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Guest Columns

Table for Two: An Interview with Mira Ptacin

categories: Cocktail Hour / Guest Columns / Table For Two: Interviews

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Debora: Poor Your Soul is such a lonely title. Very sad. Tell us about what’s inside your pages.

MIRA: Here’s the story: in 2008, at age twenty-eight, I accidentally got pregnant, despite taking birth control pills and never missing a dose. (I’m that 1 percent.) It wasn’t easy, I wasn’t happy about it, but I embraced it. And even though we’d only known each other for just three months, my boyfriend Andrew and I got engaged. Five months later, during the ultrasound that was to predict the sex of our baby, doctors found instead that our child had a constellation of birth defects and no chance of survival outside my womb. I was given three choices: terminate the pregnancy, induce delivery, or do nothing and inevitably miscarry. Poor Your Soul simultaneously traces my mother’s immigration from Poland at the age of twenty-eight, the adoption of her son Julian, his tragic death, and her reaction to the grief that followed. Both our stories examine how woman copes with the inevitable but unexpected losses a woman faces in the search for her identity. But overall, this isn’t a sad story. It’s a love story, about how I found love in my marriage, in my family, and for myself when everything around us was in chaos. It’s about perseverance and will. Continue reading →

Lundgren’s Lounge: “The Ancient Minstrel,” by Jim Harrison

categories: Cocktail Hour / Guest Columns / Reading Under the Influence

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ca. 2004 --- Jim Harrison --- Image by © R¸dy Waks /Corbis Outline

During a lifetime of obsessive reading, there are certain authors whose new work merits an immediate trip to the bookstore for a hardcover copy… Jim Harrison is on that short list and now graces us with a new collection, The Ancient Minstrel. The trilogy of novellas is deeply, richly satisfying in a manner that only Harrison can conjure.

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Anxious Bode Loves Paris (Despite Anxious Times)

categories: Cocktail Hour / Guest Columns / Sunday Sermon

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Thierry Kauffmann, aka Anxious Bode

Thierry Kauffmann, aka Anxious Bode

Bonjour! It’s me, Anxious Bode. I’m having French roast at my favorite
cafe, in the Paris airport. I’m on my way to New York. That’s the
truth. Many writers write to access a reality deeper than reality
itself. That’s my street address, reality deeper than reality. I write
to reach the surface of things. Pardon my levity, but the joy of
actually flying is hard to resist. But for you, readers of my Continue reading →

Lundgren’s Lounge: Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates

categories: Cocktail Hour / Guest Columns / Reading Under the Influence

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Ta-Nehisi Coates

Ta-Nehisi Coates

Many years ago, as I was dipping my toes into the teaching profession, I wrote the following: “Between the campus where I attended graduate school classes and the school where I was student teaching was a large city park. I would sometimes mention my walks through the park to my students (who were all brown or black), describing the welcome sight of the spring’s first crocuses or the sense of wonder that came while watching birds gather material for their nests. One day James, one of my students, interrupted me: ‘Why do you keep talking about that park? Don’t you know that park’s not for us? We’re not welcome there. That’s a park for white people.‘ “ Excerpted from Becoming (Other)Wise, “Notes From a New Teacher.” Continue reading →

Table for Two: An Interview with Julianna Baggott

categories: Cocktail Hour / Guest Columns / Table For Two: Interviews

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Julianna Baggott

You’ve never heard of Harriet Wolf, one of the 20th Century’s great American writers. But don’t feel too bad — neither had an unnamed faculty member in the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA program.

“I gave a reading at VCFA to a bunch of writers,” says Julianna Baggott, whose novel, Harriet Wolf’s Seventh Book of Wonders, imagines the existence of a seventh book in the Wolf oeuvre, a memoir that exposes the “true stories” behind Wolf’s six other classics. “And a couple of writers, well-known writers, came up to me afterwards, and said, ‘you know, I’m really not familiar with Harriet Wolf’s work.’

“And I was like, ‘Oh, I don’t think I made that clear — she doesn’t exist.’ So, then I thought, well, let’s not make that clear, let’s build a little bit of her lore…” Continue reading →

Table for Two–An Interview with Philip Lopate

categories: Cocktail Hour / Guest Columns / Table For Two: Interviews

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 Your essay, The Poetry Years (from Portrait Inside My Head) looks back at where and how you started writing professionally.  You say you had no ambitions toward writing poetry until you were a student at Columbia and suddenly doing it, kind of by accident. What experiences drew you in?

PHILLIP: When I was an undergraduate at Columbia, my writer-friends were mostly poets.  A few fiction writers, not a single nonfiction writer in the batch.  Monkey see, monkey do: I started reading and writing poetry. Continue reading →

Bad Advice Wednesday: Fifteen Things for When the World is Shitty and Terrifying

categories: Bad Advice / Cocktail Hour / Guest Columns

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Laquan MacDonald was seventeen and murdered by a Chicago police officer in cold blood. I watched a video of his murder, along with most of America, right in between reading about how Americans are terrified of letting refugees from war-torn Syria into the country, and reading about how a man with a rifle opened fire at a Planned Parenthood in Colorado, and now hearing about San Bernadino.

I can’t think of anything else to say that hasn’t already been said about how horrible and sad and awful and bleak and shitty and unfathomable all of those things are. I can’t. I don’t have the words for that today. So instead, here are fifteen things that you can do to make your world just the tiniest bit less shitty and terrible.

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“At Sea,” an excerpt from SUPERSTORM, by Kathryn Miles

categories: Cocktail Hour / Guest Columns / Reading Under the Influence

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Superstorm: Nine Days Inside Hurricane Sandy, by Kathryn Miles

Superstorm Sandy began its genesis as a typical late season tropical storm. However, as the hurricane marched up the east coast of the United States, it collided with a powerful nor’easter and morphed into a monstrous hybrid. The storm charged across open ocean, picking up strength with every step, baffling meteorologists and scientists, officials and emergency managers, even the traditional maritime wisdom of sailors and seamen: What exactly was this thing? Continue reading →

Lundgren’s Lounge: This is Your Life, Harriet Chance, by Jonathan Evison

categories: Cocktail Hour / Guest Columns / Reading Under the Influence

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Harriet Chance is a true mensch. Mensch as in, “someone to admire and emulate, someone of noble character.” And though some might question the characterization of Harriet as being worthy of emulation, there can be no dispute that she is of noble character. Continue reading →

The Meal of a Lifetime

categories: Cocktail Hour / Guest Columns / Our Best American Essays

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In August of 2010, Brendan and I lived at a three-week artists’ residency in southern Germany. “You’ll live in a castle,” the organizer who’d invited us had promised. So we arrived at the Schloss School, a former monastery turned castle turned boarding school, with visions of candlelit dinners in a grand medieval hall (at least I did) to find that we were to eat three meals a day in a side room of the school cafeteria, with no wine served, with thirty other artists from various countries. (We also slept in dorm rooms, in kiddie beds.) Continue reading →