KeeneJohn Keene—writer, translator, and Associate Professor of English and African American and African Studies at Rutgers University-Newark—published his collection of short fiction titled Counternarratives with New Directions last spring. As I began attending Rutgers this past September in the MFA program, I had the pleasure of reading Keene’s book for two of my classes: a fiction workshop with Jayne Anne Philips, and also a critical theories course in Postcolonialism and Literature with Dr. Sadia Abbas. And I’m thankful for both of the introductions. If Keene’s collection, or mixtape as I’ve heard him call it, is not on your summer reading list already, it should be. The stories in Counternarratives sent me down path after adjoining path of inquiry, and I found myself questioning the nature of storytelling and its relationship to the supposed authority of the archive. I sat down with Professor Keene in his office at Rutgers to discuss his book, his process, and history as we know it.

Soili Smith: The book seems to be, especially in the first section, “Counternarratives,” interrogating the very concept of historical record. Obviously, a tremendous amount of research went into creating these stories. And considering the cohesiveness of them, it’s hard to imagine you didn’t set out to write this collection as a complete body. What came first for you, the source material or the story?

John Keene: Well, it varies with each story. In certain cases the source material came first, and in other cases the story. To give one example, I was reading Lorenzo Johnston Greene’s The Negro in colonial New England –which is an absolutely fascinating book, and it struck me at the time I was reading it, as well as today—we are exactly 151 years from the US Civil War — and there’s almost no discussion of slavery in the North. New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, all of New England (save Vermont) —there’s almost no discussion of it. There are a few markers, little public recognition to the social and historical fore-life to the world we live in today. As a result [that history] has been elided or erased. So I was fascinated by this earlier history that had been elided. And I was thinking, some of these stories are as interesting as any I’ve read in fiction, and yet I’ve never read anything like these. So in the case of “An Outtake from the Ideological Origins of the American Revolution,” that was the result of reading source material, and then thinking, how can I tell this story through fiction? In other [stories] like “On Brazil or Dénouement,” I knew I wanted to write about Brazil, the George W. Bush administration, and power, but wanted to do it in a way that would be a challenge for me as a writer, and write a kind of story I’d never written before. And so there, the idea preceded any kind of source material I later sought or encountered. I thought after I’d put the collection together that it became complete by way of afterthought. Then I found in one of my little notebooks from the late nineties that I had actually conceptualized this book back then, and just didn’t know how to write it. I didn’t have the tools or the skill. So now that [the book]’s out, it’s a kind of testament to having an idea, and walking around with it for a long time until you can find a way to pull it off.

SS: Interestingly enough, and on the topic of the cohesiveness of the book, the epigraph at the beginning of “An Ideological Outtake” sent me into this perseveration on David Hume. And I read somewhere that David Hume Pinsent, a descendant of his, worked with and was rumoured to have been lovers with Wittgenstein, who appears in the epigraph for the final story, “Lions.” Which then of course sent me down another rabbit hole of wondering about your intentions, as in, is this part of the book coming together? Should I be putting those two stories in direct conversation? What other Easter eggs has he hidden in here?

JK: Well that’s the thing, isn’t it? Other people have found these confluences and conjunctions in the stories that I had not intentionally planned. It strikes me that there’s a kind of magic that occurs when you create certain works of art that themselves engender things you as the artist aren’t thinking about, which is fascinating.

SS: And I guess also the sort of inescapable interconnectedness of a global history. We would like to see everything as so segregated—and this is something that I think is so great about the book, especially in terms of Afro and Black histories— American, Caribbean, Afro-Latin— that these borders and histories were permeable, that there was and is cultural exchange between Afro peoples.

JK: Actually, this is an important point, because there is a tension I feel now between thinking about Black diaspora as a vibrant field of exchange, a circulation of ideas, cultural practices, histories, bodies vs. postcoloniality—and this might be more of an academic issue—erasing an emphasis on localized ethnic and cultural studies. Yet [Postcolonial studies are] moving from that initial erasure of the Black transatlantic slave trade towards a different idea of transnationalism, so that any sort of local or national history is immediately problematized, even though we know that, yes—there are all of these specific ways of being in specific places. But it’s not an either/or situation, it’s a both/and. I’m interested in that, because part of what’s really surprised people about this book is—and I am not the first person to have done this; I think of Ishmael Reed, Paule Marshall, Wilson Harris, etc.—when people think of African American literature, it’s often in the same sort of narrow terms by which people want to think about American culture, which as we know is always fluid. What is American culture but this endlessly changing and transforming field of experience, ideas, and knowledge?

SS: The intersections addressed in this novel, with regards to geography identity and ideology, are staggering. Multilingualism, queerness, blackness, Afro and Abrahamic faiths, connections to and between Afro-Latin and Afro-Caribbean histories, all included. Perhaps you can elaborate on the importance of examining, or even just representing these intersections in literature.

JK: I think it’s absolutely crucial, and I feel that it happens far too infrequently. We re-inscribing narrow understandings of our past and our present that can have very damaging effects when they play out as lived experience, based on these initial [conceptions]. My goal was not to erase historical, social and political particularities. My book is trying to represent and dramatize the particularities of each place in it, and at the same time, when you juxtapose the experiences of black people in Brazil and black people in the United States, you see that there are all these commonalities. So rather than thinking, we are the only people going through this—and many intellectuals have argued against parochialism—but there are ways in which our senses of ourselves are reflected so largely in popular culture or mass culture, we get almost complete erasure, so that people have no clue as to what’s going on in a place like Brazil (and I don’t necessarily mean cluelessness like that of George W. Bush, who allegedly asked the Brazilian president, with Condoleezza Rice in the room, “You have black people too?”). Even if people aren’t that out of it, what does end up happening is when you have a moment of crisis, with a racial component, as you now have in Brazil, many people in [the US] might not know how that race and racism factor into what’s going on there. If we did have more knowledge, we might be able to say, oh, I get it, because it’s not so unlike what’s happening here. Which is all to say, I mean this happens again and again. Think of the tensions between the Dominican Republic and Haiti, when there was the deportation crisis, and people immediately said, Oh the Dominican Republic is just racist, which distorts the racial complexity of the Dominican Republic, and then also what’s left out of the picture is the fact that the United States had invaded the Dominican Republic twice and Haiti once in the 20th century and has played a role in destabilizing both countries in part based on racism. So in my mind, it’s really important to dramatize these issues so that it’s not a kind of puppet show involving ideas, but so that we have stories told in an organic sense that at the same time are doing certain kinds of political and critical work.

SS: Some reviewers are quick to accuse you of being—and I’ve taken some liberties with this phrase—a poet in sheep’s clothing. I don’t mean to suggest you are not a poet (see Seismosis, Keene’s collection of poetry), but what do you think drives this need to distinguish between poetry and fiction, and moreover, the poet and the fiction writer?

JK: Literary genres in contemporary US writing tend to follow certain conventions. I believe that, right now, you can do almost anything in the poetry world and call it poetry, even if certain precincts don’t. For instance, some criticized Claudia [Rankine]’s marvelous Citizen, because a lot of it is written in prose, even though we are 200+ years into Western prose poetry. But with fiction, and particularly American fiction, I think there are these very strong conventions, and we want to ask where they come from. Once upon a time in mainstream American fiction we had people writing all kinds of things. As recently as the era when I was in Junior High and High School, the seventies and eighties, we had quite a few writers doing really daring things in terms of not just form, but also language. Take for example someone like William Gass, or Gayl Jones, or John Edgar Wideman. With the rise of MFA programs and the rise of certain cultural organs and arbiters of what fiction is, if what you’re writing doesn’t look like what tends to be out there, it can unsettle people. And with some of the stories in this book, and an obvious case is “Cold” because it is somewhat musical, but even in a story like “Acrobatique,” which is one long sentence, its syntactic continuity is probably less problematic than the fact that it’s a rhythmic sentence, there’s a kind of beat or pulsation there, that’s considered a little bit strange in American fiction, even though there are precursors to everything I’m doing. I’m glad people have noticed some of that, in terms of reviews of the work, but I also feel that when you do challenge genre or form, it is going to provoke; I don’t want to say a backlash, but unsettles people. In addition there’s a push towards fiction as being as efficient as possible. Perhaps we’ve moved away from the moment of minimalism. Contemporary US fiction can be that or it’s supposed to be maximalist, as with David Foster Wallace. But if it falls somewhere in between, I think it may upset critics.

SS: I guess the repetition of the sentiment from many reviewers that some of these stories were not just poetic, but were in fact poems left me at a bit of a loss, because I read them as stories. And then I wondered, if challenging form is poetic—is poetry’s responsibility or place—then fiction’s responsibility is… I don’t know what.

JK: That’s right, you don’t have to challenge form or convention in poetry, but if you do, it’s acceptable, and in certain cases now, expected. But in fiction [challenging form is] still unexpected, even though just 25 years ago we were in the moment of metafiction and high postmodernism and this was actually commonplace in writing and in theory. That moment emphasized modes and forms in storytelling. Judith Ryan wrote a really interesting book about the relationship between fiction and theory [The Novel After Theory], in which she discusses how the postructuralist theoretical interventions provided a lifeline and ballast for authors who were starting to raise certain kinds of questions into their work. I’m interested in that kind of work, and in postmodernism in general, but even at the level of language itself, there are still all kinds of open possibilities. I feel that this kind of experimentation is far less commonly accepted today, in mainstream American fiction, even though it has and still happens in other fictional traditions. There are two stories [in Counternarratives] that, when I reread them, I perceive both as stories and as prose poetry, and several reviewers have pointed this out. One is “Anthropophagy,” about Mário de Andrade, the famous Brazilian writer. I was really excited about this piece, because I was trying to write something as concise as possible, and Jayne Anne Phillips and her early career one-page fictions, beautiful, brief stories that are also prose poems, were an important influence on me in that respect. I think it’s okay for something to be both, to imagine a non-binary literature. Then there’s “Persons and Places,” with its the double columns, which I described to my editor as a kind of throwaway story. But I’ve met so many people that are fascinated by those double columns. I’ve been told, I didn’t know you could do that! And I’m like, of course you can! I’m not even the first to do it. When people see writing like that, they think, Oh my God, I can do that. And you can, you really can.

SS: I think one of the stunning features of the collection is the sheer range of form. In this book, and this might seem like a broad stroking question, but how might you characterize the relationship between content and form?  

JK: In the first section, I was very interested in this idea of historicity, authority, and authenticity. How do you ground truth in a text, or how do you appeal to the reader’s sense of what might be true or not true. And traditionally, of course, one of the ways of doing it was to cite various textual forms of authority. So I wanted to play with that, because of course in historical studies and historiography you have to fall back on the factual, on the archive, you can’t just invent things, while fiction is all about inventing things. So I was really interested in this paradox particularly around the issue of slavery. What does it mean to bring together real factual artifacts such as the Declaration of Independence, and invented ones like the newspaper clippings in the stories? And the archive is sort of essential to this, because what kinds of forms might the archive take? When we get to a story like “Gloss, or the Strange History of Our Lady of Sorrows,” there I wanted to think not even about so much texts in the traditional sense, but voice itself. What might voice look like, and what happens when it’s broken down? In the case of that story’s protagonist Carmel, she does not speak, but she comes into speech, so voice breaks down, then is reconstituted, and then assumes new forms. We get the sense of that struggle, because we see the text constructing itself just as Carmel is learning and going through this brutal struggle, not just for her own physical liberation, but to speak, because speech and language are forms of power and means of liberation. So I think about those forms, and the multiplicity of those forms as mirroring the multiplicity of experiences in this larger history. It would have been deeply problematic for me to take a traditional historical fiction approach and write the stories in one form. And there again are a lot of predecessors. Jorge Luis Borges, and someone who had a huge influence on me, who I didn’t even realize until later—Eduardo Galeano. He’s one of these writers who reconstructs the history of the Global South in such vibrant and dynamic ways. And I remember reading those books and thinking, You can do this? And then of course thought after finishing them, well, I can never write again.

SS: That’s how I felt about your book! 

JK: No, but then you realize, this is actually empowering, and I can take these leaps. And some people may say, I don’t know what the hell you’re doing, or this is too challenging, but others may say, this has unlocked some doors for me, I’m going to race right through.

SS: It’s great that you brought up Carmel, because a fascinating conceit in the book that I attached myself to was silence, or perhaps more accurately, the unutterable, or unheard. Not just coming into speech, but also protecting certain forms of speech. Not sharing them. What role do you feel this multi-faceted silence plays in your book’s look at Afro histories in the Americas?

JK: One way to think about it is through Édouard Glissant’s concept of opacity. There are aspects of experience, or of knowledge, that are untranslatable, or we can communicate them to each other, but they are not assimilable in the larger experience—they’ll never go mainstream. Even if people try to appropriate it, they really don’t get it. Even if you explain it, you see it in popular culture all the time, these little phrases that get picked up, even if you explain it, they still don’t get it. But then on the other hand there are certain things that have to be protected. One thing that comes up again and again [in the book] are these multiple identities, named and unnamed, and that comes out of both my personal experience, but also someone like W. E. B. DuBois, and the double veil, which I think can be the triple, quadruple veils, especially if you think intersectionally. There are many more veils. Because it’s not just about race, but also gender and sexuality and class and national origin and religion. Part of it is, how do I move through the world and not be destroyed? And part of that process involves figuring out what I will not reveal to the world, or to everyone, or what can be revealed only to certain people, or that only certain people will pick it up without my every having to utter it. The book itself is kind of an ironic example of this, because it also poses the question, if I speak, who will hear me? Because I can tell the world over and over what I’m going through, but what if I’m speaking, and no one is listening? Or they’re hearing me, but they’re not really hearing me? Or they’re mishearing me because of preconceptions? One of the stories in which that happens in to a certain degree, which is sort of my story about contemporary liberalism, is “The Aeronauts.” There you have Theodore, a free black Civil War era teenager who’s working for a white man, Edward Linde who, on one level, doesn’t carry the sorts of racial prejudices of his time, of his era, of his class, but on the other hand, when we closely view Linde, it becomes clear he has no clue what Theodore’s experience is. So he accepts Theodore, but only on his own terms. He can’t step out of himself, he can’t other himself to see the dangers that surround them, but which are even more dangerously bearing down upon Theodore. When Theodore floats off in the hot air balloon over the Confederate lines, [the reader] then sees that these barriers were always out there. I think one of the questions the book asks in various ways is, what does it, or what will it take to get people to hear and understand the particularity of our different experiences? 

SS: I know I’ve asked you about this before, but I want to discuss novellas. I find in the world of literary journals and magazines, especially in the age of prolific digital publication, the novella is becoming a bit of a dirty word. I’ve heard it said that some publishers find novellas unmarketable to broad audiences. Counternarratives contains a number of stories that the book itself claims as novellas. What do you think the place for the novella is in literature? What’s its importance in your book?

JK: That’s a great question. Obviously there’s a long tradition of novella writing. Some of the greatest works, including in American literature, could be considered novellas. And it’s so bizarre to me, at a time when people express, in every venue you can think of, how much of a premium their time is, that there is this resistance to a form that is, of course, bigger than a short story, but is shorter than a 400 page novel. I love novels, and even did a sort of unconventional thing by writing a condensed 81 page novel [Annotations, New Directions Paperbook]. But with [Counternarratives], well I’ll say this: part of the reason there are novellas in this book is that I used to teach an undergraduate Creative Writing course at Northwestern in which we required—for the Fiction majors—that in the first half of the year they write three or four short stories that they revised, and then in the second half we had this insane but wonderful requirement that they write a novella. I used to tell people about this and they would say, John you’re making this up, because it’s so improbable. But the students did it! Year after year, and it was invigorating but also brutal, because when you’ve got fifteen to seventeen students writing novellas, you have to read all those novellas. And you don’t just have to read one draft, you read multiple drafts. There was one point where I taught this class and I really thought I was going blind. Later on I realized, okay, I’m asking these students to do this, iI read novellas all the time, why don’t I try to do this? What is it to write a novella? And it was exhilarating. There are several in the book: “Our Lady of Sorrows,” I think “The Aeronauts” could be one, and then “A Letter on the Trials of the Counterreformation in New Lisbon.” I feel like what those do in the space of this book, is they kind of press the limits of form and contemporary American storytelling. Just as those very brief, almost poetic, lyrical pieces suggest the possibilities of condensation, the novellas demonstrate the possibilities of expansion. So without writing a full novel, what might you do with this form? What’s possible? Can we write an epic in short fiction? And because all of these stories speak to each other, you have the lyric brevity and narrative density and expansion in conversation in interesting ways. I highly encourage [novella writing], but I will say publishers in general, I mean New Directions does publish a certain number of novellas every year. Melville House does as well, and Nightbook Books too, just to name a few publishers, but in general, there is a real hesitancy about it, which I personally don’t understand. I think a lot of it has to do, again, with conventions in American literary life, publishing culture, commercial culture. If you look at a book like Seize the Day by Saul Bellow, which is a remarkable book, it’s hilarious, devastating, and it’s a novella. And Henry James wrote novellas. I mean…

SS: Maybe as long as you call it a short novel, then it’s okay?

JK: Right! 

SS: It’s interesting to consider the ways in which literature, and art more generally, represents, or is the cultural imagination. There seems to be in Counternarratives, a redemption/re-approapriation/reclamation of Black figures in art that have become kind of cultural objects. I’m thinking especially of Degas’ Miss La La in “Acrobatique,” and Jim, from The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, in “Rivers.” What made you want to bring new perspectives to these characters?

JK: Well, this is something you see a lot of contemporary black poets doing. I mean you have some of it happening in fiction too. Someone like Ravi Howard earlier this year published a beautiful book about Nat King Cole [Driving the King: A Novel, HarperCollins]. There are many more. It’s happening plays as well. But there’s been this extraordinary explosion of poetry, and I’ve thought a bit about this, about what is going on in terms of this reanimation of historical figures, and telling their stories, and I do think there are a lot of reasons people do it, and that it’s absolutely crucial. For example, Tyehimba Jess explores a range of 19th century musicians in his dazzling new collection Olio [Wave Books]. With Jim I thought, what happens when we do this with a fictional character who is not a historical figure, but who has played such a vital role in American culture, but who at a certain level remains a kind of object? And I was convinced, and I don’t know why I thought this, but I thought there was at least ten books about Jim. So I went and searched and I couldn’t find anything. And I thought, how is this possible?

SS: I felt the same way. Like, why haven’t I read this before?

JK: I know! [The Adventures of Huckelberry Finn] is so controversial, but is also so widely taught in the United States. I can’t think of the number of Black people I’ve talked to who have described the experience of being in class and reading this book, especially if they were in an all white or predominantly white environment, and just cringing, while of course appreciating what Jim goes through. So I thought, okay, I’ve got to do this. So I reread both The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer several times to get a sense of how Twain was approaching the story, and then I wanted to write against that. But with Miss La La, that was all happenstance. I had seen the painting more than once over the years, but didn’t really think too much about it, then happened upon an exhibit at The Morgan Library in New York, and was blown away not only by [Miss La La’s] story, but by the idea that this seemingly simple painting presented all of these technical challenges for Degas. Then I wondered, might those technical challenges not just have been a question of the architecture of the Cirque Fernando, but also the result of Degas’ psychological and emotional challenges in depicting a black subject, given his family’s historical links to black people in the ‘New World?’ Also considering he was a rabid anti-Semite, and all of his sketches of young girls… I mean, the man was a creep. And so by the end of that story you get the sense that she’s trying to not just elude him, but everyone. She’s trying to be free. But until the story, all we have had left of her story is the artifact of that painting. So I was trying not so much to bring the painting to life, but her to life as a way of thinking about the painting, and about her relationship to Degas, and what it means to have been a black woman performer in the 19th century, but also the experience, from multiple perspectives of capturing someone, and being captured, to some extent, in art. That story, by the way, was actually such fun to write, and one of my favourites in the book.

SS: What’s also interesting to me, is what the title of the book suggests, especially considering the historical arc of the stories. From initial colonization, to what I’ve come to understand the final story to be, the subsequent failure of a certain kind of postcolonial identitarian ideology. The book is not proposing alternative narratives, but rather the more active countering of certain historical narratives. Is this distinction important to you, or am I reading too much into that?

JK: I think you’re right. One of the things I really tried to be mindful of was that this is a work of art, and the goal was not to provide answers, but to engage in an active counter practice that on the one hand does suggest other ways of looking at the past and present, but also doesn’t resolve easily into a progressive high, you know where once this happens, everything will be great! Because part of what the large arc suggests is there are systems—and sometimes you feel like you’ll talk yourself blue in the face about this, because you’ll say it over and over—but it’s not just about individual actions and experiences, it’s about these larger systems and structures in place. And they’ve been underway for quite some time and still are. We’ve had many successes and triumphs in transforming the world we live in, but colonialism’s effects are still with us, and what you get in [“Lions”] is that it is not enough just to talk about nations and identity and so on, without thinking about the ways that power itself, and the various ways it’s understood, power as a practice, play out. One of the people in that cell [in “Lions”], the “Prophet,” has betrayed everything he supposedly stood for, and what I was trying to get at was not just leaders in Africa, but post-colonial figures all over the globe. The book opens with Juan Rodríguez, who is escaping in some ways everything that the Dutch represent to him, but also he’s not going to come and colonize Manahatta, he actually wants to integrate himself with the world around him and the First Peoples, and he’s leaving something, he’s leaving some place. With the final story, we are back in the “Motherland,” but I wanted it to be somewhat abstract so that we could apply it not just to Africa, because we see it again and again and again all over the world, with people who are supposedly “decolonized,” how there is just this terrible betrayal of ideas and ideals. And it comes back to money and power, and utter faithlessness. How can I make myself as rich and powerful as possible? Often by trafficking in this very idea of liberation and revolution.

SS: As a final note, only slightly adjacent to the topic at hand, and sort of circling back to my questions about form. But I came across your syllabus for 20th and 21st Century Black Avant-Gardes on the New Directions website. Clearly you can teach a whole class on this subject, but I was very interested in a question you posed on the syllabus. So, I guess as briefly as you can: How can we think productively about Black or African American avant-gardes?

JK: That is a tough question! Let me just put it this way: on one hand, as much as blackness is always constituted as otherness, its very presence a counterpoint, it’s also the case that black people and black culture have also been viewed—and this ties into Afro-futurism—as forerunners. We see this particularly when we consider popular cultural appropriations; black people come up with or say something, and then it immediately enters and transforms the wider culture. But the poet and scholar Lorenzo Thomas made the really good point that blackness by itself is not avant-garde. So what does it mean to be a black avant-garde, and what does it mean to, as Langston Hughes famously said, “build our temples for tomorrow,” or in other words, to create art that not only the mainstream or wider culture, but also your own people can’t fully understand until many years later? And why would you do that? There are many reasons why people might approach art-making in ways that are not immediately graspable, commercial, comprehensible, but part of it, I think, is the desire to open up a space to imagine and realize another kind of future, for oneself and for other people. Things that were once strange and experimental are hardly so now, blues poetry for instance. You hear it, you know it, but nobody’s going to say, Oh my god, what is that? Or Hip Hop. But once upon a time those forms were actually new, and not ubiquitous as they are now. Even someone like Phillis Wheatley was experimental with her poetry in the sense that she was not actually supposed to be writing at all. Thomas Jefferson had said that black people did not have the capacity to do what she did. But there are so many black pioneers, I mean, we just lost Prince, someone who was always pushing the limits. My partner and I were watching Purple Rain recently and I remembered seeing it when it came out and thinking, what the hell is this? It’s riveting. All of the elements of traditional movie making are there, but yet this tiny black man from Minnesota, from Minneapolis, takes all of that and just reformulates it. And you get a movie, you get all these groups, you get this music, you get this experience that’s unlike anything you’ve seen before. And you can just go down the list, Michael Jackson, and even recently, Beyoncé, with Lemonade. And you think about the ways people are just freaking out, at “Formation” first and then Lemonade, but we have to think, actually, there is a long tradition of this. And thank God Beyoncé is like, I’m going to try to tell stories, create music and experiences that I hope will speak to the people who care about what I’m doing, but I’m also pushing myself and the culture beyond the limits we’re already familiar with. To me it’s exhilarating. And in an evaluative sense, I think it’s absolutely crucial. Black avant gardism is so important and has a long tradition, and one of my wishes is that we be more cognizant of its occurrence all over the globe, and were more in conversation with each other. I think even of black Canadian writers like Dionne Brand and David Chariandy, and their contributions. My hope [for Black avant-gardism] is that we break out of the centripetal nature of our approach to it in American Literary thought.

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John Keene is the author of the novel Annotations (New Directions); the art-text collection Seismosis (1913 Press) with artist Christopher Stackhouse; the short fiction collection Counternarratives (New Directions), which has been named to “Best Fiction of 2015” lists by New York Magazine, Vanity Fair, LitHub, Flavorwire, and other publications; and the art-text collaboration with photographer Nicholas Muellner, GRIND (ITI Press).  He has also published a translation of Brazilian author Hilda Hilst’s novel Letters from a Seducer (Nightboat Books / A Bolha Editora), and has exhibited his artwork in Brooklyn and Berlin.  A longtime member of the Dark Room Writers Collective and a graduate fellow of Cave Canem, he currently serves on the board of the African Poetry Book Fund, and teaches in the departments of English and African American and African Studies, which he chairs, and also is a core faculty member in the MFA Program in Creative Writing, at Rutgers University-Newark.

Soili Smith is an MFA candidate in Creative Writing-Fiction at Rutgers University-Newark. Her stories and poems revolve (currently, primarily) around northern British Columbia, where she lives and works in the academic off-season. She is an editorial assistant for Cosmonauts Avenue, and tweets sometimes at @Soili12.