December 5, 2016 § 11 Comments
By Paige Sullivan
A newly-enrolled MFA student, my job as an assistant editor at my program’s top-tier, in-house literary journal was what you’d expect: reading the slush pile. The journal accepted both paper and online submissions, meaning each week I’d work through a stack of submission packets colorfully paper clipped together in addition to sifting through the online queue.
While the work was sometimes dull, it was crucial to sharpening my reading skills, and it afforded me an invaluable understanding of the spectrum of talent and skill that exists out there. Truly, we got it all: exceptional work, promising work, and strange poems that tried to compare love to meatball marinara.
My favorite part of reading the paper submissions were the more personal touches of the printed and hand-signed cover letters, which were sometimes accompanied by a business card. For me, these submissions became fascinating character studies. Yes, there were writers like me: MFA students or graduates who neatly listed 3-4 italicized publications, any accolades, and where they lived and worked. Others were less conventional and thus more interesting.
One woman included a business card that read, “Poet….Hairdresser.” There was more than one letter from an attorney who wrote poems when they weren’t practicing law. One writer mentioned that in addition to their day job and their writing, they were active in the competitive breeding and show rabbit circuit. Incredible.
As I soon came to the conclusion that the academic career path was not the career path for me, I became more and more fascinated with these kinds of writers: the ones who had other interests and obligations outside the typical gamut of writing/literature/ composition/teaching/adjuncting. The lawyers and hairdressers and rabbit enthusiasts who found room in their lives to make art, too.
While I was not discouraged from pursuing a non-academic career path, I can’t say there was a wealth of structured support within my department. I thus figured out a great deal on my own, cobbling together myriad experiences in freelance writing and editing, writing random articles on ethical travel habits and Best Vegetarian Restaurants in Atlanta between grading papers and preparing poems for workshop.
There are ways in which writers self-soothe:
Well, Robert Frost didn’t publish his first book until late in life, so I’m doing pretty ok.
Well, Wallace Stevens wasn’t an academic. He worked in insurance and turned out pretty ok.
Hey, William Carlos Williams was a doctor! Surely if I don’t become a professor I’m not dooming myself.
I’m sure I’m not the only poet who read O.T. Marod’s essay “Poet at Work” in a recent issue of The Point and felt both the rush and deflation of recognition. Writers are no strangers to the complex paradoxes of their identities–the delicious, almost flippant valor that comes with simply responding, “I’m a writer” when someone asks what you do, tethered to the falter in your confidence when the person lobs back an “Oh, huh.” or “Really?”
Then again, maybe more confident writers don’t feel the need to qualify their pronouncements. On good days, I don’t. Other days, it feels almost blase to flash my poet moniker without the self-conscious need to defend and protect it.
Perhaps we can agree with Marod’s essential points: that poets and writers commonly struggle with a profound crises of role and identity, and that many of us live a dashed or hyphenated identity, as his allegorical poet/tutor does, to make both art and a living.
But is that really so bad?
Yes, in a perfect world, poets would have a salary commensurate with experience and a nice benefits package. But our art isn’t (always) for hire, and I can’t say that that really bothers me.
On the contrary, I think the hybridity of identities and skills working writers claim can be mutually fruitful. I think good writers should likely be passionate about the world around them to remain passionate about art.
And while there’s comfort and prestige and familiar structures that come with academia, preaching the gospel of the tenure-track faculty position isn’t sustainable or realistic–but that doesn’t have to mean something dire.
I am hungry for an expanded conversation of hybrid writers, MFAs With Day Jobs–whatever you want to call them–beyond the perfunctory Well, Philip Larkin was a librarian, so…. exception to the rule anecdote. I want to talk more about people who have a life on the other side of the dash that is just as interesting and enriching and challenging as the life of a poet….and of a rabbit breeder.
December 1, 2016 § 6 Comments
Novelist and essayist Lee Martin reflects on the violent attacks at Ohio State University this past Monday:
When the cable broke and the striking weights fell, the janitor, Ben Conover, found himself trapped in the belfry, where he’d gone to wind the courthouse clock. The clock stopped at 8:30 a.m., the time when the strands of the cable that held the weights unraveled. Seven hundred pounds of iron weights came down, demolishing the belfry staircase, crashing through two ceilings, and coming to rest, finally, at the rear of the Bar of Justice in the Circuit Court Room.
How the plaster dust must have risen and coated Ben’s boots, the legs of his coveralls, perhaps even his eyebrows and hair.
It was Friday, April 12. The year was still a year of economic depression. The unemployment rate was 20.1 percent. There in the small towns and farming communities of my native southeastern Illinois, Ben Conover’s world must have been one of want, must have been one of always standing on guard against the next worst thing. I know because I’m the child of parents who survived the Great Depression. On that day in April of 1935, my father would have been twenty-one years old, the only son of an aging farmer in Lukin Township. When I was a boy, I heard the stories of the market crashing, the banks closing, the savings being lost, the crop prices bottoming out. One day you could think you were flush, maybe even a little up on the game, and the next day you could be falling.
This morning, when word came that there was an active shooter on the campus of The Ohio State University where I teach, the news struck a blow that rattled me and put an ache into my throat. I was safe in my home, but my thoughts turned toward those who weren’t. I watched the story unfold on television, facts coming in a few at a time, until it became clear that there had been no shooter, only a single person who drove his car into a group of students and then got out with a butcher knife. Eleven people ended up being treated for lacerations from the knife, and injuries from being hit by the vehicle. A campus police officer shot and killed the attacker.
It’s toward evening now as I write this, 4:05 p.m., the time, if this were an ordinary day, when I’d be getting ready to meet my MFA creative nonfiction workshop, but Ohio State has canceled classes, to resume tomorrow. My next class will meet on Wednesday evening. Each time I’ve stepped on campus the past few years, I’ve wondered if this day might come. This is the world we’ve made.
I sit and look out my window on a day that’s become cloudy, look out over the lake, where the water moves in ripples and the twilight waits. Soon lights will come on in the homes on the other side, and the darkness, little by little, will creep in, the Earth turning over one more time.
I think about Ben Conover trapped in that belfry while the chaos swirled beneath him. I imagine people calling out to make sure no one was hurt, giving thanks when that turned out to be true. I’ve read the newspaper report. No one was in the Circuit Court Room when the weights fell. One minute Ben had been turning the windlass, and then the cable broke, and like that, the clock stopped. No whirring of the gears, no pealing of the bells, nothing to mark the hours.
Before Ben made himself known—before someone brought a ladder so he could climb down—did he hear the wind moving through the giant oaks on the courthouse lawn? Did he hear birdsong? The chatter of squirrels? I like to think he reveled in the pause, in what must have seemed like time’s heavenly absence.
Did he imagine it all unwinding, as I do now, spooling backwards, past every human pain and sorrow, to the days before the people came, when the land belonged to the animals: bison, gray wolf, mountain lion, deer. I imagine them moving through woods and prairie grass. No thought of time. No sense of how it hurtles forward into the future.
Then something comes—some scent, some vibration, some sound—and they freeze, ears alert, the muscles in their haunches about to quiver.
Oh, to hold them there in that majesty, that blessed instant, that split second, before nerves twitch, and they run.
Lee Martin is the author of the novels, The Bright Forever, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction; River of Heaven; Quakertown; Break the Skin, and Late One Night. He has also published three memoirs, From Our House, Turning Bones, and Such a Life. His first book was the short story collection, The Least You Need to Know. His fiction and nonfiction have appeared, or are forthcoming, in such places as Harper’s, Ms., Creative Nonfiction, The Georgia Review, The Kenyon Review, Fourth Genre, River Teeth, The Southern Review, Prairie Schooner, Glimmer Train, The Best American Mystery Stories, and The Best American Essays. HHe teaches in the MFA Program at The Ohio State University, where he is a College of Arts and Sciences Distinguished Professor of English.
November 30, 2016 § Leave a comment
From our Friends at Slag Glass City:
November 30, 2016 § 4 Comments
People think I’m joking when I tell them I was once a zookeeper, but I was, for one glorious summer, moving from the big cats to the zebras and gnus to the ape exhibits to the children’s zoo to the polar bears, in two-week intervals, filling in for the real zookeepers as they left for summer vacation. I loved it: every moment.
Understandably then, my enthusiasm for Creative Nonfiction‘s new venture, True Story, was barely containable when I received the second installment, Steven Church’s essay “Trip to the Zoo.”
Church’s startling piece focuses on David Villalobos, a man who leaped into a tiger cage at the Bronx zoo and lived to tell about it. “Much of this True Story, selection focuses on my trip to New York City in 2014 to try and retrace David’s trip to the zoo (or at least most of his trip), and my ultimately failed efforts to get people to talk with me; but it also contains an imagined ‘outtake’ that didn’t make the editorial cut for the final book. So while it’s an excerpt it is also its own unique piece that you can’t get anywhere else,” Church explains.
The book Church refers to, One With the Tiger: Sublime and Violent Encounters between Humans and Animals is out just this month.
True Story, edited by Hattie Fletcher, will come out every month. “The True Story format lets us publish some longer pieces than we would usually be able to accept for Creative Nonfiction—and, I suspect, might have some trouble finding a home elsewhere,” Fletcher explained,”if only because there aren’t too many outlets (especially print outlets) for literary longform. And I think it’s great for readers; some of the most consistent feedback we get on reader surveys is to publish more frequently, and we hope this is sort of a hearty snack in between issues of the bigger magazine. Editorially, it’s been a lot of fun so far … though the turnaround between issues feels really fast, compared to the quarterly!”
You can read more about True Story and subscribe for yourself at the CNF site. Might make a nice holiday gift, come to think of it.
Editor Hattie Fletcher, by coincidence, worked at the Cleveland Zoo when she was in high school, so there is some sort of convergence happening. Maybe.
In any case, to reward those of you who have read this far down, here is a picture of a much younger Brevity editor and a giraffe named Gladys. She was lovely. And ate Vidalia onions whole.
Dinty W. Moore founded Brevity in 1997. He once was best friends with an elephant named Bubbles.
November 29, 2016 § 1 Comment
Today is Giving Tuesday, celebrated on the Tuesday following Thanksgiving and the busy shopping days known as Black Friday and Cyber Monday.
If you are able to give, please consider a small donation to help Brevity keep the lights lit and the concise nonfiction flowing. Our small, volunteer staff has been plugging away for 19 years now (we have a big anniversary coming), and though our product — the Blog and Magazine — is given away at no cost, we are proud that we nonetheless are able pay our authors and illustrators.
Are you a fan of Brevity, or someone who uses us as a teaching resource? If so, you can play an important role in keeping the project alive. Even a little helps, and thanks in advance.
PS – If you can’t give, but happen to be a busy holiday Amazon shopper, you can enter Amazon through the link below (bookmark it) and provide us a small return on every dollar you spend. (We don’t see what you buy, nor do your prices change. It is a a win-win):
November 28, 2016 § 1 Comment
From Slag Glass City:
CRACKS IN THE SIDEWALK: What Fractures Our Cities?
Slag Glass City, a digital journal of the urban essay arts edited by Barrie Jean Borich, seeks inventive and beautifully made nonfiction work from across artistic discipline that circles, questions, contradicts, aggravates, decries, implores, or offers remedy to the experience of URBAN FRACTURE—including: election protests, police violence, gentrification, racism, classicism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, religious intolerance, immigration tensions, guns, domestic abuse, protest, development, neglect, loneliness—or anything from micro aggression to cataclysm that creates fissure, disconnection, and brokenness.
We are accepting submissions November 20, 2016 – February 20, 2017. You may submit nonfiction prose, graphic memoir, video, sound, image + text, photography, mixed media, or any other form of the nonfiction essay arts. The work our 2016 editorial board selects will be published in the online journal AND considered for our miniature print editions.
To SUBMIT TO THE CITY for this themed call go to: http://tinyurl.com/SlagGlassCitySidewalkCracks
To visit the journal itself, go to: slagglasscity.org
If you have QUESTIONS please email this address: firstname.lastname@example.org