Featured nonfiction writer at this year’s Ocean State Writing Conference
by Elizabeth Foulke
In his most recent memoir, In the Province of the Gods, Kenny Fries recounts the time he spent in Japan. There are echoes of his earlier work, as Fries continues to examine what it means to adapt –in this case to an unknown place and culture, as well as to illness and loss. Throughout the memoir, Fries reflects on how to remain malleable in the face of the unexpected.
Kenny Fries is the author of two previous works of literary nonfiction, The History of my Shoes and the Evolution of Darwin’s Theory and Body Remember. His works also include the poetry collections, In the Garden of Japan, Desert Walking, and Anesthesia. Fries is the editor of Staring Back, a collection of writing by authors with disabilities and wrote the libretto for the opera, The Memory Stone.
This June, I had the opportunity to interview Mr. Fries, who lives and works in Berlin. Fries expertly weaves together folklore, scientific theory, and poetry with questions of social policy and the construction of space as they intersect with disability. Our conversation explores his craft, adaptation, Japan, and the continued need to incorporate marginalized voices into our cultural narrative. Below is an excerpt of the interview. The full interview can be found in the print version of the recent edition of The Ocean State Review.
David Lazar, essayist, editor and educator, read from his new collection of essays, Occasional Desireas part of this semester’s Read/Write Series at the University of Rhode Island. Lazar read “On the Art of Survival: North by Northwest,” a personal, existential meditation on the intersections of Hitchcock, Flannery O’Connor and Franz Kafka. He followed with “Calling for His Past,” reminiscing on the public telephone as a source of “serendipity.”
Lazar, sardonic and perceptive, read passages like the following: “Freud says there are never only two people in bed, and just so, there were rarely only two people on public telephones in New York.” He followed the reading with Q&A, discussing the influence of Montaigne, the historical stock of the essay as genre and his own goals as an essayist.
“In his concentrically self-aware, amused, and ironic voice, David Lazar explores the trappings of memory, the trapdoors of memory, the way we gild or codify, select, soften, and self-delude ourselves based on our understanding of the past. His own process of selection and reflection reminds us of how far this literary form can take us, bound only by the limits of desire and imagination.”
David Lazar created the undergraduate and Ph.D. programs in Nonfiction Writing at Ohio University, and directed the creation of the undergraduate and M.F.A. programs in Nonfiction Writing at Columbia College Chicago. He is the founding editor of the literary magazine Hotel Amerika, now in its thirteenth year. A major theorist, teacher, practitioner, and historian of the essay, David Lazar is the author of two collections of essays, Occasional Desire (just out from the University of Nebraska Press), and The Body of Brooklyn (U/Iowa), as well as Powder Town, a collection of prose poems (Pecan Grove); Michael Powell: Interviews; and, Conversations with M.F.K. Fisher (both from U/Mississippi Press). Editor of and contributor to the landmark collection, Truth in Nonfiction, Lazar is also the editor, most recently of Essaying the Essay (Welcome Table Press), and, the forthcoming, After Montaigne (University of Georgia Press).
Last night’s reading with Swensen and Liu at URI was a great success! The event was so well attended that the OSR staff had to find more seating and the attendees were still standing by the doorways. The crowd hung onto Swensen’s transforming cadences and Liu’s self-possessed musings. The Q&A session led to essential discussions for Swensen and Liu on life and its connection to poetry, their respective organic and collaborative uses of imagery, teaching, psychology, death and poetic perspective. Last night was an invitation well-received.
We’ve got an upcoming READ/WRITE event on October 30! Featured poets are Timothy Liu and Cole Swensen, both contributing authors to our journal. The event will be held on Wednesday, Oct. 30, 5-7pm, The Hoffmann Room (Swan Hall 154) in the University of Rhode Island. The event is free and open to the public.
Cole Swensen is the author of 14 books of poetry; her work has won the Iowa Poetry Prize, the San Francisco State Book Award, and the National Poetry Series, and has been a finalist twice for the Los Angeles Times Book Award and once for the National Book Award. Co-editor of the 2009 Norton anthology American Hybrid, she is also the founding editor of La Presse Books, which publishes contemporary French poetry in translation. A translator herself, she has published 15 translations of contemporary French poetry and prose with presses such as Burning Deck, Green Integer, and Counterpath and been awarded the PEN USA Award in Literary Translation. A 2007 Guggenheim fellow, she has also received support from the French Direction du Livre, the Association Beaumarchais, and Creative Capital. She teaches in the Literary Arts Department at Brown University.
Timothy Liu (Liu Ti Mo) was born in 1965 in San Jose, California, to parents from the Chinese mainland. He studied at Brigham Young University, the University of Houston, and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. He is the author of Bending the Mind Around the Dream’s Blown Fuse (2009); Polytheogamy (2009); For Dust Thou Art (2005); Of Thee I Sing (2004), selected by Publishers Weekly as a 2004 Book-of-the-Year; Hard Evidence (2001); Say Goodnight (1998); Burnt Offerings (1995); and Vox Angelica (1992), which won the Poetry Society of America’s Norma Farber First Book Award. He has also edited Word of Mouth: An Anthology of Gay American Poetry, (Talisman House, 2000). Translated into ten languages, Liu’s poems have been included in many anthologies and have appeared in such magazines and journals as Bomb, Grand Street, Kenyon Review, The Nation, New American Writing, Paris Review, Ploughshares, Poetry and Virginia Quarterly Review.