Clare Beams’s debut collection, We Show What We Have Learned, hit the shelves this week, and we’re looking forward to her launch party as part of UNCW’s Writers’ Week, Halloween night in Wilmington, Lookout’s hometown. The stories are rich with haunting imagery, and we thought it might be fun to imagine Clare’s characters out trick-or-treating. Here’s what you’ll need to bring her characters to life in your neighborhood.
A Corset — “Hourglass”
Ingénues at a boarding school who bind themselves to their headmaster’s version of perfection. “From within it, she produced a hollow stiff shell, trailing long tentacular laces…There was a flourish in her wrists as she held it out to me. A new form, right in her hands, ready for the taking.”
A Wedding Dress — “The Drop”
A bride glimpses her husband’s past when she wears his World War II parachute as a gown. “The dress wasn’t bad looking, in Emma’s opinion. It didn’t look much like a parachute unless you had your eyes peeled for the resemblance. The white of it dazzled, as white does. Mrs. Bolland had given it pretty sleeves with points at the wrists, a drop waist that made Lily look streamlined and almost elegant, like something turned on a lathe. Also, a fetching neckline, dipping to a V, just low enough, framing the collarbone.”
Depression-era Bathing Costumes — “The Saltwater Cure”
As Amanda Nelson recaps, in Bookriot, in this story “a teenaged boy becomes infatuated with an older woman at the fraudulent health spa run by his mother.” “She was swimming slowly, straight away from him. No bathing cap today: her wet hair was a dark indiscriminate color, like the head of a seal. Rob blundered into the marsh as fast as he could; he hoped to be covered before she noticed the skinniness of his arms and legs…”
Plague Doctor — “Ailments”
In this story, as the starred Kirkus review reads: a young woman becomes obsessed with her sister’s husband, a doctor, during London’s Great Plague. Dr. Creswell’s wife mends his plague-doctor’s coat and his sister-in-law explores the bird-mask he wears, “a clumsy homemade thing of stained and stiff brown leather. Its eyes were a dull red glass, one webbed in small cracks. Down the beak ran a line of stitches. A mouth sewn closed, but smiling slyly.”
Whatever you decide to dress as, everyone at Lookout wishes you happy haunting and safe trick-or-treating!
(Images courtesy Library of Congress.)
We’re getting closer and closer to publication day for We Show What We Have Learned by Clare Beams! If you’re a fan of Lookout and (and we hope you are), we’ve got a great special going on. Receive a one-year subscription to Ecotone and a copy of We Show What We Have Learned for over 25 percent off the cover price. For just $25, you’ll receive two issues of Ecotone as well as Beams’s collection, due out in October 2016.
In other exciting news, O, the Oprah Magazine, has named We Show What We Have Learned one of “10 Titles to Pick Up Now.” In their micro-review, the magazine’s editors write, “This debut collection is full of promise and surreal delight. In the shocking title tale, a teacher falls to pieces in front of her class, not emotionally or metaphorically, but literally. We hope there’s much more to come from this writer.” Subscribe to the November iPad edition to read the first ten pages of the collection, or check out the full list of books in this month’s print issue.
Having survived the first few jam-packed weeks of grad school, the first-year MFA candidates are already looking back on August with a nostalgic glow, remembering a different era when they could read purely for pleasure. We asked two fiction students, one nonfiction student, and one poetry student to discuss the books that they were reading and re-reading as they started the MFA program, the ones that made them excited and inspired, and the ones that perhaps they’ll pick back up in December.
I’ve been working my way through a small pile of pastoral literature as research for a piece I’m working on. All were set before 1950 and I wanted to add something more contemporary to the mix. I picked up Evie Wyld’s All The Birds Singing and found a realistic, harsh, yet beautiful rendering of surviving on a farm. The story traverses landscapes, from a small British Island to the Australian Desert, connecting place to the narrator’s personal history. It’s a story that doesn’t shy away from cruel or vulgar situations. Instead, it embraces them and pinpoints the beauty that can be found there.
—Suzzanna Matthews-Amanzio, MFA candidate in fiction
A particularly bookish friend told me I must read Max Porter’s Grief is the Thing With Feathers, so off to the bookstore I went. The setup to this 114-page novel is fairly straightforward: a recently-widowed father and his two young sons are visited by a shape-shifting, mischief-loving Crow (the titular “thing with feathers”), who takes up roost in their London home while they grieve. What isn’t straightforward is how Porter chooses to tell his tale, mixing poetry, prose, play, and essay, cycling frequently between the viewpoints of the father, his boys, and the crow. It’s a bizarre and deeply beautiful book, and left me wondering how a happily married, thirty-something, first-time novelist can so masterfully capture what it’s like to be ensnared in such crippling grief. But also: where was this voice and what will it say next?
—Jeff Oloizia, MFA candidate in fiction
I’m reading A Field Guide to Getting Lost, a book that first intrigued me as a fan (read: President of the fan club) of Rebecca Solnit, but also caught my attention for its title, posing as a type of manual for losing oneself. Solnit seems to peer so deeply into moments that feel undiscovered, or unnoticed, or simply ambiguous in their beautiful, human complexity, that she actually gives these ideas a type of directional clarity. But the way in which she muses on the idea of being lost itself allows her readers to lose themselves with her, to feel a comfort in what we don’t know or have yet to discover, and to rejoice in where we arrive together as the exploration unfolds. And we trust her as our guide because she so eloquently blends her personal narratives with cultural and historical examples, finding nuance and meaning in our shared human experience. This book feels important not only for the strength of her craft, but for the value in what we can take from it, as writers and thinkers, delving into uncharted territories of our own.
—Nicholl Paratore, MFA candidate in nonfiction
This summer I reacquainted myself with Larry Levis through The Widening Spell of the Leaves. The title is an effective metaphor for the way his best work operates, beginning in scene and then expanding imagistically outward and ever-outward to include politics, place, and history. Like the visual trope of the molecule that expands into a galaxy that expands into a molecule as the perspective widens its scope, the poem eventually leads us back into a single moment, with all new layers and resonances. Instead of a poet’s usual sonic tricks and repeated symbols to create patterns, Levis creates rhythm from scenes and images in precise, journalistic writing that recalls Carver’s “Cathedral” and Didion’s Salvador.
—Elliot Smith, MFA candidate in poetry
You may have heard the news by now, but we wanted to do an official announcement here on the blog: we’re thrilled to broadcast the details about Lookout’s next book, the debut story collection, We Show What We Have Learned, by Clare Beams. The stories blend the fantastic, the historic, and the literary, and capture the true strangeness of being human. From bewildering assemblies in school auditoriums to the murky waters of a Depression-era health resort, Beams’s landscapes are tinged with otherworldliness, and her characters’ desires stretch the limits of reality.
Clare’s editor here at Lookout, Beth Staples, published the title story from the collection years ago during her time at Hayden’s Ferry Review, and was even more excited to work with Clare on a newer story for Ecotone, called “Granna.” The success of that relationship, and the Ecotone/Lookout team’s enthusiasm for Clare’s work, led to the acquisition of this fabulous collection. And now, after many months of editing, publicizing, designing, and planning, we’re all so excited for October 25, when the book will make its way to readers.
We’re not the only ones excited. In a starred review Kirkus calls the collection, “A richly imagined and impeccably crafted debut.” Publishers Weekly adds, “Beams is an expert at providing odd and surprising details that make her stories come alive, and the result is a powerful collection about what we need from others and, in turn, what we can offer others of ourselves.” And Amanda Nelson of Book Riot says, “These stories are angry and odd, and I loved them.” Head to Clare’s website to read all the love, including quotes from Joyce Carol Oates, Chang-Rae Lee, Megan Mayhew Bergman, Mary Laura Philpott of Parnassus Books, and Rachel Richardson of Hub City Writers Project.
We’ll be giving all of the details about Clare’s tour and reading schedule shortly, but you can have a look at what’s planned so far here. We’re also so excited that Clare will be here in Wilmington as part of UNCW’s Writers’ Week.
And you don’t have to wait until October 25 to find your copy–you can preorder the collection now. We hope it will delight, challenge, and surprise you in all the best ways.
The Lookout Books team is thrilled to introduce our next book, We Show What We Have Learned, a debut story collection from author Clare Beams. As imaginative and compelling as they are emotionally complex, these nine exquisitely unsettling stories blend the fantastic, the historic, and the literary to capture the true strangeness of what it means to be human.
Already some of our favorite writers are loving the book. Caitlin Horrocks says, “Clare Beams is a magician, and each of these stories is a muscular, artful haunting.” Change-Rae Lee says, “In gorgeous prose that thrills, instructs, and thoroughly inspires, Clare Beams obliterates the ‘dividing line between possibilities and impossibilities,’ showing how our passions can rule with reality-bending magic.”
From bewildering assemblies in school auditoriums to the murky waters of a Depression-era health resort, Beams’s landscapes are tinged with otherworldliness, and her characters’ desires stretch the limits of reality to delight, surprise, and provoke: Ingénues at a boarding school bind themselves to their headmaster’s vision of perfection; a nineteenth-century landscape architect embarks on his first major project, but finds the terrain of class and power intractable; a bride glimpses her husband’s past when she wears his World War II parachute as a gown; and a teacher comes undone in front of her astonished fifth graders.
Four of these nine stories take place in schools. “I began to see the common themes and threads that tie these stories together,” Clare said. “Their concern with the shaping of selves has a lot to do with my time in the classroom.” These are complex characters, and their vulnerabilities are made manifest in all their messy beauty. From the mercurial space between girlhood and adulthood to a matriarch coming to terms with her legacy, these stories show us women grappling with power and legacy, prompting Joyce Carol Oates to call Clare “a female/feminist voice for the twenty-first century.”
This gorgeous cover, designed by Lookout publisher and art director Emily Smith, features art from Andrea Wan. We think it’s the perfect complement to Clare’s rare and capacious imagination. Find more of Andrea’s work on her website.
We can’t wait to share the full collection with you on October 25. These stories appear in Ecotone, One Story, and The Best American Nonrequired Reading and are forthcoming in the Common and online at the Kenyon Review this summer. In the meantime, we hope you’ll head to Clare’s brand-new website designed by the Lookout student staff, where you can read more about her and pre-order a copy of the book. And like her Facebook page and follow her @clarebeams on Twitter, too!
Going to AWP this week? We’ll be taking pre-orders at table 919 at the bookfair and giving out these beautiful bookmarks.
We’re so excited to welcome Clare to the Lookout family!
Honey from the Lion tours the land from whence it came this week! If you’re in the great state of West Virginia, consider joining Matt at any of the following events. Full details are on his website.
3 p.m., Sunday, January 17, 2016, HUNTINGTON, WV, Empire Books & News
6 p.m., Monday, January 18, 2016, CHARLESTON, WV, Kanawha County Public Library
noon, Tuesday, January 19, 2016, WHEELING, WV, Lunch with Books, Ohio County Public Library
6 p.m., Tuesday, January 19, 2016, MORGANTOWN, WV, Black Bear Reading Series
Ecotone and Lookout wish you and yours the happiest 2016!
It’s the most wonderful time of the year! The air is filled with best-of lists, Pushcart nominations, and NEA grants! And magic, of course: in the form of Christmas music, too many cookies, and implausible stories we tell our children. In honor of how fiction enriches our lives, this week’s roundup has a list of years-end honors received by Lookout authors and Ecotone contributors who tell us tall tales.
We’ll start with a heavy hitter: the New York Times list of 100 Notable Books features Lookout author Edith Pearlman, and Ecotone contributor Lauren Groff. And we love this list from NPR Books which features Groff again, of course, and contributors Claire Vaye Watson, Toni Tipton-Martin, and Jim Shepard among a slew of other really fantastic choices.
We’re grateful to Jodi Paloni who curated a list of the year’s top short stories for the Quivering Pen’s Best of the Year Short Stories. Melissa Pritchard’s “Carnation Milk Palace” from Ecotone joins stories by fellow Ecotone contributors Ann Beattie, Bill Roorbach, and lots of other greats.
The National Endowment for the Arts has awarded their fall fellowships for creative writers, and we’re so happy for Ecotone contributor Vedran Husic.
Speaking of Santa Claus, Ecotone contributor Clare Beams has a post up on the Ploughshares blog on historical fiction. She says, “The past I want to read and write about is always the kind alive enough to frighten.” Which is why we love her writing so. And perhaps the holidays, too. Is the idea of a man coming down your chimney not more than a little bit frightening?
Thanks, as always, for reading. We’ll be back with roundup in the new year. In the meantime, here’s hoping your season is filled with the best-of everything! Including stories.