Sonora Wants Essays, Nonfiction, and Hybrids

April 2, 2014 § Leave a comment

Jenny Boully

Jenny Boully

Deadline: May 15th, 2014

Judge: Jenny Boully
What We Want: Essays, nonfiction, and hybrids of up to 6,000 words
Prize: Winner receives $1,000 and publication in Issue 66 of Sonora Review; all other finalists will be considered for publication

Black Warrior Prizes in Three Genres

April 22, 2013 § Leave a comment

black warrior bass

Prize-Winning Bass Caught on Black Warrior River

The Ninth Annual Black Warrior Review Contest is underway.

Guest Judges for 2013 are

Brian Evenson (Fiction)

Jenny Boully (Nonfiction)

Kate Durbin  (Poetry)

To Submit your Work, or for more details and guidelines, please visit:

Winners in each genre will receive $1,000 and publication in the Spring/Summer 2014 issue. Finalists in each category will receive notation in the Spring/Summer 2014 issue and are also considered for publication.

Reading Fee is $15 per short story (up to 7000 words), $15 per nonfiction piece (up to 7000 words), and $15 per group of up to 3 poems.

All contestants will also receive a complimentary one-year subscription.

On ‘Elements’ and Great Teaching Moments

April 19, 2013 § 2 Comments

579px-wind_turbine_1888_charles_brushA guest essay and book review from John Proctor:

First, let me tell you a little bit about why I love Donna Steiner.

I heard of her magisterial essay “Elements of the Wind,” first published in Fourth Genre, from essayist Patrick Madden, who marveled at a couple of tricks Steiner plays on her reader. One involves a copious list of different cultures’ names of the wind and the other breaks down the “two kinds of people in the world” dialectic. I won’t go into specifics because I don’t want to spoil either payoff.  After reading the entire essay, I realized that these were just two of the many schematics Steiner makes use of; “Elements of the Wind,” in fact, draws most of its energy from a series of inversions, reversals, and recontextualized narratives and memories. To call them jokes would belie the critical and emotional heft at the center of the essay, but there’s something to the fact that I’m giving the review-speak version of “You just have to hear it.”

So instead of giving anything away directly, I’ll relate a personal experience. I’ve now taught “Elements of the Wind” to my freshman writing students for the past two years. My primary reason for this is to show them the multitude of possibilities inherent in the essay, a form that by college most of them have decided can only exist in five paragraphs and most would only write for a standardized writing exam.

Predictably, many of their responses to it can be summarized as, “Is this really an essay?”

Yonathan, one of my better students this year, came to my office recently to talk about his own personal struggle with “Elements of the Wind.” Another professor and I joke about Yonathan. We say he has the singular ability to make deeply profound observations while simultaneously looking like he’s about to bust out laughing. On this day, he wasn’t laughing.

“I’ve read the essay three times now,” he started, “and I don’t understand if she likes the wind or not.”

“Well,” I said, venturing in slowly, “What do you think?”

“It’s kind of tricky. I mean, on the one hand she makes all these lists of the gods named after the wind. But then she says,” and here Yonathan began skimming through his copy of the essay, “‘When it can’t be named, ascribe it to the gods.’ Which is it? Why does she give the wind all these names, and then say it can’t be named?”

“What do you think?” I asked.

“Well…” His brow furrowed, and a smile started to curl one side of his mouth. “I guess she might be saying that there are no real answers? Is she contradicting herself on purpose?”

“What do you think?”

“She does start the whole essay by saying you can’t say there are two kinds of people, that it’s too simplistic, then she says there are two kinds of people. And that whole thing with the big list of names for the wind—which I read, by the way—then saying there are people who read the list and people who skim over it. And she gives that—whatsitcalled—Beaufort Scale diagram about kinds of the wind, and she says that’s too simple: ‘The Beaufort Scale categorizes and concretizes what was once a subjective, almost abstract phenomenon: the movement of air. Imagine the magnitude of the accomplishment: naming the wind.’ So is she saying words and charts are too simple to describe the wind?”

I sat, looking at him.

“Then why did she even write the essay?” he asked.

“Maybe,” I started, “she’s writing about writing.”

“I thought she was writing about the wind?”

“Maybe she’s writing about both of those things.”

He was smiling on both sides of his mouth now. “I’m so confused,” he said, shaking his head.

This was one of my great teaching moments.

Now, let me tell you a little about Donna Steiner’s new essay chapbook, Elements.  (Scroll down after clicking the link.)  This is the first essay “chapbook” I’ve read, but I hope essay chapbooks turn into the next big trend in indie publishing. I’ve just ordered B.J. Hollars’s three-essay In Praise of Monsters, and have always loved Eula Biss’s One Story-inspired Essay Press, which publishes bound copies of novella-sized essays by Albert Goldbarth, Jenny Boully, and others. The chapbook has traditionally of course been the publishing realm of the poet, which has sustained my abiding love of poetry. I love going to a reading, being blown away by a poet’s work, buying the poet’s chapbook, and taking it home with me so I can later see the voice I loved hearing, transcribed on the page. Looking at my poetry section on my bookshelves now, I realize I have about three times as many chapbooks as full-length collections.

I’ve never heard Steiner read, but I can confidently say she has one of those voices you want to take home and savor, in small, slow, savory bites. Elements, a little blue square, can fit easily in most pant pockets (though probably not skinny jeans, yet another reason not to wear skinny jeans). It makes me think less of a book than that symbol of a bygone industry that still, only scant years since its demise, evokes a nostalgic twinge—the CD. It’s beautifully tactile—handbound, with a cover cutout of a square revealing a full moon. Opening the diminutive book reveals the moon in a sky over an ostensible illustration of  “a freight train busting the night open,” from the closing line of “Elements of the Wind.”

The chapbook contains five essays, one about her alcoholic lover, another about a magnifying glass by which she detects elements of her world, another about a vaguely sexual prank phone caller, another about her sleeplessness, another about the wind. Each of them, whatever its ostensible subject, is as much an assemblage as a narrative, turning over each element in her palm and mulling it over with the care of a collector and the passion of a paramour. When I open it and take in Steiner’s masterful prose, and even when I simply open the book and hold it in my hands, I think not of a reading but of a conversation, of a voice offering no answers and telling no lies, but rather setting up the riddles so that every response, so long as it is honest, is the punchline.

John Proctor lives in Brooklyn, New York with his wife, two daughters, and Chihuahua. An active reader on the New York City open mic scene, he’s written memoir, fiction, poetry, criticism, and just about everything in the space between them. His work has been published in Diagram, Superstition Review, Underwater New York, Defunct, New Madrid, Numero Cinq, McSweeney’s, Trouser Press, New York Cool, the Gotham Gazette, and the anthology Imagination & Place: Weather. He serves as Online Editor for Hunger Mountain Journal of the Arts, and teaches academic writing, media studies, and communication theory at Manhattanville College. You can find him online at

Launch Day (and Free Shipping) For Nonfiction Field Guide

September 24, 2012 § Leave a comment

Today is the big day! We are happy to announce the release of the eagerly anticipated The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Nonfiction edited by Brevity’s Dinty W. Moore.  and including Barrie Jean Borich • Jenny Boully • Norma Elia Cantú • Rigoberto González •Philip Graham • Carol Guess • Jeff Gundy • Robin Hemley • Barbara Hurd • Judith Kitchen • Eric LeMay • Dinah Lenney • Bret Lott • Patrick Madden• Lee Martin • Maggie McKnight • Brenda Miller • Kyle Minor •Aimee Nezhukumatathil • Anne Panning • Lia Purpura • Peggy Shumaker • Sue William Silverman • Jennifer Sinor • Ira Sukrungruang • Nicole Walker, many of them past Brevity contributors.

Today and tomorrow only! Get free shipping on your Field Guide to Writing Flash Nonfiction order using coupon code LAUNCHDAY when you check out!

More from the Rose Metal site:

 Unmatched in its focus on a concise and popular emerging genre, The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Nonfiction features 26 eminent writers, editors, and teachers offering expert analysis, focused exercises, and helpful examples of what make the brief essay form such a perfect medium for experimentation, insight, and illumination. With a comprehensive introduction to the genre and book by editor Dinty W. Moore, this guide is perfect for both the classroom and the individual writer’s desk—an essential handbook for anyone interested in the scintillating and succinct flash nonfiction form. How many words does it take to tell a compelling true story? The answer might surprise you.


Dinty W. Moore and a multitude of contributors to The Field Guide will be reading at a number of venues this fall and winter, including stops in Chicago, Seattle, Minneapolis, and Columbus, Ohio. Dates and details here.

So Many Thought Bubbles: The Imagined Life in Nonfiction

January 4, 2010 § 1 Comment

Philip Graham offers up a thoughtful post on our imagined lives and how they might become part of our nonfiction, by looking at the work of Jenny Boully and the writing exercise Boully contributed to the new book of nonfiction exercises, Now Write! Nonfiction, edited by Sherry Ellis.  Here is an excerpt, or you can jump to the entire blog post here:

Boully’s entry in Ellis’s nonfiction anthology is “Breaking from ‘Fact’ in Essay Writing.” It doesn’t start well, by my lights, with a seeming defense of the notorious James Frey’s silly puttying various points of his biography .. [but] Boully soon gets down to serious business, challenging the notion that essayists must avoid invention and instead stick to an implied stricture of Who What When Where Why. “Dream-life, daydreaming-life, and the imagined-life can sometimes be experienced so profoundly that they feel real to us,” she says, in a sentence that’s as spot-on a sentence as any I’ve recently read.

I say they are real, if we think them, because, though fictions, they are what we build our lives upon. Walk down a crowded street and you’ll be surrounded by people who are not concentrating on the very important mechanics of walking, but are instead having conversations in their minds with people who aren’t present: revising a fraught conversation with a spouse from earlier that morning, anticipating an encounter with a friend later in the day, or arguing, yet again, with a deceased parent. Or those fellow travelers might be sculpting possible strategies for managing a child’s adolescent rage, or plotting out a hoped-for vacation, or digging into the details of an alternate, imagined life.

So many thought bubbles, like storm clouds, hover above us.

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