In 1988, Santa Monica College launched the first issue of a literary magazine that has become one of the most respected journals of its type. The Santa Monica Review has published stories and essays by Harold Pinter, Ann Beattie, Sandra Tsing Loh, T.C. Boyle, Jervy Tervalon, and its co-founder, Jim Krusoe, who teaches creative writing at SMC. Many writers, including the Review’s co-founder and editor Andrew Tonkovich, credit Krusoe with teaching them how to write.
Krusoe and Tonkovich were on hand April 18 at a reading for the 20th anniversary of the Review, held at SMC’s new Performing Arts Center. The celebration was also part of the Rocky Young lecture series, run by SMC Associates and named for a former Vice President of SMC. Young, accompanied by his wife, was present to take a bow.
Following Tonkovich’s introduction, the first reader, novelist Michelle Latiolais, appeared on a video, reading from her novel A Proper Knowledge. The book concerns a psychiatrist who works with autistic children and how his work impacts his own experiences. Maybe it was the bleak subject matter or maybe it was the lack of her presence in the flesh, but Latiolais’s reading performance, although earnest, was a downbeat opening act.
The pace picked up, however, with Gary Amdahl, author of the short-story collection Visigoth. Described as a writer whose subject is men (as they fumble their way through life), Amdahl displayed a knack for funny characters and dialogue in his short story “The Intimidator Still Lives in Our Hearts.” One would never guess from the title that the story is based on Amdahl’s experiences as a clerk at the late, lamented Dutton’s Brentwood bookstore.
During intermission (with cookies, coffee, and music by country-rock band Slow Wreck) people noticed someone who was kneeling in front of the seats, wearing an orange prison uniform and a black hood like those used for executions. The person continued to kneel as writer/Los Angeles Times Book Editor David L. Ulin introduced the next reader, novelist and short story writer Diane Lefer. As the audience applauded, the “prisoner” strode to the microphone and removed her hood. It was Lefer. She explained that she has been doing this performance to draw attention to the plight of the prisoners at Guantanamo.
Lefer’s reading was of a short story published in a recent issue of the Review, a darkly comical tale of a woman who, after a late-term abortion, becomes involved in crafting and selling “adult novelty dolls.”
Writers Amy Gerstler and Benjamin Weissman introduced Jim Krusoe, listing the odd subjects of his stories and novels. Krusoe obliged the anticipation of those who were hoping to hear something surreal. He read from a story called “Wally,” featured in the new issue of the Review, about a young man who works in a yogurt factory – where the basement contains a group of young women preserved in acidophilus. (Don’t ask.)
This Mirror writer remembered Jim Krusoe from the days when he was poetry- reading host and workshop leader at Beyond Baroque (which he also helped to found, along with George Drury Smith). When asked, after the reading, about his evolution from poet to fiction writer, Krusoe said that he had reached a “dead end” for a while with poetry and began instead to write fiction. He has published five books of poetry as well as several short story collections and two novels. But for all the esteem in which his colleagues and students hold him, he said of his fiction, “I’m still learning about it.”
Santa Monica Review is for sale through its website (smc.edu/sm_review), at the SMC Bookstore, Beyond Baroque in Venice, and other local booksellers.