ECKLEBURG BOOK CLUB |The Blue Box by Sallie Bingham

Blue Bos


The Blue Box by Sallie Bingham

Imagine a forgotten blue box containing a snarl of letters, memoir, college bluebooks, yellowed manuscripts, and deeply creased articles—the earthly remains of three ancestors. From just such a discovery, Sallie Bingham has woven a family history centered on her great-grandmother Sallie LeFroy, grandmother Helena Caperton, and mother Mary Bingham. The narrative spans more than a century, from the Civil War through the Jazz Age; each determined woman had a penchant for the written word.  In a memoir, Sallie LeFroy puts forward a squeaky clean history for her descendants; Helena scrapes together a living writing popular stories; and we watch Mary and Barry Bingham’s romance unfold in letters—an agonizing, charming conversation that spans years until it finally results in their marriage. Fans of Sallie Bingham’s Passion and Prejudice will appreciate anew Bingham’s eye for colorful detail and dramatic family dynamics. She beautifully demonstrates an inheritance of emotion, morality, ideology, and most lasting of all, irreverence.



“The author’s family history is easy to read but not frivolous. Issues of race, privilege, and class arise, as does the ugly topic of money (or lack thereof) in this colorful snapshot of Bingham’s family. Fans of women’s history and devotees of Southern family sagas will enjoy taking this detour into nonfiction territory.”
— Library Journal

“It is her admiration for the writing of her forebears—and the link that a love of letters provides between generations—that drives this tribute. She also takes time to stress the effects of southern patriarchy on these women, and it’s interesting to see the progression out of those constraints after several long generations. Bingham also appropriately acknowledges the racial and class injustices that these privileged, white women represent or, more likely, espoused. Her mindfulness is further proof of that progress.”
— Booklist


Publisher Information

  • Paperback: 248 pages
  • Publisher: Sarabande Books (September 16, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-13: 978-1936747788



Bingham2Sallie Bingham published her first novel with Houghton Mifflin in 1961, shortly after graduating from Radcliffe College. Since then she has published four collections of short stories, four novels, the memoir Passion and Prejudice, and several plays, many of which have been produced. Bingham was Book Editor for The Courier-Journal in Louisville, Kentucky and has been a director of the National Book Critics Circle. She is the founder of The Kentucky Foundation for Women and The Sallie Bingham Archive for Women’s Papers and Culture at Duke University.

INTERVIEW | David Tomas Martinez

Released this past May by Sarabande Books is Hustle, a debut collection of poetry by David Tomas Martinez. Hustle, spotlights the intersection of race and masculinity. Partially about growing up in an urban environment, his poetry reaches beyond describing life’s difficulties and poetically grapples with structures of power and marginalization. Through his writing, Martinez conveys the fluidity and plurality of identity. But even more so, he gives a poetic voice to experiences that society tends to stereotype, ignore, or completely silence. 

Chelsey Clammer: What are the main themes Hustle explores?

David Tomas Martinez: Among the themes Hustle investigates, some are gender, power, race, social class, sexuality; most of the large social structures we navigate on a daily basis. You know, pretty much that thing we call life. That being said, I wasn’t trying to write a book of overtly political poetry because I think it is problematic to begin a poem with a desired intention, particularly a political one. Seriously, a poet beginning a reading with “I have a long sequence of political poetry” makes we want to break out the flamethrower, for multiple reasons. However, I am a person in this world, aware of various pressures social structures exert on my life, so it only natural that my book will have some implied political beliefs. But to combat the calcifying effect of the overly politicized poem, I address the personal, entering adulthood amongst the difficulties in an urban environment, for instance. Honestly though, none of these are really satisfactory. It irks me when I hear others describe my book as “written about gangs, stealing cars, and shooting people.” If Hustle is no more than a voyeuristic jaunt through the ‘hood, then I have done a disservice to the reader and myself by having less than nuanced speakers. I have been pretty fortunate, though, that many people have been very generous with their praise of Hustle.

CC: How do you feel poetry was the best way for you to write about these themes? What about poetry do you feel gave you a better avenue to look at violence and masculinity in a way other genres might not have?

DTM: I don’t believe I was built to only write poetry, so my answer may suggest ambivalence towards poetry. Don’t believe it.

The best poems think us through them, and that is a wonderful moment when you can connect with someone through their words.

But my relationship with poetry is problematic. Firstly, I refuse to view my life through the prism of poet, as if all things happening are experiences for my poems. I am cautious of this crystallization of experience because most of my life has been spent not writing poems, granted, much of my time spent not writing poetry was unhappy, but I would have found something to release the stress and pressure of everyday life, some sort of outlet. Used to be basketball, now its poetry that makes life tolerable. But mostly I don’t view my life as a poem I haven’t written because I believe it’s a horrible way to live, and I refuse to live as a puppet to my poetry. Also, poetry is my job, and that can cause serious problems with a writer’s work. When it is your job, then your livelihood depends on writing good poems, or your happiness depends on writing good poems, which can do some loopy things to a poet’s head. I try and pretend poetry and I are just friends with benefits and not married, though we are. I do this so I can gain some distance from any goals when I write. I guess that’s akin to roleplaying. So far that mindset has worked. However, I really do love poetry, and I am completely encamped in the writing of it. For me, a poem is a finite moment in time, exhibiting some resolution of a problem. The best poems think us through them, and that is a wonderful moment when you can connect with someone through their words. And only poetry does it, usually, quickly. In fits and spurts. In a way that I have often heard called shamanic, magics dance to the chant of a human voice. No other genre of writing captures this phenomenon as well as poetry.

CC: Thinking about masculinity, race and violence, how do you feel your work reveals as well as complicates the intersections of these aspects in our society?

DTM: I’m half Mexican, half white, and I grew up in a predominately black (it was called Lil Afrika) neighborhood, so I never feel fully entrenched in one sort of identity. And though I identify as Chican@ and am interested in the political issues for Latin@s, I like to think I can move with fluidity in many different environments. I am friends with professors and pimps, which can be exhibited in my writing by changes in registers of language, code switching, and vastly ranging allusions; images. Most of the “gang” events I talk about in Hustle are over 20 years old, since those events took place the cross pollination among cultures has increased, in my opinion, which may speak to the plurality some readers identify in the poems. I think Hustle challenges our current interpretation of masculinity by placing the speakers of my poems in difficult situations, where they struggle with the necessity to be strong because of environment or societal and community expectations. By that I mean, I feel that current ideas of gender roles are anachronistic, placing pressure on the men in our society to live up to a standard that may, or may not, reflect their own desires and dreams. Masculinity is strange in that it is completely enveloping of my life, yet there is little conversation about its effects on the life of men, and how this affects the way men treat women in this society. I don’t see many constructive talks, at least. Essentially, because gender roles are unwritten rules, men model their ideas of masculinity by community shaming and adulation, by the men we know, by the image we consume. That can be a very difficult learning curve, and what becomes a byproduct of this process is prejudice based on stereotypes. In Hustle I was trying to give a voice to the young urban minority male because often it is silenced before it has a chance to sound off.

Magics dance to the chant of a human voice. No other genre of writing captures this phenomenon as well as poetry.

CC: What sort of distance did you need from the situations discussed in the poems in order to be able to write about them?

DTM: Distance is very important for my writing process. Distance allows for uncomfortable situations or scenarios in my life to not be subscribed overly sentimental slants of perspective for the speakers of the poems. But there still has to be some emotional resonances, some joint that hurt when it rains for the poems to resonate with the reader, obviously. For instance, in “Forgetting Willie James Jones” I was working through resentment over the shooting of my friend Maurice. At the time, almost twenty years after the fact, I was still angry that Maurice had been completely ignored by the San Diego news media, and that Willie was being memorialized, having streets named after him, and basically sainted. For me the lack attention to the death of Maurice spoke to the muzzling of my community by forces outside of my community. At 17, I didn’t posses the language to understand that my resentment was not with Willie but the lack of empathy for my friend. I also couldn’t process that Willie was valedictorian, wrestled, and had a full ride to Brown, while Maurice was a gang member killed in a gang killing, that’s a gang of gang related issues. I knew that my resentment was wrong, so I set out to write a poem about this time to resolve these issues. Without some sort of distance it would have been impossible.

CC: What was your process for writing these poems? For how long did you work on this collection?

DTM: I seem to be answering these questions, partly at least, a question ahead. I’m starting to really question if I’m not a mutant or something. Professor Mex, if you will.  In my process, each poem has a problem and resolution. Now I use this as a very rough analogy, there need not be a fixing of some problem, and the problem can be undeclared, but as reader I better go some damn where. Often I will have some event, or feeling, or catalyst “inspiring” the poem, basically a story I want to tell the reader. Much of Hustle was written in this manner, as I described for “FWJJ.” I also like to read critical and theoretical work that always draws ideas out of me. I do plenty of late night reading of this kind of work. It took about 5 years to write Hustle but my process has sped up exponentially. Most of the time needed was time to emotionally process. My process for new poems takes much less time. Knock on wood.

CC: Are there other poets you turned to in order to see how masculinity was reckoned with in poetry?

DTM: Not really. Tony Hoagland has been a big influence on me as a writer, homeboy, and teacher.

I was trying to give a voice to the young urban minority male because often it is silenced before it has a chance to sound off.

The wrestling to define masculinity in Tony’s writing was such a huge influence on me that I tried to take a slightly different approach. I was not going to be eaten by that cucuy. To be honest, theoretical work was really a much larger influence on me than any one writer, and thinkers, such as bell hooks, greatly influenced how I think about masculinity and race. I really am a big fan of her. Though now that I think about it, Campbell McGrath influenced me with his use of form and the way he talks about man shit. So did Hoagland and McGrath. Tupac, too. Well I guess I lied because I start with none influenced my thoughts on masculinity then name four. Well you know what they say, “there are two rules for success: 1) Never reveal everything you know.

CC: Your publisher, Sarabande, provides a reader’s guide for your book. How do you see your collection being used in an educational setting?

DTM: Students have responded very positively to Hustle. Plenty of high school and college students have told me they don’t like poetry but they liked my book. I don’t really know how to take that. Optimistic dtm thinks, *damn I must have wrote the book of my generation. I knew I was getting canonized.* But pessimistic dtm thinks, *you just wrote a book that people who don’t like poetry like. You are Billy Collins. Your career is over.* Did I just use the third person? Yes dtm did. Anyways, there are also practical reasons for writing a teaching guide, sales. I try to be practical about these things and grind to help out Sarabande because they have been really great to me. I did tattoo the logo on my wrist.

CC: What are you working on now?

DTM: I’m thirteen pages into a new manuscript. The new poems have personal elements and stories but the associative nature make them less dependent on one defined setting. Highly associative leaps are in Hustle, but the new manuscripts pushed jump further in their associations. Poems from this manuscript have been published in Poetry and Oxford American, so I feel like I am off to a very strong start. I edit Gulf Coast’s Reviews and Interviews section, so I am working on a round table consisting of myself, Roger Reeves, Natalie Diaz, Jamaal May, Tarfia Faizullah, and moderated by Alan Shapiro. We were all fellows at Breadloaf this summer, and we are all people of color, so we will discuss the shifting center of attention in American Poetry. I’m finishing my PhD at Houston. I am also writing a memoir about masculinity and fatherhood. I become a father at 17, so I’m writing about that experience. It is going to be pretty taxing.

I think HUSTLE challenges our current interpretation of masculinity by placing the speakers of my poems in difficult situations, where they struggle with the necessity to be strong because of environment or societal and community expectations.

David Tomas Martinez‘s work has been published or is forth coming in Poetry Magazine, Oxford American, Forklift; Ohio, Poetry International, Gulf Coast, Drunken Boat, Poetry Daily, Split This Rock, RHINO, Ampersand Review, Caldera Review, Verse Junkies, California Journal of Poetics, Toe Good, and others. DTM has been featured or written about in Poets & Writers, Publishers Weekly, NPR’s All Things Considered, NBC Latino, Buzzfeed, Houstonia Magazine, Houston Art & Culture, Houston Chronicle, San Antonio Express News, Bull City Press, and Border Voices. He is a Ph.D. candidate in the University of Houston’s Creative Writing program, with an emphasis in Poetry. Martinez is also the Reviews and Interviews Editor for Gulf Coast: A Journal of Literature and Fine Arts, and a Breadloaf and CantoMundo Fellow. His debut collection of poetry, Hustle, was released in 2014 by Sarabande Books, which won honorable mention in the Antonio Cisneros Del Moral prize.

Chelsey Clammer has been published in The Rumpus, Essay Daily, and The Nervous Breakdown among many others. Her essay “A Striking Resemblance” received an Honorary Mention for Water~Stone Review’s 2014 Judith Kitchen Award in Nonfiction. Clammer is the Managing Editor and Nonfiction Editor for The Doctor T.J. Eckleburg Review. Her first collection of essays, There Is Nothing Else to See Here, is forthcoming from The Lit Pub in 2015.  Her second collection, BodyHome, will be published in Spring 2015 by Hopewell Publications. You can read more of her writing at:

INTERVIEW | Angela Pelster

Pelster headshotWhy write a collection of literary essays centered on trees? In Angela Pelster’s debut collection of essays, Limber, she presents fascinating stories that are, in various ways, about trees. But more importantly, Limber is about how people from many different generations and time periods relate to one another through both nature and society. And along with that, Pelster’s prose is simply delicious. In this interview, Pelster discusses her process of researching and writing about trees, discovering just how strange the world is, where myth and truth bleed into one another and how the unpredictability of the world is both unnerving and gorgeous. Limber was released by Sarabande Books in April 2014.

And be sure to check out The Doctor TJ Eckleburg Review’s book club this week featuring Limber


Q: What attracted you to writing a collection of essays centered around trees? How did the idea come about?

Angela Pelster: Originally I had planned on writing a collection of essays about some founding saints of Eastern Canada, but as I was researching that, I stumbled onto a list of famous trees on Wikipedia. It was fascinating. There are so many strange, ugly, heartbreaking, inspiring and terrifying stories about trees that I started to wonder why. Trees, more than any other living thing, have been claimed for both sacred and common purposes, and that interests me.


Q: What sort of research did you do for these essays? And if there wasn’t much research, what were some of the main aspects of your life (family, pictures, past writing, etc) you drew upon in order to write the collection?

AP: There was a lot of research! Sometimes I thought my brain was going to drip out of my ears if I had to read one more thing about trees. Most of it was historical and scientific information from newspapers, environmental articles, websites, libraries – the regular kind of research. But I always started from a place of curiosity. I’d bump into a weird article about a guy with a tree growing in his lung, or my family would tell me the awful story about a boy stabbed in the eye with a branch while playing hockey, and then I would go from there. I went on a trip to see the Burmis tree in Alberta, and some other trips for essays that didn’t make the cut for the book. I’m sure I still got some things wrong, it’s inevitable, but I tried very hard to do the information justice. That’s the trick with writing essays sometimes – it takes a long time to figure out how much research is enough, when you can stop reading, when you need to start writing.


angela quoteQ: Some of the essays in Limber read as stories of other people. How do you approach nonfiction when the narrator is not a central “I.”

By not worrying if I should call it nonfiction! I think the terms fiction and nonfiction are sometimes helpful, but mostly problematic. The more you research any kind of “facts” you begin to see that pretty quickly. The essay called “Inheritance”about The Tree That Owned Itself in Georgia is an excellent example of this. Not only are the records incredibly contradictory, there is the possibility that the original story never existed at all, and the fact that the story is based around a tree that used to grow where the “son” of that tree now grows. It’s not even the original tree. What is important is the story itself, and what the story is saying about the people who tell it – what they want to be true and how they want to see the world. I’m interested in how people try to make sense of life.


Q: This collection brings up many issues about truth and myth. How do you think those two concepts engage with each other in your writing?

AP: The best thing about writing is that you don’t, or, you shouldn’t, understand how things are working together as you go, so as I thought through the ideas of myth and fact while writing Limber, I was trying to figure that out myself. There is a power in fact that can’t be denied. That a piece of tree was discovered in a young man’s lung in Russia is incredible, in large part, because it actually happened. The world is strange. It unnerves us with its unpredictability sometimes. But what I am most interested in is the meeting between myth and fact. What happens when you squish those two things together, or, what is that in-between world that exists where the terms fact and fiction are inadequate, places like faith and love? You don’t have to look very hard to see where absolute certainties about the unknowable lead people to do all sorts of horrible things to one another. That’s not to say I don’t want to know everything I possibly can, it’s just that sometimes it’s easier to talk about these things without worrying about false ideas of fact and fiction and the categorization of them.


LImber284Q: In her introduction to Trespasses, a memoir consisting of vignettes, Lacy Johnson writes that as she interviewed her family members, she saw how at certain points “the facts got in the way of the truth.” Did you experience anything similar to this as you were writing your collection?

AP: I understand what she means by that and I can see how it might happen, but that wasn’t my experience. There wasn’t a truth I needed to tell in Limber, so there was nothing to get in the way of anything. It was about discovering things as I went along, which is part of my writing process – if I think I know how an essay is going to develop and end before I get to that part, I get bored and don’t want to write anymore. I always have to force myself not to look too far ahead of where I am.


Q: What are a few recommendations you have for books that explore truth and myth, or books that you think are great examples of what a personal essay can be.


Ann Carson – Autobiography of Red

Lawrence Weschler – Mr. Wilson’s Cabinet of Wonders

Gertrude Stein – The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas

James Galvin – The Meadow

David Wojnarowicz – Close to the Knives


Q: What are you working on now?

AP: This year I got married, moved to a new city, started a new job at a new university and my first collection of essays came out, so I gave myself permission to go easy on any writing expectations and to follow my curiosity wherever it might go. It seems to have landed on a weird meditation on the city of Baltimore, its history, its poverty and beauty, its writers, artists and a twelfth century mystic named Hidegard of Bingen. We’ll see what comes of it!


Pelster quote


Angela Pelster-Wiebe received her B.Ed. from the University of Alberta and her M.F.A. from the Nonfiction Writing Program at the University of Iowa. Her children’s novel The Curious Adventures of India Sophia (River Books, 2005) won the Golden Eagle Children’s Choice award, and Limber (Sarabande Books), her collection of essays about trees, is forthcoming in April, 2014. She has also published essays with Hotel Amerika, Granta, Seneca Review, Fourth Genre and The Gettysburg Review amongst others. She was an Iowa Arts fellow from 2009-2011, and now teaches Creative Nonfiction Writing at Towson University in Baltimore.