Interview with FC2 author George Choundas

Cvr_Choundas_mktgThe Making Sense of Things by George Choundas is a collection of twelve stories that pulse with memory, magic, and myth—all our favorite ways of trying to make sense of things.

Winner of Fiction Collective Two’s Ronald Sukenick Innovative Fiction Prize, Choundas’ stories are filled with vivid and unforgettable characters. A fiercely independent woman puts the man who loves her to unconscionable tests, never guessing that arson, suicide, and canine obesity will yield a magical kind of happiness. A honeymooner in Venice, addled by fever and second thoughts, commits by dumb error a double murder. A brisk lawyer founders when a car wreck claims his son and ex-wife, then discovers that the desperation of grief is a kind of hope.

The following is an interview with Choundas conducted by UAP intern Simran Mahbubani.

As a corporate litigator and former FBI agent, were you always interested in writing or did the practice sneak up on you?

My mother’s a reading teacher. On weekdays she taught reading at P.S. 27 in the South Bronx. On weekends she taught a love of reading to her son. He, in turn, spent thousands of boy-hours spooning up peanut butter with one hand and pages of Treasure Island with the other.

Now, you may be a person who worships books. You may think of reading not as pleasant or edifying or comparable to any number of nice things like swimming and stapling things together, but as central. If you’re that sort of person, then what verb is big and strange enough for how you feel about writing? Authorship for the book-lover is a heady and ridiculous notion. It’s not totally comprehensible. And because the best parts of life are the absurd ones and the impossible ones, I guess writing seemed to me like something to take a crack at.

Put another way, reading’s a kind of magic. A writer sitting at a sauce-smeared kitchen table puts words on a page. That page detonates thoughts and feelings in a perfect stranger miles away. How do you do one end of that experience and not say about the other, Me want try that?

Have any experiences from your FBI days found their way into your stories?Photo_2015-01-26_2 of 2

Not yet. Maybe some day.

Your stories are a wonderful mix of sci-fi, mystery, and fairy tale with a dose of realism. What works and authors inspired you to write in such diverse genres?

“Wonderful” is a nice word. Thank you.

Spanish was my first language. (My reading teacher is Cuban.) In college I read a lot in Spanish by a trinity of very special authors: Jorge Luis Borges, Gabriel García Márquez, and Julio Cortázar.

At around the same time, I took a course in American contemporary fiction. I read a lot in English by a different trinity: Raymond Carver, Tobias Wolff, and Ethan Canin.

This bilingual bunch of authors merged and crackled and did something permanent to my head. Ever since, when I read fiction, it’s like I’m snooping over the author’s shoulder. A sweet-ass modifier will distract me for three pages when I’m supposed to be paying attention to the plot. I’ve got this deep, other-level admiration for writers who can do it all—you know, the kinds of writers who can push into fantastical settings and dare us not to believe what they’re telling us and then, because the storytelling is perfect and the wordsmithing is awesome, make us feel it anyway.

Like Katherine Dunn and her novel Geek Love. That is a freaking decathlon of a book. Anything you can do she could do better. And then she did some things you wouldn’t dare. There’s a special clutch of books that, at least for me, risk more than seems possible and then don’t just pull it off but spray up a cloud of awe as you nose through the pages: like Ursula Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea and China Miéville’s Perdido Street Station and Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things and Richard Hughes’ A High Wind in Jamaica and Homer’s Iliad. Continue reading

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The Road South by BJ Hollars

Jkt_Hollars_mktgAuthor B.J. Hollars will be traveling to Alabama to later this month to celebrate the publication of his new book The Road South: Personal Stories of the Freedom Riders. Hollars will be reading from and discussing his new book at several events across the state including the Freedom Rides Museum in Montgomery. Signed copies will be available for sale at all venues and events.

While much has been written on the Freedom Rides, far less has been published about the individual riders. Join award-wining author B.J. Hollars as he sets out on his own journey to meet them, retracing the historic route and learning the stories of as many surviving riders as he could. The Road South offers an intimate look into the lives and legacies of the riders. Throughout the book these civil rights veterans poignant, personal stories offer timely insights into America’s racial past and hopeful future.

Weaving the past and present, Hollars aims to demystify the legendary journey, while also confronting more modern concerns related to race in America. The Road South is part memoir and part research-based journalism. It transcends the textbook version of this historical journey to highlight the fascinating stories of the many riders–both black and white–who risked their lives to move the country forward.

A graduate of the University of Alabama’s MFA program, Hollars is excited to return to Alabama. “I’m thrilled to return to my former home to share a story that means so much to our nation: how a group of people boarded buses and forever changed America.” He goes on, saying, “The Freedom Riders’ stories are more than an inspiring story of the past, it’s a path forward, too. There are so many lessons we can learn from their sacrifice and commitment to the cause of civil rights.”

Hollars is an associate professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. He Hollars_Author_Photois also the author of several books including Thirteen Loops: Race, Violence and the Last Lynching in America; Opening the Doors: The Desegregation of the University of Alabama and the Fight for Civil Rights in Tuscaloosa; Flock Together: A Love Affair With Extinct Birds; From the Mouths of Dogs: What Our Pets Teach Us about Life, Death, and Being Human, among others. Visit bjollars.com for more information.

Hollars will be appearing and talking about his book at the following times and locations:

Praise for The Road South

“At various points personal quest, memoir, travelogue, and oral history, B. J. Hollars’ The Road South is a fine and important contribution to our understanding of the Freedom Riders, what motivated them, how their participation in the movement shaped them, and how they shaped America.”
—Derek Charles Catsam, author of Freedom’s Main Line: The Journey of Reconciliation and the Freedom Rides

“By undertaking his own journey of reconciliation, author B. J. Hollars brings fresh relevance to the history of the 1961 Freedom Rides. His compelling and creative melding of past with present reminds us that extraordinary actions by fiercely determined young people have—and still can—change the world. This inspiring tribute to citizens who transformed America during the turbulent times of the 1960s, brings a road into view that beckons us anew to travel the distance for freedom.”
—Ann Bausum, author of Freedom Riders: John Lewis and Jim Zwerg on the Front Lines of the Civil Rights Movement

“From the opening interview with Jim Zwerg all the way to the end, I felt as if I were getting to know these historical figures better than I had in the past, and I have interviewed several of them myself.”
—Frye Gaillard, author of Cradle of Freedom: Alabama and the Movement that Changed America and Alabama’s Civil Rights Trail: An Illustrated Guide to the Cradle of Freedom

Calligraphy Typewriters: The Selected Poems of Larry Eigner

Cvr_Eigner_mktgLarry Eigner began writing poetry at age eight and was first published at age nine. Revered by poets and artists across a broad spectrum of generations and schools, Eigner’s remarkably moving poetry was created through enormous effort: because of severe physical disabilities, he produced his texts by typing with only one index finger and thumb on a 1940 Royal manual typewriter, creating a body of work that is unparalleled in its originality.

Calligraphy Typewriters: The Selected Poems of Larry Eigner showcases the most celebrated of Eigner’s several thousand poems, which are an important part of the Black Mountain/Projectivist movement that began in the 1950s and which remain a primary inspiration for many younger writers, including those in the Language movement that began in the 1970s. In its two sections—Swampscott and Berkeley, named for the two locales where Eigner lived and worked—the volume traces his fantastic perception of the ordinary and his zeal for language. Eigner’s use of visual space, metaphor, and description provide fascinating insights into both his own life and the world that surrounded him. This volume maintains the distinctive visual spacing of his original typescripts, reminders of his method, aesthetic sensibility, and creative ability to compose on the typewriter.

A collection that reimagines the ordinary, Calligraphy Typewriters is the definitive selection of Eigner’s poems, and will serve well not only poets and students of poetry, but readers and writers of every vein.

• • •

Widely respected American poet Larry Eigner, the author of over 75 books and Eigner_AuthorPhotoBW broadsides, was born “palsied from hard birth” (as he phrased it) in Lynn, Massachusetts, on August 7, 1927. With the exception of two teenage years in residence at the Massachusetts Hospital School in Canton, Eigner spent his first fifty years at home in his parents’ house in Swampscott, Massachusetts, where he was cared for by his mother, Bessie, and his father, Israel, and where he came to do his writing in a space prepared for him on the glassed-in front porch basically every day.

Curtis Faville has worked as a teacher, editor, and publisher with degrees in English, creative writing, and landscape architecture. He has published four collections of poetry—Stanzas for an Evening Out, Ready, Wittgenstein’s Door, and Metro—as well as books by Bill Berkson, Ted Greenwald, and Larry Eigner, among others, under the L Publications/Compass Rose Books imprint. He maintains an eclectic blog, The Compass Rose.

Poet, essayist, and visual artist Robert Grenier has taught literature and creative writing at UC Berkeley, Tufts, Franconia College, and Mills College. He edited Robert Creeley’s first Selected Poems for Scribner’s, and subsequently edited three books of poems by Larry Eigner: Waters / Places / A Time; Windows / Walls / Yard / Ways; and readiness / enough / depends / on. Working with Eigner, Grenier completed the preparation of some 1,800 “established texts” of Eigner’s poems. An archive of Grenier’s own work—the Robert Grenier Papers—is housed in Stanford University’s Green Library.