Black Lawrence Press

Primitivity

Winner of the Spring 2017 Black River Chapbook Competition

The landscape of Amy Sayre Baptista’s Primitivity is mapped by cracked asphalt and dark woods, by broken bridges spanning greedy rivers, sunbaked dirt and ghost roads, séances held in gun repair shops, and retribution exacted in long grasses and hog pits and Segway tracks. These nine stories weave together a community borrowed from history and spanning centuries in a re-imagined Pike County, a geographical conundrum found in three different states yet joined by the same hungry river.

From strangers to spiritualists to families bound by love and blood, the characters who populate Sayre Baptista’s stories tell tall tales of survivorship in the American south. To enter Primitivity’s pages is to arrive in a harsh yet beguiling topography of ghosts, thieves, and a hangman’s lament.

FROM SPIRIT TRANSCRIPT #41: LIBERTY BRISCOE, RETIRED MADAM, DEATH 1882

Working girls never shed a man’s skin. You can wash his scent from your sheets. Wash inside and out, but the next thing you know, you find a hair in your mouth, or a torn fingernail stuck to your thigh. The dirt and the stink of him caught up in your corners. Your insides weeping steady with the sludge he left inside you. You swallow it. Like you swallowed him. He don’t pay nothing extra for all you had to keep.

You want milled soap, a dress soaked in sun, and a bed no one but you ever laid in. You’d take even one of those for a day. But what you got is a miner’s desperate sweat and horse shit smeared by a careless boot. The seeds men sew grow misery. All of it sunk into your pores. You been covered in someone else so long, you wouldn’t recognize your own scent. Dirty men want a clean woman, but a whore wants nothing, ’cept choice.

Praise

  • PRIMITIVITY stunned me with its power, its wounded heart, its terrible grace. The language sings truth with a scalding poetry, and survivors’ humor knocks you sideways when you least expect it. There is hard-won wisdom here, and love always pushing its way through the cracks.

    —Susan Power, author of SACRED WILDERNESS
  • Hilarious. Intelligent. Well-paced. Southern. Gothic. Steady and studied. In PRIMITIVITY, Amy Sayre Baptista wrestles with the large and expansive history of the southern tale, wrestles with the ghosts of Eudora Welty and Carson McCullers, wrestles the phantasms of William Faulkner and Flannery O’Connor, wrestles with the difficulty of southern morality, ethics, and criminality. However, she does not merely recapitulate or re-present the well-trod territory of these southern masters. Instead, she complicates the southern gothic, the southern storytelling tradition through grappling with feminism and its rural, southern iterations, through the sly use of Darwin, evolution, and philosophical argumentation. And that’s just the intellectual level. These stories are also amazingly lyrical and entertaining. Each story left this reader panting, wanting more. The voices, the voices, they sit with you, haunt you long after the story is over, leaving you to look over your shoulder and wonder if indeed there might not be someone sitting there behind you. Baptista sits in her speaker’s voices with the aplomb and vivacity of a poet. These are stories to be read and re-read.

    —Roger Reeves, author of KING ME
  • A lyricism of survival accents the stark beauty of Amy Sayre Baptista’s sumptuous new collection of prose poems. A harsh landscape still yields bright feathers, and the survivors of hard lives are fierce about “raw-mouthing a chant.” The effect is deeply rural and indisputably American, embracing origins of “fang and claw.” A woman will judge a man good because he looks like “heat and food.” You’ll meet the no-nonsense Aunt Gin and listen to the ghost of a hangman—“a murderer of murderers.” You’ll hear of fondness for fruit pies. You’ll listen to apparitions testify. Amy Sayre Baptista has given voice to a wholly original chorus declaring how “we build our own traps, build our own wings.”

    —Katherine Vaz, author of SAUDADE, MARIANA, FADO & OTHER STORIES, OUR LADY OF THE ARTICHOKES, and THE LOVE LIFE OF AN ASSISTANT ANIMATOR
  • Amy Sayre Baptista is her own séance. In PRIMITIVITY, she seems to effortlessly channel voices from the ether—her characters are so alive, the rhythms of their speech and thoughts so vivid that, even in stories of only a few pages, you can almost hear them breathing. This is fiction as magic, and sleight of hand as vibrant transformation.

    —Philip Graham, author of THE MOON, COME TO EARTH, and INTERIOR DESIGN
  • I would follow Amy Sayre Baptista’s characters anywhere—to whatever dirt road, into any kitchen, through any séance. I am thoroughly bewitched and would take to any invitation to slowly unlace a character’s boot, no matter who her brothers were. These short fictions are lodged in my gut, my heart, noosed around my neck. My imagination’s DNA has been changed, and I’ve inherited a whole county’s histories and intimate revenges and undiscovered bodies. And luckily I can visit them in Primitivity’s pages, where “love may hurt, but sin is painless,” and I can feel each voice ache in my ribs.

    —Traci Brimhall, author of ROOKERY and OUR LADY OF THE RUINS

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Amy Sayre Baptista

Amy Sayre Baptista’s writing has appeared in The Best Small Fictions (2017), Corium, SmokeLong QuarterlyNinth LetterThe Butter, Alaska Quarterly Review, and other journals. She was a SAFTA fellow (2015), a CantoMundo Poetry fellow (2013), and a scholarship recipient to the Disquiet Literary Festival in Lisbon, Portugal (2011). She performs with Kale Soup for the Soul, a Portuguese-American artist’s collective, and Poetry While You Wait (Chicago). She is a co-founder of Plates&Poetry, a community arts program focused on food and writing. She has an MFA in Fiction from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, and teaches Humanities at Western Governors University. She lives in Illinois.

Baptista © Khyran Boyd Author page

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