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“Lester Higata knew his life was about to end when he walked out on the lanai behind his house in Makiki and saw his long-dead father sitting in a lawn chair near the little greenhouse where Lester kept his orchids.” Thus begins Barbara Hamby’s magical narrative of the life of a Japanese American man in Honolulu. The quietly beautiful linked stories in Lester Higata’s 20th Century bring us close to people who could be, and should be, our friends and neighbors and families. Starting in 1999 with his conversation with his father, continuing backward in time throughout his life with his wife, Katherine, and their children in Hawai‘i, and ending with his days in the hospital in 1946, as he heals from a wartime wound and meets the woman he will marry, Hamby recreates not just one but any number of the worlds that have shaped Lester. The world of his mother, as stubbornly faithful to Japan and Buddhism as Katherine’s mother is to Ohio and conservative Christianity; the world of his children, whose childhoods and adulthoods are vastly different from his own; the world after Pearl Harbor and Vietnam; the world of a professional engineer and family man: the worlds of Lester Higata’s 20th Century are filled with ordinary people living extraordinary lives, moving from farms to classrooms and offices, from racism to acceptance and even love, all in a setting so paradisal it should be heaven on earth. Never forgetting the terrors of wartime—“We wake one morning with the wind racing toward us like an animal, and nothing is ever the same”—but focusing on the serene joys of peacetime, Lester populates his worlds with work, faith, and family among the palm trees and blue skies of the island he loves.
"In each of the stories in Robert Oldshue's debut collection, the characters want to be decent but find that hard to define. In the first story, an elderly couple is told that delivery of their Thanksgiving dinner has been canceled due to an impending blizzard. Unwilling to have guests but nothing to serve them, they make a run to the grocery, hoping to get there and back before the snow, but crash their car into the last of their neighbors. In "The Receiving Line," a male prostitute tricks a closeted suburban schoolteacher only to learn that the trick is on him. "The Field Of Machpelah" features a twenty-something, premed dropout who is guarding a cemetery when a man asks to see his wife's prepaid plot before the hospital disconnects her life support. In "Home Depot," a family uses their foul-mouthed love to survive the birth of a malformed child. A psychiatrist confronts his fear of the past to help a patient in the present in "Mass Mental." In "The Woman On The Road," a twelve-year-old girl negotiates the competing demands of her faith and her family as she is bat mitzvahed in the feminist ferment of the 1980s. The lessons she learns are the lessons learned by a ten-year-old boy in "Fergus B. Fergus," after which, in "Summer Friend," two women and one man renegotiate their sixty-year intimacy when sadly, but inevitably, one of them gets ill. "The Home Of The Holy Assumption" offers a benediction. A quadriplegic goes missing at a nursing home. Was she assumed? In the process of finding out, all are reminded that caring for others, however imperfectly--even laughably--is the only shot at assumption we have. In upstate New York, a November storm is one that comes early in the season. If it catches people off-guard, it can change them in the ways Oldshue's characters are changed by different but equally surprising storms"--
Real musicians don’t sign autographs, date models, or fly in private jets. They spend their lives in practice rooms and basement clubs or toiling in the obscurity of coffee-shop gigs, casino jobs, and the European festival circuit. The ten linked stories in Power Ballads are devoted to this unheard virtuoso: the working musician. From the wings of sold-out arenas to hip-hop studios to polka bars, these stories are born out of a nocturnal world where music is often simply work, but also where it can, in rare moments, become a source of grace and transcendence, speaking about the things we never seem to say to each other. A skilled but snobby jazz drummer joins a costumed heavy metal band to pay his rent. A country singer tries to turn her brutal past into a successful career. A vengeful rock critic reenters the life of an emerging singer-songwriter, bent on wreaking havoc. The characters in Power Ballads—aging head-bangers, jobbers, techno DJs, groupies, and the occasional rock star (and those who have to live with them)—need music to survive, yet find themselves lost when the last note is played, the lights go up, and it’s time to return to regular life. By turns melancholy and hilarious, Power Ballads is not only a deeply felt look at the lives of musicians but also an exploration of the secret music that plays inside us all.
Travel has always been Barbara Hamby's muse, and in Bird Odyssey she hits the road hard, riding a train across Siberia, taking a car trip from Memphis to New Orleans on Highway 61, and following The Odyssey from Troy to Ithaka. The concatenation of images released include Elvis and Tolstoy cruising through the sky in a pink Cadillac, Homer and Robert Johnson discussing their art in the Underworld, and the women in The Odyssey telling their side of the story, because what's a woman to do in this world of men? She has to strike out on her own, ask the right questions, and tell her own story, translating the world into her own bright lie.
Babel features more of the rhetorical acrobatics that fueled Barbara Hamby's earlier work. These whirlwinds of words and sounds form vistas, images, and scenes that are at once unique and immediately recognizable. In poems such as “Six, Sex, Say,” she displays a linguistic bravado that moves effortlessly through translations, cognates, and homonyms. This love of words permeates the poems, from the husband wooing his future wife “with a barrage of words so cunningly fluent, / so linguistically adroit” in “Flesh, Bone, and Red,” to the alphabetic sampler woven from memory and love in “Ode on My Mother's Handwriting.” Hamby's poems drift across histories and continents, from early writing and culture in Mesopotamia through the motion-picture heaven that seems so much like Paris, to odes on such thoroughly American subjects as hardware stores, bubblegum, barbecue, and sharp-tongued cocktail waitresses giving mandatory pre-date quizzes to lawyers and “orangutans in the guise of men.” As Booklist noted in reviewing her previous collection, Hamby's poems “are tsunamis carrying you far out to sea and then back to shore giddy and glad to be alive.”
Perhaps Paul Kareem Taylor said it best in his piece called On the Road Again: Barbara Hamby's American Odyssey: "Reading Barbara Hamby's poetry is like going on a road trip, one where the woman behind the wheel lets you ride shotgun as she speeds across the open highways of an America where drive-in movie theaters still show Janet Leigh films on Friday nights, hardware stores have not been driven out of business by soulless corporate titans, and where long poetic lines first introduced by Walt Whitman and resurrected by Ginsberg are pregnant with a thousand reasons to marvel at the world we inhabit."

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