Though Mississippi looms larger when it comes to the written word, Arkansas is home to some stunningly good literary resources these days. The Oxford American up in Conway comes to mind, as do writers like Trenton Lee Stewart and (for those who don't mind a little cheese in their blood pudding) Charlaine Harris of Magnolia. There's one up-and-coming literary light in the state, however, that most probably haven't heard of: “The Exquisite Corpse.”
An annual literary journal produced by UCA's Department of Writing, The Exquisite Corpse is edited by the Romanian-born writer, filmmaker and NPR contributor Andrei Codrescu, who now lives in Arkansas. Though the journal leans toward the experimental — making it a kind of more serious brother to the absurdist journal McSweeney's — there is a lot to be enjoyed in the new second issue ($19.99, softcover) that just hit the stands.
The joy starts on the cover, which features an exceedingly rare illustration by the celebrated cartoonist R. Crumb. Crumb lives in France and apparently despises modern communication techniques, which makes appearances of his artwork rather hard to come by these days. Crumb's letter to Codrescu — reproduced in the artist's tiny handwriting as it arrived, and detailing how his work should be printed (“These young upstarts with their computers, their Photoshop, they can't resist fucking with the graphics,” he writes) and his love of occult books and magazines — is a joy unto itself. In addition to loads of finely wrought poetry and fiction, some translated work, and reviews, the issue features an interesting article on the court case against the family that apparently forged a will to rip off Jack Kerouac's royalty payments and papers. Overall it's a journal of the highest order, and one that Arkansas should be proud to have in its cultural bookshelf. Find one soon and check it out.
At 8 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 20, at Bear's Den in Conway, contributors and editors of The Exquisite Corpse, including Andrei Condrescu, will read from original works and sign copies of issue two. Other featured readers include Philip Martin, John Vanderslice and Larry Betz. The event is free. Call 501-450-5134 for more information.