In this issue Narrative introduces a series of interviews with literary figures in order to give a complex view of the life of stories, how they are born, revised, and sent into the world. The first of these interviews are with two of the most influential people in American fiction and nonfiction of recent decades. Frank Conroy and Geoffrey Wolff are universally regarded as masters of their forms, and in addition to their work as writers, they have played powerful if subtle roles as the directors of two of the most prestigious MFA programs in the country: the Writers’ Workshop at the University of Iowa and the Graduate Writing Program at the University of California, Irvine, respectively. As admissions officers, teachers, editors, and writers, they have shaped a generation of young writers.
Their insights on teaching writing and on finding the balance between nurturing their own gifts and giving to students illuminate the delicate intersection of the writer’s solitary work and the social relationships that can lead to the maturation of skill. In their interviews, Conroy and Wolff generously tell stories from behind the scenes of their work.
In this edition readers will also find the second installment of Rick Bass’s novel The Diezmo, an excerpt from humorist Roy Blount Jr.’s new book on New Orleans, an excerpt from Chandler Burr’s Hollywood novel-in-progress, and stories by four gifted new writers: Alma García, Shann Ray, Krystn Lee Yang, and Pia Z. Ehrhardt. Rounding out the issue, we offer Ivan Turgenev’s classic story “Bezhin Meadow.”
Rick Bass’s novel, which began in our previous issue, continues here shortly after the renegade Texans’ invasion of Mexico has been thwarted in battle, and our narrator and his companions are taken prisoner and face the diezmo—punishment in which one of every ten of their company will be chosen by lottery for execution. Our narrator, however, has a strategy for increasing his odds of survival. We will publish the conclusion of the novel in April.
It’s often said that tragedy is easy and comedy hard, but Roy Blount Jr. makes humor seem natural and spontaneous, especially in his current account of the myriad influences, diversions, contradictions—in short, the rife bounties—of New Orleans. The piece excerpted here, about oysters, gives the brackish essence of the city for our delight.
Chandler Burr, who is a noted young journalist, playwright, and author of a best-selling nonfiction book about perfume and the mysteries of the sense of smell, The Emperor of Scent, is also a fiction writer completing his first novel. In the excerpt here, an automobile accident brings together three disparate Los Angelinos and sets the stage for collisions of a more personal sort, ones that reveal the shifting complexity of race, sexuality, and intellectual pretension in L.A.
The four emerging writers presented here are remarkably varied, and each of their stories commands wonder. In “Mrs. Secrest” Shann Ray illuminates a marriage in its middle years, showing with indifferent sympathy the lure of betrayal and a search for renewal. When even nostalgia for early love fails, what are a man and a woman to do?
From Krystn Lee Yang, a writer living in Seoul, we have “The Salaryman,” which takes place during a cutthroat economic downturn in corporate Korea. Yang shows an everyman trapped between ancient cultural traditions and a society possessed by capitalist goals. A fable about the fragility of security in a postmodern world, “The Salaryman” asks where one can find safety—and what it takes to keep from losing one’s soul.
Alma García’s “The Great Beyond” is narrated by a witty middle-aged college professor struggling at the intersection of many borders: the edges of nations, the pull of different generations, the distances that open in a marriage, and even the danger lurking along the fence of his own backyard. Against his will, he discovers that when his intentions and control over life fail, the impasse is broken.
In Pia Z. Ehrhardt’s “Famous Fathers,” a teenage girl learns the age-old dance between father and lover, discovering with glee and fear her own power to seduce and repel. It’s a deceptively entertaining story, pitch-perfect, full of tension and longing.
And to complement the remaining dark winter nights (in the northern hemisphere, at least), we offer Turgenev’s “Bezhin Meadow.” A marvelous work of naturalism and one of the engendering works of the short story form, it follows a bird hunter who has lost his way in the approaching dusk. What ensues is the story of night—of human fears and unknowing—suspended between the last evening glimmer and the dawn. If you’ve never read this story, don’t miss it here.
The Readers’ Narratives in this issue reflect concerns both domestic and global. In some cases, personal concerns touch the core of global anxieties, and global worries express themselves in domestic moments. These short pieces are coming to us from many corners, many different sensibilities. Whether about a young man’s father coming out as a gay man in Manhattan, or Muslim schoolchildren discussing beheadings with an American reporter in Morocco, or the downsizing of a VA hospital in Florida, the Readers’ Narratives echo larger conversations taking place around the world.
One of our goals with Narrative is to foster conversations about writing and life and to invite readers everywhere to take part. In the past year, the magazine received 1.5 million hits, some three hundred thousand page views, and thirty thousand unique visits. We suspect that the volume and range of these numbers will grow significantly in the coming year. But we don’t intend to leave that entirely to chance. Currently, we are in a development phase to establish a solid future for our nonprofit mission of encouraging literary values and providing Narrative free to readers. Toward that end, we’ve added a Support Narrative page that can be accessed from a link in the left-hand navigation on the Contents page. Anyone interested in supporting Narrative, even in token or modest ways, or who might be interested in becoming involved in the development of the magazine, is invited to look into the Support page.
Our next issue will appear in early to mid-April.
—Carol Edgarian and Tom Jenks