Various Shades of the Absurd and Other News

  • Affirmative action policies in universities are once again under scrutiny. Students for Fair Admission, a non-profit run by Edward Blum, the ‘legal strategist’ of last year’s Fisher v. University of Texas case, sued Harvard University in federal court for “discriminatory policies [that] harm Asian Americans”. What’s more, the Washington Post reported that the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division is internally seeking lawyers to litigate universities on the very same issue. Despite the sheen of progressive sounding verbiage from both the DOJ and Blum, it’s difficult to miss the sentiments and tactics behind the litigation that link it back to decades-old strategy of divide-and-conquer used by the white majority against racial minorities. As Jeannie Suk Gersen notes, “this lawsuit, and much of the discussion of affirmative action that surrounds it, makes a serious error in assuming that, in order to stop discrimination against Asian applicants, race-conscious affirmative action must end. […] It distorts and confuses the debate to lay the preferential treatment for whites over Asians at the feet of affirmative action—or, on the other side, to deny that Asians are disadvantaged in admissions today.”
  • In ‘Notes on a Suicide‘, Rana Dasgupta explores France’s cultural and social landscape and its politics through the story of Paris’s banlieues (suburbs) and the death of an eighteen-year-old girl: “Where so many people are poor and without private transport, the RER is the only way to come and go – and it has acquired a lugubrious grip over all existence. […] It is an emblem of exclusion and confinement, as one can tell from the constant references in French rap, whose heartlands are the Parisian suburbs. It is difficult to comprehend how places so close to one of the earth’s most significant urban hubs can seem remote until one comes to depend on these maddeningly infrequent trains, which take up to an hour to reach the capital. […] The car burnings that have become such an emblem of suburban life are very precise, after all, in their symbolism: they are a revolt against the mobile mainstream – against everyone whose rhythms are not drummed out by the deadening stop–start of double-decker trains.”
  • More absurdities on the extreme spectrum of the absurd: Trump’s tweet, “We ALL must be united & condemn all that hate stands for. There is no place for this kind of violence in America. Lets come together as one!” at the violence in Charlottesville between White Nationalists protesters and their counterprotesters, requires a new word to describe its absurdity altogether. Nineteen people were injured after a car drove into a crowd of counterprotesters around 2pm this Saturday.
Banlieue, West of Paris. Credit: AFP photo LOIC Venance

Ten Independent Publishing Houses To Check Out

Image by And Other Stories

On the lookout for some interesting reads? Well look no more! Below are ten of my favourite independent publishing houses who curate and publish some of the most daring and experimental works.

Archipelago Books

Seeking to fill a gap in the literary world, founder Jill Schoolman established the press in order to delve into literature outside the Anglosphere. With such a vast literary world beyond the “West”, Archipelago aims to illuminate, as Schoolman says, “other ways of seeing and being”. And it, in its ten years of translation and publication, has done so with the works of Scholastique Mukasonga, Marie Vieux-Chauvet, and Meng Hao-Jan.

And Other Stories

Focusing primarily on contemporary international fiction, And Other Stories is another publisher that values translated fiction. Its titles range from Deborah Levy’s Swimming Home – a novel that meditates on class and families – to SJ Naudé’s The Alphabet of Birds – a short story collection, translated from Afrikaans, that focuses on death, loss, and the subcultures of gay, expat, and artistic communities.

Sundress Publications

A non-profit, woman-run publication, Sundress is a publication group that includes Wicked Alice, Pretty Owl Poetry, and Rogue Agent. Alongside working with its member publications, Sundress publishes chapbooks and full-length books that often defy and challenge concepts of genre, as well as an anthology of the best online literary works.

Dancing Girl Press

Based in Chicago, Dancing Girl Press focuses on writings by women. Its chapbooks have intricately handmade designs and explore the relationship between the visual and the literary. Its titles include Anne Graue’s Fig Tree In Winter, Rebecca Valley’s The Bird Eaters, and Azia Archer’s Atoms and Evers.

Horse Less Press

Publishing chapbooks, pamphlets, and full-length books, as well as running an online literary journal, Horse Less Press focuses on imaginative and innovative poetry collections. My personal favourites include Nikki Wallschlaeger’s Houses and Sara Woods’ Sara or The Existence of Fire, both of which are moving and challenging with exquisitely written imageries.

Fitzcarraldo Editions

Publishing contemporary fiction and long-form essays, this London-based press focuses on works in translation as well as in the English language. Its titles include Alejandro Zamba’s My Documents to Ben Lerner’s The Hatred of Poetry. With each publication, Fitzcarraldo aims to introduce ambitious and innovative writing to the literary scene.

Pushkin Press

Established in 1997, Pushkin publishes everything from novels to children’s books, from classics to contemporary. The press is home to writers from around the world, including Antal Szerb, Gaito Gazdanov, and Edith Pearlman, and has easily become home to some of the most acclaimed and compelling writers.

Salt Publishing

Based in the UK, Salt works to discover and publish contemporary British literature. Publishing everything from fiction anthologies and novels to children’s poetry, Salt is best known for Alison Moore’s The Lighthouse, Luke Kennard’s The Harbour Beyond the Movie, and Wyl Menmuir’s The Many.

404 Ink

Established by freelancers Laura Jones and Heather McDaid, 404 Ink entered the literary world just last year. Known mostly for its publication of Nasty Women – a collection of essays, interviews, and writings that discuss the lives of women in this politically chaotic and deeply disparate world – 404 Ink aims to bring to light innovative and trailblazing writings.

Portobello Books

We have Portobello Books to thank for 2016’s Man Booker International Prize winning novel The Vegetarian. First established in 2005, Portobello is known for its fiction in translation, working with writers from all six continents. Portobello also has a non-fiction strand, publishing investigative journalism, travel writing, memoir, and reportage. Having received some of the most impressive literary awards, the press is renowned for the originality and individuality it brings to the publishing scene.

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Novella’s Fall Book Preview

Novella’s given you, our faithful readers, a preview of upcoming movies and TV shows coming this fall. Now it’s time to shine our spotlight on books!

Jesmyn Ward’s Sing, Unburied, Sing (pub date: Sept. 5th)

Tracing the past and the present of Mississippi, Ward’s upcoming novel follows a family – Jojo, his younger sister Kayla, and their mother Leonie – as they move toward the state penitentiary after hearing about the release of the children’s white father from prison. Exploring the love and limitations of family in the face of racism and poverty, Sing, Unburied, Sing parallels the likes of Toni Morrison.

Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere (pub date: Sept. 12th) 

Set in an idyllic Cleveland suburb, Ng’s latest novel centers on two mothers and their children: Elena Richardson, who parallels the suburb’s composed order, and Mia Warren, who resists the said order. Soon a divisive custody battle — a result of the Richardson’s family friends’ endeavor to adopt a Chinese-American baby — creates animosity between the two women. Described as witty and wise, Little Fires Everywhere traces the nature of secrets, art, and, above all, motherhood.

Sam Sax’s Madness (pub date: September 12th)

Sax’s debut poetry collection challenges notions of masculinity, sanity, heterosexuality, and normality. Writing about sex, hysteria and lobotomy, and his own experiences with mental health, Sax uses peculiarities in of the language to parallel and contemplate the peculiarities of the human mind.

Danez Smith’s Don’t Call Us Dead (pub date: Sept 5th)

Smith’s second poetry collection, like his previous work, discusses race, sexuality, power, and politics. It begins with imagining an afterlife for black men shot by the police and traces desire and mortality in relation to the body. A poet and an activist, Smith’s work has been celebrated for its innovative and political voice.

Jennifer Egan’s Manhattan Beach (pub date: October 3rd)

Set in Brooklyn in the 1930’s, Pulitzer-winner Egan’s novel follows an 11-year-old Anna Kerrigan, her father, and a nightclub owner named Dexter Styles, whom Anna learns is critical to her family’s existence. Eight years later, America is in the Second World War and Anna’s father is missing. A chance meeting with Dexter, however, helps Anna trace the complexities and, ultimately, the truth of her father’s disappearance. Egan’s first historical fiction, Manhattan Beach explores the oppositions within and dualities of human existence.

Jermey Dauber’s Jewish Comedy: A Serious History (pub date: Oct. 31st)

Divided into what Dauber refers to as the seven strands of Jewish comedy, the book delves into the ways in which Jewish comedy has approached persecution and diaspora. Examining comedic archetypes along with major Jewish comedians (Philip Roth, Sarah Silverman, Jon Stewart), Dauber’s work has been described as funny and crucial scholarship of Jewish history.

Han Kang’s The White Book (pub date: Nov. 2nd) 

The White Book, described as “the most autobiographical and the most experimental to date” by Portobello Books, is Korean writer Han Kang’s third publication in English. Starting with a list of white things the author saw in Warsaw (where she completed her writer’s residency), the book centers on Kang’s older sister, who’d died two hours after birth. Paralleling and intertwining imagery of the city and a new life cut short, Kang creates a genre-defying piece of literature, reflecting on life and death and survival.

Hallie Lieberman’s Buzz: The Stimulating History of the Sex Toy (pub date: Nov. 7th) 

Lieberman writes about the history of vibrators, tracing the changes in the ways in which it has been used and perceived. Starting with the lubricant in Ancient Greece all the way up to vibrators in present day, Lieberman discusses sex toys within the context of various attitudes towards sexuality, feminism, and LGBT issues, presenting sex toys in a new, less clandestine light.

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Novel Ideas: Poems Harrowed by History

It is difficult to say that Molly McCully Brown’s first book of poems, The Virginia State Colony for Epileptics and Feeblemindedis beautiful. Even at its most expansive, the word seems ill suited for poems rife with such pain and violence. It is harrowing. It feeds us what we’d rather not know and, as if bound, one cannot refuse to receive.

The title of the book refers to a notorious government run residential hospital in Virginia built in 1910. Overseen by eugenicists, the hospital performed more than 7,000 nonconsensual eugenic sterilizations on patients deemed ‘mentally deficient’ from 1920 to 1972. Brown, who lives with cerebral palsy, was raised not too far from the colony. In the opening and the only autobiographical poem she writes: “And by some accident of luck or grace,/ some window less than half a century wide,/ it is my backyard but not what happened/ to my body —” She is no casual visitor — she feels acutely the threat toward her body and therefore also the relief at the absence of actual danger. Time separates the body from being happened on but the space stands as though immutable; as though the space is no longer an organic palimpsest of histories so much as an encapsulation of a specific span of time, actions, pains, violence.

With a poet and a documentarian’s eyes, Brown’s spare blank verses relay the stories bound to the land from the perspectives of patients, doctors and caregivers, priests, and others. In the section, In the Chapel (Spring 1936), the chapel is a place of abandonment and cruelty, of work, and of confinement and strange transcendences. In ‘Psalm’, a patient remembers her baptism:

…………………………..The meek will inherit the earth, but you worry the mute and monstrous
…………………………..will pollute it long before that happens. So you strip me down,
…………………………..hold my head under the water in the basin,
…………………………..count to three, and pray in every language that you know
…………………………..“Dear God, bless this girl. Take her up and let her be the end of it.
…………………………..Put some distance between our bodies and hers. Take her out of our hands.”

And as if in response, on the very next poem a despairing priest wonders, “But, do the children of God really lose/ their eyes in the backs of their heads, and swallow their own tongues in church?” For the parents and the priest, the body is a space God has forsaken — a space that attests to the afeared fickle mind of God and leads them to pray ever more fervently, to have the good sense of building a chapel for the staff in the Colony. Yet, glimpses of faith or transcendence is also found through the body in contrast to the chapel built with “wood pews scavenged/ from bankrupt churches.” For a momentary transcendence, a patient turns to her body and those around it:

…………………………..I’d like to take the hands of the other
…………………………..epileptic girls & lead them
…………………………..up toward the altar,

…………………………..humming & weaving
…………………………..our arms together
………………………… chains.


…………………………..As the weeks I’m here
…………………………..grow achingly
………………………… months & years

…………………………..I make an outside world
…………………………..of the space between
………………………… bones.

…………………………..They did not build
…………………………..the church
…………………………..for us.

The bodies of the patients are long gone in more ways than one. But the chapel, some remnants of it, supposedly still remain, as do the original structures of the Colony. On the same tract of land where the Colony once stood, now stands a much more voluntarily filled and civil service sounding Central Virginia Training Center. Were we to know by whom and where and how and why the word ‘center’ came to replace ‘colony’, we would perhaps have a better idea as to to what extent it is a continuation of the Colony.

Reading Brown’s poem, one is transported to the Colony and the consciousness of many and there helplessly feels as though mountains should have been moved or in the very least the gates opened at the pains inflicted and felt, the in-between-breaths prayers. The poems raise fears that the structures and the land and the space around them perhaps retain the powerlessness the bodies there suffered but could not record.

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In celebration of National Poetry Month, The Novella Team Talks Poetry

Sylvia Plath Reading

The eminent minds behind the public education system deemed it not only reasonable but essential that the public make acquaintance with at least some bit of poetry. The meetings are often awkward, even violent, and, increasingly rarely, a beginning of a beautiful friendship. Whether we like it or not, poetry is a part of our lives in a curious way that encompasses both the personal and collective memories of adolescence and/or — depending on whether poetry is a part of one’s life past university — experiences of daily lives. Even if you hate Shakespeare and Homer, you no doubt know of Hamlet and Odysseus; if not through the works, then through their caricatures and parodies. And this, I like to believe, is not such a bad thing even at the cost of a few exams and essays.

In celebration of National Poetry Month Novella writers share moments from their lives in which poetry inevitable, irreparably took and takes part.

Meg, Contributor

Every year since I was six I have written my dad a Father’s Day poem. If you look at them all at once, it is interesting to see the progression from the classic “roses are red..” format to things that were actually kind of good. The best part is that each poem is a reflection on how he was as a dad that year — some are funny and some are down right rude and are inspired by some serious teen angst. Actually, thats not the best part. The best part is that he has lost all of these poems since but I still continue to write them.

Hoon, Managing Editor 

In my graduating year, I had to take a course called ‘A Major Modernist Writer,’ something that I had been putting away until the very last semester because there were terrible rumors of the specificity and dedication with which these writers of major significance were read, analyzed, discussed, slept on and dreamt of, and, most terrifying, treated as subjects for what should be an interesting and readable paper. Previous courses dealt with the likes of Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein, and James Joyce, so I wasn’t sure whether to be happy or sad when I landed on T. S. Eliot. For the next 12 or so weeks, I admired him, sure, but mostly hated him — for his inconsistencies, his being an anglophile, etc. — and took to juvenile attempts at beating the dead man with insults regarding his sexual stupor and his troubled marriage. At the end of the semester, I panicked and wrote a terrible essay and barely passed with a pity and mercy ridden C. The embarrassment, of course, made me despise the poet even more — to the extent that a friend and I fantasized about vandalizing every Eliot book in every library across the city. But the strangest thing is that, five years since, I still think of Eliot’s poems and plays. Sometimes fondly. Often with admiration.

Kimberley, Contributor 

I’d always been fond of writing poetry since I was a child. It started in the third grade when my class was assigned to write a poem about our favourite season. My teacher at the time, Mr. Z, was known for being laid back while still trying to prove to the principal of our school that he was following the curriculum, teaching a sweaty classroom of self-conscious and disinterested eight-year-olds how to count five, seven, and then five lines and make an uninspired haiku. That being said, I became increasingly interested in this assignment and was even chosen to present my poem in front of the class. The date approached for my big reveal and I faked some sort of illness in order to be sent home and avoid any potential mockery from the boys in my class. While the subject matter of my poetry has changed — from heartfelt letters to my high school boyfriend, to all the things I wish I said to that one boy I was secretly in love with all of my University career — my reluctance to show anyone my poetry remains the same. I find that it’s a therapeutic way to get out all of the things I know I would never say aloud, at the same time creating art that I can be proud of for me, myself, and I. Though I don’t imagine I’ll be on any bestseller list any time soon, I’ll hold onto my archive of messily written notes for my memoir. If I can give any advice: write what you want and don’t let eight-year-old boys tell you shit about life.

Chris, Fashion Editor

In the wise words of designer Simon Porte Jacquemus: “Fashion is poetry. It’s a way to tell a story, to say something in this world, because you always send a message with what you wear.” And it’s true, fashion is poetry. Life is poetry. Everything has poetry woven in and out of it. Just in the same way that Jacquemus thinks about poetry, as do I. I remember the first time I was introduced to poetry, not children’s rhymes and couplets, but real hard hitting confessional poetry. I must have been in high school, during my first two years. I remembering browsing Tumblr at the time and coming across a single line from Sylvia Plath‘s poem Daddy. Ever since then, my love for poetry has grown. But I’m here to tell you about something I call my holy trinity of poets. Now poetry, like all art, is subjective. However, for me, there are three poets who are so inspirational and moving. Their names are Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, and Sara Teasdale. These 3 poets broke boundaries in their respective areas of confessional poetry and lyric poetry. Not only did these women play groundbreaking roles in giving female writers a voice in the literary world, they helped the world understand the raw feelings and emotions that run through a woman’s life on a day to day basis. And that’s something for women today (and everyone for that matter) to look at if they ever feel as if their voices aren’t being heard, or if they need examples of strength to express their creativity and personal stories.

Claire, Contributor

Growing up, I was never a huge fan of traditional poetry. I’ve always liked and understood music as a type a poetry, but whenever we would study traditional poetry in school I would find myself lost and extremely bored. Honestly, at the time I don’t think I really understood what the hell the authors were trying to say. The metaphors and hidden meanings were often lost on me. As I got older, what very little interest in poetry I may have had left disappeared. That is until I stumbled across Quarter Life Poetry. As I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, I am currently dwelling in a quarter life crisis of my own, so maybe that’s why I enjoy this account so much. Or, maybe it’s because I actually understand and relate to the messages being expressed. Whatever the reason, I have one of the biggest social media platforms in the world to thank for slightly spiking my interest in poetry (it’s seriously worth checking out for a good laugh).

Andrea, Contributor

I recently read Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur. It’s a collection of poems that string a narrative together to emphasize sexual assault as a problem women face both mentally and physically. It’s so beautifully written and to anyone who needs to find some soul searching poetry, I definitely recommend this.

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