I Be All Up in AWP

Friends! Oh, friends! Such fun times happening right now and in the near future. I’ll be at AWP in Los Angeles this week. What does that stand for? There are many different interpretations but I think it means Awesome Writer Party.

Here’s where I will be when I’m not at the Future Tense booth (table #106–come say hark!)…

Thursday morning Future Tense anniversary reading

Friday morning panel on getting your first book to print

Saturday night reading at The Redwood Bar

I have so many friends that live in L.A. It’s going to be beautiful to see Zoe Ruiz, Meredith Alling, Melissa Chadburn, Davy Rothbart, Ariel Maccarone, Myriam Gurba, Wendy C. Ortiz, Amelia Gray, Justin Maurer, Stephen Kurowski, Michelle Tea, and all the rest of you warm weather angels .

See y’all at the hotel pool!

Splash Up

Thank You

I’m extremely excited to be one of the recipients of the James Patterson Bookseller Holiday Bonuses for this year. I was one of 87 folks to get one (out of 2,848 nominations) and I realize how lucky I am to be recognized in the vast, impressive landscape of book lovers working at independent stores everywhere. I wanted to take a moment to talk about how important this job is to me.

I started at Powell’s in November of 1997. But just a few years before that, I was just a dude who never went to a real college, was barely interested in books as a kid, and probably thought Tennessee Williams was a baseball player. I had finally picked up the habit (the addiction!) of reading when I was 22 years old. I would choose books by the covers, their reputations in history (banned books were of particular interest), the stories of their troubled authors. I didn’t know many readers when I started reading. I didn’t know who to ask for recommendations.

It’s funny how your trajectory as a reader can be forever determined by one book or one author. I recall particular booksellers in Spokane, Seattle, Fort Smith, Arkansas, and Portland that put books into my hands that would alter my brain and my life. In Spokane, that book was The Abortion by Richard Brautigan. In Seattle, it was Jesse Bernstein’s Personal Effects and Dennis Cooper’s Closer. In Fort Smith, it was Mary Gaitskill’s Bad Behavior. In Portland, it was Gordon Lish’s Dear Mr. Capote, Kathy Acker’s Blood and Guts in High School.

When I started at Powell’s, I would observe how other booksellers would help customers with such kindness and intelligence. Specifically, those customers who asked us, with all the trust in the world, “What book should I read next?” Throughout the years, these have been my favorite sort of customers, especially if they say things like, “I just got into southern fiction” or “I want something funny” or “I want to know more about Portland poets” or “I like heartbreaking Mennonite authors.” These kind of statements make my heart pitter-patter. For them I offer: Barry Hannah, William Gay…Jonathan Ames, Myriam Gurba…Emily Kendal Frey, James Gendron…Miriam Toews! And I could go on.

When you do something for eighteen years, you’ll probably get good at it. Especially if you watch and learn from those around you. Some of the best booksellers I’ve known starts with Vanessa Renwick, who as the mother of the legendary small press section, showed me the value of helping out tiny presses, the self-publishers, the scrappy zinesters, and the industrious literary weirdos of Portland and beyond. I’ve written elsewhere on Vanessa’s importance to where I am today. There’s also the late Marty Kruse (who also ran the small press section before me), and other fantastic ex-cohorts like Steffen Silvis, Meredith Schreiber, Elizabeth Miller, Aaron Gilbreath, Joseph Lappie, Jessica Patton, Nicolette Lind, and Liz Olufson. Currently, I work with bookselling superstars like Gin Enguehard, Jason Chan, Jacob Schraer, McKenzie Workman, Chris Faatz, Dianah Hughley, Liz Vogan, Linda Watson, Mark Savage, Chris Hagen, Tove Holmberg, Santi Elijah Holley, Ryan Hall, and so many others that could fill several blog posts.

Anyone who loves books and places books into readers’ hands is a person whose value is beyond measure. Our position–as recommenders, taste-makers, readers, sellers, book displayers, etc.–is important to culture. Heck, it’s important to the whole world! It’s maybe the most important thing I do in my life. When I meet people outside of work and they ask what I do, I don’t start off by saying I’m a writer or publisher or collage artist or whatever. I always start by saying, “I work at Powell’s.”

Here’s a photo of me with Carol Easter, another member of the Powell’s bookseller family, standing in front of the James Patterson books at the store. Mr. Patterson seems to know the importance of books, readers, and bookstores. His website shows not just his mammoth bibliography but also his inspiring array of community service. Thanks to everyone who voted for me for this award. Come in any time and I’ll help you find a book.


Eating Paste and Sniffing Glue

Hey. Happy Fall!

I have a new collage show up at Radio Room in Portland right now. It’s up until Nov 25th. Come hang out and say hi at my “Paste Eater” reception on Tuesday, Nov 3rd. I worked really hard just in the past couple of weeks on this show. I stayed up until 4am two nights in a row this past week to make sure I had lot of fresh, new pieces to show. Even Simba helped.


Gratuitous shot of Simba’s manx tail.


I suddenly have a few other collage things in the coming days as well. I’m teaching a collage workshop at this year’s Wordstock at the Portland Art Museum on Saturday, November 7th. And then there’s always the Open Collage Night at the IPRC (every 2nd Wednesday of the month)–so much fun!

"Shirley" from Paste Eater, at Radio Room, November 2015

“Shirley” from Paste Eater, at Radio Room, November 2015

In writing news, I’ve been taking a novel writing class the past several weeks (you can take it too!). Which means I’m back into a writing groove as well. I’m very excited about the book I’m working on and can’t wait to see how it all comes together. I’m only about 1/4 of the way through right now though, so it may be a while.

In the meantime, I have two poems in the new issue of Pouch Magazine! And I wrote a piece in the new Poets & Writers Magazine about Andrew Proctor at Literary Arts Inc.

Thanks for checking in, friends. Hope to see you soon! xo

A Fast ’15

Oh, wow. Is it really Fall now? Like practically Halloween! This year is going by really fast. Here’s some quick update action for you. Thanks for stopping by!

Thanks for reading. Hope you’re having a great year.


Summer is a time when I try to be with friends as much as possible and enjoy the small window of sunny Portland weather. We just kicked off the season with a few hundred friends here in Portland at LitHop, which was a hot and memorable night of readings all over downtown.

Jeff Alessandrelli and I thank the crowd at the LitHop after-party at Dante's before Brownish Black takes the stage.

Jeff Alessandrelli and I thank the crowd at the LitHop after-party at Dante’s before Brownish Black takes the stage.

Jay sets up some music for his reading that closed the night at Ash Street Saloon and LitHop 2015.

Jay Ponteri sets up some My Bloody Valentine music for his reading that closed the night at Ash Street Saloon and LitHop 2015.

In other friend news, my pal Lidia Yuknavitch has a new book out this week. I had fun recording a snippet of the first chapter of it for this video, produced by Meg Tuite and Ken Robidoux for Connotation Press. Many other friends are also in the video: Paula Bomer, Margaret Malone, Amelia Gray, and many more.


Some of my favorite books this year are by friends and the newest one in my heart is Kevin Maloney’s Cult of Loretta. He’s reading with my other friends (and Future Tense authors) Chelsea Hodson (Pity the Animal) and Elissa Washuta (the new Instant Future eBook Starvation Mode) at Colonel Summers Park Saturday, July 11th at 7:30pm.

Elissa, Chelsea, and Kevin M

Elissa, Chelsea, and Kevin M

Other friends with new books you should get: Wendy C. Ortiz, Jamie Iredell, Lisa Cicarello, Myriam Gurba, Sean H. Doyle, Troy James Weaver, and Amy Fusselman.

And these stellar new essays by Zach Ellis and Zoe Ruiz.

In other friend news, Frayn and I adopted a new kitty. His name is Simba and he is quickly becoming an all-star cuddler and furry pal around here. Just look at this loving friend!

Photo by B Frayn Masters

Simba (aka Mr. Simms) Photo by B Frayn Masters

I hope everyone’s having a great summer so far. Stay cool, buddies.

May Flowers

It’s May already! This year is going by fast. Some great things are brewing. Look!

I am doing a workshop TOMORROW at Clackamas Community College at their very cool COMPOSE event. You can still sign up but you have to do it today.


Other collage news!

I have a Tumblr now. It’s specifically to highlight my collage life. Check it out and follow me. So far it’s been super fun!

Matador Ali TMBLR

The new Kolaj Magzine (#12) features a story I did about Portland collage artist Kurtiss Lofstrom. He’s one of my favorites.

And look–there’s even some poetry news!

My poem, Anti-Extinct, is featured in the first issue of Backwords, a new T-shirt press. You heard that right. Instead of being printed on a website or in a journal, they put their stuff on T-shirts. Really excited to be part of this new venture. Here’s a really nice thing they wrote about me. Also featured are poets Ocean Vuong (poem pictured) and Elaina Ellis.


Thanks for looking. Thanks for reading! xo


Good Old Fashioned Letters (Or: I Thought Reading Was Boring)

This past weekend, I was part of a panel discussion on zines at the downtown Portland library, which was super fun and informative (Fun facts: Nicole Georges’s first zines were about ska music and Chloe Eudaly’s idea for Reading Frenzy started outside of a Nation of Ulysses show she couldn’t afford to get into).

During the Q&A, people asked us about the future of zines, what our favorites were, and if podcasts were “the new zines.” But one of the questions that got a lot of us talking was about postal mail. As in, do people still just write personal letters any more? Of course, the answer is yes, though not as much as pre-Internet days. It made me think of The Rumpus Letters In The Mail, the awesome subscription idea brainstormed by Stephen Elliot three years ago. If you sign up you’ll get actual POSTAL mail from a different author every two weeks. I highly recommend it. You can even sign up for letters for your kids.


Anyway, last year I wrote a letter for subscribers and it was really fun and I thought I’d share it here. I even got a bunch of letters back (including one from a death row inmate).

So pretend you’re opening an envelope and pulling out this folded missive. Here’s the letter I wrote (I added some pics for this Internet version). Enjoy!


Rumpus Letter in the Mail (January 2014) 

Dear Reader,

I did not turn out the way I expected to. I mean, I probably grew up thinking I wanted to be a football player or a radio DJ or a cheesy pop star like Donnie Osmond. I don’t remember reading when I was a kid. I don’t remember being read to at all. I don’t remember learning how to read or write. But I do remember drawing fake football cards of my favorite players, complete with factoids about each one. I would steal football cards at the store and try to copy them.

But I was not an artist.

I think I wanted to be a reader. I wanted to absorb, if it were as easy as absorbing. But reading is not. I joined a book club thing out of the back of a magazine. I ordered fantasy books because I liked the covers—the strange creatures and mysterious landscapes. The bronze bodies rippled and set in heroic poses. This club was like those record clubs where you could order ten albums for a penny if you bought five more at regular price the next three years. I did that club too—I listened to the cassettes or eight-tracks or albums and I memorized every bad song. The books I set around the house, unopened. Maybe I showed them to friends, or possibly my older brothers read them. I’m not sure. I thought reading was boring. I’m embarrassed to say that now. I thought reading was fucking boring.

I remember seventh grade being the worst. What year was that? I guess that would be like 1980-81. Was that a good year for anyone? The thrill of the 1980 USA hockey team’s Cinderella story had worn off and people all around me seemed confused about the disco vs punk debate. I was probably listening to Fleetwood Mac or The Bay City Rollers. A Reagan-esque malaise had set in, though at first I kind of liked the president’s stern cowboy demeanor, his hostage-freeing power. My skin and hair seemed to be spouting grease and sweat and general grossness the whole year. Maybe I was afraid to take a shower.


I remember not wanting to shower after gym class even though we were supposed to. I didn’t want anyone looking at me or my penis, which I had become very intimate with around that time. I would sometimes get quick looks at other boys’ penises. Ugly snails, all of us. There was one fat kid who appeared to not have a penis. I felt mortified for him. No one would talk to him. I felt like I should be his friend, but I was afraid. (for some reason, whenever I write about this time period I have a feeling of déjà vu, like I’m about to remember something traumatic or important. I can’t put my finger on what it could be.)

It was the summer after that school year when I suddenly went through my one and only teen reading phase. I’m not sure what started it, but I read Brian’s Song in one day. I was in my parents’ bed for some reason and (spoiler alert!) I cried when Brian Piccolo died at the end.


After that, I read a couple of horror books that titillated me in some strange way. One of those books was called The Funhouse or something like that—it was set at a carnival. I recall a scene where a guy feels up a girl, maybe in a haunted house. I wonder if that was the first time I’d been “turned on” by words.

But despite reading books that inspired tears as well as boners (sorry, but teen slang probably works best right there), I didn’t really keep on with the reading bug. It wasn’t until a girlfriend of mine made fun of me (when I was twenty-one) for not reading books that I started reading—probably two months after breaking up with her. Still unsure if I felt like that was revenge or something. Like I’d see her out somewhere and say, “Hey, I’ve read ten books so far this summer. How many have you read?”

When I did start reading books (and therefore writing more seriously) I entered a sort of Phase Two of my life.

I taught myself a lot through books. I learned that we all build ourselves through them. I learned that they make me want to write. I never understood people who say they don’t read other books while they’re working on their own. I call bullshit on that. If you’re a writer who becomes so easily influenced by other writers’ books and worry about “starting to write like them” than you must not have found your own voice yet. You must not be confident in yourself.

I’m sorry. I don’t want to turn mean here. But it is kind of a cop-out. You must never stop reading.

So, I’d like to end this letter by asking YOU what book was the first to make you cry and what book first sent warm sexy waves through your blood.

Right now, as I write this, it is nearly Halloween (2013). In Portland, where I write and read and work (at Powell’s Books as luck would have it) it has become the gray season. This may last a few months. I’ll spend the season listening to music, watching football, doing some readings for my book (obligatory plug: This Is Between Us, Tin House Books), editing the next book on my press (another plug: Excavation: A Memoir by Wendy C. Ortiz, summer 2014, Future Tense Books), hanging out with my wife and going to her shows (she produces an awesome storytelling show called Back Fence PDX), reading, and eating a lot of fine food (In Portland, the foodie scene is as big as the book scene).

I didn’t become a football player or a pop star. I was a DJ for a while but that’s another story. What I became was a reader and a writer and that’s something that will last, something entirely satisfying. I’ve made my life what it is and it’s pretty great. I hope you’re as happy as I am. Thanks for reading.