A Reading for the One Fund

459852_633721756654995_636701422_oThese have been sad weeks in Boston. All of us in the Ploughshares office were thankfully unhurt in the attacks on the Boston Marathon, and we send our sympathy to the victims and their families. We’ve been heartened by the way the Boston community has come together to support those affected by the attacks, and we want to do our part. So Ploughshares is co-sponsoring a reading organized by Boston Review this Thursday to benefit the One Fund.

A Reading for the One Fund

Thursday, May 2 at 6PM, Emmanuel Church, 15 Newberry Street, Boston

Suggested donation of $10

Join the Boston literary community for a reading by Robert Pinsky, former U.S. Poet Laureate; Sue Miller, best-selling author of While I Was Gone and The Lake Shore Limited; Fanny Howe, award-winning poet, fiction writer, and essayist; author and AGNI editor Sven Birkerts; and acclaimed poet Jill McDonough – and more.

A donation of $10 is suggested at the door.  Those who donate $100 or more will receive a Ploughshares totebag with an issue of Ploughshares and gifts from other sponsors. Our fundraising goal is $5,000 and the audience is encouraged to give generously. All proceeds from this event go to the One Fund Boston (onefundboston.org) in support of those most affected by the marathon attack.


Fantasy Blog Draft – Round 4 – Nonfiction Writers

In Round Four, the Fantasy Blog Draft Managers will set you free with the truth—this week they’re picking nonfiction writers. But the big question is where within the genre of nonfiction will their picks take them? Whence will this truth (or perhaps “truthiness”?) originate? Nonfiction is, arguably, the widest genre we have in writing. It includes everything from personal journals and diaries, to the earliest essays and philosophical tomes, to lyric essays and prose poems—and even on to nonfiction novels and New Journalism forays that borrow many fictional techniques. Let’s see how the managers dealt with such a wide range of options!Continue Reading

Non Verbis, Sed Rebus

My girlfriend’s ex-girlfriend recently sent me a link to an article entitled “8 New Punctuation Marks We Desperately Need.” As is often the case with my girlfriend’s ex-girlfriend, I couldn’t quite tell if she was joking. Further complicating the matter was the fact that the article came from CollegeHumor.com, a decidedly unserious website—and yet I found myself taking it very, very seriously.

Because it’s true: we desperately need these punctuation marks. And not only “we” as in me and my girlfriend’s ex-girlfriend, but also “we” as in anyone trying to communicate via text with someone they don’t know very well—which, thanks to Facebook, Twitter, email, etc., etc., is basically “we” as in the general public.

The “I’m Not Angry” mark, a little subscript smile that follows the period at the end of a sentence, would soften many an unintended blow (Dear Mom, please include one of these in all future correspondences, kthxbai!). And we’re especially desperate for the Sinceroid, as evidenced by the fact that I actually need a Sinceroid to communicate the sincerity of my desperation:

As I continued, in my desperation, to overthink the CollegeHumor.com article, I realized that I already overcompensate for the absence of these punctuation marks in my text-based communications. Sans Sinceroid, I find myself leaning heavily on exclamation points (“No, really!!!”); in lieu of an “I’m Not Angry” mark, I grudgingly resort to that least appealing of punctuation-neologisms (punctologisms?), the smiley-face emoticon:

Smiley Face

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Roundup: Getting Rejected

In our Roundups segment, we’re looking back at all the great posts since the blog started in 2009. We explore posts from our archives as well as other top literary magazines, centered on a certain theme to help you jump-start your week. This week we have posts on getting rejected.

In baseball, if you get out seven times out of ten, you’re considered a great hitter. You’re considered great at what you do. Like baseball players, writers have to face rejection, and they have to face it most of the time. 

rejection letter

Wine helps.

From Ploughshares:

  • In “Many Forms of Rejection,” Thomas Lee writes, “If there is an award for taking rejection without being fazed, I’m pretty sure I could win.”

What Do Taylor Swift and Faulkner Have in Common?

Amos Heller. Stadium-ing.Um, the answer is this guy.
Hey Writing World, meet Amos Heller: The much-loved, many-fanned bass player for Taylor Swift.
(And, ahem, for Ellery.)

I’m introducing you to him because—(#truth)—Amos’ literary prowess would put many of us to shame.
When I first I got to know Amos, he was always making reference to some great book or author of which I was maddeningly unaware. At some point, I had to admit to myself that I—the writer in the room—had read much less than my bass player. Dammit.

But let’s be real for a second: Which of us would see this guy with Taylor on the Grammys and think, “I bet he knows his classics”? Or, “I wonder what he has to say about science fiction and culture?” Sadly, very few. And we’d be missing out. 

So I interviewed Amos to begin a new series called “Hey Guys. Other People Read Too”—in which we’ll open the musty closet of the Literary Subculture and let some brilliant minds in.

Everyone I’m interviewing is a wildly successful artist in his/her field, with an enormous following… And each is a voracious reader. By listening to some of these Lovers of Words, maybe we’ll begin to imagine new ways of connecting, of interacting, of being writers in the Wider World…

“Hey Guys, Amos Reads Too”—the interview

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The Fall of the Stone City


[Editor’s note: this post was contributed by Joshua Garstka.]

The Fall of the Stone City
Ismail Kadare (translated by John Hodgson)
Grove Press, February 2013
168 pages

Gjirokastër was not as wise as it should have been. Or perhaps it was wiser. It came to the same thing.

Just before World War II, Gjirokastër, Albania, faced a revolving door of invading nations: Italy in 1939, Greece, Italy again, and then Germany, before the Albanians finally reclaimed control in 1944. In Ismail Kadare’s The Fall of the Stone City, the German occupation is the basis for a fable that’s briskly told and often absurd.

Kadare’s novel, published in Albania in 2008 and recently translated by John Hodgman, has no time for sentiment. Even the most traumatic incidents have a cartoonish bent. Continue Reading

The Myth of the Literary Cowboy, Part 4: Hi-yo Cowboy, Away!

Lone Ranger Movie Poster

Back in December, before an afternoon showing of The Hobbit, I got my first glimpse of the trailer for the big budget adaptation of The Lone Ranger. Sitting there enjoying my smuggled in Diet Dr. Pepper was not the first time I’d run across the film—I had read some early reports on it over the past year or so. But actually seeing the cribbed-from-Justified aesthetic on the big screen was something else entirely.

Of course, I soon forgot about it again as my thoughts turned to more important questions, like does Gandalf drunk dial those eagles when he needs a sober ride? However, since that time, I have found myself in pop culture shame spiral as I grapple with my complex feelings about this update of the classic Lone Ranger television show.

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Milk-Producing, Duck-Billed, and Venomous: The Reanimation Library

It’s a digital age, but we’re still mad for paper! Even as readers embrace the connectivity and convenience offered by iPads and Kindles, there are still many good reasons to celebrate a book’s physicality. In Ploughshares’ Book Arts series, we’ll be looking at some of the artists, curators, and craftspeople who work to keep things fresh and relevant.

Andrew Beccone, proprietor of the Reanimation LIbrary

Andrew Beccone, founder of the Reanimation Library (Image: Nora Maynard)

Knife-throwing manuals. Fondue cookbooks. Air raid shelter handbooks. Guides to the care and maintenance of prehensile-tailed skinks.

They’re the kind of outdated, discarded books you might find in a dusty corner of a thrift store, or branded with a big “WITHDRAWN” stamp at your public library’s annual sale.  Dog-eared orphans of the information storm.

Andrew Beccone, a Brooklyn-based visual artist with a Masters in Library and Informational Science, sees these castoffs as treasures. Fascinated by the visual goldmine of diagrams, illustrations, and photographs these oddball books contain, he created a dedicated home for them, the Reanimation Library, offering each forgotten volume a second chance at life.

I interviewed Andrew in order to find out more about this fascinating project.

PSHARES: You once described the Reanimation Library as being a “platypus.” Please explain.

BECCONE: I use a platypus analogy because I find the library somewhat challenging to classify. I understand it as both a library and an art project, and I try to give each of these elements equal attention, but sometimes they work against each other or contradict themselves in ways that feel unwieldy or awkward. It’s an odd creature. The Wikipedia article on platypuses states that they are milk-producing, egg-laying, venomous, duck-billed, beaver-tailed, and otter-footed. This seems like a pretty good description of the library to me.Continue Reading

Episodia 1.5: Mad Men’s Tell-Tale Heart

"Now this is the point...Madmen know nothing." --Edgar Allan Poe

“Now this is the point…Madmen know nothing.” –Edgar Allan Poe

For six seasons now, television viewers have been transfixed by advertising phenom Don Draper’s troubled smolder as he winds his way through Manhattan’s boardrooms, bedrooms, and bars. Each episode is loaded with literary jewels for writers to fawn over: the elegant use of space (that office elevator really knows how to open and close a scene); objects that indicate a break in the psyche (cigarettes and glass tumblers, anyone?); and norm-defining costumes (can we appreciate, for a moment, the ways in which Betty Draper’s wardrobe reflects the suffocating gender dynamics of the 1960s, from her A-line skirts and pearls to her pink quilted housecoat?). But to me, these are just icing on this ambition-meets-love-meets-domesticity cake.

The magic trick in “Mad Men” I find so mind-swervingly stunning is how the show transforms its main concern—mid-century gender norms—into the heart of its appeal. This show doesn’t just reveal the evils of those norms, it proves how gender stratification punished the men as well as the women. And most impressively, it explores these dynamics even though the characters themselves—born and bred in this world—are barely aware of them. It manages to do this thanks to what I call “the hidden narrator.”

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Eulogy for the Phoenix


If you don’t live within spitting distance of Boston, maybe you missed the sad news that the Boston Phoenix abruptly quit publication last month. This alternative newsweekly began in the heyday of the sixties, and quickly became the go-to source for more than just the other side of the story, spawning dozens of nationally recognized writers and critics along the way. For decades the Phoenix had the best and most comprehensive arts and entertainment reporting in Boston—even according to the Boston Herald and Boston Globe, who poached many Phoenix writers over the years. The Phoenix also had a pit bull approach to reporting that’s required when you’re breaking stories like the Catholic Church sex-abuse scandal.  This foundation of excellent and intelligent reportage and writing was made possible in large part because—in addition to their desire to get to the heart of every story they published—the Phoenix had a paid staff.

imagesWriters at the Phoenix didn’t get paid much, but they were able to hone their skills so finely because writing was all they did—or, rather, writing was all they had to do.  Writers sure didn’t live in the lap of luxury, but they also didn’t need to teach high school English, they didn’t need to bartend or work construction or temp in a high rise office—they only needed to write.Continue Reading