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Roxane Gay

http://www.roxanegay.com

Roxane Gay’s writing has appeared in Best American Short Stories 2012, Best Sex Writing 2012, Oxford American, American Short Fiction, Virginia Quarterly Review, NOON, The New York Times Book Review, The Rumpus, Salon, The Wall Street Journal’s Speakeasy culture blog, and many others. She is the co-editor of PANK and essays editor for The Rumpus. She teaches writing at Eastern Illinois University. Her novel, An Untamed State, will be published by Grove Atlantic and her essay collection, Bad Feminist, will be published by Harper Perennial, both in 2014.

Weekend Reading and Such

PressBooks, a new way to make an ePub and print-ready PDF of a manuscript,  is open to the public. I haven’t used the service yet but it seems interesting, particular when so many small presses are trying to find affordable, uncomplicated ways to create e-books.

At The Millions, Edan Lepucki explains her reasons for not self-publishing. Both the essay and the comments are interesting.

In cool news, Ben Tanzer’s You Can Make Him Like You is the December selection for The Cult, Chuck Palahniuk’s book club. You can buy the book here.

This may be the best corporate apology ever.

I really enjoyed this interview with Dagoberto Gilb on the Zyzzyva blog (via Chris Arnold).

John Branch’s three-part series on the life and death of hockey player Derek Boogard is some of the finest long form journalism I’ve read in a while. Boogard’s story is at once infuriating, intriguing, and ultimately, heartbreaking. I learned that there are “enforcers” in hockey which makes the sport seem infinitely more menacing.

On the Paris Review blog, Avi Steinberg writes about the art of air travel crises.

A leaked memo from Hachette explains why publishers are still relevant.

Roundup / 20 Comments
December 9th, 2011 / 6:03 pm

ToBS R1: Gmail chat people who are always visible vs. People who leave really long comments

[Matchup #21 in Tournament of Bookshit]

Gmail chat people who are always visible

We get it. You are always online and you want the world to know it. You are connected and plugged in and able to immediately respond to every electronic message appearing in your Inbox. You are there, waiting beneath the pale glow of your monitor, to chat and abuse emoticons and the English language typing phrases like i want 2 c u cum. You are the Motel 6 of Gmail—your light is always on, always green. When you’re busy, you do not hesitate to turn on the red light but still, you are there. Never, though, is your light yellow. Never does that light fade to gray. You do not idle. You do not step away from the computer. You do not stop typing. Your fingers are always tap tap tapping away, letting the world know you will not abandon your virtual post. You are the Internet presence. You are the bright e-mail light in the dark, dark night. We see the messages you leave, floating in the screen ether just below your name. You’re writing or you’re reading or you’re promoting the last thing you wrote. More often than not, you are passive aggressively communicating your displeasure about the state of the world or, as is usually the case, the state of your world. You are pithy or bitter or bitterly pithy but at least you are there. You will always be there. The rest of us, lurking silently behind the gray dot of feigned absence, we watch and we wait. Sooner or later, your time will come. Your light too, will go gray. READ MORE >

Contests / 19 Comments
December 7th, 2011 / 12:36 pm

{LMC} A Conversation with the Editors of Beecher’s

It has been a great month and some change talking about Beecher’s. I had a roundtable discussion with editors past and present about the magazine, what they look for, and what they hope for the future of Beecher’s.

Why the name Beecher’s? 

Chloe Cooper Jones: Obscure Kansas history reference!

Iris Moulton:  It’s meant as a reference to Henry Ward Beecher, an abolitionist who wanted to make sure Kansas would enter as a free state. He packed rifles for this cause in crates labeled Beecher’s Bibles, sneaking weapons for the cause. Chloe’s right, it is an obscure Kansas reference, and that’s part of why it endeared itself to us. And we felt like we were putting some serious ammunition in an unsuspecting package as we worked to assemble Beecher’s One.

Ben Pfeiffer:  Also, we liked the simplicity of Beecher’s, the sound of it, and we liked the flexibility that name provides to future KU-MFA students: They can put their own stamp on Beecher’s while retaining continuity with earlier editorial boards. In the future, we anticipate editions with titles like Beecher’s Last Stand, Beecher’s Grocery List, and Beecher’s Carnival of Sadness. Even in the beginning we were thinking: “How do we build a magazine that lasts once we’re graduated?”

READ MORE >

Literary Magazine Club / 14 Comments
December 5th, 2011 / 1:00 pm

{LMC}: January’s Selection: Versal 9

In January 2012, we will be reading Versal 9, a literary journal out of Amsterdam.  The editors of Versal have been kind enough to offer ten  four  two  one remaining free copies of the magazine and a discount for those who buy the magazine. If you’re interested in a free copy, e-mail me with your name and address.

The sale price for LMC members is $10 instead of the usual $14.95. You can buy the issue here.

Versal is a literary & art annual out of Amsterdam, the Netherlands.

Versal was founded in 2002 by American poet Megan M. Garr to help foster the translocal literary community in Amsterdam. In 2010, Versal was named one of seventeen “Indie Innovator” presses by Poets & Writers Magazine, which called it “the most visible product of a passionate group helping to sustain ‘transnational networks’ for writers.”

Community, wide-reaching aesthetic and bold design have been at the core of the Versal project from the outset. Today, Versal is built by a volunteer team of nearly 20 writers and artists around the globe. The team is currently working towards Versal’s 10-year anniversary, which will be marked by the release of the tenth issue in May 2012.

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Literary Magazine Club / 2 Comments
December 1st, 2011 / 1:00 pm

Privacy, Personal Papers, Pricks, Rumps

 

Do we have the right to read, discuss and analyze the personal papers of famous writers, often who have died? I think about this a lot because I am as curious (nosy) as I am uncomfortable with the idea of intellectually traipsing through a writer’s personal papers. In Slate last week, Katie Roiphe wrote about David Foster Wallace’s syllabus. Her article wasn’t particularly noteworthy but I was reminded of how often writers write about DFW and, increasingly, draw from his personal papers. Who knows how many hundreds, if not thousands of articles have been written about the man, the writer, and the scholar, each one trying to offer some kind of new insight into the man and his work. Certainly, there’s a lot to be learned from most things related to DFW including his syllabi. He had a unique, at times incisive approach to communicating to his students the material that would be covered in his courses as well as his general expectations of students in his classes. At the same time, as a teacher, I shudder to imagine anyone reading too much into my syllabi because I know how the sausage gets made.

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Behind the Scenes / 20 Comments
November 29th, 2011 / 2:44 am

We Can’t Sit This One Out


At UC Davis, students protested nonviolently, the campus police responded, an officer casually sprayed a group of student  sitting their arms interlocked, like plants, he became a meme and, along with the police chief, was placed on leave. Many people in many places expressed outrage, students participated in a powerful, silent protest. Assistant Professor Nathan Brown wrote an open letter to Katehi expressing his outrage. The UC Davis English department has changed their website so that the header issues a call for the chancellor, Linda Katehi, to resign and for the police force to be disbanded. On a national faculty mailing list I’m on, a member issued a call to action stating, “We cannot sit this one out.” During turbulent times, writers often ask themselves, how do we write about this? How do we respond? What is our responsibility to social change? How do we participate and avoid sitting this one out? Poet Robert Hass wrote a New York Times editorial that has been widely read and lauded but he also avoided sitting this one out because he and his wife were at the Berkeley protest. As writers, do you feel a need to respond to what happened at UC Davis, or UC Berkeley, or at any of the occupy movements? Do you feel the need to physically participate in these protests? Why and how?

Random / 181 Comments
November 22nd, 2011 / 4:41 pm

Pleasant and Painful Experiences

1.

A few weeks ago, Glen Duncan reviewed Colson Whitehead’s Zone One and he certainly got a vocal reaction, not necessarily because it was a less than glowing review but because of how he wrote the review, the strange and insulting analogies he made and so on. In his review he, among other things, attempts to predict what those ultimate arbiters of literary taste–Amazon.com reviewers–might have to say. As he discusses the literary nature of the novel, Duncan writes, ” We get, in short, an attempt to take the psychology of the premise seriously, to see if it makes a relevant shape.” He also revisits this idea of porn starts, throughout. Ooh! He said porn star in a literary review! Edgy! Today, he wrote a defense (???) of his review. He responded to the criticism of his criticism with more criticism! Meta! The follow up can be summarized thusly: You are all haters who didn’t understand what I wrote.

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Roundup / 40 Comments
November 18th, 2011 / 5:13 pm

A Conversation With Gregory Sherl

Gregory Sherl is the author of the excellent poetry collection Heavy Petting (my review, here, at Diode). I’ve always admired the sensuality and openness of his writing so we talked about the way he exposes himself in his poetry, Ryan Gosling’s satin jacket in Drive, and the matter of fucking in poetry.

 

What is your obsession as a writer?

Trying to stop myself from being so desperately aware that I’m a writer. Or maybe my obsession is figuring out how to pay for healthcare when my only income comes from being an Adjunct English Instructor. Or maybe it’s me obsessing over obsessing about the fact that I need to apply for my MFA like today but not doing it because writing new poems is better than putting old poems together in a packet with some stamps on it. Or maybe it’s watching the doctor try to figure out the right cocktail of medication so I don’t sleep nineteen hours in one day. Or maybe it’s trying to watchFelicity in its entirety as quickly as possible (a little over two weeks, I believe). Or maybe these aren’t my obsessions as a writer but my obsessions as me but I’m a writer so I think it fits.

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Random / 15 Comments
November 9th, 2011 / 1:00 pm

{LMC}: Beecher’s One

The first thing you will notice about Beecher’s is the design and production–clean and elegant. The spine is bound with black thread. The pages are thick, linen, creamy, the grain of it holding the ink to the page.

Introducing a video about the debut issue, the editors said, “Beecher’s One was designed to give the text inside primacy, and as well record the reader’s tactile interaction with the physical magazine. The layout is straight-forward, and the text is presented simply in a black serif font on white paper. The physical object, with a naked spine and rigid, toothy, absorbent paper is meant to show evidence of the reader by literally absorbing and recording the reading experience: the hands holding the book, the fingers on the page, the bending of turned pages, the weakening of the unprotected spine.”

Reading Beecher’s is, indeed, a physical experience that openly acknowledges and engages the reader. This is a magazine that wants to develop a relationship with readers and writers. In this, and other regards, Beecher’s succeeds beautifully. The writing showcased within the magazine’s pages is as engaging as the design and production. Contributors include Rebecca Wadlinger, Alec Niedenthal, Joshua Cohen, Rhoads Stevens, John Dermot Woods, Phil Estes, Creed J. Shepard, Lincoln Michel, John Coletti, Yelena Akthiorskaya, Colin Winnette, Dana Ward & Stephanie Young, James Yeh, Alexis Orgera, Rozalia Jovanovic, Ricky Garni, and Justin Runge as well as interviews with Stephen Elliott and Adam Robinson.

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Literary Magazine Club / 13 Comments
November 1st, 2011 / 12:22 pm

Class Is in Session With Professor Edith Wharton

 

Edith Wharton is one of my favorite writers. Her stories are timeless and elegant and if I had to be trapped somewhere with only one writer’s books for the rest of my life, I’d probably choose the complete works of Edith Wharton.

I’ve been thinking about Edith a great deal lately because I’ve been having a lot of self-doubt about my writing for a number of reasons, few of them rational, all of them frustrating. The Internet is great but it’s also terrible because you know, all the time, what everyone else is doing and it’s easy to lose sight of writing itself as what matters most. It’s not hard to fall into the trap of losing confidence in what you do as a writer and/or trying to keep up with the literary Joneses by writing outside of your comfort zone to respond to the literary zeitgeiest. The older I get, the more I realize that while you can and should grow and challenge yourself as a writer, you can only be who you are. Sometimes, like many writers, I lose sight of that. I recently consoled myself with Age of Innocence and Wharton’s amazing short story, “Copy: A Dialogue.” Then I read Wharton’s The Writing of Fiction, a slim but rich volume of writing on writing. Wharton’s insights are sharp, timeless, and truly invaluable.

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Craft Notes / 45 Comments
October 27th, 2011 / 2:00 am

Literary Magazine Club: Beecher’s Edition (11/1/11)

The next installment of Literary Magazine Club begins on November 1 when we will be reading and discussing the debut issue of Beecher’s, the graduate student run literary magazine from the University of Kansas.

Beecher’s is selling the issue at a 40% discount for HTMLGIANT readers. Take them up on that bargain–$6.50 for a great literary magazine which is beautifully designed and produced–you can’t pass that up. To take advantage of this discount, go to http://www.beechersmag.com/2011/10/htmlgiant-book-club/. Enter the password HTMLGIANT.  This will take them to a secure Paypal portal on the Beecher’s website for you to complete your order.

Future club selections:
January 2012: Versal
March 2012: Salt Hill
May 2012: Trnsfr
July 2012: Uncanny Valley
September 2012: J Journal: New Writing on Justice

Stay tuned for special offers and giveaways for these magazines.

If you’re interested in writing a guest post or some other feature related to Beecher’s, get in touch by e-mailing me at roxane at htmlgiant.com. Topics you might consider discussing include the design, content, overall aesthetic, whether the magazine met your expectations, if the debut is promising, what the magazine contributes to the literary scene, etc. You might also do an in-depth analysis of one writer’s work, etc. There are no limits.

There’s also a Google Group with light posting about literary magazines and club announcements. If you want to join the group or want more information about the LMC, if you’re an editor who wants your magazine featured, etc, send me an e-mail. To summarize: however you want to participate please get in touch or watch this space in November when hopefully, we’ll have a great discussion about an interesting new literary magazine.

Literary Magazine Club / 1 Comment
October 26th, 2011 / 2:00 pm

Reading Material

Today, Nouvella Books is launching Matthew Salesses’s novella The Last Repatriate. About the book: In 1953, after the end of the Korean War, 23 POWs refused to repatriate to America. The Last Repatriate tells the story of Theodore Dickerson, a prisoner who eventually returns to his home in Virginia in the midst of the McCarthy Era. He is welcomed back as a hero, though he has not returned unscathed. The lasting effects of the POW camp and troubles with his ex-fiancée complicate his new marriage as he struggles to readjust to the Virginia he holds dear. Nouvella is helmed by Deena Drewis and their business model looks interesting–limited print runs, 400 of which are sold during a week long launch, 100 sent to bookstores and events, as well as e-book distribution.

I was thoroughly entertained by this exploration of the minibar by Dubravka Ugresic—one of the best essays I’ve read in a long time.

If you’ve ever wondered what script writers think of bad movie scripts, wait no longer.

At the Los Angeles Review of Books, a thoughtful essay about the Occupy movement.

David Carr asks, “Why not occupy the newsrooms?”

Kyle Winkler thinks books are an existential crisis.

A lot of writers bristle when their work is vetted by students at literary magazines. Mike Meginnis has a lot to say about the matter. As a follow up, he has questions.

You can see the history of science fiction in one image. It is amazing.

 

Random / 34 Comments
October 25th, 2011 / 2:29 pm

Modern Submission Convenience

We just finished our first workshop in my fiction class and now my students and I are talking about revision and what students should consider, if and when they choose to submit writing to literary magazines. I want to make clear to my students that publication isn’t what they should be thinking about right now but I still want them to start to understand what it means to submit work, receive editorial feedback and face rejection or acceptance. Most of the students are, understandably, intimidated by the submission process and what it means to put their work out into the world. Hell, I’m still intimidated by the submission process. For newer writers, it is hard to grasp what editors really want. It’s hard to break yourself of the mindset that you need to worry about what editors want. I went over some of the basic etiquette of submitting–address the proper editors, spell their names correctly, don’t explain your story, don’t ramble, proofread your work, read it aloud, proofread it again, research the magazines where you’re sending your work, read the magazines where you’re sending your work, and more than anything, make sure you’re submitting writing that matters.

When I first started submitting work, there was a ritual to it. I’d print a story out on my dot matrix printer and tear off the perforated edges dotted with tiny holes. I’d consult my Writer’s Market, write a cover letter, address a return envelope affixed with enough postage for a response and send off a story I now know had no shot in hell of ever being published by the likes of those glittery magazines I foolishly hoped would love my work. I am not nostalgic for that time. It was pretty terrible. I did learn, though, that becoming a published writer required patience and effort and sometimes that effort was secretarial.

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Random / 77 Comments
October 21st, 2011 / 5:38 pm

When you’re asked to withdraw something or to resign from a position, there’s often some kind of pressure involved and that pressure is generally wielded to make someone else save face. Last week, the National Book Foundation announced this year’s nominees for the National Book Award. They made a mistake (?!) and today, the writer whose work was “mistakenly” included,  withdrew her work from consideration, at the Foundation’s “request.” The word clusterfuck comes to mind. Real talk: I’d cry if this happened to me.

Q&A #8

If you have questions about writing or publishing or whatever, leave them in the comments or e-mail them to roxane at htmlgiant dot com and we will find you some answers.

Question:
i have a website and published stories. i sell booklets of my stories on the streets. sometimes i feel like no one reads anything i’ve written. how do i put myself out in the public more? how do i get a broader readership?

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Behind the Scenes / 24 Comments
October 14th, 2011 / 4:46 pm

The Savage Specifics of Such a Finale: A Conversation With Joshua Mohr

Joshua Mohr’s Damascus (Two Dollar Radio) is a tightly packed novel about the lost, losing, and broken people who frequent Damascus, a dive bar in San Francisco. The story is moving, bitterly charming, sometimes depressing, but always engaging. I talked to Joshua about his book, character driven writing, writing as a form of protest and much more.

I read Damascus as very character driven. It’s really the people and what you show us about their lives that create the narrative. Would you consider Damascus character driven?

Absolutely. Books don’t work if the people on the pages aren’t alive. It’s why writing a novel takes so long. You have to dig around in other psyches, other hearts and souls. The book isn’t going to be any good until your characters are the ones telling the story, and you’re just the poorly paid secretary scribbling it all down.

I teach in the MFA program at the University of San Francisco and when I talk characterization with my students, I emphasize the idea that actually the characters have to characterize themselves: the reader just sits back and watches the players stalk their sordid habitats. This kind of active characterization involves your reader in the story, too, making them put the pieces together for what each new scene means, how it contributes and complicates the action they’ve already observed. They become a kind of detective trying to compile an interpretation.

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Author Spotlight / 8 Comments
October 11th, 2011 / 1:00 pm

This/That

The Dzanc Sessions, coordinated by Anna Leigh Clark, look pretty interesting. Session One classes begin the week of October 16. Each class spans eight or ten weeks. The content of the class is the same regardless of the time span; it is merely accelerated in the eight-week version. Eight-week Session One classes run through the week of December 4. Ten-week classes run through the week of December 18. Session Two will begin the first week of January 2012 with another eclectic line-up of workshop opportunities. The price for workshops is $325 Cost includes a three-month membership to the Dzanc Books eBook Club. (Or, if you do not have an e-reader, you can select a free copy of any print title from Dzanc Books.) The bulk of your registration fee supports the non-profit work of Dzanc Books. A portion of it supports the work of your instructor and the administration of the Dzanc Sessions.

Anna also has a great roundup of literary things here.

Don’t forget that the new Literary Magazine Club discussion begins on November 1. You can find details on ordering the magazine we’ll be reading, Beecher’s here.

Emily Books. What do you guys think of the concept? I’ve talked about how we’re inundated by books these days and it’s hard to know what to read. I’ve also talked about Vouched Books, where Chris Newgent personally vouches for the books he sells and is both able and willing to talk about any title he caries (from a limited, curated selection). That intimacy makes it easy to get on board with taking a chance on writers we’re not familiar with and I’ve enjoyed learning about books I wouldn’t ordinarily come across at his table. Emily Books seems to do something similar. They feature one title a month, selling only e-books. There’s also a book club… if you live in NYC. A bookstore that only sells one book at any given time is intriguing. This has kind of been done before but I’m interested in future selections and seeing if other people adopt similar approaches to bookselling.

Does Timothy McSweeney have a white savior complex? I found this essay really thought provoking and it introduces interesting questions about cultural representation and the consequences of getting “it” wrong or right (via Jackson Nieuwland).

The Occupy Wall Street library has a blog worth checking out (via Bookslut).

Writer’s Relief is having a contest to support literary magazines.

The new TV season is kind of disappointing, right? I haven’t seen anything yet that I must watch.

The last two books I enjoyed: Blueprints for Building Better Girls by Elissa Schappell (not perfect but very immersive and more complex than I initially realized) and Reality Bites Back by Jennifer Pozner (very incisive). Don’t read that latter book unless you want your enjoyment of reality television to be ruined forever (I kid, mostly).

There is an encyclopedia of science fiction. I wonder what an encyclopedia of literary fiction would look like. Divorce: In literary parlance, the dissolution of a marriage as a narrative catalyst to explain character motivations such as drinking, promiscuity, bitterness, and tear-stained arguments. See also: the children.

 

Roundup / 10 Comments
October 10th, 2011 / 4:55 pm

I Felt Like I Was Part of Something

Last spring I graduated from my MFA program with a degree in fiction and was expelled into the wilds of a Pittsburgh recession with very few—if any!—marketable skills. I drank a lot and watched TV and cooked up elaborate theories about LOST involving a super intelligent ape named Joop mentioned only briefly during a second season viral campaign. Halfway through the summer I lucked into a few teaching gigs and ended up with a section of Intermediate Fiction Workshop. I always had vague notions of one day teaching college, but those were always hazy fantasies set deep in a future where I’d be a distinguished silver fox smoking cigars in some type of hover mansion. I wasn’t a TA during my MFA campaign and had no earthly idea if I was cut out to actually walk into a classroom and explain anything to students, let alone fiction, the thing in the world I care most about. As the summer wound down and I made stab after stab at a syllabus, I’d lie awake at night listening to the trains howl through Pittsburgh while trying not to vomit from crippling anxiety.

Classes began. Fall came and went. I was again unbelievably lucky and landed a section of Advanced Fiction in the spring which many of my Intermediate students signed up for. The process was endlessly humbling, mostly because of the students. I was shocked at how genuinely good so many of them were. I was ready for anything on that first day of class: from manic scribbles on a napkin to thousand page genre opuses. But these students were wonderful. They loved fiction as much as I did, and their enthusiasm hyped me up and I hope vice versa. By the time the academic year drew to a close, many of them were beginning to publish their work in journals I respected, and all of them had shown some pretty big improvements from the first day. And all of this from a workshop. The workshop!

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Craft Notes / 17 Comments
October 4th, 2011 / 1:00 pm

Literary Magazine Club Never Dies

I’m reviving LMC and the first magazine we’ll be discussing is Beecher’s, the graduate student run literary magazine from the University of Kansas. We’ll feature a new magazine every two months and hopefully that lighter schedule will allow more readers to participate.

The debut issue of Beecher’s we’ll be reading features Alec Niedenthal, Rebecca Wadlinger, Joshua Cohen, Rhoads Stevens, John Dermot Woods, Phil Estes, Creed J. Shepard, Lincoln Michel, Yelena Akhtiorskaya, John Coletti, Colin Winnette, Dana Ward & Stephanie Young, James Yeh, Alexis Orgera, Rozalia Jovanovich, Ricky Garni, and Justin Runge.

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Literary Magazine Club / 12 Comments
October 3rd, 2011 / 12:15 pm

Juggalos on Writing

“It’s a lifestyle, it ain’t only a music choice.”

“Do what you gotta do, don’t gotta hate on people because they’re different.”

“I do whatever the fuck I want and don’t give two fucking shits.”

“I am fucked up on E and vodka.”

“I got fucked up.”

“It was a fucking spectacle and shit and I don’t give a fuck because it was righteous.”

“I can cook like a motherfucker.”

“I’m a happy motherfucker living life day to day.”

“Most people think I’m on drugs because I’m always happy.”

“It’s a puzzle and each and everyone of us is an integral piece.”

“It actually really burns, I’m not going to lie.”

“Keep it trippy. Legalize everything.”

“The gathering don’t stop. You do.”

“It’s the greatest.”

“I’m still fucking here.”

“Life is something special that you can only have one time. Enjoy the shit out of it.”

“We have alcohol and we’ve got explosives.”

“We just drank a little bit. Probably get all stoned, smoke some hash and fucking chill, do it all again the next day.”

“All of us have jobs.”

“Being a juggalo does not mean you’re not fit for society,”

“I’m insane. I like to stab people, know what I mean?”

“I’m showing my titties to everyone.”

“Why am I a juggalo? Because that’s who I am. That’s how I was born.”

‘There is no bigatory in juggaloism.”

“True life is inside your soul.”

“WOO WOO!”

Craft Notes / 21 Comments
September 30th, 2011 / 7:04 pm