Friday, August 30, 2013

Tuscaloosa Writes This
(480pgs, Slash Pine Press 2013)
Tuscaloosa: Black Warrior River. Appalachian fall line. Tornado town. Title town. Go to Dreamland. Go to Nick’s in the Sticks. Think how the magnolia blooms look like salad plates. The state capitol was here and left. Amtrak stops twice a day. Coal barges. Shredded steel. Druid City. Tailgate City. The Drish house, the cactus house, the stadium. Go to the Waysider. The deep southness of the south. Think how that matters.
Words scattered everywhere. On the campus, in bars, along the trails in Sokol Park, under the train trestle, on the pavement downtown. Alabama is in love with language, murders it, coddles it, tests it. Go to the Moon Winx Motel, see what’s been left behind: words, always words.
Announcing TUSCALOOSA WRITES THIS, an anthology of work by students and faculty of the University of Alabama. Work by Robin Behn, Joel Brouwer, Brooke Champagne, Nik DeDominic, Carlos Estrada, Andrew Farkas, Tessa Fontaine, Norman Golar, Brock Guthrie, Jenny Gropp Hess, B.J. Hollars, MC Hyland, Andy Johnson, Natalie Latta, Hank Lazer, Michael Martone, Jason McCall, Ashley McWaters, Michael Mejia, Chris Mink, CD Mitchell, Amy Monticello, Brian Morrison, Brian Oliu, Daniela Olszewska, Colin Rafferty, Wendy Rawlings, Jessica Richardson, Jennifer Gandel Ridgeway, Laurence Ross, Sara Jane Seaton, Abraham Smith, Lucas Southworth, Shea Stripling, Jeanie Thompson, Danie Vollenweider, Elizabeth Wade, Kellie Wells, Lytonya Wename, Parker White, Patti White, Colin Whitworth, P.J. Williams, and Joseph Wood.
This anthology also contains craft essays from each of the authors, as well as writing prompts that correspond to the submitted work.
Shipping in September.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Object X: Water

Object X is speaker series in which professors and students from different disciplines analyze a single object, highlighting the multiplicity of perspectives present in our daily lives. Asking the simple question “What is water?”, the next Object X event will focus on water. It is scheduled for September 3 at 7:00pm in the wonderful Allen Bales Theatre.

Creative Campus contacted me a few months ago and asked me to apply to speak at Object X. They wanted some idea of what I had to say on the subject of water. I thought about all the usual ideas - water as a metaphor for emotions, water as an endless journey, novels about the water or featuring water. It all seemed boring. Then I remembered something I'd written about writing: 

Writing your first novel is like swimming underwater to a place you've never been before, while trying to inhale water and exhale whalesong, while simultaneously writing a novel about swimming underwater to a place you've never been before, while trying to inhale water and exhale whalesong.

My talk will feature underwater swimming, and exhalations of water, and whalesongs, and writing. Something like that. If you have a few minutes (each speaker only gets 8 minutes), please come out on Tuesday.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013


"Tuscaloosa is the Paris of west-central Alabama, and Northport is the Versailles to the Paris of west-central Alabama." - Alex Chambers

Last month, I moved from my horrendous apartment in Tuscaloosa to a quiet house in Northport. I admit I didn't really look through my apartment thoroughly before I signed the lease. I was desperate. I'd taken a room in a house owned by another grad student. He claimed he wanted a quiet roommate so he could study for the Bar exam. It seemed like an ideal match, since I had just recently returned to grad school after two years in Liberia. I needed to reintegrate into American academia (more reading, more computers, and no salutes from security guards) and finish school. 

At first, everything went fine. Then my roommate came out. I'd noticed he was gay the first moment I'd met him, but now he was comfortable telling me he was gay. I'm older than the average grad student. I spared him my stories of ActUp meetings, or getting my head bashed in by Houston cops while protesting the '92 GOP convention, and just said no problem. 

My roommate took "acceptance" to mean "permission to throw loud orgies", which he did. More than once. In the living room. Now let me say, I'm all for gay orgies in theory. When MoveOn sends me a petition to support gay orgies, I'll sign and give them $10. But I'm not for drunken,violent, drug-fueled, surprise (to me) orgies in the living room. Not because all of the participants were male, but because they were loud, and smelly. (I guess that's the male part.) I also objected to one of the participants pulling a knife and attacking the other guests. Oh, and my roommate attempted to break into my bedroom while I was attempting to sleep. He didn't get in - like any experienced NGO worker under siege, I had the sense to barricade the door. So I moved out and took to the apartment as a boat in a storm. Did I see the crumbling walls, rat's nest in the pantry, black mold, trash, graffiti, exposed wiring, etc.? Not really. I saw a stunning lack of orgy and signed the lease. 

As I've heard it, Texas residential leases are based on old oil leases. Oil barons would chisel oilmen out of their profits by citing minor lease violations - dirty dishes in the sink, marks on the floor, etc. Alternatively, they erected such shoddy housing that the tenant literally paid for nothing. Texans reacted by amending lease laws to prevent these abuses and guarantee that everyone had a decent place to live. When I rented out the house I owned in Austin, I had to improve it before I could legally lease it. 

Alabama lease law seems to follow the old sharecropping model. The owner is under no obligation to the tenant. There's no guarantee that the rental property will be safe, or that the owner will make repairs. Fortunately, my new landlords are professionals who seem interested in maintaining their property. The house is lovely - I have an office / guest bedroom, living room, dining room, a large kitchen, laundry, and a wonderful porch. My neighbors include Mary's Cakes and Pastries and The Southern Letterpress, both owned by incredible people. I write in the quiet evenings, and sip coffee while watching rain fall into the birdbath.

But enough about me, let's talk about what I'm doing. In two weeks, I'll be one of several featured speakers at Object X: Water, sponsored by Creative Campus. I have some ideas, but haven't finalized my talk yet. Classes resume tomorrow. I'm mostly ready to meet the new students. Mostly. 

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Austin stories

So I think I'll start something new. It will be a collection of stories of the old Austin, say from the mid-80's to sometime later. A collection of Austin as a place where the regular rules didn't apply, and all mostly true.

Back home

Let night in spider house. I almost wrote Chicago house. Austin is full of ghosts these days. I used to come here and see people I knew on the streets. This was the city that felt like a small town. But we got older, moved, settled into lives of consumerism and television. Or the places we went moved, shut down, or changed into something unrecognizable. Cheapo records is gone, and so is raynhennigs heart of music and the new age bookstore next door. The entire south Austin shopping center has been razed for condo. Always more condos. A derelicts house in Hyde park I used to dream of resorting is gone. I remember talking with friends about fixing that place, with its long white columns and sloping roof. I drove by the other days and it was just a dirt spot in a yard. Ruta maya shut down. that was a real blow. my writing career started there in many ways. i wrote these little stories that fit intomtheir five minute eindow. id read them whenever i wrote a new one, which made me write more. it was a good feedback loop.


And some things are still here. It's still impossible to park at epoch. kUT is still playing iron and wine. I have to admit the new album sounds pretty good. Toy joy is across the street, and I shopped at wheats vile. But it's odd to not recognize your home. I suppose that happens to everyone. But I think if we could all go back, we might be a little less proud of our little towns and a little less arrogant. We might try harder to hold onto the people and places we cherished, at least for a few moments longer. I feel silly. I'm almost crying over closed coffee shops and fru-fru bookstores. But it's more than the places. Is the feeling that I can't find anymore. Austin used to be a place of no rules and endless creativity. I still see the creative spark, but it's settled in now and watching Downton abbey on the LCD tv. It's become a settled and prosperous creativity. It's fallen into the trap I saw at Texas, when smart and dynamic artists get seduced into becoming faculty. I saw some of the best people I knew argue over mailbox placement and printer access. I fear the city is going the same way. Creativity into strategy into bureaucracy. I suppose it had to happen somewhere, but I hate that it happened here. The city grew up with me, when I wanted it to stay young. I guess I should have stayed young too.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013


A new year and a new blog post. My mornings used to start out more or less like this: coffee, breakfast, and blogging. I'd work on a post for an hour or so at work. It was a good habit, so I'll do it again.