"Stick your name on it and let it be read."


To celebrate the release of Short we’ll be posting an interview today with Alan Ziegler by Lincoln Michel, and an essay about short prose tomorrow, by Ann DeWitt. Check back tomorrow for more.

An Interview with Alan Ziegler, editor of Short.

Alan Ziegler’s latest book has a pretty self-explanatory title: Short: An International Anthology of 500 Years of Short-Short Stories, Prose Poems, Brief Essays, and Other Short Prose Forms. The anthology collects hundreds of short prose pieces ranging from short stories and prose poems to aphorisms and lists. The authors—who number over two-hundred—include Poe, Kafka, Stein, Hempel, Keret, Borges, Beckett, Carson, Lispector, and many more.

Ziegler is the prefect editor for this anthology. He is the author of several books of short prose (including The Swan Song of Vaudeville: Tales and Takes, and Love At First Sight: An Alan Ziegler Reader), and for many years he has taught short prose at Columbia University. I was fortunate enough to take his Short Prose Forms class at Columbia and his understanding of the genre was encyclopedic, enlightening, and infectious. Shortly after his class, I co-founded Gigantic, a literary magazine devoted to short prose.

In the years since I took his class, short prose has taken over. Every print literary magazine seems to publish prose poems and flash fiction, and the world of online writing—from Twitter and Tumblr to the blogs of glossy magazines—is dominated by short prose. As such, 2014 feels like the perfect time for Short to appear and remind us of the long literary history and potential future of the short prose form.

—Lincoln Michel 

LINCOLN MICHEL: Short collects works of short prose (prose poems, flash fictions, mini-essays, etc.) stretching from Michel de Montaigne to Ben Marcus. Were there specific times and places where the form really caught on? And how has the form changed over the centuries? 

ALAN ZIEGLER: Establishing the geographical, chronological, and word-count parameters for the anthology was difficult but essential to keep the book wieldy. So, Short leaps to the starting line in the 16th Century (for the Precursors section) and focuses on Western literature, sidestepping the great traditions of short prose in China and Japan. Things really heat up in mid-19th Century France with Louis “Aloysius” Bertrand and Edgar Allan Poe influencing Baudelaire and Mallarme, and with Rimbaud acting like a one-man pop-up store for prose poems (then taking himself out of the business forever). The prose poem continued to thrive in France (among other places), but didn’t really catch on in the U.S. until the 1960s and 70s with the likes of Robert Bly, David Ignatow, James Wright, and Russell Edson. After that it’s unstoppable, and of course short-short stories got into the mix under various names (I tend to prefer flash fiction) with the likes of Jayne Anne Phillips, Lydia Davis, Diane Williams, and Barry Yourgrau.

As for how the form has changed over the centuries—I think remarkably little. There is so much that feels contemporary in such precursors as Joubert (“the soul paints itself in our machines” and Leopardi (“He put on eyeglasses made of half the meridian connecting the two polar circles”). But such pieces remained in notebooks during the authors’ lives. The main changes may be in legitimization and categorization. Michael Benedikt’s 1976 prose poem anthology—among others—spurred the creation of countless pieces. For me, having a prose poem published by Benedikt in The Paris Review and being invited to contribute to a special prose poem edition of Poetry Now helped me to realize that forgoing line breaks did not mean I was also forgoing the joy of being considered a poet. Likewise, the option to call pieces flash fiction meant that writers of short prose weren’t required to operate in the arena of poetry if they chose not to meet all the demands usually made of short stories; it’s long been accepted that a fragment can be a poem; now that also goes for a story. As I point out in the Introduction: Who knows how many earlier prose poems might have entered literary society under different names, had they been widely available?

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Children of the Valley

The following is an excerpt from this month’s film issue, an interview with Mike Mills about his film A Mind Forever Voyaging Through Strange Seas of Thought Alone. Read the full piece on Believermag.com and get access to the film from this month’s issue of the magazine

Mike Mills interviewed by Gideon Lewis-Kraus

The children of Silicon Valley tech workers—the preadolescent offspring of Apple engineers and Cisco consultants, restaurant cooks at Google and PR managers at tiny start-ups—sit dressed in dark jeans and freshly washed hoodies, describing the world as it will look and feel seventy or eighty years in the future. The questions that prompt these predictions come from behind the camera in the bemused, encouraging voice of the filmmaker Mike Mills. Mills asks the kids about their relationship to technology and how it will shape the world they’ll inherit: will there be more or fewer poor people in the future? Will people be smarter? How will nature change?

The children’s answers are charming—as any speculative conversation with a curated group of eight- to eleven-year-olds is bound to be—but as they raise questions about the environmental, economic, and social legacy of Silicon Valley’s comprehensive influence on their lives, their predictions take a darker turn. The film, A Mind Forever Voyaging Through Strange Seas of Thought Alone, was commissioned by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and appeared as part of a temporary installation Mills created in a vintage costume shop in Los Altos, California, where he also produced a broadsheet reprint of a 1976 issue of the Los Altos Town Crier combined with “official documentation of the formation of the Apple Computer Company.” That exhibition closed in March, but the film is now available to Believer readers through May 1, 2014 atbelievermag.com/mikemills

Mills, whose feature-film credits include Thumbsucker and the Oscar-winning Beginners, started his career making experimental documentary shorts like Deformer and Paperboys(about skateboarder and artist Ed Templeton and a group of Minnesota paperboys, respectively). As Jennifer Dunlop Fletcher, the SFMOMA project’s curator, points out, A Mind Forever Voyaging is a part of this lineage of portrait films, and like those two early shorts it offers “an empathetic view of suburban America” in its current iteration.

This conversation between Mills and Gideon Lewis-Kraus occurred during his recent visit to San Francisco for a screening of the film.

—The Editors

THE BELIEVER: What one immediately notices in the film is that this is a pretty ethnically diverse group, but it seems, given that one knows this is taking place in Los Altos, that they’re pretty socioeconomically homogenous. I counted just two working-class jobs among the parents, and I’m curious how you made those decisions about casting and what kind of group of kids you wanted to come up with.

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"We knew we were not liberated and were never going to be liberated. But we knew what liberation was."

Illustration by Rebecca Fishow

An Interview with Vivian Gornick

The following is an excerpt from an online exclusive interview with Vivian Gornick. Read the full piece on Believermag.com.


THE BELIEVER: I wanted to start with a moment you often return to in your writing: your involvement in the feminist movement. How did it come about?

VIVIAN GORNICK: I guess what happened was: it must have been 1970. I wasn’t in the New Left, but I was alive and feeling its consequences. And suddenly I saw the same thing that everyone else saw. I went to work for the Village Voice. One of the first assignments [the paper] gave me was to go out and investigate these “liberationist chicks” who were gathering on Bleecker Street. So I went out to investigate these liberationist chicks, and I came back a feminist.

We all saw something slightly different. The thing I saw was that we had been raised not to take our brains seriously. That was the single sentence in my head. Here I am forty years later, and I don’t think very much differently than that. [Laughs] That became the mother lode: We had been raised not to take our brains seriously. And from that all else followed. I was never an activist, in the sense that I didn’t really join a lot of organizations. I wasn’t out in the streets. But what I did become was a writer. My activism was in writing.

BLVR: Did feminism give you a new language?

VG: Feminism gave me a way to see myself in culture, in society, in history, and that was very important. Then psychoanalysis showed me that I might be neurotic because I was a girl but, as Chekhov might have put it, I alone had to squeeze the slave out of myself, drop by drop. So between Freud and women’s rights—to use those two brilliant perspectives was to gain a vantage point from which, as we used to say, I could see myself both personally and politically. And yes, that gave me language.

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