Tag Archives: art

Going to AWP Without Really Going to AWP: A Post-AWP Report

2 Apr

This past weekend was my sixth time attending the AWP conference. My first was in New York in 2008, an overwhelming affair of 8,000 writers crammed into a couple Midtown hotels. That year, I sat on the floor beside a woman from Texas Tech who thought my plan to wait five years before getting an MFA was absurd. The next thing I knew, I was working as a paralegal to save money for graduate school, and by August 2009, I had a full ride to the University of Washington and Michael and I moved cross-country to Seattle. You could say that AWP changed our life pretty radically.

Over the years, we went to a smattering of conferences, but each year I went to fewer and fewer panels, as they tend to repeat and I learned you can only soak up so much information. In 2015 in Minneapolis, I mostly had lunch and dinner with friends, a most pleasant experience, but I’d realized the conference fee had been a waste. Next time, I resolved, I would go to AWP without going to AWP.

Last year in Tampa, with my novel just out, I didn’t get to do that. But *this* year, in Portland, it finally happened, and I highly recommend it to folks who’ve been around the AWP block. I was more relaxed. More hydrated! I had time to stay on top of my online teaching, so less stressed.

Now for some highlights:

Wednesday night, we started at The Old Portland, a wine bar owned by Courtney Taylor-Taylor of the Dandy Warhols. They only serve old French wine; I misheard the description of the Corsican rosé as “foggy” and enjoyed it very much; Michael enjoyed a ten-year-old red Bordeaux. Then, the very Portland-y (more stoner than twee Portlandia) bartender said, “Yeah, we don’t like advertise or anything,” and showed us the Odditorium, the band’s 10,000-foot “clubhouse,” where they rehearse, record, film music videos, and the like. It was cavernous and quiet. Michael, a big Dandy Warhols fan, was in heaven.

“Ice Cream,” the mono-print I made at VSC when I was sad that the ice cream shop had closed and there was no ice cream to be had.

Thursday afternoon, we went to the Vermont Studio Center alumni happy hour. I’d finished a first draft of Daughters of the Air there back in 2007. Three former literary staff read poetry from their recent releases. A line from Nandi Comer’s American Family: A Syndrome: “If there is blood, the artist has chosen to omit it.” Ryan Walsh spoke of the connection between visual art and writing at VSC (I still cherish learning how to make a mono-print there) and vegetable poems. Zayne Turner read from “Her Radioactive Materials.”

Most of the other readings I attended featured numerous readers, so, forthwith, more of a collage:

Reading “Cauliflower Tells You

At Strange Theater: A Fabulist Reading, there were spiders and trousseaus and swans roasted in revenge and Japanese monsters and red rooms and porcine men and tyrants and cauliflower-fueled murder. A doll’s head was raffled off, among other trinkets; I offered a rare talisman of Cyndi Lauper’s trip to Yemen.

Friday, we went to the PageBoy Magazine Happy Hour, featuring 17-word poems and prose. It was a fun afternoon of zingy one-liners and dreamy experimental works and Gertrude Stein jokes. Then we were off to Literary Bingo with Lilla Lit, a new Portland-based reading series; it was fast and furious with four-minute readings (a loud buzzer ushered off writers going over). Chocolate was pelted at every shout of “bingo!”; I caught a peanut-butter ball overhead with my left hand and won a copy of Jennifer Perrine’s In the Human Zoo. I also read a poem and someone won a copy of Daughters of the Air. All readings should have strict word and time limits and buzzers and prizes!

Saturday, we paid $5 to get into the convention center book fair. I had a lovely time chatting with Chicago-based folks in advance of our move (yes! big news tucked away over here; more on that in a future post), signing books at the Lanternfish Press table, and seeing fellow LFP authors Charles J. Eskew (Tales of the Astonishing Black Spark) and Andrew Katz (The Vampire Gideon’s Suicide Hotline and Halfway House for Orphaned Girls). It was also super cool meeting Carmen Maria Machado, who signed Her Body and Other Parties and Carmilla, an LFP reprint of a lesbian vampire romance that predates Dracula, with a Borgesian introduction and footnotes by Machado.

Fun!

We also picked up a whole slew of poetry in translation (from Romanian and Hebrew), essays on art, novels, short story collections. I can’t wait to read it all! Our last stop was the Northwest Micropress Fair at the Ace Hotel, where I signed copies of Sugar, my chapbook from Chin Music Press, and hung out with regional small presses, which felt like a special little send off before we leave the Pacific Northwest.

I heard that the conference had ballooned to 12,000 (15,000?) attendees. Amazing! Perhaps, perhaps, we’ll be in San Antonio next year, and if not San Antonio, Kansas City, and if not Kansas City, Philadelphia…?

Guest Post at Lisa Romeo Writes: “Whatever Works: Looking at Visual Art to Write Inspired Prose”

7 Feb

Self_Portrait_with_Seven_Fingers (1)

Marc Chagall, Self-Portrait with Seven Fingers

Paintings helped me grope through the dark of my first draft of Daughters of the Air. I wrote a guest blog post about that process on Lisa Romeo’s blog. Here’s how the piece begins:

When I was just starting to write seriously, I fetishized notebooks—and, like an eight-year-old—stickers.  I preferred black, hard-backed notebooks with graph paper that forced my writing into small, neat boxes.  My favorite treat was popping into a stationary store in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, to buy a cheap book of Dover Art Stickers depicting famous paintings by Michelangelo, Kahlo, Goya, and the like. I was trying to write the first draft of my first novel, Daughters of the Air, using Hemingway’s supposed model of 300 words a day, no more, no less, stopping mid-sentence and all that jazz.

continue reading

Years later, still enraptured with the process, I ended up teaching several classes on writing from art for Hugo House at the Henry Art Gallery (you can see my students’ work alongside the art that inspired them in these e-booklets the Henry made here and here) as well as several blog posts for Ploughshares, including this one on writing from abstract art. And, my next novel features an artist. And, many of my essays engage with art in one way or another, like this one on Goya, in the Los Angeles Review of Books. All this writing about writing—it’s time for me to get back to a gallery and refill the well!

Pre-orders for DAUGHTERS OF THE AIR

26 Sep

dota-cover

Oh boy, oh boy! Things are getting real. My debut novel, Daughters of the Air (formerly known as Dirty), will be released on December 5, 2017. You can pre-order it starting today: from your local independent bookstore (like Elliott Bay Book Company) via IndieBound, directly from Lanternfish Press, Barnes & Noble, and Amazon.

Why are pre-orders important? Well, they show booksellers there’s enthusiasm for the book, which means they order more books, and they all count towards the first week of sales–so the accumulation of pre-orders gives books a shot at the bestseller list in the first week it’s out.

This has been such a long time in the making; the seedlings were planted as far back as 2001, when I spent a month at the National Institutes of Health, recovering from surgery. In fact, I have a very personal essay about that time, and how I decided to seriously pursue writing, in Catapult today. You can read “Art Therapy Before Surgery” here. Then, come see all the incredibly kind things people are saying about the book here.

I love the cover art by Nichole DeMent, a piece called “Bird Moon” that was originally mixed media encaustic. I can’t stop staring at it. Nichole’s work is super dreamy, and I’ve coveted it for my novel since coming across it in 2013. Over on Lanternfish Press’s blog, I shared more thoughts on Nichole’s work and how my writing process draws from visual art. I’ve been hugging my advanced review copy since it arrived in August and have been so grateful for editorial director Christine Neulieb‘s championing of the book as well as all the good, hard work going on at Lanternfish Press.

If you’re in Seattle, please come to the launch party at the Hotel Sorrento, hosted by Hugo House, on the night of the release, December 5, at 7:30 pm!

Want to stay in the loop about other events and related hooplah? Subscribe to my short & sweet monthly newsletter here. Thank you for your support!

 

“Dark Fruit: A Cultural and Personal History of the Plum” in Los Angeles Review of Books

6 Oct

plums2

Italian prune plum galaxy

I’m thrilled to have my essay “Dark Fruit: A Cultural and Personal History of the Plum” appear in the Los Angeles Review of Books today. It collages personal stories with discussions of Tolstoy, Herta Müller, Gregor von Rezzori, ancient Chinese poetry, visual art, horticulture, superstitions, and more. I’m grateful it found a home in such a fine venue!

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Jacopo Ligozzi (Italian, 1547 – 1627 ), A Marmot with a Branch of Plums, 1605, brush with brown and black wash, point of the brush with black and brown ink and white gouache, and watercolor, over traces of graphite on burnished paper, Wolfgang Ratjen Collection, Purchased as the Gift of Helen Porter and James T. Dyke 2007.111.121

Pay Dirt: A Literary Performance on Art, Money, & Desire

12 Nov

Pay Dirt, an event supported in part by an award from 4Culture and the Jack Straw Writers Program, features fiction and poetry on topics of art, money, and desire, by Anca L. Szilágyi, Bernard Grant, Emily Bedard, Martha Kreiner, and Matthew Schnirman

On December 3 at 7 pm, I’m reading from my novel PARALEGAL at the Jewelbox Theater in Belltown. This performance culminates a year+ of work on a project whirred forward by support from 4Culture and Jack Straw Cultural Center, for which I am very grateful. I’ll be joined by four fantastic Jack Straw Fellows whose work intersects with mine, on the topics of art, money, and desire: Bernard Grant, Emily Bedard, Matthew Schnirman, and Martha Kreiner.  Please come!

How Do I Fit This Ghost In My Mouth?

8 Sep

From Geoffrey Farmer's "The Surgeon and the Photographer" at the Vancouver Art Gallery

From Geoffrey Farmer’s “The Surgeon and the Photographer”

I’m grateful to have caught “How Do I Fit This Ghost in My Mouth?”, Geoffrey Farmer‘s exhibit at the Vancouver Art Gallery this weekend. I had never heard of Farmer, and I was entranced. “The Last Two Million Years” is a collage sculpture that takes up an entire room, comprised of hundreds of figures meticulously cut from a found Reader’s Digest encyclopedia of the same title. I was awed not just at the amount of work that went into the installation, but the impulse to pin down layers of ephemera–not only tiny details in a vast history that feels impossible to contain but also the fleetingness of the found book itself, which stands eviscerated as you exit the room.

The Surgeon and the Photographer” gathers images in a similar though more surreal manner, creating Dadaist characters from used books salvaged from a closed down used bookshop as well as fabrics. The sculptures are called puppets, suggesting one might inhabit them, give them voice and stories, and they’d be rich and complex stories indeed. Somehow this piece recalled for me a bizarre puppet movie I once saw as a tiny person, sitting alone in the attic in front of our old knobbed television tuned to a UHF channel. Faceless wooden mannequins sat chained in tubs of water and turned their heads, vaguely squeaking but unable to talk. I was utterly mesmerized and alarmed and had no idea what I was looking at.

The most thrilling installation for me was “Let’s Make the Water Turn Black” — an eerie room filled with moving sculptures made of old movie props (lion heads, snakes with blue light bulb teeth), a haunting soundscape (bells, chimes, wind), and lights that shift from green to red to blue so that when it finally becomes white, the colors of the objects are almost a shock. The room is programmed to last the duration of an entire day, and I was very tempted to try and experience it for that long.

Alas, we did not spend the entire day there. After leaving the museum, we encountered a zombie-themed wedding and wondered if the square outside Vancouver Art Gallery has a similar function to New York’s Union Square. On the beach by English Bay, at sunset, we saw someone make enormous soap bubbles that shrieking children and adults alike chased to pop. We found a wonderfully curated independent bookstore called Pulp Fiction (I picked up The Dud Avocado and M picked up Wanderlust), and we watched a man train an enormous pit bull puppy on Kitsilano Beach with the help of beautiful red husky, and we gorged ourselves on Ukrainian, Malaysian, and Italian food. We also found time to just sit still and read. And, thanks to Geoffrey Farmer and all kinds of other stimuli, I wrote a poem, possibly the first I’ve written that I actually kind of like. Maybe I’ll even send it out. Art wins!

Visual Inspiration: Hugo at the Henry

25 Nov

I’m pleased to offer a third iteration of my writing with visual art class for Richard Hugo House at the Henry Art Gallery, now snappily-titled Visual Inspiration. Here’s the course description:

This class, which meets at the Henry Art Gallery at the University of Washington, will use visual art as a springboard for diving into prose writing. We’ll mine the inspiration of images to unearth new prose or add unexpected meaning and direction to works in progress. Students can search the Henry’s digital archive and request works from the permanent collection not currently on view. For even more creative percolation, we’ll read published works inspired by visual art. Exercises, readings, and discussions will cover the writing process, character, story, landscape (internal and external), and style. Students will have the option to workshop one short-short story or essay. Co-Presented with the Henry Art Gallery.

Class meets Thursday evenings 6-8 pm, January 30-March 13 (with no class on February 27 due to the AWP conference). General registration begins December 10, and the scholarship deadline is December 24. I’m excited to see what students do with “Sanctum,” the interactive installation now outside the Henry that draws on social media and surveillance technology, and I’m curious as always to see what gets pulled from the permanent collection and what new creative works spiral out from that.

CoCA Seattle’s 21st Art Marathon

15 Nov

Yesterday and all of last night and into 9 am this morning, the Center on Contemporary Art hosted a 24-hour art-making marathon at their Ballard location, the Shilshole Bay Beach Club. One of the 21 artists participating, John Osgood, wanted to collaborate with other artists during this frenzied event, and last month, I was invited to submit some of my writing. I sent John a couple short stories, and didn’t know what would happen until I arrived at the marathon yesterday (of course, pretty much simultaneously with his other collaborators Amir Farhad, Robert Hardgrave, Stephen Rock, and a last minute fifth collaborator which added to the frenzy). John told me he’d chosen to work with my story “Skitter” and would paint a parade scene from it. He proposed that I paint text on the canvas and he would layer colors on top of that. I loved the idea, though I was nervous about painting, even if it was in my realm of text. After I decided what text should go on the canvas, he showed me how to use a paint pen, and I practiced as much as I could so that it didn’t look like a 3 year old or drunk person had written it, though I suppose that’s not necessarily a bad thing. John spray painted over my first layer of text, then wrote over the same excerpt with a red paint pen, using his infinitely cooler handwriting. Then he spray painted it again and handed me a calligraphy brush and more liquid black paint and asked me to write the text again in smaller letters, trying not to cover over the other two layers but getting between them. John is probably taking a well-deserved nap right now, seeing as he painted 5 new pieces, collaborating with 5 different people, all between 9 am yesterday and 9 am today. The works (and there was a ton of other fantastic stuff being made by 20 other artists) will be auctioned off tonight during CoCA’s fun-n-fancy gala dinner, which is, I understand sold out. Of course I am eagerly awaiting the final product from John’s take on “Skitter” — above are a few photos from documenting the process. Special thanks to John Osgood and to Nichole DeMent. It was a fantastic night!

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Update:

Here it is, the final product, “Harush,” by John Osgood & Anca Szilagyi:

Harush

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