The Best Short Story I Read in a Lit Mag This Week: “The We of Me” by Lucy Jane Bledsoe


As the election cycle ramps up, it becomes more and more apparent the many philosophical divisions splitting our country here in the United States. In her story “The We of Me” (The Rumpus), Lucy Jane Bledsoe takes us into a future dystopia where her characters—our descendants—are drawn to transcend the different iterations of those same divisions and connect with those different from them, no matter the cost.

The story begins with the thirteen-year-old female narrator and Jim taking an evening walk in a wild, nomadic America (with no industry, technology, or centralized government to speak of). We learn that the narrator and Jim belong to very different camps with roots in our own current system. The narrator’s group—We—are clearly open and progressive in their views on the human body, relationships, and tend to spurn any rule. The People—nicknamed “Second Amenders” by the narrator’s group—are much different.

“I have no idea why we call them the Second Amenders. Roxanne says it’s because of their guns, but that doesn’t make any kind of sense. What do guns have to do with amends? Jesus says it’s because they’re descendants of a people who were obsessed with wrongdoing, and so they have to make amends all the time. Sasha says it’s their compulsion about rules, which they are constantly amending.”

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Round-Down: Catapult Launches Onto the Literary Scene


Elizabeth Koch recently conceived of a promising new literary venture, Catapult, that launched yesterday. Jennifer Kovitz, the publisher’s publicity and marketing director, said that “Catapult is dedicated to spotlighting extraordinary narratives (as fiction, nonfiction, memoir, and graphic/illustrated projects) and we intend for Catapult to be an inclusive community for writers at all stages of their careers.”

Kovitz explains that the publishing company “was conceived by Andy Hunter and Elizabeth Koch in 2014, and has been just over a year and three months from conception to launch.” Hunter, co-founder of Electric Literature, will serve as Publisher, and Pat Strachan, who worked at Farrar, Straus and Giroux, will serve as Editor-in-Chief.

Catapult’s team members and their positions in the independent press community already situate the publisher within a revered literary landscape; the company seems poised to be of great new influence—and soon.

It is not often the case that I don’t at all question the necessity of a new literary venture. Catapult, however, promises to deliver the best in contemporary work today with an eye turned seriously toward supporting writers and readers in an ever-evolving industry.

Catapult already looks to be highly ambitious, well-organized, and worthy of attention. Its launch onto the literary scene seems at once careful and forceful, carrying the weight of extraordinary writing from its emerging and established writers alike. It is rare, too, to find this combination of vision, talent, dedication, resource, and commitment to voices at all levels—all qualities that give it the potential to be a fantastic literary force.

The new publishing company has been offering—and will continue to offer—excellent workshops with greats such as James Hannaham since April. Its first release is Pagdett Powell’s story collection Cries for Help, Various. David Byron Queen reviews the title at The Rumpus, and writes that the work is a “stirring balance of silliness and tragedy transcends and wins, over and over.”

Head over to Catapult’s website to read great new work by a cast of talented writers.

Back to School Special: Thoughtful Imitation

"Mimicry in South African Butterflies - chromolithographic frontispiece of The Colours of Animals by Edward Bagnall Poulton, 1890" by Edward Bagnall Poulton - own scan of The Colours of Animals by Edward Bagnall Poulton, 1890. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons -,_1890.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Mimicry_in_South_African_Butterflies_-_chromolithographic_frontispiece_of_The_Colours_of_Animals_by_Edward_Bagnall_Poulton,_1890.jpg

Mimicry in South African Butterflies – chromolithographic frontispiece of The Colours of Animals by Edward Bagnall Poulton, 1890. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

I didn’t study creative writing as an undergraduate; it wasn’t an option. When I enrolled in the MFA program at University of Washington, what I craved more than workshop (which I’d experienced a few times in continuing education settings) was the elusive “craft” class: reading analytically not to make an argument about literature (which I also enjoy) but to learn how another writer achieved an artistic effect. One of the most enriching classes I took at UW was such a class, taught by David Bosworth.

We looked at everything from aphorisms and fables to stories by Joseph Conrad and James Baldwin and Mavis Gallant and Marguerite Duras, among others. Students chose additional stories they wanted to dissect for the class and brought in Flannery O’Connor, George Saunders, Roberto Bolaño, and more. I felt little gaps in my novel-heavy education filling. We imitated, we analyzed, we explored choices the writers did and did not make. The one thing we were not allowed to do was write parody, a rule for which I was grateful. Allowing parody, I think, could have opened the door to being a little less thoughtful, a little less open to learning from what all of these writers offered.Continue Reading

Roundup: Traditions

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 and websites, centered on a certain theme to help you jump-start your week.

Food and family are the most common holiday traditions. For those of us celebrating, it’s easy to predict the Thanksgiving Day spread and which family member will show up late to the festivities. But it’s that comfort of familiarity, of pumpkin pie and your grandfather’s snores from the recliner, that gives us anticipation.

In preparation for the holiday, we’ve compiled some tasty offerings from the Ploughshares blog and around the Internet for you to enjoy.

2946395218_0a2860b0c9From Ploughshares

  • Caitlin O’Neil shares her writing recipe with a few helpful tips on cooking up a good story. Plus get a bonus recipe of Roasted Carrot Soup in how Writing is Like Cooking.
  • Thanksgiving time is often family time, with fathers everywhere settling into a post-turkey coma. But, while the dads of America are asleep, Ian Stansel has a couple replacements in the World’s Best (Literary) DadsContinue Reading

Writing Lessons: Erin Somers

In our Writing Lessons series, writing students will discuss lessons learned, epiphanies about craft, and the challenges of studying writing. This week, we hear from Erin Somers, a recent graduate of the MFA program at the University of New Hampshire. Erin is also the editor-in-chief of Barnstorm Literary Journal, and her other writing has appeared on The RumpusThe Millions, and elsewhere. —Andrew Ladd, Blog Editor


Here’s a potential title for a country song: “I Learned About Heartbreak at Writing School.” Maybe there’s a whole untapped genre of music out there with major hit potential among nearsighted editors’ assistants and those that actually use their library cards. “Iowa Said No And My Dog Ran Away.” “Freshman Comp Blues.” “50thForm-Email Rejection (Standing in Line at Rite Aid).”

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Roundup: We Are Family

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 and websites, centered on a certain theme to help you jump-start your week.

Summer is here, and it’s the perfect time for family picnics, family barbecues, family visits, family… Writers, needless to say, have a long history of being inspired by family in many glorious and terrible ways. Here are some insights to remember (and some families to compare to) when you find yourself sighing heavily at the umpteenth outing.

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The Books We Teach #2: Interview with Roxane Gay

The Books We Teach series will feature primary, secondary, and post-secondary educators and their thoughts about literature in the face of an evolving classroom. Posts will highlight literary innovations in teaching, contemporary literature’s place in pedagogy, and the books that writers teach. In the spirit of educational dynamism, we encourage readers to contribute their thoughts in the comments section.

roxanegayRoxane Gay’s novel, An Untamed State, will be published by Grove/Atlantic in 2014 and her essay collection, Bad Feminist, will be published by Harper Perennial, also in 2014. She is the author of Ayiti (Artistically Declined Press, 2011), co-editor of PANK, essays editor for The Rumpus, and contributing editor for Bluestem. Her writing has appeared in The Best American Short Stories 2012, Oxford American, The Wall Street Journal, The Indiana Review, and countless others. She also runs Tiny Hardcore Press. All the while, she is an assistant professor at Eastern Illinois University.

Ever generous, Roxane chatted with me about the works she teaches, why she teaches them, and how her students interact with the texts at hand.

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The Best Story I Read in a Lit Mag This Week: “My Parasite” by Gina Frangello

The thing about a well-developed setting is that in many ways it’s invisible: it’s hidden in a sentence that reveals a character’s flaw, it sits quietly beside an emotional truth, it’s the catalyst for a surprising behavior. Setting grounds us in a specific context so that we can believe and understand the narrative, but the writer doesn’t want us to stop and notice, to have to think: look, here we are.

You could argue that most successful elements of craft—not just setting—are also invisible, but stories set in the future, like Gina Frangello’s story “My Parasite,” published on The Rumpus on January 6 , run the risk of working too hard to show us how the time and place of the story is so different and removed from our present. When it comes to giving the reader a context when a story is set in a dystopian future, less is more. And Frangello? She nails it.

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