Ocean Vuong’s writing is steeped in memories, the history of which sometimes precedes him chronologically. This was true of his poetry in the collection Night Sky With Exit Wounds, and it is also true of his first novel, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, recently released by Penguin Press. This novel is a recursive exploration of the path memories take through a family. The narrator’s life is impacted by the traumas his mother and grandmother suffered before he was born. As a very young child, Vuong’s narrator, Little Dog, learns quickly that not all authority figures can be trusted absolutely, and that even unconditional love has flaws. Throughout the novel, Vuong illustrates that we are all sharing space with the past, even as we exist in the present.chop! chop! read more!
In Mike Avery’s debut novel, an ambitious law student is determined to find the truth to save an innocent man accused of murder. But the truth is never black-and-white, and the secrets she discovers hit close to home. The Cooperating Witness is a compelling legal thriller in which the moral ambiguities of justice are on trial. Mike Avery mines his fifty-year career as an attorney and law professor to craft a suspenseful story of murder, the mob, and a young woman’s determined idealism. In the following interview, conducted via phone and email, the author discusses his novel, the freedom of writing fiction, and the complex intersection of our legal system and morality.chop! chop! read more!
CONNECTED BREATH Glass Wind Instruments for Intimacy and Vulnerability by Madeline Rile Smith Growing up, I never imagined I would become a visual artist, let alone an artist working in hot glass. In high school, I was required to take an art class, so I signed up for a glass elective, with no idea what I was getting into. At first, I was terrified of burning my fingers, but after a few sessions, the hypnotic presence of melting glass in a flame lured me in. Hot glass is always moving; it has rhythm. The artist must respond with her own movements. You cannot control glass on your own terms; the glass will always be the one to set the terms of engagement. When you work with glass you must be humble and accept that you will fail over and over. A day’s work might shatter into a hundred pieces if … chop! chop! read more!
IN THE WOODS
Mid-June. It’s cool. It’s quiet. the sun-dappled path is rugged and craggy and I’ve been walking it one or another for 55 years. Gus pulls me along, his pantaloons jauntily swaying in the breeze, stopping at each watering hold with expectant, happy eyes. In here, I don’t have to think about 115,000 dead. In here, I don’t have to think about a 27-year old shot in the back in a Wendy’s parking lot or a 46-year old dying with a knee on his neck after 9 minutes…chop! chop! read more!
You scratch because it itches. You’re over the moon with excitement. Good news always drives your histamine reaction and now you’re breaking out in hives. You drink a glass of water. You breathe, slow breaths, in, out, the way the yoga teacher and the meditation guru and the homeopathist and the ENT guy instruct. The itch gets funky, like a dance, up and down your arms, the backs of your thighs, a place between your shoulder blades you can’t reach. You ask Ben to reach for you and he says he won’t because scratching only makes it worse. If you’re going to marry this guy, you want to know. You tell him he has to and when he does, you know you made the right choice.chop! chop! read more!
My wife fingered the remaining chocolate syrup from her bowl to her mouth and announced she was going to bed. I’ll admit The Tonight Show monologue that night wasn’t going to change her mind. It was all obvious punchlines about the president’s Asia trip, with some cheap shots at the end for the congressman with the Honduran mistress maid, and the reality TV star with the unflattering DUI mugshot. I feared this was becoming the norm. I followed my wife upstairs, hoping we might discuss this unsettling trend, or get in something cursory between the two of us, but she fell asleep in a way that suggested a medical condition.chop! chop! read more!
The truth is, she misses everything from those days, the skirts they wore and the bangs they had, side swept, always on the verge of disappearing, like youth. Like life. It all slipped away, as her parents had warned her, even the people. Girlfriends you thought you’d have forever, poof, lost to marriage or motherhood or minds suddenly changed. They didn’t want to be girls anymore. They moved to other states. They changed their names and lost themselves.chop! chop! read more!
It began with a stove,
burnt mahogany dissipates in, wishing
the ember hinted the future: mother
running out of her favorite house,
home to the ancestors’ cedar trees. She had one last look
at her bedroom door, the one grandfather
painted pink, now dark red. I could only recall
It is midnight in early March and you are pacing the wood floors of your sweet, single-story house in East Nashville—a place with a pair of red-tailed hawks in the front yard and a pair of train tracks in the back. You are on the phone with your musician-botanist-projectionist friend, comparing the vibrant gardens of your childhood to coral reefs. Before it sold, she saw your parents’ house for herself last summer: the lightning bugs, the flowering vines, the fractal canopy suspended above the creek. She gets what you mean about the flowers. You jot down some notes, hang up, and go fill a water glass. You catch a flash of white light through the slats of your blinds and step on the back deck.chop! chop! read more!
The world was fuzzy. Victoria blinked. She blinked again and again until the room came into focus. A pixelated ceiling. A window opening to blackness. An unkempt man slouched in a chair, fist propping up a mess of greasy dark hair. He had sallow skin, dark bags beneath bloodshot eyes. Familiar eyes. Barry’s eyes? Benny? Billy? Billy.chop! chop! read more!
Squinting against whiteness the child left her mother beside the woodpile. With the sudden drop in temperature an icy crust had formed on last night’s new snow. “We’ll find it!” her mother called, watching the child walk on the surface while she stood shin-deep, clutching her stump to her breast. It was tightly wrapped in rags. Bleeding was stanched. The throbbing had slowed, perhaps due to the cold. But she was burning up, dizzy.chop! chop! read more!
When Mom died Rachel started asking questions. What did Mom make for Christmas morning? Egg casserole. When did Mom go back to school? I was fourteen, you were eleven. The questions got smaller and bigger, as though by their specificity they were magnified. What did she smell like? She wore Chanel No. 5. I know that, Tabbie. But what did she smell like? She smelled like orange honey and coral lipstick and bright green breath mints. What did her hugs feel like? They were nice. Tabbie. Like she was bringing you in and keeping you out at the same time.chop! chop! read more!
Knitting transcends time, and is a dominant theme in Jan Powell’s life and work as an artist. Through her use and creative exploration of this craft, Jan has produced—over the past four decades—a tangible amalgam of heritage, feminism, and memory.
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Am I the only one in the Cleveland Art Museum today
looking for mercy? I’m looking at an artwork about Hell
or the end of the world, recalling my then-small son saying,
of the Challenger disaster, I’d have gotten out. In the painting,
there are boats and the boats are filling, the sea aswarm and
starkly bullying like the first dopplered image of a hurricane.
Angels with an artist’s idea of wings are manning the tillers,
captaining across a broth of larvae-white bodies, the deltas
The banana bread would not bake. Maddy had followed the recipe to a T, only substituting canola oil for half the butter, honey for half the sugar, skim for whole milk, and nutmeg for cinnamon. Putting on long oven mitts and pulling the door open, she checked the loaf again. Three hundred and fifty degree heat swept into the kitchen, already filled with late summer swelter. Not wanting to take the time to lift the single bread pan onto the top of the stove, she pulled out the rack, took off one mitt and stuck a toothpick into the loaf. Raising it straight up, it was plain to the naked eye—her reading glasses were sitting idle on the kitchen table—that raw batter clung to the sliver of wood for dear life. If it had been at all cooperative it would let the toothpick withdraw, leaving no trace on the twig, as if untouched by the experience.chop! chop! read more!
The hospice nurse is gloves-and-salve practical.
She says: your mother must want something from you.
My mother can’t walk or talk. Her body is bones wrapped in reams of moth skin. Her brain works in insect twitches.chop! chop! read more!
While shopping what’s left of the canned goods at the grocery store, an announcement at the top of the hour, robust and autotuned: “All employees must now perform a personal temperature check,” and I, in a pair of disposable vinyl gloves but not a facemask because Dr. Gupta says they’re unnecessary for the still- and now- and currently-healthy, holding the last can of Kroger no-salt garbanzos, recall they’ve always made this announcement, but two weeks ago they were checking the temperature of the meats.chop! chop! read more!
hands the swaddled child over. A dream is no place
for a baby. She has seen revelers pour the baby
from a carafe—he’s white wine, fruity like the summer
he is born into, and they drink the baby in the purple
dusk of a dream-cafe. She’s always too late to stop them.
out my window colored heads bound in swiftness. in their decision to bring about movement
& motion. the snow is taking a break from falling, as it did just days before. the village is
painted in primordial gray, with roofs in color too happy even for a rainbow. eavesdroppingchop! chop! read more!
There are three women installed in the living room when I arrive. Smartly dressed, young moms most likely, with highlighted loosely curled hair, gleaming toenails, and tailored pantsuits. All have open laptops and cell phones—new information and guidelines saturate the air. I arrive with a friend because this is where our weekly writing group meets, at Hope’s house—because she’s wheelchair-bound, and can’t easily secure a ride to our usual meeting places. The women are from the hospice—nurse, social worker, and gerontologist. It occurs to me that the more they deal with the dying, the farther away they get from death. They bring a pleasing scent to the room, perfume and doughnuts and pastries, which overpower the disinfectant used to clean up after Hope’s father’s renal stent failed in the middle of the night and urine soaked into the carpet.chop! chop! read more!
At its heart, Cleanness is a novel about duality: the duality of spirit, of desire, of self-perception. How one can be “dirty” and “clean” at the same time. With deft and expressive writing, Greenwell questions our understanding of these concepts. What does it mean to be dirty? What does it mean to be clean? To go outside or stay in. To stay in or go outside. Perhaps they are just two facets of the same thing.
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Writers have a way of finding each other in Virginia, thanks to several strong literary non-profits. Sharon Harrigan teaches at WriterHouse in Charlottesville and I used to help run James River Writers in Richmond. We met years ago at the annual JRW Writers Conference. When my first novel came out, Sharon generously reached out and offered to interview me for Fiction Writers Review. I moved to Cambridge several years later, but we continued to keep track of each other’s careers, cheering on each new publication. I’m delighted to interview her now about her debut novel, HALF. In sparse, lyrical prose, it tells the story of identical twins who speak in one voice, until they can’t any longer.chop! chop! read more!
From the very first moment of her existence, Muiriel was born alone. Found abandoned at a medical center with no parents to claim her, Muiriel has lived in foster care her entire life. But blessed with a book of survival by naturalist John Muir and her experience in nearly twenty different foster homes, seventeen-year-old Muiriel knows she will not let her past dictate her future:
Aging out is terrifying.chop! chop! read more!
A note to my readers:
Here are a few more coronavirus-related letters. Knowing what I know now, I would have submitted them all at once, a few weeks ago, instead of spacing them out. Things have changed so quickly since that first batch: problems like nagging mothers and the niceties of social-distancing behavior may seem petty and quaint as compared to the deadly-serious questions and sweeping protests following the murder of George Floyd. I will submit my second batch of letters now, but humbly, in hopes that they may provide a moment of entertainment for those of you who are taking a break from weightier matters, and that they may still be of use to those of you who are still worried about contracting the virus during normal daily activities.chop! chop! read more!
To The Bone is a book about the particular sort of remembering that accompanies losing a parent to Alzheimer’s. The poet’s mother is brought tenuously, haltingly, on the page. A sense of slippage is accomplished through layering, repetitions, and fluctuating temporality to reveal how a disease of memory appears to the mind struggling to find shore in presence.chop! chop! read more!
It’s a damp, drizzly November night—Thanksgiving—and I can’t help but think of Melville’s famous orphan, who sets out from this insular city of the Manhattoes, goes to sea with branded Ahab, and eats hardtack with his shipmates aboard the doomed Pequod. ■ Blinky grew up on a cattle ranch in Miami. As a boy, he spent time in foster homes, on the street. He tells me about his father—then asks me to leave him out of it. Saw his mother for the first time when he was 12 or 13, around the time he started smoking crack. Saw her again—and for the last time—a few years later.chop! chop! read more!
Tables need at least three legs to stand; guitar strings only ring when taut around two points. Minor Detail, Adania Shibli’s third novel, takes its title as a challenge: how much can hinge upon one moment? How can a single moment of pain bridge the past to the present?chop! chop! read more!
The thing I believe writers (and perhaps also readers) need to know about the big warm house is that it’s built on a foundation of contradiction. Everyone who lives inside must crave solitude but instead find themselves bumping up against furniture, beds, each other, themselves. They must be forced into intimacy and driven apart by failing to understand one another. The fictional house must always be full of people but also profoundly lonely. The house must represent safety but also danger—a waystation between two worlds, though never exposing in which direction lies folly and which salvation. Most importantly, the inhabitants of the story house must be torn between desperately wanting to get away, and wanting never to leave.chop! chop! read more!
THE PROPULSIVE PICTURE Image as an Engine in Poetry Taught by Cleaver Poetry Editor Claire Oleson 5 weeks July 11-August 15 SOLD OUT Class limit: 12 Questions: [email protected] In this course, we will explore how images can serve as the engine in a poem: driving the language as a plot might in a story or novel. We will work primarily on generating new work, encouraging participants to push their boundaries and hone their voice to create memorable and authentic pieces. The workshop model will facilitate constructive responses from both peers and the instructor. Particular attention will be placed on the visual life of the poetry we read and write. We will read a few selections of poetry weekly that demonstrate the potential of images as communicative engines. The readings will be brief but rich, with the intent of inviting multiple re-readings, close readings, note-taking and flexibility for everyone’s lives and … chop! chop! read more!
TELLING TRUE STORIES A Workshop in Creative Nonfiction Taught by Cleaver Editor Sydney Tammarine 5 weeks October 19–November 20 Class limit: 12 Questions: [email protected] Writer Dinty W. Moore says that creative nonfiction equals curiosity plus truth. CNF comes in a variety of forms: from expansive memoir to intimate personal essay to the lightbulb “eureka!” of flash. But in any form, the CNF writer is a guiding voice in the dark: a storyteller seeking truth, thinking alongside the reader toward a deeper understanding of ourselves and our world. In this class, we’ll practice the essay in its most dynamic form: a verb that means “to test; to practice; to taste; to try to do, accomplish, or make (anything difficult).” Each week, we will read and discuss one or more example essays and generate new work from prompts. Students will share their work for peer and instructor feedback. This workshop has weekly … chop! chop! read more!
THE ART OF THE SCENE A Workshop in Fiction and Creative Nonfiction Taught by Lisa Borders 5 weeks August 2 – September 4 introductory Zoom meeting at 2 pm ET on Sun Aug 2 SOLD OUT $200 early bird / $225 regular Class limit: 12 Questions: [email protected] The writer Sandra Scofield describes a “pulse”—that spark that makes the story come alive— as a vital element to all scenes. This pulse is especially crucial for opening scenes, as many agents and editors report that if they are not hooked on a manuscript within the first five pages, they will not read on. But what is a “pulse,” and how can a writer ensure that each scene—not just the opening— has one? How can we write in such a way that our characters come to life, that a scene breathes emotion and urgency, while moving the plot forward and keeping tension taut? … chop! chop! read more!
Jenn Shapland’s hybridized memoir and biography straddles what its seemingly-impossible title suggests: an ability to write about oneself by writing about someone else. Far from taking on a myopic or narcissistic project, My Autobiography of Carson McCullers is eager to talk about the self for the sake of empathy, to revive written-off lives, to question presumed heterosexualities, and to make a bodily connection with now-irrecoverable marginalized bodies.chop! chop! read more!
EMBRACING UNCERTAINTY, Part 1 of Two A Workshop to Jumpstart Your Writing open to all levels and genres Parts 1 and 2 may be repeated or taken out of order taught by Cleaver Editor Tricia Park 5 weeks Sept 19, 26, Oct 3, 10, 17. 5 Zoom classes, Saturdays 2-4 pm Eastern Time $200 Class limit: 12 Questions: [email protected] [This session is sold out. Consider Session II, starting Nov 7. Sessions can be repeated and can be taken out of sequence.] EMBRACING UNCERTAINTY is a five-week online generative writing course for writers of all levels and genres. In these days of uncertainty and rapid change, it’s difficult to know what to hang onto. And social distancing leaves us struggling to maintain our mental wellness during this undetermined period of isolation. But what if we can use this time to develop a skill; start a new project; follow a passion? What if … chop! chop! read more!
Dispatches from inner and outer space…chop! chop! read more!
TELLING TRUE STORIES A Workshop in Creative Nonfiction Taught by Cleaver Editor Sydney Tammarine 5 weeks July 27 – August 28 [sold out] Class limit: 12 Questions: [email protected] Writer Dinty W. Moore says that creative nonfiction equals curiosity plus truth. CNF comes in a variety of forms: from expansive memoir to intimate personal essay to the lightbulb “eureka!” of flash. But in any form, the CNF writer is a guiding voice in the dark: a storyteller seeking truth, thinking alongside the reader toward a deeper understanding of ourselves and our world. In this class, we’ll practice the essay in its most dynamic form: a verb that means “to test; to practice; to taste; to try to do, accomplish, or make (anything difficult).” Each week, we will read and discuss one or more example essays and generate new work from prompts. Students will share their work for peer and instructor feedback. This … chop! chop! read more!
THE ART OF FLASH A Workshop in Fiction and Nonfiction Taught by Cleaver Flash Editor Kathryn Kulpa Both sessions of Kathryn Kulpa’s The Art of Flash are sold out—new classes by Kathryn will be announced shortly! Session 2: 5 weeks June 20 — July 25, 2020 $125 early bird / $150 regular Class limit: 12 Questions: [email protected] [sold out] Session 1: 5 weeks May 9 — June 6, 2020 $125 early bird / $150 regular Class limit: 12 Questions: [email protected] [sold out] Flash is a genre defined by brevity: vivid emotions and images compressed into a compact form. We most often see flash fiction, but flash can also encompass prose poetry, micro memoir, lyric essays, and hybrid works. In this class, we will take a close look at different styles and forms of flash fiction, as well as flash nonfiction, hybrid, and experimental works. Each week, we will read and … chop! chop! read more!
During the day and a half that I ravenously read Ramiza Shamoun Koya’s debut novel, The Royal Abduls, I asked myself these questions. I leaned into the lives of Koya’s magnificently drawn characters, into the nest of troubles they inadvertently twigged together, into the love they did not know how to express. Or forgot to express. Or ran out of time to express.chop! chop! read more!
First, let me apologize to you for not having posted in so long. What with one thing and another, my alter ego in the real word became preoccupied. But the pandemic has vastly increased her free time: once she has decontaminated the day’s deliveries, Zoomed for an hour or two, walked the dog, done a little reading and writing, sent off a few irate messages to our elected (who knows how, as Gerard Manley Hopkins would say) officials, and beaten back despair and other existential stuff with carbs and Netflix, there’s really nothing left to do except cleaning and giving advice. So here I am; and, happily, my re-emergence has coincided with a flurry of novel-coronavirus questions. Ahem!
—Love, Junechop! chop! read more!
Claire Oleson’s chapbook, Things From the Creek Bed We Could Have Been, is the winner of the Newfound 2019 Prose Prize, awarded annually to a chapbook-length work of exceptional fiction or nonfiction that explores how place shapes identity, imagination, and understanding.
In this following interview by Andrea Caswell, Claire discusses the work, and how making art can reshape our understanding of what we see in the world.chop! chop! read more!
Don’t miss Emily Steinberg’s take on new trends for Spring 2020 face masks!
The Wall Streeter, tailored and minimal, this conical face covering oozes quiet authority. Exemplary for Zoom board meetings and other social-distancing-approved company functions.
The Boho, groovy and iconoclastic. Puts your free spirit front and center. Totes rad for riding the waves, catching the rays in Malibu, or wine tasting in Petaluma.
The Prep, flawless on the links, at the club, or yachting off Nantucket, with easy straw access for a steady supply of gin and tonics…chop! chop! read more!
In a short piece of writing on “London Under Siege,” written during World War II, Virginia Woolf wrote that “everybody is feeling the same thing: therefore no one is feeling anything in particular. The individual is merged in the mob.” Reading these words now, as we live through a different collective social crisis, I am reminded of the significance of individual intellectual and emotional life as a key form of sustenance and even political action.chop! chop! read more!
On a recent Sunday under quarantine, my spouse Susan Sheu and I donned costume wigs for our Zoom meeting. Twelve volunteers from the Los Angeles area sat at our respective kitchen tables, couches, and easy chairs and wrote postcards for California 38th District assembly member Christy Smith, who is running for Congress via a special election on May 12. Susan came up with the concept “wigging out for Democracy”; she thought that wearing wigs would be a festive and interesting way to make the Zoom meeting less tedious. It worked well: despite the quarantine and general malaise, wearing the wigs did add levity and made the afternoon go by faster.
Eitan Hersh, a political science professor at Tufts University, believes that Zoom meetings like this are critical for progressives. In his new book, Politics is for Power, he contrasts volunteer activity with posting rants on Facebook or watching the news, which he brands “hobbyism”. For decades, organizers from Saul Alinsky, infamous ‘radical’ and author of the classic Rules for Radicals, and Harvard Professor Marshall Ganz, the intellectual godfather of Obama For America, have pondered how to get liberals off their couches (and off social media) to take meaningful action.chop! chop! read more!
RING THE BELLS A Visual Narrative by Emily Steinberg Emily Steinberg is an artist, writer, and educator whose work has been shown across the United States and Europe. She has been named the first Artist in Residence at Drexel College of Medicine in Philadelphia, where she works with medical students to translate their medical school experiences into words and images. Her visual narratives have been regularly published in Cleaver Magazine where she has recently taken on the role of Visual Narrative Editor. Her memoir, Graphic Therapy, was published serially in Smith Magazine and her short comic “Blogging Towards Oblivion,” was included in The Moment (HarperCollins). She is a Lecturer in Fine Art at Penn State University. Steinberg earned her MFA. and BFA from the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. To submit graphic narratives for consideration in Cleaver, contact Emily at [email protected]chop! chop! read more!
SIX STAGES OF GRIEF
I. you are going to a Danish pastry down on Jung-gu road to sell your soul to the devil itself no one’s seen you will clutch your handbag once filled with perfumes and lotions full of cards of queens kings you do not recognize how upset you would be when the royalties can not accept your only gift as it withered and is wearing the helm of Hades that you wish existedchop! chop! read more!
Adrienne lay on the floor of her apartment, thinking that her life had become what she wanted it to be, when her phone began to ring. Sophia sat next to her, cross-legged, with a glass of wine, flipping flashcards and nodding when Adrienne said the right answer. Grassy late-April air drifted through the open window and the sound of crickets came to a swell outside. Neither Adrienne nor Sophia reached for the phone, letting the sound of fluttering bells continue.chop! chop! read more!
I have a mother who once said car, lake,
who said, I couldn’t stand holding
your sticky hands any longer,
who said, I found a lake deep enough.
After we order the chicken for two, I run a theory by my friend Lois: certain professions are more conducive to being a good spouse than others. I’m not referring to practical considerations here, like the wear and tear a surgeon’s hours (both long and unpredictable) will inflict on her marriage. Rather, the same qualities that make people good at certain jobs make them decent spouses. “Architects, for instance,” I say, “like me. We need to be meticulous, we need imagination and long-range vision. Looking at a building pared to drywall and studs, we picture the pristine home it will become. We gravitate to the fixer-upper.”chop! chop! read more!
UMBRELLAS COULD HAVE BRAINS Paintings by Serge Lecomte The real world for me is a mix of images where two realities or more cross. Take two known objects and connect them in some other way. As a teen I saw the paintings by Hieronymus Bosch and was taken by the surreal world he envisioned. The world was never the same for me after that. Images were no longer meant to stagnate in their inert state. Rocks weren’t simply rocks. They could become loaves of bread. And fish could turn into young maidens. Leaves on a tree could turn into birds and vice versa. And umbrellas could have brains. After all, they have to open and close. Words have always inspired images to me. I began my career as a poet and novelist. Then one day, I quit writing because I thought painting would be a better way of expressing ideas. … chop! chop! read more!
The fiery fist above slowly loses its hold / and the musky lungs of autumn grow dry. At last, fall staggers and drops upon the rattling grass / breaking the arched back of summer…chop! chop! read more!