The second volume of The &NOW Awards: The Best Innovative Writing is a twin set: one book, two parts, bound together in opposing orientations. There is one side, and then there is an other side. As editor Davis Schneiderman informs us in both introductions, “these ‘sides’ mirror each other, except when they do not.” Craig Dworkin’s “The Cube” on one side mirrors, on the other, a cube-shaped stamp story by Alissa Nutting. Kate Durbin’s appropriative “Anna Nicole Show” corresponds with Joe Atkins’ appropriative “Boxxy Foar 4DD1@!!!!1!!” Visual poetry shows up in the same slot on both sides, Nico Vassilakis’s STARINGS matching up with A.J. Patrick Lisziewicz’s Alphabet Man.
Then there are pieces that don’t (seem to) match at all, but whose correspondence contrives a relationship anyway. The split design comes across as both arbitrary and quite savvy, a description that could easily be applied to the anthology itself—probably to anthologies generally. How does one archive “innovative,” or any category of, writing? Through a book that might as well be two books. Through inverse relationships. Through matches and clashes. There are two sides to innovative writing, the anthology suggests: more than two, obvs, but alas, we must surrender to the limitations of the book.
The &NOW Awards doesn’t purport to claim anything about the “best” innovative writing except that the field is diverse: this is its best feature. It inhabits the “best of” anthology coyly and subversively, and it casts the net far and wide—vastly more so than, say, Houghton Mifflin’s staid Best American Series. The &NOW series is uninterested in genre boundaries, and offers a richly diverse, if necessarily selective, archive of (mostly) US-based contemporary literary writing. Whereas the first &NOW Awards, published in 2009, collected mainly writers who are or have been associated with &NOW as an organization and biennial festival, Volume 2 spreads out more both aesthetically and demographically. This edition includes more writers unassociated with the festival, more poetry, and more variety overall, including several pieces designed to be read on a screen, and, especially welcome, a number of works recently translated into English: for instance, excerpts from three novels written by radical French writer Antoine Volodine (a pseudonym) and two of his heteronyms, translated from the French by Brian Evenson and Antoine Cazé; and an excerpt from Song for his Disappeared Love by Chilean poet Raúl Zurita, originally published in 1985 and translated from the Spanish by Daniel Borzutzky.
The anthology’s dominant mode is arguably appropriation-based writing. Gretchen Henderson opens one side with a metappropriative work: an essay in fragments, On Marvellous Things Heard draws from a selective inventory of literary appropriations of music. On the other side, David Shields opens with an excerpt from Reality Hunger. According to the prefatory statement, &NOW was permitted by Knopf to republish only those parts of the book written by Shields; given that the whole text is a collage of other texts, they republished the Shield’s introduction to the appendix, and the appendix itself, which lists all of the book’s sources. “Who owns the words?” Shields asks. “We do—all of us.” Except we don’t, as Knopf’s restrictions remind us.
These opening pieces foreground concerns central to the anthology overall: issues of authorship, ownership, (un)original writing. The volume is an intertextual feast, or an anti-authority riot, with authors lifting from a broad range of texts, many of them canonical. In her excerpt from The Whiteness of the Foam, Evelyn Reilly amalgamates Moby Dick with a nano-fuel price list and diagrams of synthetic materials to structure a study of literary and environmental immortality. K. Silem Mohammad combines canonical appropriation with web-generated and constraint-based writing in his Sonnagrams, which rework Shakespeare’s sonnets after feeding them line by line into an internet anagram engine. Noncanonical sources show up as well: Kate Durbin chillingly transforms the notorious clown video used in court as evidence against Anna Nicole Smith’s boyfriend and attorney Howard K. Smith; Ken Taylor writes a cento composed of Charlie Sheen quotes (“there are parts of me/ that are dennis hopper”).
October 9th, 2013 / 11:05 am
This second volume of The &Now Awards recognizes the most provocative, hardest-hitting, deadly serious, patently absurd, cutting-edge, avant-everything-and-nothing work from the years 2009-2011. The &NOW Awards features writing as a contemporary art form: writing as it is practiced today by authors who consciously treat their work as an art, and as a practice explicitly aware of its own literary and extra-literary history—as much about its form and materials, language, as it about its subject matter. The &NOW conference, moving from the University of Notre Dame (2004), Lake Forest College (2006), Chapman University (2008), the University at Buffalo (2009), the University of California, San Diego (2011), and Paris (Sorbonne and Diderot, 2012)—sets the stage for this aesthetic, while The &Now Awards features work from the wider world of innovative publishing and serves as an ideal survey of the contemporary scene.
The anthology features:
Harold Abramowitz (.UNFO)
Rachel Gontijo Araujo
Jose Perez Beduya
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Blake already posted about &Now, but I want to put up more about one panel titled “Writing’s Dirty Secret: An Investigation of Literature’s Material Circumstances.” This panel was run by Jeremy Davies and AD Jameson and was really interesting because it tried to get at some of the more process-based questions about writing habits. How do we write? What do we use to write? Time of day? And so on. Standard questions really, but questions that might not get the focused treatment they deserve.
The panel led to more discussion between Matt Kirkpatrick, Lily Hoang, and myself later that night. Lily echoed a remark that panelist Vanessa Place made: that to answer these kind of questions was somewhat frustrating because of how predictable our answers are, as the questions and our answers are so bound up in what we think a writer ought to say when asked “how do you write?” Place asked during the panel something like this: how many of our writing habits come not from what works best for us but what we think ought to work best for us based on some idealized notion we have about what it means to be a ‘writer’?
Just got back from a long weekend at the &Now Conference in Buffalo. It was a great long trek with many heads and panels, focused on the termed ‘experimental’ end of things. Lots of discussion and reading going on and heads chomping. The social elements aside, here’s a report from the field of things I attended.