Midweek Break | Randall Kenan Reads at Bread Loaf

Categories: Audio


Randall Kenan is Associate Professor of English and Comparative Literature at UNC-Chapel Hill. The author of A Visitation of Spirits (1989), Walking on Water: Black American Lives at the Turn of the Twenty-First Century (1999), and The Fire This Time (2007), and a collection of stories, Let the Dead Bury Their Dead (1992), Kenan has been nominated for the Los Angeles Times Book Award for Fiction, was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, and was among the New York Times Notable Books of 1992. His honors include a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Whiting Writers Award, the Sherwood Anderson Award, the John Dos Passos Prize, and the 1997 Rome Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

All Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference readings are available on iTunesU. To hear more, please visit the Bread Loaf website.

Ricardo Nuila Wins NER Award for Emerging Writers

Categories: News & Notes

Ricardo NuilaIt is with enormous pleasure that New England Review and the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference announce the selection of Ricardo Nuila as the recipient of the first annual New England Review Award for Emerging Writers.

Ricardo Nuila is a practicing doctor, professor, and writer. He teaches in the Medicine & Society program at the University of Houston Honors College and works as an attending physician at Baylor College of Medicine. His latest essay on the care of undocumented immigrants was featured in the Winter 2015 issue of VQR and subsequently on Longform.org; other essays have appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine. His fiction has appeared in New England Review, McSweeney’s, Zyzzyva, and Best American Short Stories 2011.

Nuila will attend the 2015 Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference as the first New England Review Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference Scholar. His story “At the Bedside” appears in NER 35.1. Please join us in wishing Ricardo Nuila congratulations.

New NER Digital | Corinne Purtill

Categories: Confluences, NER Digital


A Snail’s Pace | Corinne Purtill

The Snail, Henri Matisse

In January 1941, after a lifetime of abdominal pains, Henri Matisse readied himself for an operation to remove fourteen inches of his ruined colon. Prudently, given the risks of radical surgery in prewar France, he also prepared to die. Amid the letters and bequests, he expressed to his doctors a wish for three more years of life—the time needed, he believed, “to bring my work to a conclusion.”

Matisse did not die. He lived for thirteen more years, and this “second life,” as he called it, birthed one of his most creative periods. Unable to stand at an easel to paint, Matisse began experimenting with paper cutouts, a technique he’d used to map out drafts of his canvases. From his bed or wooden wheelchair, Matisse guided surgically sharp scissors through painted paper: not with snip-snips, but the seamless, satisfying shrrrr of shears running through lamination.

The result was the most joyful and powerful work of his career—the kinetic vibrance of Creole Dancer, the zaftig aquanaut of The Swimmer in the Tank, Icarus’s suspended flight. And he knew it. “I feel as if I had come back from the dead,” Matisse wrote to his son. “It changes everything. Time present and time future are an unexpected bonus.”

Expecting to die, and then not dying, is one of humanity’s great experiences. There is a sense of peeking behind a curtain one wasn’t supposed to lift, of brushing past God in a backstage corridor and seeing Him in curlers and robe. It recasts the time that comes after it, bestowing with a magician’s flourish all the amazing hours there are in a day that isn’t consumed with pain, or fear, or the intolerable dullness of waiting for a body to heal.

I read Alastair Sooke’s book on Matisse’s late renaissance after buying a ticket to the Tate Modern’s exhibit of the cutouts in London, where I live. In Matisse’s breathless dispatches from his second chance, I recognized a fellow traveler in what the doctor and writer Siddhartha Mukherjee calls “the kingdom of the ill.”

Two months earlier, on a flight from London to Los Angeles, I went to the airplane bathroom and the toilet filled with my blood. This surprised me. I felt no pain. I was thirty-three years old and in good health. Bleeding to death felt nothing like I thought it would, which is why I refused to go to the hospital until the next morning, after several more bowlsful of my innards had flushed away and my overcompensating heart was beating insistently.

I spent nine days in the hospital. I remember it as a beige prison accented with red: the sleek coil of a transfusion line, and the uninhibited, algae-like forms blood takes as it spills from a body into a bowl, or onto a sheet, or sometimes—when leaving a person with the frenzy of a crowd exiting a burning theater—splattered against a wall. I received twelve blood transfusions, enough to replace all the blood in my body at least once, before doctors decided that this was not the beginning of my final illness but a continuation of an old one.

I have Crohn’s disease, an autoimmune disorder that will slowly rot my intestines over the course of my life. Months or years of normalcy pass, and then a messy, ugly flare of pain, blood, and gastrointestinal havoc lay me low. It is a persistent and insidious little bastard. If I am a typical patient, the fancy new drugs will staunch the tide of blood for a few years, and then they won’t. Then I’ll take a newer drug, until that stops working, and then they’ll start to cut away the parts of my intestine the disease has turned to bloody lace (shrrr, the satisfaction of scissors moving through a yielding medium). Until then I will love every hour of my life that belongs to me and not to illness, with intensity I didn’t know before death crossed my path, smirked, and waved me on.

History seems not to have preserved Matisse’s official diagnosis, but the end was not all that different from the fate that may await my gut. And so I arrived at the museum on the Thames with a ticket and far more interest in a Fauvist master’s digestive history than anyone should have.

Admirers have praised Matisse’s cutouts for their pioneering expression of movement, color, and three-dimensional energy in a two-dimensional medium. That’s all true, I’m sure, but what I saw on the walls was gratitude. The pictures—exuberant, joyful, unapologetic pictures—validated something I’d felt since the renewal of my own lease on life, that the gift is not just the time but the recognition of how precious it is. Maybe things become special once we’ve seen their limits defined—health, time, a sheet of gouache-painted paper. Would Matisse’s last years have been as productive had he viewed them as an entitlement instead of a bonus? Would the colors on those walls be as brilliant to me, were I not aware of how nearly I’d never seen them? I wandered the exhibit dopily, happily, hearing the same song in every frame: thank you, thank you, I’m here, I’m here.

I lingered in front of The Snail, a vague spiral of asymmetric colored blocks that looks nothing like a snail to me. People settled against the walls to watch it like a street performer. In the crowded room I allowed myself to imagine a winking moment of connection with the old man across years and space: two people in their fragile shells, reveling in time.


Corinne Purtill is a journalist. She lives with her family in London.

NER Digital is New England Review’s online project dedicated to original creative writing for the web. “Confluences” presents writers’ encounters with works of art such as books, plays, poems, films, paintings, sculptures, or buildings.

Mid-Week Break | Tarfia Faizullah Reads at Bread Loaf 2014

Categories: Audio

Tarfia Faizullah reads her poems at the 2014 Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference:

“I Told the Water”

“Interviewer’s Note”

Tarfia Faizullah Author PhotoBangladeshi-American poet, editor, and educator Tarfia Faizullah was born in 1980 in Brooklyn, NY and raised in west Texas. She received an MFA in poetry from Virginia Commonwealth University and is the author of Seam (SIU 2014). Her honors and awards include a Pushcart Prize, a Fulbright Fellowship, a Ploughshares Cohen Award, a Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Prize, as well as scholarships and fellowships from Kundiman, Bread Loaf, Kenyon Review, Sewanee, and Vermont Studio Center. Her poems appear in Poetry Magazine, Poetry Daily, Oxford American, Ploughshares, jubilat, Kenyon Review, New England Review, and have been anthologized in Best New Poets 2013 (Meridian), The Book of Scented Things (Rose O’Neill Literary House Press), Please Excuse this Poem: 100 Poems for the Next Generation (Viking/Penguin), and Hard Lines: Rough South Poetry (University of Southern Carolina Press). Recent prose appears in LA Review of Books, Poetry Foundation, and Necessary Fiction. She lives in Detroit where she co-directs the Organic Weapon Arts Chapbook Press and Video Series with Jamaal May, and is the Nicholas Delbanco Visiting Professor of Poetry in the Helen Zell Writers’ Program at the University of Michigan.

All Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference readings are available on iTunes U. Want to hear more? Visit the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference website.

Tarfia Faizullah Wins New Writers Award

Categories: News & Notes

Congratulations to NER author Tarfia Faizullah, winner of the 2015 Great Lakes Colleges Association’s New Writers Award in poetry for her new book Seam (Southern Illinois University Press)!


According to the GLCA judges:

Tarfia Faizullah’s Seam shimmers with exigent discovery. It looks back with the charge of the absolute present tense and gives voice to what must be named and claimed before the speaker, and the world, can move on. The speaker is a young woman compelled to make a pilgrimage along the seam between “Why call any of it back?” and “yes call it back/back again.” The poems interrogate history via intimate, spiraling, even delicate detail. I admire the way that Faizullah negotiates her authorial vexed position of reporting upon atrocities that both belong and do not belong to her. She recognizes her own position and interrogates it. From start to finish, Seam represents a harrowing act of empathy. As a book and project, this is so powerful, combining modes and formal approaches to explore this little-known part of history. The book is well-crafted and very relevant to our current age.


New Translation of Andrzej Stasiuk in NER 35.4

Categories: Translations

Dog | Andrzej Stasiuk

translated from the Polish by Bill Johnston

[View as PDF]

Halemaumau - Constance Gordon-CummingOur old bitch is slowly dying. It was her hearing that went first, as I recall, then her sight, then finally her sense of smell. But she still gets around a bit, and she has a huge appetite. Every now and then she’ll try to bark at something. She can barely keep on her feet, she stares with unseeing eyes and barks at her doggy thoughts, imaginings, maybe she’s barking at her doggy memory. She’s been with us for sixteen years. We’ve had her since she was a puppy. One summer a woman friend of ours brought her and left her here with us in the country. At the time we neglected the routine shots you’re supposed to give puppies, and she got canine parvovirus. But we somehow managed to save her, driving her to the vet every day for an intravenous drip without which she would have died of dehydration. She was left with a slight loss of control over her hind legs. But for fifteen years she ran around and kept up with the other dogs. Once in a while, in the winter they’d disappear for two or three days at a stretch. I’d be furious, but in the end I’d climb in the four-wheel drive and comb the empty valleys, forcing my way through mounds of snow. They’d be found eventually, exhausted, skinny, half-dead, and, it seemed, utterly clueless about what to do with their doggy freedom or how to find their way back home. They would meekly let themselves be loaded into the car and for the next week they wouldn’t budge an inch except to go to their feeding bowl.

[Read more]


Andrzej Stasiuk, one of the foremost writers of his generation in Central Europe, is the author of numerous works of fiction and nonfiction. His work available in English includes Tales of Galicia (Twisted Spoon, 2003), translated by Margarita Nafpaktitis, and Fado (Dalkey Archive, 2009) and Dukla (Dalkey Archive, 2011), both translated by Bill Johnston. His most recent book is Grochów (2012), a set of short lyrical essays on the subject of dying and the dead, from which “Dog” is taken. He lives in a remote village in southeastern Poland and travels extensively in Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.

NER Releases Short List for Emerging Writers Award

Categories: News & Notes

New England Review announces, with enormous pleasure, the finalists for the first New England Review Emerging Writers Award.

DSC_3006Please join us in congratulating our six finalists for 2015:

Leslie Bazzett  (34.3-4)
Marcelo Hernandez Castillo  (35.2)
William Fargason  (35.1)
Ricardo Nuila  (35.1)
Larry I. Palmer  (35.1)
Sean Warren  (35.2)

The winner, to be announced later this month, will receive a scholarship to the 2015 Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. Congratulations to them all—we are proud to have published such strong work from emerging writers in all three genres.


New Nonfiction from Chris Nelson in NER 35.4

Categories: Nonfiction

Speaking of Neil Young | Chris Nelson

doc00796420150107153744 copy[View as PDF]

As a junior in high school I found myself humming along to Neil Young’s “Old Man” and “Heart of Gold” whenever the local classic rock station decided to take a break from Aerosmith or Boston or AC/ DC. Senior year I’d take the scenic route home from football practice while blaring Harvest Moon in the used Mustang I shared with my older brother, driving past the cornfields just as the setting sun made them glow and feeling nostalgic for the innocence I had yet to lose. First semester of college I was getting high to his 1969 self-titled solo debut, and by spring I waited for rainy days to wallow in my loneliness with the haunting On the Beach, playing it over and over on an old turntable of my father’s that I had restored. 

In accordance with the natural progression of other Neil faithfuls, it wasn’t until I had exhausted this mostly acoustic, more accessible singer/songwriter side of Neil Young that I was able to graduate to an appreciation of his electric work—the highest and most challenging level a Neil faithful can reach. And it took me even longer to fall in love with it. Only recently have I begun to figure out why: his style of playing, with its wailings and repetitions and clutter and incoherence, is my style of speaking. Like his guitar, I stutter.

[Read more]

Chris Nelson is a writer living in New York City.

New Poetry from Ela Harrison in NER 35.4

Categories: Poetry

Lithium | Ela Harrison

[View as PDF]

third element of the Periodic Table; adjectival derivative of Greek lithos (rock); “made of rock”

Sisyphus with his tumblr_ngotb0IzPM1sfie3io1_1280rock knows
about same. Same rock. Same
journey forcing him into
same self. And now I too
have my daily rock
pushing me up against
a samer self.

What did you lose, Sisyphus?

Myself, I first lost the sense
of myself as lit fuse
stepping on detonators;
my old nickname, “Volcano.”

You lost far more than the yen
to rustle cattle. I’m sure of it.

[Read more]

Ela Harrison is a scholar of classical languages and literatures, and of linguistics and philology, as well as being a translator and editor, writer and researcher. Her writing has appeared in Cirque Journal and F Magazine, and her poem “Legion” was runner-up in the Fairbanks Arts Association’s 2012 poetry competition.

New Books for February from NER Authors

Categories: NER Authors' Books, NER Community, News & Notes

Curtiss_smallweb-250x386“. . . an elegant chronicle of grief, of the sprawling bonds between brothers and sisters, of bodies in this world, of the power of language when so artfully arranged.” —Roxane Gay

Congratulations to poet Caleb Curtiss on the publication of his collection A Taxonomy of the Space Between Us (Black Lawrence Press, 2015). Curtiss’s work appeared in NER Volume 33.1. His poetry has also been published in a number of literary journals including the Literary Review, PANK, and Hayden’s Ferry Review. He teaches high school English in Champaign, Illinois.



crow-work2We are pleased to announce the publication of Crow-Work (Milkweed Editions, 2015), the latest collection of poetry from NER author Eric Pankey. Pankey is the author of ten collections of poems, the first of which, The New Year (Atheneum, 1984), earned him the Walt Whitman Award from the Academy of American Poets. His 2013 collection, Dismantling the Angel (Parlor Press, 2013), received the New Measure Prize. Pankey’s poem, “The Weight of Yesterday” appears in NER 34.1.

“Eric Pankey is a poet of precise observation and startling particularities. His wisdom, sometimes sidelong, sometimes direct, both knows and feels. The soundcraft is superb, the modes of investigation by turns lyrical, surreal, meditative, allegorical, direct-speaking, and allusive.” —Jane Hirshfield


NER congratulates contributor Quan Barry on the release of her fiction debut, She Weeps Each Time You’re Born (Pantheon, 2015), a novel of modern Vietnam as experienced through the eyes of a young girl born just years before the country’s unification. Barry is the author of four poetry books, including the AWP Donald Hall Prize for Poetry winner Water Puppets, and was a PEN/Open Book finalist. She has received NEA Fellowships in both fiction and poetry, and her work has appeared in such publications as Ms. and the New Yorker. Barry’s poem, “Lion,” appeared in NER 27.2.

“. . . lyrical, luminous, and suspenseful all at once. Rabbit’s experience of wartime and reconciliation in Vietnam is one that I haven’t yet encountered in fiction, and it is rendered with shocking clarity and pathos on the page.” —Jesmyn Ward, National Book Award-winning author of Salvage the Bones


there's something

It is our pleasure to announce the release of contributor Charles Baxter‘s collection of ten stories, There’s Something I Want to Tell You (Pantheon, 2015). Including five stories named for virtue and five for vice, one of the selections from the compilation, “Sloth,” appeared in NER 34.3-4, and his work has also appeared in NER 27.4 and 15.1. Baxter’s third novel, The Feast of Love, was a finalist for the 2000 National Book Award. Baxter’s work has appeared in the New Yorker, Atlantic, New York Review of Books, and Harper’s, among other journals and magazines. His fiction has been anthologized in Best American Short Stories seven times, eleven times in The Pushcart Prize Anthology, and translated into many languages.

An audio excerpt of Baxter reading from There’s Something I Want to Tell You at the 2014 Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference is available here.

“Bare storylines can’t convey the quickly captivating simple narratives . . . or the revealing moments to which Baxter brings the reader. . . Similarly, Baxter, a published poet, at times pushes his fluid, controlled prose to headier altitudes. Nearly as organic as a novel, this is more intriguing, more fun in disclosing its connective tissues through tales that stand well on their own.” —Kirkus Reviews, *starred review*