Dance on Saturday

Elwin Cotman  - published August 2020

trade paper · 336 pages · $17 · 9781618731722 | ebook · 9781618731739

Philip K. Dick Award finalist
NPR Best Books of the Year

Planted deeply in the dark, musical fantastic heart of American storytelling, Cotman’s half dozen tales are ripe for the picking.

In the title novella, Cotman imagines a group of near-immortals living in Pittsburgh in an uneasy truce with Lord Decay. Their truce is threatened when one of them takes pity on a young woman who knows their secret. In “Among the Zoologists,” a game writer on their way to a convention falls in with a group of rogue Darwinists whose baggage contains a great mystery. A volleyball tournament devolves into nightmare and chaos in “Mine.” In Cotman’s hands, the conventions of genres from fairytales to Victorian literature to epic fantasy and horror give shape to marvelously new stories.

NPR Best Books of the Year
“Elwin Cotman’s third collection of short fiction is only six stories long, but each story is packed with rich depth, like jeweled fruits glinting in wet loam. Mixing mythic and contemporary, humor and horror, melancholy and optimism, Cotman’s stories range from present-day Pittsburgh to fantasy Africa, with a beautifully flexible polyvocal prose. My two favorite stories make up about half the book: ‘Seven Watsons’ and the title story both deliver all the sophistication and complexity of a novel at a third of the length, and center Black joy and endurance.”
Amal El-Mohtar, book critic and co-author of This Is How You Lose the Time War


Why Are We Learning About White America’s Historical Atrocities from TV? on Electric Lit

To Be Black in This Country Is to Live a Life of Trespass on Buzzfeed

Read “The Son’s War” on The Offing

Reviews [BookMarks]

“Cotman wields a compelling literary voice packing both a wallop and a deft touch.” — Fred Shaw, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

“Karen Russell’s cover blurb praises Cotman as ‘a synthesizer … of lewd dialect and high lyricism.’ I’ll speak instead of Cotman’s high dialect and lewd lyricism, of how his fashioning of character voices is superbly disciplined, lit from within, while his lyricism is the realm of bawdy jokes and opacity, a kind of literary trolling. “She was tall and wide like a sonnet,” one character notes — and you’ll just have to trust me on the contrast with the bawdy bits, none of which my editor will let me cite.
“The core of the book is a cleareyed survey of the complexities of Black American experience, distilled in a few lines from the title story: ‘I hated the powers for what they had done. But I learned the pride. That I was of a people who could take all the hate and poison of this world, and laugh, and go dance on Saturday.’”
— Amal El-Mohtar, New York Times Book Review

“Cotman utilizes the entire spectrum of fantasy and speculative fiction to write powerful stories on race, power, and human nature. The title novella is particularly stellar, about a group of immortals in Pittsburgh who can extend their life (and limbs) by growing and consuming certain fruit. It’s a timely collection filled with wit and beautiful language.”
— Lyndsie Manusos, Book Riot

“The landscapes of Elwin Cotman are mythical, searching, and stimulated by haunting fanaticism. Among his third and most ambitious story collection are tales of magical scope—they do more than simply spellbind; they seduce, invite, crack open the extraordinary. . . . In the mold of Octavia Butler and Karen Russell, Dance on Saturday is a bold leap of speculative fiction.”
— Jason Parham, Wired, Ultimate Summer Reading List

“Cotman blends humor, emotional clarity, and wild imagination to bring life to stories about identity, power, and human nature.”  — Arianna Rebolini, Buzzfeed, 29 Summer Books You Won’t Be Able To Put Down

“Fantastically weird short stories infused with elements from Black culture. . . . Each story provides a singular and riveting reading experience.” — Margaret Kingsbury, Buzzfeed, 17 Summer Must-Reads For Fantasy Lovers

“Above all, Cotman is not afraid to combine the grotesque and surreal with the mundane and emotional. The result is a collection that rebels against the pigeonhole design of genres and creates something original and enlightening.” — Julia Romero, October Hill 

“It should sit on your shelves.” — Paul Di Filippo, Locus

“Cotman (Hard Times Blues) wields biting wit, powerful emotion, and magic large and small throughout these six superlative stories. From the epic fantasy ‘The Son’s War,’ which wrestles with themes of imagination and greed as a prince creates two automaton companions, one out of diamond and one out of jade, and soon favors one over the other, to the claustrophobic social thriller ‘Mine,’ set at a high school volleyball tournament in Hell as the teen girl players become increasingly cruel and the behavior of the adults around them increasingly inappropriate, Cotman utilizes genre conventions to examine racism, sexism, power imbalances, and hypocrisy. ‘Among the Zoologists’ is a sexually charged fever dream about a zoology conference that blurs the line between humans and animals. The title story is the strongest, imagining a group of immortals with the ability to extend their lives by growing and consuming fruit, in prose that ranges from humorous (‘[She] grabbed the first three Mariah Carey LPs for maximum positive energy’) to lyrical (‘She adored the sight of melons hanging like rotund trapeze artists from their own vines’). Readers will be blown away by this standout tale, which grapples with the responsibility of holding power, and whether that power can, or should, be shared. Cotman’s bold and timely speculative fiction marks him as a writer to watch.”
Publishers Weekly, starred review

“Fun, inventive fiction that refreshes the fantasy genre with elements of black heritage and culture.”
Kirkus Reviews

“Inventive, incandescent stories, rich in strangeness. Elwin Cotman’s writing is a tonic to ward off drabness and despair.”
— Kelly Link, author of Get in Trouble

Table of Contents

Dance on Saturday
Seven Watsons
The Son’s War [The Offing]
Among the Zoologists
The Piper’s Christmas Gift

Reviews & Praise for Elwin Cotman’s stories:

“Elwin Cotman is one of the most original new voices you will encounter—he is a synthesizer of the domestic and the fantastic, of soaring myth and the grittiest realities, of lewd dialect and high lyricism. His stories are profound engagements with suffering of every stripe—they will also make you hoot with laughter. I was amazed by the force of Mr. Cotman’s pinwheeling imagination.” — Karen Russell, author of Orange World

“Remarkable stories that are as ambitious as they are personal. Cotman is a first-class stylist with a heart and a wit to match.” — Paul Tremblay, author of Survivor Song

“With its intoxicating blend of rock and roll and the supernatural, crazed religion and visionary prose, Hard Times Blues is a wild ride down the same shadowy American sideroads traveled by the likes of Cormac McCarthy, Greil Marcus and Samuel R. Delany. A marvelous collection by a strikingly original new voice in contemporary fiction.” —Elizabeth Hand, author of Errantry

“With hyperbolic, technicolor imagery and engrossing characters that radiate intrigue, these modern tales comprise a new book of essential fables for our time—read it, close your eyes, and delight in the words still glowing hot inside your brain.” — Alissa Nutting, author of Unclean Jobs for Women and Girls

“Starbursts of talent . . . and a knack for biting and imaginative language.” — Lauren O’Neal, The Rumpus

“Proves that magic and grit don’t have to be mutually exclusive.” — Christine Stoddard, Quail Bell Magazine

“Cotman’s interests are wide-ranging: Punk rock intersects with D.C.’s Dominican community, African-American folktale intersects with Greek myth, Goth teen suburban angst in 1990s Ohio sits side by side with racist atrocity in the pre-Civil Rights South . . . Yeah, there’s magic in some of these stories, but the real magic is in Cotman’s words themselves—stark and deadpan one moment, lushly descriptive the next.” — Michael S. Begnal, author of Ancestor Worship

“This is not always a comfortable book to read, but it is a magnificent one. The Jack Daniels Sessions EP: A Collection of Fantasies is comprised of short stories and vignettes that flow into one another like the Mississippi rushes over the Delta. Elwin Cotman is a writer, an activist, a performance artist and above all, an impeccable storyteller. . . . With raw and sometimes shocking authenticity, Cotman turns the ordinary into the sublime. There is no pretension here, just a million-watt light shining into corners of the human condition that many people would prefer forgotten, with a large helping of fantastic creatures, classical myth, and modern mayhem.” — Erzebet YellowBoy, Cabinet des Fées

“Elwin Cotman’s carefully wrought, gracefully accomplished, and lyrical narratives range in tone and style from picaresque and carnivalesque to elegiac, ironic, and melancholy. Yet, while tonally distinctive and aesthetically vivid, his stories are not so much driven by style or voice, as they are by love in the largest sense. For love does not exclude chaos nor avoid the vicissitudes of history and neither do Cotman’s socially engaged, brilliantly crafted stories.” — Miranda Mellis

Cover art “Actaeon” copyright ©2020 by Christopher Myers.

About the Author

Elwin Cotman is a native of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He is the author of Dance on Saturday and two previous collections of short stories, The Jack Daniels Sessions EP and Hard Times Blues. In 2011 he was nominated for a Carl Brandon Society Award. He has toured extensively across North America and Europe. He is at work on his first novel.