“Cover Up” by Clare Needham

In Clare Needham’s memoir about her experience as a young woman living and working in Jerusalem, the author reflects on issues of women’s bodies, national identity, and physical safety. The essay was a nonfiction runner-up in the 2020 Jeffrey E. Smith Editors’ Prize competition and appeared in print in TMR 44:3. You can read our interview with Clare here.

Cover Up

Clare Needham

 

I did not begin my time in Jerusalem with the desire to be dangerous. I arrived in that most intoxicating, infuriating, enervating, derelict, and sad of cities with a large black suitcase into which I’d folded a year’s wardrobe, plus books and toiletries. I had a postcollege fellowship at an Israeli civil rights and legal organization that soon came to feel too conservative for me. Its mission was laudable: it advocated for a greater separation of religion and state and for equal allocation of government funds for all minority groups within ’67 borders. But the organization relied on funding mostly from Jewish groups in the United States, Europe, and Australia, which were, as one colleague explained to me, “progressive except for Palestine.” In the fundraising materials I helped compose, I could not mention Israel’s occupation of East Jerusalem, which began about four hundred meters from our office, or its occupation of the West Bank, or its occupation and total blockade of Gaza, even as we approached the one-year anniversary of Operation Cast Lead. Granted, antioccupation work was not within the organization’s purview, and among the staff there was disagreement and a spectrum of political opinion. But I felt stifled nonetheless.

I was, however, free to wear whatever I liked to the office. I had two bosses, one an American who’d explained to me before I moved that I didn’t need to worry about packing a separate work wardrobe. Israelis dressed casually; they wore whatever—the organization’s press liaison liked to wear thigh-highs and little black dresses to work. My American boss now felt stuffy whenever she had to put on button-down Ann Taylor blouses to meet with potential donors. I adored my Israeli boss, the organization’s executive director, who had been a champion swimmer in a former life. She wore jeans and T-shirts, so I did the same.

My first day out in Jerusalem, before I had to report to work, I wore jean shorts. The temperature was in the mid-90s, and at noon there was a blinding white heat. Almost as soon as I left my apartment near the city center—where something like a secular atmosphere still prevailed—I began to feel my mistake. A man grabbed the backs of my thighs and parted my legs with his hand. I vowed never to wear shorts again.

I put on jeans that covered my ankles and then decided it was better to cover my shoulders as well, even if, for a little while longer, I left the rest of my arms bare. Within two weeks, I’d added a scarf to the ensemble. Often I wore a black one dotted with tiny blue and violet flowers that I adjusted each morning to hide my vulnerable neck and collarbones, then double-checked my work in the mirror—though mirrors were not necessary in Jerusalem. As soon as you stepped onto the street, your body was reflected back to you, and your body was understood as your essence. Jerusalem, reputed to be a spiritual place, was rooted in the physical, in the crudeness of surface appearance. I was a young white woman, secular, not obviously Jewish: everyone I passed reflected that image back to me.

My excessive paleness—red hair, blond eyebrows and eyelashes—made strangers often stop and demand where I was from. The first time I flew out of Ben Gurion Airport, I underwent extensive questioning— Why did I speak Hebrew? What was the origin of my last name? Was I really Jewish?—and my passport was slapped with a stickered number 5, the second most serious security rating. On my return from Istanbul, as I rode up an escalator with other passengers from my flight, airport security summoned me out of line before we reached passport control. They searched my luggage; they asked more questions. When I described the experience to an Israeli colleague, she didn’t miss a beat. “Oh,” she said, “you fit the Rachel Corrie profile. European-looking woman, traveling alone. They assume you have a Palestinian boyfriend, a blog where you write about the occupation.” (Rachel Corrie was crushed to death by an Israeli bulldozer in March 2003 while defending Palestinian homes in Gaza from demolition.)

I did not have a blog, and my boyfriend was American, but he taught at a Palestinian university and lived in East Jerusalem, and soon I moved in with him. With the move, I became the one white lady in At-Tur, a neighborhood on the Mount of Olives, a part of East Jerusalem crowded with many histories and lives. It was a Palestinian village with an illegal Israeli settlement embedded in it, whose compound flew an Israeli flag large enough to be seen clearly from the Old City. Soldiers patrolled 24/7 outside. Christian tourists were bused in every day to visit the Garden of Gethsemane and the storied churches that spread up the slope. Our apartment was not far from the Russian Orthodox Church of the Ascension, on whose property the head of John the Baptist was rumored to have once been buried.

I would have been interested in many of these details if I’d had a different body, if I were not thinking so much about the uniform I needed to wear. Growing up, I spent time looking through a book my mother had, called How to Be a Perfect Stranger, an etiquette guide for every religion. What to bring to a Baptist wedding, what to wear to a Muslim funeral, what to avoid saying, whether to give gifts or take photographs. It was in this spirit of respect, of not giving offense, that I planned my dress. I was an outsider; I was no one’s sister or daughter; I had no family protection. I could not blend in, but I wanted to float through; I wanted to be safe.

This was not possible. One morning an old man pulled down his trousers and extracted his limp dick, holding it in his hand as he crossed the road toward me. I knew then that I’d have more problems. Still, I thought the right clothes might help minimize them. No matter the weather, though easier in colder months, when I could wear a coat, I kept on the jeans and the scarf and traded my T-shirts for long, loose shirts that fell at least midthigh. I’d learned that any part of a woman could tempt—a man once grabbed my naked left elbow and imprisoned it between his hands, briefly, before I could pull away—so I tugged down the sleeves of my shirts to cover even the backs of my hands. Though I felt like a colonizer all the same, I wanted to make clear that I was not an Israeli settler: a long skirt was out of the question. Loose red hair was too suggestive, so I put mine in a braid. I wore Supergas or low-heeled boots; I didn’t want to show my feet, much less my occasionally painted toes: that was slutty. When I went outside, I pretended to be married and wore an opal ring on my left hand.

I repeated the lie of my marriage often to Samir, one of the taxi drivers who waited at the foot of the Mount of Olives every day to drive tourists and others up and down the slope. He introduced himself to me shortly after I arrived and it became clear that I was a more permanent resident, though I’d noticed him right away, in part because he was exceptionally well-dressed. Palestinian men, in general, dressed more formally than Israelis; they wore blazers and shoes with laces, while Israeli men wore shorts and Crocs. Samir’s daily uniform was impeccable, a triumph, almost a fuck-you to the occupation, a hint of whom he might have become had he not been born under a system of foreign military rule designed, among other things, to disrupt daily life and thwart ambition. He wore a fresh white button-down shirt tucked into dark denim Levi’s, a leather belt that matched his polished shoes. Nothing he wore ever showed dirt, dust, or sweat. His head was shaved, and he managed to sport Ray-Ban Aviators without looking like a tool. He seemed imperious until he removed the sunglasses and showed his gold-flecked eyes.

He began offering me free rides, and at first, I accepted. When I sat next to him in his clean cab, I felt ashamed of what I wore, designed to minimize everything about me that was desirable. I felt ashamed of my dress because I was attracted to him, as he was to me. We never spoke about it, though often he suggested that we drive to Jericho (we never did). But I had a boyfriend, and he had a wife and kids who lived in Silwan, a neighborhood next to the Mount of Olives, where settler violence against Palestinians was well documented. Around him, I was especially aware of my American passport: I could leave whenever I wanted. My citizenship, for which I’d done nothing other than possess the random good fortune of being born to American citizens, granted me powers he would never have. When one afternoon he leaned over and kissed me as I was getting out of the car, I decided I had to refuse his rides as often as I could. So I began treading carefully down and up the steep slope each day on my way to and from work in West Jerusalem. If Samir was there, I would make small talk, then move on.

But I was far from slipping into the crowd. Often I was the only woman walking outside, or the only one unaccompanied by a man.

Late one morning, when I was on the slope and almost in sight of the taxi drivers, a man came running from behind. He slammed his body into mine and put me in a chokehold. One arm gripped my neck and the other belted my waist. In memory, it feels as if he had his pants down, though I might be confusing this time with other times, with other men who unzipped their flies as I walked past. I would like to say I fought off the man on my back, but he had the advantage of the slope, of gathering the energy of the hill before putting me in his grip. He must have chosen to let me go. He disappeared, and I ran the rest of the way down the hill, shooting past Samir and the others, propelled by fear. When something like this happened, I scrolled through my recent calls and talked to whoever was first to pick up. I screamed at my boyfriend or at a friend as I described the latest incident. Nothing they said was enough. I was outraged but stubborn, and stupid. I kept walking. Everywhere I wanted or had to go required my first getting down the hill.

Soon there was trouble every day. A good day meant only being called a slut or a Russian (i.e., a slut). A bad day meant I was touched, grabbed. And almost every evening, I would tell my boyfriend what had happened, and he’d suggest that I had a bad attitude: I just had to shrug it off. He did buy me pepper spray, which I knew I’d never use. I tried it out on our roof, and with comic predictability, a sudden gust sent it stinging into my eyes. Other people said I should move. Another friend told me to wear a hijab. I balked at the idea, in part because I knew that covering my hair would not work. I was from elsewhere, and it was visible in the way I moved; a piece of cloth could not change that. I had been in Jerusalem long enough to realize that actually I was my body: it was my essence; my body was my soul.

I decided I would become ugly, neglect my hair and skin and clothing. I would make myself repulsive, untouchable. Then I might be safe. I tried becoming more like a man: I started wearing my boyfriend’s clothes. He was disappointed; he wanted a sexy girlfriend. But the new uniform didn’t work, anyway. The incidents continued.

My boyfriend and I went on a short vacation to Greece, where I could wear whatever I wanted. I understood this conceptually, but my body did not. In Thessaloniki, we went for a walk along the promenade, looked out over the shining Aegean Sea. I had put on a dress I’d loved wearing in New York: horizontal black-and-white stripes, thin shoulder straps. We had not gone far when I insisted we turn around so I could change. I felt like a slut, I said. Someone could hurt me in the dress.

Things got worse when we got back. One evening at the end of February, I was returning from having a drink with a friend in the Old City. It wasn’t late—just after seven—but the sky was dark, and Samir and the others had all gone home for the day. I reached the base of the Mount of Olives and started walking up. The road I took was poorly paved, with no shoulder and no sidewalk, and was barely lit by streetlights, several of which had been extinguished for months—Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem paid municipal taxes, yet there was an appalling and unequal distribution of municipal services. But I had experience with this path, a sense of how to handle the road.

Five or so cars passed, a couple of drivers sounding a friendly beep of their horn to let me know to watch out. Generally when a car approached, I moved to the edge of the road and waited for it to go by. Since it was dark and the headlights were bright, I looked down at my feet each time the beams swept over my body and face. It had rained earlier that day, and it was cold. I wore black leather boots and an androgynous black raincoat that tumbled to my knees and hid my form.

Soon I was walking up the steepest section of road. My breath was heavy, and the sound of it filled my head. On one side of the road was a high stone wall that bordered private church property and on the other, directly to my left, a steep drop down to an open field, usually dusty  and dry, though in late February, the start of Jerusalem’s brief spring, covered in vibrant poppies and wildflowers exuding their colors, even in the dark.

Someone flung himself at me sideways. I remember an expression, eyes and teeth—not a face. I began to wrestle with a body much stronger than mine, though both of our bodies were, in that moment, transformed by adrenaline. My mind was clear: I was an idiot, and I was going to die; it was my fault, because I’d insisted on being alone and walking. In seconds, this other body had slammed mine onto the ground. I had a gray leather bag slung diagonally across my chest; now he reached for its base and pulled it away, over my head, while I clung to the strap. He began to drag me, headfirst, back down the steep hill, pulling me behind him like a dog. I skidded along on my right side, scraping elbows and knees, but I managed to hold up my head, and that’s how I saw the idling car, the open door, and knew I’d be thrown inside. It did not occur to me to let go of the bag. I held on to the strap and tried to use all my weight to stop this trajectory: I would do all that I could not to be put into the car.

But he only wanted the bag. I was an available body lugging a bag of unknown treasure, there in the right place, the right time—for him. He dragged me until I could hold on no more. He tore the strap from my hands, and I rolled further down the road with the momentum and the slope’s decline, then stopped. I raised my face from the ground and saw the car’s taillights, its exhaust curling into the dark air, the silhouette of a man holding up my bag, then jumping into the passenger side, the car screeching down the slope. My instinct told me to pursue them. I was somehow on my feet, then running down the road; I can’t remember if I was screaming. For that moment, I was pure adrenaline. I wanted so badly to kill someone. I imagined turning superhuman, leaping in front of their moving car, smashing through the windshield, strangling them. Instead—there was never a chance to catch them; they were gone almost instantly—I turned and ran back up the hill, for once not noticing its steep pitch or my ragged breathing.

I reached our compound, stormed up the stairs, slammed open our apartment door, and greeted my boyfriend with an unsettled grin. At first, he thought I was laughing. I managed to explain what had happened, though not before backing him against a wall and knocking a glass from his hand. Then I went to my desk, took out a sheet of paper, and in a gesture I thought even then a bit grandiose, titled it “What I Have Lost.” It was meant to be a list of items from my bag—driver’s license, passport photocopy, a laminated card of the traveler’s prayer—so that I could sort out what needed to be canceled, replaced, what could not be retrieved. I tried to hold a pen and write down a few words, but I couldn’t control the shaking of my hand and kept stabbing the pen through the paper.

I went to bed with a stomachache. Lying awake, sleep impossible, I saw how things could have gone much worse. It was the first time that fear broke through my conditioned numbness, and I started to feel afraid for myself—a feeling that would become constant for the next few years. What might have happened if I hadn’t been able to pick myself up in time? Or what if I’d been taken into the car? I fell into a nightmare and woke vomiting over the sheets. For days after, I could not keep down food. My throat was raw, and my arms and ribs were sore from the pummeling on the road.

My boyfriend reversed his policy of telling me to chill: he said I couldn’t walk on my own up and down the hill, and this time, I agreed. The taxi drivers urged the same. They told me the men who’d mugged me were drug addicts, thieves from neighboring areas. The police wouldn’t do anything, as the men were also collaborators with the Israelis, and the police didn’t care about making a Palestinian neighborhood safe. Their explanation was plausible; regardless, the no-walk rule meant that after work in West Jerusalem, I walked to Damascus Gate and got a taxi or went further east, to Herod’s Gate, where I could pick up a ride in a shared car. I hated this new system; I felt trapped in the vehicles. I also hated what it confirmed. I wrote in my journal: “And then I was dropped off at the top of the hill, and the good little white girl ran all the way home.”

The mugging was an earthquake that went off only inside me, an event whose damage could never be fully shown. But its devastation was extensive. A colleague at work expressed concern that I had changed so much, even in the few months she had known me. She gave me the number of her therapist. And one day soon after, Samir found me sitting on a bench in the Dominus Flevit Garden, where sometimes I went because I was unlikely to be molested there. I was pretending to read and was listening instead to an American pastor describe for his congregants how on this very spot Jesus had wept for Jerusalem, how Christ’s tears were similar to those some of them must have shed when faced with a person who did not accept the Lord. Samir appeared during this sermon, his  uniform intact as ever, and asked how I was. How was my life, my husband? I made up some lies; he nodded. He turned away, went back up some steps, where he joined the Americans and waited to provide them with rides down the hill. Then he came back down to me. He asked more questions. How was I really doing? “You don’t seem okay,” he continued. “You look bad.”

I was bad. In the aftermath of the attack emerged someone new, someone who wanted to do harm. Again and again, I had experienced how easy it was for someone to get too close, to cross a line, to touch me so it hurt. I saw now that it was easy to do. They did it because they could; they understood it was easy to do, so they did it. Most people didn’t see this, how easy it was, but now I did. I saw it, too.

I wanted to commit violence, to trespass into someone else’s life. I was given many chances. Wherever I’ve gone, people have asked me for directions, maybe because I’m often walking alone, at a good clip, so they assume I know the way. But also, likely, they stop me because I do not appear to pose a threat. In my previous life (and again, now, in a more recovered life), I thought of giving directions as a sacred duty. When someone asked which way to go, I did everything I could to direct them. I felt a failure if I didn’t know, and I’d take out a map or my phone. On a few occasions, I’d run after strangers, maybe slightly startling them, as I reappeared to say I’d gotten it wrong: they were to go right, right, then left.

In Jerusalem, after the mugging, these requests for directions presented an opportunity to abuse my power—no one would suspect me. I grew breathless with the potential. One time in particular: a pair of blond European tourists, both women, were heading toward the Mount of Olives. As I followed them, I wrestled with conflicting desires, the urge to help, the urge to hurt—or to do both, perhaps. I imagined a scenario. I’d tell them, do not walk up the hill; it’s not safe—and as they were thanking me, I’d find a way to take something from them. I imagined they’d be too distracted to notice my hand slipping into a coat pocket or purse. Or maybe I wouldn’t even attempt a cover-up: I’d approach with a smile, then take their stuff and run. I knew the city better than they, and they almost certainly did not possess my kind of fury, which gave me energy even as it exhausted me.

Instead, I called out to them from a distance and told them to take a taxi.

The fantasies made me dizzy. When I did get asked directions, I’d keep my sweating hands in my pockets, or I’d clasp them behind my back, fingers curling, just in case I couldn’t control the desire to do something more physical. I wanted especially for people who seemed protected to experience violence. I wished to trouble their lives. I would come down from these urges scared for my sanity. I fell into weird states. One day, I was late to meet a friend for coffee because a young man had asked me what time it was, and I assumed this was the prelude to an attack. So I screamed at him, and when he turned away, I followed him, galloping alongside and telling him never to fuck with me again. My friend thought this picture of my anger was funny. But I thought it was horrifying.

That year, a Christian radio host in California made a widely publicized prediction that the Rapture would begin in May and culminate with the end of the world five months later. I was unconcerned. The end of the world seemed fine by me. I welcomed an apocalypse—an uncovering, an unveiling.

***

I returned to the States in June. But anger and fear continued to warp the familiar. Walking one evening from the train station in my parents’ suburb to their quiet home close by, I glimpsed ahead on the sidewalk a tangle of dark shapes. My mind constructed a group of Satanists crouched close, ready to turn me into a sacrifice. I took a longer route home. As I walked, I reasoned that what I’d seen was unlikely to have been real— but I didn’t trust my body to register reality in time and avoid going into panic. The next day, I walked back in sunlight and saw that the menacing  shapes from the night before were a bundle of tree branches. Every place, every person could cause a flare-up. Every landscape was strewn with traps. On a night typical of many, I abandoned a group of friends on Brighton Beach. Their chaotic energy, their eyes flickering bright as they shouted and ran into the shallow waves—suddenly I didn’t trust them. Alone, I found my way to the elevated subway platform. But there I experienced a fear of being thrown onto the tracks. The next subway station also troubled me, though I did not know why. A voice told me to go back into the night. I obeyed. I kept walking.

With time, and with the rescue of EMDR psychotherapy, I improved, and New York came to seem a safer city. While a shadow or something just outside my periphery would continue to suggest the mugger and I’d feel a surge of sick energy spike up my right side, mostly I no longer feared for my life. As my fear receded, I was granted the New Yorker’s wish, the writer’s wish, the solo walker’s wish, to feel invisible, anonymous, all the better to observe. Walking home at night in Brooklyn, I noted the regularity with which Black and Brown men were first to move to the edge of the sidewalk or cross the street as I came toward them; they knew how their bodies were perceived. I had to break the habit I’d learned in Jerusalem of walking straight toward a person if I thought they were going to fuck with me—though I knew I was not the one seen as dangerous. Still, I tried to give people space, the right of way. Here, you don’t know me. You don’t know the harm I wish I’d done; you don’t know how violent it’s been in my head. Let me move first.

I made these minimal gestures.

With time, I no longer felt the need to cover my neck or elbows or ankles. But I could not drop the urge to hide and disguise myself. For five years I wore a broad-brimmed men’s hat that turned me confident and made me mysterious. Mine was not the face people expected beneath; this discrepancy was doubtless part of its power. I wore the hat for style, and to block the sun, but also because it was slightly too big and sat low on my forehead, cast a shadow, concealed my eyes.

Late one spring evening, on a subway ride home, I noticed a young Black man wearing an incredible wool hat. It had about six inches of excess fabric that stood straight up and was stitched with a gold-sequined slightly smiley face that gave its wearer the power of having two expressions at once. We got off at the same stop, and at the corner, waiting for the light to change, he came up to ask for directions and to praise my own much-prized hat. He might even have used a phrase I was familiar with, that many people used when they described how I looked: “bandit chic.” Everyone who said those words did so with good humor: to them I didn’t look like a criminal. The young man and I were walking the same way, and we kept talking about style. He had an internship at Michael Kors and was a student at the Fashion Institute of Technology. Within a block, a police car pulled up, and an officer leaned out to ask if I was okay. In America, I could be as dangerous or as harmless as I believed myself to be.

***

Clare Needham is a writer living in New York City. She is the recipient of grants and fellowships from the Elizabeth George Foundation, PEN America, MacDowell, Yaddo, Vermont Studio Center, and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. During her second year living in Jerusalem, she worked for the Israeli NGO Breaking the Silence and oversaw the English translation of Our Harsh Logic: Israeli Soldiers’ Testimonies from the Occupied Territories, 2000–2010, published by Metropolitan Books in 2012.  (Author photo by Bree Zucker)

 

 

“When I Pulled Over on the Side of the Road” by Katey Schultz

This craft essay by Katey Schultz is proof that inspiration doesn’t follow a particular timeline. In her case, a story percolated for over decade before she saw it take shape. What resulted was “Wait for Me,” which appeared in the summer 2020 issue of the Missouri Review and was a finalist for the 2019 Jeffrey E. Smith Editors’ Prize. You can read the story here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What matters about the above side-by-side photos is not that they’re blurry or that the handwriting is illegible. What matters is that eleven years ago I was still waitressing two shifts a week and hadn’t published my first book but was so desperate to write down these words that I grabbed whatever I could find.

The blurry image is the new wine list I was trying to memorize. The handwritten image is my scribbles on the back of that wine list, and if you dare attempt to make out the words, you’ll see that, oddly, I wrote from the far right corner, over to the left (rather than our standard composition direction of left to right.

So many years later, this sheet of paper is still tacked to my bulletin board as proof that sometimes writing maxims are actually true: You have to let time pass. The story will reveal itself through drafts. Write whenever and wherever you can. Just start; worry about finishing later. It’s OK if you don’t know how you’ll get to the end.

 If you’d told me those things the afternoon eleven years ago when I pulled over on the side of Interstate 26 in North Carolina and started writing, I would have rolled my eyes. Not because I didn’t believe them (well, maybe because I didn’t believe them). But because I had yet to experience just how deep the roots of story can go or how successful its final bloom can be.

For at least seven or eight years, I did nothing with that sheet of paper other than to move it from bulletin board to bulletin board, file to file, wall to wall, as my life expanded around me. I moved a few times. I got married. Bought a house. Had a kid. Went to a residency. . . .

And there, at Arrowmont School of Arts & Crafts’ Pentaculum artist residency, “Wait for Me” unspooled. I had the wine list with the scribbles in my folder of other similar scraps and notes. I had reread it a week or so beforehand, in anticipation of the uninterrupted work time a residency affords. When I sat down to write, I didn’t even have to take out that wine list. The voices were already there, waiting. The activity of the opening scene appeared as vividly as my own hands in front of me. The characters—somehow I knew their gender roles should be reversed from my initial scribbles, that the girl would bully the boy, not the other way around—were talking faster than I could type.

But I’m not going to lie and say that “the rest is history.” That’s a cop-out, and, besides, it glosses over the very best of what happens for writers when inspiration, discipline, time, and alchemy line up. Which is to say, I opened up Google Maps, switched it to satellite view, found a small town in West Virginia, moved the screen around a little bit until I found Morgantown, and then a not-too-distant large swath of forest and a lake. Now I had a setting I could work from, manipulate, and make my own (fictionalizing some bits, borrowing other bits).

From there, another maxim proved true: Landscape is character is plot.

At least, for me it is. Because as soon as I hear the voices of my narrators or characters in dialogue, I have to make their feet touch the ground in order to believe whatever they’re going to do next. And as soon as their feet touch the ground, they’re in reaction to the world around them. After that, plot really gets going.

By the end of that residency, I had a draft of the story not too terribly different from the version named Finalist in the Missouri Review’s Jeffrey E. Smith’s Editor’s Prize.

 

                                         

Katey Schultz,

September, 2020

                                                                             

***

KATEY SCHULTZ is the author of Flashes of War, which the Daily Beast praised as an “ambitious and fearless” collection, and Still Come Home, a novel, both published by Loyola University Maryland. Honors for her work include the Linda Flowers Literary Award, Doris Betts Fiction Prize, Foreword INDIES Book of the Year for both titles, gold and silver medals from the Military Writers Society of America, five Pushcart nominations, a nomination to Best American Short Stories, National Indies Excellence Finalist recognition, and writing fellowships in eight states. She lives in Celo, North Carolina, and is the founder of Maximum Impact, a transformative mentoring service for creative writers that has been recognized by both CNBC and the What Works Network. Learn more at www.kateyschultz.com.

 

An interview with Marin Sardy

Marin Sardy‘s essay “A Shapeless Thief,” about her mother’s schizophrenia, first appeared in the Missouri Review (37:2) and later became part of her new memoir, The Edge of Every Day: Sketches of Schizophrenia (Pantheon, 2019).  You can read Marin’s essay here.

Last month we talked with Marin about the development of the memoir and her new book project.

 

Evelyn Somers: Initially you saw your book as an essay collection.  How and when did you realize you were working on a more cohesive memoir?

Marin Sardy: Even when I was writing the individual essays, I had a sense that they would be able to collectively tell a larger story. They were each about some slice of my life, and I suspected that if I put enough slices together, some kind of arc would emerge. I didn’t know what that larger story would be, however, until far along in the process. It wasn’t until I started writing the chapters about my brother’s homelessness—which I wrote last—that I saw that much of what had been driving me had always related to questions about how my family’s long history with mental illness came to bear on my brother’s struggles with schizophrenia. I also found I had much more to say about my brother’s story than I had expected, which gave some of those parts more of a flavor of narrative memoir than of the highly selective, tightly constructed essays I had produced first. So it was a lot of letting things happen as the words came out and paying attention to what the words were telling me, and looking for the connections that became visible after everything was down on the page.

 

ES: Did the early publication of some of the pieces give you more confidence going forward with the book?

MS: Definitely. More confidence and more skill. The practice and the encouragement I got along the way turned out to be integral to the final product. In retrospect, I’m so glad the book developed the way it did, though it took a much more circuitous path than I ever expected. Taking the time to fully shape the essays that later became chapters, stepping back from them and letting them steep for a while before returning to the work—that allowed my ideas to percolate, so that by the time I was thinking in terms of a book, I had really developed my own perspective about mental illness and knew what I wanted to say. And how I wanted to say it!

Also, going through the process of submitting to journals and working with editors helped me understand how my work fit into the larger literary landscape. The people I knew who were getting book contracts weren’t trying any of the weird conceptual and structural approaches I was taking in my essays, but when I sent my pieces to literary journals, I got a lot of positive feedback. So the successes I had in the world of litmags gave me more confidence to take that work into the realm of New York publishing and see if someone would be interested. And someone was.

 

ES: Can you say a little about the process of turning a group of individual essays into a memoir–for instance, even though The Edge of Every Day is not a traditional chronological narrative, were there gaps in the story that you realized you needed to fill in?

MS: My first reaction to this question is actually to laugh because when I look at the finished book, all I see is gaps! And that was a deliberate choice, and it kind of surprised me when early readers of the manuscript commented on how well it all seemed to flow together. But I never really thought of it as “I’m turning a group of separate essays into a memoir.” To me, the essays were not very separate from one another anyway, and I don’t feel like I’ve entirely transformed it into a memoir either. My editor and I were not aiming for it to be “a memoir” in the typical sense. Here’s an example: When I first sold my book based on having about two-thirds of it written, my editor, Catherine Tung, asked me if I’d be willing to add some “connective tissue.” But she also assured me that, for the most part, it should keep its “highly fragmented” shape. That sounded fine to me. Several months later, when we were talking again about the book in depth and I was saying I had this chapter and that chapter to add, none of which qualified as “connective tissue,” Catherine said, “You know, looking at it now, I really don’t think the book needs more connective tissue. ” And I just thought, “No, it doesn’t need it at all.” So we scrapped that idea and never looked back.

I just focused on telling all the parts of the story that I felt were necessary to include, and on telling them in the ways they needed to be told. I really believe in listening to the material, in letting it tell you what form it should take. And it just became what it wanted to become, which is somewhere in between a memoir and an essay collection. What I did end up changing to make it more memoir-like was so minor it hardly registers to me now. I rearranged a few paragraphs at the beginnings of some chapters that were formerly essays, so that each one opened on me rather than on some other topic. I cut out redundancies and added a few sentences to clarify shifts in time and place. And of course, we were very strategic about the order in which we arranged the chapters—loosely but not strictly chronological. But that’s about it. Now we’ve labeled it a memoir, and that seems to work for people. But I think of it more as, maybe, “memoirs”—or, as my subtitle says, “sketches.”

 

ES: In your research for the book, you spent some time learning about the neuroscience of schizophrenia. Did that change how you wrote about your mother and brother?

MS: Yes, very much—but largely in ways that it’s now hard to put my finger on. The early research I did, in the first couple of years of writing about schizophrenia, fundamentally shifted my thinking about mental illness. And it wasn’t just neuroscience, but also philosophy—the phenomenology of psychosis. And that change in my perspective pervades the whole book. The biggest thing the research did for me was show me where I had been making unfounded assumptions about what I’d witnessed. I had been personally relating to schizophrenia for decades, so I had a lot of my own ideas about it, most of which were unexamined and some of which were incorrect. Being forced to confront and then question my own perceptions and conclusions opened me up to many new paths of inquiry. And that got me excited about delving deeper into what I had experienced, what those things might mean, things I hadn’t considered before. So I was able to approach the topic, and those relationships, from an open place rather than a restricted place. It proved so creatively fruitful and became a way for me to transform what were deeply traumatic events in my life into something that revealed a broader view of what had happened, a view that could be much more useful to readers.

 

ES: What was the most important discovery you made in writing the book–either about mental illness or about writing?

MS: Most importantly for me, the writing process enabled me to rediscover my brother. To remember who he was as a person, who he always had been, inside his illness. For so many years, my focus was on his schizophrenia—how it affected him, how it harmed him, how I could or couldn’t help him. And I grieved deeply for what was lost when he became ill. But all of that focus and intense emotion, I later realized, had the effect of obscuring his actual presence in the world. After writing the book, I felt very bad that I hadn’t been more cognizant of that while he was alive. The book, and all of the sorting through my memories and feelings that it required, eventually made it possible for me to find him again inside his own story. So in a way, after losing him twice—first to illness, then to death—I got him back as a result of writing the book. It’s sort of the Wizard of Oz effect: searching and searching, only to find that what you’ve been looking for was there all along.

 

ES: What’s your next writing project or challenge?

MS: I’m pleased to be able to say that I am beginning work on a second book. It’s in the nascent stages still—just a lot of research and notes—but in the last several months I’ve begun to see what I want it to be. Like this first book, it will discuss mental illness. But it will largely focus on an artist whose work I have long admired, who died in 2012: a photographer who lived with bipolar disorder and schizoaffective disorder, and whose work in many ways reflected her struggles. I hope to tell parts of her story and include a fair amount of art criticism as well, in which I engage deeply with her images and reflect on them in terms of my own experiences with mental illness.

 

 

 

Thoughts on Nonfiction and Ch-Ch-Changes

 

David Bowie gets it.

David Bowie gets it.

A few years ago, I applied to give a talk about my faith for a retreat through a Catholic church on Mizzou’s campus.  The application instructed me to write a short essay about my faith, and to detail an obstacle I had to overcome in order to reach where I am today.  In italics, an added note advised:  Do not write about an obstacle you are currently facing.  It is better to write about something from your past that you have already overcome.  It made sense to me – you need distance in order to tell the story right.  You need the emotional detachment and wisdom that time supposedly offers.

I can still remember exactly what I wrote about on that retreat application.  In short, I had a rough few months during my senior year of high school and made some poor decisions that still make me cringe today.  I wrote an essay describing the ordeal and how it connected to my faith.  I was chosen to give the talk at the retreat, but a few months beforehand, I dropped out.  A chronic fear of public speaking and an even bigger fear of sharing my story with a group of peers convinced me I wasn’t ready yet.  It turns out, two years of distance still wasn’t enough.

Fiction is my bread and butter, but on the rare occasion when I try to write an essay, I inadvertently return to that note on the retreat application.  I ask myself the same questions.  Am I ready to write this story from my life?  Do I need to be safely out of range from the emotions of a particular event in order to write about it well?  Do I need detachment in order to write clearly, or will that make my writing hollow and remote?  I raise these questions because I don’t have an answer.  If I did, I would write nonfiction much better than I do now.

I ran into a similar problem recently when I decided to submit the only completed essay I’m proud of to a few journals.  I wrote the essay last semester for a class called, oddly enough, “Writing the Spiritual Narrative.”  Before I sent it out, I reread the essay for the first time in about six months, and I was struck by how much I didn’t like it.  The writing wasn’t bad, but my perspective had changed.  My essay detailed my on-again, off-again relationship with both Catholicism and bouts of depression, my struggles with prayer when I left the church, and how this culminated during my study abroad in Scotland.  At the time that I wrote the essay, I had not been to church voluntarily in almost a year, and I was in the middle of a typical “what am I going to do with my life” crisis, which colored my work considerably.  At the time that I reread the essay, I had resolved much of my quarter-life crisis and also made a cautious return to my old church.  Every word of my essay was still true, and yet I wanted to rewrite it on the spot.  Nothing in my past had changed, but the way I interpreted my past had changed.

As a fiction writer, if I reread something I’ve written six months ago and decide it needs fixing, I can manipulate the story however I want.  The narrative only lives inside my head and my characters are the ones who change, not me.  But I find that when I try to write nonfiction, I get stuck because the narrative of my life is not linear or tidy, and if the narrative of my life has changed, then so have I.  I wonder how I’m supposed to write about my life when time and maturity will offer so many shifts in my point of view.  If I can ever document my life in an honest and satisfying way, despite these shifts.

The question of truth and authenticity comes up a lot in conversations about nonfiction, and I know I’m just adding more noise.  Anytime I sit down to write about my life, I am only writing about how I feel at this given time, and therefore, my work is still truthful and authentic.  It’s not necessary for me to place a disclaimer on all of my essays, or for me to feel badly about growing up.  The meaning I glean from writing about my life should matter the most.  Eventually, I’ll put these questions about distance and time to rest.  In the meantime, I think I’d better stick to fiction.

Magic, and other innovations.

This past week I (finally) completed edits on the additional materials for two pieces that, although they were part of textBOX’s launch this past January, have very patiently been waiting for their extra pieces to join them online. To Cynthia Miller Coffel’s Editors’ Prize winning essay “Letters to David,” we have added an introduction, questions, writing prompts and a brief note from the author. As with all of the additional materials provided on the site, the goal is to enhance readers’ experiences, to illuminate a particular aspect of the text, or encourage consideration of some of the piece’s subtler elements.

 

Rural mailbox photograph by Mark McGee

In the note that accompanied the essay when it was first published in TMR, Coffel describes her motivation, saying, “I wanted, in my essay, to honor the generous impulse of my twenties—working to help all those poor people, trying to make our country better—and I also wanted to treat that impulse lightly, to admit that it was mixed up with arrogance and exuberance and naiveté. I also wanted to honor my friendship with the man I’ve called David. I think that kind of friendship is one you can only have at a certain point in your life.” Understanding the author’s intent can have a profound impact on a reader’s approach and while intent may not be everything, in this case Coffel’s explanation simply clarifies the tender, yet honest evaluation of her own past that is evident throughout “Letters to David.”

 

L. E. Miller’s short story “Kind,” is also about a woman reflecting on the life she led in her early twenties, although of course this story is fiction and its protagonist, Ann, a fictional character. In addition to adding our usual introduction, questions and writing prompts, I am pleased to announce that “Kind” is the first textBOX piece to be presented with a full audio version. Recorded along with the first-ever audiobook edition of TMR in early 2007, “Kind” is read by Mark Kelty and you can listen via the toolbox in the right sidebar of all the pages on which “Kind” and its additional materials appear.

There is a special kind of magic in listening to stories read aloud. More than once over the past decade I’ve found myself sitting in a parking lot, transfixed by PRI’s Selected Shorts, unable to complete whatever errand I intended to run until I’ve heard how the story ends. At AWP a few years back, I attended a Selected Shorts performance of B. D. Wong reading Raymond Carver’s “Cathedral,” and remember feeling as though the other thousand or so audience members simply weren’t there. It’s as if being read to can hold me perfectly in the present by reminding some part of my subconscious of the pleasure of being read to as a child.

(I admit this resembles my childhood not at all, but I like the photograph.)

Adding full audio versions of the stories, essays (and eventually poems – more on that soon, I promise) on textBOX has been something we’ve been thinking about for a while. This summer we are going to make it happen. “Kind” is just the first of many. William Harrison’s short story “Eleven Beds” has been recorded and will be edited soon, and our new team of anthology interns are already hard at work selecting which essays and stories will be next.

In the meantime, if reading “Letters to David” along with Cynthia Miller Coffel’s commentary, and listening to “Kind,” leave you wanting more, you can always listen to all of the pieces from The Missouri Review’s first audiobook issue (30.4, Winter 2007) here. Of course if you like that, you can always subscribe to our digital issue, which comes complete with a full audio version four times a year. And if that’s just not enough storytelling for you, maybe my favorite fiction podcasts (here, here, and here) can tide you over until we can get back down to the studio and start making more magic.

Nell McCabe is The Missouri Review’s Anthology Editor.

Thursday Think Day: Brevity, Lia Purpura, and the moral essay

It’s Thursday Think Day again, and I’m excited to tell you what I’ve been thinking about.

I attended a meeting last night, in which I was to pitch my genre – creative nonfiction – to some undergraduate students who were interested in hearing about it, possibly even writing it.  I knew I couldn’t do this alone – or, I was too tired to do it without help from some pieces of paper with writing on them – so I turned to Brevity, the journal of concise literary nonfiction that lends itself so well to this purpose.  It is readily accessed, and its content is conducive to presentation in a limited time, as it is all remarkably short.

To demonstrate the virtues of creative nonfiction – and of the essay in particular – I turned to Lia Purpura’s “On Being a Trucker.”  It begins with speculation as to the language used by truckers to describe their cargoes, and then follows a quick series of associations to reach a conclusion that is utterly astonishing, given the sweep of its implications, its apparent distance from the opening lines, and the celerity with which its author leads us to them.  You don’t need me to tell you this; I urge you to follow the link and read it, which is something that requires so little effort I sometimes feel guilty for not giving thanks to the Internet more often, it makes some tasks so easy for us.

Purpura’s essay is like a precisely landed punch to the chest, and it makes plain several of the things I value in the essay, or in creative nonfiction generally.  One is obvious:  Purpura’s relationship to her reader is a rather unique one, one by which she may offer her simulated train of thought in a more or less straightforward fashion, directly from writer to reader.  The essay as a genre is also known, I explained to my very small audience, for precisely the sort of movements Purpura makes, as an essay follows a series of unlikely associations, often to their equally unlikely conclusion.  Not only does the piece demonstrate – and very briefly – the virtues of the essay; it is simply a great piece of writing.

So what have I been thinking about this today?  Well, whenever I come across an essay that warrants great enthusiasm – which isn’t rare – like an entomologist, I want to catalogue it, and decide what kind of essay it is.  I don’t think Purpura’s is a personal essay, though I couldn’t rule it out; it reasons things out a little to explicitly to be a lyric essay – a conclusion I suspect many would disagree with; and I would have a hard time calling it a familiar essay.  Rather, I have been interested, more and more lately, in the moral essay, an essay subgenre you don’t hear much about anymore, but which I think might be in for some recognition, and which I think this might be an example of.  Because it’s Thursday Think Day, and not Explain Yourself Sunday, I’m going to leave it at that.

Robert Long Foreman is The Missouri Review’s Social Media Editor.

More Than Talking Pretty

Last week, I, and what seemed to be about half of Columbia, had the pleasure of seeing David Sedaris live at Jesse Hall.  I had never seen him before and though I only started reading him recently—Me Talk Pretty One Day this summer on my lunch breaks—I knew I was in for a great night when I saw the posters hanging around campus last month. 

As the lights dimmed and Sedaris emerged, bobbing towards the podium and glancing timidly at the anxious gallery awaiting him, I leaned back and prepared for that pleasant belly ache like everyone else.

And, in case you had any doubt, he did deliver. 

After starting off with a piece from his latest collection, Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk, Sedaris jumped from earlier stories, to unpublished journal entries, and lastly, to jokes he’d been told on earlier readings.  Also interspersed was more general oration that proved as entertaining as his writings, including a reading of a book title in what was to Sedaris an unknown language.  When he asked the audience if anyone knew the language, and someone yelled “Croatian,” Sedaris replied, “Come see me after the show.  The book’s yours.” Needless to say, it was a great show; but it was what followed the show that most impressed me. 

The moment Sedaris said, “I’ll be in the lobby afterwards if any of you would like me to sign a book,” I began to make my move.  I was clapping as I did so, sure, but I was more so concentrating on limiting was sure to be a significant wait.   As I rose, made my way out of the row, I saw masses of people flooding towards the exits like there was a fire. 

After standing in line for twenty minutes, two friends approached me with signed books.  On one, Sedaris had sharpied a crying Jesus with the words “Why did you kill me?” above his signature.  On the other, were the words, “I’m glad you can joke.”  My friend had told her best one, upon Sedaris’ earlier request. I guess it hadn’t landed so well, as he’d also crossed out the word “joke” and underneath written “walk.”  I laughed, impressed that Sedaris had taken the time to personalize their signings.  My friends left, and I resigned myself to the long wait ahead. 

Almost two hours later, a story for my fiction class as well as the university concert series pamphlet read, I was next in line to get my book signed.  At this point, I thought, stealing glances at a slumped David Sedaris, I’m sure he’s just signing them.  No way he’s still personalizing each signing.  The person in front of me cleared out, and I stepped forward.

“Hello,” Sedaris said, smiling wide-eyed, as if I was first person to ever ask him for an autograph. 

I said hello and thanked him for coming.  “And thanks for your patience,” I said, “You must be exhausted.”

He paused, pen poised above the title, and looked up.

“I like signing books,” he said, and smiled.

After a moment, “It’s Owen, is it?  O-W-E-N.  Are you a student here, Owen?” Then, following a nod, “What are you studying?”

I told him English-Creative Writing with a fiction emphasis, and he perked up. 

“Do you write short stories?”

A couple minutes and a couple questions later, he handed me my book.  “Thank you for waiting,” he said, still smiling. 

While he talked with my girlfriend, and asked her to tell him about her latest non-fiction piece, I flipped to the title page of Me Talk Pretty One Day.

“It was about my love for Bruce Springsteen,” she said.

He laughed.  “Have you ever met him?”

She told him about the time she touched his sweaty arm and vest at a concert in Chicago. 

“Oh wow,” he said. “Was it everything you’d imagined?”   

As a young writer, I often feel intimated by the literary world.  It is a place of grim prospect.  Spend your whole life in front a computer or notebook, working to communicate something worthwhile and original in a worthwhile and original way.  Sure, there are literary journals to strive towards, as well as grants and fellowships and other awards, but who cares about these things besides other writers?  It’s even worse if you write primarily literary prose or poetry.  Romance or crime, you’ve got a chance, but if you plan on writing anything else for a living, you better start playing the lottery. 

Because of these truths, it’s easy to grow bitter. Many writers work and struggle and eventually prosper while this bitterness consumes them.  I’m sure David Sedaris wouldn’t say he’s never had a bitter moment, but last night I saw no evidence of one.   For at least three hours –we weren’t even close to the end— he made an effort to connect with every single person in that line.  And he’s going to do the same thing every night for the next month.  How does a writer, especially a well-respected literary writer, do this?  Maybe if this was his first book tour, then maybe I could understand his insatiable desire to engage fans, but he’s been publishing books for over fifteen years.  And not only that, but he reads his work, over and over again, with a zeal as noteworthy as his actual prose. 

            This baffles and inspires me.  If David Sedaris can work and struggle and prosper with such an impressive character intact, I have to believe that so too can anyone.  I hope I always will. 

We thanked him and left.  Outside Jesse, we opened our books to the title page.  On mine, he’d drawn an owl perched on the publisher’s name. It looked at me, wide-eyed, patient, still.  And on hers, he’d written “Your story has touched my heart.”

Allergic to Winter Pollen

Since I finished Elizabeth Tova Bailey’s The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating last week, I haven’t been reading anything, except for blogs, other web sites, and my own writing.  So I thought I would take the opportunity of this gap in my book-reading to try to figure out what it was that Ted Hughes did to make me cry.  I was nineteen when he did it, reading his 1995 essay collection, Winter Pollen, on the campus of the school where I was often engaged in something it would be generous to call attendance.  I have cried in public only a handful of times, and I think this was the only time a book ever made me do it (publicly, that is), so I have long since wanted to revisit the book, to discern with a more practiced eye the witchcraft at work in it.

I am perhaps the only person who pursued a keen interest in the work of Ted Hughes as a result of watching the film The Iron Giant.  I was one of the few who saw it at a movie theater, for that matter, but I did, and I loved it, so I read the book it was based on – Hughes’s Iron Giant – thought it was weird, and “Devoured his work whole,” as Hughes himself describes his early consumption of the poetry of W. B. Yeats.  By my second year of college, I had made my way through Crow, The Hawk in the Rain, and Gaudete, to Winter Pollen.

I worried that when I dug Winter Pollen out of my Missouri library, as I did at a West Virginia library ten years ago, and read it, I would learn only that I am a more skeptical reader than I ever was before, that I would be stubbornly unmoved by the essays of Ted Hughes – even disdainful, for having been taken in by them so completely in my vulnerable youth.  And I am, sort of, to the extent that since rereading his essays my eyes have stayed relatively dry.

Winter Pollen, I understand as I did not when I was younger, is a loose collection of essays consisting largely of introductions Hughes wrote to collections of other people’s poems, and to Leonard Baskin’s sketches, plus other very short pieces which are, as the book’s subtitle indicates, occasional.  Most of its content, then, is not exactly tearjerking material.  Even in his essay on the journals of Sylvia Plath, his tone is distant, as he writes, “The motive in publishing these journals will be questioned.  The argument against is still strong.  A decisive factor has been certain evident confusions.”  When he references himself in this essay, he does it in the third person:  “The second of these two books [of her journals] her husband destroyed.”  It’s more eerie than moving, I think today, more likely to provoke bewilderment than to draw tears.

In my search for the essay that made me cry, I reread the introduction he wrote in 1968 to a collection of Emily Dickinson’s poems.  On the early editorial decision to alter the dashes in her manuscripts and make them into semicolons and periods, he writes that this cannot be done “without deadening the wonderfully naked voltage of her poems.”  It was far from a new observation by then, and I know much more about Dickinson’s dashes now than I did when I first heard of them from Hughes, but these still strike me, as they did then, as a lovely and truthful sequence of nine words.

I think, having looked over many of the essays again, that it must have been “The Burnt Fox” that exploited my tear ducts, ten years ago.  Two pages long, it consists largely of Hughes’s account of a dream he had when a student at Cambridge.  At the time he had it, he writes, “Students of English were expected to produce a weekly essay,” and while he had no conscious problem with the assignment, “I soon became aware of an inexplicable resistance, in myself, against writing these essays.”  The resistance mounts:  “it had a distressful quality, like a fiercely fought defence.  In the end, it brought me to a halt.”

I was, at nineteen, a sucker for testimonies by other people in which they claimed to have as much of a problem with schoolwork as I did.  As disdainful toward that impulse as I am now (I should have better appreciated how good and relatively easy my life was then), Hughes’s resistance to school immediately won me over.

Hughes describes working on one of the last required essays until two in the morning, “exhausted,” until he finally had to go to sleep.  It was then, he explains, that he had a dream in which a humanoid fox – a creature “at the same time a skinny man and a fox walking erect on its hind legs” – entered the room.  “Every inch,” he explains,

was roasted, smouldering, black-charred, split and bleeding.  Its eyes, which were level with mine where I sat, dazzled with the intensity of the pain.  It came up until it stood beside me.  Then it spread its hand – a human hand as I now saw, but burned and bleeding like the rest of him – flat palm down on the blank space of my page.  At the same time it said:  “Stop this – you are destroying us.”

Today, again, I am unmoved by this – more skeptical toward the veracity of the description of this dream (though it could just as easily be a perfectly faithful account of his dream than not) than astounded by its accuracy to anything I feel today.  But I know, more or less, what I was responding to in this essay.  I knew, at nineteen, that I wanted to do something more substantial than what I was up to then; I wanted to do something more memorable than to sit and weep on college campuses.  Eventually I took up writing, and decided it would do for a more compelling avocation, but at nineteen I was terrified of writing, so I didn’t do it, and when I read Hughes’s story of being ordered by his mind, or subconscious, or whatever a humanoid fox is qualified to serve as a mouthpiece for, to give up his busy assignments for the greater creative work he would ultimately do, crying was the only response I could muster.

Robert Long Foreman is The Missouri Review’s Social Media Editor.

The Mumbai Attacks

Approximately two years ago, ten gunmen executed a three-day assault in Mumbai, India, attacking hotels, a railway station, a restaurants, and a Jewish center. Today in India, Mohammed Ajmal Amir Qasab, a Pakistani citizen aged 22, was found guilty on Monday of many charges, including murder and waging war on India. He was the only gunman taken alive, and most observers considered his sentence – death by hanging – a foregone conclusion. The New York Times article is here.

In our the most recent issue of The Missouri Review, Tom Ireland tries to understand what makes a man like Mohammed Qasab turn to terrorism. Read it here.  It’s an engaging piece driven by curiosity to discover more about a region that, as Americans, we rarely experience beyond the thirty-second news clip. Given the recent terrorism attack in Times Square, Tom’se ssay is a good reminder of how complex and dangerous our world can be.

Pushed Into Munro Country

TMR is delighted to announce that Cheryl Strayed’s essay “Munro Country” has been awarded a Pushcart Prize. Strayed’s fantastic essay, which was our “From The Archives” selection last month, originally appeared in summer 2009 issue (or, call it “The Missouri Review: Messy Art“; or, now, just call it the “Strayed Issue”). We had the chance to meet Cheryl at AWP this year, and she’s just as awesome in person as she is on the page. A big hearty congratulations to her for this wonderful honor.

Re-read her essay here or purchase the whole daggum issue here.

Congratulations, Cheryl!