Zinzi Clemmons's What We Lose is about many things, but most profoundly it's about the death of the narrator's mother, examining the loss in ways that are both unusual and devastating.
The structure of the book is slightly unusual. The story follows the same character and seems to always employ the same voice, yet sections are distinct, even fragmented, and chronology is loose. Interspersed with narrative passages are philosophical musings, historical analyses, journalistic essays, and even a few graphs. They're all about the novel's themes, but they don't build in the way most of us are used to. I'd like to look at some techniques Clemmons uses to hold this book together, despite the disparate-seeming parts.
“I write professionally,” I told her. “I’m a freelancer.”
She gave a sniff. “What, are you a trust fund baby or something?”
The question bothered me so much that I spent most of the next morning brooding about it, dreaming up responses I could say to her as soon as I had access to a time machine. I pictured a soapbox speech about how I achieved my dreams through hard work and elbow grease, and she could too, damn it! Anyone could...right?
Something scritch-scratched at the walls of my indignation.
Could anyone pick up freelance writing?
"As a young Hmong writer, I wanted to read other Hmong writers. I wanted to know if they were struggling, with their moms and cultures. I started this literary arts magazine and the only people I could convince to do free work were college kids. In not finding Hmong writers and voices in even the Asian American anthologies, and having these social scientists study us and speak for us, it was important for me and other Hmong writers to be able to tell stories in our own voices."
“What is the importance of poetry to youth? And what is its overall benefit to youth development?”
One of my favorite responses to that question is to describe my experience with a long-standing Chicagoan youth spoken word forum known as Young Chicago Authors (YCA).
In a darkly lit room in west end Chicago, nestled above a weathered green building with an almost comically placed “New Fish” shop sits Young Chicago Authors (YCA)—a home away from home for many youth coming from Chicago public schools that aim to refine their unabashed lyrical and literary sound.
One of my favorite parts of being an agent is seeing my authors celebrate the release of their books. It’s like Christmas, except it’s a figurative Book Christmas and it can happen almost any day of the year.
Yet what’s not often discussed is all the time it takes before those books reach readers and bookshelves. Many people and many steps lead to this happening, but also one important key in this process is the timing, specifically when publishers decide to release any book into the world.
Jesmyn Ward's Salvage the Bones is the story of a family caught in Hurricane Katrina. It's also about lost mothers, new mothers, dogs, and community. The narrator is Esch, a fifteen-year-old girl who is newly and secretly pregnant and who grieves deeply for her mother, who died a long time ago.
I'm interested in the way Esch's memories of her mother affect her storytelling style and the greater narrative.
April Gibson is a poet, essayist, and educator whose work has appeared in Pluck!, Valley Voices, Tidal Basin Review, Literary Mama, and elsewhere. She has received a Loft Mentor Series Award in Poetry, a Vermont Studio Center Residency, and is a fellow of The Watering Hole Poetry Retreat, a VONA/Voices Writing Workshop fellow, and a Callaloo Creative Writing Workshop fellow. Her chapbook, Automation (2015), was published by Willow Books as part of their emerging poet and writer series. Her current project is a full-length poetry collection titled The Black Woman Press Conference. I met April some years ago at a reading at Common Good Books and I was immediately struck by her poetry’s force and grace. It was my pleasure to interview this bright, bold light about her recent and in-progress performance and poetic work.
Katie Kitamura's The Longshot is about a mixed martial arts fighter who has a rematch with the first fighter who ever beat him, back when he was winning, and he hasn't really been a winner since. It's about the journey from the top of a career to understanding himself as something else.
Good writing about competitive sports makes bodies present and physical, but still acknowledges the brain's involvement and the games it plays. In elite athletics, the mind and the body act together, but they might also work against each other. The Longshot makes that strange and nuanced mind/body relationship come alive.
Working with another author on a book idea can be life-changing experience. Writing can be a satisfying yet isolating experience; the possibility of writing and creating a book with another person can present opportunities to learn more about the writing process, while sharing individual knowledge and successes with one another.
"I think everyone has the capacity to be an artist. Unfortunately, we live in a society where it feels like only certain gifted people get to be artists. It’s been fascinating for me as a teaching artist to work with, for example, youth and senior citizens to create artwork. Some people have amazing stories, or are amazing performers. The difference between them and someone like me is that they never had a platform to try things out. I feel like I’m in a position where I can share resources, like, “Hey, I’ve got a gig. Do you want to perform?” In that way, I’ve been trying to amplify more voices."