Let me tell you about Alex DiFrancesco: they have strong convictions about right and wrong, and they are a relentless advocate for the people they love. They’re brilliant, ethical, and won’t back down from speaking truth to power. And yet, they are also one of the most tenderhearted, thoughtful people you’ll ever encounter. When I first met Alex, they were living and working in the Catskills, recuperating from a messy divorce. Their days were spent baking pastries for a restaurant and devoting the rest of their time to writing. I remember wondering how they did it. How did they write through all that pain and anger and still create such singular works of beauty? And then, the more I got to know them, everything became clear: writing is not just something Alex does because they enjoy it; it’s something they must do. It’s how they process and explore the world, its people, and their own place within it.Continue reading On Monsters and Mythology: A Conversation With Alex DiFrancesco
Alex DiFrancesco has had a busy year. Their essay collection Psychopomps was released by Civil Coping Mechanisms in February, and their novel All City is being released by Seven Stories Press on June 18. While both books are excellent, this interview focuses on All City. It is an important book, and very possibly a prophetic one. All City speaks for the people whose stories do not often get told, much less told with nuance and compassion.
All City takes place in a New York City of the near future. The chasm between the haves and have-nots is wider than ever, and climate change has sent superstorms of increasing violence to the shores of the city, tearing it down with wind and water. Those with the means always leave before the storms hit, but those without resources and means, those who have nowhere else to go, must remain and hold on to what they can by sheer force of will.Continue reading An interview with Alex DiFrancesco on their forthcoming book, All City
Ilan Stavans’s book Sor Juana: Or, The Persistence of Pop is a loving meditation on iconic seventeenth century Mexican nun Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, in particular her image and its omnipresence in modern Latinx pop culture. As a pop icon, Stavans says, Sor Juana shows up on everything from t-shirts to tattoos; tribute is paid to her in hip hop lyrics and operas, and her image even graces official government documents like stamps and the $200 peso note. “Along with Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara and Evita Perón, she is ubiquitous,” Stavans says, and “firmly grounded in the pantheon of Mexican icons.”
Andy Plattner’s collection, Dixie Luck, is a stirring read right out of the gate, full of finely crafted short stories, as well as the novella Terminal, winner of the Faulkner Society’s 2016 Gold Medal for Best Novella. Plattner – a former horse-racing journalist – also teaches English and creative writing at universities throughout the south, including Emory College of Arts and Sciences and the University of Southern Mississippi. Plattner’s work has won multiple awards. His novel Offerings from a Rust Belt Jockey (2014), won the Castleton-Lyons Book Award as well as Dzanc Books’ Mid-Career Novel Award. His first short story collection Winter Money(1996) was awarded the University of Georgia’s Flannery O’Connor Award.
Dixie Luck is full of movement, both literal and figurative. Its characters are nomadic, yearning for and running from change. They search for understanding in the unreliable, for meaning in an oblique glance, and for hope in that next bet they place. Many of these tales are set in the world of horse-racing that the author knows so well. Plattner pulls heavily from both personal and journalistic experience, introducing us to people one might not otherwise meet had they not been part of the racing world themselves. Dixie Luck brims with tales of flawed, sometimes fragile people, the people who live outside the spotlight: gamblers, grooms, and jockeys.
Laughter is an important part of being human. We use humor to navigate unfamiliar territory and to make bad news more palatable. We use it as an outlet for stress and to make others and ourselves feel better. And of course, we use it just for fun. Is it any wonder that humor also plays a key role in burlesque?
“Burlesque’s far-back history is that of comedy,” said Paige Rustles, a burlesque performer from the Pacific Northwest, in an interview with Crixeo. “I think that using comedy in current-day burlesque is so important because it allows us to tackle big and important topics in a highly accessible way.”
Early burlesque was more about lampooning or satirizing social and political figures. The acts also involved scantily-dressed ladies to add to the appeal of the show. The striptease, as we know it, came much later. Actors would perform skits featuring thinly-disguised caricatures of famous people. Even existing and well-respected literature and music weren’t safe. The Weird Als of the 17th century made fun of it all — and showed their ankles while doing it.
Carley Moore’s debut collection of essays, 16 Pills, is a therapeutic read, and while no book can boast being a panacea for the ills of modern life, this one comes close. Moore writes like her life depends on it. She dissects the stories of her life with intelligence and precision, and invites the reader to share in her examination. Feminist, political, funny, and irreverent, Moore’s essays are masterful, and show a true love of the form; the stories are deeply personal, while still tapping into shared human experience.
Cyrus Bronock’s day starts just like anyone’s might: He rises early, brews some coffee, gets dressed, gives his still-sleeping husband a quick kiss on the forehead—Kamden is a college professor—and then it’s off to work. But here’s where his day diverges from the average nine-to-fiver’s. Bronock—known to his fans as Cyguy83—is a repaint artist who specializes in lifelike dolls. Specifically, he takes pre-fab 11.5 inch fashion and character dolls, strips off their assembly-line paint, then lovingly recreates them into astonishingly accurate one-of-a-kind representations of celebrities and musicians in some of their most iconic incarnations.
Before 1981 there was no Academy Awards category for special effects makeup. One movie changed that: An American Werewolf in London. The film’s first transformation scene was shocking in its realness. It took a frightening folklore tale and dragged it, growling and biting, into the real world. Rick Baker, the Special Effects Designer and Creator for the film, is now a legend in the special effects makeup industry.
The film industry can thank horror movies for many things besides a new Academy Awards category: the films are notoriously reliable money-makers for studios, and many A-list actors get their start in horror, including Kevin Bacon and Renee Zellweger. Horror franchises themselves have built cult followings that have morphed into yearly conventions, turning D-list actors who hadn’t managed to move up the alphabet into beloved celebrities in their own right. But perhaps the greatest contribution horror has given the film industry is in the field of special effects makeup.
News Article for University of Alaska, Anchorage newspaper The Northern Light
Jessica Keil (maiden name)
Northern Light Features Editor
A sculpture depicting a Ku Klux Klansman was erected in the Arts building on Wednesday, but was taken down two days later after repeated threats were made to tear it down if it was not voluntarily removed.
It was created by engineering major Tony Hamilton for a project in Professor Ken Gray’s beginning sculpture class. The assignment was to create a work using natural materials like wood, fiber and rope for inclusion in an exhibition titled “Nightmare Images.”
Features Article for University of Alaska, Anchorage newspaper The Northern Light
by Jessica Keil (maiden name)
Northern Light Features Editor
If music hath charm to soothe the savage breast, members of the University Sinfonia might well be the most placid people on campus.
A sinfonia is an orchestra scaled down. Way down, if you’re looking at UAA’s sinfonia, with its core group of about 15 members.
The University Sinfonia is run as a two-credit class, so anyone can sign up, but the prerequisite may make some people rather squeamish. You have to audition to get in.