The Queen of the Night, new novel by CWW Fiction Faculty Alexander Chee, debuts Feb 2

QueenoftheNightCongratulations to novelist Alexander Chee, our featured fiction faculty member on our 2016 Summer in Granada Writing Retreat, for his new novel The Queen of the Night, which debuts in bookstores on February 2, 2016! Alexander Chee will be teaching during our Summer in Granada, Andalucía, Spain Writing Retreat (July 28-Aug 5, 2016).

Alexander Chee was born in Rhode Island, and raised in South Korea, Guam and Maine. He is a recipient of the 2003 Whiting Writers’ Award, a 2004 NEA Fellowship in Fiction, and residency fellowships from the MacDowell Colony, the VCCA, Ledig House, the Hermitage and Civitella Ranieri. His first novel, Edinburgh (Picador, 2002), is a winner of the Michener Copernicus Prize, the AAWW Lit Award and the Lambda Editor’s Choice Prize, and was a Publisher’s Weekly Best Book of the Year and a Booksense 76 selection.

In The Queen of the Night, Lilliet Berne is a sensation of the Paris Opera, a legendary soprano with every accolade except an original role, every singer’s chance at immortality. When one is finally offered to her, she realizes with alarm that the libretto is based on a hidden piece of her past. Only four could have betrayed her: one is dead, one loves her, one wants to own her. And one, she hopes, never thinks of her at all.

Read an excerpt from the first chapter of the novel below, and the full first chapter on Longreads:

“…I seemed a stranger to myself, a changeling placed here in my life at some point I couldn’t remem­ber, and the glass of the mirror at the entrance to the palace seemed made from the same amber of the dream that surrounded me, a life that was not life, and which I could not seem to escape no matter where I went or what I sang.

And so their celebration of me that night at the ball, sincere as it was, felt as if it were happening in the life neighboring mine, visible through a glass.

I tell you I was distracted, but it was much more than that. For I was also focused intensely, waiting for one thing and one thing only, my attention turned toward something I couldn’t quite see but was sure was there, coming for me through the days ahead. I’d had a premonition in accepting the role of Marguerite that, in returning to Paris this time, I would be here for a meeting with my destiny. Here I would find what would transform me, what would return me to life and make this life the paradise I was so sure it should be…”

Here is Chee reading an excerpt from the novel at Franklin Park Bar and Beer Garden in Crown Heights, Brooklyn.

Read more here. Join Alexander Chee for his talk at the PEN/Faulkner Reading Series at Bus Boy & Poets on February 11, 2016!

Baba’s Ghost : A Review of Alex Mahgoub’s Baba – A New York Fringe Festival Play

In this one-person show, Baba, performer and writer Alex Mahgoub takes the audience through the story of his father’s murder when Mahgoub was only ten years old. Through piecing together the splinters of this violent event, he recognizes how his perceptions of masculinity, power, and his own identity were shaped in response. In his artist statement, Mahgoub writes that he was “haunted” by this story before he wrote it, that he still finds himself sobbing on stage with genuine emotion even after performing the well-received show so many times at various theatres and festivals. Baba was voted favorite solo show and favorite performance of the Capital Fringe Festival in Washington DC by DC Metro in July 2015, and all of his performances in the New York Fringe Festival from August 15-29th were entirely sold-out. The dramatic delivery of Mahgoub’s loss of his Baba changes his life and perception of the human experience from an early age, and births the ghost which Mahgoub must still learn from throughout his teen and adult years. Watching Mahgoub’s performance does not, however, feel like an exorcism but rather like witnessing someone learning to live with that ghost.

Mahgoub’s Baba (Arabic for father), takes the role of his primary teacher. From early childhood, Baba is larger than life–a superhero. He’s the Egyptian James Dean on a motorcycle, the immigrant who came here with nothing and built himself an empire, redolent of the Cool Water cologne scent of masculinity. He’s the leather jacket and gold medallion pinnacle of manliness, and teaches his son the reality  of money, hard work, and success. Because his father died in an act of bravado that perhaps could have been avoided, he sees his father undone by the same pride that made him appear so invincible. Mahgoub begins to question the authenticity of his father’s machismo and begins to define himself against it. He was going to be the nice guy. At the same time, both the pressure and inspiration of his father’s expectations for his son, what is is to be a man, linger.

This specter of masculine power hits home the complicated father-son dynamics that many children experience: striving to live up to a father’s expectations, viewing his father’s word as the ‘last word,’ and wondering how a ‘traditional man’ would act. That image of unquestionable masculine authority is eventually shattered when a child learns that the father figure is fallible. And still, Baba’s ghost follows his son throughout his decision-making and  the winding path of his career. Mahgoub wonders what his Baba would think of the man he’s become, and at the same time ruminates on the loss of ever knowing. It is a loss conjured in such a way that the audience feels and can connect with, knowing it’s a loss we will one day go through, if we haven’t already.

The play weaves between the stated and understated, casting the most difficult topics to the realm of memory and flashback while the easier, more quotidian details of life are expressed primarily through expository monologue, suggesting that while there is an acute awareness and acceptance of the darkest parts of his reality, he is still processing the trauma at the root of his being. Rather than addressing his concerns about what his macho father would think of his sexuality through exposition, he takes the audience through a vivid flashback to winning a sterling silver necklace for being the top saleschild in his school’s fundraiser, and coming home wearing it with pride. His father demands that he takes it off because, “Necklaces are for faggots,” and Mahgoub casts the necklace in a river, desperate to be rid of the epithet. This memory arises later in his twenties, after his first kiss with a charming man he meets at a party, and while he does not ask himself what his father would think of his bisexuality, the audience feels his concern. In this way, the harshest aspects of his life are not intellectualized–they are presented in raw fragments of memory, resurfacing as he’s triggered in the present. The performance is in many ways a trauma narrative, fluctuating between accepting and looking away from overwhelming events and experiences through text and subtext, exposition and flashback, the bare nerves of suffering and the cloak of humor.

The balance between levity and darkness is particularly striking: alternating between the starker memories of loss and fear, and then cartoonish caricatures of his sister, mother, father, and other people in his life. And while the audience did not always laugh when the script perhaps expected us to, we had the authentic experience of watching a person reconcile tragedy through humor when he is the only one who can laugh, even through the observer’s thoughtful silence, because to go on, he must laugh. And not coincidentally, the jokes that made the audience laugh loudly preceded the most scarring recollections. But this is how we live with ghosts– the ghosts of expectation, of loss, and of a past that can only be evoked through art. By the end of the show, the audience feels that Mahgoub has struck an ever-shifting reconciliation between his father and the overbearing question of what it is for him, Alex Mahgoub, to be a man. “My father lived his life with his chest out, ready for the fight. I live my life with my heart open, ready to be the nice guy.”

Keep an eye out for his upcoming book #SelfieGeneration. Find out more at and

– Jessica Reidy & Viktor Pachas