Attention North Carolinians! Lookout and Ecotone staff will be at the North Carolina Writers’ Network fall conference in Wrightsville Beach. The conference features three days of panels, classes, and resources for writers at all stages of development. We hope to see you at our three panels!
On Friday, November 3 at 12 p.m., Ecotone and Lookout Books editor Anna Lena Phillips Bell will lead this year’s kick-off event, “Writing from Place: A Poetry (or Prose) Walk.” Take an afternoon stroll on the beach to learn how close observation can inspire good sentences.
On Saturday, November 4 at 9 a.m., overcome your fears of angry, red pens as Lookout Books editor and Ecotone senior editor, Beth Staples, demystifies the editorial process. Her panel, “Understanding the Editorial Process,” will provide advice on successful writer-editor relationships and give a peek behind the editorial curtain.
Share the most important meal of the day with Lookout Books and Ecotone publisher, Emily Smith. At the “Brilliant at Breakfast Panel Discussion: Agents & Editors” on Sunday, November 5 at 8 a.m., ask professional agents and editors your burning questions about queries, submissions, slush piles, and the winding path to publication.
Remember to swing by our table for great deals on your favorite Lookout titles and the latest issue of, too.
Ecotone and Lookout staffers are gearing up for the 18th annual Writers’ Week, held Monday, October 30 to Friday, November 3 on UNCW’s campus. More than a dozen notable authors and publishing professionals will participate in readings, craft talks, and panels, including 2017 Buckner Keynote speaker and poet Ross Gay, fiction writers Kristen Iskandrian and David Jauss, and graphic memoirist and Believer editor and art director Kristen Radtke. All events are free and open to the public.
Lookout’s own Emily Smith will moderate a publishing panel that includes Radtke, The Book Group agent Julie Barer, and poet and Northwestern University Press/TriQuarterly Books editor Parneshia Jones. The panel, which takes place Wednesday, November 1 at 2 p.m., will be preceded by a talk with Barer, whose clients include such literary heavy-hitters as Celeste Ng (Little Fires Everywhere), Joshua Ferris (To Rise Again at a Decent Hour), Ecotone contributor Bret Anthony Johnston (Remember Me Like This), and UNCW MFA alum Garrard Conley (Boy Erased).
For more information about Writers’ Week, including a full schedule, visit uncw.edu/writersweek.
We’re thrilled for Matthew Lansburgh, whose story collection, Outside is the Ocean, winner of the Iowa Short Fiction Award, publishes this week. The title story appears in the current issue of Ecotone.
We love the review from Kirkus, which describes so much of what we love about Matthew’s work: “Not for the faint of heart, this collection is relentless and intense, but Lansburgh’s prose offers stunning moments of tenderness amid its stark depictions of loneliness. Arresting and pointed.”
We hope you’ll check it out!
This installment of On Location comes from Ecotone contributor and Lookout author Clare Beams, whose collection We Show What We Have Learned was a recently named a finalist for the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Award and the Young Lions Fiction Award from the New York Public Library.
When we moved into our house in Pittsburgh, we found the contents of somebody’s life in our basement. Not the life of the man who’d sold us the house; this stuff appeared to have belonged (or to still belong?) to a woman who must have lived here too, maybe as a roommate, maybe in some other capacity. Among the things we found:
All piled in our dungeon-y, stone-walled basement, next to the Pittsburgh Potty—a toilet in the basement, common in houses built before 1950 or so, once used by the household help; ours doesn’t even have a curtain. All a little clammy to the touch.
From the start, we felt wrong about having these things. Whoever this woman was, wherever she was, she probably needed them. And we didn’t want them; knowing they were down there, under our feet all the time, made us feel like we were living with a ghost. We’d had contact with the house’s previous inhabitant only through his real estate agent, whom we called repeatedly to explain the situation and ask what we should do. What we heard was that the owner was gone, the real estate agent had no idea who this woman was, and everything that was left was ours to do with what we wanted. We didn’t want to do anything with it, was the trouble. The idea of cooking out of this woman’s pots, using her lamps to light up our rooms—it felt grubby, and disrespectful toward whatever misery had made her leave all of it behind.
After a while, we stopped asking. She would get in touch, we reasoned, if she wanted to. And a while after that, two years after we’d moved in, we donated everything to a charity that was willing to come and pick it all up off our front porch.
Basements fascinate and unnerve me—these spaces where we store the things we don’t want to look at. The basements in the houses I’ve lived in tend to show their age. The house we rented in Massachusetts, built in the forties, had one that at first seemed promising, like a room we could maybe use—except somehow squirrels kept getting into its ceiling, so that hollow caps of acorns would sometimes pile up ominously in the corners, like the hats of sad, absent elves. The house where I grew up in Connecticut, built in the 1730s, had a dirt-floored basement, smelled like earth, and was lined with shelves on which some enterprising person a half-century before had stored her preserves. Empty Ball jars stood there in my time, their lids reproachfully rusting. The basement of our current house, built in 1894, has raw-stone walls, and tiny insecure-looking windows, and much damp. Walking down into the basement of an old house is like walking back in—or down into—time. Upper floors get new coats of paint, new bathrooms, kitchens with running water and refrigerators. But when you stand at the house’s lowest point, the point where only mistakes and leftovers and seasonal decorations are stashed, you could be standing in 1960 or 1899 or 2017. The upper floors of the houses I’ve lived in feel like they belong to me. But their basements—when I go down there to put the broken stuff I mean to fix, the things my kids have outgrown—feel, to me, like I’m sharing them. The space, and its secrets, too, because where else do we put them but underground? And then, like seeds, sometimes they grow.
The questions this woman left in our basement weren’t as easy to cart up into the light as her belongings were. I think about her often, for a woman I’ve never met. What kind of life she might be living now, having left all of those things behind. I can’t quite stop wondering how so much of her ended up down there, in the dark, in the first place.
Clare Beams’s We Show What We Have Learned is a finalist for the New York Public Library’s Young Lion’s Fiction Award! The prestigious prize is awarded each spring to a writer age 35 or younger for a novel or a collection of short stories. Congratulations to Clare and to all of this year’s finalists: Brit Bennett, Kaitlyn Greenidge, Karan Mahajan, and Nicole Dennis-Benn! “From high-concept premises, to the exploration of heartbreaking family dynamics, each of these debut novels [and story collection!] exemplifies the power of the written word.”
Congratulations, Clare. We’re thrilled the literary community sees all of the beauty we do in this incredible book.
The C-SPAN Cities Tour came right here to Wilmington to highlight our literary culture, including a segment focusing on the Pub Lab with the Lookout Practicum and director Emily Smith.
Check out the video here, and the rest of the segments too, including: