Why There Are Words

Interview with Kate Asche

Posted in Interviews by whytherearewords on February 16, 2016

ka with book

Our Day in the Labyrinth  by Kate Asche

             Interview by Linda Michel-Cassidy

Linda Michel-Cassidy: The opening piece in your book of poems, Our Day in the Labyrinth, acts as a sort of instruction manual for the collection. In “Studia Intima,” the speaker offers the definition, in part, “The devotion of time and attention to systematic observation…for the purpose of establishing a contemplative and preliminary broader theory of intimacy…” Tell us a bit about how acts of noticing feed your work, and how precision and detail in seeing/noticing relates to that of writing.

Kate Asche: Printed words appear as small things. Syllables, phonemes, individual letters—smaller still. There is, in my imagining mind at least, a strong harmony between the apparent scale of language on the page, language in the ear, and the apparent scale of the so-called small things of our lives and our world. All of these things are magical things in that, though they present as small, they can bloom in an instant into utterances or artifacts that change our beings at the most fundamental levels.

I suppose I live what some may call a small life. I work a staff job at UC Davis almost full time, and then I do a bit of teaching, journal editing and freelance editing in my writing life, and then I write, usually (I feel I am supposed to be ashamed to admit) in that order. I am married to a photographer who also drives for FedEx, and together we finance the lives of two black cats. My husband and I both work Saturdays, which means there are precisely two, maybe three weeks each year that we can go anywhere further than a two hour drive away, which is a major bummer because we both love to travel. We eat consciously and keep ourselves fit. We try to make engaged, authentic choices. We appear, like many of the writers in my workshops, to be no one spectacular—but of course, appearances aren’t everything.

Carolyn Forché spoke at SummerWords at American River College, a Community College in Sacramento, this past June. She inspired us with her beautiful words and life of witness. At the Q&A, I asked her (on my own behalf and that of my students): Many of us live, or feel that we live, “small” lives, yet we feel compelled to write. What are we to do? She replied: “Poetry emerges quietly at the desk, but it comes from a lived life and reacts to it. No life is small. Don’t limit yourself. Bring your whole experience to bear each time you write. Take yourself seriously.” Ms. Forché also said, earlier that weekend, that “reading and writing poetry expand our capacity for contemplation, which expands our capacity for empathy.”

Kate Asche's Notes Toward a Poem

Kate Asche’s Notes Toward a Poem

All of this to say: In my writing practice, I work with the materials at hand. Internally, these are music, in which I have significant formal training and for which I have great passion, as well as a joy in analysis and a deep abiding need and wish to connect—through empathy—in intimacy. Externally, my materials are the place and time in which I live, and the lives and objects that fill that place, as well as the desires, hopes and fears that fill that time. It is only in the life, energy and precision of concrete details that I find a path to synthesizing these things in a way that begins to make some sense to me and to bring me closer to intimations of peace and grace that I do believe I am seeing in this world.

LMC: Your poems describe a number of natural phenomena with great precision, with an artist’s eye. I have an impression of them, yet they never for a moment feel limited to an image, rather, they seem experiential. In “Mollusk” for example, you are describing items found on the beach, but the poem is about a relationship, “I’m thinking about how rough things can appear smoothwhen conditions are rightand smooth things can, with enough pounding, be made rough.” Talk a bit about identifying and describing these instances in nature that, when used properly, are more evocative than the emotions themselves.

KA: I love this question so much because it totally calls me out, just like my therapist does over and over (again today, even!). So, I am kind of emotionally stunted. I come from a family full of engineers and medical professionals (though my mother also is a painter, and her mother wrote poetry), and popular stereotypes suggest this may have something to do with it. My default response to lived experience is cognitive first. I habitually—for fun, for stimulation, and out of fear—analyze the world and my experience through multiple mental models simultaneously. I know nothing of systems theory (I just learned from the poet Tim Kahl that there is a set of theories for systems), but I do experience life and the universe systematically, as in, an array of discrete phenomena that exist in dynamic and conditional interconnected relationships that produce potential meanings constantly. I thirst for meaning, for conclusion, for peace in my spirit and body, in the space between me and everything that is not me, and in the larger fabric of existence.

But of course there is no peace, no conclusion (see Emily Dickinson #373 and the contemplative spiritual paths of the world, among others), at least not in the capital-C sense. In a poem, however, it being small in the scale of the universe and an art form that is expressed in time, I feel I can sometimes get to a small-c conclusion, one in the musical sense more than in the cognitive sense—a resolution of some tension into a kind of harmony or, via transformation, into a different kind of tension (something like a key change, to continue to the musical model) that releases the original tension for a while, yet still remains authentic to the complexity of living.

I see in natural objects and occurrences materials that, especially when combined through inquiry and revision with images of other objects and occurrences, present as a sort of code for a particular emotional feeling or truth. Metaphor and music are my decoder rings, and the surprise I feel—when the poem, when my thinking and the thinking of the world, together “click into place”—is both confirmation of the power at work there and the kind of moment, which feels like a physical place, in which I sense I am most alive.

LMC: In “Our Day in the Labyrinth,” a absolute heartbreak of a poem, you move from a visual we can all recall (roses) to “orange spoon sweets the Cretan woman served” (a less-familiar sensory experience) to a deep longing for something (perhaps) impossible:

            Her ancient husband carried the white plate out

            with both hands, open jar and tiny spoons


            tinkling against each other.

            It was thick-syruped. It stuck in our throats,


            a bitter orange grace.

            It was what they could give us,


            what they must have thought we needed.

You write a poetic dance around personal emotions and events. Does this strategy make them more accessible or relatable to the reader?

KA: I don’t think of this as a strategy. I don’t even think of it at all, or didn’t until now! If I write a poetic dance around personal emotions and events, it’s because I don’t know any other way. This is a very literal poem. At least, it began in a literal place with me and still feels very literal and direct to me. My husband and I went to Crete. We fought about some stupid thing I can’t remember because we fight about a lot of stupid things. By we, I probably mostly mean I, but of course, one can’t fight alone and so she recruits a partner in crime. And this couple in whose beautiful and tenderly loved pensione we were staying, in the town of Zaros, which has a population of about fifty people mostly well over the age of fifty, they knew what was up. And every morning they fried us eggs with yolks gold-orange like I’ve never seen, and baked from scratch two dozen kinds of bite-sized breads and pastries, and served us spoon sweets (which they also fed us in the afternoon, with coffee, which is the more traditional use of spoon sweets, just for the record). On one of those mornings, we went to Knossos, site of the maybe-mythical King Minos’s famous labyrinth (built by Daedalus, and which was actually a maze—and that is the place I took a sort of liberty in the poem, by calling it a labyrinth, to emphasize the spiritual journey of that architectural form, versus the decision-making requirements and entrapping potential of the maze form—though many users of English do not know this difference, so I get in the reader the connotations of either or both, depending on each reader’s lexicon).

That was all that happened. I probably would never have written about this couple who mentored us for a few days through their steadiness, had I not been given an associative writing prompt in a class taught by the Bay Area poet Thomas Centollella at a Sacramento Poetry Center conference. It was that prompt that drew out of me, among other things that were revised out, the roses that open the poem, and from their perfume I associated to Zaros and followed that through to the end. I saw the time we spent with them in a totally new way as I remembered it in the writing of the poem.

I experience most of my poems as very literal, and, I am told they don’t always come across that way. So I think my writing is just…well, strange, both in what it sees and how it sees. And that strangeness seems right to me, and it seems to resonate with enough readers that I have not been compelled to change it in this respect.

Kate Asche's back porch home office

Kate Asche’s back porch home office

LMC: I’m interested in how you calculate the movements between personal and universal, and between known and unknown. You tend to state very little outright about the “we” of the poem, yet at its end, and on each reread, I was devastated.

KA: In my mind, until now, the “we” was simply my husband and me. Your asking of this question has helped me see that this “we” can also point to other “we’s,” including all of us humans here on our heartbreaking (and heartbroken) earth in desperate need of grace in all its forms. Thank you for helping me to see the poem in a new way—an amazing gift. I suppose it is now clear that I don’t very much calculate the movements in my work between the personal/universal and known/unknown! My analyses are as much intuitional as logical. These intuitions are things I feel much more strongly than I feel most emotions. Perhaps they are my emotions and I just don’t know it. Sometimes these intuitions are supported by a musical architecture that makes them immediately obviously “right” in the poem. Sometimes the intuitive connections and movements come to me without music, even without words, and I must research language and human knowledge until I find the right linguistic and imagistic construction, or the construction whose architecture most closely resembles that of the intuition.

LMC: Several of your poems are quite short, which is not at all to say that they are without impact. What can the poet gain through brevity?

KA: I love short poems. Most recently, I am super inspired by Lia Purpura’s newest book, It Shouldn’t Have Been Beautiful. These poems are terribly, wonderfully short—short lines and short on the page. And they are heavy with meanings, characterized usually by a primary meaning that falls on the ear and heart first, which is then followed by recognition of secondary and tertiary meanings expanding outward like the proverbial ripples from a stone dropped in water. I am struck anew in reading them that brevity buys the poet some important things: for the writer in process, it buys the ability to see the whole piece in detail at once while working on it. For the writer and the reader, it buys the possibility of a sort of direct-strike emotionally, and I think brevity also buys the reader memorability: a short poem is a touchstone that fits easily in the mind’s pocket, a touchstone that can be brought out and turned over and over again with ease in a fleeting moment…something to keep one from getting too caught up in things, to keep one from drifting away from what matters.

kateasches feetLMC: “Red On Maroon, 1959 (Rothko at the Tate)” while technically an ekphrastic poem, moves a lot faster than many works of this type. First, your description of the mammoth paintings betters those of many visual critics, due to your brevity and precision, “Two paintings. / Square, twice my height. / Stacked red on wounded red.” The speaker then moves through a number of senses, “the way their colors vibrate, / sing pitches to each other,” landing on imagined experiences in the womb, “my napping / body, in her lap,/ my unsleeping ear.”

Many of your poems work in the same way as the Rothkos, in that you are presenting evidence in one form or sensory experience, but the piece is really about something else entirely. Tell us a bit about how you yourself experience those switches, and how your writing evokes this phenomena.

KA: This is another example of a poem I wrote (and still experience) very literally. I had what I think could be called a synesthetic experience (though I don’t think of myself as someone suffering from a disorder of synesthesia) with the Rothkos at the Tate Modern, in that just as I saw them, I also heard aural frequencies in the interactions of the waves of light reflecting off their pigments. As my photographer husband has taught me, our perception of any given color (in terms of light waves) is actually our perception of the absorption, by an object, of all light colors except the one it presents as being. (To say it another way: an object appears green because green is the only range of light waves it does not absorb.) So, it was the visual vibration of the combination of the very few colors Rothko caused to remain perceivable, by the pigments chosen for his paintings, which I was hearing through my eyes in that moment. And the pitches those vibrations added up to, for me, were the distinct pitches I remember my mother’s voice making when she was talking to some other adult over my head as I lay, as a small child (like, 3-7 years), with my head in her lap. I pretended to sleep so she would let me stay there, but really, I was listening to and feeling the sound of her speaking, with my ear against her belly. I had forgotten those moments until I heard those pitches again, there in front of those Rothkos. I spent hours with them. I went back once or twice a week (praise the free British museums!) for the four months I lived in London, to sit before them and hear them hum.

I struggled with this poem. I did not want it to be sweet. The sound of my mother’s voice inside her was alien and captivating and it stunned me, just as the Rothko paintings are—in my experience of them—alien and captivating, and just as I feel stunned when I am before them. They are some of my favorite paintings that I have seen anywhere in the world, because I find them visually beautiful and mostly because they sound like breathing, speaking bodies. They sound like bodies living, bodies that will one day die living in time. So in the end, for me, this poem is a love poem to my mother and her creativity and her and her time-bound body, though I am generally not the kind of writer who would find herself interested in writing such a poem straight-on.

Because I am not a very emotional person, and/or because I am a person who is not always in touch with her emotions, by nature I approach emotional material from the side, or the top or underneath—anywhere but from straight on. In a way, you could say I understand all of life as I understand light waves: I understand that what I see when I look at something is not the thing itself, but rather the singular light it reflects. I also sense in each thing the presence of all it is not. The thing’s singular light *plus* the resonating but invisible presence of everything it isn’t *equals* a space in which the thing, really the what-is of everything, in unfathomable wholeness, resides. I call that space a poem. It’s not so much that I work to evoke such a mode of perception in my poems, but rather, this is the way I perceive, so this is the way I write.

LMC: Which comes first, the image or the words? Or the sensation? Or the memory? Do these events flow naturally into each other, or do you find that you like a little distance between the moment and the poem?

KA: I think I am all over the place on this one. Here are some ways in which I regularly compose new work: I bring a prompt in each week to my workshops and write along with my students (this is where I do almost all my drafting these days) and the prompt invites an image, a memory, an idea onto the page, then another and another. Or: my husband finds an object on one of his runs along the river (salmon skeleton, bird nest, dead butterfly) and brings it home to me. I understand that one day it will speak and so it goes into my strange collection, and one day it does, usually after I have brought it to workshop as a prompt (and probably freaked out my students a little). Or: I find something, or something happens, in our little yard (the wild lily, the cotyledon) and so I take that into my imagination and let it rest there until it is called to by another thing or happening. That’s a key, I think: In poetry, as in the world, nothing is just one thing, and also, a poem doesn’t start—for me at least—until there are at least two things: two images, or two images that have already connected in metaphor, or an image and a sense of linguistic music connected to it, or a word and then another word. Or me, with one idea in my head in a room full of writers writing, and to that idea their energy is added, and another idea forms, and another.

kateaschereadingLMC: In terms of form, you utilize a variety of modes. Do you have a favorite formal structure? Do you feel that certain structures are somehow evocative of specific eras or moods?

KA: I don’t consciously have a favorite formal structure. If I did, I would say it is three things.

One: Music. I was a fairly talented clarinet player and had to make a choice early on between my writing and my music, as I understood even at eighteen that I would never be able to serve two different creative masters completely. I also sensed I could more easily make a living that I could, well, live with via the many forms writing takes than I could with music and music teaching. Because I had some advanced training in music theory, and because music is an art of the body as much as the mind, certain shapes, certain architectures (such as the sonata form, or the concepts of modes and of chordal suspension and resolution, and the skill of counterpoint) reside still in my body and I invite them into my poetic speech, sometimes consciously, often instinctively before realizing it.

Two: The sonnet, but not the formal sonnet. (In the collection, “Celibate” is the closest poem to a traditional sonnet.) I like the bones of the sonnet, which are—surprise!—analysis and argument. So I import the classical sonnet’s progression of thought into my poems. Sonnets are the diamonds among the classical essay gemstones: they are the most dense, they sparkle in their small size and from the effort of their extraction, and they cut right into your heart. In my poems, I often consciously employ a structure something like concrete detail / concrete detail / commentary / concrete detail / concrete detail / commentary / concrete detail / concrete detail / thesis (often in the form of a question or something in declarative but incomplete syntax). I love to argue.

Three: Another form, as it were, that I use is concepts of translation. I have done a little translation of work into English from other languages, very poorly. I am more interested in translating sensibilities and rhythms of thought and speech from other writers working in English, so I am in a phase where I am doing a lot of tracing poems (“Wild Lily,” “Highway 1, September,” “Homophonic Translation,” “Tourists” and “Limantour” all come out of this practice). In these tracing poems, I put my own content into the syntax and sensibility of the model poem. It’s a very elementary exercise that never stops yielding energy into my practice!

KA Writing By Writers etcLMC: And of course, the big question: why poetry?       

KA: I started collecting my poetry drafts in a fancy journal (a gift from paternal grandmother) and labeling them with titles, dates and my age at the time of composition when I was seven, which means I was writing before that. I have never known why. Poetry allows me to do a different kind of meaning-making than any other art or cultural form, one that is essential for my spiritual, mental and physical health. Sure, I have dry spells, some of which are welcome rest periods and some of which are unwelcome periods of loss and disconnection within myself. But the latter have not happened in the last four years, since I committed to teaching regular workshops within the community. The workshop table is an essential place of spiritual and creative practice in my life. Many writers say writing, workshops and public readings, etcetera, are their church. Though I would not say this exactly, as I am a person with a relationship to church and experience it differently, I understand what they are describing. Writing with others and writing alone are two kinds of fellowship, of conversing, with all that is beyond us. Writing is also a way of communicating, of communing with, others like us, which is to say other humans. This is why we write: a little bit to be heard, but mostly to be talked balk to—which is to say, to talk with all that we are and are not.

My deepest gratitude and affection to those who take the time to read books and to then start a conversation with their authors about them, about us, about art and spirit and life.




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Why There Are Words Literary Reading Series presents

Posted in readings, Sausalito by whytherearewords on October 17, 2012

Join us at Studio 333 in Sausalito, November 8. Our promise: A magical night of stories from seven remarkable writers on the theme, Promise. 333 Caledonia Street, Sausalito, 7 pm. $5.  

Fred Arroyo

Fred Arroyo is the author of Western Avenue and Other Fictions (University of Arizona Press, 2012), as well as The Region of Lost Names (U of Arizona P, 2008). Named one of the Top Ten New Latino Authors to Watch (and Read) in 2009 by LatinoStories.com, he is also a recipient of an Individual Artist Grant from the Indiana Arts Commission. Fred has published fiction, poetry, and essays in various literary journals and in the anthologies The Colors of Nature (Milkweed 2011) and Camino del Sol: Fifteen Years of Latina and Latino Writing (University of Arizona 2010). Currently, he is completing a book of essays in which he lyrically meditates on work, reading and writing, migration and place—sources of creativity arising from his life and work in the Midwest, growing up bilingual on the East Coast, and then being caught between urban and rural worlds. He is also working on a novel set primarily in the Caribbean. Fred lives in Vermillion, South Dakota, where he teaches fiction and creative nonfiction in the MA/PhD Program in Creative Writing, as well in the undergraduate program at the University of South Dakota. Fred walks as much as possible, enjoys bike rides with his nine-year-old son, and finds as of late that driving in the upper Midwest is the tonic that brings writing and life together.

Stacy Bierlein

Stacy Bierleinis the author of the story collection A Vacation on the Island of Ex-Boyfriends and a co-editor of the short fiction anthology Men Undressed: Women Writers and the Male Sexual Experience. Her award-winning anthology of international fiction, A Stranger Among Us: Stories of Cross Cultural Collision and Connection, is used in university classrooms across the country. She is a founding editor of Other Voices Books and the Morgan Street International Novel Series. Her articles about writing, publishing, and the arts appear on various websites, including The Rumpus. She lives in Southern California.

Leslie Ingham

Leslie Ingham was classically educated at St. John’s College in Annapolis and has her MA in Rhetoric and Composition from the University of Maryland. Her work has appeared in Fiction 365 and Energeia, and been recognized by Narrative Magazine. She is a founding member of San Francisco’s Portuguese Artists Colony, where she regularly reads her work. She is also an editor at PAC: Books, and is currently at work on a novel.

Patricia Ann McNair

Patricia Ann McNair’s collection of short stories is The Temple of Air. She has lived 98 percent of her life in the Midwest, where she’s managed a gas station, sold pots and pans door-to-door, tended bar and breaded mushrooms, worked on the trading floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, and taught aerobics. Today she is an associate professor in the Fiction Writing Department of Columbia College Chicago, where she received a nomination for the Carnegie Foundation’s US Professor of the Year. Her collection of stories, called “a beautiful book, intense and original,” by Audrey Niffenegger, has received a number of honors, among them the winner of Southern Illinois University’s Devil’s Kitchen Reading Award and the Society of Midland Authors Finalist Award.

Zack Rogow

Zack Rogow’s seventh book of poems is My Mother and the Ceiling Dancers, (Kattywompus Press, February 2012). He is editor and/or translator of nineteen books or plays. His writing has appeared in a variety of magazines, from American Poetry Review to Zyzzyva. His translations from French include work by Colette, George Sand, and André Breton. Currently he teaches in the low-residency  MFA at the University of Alaska, Anchorage. His blog is titled Advice for Writers.

Jenn Scott

Jenn Scott’s stories have appeared in The Cincinnati Review, Bellingham Review, The Gettysburg Review, Seattle Review, Santa Monica Review, Cream City Review, Phoebe, Confrontation, Gulf Coast, Juked, New South, and The Los Angeles ReviewShe lives with four cats and a husband in Oakland, California where she obsesses over football and is presumably at work on her first novel.

Rayme Waters

Rayme Waters is the author of the debut novel The Angels’ Share. She has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and a Dzanc Best of the Web Award. Most recently, her work has appeared in The Summerset Review, The Rumpus, and The Meadowland Review. Born in San Francisco, she grew up in Northern California and the city of Linköping, Sweden.

Why There Are Words Literary Reading Series rocks Litquake and more!

Posted in readings, Sausalito by whytherearewords on September 13, 2012

October is Roctober with Litquake! We have readings galore for you this month!

FIRST UP, join us for our regularly scheduled event at Studio 333 in Sausalito, October 11. 7pm. This very special show features writers from the audience who entered their names in the drawings over the months. Studio 333 in Sausalito, 7-9pm. $5. 

Rosaleen Bertolino

Rosaleen Bertolino‘s fiction has appeared in The MacGuffin, Pure Francis, Prick of the Spindle, and Southern California Review, among others. Her awards include a Marin Arts Council Individual Artist Grant.

April Eberhardt

April Eberhardt joined the literary world as head reader for Zoetrope: All-Story, a literary magazine, followed by five years as an agent with two San Francisco-based literary agencies. She holds an MBA from Boston University in Marketing and Finance, a BA from Hamilton (Kirkland) College in Anthropology and French, and a CPLF degree from the University of Paris. She divides her time between SF, New York and Paris.

Audrey Ferber

Audrey Ferber received an MFA in Writing from Mills College. Her short stories have been anthologized in Virtually Now, Eating Our Hearts Out, and An Intricate Weave. Her essays have appeared in the San Francisco ChronicleTravelers’ Tales for Women, and most recently in FRONTIERS: A Journal of Women Studies. She has written book reviews for the San Jose Mercury News and the San Francisco Chronicle.  She is at work on a memoir about aging, marriage, and dance classes.

Charles Kruger

Charles Kruger is “The Storming Bohemian” and creator of the website “Storming Bohemia,” which has been mentioned in the New York Times for its coverage of the San Francisco literary scene. He is also the editor and lead reviewer for TheatreStorm, a regular contributor to LitSeen, and an occasional book reviewer for The Rumpus. He is also a painter, whose work can be seen online.

Alexandria Melton

Beverly Morrison

Alexandria Melton has spent over a decade writing for other folks in the advertising industry. A recent transplant to Sausalito, she has published absolutely nothing and red-lined just about everything. She has a penchant for the flagrant use of em dashes — really, and possesses truly brilliant Sharpie skills. She is tragically poor, looking for the next great hardcover.

Robert Ofsevit

Beverly Morrison has a B.A. in Creative Writing from SF State. She is a truck driver living in Petaluma with her partner of 16 years, two birds, a gecko, and a cat. She is building a collection of flash fiction stories and specializing in haiku.

Robert Ofsevit saves energy for a living, and expends energy improving his writing, sailing and drawing skills. His BA thesis was published in the Undergraduate Journal of Asian Studies, Vol V, 1991, a highpoint in his literary career.

Alison Owings

Alison Owings is author of the Indian Voices: Listening to Native Americans (Rutgers 2011), a nearly decade-long labor. It appears in paperback in November. Her previous serious books are Hey, Waitress! The USA from the Other Side of the Tray and Frauen: German Women Recall the Third Reich. Her previous  not-so-serious book is The Wander Woman’s Phrasebook: How to Meet or Avoid People in Three Romance Languages. She lectures and teaches about the subjects of her serious books.

Barbara Solomon

Barbara Solomon is a retired attorney, painter, and community volunteer in Marin. Her current project, a short story collection, may turn into a novel.

Townsend Walker

Townsend Walker is a writer living in San Francisco.  His stories have been published in over fifty literary journals and included in six anthologies. One story won the SLO NightWriters story contest, and two were nominated for the PEN/O.Henry Award. Four were performed at the New Short Fiction Series in Hollywood.


 NEXT, join us for everyone’s favorite Litquake’s LitcrawlLitcrawl: Why There Are Words Presents. October 13. 7:15. (Phase 2Aldea Home, 890 Valencia Street, SF. 

Pam Houston
photo credit: Adan Karsten

Pam Houston is the award-winning author of Contents May Have Shifted, Cowboys Are My WeaknessWaltzing the CatA Little More About Me, andSight Hound. Her stories have been selected for the Best American Short Stories, the O. Henry Awards, the Pushcart Prize, and the Best American Short Stories of the Century. She teaches in the graduate writing program at University of California, Davis.

Joshua Mohr

Joshua Mohr is the author of the novelsTermite Parade, which was an Editors’ Choice on The New York Times Best Seller List; Some Things that Meant the World to Me, one of O Magazine‘s Top 10 reads of 2009 and a SF Chronicle bestseller; and the brand new Damascus (October 2011).  He has published numerous short stories and essays in publications such asThe New York Times Book Review, 7×7, the Bay GuardianZYZZYVA, andThe Rumpus, among many others.  He lives in San Francisco and teaches in the MFA program at USF.

Michelle Richmond

Michelle Richmond is the author of the New York Times bestseller The Year of Fog, currently under option with Battleplan Productions; the novels No One You Know and Dream of the Blue Room; and the award-winning story collection The Girl in the Fall-Away Dress. In Fall 2012, she held the Catherine Julie Cunningham Chair at Notre Dame de Namur University. She is the founder and publisher of Fiction Attic Press.

Susan Steinberg

Susan Steinberg is the author of the story collections Hydroplane and The End of Free Love, and her third collection, Spectacle, is forthcoming from Graywolf Press. Her stories have appeared in McSweeney’s, Conjunctions, The Gettysburg Review, American Short Fiction, Boulevard, Quarterly West, Denver Quarterly, and The Massachusetts Review, and she has been the recipient of a Pushcart Prize and a National Magazine Award. She was the 2010 United States Artists Ziporyn Fellow in Literature. She has a BFA in Painting from the Maryland Institute College of Art and an MFA in English from The University of Massachusetts, Amherst.  She is Professor of English at the University of San Francisco.

Ryan Van Meter

Ryan Van Meter is the author of the essay collection, If You Knew Then What I Know Now (2011). His work has appeared in The Gettysburg Review, Iowa Review, The Normal School Magazine, Ninth Letter, and Fourth Genre, among others, and has been selected for anthologies including Best American Essays 2009. A recent finalist for the Lambda Literary Award, he has also been awarded residencies by The MacDowell Colony and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts.


BUT WAIT, that’s not all! Come out early (you know what they say about early birds) to the Litcrawl (October 13) at  6pm to Four Barrel Coffee, 375 Valencia Street, SF for Tzara’s Hat: Five Writers, Five New Works.

Tristan Tzara knew something about the creative power of community and constraint. During a Dadaist rally in the 1920s, Tzara offered to create a work on the spot by pulling words at random from a hat. The exercise became a well-known surrealism technique, and when applied to flash fiction it works quite effectively by pulling the words from a hat at timed intervals, which must be immediately incorporated into the story being drafted. Come hear the results, at Tzara’s Hat, where five writers will read five new flash fiction works of no more than 750 words.

Peg Alford Pursell‘s fiction has appeared in the Los Angeles Review, Staccato Fiction, Annalemma, Emprise Review & others. She’s an editor & lit reading series curator.

Daniel Levin Becker is reviews editor of The Believer and the youngest member of the Paris-based Oulipo collective.

Ethel Rohan is the author of Hard to Say and Cut Through the Bone. She has published in World Literature TodayTin House Online, The Rumpus, & elsewhere.

Janey Smith is the writer of The Snow Poems (forthcoming, NAP) and Animals (Plain Wrap Press). Her writing may be found all over the internet.

Olga Zilberbourg writes fiction set in San Francisco, St. Petersburg, Russia, and places between. Her work’s appeared in Narrative MagazineSanta Monica Review, HTMLGiant, and others.

~LAST, Bonus! Join us for Litquake’s Barely Published Authors: October 6 at 7pm $5 at the door, when Nancy Au reads, as selected by Why There Are Words & North Bay Writers.



Why There Are Words Literary Reading Series presents “Underneath”

Posted in readings, Sausalito by whytherearewords on July 15, 2012

Why There Are Words Literary Reading Series presents the following readers on the theme Underneath August 9 at Studio 333 in Sausalito, 7-9pm. $5. Join us for an extraordinary night as seven authors reveal worlds underneath words.

Melissa Cistaro

Melissa Cistaro’s stories have been published in the New Ohio Review, Brevity, Anderbo.com, Sparkle and Blink, the KQED Perspectives series, and in the anthology Cherished: 21 Writers on Animals They Have Loved and Lost.  Her essay “The Undertow” was a semi-finalist in Children’s Hospital & Research Center Oakland’s Notes & Words essay contest.

David Corbett

David Corbett is the author of four novels: The Devil’s Redhead, Done for a Dime (a New York Times Notable Book), Blood of Paradise (nominated for numerous awards, including the Edgar), and Do They Know I’m Running (Spinetingler Award, Best Novel Rising Star Category 2011). His short fiction and poetry have appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies, with two stories selected for Best American Mystery Stories (2009 and 2011). In May 2012, Mysterious Press/Open Road Media re-issued his first two novels plus a story collection in ebook format, and Penguin will publish his textbook on the craft of characterization The Art of Character in January 2013.

Jennifer duBois

Jennifer duBois is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and recently completed a Stegner Fellowship at Stanford University. Her fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Playboy, The Missouri Review, The Kenyon Review, ZYZZYVA, The Northwest Review, and elsewhere. Her first novel, A Partial History of Lost Causes, was published by The Dial Press in March 2012.

C.J. Hribal is the author of the novel The Company Car, which received the Anne Powers Book Award, and the novel American Beauty.  He’s also the author of the short fiction collections Matty’s Heart and The Clouds in Memphis, which won the AWP Award for Short Fiction, and he edited The Boundaries of Twilight: Czecho-Slovak Writing from the New World. He has held Fellowships from the NEA, the Bush, and from the Guggenheim Foundations, and has twice won the Sternig Award for Short Fiction.  He is the Louise Edna Goeden Professor of English at Marquette University, and is a member of the fiction faculty at the Warren Wilson College MFA Program for Writers.

Kara Levy

Kara Levy’s fiction appears in Alaska Quarterly Review, Mississippi Review Prize Issue 2009, TriQuarterly, Zen Monster, Drunken Boat, the Huffington Post, and Narrative, where she was a winner of the 30Below Prize for writers under 30. A graduate of the MFA program at Columbia University, she was a recent Steinbeck Fellow in Fiction at the Center for Steinbeck Studies in San Jose. She lives in San Francisco.

Wendy Merrill

Wendy Merrill’s memoir, Falling into Manholes: The Memoir of a Bad/Good Girl (Putnam 2008), was sold at the Maui Writers Conference in 2006. Her personal essays also appear in the anthology Single Woman of a Certain Age (Inner Ocean, 2006) and, Single State of the Union (Seal Press, 2007). She is described by Anne Lamott as “a wonderful new voice — smart, funny, and wildly real.” She founded WAM Marketing Group, a unique marketing communications company based in Sausalito, where she currently lives above ground and beyond her means.

Frances Stroh

Frances Stroh is an installation artist turned writer who lived and worked in London for two years on a Fulbright Grant. She is writing a memoir entitled “Fire-Brewed: The Fall of the Stroh’s Beer Family” about her family who made beer in Detroit for a hundred and fifty years. Her work has appeared in Rosebud and on her blog, Irritable Brain Syndrome. She struggles mightily to employ Twitter in creative ways but enjoys the process.

Why There Are Words Literary Reading Series presents “After All”

Posted in readings, Sausalito by whytherearewords on June 18, 2012

Why There Are Words Literary Reading Series presents the following readers on the theme After All July 12 at Studio 333 in Sausalito, 7-9pm. $5. Join us as seven authors share stories big and small. It’s why there are words after all!

Lauren Becker

Lauren Becker is editor of Corium Magazine. Her work has appeared in The Los Angeles Review, Opium, Hobart, Juked and some other nice places. Her collection of short fiction is included in the anthology Shut Up/Look Pretty (Tiny Hardcore Press, 2012). She lives in Oakland, where she hosts the reading series, East Bay on the Brain. She has never been nominated for a Pushcart Prize.

Joe Clifford

Joe Clifford’s work has appeared in Big Bridge, the Connecticut Review, Drunken Boat, Fringe, Opium, Thuglit, Word Riot, and Underground Voices, among others. A collection of short stories, Choice Cuts, and his noir novel Wake the Undertaker will be published by Snubnose Press this year. He is the producer of Lip Service West, a “gritty, real, raw” reading series in Oakland. He has been to jail but never prison.

Sere Prince Halverson

Sere Prince Halverson is the author of The Underside of Joy (Dutton, January 2012), translated into fifteen languages. She worked as a copywriter and creative director for 20 years while she wrote fiction and raised kids. She and her husband have four children, and live in Northern California.

Joy Lanzendorfer

Joy Lanzendorfer’s work has appeared in Hotel Amerika, Necessary Fiction, Word Riot, Salon, the San Francisco Chronicle, Entrepreneur, Bust, and others. She completed an MA in Creative Writing at San Francisco State University, where she served on the editorial board for Fourteen Hills. Her chapbook The End of the World as I Know It won runner-up for the Michael Rubin Chapbook Award at SFSU. For the last five years, she has been a judge in the Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards. She just completed her first novel.

Ericka Lutz

Ericka Lutz is the author of the recently published novel The Edge of Maybe. Her seven non-fiction books include On the Go with Baby and The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Stepparenting, and her short fiction and creative non-fiction have appeared in numerous books, anthologies, and journals, including Literary Mama, Because I Love Her, Paris: A Love Story, and Green Mountains Review. She won the Boston Fiction Festival in 2006 with her story “Deer Story,” and was a two-time fellow at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. Her full-length solo show “A Widow’s To-Do List” is in development. She teaches writing at U.C. Berkeley. She is currently writing a second novel based in Oakland about family ties… but this one has ghosts.

Aimee Phan

Aimee Phan is the author of The Reeducation of Cherry Truong (St. Martin’s Press, March 2012). Her first book, We Should Never Meet, was awarded the Association for Asian American Studies Book Award in Prose, a Notable Book by the Kiryama Prize in fiction, and a finalist for the Asian American Literary Awards. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, USA Today, and The Oregonian, among others. A 2010 National Endowment of the Arts Creative Writing Fellow, she received her MFA from the University of Iowa, where she won a Maytag Fellowship. She teaches in the MFA Program in Writing and Writing and Literature Program at California College of the Arts.

Eric Sasson

Eric Sasson’s story collection Margins of Tolerance (Livingston Press, May 2012) was the 2011 Tartt First Fiction Award runner-up. His story “Floating” was a finalist for the Robert Olen Butler prize. Other publication credits include Explosion Proof, BLOOM, Nashville Review, The Puritan, Liquid Imagination, Alligator Juniper, Trans, The Ledge, MARY magazine, and THE2NDHAND, among others. He’s taught fiction writing at the Sackett Street Writers Workshop and lives in Brooklyn.

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