I’m in that small and shrinking group of writers who don’t have MFAs. Which I think makes me uniquely qualified to start my own MFA program. Haven’t most education reformers come from outside the system? My program will, for starters, involve napping and swimming pools. And the course offerings will be much more practical than “Problems in Modern Fiction.” We’ll cover the things you need to know. (The writing part you can figure out on your own.) I herewith present my 2015-2016 course catalog.
I wasn’t expecting my friend D to smash the green anole with a rock. But he did, and the lizard’s insides smeared red against the concrete driveway. Its eyes, black and bleeding, sunk into its tiny skull. We were nine.
I’d caught the green anole in the tree down the street. We caught brown ones all the time, and sometimes giant Cuban anoles, bumpy and long as our forearms. But the finger-length green anoles—those were something to celebrate. They were what we deemed rare. Before D smashed the lizard, we sat, he and my brother and I, passing the anole around, letting it slip over our browned knuckles. It was beautiful: bright green, white-bellied, soft. And then the rock came down. D broke the squirming lizard in one swift move.
Lucas Southworth’s short story collection, Everyone Here Has a Gun, the winner of the 2012 Grace Paley Prize for Short Fiction, packs a similar punch. The stories are tense, gritty, and dark, full of sons raised to kill fathers and boys nailing chipmunks to walls. These characters hover at the edge of disaster. They exist in the unsettling shadows between innocence and violence.
Recently, I put cream cheese, Nutella, and orange zest between two pieces of bread and cooked it up like a grilled cheese. A little butter, a hot pan. Grilled cheese is tried and true. It doesn’t need improvement. But I saw the recipe (though for grilled cheese, I’d call “recipe” a stretch) in this book and had to try it.
I was skeptical. But, you guys. That sandwich was so good. It was warm (duh) and melty (duh) and bittersweet. Perfect for chilly weather, which we are getting plenty of here in Iowa.
Julian Hoffman’s essay collection, the small heart of things, and our blog editor Andrew Ladd’s novel, What Ends—both 2012 AWP Award winners—are a lot like that toasty sandwich. The two seemingly different narratives—also warm and bittersweet—cross the 3,664 kilometers of land and sea between their settings to tackle the complex, emotionally hefty topic of “home.”
(I’ll be discussing the other two winners of the 2012 AWP Award, Joan Naviyuk Kane’s poetry collection Hyperboreal, and Lucas Southworth’s story collection Everyone Here Has A Gun, in a later column.)
It’s summer! Time to get out those binoculars and spot some writers. If you are unable to find writers, a simple whiskey trail should suffice to lure them to your backyard. Be on the lookout for these newly identified species.
The dead foreign writer who wrote eight 6,000-page recently translated novels that everyone but you somehow has time to discover and read and talk about over the course of one summer, and what the hell, don’t you people have jobs?
The writer who’s famous only among writers. And not necessarily for his work, good as it may be—but for rustic fashion sense or scandalous antics at writers’ conferences in the ‘80s or his charming southern drawl. You realize, to your shock, that your non-writer friends have never heard of the guy. You try to explain: but at AWP, he’s like Elvis! They don’t get it.
At AWP 2013 in Boston, author Melanie Rae Thon read the following during the panel “The Literary Legacy of Andre Dubus.” Ploughshares founding editor DeWitt Henry attended the panel, and thought the piece was so beautiful that, with Melanie’s permission, we are reproducing it here. —Andrew Ladd, blog editor
In the introduction to Fires in the Mirror, Anna Deavere Smith asks: Does the inability to empathize start with an inhibition, a reluctance to see?
When I first encountered the work of Andre Dubus, I was arrested by his bold lack of inhibition, his willingness to imagine and render the inner lives of all his people. His stories reminded me that everyone has his grief: the murderer knows despair; the rapist has been wounded. Goethe said, “There is no crime of which I cannot conceive myself guilty.” In Frank Bidart’s poem, “The War of Vaslav Nijinsky,” the dancer confesses: “I know people’s faults / because in my soul, / I HAVE COMMITTED THEM.” I believe Andre Dubus was a man who understood this kind of intimate turmoil, the fear that his own impulses made him both vulnerable and dangerous, the conviction that a man who witnesses an act of violence and does nothing is as much to blame as the one who commits it.
Monday morning, two days post-AWP, your 2013 Boston Tote Bag filled with literary swag: postcards, pins, temporary tattoos, and journals. You have a renewed energy. Yes, this is the year. You will submit—over and over again if necessary—and you will get published.
For those of you who have never been to AWP or have no idea what it is, it’s the nation’s largest literary conference, sponsored by the Association of Writers and Writing Programs, and this year it took place in Boston. (For all who attended, I hope you stopped by the Ploughshares booth and introduced yourself—and then raced home to polish up your entry for the Emerging Writers Contest.
Welcome to the first ever Ploughshares Fantasy Blog Draft! If you missed our manifesto post, be sure to read it so you understand the rules of the “game.” Today we’ll be introducing our teams, the draft order, and the bracket for the competition. So without further ado, here are our competitors!
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!
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.
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.
- The newly-formed Boston Book Blog has an AWP primer on their blog, including ways to stay up-to-the-minute on what’s happening at the conference.
- Linda K. Wertheimer, a veteran journalist in Boston, has some schmoozing advice up on Bill and Dave’s Cocktail Hour.
- Here’s an oldie but a goodie, courtesy of Tin House:Courtney Maum provides a tongue-in-cheek field guide to AWP. Another oldie, if you’re into jokey AWP posts: our blog editor Andrew Ladd, on his imaginary Top Ten Panels at AWP in DC, 2011.
- On Tuesday and Thursday this week, we’ll be publishing Lit Boroughs posts on Boston, with a walking tour on Wednesday — check back to learn about all the cool literary stuff in our noble city!
Onward to the advice!
From Matt Bell, author of In the House upon the Dirt between the Lake and the Woods, and 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.
For too long, fantasy sports have been confined to—well, actual sports. Whether it’s historical fantasy sports or contemporary fantasy sports, the literary world has watched from the sidelines as number crunchers and keg tappers compete for glory in an imaginary world of teams with pun-tastic names like “Sproles Royce,” “Apocalypse Noah,” “Austin Rivers Runs Through It,” “My Dinner With Andrus,” and “In the Garden of Wheeden.”
No longer. This year the Ploughshares blog will be hosting the first ever (as far as we’re aware) Fantasy Blog Draft. Imagine having all your favorite writers, dead or alive, from across multiple genres, eras, and continents, writing for a single blog—curating the news, popular culture, art, Art, and everything in between. Who would man the helm of your Fantasy Blog? What strategy would you use to draft your bloggers?
Over the next few months, six “Fantasy Blog Managers” will each put together their own roster of Fantasy Bloggers, the goal being to create the ultimate blogging team. We will then seed these teams in a tournament-style bracket, and they will engage in fierce competitions, the outcomes of which will be determined by reader polls.