Nahal Suzanne Jamir recently published her first short story collection, In the Middle of Many Mountains (Press 53, 2013). She was awarded the 2012 William Van Dyke Short Story Prize and won second prize in the 2012 Press 53 Open Awards in Flash Fiction. Prior to this collection, her work appeared in The South Carolina Review, Jabberwock Review, Ruminate Magazine, The Los Angeles Review, and Passages North, among others. To read her story, “In Perfect English,” check out the Fall 2011 issue of CQ.
Jamir explores a range of themes in her work, from the distance between immigrant parents and their American-born children to the experience of single parents struggling to provide stability for their children. The importance of family and culture is highlighted in her work, as is the impact of stories and their telling. Whether in the bright burst of her flash fiction or the unfolding of a novella, her work is engrossing and thought-provoking. The Carolina Quarterly recently spoke with Jamir via email about her collection.
–Laura Bennett, Fiction Staff
Carolina Quarterly (CQ):First, let me say that I truly enjoyed reading your collection. I was impressed with the wide-ranging scope of the work. As a reader, I was given a glimpse into many different worlds, from science fiction to a modern immigrant experience to the domestic narrative. One of the primary ties that seems to bind the collection together is a concern with the importance of stories and storytelling to individuals, families, and cultures. Is your interest in the role of stories in society what led you to become a writer? Or did the process of putting stories to paper spark that interest?
Nahal Suzanne Jamir (NSJ): As a child, I always had an interest in stories. I think this is natural for children. I had stories coming at me on all fronts, oral and written, family stories and science fiction stories, etc. Yet, at a certain age, I started to get curious about the lives of the people I was closest to. When I asked my parents about their lives, they dodged the questions. My mother would not speak of her own story but of the lives of her ancestors. My father wouldn’t speak of his own story but of the places he’d been to or lived in—and the stories of places. So, I would say that not getting answers (or not getting straight answers) transformed my view of stories. As a child and youth, I found my parents’ evasion annoying, but as an adult, I looked back at those non-answers and “side” stories as parts of some sort of whole. It became clear that nothing was clear. There was no one story that would answer my questions. As this realization grew, my stories became more fragmented and my interest in the role of stories in my cultures (both American and Persian) grew. Still, I don’t know if I know exactly how to describe the role of stories in society. At Texas State University, I was lucky to have Tim O’Brien as a teacher. At the end of our workshop in 2003, he said. “Stories aren’t about what we understand. They’re about what we don’t understand, what we can’t understand.” Some of this may make more sense in the context of writing nonfiction, but all fiction writers and poets are writing from a personal space. That personal space may be literal understanding or emotional understanding or imaginative understanding of each writer’s life experience. These different approaches lead to different types of stories, and just as a mosaic can mean something to the artist who constructed it, the recipient (reader, viewer, etc.) will make his/her own meaning. Storytelling is not a simple act of reflection—unless we imagine two mirrors facing each other.
CQ is pleased to announce that Corrie Williamson and Suzanne Marie Hopcroft are our 2013 nominees for Best New Poets. Williamson’s poem “The Mole, the Sweet Potato, and the Possibility of Allegory” appeared in Issue 62.2 and Hopcroft’s poem “One-Way” was published in our latest, Issue 63.1.
Alan Shapiro has published numerous books of poetry, most recently, Night of the Republic (Houghton Mifflin, 2012), which was a finalist for the National Book Award and just three days ago was shortlisted for the Griffin Poetry Prize. A Professor of English and Creative Writing at UNC-Chapel Hill since 1995, he has received the Kingsley Tufts Award and a Los Angeles Times Book Award in poetry, and has been a finalist in both poetry and nonfiction for the National Books Critics Circle Award.
His poem “The Host,” which was the opening piece in The Courtesy (The University of Chicago Press, 1983), was first published in CQ 35.1 (Fall 1982). We decided it was time to catch up with him again to discuss 3 a.m. epiphanies, the wisdom of Stephen Wright, and the importance of vaccination. This interview was conducted via email during the month of February.
–Nathan Vail, Intern
Carolina Quarterly (CQ): In Night of the Republic, you seem very interested in private reactions to public spaces. How would you explain this preoccupation? What sparked it?
Alan Shapiro (AS): Several years ago I found myself in a supermarket at 3 a.m. The place was brightly lit and no one was there but a cashier who was half asleep, and I thought what a strange place this is, a place I go to nearly every day and yet never really look at or think about, and the absence of people made it possible for me to see how truly weird it is, as if I were an anthropologist from Mars and was trying to infer from the look of the place the nature of the creatures that had built it. From there it was a natural step to examine other public places at night to see what secrets they’d yield about our way of life.
Stuart Nadler’s writing touches on the core American themes: vast geography, wealth, racism, individual rights, and baseball. He is the author of Wise Men, a sweeping tale of a family’s rise to fortune and the complications it creates, and the story collection The Book of Life. Nadler has been honored with the 5 Under 35 award from the National Book Foundation. He is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and an all-around nice guy.
Nadler’s first novel, Wise Men, was published in February to great acclaim. The Boston Globe found it “genuinely moving,” while People Magazine called it “A historical novel with the gusto of Gatsby.” To read his story, “Airplanes,” check out the Fall 2012 issue of CQ. The Carolina Quarterly recently talked with Nadler about looking at pictures of old Cadillacs, Cape Cod National Seashore, and what it’s like to create a town.
–Nate Young, Fiction Staff
Carolina Quarterly (CQ): You were recently selected for “5 under 35″ by the National Book Foundation for The Book of Life. What does that honor mean for you?
Stuart Nadler (SN): It was a great honor and utterly humbling, especially having been picked by Edith Pearlman, a writer whose work I love and admire—and a Bostonian! And I was especially glad to be part of such a terrific group of writers.
CQ: Your new novel, Wise Men, seems to be very concerned with geography: Cape Cod; New Haven, Connecticut; suburban New York; and rural Iowa, among other places. Do you have any connection to these locations yourself?
SN: I don’t have any particular connection to New Haven, apart from having driven through it for years when going back and forth between Boston and New York. I have, though, lived in Iowa, which is where I went to graduate school, and for the past few years I’ve been spending time in the summers out on the far arm of Cape Cod. It’s an area of the country I love, and one that everyone, at some point, needs to see. President Kennedy made this far edge of the Cape into a National Park (The National Seashore) and so it’s been left alone, and because of that it’s completely empty of all the kinds of beachy bric-a-brac and resort hotels and boardwalk amusements that you find up and down the east coast. Instead you have the trees and the spot ponds and the whole coast, unadorned and beautiful.
We recently asked CQ contributor Lauri Anderson to record a selection from her story, “Here Come the Carnivores,” featured in CQ 62.1.
Lauri Anderson’s fiction and poetry have appeared in Willow Springs, Meridian, The Greensboro Review, Bellingham Review, Passages North, and on air at NPR’s “All Things Considered” Weekend. She is the recent winner of both the Tobias Wolff Award in Fiction, as well as The Robert Watson Literary Prize. She lives in Lubbock, Texas, where she is a PhD student at Texas Tech University.