Throwback Thursday: Jim in the New Yorker

14 Aug

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In her article “The World Lives With Water,” Elizabeth Minkel discusses Jim Shepard’s story “The Netherlands Lives with Water.”  Here’s an excerpt: 

Marital problems, and an unwillingness to directly confront them, are an undercurrent through the story, but I was completely wrapped up in Shepard’s imagined future, where the Netherlands calmly tries to control the uncontrollable: rising seas and an explosion of natural disasters. The technical details are remarkably engaging, but it’s the description of the floods—future floods, and the North Sea flood of 1953, the Watersnoodramp—that left me genuinely shaken:

 

Now that our land has subsided as much as it has, when the water does come, it will come like a wall, and each dike that stops it will force it to turn, and in its churning it will begin to spiral and bore into the earth, eroding away the dike walls, until the pressure builds and that dike collapses and it’s on to the next one, with more pressure piling up behind, and so on and so on until every last barrier falls and the water thunders forward like a hand sweeping everything from the table.

 

It’s hard to read, even as the news from upstate and New England has dropped off dramatically in recent days. Nearly a million people up and down the Eastern seaboard are still without power, and the cleanup from the floods has just begun. Updates from my family are heartbreaking—my father works in Schoharie County, one of the worst hit areas in New York State, and even though the several feet of water have subsided, the flood’s detritus remains. And the water levels are as high as they can be; the ground is saturated. If another storm sweeps through, the devastation could be unimaginable.

 

And now, on this mild, cloudless day in New York City, it’s strange to think that a week ago we were laying sandbags at the floodgates along the East River. Last Friday, as a co-worker and I studied the emergency flood map—I live in north Brooklyn, a block from the border of Zone C, and he lives at the southern tip of Manhattan, Zone A, and subsequently left town that night—I couldn’t help but think that what we were really looking at was a map of places that, after a few decades of rising sea levels, may no longer exist. Shepard writes about a quality of Dutchness, pessimism married with practicality, which makes the nation ideally suited for fighting the oncoming seas. I am as un-Dutch as they come, and the idea of the East River spilling up and over the streets of my neighborhood leaves me anxious and incredibly sad. Re-reading “The Netherlands Lives with Water” helped. Shepard’s prose is balanced, steady, and subtly beautiful.

 

Read the full article here.

 

Rob Mclennan Reviews “Master of Miniatures”

8 Aug

 

 

 

 

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“Emotionally complex, haunting and deceptively straightforward….Through Master of Miniatures, Shepard writes out a man who masters both filmmaking and miniatures, as well as a number of personal losses from which he can never recover. Shepard shows just how much the trauma of what Tsuburaya had lived through had permanently changed him, a realization he doesn’t entirely comprehend, and one that he begins to suspect far too late. This is a deeply fulfilling and unsettling novel, one that doesn’t end well or let easily go.”  Read the full review here. 

Jim Shepard at the Summer Writer’s Institute

7 Aug

Poem of the Day: “You Reading This, Be Ready”

2 Dec

You Reading This, Be Ready

Starting here, what do you want to remember?
How sunlight creeps along a shining floor?
What scent of old wood hovers, what softened
sound from outside fills the air?

Will you ever bring a better gift for the world
than the breathing respect that you carry
wherever you go right now? Are you waiting
for time to show you some better thoughts?

When you turn around, starting here, lift this
new glimpse that you found; carry into evening
all that you want from this day. This interval you spent
reading or hearing this, keep it for life.

What can anyone give you greater than now,
starting here, right in this room, when you turn around?

- William Stafford

For more information about this poet, visit williamstafford.org

Throwback Thursdays: Project X

21 Nov

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First day of FS and where are my good green pants? In the wash. I have one pair of pants that aren’t clown pants and they’re in the wash. They haven’t been washed all summer but today, this morning, they’re in the wash. It’s too cold for cargoes and everything else in my drawer is Queer Nation, and sure enough I’m the only one on the bus in shorts. “Scorcher, isn’t it?” a ninth-grader asks when he goes by my locker. I’m standing there like I’m modeling beachwear. Kids across the hall chuckle and point. I almost head home right then.

“FS, man,” Flake says when he sees my face.

“I can’t take it,” I tell him. “It’s like, twenty minutes, and I can’t take it.”

“Look at your face,” he says, and he has to laugh. He doesn’t mean it in a bad way.

I put my head on my hands in my locker and try to tear the shelf off the wall.

“FS,” he says. At least our first period classes are near each other.

“FS,” I tell him back. We don’t even have homeroom together, though they told us over the summer we would. FS is fuckin’ school. We argue over who thought of it.

 

Project X, Jim’s sixth novel, can be purchased here.  

Jim’s Favorite Alice Munro Stories

21 Nov

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In honor of Alice Munro’s Nobel prize, I asked Jim for Alice Munro stories that he especially loves.  The first story that came to his mind was “”Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage.”  It begins:

Years ago, before the train stopped running on so many of the branch lines, a woman with a high, freckled forehead and a frizz of reddish hair came into the railway station and inquired about shipping furniture.

The station agent often tried a little teasing with women, especially the plain ones who seem to appreciate it.

“Furnture?” he said, as if no one had such an idea before. “Well. Now. What kind of furniture are we talking about?”

Purchase the collection of stories by clicking here.

Poem of the Day: Requiem for the Croppies

20 Nov

Here’s a new series of posts that I’m really excited about.  As his students may remember, Jim starts off his classes reading a poem.  This is a treasured memory for me: not only does Jim have incredible taste in modern poetry, but he’s masterful at reading poetry to others.

Jim has kindly sent me some of his poetry selections and I’m going to start posting them.  I hope it inspires both Jim Shepard fans and aspiring fiction writers to read more poetry, something Jim has always encouraged us to do.

Requiem for the Croppies

The pockets of our greatcoats full of barley…
No kitchens on the run, no striking camp…
We moved quick and sudden in our own country.
The priest lay behind ditches with the tramp.
A people hardly marching… on the hike…
We found new tactics happening each day:
We’d cut through reins and rider with the pike
And stampede cattle into infantry,
Then retreat through hedges where cavalry must be thrown.
Until… on Vinegar Hill… the final conclave.
Terraced thousands died, shaking scythes at cannon.
The hillside blushed, soaked in our broken wave.
They buried us without shroud or coffin
And in August… the barley grew up out of our grave.

-Seamus Heaney

 

If you’re interested in learning more about rich history behind the poem, here’s a good blog post on the topic.

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