Monday, June 28, 2010

First Person Plural is Moving to

Over the course of the past two years, I've tried to post daily (Monday-Friday) here at First Person Plural. Thank you to everyone who follows this blog, or who regularly reads it. It's been a pleasure to maintain. But as of Thursday, when our new Web site goes live, First Person Plural will officially be tucked under that new site. (Not that I'm doing away with this blogspot account. I still plan on leaving it up. New posts, however, will head straight for As many of you may know, I started this blog two years ago, just after arriving at The Writer's Center, because our current (and soon to be defunct) Web site couldn't do many of the things--post video, images, etc--that this blog could do.

Our new Web site will be able to do that, I'm very happy to say, and that means this blogspot address will soon have run its course.

When the site goes live, please stick with First Person Plural. Know, too, that I hope to make it even more of a space for members to post their own posts on a range of writerly topics. If you'd like to write for First Person Plural, the version, then by all means send me an e-mail. Much to do this week!

Friday, June 25, 2010

Discovery Friday: The Drum

This post originally appeared on Pagan Kennedy's Writer 2.0.

by Henriette Power

For a writer, I’ve been acting a little strange lately. I’ve been driving around eastern Massachusetts with a pre-amp and a pop screen and other assorted pieces of sound equipment in a large messenger bag, and wielding a folded-up microphone stand in one hand.

I’ve been poring over sound files, cutting out extra-long pauses and noticing that I’m starting to recognize the shape that particular words form in the sound waves of Garageband. I’ve been working with short fiction, making editing suggestions, commenting on tone. But none of it has involved looking at actual words.

May 1st marked the launch date for my new writing venture: The Drum, A Literary Magazine For Your Ears. The Drum is a lot like other online lit mags, except for one thing: the stories, novel excerpts, and essays it publishes exist only as sound files. This is writing out loud. Literature to listen to.

The idea for The Drum took shape some time over the summer, as I listened to audiobooks during long car drives and wondered why there couldn’t be an audio counterpart for short works. The idea seemed a natural for our iPhone age. With so many sources of information and entertainment jumping mediums, I had to believe that, somewhere, the literary magazine had undergone a similar transformation.

As I began to research the concept, I discovered that The Missouri Review posts a handful of its published works as audio files on its website; that Scarab magazine is an iPhone app that offers mostly poetry read aloud; that Poetry Speaks sells audio files of new and public-domain poems. Still, I found no magazine for prose that’s read aloud—no place that was just like a literary magazine except in a different medium.

I took the fateful step of mentioning my idea for an audio magazine to two friends. Rather than pat me on the arm and change the subject, they reacted with enthusiasm and—more dangerously—with names of people I should talk to in order to make the idea happen. With experience in non-profits and in radio, these two serve as The Drum’s first Contributing Editors. Over the next several months, and with help from these friends and a number of other people, I gradually put together the magazine you can find now at

The process was fascinating. I learned that, thanks to the truth of six degrees of separation, you already know everyone you need to know to get practically everything done. A lawyer to draft the rights agreements? The mother of my daughter’s friend knew just the right person. A web-builder? My rowing coach referred me. A logo designer? Two rowing connections led to that one. How to incorporate and apply for 501(c)3 status? Another rower. Sound editing? My neighbor’s son. All fall, I turned all my friends into focus groups for one aspect of the magazine or another. There was no coffee-drinking or dinner that didn’t involve some sort of brain-picking on my part, if only for a moment. (Perhaps the biggest lesson here was: if you want to get something done, ask a rower.)

What continues to strike me the most about this new endeavor is how it reveals the paradox of the digital age: far from removing all humanity from our increasingly technologized lives, digitalization has made it more possible for individuals to produce and to connect. I will leave the discussion of standards, gatekeeping, and the decentralization of taste-making to another time. My point here is to observe the psychological and more personal effect that building a new digital magazine had on this one writer. I have never quite made peace with the notion that my success lies in someone else’s hands. I’m not particularly comfortable waiting. But building The Drum was like the best part of writing fiction: creating something out of thin air, making something, and then collaborating with others to bring the thing to life. Thanks to the digital world, there is more than one way for a writer to make a mark.

By the second half of April, I was ready to begin the actual recording. Boston’s Grub Street Writers very kindly allowed me to use their space as a central recording location. But that didn’t cover writers like Aimee Loiselle who lives in western Massachusetts. And I had already learned that a large, high-ceilinged room with no carpeting or curtains is not exactly an ideal recording studio. To save Aimee a long drive, and to save The Drum’s listeners from the sound of an echo chamber, I recorded her short story in her friends’ farmhouse midway between our two homes. When I pulled up on a raw, gray day, a horse was grazing beside the driveway, and a brush pile smoked across the road. The room we recorded in was perfect: a renovated 18th-century bedroom full of pillows and linens to stifle any errant sound waves.

It’s a good thing I love to drive. In one week alone, I recorded in a Back Bay apartment, the Park Plaza hotel, and homes in Franklin, Oxford, and Jamaica Plain. There were slight occupational hazards, like the train rumble in Porter Square, the dog barking in Annisquam, and another dog chewing loudly on a bone on Commonwealth Ave. All of it, wonderfully, could be edited away.

Now, as I continue to go from house to apartment to office, I joke that I’m the Story Catcher. But it’s kind of true. I go around capturing the American Short Story in its element, like a cross between a lepidopterist Nabokov and the legendary Alan Lomax, who recorded folk music throughout the US. My travels are a vivid reminder that there are stories everywhere, and there are great writers everywhere, eager to hear their words brought to life. To me, the short works I’m publishing in The Drum are the records of a new American folklore—the folklore of contemporary literary culture.

The Drum’s writers seem to share my excitement for this enterprise. They have clearly rehearsed for their recording sessions. Many come with water bottles, some with lozenges. They consider whether they’ll perform better sitting or standing. They get comfortable. We do a two-sentence test for the sound levels, and they adopt their reading voice, taking care to enunciate and maintain a steady pace. Listening to them read, I have one eye on the levels—and a hand ready on the knob—but I let myself get transported to the world they’re creating. It’s like having a story read to you in childhood. Only better, because you get to listen to it again and again without having to beg the reader.

And then something interesting happens. When the piece is done, The Drum’s writers thank me. But why? The Drum can’t pay contributors anything right now. It’s a young magazine whose readership is growing but hardly guaranteed. To me, it seems clear that it’s The Drum who is benefiting from these writers’ generosity. Yet there seems to be something about reading aloud that brings its own rewards. There’s another digital paradox: instead of detachment, technology creates and preserves immediacy. The Drum’s writers seem to feel that they’re reaching people in a new way. Even though it’s just me in the room (sometimes accompanied by a helper), they respond to the larger audience they know they can reach through something as simple as an mp3 file.

Find The Drum online at

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Writer's Center Interview Series: Yahia Lababidi

Bookmark and Share

Today we have what I hope to make a semi-regular feature on First Person Plural: a video interview with an author. Here we have my conversation with Yahia Lababidi, the Egyptian-Lebanese author of Signposts to Elsewhere. A special thanks to Shawn Orenstein for putting all my footage into one shorter video. Trust me, this was long. She did a great job trimming it.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Fall 2010 Emerging Writer Fellows Revisited: Bios

Bookmark and Share

Last week I posted the announcement for our Fall 2010 Emerging Writer Fellowship winners and finalists. Today I want to expand that to include the bios of all the winners. The Emerging Writer Fellowships are awarded to writers who have published up to 2 book-length works of prose and up to three book-length works of poetry. During the blind application process, The Writer's Center received dozens of submissions from emerging writers in fiction, poetry, and nonfiction. There were six recipients. The fellows will headline, with musical guests to be determined by curators Chad Clark (Beauty Pill) and Matt Byars (The Caribbean), these upcoming Story/Stereo events:

Friday, September 3, 8:00 P.M.

Aryn Kyle (fiction: Boys and Girls Like You and Me)

Allison Benis White (poetry: Self-Portrait with Crayon)

Friday, October 8, 8:00 P.M.

Jenny Browne (poetry: The Second Reason)

Debra Gwartney (nonfiction: Live Through This: A Mother’s Memoir of Runaway Daughters)

Friday, November 5, 8:00 P.M.

Doreen Baingana (fiction: Tropical Fish: Stories out of Entebbe)

Alison Pelegrin (poetry: Big Muddy River of Stars)

Allison Benis White is the author of Self-Portrait with Crayon, winner of the Cleveland State University Poetry Center First Book Prize. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in the American Poetry Review, The Iowa Review, Ploughshares, and Pleiades. Her honors include the Indiana Review Poetry Prize, the Bernice Slote Award from Prairie Schooner, and a Writers Exchange Award from Poets & Writers. She recently completed a second manuscript, “Small Porcelain Head,” which received the James D. Phelan award for a work-in-progress from the San Francisco Foundation. She teaches at the University of California, Irvine. Visit her Web site.

Jenny Browne is the author of two collections, At Once and The Second Reason, both from the University of Tampa Press. Poems from her new manuscript, “Some Studies for the Monster,” have been recently published, or are forthcoming from AGNI, American Poetry Review, Bat City Review, Gulf Coast, and Measure. A former James Michener Fellow in Poetry at the University of Texas-Austin, she lives in downtown San Antonio and teaches at Trinity University. Visit her Web site.

The recipient of fellowships from the NEA and the Louisiana Division of the Arts, Alison Pelegrin is the author of two poetry collections, most recently Big Muddy River of Stars. Her work has appeared in Poetry, Ploughshares, Poetry Daily, and The Writer's Almanac. At present she teaches English at Southeastern Louisiana University. Learn about her book online.

Doreen Baingana is the author of Tropical Fish: Stories out of Entebbe, which won an AWP Short Fiction Award and a Commonwealth Prize. She has also won the Washington Independent Writers Fiction Prize and was nominated twice for the Caine Prize for African Writing. Her stories and essays have appeared in journals such as Glimmer Train, Chelsea, African American Review, Callaloo, The Guardian, UK, Chimurenga, and Kwani. She has an M.F.A from the University of Maryland and has taught creative writing as a Writer-in-Residence at the University of Maryland, The Writer’s Center, the SLS/Kwani literary festivals in Kenya, and with FEMRITE in Uganda. Listen to her discuss Tropical Fish on NPR.

Aryn Kyle is the author of the novel The God of Animals and the short story collection Boys and Girls Like You and Me. Her work as appeared in The Atlantic Monthly, Ploughshares, Best American Short Stories 2007, Best New American Voices 2005, and elsewhere, and has been translated into fifteen languages. She is the recipient of a Rona Jaffe Award, an American Library Association Alex Award, and a National Magazine Award in fiction. She lives in New York City. Visit her Web site.

Debra Gwartney is the author of Live Through This: A Mother's Memoir of Runaway Daughters, a finalist for the 2009 National Book Critics Circle Award and named a best book of the year by The Oregonian and Pacific Northwest Booksellers. She is co-editor, with her husband Barry Lopez, of Home Ground: Language for an American Landscape. She lives in western Oregon and teaches at Pacific University. Visit her Web site.

Our call for submissions for our Spring 2011 Emerging Writer Fellowships are now open. For more information, visit The Writer's Center's Web site here.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Web site Launches in Early July

For the next couple weeks we're going to have our hands full populating our brand spanking new Web site with content, so my posts here may be slightly sporadic. One thing I can tell you, though, is that the new site is going to be pretty incredible. It's going to be pleasing to the eye and easier to navigate, for example, and it'll be far easier to share interesting news and events and workshops. From my perspective, perhaps from any perspective in 2010, that's a good thing.

Friday, June 18, 2010

On Self-Publishing, E-books, and Politics and Prose

Our guest today is Shawn Orenstein. Later on this blog, in a few weeks perhaps, we'll deal with the issue of self-publishing head on. It's a touchy subject to some, but, for what it's worth, it's one that deserves some attention from writers. Because, as you can see here, a lot of people are self-publishing. Here's Shawn's bi-weekly column on what's happening in the world of books & publishing:

A couple weeks ago, I wrote about Garrison Keillor’s response to self-publishing, which was far from positive. In some ways, I agreed with him. While I see the benefits of self-publishing in that you do not have to bother going to a big-time publisher and most likely get your work turned down, I also did not understand how people would promote themselves while there are thousands of other unknown writers trying to the same thing. This past week, however, I stumbled upon two self-publishing success stories.

One was the story of M.J. Rose, the author of the best-selling Reincarnationist series and the founder of, a marketing company for authors. On the homepage of her website, a question pops up: “How can I promote my book directly to hundreds of thousands of reads and to thousands of bookclubs, booksellers and librarians?” She comforts the aspiring writer responding, “Every author asks that question. The answer is AuthorBuzz.” 

Rose started to self-publish in 1998; she was one of the first people to use the Internet to publish a book. She started by making her own website and attaching a word document and selling it for $9.99. After a short time, it became painfully clear that her work was going nowhere. She decided to print the novel herself and take it around to various bookstores. Most bookstores refused to even look at her self-published book. Eventually, after serious self-promotion, she caught the attention of The Literary Guild and the Doubleday Book Club and soon enough she had a book deal.

Now the author of eleven novels, Rose tries to help aspiring writers publish their books. Having gone through all the struggles of self-publishing, Rose is confidant that she can guide writers lost in the dark. She has been in the book-writing business for twelve years and she has a background in advertising. Through these experiences, she remains skeptical about self-publishing. Last year, there were over one million books published and about three quarters were self-published. Rose says that it should be hard to get to the top in the world of books. She says, “You are going to have to break through, but if you want to make a career out of this then you have to make sure you are doing it in a very professional way.” She bluntly says, “if it is really easy to write a book in self-publishing, you are doing it wrong.” To listen to the story, find it here.
The other story I found was from a different perspective, one that started in the 21st century. Before Boyd Morrison got published, he went through the process of self-publishing an e-book. However, unlike many self-publishers, this was not his first approach. He started by going through twenty-five publishers, all of which turned down his thriller novel, The Ark. At first he was going to build his own Web site, intending to allow people to download it for free. However, he discovered that Amazon gave the opportunity to unpublished authors to sell their manuscripts to the Kindle store and give them a segment of the proceeds. Morrison’s expectations were low, desperately trying to market by selling his books for less than two dollars. However, through word of mouth, his book became a hot topic of discussion on boards such as Kindleboards and Mobileread. The popularity of his novel, eventually rising to the top of the Kindle stores technothriller bestseller list, finally got the attention of Touchstone books, a division of Simon & Schuster. The Ark was one of the first self-published books that started on Kindle and eventually climbed the ladder to a big name publisher. Find the full story here.

Politics & Prose, the iconic independent bookstore in Washington DC, announced what long-time, dedicated customers have feared: it's now up for sale. Despite the threat to the independent bookstore industry, Barbra Meade, the co-owner, reported, “there are no financial problems here. We make a good Profit.” In fact, their sales have jumped over this past year. Two years ago, Politics and Prose sold 141,000 hardcover books for $3 million. This past year, the store sold 156,000 for $3.3 million. According to The Washington Post article covering the story, book sales nationwide have fallen nearly 2 percent from 2008 to last year. However, Michael Norris an industry analyst for Simba Information, said that he predicts that independent bookstore may survive because of the relationship they have with the community. He said simply, "I think they will survive because it’s Politics and Prose.” Since it first opened, Politics and Prose has formed a strong, loyal following and became a popular stop for authors on book tour. While they have held ex-presidents and Nobel laureates, the store also makes an effort to present less-known local authors.

Jeffery Mayersohn, a retired tech company executive and new owner of Harvard Bookstore (not associated with the university), responded to the news: “I believe all these devices are here with us to stay. But I also believe physical books will coexist with digital books for a very long time.” 

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Writer's Center's New Member Benefits Go Into Effect July 1st

I'd like to make this post about our new member benefits. These will go into effect at roughly the same time as the launch of our new Web site. Next week I'll write more about the Web site (I have to admit, I'm drooling at how cool it is. It's something I've dreamed about since arriving at The Writer's Center a little more than two years ago). Enough. Here's the bit about the benefits:

The Writer's Center is pleased to announce upcoming changes to its membership benefits. Over the years, we've heard many suggestions from members about the benefits you receive. We listened, and now we've created membership giving levels that vastly improve upon your benefits. Please note: The changes will go into effect July 1, 2010.

As you can see, as a member you will continue to get a membership price on workshops on the "Community" level. But we've now greatly increased the discount members receive on their bookstore purchases at this level, and, with our new Web site scheduled for release at the beginning of July, we'll be able to better distribute e-newsletters, e-coupons with special offers to members only, etc., giving you direct access to the workshops and events you want to attend.

At each level, you will see your benefits increase. Take, for example, the "Premium" level of membership. As a Premium member, you will receive a free e-mail address. Imagine sending an e-mail as to all your friends and writer colleagues? Well, as a Premium member you can do just that.

Or how about the "Contributing" member level? At this level, you'll have all the benefits of the first two levels PLUS free access to TWC's writing and meeting spaces and free books by our annual birthday guests. If you're looking for space to write in--maybe it's too noisy at home?--access to The Writer's Center's rooms will provide you with an office away from home.

With our new Web site on the way and these updated member benefits--not to mention our exciting new free events like tonight's Story/Stereo or LitArtlantic--it's an exciting time to be part of our community. We're moving forward, always looking for new ways to expand and improve the services we provide.

Gives $50 annually ($50 tax deductible)
· Access to member price on workshop
· 30% discount on bookstore purchases, including special orders
· New publications listed in “TWC Insider” section of The Carousel (when you notify us, once per title
· Weekly e-newsletter with coupons, special opportunities, and event reminder
· Reciprocal benefits with partner organizations including AIW, SAW, and CAG

Gives $100 annually ( $90 tax deductible)
· Above benefits, plus
· Recognition in three issues of Workshop & Events Guide
· Can sell books in the TWC bookstore on consignment
· Discounts on selected literary magazine subscriptions
· Discount on space rentals
· Free email address

Gives $250 annually ($225 tax deductible)
· Above benefits, plus
· Free access to Writer’s Center writing and meeting spaces (pending availability)
· Free book by our annual birthday reading guest

Gives $500 annually ($475 tax deductible)
· Above benefits, plus
· Two free gift Community Memberships to give to friends

Gives $1,000 annually ($925 tax deductible)
· Above benefits, plus
· 2 reserved seats at the annual Writer’s Center Birthday Reading Event
· Invitation for two to a private reception with a visiting author at The Writer’s Center

Gives $2,500 annually ($2,425 tax deductible)
· Above benefits, plus
· Listing on the donor wall at the entrance to The Writer’s Center

Gives $5,000 annually ($4,615 tax deductible)
· Above benefits, plus
· Free multi-session workshop for you or a friend

Gives at least $10,000 annually ($9,615 tax deductible)
· Above benefits, plus
· Opportunity to name an annual event or award

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Book Review: Dawn Potter's Tracing Paradise

Tracing Paradise: Two Years in Harmony with John Milton

Reviewed by Kathryn Miles

I begin this review with a confession: I am no fan of John Milton. One of my enduring memories of graduate school was a particularly rough Renaissance poetry seminar in which the professor—a noted Milton scholar—asked what was amiss with our class. After explaining that we had, as instructed, read all of Paradise Lost for that day, she looked aghast. “You’re not supposed to read it,” she corrected. “You’re supposed to skim it.”

This admonishment did little to soften the resistance I’ve felt towards the epic, and so I felt a certain trepidation upon beginning Dawn Potter’s lovely memoir, Tracing Paradise: Two Years in Harmony with John Milton. Potter, after all, not only read Paradise Lost; she also transcribed it.

All of it.

That’s the kind of project that can give a reader pause. But Potter is quick to allay any nervous incredulity her audience might have, and she readily admits that her relationship with Milton has been as fraught as anyone’s.

What, then, would prompt an otherwise reasonable contemporary poet to undertake such a project? For starters, there was the suggestion by her friend and Maine’s former poet laureate, Baron Wormser, that she do so. Equally as compelling was Potter’s own belief that she would be a better writer and thinker by “seriously studying great works that were antithetical to me in some inner personal way.” Paradise Lost, she explains, always seemed too sanctimonious and conscious of its own craft to enter her pantheon of favorite texts. It comes as much as a surprise to Potter as her readers, then, when she discovers both a lyrical and philosophical connection to the massive poem.

Tracing Paradise details this kinship in delightful and unexpected ways. Part literary criticism, part ars poetica, part book of days, the memoir invests Milton with new vibrancy while musing on larger questions of existential sustainability. We learn, for instance, about Potter’s experiments in homesteading and the sacrifices and joys of her life as a parent. Along the way, she also offers gracious insight into the complicated relationships we form with the natural world. At each moment, Potter reveals myriad ways in which Milton enhances and explicates the commonplace.

Consider, for instance, the chapter “Angels, Obedience, and ATVs,” in which a trip to visit the Roman statue of Michael spurs a hilarious meditation on all-terrain vehicles, masculinity, and Milton’s depiction of Adam and Eve. Other treatments of Paradise Lost, such as the one applied to the euthanasia of a family goat, are perhaps more of a stretch. But Potter can be forgiven this occasional looseness. Her aim is not so much thesis-driven argumentation as it is an exploration of affiliations. “Like most twenty-first century American poets,” she explains, “I swim in the warm and shallow waters of the personal.”

Happily, so too do most twenty-first century readers. And there is much of the personal to celebrate in Tracing Paradise, from its distinctly decadent sentences to its unflinching honesty. Just as valuable is the book’s wise reminder that poetry—even canonical, much studied poetry—can still inspire surprise and a sense of wonder in us all.

Kathryn Miles is an author and professor of Environmental Writing at Unity College, where she teaches courses in narrative nonfiction, nature writing, and journalism. Her first book, Adventures with Ari, combines backyard naturalism, personal memoir, and canine ethnography. It was named a Bark! Magazine notable book for 2009. Find her online here.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

New Web site Coming Very Soon

Okay, so this week we're training on our new Web site. Yes, it's on its way.


So that means my posts may be much, much smaller this week. But I do want to say that tonight is Nani Power's Book Launch at Bambule restaurant in Friendship Heights at 6 p.m. To learn more about that launch, click here.

I hope to see you there.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Monday Review: Helen Humphreys' Coventry

Coventry: A Novel

Reviewed by Kelly Hand

Helen Humphreys’ Coventry is as austere as the wartime city whose destruction it chronicles. It seems appropriate to call this slim book a novella, yet its style draws as much upon the short story tradition of creating characters without extraneous details as it does upon the expansiveness of novels. Yet Humphreys’ background as a poet is also evident in her scene-painting of a city transformed by German bombs, and she manages to weave history gracefully into her fictional narrative.
The primary focus in this story is Harriet, who moves to Coventry as a young bride during World War I only to lose her husband at the Battle of Ypres soon after. We encounter her first on the night in World War II that will haunt her forever, as she relives the pain of loving and losing. Having remained in the town as a widow for the decades between the wars, Harriet does an elderly neighbor the favor of taking over his “fire watching” duties atop the Coventry Cathedral, where men armed with buckets stand ready to protect the historic building in case German bombers bring flames down upon it. Harriet is willing to don this masculine disguise partly because she does not expect the catastrophe that occurs that night, but Humphreys suggests that her disregard for gender norms and her fearlessness contribute to her survival.

On the day in 1919 when Harriet sent her husband off to war, she encountered a young woman, Maeve, sketching the Coventry cathedral and felt an instant camaraderie with her. They talked about meeting the next day, but it never happened. During her fire-watching duty on November 14, 1940, she meets a young man named Jeremy. When the cathedral erupts into flames from a German bomb, they walk through the devastated city together. As they make their way into the countryside, encountering eerie scenes of life interrupted, Harriet and Jeremy develop an intimate bond that reopens the wounds of the past. Ironically, it is this emotional pain that reunites her with Maeve.

Offering us in its final pages a glimpse of the reconstructed and memorialized cathedral, Coventry suggests that the identities of people as well as places depend upon the bittersweet intermingling of past and present. After attending the 1962 reopening ceremony, Harriet sends a postcard to Maeve, who reflects upon the connection they share: “This is what she and Harriet do—pass the memory of that night in November 1940 back and forth between them.”

However, we have a vague sense that there is more to this relationship for Harriet than there is for Maeve. Humphreys’ failure to make sense of what this relationship means for Harriet is the book’s main weakness. One wonders about repressed homosexual desire, but then feels petty for coming to that conclusion. If Coventry were longer, and if Humphreys practiced less narrative restraint, it might be less elegant, but it would probably be a more satisfying read.

Kelly Hand grew up in Los Angeles and now lives in Washington, D.C. She recently completed her first novel, Blind Girl's Bluff, a coming-of-age story about a homeschooled fifteen-year-old girl who discovers a passion for painting after her anarchist father suicide bombs a post office, leaving her orphaned and permanently blind. Having revised her novel with the help of a writing group formed with classmates from The Writer's Center, she contributes regularly to the group's collaborative blog, She has a B.A. in literature from the University of California, Santa Cruz and a Ph.D. in English literature from Indiana University.

Friday, June 11, 2010

This Post Has Nothing to Do with the World Cup

The weekend's almost here, so that must mean it's time to get some rain. My wife and I will have guests coming in from the Swedish speaking part of Finland today. We're looking forward to seeing them, and it's always fun to gallop along talking and/or listening to Finnish Swedish and Danish. (Incidentally, speaking of Finland, if you're interested in my review of a Finnish novel, Monika Fagerholm's The American Girl, click here).

I want to point out that that I've added another blog to our local blog roll: mmmetropolis. It's a nice looking blog, and I suggest you scroll down to the interesting post on Lolita. Good stuff. Have a great weekend!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Emerging Writer Fellowships Announced

Bookmark and Share

The Writer’s Center is pleased to announce the winners of the Fall 2010 Emerging Writer Fellowships. 
Doreen Baingana, Tropical Fish
Aryn Kyle, You Belong to Me

Alison Pelegrin, Big Muddy River of Stars
Jenny Browne, The Second Reason
Allison Benis White, Self Portrait with Crayon

Debra Gwartney, Live Through This

Our judges included representatives from The Writer’s Center’s Board of Directors, our corps of workshop leaders, and members of our community.  The judges were Takisha Adams, Margot Backas, Peter Brown, Shanti Chandrasekhar, Reb Livingston, Rion A. Scott, Cara Seitchek, and David Y. Todd.  We thank them for their service to this process!

The finalists were:

Matt Bell, How They Were Found
Matt Bondurant, The Wettest County in the World
Lee Houck, Yield
John Jodzio, If You Lived Here You’d Already Be Home
Lori Ostlund, The Bigness of the World
Matthew Pitt, Attention Please Now
Laura van den Berg, What the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us
Steven Wingate, Wifeshopping
Andrew Wingfield, Hear Him Roar

Sally Ball, Annus Mirabilis
Neil de la Flor, Almost Dorothy
James Allen Hall, Now You’re the Enemy
Nick Lantz, The Lightning that Strikes the Neighbor’s House
Yahia Lababidi, Signposts to Elsewhere
Shelley Puhak, Stalin in Aruba
Lois Roma-Deeley, High Notes
Jason Schneiderman, Striking Surface
Mathias Svalina, Destruction Myth

Jessica Handler, Invisible Sisters
Tania Katan, My One Night Stand with Cancer
Shawna Kenney, Imposters
Tom McAllister, Bury Me in Jersey
Kathryn Miles, Adventures with Ari
Adam Ruben, Surviving Your Stupid, Stupid Decision to Go to Grad School
Jane Satterfield, Daughters of Empire: A Year in Britain and Beyond

The fellowship competition will be opened again for Spring 2011, with applications due in September 2010.  To learn more, click here.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

American Independent Writers' 31st Annual Writers Conference, June 12

Happening this weekend...our friends at American Independent Writers. Members of The Writer's Center will get the same rate as AIW members.

New Realities: The (R)evolution of Writing and Publishing
Saturday, June 12, 2010, 7:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. ET

The George Washington University Cafritz Conference Center
800 21st Street NW, Washington, DC

AIW’s 31st Annual Writers’ Conference is less than a month away, and spots are filling fast! This year we’ve got people coming from as far away as Wisconsin and California, plus a huge showing from the Southeastern US including Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, and Tennessee, among other locations. Whether you’re right in DC near GWU’s Cafritz Center or a plane ride away, this year’s conference will be worth the trip.

We’ve got:

More than a dozen panels that span the gamut from technology for writers to digging up inside information for your next book or article to cringe-worthy grammar gaffes.

17 literary agents serving on roundtables and panels, meeting one-on-one with conference attendees, and even getting there at the crack of dawn for an Agent Breakfast with YOU (assuming that YOU are someone who signs up in time!).

45 speakers and presenters, including our plenary speaker, Writer’s Digest Books Editor Chuck Sambuchino, and our keynote speaker, North Carolina State University creative writing MFA professor Jill McCorkle.

Full continental breakfast, gourmet boxed lunch (the sandwiches and wraps are fantastic), and reception with complimentary h’ors d’oeuvres and a cash bar.

Lots of great networking opportunities throughout the day.

Regular registration is $340 for nonmembers and $275 for members.

If you’re not yet an AIW member, why not join when you sign up? Members get a HUGE discount on registration ($275 vs. $340), so if you join when you register you’re actually getting a full year of membership for just $35 more than if you attend the conference as a nonmember. It’s kind of a no-brainer if you ask us!

Additional details and online registration at

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The Hive @LitArtlantic Video: What Does Storytelling Mean to You?

What does storytelling mean to you? Have a look at this video, taken from The Hive @LitArtlantic recently. Special thanks to Shawn Orenstein for stitching this video together from my long thread of footage.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Monday Review: The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson

The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson: A Novel

Jerome Charyn
W.W. Norton & Company
348 Pages
Published February 22, 2010
ISBN: 0393068560

Review by Matt Bondurant

I wanted immediately to hate this book. The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson? Really? What’s next, Jane Austen’s Titillating Diary? Edith Wharton Bares All? The cover image, if you haven’t seen it, is a silhouette of a slim, attractive woman in an obvious nineteenth century gown that is see-through, as if we are looking at an x-ray, and we see the sexy poet herself in her frilly, saucy knickers. There should be an outcry. There isn’t.

I am not familiar with the work of Jerome Charyn, in fact I’ve never heard of him before. Michael Chabon, a writer I greatly admire, claims he is “one of the most important fiction writers in America today.” The thing is, the guy can write. From the first pages, the first person of voice of Emily is immediately charming. Young Emily is infatuated with the Caliban-like handyman named Tom, and watches him save a small fawn from deep snow: “But Tom the Handyman keeps the stunned little doe above his head & tosses it into the air as you would a sack. And what seems like an act of consummate cruelty isn’t cruel at all. The little doe unlocks its legs and starts to leap. What a silent ballet before my eyes!” It is an elegant and adeptly rendered scene and I am hooked. But the novel never gets better than that moment.

So much time is devoted to Emily’s doomed and comically redundant love affairs. She falls for several rascals, all of them lovable rogues, dangerous and a bit thorny, each with a heart of gold and a deeply sensitive intellect masked by their cavalier manner. They drink, steal, fight, study philosophy, skulk through the woods in the dark, hang about the railroad depot, and seem to turn up every few years just in time to sweep Emily up after she ends up in the gutter or a tavern. They share endless nicknames: Daisy, Domingo, Kangaroo, Mouse, Enobarbus, Currer, Thief, and trade coy Brontë and Shakespeare references. As her eyes begin to fail, Emily has a tendency to stagger around and pass out in various (nefarious) parts of town. Inevitably one of her suitors/protectors/lost loves shows up to rescue her. More witty banter of the nineteenth century sort ensues: “‘Sir, would you consider marrying me? I am tiny, that is true. But I can cook and mend your socks.’ I heard the lilt of his laugh again. I could tell that I had pleased him. ‘Never,’ he said. ‘Marriage is not a mouse.’”

Nobody would expect or demand the bottom of Emily’s poetic cupboard or to see what currents of air moved the fibers of her soul; that is task beyond the skills of the mortals that presently inhabit the world. No, the truly relevant secrets of Emily Dickinson remain shrouded in snow. But in Charyn’s book there is so little mention of her poetry at all that by halfway through it becomes disconcerting. Emily makes passing references to being struck by “lightning,” which is likely an apt metaphor. But in the first one hundred fifty pages, the word poetry, the craft, her writing, all of it is only mentioned in passing a couple times. In the final thirty or so pages, another lovelorn suitor (this one seduced by her published work) speaks to her of poetry and there are mentions of her famous little bound collections. We get one brief scene that suggests the origin of a Dickinson line when Emily with her failing vision spots her darling thief/lover Tom in the street: “I could not mistake the syllables of his blond hair. And for the first time in this metropolis my lightning struck like an earl. The sounds came to me. That blond Assassin in the sunlight.”

But little else. I can understand why Charyn would want to avoid the topic. In a first person work from the perspective of Emily Dickinson, how could you possibly approach the subject of poetry, much less her poetry? Even as a creative exercise it seems to tempt the old gods. I wouldn’t do it, either. But it seems as if the novel is intended to present Emily as a witty, thoughtful old maid with a few romantic dalliances who also happened to write a few poems in her spare time (though we never see any of it). It speaks of a motive that I thought was already tired and clichéd by this point: Emily Dickinson was a real woman! She wasn’t just an icy recluse living in the attic scratching out poems nobody saw! She fell in love and had feelings, too! Doesn’t everybody know this by now? It is the kind of thing you talk about in your undergraduate survey of poetry class when Dickinson’s time comes up.

It is fair to say that Charyn nailed down a fine approximation of her prose voice, a subtle linguistic portrait that never feels forced or too nineteenth-century. I do not doubt that many will fall in love with Emily’s voice as presented by Charyn, and perhaps experience a strong chord of empathy as she endures her love-trials.

Matt Bondurant was born and raised in Alexandria, Virginia, and attended James Madison University where he recieved a B.A. and M.A., and received his PhD from Florida State University, where he was a Kingsbury Fellow. He is a two-time Bread Loaf waiter and staff member, and a Walter E. Dakin Fellow at the Sewanee Writer's Conference. His short fiction has appeared in The New England Review, Gulf Coast Review, The Hawaii Review, Prairie Schooner, and Glimmer Train, among others. He has also published poems in such journals as The Notre Dame Review and Ninth Letter among others. His two novels are The Third Translation and The Wettest County in the World. He currently teaches at the University of Texas-Dallas. Find him online at

Friday, June 4, 2010

Going on in Publishing

I'd like to start a semi-new feature on this blog. The idea: troll the Internet for interesting trends or factoids about the publishing industry, the writing biz, etc. Stuff that writers should know. The kind of stuff I like to tweet on The Writer's Center's Twitter account. Collecting all this data is my great new summer intern, Shawn Orenstein. Here she's cobbled everything together for you. Obviously there's a lot more out there. Anyway, I'm done. Here's Shawn....

Last week, Garrison Keillor proclaimed that book publishing “is about to slide into the sea.” He sardonically wrote about the benefits of self-publishing, “… if you want to write, you just write and publish yourself. No need to ask permission, just open a website. And if you want to write a book, just write it, send it to or BookSurge at Amazon or PubIt or ExLibris and you’ve got yourself an e-book. And that is the future of publishing: 18 million authors in America, each with an average of 14 readers, eight of whom are a blood relative.” Keillor failed to understand the benefit that self-publishers see: not having to deal with the gatekeepers in the publishing industry, who have been appointed to determine who is worthy to get into print and who is not.

His words can be found here.

Keillor obviously did not take his argument far enough. Apple now has a mechanism to self-publish through them without the need for a non-threatening middleman like Lulu and defiantly not an agent or a deal with a real publishing house. Apple clearly has their own ideas for the eBook market and the company refuses to ignore any options within that market, including self-publishing authors. Here are the new 7 easy steps to 21st century publishing:

1. Write a book.

2. Use an Intel-based Mac running on OS X 10.5 (or later edition).

3. Alter your book into an ePub format.

4. Get a 13 digit ISBN number, which could take about two weeks.

5. Get an iTunes store account and enter your credit card number.

6. Make sure you have a US Tax ID.

7. Set your price.

And there you have it. You’re a published author! To learn more, go here.

In other news of previously thriving industries such as printed books, small book stores continue to be threatened by the Internet. However, they have been grabbing hold to Amazon for help. Professor Sandeep Krishnamurthy from the University of Washington, who specializes in e-commerce, reported that "Amazon really started off with the idea that they’d do all the selling. Then they realized they were not profitable—they were growing too fast and losing money on every product they sold…. They realized it was not about the company selling to one set of customers, it was about creating a marketplace. … They’ve been in the business of enabling local companies." Small bookstores seem to have accepted the power of Amazon. These sellers have allowed Amazon to sell their goods directly to Amazon customers, simultaneously losing some of their potential profits.

Unfortunately, Amazon can only do so much for these sellers that are trying to keep in the bookselling business, especially since Amazon is trying to promote the Kindle, which pops up immediately when you open the Amazon page, gently reminding those that love printed books that it is the “#1 BEST SELLING PRODUCT ON AMAZON.”

Steve Haber, president of Sony’s digital reading business division, reported confidently that E-Books will take over print within the next five years. He said: “Within five years there will be more digital content sold than physical content. Three years ago, I said within ten years but I realized that was wrong—it’s within five."

Shawn Orenstein is an intern at The Writer’s Center.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Leesburg First Friday AND M.L Liebler & Cliff Bernier

Here's what literary readings we have coming up in the next two weeks:

This Friday, June 4, it's Leesburg First Friday with guest Ronald Culberson.

Want to "find the funny" in your stories to engage readers and keep them turning pages? Join FUNsulting founder and Funnier Speeches head writer Ron Culberson who will talk about ways to add humor to your writing-and your life! Bring, paper, pen, and a piece of writing to play with.

Leesburg Town Hall
25 West Market Street
Leesburg, VA
Time: 7:30 to 9:30 PM
Lower Level Meeting Room
General Admission: $6
Admission for Writer’s Center members and Town of Leesburg residents: $4

Ronald S. Culberson, MSW, CSP, has been studying and teaching about the benefits of humor since 1984. A sought-after speaker by healthcare professionals-lecturing on Humor as a Path to Excellence-Ron is also a speechwriting consultant, humor columnist, and emcee. He is the author of the book Is Your Glass Laugh Full? Some Thoughts on Seeing the Humor in Life and contributing author to Humor Me and Chicken Soup for the Nurses Soul II. Visit him online at ( and

Then on Sunday, June 6 (at 2:00 P.M) at our next Open Door Reading Series event:

The Writer's Center welcomes visiting poet and performance artist M.L. Liebler, author of Wide Awake on Someone Else's Dream. He is joined by Cliff Bernier, whose most recent chapbook is Earth Suite.

Cliff Bernier is the author of two poetry chapbooks, Dark Berries and Earth Suite. He has appeared on the NPR show “The Poet and the Poem from the Library of Congress” and is featured on a CD of poetry duets, Poetry in Black and White as well as on a jazzpoetry CD, Live at IOTA Club and Café. He has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and a Best of the Net Award.

M. L. Liebler is a internationally known & widely published Detroit poet, university professor, literary arts activist and arts organizer, and he is the author of 13 books including the Award winning Wide Awake in Someone Else's Dream featuring poems written in and about Russia, Israel, Germany, Alaska and Detroit. Wide Awake won both The Paterson Poetry Prize for Literary Excellence and The American Indie Book Award for 2009. Liebler has taught Wayne State University in Detroit since 1980, and he is the founding director of both The National Writer's Voice Project in Detroit and the Springfed Arts: Metro Detroit Writers Literary Arts Organization.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Nani Power Book Launch: Ginger and Ganesh

Congratulations to workshop leader Nani Power, whose book Ginger and Ganesh: Adventures in Indian Cooking, Culture and Love was recently published. On June 15th at 6:00 P.M. at Bambule restaurant in Friendship Heights, The Writer's Center will help host a launch party for the book--and everyone is welcome to come! I will be there, and I hope to see as many of you as possible. Here's information about the event and the book (quite a story behind it), which you can also find on this Facebook event page. By the way, she'll be leading a related one-day food writing workshop on June 20 called "Eating Your Words: A Food Writing Workshop."


The Writer's Center will be on hand selling books, the author will be there with her Sharpie to chat, answer questions and sign your copy, and the bartenders at Bambule will be serving up some tasty ginger martinis and other drinks at happy hour prices.

As a bonus, we’ll have some hors d’oeuvres on the house and a raffle give-away of an Indian cooking basket care of Nani.

Please spread the word to friends, foodies and book lovers. This will be a festive literary event.

Here’s a taste of Ginger and Ganesh:

Please teach me Indian cooking! I will bring ingredients and pay you for your trouble. I would like to know about your culture as well.

And with this posting on Craigslist, so begins Nani Power’s journey to learn traditional Indian cooking in the most ancient of ways – woman to woman. Welcomed warmly into the homes of strangers, Power meets women of all ages and backgrounds, and from them leanrs the skills they learned from their own mothers.

Thorough the senses of the kitchen, Power re-examines her own path as a woman. She takes the reader into a culture, a cuisine, and the female psyche, with recipes and stories from each chapter revealing the struggle of modern women, both American and of Indian descent, searching for identity. Along the way, she managers to fall in love when she least expects to.

The recipes shared in this collection are far from ordinary; they are treasured family recipes from vegetarian homes in India – from homemade cheese cubes in a rich cilantro and almond curry to coconut-stuffed okra and luscious potato-curry dumplings. Power’s recipes and stories pave the road to understanding a culture that is at the same time ancient and so very much part of our modern world.

Nani Power is the author of a memoir, Feed the Hungry, and three novels, including critically acclaimed Crawling at Night. Her stories have appeared in numerous literary magazines. She lives in Virginia. You can read Art Taylor's 2008 First Person Plural interview with Nani (upon the publication of Feed the Hungry) right here.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Undiscovered Voices Fellowship: Call for Submissions.

I noted this call for submissions last week, but here I'm going to post the whole thing. This is a busy week at The Writer's Center. We're doing the final prep on our fall workshops and events, and fine-tuning our workshop brochure. If you'd like to learn more about the first recipient of the Undiscovered Voices Fellowship, click here.
The Writer’s Center seeks promising writers earning less than $25,000 annually to apply for our Undiscovered Voices Fellowship.  This fellowship program will provide complimentary writing workshops to the selected applicant for a period of one year, but not to exceed 8 workshops in that year.  We expect the selected fellow will use the year to make progress toward a completed manuscript of publishable work.  
The Writer’s Center believes writers of all backgrounds and experiences should have an opportunity to devote time and energy toward the perfection of their craft. 

The selected fellow will be able to attend writing workshops offered by The Writer’s Center free of charge.  In addition, the fellow will give a reading from his or her work at the close of the fellowship period (June 2011) and will be invited to speak with local high school students on the craft of writing.
To apply, candidates should submit 

a)       a cover letter signed by the candidate that contains the statement: “I understand and confirm I meet all eligibility requirements of the Undiscovered Voices Fellowship.”  The cover letter should include information on the impact this fellowship would have on the candidate.
b)      contact information for two references who can speak to the candidate’s creative work and promise
c)       a work sample in a single genre:
·         8 pages of poetry, no more than one poem per page
·         10 pages of fiction, double-spaced, no more than 1 work or excerpt
·         10 pages of nonfiction (essay, memoir, etc), double-spaced, no more than 1 work or excerpt

·         15 pages of a script or screenplay

These items should be sent in hard copy to The Writer’s Center, Attn: Undiscovered Voices Fellowship, 4508 Walsh St, Bethesda MD 20815.  The deadline is July 1, 2010.

To learn more