Jet Fuel Contributor, Virginia Smith Rice, Publishes First Book

Virginia Smith Rice publishes her first book, When I Wake It Will Be Forever.wheniwake

Virginia Smith Rice writes poetry and teaches art in Woodstock, Illinois.

She earned her MFA in creative writing from Northwestern University and is co-editor of Kettle Blue Review, an online poetry journal.

When I Wake It Will Be Forever, is now available from Sundress Publications. Some of her individually published poems can be found on the Poems page.

Virginia can be contacted through Kettle Blue Review.

“Both shimmering and seething, haunted and haunting, the complex, dazzling contours of When I Wake It Will Be Forever beckon the reader with the imperative of ‘listen’; and we do, because Rice’s poems vibrate with a ‘voice thorned and singing / but not human.’ Like her poetic parentage—Desnos, Szymborska, Tranströmer and Csoóri—there is a wisdom contained in this work that transcends a singular being’s experience; ultimately elegiac, yet ‘lit by inner, hidden suns,’ this book is a stellate network of memory, loss, longing, silence, and voice. Often serving as witness (to an aunt’s suicide, a stranger’s suicide, ‘the suicide in my voice’) Rice pays tribute to the manifold ghosts that clamor inside us. This is one of the most solidly exquisite and lingering first books I’ve had the honor of reading.”
-Simone Muench

“Virginia Smith Rice has created a tremblingly precise, intricate, bright-edged evocation of a world both ecstatic and ominous, grieving and vital, broken and mending, but rarely mended. Her poems are richly colored and intensely focused on the shapes and forms of the world and of inner life and relationships. They are crowded with living plants and creatures and intense feeling, and Rice can even describe the color of solitude. Her language is sensuously complex, her angle of vision is oblique and finds the memorable touch of reality off-cenvsmithter, at the edges, just this side of perceptibility. She has created a delicate yet vivid response to what she calls the ‘percussed absence’ that haunts human life. This is a marvelous first book.”
-Reginald Gibbons

“A Virginia Smith Rice poem is naked, like a bulb, although, unlike a bulb in the dark, it does not want to be seen dangling by and for itself, it does not want to be interpreted as the centre of its universe, even as a frame does not. Her poems say instead their warm color of incandescence to some still life hanging from a wall. When a Virginia Smith Rice poem says, ‘Autumn laps gently as a well-fed dog: each pale / branch remembers leaves as essential things, / and how easy it is to let things go,’ it at once frames a scene of plenty, of longing, and of regret. In this way, the poems in When I Wake It Will Be Forever are always pleasurable, colorful and sincere in and to every sense.”
-Rethabile Masilo, author of Things That Are Silent

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This Article Will Not Be Retracted

These literary controversies keep creeping closer and closer to me. While maintaining a professional smokescreen about the situation, let me just say I was recently involved in a decision to retract an article, and it got me thinking about the reasons pieces get retracted. First, read about what a retraction is. For my purposes, we’ll say retraction is removing a previously published piece from the public view for reasons unrelated to space.

So I typed in “why do pieces get retracted” into Google and came back with an interesting blog on the subject. Retraction Watch apparently keeps track of retractions of scientific studies. Which is fascinating, because often we hear about studies being based on shoddy evidence and disproved. It’s a common practice in science—too common, it seems like, based on the amount of posts on the site, and apparently, according to one article I saw, getting even more endemic. But I was thinking more in the journalism and literary world. Why do things get pulled there?

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The Women and Wikipedia

This always seems to happen–the literary world is as still as a pond, and then right as I start panicking and amassing my ways of insulting various authors of my acquaintance so as to manufacture my own controversy, some idiot somewhere does something. I feel like I’ve been hopping on the feminist bandwagon as of late, but here ya go.

So, Wikipedia apparently has separated out “American women novelists”  from “American novelists.” All the “American Novelists” are now male. Ok, yes, that’s a little bit insulting. But can we all calm down just for a second. While Wikipedia is kicking themselves for taking this step and quickly trying to correct it, it kinda makes sense. There were more than 3900 names on the American novelists list, and that was after taking off the women. Yay for the large amount of American novelists, but that does cry out for some organization.

What should have happened is that there’s no “American Novelists List” at all, or if there is, it’s a page composed of smaller lists: for instance, “American Male Novelists”, “American Women Novelists”, “American Hispanic Novelists”. Look, I’m sorry, if you have a problem with that sort of organization, I don’t know what to say. I admit it does group people by a certain characteristic that they cannot change, but it’s up to you to supply the positive or negative connotation of that characteristic. Wikipedia’s not saying, “these novelists are a minority so they are not as deserving of attention”. They’re just presenting them based on an interest many people might have and an organization many people might ascribe. I mean, would you honestly prefer a list of names? Then sure, do them in alphabetical order. Maybe that’s the fairest, most inoffensive way.

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The Contemporary and the Terrible

I don’t know who J.Robert Lennon is, but he made a lot of my Facebook friends see red last week with a Salon.com article entitled “Most contemporary literary fiction is terrible.” A moderately well-known contemporary lit fiction author who I happen to know was so offended he posted a status asking his friends to post one of their favorite books written in the past 10 years. And I now have to admit something which is a bit awkward for a book-reviewer-come-lately to admit. As deliberately provoking as his article was, I have to admit, I agree with J. Robert Lennon.

I don’t know exactly when it started, and I can’t and I’m not going to name names. OK, fine, I’ll name a few. Life of Pi. God, I hate that book. I think it made a whole generation of people think they could away with nothing happening in a plot as long as they were sufficiently profound. And honestly, what is the likelihood that a devout believer of multiple religions would be trapped on a boat with a tiger? A totally contrived situation. Yes, I know fiction doesn’t have to be realistic. But it has to be believable. Then, I don’t know, it seemed like there were a bunch of white people who authors forced to have marginally terrible lives for the sake of art. Freedom by Jonathan Franzen was a good example of that. If that was the next great American novel, when can I get a visa to Canada? The privilege dripping off that book was obscene, and even better, nothing actually happened.

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Closing the Gates of Persepolis

When I started writing this column about literary controversies, I never dreamed that 9 months later, I’d find my hometown in the center of one. Not that I’m happy about this (other than not having to look in obscure places or manufacture a controversy out of thin air), but we haven’t had a good ‘ol fashioned book banning in a while. Lane Tech High School in Chicago broke that local streak when for whatever reason staff were directed to pull Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi, out of school libraries. Or something that seemed very, very close to book banning. Something that took Persepolis out of a place where students who previously had access to it will no longer be able to do so.

Actually, I can’t figure out the order of events here, and neither can anyone else. Stories abound. Is it inaccurate to say the book was banned? Some people say it was just taken out of the 7th grade curriculum, others say high school libraries no longer have it either. Some say the ban is over, but I have it on good authority from the ALA (located in Chicago, what are the odds?) that the challenge is ongoing. I’ve heard the objection came from a pro-Iranian family in Englewood, but if you know anything about Chicago, that story smells worse than Bubbly Creek did on a hot day, especially since reports came out of Lane Tech…on the other side of town. I don’t want to add to the flurry of information about this event, especially since I suspect much of it is wrong. You do the investigative journalism of Googling yourself, and let’s just talk about what it all means.

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Wherefore art though, Juliet, in the New York Review of Books?

What kind of problem affects 50% of the writing population? I’ll tell you. It’s that women are criminally underpublished and/or reviewed in almost all the major literary and cultural magazines.

When I was at AWP last year I was intrigued by an organization called VIDA. In addition to advocating for women writers, they had charts and statistics showing the shocking lack of women being published from year to year. Sadly, I wasn’t surprised by this, and not just because I am a woman with eyes.

On my way into morphing a literary sage, I started and edited a literary magazine, The Toucan, for four years. (It’s still going, just not with me, and you should submit, especially if you’re a girl). Despite this fact that The Toucan was run by two liberated ladies, (and my co-editrice, now lead editrice, is a card-carrying feminist), we for some reason didn’t have a lot of ladies in our pages. This concerned us. We couldn’t figure out if women weren’t submitting, or if we too fell prey to patriarchy’s silvery sentences, depriving our sisters of a place in literature.

And to be honest, I’m still not sure what’s going on. Among my friends, there’s no lack for female writers, and an informal survey of Facebook actually has them griping about the submission process more than the guys. (Refrain from sexist stereotype here.) Still, I could see a trend among female writers not submitting work. I’m not going to speculate as to why, but it’s possible.

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As literary controversies go, this is the granddaddy of them all: is writing even fun? Why of course, you say? Why else would I be doing it? Never mind the alcoholics and suicides. There’s parties and awards and private moments where you, for one second, wrote the perfect sentence. There’s the opportunity to communicate what you believe to everyone and see what they say. To lay out an argument and edit it. That’s what I believe about writing, and this is why I do it.

Philip Roth apparently didn’t think the whole thing was worth it. According to an encounter with a New York waiter/novelist, Roth thought writing was terrible work. And then Roth quit writing soon after and was damn happy. (Perhaps letting go of that whole Nobel Prize thing helps?) And then Elizabeth Gilbert, she of relentless optimism. self improvement, and globetrotting, was like, “no, no, writing is fun! How dare you, you cranky old man?”

This New Yorker article by Avi Steinberg lays out the difference between Roth and Gilbert, apart from the obvious, eloquently. So I’m not here to rehash that.

And you know the statistics and quotes as well as me. Kurt Vonnegut, a depressed writer himself, and one of the funniest, believed that writers were a naturally depressed lot. Bukowski, another cheerful soul, thought you shouldn’t be a writer unless you were consistently inches away from suicide. Not to mention unless we are Elizabeth Gilbert or lord save us, James Patterson, we’re inclined to starve. Really, what is the big deal about writing?

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