Archives For University of Cincinnati

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Fifteen years ago, a group of unpublished, aspiring writers met in McMicken Hall at the University of Cincinnati and spent the next several years drafting and discussing stories, reading and analyzing literary texts, drinking and smoking, dissertating and job-marketing. One by one we got jobs and moved away and kept writing and started publishing, and whenever we can, we get together to celebrate one another’s accomplishments (and catch up on our personal lives!).

Last night was one of those nights of celebration, in this case of Sarah Domet’s debut novel, The Guineveres, which has been featured in, oh, you know: People, Elle, O. Magazine, and, last week, in the NY Times book review, which called it “deft and lovely.”

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To which one might add, smart and magical and IMPORTANT in its emphasis on the lives of a group of girls at a transformative time of their lives. (I think of the line from Kathryn Davis’s Hell: “Two adolescent girls on a hot summer night—hardly the material of great literature, which tends to endow all male experience […] with universal radiance… Mightn’t we then permit a single summer in the lives of two bored girls to represent an essential stage in the history of the universe?”) Sarah endows her Guineveres with universal radiance, and the lives of girls is great literature indeed.

As we toasted several times last night: Cheers to The Guineveres!

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[O]ne ought to be very careful about romanticizing suffering, in the pursuit of art or anything else, as the only people who think suffering’s romantic are those who haven’t had some.

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Joseph Bates is the author of Tomorrowland: Stories (Curbside Splendor 2013) and The Nighttime Novelist (Writer’s Digest, 2010). His short fiction has appeared in such journals as The RumpusNew Ohio ReviewIdentity TheorySouth Carolina ReviewFresh Boiled Peanuts, and InDigest Magazine. He teaches in the creative writing program at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.

Web page: http://www.josephbates.net/

TOMORROWLAND--THE+COVER2Read more by and about Joseph:

Story Collection: Tomorrowland

On Writing: The Nighttime Novelist

Story: “Mirrorverse” at The Rumpus

Story: “Gashead Tells All” at InDigest

Story: “How We Made a Difference” at Identity Theory

How Joseph Bates 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 (or so) until I run out of writers to interview, or until they stop saying yes. Each writer answers the same 5 questions. Thanks to Joseph for saying yes!

1. Why did you want to become a writer?

Mostly to inflict pain upon my enemies.

I always knew I wanted to be a writer, somehow. Long before I had any idea what that meant, or what I was getting myself into, or how to do it. When I began writing stories as a kid, I did it because it was fun, and I still write them because it’s fun, though by now I know that it’s also a lot of work, often frustrating, sometimes lonely, and occasionally makes me want to put my head through a wall. But what always brings me back around, refocuses me, is remembering that it’s fun . . . and it’s precisely that sense of play, if you can keep it, that allows you moments of breakthrough. I’m maybe glad I didn’t know starting out exactly what I was getting myself into. I saw this great Vonnegut quote passing around the internet the other day:  “We have to continually be jumping off cliffs and developing our wings on the way down.” That’s a lovely sentiment, and it applies not just to writing but to a lot of life, particularly the more terrifying, beautiful parts.

NN--THE+COVER22. How did you go about becoming a writer?

I failed a lot and learned valuable lessons from each failure . . . eventually. I was also fortunate to be admitted into the MA program at Clemson University and then the Ph.D. in Creative Writing at the University of Cincinnati, both full of wonderful, supportive writers and people. Sometimes what I needed from them was simple encouragement to keep going, or their passing along a book or writer I needed to read at just the right moment. Often what I needed was for them to kick away the crutches I leaned on too heavily, and they never let me down in this. Those were excellent years in terms of figuring myself out, but also in getting to be around generous, talented, hardworking people who gave my writing their time and attention, and whose work made me want to be a better writer, to earn what they gave me.

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

I have two pages of acknowledgments in Tomorrowland, and that doesn’t come anywhere close to thanking all the people who ought to be thanked, from my family and friends and loves to the many incredible teachers and colleagues I’ve worked with, not to mention the generous editors who published my work. The single biggest influence on me has been Brock Clarke, whom I got to work with in both of my graduate programs and who couldn’t be a more charitable mentor, nor a greater guy, and one hell of a writer and teacher. To this day when I’m working on a story, and I write something I know probably doesn’t work, something I’m just hoping to slip past the reader, I can hear Brock laughing in my head, as if to say, “You think so?”

But, again, everyone who’s meant so much to me over the years has helped steer my life and writing, in ways I’ll never be able to repay or even fully express. I owe a whole bunch of people a big thank you. So, you know . . .  just go ahead and embed The Beatles’ “In My Life” below this. We’ll leave it here for them.

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

I’m finishing (I swear) a novel about Kafka playing baseball that I’ve been on for a number of years, in which I have him coming to America to play ball while struggling to write his first novel. So I’ve been living in Kafkaland for some time, and always on the lookout for new biographies and research materials, and of course there’s a whole lot. Even so, part of the problem one has to get around is that Kafka’s become an image to us instead of a person: gaunt, sleepless, hunched over his desk, isolating himself in pursuit of an obsession, seeing little come back to him or his writing in his lifetime, on his deathbed requesting all of his manuscripts be destroyed . . . that romantic figure perpetuated by Max Brod in his biography, Saint Franz the Struggling Artist. That image has become so ingrained it’s almost a part of pop culture, not just literary pop culture, though one ought to be very careful about romanticizing suffering, in the pursuit of art or anything else, as the only people who think suffering’s romantic are those who haven’t had some. Nevertheless, Kafka’s one of those writers who’s damn near impossible to separate the image from the man from the work . . . it all becomes wrapped up in the same myth. But it’s the work I go to first and foremost, to find out more about him and more about me.

Franz Kafka from the National Library Israel (via Paris Review)

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

Dear Aspiring Writer: You’re doing great. Don’t let the bad days get you down. People are going to like what you’re working on right now.

There’s nothing like reading through a pile of submissions
to show you what’s cliche or overdone or just dull.

Juliana Gray’s second poetry collection, Roleplay, won the 2010 Orphic Prize and was recently published by Dream Horse Press.  Recent poems have appeared in or are forthcoming from Barrow Street, Measure, 32 Poems, Waccamaw and elsewhere.  An Alabama native, she lives in western New York and is an associate professor of English at Alfred University.

Read more by and about Juliana:

Poem: “Like, As, As If” at Waccamaw

Poem: “Zucchini” at Waccamaw

Poem: “Summer Downpour on Campus” at American Life in Poetry

Poem: “Woman in the I-65 Rest Stop” at Blackbird

Poem: “The Housesitter’s Note” at Unsplendid

Interview at “The Black Telephone”

How Juliana Gray 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 (or so) until I run out of writers to interview, or until they stop saying yes. Each writer answers the same 5 questions. Thanks to Juliana for saying yes!

1.  Why did you want to become a writer?

Doesn’t every writer begin as a reader?  I loved books and stories and poems, and wanted to make more of them.  Somewhere in the depths of my storage is the Hardy Boys book I tried to write (and illustrate, clumsily) when I was about eight years old.  I’ve destroyed the Doctor Who and comic book fan fiction.  But I think it all goes back to that impulse of trying to crack the thing you love, to see how it was done and to try for yourself to create that pleasure in another reader.

2.  How did you go about becoming a writer?

After the fan fiction?  I went to the University of Alabama and took a creative writing class.  My professor was a grad student named Rob Trucks, and he was a pretty irascible guy, but he was a good fit for me, and encouraged me to take more classes.  I wound up with a creative writing minor and some experience working on our undergraduate literary magazine, which was hugely instructive.  There’s nothing like reading through a pile of submissions to show you what’s cliche or overdone or just dull.

Then I did the usual grad school route, earning an MA at the University of Tennessee and a Ph.D at the University of Cincinnati.  Then came the really hard part, learning how to write without an assignment or a class deadline.  That took a lot of getting used to, disciplining myself and writing with no other goal than to create poems.

Andrew Hudgins at Sewanee Writers’ Conference // Photo from sewaneewriters.org

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

So, so many people have helped me.  Andrew Hudgins, my mentor from UC, and his wife Erin McGraw are at the top of that list.  They’ve been wonderful friends for years.  One of the best things they did for me was to encourage me to go to the Sewanee Writers’ Conference.  I did, and I wound up working on the staff of that conference for the next thirteen years.  There I met Wyatt Prunty, Alan Shapiro, Mark Jarman, Claudia Emerson, Erica Dawson, Leah Stewart, Kevin Wilson, Leigh Anne Couch, Phil Stephens and so many other great writers who became friends.  I’m going to make you sorry you asked this question.  Danny Anderson, Mary Jo Salter, Jill McCorkle, Randall Kenan, Tony Earley, Christine Schutt, John Casey, R.S. Gwynn, David Yezzi, Margot Livesey, Mark Strand, Carrie Jerrell, Caki Wilkinson, Sandra Beasley, Chelsea Rathburn, Charles Martin, and so many others who’ve given me feedback on my writing and supported me with their friendship.  I’m incredibly lucky to be a part of this community of writers.

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

I was thinking about this recently, because I’m going to an artists’ retreat in the fall, and the residents are supposed to bring a book that inspires them.  I’ll be bringing Philip Larkin’s Collected Poems.  Larkin’s life doesn’t inspire me in the sense that I want to live it– I think he was a lonely, unhappy man– but in that he was able to write so well and see so much from the confines of his rather circumscribed life.  He didn’t have to travel the world and attend fabulous parties or go mad– he just went to work every day and kept his eyes open.  I’m a homebody, so that appeals to me.

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

Dear Aspiring Writer: I hope you’re prepared to fail.  In the meantime, read everything you can get your hands on.  Have opinions about it.  Write lots. Imitate the ones you love.  Listen to your teachers.  Know that improving means changing.  And keep writing.  xox, Juliana.