Illinois State Library

Illinois Center for the Book

Individual Author Record

General Information

Name:  Cris Mazza  

Pen Name: None


Audience: Adult;

Born: 1957 in San Pedro, California

-- Website --
-- Cris Mazza on WorldCat --

Illinois Connection

Mazza lives in the west suburbs of Chicago.

Biographical and Professional Information

Cris Mazza is currently professor and director of the Program for Writers at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Along with the books she has written, Mazza was co-editor for the original Chick-Lit anthologies: ''Chick-Lit: Postfeminist Fiction'', and ''Chick-Lit 2: No Chick Vics'' along with ''Men Undressed: Women Writers on the Male Sexual Experience''.A native of Southern California, Mazza grew up in San Diego County. Her BA and MA were completed at San Diego State University, then she crossed the country to finish an MFA in writing at Brooklyn College before returning to San Diego where she lived several years training and showing her dogs, completing her first 4 books, and teaching at various local colleges and universities, including UC San Diego, and was Writer in Residence at Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, TN, then at Allegheny College in Meadville, PA.

Published Works Expand for more information

Titles At Your Library

Animal Acts (Avant-Garde; 61)
ISBN: 0932511163

Fiction Collective 2. 1995

In a striking first collection of stories, Cris Mazza brings a startling vision to the familiar terrain of intimate relationships. The eleven stories in Animal Acts describe characters navigating an unsteady course through the turbulence of sexial desire. Set in unmistakably American landscapes--from sprawling West Coast cities to the dry, dusty scrub of rural Southern California--the work is populated by gym teachers, aging flower children, secretaries and artists--most of them strong, willful women. The narrator of the title story holds the guests at a party spellbound with her fantastic retelling of another woman's perverse life--which may, in fact, be her own--thereby seducing a man who has previousley eluded her. Mazza's arresting narrative structures and sharp sense of the absurd make for a dazzling debut collection.

How to Leave a Country
ISBN: 091827396X

Coffee House Press. 1992

A PEN/Nelson Algren award winner, this intensely absorbing first novel of an artist told by his lover questions accepted notions of love, reality, and imagination. "A portrait of the artist as a young man in our times. Highly recommended."--Library Journal "Engaging and innovative."--Publishers Weekly

Revelation Countdown (Black Ice Books) (Studies in Monasticism)
ISBN: 0932511732

Fiction Collective Two. 1993

While in many ways reaffirming the mythic dimension of being on the road romanticized in American pop and fold culture, Revelation Countdown also subtly undermines that view. These stories project onto the open road not the nirvana of personal freedom, but rather a type of freedom more closely resembling loss of control. Being in constant motion and passing through new environments destabilizes life, casts it out of phase, heightens perception, and skews reactions. Every little problem is magnified to overwhelming dimension. Events segue from slow motion to fast forward. Background noises intrude, causing perpetual wee hour insomnia. Imagination flourishes, often as an enemy. People suddenly discover that they never really understood their travel companions. The formerly stable line of their lives veers off course. In such an atmosphere, the title Revelation Countdown, borrowed from a roadside sign in Tennessee, proves prophetic. It may not arrive at 7:30, but revelation will inevitably find the traveler.

ISBN: 1566890195

Coffee House Press. 1994

In a new novel as inventive as her earlier works, award-winning author Cris Mazza combines a mystery with an evocative story about one woman's precarious attempt to distinguish between reality and perception. "An admirable achievement."--Philadelphia Inquirer "A fascinating, unsettling tale."--Booklist

Your Name Here:_________
ISBN: 1566890314

Coffee House Press. 1995

Forces readers to reexamine biases and consider the varying degrees of sexual harassment. "[A] narrative of female rage, the ambiguity of abuse, and the difficulty of negotiating a meaningful life as a woman in America . . . [Mazza] continues to work with passion, insight and a certain cold beauty."--Publishers Weekly

Dog People
ISBN: 1566890551

Coffee House Press. 1997

Mazza's bizarre 90s characters communicate better with their dogs than their lovers. Rich detail, dramatic conclusion!

Former Virgin
ISBN: 1573660337

Fiction Collective 2. 1997

In this collection of stories, critically acclaimed writer Cris Mazza shines a kleig light on the dark underside of relationships in a disturbing look at the ambiguous nature of our own desires. From women who foster their own abusive relationships, to failed suicide attempts, to furtive -- and horribly violent -- encounters in steamy basements, Mazza's stories cut to the heart of doomed human relationships, landing squarely in the murky territory between desire and despair, between freedom and loss of control.

Is It Sexual Harassment Yet
ISBN: 1573660418

Northwestern University Press. 1998

From the author of Revelation Countdown and Animal Acts, this collection of short stories conveys a sens e of the bewilderment and excitement of sexual desires. '

Girl Beside Him
ISBN: 1573660922

Fiction Collective 2. 2001

Cris Mazza's fiction has been called experimental, and stylistically it is, in the same way that Chekov's prose can be called experimental. Like the Russian author, Mazza uses an impressionistic technique to create characters so unusual, they become emblems for whole orders of social ills. Unfolding with the grim assurance of an autopsy, Girl Beside Him lays bare pathologies of self and society.

As the novel unfolds, a moody naturalist obsessed with target shooting meets his pretty assistant, rebounding from her bitter divorce, via a classified ad. Brian and Leya work together in the Wyoming outback, a landscape quick with beauty, death and sex. Ostensibly they have joined forces to track wild cougar, but humanity is the most endangered species here.

As the story lopes along, the naturalists, made feral by heartbreak and the drone of pop culture, spend the summer tracking cougars....

Taking Sartre's aphorism, hell is other people, to new, dreadful extremes, Mazza's varmits know that the only thing wrong with any landscape is who else is living in it. From deep inside her character's skins, Mazza brings a psychological awareness to her novel that would make Stephen King squirm.

In her ninth work of fiction, Cris Mazza walks the fence between man and nature, instinct and compusion, all the while throwing rocks into the yawning gulch between the sexes. As a portrait of our species, Girl Beside Him is a powerful book.

Indigenous: Growing up Californian
ISBN: 0872864227

City Lights Publishers. 2003

Cris Mazza delivers a spirited rebuttal to pop-culture stereotypes about growing up female in Southern California. Coming of age in the 1970s and '80s, Mazza's memories aren't about surfing, cheerleading or riding in convertibles. Though her story has its exotic elements-her family hunts and -gathers food in the semi-arid coastal hills well into the early '70s-she sets herself in the context of familiar Americana. Repeating motifs-gender issues, the California landscape, dogs, musicians, plus the perplexing melancholy of a sexless marriage-thread through these very personal essays, as Mazza confronts madness, disability, sexual dysfunction and death, speaking to the drama of ordinary lives.

"Mazza's beautifully rendered love affair with her native state has nothing to do with gilded dreams or pretty postcard depictions of sun and surf. Her experience is rooted not in image but in a primal connection to the land itself. " —The Chicago Tribune

"Mazza writes about California back in the day, before strip malls ravaged her childhood haunts. . . Indigenous will appeal to those who enjoy memoirs and are interested in the broader idea of place." —Bust Magazine

" ... Mazza reveals a normality beneath the California myth that seems all the more dazzling and exotic with the passage of time." —Los Angeles Times

"These essays shine with hard-won honesty and emotional clarity. You can trust Cris Mazza to level with you and entertain you with her stylish prose this is an engaging collection." —Phillip Lopate, editor of Writing New York: A Literary Anthology

"Cris Mazza’s stunning memoir worries the notions of belonging, of be-longing for a place and of longing for the memories of same. Her tales of her native California expertly excavate an always surprising and always rewarding experience cache." —Michael Martone, author of The Flatness and Other Landscapes

Cris Mazza's most recent novel was Girl Beside Him, and she is the editor of Chick-Lit: Postfeminist Fiction.

ISBN: 1888996714

Red Hen Press. 2004

A versatile and probing novelist, Mazza is at her clarion best in this riveting improvisation on the lost world chronicled in her memoir, Indigenous: Growing Up Californian (2003). Ronnie works in the geriatric hospital in which her stroke-afflicted father lives, but Medicare patients such as he are being forced to leave, and she decides that now is the time to attend to some mysterious, unfinished business involving the remains of her brother and mother, whose shocking deaths have so cruelly oppressed her. But their odd quest is interrupted by a pack of violent suburban teens. Rescued by a handsome and enigmatic migrant worker advocate, Ronnie and her father follow his lead and seek shelter deep in the canyons. As they struggle to survive, their tragic past unfolds in vivid flashbacks, and Mazza's mythic and mesmerizing tale charts the cruel paradoxes inherent in migrant workers' lives.

Disability: A Novella
ISBN: 157366121X

Fiction Collective 2. 2005

Told in a broken shorthand voice, Mazza's language is acute, evoking a place where the patients, the caregivers, and the system are all disabled. Teri and Cleo are minimum-wage nurse-aides at a state ward for severely retarded and physically handicapped children. They are expected to feed, bathe, clothe, and carry out the required therapies for their patients in a 4-hour shift. They're working within a system where money for therapy is only continued if therapy shows improvement--and yet the state-paid therapists who oversee the ward know the patients will never show any improvement. To keep the money coming in, it is up to the minimum-wage caregivers to "see" and chart important improvements, thus keeping the therapy program alive.

Blinded in their own way by their pet-like adoption of favorite patients, Teri and Cleo struggle to remain both optimistic and realistic. As their personal failures mount--and even transpose or emulate the travesties within the state ward--Teri and Cleo, with their own unseen "disabilities" in dealing with their lives and pasts, react harshly to the breakdown in the emotional balancing act.

Many Ways To Get It, Many Ways To Say It
ISBN: 0970321252

Chiasmus Press. 2005

Fiction. In the 80's a young woman advertises her services as a model to photographers she discovers their weaknesses, seduces them, then extorts them by claiming to be under-age. In the 90's a 40-something man is married to a doctor who only views him as a sex object. In these two reversals of sexual harassment and gender-inferiority, Mazza explores such issues asthe lnaguage of bodies, sexual desirability, latent adolescence, plus whatever the genders share...and what they can never share.

Waterbaby: A Novel
ISBN: 1933368845

Soft Skull Press. 2007

As children, Tam and her older brother were swimming when she suffered her first epileptic seizure. He pulled her from the water and was crowned a hero. Tam was labeled “disabled” and never swam again. And so began 30 years of vigilance, never allowing her body to betray her, never allowing her brother or her family or anyone else to influence her path. Now, in middle age, a lifetime’s worth of control has taken its toll. Exhausted, she heads to Maine where, while working on a genealogy project, she falls under the spell of two dead women: an ancestor, Mary Catherine, who died at 33 the other, the town ghost. Through their cloistered, tragic lives Tam relives her own life over and over — until a distant cousin forces her to see herself in a new light. Tam’s quest to transcend self-imposed limitations is superbly crafted and richly satisfying.

Trickle-Down Timeline
ISBN: 1597091332

Red Hen Press. 2009

In the era just before computers, at the dawn of "safe sex," for a sub-generation of people who came of age without a war in Vietnam to unite them, the stories in Trickle-Down Timeline are glimpses into individual lives subtly influenced by the political and social milieu of the 1980's. For some people, the surplus and glut of the 80's were part of some other world, not theirs and it couldn't be a "me-generation" if they didn't know who they were or where they were going. They were often just finding out what they were going to want or they were, in starting out, already where they were going to end up.

Various Men Who Knew Us as Girls
ISBN: 0975362380

Emergency Press. 2011

Hester Smith is a woman who always played life near the sidelines—until she decides to rescue a teenage Mexican prostitute. She's up against the border sex trade in Southern California that works like a drug cartel, where the smuggled contraband is teenage girls forced to work as prostitutes in undeveloped canyons just outside suburbia. Law enforcement agencies know it happens, as do investigative journalists, yet the illegal sex trade continues to exist. Most people, comfortable in their homes only miles away, express some brand of shock in the moment they hear about it-and then they go on with their lives, assured there's nothing they can do. While she prepares for the rescue, Hester discovers that the man with whom she almost had an affair-her mentor when she was a 23 year-old student teacher-had been simultaneously having a sexual relationship with a 16 year-old student. Hester mines her own memories of the would-be affair and ultimately tracks down the former 16 year-old. When these two women with a shared scandal in their pasts confront one another, the meeting coincides with the last step necessary to rescue the teenage prostitute Hester has tried to protect.

Something Wrong With Her: a real-time memoir
ISBN: 1937543331

Jaded Ibis Press. 2013

Book #5 in our Blue Bustard Memoir Series

"Something Wrong with Her is frank. Bold. Mazza faces head-on that which would give most writers pause."The Rumpus

SOMETHING WRONG WITH HER is an astonishing real-time testimony of a couple’s reconnection while — and within — the writing of this memoir, and their candid wrestling with 30-year-old memories, questions and regrets.


“On math exams we were always told to show our work, privileging process over result. An increasingly and pleasingly unhinged experiment in autoforensics and self-consciousness, Something Wrong With Her is stuffed with both show and work. In sorting out the question implicit in the title, Cris Mazza assembles a long paper trail of primary documents: yearbook inscriptions, journal entries, published fiction, emails, personal letters on band stationery, and more, more, more. It’s part sexual history and part detective story. She writes: ‘I thought I had control of the material when I wrote the story…. I’m going back again now to regain control.’ Control’s great, but I’ll take the mess any day: here’s to ‘going back again.’ Here’s to showing your work.”
—Ander Monson, editor of DIAGRAM and New Michigan Press, and author of Vanishing Point

Something Wrong With Her is certainly the most unusual true love story you will ever read, layering recollected scenes and psychological analysis with journals, emails, letters, yearbook inscriptions, excerpts from the author’s past literary works, jazz metaphors, footnotes and more. Cris Mazza’s indefatigable self-scrutiny creates an experience that verges on the psychedelic. Reading this book is less like reading a typical memoir than like spending time in someone’s else’s head, or someone else’s life. The generous decision of literary love-object Mark to allow his writings to be included here adds a fourth — or is it a fifth? — dimension to this unprecedented document.”
—Marion Winik, author of Highs in the Low Fifties, First Comes Love, and Rules for the Unruly: Living an Unconventional Life

Something Wrong With Her turns away from the bogus story of what’s sexually ‘hot’ to finally tell the story of what’s real and human: the other bodies who don’t fit into this culture of idiotic faux sexual excess. By articulating the chronicle of her own body, Cris Mazza successfully seduces us into questioning the libidinal fictions we’ve been telling ourselves about our own bodies. Beyond brave writing.”
—Lidia Yuknavitch, author of Chronology of Water and Dora: A Headcase

Charlatan: New and Selected Stories
ISBN: 1945883065

Curbside Splendor Publishing. 2017

Cris Mazza's work has often been regarded as "disturbing" for its exploration of sexual politics, victimhood, personal accountability, and acts of sexual violence. With an introduction by Gina Frangello and a foreword by Rick Moody, Charlatan charts the development of a dynamic body of fiction by a writer due for discovery by millennial readers unsatisfied by mainstream feminism.

Cris Mazza is the author of over seventeen books.

Rick Moody is the author of more than a dozen books and a Guggenheim Fellow.

Gina Frangello is the author of four books and an editor at The Coachella Review.


How to Leave a Country

  • PEN/Nelson Algren Award for book-length fiction
  • Charlatan

  • Starred Review, Kirkus, 2017

    Speaking Engagements

    Speaking Engagement Availability (Yes)

    Contact Information

    Cris Mazza Dept. of English m/c 162 University of Illinois at Chicago 601 S. Morgan St. Chicago, Illinois 60607 413-312-2200


    Sheryl Johnston Email