Artists and Writers


Any time I teach, I give my students the assignment to go out and spend some time considering an art form other than writing. In particular, I ask that they consider visual art, which—freed from chronology—can deliver its impact in a single impression, albeit one that can shift or morph.


For this issue, I asked writers to cite a visual artist or a specific artwork that has inspired or informed their work. You can see their responses in our slideshow. 


I'm also delighted to present Junot Díaz on the book that made him a reader, Edith Pearlman on the all-to-often (wrongfully) forgotten Sylvia Townsend Warner, and Sheila Kohler on five brilliant historical works.


When we launched The Literarian last year, I stated that I wanted to showcase a wide array of writing styles—to celebrate the variety of ways we navigate the page. The mix in this issue reflects that mandate: Mikhail Iossel's razor-sharp, scathingly funny St. Petersburg caper, Klodt's Horses; Jen Michalski's devastating (especially if you are a dog-lover) The Goodbye Party; Terese Svoboda's formally transgressive and emotionally sucker-punching Kosciusko Bridge; Literarian contest winner Iris Moulton's witty and astute Tofu; and David Crouse's subtle, intricate father-daughter story, Nomads, enfolding two lives within layers of personal history and geography.


To return to Iris Moulton: Our Literarian short story contest received more than 200 entries, and gave our panel of judges many long nights of reading. Moulton's winning (and winningly original) story is presented here. Our two finalists, Brandon Hobson, of Stillwater, Oklahoma, and Rumaan Alam, of New York City, will be featured in future issues. 


Our featured video this month is of Jess Walter's Center for Fiction reading, and our featured international journal is Ilanot from Israel.


Now, start reading.



P.S. Stuart Dybek, who contributed to our "writers on artists" feature, suggested that I contribute my own comment on "the still life that won't sit still." He is right: There are few things I enjoy more as a writer than pulling everyday objects and situations out of context to render them strange and new, and I love a still life that's antsy. But I am going to have to cite Picasso's monumental sculpture for Chicago. I was a child when this now iconic sculpture was presented to the city, and I remember the uproar it created. What was this supposed to be? Was it a woman? A bird? A dog?? Was Picasso pulling a fast one? My mother, who was a docent, took the occasion to teach me this lesson: Stop worrying about supposed to be. Instead, look at—and feel—what is.


Untitled Picasso sculpture, photographed by J. Crocker



Photo by Claire Holt


Dawn Raffel's most recent book is an illustrated memoir, The Secret Life of Objects. She is also the author of two story collections, Further Adventures in the Restless Universe and In the Year of Long Division, and a novel, Carrying the Body. Her fiction has appeared in O, The Oprah Magazine, BOMB, Conjunctions, Black Book, The Anchor Book of New American Short Stories, The Quarterly, NOON and numerous other periodicals and anthologies. She has taught in the MFA program at Columbia University, and at Summer Literary Seminars in St. Petersburg, Russia; Montreal; and Vilnius, Lithuania.