Essay in Tin House – Winter 2014

10 12 2014



I’m thrilled to have an essay in the gorgeous “Winter Reading” issue of Tin House, the sharpest journal in the west. This issue includes new work by the legendary Ursula K. Le Guin, Joy Williams, and Josh Weil, among other fine writers. I could not be more pleased.

I encourage you to pick up Tin House at your local (independent) bookstore, but you can also read my essay, “In Any Light, By Any Name,” online.




New work in The Rumpus

19 10 2014

My essay about children in immigration court is live this morning, featuring original illustrations by artist Chris Koehler.




October 19th, 2014

The courtroom smells of talcum powder. On this afternoon’s docket, we have thirty-four children. Thirty-four out of 35,000 or 57,000 or 90,000 kids who have crossed our borders without permission since last October, depending on which source you trust to make sense of what doesn’t. Read this essay on The Rumpus.

Tue, Oct 14th – Straight, No Chaser returns to Vesuvio

12 10 2014

Straight, No Chaser: Writers at the Bar

In what has become a Litquake tradition, hallowed North Beach watering hole Vesuvio Café opens its doors for an edgy and hilarious evening reading. This is a rare opportunity to glimpse authors performing new work in their natural habitat. Emceed by Alia Volz.

Here’s where Litseen asks me a bunch of writerly questions for the SF Weekly…

2 09 2014

The Write Stuff: Alia Volz on Not Settling and Being Difficult to Manipulate

Posted By on Thu, Aug 28, 2014 at 8:00 AM

The Write Stuff is a series of interview profiles conducted by Litseen, where authors give exclusive readings from their work.


  • Kevin Hunsanger

Alia Volz’ stories and essays are found in Tin House Magazine(forthcoming), ZYZZYVA, Defenestration and The Writing Disorder’s “Best Nonfiction of 2012” anthology. She lives on the foggiest block in her hometown of San Francisco with a bewhiskered bookseller and two rabbits. Alia has recently completed her first novel, a mean little cowboy noir in which all of your favorite characters die. Stalk her at or @aliavolz on Twitter.

When people ask what do you do, you tell them… ?

I’m a Spanish interpreter by trade, so I usually start there. I might also wiggle my fingers in what I think of as the universal sign for writing. It probably looks like I’m threatening a tickle attack.

What’s your biggest struggle — work or otherwise?

I’m a perfectionist. It can be positive, in that it forces me to craft sentences carefully. But it slows me down. I over-analyze and agonize over inessential details. I spent four years on a novel another writer could have done in two. I am learning to let go, but it’s hard.

If someone said I want to do what you do, what advice would you have for them?

Travel. Get lost. Don’t wait until you have enough money in the bank; just sell your shit and go. Buy a plane ticket and trust yourself to scrape cash together in time. It may feel like you’re living in the world, but you’re only living in one version of it, one paradigm among infinite possibilities.

Do you consider yourself successful? Why?

Not really. That’s probably for the best. If I thought I was a big fat success, there would be no reason to write better.

When you’re sad/grumpy/pissed off, what YouTube video makes you feel better?

I’m supposed to link to some silly/snarky clip, right? Nein! I burn time online like everyone else, but not when I’m upset. I gripe, cuss, drink my weight in bourbon, slam doors and cry like a brat. I storm melodramatically down foggy streets with mascara streaming down my cheeks. YouTube is a fine antidote for boredom, but not for rough emotions. If I don’t allow myself to experience discomfort, I’m not living in full color. As an artist and human, I need to feel. Bring on the shit.

Do you have a favorite ancestor? What is his/her story?

As an only child, raised by a single mom who was estranged from her family, I grew up disconnected from my ancestors. Recently, I began sorting through the writings and ephemera they left behind: 1,000 pages of memoir penned by my eccentric great-grandmother; my grandmother’s paintings; my great-aunt’s poems published in Ladies’ Home Journal. I feel intimacy with these women — but it’s grown from their art and the stories I make up to explain it. I can’t pick a favorite… though my great-great-grandmother Gertrude Arbo wore the best hats.

Who did you admire when you were 10 years old? What did you want to be?

I wanted to be a professional equestrian. There was nothing more thrilling to me than galloping on horseback. And that’s still basically true. I volunteer with the Mounted Patrol in the Marin Headlands, so I ride every week.

Would you ever perform a striptease? Describe some of your moves. Feel free to set the mood.

I’ll do just about anything — for the good of literature.

I would start in a dress made of forgotten paperbacks and rip the pages off one by one, while the audience is forced to read them. It might take a while, but eventually I’d get naked…

There you go, Litquake. There’s your next fundraiser.

How much money do you have in your checking account?

I just got back from France, so… uh… rien. I do still have a few lonesome Euros rolling around. Do you take Euros?

What’s wrong with society today?

Ha. I don’t know where to start. We’re doomed.

How many times do you fall in love each day?

Are you ready to get bowled over by a speeding cornball? I keep falling in love with my own husband. It happens at odd moments, like when I’m writing and he’s singing along with records in the other room. We’ve been together seven years, and the little nothings still do it.

I used to be horribly unlucky in love — until I struck luck. So if you haven’t met your match yet, hang tough. Settling is for the rubes.

What would you like to see happen in your lifetime?

Los Angeles destroyed by a Mothra-sized horse.

What is art? Is it necessary? Why?

I used to worry that my writing wasn’t political enough, that by not focusing on current events, I wasn’t doing my job as an artist. But I’ve come to see all art as political. Even a simple artistic act, like drawing a daisy, is a kind of affirmation of individuality. A flexing of perspective. I think art makes us more difficult to manipulate. Especially these days, with the constant barrage of media manipulation, we need strong inner-worlds, muscular minds. It’s more necessary than ever.

When you have sex, what are some of the things you like to do?

I’m into horseback riding. Did I mention that? Yeehaw.

What are you working on right now?

I’ve recently begun a novel based on my great-grandmother’s memoir of her forty-year marriage to a ghost. Ouija board courtship, invisible hands, spectral sex… Things are getting weird.

If there were one thing about the Bay Area that you would change, what would it be?

I’d love to see people look up from their interweb gizmos. Visiting France reminded me that modern living doesn’t require being plugged-in 24-7. Parisians have personal devices, but they don’t stumble around with their noses smashed against screens, bumping into signposts. Cafes are for chatting with other humans, rather than diddling laptops. It depresses me to see MUNI filled with people lost in their gadgetry, avoiding eye-contact. It’s a sad day when Paris seems friendlier than your hometown.

What are some of your favorite smells?

Horse sweat, lemons, the skin behind my husband’s ear. Those are free. For hard-earned cash-money, I splurged on a French perfume built around blood notes (made with real blood!). I feel like such a badass.

If you got an all expenses paid life experience of your choice, what would it be?

I’d take a dirigible to Paris with Mark Twain. Then I’d go on an absinthe binge with Oscar Wilde, talk midnight smack with Dorothy Parker, slurp oysters and white wine at dawn with James Baldwin and walk the dogs with Gertrude Stein at a civilized mid-morning hour. Somewhere in between, I might let James Joyce smell my farts.

Performing in…Less Than Zero: An Homage to ‘80s Lit, Big Hair & Distressed Denim

15 07 2014

July 24, 2014 – 8:00 PM

Verdi Club
2424 Mariposa Street
$15 advance, $20 at door
Proceeds benefit Lit Crawl 2014
Buy tickets

 The kids in Less Than Zero … are thoroughly narcissistic – they spend a truly astonishing amount of time shopping, going to the hairdresser and worrying about such pressing questions as ‘are my sunglasses crooked?’ And they, too, are willfully intent on numbing themselves to life – Valium, Thorazine, downers and heroin are their favorite drugs; soap operas, MTV, and video games, their idea of recreation. Most of the time, they are too stoned – wasted or strung out – to remember whom they slept with the night before; too out of it to even get to the right restaurant or right party on the right day.”

New York Times review of Less Than Zero, 1985

Welcome to the 1980s, when greed was good, Frankie said relax, and we all wanted our MTV. On July 24, Litquake will flash you back to the Pastel decade, complete with a full-service Dynasty/New Wave makeup bar, Sparkle Motion channeling the Solid Gold dancers, DJ Toph One on the turntables and some of our favorite Bay Area writers reading iconic literary works from the era! Proceeds to benefit the Lit Crawl 2014.

You are not the kind of guy who would be at a place like this at this time of the morning. But here you are, and you cannot say that the terrain is entirely unfamiliar, although the details are fuzzy. You are at a nightclub talking to a girl with a shaved head. The club is either Heartbreak or the Lizard Lounge. All might come clear if you could just slip into the bathroom and do a little more Bolivian Marching Powder. Then again, it might not. A small voice inside you insists that this epidemic lack of clarity is a result of too much of that already.—Jay McInerneyBright Lights, Big City


  • Joshua Mohr reading Bret Easton Ellis
  • Alia Volz reading Tama Janowitz
  • Andrew Dugas reading Jay McInerney
  • Hollie Hardy reading from Carrie Fisher’s Postcards from the Edge
  • Michelle Tea reading from The Official Preppy Handbook
  • Eddie Muller reading Tom Wolfe
  • Litquake’s own Jack Boulware as Emcee, channeling his VeeJay superpowers

I don’t like him…he makes me feel like he’s going to throw me in a coffin and walk around on top of it.Tama JanowitzSlaves of New York


  • Sparkle Motion dance duo channeling the Solid Gold Dancers
  • 80s DJ Toph One
  • 80s fashion show with looks ranging from prep to punk
  • New Wave/Dynasty makeup bar
  • Vintage films
  • Dress-up bin replete with leg warmers, fingerless gloves, scrunchies, and other glorious items from the cutting edge of ‘80s style

Dress code: shoulder pads optional but recommended!

I shot through my twenties like a luminous thread through a dark needle, blazing toward my destination: Nowhere.”
— Carrie FisherPostcards from the Edge

Runner-up at the MOTH’s 2014 SF GRANDslam Championship!

3 07 2014

This April, I told a story at the legendary Castro Theater – before a crowd of 1,400 people!

Despite Celtic knots in my belly and severe danger of losing my shit completely – I did just fine, thank you.070

SF Weekly’s 2014 “Best Of” Award!

24 05 2014

Best Writers Without a Book San Francisco 2014

By Evan Karp

Chances are you could make a list of more than 10 people you know right now who deserve to be on this list. In a highly unscientific Facebook poll, 124 participants answered my question: Who is your favorite Bay Area writer without a book? A total of 190 writers were nominated; unsurprisingly, “me” was the most common answer, at 14 votes. To honor that, here are 14 of our must-reads (in no particular order):

Siamak Vossoughi
Writes beautifully simple meditations on living an ethical life, with a lucid voice of reason making sense of the world around it.

Alia Volz
Funny, dark, bizarre, worldly, hyperlocal … Volz is a rare talent who will always surprise you.

Nate Waggoner
With a masterful use of voice that dances the line between sarcasm and sincerity, Waggoner may be best described as hilariously outrageous and absurd.

Graham Gremore
So comically precise in his storytelling that sentences frequently make you laugh just for the tone in which they are written.

Erika Staiti
Currently working on a prose manuscript called The Undying Present, Staiti uses multiple and shifting pronouns for unnamed characters.

Elizabeth Bernstein
The writing coach and Grotto-ite has had stories in the Los Angeles Times Sunday magazine and the San Francisco Bay Guardian (she won its fiction contest), and her plays have been produced at theaters including Exit and Impact.

Kai Carlson-Wee
Recent Stegner Fellow who won the Missouri Review‘s Jeffrey E. Smith Editors’ Prize, Carlson-Wee writes poems that contain a calm sort of post-chaos ferocity.

Brittany Billmeyer-Finn
Wrote a manuscript called The Meshes based on the short film and techniques of filmmaker Maya Deren, focusing on the intersections of witness and spectatorship, voyeurism and viewership; when she finished, she translated the work into a play entitled The Meshes in Two Acts.

Nic Alea
Uses a stunning combination of mysticism and body-intensive imagery to address identity and belonging. Co-founded and hosts The New Shit Show, one of the best open mics in the Bay Area.

Cheena Marie Lo
Lo’s writing deals with identity and the other in different ways. From a work in progress: “i am learning how to be in my own body in relation to foreclosure and underwater mortgage rates.”

Marcus Lund
A recent Mills MFA alum who writes some of everything, Lund’s short fiction is packed with wonder and exuberance and often humor.

Mu~thoni Kiarie
Winner of the San Francisco Foundation’s Joseph Henry Jackson Award for her novel in progressThe Secret Ibis, her dissertation at Mills College, Kiarie is an alumna of the Voices of Our Nations Arts program.

Sarah Ciston
Co-author of a forthcoming Invisible City Audio Tours choose-your-own-adventure project called Make It Your Mission, Ciston is finishing a manuscript called Song of Ourselves — an anthemic exploration of the We Generation.

Carolyn Ho
Ho’s work is wry and usually very funny. She’s good at letting things unfold and tying loose threads back together, which may or may not have something to do with her origami expertise.


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