Friday, December 30, 2011

Best of the Small Press 2011: Day 9.2

Poet Kris Collins reads at Awesome Books, Pittsburgh.
September 2011.

More small press recommendations today come from Kris Collins, one of Pittsburgh's small press movers and shakers. I think of Kris as "the bard of Pittsburgh" because I love the tavern's-eye view of the city found in his poems about his artist and writer friends gathered around beer, hope, smoke, frustration, and transition. Not only does he write richly moody scenes evoking the ghosts of Pittsburgh's past peeking through as the former "Steel City" aggressively remakes it present, but he chronicles the last few decades of the city's bohemians as well as anyone I've heard or read. His most serious competition may be the authors he's started publishing on his small press of limited edition poetry books: Low Ghost Press features two of Pittsburgh's most keen-eyed poets, John Grochalski (now a 'Burgh ex-pat living in New York) and Bob Pajich. Kris doesn't care about competition. He'll even read poems by other people at his own readings.

Kris manages one of my favorite bookstores in town, Caliban Books, and runs Desolation Row Records out of that store. He has been an active member of The New Yinzer litmag for several years and co-hosted their reading series with writer Savannah Schroll Guz for its first few seasons.


1. Past All Traps, Don Wentworth (Six Gallery Press)

2. Spared, Angele Ellis (Main Street Rag)

3. Six Stories, David Lewis (The National Folk Art Foundation)

Kris Collins
Editor of Low Ghost Press

Recommended reading: John Grochalski on Low Ghost Press.

Best of the Small Press 2011: Day 9.1

Today's small press recommendations come from J.C. Hallman, author of fiction and non-fiction. He came to Pittsburgh in September to read his riveting prose piece, "Spate and Spite," as the runner-up winner of a contest to write about The Night. His story looked back on his time as a casino employee in Atlantic City, while he recalled a run of suicides in that gambling town. The writing was excellent. It was not like what I think of as memoir; it was more like he used his casino-worker (former) self as a character in a meditative novel, a dark lens through which to attempt to comprehend who jumps from hotel roofs in Atlantic City and why. Or who works too long in a windowless casino and why. The piece also employed journalism, weaving seamlessly in and out of stories about the deceased and stories of the casino.

The event was hosted by Creative Nonfiction, the first literary journal to devote itself exclusively to this genre, almost 20 years ago. Founded by Lee Gutkind (who also started the first MFA program for Creative Nonfiction), CNF is a great resource for writers and readers of this evolving genre, and the most well-known journal based in Pittsburgh. At the reading (which was also a release party for issue #42), the editors announced a worldwide circulation of 6,000.


1. To Assume a Pleasing Shape, Joseph Salvatore (BOA Editions)
2. Married But Looking, Daniel Libman (Livingston Press)

Recommended by J.C. Hallman
Author of The Hospital for Bad Poets (Milkweed Editions) and In Utopia (St. Martin's Press)

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Best of the Small Press 2011: Day 8.2

More small press recommendations today come from Steve Himmer. Steve's own allegorical novel about the limits of solitude in a networked world, The Bee-Loud Glade (Atticus Books) has landed on numerous Best of 2011 lists: Namely on Jen Michalski's list earlier on this blog, as well as lists by Mel Bosworth, Sal Pane, Books on the Night Stand, NPR's On Point, Three Guys One Book, Book Page, and on the longlist for 3 AM Novel of the Year. See more here:

Steve, who is based outside of Boston, came to Pittsburgh this year to read at The New Yinzer Presents series, along with a formidable small press lineup: Noah Gershman (Snail Press), Derek Pollard (BlazeVOX), and Traci O Connor (Tarpaulin Sky Press).


1. TomorrowLand, Grant Bailie (Red Giant Books)
2. Tongue Party, Sara Rose Etter (Caketrain Press)
3. How The Days of Love & Diphtheria, Robert Kloss (Mud Luscious Press)

Recommended by Steve Himmer
Author of The Bee-Loud Glade and editor of Necessary Fiction

Best of the Small Press 2011: Day 8.1

Tour poster for Anders Nilsen and his graphic novel Big Questions (Drawn & Quarterly).

In July, Chicago-based cartoonist and illustrator Anders Nilsen embarked on a lengthy book tour, hitting four countries in three months. His 600-page magnum opus, Big Questions, is the culmination of ten years of his drawings, and much-anticipated by the fans of this celebrated artist. In September he stopped in Pittsburgh (with Marc Bell) for a standing-room-only event at Copacetic Comics and (its downstairs neighbor) Lili Coffee Shop. Copacetic is one of Pittsburgh's great bookstores for a number of reasons, not least because owner Bill Boichel is a tireless champion of indie comics.

Today. Anders makes his 2011 small press recommendations, based on three months of browsing many of the world's best comic bookstores.


1. Viande de Chevet, Various artists; Stephane Blanquet, Editor (UDA Press)
2. Going Back, Cathy G. Johnson (Self-published)
3. Quodlibet, Katja Spitzer (Nobrow)

Recommended by Anders Nilsen
Author of Big Questions (Drawn & Quarterly, 2011)

Marc Bell, Bill Boichel, and Anders Nilsen outside of Lili Coffee Shop and Copacetic Comics. September 13, 2011. Photo by Larry Rippel.

Browsing at Copacetic Comics, Pittsburgh.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Best of the Small Press 2011: Day 7.2

Thirteen Designer Vaginas: Poems by Juliet Cook on
Hyacinth Girl Press.

Juliet Cook is relentless, and readers like me are thankful for it. This Columbus, Ohio-based poet keeps finding new ways to write about the body, the feminine, and the macabre, as she explores and fine-tunes her unique voice. She's also the master of the chapbook, as the editor of Blood Pudding Press, where she's been known to publish both herself and others. The latest chapbook of her own poems is Thirteen Designer Vaginas, which appeared this year on a new Pittsburgh chapbook press, Hyacinth Girl Press. Pittsburgh poet Margaret Bashaar (co-founder of The TypewriterGirls Poetry Cabaret) is the editor of this new undertaking. Margaret has also started a new Pittsburgh reading series. Titled the 2 by 4 Reading Series, these literary evenings are designed to promote and present collaborative writings: four reading sets by two writers each. The first 2 x 4 Reading happened in October 2011 and included Juliet Cook teamed up with Margaret herself.


1. many lost cause creatures could form a very sad list, Krystal Languell (Dusie Kollektiv 5)

2. the last will be stone, too (excerpts), Deborah Poe (Dusie Kollektiv 5)

3. BARCELONA POEMS, Mark Lamoureux (Dusie Kollektiv 5)

Recommended by Juliet Cook
Author of POST–STROKE (Dusie Kollektiv 5) & Thirteen Designer Vaginas (Hyacinth Girl Press) and more at

Best of the Small Press 2011: Day 7.1

Writer Josh Barkan in front of the Edgar Thompson Works, U.S. Steel,
Braddock, Pennsylvania. This mill has been in operation since 1872.

Writer Sherrie Flick is best known in Pittsburgh as a master of flash fiction, the author of the novel Reconsidering Happiness (Bison Books, 2009), and the co-director of the beloved Gist Street Reading Series. Though the curtain went down on Gist Street last year (after a triumphant decade), Sherrie has followed that act by co-founding a writer's residency in Braddock, Pennsylvania, a borough just 10 minutes drive from Pittsburgh city limits. Braddock is one of the hardest-hit steel towns of the rust belt, having lost over 90% of its population. Ironically, it is also home of one of the last two working steel mills in Allegheny County. But in recent years, the town has been getting the most attention for its young mayor, who is trying to revive the place by luring artists to fill empty houses and by offering free and cheap industrial spaces to arts organizations.

Today's small press recommendations come from Josh Barkan, the first writer-in-residence hosted by INTO THE FURNACE, Sherrie's new venture. Author of the satirical novel, Blind Speed (Northwestern University Press, 2008), Josh is also a world traveler who calls both New York City and Mexico City home. I haven't yet seen him read, but I did get to meet him briefly when he was marching with a mutual friend in the Occupy Pittsburgh demonstration on October 15.


1. Trophy: A Novel, Michael Griffith (Northwestern University Press)
2. God Bless America: Stories, Steve Almond (Lookout Books)
3. The Convert: A Tale of Exile and Extremism, Deborah Baker (Graywolf Press)

Recommended by Josh Barkan
Author of Blind Speed: A Novel and Before Hiroshima: The Confession of Murayama Kazuo and Other Stories, current writer-in-residence of Into the Furnace in Braddock, PA.


The name of the writers residency, INTO THE FURNACE, is a reference to a 1941 novel set in Braddock called Out of This Furnace. The novel was written by Thomas Bell. For more info on the residency, see:

View of the steel mill from the front porch of the residency, Braddock, Pennsylvania. Photo by Josh Barkan.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Remembering a Great Storyteller

Richard Leck (February 17, 1933 – December 19, 2008)

Today we remember Richard Leck, who died peacefully on this date three years ago. Richard was a poet and a storyteller, an Army veteran from between wars, a Hudson County native (where he lived for over four decades), a resident of the East Village, and a veteran of the Greenwich Village café scene of the 1960s.

I met Richard when I was working at St Mark’s Bookshop and we quickly became friends due to his being such an entertaining customer. For the last two years of his life, we were collaborating on his memoirs (JUMPED, FELL, OR WAS PUSHED, still in progress), which he described as “comedy sociology.” Our writing project was a happy accident for each of us. Richard was waiting for someone to listen to all his stories and I was waiting for someone to tell me what had gone down in Jersey City (the city of my grandfather’s childhood) in the early part of the 20th Century. Whenever Richard talked, I took notes, and soon we decided to stop calling it “having coffee” and start calling it “writing a book.” I am hugely grateful for all that Richard and his stories taught me: How to listen, how to appreciate what you have, how to stay young and grow old gracefully, how to survive the rough patches with humor, how to figure out what's important and ignore the rest, how to forgive your own past, and especially how to tell stories. I learned more from absorbing his storytelling rhythm for two years that I ever would in any MFA writing program. Hell, maybe Richard Leck WAS my MFA program.

Richard was a very funny man. His literary memorial service had us all laughing like the best Irish wakes always do. Some small press superstars joined Words Like Kudzu Press to read from Richard’s stories and poems for the memorial, held at the Bowery Poetry Club in May 2009. Participants included Margarita Shalina (small press buyer at St Mark’s Bookshop and translator of Chekov’s The Duel, Melville House Press); writer Brian Cogan (Encyclopedia of Punk); novelist Arthur Nersesian (Akashic Books); poet Bob Holman (founder of the Bowery Poetry Club, poetry activist); poet Jackie Sheeler (Earthquake Came to Harlem, NYQ Books); poet Steve Dalachinsky (The Final Nite & Other Poems, Ugly Duckling Presse); writer Mike Faloon (The Hanging Gardens of Split Rock on Gorsky Press and editor of Go Metric Zine); and storyteller Tom Hendrickson (Whack & Blight Press).

Follow this link to listen to the readings from Richard’s memoirs and his poems:

Follow this link to read an excerpt from Richard’s memoirs:
"You Could Make a Bet on a Street Corner as Easy as Buying a Newspaper"
Go Metric Zine

Read the Village Voice appreciation of Richard Leck here:

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Best of the Small Press 2011: Day 6

Today's small press picks are from me. These are the Top Three 2011 Small Press Novels I Can't Wait To Read.

My favorite sub-genre of fiction is the female novella, or short novels (by women writers) which read like novellas. The ones I'm most interested in are from the point of view of one female character and are often written in first person. I'm especially fond of books where a strong and original voice propels the story from beginning to end. This year I read numerous books that fit this category: I loved the bitter and paranoid voice of the narrator in The Appointment by Herta Muller (Metropolitan Books, 2001) and the obsession of Breathe by Anne-Sophie Brasme (St Martin's Griffin, 2001). Lucker and Tiffany Peel Out by Eroica Mildmay (Serpent's Tail, 1993) used a biting, sardonic voice to skillfully combine an uneasy domestic fiction and wide-eyed road trip novel in one, while It Was Gonna Be Like Paris by Emily Listfield (Dial Press, 1984) uses a young artist narrator to create an edgy domestic fiction set in the bohemian New York '80s. I also fell in love with short novels by Anne Roiphe and Dawn Powell and revisited some of my favorites by Jean Rhys.

The books I can't wait to read from 2011 are these three:

1. Zipper Mouth, Laurie Weeks (Feminist Press, 2011)
I saw Laurie Weeks read in 2000 with Michelle Tea's Sister Spit and adored her writing. She had a compelling, nervous energy onstage and her story (about Vivien Leigh, among other subjects) went unexpected places. I've been waiting 11 years for this debut novel to come out; so have many others, and they say it's worth every minute of the wait. More at Feminist Press:

2. Green Girl, Kate Zambreno (Emergency Press, 2011)
Everything I've read about Green Girl makes me want to read it. For starters, Kate Durbin has described the protagonist as "literature's lost girl," comparing her to a Jean Rhys character, a Sylvia Plath character, and a Clarice LiSpector character. Sign me up. More (including links to reviews) at Emergency Press:

3. Zazen, Vanessa Veselka (Red Lemonade, 2011)
I just started reading this novel and already I'm in love with the smart and jaded tone of the narrator. As with Kathy Acker novels, I keep throwing the book across the room every few paragraphs because the sentences are so good I'm jealous. In case that sounds like a statement on the "craft" of writing, I don't mean it as such; the subtle power of the narrator's thoughts and voice are what blow me away. In other words, I like what she dares to say, and I like how directly she dares to say it. More at Red Lemonade:

Recommended by Karen Lillis
Author of The Second Elizabeth (Six Gallery Press) and i, scorpion (Words Like Kudzu Press)

Friday, December 16, 2011

Best of the Small Press 2011: Day 5

Jenna Freedman reads from one of her zines at Lili Coffee Shop.
July 1, 2011, Pittsburgh. Photo by

Zine librarian Jenna Freedman came to Pittsburgh this July on The Orderly Disorder: Zinester Librarians in Circulation Tour with a small troupe of librarians who were on the road in between the ALA conference in New Orleans and the Zine Librarians (Un)Conference in Milwaukee. Jenna is a zine librarian at Barnard College, and a very active member of the Radical Reference Librarians; she has helped catalog the Occupy Wall Street Library. I got to see Jenna speak in my first semester of library school, and she was a large part of my inspiration to focus my studies on small press cataloging and collections. Jenna blogs at the Lower East Side Librarian, and she often reviews zines and small press books. This year she is recommending three zines and three books and she's included links to her reviews of each title.

Pittsburgh's own master of zines, Artnoose, organized the Pittsburgh reading for Jenna & friends, which was held in Polish Hill at Lili Coffee Shop. (See Day 3 for my ode to Lili). Artnoose (who was based in the Bay Area for many years) writes, typesets, and prints the zine Ker-Bloom!; I'm a big fan of her storytelling, and her letterpressed zines have a great visual aesthetic, too. She relocated to Pittsburgh a few years ago and is now a resident at the Cyberpunk Apocalypse Writers House, a space dedicated to supporting writing-in-progress, with an emphasis on zine writers.


Jenna recommends three zines:

1. White Elephants #4, Katie Haegele (Self-published zine)

2. Big Zine, Little Zine, Milo Miller (Self-published zine)

3. The Shortest Day, Celia C. Perez (Self-published zine)

And three books:

1. Dragon Chica, May-lee Chai (GemmaMedia)

2. Repeat After Me, Rachel DeWoskin (Overlook Press)

3. Grrrl, Jennifer Whiteford (Gorsky Press)

Recommended by Jenna Freedman
Zine librarian, Radical Reference librarian, and zinester

Thursday, December 15, 2011

RIP George Whitman and Best of the Small Press 2011: Day 4

Writer in Residence is Mark Spitzer's memoir of living at
Shakespeare and Company (Paris) in the late '90s.

I was sad to hear this morning about the death of George Whitman, legendary expat bookseller of Paris for almost 60 years. I was lucky enough to spend some time with George (surely one of the great characters of the 20th Century) in his incarnation of Shakespeare & Company in 2000 and 2001. George made me pancakes, gave me a reading, put my novel in the window, and vacated his bed for me, as he did for so many writers and other artists who came through his bookstore over the years. I remember him snarling at customers, getting warm hugs from the young ballerina who was sleeping in the bookstore in those days, and giving himself a "haircut" with a candle. (He'd burn his hair and then pat out the flames.)

Today’s small press recommendations come from Mark Spitzer, who (in a sense) got me to the unique English-language bookstore. This renegade editor (Exquisite Corpse, Toad Suck Review), translator (Bataille, Genet, Celine), and author of novels, nonfiction, and poems wrote a letter of introduction to George Whitman for my poet friend Geoffrey Cruickshank-Hagenbuckle to stay at Shakespeare; when I first met Geoffrey a few months later, his stories of Paris and George Whitman inspired me to travel to the city of the Surrealists and to sleep at Shakespeare & Co.

I finally met Mark Spitzer in 2011 when he came to Pittsburgh for a July reading organized by local publishers Six Gallery Press and Low Ghost Press. Six Gallery was featuring his new book, Proze Attack, the second book of Spitzer's collected works to be published on this rebel press. Sharing the stage that night were Pittsburgh poets Kris Collins, Margaret Bashaar, Don Wentworth, Jason Baldinger, Lucy Goubert, and Bob Pajich. At the reading, I picked up a copy of Spitzer's tribute to Shakespeare & Company, Writer in Residence: Memoir of a Literary Translator (University of New Orleans Press, 2010), and quickly devoured his compelling story of translating exciting texts by French avant garde authors, dealing with cranky small press editors, staking out his territory at Shakespeare & Co and then literally repairing it as it crumbled, and falling in love and lust with other bookstore habitués. But throughout this memoir also runs the touching, well-drawn, and hilarious story of his friendship with George Whitman. His chapters perfectly capture the contradictions of the man who was one of the most grumpy bookmen of them all, but who was also one of the most generous softies. George was a longtime friend to the avant garde, with emphasis on “friend”: He seemed to value friendship at least as much as he cared about books, revolution, or literature. I am grateful for Mark Spitzer's written memories of George and for his small press picks below.


1. Emergency Room Wrestling, The Dirty Poet (Words Like Kudzu Press)
2. House Organ, no. 76, Kenneth Warren, ed. (House Organ)
3. Blank, Davis Schneiderman (Jaded Ibis Press)

Recommended by Mark Spitzer
Author of Proze Attack (Six Gallery Press)

Check out:

Writer in Residence: Memoir of a Literary Translator
By Mark Spitzer

A memory of George Whitman by expat poet Eddie Woods:
“A Place to Change Trains”

My own memoir chapter of Shakespeare & Company:
“A Bookman’s Holiday in Paris”

New York Times obituary of George Whitman

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Best of the Small Press 2011: Day 3

Sueyeun Juliette Lee reads at Lili Coffee Shop to a packed house. Pittsburgh, September 2011.

In September, I was happy to be introduced to the work of three poets I didn't know when Dawn Lundy Martin organized a poetry reading with herself and visiting writers, Nick Demske and Sueyeun Juliette Lee. Today's small press recommendations come from Sueyeun Juliette Lee, whose poems tell us, "Resistance can be subtle and vicious." Juliette also edits chapbooks at Corollary Press.

A dense amount of literary energy was packed into the cozy space of Lili Coffee Shop that night. Lili is one of my favorite places in Pittsburgh--whenever I go there, I run into artists and writers I know, or meet new ones. It's a true cafe in that 1960s sense--you'll see a few people pecking away at laptops, but mostly it's full of conversation. It doesn't hurt that it shares an old brick building with a record shop and a bookstore. Lili regularly generates its own events (music and readings), and often pairs up with the 3rd floor bookstore (Copacetic Comics) for book parties with writers or comic artists.

Sueyeun Juliette Lee writes:

"I'd like to take the opportunity to recommend three Asian American authors who are doing incredible work, work that really pushes against the expectations of what "Asian American" literature ought to look like. The first two in particular take on "traditional" Asian American themes, such as displacement, family, and language, but in completely radical ways that I think regenerate the field."

1. Insomnia and the Aunt, by Tan Lin (Kenning Editions)
"I wrote a review of Tan Lin's book over at Constant Critic, where I'm a contributor."

2. Entwine, by Jai Arun Ravine (TinFish Press)
"I'm a big fan of Jai's, having published Jai's chapbook with Corollary a few years ago. Jai is a multi-faceted artist, writer, and performer whose work I always find challenging and stimulating."

3. Daughter; a Novel, by Janice Lee (Jaded Ibis Press)
"A confession. I haven't read Daughter by Janice Lee yet, but am recommending it solely on the basis of my impression of her as a thinker and critic. I'm still waiting to receive my copy (it's a limited edition release--so folks should hurry before it disappears!) but am a HUGE supporter of folks coming out of the CalArts system."

Recommended by Sueyeun Juliette Lee
Author of That Gorgeous Feeling (Coconut Books) and Underground National (Factory School)

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Small Press Holiday Recommendations: Day 2 (2011)

I first met Baltimore writer/editor Jen Michalski when she came to Pittsburgh to read at The New Yinzer Presents series around 2008. I loved her stories then, and I listened even closer when she came back to the series in April of this year: She read a haunting fiction excerpt of a father and daughter, of tenuous reconnections, fragile hopes, and broken hearts. I can't wait until this novel sees print. Until then, you'll have to enjoy her story collection, Close Encounters (So New Media) and her winning novella, May-September in The 2010 Press 53 Open Awards Anthology.

The New Yinzer is a Pittsburgh literary magazine that's been around for a decade as an online publication with occasional print anthologies in beautiful editions. The reading series they host (in an art gallery that doubles as an indie music venue) features 3 or 4 readers each month and does a great job of bringing together Pittsburgh's favorite local poets and storytellers, new and unknown writers, small press writers passing through Pittsburgh, and enthusiastic audiences.


1. Death Wishing, Laura Ellen Scott (Ig Publishing)
2. Kiss Me Stranger, Ron Tanner (Ig Publishing)
3. The Bee-Loud Glade, Steve Himmer (Atticus Books)

Recommended by Jen Michalski, author of Close Encounters and From Here, editor of jmww

Monday, December 12, 2011

Small Press Holiday Recommendations for 2011

Writer Lori Jakiela and poet Jimmy Cvetic confer at the bar (L) while Erin Valerio (R) sells tickets to Literary Death Match.
November 9, 2011, Brillobox Bar, Pittsburgh.

It's that time of year again! Best-of-the-small-press lists for 2011 will be appearing on this blog for the rest of the month. This year I'm asking for recommendations from writers and small press gurus who came to visit Pittsburgh (my current city) in 2011. The lovely Erin Valerio was my First Responder this year; I had the pleasure of meeting this Pittsburgh native when she brought Literary Death Match to Pittsburgh last month. If Literary Death Match comes to a city near you (and at 38 cities and growing, it very well might), you shouldn't miss the chance to attend. The format of this unique reading series combines comedy, hijinks, and seriously good readings to create an entertaining evening that is greater than the sum of its parts. Erin was thrilled to finally get the series to her hometown, and I think I heard her say that it all went even better than her wildest hopes. I, for one, was impressed and entertained. The excellent reading lineup consisted of Lori Jakiela (winner), Jimmy Cvetic, Lissa Brennan, and Adam Matcho. You can see photos and read a recap here.


1. God Bless America: Stories, Steve Almond (Lookout Books, 2011)
Steve Almond's latest is almost frighteningly perceptive. Equal parts wickedly funny and hugely, desperately sad, God Bless America is a true portrait of a nation -- not always pretty, but stunningly honest and self-aware.

2. Lamb, Bonnie Nadzam (Other Press, 2011)
Lamb is dark, unnerving, and quite frankly, a bit icky -- which is precisely why I love it. It's about a middle-aged man and a preteen girl on a road trip, but try to read it without thinking of Lolita.

3. Other People We Married, Emma Straub (FiveChapters Books, 2011)
Emma Straub works at one of Brooklyn's best indie bookstores, and when this book was released, there was a post-it note beneath it on the shelf which read "I wrote this book. Please buy it. I love you." This collection is as stellar as you'd expect from a prominent figure on the indie scene, so take her advice: buy it.

Recommended by Erin Valerio
Literary Death Match producer