Five years ago, at the age of 70, Howard Junker retired from Zyzzyva, the literary magazine he founded in 1985. In need of something to do, he went through the archives of his own life and compiled a book — or, rather, a collection of 12 books — called “A Total Junker: Metamemoir in Eleven Slices.”
“The usual thing that an editor does when he retires is write a book, a novel. I can’t write novels; I don’t have an imagination. But I thought I could continue to be an editor, so I could curate it,” said Junker, outside the Inner Richmond’s Cinderella Bakery & Cafe.
“The traditional memoir is the voice,” he said, “the creation of the voice of the writer, and mine isn’t; it’s not written.” Though he wrote two of the books especially for “A Total Junker,” “the rest,” he writes in the introduction to the zero volume, “Junkmail,” “were summoned from the archives — abandoned factories, derelict houses, dilapidated monuments. They have not been fixed up to serve as condos. They have simply been dusted off and burnished. Reprieved, for this brief moment, from oblivion. The general idea is not to retrofit the past, but to register its unremastered melody.”
The result is not a narrative conjured up from one perspective or moment in time, but a sort of collaged exhibition of his own life that he has curated and through which he guides the reader.
One book is a collection of the 269 postcards Junker received between 1982 and 1986, so that a sense of the author’s life emerges via images and messages sent by others. Another book is a selection of daily Facebook posts he wrote the year after retiring.
In the Statement of Purpose to Book 8, “Newsjunkie” — which contains at least a snippet from each of the 85 pieces of journalism he published from 1965 to 1969, plus some he never published and even “one significant piece, actually unwritten, which is referred to for the sake of complete disclosure” — Junker says: “I urge you, then, to read between the dispatches, taking them not (just) as my juvenilia, not just as exemplars of on-the-job training, not just as clips being accumulated into a portfolio, but as bricks in the construction of a self.”
Even when he was unsure what he was building, Junker became notorious for finding gems in Zyzzyva’s slush pile, reading every submission himself and publishing nearly 250 first-time-in-print authors. He discovered the likes of F.X. Toole, whose collection inspired the Oscar-winning “Million Dollar Baby,” and printed the first English translation of Haruki Murakami. That same maverick sensibility pervades “A Total Junker.”
“The nice thing about starting to be a writer when you’re 70, or publishing your first book when you’re 75,” he said, “is that it has nothing to do with a career. There’s nothing to build on it, there’s nowhere to go; it can’t be a move — there’s no moves to make. So it’s totally free of all that. I can just do whatever I can think of to do. And it’s all wonderful.”
IF YOU GO
Howard Junker: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 12. Free. Press: Works on Paper, 3108 24th St., S.F.
Image courtesy Evan Karp
Other book events this weekend
Why There Are Words presents seven authors reading on the theme “Gift Horse,” including Jodi Angel (“You Only Get Letters From Jail”), Christian Kiefer (“The Animals”), and Josh Weil (“The Great Glass Sea”) (7:15 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 10, Studio 333, 333 Caledonia St., Sausalito, $10).
Philippine American Writers and Artists Inc. presents Barbara Jane Reyes reading from her new collection of poems, “To Love as Aswang” (6 p.m. Friday, Dec. 11, Philippine Consulate General, 447 Sutter St., Free).
Poet, scholar and art historian Roberto Tejada gives the Poetry Center’s 31st annual George Oppen Memorial Lecture (7 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 12, Unitarian Center, 1187 Franklin St., $5-$10).
Writers With Drinks features readings and performance by Andrew Sean Greer (“The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells”), Lydia Poppovich (“Ladies Love: A Comedy Showcase”), and Ali Eteraz (“Falsipedies & Fibsiennes”) (7:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 12, the Make-Out Room, 3225 22nd St., $5-$20).
Small Press Traffic presents Dinner Talks, a conversation about race in the writing community hosted by MG Roberts and Wendy Trevino (5 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 13, Artists’ Television Access, 992 Valencia St., $6-10).