From the Slush Pile: Cover This

256px-Hadise_writes_a_letterLet’s talk about cover letters. I know, I know: exciting, right? But remember what mom said: first impressions matter. So here’s a piece of advice: keep your letter professional and succinct. A reader and editor wants to know who you are, your publishing credentials (if any), and the name of your submission.  What we don’t want is a synopsis of your story. Or, “this is a true story, but I changed the name of my Aunt Sally so I’m submitting it as fiction.”

Why do we want to know about publishing credentials? Only for the screening process. Remember we receive approximately 11,000 submissions a year. Authors who have been published in Ploughshares—whether it was a year ago or forty—get sent right to an editor.  Those with substantial publications under their belt get sent to a senior reader. What do we mean by substantial publications?  A book or two, or publication in a number of top-tier literary journals. (Just so you know, pass-ons from slush go right to an editor just like pass-ons from notables.)Continue Reading

On Generosity of Thought—a Writer’s Gifts

Wayne Brown sailing

On the June afternoon when I first joined Lesley’s MFA faculty, during a break between meetings, I carried my coffee to an outdoor table where several other faculty members were sitting and asked if I could join them. Wayne Brown, the Trinidadian writer I’d only just met, looked up. He said to me, solemnly, “When you are old and gray and your grief has become a steady joy, then you may sit with us.”

Then, seeing my hesitation, he laughed and gestured me to sit.

It was the start of a five-year friendship I came to cherish. Blunt, funny, opinionated, unflinchingly honest and disinclined to suffer fools, Wayne was a writer’s writer. That his work isn’t better known in this country has always struck me as absurd—his “Landscape with Heron” should, by rights, be in every undergraduate short story anthology between Anderson and Carver.Continue Reading