Tag Archives: Hobart

Uzodinma Okehi reads at The Foundry No.2

The Foundry is our shiny new literary reading series, just launched this spring. Our second installment is this month, July 30th, at the delightful Tiger Eye Hair in Golden Hill.

Today we feature Uzodinma Okehi, a writer I had never read until Aaron Burch let us know he was coming on tour with him. I quickly picked up Uzodinma’s book, Over For Rockwell, published in late 2015 by Short Flight/Long Drive Books.

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Uzodinma Okehi, a little bit ago

Over For Rockwell is an intense and vivid novel, as we follow his character, Blue Okoye, across the globe doing his best not to fail at being an artist. When Blue is not drawing comics but knowing he should kinda hits below the belt. Uzodinma’s writing is powerful, irreverent, and vulnerable. Here’s a sample of his fiction, “The Deuce,” a segment of Blue Okoye’s strife, published in The Adroit Journal.

 I blew off Jackie, I told her, forget about the coupons . . . Two-for-one dinner-date, Brooklyn, select restaurants, twenty-eight bucks, and what’s that gonna buy me? Forget the first hour, which is easy. That could be testing out pens, looking for my ruler. It could be putting on socks, on then off again, too hot, or stretching, still not drawing, at the table, my chair, against the springs, I’m tense but I’m bouncing.

And here is a rad interview with Uzodinma at The Rumpus.

OKEHI: […]Cities always, at some point, fail to meet our expectations. Same way people do. At some point you realize you’re struggling to keep that mythology alive. You either project your frustration, your disillusionment, on that person, on the city, or you can turn back, you can choose to reinvest that belief in your own strengths. In the book, Blue goes to Hong Kong, believing, typically, that all he needs is a change in scenery to turn his life around. From college in Iowa City, to Hong Kong, then to New York, only to be confronted again and again with the same issues that seem to be rooted more in his personality than any specific city or place.

As a writer, as you know, it boils down to you in a room, in front of the computer…

Come hear Uzodinma read from Over For Rockwell at The Foundry, coming up Saturday, July 30th at 7 PM at Tiger Eye Hair in Golden Hill. Uzodinma will be joined at the Foundry by many other greats: Aaron BurchJean Guerrero, Juliet Escoria, Jim Ruland, and Scott McClanahan.

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by Julia Dixon Evans

Aaron Burch Reads at The Foundry No. 2: An Interview

When we found out that Aaron Burch would be touring along the west coast in support of his forthcoming book, a “Bookmarked” memoir structured around Stephen King’s The Body and Stand By Me, we thought: dibs.

The Foundry is our shiny new literary reading series, launched beautifully this spring with fantastic readings from Adrian Van Young, Lizz Huerta, Ryan Bradford, and Lauren Becker. Our second installment is this month, July 30th, at a fantastic and curious venue: Tiger Eye Hair in Golden Hill. Aaron will be joined by many other greats: Jean Guerrero, Juliet Escoria, Jim Ruland, Uzodinma Okehi, and Scott McClanahan.

So Say We All’s production director (and Foundry host) Julia Dixon Evans had a chance to email back and forth with Aaron recently. We discuss memoir, Stand By Me, and “the most important things,” to name a few. Enjoy Aaron’s answers (we did).

Stand-By-Me-DI


JULIA DIXON EVANS: I’ve seen Stand By Me countless times, though not in years, and I have never read The Body. I think, going into it, I felt unqualified as a reader for that reason, but that feeling vanished on the first page. I love the way the movie and the book have non-warring real estate in your memoir. They do not compete for superiority, and neither feels more literary, more intellectual than the other. Have you always felt that way? Or, did you have some sort of evolution? Did you once think: “I should like the book better than the movie, because I’m a professor or whatever,” and then finally one day come around to recognizing that both book and movie are great?

AARON BURCH: I like the way you put that. That they have non-warring real-estate, and I’m glad any feelings of being unqualified vanished.

A couple things: Bookmarked was pitched to me as kind of like a “33-1/3, but for books.” I’m familiar with the series, though more as concept; I haven’t actually read very many. I think I’ve read all of the Boss Fight Books series though, itself a kind of “like 33-1/3, but for video games.” That said, of the first 12 books in that series, I think I’ve only played two of the games. What I learned from reading them was that whether or not I’d played the game had a small impact on my reading experience, via the pleasure of the familiar, but it was pretty minimal. Whenever a book got bogged down in the details of the game, either I’d played the game and those details felt only like they were telling me something I already knew, or I hadn’t played the game and the details felt confusing and distancing.

That gets at the first half of your question, I hope. The idea of being familiar or degree of qualification. As far as book v. movie… I kind of get at this in the book, I think, but I really love both. I don’t think I ever had any thoughts that I should prefer one or the other. Like many (I think?) I saw the movie first, and came to the novella through that, and though I read the novella at some point growing up, unlike the movie, I never revisited and reread. Until I added it to a syllabus, without rereading it first, so if anything there was something of a sigh of relief when the story held up in the classroom and gave us enough to talk about. I just think each is really strong on its own merits, though part of what I love about each is how similar they are, so the pleasure in one is often echoed in what I love about the other.

JULIA: [Mutual friend] Ryan Bradford and I both joked that we felt like we’d gone through one of your classes as we read the book. (Well, technically, I’m 99% sure I wrote it in the margins and then he read my review copy, so I like to think that I subliminally gave him that idea). I felt like I not only understood The Body / Stand By Me on an academic level, but I felt like I understood writing. It made me want to write. As an academic, did your teaching change over the year you wrote this book? How will you tackle this story in the future?

AARON: I think maybe I won’t teach the book again, actually. Part of my approach to teaching is encouraging my students to try to figure something out. As I say in the book, to ask interesting questions, and then struggle for interesting answers. And I often find myself in the process of discovery right alongside them. I don’t think I “figured out” The Body while writing this book, but now that the book is written and done, it does feel like maybe I’d be a little less open to discovery, which feels like it would be a hinderance in the classroom.

I think my understanding of my teaching changed more than my actual teaching. Like, I don’t think I would have said the above paragraph in quite that way before working on this book.

JULIA: I was eager to hear about friendship in this book. I expected it. I think, though, in the end, that we didn’t so much learn about your “four,” just the fact that you’ve always had that as your touchstone. I think the book gives us your ideas of friendship rather than the grit and the intimacy of your actual friendships. Did you feel guarded about that? Or do you feel on some level, that the idea of friendships — and the availability of them — are maybe the biggest source of comfort in the friendship anyway? That is, the details aren’t the thing here?

AARON: Here’s a theory I came up with after reading through these questions, which means I haven’t really road-tested it yet or anything, so I’m not sure how it’s going to come across. I think it’ll start self-deprecating and turn into a humblebrag, and it also might be wrong, but here goes…

I think most books (all? all that are good?) are “failures” in two ways:

One being that, unless you have an incredible ego about your own writing and/or are unimaginative in ambition, they feel not quite as good as what you’d envisioned it to be. The second is a failure of expectation, not so much expectation of quality but that it isn’t quite about what you thought it would be. (That isn’t really a “failure,” but I’m calling it one for sake of theory.)

Both of these are because what’s on the page is just never quite what was in your mind. Ira Glass called that first way “The Gap“; it’s often at the heart of writer’s block, etc. Embracing that gap is kinda the only way you’ll ever finish anything. And then, embracing that second “failure,” is what makes most good writing good, I think. Letting something become what it wants to be, instead of what you think it should be, or want it to be, or had set out for it to be, or whatever.

Which is a long, kinda bullshitty way of saying: half the reason I chose The Body to write about was because I wanted to write about (male) friendship. Maybe I was too guarded to do so, or maybe I just didn’t have as much to say about friendship as I thought I did, but at some point the book ended up being about teaching and marriage and narrative–how and why we tell the stories that we do–and so I tried to embrace those ideas, even though they weren’t what I’d set out to do.

JULIA: So many of my questions for you are whether you knew something all along or developed the idea as you examined the story to write this book. Gordie says: “The most important things are the hardest things to say,” and I think every time that came up, I read it through my hands, cringing a little bit, hoping you wouldn’t apply it to marriage. But you did, because: of course. Because that’s the trouble, isn’t it? And I wonder: Did you know this all along? Every read of The Body, every watch of the movie, every class you taught this to, did you know that this is a profound concept for friendships, for parents, for life, but the most difficult and most worth-it relationship you’ll ever want to say the hard things for is a marriage? Or was that a connection you made in writing your book?

AARON: Totally while writing the book. Almost every idea in the book was developed while actually writing the book. That sentence isn’t in the movie, and it had actually never stuck out with me when reading and teaching the novella, until I started working on this book. I just kept coming back to it, and at some point was like, shit, I guess that is how and why this book is gonna become about marriage…

JULIA: I feel like this is the tricky part of what I want to ask you, because it’s always the tricky part of things I want to talk about, and this part of the book was both beautiful but horrifying in its resonance with me. The way you write candidly about your marriage — and I use the word candid in a non-lip-service sort of way: You not only speak openly and kinda shrug-y about the difficulties of marriage, but you seem like you actually just feel open and shrug-y about it. I got such a strong sense of waiting as I read this. I think of early re-watches I’ve done of Stand By Me, and how you know the action is mere minutes away, so why are they just sitting there doing nothing at the dump? Get on with it. But the waiting is magical in really quiet ways. I know that waiting out the dark parts of a marriage is anything but magical, but the truth is: every marriage has dark parts, and even though that’s a unifying thing, those dark parts are different for everyone. And the end product of this in your book is that we are left with a suspended state. A marriage in flux, in suspension. And I wonder: as you finished the book, were you tempted to go back and either clue us in or clean it up? Show us what was resolved, the way Gordie does at the end of the movie and the book?

AARON: I think “open and shrug-y” is actually probably a pretty apt way of describing me in general. I started to answer a lot of questions not actually asked here, but instead will just say, no, I wasn’t ever really tempted to give that aspect of the book more resolution. I’m not sure why not but the lack of resolution always felt right. My question, a little more, became trying to pull that off, to end the book while still leaving some aspects of it in flux.

JULIA: Shortly before I started reading your book, writer Wendy C. Ortiz tweeted this: “I like when I’m familiar with a writer’s spoken voice & I like it & then read their whole book hearing it narrated in their voice.” And I thought about this tweet often as I read. I heard this entire book in your voice, which made it amazing. It felt like a friend. And I think what is masterful about the book is that I think it would feel like this regardless — your style is very conversational, very informal, even while dropping some major concepts. You have a very untidy and approachable style. You write a lot about not writing much non-fiction, but I’m curious if you studied it before diving in. If this was a calculated move: writing in a spoken, casual style?

AARON: Thanks! That’s an incredibly kind sentiment. I wouldn’t say it was calculated but… purposeful, maybe?

I think all good writing probably has its own specific rhythms and timing, and I think my own writing is usually strongest when it feels most conversational. I’m not sure how I found or realized that, but I’ve done a good number of readings and tours over the years, often with really great readers, and I think if and when I hold my own it is via a more informal, casual tone. I think when it’s felt both most natural and strongest or best or whatever is maybe when it feels most like I’m just telling a story.

As far as study or calculation… I didn’t “study” any nonfiction for this book, but I at times teach my Intro English classes as a kind of creative nonfiction class, despite having never really written creative nonfiction, and I ended up finding my own teaching to be incredibly self-instructive, in a way that I hadn’t realized it ever would be at the time. My second piece of “study” was probably reading so many of the Boss Fight Books. Each book took its own tactic at being “about” the game it was about and the ones that affected me the most were the ones that most braided being about the game and about the author. It’s funny, I’ve glanced at those books’ Goodreads pages and everyone (of course) has totally different opinions–some people aren’t really fans of the books that go personal, some people most loved the books in the series that I just didn’t. I reminded myself of that while working on this. I’d have moments of, “Ugh, nobody cares about you,” or “Oh, no, what if people just want to read more about Stand By Me,” but I’d remind myself of my own tastes, I’d remind myself that I was trying to write the book that I myself would most want to read.

JULIA: Early in your book, you talk about the origin story of Hobart, the literary journal you founded 15 years ago. Hobart is possibly my top “go-to” in the literary world. It’s the thing I recommend to the most people, either readers or writers. Sure, you’re boundary-pushing in many ways, but it’s still a very literary and very respected thing. But it had such a simple start. It’s so earnest, in a way, that you just started a website with a cool name. That you didn’t even understand that you were making a literary magazine when you first made it. You just knew what you liked. In a way, it sounds similar to your writing process for Bookmarked: The Body: That you wanted to write the kind of book you’d read. What’s your favorite piece you’ve published in the last 15 years? Maybe asking for a favorite is unfair, but what’s the first piece that comes to mind when I asked that? The most Hobart-y?

And can you sort of track your own tastes by looking at the kind of work you’ve published over the years? I suppose that would be a really cool look at the changing lit scene of the last decade and a half.

AARON: Again, Julia: thanks. That’s a very kind way of putting it.

[Wife and partner] Elizabeth gives me shit sometimes, for not really having goals; or, more specifically, I think she gives me shit for being afraid to say I have goals, or afraid to name them specifically. Which is fair enough. I’m more ambitious than I typically want to admit, which I think comes back to the “shrug-y”ness we talked about, my general “aw shucks”-y attitude. But, mostly, I want to write things that I would be most stoked to read, as a reader; and with Hobart, I mostly want to put out a journal that I’d want to read, and I don’t really read many journals.

Anyway. Again, that wasn’t quite your question. Nothing jumps to mind as a favorite. The more I think about it, the more Mike Meginnis’s “Navigators” stands out, in part cause I really love that story, in part cause it was in Best American Short Stories, so it’s easy to point to the anthologized thing as something that stands out. Also, I wasn’t only stoked for Mike to be in BASS, or for Hobart, but I thought it was extra rad just to see a story about video games get so recognized. I think that speaks to Hobart: literary and quality, all that, but also fun, a little more goofy or pop culture-y, or just generally not taking ourselves that seriously.

Speaking of, Roxane Gay’s “North Country” was in that same issue and was also in that year’s BASS. And as much as I loved the story at the time, I’ve taught it a number of times since, and I love it more each time I get to discuss it with a classroom of students, which I guess brings us back to The Body.

JULIA: Thank you so much, Aaron. We look forward to having you in town! And, of course, hearing you read from The Body: Bookmarked at The Foundry reading series on July 30th. It’s gonna be a great night of readings and I can’t wait to pour you a drink!


Come hear Aaron read at The Foundry No. 2, our literary reading series, Saturday, July 30th at 7 PM at Tiger Eye Hair in Golden Hill. For more details and to invite your Stand By Me-loving friends: https://www.facebook.com/events/1762857903955708/


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Aaron Burch is the author of Stephen King’s The Body: Bookmarked, a memoir about the King novella and Stand By Me. He is also the author of the short story collection, Backswing, and is the Founding Editor of the literary journal Hobart. Read an excerpt of The Body: Bookmarked here.

high school id(Aaron, a couple of months ago)


If you like what we do at So Say We All, please consider supporting us and becoming a member. Details on our membership page here.


The Best Things We Read in 2015

We asked some of our very special friends and worker bees what their favorite story was this year, whether it be a book, a short story, a piece of journalism, a podcast, an email from their mom, anything. 2015 was a year of big stories. Please, if you can, support us in our year-end fundraiser and let’s tell some great stories together in 2016. And as we say farewell/good riddance to 2015, take a look at what our friends and staff came up with for their picks for the year. We love them and we love what they love:


JUSTIN HUDNALL
(So Say We All’s Executive Director)
I discover and fawn over a load of artists in the course of a year. Good work seems like it’s being made from all corners of the creative spectrum on a near daily basis. Even television is good these days! But it’s the rare, notable occasion when I discover art that feels important, and when I do, it often has something to do with how it was made. That’s what it was like to be introduced to Scott Carrier this year, specifically his work in radio and podcasting. Imagine if Jack Kerouac was a Peabody-award winning journalist who railed at NPR for boiling the sound and style of their contributors into milquetoast homogeneity, and empowered normal people to talk about their lives and the issues that effect them in their own words. His newest work, ‘Home of the Brave”, can be found at homebrave.com and wherever fine podcasting is served.

–Justin Hudnall

LIZZ HUERTA
​I read a lot and listen to a ridiculous amount of audiobooks so I’m struggling trying to figure out what moved me. The most recent thing that made me bawl was the middle grade novel “The Thing About Jellyfish,” by Ali Benjamin,  about a 12 year old girl whose former bestie dies in a drowning accident [editor’s note: not much of a spoiler]. The protagonist is trying to make sense of her friend’s death, the unraveling of their once-close friendship and adolescence. What made me ugly cry was my own inner 12 year old, nodding along and getting that ice-blood feeling of alienation. I was right there with the protagonist, wondering of the cool girls were laughing at me, not knowing the socially acceptable conversations and wardrobe choices, wanting to get the fuck out. To read a story that reminds you of a part of yourself you’d forgotten is pretty damn cool.

I also received an extraordinary email from the current lover of a former lover of mine, who google stalked me, found my writing and sent me an email telling me my writing had broken something open in her. We had a brief exchange. It was weird. And actually very cool. When I was deciding whether or not to respond to the email, I had to sit and consider the two faces I was making up in my head; was she a stalker, or the woman who took a risk to send a really vulnerable email? I chose the latter. I’ve made some brave-ish, strange choices before and it makes a world of difference when someone steps into your risk with you and says yes.
–Lizz Huerta 

RYAN BRADFORD
My favorite thing I read in 2015 was The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides. I’d seen the movie, which I thought was okay, but kept hearing from friends about how extraordinary the book was. They were right. It’s a romance that doesn’t shy away from creepy obsession and the consequences of deifying the targets of our affection. The story is told from a collective narrator, which is a literary feat unto itself. I haven’t been as inspired by a piece of writing than this.
–Ryan Bradford

It’s a classic Cinderella story, but replace the girl with four overweight, awkward, blue-collar guys from Chicago and the prince’s ball with a Michelin-starred restaurant. Scraping by all year to live out their fantasy of fine dining, they arrive, homely and humble, to the snide regard of the wealthy patrons. And whose eye do they catch but the prince himself: the corpulent, unpredictable, and frankly genius chef, Charlie Trotter. Charlie remains a constant throughout their lives, giving motivation in the good times and the bad, bound together by a love of great food. It’s brilliantly written with a lot of passion, but more than that, it’s brilliant writing about food, an oft-ignored subject (besides in Lucky Peach, of course) in a lot of “literary” prose. It’s hard to imagine why – food is a universal constant for all of us, and like death and taxes, can be a thing that can bind us all together, particularly when divisiveness is so en vogue.

CLOSE SECOND – “Robert Kloss: The TNB Self-Interview” , because it gives an unsettling peek into the darkness within.

–Matt Lewis


KINSEE MORLAN
I’m going with the first thing that popped into my head: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/08/magazine/the-displaced-hana.html?_r=0

I’ve been thinking a lot about empathy lately. I have kids and I want to make sure I pack them full of feelings for other peoples’ feelings.
Technology connects, but also disconnects us from other humans and the world around us. My children, for example, are going to grow up in a world with virtual reality. The New York Times has already rolled out virtual reality stories that, in theory, have the possibility and promise of making readers connect and relate to content on a much deeper level.
I hope that’s the case, but this NYT story I picked about a young Syrian refugee girl reminded me that really well written and beautifully photographed “old-school” print or online stories can be incredibly powerful and moving on their own. Reading this story made the Syrian refugee crisis so real and seemingly close. It’s hard to read it without wanting to do something to help. It inspires a great deal of empathy by describing another person’s reality so carefully.
I hope stories like this don’t use virtual reality as a crutch in the future. A powerful narrative is all you need.
Oh, and this podcast about its host doing acid at work was a close second: https://gimletmedia.com/episode/44-shine-on-you-crazy-goldman/
-Kinsee Morlan

AMY WALLEN
That’s easy. I can’t tell you what my favorite novel is because I’m a juror for the LA Times book prize and that’s top secret, but I can tell you the most special book I encountered that included both art and prose.  AFFLICT THE COMFORTABLE. It’s a collaboration with “Salmagundi” the literary magazine and the Tang Art Museum. The art chosen to go with each piece of writing is meant to provoke and surprise.

–Amy Wallen

NUVIA RULAND
(Science teacher at High Tech High Chula Vista and one of the leaders of the recent storytelling and writing collaboration between HTHCV and SSWA)

I’m one of a million nerds who listens to NPR while driving to work. On 11/23/15 I turned up the volume to listen to a piece on recommended podcasts and heard writer Domingo Martinez recommend the podcast CryBabies. He was struck by comedian Guy Branum’s tear-jerk reaction to “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen. “Bohemian Rhapsody,” a song I belted out several times as a teen with classmates on the back of the school bus and continue to join in when my students burst into song during project work time. This piece made me think of the tough relationship I had with my mom and how powerful I used to feel singing that song as a teenager.
-Nuvia Ruland


GILL SOTU
Genuine moments are hard to find on the Internet.  Or rather, there is so much dark noise, when light shines it can almost be unrecognizable.  When an African American rapper named Killer Mike steps to a podium and eloquently, passionately, and whole heartedly endorses an old white Jewish man for president, something happy tickled the inside of my chest. I wasn’t even a huge fan of either before I saw this clip. However,  anytime I see more evidence that despite physical and economical differences, a true commitment to the greater good can allow us to coexist, well then I know it was a good day.  So because of that I am thankful, very thankful for this moment.

Another one: Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King
Is it cliche to like Sir Stephen King? (In my head he is knighted). Sometimes when someone asks me who are some of my favorite authors are and Mr. King comes to mind, I can already see people rolling their eyes thinking I went for the easy answer.  But the man can write. Period. I have no problem naming him the Michael Jackson of literature, he just comes out with hit after hit.  In whatever genre you wish.  And guess what Mr. King…detective stories are my jam. Thank you sir, thank you…
–Gill Sotu


JESSICA HILT
As a writer, I often read other writers and figure out what I can steal from them to add to my own writing. Leena Krohn is a Finnish writer that mixes detail with a philosophical take on the natural world. Her writing is this grotesque and wonderful level of body horror that makes us keenly aware of human mortality but what I want to steal from her writing is that she also combines this with the environment (the bugs, the plants, the soil) that makes me realize the ecosystem of which we’re all part. http://electricliterature.com/lucilia-illustris-by-leena-krohn-recommended-by-jeff-vandermeer/

Right now you can also buy her collected fiction at Story Bundle (pay what you can).
–Jessica Hilt

Sean Bonney
“Corpus Hermeticum: On the Revolution of the Heavenly Spheres.”

Dressed in a porkpie hat, a shabby coat and with ACAB tattooed on his knuckles, I knew I would like Sean Bonney right away. The English poet, who now lives in Berlin, read at the Vermin on the Mount/VLAK collaboration held in the basement of Power Lunches Arts Café in Hackney. Bonney read a piece called “Corpus Hermeticum: On the Revolution of the Heavenly Spheres.” It’s an electric piece of writing that I haven’t stopped thinking about. The piece begins in language that is borderline apocalyptic—cryptic with a bit of humor—before delving into incidents of state-sponsored violence in the city of London from the building of the debtor’s prison Newgate in 1188 to Robert Peel who created and organized the modern British police.

Bonney delivery was angry and deliberate, punctuated with reminders that “This really happened.” The poem culminates in an incredible rant against police oppression that hasn’t left me since I heard it eight months ago:

don’t say “tall skinny latté” say fuck the police, for
“the earth’s gravitational pull” say fuck the police, for
“make it new” say fuck the police
                                                       don’t say “spare change”
say fuck the police, don’t say “happy new year” say fuck the police
perhaps say “rewrite the calendar” but after that, immediately
after that say fuck the police

Bonney’s poem serves as both a reminder and a wake-up call. The problems we’re having here with police aggression in the United States aren’t due to a bad cop in Cleveland or New York or a few bad cops in Ferguson or Baltimore but with our institutions that prey on society’s weakest and most vulnerable members: the poor, the uneducated, the unsheltered. And if you don’t share the same class, skin color, or belief system as the people in power, you’re fucked. This story, in all of its many shapes—class warfare, gender violence, racial injustice, religious intolerance—is the story of 2015 and one we cannot ignore in 2016 and going forward.

You can read the poem here or listen to him perform the piece (highly recommended). Bonney’s new book Letters Against the Firmament is available here.
–Jim Ruland


JULIA EVANS
(So Say We All’s Program Coordinator)
While I would like to say that my favorite book this year was Black Candies, it was published by SSWA and edited by one of my best friends which feels like total nepotism. So I’m going to cheat by mentioning it anyway before my official answer, which is: The thing that hit me below the belt the hardest this year was this piece by Elizabeth Ellen on Hobart: A REVIEW OF BY THE SEA, OR, HOW TO BE AN ARTIST AND FEMALE, I.E. HOW TO BE UNLIKABLE, OR, HOW TO (NOT) PANDER

At first you think it might be a review of By The Sea, an Angelina Jolie movie you haven’t seen, and then you think it’s a review of Angelina As A Person, but before you know it you realize the story is about you, it’s about your own writing, your own art, and your own marriage, it’s about your own experience as a woman trying to make art, your own unlikableness, and you’ve never even cared about Angelina Jolie before anyway. It’s a beautiful, fractured read, vulnerable and raw, and it comes on the heels of a year that was very difficult — and very transformative — for women in art. In particular, for women in writing. Also the title is killer.
–Julia Evans

We thank you for reading, we hope you enjoy our picks for 2015, and we’d love to hear from you in 2016. Until then, please consider donating to our year-end fundraising drive. It takes a village, and we love it when you pop in for a cup of tea. Let’s make some art together.

Interview with The Radvocate Editor Matt Lewis

So Say We All recently announced the launch of our new literary journal, The Radvocate. We are so proud of the work published in the new issue, which you can purchase here. Or! Come to our release party and reading this Saturday, 7/25, at 7:30pm at James Coffee Company in Little Italy. We’ll have lots of copies to sell to you!

RADVOCATE Cover art - logo

To get you all amped up for the party, our own Julia Evans spent a little time with our dear friend Matt Lewis, the founder and editor of The Radvocate, and a long time volunteer, producer, writer, and coach for So Say We All. See what Matt has to say about publishing, stories, and (of course) a little rollerblading:

So Say We All: Hi Matt! What got you into publishing zines?

Matt Lewis: Around 2006 or so, a well-known rollerblading magazine based in San Diego (called Daily Bread) shut down. It was replaced by something called One Magazine, which I went on to write a few reviews for. But the loss of Daily Bread within the community was too big for just one other media source to fill. A lot of corporations started to print off their own ‘magazines’ which were basically shameless plugging for the products and riders and marketed as a a publication. This irritated me to no end. I knew that there were a ton of people with the talent, in writing, art, and journalism, to make genuinely interesting media, who weren’t getting an chance because they didn’t know the right people. Daily Bread had always seemed to offer a space for weirdness and creativity alongside their content, but the new media that replaced it just seemed to sterile and formal, I guess because they wanted to project an image of professionalism. But around this time, my close friends and I had been talking about creating a parody zine that would lampoon the seriousness of these publications. My friend Geoff came up with the name: The Radvocate.

The parody zine never happened, but years later when I graduated from college, I saw the same exact thing happening with other writers, artists, and poets in my community. There were a few opportunities, but very few of them were for publication of any kind. Then San Diego Writers Ink offered a class on Zine-making, which was hosted by Todd Taylor, Jim Ruland, & Mike Faloon. Although I had been dimly aware of them, in the form of music zines my friends in high school passed around (Cometbus, Automatic, Maximum Rock n’ Roll, etc.) it never occurred to me that this was the avenue I had been looking for. Zines are unique in that they offer a platform to concepts that are typically cut out of mainstream media: in the 1930’s it was Sci-Fi, in the 50’s it was Pop Art, in the 60’s & 70’s it was queer & feminist issues, in the 80’s it was Punk Rock. Even in the present day, the zine community offers media that can inform you about important issues like Veganism, Animal Rights, Transgender issues, and DIY solutions to live a more sustainable and independent life. I was electrified by the fact that these people were communicating the media they wanted to despite indifference from the mainstream. It was all the motivation I needed to create the first, badly-photocopied issue of The Radvocate.

SSWA: What were some of your more formative zines?

ML: My early influence came from two different publications that were released when I was still in High School. I didn’t even know what a zine was when I saw them, or had even thought about independent publications at all. The first was called Any Given Day, which came from El Cajon and was created by Zeb Huset. He was a photographer for a few different rollerblading magazines, but he wanted a separate space to display his photos and give updates on local skating news (pre-internet, when we got all our information via magazines or word of mouth). The other was called Scum Magazine, which was created by Jan Welch. Scum basically had the same function as AGD, but for the Texas scene instead. Jan went on to move to San Diego and work for Daily Bread, which is how I found those for the first time. This was the first place I saw punk rock aesthetics being used outside of a music context, which went on to influence the early design/attitude of The Radvocate.

SSWA: What about literary journals? What are some of your favorites?

ML: As far as lit journals go, you can’t fuck with Hobart. They’ve done incredible work over the years and continue to do so with their online format. I love how they continually find the freshest talent and introduce the world to a lot of people who go on to write/do amazing things. I also like the format of NOÖ journal, in that they have literary content but they maintain a kind of traditional magazine aesthetic, which feels less stuffy then other traditional lit journals. And you can’t talk about unique without mentioning Carrier Pigeon; I found out about them at AWP this year and can’t believe what they’re doing with their graphic design. It’s revolutionary how they experiment with form and function, creating some really unique publications.

SSWA: What draws you to a story?

ML: There are two things I look for, and they could either be in tandem or separate. One is a visceral reaction. If a story makes me feel a certain way, physically – disgusted, depressed, devastated, terrified, ecstatic, inspired – I love to process why the story did that to me and what kind of truth is lying in it that causes these feelings. The second is a fusion of intellectualism & lyricism within the story. A good example of this would be Ray Bradbury’s writing, where you read something that is not only intelligent, but just spills off the page effortlessly. Of course, not all stories have these things, but when they possess elements of them, it really stands out.

SSWA: What draws you to live readings?

ML: I love the fact that live readings offer an opportunity to connect with a community of people. Real-life meetups are so rare now within any sort of thing, and they can often be notoriously awkward. But at a reading, everyone knows why they’re there and what their going to do: listen to some people whose work they enjoy. It not only becomes a place to hear the author, but to connect with people who have similar interests who live relatively close, without all the weirdness of ice-breaking. Not to mention they can be damn entertaining. When we had Scott McClanahan out for our December reading, he brought an entire noisy bar full of football fans to a dead silence. It was amazing to watch, but even more amazing was to hear from people who attended afterward about how much it inspired them and galvanized their own work. That’s why live readings can be so special. We’re hoping to replicate a moment like that for our Issue #13 Premier Show (7/25, 7pm @ James Coffee Co.) which will feature some contributors that are not only amazing writers, but incredible storytellers.

SSWA: What kind of content does The Radvocate seek out?

ML: Generally speaking, we’re looking for people whose work strives to reflect with raw intimacy the world as it is understood and lived by its inhabitants. Fiction, non-fiction, poetry, interviews, photography, and art are accepted.

SSWA: What do you want to contribute to the literary journal landscape today?

ML: I can only hope that we will carve out a unique space where we can introduce some rad people & unique content to the world and not bore anyone to death.

SSWA: What’s next for The Radvocate? When are you reading submissions for the next issue? Any advice for hopeful contributors?

ML: We are currently taking submissions for Issue #14, which I’m hoping will come out in early 2016. We take and read submissions year-round, with the average response time being a month. My advice would be not to worry so much about what category your work fits into; just send in your best and if it’s rad, we’ll feature it.

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Hobart Publishing Comes to Town

From Ryan Bradford, SSWA’s Creative Director:

The next Friday (June 27th), So Say We All is excited to bring Aaron Burch/Eight Arms to Hold You Tour to San Diego!

I remember three years ago, I was reading stuff like McSweeneys and Miranda July and thinking that those were the pinnacle of subversive, underground lit. I mean, nothing wrong with those authors, but then I got a copy of literary journal Hobart 13, and it completely opened my eyes to what people were producing: it was dark, funny, real, and troubling in ways that I hadn’t ever read before. And not to sound all melodramatically patriotic—but Hobart seemed like quintessential American literature, that wasted little time on winking cleverness and preciousness.
Anyway, Aaron Burch founded Hobart—so he’s practically responsible for my love/fascination with modern literature. He’s also got a sweet new short story collection out called Backswing that I think he’ll be selling (two weeks before the official release date!) I’ve had the opportunity to read it and it’s great—worth every penny. (CityBeat also loved it). Aaron’s also a really nice guy and will probably want to drink with you, so there will also be beer there.
Aaron’s bringing Hobart/SFLD author Dylan Nice to read too. SD’s finest authors Juliet Escoria and Julia Evans will also be reading.

That’s going down at Gym Standard, a very cool art gallery/magazine shop/shoe and retail store. It’s the first collaboration between SSWA and Gym Standard, and we’re stoked that cool businesses support SD’s lit scene.

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