Margo Berdeshevsky

JoAnna Novak

JoAnna Novak is the author of the novel I Must Have You and two previous books of poetry: Noirmania and Abeyance, North America. Her work has appeared in The Paris Review, The New York Times, the Washington Post, The Atlantic, and other publications. Her essay “My $1000 Anxiety Attack” was anthologized in About Us: Essays from the Disability Series of The New York Times. She is a co-founder of the literary journal and chapbook publisher, Tammy

Novak’s short story collection, Meaningful Work, won the 2020 Ronald Sukenick Innovative Fiction Contest and will be published by FC2 in 2021. Her third book of poetry, New Life, will be published by Black Lawrence Press in 2021. Her debut memoir Contradiction Days will be published by Catapult in 2023.

Meaningful Work


“An incandescent debut by an incandescent talent. The stories in Meaningful Work are truly marvelous, radiant with wit, beauty, and hard-earned truths. Novak does soul-work in these pages––you will find yourself mesmerized, thrilled, renewed.”

Junot Díaz

Meaningful Work

JoAnna Novak

Beautiful Soon Enough, by Margo Berdeshevsky (FC2, 2009)


Quality Paper
ISBN 978-1-57366-191-1

ISBN 978-1-57366-893-4

Winner of FC2’s Ronald Sukenick Innovative Fiction Prize

A stunning look at the labor of obsession and the industry of self-destruction from an incandescent prose-stylist

Meaningful Work, the short fiction debut of JoAnna Novak, is lush, lyrical, and unflinching. In stories that have appeared in The Paris ReviewFence, and BOMBNovak examines the restless throb of desire amid the rote work of jobs and obligations, from the walk-ins of a New York banquet kitchen to the pier of Venice Beach. Fueled by jellyfish pad Thai and Necco wafers, Mountain Dew and Xiaolongbao, the characters in these stories defy boundaries and mores: a former anorectic, bored of recovery and her clerical job, invites an unparalleled act of sexual defilement; a fleshly preteen fantasizes about Bill Murray on a family vacation to Wisconsin. Celebrating the grueling beauty of the shift and the ticking virtues of self-restraint, Meaningful Work is a pageant of formal experimentation, in fearless, glittering prose.


Devouring, yearning, erasing, grabbing—these stories pulse with intensity and Novak’s scalpel-precise prose cuts to the core again and again. A startling and exciting collection that does not shirk from pretty much anything.

Aimee Bender


I can’t remember the last time I had as much fun reading a new collection of stories as I did JoAnna Novak’s Meaningful Work. Every sentence is delectable—an appropriate word choice, given that Novak writes so gorgeously about food. (When you read these, make sure you have something good to eat at hand. They will make you hungry.) Acerbic, touching, graceful, and eccentric, Meaningful Work pays homage to Donald Barthelme and Grace Paley, even as it adds a fresh, unique, inimitable voice to our national literary conversation

David Leavitt


In Meaningful Work, JoAnna Novak shows us what this world makes us swallow: shit jobs and Hostess Snowballs, the nuclear family, our own fulvous tongues. Language-glutted, her starveling girls and hollowed mothers gag on everything and nothing. Novak spreads it: a mangled smorgasboard of harms. This is a book of jagged mouthfuls, of candy-shell sentences with hot, gloppy cores. There’s no purging it. Read and the stories stay with you, like cuts rubbed with Sharpie in the fat of your heart

Joanna ruocco