"A while later, Thomas Jefferson is sitting on the porch reading a book about birds of Italy, and Sally Hemings is crouched barefoot on a rock at the water’s edge, her skirt knotted up around her waist. Her newly cleaned apron is spread on a bush beside her, drying in the intervals of brilliant, white sunlight that come and go as the clouds drift over. She is clutching one of the bed sheets in the shallow water and lathering it with a block of soap. Warm fluid oozes out of her onto the rock as she crouches. Her wet feet are cold, as are her hands in the water. And the gusty wind, constantly blowing a loose hank of her hair across her eyes, is also cold. But none of that matters. She is just feeling happy today. That’s all. Just happy."
--From "Human Events"
Isabel and Ivy’s natural tendency is to see human society as a pointlessly complex mechanical device of no use to anybody, and most likely broken. They know, however, that theirs is a minority opinion, and so, from a very early age, they have compared what people actually say and do to what it would be reasonable to say and do, hoping they might discover what it takes to feel at home in the world. These efforts—disappointing from the get-go and worse over time—nonetheless endow the sisters with certain intellectual habits that propel them through college, sociology graduate school, and into tenure track jobs: Isabel at a university in Nebraska; Ivy in Indiana.
Most people imagine ghosts as the leftovers of cancelled lives, but, in fact, they are only possible lives that never happened. That doesn’t mean ghosts exist, however. They don’t. Possibilities exist. And life is dense with possibility. But as long as something is only possible, it is nothing. Ghosts sorrow. They are haunted by the lives they might have lived. Their longing has no end...
“Excerpts from HUMAN EVENTS,” Electric Literature: Recommended Reading (fiction)
"Con," The Common (fiction)
“As Long as He Knows You Love Him,” WHEN FIRST I HELD YOU, Brian Gresko, ed., New York: Berkeley Books (essay)
"...Deak was the kind of guy who had no trouble with the idea that time is just another type of space, that Lee Harvey Oswald could work for the Mafia, Fidel Castro, the CIA, Lyndon Johnson, and the KGB all at once, or that the bushy-eyebrowed family who owned the vacuum cleaner repair business at the end of the block were actually detectives hired by his ex-father-in-law to spy on him. He told me he was a professor, though he never said what he taught...."
"I am the son of a psychoanalyst. People have often asked me if my father psychoanalyzed me when I was a kid—a possibility that would have horrified him, I suspect, as much as it does me. While I never lay on a couch and told my father my troubles, I did grow up in a house where it was a truism that people rarely said or did what they thought they were saying or doing, and that my real self—especially in regard to my fears and desires—was and would always be something of a mystery to me. I grew up thinking less that I was the captain of my self than a passenger, or even a stowaway..."
Click "Blog/PAST SENTENCES" above for the rest of the posting.
"Roland’s longing trailed after him as he walked, a sort of dirigible, attached by a silver filament that tugged and tugged without ever lightening his step. 'Why’s that thing always following you around?' his brother asked. 'Haven’t you already got everything you could possibly want?'...”
Tim Curry's wonderful reading of "Ziggurat" is finally available on the Selected Shorts website. When I first heard him read the story in May of 2011, I felt he was giving it back to me in its ideal form. I am very happy that more people will be able to hear it now.
"O’Connor tells us that in the season that is upon us, “the world is composed / of absence” and that the world is “this snow, / these woods, this bleak sky.” Indeed, his poem reminds us that solitude can often turn to isolation, and from there “I mean human longing, / I mean loneliness accreting as quiet / on quiet, as white on bluish white.” And so, the poem concludes with the world still white, still quiet. The difference is layer upon layer of white, layers of quiet, layers of absence and solitude. Winter is a long season..."
--Charles Davenport, NewPages.com
"Next up was Stephen O’Connor (EL #2), who has a fantastic head of hair and an equally fantastic imagination. O’Connor read three short excerpts from a novel-in-progress that concerns this guy Thomas Jefferson and a lady named Sally Hemings. After an incredibly sad though oddly sensual sex scene, TJ and Sally visit a museum with an entire wing dedicated to the 38-year relationship of, um, Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings...."
Benefit for The Common, May 23, 2012
"Writer Stephen O’Connor followed Acker with his story from Issue 03, “Double Life”—a surprising vignette that conjures a summer spent in 'a big gray house on Fire Island.' Even award-winning novelist Zadie Smith—whose brief appearance caused a ripple of elation through my circle of friends—appeared rapt by O’Connor’s words...."
"If you have the chance to hear O’Connor read, please do it. His story was rich and salty, including but not limited to a boy who claims to have slept with his sister, a girl who claims to be a sharpshooter of dogs (this thankfully turns out not to be true), and descriptions of Fire Island vivid enough to make you feel the sun beat down on your brow. O’Connor also has a terrific arsenal of New York accents...."
"Hope" -- APOGEE
A NEW excerpt from NOBODY HERE KNOWS ANYTHING, a novel-in-progress.
"So anyway. My foster mother’s name was Mrs. Bingham. She weighed like two hundred and fifty pounds. This big, fat woman. And there was this other girl there. Chardonelle. She was a foster child too. Mrs. Bingham was getting paid for keeping us. That was the only reason. She used to make us. You know, when we been bad. She used to make us get down on our knees and thank God she was so generous that she took us in. “Without me y’all would both be dead!” she used to say. “So y’all thank God for bringing you to me!” And she would sprinkle sand on the floorboards so that it was extra painful...."
[For the whole excerpt, click the link above and turn to p. 46.]
"You Must Be Strong" - BIG BRIDGE
A brief excerpt from NOBODY HERE KNOWS ANYTHING, a novel-in-progress.
"I saw that my mother was gone and I picked up my pasteboard suitcase—sand-colored, with the loveliest honey-brown leather on all the edges and the handle, and two shiny brass fasteners—and I moved with the crowd...."
"I Would Never Do These Things" - CONJUNCTIONS: 58
Click on "Archives," then "Conjunctions: 58 - 'Riveted,'" and then scroll down.
"It seems that this story is actually happening and that I am one of the characters in it. I am at a vacation resort—rattling fan palms, turquoise harbors, chickens everywhere (crowing, making fretful clucks)—and a gigantic golden cloud is making its way toward us across the ocean. This cloud, gleaming sublimely in the vacation-bright sunshine, is death—but not just death; it is the end of the world. No one seems to know what brought this cloud into being or why the world is ending, but there is no question: When the cloud finally rolls onto our shores it will be as if none of us, and nothing we have done, seen, heard, or believed in will have ever existed...."
Photo: Carolyn Kellogg / Los Angeles Times
Sunday, March 27, 2011 "On Saturday, Tim Curry captivated the sold-out crowd at the Getty as he read Stephen O'Connor's story "Ziggurat." It was part of the three-program "Selected Shorts" series at the Getty, run by New York's Symphony Space..." -- Carolyn Kellogg
To read more about this amazing event, and to see a slide show featuring Stephen O'Connor, Tim Curry, T.C. Boyle and others, please click on the links below. The program will be broadcast three times during Selected Shorts 2011-12 season, and will be available as a CD and on iTunes.
The first time I read Franz Kafka’s “A Country Doctor”—at around age twelve—I had the distinct impression that I was discovering myself, that in his language and images, and in particular in his always surprising juxtapositions and narrative turns, I was experiencing something essential about the way I was and wanted to be in this world...
My favorite way to start a story is to get myself into a jam. I try to sit down at my computer with an utterly blank mind—that is with no idea of what I am going to write. As rapidly as I can, I jot down a sentence that is both surprising (to me, at least) and has some form of narrative potential. Then I try to follow the sentence with another that would seem profoundly incompatible with it, at least in a sane or coherent world. That’s the jam I like to be in, because then my challenge is to make this impossible world seem as natural and real as the world outside my window, and out of that challenge come all sorts of unexpected images and ideas....
INTERVIEW BY CATHERINE LACEY
Catherine: What one attribute (or attributes) do most (or all) of the characters in Here Comes Another Lesson have in common? (Feel free to answer this question by inverting it.)
Stephen: One of the things that has most disconcerted me about my books is that almost everything I have written — fiction or nonfiction, realistic or not — tells the same story about a character who tries to do the right thing and fails. In my memoir about teaching in the public schools, Will My Name Be Shouted?, I am that character. In Orphan Trains, a nonfiction account of a controversial 19th century child welfare effort, Charles Loring Brace is that character. But this character also appears over and over again in Here Comes Another Lesson, just as he (or she) also did in my first collection, Rescue. He’s the Minotaur in “Ziggurat,” the Iraq veteran in “White Fire,” Charles in the “Professor of Atheism” stories, and so on. The reason I am disconcerted is that I never set out to write about this character, and only find out that I have after the fact….