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.

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