Author2Author: Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon & Thomas Sayers Ellis

As National Poetry Month winds down, Author2Author welcomes two outstanding African-American poets in conversation with each other how their verse has developed. Thomas Sayers Ellis‘s most recent collection, The Maverick Room, was published by Graywolf earlier this year (read an excerpt). Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon’s first collection of poems, Black Swan, won the Cave Canem prize for new African-American poetry when it was published in 2001 (read Bop: Haunting“).

tsellis.gifThomas Sayers Ellis: What are you working on now? How far have you moved away from Black Swan and myth, and how far from mixing the way we talk with the way mythologies are fixed? Do you really like Myth or were you simply unhappy with its cultural positioning as “king of meaning” and “king of container”? Myth has always behaved like a Gangsta to me, and a bad big brother to, or white owner of, folklore. Lord knows I’m waiting for ‘lore to poison Massa with-the-quickness and leave Quikskill’s mouth-running (see Ishmael Reed‘s Flight to Canada) note on his chest. Certain mythologies, then, seem bad owners to me. Users, full of pimpin’, and out-dated show-offs.


Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon: I’m working on a manuscript called Open Interval. It is a meditation on identity using the universe as lens. It is preoccupied with stars, particularly RR Lyrae stars. Myth’s still there, in some ways, and for the very reasons you mentioned. If myth is king of meaning, king of container, one way to subvert that shit is to bogart it, create a mythologized, black, woman, literary self as constellation.

I think RR Lyrae stars are useful for that. In astronomy they are “standard candles,” objects with a known luminosity, measuring distance. You can use them to tell the ages of galaxies. I think they work particularly well semiotically. They open up some fascinating possibilities. I’m into the RR as crossroads, as blues sign; I’m into the “are, are” sound, particularly posited against the “I am” of identity. So, the book’s definitely in conversation with Black Swan.


27 April 2005 | author2author |

Laura Furman: “The Most Wonderful Group of Stories I’ll Ever Find”

furman.jpgLaura Furman became the current editor of the annual O. Henry Prize Stories collection in 2002. When this year’s edition came out, I asked if she’d let Beatrice readers in on the selection process, and she graciously agreed. In addition to her experience as a founding editor for American Short Fiction, Prof. Furman is also an accomplished short story writer, novelist, and memoirist in her own right, so her insights into what makes for a good story are more than welcome here!

Every morning when I drive my son to school through downtown Austin, I pass the little yellow cottage where William Sydney Porter, best known as O.Henry, lived with his wife and daughter. It’s now a museum, pressed on one side by the convention center and the other by a towering hotel. Its fretwork is preserved; inside are artifacts of the writer’s life and work, as well as donated furnishings illustrating the period. The writer of “The Gift of the Magi” is commemorated in Austin and elsewhere, but his most important monument may not be his stories, which many readers still love, but the O.Henry Prize Stories, founded in 1918 by his friends to honor him and to “strengthen the art of the short story.” Rather than being relegated to literary history, O.Henry will always be associated with the current masters and promising talent in contemporary writing.

There are intimidating aspects of being series editor of the O.Henry, the job I began in 2002. The editorship carries with it a responsibility to the writers of the many short stories submitted each year, to the magazine editors, and to the readers of the annual collection who expect a variety of excellent, challenging, and moving stories. My principal mission is to believe in writers and the original ways the best of them find to face the ancient challenge of telling a story.


4 April 2005 | guest authors |