Essay Contest: Mystery and Memory

January 13, 2013 § 16 Comments

antWe’ve launched a fine new issue of Brevity featuring fifteen brief wonderful essays. To celebrate our shiny January 2013 issue, we are launching a flash essay contest based on Philip Graham’s writing prompt in the the recently released The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Nonfiction: Advice and Essential Exercises from Respected Writers, Editors, and Teachers (and reproduced in the new issue as a Craft Essay). You have one month, until February 14th, to send in your entry

Here’s the prompt: First, read Graham’s craft essay.  Then, think of a memory, even a familiar one that you haven’t looked at closely in a long time: the lie you once told, the one whose memory you still flinch from; a conversation or argument you were part of or overheard that you’ve saved in memory but aren’t sure why; or a fraught incident from your childhood that you can’t seem to relinquish. Whatever the memory you dredge up into the light of the present, write a flash nonfiction essay (500 words or less if you plan to enter it in the Brevity contest) and examine the memory as if with first sight, its familiar shape transformed by something hidden. If you take the long pause and dig into the moment, perhaps you will find your memory’s “floating ant.”

Yes, you heard us right: 500 words, or fewer.

Philip Graham, author, teacher, bon vivant, and nonfiction editor of the literary/arts journal Ninth Letter, will be the judge. First prize is a copy of The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Nonfiction: Advice and Essential Exercises from Respected Writers, Editors, and Teachers and $50, second prize and third prizes will be other books from Rose Metal Press.  All three winners will be published on the Brevity blog.

Deadline February 14th, 2013.  Mail your entries to brevitymag(at) with MYSTERY as the first word in your subject heading.

This Essay Does Hot Yoga

November 27, 2012 § Leave a comment

Bernarr Macfadden (1868-1955)

The fine folks at Ninth Letter have been having some fun with Robin Hemley’s essay “Study Questions for the Essay at Hand: A Speculative Essay” and with a contest asking essayists to respond in kind.  And so they did.

Here’s judge Patrick Madden’s take on the two winners, with links:

So I chose two. One hews closely to Hemley’s questions, even satisfying our curiosity about Bernarr MacFadden, and the other comes at the prompts indirectly, surprising with asymptotic relationships, sometimes making us wonder, or search for, the thread tying the derivative work to the original. But maybe that’s the shining characteristic that convinced me that these essays were the winners: that they do not seem derivative at all. They seem strong enough to stand on their own, to be read even without “Study Questions for the Essay at Hand.” Is this a betrayal of the whole purpose of the contest? Perhaps, but I hope not. If so, then the winners have succeeded at that age-old essay characteristic: subversion.

What’s certain is that I was enchanted by them both, the one for its centrifugal force out of narrative and the other for its erudition in answering the fundamental meta-questions arrived at through Hemley’s particulars. “A Response to Hemley in Eighteen Parts” seems, from the get-go, to have its own agenda, but one can sense the sideways conversation it makes with the questions, at times approaching quite closely, at other times keeping its distance. In all, it’s a confession of callousness in the face of a grandmother’s death, but even that explanation oversimplifies the emotional trajectory of the piece.“Nineteen Ways of Looking at an Essay,” though, has no central narrative of its own. Instead, it spins away from Hemley by taking on Xavier de Maistre and Jorge Luis Borges, playing its own linguistic and organizational games, one-upping the original by an additional question followed by a prompt for new writing. The energetic reader is thus invited to continue the experiment yet further, to respond to the response. I hope someone takes that challenge.

This Essay Needs Your Help

September 8, 2012 § 1 Comment

From Philip Graham, Nonfiction Editor at the Esteemed Ninth Letter:

Ninth Letter is proud to sponsor our first online essay contest with the publication of Robin Hemley’s essay, “Study Questions for the Essay at Hand: A Speculative Essay.” Hemley’s essay seems to be going through an identity crisis, asserting and contradicting itself in an attempt to understand its own existence, as it throws eighteen questions out to a silent world. Plaintive, aggressive, wistful, quizzical and coy, this essay needs your help, needs its questions answered.

So, here’s Ninth Letter’s proposal, gentle reader. Respond to the eighteen questions of Hemley’s essay–interrogate it, argue with it, hold its hand, whisper to it, whatever you wish.

Patrick Madden, the sterling author of the essay collection Quotidiana (and founder of a website of the same name, which serves as an indispensable compendium of 383 public-domain essays, will serve as our discerning judge. The deadline for all entries is October 15, 2012. We’ll republish Robin Hemley’s essay with the winner’s responses on the Ninth Letter website, and throw in a year’s subscription to our magazine to boot. And who knows, maybe we’ll have more than one winner. Hemley’s essay seems to need a lot of advice  . . .

On Awkwardly Nosing About Another Culture

October 7, 2009 § Leave a comment

Oronte Churm offers a fascinating, thoughtful interview with Ninth Letter fiction editor Philip Graham over at his Inside Higher Ed blog today.  Graham talks about the pitfalls inherent in writing about other cultures, the false assumption that a year abroad will inevitably be idyllic, and the flawed assumption that living overseas is always “enriching” for one’s children. He says a good bit that is wise about the process of writing as well.

An excerpt:

“We’re all fiction writers of a sort, throughout our lives shaping characters out of the selected and often misleading signals we receive from the people we think we know. A spotty business at best, this. But what’s the alternative except deepening isolation?

“The same goes for travel, since every country on the globe shares a second, secret name of Pitfall  …  In The Moon, Come to Earth, I tried to separate from myself any notion of being an expert. I was and remain simply your run-of-the-mill flawed fellow, awkwardly nosing about another culture, never quite sure what I might come upon, what might resonate inside me, attract or appall me.”

Be an Open Node: Blake Butler on Literary Citizenship

August 14, 2008 § 30 Comments

Blake Butler, fictionist, blogged in a most excellent fashion recently about the need to be a positive karmic force in the world of literary citizenship.  What comes around, goes around, he reminds us.  Here’s an excerpt and a link to the full (albeit, oddly titled) post:

Here are some ways you can do more, outside of spending $$$.

(1) When you read something you like, in any form, write the author and tell them. You don’t have to gush or take forever. Just tell them you saw it, you read it, you liked it. It’s a supportive feeling. It’s better than not saying anything.

(2) Write reviews of books you like. Short review/long review, whatever. It’s not that hard. It takes a little work to think about it clearly, but what goes around comes around. You can’t expect to be recognized for your work if you aren’t recognizing others for their work. Open the doors.

(3) Interview writers. New writers or well known writers. You like somebody’s work a lot? Ask to do an interview with them. It doesn’t take a ton of effort. Write up some questions. Let them talk. Spread the word. Talk. Say. Get. Eat.

I have done this for years and have made friends by doing it, have ‘opened doors’ so to speak: in other words, by helping others, you are also helping yourself. If spreading others’ work isn’t enough in your mind, think of it as ‘connections.’ (I hope you don’t have to think about it in this way to justify it because that is sad, but, well, some people…) Things often can/might happen as a result of these things, on both ends, even if they are just small things, small things add up, small things can be good things, haven’t you read Carver, momentum.

Energy. Power cock.

(4) If you have free time, start an online journal. Start a blog, a review, an anything. If you don’t know how I’ll help you. Say stuff. Mean what you say.

(5) If you have a journal already, respond faster. Pay attention to your inbox. When someone asks a question that feels dumb or unnecessary maybe, answer it anyway. Don’t be a fuck. Yeah, we’re all busy. Yeah, things take time. Work to take less time. It’s okay to move forward at a wicked pace. (And yes, as an editor, I too struggle to adhere to this advice, but I struggle at least, everyone struggles, but you can always struggle more. I am so tired of seeing journals with 200+ days response time, why do you even exist? Does it really take that long to like something? People should stop sending to these places. Seriously. Just stop sending.

Yeah I know the flood comes strong. Stand in the flood. (Me too.))

Seriously, Conjunctions/Ninth Letter/Subtropics: these 3 journals get just as much work coming in as anybody, and they all respond often in less than a month.

To everyone: Push the fucking envelope even harder than you do. Be an open node.

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