Tag Archives: visiting writer

First Annual Graduate Student Choice Reading Brings Alexandra Kleeman to Miami University

“She was truly happy for the first time in her life, and it felt just like living in a small room painted all white…”

So begins Alexandra Kleeman’s Jellyfish, the short story she read this past Thursday to a crowd of people in the Miami University Bookstore.

“I was actually so excited to meet Alexandra Kleeman this morning that I spilled coffee all over myself,” confessed Darren Thompson, a second-year graduate MFA student at Miami, when he introduced her. “Alexandra can write anything. If she wrote a phone book, I would read it and ask her to sign it.”

Alexandra Kleeman at her reading in Shriver Center Bookstore.

For what was both the first annual Miami Creative Writing Residential Graduate Student Choice Reading and the last creative writing event of the Spring 2017 semester, NYC-based writer Alexandra Kleeman chose to read her most recent short story, Jellyfish. As one short story in a trio that examines a character named Karen at three different stages in her life, Jellyfish explores the nuances of character.

“In a lot of short stories you follow a character and get attached to that character, and then that character has sort of a transformative experience at then end… and you never see them again,” Kleeman explained. “But I think that human lives are shaped a little bit differently… We have a lot of partial epiphanies that don’t actually change the way that we live in the world, that don’t take, but sometimes the accumulation of them causes character shift.”

Jellyfish describes Karen at a midpoint in her life: she is on vacation at an idyllic beach resort, and she and her boyfriend have just gotten engaged, but she isn’t happy. In the Q&A session after her reading, Kleeman explained that much of her inspiration for the story came from the concept of “people being unhappy in a place designed to make them happy.”

Jellyfish is also swimming with literal jellyfish, which Kleeman said played a major role in shaping the story. In the story, the jellyfish that fill the oceans around the beach resort act as a sort of a visual trigger for Karen’s anxieties, uncertainty, and fear.

“I’m really fascinated by ways in which our emotions are affectedly poetically,” Kleeman explained. “We can logic and we can rationalize, but the things that we see shift us at a level that isn’t mentally accessible.”

As Darren Thompson explained in his introduction, Kleeman’s writing—most notably, her debut novel You Too Can Have a Body Like Mine—often contains elements of the absurd, “a terrain Alexandra navigates with enviable grace.” You Too Can Have a Body Like Mine (Harper, 2015), which addressed themes of consumerism, body image, and identity, garnered much critical acclaim. Her second book, Intimations (Harper, 2016) is a collection of short stories which explore life in all of its stages and also frequently incorporates elements of the absurd.

Kleeman, 31, lives and writes in New York City, where she received a MFA in Fiction from Columbia University. Her fiction has been featured in The New Yorker, Paris Review, BOMB, Guernica, HENRY, Gulf Coast, Conjunctions, Zoetrope: All-Story, and DIAGRAM. Her non-fiction writing has been published in the New York Times Magazine, Harper’s, The Guardian, Tin House, The New Republic, Vogue, and n+1, among others. Kleeman has received numerous scholarships and grants for her work from the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, Santa Fe Art Institute, Bread Loaf, ArtFarm Nebraska, and from institutions such as the University of Colorado, University of California, Berkeley, Brown University, Harvard University, and Columbia University.  She is also the winner of the 2016 Bard Fiction Prize.

The reading was sponsored by Miami’s Creative Writing Program.

Sarah Lehman
Professional Writing and Media and Culture, ’19
English Department Ambassador

Spotlight on erica lewis

Lewis

I stopped erica lewis (author of multiple books, curator of the John Oates House reading series, and a fine arts publicist who will visit Miami this Wednesday) with some questions about her process, recommendations, and life soundtrack. (Read Lewis’s daryl hall is my boyfriend (2015), murmur in the inventory (2013), and new poems from the forthcoming mary wants to be a superwoman.)

  1. What’s your process like?

It’s very organic. It’s structured, but only in the sense that once I think about doing a project, once I work the logistics out in my head, realize how the poems need to move from point a to b to c, then I can start writing them. They are structured before they are even written. When I write the pieces, I write them in order, so I basically write a poetry book straight through from beginning to end; it’s not a poem here and a poem there and then piece things together. It helps to keep the individual poems working with each other and advancing the story I want to tell. It keeps the whole book moving.  I used to be more rigid and create all sorts of rules for projects, constraints that didn’t let me really deviate from what I was doing or explore other things I wanted to do in the work. Those books were very very different than what I’m doing now with the box set trilogy.

 

  1. What are some influences on your work, and how have they manifested in your writing?

Visual art, music, history – they all influence my work in both content and style. If you read through the box set trilogy books, you’ll find references. If you look beyond the literal influences, you can see it in the language and visual formatting of a page, or the way a poem flows, how the language works with the visual and the lyrical. It’s all interwoven. And then, of course, you have to know your lineage in order to put it all together. The writers who came before you, you have to learn the craft of what they were doing before you can mess around with it and flip it and make it your own and create something new.

 

  1. What would you tell your undergrad self about the literary world that you know now?

The people that love your writing and get your work and champion and support you are not necessarily the people in your immediate surroundings. Sometimes you have to find your people. You have to go outside of your immediate community to be accepted and supported. If you stay within the confines of what one writing community is doing or offering you then you are limiting the potential of your work. Find your people.

 

  1. Do you have any literature or poetry recommendations?

Read everything.

 

  1. If your life had a soundtrack, which song would you pick for it?

Ha ha, my life does have a soundtrack. The “box set” trilogy uses the music of Hall and Oates, Stevie wonder, and Diana Ross. It takes the concept of sound tracking your life and explores songs as memories and triggers. Now, if I had to pick one artist right now, I couldn’t. One song, I couldn’t. And that says something about all of the music that makes up our lives, all of the people, energy, influences, art that makes us whole beings. That soundtrack should never stop.

Brie Moore
Editor-in-Chief of the Creative Writing Department Blog and English Department Ambassador
Creative Writing and Biology ’18

Miami CW’s First Event of 2016: Darrin Doyle

This past Monday evening, the Creative Writing Program kicked off this semester’s reading series with author Darrin Doyle. His most recent book, titled The Dark Will End the Dark (published in February 2015), is a collection of short stories that explore the human body and reason. Miami University professor Dr. Joseph Bates introduced Doyle; the two have been friends since they were in graduate school at University of Cincinnati together.

“You can just imagine what it was like to have these suckers coming at you in a workshop,” joked Bates, referring to Doyle’s work, which can often turn dark and disturbing.

Doyle first read a short story from Dark, entitled “Foot,” followed by a few different stories he is currently working on, entitled “Dangling Joe,” “Party Town,” “Possibilities and Considerations,” and “Perfect Sandwich.” “We always ask our students to share what they’re working on, so I think it’s only fair we do the same,” explained Doyle, who is currently a professor at Central Michigan University.

Author Darrin Doyle sits with and signs books for Miami University students after the reading.

Author Darrin Doyle sits with and signs books for Miami University students after the reading.

The pieces that Doyle read all explored different themes. “Foot” is a grisly fable-like tale of a mother’s devotion to her child. “Dangling Joe” is a satire of American society and media, while “Party Town” might resonate deeply with certain residents of Oxford. “Possibilities and Considerations” is an experiment in format that gives a wry, and at some times satirical, insight into life. “Perfect Sandwich” is the story of a man’s desperation to be good enough.

The audience, engaged and enthusiastic throughout the entirety of the reading, supplied no shortage of questions for Doyle, asking about his strategy for writing, influences for different works, and advice on writing a novel. “I’ve written, in the last year, about 23 of these short stories,” said Doyle, referring to his as-of-yet-unpublished works. “It’s weird when you start noticing [recurring] themes.”

When asked what his influences were while writing The Dark Will End the Dark, Doyle said, “Franz Kafka and Flannery O’Connor are two of my biggest influences. Their characters might have a physical ailment, [but] their souls are grotesque… Fairy tales, folk tales, and fables have always had their hold on me… I like the feeling of the surreal that’s grounded in reality.”

As for advice on writing, Doyle says, “It’s great when you’re inspired by an idea… but then you’ve got to sit down and write. One sentence leads to another, and hopefully you surprise yourself a bit.”

MU Press Novella Winner Lawrence Coates to Visit Miami

Lawrence Coates is the author of Camp Olvido, the winner of the Miami University Press 2015 Novella Prize. He is currently a professor of creative writing at Bowling Green State University. MU Press intern and senior Creative Writing major Annabel Brooks recently chatted on the phone with Coates to learn more about his novella and his writing process in anticipation of Camp Olvido’s October 27th release.

So Camp Olvido is out the 27th. Could you provide a brief plot summary in your own wordslawrencecoatesphoto for those of us anticipating the release?

Let’s see, Camp Olvido is a story set in the labor camps of central California during the Depression. It follows a man named Esteban who is a bootlegger who takes liquor and wine to the camps at night to sell to the workers. He runs across a sick child at one camp and gradually, through a series of decisions that he hasn’t really thought through, gets more and more entangled in trying to get help for this child, ending up in an act of violence. Then, he has to face the consequences of what has transpired through his own actions that he mostly took in bad faith.

I know that you’ve spend a good part of your life in California. Can you tell me a little bit more about the inspiration behind the novella?

I have spent a lot of my life in California and I do consider myself a Californian even though I’ve been living in Ohio for more than 10 years at this point. It’s where I was born, it’s where I grew up and it’s where I still have family. I wrote a novel called The Garden of the World that’s set in the late 20s and did a lot of research on some of the Latino characters in that novel. After I finished The Garden of the World I felt that there was more to write about that community. Around the same time I read a book called Decade of Betrayal, a nonfiction book that discussed how during the Depression, Mexican immigrants and Mexican-Americans were frequently treated as a scapegoat for the economic troubles the country was going through, especially in California. Many of them were forcibly deported, including some American citizens, and this struck me very hard to know that that level of injustice had happened in our country that’s never really been acknowledged. So I wanted to write a story that was set in the context of these Latino farmworkers during the Depression.

One of the things about the date of the book is that it’s before the Dust Bowl happened and the reason that’s important is that the Dust Bowl is what brought us John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath. This would have been in the same region as where some the Grapes of Wrath takes place but it would’ve been before that migration from Oklahoma to California when there were some white workers in the fields but mostly there were Latinos. So in a way, the book fills in a gap in the history of California as represented by literature that people who just read the Grapes of Wrath might overlook. I have also worked as a volunteer teacher of the English language to immigrant workers in California. I’ve also done some freelance journalism in Mexico. I have connections with the people I’m writing about. And I speak Spanish fluently.

On your website I read the article you wrote for the Chicago Tribune. I thought it was very interesting because of, well its connection to Camp Olvido obviously, but also because of the way that it connects to the current political climate revolving around the US-Mexico borderlands. With the GOP debates and the upcoming presidential election, I was wondering how you connect our current political climate with your discourse concerning the US-Mexico borderlands in your article and also with Camp Olvido? How do all of these things connect?

First off, when I was doing that article, it wasn’t nearly as dangerous as it is today. There weren’t the same kinds of narcotraficantes and the same kind of drug smuggling around that there is today. I mean I was traveling around in a Volkswagen bus and we were staying in hotels in Juarez, which is a pretty dangerous place these days as I understand. So it was not nearly as dire of a time for the border as it is now.

I hope that my book helps provide the gift of empathy for people who could be seen as Other. I hope that my book simply allows people to, and I think a lot of good literature does this, imagine themselves in lives different than their own and that that largeness of spirit that can come from reading good literature might help inform the debates. Some of the rhetoric I hear about immigration today treats people as Other. Instead of what philosopher Martin Buber called an ‘I Thou’ relationship with another human being you can get into something close to an ‘I It’ relationship and I hope that my book, even though it’s set 80 years ago, has some impact in helping to create empathy for people whose experiences are different than the experiences that I’m depicting.

In relation to that, I think that the cover of the novella is really compelling. I was doing research about Matt Black, the photographer, and his involvement with the Economic Hardship project as well as his tour of the United States where he photographs those impoverished areas that are often underrepresented. I wanted to ask: what do you think the cover photo is trying to evoke in relation to the story of Camp Olvido?

Believe me, I was really happy when the Press found Matt Black’s photographs. The photograph is of the road disappearing into the distance and it’s mysterious because you don’t know where the road’s going. The last image of the book is the image of Esteban taking the mother and child on the road and heading toward Malaga Park. I ended it there with some ambiguity, as you’re not sure if they’re going to get there safely. You’re not sure if Esteban is doing this as an act of atonement or once more acting in bad faith. You’re not sure whether it’s possible for him to even gain atonement given what he’s been involved with up to that point.

There’s a great deal of moral ambiguity in the novella and that’s intentional. I could have written a different kind of story, a sin and redemption story. I didn’t write that story. I think if you have somebody who has been complicit in a corrupt, exploitative system then writing a redemption story for that character is far too simple and easy. The photograph with the road disappearing into that desert-like landscape expresses something about the way the ending of the book disappears into a distance in which you can’t tell what’s at the end. I just thought it was a brilliant choice for the cover. The Press has been great, the cover design is just one part of how supportive they’ve been; the editing I’ve received has really improved the manuscript I originally turned in. So grateful.

That’s great to hear! I just have a few more ‘fun’ questions—firstly, what’s your writing process and do you have any particular quirks/routines?
I write on a manual typewriter; I suppose that’s quirky. I write on a manual typewriter so I never lose a word. If I need to make corrections I cross it out on the manuscript page but I still have itunnamed there in case what I cross out ends up being better. I also frequently make big sketches in an 11”x17” sketchbook, I’m not very good as a visual artist but I like sketching things out. So by the time I’ve finished a book I’ll have one, two, maybe even three sketchbooks filled with little notes, little arcs that describe parts of the narrative, maybe figures against the landscape. So that’s part of my process. I have never been able to work from an outline but I do like to have a sense of the season of a book. If I understand the season of the book, how it begins and ends, then that lets me have some kind of notion of the overall shape while leaving myself free to make daily discoveries.

Do you have any advice for young creative writing students? What do you like to tell your own students to inspire them to continue or begin writing?

Well, that’s a good question. I think that, and I’m getting some of this from reading Flannery O’Connor’s book Mystery and Manners, students don’t necessarily think about telling a story enough. I think that rather than concentrating on the meaning of a story if you just tell a good story the meaning will be there. I’d tell people to trust in the sovereign power of story and then the meaning and your own personal sensibilities and your view of the world will be there. If you concentrate on the more abstract qualities you might fail to tell a good story. Privilege telling a story. That’s what we are after all as writers; we’re storytellers.

Do you have anything coming up next?

I am working on something now. It won’t be coming out anytime soon because it’s long and ambitious. You know one of the things you find out, and I’m not complaining about this, but having a book come out (I had two books come out this fall) is very time consuming. So I spent a lot of time over the past few months copyediting and doing pre-publicity work. I’m doing quite a bit of book tour stuff right now, I’m going to California and I’ll be in Detroit later this month. I’ll be in Cleveland and of course I’ll be in Oxford. I’m traveling around quite a bit so I haven’t had the time to just sit back down at my desk and settle into my new work. So there’s been an hiatus in my writing right now, which is regrettable but like I said I’m not complaining because anybody who complains about having a book come out needs their head examined, that’s what we reach for. So I do have something I’m working on but it will be a good long time before it comes out.

Last question, do you have anything you’re currently reading? What’s on your bedside table?

I’m reading a book of short stories by Kyle Minor right now called Praying Drunk. I’ve got a novella on my bedside table now by Daniel Torday called The Sensualist. One of the other great presses in the country that specializes in novellas besides Miami is a press in California called Nouvella, so I’ve been reading some novellas coming out of that press. And since you asked, I’m going to read next The Narrow Road to Deep North, which won the Man Booker Prize in 2014. Those are three books that I’m engaged with right now even though one of them I haven’t even started.

I feel like that happens all the time, I always have five or six books on my bedside table.

So many books, so little time. That’s just my life.
Don’t miss Lawrence Coates when he visits the MU Bookstore Nov. 4th to read from Camp Olvido at 7:30pm.

 

Camp Olvido will be available for purchase on Amazon, through the Miami University Press website, at the Miami University Bookstore and at participating bookstores.

 

 

Miami Alumni Return for National Poetry Day

Sitting in the audience of the Alumni Poets Reading this past Thursday evening, I had the honor of listening to two very different poets read their original works. Listening to a poet read their own work is a wonderful way to begin to understand their writing – the movement is particular, and the exquisiteness of images, metaphors, and chosen words is communicated best by their creator.

The first alum to read w10-8 Hardyas Lesley Hardy, reading from her first book of poetry, Dreaming of Zeus. Hardy completed her undergraduate studies at Miami and went on to live in Tokyo for several years where she taught English and consulted for senior management in a large Japanese communications group company and in a Swiss luxury brand operating in Tokyo. Her past with
writing has been extensive and vast in range. She has written scripts, historical fiction, and short stories, some set in a university town in Ohio during various decades of the 20th and early 21st centuries. Dreaming of Zeus was published by Isobar Press, a Japanese press that specializes in English writing.

The first poems Hardy read were set in present day Ohio, but as her mythological title implies, the poems progressed into poems of Greek myth. She recites a poem that tells the story of Persephone, and another about her in a different light. Hardy’s choice of words was emphasized by her raspy voice; the combination is what made her poetry come to life. Hardy is a petite woman, but when she recited her poems her presence took up the entire room and captivated her audience.

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copyright Tasha Golden

The second poet was Tasha Golden, another alum who did her graduate work at Miami. She is more commonly recognized as the front woman and songwriter for the critically acclaimed band Ellery. Their songs have been heard in several movies and TV shows such as No Strings Attached and The Lying Game. She is currently pursuing her PhD at the University of Louisville where she researches the impact of the arts on stigmatized issues and leads creative writing workshops for incarcerated female teens – this alum does it all and more.

Golden read from her new and first book of poetry, Once You Had Hands which explores violence and sexuality in both intimate relationships and religion. Her poetry was whimsical in nature, but dealt with such harsh subject matter that the juxtaposition of the two opposites made for a great reading. Golden also had a very distinct voice; when talking before reciting her poems she was spunky and extroverted, bright-eyed and engaging the crowd. But when reading, she became quiet spoke in a tone filled with deep emotion. The most impactful moment was when Golden read a poem about dealing with her feelings towards God and then left a pause of stillness before going into another emotional poem. By pausing and going into another poem without stopping to speak or explain, her poetry spoke for itself and was so much louder and clearer than anything Golden could have said instead.

Maggie Ark
Professional Writing ’16

Department Events This Year

Creative Writing Department Events Poster

The Department is very excited to be hosting so many distinguished guests and speakers! This lovely poster lists all of the events during the year that the Creative Writing Department at Miami hosts, the next event being Chris Bachelder, author of U.S.! and Bear v. Shark, tonight at 7:30 in the MU Bookstore. You may want to get there a bit early, because it’s sure to be a full house.

Je Ne Sais Quoi: Miami’s Third Annual Translation Symposium

Translation, as mentioned by Kinsey Cantrell in the previous post, is generally seen as a service instead of an art, where the translator is simply rendering a poem into a different language. The assumption is that translation is as much an art as transcribing the words of someone else. However, as English Ambassador Abigail Mechley notes in her great article for the English Department, the practice of bringing a piece of writing from one language to another “insists on stretching language to its limit”.

Rosa and Erin1

Guest speakers Rosa Alcalá and Erin Moure, respectively.

The Miami University Symposium on Literary Translation brought two distinguished speakers to campus for a two-part event – a Panel on Literary Translation, followed by a reading from their translated works. They, too, echoed the importance of translation. “I realized that there was a world that I understood through Spanish language that wasn’t being expressed in English, a way of thinking and a way of being in the world, and I wanted to capture this in English,” said Alcalá. Moure agreed, noting that translation is an ethical responsibility that allows readers to see their language and the world differently.  A huge thank-you to our guest speakers, and to everyone who attended the symposium!
To read more about the 2016 Miami University Translation Symposium, click here

A Visit from Alissa Quart

Just a week after Beth Harrison’s visit, we were graced by another New York-based writer, Alissa Quart. Last month, Miami University Press published Quart’s first book of poetry, Monetized. In celebration of her book’s publication, Quart paid us a whirlwind visit here in Oxford. You’d never guess it, but Monetized is her first book of poetry. However, it’s only the most recent addition to her list of commendable accomplishments. Quart is an Emmy-nominated multimedia producer, the author of three non-fiction books, a co-editor of a journalism non-profit called Economic Hardship Reporting Project, and a revered journalist, professor, and poet.

During her visit to campus, Quart agreed to attend an informal lunch with students. Because her work is so versatile, students from a variety of majors showed up to meet her and chat over Chinese take out. The students took advantage of the opportunity to pick her brain, and got a free lesson on how to write a hard-hitting piece of journalism. When asked how she manages to juggle so many projects at once, Quart said the key to staying motivated is having a lot to say. She feels an obligation to give voices to those who might not otherwise be heard, and that’s what keeps her chugging along.

Although her work as a poet is secondary to her other professional undertakings at the moment, Quart was a poet first. She was a bit of a poetry whiz as a kid, and she won poetry contests while in grade school. Poetry used to be her “thing.” But, being as multi-talented as she is, Quart was drawn to other artistic pursuits after entering college. Now, she says she writes poetry to help her make sense of her emotions. Much of her journalistic work focuses on topics like economic hardship, parenting, mental illness, and urban living. As you can imagine, there are ugly sides to all of these topics. Quart says that much of the poetry in Monetized evolved from notes that she’d scribble down while working on other projects. Poetry allows her to vent when she’s feeling the feels.

Quart is a commanding public speaker, and she oozed confidence when reading from Monetized. The audience was mesmerized. She read to a full house at the Miami University Bookstore.

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To say that Alissa Quart is busy would be a massive understatement. You’d have a hard time convincing us that she even has time to sleep. We were so pleased to have her here and grateful for the time she devoted to us. If you want to know what all the fuss is about, you can order a copy of Monetized by clicking here.