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Kiosk Magazine - UCIrvine Welcome

editor's note

on quickness

Welcome to our fourth issue of kiosk: a magazine of literary journalism. This year you will notice some changes to our design and organization. But what has not changed is the time each of our writers took to devise, report, and craft their stories. This is a painstaking process that is reflected in the richly varied narratives about diverse people and places. It is something that defies the easy answer or the glib response. What the authors published in this issue represent is an anachronistic attention to detail in their storytelling, some of which occurs at an almost geologic pace. All in all, these stories reject quickness and the new in favor of an antiquated, and some might even say outdated, slow pace. Which is a strange thing to pair with something as current and amenable to quick change as the web-magazine format. But I think that the publishing of slow tales via this fast medium speaks to the issue of narrative itself -- what is does and what it delivers that no other medium can match.

Novelist Italo Calvino wrote of speed, narrative, and the threat of technology to the book and to literature in his Harvard Lectures, later published as Six Memos for the Next Milennium. Composed in 1985, the lectures presciently suggest that impending advances in technology might cause us to call into question the role of literature and of the book. "I don't much feel like indulging in this sort of speculation," Calvino writes. "My confidence in the future of literature consists in the knowledge that there are things that only literature can give us, by means specific to it." In the same way, the stories published in this issue of kiosk are attempting something that can only be done by means of narrative nonfiction, which is to offer a glimpse into a real but unknown world that is potentially inaccessible to the reader otherwise. These writers take us to a place we have never visited before, and we spend sufficient time there to walk away knowing something important about it and about its people. This access to the inaccessible is the hallmark of Jason Davis's Iraq war memoir, and of Jennifer Lee's reconstruction of a period before the fall of Saigon when a Vietnamese family was temporarily lost to each other. Sara Qadr's first-person account of her family's crisis, and Jennifer Lee's chronicle of two sisters facing the end of a life also bring us a privileged view of very private emotional spaces.

These stories can't be told in a rush or reported with an eye on the clock. Also, they need to be read in a way that allows the narratives to unfold in time.

This is not to say that the only stories of value are the slow ones. As Calvino observes, a story is "an enchantment that acts on the passing of time, either contracting it or dilating it." In other words, story, and its accompanying narrative, is magical; it can slow down time, contract it, bend it, and even refract it. This is what happens in Hong Kong Tran's account of Agent Orange contamination and its impact on her family. Her tale hangs in suspended animation, much like the lives of those affected by dioxin contamination who have been unable to find legal recognition in the U.S. courts. Simlarly, Robyn Herian's nature story on the dwindling habitat of the Orange County cactus wren exists in a time apart from the usual bustle of this metropolitan area. The story unfolds in a nature preserve closed even to most scientists, a place where it takes 20 years to grow a cactus crucial to the bird's survival.

While the impact of narrative upon time is important, ultimately what Calvino thinks literature delivers is a kind of impossible communication. "In an age when other fantastically speedy, widespread media are triumphing, and running the risk of flattening all communication onto a single, homogeneous surface, the function of literature is communication between things that are different simply because they are different, not blunting but even sharpening the differences between them, following the true bent of written language." In this issue, readers will be brought into the company of Deanna Ong's graffiti tagger, Khassaundra Delgado's surfer-historians, and Janelle Flores's Parisian cast of characters, all in the interest of communicating differences across time and location.

In the end, Calvino urges us to "hurry slowly," which is, I think, a wonderful way to think of the stories in this issue of kiosk. They take us somewhere, but all at their own paces, sometimes contracting and sometimes expanding time to suit the needs of their particular, original narratives.

patricia pierson
december 2010

Arts District

david hartstein