Tuesday, October 28, 2014

"A Big Empty": Wonderful Story by Rhonda Browning White, My Former Thesis Student!

I’m thrilled to brag about one of my Converse thesis students, Rhonda Browning White, whose story “A Big Empty” has been published in the Bellevue Literary Review and is now included in the online archives, for free reading:  http://blr.med.nyu.edu/content/archive/2014/fall/bigempty

Rhonda worked SO HARD on her thesis, and this story in particular, because she wasn’t sure how to end it.  She pushed and pushed and pushed herself…and came up with this, which made me cry when I first read it because I knew it was exactly right.  

Take a few minutes and see for yourself:
 …My daddy loved mining. Or used to, before they started lopping off the mountains. Fifty years he worked underground. Went from shoveling coal into a rail-cart to watching it gouged out with a continuous miner and dumped onto conveyor belts. I seen his face the first time he saw the dragline megaexcavator shearing off the head of Kayford Mountain. Looked like he’d get sick. 

Made me feel sickly, too, watching the monster that stands taller than Lady Liberty eat two-hundred-forty ton of mountain in every bite, two bites a minute. Progress, they call it. Progress that puts thousands of underground miners like me out of work. Progress that changes the land forever. Progress that pumps sickness into the water supply, kills fish and deer and daddies and babies. 

It was Daddy’s plan for me and Romie to pack up and head to North Carolina, get out of the West Virginia mountains before the coal companies flatten them all, before the mountains bury us in return. It felt like a message from beyond, then, when we learned on the first anniversary of Daddy’s death that Romie was pregnant again. I knew right then we had to leave….

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Sonnet Class & F. Scott Fitzgerald Conference

Some upcoming events/classes of interest:

Reading Sonnets: a seminar led by Kim Roberts, editor of Beltway Poetry Quarterly

This class will use a range of modern and contemporary sonnets written by authors from the Washington DC region as a text. We will examine the traditions of the form: rhyme, meter, subject matter—and discuss how contemporary poets have both honored and subverted those traditional expectations. Participants will be asked to read assigned poems in advance of each of the three class meetings, and be ready to join in a lively discussion on the amazing longevity and flexibility of the sonnet. Open to all: no specialized knowledge about poetry is needed. 

Meets three consecutive Thursdays, October 30 through November 13 from 7:30 to 9:00 pm
$35 fee
Cedar Lane Unitarian Universalist Church, Adult Programs, 9601 Cedar Lane, Bethesda, MD
Advance registration required: ap@cedarlane.org or (301) 493-8300


The F. Scott Fitzgerald Literary Festival in Rockville, Oct. 16-18.

Established in 1996 to celebrate the centenary of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s birth in the city where Fitzgerald, his wife, and his daughter are buried, the F. Scott Fitzgerald Literary Festival, co-sponsored by the City of Rockville, the Share Fund, and the F. Scott Fitzgerald Literary Conference, Inc., a non-profit corporation, has for 18 years held this one-day event, which seeks to honor the works of F. Scott Fitzgerald and those of prominent American literary artists; and to support, encourage, and assist aspiring and emerging writers and students interested in the literary arts.

The centerpiece of the Literary Festival is the presentation of the F. Scott Fitzgerald Award for Achievement in American Literature to a prominent American writer, who is present and gives a reading and a master class. Over the years, many of the most distinguished American literary figures of the last half century have been honored. The 2014 recipient is James Salter.

The day’s activities include writing workshops designed for both emerging and established fiction, poetry, and non-fiction writers held both in the morning and the afternoon; and literary discussions, panels, and performances designed for book lovers who are not themselves writers, also held in both the morning and afternoon.

In 2014, the Festival will be held on October 18th in the Auditorium of Montgomery County Executive Office Building, Rockville, MD and the Rockville Memorial Library in partnership with the Writer’s Center in Bethesda, Maryland, and the Friends of the Library, Montgomery County, Maryland. It will have as its theme “Literature and War” and will include a Literary Luncheon on Thursday afternoon, October 16th, at the Mansion at Strathmore in Bethesda, Maryland; and, on Friday evening, October 17th, the Writer’s Center will host “Writing the War Experience,” featuring a panel of distinguished writer-veterans reading from and commenting on their work.

More information: http://fscottfestival.org/

Monday, October 6, 2014

Kinda Cool: My Essay Is Selected for "100 Notable" in New Best American Essays

 Hmm…I’m not sure how the New York Times Magazine’s Ethicist columnist would feel about an editor publishing her own work in her literary journal.  But apparently I don’t care because I’m doing it!

I found out this weekend that one of my essays was listed in the “100 Notable Essays” section in the back of the new edition of Best American Essays (thanks for telling me, Anna Leahy!).  So, yay for that, and yay that I hold the incredibly powerful position of editor/founder of Redux, the online journal that features previously published work not found elsewhere on the internet, allowing me to jump right into it and post the essay today. 

I’d like to add a shout-out to the literary journal that originally published this piece, PMS: Poem Memoir Story, which features work by women writers.  I bought a copy while at AWP and after reading it, knew that I wanted my work to appear in those pages.  I’m so happy to bring some more attention to that fine journal.

Here’s the opening to the essay, “Joy to the World”:

It’s mid-December, a morning of doing errands, a day like any other day, except that everything is going remarkably well:  I find a great parking spot.  The post office isn’t crowded when I arrive to mail my packages, though the man behind the counter tells me there’s been a line all morning, “until right about now.”  Find another great parking spot.  Stumble across the perfect Christmas gift for my hard-to-buy-for friend at a locally-owned boutique.  And so on.
 Last stop, the grocery store, where my luck continues, and the guy working produce locates in the back the last bag of parsnips in the building.  Parsnips are a key ingredient in the velvety-lush root vegetable soup I want to make for dinner tonight.  “Bet you’ve never seen anyone get so excited about parsnips,” I joke to him, and he laughs pleasantly.
 So things are moving along, and I’ve committed to a check-out aisle, unloading my cart onto the conveyer belt, doing my usual tidy job of it:  heavy stuff up front; frozen foods, meat, and milk grouped together; produce in one section, poisonous cleaners in another; fragile things at the end.  I’m daydreaming about the array of Christmas cookies on the covers of the food magazines, so I don’t notice the person in line ahead of me until she snaps, “I told you I can’t lift more than five pounds!  Those bags are too heavy!” ...

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Politics & Prose Class: October 16

I’ll be offering a class at Politics & Prose soon:  Right Brain Writing.  I’ve taught it before and (if I do say so!) it’s been both fun and successful, in that everyone goes home with the start of some excellent pieces.  We laugh, we cry, we write up a storm!

Thursday, October 16
3:30 – 6 PM
Explore your creative side at this afternoon of guided writing exercises designed to get you energized and your ideas flowing. No writing experience necessary! This is a great class for beginners and for fiction writers and/or memoirists with experience but who might be stuck in their current project and are looking for a jolt of inspiration. The goal is to have fun in a supportive, nurturing environment and to go home with several promising pieces to work on further. Please bring lots of paper and pen/pencil or a fully charged computer.

Read more, including registration details here:

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Why Your Writing Matters

Feeling discouraged about writing?  Let me recommend this essay by poet Karen Craigo, which should rouse your spirit and remind you that what we do as writers is important. 

…Two nights ago, I was driving up National Avenue in Springfield, Missouri, and off to my right I saw an unusual thing. There was a man trudging up the block and he carried a homemade walking stick. He had fashioned it from a long, stout branch that was made smooth, perhaps through sanding or long use, and to its base, affixed with duct tape, he had affixed a baby’s pink sneaker for traction…. When presented with a great gift like that man with the homemade walking stick, a poet has almost no choice but to tell you about him—to try to make him as real on the page as he was on that street. We would try to find some sort of purchase in his story, some overlap between his apparent experience and our own—and everyone’s. You should not expect a factual accounting from a poet. (I admit it—I’m not sure the baby shoe was pink. It was late and I was driving.) You can, however, expect an attempt at truth, something beyond fact. My spirit recognized that man, although I didn’t have a chance to meet him, and I need to tell you about him on the page. Is there any impulse more human than that?


DC-area author Leslie Pietrzyk explores the creative process and all things literary.