I’m happy to announce that I’ve joined Gudrun Hebel’s literary agency Agentur Literatur in Berlin.

A German edition of A Lesser Day is scheduled for the spring of 2018.

Publisher to be announced soon.

http://agentur-literatur.de/autor/andrea-scrima/

Scrima 2 crop

 

Here’s a little taste:

Dieser eine Moment, dies eine Detail, das mir im Gedächtnis haften geblieben ist, doch warum, es war nichts von Bedeutung, nichts ist passiert, ein schräg auf den Bürgersteig fallender Lichtstrahl, ein Rascheln von Laub. Und all das brannte sich mir mit großer Schärfe und Klarheit ins Bewusstsein, jedes Detail prägte sich meinem inneren Auge ein wie die gestochen scharfen Buchstaben eines gedruckten Wortes, das ich nicht verstehe. Ich sage Licht, Laub, doch nichts davon kann die mythische Bedeutung vermitteln, die es für mich besitzt. Und liegt irgend etwas Größeres darin verborgen, und warum habe ich es vergessen – vergessen zum Beispiel die plötzliche Erkenntnis des Selbstbetrugs, dort, damals, bei diesem Bürgersteig, diesem Laub – oder ist es ein Zufallsprodukt, Strandgut, das in den zerklüfteten Winkeln meiner Erinnerung hängen geblieben ist. 

 

German translation: Barbara Jung

A Lesser Day by Andrea Scrima, published by Spuyten Duyvil Press in 2010, available for Kindle since 2014

 

me, goodies

Photo: Uli Sauerland. Schlachtensee, Berlin, May 2016

 

Hi Andrea, congratulations—the English print version of “A Lesser Day” currently seems sold out. What are your plans with the book?

I’ve just sold the German-language rights to a fine literary publisher in Austria; the translation will be coming out in the spring of 2018, and so it seems like a good time to plan a second edition of the book in English. It was a small print run with an independent press, and while it’s not entirely sold out, it’s getting close: there’s a small number left in stock at Small Press Distribution and in independent bookstores around the US, but I think Amazon still has used copies available. I was very glad that Spuyten Duyvil released a Kindle version two years ago, because it keeps the book available to readers—although the actual physical book is a nice thing to have. This might sound a bit strange, but I did the typography, layout, photography, and design myself: a luxury and freedom I never would have enjoyed with a mainstream publisher. The cover image, a dribble of paint on a sidewalk whose paving stones were at some point dissembled and put back together again, but in a different order, with the dribble no longer a continuous flow, but a fragmented line going this way and that, is a metaphor for the reconstruction of time and experience in memory—the way in which we perceive our lives in retrospect. It’s a metaphor that occurs in the same paragraph as the book’s title, the two are thematically intertwined, and so the physical book is like a small work of art.

I saw on your website that you transitioned from visual art to writing. Can you talk about how your art developed in this way?

I studied fine arts in New York and began my studio work as a painter. Gradually, I moved on to installations that incorporated, in various different constellations, small objects, writing, painting, and photography. At some point I began doing mostly text installations, that is, I wrote short pieces, essentially very short stories, and then painted the letters of these texts in Times italic onto the walls of various spaces. Most of these installations were site-specific: they were written in response to a particular location and engaged directly with its architecture. It was an exacting process in which doors and windows and, indeed, every last electrical socket and light switch fit precisely into the flow of the text on the wall. I did these works because I was interested in what happens to a story when it’s read in a very different way than, say, on the printed page. There was a choreographic element to it that fascinated me. It always sounds a little complicated when you talk about how something functions in an art context, and so I should probably say that the stories were psychological studies on particular states of mind, written in a language that sounded confessional, like a journal entry. I was interested in drawing in the reader/viewer, in catching him or her off-guard, in creating a kind of intimacy in a public space.

Gradually, however, after completing around a dozen of these large-scale works, I came to realize that my artistic process—the thing you do that keeps you “in the flow,” the way in which you do your creative thinking—had shifted from painting to writing. And so the logical question became: what would happen if I cut everything else out? Was it time to try to write a book? It was tempting, but it was also a scary prospect for me, because it meant that I’d be leaving one profession mid-career and trying to gain a foothold in another—as a total beginner. It didn’t matter that this transition had come about as an organic development in my work. In professional terms, art and publishing are two separate worlds, and there’s nearly no overlap. I had no idea if my writing would hold up in a literary context.

“A Lesser Day” feels very neatly organized, like a mosaic of small pieces fitted together. What was the writing process behind it: did you have the pieces or the whole picture first?

I wrote “A Lesser Day” in the first year and a half of my son’s life. In other words, during a period when I had very little time to myself. I kept a notebook with me, and I used every available moment in between nursing and naps to write. It was usually just enough time to home in on a particular memory and explore it fully before I had to close the book and attend to my son again. I began with short descriptions of whatever recollections I had of certain places I’d lived in over the years, and eventually pieced them together until I saw a kind of pattern emerge. It was a stroke of luck that I’d happened upon a form that fit perfectly with my life at the time—I mean, it’s very hard to think through even a single thought when you’re taking care of an infant, but for some reason the fragmentary form made it possible to concentrate in short, intense spurts. And then, one day, I realized that the page I’d just written was how the book would end. It startled me. There it was, the entire shape and structure: the narrative arc, all the themes and leitmotifs, the formal rhythm. And so I began to identify the gaps, and sew together the various narrative threads, and eventually I was able to make a cohesive book out of it, which I dedicated to my son.

The idea had been to explore memory as a thing that’s interwoven with the places we’ve inhabited, places that encapsulate a certain period of our lives in a particularly vivid way. But I think the experience of becoming a mother—of being the door through which another person enters the world—of no longer being merely a person, but also, quite suddenly, a “place” for someone else—is the fundamental metaphysical inspiration behind the book.

Do you ever go back to the settings where the book takes place? Areas like the Wrangelkiez are hotspots of gentrification in Berlin these days, and it must have changed a lot since you lived there.

Oh, yes, all of these places have changed enormously. Of the five locations in the book, one was an apartment in the East Village of the early eighties that cost two hundred dollars a month in rent, another a summer sublet in pre-gentrification Brooklyn, and another a beautiful waterfront loft I lived in the year before I became pregnant with my son, in a building that I can happily return to now and again, because friends of mine instrumental in getting the NYC Loft Law passed still live there. The two locations in Berlin are in Kreuzberg, but I have to admit, I don’t always feel comfortable returning to places I once lived in. There’s something beautiful about the way a place can be conserved in the mind, when it doesn’t have to compete with its own ghost.

I’m sure you have some new projects under way.  Can you tell us something about your upcoming book?

I’m currently finishing a novel, and the writing process has been very different this time. It’s a book in two parts, and it takes place over a twenty-year period in a woman’s life. Each of the characters in the book is traumatized in some way: a mother whose foiled attempts at achieving independence lead to an eating disorder that eventually devours the entire family; a daughter whose emotional outbursts lie beyond her understanding and control; a boy who sets out to find the father that abandoned him when he was three; a young man from the former GDR who was expatriated to the West after being released from juvenile prison. The book explores what all of these various different types of traumatic imprinting have in common: the ways in which pain is stored in the mind and body, and the detours taken to swerve around that pain in whatever way possible. The book isn’t quite as dark as it sounds, however—and in the end, art emerges as a powerful tool for self-discovery.

 

9781933132778

 

Excerpt from A LESSER DAY:

Kent Avenue, and the trees that had grown along the fences in the neighborhood, chain-link fences closing off empty lots filled with used refrigerators and rusty car parts. Weeds no one had bothered to cut back, supple shoots winding in and out between the diamond-shaped grids, weaving through like sewn threads and growing from year to year until their stalks began to stiffen into branches and there could no longer be a question of unraveling them; they were inextricable now. And then the spring came, and there was an explosion of green everywhere, the first fresh leaves sprouting from the bound trunks. And here and there a tree had been cut down, and a segment of chopped wood would remain caught in a fence, because the trunk had grown and swelled, incorporating the wire into its wounded flesh and covering it with layers of scarred bark.

 

 

9781933132778

Kent Avenue, and the trees that had grown along the fences in the neighborhood, chain-link fences closing off empty lots filled with used refrigerators and rusty car parts. Weeds no one had bothered to cut back, supple shoots winding in and out between the diamond-shaped grids, weaving through like sewn threads and growing from year to year until their stalks began to stiffen into branches and there could no longer be a question of unraveling them; they were inextricable now. And then the spring came, and there was an explosion of green everywhere, the first fresh leaves sprouting from the bound trunks. And here and there a tree had been cut down, and a segment of chopped wood would remain caught in a fence, because the trunk had grown and swelled, incorporating the wire into its wounded flesh and covering it with layers of scarred bark.

— from A Lesser Day

Excerpt from the interview:

A.S.: You ask about the significance of the locations in A Lesser Day: Eisenbahnstrasse and Fidicinstrasse in pre-Unification West Berlin; East Ninth Street in the early ’80s; pre-gentrification Bedford Avenue and Kent Avenue in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Essentially, I’ve used these different addresses as a framing device, beginning each fragment with a place name to tell the story of a young artist’s peripatetic life: the never-ending scramble of hand to mouth, boxes stored here and there, works of art in the making, and always looking at things—looking and wondering. I’ve noticed that my experience of space structures my mechanisms of recollection; I don’t know if this is the case for everyone, but it’s certainly true for me. My memory tends to organize itself into blocks of time I’ve spent in particular locations. I have a coherent sense of the year I spent back in Brooklyn before my son was born, for instance—sitting in a chilly riverfront loft in the former Ronzoni spaghetti factory building, working on a first novel that was never completed with a blanket over my knees and my grandmother’s armchair nearby, which I’d rescued from the basement of the house I grew up in; staring every day at the World Trade Center across the river, the year before the towers fell. This time is clearly circumscribed in my mind, whereas other years blur together, years during which not much external change took place in terms of traveling from place to place.

What are these places in which we spend our days, live our lives—these vessels that contain us and keep us warm, that absorb our memories and store them in some mysterious form—and that have the power to reflect our selves back to us? What happens when we return to a place we used to live in? I’m interested in how a period of life becomes, in retrospect, circumscribed by the walls that contained it—the time I lived here, the time I lived there—in ways that go beyond a mere framing of experience. It’s as though a time and a place merged into some other synthesis of being that we become part of not only in a physical sense, but perhaps a mystical sense as well. And while the marks we leave behind are one manifestation of the time we’ve spent somewhere, I often find myself wondering if some part of our spirit remains as well, some part of whatever it is that perhaps transcends place and time.

Read the interview in the May issue of The Brooklyn Rail online:

http://www.brooklynrail.org/2015/05/books/in-the-gaps-between-things-andrea-scrima-with-leora-skolkin-smith

THIS IS US: Sang Reallamp

Andrea Scrima talks to Patricia Thornley about Sang Real, her third multi-media work for This Is Us, an ongoing series of interview and song. The series, begun in 2011, consists in highly mediated encounters the American artist stages in different environments.


AS:
 Patricia, there’s a strong sense of place in this piece that I’d like to ask you about. Perched on a stool on the banks of Port Medway Harbour, with domestic objects scattered in the sand and the tide rising rapidly around him, a rugged man stems himself against the cold and speaks about his connection to the landscape of his birth: “most people stayed within five miles from where they were born.” Surrounded by what appears to be the detritus of a life, he adds: “it wouldn’t happen today; there’s no work … you’ve got to go where the work is, I suppose.” As you question him off-camera, and as he offers his laconic answers, I find myself thinking about uprootedness and what it means when people lose the economic ability—and by extension right—to stay in the place they come from. The socio-political undertones in all the works of the series This Is Us probe questions of individual and collective identity; here, one of the themes is displacement, a fate this man has managed to defy.

PT: Yes, people seem to leave home for different personal or economic reasons now, as a matter of course. In the different pieces in this series, the notion of moving “forward” is key. In both the interviews and the songs I try to be inclusive of what exists on the back and the front of that movement.

AS: In each of the pieces in This Is Us, the people you interview are people you know personally, people you admire for a number of different reasons.

PT: Yes, the subject of this piece is a friend, and someone I hold in high regard; he lives in the community and takes care of property and houses there, mine included. I’m dependent on him in that sense. We often work together; I’m an outsider, and I’ve learned quite a lot about how to be in the landscape there, and how to be, through him. He has a way of coping, and laughing, and thriving. I’m interested in the way our lives and worlds cautiously, respectfully collide. It was a big step to ask him to participate in the piece.

AS: You mentioned to me that the title Sang Real comes from the Old French and combines the meanings of holy grail and royal blood. I noticed that at the end of the piece, as a kind of spontaneous afterthought, the man—who has been sitting on a kind of throne as the wind picks up and the waters rise alarmingly around him—fishes an object from the water, an old lamp that could be understood as a metaphor, a sort of grail. To an English-speaking reader, an entirely different meaning presents itself, of course.

PT: Actually, late medieval writers devised a false etymology for sangréal, an alternative name for “Holy Grail.” In Old French, san graal or san gréal means “Holy Grail,” whereas sang réal means “royal blood.” The objects placed on the beach were pulled from an old house that he no longer lives in and now uses for storage; they’re a combination of domestic objects and tools that he no longer needs. In keeping with the theme of home and place, I do imagine my subject as royal, and the harbor as a center, a life force erasing the detritus and then offering up what he is owed, a birthright retrieved in a casual gesture that speaks of essential instincts of survival.

wide

AS: As the waves come in, themes of danger and mortality emerge; lost in his own thoughts, the man seems circumscribed in a very particular space, the space of his life, in a sense. And then, in a kind of superimposition or even violation of that space, you appear in the frame and approach your subject with a microphone attached to a boom pole, which has something almost weapon-like about it, or you wander about in the distance in a somewhat predatory manner, carrying a large round reflector. These are stark moments in which different levels of reality collide, where life and art seem to hit up against one another in an uncomfortable way.

PT: Yes, there’s always a deep ambivalence involved in casting a friend in a piece. On one hand I’m paying homage; on the other, I’m making them an object of scrutiny. The impositions are inevitable and endless. Inherently, my “contribution” can only exist apart from real experience, and in counterpoint to my subject. We play what’s wrong with this picture as soon as I introduce my tools—my ideas, branding, props, equipment, music—into what implies or refers to a clean and honest inquiry.

Going in, we knew the shoot would be cold and awkward, but of course we didn’t know that the wind would kick up like it did that afternoon, that a storm would be rolling in. You can’t see it in the footage, but it’s snowing at the end of the shot. To the work’s advantage, this underscores the sense of danger, of human frailty in the piece, but it was nearly unbearable for the subject and crew. The harbor did give it back to us that day.

AS: There are several distancing devices used throughout the piece: you enter and leave the frame; off-camera, you discuss elements of the footage that can be changed, post-shoot, on the computer. Though I have seen incongruous props in other works in the series, I now find myself wondering about the false eyelashes.

PT: I’m interested in showing impulses and gestures rather than outcomes, in embracing contradictions that are present. I think of the shots of the crew at the end as a kind of nightmare hallucination from the point of view of the subject. The lashes are meant to be a gesture of submission to him, but they’re also a discordant detail that may reek of insincerity, especially in this landscape. In the song the repeated phrase I’m Your Man is sung in earnest, but it’s the chorus of a song about money. The crew and I have feminine decorations glued to our faces, but they are mangled by the weather in the end.

http://luteanddrum.com/

Now in the December/January issue of The Brooklyn Rail

Leora Skolkin-Smith
Edges 
(re-released by The Story Plant, 2014)

In the drizzling rain, the Jordanian hills seemed closer than when I tried to see them from the bedroom upstairs. They lay to the east, though named “The West Bank.” The boundary between the Arab and Jewish regions was drawn by a fountain pen years ago when some British engineers came to canvass the rough land in the 1930s. The ink they had used was green, and so the border was called “the green line,” my aunt told me. The border had remained vague and uncertain, she said, subject to weather and other forces. No one ever seemed to know where it started or ended, the barbed wire often arbitrarily strewn to make up for the absence of clearness. A little more than a hazy outline still in the distance, there were thick layers of barbed wire on both sides of the border.

It’s nearly impossible to imagine from today’s perspective of heavily guarded checkpoints and border controls and ugly, towering walls, but Israel was a very different world in the mid-1960s, when 14-year-old Liana Bialik and her sister accompany their mother Ada to her native Jerusalem to take part in “The Ceremony of the Graves.” Syrian dams are under construction; snipers and terrorists dot the border to Jordan in a campaign to cut Israel off from its water supply, but Ada has retained the freedom and defiance of her earlier days—and it is this fierce and fiery side, hidden beneath the Westchester housewife persona known to her daughters, that suddenly emerges when they arrive in her home country. The remains of Jewish fighters in the War of Independence against Great Britain are to be excavated from their resting place in the Jordanian cemetery in the old city and moved to a new gravesite on the Israeli side of the border. Ada’s brother Elizar is among the dead; as she and her sister Esther reminisce about earlier days of smuggling ammunition in their girdles and brassieres past British soldiers too proper to even dream of stopping them, and look forward to celebrating the repatriation with the other members of the old division of Jerusalem’s underground group, the Haganah, in a grand ballroom of the King David Hotel, Liana has a difficult time absorbing the scorched landscape of her mother’s homeland: the inscrutable, vigilant faces of the people living there; the lizards darting in and out of rusted, sprawling barbed wire and then slithering into the dust; the battered warning signs and discarded gun shells scattered everywhere.

Read the rest of the In Conversation piece here:

http://www.brooklynrail.org/2014/12/books/mother-tongue

Edges cover

I am happy to have an excerpt from my blog, “all about love, nearly,” in this excellent new anthology published by Spuyten Duyvil Press: Wreckage of Reason II: Back to the Drawing Board — a collection of experimental women’s fiction.

wreckage2

You can listen to an excerpt here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tpCJf6ft9d8&feature=youtu.be

“How to explain that the betrayal is of another sort altogether? I know the tidal pull of the blood; that a mere glance can send plumes of fire curling through the nerves. After J. arrived: the sudden, mind-controlling molecular saturation of pheromones in the air, a maddening inability to concentrate, to think of anything at all. Intoxication, situational insanity, delusion. An attraction so fierce it made me angry; the almost violent force required to resist it. Focus on what you don’t like—it’s all there, right in the very first moment. Just take a look back and you can see it clear as day: the sober assessment, the critical points like elephants weighing down the wrong side of the scale, and then the sticky-sweet goo of self-deception oozing all over it like an egg cracked atop a skull, the giddy, hypnotic, honeyed brilliance of it—ah, love! How blind does it have to be to erase that immediate recognition of disaster? Men have their siren song to lead them astray, but what about us?”
— from the blog “Stories I tell myself before I go to sleep at night,” April 2014.

Published in “Wreckage of Reason II: Back to the Drawing Board,” an anthology of experimental women’s fiction (eds. Nava Renek, Natalie Nuzzo, Spuyten Duyvil Press).
http://www.spuytenduyvil.net/worii.html

“The range of the stories in this volume of Wreckage of Reason II is vast and far-reaching. There are thirty-three selections, among which are playfully reconstituted myths and fairy tales, experimental flash fiction, and sexually pungent satires that are presented alongside powerful stories about violence and loss, mothers and daughters, lovers and spouses, political horrors and existential loneliness, erotic visions and happenings. Each of them seemed to come from a commitment to literary risk, exploration, and playfulness and a tacit disregard of marketability. For that, the selections are unusually wrought, evincing precisely articulated literary intentions. Space will not allow me to include each and every one of them, yet each was unusual and lively, a truth on its own twirling axis.”

— Leora Skolkin-Smith

In this follow-up to the 2008 bestselling Wreckage of Reason: An Anthology of Experimental Prose by Contemporary Women Writers, 29 contributors use different styles and language genres, their tools at hand, to illustrate moments of conflict, amusement, bafflement and joy that make up a day, a year, an individual life or a collective history. Held up to the light or inspected under a microscope, set in locales real, virtual, mythic, and imaginary, characters bump into and move through events, leaving readers with the humorous, sad, sexy and playful ambiguities of what it means to be alive. This anthology provides a much needed venue to spotlight women writers engaged in serious creative writing projects chronicling and responding to our current culture.

“Were this book published by St. Martin’s or Norton, they would have slapped its contents on wider margins and packaged it for the college market at twice the cost. Except Norton or St. Martin’s would never publish this book—it’s too dangerous, wild, and singular. Wreckage of Reason gives us three dozen women authors beyond any easily marketable definition; by any description, it’s an anthology worthy of an audience and acclaim.”

— Ted Pelton, from The Brooklyn Rail (writing about Wreckage of Reason I)

A memorial celebration of the life and work of Jennifer Wynne Reeves took place on September 6 at St. Marks Church in Manhattan. I was invited to write a tribute, which Dana Martin Davis read in my stead.

 

The sentencing hit us hard. Not guilty of a brain tumor, your Honor, not guilty! As if there were an appeal in matter’s court. No, not here—not when you’ve been sentenced to the electric chair by a dire statistic. (…) We sat in the neurosurgeon’s waiting room, waiting for the pathology report, the sentence. My uncle squeezed my hand so hard I thought my bones might crack. Walking out to the car he asked, what stage are we supposed to be in now: the anger stage, the denial stage? It’s the zombie stage. Just get me out of here, use an ax, a gun, a ratchet. I don’t care. We stopped for something to eat, steak salad with blue cheese dressing and pasta, faux Italian cuisine, guilty of suburban delight, grateful for small crimes of comfort and a pesky jab of hope.

 

 

When Jennifer began posting the course of her illness on Facebook, she was laying her life bare to the public.

Her missives were short and to the point, and always accompanied by a painting or one of those blobby creatures populating photographs of landscapes, many of them white with snow, but tinged with the dirt-brown edges of an early thaw or framed by bare branches that resembled pencil marks on smudged white paper. Day by day, into the steady stream of the Facebook newsfeed, Jennifer transformed her experience into art: the custom-made Freddy mask she had to wear for radiation treatment, the hospital stays and the indignities these seemed to rain down on her, the ever-impending specter of death on the horizon—and all of it offered to the community of artists convening there each day to escape the solitude of their studios and keep abreast of each other’s work. Jennifer was deeply dedicated to this community. And while it’s hard to formulate what it was that led to her work’s wide popularity, it was certainly her courage that impressed her admirers the most.

By the time she asked me to edit her book Soul Bolt, Jennifer had already been operated on for glioblastoma multiforme. There was no hiding from the fact that it would return; time was of the essence. And so we set to work. Forty-one texts in varying stages of completion, roughly divided into the subjects love, illness, and artmaking, brimming with linguistic sleights of hand and metaphors that conjoin with her visual art in complex and unexpected ways. For me, it was a matter of learning to see with her eyes, to hear with her ears, to understand the very structures that led from image to narrative. It meant understanding language on Jennifer’s terms and defining parameters based on this, which could then be used to judge whether the writing “worked” or not. I invite any of you who knew Jennifer to imagine this process for a moment; to imagine the countless feisty, funny, passionate comments and edits exchanged with this very stubborn woman. Even though I’d absorbed the Jennifer code and her peculiar way of slipping from metaphor to abstraction, from art critical observation to autobiographical reflection—it became an ongoing battle of wills.

We went through three months of edits; it was tough, and fun, and exasperating. Just as I finished editing a text, she would rewrite it. At some point, she reported that she’d been to the neurosurgeon, and that the cavity the excised tumor had left behind was shrinking. It was progress, and she was convinced that our correspondence had played a crucial role. I continued editing. She continued rewriting everything. We wrangled over words, chiseling her sentences down to make them resonate all the more powerfully. At some point I had to start calling things “final edit,” “final edit one,” and “final edit one a.” But Jennifer never stopped changing things, even after the first edition of Soul Bolt went to print. The artist’s proof copy she sent me was full of cross-outs and corrections. In her dedication, she thanked me for the word “junked,” which, she said, she’d decided she liked after all.

The best artists change the way we see; the way we think about things. Jennifer found a means, through her art, to defy reality—and she did this audaciously, elegantly, and with incredible discipline. Her art and words resonate with joy.

 

I wear a Freddy mask for radiation. I go to the Heard Museum and mull over the narrative drawings of Black Hawk, his pooping horses, his smiling warriors smiling at death because they know their home is safe. They’ve said their goodbyes. Time is of the essence according to the material picture, but not according to the painting I see, will see; have made, will make. My soul bolts from here, lives on a no-time timeline in art. Thank you, thank you very much, dear Paint-Maker in the Sky, Wonderful-Clump-Slinger. I bow to you, elastic air-mud, skilled in your nothingness, your infinite emptiness that is so, so, full. I pick up my pencil at the beginning of a picture, at my so-called looming end, and rejoice evermore.

 

 

jwr cast your grid

Jennifer Wynne Reeves, Cast Your Grid. 12 x 15.5 in., 2012

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