June 4th, 2013 | 7:00am

In this month's author Q&A, Melody Nixon speaks with Shawn Vestal about childhood, the afterworld, and the 'irrevocable lives' we lead in between. Vestal's short story collection Godforsaken Idaho was published by Little A / New Harvest in April.

Melody Nixon (MN):Your collection is named Godforsaken Idahoand several stories are set in or touch on Northwestern farms. You yourself live in the American West. Has that place shaped your writing?

reviewed by Lisa Alexander
June 3rd, 2013 | 10:00am

F. Scott Fitzgerald's 1925 The Great Gatsby is a simple story at heart: poor boy meets rich girl and, by dint of superhuman perseverance, transcends his origins only to find out it doesn't matter because her kind will never accept him anyway. This slender novel has become shorthand for the Zeitgeist of the Twenties. Its language is flowery, even hothouse, Fitzgerald's voice lush. Yet, using a detached character as narrator, Fitzgerald knits atmosphere, recurring objects, patterns, and themes into an iconic drama about the ringing failure of the American dream and a contender for The Great American Novel. Australian director Baz Luhrmann’s new adaptation of Gatsby is the third major film version and, though this Gatsby is a fun ride, its emphasis on spectacle muddies Fitzgerald’s masterpiece.

May 31st, 2013 | 10:08am

At the threshold of summer, the sunglasses are on. Running in blue-sky mode, I’ve been talking up some ideas for multiplying the writing workshop times the architecture studio. Their product would be a format for storytelling across media, an alignment of complimentary strengths really well suited to engage the built environment.

This column has coalesced each month around the premise that there exists a reciprocal relationship between works of literature we read or write, and how we inhabit and construct our environments. The premise is intuitive. Man-made environments change constantly, bludgeoned by markets, yes, but also sculpted by cultural momentum and democratic will. In this process of continual renewal and reinvention, it’s possible to think of literary works as vectors for ideas about architectural and urban conditions.

Photo by Flickr Creative Commons user lukmanc
May 29th, 2013 | 7:00am

On the walk to Central Station I struggled to obey simple gravity. My limbs felt weightless, my feet didn’t feel at all. With each step, I had to remind myself to touch pavement again, as if in a moment’s forgetfulness I might slip the earth’s magnetic pull and go pinwheeling over Sydney Harbor and out to sea.

Photo by Flickr Creative Commons user MaO de Paris
May 28th, 2013 | 7:00am


In the fall of 1960, an exclusive group of writers and thinkers gathered in Paris to officially launch a new way of approaching both the study and creation of literature.  This gathering—which would become “a kind of literary supper club . . . a hallowed echo chamber for investigations of poetic form and narrative constraint and the mathematics of wordplay,” as Daniel Levin Becker describes it in his book Many Subtle Channels—called itself Ouvroir de littérature potentielle (Workshop of Potential Literature), or Oulipo.  According to co-founder Raymond Queneau, the workshop would explore “new forms and structures that may be used by writers in any way they see fit.”  Becker, who is currently one of 20 living members of the still-active workshop (there are 38 total members, living and dead), was elected to the Oulipo in 2008 and describes the workshop a bit more specifically: