard was patient the whole time, correcting the big words and rephrasing dialogue to indicate the appropriate colloquial delivery.

This isn’t coming from a student who was bookish and shuttered at the butchering of literature. I hadn’t really discovered books. That would come years later. At the time, I was into skateboarding and my chain wallet that made a racket against the plastic chair of my desk. I didn’t have any money, but I did have a wallet that was connected to a belt loop of my oversized jeans by a choker chain. This is all to say that my priorities were elsewhere, and I too struggled with reading aloud.

Also, this was seventh grade. Even if I could have read with excellence and clarity, I didn’t want to give the impression that I was ‘trying.’ Trying meant you thought you were smart, and smart was vulnerable. It’s embarrassing that I ever thought this way, but there it is. Anonymity was more important than elocution.

Despite our terrible delivery, the story still got through. I remember being secretly terrified when Old Dan and Little Ann protected Billy from the mountain lion. They didn’t stand a chance. Billy eventually killed the mountain lion with an axe, but Old Dan’s wounds were fatal.

Out of nowhere, Mrs. Howard took over the reading after Old Dan died. She said she had read these scenes to her class every year, and every year she cried. It was some kind of odd tradition. At most, I thought she might get a little misty; maybe a couple movie-style tears down her cheek. I had no idea.

The tears started when Little Ann slept next to Old Dan’s dead body, not knowing what else to do. Mrs. Howard held the book with one hand and wiped her nose and eyes with a tissue. She eventually just held the tissue to her eyes as she read. Her voice broke during Dan’s burial and Ann’s loss of appetite, and she wept when Billy found Ann dead on top of Dan’s grave. It was as though these were her dogs, and she was going through the loss for the first time. But, it didn’t make sense. She had done this for years and knew exactly what was going to happen. Also, it was a book, and none of it ever happened.

Mrs. Howard smiled at us when she finished; her face was red and she was still wiping her nose. No one laughed and no one clapped. We were a bunch of mean kids that didn’t understand that kind of vulnerability. Plus, it had come so fast and hard. The adult was crying and crying big. It just didn’t compute. She gathered herself just as the bell rang. We finished the book the next day, and no one ever asked her about the crying.

This was not the moment when I decided I would be a writer. Nor, is it the moment when I understood the importance of fiction. In fact, nothing occurred to me while Mrs. Howard read and cried. It went under that awful category teens have for anything unexpected: that was weird.

Decades later I was watching the television with my wife, and a clip from the 1974 version of Where The Red Fern Grows triggered the memory. I started the story casually, but I burst into tears when I got to the part where Mrs. Howard cried. I just couldn’t finish the story without crying. I could finally see that day as an adult, from the front of the class, and the sheer bravery of the act was overwhelming. I could appreciate Mrs. Howard opening up to her class year after year only to be looked at in horror by a bunch of bowl-cutted, acned teens. She showed us that it was okay to be moved by something. In fact, she showed it was vital to find that which moves us. It was a protest against our incredible apathy. It was a hope for decency. Tragically, it was the kind of gift that only makes sense years later. She had to have known her crying would initially be lost on us, put away and not dealt with until years later, not until we had been truly vulnerable in front of someone else. Like I said, right after it happened I just closed my book and went to lunch. Mrs. Howard might have watched our faces to see if anything registered, but that part I don’t remember. And I wasn’t there years after, but I am fairly sure Mrs. Howard stood in front of the classroom each year and cried for her students every time Old Dan died.

SR Pod/Vod Series: Writer Meg Tuite

Each Tuesday we feature audio or video of an SR Contributor reading their work. Today we’re proud to feature a podcast by Meg Tuite.

Meg TuiteMeg Tuite’s writing has appeared in numerous journals including Berkeley Fiction Review, Epiphany, JMWW, One, the Journal, Monkeybicycle and Boston Literary Magazine. She has been nominated several times for the Pushcart Prize.  She is fiction editor of Santa Fe Literary Review and Connotation Press, author of Domestic Apparition (2011) San Francisco Bay Press, Disparate Pathos (2012) Monkey Puzzle Press, Reverberations (2012) Deadly Chaps Press, Bound By Blue (2013) Sententia Books, Her Skin is a Costume (2013) Red Bird Chapbooks, and won the Twin Antlers Collaborative Poetry award from Artistically Declined Press for her poetry collection written with Heather Fowler and Michelle Reale, Bare Bulbs Swinging (2014). She teaches at the Santa Fe Community College.

You can listen to the podcast on our iTunes Channel.

You can read along with the work in Superstition Review.

SR Pod/Vod Series: Writer Adrianne Kalfopoulou

Each Tuesday we feature audio or video of an SR Contributor reading their work. Today we’re proud to feature a podcast by Adrianne Kalfopoulou.

Adrianne KalfopoulouAdrianne Kalfopoulou has had her work appear in print and online journals including Hotel Amerika, World Literature Today, ROOM magazine, The Broome Street Review, Web Del Sol, VPR (Valparaiso Poetry Review) and Fogged Clarity. She lives and teaches in Athens Greece, and is on the faculty of the creative writing program at NYU. Adrianne written a poetry collection, Passion Maps (Red Hen Press), and her collection of essays, Ruin, Essays in Exilic Life, is forthcoming from Red Hen Press in September 2014.

You can listen to the podcast on our iTunes Channel.

You can read along with the work in Superstition Review.

Guest Post, Jane Hoppen: The Whip-tail Lizard: Lessons in Nature and Biology

In BetweenMy inspiration for my debut novel, In Between, derived from my reading of the Navajo myth of creation, as translated by Hosteen Klah. Throughout the myth, Klah makes reference to individuals he calls nadles. The nadles are intersex beings, bridges between the sexes, and they are revered by the Navajo nation, never changed at birth. And I think they got it right. Never have there been only two genders, and to date there are more than 15 known biological variations in which a human can be born. Sophie Schmidt, the main character in my novel, is born with a variation called Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome, in the early 1960s. At that time, and still very often today, parents of intersex babies are pressured by the medical community to have their babies surgically changed into as much of a male or female as possible. Most often the female gender is chosen for these babies, as constructing male genitals is a much more complicated process. Our society, it seems, would rather continue with this strategy, rather than accept the existence of a third gender, or many different intersex variations. The need to protect our society’s male-female paradigm has made this group of people a very secret sect in our society.

In that regard, I think we could learn a lesson or two from nature and basic biology itself. All members of the whip-tailed lizard population found in Arizona and New Mexico, for example, are female. These lizards are perfectly adapted to the environment they live in and, as nature dictates, they don’t want to dilute their good genes with male involvement. The lizards have developed the ability to reproduce asexually, with some of the female lizards stepping up to fill the male’s role with a surge of testosterone.

Many more examples of biological and sexual variations can be found in the animal kingdom. Some oysters can change sex more than once during life. In oysters, the organs that produce eggs and sperm consist of sex cells and surround the digestive organs. From there they branch into the connective tissue and tubules. Some pigs have an ovotestis formation—a melding of the ovary and testes. There are marsupials with pouches even though the reproductive tracts are male. Others have hemipouches and hemiscrotums with female reproductive tracts. To date, scientists have classified and documented more than 470 animal species with sexual variations that are neither male nor female.

The bottom line is that biological variations exist in both the natural and human world, and we need a way to embrace that fact, rather than continue to find ways to work around it. The time has come for us to challenge the long-standing paradigm that insists on the existence of only males and females and to acknowledge the many people who live with one of the many known intersex conditions.

s[r] Goodreads #FridayReads

Julie Matsen shared another stellar review for our Goodreads page in December.

Wilderness RunWilderness Run by Maria Hummel

The American Civil War is a favorite subject among historical fiction enthusiasts in the United States. The heartrending notion of brothers and countrymen pitted against each other lends itself to family drama, while the fight between states’ rights and human rights has been fodder for political commentary since the late nineteenth century. In her debut novel, Maria Hummel transcends the textbook accounts of the war, wrapping readers in both the viscera of the front lines and the heartbreak of the home front. Teenage cousins Laurence and Isabel “Bel” Lindsey are thrust into the war of ideals when they try to help a runaway slave escape to Canada. Laurence later enlists in the Union army, leaving his Vermont home for gray Potomac winters and deafening battlefields. Bel, who has been left behind, must unravel an uncomfortable family secret while keeping a few of her own under wraps. Maria Hummel is a gifted nonfiction writer, and her prose shines in “Wilderness Run.” Even the characters who have a purposeful vapidity were fleshed out beautifully, and the dynamic central cast of characters was even more so. The text has a way of sucking in readers; I wish had the joy of reading it all in one sitting, and reading it in a day sufficed.

You can read Hummel’s Waves in s[r] Issue 3.