In January 2008 I met Renee Gladman for the fist time when she flew to San Francisco from Brown University, where she teaches, to give a reading at my alma mater, the California College of the Arts (formerly CCAC). Since my time there, the San Francisco campus has acquired an entire building devoted to its graduate writing program. Renee read in a spacious room with her back to door length windows overlooking an urban garden. She read from work so recent she showed us the editing marks she was still making on the page. She then read from Newcomer Can’t Swim, a book that redefines the term flaneur by creating confusion that refuses to resolve itself into clarity for confusion’s sake. Being lost is a value in this book. Book designer Jeff Clark’s abstract cover resembles the hull of a barge submerged in rusty water. >
When CCA faculty, Gloria Frym introduced Renee, she said some people might interpret her writing as surreal, but they would be wrong. During the Q & A Renee said that after writing one sentence, she’ll often write another that exists in an entirely different reality. A visual echo of this idea, the section titles run off the edges of the pages. Renee described the form of Newcomer as a collection of tableaus or settings for performative acts by characters. Tableaus they may be, but there is nothing still about them.
Posted by Ramsay Breslin, editor, Newcomer Can’t Swim by Renee Gladman, published by Kelsey Street Press in December 2007.