Brenda Miller is Toast

September 16, 2010 § 2 Comments

Brenda is also one of our favorite essayists, and she writes about burnt bread (and dogs, and love) in the latest Sweet. Here’s just a taste:

And even later, when I lived with one man and then another and then another, toast could allay even the most bitter arguments. When I lived with Francisco in our mildewed canvas tent at the edge of Lake Powell, we made toast on the iron skillet, a process that required patience and watchfulness and diligence. We spread it with cheap margarine, ate it in silence in the early morning cold. When I lived with Seth at Orr Springs, we made toast on a griddle pan, from loaves we made ourselves, big heavy wheat bread always a little too moist in the middle, studded with hard specks of millet. Toasting made it better, and we spread the slices with homemade apricot jam, made it something to linger over in the mornings before all the chores—wood to be chopped, leaks to be fixed, weeds to be plucked—crowded in to oppress us.

When I lived with Keith, we toasted bread at all hours of the day as we both wrote in our rooms in that little house in Green Lake. He would say, in passing, this is my life! and sometimes this cry meant: “I can’t believe my good fortune, eating toast with you in this house on the hill!,” and sometimes, if the writing weren’t going so well, it meant: “I can’t believe this is what my life has come to, eating toast with you in this house on the hill.” But in any case, we enjoyed the toast, made with grainy, slightly sweet bread bought at the co-op down the road. Eating toast made everything good enough, for a little while at least.

Finish the whole plate of toast right here Sweet – A Literary Confection of Poetry and Creative Nonfiction.

Brenda Miller: On Form and Distance

November 4, 2009 § 1 Comment

You can imagine our excitement when Brenda Miller, author of so many beautiful Brevity essays and craft pieces (see here and here and here and here) dropped by the Brevity corporate offices last week as part of her visit to Ohio University’s BA, MA, and PhD in Creative Writing Program.  Brenda gave a wonderful reading from her newest collection, Blessing of the Animals.

Just today, we ran across a fine interview with Brenda in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

Q: How much distance do you need from a topic to write elegantly and clearly about it?

A: It depends. For certain things, I still don’t have enough distance, even though the events may have happened thirty years ago. For others, I write about them as they’re happening. In either case, I don’t think it’s the literal time, but the mind’s perspective on the topic or event that creates enough breathing room for something literary to happen on the page. Also: form. If you find the right form, or voice, for a piece, it can provide just the “container” you need for whatever the topic might be. And some of my essays span quite a bit of time; so I might start off by writing about an image from my childhood, which leads me to something quite close in the present day; once I’m on that train I’m not going to jump off.

You can read the full interview here.

Of Swerve: The Apology Epistle

September 29, 2009 § 7 Comments

Brenda Miller reveals the roots of her Brevity essay “Swerve,” and offers us a writing prompt along the way:

This little essay is a testament to many things: to the power of friendship, the efficacy of assignments, the resonance of small detail, and trust in one’s own intuition.

Friendship: It’s mid-autumn, and I go to a bookstore café to meet with two women I don’t know very well yet. We’d met through a service-learning program at the university, discovered we all want more writing time, more excuses for writing. So Kim, Marion, and I gather in this café—where the service is surly and spotty—at the table next to the poetry bookshelf. This lone bookshelf is hidden away here on the top floor, almost as an afterthought, poetry relegated to the corner where it takes some effort to find it.

We’re not sure how to begin. We sip our lattes, gossip about school. My eyes wander toward the poetry bookshelf, and my hand reaches out to grab a book, Late Wife, by Claudia Emerson. I’ve heard about this book, I say. Do you want to read it together?

Assignment: So we do. And we come back together the following week, excited by her “Divorce Epistles,” by the way Emerson is able to return to the past, to pain, to loss, through directly addressing the ex-husband. We all have something in our past to address, some complexity that hasn’t been easily resolved, perhaps never will be. So we give each other an assignment. Write an apology, we say, to someone in your past. An “apology epistle.” I’m not sure why we come up with apology. It’s just the first thing to come to mind.

Detail: I sit down at home and write the first words, I’m sorry… And immediately the image of that piece of wood in the road comes into my mind. It doesn’t arrive with a blare and a bang; it just emerges there in my brain, crystal clear, as if it had been waiting all this time for me to blink it into focus. I’m sorry about that time I ran over a piece of wood in the road. I haven’t been thinking about my ex-boyfriend, a man I knew thirty years ago, a relationship that had been fraught with alcoholism and emotional abuse. I had been a young woman, very young, still a child. And so, with the image of this small piece of wood, this roadside debris, the entire relationship comes back full force, everything that had transpired between us distilled into the essence of that road trip across the desert. The essay comes out of me in one piece, in about thirty minutes, one image leading to the next.

Intuition: I bring the piece, three copies, to our meeting the following week. We’re all a little nervous, so we spend most of our time gossiping before turning to the pages in our hands. I read “Swerve” aloud, and as I’m reading I see what I’ve really written. I didn’t know it until I shared it with them; I had just been following that piece of wood. But now I see that while I truly was sorry about running over it, I was really sorry for subjecting my young self to such a harsh and terrifying experience. And behind it all was the fact that I had gotten into the relationship in the first place out of a kind of penance: guilt over something that had happened to me just before I met him. So the entire time was tied up with apology, with truly being sorry for so many things.

I could never have written the essay deliberately, trying to work with all those complex emotions head-on. I simply had to trust in that piece of wood. The second paragraph came out in one long line, because I couldn’t risk stopping: I had to keep going to see where we would all end up. I had to let my intuition guide me to that dangerous place, knowing I’d be safe in the company of newfound friends.

Brevity 31 is Up and Running!

September 12, 2009 § Leave a comment

Our Fall 2009 Issue is ready for your inspection, kind reader.

Brevity 31 offers work from Sherman Alexie, Lee Martin, Brenda Miller, Ron Arias, Amy Lee Scott, Rebecca Frost, Ann Claycomb, Jehanne Dubrow, Scott Moncrieff, and April Monroe. Some of these folks you’ve no doubt read elsewhere, others have graced our pages in the past, and at least one is publishing for her first time. That’s the sort of mix that makes us happy here in the Brevity corporate towers.

Also, strong new Craft Essays from Stephen Corey, Dinah Lenney, Jennifer Culkin, and Towles Kintz, and Book Reviews from J. Luise, Stephanie Susnjara, and Dinty W. Moore. And also, ten (count ’em, ten) wonderful photographs from Tricia Louvar.

Further Blessings from Brenda Miller

February 1, 2009 § 1 Comment

Essayist Brenda Miller has blessed Brevity with a number of contributions over the years, including Split, a recent craft essay on the practice of letter writing, and our first-ever audio interview.

So yes, that makes us fans, and we are of course happy to hear the news that Brenda’s newest book, Blessing of the Animals, has just been released.

Says author Kim Barnes:  “Brenda Miller writes with such extraordinary grace and intimacy that, despite our weariness and fears, we find ourselves falling in love with the world all over again…”

Congratulations to Brenda, and to anyone lucky enough to read her work.

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BREV29: A Warm Winter Stew

January 22, 2009 § 2 Comments

BREVITY, the journal of concise nonfiction, launches the 29th issue today, bringing you the Big Bad Wolf, a glass eyeball, Parisian lingerie, a pair of stolen sneakers, an orphaned doe, and, possibly, a visitor from another planet. Maybe it’s just the snow playing tricks on our eyes, but each of these pieces seems to ask the same thing: “Did I see what I think I saw?” Bundle up and get warm by the intense fire of such talents as Lance Larsen, David Bradley, Tim Elhajj, John Bresland, Diane Seuss, Joe Bonomo, Kyle Minor, Laura Sewell Matter, Elizabeth Westmark, and Bryan Fry. Also, new Craft Essays from Brenda Miller and Lisa Knopp, and Book Reviews from Mary Richert, Richard Gilbert, and Stephanie Susnjara.

Read Brevity 29

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