Sometimes on the subway my husband and I play a game. We choose a person and silently take in the details, from the obvious physical characteristics to the more subtle indicators of who this person is and what type of life he or she might lead (Is that a wedding ring? What’s the title of the book he’s reading, and is he really reading it? Why does she keep checking her watch? Look how she’s noticing her reflection in the window). We assemble narratives, which we share with each other later on, using the observed details to explain and defend until we combine our efforts into one story of a stranger we will most likely never see again. Some might call us nosy, but I prefer to think of us as curious. Either way, my husband and I are shameless. At restaurants we eavesdrop. One of us will catch a juicy tidbit at the next table and widen our eyes, and whatever conversation we were having will stop as we both lean forward and listen.
I have been a people-watcher all my life, and my home, New York City, is the perfect place to indulge. People are endlessly fascinating with their complexities and contradictions, their histories and quirks. But what really pulls me in is the raw humanness we all share—that mash-up of love, uncertainty, fear, and want swirling around just below the surface. We are more alike than we are different, yet these common vulnerabilities are the ones we guard most carefully, ashamed and afraid of the judgment of others, or even ourselves. When we let those vulnerabilities slip through—that is a moment of beauty.
If asked why I write, I could give many answers: compulsion; the joy of words; the freedom in creation; a desire to leave a mark, however small, on the world. But, really, I write for the same reason I read, and the same reason I people-watch: to learn about others and try to get at that common, messy human core. My novel, Spark, addresses subjects that have interested me for a long time; I’ve written elsewhere about my initial inspiration and the research involved. But the actual act of putting pen to paper began with one character, the narrator, Andrea. Her name came to me on a walk one afternoon and with it a feeling of anguish; I understood that she was a woman fighting to gain control and losing badly, although I didn’t know why yet. I wrote her name down in my notebook and began listing everything about her. From there, the relationships then the themes of the book revealed themselves to me.
Almost all my fiction begins this way, with one character coming up to me out of the ether. As I write, I feel that character pulling me along, as if the story is already there, the character impatient for me to uncover it. I’m sure my people-watching has helped, the details filed away in my subconscious for later use.
In my writing I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to bring out that messy human core as completely, or with as much clarity, as I would like, but it gives me something to strive for. And in the process, I find myself feeling more connected to those beautiful strangers on the subway.
Jamie Acevedo is an Interview Editor at Superstition Review, and a senior in his final semester working towards a bachelors degree in English focused on Literature with a minor in Religious Studies. After graduation he aspires to attend an MFA program in a new part of the country, maybe the southeast or west coast, and work on his goal becoming an accomplished writer of fiction.
Jamie moved to Tempe from New York to attend Arizona State University to pursue his goal of studying literature and has found life in the southwest to be an enlightening experience. Originally focused on critical theory and literary criticism he discovered a passion for writing short stories in his freshman year and has recently started working on creative nonfiction and biographies. He loves reading literary magazines, which he was introduced to after taking a course on pursuing publication taught by Superstition Review‘s founding editor Patricia Colleen Murphy. This internship has provided him with an opportunity as an Interview Editor to work with authors he has been reading and studying in creative writing classes and really admires.
His personal definition of art is that it is a tool that allows human beings to communicate abstract concepts and complicated emotions with each other. The writers who have had the biggest influence on him are those who seem to have made unique insights into the human condition. These include the short stories of Jhumpa Lahiri, Flannery O’ Connor, Stephen Crane and James Joyce and the novels of Robert Stone and Thomas Pynchon. He also enjoys novels that tackle religious and ideological themes like those of Fyodor Dostoyevsky and George Orwell. In addition to works of fiction he also enjoys reading essays on literary criticism, especially those on postcolonialism and reader response criticism.
Outside of literature and writing Jamie enjoys sports, hiking, cycling and travel. After this semester he plans to spend time in Puerto Rico to visit family.
A prize of $1,000 and publication in Literal Latté is given annually for a poem. Submit up to six poems of no more than 2,000 words each with a $10 entry fee ($15 for up to 10 poems) by July 15. E-mail or visit their website for complete guidelines.
Literal Latté, Poetry Award, 200 East 10th Street, Suite 240, New York, NY 10003. (212) 260-5532. Jenine Gordon Bockman, Editor
Three prizes of $10,000 each are awarded annually to honor a book of poetry, a book of fiction, and a book of creative nonfiction written by U.S. writers and published in the United States during the eligibility year. Four finalists in each category receive $1,000 each. Publishers may submit an entry form by June 15. Books, bound galleys, or bound manuscripts published or scheduled for publication between December 1, 2011, and November 30, 2012, should be submitted to the judges and to the National Book Foundation by August 1. The entry fee is $125 per title. Call or e-mail for the required entry form and complete guidelines.
National Book Foundation, National Book Awards, 90 Broad Street, Suite 604, New York, NY 10004. (212) 685-0261.
In the midst of things, at the between of things, I wonder why I ever believe in completeness. Again, my plans for a project, my idea that I can predict how I will approach something, my faith that these things are manageable – all slide away.
Without meaning to, with other things to do and books to read piled around me, I began reading Ernesto Pujol’s new book Sited Body, Public Visions: silence, stillness & walking as Performance Practice. On that rainy gray morning I read it until I had to stop on page 49. I stopped because every page calls me to write and write in response, in collaboration, in imitation. I have fallen into the trance of a voice, a mind, a generosity. Pujol’s writing is doing that thing to me that is the reason I go to art: he is writing things I have guessed, have intimated, have intuited, have maybe even known, but never articulated. So reading feels like coming to myself even while I am reading the inner and outer life of someone quite unlike me.
I want to write and write. I want to quote and quote. I want to ask and ask: Must I “finish” in order to respond? Must I get all the way to the end – of the book, the day, the job, the semester, the life – in order to be moved, to know something? Here is Ernesto on his work as a visual and performance artist: “It takes a passage of time, sometimes a lifetime, for an art practice to mature, to know itself, to reveal its secret depths and complexities. . .” So Ernesto answers me, perhaps. The ends of things, or maybe the pauses between things, bring maturity, knowing, revelation. Every page is a revelation. Every page ends and then goes on as my hands turn and turn, my eyes leap and shift, wet orbs of light and reading.
I have known Ernesto for a little more than 10 years. We have collaborated on two projects – an exhibition and a work of performance – in that time. His Field School Project published my first chapbook in 2010. He commissioned the work as a script for Farmers Dream, an all-night performance in a warehouse in central Kansas. My long poem is a partial, unfinished and unfinishable memoir of a span of difficult months in my life when I turned to the work that Ernesto envisioned. I hoped the project might save me. I used the assignment as an opportunity for reading and re-reading my grandfather’s farming journal. He wrote his daily activities, the weather, his goings out and comings back in the same big book each day from 1907 when he was a bachelor at 19, until he was a married 30-year-old father of two in 1918. My mother would be born in 1925, by which year he no longer wrote every day. On March 9, 1912, he wrote “Cut wood in morning. Shoveled sand out of river in afternoon. Went after milk. Spotted heifer (Star) was fresh about 4 p.m. Milked cows. Clipped my hair at night.” He recorded the middles of things – chores that need doing and then redoing because of the fecundity of nature.
I did not meet this grandfather who worked with his hands and back, who supported the people I grew up knowing best – my mother and her sisters. He died when my mother was 13. I have a photograph of her, freckles over her nose, sitting with her mother on the still-humped grave on his birthday in August 1938. In 2001, she would die on the same date, long past knowing the calendar in her illness, living the last weeks of her life entirely in the bed her parents had bought and used a lifetime earlier. When I visit my sister, I sleep in that bed. I am not finished sleeping yet. It is not only the photograph or the smooth wood of the headboard and footboard that know.
Ernesto writes, “You are dead. You are reading this, but you are dead. You died long ago, but you are being remembered. A child is remembering you.” In those sentences I become the girl at her father’s grave, I become her father I know only through his handwriting, I become my 75-year-old mother at her death; I become myself.
The grave is so new that only a temporary marker, a round metal sign with letters pushed into slots, leans a bit in the foreground. Toward me. I can almost make out his name and the single date, but I am imagining into the picture, doing what I do best: reading through a lens of what reading suggests I understand. Already, stopped only at page 49, I flip back through Ernesto’s book looking for what I think is there. Are the words printed or are they the ones I put there as a reader, as a writer?
When Ernesto was small, he writes in the first paragraph of Chapter One, he was able to make it rain, his favorite weather, “a child of the shade, moist moss and wet ferns.” How often have I written about that shade? Mine was Midwestern, shaggy elm tree and shrub shade of back yards. His was tropical island shade, fronds and leaves. In our separate and still lived lives, we share greengray timelessness, when morning and afternoon almost all the way to night cast the same light. Under the rough spreading bushes of the back yard, I planted my first seeds – black grenade shapes of four-o-clocks also called mirabilis (amazing, wondrous), which opened in late afternoon shadows when the temperature dropped and the soil went cool against bare feet.
I will go on reading this gentle book past the page, each page where I stop. I will go on writing it as a reader writes, incompletely and through the half-illuminating, half-blinding lenses of my experience. I write from a dim room where I am comforted by the scents of moss and milk. Writing and reading as a writer are the ways I know to re-enter that room and when I find a book like Ernesto’s, that miracle in my hands, it helps me through the doorway and I am t/here.
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.
Superstition Review Issue 7 has launched and to celebrate we will be featuring blog posts about our artists and authors. Today we will be highlighting a few of the interviews featured in Issue 7.
A native of Detroit, John Grogan spent more than 20 years as an investigative reporter and columnist, most recently at the Philadelphia Inquirer. He also is the former editor of Rodale’s Organic Gardening magazine. His first book, Marley & Me, was a #1 New York Times bestseller with six million copies in print in more than 30 languages. It was made into a movie starring Owen Wilson and Jennifer Aniston. Grogan’s second book, The Longest Trip Home, also a national bestseller, explores the author’s loving but complicated relationship with his devout Irish Catholic parents. John lives with his wife and three children in eastern Pennsylvania. Read the interview featured in issue 7. John Grogan’s Website
Jenifer Rae Vernon’s first book of poetry Rock Candy was published by West End Press in 2009. Rock Candy received the “Tillie Olsen Award” as the best book of creative writing that insightfully represents working class life and culture from the Working Class Studies Association, SUNY, Stony Brook, in June of 2010. In August of 2009, Garrison Keillor selected a poem from the collection, “Blackberry Pie” to perform on Writer’s Almanac. And in October of 2010, Keillor selected a second poem from the book, “Ketchican Wrestling” for Writer’s Almanac. Currently, Vernon lives in Juneau, Alaska with her husband and teaches Communication at the University of Alaska Southeast. Read the interview featured in issue 7 here.
Diana Joseph is the author of the short story collection Happy or Otherwise (Carnegie Mellon UP 2003) and I’m Sorry You Feel That Way: The Astonishing But True Story of a Daughter, Sister, Slut, Wife, Mother and Friend to Man and Dog (Putnam 2009.) Her work has appeared in Threepenny Review, Willow Springs, Marie Claire, Country Living and Best Sex Writing 2009. She teaches in the MFA program at Minnesota State University in Mankato, Minnesota. Read the interview in issue 7. Diana Joseph’s Website
Beverly Lowry was born in Memphis, grew up in Greenville, Mississippi and now lives in Austin where she is working on a book about another case of multiple murder, the unsolved killings of four young girls in an I Can’t Believe It’s Yogurt shop, in Austin in 1991. The recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, an NEA fellowship and the Richard Wright Award for Literary Excellence, she is the author of six novels and three books of nonfiction, she teaches at George Mason University and is currently Writer-in-Residence at Goucher College in Baltimore. Read the interview in issue 7. Beverly Lowry’s Website
The full magazine with featured art and artists from issue 7 can be found here. Check back tomorrow to read about the nonfiction authors featured in issue 7.