The Audiograph series broadcasts digital audio about the people, publications,
and events of Writing at The New School.
Robert Siek's poems have appeared in journals such as The Columbia Poetry Review, Court Green, Mary, Assaracus, and Chelsea Station. In 2002, the New School published his chapbook Clubbed Kid, and in 2007, he was included in the short-fiction anthology Userlands: New Fiction Writers from the Blogging Underground. His first full-length collection of poetry, Purpose and Devil Piss is now available from Sibling Rivalry Press.
Gabriel Don's work has appeared in The Sydney Morning Herald, The Brooklyn Rail, Short Fast and Deadly, A Place We Know Well, The Nirvana Project, The Saudade Review, The Understanding Between Foxes and Light, Yes, Poetry and Statorec.com. She has appeared in visual poems such as Woman Without Umbrella and Unbound. She started several reading-soiree series including Pies and Scribes and Dias Y Flores in New York City and is editorial staff at LIT. Gabriel Don is not just a human, she is a #bookdress and can be found on Amazon @ http://tinyurl.com/aq9ll8c.
New School professors Jonathan Dee and Patrick McGrath paired up for a Fiction Forum on October 2nd, hosted by Helen Schulman. After reading from their latest works, discussion between the authors came to the topic of multiple drafts and lost work. Mr. Dee spoke on his experiences as a younger writer:
“It was hard to find time to work on my writing, so I didn’t want to waste any time when I finally got the chance to write. I became a compulsive outliner. Now, I make myself start writing before I fully know what’ll happen. I throw out more of my writing now, but I’m happier with the results.”
Asked about their approach to deciding whether their novels ought to be in a first or third person voice, Dee related that writing in the first person doesn’t come easily for him. “I think more panoramically, so my material comes that way.”
McGrath, on the other hand, said, “I can only emote and give feeling from first person. I don’t have the ability to scan the world. In first person, the main character can imagine what others think, and characters can show what they’re feeling through dialogue. There’s no right or wrong way. It depends on how you approach your material.
As McGrath’s latest work is split between two character’s voices, he was asked to explain how he decided what chapter belonged to which character. “I didn’t want to seesaw between the two characters – that’d be predictable and dull. My decisions were more intuitive. If I knew a character would tell a chapter better, then I would let them tell it.”
Helen Schulman noted that morality is central to each of Jonathan Dee’s novels. There’s a tradition of his novels having unethical characters. Dee responded that his characters might be unethical at times, but he allows them to live on the page without judgment. “The characters judge each other. I never want to have authorial judgment on my characters. In fact, I think it’s a mistake to have an author’s judgment in the book. A writer’s job is to frustrate the reader – keep the reader’s opinion of the main character changing.”
Jonathan Dee has published six novels, including The Lover of History, The Liberty Campaign, St. Famous, Palladio, The Privileges, and, most recently, A Thousand Pardons. He is a staff writer for The New York Times Magazine and contributor to Harper’s. He teaches in the graduate writing programs at Columbia University and The New School.
Patrick McGrath is the author of a short story collection, Blood and Water and Other Tales, and seven previous novels including Asylum, Martha Peake, Port Mungo and Trauma, shortlisted for the Costa Novel Award. He has also published Ghost Town, a volume of novellas about New York, and his latest novel Constance. Spider was made into a film in 2002 by acclaimed director David Cronenberg. Patrick McGrath lives in London and New York. He teaches at The New School.
Reading John Bengan's short story "Armor" I found myself thinking about literary awards, and how few I follow. This story won the 2013 Carlos Palanca Memorial Award, a prestigious accolade for literature of the Philippines. So many brilliant stories flutter across the pages of big, little and small presses and publications all over the globe, and I didn't know of John Begnan's achievement, which is truly an achievement. Throughout "Armor" I felt a quickening. With its written English mimicking the sound of another tongue. With its racing pack of referents, words and images that are unashamedly foreign. The story is crisp, tender and proud. Embracing the culture of Bayots, Death Squads and the crushing shadow of poverty, this story reads like something new.
John Bengan and I have more than our identity as 'foreigners' in common, he is an alumni of The New School MFA in creative writing, where I am currently completing my second year. The coordinator of The Writing Blog approached me with the opportunity to interview John. After introductions, I went about sending him my questions via email.
Matthew Choate: The story of "Armor" is foreign, it is set in a space that is unfamiliar to most Western readers; the language is written English but contains the beat of another tongue; and the premise of the plot is familiar, while the characters are not. Was this level of construction something you intended when writing "Armor"?
John Bengan: Thank you! I wrote "Armor" on a dare. A friend suggested that I write about a person who prepares for a beauty pageant with "Kabuki-like intensity." Later, that same friend gave me an essay about embalming, which he said would be a good inspiration.
A couple of years later, in Helen Schulman's fiction workshop, I remembered the pageant contestant. The "death squad" is a recurring subject in my other stories, and the thought of combining these two seemingly mismatched elements (death squads, gay beauty pageants) gave me the impetus I needed.
The way I see it, the story isn't "foreign." I know this character. I've seen him around the block. I've sat through these beauty pageants for cross-dressing gay men many times, but I understood that readers outside of the Philippines would find the material "foreign."
My characters are not from the West. Neither is the consciousness I'm trying to capture, which unavoidably shapes the narrative and creates the rhythm of the story. Kamau Brathwaite calls an English that follows the rhythm of natural and cultural experiences "submerged."
MC: As a 'foreigner' I often struggle with context when writing for an Eurocentric audience that is not familiar with the nuances of South African society. In other words, the balance between information, background, and the rhythm of the story itself. Is this something you think about when writing a story set in the Philippines?
JB: My biggest worry when I was still at The New School was that I was doing a lot of explaining. I hated it when I had to explain in a short story. Meanwhile, my colleagues in the workshop would throw casual references to Black Friday, Planned Parenthood, or towns in rural Pennsylvania.
At first, the concern was something mundane, like trying to make them visualize a jeepney or a tricycle, until I got questions about specific situations or attitudes that would have been a no-brainer for a reader in the Philippines. Suddenly, there was this problem. How do I tell the difference between my very real mistakes and their inability to comprehend my material?
I feel that I find a balance when I recognize my faults for what they are and improve the story from there. Also, I looked closely at the work of Aleksandar Hemon, and Gina Apostol and other writers I admire.
In the end, I trust my instincts. I try to be succinct when necessary, ambiguous and oblique when the story demands it. If it's beyond control, so be it. The Eurocentric reader will have to accept that there's a world out there.
MC: In this story you introduce the culture of Bayots, gay men competing in impoverished beauty pageants. When a writer has an interesting or complex culture this can dominate the narrative, but not so in your story.
JB: I don't really think of my material as "interesting" or "complex." I care more about the structure of the story, its design, or how it uses time. How much time should I cover? Should I go for linear or non-linear? I also think about the way I see my characters, whether I'm being honest or condescending to them. When the story succeeds, when all the components work, the material is not merely novel or strange or interesting. It goes beyond these categories. It becomes meaningful.
Living in New York for two years, I became aware that I do a lot of translating when I write fiction in English, even though I don't really deal with someone else's work. For instance in "Armor," we can compare the beauty pageant for cross-dressing men to drag balls there in the States. They have similarities, but also differences. Drag's counterpart in the Philippines, at least in its popular form, is inspired by international beauty pageants for women, especially the Miss Universe contest, an event many Filipinos watch every year. This style of drag is also found in the U.S., but is just one of its categories, as RuPaul's queens have taught the mainstream audience.
MC: Death Squads, vigilante groups 'cleaning-up' the streets of Mintal with motorbikes and guns, is one of the integral pieces of your story. I know when I am faced with writing about my home there is also a narrative of violence that is hard to avoid. What are your thoughts are on the morality of writing violence?
JB: What I know is that violence in literature, or in any art form, is not the same as violence that happens in real life. Art is contemplative space. It makes us stop and think. In real life, we would simply be overwhelmed by the experience.
One of my favorite writers is Nadine Gordimer, who also happens to be from South Africa. She has a short story that I teach often, "The Moment before the Gun Went Off." In that story, she transforms this tragic incident of a white landlord who accidentally kills a young black farmhand into a parable of modern South Africa.
Marlon James's The Book of Night Women, which I read in Robert Antoni's seminar in vernacular writing, does something similar. The violent acts in that novel illustrate the bigger picture that I believe James was after: the disfiguring experience of colonialism.
MC: "Armor" is part of a voice that is growing louder; international writers generating fiction written in English, when often this is not their native tongue. When you write, are you conscious of who your audience is, and does this affect what you choose to say?
JB: I imagine that my readers are simply people who love to read.
MC: We share some similarities, you as an alumni and myself as a current international student of The New School's MFA for Creative Writing. I see in my peers how many of us came over to America wanting to convert our studies into a fledgling career, something more than just studying abroad. You have subsequently returned to the Philippines, what is the experience of writing back home, having lived and studied in New York?
JB: Apart from this awareness of how I use language, I gained a way of seeing my material from another vantage point. I'm happy to note that immersing again in Philippine culture hasn't changed that. If living in New York gave me perspective, returning to the Philippines made me appreciate discipline.
But writing back home isn't any easier or more difficult than writing abroad. It's still as arduous and satisfying as I remember it.
John Bengan earned his BA in English from the University of the Philippines Mindanao where he currently teaches literature and writing. Through a fellowship from the Ford Foundation, he completed an MFA in Creative Writing from The New School. His writing has appeared in The Philippines Free Press, The Brooklyn Rail, Likhaan 6: the Journal of Contemporary Philippine Literature, and Hoard of Thunder. His short story "Armor" won first Place at the 2013 Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature. He is currently working on his first book of stories.
For the past six years Matthew Choate has worked as a journalist, copywriter, editor and radio producer in his native South Africa. Matthew is a second year fiction MFA student at The New School, New York.
Our Fall 2013 School of Writing events season kicked off last night with a full house featuring Kiese Laymon, author of How to Slowly Kill Yourselves and Others in America and Long Division.
Laymon's brutally honest collection of essays and novel touch on race, gender, and sexual politics in his native Mississippi.
As Laymon stated while introducing his work, "You're allowed to laugh, and you're allowed to cry."
The event was moderated by School of Writing faculty member Jeffery Renard Allen.
Please visit the School of Writing events page for a complete list of Fall 2013 events.
Beginning August 26, the School of Writing launches its fall workshops and seminars for its Continuing Education and undergraduate programs. These classes, ranging from 5 to 15 weeks, include workshops in Fiction, Journalism, Nonfiction, Playwriting, Poetry, and Writing for Children, as well as grammar, punctuation, and composition seminars.
I wanted to showcase some of the fascinating techniques of experimental fiction to (hopefully!) inspire students to think more broadly about what their own story-telling could encompass. That term "experimental" shouldn't make people think we're going to be reading (and writing) opaque, unfathomable work. Quite the contrary. We concentrate on forms that are familiar, and that can—and have—been containers for both experimental and traditional stories: the vignette form, the second person ("you") address, and the dream story, to name just three. The texts that go along with those three forms are Sandra Cisneros' The House On Mango Street, excerpts from Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci's memoir A Man, and some of Kafka's short works. Nothing unfathomable there, but each has its challenges … and rewards! We also work with cut-ups and appropriation, the aim being to get away from the things writers always write about and move toward really new, surprising characters, situations, and language. There's a lot of "play" involved, always. How else are you going to come up with something that will surprise and delight even you?
Favorably! There are a few things, though, that make this workshop stand out, I think: the blend of traditional and "experimental" texts, for one. I think students won't encounter the kind of prompts we use in this workshop in their other classes. I try to make time for in-class writing every session, since people who work full-time always say they wish they had more time for writing. I also try to encourage the writers to form a community during the run of the class so that after the class is over people can continue showing work to each other if they choose. If they've formed a bond (and many times they do), why should the end of the class mean the end of that bond?
with Sharon Mesmer
Thursdays, 6-7:50 p.m.
15 weeks, beginning August 29
Express Reg: NWRW2305 Section A
Accidental Realities: Writing Experimental Fiction
with Sharon Mesmer
Thursdays, 8-9:50 p.m.
15 weeks, beginning August 29
Express Reg: NWRW3311 Section A
Sharon Mesmer, MFA, Brooklyn College, is a Fulbright Specialist. She is the recipient of two New York Foundation for the Arts fellowships in poetry and a MacArthur Scholarship (through Brooklyn College); co-recipient, Jerome Foundation/SASE grant. Publications include Annoying Diabetic Bitch, The Virgin Formica, Ma Vie a Yonago, In Ordinary Time, and The Empty Quarter. Poems in Norton Anthology of Postmodern American Poetry; prose in I'll Drown My Book: Conceptual Writing by Women. Mesmer is a member of the flarf collective.
Julie Sarkissian's debut novel, Dear Lucy (Simon & Schuster), to quote Joyce Carol Oates, "introduces a young writer with a most original voice and a tenderly eccentric vision. Julie Sarkissian has created a boldly lyrical, suspenseful, and mysterious fictional world in this striking debut novel." Recently, I asked Sarkissian (MFA 2007) a few questions about her luminary debut novel, advice for novelists emerging from an MFA program, and the idiosyncratic method with which she approaches voice and setting.
Roberto Montes: In another interview you mention that Dear Lucy began as your Master’s thesis here at The New School. What advice do you have for writers in MFA programs on the process of transforming their theses into finished works?
Julie Sarkissian: There are as many ways to get a book written as there are books that need to be written, and writers to write them. Part of figuring out how to get words on the page is learning what methods of discipline and time management work for you. Don’t be discouraged if what works for a peer doesn’t work for you. For me, I needed a quiet, dependable place to work, where I would never have trouble finding an electrical outlet or place to sit. So coffee shops were out. For a while I paid to work at Paragraph, a workspace for writers on 14th Street and I was very productive there. Eventually when my living situation changed I was able to have the peace and quiet I needed to work from home. I also found that having a job that didn’t drain my intellectual energy and didn’t follow me home was important, which is why I have stuck with working in a restaurant for so many years. But some of my fellow writers love working for magazines or teaching full time, and they find that being intellectually stimulated by their day job is inspiring. Also, try not to overwhelm yourself thinking about the enormity of “publishing,” or fretting about how impossible it feels to make a living as a writer. Just do the work you can do on any given day. You will write the book by putting one foot in front of the other, one word after the other– or, as Ann Lamott puts it– bird by bird. One last piece of advice is to polish your manuscript as much as you can bear to before trying to find an agent. There is no rush. As my agent put it, “nobody waits for your first novel.” Except the writer of course, but the point being you should embrace the fact that you have time on your side.
RB: What inspired the narrative of Dear Lucy and how did it grow over the years you worked on it?
JS: Lucy’s voice was the inspiration for the novel. She came to me as she was gathering eggs for breakfast. She led me from the chicken coop and into the kitchen, where I was introduced to Samantha, Mister and Missus. So Lucy’s voice was one element that remained relatively constant through the process. Much of the development of the book occurred in trying to analyze the motivations of other characters and how those motivations would affect Lucy. I always felt that Samantha would ask Lucy to go on a quest, forcing Lucy to weigh the importance of helping her only friend against keeping her promise to her mother. But in order for that dramatic conflict to unfold I had to develop Samantha’s motivations for being on the farm in the first place, I had to examine her ambivalence about her pregnancy, and her anger towards her parents. It was a similar challenge to shape Missus’ past. I knew Missus was obsessed with getting a baby, and somehow that obsession was what thematically – and literally – linked the women on the farm. But the depth of Missus’ manipulation, and the specific ways her past interplayed with Lucy and Samantha’s situation were developed over time.
RB: Lucy’s voice seems to occupy both a poetic haze and a childlike lucidity. How did you cultivate such a startling and idiosyncratic voice while keeping it organic?
JS: Thank you so much! Writing in Lucy’s voice felt more like being possessed by something than creating something. Her strange turns of phrase, the small details of life that captivate her attention, her idealization of her mother – they all came as a packaged deal with a life of their own. Her voice – though it is by far the most unusual voice in the book– took the least amount of conscious effort to remain consistent and organic. Writing from Lucy’s point of view was like playing a game of Ouija; my fingers were on the cursor, but Lucy’s voice was what moved it.
RB: I was very intrigued by your claim that you wanted to keep Dear Lucy outside of the context of a particular time period or location. What were the motivations for the decision? What were the challenges?
JS: The lack of any specificity of time or place was an element of the book I was rather unconscious of. I believe I write from the ear rather than the eye, so when I was writing, I didn’t “see” a “real” place. I heard voices, and the setting they inhabited looked like purposefully bare-bones stage production, with only the necessary props. I didn’t see a fully designed visual universe, certainly not with say, a calendar with a specific year tacked on the kitchen wall, or a Sears catalogue displaying the newest appliances open on the coffee table. Those details were just absent, not because they were omitted, but because they were just never there to begin with. But there were certainly challenges. One being that I wanted to make Samantha seem like a normal teenager, and normal teenagers like movie stars and bands. I was tempted to have Samantha talk about her posters of celebrities (which ones I didn’t know,) but it would have been sloppy and confusing to have only one character living in world with a specific decade and location.
RB: What project are you working on now?
JS: I am working on a novel about a carnival that takes place on a pirate ship, currently, and unoriginally, called The Pirate Carnival. The pirates believe that the only life worth living is one in which you get to realize the full expression of your desires – no matter how base, how dangerous, how frightening those desires are. When the ship docks in a sleepy New England town, a young woman must chose between the life she always thought she wanted, and one where pleasure, beauty, and ego trump all else. It’s a mess right now but I’m loving living in pirate carnival universe and hope it has a future. We’ll see!
Julie Sarkissian is a graduate of Princeton University, where she won the Francis Leon Paige Award for creative writing, and holds an MFA in Fiction from The New School. Her debut novel, Dear Lucy, was published by Simon & Schuster in April 2013. Her work has appeared in Flavorwire, The New York Observer, Tin House Magazine, and elsewhere. She is an instructor at The Sackett Street Writer’s Workshop and lives in Brooklyn, New York. You can follow her on Twitter @SarkissianJulie.
The School of Writing is happy to be hosting three days of events of the annual PEN World Voices Festival this weekend. This year's festival revolves around courageous art and literature and the individuals who fight to make it:
Writers from across the globe convene in New York to explore bravery in art, politics and personal life. This year's Festival will examine writers' impact on political transformations in recent global hot spots such as Burma, Palestine, South Africa, Haiti, and Guantanamo Bay—as well as honor those small acts of bravery displayed in everyday life.
Join us at The New School for the following forums and readings by celebrated and courageous authors and critics.
Note: All events at The New School will be held at Tishman Auditorium (66 West 12th St) unless otherwise indicated. Tickets are available to be purchased at the door, by visiting www.worldvoicesfestival.org, or by calling (866) 811-4111.
Since her first collection of stories, At the Bottom of the River, Jamaica Kincaid has been a leading chronicler of Caribbean culture and tradition. Join us for this frank discussion between two writers who reveal the disparity between the way the world is and the way it could be.
Acclaimed poet and author of the novel Push, Sapphire is a relentless advocate for change. Don’t miss this engaging dialogue between two writers of formidable talent.
The Testament of Mary: A Discussion on the Broadway Show
Tishman Auditorium, 1:30 p.m. to 3:00 p.m.
FREE, no tickets required
Award-winning actress Fiona Shaw, writer Colm Toibin, and director Deborah Warner discuss the process of bringing The Testament of Mary, Toibin’s adaptation of his 2012 novella, to the Broadway stage. Mary tells her own story in the inventive and controversial new work, and thus, writes a new testament of Christ.
At dinner parties, on editorial pages, from academic lecterns, and in myriad other forums, the impact of digital age on publishing had been widely discussed. Now, a panel of industry heavy-hitters will take the conversation to the next level; by discussing the discussion itself. Are the right topics being addressed? Where is the conversation headed? With Chris Hughes, Bhaskar Sunkara, Robert Silvers, and Katrina Vanden Heuvel. Moderated by Suzanna Nossell.
In this candid dialogue, essayist Fran Lebowitz will weigh in on bravery in art. Timelessy hip, sardonic, and New-York-to-the-marrow, Lebowitz was recently the subject of Public Speaking, a documentary film by Martin Scorsese.
All That’s Left to You: Palestinian Writers in Conversation
Tishman Auditorium, 3:00 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.
$25/$20 PEN/USA Members and students will valid ID.
For the first time in the Festival’s history, PEN brings together a panel of leading Palestinian writers to take their place in the global literary community. From Palestine and form the diaspora, they will share their work, experiences, and visions, revealing how a literature is both imagined and created under occupation, siege, and exile. Co-sponsored by The New School, ArteEast, The Lannan Foundation, and the Open Society
Master/Class: Eduardo Galeano with Jessica Hagedorn
Tishman Auditorium, 5:00 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.
$20/$15 PEN/USA Members and students will valid ID.
Celebrated Uruguayan storyteller and chronicler of history’s forgotten, Eduardo Galeano, talks about the intersection of literature and politics can become the poetic and where poetry is unafraid of politics.
In 1947, a distinguished Hungarian art movement called the European School initiated a project called the Invisible Symposium. Artists from a variety of disciplines—including writers, visual artists, philosophers, and editors—were all asked the same set of questions. Their answers were collected and published. The 2013 PEN World Voices Festival mounts its own Invisible Symposium, with a focus on the current state of democracy. Why is it ailing? What challenges will it face in the years to come? Actors will portray the participating intellectuals in a staged exchange of ideas, conveying an engaging and entertaining virtual dialogue among the world’s most important thinkers. In collaboration with Jacobin. Emceed and Hosted by Brooke Gladstone.
The School of Writing is proud to present a panel of notable writers reading fiction and nonfiction on Friday, April 19th. The panel, as part of the Food & Immigrant Life Conference, places issues of immigration and food in the context of a broader social justice agenda and explores the central role food plays in expressing cultural heritage. Luis Jaramillo will moderate panelists Von Diaz, Marie Myung-Ok Lee, Monique Truong, and Tiphanie Yanique. For more information, visit our website.
Von Diaz is a multimedia journalist and oral historian based in New York City. Her reporting and research focuses on immigration, Latino culture, Cuba, and LGBT issues. She currently works as the Marketing & Communications Manager at El Museo del Barrio in New York City. She was born in Puerto Rico and holds a dual M.A. in Journalism and Latin American and Caribbean Studies from New York University, and a B.A. in Women's Studies from Agnes Scott College. Her work has been published by PRI’s The World, Latino USA, WNYC, and New American Media. She is a journalist for Feet in 2 Worlds, a program of the Center for NYC Affairs at The New School.
Marie Myung-Ok Lee is a fiction and nonfiction writer. Her work has appeared in Guernica, Witness, FiveChap
Monique Truong is a writer based in Brooklyn, New York who was born in Saigon, South Vietnam, in 1968. Her first novel was The Book of Salt (Houghton Mifflin, 2003)—a national bestseller and the recipient of the New York Public Library Young Lions Fiction Award, a PEN Oakland/Josephine Miles National Literary Award, an Association for Asian American Studies Poetry/Prose Award, and a Seventh Annual Asian American Literary Award. In 2003, The Book of Salt was also honored as a New York Times Notable Fiction Book, a Chicago Tribune Favorite Fiction Book, and one of the Miami Herald‘s Top 10 Books. Her second novel, Bitter in the Mouth (Random House, 2010), is the inaugural selection of the Ladies’ Home Journal Book Club and received the Rosenthal Family Foundation Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and was named a 25 Best Fiction Books of 2010 by Barnes & Noble, a 10 Best Fiction Books of 2010 by Hudson Booksellers, and the adult fiction Honor Book by the Asian Pacific American Librarians Association. Truong is also a contributing co-editor of Watermark: An Anthology of Vietnamese American Poetry & Prose (Asian American Writers' Workshop, 1998).
Tiphanie Yanique is an Assistant Professor in the MFA School of Writing at The New School for Public Engagement and is author of How to Escape from a Leper Colony (Graywolf Press, 2010). Yanique’s writing has won the 2011 BOCAS Prize for Caribbean Fiction, Boston Review Prize in Fiction, a Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers Award, a Pushcart Prize, a Fulbright Scholarship and an Academy of American Poet's Prize. She has been listed by the Boston Globe as one of the sixteen cultural figures to watch out for and by the National Book Foundation as one of the 2010 5 Under 35, a list announcing the next generation of fiction writers.
Luis Jaramillo is the Associate Chair of the Writing Program at the New School, where he oversees the undergraduate curriculum and the Riggio Honors Program: Writing and Democracy and teaches courses in fiction and nonfiction, and is co-editor of the journal The Inquisitive Eater: New School Food. His first book, The Doctor's Wife, won the Dzanc Books Short Story Collection Contest, was an Oprah Book of the Week, and was named one of NPR's Best Books of 2012.
Summer Writers Colony visiting writers Brenda Shaughnessy, author of the widely acclaimed Our Andromeda, and Ben Lerner, author of the celebrated Leaving the Atocha Station, were recently honored with the prestigious Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship for poetry. We're excited to have them join us for this year's Summer Writers Colony, and to join an extraordinary line-up of faculty, including Pulitzer prize winner Jorie Graham, the New York Times Book of the Year winner Chad Harbach, National Book Award finalist Domingo Martinez, and Whiting Writers Award winner John Jeremiah Sullivan.
The Summer Writers Colony is an intensive 3 week program beginning June 3rd that works to focus and challenge writers of fiction, poetry, and nonfiction with workshops, literary salons, and supplemental activities. Each literary salon involves reading a work of a prize-winning author, critically discussing its structure from a writer's perspective, and then sitting down with the author him/herself for a reading and forum where students may benefit from the author's experience by asking them questions directly.
Registration is still open and available online to current credit and non-credit students alike, although seats are filling quickly as April ends. We encourage everyone to register now to ensure they have a seat available for workshop.
To read Our Andromeda, Brenda Shaughnessy's third book of poems, is to witness a brilliant intelligence throwing sparks. Shaughnessy writes about the oddities of desire and about the imaginative space between experience and inner life. Her poems take on subjects as varied as the tarot, the process of making art, and the malleability of identity. In the salon, we read these poems closely and discuss our critical and artistic responses. Brenda Shaughnessy is a recipient of a James Laughlin Award from the Academy of American Poets and has been a National Book Critics Circle Award finalist. She is poetry editor-at-large for Tin House. Taught by Laura Cronk.
In Leaving the Atocha Station, Ben Lerner wields the scalpels of pathos and intelligence to dissect the anxiety of art in contemporary life. Detached, funny, and desperately dependent on optional realities, his narrator navigates the demands of the Fulbright Foundation, the horrific 2004 Madrid train bombing, and the urgency of writing in a time that both transforms and is transformed by writing. In the salon, you will explore narrative unreliability and attachment along with the other pleasurable contradictions of this novel. Ben Lerner is the winner of the Believer Award and the Hayden Carruth Award, a National Book Award finalist, and the first American to win the prestigious German poetry prize, Preis der Stadt Münster für Internationale Poesie. Taught by Karen McKinnon.
New School MFA alum Loren Moreno's award winning chapbook, Aaron & Keoni, is now available to order from Gertrude Press. Congratulations to Loren!
In Aaron & Keoni, Loren Moreno takes us into the evolving, modern relationship between two young men. With quiet confidence and understated beauty, Moreno’s linked stories unfold to show us their love in these different moments, including how they survive the loss of a child they were going to adopt: ‘He wanted to make the perfect hat for our child … It was now December and still Keoni hadn’t stopped knitting. We could fill a trunk, or two, with all his hats.’ Aaron & Keoni is an honest, subtle, powerful collection. — Tammy Stoner
Loren Moreno is a journalist and writer from Honolulu, Hawaii currently living in Brooklyn, New York. For five years he was a daily newspaper reporter covering education for The Honolulu Advertiser, Hawai’i's largest daily newspaper. Currently he is an associate editor at a magazine publishing group in NYC. He holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Hawai’i Pacific University and recently earned his MFA in Creative Writing at The New School. His creative work has been published or is forthcoming in Eclectic Flash, Ignavia Press, Glossolalia, Gertrude, and Battered Suitcase. His flash fiction chapbook At This Late Hour was awarded runner-up in the 2010 Stonewall Chapbook Contest run by Brickhouse Books. Another chapbook, Lives Worth Saving, earned third place in the 2011 Gertrude Chapbook Contest run by Gertrude Press. He is currently working on a young adult novel. You can follow him on Twitter @Loren_Arthur
Let's just suppose you were unable to attend the 2012 Story Prize ceremony at The New School. Well, no reason to despair—you can still see the readings of the finalists, Claire Vaye Watkins, Junot Diaz, and Dan Chaon. You want more you say? Well, check out our exclusive behind the scenes photo gallery of the event!
UPDATE: Congratulations to Claire Vaye Watkins for winning the 2012 Story Prize for her amazing collection, Battleborn!
The 2012 Story Prize reading and announcement of the winner is taking place today at the New School at 7:30 p.m.
In honor of the ceremony let's take a look at the finalists:
Dan Chaon was named a finalist for his collection of stories, Stay Awake.
About Stay Awake Jeff Turrentine at The Washington Post wrote:
This is horror fiction, but of an entirely different sort from what we're accustomed to. The menacing spirits in these dozen tales don't rattle chains or send teacups flying. They do, however, live up to the title of "apparition," in that they're likely to appear suddenly and without warning, and to send hearts racing…Chaon's lean, terse stories…can evoke Raymond Carver in their ability to wreak strange poetry from plain-spoken language, and Sherwood Anderson, the author's fellow Ohioan, in their sympathy for the lonely and the left behind.
At The New York Times Book Review, our own MFA faculty member Patrick McGrath wrote:
The best of [Chaon's] stories arouse a feeling of deep foreboding. Then, with the reader's realization of what's about to emerge from the shadows, comes a shock of recognition. This is the great guilty pleasure of good horror fiction: the sickening moment when the monstrosity at the heart of the story's darkness suggests itself to the eager imagination, while still withholding its true shape. Stay Awake is a superbly disquieting demonstration of that uneasy power.
Junot Díaz was named a finalist for the story collection, This Is How You Lose Her.
At The New York Times, critic Michiko Kakutani called This Is How You Lose Her:
…a miniaturist performance—a modest, musically structured riff that works variations on one main subject: a young Dominican man's womanizing and its emotional fallout…This Is How You Lose Her doesn't aspire to be a grand anatomy of love like Gabriel García Márquez's Love in the Time of Cholera…but it gives us a small, revealing window on the subject.
Meanwhile, Leah Hager Cohen at The New York Times Book Review wrote:
…This Is How You Lose Her can stand on its own, but fans will be glad to hear that it brings back Yunior, who narrated several of the stories in Díaz's first collection, Drown…Yunior is a gorgeously full-blown character—half the time you want to comfort him, the other half you want to kick him in the pants…In the new book, as previously, Díaz is almost too good for his own good. His prose style is so irresistible, so sheerly entertaining, it risks blinding readers to its larger offerings. Yet he weds form so ideally to content that instead of blinding us, it becomes the very lens through which we can see the joy and suffering of the signature Díaz subject: what it means to belong to a diaspora, to live out the possibilities and ambiguities of perpetual insider/outsider status.
Claire Vaye Watkins was named a finalist for her collection, Battleborn.
At Publisher's Weekly, Chris Offut wrote about Battleborn:
Claire Vaye Watkins has apparently sprung fully formed into the narrow pantheon of young writers willing to take narrative risks, eschewing trend and style for depth and wisdom. Entering the varied lives is akin to watching a tightrope walker high overhead, moving with steady confidence without a net. I found no missteps, no wobbles, no hesitations. As every story ended, I exhaled a long breath I didn’t know I’d been holding. Watkins writes with precision and care, the sentences themselves as surprising as the events, the dialogue, and the spare description. On a purely formal level, these stories shatter the forward motion of time. They move easily and readily from the present to the past and even to the near future. For lack of a better term, there is a purity to the prose that is a constant pleasure to read. Watkins makes beautiful art by embracing the rigors of the short story form, considered the most difficult in literature, then tossing out the rules and inventing some of her own. She blends history and fact with fiction to create a new mythology of the American West—the untold stories of people seeking connection with the past, the land, and each other.
And Antonya Nelson, writing for The New York Times Book Review, wrote:
Whether Watkins casts a backward glance…or a contemporaneous one…her vision is brutally unsentimental. Characters dig themselves into holes—literal or figurative—and are not explicitly rescued. If they survive it's by the same means as they've so far endured: stubbornness, luck and a slim strand of hope…Readers will share in the environs of the author and her characters, be taken into the hardship of a pitiless place and emerge on the other side—wiser, warier and weathered like the landscape.
Congratulations and good luck to all the finalists. Among all the uncertainty and anticipation surrounding a prestigious prize like this, one thing can be certain: all three of these talented authors deserve the recognition they receive.
If you haven't yet bought tickets for the event today you will be able to purchase tickets at the door.
Kiran Desai (author of The Inheritance of Loss) and Laren McClung (author of the poetry collection, Between Here and Monkey Mountain) joined MFA faculty member Tiphanie Yanique for a forum about eschewing and innovating beyond the tinny advice of "writing what you know."
On the process of writing characters with different economic backgrounds Kiran Desai said:
"If you open the door, it's very easy. And then you begin to make connections with all these people from different landscapes… and then you begin to make it fiction."
Desai answered the question of balancing between narrative and lyrical word choice saying:
"I read a lot of poetry and it teaches me how to move—between landscapes and people. The poetry of the prose does become quite important."
On the use of non-fiction in fiction she admitted:
"I have found that anytime I do non-fiction work, it helps me enormously in my fiction."
Laren McClung spoke to the audience about the process of writing saying:
"Time is really important… It's important that we process things through our psyche, and internalize it fully before we come to the page with it."
On narrative McClung said:
"Narrative for me was important. I never have a narrative fully in my mind when I write, but I know it will come."
"It's important to me because I never want my listener to be baffled. "
And on influence she warned:
"As a writer you don't want your own voice to become too close to someone else's."
Both Kiran Desai's book and Laren McClung's collection are available to order online or at your local bookstore. Many thanks to both of them for spending time with us to talk about the artistry of writing.
Kiran Desai is the author of The Inheritance of Loss, which won the 2006 Booker Prize. Her first book was Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard. She’s been published in the New Yorker and Mirrorwork, an anthology of 50 years of Indian writing edited by Salman Rushdie.
Laren McClung is the author of Between Here and Monkey Mountain. She’s been the recipient of a Goldwater Hospital Teaching Fellowship, a Teachers & Writers Collaborative Van Lier Fellowship, and a Veterans Writing Fellowship at NYU. McClung is coeditor of the anthology Inheriting the War.
Moderated by Tiphanie Yanique, Assistant Professor at the School of Writing.
Mario Zambrano, who graduated from the Riggio Honors Program in 2011, has had his upcoming debut novel, Lotería, previewed on Library Journal's Fiction Previews list. Library Journal refers to the novel as "the big-news debut of [the] group."
It's not hard to see why there's excitement. The book is a carefully complected narrative that features an 11 year old protagonist, Luz Castillo, illustrate her life by using "lotería": the Mexican version of bingo.
On Lotería, acclaimed author Justin Torres remarks :
“LOTERIA is a taut, fraught, look at tragedy, its aftermath, and the stories we tell ourselves to survive. With suspense, dread, and always the possibility for redemption, we watch as Zambrano flips the cards of chance and fate.”
Josh Weil, author of The New Valley writes:
“In a bold, deeply-felt debut Mario Alberto Zambrano brings us tragedy made powerful through a small girl’s touching voice. Her great gift is the joy she brings to this sorrow-filled story, matched only by the joy we feel in getting to know her. Luz embraces us as fearlessly as she does life, as whole-heartedly as Zambrano does the story of her richly complex, fully felt family. These are people who hold on to each other so hard it hurts. And this moving novel will hug you too, every bit as tight.”
Lotería is now available to preorder online.
You can hear Zambrano reading from a selection of the novel below:
Mario Alberto Zambrano was a contemporary ballet dancer before dedicating his time to writing fiction. He has lived in Israel, Holland, Germany, Spain, and Japan, and has danced for Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, Nederlands Dans Theater, Ballett Frankfurt, and Batsheva Dance Company. He graduated from The New School as a Riggio Honors Fellow and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop as an Iowa Arts Fellow. Lotería is his first novel.
Thanks to the cooperation of the National Book Critics Circle Award and the New School Graduate Writing Program, as well as the tireless efforts of our students and faculty, we are able to provide for you interviews with each of the 2012 National Book Critics Circle Finalists concerning their selected book.
Below, watch MFA student Halle Murcek talk with the fiction winner, Ben Fountain, about his prize winning novel, Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk.
Halle Murcek is originally from the Midwest. She graduated with a BA in Creative Writing from Denison University and is currently working toward her MFA in fiction at The New School.
For more interviews with the 2012 National Book Critics Circle Award finalists visit The American Vanguard.
New School faculty member and alum Luis Jaramillo's The Doctor's Wife, winner of the Dzanc Short Story Collection prize, and an Oprah's Book of the Week, has been selected as a Best Book of 2012 on NPR.
"Ideally suited to our fragmented times ... a finely etched autobiographical portrait of a family that spans 50 years, and three generations." — NPR.org, Jane Ciabattari
"The Doctor's Wife is story-writing at its best; lean, even epigrammatic, each of these stories offers a beautifully realized insight into the life of three generations of a family in the pacific Northwest." — Scott Turow
"I read Luis Jaramillo's beautiful collection in one sitting. This is a ravishing book. I loved every word. It should be required reading for everyone." — Abigail Thomas
In stylish and inventive short flashes, The Doctor's Wife tells the moving story of three generations of a family in the Pacific Northwest. The Doctor's Wife is now available to order or at your local book store.
Luis Jaramillo is the author of The Doctor’s Wife, winner of the Dzanc Books Short Story Collection Contest, an Oprah Book of the Week, and one of NPR’s Best Books of 2012. Luis’s work has also appeared in Open City, Gamers (Soft Skull Press), Tin House Magazine, H.O.W. Journal, and Red Line Blues. He is the Associate Chair of the Writing Program at the New School, where he oversees the undergraduate curriculum and the Riggio Honors Program: Writing & Democracy, teaches courses in fiction and nonfiction, and is co-editor of the journal The Inquisitive Eater: New School Food. He has led workshops on yoga and writing at the New School Summer Writers Colony, NYU Paris, and the Laughing Lotus Yoga Studios in Manhattan and San Francisco. He received an undergraduate degree from Stanford and an MFA from The New School.