kevin sampsell

Kevin Sampsell Week (1): Chongo

Earlier this month saw the release of my label-brother Kevin Sampsell’s memoir A Common Pornography, which I read in the light of a late evening on a sofa I bought from a friend. I’d had big expectations and excitement about this book, which in the course of reading turned to not only the pay off of that wanting, but being stuck simultaneously by a kind of reading feeling I could have never seen coming. Herein, this week we’ll be talking about the book and other things Sampsell, including his press Future Tense Books.

Among the many wonderful things about this book, perhaps the most surprising and beautiful for me was how the period chronicled in Kevin’s book, essentially his youth, adolescence, into his current age, felt at some points so familiar, and at the same time catching me by the side of the head. Kevin’s rendering of the odd but somehow most defining moments of aging so often missed in these kinds of books is so well nailed–he doesn’t overdescribe them, or romanticize them, but lays them out in all their hairy light–calm, common, uncommon, etched.

From his obsessive collecting of select pieces of porn (which he keeps hidden in the ceiling of his parents house), to the strange ways of sexual becoming with friends and paid help, to just the air of those spaces and people that exist with us for a time and somehow are that time, all of this rendered in eerily calm and perfect sentences, sometimes somewhat like a minimal Gary Lutz, A Common Pornography is a book I will long remember for its poise, heart, and humor, and for its making of a picture of an age that no one else has nailed quite so beautifully, and singularly.

The book is made up of many 1-3 page sections, each with titles, that together follow the timeline of Kevin’s life, each of which alone makes for its own little amazing object. Here’s one to whet your bib.


The toughest kid at our school was named Chongo, and he was a short but muscular Mexican who always seemed to be suspended or doing Saturday school. He lived in the pit of this valley that ran alongside a long irrigation pipe. The pipe was connected to the ditches surrounding our neighborhood and it had a flat surface on top lined with flimsy two-by-fours. For some reason, we always called this pipe “the floons.” My friends and I would often have races on the floons. There was an element of danger whenever we did because there were big gaps where you could fall through and go into the dirty water. And if we went too far down the floons we’d be dangerously close to what we called “Chongo Country.” Other kids had told us that if you got a good look into Chongo Country, you’d see all sorts of stolen bikes and bike parts in his weed-filled yard. When Chongo had his shirt off, they said, you could see a tattoo of Pontius Pilate across his chest. We never dared to look.

Purchase A Common Pornography at the links above, or from the publisher, or Amazon.

Author Spotlight / 17 Comments
February 22nd, 2010 / 2:22 pm

Webaround Cooper’s blog today: “Four Books I’ve Loved Recently: The Ask by Sam Lipsyte, Marsupial by Derek White, A Common Pornography by Kevin Sampsell, and Stories II by Scott McClanahan.” Also, don’t miss yesterday’s “17 examples of how musicians conflate the terms ‘mawkish’ and ‘arch’ with varying degrees of success.

From Salon, an article on Bloomsbury’s newest case of the white-outs. “Publishers whitens another heroine of color.” (You might remember that we bugged out about this the last time it happened too.)

Here’s an introduction to “The Secret History of Typography in the Oxford English Dictionary.”

From Jeremy Schmall- Rick Steves on Haiti.

Check out this rad new feature/series at Portland-based Wieden+Kennedy called Story Time, which produces “recorded readings of short stories by published young authors set to soundscapes.” Trinie Dalton is episode #1, Kevin Sampsell’s #2, and that’s all that there is so far, but we’ll be (duh) keeping an eye on these guys, and one hardly doubts that there’s more great stuff ahead.  And what is Wieden+Kennedy exactly? They say: “We are an arts and culture digital content delivery platform, a subsidiary of advertising agency Wieden+Kennedy. Our goal is to renegotiate the relationship between art, media, advertising and the consumer.” Ahh, okay then. To help further advance negotiations, you might also check out their other series, Don’t Move Here: Inside Portland’s Music Scene.

Random / 1 Comment
January 27th, 2010 / 11:36 am

Giant and Rumpus Hooking Up Pretty Much All the Time Now

Top of The Rumpus today is our own Alec Niedenthal on Kevin Sampsell’s A Common Pornography.

Homeboy-in-chief Kyle Minor wrote a massive piece on “A Kidnapping in Haiti” that went up yesterday. You should make time for it.

Ronnie Scott, editor of The Lifted Brow (which we’ve been excerpting all week here) has a long interview with Jonathan Lethem.

Also, New Yorkers, don’t forget that the Giant/Rumpus Event is tonight at Broadway East.


Web Hype / 6 Comments
January 21st, 2010 / 10:29 am

A Common Ography

As a teaser to the forthcoming Kevin Sampsell week, here today in celebration of the release of his new book, A Common Pornography, Kevin offers some tips for that potentially awkward exchange at the bookseller’s counter, if you’re touchy about that kind of thing:

I’ll wait until Sampsell week to dig deeper into the pleasure of this book by my label-brother, but I can honestly there hasn’t been one that made me feel sentimental for awkward years and at the same time edging along the form of communicating that station, well, I can’t remember one ever. Kevin nails so hard a certain kind of maturation period, re: masturbation, weird fathers, prostitutes, porn, all delivered in a cleaner, simpler, but just as smart Lutz-ian style, you are going to really like ACP.

Author Spotlight / 6 Comments
January 19th, 2010 / 2:54 pm

Author Spotlight & Reviews

Peer Review: “A Common Pornography” by Kevin Sampsell

I don’t know if anyone else on this site is planning to write about my pressmate Kevin Sampsell’s new book–I hope someone is–but I feel like sharing some thoughts about it, so here goes. The main thing that strikes me is how effortless and propulsive the reading experience is. The package containing A Common Pornography (and a galley of Dennis Cooper’s Smothered in Hugs–it was like Christmas all over again!) arrived this afternoon around five, and yet, somehow, here it is a quarter after ten and I’m about three quarters through it.  I read it sitting in my desk chair. I read it on the subway. I read it in the checkout line at Trader Joe’s. I read it on my couch. If I hadn’t put it down to write this blog post about it, I’d be reading it now.

Now, I know that Kevin is–like me–a Richard Brautigan fan, and I think there’s a very Brautigan-y energy at work in this book. Not a Brautigan tone, mind you–Kevin’s book isn’t emo or surrealistic–but here, as in a Brautigan, the chapters are very short, typically a page or two at most, and tend to be anchored by a single image or idea. The book doesn’t demand so much as suggest your attention–hey, you wanna hear a story? Sure. The subject matter (the author’s superlatively deranged upbringing) is sometimes dark (and/or gross) but Sampsell doesn’t plea for your sympathy, he doesn’t go for pointless shocks, and he doesn’t attempt some sort of showy “defiance” or “reclamation” or whatever. He’s just this guy remembering stuff that he did or that happened to him, or to people he knew, and sort of thinking about how it was all maybe a little weirder than he thought it was at the time. Some of it’s funny, and some of it’s touching, and some of it’s sad–and a lot of it is two or more of these things at once–but I think what it really succeeds at doing is creating an atmosphere that encompasses all of those states without forcing the reader to choose one, and that too for me is very Brautigan.

So anyway, that’s my first reaction to Kevin’s book. I’m excited to see him in February, because Harper has us scheduled to do a handful of events together–we’re doing a night in Boston (2/17) and then the following two nights in NYC, and hopefully I’ll be out to see him in Portland sometime later this spring. Want to know how we met? Okay, I’ll tell you the story. We met because right before I moved to Portland, Oregon from NYC in early ’05, I found a copy of Susannah Breslin’s You’re A Bad Man Aren’t You? which he had published through Future Tense, on the bookshelf at St. Mark’s. So I emailed him to say that I was moving to his town and we should get together. He was, I think, looking for an intern, and I know that I was looking for someone to publish the mess of short stories in my backpack. So we had lunch one day near Powell’s. There are a number of ways this meeting might have ended poorly, but instead what happened was I interviewed him for Bookslut, and we’ve been friends ever since. You can read that interview here. Fun interview fact: Kevin Sampsell was the first person I ever heard mention the following names–Sam Lipsyte, Gary Lutz, Gordon Lish, Diane Williams, Amy Hempel, Tao Lin. Not bad, right?

January 15th, 2010 / 12:12 am

2010: What are you looking forward to?

2010d2009 has been a hell of a year for books, I think. Will 2010 be even better?

The answer, of course, is an emphatic maybe.


Here are three coming in 2010 you should be looking forward to. Comment with more. READ MORE >

Uncategorized / 82 Comments
December 11th, 2009 / 3:07 pm

Book Tour/Reading Series Database

This evening I noticed that Kevin Sampsell posted a facebook update about how he was firming up tour dates for February…which got me thinking about book tours for indie writers…which got me wondering if there existed any kind of Reading Series Database — like an index where indie writers/publishers could go to find opportunities to read from their books.  I couldn’t find anything like that, so I thought I’d ask y’all to maybe help contribute to an informal list in the comments here — is there a  Reading Series in your town?  For folks in NYC or San Francisco, I assume there are many — what are they/where are they?  Outside those big city hubs, is there a venue for indie writers to read in your town?

Behind the Scenes / 74 Comments
November 9th, 2009 / 11:51 pm

Sampsell. Crime. The two of em.

Crime in a rainy city.

Crime in a rainy city.

Kevin Sampsell, incomparable writer/booklover, has edited a crime fiction anthology for Akashic Books: Portland Noir.  Kevin, admittedly a noir noob, talks about the process over at the Powell’s blog. I’ll go ahead and reposition Kevin’s question for the HTML Giant audience:  Which books in the crime/noir/mystery genre should he/I/we be reading?  I recommend Dashiell Hammett.

Uncategorized / 58 Comments
June 15th, 2009 / 2:03 am

Down South with the Ghost of Larry Brown (guest posted by Kevin Sampsell)


Is it weird to cry over the death of a writer? When Larry Brown died just before Thanksgiving in 2004 at the age of 53, I remember seeing the news of it on a web site and involuntarily saying “Holy shit” out loud, even though no one else was around. I didn’t cry then but I wanted to, as if my tears would represent a show of respect or offer a thank you to the man who wrote many of my favorite short stories and novels. His writing was a beautiful streamlined machine, full of blunt emotion, a subtle trashy humor, and down-on-their-luck country boys, and hard southern women. With each book, Larry’s style got tighter, more muscular. Later novels like Joe and Fay conjure up names like Flannery O’Connor and adjectives like classic and cinematic. In 1994, I saw Larry read at Powell’s Books from his memoir, On Fire. Although he didn’t like to do the book tour circuit, and often drank too much while on the road (drinking is often the favorite pastime of his characters), he was on his best behavior and was soft-spoken and gentlemanly when I asked him to sign my books. Two years later, he came back to town for his powerful revenge novel, Father and Son. For some reason, I missed that reading, but I heard he was bleary-eyed drunk and read a rape scene before plopping down to sign books for the stunned audience.


Author Spotlight / 21 Comments
May 19th, 2009 / 11:01 pm

Smokelong 22

There’s a new issue of Smokelong Quarterly now live.

Issue Twenty-Two (October 2, 2008): Innocence, Briefly by Jenny Arnold «» Tapioca O’s by Natalie DeClerck «» How Anything Got Done by Paul Elwork «» Tenderoni by Kathy Fish «» Breathing Oysters by Stefanie Freele «» The Mime’s Dog by Steven Douglas Gullion «» Two Minute Silence by Sarah Hilary «» Constructing Birds by Jo Horsman «» Crazy Sun by Lauren Huckstadt «» One Night Out by Ashley Kaufman «» Asian Girl by W.P. Kinsella «» Fatback by Jeff Landon «» Bounty by Tricia Louvar «» Beautiful by Antonios Maltezos «» Private Room by M.E. Parker «» True Identity by Kevin Sampsell «» Campfire by Donna D. Vitucci «» Interviews: Jenny Arnold «» Paul Elwork «» Kathy Fish «» Stefanie Freele «» Steven Douglas Gullion «» Sarah Hilary «» Jo Horsman «» Ashley Kaufman «» Jeff Landon «» Tricia Louvar «» Antonios Maltezos «» M.E. Parker «» Kevin Sampsell «» Donna D. Vitucci «» Cover Art “November Leaves” by Marty D. Ison «» Letter From the Editor

Uncategorized / Comments Off on Smokelong 22
October 3rd, 2008 / 1:33 am