from Nathan C. Martin and Friends.

Photo by Thomas Sayers Ellis

Local writer Maurice Carlos Ruffin recently won two national story prizes, earning him prestige and acclaim (and a nice chunk of change).

Ruffin’s story “The Ones Who Don’t Say They Love You” was selected by novelist Rachel Kushner for the 2014 Iowa Review Award. It will be published in the winter issue of the Iowa Review in December. (Incidentally, Kushner, the author most recently of The Flamethrowers, is a friend of Room 220, though we promise there was no collusion; read the Room 220 interview with Kushner here.)

At the same time, Ruffin’s story “The Anchor Song” won the 2014 So To Speak contest, selected by Charles Blackstone, who’s a novelist and the managing editor of Bookslut. That story will appear in the fall 2014 issue of So To Speak.

Ruffin’s work has appeared previously in Unfathomable City: A New Orleans Atlas, the Apalachee Review, Regarding Arts & Letters, Ellipsis, South Carolina Review, and other places. He is a graduate of the University of New Orleans MFA program and an attorney.


Antonia Crane

Author and frequent New Orleans visitor Antonia Crane will present her new memoir, Spent, as part of a fun-filled Mother’s Day burlesque event starting at 9 p.m. on Sunday, May 11, at the All Ways Lounge (2240 St. Claude Ave.).

Spent is an account of Crane’s escape from small-town life into the world of stripping, in which she quits drugs (yet gets drugged), does enema shows, and unionizes the strip club, among many other things. Moby called her writing “like Marguerite Duras on meth.”

Crane, who read at an event hosted by Room 220 in 2011, is currently a teacher and performer in Los Angeles. She is a columnist for The Rumpus, a contributing editor for The Weeklings, senior editor and founder of The Citron Review, and winner of The Moth storytelling competition. Her writing can be found in The Heroin Chronicles, Soft Skull Press’ Johns, Marks, Tricks & Chickenhawks: Professionals & Their Clients Writing about Each Other, Salon, PANK, Black Clock, The Believer, The Los Angeles Review and lots of other places.

Watch a book trailer for Spent:

Room 220 Presents: A Happy Hour Salon with Francine Prose and Michael Jeffrey Lee

EVENT: Monday May 19, 6:00pm - 9:00pm
@ Press Street HQ (3718 St. Claude Ave.)
Prose - Lee

Room 220 is pleased to host the highly prolific and widely celebrated Francine Prose for a Happy Hour Salon on the occasion of the publication of her new novel, Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932. Prose will be joined by local author Michael Jeffrey Lee, whose collection of short stories, Something in My Eye, was selected by Prose as the winner of the Mary McCarthy Prize in Short Fiction in 2010. The event will take place from 6 – 9 p.m. on Monday, May 19, at the Press Street HQ (3718 St. Claude Ave.).

Prose is the author of more than two dozen books of fiction and nonfiction. She is the past president of the PEN American Center, a recipient of the Guggenheim Award, and has been finalist for the National Book Award. A number of her books have been adapted for the screen and the stage.

In Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Prose treats readers to a tale of queer love and Nazi intrigue following the gradual descent of a cross-dressing racecar driver into evil, told from a kaleidoscope of perspectives, including fictional stand-ins for Henry Miller, Pablo Picasso, Suzy Solidor, and Brassai, the real-life Hungarian photographer who took the photograph “Lesbian Couple at Le Monocle” which, in Prose’s novel, is renamed “Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932.”

In his glowing review of Lovers at the At the Chameleon Club, Edmund White extols Prose’s knack for rendering an unsavory protagonist. Likewise, in her introduction to Michael Jeffrey Lee’s Something in My Eye, Prose praises Lee for much the same: “I was drawn to Lee’s line-up of loners and drifters, imperiled children and haunted psychos neither because I want to hang out with these bad boys, nor because I plan to cross the street when I see them coming, but because the invitation to inhabit their minds, to see the world through their eyes, and to watch their often unsettling stories play out in space and time enables Lee to do all sorts of extremely interesting things with consciousness and language.” Lee teaches at New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts and Tulane University. Recently, his work has appeared in the anthology XO Orpheus as well as Gigantic and The Collagist.

Stay tuned for the Room 220 interview with Francine Prose, conducted by Ari Braverman. In the meantime, read the Room 220 interview with Michael Jeffrey Lee.


Local writer Michael Patrick Welch will host a series of events to promote the new edition of his book New Orleans: The Underground Guide, which was originally published in 2009, as well as a new collection of his magazine writing, Famous People I Have Met (Collected Works 1999 – 2014).

Both books deal heavily with the local music scene, so in celebration of their launch, Welch will be hosting music events.

At 9 p.m. on Wednesday, April 30, will be a noise music-themed event at Buffa’s (1001 Esplanade Ave.) featuring a lecture with jazz drummer and electronic musician Justin Peake, plus noise by Rob Cambre, Ryan McKern, Proud Father, and MC Tracheotomy.

At 9 p.m. on Sunday, May 4, will be a hip-hop themed event at Vaughn’s (4229 Dauphine St.) featuring a live interview with Katey Red (who is featured in both books) plus live sets from MC Know One, Missing Persons, MC Intel, and Slangston Hughes with his new live band MadFro.

Welch writes for a variety of outlets, including a regular column for Vice, which recently featured excerpts from the Underground Guide on Katey Red and EyeHateGod.

The noise event on Wednesday is free. The event on Sunday costs $5, which gets you $5 off one of the books.

The evening's poets (clockwise from top): Ed Skoog, Marlo Barrera, Geoff Munsterman, Lydia Cutrer, Blake W. Encalarde, Hallie Rundle, and Chanel Clarke.
The evening's poets (clockwise from top): Ed Skoog, Marlo Barrera, Geoff Munsterman, Lydia Cutrer, Blake W. Encalarde, Hallie Rundle, and Chanel Clarke.

Room 220 is pleased to present a Happy Hour Salon featuring readings by poet Ed Skoog and a cadre of his former students from NOCCA: Marlo Barerra, Chanel Clarke, Lydia Cutrer, Geoff Munsterman, Hallie Rundle, and Blake W. Encalarde. The event will take place from 7 – 9 p.m. on Wednesday, April 30, at the Press Street HQ (3718 St. Claude Ave.).

Skoog is a celebrated poet and former New Orleans denizen whose relationship with Press Street goes back to the organization’s very beginning in 2005—he was a contributor to the first Press Street publication, Intersection|New Orleans, among other things. He will be back in town for Jazz Fest and we have organized this event to celebrate the occasion.

Skoog is the author of two collections of poetry, Mister Skylight and Rough Day, and his poetry has appeared in the Paris Review, American Poetry Review, The New Republic, Poetry, Tin House, and other impressive places. He is a former teacher of creative writing at NOCCA and Tulane and currently runs the summer poetry festival at Idyllwild Arts Academy (basically the NOCCA of southern California, or something).

He will be joined by:

Marlo Barrera, a cook who makes things with her heart and hands outside of the kitchen.

Chanel Clarke, who received her MFA from the Michener Center for Writers in Austin, Texas. Her poems have recently appeared or are forthcoming in WomenArts Quarterly, Smoking Glue Gun, Flag and Void, and Hayden Ferry’s Review.

Lydia Cutrer, whose bio remains a mystery even to us, though we’re sure it’s impressive.

Geoff Munsterman, the author of Because the Stars Shine Through It. His poems have been featured in story|south, Poets for Living Waters, Steel Toe Review, The Raging Pelican, Poetry Quarterly, and Volume IV of The Southern Poetry Anthology.

Hallie Rundle, who is currently working on her second collection of poetry. She quit her retail job and is waiting until the last minute to find other employment.

Blake W. Encalarde, a poet and a teacher who lives across the street from the Fairgrounds.

As always, this event is free and open to the public. Complimentary libations will be on hand, though donations are strongly suggested.

Aside from presenting mostly mediocre stories, Storyville could also use a more original name.
Aside from presenting mostly mediocre stories, Storyville could also use a more original name.

By Taylor Murrow

Storyville, for those who don’t know, was a regulated vice district (brothels, gambling, booze—the whole shebang) at the edge of the French Quarter in the early 20th century. It was shut down in 1917, but was memorialized in photographs by E.J. Bellocq and has made its footprint on the city’s cultural legacy. It’s one of the many eccentricities of New Orleans that are celebrated despite (or because of) their off-color history.

Today, the name Storyville lives on in a variety of local manifestations—an apparel company that prints New Orleans-themed clothes, a film production company housed in a historic manor, a hotel on Esplanade Avenue, an old-timey brass band, a 1992 film starring Galyn Gorg and James Spader, and, most recently, a new program on New Orleans’ NPR affiliate station, WWNO, that features creative nonfiction MFA students from the University of New Orleans reading their stories about the city.

The first Storyville episode aired last fall. Called “The District,” it summarizes the history of that notorious neighborhood and notes its legacy as a place where jazz flourished with the likes of Jelly Roll Morton and Louis Armstrong. However, author Robin Baudier also acknowledges that there was an inherent dark side to Storyville. “People were pushed to this periphery of society because of their race, class, or profession, and there are dark stories to be told about their lives,” she writes.

Public radio would have been an ideal venue to share those stories. Unfortunately, we don’t hear them on Storyville.

To date, the show has featured audio essays that run the tired gamut from navel-gazing by a new high school teacher (who seems a bit taken aback to discover that teaching involves selflessness) to a description of a Mardi Gras parade full of “misfits, poets, lunatics, artists and general quirks” (who knew?!) to a woman who moved here so recently she wrote an essay about visiting the city with her father years ago (and eating at Antoine’s and drinking at the Carousel Bar). This last example is not to hate on transplants, but there’s something wrong with providing a person a broad public platform and asking them to share something insightful about a city they know nothing about to an audience that knows a lot about the city—particularly when there are so many voices that have valuable insight that never get the privilege of being broadcast.

New Orleans breeds stories and storytellers. In coffee shops, bars, grocery stores across town, there are storytellers sharing their own personal recollections of New Orleans, past and present. The difference between these stories and the ones on Storyville is, of course, that Storyville is transmitted into cars, homes, and businesses all across the state. The significant platform this medium provides carries a certain amount of responsibility. People tune into WWNO and expect to be informed, or maybe entertained. Local storytelling programming doesn’t have to be hard-hitting journalism, but it should encourage listeners to examine their surroundings with fresh perspectives. WWNO’s listenership crosses eleven parishes and reaches 1.5 million people. When that many people are listening, you need to steer the conversation to more thoughtful terrain.

The view from Storyville contributor Woodlief Thomas’ porch. Thomas’ essay “Hollerin’” is one of the better pieces produced by the show.

But not all the stories are without merit. A few seconds into “Hollerin’,” it seemed like it would be another worn-out ode to New Orleans colloquialisms like “makin’ groceries” or “where y’at.” In this episode, author Woodlief Thomas describes another defining staple of New Orleans culture: residents who make a neighborhood feel like home, who ask you how you’re doing and really want to know the answer. Those of us who live here know that this sense of community is what separates life in New Orleans from bustling metropolitan areas. The warmth and congeniality Thomas ascribes to his former neighbors—some of whom were priced out of their homes, others who have passed away—is palpable. In some ways “Hollerin’” is another ode, but it’s a bit sad, hopeful, and at least urges the listener to consider the very real factors that shift the social dynamics of a region, when the “stoopsitters” and “hollerers” are no longer a part of that cultural space. “Listen, man,” Thomas says. “There’s new folks coming in.”

New Orleans loves to talk about New Orleans, which is just fine. But planting an occasional critical eye on the things that make the city great is a healthy part of that adoration, too. Sure, people want to hear stories, but they should say something new, something memorable, approach a topic from an angle that few may have considered. There are a lot of stories to be heard about this city, and with wide listenership like WWNO’s at your disposal, you’d better make your mark.

The recently aired “A Moveable Race” was a refreshing step in the right direction. Written and read by Lacar Musgrove, it touches on the history of bicycle racing in New Orleans in the late 19th century. By centering on one race between two men, C.B. Guillotte and A.M. Hill, Musgrove paints a lively, burgeoning moment in New Orleans history that doesn’t read like a Wikipedia entry. Her account is well-written and sounds great on the radio and will likely have people who have never given bicycle racing in New Orleans a second thought running searches on Google after hearing her story.

It’s encouraging to have a major media outlet like WWNO support local writers and students—the MFA creative writing program at UNO is the only one in the city. However, with that platform comes an important opportunity for writers to offer something a little challenging to the conversation about New Orleans. There are moments in Storyville that scratch the surface, but New Orleans is a unique, nuanced city that both embodies and defies stereotype. Let Storyville the t-shirt company handle the clichés. Storyville the radio program should attempt to transcend them.

Lazar - immigrant

By Engram Wilkinson

I’m waiting along Esplanade Avenue when Zachary Lazar motors up on his scooter. He unfastens his helmet, deploys a kick-stand, and after killing the engine uses the same key to open a compartment under the seat in which he stores the helmet. I’m told to wait before we talk in earnest because he’ll be right back—he just wants to order a yogurt parfait. After I balk at him, he assures me they are really addictive.

The subjects of his latest novel, I Pity the Poor Immigrant, might compel a reader to imagine Lazar as a novelist who operates a larger or flashier vehicle or as a man who orders much more than a fruit-capped parfait. In trying to conjure in my mind the man or woman I might expect at first sight to deftly write a novel concerned with infamous gangster Meyer Lansky, the mafia, a murdered poet, King David, and forged furniture, I fail. Lazar emerges from the coffee shop, leaning into his steps as he takes them, and we hold a conversation that confirms my new suspicion that I Pity the Poor Immigrant, like its denim-jacketed author, defies straightforward characterization.

Lazar will present his new book at a Happy Hour Salon hosted by Room 220 from 6 – 9 p.m. on Thursday, April 24, at the Press Street HQ (3718 St. Claude Ave.). The evening will also feature a reading by Daniel Castro.

Room 220: How is I Pity the Poor Immigrant interested in interrogating what “a novel” is? Your book moves within itself between “fiction” and “nonfiction” and deals with historical figures. How does it compel us to rethink what a novel could or should look like?

Zachary Lazar: I want all my novels to help us rethink that, because I think novels can be so many different things. Reading novels, I’m bored when I notice the machinery too much, when I feel that the technique is too familiar and stale. I always try to invent that new way—or new something—but to also make sure my work has narrative drive. There’s a long, fake essay in the book, for instance—the kind you might find in a periodical—that wouldn’t usually have a narrative drive, and it was a fun experiment to turn that form into narrative form. I like to play around with form.

Rm220: That’s all great, but let’s pretend I’m a particular kind of literary critic, someone with a particular understanding of what a novel can or should be, and I say to you, “Zach, this novel has pictures in it. More than that, or in relationship to that, it moves all over its own chronology and is composed of fragments.” There’s also this order imposed from the outside onto the book: it’s a sectioned with obvious divisions. How does one reconcile this larger structure with the micro-level seams we, as readers, see bursting? There’s not much effort to conceal them, but they seem to relate to how the book takes shape. Could you talk about all of this? And the pictures, maybe?

ZL: The pictures are a weird foregrounding of how artificial this book is. I highlight that artifice with real photographs I took. I think all of this comes from a long time ago when I was on a Nabakov kick, and how intrigued I was by the way he creates these fictions, these very convincing fictions, and then pokes holes in them, as if to say “Wait, I’m making this up. I’ve seduced you into dreaming this dream, but this dream is a dream.” I like going back and forth between seduction and shaking the reader out of it, then seducing them again. I like the use of fragments, which give it a mosaic quality and a jaggedness.

An image from I PITY THE POOR IMMIGRANT: The “battlefield” where, allegedly, David fought Goliath (photo by Zachary Lazar)

Rm220: What do you think are the more seductive parts of this novel, the historical parts that move backwards in time, or the more contemporary parts? Which did you intend to be more seductive to a reader in 2014?

ZL: I learned in writing this novel that my imagination has a sweet spot, which doesn’t extend back past the 1950s. Scenes before that were the hardest to write. I think what accounts for any seductiveness is the deliberate noir quality across the whole book, whether in Israel now or New York City in 1929.

Rm220: One character remarks early in the novel that something is “an effort of imagination.” You’re talking about exerting effort to write scenes before 1950. Was it more difficult to produce certain parts of this book you didn’t feel innately comfortable writing about, or to create a tone in which they might be brought together?

ZL: This is the hardest novel I’ve ever had to write. I write it in pieces, some easier than others, and some were dead in the water. I had to cut away the flabby parts—the parts that were not very lively—see what was left, and go back and make bridges between what survived. I’m always thinking story, story, story, especially with a novel as fragmented as this one, and using romantic relationships, violence, and sex to make connections.

Rm220: You’re probably tired of talking about violence and this novel.

ZL: I’m not usually asked about it because I talk about it voluntarily. Violence has been the subject of my last three novels. It’s not a subject I thought I would write about or specialize in, but you don’t get to choose what you’re good at, and if you’re lucky you’re good at something. I don’t write about violence the way, say, Cormac McCarthy does—with that kind of virtuosic exactitude in his descriptions of it. Instead, I’m into the psychology of violence, rendering it in a way that is visceral. I’m not a violent person, really.

Rm220: Good to know. This talk about violence makes me think of Elizabeth Costello, when Elizabeth realizes some things are so evil they absolutely shouldn’t be written about, that they’re beyond being rendered, and that we have a moral obligation to lock these moments in a cellar door and let them rot. You’re talking about violence, and a novel with photos of a slain gangster shot through the eye. How does this idea about what we are or aren’t obligated—or allowed—to render help us understand the historical players in your novel?

ZL: There’s a certain energy you can capitalize on by romanticizing violence, but I want to de-romanticize it. You can see Bugsy Siegel with a blown-up face, but that doesn’t have much shock value any more. Which, you know—that was a real human face. I think violence is very narrative and dramatic, and as a writer I am deliberately capitalizing on that, which could be morally dubious, but that’s the game: doing it and thinking about it and controlling it somehow and finding something to say.

Rm220: The photographs in this novel might offer an operative logic for thinking about the way acts of violence, romanticized or not, fuel the narrative drive: They either expose the novel as a failed attempt to re-present history or they puncture the narrative to prove they’re worthless without something that can explain or properly frame them. Photographs have frames of their own. With that in mind, how can we think about the relationship between violence and truth, or fiction and non-fiction, in your book?

ZL: The photos, that’s coming out of Sebald. Other people used images before him, but he was king. He would have photographs that were haunting or flat—

Rm220: Like a tennis court in The Emigrants

ZL: Right. Without the text around the tennis court, it would have no resonance at all. Photos as a counterpoint to text can be really interesting, though. Some people in the editorial process to makeI Pity the Poor Immigrantthought the photos were bad, but that makes them especially useful. My writing is unpixelated. It’s supposed to be clear and kind of diamond-edged. I think my photos—

Rm220: The ones of buildings in your novel, of grey buildings …

ZL: I went to great pains and was excited to take them. They’re almost like tombstones, these pictures of Lansky’s apartment building in Tel Aviv. They’re bleak-seeming in the book, but if you saw the building in reality, it’s not bleak at all. The images juxtapose, or create, a sort of portal to the afterlife without human faces.

An image from I PITY THE POOR IMMIGRANT: Meyer Lansky’s apartment building (photo by Zachary Lazar)

Rm220: You describe your writing in the language of optics—as unpixelated, for instance. Hannah, the American journalist in the book, early on talks about magnifying and diminishing something, which is a paradox. You’re describing the paradox that your narrative leaps and photos enact: they’re counter-positioning your subjects into magnification and diminishment. This reminds me of Joyce’s notion of parallax in Ulysses—you take a bunch of narrators and points of view, put them in an atom smasher and see what happens. I guess the results must be untidy.

ZL: One the threads in this is the story of King David in the Bible, which moves back and forth between mythologizing and diminishing. There are these moments when King David is very mythic and then scenes where he taking a piss in the cave. I think with this book I was using figures that are magnified and diminished and, accordingly, real at the same time.

Rm220: I mentioned Ulysses, but this novel also makes me think about Odysseus. Your characters are taking literal and spiritual journeys throughout the novel, with each realizing in some way that home might not always be where he or she thought it was. Could you talk about ways this novel makes new the idea of a journey?

ZL: At the root of all of this is what to do with Meyer Lansky as a character. I read all I could find about him, and it wasn’t very interesting. What interested me was that he wanted to go back to Israel after Israel kicked him out—he didn’t have a practical reason to go back, but he still wanted to go for something other than practical concerns. He was an immigrant originally from the Russian Empire, what’s now Belarus—a perennially homeless fellow. I feel that way myself. I guess that’s what it means to be alive.

Rm220: Is feeling homeless a prerequisite for being alive, or a condition—a symptom—of having lived?

ZL: What I said is not true, probably, or is just true of people in modern cultures, for whom the old foundations are no longer tenable. For some people they are, I guess, but we all grow up with cultural foundations that aren’t much use later in life, which makes you feel a sense of lack. That’s what’s going on with every major character in my book.

Rm220: The title strikes me as redundant: pitying someone who is already poor who is an immigrant—that comes at you all at once. It made me think of this William Stafford line: “Why tell what hurts?” This is a novel about all kinds of people who do or don’t share circumstances and who have revealed to them all sorts of pitiable, painful things. What resolution could your novel offer Stafford? One character thinks “Kid Bethlehem,” the aforementioned non-fiction essay with narrative drive, is not so much an answer but a space in which a question can be posed. All this question-asking, confiding, undermining in your book—how does that relate to hurt?

ZL: Got your pen out? I just pulled up this Zbigniew Herbert poem that has the line: “Ignorance of the disappeared undermines the reality of the world.” That’s very profound, and suggests, to me, that writing about what hurts means you’re writing to try and resuscitate the urgency of people’s lives who are no longer with us. By doing that, you give value to everyone’s life.

Rm220: You might say narrative drive can have an inherently ethical dimension in that way.

ZL: I think that’s an idealistic thing to say, but I believe it. To make something valuable, though, you have to interrogate the shit out of it. It’s too easy to hold up beautiful language and pat yourself on the back for doing this noble thing. You have to interrogate a story every step of the way. If you do that, there’s a chance you’re doing it right.


Byrd - Crescent City

Local author Taymika G. Byrd will present and sign copies of her new book, Crescent City Connection, during an event from 4 – 8 p.m. on Saturday, April 19, at the Community Book Center (2523 Bayou Road).

Crescent City Connection follows a young protagonist through the milieu of Mardi Gras and the traumatic and terrifying spiral she’s sent down after being sexually assaulted during the festival. The closeness with which the narrative cleaves to the psychological nightmare Byrd’s protagonist experiences—as well as the day-to-day nightmare that continues with the persistent advances of her attacker afterward—makes the book a harrowing meditation on sexual violence and its effects. Crescent City Connection is meant to be both a literary work and a means of spreading awareness about sexual violence in New Orleans. Byrd, who recently appeared on WYLD Radio’s Sunday Journal to discuss the book and sexual violence (the audio isn’t up yet; be patient), will donate proceeds from sales of Crescent City Connection to Crescent House, an organization that provides safe space, counseling, and legal assistance for women survivors of abuse and their children.

Sarah Vowell at Tulane April 16

posted Apr 14, 2014

Vowell makes “air quotes” on the Late Show with David Letterman

Best-selling author and media personality Sarah Vowell will give a presentation of her work at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, April 16, in the Freeman Auditorium in the Woldenburg Art Center on Tulane University’s campus.

Vowell, whose books often present U.S. histories infused with her irreverent comedy, is the author most recently of Unfamiliar Fishes, which the New York Times called “a whiplash study of the Americanization of Hawaii and the events leading to its annexation. Its scintillating cast includes dour missionaries, genital-worshiping heathens, Teddy Roosevelt, incestuous royalty, a nutty Mormon, a much-too-­merry monarch, President Obama, sugar barons, an imprisoned queen and Vowell herself, in a kind of 50th-state variety show.” She is also the author of, among other books, The Wordy Shipmates and Assassination Vacation, she was a contributing editor to This American Life, and she was one of the original contributors to McSweeney’s.

While many have leveled criticisms at Vowell’s writing, few deny that she’s an entertaining and engaging live performer, her voice fine-tuned over many years on the radio (she also voice-acted in The Incredibles).

The event is free and open to the public.

Room 220 Presents: A Happy Hour Salon with Zachary Lazar and Daniel Castro

EVENT: Thursday April 24, 6:00pm - 9:00pm
@ Press Street HQ (3718 St. Claude Ave.)
Lazar and Castro
Lazar and Castro

Join Room 220 for a Happy Hour Salon with local authors Zachary Lazar and Daniel Castro from 6 – 9 p.m. on Thursday, April 24, at the Press Street HQ (3718 St. Claude Ave.). The event will celebrate the release of Lazar’s new novel, I Pity the Poor Immigrant.

I Pity the Poor Immigrant is Lazar’s third novel. It uses notorious gangster Meyer Lansky as a pivot point around which mobsters, journalists, and a seedy cast of characters run circles, darting back and forth between past and present, Israel and the United States, fiction and “reality.” Room 220 will feature an interview with Lazar soon about the book, conducted by Engram Wilkinson, but until then you can read profiles in the Times-Picayune and the Los Angeles Times. Publishers Weekly called I Pity the Poor Immigrant “an interesting and challenging novel,” while Kirkus Review said the intricate connections Lazar makes in the book are “complex and artful, though at times bewildering even to discerning readers.” So, bring your thinking caps.

Lazar’s previous novel, Sway, received significant critical acclaim. It’s a mishmash of pop culture (emphasis on cult) and fiction that re-imagines in a disturbing narrative weave the mesh of pivotal 1960s bad boys such as Kenneth Anger, the Rolling Stones, and Charles Manson. (Read an interview with Lazar in BOMB magazine about the book.)

Joining Lazar will be Daniel Castro, who was born and raised in New Orleans. Castro is a graduate of NOCCA and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and his work has appeared in the Miami Herald and the Tampa Review. He is the winner of the 2012 Novella Prize from the Faulkner Society, and the 2013 CINTAS fellowship in literature.

As always, this Room 220 event is free and open to the public.