trace_savoyTrace: Memory, History, Race, and the American Landscape
Lauret Edith Savoy
Counterpoint, Nov 2015
240 pp; $25

Buy: hardcover | Kindle

Reading nature writing is second in transformative joy only to being in nature. That joy is slippery in Trace: Memory, History, Race, and the American Landscape by Lauret Edith Savoy, where moments of sublimity are often punctuated by cruelty and alienation. Take this startlingly alive sentence:

“When I was a horse, a wild Appaloosa full of speed, I’d run up and down sidewalks, around playgrounds and our yard—just to feel wind rush with me.”

Yes! Feel that flash of elation, how it blurs the human and the wild. But in the next paragraph, Savoy recalls a classmate who spat on her and called her hateful racial slurs when she was only eight years old. Her experience of nature becomes part antidote to, part escape from a society that made her feel inferior. “I ran not just to feel wind,” she writes, “but in hope it would blow away whatever it was about me that was bad and hate-deserving.” Continue Reading

The Virtue of Stillness

The lesson I look forward to most in the creative writing for new media class I teach at the University of Iowa involves me giving an unconventional lecture as a series of texts (complete with abbreviations, typos, and emoticons) projected on an overhead while I forbid speaking of any kind for about 20 minutes. During this time, students are allowed to take out their cell phones and use them in any way they wish—if they have a question, they’re instructed to type the question in a text and raise their phone in the air so I may come around and answer them with a text. It’s a strange spectacle to behold for sure but I’m always amazed at just how apt they are at following along, never missing a beat. Almost all of them whip their phones out and relish the opportunity to check their e-mails or Facebook while I type away and they glance up every once in a while. The room is full of darting eyes and tiny glowing screens. Continue Reading

Chucking “Art for Art’s Sake” – Writers and Social Impact

will write for social changeOne morning in late September, I found myself backstage at the “Annual Day of Peace” in Covington, KY—an event that kicks off October as Domestic Violence Awareness Month. I’d been asked to perform a song I wrote about my family’s history of domestic violence, and was listening as speakers urged the young audience to find—and use—their voices to prevent violence. I wondered how many listeners were writers, performers, artists, and how many might go on to use their art as voice, changing their communities in the process.

audrelordeLeaving that day and re-entering the media binge on the word “shutdown,” I couldn’t help thinking about writers around the globe: how we use our voices; whether (and how) we’re heard. I also couldn’t help thinking of Audre Lorde:

We lose our history so easily, what is not predigested for us by the New York Times, or the Amsterdam News, or Time magazine. Maybe because we do not listen to our poets…

Creative writing has the potential to change perceptions, elevate public discourse, inform, protest, and/or bring awareness to difficult issues and situations. Could we do more with this potential? Should we?

is this gonna get political


Before anyone gets politi-scared, hark! I don’t believe writers should start “politicizing” all our work, or Woodie-Guthrie-ing our poems for the greater good. But I do believe that if we’re moved by any current economic, cultural, political, and/or social suffering, there’s a place for us—and our craft—in the fray.

But how? Where? If you’re interested in finding your writerly place in this kind of work, here are three steps even non-“activist” writers can take to dive in:

  1. Identify Our Stories
  2. Re-imagine “Going Public,” and
  3. Chuck “Art for Art’s Sake.”

Continue Reading