My hero: Beryl Markham by Maggie Shipstead Born in England in 1902, she was taken to British East Africa, now Kenya, and raised primarily by her father, who left her to roam the bush with the local Nandi and Murani people, from whom she learned spear-hunting and warrior survival skills.
She married her first husband at 16, became an accomplished racehorse trainer, then earned her commercial pilot’s licence and worked as a game-spotter. She loved a party and left a broad wake of sexual conquests, bagging, among others, the Duke of Gloucester, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry and both Karen Blixen’s husband and her lover. Of Beryl’s memoir West With the Night, Ernest Hemingway claimed that she writes so “marvelously well, that I was completely ashamed of myself as a writer”. He added that she was also a “high-grade bitch”, but, then again, rumour has it he made an unsuccessful pass at her while on a hunting trip.
In 1936, Beryl became the first person to fly solo from England to North America against the prevailing winds. (…)
Hers was a big, messy, intrepid life. I’m no game-stalking, man-eating aviatrix, but I’ve spent many months alone and travelling, and the transformative solitude Beryl experienced in the air is familiar to me, as is the self-stranger left behind when life is stripped of distractions. She was brave. I am not brave by nature but wish I were. Often that’s the point of a hero – to loan you a spirit, to remind you of how you want to be.
Stuff You Missed in History Class did a podcast on her. Best look it up on iTunes.
Maggie Shipstead is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and a former Wallace Stegner fellow at Stanford. Seating Arrangements, her first novel, won the Dylan Thomas Prize and the L.A.Times Book Prize for First Fiction. Her short fiction has appeared in many publications including Tin House, VQR, American Short Fiction, and The Best American Short Stories. Her second novel, Astonish Me, comes out in April.
You can read her story, “Angel Lust,” here in Recommended Reading.
About the Guest Editor
Chang-rae Lee is the author of Native Speaker, winner of the Hemingway Foundation/PEN/Hemingway Award for first fiction, A Gesture Life, Aloft, and The Surrendered, winner of the Dayton Peace Prize and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Selected by The New Yorker as one of the “20 Writers for the 21st Century,” Lee is professor in the Lewis Center for the Arts at Princeton University and a Shinhan Distinguished Visiting Professor at Yonsei University.His new novel, On Such a Full Sea, is available now.
About Electric Literature
Electric Literature is an independent publisher working to ensure that literature remains a vibrant presence in popular culture. Electric Literature’s weekly fiction magazine, Recommended Reading, invites established authors, indie presses, and literary magazines to recommended great fiction. Once a month we feature our own recommendation of original, previously unpublished fiction, accompanied by a Single Sentence Animation. Single Sentence Animations are creative collaborations: the author chooses a favorite sentence and we commission an artist to interpret it. Stay connected with us through our eNewsletter (where you can win weekly prizes), Facebook, and Twitter, and find previous Electric Literature picks in the Recommended Reading archives.
“La Moretta” originally appeared in The Virginia Quarterly Review and is reprinted by permission of the author. All rights reserved by the author.
I finished Maggie Shipstead’s new novel, Astonish Me, last night, following a furious 48-hour reading cycle. I cannot endorse this book heartily enough. I liked but didn’t love her first novel, Seating Arrangements, but this one grabbed me by the lapels (or leotard) and just didn’t let go.
You might not think you’ll be into it because of the ballet (I was worried), but she does a gorgeous job of bringing you into that world and filling it with so many people you care about that you mostly just want more of them. I was especially impressed by the way she only let us connect with a particularly elusive character bit by bit, finally saving the most delicious bite for last. (No spoilers, but you’ll know it when you see it.)
Read it, peeps. Or save it for a long summer weekend in the park. Either way.
“In this day and age, the decision to cross the Atlantic on a ship instead of in a plane requires explanation. I did it—in April, aboard the Queen Mary 2—because I wanted to sit for a week and stare at three-thousand nautical miles of saltwater nothingness. I’d been away from the States for a long time. I spent a month in Bali, made a quick stop home for Christmas, then did three months in Paris and one in Edinburgh. My friends wanted to know if I was Eat Pray Love–ing. I didn’t quite have an answer. No job, no school, no relationship was pulling me to any one place, and if I was going to spend most of my time typing on my computer, I might as well see Bali or Paris when I looked up. “Maybe you go for a walk today,” suggested my landlady’s Balinese housekeeper as she watched me type. ‘Maybe you come back next year and bring friends.’”
SIMON ORFF WAS ON HIS THIRD WIFE. He lived with her in a glassy beach house in Malibu. His second wife had returned to New York after the divorce, and his first, Holly, the mother of his two daughters, his only children, lived with them and Simon’s successor in the hills west of the Hollywood sign. Vanessa was seventeen, and Monterey, called Monty, was thirteen.
On a Friday afternoon in November, a clear day with little surf, Simon stood on his balcony smoking a cigar and scrolling through his phone while he waited for Holly to drop off the girls.
Maggie Shipstead grew up in Orange County, CA. Maggie is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and is a former Wallace Stegner Fellow at Stanford. She won the 2012 Dylan Thomas Prize and the 2012 LA Times First Fiction Award for Seating Arrangements. Her short fiction has appeared in The Mississippi Review, The Missouri Review, Glimmer Train, The Virginia Quarterly Review, and Best American Short Stories.
About the Guest Editor
Electric Literature is an independent publisher working to ensure that literature remains a vibrant presence in popular culture. Electric Literature’s weekly fiction magazine, Recommended Reading, invites established authors, indie presses, and literary magazines to recommended great fiction. Once a month we feature our own recommendation of original fiction, accompanied by a Single Sentence Animation. Single Sentence Animations are creative collaborations: the author chooses a favorite sentence and we commission an artist to interpret it. Stay connected with us through email, Facebook, and Twitter, and find previous Electric Literature picks in the Recommended Reading archives.
All rights reserved by the Author. “Angel Lust” will be free for one week before becoming available as a Kindle Single.
As far as the craft of writing, all my blathering about my hometown and high school boils down to this: don’t write angry. Sleep on it for a few years or a few decades. If you’re writing about someone or somewhere only to prove how silly and despicable that person or place is, your written world will have the flatness that comes from small-heartedness. A story should not be a means of carrying out a vendetta, but perhaps a story might be a way to lay one to rest.
Ava walked through her front door and instantly felt disgusted by her apartment: her faded black couch with the broken springs, her groaning refrigerator. She wanted to catapult herself somewhere, anywhere. To be in that soft familiar spaceship, a drink in hand, ice cubes rattling as she raised it to her mouth. Ava peeled her clothes off and let them slap to the floor, thoughts of brown liquor blazing in her mind. She imagined slowly sipping the dark drink, although her drinking had never been slow. Ava had been an Olympic drunk, careening throughout the East Village, from bar to bar, shouting things she wouldn’t remember. These nights always ended predictably, with her sprawled under a stranger in a strange bed, tipping into a void-like sleep.