Tag Archives: Maya Sonenberg

Notes From #AWP18, Part 2: “Sound Makes Sense: Reading the Lyric Sentence” and Various & Sundries (Gonzo Links Edition)

16 Mar
Sunrise view from my hotel room

Sunrise from our hotel room

The Friday of AWP is always the best day. The nervous energy of Thursday has dissipated, and the inevitable Saturday flu epidemic has not yet emerged. I woke early to respond to student stories and breakfasted on a leftover Cuban sandwich, wondering if it would make me barf later. Reader, it did not! A fortifying start.

Alan Sincic, the fantastic Orlando-based writer who was The Furnace’s Writer-in-Residence, was on a 9 am panel on the lyric sentence. I’m a fan of Sincic’s prose *and* mad presentation skills, so the early start was well worth it. The moderator, Pearl Abraham, kicked off the discussion with this advice: “If the voice doesn’t work, write better sentences.” 

Then Sincic woke up the crowd with a call-and-response activity, that gradually built up to us chanting together: “I am an individual and will not surrender my voice to the crowd.” He said, “A sentence is less like the beam of a house and more like the branch of a tree,” that a sentence has ghost limbs lost in the editing process. He proceeded to take apart this Mark Twain sentence, examining each word choice and its placement as a way of generating suspense and delight: “Is a tail absolutely necessary to the comfort and convenience of a dog?”

Baylea Jones analyzed a sentence from Dorothy Allison’s Bastard Out of Carolina, graphing sounds and letters, including patterns of consonant use, and internal rhymes: “Black walnut trees dropped their green-black fuzzy bulbs on Aunt Ruth’s matted lawn, past where their knotty roots rose up out of the ground like the elbows and knees of dirty children suntanned dark and covered with scars.” Wow! I had fun retyping that.

AuthorSigningI ducked out early to get to my book signing at the Lanternfish Press table, where I got to hang out with my editor Christine Neulieb and publisher Amanda Thomas,  and connect with new readers and old friends, including Julia Mascoli, who was in my Tin House workshop in 2013 and who is Deputy Director of Free Minds Book Club and Writing Workshop doing great work with incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people in Washington, D.C. (Seattle-area folks, you can donate books to prisons and other under-served communities via Seattle7Writers Pocket Libraries program.)

Later, I chilled at the Cambridge Writer’s Workshop table, celebrating the release of CREDO: An Anthology of Manifestos and Sourcebook for Creative Writing, which includes my “Summer-Inspired Writing Prompts.” Co-editor Rita Banerjee was there with her mythic poetry collection Echo in Four Beats, as was Maya Sonenberg, whose new chapbook After the Death of Shostakovich Père is out from PANK Books.

That night, the celebration continued at the Helen Gordon Davis Center for Women, a beautiful old mansion a mile away from the convention center. There were many, many readings. One was from Women in the Literary Landscape; crowds whooped in appreciation for Anne Bradstreet, Virginia Kirkus, and the biographer of Eleanor Roosevelt. (I am a rube for not remember which biographer was mentioned, so here are five of them!)  Nell Painter, author of A History of White People, read from her forthcoming memoir Old in Art School, Diana Norma Szokolayi read her poem “Sarajevo,” Sonenberg read an anti-plot manifesto, and I read an excerpt from Daughters of the Air in which Pluta has committed arson in Brooklyn and found refuge in an abandoned Times Square theater. Fun! There is so much more to write…! I’ll wrap things up in one more post. Sneak preview: there will be blood.

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Reading at Strange Theater: A Menagerie of Fabulists. Photo courtesy of Daniel A. Hoyt. I swear, there were more people here. We agreed the line up was so good we’ll do it again in Portland, but weirder!

Q & A on the Powell’s Blog: “Elastic Realism and Political Fiction; or, A Conversation Between Anca Szilágyi and Susan DeFreitas”

26 Jan
Bookcase brimming with Murakami, Calvino, Woolf, and more...

Not ashamed to admit I have hugged this book case…more than once.

Over on the Powell’s blog, I spoke with Susan DeFreitas, author of Hot Season, about blurring genre boundaries, political fiction, and fairy tales. In the process we touched on a slew of authors: Clarice Lispector, Nikolai Gogol, Kate Bernheimer, Lydia Millet, Denis Johnson, Ralph Ellison, Günter Grass, Angela Carter, Maya Sonenberg, Robert Coover, Rikki Ducornet, Lily Hoang, Anne Carson, and Haruki Murakami. Whew! Makes me want hug a bookcase. You can read the Q & A here.

If you’re in the Portland area, I hope you’ll join us at Powell’s City of Books on Monday, February 19 at 7:30 pm. (And if you can’t make it, you can still preorder a signed edition here to be shipped to you!)

Dancing About Architecture

19 May

My sixth set of writing prompts for the Ploughshares blog dives into the vast territory of creative writing involving music, with wisdom from E.M. Forester, Milan Kundera, and Maya Sonenberg, and a short list of reading suggestions from Baldwin’s “Sonny’s Blues” to a forthcoming novel on the inventor of the theremin.

The Best AWP Ever

7 Mar

photo (9)Forgive my hyperbole, but I really enjoyed AWP this year. Maybe it was because this was the fourth I attended, so it was less overwhelming. Maybe it was because it was in Seattle, so I got to see so many friends and sleep in my own bed. Maybe it was because I had a chance to read alongside some really lovely writers. Maybe it was because I got to bring M to the book fair on Saturday and he made many tired exhibitors laugh. I *did* have violent heart palpitations the weekend before the conference as I stressed out over the three readings I had, but somehow these subsided by Tuesday, and by Thursday it was one big love fest. Here are some highlights.

Notes on the Practical

On Thursday I attended Kristen Young‘s panel Like Sand to a Beach: Bringing Your Book to Market. Jarrett Middleton of Dark Coast Press gave a really informative overview of the publishing process, especially when it comes to distribution. I had no idea how scary a pre-sales conference is (when a publisher pitches the merits of a title to all the big guns of a distributor and they try to poke holes in your marketing plan). I also didn’t know that a book has about 90 days or one quarter in a bookstore before it gets returned to the warehouse. Karen Maeda Allman of Elliott Bay Book Company gave the bookseller’s perspective. My favorite advice of hers about author events is to “invite everyone you know, encourage them to bring friends, and invite your ‘Kevin Bacon’ friend–the one who knows everyone.” All of her presentation slides are available on this beautiful Tumblr. Author Jonathan Evison emphasized building communities and taking the time to invite friends individually to your events rather than through mass emails. He also said, “Even if only six people come to your B & N event in south Austin, take the events coordinator to the Cheesecake Factory afterwards and get her drunk. She’ll keep selling your books.” Finally, Rachel Fershleiser of Tumblr gave an overview her experiences as a book publicist and of what she calls the “bookternet” — smart people being silly on the internet with sites like Last Night’s Reading.

A Controversial Panel

Friday morning I attended the panel Magic and Intellect. It was packed to the gills; magic must be popular! Something extraordinary occurred at this panel that so far one blogger I know of has recounted and it is worthwhile to read her account. I hope more people will write on it. I haven’t had the mind space to do so; I’m still processing. But I did come away from it feeling affirmed, that imaginative writing is necessary. Rikki Ducornet said, “The human mind & imagination cannot sustain itself in a constant state of emergency,” and Kate Bernheimer said, “Solutions in fairy tales often require radical acts. If you’re in an incestuous, abusive relationship, you might need to cut off your finger to use as a key to get out of a room.” And Rikki Ducornet offered this advice: “For a difficult book to be readable, ‘find a language that levitates somehow, that is scintillating'” (last quotation via Mackenzie Hulton on Twitter).

One Really Cool Thing from the Book Fair: Envisioning the Future of the Book

I cannot begin to describe the many, many books I acquired last week. So I will simply share one very cool thing, Columbia College Chicago’s Center for Book & Paper Expanded Artists’ Books. They displayed a hybrid artist book with heat-sensitive ink and an embedded iPad; if you pressed your hand on the page, different words erased and different words appeared on the iPad. What alchemy.

Readings Galore

I had the pleasure of reading fairy tales with Maya Sonenberg, Rikki Ducornet, and Valerie Arvidson. I was pleasantly surprised to see a fairly large room fill with people eager to hear stories. Somehow each of us included food in our stories–I hurriedly jotted the phrase “saffron buns and candied salmon” as Valerie read–and that made me immensely happy.

At Canoe Social Club, I read with Andrew Ladd, Michael Nye, and Wesley Rothman. I’d finished Andrew’s book What Ends Tuesday night and it had me sobbing by the end. In addition to making me think about the issues that got me crying, it got me thinking about the books that also made me cry like that–Sophie’s Choice, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn— so maybe I’ll write a separate post on that topic. I picked up Michael’s story collection Strategies Against Extinction; of course I will read the story “Sparring Vladimir Putin” first because obviously. I can’t wait. Wesley is working on a collection that may be called Sub-Woofer–keep your ears peeled!

Chris Abani and Chang-rae Lee did a wonderful reading and conversation. I already read The Secret History of Las Vegas (it’s powerful!), but hearing Chris read the opening and another section concerned with fairy tales gave me shivers.

I got to read with 13 others affiliated with the Univesity of Washington MFA and  the Cambridge Writers Workshop. We filled up Victrola’s back room and then most of us retired to Coastal Kitchen for drinks, snacks, and exquisite corpse. Coincidentally, I sat beside someone I’d only known through twitter and had no idea would be there. The future is now!

In the lovely subterranean Alibi Room, I got to see the UNC-Wilmington alumni reading, which featured several friends and which introduced me to the wonderful work of Rochelle Hurt and Kate Sweeney. You should check out their respective books, The Rusted City and American Afterlife. 

Finally, read Paul Constant’s take on the conference here, which includes high praise for my Furnace co-conspirator Corinne Manning and her Alice Blue chapbook “A Slow and Steady Eruption.” Hooray!

What I’m Doing During #AWP14

26 Jan

This year, I get to go to AWP in my hometown for the second time. The first time was also my first time at AWP ever, in NYC. That was where I decided to apply for MFA programs because, as the nice woman I met there said, “You’re helping no one by hating your job.” Since that fateful, overwhelming experience, I went to the conference in D.C., bunking up with my MFA classmates in a fancy hotel room, and then to the one in Chicago, staying with my lovely mother-in-law and kvelling over the downtown Jewish deli she took M and I to, Manny’s.

Last spring, I went to a panel on proposing AWP panels at Richard Hugo House right after folks came back from the Boston AWP (which I skipped because a woman and her wallet needs a break). I proposed a panel that did not get accepted, but I also was fortunate enough to be on a panel that *did* (thank you, Maya Sonenberg!). So I am on my very first AWP panel. And to top it all off, I put together an off-site event to celebrate the release of my friend Andrew Ladd‘s debut novel, What Ends.

WITHOUT FURTHER ADO: WHAT I’M DOING DURING AWP

Artwork by Rikki Ducornet http://rikkiducornet.com/work/

Artwork by Rikki Ducornet
http://rikkiducornet.com/work/

Official panel description on AWP site

Facebook Invite (why not?)

AWP FB invite4Facebook Invite

Of course, there’s so much more I’m doing, but these events are what I’m directly involved in. If you’re curious about what other Hugo House instructors are up to, I compiled a list of panels for Hugo House’s blog.

And here’s a few panels I’m most definitely excited to attend:

Like Sand to the Beach: Bringing Your Book to Market

Magic and the Intellect

 A Reading and Conversation with Chris Abani and Chang-rae Le

Are you going to AWP this year? What are you most excited to see and do?

Stay tuned for my highly idiosyncratic gustatory guide to Seattle, for all your cheap food and drink needs.

New Fairy Tales from the North

8 Aug
JaneAlexander

“Bom Boys” by Jane Alexander

After the Tin House conference, M. and I went to New York to visit family and get our fill of art and food. We structured our visit around three bizarre-sounding art exhibits: Matthew Barney’s drawings at the Morgan Library, Paul McCarthy’s massive installation at the Park Avenue armory, and Jane Alexander’s eerie sculptures at St. John the Divine.

Barney’s drawings were often framed in “self-lubricating” plastic, which was fascinating in and of itself, and sometimes more  interesting than the faint, conceptual sketches contained within. Most intriguing in this exhibit were his copies of Norman Mailer’s Ancient Evenings, heavily marked up, cut up, splashed with gold leaf. This is part of his newest project, “River of Fundament,” a seven-part “opera” drawing on  Mailer’s novel of Ancient Egypt and the Egyptian Book of the Dead and transposing it to 20th century American car culture.

“WS,” McCarthy’s exhibit, took up the entire armory with projections and sculptures of Snow White, the seven dwarves, and Walt Disney in an extremely debauched frat party. The set from the projected film took up the center of the armory, and you could walk around it, peeking into windows, catching sight of some very disturbing after-the-party messes. An enchanted forest lay beyond the house, and you couldn’t quite walk inside of it, but just below it, which was unsettling, along with the fact that trees intentionally resembled turds. And in side galleries, a series of other films with the same characters included food porn and  a naked Snow White accosting Walt Disney’s mouth with a bar of soap. It was an impressive production, though I regret bringing my mother.

The most moving and complex was “Jane Alexander: Surveys (From the Cape of Good Hope),” which explores the legacy of Apartheid. Tucked away in various chapels at the back of St. John the Divine, these child-sized beast-human sculptures were strange and haunting. I half-expected them to start moving around and addressing me. Because of a calendar error, we caught the show on its last-last day, as it was being packed up, so it was doubly strange to see these small creatures being put into crates. Particularly arresting was “Security.” It featured a large wingless bird enclosed in razor-wire inside a courtyard that was once the north transept of the church before the roof burned down in 2001. Surrounded by red rubber work gloves and rusting machetes and sickles and standing atop wheat and earth, the bird is watched over, sort of, by a dull-eyed, monkey-like “Custodian” perched on a window sill and a pointing “Monkey Boy”. The New York Times has a photo gallery here.

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In other news, I’m very happy to be on a panel at the 2014 AWP in Seattle! I will be reading at “New Fairy Tales from the North” with Maya Sonenberg, Valerie Arvidson, and Rikki Ducornet. The panel description begins with this choice Angela Carter quote from “The Werewolf”:

“It is a northern country; they have cold weather, they have cold hearts.”

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