New fiction for the long weekend

The new issue of Granta is a "New Fiction Special," with work by Paul Auster, Amy Bloom, Ha Jin, and many more. Ha Jin's story, "In the Crossfire," is available online. (You can read Ha Jin's tribute to Chinua Achebe in PEN America 8: Making Histories; Paul Auster's tribute to Samuel Beckett in PEN America 5: Silences; and Amy Bloom's tribute to Grace Paley and Tillie Olsen right here on the blog.)

The issue includes a short, untitled piece by Chris Ware -- whose work is also in the new Bookforum, illustrating fiction by Holly Goddard Jones. (And for some animation by Ware, stop by VQR's blog.) Bookforum's new issue includes five other works of fiction, all with illustrations by noted graphic novelists; I'm particularly interested in this excerpt from The Cave Man by Xiaoda Xiao, "a survivor of seven years of forced labor on an island in Taihu Lake in Jiangsu province, where he served in one of Mao’s infamous prison labor-reform brigades." The illustration on the left (click to enlarge), which nods to Yeats, is by Lauren Weinstein, and accompanies fiction by Terrence Holt, introduced by Junot Díaz.

Bookforum also has an interview with Aleksandar Hemon, whose conversation with Rabih Alameddine is in PEN America 9: Checkpoints.

Lastly, the "Spring Books" issue of The Nation is out; among the many essays and reviews is this one on José Manuel Prieto's Rex, written by recent PEN honoree Natasha Wimmer. (And speaking of PEN's recent honorees, here are some highlights from speeches at Tuesday's awards ceremony.) Prieto's tribute to Gabriel García Márquez ran in PEN America 6: Metamorphoses.


King said...

You should say, new APPROVED fiction, consisting of all the usual suspects. Dare we ever step outside the monolith???

King said...

p.s. The viewpoint presented by Mr. Haglund originates from New York, and is the viewpoint of New York; i.e., of the literary establishment, which I've been demonstratiis interconnected and incestuous.
Have a great weekend, Hostage Haglund. When it's over may you have your independence back.

Harland said...

I stepped outside the monolith, and some monkey chucked a femur at me.

Hey, King:

Guy walks into a bar with a literary prize from PEN. Puts it down on the bar, says, "Hey, I'm Donald Ray Pollock." Bartender says, "I don't give a fuck who you are, get your daughter's god damned paperweight off my bar and pay for your drink like everyone else."

Harland said...

Hey, King: can you lay into Hemon for once? Now, that'd be a takedown I could really get behind.

King said...

What's the face of PEN?
Masked figures trying to intimidate; blackballing of writers; and drunken yacht parties.

Harland said...

King, if I intimidate you by questioning the premises behind your "protests," then you ought not to be protesting. Geezum, King. I still don't understand you, not at all. PEN? PEN???? Most writers just want the health insurance. Then they find out how much it costs and "forget" to pay their dues for five years straight. Sure, they throw money around. Everybody thinks it's dumb to give Philip Roth what must amount to pocket change to him. I wrote a letter to Mike Roberts myself, I said, "Nu, Mike? Why not a gold watch?" I didn't get a response either. The Bingham thing is subsidized by Robert Bingham's family, I do believe. Now, *there's* a writer you could really sink those strong yellow teeth into: rich kid, junkie, too dead to respond to your libelous attacks, etc. But what does that have to do with poor old Pollock? He gets a little bit of scratch and you characterize him as a token, a lapdog, a sellout. Just the kind of writer you're always blathering about, talking up as the future of American literature, and no sooner does he get, uh, something *you* don't get, he's a dupe.

King said...

??? No, Pollock is a victim. What kind of salaries are the Bertlesmann execs pulling down? And his advance is-- ten grand??
Which is then subsidized by PEN. Again, why is PEW subsidizing, and acting as a promotional arm of, a gigantic multinational conglomerate?
The curious thing about the Pollock award is it's the first time, as far as I can discover, that the Bingham has not gone to an affluent author. (You'll correct me if I'm wrong.) Perhaps the protest has already done some good??
Anyway, you're deliberately missing the point-- and no doubt have good cause to. The point is the history of PEN as outlined on my blog, about what PEN has turned into. Be sure to read my next post on this.
(I've made a very strong case in three areas for drastic change to the PEN organization. One of them is PEN's stonewalling and blackballing-- which sure indicates to me that PEN has turned into a lapdog for the literary establishment-- which is NOT SUPPOSED TO BE PEN'S ROLE!

King said...

To readers of this blog:
WE HAVE, in the corrupt workings of PEN, a nice little detective story. It's one of those stories in which the apparent bad guy-- me-- turns out not to be a bad guy at all.
The victims? PEN members, PEN bloggers, and maybe even David Haglund, who typifies them. Progressive and idealistic, wanting to do good, and seeing his intentions, like the PEN name, abused in the name of-- what? Yacht parties!
Maybe I give him too much credit. Perhaps he's as coldly selfish and cynical as those who've ordered the stonewalling. But David Haglund is not only possible victim, he holds the key to the solution.
Meanwhile, who's "Harland"? Undounbtedly he's one of those who's been abusing the system, who wants to hold on to his easy privilege. Discover his identity and we'll go a long way toward correcting the problem.

Harland said...

Oh, Pollock's a victim. Of course, you meant to describe his victimization when you mentioned the "giant PR push" he's getting, and when you describe him as a "token" and "window dressing." How foolish of me not to grasp the subtlety of your argument.

No doubt Bertelsmann execs are pulling down large salaries, large indeed compared to those of a workingman or a working author. So, as I've asked about five hundred times, does your argument array itself around socioeconomic issues or aesthetic ones? Do you see them as entertwined? The problem with your argument is that everything you're standing outside of seems entertwined to you. Published authors, Bertelsmann executives, Creative Writing Program Directors at state universities, interns wandering around the decks of the Queen Mary -- to you, they're all one and the same. Even if we accept that all organized activity is somehow corrupt (not necessarily a position that I would disagree with), who would possibly agree with the position that a woman teaching creative writing in some god-forsaken school in New Hampshire is somehow on a par with Sonny Mehta? And if all organized activity is equally corrupt (a position I would disagree with), why are you so preoccupied with it? Another thing I've asked a hundred million times, King, and which you've never answered. What the fuck do you care about PEN? Or about Bertelsmann? Or about the Queen Mary? If it's so corrupt, and so outside your artistic concerns, why even think about it? I have a book right here on my desk that I've been flipping through, a wonderful book, really, called A SECRET LOCATION ON THE LOWER EAST SIDE. In it is a nicely outlined history of mimeographed magazines, broadsheets, and small press publications emanating from the LES from the fifties through the eighties. I look at some of them, I read the commentary from their founders and editors. They weren't worrying about "the establishment." The establishment had its concerns, they had theirs. What are your concerns? If PEN wants to dump ten tons of Beluga caviar into the Buttermilk Channel off Red Hook, how does that keep you from writing, publishing, and distributing whatever you want?

"[T]he history of PEN as outlined on [your] blog" is like everything else as outlined on your blog: slanted, hyperbolic, highly selective, luridly tinted with envy, and wrapped in the borrowed finery of genuine, moving, and productive struggle. PEN. For Christ's sake.

King said...

This is sophistry, "Harland."
By your lights, why should anyone care about anything? Maybe we should all stick our heads in the sand and forget everything which is happening.
You seem to want to focus on the person examining the corruption rather than the corruption itself. (Do you ask Seymour Hersh why he cared what Bush was doing?)
If we're members of society, we should care.
If I'm a writer, and a reader, I should care about the current system which produces our literature, and if there are problems with it.
If journalists were doing their job there'd be no need for me to examine and discuss these things-- but they HAVEN'T been doing their job, and have ignored literary corruption even when it was right in front of them. As I'll show.
OF COURSE criticisms of any organization are going to be selective. Facts by their very nature are selective. What you need to look at is a preponderance of facts, arguments, evidence. In the past two months on my blog I've been providing it: a case being made that PEN needs drastic change, if it's to return to its ideals.
What I'm fighting for is a place for all kinds of writers in the U.S. literary world. It's a worthy cause.
On Pollock: I've been arguing for years that there needs to be a readjustment of writers' relationship with book companies, so that the writer, creator of the work, not be put in position of supplicant. The writer's relationship to the multinational conglomerates is a valid topic for discussion, by me, by PEN, or by anyone. Representing writers in that relationship should be what PEN is about.
The question isn't whether PENsters agree with every one of my arguments. But they can certainly acknowledge that I HAVE arguments, and so end the stonewalling. Even you agree, "Harland," that Philip Roth shouldn't have received a PEN grant, and you admit that PEN throws "their money around." Aren't these in themselves arguments for change? Aren't they signs that something within PEN might be wrong?
How can PEN then stonewall criticism? If Mr. Roberts refuses to answer all questions from writers, what does this say about his administration of PEN?
What concerns me is that I was tried and convicted by PEN in absentia, with no opportunity to defend myself. Who was my prosecutor? Who made the verdict?
PEN is supposed to protect dissent, not silence it.

King said...

p.s. Note "Harland"'s own statements regarding PEN. He doesn't seem to have much respect for the organization. Note as well his comment about not paying dues. No doubt this reflects this rich kid scam artist's real attitude. I would wager that scamming comes naturally to him. This is a person to whom everything's been handed. I doubt if he's ever been in a situation to learn right from wrong.
He's looking for premises because of course, in his mind, I must be after something other than what's right and just. I must be out for myself. But the campaign I've waged for truth in literature has not gained me a cent, the resulting reactionary attacks have smeared my reputation, and if anything have cost me any chance for placing articles anyplace (as I've on occasion done), much less getting a book published. Is it possible I believe in what I say and what I'm doing?
Why PEN? It's centrally located in the literary establishment, has been in some ways taken over by the greedy miscreants I've been fighting this decade, yet if cleaned out and reformed could (should) be a useful vehicle for reforming American literature as a whole. If only writers can get motivated to live up to their ideals, and to do what's ultimately in their own interest.
(To David: I'm sure you know who "Harland" is.)

Harland said...

King, you use the word "sophistry" so often to describe the thinking of those who disagree with you. But the incoherent man invariably seems to find himself living in a world of sophists, I'm afraid.

You've succeeded in drawing me in yet again, though, King. My assertions aren't the result of my insufficiently "caring" about corruption. They're the result of my recognition that the "corruption" of PEN is immaterial to the making of literature. In fact, the *existence* of PEN is immaterial to the making of literature. The "system" doesn't produce literature, King. Your complete failure to recognize that is the peculiar and contradictory clinker that resonates from within your every utterance: you rail about the outsider, but hunger so badly for the legitimacy of being inside. For the record, King: writers make literature. Not Bertelsmann. Not PEN. Not backslapping blurbs from your MFA professors. Those things are the "window dressing," King.

There probably should be a different relationship between authors and trade publishers; actual authors, as opposed to envy-wracked would-be agitators, certainly think so. But the truth is that few authors are as exercised about it as you, and those who are feel free, and always have felt free, to step outside the system, which is all I meant to suggest by mentioning the book. There's a real courage and gallantry to publishing something on one's own. You, on the other hand, merely pay lip service to DIY.

PEN may be rotten to the core -- or it could be that the things you hate about it merely represent the only possible consensus that can be reached among the members of a group as fragmented and decentralized as American writers, unsatisfying as it may be. "Philip Roth" may very well be "everyone's" grudgingly agreed-upon definition of "great writer." That's why you have to see past the prizes, King. Nobody's going to be reading Philip Roth in a hundred years because he won a bunch of awards around the turn of the 21st century. It may gall you that he has, but officially sanctioned praise in one's lifetime is not now and never has been the guarantor of sustained interest and respect from one's posterity.

Yes, that's it: I'm a rich kid. I would have to agree with you there because your definition of "rich" clearly is superflexible enough to allow you to gnash your teeth over writers receiving mid-five-figure awards, or who teach creative writing as opposed to, I don't know, being a freight checker or something. As usual, whatever looks back at you with a face different from the one you see snarling at you in the mirror every morning is "other," and to you "other" is always rich, privileged, feckless, sophistic, etc.

King said...

A great speech, but far removed from reality.
We don't really know who you are, because you hide yourself. My wager that you're one of the more affluent writers out there is based on the fact that the person who was posting anonymous attacks on my blog simultaneous to yours turned out to be Daniel Handler, who I'm told is worth a couple hundred million dollars. Friend of yours?
The institutions of literature decide which writers are published, and more important, which are given notice in this very noisy society. The idea that literature exists in a vacuum apart from these institutions is absurd. Why then do we need an academy at all? What's the purpose of million dollar publicity departments at places like Random House?
Virtually every PEN member and staffer disagrees with you, because they've spent their careers assiduously collecting credentials from said institutions, or submitting their manuscripts to them. The problem is that, far from having no influence on literature, these gigantic bureaucracies have too much. They are so dominant their noise in the book marketplace overwhelms everything else.
I've created scores of my own publications-- zeens, including a couple zeen novels whioh I've sold on my own. I've been part of partnerships and collectives which have produced low-cost lit-journals, from Pop Literary Gazette to Slush Pile to Literary Fan Magazine to ULA Press. I've done the legwork of getting these publications into stores, or selling them at readings, shows, festivals, in saloons, and on streetcorners. I well know the odds faced by the DIYer. Part of the noise I've made are attempts to level the playing field.
One who has a tops-down, inside-the-bubble perspective is unable to understand how great the odds are.
NO writer wants their words to be forever in obscurity, to be sold after his death at a garage sale, or tossed out. I KNOW there are many talented writers out there who face that fate. I've read them and I know them. Some of the best of them have signed the Petition to PEN.
You ask us to accept a fate you don't accept for yourself. Which is why knowing who you are is important; a way to judge the credibility of your argument.

King said...

p.s. Getting one's books into academies and stores, and written about in magazines and critical publications, and highlighted by awards, may not be a guarantor of eternal recognition-- but it's certainly a step up from being blackballed; being shut out across-the-board!

King said...

The masked man has based much of his Defense of the Realm on the grant to Mr. Pollock. When was this award given? Last week! The award has the air of expediency about it. It hardly overturns all the other grants PEN has given and continues to give to authors, like Philip Roth or Cormac McCarthy, who notably don't need them.
Think of a small town with a Main Street running through the middle of it. At the end of the street, on a hill, sits a large mansion belonging to Philip Roth. On Main Street itself are many closed businesses, except for one gigantic big-box store resembling Wal-Mart; an ugly monstrosity looming over all, and a few last storefront businesses struggling to hang on. There are also a handful of street peddlers.
On the other side of the street is the town charity. Most of the charity's funds go to administration, and it holds many loud and costly parties, but it does also hand out occasional food baskets. One was recently sent up the hill to Mr. Roth.
Do any go to the street peddlers? No way!
The baskets are normally given to comfortable and clean middle class town folks who can demonstrate they don't need them.
But wait! The grubby peddlers are making noise again. The Babbit-like characters who run the charity decide they'd better give a basket to a poor person.
"How 'bout one of the Big Box workers?" a local rich person suggests. "They're paid next to nothing!"
The subsequent award gains publicity in the town paper for the Big Box. Everyone is happy. Cigars lit. Smiles all around.

Harland said...


I hope you don't mind if I ignore your usual tasty melange of delusional speculation and class-baiting innuendo, because I have to run to the bank with the slew of payments that have come in just this morning alone.

I will mention -- or mention again, I guess -- that the book I referred to, A SECRET LOCATION ON THE LOWER EAST SIDE, is full of publications that would nowadays be called zines; authored and edited and published and distributed by writers in the spirit of what would nowadays be called DIY; that these publications existed outside of and implicitly in spite of what was being published commercially at the time; that many of these undergrounders are writers whose work continues to be read today. To infer from this that I am suggesting that such work exists in a "vacuum" is to profoundly miss the not-unsympathetic point.

King said...

Well, no, it existed in New York, and seems to have been in a position to last for awhile. (I've read some of the publications-- one of my former colleagues in the ULA has an extensive collection of such publications. Today's zinesters are actively involved in saving such literary outpourings.)
Then again, there's been equivalent activity in other cities of America, of authentic American writing, which for the most part has vanished into obscurity. One thing which shocked me in the late 90s was the death of Detroit beat poet Jim Gustafson, who died at a too-young age in a tenement in Detroit's Cass Corridor; a building for which a buddy of mine was the maintenance guy. I didn't know Gustafson; had only seen him around, and a couple times saw him read. A genuine talent. Where now is Jim's legacy?
More important for the purposes of the writers who've signed the Petition to PEN is that there are many great underground writers around TODAY. Not decades ago on the lower east side. HERE, NOW, TODAY. There are some unorthodox but extremely talented names on that petition. Their voices are being stonewalled by PEN. Like me, like so many others, they're involved in a daily struggle just to survive. Their spare money, if any, goes to printing, circulating, and promoting their writing. If you knew, personally, viscerally, how some writers live in America, you'd not be so complacent about your precious yacht parties.

Harland said...

That is just dumb, King. A dumb response from top to bottom.

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