Authors Doug Rice and Marc Anthony Richardson will be reading from their new books in Salt Lake City on Monday, Oct. 3rd, at 7 PM at Weller Book Works, 507 Trolley Square. The event is part of the Utah Humanities Book Festival and is in partnership with Western Humanities Review where excerpts from both works were published earlier.
Doug Rice is the author of An Erotics of Seeing, Das Heilige Buch der Stille, Between Appear and Disappear, Dream Memoirs of a Fabulist, Blood of Mugwump, and other books of fiction and memoir. He will be reading from his debut novel Here Lies Memory in which one man wills himself to go blind, not to forget, but to remember in new ways, while another man drinks beer after beer until he can no longer drink away what he must face. The novel explores the roles of memory and photographs in the lives of two families struggling to survive trauma amidst the gentrification of their neighborhood.
In an email exchange about the origins of his novel, Rice explains that he “was inspired by my many walks through the Hill District and along the North Side of Pittsburgh when I returned home to Pittsburgh after living in Stuttgart and in California. All I could see was ‘loss,’ an erasure of lives, of families, of homes. I wanted to make visible what capital was destroying through gentrification and racism.”
For Marc Anthony Richardson, who will be reading from his Year of the Rat, the origins of his novel partly stem from the desire “to free myself of my story. To give it all back, so that I could begin something anew, afresh, change shape. That is the biggest reason why the novel is called Year of the Rat,” he says, it is not only my lunar birth year, but the beginning of a 12-year cycle. Everything is always about expansiveness to me, about going deeper to become lighter, about beginning again and again.” Richardson received his MFA from Mills College. He is an artist and writer from Philadelphia and Year of the Rat is the winner of the Fiction Collective 2 Ronald Sukenick Innovative Fiction Prize and tells the story of an artist who returns to the dystopian city of his birth to tend to his invalid mother. The publisher writes that the narrator’s voice is “poetic and profane, ethereal and irreverent, cyclical and succinct, [and] creates a polyphonic patchwork of a family portrait.”
Both books are published by houses which celebrate experimental fiction: Rice’s by Black Scat Books out of San Francisco, and Richardson’s by Fiction Collection (FC2), an author-run, not-for-profit publisher of artistically adventurous, non-traditional fiction. An imprint of the University of Alabama Press, FC2 receives strong support from other universities, including the University of Utah. Michael McLane, Director of the Utah Humanities Book Festival says that while commercial publishers–“The Big 5” as they are known–do “extraordinarily well” in bringing “hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of people [to the pages of] Jonathan Lethem or Viet Thanh Nguyen, both of whom will be coming to Utah in the near future … the English language is a vast, playful, and sometimes frightening place. I see no reason, aside from lack of access, to limit one’s exposure to it solely to what is happening in New York editorial offices. That lack of access is what we hope to alleviate by bringing in writers [to the annual Book Festival] such as Rice and Richardson.”
The partnership of the book festival and Western Humanities Review (WHR) to bring the this “playful and sometimes frightening place” of experimental lit to Utah is a particularly good fit. U of U professor of creative writing Michael Mejia took over as editor of the WHR in 2014 and coordinated getting both authors to Utah. WHR is a a hybrid scholarly and literary journal, “something that makes us pretty unique in the journal landscape,” explains Mejia. “One of our three issues a year is devoted solely to the conference papers of the Western Humanities Alliance (a scholarly consortium based at several universities around the western U.S. and Canada), while the other two issues feature fiction, poetry, essays on a variety of subjects, and art.” That said, Mejia, as with McLane and the book festival, is very interested in developing communities around his enterprise, both here in Salt Lake and online, communities which are interested in, and “can help us ask and investigate, questions about what the West (broadly), is and has been, is becoming … . I say broadly,” he continues, “because I want us to think … about not just the American West (its representation, landscape, borders, water, land art, etc.), but also the concept of West as it’s imagined elsewhere, the Western hemisphere, and also the varied Easts that help to define us.”
The mission and books of Black Scat Books and FC2 (the latter of which has also published Mejia along with his U of U colleagues Melanie Rae Thon and Lance Olsen, among others) fit into WHR’s own direction and current momentum, not to mention the expanding offerings of Utah’s signature literary event, the statewide Utah Humanities Book Festival which continues through October.
from Here Lies Memory
by Doug Rice
Years before Bob returned from Vietnam, the Compson house caught fire and burned completely to the ground. Nothing remained of the house or of the family, aside from ashes and a few scattered rumors. The house disappeared from the earth. This fire that put an end to the Compsons was the kind of fire that burns fire. It burned so hot that the firefighters thought it would destroy the entire neighborhood, but through divine intervention, or something else holy and unspeakable, or perhaps through something unholy and most likely too evil for words, only the Compson house burned and burned and burned.
Neighbors say that fire burned for years. Some say it is still burning, that it will always burn and that nothing will ever be settled. Those flames leapt up into the night sky, as if they were seeking enlightenment or redemption. Houses on either side of the Compson house were unharmed. The walls of those houses did not even become warm. Children stood in their yards watching the flames reaching out of the earth toward those heavens. Their parents told them to be careful, to not get too close to the flames; in even softer voices, they told their children to pray and to be thankful. “God is good. God is kind. There are lessons to be learned.”
When all that fire had grown tired of being fire and just quit on itself, only a scorched hole in the earth and a small pile of ashes remained. Nothing else. No charred wood. Not a refrigerator or a stove. Not sad, abandoned mementos. Nothing. The house and everything in it had been reduced to a single pile of ashes. Everything that everyone wished could be forgotten, but that would never truly be forgotten, rested in those ashes. The Compson family was missing. They still are. Years later, a new house was built where the Compson house once was, and a man named Bob bought that new house when he returned from the Vietnam war.
With that Compson house burned down into the earth, no one who remained in the neighborhood held onto any sort of belief. The words had been burned out of the Bibles in every house for miles around, and the souls of all those who lived nearby were eaten by those flames. All the faith that everyone who lived in the Compson neighborhood had ever held dear to their hearts perished. More than any other kind of faith, these people had lost their faith in the possibility of enchantment. And that did something to each of them. It changed them in ways that made them doubt their children and made them think twice before taking God at His word.
from Year of the Rat
I am halfway through. I have jus
t passed the candelabra and you are growing larger. You are embedded inside an encrustation of undyed linen, impeccably white in contrast with the pure darkness of your skin, the grayness of your bargain-basement suit, the blood red slit of the silk tie and the black shiny shape of the open casket, ruffle-brimmed, with lid interior lined impeccably white as well; I see a titanium-colored bar along the length of it and where your feet are there is a white sheet hanging over the side at a right angle like the drape of a tablecloth or a dinner shirt untucked. No: you are blackberry pie filling a raven a personification stuffed inside a dough-frilled pan and waiting to be covered with more of the same, waiting to be pushed inside flame and hellish Fahrenheit—and yet on the threshold of this long bright room I first noticed the eleven chairs, six on one side and five on the other, how they’re spaced to support the walls and no one else: the walls would’ve followed me without them, I know, come closing in like a compactor of condolences with every step I took towards you. There were only four provisional lights on, two electric candelabra in the middle of the room, rising from opposing walls, and two tall standing lamps at the far end, sentries or doormen you could say, one on either side of him who has already passed through. The elderly man the pink-white man who prepared you, the director, had asked me his patron for his pardon as he moved to turn on more lights, two fluorescent overhead lights and two more lamps between the candelabra and the doormen, no doubt thinking that one should have more lights when viewing the beloved—as if a flood of wattage can lighten the load of the weeper who is also the consumer. Don’t, I tried to say, don’t turn on any more lights—my god, I don’t want to feel like I’m in aisle five with flour and pie filling with sugar and spices and panic attacks; yet already he had and this makes me resent the old faggot. Although I know in my heart of hearts he isn’t severe he’s effeminate, mottled with rosacea and aging and kind with clean cuticles of conscience, with almost a half a century of soil in his blood in this business—and yet also I sense upon his fall of silence fresh cries crushed by the tight-lipped mouth. For what? for whom? who knows? But it is for this reason and this reason alone that I’m purchasing his services. I am the weeper. I am the consumer.
Standing over you I turn: sitting beside the entrance is the director in the twelfth chair, separate from the eleven, and this too makes me resent—no pisses me off: I want to be alone with the body, you fuck. You should know. Forty-five years of accommodating customers, you should know. But I don’t say it because there are already those ten pristine fingertips shaping a form in the back of my mind, harboring a heart, and then the white snowcapped skull I see and Saturn Devouring His Son so avariciously that I long to scream into the white sheet and to swallow myself with sleep. I return to you. Other than for the faux nose, fired clay persuasively painted, it is how it is always imagined, isn’t it? The whole body lies in impeccable taste: suit and tie, (lift the sheet) shoes shined for the shoeshine boy at heart, a skillfully trimmed mustache and—wait? What? I asked for the goatee, you were growing a goatee, you never grew one; I have one—why didn’t he keep the goatee? He asked me if I wanted to keep it and I told him to; the firstborn was sitting across from us at the restaurant table; he heard me. But of course: the firstborn. That was why he walked the director out into the parking lot while I stayed behind waiting at the table, the lastborn waiting for the banker firstborn to return and settle the estate. What estate? He walked him out into the parking lot to tell him to take off the goatee; he had no right—he’s jealous; everyone wants the dead to look like them. Although face to face, mirror to mirror, I am recognizing the resemblance: I am looking down into that face (without its glasses and without mine) at my face (not the firstborn’s face) mirrored a million mirrors away—and I find it hard looking into the face of the dead when the face of the dead looks like me. Your eyes are going to open up and grab me, I just know. Yet deep down down deep, elicited from this facial tranquility, there is an utterance in me, a word an unpronounceable word which I can only here pronounce: Papa?