Emily Rapp | Memoirist
Anne Staveley / Penguin
Remember that furor over tiger mothers — the idea that a mom who was ambitious and strict could create superachieving children? Rapp responded with an impassioned essay for being a different kind of parent; it sparked a memoir, “The Still Point of the Turning World.”
In the book, which will be published in March, Rapp explains that she learned to stop imagining her son's future and instead live with him in the moment. This was a hard lesson: When Ronan was 9 months old, he was diagnosed with Tay-Sachs disease, a rare genetic disorder. Children with Tay-Sachs lose sight, mobility and brain function, and they rarely live to age 4. The premature loss of a child seems unbearable, but of course, some people must bear it. Rapp learns from the parents who have done so before her, and finds them, above all, fierce: in the way they honor their children's short lives, how they manage awful tasks, in their ability to live on.
Rapp has an emotional accessibility reminiscent of “Wild” author Cheryl Strayed; her unique experiences have a touch of the universal. She comes across as open, midthought. In her book, she wrestles with the ideas of luck and sentimentality and life and love and often circles back, unresolved. Despite being a former divinity student, she bypasses religion for literature, seeking meaning in poetry, myth and, especially, “Frankenstein” and its author, Mary Shelley.
Rapp was born with a birth defect that led to the amputation of her left foot (her memoir “Poster Child” tells of being part of the March of Dimes campaign), and after examining pity from every angle, she's having none of it. Not for her, not for her son. Her kind of parent? The dragon mother: powerful, sometimes terrifying, full of fire and magic.
Jim Gavin | Short-story Writer
Fred Schroeder / Simon & Schuster
When Gavin's first collection of short fiction, “Middle Men,” comes out via Simon & Schuster in February, it will offer a vision of Southern California marked by what the essayist D.J. Waldie has called the region's “sacred ordinariness.”
That's because Gavin, a former Stegner fellow whose work has appeared in the Paris Review and Zyzzyva, writes about real people — men of various ages — living in a landscape that is not so much mythic as mundane. “There will never be a shortage of great movies and books that deal with crime and corruption and the depravity of Hollywood,” Gavin told the New Yorker after the magazine published his story “Costello.” “Most of them are written by people who didn't grow up there, which means that you rarely get beyond what is lurid and grotesque. However, there is a certain percentage of the local population, who, in theory, at least, have never been involved in a cult murder, or the greenlighting of a Ryan Reynolds vehicle, and I guess these people interest me as much as anything.”
“Costello” is the final story in “Middle Men.” The saga of a plumbing sales rep unmoored by the death of his wife, it finds its consolations in the details, the minor movements and unnoticed obligations of the every day.
This, of course, is what life in Los Angeles (as anywhere) is all about — as anyone who makes his or her home here knows. And yet it bears repeating all the same. In that sense, “Middle Men” aspires to do what ambitious fiction has always done: show the world (especially the world we think we know) in a way that's recognizable and revealing, while telling us something fundamental about where and how we live.
Michelle Meyering |Events
Meyering is a lynch pin of PEN Center USA and a vibrant, creative force on Los Angeles' literary landscape.
Now director of programs and events at PEN, she came to the organization five years ago and has leapt from one position to another. At every juncture — managing a program for emerging writers, overseeing a Beverly Hills fundraising gala, setting up readings around the city — she has raised PEN's profile and injected its programs with new life.
Meyering, 31, has a genius for events, finding new venues and combinations of voices; they're usually packed to capacity. The week that Molly Ringwald was incorrectly rumored to be bringing her Hollywood wattage to the National Book Awards in New York, she was actually in the audience at one of Meyering's events at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery.
That was the launch of Issue No. 3 of the Rattling Wall, a new print literary journal that includes writers at the start of their careers — Marytza K. Rubio and Ringwald's husband, Panio Gianopoulos — alongside perennial bestseller Joyce Carol Oates. Meyering, the Rattling Wall's founder and editor, selects a single artist to create the cover and all illustrations for each issue, giving each one a visual coherence uncommon in literary magazines.
A writer herself, Meyering plans to carve out time in the coming year for her own poetry, in addition to her ever-expanding repertoire of PEN projects. “I still think that writing poems is the hardest thing I've ever done — and also the most rewarding,” she says.
Lisa Hanawalt | Graphic Novelist
Brooklyn-based cartoonist and visual artist Hanawalt has, in the six years since graduating from UCLA, done comics and illustration work for Vanity Fair, Vice, the New York Times and the Believer, among others. She also published two issues of a “floppy” comic in 2009 called “I Want You,” starring furry animals dressed as people, through the Oakland-based indie press Buenaventura.
Now, Hanawalt's debut graphic novel, “My Dirty Dumb Eyes,” comes out in May through Montreal-based press Drawn and Quarterly — her “dream publisher,” she says. The book is a compilation of the very different things Hanawalt, 29, has been drawing for the last two years. It includes journalistic works, such as her popular, illustrated TV reviews (her recap of “The Bachelor” ran on New York Magazine's Vulture blog in March), as well as a first-person humor essay, in comics form, from the 2012 New York Toy Fair. There are also short fictional take-downs of Martha Stewart and Anna Wintour.
Though she cites Phoebe Gloeckner, Tony Millionaire and Daniel Clowes as early influences, it's Hanawalt's Brooklyn peers, she says, who have had the greatest hand in shaping her sensibility. Hanawalt was part of the all-female cartooning collective Pizza Island, consisting of six women who shared a studio. Among them: Kate Beaton, Sarah Glidden and Julia Wertz — all of whom have taken untraditional, digital or cross-genre approaches to comics.
So is Hanawalt a cartoonist, critic, illustrator or painter? She balks at the labels. “When people ask, I usually just say I'm an artist.”
Valla Vakili | Website Founder
Valla Vakili founded Small Demons after being so entranced by a book that he wanted to experience its textures in real life. What did the main character's favorite drink taste like? Could he trace his footsteps through Marseille?
A former Yahoo executive, Vakili had the resources to go to Marseille and explore for himself. But for everyone else, he created Small Demons, an interactive website of books and the people, places and things they contain.
On the site, you can find every song in Nick Hornby's “High Fidelity.” All 181 cultural icons mentioned in “Infinite Jest” by David Foster Wallace. Every location in Michael Connelly's Harry Bosch series: Philippe's sandwiches, the city of Tustin, Hollywood Park. Each item is connected to every other book in which it appears.
Follow the trails from book to book to book, or look up something specific. Bob Dylan, not surprisingly, appears in 619 books (and counting). The numbers are growing as Small Demons adds more books to its database; it has agreements with five of the six major publishers. Using books to enter an interconnected world: Vakili calls it the Storyverse.
And just as with the universe, the storyverse is expanding outward so users can share their Small Demons world beyond the site itself. A new feature makes it possible to create and share collections, which look a lot like Pinterest boards and can be shared via social media sites.
“As a start-up, whenever you're compared to a runaway hit like Pinterest, it's flattering,” Vakili says. “We do, though, like to think of ourselves as the ultimate place to explore the world of books.”