On the Road Again (with Sundog Lit)

September 9, 2014 § Leave a comment

66Sundog Lit has a road-thumping, tire-biting, asphalt-meltingly wonderful new issue — (Letters from) the Road edited by Brevity contributor Jill Talbot.  We especially love the digital work by Eric LeMay (full disclosure, he’s on the Brevity Board of Directors) and the video essay by William Hoffacker, as well as work by Pam Houston, Marcia Aldrich, Lee Martin, Nicole Walker, William Bradley, B.J. Hollars … oh, cripes almighty, it would probably just be best to list the entire table of contents.  As for the theme, Here’s an excerpt from Jill’s marvelous intro, followed by a link to the issue itself:

A gas station in Beatty, Nevada in 1973. Twenty-two miles from here, off the U.S. 93, four cars with out-of-state plates laze in the parking lot of the Outlaw Motel. Who knows what’s really going on here? The blue sky looks so brilliant against the yellow sunflowers in a South Dakotan summer. A flock of blackbirds flies off a field somewhere near Columbus. And there on the side of the road, looking up and out at the surrounding emptiness, it wasn’t so difficult to imagine. The night train from Venice. Around the wide square driveway, down the hill and around the turnabout with the lit lantern beacon in the middle across the street from the red barn and the muddy yard. The road to Hana, the 68-mile highway that skimmed along beige cliffs, single-lane bridges. A road after a flash flood in San Angelo, Texas. The stacked stones of a roadside liquor sign in Ohio. We are half-way there. Speeding the curves of a road braced by the blue light of snow….  It is staggering to be here.

Read (Letters from) the Road

Utne and the Essay

December 2, 2013 § 3 Comments

roland-barthesWe would celebrate the fact that Utne Reader is paying attention to the literary essay even if we hadn’t made the list, but we did.  Jump on over and have a look.

The list of stellar essay venues is a nice accompaniment to William Bradley’s “Acquiring Empathy through Essays.”  Very much worth the read.

Your Ever-Lovin’ Blue-Eyed Montaigne

February 8, 2013 § Leave a comment

spiderman kleurNot sure what he had for his late night snack, but one morning essayist William Bradley woke up “with the idea of translating Michele de Montaigne’s “Au Lecteur” (“To the Reader”) into the type of English employed by legendary comic book creator/ oversized personality Stan “The Man” Lee.”  Below you can read a portion of his efforts, or read his profoundly provocative posting in its exhaustively erudite entirety right here.

You know your ever-lovin’ blue-eyed Montaigne wouldn’t write for his own benefit—why, if he had, he would make himself look like a brilliant Tony Stark or Reed Richards-type.  I want you, the reader at home, to see me as transparently as the Invisible Girl, for that is The Mighty Montaigne Manner!  Heck, if it wouldn’t get us in trouble with the Comics Code Authority, I’d present myself as naked as The Silver Surfer!!

 So, True Believer, this book is about Michele the Man.  Face front!

That Song in Your Head

January 13, 2012 § 3 Comments

William Bradley blogs on songs as nonfiction prompts over at Lit Bits, a Bedford/St. Martins teaching blog.  Bradley is a Brevity author and uses a Brevity example, and the exercise is pretty nifty.  Here’s the lead-up, and a link to the full post below:

In the small town where I live, one of our nicer restaurants often has their satellite radio tuned to a station that plays exclusively soft rock from the 80s and early 90s.  Air Supply.  Foreigner.  A little Journey or, if we’re really lucky, solo Steve Perry.  But there’s one song that seems to come on every time we eat there, one song that causes my wife to reach across the table, grab my hand and whisper, “Don’t sing.  Don’t sing.  Don’t sing.  I mean it.”

The song I’m talking about is Chicago’s song “Look Away,” which a quick Internet search tells me was written by Diane “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now” Warren.  …  This is not a particularly good song.  In fact, I don’t think it’s very good at all.  But I love it anyway, and feel the urge to sing along with not-Peter Cetera every time it comes on.  This desire has nothing to do with Diane Warren’s craft or not-Peter Cetera’s singing, and has everything to do with the memories this song evokes for me…

I’ve found that most people have such a song—a song whose opening bars can transport them back to a specific moment in their lives.  In fact, some of us have several.  So in my creative nonfiction classes, I begin the semester with something I call The Music and Memory Exercise.

Read the remainder and see The Exercise here

On Teaching CNF to Undergraduates

November 30, 2011 § 2 Comments

Brevity contributor William Bradley defends the teaching of creative nonfiction to traditional undergraduates today on Bedford/St. Martin’s Lit Bits blog.  He makes more than a few good points, including this one about finding authenticity through persona:

While some writers, like Phillip Lopate, suggest that a nonfiction form like the personal essay is more suited for middle-aged people (who are, presumably, prone to reflection), I believe that it’s important for students to examine and write about their lives.  I know the complaints about college students’ supposed self-absorption, and I feel like it’s lately become fashionable to bemoan our students’ interest in writing about their own lives.  The suggestion is that writing about the self — particularly the young self, the self who hasn’t experienced very much of the world — convinces students that they can be writers without taking risks that involve experiences, adventures, and other people.

I don’t subscribe to that theory  … When I ask my college students to write nonfiction, I am asking them to disregard the superficial, melodramatic narratives that tend to pass for reality in our popular culture and, instead, dig deeper.  A show like Bad Girls Club or Road Rules traffics in abstraction and stereotypes, but in memoir and essay writing, we’re looking for the concrete, for the unique individual consciousness.  We’re stripping away the constructed persona and focusing instead on the person, with all of the complexity and contradictions that would be sure to get her application to live in the Jersey Shore beach house rejected.

You can read Bradley’s full post here on Lit Bits and his Brevity 32 essay “Julio at Large” here.

Fourth Genre and the Second Sex

April 14, 2011 § 13 Comments

“The most mediocre of males feels himself a demigod as compared with women.”

So, we’re guessing that got your attention, and also proved that we can make a Simone de Beauvoir reference as well as the next blogger.  Our point?  The excellent nonfiction literary journal Fourth Genre has released its VIDA numbers (ratios of male to female authors submitting and published) in response to the question of whether women are under-represented in magazines due to various gender-based biases. If you missed the VIDA article, click here.

Fourth Genre‘s numbers seem to reinforce what guest blogger William Bradley suggested on this very blog, back when we revealed our own gender ratios.  Bradley wonders if perhaps magazines devoted to nonfiction — Brevity, Fourth Genre, Creative Nonfiction, River Teeth, for example — have better female representation because “the lack of preconceived notions about what nonfiction is and what makes it good somehow spares it from the unintentional institutional sexism that might pervade other genres.”

Here are Fourth Genre‘s comprehensive charts.  They’re posted to Facebook, so we’re not sure if the non-Facebookies amongst you can even access them.  We hope so.  [UPDATE: Fourth Genre has now posted a page of charts for those who can’t access the FB site.]

And we’ll close with one more thought from Simone:

“Representation of the world, like the world itself, is the work of men; they describe it from their own point of view, which they confuse with the absolute truth.”

On Gender and Genre: The Nonfiction Count

February 22, 2011 § 6 Comments

Our friend, the essayist William Bradley, commented last week on our VIDA count, and we were so intrigued by his theory on gender parity and genre that we asked him to expand and blog it.  So, here it is:

When VIDA released “The Count” earlier this month, I doubt too many of us were all that surprised.  Deep down, I think most of us—men and women alike—knew that women were still underrepresented in literary magazines.  As artists (and patrons of the arts), I think we sometimes like to pretend that the injustices and prejudices found in our culture don’t really relate to our little community—that we’re somehow above or beyond such ugliness.  But if you’re like me, that type of self-delusion can only take you so far, so that when something like “The Count” is revealed, it causes you to shake your head, sigh, swear, and insist to everyone in your circle of Facebook friends that “things have to change.”  But it doesn’t take you by surprise.

I do have to say that, as a writer and reader of nonfiction, I’ve been kind of gratified to see that my favorite sources for memoirs and personal essays seem to be doing better than some other magazines in terms of publishing talented women writers.  Brevity, as we all know, publishes slightly more women than men, on average.  And, according to their online newsletter for the month of February, Creative Nonfiction published in 2010, on average, an equal number of  men and women.  The most recent issue of River Teeth I found in my house had more men than women in it, but the spring 2010 issue of Fourth Genre had significantly more women than men.

Okay, those last two figures probably aren’t as significant as the first two, as they come from a quick glance at magazines I found in the magazine rack in my living room.  Still, it would seem that these magazines that specialize in nonfiction are, on average, publishing more women than other, comparable literary magazines.

Why is that, I wonder?

Well… I have some thoughts.

I don’t want to bad-mouth other genres, but I feel like a lot of my friends who write poetry and fiction will frequently confuse their own preferred aesthetic with “good writing, period.” I don’t get that same sense from nonfiction, which seems to embrace a variety of approaches (you’d never confuse an Ander Monson essay with a Lauren Slater memoir, or a Lauren Slater memoir with Joan Didion’s reportage). That’s not to say that there aren’t talented people doing bold things in other genres, but I wonder if they have more trouble getting editors and readers to appreciate their unique visions (as opposed to in nonfiction, where the new, the genre-bending, or the form-breaking is almost certain to be celebrated by somebody). All that is to say, I wonder if the lack of preconceived notions about what nonfiction is and what makes it good somehow spares it from the unintentional institutional sexism that might pervade other genres…?

I could be wrong about this, but it seemed like something that might be worth considering.  I’d be interested in hearing what others think.

Feel-Good Nonfiction

January 8, 2009 § Leave a comment

Our friend The Ethical Exhibitionist comments provocatively and wisely on Lee Gutkind’s response to Herman Rosenblat (see entry below if you missed the set up):

It seems to me that Lee Gutkind absolutely nails it in his observation that these fraudulent memoirs couldn’t be marketed as fiction.  The one thing that James Frey, Margaret Seltzer, and Herman Rosenblat all have in common (aside from the fact that they’re frauds) is that their stories are all “affirming,” in the sense that they tell the reader, “Hey, what you want to believe is true actually IS true.”  Jamey Frey showed us that addicts can overcome their sickness through willpower alone; Margaret Seltzer showed us that even a career gangbanger can escape the streets if she really wants to; Herman Rosenblat– most nauseatingly of all– reassured us that we can find joy even in genocide, if we know where to look.  These writers comfort their readership through, to use Joan Didion’s language, “the imposition of a narrative line” that insists that there’s something reassuringly  noble about humanity, that the types of simplified endings that the world of fiction would dismiss as “contrived” or “trite” actually do happen.

That’s why, I think, defenders of these memwahists like to say “But it doesn’t matter– it’s still a good story.”  For them, “good story” doesn’t indicate aesthetic merit (because, of course, these stories are about as well-written as your typical LIFETIME ORIGINAL MOVIE or any number of Very Special Episodes of MR. BELVEDERE), but, rather, that the story made them feel good by insisting that their own intuitive optimism about complicated issues is somehow “right” in the “real world.”


On the Pleasure of Reading the Ethical Exhibitionist’s Blog

July 13, 2008 § 3 Comments

Our friend The Ethical Exhibitionist has a thoughtful and pleasing entry on his blog examining William Hazlitt’s “On the Pleasure of Hating”.

To quote, briefly:

The great thing about teaching Hazlitt’s essay is that nobody wants to acknowledge his central assumption, revealed in the title, that hating is a pleasurable act. Particularly well-intentioned liberal college students (and even their long-haired vegetarian peacenik professor, once upon a time). Hatred is a scourge, after all. It’s something we’re trying to eradicate. “Some people might find pleasure in hating, but I– as a liberated, open-minded person– certainly do not, and I don’t think most other people do either.”

Read the entire treatise here:  THE ETHICAL EXHIBITIONIST

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