American Mary by Alexandra Naughton
Alexandra Naughton of Oakland published three poetry chapbooks last year, and this week celebrates the release of her debut novel, American Mary.
“I’m not writing right now,” she said, when asked if she were writing during the course of a recent phone call. “I don’t have anything to write about.”
She says it as though to test out the truth of the statement, or to find the truth in it, and the silence that follows is uncertain: She could be saying it in jest, but she could be staking a claim of ownership. She laughs.
Writing, she said, “is my way of comprehending something. Like that’s how I … understand how I feel about things, or understand how other people feel about things, or understand why something happened.”
Compare that with an early line in American Mary: “We always write letters, it’s the only place we know how to hide.” This paradox is at the core of the book: There is an intimacy, or a desire for intimacy, that contains within it an expression of ambiguity.
“A confession and the truth are not the same thing,” Naughton writes. “A confession isn’t necessarily what happened, it’s a version of what happened.”
The book is written in vignettes that have been arranged to form a larger narrative and provide different angles to the story, changing tenses and senses of self; the overall effect is a feeling of being present while also being connected to those parts of yourself you may have discovered — or hidden — in some letters you once wrote.
The event Thursday, March 24, at E.M. Wolflman bookstore in Oakland is also a launch for the second printing of Jesse Prado’s I’ve Been on Tumblr, which Naughton published in 2014 through her press Be About It. The press grew out of a biannual zine that began in 2010 (Issue No. 12 is in the making); zines turned into zine parties; zine parties became a reading series and a run of ebooks, then chapbooks and, more recently, a monthly variety show called “Be Live About It.”
When Naughton and Prado, who now helps with the press, went on tour to support Naughton’s first book, I Will Always Be Your Whore: Love Songs for Billy Corgan, she thought it would be good to have something of his to sell. “He was doing these funny sets at readings and he put it all in a Word document as a long poem. And that’s what I’ve Been on Tumblr is,” she said.
Naughton and Prado aren’t the only ones celebrating new work at the party; Oakland’s Charise Sowells, a.k.a. Lake Lady, releases her anticipated debut EP “Better Days.” Joining them is Dhaya Lakshminarayanan, named best comedian in the San Francisco Bay Guardian’s 2013 “Best of the Bay” Readers’ Poll.
IF YOU GO
American Mary / I’ve Been on Tumblr / Better Days: 7:30 p.m. March 24, free, E. M. Wolfman, 410 13th St., Oakland.
Photo by Joe Carrow
Tickets just went on sale for Pop-Up Magazine’s first-ever two-night stint in the Bay Area. April 12 at Davies Symphony Hall has sold out, but seats for the Oakland show, at the Paramount Theatre the following evening, are available (7:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 13, 2025 Broadway, Oakland, $25-65).
Brian Evenson is in conversation with Colin Winnette about his latest story collection, “A Collapse of Horses” (7:30 p.m. Thursday, March 24, Green Apple Books on the Park, 1231 Ninth Ave., S.F., free).
Karan Mahajan (“Family Planning”) reads from and discusses his new novel, “The Association of Small Bombs” (7:30 p.m. Thursday, March 24, the Booksmith, 1644 Haight St., S.F., free).
Harlan Coben reads from his new thriller, “Fool Me Once” (7 p.m. Friday, March 25, Book Passage, 51 Tamal Vista Blvd., Corte Madera, free).
A group of chronically ill and disabled artists and writers come together for Sick Fest, with a keynote by Johanna Hedva and performances by Nerve Be, Carolyn Lazard, Kiyaan Abadani, Claire Light, Liz Henry and Amy Berkowitz (4 p.m. Saturday, March 26, Chapter 510 & the Department of Make Believe, 2301 Telegraph Ave., Berkeley, free).
Small Press Distribution hosts a new monthly readings series, featuring Josef Kaplan, Sophia Kim and Steve Orth (2 p.m. Sunday, March 27, Small Press Distribution, 1341 Seventh St., Berkeley, free).