The Best Story I Read in a Lit Mag This Week: “Wake Turbulence” by Laurie Ann Cedilnik

As a recent transplant to New York from Arizona, I’ve been a little obsessed with place lately—about what the landscapes of home show us when we live inside them versus when we’re removed, what happens when we start seeing our surroundings as more than just background noise—so I was delighted to come across Laurie Ann Cedilnik’s story “Wake Turbulence” in issue 71 of West Branch. The story grapples with loneliness and place, what it means to live or grow up near a public tragedy, and how to connect with other humans when physical proximity is close but emotional distance is great.

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Literary Boroughs #54: Boston, MA (Part Two)

The Literary Boroughs series will explore little-known and well-known literary communities across the country and world and show that while literary culture can exist online without regard to geographic location, it also continues to thrive locally. Part One of this post appeared earlier this week, as did a bonus Literary Borough walking tour of Beacon Hill by Emerson professor Megan Marshall. —Andrea Martucci, Ploughshares Managing Editor


Where to Write

Usually the Where to Write section is dominated by coffee shops, of which Boston/Cambridge/Somerville has many excellent specimens: Trident Café (see Part One for more info), Tealuxe, 1369, Simon’s, The Thinking Cup… and, of course, Dunkin’ Donuts. (Note to non-New Englanders: while you might reasonably assume that a “regular” coffee means black, in Boston Dunkin’ Donutses it means “drowned in cream and sugar.” We’re not complaining… We just thought you should know.)Continue Reading

Ploughshares at AWP13

AWP in Boston is almost upon us! The conference schedule is so packed with excellent presentations, panels, and readings that it can get a little overwhelming. For your convenience, we’ve pulled out and highlighted sessions and readings featuring Ploughshares editors. Here is a more complete listing of sessions featuring Emerson faculty and students (including a panel with our Editorial Assistant Abby Travis). See you there!

Throughout AWP, you can visit Ploughshares at Booth 213 in the Book Fair!


1:30-2:45 pm – Literary Boston: A Living History

Ladette Randolph, Megan Marshall, Michael Lowenthal, Paul Lewis, Matthew Pearl

Boston is the site of the nation’s oldest literary tradition, and is still host to a vibrant writing and publishing community.  From the Colonial era writers to Longfellow, Poe, the James brothers, and Robert Lowell to the present, Boston is home ot many of the country’s most beloved writers.  Many publishers and literary journals have been and are based in Boston, among them, Garrison’s Liberator (which helped establish the abolitionist movement), the Atlantic, Ploughshares, and Houghton Mifflin.  Room 310, Level 3


Photo by Erin Patrice O’Brien

3:00-4:15 pm – Major Jackson’s Ploughshares Issue Reading

Ladette Randolph, Major Jackson, Maggie Dietz, Emily Bernard, David Huddle

Ploughshares literary magazine editor-in-chief Ladette Randolph will host a reading to celebrate Major Jackson’s guest-edited issue.  Jackson will read from his work and speak briefly about his experience selecting work for the magazine.  He will be joined by contributors from his issue, including Maggie Dietz, Emily Bernard, and David Huddle. Alice Hoffman Bookfair Stage, Exhibit Hall D, Level 2 Continue Reading

Literary Boston: Two Sides of Beacon Hill

Photo: Eric Antoniou

Photo: Eric Antoniou

Megan Marshall is the Pulitzer-nominated author of The Peabody Sisters and Margaret Fuller: A New American Life, and teaches nonfiction writing in the MFA program at Emerson College. She will be featured on two panels at AWP 2013, both on March 7: at 10:30, she will moderate “Sources of Inspiration,” with authors Matthew Pearl and Natalie Dykstra; and at 1:15 she will appear at “Literary Boston: A Living History,” moderated by Ploughshares editor-in-chief, Ladette Randolph. For when you’re not attending those, Megan has kindly provided us with a literary walking tour of Boston. Enjoy!

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Bates Hall

Bates Room

No one should leave AWP without taking a quick walk over to the Boston Public Library in Copley Square. Just a few blocks down Boylston at Dartmouth Street you’ll find the majestic triple-arched entrance to the Italianate McKim Building, built in 1895. Once inside, you can wander the three floors, up a marble staircase guarded by Augustus St. Gaudens’s lions, and take in murals by John Singer Sargent, Edwin Austin Abbey, and Puvis de Chavannes, whose nine Muses beckon readers into the magnificent Bates Room—a temple of enlightenment, with its barrel-vaulted ceiling, arching windows and rows and rows of desks, for generations of Bostonians and researchers from all over the world. Also don’t miss the interior courtyard with its blond brick walls and bacchante fountain, a great place to eat a sandwich (bring your own or buy one at the library’s snack bar). Alternatively, you can dine in the excellent Courtyard restaurant, open only for lunch.

But don’t stop there.Continue Reading

“Bring Me Back”: A Playlist for George Saunders’ “Tenth of December”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe characters in Tenth of December, George Saunders’ newest collection of stories, struggle with maintaining innocence (and ultimately losing it) in a world that drives people further from each other; they struggle with doing good in a consumerist society.  These are flawed characters—people who make mistakes and are terrified to rectify them.  These are characters that try to go back for each other and often fail.

Victory Lap: “The Distance” –Cake : The characters in Saunders’ collection are driven by a yearning for something more—something greater.  In “Victory Lap,” a high school runner sees his neighbor dragged across her backyard by a man in a Day Glo vest.  He struggles with whether or not he should ignore the situation and follow his parents’ “directives” to stay in the house and mind his business. Ultimately he lets his speed take over and saves his neighbor. He experiences such a rush at his success (“It was fun!  Fun dominating a grown up!”) that he nearly loses his sense to overconfidence.

Sticks: “Helplessness Blues” – The Fleetfoxes:  This is a long song for such a short story, I know, but this two-pager speaks to the loneliness felt by characters across the collection as a whole.  It speaks to the truth each character realizes—that no matter how we dress up our “poles,” we all, in the end, suffer the same anonymity of fate.  While many of the characters in this collection believe they’re special, or—as in this story—are desperate to find some meaning in it all, they ultimately find that they’re small parts in a greater machine that doesn’t have a clear end goal.

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Literary Boroughs #54: Boston, MA (Part 1)

The Literary Boroughs series will explore little-known and well-known literary communities across the country and world and show that while literary culture can exist online without regard to geographic location, it also continues to thrive locally. Posts are by no means exhaustive and we encourage our readers to contribute in the comment section. The series will run on our blog from May 2012 until AWP13 in Boston. Please enjoy the fifty-fourth and final post on our hometown, Boston, Massachusetts, by the entire Ploughshares staff. Part One of this post will run today; Part Two will run later in the week; and, also later this week, look out for a bonus Boston Literary Borough walking tour by Emerson professor Megan Marshall. —Andrea Martucci, Ploughshares Managing Editor


When Boston was first settled back in the 1630s, it wasn’t much more than three hills on a tiny peninsula—Sentry Hill, Cotton Hill, and the charmingly (and aptly) named Mt. Whoredom. These three hills gave the city its original name, Trimountaine, but all that’s left of them these days is Sentry Hill (now Beacon Hill), and the street running along the east edge of the Common that takes its name from the original settlement’s: Tremont.

The other two hills, along the way, were leveled to make way for residential development, and to provide part of the landfill that now makes up the Back Bay. Indeed, thanks to aggressive land reclamation, by 1890 Boston had tripled in size. Walk down to the Charles Street edge of the Common and you’ll be standing on what was once the Boston waterfront; cross over to the Public Gardens and you’re being supported, in some small part, by the earth that was once Mt. Whoredom.Continue Reading

Giving a Reading? How Not to Panic.

microphoneIn my previous post, I discussed the crying shame that is the Public Reading. You commented, shared, and agreed. You asked how to feel more confident, use a microphone, give more creative readings, etc. I’ll tackle all of these over coming weeks – starting, today, with confidence.


Let’s bust the myth right now that says you should be able to just jump in front of a crowd and feel amazing. That’s true for almost no one.

Sharing any creative work requires vulnerability and risk. If you add to that an unfamiliar environment (a stage with an audience) and unfamiliar tools (a microphone)… No wonder you feel nervous! So: be kind to yourself, and know you can cultivate ease.Continue Reading

The AWP13 Post You’ve Been Waiting For

CIMG1268No need to be coy. Step right up and behold: the pre-AWP13 post you’ve all been waiting for!

Now, some of you may already know that Ploughshares is based in Boston, the very city that will be teeming with hordes of AWP attendees in a matter of days. Much like zombies (who also come in hordes), AWP attendees want your brains…or at least what’s in them. To prevent a bloodbath, I’ve taken the liberty of picking the brains of AWP veterans to help you get the most out of AWP13.

But before we get to that, here are some other posts on the web you might want to check out to amp you up for the conference.

Onward to the advice!

From Matt Bell, author of In the House upon the Dirt between the Lake and the Woodsand Editor of The Collagist:

A lot of first-time AWP participants see it as an opportunity for networking, so let me offer this advice: Good networking probably isn’t what you’ve been told it is. It’s not business cards or sample chapters of your memoir, it’s not about platforms or Twitter followers or Klout scores. It’s certainly not hunting editors and publishers and MFA application readers like book fair big game. Good networking is genuine enthusiasm for others and for what those others care about or make.

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Blurbese: “deeply felt”

Image Courtesy SubZeroConsciousness (License)

Image Courtesy SubZeroConsciousness (License)

In general, I dislike curmudgeonly fiats contra adverb—in fact, I’ve complained about them here before. However, there are a couple of cases where I think specific adverbs ought to be banned outright. One of those is the book review phrase “deeply felt.”

My problem with the phrase, I will confess, is that most of the time I don’t really understand what book reviewers mean when they use it. Occasionally, with fiction, I can parse something: your Lolitas and your House of Sand and Fogs and, hell, even your Time Traveler’s Wives—these feature protagonists whose aching desires and crippling emotions seem very real, very genuine, very immanent to the character. And because their authors, in writing these emotions, have—I suppose—“deeply” inhabited the emotional landscape of their characters, we do too.

But I just as often see “deeply felt” applied to nonfiction, and that’s where I get really baffled. Continue Reading

The Myth of the Literary Cowboy, Part 1: Peculiarly American

"The long detaching rings again writhed in mid-air, and softly descended as he thundered past"

“The long detaching rings again writhed in mid-air, and softly descended as he thundered past” by Richard Caton Woodville, National Library of Congress

Being raised in West Texas, I have experience with cowboys. I’ve taught and been taught by them, worked with them, listened to their poetry, and eaten their food. My cowboys are the real, working men who get their hands dirty, but have never (to my knowledge) been in a shoot out. This, however, does not diminish my love for their literary counterparts: the lean silhouette against a sunset, hat tipped, cigarette dangling, gun at hip. Whether L’Amour or McMurtry, Shane or Cool Hand Luke, Gunsmoke or Deadwood, I, like most Americans, have grown up with the cowboy, a unique character spun from the past that has become part of our mythology.

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