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Before you sing “Auld Lang Syne” we’ve got one more 2014 book list for you! Our co-managing editor has put together a list of 35 debut authors aged 35 and over. … read more
In the latest interview in our new series, Ampersand, we spoke to Dawn Davies about writing spaces, writing habits, and guilty pleasures! Davies was the winner of the 2016 Susan Atefat Prize for Creative Nonfiction for her essay “Mothers of Sparta,” which appeared in Issue 33.
A&L: What is the toughest bad writing habit that you have had to break, or do you advocate for embracing bad habits?
Dawn Davies: I could give you an alarming and deeply revealing list of my bad habits, but let’s not go there. I’m constantly playing Whack-a-Mole, beating them down to where I hope they give up and go away. Sometimes it works. Maybe some people have bad habits they can work around, or work with, but if I let a bad habit linger, it turns into a monster and derails my productivity/health/sleep cycle/insert-your-own-life-function-here. #OCD.
My bad writing habits tend to collect around lack of confidence. I have caught myself, while in the middle of writing, saying things like “This is bunk. This is too grubby. This is just no good. This idea is too much. Who will this matter to besides myself?” The insecure side of my inner voice tries to pull my creativity back, and it has gotten in the way, especially when making stylistic decisions that make my work identifiable as mine, and especially when I am at the beginning of shaping something new. My initial inclination is to take an idea just a little too far…the metaphor will be a little hostile, or an image will be a little violent or visceral, or a theme will be just a tad “out there.” That’s not bad, but my worry-wort inner voice likes to tell me it is. I used to be afraid of the raw stuff, but now I believe people respond to this when they read my work. If I do what the worry-wort wants, which is to question the “grubbiness,” I run the risk of beating the ideas themselves down, and not the bad habit of second-guessing them. I don’t want to tame my work to where it feels beaten down, or tepid, or over palatable to readers. I want my work to be a wild thing. Now I work on not questioning my “in the moment” decisions, and I am getting better at getting the ideas down as fast as they come, without questioning them. They are just ideas. Not tattoos on my face.
A&L: What is the best thing (related to writing) that you ever spent money on?
DD: The best writing-related tool I ever spent money on was a tote bag, though it was my parents who spent the money on my first one. When I was three or four, we filled the tote bag with books from the public library and took the books home. I devoured them, then we went back to the library the next week and did it again. I read as many books per week as they would let me check out, and I did this for years. As soon as I got old enough to ride my bike to the library, I could go whenever I wanted, so I read even more. It was true freedom. I read all the time—in the shower, when cooking, in the car, on vacations, in the middle of the night when I should have been asleep, at school when I should have been studying. I did this long before I knew I wanted to be a writer. I think my exposure to so many books helped me when it was time to write. I still struggled when learning, but I may have struggled a bit less than others who had not been exposed to four thousand books. A committed reading habit makes writing easier, though honestly, I’m always learning. It’s not like you learn to write and then you’ve learned it. You must keep learning to evolve.
A&L: What sort of thing did you write about when you began?
DD: I was about nineteen when I first started “seriously” writing, though really, writing is always so entertaining that I enjoy doing it, so it doesn’t feel serious. When I’m working, I’m still playing. Before nineteen, in high school, I wrote parodies of writers I was reading (Brautigan, Poe, Vonnegut, Fussell, Irving), and before that, in middle school, I wrote radio show scripts that I produced alone on my cassette player, and before that, in elementary school, I wrote little jokes I tried to get published in Reader’s Digest. I now think the writing I did as a child was important, and it was all serious work, especially the parody writing, because it was good practice. I didn’t recognize it as work, though, because I had fun doing it and I had no expectations to fulfill. I try to remember that feeling when I write today. I try to keep my writing life like a playground, where I can mess around and try new things.
At nineteen, I would ride my bike to the library and hand-write stacks of pages that vaguely resembled novels. I threw most of them away, but recently found one, and it was full of ideas that college students might find interesting while drunk at a party. Young women with vague identity and life-purpose problems, or young women with unrequited, somewhat shallow love issues. Or quirky, dysfunctional families that represented interesting character studies, but had no identifiable problems.
I recently found some old poetry I wrote around that age, and realized two things: first, my past and my present have not much changed as I still should not write poetry, and second – that my poetry at the time was similar in content to the novels. A lot of unrequited love and “coupling” problems, the kind that a nineteen-year-old might suffer through. Not to demean anything that nineteen-year-olds experience, but I don’t think the angles I chose to write about were deep enough to be interesting to anyone other than me at the time. I hadn’t yet figured out how to write about universal things while writing about specific things. I did notice similarities, though. My tone is still the same, and my characters—both fiction and my nonfiction persona—are still often wrapped up in their own interior monologues. The inner voice (See Question #1) rears its head again.
A&L: What is your guilty reading pleasure? What is your non-guilty reading pleasure?
DD: The first thing you should know is I am a re-reader. For fiction, my guilty reading pleasure is plot-heavy genre novels. I love a good plot. I read legal thrillers, detective and spy stories, and police procedurals. I don’t feel guilty about reading genre fiction, though I suspect this is the type of secret plot porn about which others might feel guilty. I love commercial fiction. I think page-turners that whisk you away are fun, and fun is important.
My more lit-worthy reading is variable, though I am currently in a weird sort of masculine phase, which should imply nothing about my love for women writers. I read and support them. I’m just in a phase. I have recently been on a Colson Whitehead binge. I have a long-time obsession with The Intuitionist and Sag Harbor.
I read a lot of war books. I don’t know why. When I want to be blown away by tone, I read Paul Fussell, who is my go-to essayist, and who also happens to write very deeply about war. He is wry, and funny, and sad, and informative all at the same time, and he can sustain these feelings even within more academic essays. I have read most of Fussell’s work and he never fails to disappoint technically and tonally. His essay structures are masterful from the seed to the skin and all the flesh in between.
Lately, when I want to write sweetly, I read E.B. White. He can write beautiful observational essays that have very subtle conflict. I can’t do that yet. When I want to get out of an essay funk I read John D’Agata’s The Next American Essay anthology. It helps to remind me of all the ways in which the craft can be stretched, the risks mid- and late twentieth century essayists took with their work, and the ways these risks have changed the craft.
When I want to read essays that are like music, and I need to think about the art of weaving in an essay, I read James Baldwin. This is a constant for me; Baldwin is one of my go-to writers.
When I want to see how far I can bend something I am working on, in both fiction and nonfiction, I have lately been turning to Italo Calvino, usually Cosmicomics, or Fabio Morabito’s Toolbox, which is a lovely, weird book. For fiction, I have spent some time lately with Shirley Jackson, Carol Shields, Charles Portis, and Toni Morrison, though I have read and re-read Morrison and Shields for years. I feel a great comfort re-reading books I love, and I learn from the re-reads.
A&L: Describe your writing space. Where do you write most often? What is your routine?
DD: I try to write every day, but sometimes I don’t. I use non-writing days to think about what I’m working on. I roll ideas over in my mind, try things on for size, consider options. I play with my options so much in my head that when I finally do write, I think it is easier because I don’t have as much to try out on paper.
My writing space is dull. At home it is a small, plain wood desk that faces a wall. It’s not fancy It’s not decorated. There is nothing special on it. It’s in a common room. I sit on a wood chair with a blanket on the seat. I can block out sounds of the house if I don’t hear any actual words aimed at me. I learned to do this when my kids were little, because I didn’t have an office and I wrote either in the laundry room standing up with my laptop on top of the dryer, or in the bathroom, sitting on top of the toilet. Those were the only places I could go where no one would bother me, unless I wrote in the middle of the night, which I also did. After scraping out that kind of writing existence, a plain, wood desk that faces a wall feels like a luxury.
Now, in the mornings, I make breakfast, my husband and I take the dogs for a walk, then he drives to work, and I work out. Once I exercise, I can sit down and concentrate. I turn off my phone and try to get in two to three hours before lunch. Then my husband comes home, and we eat salad and walk the dogs again. Then I ride my bike to the public library and work there for another three hours, or for as long as I can stand to sit still. I wrote a terrible book there when I was nineteen. I wrote my most recent book there, and it turned out better. Even with progress, some things never change. I still like the public library.
A&L: Bonus question: Describe your writing life in 140 characters or less (the length of a Tweet).
DD: Writing is a #playground. An essay is #anotherplanet. Fiction is a #realworld. Art (yours and mine) is a #wildthing to be protected.
Our editors have reviewed all the work we published in 2017 to choose work to nominate for the Pushcart Prize. If you’ve missed these poetry and prose selections, we hope you’ll check them out in Issues 34 and 35. Thank you to all the authors who seek out Arts & Letters as a platform to publish your work!
Peter Schireson: “Immigration Policy”
Emily Wolahan: “The Direct Account of Frank Thomas”
Sophia Galifianakis: “In My Mother’s Kitchen”
Leslie Pietrzyk: “People Love a View”
Ivan Himanen: “The Architect Gets Grandfathered”
For the readers on your gift list this year (or for yourself!), check out our subscription and back issue sales. Buy a subscription to Arts & Letters for yourself, and receive a free gift subscription for a friend. Each subscription comes with the current issue, featuring the A&L Prize winners along with the upcoming spring issue when it’s released, which will include the Unclassifiable Contest winner. When you order online, send us an email (at email@example.com) with your friend’s address and a personalized note to include.
You can find all of these deals on our store website too:
Our Unclassifiable Contest has ended, and a winner has been chosen by our judge, Michael Martone!
Shawndra Miller, “Bleeding the Butterfly”
Jolene McIlwain, “In All This Rain”
Julie Fisher, “Family Portrait with Trees”
Ted Mathys, “Ring Cycle”
Christina Olson, “The Pain Museum”
Brian Whalen, “Living Archive”
Martone writes of “Bleeding the Butterfly,” this year’s winner, “I always like when a piece of writing organically connects its content with form. Here, we have not so much a collage but more a delicate dancing decoupage of compositional bursts, mapping the bifurcated branches of consciousness and the unconscious, madness and sanity. The prose, dare I say, flits. It moves and darts, and its bleeding is arterial with its syncopated beats and repeats. I was impressed by the mess of it, the ordered disorder that replicates the subject at hand. That is to say: how does the mind think about itself? Answer: with such mirrors of reflection, with such surprising metamorphosis, with such delicate but startling beats of papillae, of Lepidoptera, of cocoon, of nymph—all the same old same old and yet remarkably different.”
Thank you to all those who submitted, for stretching our minds and engaging our imaginations! We hope to see your work again next year!
Issue 35 is out and we are eager to share it with you!
In this autumnal issue we are featuring the winner of the Rumi Prize for Poetry, George Looney; the winner of the Arts & Letters Prize for Fiction, Leslie Kirk Campbell; and the winner of the Susan Atefat Prize for Creative Nonfiction, Courtney Zoffness. Come check out their work and the work of our other fine contributors! You can order your copy online in print or digital formats at the Arts & Letters Exchange.
This fall, Arts & Letters is all about triangles!
If you’ve already read Issue 35, and you’re feeling inspired, remember that we are currently open for general submissions!
The Arts & Letters staff was saddened by news of contributor Naira Kuzmich’s death two weeks ago. Naira’s short story, “Beginning Armenian,” from Issue 27 can be found here, and is also excerpted below.
Adjectives are steadfast; while the noun it’s describing may change in number, the adjective remains the same.
Illness in a family can either break or strengthen it and there was never a time that I thought we’d fall apart. My parents were, in their own ways, people of action. I kept them busy. Dad put in more hours to pay my bills, my mother worried. The summer I came home from school, after my failed dalliances in poetry and sex, I began my treatment.
Young women with breast cancer are treated aggressively. Doctors try to leave no chance for the human spirit to weaken, for it to play a part. They think that young patients aren’t as resilient, that they generally have not been tested. He recommended that I have my left breast removed. A mastectomy. The tumor clocked in at 1.96 centimeters, small enough to have a lumpectomy, a procedure that could’ve saved most of my breast tissue, but he didn’t want to risk it. Do you want to risk it, he asked. And what could I tell him—that a man had yet to touch that left breast with love, yet to stand quiet, in awe, of my body, at the foot of my bed? Of course not, I told him. Get rid of the whole thing.
Before the surgery, I told my father to buy a lot of plastic chairs, just in case, for all the mourners. Our apartment was too small and they’d have to remember me outside in the backyard, where I had first jumped rope without a bra. Months later, drunk and in the dark, I’d jump again, staring at the expanse where my left breast used to be, my vision blurring until I saw what I wanted. My mother had watched from the living room window.
The surgery went as planned, and as hoped. After a course of chemo, we can talk about reconstructive surgery, the doctor said. So I did that too, lost my hair at twenty, bought my first wig, then my second, wore chest expanders, got the implant. I was back in school two years later, finished with my treatment at twenty-two, college at twenty-four.
Looking back, I don’t want to say it was easy, but that it was merely easier than my mother thought it would be. It was easier than my mother’s long dying.
All that energy in our bodies, those magical neurons, the little synapses and nerves that shine and sparkle in recognition and memory, all of that is for the young, but for what? There wasn’t much I needed to remember.
The second person singular is used only among the common people.
It’s not easy to take care of someone who doesn’t know why she needs to be taken care of. At first, I only came home a weekend a month, sitting with my mother and telling her about my students, my new friends, describing the paintings I purchased in extraordinary detail. I called more often than I used to. I gave my father addresses for respectable homes that would take both of them in. He refused, as did my mother, in the beginning, when she still had choices, could still make them. She was only sixty when diagnosed. One time she left the house and came back seven hours later from God knows where. She certainly didn’t. I began coming home twice a month. My tickets were round-trips. I’d brush her graying hair—though she still had plenty of black—and I’d tell her about my cat, Lola, the time she vomited on my shoes, my favorite restaurant on Mission Street, the bum on the bus beside me who hollered, “You think your shit doesn’t smell like shit?” when I asked him to stop touching my knee. Another time, my mother knocked over a vase and walked over the glass, feet bleeding, to get to the ringing phone. It was me on the other end. More than once she attacked my father with whatever she could get her hands on—a pen, a spatula, tweezers—thinking him a stranger. I started coming home every weekend.
And it’s not like it is in the movies. There are no happy endings, because there’s no real story, because you forget to ask for one. Because you forget, too, sitting there in front of your disappearing mother, that you’re not talking just to fill the silence. You forget that you should be listening, trying to piece together everything she says, every delusion and nonsense memory. Every strange thing, you should’ve written down, you should’ve recorded every scary laugh. You should’ve tried to keep her talking even as she started crying when she lost her train of thought. You should’ve asked more questions. But sitting there in front of your disappearing mother, you were thinking this is the hardest thing I have ever done and you were thinking, dear God, haven’t I been through enough?
The only one who believed in you was your mother. The doctor was right to take your breast.
The colon is not a colon, but a period. It is two fistfuls of dirt, one on top of the other. It is not a permission to speak or to sing.
If there is a God, then we deserve to be in sorrow only three times in our lives: at birth, at the weddings of our children, and then the minute before our passing. While I was undergoing treatment, my mother was trying to make deals with the devil. Ten years off mine for every extra year you give her. A wrinkle around my eyes for every month you keep her alive. My breast for her breast. Mind for her body.
My mother died a million deaths.
I want to say that I died right there along with her, but that would be a lie. Soot as we say in Armenian, like dirt, absolute shit. I’m back in LA, alive and well. I’m standing in front of a classroom, teaching middle-aged women how to read and write in a language they already know. My students claim to be from the village, all twenty-eight of them. Yes, Professor Chopuryan, we speak Hayeren, but mother and father never taught us how to spell our names or read letters. Cows to milk, floors to wash, wet clothes to hang, lots to do, so much. And I want to believe them, every single one. Nazik Chatinyan with her outlandish highlights and purple eyebrows, imitation Gucci blouses. Anahit Hagopyan, beautiful and quiet, graying hair and a purse-full of tissues and pictures. Gayane Poghosyan, mother of four, chipped nails and cheap mascara. Perhaps they are all from the village, maybe not the same one, but did I not pass many while in Armenia?
I listen to these women’s stories and nod in the right places. I smile and sympathize and take them for their word. I look at their faces and tell them, Go on, I’m listening.
Tell me everything. Soots or truths.
Talk. Say anything, anything at all. *
Kicking off the first interview in our new series, Ampersand, in which we ask former contributors about their writing lives, we spoke with Elisabeth Murawski earlier this week about juggling work and writing, amongst other things. A long time contributor, Murawski’s poems have appeared in Issue 27 and Issue 31, and we are excited to publish new poems from her in an upcoming issue.
A&L: What sort of thing did you write about when you first started writing?
Elisabeth Murawski: One of my first poems, written in college, dealt with rebellion and injustice. A forgettable line (which I haven’t forgotten!): “Convention, I defy you!” Another was based on one of my mother’s stories about someone who liked to set fires. The final line, verbatim from my mother, was “he grows pines.” The rest of the story hadn’t prepared me for that conclusion, but it made for a fine ending, quirky and blunt. Later, there were love poems when I met the man I married. And spiritual sonnets. I wrote fairly accessible stuff at first, but then I discovered Neruda and Vallejo and began to tap into the unconscious and dreams. I wanted that richness of language and imagery, but the results sometimes verged on the opaque and obscure. Eventually I balanced that tendency when I discovered the T’ang dynasty poets. Such clarity and simplicity! And then there was Plath. I resonated to those clipped, edgy lines. I saw her as a sort of oracle telling me you can do this, too.
A&L: What is the toughest bad writing habit that you have had to break, or do you advocate for embracing bad habits?
EM: For years I earned a living writing government training materials, which emphasize plain language and a logical “how to” style. The goal is to help the trainee learn a job; careful and clear explanation is prized. No place for ambiguity, for intuitive leaps. Still, years into retirement, I may find myself slipping into that flat, declarative mode. I’m not sure why it happens; maybe my brain defaults to a blow by blow approach when I’m tired or stressed. Maybe I’m afraid of being called obscure and inaccessible. In my efforts to be understood, I can and do get wordy, include too much, forgetting to give the poem space, the reader space to think and absorb. This even though I realize what is not said can be as important as what is. I admit that in my efforts to “make it better,” I may tinker too much and lose a poem’s magic. One of the ways I’ve handled this tendency is to let the draft sit a while. A few weeks away from what I thought to be complete can be illuminating.
A&L: Do you enjoy reading you work aloud? Centuries ago, poems, and stories were most often sung, not read. How’s your singing voice?
EM: I do enjoy reading my poems aloud. Not only at readings but while I’m working on them in the draft stage. In a way it’s writing for the ear, the equivalent of printing out the poem for the eye—I’ll often see that something isn’t working when I can hold the printed page in my hand. Reading aloud helps me catch the awkward places, the dead spaces, the clunky language not always evident on the page or screen. Hearing the words and their juxtaposition, I ask myself is there music, does it flow? Often I may associate to some other, better, image or word that improves the poem’s cumulative, overall effect. In workshops I’ve stressed to students the importance of this reading-aloud exercise. When I’m lazy, and don’t practice what I preach, I may end up with a poem that needs to be hospitalized. *
Thank you to everyone who submitted to the Unclassifiables Contest! We’re excited to start reviewing your work. Watch for finalists announced this fall. In the meantime, we’re reading fiction, creative nonfiction, poetry, and flash fiction starting today for our regular reading period. You can read our guidelines here and read digital back issues for only $3 for the rest of the month to acquaint yourself with the journal. Get to know us by reading authors we’ve published. For a limited time, a subscription includes a full year and a half (three issues) of Arts & Letters issues to peruse.
Congratulations to the winners of our 19th Annual Arts & Letters Prizes. Winners in poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction receive $1000 and publication in the upcoming Fall issue of Arts & Letters. The Drama Prize winner receives $500 and a travel stipend to see his one-act play performed at Georgia College and State University.
Rumi Prize for Poetry
Judge: Richard Garcia
WINNER: George Looney, for poems after photographs by Walker Evans
“’It Isn’t Always Classical’—the first line is a great opening for a poem, I can imagining a story or even a novel starting with those lines—‘Waiting it out is what those who live here/would say they’re up to, if asked.’ These are poems with complicated, nostalgic narratives, with many characters, some alive at the time of the photo, some absent or deceased. There is mention of music in the poems, and they seem to have a ghostly soundtrack. These poems are of a high achievement, complicated, intelligent, and lyrical.”
Benjamín Naka-Hasebe Kingsley
Patricia Colleen Murphy
Judge: Amy Hassinger
WINNER: Leslie Campbell, for “The Tasmanians”
“I found this story rich with the heavy content of its characters’ lives, particularly Mariam’s, as she tries—and fails—to escape from a past that haunts her mercilessly. The narrative is as full of well-chosen objects as her own closet, and they seem to spill out into the story and take it over in a way that supports her drastic decision at the end…. I love how the story is weighted with a larger sense of history—the world pressing itself into the lives of these very specific characters in their very specific universe. Beautifully done.”
Wes Civilz, for “First World Problem”
Stephen Hundley, for “Dog”
Sarah Earle Záhořík, for “The Present Unreal”
Susan Atefat Prize for Creative Nonfiction
Judge: Sonja Livingston
WINNER: Courtney Zoffness, for “It May All End in Aleppo”
“’It May All End in Aleppo’ is worthy of a prize for the language alone. A gorgeous meditation on place, the writing is lush and descriptive and brings together images of 1960’s Aleppo with the haunting images of modern Syria we’ve all seen. But it’s the added twist of the writer’s perspective as a ghostwriter—and her palpable association to her subject and his beautiful war-torn birthplace—that makes this piece so unique. The writer conveys not only the minarets and pomegranates and rug stalls of old Aleppo, but the ugliness, too, the history of intolerance, the fleeing families, the child washed ashore. More than anything, the essay illustrates the life-changing and tender connection that comes when we open ourselves so fully to another’s story.”
Margaret MacInnis, for “Being Dorothy in Kuwait”
David Rompf, for “False Vertigo”
Elizabeth Mosier, for “From Scratch”
Kelly Bowen, for “Mystic Trinities”
Barbara Tran, for “The Living Room”
Judge: Iona Sun
WINNER: Marc Aronoff, for “The Lantern Bearers”
“I chose ‘The Lantern Bearers’ because it has a simple elegance that unfolds the complex tale of a man and woman. The dialogue has a unique style that undulates and will be a great challenge to direct next spring.”
Cary Pepper, for “Death Does Larry”
Robert Daseler, for “Obelists at Sea”
Rachel Joseph, for “Stripped”
Joseph Eastburn, for “The Godhead”
Mark Fink, for “The Happy Place”
Kristin Hanratty, for “Wine”
Many congratulations to all of our finalists! 2018 Prize submissions will open in February.
The Unclassifiables Contest is officially open. This is our third year of reading manuscripts that don’t quite fit the rigid labels of prose or poetry. Send us work that blurs, bends, blends, erases, or obliterates genre and other labels. Holding onto a manuscript that vaguely resembles this beast?
Send it our way!
Michael Martone will judge the contest and select a winner to receive $500. The Unclassifiable work will be published in an upcoming issue, and finalists will also be considered for publication. Issue 34 includes last year’s winner and work from a couple of finalists if you want to see what we have published in the past.
Submit online between now and the end of July!
Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter @ArtsLettersGC and use #Unclassifiable to tell us what genre-bending works you’re enjoying this summer!
Issue 34 just arrived, and we’re excited to show it to you! This issue features the Unclassifiable winner, Emily Wolahan, as well as a couple of finalists from the contest. If you’re interested in submitting to the Unclassifiable Contest next month, this would be a great issue to check out for some inspiration. It also arrived just in time for National Poetry Month. Our standard issue size wasn’t big enough to fit all the great poetry that landed on our desk, so it’s a little longer than our past issues! You can order it online in print or digital formats at the Arts & Letters Exchange.
We’re not the only ones who think it’s great, either–and we can assure you our managing editor’s cat has great taste in books.
The 19th Annual Arts & Letters Prize Competition will come to a close tonight at midnight. We are excited to review all of the great work you have sent us and to select finalists to send to our judges, Richard Garcia, Amy Hassinger, Sonja Livingston, and Iona Sun. There’s still time to send us your work today, but if you miss this deadline, the Unclassifiable Contest is coming up in May for work that isn’t defined by a single genre. And of course, keep checking back to hear the finalists announced!
Our managing editor, Abbie Lahmers, interviewed Micah Dean Hicks, last year’s winner of the Arts & Letters Fiction Prize. His winning story, “The Deer,” can be read in Issue 33.
Abbie Lahmers: It seems like you write a lot of magical realism/fabulism, or stories that take place in similar but slightly different universes than our own. How do you navigate world-building and coming up with, for instance, the idea of a deer boy?
Micah Dean Hicks: For this story, I’d been reading a lot of fairy tales. People being transformed into animals was a common theme. I started thinking about how sad it would be for the opposite to happen, for a wild animal to become trapped in a human body.
A similar thing happened when I read the Brothers Grimm tale “The Six Swans.” In that story, six brothers are transformed into swans for six years. It struck me that the youngest boy would have been very young when he was turned into a bird. How would it feel to live half your life as one thing and half as another? Would you even know what you were after that? Would you want to be human again? That grew into my story “Church of Birds,” which was recently published in Kenyon Review Online.
I usually start with a weird image or a magical conceit. That’s what gets me interested in the story to begin with. Recent images have included an old woman baking the dead back to life in her oven, a child clacking shed antlers together, a taxidermist making a wedding dress out of fur and fang, a place where seashells rain from the sky, and a boy with the swan wing. From there, I start asking questions. Why are these shed antlers important to the child? What is his life like? What is painful for him?
As far as the rest of the world-building, I draw pretty heavily from where I grew up in rural Arkansas. That palette of images and colors makes its way into everything I write. In a place like that, it isn’t hard to imagine fairy tales and fables crawling out of the woods.
AL: Tell me a little about your book, Electricity and Other Dreams—I recently ordered it and am looking forward to reading it! What should I expect?
MDH: That’s very kind of you! The stories are about things like plumbers who exorcise ghosts, jugglers who become criminals, and electricians who can bring light with a touch.
At the time I wrote them, I was reading a lot of Aimee Bender and Hans Christian Andersen. The stories have a flat, fairy tale quality. A lot of characters are unnamed—the plumber, the electrician, the old woman, etc. They’re very interested in mythmaking and archetype.
AL: What are you working on now that you’re most excited about?
MDH: I recently finished a new collection of fabulist and fairy-tale-inspired stories. The working title is Chant. With this new collection, I’m trying to dive much deeper into character psychology than I have before. I’m also playing more with voice, trying to make the language muscular and musical.
And I’m currently working on a novel about a poor Kansas town plagued by ghosts. The town is slowly collapsing, the only employer left a pork processing plant that maims and mistreats its workers. Generations of ghosts who have watched everything they care about wither, so they possess the living and try to reclaim what they lost. I’ve been working on it for a few years now. Each time I think it’s done, I realize something foundational isn’t working, and I end up rewriting it from scratch. It’s been a pretty humbling experience. I’m hoping to have a final version of it ready by late summer, though.
AL: What advice do you have for writers considering submitting to the A&L Prize contest or other contests and journals?
MDH: I just took up this question with my Editing and Publishing students. I had them look at contest-winning poems and stories from several journals and asked, “Why did these win? What’s special about them?” Aside from the fact that everything we read was so incredibly good—Mikayla Ávila Vilá’s “Trumpeteers” in Boston Review, Katie Knoll’s “Red” in The Masters Review, and Rochelle Hurt’s poem “Kaleidoscope” in Phoebe Journal, to name three—I think a lot of it comes down to voice. If you can tell your story in a way that hums and crackles electric, if you can make it sound like nothing else, readers will pay attention.
A good voice seems to make its own slang. The first line of Hurt’s poem reads, “We blow our paper on toe rings & studded spandex, then go all-pennies-in on who’s first to leave the / water undressed.” When I first read that poem, I was stunned by the phrase “go all-pennies-in.” What a great way to say that.
Voice was a major concern for me with “The Deer.” I kept rewriting the first page, over and over, until I liked the sound of the sentences. Using good verbs and images was important. I wanted the speaker’s world to feel like a very tactile, physical place, sticky and sharp.
The hard thing about writing an aggressive, pop-the-reader-in-the-eye voice is that you still have to be as clear as possible. If reading the story is a chore, we’ll put it down.
AL: What are you reading right now? And, the unavoidable question—who are some of your literary (or non-literary) influences?
MDH: Right now, I’m working through Lauren Groff’s Delicate Edible Birds and Ken Liu’s The Paper Menagerie. Liu is so inventive and a great storyteller. With Groff, I’m amazed at how layered and rich her stories are. She’s so masterful at character, too. I think about characterization a lot, because it doesn’t come naturally to me. In the last few years, I’ve worked really hard on character from the standpoint of the reader: How do you make the reader fall in love with your character? Groff is great at that, but what’s more impressive is how she manages character vs. character relationships. Any two people she puts on the page have so much history, so much conflict, so much messy and strange love between them. I’m in awe of that.
As far as influences, there have been so many. They stack up like geologic strata. If I had to pick one moment that was formative for me as a writer it would be reading the stories of Gabriel García Márquez. He had this perfect way of marrying the supernatural—winged men, women who pass through walls, alchemy, ghost ships—with rural poverty. Because of where I grew up, that resonated so strongly with me. His stories felt like home, even though he and I come from very different places. I’d never seen anyone do that before, and it showed me how to blend my interest in magical narratives with my own experience. Before reading him, I never really wrote about where I came from. He showed me how to do that. *
The 19th Annual Arts & Letters Prize Competition is still open for submissions through March 31st!
Alexandra McLaughlin: I see that you’ve lived and traveled all over the world—growing up in Hawaii, living and working in North America and South Asia. How has this influenced your poetry?
Kirun Kapur: When I began assembling poems for my first book, I showed one of the earliest manuscript drafts to a poet I trust and admire. He said, “I love the poems individually, but when I read them all together they give me whiplash.” He meant that the book was constantly shifting—without warning—across the world, across time, and he found it jarring. One minute the reader is in America, the next in India or Pakistan, then back again; it’s 1947, then the present day, then in some mythical time, then, suddenly, 1947 again. Looking back, it makes perfect sense that he would notice that motion and I would not. Like many people who grow up between countries, languages and cultures, I’ve spent my entire life crossing back forth. It’s so instinctive I hardly notice it. “Whiplash” has been a way of life for me, and rather than jarring, I find it a marvelous source of energy and inspiration. I realized then that I wanted to preserve the qualities of motion and plurality. But I also understood the criticism. I needed to work more to make the experience fruitful for the reader. I wanted the “whiplash” to add to the poems and the book. Some of the hardest work I did on the manuscript was figuring out how to move the reader meaningfully through history, culture and geography. So, I think it’s fair to say that my wanderings have been at the center of my poems, even when I couldn’t see it.
AM: Can you describe the time when you first realized that being creative and writing poetry was what you wanted to do?
KK: I’ve wanted to make poems for as long as I can remember—even before I was entirely sure what a poem might be. My father was (and is) a wonderful storyteller. When I was little, he would tell stories to put us to sleep. We’d all pile into my parents’ bed with the lights turned off and listen. For me, a beloved voice in the dark is still a moving and profound experience. So, perhaps the impulse and interest came from there. I’m not sure. In any case, wanting to make poems didn’t seem like the sort of thing you could admit out loud. On a school trip to the Big Island, we’d watched a volcanologist walk on crust of cooled lava, step over a stream of molten rock, and use special instruments to draw liquid fire from inside the earth. This seemed just as exciting and far more practical than poetry! For a long time after I told everyone I wanted to be a volcanologist.
AM: Do you have any creative patterns or rituals?
KK: I love the idea of rituals. I’ve always wanted to have creative rituals, but, these days, it’s not feasible. I fit my writing around other obligations (work, family etc.). Every day is different. Once in a while I have whole, beautiful, blank hours in which to read and write and think, uninterrupted. Other days I work on two lines in the parking lot before a meeting or edit a stanza while I’m waiting for water to boil on the stove. Someday, though, I’ll have special (admirable!) rituals involving long walks and tea.
AM: Tell me about your debut collection, Visiting Indira Gandhi’s Palmist. What was the process of putting that together like? What inspired it?
KK: Visiting Indira Gandhi’s Palmist is a collection of poems that ricochets from 1940s India to Biblical pastorals, from American bars to the battlefield of the Bhagavad-Gita. The book explores history, family ties, personal identity and the harrowing collisions of love and violence that force us to reinvent our culture and ourselves. The poems are populated by an array of characters—mothers and fathers, princes and soldiers, daughters and lovers—who struggle to understand our most fundamental stories and our most enduring human bonds.
Part of Visiting Indira Gandhi’s Palmist is inspired by Partition, the 1947 division of British India into the modern nations of Indian and Pakistan. Partition led to the largest human migration in modern history. Close to 20 million people lost their homes and livelihoods; almost 2 million lost their lives. The story of Partition was something I really wanted to address in this book. It was a story that was always present in my house (my father lived through it), though it was rarely talked about out loud. In part, I wanted these poems to respond to those silences, to be the voices I sensed but didn’t hear.
I began publishing poems in journals immediately after I finished grad school, but it took me some time to publish my first book. I edited the poems relentlessly, cutting out large sections, writing and rewriting. Convinced the poems weren’t good enough—or maybe that I wasn’t good enough—I gave up a number of times. Finding a structure that could accommodate multiple cultures, landscapes, historical events and mythological worlds was daunting. But, somehow, I just couldn’t stop. I kept working on it. Eventually, I did send the manuscript out. In 2013, it won the Antivenom Poetry Prize and was published by Elixir Press in 2015.
AM: What have you been working on recently?
KK: At present, I’m procrastinating! I’m getting myself ready to begin assembling a new manuscript. I’ve printed everything out. The pile of pages is sitting on my desk, reproachfully, held together with a massive binder clip. Somehow, I’m not up to facing them quite yet. So, I’ve been writing a series of ghazals. Procrastination ghazals. I love the ghazal form. They are difficult to do well in English, so it’s the perfect mind-absorbing project.
AM: Any advice for writers?
KK: Don’t give up. Read more and write more. Then revise again, even when you think you can’t.
Follow your interests and your instincts, especially the weird ones.
Try to remember that nothing is wrong with you if you are plagued by self-doubt. You can learn to write with it (or from under it).
Find a true friend or two. Your friends will tell you (gently) when your work isn’t what it should be and will have faith in you when you doubt yourself. Your friends will prop you up and cheer you on, talk you off the ledge and read your thousandth draft. Their miraculous work will inspire you.
AM: What are you reading right now?
KK: I just finished The Small Backs of Children by Lidia Yuknavitch and A Pillow Book by Suzanne Buffam. They’re very different books, but both are lyrical, economical and beautiful. I’m now knee deep in a fine biography of photographer Dorothea Lange and I’m re-reading the excellent Pakistani poet Kishwar Naheed.*
The 19th Annual Arts & Letters Prize Competition is still open for submissions through March 31st!
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.
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!
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!
We’re excited to have Richard Garcia, Amy Hassinger, and Sonja Livingston as judges for the 19th Annual Arts & Letters Prize Contest. Submissions open in February!
Our New Year’s resolution is to read more of your great work—help us out by submitting to Arts & Letters while you still can! Our reading period will only be open until the end of January, and we’ll be busy reading through the end of the month. If you’re feeling really ambitious, wait until February when the Arts & Letters Prize contest opens in all genres, including drama! The new judges will be announced soon, so keep checking back. Guidelines can be found here: http://artsandletters.gcsu.edu/submit/annual-prize-contest/
If you’re looking for holiday gifts for your literary friends, look no further! From now until the end of December, when you order a subscription of Arts & Letters, we’ll send one to a friend too. After you order through the Arts & Letters Exchange, send us an email (firstname.lastname@example.org) with your friend’s address and a message to send to them with the journal. A subscription includes our most recent issue, Issue 33, and will be followed by Issue 34 when it comes out in the spring. It only costs $20 to receive two subscriptions—one for yourself, and one for your friend!
All our other products are on sale too. Digital issues are only $4 and our most recent issue, featuring Arts & Letters Prize winners in all genres, is going for $8!
Our assistant editors and interim editor, Peter Selgin, reviewed all the work we published in 2016 to decide on the six pieces to nominate for the Pushcart Prize. If you’ve missed these poetry and prose selections, we hope you’ll check them out in Issues 32 and 33. Thank you to all the authors who seek out Arts & Letters as a platform to publish your work!
Christopher McIlroy: “Camouflage”
Jude Nutter: “Iuana: Day Zero Plus Twenty-One”
Dawn Davies: “Mothers of Sparta”
Laurie Baker: “Love Them All, Trust No One”
Kerry Neville: “Remember to Forget Me”
Micah Dean Hicks: “The Deer”
The fall issue arrived this week, and we’re excited to show it to you! Issue 33 features winning fiction, creative nonfiction, and poetry from Micah Dean Hicks, Dawn Davies, and Jude Nutter. This is a great issue for poetry and flash fiction lovers too. You can order it online at the Arts & Letters Exchange, where the digital edition will be available soon as well.
Check out our back issues at the store too if you want to know what we’re publishing! Our reading period will be open through January.
Issue 33 hit the press last month, and we’re looking forward to having the new issues in our hands soon! If you’re excited too, head on over to our store, The Arts & Letters Exchange, to pre-order print copies at a discounted rate. They’re available for only $8 if you order now before it comes out! The issue will feature the Arts & Letters Prize winners: Micah Dean Hicks, Jude Nutter, and Dawn Davies along with great work from the rest of our contributors. We can’t spoil everything, but the cover is perfect for lovers of old linoleum flooring…
Congratulations to Lina María Ferreira Cabeza-Vanegas on receiving a 2016 Writer’s Award from the Rona Jaffe Foundation! Her essay, “BOG-MIA-CID,” appears in Issue 30 of Arts & Letters from Spring 2015. Her nonfiction book, Don’t Come Back, which will include the essay, comes out in January 2017 from Mad River Books, an imprint of the Ohio State Press. The Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Awards program was established to support women writers who have shown exceptional talent at early stages in their writing careers. We are thrilled to hear they have chosen Lina for the award and encourage you to check out her book and read her essay from Issue 30!
We are excited to announce the winner of the second annual Unclassifiable Contest, judged by Michael Martone! Congratulations to Emily Wolahan with her winning Unclassifiable piece, “The Direct Account of Frank Thomas.” Her work will appear in the Spring 2017 issue of Arts & Letters.
Jessie van Eerden, “The Whole Painting”
Erik Hoel, “Higher Education”
Kirsten Imani Kasai, “A Snail Without its Shell is a Snail”
Tom Sheehan, “Letter Across Open Waters to Lost Comrades”
Penny Perkins, “My NPR Interview with Terry Gross”
Elizabeth Robinson, “Vulnerability Index”
Michael Martone writes of the winning piece: “What struck me about this solid and solidly articulated collage was the stuffness of all the stuff deployed here. This is the nominative on steroids. Nouns away! Subjected to subject. I like that the material nature of the piece, its artifice, was not just so much material but that it was also, part and parcel, connected to the content. This collage was cantilevered, a through truss bridge I could trust to carry me across the current of genre. It wears its brutalist architecture on its sly sleeve. It is engineered to move and is itself quite moving.”
Of the first finalist, Jessie van Eerden’s “The Whole Painting,” Martone also writes: “…painters have it easy. That wall of paint can be taken in all at once. This piece wants that all-at-onceness, goes all aerosol, creating an atmosphere more than a mean meaning, installs an instillation of words, does not simply re-create on a two dimensional space the illusion of a three dimensional world but throws in one or two more dimensions just for fun.”
Thank you to all who sent us their Unclassifiable work, and we hope you will consider us again for next year’s contest!
We are now reading for regular submissions in fiction, creative nonfiction, poetry, and flash fiction! Check out our guidelines here and send us your best work through Submittable. If you’re looking for some examples of what we publish, all our issues are still on sale for half off through the end of the month, but only through the Arts & Letters Exchange. Flip through a print journal or download the digital version to see what we’re all about.
We can’t wait to read your work!
Here at the A&L office, we’re taking part in spring cleaning a little bit late. We want to get journals off our dusty shelves and into your hands…and also clear out some space for us to work on the upcoming fall issue! From now through August, everything in the Arts & Letters Exchange is going for half-price. That includes digital and print issues as well as subscriptions. Back issues are only $3, so stock up! Our regular reading period opens in August, so now is a great time to read up on what we’re publishing and get ready to submit your own work.
Follow the link above to get to our new store, and feel free to browse the issues for names you know or upcoming writers you’ve been wanting to read. The full indexes are included for each available issue.
Congratulations to Matthew Minnicino, winner of the 2016 Arts & Letters Prize for Drama for “Funny Voices, or a Thing I Cannot Name.”
Judge Iona Holder Sun noted that the quality of play entrants this year was remarkable.
Minnicino will receive a prize of $500, as well as travel expenses to the Georgia College campus, where his winning one-act will be produced in the spring.
If Arts & Letters isn’t already on your summer reading list, now we’re making it easy to have the most recent issue sent to your email right away! From now until the end of July, you can order a digital subscription for only $6—that’s the same cost as a single digital back issue. We recently opened up the Arts & Letters Marketplace, a convenient way for you to order digital and print issues online.
If you order a digital subscription this summer, it will include a PDF of Issue 32, which features the 2015 Unclassifiable winner’s work in color, sent immediately. Issue 33, which will include the 18th Annual Arts & Letters Prize winners, will also be emailed to you when it comes out this fall.
Regular submissions open in August, and reading our most recent issue would be a great way to see what we’re looking for!
Watch for Drama Prize winners to be announced July 1st!
Congratulations to the winners of our 2016 Prize contests, each of whom will receive $1000 and publication in the upcoming Fall issue of Arts & Letters:
Rumi Prize for Poetry
Judge: Carol Frost
WINNER: Jude Nutter, for “Ianua: Day Zero Plus Three” and “Ianua: Day Zero Plus Twenty-One”
“The poems in every [finalist] group show evidence of a poet’s passion for the sounds of words and for the art and imagination in varying mixtures that may result in that prickling feeling on the back of the neck that a reader feels when the poem is that good; but in [this] entry, the achievement is most through and through. I like the poems very much, not only for the elements I described but also for their heart. Congratulations to the poet.”
Jessica Guzman Alderman
Laura Sobbott Ross
Judge: Kate Christensen
WINNER: Micah Hicks, for “The Deer”
“‘The Deer’… is breathtaking and original and gorgeous. Striking, unerring, weird. I was so glad the writer didn’t tip his or her hand, ever: the reality of the story is unbroken. ‘The Deer’ is a riveting fable in its own right, but it also leaves me with a larger sense of a profound human struggle, something universal and shared having to do with our lost connection to our animal natures, our need to dominate and domesticate, because we can’t go back, we can’t regain what we gave up to be human.”
Anne Holbrook, for “Tink’s Town”
Adrienne Bernhard, for “A Fable in Two Parts”
Laine Cunningham, for “The Butterfly Tree”
Susan Atefat Prize for Creative Nonfiction
Judge: Faith Adiele
WINNER: Dawn Davies, for “Mothers of Sparta”
“‘Mothers of Sparta’…is sprawling, tackling topics that seem impossible to write or even contemplate. The author searches medicine, social policy, psychology, ethics, history, mythology and literature for answers. Demonstrating fearlessness and narrative control through repetition, questions and dry wit, she starts humorously and light, then ramps up the horror and dread.”
Cate Hennessey, for “Chasing Rabbits”
Clinton Peters, for “Giving Fire”
Kelly Allen, for “Some of Us Are Dogs on the Verge of Speaking”
Congratulations to all of our finalists! Prize submissions will reopen February 2017.
The Unclassifiables Contest opens next week on May 1st! It will be open until July 31st, so you have all summer to polish up those genre-bending drafts that you don’t quite know what to do with. We’re looking for work that crosses genres, blurs boundaries, and plays with form. The contest is judged by Michael Martone, and the winner receives $500. More information on guidelines can be found here: Guidelines
Still not quite sure what we’re looking for? Check out last year’s winning piece by Melvin Adams in our archives: “Stoning the Porcupine”
The 18th Annual Arts & Letters Prize Contest closes March 31st. That means you still have nine days to send us your best, polished work! We can’t wait to read your poetry, prose, and plays! Our judges this year are:
Poetry: Carol Frost
Creative Nonfiction: Faith Adiele
Fiction: Kate Christensen
Drama: Iona Sun
All contest entries will also be considered for regular publication, and winners receive up to $1,000 and publication. Don’t miss your chance!
ERRATUM: In our current issue (Spring 2016; Issue 32), María Isabel Alvarez’s “War” is incorrectly listed as Creative Nonfiction in the table of contents. “War” is a work of fiction. We sincerely regret the error. An updated table of contents can be found online as well as in the digital issue, once available.
Carol Frost’s latest collection was published in 2014 by Tupelo Press (Entwined – Three Lyric Sequences). In 2010, The Florida Book Awards gave her their gold medal for Honeycomb. She has new work in Poetry, Kenyon Review, The New Republic and Shenandoah. Frost teaches at Rollins College, where she is the Theodore Bruce and Barbara Lawrence Professor of English, and where she directs Winter With the Writers, a Literary Festival. We’re very pleased to welcome her to the Georgia College campus on March 15th to read from her most recent collection. Frost is also our poetry judge for this year’s Arts & Letters Prizes. Read “Lucifer in Florida” and “Man-of-War” from her new collection on our Featured Archives page.
On February 1st, the 18th annual Arts & Letters Prizes will be open to submissions. This year’s judges are Carol Frost (poetry), Faith Adiele (nonfiction), and Kate Christensen (fiction). Prize winners will receive $1000 and publication in the upcoming fall or spring issue. We look forward to reading your work!
For more information, visit Arts & Letters Prizes.
From now until the end of February, the Arts & Letters digital issues are available for purchase at discounted prices. Our digital back issues are only $4, and our current digital issue is available for just $5! And remember, our Arts & Letters Prizes Competition begins on February 1st. What better way to prepare than reading up on what we’ve been publishing? Purchase the current issue here and our back issues here.
It’s a great time to order an Arts & Letters subscription. From now until the New Year, you can receive upcoming Issues 31 and 32 in the mail and have them sent to a friend for free! Purchase two subscriptions for the price of one: only $20. Don’t forget to leave a message and a second address in your order. Or, if you’re interested in reading up on our back issues, pick one up for only $6!
Our Unclassifiables Contest has ended, and a winner has been chosen by our judge, Michael Martone!
Melvin Adams, “Stoning the Porcupine”
Reg Darling, “Life in Wartime”
Diane Glancy, “qwertyuiopasdfghjklzxcvbnm”
Anders Howerton, “Cross Over, Boy, Cross Over”
Kendall Klym, “The Dance Quiz”
Andrea Witzke Slot, “The Wall”
Rebecca van Laer, “Do you Fear Palindromes, Too?”
Of this year’s winner, “Stoning the Porcupine”, Martone writes – “I liked very much the true all-out, all-in commitment to collage…the piece is an archipelago of intriguing island word chains. It uses the synaptic white space fully, inviting the reader to improvise and revise the associative leaps. And there are pictures! Sure we are used to now the blending and bending of genres – fiction, nonfiction, poetry – and yet, we are less ready to confuse the categories of “writer”, “editor”, “publisher”, “designer”. “Stoning the Porcupine” is already ready to use the incredibly powerful typesetting tool most of us still use like a hobbled 19th century typewriter, the computer, to mash-up the old assemblage line. This then is an unclassifiable indeed, transgressing genre, sure, and in its deconstruction constructing a whole new classification of author itself.”
Thank you to all who submitted their most creative, thought-provoking, genre-bending work! We hope to read from you again very soon.
Todd Davis’ poems “Burn Barrel” and “By the Rivers of Babylon” hold images that heavily contrast with each other to create a stimulating tension. Davis builds the environments in his poems with great purpose. Of his poetry, Davis writes: “Much of my poetry grows out of my lived experience in central Pennsylvania. This is an area of the country that has been abused: clear-cut several times; mined for coal; polluted with the growth of industrialization; and then left to try to heal itself. Sadly, it now finds itself being injured once again with the radical shift to fracking for natural gas. There is poverty here, both in the flesh and in the spirit. There is also great beauty and resilience. I hope that my poems, when taken together, offer glimpses of the people I love and live among the places that sustain our lives.” We are grateful that Davis chose to share his work with us again—two of his earlier poems appear in Issue 14 of Arts & Letters.
Davis is the author of five full-length collections of poetry—Winterkill, In the Kingdom of the Ditch, The Least of These, Some Heaven, and Ripe—as well as of a limited edition chapbook, Household of Water, Moon, and Snow: The Thoreau Poems. “Burn Barrel” and “By the Rivers of Babylon” are from of his fifth book, Winterkill, which Michigan State University Press will publish in January 2016. He edited the nonfiction collection, Fast Break to Line Break: Poets on the Art of Basketball, and co-edited Making Poems: Forty Poems with Commentary by the Poets. His poetry has been featured on the radio by Garrison Keillor on The Writer’s Almanac and by Ted Kooser in his syndicated newspaper column, American Life in Poetry. He is the winner of the Gwendolyn Brooks Poetry Prize and the Chautauqua Editors Prize. He is a fellow of the Black Earth Institute and teaches creative writing, American literature, and environmental studies at Pennsylvania State University’s Altoona College.
Reading Kate Partridge’s poem “Ends of the Earth”, we were struck by its travels through legend and geography as we weave through each section. The voice is real and humble. We were intrigued. We are grateful for her work, as we are grateful to all our contributors, and we’re excited to share this poem with you in our upcoming fall issue.
Kate Partridge’s poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Colorado Review, Blackbird, Pleiades, and Verse Daily. She received her MFA from George Mason University, and she now lives in Anchorage, where she teaches at the University of Alaska, coordinates the Crosscurrents Reading Series, and co-edits for Gazing Grain Press.
We recently added a flash fiction category on our submittable page. We are excited to discover the surprising and moving pieces that arise from this new addition to our magazine. Send us your work!
Join us to celebrate the best in contemporary writing! Georgia College’s Flannery O’Connor and Southern Women Writers Conference 2015 will take place September 17-19. The conference will include presentations on Zora Neale Hurston, Alice Walker, Caroline Gordon, Carson McCullers, Katherine Anne Porter, Lillian Smith, and Eudora Welty. For a look at the full schedule, accommodation details, and other important information, visit Georgia College’s O’Connor Conference 2015 webpage.
We are pleased to welcome Michael Martone to Georgia College on September 15, 2015. Martone recently published a collection of essays, Racing in Place. He has been awarded two fellowships from the NEA and a grant from the Ingram Merrill Foundation. His works have earned him numerous awards from magazines like The Florida Review and Story. More information on Michael Martone and the Georgia College visiting writers schedule can be found on the Georgia College webpage here.
Exciting News! The Spring 2015 Issue of Arts & Letters (Issue 30) is now available for purchase! This is the second of our redesigned issues: new style of cover art, improved paper stock, different dimensions, etc. This is also our first issue featuring Flash Fiction, and it includes poetry by writers like Sarah Gordon and James Allen Hall.
Be one of the first to get Issue 30! You can purchase it online through our secure Submittable store here, or you can Subscribe to Arts & Letters online here! Give it a read and let us know what you think.
The Arts & Letters Prize Contests are almost over, and today and tomorrow (March 31st) are your last chances to submit your work to win one of our $1,000 prizes. Just a reminder that our Poetry contest is being judged by Stephen Dunn, our Creative Nonfiction contest is being judged by Barbara Hurd, our Drama Contest is being judged by Iona Holder, and our Fiction contest is being judged by the exciting young writer, Kyle Minor.
Send us your best work, and remember, that even if you do not win one of our contests, all submissions will be considered for publication in Arts & Letters.
The Arts & Letters Drama Prize (for a one-act play) is for $1,000, a production at Georgia College, and domestic travel expenses to attend the production (usually mid-late March). The preliminary judge will be Eddie Zipperer, an award-winning playwright whose most recent full-length published play is Beware the Licorice Vines (Dramatic Publishing Co, 2014). His play Nicolas the Worm was part of the 2012 Nuestras Voces Reading Series at Repertorio Espanol (Off-Broadway).
The final Judge will be Iona Holder, the Arts & Letters Prize play director since 2009. So get your One Act Play polished up and send it in to our contest!
The Arts & Letters Prizes are now underway, and submissions are being accepted until March 31st! This year’s Fiction judge is Kyle Minor, author of the story collections Praying Drunk and In the Devil’s Territory. His books can be found on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other major retailers.
We’re delighted and honored to have this exciting new fiction author judging the fiction submissions that come into our prize contest! So, pick out your best fiction piece, clean it up, and let Kyle read your work! Remember, the winner of the fiction contest gets a $1,000 prize, and all submissions will be considered for publication for Arts & Letters!
Arts & Letters Prize Submissions for Creative Nonfiction, Drama, Fiction, and Poetry are open as of February 1st and will be open until March 31st. The winner of the contest for each genre will receive a prize of $1,000, so send us your best work!
Our judges this year are phenomenal. Stephen Dunn is judging our Poetry contest, while Kyle Minor is judging for Fiction, and Barbara Hurd is the judge for Creative Nonfiction. And even if you don’t end up winning the contest, we will consider your work for regular submissions, so send us your work early and often! Click here to submit through Submittable!
Arts & Letters has undergone a full restyling, and Issue 29 also marks our triumphant return to color (as opposed to our black and white tuxedo designs). The journal has been updated all the way down to the paper stock and typography. A physical copy of our new issue can be purchased through our secure Submittable store for only $12.
Arts & Letters works hard to stay relevant and accessible to computer, tablet, and even phone readers. To make our journal convenient and easy to read for our digital users, we have made Issue 29 available as a digital copy that can be purchased through our Submittable store for the discounted price of $8.
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Before you sing “Auld Lang Syne” we’ve got one more 2014 book list for you! Our co-managing editor has put together a list of 35 debut authors aged 35 and over. … read more
Now entering the second half of its second decade, Arts & Letters has been a staple in the literary community, but for those familiar with the print journal, it will look totally different. The journal has gone through a complete redesign, including the cover, typography, page stock, and layout, and we’re excited about our first restyled issue now available for Fall 2014 (Issue 29).
To match the dazzling new design, this issue features fantastic work, including new fiction by Amy Hassinger, poetry by James Doyle and Charity Gingerich, a collaborative essay by Denise Duhamel and Julie Marie Wade, and the winners of the Arts & Letters Prizes in all genres. Be sure to get your hands on the new issue. You can buy a copy online or get a yearly subscription.
We are so thrilled to have Jericho Brown join us on campus this Monday, November 3, at 7:30 pm, as part of GCSU’s creative writing program’s Visiting Writers series. Jericho Brown is the recipient of the Whiting Writers’ Award and fellowships from the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University and the National Endowment for the Arts. His poems have appeared in The Nation, The New Republic, The New Yorker, and The Best American Poetry, and Nikki Giovanni’s 100 Best African American Poems.
Brown holds a PhD from the University of Houston, an MFA from the University of New Orleans, and a BA from Dillard University. His first book, Please, won the American Book Award, and his second book, The New Testament, was published by Copper Canyon Press. He is an assistant professor in the creative writing program at Emory University in Atlanta. You can read more about Jericho and his works at his website.
On the tidal mud, just before sunset,
dozens of starfishes
were creeping. It was
as though the mud were a sky
and enormous, imperfect stars
moved across it as slowly
as the actual stars cross heaven.
All at once they stopped,
and, as if they had simply
increased their receptivity
to gravity, they sank down
into the mud; they faded down
into it and lay still; and by the time
pink of sunset broke across them
they were as invisible
as the true stars at daybreak.
It is a privilege to have Barbara Hurd as the judge for the Arts & Letters Journal nonfiction prize this year.
Barbara is the recipient of a 2002 NEA Fellowship for Creative Nonfiction, winner of the Sierra Club’s National Nature Writing Award and Pushcart Prizes in 2004 and 2007. She teaches creative writing in the Stonecoast MFA program at the University of Southern Maine.
Ms. Hurd has published several award-winning books, including: Walking the Wrack Line: On Tidal Shifts and What Remains, Entering the Stone: On Caves and Feeling Through the Dark, a Library Journal Best Natural History Book of the Year, Stirring the Mud: On Swamps, Bogs, and Human Imagination, a Los Angeles Times Best Book of 2001, and The Singer’s Temple, winner of the Bright Hill Press Poetry Award.
We are honored to have an author as esteemed as Ms. Hurd serve as this year’s nonfiction judge. Read more about Barbara and her work on her website.
Get to know this year’s Arts & Letters Prizes Poetry judge: Stephen Dunn.
It’s a great honor to have Stephen Dunn as this year’s poetry judge. His work has appeared in countless journals, including The Atlantic, The Nation, the New Republic, the New Yorker, The Georgia Review, the American Poetry Review, and so many more.
Mr. Dunn has been recognized for his work with many prestigious awards including the Pulitzer Prize in poetry for his book Different Hours in 2001, the Academy Award in Literature from The American Academy of Arts & Letters, Fellowships from the Guggenheim and Rockefeller Foundations, three NEA Creative Writing Fellowships, a Distinguished Artist Fellowship from the NJ State Council on the Arts, and too many more to fit into this post.
We are extremely excited to have such a prestigious poet as Mr. Dunn serving as this year’s poetry judge. To learn more about Mr. Dunn or his publications, please visit his website: www.stephendunnpoet.com.
Get to know this year’s Arts & Letters Prizes Fiction judge: Kyle Minor
We’re honored and excited to have Kyle Minor as this year’s fiction judge. He is an accomplished writer whose credentials and publications speak for themselves, having been published in prestigious journals like Best American Nonrequired Reading 2013, Gulf Coast, and The Iowa Review.
Kyle has just published his second novel, Praying Drunk, in February through Sarabande Books. It received rave reviews from The New York Times Book Review, The Atlantic, The Los Angeles Times and many others. Time Out New York said Minor’s writing “Ranges from cheeky observational comedy to frightening surrealism.” See his interviews in The Believer, Tin House, and Pen/American.
The results are in for our PRIME Poetry Prize Contest. We had the most submissions we’ve ever had for this contest, but after long hours and many difficult decisions, we were able to choose this year’s winner and honorable mention!
The winner of the PRIME Poetry Prize contest is Melissa King Rogers for her poems “Grief: Topography,” “Passage,” and “Happy Hour.”
2014’s honorable mention is Rebecca McKanna for her poems “When I Watch the TV Show of the Man Who Took My Virginity” and “Epithalamium for a Bride on Vicodin.”
Congratulations to these poets for their excellent work! Look forward to their work in the upcoming issues of Arts & Letters!
As the old adage goes, it’s not about quantity, but quality. Arts & Letters is, for the first time, accepting Flash Fiction submissions for publication. We want punchy, tight, and innovative Flash Fiction, work that intrigues and mystifies in its brevity.
To submit Flash Fiction to the journal, you simply need to go to our Submit page and continue to our Submittable portal. There, you will find submission guidelines for fiction, and you’re able to submit up to three shorts of about 500 words each. We look forward to seeing your best work!
Since Montaigne popularized the essay in the 16th century, a line of great essayists has led to today’s explosion of Creative Nonfiction, with the word “creative” adding its timely energy to the form.
From Ashley Butler’s dense fragmentation to Lacy Johnson’s defiant vulnerability to Lia Purpura’s analytic lyricism, the genre has been cracked wide open. We’re looking for your best-crafted work to fall in line with these greats.
Whether your Nonfiction is a highly-researched journey into the color red or a sprawling personal narrative, or some combination of research, fact, and fancy, we want to see it. And remember that we also nominate for Best American Essays.
So show us what you’re working on! Submit now!
The best way to stay up-to-date with Arts & Letters news is to follow us on our Facebook page or on Twitter. There, you’ll be kept up to date on new issues, upcoming submission times, updates to the website, contests, and much more.
It’s also a great way to create a dialogue between you and the Arts & Letters staff. Get to know us. Share exciting literary information with us. Post on our wall or tag us on your interesting posts. We’re very personable. Really.
Our social media feeds are more than just news and updates about Arts & Letters. We are a literary thoroughfare of information, including other writing contests, compelling articles, author interviews, and news from our friends. So, follow us on Facebook and Twitter and don’t miss out!
We welcome you back after a long summer which had you checking and checking and checking our website, and the moment has finally come where we open the doors, roll out the red carpet, shake your hand and cordially, happily, and spiritedly invite you to submit to our regular submissions.
But don’t be fooled. Just because they’re called “Regular Submissions” doesn’t mean we want regular work. What we should do is call them “Extraordinary Submissions” No matter what you call them, submitting to Arts & Letters is now something you can do.
It’s time to brush off your laptops and desktops, polish up your poems, stories, and essays and submit them to us. We are reading submissions daily, and our turnaround rate is very quick! We try to be as speedy as possible because we know how maddening it can be to have your writing locked up for most of the year.
Also, simultaneous submissions are fine with us. Just add a note on Submittable if you need to withdraw anything.
So just click the big blue button on our submit page, and I’ll see you in Submittable!
As of January 1, 2015, Arts & Letters will no longer be accepting print submissions. While we have had great luck with print submissions in the past and value all of our print submitters, we are simply getting too many submissions to keep up with the legwork print submissions requires. Happily, this move will allow us to keep better track of our submissions and move toward a quicker response time.
All submissions as of 2015 will be done through our online submissions managers through Submittable. We chose to go this route because we and a majority of our users have found our online manager to be quick, convenient, and easy to track.
We appreciate all of our submitters who prefer print submissions, and we hope that they will continue to submit their work to us online. We’re confident the the time we save from ending print submissions will allow us to improve all aspects of the journal for our readers.
Thanks and we look forward to seeing your submissions framed in Submittable orange!
Congratulations to the winners of our 2014 Prize contests, each of whom will receive $1000 and publication in upcoming issues of Arts & Letters:
Poetry/Rumi Prize (Final Judge: Beth Gylys)
WINNER: Emma Hine, “Distortion for Afterwards”
Finalists: Carolyne Wright, Amy Woolard, Kim Garcia, Jennie Malboeuf, Ashley Lumpkin, Jenny Molberg
Fiction Prize (Final Judge: Jayne Anne Phillips)
WINNER: Holloway McCandless, “Motu Tapu”
Finalists: Morgan Harlow, Sophie Monatte
Creative Nonfiction/Susan Atefat Prize (Final Judge: Bret Lott)
WINNER: Leonora Smith, “Blood Sick”
Finalists: Jeffrey Schneider, Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich, Alexandra Newton Rios
Drama Prize (Final Judge: David Muschell)
WINNER: Drew Katzman, “A Rare and Fleeting Thing”
Finalists: Ariadne Blayde, Wendy Dann, Bruce Hoogendoorn, Arnold Johnston, Dan Morra, Cary Pepper, Bridgette Portman, Carolyn Nur Wistrand
Congratulations to all finalists as well. We begin reading for next year’s prizes in February, 2015.
In our mad dash to promote our contributors, Arts & Letters nominates for The Best American Nonrequired Reading: a home for the strange, the funny, and the lovely.
The Best American Nonrequired Reading publishes an exciting array of essay, fiction, journalism, comics, and humor. As opposed to most literary anthologies, this one uses a reading committee made up of high school students who function under the watchful eye of the illustrious Dave Eggers (of McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern and the best-selling memoir, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius).
“This offbeat but vital anthology” features work firmly on the line between literary and entertainment, between wisdom and humor. Give students a chance to replace Julius Caesar and The Scarlet Letter and this anthology is what they come up with.
We’re very excited to announce that we’re now nominating for The Best American Essays! Arts & Letters wants to contribute to the pioneering work of this anthology in the ever-innovating genre of Creative Nonfiction. By submitting to Arts & Letters, you open yourself up to the possibility of nomination after publication!
If the American short story really came into its recognizable form around a hundred years ago, then the American essay has just started taking form the last 30 years. The Best American Essays has been at the helm of this development since the beginning (1986). The contemporary essay is carefully crafted, illuminating, and often uses natural language that appeals to a general audience.
The Best American Essays prefers fully-developed works which use form flexibly and intuitively—to the extent the content demands. Since today’s essay, as a genre, is still in its infancy, we see a high variety of form and voice and perspective. It’s an exciting time to be writing essays and The Best American Essays is consistently promoting a definition and creating a standard for what the essay is, what it accomplishes, and how it looks.
The submission period for our summer poetry contest ended on July 31st. We expect to announce a winner by the end of September.
The PRIME Poetry Prize winner will receive $401 and publication in Arts & Letters as well as the Fall issue of PRIME. There may be Honorable Mentions as well. These would be offered publication in both Arts & Letters and the Fall issue of PRIME (paid at normal contributor rates: $50.00 for poetry).
Alice Friman is our final judge. She’s the ongoing Poet-in-Residence of Georgia College and she has a new book (her fifth!), The View from Saturn, coming out with LSU Press later this year. Her poems have been published in Poetry, The Georgia Review, The Gettysburg Review, Boulevard, New Letters, and The Southern Review.
Want to be nominated for next year’s issue of The Best American Short Stories? Submit to Arts & Letters. We nominate!
The Best American Short Stories has been an institution since 1915 (98 years!). It has helped usher in the establishment of the short story as a “particularly American genre.”
Edward J. O’Brien, at the ripe age of 23, began the anthology, publishing the likes of Willa Cather, William Faulkner, Dorothy Parker, Erskine Caldwell, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Thomas Wolfe, William Saroyan, John Steinbeck, and Richard Wright.
Think of the successful American short story writers, and you’ll be sure to find them all in The Best American Short Stories.
Best New Poets is an annual anthology out of University of Virginia in conjunction with their literary magazine Meridian. They pick 50 poems a year from poets who haven’t published a full length work, but had their work published in a journal the same year.
It’s a fierce competition, but we want to push the poets we publish into the spotlight!
Instead of just publishing work and then putting it to bed in Past Issues and Archives, Arts & Letters tries to keep the work of contributors alive by nominating deserving work for outside prizes and anthologies such as Best New Poets.
Did you know Arts & Letters nominates for the Pushcart Prize?
The Pushcart Prize and Anthology has been running for decades (est. 1976) thanks to nominations from hundreds of unpaid volunteers across the country. This prize is a loud voice for the small press! It has become a venue of critical praise untouched by “big bucks and bluster.”
We’re so proud to support Pushcart Press in their vision to award the most deserving writing of the small presses—and at the same time honor the writers we publish who deserve this special recognition.
We’ve had Robert Gibb, Laurie Lamon, and Dana Fitz Gale nominated for works we published.
If you’re not familiar with Pushcart, check them out and see who they awarded this year!
Ask Alice is a video program where Alice Friman, Georgia College Poet-in-Residence, addresses your questions about the writing life. Submit a question through Submittable and she’ll choose the best questions to answer in future Arts & Letters PRIME Ask Alice videos. Previously, Alice has answered questions on publication, revision, overcoming your inner critic, and writing good love poetry. Past programs are available on the Ask Alice page.
Check it out and then submit your question through our free Submittable category; if your question is selected, you will receive a free subscription to PRIME! Submit here.
We’re excited to announce that Alice Friman has a new book of poems, The View From Saturn, forthcoming this year from LSU Press. Also, a new version of “Ask Alice” will be in the forthcoming Prime 3.2.
Open soon: PRIME Poetry Prize submission period is May 1 to July 31.
Closed: Regular submissions. Reading period: August 1st to January 31st.
Closed: Arts & Letters Prize submissions. We are now in the blind review of submissions; finalists will be submitted to our final judges late April/early May, and we will announce winners in June.