We Are What We Read
by Jonathan Welch
Stumped for holiday gifts? Head to your local independent bookseller and look for these titles by local authors.
There has been such a burst of publishing activity in the past 18 months in Buffalo that it’s hard to know where to begin. Perhaps with an apology to all the authors and publishers left out in this all-too-brief survey. The literary arts, long nurtured by the area’s institutions of higher education, the Just Buffalo Literary Center, a strong book culture, and a vibrant reading public, are poised to join their siblings in the visual and performing arts as a beacon for the national spotlight. Herewith, an express train ride through this thickly populated landscape.
Two of Buffalo’s literary small presses made big impressions this year. BlazeVOX Books, the mostly poetry press run by Geoffrey Gatza, was recently billed the “Sub Pop of the indie press world” in a review of several of its books. (Sub Pop is an indie record label with an astonishing record of breaking new bands.) New titles include UB professor and poet Jorge Guitart’s Empress of Frozen Custard and 99 Other Poems.
Starcherone Press, the mostly fiction press run by Ted Pelton, had one of its books chosen for a major award by the New York Public Library, and more recently another of its originals, Zachary Mason’s The Lost Books of the Odyssey, was purchased by powerhouse literary imprint Farrar Straus & Giroux as its lead publication for this coming spring. Starcherone also received national attention when former UB professor and acclaimed writer, teacher, and inspiration Raymond Federman died, for its role as one of his primary publishers.
White Pine Press, celebrating more than 30 years of publishing poetry and literature in translation, carried on its substantive publishing program, capped this year by the release of local poet Ansie Baird’s stunning, award-winning first collection, In Advance of All Parting, and of a powerful collaboration between Tuscarora poet Eric Gansworth and renowned centenarian photographer Milton Rogovin, From the Western Door to the Lower West Side.
Full Court Press arrived auspiciously with a terrific novel by well-known local writer and teacher Gary Earl Ross, Blackbird Rising, an imaginative, alternative look at American and Buffalo history set during the Pan-American Exposition in 1901. In a more just publishing world, this book would be on top 10 lists all around the US.
Western New York Wares published some great books of local history and culture, including John Koerner’s second book on Father Baker, The Father Baker Code, Maria Scrivani’s Brighter Buffalo, a look at some of the preservation successes of the past few decades, and Patricia Galeza and Karla Levi’s delightful Sign Stories: Buffalo’s Signs and the Stories Behind Them.
Marti Gorman’s Buffalo Heritage Press continued its distinguished line of photographic portraits extolling the virtues and defining character of Western New York—most recently with Suzanne Taylor’s AUDieu: Buffalo Says Goodbye to the Aud, and Mark Donnelly’s Frozen Assets: The Beautiful Truth about Western New York’s Fourth Season, and with two 2010 calendars, one of Taylor’s Aud photos and the other of Donnelly’s photographs of Buffalo landmarks.
Photographer/editor Mark Dellas of Traffic East has released two books expanded from his beautiful magazine—Sabres in Traffic Volume 2, and Olmsted, Dellas’s stunning photographs coupled with an essay by Tom Yorty.
The area’s largest publisher, Prometheus Books, maintained its strong national and international presence with their issue-oriented books on philosophy, politics, science, current affairs, and related topics.
Authors with strong Buffalo roots and connections had a significant presence in the world of national corporate publishing as well. Buffalo native John Wray’s third novel, Lowboy, featuring a runaway schizophrenic teenager on the New York subway, was one of the most talked about books of the year. Native son Greg Ames set his humorous and touching first novel Buffalo Lockjaw in his hometown and won a large readership—the book was named best original paperback fiction of the year by the New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association. Mark Nowak, East Side Buffalo native now teaching in Minnesota, probed the lives and times of working people in his innovative new poetry collection, Coal Mountain Elementary, punctuated with photographs by Ian Teh. Niagara Falls, Canada native Cathy Buchanan did well with her powerful, environmentally themed historical romance The Day the Falls Stood Still. Derek Nikitas received rave reviews for his new thriller Long Division--follow-up to his Edgar-nominated Pyres—partially set in the Western New York, where he spent his adolescence. Area filmmaker and horror novelist
Greg Lamberson’s Personal Demons was reissued for national distribution, just as he was putting the finishing touches on the sequel to his cult classic film Slime City—filmed here in Buffalo. Ginger Strand’s thoughtful and illuminating Imagining Niagara: Beauty, Power & Lies, arrived in paperback after appearing on several best of 2008 lists. Buffalo-born Virginia DeBerry and her writing partner Donna Grant had more success with What Doesn’t Kill You.
Lawrence Block and Joyce Carol Oates—need I say more?
Canisius College Professor Mick Cochrane published his first children’s book, The Girl Who Threw Butterflies, a wonderful novel about a grieving teenage girl who masters baseball’s most difficult pitch, the knuckleball. Sarah Ockler had success with Twenty Boy Summer, a romance for young adults.
Do the Math: The Writing on the Wall, by area native Wendy Lichtman, the second book in her series of fictions for middle grade readers, met with wide acclaim. Buffalo artist and art professor Jane Marinsky put beautiful drawings together with her daughter Leah Sharpe’s witty reworking of an Italian folktale to produce The Goat-Faced Girl, published by the esteemed David Godine—the collaboration has been met with glowing reviews. Area native Shane Evans, whose extraordinary artwork has made him one of the most sought after illustrators of children’s books, wrote and illustrated Olu’s Dream, a stunning picture-poem lullaby. Author Maria DiVincenzo recently returned to Western New York and started a publishing company specializing in children’s books. Winterlake’s first book is a sumptuously illustrated holiday story, The Star of Christmas, written by DiVincenzo.
Buffalo environmentalist Margaret Wooster took readers on a personal, political, scientific, and environmental journey in Living Waters: Reading the Rivers of the Lower Great Lakes. Love Canal activist Lois Gibbs collected inspiring stories of ordinary people creating extraordinary change in their communities, including some from Western New York, in Achieving the Impossible: Stories of Courage, Caring, & Community. Buffalo scholar/activists Barbara Nevergold and Peggy Brooks-Bertram, in an extraordinary publishing feat, requested, compiled, edited, and had published in the six weeks between the election and the inauguration, letters of congratulations, thanks, recommendation, advice, and inspiration from women of color to incoming first lady Michelle Obama. The book, Go, Tell Michelle, became a huge success for SUNY Press.
Buffalo was noteworthy in other parts of the academic and scholarly publishing world as well, with important new books about the history of Media Study Buffalo—Buffalo Heads: Media Study, Media Practice, Media Pioneers 1973-1990—and about Hallwalls Contemporary Art Center, which is featured prominently in The Pictures Generation 1974-1984.
On the Camera Arts and Consecutive Matters collects the writings of one of the major figures associated with Media Study, photographer/filmmaker Hollis Frampton. UB professor, musician, and multimedia artist Tony Conrad is profiled in Beyond the Dream Syndicate: Tony Conrad and the Arts after Cage.
UB professors with important releases include Irving Massey, The Neural Imagination; Tim Dean, Unlimited Intimacy; Ramon Soto-Crespo, Mainland Passage; Bruce Jackson, Pictures from a Drawer; and Robert Dentan, Overwhelming Terror. Also deserving mention are poetry collections by retired Buffalo State professor David Landrey, Consciousness Suite, and ECC English professor Perry Nicholas, The River of You. UB English and Poetics professor Myung Mi Kim published Penury; her colleague Steve McCaffery released Every Way Oakly.
Former Buffalo resident Gabrielle Burton’s memoir/history/biography, Searching for Tamsen Donner, tracking her attempts to get at the life and story of the wife of the man who led the famous Donner Party, came out in March; she will be publishing a novel in spring 2010 in which she tries to imagine Tamsen’s life from the inside.
As the train slows down, approaching its final stop, I note a cluster of self-published books, all worthy of any serious reader’s attention—Joan Albarella’s mystery Sister Amnesia; Fred Tomasello’s Walking Wounded: Memoir of a Combat Veteran; Robert Swiatek’s humorous political essay collection, Mirror, Mirror on My Car; John Grandits’ suspense novel, Wayfarer’s Passage; Clifford Bell’s poetry memoir, A Full Life; and David Steele’s Buffalo: Architecture Volume 1.
As you disembark, head filled with the many possibilities of gifts that show off your hometown and your pride in it, please remember that supporting local authors and publishers and the local culture of which they are strong representatives is most meaningfully done by shopping locally whenever possible. Our city and its culture and economy thrive best when we circulate our money within it, rather than sending it away.
Jonathon Welch is proprietor of Talking Leaves Books, Buffalo’s leading independent bookseller.
Not Local But Awesome
The Velvet Underground: An Illustrated History of a Walk on the Wild Side
Join a Syracuse grad/failed pop songwriter, a classically trained Welsh composer, a blonde Teutonic chanteuse, a female drummer who played standing up with a stripped-down kit, and some guy called Sterling as they journey across New York City’s Lower East Side! It’s the world of Andy Warhol and the art scene in the early 1960s, where they would ultimately change the history of modern music. Noted rock scribe and Chicago Sun Times journo Jim DeRogatis has aided in compiling The Velvet Underground: An Illustrated History of a Walk on the Wild Side (Voyageur Press), which marks the first full-on compilation of words and images of the epically seminal art rock band’s history and just in time in time for their 45th anniversary.
While the book serves primarily as a stunning visual document collecting virtually every important photo and piece of ephemera related to the Velvet Underground’s history—from posters and fliers to ticket stubs to original lyric and composition sheets—it is equally cogent and comprehensive in piecing together an overview of the band’s history. Page by page, any fan can peel slowly and see just how the band changed the course of culture from the earliest beginnings to the ongoing legacy as it still unfolds. Lavish pictures, many never before seen, adorn virtually every page. Beside the stunning visuals, DeRogatis offers the clearest, least biased recap of the band’s story among the several published in the past decades. This book arguably serves the finest, most complete, all-in-one biography on the Velvet Underground to date.
Okay, my only beef is that the title pulls a bit from Lou Reed’s post-Velvets catalog. In a perfect world, it would have been culled from a John Cale song, but that’s my own personal rock dork battle.
Rummaging Rust Belt
We asked Kristi and Erin at Rust Belt Books (202 Allen Street) to describe some of the gems currently lining their shelves. Their picks:
Anyone who’s fallen in love with the paste-ups in the Allentown neighborhood should be familiar with Brezo’s work. Her book comes with its own animation DVD.
The Kalo Coloring Book
By Paul Kalinowski
A weird-for-adults coloring book. Makes sense to kids.
Outsiders: The Collection
What happens when you take five beloved, powerhouse authors, each with a unique voice and style, get them between the sheets together with no holds barred? A women’s anthology featuring our own Susan Smith.
Guide to Weeds
By Aaron Lowinger with Becky Moda
A handmade meditation on wild growth with nude weed portraiture.
Best to Get Started…
By Salvatore Sciandra
Poetic visual comic series of contemplative earnestness whose vignettes leave you in a pseudo-psycho whimsicality.
By Marten Clibbens
The last three available copies we know of are at Rust Belt Books, put out by Lost Pages Press somewhere nearby on Mariner Street. A poetry devotional: “Snow is the silence which overcomes us./We remain the continent’s captives./Borders pass through every word.”
The First Ward
By Michael Mulley
Black-and-white photography that makes you feel the sacred bones of this historic neighborhood.
Older: Six Decades of Nursing at Roswell Park, 1914-1974
By Eva M. Noles
An historic account by Buffalo’s first African-American registered nurse, educator, and dedicated memory catcher.
Kevin B. O’Ballahan and the Buffalo Print Club
Published by the Burchfield-Penney Arts Center in 1988, focuses on the Buffalo Print Club, “reintroducing a significant period of aesthetic achievement” in this city.
Cindy Sherman 1975-1993
We have a signed copy and need say nothing more on this.
We asked Geoffrey Gatza—poet and publisher, veteran and chef—to recommend some local authors, too, specifically those whose work he’s brought to print through his publishing house, BlazeVOX Books. With the exception of Gatza’s own book, these titles were all brought out by BlazeVOX, a local imprint with a fast-growing reputation:
All My Eggs Are Broken
By Michael BasinskiPoetry | 136pp | $14
We have chosen to have no description. This supreme gift of the author should draw you in, like the noose around the neck. Michael Basinski is the curator of The Poetry Collection State University of New York at Buffalo.
By Joseph CooperPoetry | 98pp | $16
Among lightning shapes of spaces, gentle word ways force wide this love exposing terrible wisdom through dialogic violence. —Jane Werle
All the Jawing Jackdaw
By Nava FaderPoetry | 57pp | $16
Nava Fader navigates the bloodstream of poetry…the results are broken confections in Romantic lyric’s garb—chaotic, powerful, and unapologetic. —Bruce Covey
The Carcasses: A Fable
By Raymond FedermanFiction | 86pp | $16
Federman investigated the land of the dead in this book of short stories. Since his recent change of tenses this book is relevant, comic and tragic.
To the Eves
By Lisa ForrestPoetry | 60pp | $16
In the last ice of early spring, Forrest’s lyric rearranges reflection, sharpens senses at the touch of winter’s wither and whip. —Jonathan Skinner
There’s Something Wrong With Sven
By Greg GerkeFiction | 139pp | $16
In this group of flash fiction and short stories Greg Gerke looks at the world with a sometimes absurd, sometimes tragic, but all the time compassionate eye.
The Empress of Frozen Custard & Ninety-Nine Other Poems
By Jorge GuitartPoetry | 120pp | $16
Jorge Guitart’s poetry is not for the masses but it is for everyone. The Empress of Frozen Custard is awash in marvels. Guitart is a master of language, a tongue trickster, a feller of fashion.
By Michael KelleherPoetry | 93pp | $12.00
It would be difficult for me to overstate my admiration for Michael Kelleher’s new poems. —Paul Auster
By Richard OwensPoetry | 96pp | $16
Delaware Memoranda is a lush crosscurrent marked by history’s flicker and memory’s flame. This book is tougher than any blurb. —Kyle Schlesinger
By Ted PeltonFiction | 53pp | $12
If John Cheever had done psychedelics he might have ended up with Bhang. —Brian Evenson
The Logic of Clouds
By Marc PietrzykowskiPoetry | 76pp | $16
Marc Pietrzykowski lives and writes in Lockport, and would much rather you read the book than this description.
Please Do Not Feed the Ghost
By Peter RamosPoetry | 79pp | $16
These poems by Peter Ramos stage incidents of arrested breath. —Roberto Tejada
By Chuck RichardsonFiction | 236pp | $18
What makes Smoke fascinating is the imaginary catastrophe lurking behind it, which leaves us to invent and imagine the world anew. —Raymond Federman
By Mike SikkemaPoetry | 63pp | $16
Michael Sikkema is one of the best poets of his generation. There is no one else writing like this. —Joseph Lease
Kenmore: Poem Unlimited
By Geoffrey GatzaPoetry | 110pp | $16
It is the way things change that brings the myth to Kenmore, the poet’s hometown. This collection of poems is one work, divided. Blending two stories, the story of Gwion and the Wisdom Potion and the apocryphal apocalyptic text, The Book of Enoch. Through Devils, Giants and Dream Visions; A Magic Silver Fish of Wisdom, a witch and maple keys the poet passes through life to a rebirth in the womb of a witch to a new life to a death that begins to look like life to come back to find providence is truly suburbia.
You can find all these and other titles at locally owned, independent new and used book shops such as Talking Leaves (951 Elmwood Avenue and 3158 Main Street, Buffalo), Rust Belt Books (202 Allen Street), Second Reader Book Shop (1419 Hertel Avenue, Buffalo), Avenue Book Exchange (1211 Hertel Avenue, Buffalo), Crazy4Bookz (79 Main Street, Hamburg), Dog Ears Bookstore (688 Abbott Road, Buffalo), Old Editions (74 East Huron Street, Buffalo), and Paperback Trading Post (2292 Seneca Street, Buffalo), among others.
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