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BURNING HOUSE PRESS

Not For Profit/For Prophecy

Author

Caitlin

Writer and podcaster. My film podcast is Her Head in Films.

“From the sentence to the world” : A Conversation with David Naimon

Over the course of her extraordinary career, Ursula K. Le Guin wrote dozens of books that explored the essential issues of our time, including gender, race, and the degradation of the environment. David Naimon is the host of the radio show and podcast, Between the Covers, which features exceptional interviews with some of the most important writers of our time. When Naimon and Le Guin met for his show, it’s no surprise that their discussions were insightful and unforgettable, and they’ve now been collected into a new book, Ursula K. Le Guin: Conversations on Writing, published by Tin House Books. I previously interviewed Naimon for Burning House Press, and he was kind enough to speak with me again about his bond with Le Guin, how she impacted his life, and how their new book carries on her radical legacy.

–Caitlin, Nonfiction Editor for Burning House Press

 

Burning House Press: It’s impossible not to mention the circumstances under which this book is coming out, with Le Guin passing away shortly before its publication. You write a heartfelt and moving “In Memoriam” at the beginning of the book. How are you holding up as you—and the literary world at large—continue to grieve? How has it been to launch this book without her?

 

David Naimon: This is such a hard question to answer Caitlin. It was just a matter of days after Ursula had handed over her final edits of the manuscript when she passed away. It happened so suddenly that at first I was just stunned, paralyzed. But then, quite quickly, because Tin House pushed up the publication date from July to April I was swept up in the whirlwind of an accelerated publication schedule. I had no idea just how much work there would be between then and now, the In Memoriam that they needed on short notice at a time when I felt like I had no words for what was happening, and then several essays about Ursula that I was asked to write, to be published in concert with the launch of the book. On the upside, I’ve been steeped in a deep engagement with what Ursula meant to me and to the world. But I haven’t had a moment to be with my feelings, to experience them fully. The public memorial for Ursula is not until June. The city and state, which she has influenced in so many ways, has not had the chance to mourn her as a community yet. I could’ve used something like that, something public, communal, back in January. Now, with the book out, there are no launch events planned. It felt strange to do that without her. I didn’t want to be the focal point of a launch party. But, on the other hand, perhaps a launch event could’ve been a first moment of public remembrance.

Continue reading ““From the sentence to the world” : A Conversation with David Naimon”

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The Breathing Body in the Act of Creation: A Writing Experiment

For much of my life, I’ve written in a journal. In the last few years, I’ve almost exclusively started writing fragments. I’m interested in the possibility of the form, how it allows me to write in a compact way, to capture sudden revelations and epiphanies, to acknowledge the limits of language within its very structure. Because of trauma, my mind has been changed, my way of thinking has been altered. I often describe myself as “shattered.” Fragments are the physical manifestation of that shatteredness. It is language that is in shards, but the accumulation of those shards creates a new form, creates a whole where there was once an absence or just random bits and pieces. As Muriel Rukeyser once wrote in “The Poem as Mask“:

Now, for the first time, the god lifts his hand,
the fragments join in me with their own music.

I see my own writing in that way. I am taking my brokenness and assembling my own ruins into something new, something that is still broken and cracked but alive. I view writing as a very personal act. I know other writers will have a different conception of writing, but this is mine. I want to articulate the wordlessness inside me. I want to speak the unspeakable. I want to write myself. I want to give voice to my alienation, grief, loneliness, fear, suffering, and trauma. I need to write these things not so that they will disappear or diminish–that is impossible–but so that I can bear them.

Continue reading “The Breathing Body in the Act of Creation: A Writing Experiment”

Cinematic Shadows: Fragments on Two Films by Bill Morrison

The Mesmerist (2003)

I used to think that art was eternal, that being an artist made you immortal. But I’ve come to realize that who and what gets remembered is often haphazard. Books are forgotten. Film reels are destroyed. So little survives.

James Young directed a 1926 silent film called The Bells, starring Lionel Barrymore and Boris Karloff. In 2003, Bill Morrison reconstructed a surviving nitrate print of the movie into a new short film, adding a soundtrack by Bill Frisell. The print is damaged, creating a fascinating distortion of the images. Faces blur. Splotches dominate many of the scenes, though there is still a story that you can follow. Morrison calls his film a “revision” of Young’s original.

In Morrison’s film, Lionel Barrymore plays a character who, on Christmas,  kills a Jewish man for his money. Boris Karloff is a mesmerist who tries to get Barrymore to confess his grisly crime. Morrison destabilizes the narrative by editing Young’s original scenes together in a way that suggests that much of what we are seeing is a dream. By the end of the film, we don’t know what is real and what is not.

Continue reading “Cinematic Shadows: Fragments on Two Films by Bill Morrison”

‘visions of the end’ by Clark Chatlain

we live today with the sense that the apocalypse is underway. our world is a world lit by revelation. we believe we have seen our own end, that it has been revealed to us, for that is one meaning of the term apocalypse: to reveal, to uncover. when John of Patmos narrated his vision he gave us his apocalypse, and though it was rooted in his Christianity and even more in his time and his world, it is still now our most common exemplar of an apocalypse. this meaning of apocalypse, this revelation and uncovering of the end, is closer to our understanding of our world than we might think. while the generations and centuries before us found themselves, for the first time, living in a disenchanted universe, we are today the generations that hear and read daily that our world is ending. Continue reading “‘visions of the end’ by Clark Chatlain”

An Interview with David Naimon

In the last few years, podcasts have exploded in popularity. Perhaps it’s something about hearing the human voice and feeling that connection with another person. Like many people, I have podcasts that I regularly listen to. One of my favorites is David Naimon’s Between the Covers. On his radio show, Naimon interviews a wide range of writers, from those who are household names to those who are just starting out. He engages deeply with each writer’s work and always gives his listeners a new way of thinking about complex issues related to literature, life, and society. Between the Covers is essential listening for anyone who loves books and thought-provoking, even life-changing, conversations. Just as his show is illuminating, so too was this interview. We talked about writing across difference, what role writers play in these difficult times, and much more.

–Caitlin, Nonfiction Editor for Burning House Press

 

Burning House Press: Thanks so much for agreeing to this interview! How did Between the Covers get started? Were you already in radio or was this new to you?

 

David Naimon: I was already hosting a non-literary show at the radio station (KBOO 90.7FM in Portland, Oregon) before hosting Between the Covers. At some point the programmers of all the shows started receiving emails with inquiries like “Rick Moody is coming to town, anybody available to interview him?” It made me wonder if that show was all of a sudden in need of hosts. It turned out that one of the main hosts of the show had left and that my interest in filling that void was a welcome one. My first interview was with Anthony Doerr. At the time he was a writer’s writer, not the household name he is today, but he was so warm and responsive and enthusiastic that it was infectious. I never looked back.

Continue reading “An Interview with David Naimon”

‘Walking Towards Death’ – 5 Essays on Mortality by Arathi Devandran

Part 5: ‘Dear Younger Me’

Dear Younger Me,

The first, and most important thing I want to tell you is this – growing up is hard, but things will always work out in the end.

Becoming older will teach you a couple of big lessons about life.

There will be times where you will wonder if you will ever recover from some of these experiences – heartbreak, failure, bad habits, illnesses. The answer is, yes, you will. You may not be the same person at the end of the experience, but you will recover, and you will find that you will be better for it.

Often, even as you are growing older, you will feel like a child – lost and confused. You will wonder if you’ll ever stop feeling this way. You won’t, not really. But you will get better at dealing with it.

Continue reading “‘Walking Towards Death’ – 5 Essays on Mortality by Arathi Devandran”

‘Walking Towards Death’ – 5 Essays on Mortality by Arathi Devandran

Part 4: ‘Fighting Ageing’

My father stopped taking his cholesterol tablets for two weeks. At his regular health check-up, his cholesterol levels were higher than usual; that was when he confessed that he had decided to abstain from his tablets, just to “see how it goes”. Needless to say, it did not go very well – he was promptly chastised by his doctor and his wife, and he’s been dutifully taking his tablets again.

Then there was the time when he thought it was a good idea to take virgin coconut oil everyday – a spoonful a day goes a long way, or so he was told. As most things in life go, too much of anything is never a good idea, and so he ended up with a hacking cough and cold that lasted for weeks.

My father does this often. He tests the boundaries of what he should and should not do, being purposefully stubborn and insistent in doing certain things his own way (be it right or wrong), and then suffering the consequences of his actions. There is a stubborn mule headedness to him that is usually absent in his demeanor.

My father’s not the only one.

Continue reading “‘Walking Towards Death’ – 5 Essays on Mortality by Arathi Devandran”

“She Begins Again To Live in the Past”: On The Ravishing of Lol Stein by Marguerite Duras

I don’t know how to write about Lol Stein. I’ll start there, with an admission of my own limitations, a confession that any review that I write will fail to encompass all that I felt while reading it and all that I feel all these months and years later. Anything I write about it will be mired in my own history and my own memories.

I hate writing reviews because words never touch the experience of reading a book. This review can’t make you feel what I felt, holding the book in my hands, discovering the words on the page, all the moments in which images and scenes have flashed in my mind. But I want to say something about this book. I have so much that I want to say.

Continue reading ““She Begins Again To Live in the Past”: On The Ravishing of Lol Stein by Marguerite Duras”

An Interview with Helen McClory

Helen McClory is a Scottish writer whose stories are multi-faceted gems, filled with atmosphere, mystery, and vivid detail. I discovered her work through Twitter and instantly loved it. Her flash fiction is collected in On the Edges of Vision, and you can read some of the pieces at her blog, Schietree. Her first novel, Flesh of the Peach, is forthcoming this year. McClory was kind enough to answer some of my questions. In our discussion, we talk about gender, Sylvia Plath, unlikable women, and much more.

– Caitlin
Nonfiction Editor of Burning House Press

 
 
 

Helen, thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions. I am such a fan of your writing, and I’m so excited to have this discussion with you. First, I would just like to ask you some general questions about life and writing.

What are you currently reading? What made you want to read it?

I’m currently reading Alan Garner’s The Stone Book Quartet, a book ostensibly for children (like most of his work) that is composed of economical, brilliant sentences weighted with folkloric meaning. I loved his writing as a child myself and wanted to revisit his work (though I don’t think I ever read this one) because I’m writing a sort of fantasy/folklore novel myself and thought I’d look to one of the masters of the form.

Continue reading “An Interview with Helen McClory”

‘Walking Towards Death’ – 5 Essays on Mortality by Arathi Devandran

Part 3: ‘Discussing Death’

My first memory of death is linked to a man I never knew. My mother’s father died of a heart attack before I was born; the irony is that I know more about his death than I do about his life.

The entirety of the man has been reduced to a single black-and-white obituary photograph that my mother faithfully keeps at her prayer altar. Then, there are the stories. The stories of what an influence he was in my mother’s life, how he used to work with the British Royal Navy (this was in the 1940s and 1950s, in a pre-independent Singapore that seems as much of a myth as my late grandfather), and of course, the stories about how he died, and how that changed his entire family’s life.

It is funny, what death does. It slowly morphs to form the central narrative of a person’s life, as if only through death did his life gain meaning and importance and weight.

Continue reading “‘Walking Towards Death’ – 5 Essays on Mortality by Arathi Devandran”

On Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and Yearning

I started reading Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale after the 2016 election. The book felt timely as we, as a people, confronted an uncertain political future. To be honest,  I was gutted by what happened. I was troubled and grief-stricken that a man who boasted about sexually assaulting women, a man who dehumanized every group of people except straight white men, a man who lied every time he opened his mouth, was elected President of the United States. I know many of us are still reeling, maybe we’re even numb.

I decided that I would turn to literature as a way to cope with what happened. Writers give me hope. Writers are always dangerous because they ask us to empathize with The Other and they engage in complex, critical thinking. At least the best writers do. They challenge the status quo. They force us to rethink our assumptions, prejudices, and traditions.

Continue reading “On Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and Yearning”

‘Walking Towards Death’ – 5 Essays on Mortality by Arathi Devandran

Part 2: ‘Mixing Memories’

One of my most beloved memories is that of gnarled hands plaiting my long, curly hair, fingers slowly sifting through tangles, gently unfurling errant curls, and tucking them neatly into the beginnings of a French plait. In my ear, the sound of my grandmother’s voice softly admonishes me, telling me to sit still if I want my French braid to turn out properly.

My grandmother was very good at French plaits, and, as her beloved youngest granddaughter, I took it upon myself to have my hair done whenever I could. It was one of the many perks that came with living with my grandmother, who was my principal caretaker during my childhood years, while my parents were off working and doing other adult things.

Continue reading “‘Walking Towards Death’ – 5 Essays on Mortality by Arathi Devandran”

On Nathalie Léger’s Suite for Barbara Loden

Barbara Loden is Wanda, as they say in the movies. Her inspiration for the screenplay was a newspaper story she had read about a woman convicted of robbing a bank; her accomplice was dead and she appeared in court alone. Sentenced to twenty years in prison, she thanked the judge. Interviewed when the film came out, after it had been awarded the International Critics Award at the 1970 Venice Film Festival, Barbara would say how deeply affected she had been by the story of this woman—what pain, what hopelessness could make a person desire to be put away? How could imprisonment be relief?

–Nathalie Léger, Suite for Barbara Loden

 

From an early age, I knew I wouldn’t make it in this world. So I connected with women who, in my mind, shared that feeling. Plath and Woolf with their suicides speaking of a deep pain. Barbara Loden and her film Wanda in which the title character wanders alone and unloved.

 

Wanda is poor and she is voiceless and she is invisible. I understand the not-thereness of her.

 

Nathalie Léger felt a connection to Wanda as well. Tasked with writing an encyclopedia entry about actress Barbara Loden, she quickly became obsessed and expanded her inquiry, writing Suite For Barbara Loden, a gorgeous and dizzying investigation and excavation. Léger delves into Loden’s life, at times embellishing and inventing, and analyzes every layer of Loden’s only film, Wanda.  The book is fact and fiction and memoir and film criticism; it is a love letter to Loden and the singular film she created.

 

Continue reading “On Nathalie Léger’s Suite for Barbara Loden

‘The Summer Vacation Spent Indoors’ by Sarah Murphy

What a fine weather today! Can’t think whether to drink tea or hang myself.’ – A.P. Chekhov 

Three weeks after I left school for good, twenty-five Facebook messages exchanged in a group chat and eight texts doled out in the absence of Wifi later, a road trip had been planned for myself and a group of female friends. It was to symbolise the Last Summer: our final farewell to school, with the charm of gin and an Angel Olsen soundtrack which was lacking in the leaver’s dinner, in posing for umpteen photos in a lurid eBayed dress, thinking how much less gorgeous than everyone else I looked, and burying my pride in a disappointing chocolate mousse.

“It’s been a decade,” Jaya said as she arrived with Martha and Tess and the others in the road trip cohort that evening, standing in sundresses pulled over swimsuits, the car-park with the huge marina billboard and dilapidated blow-up cinema beside it looking suitably macabre for a adulthood send-off. “It’s been forever.”

“Since you’ve driven?” I asked.

“Since I’ve seen you guys.”

This was not accurate; it had been four days since our last reunion. But ever since school ended, this was how it was: impossible not to quantify everything in terms of forever. Two dollars for a bus ticket to the ends of the earth, please.

Continue reading “‘The Summer Vacation Spent Indoors’ by Sarah Murphy”

‘Walking Towards Death’ – 5 Essays on Mortality by Arathi Devandran

Part 1: ‘Watching My Father Age’

For as long as I’ve known him, my father has been the strong one in the family. He was indefatigable; during my teenage years, he worked several jobs, survived on three hours of sleep daily, and still had enough patience to deal with an ailing wife and a mildly hormonal teenager.

My father never fell ill. While most of my early memories of my mother are linked to hospitals and needles and antiseptic cream, my early memories of my father are of tireless hard work, and the absence of any kind of disease.

When I was younger, my father would carry me when I was sleepy. I was tall, even as a child, but that never stopped him from swinging me onto his back, hoisting as gracefully as one could a gangly, all-arms-and-legs kid, and striding to wherever it was that we had to go. He would never utter a complaint, he would never say I was heavy, and he would never turn me away.

Continue reading “‘Walking Towards Death’ – 5 Essays on Mortality by Arathi Devandran”

‘Living With Cancer’ – an essay in five parts by Arathi Devandran

Part 5: ‘The Everyday’

I am heading home after a long day at work, and I receive a frantic text from S, a dear friend. She has received upsetting news – the father of a good friend of hers has been diagnosed with cancer.

“I feel so helpless,” S writes. “There’s not much I can do for her, except remain available for her, and provide her support.”

I pause before replying.

I had been in her friend’s position before, of being told things that had made my world come crashing down around me. Of facing the insurmountable task of needing to be strong, even though all I had wanted to do was to crawl into a hole, to hide myself from everyone, from myself.

It had taken me several years to come to terms with my mother’s diagnosis, even after she was given a clean bill of health.

Continue reading “‘Living With Cancer’ – an essay in five parts by Arathi Devandran”

‘Living With Cancer’ – an essay in five parts by Arathi Devandran

Part 4: ‘On Hope’

I could not go with my mother to the doctor’s that day. Something urgent had cropped up at work, and I could not excuse myself in time for her appointment.

The feeling of guilt was familiar, but I had gotten used to it over the years. I had begun to understand that, as a caretaker, as part of a support system for someone with a long-term illness, I had to determine the limits of my capabilities as well. A caretaker was useless if she needed caretaking herself.

And the years of hospital visits and doctors’ appointments had almost desensitized my mother. Almost, because one can never be completely nonchalant about ill-health. But she had gotten used to it, and she had gotten used to dealing with most of it alone.

She rang me in the middle of the day while I was busy with work.

She was silent on the phone for a long time.

“The oncologist has officially declared that I’m in remission.”

Joy is a strange thing.

It hits you unexpectedly, from all directions, overwhelming, all-encompassing, until it settles so deeply inside you that you feel it radiating, throbbing, filling you.

Continue reading “‘Living With Cancer’ – an essay in five parts by Arathi Devandran”

On Chantal Akerman’s South

 

How does the southern silence become so heavy and so menacing so suddenly? How do the trees and the whole natural environment evoke so intensely death, blood, and the weight of history? How does the present call up the past? And how does this past, with a mere gesture or a simple regard, haunt and torment you as you wander along an empty cotton field, or a dusty country road?

Chantal Akerman

In his seminal book, Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates writes that “In America, it is traditional to destroy the black body–it is heritage.” The 1998 murder of James Byrd Jr. confirms Coates’s words. Byrd was attacked by three white supremacists in Jasper, Texas. They beat him, urinated on him, and then tied his body to the back of their truck and dragged him several miles down an isolated road. Over the course of the drive, Byrd’s body was literally torn apart; pieces of flesh and body parts, including Byrd’s head and arm, were strewn along the road. The three men finally dumped what was left of Byrd’s body at a black church. The murder sparked national outrage and condemnation. All three killers were convicted. Two of the perpetrators remain alive, while one was executed in 2011.

Around the time of the murder, Chantal Akerman planned to make a documentary about the American South. She admired the work of William Faulkner and wanted to explore the region. However, when Byrd was murdered, her attention immediately shifted and she chose to focus on his death. The subsequent documentary she made was called Sud (South).

Continue reading “On Chantal Akerman’s South

In By Fire, Tahar Ben Jelloun Tells The Story of the Man Who Sparked the Arab Spring

 

Every fire begins with a spark, a small flame that ignites a conflagration. Where does that spark originate? No one could have known that when Mohamed Bouazizi set fire to his body on December 17, 2010 his act of self-immolation would trigger protests in Tunisia and throughout the Arab region. He was the spark that lit up the world.

In By Fire: Writings on the Arab Spring, Tahar Ben Jelloun writes about Bouazizi in two distinct ways. In the first part of the book are selections from Ben Jelloun’s nonfiction writings about the Arab Spring. In the second part of the book is Ben Jelloun’s short story “By Fire,” which enters the mind of Bouazizi and attempts to capture the nuances of his life. Both parts are necessary and complement each other. Translator Rita S. Nezami’s notes and introductions do an excellent job of contextualizing Bouazizi’s act of protest and providing much-needed information for Western readers to understand the political climate in Tunisia before the Arab Spring.

Continue reading “In By Fire, Tahar Ben Jelloun Tells The Story of the Man Who Sparked the Arab Spring”

An Interview with Heidi Saman

By chance, I met Heidi Saman on tumblr, where she curates an excellent blog about cinema. Along with working as an associate producer for NPR’s Fresh Air, Saman is also a gifted filmmaker, who just premiered her first feature film, Namour, at the LA Film Festival to rave reviews. Namour explores the existential crisis of an Arab American man working as a valet driver in the aftermath of the 2008 recession. Saman was kind enough to take time out of her hectic schedule of promoting Namour to answer some of my questions. Our conversation touches on various subjects, including racism in Hollywood and Saman’s cinematic inspirations.

Continue reading “An Interview with Heidi Saman”

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