The Science Fiction & Fantasy Poetry Association (SFPA) hosts the annual Elgin Awards — named for SFPA founder Suzette Haden Elgin — which honor the best poetry books (49+ pages) and chapbooks (10–39 pages) of speculative poetry from the past two years.
The 2019 winners for book length collection are:
Winner:War: Dark Poems by Marge Simon & Alessandro Manzetti (Crystal Lake Publishing, 2018)
Second Place:Artifacts by Bruce Boston (Independent Legions, 2018)
Third Place: Witch Wife by Kiki Petrosino (Sarabande Books, 2017)
The 2019 winners for chapbook length collection are:
That’s right! My collaborative chapbook written with the amazing Lauren Madeline Wiseman has placed third in the Elgin Awards. We are so phenomenally honored to be included among such amazing works of poetry.
And I’m so stoked that I’m hosting a poetry giveaway on my Instagram — featuring copies of the two winners and a copy of my collaborative chapbook.
I adored Ann Leckie’s Imperial Radch series, with the first book Ancillary Justice being one of my favorite reads in 2015. One of the things I loved about these book is how the author was able to shape cultures that felt vivid and complex, exploring the power structures that exist and the various nuances of custom, belief, and prejudice within those societies — and this is something she does equally well in her first foray into fantasy, The Raven Tower.
Amparo Dávila is a beloved figure in Mexican horror. During the Petrified Trees, Enchanted Mirrors: The Gothic Universe of Female Mexican Horror Writers panel at WorldCon 76, speakers Raquel Castro, Andrea Chapela, and Gabriela Damian Miravete, as well as moderator Pepe Rojo praised her work as being vital and foundational in the genre. Her writing examines the social conditions of women within Mexico under the guise of chilling tales.
Dávila has been writing horror stories in Spanish since the 1950s. Now for the first time, her work appears in English translation through the publication of The Houseguest and Other Stories in mid-2018 — which I had to pick up as soon as I was aware of its existence.
Translated by Matthew Gleeson and Audrey Harris, the language presented in Dávila’s collection of stories has a subdued beauty that calls forth underlying tensions and terrors of daily life. The titular story, “The Houseguest,” is one of the author’s best known and well-love stories. The lady of the house is horrified when her husband invites a guest to stay with them, a guest who terrifies her and the women and children of her household. When she brings this up with her husband, he ignores her concern and demands that she show this guest every respect due. As the days go on her horror slowly increases, as it becomes less and less clear whether this guest is a man or something else.
“The Houseguest” perfectly illustrates Dávila’s unique brand of horror, which is centered around the mundanity of every day life. When looked at from one angle, everything seems normal with any fears the result of the generalized anxiety of being a human being in the world. But if you look at it from another angle, the strangeness of the events bubbles to the surface, one moment added together with the next revealing surprising answers.
Other stories carry the same sense of the banal laced with horror. “The Last Summer” is the story of a woman who is dispirited by life and aging. The news of an unexpected pregnancy does not cheer her, but instead feels nothing but foreboding.
In “The Breakfast,” a family’s sense of normalcy is shattered, when the daughter begins relating her bad dream. As much as the family tries to carry on with their morning breakfast, they become increasingly unsettled by her haunted expression and frightened words.
In “Oscar,” a woman returns home from the city, prepared to face the judgement of the men in her family and the oppression of a family secret that rears up from the basement.
Although many of these stories focus on horrors faced by women — such as the causal violence enacted by men — women are not alone in facing the ever-present disturbing-side of the world. For example, in “Moses and Gaspar” (one of my favorite stories in the collection), a grieving man inherits two creatures, named Moses and Gaspar, following his brother’s death. The sorrow of these “pets” is just as great as that of the main characters, and they show their grief through tears and angry outbursts. This story is terrifying to me, since it’s not clear what kind of creatures Moses and Gaspar — cats? dogs? monkeys? or are they even animals at all? Although the man tries to care for them in honor of his brother, they disrupt and destroy his life. It would be easier to just dispose of them — except that they are all bound by the shared experience of immense loss.
In addition to their discussion of Dávila’s work, the Petrified Trees, Enchanted Mirrors panel also discussed a number of other great female horror writers from Mexico. You can listen to the full panel via The Outer Dark podcast, where you can also find a list of authors discussed listed in their show notes.
Apparently, today is National Book Lovers Day — and since I love books — I thought I’d share six books I love to reread over and over again. These are books that connect with me on a deep level. I’ve read each of these books at least twice, and I will likely reread them again in the future.
In fact, just talking about these books makes me want to pick them up again.
Beloved by Toni Morrison
Beloved is a book about being haunted — at first Seth is haunted by the memories of being a slave and later by the ghost of her baby, who died nameless. This is a stunningly beautiful book, the culture, the characters, and the layers richly textured. I’ve read Beloved three times and each time I’ve been swept away by the poetry and power of Morrison’s story. Every reading offers new discoveries, new linguistic treasures.
It broke my heart this week to learn of Morrison’s passing. If you want some profound words in honor of her life and work, here are eight black female writers and thinkers on Toni Morrison’s legacy. For my small part, I’ll be rereading Beloved for the fourth time and seeking out some of her work that I haven’t had a chance to read yet.
Dune by Frank Herbert
Dune is a political science fiction book. The Atreides family is sent off to take control Dune, a desert planet and the only place where the spice Melange can be produced — the most valuable substance in the universe. The story is fraught with intrigue, with scheming and betrayal coming from every angle,
Story time: Years ago, I picked up Dune on the same day I was heading over to a friend’s house for a sleepover (because I always bring books with me on the chance I need something to occupy an empty moment). When my friend went off to tell her mother something, I picked up the book intending to read a page or two. . . . Then my friend returned.
What should have happened is me putting down the books so that I could hang out the way a socially aware, polite person would do. What actually happened is I spent the rest of the night reading — pausing only long enough to eat, go to the bathroom, and sleep for an hour or two. I finished the book early the next morning, very grateful that she was still willing to be my friend.
When I reread the book again years later, pretty much the same thing happened (except I had adult responsibilities to attend with).
Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler
I’ve long been a fan of apocalyptic dystopian tales, with Parable of the Sower being at the top of my list as one of the best. Set in a California ravaged by poverty, drugs, and chronic water shortages, the story follows Lauren Olamina as she escapes from her home after it burns down. Trying to forge her own path through a dangerous world, she develops a belief system built on the practicalities of the world around her, which she shares with the fellow refugees she gathers around her — all making their way North in pursuit of some somewhere safe to call home.
Parable of the Sower moves me each of the times I’ve read it. In a world full of desperate people, fighting brutally for survival, I love the way these characters come together and care for each other. I also find the Lauren’s parables, presented at the beginning of the chapters, fascinating and beautiful.
Her by Cherry Muhanji
I discovered Her during a summer-long internship at the publisher Aunt Lute Books. The novel, which won the Lamda Literary Award in 1991, explores the relationships between a community of black women in 1950s Detroit. The language is liquid in its beauty, irreverently illuminating the streets of the Motor City, contrasting the hard work of the automotive plants with the rowdy bars leaking jazz out into the night.
My fellow interns and I read Her twice over while helping to helping to copy edit the book for its second edition — and I’ve since read it a third time for the sheer pleasure of the language and the story it enfolds. I’m so honored to have taken any tiny part in working with Aunt Lute on this book.
The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury
The Martian Chronicles is a novel comprised of interconnected short stories that imagine humanity’s repeated attempts and failures to colonize Mars, from the first visitors to the cities of humans that sprouted over the planet. The stories range in tone and styles, with some being thrilling, others being humorous or haunting.
On the whole, I’ve read The Martian Chronicles twice — but the individual stories, I’ve read many times over. “There Will Come Soft Rains” — one of my all-time favorite short stories and powerful in its standalone compact form — I’ve probably read a dozen times. Below is a recording of Leonard Nimoy reading the story:
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
One of the things my sister and I have in common is our love for Jane Austen, especially her well-loved novel, Pride and Prejudice. We have both over the years read this novel several times over (although I’m certain that my sister has me wildly beat on that count). We love this story of the Bennet sisters and their search for marriage and love, with all its ever present wit and misunderstandings and prideful mistakes. Reading Pride and Prejudice is a soothing pleasure and delight each time I pick it up. In the end, the characters we love come together and find happiness.
Are there any books that you’ve read more than once? Which are your favorites?
Song of Susannah is a cool 400 pages or so — quite a relief from the 850+ pages of the two previous volumes in the series. Strictly on a physical level, it’s a lot less book to heft around. However, the condensed nature of the book does not negate the value of its storytelling. Song of Susannah is tight in its action and character development, which makes the story all the stronger.
At the end of Wolves of the Calla, the battle was won but the katet was divided — Susannah, pregnant with a demon’s child and being overtaken by Mia (a new personality), has stollen the Black 13 (a powerful and dangerous stone) and absconded to another world and time. Song of Susannah opens in the midst of this loss, with Roland, Eddie, Jake, and Callahan nursing their wounds and working to come up with a plan to both save Susannah (in one time and place) and obtain the empty lot with the rose from an obsessive bookseller named Tower (who exists in a completely different time and place).
All their planning doesn’t help much, however, because ka has its own designs, immediately setting everything awry — Roland and Eddie find themselves fighting thugs while chasing after the bookseller, while Jake, Callahan, and Oy find themselves going after Susannah.
Unlike the previous book (with it’s slow build to battle), the action in Song of Susannah comes quick and bloody. Roland and Eddie are immediately attacked when they land in the past, and Susannah’s struggles are constant, if internal. The intensity is ever present, since the characters (and the readers) know they are facing virtual ticking bombs — time is desperately short. Failure to achieve either of their goals will result in death of Susannah and/or the destruction of all the universes.
Structurally, Song of Susannah is different from any other book in the series — each chapter is titled as a verse, making the book itself the overall “song.” Each chapter also concludes with a two stanzas of a commala, which is a kind of call and response song. The structure and inclusion of verse lends the story a folky vibe, like a legendary tale shared over a campfire. This feels fitting considering the revelations that come later in the book, with the writing down of tales being vitally important to the characters survival.
You’re in the hands of fate.
No matter if it’s real or not,
The hour groweth late.
The hour groweth late!
No matter what shade ya cast
You’re in the hands of fate.