Brevity Special Issue: Race, Racialization, and Racism

March 15, 2016 § 7 Comments

nbcccitizenrankineBrevity is excited to announce a special issue to be focused on experiences of race, racialization, and racism. For our 53rd issue, we are looking for work that considers all aspects of race: what it is, what it means, how our understanding of it is changing. We want essays that explore how race is learned during childhood, lived over the entire course of a life, and how our changing understanding of race shapes the way we experience ourselves and others.

We are looking for flash essays (750 words or fewer) that explore the lived experience of race, racialization, and racism, show the reader a new way to look at the familiar, or give voice to under-represented experiences. Submissions will be open from March 15th- May 31st and the issue will be published in mid-September.

In concert with this special issue, we are announcing our first-ever student writing contest. Students enrolled at the graduate or undergraduate level will be invited to flash essays on the theme through their writing programs, and the winner will receive a $200.00 prize and publication in the issue. (Don’t send yet. There will be more details on this contest released soon.)

We are very excited to announced that our anchor authors for this issue will be Claudia Rankine and Roxane Gay.

The guest editors for this special issue will be Ira Sukrungruang and Joy Castro.

Born in Miami, Joy Castro is the author of The Truth Book: A Memoir, the New Orleans literary thrillers Hell or High Water and Nearer Home, the essay collection Island of Bones, and the short fiction collection How Winter Began. Recipient of an International Latino Book Award and the Nebraska Book Award and finalist for the PEN Center USA Literary Award, she edited the collection Family Trouble:  Memoirists on the Hazards and Rewards of Revealing Family, and serves as the series editor of Machete: The Ohio State Series in Literary Nonfiction. Her work has appeared in anthologies and in journals including SalonSeneca ReviewFourth GenreNorth American ReviewBrevityAfro-Hispanic Review, and The New York Times Magazine. She teaches creative writing, literature, and Latino studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where she directs the Institute for Ethnic Studies.

Ira Sukrungruang is the author of the memoirs Southside Buddhist and Talk Thai: The Adventures of Buddhist Boy, the short story collection The Melting Season, 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 Anthology and Scoot Over, Skinny: The Fat Nonfiction Anthology. He is the recipient of the 2015 American Book Award, 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 RoadThe Sun, and Creative Nonfiction. He is one of the founding editors of Sweet: A Literary Confection, and teaches in the MFA program at University of South Florida.

Because we are committed to showcasing a variety of lived experiences in this issue, we want to be certain that everyone is able to submit their work. If Brevity’s small submission fee of $3.00 would keep you from submitting, you may submit your work to brevitymag.race@gmail.com without paying the fee. (Should you take this option, however, you need to send a word doc. not a PDF for complex technical reasons too boring to describe here.)

Submissions begin today on our Submittable page.

How to Cure Writer’s Block in Two Simple Steps

September 28, 2015 § 10 Comments

Kelly Sundberg

Kelly Sundberg

A post from Brevity managing editor Kelly Sundberg:

I was coming down from a year of successes, and every time someone asked me “how’s the book coming along?” I felt like a failure. What had my minor successes gotten me?

Writer’s block.

I’m a single mom, and most parents have the “hunger”—that urgency that precipitates twelve a.m. writing sessions and random, text-free, MS Word documents titled “Essay about Ghosts in Astoria, Oregon” that are then saved in a folder labeled “Ideas” and never opened again. The hunger is good. The hungrier the mom, the more she’ll write. Hungry=output.

But my hunger had been eclipsed by fatigue. In addition to solo parenting, I work a lot, which I wrote about here.

In August, I went to a writer’s retreat in Ghost Ranch, New Mexico that was sponsored by the A Room of Her Own Foundation. I was the recipient of their Courage Fellowship, which is awarded to a survivor of domestic violence or sexual assault, and AROHO’s generosity put me in the same place as 119 other women. My Meyer’s Brigg score has me at 51% extroversion and 49% introversion. This means that I’m the type of person who hides in her room for the first couple of days, then is dancing topless around a bonfire by the end. On the second day of the retreat, I texted my best friend “I’m not having the worst time of my life, but close.” By the end of the third evening, I was blissfully sitting in the middle of a stone labyrinth under the Milky Way and asking the heavens what I needed to know for my future.

Yes, my conversion was that quick.

Although I abandoned organized religion years ago, my first job was in a bookstore that had a little, stone fountain tinkling on the countertop, Tibetan wind chimes, and an entire section dedicated to natural healing. When I graduated high school, the women I worked with gave me a set of Runes, and twenty years later, those Runes still sit in a bowl in my living room next to a bundle of sage. I have a history of appropriating religions that I don’t fully understand, so was I using this labyrinth correctly? Probably not, but I’m no stranger to sitting in nature and asking the heavens to speak to me (I spend my summers working in the wilderness for the US Forest Service), and although the heavens have never responded, my subconscious is pretty good at piping up with something adequate.

This night, my subconscious said to me, “Kelly, you have to know that your value is more than whether or not you’re in a relationship.” Actually, my subconscious was simply repeating what my therapist had said to me a few days earlier (she’s good!), but I hadn’t been able to hear her then because I hadn’t yet had the quiet in my life to listen.

Those words were important to me as a person because I’m a survivor of domestic violence, but those words were important to me as a writer because I finally knew how my memoir needs to end. As much as I want it, my memoir doesn’t end with Ryan Gosling moving into the house next to mine, working shirtless on a barn that he’s converting into an art studio, then holding a boom box up outside my bedroom window and saying, “Hey girl, how about I turn this studio for one into a studio for two?”

Realizing how my memoir needs to end (with me alone, yay!) was the first step towards getting over my writer’s block, but there was another step; I also took a master class with Joy Castro where she gave us writing prompts. I didn’t think I needed writing prompts; I mean, I was already ¾ of the way done with my memoir. Then she gave me the prompt that finally broke through my block.  She said, “Write about the most hurtful thing that anyone has ever said to you.”

Immediately, one sentence stuck out. It was my father saying “I just don’t know what to believe” in the days after I left my ex-husband. I wrote that sentence down, and as I surreptitiously brushed away tears because I refused to be that woman who had come undone in workshop, I realized I couldn’t write my memoir without writing that sentence. It’s not easy writing about family, and I’ve avoided it, but if I want to write this book, I have no other choice.

As Joy might say, I have to write what scares me the most.

When I returned from the retreat, I talked to my agent, and to her great relief, I told her that my block had been rooted in my inability to write about my parents. She was sympathetic, but all she said was, “I could have told you that. Now let’s get to work.”

And we have.

**

So here are the two easy steps to getting over writer’s block:

  1. Sit in a stone labyrinth under the Milky Way.
  2. Take a master class with Joy Castro.

If those options aren’t available to you, I have two more:

  1. Find some time for quiet in your life.
  2. Write what scares you the most.

__

Kelly Sundberg’s essays have appeared in Guernica, Slice Magazine, Denver Quarterly, Mid-American Review, The Rumpus, and elsewhere. Her essay “It Will Look Like a Sunset” is included in Best American Essays 2015, and she had a “Notable” essay in Best American Essays 2013. Sundberg is a PhD student at Ohio University, a solo mom, the Managing Editor of Brevity, and she divides her time between Athens, Ohio and living off the grid in backcountry Idaho.

Get Your Burlesque On!

September 3, 2014 § 1 Comment

MG_KissingBurlesque Press has announced its second annual Literary Festival with Keynote Speakers Joy Castro and Lee Gutkind.  The Conference will be held December 28, 2014 to December 31, 2014 at the Maison St Charles, in New Orleans.  Yes kids, you heard us right! Visit New Orleans for New Year’s Eve, and call it professional development.

Here’s more:

This year’s festival theme is Silver & Gold: Wealth and Economics in Creative Writing and Literature. The Masquerade Ball will also have a silver and gold theme.  Presentations are, however, invited on any aspect of creative writing and contemporary literature.

Suggested topics include, but are not limited to the following:

  • Economics in Literature
  • The role of wealth in fairy tales
  • The use of “rags to riches” plot devices
  • Creative Writing Pedagogical Issues
  • Creative Writing in the Composition Classroom
  • Analyses of Contemporary Literature
  • Contemporary Author Spotlights
  • Southern Literature Past, Present, and Future
  • YA, Fantasy, Crime Fiction, and Sci-Fi
  • Online and Traditional Publishing
  • The Current and/or Future State of Publishing
  • Individual or Group Readings of Creative Work

Students at all collegiate levels are invited and encouraged to submit proposals.

We will also feature a book section where presenters, local publishers, small presses and others are welcome to display their work. Contact burlesquepressllc@gmail.com for more information.

To submit, include a brief description of your proposed panel, reading, or paper in a word document along with the names of fellow presenters or panelists and submit it free via Submittable: http://burlesquepress.submittable.com/submit/27866

To register for the conference, or to learn more about the Hands On Literary Festival and Masquerade Ball, or for any and all inquiries about the conference, please visit our website www.burlesquepressllc.com or contact the director of Burlesque Press, Jennifer Stewart at burlesquepressllc@gmail.com.

The Far Edges: Interview with Sean Prentiss

April 8, 2014 § 5 Comments

Sean Prentiss

Sean Prentiss

An interview with Sean Prentiss, one of the editors of The Far Edges of the Fourth Genre, a new anthology of craft essays published by Michigan State University Press. Steve Coughlin interviews Prentiss on his motivation for putting The Far Edges of the Fourth Genre together and his thoughts on what to expect as this genre continues to expand and be redefined:

Where did you come up with this idea and how does it differ from other creative nonfiction anthologies?

SP: When I was in graduate school at the University of Idaho in 2006, I loved the discussions about creative nonfiction that we’d have in Mary Clearman Blew’s Techniques of Creative Nonfiction. But it often seemed as if it was just our class talking to ourselves, we were dancing in tight circles. There was no larger conversation going on that we could be a part of. There were no articles written about the pedagogy of creative nonfiction that we were aware of. So we had nothing to push us further into a discussion on what creative nonfiction is or where it could go or how it could challenge itself.

That void made me want to find the splintered conversations going on in classrooms and bars and conferences and bring them together in a collection that creative nonfiction writers could gather around and join in with.

And what we were going for here is to find the newest conversations, the ones farthest away from the center. So our writers do not wrestle often with the more traditional ideas. Instead, they linger of the edges.

What are some of the important conversations The Far Edges of the Fourth Genre explores and why are these conversations important in a larger context?

Prentiss_Wilkins.inddSP: Our authors explore a wide range of conversations, which is one of the fun things about this anthology. It meanders across and deeper into so much of creative nonfiction. Mary Clearman Blew leads us into her entry into creative nonfiction, which allows us to see how our view of creative nonfiction has evolved in the few decades since creative nonfiction has been taught on campuses. Brenda Miller, Ander Monson, and Jon Rovner all look at how technology affects creative nonfiction. Nancer Ballard and Bob Shacochis examine the use of time in creative nonfiction. Erik Reece writes about the need to bear witness in our writings. Lee Barnes, Joe Wilkins, and I delve into different corners of memory. And Kim Barnes and Brevity‘s Dinty W. Moore examine why we write and how to boil that reason to the surface of our writings.

These conversations are important because they allow writers more space to play, more styles to write within, more borders to explore, more questions to ask, more answers to contemplate.

How could this anthology supplement the classroom experience for creative writing students?

SP: When I taught senior level creative nonfiction classes, I often had to piece together readings for my students. I kept looking for a single text that advanced students (seniors or grad students) could read that would create a semester’s worth of dialog on creative nonfiction and re-shape how they write creative nonfiction. So this book is designed to fill that niche.

Judith Kitchen offers an essay that is also a writing prompt on speculation. Robin Hemley teaches us about interpreting life. Joy Castro shares her beautifully written essay, “Grip,” and then she explains how and why she wrote “Grip.” So the reader gets an insider’s view of writing, gets to live in the mind of the writer.

How has creative nonfiction evolved over the last few years and what directions do you anticipate it going in the future?

SP: It has moved away from memoir told chronologically, which is what we studied a lot in grad school. Back then, creative nonfiction felt as if it was static, as if there was little room to explore. You started at the beginning of your story and created scenes that carried you to the end.

But that has been blown apart. We have so many experimental slivers of creative nonfiction popping up. The lyrical style that Lia Purpura writes about in her essay “Advice and on Writing ‘Advice.'” The use of translation of a life that Hemley writes about really explodes biography. The heavy use of speculation to arrive at truth that Kitchen delves into. The research heavy essay that Nancer explores. The mythologies of memory that Lee Barnes writes about.

What excites you most about creative nonfiction? What are some potential concerns you have for the genre?

SP: I am excited for the growth within creative nonfiction. There is so much room for so many styles of writers. And that didn’t always seem to be the case.

I’m excited about the new discussions going on in the other anthologies and in magazines and lit journals, all the new pedagogical ideas being discussed. It’s as if we are watching creative nonfiction transform from a teenager to an adult. Individually, I’m excited for our discussions on memory and truth.

I have no concerns about creative nonfiction. I have had plenty of arguments with friends about creative nonfiction—what it is, what it can do, and where it should go. At the end of those debates, I might not agree with my friends’ ideas. But I love the space these disagreements allow. These spaces allow for new styles of creative nonfiction and new ideas on what creative nonfiction is and where it can grow.

Steve Coughlin‘s poems, essays, and stories have appeared in the Gettysburg Review, New Ohio Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, Gulf Coast, Pleiades, Seneca Review, and Slate.com. He has never won a Pushcart Prize.

AWP 2014: The Hazards and Rewards of Revealing Family

March 13, 2014 § 2 Comments

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Linda Joy Myers  on the AWP 14 panel “Family Trouble: Memoirists on the Hazards and Rewards of Revealing Family”:

I’m a family therapist and a memoirist, so I was looking forward to hearing writers talk about the intersection of family and memoir in the workshop “Family Trouble” moderated by Joy Castro. She is the editor of Family Trouble—The Hazards and Rewards of Revealing Family. The panelists included Joy Castro, Ralph Savarese, Sue William Silverman, Faith Adiele, and Stephanie Griest. The crowd filled the room and spilled out the doorway.

Joy Castro, author of the memoir The Truth Book, introduced a topic fraught with “trouble” for memoirists. “We are on a voyage of discovery to personal truth and family as we write memoir, and may be dealing with ‘self-erasure’ due to trauma.” Memoirists struggle with what to write and whether they should give themselves permission. We break the “family rules” when we write memoir—”don’t you dare tell anyone about THAT.” We have to decide what to leave in and what to leave out to serve the story.

Ralph Savarese continued the theme about choice as he discussed how he negotiated with his autistic son what details to include and the important threads in their memoir Reasonable People.  Writing a memoir means we have to ask ourselves what right we have to material that includes intimate details in other people’s lives. How much do we weigh their privacy with our need to express ourselves? He shared his writing process with his son, whose voice became more prominent over the course of writing the book. Together, they crafted a story that belonged to both of them.

Sue William Silverman writes to understand herself, and is unwilling to hold back her hard-won truths. In her book Love Sick, she revealed details that upset her ex-husband. “I wrote the story the way she needed to.  My honesty is more important to me than my ex-husband’s anger. We write to no longer hide behind our secrets.” The issue of silence looms large in the narratives of people who are abused and traumatized. An abused child lives in a world of silence, as adults do too, until they are able to break out and speak the truth. This can become our life’s work. “Writing my life gives me power.” Her advice? No matter what family thinks or wants, “break through your barriers and write anyway.” Figure out how to handle your family later.

Faith Adiele, author of Meeting Faith, has a Nordic-American mother and a Nigerian father. She’s spent her life learning about her global family, and exploring identity and belonging. She says one of the goals of writing memoir is to “free the family of shame.” She discussed the topics of betrayal, loyalty and silence in the work of Patricia Hampl and the poetry of Sharon Olds. “Writing family members on the page requires great compassion. Each memoirist’s voice is part of a larger song and we each have to decide where our songs begin, over and over again.”

Stephanie Elizondo Griest writes to discover the bonds of family in Mexican Enough—My Life Between the Borderlines she explores belonging, identity, and how we call ourselves family. She visited Mexico to try to find her roots, and saw how quickly we disappear—“the etchings on the grave stones were worn smooth by the rain.” She spoke with passion how we must explore the questions that drive us, and write our discoveries so we articulate the voices of our ancestors and leave a legacy. “Memoir is the best way I know of perpetuating us.”

The feeling in the room was one of hunger—to understand the “rules” of memoir, and to find answers about the conflicts that haunt memoir writers about family, truth, and finding voice. The panelists fed that hunger by speaking about their struggles, demonstrating that you can write a book about family and live to tell about it.

Linda Joy Myers, president of the National Association of Memoir Writers, joins speakers for monthly teleseminars at www.namw.org to discuss tools, topics, and questions that drive memoirists crazy. She is the author of Don’t Call Me Mother—A Daughter’s Journey from Abandonment to Forgiveness, The Power of Memoir, and the Journey of Memoir. She co-teaches the program Write Your Memoir in Six Months.

What Family Trouble Taught Me

September 16, 2013 § 8 Comments

Castro small headshotA guest post from Joy Castro, editor of the new nonfiction anthology Family Trouble: Memoirists on the Hazards and Rewards of Revealing Family:

All of us have family we deeply love—or if not deeply love, then at least are fond of.  Or, at the very least, have no wish to hurt.  Yet family stories are so compelling, so blistering, that many of us long to write them, despite the exposure they risk.  Whether we’re memoirists drawing directly from life, fiction writers rolling and patting our autobiographical material into new shapes, or poets pulling images and people from our own lived pasts, when it comes to family, we all wrestle with responsibility.  How much to reveal?  How much to protect?

After my memoir The Truth Book was published in 2005, audiences everywhere most wanted to know how my mother responded, what my brother said.  They asked with an urgency and energy that didn’t accompany their questions about form, or how long the book took to write, or who my literary influences were.  It was how my family responded that mattered.

I wondered if other memoirists faced similar questions, and I wondered how they’d dealt with family concerns while writing.  I wanted to invite all the memoirists I admired to have a long conversation about it.

This curiosity and hunger for dialogue led, over a span of several years, to Family Trouble:  Memoirists on the Hazards and Rewards of Revealing Family a new collection of essays by 25 memoirists who’ve lived to tell the tale.

The award-winning authors, many of whom are college educators and have published texts on craft, come from a wide range of cultural backgrounds and family configurations.  They’ve published memoirs about parents, children, siblings, spouses, and extended family, each of which raises its own unique and delicate questions.

Family Trouble coverFor Family Trouble, they wrote thoughtfully about the careful ethical choices involved, the boundaries they drew, and the practical strategies (on the page and in real life) they developed.  Their essays probe the central question at stake:  When do we privilege our own art and vision, and when do we privilege the privacy of real people in our lives?

For example, it’s one thing to write about family members who are deceased, but what if they’re still alive?  Writing about parents is vexed enough, but writing about our vulnerable children is another matter entirely.  How does disability complicate these issues?  Adoption?  How do different ethnic traditions view (and censure) the revelation of family material to the public?  On a practical level, do we leave names in or take them out?  Do we share our manuscripts with family members before publication, or not?

The 25 authors don’t come to neat consensus; their earned stances are as varied as their subject positions in our complicated world.  Although no one-size-fits-all set of commandments emerges, what I learned is that a variety of tested strategies can make this endeavor less fraught.  What is consistent among the pieces is a sense of earnest searching:  the desire to see, to understand.

Family Trouble offers a shimmering array of smart, sensitive suggestions for writers who want to navigate family material.  The authors’ explorations of this sticky subject are challenging, candid, funny, and moving.  The essays schooled me.  They excited and grew me.

I hope Family Trouble will provoke new conversations and help other writers and teachers of writing.  I know it has already helped me.

Joy Castro is the author of the memoir The Truth Book and the New Orleans literary thrillers Hell or High Water and Nearer Home.  Island of Bones, her collection of personal essays, is a PEN Finalist and the winner of an International Latino Book Award.  Her work has appeared in Fourth Genre, Seneca Review, North American Review, and The New York Times Magazine.  She teaches literature, creative writing, and Latino studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Brevity’s VIDA Issue: Nineteen Days Remain

April 11, 2012 § 4 Comments

The clock is ticking for those of you planning to submit to Brevity’s themed September 2012 issue .

Here, again, is the issue’s focus:

Numbers, as the introduction to the 2010 VIDA count of gender disparities in publishing puts it, don’t lie. The under-representation of women in English language letters proves remarkably consistent, with dismal numbers found everywhere from smaller literary journals to publications like the Atlantic. Susanne Antonetta, Barrie Jean Borich and Joy Castro—three members of the VIDA Genre Advisory Committee for Nonfiction (shown here with graduate student interns Kate Ver Ploeg, Sarah Montgomery, and Nuria Sheehan at AWP 2012) —are working together to guest-edit an issue of Brevity that aims to go beyond  regretting the numbers and find work by women, including transgendered women, that will further the conversation. Titled “Ceiling or Sky: Female Nonfictions After the VIDA Count,” this issue will foreground the women’s writing we have not been seeing and the lingering reasons behind its persistent absence.

Submissions accepted between November 1, 2011, and May 1, 2012 and authors will be paid a $45 honorarium for work selected.

Submit here:  http://www.creativenonfiction.org/brevity/submissions.htm

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