January 14, 2019 § 1 Comment
Our January 2019 Issue contains brilliant, powerful, surprising flash nonfiction from John Skoyles, Richard Hoffman, Abby Mims, Dustin Parsons, Susan Jackson Rodgers, Rajpreet Heir, Sam Kiss, Amy Stonestrom, Rebecca McClanahan, Sean Thomas Dougherty, Bryn Chancellor, Niya Marie, Jennifer Wortman, Lisa Fay Coutley, and Harrison Candelaria Fletcher. You’ll never look at yoga, string, or constellations the same again.
In our Craft Section, Nicole Breit reveals the power of the literary diptych (with writing prompts), Susan Bruns Rowe considers the elusiveness of voice, and Michael Downs shows how “a single sentence or detail or image – even a particular word – can act as a ‘vein of jade’ that makes the whole work glisten.”
And stunning artwork by Dev Murphy.
Come have a look: https://brevitymag.com
December 19, 2018 § 14 Comments
by Lesley Heiser
“Now listen to me. This is a love letter…
This is writing whose wage no one wants to pay”
~ Nicole Walker
Not long ago, I made my first appearance at an AWP Conference. Arriving in the gray, I felt cold, tired, excited, amazed at the cost, guilty about flying a thousand miles, and shy.
Like everyone else, I wanted to bump into fabulous writers, introduce myself to strangers, inveigle myself into editors’ lines of sight and converse with them, and sit in marvelous audiences. All of this I did.
On the afternoon of my last day there, I sank into a seat at the back for a panel whose title I think was “Literature and the End of the World.” I sat somewhat fearful. This seemed like a morbid end to three exciting days, yet what could be more compelling?
I somehow expected a deluge of facts. I may have expected a deluge of emotion. But my notes from most of the panel consist only of this: we have to write about the environment extremely well, as well as we write about anything else or better; we have to bring the full range of our emotions to writing about the environment and not our stances of sentimentality, moralism, or didacticism; we can aspire to connect and engage, even to warm and inspire.
If that had been all I learned, it would have been enough.
But the last presenter on the panel—I was also there for him. He happened to be the person I’d fallen for when I was in college. It had been so long ago–more than half our lifetimes. He saw me in the back, approached me, and opened his arms, and all of a sudden I felt as though I remembered all of it. Then he went back and sat behind the table.
As it turned out, his particular topic was a bit more edgy than that of his co-presenters: he talked about the strengths of humor-writing on the environment including on environmental degradation and loss and our possible doom. Twain had been funny about the stuff he wrote about, my friend reminded us. Thoreau was also pretty comical. Humor could precipitate the sympathy of the reader or listener. When it landed, it invited people in.
From that point of mutual openness anything could happen including the good and really good things that we need to have happen like conservation, innovation, reduced consumption, and other forms of caring for the environment—this was my friend’s implicit point. Also funny writing can make for great art, unlike preaching. The audience really responded to his focus on reaching the reader in a humble, intimate, enlivening way. He was talking about something that I hadn’t expected, something that was paradoxical, but it wasn’t cavalier.
Somewhere I’d read something he’d written that was similarly paradoxical and, listening to him, I remembered: it was about the actual and potential beauty of some forms of natural destruction. A desert is beautiful even as it grows larger. A riverbed gives us striking patterns when the water is gone. Pollution makes the sunset more vivid to the human eye and more memorable to the human heart.
These are difficult thoughts or they are difficult truths yet even if they are truths, we can hold them somewhat lightly or we can hold them in different ways at different times.
Sustainability: A Love Story by Nicole Walker
For me, Nicole Walker’s new book takes off from what I learned in 2016 and goes in myriad directions in a coherent, beautiful way. It’s got plenty of humor, yes, but also other modalities from awe to rage to deep commitment to laugh-out-loud moments of admitted craziness to arduous moments of depression and of course to love. I’m pretty sure it’s not a book about the environment or its looming destruction. Rather it’s a beautifully crafted, enter-anywhere, narrative and lyric poetic manifestation of one person’s engagement with the environment and with the all-too-apparent ruination in the right-now.
In terms of art, the book for me is an installation whose spaces I can enter in my own undisciplined way, recalling my own loves and dreams, losses and nightmares.
It’s a diary whose narrator struggles to protect her home and family from worsening fires, considers a family friend’s suicide, raises bright and wonderful children, consumes cheese, meat, oil, clothes, and a lot of other stuff, pollutes and throws out and otherwise gives up, tends her marriage which is also an environment, and finds ways to start over every day.
It’s a map, a normal fallen person’s rendering of her way forward and not the idealized and didactic written tracks of an environmental saint. As such, this book invites me in as no perfect book could do to create my own full and fuller and yet more full way of engagement, my own personal, love-centered, quirky, broken, and therefore sustainable-for-me path of thinking and doing in order to save something, even the world, despite my own depression and enormous imperfection or because of them, as I can, and in my own corner.
Finally, the author says her new book is a love letter written first and foremost to her husband Erik.
Love: A Sustainability Story
Love Is a Battlefield
Love Is All You Need
Coda: First Reformed, starring Ethan Hawke, 2018
Synopsis: “The pastor of a small church in upstate New York spirals out of control after a soul-shaking encounter with an unstable environmental activist and his pregnant wife.”
I watched this movie last night. It’s on the Amazon channel and elsewhere. The New York Times just called it one of the ten best movies of the year. It’s grim for a long time on the environment and on the prospect of renewal and on human prospects but it has a very strong, vivid arc. For me the value came from watching it through until the end. Twenty-four hours later, I’m still amazed.
Lesley Heiser is a Maine writer whose work appears in Boulevard, Puerto del Sol, Ms., Taproot, The Rumpus, Stirring, and elsewhere. She has a lot of hope.
November 28, 2018 § 10 Comments
By Zoë Bossiere
Amid the Twitter controversies in the writing world this past summer about grifters like Anna March and serial harassers like Junot Diaz, you’ve no doubt heard the buzz about Anders Carlson-Wee and his now-infamous poem, originally published in The Nation in July of 2018. Carlson-Wee, a white man, wrote “How-To” from a black dialectic persona, instructing the reader how to survive on the streets as a homeless person. The backlash online was quick and incisive. Within three weeks, both Carlson-Wee and The Nation had publicly apologized for “the pain we have caused to the many communities affected by this poem.”
For many, the Carlson-Wee poem was but a blip on the radar of an already scandal-packed few months. But the phenomenon is worth examining further, especially considering how, even just ten short years ago, “How-To” would not have incited nearly as fierce an outcry as it did this past July. This is in part because the use of social media as a platform for activism has grown (there are more of us, and together we’re louder than ever), but the response to this poem is also indicative of a broader trend I’ve observed in the literary world as of late.
To preface, historically, writers—and especially white writers—of fiction and poetry have appropriated other cultures, classes, and perspectives in their own writing without much thought to the ethics of this practice. And for a long time, they were highly successful in doing so. Many of these works were (and still are) hailed as masterpieces, taught in high school curricula around the world. The place of these works in western literary canon has never been called into question before.
Now, however, poetry like Carlson-Wee’s offers us an opportunity to discuss how we as readers should evaluate a piece of writing, with consideration for how the writer’s identity affects the authenticity of their work. In the literary world, as in other spheres, the conflation of the art and the artist is beginning to hold some real currency in the question of which work gets published and by whom. Agents and publishers are more interested than ever before in the identities and backgrounds of the writers they choose to represent. The gap between an artist and the art they create is beginning to close; readers are less and less willing to suspend their disbelief for a black persona poem written by a white person, or a novel with a female protagonist written through the male gaze.
The most common argument I’ve heard against this trend is that if a story or a poem is well-written, it shouldn’t matter who the author is. Writing sages like Madison Smartt Bell and Francine Prose have both critiqued this change within the last year in their essays “Policing the Imagination” and “The Problem with ‘Problematic,’” respectively, lamenting what they might call an unjust limitation of writerly creativity. They, and others, insist “good” art can (and should) be considered separately from the artist who created it. That otherwise, we risk stifling the imagination and, thus, the productivity of our favorite (mostly white) writers.
But, I wonder: at its core, is the idea that art and artist are intrinsically connected so very different from the expectation that a writer’s experiences in memoir be rendered truthfully, or that a journalist’s facts in an article be checked? Isn’t this expectation why readers (and especially Oprah) felt so betrayed when we learned James Frey had fabricated most of his wildly successful memoir, A Million Little Pieces? And also why readers demanded an explanation when The Nation chose to print “How-To” without checking Carlson-Wee’s privilege? The art was “good,” yes—but it wasn’t true.
And as readers, we crave authenticity. Learning a piece we love wasn’t written by the person we thought not only spoils the enjoyment of the art, but also forces us to ask questions about what a writer has to gain in attempting to capture an experience that isn’t their own, as well as what other, less privileged, writers may have to lose.
That’s why, as readers, we have a responsibility to understand there are experiences that a writer observing another community cannot—by virtue of being an outsider—faithfully replicate or accurately represent in their work. We must recognize that in attempting to do so, more privileged writers risk depriving marginalized writers, who are more qualified to depict their own experiences, the opportunity to publish their work.
The stakes are high, but there is some good news, too. As a community, writers are beginning to prioritize the voices of actual women, people of color, and queer-identifying folx over those simply writing as them. I’ve never seen so many literary magazines sending out calls for submission specifically seeking underrepresented voices, or such a diverse range of memoirs and essay collections currently on (or soon slated to hit) the market.
Of course, this awakening has been coming for the last several years, and not just in the literary world. Whether it be a work of comedy, film, fine art, music, or literature, modern consumers value authentic experiences in art, now more than ever before. The uptick in memoir and general nonfiction sales reflect this trend. As does the #MeToo push for work by women breaking the silence of harassment and abuse, such as former Brevity managing editor Kelly Sundberg’s memoir Goodbye, Sweet Girl, and the success garnered by queer comedian Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette Netflix special.
And while I understand this change may give some poets and fiction writers pause, all this makes now an exceptionally exciting time for nonfiction as a genre. Because a world that demands authenticity—where artists are required to draw from their own bodies of research and experience—is a world that reflects what we essayists have suspected all along: that nonfiction is not only inclusive of all art, but that all art is, on some level, a work of nonfiction.
** The above has been adapted from a paper I submitted for the NonfictioNow húslestur discussion on “Writing for Social Change” in November of 2018. The húslestur, an Icelandic “family custom of gathering at night to read aloud and discuss ideas,” is a themed roundtable-style discussion on the nonfiction issues of our time.
Zoë Bossiere is a doctoral candidate at Ohio University and the Managing Editor of Brevity: A Journal of Concise Literary Nonfiction. Works and significant life events can be viewed at zoebossiere.com or on Twitter @zoebossiere
November 12, 2018 § 4 Comments
We are proud to announce our nominees for the 2018 Pushcart Prize anthology and Best American Essays. The choice wasn’t easy in any way, because we’ve once again been blessed with so many talented writers and outstanding essays, but we’ve narrowed it down and sent off our nomination packets to the editors of the Pushcart and BAE anthologies. You can read the nominated essays by following the links just below. Congratulations everyone, and thanks to everyone for sending us your stellar work.
Our 2018 Pushcart nominees:
Solving for X
by PAM DURBAN
Aphorisms for a Lonely Planet
by LANCE LARSEN
Women These Days
by AMY BUTCHER
The Farmers’ Almanac Best Days for Breeding
by JOHN A. MCDERMOTT
Ace of Spades
by JULIE MARIE WADE
by XUJUN EBERLEIN
Our 2018 Best American Essays nominees:
The six essays listed above, as well as:
by BEVERLY DONOFRIO
by FLEDA BROWN
What I Took
by HEATHER SELLERS
November 4, 2018 § 6 Comments
Having trouble making it to conferences? Finding workshop dates impossible or prices out of reach? Here’s a chance to enjoy a sampler of conference-style sessions you can watch in your yoga pants for free.
Starting November 8th, Village Writing School will present a series of free online lectures and interviews discussing memoir craft, marketing, platform-building and more. The video sessions will remain live until November 12th, and registrants may access them at their leisure over the five days.
Family and Religion—Two Scary Topics
Ruth Wariner’s memoir, The Sound of Gravel, details her escape at fifteen, with her brother and three younger sisters, from a polygamist cult in Mexico of which her father had been the leader. The book was an instant New York Times Best Seller and was called a “bracing, unforgettable story of survival” by Entertainment Weekly. Ruth will join us to discuss the difficulties of writing about these two emotionally-charged topics and why you should.
Telling Your #MeToo Story
It’s vitally important for writers to write and publish #MeToo memoirs. But what are the psychological challenges? What are the technical challenges? What writing techniques can help you portray a #MeToo scene? What should you keep in mind about your audience and about approaching publishers? What can you expect when you publically share your story? Tracy Strauss, who has published essays on writing #MeToo in Poets and Writers Magazine as well as Ms. Magazine, and whose own #MeToo story is forthcoming from Skyhorse Press, will guide you through this difficult topic with her courage and wit. You, too, can write for healing, for change, for empowerment.
It Doesn’t Take as Long as You Think
Rachael Herron, author of Fast Draft Your Memoir in 45 Hours and A Life in Stitches, will prove to you that you DO have time to tell your story. She’ll also show you how to figure out what that story is and how to find the best spine for it. No more excuses!
Thoughts on Your Story, Beginning to End
Marion Roach Smith, who has taught the craft of memoir to thousands of students both in university classes and online will show you what to consider before beginning your story. She will also examine some special challenges of writing about trauma and tell you what to do if you still don’t have a happy ending.
Other Ways to Tell Your Story
Allison K Williams, who teaches workshops on blogging and essays and hosts the Brevity podcast, will show you how to tell your story through live and written short forms. Even if a book is not your thing—or not your thing yet—Allison will show you how to get your voice out there and how to build a readership for your story.
Publishing Your Story—What New York Wants You to Know
Renée Fountain, President of GH Literary, will discuss the potential for memoir, the things to avoid, and what New York is looking for. And as a literary agent seeking memoir, she’ll tell you what she is looking for.
It’s Never Too Soon to Build Your Audience
Beyond a “platform,” you want an authentic connection with readers. What are some ways you can begin to build that relationship long before your book comes out? Dan Blank of WeGrowMedia will show you how such connections can become the most satisfying part of your writing career.
All sessions are hosted by Alison Taylor-Brown, the founder and director of The Village Writing School, a 501c3 nonprofit. The school is an independent creative writing program, located in beautiful northwest Arkansas. Its mission is to help writers tell their stories in a more readable, publishable way. Complete details and speaker bios are here.
Interested? Register here.
October 9, 2018 § 5 Comments
Jill Talbot and Marcia Aldrich discuss the release of their Longreads essay on the morning that Dr. Christine Blasey Ford testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee:
Jill: When we submitted our collaborative essay, “Trouble,” to Longreads in early August, we included the following synopsis:
The essay details the trouble we ran toward during our adolescence (drinking, boys) and the trouble that found us both, including sexual assault. While we had different upbringings—Talbot attending public high school as the daughter of a football coach in Texas in the late 1980s and Aldrich attending a private school for girls in Pennsylvania in the late 1960s—we share a history of daring, of lost direction, of dark bedrooms. Jill begins the essay, and we alternate sections throughout to reflect on our wild behavior, its consequences, and our respective parents’ inability to control or contain us.
Marcia and I were delighted to receive an acceptance from senior editor Krista Stevens about a week later, but when we were asked to approve the preview in September, I grew anxious. Anxious about what I had divulged, anxious about the details that pinpointed a young man so clearly that anyone with an MHS yearbook could identify him, and anxious about describing my own reckless behavior. I wondered when the essay might run, feeling more and more a desire to run from it. And then on September 26th, Marcia and I received an e-mail from Stevens:
In light of the subject matter of the piece we want to get it out ahead of Ford’s testimony and so we’ll be publishing this tomorrow morning at 7:30 am Eastern.
Marcia: When we began our essay “Trouble,” we didn’t think about how it might participate in any specific event larger than our own personal lives. It was the second iteration of our collaborative essay writing experiment, undertaken after we completed our first essay on our mothers, and we wanted to continue the practice. “Trouble” seemed the natural next subject because it had defined and troubled both of our lives, haunted, one might say, and those are the kinds of subjects that we feel compelled to write about, that call us. Of course, I was aware of last year’s dramatic rise of the #MeToo movement although it didn’t explicitly influence me, at least I don’t think it did. I couldn’t talk about trouble without at long last resurrecting a few of the sexually disturbing experiences I had as a very young girl. Entering those experiences again was made more meaningful because I was doing it with Jill and not alone. I don’t want to say writing with Jill made it easier exactly, but it emboldened me, bolstered me.
Here’s an excerpt from the essay, from one of Marcia’s segments:
At some point he hauled me to my feet and got me back in the car and drove me to my house. I don’t remember any words between us. He didn’t get out of the car and help me to the door. He leaned across me, opened the car door and looked at me as if to say get out. Which I did. Somehow. And I walked up the flagstone path to the back porch, stumbled around looking for the key, and finally opened the door. It was way past my curfew and my father had been listening for my return. I can’t remember if he saw me or just spoke to me from behind his bedroom door. It’s hard to believe he could have set eyes on me and not known something wrong had happened.
And it’s hard to fathom what he made of my running a bath at 2:30 in the morning. But that’s what I did.
My mother never stirred.
Read the entire essay “Trouble.”
September 17, 2018 § 1 Comment
Brevity’s September 2018 issue contains crisp flash essays exploring blood on the pool deck, aces of spades, cremation, crow murder, diner Bodhisattvas, and the best days for breeding, from these amazing writers: Steven Schwartz, Peggy Duffy, Rachael Peckham, Alysia Sawchyn, Xujun Eberlein, Julie Marie Wade, Shuly Xóchitl Cawood, John A. McDermott, Austyn Gaffney, Jan Priddy, Suzanne Farrell Smith, Gabe Montesanti, Renée Branum, Sondra Kline, and Fleming Meeks.
In our Craft Section, Elizabeth Robinson offers a pattern sampler, because non-linear essays “realign our attentions … (and) drench us in unknowing,” while Beth Kephart explores the interplay of language and visual arts (and marriage), and Rebecca Fish Ewan offers an illustrated crash course on graphic memoir.
With haunting photos from Therese Brown.
All right here, ready and waiting.