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19th century ice skating

Detail from “Le Vrai Patineur” (The True Skater) by Jean Garcin. Courtesy of The Public Domain Review

The Story Prize, founded in 2004 by Julie Lindsey and Larry Dark, annually highlights collections of short stories published in the U.S. Halina Duraj, as part of a contributor series, recently had the opportunity to talk appropriation in regards to The Family Cannon (Augury Books, 2014) on TSP’s blog. She speaks briefly about how the writing process becomes unconsciously driven, taking things directly from casual experience.

Maybe somebody had asked me what I was working on, and I said something about neighbors, and my friend told the anecdote about two neighbors sharing a property line on some land in Colorado. One neighbor was so angry about something the other neighbor had done that he situated a cannon, a real, working cannon, in his yard and aimed it at the offending neighbor’s house. I remembered laughing, and thinking about the anecdote’s resonance with my own story. But by the time I’d sat down to work on the story a few days later, I’d completely forgotten my friend’s anecdote—I’d forgotten that my friend had told it, and I’d forgotten that it ever existed outside of my own brain.”

Read the full post here. The Story Prize is currently accepting submissions of books published (or forthcoming) between July and December. See their website for more details and guidelines.

 

More on THE FAMILY CANNON

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Photo by Wah-Ming Chang

Suzanne Guillette. Photo by Wah-Ming Chang

A year ago this month, friend of Augury Suzanne Guillette (Much to Your Chagrin: A Memoir of Embarassment, Atria Books, 2009) published an essay on memoir in Tin House. Dealing with the roles of perspective and content, Guillette navigates personal experiences which help us to rethink whether or not plot needs to be “memoir-worthy.”

Though Rushdie and Auster may have gone on the record with other reasons for stepping out of the first-person memoir convention, other motivations were probably also at work: not only does crafted distance in memoir inure the writer against calls (internal and otherwise) of self-importance, but it also sets us further adrift in a dreamlike state, allowing the intersection of present consciousness with past events to be, indeed, a very trippy place.  Quieting the memoir-worthy debate, writers can go granular, entering a uniquely conjured, not to mention lived, world.”

We think this essay is worth a revisit. Read the rest of it here.

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Photo by Dave Bledsoe, FreeVerse Photography

Friend of Augury Alison Espach (The Adults, Scribner, 2011) is currently working on a new book, and she recently took the time to sit down with Augury assistant editor Nicolas Amara to talk about it, among other things.

Nick: If you’d like to say, what is your upcoming book about? What subjects does it deal with?

Alison: I would love to say, but every time I have talked about my upcoming book, I have ended up drastically changing what it’s actually about. Talking about the book too early had sort of demystified the subject matter for me and when I returned to the manuscript, I found myself wanting to write a different book. I’m really enjoying working on the book now, so just to be on the safe side, I’m going to shut up about it.

N: Do you see any parallels between The Adults and this new work? The Adults and your Kindle single, “Someone’s Uncle?”

A: I don’t think there is too much that’s similar about the new book, except the fact that I’m the author, which means there will, without a doubt, be some parallels I’m not aware of at the moment. I’m not referring to plot developments, but the kind of details and conversations I tend to focus on in my writing. Most of my writing falls within the space where the sacred meets the meaningless, and that results in a kind of absurdity, for better or for worse. An absurdity that was definitely present in The Adults and surely in the next book as well.

N: What was the experience of writing the single like? Did you already have this piece done or was it written specifically for Kindle?

A: I didn’t write the Kindle single to be a Kindle single. I just wrote it as a short story, so it was very much like the process of writing all of my short stories: I wrote a very bad skeleton version of the story, didn’t know what to do with it, forgot about it for almost two years, and then returned to it when I was frustrated with writing the novel. With two years of distance, I could see so clearly what was wrong with it. It was a rambling story that took place over the entire continent of Germany, and it had no frame or structure. That week, I had just been talking with my students about setting, and we had been looking at stories that were entirely contained in one physical space. I realized that was the kind of structural tension my story needed. I was most interested in the cathedral stairwell, the second tallest one in Europe, so the challenge of writing it became keeping the characters within that one space and to, ultimately, make it read like an infinite stairwell. It was a lot of fun to see who the characters became (and what was revealed) by the time they reached the bell tower.

N: You’re now teaching writing–what is your approach to teaching? How does one teach writing? How much of it can be taught?

A: I certainly think you can teach writing. I don’t think the point of teaching writing is to create writers out of non-writers; that’s a kind of pressure I don’t put on myself as a teacher. But I do believe that everybody can learn a lot from taking writing classes.

Sometimes people devalue creative writing classes by saying that creative writing cannot be taught, but I think that this assumes the creative writing class is all about “teaching” someone how to write. It’s not like I stand behind a podium and lecture, while they sit and absorb. A creative writing class doesn’t work like that. We all read, we all edit, we all talk, we all write, and we all listen. Yes, it’s the professor that guides the class and serves as a very important kind of anchor, but it’s really more of an interactive experience.

And creative writing classes aren’t just a place to teach and be taught; for many people, the classes are places where students can find necessary support from fellow writers and inspiration. They are places where students can benefit from the structure of a weekly meeting or a writing prompt in class. For some students, the twenty-minute writing prompt is where their real stories begin. The spontaneity of a writing exercise can eliminate some of the pressure students feel to write “serious literary fiction,” and it’s during those prompts when I find students often write their best work.

Some people say that “you can’t teach passion” either, and while that’s true to some extent, I do think that as a teacher you can aid passion. When I’m not reading, I’m always at risk of falling out of love with literature. When I’m not reading carefully, I’m missing the magnificence of something. I learned how to read critically and actively from some of my best professors and fellow graduate students. When I can fully see and appreciate a story (something that usually happens most when I teach a story), I’m passionate about it. So in that way, I think maybe you can teach passion.

Though Espach continues to work on her new book, her Kindle single “Someone’s Uncle” is available online for only 99 cents. Both “Someone’s Uncle” and The Adults can be purchased from Simon & Schuster.

Detail of Le Sortie de l’opéra en l’an 2000, by Albert Robida. Courtesy of Public Domain Review

This coming Saturday, October 25th, Augury editor Kimberly Steele will be featured on the next P&W LIVE panel, held at the Library of Congress in Washington D.C.

Poets & Writers LIVE, developed by Poets & Writers magazine, aims to connect the independent literary community through a series of group panels featuring upcoming and established editors, publishers, and authors.

Other publishing companies represented will include Graywolf Press, Algonquin Books, New Directions, Black Balloon Publishing, Rose Metal Press, and Gival Press, as well as a featured reading by Charles D’Ambrosio.

Steele will be sharing her experiences as an editor of Augury Books at the Indie Editor Roundtable at 1:30. For more information about the day’s events, as well as P&W LIVE and how to register, head over to their site.

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Photo: Rachel Eliza Griffiths

Dear Lxxxx,

We script our lives on reaction rather than action, meaning our daily life is always in response to, or a reply to, a command or demand. The world uses us in that way—we are the backsided-brainwash of society’s failure—the aftersound of oppression, but we know this maxim, and yet become willing participants to our own commodification. The world does this to us—holds us down. Then too, I’ve been thinking about the question you pose with regards to women and believing. Perhaps images and how we nurture young women as a society creates this insecurity. The American Dream chokes little girl’s dreams insomuch as not all of them will be able to live up to ideal beauty as constructed by benefactors of the dominant narrative, or those who dictate the ebb and flow of how we live. Beauty is a dangerous thing, and understand, Brown and Black women historically bear the weight of civilization, in addition to their own weight, which, at times, can be daunting. But more than that, the male plays a role in this insecurity, especially in these so-called streets, by his rejection of the woman as equal counterpart and anything other than “sexual object.” We just wanna love and have some warm body love us back—objectification is a delicate balance.

In other words, I saw it play out often with men who dominated women to the point they broke their spirit and stole their sound. The women couldn’t speak of their own oppression because they had no language to express the unimaginable, reminding me of Pudding and Sunshine who prostituted. Pudding was her abuser wrapped in a six-foot frame complete with a gold tooth. Sunshine adored Pudding so much she strolled around Logan Circle in DC every night selling the one commodity she knew well, and that was her[self]. Here’s the oxymoron: Sunshine never saw the light. Darkness choked her to death. She never got to understand we are the shadows in the dark novelist Toni Morrison talks about. We play between histories. Our sound originates from the breaking of sound—and then again. Like life, language is only the beginning and perhaps in its death, too, comes a new beginning, a new language.

At any moment I am inside your peripheral vision, imagining with exact description, the six by nine cell you sleep in, in all its isolation because this is, indeed, something I can reinvent from memory. The gray cinderblock serving as the prison’s architectural foundation is always already present. The dull silver ambiance from the metal toilet emits a lackluster glow. Blue could be the sky’s temperament on a November day when the fading brown leaves, that once seemed verdant, swirl from trees nowhere in sight as you struggle to breathe free air. Lxxxx, I have been thinking long and hard with regards to confinement, and the bordering of color, and how we as a society have imprisoned ourselves within the complexity of skin, as if human survival depends on this one specific thing.

Of course, I could make a conscious effort to avoid color or not invade your personal space trying to make a parallelism, but history can be unforgiving in how the past (re)constructs the future, whether we acknowledge it or not. For some reason, I feel our histories and futures intersect insomuch as we come from the same memory. In other words, I have inhabited the cell door clang, and I can’t ever escape that stagnant image of the pinstripe inmate constructed. There it is again, that word: construct or construction, which is another word for confinement on someone else’s term, a sort of deliberate scaffolding of a misguided structure. If I could go back to that initial moment after the formulation of earth—I’m talking about the first glorious sunrise after the Big Bang. Have you ever wondered what that feeling could have been like? If only someone could have been present after the bang—the explosion of particle-antiparticle into space-universal—suspended liquefied darkness. In the beginning a delayed oceanic swirl lacked blue, foliage lacked green—: construction had not begun. If only someone could have stopped progress at that precise moment. To see something neoteric and novel coming off the horizon must’ve been glory hallelujah.

Randall Horton is the recipient of the Gwendolyn Brooks Poetry Award, the Bea Gonzalez Poetry Award and most recently a National Endowment of the Arts Fellowship in Literature. Randall is a Cave Canem Fellow, a member of the Affrilachian Poets and a member of The Symphony: The House that Etheridge Built. Randall is Assistant Professor of English at the University of New Haven. An excerpt from his memoir titled Roxbury is published by Kattywompus Press. Triquarterly/Northwestern University Press is the publisher of his latest poetry collection Pitch Dark Anarchy.

Joe-Pan-bw

 

DC

Green shoots on one side
of a January branch—
half choose hope

Congress—the mighty chambers—
a heart? a stomach?—two dogs
wrestling over street meat

The South 

Crawfish, a hundred perhaps, boiling
in a pot—a lava of spooning hoards—
we’ll suck the juices from their heads
& sex ourselves to sleep.

Thousands led to a stadium’s
mouth—the stadium
is fed better

Pecos River, Texas

My hand upon a man’s hand
blown red with paint dust
ten thousand years ago

 

Joe Pan’s first collection, Autobiomythography & Gallery, was named “Best First Book of the Year” by Coldfront. He is the founding editor & publisher of Brooklyn Arts Press & serves as the poetry editor for the arts magazine Hyperallergic. His work has appeared in such places as Boston Review, Brooklyn Rail, Cimarron Review, Denver Quarterly, Glimmer Train, H_ngm_n, Phoebe, & has been excerpted in The New York Times. He grew up along the Space Coast of Florida and now lives in Brooklyn.

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Carey McHugh’s poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Boston ReviewDenver Quarterly, Gulf Coast, and Tin House, among others. Her chapbook Original Instructions for the Perfect Preservation of Birds &c. was selected by Rae Armantrout for the Poetry Society of America’s 2008 New York Chapbook Fellowship. She lives and works in Manhattan.

This poem, “[You will come first as a sound],” has previously appeared in Gulf Coast, under the title “Open Brackets Closed Brackets.”

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