Tags: literature

Jason sepia

recommendations for imaginative stories by poc

I'm in the interesting position of being ahead of schedule in two of my English classes; I've finished the Secondary Two scheme of work for Term 3, but we still have two weeks of classes left. And so, I thought I'd do something a bit more fun than teach about information reports and comprehension passages; I'm going to do a short unit on contemporary imaginative/fantastical/slipstream fiction as a bookend to the unit on science fiction that we did at the beginning of the school year.

I already have two stories lined up, ("26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss" by Kij Johnson and "How To Talk To Girls At Parties" by Neil Gaiman) but I'd also like to include recent stories by writers of color. So I'm looking to all you nice people in the blogosphere for recommendations.

Please recommend stories that will be:
  • appropriate for 15-year-old boys (and will be appropriate for a conservative school environment; I don't want to get into too much trouble here),
  • not too long (probably 4,500 words is the max we could do per story), and
  • found online for free (I don't have the time right now to go through the laborious process of requesting the school to pay the licensing fees for copyrighted stories not available on teh internets, so I'm limited to fiction that can be viewable from any browser without restriction).
I prefer recommendations of stories that have been nominated for or won awards, but this is not necessary.

I'm especially looking for stories that are also available in audio format, whether in a podcast or a regular download. Because I'm looking for shorter stories, they probably should be only around 30 minutes or so read aloud; our school periods are 40 minutes long, so this will allow an additional ~10 minutes for discussion.

If I get lots of good recommendations, it may mean overlapping a bit into Term 4, which is fine. So please, don't hold back because you think your recommended story wouldn't be allowed the time in the next two weeks.

Many many thanks in advance. Comments are open! Please include links!
Jason sepia

two literary events in singapore: a comparison

Last night, Janet and I took a bus to the gorgeous National Library on Victoria Street for the Singapore book launch of Tash Aw's new novel Map of the Invisible World (my capsule review). The event was on the restricted top floor, level 16, dubbed "The Pod" as it faintly resembles a science-fictional escape pod, with the feeling of an observation deck, almost 360 degrees of windows that allowed an extraordinary view of downtown Singapore and beyond. It was a beautiful space. I'd heard Aw speak at the previous Singapore Writers Festival in 2007, and was impressed by what he had to say; hopefully, this event would be equally as interesting and enlightening.

And it was. Aw was asked questions about the subject matter of Map of the Invisible World and the difficulty of writing about Indonesia in the 1960s, a period before he was born in a place where he did not live. His answers were articulate and intelligent, and amounted to meticulous and diligent research to get the facts right, although the politics and factual events were not the focus of the novel. Rather, it was the characters that he was most interested in, and making sure that the authenticity of the setting served to make them fully realized. This certainly comes through in the book itself, which feels much more like a character study than any kind of political plot-driven text.

Zariena Solleh of Horizon Books was Aw's interlocutor and did an excellent job of mixing her questions about the book itself and his writing process, as well as dealing with the success of his first novel The Harmony Silk Factory. His answers revealed a diligent work ethic (Aw writes full time) and an insecurity that not only would his second book not match up to his first, but that it would not match up to his own sense of artistic quality. He also talked about the way that books are marketed by US and UK publishers to Asia (either expensive hardcovers or cheap-ass mass-market paperbacks that tend not to last), and of his insistence on having affordable but good-quality books distributed in the region; this led to the Indian arm of HarperCollins publishing a hardcover edition especially for an Asian audience, and also a nice trade paperback edition for Singapore. This was an experiment, he admitted, and one that his publishers likely would not have embarked on had not his first novel done so well.

Thoughtful answers all. He also answered some questions from the audience, and then afterward signed books and chatted with the folks in attendance. As he signed my copy, I asked about the paperback edition with "For Sale in Singapore Only" on the back, wondering whether this was a special edition that had been censored in some way (although after reading the book, I couldn't see how this could possibly be the case, unless offending passages had been completely elided), but he insisted that the content of this edition was identical to the hardcover edition in the UK, Malaysia, Hong Kong, and elsewhere. At my remark that the statement on the back of the book limited HarperCollins' ability to also sell this edition in other parts of the world (the Australian edition is also in paperback, but I'm not aware of such a statement), Aw just shrugged his shoulders and said he wasn't sure why they'd done this, that they had very specific plans for each edition of Map of the Invisible World.

Throughout the whole evening, Tash Aw was both self-effacing and humble, and though he thoughtfully answered all the questions asked of him, he never claimed to have all the answers (such as to "Must an author leave his or her home country in order to effectively write about it?"). He was gracious with his time, and made sure to thank both Horizon Books and the National Book Development Council of Singapore for hosting the event; he also made a point of thanking the members of the audience for attending, especially on a Monday evening, and talked with everyone who lined up to get their copies signed. A wonderful literary evening, and it made me long for the readings, talks, panels, and other events that Janet and I went to almost every other weekend in the Triangle area while we still lived in Raleigh.

Another recent literary event, held a little over a week before, was quite a different experience. Again hosted by the Book Council, and held at the Arts House in the old parliament building, was a meet-the-author event with Wena Poon as part of the Singapore Book Club; she was there to discuss her collection Lions in Winter (my capsule review) and the process from an random assemblage of short stories to a complete book. Her interlocutor was Sharon Bakar, who maintains the fantastic blog Bibliobibuli. The event was held in the Play Den at the Arts House, a black-box theatre more suited to small theatrical productions, with seats far in the back and on either side; not exactly conducive to a literary event, but I was withholding judgment.

Rather than a discussion of Poon's collection and her artistic process, the evening started with a 45-minute lecture by Poon on what Singaporean writers were doing wrong in the global literary marketplace. She briefly talked about how she had started publishing, selling stories to regional anthologies, including the (sadly defunct) Silverfish series; these caught the attention of Sharon Bakar, who contacted her acquaintances at MPH Publishing, which led to the offer of a collection of Poon's stories. This explanation took about five minutes. The rest of the 40 minutes were taken up with what Singaporeans need to do to make their books more available to the English-speaking world. Much of this focused on the business of writing, and the monetisation of craft, and taking advantage of technologies like print-on-demand and worldwide distributors like Amazon, rather than on improving the quality of Singaporean fiction-writing (which, imho, feels stunted and hesitant to take risks).

Frankly, this was not why I was there. The fact that this event was part of the Singapore Book Club led to me to believe, perhaps naïvely, that it would focus on the stories themselves, which deal with alienation, dislocation, and expatriation, all of which I have a personal interest in as someone who now lives in a country not of his birth. I was under the impression that members of the audience would also be discussing the masterful stories in Lions in Winter, the techniques that Poon used to achieve certain effects, the sadness and isolation and also the joys of discovery that can come with adjusting to a new country and culture, the ways that each story adds to the thematic whole that makes up the entire collection. Instead, what we got was, basically, a business lecture reducing the artistic process down to units sold and product moved.

Now, I'm not jejune enough to think that publishing is indeed not a business. I know this fact full well, as a writer and as a publisher. But much of the proseletysing being done by Poon is available at any number of websites devoted to writing reference, as well as entire bookstore shelves full of titles aimed at beginning writers. It's possible that she assumed the event was for hopeful n00bs, as both the content of her lecture and her attitude (which bordered on arrogance and condescension) were represented in this way. This is not to say that her presentation had no validity; she indeed made good points about the dissemination of Singaporean literature in the wider world and the insularity of the literary community here. But she did it in a way that suggested she had all the answers, if only people would smarten up and heed her words. She also had to keep justifying her credentials, several times mentioning her stint at Harvard Law School and the award recognition that Lions in Winter had received.

The event got much more interesting when the lecture was over and Sharon Bakar was able to ask more literary-related questions. Bakar's insight into the literature of the region (and especially in Malaysia, where she lives) allowed a broader context for which to frame the discussion. At this point they discussed more of the themes above that I was hoping to hear earlier. I can't speak for the other audience members, but I would have appreciated a truncated version of the lecture (10 minutes at most), and much more time spent in conversation, as the interview felt both crammed and rushed because of the time constraints.

After it was over, I asked Poon to sign my copy of Lions in Winter, and she did so quickly, hurrying outside to sign more copies and talk to her friends who had come to the event. I introduced myself to Bakar, told her how much I enjoyed her blog and appreciated another ang moh's presence in the ongoing discussion of Southeast Asian literature. She offered to bring me up to Kuala Lumpur sometime in the near future for Readings@Seksan’s, the reading series that she hosts periodically, which was incredibly nice of her. I also met R. Ramachandran, the executive director of the Book Council, and thanked him for all the work he does with NBDCS to keep alive the love of literature in Singapore.

So, an interesting comparison between the two literary events. Both authors have received international accolades for their writing, but they handled each event in very different ways. Both have worked as lawyers, both received their university education at prestigious institutions in the West, and both live as expatriates in their adopted countries. But you can probably tell from the above account which event I appreciated more.
Jason sepia

world fantasy nominations

It's been nearly a year since the release of A Field Guide to Surreal Botany, and I'm guessing many of you are sick of me talking about it by this point. But I do have at least one more thing to say about the book, and it relates to the World Fantasy Award.

The awesome John Klima of Electric Velocipede has just posted his nominations for the WFA, and it's a great list. If you're going to attend the World Fantasy Convention this year in San Jose, or if you attended one (or both) of the last two years' conventions in Saratoga Springs or Calgary, you are also eligible to nominate works for the WFA. The World Fantasy Award is a bit different than the Hugo and the Nebula, in that it's a juried prize like the Booker, but as John mentions, "the top two vote getters automatically appear on the final ballot." The judges still have to vote on the winner, and they may have already made up their minds before the populist entries are placed on the ballot, but even a nomination for the WFA is a huge thing.

(And wow, am I smacking myself for writing "a huge thing," because I wouldn't let my students get away with such a vague phrase.)

Since Surreal Botany was published in 2008, it is eligible for the WFA for Best Anthology. Voters can actually nominate up to five works in each category, and so I would kindly ask that if you enjoyed the work that Janet and I and our 49 contributors did on Surreal Botany, please make it one of your nominations. If you've yet to read the book, send me an email and I'll let you know how you can download it for free.

We'd be under some stiff competition in that category; the anthologies John mentions (especially Wastelands edited by John Joseph Adams, and The New Weird and Steampunk edited by the VanderMeers) are all incredibly strong books, and it would be highly unlikely that Surreal Botany could beat them even if it was nominated, but the nomination itself would be an incalculable boost for me and Janet and Two Cranes Press. We'd certainly be the underdog in this race, but if the book meant anything to you, even in a slight, whimsical way, I'd appreciate you helping to get us in the race in the first place.

The nomination ballot can be downloaded here; it needs to be filled out and postmarked by 30 June, so you have a whole month left. Thanks in advance.
Jason sepia

nbcc reads, spring 2009: work in translation

Five weeks ago, the members of the National Book Critics Circle were asked, "Which work in translation has had the biggest impact on your reading and writing?" This was a tough question for me, as I've read lots of translated works. Would it be Borges? Or Bulgakov? Or Kafka? Calvino? Murakami? Zivkovic? I've of course read more translated authors than just these, but this list of writers was certainly influential in some way.

In the end, I settled on The Book of Laughter and Forgetting by Milan Kundera. I wrote up my response and sent it back to the NBCC.

Today, the NBCC Reads: Spring 2009 list was posted to Critical Mass by James Marcus. It compiles a digest of some 9,000 words sent in by nearly 80 NBCC member critics, former finalists and winners, on their favorite works in translation: Camus, Proust, Thomas Mann, the Bible, etc.. To my surprise, my response about Kundera was quoted about a third of the way through. Eep!

If you're curious, here's the money shot:

Jason Erik Lundberg opted for a different [Kundera] novel, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting. “It combines the fascinating narrative of Soviet-occupied Czechoslovakia with amazing philosophical erudition and trenchant observation,“ he wrote, “and it does this using elements of the fantastic. The novel is also very structured (as are many of Kundera’s texts), so that it feels like a symphony built of disparate parts, but held together by common themes and experiences.“

I have to credit Wilton Barnhardt for introducing me to this novel when he read from the beginning of it during one of his graduate writing workshops. I think I'd read The Unbearable Lightness of Being by that point, but soon after, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting replaced it as my favorite Kundera book.
Jason sepia

"vinegar peace" by michael bishop

StarShipSofa has posted the podcast of Michael Bishop's "Vinegar Peace (or, The Wrong-Way, Used-Adult Orphanage)" (published originally in Asimov's, July 2008). This is a science fiction story that Mike wrote in the months following Jamie's death; here's what he has to say about it:

I wrote "Vinegar Peace" — in August of 2007 — because I had to. Our 35-year-old son, Jamie, died on the morning of April 16, 2007, as one of thirty-two victims of a disturbed shooter on the campus of Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia.

Jamie, an accomplished digital artist who did lovely covers for four or five of my books, was holding forth in Room 2007 of Norris Hall in his German class more than two hours after his eventual murderer had slain two students in a dormitory on another part of campus. The administration failed to issue a warning — a warning that might well have saved many lives — in a timely fashion. However, some of its members secured their own offices and notified their own family members of this initial event; and so the worst school shooting in the history of the United States claimed our son, four other faculty members (including a man, Dr Librescu, who had survived the Holocaust and who held a table against his classroom door until all own students could escape), four of Jamie's students, and twenty-one other young people in Norris Hall, not to mention the first two victims in West Ambler-Johnston dorm. Another twenty-eight students were wounded by bullets or injured leaping from upper-story windows. Some of these young people will live with their injuries the rest of their lives.

All of the administrators, with the exception of a woman who later died of a stroke or a heart attack (a death that my wife and I can't help but attribute partially to the stress of living with the mistakes of the President and the other Policy Group members), remain in their positions. So much for accountability, and so much for justice.

In any case, "Vinegar Peace" grew from this disaster and from a grief that I can't imagine ever laying totally aside. Jeri and I mourn Jamie's loss every day in some private way, and we think continually of all the other parents and loved ones of the slain and injured who will carry a similar burden with them until they die. We think, too, of the parents and loved ones of the dead and wounded from the United States's optional war in Iraq, who long for their dead and who pray for their injured with an intensity not a whit different from our own. How ironic that our son died on American soil. How sad the wasted potential and disfigured lives resulting from violence everywhere. And forgive me the inadequacy of these remarks. Clearly, I wrote a story because I could not address either my outrage or my grief in any other way.

Mike Bishop

You can download the one-hour episode directly at the show page, or subscribe to the StarShipSofa podcast via iTunes.

(via The Flea King and Boing Boing)
Jason sepia

octavia butler symposium in brooklyn TODAY

If you're in the New York area and a fan of the incredible fiction of Octavia E. Butler, a symposium about her life and work will be held today in Brooklyn. Here are the details from the gothamlit mailing list:


Saturday, March 28, 2009
Founders Auditorium*
Medgar Evers College , CUNY
1650 Bedford Avenue
10:00 am -- 5:00 pm

The program features readings & panels on the world renowned author and her
contribution to literary writing. Participating writers include L.A. Banks,
Steven Barnes, Tananarive Due, and Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu.

The cost for this event is $10 general admission; $5, Senior, Student, Faculty.
This event is opened to all. Send an SASE, call, e-mail, or visit the Web site
for more information.


Octavia Butler is considered a master storyteller in the genre of
speculative fiction. Her work explores themes such as race, gender, power,
sexism, and spirituality. This symposium is dedicated to exploring her work in
particular and the impact of speculative fiction in the literature of Black

About the National Black Writers Conference (NBWC):

The NBWC, inspired by the late John Oliver Killens in 1986, brings
together writers, critics, book-sellers, book reviewers, educators,
students, and the general public in order to establish a dialogue on
emerging themes, trends and issues in black literature.

Co -Sponsored by *Up South, Inc.
Up South, Inc. is the producer of the annual Up South International
Book Festival, held in New York City in the Fall. Visit www.upsouth. org
or write bluemedia@aol. com for more information.

The Center for Black Literature at Medgar Evers College, CUNY
1650 Bedford Avenue, Brooklyn, New York 11225. Phone 718 270-6983
Jason sepia

nbcc awards announced

This past Thursday, the National Book Critics Circle gave out its annual awards for books published in 2008. Narrowed down from the impressive shortlist, here are the winners:

Fiction: Roberto Bolaño, 2666. FSG

General Nonfiction: Dexter Filkins, The Forever War. Knopf

Biography: Patrick French, The World Is What It Is: The Authorized Biography of V.S. Naipaul. Knopf

Autobiography: Ariel Sabar, My Father's Paradise: A Son's Search for His Jewish Past in Kurdish Iraq. Algonquin

Criticism: Seth Lerer, Children's Literature: A Reader's History from Aesop to Harry Potter. University of Chicago Press

Poetry: August Kleinzahler, Sleeping It Off in Rapid City. FSG; and Juan Felipe Herrera, Half the World in Light: New and Selected Poems. University of Arizona Press

Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing: Ron Charles

Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award: PEN American Center

I'm really only familiar with 2666 (although I've seen the Naipaul biography in bookshops), across categories and within the fiction category, but it was a ringer for winning this one. Its release last year was a monumental event, and bloggers and critics went nuts over it; I would have been truly shocked had it not won.

The NBCC's press release on the awards ceremony can be found at Critical Mass.

Jason sepia

award season self-pimpage

As Mr Scalzi reminds us, it's award season; in particular, he mentions the Hugo Awards and the Locus Awards, which are both voted on by you, the science fiction and fantasy reading public (assuming that the "you" reading this entry also reads science fiction and fantasy). Last month, I listed my publications for 2008, and it turns out that some of them are eligible for both these awards. Not that I have a chance in hell of actually winning anything, but hey, if you're inclined, feel free to nominate.

A Field Guide to Surreal Botany is eligible in the Hugos for "Best Related Book," and in the Locuses (Loci?) for "Best Anthology." In this vein, I will make the PDF of the book available to any Hugo and/or Locus voters as a free download (this was previously available only to reviewers and bloggers). Just send a message through our contact form, and I'll email the instructions on how to download the book. (And if you like what you see, consider ordering a copy.)

Janet Chui is eligible in the Hugos for both "Best Professional Artist" and "Best Fan Artist," and in the Locuses for "Best Artist - Pro or Fan." If you enjoyed the phenomenal artistic job she did with the illustration and design of Surreal Botany, show her some love.

Both Janet and I are eligible for the "Best Editor Short Form" Hugo and the "Best Editor - Pro or Fan" Locus, but if Ellen Datlow doesn't win both of these awards, then the world just doesn't make sense.

As for my short fiction, I've linked all of these so that you can read them online, and decide for yourself whether they are award-worthy (except for The Time Traveler's Son, which is not yet online, but I'll email the ms. to you if you ask nicely); these would all fit under the "Best Short Story" category for both awards:

Thus endeth the shameless self-promotion.
Jason sepia

nbcc award shortlist announced

The National Book Critics Circle announced on Saturday night the finalists for this year's NBCC Awards. The event took place at Housing Works Bookstore Café in Manhattan (incidentally, one of the few brick-and-mortars in the States where you can find copies of Surreal Botany), and covered books published in 2008 in the categories of fiction, general nonfiction, biography, autobiography, poetry, and criticism. Here's the breakdown:

Fiction Finalists

Poetry Finalists

Criticism Finalists

Biography Finalists

Autobiography Finalists

Nonfiction Finalists

Balakian Finalists

The National Book Critics Circle also announced that the winner of this year's Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award is the PEN American Center. Winner of the Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing went to Ron Charles.

It feels a bit strange that one writing organization that I belong to has given an award to another writing organization that I belong to, but PEN does excellent work, and I'm glad they're getting recognized for it.

The NBCC Awards Ceremony will take place on 12 March at The New School University’s Tishman Auditorium.

Jason sepia

SSC presents "Virginia" staged reading on 25 Jan

For literary-minded peeps who may live in the NYC area, check out the following event being run by my awesome sister Kristin:

in association with the
a staged reading of
Edna O'Brien's award-winning stageplay


in honor of Mrs. Woolf's 127th birthday

Sunday, January 25th at 12:30pm
Arthur Seelen Theater

Edna O'Brien's spectacular play encompasses Virginia Woolf's mercurial inner life, as well as the relationships of her three great loves: her husband Leonard, her lover Vita, and her greatest writings. O'Brien touches the heart and captures the essence of Woolf's character and her brilliant mind.

Running time is 90 minutes, plus a post-performance Q&A with author Anne Fernald, director Joannie Mackenzie, and SSC Artistic Director Kris Lundberg.

Directed by Joannie Mackenzie

Starring Kris Lundberg as Virginia, David McCamish as Leonard, and Shelley Ray as Vita
*All performers appear courtesy of the Actors' Equity Association*

Edna O'Brien is an Irish novelist, short story writer, playwright and screenwriter, known as a pioneer for her frank portrayals of women. She has written 13 novels, five collections of short stories and several plays and screenplays. Her writing is lyrical and intense with passion and longing. The influence of her Catholic upbringing is apparent in much of her work, which depicts both Irish village life during the 1940's and 1950's and contemporary urban settings.

Anne E. Fernald is the author of Virginia Woolf: Feminism and the Reader (Palgrave 2006). She is currently at work on a textual edition of Mrs. Dalloway for Cambridge University Press. Fernald is an Associate Professor of English at Fordham University where she is also the Director of Writing and Composition at the Lincoln Center campus. She writes a literary blog, Fernham, named for the town in which Woolf's narrator gets lost in A Room of One's Own. Raised in Seattle, educated at Wellesley and Yale, she now lives with her husband and two young daughters in Jersey City.

The Arthur Seelen Theater is located on the ground floor of the Drama Book Shop at 250 West 40th Street between 7th and 8th Avenue (map).

Event is free to the public with a suggested $10 donation in support of the Shakespeare's Sister Company.

For more information, visit shakespearessister.org and the Facebook event page.

The Shakespeare's Sister Company is a fully incorporated New York non-profit theater company and operates under the 501(c)3 umbrella organization, Fractured Atlas. Shakespeare's Sister Company is a sponsored project of Fractured Atlas, a non-profit arts service organization. Contributions on behalf of the SSC may be made payable to Fractured Atlas and are tax-deductible to the extent permitted by law.