Proximity: A Quarterly Collection of True Stories

March 11, 2014 § 2 Comments

pBy Towles Kintz

In the fall of 2008, when I was knee-deep in new motherhood, I received an unexpected opportunity. Maggie Messitt, a friend of mine from graduate school, wanted to know if I’d join her and another Goucher grad, Carrie Kilman, on a literary adventure of sorts.

The plan was for the three of us to launch a blog that would celebrate both the diversity of the world around us and our inherent interconnectedness. We would choose one location or point in time (bus stop, library, evening) and spend an hour there, resulting in a blog filled with immersion and personal essays that would become Proximity.

At the time, Maggie lived in South Africa and worked as a narrative journalist. Carrie had recently moved from Montgomery, Alabama, to Madison, Wisconsin, where she freelanced her way through a new city, and I lived in Atlanta and had mostly surrendered my writing life and aspirations to the beguiling work of motherhood.

Each of us sought connection in our own way.

For me, Proximity became a beautiful little lifeline; it was not only an opportunity to reflect and write at a time in my life when reflection, much less writing, was at a minimum, but it also gave me a window to the world during what was an otherwise isolating season of life. When all three of our essays posted, it felt like magic. Each was unique to the author’s perspective, narrative voice and experience, but underlined a sort of universal understanding of and appreciation for one another. The project lasted a year.

Then, in the summer of 2013, Maggie called me again. She wanted to know what I thought about reviving Proximity, but this time as an online literary magazine. Again, each issue would be theme-based. We would choose nine submissions – including flash, mid-range, long form and multi-media – and publish once a quarter. To help elevate this new take on an old idea and build a digital publication that would stand the test of time, we invited Traci Macnamara to join our cross-country editorial team. Together we span rural and urban, southern and northern, Appalachian college town and mountainous ski village.

And so, Proximity was re-born, but this time with greater reach and more varied perspectives. We launched our first quarterly collection of true stories in January with the theme Morning, and in it you’ll find some real gems – offering readers a layered, unqualified rendering of mornings spent in introspection, in observation, and at work. And, just as we sought years ago, we found a single theme through which to highlight our great connections and vast differences around the world, from Antarctica and Botswana to Tennessee and Maine.

This expanded format serves to amplify what our original team started. In an age where connecting so often happens with the help of technology, the stories we publish offer serious grounding in a place or time that may be very different from our own. It is also somehow relatable, and in being relatable serves to foster greater understanding and connectedness in a world that sometimes seems as small as the little devices stuck to our palms.

As a former contributor to Brevity, I would like to invite you, readers and writers of true stories, to submit to Proximity’s upcoming issues (themed: Crossroads, Stuff, Wilderness). For guidelines, or to read our stellar writers’ work in Issue #1, visit www.proximitymagazine.org.

Finding a Market for Your Flash Nonfiction

March 11, 2014 § 6 Comments

flashChelsea Biondolillo shares advice from the AWP 2014 panel, “Getting Short-Form Nonfiction to Readers: A Publication Discussion.” 

The number of journals, both online and in print, that are willing to consider flash nonfiction grows each year. Some of these venues have strict format, word count, or topic guidelines, while others are willing to consider a wide variety of prose configurations.

What follows are some notes on methods and strategies that have informed my own research into finding markets for my own flash nonfiction.

  • Ask around. For two years in a row, I scoured the book fair at AWP for journals willing to consider short, truthy prose. If an editor or representative of a journal said they’d be willing to consider something under 1,000 words, I asked if they had any examples in print—and when they did, I bought them.
  • Use the Google-force. If you don’t have the luxury of getting to AWP, or can’t bear to wait for next year, you can search free resources such as Poets & Writers and search engines. If I can’t find “flash nonfiction,” I look for the magic words, “short prose.” Failing that, I search for a combination of “prose poetry,” “hybrid or experiemental,” and “narrative or lyric nonfiction”—if a journal is willing to consider all three of those categories, they will likely consider flash nonfiction.
  • Practice the form in your cover letter. My cover letter is almost always an exercise in brevity. This is not advice specific to short form publication, but can be used for any and all journal submissions when you don’t already have a personal relationship with the editor. Whatever you do, don’t write a letter that is longer than your submission.

SAMPLE COVER LETTER:

Dear Ms. Brown / nonfiction editor,

Thank you for considering the attached flash prose, “My Tiniest Essay,” for publication in The Pushcart Machine Review. The word count is approximately 250, and this is a simultaneous submission.

Best,

Chelsea Biondolillo

 Author bio:

Be brief, professional, and use the third person. Italicize journal names if the format will allow it.

Click here for a list of Flash Nonfiction Markets assembled by Chelsea Biondolillo 

AWP Blogger Shout Out

February 21, 2014 § 1 Comment

Seattle AWP Starbucks logo

With Thanks to Kelli Russell Agodon

We are mightily pleased by the strong response to our call for guest bloggers during next week’s AWP Seattle Conference.  Here is a reminder for those of you who have volunteered:

When your blog post is ready, e-mail to brevitymag@gmail.com   About 500 words is best. Please include a two or three sentence bio note when you submit. Photos welcome but not necessary. We’ll post it as soon as the wi-fi fairies allow.

If you are wondering what is open and what is claimed, check out the comments section of these blog postings:

http://brevity.wordpress.com/2014/02/05/awp-guest-bloggers-sought/

http://brevity.wordpress.com/2014/02/06/awp_friday_panels/

http://brevity.wordpress.com/2014/02/06/awp-saturday-panels/

The Form Rejection Letter Decoder Thingy

February 10, 2014 § 52 Comments

Form Rejection Decoder Thingy

For an Easy-to-Read Version
Use the PDF link in the Blog Post

A helpful blog entry from Brevity’s managing editor Sarah Einstein. Sarah will be talking about rejection, acceptance, and writing as part of the panel “Getting Short-Form Nonfiction to Readers: A Publication Panel” on the Friday morning of AWP Seattle:

Every couple of weeks, a writer-friend sends me an email or a Facebook message with the text of a rejection letter in it, asking me to help them decode it. Most often, they want me to help them figure out how close they got to being published, which is an impossible task. I couldn’t even tell you that if it was a submission to Brevity… ultimately, either we took the piece or we didn’t. We do have tiered rejection letters. If you got our “close but not cigar” rejection, you should probably turn around and submit that piece to five other places right away because we thought pretty hard about taking it. But if you get our standard rejection, that doesn’t mean you weren’t close. It might mean that we really liked it, but that we had recently published one that seemed too similar for us to be ready for another in the same vein. It might mean that we really liked it, but we could already tell from other choices we had made that it wasn’t going to fit well into this issue. It might mean that it is perfect for PANK / Diagram / Quarter After Eight but just not perfect for Brevity. The list of things it might mean is infinite. And the truth is, there is no way for you–the author–to know. We don’t have time to write to each author and explain why we didn’t take a piece. I wish we did. I really do. I face the same issues with my own work.

And, really, we all know that you can’t actually get any real information out of a form rejection letter. We know that the fact that it took four months to hear back from a journal might mean they spent a long time considering the work and it got pretty close, but it also might mean someone at the journal got sick/married/arrested and just fell behind. That journals don’t have secret codes embedded into the form emails that explain how to become the next Jill Talbot or Anna March. But that doesn’t stop us from looking for clues that aren’t there.

So, writer-friends, I’m giving you this little present. It’s a Form Rejection Letter Decoder Thingy (PDF link here). Surely you remember these from elementary school, when you probably called them “Cootie Catchers.” Just pick a color, pick a number, and the FRLDT will give you a perfectly possible reason that your piece was not selected for publication. Sure, the reasons it will offer you are all on the sunny side of things. It won’t ever tell you, for instance, that the editors thought your narrative was great but prose was stiff. Or the other way ’round. But since all you got was a form rejection, let’s just assume that–as is far more often the case than writers believe–the reason your piece was rejected does have everything to do with the needs of the journal and nothing to do with your work.

That said, it’s probably not a bad idea to take a second pass at revision before you send it out again. Because you always want your work to be your best.

AWP Guest Bloggers Sought (Saturday’s Panels)

February 6, 2014 § 17 Comments

pikeOkay, if you’ve read the prior two posts, you know what’s up, and it involves fish being tossed back and forth at Pike Place Market. Also, AWP nonfiction panels.

Below you will find Saturday’s panels focusing on nonfiction.  If you want to claim one, feel free to do so in the comments section.  (Sometimes two people blog report on the same panel, and that’s okay too.  Three is probably too many, though.)

We are looking for two things: (1) gleaned information that might be useful or interesting to folks who can’t make the Seattle conference, and (2) Just fun times.  You can blog about the drunk poet in the elevator if you want to and can make it interesting.  Or go kiss a baby seal.  Reports from the Bookfair are good too.

[Those who volunteer; When your blog post is ready, e-mail to to brevitymag@gmail.comAbout 500 words is best.  If you want a reminder, you can send an e-mail now to the same address as well as posting below and we'll remind you in two weeks, but if you want to just keep track yourself, that's fine too.  Please include a two or three sentence bio note when you submit.]

chum_colorsSo here is Saturday’s schedule:

Saturday, March First.

Ten-thirty a.m. to Eleven-forty-five a.m.

S136. Resisting Rise, Fall, Resolve: Strategies for the Anti-Memoir.
(Elizabeth Kadetsky, Robin Romm, David MacLean, Joanna Smth Rakoff, Liz Scarboro) Redwood Room, Sheraton Seattle, 2nd Floor.
Traditional memoir suggests a journey from tragedy to redemption with a sane narrator who provides a handrail through chaos. This panel discusses possibilities for disrupting the classic rise-fall arc of the confession, exploring ways to rough up the memoir genre. Authors can create danger through form: 2nd and 3rd person, graphics and text/image hybrid, novelization, fractured narrative, scrambled chronology, meta-textual deconstruction, or, simply, falling deeper and deeper as narrative arc.

S158. “Doubt is my Revelation”: Creative Nonfiction On Religion.
(Jeff Sharlet, Nathan Schneider, Kaya Oakes, Brook Wilensky-Lanford)
Room LL5, Western New England MFA Annex, Lower Level.
Philip Lopate has written that the essay as a form is all about doubt. But what if you’re an essayist obsessed with religion? How does a skeptic engage with devout subjects? Or alternately, how does a writer of faith reach across the divide to unbelievers? Editors of and contributors to Killing the Buddha, an online literary magazine specializing in “first person dispatches from the margins of faith,” share their experiences and discuss the essential role of doubt in writing about faith.

S185. Telling it All: Boundaries in Creative Nonfiction.
(Allen Gee, Ann McCutchan, Peter Selgin, Margaret Macinnis, Emily Fox Gordon)
Room 613/614, Washington State Convention Center, Level 6.
Five writers will read brief excerpts and explain why this published work contains their most personally revealing material. What will follow is a discussion about what each writer won’t write about and why. Our panel will attempt to answer these questions: While we often seek to maintain or nurture a sense of privacy for ourselves, what are the writer’s obligations? Does one’s art trump any and all ethical considerations? Should we be mindful of secrets, or is nothing sacred anymore?

One-thirty p.m. to Two-forty-five p.m.

S207. What about God? Memoirists Discuss Faith and Writing.
(Krista Bremer, Cheryl Strayed, Sara Miles, Emily Rapp, G. Willow Wilson)
Room 602/603, Washington State Convention Center, Level 6.
Faith is understood to be the opposite of the intellect, and religion to be at odds with literature, which thrives on ambiguity. But if life is a journey, then memoir is travel writing. The author is no tourist seeking souvenirs; she’s a pilgrim who wanders the wilderness of memory in search of meaning. How do an author’s beliefs shape her quest, both her process and her finished work? Five memoirists will discuss spirituality and writing and explore how their beliefs shape their work.

S225. The Naked I: Nonfiction’s Exposed Voice.
(Barrie Jean Borich, Ira Sukrungruang, Margot Singer, Dinah Lenney, Judith Kitchen)
Room 304, Western New England MFA Annex, Level 3.
Authentic voice. Inner voice. Essayistic voice. Unmasked voice. However we describe the sound and texture of that slip-slide between our actual lives and the versions of ourselves we create for the page, this palpable human presence is what distinguishes creative nonfiction from the genres. This panel of nonfiction writers will discuss the intimacy, intellect, and identity of this naked I—part actuality, part construction, always individual, and wholly what the genre is all about.

S226. Writing Feminism in Creative Nonfiction.
(Sarah Lenz, Marcia Aldrich, Kristen Iversen, Sonja Livingston, Mary Kay McBrayer)
Room 305, Western New England MFA Annex, Level 3.
Five women writers speak about how feminism influences their CNF writing. In our post-feminism era how do women memoirists and journalists fit in? What effect does feminism have on the MFA program from the professors’ and students’ viewpoint? Who are the feminists CNF writers can look to these days? Are Simone de Beauvoir and Betty Friedan still relevant? Where does feminism intersect with publishing? How helpful is the VIDA count in raising awareness to these issues?

Three o’clock p.m. to Four-fifteen p.m.

S230. Lightening Up the Dark: The Role of Humor in Memoir.
(Mimi Schwartz, Joe Mackall, Phillip Lopate, Suzanne Greenberg, Daniel Stolar)
Willow Room, Sheraton Seattle, 2nd Floor.
Too often we see our lives as simply funny or sad and write in that single mode, limiting the emotional complexity of our narratives. Humor is a powerful tool for changing that—and no need to be Jon Stewart to use it effectively. Our panel of five explores how humor works for them as writers and teachers of memoir and essay. We address how humor deepens perspective, how it seduces readers to our side, and how, by marrying dark material with humor, we create a powerful tension between the two.

S240. Planning for Surprise: Teaching the Unexpected in Personal Narrative.
(Patrick Madden, Michael Steinberg, Renee D’Aoust, Thomas Larson, Desirae Matherly)
Room 606, Washington State Convention Center, Level 6.
This panel focuses on the vital role that surprise, serendipity, and experimentation play in writing and teaching personal narratives. We’ll explore how we and writers utilize the surprises that arise while drafting and, in turn, how we teach these strategies to graduates and undergraduates. In place of relying on preset stories and structures, we’ll offer examples designed to help nonfiction writers learn to trust their instincts and intuitions as they compose their personal narratives.

S247. Modernism and the Lyric Essay.
(Joey Franklin, Dinty W. Moore, Mary Cappello, David Shields, Lia Purpura)
Room 615/616/617, Washington State Convention Center, Level 6.
What can Joyce, Woolf, Pound, Eliot, and modernists teach us about the poetics of the lyric essay? And can answering such a question help the lyric essay find its aesthetic roots? Join us as we discuss how modernist preoccupations with impressionism, self-consciousness, fragmentation, and free association (among things) can not only inform the way we read, write, and teach lyric essays, but can also help us place this popular genre in the larger tradition of western poetics.

Four-thirty p.m. to Five-forty-five p.m.

S264. The Power of Perspective: Teaching Memoir and Creating Community Among Older Writers.
(Michelle Seaton, Judah Leblang, Kerrie Kemperman, Kathryn Kay)
Room 3B, Washington State Convention Center, Level 3.
Many of the tens of millions of older Baby Boomers in this country yearn for quality creative writing instruction. In Boston, Grub Street has created a program to teach memoir to retirees and has published four anthologies of their work. In this panel, instructors and administrators will discuss how the program evolved, its teaching and workshop philosophy, and how it handles the publishing process, so that communities can reach this vital but underserved population.

S270. Risking More Than Your Own Story: The Challenges of Researching and Writing Others’ Lives.
(Gregory Martin, Debra Gwartney, Mark Sundeen, Jennifer Sinor)
Room 606, Washington State Convention Center, Level 6.
Panelists consider the ethical questions that arise when we bring others—both living and dead—into our literary nonfiction. What is a writer’s responsibility to his or her subject? What are the possibilities for harm, inaccuracy, or success? In addition, the apparent ease of gathering information through modern technology can make it difficult to know where and how to begin. These writers will give both practical advice and critical reflection on the challenges of writing about others.

S280. Beyond the Gild: Lyric Imperatives in the Personal Essay.
(Robert Root, Kathryn Winograd, Laura Julier, Steve Harvey, Jocelyn Bartkevicius)
Room LL5, Western New England MFA Annex, Lower Level.
Personal and lyric essays are sometimes perceived as antithetical by novice writers in creative nonfiction, the personal essay conscripted to linear narrative and the lyric essay to experimental poetics. The personal essayist may embrace poetic language, yet leave untapped elements such as metaphor, symbol, deep image, and associative logic. Writers, mentors, and editors discuss how to discover these “doorways” to broaden and deepen the revelatory journey into self and world.

AWP Guest Bloggers Sought (Friday’s Panels)

February 6, 2014 § 22 Comments

chinook_salmonOnce again, we are looking for AWP attendees to volunteer to guest blog on panels, readings, events, happenings related to the world of creative nonfiction, memoir, literary narrative, the lyric essay, etcetera. We will endeavor to post some of these brief reports during the conference, and will run some of them post-conference.

Below you will find Friday’s panels focusing on nonfiction.  If you want to claim one, feel free to do so in the comments section.  (Sometimes two people blog report on the same panel, and that’s okay too.  Three is probably too many, though.)

We are looking for two things: (1) gleaned information that might be useful or interesting to folks who can’t make the Seattle conference, and (2) Just fun times.  You can blog about the drunk poet in the elevator if you want to and can make it interesting.  Or go catch some fish at the Pike Place Market. Reports from the Bookfair are good too.

[Those who volunteer; When your blog post is ready, e-mail to to brevitymag@gmail.com. About 500 words is best.  If you want a reminder, you can send an e-mail now to the same address as well as posting below and we'll remind you in two weeks, but if you want to just keep track yourself, that's fine too.  Please include a two or three sentence bio note when you submit.]

968941_538079672926156_136728789_aSo here is Friday.  We’ll post Saturday’s schedule soon:

Friday, February Twenty-eighth.

Nine a.m. to 10:15 a.m. (time corrected)

F115. Navigating Emptiness: Benefits and Drawbacks of Teaching the Lyric Essay.
(Kathleen Rooney, Brandon Schrand, Nicole Walker, Julie Paegle)
Room 604, Washington State Convention Center, Level 6.
In this panel, presenters will discuss their experience in teaching the lyric form. They will describe the challenge in teaching both introductory and advanced students how to reproduce the lyric essay’s delight in gaps, association, and the unknown. Panelists will provide practical advice and examples based on their experience, including model essays, course outlines, and approaches to this dynamic form.

F120. A “New” Nonfiction.
(Jamie Iredell, Chloe Caldwell, Anna March, Scott McClanahan)
Room 611, Washington State Convention Center, Level 6.
As writers and publishers adapt to the evolving media-driven culture of which they are a part, this panel features writers whose work spans the scope of contemporary nonfiction, from literary criticism to memoir, to immersive journalism and the op ed. They have found traditional print venues for placing their writing, as well as podcasts, webzines, websites, interactive maps, and ebooks, and will discuss how nonfiction has evolved to adapt to the many venues available for its practitioners.

Ten-thirty a.m. to Eleven-forty-five a.m.

F133. Getting Short-Form Nonfiction to Readers: A Publication Discussion.
(Sarah Einstein, Hattie Fletcher, Chelsea Biondolillo, Kelly Sundberg)
Aspen Room, Sheraton Seattle, 2nd Floor.
Flash nonfiction is a growing genre. But where can you get it published? Join the managing editors of Brevity and Creative Nonfiction and two short-form nonfiction writers as they share trends, techniques, and strategies for finding markets for your short-form nonfiction, whether lyric, expository, or experimental.

F145. Family Trouble: Memoirists on the Hazards and Rewards of Revealing Family.
(Joy Castro, Ralph Savarese, Sue William Silverman, Faith Adiele, Stephanie Elizondo Griest)
Room 602/603, Washington State Convention Center, Level 6.
Writing and publishing memoir about family members can be a vexed process, rife with concerns about privacy, fairness, and exploitation. The editor of the new collection Family Trouble: Memoirists on the Hazards and Rewards of Revealing Family, together with four of its contributors, will discuss the challenges of writing about family members, share craft strategies, and offer ethical approaches for negotiating this difficult emotional and political terrain.

F158. When a Poem Can’t Tell the Whole Story: Why Poets are Taking up Nonfiction.
(Danielle Deulen, Katharine Coles, Gregory Orr, Julia Koets, Linwood Rumney)
Room 101, Western New England MFA Annex, Level 1.
As creative nonfiction becomes more popular and expands to push against the boundaries of convention, poets increasingly adopt it as a second genre. Five poets who also write nonfiction and who are at various stages in their careers discuss nonfiction from the poet’s perspective. How does working in two genres change the way we think about craft? How does writing in a second genre open up career opportunities in a difficult job market?

Twelve noon to One-fifteen p.m.

F167. Full Disclosure: How to Spill Your Guts without Making a Mess.
(Krista Bremer, Sy Safransky, Cary Tennis, Lidia Yuknavitch, Marion Winik) Redwood Room, Sheraton Seattle, 2nd Floor.
In the era of social media and reality TV, it seems no topic is too private to be publicly shared, but what do we really learn about each from all this self-exposure? Are we telling everything while saying nothing? When an author writes about something deeply private, it should reveal our common humanity, not turn him or her into a side-show attraction. Our panel will discuss how to write about subjects such as addiction, forbidden lust, and grief in a way that serves a greater purpose.

F182. The Researcher in the Room: The Ethics of Immersion Writing.
(Ana Maria Spagna, Jo Scott-Coe, Joe Mackall, Amanda Webster)
Room 607, Washington State Convention Center, Level 6.
What are the rules when nonfiction writers immerse in cultures very different from our own? Panelists will discuss their experiences and address thorny questions. How do we frame our intentions with sources, literary audiences, and ourselves? How do we resolve conflicting versions of the truth? Do we ever leave out information to protect privacy or integrity? What consequences stem from our projects? What, in the end, do we owe the people we write about?

F189. River Teeth Anniversary Reading.
(Sarah M. Wells, Steven Harvey, Jill Noel Kandel, Jon Kerstetter, Andre Dubus III)
Room 618/619/620, Washington State Convention Center, Level 6.
This reading celebrates River Teeth’s fifteen years of publishing the best of creative nonfiction. Four of River Teeth’s nationally recognized writers will read from work originally published in River Teeth. These essays were reprinted in Best American Essays 2013Best Spiritual Writing 2012, and the Pushcart Prize XXXV.

F193. Brevity Reading.
(Jane Ciabattari, Meg Pokrass, Pamela Painter, Bobbie Ann Mason, Grant Faulkner)
Room 202, Western New England MFA Annex, Level 2.
Brevity is big these days, attracting more and more writers and readers to a form once considered niche. Flash is the truffle of prose writing; small in word count, yet dense and satisfying. Online and print journals are embracing flash as technology advances and life’s pace quickens. Flash writing is often lyrical, much like prose poetry; laced with sensory detail. Five masters of the form read their flash fiction, essay, and memoir. Plenty of time will be left for questions and answers.

One-thirty p.m. to Two-forty-five p.m.

F233. Organizing the Truth: Building the Nonfiction Canon.
(Colin Rafferty, Patricia Foster, Judith Kitchen, Sheryl St. Germain, Jill Talbot)
Room 305, Western New England MFA Annex, Level 3.
The introduction of creative nonfiction to the creative writing classroom has been followed by an exponential growth in the number of anthologies collecting the genre. For every essay chosen for an anthology, hundreds of others don’t make it through the gate. Four editors of nonfiction anthologies discuss the selection process, editorial goals, and whether they believe their projects best capture the genre’s breadth and depth—or if that’s even possible.

Three o’clock p.m. to Four-fifteen p.m.

F236. Like a Novel: Creative Nonfiction and the Question of Characters.
(Donovan Hohn, Jennifer Percy, Jeanne Marie Laskas, Jeff Sharlet) Redwood Room, Sheraton Seattle, 2nd Floor.
In blurbs for creative nonfiction, one often sees a curious phrase: like a novel. And yet writers who make stories out of facts can never know the people they write about in the same way novelists know their characters. How, then, does one practice the art of nonfiction portraiture? And what are the challenges, implications, and risks—ethical, reportorial, aesthetic—of writing about real people using the characterizing techniques of fiction?

F248. A Memoir with a View: On Bringing the Outside In.
(Sue Silverman, Lee Martin, Sonya Huber, Joy Castro, Harrison Candelaria Fletcher)
Room 602/603, Washington State Convention Center, Level 6.
Some critics label memoirs mere navel gazing. However, the memoirists on this panel will show why it’s anything but. In memoir the “I” is a strong presence, guiding and shaping the narrative, but the broader perspective is that of someone gazing out a window rather than peering into a mirror. The “I” reflects an image in a windowpane as we superimpose ourselves upon the wider world. We will explore ways in which personal stories engage with social, cultural, and political realities.

F262. Weaving Stories from Strands of Truth: Native Writers on Nonfiction.
(Elissa Washuta, Debra Magpie Earling, Deborah Miranda, Ernestine Hayes)
Room 202, Western New England MFA Annex, Level 2.
Many Native American writers are currently working within the genres of poetry and fiction; fewer writers work in nonfiction. This panel considers the complicated history of Native self-telling alongside contemporary memoir, essay, and forms in order to examine where nonfiction is situated among the recently published literary works by Native writers. The history of Euro-American influence on the oral storytelling tradition creates a distinct set of issues within Native nonfiction.

Four-thirty p.m. to Five-forty-five p.m.

F281. How to Write a Nonfiction Book Proposal.
(Joe Miller, Nicole Hardy, Ayesha Pande, Nicholas Boggs)
Room 602/603, Washington State Convention Center, Level 6.
Publishers pay for nonfiction books before they’re written. In fact, they often pay more than they do for finished novels. All you need is a good proposal. It sounds easy, but it’s not; a proposal is in many ways harder to write than a book itself. It’s an entire book, a sales pitch, an audition of writing talent and skills, all wrapped up in a mere handful of pages. In this panel discussion, four authors and an agent offer practical tips for tackling this immense challenge.

F284. Just the Facts: Effective Research Strategies in Creative Nonfiction.
(Gail Folkins, Toni Jensen, Kurt Caswell, Jill Patterson, Dennis Covington)
Room 607, Washington State Convention Center, Level 6.
Creative nonfiction demands not only a literary component but also a researched and factual one. Highlighting research gives voice to the processes nonfiction writers use in gathering information, from interviews and archives to the art of immersion. Topics such as integrating and attributing research shed additional light on this genre, focusing on best practices rather than lapses in accuracy and ethics.

F293. Place and Ethnicity in Literary Nonfiction.
(Allen Gee, Geeta Kothari, Ruben Martinez, Neela Vaswani, Mark O’Connor)
Room LL5, Western New England MFA Annex, Lower Level.
What occurs when ethnicity intersects with writing about varying locales? This diverse panel will discuss several of the issues that arise when writers contemplate and examine different spaces, such as rural borders, countries, the suburbs, or urban neighborhoods. We’ll speak to what extent protest can figure into one’s work, how we portray specific immigrant cultures and communities, and share observations we’ve made about assimilation and alienation in America.

AWP Guest Bloggers Sought

February 5, 2014 § 40 Comments

chinook_salmonOnce again, we are looking for AWP attendees to volunteer to guest blog on panels, readings, events, happenings related to the world of creative nonfiction, memoir, literary narrative, the lyric essay, etcetera. We will endeavor to post some of these brief reports during the conference, and will run some of them post-conference.

Below you will find Thursday’s panels focusing on nonfiction.  If you want to claim one, feel free to do so in the comments section.  (Sometimes two people blog report on the same panel, and that’s okay too.  Three is probably too many, though.)

We are looking for two things: (1) gleaned information that might be useful or interesting to folks who can’t make the Seattle conference, and (2) Just fun times.  You can blog about the drunk poet in the elevator if you want to and can make it interesting.  Or go catch some fish at the Pike Place Market. Reports from the Bookfair are good too.

968941_538079672926156_136728789_aSo here is Thursday.  We’ll post Friday and Saturday’s schedules soon:

Nine o’clock a.m. to Ten-fifteen a.m.

R123. Teaching Brief, Sudden, Flash, and Very Short Prose.
(Raul Moreno, Meagan Cass, Damian Dressick, Sara Henning, Steve Pacheco)
Room LL4, Western New England MFA Annex, Lower Level.
With The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Nonfiction now a familiar text among college-level instructors and an international anthology of very short fiction due out from Norton, questions about best approaches to attempting brief prose abound. If this can be a good way to teach writing, as anthologist Robert Shapard suggests, how do students negotiate the new horizons of genre and form? Five instructors offer lessons from workshops, grading, new media, doctoral research, and more.

R126. What Was Is: The Use of Present Tense in Creative Nonfiction.
(Kate Hopper, Hope Edelman, Bonnie Rough, Marybeth Holleman, Ryan Van Meter)
Room 202, Western New England MFA Annex, Level 2.
This panel of memoirists and essayists will consider what happens when we write about past events in the present tense. When does present tense provide needed immediacy, and when does it limit an author’s ability to write to the true story? We will explore the benefits, challenges, and drawbacks of using present tense as we craft our lives on the page, and we will discuss how tense affects craft issues, such as voice, reflection, and structure.

Ten-thirty a.m. to Eleven-forty-five a.m.

R137. Courting the Peculiar: the Ever-Changing Queerness of Creative Nonfiction.
(Ames Hawkins, Barrie Jean Borich, Mary Cappello, K. Bradford)
Room 3B, Washington State Convention Center, Level 3.
What do we mean when we claim that creative nonfiction is a queer genre? Four queer-identified panelists collectively position creative nonfiction as a genre welcoming of writers and writing that embraces the peculiar, courts the unconventional, and opens to forms yet to be imagined. At the turn of the 20th century, Gertrude Stein in Tender Buttons proposed: “Act so that there is no use in a center”; how can practitioners of creative nonfiction today use language to express truths still to come?

R153. A Bag Full of God: Female Memoirists with Daddy Issues.
(Sarah Tomlinson, Alysia Abbott, Jennie  Ketcham, Tracy  McMillan, Alison Wearing)
Room LL5, Western New England MFA Annex, Lower Level.
Every daughter must bury her father — marble-heavy, a bag full of God — as Sylvia Plath wrote. These daughters did so in the form of memoir. The task of authoring the man who authored you is necessarily fraught, with the need to find a balance between deification and bitterness. Female memoirists discuss how they confronted the long shadows cast by their fathers, with a special focus on the craft of memoir, how to find the truth of a true story, and writing to make the personal universal.

Twelve noon to One-fifteen p.m.

R160. Books About Books: A Nonfiction Conundrum.
(Brook Wilensky-Lanford, Andrea Pitzer, Ellen F. Brown, Kristin Swenson, Colin Dickey)
Aspen Room, Sheraton Seattle, 2nd Floor.
Whether it’s a biography of Gone With the Wind, travels among readers of Russian novels, or an afterlife of Lives of the Saints, great works of literature are now inspiring stories than the ones between their covers. We will discuss this trend in terms of craft: How does the book’s structure influence the new narrative? How does a nonfiction writer approach books differently from the academic or critic? What are the opportunities and pitfalls of having a book as your main character?

R170. All This and More: What Form of Creative Nonfiction is the Essay/Review? (Mary Rockcastle, Stan Sanvel Rubin, David Ingle, Jocelyn Bartkevicius)
Room 607, Washington State Convention Center, Level 6.
In an essay published in the Manilla Review, Jennifer B. McDonald, an editor at The New York Times Book Review, wrote, “A good review introduces a book and attempts a rigorous appraisal, while demonstrating fairness, intelligence, clarity, discernment, and style.” A good essay review does all of this and more. In addition to reviewing the books (usually two or more), the essay review serves as a springboard for the author to explore ideas and probe aspects of his/her own life. The panelists, all of them editors and/or writers of the essay review—for Water~Stone Review, the Georgia Review, and Fourth Genre—will focus on what the essay review is and isn’t, what it offers the reader as well as the author of the book being reviewed, and how it contributes not only to the literary magazine but to the writer (and field) of creative nonfiction.

R180. Creative Nonfiction’s 20th Anniversary Reading.
(John Edgar Wideman, Floyd Skloot, Brian  Doyle, Rebecca Skloot, Elena Passarello)
Room 618/619/620, Washington State Convention Center, Level 6.
A reading in celebration of the 20th anniversary of Creative Nonfiction magazine. Creative Nonfiction was the first literary magazine to publish nonfiction exclusively, and for two decades the magazine has featured prominent authors such as Gay Talese, Phillip Lopate, and Adrienne Rich while helping to launch the careers of some of the genre’s most exciting emerging writers. Help us celebrate and honor Creative Nonfiction’s dedication to this still-expanding genre.

R184. The Third I: The Writer as Mediator in Memoir and Personal Narrative.
(Janice Gary, Aimee  Liu, Richard Hoffman  Hoffman, Jerald  Walker, Meredith  Hall)
Room 202, Western New England MFA Annex, Level 2.
As both subject and writer, memoirists must mediate the I of the past and the I of the present with a third I: the writer who has both lived the material and shapes it. In this session, authors of literary memoir discuss the distinct challenges of creating literature from life that is both truthful and compelling and how they use the authorial I to find the voice to narrate the story, the structure to support the narrative and selection of material from the vast archives of personal history.

One-thirty p.m. to Two-forty-five p.m.

R192. The Author’s Children: The Intersection of Art, Advocacy, and Ethics in Writing About Your Kids.
(Zoe Zolbrod, Jillian Lauren, Ben Tanzer, Claire Dederer, Kerry Cohen) Redwood Room, Sheraton Seattle,
2nd Floor.
Writers of personal nonfiction often wrestle with how much to divulge about themselves and others, and the tension increases when the subject matter includes children. What are our rights, responsibilities, and imperatives as we write about our kids? How do we respond to concerns that we’re leaving a legacy that might make our children uncomfortable? In this panel, authors who have written boldly about their children and themselves will discuss these issues.

R207. Out of the Classroom: Possible Adventures in Creative Writing.
(Philip Graham, Dinty W. Moore, John Warner, Harmony Neal)
Room 611, Washington State Convention Center, Level 6.
This panel chronicles the strategies of four teachers of fiction and nonfiction who assign undergraduate students to go on “adventures” outside of the classroom and their comfort zone: attending roller derby games or a quarter horse competition, visiting a pet cemetery, going on a “coyote watch,” taking tango classes, etc. These assignments encourage students to see how “plot” works in real life (instead of in television narratives) and how easily they can generate material for their writing.

R209. The I or the Eye: The Narrator’s Role in Nonfiction.
(Phillip Lopate, Elyssa East, Robert Root, Lia Purpura, Michael Steinberg)
Room 613/614, Washington State Convention Center, Level 6.
Be it a personal or lyric essay, memoir, a work of journalism, or criticism, writers of literary nonfiction must decide how to craft their narrators to best suit the subject at hand. Why are some narrators situated center-stage as participants (the I) while others locate themselves more offstage as observers (the Eye)? This panel of writers, teachers, and editors will offer rationales for a range of approaches and suggest strategies to determine how best to present their narrators on the page.

Three o’clock p.m. to Four-fifteen p.m.

R222. Ghost Lives: Writing and Teaching Memoir When the Subject is Missing.
(Brian Castner, Warren Etheredge, Christa Parravani, Sonya Lea) Redwood Room, Sheraton Seattle, 2nd Floor.
Join a conversation about finding story in what has gone missing. How can we work with lapsed memory, missing subjects, and constructing reality for absent others? How can we instruct students healing from traumatic brain injury, PTSD, and memory perils? Four writers and writing teachers examine the impact of constructing a memoir with missing people, places, and events. Explore their heightened examples of what every memoir writer must face and how to recapture details that point to truth.

R234. Breaking Silences: Women’s Memoir as an Act of Rebellion.
(Janice Gary, Kate  Hopper, Anna March, Connie May Fowler, Rosemary  Daniell)
Room 607, Washington State Convention Center, Level 6.
Pregnancy. Rape. Motherhood. Domestic violence. Tillie Olsen writes: Why are more women silenced than men? The women on this panel also ask: why, when women write about the full experience of being female in this culture are our stories seen as less worthy of literary merit than those of male counterparts? We’ll address our experiences with writing taboo subjects and discuss the conscious and unconscious biases that keep women from the transgressive act of writing honestly about their lives.

Four-thirty p.m. to Five-forty-five p.m.

R252. First-Person Journalism: Tips on Telling the Truth.
(Martha Nichols, Fred Setterberg, Andrew Lam, Autumn Stephens, William Wong) Redwood Room, Sheraton Seattle, 2nd Floor.
Literary writers often assume that journalists only tell people’s stories. But journalists use a personal point of view in op-eds, essays, even traditional features. Forget objectivity. A journalistic approach can be just as artful as creative nonfiction, and first-person reporting encourages diverse perspectives. In this moderated Q&A session, a panel of journalists and editors discuss why subjectivity in fact-based stories is great—as long as it’s not an excuse for bending the truth.

R256. Beyond the Memoir: a New Approach to Teaching Creative Writing to Senior Citizens.
(David Robson, Nancy McCurry, Paul Pat, Lloyd Noonan)
Room 3A, Washington State Convention Center, Level 3.
Life story workshops are prevalent in senior citizen facilities in the United States. Yet the memoir is not ideal for every older adult with a yearning to write. In fact, many aren’t ready or, more commonly, don’t have the desire to go down this road. In this panel, educators will discuss innovative practices to bring out the best creative works from this growing population. Leave with techniques to excite older students and concepts to immediately craft or expand your own program.

R264. The Peculiar Yesterday: The Memoir Today.
(Debra Di Blasi, Dawn Raffel, Jane Rosenberg LaForge, Cris Mazza, Anna Joy Springer)
Room 606, Washington State Convention Center, Level 6.
Seattle-based Jaded Ibis Press celebrates the 21st Century memoir by inviting four of its authors to discuss why and how they arrived at their own chimeric autobiographies and the cultural implications of literary transmutation. Publisher Debra Di Blasi will present her editorial preference for unorthodox memoirs and, with authors, examine its potential for mining deeper truths for writers and readers alike.

R273. Flash in the Classroom: Teaching Micro Prose.
(Sophie Rosenblum, Sherrie Flick, Pamela Painter, Sean Lovelace, Sarah Einstein)
Room LL4, Western New England MFA Annex, Lower Level.
As interest in the flash form continues to develop, teachers must be ready with pedagogical approaches in mind and in hand. This panel of experts in teaching and writing flash, including faculty from Chatham University, Ball State University, and Emerson College, along with editors from Brevity and NANO Fiction, will identify the best practices for generating successful flash-based workshops while exploring effective readings and exercises for writing students.

R276. Relationship Memoir: Living through It.
(Adam O’Connor Rodriguez, Jay Ponteri, Gregory Martin, Ariel Gore, Monica Wesolowska)
Room 202, Western New England MFA Annex, Level 2.
Memoirs are often about difficult relationships and the understanding that comes with living through them. These four authors have all recently published memoirs that dig deeply into trying relationships between husband and wife, father and son, and mand daughter. They will discuss the challenges of writing their way into a deeper understanding of these relationships as well as how those whom they write about in their memoirs coped with the writing and publishing process.

The Nonfiction Conversation

January 24, 2014 § 1 Comment

Former Brevity contributor Sean Finucane Toner calls our attention to Referential Magazine:

Image by Steph Skardal via Flickr Creative Commons

Image by Steph Skardal via Flickr Creative Commons

Referential Magazine  is now open to submissions of literary nonfiction, fiction and poetry. With just two issues under our new editors, our magazine has published literary luminaries such as Rebecca McClanahan, Thomas E. Kennedy, Adriana Paramo, Lee K. Abbott, Lynn Kanter, Suzanne Farrell Smith, Phillip Sterling, Madeline Tiger, Anne Harding Woodworth, Thomas Lynch and many others. We desire a balance of heart and intellect, want work that is less ink, more blood.

About.com’s Catherine Sustana reports in her Eight Innovative Online Magazines: “Referential Magazine calls itself ‘a celebration of the interconnectedness of the written word,’ and reading it is not quite like reading anything else I’ve encountered on the web. Some of the pieces are previously unpublished; others are reprints. Most pieces are followed by a reference to at least one other work — one that inspired it or one that resonates with it (though sometimes a piece is just followed by a statement from the author). The references sometimes lead to other works on the Referential Magazine site, but often, they lead to other sites. The effect is to put literary works in conversation with each other, creating a sense of context and community rather than the isolation so often created by the abundant material available on the internet.”

Seven Essays I Meet in My Literary Heaven

January 21, 2014 § 13 Comments

heavenA guest post from Jennifer Niesslein, founder of Full Grown People, the essay magazine:

1.     The Essay that Manages to Be Funny, Poignant, and Thought-Provoking All at the Same Time. I think I like this kind of essay because it most closely mimics real life: the humor and the pathos and the mysteries of being human. Shaun Anzaldua and Jody Mace are fabulous at this, and I don’t why they’re not household names.

2.     The Essay that Takes Me Someplace. Listen, I live a sheltered life. I’ve been out of the country once and that was to Toronto for a conference. (The black squirrels weirded me out.) My favorite place is home, where my robe is waiting. So when I come across an essay that transports me to Montana, or Ireland, or Italy in a way that feels like the writer is carrying me in her pocket? I’m in.

3.     The Essay that Sticks the Landing. I hate an everything-is-perfect-now ending, but those endings (like Jill Talbot’s or Amber Stevens’s) that take the momentum that the writer has built and actually bring it to a lip-pressing crescendo make me swoon. Isn’t that the point of an essay? To haunt the reader just a little?

4.     The Essay that Teaches Me Something. What do I know about Jewish remembrance traditions or making paper? Nothing. (See “sheltered life,” above.) As William Bradley so eloquently wrote about, these essays put me in the skin of someone I’m not, and they increase my empathy.

5.     The Essay that Makes Me Rethink My Attitude Entirely. And oh, no, I’m not talking about those essays that are basically click-bait. I’m talking essays like Kim Kankiewicz’s that completely changed my thinking about beauty, from a way to stand out to a way to fit in.

6.     The Essay that I Know Someone Will Read and Be Thankful that It Came to Him or Her at This Moment. This is the most very gratifying part of my job—running something that I know will make someone say, “Oh, holy hell, YES!” Not every essay will hit a nerve with every reader, but there is something magical when a reader finds an essay that tackles the same circumstances he finds himself in and, at least for a moment, his loneliness disappears.

7.     The Essay that Illuminates Naked Yearning. These pieces may force writers to reveal something ugly about themselves, but we all have something ugly in us, and there’s a relief that comes from recognizing it in an essay. Every good essay, though, mitigates that ugliness by revealing a yearning. Jennifer Maher yearns for a baby.Sonya Huber yearns for her partner to be cleaved from his addiction. Eric Williamson yearns for a more peaceful marriage. All of us—writer and reader—can yearn and yearn and yearn, but that doesn’t always mean we get what we want. In an essay, we get to be understood.

A Sweet Birthday

November 12, 2013 § Leave a comment

sweet

SWEET: A Literary Confection is entering its sixth year and the folks at Brevity are plenty pleased to wish a happy, productive birthday to one of our favorite online counterparts. Under the direction of co-founders Ira Sukrungruang, Katherine Riegel, and K.C. Wolfe, SWEET has from the start offered consistent high quality literary energy food. In this guest post, SWEET staffer Christine M. Lasek interviews the magazine’s co-founder Ira Sukrungruang:

SWEET is truly a “labor of love” (i.e., a lot of hard work that you’re not paid for).  How were you inspired to start this magazine, and how has your concept of the publication changed since its 2007 inception?

When did Sweet start? Sweet started in a car in upstate New York, on a county road, in the middle of a blizzard, the snow like a blanket over the windshield. Katie Riegel and I were driving home and I said, “Let’s edit a magazine. Let’s get crazy.” And it was crazy, wasn’t it? To start another literary journal in a world filled with literary journals? But as Ted Kooser said, what’s the harm of another poet in the world? What’s the harm of having more poems and essays in our lives? What’s the harm in littering the world with literature?

Six years later, here we are. And the biggest surprise for Katie and KC Wolfe–the founding editors—and I is how we still retain this excitement of editing a magazine. We love it. We all teach, we all have busy lives, and so editing Sweet is our break from our lives. It’s six years, and we keep growing, keep falling in love with everything we publish. Sweet is our way of giving back to the literary community, the reading and writing life.

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Ira Sukrungruang

Even though SWEET doesn’t publish “themed” issues, it is often the case that the work in each issue has similar thematic threads.  Can you talk about this generally, and speak specifically about issue 6.1, which has the theme of “impressions”? 

There are a lot of ways of defining impressions. The impressions we leave on others. The impressions that we leave on the world. An impression is a way of defining who we are, and how we are viewed. The work in Sweet 6.1, especially the essays, speak to this need of understanding the impressions we make in this life.

From 36A: “…I couldn’t be a cheerleader. I had no bust. I was a Jew.”

From Dream Child: “I was alone in this dark apartment. My daughter, my Little Lamb, was nothing; less than nothing, and dreams.”

From Freight: “Over time more stories will entwine themselves in these vines and flowers…I still need to be the keeper of memory, need to throw light on the freight of yesterday.”

From The Beginning and the End: “She sucks a breath into liquid lungs, and her body falls into itself again.”

From Buddhism 101: “But I believed if I could just let go of my insistence on the solidness of myself, if I could just see things as fluid and interconnected, if I could tap into the eternal clarity of this, in the gleaming northern star above the Bodhi tree, in the stillness of my inhalations and exhalations, I could know bliss. I could never know pain. “

If anything, impression made.

Do you have a favorite among the 16 issues you have published?

I keep saying this–and this by no means is me avoiding the question–but I keep saying that the newest issue is the best issue we’ve published. I’m swept away by the poems and essays; all of them we’ve had the honor to publish over the years have engrained themselves into my body, my being, a metaphorical tattoo. That, to me, is the point of good literature. That it awakens us. That it breaks us in all the right places. That it elevates our understanding of our place in the world. I live with Geoff Schmidt’s essay “Otis and Jake” in my bones. Ruth Awad’s piece, “In the Skin,” is in my skin. I’m winged away by the swifts in Amy Monticello’s “Chimney Swifts.” I am made aware of my body, as Wendy Rawlings is in her essay “36A.”

Tell me about SWEET’s publishing arm, SWEET Publications, including any projects that are on the horizon. 

Why stop at a magazine? I’m a dreamer. My other editors have to sometimes reel me back in. But this was something we all wanted to do. We wanted to publish books. Books by authors who did not have books. Books by contributors of the magazine. Books that were beautiful to touch, to hold. We wanted readers to not only take pleasure in the word, but in the product. The book was going to be art in and of itself. Sweet is blessed with staff members who are also artists like RC Stephens, Gloria Muñoz, and the head of Sweet Publications, Jim Miller. We wanted to create limited edition handmade books, and have those books available in e-format or PDFs. The designers of the books read and work closely with the authors. We have three books so far. Amy Monticello’s Close Quarters, Megan Gannon’s The Witch’s Index, and Donna Steiner’s Elements. We are working on a compilation of poetry published in Sweet in the last five years. Have I mentioned we love what we do?

What advice do you have for aspiring poets and essayists that hope to be counted among SWEET’s authors?  What about for writers who hope to start their own literary magazine some day?

To writers: Send. Send again. Send better. Believe.

To future editors: Do it because you love it. Do it because you want to bring the world a gift of words.

——-

Ira Sukrungruang is an Associate Professor of Creative Nonfiction at the University of South Florida.  He is a Chicago born Thai-American whose cultural identity often features prominently in his work.  His memoir, Talk Thai: The Adventures of Buddhist Boy, was published in 2010, and his book of poetry, In Thailand it is Night, was winner of the first Anita Claire Scharf Award.

Christine M. Lasek teaches creative and technical writing at the University of South Florida.  She also serves as the Public Relations Officer for SWEET: A Literary Confection.  Her fiction and nonfiction have appeared, or are forthcoming, in Pearl Literary Magazine, Tampa Review Online, the Coal City Review, and elsewhere.

 

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