Brevity Podcast Episode #5 Dinty W. Moore

August 15, 2017 § 7 Comments

Dinty W. Moore has always stood out

It’s time once again for the intermittent Brevity Podcast! Listen right from this post, or click over to iTunes, Soundcloud or Stitcher. If you’re subscribed, we’ll show up in your podcast app queue. And wherever you listen or download us, please take a moment to leave a brief review–it helps us show up in searches and recommendations.

Episode #5 features an interview with Dinty W. Moore, our very own Editor in Chief and founder of Brevity. Dinty will be keynote speaking at the Hippocamp Creative Nonfiction Conference September 8-10 in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

Show notes and links to people, places and things we’ve discussed are below. Next episode, we’ll be talking with Donna Talarico-Beerman, Editor in Chief at Hippocampus and the Hippocampus Press.

Show Notes: Episode #5 People and Books

We’re guessing you already know who Dinty is if you’re here, but you can find out more about the author of The Story Cure at his website, and follow him on Facebook.

The Accidental Buddhist: Mindfulness, Enlightenment, and Sitting Still, American Style

Joan Didion’s books

Kathryn Harrison’s The Kiss

It’s the wrong time of year for Peeps, but catch them around Easter. If you’re looking for Samuel Pepys, find out more here. You can also read his exhaustive diary, one of the great records of 17th-Century London, including eyewitness reports of the Plague and the Great Fire of London.

Sarah Manguso’s books

Judith Kitchen’s books

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Allison K Williams is the host of the Brevity Podcast. She’ll also be appearing at Hippocamp for an intensive workshop on Self-Editing and consultations on your pages.

The Geek’s Guide to the Writing Life

June 15, 2017 § 2 Comments

Gentle Readers, you may have noticed our Brevity Editor-in-Chief’s new book, The Story Cure. Perhaps you’ve even been moved to hop over to Amazon or pop in to your favorite indie bookstore to pick it up. Or maybe you’re still wondering, what the heck is this book all about?

Over at HuffPo, “certified writing geek” Stephanie M. Vanderslice has the dish.

What I appreciated most was Moore’s personal take on the most essential elements of the major prose project: the primal story or the problem of the heart, and the invisible magnetic river. The problem of the heart is the primal element of the story, the human current that runs deep within its core that pulls the reader in and makes them care about it, makes them unwilling to put it down. The invisible magic river is, likewise, the current that carries this story and that every single element of the work—”word, element, scenes, snippets of dialogue, reflection,” should be drawn toward.

Vanderslice and Moore talk about keeping the focus on the reader, and the advice Dinty W. Moore now would give his younger writer self. Her interview is a fast, thoughtful read–check out the whole conversation here.

 

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Allison K Williams is Brevity’s Social Media Editor and hosts the Brevity Podcast.

The MFA is Not a Calling Card

July 6, 2016 § 47 Comments

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Dinty W. Moore

By Dinty W. Moore

We – myself and our brilliant volunteer staff – do not always agree fully with every word posted here on Brevity’s blog, the “info and discussion” arm of our thrice-yearly magazine. Our readers, writers, and bloggers share a variety of opinions on issues of genre, hybridity, publishing, motivation, literary awards, and, no doubt, presidential candidates. Varied viewpoints are healthy and useful.

Emily Smith guest-posted yesterday – The MFA as Calling Card – reminding us how writers of color, LGBT writers, and lower-income writers often face extra barriers when attempting to enter graduate school. Examining this institutional bias is necessary, and under widespread discussion in the MFA world. Clearly, college tuition rates, state funding of education, and financial aid are all broken systems, not just for undergraduates but for graduate students as well. As is so often the case, those with the least resources bear the greater burdens.

I do, however, question Ms. Smith’s assertion that “the MFA is a literary calling card, a title not unlike Vanderbilt or Kennedy that can often buy entry into the otherwise classist structure of the literary world.” I think she overstates the case.

We are well past the time when an MFA degree absent a well-published book (or in poetry, perhaps numerous books) would put a candidate on the glide-path to a tenure track job. (We may soon be beyond tenure, but that’s another story.)

And I don’t think, despite numerous protests to the contrary, that literary journal editors look for MFA pedigree when deciding what work to publish, or that we accept work based solely on where the author has previously published. I certainly don’t when choosing for Brevity, and discussion after discussion with other journal editors convinces me that the majority do not do this as well.

Good writing wins out, not resumes or degrees. Am I excited when Abigail Thomas or Sherman Alexie submits a piece to Brevity? Of course, but my excitement is about the same when we publish a new writer, one with no or few previous publications.

The MFA is not a golden calling card for teaching positions, nor is it one for journal publication. This is all the more true now that many of our best and most-provocative literary outlets exist outside of university English departments.  (The list is ever-growing, but here are a few: Guernica, Slice, Literary Mama, Electric Lit, Creative Nonfiction, The Rumpus, Barrelhouse, Waxwing.)

Smith was admitted last year to Emerson’s excellent MFA program, but had to decline because she was not offered funding. That was a wise move on her part. Speaking not in my role as Brevity editor but as someone who has taught undergraduate creative writing for close to thirty years, no one, absent independent financial means, should go into deep debt to earn an MFA degree. I’ve been telling my students this since the very start of my teaching career.*

There are schools that fund everyone who is accepted (like the one in which I currently teach), schools that fund a portion of those admitted, and schools with no graduate assistantship or fellowship funding at all. Avoid the latter, unless you have earned your fortune or were born with wealth in hand.

I well understand the desire to write and be read, and know that a two- or three-year MFA affords a young writer instruction, practice, and peer support. But I believe as well that everything you can find in an MFA can be found elsewhere, at much less cost. There are online courses that are far less expensive since they don’t offer college credit (and thus, don’t have the bloated university overhead.) There are online critique groups as well as groups that meet at bookstores, libraries, and cafes. (It can be hard to find a good one, but they exist.) Literary magazines are almost always open to volunteer readers. Craft books provide much the same instruction you will find in a college classroom.

There is this simple truth: we learn to write better by writing.

Is it easier to find support and garner helpful critique in a well-run MA or MFA program? Yes, usually. Do I wish the programs offered more assistantship money, and enrolled more writers of color, and writers from other under-represented groups? Yes, definitely. Do I wish state legislatures weren’t abandoning state universities, and that administrators weren’t running our schools like assembly lines? Goodness, yes.

But the myth that the MFA is an exclusive calling card, a magic ticket to a select inside group, that it will give you entry into quality literary journals absent excellent writing, that those without the MFA are shunned by eminent literary magazine editors, is harmful to writers, and to the entire literary community. Writing is hard enough.

These hope-crushing concerns are just not true. The MFA is a great opportunity, but less and less valuable as a teaching credential, and not the key to publication, career, or literary acceptance.

Voice, fresh perspective, energetic use of language, crafted sentences, vivid detail: these are the calling cards.

You can print these cards at home.

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  • * A brief footnote, after further consideration: my thoughts here are focused on traditional “full-residency” MFA programs and traditional students.  The low-residency MFA is a different equation in most cases, assuming the low-res student is employed during the length of the program, or can handle the tuition and fees through prudent financial planning.

Dinty W. Moore founded Brevity nineteen years ago. He wishes life was easier for everyone in the arts, but somehow it never is.

Essays Are For Lovers

February 11, 2016 § Leave a comment

ValentineWe’re here because we love essays, memoir, creative nonfiction. They’re not always easy to find on the shelf, and the Amazon browsing process can be…flawed. (Inspired by your shopping trends, this print of Iron Man. Yep, got it in one.)

Over at Essay Daily, notable nonfictioneers including Ander Monson, Maya Kapoor, Brian Doyle and Jill Talbot have listed some of their favorite essay collections, including our own Dinty W. Moore’s Dear Mr. Essay Writer Guy and Southside Buddhist by Ira Sukrungruang, and also mentions of individual essays, including several at Brevity.

The booklist is itself a catalog essay of sorts, with the editorial comments from the recommenders as charming as tracking down the essays they adore. From Aurvi Sharma:

Eliot Weinberger’s ‘An Elemental Thing’
I read this collection of essays pretty much entirely on the NYC subway and often wanted to grab the person sitting next to me and say, ‘Read this!’ Apparently Eliot Weinberger is not that well known the the States. Must be rectified.

Sei Shonagon’s The Pillow Book Are these essays? Poems? Journal entries? Fiction? We don’t know but Sei Shonagon’s late 10th century words make us question our assumptions of what makes what, and that’s a good enough feature of nonfiction in my book.

Go check out the list…and choose a book for your Valentine.

Where Did the Term ‘Nonfiction’ Originate?

July 15, 2015 § 4 Comments

Norman Podhoretz

Norman Podhoretz at the Commentary offices in the 1960s

In the latest issue of Creative Nonfiction magazine, Brevity editor Dinty W. Moore traces the origin of the term “creative nonfiction” all the way back to 1969, and Commentary editor Norman Podhoretz.

By coincidence, the Dallas Morning News earlier this week ran an article by George Getschow, director of the Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Conference, shedding light on when and where the term “nonfiction” came into common use. Here’s an excerpt from Getschow’s piece:

Richard Rhodes, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author who writes both fiction and nonfiction, believes that the worst thing that ever befell literary journalism and narrative nonfiction happened in 1867, when a Boston librarian designated the kind of writing we do with a negative: nonfiction, meaning “Not fiction. … Reminding us that we dwell in the swampy depths beneath poetry and fiction’s golden-lit Olympus.”

When nonfiction was split off from fiction, nonfiction was devalued in the eyes of the academy — a terrible tragedy, Rhodes says. He considers narrative nonfiction — or “verity,” as he likes to call it — a more challenging art form.

Read Moore’s essay in Creative Nonfiction Online

Read Getschow’s article in the Dallas Morning News

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

Listening For The Truth

August 6, 2014 § 14 Comments

By Allison K Williams

Oliver Typewriter, known as the "Iron Butterfly" for the overhead strike motion of the type arms

Oliver Typewriter, known as the “Iron Butterfly” for the overhead strike motion of the type arms

In my head, real writers wake up, head to the typewriter, and happily pound away until their word count for the day is complete. Then, emotionally depleted but happy, they retire to the lounging sofa for the afternoon.

There’s something wrong with this picture. For starters, there’s a typewriter in it.

It’s also (based on every writer I know) completely inaccurate in every other way, too. A big lie that I’ve told myself.

Everyone sweats. Everyone slogs. Everyone feels alone and sad, and like they must not be a “real writer” because “real writers” have a different/superior/classic process.

I finished a memoir and got an agent and spent a month at loose ends. There was a lot of lounging sofa, but not a lot of word count.

I felt like a loser. Like I’d probably never write anything again. That was it, my last good idea, spent. And of course from there I shame-spiraled into the book will never sell the agent just felt sorry for me and now she and her interns spend Casual Fridays hoisting Oreo-tinis and reading out choice bits of my manuscript in funny voices. (Michelle, please don’t tell me if that’s true. Let an intern tell me.)

So I screwed up my courage and asked a writer I respect a lot, “What do you do after you’ve written a book?”

“Mooch around the internet, work in my garden, look out the window, and think about how I’ll never write anything else ever again.”

Oh.

It’s not just me.

Know what?

It’s not just you, either.

There is no magic process that “real writers” do. You are a “real writer” when you write. You are still a “real writer” when you’re not writing, when you’re sitting and listening for words to come. Maybe your listening is taking long walks, or watching cat videos, or reading wonderful books you admire or reading trashy books that entertain you. For me, listening is hanging out on the lounging sofa and imagining a little room. I wait in the room, and my ideas are people coming to me with problems. I listen until someone shows up with a problem I want to solve.

I listen for the truth to show up, so I can tell it.

(P.S. I own the Oliver Typewriter above, and I sometimes turn it to the wall when I imagine it’s silently judging.)
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Allison K Williams is Social Media Editor of Brevity. Her work has appeared in The New York Times and The Christian Science Monitor. She is also a freelance editor. She tweets @GuerillaMemoir.

The 20th Anniversary Creative Nonfiction Writers’ Conference

May 5, 2014 § 3 Comments

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Lee Gutkind

As the 20th Anniversary Creative Nonfiction Writers’ Conference draws near, Brevity contributor Amy Wright interviews CNF Founder Lee Gutkind about the genre, the journal, and storytelling in the 21st Century:

Amy Wright: Before the term “creative nonfiction” was ubiquitous, someone referred to you as the guy who “does Creative Notification,” as if there were a company that releases starlings to announce you’ve won the Guggenheim. Do you encounter less confusion about the term now?

Lee Gutkind: Of course, much less confusion generally than before, and a growing awareness of the power of true stories in academic and professional circles.  The awareness and appreciation is also taking root within the general public—writers and wannabe writers.  I can’t tell you—couldn’t count—how many people tell me, quite spontaneously, “I have been writing this way for years—and now I know what it is called!”  It makes them feel anchored, as if they belong in and are part of an enlightened community.   That said, there remain many readers and writers in the dark.  We will light them up!

AW: Have you ever been “creatively notified” of anything?

LG: I have been creatively crucified—which is kind of being notified—by James Wolcott in Vanity Fair who called me “the Godfather behind creative nonfiction.”

AW: On the New York Times Opinionator blog, you say the “challenge and goal of all who write narrative or creative nonfiction” is to recreate a scene from which readers can “learn and enjoy at the same time.” Why do you think the two are aided by scene setting?

LG: Well, not to be overly technical, but “scene setting” is only a part of writing in scenes.  A scene has a setting, of course—a place.  But it also has a beginning and an ending and an action in between. Something happens, in other words.  Good scenes have dialogue and evocative characters and memorable places—all of that and more represent enjoyment, entertainment and a compelling storyline or plot.  These story elements bring readers to the plate, so to speak—attracts attention and holds their interest.  Especially the reluctant readers—those whose minds are not open to learning about this particular subject or who are simply too busy to focus on something that he or she knows little about.  The scene, the story—the elements mentioned here, triggers curiosity and creates interest, which then provides the writer the opportunity to add the learning part—to teach or inform or persuade the reader.  (At this point, the reader’s attention has been captured by the scene.)  We are talking about a balanced mix of style and substance.

There’s all kinds of interesting research studies now that demonstrate that readers remember more information for longer periods of time when those facts and information are presented within a story.  Same thing with ideas that will change a reader’s mind or persuade them to think in a certain way.  Why is the personal essay—creative nonfiction—so popular for op-ed pages like the NY Times these days?  Because people don’t want to be told what to do or how to think:  Writers who write true stories that illustrate their ideas will attract attention and make the desired impact.  To use a George W. Bushism—the scene/story is the decider.

AW: But Godfather, surely as editor of Creative Nonfiction you are faced with questions of whether a scene/story lives or dies…how do you decide?

LG: Well, ask yourself:  Does it work?  Does it achieve your objectives as the writer of your essay, chapter, book?  Does it have a beginning and an ending, does it represent an aspect of what you want to say or what you want your piece to say, is it compelling to your reader, will it keep your reader engaged, does it fit in with the overall story line?  Remember that writers have a readership—an audience.  You are not talking to yourself; rather you are talking to a much larger world and that world is where your words and your scene must resonate.

AW: Your more than thirty books make it enjoyable to learn about such subjects as health care, writing, baseball, and how robots think, but considering you teach at Arizona State University and present at conferences, does that guiding principle also inform your lectures?

LG: How could it not?

Amy Wright

Amy Wright

AW: I well remember a point you made at the 2013 CNF Conference about an elderly woman who was never far from Frank Sinatra’s side while Gay Talese was shadowing him for a 1966 piece in Esquire. You made Ol’ Blue Eyes toupee keeper a character as you illustrated the process of finding a buried lede. Do scenes/stories present aloud similarly to on the page?

LG:  That’s a difficult question with more than one answer.  The presentation in public—aloud, in person, etc. and its effectiveness, of course—has mostly to do with the skill of the writer writing the story—the material.  But writers, especially these days, need to work to learn to tell their stories to larger groups—in person—either by reading with clarity and feeling or speaking with animation and passion.  After all, this is the age of the TED talk, Jon Stewart and Morning Edition—we are sometimes presented with the opportunity for writers to go public and become the three-dimensional person their work demands, whether on paper or in the flesh.  This is a new age—it is not your grandmother’s nonfiction anymore.  We are not waiting for people to buy our book and reach out to us—we will wait a long time for that; rather, we are bringing our work to the readers.

AW: In You Can’t Make This Stuff Up, you offer a wealth of writing tips, including the necessary “drawer phase” and how to utilize inner point of view.  Will this guide inspire your presentation at the 2014 Creative Nonfiction conference?

LG: I am going to start off by discussing the basics of the genre—which includes scenes, as we have noted above, the use of dialogue and description—and some of the “R” words I often talk about in my public presentations and in my writing—research, real life, revision and reflection.  I will isolate the elements of a good essay by deconstructing one or two—show attendees the classical structural framework of creative nonfiction.  “Structure” is all-important and not often dealt with in the classroom or in books.  Later that day, after a presentation on the short form, I will deal with “long form” challenges—from essay to book length.  Writing in long form is a different ball game, believe me.  The challenges are different and the satisfactions—awesome.

**Visit the Conference Page for More Information.**

Exploring the Fringes of Nonfiction

March 2, 2013 § 5 Comments

blurring boundariesA guest post from B.J. Hollars, editor of Blurring the Boundaries: Explorations to the Fringes of Nonfiction:

One day I woke troubled by the hard fact about facts; that is, that their factuality is often in flux.  Sure, the world is round today, I reasoned, but hadn’t that observation once nearly cost Galileo his life?  And more recently (and perhaps more troubling to my own understanding of the universe): Wasn’t Pluto once a planetWhat the hell happened to Pluto anyway?

My heart broke further upon learning that not even photographs were as factual as I gave them credit for.  Take National Geographic’s 1982 cover photo—the one of the Pyramid’s of Giza—which, as a child, was solely responsible for hurling me headlong into my mummy phase.  Imagine my surprise when I learned, decades later, that those pyramids weren’t exactly as they appeared.  That those pyramids were, in fact, the victims of a digital alteration.  Apparently, an overzealous layout editor had crammed them tightly together so the photo could better fit the magazine’s frame.

If we can move an ancient pyramid with the click of a finger, I reasoned, who’s to say how far we’ll go?

As my grumbling grew louder, I began to realize that my frustration with facts was far less productive than my exploration of their unreliability.  And I figured if anything could put truth in a headlock and wrestle it into submission, it was the essay.  Not just any essay, mind you, but an essay that understood the value of the surprise attack, one willing to get the jump on truth by coming at it in a new way.

And so, weighing in at 268 pages, I humbly present to you Blurring the Boundaries: Explorations to the Fringes of Nonfiction—an anthology of genre-bending essays that (at least according to the back cover copy) continually toe the line between “truth and memory, honesty and artifice, facts and lies.”  Rather than whining ad nauseam about pyramids and Pluto, I asked 20 of today’s most renowned writers and teachers to help me put truth on trial by fiddling with form, fragmentation, structure, sequence, and all the other traditional conventions essay writers hold so dear.  I was seeking a new definition of nonfiction—or at least a renewed debate on the matter—and I was grateful for the legion of intrepid explorers who dared enter into the wilderness alongside me.  Writers like Marcia Aldrich, Monica Berlin, Eula Biss, Ryan Boudinot, Ashley Butler, Steven Church, Stuart Dybek, Beth Ann Fennelly, Robin Hemley, Naomi Kimbell, Kim Dana Kupperman, Paul Maliszewski, Michael Martone, Ander Monson, Dinty W. Moore, Susan Neville, Brian Oliu, Lia Purpura, Wendy Rawlings and Ryan Van Meter.

Not only did they embark into this wilderness by offering their essays, but they even provided helpful maps in the form of mini-essays—each of which sought to give the reader new insight into the writer’s own explorations of genre.  Add to this pedagogically-practical and thematically-linked writing exercises, and readers now had a complete guidebook for this burgeoning terrain.

Taken together, these essays challenge and confound, but it’s my hope that they might also create a new space for the essay form, or at least encourage other writers to assist in mapping a landscape we know little about.

Who among us will put the pyramids back to scale or return Pluto to its planetary state?

Or more importantly, who will subvert what we think we know by showing us what we don’t?

2013 Sonora Review Essay Contest

February 12, 2013 § 2 Comments

sonora58_1From our friends at Sonora Review:

1. Our 2013 Sonora Review Essay Contest is currently underway! Dinty W. Moore, editor of Brevity Magazine and author of Between Panic and Desire (winner of the Grub Street Book Prize for Nonfiction), will serve as the judge.

2. Issue 63, our Banned Books Issue, will be released at AWP next month in Boston.

  • Issue 63 will include nonfiction pieces from BJ Hollars, author of Opening the Doors: The Desegregation of the University of Alabama and the Fight for Tuscaloosa (forthcoming from the University of Alabama Press); Abigail Thomas, author of Safekeeping and A Three Dog Life; Manuel Munoz, author of What You See in the Dark; Kaethe Schwehn, an up-and-coming writer out of Minnesota; and an ensemble of other wickedly talented writers.

    Be sure to stop by our AWP booth and take a look!

3. We are now accepting submissions for Issue 64 of Sonora Review. We’re currently working on our “theme” for this issue, but please feel free to send us work on any subject/s and in whatever form/s that speak to you.

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