Composer Olivia Belli on the Location That Inspired “Valadier”

Olivia Belli

Next year will see the release of Intermundia, the new album from pianist and composer Olivia Belli, on XXIM Records. For the song “Valadier,” Belli drew inspiration from the Temple of Valdier,  a building that’s stood for almost 200 years in the Italian town of Marche. In her own words, here’s Belli on the physical spaces that have shaped her immersive, haunting music…

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Alissa Hattman on Creating the Post-Apocalyptic World of “Sift”

Alissa Hattman

Near the beginning of Alissa Hattman’s novel Sift, Tortula reflects on Death, which to her is both miraculous and everyday. (Literally: Sift is about two women, traveling through a choked and smoky post-apocalyptic landscape in search of food and rest.) In the next paragraph, Tortula says, “I know, in that moment, we are going to die.” The next chapter is just one sentence: “Then, a horrible accident—we survive.” I love these moves, which feel beautiful and true to me—one, that a character can die and not (because you do go on, even when you can’t, not because you learn to suck it up, but because the world continues), and two, fragments that mean differently, depending on the light. Did we survive despite the horrible accident? Or is the accident our survival? Does it matter? Not, I think, as much as the question.

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Double-Entendres, Secret Histories, and Marilyn Monroe: Helene Stapinski on “The American Way”

Helene Stapinski

On a rainy morning in New York’s Greenwich Village I meet up with journalist and memoirist Helene Stapinski to talk about her new book, The American Way. We’re sitting at a small window table in Caffé Reggio and together we imagine how its old-world atmosphere would have reminded Jules Schulback – her story’s hero – of the coffee houses he frequented as a young man in his native Berlin, the city he loved and didn’t want to leave. Stapinski muses that it’s quite possible Schulback had been to Caffé Reggio after having fled the Nazis to settle in New York City. Stapinski is her usual voluble self, eager to expound on her protagonist’s inspiring life, while recalling anecdotes about her research and collaboration with his grand-daughter, graphic artist Bonnie Siegler, with whom she wrote the book. 

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Six Ridiculous Questions: Joshua Mohr

Joshua Mohr

The guiding principle of Six Ridiculous Questions is that life is filled with ridiculousness. And questions. That only by giving in to these truths may we hope to slip the surly bonds of reality and attain the higher consciousness we all crave. (Eh, not really, but it sounded good there for a minute.) It’s just. Who knows? The ridiculousness and question bits, I guess. Why six? Assonance, baby, assonance.

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About and Not About: An Interview with Aaron Burch

Aaron Burch

Like the anthology itself, this interview came about because of a spontaneous interaction on the platform formerly known as Twitter. I’d been aware of some of Aaron Burch’s (many, frighteningly many) other projects, but really didn’t know all that much about him. I was following him on Twitter, though, and upon its publication I saw the skull on the cover of How to Write a Novel: An Anthology of 21 Craft Essays About Writing, None of Which Ever Mention Writing next to a screenshot of the tweets that prompted the more formal beginning of the project. Spurred on by the jovial, friendly, and slightly left field vibes of the discussion on the original thread and in the replies on the publication post, I replied (out of left field) as well, and asked Aaron if he wanted to do an interview about the new anthology. And so we did an interview.

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“We’re Running the Risk of Equating Serious Literature with Unfunny Literature”: A Conversation with Ben Purkert About His Debut Novel

Ben Purkert


Ben Purkert makes the path from poet to novelist look easy with his debut The Men Can’t Be Saved, which is funny and sharp as hell. Purkert has managed to take a poet’s eye to the worlds of branding and labor, creating a hilarious book filled with beautiful sentences and profound ideas.

We caught up over the phone to discuss finding room for comedy in serious literature, the use of metaphor in the novel, and the original NC-17 B.C. shock poet himself, Catullus. 

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M.S. Coe on the Identity-Blurring Twists of “The Formation of Calcium”

M.S. Coe author photo

There’s a point early on in M.S. Coe’s new novel The Formation of Calcium when it becomes clear that this is no ordinary tale of small-town anomie. Narrator Mary Ellen, a woman in her fifties who’s increasingly frustrated by her marriage, takes rather extreme measures to resolve things, and then sets out for a new life in Florida. Things do not go according to plan, and Coe’s novel gradually becomes both the story of a woman improvising her way into a new life and an off-kilter take on true crime. I’d enjoyed Coe’s previous novel quite a lot, and this new one left me further impressed by her range; I chatted with her on its genesis, its evolution, and the Florida of it all.

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The Art of Presidential Fiction: An Interview With Thomas Mallon

"Watergate" cover

Thomas Mallon’s novel Finale is subtitled “A Novel of the Reagan Years,” and while it shares certain characteristics with his earlier novel Watergate, it takes an intriguing approach to the presidential figure at its center. Here, Reagan is presented obliquely: heroic to some and infuriating to others. Largely set in late 1986 and early 1987, the novel follows a number of politically-connected characters grappling with the issues and controversies of the time.

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