New Pages Winter 2020
New from English faculty
Former Edelstein-Keller Professor Charles Baxter
The Sun Collective [fiction]
From The New York Times: "What to do with all of this anxiety? That question hangs over Charles Baxter’s tense, wry, and ultimately touching new novel. . . . the story of the retirees Harold and Alma Brettigan, whose search for their missing son leads them to the group that gives the novel its title. Along the way they pass many other signs and wonders of our parlous present. As with his sumptuous 2000 novel The Feast of Love (a finalist for the National Book Award), Baxter’s true gift is in describing the tender complexities of a relationship. Here, it’s the wistful, at times contentious, 'post-love' of Harold and Alma, whose real problem might not be the times, but time, and their own senescence and mortality. . . . I’m not sure if their relationship really does represent post-love, or exhausted love or overwhelmed-by-the-state-of-the-world love or just plain love, but their well-meaning suburban angst is gently satirized and perfectly drawn."
Professor Emeritus Michael Dennis Browne
Build Me a Boat: Words for Music 1968-2018 [poetry]
Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2020
From the publisher: "Build Me a Boat gathers a selection of the words that poet Michael Dennis Browne has written for music over the past 50 years. Working with a number of different composers, Browne has ranged widely across forms; what we discover here are lyrics, song cycles, songs for children, excerpts from libretti—some of them in free verse, some of them formal—as well as poems that, while not written to be part of specific musical works, were nonetheless written with music in mind or under the influence of particular works. The result is a volume that sits comfortably between poetry and music, lyrical and rhythmic and memorable."
Professor Ray Gonzalez
Feel Puma [poetry]
University of New Mexico Press, 2020
From the publisher: "In Feel Puma, Ray Gonzalez traces his love of reading, philosophy, and learning with poems constantly in conversation—with each other, with texts by other writers and the writers themselves, with world history and his personal history and people he has encountered. Woven over three sections, this unique collection is a complex and gorgeous dive into creativity and the inner life of a poet at the height of his craft." From poet Kevin Prufer: "Gonzalez is a serious and seriously accomplished poet whose meditations on history—the history of literature, violence, art, our nation—are profound, intelligent, and moving. He is also a poet deeply attuned to the vast literary conversation around him, a conversation that moves and transforms with history, a conversation that lives in these poems."
Professor Katherine Scheil, co-editor with Graham Holderness
Shakespeare and Biography
Berghahn Books, 2020
From the publisher: "From Shakespeare’s religion to his wife to his competitors in the world of early modern theatre, biographers have approached the question of the Bard’s life from numerous angles. Shakespeare & Biography offers a fresh look at the biographical questions connected with the famous playwright’s life, through essays and reflections written by prominent international scholars and biographers."
New from English alums and students
Mike Alberti (MFA 2016)
Some People Let You Down: Stories [fiction]
University of North Texas Press, 2020
From The Star Tribune: "Mike Alberti's impressive Some People Let You Down won the 2020 Katherine Anne Porter Prize in Short Fiction. His stories take place in upstate New York; at a hobo convention in Erie, Pa.; in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula; in Sims, ND, and Woods, Kan. A ghost town where buildings and houses 'sag and buckle in the wind,' Woods figures in four stories. The town acts as a literal and figurative touchstone for the lost, a place for possible redemption. . . . Elsewhere, men die in Vietnam or die emotionally upon returning from Afghanistan, barns on abandoned farms collapse, people drown. . . . Most of the stories reflect the compassion of ordinary people. In this way, Alberti’s characters orient themselves toward the divine."
Kendra Atleework (MFA 2016)
Miracle Country: A Memoir
Algonquin Press, 2020
From The San Francisco Chronicle: "Kendra Atleework’s powerful debut is the rare trifecta that seamlessly blends personal narrative with historical nonfiction and highly charged, activist-style rhetoric with rarely a misstep or heavy hand. In parallel threads, she interweaves recollections from her upbringing in small-town Swall Meadows (population 200, elevation 7,000 feet) in the Eastern Sierra with stories about the 1932 forced removal of the Paiute Indian Tribe, the region’s earliest inhabitants, and rants about William Mulholland. . . . What stands out in is Atleework’s gorgeous prose matched equally by her deep-rooted sense of and appreciation for the place she has always called home. The opening chapter, which chronicles the 2015 California wildfire in which only a few homes in Swall Meadows, including her family’s, survived unscathed, is both riveting and terrifying."
Marge Barrett (MFA 2005)
If You Have Something to Say, Margaret [poetry]
WordTech Communications, 2020
From the publisher: "These lyrical and prose poems reflect the cultural changes of Barrett's lifetime, from '50s bomb shelters, Russia and the Cold War, to the current Museum of Broken Relationships in Croatia." From Readers' Favorites: "Through these poems, we gain insight into the author’s life, her faith and family, and her experiences while traveling the world. Marge Barrett describes the security of growing up in a large family, the uncertainty of choosing a path in life, becoming a mother, and grieving the loss of a parent. Beautiful descriptions of the natural world are given as the author recalls growing up in Minnesota and time spent by the water. In this collection of poems, Barrett depicts day to day occurrences and significant moments with clarity, compassion, and heartfelt emotion."
Scott Dominic Carpenter (BA 1980)
French Like Moi: A Midwesterner in Paris
Travelers' Tales, 2020
From Kirkus Reviews: "On sabbatical from teaching, Carpenter moved with his wife and daughter all the way from Minnesota to Paris. After much bureaucratic hubbub, they bought a tiny apartment and set about acclimating to the Parisian way of life. . . Carpenter’s insights are humorous and deftly crafted, interweaving perceptive details about the French language with curious incidents and stirring events. While the tone is light, the author occasionally ventures into serious territory, most effectively in his discussion of terrorism and the national climate. . . . One of the strongest, most innovative passages comes in a chapter recalling the difficult process of raising funds and securing approvals for apartment building improvements. The author convincingly compares this process to the drama of an opera and goes so far as to provide the beginnings of a libretto. The book is a delightful read, presenting essays filled with levity and grace. A winning and witty collection offering humor and insight into the French way of life."
Kevin J. Curtis (BA 1990)
Noah's Ark: 39 Million Light-Years from Earth [fiction]
From the publisher: "Employed by a billionaire who is planning for Armageddon, Noah rescues his girlfriend Naamah, and her daycare kids, before launching them 39 million light-years and 44 million years to a new life far from home—to escape the destruction of human life on Earth. On awakening at the planet Collus-4, Noah faces danger and alien life forms—including a race resembling insects, who are far more advanced than even the people of Earth who Noah left behind. On this strange new planet, Noah befriends Krollak, a primitive native chief who helps him to build a new life and ultimately to find a town which becomes the new home of Noah and his family."
Matthew Duffus (MFA 2005)
Dunbar’s Folly and Other Stories [fiction]
Unsolicited Press, 2020
From the publisher: "Dunbar’s Folly and Other Stories paints the stories of Americans from sisters vacationing in Southern California to the kudzu-covered fields of Mississippi. Each story, built on luxurious landscapes, hones in on the turmoil of living in 21st-century America. Readers come face-to-face with the struggles of living off-grid and fighting for artistic credibility in a society that refuses to let freedom ring . . . all in favor of commerce." From author Suzanne Rivecca: "The stories in Dunbar’s Folly unfold like stretches of gentle country road, tracking the signposts of relationships with an unassumingly clear-eyed lucidity. Each story navigates its dips and turns so smoothly that its ultimate destination—a sharp, illuminating crossroads—feels revelatory every time."
Peter Geye (BA 2000)
From Kirkus Reviews: "In 1897, Norwegian fisherman Odd Einar Eide sets sail hundreds of miles above the Arctic Circle on a seal hunt. Odd Einar’s tale is framed by the story of his descendant Greta Nansen, a freelance journalist living in present-day Minneapolis, who embarks on the project of reclaiming her family’s history as her own marriage of 20 years implodes. . . . With equal skill, Geye portrays Odd Einar’s dramatic confrontation with implacable nature while exploring the tension between terror and resignation that haunts the involuntary adventurer’s every step in that crisis. The choice to pair this pulsating adventure story with the subdued domestic drama of Greta’s failed marriage and her discovery of the possibility of new love is not without risk. But Geye maintains an elegant counterpoint between the two narratives so that the novel is equally satisfying whether it’s situated in the past or present."
torrin a. greathouse (MFA candidate)
Wound from the Mouth of a Wound [poetry]
Milkweed Editions, 2020
From the publisher: "'Some girls are not made,' torrin a. greathouse writes, 'but spring from the dirt.' Winner of the 2020 Ballard Spahr Prize for Poetry, Wound from the Mouth of a Wound challenges a canon that decides what shades of beauty deserve to live in a poem. greathouse celebrates 'buckteeth & ulcer.' She odes the pulp of a bedsore. She argues that the vestigial is not devoid of meaning, and in kinetic and vigorous language, she honors bodies the world too often wants dead. These poems ache, but they do not surrender. Their imagery pulses on the page, fractal and fluid, blooming in a medley of forms: broken essays, haibun born of erasure, a sonnet meant to be read in the mirror. greathouse’s poetry demands more of language and those who wield it. 'I’m still learning not to let a stranger speak / me into a funeral.' . . . greathouse—elegant, vicious, 'a one-girl armageddon' draped in crushed velvet—teaches us that fragility is not synonymous with flaw."
Joseph Harris (MFA 2018)
You're in the Wrong Place: Stories [fiction]
Wayne State University Press, Made in Michigan Writer’s Series
From the publisher: "In a thrilling interconnected narrative, You’re in the Wrong Place presents characters reaching for transcendence from a place they cannot escape. The book, composed of 12 stories, begins in the fall of 2008 with the shuttering of Dynamic Fabricating—a fictional industrial shop located in the Detroit suburb of Ferndale. Over the next seven years, the shop’s former employees—as well as their friends and families—struggle to find money, purpose, and levity in a landscape suddenly devoid of work, faith, and love. . . . In the title story, simmering tensions come to a boil on a hot summer day for a hardscrabble landscaping crew, hired by the local bank to maintain the lawns of foreclosures. In turns elegiac and harrowing, You’re in the Wrong Place blends lyric intensity with philosophical eroticism to create a singular, powerful vision of contemporary American life."
Patrick Hueller (MFA 2010)
Read at Your Own Peril [young readers]
INtense Publications, 2020
From the publisher: "Kevin shouldn’t be writing this. And you shouldn’t be reading it. After all, reading is now a crime—and for good reason. After the Coma Outbreak, everyone knows what happens to people who read. Their eyes slam shut. And they never get out of their desks again." From middle schooler James: "Read at Your Own Peril is a truly incredible story that keeps you on the edge of your seat. I gasped multiple times, and I couldn't see anything coming. This book really shows how something can look one way but be completely different and sometimes we can overreact. In this case, it's books, but you can apply it to so many different scenarios that are happening in the world we live in today."
Éireann Lorsung (MFA 2006)
The Century [poetry]
Milkweed Editions, 2020
From Ploughshares: "Transnational in location and transhistorical in its focus, the crises and disasters to which Lorsung attends are linked by way of antiwar and antiracist objections, and the subsequent question: how to live in a world damaged, in the case of nuclear irradiation, for as long as humans will know it. Such disaster is wreaked by the US military by way of internationally illegal chemical agents, nuclear energy and bombs and their production, and its interference in the Middle East, resulting in refugee crossings over the Mediterranean from Syria and North Africa and the European failure to accommodate them. Lorsung’s scope matches her ambition in putting the lyric poem to use in the work of contributing to the literary-historical record. Lorsung’s addition with The Century is to attend to what’s left unsaid not as recuperative justice, but an excavation into, and subsequent auditing of, what agents of social and political power would prefer to remain a dog-whistle."
Zi Ning Mok (MFA candidate)
The Orchid Folios [poetry]
Ethos Books, 2020
From the publisher: "A pot shatters. An arrangement falls apart. A florist finds herself amidst the scattered leaves of history. At once a poetry collection and a documentary novella, The Orchid Folios reimagines the orchid as a living, breathing document of history: a history that enmeshes the personal, colonial, linguistic, and biotechnological with the Vanda Miss Joaquim, the symbol of Singapore’s postcolonial hybridity. While the Orchid has shaped the fantastical narratives that govern our multiracial City in a Garden, it continues to shape-shift and bloom on its own terms, challenging us to imagine a decolonized Singapore. This is the organism at the heart of The Orchid Folios—by turns stark and unruly, documenting and challenging the narratives that are the roots of our national consciousness."
Scott F. Parker (MFA 2014)
Being on the Oregon Coast
Little Bound Books, 2020
From the publisher: "In 2016, months before his son was born, Scott F. Parker went to the Oregon coast to hold himself accountable for his first 35 years, to take stock of his life and what he'd learned so far, to ask what he might have to offer his son. For ten days he walked south keeping a notebook. The book offers a condensed and symbolic account of Parker's walk as his thoughts roam over such territory as nature, solitude, the creation of value, and the art of human flourishing. The Pacific Ocean, the beach, and the inland woods are felt presences even in Parker's most philosophical turns. As in his previous book, A Way Home: Oregon Essays, Parker celebrates the natural beauty of his home state. Being on the Oregon Coast takes readers for a long walk on the beach and leaves them energized—ready for their own walks, their own thoughts, and their own possibilities."
Amy Shearn (MFA 2005)
Unseen City [fiction]
Red Hen Press, 2020
From Publishers Weekly: "Shearn’s luminous latest follows a self-avowed librarian spinster; a man researching the history of his father’s Crown Heights, Brooklyn, home; and the ghost of an orphaned girl from Civil War–era Manhattan. When Meg’s landlord decides to sell the building, Meg must face the dizzying and depressing prospect of finding a new apartment. Meanwhile, widower Ellis Williams helps his father with his Crown Heights multifamily rental property, which has never been able to keep any tenants. When Ellis seeks Meg’s help to research the building’s history, the two stumble upon more than they bargained for. Interwoven with the contemporary narrative is the story of a girl whose orphanage burned down during the Draft Riots of 1863 and who then moved in with a new family in Weeksville, a settlement of free Blacks that existed in what is present-day Crown Heights. The presence of ghosts is easily believable, helped along by the characters’ shared sense of grief. Shearn’s nimble storytelling unearths a fascinating and fraught history."