This year, we asked guests we’ve featured on The Blood-Jet Writing Hour in 2013 to share with us their favorite books, literary magazines, and reading series from the year.
This post features poet and author of Split, Cathy Linh Che. She writes:
2013 was made special because at a reading, a young woman called me “the crying poet.” She’d witnessed me bawling my eyes out at not one, but two of my own readings. I was a bit embarrassed by the nickname, but now it is a moniker I am proud of! If a book or reading is moving, I tear up. It is how I determine whether or not a work is good. Does it move me? And after I put down the work, does it endure?
Here are some works that have moved me in 2013:
1. Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being
Holy shit. This book.
A Tale for the Time Being moves back and forth between two narratives. The first is of a writer named Ruth who lives on Cortez Island off the west coast of Canada—and the second details the life of a teenaged girl named Nao, whose family relocated back to Japan after she lived in the Bay Area for seven years. In Japan, she is the victim of painful bullying, and the novel ticks down her own countdown to suicide.
The writing is sharp and funny and very natural. Unlike many novels I’ve read this year, it seemed uninterested in showing off—and most concerned with paying attention to the things that matter: telling a story about how to live and go on. The mediations lend it a timeless quality, while the discussions of WWII and of the 2011 tsunami and nuclear power plant meltdown root the narrative in historical trauma and aftermath.
2. Natalie Diaz’s When My Brother Was an Aztec
Technically, this book was published in 2012 (and I read it in 2012), but the work endures. Natalie Diaz’s magic is her humor, imagination, and formal inventiveness—but above all else, she is a master of the image.
3. Ocean Vuong’s No (YesYes Books)
“Brooklyn’s too cold tonight
& all my friends are three years away.
My mother said I could be anything
I wanted—but I chose to live.
On the stoop of an old brownstone,
a cigarette flares, then fades.
I walk towards it: a razor
sharpened with silence.
A jawline etched in smoke.
The mouth where I’ll be made
4. My favorite reading of the year:
Intersecting Lineages Reading at AWP
I love watching communities of color [folks from Kundiman, CantoMundo, Cave Canem, The Institute of Indian American Arts, and RAWI, the Radius of Arab American Writers] come together to celebrate writing. The poets read works from ancestor writers of a different lineages, then read works of their own.
Kazim Ali recited Lucille Clifton from memory and tore the fucking house down.
5. Finally, I had the privilege of taking part in Race and Belonging: A Protest Poem in Solidarity with Trayvon Martin. This was a unique opportunity to produce community writing in response to the injustice we felt after the Trayvon Martin verdict. Poets from all over the country of many different cultural backgrounds wrote together virtually: twenty-seven pages which can be read here.
2013 was a year of deeply felt literature. I feel so lucky to have had a chance to take part in celebrating, laughing, and mourning with everyone.
Cathy Linh Che is the author of Split (Alice James, 2014), the winner of the 2012 Kundiman Poetry Prize. She received her MFA from New York University and is the recipient of fellowships from The Fine Arts Work Center at Provincetown, Hedgebrook, Poets House, LMCC’s Workspace Residency. She is currently Program Associate at Poets & Writers’ Readings & Workshops (East) and Manager at Kundiman.