Last Sunday, writers and readers alike convened at downtown L.A.’s The Last Bookstore to celebrate the much-anticipated release of Black Clock 16. Located in an old bank building fit with tall columns, dim lighting and an arched ceiling, the cathedral-like Last Bookstore hosts a massive collection of new and used books and vinyl records (many for as cheap as $1!) that requires seriously superhuman strength not to peruse for hours on end. What’s more, with such artful installations as its eerie flying typewriter sculpture and a walk-through tunnel made of books, The Last Bookstore offered Black Clock the perfect setting in which to launch its dystopic Issue No. 16. As KCRW’s Michael Silverblatt put it to the crowd on Sunday: “This is an entire issue of how we’re falling apart. Here at The Last Bookstore we can come together and not fall apart.”
Seats filled quickly and stragglers settled for standing room only as Black Clock Editor Steve Erickson took the stage to present the night’s readers. Up first was Claire Phillips (author of Black Market Babies and a previous contributor to Black Clock 15) reading the entirety of her short yet impactful story “Tubular,” a science fiction piece set in a disturbingly familiar, near-future Los Angeles which has succumbed to mass societal collapse after the 2010 B.P. oil spill. Attendees on Sunday listened intently as Phillips’ characters navigated their strange, new landscape with necessary wit and numbness, even in the face of 10-foot “land-faring mutant worms.”
Next was The Contortionist’s Handbook and Dermaphoria author Craig Clevenger, who read an excerpt from his short story “Chicken Wire” while clad in a pair of snakeskin cowboy boots. Also set in and around Los Angeles, “Chicken Wire” tells the ominously humorous story of Jimmy Wynn, a failed metal band guitarist turned cab driver who spends most of his time in the Mojave desert begging his rough-and-tumble customers to pay their fares. Fans should look out for Six Finger Films’ “Smoke & Mirrors,” a short written by Clevenger and based on a chapter of his current novel-in-progress, scheduled for release later this year.
Last in the line-up was Rick Moody, author of The Ice Storm and most recently, On Celestial Music: And Other Adventures in Listening. Before reading, Moody took a moment to affectionately warn the audience, “If you happen to be of the Red State persuasion, you might want to go get coffee now.” This turned out to be good advice in the end: Moody read from his latest piece of nonfiction, entitled “Election Diary 2012” and chock full of unforgettable, fiery opinions regarding our country’s most recent presidential election race. Last Sunday’s listeners were especially tickled by his November 25, 2011 entry, in which Moody engages in a lengthy imagining of Newt Gingrich wearing diapers.
As the event came to a close, attendees mingled with the night’s readers and Black Clock staff in the relaxed atmosphere of The Last Bookstore’s main floor before slowly filtering out onto the twilit streets of downtown L.A. It was a night that proved truly surreal. Just like the issue it celebrated.
By Adriana Widdoes
an Editorial Assistant for Black Clock and an MFA Writing candidate at CalArts