“Madam says her flowers are the toast of all of Ghana. I would note that all of us do not, alas, have bread. But the flowers are spectacular. They line the drive in pots. They burst into flames of yellow petals. They pretty the concrete walls. I had never seen such beautiful flowers until I came to work here—or I had, but only wild ones, free. Not fed, as at the zoo. Every morning Madam walks among these gorgeous flowers in an Angelina buba with a glazed look on her face. She runs her fingers lightly through the petals as one fingers strands of wispy hair of women for whom one buys gold-plate trinkets. I’d also note that once before I passed her bathroom window—which is oddly low, and stranger still, undressed—while she was bathing, and I had the thought that Madam might receive more gifts more often were she not to hide her body in that dark green swamp of cloth.
Madam has the contours of a girl I knew in Dansoman and sculptures sold at Arts Centre and Bitter Lemon bottles. Slender top and round the rest. A perfect holy roundness that is proof of God’s existence and His goodness furthermore. Her skin is ageless, creaseless, paint. Her lower back a hiding place. The colour brooks no simile. If you have been to Ghana, you know. If you have never been to Ghana then you might not understand the way the darkest skin can glow as with the purest of all lights.”
— from Driver by Taiye Selasi, in GRANTA: Best of Young British Novelists 4
I’ll confess that when my friend James Hannaham first mentioned that he was writing fiction in the form of art gallery plaques, my reaction was selfish: I wished I’d thought of it. The idea is so clearly excellent, involving the use of a non-literary genre that is textual, but also rich with its own conventions and dramatic possibilities. What more could a fiction writer possibly want?
But a manifestly great idea can be dangerous—as likely to smother as to sustain the fiction we beckon into its midst…
James Hannaham, author of the novel God Says No (McSweeney’s), has published stories in One Story, Fence, Open City,The Literary Review,Story Quarterly, and BOMB. For a long time he has contributed to the Village Voice and other publications. He was a co-founder of the performance group Elevator Repair Service and worked with them from 1992–2002. More recently he has exhibited text-based visual art at Samsøn Projects, Rosalux Gallery, The Center for Emerging Visual Artists, and 490 Atlantic. His second novel, Delicious Foods, will appear from Little, Brown in 2015. He teaches creative writing at The Pratt Institute and Columbia University.
About the Guest Editor
Jennifer Egan was born in Chicago and raised in San Francisco. She is the author of The Invisible Circus, a novel which became a feature film starring Cameron Diaz in 2001, Look at Me, a finalist for the National Book Award in fiction in 2001, Emerald City and Other Stories and the bestselling The Keep. Her most recent novel, A Visit From the Goon Squad, won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction, and the LA Times Book Prize. Her short stories have appeared in The New Yorker, Harpers, Granta, McSweeney’s and other magazines. She is a recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in Fiction, and a Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Fellowship at the New York Public Library. Her non-fiction articles appear frequently in the New York Times Magazine. Her 2002 cover story on homeless children received the Carroll Kowal Journalism Award, and “The Bipolar Kid” received a 2009 NAMI Outstanding Media Award for Science and Health Reporting from the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
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.
I cannot help feeling, on being invited to contextualize my own fiction, that the least qualified person possible has been asked. It is more still: hesitance, dread, that as a blind man in a failing aircraft I have been offered the yoke. I imagine it is the same for other writers, for the very fact that you write a story, and not a critical essay, suggests that near everything you hope to say lies outside the bounds of explicit statement.