Because of Course: Mike Karpa

Mike Karpa’s hilarious “Because Of Course: An Award-Winning Story” opens with an audacious promise: “I am going to win a prize.” How? By writing the story of a “prosperous, middle-aged male protagonist who is white.” The piece’s biting parody attracted our eye—not only for its love of hyperbole, but for the fast clip at which the narrator takes on the literary world. We look forward to performing Mike’s piece on January 12 at our Play On Words: Beyond Boundaries show at the San Jose Museum of Art.

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Mike is still a queer San Francisco writer, but now focused on churning out new work. To hell with revising! Hit it and quit it. He has used up his oddly unrelatable, peripatetic past (eight years in Asia, refugee dad, Texican mom) as subject matter and now writes exclusively about the here-and-now, despite not understanding it, which does turn out to be relatable. His memoir and short fiction has been published in Tahoma Literary Review, Tin House (selected for #MemoirMonday), Chaleur, Sixfold, Faultline and other literary magazines. He recently attended Bread Loaf Writers Conference. Mike was kind enough to answer a few questions in advance of the January show.

What are you currently working on?

A longer version (including more footnotes!) of “Because of Course” was published in this summer’s Tahoma Literary Review (available for purchase) and is in the process of becoming a novel (first draft finished in NaNoWriMo 2019).

What inspired you to participate in Play On Words?

Having participated once before, I was drawn back by the desire to hear others’ work performed. The older I get, the more I enjoy participating in writing events with other people, being with writers and readers as we together open up to new stuff. Being in the audience feels like (is!) a creative act.

Which writers or performers inspire you?

Recently, John Boyne. Especially The Heart’s Invisible Furies. What a great storyteller and clean writer! Matthew Lansburgh’s Outside Is The Ocean felt like it had been written for me. I devoured it. And Lydia Davis’s Can’t and Won’t is always inspiring, as she is generally. Also Ilya Kaminsky’s Deaf Republic. I got to hear him read this summer and re-reading his work now brings back his very specific voice. That book really cleans out my mind.

Name a book or performance that fundamentally affected you.

Brice Matthieussent’s Revenge of the Translator (translated by Emma Ramadan) feels like a kindred spirit and would have inspired “Because of Course” had I read it first.

Get your tickets now for our January 12 show at the San Jose Museum of Art to see Mike’s work performed. Entrance includes free admission to the museum.


Thomas Times reads Mike Karpa’s “Make a Muscle”

Sometimes it is the smallest, most intimate actions that make the biggest impressions. For the character in Mike Karpa’s “Make a Muscle,” his decision to lean into an EMT in his grandmother’s nursing home represented far more than just a casual flirtation. Watch the wonderful Thomas Times make his #powsj debut at our New Terrains show on February 24, reading this great story:

Major kudos to Thomas and Mike for making this story come to life. Thanks also to Ryan Alpers for filming and Branden Frederick for taking photos.

Introducing Mike Karpa

Exciting news, Playonwordsians: After reading through a delicious pile of submissions, we have selected 15 amazing pieces for our February 24 performance at the San Jose Museum of Art. The New Terrains show, which is included in SJMUSA’s ongoing exhibit, include original fiction, nonfiction, theater and poetry, with stories highlighting Iran, Ireland, Serbia, South Korea, China, India, Mexico and the United States. We’ll be rolling out our full lineup in the weeks that follow, starting with Mike Karpa.

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Mike Karpa

Mike is a queer San Francisco writer shifting from deeply felt literary writing to meaningless escapism. Briefly a professor and a DoJ staff translator, his biggest work victory is surviving as a freelancer for over thirty years, which may be why a full-time job, like a literary conference, sets his mind spinning murder-mystery plots.

His memoir and/or short fiction has been published in Tin House, Chaleur, Sixfold, Faultline and other literary magazines. His work has been selected for Memoir Monday, a weekly newsletter co-curated by Narratively, Catapult, Granta, Guernica, The Rumpus, Longreads and Tin House.

Mike is currently readying for launch, by any means necessary, his novel Criminals about drug smugglers in early ’90s Tokyo who blur the line between gay and straight. He answered a few questions for us in preparation for the February 24 show.

What inspired you to participate in Play On Words?
Hearing about it from Julia, plus a desire to hear how my story would sound with someone else–a pro!–reading it.

Which writers or performers inspire you?
Lydia Davis, Mark Haddon, Jorge Volpi, Flannery O’Connor, Philip K. Dick, Jody Angel, Michael Nava, Carol Rifka Brunt, gay writers living in the Midwest self-publishing mysteries and romances (you know who you are—love you!).

Name a book or performance that fundamentally affected you.
Lydia Davis’s Can’t and Won’t. I was astounded this style of writing existed, then doubly astounded she had been published so widely. (They let you do that?) She gave me permission to be more myself, which is something writing does for me generally. Thanks, Lydia Davis!

We can’t wait to perform Mike’s story, “Make a Muscle,” on February 24 at the San Jose Museum of Art. Stay tuned, because we will sharing a free ticket link before the performance so POW fans can gain free entrance to the museum.