Sunday, December 28, 2008

Congrats to Art Taylor

GMU MFA alum and assistant professor Art Taylor has a story, "Shrimp & Grits" due out in the Jan/Feb 09 issue of The Rambler. Also look for his stories "Rearview Mirror" and "A Voice from the Past" forthcoming (date not yet announced) in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine and two reviews in the Washington Post Book World in January and early February. Nice work, Art!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Congrats to Norah Vawter!!!

Congratulations to Ms. Vawter on her recent publication in the 2008 summer edition of SN Review!

Her short story, "Jules of the Red Lips," is available both online and in print versions.

Read her story here! Great job, Norah. Keep it up and keep it going.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

More good news...

Alum Rion Amilcar Scott (08) was a finalist for the Indiana Review Fiction Prize.

Who else has pubs/prizes floating out there? Don't be shy!

Monday, December 8, 2008

Congrats to Kirsten Clodfelter!

Congratulations to Kirsten for her recent acceptance letter to The Iowa Review. Her short story will appear in the April 2010 edition. We couldn't be prouder.

AND (addendum by Priyanka) Kirsten has another story coming out in the upcoming Spring issue of Bayou Magazine.

Look for copies in a bookstore near you. Congrats, Kirsten, and keep 'em coming.

Year End Round Up

As the semester's winding down you're probably thinking of all the books you've wanted to read but didn't get a chance to - you might have to add a few more to your list from the "Best of" lists from The Washington Post, The New York Times, and NPR, including Alan's top picks.

And some odds and ends - an interview with Toni Morrison in which she takes us through her writing process, and a meta-meta reflection on writing by Roy Blount Jr., part of The Washington Post's weekly "The Writing Life" section.

Happy semester's end!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Congrats Ryan

A bit late in posting this, but congrats to alum Ryan Call (08) who ,with his sister Christy Call, has published an online chapbook available for free through Publishing Genius. Check it out HERE.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Fiction Dinner 12/7 @ Susan's...

Who's coming? What to eat?

Teresa A.
Kirsten C
Elizabeth E.
Nat F.
Maria I.
Pat D. - dessert/rolls
Beckie M - wine and bread
Elyse B. - dessert
Tim R. -
Nicole L. - asian dish
Ally A. - chicken divan
Ben B. - crawfish etoufee/rabbit piquant/something equally fancy
Brie S. - quiche
Priyanka C. - sparkling cider
Sara F
Betsy M - veggie tray
Collin G. - pasta salad
Jenna M. - pie/beverage
Walt S -wine
Paul Z
Corey B
Tricia G
Norah V

keep a lookout for directions going out on the listserv...

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

On being American...

In a literary tribute to Thanksgiving, NPR has been airing interviews with authors specializing in "immigrant" fiction and how their own experiences as people with multiple home countries have influenced their writing.

Pulitzer Prize winners Junot Diaz and Jhumpa Lahiri were featured yesterday and today; tomorrow the series ends with Irish author Joseph O'Neill.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Contests and more

Got a story kicking around that you've been meaning to submit? Of course you do.

Submit it to a mag (check out the Phoebe office for back journals if you're confused about where to start)

Submit it to a contest like Narrative Magazine's 2008 Fiction Contest or one of Glimmer Train's many monthly contests.

Don't know where to start? Sign up for the Creative Writing Opportunity listserv at Yahoo Groups and get a daily/weekly/monthly newsletter with current listings for contests, new journals needing submissons, and teaching positions. To sign up send an email to

And let us know when you publish that story so we can brag about your fabulousness.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Brian Brodeur, Guest Blogger at The Writer's Center

According to my Facebook feed, Brian Brodeur is a guest blogger this week over at the Bethesda Writer's Center blog. He writes about his short-lived career as a plate spinner, sailing around the world in a hot dog, and where the wild things are. And he writes about his new book Other Latitudes. Here's an excerpt from his post:

When an interviewer recently asked if I’d thought the publication of my first book would change my life, I responded with one word: “No.” I then went on to express my gratitude for the trickling of e-mails I’d received from sympathetic strangers who wrote to tell me how much they’d enjoyed my book. How shocked I was that anyone had actually read it. Feeling a little guilty now for not being one-hundred percent honest, I’d like to revise my answer.

Brian Brodeur and Eric Pankey will be reading this Sunday at The Writer's Center. Details at the website. The reading starts at 2:00pm.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Two Online Pubs

1) Laura Ellen Scott has a new story up in the November issue of Storyglossia. The story is called "Felly Stories" and can be read here.

2) Scott Garson has a short short at the new online journal Sir! and it can be read by clicking here.

Good work everyone. This is a good week.

Congrats to Alyson Foster

Completion Fellow Alyson Foster just received an acceptance letter in the mail from the editors of the Iowa Review.

Her story will be printed in their winter issue a year from now. Look for it in December of '09.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Fiction Magazine out now

The latest issue of Fiction Magazine is out, apparently, and in it is a new story by Ryan Effgen. You can check the site here for more information; also, I imagine Politics and Prose is carrying it. They tend to have a few good lit journals up front.

Folks, tell us about your pubs.

Upcoming Readings

Next week features readings from both permanent and visiting faculty. See you there!

Alan Cheuse reads from his new novel To Catch the Lightning Tuesday November 18 at 7pm, ground floor of the campus bookstore. (reception - food! - at 6:30pm)

Madeleine Thein, winner of the Asian Canadian Writers' Workshop Emerging Writer Award for fiction, and author of the story collection Simple Recipes and a novel Certainty


Rawi Hage, a native of Lebanon and author of two novels, DeNiro's Game and Cockroach.
BOTH reading in Research 1, Room 163, starting at 7:30 and preceded by a reception at 6:30.

Monday, November 3, 2008

The Six Rules of Writing: Inspiring, Really

Thought this was interesting, and thought I'd share... I found it somewhat uplifting, particularly as we head into the last quarter of the semester.

The first five rules were penned by Robert A. Heinlein. The last rule was added to the list by Robert J. Sawyer, a Hugo and Nebula award winner (who also had one story rejected 18 times before it was finally accepted).

There are six rules of writing. If You take 100 people who say they want to write a book you will eliminate half of the group with each rule.
Rule #1: Sit down and start writing.
You've already done more than 50 people in your group can say. It sounds obvious, but half won't do it.

Rule #2: Finish the book.
My first book took me two and half months, but that put me ahead of 75 other people.

Rule #3: Quit tinkering with it. Once you've written it, you will go back through and make changes to the original. Refrain from rewriting except to editorial order. If your latest changes bring it back to what it was last week, you are done: quit fooling around with it and move on to rule 4. That was a tough one, but my wife helped me by editing for grammar and such. This one leaves you ahead of 87 - 88 people who say they want to write a book.

Rule #4: Send it out. It will never get published if you don't send it to a publisher.
These days it can be hard to find a publisher who will take an unsolicited manuscript. Look around on the web, they are out there. You might even want to think about finding a reputable literary agent. Once you send it to the publisher, you have left 94 - 95 in the original group of would-be writers behind.

Rule #5: Keep it on the market until it is sold.
If it is rejected today, it should be in the mail to another publisher tomorrow.

Remember, "A Wrinkle in Time" by Madeleine L'Engle (If you haven't at least heard of it, where have you been hiding?) was rejected 27 times before it was accepted and became a classic.

Rule #6: Start something else as soon as you put one manuscript in the mail.
Don't sit around waiting to start another book until the first one is sold. Very few writers make enough off of their first book to set themselves up for life. Once the first one sells, you will want to get more out there to pay the mortgage. Also, if you have something to write, the chances are good that you have more than one book in you.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Mark your calendars...

After some delayed planning, the first fiction dinner of the year is ON!

What: Fiction dinner with Susan Shreve
Where: Susan's house; details forthcoming on the listserv
When: Sunday, December 7th at 6pm
Who?: YOU (GMU MFA fiction people)

As always, it will be potluck. In a few weeks I'll ask for emails to let me know if you're coming and what you're bringing...

AND - anyone interested in helping to set up these dinners? It's super easy, fun, a way to get Priyanka.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Matt Bondurant at Politics and Prose, 10/25 1 PM

For anyone looking for an excuse to spend part of tomorrow afternoon in the city's best bookstore (oh yeah, and to hear great writing), check out Matt Bondurant's reading at Politics and Prose at 1 PM.

Not only is Matt's new novel, The Wettest County in the World, full of gunfights and bootleggers, it's been optioned by Paramount and Nick Cave is writing the screenplay. Also, he used to teach at GMU. For those of you who are still unsure, there's good pizza and free ping pong down the block at Comet-- make a day of it!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Congratulations to faculty member Helon Habila...

for being recently awarded with the 2008 Library of Virginia Award for his novel Measuring Time.

Our GMU MFA family had a good turnout: the list of nominees also included fellow faculty members
Alan Cheuse for The Fires,
Susan Shreve for her memoir Warm Springs,


GMU MFA alum Dallas Hudgens for Season of Gene.

Congrats all!

Monday, October 20, 2008

The Writing Gap

Today's Post has an interview with author Marilynne Robinson who wrote a book (Housekeeping), took a 23 year break, and then came back with the Pulitzer Prize winning Gilead, and most recently, Home.

Interestingly, in Susan Shreve's Advanced Workshop class we were asked to think about the authors in our "club" - the authors we turn to when we're stuck, when we need inspiration or motivation, and when we just want to have a good time reading. Among the names that came up were McEwan, Chabon, Cheever, Bender, Hempel, and more.

And in Marilynne Robinson's camp? Calvin.

Go figure.

Monday, October 13, 2008

AC at P&P

That's code for Alan Cheuse reading from To Catch the Lightning at Politics & Prose this Saturday 10/18 at 6pm. Details here.

The Secret

In yesterday's Washington Post Magazine, Gene Weingarten tells us what we all want to know in his article "How to Get Rich Writing." Or something like that.

Halfway through the semester!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Porter Shreve at

Porter Shreve is the guest author over at He has an essay posted about his new book When the White House was Ours.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Newish Post-MFA Blog out of Montana?

This blog is about life after the MFA.

"Musings on the daily travails of three MFA graduates. Faced with the unsettling future(s) of to-be-determinedism, we seek plans, jobs, and constant distractions. We hope to share the above in all of its uncensored glory here. For you."

Three recent MFA graduates host it: Trina, Kelly, and Laurie.

I scanned it for a few minutes and then looked at other websites also.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

For Godot

I don't know if anyone has seen this, but I think it's really funny. I've been waiting who knows how long for an anthology like this to come out. And now I just can't wait to hold it in my hands. Unfortunately, they don't have any ordering information, so the wait could be very long. And I would also have to wait a long time to print the PDF, because it's over 3,000 pages long. So, yeah. Very cute.

Outrage and opinions and comments are in full swing over at the Poetry Foundation.

Join the fun.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Olsson's Closed

Really sad news everyone: Olsson's books, the most amazing local book store chain, has made the decision to close shop, under the weight of tremendous debt. People went to the readings at Politics and Prose, or went to be seen at Kramerbooks, but Olsson's was where you could get down to business - just solid books, music, and movies, with knowledgable and kind salespeople.

Sad day for DC books...

Candid Yak!

. . . don't forget the Candid Yak this Friday October 3, featuring
• fiction by Eugenia Tsutsumi
• poetry by Sandra Marchetti
• nonfiction by Tara Williams
at The Prose House at 8 pm.

Great night!

See Also

. . . the latest issue of Saranac Review (which, I should add, is not the one pictured at left) featuring this GMU MFA alum (nice work, Sara!). Support such endeavors and order a copy (the submissions page says you can get a sample copy) or get a subscription . . .

Monday, September 29, 2008

Snacking on Literature in DC

So I took the Metro to DC this past Saturday to check out the National Book Festival - which, this year, featured Salman Rushdie (talking about his recent Enchantress of Florence), Geraldine Brooks (whose Pulitizer Prize-winning March is currently being read by some of our classmates in Susan Shreve's Writing History class), and Francine Prose (check out the recent Post article). I knew I'd be getting my fill of books at the festival, but what I didn't realize was that I'd be getting a taste of some new authors right at the Metro stop.

Bit o' Lit, a free bi-monthly mini magazine, features excerpts from the books of up-and-coming writers. The issue I picked up (September 8th) featured two non-fiction books and two fiction books - one of which happened to be Porter Shreve's When the White House was Ours. The idea is you get to read books "a bit at a time" in excerpts just long enough to cover your Metro journey - and hopefully, the excerpts catch your interest just enough to make you go out and read the entire book.

It's an endeavor after my own heart - I signed up for Stanford University's Discovering Dickens Community Reading Project way back in the day (2006) in which the university printed off Hard Times on newsprint facsimiles and mailed them to participants for free. The great thing was that Stanford serialized the novel and sent out one section a month, all in an effort to re-create the reading experience during Dickens' time.

Bit O' Lit is not quite the same, but the idea is there. Check it out - I found mine in a one of those newspaper boxes outside the Metro, but they're also available at the B&N on 12th St. As up and coming writers ourselves, we should support the writers forging paths in front of us by reading their work - whether in bits or as a whole.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Take a minute...

And check out Fiction Writers Review, a new website/gathering place for writers to discuss fiction both old and new. In their own words, FWR's "goal is to get writers and readers talking not only about how fiction reads but how it works and why it matters."

Along with reviews, the site also features some great author interviews, including this recent one with Preeta Samarasan, author of Evening is the Whole Day.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Blink and You'll Miss It!

It never fails - in high school I was the kid to find out about a fight just as it was ending, and now I'm the schlub who couldn't make it out of teaching early enough to get to DC and catch the 20th annual Pen/Faulkner Gala, which went down Monday night.

I'd heard from our local Pen/Faulkner connection, 3rd year Fiction Fellow Elizabeth Eshelman, of the politically-charged readings at this year's Gala, the theme of which was "Promises, Promises." Open up today's Washington Post and you'll see an article giving out all the dirt on what really went down (apparently Terry McMillan has a thing against Kool-Aid).

And if that's not enough to tempt you to click on the link - here, here and HERE, there's a bit from Alan Cheuse (billed only as a "local novelist") that's not to be missed.

Did you get that link? Because here it is again.

Oh - and in the same Post you'll find an article about why Francine Prose thinks she sucks at teaching writing. Really.

Monday, September 22, 2008

And the Winner Is . . .

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, who just last year, at 29, won the U.K.'s Orange Prize for her novel Half of a Yellow Sun (she was shortlisted for it in 2003 for Purple Hibiscus, her first novel), adds to her accolades—she was awarded a fellowship by the MacArthur Foundation, popularly known as the "genius grant." Her short fiction alone attests to this. And she's written more than a few good essays. It seems a fitting nod from one generation to the next, in this the 50th anniversary of the publication of Things Fall Apart and a day after Chinua Achebe was lauded for his accomplishments at George Mason with a showing of more than 1,200. (Adichie told the Washington Post last year that she's been writing ever since she read Things Fall Apart, at age 10.) And, so she took the call in Lagos and lived most of her life in Nigeria—she's been in Maryland, halfway between D.C. and Baltimore, for some time; can't we say she's D.C.?

Saturday, September 20, 2008

See Also

Why workshop? This week: send your work to The Washington Post's Gene Weingarten shows us how.

For inspiration from other good (and great) authors, see also:
Book, Fall for the. For a running daily schedule of said festival, see also: Taylor, Art, Art & Literature (Wordpress, 2008).

That should do it.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Seminar: Writing in the Real World

The MFA alumni portion of GMU’s English Alumni Chapter is planning a seminar on publishing on Saturday, October 4. It’s open and free to all alumni; current students are welcome on a space-available basis. Register at engnews (a address). It will begin at 10 am with a book publishing panel that includes Scott Berg, Brian Brodeur, and Dallas Hudgens. Beginning at 12:30 pm, Ken Budd and Art Taylor will discuss breaking into freelance markets. Contact Bill Miller if you have questions. It was stressed that you please register.

So to Speak Faculty and Fellows Reading

Folks: kick off Fall for the Book and support our terrific faculty and award-winning MFAers at the So to Speak readings (I meanwhat a lineup!) this Sunday September 21 (6–7 pm) at the Old Town Village, corner of North Street and 123. If you haven't left us for California, aren't celebrating your kid's 4th birthday, or didn't just tough out a 600-mile-wide hurricane (but are, I hope, well recovered from that bout of malaria): be there.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Celebrate a Writer's Life...

and read Infinite Jest to commemorate David Foster Wallace, who committed suicide last week. Or, for a shorter read, check out this article that celebrates the man who was.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Trade Books at the Fall for the Book Book Swap

Volition, Mason's undergraduate journal of literature and art, hosts a paperback swap during Fall for the Book. Trade books you've already finished for others you can't wait to start. Bring your books and see what's available on the Johnson Center North Plaza, Monday through Wednesday, Sept. 21–24, noon to 4:30 p.m. each day. Bring old books those days to get something new. 

Contact: tnguy or acox5 (both addresses)

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Fall for the Book Help

The Fall for the Book festival is only a week away, and Wade has asked for volunteers this week (September 15–19) at the kiosk in the Johnson Center to promote the event and remind students what's going on. Even an hour or two will help in these times: Monday (9/15), 2-6pm; Tuesday (9/16), 12-3; Wednesday (9/17), 2-6; Thursday (9/18), 2-6; Friday (9/19), 12-3.

If any MFAers can help, let Wade know at fftbvols (a address).

Friday, September 12, 2008

"Realer than Realism"

As the theater-of-the-absurd political opera limbers up for its next round of yodeling, we might ask, can anyone write fiction better than this? Apparently, yes, say some reviews of one-time DC resident Curtis Sittenfeld’s third book American Wife (though the NYT didn't love it). Sittenfeld's protagonist bears a striking—no, no, it's pretty much Laura Bush. What to make of this? “Realer than realism”? “All too realism”? It’s not political satire, although some people averting their eyes from certain passages may wish it had been. Sittenfeld has some company in this endeavor, A.M. Homes’s “The Former First Lady and the Football Hero” (in Things You Should Know) and Robert Olen Butler’s “18 ½”—but it seems like a tightrope walk to write. You decide—catch her reading from it Friday (tonight) at 7 at Politics and Prose. And, as she told Salon, “If you don't know if something in the book has some real life parallel to the Bushes, then you should assume it's made up."

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Happy Birthday, Cheryl's Gone Reading Series

Celebrate the Cheryl's Gone Reading Series's one year anniversary! Next Thursday, September 18, starting at 8 pm sharp: music, fiction, and poetry at Big Bear Cafe in DC, hosted by poet Wade Fletcher.

Who's on:
• Croniamantal w/ Rod Smith (a full-on 6 piece experimental musical collaboration colliding with the poems of bard Rod Smith!) 
• Michael Kimball (Baltimore fiction writer, and host of the 510 Reading Series, celebrating the release of his new novel Dear Everybody)
• Danika Stegeman (rockin' poet from Fairfax, Virginia, and new poetry editor of Phoebe)

Big Bear Cafe: 1st and R Streets NW, Washington, DC
*all readings are free*

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Read for Phoebe

GMU MFAers: joining Phoebe as a fiction reader is a great way to get involved with a literary journal (on a smaller scale, or as a toe-in-the-water now if you think you'd like to become an editor later). It also offers an inside view to the kind of work submitted to journals, among other lessons . . . and it can take care of those required fiction project hours! If you're interested or would like more information, contact Fiction Editor Regan Douglass.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Volunteer for Fall for the Book

MFA students! Fall for the Book, GMU's annual celebration of the literary arts held this year September 21–26, needs your help. Wade Fletcher, recent poetry MFA alum and Assistant Manager/Volunteer Coordinator for the festival, needs tons of volunteers to help before and during that week. Volunteers help drive authors, welcome attendees, oversee individual events, and assist with various other logistical tasks. The festival is especially in need of drivers to take authors to and from the airport, hotel, and events. This is a good way to meet individual authors and have an opportunity to chat with them. Wade said he’s happy to try to oblige requests to drive specific authors (or staff specific events). If you're interested, email him (fftbvols [at], and he'll send a list of current needs. You can volunteer for as little or as much as you'd like. A list of needs follows. (This notice will be updated as needs change; it's linked to the right under “Volunteer for FFTB 2008.”)

Info Tent
Sept. 22–Sept. 26, mid-morning to late afternoon
Got time between classes? 30 minutes? 2 hours? This is the job for you: volunteers at the info tent answer questions, direct confused students, and promote events throughout the day. The tent will be centrally located outside the Johnson Center (if it rains, it will be inside).

Venue Managers
Sept. 22–Sept. 26
Each event needs a representative to greet the author and be there as the audience arrives. Venue Managers will be in the room before and after each event to answer the author and audience’s questions.

Sept. 22–Sept. 26
Many authors are coming from out of town. They need to be met at airports and train stations, driven to the festival hotel, picked up at the hotel, and brought to events. This is a crucial role. If you're interested in meeting a writer and driving him or her to one place or another, please email Wade ASAP. Include information, if you would, please, about dates and times you are available.

"I Want to Help but I Don't Know What to Do"
NOW until Sept. 26th
If you just want to meet and greet people, or are willing to help out with anything and everything, email Wade with your availability and he'll let you know what is open.

Further questions? Email Wade at fftbvols [at]

Friday, September 5, 2008

A Call to Volunteer in DC

Help DC students become better writers at the Capitol Letters Writing Center (CLWC). An orientation is being held on Tuesday, September 9, 5 pm, above Kramerbooks near Dupont Circle. You have to RSVP the director (see link) to attend. (Thanks to recent alum, receiver-of-Bread-Loaf-waitership, and CLWC volunteer Mike Scalise.)

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Electronic Writing Seminar This Saturday

American Independent Writers is presenting, "Push the Electronic Envelope: Sharing Your Writing and Selling Your Work in Cyberspace" at GMU on Saturday September 6, in Research Building Room No. 163.

• 9:00–10:15 am: Writing for Online Audiences: Writing Web Copy, Selling to e-Markets, and Standing Out Online

• 10:30–11:45 am: Social Networking and Social Media: How to Pump Up Your Marketing Efforts and Get the Most Out of Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and More

• 1:00–2:15 pm: Breaking into the Blogosphere: Blogging, Vlogging, and Microblogging

• 2:30–3:45 pm: What Every Writer Needs to Know About Professional Websites

Free to GMU MFAers.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Pre–Fall for the Book Readings

Ah, the pillow book. Er, no, go to Politics and Prose this month: this week, Christopher Buckley, Friday at 7; next week, Junot Díaz on Wednesday and Curtis Sittenfeld on Friday; then Francine Prose the week after that, and there's more . . .

Monday, September 1, 2008

American Classics: Page to Screen

This looks good—the Smithsonian American Art Museum, a nice building to look at any day, is showing a number of (mostly) classic movies that were adapted from books, including A Streetcar Named Desire, this Wednesday September 3 at 6; One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Wed. September 17; and Breakfast at Tiffanys, Wed. October 29.

Friday, August 29, 2008


At the half century mark of life, I decided to go back and earn a masters in creative writing. I had no idea how far behind the bright unfettered minds of today's youth I'd be. It probably takes me twice as long to read a book, twice as long to figure out the campus and where the hell I'm supposed to be, twice as long to get here after getting lost a half dozen times. There are as many ways to get lost between here and DC as there are ways to find it on a map, believe me, I know. With that said, I got through the week. The best thing happened today. A handsome young man, younger than my daughters, sat at my table and the subject of age came up. He guessed me to be 36. "Really!" I said too excitedly. "Well, I was going to guess 32, but the way you responded to the topic, I wasn't sure." I will live off the fumes of his compliment for the rest of the year.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

A Slice of Wheat with Capote on the Side!

Many of us are familiar with Bread Loaf, that famed 80+ years old writing conference that takes place yearly in Vermont. The sleepy town (I'm assuming it's sleepy, because that's the way most of these towns are...apparently) is the place to be to meet those glittering literati: agents, editors, and writers both experienced and greenhorned.

According to this recent article in the Post, getting into Bread Loaf could be as easy as getting a job at IHOP (not really). A select group of applicants have their tuition covered by working the kitchen and meal hours as...waiters.

What's more, our very own Alan Cheuse once served as part of the wait-staff at Bread Loaf, as did Amy Hempel and Julia Alvarez. And more than one waiter/ess has been said to slip a manuscript to some famous you-know-who along with his or her order of baked potato and chicken almondine. (It's all in the wrist).

Check it out! Perhaps, one day, a student or two from our very own MFA program may have the privilege of saying they left the program to serve...and got their big break.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

And Now for Something A Little Different

OK, shameless self-promotion—showing off this new (partying like it's 1999!) website that I or someone like me may have written some sentences for—but in the spirit of seeking out new worldviews and the leading edge of science, which has inspired so many writers over the years, I want to share this thought-provoking article by a certain Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies professor. A longer version is available here.

While I'm at it, this is old, but whatever: according to the NYT, while he's not eliciting arguments from Richard Dawkins, biologist E. O. Wilson is writing a novel fittingly entitled Anthill. I'm looking forward to it. Uh, as soon as I get through the next 9 novels I have to read . . .

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Congrats to Rob Drummond

I've been waiting a little to post this information - mostly because I wasn't sure when the anthology was supposed to come out and because I've been a little busy with the move and getting situated down here in Houston. But now I'm happy to say that the latest New Stories From The South is out and it contains fiction alum Rob Drummond's award winning story "The Unnecessary Man," which received the 2007 Arts and Letters fiction prize judged by Robert Boswell.

I spotted Cliff's post here and it reminded me to bring this up. Cliff also links to a review in the Miami Herald. And fiction alum Art Taylor wrote a nice review of the anthology here.

Drummond's story appears alongside stories by Clyde Edgerton, David James Poissant, Jim Tomlinson, Pickney Benedict, and some other people. And Z.Z. Packer is listed as the guest editor this time around.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Ryan Call at NOÖ Journal

NOÖ Journal has named recent Mason alum Ryan Call associate editor—congrats and a big capital-o umlaut to you, Ryan.

Thursday, August 21, 2008



When: Friday August 22 at 6:30pm
Where: Eric and Jen's House
BRING: something to drink
What else: details were sent on the listserv (or email Priyanka if you somehow fell out of the loop)

Why: what else have you got going on? exactly.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Something that has nothing to do with anything.

The only reason I am posting the link for this recent advice column entry is because an MFA fiction student is the one asking the question.


Rion's Back, Cheryl's Still Gone

See Rion Amilcar Scott, recent GMU MFA graduate, no doubt still charged from his experience at the Pan African Literary Forum this summer in Ghana, read his work at Cheryl's Gone this Thursday August 21. Readings and music begin at 8 pm at Big Bear Cafe, 1700 First Street NW DC.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

congrats to Casey

Nonfiction student Casey Wiley has a new story up at Pindeldyboz. The story is called "Sometime You Have To Cram Your Face Between The Bed And The Wall."

His first fiction take.

(Thanks Mike).

Monday, July 28, 2008

Guilty Pleasures and the Two-Track Mind

I'm guessing most of the people who read this blog would classify themselves as writers of "serious" fiction and they may, by default, also be "serious readers." And 'serious' can mean several things - enlightening, poignant, thought-provoking, and (at its most watered down state) educational. Chekhov is serious fiction. So is Welty and Bellow and Hemingway - we all know the list.

And yet, I know more than a few "serious" writers who often indulge in literary fiction's step-siblings. That would be:
Westerns (???)
Young Adult (or a percentage of)
and what have you.

I will out myself right now and admit that I have read a book...or two...of Indian chick-lit. These books are frivolous, unrealistic, hackneyed, and they come with pretty covers featuring clothing and shoes that no "serious" writer could ever afford. Their benefit comes from the fact that absolutely zero brain cells are required to read them. Oh - and, though it hurts to admit it, they're entertaining. As readers, I think many of us can claim to have dual personalities - we may dip in and out of genres as we please.

But what about as writers?

Which brings me to the point of this whole entry - an article in today's Washington Post that profiles John Banville, an Irish author who won the Booker Prize in 2005 for The Sea. An earlier book, The Book of Evidence, was shortlisted for the Booker in 1989. Banville is, by all accounts, a writer of serious fiction.


He's got an alter-ego, a pen name, another writing personality who is named Benjamin Black and who writes thrillers. And while John Banville can take years to finish one of his novels, Benjamin Black finishes writing in months.

Is this so different from the fiction writer who pens travel or food articles on the side? Or the newspaper columnists who transform their experiences into psuedo-fiction? Which form of writing is catharsis for the other? And if a writer of literary fiction also writes genre fiction, does that automatically make his/her genre novel more worthy than a novel from a writer who ONLY pens genre fiction?

And what about the differences in plot?

Read the article. And let me know what you think.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Congrats Alexis

Alexis Santi has new work up at Word Riot. CHECK IT OUT.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

A Midsummer Cheryl's Gone

What: Cheryl's Gone reading series

When: Thursday July 17, 8:00 pm

Where: Big Bear Cafe: 1st and R NW, Washington, DC

The lineup:
Reb Livingston, poet and editor of No Tell Books
Adam Robinson, founding editor of Publishing Genius
Strip Mall Ballads, aka Phillips Saylor Wisor, songwriter of the Shiftless Rounders
Kyle G. Dargan, poet, creative writing MFA faculty at AU, and founding editor of Post No Ills

Looks like a great night! Have fun, folks!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Poet Pubs

Congratulations to poets Robb St. Lawrence and Wade Fletcher ('08), who have had recent acceptances for their work: Robb heard from A Public Space and Wade from Barrelhouse.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Questions of Good Taste and Practice

“Oh, it’s just like everything else, dear. Practice, practice.”
—Cyd Charisse, on how she was able to dance in high heels

Once upon a time, publishers Charles and James Ollier put out a book that elicited the equivalent of a great fat public raspberry. So the Olliers wrote to the author’s brother:
We regret that your brother ever requested us to publish his book, or that our opinion of its talent should have led us to acquiesce in undertaking it. . . . By far the greater number of persons who have purchased it from us have found fault with it in such plain terms, that we have in many cases offered to take the book back rather than be annoyed with the ridicule which has, time after time, been showered upon it.
Never mind that the book they trashed, Poems, included this and this. Fortunately for us, the author, John Keats, had friends like Leigh Hunt and Percy Bysshe Shelley to encourage him and, more important, his own good taste and a belief in his poetry (at least enough to carry on).

Keats didn’t have nearly the time Ira Glass has in mind (thanks Mike), but Glass’s point—that those who create tend to have good taste, and that artists should keep trying until their taste and ability meet—well, it’s a variation on a wise theme, and it’s well said.

And although this well-established poet (e.g.), in his response to a form rejection letter, makes some valid arguments, a look at UMD professor and poet Stanley Plumly’s new biography, Posthumous Keats (and the New Yorker review of it) just might encourage anyone faced with rejections (e.g.), bad reviews, and other such fun to move on and get back to work. Tout de suite.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

'From Laura's Pocket Guidebook to the Americas'

Congratulations to Laura Scott, who has a piece in the latest online issue of Hobart.

Go here to read it.

Do Not Read While Operating Heavy Machinery

Ah! Everywhere you look, someone strikes up the doom gong and dirge about reading. And okay, the NEA has empirical proof. An interesting review of Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain[1] in the New Yorker late last year mentioned the not-new-but-fascinating-if-troubling concept of a “secondary orality” in place of a literate society. And here comes Wendell Berry, straight from his Kentucky farm, offering his contrarian pearls of wisdom untouched by television or YouTube, in a terrific (even if you think Berry is a Luddite) interview in The Sun. (Thanks Cliff.) But these articles feed a pugnacious hope. If Jared Diamond’s book Collapse[2] didn’t suffice as an argument why literate cultures are kind of a good idea, they add to the heft. And you have to love Berry for saying, “If you’ve lost the capacity to be outraged by what’s outrageous, you’re dead. Somebody ought to come and haul you off.”

Ursula K. LeGuin attacked some points about the reading decline in Harper’s this February in satisfying fashion. And perhaps publisher Jonathan Karp took note. He actually hopes, in the Washington Post, for a return to the days when authors had several years to write books, and calls for the industry to publish better ones. Wow. He doesn’t seem to think he’s going out of business any time soon. He has, like, ideas for this. Is this like Don Quixote hunting down the good old chivalric days[3], or that guy in the Jorge Luis Borges story who wants to write Don Quixote from scratch[4]? Or Victor Frankenstein's sigh of relief at the end of every other chapter?[5] Or any reader, having read one story out of Jhumpa Lahiri's latest award-winning collection, looking forward to a happy ending in any of the next?[6] (Or yeah, sorry, you know, like Jerry Maguire and his theses on sports agenthood?)

I choose to think not. Call me quixotic.

Update: the author of, Jessa Crispin, had an interesting reply for Karp.

Happy Independence Day!

Monday, June 30, 2008

Writing Taboos?

Earlier I was struck by the Wright Morris quote that Andrew Wingfield shared with me in our interview, "Writing is finding out what you don't yet know about what you know," as well as Wingfield's take on that. Then I read this excellent nonfiction piece by Bill Donahue in the Washington Post about larger-than-life American Indian activist Russell Means and the subsequent discussion, which I found to be one of the best WaPost online discussions I've read in a long time (despite my inane question). A quote from Donahue in the discussion: "I think that anyone should be allowed to write about anyone." This made me think of the PBS film "Nat Turner: A Troublesome Property," which discusses how Nat Turner's story has been told and retold since the 1831 revolt and how William Styron's 1967 The Confessions of Nat Turner lit an angry intellectual debate (Styron wrote about it here). Then I read this T.C. Boyle story in a January New Yorker (I'm catching up) that takes on three perspectives, including those of a Japanese couple. Read at least one of these things, but come back and tell me: where we are with all this today?

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Saying Goodbye...

Those of us who have been at any of the fiction dinners held this past year are familiar with the photographic stylings of resident fiction student Kristin Von Kundra, who's generously donated her time and talents in taking group and candid shots during and after each dinner (the photos are posted in previous entries of this blog).

Many of us have also had class with Kristin, and we've been able to read her stories that feature such characters as an adopted monkey named "Monkey," psycho robbers who hold up a Sheetz gas station, and a young married couple who conceive and give birth to a son all in the time frame of a few hours.

Somehow, in her writing Kristin manages to do the same thing she does with her photography: take a cast of crazies - be they MFA students or hoodlums - and make them fit together into a portrait that makes you laugh but breaks your heart at the same time.

Basically I'm telling you all of this as a prelude to announcing that Kristin will be leaving us in early July to move to sunny California with her husband John. She's been an asset to the program as a writer, a teaching assistant/personal statement specialist, a member of our fiction community, and - most importantly - as a friend.

Good luck KVK! You'll be missed.

Friday, June 20, 2008

An Interview with Andrew Wingfield

In his own words, Andrew Wingfield “grew up east of Sacramento, California, in the bumpy transitional zone between the flat floor of the Central Valley and the steep slopes of the Sierra foothills.”[1] A sense of place pervades his work, drawn from the Sacramento where he grew up, the changing neighborhood in Alexandria where he lives with his wife and two boys today, and places he has lived in and traveled through in between. His writing shows this sense, but it also became evident early into our e-mail exchange, in which we discussed his novel, Hear Him Roar, published in 2005, and his current project, a collection of short stories. We talked as well about writing in general; life after the MFA, which he earned at GMU in 1999; and teaching, particularly his work at George Mason’s integrative studies program, New Century College, where he has taught since 2000.

Q: Your novel, set in Sacramento, follows semi-retired biologist Charlie Sayers as he sorts through the region’s cougar dilemma as well as his own restlessness with life, past and present. Not only is your novel set in Sacramento—it seems to capture its essence in terms of setting, environmental issues facing the region, and the mix of personalities you’ve brought to life—locals and transplants, old-school department of fish and game officials and suburban conservationists. It seems like part of your heart is still out there. What brought you out of California, and what brought you to George Mason?

Andrew Wingfield: Yes, California will always have a special pull on me. I imprinted on that Central Valley landscape, that climate, which is so distinctive. The hot, dry summers with their tawny palette of colors. The smell of rice fields burning after the harvest. The joyous relief the fall rains bring. The dense tule fogs in winter. The bright green grasses on the hills in early spring. Those are all part of me. And California is a truly fascinating place—in its diverse natural environments, in its 
human communities, and in the meanings it holds (and has long held) for so many people. A lot to unpack there.

I left California after my first year of college because I was restless. I had decided to be a lit major, I liked history and art. I wanted to go east, where the “culture” was. I guess I went east in answer to the flip side of the impulse that brings so many young people west, a lot of them right after college. And then I just wandered—Chicago, Bloomington, Madrid, Philadelphia. I’m very attached to more natural landscapes, yet I’ve chosen to live in a lot of heavily populated areas. I just really like cities, too. One of the nonfiction writers I like, Edward Hoagland, shares my dual attraction to cities and wild places. For me, each place has its poetry. Sometimes it takes a while to find it. That’s why I’ve never been much of a tourist or much interested in travel writing (unlike Hoagland). I like to live in a place, to experience it day to day, explore its 
crannies. Some places reveal themselves very slowly. Madrid is an example. That city takes time. I visited Rome and fell in love in about two hours. In Madrid, a more austere place, I had to get to know the 
neighborhoods, the tapas bars, the public gardens, the picture collections, the language—and then I was hooked. It took about a year.

What brought me to George Mason? The writing program, especially Alan Cheuse. Alan and I bonded on the phone after I got accepted to the program, I think when we discovered our mutual admiration for Saul Bellow. We developed a real affinity while I was there. I’m still in frequent contact with him. I never planned to stick around as long as I 
have. The fact that I’m still at Mason is a combination of happenstance 
and intention. New Century College, the integrative studies program where I teach, was just a few years old when I taught my first class there. I just kind of carved a niche for myself, and I’ve been having too much fun to leave.

Northern Virginia has yielded its poetry slower than anyplace else I’ve lived. Much of the region flat out repulses me and probably always will—you know, the tract house wastelands. But I live inside the Beltway in an interesting, complicated, and changing neighborhood. The stories I’m writing now are set in a community like the one where I live. And I find it increasingly fascinating—and at times, I admit, a bit horrifying—to live hard by the nation’s capital, especially during the Bush years. Until a couple of years ago, everything I wrote dealt with California. Not anymore.

Q: So do you think you are definitely a proponent of “write what you know”? I know, that’s a cliché—perhaps you have a better way of putting it.

AW: I like the way Wright Morris puts it: “Writing is finding out what you don’t yet know about what you know.” I write about places that are familiar to me, but my work is about exploring aspects of these places that hold some mystery. I’m searching for what I don’t yet know about what I know. For instance, I know what it was like for me to grow up between Sacramento and the Sierra foothills as my home landscape succumbed to sprawl, but what would that experience be like for a cantankerous Dept. of Wildlife biologist who’s growing old in that place? How does he, a man beginning to feel the bite of his impending mortality, experience the changes in the land? I can’t know until I write it.

Here’s another example. My wife and I are relatively privileged white Americans. When we decided to make a family, we bought and began renovating a rundown corner store building in a neighborhood just beginning to emerge from decades of blight. I know what it’s been like for me to live in this neighborhood the past eight years. But what does this place mean to a teenage African American girl who lives two blocks away, where blight persists? She’s here because her great-grandparents settled in the neighborhood decades ago, when her great-grandfather started working in the big railyard nearby (blight began when that railyard closed). Curiosity about such a girl led me into one of the stories in my current collection.

Q: Current collection—do you have a short story collection going out? I see you have a story in the Antioch Review this year and one in The Fourth River and another in Prairie Schooner forthcoming—congratulations. Do you have a preference for short pieces like stories and nonfiction articles or a long-term project like a novel?

AW: I have a nearly finished collection of stories that are all set in a “recovering” neighborhood near D.C. Some of them are out in journals, some forthcoming, a couple still looking for homes, and a couple still in process.

I started writing these stories when I became a parent and a professor and my writing time was pretty fragmented. I liked that I could sit down at my keyboard, read the few paragraphs or pages I’d already written, and push forward—using the writing time to write, rather than using it to try and remember what the story was all about, who the characters were, etc.

While writing my novel, I lived with it more fully day to day, week to week, because my life was less complicated and my writing time more regular and predictable. That said, I think I’m more of a novelist by nature. I tend to bite off novel-sized chunks of material. It’s taken me a long time learn the discipline of the short story, to resist the temptation of exploring side characters, subplots, and back stories that can be fatal to a story.

Even now my stories, the ones that work, push against the boundaries of the short story form in terms of the kind of complexity it can accommodate. Novels are roomy, and I like that. Once I wrap up this story collection my next project will be a novel. My life is still complicated and full, but I’ve become a bit more savvy about how to manage it all. Plus, my kids sleep through the night now. That changes everything! I look forward to getting back to the novel.

Q: About your novel, the way each chapter wraps up was very satisfying—finishing, in a last paragraph or even the very last line, with a new thought that reflects the whole, the way a good short story ends or an essay concludes. Do you feel you picked up novel-writing techniques like this instinctively, by reading, or do you think it was more a conscious effort? I am particularly curious how the MFA program influenced the way you approach a novel, if it did—such techniques seem hard to come by in a workshop, for example.

AW: My way of closing chapters is an instinctive thing, as far as I know. It’s certainly not a skill I tried consciously to hone in a workshop setting. Your question about novel writing techniques and workshops is a good one. When I was in the Mason program, every fiction student was working on a novel but every fiction workshop focused on the short story. The craft of novel writing was something I pursued independently for the most part, reading lots of novels, talking about them with Alan, and getting feedback from him on my manuscript. A couple of the lit courses I took also created opportunities to talk about novels from a formal point of view. For obvious reasons, the novel doesn’t lend itself as readily as the short story to the workshop format, but I think it’s important for writing programs to be intentional about helping students develop their novels and study the craft of novel writing.

Q: What about the end product, after you’ve finished it? Some MFA students and alums have said they would have liked more help navigating the publishing world, while others have been adamant that it’s better that we remain focused on the craft. I suspect it’s probably a little like the Appalachian Trail mantra of “hike your own hike,” but can you tell us a little about your own experience getting the book out there?

AW: As an MFA student, I fondly hoped that one of my professors would recognize the brilliance of my work, set me up with an agent, and launch my career for me. I doubt I’m the only person who has ever entertained such a fantasy. To be passive, yet to achieve success—sounds pretty nice! But it’s not realistic, or even desirable. The real service writing programs can provide is helping their students learn how to be smart, active, and persistent about getting their work into the world. Some teachers are pretty good about incorporating this part of the writing life into their workshops. I suspect there should be a short course devoted to it, a required course for the degree. Absent such a course, I poked around for clues on my own, gathering hints wherever I could. A more structured introduction to publishing would have served me well and saved me some time. But, hey, some of the most critical learning happens outside school.

Getting my novel into the world provided me with a kind of crash course on publishing, from which I gleaned some good lessons. I found an agent fairly quickly, and this agent found a junior editor at a commercial press who liked my manuscript. I worked with her to make it shipshape before she showed her bosses, who didn’t like the novel enough to publish it. Big disappointment.

Eventually the agent and I parted ways, and I started searching on my own for small independent presses and university presses that publish fiction. (Agents usually aren’t interested in such presses because there’s not enough money to make it worth their while.) I did some of my searching online, and some of it at conferences on literature and environment. I got to know some writers who shared my interest in environmental themes, chatted up editors at the book display tables, and made myself familiar with their lists.

The landscape and environment of the American West is a big focus for Utah State University Press, the publisher that bought my book. A great fit, but it took some time and effort for me to discover it. The near misses and rejections were tough to take, but I believed in my story, believed I’d find the right editor, the right press, and eventually I did. You have to persist.

So, sure, part of a writer’s education is putting in the time to learn the lay of the land. Who else is writing the kind of stuff you like to write? Where are those writers hanging out? Where are they publishing? How can you get your foot in the door at the places where your work will be valued? I’m not saying, however, that publishing should be the primary focus of students in a writing program. It’s one piece only. The primary focus should be working on the craft—and by craft I mean not just writing, but reading. Most writing students don’t read as much as they should.

Q: On reading, do you find yourself reading in a strategic way to suit your writing? Or do you read what you’re interested in, and the writing follows?

AW: After I wrote the first of my neighborhood stories, and decided it might be fun to write a whole batch of them, I re-read a couple of the place-based story collections that I’d read in the past—Joyce’s Dubliners and Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio. Then I read other collections of this kind—Stuart Dybek’s The Coast of Chicago, Maxine Claire’s Rattlebone, Gloria Naylor’s The Women of Brewster Place, a couple of others. Those books helped give me a feel for this particular niche within the larger genre, which in turn helped me clarify for myself the kind of book I wanted to make. So, that was some strategic reading tied directly to an existing project. But as you say, much of the reading I do feeds my writing in less direct, more mysterious ways. I’m kind of fatalistic about it. I figure if a topic or an author holds interest for me, there must be a reason, and eventually I’ll come to perceive some ways different things I’ve read percolate into my writing.

Q: In our earlier conversation you said teaching for New Century College allows you to investigate topics that feed your writing, and I imagine this in itself lends a great variety to what you read? I’m looking through the courses you have taught, from the 100-level “Community of Learners” to upper-level courses like “Narratives of Nature” and “Conserving Endangered Species: An Integrative Approach” . . .

AW: For years, I’ve been teaching “Self as Citizen,” this freshman course on citizenship and civic engagement. I began teaching it more or less by accident, but I’ve grown hooked on the material over time. I keep seeing the themes of this course—the challenges of tolerance and diversity, individualism vs. community commitment, and so forth—surface in my neighborhood stories. My teaching colors my writing in other ways as well. I have a lot of 
flexibility in what I teach, and I often team-teach with colleagues whose disciplinary backgrounds differ from my own. I sometimes build a class around a group of readings I want to explore, and often my teaching partners introduce me to material I never would have discovered on my own. Some of the stuff my colleagues want to put on syllabi doesn’t excite me as a reader—academic prose can be pretty dry—but it introduces me to ways of knowing and engaging the world that were alien to me previously. How does a conservation biologist understand a cup of coffee? What kinds of stories do economists tell? This is good exercise for a fiction writer. It stretches the imagination.

Q: About teaching—when I talked to you earlier you gave me some really sound advice about looking for a teaching position, how someone just getting out there with an MFA, with the hope of balancing teaching with writing, might approach it. Can you speak to that a bit, given your experience and that of some of your fellow alumni?

AW: I assume anyone in a graduate writing program is already passionate about writing. If you go into teaching, you should have a passion for that as well, because you’ll do a whole lot of it to support yourself and your writing habit—unless of course you’re independently wealthy or supported by a gainfully employed spouse whose big salary enables you to teach for experience rather than a living. (I’m not independently wealthy, and my wife is a painter. She and I both teach to put food on the table.)

I love writing, of course, but I also really love teaching. It’s work that stimulates me intellectually, as I’ve already said. It also draws me out of my shell, requires me to interact with students and colleagues. For me the give and take of the teaching life is a healthy counterpoint to the solitary work of writing. Also, I like the university atmosphere—the learned people, the visiting writers and speakers, the arts programming, the libraries. These are wonderful resources.

You will probably need to teach a while to find out if the passion is there. That’s fine. Just don’t teach for ten years, letting your writing go dormant, and then look up one day and decide teaching isn’t right for you. What I’m saying is that you should always be strategic, always keep the big picture in mind if you’re a writer who teaches. A few of my peers who came out of the writing program around the same time I did took teaching jobs that paid them peanuts and sucked up all their writing time. That’s a predicament you want to avoid, and avoiding it can be tricky.

One person who seems to have managed the transition well is my fellow Mason writing program alum, Sally Shivnan. Sally graduated the same year I did and now teaches full time at University of Maryland Baltimore County while building up an impressive portfolio of published work. She interviewed me a while back while writing a magazine piece about balancing teaching and writing. I just re-read the piece; it’s full of sound advice, and more thorough than I could hope to be on this topic. Here’s a link.

Q: So—you have taught undergraduates for nearly a decade, you put out your novel in 2005, you’re working on a collection of stories, you’ve written and published a number of personal essays over the last five years, and you look forward to the prospect of getting back into another novel. There is so much in the media now about how students today, and by extension, our future populace, have so much less appreciation for reading fiction or writing a decent sentence, let alone a good piece of creative work (the latter according to a recent Washington Post article). You don’t seem to be buying it?

AW: I was teaching a course with this conservation biologist who has devoted his life to saving species whose populations are pretty much doomed to extinction in the wild. One of the students asked him why he bothers. “What else am I going to do?” the biologist shot back. “Sell Volvos?”

I’m not looking to sell Volvos—I’m not that resigned. But I am pretty realistic about what it means to devote oneself to literary art in these times of iPods and ear buds and young thumbs busily massaging miniature keyboards. As a writer, I don’t fret much over the changing literacies of the young. I write the stories I have to write, according to my own lights, and I try to find a home for them in the world. That’s what I do.

As a teacher, this issue concerns me more. In the 10 or 11 years I’ve taught at Mason (including as a grad student), the students coming in have arrived better prepared academically because admissions standards have risen. But that doesn’t mean they’re more literate, in the conventional sense. They’re not. Oh, they encounter a lot of text and images in their daily lives, and they can be pretty savvy about certain kinds of “reading.” But many of today’s college students arrive on campus with a real deficit of experience when it comes to navigating complicated academic writing, or sophisticated literary works. A big part of my job is helping my students develop some fluency in working with these kinds of texts. It’s a struggle. But it can be very satisfying to see students learn to read and write better. Once in a while the writing bug will bite one of the kids in my class—or, more rarely, it will infect the whole group like a virus—and when that happens, I remember why I bother to try.

Q: Well, I, for one, am glad you are not selling Volvos. You or the biologist. Thank you so much for your time—this has been a great exchange. And again, congratulations on the recent publications, and good luck with the rest of your collection. I’m looking forward to reading what you have out there.

AW: I’ve enjoyed it too. Thanks for your thoughtful questions.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Cheryl's Gone in June

If you get a chance, come to the June Cheryl's Gone Reading Series next week.

I'll be reading along with Mel Nichols and DJ Renegade.

With music by DJ Panic!

Event starts at 8pm on June 19th (Thursday).

Check out the website for bios of the readers as well as directions to Big Bear Cafe.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Alan's Summer Reads

"My name is Alan and I'm a fiction addict."

Over at NPR's site, Alan has posted his Summer Reading Suggestions. Included in his many picks is Nam Le's The Boat, which has received a lot of attention lately online.

"Born in Vietnam, raised in Australia and educated at the Iowa Writers Workshop, short-story writer Nam Le writes broad, embracing stories featuring a wide range of characters, including Vietnamese émigrés; Australian high school kids; Colombian drug lords and New York intellectuals. The vast scope of his debut collection is matched only by his prodigal talent. A lawyer by training, Le is about to return to Australia, where he plans to continue work on a novel in progress."

Good Job Twila

George Mason offered recent graduate Twila Johnson a position as a full-time term instructor—congratulations, Twila! Congratulations to GMU, too, for winning her talents and hard work.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

The Collected Stories by Lorrie Moore

Short story writers should check out this review of Moore's collected work written by novelist Jenny Turner. In "Angry Duck," Turner gives a pretty good history of Moore's writing, despite the brevity(?) of the article and the lack of information about Moore (Turner says, "Moore is reticent in interviews and does not write much non-fiction, and has published only 50 pages of fiction over the past decade").

I picked up my copy of Moore's Self Help during my first year at Mason, when I was working in a usedbookstore out in Centreville. The bookstore had its own 'Self Help' section, and in that section I found Moore's collection while I was cleaning out the shelves of old old old merchandise.

More Moore links:

Interview in The Believer

Profile in Ploughshares shortly after the release of Birds of America

"Debarking," "The Juniper Tree," and "Paper Losses" in The New Yorker

(thanks to Cliff)

Monday, June 2, 2008


Congrats to Nat Foster, current fiction student. He just had a story taken by the editors of Gulf Coast. This is his first acceptance.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Subverting Boolean Logic and Other Stories

Here's an attempt at borrowing the Friday reins, for one Friday only:

• Although not-so-distantly-former-GMU prof Richard Bausch, in his "Letter to a Young Writer," advises to eschew politics, I couldn't resist posting Michael Kinsley's WaPost op/ed. For anyone struggling whether to tell a story from the first person, or . . . the first person. (Kind of "Malkovich Malkovich," no?)
• Speaking of jaded, see this piece in this month's Atlantic. Eloquent, with bright spots in defense of reading, but pseudonymous "Professor X" doesn't give us much hope for poor overworked untenured English instructors. You think? Well, there are other options for writers, says Keith Gessen at n plus 1. All very cheery stuff.
• So if you are looking for a very brief break from the workaday doldrums, or several very brief breaks, or one very brief break today, and another . . . anyway, go see Baltimorean Joe Young's very small dogs. They are certain not to disappoint. (Thanks to Ryan.)
• For a longer break, see this modest summer reading list (click on "Complete List"), or celebrate June as Reading the World month. Whichever. (Thanks to Cliff for this.)
• Or maybe you'd like to see what my former coworker Jeff Deck, on his Typo Hunt Across America, is up to.

And remember, the Internet goes on semester break too. If you don't see it, it can't see you, or something like that . . .

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Well Done, Ryan

In case some people read this blog but haven't seen Ryan's and, like me, don't actually see people in live contexts: The University of Houston offered Mr. Call a two-year fellowship to teach and, well, write things. So he'll work near the likes of Antonya Nelson and Chitra Divakaruni as he communes with Houston-haunting Donald Barthelme's ghost. Meanwhile, a little thing called the Sewannee Writer's Conference has invited him as a Tennessee Williams Scholar this summer. Good job, Ryan, and good luck.

Some More Links

Okay, some Friday links to entertain the few people who read this. Some are serious and some are a little silly (the links, I mean). Otherwise, good work to everyone on finishing up the semester.

  • Scott Garson, editor of the online journal Wigleaf, has begun a new award series: The Wigleaf Top 50 (very) Short Fictions. He's posted the selections for 2008 at the Wigleaf website. For those interested in online fiction, especially the really short form, this should be a good introduction to what's going on in that part of the writing world. Read his foreward to the award for an explanation and an interview over at The Elegant Variation (thanks Cliff and Matt for the news on this).
  • 'Industry' blogs (courtesy of Ron Hogan at Galleycat) talk a lot about what's going in that odd world. Take, for example, this post at Editorial Ass on the state of the publishing industry. But, these blogs are mostly written anonymously, so, yeah. Anyhow, one blogger critiques query letters at The Query Shark. Another blog tracks lit agent news. And we've mentioned before the now inactive blog, Miss Snark.
  • For Elizabeth: Erika Dreifus has updated another one of her e-guides. This one is a guide to book review markets (paying).
  • Harper's and The New Yorker have started their own litblogs, finally. Right now, critic Wyatt Mason, has a serialized essay at the Harper's blog about contemporary literary criticism that's worth a read ("An Egg In Return").
Alright. I'm done. Now what?

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Congratulations to Rion

Recent fiction graduate, Rion Scott, just had a story place 2nd runner-up in the Pan African Literary Forum's Special Contest for emerging writers of Africa and the Diaspora. It looks like they haven't yet updated the website, but it looks like Rion's story's placing in the contest will earn him a free trip to Africa to participate in the conference.

You can find info about the Forum here. To give you an idea, Helon Habila is listed on the faculty page for this year's Forum, along with Yusef Komunyakaa.

If you know Rion, send him an email. If you don't know Rion, maybe visit his site and leave a nice comment.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Congratulations, graduates!

Who can break from the snares of the world
And sit with me among the white clouds?

Here's a big shout of congratulations to our graduates and those who are soon to be. If you haven't already, take time to bid them a job well done for pushing those ox carts to the summit, laden with good things for people to read in the next valley. And of course we're all going to put our shoulders into it and help carry this precious cargo down, when the time comes, aren't we? But one thing at a time. (And please, let me know if I have missed anyone.)

Becky Bikowski
Ryan Call
Jennifer Hall
Sara Hov
Twila Johnson
Rion Scott