A Review of Harrison Candelaria Fletcher’s Presentimiento: A Life in Dreams

April 26, 2016 § 2 Comments

51cBHWjPxtL._SX320_BO1,204,203,200_By Amy Wright

Harrison Candelaria Fletcher’s second memoir follows Descanso For My Father: Fragments Of A Life, which won the Colorado Book Award for Creative Nonfiction and International Book Award for Best New Nonfiction. Turning now to his mother’s story, Fletcher opens Presentimiento: A Life in Dreams with a trip back to Albuquerque after nearly a decade away from his native New Mexico.

Half expecting to find his mother’s home exactly as he remembers with “Navajo rugs, prayer poles, peacock feathers, Cochiti drums,” he discovers instead “displays of porcelain saints, rosary beads, gilded lamps, and crucifixes.” After having open-heart surgery, his mother stripped her room bare of casual decorations and outfitted it with “the aura of a chapel, complete with flickering candles and a creaky wooden floor.” The ambience is ripe for recollecting, and every phrase and anecdote Fletcher gathers shines with the intimacy of worry stones and desert roots he and his mother pocket on visits to gravesites, former dwellings, and other family landmarks.

His noun-thick prose is laden with sensory detail. “In the amber glow of a desk lamp, I read my mother’s walls,” he says: “Hammer head. Weather vane. Hatpin. Holster…As a boy, this was the world I inhabited—image, artifact, fragment, negative space.” Thus, he understands how what he leaves out, such as any interpretation of her memory boxes’ contents, best reveals the objects in themselves and the kind of person who treasures them. He presents, like a rare antique store find, the “nickel-plated hope chest [his] mother bought in the ‘70s from a widow in the hills above Cuba, New Mexico.” The original owner had shrugged off the container that once held her dowry and offered it to its admirer as a gift. Opting instead of receiving it for free to pay the fifty dollars she intended for the light bill, his artist mother reveals her core character. Her son’s character in turn filters through his recognition of what matters most to her, as he gestures to preserve the stories that animate her belongings.

Negative space allows air to circulate between many paragraphs, which are separated by enough white space that some sections in the book appear like poems. This layout makes legendary their family stories. In a passage titled “…the Weight,” for example, Fletcher relays a night when his mother and her three youngest sisters, as girls, lay awake in bed giggling. When a boot step makes its way down the hall toward them, they cover their heads with the sheet and hold their breath. Thinking the heavy weight that sinks into the mattress with a sigh to be another family member, they pull back the covers horrified to find nothing there. That so much remains unsaid in this eight-line story adds to its mythic quality.

But what I appreciate most in Presentimiento is that reminder of “something you feel in your heart,” which people relied on for centuries before telephones to communicate. The sense of connection that presentiment fosters recalls the gift Rebecca McClanahan created by braiding her family narrative into The Tribal Knot: A Memoir of Family, Community, and a Century of Change. Both collections ask readers what they might pull back from the edge of the river of forgetting and what we can learn from places and people that are “fading, if not being outright destroyed.”

My mother leaning on tiptoe to pick a yellow Lodi apple boomerangs to me when he describes his mother’s pleasure to taste again the manzanitas de San Juan. The same bolt of lightning flashed through the viewfinder of her Brownie camera as his mother’s. “Look at them. Just look at them,” she tells him of the saints before the altar at the church of Las Trampas.  And look he does, swaddling what he sees in language as vivid as the dyed-oxblood huarachas that gave his mother her first glimpse of glamour, and in turn puts their family culture in a context by which readers might celebrate difference.


Amy Wright is the author of Everything in the Universe and Cracker Sonnets, both forthcoming in 2016. She is also the nonfiction editor of Zone 3 Press, coordinator of creative writing and associate professor at Austin Peay State University, and author of four poetry chapbooks. Her first prose chapbook, Wherever the Land Is, is scheduled for release this spring.

Race & Gender: New Kickstarter Rewards

March 31, 2015 § 1 Comment

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We are Happy to Announce New Backer Rewards!

Our Kickstarter campaign is going wonderfully, and we are touched by all the support for Brevity. It’s been going so well, that many of the premiums have already been snapped up, and so now we are bringing new ones!

We have some exciting new rewards for backers, and we are incredibly grateful to the community of writers who have donated them. Help us out, and grab yourself some of the best possible literary swag.

GENERATE SOME NEW WORK! Brevity author Chelsea Biondolillo has generously offered a seat in an upcoming generative online workshop to one of our lucky backers! The date of this is open, so if you can’t make the next one, don’t worry! From the Apiarylit.org website:

The Generative Writing workshops emphasize the production of new work. Each week an optional prompt and maximum word count will encourage you generate up to 4500 words of new nonfiction. These can be individual flash essays, a connected series of vignettes or lyric fragments, or the building blocks of a single personal essay, literary journalism feature, memoir chapter, or hybrid of one or more CNF forms. You are welcome to share your responses with the class, or not, as you choose.

Biondolillo is a frequent craft essay contributor to Brevity, as well as one of our authors. She’s a smart, thoughtful essayist and a great teacher. We think you couldn’t do better than to take this workshop, and we are grateful to her for donating this incredible prize!

GROW YOUR PLATFORM! Does the word “platform” make you shudder a little bit? Are you feeling a little gobsmacked by the way publishers increasingly expect writers to have a strong social media presence in order to market their own work? Us, too! Well, all of us but the excellent Allison Williams, our social media editor!

For a hundred dollar donation, Allison will give you two hundred and fifty dollars’ worth of social media advice, including a one-hour Skype or phone consultation on how to build your specific brand as a writer. She’s done amazing things for us—really, she’s grown our blog audience exponentially—and we think she could do wonderful things for you, too.

A SPECIAL REWARD FOR WINE LOVERS, a SIGNED copy of Brian Doyle’s THE GRAIL: A YEAR AMBLING & SHAMBLING THROUGH AN OREGON VINEYARD IN PURSUIT OF THE BEST PINOT NOIR WINE IN THE WHOLE WILD WORLD. You will also get our gratitude, your name listed on a thank you page associated with the special gender issue, and a rock solid excuse to purchase and consume numerous bottles of opulent wine with dark cherry back notes.

THERE ARE TWO OR THREE THINGS WE KNOW FOR SURE, and one of them is that Dorothy Allison regularly delivers heart-breaking, hilarious, essential stories. So we asked her to sign us some books, and she said, “Fuck yeah.” Reward yourself with a SIGNED copy of Dorothy Allison’s TWO OR THREE THINGS I KNOW FOR SURE. You will also get our gratitude, your name listed on a thank you page associated with the special gender issue, and a book that will kick you in the ass. The good way.

WE WILL ALSO BE ADDING NEW BOOKS BY BREVITY AUTHORS OVER THE NEXT FEW DAYS, including work by Sonya Huber, Rebecca McClanahan, Patrick Madden, Gary Fincke, and Lori Jakiela.

You can see all of the Kickstarter campaign awards here. We are incredibly grateful for the response so far, and excited about the things will be able to do as new backers continue to join us. Thank you, all. We are deeply grateful.

The Nonfiction Conversation

January 24, 2014 § 1 Comment

Former Brevity contributor Sean Finucane Toner calls our attention to Referential Magazine:

Image by Steph Skardal via Flickr Creative Commons

Image by Steph Skardal via Flickr Creative Commons

Referential Magazine  is now open to submissions of literary nonfiction, fiction and poetry. With just two issues under our new editors, our magazine has published literary luminaries such as Rebecca McClanahan, Thomas E. Kennedy, Adriana Paramo, Lee K. Abbott, Lynn Kanter, Suzanne Farrell Smith, Phillip Sterling, Madeline Tiger, Anne Harding Woodworth, Thomas Lynch and many others. We desire a balance of heart and intellect, want work that is less ink, more blood.

About.com’s Catherine Sustana reports in her Eight Innovative Online Magazines: “Referential Magazine calls itself ‘a celebration of the interconnectedness of the written word,’ and reading it is not quite like reading anything else I’ve encountered on the web. Some of the pieces are previously unpublished; others are reprints. Most pieces are followed by a reference to at least one other work — one that inspired it or one that resonates with it (though sometimes a piece is just followed by a statement from the author). The references sometimes lead to other works on the Referential Magazine site, but often, they lead to other sites. The effect is to put literary works in conversation with each other, creating a sense of context and community rather than the isolation so often created by the abundant material available on the internet.”

The Mighty AWP

March 1, 2013 § Leave a comment

The 2013 Boston AWP Writers and Editors Extravaganza is just days away.  Here is a brief video adaptation of Rebecca McClanahan’s River Teeth essay to get you in the mood:

Field Guide to Flash NF Launches Soon

August 23, 2012 § 3 Comments

The book is at the printer right this moment, and Rose Metal Press has opened the pre-order process.  The Brevity corporate towers are awash in champagne and caviar this morning, and much dancing:

ORDER HEREThe Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Nonfiction

The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Nonfiction, edited by the invaluable Dinty W. Moore, is a lot more than flashy. These thoughtful, thought-provoking essays and exercises have the paradoxical effect of slowing down our attention and encouraging an expansion of the moment, while seeming to be saving writing and reading time. A very useful compilation.”

Phillip Lopate, author of Art of the Personal Essay

“Flash-in-the-pan? Hardly. The flash nonfiction genre has staying power, and The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Nonfiction will show you why. Opening with a thorough and informative history of the genre, renowned writer, editor, and teacher Dinty W. Moore assembles a cast of writers who share their expertise, suggest writing exercises, and provide exemplary mod­els of the best flash nonfiction being written today. This book is required reading for any writer, editor, or teacher of the brief nonfiction form.”

Rebecca McClanahan, author of The Riddle Song and Other Rememberings and Word Painting

Lonely Together: AWP 2012 Lyric Essay

February 28, 2012 § 3 Comments

From River Teeth and Rebecca McClanahan.  She catches it, absolutely:

AWP 2011: Playing for Keeps: Intensity and Creativity in the Lyric Essay

February 7, 2011 § 2 Comments

Guest blogger Margaret Kimball, a Tucson-based multidisciplinary illustrator/designer, reports on a lyric essay discussion at the most recent AWP Conference:
Playing for Keeps: Intensity and Creativity in the Lyric Essay
Panelists: Steven Harvey, Kathryn Winograd, Robert Root (in absentia), Rebecca McClanahan
In a standing-room only space amidst a largely and perhaps notably female audience, a group of AWP-goers gathered to discuss the lyric essay: what the name means, what it is, what it might be. Here are my notes from the conversation, delineated by speaker.
Introduction (Steven Harvey)
The lyric essay was first named by Deborah Tall in 1994, then-editor of Seneca Review, in a note to John D’Agata. What she said was that he was looking for a form not by information but by possibility of transformative experience. You are talking about the lyric, she’d said. Then Steven asked: but what does a definition matter? Rather, we should ask: when is a lyric essay good? The lyric is a license to experiment, to play with language but must always contain a sense of intensity, level of passion and intelligence. (Throughout the intro, names were dropped: Eula Biss, Lia Purpura, D’Agata and one affectionately named nay-sayer, Philip Lopate.)

Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Lyric Essay in 15 Minutes (Rebecca McClanahan)
  1. Something Like Music in My Head
    • – Not all music is melodic (atonal, minor key)
    • – Change a note or two and the essay is a different key
  2. Beauty is as Beauty Does
    • – Subject need not be pretty poetic or musical or serious
    • – Humor is almost never discussed with lyricism
    • – Does not have to be large or on the surface important
    • – Absolute attention is prayer
  3. Close Cover After Striking
    • – Need two or three elements to start something
  4. Lyric Essay as Time Travel, or Move Fluidly In and Out of Time
    • – Elements of the essay existing on independent and colliding time tracks
  5. How Many I’s Does It Take to Change an Essay
    • – Speaker as I
    • – The I might be absent at first
    • – There might be multiple variations on self (past, present)
  6. Caution: Contents Under Pressure
    • – Every word matters
    • – What is the musical score running beneath essay
    • – Subject must fit its container
  7. Say It Again, Sam
    • – Tone poems, repeating phrases/sounds/mantra
    • – Repeated loops or braids (In nebraska, ted)
  8. Take a Breath
    • – Music only exists because of silence between the sounds
  9. Right Here, Right Now
    • – Feeling of immediacy, of a mind is discovering its subject even as words appear on page
  10. Ride the Train of Thought or Language All the Way to Meaning
    • – Language (leaps of thought), engine that pulls the train of meaning
    • – Balance between music and meaning
  11. Imagine There’s a Heaven or Hell
    • – Speculate, wonder, imagine, the gift of perhaps
  12. Go Ahead and Wear the Crazy Hat
    • – Be weird, idiosyncratic structure
    • – Hat alone isn’t enough; object of affection/true subject
  13. Get Out While the Getting’s Good
    • – Endings as openings; allow reader to complete transaction; reader supplies final chord
This is Not a Lyric Essay (Robert Root, read by Harvey)
The lyric essay might be considered as a kind of blurting of words: unplanned, spontaneous, first and final draft, charged. It has a kind of inadvertence. The lyric can be felt in the blood. Place is a lyric essay. Deborah Tall said of the lyric it partakes of the essay in its weight, in its desire to engage with facts, in its passion. The form is simultaneously essay and poem and music; attends language with precision and rigor but with a different vision from poetry about what it might achieve. The lyric is an entity in itself; embodies a sense of wholeness; is an essence; is not decorative. As Lia Purpura says: the form is a necessity of thought.
How Important White Space is in Poems and the Lyric Essay (Kathryn Winograd)
In a poem, white space is everything on the page unmarked. It has the power of juxtaposition; is the poet’s unspeakable; it is movement mapped out. Essays speak of the vertical movement of the essay (verticality through associative memory, descriptions); they contain intersections of consciousness and unconsciousness, of associations. For a poet, white space is what they cannot or will not say, it is their essential unsayable; that which is understood only on intuitive level. Beneath everything I am writing is absence. The ultimate tension in writing, in white space: what is written v. what is not.

Unmaking of the Made-Up Self (Steven Harvey)
Harvey found the lyric after becoming weary of his own voice. After he realized the self as top hat and cape of imagination. The lyric offers a breakdown of the persona, a kind of portal in which the self comes apart, in which the process of disintegration is seen. In the lyric, the voice is absorbed by subject matter and the self-assured persona is liberated. In Mark Doty’s Still Life With Oysters and Lemon, we witness an insistently low-key self, a weary voice in transformation. In this voice, the I is enlarged by becoming part of something bigger than itself; the self does not have the last word but blossoms, allows itself to be transformed by bumps and texts and countertexts and new information.

AWP Nonfiction Cheat Sheet: Thursday Afternoon

January 28, 2011 § 1 Comment

Thursday afternoon at the AWP is just as busy as the morning for us nonfictionistas, and that’s not even counting the cross-genre readings and panels, talks by agents and publishers, and other events that make writers smart and happy.  Below, though, some specific nonfiction events, many with recent and past Brevity contributors …. and then, at the every end of the day, FREE BEER!

NOON to 1:15 pm

Virginia B Room
Marriott Wardman Park, Lobby Level

R156. Imagining Ourselves: The Narrative Stance in Memoir. (Judith Barrington, Dustin Beall Smith, Nancy Lord, Allison Hedge Coke, Valerie Miner, Sherry Simpson) A diverse group of memoirists, who also write and teach in other genres, will discuss how they create personas for themselves and how these identities are freshly created and shaped to the work in hand. Exploring what Vivian Gornick calls “the glory of an achieved persona,” they will share examples of versions of themselves they have used in memoir, consider how persona functions in other genres, and assess how each identity is central to the authenticity and depth of the writing.


1:30 to 2:45 pm

Palladian Ballroom
Omni Shoreham Hotel, West Lobby

R187. Recovery as Discovery: Rethinking Nature Writing. (Tom Montgomery-Fate, David Gessner, Alison Hawthorne Deming, Gretchen Legler, John Price, Kathleen Dean Moore) Since Thoreau’s invention of the nature memoir 160 years ago, much of the natural environment itself has been damaged or destroyed. Thus, today’s nature writer must attend to both the natural world and her/his own role in its slow destruction. Their task now is less to discover and record the rare, than to recover and nurture the ravaged. This panel of nature writers will explore how they’ve addressed this paradox in their work.

Virginia C Room
Marriott Wardman Park, Lobby Level

R178. Playing for Keeps: Intensity and Creativity in the Lyric Essay. (Steven Harvey, Kathryn Winograd, Robert Root, Rebecca McClanahan) The lyric essay gives writers the license to experiment—to play with language in fresh and surprising ways—but if this playfulness lacks intensity the lyric essay can become a game, or worse, an idle exercise. What do writers do to animate the form so that it not only enjoys the freedom to explore but achieves the level of passion and intelligence we expect from all great writing? A panel of writers will consider the question and offer concrete suggestions.

3 to 4:15 pm

Maryland Suite Room
Marriott Wardman Park, Lobby Level

R193. What’s Normal in Nonfiction? (Steven Church, Debra Marquart, Ander Monson, Bonnie J. Rough, Bob Shacochis) Moderated by editors of the Normal School, the panel will feature a discussion of the polarizing questions concerning the ethics and aesthetics of nonfiction writing today. Is the nonfiction writer’s obligation to the art or to the subject? The audience? Can you conflate time, use composite or fictionalized characters, or borrow material from other sources without citing it? Panelists will consider what the role of the nonfiction writer is today and how that role is defined by ethical concerns for subject and audience, and/or aesthetic concerns for art, genre, form, and technique.

Palladian Ballroom
Omni Shoreham Hotel, West Lobby

R208. What Women DON’T Write About When We Write About Sex. (Xu Xi, Mary Anne Mohanraj, Honor Moore, Victoria Redel, Ellen Bass, Sue William Silverman) In a post-feminist age, the memoir has blown the lid off sexual secrets, and in all genres, women have written increasingly frankly about sexuality over the last fifty years. It almost seems that nothing is off limits. But what’s the art and craft of this sexual “anything goes”? Six women discuss the treatment of sex in their writing and ask: do we write Passion? Do we write Lust? Do we write Love? And what don’t we write about when we write about sex?

4:30 to 5:45 pm

Thurgood Marshall East Room Marriott Wardman Park, Mezzanine Level

R217. Status Update: The Personal Essay in the Age of Facebook. (Jen McClanaghan, Phillip Lopate, Bob Shacochis, Debra Monroe, Jocelyn Bartkevicius, Susan McCallum-Smith) Between the ever-popular tell-all memoir and ubiquitous status updates on websites such as Facebook and Twitter, the confession has never been so popular or so utterly mundane. We know more about each other than ever before and yet little that’s truly intimate or insightful. This panel will discuss the tradition of the personal essay and what it might offer the contemporary reader and writer, namely the opportunity for real insight and reflection.

10:00 p.m.-Midnight

Thurgood Marshall
Marriott Wardman Park, Mezzanine Level
R233. AWP Public Reception & Dance Party. A Dance Party with music by DJ Neza. Free beer and wine from 10:00 to midnight.

Bellingham Review: The Annie Dillard Award for Creative Nonfiction

February 22, 2010 § Leave a comment

The Annie Dillard Award for Creative Nonfiction

1st Prize: $1,000

Final Judge: Rebecca McClanahan

Deadline: Submissions must be postmarked between Dec. 1, 2009, and March 15, 2010.

Maximum length for prose is 8,000 words. No previously published works, or works accepted for publication, are eligible. Work may be under consideration elsewhere, but MUST be withdrawn from the competition if accepted elsewhere for publication. Current students, faculty or staff of WWU are not eligible to enter the contest.

Full guidelines here:  http://www.wwu.edu/bhreview/contestsubmissions.shtml

Kenyon Review Writers Workshop Upcoming

February 6, 2010 § Leave a comment

Applications are now available for The Kenyon Review Writers Workshop, a week-long series of writing workshops held June 19-26, 2010 on the campus of Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio.

The Kenyon Review Writers Workshop focuses on the generation and revision of new work. Instructors employ challenging exercises and lead the groups in close readings and discussions of participants’ work. In addition, the instructors schedule personal meetings to discuss workshop assignments and other projects. This year’s session includes workshops in fiction, poetry, and literary nonfiction. Workshop leaders include David Baker (poetry), Linda Gregerson (poetry), Rebecca McClanahan (literary nonfiction) [Brevity editor] Dinty W. Moore (literary nonfiction), Ron Carlson (fiction), Tara Ison (fiction) and Nancy Zafris (fiction).

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