Friday Staff Pick: Last Words from Montmartre

Part epistolary novel, part suicide note, part textual experiment, and wholly unlike anything else. —Recommended by Vanessa, City Lights Books

When the pioneering Taiwanese novelist Qiu Miaojin committed suicide in 1995 at age twenty-six, she left behind her unpublished masterpiece, Last Words from Montmartre. Unfolding through a series of letters written by an unnamed narrator, Last Words tells the story of a passionate relationship between two young women—their sexual awakening, their gradual breakup, and the devastating aftermath of their broken love. In a style that veers between extremes, from self-deprecation to pathos, compulsive repetition to rhapsodic musings, reticence to vulnerability, Qiu’s genre-bending novel is at once a psychological thriller, a sublime romance, and the author’s own suicide note.

The letters (which, Qiu tells us, can be read in any order) leap between Paris, Taipei, and Tokyo. They display wrenching insights into what it means to live between cultures, languages, and genders—until the genderless character Zoë appears, and the narrator’s spiritual and physical identity is transformed. As powerfully raw and transcendent as Mishima’s Confessions of a Mask, Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther, and Theresa Cha’s Dictée, to name but a few, Last Words from Montmartre proves Qiu Miaojin to be one of the finest experimentalists and modernist Chinese-language writers of our generation.


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Planet News

Jay Defeo/The Rose photo: Wallace Berman
Jay Defeo/The Rose photo: Wallace Berman

“Before San Francisco, my father started up Semina. This small publication would be called a zine these days. It was basically a collection of loose pages that consists of poetry, photographs and artwork. The edition would be a print run of 100, and all of it was done on a hand press at home. I think this was a way for my father to communicate with the world. Or in simple terms, to share something that he liked and wanted to show the work to others. Most of the editions were mailed or handed out for free. I think when he went to San Francisco he would have a couple on consignment at City Lights Bookstore. They sold for a dollar. The poets that were featured in the publication are Michael McClure, David Meltzer, Philip Lamantia and others. Now they’re priceless and it’s very difficult to find the original Seminas.
Tosh Berman reflects on his childhood and his father Wallace Via Blastitude


“In art, Partisan Review is perhaps best known as the publisher of Clement Greenberg, who contributed over 30 articles from 1939 to 1981, most notably his Summer 1939 essay entitled “Avant-Garde and Kitsch.” (Greenberg even made a posthumous appearance in the Spring 1999 issue.) Beyond Greenberg’s voluble legacy we encounter such landmark texts as Dwight Macdonald’s “Masscult and Midcult,” from the Spring 1960 issue, and Susan Sontag’s “Notes on ‘Camp’” from Winter 1964, as well as the seminal popular-culture criticism of Robert Warshow (his essay on the Krazy Kat comic strip in the November-December 1946 issue is especially great) and the work of Hilton Kramer, the conservative iconoclast who went on to found The New Criterion.”
The archive of the Partisan Review has been digitized!
Via Hyperallergenic

“The earlier “you,” the one in the first two books [The Cow and Coeur de Lion], was the Bush-era “you.” It’s the “you” of YouTube and advertising. It’s really brutalized. It’s what the impoverished “I” is made of. The “I” is just the object of the address of advertising, of George W. Bush, of ATMs. And the weird thing is that “you,” like the “thou,” the divine “thou,” isn’t expected to respond, only to buy in. You’re not expected to answer, just to ante-up or pay in. Even if there’s a comment box.”
 Ben Lerner & Ariana Reines in conversation via Bomb Magazine

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The Scale of Maps by Belén Gopegui

scale of mapsMadrid based author Belén Gopegui‘s first novel The Scale of Maps was released in translation by City Lights in 2011 and has since been compared to the likes of Cervantes, Nabokov, and Borges. Recently a new wonderful review written by John Yargo over at The Rumpus came out, giving us the opportunity to spotlight this wonderful book again. Our edition was translated by Mark Schafer, an award-winning translator in his own right.

A quick synopsis: a geographer is thrown into a psychological crisis by the romantic advances of Brezo Varela, a lively young woman who shares his profession. Haunted by a series of hallucinations in which he’s relentlessly pursued by a cynical, vampire-like seductress whose promises of pleasure fill him with horror, Prim attempts to seek refuge by immersing himself in an obsessive metaphysical quest: he determines that he must map the way to a place in which love never results in disillusionment.

As Yargo points out, Gopegui has been noted by novelists Roberto Bolaño and Francisco Umbral as one of the most promising Spanish language writers working today. Additionally she has received praise by critic and Spanish literature scholar Idoya Puig.

Mr. Yargo writes,

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5 Questions with Lenelle Moïse

HaitiGlass 080713Now that the fall event season is officially under way here at City Lights Bookstore, our quasi-weekly series, “5 Questions” is back in full force. This week, we have three events.

The first is this Tuesday, as we celebrate the release of a City Lights publication! Our newest book published by City Lights / Sister Spit is Haiti Glass by playwright, essayist, and poet Lenelle Moïse. Lenelle, an award-winning performer, will be reading and performing from the book in the Poetry Room, and it’s free!

Who: Lenelle Moïse is an award-winning poet, playwright, essayist and internationally touring performance artist. She creates jazz-infused, hip-hop bred, politicized texts about identity, memory and magic. Her poems and essays are featured in several anthologies, including: Word Warriors: 35 Women Leaders in the Spoken Word Revolution and We Don’t Need Another Wave: Dispatches from the Next Generation of Feminists. Her writing has also been published in the Utne Reader, Make/Shift, Left Turn, and numerous other magazines and journals. A current Huntington Theatre Company Playwriting Fellow, her plays include Expatriate, Merit and The Many Faces of Nia. She lives in Northampton, MA where she was the 2010-2012 Poet Laureate. Haiti Glass is her long-awaited first book.

Event: Tuesday, September 16th, 7:00 PM at City Lights Bookstore, in the Poetry Room upstairs. Lenelle will read from her new book with an introduction by Sister Spit editor Michelle Tea.

About the Book: In her debut collection of verse and prose, Moïse moves deftly between memories of growing up as a Haitian immigrant in the suburbs of Boston, to bearing witness to brutality and catastrophe, to intellectual, playful explorations of pop culture enigmas like Michael Jackson and Jean-Michel Basquiat. Be it the presence of a skinhead on the subway, a newspaper account of unthinkable atrocity, or the ‘noose loosened to necklace’ of desire, the cut of Haiti Glass lays bare a world of resistance and survival, mourning and lust, need and process, triumph and prayer.

Praise for Haiti Glass:

“Haiti Glass is a magnificent collection of poetry and prose. Part mantra, part lamentation, part prayer, this incredible book puts us wholly in the presence of an extraordinary and brave talent, whose voice will linger in your heart and mind long after you read the last word of this book.”—Edwidge Danticat

“Very powerful poetry and prose. The spoken word cadence to many of the poems works really well on the page. Moïse takes up the complexities of Haitian culture, the immigrant experience, sexuality and gender, and bearing witness. Highly recommended.”—Roxane Gay

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Friday Staff Pick: Tijuana Straits

Set where the surf meets the sewage on the Cal/Mex border, Kem Nunn, master of surf noir, has written an immensely satisfying novel about broken lives and desperate struggles amid those who populate this netherworld near the Tijuana Straits.
– Recommended by Andy, City Lights Books

From National Book Award-nominated Kem Nunn comes an exquisitely written tale of loss and redemption along California’s untamed borderland, confirming his reputation as a master of suspense and a novelist of the first rank.

When Fahey, once a great surfer, now a reclusive ex-con, meets Magdalena, she is running from a pack of wild dogs along the ragged wasteland where California and Mexico meet the Pacific Ocean — a spot once known to the men who rode its giant waves as the Tijuana Straits. Magdalena has barely survived an attack on her life and Fahey, against his every instinct, takes her in.

An environmental activist, Magdalena is engaged in the struggle for the rights of the thousands of peasants streaming from Mexico’s impoverished heartland to work in the maquilladoras — the foreign-owned factories that line her country’s border, polluting its air and fouling its rivers. She is passionate about her work, and perhaps has taken too many risks with her own safety.

As Magdalena attempts to reconstruct the events that delivered her, battered and confused, into Fahey’s strange yet oddly seductive world, she examines every lead, never guessing the truth about the man who has marked her for death. Armando Santoya, beset by personal tragedy, an aberration born of the very conditions Magdalena has dedicated her life to fight against, is leading a trio of killers on a drug-fueled mission to end her life — and that of Fahey, her new protector, confidant, and friend — in a final duel on the beaches of the Tijuana Straits.

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Planet News

This photo of Allende and Neruda is proudly displayed on the wall of City Lights.

“Salvador Allende had the dream of transforming Chile into a country where justice and equality would prevail. He wanted profound reforms, a peaceful and democratic revolution. He was way ahead of his time. In the 1970s the world was divided by the Cold War, and the United States was determined not to allow any Latin American country to follow the steps of Cuba. The CIA intervened from the very beginning to topple Allende’s government. The political parties of the Chilean right were willing to destroy the country if that was the price they had to pay to get rid of Allende’s Socialist dream.” Isabel Allende


Watch poet H.D.’s 1930 film Borderline, produced by the Pool Group and starring Paul Robeson and Bryher.


“The difference between a symbiotic and a parasitic relationship is that in symbiosis, the host is not harmed in any way. The two organisms work together for mutual benefit. In a parasitic relationship, the growth of the secondary organism outstrips the ability of the host to sustain itself. Unlike symbiosis, a parasite kills its host, and eventually, itself.”
Janet Fitch’s letter to Jeff Bezos


“This is why he is always on the brink of suicide or at least of nervous breakdown: because he seeks salvation through the routine formulas suggested to him by the society in which he lives (the art of making friends, culture in four easy lessons, the pursuit of happiness, how to make out with girls—he has been ruined, obviously, by Dr. Kinsey, Dale Carnegie, Erich Fromm, and Lin Yutang).”
Umberto Eco on Charlie Brown (and Krazy Kat!)

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New from City Lights Publishers: Man Alive by Thomas Page McBee

Man Alive low resThomas Page McBee asks “What makes a man?” in the newest memoir published by City Lights, Man Alive: A True Story of Violence, Forgiveness and Becoming a Man. Thomas’s immediate answer, in the first paragraph of the first page, is to clarify the question and its context: “Before I was held at gunpoint on a cold April day, I couldn’t have told you.”

But the question goes back even further to 1985 when, growing up in Pittsburgh Thomas, born female, was abused by his father. In Man Alive’s exploration of manhood, these traumas, committed by two deeply damaged men, are pivotal then peripheral as Thomas learns to transcend their examples and become the man he wants to be. 

This is an eloquent, important, beautiful book, about which Roxanne Gray wrote: “Man Alive is a sweet, tender hurt of a memoir. Thomas Page McBee deftly recounts what has shaped him into the man he has become and how—from childhood trauma to a mugging in Oakland where he learned of his body’s ability to save itself. This is a memoir about forgiveness and self-discovery, but mostly it’s about love, so much love. McBee takes us in his capable hands and shows us what it takes to become a man who is gloriously, gloriously alive.” Read on for an excerpt of the first chapter.

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Review: Thing Music by Anthony McCann

by Jackson Meazle

.Anthony’s McCann’s newest book, Thing Music (Wave Books, 2014), gets one thinking about the practice of poetry again. He says in the acknowledgments that his book is “traversed” by John’s Ashbery’s work, and that may be the case, but from the outside looking in, some of McCann’s best work is hallucinogenic hermeneutics in the tradition of Robert Creeley. And I say this because he is continuing in that tradition of the “internal” poetry, informed by the mind’s obsessive mirroring of the world. In this vein, we have exacting poems at both the beginning and the end of the book that mostly have short lines and, sometimes, one-lined stanzas.



I pushed
my body through

all this

to you


The Surface

   pouring through

my wrist


the tip
of this tongue

is a bright



gone to link

  the tip
with the Lake
of Meat

[from “Amtrak on Hudson”]

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Friday Staff Pick: Bad Feminist

I compulsively read Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist whenever I could get a spare moment. My commute (my life!) was vastly improved as it felt like my coolest, smartest, pop-culture literate, and humane friend was sharing the ride, offering the low down on—and a considered critique of—the too numerous troublesome aspects of American life and culture. —Recommended by Stacey, City Lights Publishing

A collection of essays spanning politics, criticism, and feminism from one of the most-watched young cultural observers of her generation, Roxane Gay.

Pink is my favorite color. I used to say my favorite color was black to be cool, but it is pink—all shades of pink. If I have an accessory, it is probably pink. I read Vogue, and I’m not doing it ironically, though it might seem that way. I once live-tweeted the September issue.”

In these funny and insightful essays, Roxane Gay takes us through the journey of her evolution as a woman (Sweet Valley High) of color (The Help) while also taking readers on a ride through culture of the last few years (Girls, Django in Chains) and commenting on the state of feminism today (abortion, Chris Brown). The portrait that emerges is not only one of an incredibly insightful woman continually growing to understand herself and our society, but also one of our culture.

Bad Feminist is a sharp, funny, and spot-on look at the ways in which the culture we consume becomes who we are, and an inspiring call-to-arms of all the ways we still need to do better.

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Roxane will be reading at City Lights on the 25th of September

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Planet News

Thomas Pynchon’s edits to the script of the Simpsons episode he “appeared” in!
Via The Guardian

“Kathy Acker died of cancer on November 30, 1997, the same year that her older contemporaries William S. Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg passed away. At the time, many observed that these three deaths marked the “end of the avant-garde”—or, at least, the end of the avant-garde as it was known in the twentieth century.”
Chris Kraus on Kathy Acker in The Believer

“She appreciated the ancient languages precisely because nobody spoke them anymore. She told me, “Part of the pleasure of knowing Latin is that you don’t have to learn to say, ‘Where is the cathedral?’ or ‘I would like a return ticket, second class, please.’ You actually get to the literature. You don’t always have to be making yourself understood.”
Fantastic interview with classicist Mary Beard at the New Yorker

“In the centre of the room there was an actual mountain, a colossal jagged mountain as high as a five-storey building, and the whole thing was made of pale-brown, creamy, vanilla fudge. All the way up the sides of the mountain, hundreds of men were working away with picks and drills, hacking great hunks of fudge out of the mountainside; and some of them, those that were high up in dangerous places, were roped together for safety.”
An unpublished chapter from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory! via The Guardian

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