Author Archives: Abbie Lahmers

Dinner with Amy Hassinger: Some Advice and Inspiration


Left to right: Ernestine Montoya, Amy Hassinger, Teri Grimm, Julia Wagner

Ernestine Montoya, one of our assistant fiction editors, spoke with our A&L Fiction Prize judge, Amy Hassinger:

On Tuesday, March 7th, Amy Hassinger visited Georgia College to read from her latest novel, After the Dam. The book tells the story of Rachel, a new mother who travels back to her grandmother’s farm in Maine, where she spent her childhood summers and met her first love. Though she initially returns to care for the ailing Grand, Rachel also hopes her time there can be spent reclaiming herself. I had the opportunity to meet Amy and her friend and colleague, the poet Terry Grimm, who also read from her latest poetry collection, during their time in Milledgeville. In the flesh, Amy is bright-eyed, insightful, and well-spoken. Perhaps most notably, she is wise in the ways of the writer, both as a career and an art. Don’t worry. I took some notes.


  1. Fictional females are easy fodder for criticism. Consumers of any genre, be it prose, television, film, or celebrity gossip, are quick to judge the actions of women, especially when those women are mothers. After spending time with book groups that read the novel, Amy realized a similar theme: they were most infuriated by Rachel’s decisions when those decisions affected her newborn, Deirdre. This is understandable, of course, but it does lead to a recurrent conundrum: expecting women in fiction, mothers or not, to be above reproach. Luckily for us, Amy’s novels, which all feature a female protagonist as the central character, are not concerned with painting a portrait of the perfect woman, but rather, a sometimes wise, foolish, relatable, infuriating, lovely, complicated, and yes, at times unlikable, human.


  1. The P-word is alive and well— but not unbeatable. For any female professional, there is one word that, if we allow it, can wield immense power: pushy. The P-word can be innocuous and deadly. The P-word can keep us from asking for job opportunities or favors. But the P-word is largely gendered. Men do not often experience such anxiety when they are simply asking for what they want. After discussing this odd phenomenon with Amy and Terry, I was reminded of a simple fact: it is okay to ask for things.


  1. Be nice. To a young writer, the writing world can at times feel impenetrable and daunting, but it is a small one, after all. Make connections, be genuine, and do what you can to help other writers succeed. Ask magazines if they’d like to publish book reviews that you’ve written about up-and-coming writers’ novels. Be honest about your experience with the book, but your goal is not to be the Renata Adler of small press book reviews. (Though if there were such a person, I confess I would be curious.) You are, rather, sharing with other readers what can be gained from the work, making a connection with the author of the book, and adding to your own professional experience. No nastiness required.


Though I am happy to share what I learned, I must express regret that you did not hear the words directly from Amy. Her presence in person is difficult to describe, but I will say this: she has that rare quality, quickly vanishing from modern times—when Amy listens to you, it is impossible not to feel interesting. And considering the kind, intelligent source, that is saying quite a lot.


It’s not too late to submit to the Arts & Letters Fiction Prize, judged by Amy Hassinger – the contest closes March 31st!


Poetry from Richard Garcia, 2017 Poetry Prize Judge


On Richard Garcia:

Richard Garcia won the 2016 Press 53 award for his book, Porridge, which was published in March of 2016. His book, The Other Odyssey, from Dream Horse Press, won the American Poetry Journal Book Award for 2014, and The Chair, from BOA, published in 2015, was chosen as the best poetry book of 2015 by the editor of Poetry Magazine in an article that appeared in Lit Hub. His poems have been in many journals, including The Georgia Review and Poetry, and in anthologies such as The Pushcart Prize and Best American Poetry. He lives in Charleston, S.C. He is on the staff of the Antioch Low Residency MFA in Los Angeles. Garcia is also our poetry judge for this year’s Arts & Letters Prizes.

Capriccio of the Imaginary Prison


After Piranesi

The faded remains of ancient advertising —
captives on parade in native costume.
Now the whangam, that imaginary animal
led by Wharfinger, keeper of the wharf.
And you, my puce, sitting between the paws
of the mechanical lion, his brittle heart of glass.
The regiments of holiday shoppers,
in formations two-by-two, are borne
along the sliding pavements between displays
into the Pavilion of the Encrusted Compass.
O hub of panopticon, each moment on display,
from the central monitor there is no escape.
This is all accomplished, even the symphonic
wrecking of the antique locomotive, in silence.
I have misplaced my whipcat and whinstone.
I try to recall something that I know.
A westing is a space of distance westward.
Wheep: the sound of steel drawn from a sheath.
What was the name of the Babylonian sidekick
of Sir Thomas More’s lead warren?
Time for the steam-driven, slow reckoning,
for the chains and block and tackle dangling
from the eternally unfinished dome, the chrome-
plated waterfall and the ascension
into the arcades, the arcades and their broken promises.

Source: Poetry (March 2017)

The Sublime

Now, when they remember it, they think that perhaps they had heard the approach of the sublime—like a distant hum of huge machinery, long before it arrived. As it drew closer there was no mistaking it as hundreds of swaths of trees in the forest across the valley lay down in supplication. Some of the survivors describe it as an approaching shadow. Some say it became midnight in the afternoon, and they saw constellations they had never seen before or since. Others say it was a conflagration, the air was on fire, houses and trees exploding before the flames even touched them. Some say the sublime was ice, or even just a deep silence. They only thing survivors agree on is that they could not take their eyes off of it. If there had been music, and some say there was, it would have been The Ride of the Valkyries. And they stood there, their weapons like toys dangling from their hands, staring up at the advancing sublime. Shit, they said, and fuck, and God, they said, my God.

Source: Rattle – Poets Respond (January 2017)

A&L Prize Submissions Open Through March

The 19th Annual Arts & Letters Prize Competition opens just in time for AWP. Our staff of readers and editors will be at booth 311 all day Thursday through Saturday to talk about the contest and recommend some of our personal favorite stories, essays, and poems from the last few issues. Issue 33, our most recent, will be available for a discounted price to browse through past winners of the A&L Prize: work by Micah Dean Hicks, Jude Nutter, and Dawn Davies. The best way to know what we’re looking for is to read what we’re publishing. We’ll be reading contest entries through the end of March.

If you’re at the conference, say hi to us at booth 311. If you’ve contributed to A&L, stop by for a picture with our editors and a pin!