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It is no accident that slaves were forbidden to read and write, or that women were long kept out of universities. Knowing this so early on made me believe that being a writer was the best thing one could be and that writing literature was the most revolutionary, dangerous, powerful, empowering and important thing a human being could do.

Dr. Amina Lolita Gautier is the winner of the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction for her short story collection At-Risk. Gautier is the second African American writer to win this award in its thirty year history. Gautier is a writer, scholar, and professor. Following in the footsteps of the late nineteenth century African American intellectual (Charles W. Chesnutt, W.E.B. DuBois, Frances E. W. Harper, and Pauline Hopkins) who merged both critical and creative talents, Gautier’s academic interests are two-fold. Her background as a scholar of 19th Century American literature and, more generally, African American literature combines with her training as a fiction writer such that she is both a critic and a creative writer, fully engaged in the analysis and creation of literature.

More than seventy of her short stories have been published, appearing in Iowa Review, Kenyon Review, North American Review and Southern Review among other places, and her fiction has been extensively reprinted, appearing in several anthologies, including Best African American Fiction 2009, Best African American Fiction 2010, New Stories from the South: The Year’s Best, 2008, The Notre Dame Review: The First Ten Years, The Sincerest Form of Flattery: Contemporary Women Writers on Forerunners in Fiction, and Voices. Gautier is the recipient of the William Richey Prize, the Jack Dyer Prize, the Danahy Fiction Prize, the Schlafly Microfiction Award and a Pennsylvania Council on the Arts Award. She has received fellowships and scholarships from Breadloaf Writer’s Conference, Sewanee Writer’s Conference, Callaloo Writer’s Workshop, Hurston/Wright Writer’s Workshop, and the Ucross Residency.

Visit her web site: http://www.aminagautier.com/

Read more by and about Amina:

Book: At Risk
Story with audio: “Love, Creusa” at Shenandoah
Story: “Preferences” at Pindeldyboz
Story: “Minnow” at River Styx
Interview at Dominion of New York

How Amina Gautier Became a Writer

This is the next installment in the How to Become a Writer interview series, which will post here at Ph.D. in Creative Writing every other Sunday until I run out of writers to interview, or until they stop saying yes. Each writer answers the same 5 questions. Thanks to Amina for saying yes!

Note: This is an April Fool’s Day treat! I’m posting the newest interview today – a week early – and will take off on Easter Sunday. Enjoy!

1.     Why did you want to become a writer?

I came of age during the anti-apartheid movement in the US; I was an adolescent when Stevie Wonder recorded his anti-apartheid song, when the play Sarafina! toured New York, when the Cosby spin-off A Different World was weaving anti-apartheid material into its episodes, and when Nelson Mandela was not yet free. At home, my mother had a copy of Kaffir Boy and when I entered ninth grade, Nadine Gordimer’s July’s People was selected as the book in common, the one text all incoming students would have to read and discuss communally. I was surrounded by adult and peer discussions of apartheid, which also led to conversations wherein which it was easy to draw parallels between the restrictions placed upon native (black) South Africans during apartheid and on African Americans during slavery and after the Reconstruction, one of the most obvious being restrictions upon literacy and education. This atmosphere impressed upon me the importance, power and danger of literature. When factions attempt to create oppressed societies, one of the foremost ways they go about doing so is by banning thought-provoking literature. It is no accident that slaves were forbidden to read and write, or that women were long kept out of universities. Knowing this so early on made me believe that being a writer was the best thing one could be and that writing literature was the most revolutionary, dangerous, powerful, empowering and important thing a human being could do.

2.  How did you go about becoming a writer?

Short Answer: I have always been a writer.

Long Answer: I played with dolls and listened to music. When I was a child, I imbibed many elements of craft without any conscious effort on my part, learning quite a bit about writing stories from playing with my toys and listening to music. Any child who has played with toys—be it Barbie or Transformers—has the makings of a fiction writer. As any kid knows, there’s no game without a premise or story. Playing with dolls went a long way to helping me learn the intricacies of plot. No matter what I had in mind for Barbie and Ken, Midge or Skipper could always interfere. Enter subplot. Enter characterization. Enter forward moving action motivated by a character’s wants or desires.

The Temptations; image from Wikipedia

The first stories I ever recognized as stories were actually songs. There was no way to live in my childhood home and not be exposed to music. When I was younger, I was part of an extended family and I had only to walk from one room to another to hear a different song i.e. a different story. My grandmother played gospel, my cousin favored hip hop, and my uncle preferred rock, but it was in my mother’s room, where she played soul music that I first absorbed stories. The songs I heard: Ashford and Simpson’s “Hi-Rise” The Temptations’ “Just My Imagination” and “Since I Lost My Baby,” Luther Vandross’s “Superstar/Until You Come Back to Me,” The Stylistics’ “People Make the World Go Round” and “Children of the Night,” Aretha Franklin’s “Jump to It” and “Jimmy Lee,” Natalie Cole’s “Just Can’t Stay Away,” Blue Magic’s “Sideshow” and Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway’s duet “You Are My Heaven” were complete and linear narratives set to music. They had beginnings, middles, and ends. If you took away the musical accompaniment, you would have short stories.

In the more formal sense, I began with writing poetry, in the way that most elementary school kids in Brooklyn begin with writing poetry. My language arts teacher exposed us to poetry around the fourth grade and made us kids in the gifted class enter a variety of poetry contests. My poems won a bunch of these school-wide, district-wide, borough-wide, city-wide contests. One particular win allowed me to meet the mayor (Koch, at the time) and shake his hand. All of the contest wins came with trophies and savings bonds. All in all, it was a good deal and it wasn’t anything I thought very much about. When I got to Stanford, I majored in English with a Creative Writing Emphasis (the precursor to the minor which the university now offers). The creative writing courses were all taught by Jones Lecturers (former Stegner Fellows who stayed on to teach) and entry into the courses was by lottery only.

As lottery would have it, my number came up for the fiction workshop first, though I continued to write poetry. My fiction instructor shared an office with one of the poetry instructors and one afternoon I brought some of my poetry to Chris Wiman for some feedback. After showing him my poems, he promptly shot me down. And—here’s the thing—I let him. I realized that I had no desire to be a poet if I had to train to do it. This was partly because the rewards of it had come too easily to me as an adolescent and partly because I just wasn’t interested enough. That’s how I knew I was a fiction writer. I’d only been in the workshop for one quarter, but I already knew that if I’d shown my fiction teacher my stories and he told me I would never make it and advised me to quit, I would not have been meek and walked away with my tail between my legs. I would have ignored him, marched to my dorm, written ten brand new stories, and made him choke on his words. After only weeks, I was fully invested. There was no one in the world that could discourage me. In order to be a fiction writer, I was willing to be in it for the long haul, to work as hard as it took, to write as many hours as it required, to dump as many boyfriends as it necessitated and to lose as much sleep as I could afford.

 3.  Who helped you along the way, and how?

Odd as this may seem, my Latin teachers helped me to become a good writer. I started studying Latin in fifth grade and continued with it all the way through high school to AP Latin my junior year, after which there was nothing left to study until college. The rules of grammar, which I found confusing or irregular in English, made sense to me when I viewed them through the lens of this non-native language. Exposure to Latin will, of course, improve anyone’s vocabulary, but the focus on word formation, etymology, derivatives and nuanced language will serve the fiction writer a good turn. Since no one expects secondary school Latin students to prepare for lives as theologians or priests, much of the material students learn to translate is secular rather than ecclesiastical. Thus, Latin exposed me to rhetoric and poetry. Although I learned first through another language, I was already well-versed in scansion, metaphor, synecdoche, metonymy, hyperbole, irony, litotes, caesuras and all of the other rhetorical devices long before I ever got to AP English. My study of Latin made me hyper-aware of language, syntax, diction, and rhetoric earlier than I might have been expected to care about the formal qualities of language. Thank you—ago tibi gratias— Mr. Doddington, Mr. Schroeder, Mr. Mulgrew, Miss Bennett, Barb Watson and David Demaine.

4.  Can you tell me about a writer or artist whose biography inspires you?

I’m not particularly interested in any fiction writer’s biography. Perhaps I would be if I were reading poetry or autobiography, but when it comes to fiction all I need to know about the writers that I read is that they write damn good stories and don’t cut corners. Just as Allen Iverson, Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan never met a shot they didn’t like, I’ve never met a story I didn’t like. For just a small investment of my time—somewhere between five and thirty minutes depending on the story’s length—I can read a story that will make my heart and mind grow by leaps and bounds. That’s a great return on investment if ever I’ve heard of one. Unfortunately, I’m not as open-minded when it comes to novels. Given the tendency of many contemporary novels to disintegrate three fourths of the way through, I’m hardly willing to invest hours or days of my time into one unless multiple trusted sources can vouch for it. If, by some chance, I am roped in to reading a novel that dies midway through, I make it a point to never read anything else by that author ever again. You never get a second chance to make a first impression.

I am, however, inspired by lines and passages in stories. If I’m in a funk, reading the last line of James Baldwin’s “Sonny’s Blues” or the opening paragraph of Stanley Elkin’s “A Poetics for Bullies” or the “Be a Martin” scene in Philip Roth’s “The Conversion of the Jews” will always bring me back to a better frame of mind.

I have always been inspired by the section of John Gardner’s Art of Fiction, in which he says:

To write with taste, in the highest sense, is to write with the assumption that one out of a hundred people who read one’s work may be dying, or have some loved one dying; to write so that no one commits suicide, no one despairs; to write, as Shakespeare wrote, so that people understand, sympathize, see the universality of pain, and feel strengthened, if not directly encouraged to live on. That is not to say, of course, that the writer who has no personal experience of pain and terror should try to write about pain and terror, or that one should never write lightly, humorously; it is only to say that every writer should be aware that he might be read by the desperate, by people who might be persuaded toward life or death. It does not mean, either that writers should write moralistically, like preachers. And above all it does not mean that writers should lie. It means only that they should think, always, of what harm they might inadvertently do and not do it. If there is good to be said, the writer should remember to say it. If there is bad, to be said, he should say it in a way that reflects the truth that, though we see the evil, we choose to continue among the living.”

Gardner’s suggestion that literature can soothe the desperate and that good literature is a matter of life and death rings true with me. Literature has certainly saved my sanity. Therefore, whenever I write, I am always mindful of Gardner’s inspiring advice. It reminds me that my reader has many faces. He or she is not just a person with leisure reclining on a sofa. He or she is also a nursing home patient, the quiet teen who turns to books when shut out of reindeer games and socializing and reads late at night in corners of the house/apartment when parents are asleep, an infirm person who rarely has visitors, the adolescent who closes the bedroom door and buries himself or herself in a book to drown out the noise of adults fighting, the retiree who has been waiting decades to read literature at leisure. Knowing this prevents me from cutting corners and taking shortcuts as a writer, it deters me from writing gimmicky material, veers me away from sentimentality, forces me to write however many drafts the story requires.

5.  What would you say in a short letter to an aspiring writer?

Dear Writer,

1.     Get Out of Your Own Way:

In his rap “Bad” LL Cool J rhymes “You want a hit? Give me an hour plus a pen and a pad!” Bravado aside, his lyrics boil the writing process down to its bare essentials. In terms of accoutrements, all a writer needs in order to write is pen and paper. All of other the niceties are a bonus, like sprinkles on ice cream, nice but not necessary. Real writers can write anywhere, anytime, anyplace. You don’t need a certain time of day, peace and quiet, the right circumstances, the correct placement of the constellations in the sky, green apples or any type of rituals. You don’t even need a muse. These esoteric needs are actually self-imposed obstacles and roadblocks aspiring writers place in their paths. If you spend your time awaiting optimal conditions to begin writing, you are setting yourself up to fail. Writers are not picky. When we need to write, we will write on whatever is handy. I have written on computers, typewriters, and word processors. I have written by hand. I have filled spiral notebooks, Trapper Keepers, legal pads. I have written on index cards, construction paper, receipts and cereal boxes. I have even written on myself. I am a writer. I write.

2.     Don’t try to write something ‘new.’ Just try to write something good.

Although fiction is not as old as poetry in terms of genre, it is at least four hundred years old (if not older), if we date it back to 1605 with Cervantes’s Don Quixote, which many cite as the “first novel.” Plenty of stories have been written since then and most, if not all, stories have already been told. Writing a short story as a series of emails is neither new nor innovative, since it is based on the premise of writing a short story as a series of letters, a technique which is at least as old as Samuel Richardson’s novels Pamela (1740) and Clarissa (1748). Same thing goes for writing the story in the form of a photo album, homework assignment, map, radio broadcast, telegram, or PowerPoint presentation. Ditto for writing the story in second person, first person plural, or the point of view of an animal/inanimate object/ghost. This is not to say that the writer should eschew experimenting with these forms or any others; it is merely to say that the writer who does so in the belief that adopting any of these forms makes the story “new” is a writer who is not well-read enough to discern. There has been a tendency among aspiring writers and workshop students (at least in my own classes) to offer the following commentary as praise when discussing a fellow student’s story: “This is good. I’ve never seen it before. It’s very original” which erroneously conflates quality, originality and lack of exposure, when all it really means is that the person making the comment needs to read more and read better.

3.     Remember what Yoda told Luke: “Do or do not. There is no try.”

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The Ides of March, Beware! (Better yet, Be Idle!)

Two years ago today, on the Ides of March, I started this blog.

Since I occasionally wrote interesting things back then but had almost no readers, many of my posts are buried in the sands of blog time. I thought I would look back at what I wrote and – to pile on the unrelated metaphors – do a bit of a highlights reel of old footage.

Last year’s anniversary post: On the importance of Idle Time
The Idle Ides of March (celebrating 1 blogging year) 
– Here I reflect on the importance of idle time; in fact I blame the idle time of spring break for leading me to start the blog in the first place. I quote liberally from Brenda Ueland’s lovely, quaint, inspiring book, If You Want to Write.

Interview Series with Writers

This past year I also started my author interview series, How to Become a Writer, and my interview with the poet Carrie Oeding got Freshly Pressed!

This connected me to lots of new readers, and several of my recent interviews (and another coming soon) have come directly from reader recommendations: Cila Warncke, Andrew Porter (thanks to Denise at San Antonio Tourist), and Donna Miscolta (thanks to Gemma at gemmaDalexander’s Crooked Road!). Donna Miscolta then recommended an upcoming interview with Anne Germanacos. Thanks to all!

Thoughts about academia in general and the Ph.D. in Creative Writing in particular

What is a Ph.D. in Creative Writing?

To Ph.D. or not to Ph.D.

Why Intellectuals Need to Go Public

Why and how to become a writer

How to Become a Writer: Questionnaire – Ten questions for you to answer about yourself, your goals as a writer, your vision.

How to Become a Writer

Why Submit Work to Literary Magazines (only to get rejected over and over?)

How to Be a Writer: Discover a New Writer, pt. 1

How to Be a Writer: Writer a Fan Letter

How to Be a Writer: Copy a Passage

Find a community. You’re in this together.
You’re in this alone.
Be patient.
It takes time to arrive at the right word, the story.
The moment of elation.

DONNA MISCOLTA is the author of the novel When the de la Cruz Family Danced (Signal 8 Press, June 2011). Her story collection Natalie Wood’s Fake Puerto Rican Accent was a finalist for the 2010 Grace Paley Prize for Short Fiction. Her work has appeared in America’s Review, Calyx, Cha: An Asian Literary Review, Connecticut Review, Kartika Review, New Millennium Writings, Raven Chronicles, Conversations Across Borders, and others. She has been awarded residencies from Anderson Center, Atlantic Center for the Arts, Hedgebrook, and Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. She has received numerous grants and awards, including the Bread Loaf/Rona Jaffe Scholarship for Fiction.

Web Page: http://donnamiscolta.com

Read more by and about Donna:

Novel: When the de la Cruz Family Danced

Excerpt of novel at Cha: “A Month in the Tropics”

Short Essay: “Home Is Where the Wart Is

Story at Conversations Across Borders: “Fleeing Fat Allen” (proceeds go to VIDA: Women in the Literary Arts)

How Donna Miscolta Became a Writer

This is the next installment in the How to Become a Writer interview series, which will post here at Ph.D. in Creative Writing every other Sunday until I run out of writers to interview, or until they stop saying yes. Each writer answers the same 5 questions. Thanks to Donna for saying yes!

1.     Why did you want to become a writer?

The desire to be a writer went unacknowledged by me for much of my life. I had always been a reader and had a reverence for writers. Books were magical and writers were wizards. I thought that you didn’t become a writer. You simply were a writer. Anointed or ordained. Though all through school I did well when it came to writing, when asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I never said writer. Writing was hard. Not hard in the way math was for me ─ the abstraction of it, the way numbers refused to form a language in my head. I felt comfortable with words, but choosing the right ones and arranging them in the best order – that was hard. I thought that to be a writer, writing had to come easy. So I never considered it an option to pursue.

In an almost willful defiance of logic I studied science, obtaining a degree in zoology. I followed up with a master’s degree in education and later one in public administration, trying to figure out what and who to be in life. At age 39, I was employed in the public sector, twelve years married, deeply entrenched in parenthood, and busy as hell, yet, looking for that thing to round out my life. Finally, I acknowledged it — my fascination with words and sentences and how they come together to make stories, my desire and need to play with words on my own, to knit them into narratives, to be a writer.

Trailer for When the de la Cruz Family Danced:

2.     How did you go about becoming a writer?

In July 1993, I attended a reading by Kathleen Alcalá, whom I knew from our membership in the local chapter of a national Latina organization. The reading was on the University of Washington campus, which I had recently learned offered extension classes in creative writing. Hearing Kathleen, someone I actually knew, read a story from a book she had written, inspired me to consider the possibility that I, too, might write a story.

As it turned out, I took one of the last open spots for the fall extension class. My teacher that quarter was Jack Remick. I knew nothing about how to write a story. Yet, I, along with many of my classmates, was resistant at first to the diagrams Jack would draw on the board and his requirement that our stories have an intruder. We thought he was trying to force a formula on us and we, by golly, weren’t going to be formulaic. We were going to be original! What we came to understand was that he was trying to teach us about tension and action and conflict ─ in other words, story.

The much loved and highly esteemed Rebecca Brown was my teacher for the next two quarters. I began to feel more confident about writing. From the time I started this series of classes, I developed the habit of writing every evening after my daughters were in bed. I wrote on the bus to work and during my lunch hour. I wrote while waiting for my kids to finish soccer practice or swim lessons.

As my daughters got older, it became more feasible for me to spend time away from home and I applied to writing conferences. My first was the Squaw Valley Community of Writers, which exposed me to a lot of established writers and people like me wanting to be writers. Over the years, I’ve been able to experience the Napa Valley, VONA, and Bread Loaf conferences. I took Tom Jenks’ four-day intensive workshop. And I’ve attended multiple times the Port Townsend Writers’ Conference, a few hours away from me on the Olympic Peninsula. Program director and poet Jordan Hartt puts together a wonderful conference.

I’ve also set aside time for intensive periods of writing at residencies. Hedgebrook, Anderson Center, Atlantic Center for the Arts, and Virginia Center for the Creative Arts are among the places that have generously provided time and space, and in some cases, money for me to write.

I read books and articles on craft, but mostly I’ve just continued to be a reader of the things I want to write – novels and stories. Despite my science degree, I’m not a particularly analytical person. I suppose if I had done an MFA program I would’ve developed skills at analyzing fiction. Instead I just read and enjoy and hope that at some level I absorb something of craft from the writers I admire – Antonya Nelson, Francine Prose, Lorrie Moore, Jessica Hagedorn and Ana Castillo, to name a few.

The first book I read by Nelson was Nobody’s Girl. After that I was hooked on her writing. Prose’s Blue Angel and Guided Tours of Hell are among my favorite books, Moore’s stories seldom fail with me, and Dogeaters by Hagedorn and So Far From God by Castillo electrify with their language and humor. In fact, language and humor – sly, unforced, intelligent ─ are what draws me to all these writers.

Finally, getting feedback and really listening, letting go of any need for approval or praise, has been important in my growth as a writer. I’ve been in three writing groups. Each time one dissolved I was lucky enough to find another. I have a fantastic set of readers in the members of my current writing group: Alma Garcia, Allison Green, and Jennifer D. Munro.

3.  Who helped you along the way, and how?

Early on I received crucial support that allowed me to believe that I was a writer. I’d been writing for a couple of years daily, diligently, and more or less in isolation when I was invited to be part of Los Norteños, a group of Latino writers that was just beginning to form. We did writing exercises, critiqued each other’s work, and organized readings. It was my first writing community. Then, and I’m not sure how I happened upon them, I found resources for artists. I applied to and was accepted for a residency at Hedgebrook, a place that nurtures the soul and opens the mind and inspires you to write like mad.

That year I also received a generous grant, a powerful vote of faith, from the Seattle Arts Commission, and I was selected to participate in the first Jack Straw Writers Program, which exposes writers’ work through audio and live readings. Support such as this went a long way in counteracting the inevitable bouts of self-doubt.

Unable to pursue an MFA, I cobbled together my own writing education through conferences and workshops. Though I spent only a short time – a few days to a couple of weeks – with each of these teachers, I adored them: Lynn Freed, Bret Lott, Chris Abani, Antonya Nelson, Tom Jenks and, most recently, Paisley Rekdal. Each taught me something about writing and being a writer. A piece of advice I refer to over and over is this Cynthia Ozick quote passed on by Tom Jenks in his class: Play what feeble notes you can and keep practicing.

4. Can you tell me about a writer or artist whose biography inspires you?

When I think about the books I read when I was growing up, these are the authors that come to mind: Louisa May Alcott, Daphne Du Maurier, William Faulkner, Frank Norris, Henry James, Thomas Hardy, and Jane Austen – authors worlds removed from a Filipina-Mexican-American growing up in National City, California. The only living (at the time) author that I can recall reading back then was Richard Brautigan, introduced by a student teacher in my high school English class.  Except for Fear of Flying in college, my reading repertoire would not encompass contemporary works for a few more years. It was as if I believed books existed only by long-dead writers.

So in the interim between Erica Jong and Carlos Fuentes (and the other Latin American as well as Latino and Asian and Asian-American authors whose works I would eventually seek out), I committed myself to Virginia Woolf. I was in my twenties, post-college, and missing the debate and discussion about feminism that took place in the classrooms and the commons. I wasn’t sure how one lived feminism in the world. The Voyage Out was the first of Woolf’s novel I read.

Here was a woman so removed from my life in time, place, and class, yet I connected to her words, the finely wrought sentences that paid attention to the small moments that were so ordinary and yet held such heft and meaning. I was drawn to her focus on the female consciousness, the journey from cloistered existence to intellectual freedom and independence from social strictures. I didn’t read all her works, but many of them: To the Lighthouse, Mrs. Dalloway, The Years, A Room of One’s Own, Between the Acts.

I’ve only reread a few since then. But if the details of those works have not stayed with me the feeling of them has – the way she captured time, its fleetingness. Her life and character are so well-known – her fragility and her strength. The madness. But what matters most was the art, which has inspired other art – like movies. And I will always, always prefer Eileen Atkins’s portrayal of Virginia Woolf to Nicole Kidman’s.

5. What would you say in a short letter to an aspiring writer?

Be patient. Expect rejection.

Accept that you’ll feel envy, frustration, defeat.

Move on. Focus on your work.

Develop your characters.

Develop your character.

No one owes you publication.

When you can’t sell one story, write another.

There’s luck involved ─ good and bad.

Find a community. You’re in this together.

You’re in this alone.

Be patient.

It takes time to arrive at the right word, the story.

The moment of elation.

A review!

A gloriously long and detailed review of my book For Sale By Owner and Laynie Browne’s The Desires of Letters (Counterpath) was just posted at the awesome site/resource/lit journal, Literary Mama. Here’s an excerpt:

Thus, while the stories are in fact disturbing at times, these disturbances create layers of interest and intrigue. Parker causes the reader to reconsider the things she takes for granted (healthy children, mental well being, family connections) and asks that she appreciate these things a little more, hold them a little closer to her chest.

…Parker’s collection is at once practical and poetic, somber and funny, abstract and exact.

A question!

At the AWP Kore Press 20 Year Anniversary Poetry Reading, an audience member asked, “How can the average reader support independent publishing and women writers?”

The panelists and moderator addressed the importance of buying books, especially from the publisher, and making donations. I was just another audience member, but I chimed in with my own response: Talk about indie books, tell your friends about them, teach them in your classes, write about them on your blogs, interview the authors, link to them on Facebook. If you tweet, tweet about them.

So, in the spirit of buying and talking about books published by indie publishers…

a bag of books!

…here are the books and lit journals that I picked up at AWP:

Irlanda, Espido Freire, trans. by Toshiya Kamei (Fairy Tale Review Press)
— ooh la la, this is pretty, and the opening pages irresistible. Rilke epigraph: “How would I begin to recall you, dead as you are, you willingly, passionately dead? Was it as soothing as you imagined, or was not being alive still far from being dead?” First line: “Sagrario died in May, after much suffering.”

The Louisiana Purchase, Jim Goar (Rose Metal Press)
–stunning cover; tells how we got the moon: “President Jefferson walks off the mound. The Cardinals take the field. Ozzie Smith falls over dead. The crowd falls silent. Phil Niekro throws a ball at the sky. The ball does not return. We call it the moon. It becomes a crescent. When Jefferson holds up two fingers, the moon breaks into the dirt.”

It Was Like My Trying to Have a Tender-Hearted Nature, Diane Williams (FC2)
–i bought this because of the novella-in-flash, and the flash stories with titles like, “Well, Well, Well, Well, Well,” and because it’s Diane Williams

Kino, Jurgen Fauth (Atticus Books, ARC)
— kinda got this as a sneak peek; it looks full of hip german madness

The Book of Portraiture, Steve Tomasula (FC2)
— steve runs the show at notre dame and lives in town; he’s not only brilliant, he’s super kind and welcoming to us iusb folks who always come to his amazing parties

Lizard Man, David James Poissant (Ropewalk Press)
— jamie is one of those people who i hope will remember me when he’s rich and famous

Three Ways of the Saw, Matt Mullins (Atticus Books)
— i interviewed matt here; his book has a beautiful design and i’m excited to read it

When She Named Fire: An Anthology of Contemporary Poetry by American Women, ed. by Andrea Hollander Budy (Autumn House)
–i wasn’t exactly planning to buy a poetry anthology, but this one looks great. i love that there are bios and photos of each poet followed by a cluster of poems (not just one), that the poets are all women, and awesome: Lia Purpura, Kim Addonizio, Sheryl St. Germain, Aimee Nezuhukuatathil, Julia Kasdorf, Juliana Baggott, Camille Dungy, Mary Ruefle…

The Desires of Letters, Laynie Browne (Counterpath)
— reviewed this week with my book at Literary Mama (link above)

Love and the Eye, Laura Newbern (Kore)
–i saw her read at the kore anniversary reading and really loved her poems; it was one of the few kore books i didn’t already have

Journals:

Absinthe: New European Writing
Booth
Midwestern Gothic
The Common
Exit 7 (first issue!)

I Would Die 4 U

March 11, 2011 — Leave a comment

Talking Writing is talking PRINT. Is it dead? I took a stab at the question. Here’s the beginning of my article:

‘Print and the Revolution’

In 1984, Prince and the Revolution released the album Purple Rain. One of its mega-hits—“I Would Die 4 U”—reads today like an early version of a text message. Prescient Prince also called on us to “party like it’s 1999,” evoking our millennial obsession with apocalypse.

Read the rest here.

And a fellow shy, Midwestern book lover writes a love letter to a Cincinnati library:

‘Love Letter to the Mercantile’

I began my writing life as a girl in love with books.

At twenty, I was awed when I first walked into the Mercantile Library in downtown Cincinnati to attend a public reading. The Mercantile, one of the few remaining membership libraries in the country—the Boston Athenæum is another—has hosted such megastars as Emerson and Melville. The space simply feels literary. The musk of Great Men lingers, like particles trapped in the spines of old books.

The fellow shy, Midwestern girl is Sarah Domet, author of 90 Days to Your Novel, which you should buy and use as your guide to planning and writing the novel you’ve been planning to plan and write. Read the rest of her love letter here.

For  me, Aimee Bender‘s fiction works a little something like this:

Salginatobel Bridge, Robert Maillart 1930

Her sentences are pristine and precise, graceful, unadorned, and apparently effortless, but they straddle expanses and hold impossible weights.

Like the Salginatobel Bridge above, which Alain de Botton describes thus: “Maillart’s bridge resembles a lithe athlete who leaps without ceremony and bows demurely to his audience before leaving the stage . . . making its achievement look effortless.” (The Architecture of Happiness, 206)

De Botton contrasts the Salginatobel bridge with a bulkier suspension bridge, which, he says, is more like “a stocky middle-aged man who hoists up his trousers . . . before making a jump between two points” (205-6):

Clifton Suspension Bridge, Isambard Brunel 1864

(Yeah, so I’ve been reading architecture books along with fiction over the break.)

Usually the contrast between the two bridges is illustrative of Aimee Bender’s prose compared with, say, Henry James’s. But when I compare Bender’s new novel, The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, to her last story collection, Willful Creatures, it is her novel that begins to look like the suspension bridge, and the delicate, sad-burdened stories that, with fewer materials, span the wider gulf.

I don’t necessarily blame this on Bender, whose premise and sentences are just as fabulist and fabulous as always, I blame it on the novel – a bulkier, trouser-hoisting form. And I blame it on a publishing culture that celebrates novels more than stories. I am shocked (sort of) to discover, upon creating links to Bender’s two books that I just mentioned, that Lemon Cake has 196 customer reviews while Willful Creatures has only 14. I’ll have to post a review and make it a full 15.

But for now, I have to catch the opening episode of The Bachelor!


I haven’t been writing much lately, unless you count long paragraphs of feedback on student papers and projects. But I’m trying to stay inspired by short reading binges and by watching videos of artists and writers on those amazing sites, TED and Big Think.

I fell a little in love with Natalie Merchant all over again…

The TED conference, or whatever it was, served as a perfect venue for her new project, in which she puts mostly forgotten 19th and early 20th century poems to music. (I saw her perform a song on the Today show back when the album came out, and something about 7 a.m. and tourists peering through the giant windows in the background contributed to the sense that Merchant was old and out of touch.)

In the video above, however, she is inspired and inspiring, quirky and cool. The audience was full of her creative peers, so she was in her element. And that she could show images of the poets on the big screen (those old b&w pics are always ghostly and alluring) and talk about their lives, highlighted the fact that this  creative/historical/research project is not just a failed attempt at pop (for which she is known), but a mature artist’s engagement with other artists and other art and other lives.