To read Service is to learn the rules of engagement, and later, the methods of disengagement, if there can be such a thing. We slip backward and forward in time, one unwitting, vulnerable foot perpetually in enemy territory, one moment searching under the couch for a hair tie and the next moment, “in a hallway I will never be able to describe, I gulp crematorium-hot air and drip sweat onto the flak-jacketed back of my best friend, who will breach the door and survive the next several seconds. When I knee him he moves as if lives depend on it. Lives depend on it.”
I have been looking for a way to capture what I feel is an elemental dilemma of the situation in Nigeria: Why is it that Nigeria can’t progress? We have abundant oil, a strong elite educated class, a sizable youth population… Why are we still backwards as a people? The issue I think lies in the foundation itself … [A] colonizing force came in and said, “Be a nation.” It is tantamount to the prophecy of a madman.
The stories in Don’t Ask Me to Spell It Out, Robert James Russell’s new chapbook out this month from WhiskeyPaper Press, follow a narrator perpetually on the verge. Over the course of 12 interlinked vignettes we see him come of age and stumble, get up and brush it off, always moving toward a greater understanding of what it means to be a son, a friend, a lover, a man. Russell is a quintessentially midwestern writer, and those who attended the recent Voices of the Middle West literary festival in Ann Arbor may remember him as a critical force in that conference—he helped bring in Stuart Dybek as the keynote speaker and organized panels featuring writers such Alissa Nutting and Laura Kasischke.
by Nathan Go
Over coffee and pan de guava, I talked to Chelsea about her chapbook, the writing process, art and porn, living in Brooklyn, and direct sentences. I transcribed the interview, and—for a little bit of creative fun—allowed her to rearrange the answers, edit them in her writing style, and omit my questions, with the condition that the result should be closer to the heart of our discussion rather than further from it.
“I was an athlete growing up, and many people don’t associate athletics with art, but I found athletics to be a very visceral and emotional world that in many ways informed my art later on. There’s a certain intuition an athlete has and this intuition is invaluable to my creative process. Of course there’s a team in many sports and I always was drawn to more solitary endeavors, so naturally I was drawn to writing and art.”