The semester races along, the book(s) more or less race along. I did a reading at wonderful Malvern Books in Austin. Workmen carted away the broken fridge....
On Thursday the 21st I appeared at Lone Star College-Montgomery and said a bunch of interesting things. Thanks to Lone Star and the Montgomery County Literary Arts Council for inviting me!
I also have a pretty journal, a lovely new box of Messes, and ongoing tussles with words....
Last winter I participated as an instructor/mentor in the Black Box Writers Residency, a wonderful program sponsored by the Texas A&M Writing Center and Directed by Florence Davies. What a great experience! The Residency takes a small group of undergraduate writers, poets and fictionists, and immerses them day-long classes in generating new material, in revising, and in performing. (I was teaching revision). The Residency is capped off by a public performance—Black Box Speaks!--featuring the participants and instructors, and I’ve posted the video below.
I’m reading here, too, late in the video—but watch the whole thing. The young folks are terrific.
I’m very happy to be in this anthology--The Beatest State in the Union, edited by Chris Carmona, Rob Johnson, and Chuck Taylor, and published by Lamar University Press. It’s a really terrific compilation of classic Beat writers who hung around Texas, and contemporary Texas writers who are Beats. I’ve worked with some academics who teach “The Beat Movement” as a relic of the past, but the editors of Beatest State argue—rightly, I think—that Beatism is not an antique literary artifact but a continuing and important platform for contemporary poets and fictionists and essayists to use for the examination of American culture and its implications.
A couple of weeks ago I participated in a Beatest State kickoff reading in Austin at our friends Malvern Books. Below is a video of my reading. Note: just before stepping up to the stage, I noticed that someone—and I’m looking at you, Lamar University Press—changed a line of dialogue in my story. And changed it for the worse. For shame.
Go buy the book anyway—it’s wonderful and glorious. Beatific, even.
I took this back in April when I was about to give my induction reading at the Texas Institute of Letters...that's the great Christine Granados waving in the back left....
A small but enthusiastic and appreciative group came out to hear me read July 7 at the Lit Crawl in Independence, Kansas....
View from the venue: Sunset over Austin
It’s been a week now since Alamo Bay Writers’ Workshop, and I’m going to brag: it was a total total smashing success!
The participants were skilled, learned, funny, articulate, cool, and possessed of touching poems and stories. Fellow instructors Diane Wilson, Larry Heinemann, and Lee Grue were terrific. Pam Booton's organizing skills were/are incredible. The venue was fantastic.
Everything was great. And next year will be even better.
In Week Three of the class, we began the reading presentations and talked a little about outlines.
I want to discuss as many texts as possible in the class, so I came up with a reading list of 20 books. Each student will read two books off the list, and will give an oral presentation on one book, and a written report on the other. Their task is to teach the other students what these books show us about writing.
14-Sep Shirley Jackson, We Have Always Lived in the Castle
14-Sep Sandra Cisneros, The House on Mango Street
21-Sep Sarah Bird, The Mommy Club
21-Sep Ernest J. Gaines, A Lesson Before Dying
28-Sep Hunter Thompson, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
28-Sep James Hynes, Kings of Infinite Space
12-Oct Patti Smith, Just Kids
12-Oct Mary Karr, Cherry
19-Oct Patricia McConnel, Sing Soft Sing Loud
19-Oct Tayari Jones, Silver Sparrow
26-Oct John Graves, Goodbye to a River
26-Oct Annie Dillard, A Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
02-Nov Susan Collins, The Hunger Games
02-Nov Joyce Carol Oates, Black Water
09-Nov Lowell Mick White, That Demon Life
09-Nov John Kennedy Toole, A Confederacy of Dunces
16-Nov Oscar Casares, Brownsville
16-Nov Tiffani Yanique, How to Escape from a Leper Colony
30-Nov Jim Harrison,Returning to Earth
30-Nov Percival Everett, Erasure
It’s not a perfect list. If I’d had a few days to think it over, some
different books might have made the cut. But as it is, I think it’s useful: I have a wide range of narrative types here—novels, novellas, composite novels, memoirs—horror, history, comedy, popular page-turners.
We began with Sandra Cisneros and Shirley Jackson. Erika Liesman and Austin Meek gave very fine presentations—informative, insightful, and enthusiastic.
Above, Erika discussing the way Sandra Cisneros uses dialogue in The House on Mango Street. Erika also used videos of Sandra talking about her writing process....
Above, Austin shows the creepy cover of We Have Always Lived in the Castle. Austin gave us the plot highlights from the book, and discussed the advantages of having a protagonist who is kind of...bad....
This isn’t the first class I’ve taught where I have students write
extended narratives. When I was working on the creative part of my dissertation, I was writing a composite novel composed of three interlocking novellas. And since I was writing novellas, I thought I should perhaps teach novellas, and so I structured the prose part of my multi-genre into to creative writing class to accommodate long stories/novellas.
All the students got off to excellent starts, but then, after 15 or so pages, they stopped. They didn’t know what was supposed to happen next in their novella. The pages seemed to stretch out before them, endlessly, scarily. All of them recovered and completed their novellas, and some of them did truly fine, high-quality work, but there was a grim period there in the middle of the semester where the young writers were staring around glassy-eyed and stressed. It made me nervous—I’m sure it was worse for the students.
It occurred to me that a good outline might have prevented this
worrisome stall. So for my current class, I mandated that students produce an outline, and made it a graded assignment. They were due this week, and were interesting in their variety and conception. Some were very detailed, others more perfunctory—all of them, I think, will give the writers something to fall back on when they get stuck (and they will get stuck).
At the same time, I tried to emphasize that outlines are not
contracts—you don’t have to stick with them forever and ever. Indeed, as your extended narrative—your novel, novella, memoir—gets written, your conception of the project will change, and new ideas, relationships, and characters will emerge. The work-in-progress is necessarily plastic. I’m going to encourage the writers to keep their outlines plastic as well, and keep them updated as their narratives progress.
Here’s Jacquelyn Asiala’s outline, done in sticky notes….
I'm looking forward to reading everything.
Next week: more reading presentations, and the first workshops....
I’m jetting off through blizzards and earthquakes and tornados to the AWP conference in Washington DC. If you’re around, look me up—I’ll be appearing at the Gival Press table on Friday the 4th at 1:00pm, and that evening I’ll be reading with other Gival writers (the Gival Knights!) at the Hotel Dupont Bar, 1500 New Hampshire Ave NW, Washington, DC.
Here's the Facebook page for the reading.
Don't worry about being cold: Love of Literature will keep us warm!
If you're in Austin this weekend, this is what you need to do--
Take the damp, drizzly November of your soul and dry it out and cheer it up with some words at Pine Street Station, the wonderful studio of Austin artist Reji Thomas. (That's Reji's painting Eyes to the right.) I'll be reading with my friends, novelist John Domini and poet Alysa Hayes.
John is the author of A Tomb on the Periphery and Earthquake I.D.
Alysa's poetry has appeared in the anthology Two Southwests and in Callaloo and other journals.
(Me you know about....)
This is going to be a lot of fun--we'll be in the middle of the East Austin Studio Tour, with all kinds of activities--painting, sculpture, jewelry, music, food, fire-dancers, earthquakes, meteors--all kinds!
400pm-630pm, November 21
Pine Street Station
1101 E 5th