Instructor Anya Groner‘s essay “Twinless in Twinsburg” examines her experience of being an identical twin through the lens of an annual Twins Day festival she attended without her sister.
Long before I knew the shape of a double helix or what DNA was, I too pondered the mechanics of individuality. Where do the boundaries of personality lie? Are dispositions coded inside us or is there something more mystical at work? I was born into those questions. Even when we haven’t seen each other for months, I’ll sit beside my twin sister at dinner and notice our shoulders slouched and elbows bent at precisely the same angles. When an expression flickers across her face, I recognize its meaning before she speaks. I’m not telepathic. These gestures — motions without thought — are imbedded in me, too, as if our muscles share memory. The effect is unsettling. What does it mean if your essence is a function of coding? If your selfhood is a coincidence of genes and timing?
Read the entire piece at Longreads.
Instructor Tom Andes — who will be leading a fiction workshop in July and a creative nonfiction workshop in the fall — has an essay titled “Waiting for Bill” up at Guernica: A Global Magazine of Arts and Politics.
“Our tombstones memorialize the things the Trump administration is killing in Louisiana. Healthcare, the environment, racial justice, prison reform, and public education—the list goes on. Suffice it to say, we have a lot of tombstones, which my friends plan to set up outside as an act of protest and, perhaps, for a bit of political theater. En route, they plan their line of attack. “I’ll ask him what his healthcare plan is going to do for me if I get diagnosed with cancer,” says one friend, who was able to obtain insurance after Louisiana accepted federal funding to expand Medicaid under Obamacare.”
Read the complete essay here.
New Orlean’s writer Anne Gisleson has a stunning new essay “The Beautiful Hunt” in the summer issue of The Oxford American. Here’s an excerpt:
My creative life had contributed to the claustrophobia I felt surrounding G’s death. I was supposed to be working on a book about mortality, reading, and family tragedy. Instead, the only thing I’d managed to write that month was a meager crystallized version of it: G’s obituary, another obituary of one of our own, the unsatisfying distillation of a short life. By that point, I’d been camped out in the unwalled city for a long while, constructing illustrative tableaus about coping with our mortal vulnerability, typing pages about how the absurdity of our condition makes us free to create ourselves however we want. But with a disease like addiction, how free can you ever be?
Here’s to Denis Johnson, July 1, 1949-May 24, 2017. He once said he kept these lines from Whitman on his desk as a kind of personal manifesto:
This is what you shall do: Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body. . . .
Our heartfelt congratulations to our former student and dear fellow writer Desiree Evans! Come fall, she’ll be pursuing a MFA at the Michener Center at the University of Texas, Austin, where she’s been awarded a full scholarship.
Those who have had the good fortune to read Desiree’s fiction these past years, know her exceptional abilities to render lyrical Southern voices and compassionate characters, including those underrepresented in literary pages.
Desiree recently wrote Allison:
“I want to thank you again so much for your letter and support. And big congrats to you, Tom, Jessica, and Anya for launching the New Orleans Writing Workshop! So important to have community-based workshops available in this city, and I truly would not have been here without you all. I would not have even considered an MFA if it wasn’t for the great experiences I had in y’alls workshops the last two years.”
We couldn’t be more pleased with Desiree’s news. She’s now among a growing number of our former students students who’ve leveraged their skills and stories into fully funded graduate creative writing programs.
ROOM 220 hosts the book launch for Cassie Pruyn’s Lena at 7 p.m. on Thursday, May 11, at Saturn Bar (3067 St. Claude Avenue). Lena is the winner of the 2017 Walt McDonald First-Book Prize in Poetry.
Cassie Pruyn is a New Orleans-based poet born and raised in Portland, Maine. Her poems have appeared in AGNI Online, The Normal School, The Los Angeles Review, The Adroit Journal, Poet Lore, Salt Hill Journal, and others. She is the author of a forthcoming narrative history of New Orleans’ Bayou St. John, and of Lena (Texas Tech University Press), winner of the 2017 Walt McDonald First-Book Prize in Poetry.
NOWW student Benjamin Aleshire composes poems for strangers in the street on a manual typewriter. His writing is forthcoming in Iowa Review and Boston Review. He works for Green Mountains Review, and will be in residence this summer at the Künstlerhaus Vorwerk-Stift in Hamburg. Find him at www.poetforhire.org, or on the corner of Royal & St. Peter.
Congratulations to Christopher Romaguera who recently accepted a Master’s Scholarship to attend the MFA program in creative writing at the University of New Orleans. Christopher, former student of Allison Alsup, received more than one full-ride offer for an MFA program, but ultimately chose UNO in part so that he could continue to work as a journalist, reporting on undocumented migrant issues and New Orleans’ the public defenders office, topics he’s been researching and writing about for some time. Of course, we’re all delighted that he’s staying in New Orleans. We wish to best of luck to Christopher as he pursues his MFA and look forward to reading more of his creative non-fiction and poetry and seeing him around town!
In the competitive world of literary publishing, contests can be especially hard to navigate. Earlier this month, NOWW fiction instructor Allison Alsup won her fourth literary contest. She’s also placed in numerous other contests. Anyone familiar with her work knows that Allison Alsup’s fiction is remarkable, but she believes her luck with contests is also about strategy. Fortunately for us, Allison agreed to do a Q & A to share what she’s learned about contests with our readers.
You’ve won four contests, most recently with the Dana Award for Short Fiction, and placed in several others, which is quite an accomplishment. I’m trying to avoid asking you what your secret is. Instead, I’m going to ask you about your strategies. In general, how do you decide which contests to send your work to?
Great question. There’s been some trial and error. There are a lot of contests (my go to source for contest listings remains Poets and Writers) and frankly, some may be just too competitive for me to consider. So numbers do come into play. For instance, I’d love to win the Missouri Review’s annual contest. But let’s face it: with 700-800 folks entering, it starts to feel like a lottery more than a contest. In other words, it feels like too much luck or randomness enters the process. When the numbers are more in the 100-250 range, I feel more control over the process—fewer readers involved—and like there’s more of a chance for quality to really rise to the top.
How do I know the Missouri Review gets these high numbers? Because I entered this contest last fall and was told after the fact. (My story didn’t warrant even an honorable mention). But I tuck that fact away and next year, I probably won’t be entering again. In general, big name magazines tend to draw more entries. Instead, with the likes of the Missouri Review, I’m going to continue to try for a regular submission. Perhaps they’ll accept one of my stories while I still walk this earth.
Another factor in my selection has nothing to do with numbers but with a sense of the outfit that’s offering the contest. I always look at the site to learn about both the contest rules and the journal or organization itself. Sometimes you get a feel for the type of material the journal tends to publish. Many journals will offer a portion of their material online, so non-subscribers can see what the journal is about. Since the folks that choose these stories are likely your initial contest readers, you’re not going to get out of the slush pile if your work is aesthetically at odds with their taste. I don’t tend to write avant-garde or metafiction, and a lot of my stories are historical. So if a journal’s guidelines make a point of using phrases like “contemporary society” or “pressing issues facing the world today,” I’m not submitting. However, there are plenty of journals where the sky’s the limit or that value a traditionally crafted story. Those are worth my consideration.
What do you feel contests offer a writer? How do you feel contests have helped your career?
Contests offer some degree of legitimacy, especially to emerging writers. Often there’s publication involved, and a check for $1000 never hurts. I’m not going to downplay the importance of validation either. It was essential when years ago, I made the decision to begin devoting significant portions of my time to writing. We all need that Yes! moment. When I won the first contest, the editor called as I was helping my husband install a gutter on our home. For a week, I didn’t even mind washing dishes.
But contests for me are really about being able to build a stronger cover letter, either for journal submissions or when trying to get an agent. Those are never slam-dunks, no matter how many contests you’ve won, but mentioning contest wins or prizes does help. And that’s what a contest is: a prize that can be won by someone who doesn’t yet have a book or hasn’t been published in Glimmer Train. It’s a way to announce that someone besides your mother and who has experience reading a lot, a lot of stories thinks you’re a spiffy writer.
Additionally, contests are almost always read anonymously. When you regularly submit to a journal, that’s not true. The editors look at your cover letter, and your previous publications. In a contest, the only criterion is the quality of the story itself. That’s not to say that some very well published writers don’t enter contests. But your entry ticket is the same as theirs, and if you write the better story, their credentials won’t get them a better read. Plus, your story will be judged against the contest pile only. Regular magazine submissions often number in the thousands. In most cases, a magazine will receive many fewer contest entries than regular submissions.
Some people might be concerned about the expense of submitting to contests. Do you have any advice about how to decide which ones are worthwhile?
In addition to the number of entrants, you should consider what’s being offered. Money and publication? Is there more than one prize—i.e., first, second, and third place? Are all entries considered for publication? I once entered a story in a contest sponsored by The Madison Review. It didn’t win, but the readers liked it enough to publish it as a regular submission. Also, even if you don’t receive publication, being a finalist in a contest is cause for mention in a future cover letter.
Beware if you’re prone to gambling! I suggest setting a dollar limit and sticking with it. If you’re already doing taxes as a writer, you can deduct contest fees. You’ll also know that you are supporting the journal or organization sponsoring the contest, as contest fees often help literary magazines keep afloat. You’ll most likely get a copy of the journal with the contest winner—again, useful in case you want to submit again.
How do writing contests fit into your overall submissions strategies? For instance, do you send a new story to contests before sending it to magazines?
I do both. I begin with top journals and contests I think I have a shot at. In truth, I often feel like I have a better chance at some contests than say, Ploughshares, which no matter how many times I send to, will reject me. Ditto for any number of uber-competitive journals. I tend to see those magazines as lotteries as well.
In terms of the work itself, it has to be your best. The craft must be evident from the first page. And the material should be unusual in some way—either in terms of the setting, theme, structure, or voice. A typical coming of age or divorce story isn’t going to stand out, no matter how well crafted. But if I finish a story and am amazed that I actually pulled it off, like, “How did I manage that?” Well, that may be a contender.
Ben Aleshire is a poet for hire. Check out this TV profile of him on News With A Twist!
Here’s an excerpt from the feature:
NEW ORLEANS – In the middle of the day, in the middle of the street, a New Orleans poet is now for hire.
All you have to do is give Benjamin Aleshire an idea and about ten minutes and he’ll create a custom-made poem just for you. Or just for anybody you’d like a custom-made poem written for.
WGNO News with a Twist features guy Wild Bill Wood is watching Benjamin as he bikes to work and sets up on Royal Street near St. Peter.
Benjamin works mostly on weekends.
That’s when he bangs out his beauties. Bangs out means he types them. Yes, on a typewriter from the sixties.
“It was Sunday in New Orleans, and that meant it was time for a second line. The sun wasn’t quite down yet, but the drums were already thumping along Rampart like the plodding heartbeat of the city. Drums always got us in the mood for a funeral.”
Congrats to Derrick Boden, former student of NOWW instructors Tom Andes and Allison Alsup, whose story, “The Rot Parade” got picked up by Freeze Frame Fiction. Check out the whole story here.
The award comes with a $1000 prize. The winning story, “Egyptian Deities” is a stand alone piece from her novel-in-progress.
A second story by Allison was chosen as a finalist .
Writing about your life can be challenging. It can be painful to write about a personal experience, or feel threatening to look at it from a new perspective. We often come up against our own sadness, anger, and remorse, and our judgments can make it difficult to write ourselves as full-bodied “characters.” Applying self-compassion in the writing process can help us explore personal subject matter with courage and honesty.
This Saturday’s writing retreat combines a series of writing prompts with self-compassion cultivation practices in order to help you explore the stories of your life. In a relaxed and supportive environment, you will participate in exercises designed to increase your capacity for mindfulness and self-compassion, and you will have ample time to generate new writing.
Click here to sign up!
Facilitator Lara Naughton is a New Orleans-based writer, teacher and compassion trainer. With more than twenty years of experience, she has worked with students K-12 as well as adults, and has led workshops with individuals who have faced challenging circumstances, including homelessness, domestic violence, HIV/AIDS, wrongful conviction, incarceration, and torture. She is a certified Compassion Cultivation Trainer through the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education (CCARE) at Stanford University, and Chair of Creative Writing at New Orleans Center for Creative Arts. Her writing includes the documentary stageplay Never Fight A Shark in Water: The Wrongful Conviction of Gregory Bright, and memoir The Jaguar Man.
Sign up here!
The Neighborhood Story Project and the University of New Orleans Press present… the 2017 WRITE-A-THON
Looking for a chance to get a big chunk of writing done and support a worthy cause, with free food and other perks to boot? Read on!
Taking place April 22-23, the Write-A-Thon, emphasis on ‘Thon,’ is a 24-hour extravaganza of Writing, Eating, & Reading. Write-A-Thoners are encouraged to hunker down & write away for as much of the event as they dare.
Great food from The Joint and Pagoda Cafe will keep you nourished; the clacking of other keyboards will inspire your own to make clacking sounds. Plus, there will be an offering of workshops by esteemed local writers. At hour 22 (22!) of the event, Write-A-Thoners are invited to share the fruit of their work in a public reading emceed by Janae Pierre, WWNO’s local host of All Things Considered and All Things New Orleans.
Funds raised by the 2017 Write-A-Thon will benefit both NSP & UNO Press, supporting projects around literacy, community advocacy, New Orleans cultural preservation, & the distribution of stories we haven’t heard before. As with a traditional marathon, Write-A-Thoners will crowdsource donations from their personal networks to support their participation in the event.
By funding writing-based work through writing, the Write-A-Thon is all about stories and those who write them.
Whether as a writer or a donor, we hope you’ll join us!
For more information and to sign up, visit: https://give.classy.org/writeathon
In her recent essay “Meet the Riverboat Captain who Conquers the Mississippi Everyday,” New Orleans Writers Workshop instructor Lara Naughton profiles riverboat captain Jared Austin for Narratively Magazine.
“Austin’s a man of confidence in an industry where a single command could either lead to or divert disaster, so he strives for boring on the river. He has a short list of messes he’s been in, and wants to keep it that way. Peril can come unexpectedly, and there are numerous close calls every day. Some ships run up to nine hundred feet long – vessels six times larger than any Twain handled – and at times Austin drives them at speeds between ten and fifteen miles-per-hour, frequently carrying petroleum or toxic chemicals that, if spilled due to a crash, could cause an environmental disaster. He pilots in daylight, the pitch of night, rain, and high winds. “In fast river conditions,” Austin says, “there can be several different currents pulling in unpredictable directions, like a huge pot of water boiling crawfish.” If he gets caught in fog, he has to pilot blind and rely solely on radar.”
Read the rest of her profile here.
Her weekend class, Writing Your Life With Greater Compassion, takes place on April 1 at Studio in the Woods.
Over at Lithub, New Orleans Writers Workshop instructor Anya Groner interviewed Sarabande author Elena Passarello about her new book Animals Strike Curious Poses.
When Elena Passarello was a girl, her grandparents took her to see a unicorn. Lancelot was a “creamed-rinsed, mutant goat with a watery eye,” a “survivor of backwoods surgery with a pastel-bedazzled wang sprouting from his brain.” Like the other children in the audience, Elena was enchanted. She knew Lancelot was a phony, a glitzed-up Frankensteined goat, yet her heart palpitated with the earnest love of a wowed child. In his sparkling eyes, she recognized herself.
Today, Elena Passarello is a writer, and her second book of essays, Animals Strike Curious Poses is just out from Sarabande. In addition to a meditation on Lancelot, the collection includes 16 essays on the lives, deaths, and mythologies of various other animals. Modeled after a medieval bestiary, the book progresses chronologically, beginning with the story of Yuka, a wooly mammoth frozen in 39,000 B.C. and ending with the 2015 hunting death of Cecil the lion. In between, Passarello considers the pet starling who may have inspired Mozart’s compositions, an Elizabethan-era fighting bear who threw mastiffs into the stands, a Galapagos tortoise’s heartbreak for Charles Darwin, and Arabella, the first spider in space. “We feel the pull of the them before we know to name them, or how to even fully see them,” Passarello writes of the human obsession with animals. “It is as if they were already waiting, crude sketches of themselves, in the recesses of our bodies.”
Read the rest of the interview here.
Ed Skoog and Marc Nieson read at Dogfish on Thursday, March 16, 2017, 7-10 pm.
For details and location, check out the Dogfish Reading Series webpage.
ED SKOOG is the author of three books of poems, Mister Skylight, Rough Day (winner of the Washington State Book Award) and the forthcoming Run the Red Lights, all published by Copper Canyon Press. He has been a visiting writer at George Washington University, Wichita State University, and the Richard Hugo House. He has received fellowships from Lannan Foundation and Bread Loaf Writers Conference. His poems have appeared in Best American Poetry 2015, Paris Review, Poetry, American Poetry Review, New Republic, Tin House, and elsewhere. He is poetry editor of Okey-Panky, and co-host, with novelist J. Robert Lennon, of the podcast Lunch Box, with Ed and John. He teaches part-time at Portland Community College, Portland State University, the Idyllwild Writers Week, the Attic Institute, and 24PearlStreet.
MARC NIESON is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and NYU Film School. His background includes children’s theatre, cattle chores, and a season with a one-ring circus. His memoir, SCHOOLHOUSE: Lessons on Love & Landscape was released from Ice Cube Press in 2016 (www.icecubepress.com). He’s won a Raymond Carver Short Story Award, Pushcart Prize nominations, and been noted in Best American Essays. He teaches at Chatham University, edits fiction for The Fourth River, and is at work on a new novel, HOUDINI’S HEIRS. More @ www.marcnieson.com.
The New Orleans Poetry Festival, a New Orleans Writers Workshop community partner, is seeking volunteers to help out Friday, April 21 and Saturday, April 22 at the New Orleans Healing Center at 2372 St. Claude Avenue.
Volunteer activities include: keeping time in panels, welcoming participants, checking wristbands, setup and breakdown, and other easygoing tasks. In exchange for a short shift, volunteers receive an all-access pass for the whole festival including readings, panels and a rock concert!
It’s only the second year for this Fest but, thanks to co-founders Megan Burns and Bill Lavender, the festival attracts some of the most innovative and prolific contemporary poets in the nation. Find more info about the festival at www.nolapoetry.com . You can signup to volunteer online here: www.signup.com/go/vtkLv6.