AWP Conference – A Novice’s Experience

AWP

By Rebecca Victoria Ramirez

 

For my first time ever I had the privilege of attending this year’s AWP Conference and Bookfair in Minneapolis at the Minneapolis Convention Center (MCC). The conference lasted three days with events beginning at 9:00 a.m. daily. On some days the events were scheduled well into the evening, beginning at 10:00 p.m. and ending at midnight.

In addition to the readings and panels scheduled throughout the day there is the bookfair; this year’s was housed in the MCC’s exhibit hall, a 475,000 square foot area. There were over 500 booths which consisted of colleges advertising their MFA programs, journals and magazines selling their latest editions and announcing calls for submissions, publisher selling books and advertising author signings, and company reps trying to convince beginning writers that they need an agent.

With a considerable selection of events to choose from, setting up my schedule proved to be very difficult. There is an AWP app, however, which can be downloaded to your smart phone prior to the conference and that makes this task a little easier. Most events fell into two2015-04-09 10.32.31categories, panels and readings, and were scheduled to last a little over an hour with fifteen-minute breaks in between giving you time to rush from one to the next. But at any hour there might be 30 or more events to choose from.

One panel I attended, “Fashioning a Text,” discussed how structure in writing is often regarded as secondary to voice and content. However, through readings of their own texts, and that of others, the panel of essayists, journalists, and memoirists demonstrated how structure itself can be artifice. Writers often utilize structure to find meaning in their writing and it is not solely the writer’s voice but also the structure of their writing that is idiosyncratic the panel explained. This called to mind a fascinating memoir I had just read by Rebecca Solnit, The Faraway Nearby.

The focus of Solnit’s memoir is the deterioration of her mother’s health. Within its pages is found story upon story, one memory that opens into another. Titles of each section speak to key moments in Solnit’s life and of the relationship between her and her mother. It has often been said that in our last days we return to our former state, to that of a child or infant, our children now the parents, responsible for feedings and toileting. The structure of Solnit’s memoir speaks to this descent, returning to the memories that began the memoir in its final pages. There is also a literal arc structured from the titles of each section that can be seen in the table of contents.

Another panel I attended “Life After the MFA,” discussed the employment opportunities available to those with an MFA in creative writing. Each of the three members of the panel briefly mentioned the possibility of writing internships, editing journals, and publishing. However, all three found their way to a teaching position. This wasn’t surprising as all three had started off as teachers, working in the K-12 system prior to their degree, but it was a little disconcerting for me because I had attended the event with the anticipation that the panel would present many more opportunities other than teaching. That seems like a pretty obvious option and I wanted to know what more there is.

Overall the event was a wonderful experience. Learning to navigate the venue can prove to be difficult as well managing your schedule efficiently but it is definitely worth attending. The wealth of information you’ll come away with and the opportunity to meet one of your favorite writers is invaluable. I will certainly attend next year’s conference.

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For more information about next year’s AWP, scheduled at the convention center in Los Angeles, California, please visit:

https://www.awpwriter.org/awp_conference/

Show Me The Money:

Tell It Like A Woman

Strong-empowered-women

By Rebecca Victoria Ramirez

In honor of the recent Mother’s Day holiday, I thought it would be nice to highlight some publishing opportunities that focus on women and mothers. As a mother myself, I can say firsthand that being a mother is one of the toughest jobs there is. And being a stay-at-home mom is even more challenging. I left my job two years ago to finish my BA and pursue my MFA, thinking that not working while going to school would be easier than trying to find time around a busy work schedule to squeeze in my coursework.

There’s a great misconception that being a stay-at-home mom is easier than working out of the home. But staying at home means being readily available to attend to everyone’s needs and soon the day can become so overwhelming that writing and coursework gets put on the backburner. But when mothers have a moment to pause, to ponder on the world around them once the busy day has ended, they realize what an immeasurable opportunity it is to raise their young children. It is certainly something I will always cherish. And it’s definitely given me plenty more writing material.

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Exploring Motherhood

Brain, Child is accepting submissions for personal essays and short fiction that explore motherhood and the family. Brain, Child will pay from $40 to $150 for pieces selected for publication. For more information please visit: http://www.brainchildmag.com/about/writers-guidelines/#

Married Life

Creative Nonfiction Magazine is currently accepting essay submissions for an upcoming issue dedicated to marriage. They are looking for well-written essays that discuss what married life is all about. The entry fee is $20. Deadline is August 31, 2015. $1,000 will be awarded to the best essay and $500 to the runner-up. For more information please visit: www.creativenonfiction.org/submit

Single Moms

ESME (Empowering Solo Moms Everywhere) is a new website for single parent mothers. Submissions in poetry, short fiction, and nonfiction essays are being accepted for the site’s first annual writing contest. Prizes will be awarded in the amounts of $500, $350, and $150. There is no entry fee. Deadline is May 20, 2015. For more information please visit: www.esme.net

I’m Supposed To Be Writing

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By Rebecca Victoria Ramirez

Ah. Netflix. Amazon Prime. And my best friend: My red sectional couch. They call to me. Really. Binge watching episodes of Wilfred or Orphan Black. Or those Talking Animals videos on YouTube. Have you seen them?

I have this problem. I have writing to do. Not an assignment really. Well sometimes. But I also have my own writing I should be doing. But these characters in these shows and videos are so engaging that I become distracted from what’s most important – my writing. And I can always make the excuse that I can’t think of anything interesting to write about.

Maybe not having anything to write about is your excuse. You know, writer’s block? Dinty W. Moore won’t let you get by with that excuse. “If you walk away from the keyboard, the notepad, the desk, then yes, you are blocked, but it is of your own making” he states in his book Crafting the Personal Essay. 

15-nothing-to-write-about-life-my-life-is-boreBut what if you really do feel stuck?

What if you truly feel you’ve nothing to write about?

When I was doing my undergrad work I learned about the power of using prompts. The best part is that they are widely accessible: You can find them in craft books. You can find them online. You can make up your own prompts. Or, you can take an essay or book you recently read and write something based on that; perhaps there is a technique or form the writer used that you’d like to try.

The possibilities are truly infinite.

Maybe what you pump out from these prompts won’t be prize-winning pieces but they will get you writing. And that writing could lead to discovery. Right in the middle of what you consider nothing you just might find that something worth pushing forward.

So get your hands on some prompts and get writing!

For a great craft essay on prompts visit Brevity Magazine’s website at:

http://brevitymag.com/craft-essays/consider-the-prompt/

For a list of writing prompts visit the Poets and Writers website at:

http://www.pw.org/writing-prompts-exercises

 

Show Me The Money:

Writing About Diversity

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By Rebecca Victoria Ramirez

In February HBO announced they were looking for emerging writers of diverse backgrounds for its writing fellowship. The call for submissions asked for samples of screenwriting, a resume, and an answer to the question “How has your background influenced the stories you want to tell?” HBO is looking for writers of diverse backgrounds to create new content for their shows and films. But why the need for such diversity?

Perhaps it is because nowadays the headlines are filled with stories of injustices against people because of their race, gender, sexual orientation, or all of the above. I don’t believe, and many would agree with me, that these injustices are becoming more frequent. But in our age of advancing technology, of the cell phone and social media, we are merely becoming more aware of them. And with this awareness comes the need to understand.

To understand why.

To understand each other.

As writers we search for this understanding of the world through our art. So I thought for today’s “Show Me The Money” it would be fitting to spotlight contests in search of diverse writing.

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WNDB Short Story Contest

WNDB (We Need Diverse Books) has launched this contest in the effort to “support diversity and improve exposure for diverse books and writers, with the intention of inspiring a vast array of readers at the same time.” There is no entry fee and the grand prize is $1,000 and publication in an anthology. The deadline is May 8, 2015. For more information visit: http://weneeddiversebooks.org/short-story-contest/

Insanity Prize

Knut House Magazine is sponsoring a contest for short stories that “dramatize the experience of insanity authentically.” There is a $10.00 entry fee and the grand prize is $1,000 and publication in the magazine. The deadline is April 30, 2015. For more information visit: https://knuthousepress.submittable.com/submit/37201

Wildbilly Fiction Contest

Trajectory Journal 2015 is looking for “realistic stories set in the South or West.”There is a $15.00 entry fee and the grand prize is $100 and publication in the journal. The deadline is September 1, 2015. For more information visit: http://www.trajectoryjournal.com/wildbilly-fiction/

 

 

Book Review: Catherine Meng’s The Longest Total Solar Eclipse of the Century

2013
Poetry
$12; 128 pages
SplitLevel Texts
ISBN:  978-0985811136

 

 

 

The Sun Has Gone Out: Catherine Meng’s The Longest Total Solar Eclipse of the Century
by Bryce Bullins

There is an infestation of spiders in Catherine Meng’s The Longest Total Solar Eclipse of the Century. No less than a dozen references to spiders or spiderlike qualities exist in Meng’s text and it’s wholly fitting: what better creature best embodies the complexity of time than one who spins webs as intricate and unfathomably raw as the spider? There is great concern for time in Solar Eclipse and Meng’s attentiveness to its passage is humbling while simultaneously sprawling.

Meng asserts that “We could all benefit / from risking temporality / more often” and her verse echoes this sentiment. Solar Eclipse navigates the course and events of a year from the day of the eclipse (22 July, 2009) to the following year but in such a way that it feels as though time is seemingly lost in the process of recollection. Experiments in space, form, and language create a hazy, though still discernible, presence of grounding in some form of the present.

Interspersed within the collection are several diary entries that serve as poetic-prose sections that seek, whether intentionally or otherwise, to stabilize us in the temporality of the year. These diary entries are the most vulnerable pieces in Solar Eclipse because of their earnest honesty. In “M, Tu, W, Th, F” Meng asserts that “learning to want impossible things is a sort of freedom worms & crocodiles don’t know.” In this oddly humorous musing, Meng is subtly pointing out the flaws in our own ability to yearn for impossibility. The virtue of it being impossible makes us want it that much more and makes the lack of it that much stronger. In so many words, it is the drive that keeps us pressing onward.

The most striking aspect of Solar Eclipse is how it deftly rests on a blade’s edge of the necropastoral[1]. While never overtly approaching the bleakness of ecocatastrophe, Meng’s allusions are grounded heavily in the present moment that creates the conditions possible for ecocatastrophe: her verse occupies a space where blog entries coexist with goat farmers in Uruguay and “whatever nascent understanding we’d had about empathy / had its limbs hacked off / right from the start.” This is to say nothing of the countless other pastoral tropes Meng conjures up, but her verse often subverts them as in “Game Reserve”:

Just because there is no eagle
doesn’t mean the eagle isn’t here.
Or maybe ‘eagle’ is really the name for ‘crow’;
And the group of them
above me is saying so.

If the eagle represents the majesty of the world before ecocatastrophe takes its toll, then the crows are what remains after. There is no more deft an analogy than a murder of crows circling above us, occupying the space of the beautiful world we have destroyed.

It is in this world that Meng seeks to illustrate individual flairs of hopelessness, anxiety, optimism, and banality. By doing so, Meng captures a climatology all her own of a life lived now. Whether we are present for it as well (read: aware) is a separate matter entirely.

[1] See Joyelle McSweeny’s essay on the necropastoral, in which she probes the political-aesthetic paradigm and its inability to be separated from nature

Book Review: Amaranth Borsuk’s and Andy Fitch’s As We Know

2014
Poetry
$18; 144 pages
Subito Press
ISBN: 978-0990661214

 

 

Something Like That: Amaranth Borsuk’s and Andy Fitch’s As We Know
by Bryce Bullins

Erasures, when done exceptionally, can create a landscape wholly unique. Paradoxically, the willful redaction of text can enhance, if not make better, a narrative. For example, Yedda Morrison’s Darkness erases, or more accurately whites-out, large portions of the first chapter of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. In doing so, Morrison doesn’t so much rewrite Conrad’s narrative but rather enhances it by bringing the natural world to the forefront. Similarly, through this same process of careful and willful redaction, Amaranth Borsuk and Andy Fitch have made something quite unique with their work As We Know.

Written in diary entries from April 30th to July 1st, As We Know seeks to abolish identity and embrace banality. Days pass with vignettes of stoops and flowers in the park, internalization of anxieties and ponderousness, and musings on the nature of umbrellas. Most striking is the lack of gender identifiers of the writer and no hints to let us peel away whatever may be there. It’s a brilliant and bold move. By removing gender identifiers, arguably the identity of a narrator is dismantled, at which point we are able to become more invested in the language on the page as we now have a blank space with which to connect with work in myriad ways. In essence, our own biases, whatever they may be, are dismantled via the absence of identity, leaving us with an unfiltered dialogue with the text itself.

As We Know has a meta-sensibility to its willful destruction of identity. Within the first four pages a quote from Georges Bataille appears in which we are given firm notice that As We Know is taking on the job of the formless and is attempting to “(1) [debase] objects by stripping them of pretensions—in the case of words, pretensions to meaning—and (2) [attack] the very condition on which meaning depends, the structural opposition between definite terms.” We are immediately told what’s at stake by taking away all that is usually at stake. This is to say nothing of the underlying conceptual aspects of As We Know. To quote from the artist’s statement, “As We Know attempts to intervene into the gendered history of editorial intervention as it has played out in the famous cases of figures such as Dorothy Wordsworth and Emily Dickinson.” By not concerning itself with identity from the outset, the tension that generally exists between ownership and authorship dissipates. Though it is clear that there is still some consternation in the text as at times: entries often flow together seamlessly, almost as if one day bleeds into the next with little to separate the preceding day(s), and yet there are times when there are clearly conflicted voices, one of which is giving what is tantamount to stage directions: “(figure out how to organize those better)” and “(figure out where to make these past or present tense)”. This struggle never quite manifests into open aggression but instead subtly stews beneath the work, begging questions as we move forward in time. There is no resolution by the end, only hints at a partial and tenuous closure when we reach the acknowledgements and are given a simple dedication: “this book is for Emily and Dorothy.”

As We Know deftly uses the art of strike-through to cultivate its attentiveness to banality and temporality. The grounding for this banality comes from a quote from Roland Barthes, which serves as an epigraph (as presented in the format of As We Know):

; whatever he writes
, it will always be a vested discourse, in which the body
will make its appearance (banality is discourse without body).
In other words, what he writes proceeds from a corrected banality.

As We Know isn’t merely “corrected banality” but perfected banality: each entry is clearly marked with a day, sections marked with timestamps, and the erased structure of the work makes it feel as though these were a series of never-ending connections due in large part to the repetitious banality that makes up our own days. As mentioned, days bleed together as simply as turning the page, so much so to that when we were cognizant of being on May 5th it is suddenly May 20th.  Strikingly, this preponderance of time dilation is one of As We Know‘s greatest strengths.

When taken out of the context of the work at large, the entries still work exceedingly well as standalone pieces. Take for example the excerpt the Sierra Nevada Review published in volume 25 from May 22:

As We Know 1

No knowledge of the preceding days is necessary to feel the weight of this entry, allowing it to work and flex its integrity entirely on its own as a self-contained micro narrative. Placed into the context of the full body of work, its weight is certainly enhanced, but because of the way in which As We Know is constructed, it lends itself naturally to vignettes rather than predicating itself on needing the entire body to function. Apropos, considering the dynamics of authorship and voice within.

When not tarrying with bringing the past to the present and grounding the timeline of As We Know somewhere within the confines of an abstract present, the struck-through text, by and large, tends to remove what would otherwise be superfluous details and descriptions. It is ironic then, that these superfluous details and descriptions are what enhance the banality of our lives. More correctly, these superfluous things merely give us the illusion of enhancement. What is banal is always banal, no matter how one dresses it.

As We Know is an experiment in language and presentation devoid of all frivolity and pretension as established by Bataille. It is direct, bare, and nearly holistic in its austerity. Its complexities are vast and often times lend to the meta-narrative of our own lives in that As We Know, intentionally or otherwise, winds up confronting us with our own subjectivity to both content and form.

 

Book Review: The Glass Castle

 

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January 17, 2005

ISBN: 074324754X

Scribner, New York

 

 

 

 

 

It was the sort of knowledge that kept you on your toes:

Jeannette Walls The Glass Castle: A Memoir

by Rebecca Victoria Ramirez

“What I did know was that I lived in a world that at any moment could erupt into fire. It was the sort of knowledge that kept you on your toes,” writes Walls in the first few pages of her memoir. Some of Walls’ earliest memories are of a fire that engulfed her, running up the tutu-like skirt of her pretty pink dress, as she stood on a stool, hovering over her family’s stove, boiling hot dogs. She was only three years old. Her mother, Rose Mary, a self-proclaimed artist, sat just a room away, painting. “Why spend the afternoon making a meal that will be gone in an hour,” she’d often ask her children “when in the same amount of time, I can do a painting that will last forever?” Walls’ childhood was one ruled by an emotionally-absent mother and an alcoholic father, who instead of parenting their four children, more often than not ignored and neglected them.

If ever they did provide for their children it was by virtue of some sort of thievery. And often their crimes included the children’s participation. “Mom’s plan was for her and Maureen to go into the dressing room . . . with an armful of new clothes for Maureen to try on,” Walls writes. “When they came out . . . Lori, Brian, and I would create a ruckus to distract the clerk while Mom hid a dress under a raincoat she would be carrying on her arm.”

Consistently creditors caught up with the Walls family, and the children, acclimated to this lifestyle, were always on point when their father announced it was “time to skeedaddle.” They gathered the few belongings they could carry escaping into the dark of night. After years of dead-end jobs and countless “skeedaddles” from one town after another, Rex Walls, wife and kids in tow, returned to his hometown of Welch, Virginia. Rather than the contentment one might expect to find in their father’s hometown, what followed were more years of discontent. Rex and Rose Mary purchased a dilapidated house lacking electricity and running water. The children, consequently, were reared in a home abundant in filth, deprived of food, warmth, and sanity.

Despite the volatile childhood that unfolds within the pages of her memoir, Walls’ does not portray her parents as monsters. Rather, she describes them as she saw them, through the eyes of a child. The portraits Walls paints of each member of her family are vivid: each with their own voice, demeanor, and personality. Readers will come away from this memoir feeling as if they’ve come to know Rex, Rose Mary, Lori, Brian, Maureen, and Jeanette herself. There is nothing refined about the words that fall from the lips of innocence onto the page of Walls’ memoir. And so as readers we find that what remains is a story of unadulterated love within a family.

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Rebecca Victoria Ramirez resides in Northern California with her partner, children, and an assortment of pets. She earned her BA in English May 2013 and will earn her MFA in Creative Writing January 2016.

 

 

 

Book Review: Tender at the Bone

Tender at the Bone

 

May 25, 2010

Random House, New York

ISBN: 978-0812981117

 

 

 

 

“Food could be a way of making sense of the world”:

Ruth Reichl’s Tender at the Bone: Growing Up at the Table

by Rebecca Victoria Ramirez

Reichl’s parents were big entertainers. Reichl’s mother, endearingly nicknamed “the queen of mold,” bragged that she could “make a meal out of anything” and tested this claim on the many occasions when the Reichls hosted events in their home. At a young age Reichl designated herself the buffet table monitor, standing guard over the guests and shooing them away from the most hazardous of the dishes. When her older brother announced his engagement Reichl’s mother insisted on hosting the engagement party leading to over 26 of the guests taking trips to the hospital to have their stomachs pumped. When the calls started coming in asking if it could have been the food, Reichl’s mother responded “Nonsense. We all feel fine. And we ate everything.”

Reichl’s mother is bi-polar and because her sickness consumed both parents Reichl learned early on how to care for herself. When her parents abandoned her to take a trip to Europe Reichl was left with her maternal grandmother who then pawned her off on Aunt Birdie, the mother of her father’s first wife and her cook, Alice. Reichl’s time with them is one of her most cherished memories, in the kitchen learning to cook dumplings and chicken croquette.

Reichl grew up in the kitchen, listening to and relating stories while preparing ingredients for simple or extravagant dishes, fostered by those who shared her love of food. Included in this memoir is a collection of treasured recipes that are representative of significant moments in Reichl’s life. Rather than a simple narrative of a woman’s coming of age, these recipes enrich and add flavor to Reichl’s story.

Time after time Reichl faced abandonment by her parents. This continually led her to the kitchen, where in her youth, she found nurturing from her adopted grandmother and the family’s hired cook. In her young adulthood she found comfort in preparing her own dishes for friends and lovers. Despite the constant absence of her parents, Reichl’s readers are sure to find that her childhood and adolescence were brimming with love because her kitchen was always full with devoted and affectionate characters who aided her in “making sense of the world.”

 

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Rebecca Victoria Ramirez resides in Northern California with her partner, children, and an assortment of pets. She earned her BA in English May 2013 and will earn her MFA in Creative Writing January 2016.

 

HSWC Profiles: Catherine Valdez

Catherine Valdez’s poem “Mami” took second place in the poetry category.

As a child, stories that stuck to me were always those with a magical element.  I became more attached to the fantasies found in stories than to actual people. Whenever I read a novel as a child, the plotline never seemed to vacate my head. My mind would play with the plot and the characters and expand upon their journeys. It overwhelmed me until I began to put words to paper. I can’t remember when exactly I started writing stories, but I first took the initiative to pursue a future in writing when I auditioned for a writing program at my current high school, Miami Arts Charter, as a prospective ninth grader.

I find myself attempting to preserve a sense of innocence, something that is often lacking or overlooked in the real world, in my writing. Although I enjoyed lighter subjects I write about darker subjects in order to bring to light that there is hidden meaning and hope in even the most unfortunate events. Because writing has allowed me to escape the reality of abuses and instability, I like to bring attention to the causes of such things in my work. This includes the topics of cultural uprooting, and the effects of loss on the human mind. I’d like to say that everything inspires me, and that there is always a trail of notes or ideas stuffed into my journal or phone because I want to give things or concepts the voice they deserve, whether it be the poetry in picturesque scenery or a narrative of an immigrant trying to find comfort in unfamiliar lands.

It feels amazing to win an award. My confidence in my writing often fluctuates, and having my work be recognized makes me feel like I am on the right track to attaining mastery of my craft. I am currently finishing my senior year. I will be attending Columbia University in the upcoming fall as a member of the class of 2019. I plan on majoring in creative writing and pursuing a career based heavily in the literary arts.

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Catherine Valdez is a first generation Dominican America residing in Miami, Florida. She has had a passion for the written word ever since she read her first book and currently studies creative writing at Miami Arts Charter School.  Her hometown is a large inspiration for her, and she pulls the diverse traditions, languages, folklore, and cultures located in the city into the framework of her writing. Her tone often embodies a feeling of fantasy, her favorite genre being magic realism. She has been recognized both nationally and internationally for her work. Among her awards are multiple Young Arts recognitions, being named a semi finalist for the National Student Poet Program, and being granted first place in Princeton University’s 2014 ten minute playwriting contest. She will be attending Columbia University in the City of New York beginning fall 2015.

HSWC Profiles: Laura Ingram

Laura Ingram’s piece “Absolute Value” won third place in the fiction category.

 When did you know you wanted to write?

Since I learned how to spell words out. My first story was written when I was six and it was about a family of birds who committed tax evasion.

Who or what inspires you to write?

Everything around me–how I feel, how other people feel, something I see, things that I read. A big inspiration for me has been The Book Thief, a novel by Markus Zusak. The extraordinary artistry of his prose blows me away every single time and I go back to that book every time I get stuck. I’ve read it seventeen times.

How does it feel/shape your writing knowing something you created won an award?

This isn’t my first major award, but I was super surprised and very pleased when I found out about it. Getting paid for a piece made me feel like a real member of the writing world. It was like the birthday of my creative abilities and I felt celebrated. I’m so glad my teacher told me to partake in this contest.

I would like to study creative writing and communications and become a writer, college professor, both, or possibly a child life specialist after high school.