Jeffrey Sartain

Jeffrey Sartain

On Thursday at noon, the University of Houston-Victoria/American Book Review Reading Series welcomes prolific writer, artist and publisher Debra Di Blasi.

Her work includes six novels and collections, as well as numerous collaborations, anthologies, and edited volumes. In a 2011 interview with “Forbes,” Di Blasi said one of her goals with literature is to expand the “possibilities of language beyond the standard 19th-century model that is (unaccountably) still used today.”

Di Blasi’s work explores the intersection of words, images and technologies that permeate contemporary culture. For example, “The Jiri Chronicles and Other Fictions” challenges the notion of what a book can be by combining a huge number of interconnected modes from literary and visual arts within its covers. As Di Blasi describes in an interview with “Ploughshares,” “The Jiri Chronicles” represents “a serious attempt to dissolve distinctions between real life and fictive life in the same way children (used to?) play imaginary roles in a physical environment.”

In addition to her own writing, Di Blasi is the founder and former publisher of Jaded Ibis Press, a publishing house she ran from 2008 to 2016 before passing the work on to new owners. Much like Di Blasi’s own writing, the literature published by Jaded Ibis breaks conventional rules of literature, combining media and meaning in new, unexpected ways in response to the rapidly changing technological landscape.

The arts, in all their forms, are a common language by which people define their individuality and their collective humanity, as well as their relationship to technology and society. Artistic innovations reshape the ways that people can encounter technologies and are critical to evolving an understanding of how these technologies connect individuals and society. Today, in 2018, creating a space for people to consider the interconnectedness of humanity, technology and the environment is ever more important territory to defend in the era of ubiquitous computing and pervasive technology.

By pulling together writing, visual art and computational technologies, authors today can create stunning works that do not easily fit into old, preconceived categories of art. By breaking the boundaries of convention, authors today have the opportunity to create new meaning, new forms and to challenge the restrictions of convention. Innovative, experimental fiction encompasses a wide range of creative practices around literature, and includes many forms of work with language, image and medium. Experimental and innovative writers discover new ways to portray people in today’s world, as their characters and their literary forms are deeply influenced by the technological and media landscape of their day. These kinds of experiments are truly exciting for readers who are seeking structures of meaning and feeling that reflect and comment on the world around them.

As inundated with story as contemporary culture is, with programming and content available on every connected device, most of the stories being told are simplistic in their structure and form. All too often, the stories encountered on a day-to-day basis bear little relevance on people’s lived realities. Instead, these types of formulaic stories rely on a predictable plot structure and tired old ways of depicting ideas, characters, and situations inherited from literature of earlier centuries.

Di Blasi’s literature offers a welcome respite from the same old sense of predictability and structure, as well as new forms of storytelling for the new millennium.

Please join us for this exciting opportunity to hear Debra Di Blasi share her work at noon on Thursday in UHV’s Alcorn Auditorium, 3007 N. Ben Wilson St., during a free and open reading.

Jeffrey A. Sartain is the managing editor of “American Book Review” and an assistant professor of English at the University of Houston-Victoria.

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