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Current Issue: Winter 2016
Current issue: Winter 2016
Today, The Missouri Review presents the ninth installment of its Summer Reading series, designed to provide recommendations for summer reads from authors and Missouri Review staff members. This week’s installment comes from two authors whose writing is featured in the Summer 2016 issue. Charles Harmon, a newcomer, makes his fiction debut with the comic story “Somewhere Else,” and Peter Cooley, whose poetry we first published in 1978, has work in our pages for the fifth time in thirty-eight years.
I teach drama history for a living, and I am scheduled to teach three new courses next year, so I’ve been plowing through a lot of plays from the early twentieth century these past few weeks. One that
I am recommending to people–it’s not forgotten, exactly, but lots of
people haven’t heard of it–is Rachel, a Play in Three Acts by Angelina Weld Grimké. It was written in 1916, and it’s about a family that has moved north in the aftermath of having the father of the family lynched. As they try to put their lives back together, they struggle to maintain psychological barriers between themselves and the new, urban world around them, which, although it provides a greater measure of physical safety to them than they knew in the south, still does its best to grind down their self-esteem in a million little ways. I think it’s great. What’s not so great is how relevant to the contemporary US the play still is.
Once I get my courses all set, and in a completely different vein, I’m going to read the fourth volume of Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle. That’ll be my reward for being such a responsible citizen and getting all ready for the next school year!
For my poetry reading I have been looking at Night Sky with Exit Wounds by Ocean Vuong and The Darkening Trapeze by Larry Levis, the first a stunning first book by a twenty-eight year old, the second a posthumous collection by a visionary poet I have loved for years.
For fiction I have been reading Dirty Love by Andre Dubus III,a volume which is four novellas under one cover.
I have always loved the novella form, and these characters of Dubus really stand up and walk off the page and stay with you, haunting you after the book is done.
Charles Harmon was born in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1962 and grew up in Mountain Home, Arkansas. He attended Hendrix College, the University of Wisconsin–Madison, and The Ohio State University. He lives in Chicago and works as a lecturer in the Theatre Department at Northwestern University. “Somewhere Else” is his first published piece of fiction.
A native of the Midwest and a graduate of the Writers’ Work- shop at the University of Iowa, Peter Cooley has lived over half his life in New Orleans, where he is a professor of English, direc- tor of the creative writing program, and Senior Mellon Professor in the Humanities at Tulane University. Married and the father of three children, he has published nine books, eight of them with Carnegie Mellon. His work has appeared in the New Yorker, the Atlantic, the Nation, the New Republic, and in over one hundred anthologies. Cooley has been the recipient of an ATLAS grant from the state of Louisiana and of the Marble Faun Poetry Award from the Faulkner Society in New Orleans. He is the poetry editor of Christianity and Literature and Louisiana poet laureate.
Peter Cooley’s latest book of poetry is entitled Night Bus to the Afterlife and is another excellent summer reading choice.
Over at Lit Hub, Whitney Terrell has posted a very convincing piece about why writers should move to Kansas City, Missouri. Kansas City is great, but have you considered its hip little sister, Columbia, Missouri?
1. The Music Scene
Columbia is known for being aware of artists first, before they make it big. We’ve hosted Donald Glover before he became better known as Childish Gambino, Chance the Rapper before his appearances on Saturday Night Live, Bryson Tiller before nearly every American radio station overplayed “Don’t,” and Imagine Dragons before they were a Grammy award-winning band. KCOU 88.1 FM, a radio station run by Mizzou students, specializes in providing their listeners with a miscellany of fresh music that spans across numerous genres.
Hitt Records, Columbia’s only independent, locally-owned record store, provides its patrons with a collection of non-mainstream music and “the popular favorites” along with gracing us with live shows. Hitt Records is just one of Columbia’s many quirky music venues that regularly host an array of talented artists from Missouri and beyond; Café Berlin doubles as the place to be for Sunday morning brunches, and The Social Room hides discreetly behind Lips and Curls, a vintage beauty parlor, (don’t worry, the weekly-changed top-secret password needed to get in is not that hard to come by once you become a local).
2. The Food
New Columbia food spots are popping up with just as many quirks as our residents. A waltz through our quaint downtown area can lead you to a number of old fashioned diners, sushi places with atmospheres that complement the popular delicacy, a donut bar specializing in funky creations, and places that serve up everything from homemade alcoholic ice-cream to Philly cheesesteak pizza.
We’re a self-supporting community. It’s not uncommon for restaurants to purchase their ingredients from local farmers, or for you to stumble past farmer’s markets supplied with dairy, meat, and produce grown less than a car ride away. Columbia serves up plenty of options for those with dietary restrictions. Range Free, located in the heart of Columbia’s North Village Art District, is an allergen-free bakery and café that prides itself on conveniently serving delicious food to Mid-Missouri’s food-allergic and specialty diet population.
The hyper-coverage of the student-led protests that sprang up last year gave news outlets the free hand to paint Columbia, specifically Mizzou, in a violence-ridden light that differs from what life is actually like here. The protests were peaceful and brought to the surface concerns African-American students felt should be addressed, problems they felt even spanned back to 1950 when the first African-American student was accepted at Mizzou, hence the #ConcernedStudent1950 name.
Columbia is filled with an array of people not afraid to have their voices heard in order to make change, or have the resources provided to live more comfortably. There are numerous outlets that strive to meet the needs of Mizzou’s campus, including our Black Culture Center, Disability Center, LGBTQ Resource Center, Multicultural Center, Relationship and Sexual Violence Prevention Center, and Women’s Center, to name a few, and more resources available in the general Columbia area as well, such as True North and The Center Project.
Avid readers are kept well-supplied at Columbia’s two main libraries: Ellis Library and Daniel Boone Public Library. Ellis Library is located on Mizzou’s campus and includes six branch libraries. Ellis boasts a collection of more than 3.9 million print volumes, and over 1 million ebooks with an annual budget of $18 million. Ellis library is available to students, faculty and alumni, but the general public can gain access by joining an organization known as Friends of the Library.
Daniel Boone Library is open to the public for free. The library is funded mainly by Missouri state property taxes. As of 2015, the library reported that they have 112,616 library cardholders and have 552,188 items in collection.
5. Cheap Housing
Columbia’s ambition has been to transform from a college town into a livable small city where students can graduate and stay to live, work, and play. Not only is Columbia a great place to live, it has a cost of living below the national average. And it’s beautiful here: a landscape of gently rolling plains at the edge of the Missouri River Valley.
Several apartments are available and under construction in the downtown area, just steps away from a unique environment filled with shops and restaurants. Downtown is clean and lively; the population is friendly and progressive. Downtown isn’t the only place to live, however. Apartments and neighborhoods are distributed throughout the town, making hosing available in any part of town for practically any budget. For a small city, Columbia features a low cost of living and promising future job growth projections.
6. Coffee Shops and Downtown Columbia
Forget the mainstream and overcrowded spots like Starbucks and check out Columbia’s unique coffee scene. Places like Kaldi’s, Lakota, Cafe Poland, Coffee Zone, Fretboard and Shortwave all offer great environments to enjoy a cup of coffee, generate creative new ideas and, of course, write. For those who prefer a quiet writing environment or need some solitude to think, Kaldi’s and Lakota both offer a spacious sitting area. Lakota even has a table with dividers to make it the perfect space to block out the rest of the world and delve into your writing. If you’re looking for somewhere a bit more lively, check out Fretboard Coffee, which features live music throughout the week.
If you’re in the mood for a sweet treat, stop by Sparky’s for some homemade ice cream. With tons of unique and wacky flavors, you never have to settle for something bland. A few of Sparky’s signature flavors include honey lavender, candied bacon, banana Nutella and mandarin orange dark chocolate. A couple years ago, and timed to a thirteen-year metamorphosis, there was a new flavor: Cicada. Sparky’s is best paired with a serene walk around Peace Park, steps from TMR offices where you can clear your mind.
Donut shops like Harold’s Donuts and Strange Donuts also offer a great spot to get coffee, a peculiar yet tasty donut, and some writing accomplished. Harold’s Donuts offer donuts such as the chocolate peanut butter donut and the maple bacon. The Strange Donuts menu lists campfire donuts and blueberry cheesecake donuts. They also serve even stranger donut creations like the chicken and waffle donut.
7. Literary Happenings
But does Columbia have any literary happenings, you ask?
The Missouri Review hosts three events every year: the Editors’ Prize Reading and Reception in spring, a Summer Launch Party, and the Peden Prize reading and reception in the fall. In the winter, we hibernate. At our events, you can mingle with writers from all over and others who have an abiding interest in literature. We usually see 100 or 160 people at each. All are free and open to everyone. You can like our Facebook page to keep up with our events.
Orr Street Studios, a gallery, studio and event space in the North Village Arts District just north of downtown, hosts a bimonthly “Hearing Voices” reading series. In April, Orr Street presented a Black Poets Speak Out event hosted by Cornelius Eady, Cave Canem cofounder and professor at MU.
MU has a strong PhD program in creative writing and a well-established reading series. Recent visitors include Maggie Nelson, Colson Whitehead, Carolyn Forché, Karen Russell, Natasha Tretheway, Roxane Gay, and Lorrie Moore.
This was the inaugural year for the Unbound Book Festival, which brought to Columbia writers of national reputation like Camille Rankine, George Hodgman, and Bob Shacochis. The marquee event was a conversation between Michael Ondaatje and Mark Doty in the Missouri Theatre, whose baroque architecture was modeled on the Opera Garnier in Paris.
Poet Marc McKee hosts an intimate and fun series, The Next Weather, at Yellow Dog Bookshop. Sample here the event invitation, and just try to resist: “All you carollers of combustibles, sun-fed zeniths, erstwhilestones, you convex caves and concave vexations, you circumexistential off-ramps, you split-lip, swollen-tongued on-lamps, you apple appreciators, you water-slide architects, you kind visitations…”
Columbia also hosts two film festivals of international reputation, True/False, for documentaries, and Citizen Jane, for films made by women. We interviewed Citizen Jane filmmakers for our podcast series here, here, here, and here. You can follow us on SoundCloud for regular updates on our audio interviews and podcasts.
The Missouri Review Social Media Interns are Sherell Barbee, Tom Carter, Meghan Cox, and Jessica Piccone. We hope you will follow our new Instagram account, where we will post even more reasons to make Columbia home.
Today, the Missouri Review presents the seventh installment of the Summer Reading series, designed to provide recommendations for summer reads from authors and Missouri Review staff members. This installment is written by Evelyn Somers, Associate Editor of the Missouri Review.
I’m finishing a novel set in the mid ’80s. I lived through the ’80s, so I wasn’t worried about getting the decade right, but then a voice in my head said I must read novels set in the ’80s. I did one uninspired Google search and turned up an unhelpful Wikipedia list. Who had ever heard of these books? Well, American Psycho. Which I’ve never wanted to read.
Tom Wolfe was also on the list, one of the few titles I knew: Bonfire Of The Vanities. A yellowed paperback edition of it had been sitting on my shelf for years. It smelled old enough to have been hanging out with Madonna, E.T., and the cast of Night Court. I hadn’t read it when it was published because I was doing PhD coursework.
I launched myself upon the current of Wolfe’s prose, which is crashing and superabundant. It didn’t matter that my ’80s novel is set in Texas and Bonfire is saturated in NYC. Wolfe imagines here no woman characters who aren’t demanding wives or “foxy animals” or emaciated socialite “X-rays.” There’s one grieving black mother who barely makes an appearance. A bad book for feminists, it is nevertheless funny, boldly written, solidly plotted. There’s enjoyment in watching the workings of low-rent Bronx justice; and in seeing the heretofore charmed life of bond-trading star Sherman McCoy tank completely as random chance collides with virulent social forces and a man-eating media that we would recognize as being even more voracious today.
The book is massive. When I finished, I wanted economy. I needed to read a manly novel with a taciturn hero because I am also writing about someone kind of like that, though not a jaded spy. It didn’t have to be ‘80s. I’d never read Spy Who Came in from the Cold. Turning from Wolfe to Le Carre’s stark, existential story of a man and a woman caught in a triple cross could have resulted in literary whiplash, but didn’t. (If you want to read a great review of Le Carre’s classic, try this retrospective by British novelist William Boyd, whose books you should read as soon as possible.)
Summer reading is a vacation, but even vacations have a degree of intentionality. I’ve recently embarked on creating a group of stories that are supernaturally dark, so I checked out The Classic Horror Stories by H. P. Lovecraft, edited by Roger Luckhurst, from the public library. I’m trying to read past Lovecraft’s stylistic snarl and into the heart of the horror and weirdness. I’m also reading a book about generative syntax, because writers should not forget that their essential tool is not so much words as the way their minds make systems out of them.
Evelyn Somers is the associate editor of the Missouri Review. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Southwest Review, Florida Review, Shenandoah, Georgia Review, the Collagist, Crazyhorse, Copper Nickel, Bloom, and the Millions, among others. As a freelancer she’s edited prizewinning work in multiple genres. She lives and writes in a dilapidated 19th-century mansion and is finishing a second novel, about a gifted teenage boy who decides to get revenge on his archenemy.
Today, the Missouri Review presents the sixth installment of the Summer Reading series, designed to provide recommendations for summer reads from authors and Missouri Review staff members. This installment is written by Cynthia Robinson. Her story “Maison des Oiseaux” appears in the Summer 2016 issue.
On this late afternoon in the middle of a bizarrely cold June I am reading, in Spain, and in Spanish. At a rickety little table in a corner cafe stuck into the ground floor of a very old building, its facade studded with those bird-cage-y miradors that make you want to put on a black mantilla and gaze languidly down at the street from behind your fan. I am gazing over Valladolid’s Plaza Mayor, awash with after-rainstorm sun: it looks like it jumped straight out of Fernando Trueba’s delicious 1994 Oscar-Winner, Belle Époque.
For afternoon reading, I need coffee, and Spanish coffee is the best coffee in Europe. And even better, a splash of brandy has turned my café cortado (okay, macchiato) into something known as a carajillo. A carajillo is the perfect accompaniment to Javier Marías’ latest novel, Los enamoramientos (rendered not entirely satisfactorily as Infatuations on the cover of Margaret Jull Costa’s otherwise brilliant translation). Like carajillos and plazas, Marías, even when he writes about La Habana or Manhattan or Oxford, conjures Old Madrid. His characters are not constantly engaged with their smart phones: even though they live in some never explicitly identified ‘present’ that always manages to seem like now, they also feel old. Old is familiar, and familiar, to me, this summer, feels good. My selections are, I guess, for lovers of Spain and its language.
In my day job I am a medievalist, so if I am 100% honest, at least 50% of the reading material I will consume this summer is comprised of random and very old pieces of paper, scrawled in the frustratingly ornate script known as “letra cortesana,” used by public notaries and their ilk. These bits and pieces of the past are housed at Simancas, some seven miles from Valladolid, in a big, drafty old castle turned into a state archive by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabel. The objects of this summer’s quest are documents relating to properties lavished in the 1460s by the aging Sultan of Granada, known popularly as “Muley Hacén,” upon a young Christian captive named Isabel de Solís, also known as la Zoraya, from the Arabic al-zahrā’, the name given to her when she converted to Islam, best translated as “Splendorous.” In real-life echo of medieval romances like Fleur et Blanchefleur, Isabel was kidnapped by Muslim raiders during her tender years while drawing water from a well. Stockholm Syndrome may or may not have played a role in her long relationship with Muley Hacén, during which she gave birth to two sons and became a very rich woman.
The documents and the archive are for the mornings; afternoons are for trysting with fiction. La Zoraya’s story is racy stuff: Los enamoramientos would have to be exceptionally good to compete, and it does. It’s classic Marías, albeit with the new twist of a female, first-person narrator ,María, who wrestles with all of the tough stuff Marías always foists upon his characters: complicated, contradictory love; death under suspicious circumstances in which bizarre happenstance has also played a role—in this case, a series of chance encounters, over a period of years, in one of the neighborhood cafeterías in which most of Spain has breakfast. To readers of Marías, Los enamoramientos will be both new and familiar: the subtle, insistent, Lady-Macbeth-like whisper into the ear, maybe while sharing a pillow, that gets us to do things we shouldn’t; slightly unhinged, weirdly sympathetic and very unlikely hit-men; a highly intelligent, self-deprecating narrator who rambles about what-ifs and moral quandaries and makes us not only listen but love it.
Some of my friends have grumbled about Los enamoramientos being yet another turn to the screw of Marías’ “usual misogyny,” and they are not entirely wrong; if misogyny-in-literature bothers you a lot, maybe skip straight to the second book sitting at my elbow. Cada noche, cada noche is the latest offering from friend-of-a-friend, feminist and psychoanalyst Lola López Mondéjar. If there were an English translation, it might be Every Night. There is not a translation, however, and at the moment I know of no plans for there to be one, even though López Mondéjar’s work is every bit as deserving of translation as Marías’. This could take us very quickly back to the topic of gender. In Cada noche, cada noche, a daughter, whose own life has been barren in terms of sexual desire, discovers that her terminally ill mother, who has made the decision to end her life in Switzerland, in a clinic established for this purpose, almost certainly served Nabokov as inspiration for his Lolita. The daughter, even as she helps her mother die, goes looking for answers.
López Mondéjar’s protagonists are strong women, badly damaged but not broken, often searching for a way to be in the world without men, or at least without men-as-patriarchs, even though they themselves may be initially unaware of this quest. Of Lola’s oeuvre, I first read Mi amor desgraciado—‘My unfortunate love’ (also untranslated)—from cover to cover in one sitting, on a flight home from Madrid. Though the writing makes you want to savor every beautiful word, the book is truly un-put-down-able. Lola’s short stories are also very much worth a read, even if your Spanish isn’t quite up to it. The best inspiration for practicing a language is desperately wanting to read something. Lazos de sangre—“Blood ties”—is her most recent collection.
And now it’s confession time: maybe I especially love reading Lola because, not only is she a brilliant writer, but I’ve shared meals and glasses of wine with her, been to her readings, had conversations with her about books, and about writing. I know how long and how hard she had to fight to get her first novel published, because she told me. Maybe by seeking out the familiar this summer—I’ve also headed back into Kate Atkinson, way before Life After Life, even further back than Case Histories, all the way to Emotionally Weird and Human Croquet, so that I can watch one of my most revered writers “make” herself on rewind—what I’m really doing is reaching for my own brand of comfort food for the soul. Because, what do you give yourself to read while you live the agony of Novel on Submission? Answer: what you know and what you love. The things that made you want to write in the first place.
Cynthia Robinson’s short fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in the Arkansas Review, Bayou, Epoch, the Louisville Review, the Pinch, the New Southerner, Slice, and Stone Canoe. She has a novel under representation and a second under way. Cynthia lives with two rescued rabbits in Ithaca, New York. She is the Mary Donlon Alger Professor of Medieval and Islamic Art at Cornell University, where she also chairs the Department of the History of Art.
Cynthia is also the author of Imagining the Passion in a Multiconfessional Castile: The Virgin, Christ, Devotions, and Images in the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Centuries, another summer reading option for those fascinated by Spain and the medieval.
Today, the Missouri Review presents the fifth installment of the Summer Reading series, designed to provide recommendations for summer reads from authors and Missouri Review staff members. This installment is from Corey Van Landingham. Her poems “Taking Down the Bridge,” “Against Giotto,” and “The Temporary Ones” appear in the Summer 2016 issue.
Summer is always my time to read prose, and I’m often catching up on things I really should have already read by now. Last summer it was One Hundred Years Of Solitude and Swann’s Way. This summer I have Ulysses on deck. But I also just finished—forgive the shameless nepotism—my brilliant friend Brittany Cavallaro’s A Study in Charlotte, the first book of a trilogy about the descendants of Holmes and Watson. I’m already hungry for the next installment. As for nonfiction, I’m savoring Kathryn Rhett’s book of essays, Souvenir, bit by bit. Perhaps I’m partial because I now live and write about Gettysburg, but her insight, her spare, yet stunning, observations about this bizarre location, and her keen self-awareness should attract any reader. David Baker recently released a gorgeous new book of poetry, Scavenger Loop: Poems. His attention to and care for the natural world, his ability to document with such tenderness and intelligence, and his flexibility of form is quite enviable.
Then there’s the God-I-hope-I-can-yank-a-poem-out-of-this reading, like the letters of Robert E. Lee, Alain de Botton’s News A Users Manual, and revisiting Whitman.
In case this seems like I’m mostly reading, I’d also like to include that I’m in the middle of watching Friends all the way through for the third time this year. It’s an endless Netflix cycle. I’m not sorry.
Corey Van Landingham is the author of Antidote, winner of the 2012 The Ohio State University Press/The Journal Award in Poetry. She is a former Wallace Stegner Poetry Fellow at Stanford University. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in The Best American Poetry 2014, Boston Review, Kenyon Review, the Southern Review, and elsewhere. She is currently the 2015–2016 Emerging Writer Lecturer at Gettysburg College.
Today, the Missouri Review presents the fourth installment of the Summer Reading series, a series designed to provide recommendations for summer reads from authors and Missouri Review staff members. This installment is written by Missouri Review Poetry Editor Leanna Petronella.
I’m about to enter my fourth year in my PhD program, and as such I’m reading for my comprehensive exams. As part of these exams, I write essays, and one of my essays is about the grotesque as an aesthetic in poetry. Reading about the grotesque is as delightful and repulsive as you might imagine. I’ve been reading Mikhail Bakhtin’s Rabelais & His World, where Bakhtin analyzes Rabelais’ Gargantua & Pantagruel. Rabelais’ novel, written in the sixteenth century, follows the adventures of two jolly giants as they fart, pee, defecate, and otherwise smear their bodies over the French countryside. In his study, Bakhtin introduces the “carnivalesque,” an important aspect of the grotesque that emphasizes the boisterous breakdown of hierarchies. Another book which I particularly enjoyed is Gurlesque The New Grrly Grotesque Burlesque Poetics, a poetry and visual arts anthology edited by Lara Glenum and Arielle Greenberg. The book begins with Greenberg’s devastatingly hip essay about how she and Glenum coined the term (grotesque + burlesque + riot grrrl), and if I ever get to write literary criticism as exuberant and naughty as this, I will be pleased (an excerpt: “Take the girly. Shake it up. Make a milkshake. Make it throw up”). Glenum follows with a more traditional essay, giving context for this wild, ravenous, visceral aesthetic found in a certain camp of contemporary women poets. The anthology itself includes poets such as Ariana Reines, Brenda Shaugnessy, Catherine Wagner, and Sarah Vap. There’s also a spread in the middle of the book with examples from the gurlesque visual arts (my personal favorite is a sculpture by E.V. Day of a clam shell with a tongue in it, a pearl resting neatly on its tip). Some other texts on the grotesque (especially the female grotesque) that I’d recommend are Mary J. Russo’s The Female Grotesque: Risk, Excess and Modernity (spectacle as an especially female danger!) and Donna Haraway’s “A Manifesto for Cyborgs” (defeat the patriarchy with cyborg feminism!).
Leanna Petronella’s poetry can be seen in Beloit Poetry Journal, CutBank, HTMLGIANT, La Petite Zine, ElevenEleven, and other publications. She received her M.F.A. from the Michener Center for Writers at the University of Texas and is currently pursuing her doctorate at the University of Missouri. She is the Poetry Editor of The Missouri Review.