Tapped Out: Memoir Beyond Trauma

October 8, 2015 § 3 Comments

"Tell the reader about your problems..."

“Tell the reader about your problems…”

At Kirkus Reviews, Debra Monroe mourns the passing of what used to be called “autobiography”:

I miss the big genre I first fell in love with.

Fifteen years ago, I read The Boys of My Youth by Jo Ann Beard, Truth Serum by Bernard Cooper, A Romantic Education by Patricia Hampl, The Color of Water by James McBride, Mountain City by Gregory Martin, and that pioneering exemplar first published in 1977 as “autobiography” because no one called them memoirs yet, Stop-Time by Frank Conroy. I apologize if I’ve failed to mention your favorite memoir that predates the recovery memoir. These are mine. Filled with dramatic scenes and nearly aphoristic insight about the individual’s relation to history, culture, and community, they delivered exciting new reasons to read.

Yet within a decade, the ordinary person’s memoir—which in the 1990s appeared as a new rendition of a genre once reserved for celebrities and statesmen—became the recovery memoir.

Monroe doesn’t decry the memoirs of addiction, of abuse, of trauma–but she questions why memoir has become so inextricably linked with traumatic experience.

Somewhere in the journey from famous-person’s-diary to anyone-can-memoir, we’ve lost sight of the idea that unique experience–or universal experience well-told–can be interesting enough. That our genre isn’t Queen For A Day. That it’s OK to be a wordsmith, a world-quantifier, an insight-generator, rather than primarily a sufferer.

Monroe mentions that “most afflictions have been covered now,” and she’s right. How many more journeys do we need through addiction, through childhood sexual abuse, through sex work?

Yet this is not to say OFF LIMITS to certain topics, just because they’ve “been done,” often more than once before. Rather, if we are writing our trauma, we must look for what we have to say that’s new. The “so what” factor is stronger than it used to be for the recovery memoir. The craft needed to sell the story is at a higher level. The reader’s need is for the author’s unique perspective, the author’s ability to generate insight in partnership with the reader.

As Monroe argues, “While the best memoirs I know depict hardship, hardship is a station or two on a longer trek.”

Read the whole thing at Kirkus Reviews.

Truth and Lies and the Heart of a Bull

October 7, 2015 § 4 Comments

Samantha Tucker

Samantha Tucker

A guest post from Samantha Tucker:

Though I am only eight I know instinctively my grandpa is full of shit. I am a logical child, and I devour Nancy Drew and Goosebumps and write my own stories about Big Foot, but I pride myself on knowing when something isn’t real, is made up, no matter my visceral desire to accept the bizarre as truth.

I am curious but cautious, and when my grandpa tells me, “Sam—I saw a man rip a bull’s heart out,” I want to ask: Does the bull fall over? What does the matador do with the heart? What movie have you stolen this from, Grandpa? Why do I imagine the matador takes a bite out of it, the blood dribbling down his chin like juice from the reddest apple?

Like juice from the reddest apple.

The way he tells it, he is there in the arena, so close he’s nearly the matador himself. The embroidered jacket hangs heavy on his shoulders, the beads glittering, swinging like pendulums at each nimble flick, swish, of the capote, the marooned matador cloak; his shoulders reach like monuments, the thickness of the fabric accentuating his swagger, his dance around the arena and out of reach of the snorting bull. The arena and the bull breathe as one, deep panting breaths moving in, out, a steady swelling tide of air, of need, of hunger.

But the matador does not breathe. He has stopped breathing. He waits. The bull scrapes the mud off his hoof, a threat, a promise, the ultimate truth, and charges the man, this jowled, scowling, matador-by-extension, sitting across the kitchen table from me. Just as the horns reach him, he drops to one knee and thrusts his gathered fingers, his clawed fist, right into the bull’s chest. Now the crowd, the bull, they stop breathing, and it’s the matador who is panting, all white rage and triumph as he rips the bull’s heart out and raises it, dripping, to the sky—a new red sun.

Except, of course, that’s not the way he tells it—the way he told it. My Grandpa grew up poor on the streets of Pittsburgh, was bald for as long as I knew him, and may have never been to Spain. He was loud and ungracious, a ruddy Vietnam vet sporting a Pin-up tattoo on his forearm, an incessant talker, so much so that my grandmother began talking to herself to maintain sanity, her dam against his relentless stream of chatter. He was blunt in demeanor, but sharp in mind—smart and well-read, always reaching past his working class life with gruff, appropriated ideas (often prejudiced, always grandiose), holding court at his kitchen table, pontificating over his weary, loyal family. A bull’s heart, he insists.

But he’s not the only one bullshitting. The new red sun, the flick, swish—my words stand in for his, add shine, the story all mine now. My version of his version of whatever it was—tall-tale, embellished truth, outright lie, lifted from some book or movie. My version is embellished, too. He never described what the matador wore, did he? What if the beads were just glittering fabric? Did he even mention a crowd? What if the arena was empty because the townsfolk turned their backs on the aging bullfighter, because they refuse to see their legend undone?

Perhaps the last metaphor was a step too far. But was it his doing, or mine?

“Now, Sam, in my day the bullfighting wasn’t protested by all these tree-hugging, liberal crybabies. This was a sport. I’m telling you now—raised hand for emphasis—this bull was big. He had these horns! And that bullfighter was just waiting for him to charge, just moving around and waiting for him to charge. And I tell you what, when that bull charged, the man fell to one knee and he thrust his hand in and pulled that heart right out. Like this—raised fist with fingers bunched together in a single point—and just reached in and pulled that heart right out. Put it in the air so we could all see.” He laid his hand flat on the table then, patted the table once, to emphasize the end of the story and the validity of it, too.

This, the trick of storytelling, of inheriting and recording family histories—uncovering where the emphasis lies. I mean both lies and lies, both untruths and where the intentions land in finality. I could spend too much of time sorting the reasons my grandpa claimed stories that may have not been his. The kind of hard-scrabble life he led was more pained than adventurous—is it so wrong he made his life anew? Magicked so many fictions into biography?

He told many stories, most of them repeated, but I am near certain he only told us about the bull’s heart once, at the kitchen table, with the sun coming through the flowered curtains, my grandma bustling from the oven to the sink to the fridge, my siblings and I sneaking incredulous glances. Told just once, but this is the story endured.

And what of my own need to record and add a final flourish? Did you notice that change in verb tense, the desperate, italicized told? Grandpa died in March 2014. I’ve lost the chance to interrogate him about the bull’s heart. I don’t know that I would, anyway. At his end, the biggest, loudest man I ever knew shrunk. His stomach flattened, and he got so damn quiet. Our last Christmas together, not long before his first stroke, he stood, his stomach still rounded over his spindly, eighty-year-old legs, and bellowed a polka song over the shreds of wrapping paper: “Roll out the barrel, we’ll have a barrel of fun! Roll out the barrel! We’ve got the blues on the run!” We rolled our eyes as one, our family. Grandpa was a hard man to love, a man full of difficult love. He was telling us this was his last Christmas; he was antagonizing us. We didn’t correct him, though he dared us to. It turned out he’d been telling the truth all along.
Samantha Tucker is a Colorado native. She currently lives in Columbus, Ohio, where she is a creative writing MFA candidate at (The!) Ohio State University. Roxane Gay recently chose two of Sam’s essays to be among the first published on The Butter. Sam has also written for Guernica, has work forthcoming with Ecotone, and she recently graduated from the nonfiction MA program at Colorado State University. Sam’s first collection of essays, The American Dream Starts Here, is ready for a publisher. www.theamericandreamstartshere.com

Beyond: Essays, Poems, Photos from the Workplace

October 6, 2015 § Leave a comment

A note from our friend Sarah Wells:

I’m excited to announce the launch of a new trade publication, Beyond, the magazine of Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. Beyond is a tri-quarterly print publication that will also have a prominent and active web and social presence. The first print issue is scheduled for release in early winter 2016. Issues will be distributed in February, June, and October.

Beyond publishes stories of businesses and business leaders that exemplify the use of design for innovative approaches to management as well as exemplars of business as an agent of world benefit, thus advancing the principles of business management pioneered, taught and practiced by the Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve University.

The magazine’s web presence features reader-submitted articles, supplementary interviews, podcasts, inspirational quotes and other goodies for the savvy, sophisticated, and successful businessperson. The magazine will launch its web contents in January 2016.

There are four columns open to submissions, all related to work. I’m looking for great stories written well. Three of the columns are writing (two brief prose, one poetry) and one is art/photography.

A Case of the Mondays

This humor column looks for the funny in the workplace. Word limit: 250.

Above and Beyond

Share what has inspired you in your work life that makes your work not just bearable but enjoyable. Word limit: 250.

Work in Verse

Beyond will publish one new work-related poem a month on the website and will include one poem in each print issue.


Share photographs of inspirational/aesthetic elements that inspire you in your workspace. Can be submitted via our submission system or using the #BeyondInSight on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook.

Beyond will offer $40 for work published online and $100 for the pieces that are selected for the print publication.

The submission system is now open!

Visit https://beyond.submittable.com/submit for complete guidelines. Email beyondmag@case.edu if you have any questions.

Thank you!

With joy—

Sarah M. Wells
Managing Editor
Weatherhead School of Management
Case Western Reserve University

A Review of After Montaigne: Contemporary Essayists Cover the Essays

October 5, 2015 § Leave a comment

By Kristin LeMay

amonI’ve long harbored the suspicion that what’s best in Montaigne is untranslatable. His essence seems to me embodied in a diction, orthography, and syntax as unsubstitutable as any individual. To borrow Emerson’s praise for Montaigne: “Cut these words, and they would bleed; they are vascular and alive.”

My prejudice dates to a summer when my husband and I undertook to read all of Montaigne’s Essais during an extended stay in Paris. Each day we’d set out with our respective volumes, my much-prized Pléiade—fat despite its onion-skin pages—rubbing against the shedding, leather spine of Eric’s translated edition. Before long, I’d be snorting or smirking at the man I was encountering on the page. Eric’s brow would furrow. “What’s so funny?” We’d compare passages. And every time, I’d find that the persona I so relished in the original French—the irascible man wheeling through the sixteenth-century prose—was somehow lost in the transfer. My Montaigne was not in his book.

That experience of reading comparative Montaignes primed me for After Montaigne: Contemporary Essayists Cover the Essays (University of Georgia Press, 2015). Twenty-four of today’s essayists rewrite Montaigne’s essays. What would these interactions reveal about the essay, in his moment and in ours? And what would these writers capture of the man who seemed—to me, at least—to live in the specific moments of language that, taken together, comprise his genre-founding work?

As After Montaigne’s subtitle suggests, editors David Lazar and Patrick Madden couch the interaction between each source essay and its contemporary rewriting as a musical “cover.” They explain, “Like an album of cover songs paying homage to an influential band or composer, these essays attempt to re-envision Montaigne’s topics through a contemporary sensibility.” And what, after all, is a cover, but a form of translation in which one musician puts a fresh spin on the lyrics and melody of another? Elvis Presley translated “Blue Suede Shoes” from the style of Carl Perkins into the style of Elvis Presley, just as, in 1603, John Florio translated Michel de Montaigne from French into English (adding a fair dose of Florio along the way). So After Montaigne promises to reveal twenty-four translations of Montaigne: Montaigne by way of Gornick, by way of Koestenbaum, by way of Purpura. And yet it also occasions a more surprising, ineffable mode of translation, one that runs the other way: Brian Doyle by way of Montaigne. As much as I was eager to see who these essayists would make Montaigne out to be, I was equally fascinated to see who they would become when they essayed under the banner of their forebear.

The anthology’s diversity makes for a lot of translations, so one of its most satisfying elements is the brief coda that follows each contribution, “explaining the process through which the essayist translated, transfigured, reimagined, or rethought some of the essential ideas, figures, and motifs in Montaigne’s original.” The contributions turn out to be as diverse as you’d expect from an array twenty-four writers wide. While Bret Lott sees his essay as an “offering . . . paying homage to M. Montaigne,” Shannon Lakanen finds herself surprised, on sitting down to write, “to argue against him.” José Orduña finds in his source essay from Montaigne a “sharp edge that ruptures,” and so his response is characterized by “challenge,” “discarding,” and “struggling,” while Elena Passarello goes at Montaigne more playfully, grafting “The Ceremony of the Interview of Princes” onto interviews with the musical artist Prince. “I thought it would be fun,” she riffs, “to score one man’s persona to the other man’s ‘music.’”

How to make sense of all this essaying? I found a useful lens for understanding and sorting the contributions once again in the realm of translation. Friedrich Schleiermacher pronounces that there are actually only two modes of translation (modes which, in fact, match the two primary tacks a contemporary essayist might choose in responding to Montaigne’s source text): “Either the translator leaves the writer alone as much as possible and moves the reader toward the writer, or he leaves the reader alone as much as possible and moves the writer toward the reader.” Schleiermacher advises against mixing the two modes. Any mingling, he predicts, will result in a confusing muddle that illuminates neither the original text nor the new audience’s context.

After Montaigne confirms Schleiermacher’s view. Its strongest, most memorable essays are those in which the contemporary writer has traveled the furthest toward adopting Montaigne’s style or, conversely, those in which Montaigne has traveled the furthest toward the contemporary writer. Mary Cappello’s “Of Thumbs” is the volume’s prime example of a writer becoming like Montaigne. Her coda clarifies her aim: “An essay like ‘Of Thumbs’ wishes for more contributors . . . I tried to ‘channel’ Montaigne . . . I tuned my writerly voice to meet the pitch of his.” The result is a lively, delightful continuation of Montaigne’s short essay. For an essayist who brings Montaigne all the way to her, look to Kristen Radtke. In “Against Idleness” she pulls Montaigne into the graphic mode for which she is best known. In Cappello’s essay, Montaigne might easily recognize his influence; in Radtke’s, he would likely wonder at the strange new world his work inspired. As a reader, I’m grateful for both.

So what new light do these “covers” shine upon Montaigne and the essay? Perhaps the most startling answer comes from Robert Atwan’s response to Montaigne’s “On Some Verses of Virgil.” He opens with the observation, “Personal essayists continually test the boundaries of shame and embarrassment.” This very testing is Montaigne’s most enduring legacy, since he inaugurated the naked, unadorned exploration of the self in his Essais. All of the contributors to After Montaigne write after that legacy. But Atwan’s essay also reveals how familiar, even commonplace, Montaigne’s once-revolutionary mode has now become. To mirror Montaigne’s embarrassing self-disclosures on sexuality and old age, Atwan must take recourse to quoting his own (self-professedly) bad poetry. He rightly senses that prose—even prose like Montaigne’s, confessing to a small penis or failed affairs—will no longer shock today’s readers. We’ve become desensitized to personal confessions in the personal essay. So Atwan’s contribution, in moving beyond the genre of the essay to achieve its ends, reveals both the lure and limits of Montaigne’s legacy in our moment.

Montaigne forged the essay into a genre for personal revelation and, for this innovation, he now inspires anthologies like After Montaigne. Yet paradoxically, this anthology—through both its most and least compelling pieces—hints at how the essay might now need to move beyond Montaigne’s style of confession and digression in order to channel his innovative spirit and, once again, feel “vascular and alive.”


Kristin LeMay’s book I Told My Soul to Sing: Finding God with Emily Dickinson is available from Paraclete Press. Her translation of François Bovon’s Last Days of Jesus was published by Westminster/John Knox Press. Her writing has appeared in TriQuarterly, Essay Daily, Harvard Theological Review, The Cresset, and other magazines.

Call for Submissions (and Pretzels)

October 3, 2015 § 6 Comments

From our friend Erica Trabold:

45th Parallel, a literary magazine affiliated with Oregon State University’s MFA program, seeks nonfiction submissions for its premiere issue. Submissions will remain open until December 1, 2015, and selected pieces will be published in spring 2016.

What’s the 45th Parallel? The 45th Parallel, the halfway point between the Equator and the North Pole, marks the Earth’s in-between space. 45th Parallel, too, indulges in in-betweenness — the convergence of seemingly disparate content, forms, genres, and styles. Great art tends to reject strictly defined categories. Great art is what we’re after.

What kind of nonfiction do you hope to publish? 45th Parallel considers all forms of creative nonfiction, previously unpublished, between 500-5,000 words. Researched or personal, memoir or essay, hybrid or true to form, our editors are especially interested in reading your obsessions, your edges, your prosy darlings—nonfiction with a sense of the in-between.

What’s your earliest childhood memory? Crammed into a back booth in a wooden bar talking about how we should start a lit mag. There were pretzels.

Where can writers submit work? Here, of course: http://45thparallelmag.com/

Do you charge a fee? No fee. Completely free.

TGIF: Our Culture’s Saddest Saying

October 2, 2015 § 15 Comments

Kate Parrish

Kate Parrish

A guest post from Kate Parrish:

Earlier this week I read through an online exchange between a few people who I look up to and admire expecting to find one set of opinions but finding something else altogether, something that made me sad, disheartened, and a little surprised. Rather than spend time going into the dangers of putting people on pedestals, having expectations that other people’s opinions will align with yours, or the hazards of online discourse in which, oftentimes, tone and additional context are absent, I’ll just say it gave me some food for thought about the role I play in my own life. The specifics of the exchange aren’t important but the takeaway, as I read it, was perhaps some people dream too big (dream too unrealistically—can that be a thing?) and would possibly be wise not to.

This summer I attended a writers’ conference in Sewanee, TN and sat in a lecture by Allen Weir, a writer from Texas. It was a craft lecture on writing fiction. I don’t write fiction and used that as an excuse to only half-listen while I wrote and re-wrote a list of things to do. Then I heard him say these words, almost as an aside, “TGIF: our culture’s saddest saying.” That we live in a society awaiting the 5 o’clock bell on Friday afternoons was disconcerting to him. It’s disconcerting to me.

I’ve worked plenty of jobs where the greatest perk was that I got to leave on Friday afternoons and not return until Monday morning. I’ve spent years getting the Sunday Blues, the Sunday Sadness, whatever you want to call that sinking feeling that creeps in around 5 p.m. on Sunday nights reminding you that life isn’t what you want it to be. I know the Monday Blues, the Tuesday Blues, the Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday Blues. I know the Waiting for Life to Start Blues and the Waiting for Life to End Blues. So, sure, Thank Goodness It’s Friday can feel like a relief.

But living for Friday isn’t living. At least it isn’t for me. I can’t wait for Friday and I can’t wait for someone to co-sign on my dreams, no matter how big or small they are, realistic or unrealistic. Monday can be Friday. Wednesday can be Friday. Any day can be Friday because Friday is just a name. It’s just a series of letters smashed together to form a word. Friday isn’t a lifestyle, it isn’t a state of mind. Friday isn’t the starting line to 48 hours of freedom, to pursuing hobbies or passions, to catching up with friends and family, or let’s be honest, a laundry list of errands and obligations. When I’m living for Friday, I’m dying six other days a week.

I want my dreams to be realities just like I want my Mondays to be Fridays. By the time I’m through living I want the word dream to feel embarrassed at how small it is, how monosyllabic it is, how unable it was to actually encompass what I end up achieving in life. And I don’t care how cheesy or bumper sticker-sounding it is, I want TGIT: Thank Goodness It’s TODAY to be what I strive for, not TGIF.

And the only person that can do any of that, can make those changes, can achieve those dreams is me. No one can want my dreams more than me. No one can believe in my dreams more than me. No one can do the legwork but me. But I’m not alone. I’m not operating in a silo where the only person that can pick me up is often the same person that puts me down. (And I know about putting myself down. I know about the inner monologue that is mean, rough, and downright abusive at times.) I have coaches and mentors and friends and family and books and TED talks and a belief that something greater than me (a God, a group of people, a big ol’ tree in the forest, it doesn’t matter) is in my corner bringing forth whatever I put out, whatever is written on my heart, lining my gut, coating the folds of my brain.

Please don’t wait for Friday to be who you were meant to be.


Kate Parrish is an MFA candidate at the University of the South in Sewanee, TN. She writes a weekly blog at AimingforOkay.com.

Lunch Ticket: The Care and Feeding of a New Literary Journal

September 30, 2015 § 4 Comments

A guest post from Arielle Silver on growing a succesful literary journal:

lunchWhen I took on the Editor-in-Chief role at Lunch Ticket, the online literary and art journal of Antioch University Los Angeles’ MFA program, beyond the obvious goals of ensuring we get quality submissions, publishing the next issue on time, and trying not to blow up the website, I also vowed to craft an official mission statement. We’re a journal strongly guided by certain values, but in the push to launch in 2012, and then with the rapid growth that has taken us from a nobody on the literary landscape to being a widely respected publication, formulating an official statement became a lower priority. In honing in on what exactly Lunch Ticket is about, I’ve reflected on the nuts and bolts of what make us unique, and how we’ve gotten to where we are. Unsurprisingly, our uniqueness has influenced our trajectory.

From its inception, Lunch Ticket was to be an ambitious literary journal with a special emphasis on community engagement and the pursuit of social justice. These two concepts are entwined, but somewhat separate.  As an MFA-affiliated publication we seek to publish excellent writing on any topic by any writer.  But as an Antioch-affiliated journal we also hope to promote the university’s mission of social justice by publishing work that fosters new conversations about the world in which we live, and helps enact change.

Arielle Silver

Arielle Silver

Early on, thanks to the three editors who came before me and an inspired advisory team of MFA faculty and staff, Lunch Ticket managed to break through the clutter and get the attention of writers whose work we wanted to showcase. One of the ways we did this was through our funded, no-entry fee contests. We launched The Diana Woods Memorial Award in Creative Nonfiction in our second issue, which helped us quickly garner outstanding CNF submissions by offering a prize of $250 to a winning essay every six months. Several issues later, we added a second contest, The Gabo Prize in Literary Translation and Multi-Lingual Texts. This contest, which offers a $200 prize, reflects the Antioch MFA program’s commitment to literary translation.  By supporting the work of translators who bring global literature into English, we strengthen Lunch Ticket’s dedication to community engagement and social justice. Both of these contests are offered with no entry fee and have been an invaluable boon for the journal. We currently review contest submissions each February and August, and hope to add additional no-fee contests in other genres in the near future.

Further, we have been able to build our readership by offering content published in between our twice-yearly full-scale Lunch Ticket issues. Amuse-Bouche is an every-other Monday feature showcasing work by a single writer or artist. We welcome new literary submissions for Amuse-Bouche twice a year, in January and July, across all genres. Our weekly blog, meanwhile, is published every Friday, and offers craft-based essays written by current students in the MFA program. Topics range from how to portray diverse characters, to approaching writer’s block, to creating tension in a narrative. Both Amuse-Bouche and the Friday Lunch Blog are headliners in the subscriber newsletter we send to readers every other week.

Lunch Ticket’s editorial team is scattered across the country (sometimes globe), due to the fact we are a low-residency MFA program, and represents writers of all backgrounds. As a diverse editorial team, we strive to support writers and artists of all colors, religions, races, nationalities, backgrounds, genders, politics, and sexual orientations. The Review Review recently lauded our gender balance. We stand behind our policy of blind submissions, but also know that we could do better at soliciting work from writers outside of our current networks. As I contemplate our trajectory and the mission of our journal, I am brainstorming new ways to reach underrepresented writers. This is, in the end, our primary mission as we solidify our standing alongside top-tier journals: to publish meritorious work by established and emerging writers, that reflects diverse experiences, and moves beyond well-worn grooves.


A NOTE TO WRITERS AND ARTISTS: Lunch Ticket accepts fiction, creative nonfiction, poetry, young adult (13+), literary translation, multi-lingual text, and visual art submissions for the main issue twice a year, February 1-April 20 and August 1-October 31. We are currently reviewing submissions for our Winter/Spring 2016 issue. Amuse-Bouche reviews work in January and July. There is no fee to submit.

To read Lunch Ticket, go to www.lunchticket.org.

Arielle Silver daylights in the music industry, moonlights as a yoga teacher, and sunrises as a candidate for her MFA in Creative Nonfiction and Literary Translation at Antioch University Los Angeles. She is Editor-in-Chief at Lunch Ticket, her songs have been licensed internationally, and her essays have appeared in Moment and RoleReboot.


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