With no classwork to get in the way, summer can be one of the best times to get your creative writing juices simmering. Here are some books I am currently looking to for insight into doing this poetry-writing thing a little bit better.
1. The Monkey & the Wrench: Essays into Contemporary Poetics, co-edited by Mary Biddinger and John Gallaher, University of Akron Press, 2011.
At the 2013 West Chester University Poetry Conference, I read an essay from this book as part of my craft workshop. “The Moves: Common Maneuvers in Contemporary Poetry” by Elisa Gabbert calls out 21 common and identifiable “moves” used in contemporary poetry, of which we are all guilty. Like the lonelyheart in the bar, always trying the same lines on different mates and hoping that one will eventually believe them to be true. There is nothing inherently wrong with these “moves,” Gabbert tells us. But we should know when we’re using them and how and to what purpose, to make sure we’re not just using them to prop up bad poems with no substance behind them. I can’t wait to dig into the other essays in this collection.
2. The Book of Forms: A Handbook of Poetics, Including Odd and Invented Forms, Revised and Expanded Edition, by Lewis Putnam Turco, University Press of New England, 2011.
Lewis Turco was also an encounter from my time at West Chester. Although I missed his panel discussion, I made sure to pick up this book before leaving. I love a good reference book. And they are especially handy when you don’t have a helpful professor around to ask, “Hey, what’s a ghazal? How do I write one?” All in all, I feel that this is definitely a useful addition to my home library.
3. A Natural History of the Senses, by Diane Ackerman, Vintage Books, 1991.
This is a book I stumbled upon a few years ago, but I fell in love with it when I did. Diane Ackerman is a poet, as well as a writer of creative nonfiction. This book is broken down into sections dedicated to each of the five senses, including a sixth section about synesthesia–when the stimulation of one sense produces a reaction in another sense, such as smell producing the sensation of color or taste creating the sensation of sound. Reading this book will give you a deeper sense (excuse the pun) of the specific power your five senses have over your experiences and how to better apply these sensations to your own writing.
Literary House director Jehanne Dubrow is interviewed for the national series “The Poet and Poem” at the Library of Congress.
WASHINGTON, DC—Jehanne Dubrow, director of the Rose O’Neill Literary House at Washington College, is among the nationally prominent poets featured in the audio series “The Poet and Poem.” In the half-hour audio podcast, accessible now on the Library of Congress website and expected to air on public radio stations in early 2014, Dubrow reads from her collections and chats about her life and work with the show’s founder and host, Grace Cavalieri.
A resident of Chestertown, Dubrow teaches creative writing at the College as a member of the English faculty. She is the author of four poetry collections, including most recently Red Army Red and Stateside (Northwestern University Press, 2012 and 2010). Her first book, The Hardship Post (2009), won the Three Candles Press Open Book Award, and her second collection, From the Fever-World, won the Washington Writers’ Publishing House Poetry Competition (2009). Her poetry, creative nonfiction, and book reviews have appeared in The New Republic, Poetry, Ploughshares, The Hudson Review, Gulf Coast, Blackbird, Prairie Schooner, and American Life in Poetry, and on Poetry Daily and Verse Daily.
Cavalieri, herself a poet and author, first created the “Poet and Poem” program for public radio station WPFW in Washington, D.C. in 1977. In 1997 she moved it to the Library of Congress, where she still records the interviews today.
Literary House Summer Intern, Aileen Gray ‘14 reflects on her experience at the 19th annual West Chester University Poetry Conference with the Rose O’Neill Literary House.
Last week, Bond Richards ’13, Alex Stinton ’14, Julie Armstrong ’15, and I got to attend the West Chester University Poetry Conference with Professor Dubrow and Lindsay Lusby. The West Chester University Poetry Conference is the largest annual poetry conference in the nation, lasting for four days and including professional readings, scholarly panels, and writing workshops on various aspects of poetic form. Bond studied with author and professional critic William Logan, Alex learned about prosody and rhythm from author and professor Tom Cable, Julie explored her love of experimental forms with innovative poet Terri Witek, and I was able to explore my personal preference for story in a workshop on Narrative Poetry taught by David Mason.
When Professor Dubrow had invited me to attend the West Chester University Poetry Conference a few months ago, I agreed nervously, concerned that I would be out of place as a writer primarily of fiction rather than poetry. But I have to say I fit in just fine and my experience far exceeded the expectations I had had. As Lindsay put it, the Conference felt like “summer camp for grown-ups:” our time was divided between workshops and readings, we ate all of our meals together, and we lived together in the University’s dorms.
I am usually hard-pressed to pick a favorite anything, but of this experience I can narrow it down to two things. First of all, I had a great time getting to know Julie, Alex, and Bond. As the only college students in attendance, we spent nearly all of our time together, and the Conference was a lot of fun because of that.
And secondly, I loved my workshop on Narrative Poetry. As a writer of prose, I’ve generally shied away from writing poetry, but David Mason’s workshop has given me a way into the poetic form: blending story and verse. Really, Mason pointed out, “verse is the oldest form of story” and “most poems have a tendency toward narrative” anyway, whether explicitly or implicitly. Through the workshop, we not only worked on our own pieces but also examined published narrative poems, starting with a passage from The Odyssey and ending with a somewhat silly but completely delightful ballad by Charles Causley entitled “I saw a jolly hunter.” In each example, Mason showed how verse and story work together, and I discovered a new love for writing poetry. Julie said of her workshop that she “definitely left feeling inspired” and I have to say I did as well.
And speaking of feeling inspired, I had the chance to attend several panels and poetry readings. While some panels were not as good as others, the good ones were phenomenal. The Conference’s keynote speaker was Julia Alvarez who began her career with the novel How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents and has since written and published various novels and poetry collections, including Homecoming and The Other Side. A splendid reader, Julia Alvarez shared not only her poetry but also insight into the inspiration for her work and her writing process.
Overall, it was extremely encouraging (if also slightly overwhelming) to be surrounded by professional poets who have dedicated their lives to writing. I could not be more grateful for the generosity of the Rose O’Neill Literary House or for Professor Dubrow’s commitment to exposing students to the literary world beyond college. The West Chester University Poetry Conference was an amazing experience, and I am very glad to have shared it with Alex, Bond, and Julie.
As with most summers, I like to make a reading list for myself, to catch up on the many books that I should have read in high school and college, but never did. And this summer, I’ll be spending most of my time in the 19th century.
In my mind, there are about fifty books that people say you have to read in high school or college, but most people only get through half of them, if that. With so many new wonderful books being introduced to schools, as they should, some of the classics are being squeezed out due to time constraints, making it inevitable that we miss certain classics. To remedy this problem, every summer I try to catch up so I’m not that-person-working-at-the-Lit-House-who-has-not-read-The-Catcher-in-the-Rye, which happened to be on my list last summer, along with The Maltese Falcon, The Giver, and Ender’s Game.
First on the list this year is Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, written in 1899. This title has popped up a lot over the past few years as a book that a great many authors reference in their own work. I hate it when I don’t understand a reference in a book. The way this book came to me is from the a limited edition printing by the Chester River Press, which won the Carl Hertzog award in 2010. (I know most of you have never heard of the Carl Hertzog award, unless you are in printing or book design, in which case, it is a very big deal.) It is a beautiful edition that I have admired for years now. My copy of Heart of Darkness was acquired last year while browsing a used bookstore in Chicago. It has sat on my shelf ever since, but that is what good books do: wait to be read.
The next book on my list is The Last of the Mohicans, by James Fenimore Cooper, written in 1826. The idea to read this book came to me while reading another book this spring. In March, I went to the AWP Conference in Boston and attended an event with Téa Obreht on a panel with Rebecca Makkai, Alexi Zentner and Lauren Groff. From that panel I learned that I had to read The Monsters of Templeton, which several of my friends vehemently agreed. Like many things that go over my head and escape my knowledge, I had not realized that Lauren Groff actually came to Washington College in March 2008. Anyway, with out any spoilers, the book takes place in the fictional Templeton, NY (aka Cooperstown) and makes many references to James Fenimore Cooper and The Last of the Mohicans. I have seen the film a few times, but never read the book, which I was able to buy at the last Friends of the Kent County Public Library book sale this spring.
The final book, and perhaps the most interesting book on my list is The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling, which was first published in 1894. The fact that I haven’t read this book got to me this past spring when I read The Tiger’s Wife by Téa Obreht. (I was actually 3/4 of the way through the book when I saw her and Lauren Groff on the panel.) In the story, of which I’ll try not to give away any spoils, the main character’s grandfather always carries his own copy of The Jungle Book and has since he was a young boy growing up in the Balkans before World War II. At one point, a tiger, which has escaped from the zoo after the city was bombed, comes into her grandfather’s village. None of the villagers had ever seen a tiger and think that it is the devil. Armed with knowledge and the illustrations from Kipling’s book, her grandfather tries to help protect the tiger.
The book I’ll be reading is one I inherited from my father’s library. I’ve had the book for a few years and never really looked at it until I decided to read it this summer and write this article about it. When I picked it up off the shelf I handled it with extreme caution. (You can see pictures of my copy on the right). I opened it to the title page and was shocked to see a left-facing swastika with Rudyard Kipling’s signature beneath it.
In my head I knew that that symbol, which has since the 1930s come to represent hatred and oppression, once meant something else entirely different. With some quick research I learned that this ancient symbol once meant good luck and well-being to different people all over the world. I then learned that the backward swastika only appears in copies of Kipling’s book prior to the 1920’s. As the Nazi Party came to power, Kipling had his engraver remove the swastika from the printing block so he would not be mistaken as a sympathizer. It was not until after I read this that I looked more closely at the title page and realized that this book was printed in 1899. It is a little rough around the edges, but in relatively good shape. I won’t be taking it to the beach this summer. I have the last book in the Southern Vampire Mysteries for that.
Now with all my books ready, and since June and the summer heat are here, it is time to read.
Ariel Jicha ‘15 gives an interns’-eye-view of designing and editing the first-ever Sophie Kerr Prize Anthology.
As Literary House Press Intern, I had the pleasure of creating and editing the Sophie Kerr Prize Anthology, a collection of portfolio excerpts from winners and finalists from the class of 2011 and 2012. This Anthology is the first in a series of mini-anthologies slated to be published every two years and will highlight Sophie Kerr winners and finalists. It was exciting to collaborate on this project with the Lit House staff and to see the process unfold, beginning to end. I am grateful to everyone who gave me guidance and encouragement, especially Owen Bailey, Lindsay Lusby, and Dr. Dubrow.
Before this internship, I didn’t know the difference between serif and sans serif fonts, (Hint: serif fonts have the dangly bits on the ends). I’d never been commissioned to create something, and had little concept of proportions and measurements related to pagination. The Sophie Kerr Prize Anthology project has given me insight into the writing world and what it’s like to create under different constraints. At first, I was a little nervous to be working at The Rose O’Neill Literary House. I’d held the Lit House in high esteem since visiting as a prospective student; so much so that by the end of freshmen year the Lit House had been transformed in my mind from an old building into a lofty abstraction; a place where novice writers flocked and the mysterious Writing Life took place. With this in mind I applied for the Literary House Press Internship, simultaneously hoping to solve the enigma I’d created and to help the Lit House Press create a new tradition for future Sophie Kerr winners and finalists.
Despite my excitement, I still feared my creative skills were inadequate. Fortunately, I discovered two things, 1) the Lit House atmosphere is pretty much the opposite of the literary Devil-Wears-Prada internship I’d conjured in my head and 2) everyone had as much InDesign experience as I had (that is to say, none). The Lit House staff are some of the warmest people I’ve ever met. They are funny, easy-going, and above all, they’re passionate about writing and bringing great writers to campus to inspire and engage students through lectures, readings, and workshops. Dr. Dubrow, Lindsay Lusby, and Owen Bailey’s relentless patience and encouragement gave me confidence to expand my skill set as well as peace of mind on days when InDesign seemed particularly vexing.
Working at the Lit House gave me a sense of what the writing world is like outside of college. When I started in January, Professor Dubrow gave me a rough timeline for the project and I’ll admit, the task seemed daunting. I had to solicit portfolio pieces from eleven past winners and finalists, work with the application InDesign and create the book’s front cover. Soliciting work wasn’t hard, but InDesign and the front cover proved challenging. I learned how to make a book using InDesign without fully understanding the concepts of Bleed or Slug. These words still make me think of metal heads talking about a new band, not an editor carefully measuring margins and lines on a ‘Mac. The idea of a Master Page, or template, confused me for weeks until Alissa Vecchio (’13) offered her expertise—skills acquired from her work in the College Relations office.
This internship was a veritable “crash course” in the publishing process; I learned how to solicit work from writers, format using InDesign, and actually print book pages. As someone who takes a laid-back approach to, well, everything in life, the pressure to act now was a much-needed exercise in organization and time management. I learned that keeping up with emails and edits were necessary in order to meet deadlines…who knew?
Over spring break, I was invited to shadow Master Printer Jim Dissette as he printed the pages for a series of Mary Jo Salter books. I learned how to carefully hand-tint artwork on printed pages. Being part of the printing process; seeing each page come together with text and illustrations gave me a different perspective on writing and the key people who help bring a book to life so the final version of a writer’s work—the book itself—becomes a tangible, literary object for the reader to enjoy and for the author to find satisfaction in.
The capstone of my internship was attending the Sophie Kerr Prize ceremony at the Enoch Pratt Library in Baltimore. Between set up and break down for the event, I had the opportunity to experience the energy and excitement of those gathered as we listened to the contemplative and enriching words of presenter Michael Dirda, then cheered for the finalists Bond Richards, Maegan Clearwood, Emily Blackner, Jillian Obermeier, and the winner, Tim Marcin. On a table in the entranceway we had laid out pamphlets and newsletters from WAC along with copies of the first Sophie Kerr Prize Anthology, hot off the press. Realizing all the hours of editing, Photoshopping, InDesign-ing and margin measuring lay concrete before me, in the form of a book that people could actually purchase, brought my entire internship into focus. The slim paperback book is a tangible benchmark and affirmation for WAC’s talented writers.
What happened this year and what is happening this summer?
This was a year of firsts.
It was the first time that the Lit House hosted two themed semesters, beginning with the Jewish Voices Series in the fall and the Writing in Wartime Series in the spring.
In the fall, we brought four talented artists: Dylan Landis, a short story writer and author of the book Normal People Don’t Live Like This. Landis gave a great reading, and with her help, the Lit House was able to link itself to Kevin Bacon (you have to see our “Six Degrees of Francis Bacon” mural if you have not already done so) with only 3 degrees of separation:
1. In 2012, Dylan Landis came to the Lit House at Washington College;
2. in 2013, Dylan was the guest speaker at an event with actress Marin Ireland in Soho;
3. in 2013, Marin Ireland played a serial killer in the show The Following with Kevin Bacon.
Then came novelist Anna Solomon, who, together with singer/songwriter Clare Burson, gave a wonderful performance that combined both of their crafts, telling the story of Solomon’s main character from her novel The Little Bride matched with Burson’s music. We closed out the semester with poet Idra Novey who shared with us her award-winning poetry from her new collection Exit Civilian. The Lit House also ran into Novey at the AWP Conference in Boston this past spring.
Speaking of spring, this past semester we were visited by four more artists. Beginning with Siobhan Fallon, author of the bestselling short story collection You Know When the Men Are Gone, who told us about what it is like to live on an army base with the spouses of other members of the military, telling us stories about the other side of war. Next we heard from Washington College professor Ryan Kelty, who shared with us his research that examines the effects of war regarding civilian contractors, integration of military personnel, diversity in the military, and the role of military service across the life course. Then came the 2013 Douglass Wallop Playwright Fellow, KJ Sanchez. For five days KJ was on campus, meeting with drama students and talking to them about their craft. While here, KJ led two events: one, a craft talk on her documentarian approach to constructing a play; the second, a student performance of and a discussion on ReEntry, a play that was created from interviews with veterans to share their stories and experiences. Finally, we ended the semester with Anthony Swofford, whose book Jarhead: A Marine’s Chronicle of the Gulf War and Other Battles was a best-selling memoir that was made into a film in 2005.
And we cannot forget the mini series from the early part of the fall semester titled, ‘On the Writing Life.’ This series featured alumni Michael Duck, editor of Crunchable an online literary magazine, The Faculty Books Reception, as well as Idiots’ Books Presents with Robbi Behr and Matthew Swanson.
Moving on from our events and going back to last summer, the Lit House has welcomed some new faces.
First and foremost is Lindsay Lusby ‘08, the Literary House Assistant Director who began working back in September, making a wonderful addition to the staff. Having been a regular at the Lit House and the print shop as an undergraduate, she brings great artistic talent, experience with letterpress, and a deep love of books. She is also another tea drinker. which means I’m not the only one who doesn’t drink coffee.
During this year the Lit House has made many more beautiful broadsides thanks to the experience of Master Printer Mike Kaylor. These new broadsides as well as our old broadsides can be found on the Literary House Press website. This year’s broadsides include the work of Dylan Landis, Idra Novey, Beth Bachmann (to commemorate the 2013 AWP Conference in Boston), and Anthony Swofford. We have more planned for next year so stay tuned to our blog to see when they come out.
And speaking of letterpress, this year the Literary House Press has printed a new collection of poetry by Mary Jo Salter from Johns Hopkins University. The collection is called Lost Originals, and believe me when I say that this book involved much time, patience, and rich talent from many different artists. Beginning with LHP series editor Jehanne Dubrow and assistant editor Lindsay Lusby, who managed the project, bringing the different parties together. Washington College alumni and 1971 Sophie Kerr Winner Jim Dissette led the printing project with assistance from Literary House Press Intern Ariel Jicha ‘15. To help with the project, Lindsay Lusby solicited the work of Abigail Rorer of The Lone Oak Press. Abigail is an award-winning engraver from Massachusetts whose work can be found here. Once the pages were complete and collated, they were shipped to Campbell-Logan Bindery in Minneapolis. The Lit House will be hosting an official Literary House Press book launch when Mary Jo Salter comes to campus on October 8th.
Last summer the Lit House took on the task of switching the College’s yearbook, The Pegasus, to an online format. To lead the way, the Lit House hired two students to be the new Media Interns who over the course of 8 weeks completed the 2011 – 2012 yearbook. For the 2012 – 2013 yearbook, Lit House tried a new approach, hiring Media Interns Becky Winterburn ‘13 and Jeremy Quintin ’14 to work on The Pegasus throughout the school year thus spreading out the work on a more manageable scale. The yearbook was completed by the end of this past May and is now up and running.
The Lit House also began a new internship this past spring. The Literary House Press Internship was designed to help with the creation of the new Sophie Kerr Prize Anthology. Ariel Jicha ’15 spent the spring semester contacting the finalists and winners from the past two years, soliciting from them excerpts that would go into the anthology. She also contacted Laura Maylene Walter, Sophie Kerr Prize winner from 2003, who was asked to write the introduction to the Anthology. She did and the Anthology came out splendidly. It is for sale at the Literary House Press Website. The Anthology was also completed in time for the 2013 Sophie Kerr Prize Event, which was held at the Enoch Pratt Library in Baltimore, MD. The Sophie Kerr Prize Anthology series will issue a new edition every two years.
And speaking of literary prizes, this past year the Lit House offered two new prizes to go along with the William W. Warner Prize for creative writing on nature and the environment. The first Jude and Miriam Pfister Poetry Prize was awarded to Reilly Cox ‘16 for his poem “Bibles Printed on Old Girlie Magazines.” Parker Macintosh ‘13 was awarded the first Literary House Genre Fiction Prize for his short story, “A Voice in the Dark.”
It was a great year at the Lit House and we would like to thank everyone that made it possible. As we prepare for the next two Summer Poetry Salons we invite you to follow the series of events we have lined up for 2013 – 2014.
Have a great summer,
The Lit House Staff
Get ready for the 2013 Summer Poetry Salons at the Rose O’Neill Literary House!
If you are asking yourself ‘what is a poetry salon,’ we would quote the Poetry Center at West Chester University and say that,
“A salon is an informal event hosted by a member of the community. The host invites friends, family, neighbors, and colleagues to enjoy a few hours of good food, lively conversation, and a poetry reading in a home or other location. This up close and personal interaction with a published poet exposes guests to the way poetry was meant to be shared—read aloud.”
The Literary House hosted its first salon last July with poet/memoirist Sandra Beasley, Cave Canem Fellow Kevin Vaughn and the Pam Ortiz Band. The event was a success and we hope to replicate that success this summer as we host a trio of salons, which begins next Tuesday, May 28 at 4:30 p.m.
For our first salon we have invited poets Michelle Chan Brown and Ryan Teitman, and we will also have a musical performance by Chester River Runoff. The event kicks off at 4:30 p.m. and we will be serving wine, snacks, and other yummy treats.
On Tuesday, June 25, we will have our second salon with this year’s Cave Canem Fellow, Yona Harvey, who will be on campus for the entire month of June. Poet Steve Kistulentz and local musicians Sleeper Cell will join her and we will again be serving wine, snacks and yummy treats.
Our third salon will be held on Tuesday, July 23 with our final gathering of poets and musicians. There you can hear the poetry of Elana Bell, Sarah Arvio and a Classical Violin Duet performance by Nevin Dawson and Merideth Buxton.
For more information on all three Salons, please visit the Rose O’Neill Literary House website and find more information about our guests online.
Hope to see you there,
Lit House Staff
Carnegie-Mellon English professor Yona Harvey will be in Chestertown the month of June for the Cave Canem Summer Residency at the Rose O’Neill Literary House.
CHESTERTOWN, MD— The Rose O’Neill Literary House at Washington College welcomes its 2013 Cave Canem fellow, Yona Harvey, to Chestertown for a month-long writer’s residency beginning June 1.
While most of her time will be spent working on her own writing projects and quietly exploring the town, Harvey also will be a part of the Lit House’s second of three Summer Poetry Salons on Tuesday, June 25 at 4:30 p.m., when she will share the stage with poet Steve Kistulentz and local band Sleeper Cell.
Yona Harvey lives in Pittsburgh, Pa., where she serves on the English faculty of Carnegie-Mellon University. She is the author of the poetry collection Hemming the Water (Four Way Books, 2013) and the recipient of an Individual Artist Grant from The Pittsburgh Foundation. Her poems can be found in jubilat, Gulf Coast, Callaloo, West Branch, and various journals and anthologies including A Poet’s Craft: A Comprehensive Guide to Making and Sharing Your Poetry (Ed. Annie Finch). She lives with her husband and two children not far from where jazz pianist and composer Mary Lou Williams grew up. Williams married the spiritual to the secular in her music, and is a regular muse in Yona’s writing.
The Cave Canem Summer Residency at The Rose O’Neill Literary House is a partnership with Cave Canem, whose mission is to serve as “a home for the many voices of African American poetry” and to “cultivate the artistic and professional growth of African American poets.” The Washington College Cave Canem Summer Residency is a month-long Chestertown retreat offered annually to one outstanding former Cave Canem Fellow. Previous Summer Residents include poets Kevin Vaughn in 2012 and Arisa White in 2011.
Introducing the first edition of the Sophie Kerr Prize Anthology
This year, The Literary House Press published the first edition of The Sophie Kerr Prize Anthology to commemorate the 2013 Prize Event.
With a forward by Laura Maylene Walter, this anthology contains the works of the 2011 Finalists: Maggie Farrell, Lisa Jones, Dan McCloskey, Insley Smullen, and Joe Yates; and, the 2012 Finalists: Natalie Butz, Doug Carter, Kathryn Manion, Maria Queen and Erica Walburg.
If you would like to buy a copy of this anthology, please visit the Literary House Press website.
Addressing the finalists for the 2013 Sophie Kerr Prize, the Pulitzer Prize-winning book columnist for the Washington Post advised them to be resilient and to remember, “Safety Last.”
Dirda was the keynote speaker at a special event at Baltimore’s Enoch Pratt Free Library on the evening of May 14.
The Sophie Kerr Prize is awarded annually to the graduating Washington College senior judged to show the most literary ability and promise and is based on portfolios submitted by the students. This year’s winner received a check for $61,192.
Mr. Dirda’s remarks:
Let me begin with some words of consolation. One of you will be the happy recipient of the Sophie Kerr Prize, worth—as we know—a considerable amount of money. But the other four here tonight will need to hold back their tears and put on a brave smile. It will make little difference to hear, as you may, that the choice of this year’s Sophie Kerr winner was a difficult decision. In fact, it will make it seem worse. That little voice in your head will cry out: If only I’d tried a little harder, had run that last paragraph through my typewriter—to use an old-fashioned metaphor—one more time.
No, you will feel heartbroken for a while. But, if you are meaning to pursue a literary career, it’s best to get used to that feeling right away. The great French writer Colette—author of Gigi, Cheri and many other books—once said that to be a writer was to take on a vocation of unhappiness.
While there may be occasional successes, occasional prizes and recognitions, there will also be books that don’t quite work out and that you have to scrap after six months’ labor, books that critics pan, or even worse, praise with wan, faint praise, books that no publisher wants, books that don’t sell and then disappear, seemingly forever.
As the great American sports writer Red Smith used to say: Writing is easy. You just sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.
When I was in high school, the graduating class awarded Senior Superlatives. Seniors were voted most intelligent, best looking, most athletic, best all around etc etc. As it happens, I was short-listed for several of these, ahem, honors and won none of them. It was then that one of my more waggish friends dubbed me Most Likely to Just Miss Succeeding.
That’s how writing often feels.
Meanwhile, as a writer, you pour your heart out, using every element of writing craft and cunning that you know, while you are probably having to pay the bills by waitressing or teaching or borrowing from your long-suffering and indulgent parents. What’s more, people see you sitting around all day and assume you are doing nothing. It’s always tempting, moreover, to prove them right: Why not play video games for a couple of hours? Or have a beer? Or go thrift-shopping for designer shoes? Ezra Pound once said that more poets fail through lack of character than for any other reason.
To be a writer you have to love sitting in a chair for hours on end while putting words down on paper or on a screen and then fiddling with them. Why would you do this? Because, regardless of how good a writer you actually may or may not be, only writing seems to satisfy your soul, only writing makes you, in some sense, happy. And I don’t mean the joy in having written, but the writing itself. One of the great benefits of being a journalist lies in knowing that you will always, every day or at least every week, be expected to sit down to write something. After more than 35 years of reviewing books, I still feel—when I start typing the title of the latest work I’m reviewing—a deep, deep peace. I am where I’m supposed to be.
A story: I come from a working-class background and was always a rather cavalier student in a high school famous only for its high level of juvenile delinquency. I received a D in English in the first grading period of my senior year. But I did love to read.
A quick digression: I’m presuming that your teachers and your own inclinations have made clear that reading a lot and reading widely is the best preparation for a writing life? End of digresson.
Besides liking to read, I scored phenomenally well on standardized tests. So I wrote a letter to nearby Oberlin College and told them that if they gave me a scholarship I’d work really, really hard and they would be proud of me one day.
Well, the admissions officer bought my argument and I worked hard and eventually did do well in the eyes of many. But my father always judged me a failure. If I was so smart, why wasn’t I really rich, with a Cadillac and a house on a hill with a swimming pool? No matter what I said to him about my job, he couldn’t take writing book reviews seriously; it didn’t seem like proper work for a grown man. He, himself, never read any books. Well, I decided to win the Pulitzer Prize in criticism to impress him—he’d heard of that. In 1993 I finally did win, after losing for three years in a row, but by then he’d been dead from cancer for six months.
That too is part of the writing life, of life in general. The rewards or the recognitions will come eventually, if you persist. But they almost never come at the right time, when you most want and need them. They arrive when you are nearly, if not quite, indifferent to them.
Others are indifferent to them too. My mother, who is now 90, believes in the balance, the tao of the universe. If something good happens to you or your family, that means something bad will soon balance it out. Yin and Yang. So I called my mom up 20 years ago and said “Mom, Mom, I won the Pulitzer Prize.” Long pause on the phone and then she said: “Well, guess there’s no point in going to bingo tonight.”
I don’t generally like to give advice, but, appropriately enough, I do like stories. To me the two best pieces of advice for young writers both come from great musicians. One is a story told about Jascha Heifetz or some other violin virtuoso. There was a boy, a young man, who had been taking violin lessons for years and felt he had the makings of a concert career. One day Heifetz performed in his town and the master was persuaded to listen to the young man play. At the end of the session, Heifetz looked up and said, “I’m sorry, but you will never be a violinist.”
The young man was crushed. He gave up playing and went off and got an MBA and entered business and made a fortune. Twenty-five years later, Heifetz came again to his town and again the man, now middle aged, requested a private audience. This time he spoke to the musician, “Twenty five years ago you told me I’d never be a violinist. You broke my heart.” Heifetz looked into his eyes and said, “If you truly had it in you to be a violinist, if you really wanted that life more than any other, nothing I said would have made any difference.”
That’s the first story. Here’s the second. The great pianist Artur Schnabel is revered as arguably the greatest performer of Beethoven’s sonatas of all time. And yet if you listen to his records you will hear, as his fingers go machine-gunning through the Hammerklavier sonata or some of the others, an occasional mistake, a wrong note, a missed key. An admirer once asked Schnabel why he didn’t play more perfectly, with a little more caution and restraint. To which the maestro replied bluntly: “Safety last.” It was only by pushing himself, by risking failure and making the occasional mistake that he could achieve the magnificence of his greatest performances.
To the winner of this year’s Sophie Kerr prize, whomever it may be, I’d like to add a burden to the happiness and joy of today. People believe that you have gifts, talent, possible greatness. You have an obligation to justify that belief. It doesn’t matter if you fail, if nobody ever hears of you or your writing again. Right now you need to try and try hard. You have taken money from four others who have dreamt of what that it could do to foster their own careers. You need to be worthy of them.
And to you four others: I know how you feel. I’ve sat where you have and longed to hear my name announced and it wasn’t. Just this month I was one of four finalists for the Marfield Prize, a national arts award worth $10,000. They called another name. But, as my mother would say, if you don’t play, you can’t win.
By that I mean that you may have lost today but you never know about the future. Consider this: “Why I Live at the P.O”—one of Eudora Welty’s greatest and most famous stories—was rejected by the New Yorker, Collier’s, Harper’s Bazaar, Mademoiselle, Harper’s Magazine, and even Good Housekeeping. At the famous Bread Loaf Writer’s Workshop, “the unanimous opinion was that nobody would ever buy” her equally famous story “Powerhouse.” As you probably know, before her death Eudora Welty was the first living writer to see her work published in the Library of America. May all of you here this evening come to write as badly as Miss Welty.
To help get to know the five Sophie Kerr Finalist of 2013, we asked them to answer four questions and here is what they wrote.
1) First, would you tell us a little bit about your writing? What do you like to write and where do you draw your inspiration?
2) What was the first book you read and loved?
3) What writer, living or dead, would you like to have a cup of coffee with?
4) What is your favorite word and why?
Emily Blackner1) I like to write personal narratives that connect my experiences with those of the larger world and other people in it, or explain why I care about an issue, and fiction pieces that delve into the ways people can help and inspire each other in interesting ways. I also do journalism, to keep people abreast of what’s happening in the world around them. I’m inspired by little things like people smiling in a hallway or stooping to pick up someone’s fallen keys, but also by the opposites- cynicism is a big one, but also intolerance or bitterness. I write to try to counteract those negative traits which are all too present in today’s world.
2) The funny answer: Little Bear, which my mother would read to me every night as a very small child. One night I got it in my mind that I wanted to read it for myself, in spite of being too young to really know what I was doing. So I kept her up for hours pointing at each word individually trying to figure it out until she told me what it was.
Otherwise, the first one I remember is Watership Down, which I read in middle school. I had no idea the lives of rabbits could be so enthralling. I liked Fiver the seer and Hazel the main character the best, but it was the first book in which the villain, General Woundwort, was very interesting as well. I would sit for hours re-reading the book and then imagining other adventures for the characters to get into.
3) I would love to meet Maya Angelou. She has had such a fascinating life, traveling all over the world, being immersed in politics, theater, and all kinds of history, so we’d have a lot to talk about. She has overcome so much, and I think she’s inspiring. I’d love to be able to tell her that.
4) I really like “penultimate.” It has a very specific meaning, so it isn’t used very often, and I that’s part of why I love to do so. I personally find it fun to say, and I can’t really pinpoint why; it rolls off my tongue in a way that, reading it on the page, it doesn’t seem like it would.
1) I draw inspiration from the people around me. I’m always amazed by how many talented and unique individuals surround me, especially in such a quiet area like the Eastern Shore. I think that everyone, no matter how famous or successful, has a story to tell, and all of those stories have messages behind them. I love telling those stories, and journalism and creative nonfiction give me the freedom to do just that.
2) I read “A Little Princess” by Frances Hodgoson Burnett dozens of times in elementary school, and it was probably the first book that I didn’t just love, but obsessed over. When I reread it now, I recognize how sappy and melodramatic it is – I just can’t help myself.
3) Margaret Fuller. She was one of the first American feminists and successful female journalists, someone who is woefully underappreciated in the course of history, I think. She was friends with all the transcendentalists and was a pretty eccentric character. I would love to pick her brain.
4) Disremember. I discovered this word in Dr. Knight’s Toni Morrison Class while we studied “Beloved.” It’s a more active form of forgetting, a really useful and poetic term.
1) I enjoy writing in a lot of different forms, but usually in the same voice, one that jumps between the informal and the lyrical. I draw inspiration from other writers like Hemingway, Salinger or Nick Flynn (some of my favorites). I also draw inspiration from events in my own life and other various sources like songs or news reports.
2) The first book I truly read and loved was To Kill A Mockingbird, which I read for a class with a really great teacher who helped us discover what was really going on in the story.
3) I would probably want to have a cup of coffee with Hemingway. He always wrote about cafes, so he would definitely be a good person to hang out with over coffee.
4) My favorite word is probably “the” because it is the most used and it would be really hard to write anything without it.
1) My writing is purely academic; I submitted only critical essays, and while that sounds pretty dry compared to creative writing I do really enjoy writing it. I think of it as just a different kind of creativity: coming up with an interesting, new, and challenging argument to take on a book that has been read and discussed in different ways for tens or even hundreds of years.
2) The first books I can remember really being obsessed with were the Nancy Drew books by Carolyn Keene. In fact, when I applied to Washington College I had to write an essay about “my hero,” and I chose to write about Nancy Drew; she’s smart, adventurous, and drives a mustang, what more could a girl want?
3) I think it would be amazing to be able to have a conversation with Victor Hugo. He lived through almost the entire 19th century in France, which was a crazy time, and I think it would be great not only to hear more about his books and poetry, but about what it was like going through all of the changes that the century saw. I would also feel very accomplished if he was able to understand any of my French.
4) Cupcake. I don’t think I really need to explain why…
1) I usually end up writing about people who simply can’t seem to figure out what it is that’s causing them their problems. I try to make it complicated for them, which makes it complicated for me, so that usually, by the end, the resolution, if there is one, looks just as uncomfortable to me as it does to them. It’s not always like this, though. Sometimes it’s way less conscious.
And it’s the same thing when I write poems—let’s complicate a situation and see if anything interesting comes out that sort of strings it all together, thematically or whatever. With poems, I generally start with an image or a phrase that looks good on paper and then have pretend faith that something meaningful is actually sitting there behind it. I’ve found that usually, with enough remodeling, primary images do have something worth pulling from them.
2) I don’t remember the first book I ever read. The first book I recall really internalizing was Dr. Seuss’s Oh the Places You Go. I had it memorized, completely, from cover to cover. My dad would read it to me before bed. I really only cared about the illustrations and the rhythms of the words, realizing later that it’s a truly great, moral story. The first book to show me that fiction could actually change a person was David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, which crushed me just as much as it built me up. He’s the reason for a lot of nervous second-guessing among today’s crop of young writers. Which I think is good. Keeps one honest.
3) I get the sense that Cormac McCarthy is pleasant. Why not.
4) Twerk. It’s slang for working one’s body, namely the rear, during any loose or unstructured dance number. The physicality of the act gets conveyed in the word, I think, rather nicely.
At the 2013 Senior Reading, the Rose O’Neill Literary House announced this year’s winners of three annual student creative writing prizes: The Literary House Genre Fiction Prize, The William W. Warner Prize for Creative Writing on Nature and the Environment, and The Jude & Miriam Pfister Poetry Prize.
The Literary House Genre Fiction Prize is a brand-new prize awarded to a Washington College undergraduate for the best work of science fiction, fantasy, mystery, or horror. The winner receives a cash prize of $500. This year’s prize was awarded to senior Parker McIntosh for his short story, “A Voice in the Dark.”
The William W. Warner Prize is awarded to the Washington College undergraduate who shows the greatest aptitude for writing about nature and the environment. This prize is named for, and was endowed in the honor of, William W. Warner, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning book Beautiful Swimmers: Watermen, Crabs and the Chesapeake Bay, based on his experiences living and working among crab fishermen on the Chesapeake. According to Mr. Warner’s wishes, the judges will give preference to—but will in no way limit their consideration to—students who write about the natural history of our Atlantic Littoral, from the Canadian Arctic to the Gulf of Florida. The winner receives a cash prize of $1,000. This year’s Warner Prize was awarded to senior Nina Sharp for her personal essay, “My Brother, the Indigo Bunting.”
The Jude & Miriam Pfister Poetry Prize is also brand-new this year. It was created through the Academy of American Poets, one of the nation’s most influential poetry organizations, and is administered through the Washington College Department of English and the Rose O’Neill Literary House. The prize is awarded to a Washington College undergraduate for a single poem and the winner receives a cash prize of $100 and a certificate from the Academy of American Poets. This year’s Pfister Poetry Prize was awarded to first-year Reilly Cox for his poem “Bibles Printed on Old Girlie Magazines.”
We offer our most sincere congratulations to this year’s prize winners for their fine writing!
Announcing the winners of The Literary House Genre Fiction Prize, The William W. Warner Prize for Creative Writing on Nature and the Environment, and The Jude & Miriam Pfister Poetry Prize from the Academy of American Poets.
On Tuesday, April 30th the Rose O’Neill Literary House will host its final literary event of the 2012 - 2013 academic year. The Senior Reading has been a long standing tradition at Washington College, dating back to the 1970s before there was a Rose O’Neill Literary House. In fact, one of the first students to participate in the Senior Reading was English Department Professor Kathy Wagner, we have the poster for proof.
On the walls of the Literary House are many volumes of framed posters with the names of the dozens, and now even hundreds, of students who took the opportunity to read their poems and prose to their peers and professors.
A lot of writing talent has come to the Literary House, and in most years the eventual winner of the Sophie Kerr Prize has participated in the Senior Reading. This list includes Brandon Hopkins ‘97, Stephanie Fowler ‘01, Tanya Allen ‘94, Doug Rose ‘86, Katie Degentesh ‘95, Peter Turchi ‘82, Art Bilodeau ‘78, Dean Herbert ‘88, Emma Sovich ‘08, Norman Prentiss ‘84, Liam Daley ‘07, Sarah Blackman ‘02 and last year’s winner Katie Manion. It will be interesting to see if this year will stay true to this statement.
One difference for this year’s Senior Reading, in addition to announcing the winner of The William W. Warner Prize, is the announcement of the winners of two new prizes, The Jude & Miriam Pfister Poetry Prize from the Academy of American Poets and The Literary House Genre Fiction Prize. All three prizes are given annually. For more information, please visit the Student Opportunities page on the Literary House website.
Please come out for the announcement of the these three prize winners and to support our seniors before they graduate next month.
Best of luck everyone …
The Rose O’Neill Literary House has named the winner of the 2014 Mary Wood Fellowship, poet Shara Lessley.
In April 2014, we will host poet Shara Lessley for a week-long residency as our 2014 Mary Wood Fellow. This is the first year we opened up the Mary Wood Fellowship as a nationwide competition and Shara was selected from a pool of more than 30 outstanding applicants. As part of her duties while in-residence, Shara will hold one-on-one meetings with a select group of female student-poets. She will also participate in two public events, giving a craft talk and a reading from her poetry.
A former Stegner Fellow at Stanford, Shara Lessley is the author of Two-Headed Nightingale (New Issues 2012). Her awards include an Artist Fellowship from the State of North Carolina, the Diane Middlebrook Poetry Fellowship from the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing, Colgate University’s O’Connor Fellowship, The Gilman School’s Tickner Fellowship, and a “Discovery” / The Nation prize. Shara’s poems have appeared in Ploughshares, The Kenyon Review, The Southern Review, The Missouri Review, and New England Review, among others. A recent resident of the Middle East, Shara is completing a new collection titled The Explosive Expert’s Wife.
The Mary Wood Fellowship at The Rose O’Neill Literary House is awarded biennially to an emerging female writer—in poetry, fiction, or creative nonfiction—who has published one book. The Fellowship enables female creative writing students at Washington College to work with and learn from successful female writers like Laura van den Berg, Hannah Tinti, and Irina Reyn, who spend five days on campus. Eastern Shore author Mary Wood, whose support makes the fellowship possible, is a ’68 graduate of the College and a former member of its Board of Visitors and Governors.
The Rose O’Neill Literary House has named the winner of the 2013 Cave Canem Summer Residency, Yona Harvey.
In June 2013, the Rose O’Neill Literary House will welcome Yona Harvey to Chestertown for a month-long writer’s retreat. Yona was selected from this year’s pool of applicants as the winner of the Literary House’s 2013 Cave Canem Summer Residency.
While most of her time will be spent working on her own writing projects and quietly exploring the town, Yona will also be a part of our second Summer Poetry Salon on Tuesday, June 25 at 4:30PM, sharing the stage with poet Steve Kistulentz and local band Sleeper Cell.
Yona Harvey lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where she is on the faculty of Carnegie-Mellon University in the Department of English. She is the author of the poetry collection, Hemming the Water (Four Way Books, 2013), and the recipient of an Individual Artist Grant from The Pittsburgh Foundation. Her poems can be found in jubilat, Gulf Coast, Callaloo, West Branch, and various journals and anthologies, including A Poet’s Craft: A Comprehensive Guide to Making and Sharing Your Poetry (Ed. Annie Finch). She lives with her husband and two children not far from where jazz pianist and composer Mary Lou Williams grew up. Williams married the spiritual to the secular in her music, and is a regular muse in Yona’s writing.
The Cave Canem Summer Residency at The Rose O’Neill Literary House is a partnership with Cave Canem, the nation’s preeminent organization for young African American poets. Cave Canem’s mission is to serve as “a home for the many voices of African American poetry and is committed to cultivating the artistic and professional growth of African American poets.” Our Cave Canem Summer Residency is a month-long Chestertown retreat offered annually to one outstanding former Cave Canem Fellow. Previous Summer Residents include poets Kevin Vaughn in 2012 and Arisa White in 2011.
The first in a new letterpress broadside series from Literary House Press features Beth Bachmann’s poem, “(why your room has a door).”
Exactly a year ago, in April 2012, we contacted Ladette Randolph, the Editor-in-Chief of Ploughshares. We had an idea: to create a commemorative, limited-edition broadside series in honor of the annual AWP Conference. The broadside would feature a poem first published in a literary journal connected to the Conference’s host city. In 2013, the AWP Conference was scheduled to be held in Boston; Ploughshares—with its more than forty-year Bostonian connection—seemed like the ideal literary journal to feature in this inaugural broadside.
Literary House Press had published handmade letterpress broadsides for more than 20 years, celebrating work by visiting authors such as Ted Kooser, Natasha Trethewey, and Daniel Handler, among others, the new AWP broadside series would allow the Rose O’Neill Literary House to collaborate with the best literary journals and magazines around the country.While the
Happily, Ladette really liked the idea, and the project was soon under way. The Literary House Press selected Beth Bachmann’s “(why your room has a door),” which first appeared in Ploughshares Volume 38/1 (spring 2012), an issue that was guest-edited by Nick Flynn.
Then, the design work began. The unusual layout of Beth Bachmann’s poem shaped our thinking about how text should interact with image. The poem is only seven-lines-long but double-spaced with frequent caesuras punctuating the sentences. The poem’s lines have an elastic quality on the page that mimics the speaker’s unsettled emotional state. The speaker addresses an invisible “you,” using language that feels both elusive and allusive, hesitant as if she cannot address trauma directly.
In thinking about a decorative element that might accompany the poem, we looked to those places in the text where the language evoked the most powerful images. After spending many hours with Bachmann’s words, it became clear that this was the line which seemed to sum up the poem’s narrative most fully: “Soldier, you make my body a map” (3). The poem’s references to “shore,” “ocean,” and “water” helped to clarify the kind of image we might use. After several brainstorming sessions, we eventually settled on the idea of incorporating the outlines of a topographic map to define the poem’s right-hand margin (or its shoreline).
We used Adobe InDesign to lay out the text and then construct an imaginary topographical ocean system that hugged the edge of the poem. The poem was set in Palatino Linotype, a typeface that gestures toward the lettering of older nautical maps while remaining modern enough to reflect the contemporary voice of Bachmann’s work.
The image and text were then converted to a PDF and sent to Boxcar Press, a small business that produces photopolymer plates from digital files. Polymer plates are a modernized form of the older technology—metal plates, metal typefaces—employed in letterpress printing.
We used a heavier stock mouldmade paper of 100% cotton, in a cream that was evocative of antique maps. The paper is described as being “lightly textured” with a nice density that allows for a deep impression when run through the press.
At the Literary House, we generally use our Vandercook 4 Proof Press for bigger projects. The Vandercook’s ink drum and rollers are motorized, but the platen is hand-cranked allowing the printer to control the rhythm of the process. We are lucky to have a genuine Master Printer on staff, Mike Kaylor, who has a national reputation for his impeccable and precise work.
Mike printed the broadside in a run of 100. He worked with two shades of blue, a near-black for the poem’s text and colophon and a slightly lighter blue for the image. When a broadside contains more than one color, the printer must ink, print, and clean the press before applying the second hue. A printer must work carefully to align the text and image, which often requires minute calculations and a series of trials and errors.
While the conception and design of the broadside took many weeks, the printing was done in two days. Now, the broadsides have been wrapped and wrapped in plastic and bubbles. They will accompany us to the AWP Conference in Boston, from car to train and car again, where they will be signed by Beth. We debuted these limited-edition broadsides at the Rose O’Neill Literary House table in one of the AWP book halls. The broadsides are now for sale on our website.
It has been a tremendous honor and pleasure to work with Ploughshares and with Beth Bachmann on this project. We hope this will be the first of many literary collaborations between the Literary House Press and some of the country’s finest journals and magazines.
– Jehanne Dubrow & Lindsay Lusby
We are already planning our 2014 AWP Commemorative Broadside, the second in our new letterpress broadside series. This next broadside will be a collaboration with Washington’s Willow Springs and will debut at 2014 AWP Conference in Seattle.
During the Spring of 2013, the Literary House staff, with the skills and talent of Sophie Kerr Winner Jim Dissette ’71 and artist Abigail Rorer, began assembling a fine press chapbook, a brief collection of poems by Mary Jo Salter.
The purpose of the Literary House Press is to connect the Washington College community with the larger literary world. With its newest letterpress book project, the Literary House Press celebrates the poetry of Mary Jo Salter. This chapbook, Lost Originals, is a series of elegies, beginning in the present day and going back through history to Ancient Egypt.
A poet, editor, essayist, playwright, and lyricist, Mary Jo Salter was born in Grand Rapids, Michigan and grew up both in Michigan and in Maryland. She earned degrees from Harvard and Cambridge Universities and is a former editor at Atlantic Monthly, poetry editor at the New Republic, and co-editor of the fourth and fifth editions of the Norton Anthology of Poetry. She is currently teaching at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, where she is Chair of the Writing Seminars program in the School of Arts and Sciences.
“Salter’s thorough understanding of poetic tradition is clearly evident in her work … Often marrying domestic concerns to exotic locales, Salter’s most acclaimed poems are at once formally inventive and speak to her experiences in foreign cultures, including Iceland, Italy, Japan, France, and England.” ~ The Poetry Foundation
Part of the project was also bringing to the pages the beautiful work of artist Abigail Rorer. Known for her imaginative and meticulous engravings, Rorer somehow carves the most delicate images in one of the toughest of mediums, Corian. That’s right, the same hard-as-stone material used for kitchen countertops. You know it’s tough when the artist herself says in a letter, “With Corian, you can bash the hell out of it if you want - it won’t hurt it.” We did take nice care of her work, but it’s good to know when working with something that is so beautiful and appears so fragile.
Abigail Rorer, a graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design, is the proprietor of the Lone Oak Press in Petersham, Massachusetts, which has been in operation since 1989. She was contacted by Literary House Assistant Director, Lindsay Lusby, who saw her work at the nearby Oak Knoll Fest XVII in October 2012 and fell in love with her long-sold-out book of Lewis Carroll-like, imaginary (and sometimes carnivorous) plants, Mimpish Squinnies.
After reading the chapbook manuscript, Rorer began to generate some ideas for possible illustrations, the problem was finding the right one. But in a few short weeks, over the holidays no less, both parties agreed on the image of an unfolding purple iris for the frontispiece, an image that evokes the subtle sense of mingled loss and beauty present in Salter’s poems. For the decorative motif, we decided on an Ancient Egyptian harpist, mentioned in the last poem of the book.
The images were made with a technique called relief engraving, which can best be described as removing material from a flat plane so that the image appears to rise out of the surface. This type of engraving is perfect for incorporation in letterpress printing, our specialty here at the Literary House Press. The tricky part, aside from engraving in such a tough material, is getting the height just right. Too low, the image won’t print, too high and it will press too hard into the paper.
“My lines are extremely fine and some printers find it a little difficult to print them because of that. The key is to get the ink to just kiss the block and not fill in the lines.”
Thanks to the skills and sleight of hand of Jim Dissette, the image came out beautifully. Although we know his name in connection to his literary achievements while a student at Washington College, Dissette is also a journeyman letterpress printer and professional book designer. His recent work on a lush reprinting of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, a joint effort of Chester River Press and Deep Wood Press, earned the book and its publishers the 2010 Carl Hertzog Award for Excellence in Book Design. With Dissette’s award-winning talent for book design, this whole project is brought elegantly together.
Next, the finished and folded pages will be sent out to be hand-bound at a bookbindery in Minnesota. But be sure to stay tuned! When the finished books return, we will have an official Lost Originals Book Launch hosted at the Rose O’Neill Literary House with a reading by our poet of honor, Mary Jo Salter. You won’t want to miss this Literary House Press celebration!
Volume 1, Issue VI of One Teen Story. Reviewed by Reilly Cox ‘16.
I guess I picked up “Passing Each Other in Halls” because I was hoping for some sort of self-discovery with it, you know, something artsy and grand that would tie into my oh-so-tragic-college-student existence. Yeah, it’s silly, but I figured that the title indicated a greater prevalence to me than, let’s say, “The Bearded Girl,” or “The Freshwater Mermaid.” It was a stupid bias but hey, I was playing the “tortured soul” bit that day and I felt like reading something poetic, and you have to admit that that title is poetic. So, being a snob, I picked that one and, if you should read the story, you’ll realize the painful irony in that decision.
You really should read the other stories, though, not to detract from my point. Even if you’re not bearded girls or freshwater mermaids, you’ll find prevalence in them. Really.
I’m not sure what I was expecting when I started reading Matt de la Peña’s story, having never read any of his work before. I probably pictured something dramatic and melancholy, considering the mood I was in, something I could swig a bit of wine to and say, “Ah, yes, yes, of course” (I really apologize for that mood). The cover was relatively unassuming; being composed almost entirely of the title itself, save for a few palm trees, I wasn’t getting any hints at what lay beyond. And having been a bit of a classics snob growing up, I did not know what to expect from Mr. de la Peña: perhaps he would be a modern day Victorian; perhaps he would take beauty from a decaying world and give it unto me. Whatever should I picture?
Whatever I had pictured, I did not picture crotches, inebriation, and poverty; smart girls named Holly with unfortunately beautiful legs, and rich and unstable douchebags; shitty girlfriends in Ivy leagues…nor did I expect that I could enjoy such a combination. It’s not so much a case of “Come on, you know you like it” as it is a case of “Oh. Well, oh.” Now aren’t I a wordsmith?
I really do not like “down to earth” writing. Usually it is an excuse for lazy writing and untalented protagonists, or so I had found: what one person thinks of as real, others know as real. Oh, you know a few curses, do you? You happen to be a skater, too? Oh, look at that, you’re referencing coitus. Now aren’t you talented?
This is in no way how the story reads (really really), but this explains my usual prejudice.
My prejudice stems from a disappointment in the human condition, I suppose you could say. There is something wrong with us, inherently wrong with us, with how we prioritize. We work away our lives for scraps of paper; we get worked up over a bit of coupling and lose even more sleep than originally cost; we create a world of trouble so that we may have trouble. There is something greater for us, there has to be something greater for us, I know it. And I did get assurance of that, I found myself assured, and I found myself assured by a coitus-referencing skateboarder who liked to curse.
I would say that my words taste somewhat lemony right now.
The events of “Passing Each Other in Halls” make little sense if I simply told them to you, yet make perfect sense when told in story. Of course they’re making out within the first page, that makes sense. Of course the snob offers closure for his dying father, why wouldn’t she? What do you mean you don’t know why he runs back towards the cops? The story doesn’t make sense through my saying of it because the events of it simply happen, they just come about. There is nothing forced about them and there is nothing artificial about them. These events are natural as natural can be. These events are true to life, strange as they might seem. These events, heck, they’re real, man.
~Reilly Cox ‘16
Matt de la Peña is the author of four critically-acclaimed young adult novels: Ball Don’t Lie, Mexican WhiteBoy, We Were Here, and I Will Save You. De la Peña currently lives in Brooklyn NY. He teaches creative writing and visits high schools and colleges throughout the country.
To learn more about Matt de la Peña, visit his website here and read his work.
February 21Volume 1, Issue V of One Teen Story. Reviewed by Reilly Cox ‘16.
I begin my reaction with a warning, but please, do not get the wrong impression. If you were the kid to pick up newts and bugs, read. If you are going through a rough time and need some humanization, some comfort, read. Or if you’re just bored at the Lit House and you happen to see a green, thin book, read. Still, my warning:
If you are a pre-vet, you might or might not want to read.
If you are a vegetarian, you might not want to read.
If you are a vegan, you especially might not want to read.
If you are a vegan pre-vet, run.
Before I give a wrong impression, I do not mean to dissuade any readers from Rachel Furey’s story, “The Mud Puppy.” Selected for One Teen Story magazine, it’s well worth its pages. As an animal lover and (forgive me) vegetarian, I simply feel a need to give warning and reminder to my people; we cannot take offense should someone enjoy a burger.
I was curious about “The Mud Puppy,” if only for its earthy title and rich, well-designed cover (if you’d rather not read, you can always just stare at the cover for an hour or so). I wanted to find out what this creature had to do with the story, how it had crawled its way onto the pages and made a name there. I wanted to see what style the author chose, if it would be a grand tale of a mudpuppy knight charging at a komodo dragon, draped in tiny (yet impenetrable) armor, or if it would be a meditation, a metaphor, in which the mudpuppy represents our doomed mortality (why not?), or maybe if it were a magical creature granting wishes, the story told (poorly) through its mud-covered eyes.
It was none of these things, but that’s okay.
Instead, the mud puppy is a coming-of-age story (bear with me) told through the second-person narrative. Yes, this narrative can be a bit off-putting at times, we’re so used to the first and the third, but for some reason we seem to forget that “you” exists when we write. And the story is all about you (no, really, I’m serious- see for yourself). Still, we’ve (or I’ve, or you’ve) read enough coming-of-age stories to last the next twelve generations of us who come of age, so why bother with one more (and one that might be so frightening to vegan pre-vets, too)?
Because it brings to terms life here at Washington College.
College is great and college sucks; these are the two extremes that make up the college experience. Most people find that their experience is not clear cut in one category but made up of a heterogeneous mixture (pre-vets, still reading?) that works out to somewhere in the middle: my English class is terrible but then again I just had a really cool class with the Tolkien dude; my Friday night was dead but then Saturday I nearly died, heck yeah; I think I just offended my entire friend group but I just found some really cool people who invited me to hang out. We get to a certain point and we decide how good or how bad it really was. Sometimes, however, there are commonalities in the complaints and a lot of them come from the fact that college is a mixture.
College is not a place filled with young adults trying to fulfill themselves, nor is it a place filled with old teenagers trying to lose themselves. College is a place of senior-year middle schoolers and of freshmen-year philosophers, of people shedding skins and of people growing shells. Just as commonly as there are cliques, there are kind strangers befriending us with smiles. You, this you so discovered in “The Mud Puppy,” are a true middle schooler stuck in a nursing home a little too much like that middle school. Your friend ruins your day and your tormentor comforts you. Your family is absent and yet a stranger cries with you. Oh, my, hasn’t it been a rough time for you? Oh, my, hasn’t it been swell?
Furey’s story is not great and it doesn’t suck. It made me disgusted and it brightened my day. Lest I become formulaic in the contradictions, I’ll leave with a thought of mine: I might have misread the story entirely, but I, who am not a middle school girl going through changes, could connect with it. My sister might not be anorexic (I thank the stars that she loves cooking) but I could still think of her adventurous spirit. My mother might be far from aloof but I could still think of times when I could not turn to her. And I might not be a middle schooler volunteering at an old folks home, but I certainly can feel like it some days on this campus- because college is great, and because college sucks.
~ Reilly Cox ‘16
From Maryland Public Television comes the story of Kiplin Hall and the history of Maryland
This 17th century manor house in northern England has served as the home base for Washington College’s summer program on British literature. The MPT documentary includes an interview with English professor Richard Gillin and his wife, Barbara, who have led WC’s Kiplin Hall Program for 15 years.
Sites of significant historic, literary, landscape, and architectural interest are part of the field experience. Students have an opportunity to explore areas where Wordsworth, Coleridge, Shelley, and other influential literary figures found so much inspiration.
The program aired on Thursday, Feb. 7, at 8:30. It will repeat on MPT 1 on 2/14 at 11:30PM, and on MPT 2 on Feb. 10th at 5:30pm.
(The following is taken from MPT.org)
This magnificent 17th century manor house in the north of England - north Yorkshire to be precise - is often described as the “birthplace of Maryland”, for it was here that George Calvert, the first Lord Baltimore, developed the concept of a colony in the Americas dedicated to religious freedom for Catholics. Rising from humble beginnings without title or riches, Calvert’s genius and pluck took him into the King’s inner sanctum - a feat almost unheard of in those days - to become Secretary of State to King James, whom he persuaded to accept his dream of a colony.
The program explores this significant early history, and then focuses on how this remarkable manor house evolved over four centuries under the ownership of just four families - the Calverts, the Crowes, the Carpenters and the Talbots - all related by blood or marriage. The estate grew to as large as five thousand acres, but as time wore on, it shared the fate of many English manor houses only to experience serious decline in the twentieth century.
A number of fortuitous events occurred to save this historical home. When a Baltimore industrialist trying to save Kiplin Hall learned of University of Maryland students preserving an old hotel in New Jersey, he asked why they couldn’t do that in Yorkshire, England. Soon a team of architectural students crossed the pond in 1987 to see if they could save the ‘gray lady’ that held such Maryland significance. Professor David Fogle oversaw these first students, camping out over the stables and blacksmith shop. They made remarkable progress, and the connection with a major American university did not go unnoticed by English Heritage, the British government entity charged with preserving the nation’s historical sites. It elevated Kiplin Hall to its highest status, qualifying it for greater funding.
Today, the house’s structural systems and interior rooms are in splendid condition, and the focus is now on recreating the exquisite ‘pleasure gardens’ once enjoyed by the aristocracy - and growing number of visitors who are discovering this unique treasure. Kiplin Hall: Birthplace of Maryland gives viewers a wonderful tour of this historic property and how it has impacted the state we live in. It also shows how the pluck and enthusiasm of a bunch of college kids, under the tutelage of an impassioned professor, can produce results that few would have imagined. And when one considers that it was a Calvert descendant in Maryland who started an agricultural school that would eventually become the University of Maryland, the cycle becomes complete.
Following the critical success of his debut collection, All Over, and of his debut novel, Pacazo, Roy Kesey now brings us a new gathering of short stories, Any Deadly Thing.
Roy Kesey’s latest book is a short story collection called Any Deadly Thing, published by Dzanc Books in February 2013. His other books include a novel called Pacazo (the January 2011 selection for The Rumpus Book Club, and winner of the Paula Anderson Book Award), a collection of short stories called All Over (a finalist for theForeword Magazine Book of the Year Award, and one of The L Magazine’s Best Books of the Decade), a novella called Nothing in the World (winner of the Bullfight Media Little Book Award), and two historical guidebooks.
His short stories, essays, translations and poems have appeared in more than a hundred magazines and anthologies, including Best American Short Stories, The Robert Olen Butler Prize Anthologyand New Sudden Fiction. He has won two Pushcart Prize Special Mentions, the Jeffrey E. Smith Editors’ Prize in Fiction, and a 2010 prose fellowship from the NEA. Roy visited Washington College in February 2011 to read from his book Pacazo as part of the Sophie Kerr Lecture Series. He currently lives in Maryland with his wife and children.
Established through the Academy of American Poets, a new award will recognize one outstanding student poem each year.
CHESTERTOWN, MD—Undergraduates at Washington College can now compete for a prestigious poetry prize established through the Academy of American Poets. Administered by the Rose O’Neill Literary House and the Department of English, the new Jude and Miriam Pfister Poetry Prize will each year award one student a $100 cash prize for a single poem. A member of the English Department will judge the submissions, and the winner will be announced at the annual Senior Reading in the spring semester.
“This is the kind of award that can offer a young writer encouragement at the moment she most needs it,” says Literary House Director Jehanne Dubrow, who as a graduate student won university prizes through the Academy of American Poets. “I’m thrilled that our students here at Washington College will now have the same opportunity to compete for an award that receives national recognition and that is connected to one of the most prestigious literary organizations in the country.”
“This is a major award,” agrees English Department chair Kathryn Moncrief, “important enough that career and academic poets include it on their resumes.”
The donors who are funding the prize have long ties to Washington College. Jude Pfister graduated from Washington College in 1993 with a master’s degree in history, and Miriam Pfister’s great-grandfather George Emmet Wood was a member of the Class of 1885. The couple’s deep fondness for the institution has been reflected in their ongoing support of scholarships and the Miller Library, as well in their donation of items such as 19th and early 20th-century documents to the George Emmet Wood Collection of Washington College Memorabilia.
Founded in 1934, the Academy of American Poets has awarded more money to poets than any other organization. It creates literary events such as National Poetry Month and the annual Poets Forum in New York City and facilitates more than 200 annual prizes for poetry at colleges and universities nationwide.
Students interested in entering an original poem in the first Pfister Prize competition should email their poem to Lindsay Lusby, assistant director of the Literary House, (email@example.com) by Friday, March 22, 2013. Emails should include POETRY PRIZE and your name in the subject line. All electronic files must be saved as .pdf files with 12-point type and one-inch margins. Applicants are limited to one entry, with only one poem, each. For more information, please visit the Rose O’Neill Literary House’s website (http://www.washcoll.edu/centers/lithouse/the-jude-and-miriam-pfister-poetry-prize.php).
For more information about the Academy of American Poets, please visit poets.org.
Progress on the Pegasus
Working on the Pegasus is not what I originally expected. I knew when I took the job that we would be working entirely online and that sounded really exciting. I’m still excited about what we’re working on, but initially it was overwhelming.
Finding out who to contact for various things and then getting a hold of them has definitely been the biggest challenge for me at this point. There is so much that goes on at WAC, and we don’t want anything to be left out, so finding out who does what and who is in charge has been exhausting. Tracking people down is probably the hardest part of my job.
It also never occurred to me how long it takes to write emails. I’m starting to consider myself a professional emailer at this point. There is a lot more that goes into sending an effective email than I used to believe. When I’m sending out mass emails to 1,400 people, I have to pay close attention to what I’m writing so that I make sure that all of the necessary information is in that first email. If it isn’t, I know I’m going to get several hundred back, all asking the same question.
So far, everyone at WAC - staff, students, faculty - has been really helpful in getting us the information that we need. Our main goal with this is to ensure that anything that anyone could possibly want to remember about this year, any experience had, gets remembered. I’m really grateful, especially for the faculty and college staff, for all the help they’ve given us. The favors we’ve had to ask have been a royal pain for some people and I’m sure the Registrar’s Office is tired of hearing from us by now, but everyone has truly been fantastic.
I’m most excited to get through the phase of hoarding information so that we can start working on the creative stuff. We’re going to try to incorporate the Class of 2013’s chosen theme – The Waterfront – into the Pegasus as much as possible. Overall, we really just want to make sure that this year is memorialized the way that it should be.
If anyone has any questions, comments, or information they would like to share, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Editor and Project Manager
Eco-Friendly, Soft and Adorable Alpacas at Tag Along Alpacas, LLC in Chestertown, MD
If you’d asked me 2 months ago what an alpaca was, I probably would have said, “I think its like a llama.” I know that there are a few llama farms in Kent and Queen Anne’s county, but never would I have guessed that there existed an Alpaca farm just outside of town on the road to Rock Hall. In early December, my wife came across an article in the Tidewater Trader advertising the farm. It’s called Tag Along Alpacas and it has been in operation since August 2012.
So we called, made and appointment and I drove out to get a tour from Connie Gsell who runs the farm with her daughter Tracy Abram. Together they have raised this herd of Huacaya Alpacas (pronounced whah-kai-ah), which includes, Oso (white and the only male), Nicki (the light brown), Autumn (the medium fawn) and Fiona (the black and very curious Alpaca).
And I can’t forget Cowboy, the Australian Cattle-Dog.
The Alpacas are very friendly, though very nervous at first. Once you get a chance to feed them some pellets they warm up to you and you don’t have to worry about them biting. The teeth in the front of their mouth are only on their lower jaw.
When asked why they decided to raise alpacas Tracy said, “I love animals and wanted to find livestock to raise that would be fun to be around and work with, relatively easy to care for, profitable, and not end up on a dinner plate. After researching livestock opportunities, alpacas were the perfect fit for us.”
Eco-friendly alpacas are sensitive to their environment in every respect. Alpacas have soft padded feet instead of hooves and can leave even the most delicate terrain undamaged. Alpacas prefer to eat tender grasses, which they do not pull up by the roots. Lacking upper teeth, alpacas “cut” the grass with their bottom teeth and upper palate. This vegetation cutting encourages the plant’s growth. Because they are modified ruminants with a three-compartment stomach, alpacas convert grass and hay to energy very efficiently, and stop eating when they are full, further preserving the landscape on which they live. Alpacas’ pellet-like droppings are PH balanced, and an excellent, natural, slow release, low odor fertilizer. While alpacas are environmentally friendly - and even beneficial - to the land, what makes them even more “green” is their end product… alpaca fiber. Alpacas are sheared annually, without harm.
Alpacas produce an incredibly soft fiber. Because of its soft texture, alpaca fiber is often compared to cashmere. Making the fiber even more coveted, it has the luster of silk. Alpaca is just as warm as, yet 1/3 the weight of, wool. It comes in 22 natural colors and can be dyed any desired shade. Containing no lanolin, alpaca fiber is also naturally hypoallergenic. Most people who are sensitive to wool find that they can wear alpaca without the itching or irritation they feel from wool because alpaca fiber is smooth.
All the alpacas have different personalities and on some level they remind me of having a dog, with a really long neck that doesn’t bark or nip. Fiona is the curious and unafraid female, Nikki is very shy, Autumn is less shy and Oso is the only male, but has the softest fleece.
If you get a chance, go see them and feel just how soft their fur is. Oh, I forgot to mention, the females are pregnant and will each give birth to one cria. The first one is due in May and the other two are due in September.
This year they will be participating in the Chestertown Earth Day festivities on April 20.
For more information check out their website:
A review of the new poetry collection from Rose O’Neill Literary House Director, Jehanne Dubrow. Red Army Red from Northwestern University Press, 2012. Reviewed by Lit House Assistant Director, Lindsay Lusby.
Before I begin, I should admit to my biases. I like Jehanne Dubrow. She is a kind and intelligent person with a wonderfully irreverent sense of humor (that is very similar to mine) and I consider her a friend. But I am also a poet, and in this capacity, I have been following Jehanne’s work since the release of her first collection, The Hardship Post, in 2009. Each collection of hers is a poetic study, a project. String the poems together and you will see a loose narrative formed there in between.
In Red Army Red, Cold War’s Communism appropriates all shiny things for propaganda the way a teenage girl accessorizes. They are magpies at heart. Dubrow, in turn, collects these glimmering metallic details and nests poems in them. Of course, not all of these details are beautiful but they have a certain shine that draws us in anyway. In “Moscow Nights,” “rose perfume…smells of piss,” and another perfume smells of “pickled beets/ and turpentine.” And as in the mind of a teenage girl, all of these details are sex or innuendo, “the romance of objects.” Things that Communist dictators would hold just out of reach.
The first section of the book, titled “Cold War,” although packed with vivid images is a stark landscape full of old objects. Not just old, but old-world. Something that the speaker has clearly outgrown. Shirts and shoes are two sizes too small and all pleasures are taken in secret.
Section two, “Velvet Revolution,” is a rebellious adolescent testing the limits of her own body’s dictatorship. Although taken from the actual historical context of nearby then-Czechoslovakia, the phrase taken out of time seems tailor-made to capture the melodrama of teenage rebellion, with another nod toward an adolescent’s newfound fashion-consciousness. The poems of this section take the melodrama of an average American teenager and place it within a nation in flux. Let’s just triple the anxiety-level. The poems “Five-Year Plan” and “November 1989” capture this juxtaposition best. In the latter, the speaker has locked herself in the bathroom teaching herself to shave her legs and underarms while “Outside our house: Warsaw, avenues/ named for generals…Everything was falling down.”
In the last section, “Laissez-faire,” our speaker is in the full bloom of her new womanhood. And the world has opened its commercial doors to her (and her parents’ credit cards), with the fall of the Berlin Wall and Communism in the Eastern Bloc. This section is populated with satirical poems praising the wonder of merchandise and variety and everything that money can buy: “Bag ‘N Save,” “Our Free-Market Romance,” “Warsaw IKEA,” “A History of Shopping,” “As Seen on TV.” Little Red is all grown up now and flung from starkness into a post-Communist rumspringa. It is overwhelming and disorienting, but there is still the underlying philosophy of sex as commodification. Our speaker is left to navigate her way through this new Poland, flipped like the tornado-thrown bus in Dubrow’s “YouTube” poem. Because flinging a nation so quickly and jarringly from one extreme to another cannot come without casualties.
The Mary Wood Fellowship at Washington College is awarded biannually to an emerging female writer—in poetry, fiction, or creative nonfiction—who has published one book. For the Spring 2014 Mary Wood Fellowship, applications will be accepted through Friday, March 15, 2013.
In Spring 2012, we had the lovely Laura van den Berg stay the week in little Chestertown as our Mary Wood Fellow. She read from her new short story collection What the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us, gave an intimate talk about “Demystifying the ‘Writing Life’”, and met individually with select female undergrads to discuss their own fiction-writing. Laura had a great time too, dubbing our Rose O’Neill Literary House “heaven for writers.” And we whole-heartedly agree.
We are now looking for the next Mary Wood Fellow, to visit us in Spring 2014. And we need your applications! We want lots of applications, so don’t be shy. If you are a female writer who has published just one book (and only one book), you are qualified. Let us know who you are and send us your book!
Here is the full description of the fellowship:
The Mary Wood Fellowship at Washington College is awarded biannually to an emerging female writer—in poetry, fiction, or creative nonfiction—who has published one book.
The Fellowship enables female creative writing students at Washington College to work with and learn from successful female writers like Laura van den Berg, Hannah Tinti, and Irina Reyn, who spend several days on campus.
The Mary Wood Fellow spends approximately five days at Washington College, during which she holds individual conferences with select female undergraduate creative writers. The Fellow also gives a public reading and a craft talk. The Fellowship includes a $2500 stipend, overnight accommodations, and travel.
Eastern Shore author Mary Wood, whose support makes the fellowship possible, is a ’68 graduate of the College and a former member of its Board of Visitors and Governors.
Applicants should send a cover letter (outlining qualifications and reasons for interest in position) as well as a copy of their book to Director Jehanne Dubrow:
The Rose O’Neill Literary House
300 Washington Avenue
Chestertown, Maryland 21620
For the Spring 2014 Mary Wood Fellowship, applications will be accepted through Friday, March 15, 2013.
Back in September of 2012, Michael Duck, editor of Crunchable and graduate of the class of 2002, returned to Washington College to host Crunchable Colloquium, a reading by college alumni.
Crunchable is an online literary magazine started in 2001 by alumni Chris Kilmas. Its name derives from Kilmas’s humor at putting -able at the end of any word, which you can see on the site’s snackable and archivable pages. Today is it run by Duck who calls the online magazine a “soft place to land” when young writers first graduate and lose the ability to submit their work to the student publications.
What is your favorite memory from your time at Washington College?
The first one that leaps to mind is the experience of my weekly “Elm Night.” The newspaper was published every Friday, and that meant I had to have an actual physical disk (remember those?) ready to be delivered to the printer at dawn every Thursday. So every Wednesday night for the year and a half I was The Elm’s editor in chief, I didn’t sleep – I shepherded the whole darn paper into print, coordinating all the editors’ work with the writing, page layout, and photographs while usually also writing an editorial at the last minute. Around 3 or 4 a.m., I’d sit down with the final version and read every word that was about to be published. The final step was to leave the disk at an agreed-upon drop spot and then shamble into the dining hall for breakfast. (It was the only weekday I was ever awake when breakfast was served.)
Even at the time I knew that schedule was insane, but it fueled my sense of purpose and helped define who I was – and who I still am, in a lot of ways. My only regret was the one semester when I had a fascinating history class with T. Clayton Black – at 8:30 a.m. every Thursday, right after my weekly all-nighter and when I was, shall we say, not at my customary levels of alertness.
Dr. Black, if you’re reading this: I’m sorry!
And, though you asked for a single favorite memory, the two others I simply must mention here are: (1) The time my Queen Anne’s House friends and I threw a nearly spontaneous gathering in formal wear, which we called the “informal formal” and which was nearly broken up by Public Safety, and (2) the time I was with legendary Washington Post journalist Richard Harwood as he committed the act of public urination on campus.
What were some of your favorite events or milestones?
Whenever I get back to campus, I always make a point of stopping by that little garden with the simple fountain beside the Larrabee Art Center. I wrote about that garden’s dedication in my first real story for The Elm, within a few weeks of my arrival on campus as a freshman.
That turned out to be the start of a much longer story. I stuck with the paper and worked my way up to editor in chief by my sophomore year. And now I’ve been a professional journalist for nearly a decade.
What was the first book you read and loved?
I loved a lot of books as a very young reader (Dr. Seuss and the Berenstains were in heavy rotation in my library), but the ones I remember loving best were from a few years later – from around age eight, when I discovered a “Choose-Your-Own-Adventure”-style series of books called “Star Challenge.” As the protagonist of each book, you were a young operative for the Network Of Worlds tasked with saving the galaxy, with a little help from your small robot companion. I spun that fictional universe in hundreds of different directions, inventing my own ships and villains and alien races and sidekicks and gear, most of which I built using plastic construction toys or cardboard. It was the most elaborate narrative I have ever created.
The other huge influence was the humor columnist and author Dave Barry. I devoured his weekly syndicated columns in middle school, right up through the day that something funny happened to me in science class and I decided to do what Dave Barry would: I’d write about it and show the story to everyone who’d read it. The response was overwhelming – the first time I could recall doing anything my peers actually enjoyed and respected.
In other words: For my student newspaper years, my whole journalism career, and all my work with Crunchable, I blame Dave Barry.
What is your favorite word?
At the moment, it’s “widdershins” – a word I learned just this month from Annie Woodall ‘01, one of Crunchable’s assistant editors. It means to do something in a backwards, counterclockwise, or otherwise contrary direction.
In fact, we liked the word so much that it’s going to be the theme for a Crunchable issue in the next year. I’m very eager to see what writers will do with it.
What is it like to be the editor of Crunchable?
Heh. That depends on what part of the production cycle we’re in, and whether I’m short or flush with essays to publish.
I volunteered to run this site in 2005 – four years after it got started and three years after my Washington College graduation. It was partly because I knew I needed something like this to keep me writing creatively. It was partly because it was a chance to be an editor,
which is all I’ve always wanted to be, and because I knew it would help me stay better in touch with my college friends. I was also terrified that the great writing they’d done on Crunchable since 2001 might otherwise wink out of existence, if nobody were here to look after it.
But Crunchable was also an opportunity to learn how all this Web stuff works from the inside out. That fluency with Web design has turned out to be critical to my career, and today I help run the website of the newspaper where I’ve worked since 2003. In a very real sense, I owe my job to Crunchable.
So, what does all that feel like? Well, it’s maddening and stressful a lot of the time. But it feels tremendously important to be the caretaker for all these words, and it’s great to have my own sandbox on the Web where I can play with such a great community of friends and writers.
For more about Crunchable Colloquium visit this link.
Aileen Brenner ’09, drama major and creative writing minor, uses her skills acquired as an undergrad at WAC to tackle editing a full-length novel, Terra by Gretchen Powell – the first in a planned trilogy.
As a student, Aileen Brenner worked in the space between theater and literature, between the performance of the text on the stage and the breaking down of the text on the page. In all of this, she fed her enthusiasm for the well-turned sentence. While an undergrad, Aileen was an active participant in Riverside Players and President of Fakespeare, both Shakespeare-inspired, comedic acting troupes. She also served as Editor-In-Chief of the print yearbook The Pegasus from 2007-2009.
These days, Aileen works as an editorial and advertising assistant for Trial Magazine (American Association for Justice) during the day. At night, she has been working as a freelance editor in the wider world of fiction. The first of her edited books has just been released and she is as proud a mother as the author herself. I would describe Aileen’s experience working with up-and-coming author Gretchen Powell, but she says it so much better herself:
“I met Gretchen through my sister, who roomed with her their freshman year at JMU, and I got to know her better when she began blogging at Honey I Shrunk the Gretchen. We talked about writing every now and then, and even more so after I began blogging at Army Pants and Flip Flops.
Although our blogs are both nonfiction writing, Gretchen and I share an outside interest in dystopian fiction. She originally sent me just a few chapters of her first draft of Terra. She knew I was a fan of the genre and also a practiced copy editor, and she was hoping for some feedback about the set-up of the world and ideas, and her writing.
From that initial read, I was already hooked on the story and the world Gretchen had created. I gave her feedback in the style I’d learned to give feedback to playwrights working on new plays; having never edited a fiction novel before, I relied heavily on the lessons I learned during my writing workshops and drama classes at WAC, and from working at the PlayPenn New Play Development conference with Professor Michele Volansky. I instantly found that working with a new fiction draft (and a fiction writer) is strikingly similar to working with a playwright on a new play–both must define a foreign but distinct world for a new audience, and both must give us characters who define that world and draw us into it with their urgency. In giving Gretchen my initial feedback, I posed a lot of questions about her world and her characters, and it opened up a good dialogue for us to continue discussing her plot points, her characters, and the development of Terra’s story and context.
When Gretchen began writing Terra (her first novel, and also the first novel in a planned trilogy), she decided to self publish. There’s still a very real stigma attached to self publishing; it’s perceived as something of a last resort for writers who can’t get a publisher to sign on for their book idea. And I’ll admit that I was a little wary of this at first as well. But Gretchen really did her research about self publishing; she had plans and lists and spreadsheets for everything from marketing, to page layout, to e-book conversions, to registering for an ISBN. Gretchen didn’t only write a book–she plunged into the entire publishing process head first, and I’m pretty sure she hasn’t slept for more than an hour a night for the last year.
Because Gretchen was self publishing, she was very proactive about seeking the outside help she’d need. After I provided her with initial feedback and we began a discussion about the book, we quickly spiraled into a writer-editor relationship. When she finished her first draft, we went through it together chapter by chapter, and scene by scene, to determine what was currently working, and what needed to be clarified, reworked, or cut completely. Because I was seeing the book with fresh eyes, I was able to point out inconsistencies and plot holes that Gretchen (after having read her book hundreds of times) wasn’t able to see on her own. In the first two drafts, I focused mostly on bigger issues like plot, structure, character development, and the chronology of events. I sometimes marked up margins with so much text, that the questions and comments I had were twice as long as the scene they referred to. We spent a lot of time rearranging and reordering scenes, and Gretchen took my suggestions truly to heart; she was learning the pain involved in the editing process, which sometimes meant cutting full scenes and rewriting entire chapters that she’d really grown to love.
Gretchen and I went back and forth; I questioned and scrutinized every passage that lacked detail, every line of dialogue, and every character’s motivation. In his Acting I class at WAC, Dale Daigle teaches that, as an actor, you must always be able to answer three questions for your character at any given point in a scene: Who am I? Where am I? and What do I want? Using these questions, Gretchen and I painstakingly accosted each character, in each scene, in her nearly 300-page book, to make sure we could justify every single action and reaction, and what it meant to the book and the story as a whole.
Throughout the editing process, my biggest challenge was to re-read the book for consistency after we’d added, edited, or removed scenes and plot points. Which happened sometimes three or four times a day. By the time Gretchen’s third draft rolled around, I knew her world and her characters inside and out. Once we were satisfied with structure and consistency, we began to hone in on tightening up and clarifying her language. Although I had gone into editing her book with an eye for copy editing, I wanted to make sure to devote time to each piece of punctuation and each use of a proper noun to make sure it was telling the story accurately. Gretchen did run her more completed drafts through an outside copy editor, which not only gave her a third pair of eyes, but made sure her language was as defined as possible as well.
I’m so proud of the final product. Gretchen has been overwhelmingly thankful to me, and it has been fun and rewarding to be part of her journey, and Terra’s journey. The editing process was often stressful; when deadlines are involved, you start to wonder if taking the time to flesh out all the finer details is really worth the result. Luckily, Gretchen and I reached an understanding early on that we were committed to making this book into the best version of itself, despite what that meant for our sleep schedules and sanity. I’m signed on as editor for the next two books, and I think Terra’s readers will be surprised and pleased about what’s to come.”
Congratulations, Aileen, on your adventures in publishing! Now we have another book to add to our Winter Break Reading List.
To read the first two chapters of Terra for free, just click here. If those first two chapters hook you, buy the book here.
Today Poetry Daily will feature a poem from the new collection by Professor Jehanne Dubrow, “Red Army Red.”
Since the release of Lit House Director Jehanne Dubrow’s most recent collection of poetry, Red Army Red has received many great reviews.
“With wit and subtlety, these poems make apparent the parallels between the body and the body politic, between the fulfillment of individual and collective desires.”
To read more about Dubrow and Red Army Red, click here.
Each semester, we choose one or two of the upcoming visiting writers from The Rose O’Neill Literary House’s season of literary events to commemorate in a beautiful letterpress-printed broadside, designed and printed here in the House. In this post, Assistant Director, Lindsay Lusby will tell you how it’s done.
What is this thing called a broadside, you ask? My favorite definition comes from the book The Art and Craft of Handmade Books by Shereen LaPlantz:
“A broadside is a single sheet of paper that states an opinion—usually an inflammatory one. Broadsides started out as the last words of condemned prisoners and were posted next to the gallows for one day. During the Revolutionary War in the United States, broadsides were used to promote the Revolution.”
Just like many technologies appropriated from the past, including letterpress printing, what once was a tool of necessity now has become an art form. Our letterpress broadsides take an excerpt of a visiting writer’s published works and put it to visual music with typographical design and printed images. We have a catalog of antique metal printers’ blocks to choose from or we can go ultra-modern: have a custom illustration taken from digital file to letterpress-printable photopolymer plate.
For our latest broadside, a poem by the poet and translator Idra Novey called “A History in Six Couplets,” we chose another option—carving a mounted linoleum block. This can also be done with wood, but linoleum is a bit softer (read: easier to carve). The “mounted” bit of that block raises the final relief carving to the height required for printing, which we call “type-high.” And who was the lucky girl that got to carve that (extra large) linoleum block? I pulled out my Speedball Lino Cutter and got to work on that 10 x 20” slab of linoleum.
The design we decided on for this poem was simple: a city skyline, broken and gashed, but still standing. It’s a stark illustration for a stark poem. The text was to be printed over top of the lino print, with the columnar poem-shape fitting snugly inside the central building silhouette. One thing I needed to be careful with: I had to estimate the width needed to encompass the poem but not let it feel swallowed by the building size. And one thing that just coincidentally fell into place: the large jagged chunk of building I cut out lined up perfectly with the stanza: “And all around, chunks of concrete/ like torn bread.”
We chose a tall paper size to emphasize the strong vertical pull of the skyline-buildings and the shape of the poem itself, leaving a generous stretch of empty space at the top. After the linocut was finished, our Master Printer Mike Kaylor, set the type for the poem text, letter by painstaking letter, and got to printing on the beautiful Vandercook 4 Proof Press in our Lit House print shop. First, the linocut is printed and let dry for a day or so. Then the text.
The final result was ghostly—with the image printed in white on a muddy-gray watercolor paper and the text in a dark gray ink over the white—and that was perfectly fitting for this poem.
To see more of the beautiful broadsides made right here in our very own Literary House print shop, check out this page here.