in my dream I was trying to describe the book Special Topics in Calamity Physics to someone, but I couldn’t remember the title, and I turned into something very long, that ended in, “the Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.” Someone was trying to remember along with me, someone else, and we said that second title at the same time, delighted that we’d been able to remember — then I said, but it isn’t that book, the Oscar Wao, it’s a different story.
I just finished putting together the chapbook for this year’s Body Heat tour, which begins Saturday in Atlanta! This one is entitled “what they didn’t teach us.” I’ll check the proof at the printers today and then pick up the books later today or tomorrow. This is the third chapbook I’ve self-produced, and the tone of the pieces in this one is different from the earlier chapbooks, more essay-ish, and maybe more serious. Not that the other ones weren’t serious, but there’s more creative nonfiction than fiction this time around. I pulled several of the pieces from the blog, actually, and so I want to thank you for that, for being out there, for reading, for responding. I haven’t been writing a lot of erotic fiction, and so when the time came to gather up material for my chapbook, I was afraid that I wouldn’t have anything, that I’d have to recycle old stuff, or put in pieces that I’d rejected in earlier years. Then I went back through the blog, and found “what they didn’t teach us” and “pretty” and “under a genderqueering microscope” and realized/rememebred that I had been working with material here. Often, after workshops, if there’s a piece that especially resonated for me, I know that one way I can bring it out of the notebook and into the world is here on the blog, and so thank you.
Let me tell you more about this: Special Topics in Calamity Physics is an amazing book, the kind you sink your teeth and body into. It’s multi-genre (part mystery, part straight literary fiction, part encyclopedia, part textbook, part college course), which I always appreciate, it has a girl at the center and fully embodies that time, high school, for a very smart girl who’s trying to understand herself, her family and her life. There are visual aids, a difficult relationship with a father, stunningly dense prose that emerges from the mouth of a young woman; it’s a dense book, over 500 pages, and one I could hardly stop reading.
Speaking, though, of National Poetry Month and National Sexual Assault and Prevention Month, do you know Sapphire’s American Dreams? You’ve heard of PUSH, by now, I’m sure, whether you’ve read it or now (which you should) — that’s the one that the movie Precious was based on. Before PUSH, she published American Dreams, a collection of poetry and prose that was absolutely stunning for me as a reader. She writes vividly about sexual violence, she writes persona pieces that get into the heads of both victims and perpetrators (there are pieces about the Central Park jogger who, it had been widely reported, had been gang raped by a group of young boys, and a piece about Tawana Brawley), she writes intensely about race and violence as an interconnected thing, and then there are the pieces about sex, about desire and difficulty, and what I felt when I read this book was that there was a place for that kind of writing — what I so appreciate about American Dreams (which is a painful read, and powerful at the same time) is the room she makes for complexity, for naming all the layers of an experience: the love for father, for instance, and understanding of the brutality he suffers in the world while also clearly describing, naming, his violence and sexual assault. toward his children.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower is another book that I want to be able to tell you about — I read it, I think, one year after tour, when we ended in LA and I went to stay with my sister, who had the book on her bookshelf. It’s written in a series of letters, like The Color Purple, only these letters, instead of being written to god, are written to someone the character knows only a little bit, a friend of a friend, someone they maybe met once, so there’s some thread of real-life connection between the people, but not enough to inhibit the character/letter-writer out of saying what they need to say. It’s a slim book (I read it in nearly one sitting) about a young teenage boy wrangling for connection and self-understanding, who has stories to tell and no one to tell them to, who has secrets, there are things revealed that I didn’t expect and that made a kind of sense of his isolation but then also hadn’t defined it, and for that I was so grateful. He has friends and connections, though his best friend recently committed suicide — there’s something really heart-wrenching for me, and familiar, about a character who does have some people to talk to, but needs this other venue to really spill his heart out in, a different sort of interlocutor, someone who won’t cut him off or judge. It’s a beautiful exploration of depression, written for a young adult audience — and it was that latter fact that opened me to the book. How many books out there (maybe more than I know!) deal so matter-of-factly with the issues tackled in this book: sexuality, drugs, relationships, suicide, sexual assault — at least when I was a teenager, I didn’t find books like this, and I wish that I could have. I’m grateful for it now.
What are the books, the stories, the poems, that have stayed with you, that have been as necessary for you (or for your character) as meals? Could you write about one of those books for 10 or 15 minutes today, tell me about that relationship?
Thank you for your healing, for your reaching out, even imperceptibly, thank you for the writing you do that effects change even if it never comes out of your notebook or computer. Thank you for your words.