2017 Amuse-Bouche Archive

À La Carte: To All the Daughters

[creative nonfiction] To My Daughter, and All the Daughters, This is the letter I should have gotten from my mother, and that she should have gotten from her mother, and that should have been passed down through the ages like baking cloths, or photo albums, or funeral cards. It is the letter that tells you, […]

Litdish: Dana Johnson, Author

Dana Johnson is the writer of the short story collections Break Any Woman Down and In the Not Quite Dark, and the coming-of-age novel Elsewhere, California, which was nominated for the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award. She is an Associate Professor at the University of Southern California, and her work has appeared in The Iowa Review, Callaloo, […]

Spotlight: At the Coffee Office

[creative nonfiction] I should be writing. You are not here. For the next one hundred and twenty minutes, you are not my job. “Are you going to the coffee office?” you asked on the way to preschool, your cute phrase for what I do. Yes, yes. Three days a week, three slivers of a life […]

Writers Read: Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh

Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh is a work of transgressive fiction that follows the life of heroin user Mark Renton, a.k.a. “Rents,” and his friends known as the Skag Boys. The novel takes place in Scotland with occasional trips to London. Trainspotting is told from several different points of views and includes a revolving cast of […]

Spotlight: Reading Langston Hughes

[poetry] I’m on a bus reading Langston Hughes’s articles from The Chicago Defender and I realize it’s like I have no shadow. I’m on a bus sitting where I want to and in this article it’s 1946, and Hughes is in a restaurant and the hostess insists on seating him at the back of an […]

Litdish: Rick Bass, Author & Activist

It’s probably impossible to try to describe working as an activist in a population or demographic that is so violently against your aesthetics, and, often, you. Sometimes, simply raising the flag every day and taking the high road over the years is the best form of activism. One learns to be very mindful of the ineffectiveness of preaching to the choir or standing on the soapbox in such toxic environments.

À La Carte: Birth Wrong

[creative nonfiction] When I get to the top of Masada there are the canyons and there are the fortress ruins and there is the desert that stereotypically stretches out like a blanket location designed to set the scene for biblical abyss. There is this moment we are forced to be in together, all of us […]

Spotlight: Night of the Bread Knife

[fiction] It was a young and tiny family—a wife, a husband, a three-month old son. They moved into the apartment on the tenth floor of a building which was one of the original high-rises in Chennai. There were six apartments on each floor around a central corridor into which the lifts opened. The corridor was […]

Writers Read: Hunger by Roxane Gay

Roxane Gay’s Hunger is a powerful memoir that depicts a very personal narrative while also serving as a work of criticism, exploring society’s inability to see or accommodate the needs of the extremely obese. Her examples range from descriptions of public and private erasure, the dearth of public accommodation, and so much more. In simple […]

Spotlight: Cocoon

[young adult fiction] They called girls like her butterflies. At least the moms on Instagram did. Posting pictures of toddlers with low-set ears and thick necks and little girls with strangely puffed hands and feet. They used hashtags like #butterflygirl or #turnersyndrome. More often than not it was photos of blankets or baby toys bought […]

Litdish: Jeremy Radin, Poet

I wonder if in writing about my Jewish identity, I’m not only building a bridge between me and my ancestral and cultural history, but to the people who are right now, right here, suffering the things that my ancestors suffered long ago, back over there, about which I am free to write from a position of relative safety, certainly of great privilege. I wonder if I write to reaffirm my responsibility in fighting for those people, in listening to them, in centering their trauma in a conversation that has historically centered mine.        

Brooke Sauer, The More Than Human World, 2017, handmade collage on paper, 12 x 12 in

Spotlight: In Search of Treasure

À La Carte: People Going to Work

[fiction] The summer I worked at the casino pool, we took shuttles to and from the employee entrance. We were not allowed to park on property, only at a parking lot on the other side of the highway that added forty minutes, unpaid, to our workday. Sometimes in the mornings if I was groggy, or hung over from two-for-one margaritas from the Paradise Cantina, I walked onto the shuttle first without letting graveyard out. I weaved through them down the aisle, sunglasses on, somewhat ashamed yet inoculated to their glares.

Spotlight: Owl of Forest Park / Jackson Street

[poetry] Owl of Forest Park Early Saturdays, before the dawn, before the morning birds, I walked the trails of Forest Park beyond the zoo, crushed the arteries of Hoyt Arboretum beneath my spreading feet, turned the fallen petals from the rose garden to shaving peels. It was here, in the darkness of Portland mornings that […]

Writers Read: How the Body Works the Dark by Derrick C. Brown

Dearest Soon, I think I may be in love with you, Soon. The opening lines of Derrick C. Brown’s latest collection of love poems, How the Body Works the Dark, reveal the heart of his poetry in a sincere, simple declaration. Brown writes about love the way all poets should. His understated tone, diction, and […]

Spotlight: Sonnet II: We’re Not in Chinatown Anymore / Sonnet XI: Fast Paces of Street Market Life

[poetry] Sonnet II: We’re Not in Chinatown Anymore Philly’s Chinatown has no Hollywood, just a bunch of ripped up movie billboards, blockbusters translated into Chinese, signs right in front of the bookshop where I wait: my father is buying his zodiac books, fortunes for the new year. He’s psychic— it’s the Tiger telling his Snake […]

Writers Read: Devil in a Blue Dress by Walter Mosley

Walter Mosley’s Devil in a Blue Dress is a quintessential hard-boiled mystery novel. Mosley’s protagonist, Easy Rawlins, is on par with two of the genre’s most notable characters, Dashiell Hammett’s Sam Spade and Ross MacDonald’s Lew Archer. Set in 1948 Los Angeles, the sharply written first person narrative pays homage to its traditional genre conceits. […]

Spotlight: Letters From Indiana

[creative nonfiction] My mom sent me letters from Indiana. Stacks of cards with flowers and curly, purple ink inside. Breathtaking cursive spanned the card. My small hands touched the parts where she’d written sweet girl or my name. She had her first nervous breakdown when I was six years old, and was admitted to a […]

Writers Read: Child of God by Cormac McCarthy

Cormac McCarthy’s third novel Child of God, based loosely on an infamous murder in Sevier County, Tennessee, portrays a cycle of extreme isolation, perversity, and violence as representative of the natural human experience. The novel tells the story of Lester Ballard, “a child of God much like yourself perhaps,” who, facing a series of unfortunate […]

Brandi Read, The Oppression of Flora, 2015, Medium, Size

Spotlight: Unset in Stone

Writers Read: Create Dangerously by Edwidge Danticat

Create Dangerously begins with an essay about the public executions of Louis Drouin and Marcel Numa in Port-au-Prince. Drouin and Numa were Haitians who had met while living in New York City and had returned to Haiti as part of a guerrilla army that intended to take down the Duvalier dictatorship. François Duvalier—Papa Doc—made sure […]

Spotlight: Freehanding Maps of Minnesota / Canción Bilingüe

[poetry] Freehanding Maps of Minnesota I have called you feather down in my sleep, christened you the verge of memory, painted your rivers in the rain. I have written the scene before I even arrive; The breeze floats just enough to rustle the edges of the paper, lines only tenuously drawn. Do your lakes ever […]

Writers Read: Things That Are by Amy Leach

Things That Are is Amy Leach’s whimsical collection of nonfiction essays about the natural world. These essays blend poetry, nonfiction, and nature writing—bending the genre and exploring the boundaries of what form creative nonfiction can take. It’s through the unexpected and illuminating prose that Leach seeks to create a relationship between the reader and the […]

Spotlight: Because You are Dead

[flash fiction] You don’t know I have a picture of you, because you are dead. Before you were dead, I wondered what it would be like to be trapped in your mouth for eternity, like a wedded Jonah. Whenever you said honey or Leeza or, more likely, Lisa, I would feel the rib cage constrict. […]

Writers Read: Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth by Warsan Shire

There is a real casual ease by which the poems in Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth present themselves. They are not struggling to find a voice, but are grounded firmly in their style and language. This little chapbook feels solid, weighty, and Shire does a fine job of creating consistency in such a short […]

Writers Read: King: A Street Story by John Berger

The blurb for the paperback printing of King reveals the title character, our narrator, is canine. But John Berger blurs species lines in this poignant tale of twenty-four hours in the life of the marginalized inhabitants of a French homeless camp. With Berger’s spare, lyric prose, King is granted first person point of view. He […]

Spotlight: My Sweet Amygdala

[fiction] What would you do if you weren’t afraid? I walk out to the car in a state of unusual calm. In the house over there, which I share with my husband and son, my husband has just now informed me that he isn’t in love with me anymore, that in fact he is in […]

Writers Read: Night Sky With Exit Wounds by Ocean Vuong

Night Sky With Exit Wounds is woven from deep threads—the experience of fleeing war and becoming a refugee, migration and the sea, parent-child relationships, and queer sexuality. Life is complex. Layers of emotion, memory, and transformation unite in this journey of one human being. Vuong’s stories and structures made me feel huge possibilities in poetry. […]

Spotlight: I Remember the Smells

[poetry] I remember the smell of rusty handlebars, of rotten onions, smoke, garlic meatballs, stale fried fish, and clogged toilets. The local train smelled of skin of man and animal, of cheap tobacco and unwashed clothes, the smell of poverty and cold. The peasants carried raffia sacks stuffed with bread, food for chickens, and pigs. […]

Writers Read: Happening by Annie Ernaux

Near the end of her abortion memoir Annie Ernaux writes, “…these things happened to me so that I might recount them. Maybe the true purpose of my life is for my body, my sensations and my thoughts to become writing, …causing my existence to merge into the lives and heads of other people” (92). Not […]

Jayne Marek, Water Jelly Infinity, 2016, Medium, Size

Spotlight: Northwest Coast Structures

Writers Read: St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves by Karen Russell

On the face of it, St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves is a collection of ten short stories, many of which take place on the same island, many of which contain strong elements of magical realism, and all of which employ precise, evocative language. In “Ava Wrestles the Alligator,” against the backdrop of […]

Spotlight: The Last Word

[flash fiction] I’m wearing my banana-yellow pantsuit and my best ash-blonde, bob-styled wig. He’s an hour late. One of my fake lashes falls on my lap. The glue still sticky on my eyelid. He yells from outside my window. You up there? I press the eyelashes back in place and stumble out of the apartment […]

Writers Read: Vivas to Those Who Have Failed by Martín Espada

Martín Espada, where have you been all of my life? I believe that the universe sends artists, writers and poets gifts of inspiration when they truly need it. Espada is a Latino poet, like me, born in America, who has the eloquence of Walt Whitman and the passionate pulsating spirit of Charles Bukowski. Espada’s poetry […]

Spotlight: Shadow by Maayan Avery

[poetry] late night fireplace hiss; you bury yourself in rumpled quilts; woolen sanctums for solitude. circling your callused chest is a prison and epiphany— mouths and pectorals make a reckless truce to learn the metaphors of symmetry. we slipped one quarter in love and the rest in snow; our crumbling house is beige-mess of carpet […]

Writers Read: Kingdom Animalia by Aracelis Girmay

This collection of poetry opens with epigraphs by Charles Darwin, including one that lists similarities in the “framework of bones” between different animals: fins and hands, vertebrae in giraffes and elephants, “and innumerable other such facts, at once explain themselves on the theory of descent” (11). The poems shift their subjects from animals to humans, […]

Karen Boissonneault-Gauthier, Black Hole, 2016, Medium, Size

Spotlight: Ordinary Space by Karen Boissonneault-Gauthier

Writers Read: The Best American Short Stories edited by Junot Diaz

The 2016 edition of The Best American Short Stories, edited by Junot Diaz, plumbs the multiplicity of writing within the English language – and it may be a beacon for the future of the North American canon. The stories contained within this collection represent the vast experience of writing within an “American” life, as opposed […]

Spotlight: Ascension / Whale / Post-Apocalyptic Lotus by Janet Malotky

[poetry] Ascension When at last it tilted worse to land than leave what happened was this: the birds snipped their gravitational strands. They took two or three or five final wing strokes heavenward and on that momentum traveled, up and out. Kingdom, Phylum, Class: Aves the birds folded splendor, resisted iridescence, overrode any hints of […]

Writers Read: Live Girls by Beth Nugent

Live Girls by Beth Nugent is the story of Catherine, twenty-years-old, who abandons her first year of college at a women’s religious university, moves to the nearby city where she takes up residence at a seedy transient hotel, and accepts a job as a ticket seller in a squalid, decaying porn theatre. Catherine is pretty, curiously […]

Spotlight: Eso by Jimena Burnett

[poetry] When business was slow, the curandero would take his skills to the stable to heal horses. To the ladies at the barn, he speaks English, recommending an ointment, but there is no saying it in English. So, he says it in in Spanish: Cebo de Coyote con Aceite de Víbora. To the horses, he […]

Writers Read: The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi

“Somebody’s got to bleed if anybody’s going to drink” (164). In his climate-fiction (cli-fi) novel, The Water Knife, Paolo Bacigalupi’s cinematic writing begs to find its way to the big screen where his vast landscapes, dramatic dialogue, and poignant message on water consumption can reach the masses. While his story lands big, juicy punches, Baciglupi’s […]

Writers Read: Coal Mountain Elementary by Mark Nowak

Coal Mountain Elementary is a noteworthy example of investigative poetry, which incorporates data and reportage—including statistics, historical documents, news media, interviews, and images—into, most commonly, lyrical and prose poems. Claudia Rankine’s Don’t Let Me Be Lonely: An American Lyric (2004) is a well-known example of the former type as it lets the reader enter the […]

Spotlight: Shells II by Savannah Johnston

[fiction] Our room is around the back of the motel, away from the highway floodlights. Hiram and Baby are sleeping in the backseat by the time we pull up, and Mama carries Baby while Daddy slings Hiram over his shoulder like a sack of flour. Myself I walk. I’m grown enough to see the motel […]

Writers Read: The John McPhee Reader by John McPhee

John McPhee writes beautifully. About anything. From conservation and aviation to art and citrus. His voice renders topic irrelevant. Relentless specificity of language is the main attraction. Think ­pieces can blur the line between journalism and literature. Between the academic and the personal. McPhee is investigative nonfiction’s spirit animal. Even The John McPhee Reader’s ‘70s […]

Spotlight: Tapetum by Hannah Ford

[fiction] I hunt in the morning, because the world makes sense when you watch it beginning. The woods, they wake up like my 5-year-old, Emma. Kind of slowly, fluttering, then suddenly it’s all action everywhere all at once and you can’t keep up. The trees and bushes light up from inside, and then the sun […]

Writers Read: Play it As it Lays by Joan Didion

Play it As it Lays is the perfect novel and Maria is a fascinating mix between Lana Del Rey (the old Hollywood glamor, the detached gloom) and Little Edie Beale (the saltine tins, the psychic instability, the domestic disarray), appealing in large part because she is unapologetically herself. As Amy Schumer highlighted through a now-viral sketch, […]