Rita Bullwinkel celebrates the launch of her debut novel
published by Viking Press
Music by Theresa Wong
Readings by Venita Blackburn, Jennifer Cheng, Ashley Nelson Levy
Discussion with Rita Bullwinkel and Oscar Villalon
An electrifying debut novel from an “unusually gifted writer” (Lorrie Moore) about the radical intimacy of physical competition
An unexpected tragedy at a community pool. A family’s unrelenting expectation of victory. The desire to gain or lose control; to make time speed up or stop; to be frighteningly, undeniably good at something. Each of the eight teenage girl boxers in this blistering debut novel has her own reasons for the sacrifices she has made to come to Reno, Nevada, to compete to be named the best in the country. Through a series of face-offs that are raw, ecstatic, and punctuated by flashes of humor and tenderness, prizewinning writer Rita Bullwinkel animates the competitors’ pasts and futures as they summon the emotion, imagination, and force of will required to win.
Frenetic, surprising, and strikingly original, Headshot is a portrait of the desire, envy, perfectionism, madness, and sheer physical pleasure that motivates young women to fight—even, and perhaps especially, when no one else is watching.
Rita Bullwinkel is the author of Headshot (2024) and Belly Up, which garnered a 2022 Whiting Award. Bullwinkel’s writing has been published in Tin House, the White Review, ZYZZYVA, Conjunctions, BOMB, Vice, NOON, and Guernica. She is a recipient of grants and fellowships from MacDowell, Brown University, Vanderbilt University, Hawthornden Castle and the Helene Wurlitzer Foundation. Her work has been translated into Italian, Greek, and Dutch. Both her fiction and translation have been nominated for Pushcart Prizes. She is an Editor at Large for McSweeney’s, the Deputy Editor of The Believer, a Contributing Editor for NOON, and the creator of Oral Florist. She is an Assistant Professor of English at University of San Francisco where she teaches courses on creative writing, zines, and the uses of invented and foreign languages as tools for world building.
Theresa Wong is a composer, cellist, and vocalist active at the intersection of composition, improvisation, and the synergy of multiple disciplines. Her works include Fluency of Trees for solo cello and voice, premiered at the Other Minds Festival in 2022, She Dances Naked Under Palm Trees, commissioned by pianist Sarah Cahill, and Harbors, co-composed with Long String Instrument inventor Ellen Fullman and chosen as one of Wire’s top 50 releases of 2020. Her multimedia piece The Unlearning (Tzadik), 21 songs inspired by Goya’s Disasters of War etchings, premiered in 2013 at Roulette in Brooklyn and was also featured in the 2016 New Frequencies Festival at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco. Recent commissions include works for San Francisco Girls Chorus, NakedEye Ensemble, Long Beach Opera, Del Sol Quartet and Splinter Reeds. She has shared her work internationally at venues including Cafe Oto and Barbican Centre in London, Fabbrica Europa Festival in Florence, Sydney Festival, and The Stone in New York City. Learn more at www.theresawong.org
Venita Blackburn is the author of Black Jesus and Other Superheroes and How to Wrestle a Girl, finalist for a Lambda Literary Prize and a NYTimes editor’s choice. He work has appeared in the New Yorker, Harper’s, McSweeney’s, Story Magazine, the Virginia Quarterly Review, the Paris Review, and others. She was awarded a Bread Loaf Fellowship in 2014, a PEN America Los Angeles literary prize in fiction, and several Pushcart prize nominations. Her debut novel, Dead in Long Beach, California, will be published January of 2024. She is an Associate Professor of creative writing at California State University, Fresno.
Jennifer S. Cheng is the author of: MOON: Letters, Maps, Poems (2018), selected by Bhanu Kapil as winner of the Tarpaulin Sky Book Prize and named a “Best Book of 2018” by Publishers Weekly; House A (2016), selected by Claudia Rankine as winner of the Omnidawn Poetry Book Prize; and Invocation: An Essay (2010), an image-text chapbook published by New Michigan Press. Her poetry, lyric essays, and image-text work appear in Tin House, Lit Hub, Catapult, POETRY Magazine, The Nation, The Normal School, Conjunctions, Hong Kong 20/20 (a PEN HK anthology), Bettering American Poetry, The Best of Tupelo Quarterly, and elsewhere. Having grown up in Texas, Hong Kong, and Connecticut, she makes her home in northern California.
Ashley Nelson Levy is the author of the novel Immediate Family, published by FSG (US) and Daunt Books (UK) in 2021. In 2015, she co-founded Transit Books, an independent publishing house with a focus on international literature. She lives in Northern California.
Oscar Villalon is the managing editor at ZYZZYVA. His writing has been published in Stranger’s Guide, Freeman’s, The Believer, Literary Hub, and other publications. A former book editor at the San Francisco Chronicle, he lives with his family in San Francisco.
Advance praise for HEADSHOT
“The classic momentum of a sports narrative unfurls in unusually lyric and muscular language: a ferocious novel . . . unusual and striking . . . Each match unfolds both in the physicality of the dusty ring and in the consciousnesses of the fighters, their coaches, parents, and other spectators in the tiny audience. There’s not a single line of dialogue in the book, but rather a hypnotically intense, God’s-eye narrative voice . . . For each young woman, Bullwinkel also conjures a life ahead, and these brilliantly imagined future selves add to the richness of the characterizations.” ―Kirkus Reviews (starred)
“Headshot is an extraordinary act of literary telepathy. With prose as muscular and gleaming as a body in motion, Bullwinkel drops readers into that roaring, incandescent universe that is young womanhood. This is a book with its own pulse.” ―C Pam Zhang, author of Land of Milk and Honey and How Much of These Hills Is Gold
“As blazing and distinctive a performance as I’ve beheld in a long while. Bullwinkel’s figurative language is tethered at one end to the distant galaxies, at the other to the cellular structure of her young fighters’ bodies. Whole lives are strung between. I’m amazed.” ―Jonathan Lethem, author of Brooklyn Crime Novel and Motherless Brooklyn
“Headshot is just that―a shot to the head, a cumulative wallop to the senses. Bullwinkel’s prose jabs, spars, feints, floats, stings, and slowly floods us with the force of the fact: time and will can make the dust of an ordinary life sparkle.” ―Namwali Serpell, author of The Furrows
“The genius that is Rita Bullwinkel has finally handed us this brilliant, perfect novel, and it is everything you hoped for; it is as devastating and inventive and philosophical and playful as you could imagine. I dreamed of it for days after I finished it. I dreamed of those girls’ punches and their swirling minds.” ―Deb Olin Unferth, author of Barn 8
“Headshot is a knockout, a novel as fierce and vibrant as its girl boxers. I’ve never read a book like this, that captures girlhood and life itself in the fleeting moments that make us.” ―Rachel Khong, author of Real Americans and Goodbye, Vitamin
“Headshot is a kinetic, suspenseful portrait of eight girl boxers locked in ferocious competition for the Daughters of America Cup. In the steaming depths of Bob’s Boxing Palace, these fighters must face each other and the wild thunder of their own inner worlds. Rita Bullwinkel is brilliant on the physical collision, at once strategic and feral, that is a boxing match, and the private hopes and agonies that compel fighters to step through the ropes.” ―Laura van den Berg, author of The Third Hotel
“A luminously unsentimental, tour-de-force exploration of competition and its consequences―which is to say, of the America we all live in. Headshot is literature at its vital, primal best.” ―John Wray, author of Gone to the Wolves
“Rita Bullwinkel’s Headshot is a powerfully compelling and evocative look at the lives of girl boxers, told in a style of beauty and concision. I loved it.” ―Brandon Hobson, author of The Removed
“A true portrait of life as a young girl boxer. The accuracy with which Bullwinkel depicts thinking while competing in a boxing match is excellent.” ―Ginny Fuchs, American Olympic boxer and four-time National Champion
“Brilliant Bullwinkel brings us inside the bodies of the best girl boxers in America. Here, in the head of a fighter, pasts and futures explode from fists to insist on the present. What is it to stand in opposition to another? What troubles and thoughts power each punch? Bullwinkel, like the finest of fighters, wields grace and vision, a most powerful hit.” ―Samantha Hunt, author of The Dark Dark
This event is made possible by support from the City Lights Foundation.