Things to Read + Listen To!

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Hey Hi Hello! I am freshly back from La Playa, by which I do NOT mean Burning Man but the Radar LAB writing retreat in Akumal, Mexico! It was an amazing 11 days of hard work on a novel that has been working my nerves for the past THREE YEARS, spending five hours a day trying to figure out its mysteries and make it somewhat comprehensible, all while sitting across a table from Ariel Schrag, who was similarly toiling away on a variety of projects including a comic about glasses, an episode of the hilarious Ariel and Kevin Invade Everything, a spooky kids’ book and a television pilot! Being at the Radar LAB makes me so excited for life because I see how many awesome books and projects there are to look forward to – CA Conrad‘s next book of Somatic poetry, for instance. After seeing him sitting in the waters of the Caribbean, letting tiny fish investigate the ginourmous quartz crystal he wears in a bespoke crystal holster around his neck I am dying to hear what he creates.

Luckily, while I wait for these projects to come together I have a lot of amazing work piled up on my kitchen table waiting for some attention! Check it out! On behalf of The United States of America I would like to welcome Australian visual artist Arlene Texta Queen, who just shacked up in Oakland! Texta came on Sister Spit in 2007, showing their dazzling and intricate magic market topless and nude portraits of queers each night, telling funny anecdotes about their subjects as they flipped through rainbow-bright slide after slide. ‘Texta’s in Australia are the equivalent of ‘Sharpie’s here in the US, and the humble writing utensil if what Texta uses to create their magic. They’re coming along with Sister Spit next year, April 2013, showing new work which features queer people of color as their dream apocalypse superheros. Texta showed a bunch at a Sister Spit show in the East Bay last month and they are fantastic! They also read from some slammy, hip-hop inspired poetry, which they’ve collected into the chapbook HARSHBROWNS: for racism hangovers. Pieces such as ‘Did Anyone Ever Tell You That You Look Like Kreayshawn?’ ‘You’re Not Racist, You Love Brown People!’ and ‘Dear Person of Whiteness’ are fabulously vicious,  funny and too real; while the poems ‘Goth Poem’ and ‘The Recipe’ retain the toughness but strip away some of the humor, just letting the pain of racism’s familial legacy and daily bullshit take the page. You all can grab a copy of HARSHBROWNS when Sister Spit takes flight this spring, as well the hilarious and playful Colour-in-Nudes, Rub-On Bikinis, which reproduces many of Texta’s queer, punk nudes (including moi!) in black and white for you to color PLUS with funny rub-on bikinis to cover their nakedness. It is totally awesome!

OMG – what do you do when one of your favorite writers makes a book with one of your favorite artists??? You go a little bonkers with joy! Daniel Handler is not only one of my favorite writers (The Basic Eight is one of my personal classics) but he is also one of my favorite people, and a reason why it’s so great to live in the Bay Area – see for yourself! Without Daniel Handler we’d be B-O-R-E-D! And Maira Kalman, for those who missed her recent show at the Contemporary Jewish Museum, is a super inspiring, sometimes whimsical illustrator with a poet’s eye for daily detail. Her stuff shows up a ton in The New Yorker, she has kid’s book and her gorgeous books for grown-ups, The Principles of Uncertainty and And the Pursuit of Happiness are positively enchanting. Maira Kalman was half of the design team M&Co. with her deceased husband, Tibor Kalman, who was responsible for Benneton’s radical aesthetics magazine Colors. ANYWAY, can you believe these guys collaborated on a book?! A young adult book, no less, that details the breakup of a very brief relationship between an artsy teen girl, Min (short for Minerva) and her rather jock-y paramour, Ed. It’s Min informing Ed of why they broke up, which is why the book is called Why We Broke Up, and Maira charmingly illustrates each of the little souvenirs Min saved from their romance. Check out Daniel interviewing random strangers about their breakups in Grand Central Station, read the book, and then hunker down and wait for the MOVIE, starring Hailee Steinfeld who was such an excellent toughie in True Grit. And don’t worry about the book getting ruined, because Daniel is writing the screenplay! Yeeow!

This book was handed to me by Dorothy Allison while we traveled together on Sister Spit, and it looks awesome. Girlchild is the first novel by Tupelo Hassman, and it’s the story of a girl trying to get out of the dead-end Reno trailerpark where she lives with her messed-up mother by studying the Girl Scouts’  Handbook. And Tupelo plays with the structure by working diary entries, social workers’ reports, letters, arrest records and family trees into the mix. I love when people do that!

You know how some people worry all the time about all the rotten shit that might happen? I have the obvious problem – in spite of all that life has shown me, I have a hard time believing that the worst case scenario could come true. So I was seriously shocked and pained in my stomach to learn that the really talented and exceptionally sweet writer Cheryl Burke (Cheryl B) had passed away at age 38 from complications from treatment she was receiving for Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. A brand new press called Topside is publishing her Sarah Schulman-edited memoir, My Awesome Place, which follows her movements through the East Village art scene in the 1990s and her struggles with a crappy family, bad romance, and addiction, all told in the funny, real, down-to-earth voice that made her such a favorite. Read it and weep – you’re going to feel like you’ve lost a bestie at the end of the memoir, and we all have. A big Fuck Yeah to Topside for publishing this work. If Cheryl was alive I would no doubt be taking her on Sister Spit to read from My Awesome Place. Since there is no Cheryl here to promote this work it’s up to us who knew her and you who wish you did to grab this book and help her keep her place in the street poet gritty girl pantheon. Look for the book this fall.

What would YOU do for YOUR writing, my friend Ali Liebegott likes to ask undergraduates after making them watch Julian Schnabel’s drop dead gorgeous adaptation of Reinaldo Arenas’ memoir, Before Night Falls. The a passionate writer and sex-positive queer was jailed, tortured and all but driven mad for being a hedonistic homo and a writer of ‘counterrevolutionary’ books in Cuba. Reinaldo begins pre-revolution as a baby peasant in the magical, if brutal, countryside; as he matures into a writer and faggot we feel the walls close in upon him – friends are informers, efforts to escape go awry, he is jailed and tortured, relased as a homeless persona non grata, all the while writing, hiding his manuscripts, leaving them with traitors, being published overseas to great acclaim. Finally managing to dodge cops and escape to Miami during the Marial boatlift, Reinaldo arrives in the free world to find that his lefty supporters condemn him for having bailed communism, and his publishers won’t pay up. I’m reading this book as part of Yerba Buena Center for the Arts’ YBCA:YOU book club, which I have the wild honor + pleasure of curating. Because YBCA is showing the films of Chinese dissident artist Ai WeiWei I was inspired to  have us read Before Night Falls as a document of the artists’ will to creation and self-preservation under a fascistic government. If the book sounds like a heavy read,it is, but it is also written so lushly and with such intensity and honesty that it captivates, horrifies and awakens. Says Reinaldo upon finally leaving his home, ‘The difference between the communist and capitalist systems is that, although both give you a kick in the ass, in the communist system you have to applaud, while in the capitalist system you can scream. And I came here to scream.’

Hey, thanks City Lights for sending me a copy of Julian Talamantez Brolaski’s Advice for Lovers. This collection of poetry is great! Julian is a crazed romantic, his book begins with Dedication to Venus, which is exactly what it sounds like, and moves on to a series of poem written in a high style and as likely to name-drop Paulie Shore as Getrude Stein; indeed, the poet references both! Something about the inclusion of words like nerdiness and slut into verse that is intensely wed to form makes me super giddy. ‘Put me in a suit and call me Mary’ the poet requests in Fuck Me Harder. The copy tags the work ‘sexy, kinky, disquieting . . . blazes an erotic trail.’ And it does so with a pervasive humor that does not make light of but rather sinks the moment deeper into the psyche, where sex, pain, longing and humor all hang out. I’m so into this book!

HIP, HIP, HOORAY! Nicole J Georges‘ long-awaited graphic memoir, Calling Dr. Laura, is that much closer to being on your bookshelf! I feel super duper close to this excellent book, as Nicole is one of my BFFs, she’s worked on this project at the Radar LAB and has toured it in-progress with Sister Spit! Featuring her endearing, beloved illustrations (which you hopefully already know about from her zine Invincible Summer as well as her hot item animal calendars) Calling Dr. Laura takes us into Nicole’s charming, Portandy world of backyard chickens and andro girl heartbreakers, zines and punk bands, karaoke and vegan treats – and then drops us into a serious family mystery, with consequences so upsetting that Nicole loses her mind and turns to none else but Dr. Laura Schlessinger. Nicole’s native optimism gives way to the intense childhood vulnerability as the narrative goes backwards and forewards through her life. I wonder if she’s annoyed that everyone is already comparing her and her book to Alison Bechdel and Fun Home – so they’re both queer girl graphic memoir geniuses! Enough already! And why won’t my computer let me stop italicizing everything?! – but then again, if the sensible shoe fits . . .

Well, I guess I’m just trapped in italics for some reason. Mercury retrograde bummer! Anyway, know what’s not a bummer? McSweeney’s putting out National Book Award finalist Susan Straight‘s newest novel, Between Heaven and Here. A daughter of California’s hardscrabble Central Valley, Susan writes about race, poverty and being female. This is her third of a trio of books set in the fictional town of Rio Seco that is as real as Riverside or Modesto, Bakersfield or Fresno. It centers around the story of a crack-addicted prostitute, Glorette Picard, the people affected by her and the sinister history of the city itself. The book is out in September and Susan will be reading at RADAR on September 5th so mark your calendars!

Another great-looking book from the great press Two Dollar Radio! Karolina Waclawiak’s How to Get Into the Twin Palms promises to explode the immigrant novel with the story of Anya, a young Polish immigrant woman living solo in Los Ageles who is hell-bent on getting into the exclusive Russian nightclub Twin Palms. You know sometimes you skim a book and get REALLY EXCITED? This book is doing that to me. I have to hurry up and finish this blog so I can start reading it! I think it is filled with unique and quirky observations of Los Angeles and humanity from the sharp perspective of the strangely ambitious, Bingo-playing Anya. Probably you should totally get it.

We’ve been through so much together – racism, exile, immigration, death, murder, family secrets – let me leave you with a song in your heart! Music maker and Original Plumbing founder Rocco Katastrophe has a new CD out! And look at the cover! It is exploding into your optical nerve and making you want to eat it! ‘Second hand Emotion embodies what it might sound like if Morrissey made 90’s R&B’ says the press release, and I say YEAH! Because that sounds awesome and also because it’s true! Rocco retains his trademark hyper-brainy lovelorn party grooves while pushing it to the next level in terms of style and production and rhyme. But taking it to the next level is also a bit of a trademark for this dude, whose talent sharpens and shines harder with every musical output. Second Hand Emotions bounces between gritty raps and sincere serenades, and moves into new instrumental territory: Hello synths and beats, meet piano and acoustic guitar! This CD is soooooo great! Get the CD and/or the digital download at

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