Thursday, March 28, 2013

What I've Been Reading

So far, 2013 has a been a year full of reading. I challenged myself to read fifty books this year and it's only March and I've already read twenty-five. I feel energized and renewed by living here in New York City with so many great bookstores all around me. I just keep buying books, which has kept me reading and reading and reading some more. I wanted to take a moment and highlight a few of my favorites so far.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

 I don't read a lot of non-fiction books, but this one caught my attention when it came out and I heard an interview with the author on FreshAir. It took me awhile to get to it, but this year I did and I couldn't put it down. It tells the true story of Henrietta Lacks who was a black woman who died of cancer in the fifties, but before her death a sample of her cells was taken and became the first cells scientists could keep alive (making them immortal and extremely valuable). Her cells have been used ever since to help with every major medical advancement of the last 60 years. The book examines how no one got permission and her family, a very poor and uneducated family, didn't even know what had happened until the 1970s. Skloot's book is personal, informative, and thought-provoking. She does an amazing job of balancing the various strands of the story and making you question how we view science and privacy issues. I highly recommend it.

Appetite by Aaron Smith

This collection of poems was a quick and exciting read. As a lover of pop culture in poetry, I appreciated so much of what Smith does in this book. My favorite section was the third part, which is a long poem called "I Love the Part." It goes through all of these scenes from a wide range of movies and says what the speaker likes about them. As they build, we get more and more of a glimpse into the speaker and it makes you think about your own experience as a viewer. Smith's book isn't afraid to look at the dirty or ugly parts of our thoughts. I'm proud to be a finalist along side this book for both the Thom Gunn Poetry Award and for the Lambda Literary Award in Gay Poetry.

Render by Collin Kelley

This is another great release from my press Sibling Rivalry (okay, maybe I'm bias). Kelley's book is a very well put together collection that feels like a story unfolding. The poems build on each other in interesting ways, yet each still remains a solid piece on its own. The idea of capturing moments is central to this book as is the overall photographic theme that runs through it, yet Kelley is an accomplished poet who doesn't let this get out of hand or become a gimmick. A lot of the poems focus on the speaker's parents and their relationship throughout various periods. My favorites include "Wonder Woman," "My Mother Demonstrates How to Escape From a Plane Crash," and "Broken Things."

Blowout by Denise Duhamel

This was one of my great finds at AWP. I didn't realize Duhamel had a new book, so when I saw it, I immediately bought it. I love Duhamel's work and she's served as an influence to me in what I try to accomplish through narrative poems. This book is no exception. It's humorous, honest, and heart-breaking. The book focuses heavily on divorce and the breaking down and moving on that comes with it. What I admire about Duhamel is how she plays with the speaker, which is a version of herself (much like I do in a lot of my work). The poems often highlight her own insecurities and the insecurities about writing "personal" poetry. This is highlighted in the knockout poem "Takeout, 2008."

-Stephen (Reader)

Monday, March 11, 2013

AWP: Snow, Friends, and Award News

I feel as if I'm just starting to emerge from a rather unbelievable state of excitement. The last few days have been surprising and wonderful. Going to AWP is always a crazy experience. Being surrounded by that many writers in one place is both fun and overwhelming. My AWP experience, however, was shaped quite a bit by the news I received last Wednesday morning when I was preparing to head to Boston.

On Wednesday, I found out that my book, He Do the Gay Man in Different Voices, is a finalist for the Lambda Literary Awards and the Thom Gunn Poetry Award. This was a surprising way to start AWP. These are two great honors and I was truly shocked to be a finalist for both. I'm up against some very accomplished poets and have the added honor of being the first from my press (Sibling Rivalry) to be a finalist for either award.

Going into AWP with this news was great. I truly appreciate all of the congratulations I received online and in person from friends and strangers alike and if anyone said anything hateful about it behind my back, I appreciate it even more (you haven't made it until people start hating you). It was extra exciting to get to celebrate this news with parts of my SRP family including Bryan Borland. Working with Bryan and Sibling Rivalry has been an amazing experience and to have my book get this recognition is truly amazing. I'm so proud of the book and the work that was put into it by me and the press. Bryan gave me so much control of the process and made sure we were putting together the best book possible and for that I'm extremely thankful. The Thom Gunn Award winner with be announced in April and the Lammys are in June. Both take place in New York, so I'll easily be able to attend both ceremonies.

This year's AWP was a snowy one. Boston welcomed us with a snowstorm that provided my friend Jaclyn (a Floridian) with the opportunity to make her first snowball. It was great to spend time with her and see so many of my other friends. I also met new people and finally got to see some of you face to face after being friends online. The convention center in Boston was a nice location. It was a much bigger space than last year's Chicago AWP. You could actually breathe in the book fair. I picked up quite a few books and journals and went to a few interesting panels (including a trans reading and a deaf reading).

On Thursday evening, I attended and read at a giant queer reading called Queertopia (perhaps one of the biggest queer readings at AWP ever?). It was a great opportunity to mingle with the queers and hear some poetry. I also never pass up a chance to make a girl cry by reading my fisting poem (this actually happened).

By Saturday the snow had stopped and Jaclyn and I made our way to Harvard and spent the day enjoying the sights. Oh and on Friday I had the best cannoli ever at Mike's Pastry Shop in the North End.

AWP was a great success. I'm still in a bit of shock as I get back to normal life (well, is my life ever really normal?). I'm excited for all that is ahead and for all the places my first book has taken me.

-Stephen (High)