July 6, 2015 § 3 Comments
At The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, John Koenig has created a compendium of invented words.
Each original definition aims to fill a hole in the language—to give a name to emotions we all might experience but don’t yet have a word for.
Words that appear to have classical origins are given beautiful, gemlike definitions:
n. the desire to be struck by disaster—to survive a plane crash, to lose everything in a fire, to plunge over a waterfall—which would put a kink in the smooth arc of your life, and forge it into something hardened and flexible and sharp, not just a stiff prefabricated beam that barely covers the gap between one end of your life and the other.
And some have miniature art films to illustrate their concept, such as klexos, ‘the art of dwelling in the past.’
There are ways of thinking about the past that aren’t just nostalgia or regret–a kind of questioning that enriches the experience after the fact…
As memoirists and essay writers, the video for klexos is a gorgeous way to start your morning and think about your work–even if, as Koenig recommends, “All content is intended to be read at night.”
July 2, 2015 § 1 Comment
From our friends at Redux, the online journal of previously published work:
Redux is accepting submissions of fiction/poetry/essays during an open reading period: July 5 to July 31. We’re looking for literary work of high quality that has been previously published in a print journal but that is not available elsewhere on the internet. Our mission is to bring deserving work to a new, online audience. Preference will be given to older pieces (i.e. published before 2012).
No novel excerpts, poems that appear in chapbooks, or pieces published in anthologies…even if these books are presently out-of-print.
Please read our guidelines for important submission information. If your work is accepted, you will also be asked to write a short “story behind the piece” essay a la the Best American series. Pieces must be available in a Microsoft Word file.
Authors we’ve published include Margot Livesey, Sandra Beasley, Robin Black, R.T. Smith, Michelle Boisseau, Kelle Groom, Erica Dawson, Catherine Chung, Walter Cummins, Lee Martin, Dave Housley, and Terese Svoboda.
We look forward to seeing your work!
Submission guidelines: http://www.reduxlitjournal.com/p/submission-guidelines-for-redux.html
Questions: reduxlj AT gmail DOT com
July 1, 2015 § 3 Comments
When Sharon Stephenson went to the podium at the end of a long night of student readings at the Kenyon Review Writers Workshops we all secretly glanced at our watches, and then she read this (read or listen):
A multi-genre reading with more than, say, five people is an example of how relative time can be to the observer. Time dilation only goes one way, as Albert Einstein and Hendrick Lorentz make clear in their papers. Therefore, three minutes can sometimes feel like twenty, but never does three minutes become anything less than three full minutes.
In terms of nerves, the twenty presenters should fall on a broad distribution. Some may drink a glass of wine in their dorm rooms to calm themselves on their presentation night, but because they are drinking alone and the dorm rooms are universally depressing, perhaps they will drink two glasses or even three, rationalizing that a glass of wine these days is relative to the size of the glass and they are drinking out of an old paper coffee cup, and that makes them sad. Others may wish they had something stronger that won’t make them smell of cocktail parties. Vodka. Xanax. They may find themselves spending inordinate amounts of time wishing they had some.
Many presenters on the distribution of twenty will be incapable of listening with intention to any of the readings that precede theirs. Instead these presenters will be overly concerned about the material they will read, even though they are holding their poetry or story or essay on real paper, double spaced, in an oversized font, decorated with highlighter. They may also be disturbed by temperature fluctuations in their extremities, issues with saliva levels in the mouth, questionable happenings in their GI tract.
Those who took Xanax or consumed alcohol may second guess their earlier decision, a decision that seemed so reasonable a few hours ago. Instead of listening with intention to the readers preceding them, they could be correlating their physical symptoms, increased perspiration, for example, as side effects of self-medicating with alcohol or Xanax.
Very few readers are delusional, but they do exist. In fact, one stands before you now, an outlier on the distribution. We rare delusional readers believe that perhaps this specific event will be magical. Our voice, our cadence, our brilliance on the page, will be memorable, so memorable that perhaps a member of the audience will text their great uncle, who is perhaps Garrison Keillor. Garrison Keillor, who is 72 years old, is probably considering retirement and worried about the future of A Prairie Home Companion. Perhaps the audience member will text Garrison Keillor and tell him that he should not worry – this 20th reader at the Kenyon Review Writer’s Workshop has it all buttoned up.
Sharon Stephenson is a nuclear physicist with over thirty peer-reviewed articles. She also writes literary nonfiction and has gotten some of it published thanks to teachers like Rebecca McClanahan. Her works have appeared or are forthcoming in Fourth Genre, Shenandoah, Hippocampus, Redivider, Connotation Press, Referential Magazine, The Dead Mule, Pure Slush, and real: stories true. Sharon lives in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, where she walks to work and teaches the next generation of scientists as a professor at Gettysburg College. Read her blog at http://www.strangeandcharming.com/, tweet her at @Sharon_Steph
June 30, 2015 § 2 Comments
In 1992, James Thomas concluded his introduction to the anthology Flash Fiction by wondering “whether ‘flash fiction’ will be an avid endeavor of the present literary generation.” Twenty-three years later, evidenced by the recently published Flash Fiction International edited by Thomas, Robert Shapard and Christopher Merrill, the answer would seem to be a resounding yes, yes indeed. Representing six continents and roughly four dozen countries, the eighty-six stories collected in this anthology suggest that flash is not only alive but thriving.
Though the book’s title announces the anthology as “flash fiction,” the introduction often refers to the form simply as “flash”—not merely, I suspect, in the interest of brevity. Rather, by opting not to corral these works into the small pen of a specific genre, the suggestion is that flash transcends genre, that the best works are hybrids combining craft aspects of both prose and poetry. Indeed, what’s collected in this volume include not only fiction, but prose poems and brief nonfictions as well. So whether a story is fact or fiction seems of less interest to the anthology’s editors than the question “is this flash?” That ongoing conversation comprises the section at the end of the anthology, “Flash Theories,” in which practitioners offer up a feast of ideas ranging from the appeal of flash to nuts and bolts advice about craft.
Though diverse in form and varying in length, what these eighty-six pieces do share is an allegiance to the classic mode of storytelling in which conflict is introduced immediately—what Janet Burroway refers to in her book Imaginative Writing: The Element of Craft as “a state of unstable equilibrium.” Take “Lost,” by Chilean writer Alberto Fuguet, which opens, “In a country filled with missing people, disappearing is easy” (85). Or “The Snake” by Kenyan writer Eric Rugara with the ominous introductory sentence “The kid saw it first” (73). Or Cate McGowan’s “Arm, Clean Off,” which wastes no time getting down to the title’s nitty-gritty: “The irrigation machine took it, slashed his arm off, a thick gash and a click of bones as it sliced right through” (158). Read that sentence out loud and listen to how the assonant rhyme of the last three syllables demands that we slow down, linger on the horror of the opening image. It’s prose, but it’s poetry, too.
While the Internet has created a kind of borderless publishing house that has contributed to the flourishing of flash worldwide, these stories counter the notion that “brief” serves up literary fast food to be inhaled and forgotten. “Brief” here does not mean a quick nor easy read. Though short in compass, each of these stories is dense, rich in subtext. They require us to read and read again, to dig beyond the surface glitter of beautifully rendered images and sculpted sentences and go vertically in search of the vein of gold. As Richard Bausch suggests:
When a story is compressed so much, the matter of it tends to require more size: that is, in order to make it work in so small a space its true subject must be proportionately larger (233).
Ultimately, these are stories that linger and haunt, that go on after the last sentence has ended. I think of “That Color” by British writer Jon McGregor, a deceptively simple story of an extended moment at home between a long-married couple, an unnamed, archetypal “he” and “she.” Told from the vantage point of the husband, the story accrues its quiet power in alternating narrative and dialogue that slowly pulls the curtain away to suggest the wife’s plight. The story ends as quietly as it begins, with two concluding sentences that land like punches: “I felt for her hand and held it. I said, But tell me again” (147).
Such is the power of story, of these stories: To tell us, again and again.
Sarah Freligh is the author of A Brief Natural History of an American Girl, winner of the Editor’s Choice award from Accents Publishing, and Sort of Gone, a book of poems that follows the rise and fall of a fictional pitcher named Al Stepansky. Sad Math, the winner of the Moon City Poetry Award, is forthcoming in November 2015. Recent work has been featured on Verse Daily, in The Sun Magazine, Brevity, Rattle, Barn Owl Review, and in the 2011 anthology Good Poems: American Places. Among her awards are a 2009 poetry fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts and a grant from the Constance Saltonstall Foundation in 2006.
Writing the Unthinkable: An exploration of Charles Pierce’s Esquire column on the Charleston massacre
June 29, 2015 § 3 Comments
A guest post from Keysha Whitaker
When I digitally stumbled upon Charles Pierce’s essay “Charleston Shooting: Speaking the Unspeakable, Thinking the Unthinkable,” I almost didn’t read it. I am not the average reader of Esquire magazine, a 45-year-old affluent, likely white, male; I’m a 36-year-old brown woman with a negative net worth. However, I am a sucker for a good title, so I gave the piece a few minutes of my internet attention.
It only took a few seconds to understand why the essay has over 200,000 social media shares. Pierce hooked me at the first sentence: “What happened in a church in Charleston, South Carolina on Wednesday night is a lot of things, but one thing it’s not is ‘unthinkable.’”
As a TV news junkie, I recognized the word. It’s one of the many clichéd responses in the human vocab bank, usually placeholders for more authentic thoughts. News anchors pin the sound-byte to segment intros and correspondents coax it out of sources:
“Did you ever think something like this would happen here?” Roving Reporter asks.
“No, not in a million years,” Barry Bystander says. “It’s unthinkable.”
But Pierce’s essay isn’t about overused language; it’s about hiding behind it. What happened, he argues, is quite thinkable. In rest of the paragraph, he parses the thoughtful and deliberate actions of the murderer, a play-by-play that leaves little wiggle-room for misunderstanding and ensures we arrive at the same point of reason. None of this is unthinkable, and as Pierce says next, unspeakable. He writes, “We should speak of it loudly. We should speak of it as terrorism, which it was.”
In the midst of a subject that is an emotional quagmire, Pierce’s piece rants not. Perhaps his use of repetition contributes to the steady pace that at times feels like an incantation – slow, repeated, deliberate, musical lines which seem to have a higher purpose. He writes,“It is not an isolated incident, not if you consider history as something alive that can live and breathe and bleed.”
When I arrived at this sentence, I had to re-read it. Not for clarity, but something in the lyricism of the “live and breathe and bleed” arrested me. Internal rhyme comes to mind, but alas, high school lessons on any pentameter were 20 years ago, so don’t quote me.
The personification of “history” also works a second job. It hearkens us to our universal humanity – whether we are penis or vagina, conservative or liberal, loaded or poverty-stricken – and begs us to consider how the past might dictate the future. History not only lives, breathes, and bleeds. It repeats.
And then, in the next sentence, something happens. The piece picks up speed and urgency with a series of exhortations reminiscent of the idealistic and sermony “Let freedom ring” refrain in Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech but still contemporary and even quirky .
He writes, “Let Hillary Rodham Clinton and Jeb Bush, both of whom want to lead this troubled country, consider what it meant to absent themselves from campaign events in Charleston and think of these things and speak of them before they turn to their consultants about whether or not staying in a grieving city was what a leader should have done . . . Let Squint and the Meat Puppet think about these things and speak of these things before inviting Donald Trump, who is a clown and a fool, to come on national television and talk about his hair.” (I did have to Google “Squint and the Meat Puppet” and it appears to be a reference to Joe Scarborough on MSNBC in the morning, a nickname invented by Pierce himself. Also, the humor of “a clown and a fool” is not lost on me.)
The “let” passages are the essay’s peak, followed by Pierce’s resolutions which really are directives for getting ourselves out of the hole the founding forefathers dug. He argues, “Think about what happened. Think about why it happened. Talk about what happened” because ultimately “There is a timidity that the country can no longer afford.”
Before closing the essay with a classic full-circle move that returns to the idea in his intro and adds new insight, Pierce warns that those who refuse to talk and think about what happened “do not want to follow the story where it inevitably leads . . . all the way back to the mother of all American crimes.”
And here is where I and the Esquire writer, who I certainly will read again, part ways. I’m tempted to argue dehumanizing blacks and forcing them to work the land isn’t the mother of all American crimes; it’s swindling, sickening and slaughtering the Native Americans to steal the land in the first place.
Keysha Whitaker is a lecturer of English at Penn State Berks and host of Behind the Prose podcast for writers. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from The New School. Her work recently appeared in The Forward, Full Grown People, and The Reject Pile.
June 24, 2015 § 2 Comments
Gulf Coast is now accepting entries for the 2015 Barthelme Prize for Short Prose. The contest is open to pieces of prose poetry, flash fiction, and micro-essays of 500 words or fewer. Established in 2008, the contest awards its winner $1,000 and publication in the journal. Two honorable mentions receive $250 and will also appear in issue 28.2, due out in April 2016. All entries will be considered for paid publication on the Gulf Coast website as online exclusives.
Steve Almond will judge this year’s contest. Almond is the author of eight books of fiction and non-fiction, including the New York Times bestsellers Candyfreak and Against Football. His short stories have appeared in the Best American and Pushcart anthologies. His most recent collection, God Bless America, won the Paterson Prize for Fiction and was short-listed for The Story Prize. His journalism has appeared in the New York Times Magazine and elsewhere.
Entries are due August 31, 2015. The $17 entry fee includes a year-long subscription to Gulf Coast.
The folks at Gulf Coast will accept submissions via an online submissions manager and via postal mail.
Visit https://gulfcoastmag.org/contests/barthelme-prize/ for more information.
June 23, 2015 § 2 Comments
Though the final judge has not yet been announced, the River Teeth book prize has opened for submissions. They have published some fine books these past years, and likely will once again:
River Teeth‘s editors and editorial board conduct a yearly national contest to identify the best book-length manuscript of literary nonfiction. All manuscripts are screened by the head editors of River Teeth. The winner will receive $1,000 and publication by The University of New Mexico Press.
All entrants receive a one-year subscription to River Teeth with their submission fees.
Deadline for Submissions: October 15, 2015