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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Throwback Thursday: Kaddish and Other Poems by Allen Ginsberg

kaddishIn Boulder, Colorado sits a small liberal arts college called Naropa University. Founded in 1974, it was the first Buddhist-inspired institution to receive United States regional accreditation. That same year, Allen Ginsberg and Anne Waldman founded the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics.  Fast Forward to 1981, where Allen Ginsberg is teaching a class at Naropa called “Expansive Poetics”: a class meant to discuss rhythm and the expansive breath through the example of the Imagists, Russian Futurists, and the Acemists, among many other talks and discussions.

Luckily, for those of us who were not in attendance of this course, many of the lectures were recorded.  In one of these lectures, Ginsberg discusses his process while working on his second book, Kaddish and Other Poems: 1958-1960, published by City Lights Books in 1961 as number fourteen in the Pocket Poets Series–including some insight into the state of his person at the time of its conception. The poem “Kaddish” was written about the death of Ginsberg’s mother, Naomi Ginsberg. Though lesser known to regular folks than “Howl”, his most famous work, “Kaddish” is considered one of Ginsberg’s major works, some calling it his greatest work.

In an excerpt from the recording of the discussion of “Kaddish”, recently posted by our friends at The Allen Ginsberg Project, Ginsberg states,


AG: “Kaddish”, (which is a long poem, celebrated, and it’s supposed to be sort of a kind of terrible masterpiece), is really just writing what I hadn’t been taking into account. Just a release of particulars that may have occurred to me at one time or another but I never particularly strung together and made any kind of coherent exhibition of (to myself, or others).


What is very interesting about the lectures from Expansive Poetics is how Ginsberg explicitly discusses specific word choices and stanzas–and in some ways it feels as though Ginsberg himself has only just arrived at some of these realizations. Some of the lines in “Kaddish” end up referencing the entirely unexpected. He continues,

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5 Questions with Vikram Chandra

geek sublimeWelcome back to 5 Questions, where we query an author visiting our store. Our Fall event season is officially underway tonight with a discussion and reading by Vikram Chandra, author of Geek Sublime: The Beauty of Code, The Code of Beauty.

Vikram is joined by Ethan Nosowsky, who will deliver an opening statement. This event, as with all of our events, is free and open to the public. The reading starts at 7PM in the Poetry Room. These questions remain the same for each installment.

Who: Vikram Chandra is the author of the critically acclaimed novel, Sacred Games (Harper Perennial, 2007), which was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction. His first novel, Red Earth and Pouring Rain (Back Bay, 1995), won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best First Book and the David Higham Prize for Fiction. His collection of short stories, Love and Longing in Bombay (Back Bay, 1997), won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best Book (Eurasia Region) and was a New York Times Notable Book. He lives in Oakland, California and teaches at the University of California, Berkeley. Geek Sublime his first work of nonfiction.

Event: Thursday, September 4, 7:00PM at City Lights Books in the Poetry Room upstairs. Vikram Chandra discusses his new book with an opening statement by Ethan Nosowky.

About the Book: Vikram Chandra has been a computer programmer for almost as long as he has been a novelist. In this extraordinary new book, his first work of nonfiction, he searches for the connections between the worlds of art and technology. Coders are obsessed with elegance and style, just as writers are, but do the words mean the same thing to both? Can we ascribe beauty to the craft of writing code?

Exploring such varied topics as logic gates and literary modernism, the machismo of tech geeks, the omnipresence of an “Indian Mafia” in Silicon Valley, and the writings of Abhinavagupta, the eleventh-century Kashmiri thinker, Geek Sublime is both an idiosyncratic history of coding and a fascinating meditation on the writer’s art. Part literary essay, part technology story, and part memoir, it is an engrossing, original, and heady book of sweeping ideas.

Today in fact is also the day Geek Sublime was reviewed favorably in the San Francisco Chronicle, where it was called, “endlessly fascinating.”

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Friday Staff Pick: The Empathy Exams

If you’ve got a glowing, tender heart and wonder how it’s possible to feel so much, this is the book for you. Hypochondriacs are advised to skip essay #2.—

Recommended by Vanessa, City Lights Books

From personal loss to phantom diseases, a bold and brilliant collection, winner of the Graywolf Press Nonfiction Prize

A Publishers Weekly Top Ten Essay Collection of Spring 2014

Beginning with her experience as a medical actor who was paid to act out symptoms for medical students to diagnose, Leslie Jamison’s visceral and revealing essays ask essential questions about our basic understanding of others: How should we care about each other? How can we feel another’s pain, especially when pain can be assumed, distorted, or performed? Is empathy a tool by which to test or even grade each other? By confronting pain—real and imagined, her own and others’—Jamison uncovers a personal and cultural urgency to feel. She draws from her own experiences of illness and bodily injury to engage in an exploration that extends far beyond her life, spanning wide-ranging territory—from poverty tourism to phantom diseases, street violence to reality television, illness to incarceration—in its search for a kind of sight shaped by humility and grace.
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