By Brian Dunlap
As 2017 draws to a close, the news in the Los Ángeles literary community is one of accomplishment. As the months went by, writers published novels, short story collections, and collections of poetry or announced their books had been accepted for publication next year/2019. Congratulations goes out to all these scribes in penning important works. Some of these books, such as Vickie Vértiz’s Palm Frond With Its Throat Cut, which explores and captures often ignored Southeast Los Angeles where she’s from, and Cynthia Guardado’s debut poetry collection Endever, about survival and specifically the survival of women of color and women of color in Los Angeles, tackle themes and ideas of social justice. How the political is personal.
Others books, such as Daniel A. Olivas’ Crossing the Border and Janet Fitch’s novel The Revolution of Marina M. took 15 and 10 years to complete and publish respectively. Olivas’ poems depict a life lived in L.A. and the many ways we cross borders (race, culture, religion, language, religion, and privilege) such as the poem “Sad Gray House,” that says:
Our sad gray house creaks and moans in the hot Los Angeles sun like a tired
elephant waiting to die. I’ve made a nice brown puddle with a trickle from
our leaky house and Mama shares chisme with Rolando’s mom across our
chain link fence.
Fitch first thought her novel would have a L.A. connection, but it instead became solely focused on the Russian Revolution.
Even a poetry anthology published by TSEHAI’s new imprint Harriet Tubman Press titled, Voices From Leimert Park Redux, features verse from the cultural heart of black Los Ángeles, Leimert Park. This anthology is an update to Leimert Park published 11 years ago. It features poets and writers currently active in the community who are in some way associated with the World Stage’s weekly open mic, Anansi Writers Workshop. Such featured poets include L.A. luminaries Peter J. Harris, Pam Ward, V. Kali and Eric John Priestley among other important voices like Derek D. Brown, Melanie Luja (Queen Socks), Oshea Luja (Food4Thought) and A.K. Toney. They depict their distinct Los Ángeles and their own personal or communal experiences. Plus, TSEHAI and Harriet Tubman Press are housed at Loyola Marymount University in Westchester.
Other L.A. writers have simply published short pieces in literary journals and magazines, like Alex Espinoza, Brian Dunlap, John Brantingham, Susan Straight and Jian Huang. These works range from poems to creative nonfiction to book reviews. The publications range from “Writers Resist” to the “Los Angeles Review of Books” to “Dryland” to “Granta,” the “L.A. Times,” “New York Times Magazine” and more.
Congratulations to all of these published Angeleños. If I have forgotten anyone, my apologies. May next year bring more publishing success to L.A.’s literary community.
The following is a list and description of the books these writers have published.
From acclaimed fiction writer and book critic, Daniel A. Olivas, comes his first collection of poetry, Crossing the Border. These narrative poems delve deeply into the many ways we cross borders of race, culture, language, religion, and privilege. With humor and pathos, Olivas draws from his own life and from the stories of others to serve as a witness to the great variety of experiences that make us human. With grace and eloquence, he invites readers to cross these borders with him on this intense but necessary journey.
Wanderers and writers, gangbangers and lawyers, dreamers and devils. The King of Lighting Fixturespaints an idiosyncratic but honest portrait of Los Angeles, depicting how the city both entrances and confounds. Each story serves as a reflection of Daniel A. Olivas’s grand City of Angels, a “magical metropolis where dreams come true.”
The characters here represent all walks of L.A. life—from Satan’s reluctant Craigslist roommate to a young girl coping with trauma at her brother’s wake—and their tales ebb and flow among various styles, including magical realism, social realism, and speculative fiction. Like a jazz album, they glide and bop, tease and illuminate, sadden and hearten as they navigate effortlessly from meta to fabulist, from flash fiction to longer, more complex narratives.
These are literary sketches of a Los Angeles that will surprise, connect, and disrupt readers wherever they may live.
In 2015, Wyatt Underwood wrote a poem a day, 365 poems, in response to a challenge from his friend Jaha Zainabu. The poems range from personal to political, from real to surreal, from almost lyric to almost measured. Some are casual, some may be profound. In a way it’s a study of one man’s life of the mind and the heart during a pivotal year.
Palm Frond with Its Throat Cut uses both humor and sincerity to capture moments in time with a sense of compassion for the hard choices we must make to survive. Vértiz’s poetry shows how history, oppression, and resistance don’t just refer to big events or movements; they play out in our everyday lives, in the intimate spaces of family, sex, and neighborhood. Vértiz’s poems ask us to see Los Angeles—and all cities like it—as they have always been: an America of code-switching and reinvention, of lyric and fight.
St. Petersburg, New Year’s Eve, 1916. Marina Makarova is a young woman of privilege who aches to break free of the constraints of her genteel life, a life about to be violently upended by the vast forces of history. Swept up on these tides, Marina will join the marches for workers’ rights, fall in love with a radical young poet, and betray everything she holds dear, before being betrayed in turn.
As her country goes through almost unimaginable upheaval, Marina’s own coming-of-age unfolds, marked by deep passion and devastating loss, and the private heroism of an ordinary woman living through extraordinary times. This is the epic, mesmerizing story of one indomitable woman’s journey through some of the most dramatic events of the last century.
In 2017 it was announced that Kelly Grace Thomas’ collection of poems BOAT/BURNED was accepted for publication by YesYes Books for 2019.
When you burn the boats turning around, to old thoughts, old lives, is no longer an option. BOAT/BURNED explores family and the female form, the boat of my body (and how shame is passed down). It contains the echoes of (often self-inflicted) muntunies. Reminds us that, we are a piece of every boat we’ve have built and sank.
This collection interrogates subjugations in our current political landscape. The way power structures silence voices, particularly those of women and people of color. It questions what happens when you outgrow what you were supposed to love, the loyalties you were raised to obey.
True crime, memoir, and ghost story, Mean is the bold and hilarious tale of Myriam Gurba’s coming of age as a queer, mixed-race Chicana. Blending radical formal fluidity and caustic humor, Gurba takes on sexual violence, small towns, and race, turning what might be tragic into piercing, revealing comedy. This is a confident, intoxicating, brassy book that takes the cost of sexual assault, racism, misogyny, and homophobia deadly seriously.
We act mean to defend ourselves from boredom and from those who would cut off our breasts. We act mean to defend our clubs and institutions. We act mean because we like to laugh. Being mean to boys is fun and a second-wave feminist duty. Being mean to men who deserve it is a holy mission. Sisterhood is powerful, but being mean is more exhilarating.
Being mean isn’t for everybody.
Being mean is best practiced by those who understand it as an art form.
These virtuosos live closer to the divine than the rest of humanity. They’re queers.
Praying Mantis by Sesshu Foster wanders through the space time of Los Angeles immersed in the transition between lanes. Family, neighbors, and the need for motion are all back lit by the lights of the skyscrapers and the grime of the freeway runoff. Here, the results of stubborn lives are laid out on the map as they branch into continuous possibility.
Voices from Leimert Park Redux is a symphony of diverse voices echoing the collective heartbeat of a community. In 2006, Voices From Leimert Park revealed one of the best kept secrets of the Los Angeles literary scene: African-American and other writers of color were producing nationally known and respected poetry, fiction, and nonfiction within the Leimert Park literary community. Voices from Leimert Park Redux, again under the editorial direction of Shonda Buchanan, embraces radical new voices, and melds them with the well-seasoned tonality of Griots at home, on street corners, and in libraries. Listen to the Voices from Leimert Park Redux and realize that you have just entered that safe place where truth is still being created with every honest breath.
It’s been two years since the events of Gangsterland, when legendary Chicago hitman Sal Cupertine disappeared into the guise of Vegas Rabbi David Cohen. It’s September of 2001 and for David, everything is coming up gold: Temple membership is on the rise, the new private school is raking it in, and the mortuary and cemetery–where Cohen has been laundering bodies for the mob–is minting cash. But Sal wants out. He’s got money stashed in safe-deposit boxes all over the city. He’s looking at places to escape to, Mexico or maybe Argentina. He only needs to make it through the High Holidays, and he’ll have enough money to slip away, grab his wife and kid, and start fresh.
Across the country, former FBI agent Matthew Drew is now running security for an Indian Casino outside of Milwaukee, spending his off-time stalking members of The Family, looking for vengeance for the murder of his former partner. So when Sal’s cousin stumbles into the casino one night, Matthew takes the law into his own hands–again–touching off a series of events that will have Rabbi Cohen running for his life, trapped in Las Vegas, with the law, society, and the post-9/11 world closing in around him.
Gangster Nation is a thrilling follow-up to Gangsterland, an unexpected, page-turning examination of the seedy foundations of American life. With the wit and gritty glamor that defines his writing, Goldberg traces how the things we most value in our lives–home, health, even our spiritual lives–have been built on the enterprises of criminals.
ENDEAVOR is a collection of poetry about survival. It is centered around women, and also details the horrors of alcoholism, oppression, and violence. This collection highlights extreme circumstances by refusing to stay silent and therefore each poem pushes the reader to face the harsh reality of trauma in different aspects of our society.
“Choi recasts the familial legacy of war and displacement, but also of joy and triumph, into a private spiritual kingdom, where “even after the city is destroyed” he writes, “I will touch you on the surface of everything.” This is poetry as preservation, as an unrelinquished archive of ghosts, but mostly, it arrives, to our luck, as a testament of a self earned and re-earned, like how yellowness, caught in its own dizzying light, turns itself golden. This book is golden.”
When Zerbe, the honorary brother (and roommate) of LA’s toughest bodyguard/bouncer, Crush, is kidnapped, Crush springs into action to save him. Unraveling the mystery takes him to Zerbe’s estranged billionaire father, who’s obsessed with building California’s long-promised bullet train, as well as to Pasadena’s famed Rose Parade along Colorado Boulevard. This third installment in the Crush series (both of which were Kirkus Best Mysteries of the Year) is full of action, humor, and mystery.
With the coruscating gaze that informed The Sympathizer, in The Refugees Viet Thanh Nguyen gives voice to lives led between two worlds, the adopted homeland and the country of birth. From a young Vietnamese refugee who suffers profound culture shock when he comes to live with two gay men in San Francisco, to a woman whose husband is suffering from dementia and starts to confuse her for a former lover, to a girl living in Ho Chi Minh City whose older half-sister comes back from America having seemingly accomplished everything she never will, the stories are a captivating testament to the dreams and hardships of immigration. The second piece of fiction by a major new voice in American letters, The Refugees is a beautifully written and sharply observed book about the aspirations of those who leave one country for another, and the relationships and desires for self-fulfillment that define our lives.
Why Articulate Scars? If you’re severely cut with a knife, it may heal, but a permanent mark will remain. If you gain weight quickly, your body will produce stretch marks as a result. In the three years it took me to compile these works, I’ve been entrenched in the rigors and whimsy of romantic endeavors, as well as an exponential growth toward self-actualization—the embracement of which has left my spirit beautifully scarred. These poems are living testaments to love’s losses and wins, adult growing pains, and dreams realized and deferred.
The poems inside Emily Fernandez’s chapbook, Procession of Martyrs, hold a
haunting beauty, much like an old cemetery at sunset. The language and imagery the poet often employs make up a “veil of stars:” “I sent my caterpillars in/ and out of your mouth butterflies/ fluttered, yellow as sunflowers.” The poetry deftly considers weighty subjects, all the while grounding us readers on this Earth, “dust clouded the windshield,” and “needle skips on vinyl” and “your grizzled cheek melting into ground like discarded gum.” I was moved by the stories that wounded like jagged edge of broken glass against the skin. The poems “An Inheritance” and “Resuscitate” and the title poem were among my favorites, and stayed with me long after I finished reading her beautiful book.
–Devi S. Laskar
A man running naked among the gridlocked cars of an L.A. freeway is the catalyst for this dark tale set in the rough neighborhoods of a decidedly unglamorous Los Angeles. In this version of the city, it’s not only the poor and the powerless who are desperate; even the better-off characters turn out to be broken sinners who crave hope and redemption. The gritty beauty of Pochoda’s writing, whether about cruelty and violence or about love, no matter how desperate, pulled me into the characters’ lives and compelled me to keep reading all night.
— Francesca De Stefano
Elsa Fisher is headed for rock bottom. At least, that’s her plan. She has just been fired from MoMA on the heels of an affair with her married boss, and she retreats to Los Angeles to blow her severance package on whatever it takes to numb the pain. Her abandoned crew of college friends (childhood friend Charlotte and her wayward husband, Jared; and Elsa’s ex-husband, Robby) receive her with open arms, and, thinking she’s on vacation, a plan to celebrate their reunion on a booze-soaked sailing trip to Catalina Island.
But Elsa doesn’t want to celebrate. She is lost, lonely, and full of rage, and only wants to sink as low as the drugs and alcohol will take her. On Catalina, her determined unraveling and recklessness expose painful memories and dark desires, putting everyone in the group at risk.
With the creeping menace of Patricia Highsmith and the bender-chic of Bret Easton Ellis, Liska Jacobs brings you inside the mind of an angry, reckless young woman hell-bent on destruction–every page taut with the knowledge that Elsa’s path does not lead to a happy place. Catalina is a compulsive, deliciously dark exploration of beauty, love, and friendship, and the sometimes toxic desires that drive us.
After “borrowing” her father’s credit card to finance a more stylish wardrobe, Margot Sanchez suddenly finds herself grounded. And by grounded, she means working as an indentured servant in her family’s struggling grocery store to pay off her debts.
With each order of deli meat she slices, Margot can feel her carefully cultivated prep school reputation slipping through her fingers, and she’s willing to do anything to get out of this punishment. Lie, cheat, and maybe even steal…
Margot’s invitation to the ultimate beach party is within reach and she has no intention of letting her family’s drama or Moises–the admittedly good looking but outspoken boy from the neighborhood–keep her from her goal.
Be prepared to be inspired! ‘Jus Sayin’ is a beautiful compilation, woven from deeply relevant thought and inspiration, that the author has shared over time, on social media. Having an indefatigable human spirit, this author challenges us to see life as an everyday miracle, an opportunity for personal growth, inner strength and love for human kind. It is a deeply touching book about love, forgiveness, self-acceptance, respect, and gratitude. Written in easy speak; it is a joy for the reader. A highly motivational book, it will urge us to see the silver lining in all circumstances, viewing our hardships as valuable lessons, forgiving what we think to be unforgivable, being of service to humanity, especially our children. Jeffery Martin has searched his soul, knows himself well; his only yardstick for measurement is his own. The honesty of his spirit is felt throughout this beautiful book. If you enjoy books such as ‘Chicken Soup for the Soul,” Jeffery Martin has taken soul comfort to a new level, with a dash of hot sauce. It is a book you will want to revisit time and again, seeking out beautiful words of wisdom, there is a passage there for every circumstance. “I’m not working for a better tomorrow, I’m working for a better today. Tomorrow doesn’t need me, today does,” is one excerpt which left me smiling, thankful for having read this refreshingly positive and powerful book. Brenda-Lee Ranta
Icon—F. Douglas Brown (2018)
Icon will be published by Los Ángeles’ Writ Large Press.