I’m very excited about teaching a fiction workshop with Téa Obreht during the Sierra Nevada College MFA residency this summer. We’ve known each other since 2006, when we started graduate school together, and I remember reading Téa’s first submission for workshop. I finished the story and turned to my wife and said, “you’ve got to read this.” That story, in a different form, ended up in The New Yorker when Téa was named to the “20 Under 40” list. We took a few minutes recently to talk about the workshop for this summer.
Alexi: “We’ve both taught a lot, but we’ve never taught a class together. Do you think you can make it through a week without killing me?”
Téa: “A whole week is going to be tough.”
Alexi: “But you’ll try? So what are you most excited about?”
Téa: “One of the things we bonded about at Cornell was how much we enjoyed teaching. Since Cornell, you’ve gotten to teach formal classes a lot more than I have, and I miss being around that energy, the energy of the classroom, especially with you, since your enthusiasm is contagious.”
Alexi: “You haven’t been in a formal classroom that much the last couple of years, but you’ve been out on the road and doing a ton of events with The Tiger’s Wife. What do you think will be the biggest difference?”
Téa: “Obviously, there is a teaching element to the events. I talk about the process of writing a lot, and there’s a certain amount of reflection that comes with having to dissect how you’ve arrived at a particular project. But one of the things that I’m most looking forward to is getting to nerd out on craft for an extended period of time and having a chance to talk with younger writers.”
Alexi: “So what are we going to do if we disagree on the direction of a student’s story in workshop?”
Téa: “Grammar slam? Best three out of five.”
Alexi: “On a serious note, do you have a text that you most like teaching?”
Téa: “Hemingway’s short story, “A Natural History of the Dead.” It’s very different from the rest of his short stories. Also the voice and the perspective change partway, and it’s a good story to workshop from a craft perspective.”
Alexi: “Last but absolutely not least, have you been practicing for the big whiffleball game?”
Téa: “That’s when you sit on a horse and swing a stick, right?”
Alexi: “Something like that.”
[Editor’s note: While Téa has not actually been practicing, she does know what whiffleball is.]
Téa Obreht was born in Belgrade in the former Yugoslavia in 1985 and has lived in the United States since the age of twelve. Her New York Times bestselling debut novel The Tiger’s Wife won the 2011 Orange Prize for Fiction and was a 2011 National Book Award Finalist. Her writing has been published in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Harper’s, Vogue, Esquire and The Guardian, and has been anthologized in The Best American Short Stories and The Best American Nonrequired Reading. She has been named by The New Yorker as one of the twenty best American fiction writers under forty and included in the National Book Foundation’s list of 5 Under 35. Téa Obreht lives in New York.
Alexi Zentner is the author of the novels The Lobster Kings (forthcoming, 2013) and Touch. He is published in the United States by W. W. Norton & Company, and in Canada by Knopf Canada. Touch has been published or is forthcoming in a dozen countries and ten languages. The CBC has named Alexi as one of 12 Writers to Watch – “the future of this country’s literature” – and one of six “fresh voices” for 2011. Touch was named one of the “best books” of 2011 from The National Post, Kobo, and Amazon.ca, and singled out for year-end praise by The Globe & Mail. Touch was shortlisted for The 2011 Governor General’s Literary Award, The Center for Fiction’s 2011 Flahery-Dunnan First Novel Prize, the VCU Cabell First Novelist Award, and the 2011 Amazon.ca First Novel Award, and longlisted for the 2011 Scotiabank Giller Prize. Alexi’s fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in The Atlantic Monthly, Narrative Magazine, Tin House, Glimmer Train, The Walrus, The Southern Review, and many other publications. He is the winner of both the O. Henry Prize (jury favorite) and the Narrative Prize, and has been shortlisted for the Best American Short Stories and the Pushcart Prize. Alexi is a faculty member in the Sierra Nevada College low residency MFA program. Alexi has taught creative writing at Cornell University, where he received his MFA, and has taught at the Brooklyn College MFA program, the Rutgers-Camden Writers’ Conference, and the Lighthouse Writing Workshop, and has been a teaching fellow at the Bread Loaf and Wesleyan University writing conferences. Alexi Zentner was born and raised in Kitchener, Ontario, and currently lives in Ithaca, New York, with his wife and two daughters. He holds both Canadian and American citizenship.
Sierra Nevada College’s English Chair June Saraceno continually strives to bring exceptional literary speakers and programs to Incline Village for the campus and the community.
Now, Nevada Humanities has deemed Saraceno as exceptional herself.
Nevada’s nonprofit affiliate for the National Endowment of the Humanities honored Saraceno, along with former UNR President Joe Crowley and former UNLV President Carol Hunter, for their achievements in the humanities.
In a ceremony on March 28 at the Governor’s Mansion, the Nevada Humanities Board of Trustees awarded Saraceno for Outstanding Teaching of the Humanities for excellence and innovation in humanities teaching.
“Judged by the standards of increasing literacy and, perhaps more importantly, love of language, her service to northern Nevada is incomparable. A leader in her field, a friend and mentor to students, and herself a prolific poet and author – June’s dedication to the humanities is multifarious, and her impact will be felt for years to come,” said Kai Bekkeli, an SNC faculty member who supported her nomination for the award.
For the other Nevada Humanities awards, Crowley and Hunter were given the Judith Winzeler Award for Excellence in the Humanities, while Richard Hooker, of Las Vegas, Project REAL of Las Vegas and the National Automobile Museum in Reno were also honored for humanities contributions.
Every other year Nevada Humanities presents awards recognizing “remarkable” individuals and organizations that foster cultural enrichment and deepen the understanding of the human experience by facilitating opportunities for Nevadans to engage with the humanities, according to a Nevada Humanities press release.
Since she launched the English program at SNC in 2002, Saraceno has continually added to the college’s cultural and literary offerings.
“Professor Saraceno is relentless and fearless in the way she builds opportunities for advancement of the humanities within the college, then creates a space for the local community to participate in the college’s activities,” said Laura Wetherington, who assists with the college’s MFA in Creative Writing program.
Aside from recently partnering with acclaimed poet Brian Turner to create the low residency MFA in Creative Writing program, Saraceno, through the years, has also established the BFA in Creative Writing, the Sierra Nevada Review annual literary publication, the Distinguished Visiting Writer position at the college, the journalism program, and the Writers in the Woods reading series. She has been teaching a variety of classes from British Literature to Poetry since 1987.
“I’m really thrilled about this award,” Saraceno said. “It’s great to be recognized for teaching because I’m passionate about teaching.”
However, community leadership and outreach is also one of the requirements for the Outstanding Teaching in the Humanities award, and Saraceno’s vision for the college as a “literary mecca” has bridged a gap between community members and the college students.
The Writers in the Woods series invites nationally recognized writers to campus for a public reading and a writing workshop, such as Turner, author of “Here, Bullet,” and Robert Hass, former poet laureate. Last fall, Tim O’Brien, author of the critically acclaimed, Vietnam story, “The Things They Carried,” visited Incline Village for the Common Read, an event which brought over 400 people to campus to hear O’Brien speak.
“My whole goal is to make SNC a literary center. This actually makes it an intellectual center because people are talking about the ideas and issues writers explore,” Saraceno said. “It opens conversations about war, peace, race, honesty. It makes people think.”
Saraceno, the author of two books of poetry, received another honor earlier this year, when she was accepted into a month-long artists’ residency program at the Camac Art Center in Marnay-sur-Seine, France this coming August.
Ray Degraw (MFA Literary Nonfiction ’15) interviews Brooke King (MFA Fiction ’14).
Ray Degraw: Where do you find the inspiration to write?
Brooke King: One of the ways I find out how to write is by reading. I know it sounds weird, but most times, by reading, I find inspiration in a subject or area. Other times, it just comes to me. I don’t really have a rhyme or reason behind it, but mostly, my writing comes from my war experience and so, most of my inspiration comes from my own experience or the experience of those that I served with.
Ray: Is there a particular genre you find appealing that you use quite often in your own writing?
Brooke: Well, I am a war writer, so war literature, whether it’s poetry, nonfiction, or fiction is interesting to me, but I also find (I can’t believe I’m admitting to this) cheesy mystery novels interesting and often wonder if it’s something I can actually use in my writing, like the buildup of suspense and the rising and falling of action within a story.
Ray: Can you give me a writer that may inspire or influence your writing?
Brooke: Well, I’ve always been really fond of Hemingway and how he uses terse language and brevity in his fiction, but I am also quite fond of, and it’s cliché for me to say this, but Tim O’Brien is a huge influence in my writing. Just recently, I’ve gotten into Gunter Grass and find that his to the point writing is right up my alley.
Ray: What do you find particularly hard about writing, in an MFA or at home leisurely? Or rather, how do you find the time to write and balance your daily life?
Brooke: The hardest part about writing is finding a space and a place to write. With children, it’s hard to balance the time, but I guess if you love something enough, you’ll make time to do it. I also find it sometimes hard to get writing and so I’ll free write for about 10 minutes to get the juices flowing. I highly recommend What If?: Writing Exercises for Fiction Writers by Anne Bernays and Pamela Painter. It usually helps me get into the mood to write and sometimes getting started is all you need to kickstart your writers block.
Ray: What writing project are you working on now?
Brooke: Well, I’m working on my thesis for the MFA, but my thesis include a good chunk of my first novel. I am also working on my memoir, which also centers around my first deployment and the aftermath of coming home.
Ray: Can you tell me your writing mantra or maybe your favorite writing quote?
Brooke: It sounds corny, but I have two phrases that have always kind of stuck with me no matter what and one is by Hemingway. “The world breaks every one and afterward many are strong at the broken places.” The other one is by William Faulkner “If a story is in you, it has to come out.”
Ray: Is there some sort of goal you work towards when you sit down to write or do you just write and see where it takes you?
Brooke: As a writer, you tie down your creativity if you sit down with a plan of how you are going to write a story. For me, I just sit down and write and see where the story takes the characters. You cannot limit your imagination to the confines of a set goal, and it is often times when I don’t know where a story is headed that makes the journey to the end that much more exciting as a writer. For me, finding where the story unfolds is more interesting than how it starts, but as a craftsman of words, you have to be invested in every part of the work, beginning, middle, and end.
Ray: As MFA students, we’ve been told time again to write to an audience. Who do you feel is your audience and what do you hope they get from your writing?
Brooke: I don’t think per say that I have an audience, but I have a reader to whom I write, and that person is my Nana. Whenever I write a story, I write as though I am writing it for her to read and that usually helps me figure out where the story is going and ends up. It also helps to have a reader in mind because it will give you an idea of diction and structure, and how the words flow on the page. Most times, I find it helpful to write have a picture of her near, so that I remind myself who I am writing the story for and why.
Ray: In closing, is there anything else you would like to share about you, as an author, or your writing that hasn’t been explored yet?
Brooke: I know my work is heart wrenching and at times quite graphic, but I think it brings light to women in combat and the reality of what they truly went through, as well as myself. Too often the women’s perspective is lost in the war genre and I hope to give voice to the women in a field that is predominantly ruled by male writers. Hopefully, my writing will help in bringing together the gap that has been created in my genre, but if my writing helps or touches even one person, I’ll be content. Either way, I think I’ll be writing in this genre for awhile and that’s okay by me.
Brooke King served in the United States Army, deploying to Iraq in 2006 as a wheel vehicle mechanic, machine gunner, and recovery specialist. Her combat experience has led her to focus on the involvement of female soldiers, giving perspective and insight about how women have fought in combat and war. Her work has been published in the Sandhill Review and Press 53’s fiction war anthology Home of the Brave: Somewhere in the Sand with a forthcoming nonfiction publication with University Nebraska Press. Currently, Brooke is attending Sierra Nevada College’s Master of Fine Arts program and is working on her first novel.
Meghan Robins (MFA Fiction ’14) talks with Optimism One (MFA Literary Nonfiction ’14).
Meghan Robins: When did you first start writing?
Optimism One: It’s been off and on since grade school, really. I always liked to get creative with school assignments. Then I moved on to writing songs from the time I was a freshman in high school. After that, I went through a poetry stage in college. And finally I moved on to nonfiction. With all that said, I have never made such an effort to ‘be a writer’ as I have now.
Meghan: What made you choose to attend SNC for your MFA degree?
Op: The faculty at SNC is very impressive, and two of the nonfiction writers had published books on topics that I want to address, in particular, Suzanne Roberts’ travel writing and Kelle Groom’s writing about her excessive drinking in I Wore the Ocean in the Shape of a Girl. The latter book is certainly not an addiction memoir, but I knew she would understand what I was trying to do. The same goes for Suzanne since she has traveled the world as much as, if not more than, I.
Meghan: Would you ever consider writing fiction? or another genre?
Op: I would love to write fiction. In fact, my ideal would certainly be a balance of nonfiction and fiction. As for poetry, I was quite engaged with that genre during my undergraduate studies and immediately following that, but that was almost twenty years ago and my interest in it (outside of reading and/or listening to it) has waned.
Meghan: Do you think you have more than one memoir in you?
Op: Yeah, I do. Right now, I envision a memoir that covers the ten year period between receiving my B.A. and my M.A. There is a LOT of material there. In another memoir, I can cover my early years if I like or the following years. If not, I’m open to the idea of writing collections of essays.
Meghan: How difficult or easy is it to write about your personal and truthful past?
Op: Wicked hard but ultimately fulfilling. One issue is memory, trying to accurately recall distant events, especially when I might very well have been intoxicated to one degree or another. Another issue is simply being honest with myself, including my harmful behavior as much as the good stuff. Finally, I have a tendency to want to wrap up my experiences in tidy little bows at the end, showing my evolution and ultimately my liberation from painful experiences, but the reality is that life is more complicated than that, which can be difficult to convey in writing.
Meghan: So how do you feel about James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces?
Op: Oh, well, I understand the desire to make things sound more spectacular than they really were, but I don’t want to do that with my writing. With that said, I recently wrote about what I recall being a recurring scene in my house when I was a young boy. Then I mentioned it to my mom and she looked at me like I was crazy, saying “That didn’t happen.” However, when pressed, she said, “Well, maybe once.” So who knows? Whose memory do I trust? Hers or mine? More importantly, whose story do I tell? Hers or mine?
Meghan: Do you worry about hurting the people in your life with your writing? Do you take into consideration those people when you write?
Op: Yes and no. I assume that nobody except for those who are in my writing group or who are currently teaching me will see my early drafts, so I try to let it fly no matter what when I start writing a piece. Now, publishing that work is another story. I haven’t yet had to cross that hurdle where someone might be hurt by my written words.
Meghan: Is your writing meditative or a means of coping? Basically, why do you write what you write?
Op: In some ways, yes, I write to understand myself, I write to get it out, an act of catharsis, and I write to connect to others in a way that I have felt connected to other writers.
Meghan: What are you favorite books? Who are your most influential writers?
Op: There are so many, of course. Some of my early faves are fiction, stuff like Toni Morrison’s Beloved. My all-time favorite essayist and poet is June Jordan. As for more current stuff, which has to include all of the faculty teaching in the MFA program at Sierra Nevada College, I love Chuck Palahniuk, Amy Hempel, Nick Flynn…should I keep going? Also, I have to say that my favorite memoir of all time might just be Lidia Yuknavitch’s The Chronology of Water.
Meghan: What activities do you enjoy besides writing?
Op: I tend to travel a lot, usually to developing countries whenever I get the chance. I also like to train for and participate in triathlons.
Meghan: What is your writing practice (what time of day, how long, etc.)?
Op: It varies, really. I so much want to be a morning writer who sits down after some yoga and meditation and then writes for a few hours, but that rarely happens. Also, I tend to write in short bursts while drafting, maybe fifteen minutes at a time, until it’s time to start revising and trying to shape something more coherent, and that requires more sustained attention.
Meghan: What does your writing space look like? Do you compose on a computer, notepad, recording device?
Op: My writing spaces have moved around over the last eight months with so much travel, but right now I have a beautiful writing space in front of two upstairs windows where I’m also surrounded by books, a printer, my computer, and every office supply I could possibly need, but curiously, right now I am typing at the kitchen table. I also like to write while propped up in bed. As for what I write on, I do carry a small notepad with me wherever I go to jot down ideas, but I always write on a computer unless it’s my morning pages, which I do in a notebook.
Meghan: How do you feel about swearing in your writing? Is it easy/ comes naturally? Or do you take pause before writing it?
Op: I can hardly speak without swearing, so I don’t mind it in my writing, but now that you mention it, I surely do much less of it, especially in final drafts.
Meghan: Do you think you’re writing would have the same effect with more or less swearing?
Op: Even though my everyday speech may not reflect it, swearing tends to lose its effect with overuse, so less is more, I suppose. Of course, dialogue is a whole different story. If the people in my life happened to cuss a lot and I am trying to capture those scenes, then there are going to be lots of F-bombs.
Meghan: What emotions come with revealing yourself so openly to an unknown audience? Is it scary, liberating, indifferent?
Op: There is fear, for sure, but what seems clear to me is that I am not all that unique, particularly when it comes to emotions or whatever human foibles I might be sharing; therefore, what readers might do more than shake their heads is nod in agreement or identification. With that said, when it comes to writing about sexual experiences in nonfiction, I seize up.
Meghan: What would it take for you to write about a sexual experience in nonfiction?
Op: Well, Kelle Groom, among others, says that wherever we want to look away from, that’s where we should start, so she pushed me to write about a very uncomfortable sexual experience, which I did in between pacing around the room, cussing out loud to myself, and eating a lot of crappy food. So far, only she and Paul Lisicky and a few of my peers in workshop have seen it. We’ll see if I ever try to publish it.
Meghan: Do you have a library? And how do you feel about books versus devices like kindle/ nook?
Op: I do have a rather large collection of books at home and in my office at work. I prefer paper, without a doubt. With that said, I have embraced e-books because of their convenience with traveling. After all, schlepping 10-20 books around in a backpack while getting on and off buses and whatnot is not all that fun.
Meghan: What is the best piece of writing advice you have heard that sustains you?
Op: Just to do it. Everyone says that, but it’s true. Just sit your butt in the chair or whatever every day and let it fly. Also, be an employee to art. I stole that from Suzanne Roberts, but I’m not sure if she took it from someone else. We’re all thieves in one way or another, aren’t we?
Optimism One is an MFA student in Creative Nonfiction at Sierra Nevada College who also teaches writing full-time at Modesto Junior College. His work has been published in Matador, I-Magazine, In the Grove: California Poets and Writers, and June Jordan’s Poetry for the People in a Season of Love.
Optimism One (MFA Literary Nonfiction ’14) talks with Meghan Robins (MFA Fiction ’14).
Optimism One: What made you decide to pursue your MFA in fiction?
Meghan Robins: After undergrad and a few years of traveling, I was determined that I could write stories without any guidance – it was harder than I thought. I took one creative writing class with Karen Terrey, who owns Tangled Roots Writing in Truckee, CA and she told me about the new MFA program at Sierra Nevada College. My improvements with Karen were so immediate sitting in her living room drinking tea that I wondered how much more could I learn in graduate school? Even with a natural affinity for writing, it takes practice, studying and an incredible amount of self-discipline to write every day and I wouldn’t have truly understood this without an MFA program. As for pursuing fiction, I enjoy the freedom of making up characters and stories where no one can tell me I’m wrong.
Op: Do you write in other genres as well?
Meghan: I occasionally write literary nonfiction but stay pretty clear of poetry. I have a plethora of backpacking stories from childhood that I would like to compile, but am certain that even the truth might read like fiction when I’m writing it.
Op: What made you choose Sierra Nevada College to get your degree?
Meghan: I chose SNC because of the rolling admissions and the low-residency format. I was eager to begin my graduate studies right away and the low-residency schedule allows me to keep my job while earning my degree. The faculty is nothing short of amazing and having a small community of incredibly talented writers is something that is really important to me. I didn’t want to be lost in the crowd at a bigger school and SNC guarantees a 5-1 student-teacher ratio.
Op: Who are your primary writing influences or inspirations?
Meghan: When I was in the seventh grade I was kicked out of class for reading Edgar Rice Burroughs’ novel A Princess of Mars. They don’t wear clothes on Mars and the cover depicted that. But the story was so good I couldn’t put it down. I loved the action, the stranger who becomes the hero and how Burroughs created an entire world out of his imagination. His books made me want to write, to use my imagination to create places and characters and then see how they survive. Other books that I truly love and I consider inspirations are: Bryce Courtaney’s The Power of One and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.
Op: Outside of writers, what else influences or inspires your writing?
Meghan: Nature, absolutely. I was born and raised in Tahoe City, California and my parents gave my sisters and me a pretty long leash growing up. We ran through the mountains and built forts out of anything for fun. We’d named all the close meadows and rocks so our parents would know where we were. We learned to take care of each other, respect the power of the rivers and cliffs, and I believe we understood the imperativeness of being careful. If one of us got hurt too far away from home, not only would our mom be super angry, but the others would have to carry the third all the way home.
Op: Can you describe your writing practice: what time of day, how long, where, etc.?
Meghan: I write best in the morning, before anyone has talked to me. I’ll make a cup of tea, sit at my computer and eventually, when I get hungry I’ll eat breakfast. On a good day I can write from 8am to 1pm and then my legs get antsy. On a bad day, I check my email way too much.
Op: What are your immediate and long-term goals as a writer?
Meghan: My immediate goal is to complete my first novel, Undercut. My long-term goals are to be able to support myself through writing and to continue to challenge myself throughout my career. There are lots of tricks in writing and often I think of an idea or read a book and imagine all the different styles I could apply to create a different effect in my own story.
Op: In the novel you are writing, Undercut, what is the underlying theme?
Meghan: Since I have not finished this novel yet, I’m wary to say exactly what is the underlying theme. The most obvious is logging in Tahoe in the 1860’s. Another will probably be betrayal. But we’ll see.
Op: How did the idea for your novel come about?
Meghan: My dad made an offhand comment when I was 22 years old about how the entire Tahoe basin had been clear-cut. I grew up here and had no idea. Most of the trees we enjoy are second growth and occasionally you’ll come across a gigantic tree and I almost can’t imagine these mountains shaded by giants instead of suffocating by competing trees like they are now. I did some research and thought, yes, this is the story I need to write first.
Op: Do you base your characters, like Giuseppe and Shipp, off of people you know or have met?
Meghan: I am completely making them up. It is very probable that their characteristics resemble a collaboration of people I have known – as all things must – but I am not thinking of any one or two persons in particular. As I write them, I am trying to understand them. And in doing so, I am open to the possibilities that they may be good or bad. It would be hard to write too closely to someone I know because I have a hard time deviating from the truth and I would inevitably write a story that actually happened and then call it fiction.
Op: Because your novel is historical fiction, do you find it difficult to make sure to stress the details and vernacular of the mid 1800’s? What do you do to make sure you are maintaining that same level of tone and scene in a consistent manner?
Meghan: Maintaining consistency comes easily to me because when I sit down to write, I am very much in this story and this timeframe. Balancing research and writing has been a hard habit to learn. First and foremost, I am writing a story. The backdrop happens to be set in historical reality. I sit down and write (most important) and occasionally I’ll pause to fact-check (Did they wear long-johns in 1860? Only in the Union Army and they were called union suits.) Alright, so my character only wears trousers because I don’t want him to be a Union soldier. But it’s most important to write the story and then I can tweak the details to make them accurate later. Outside of my assigned reading, I also read a lot of research literature about logging and mining so I can weave accuracy in on the first draft. Wallace Stegner wrote in Angle of Repose, “I have heard publishers, lamenting their hard life over Scotch and soda, complain that they must read a hundred bad manuscripts to find one good one. Having practiced the trade of history, I feel no stir of sympathy. A historian scans a thousand documents to find one fact that he can use” (367). Oftentimes, I feel just like that.
Op: How far along are you in completing a first draft?
Meghan: I’ve written and edited up to Chapter 3. I imagine the completed novel will fall somewhere between 10-14 chapters. And inevitably I will edit even the first three chapters over and over again. Either way, I plan to be finished by the end of our program, so the summer of 2014.
Op: Do you have specific ideas for other novels after this one?
Meghan: A lot of ideas, but none specific. I’m still trying to comprehend the idea of completing one novel!
Op: Finally, what is the best piece of writing advice you have heard that sustains you?
Meghan: Two things, though they’re not exactly writing advice, but they absolutely sustain me. Next to my desk I have a quote that says, “If you are what you should be you will set the world on fire.” – St. Catherine of Siena
And from George Hunker, who taught me how to fly fish, “Can’t catch anything if your lines not in the water.” I think that goes for everything in life. Writing is what I want to do, it is what I am supposed to do, so as my mom has always reminded me, “Butt in chair.”
Meghan Robins was born and raised in Tahoe City, California. After earning a Bachelor’s degree in English with a minor in Philosophy at the University of Oregon, she traveled throughout Mediterranean Europe, living in Rome, working on a farm in southern Spain then teaching at an elementary school in Membrilla, a small town south of Madrid. She quickly learned their thickly accented version of Castellano and every day she ran along la ruta de Don Quixote. When the school year ended, Robins left the agrarian land of central Spain for the majestic topography of New Zealand. Although gigantic ferns and jagged peaks rival the beauties of her own tromping grounds, it was time to return home. Now she lives in Tahoe City and is earning her Masters degree in Creative Writing from Sierra Nevada College. She also works at an outdoor retail shop called Alpenglow in Tahoe City. When not working or writing, she is playing Ultimate Frisbee, backpacking, skiing, or walrus-ing around the Lake Tahoe shores. She is currently writing a historical fiction novel about logging in the Lake Tahoe Basin in the mid-1800’s and has every intention of finishing it by the end of her MFA program, which will be the summer of 2014.
This year’s Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) was held in Boston on March 6th-9th. Sierra Nevada College students and faculty came from around the country to participate in the conference.
Wednesday, March 6th
Lee Herrick threw a fantastic party at an offisite reading to launch his new book, Gardening Secrets of the Dead. Ilyse Kusnetz and Optimisim One read at the event.
Thursday, March 7th
We met at 7:30 a.m. for coffee and to hear the game plan. It was too early!
English, BFA, and MFA students, along with creative writing faculty, set up shop in the bookfair to spread the word about our low-residency MFA, the BFA in creative writing, and the Sierra Nevada Review.
Brian Turner designed broadsides of the faculty’s work. Each broadside has a QR code that links to a reading. We’re innovating on every level.
Seamus Heaney and Derek Walcott were the keynote speakers this year. Two Nobel Laureates in one room!
Friday, March 8th
Our MFA chapsticks were a huge hit with the passers-by. We developed a new slogan based on the chapstick flavor: “Sierra Nevada College: It tastes like cake!” Kenny and Bryce built a chapstick fort on the table.
Friday, March 9th
Even with the all day bookfair, panels, and readings going on, we found some time to get out into Boston to explore. Those MFA residencies train us to pack it all in!
Saturday, March 10th
Next year’s conference will be held in Seattle. Annie Proulx is the keynote speaker. Seattle, get ready for SNC.
The book “The Things They Carried,” by author and Vietnam
Veteran Tim O’Brien, was chosen as a community read at Sierra Nevada College.
This short video documents O’Brien’s visit to the university, and nearby Incline
High School. The video includes excerpts from an interview conducted by Jason
Paladino, a student writer for “The Eagle’s Eye,” the college newspaper, and a
story told by O’Brien after a public lecture and conversation with author and
Iraq Veteran Brian Turner, director of Sierra Nevada College’s MFA Writing
Program. The video was shot and edited by SNC students Nick Cahill and Trevor
Jackson, in collaboration with Associate Professor of Digital Art Chris
by Optimism One
Kelle Groom told us in English 517R (Craft of Literary Nonfiction Workshop) that at one point in her writing career, a pivotal point, she put her writing desk right by the front door of her apartment so that she always saw it before she left or when she came home.
This is what I’ve done.
She also told us that she made folders–physical, tangible folders–of all the printed drafts and pieces that went into individual essays or chapters or poems, labeling each folder according to its given content and keeping those folders visible on her writing desk.
This is what I’ve done.
Finally, she said that she designed her life in such a way that if it supported her writing, then it was welcome; if not, it was not.
This is not quite what I’ve done, but I’m certainly moving in that direction.
I’m in Bali, Indonesia, from now until Christmas and the next residency. I’ve rented a nice studio apartment and a motorbike, and I have a regional mobile phone, a ‘handphone’ in the local parlance.
My responsibilities are so basic (eating and sleeping) that there really isn’t any excuse but to read and write as much as possible. Therefore, so far, I’ve read all of a few literary magazines (The Normal School, Fourth Genre, and Creative Nonfiction), parts of a couple others (Tin House and Poets & Writers), and all of Suzanne Roberts’ Plotting Temporality [awe-some!]. Also, I just started a collection of interviews called A Sense of Place: Great Travel Writers Talk About Their Craft, Lives, and Inspiration. Meanwhile, after getting a somewhat slow start on my writing due to (excuses, excuses) not having and not being able to find a proper voltage converter and apparently not feeling compelled enough to simply put pen to paper, I have written a few things: “Yes and No,” a list of experiences and insights about being in the Hong Kong airport for thirteen hours; “Whipped by the Old Man,” a sketch on my first surfing expedition since arriving in Bali; and a few different parts for a much longer piece that is tentatively titled “What’s In a Name?,” an exploration of the various names I’ve had over the course of my life. All of the above are most certainly in the first-draft stage. Also, I keep my SNC MFA notebook with me everywhere I go, jotting down ideas and lines that come to me when inspiration shines. This latter idea comes from Suzanne Roberts, who said in our travel writing class that she has different-sized notebooks to fit any and every occasion.
This is what I’ve done.