Crux: A New Nonfiction Book Series

April 1, 2015 § 1 Comment

Sharing some good news out of University of Georgia:

The University of Georgia Press is pleased to announce Crux: The Georgia Series in Literary Nonfiction. Edited by John Griswold, the series aims to publish two to four new titles annually.

Named for intersections, and for the heart of the matter, this series will publish literary nonfiction by diverse writers working in a variety of modes, including personal and lyric essay, memoir, cultural meditation, and literary journalism. Books are intended for general readers, including writers, teachers of writing, and students, and will be both intelligent and accessible. Engagement with the world, dedication to craft, precision, and playfulness with form and language are valued. As the series develops, it will include non-American writers and experiences.

Griswold is an assistant professor in the MFA program at McNeese State University, Lake Charles, Louisiana. He is the author of A Democracy of Ghosts; Herrin: The Brief History of an Infamous American City; and Pirates You Don’t Know, and Other Adventures in the Examined Life: Collected Essays (Georgia, 2014). He has written extensively (as Oronte Churm) at Inside Higher Ed and McSweeney’s Internet Tendency.

The inaugural book in the series will be published in October 2015. My Unsentimental Education, a memoir by Debra Monroe (On the Outskirts of Normal), offers a smart and lyrical take on the isolation that occurs when crossing class barriers in pursuit of the life of the mind.

Press director Lisa Bayer adds, “Creative nonfiction as a genre is experiencing an unprecedented period of growth and interest—a bit of a golden age. Georgia’s strong literary legacy, combined with the richness of the field, positions us perfectly to make a visible mark.”

The series advisory board includes Dan Gunn, Pam Houston, Phillip Lopate, [Brevity founding editor] Dinty W. Moore, Lia Purpura, Patricia Smith, and Ned Stuckey-French.For more information:

visit the Crux series page at the University of Georgia Press– online submissions manager and submission guidelines available here

Race & Gender: New Kickstarter Rewards

March 31, 2015 § 1 Comment

two spec

We are Happy to Announce New Backer Rewards!

Our Kickstarter campaign is going wonderfully, and we are touched by all the support for Brevity. It’s been going so well, that many of the premiums have already been snapped up, and so now we are bringing new ones!

We have some exciting new rewards for backers, and we are incredibly grateful to the community of writers who have donated them. Help us out, and grab yourself some of the best possible literary swag.

GENERATE SOME NEW WORK! Brevity author Chelsea Biondolillo has generously offered a seat in an upcoming generative online workshop to one of our lucky backers! The date of this is open, so if you can’t make the next one, don’t worry! From the Apiarylit.org website:

The Generative Writing workshops emphasize the production of new work. Each week an optional prompt and maximum word count will encourage you generate up to 4500 words of new nonfiction. These can be individual flash essays, a connected series of vignettes or lyric fragments, or the building blocks of a single personal essay, literary journalism feature, memoir chapter, or hybrid of one or more CNF forms. You are welcome to share your responses with the class, or not, as you choose.

Biondolillo is a frequent craft essay contributor to Brevity, as well as one of our authors. She’s a smart, thoughtful essayist and a great teacher. We think you couldn’t do better than to take this workshop, and we are grateful to her for donating this incredible prize!

GROW YOUR PLATFORM! Does the word “platform” make you shudder a little bit? Are you feeling a little gobsmacked by the way publishers increasingly expect writers to have a strong social media presence in order to market their own work? Us, too! Well, all of us but the excellent Allison Williams, our social media editor!

For a hundred dollar donation, Allison will give you two hundred and fifty dollars’ worth of social media advice, including a one-hour Skype or phone consultation on how to build your specific brand as a writer. She’s done amazing things for us—really, she’s grown our blog audience exponentially—and we think she could do wonderful things for you, too.

A SPECIAL REWARD FOR WINE LOVERS, a SIGNED copy of Brian Doyle’s THE GRAIL: A YEAR AMBLING & SHAMBLING THROUGH AN OREGON VINEYARD IN PURSUIT OF THE BEST PINOT NOIR WINE IN THE WHOLE WILD WORLD. You will also get our gratitude, your name listed on a thank you page associated with the special gender issue, and a rock solid excuse to purchase and consume numerous bottles of opulent wine with dark cherry back notes.

THERE ARE TWO OR THREE THINGS WE KNOW FOR SURE, and one of them is that Dorothy Allison regularly delivers heart-breaking, hilarious, essential stories. So we asked her to sign us some books, and she said, “Fuck yeah.” Reward yourself with a SIGNED copy of Dorothy Allison’s TWO OR THREE THINGS I KNOW FOR SURE. You will also get our gratitude, your name listed on a thank you page associated with the special gender issue, and a book that will kick you in the ass. The good way.

WE WILL ALSO BE ADDING NEW BOOKS BY BREVITY AUTHORS OVER THE NEXT FEW DAYS, including work by Sonya Huber, Rebecca McClanahan, Patrick Madden, Gary Fincke, and Lori Jakiela.

You can see all of the Kickstarter campaign awards here. We are incredibly grateful for the response so far, and excited about the things will be able to do as new backers continue to join us. Thank you, all. We are deeply grateful.

Don’t Be Mad

March 30, 2015 § Leave a comment

 

Brevity‘s Book Review editor Debbie Hagan reports from the Power of Narrative conference at Boston University:

Katherine Bouton

Katherine Bouton

What happens when the narrator in your memoir sounds angry and strident? The reader will likely back away. Katherine Bouton, former deputy editor of the New York Times Book Review, shared this and other tips at the Power of Narrative conference this past weekend in discussing how to create an engaging narrative voice.

In 2010, Bouton had left the Times and began writing about a serious hearing loss that she’d kept under wraps for decades. When she sat down to share this secret and write her memoir, she let go of all this shame and anger that had been welling up inside her for years. Unfortunately, the voice came out too strong to be empathetic.  By the next draft, she figured it out, and Shouting Won’t Help: Why I–and 50 Million Other Americans–Can’t Hear You was published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux in 2013.

Bouton shares these tips in creating a tone that engages readers:

Temper your voice.  While writing a memoir may seem like your own personal therapy, readers don’t want to be part of those sessions. They’re not interested in someone who’s self-absorbed, wallowing in her misery. “Anger makes it very hard for readers to care about you,” Bouton says. Instead, she recommends we provide good information and write with authority.

Write in an active rather than passive voice.  “What makes a memoir work is how you respond to what happens to you,” says Bouton.  Instead of just playing the victim role and bemoaning what has happened, take responsibility. Tell readers how you responded to what happened and how you have changed.

Use reporting skills.  Because Bouton had been a science writer, she knew how to research and report facts. However, it didn’t occur to her to report on herself.  When she realized that she needed to treat herself as a subject, she not only researched her own condition, but interviewed ten other people with hearing loss.

Use humor. Be able to laugh at yourself.

Finish on an up beat.  “Most memoirs need a positive, if not a happy ending,” says Bouton.  Even if yours isn’t a tale of triumph, it’s important to leave readers with some hope or insight.

__

Debbie Hagan is editor-in-chief of Art New England magazine and book reviews editor for Brevity.  Her essay “Blind Curve” appears in the April issue of Brain, Child.

 

 

 

What Lucky Looks Like

March 27, 2015 § 25 Comments

Tawni Waters, in a less cranky mood

Tawni Waters, in a less cranky mood

Writer, actor, and rock-n-roll gypsy Tawni Waters unleashes her inner crankiness on one of those boorish men who explain things to “the ladies”:

A few weeks ago, a man approached me at a social event, congratulated me on my recent book sales, then proceeded to tell me how “lucky” I am. He pointed out that there are thousands of talented writers out there, but most of them aren’t as “lucky” as me. His tone was condescending and judgmental, as if I’d won the lottery and was being flippant about poverty.

He was about the zillionth person to say something like this since I got my first book deal. For the record, I’d like to explain what “lucky” looks like if you’re Tawni. I sold my first story when I was 18. I sold my first novel when I was 42. Between the ages of 18 and 42, I wrote constantly. The book I sold was one of five I’d completed. I got rejected literally thousands of times. I went to classes and conferences and retreats regularly to hone my craft. I got a BA in English with and emphasis on creative writing and graduated with an almost perfect GPA. I then got an MFA in fiction writing. I graduated with a 4.0 and distinction. I lived below the poverty line for much of this time because I loved my art form so much, I wasn’t willing to give it up even though it looked like I was a failure. I was embarrassed most of the time when people asked me what I did for a living, because if you are a writer who hasn’t sold books, many people think you’re a slacker no matter how hard you work. I can’t even begin to describe how many times I fought off utter despair and found the courage to keep trying in the face of nearly impossible odds. I met the agent who sold my book at a conference at which I was teaching, which means I’d sold enough short work and won enough awards to get hired to teach at a conference. In short, I sacrificed for many years and worked my ass off so I could get “lucky.” Every other writer I know who has managed to make a career of it has the same story. Very, very few of us are just talented and lucky.

One out of every ten-thousand books written sells to a mainstream publisher, so walking up to a writer who has done this and lecturing her on how “lucky” she is is kinda like walking up to a surgeon and telling him how lucky he is because lots of other people have an interest in science but were never lucky enough to become surgeons. He wasn’t lucky. He worked his ass off. So did I.

The moral of this rant: Next person who gives me a condescending lecture on how lucky I am gets punched in the junk.

____
Tawni Waters is an writer, actor, teacher, and gypsy.Her first YA novel, Beauty of the Broken, was published by Simon Pulse in 2014 and was named an Exceptional Book of 2015 by the Children’s Book Council. Her first poetry book, Siren Song, was published by Burlesque Press in the same year.  Her work has been seen in myriad magazines, journals, newspapers, and anthologies, including Best Travel Writing 2010 and Bridal Guide Magazine.  She teaches creative writing in Phoenix, Arizona. In her spare time, she talks to angels, humanely evicts spiders from her floorboards, and plays Magdalene to a minor rock god.

 

 

Iota: Short Prose Conference

March 25, 2015 § 2 Comments

DSC_5904A note on the upcoming Iota Conference from Penny Guisinger and a reflection on the event from Sven Birkerts:

Iota: Short Prose Conference is a place that celebrates the small in a world often ruled by heft. Participants gather at the Cobscook Community Learning Center, near Maine’s easternmost tip, for a long weekend of writing, relaxing, and learning. We also do a lot of talking, mostly about books. This year’s conference is July 23 – 26. Applications are due by June 23, but apply by April 15 for an early-bird discount!

 The focus is on short works: essays, flash, fiction, micro-everythings, prose poetry. And the definition of “short” is up for grabs. If you can write it, or even get it started, in a morning, you can workshop it that very afternoon. This year’s faculty will be Brevity Special Projects Editor Sarah Einstein and Richard Hoffman, and every participant will workshop with both of them. We’re thrilled to welcome them both!

This will be Iota’s third summer. The following is a reflection on the experience of teaching at Iota by Sven Birkerts, a faculty member from the conference’s first year:

I was invited to be an instructor at the very first staging of Iota, Short Prose Conference, which was held late in the summer of 2013 on Campobello Island off the northern coast of Maine. For once it was easy to tell people where I was headed: to the easternmost point of the continental United States. That struck an original note. As did the conference, start to finish.

Sven-for-Brevity

Sven Birkerts at Iota

I love the early days of things, the premieres, trial outings—love that improvisatory freedom of action before things crystallize, as they invariably do, into ‘this is how we do things.’ Small by design, it had the energy of first formations. Here were seventeen students and three faculty, gathering for the first time in a grand lodge. The first night we dispersed ourselves about the big room, the windows giving onto a prospect of tall pines and distant ocean. There were introductions, instructions, the usual business of first nights everywhere. But I also felt the almost immediate emergence of a distinct group spirit, which I can assure you is not the usual business. This had much to do with Conference Director Penny Guisinger and her associates at the Cobscook Community Learning Center, who between them had found exactly the right note. How to describe it? Expectant yet relaxed, exuding an improvisatory confidence. Which proved to be justified. Penny had brought together a diverse group of students and instructors who wanted nothing more than to talk about books and writing.

This came clear the next day as we dispersed to our various workshop locations, none without some view of pointed firs or distant water. The sizes were right, and—certainly in my case—the interactions were right away both lively and exploratory. Getting down to business, exchanging manuscripts, we knew that we were inventing much of the business as we went along. How like writing! The balance of activities was also smartly considered. Workshop time, writing time, down time, and in the evenings after dinner a wonderfully varied set of offerings: readings by instructors one night, students another, with musical guests bringing something original and briny into the mix.

Another of the day’s activities, one of the best,  was a late-morning to-and-fro in the big room—instructors informally conversing about various craft-related topics and then students joining in with their own thoughts, questions and war-stories. Again, that sense of converging intensities.

I know enough about these kinds of events to know that success is not guaranteed, that it depends on the coming together of innumerable factors—from personalities to organization to leadership. Planning takes you only so far and then the inner life of the thing asserts itself. Or–where things are too programmed, too this or too that– doesn’t. Here it did with great energy, humor and grace, and for this I thank the enthusiasm and fresh directorial instincts of Penny, who knew when to say “let’s try that again,” and “that was amazing!” and when to just break it all up and start laughing. Serious or antic, underneath it all we felt her literary devotion; we knew that this undertaking was the product of literary passion, not some market calculation. She was right there with us, arguing her views, reading her work, and making us feel like we were taking part in something really good. Which we were. The conference was engaged and purposeful, offering a craft-savvy jump-start to those who needed it and an invigorating tune-up for those whose engines were already running.

 If you want a long weekend to work on your short forms, join us!

(Oh, and there’s always lobster. And Peruvian chocolates. Just sayin’.)

For more information, contact Penny at: iota@cclc.me .

__

Sven Birkerts is the author of nine books and has been editor of AGNI since July 2002. He has received grants from the Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Foundation and the Guggenheim Foundation. He was winner of the Spielvogel-Diamonstein Award from PEN for the best book of essays in 1990. He has reviewed regularly for The New York Times Book ReviewThe New RepublicEsquireThe Washington PostThe Atlantic, and other publications. He has taught writing at Harvard University, Emerson College, Amherst College, and Mt. Holyoke College, and is director of the graduate Bennington Writing Seminars.

Brevity Announces Special Issue on Race, Racism, and Racialization

March 25, 2015 § Leave a comment

A Special Issue on Race, Racism, and Racialization guest-edited by Ira Sukrungruang and featuring new work by Claudia Rankine 

nbcccitizenrankineYou continue to astound us with your generosity! We can’t believe we have already made it through our first Kickstarter stretch goal, and everyone at Brevity is grateful and moved and more than a little overwhelmed. Thank you! Our next stretch goal is, we think, a really amazing one: our next special issue, featuring new work by award-winning poet and playwright Claudia Rankine and guest-edited by one of our favorite (not that we have favorites) Brevity authors, the also-award-winning Ira Sukrungruang.

Claudia Rankine (as if you didn’t know) is the author of five collections of poetry, including most recently Citizen: An American Lyric, a finalist for the National Book Award and winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award in Poetry. She has coedited American Women Poets in the 21st Century; Where Lyric Meets Language (2002), American Poets in the 21st Century: The New Poetics (2007), and The Racial Imaginary: Writers on Race in the Life of the Mind (2014). Her poems have been included in the anthologies Great American Prose Poems: From Poe to the Present(2003), Best American Poetry (2001), and The Garden Thrives: Twentieth Century African-American Poetry (1996). Her play Detour/South Bronx premiered in 2009 at New York’s Foundry Theater.

We’ve been reading, and teaching, and gushing over Rankine’s work quite a lot recently, and are more than a little beside ourselves that she’s said yes to being next year’s anchor author. We can’t wait to bring you a new piece of her powerful writing!

Guest editor Ira Sukrungruang is the author of the memoirs Southside Buddhist and Talk Thai: The Adventures of Buddhist Boy, and the poetry collection In Thailand It Is Night. He is the coeditor of two anthologies on the topic of obesity:What Are You Looking At? The First Fat Fiction Anthologyand Scoot Over, Skinny: The Fat Nonfiction Anthology. He is the recipient of the New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship in Nonfiction Literature, an Arts and Letters Fellowship, and the Emerging Writer Fellowship. His work has appeared in many literary journals, including Post Road, The Sun, and Creative Nonfiction. He is one of the founding editors of Sweet: A Literary Confection (sweetlit.com), and teaches in the MFA program at University of South Florida and the low-residency MFA program at City University in Hong Kong. For more information about him, please visit: www.buddhistboy.com.

We hope you’re as excited about this announcement as we are, although unless you’ve just gotten giddy and a little teary-eyed, done a happy dance and called your mother to tell her that you’ve finally made something of yourself, you probably aren’t. We are deeply honored by the amazing writers who are willing to work with us, and the amazing readers who make our work possible. Thank you.

Help us Fund the New Special Issue, and so much more.

Things I Can Say About MFA Writing Programs Because I’ve Never Been Accepted Into One

March 24, 2015 § 19 Comments

Tim Hillegonds

Tim Hillegonds

By Tim Hillegonds

In May of 2009, I was contemplating making a career move that would take me from my current employer to a competitor, all but guaranteeing a complicated transition wrought with conflict. I was in my early thirties at the time, and while the lawsuit risks and overall ugliness of what the scenario could morph into were substantial, the change seemed to make sense for me—new opportunities, big salary, a chance to go back to school and finish my undergrad on the new company’s dime. I was also at a point in life where the fulfillment meter inside my chest was hovering on empty, every corporate meeting I sat in ending with me asking myself if this was really all I was supposed to do in life, if vanilla walls and manila envelopes and “low-hanging fruit” clichés were all that awaited me when I finally closed in on forty.

Ultimately, I took the job and suffered through a long and arduous and emotional lawsuit, and was accepted into DePaul University to finish my undergrad. I’d had limited success in academics in the past—dropping out of high school at 17, getting my GED at 22, taking a few community college courses right after that, and then realizing I really just wanted to drink my way through my twenties. But this time was different. I’d gotten sober four years earlier, and being in college suddenly felt like this amazing second chance had been given to me. My entire worldview had shifted by then, and I felt this pull towards something that was hard to articulate at the time. Something I now think can most accurately be defined as “creativity.” I felt compelled to create.

Which I suppose makes sense, because I’d always considered myself a writer. I wrote all through my teens and intermittently through my early twenties, and then I wrote like a madman through the first two years of sobriety. But three years after enrolling at DePaul, when I’d finished my undergrad and had a cranium full of college-inspired conversations and reflections keeping me up at night, I knew that I wanted to take writing more seriously. I’d heard the term “craft,” and I wanted to focus on that—the craft of writing. It sounded so elegant. I wanted to be a serious writer. A sophisticated writer. A real writer.

But the world I came from, a world where I’d never heard of writing workshops or literary fiction or even creative nonfiction, a world where Grisham and Crichton, both of whom I’d been introduced to while in jail, kept my reading appetite satiated, had left me ill prepared for what steps to take next.

So of course I Googled writing programs, learned about MFAs, and found four MFA programs in my hometown of Chicago—Northwestern University, Roosevelt University, Columbia College, and The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. I put together a writing sample and applied to Roosevelt and Northwestern. I attended a couple of open houses. Got my hopes up. And was then rejected, and forced to face the truth of the times: my writing simply wasn’t that good.

However, during my research, I’d also become aware that DePaul, the same place I’d received my undergrad from, offered a Master of Arts in Writing in Publishing (MAWP) Degree. As a precaution, while I was applying to MFA programs, I’d applied there too. I’d sent the same writing sample, and I awaited their decision with the same nervousness, the same trepidation. And then I was accepted.

But I wasn’t accepted because of the strength of my writing sample; rather, as I was later told by the program director, it was because my writing showed promise. I did a lot of things wrong and I had a lot to learn, but I did a few things right, too. And they saw that. They wanted to help fertilize that. As with all their students, they wanted to push me and see how I responded. To see if I could take the criticism and the challenge to do hard work and turn into the whetstone used to sharpen my skills.

During the two years that I spent earning the MAWP, I took seven workshops. Most of them were nonfiction, because that’s where my interest is, but I took both a fiction and poetry workshop, too. I monopolized my professors’ office hours and read voraciously and completed 150 pages of a memoir for my thesis. I also graduated with distinction, had a piece accepted for publication in Brevity, and left the program in June of last year with the deep sense of fulfillment I’d been searching for since 2009.

Which brings me to this point: degrees don’t matter—writing does. Sure, my degrees hang on the wall in my office and I glance at them from time to time, the physical manifestation of the hard work I put in a good reminder to keep putting in hard work. But the validation isn’t in the degree; it’s in the experience. The entire experience. The complete journey I took—the journeys we all take—to becoming the writers we are, the writers we want to be.

Writing is an art, and as such, it’s open to your own interpretation of what that art means to you. Maybe that means you take the path to an MFA or a PhD. Maybe you get an MA. Maybe you apply for an artist colony, get accepted, and write in woods for a month while artsy folks deliver lunch to your doorstep in quaint little picnic baskets. Or maybe it’s none of that.

Whatever your path to writing is, to being a writer, it’s just that—your path. So don’t worry about what Ryan Boudinot says. Or what even what I say. Just worry about what the art of writing, the craft of writing, means to you. Read. Write. Repeat. And do it all with the steadfast knowledge that wherever writing takes you is exactly where you’re supposed to be.

___

Tim Hillegonds is a Chicago-based writer whose work has appeared, or is forthcoming, in BrevityRHINOMidway Journal, Bluestem and r.k.v.r.y. quarterly. He earned a Master of Arts degree in Writing and Publishing from DePaul University, and was recently nominated for an Illinois Arts Council Literary Award. He’s currently working on a memoir about his time in Colorado.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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