In early February, more than 12,000 writers, editors, teachers, and publishers descended upon Washington, DC for the annual the 50th Annual AWP Conference and Bookfair. Taking a break from the action (read: filling tote bag after tote bag with new books), four UNCW MFA candidates stopped by the Lookout + Ecotone booth to share with us those titles that carried them into the new year.
Station Eleven was suggested to me by a trusted reader friend after hearing my complaints about literary depictions of post-apocalyptic worlds that leave civilization in a survivalist state. The narrative follows Kirsten, a traveling performer, twenty years after a viral outbreak killed most of the human population. She tours with a band of actors and musicians who perform in the villages and settlements they rest at within the Midwestern United States. The troupe’s go-to performances are Shakespeare plays. I had my copy of the book signed by Emily St. John Mandel at last year’s AWP, even though I hadn’t finished it at the time. What I admire most about Station Eleven’s narrative is its devotion to the survival of the arts instead of just that of humans. It defines being human as preserving these arts, which make up our culture. Without drama, music, writing and art, what would our existence be?
—Will Dean, MFA candidate in fiction
George Harrison said, “Music should be used for the perception of God, not jitterbugging.” In Robert Ostrom’s latest collection of poems, Ritual and Bit, we see an artist not only challenging us to perceive a God but also talking directly to a God in prayers, an artist inserting himself into the story of creation. What is it to be homesick with spiritual memory, being fully aware that we’re reconstructing our memories every time we retell them? Ostrom leads us through with intimacy: “Trust me, says what you’re about to read to your beautiful ear.” He takes us to a place where words are relics—each one holding a little life, beauty, loss. And we leave haunted, but in a good way. We’ve felt an exquisite purpose.
—Ashleigh Bryant Phillips, MFA candidate in fiction
Over the summer I began reading What About This? Collected Poems of Frank Stanford. Stanford was a Southern writer who, because of his early death by suicide in 1978, was not widely read during his lifetime. This collection was published by Copper Canyon Press in 2015 and includes previously published and unpublished fragments of poems. His poems are relatively short, usually less than thirty lines, but because of their cryptic language they speak above and beyond any single moment. Stanford has the ability to talk about these strange characters from the South and Midwest without being anchored in an exact time or place. I read his work and know that whatever sense of understanding I glean could still be so far from the vast map of meaning he had in his head at the time of writing, and that is the exciting part. I am left with raw emotional data every time I read his work. His poems are like circus freak shows moving through the night on an open train; there is a history in each word but the reader only can glimpse it for a passing second.
—Graham Irvin, MFA candidate in poetry
I’d been meaning to read Eula Biss’s first book, The Balloonists, since reading her essay collection last year. The Balloonists works as a series of prose poems, one long poem, or a lyric essay; her Anne Carson-like genre defiance is one of the reasons I keep returning to her. She studied nonfiction under three poets and after reading this book—about married couples as people “not especially interested in intimacy, who somehow ended up married,” and about Biss’s mother, who tells her that she is “not a liar, but that she is not what [Biss] writes about her”—I think poetry may be the most insistent way to learn how to write in prose.
—Rachel Castro, MFA candidate in nonfiction
We’re heading to AWP! If you’re also going to DC this week, you’re probably doing what we’re doing: scurrying around packing and scouring the schedule for your favorite authors. We dove in to see when and where some of our recent Lookout/Ecotone contributors will be sharing their insights. The three women at our helm, Emily Louise Smith, Beth Staples, and Anna Lena Phillips Bell, will also be presenting, as will our most recent Lookout author Clare Beams. Come say hello and pick up our newest publications at tables 400-401, which we share with sister UNCW publication Chautauqua at the Bookfair. Don’t forget to pack light, and leave room to bring home books!
Here are our picks:
The Craft of Editing Poetry: Practices and Perspectives from Literary Magazine Editors. (Anna Lena Phillips Bell, Sumita Chakraborty, George David Clark, Jessica Faust, James Smith) Ecotone practicum students love editor Anna Lena Phillips Bell’s submit-a-thons. This panel expands on those, as she and other editors who publish poetry share what goes on behind the scenes, demystifying the poetry editing process. Thursday 9-10:15 a.m. Room 209ABC, Washington Convention Center, Level Two
Award-Winning Professional Publications with Preprofessional Staff: Mentorship and Applied Learning in Literary Publishing. (Holms Troelstrup, Steve Halle, Emily Louise Smith, Meg Reid, Kate A. McMullen) Industry Q&As always seem to offer one solution for breaking into the publishing industry: apprenticeship. But what does the mentor/mentee relationship look like, and how do you get the most out of it? Both sides report, including current UNCW MFA student Kate McMullen and Lookout-Ecotone alum Meg Reid. Friday 9-10:15 a.m. Room 202B, Washington Convention Center, Level Two
Reading As An Editor: The Intimate Hermeneutics of a Work in Progress (Catherine Adams, Peter Dimock, Mara Naselli, Hilary Plum, Beth Staples) Come to find out why editor Beth Staples’s new band is calling themselves the Intimate Hermeneuts…and stay to hear her and other top editors in a lively conversation on what happens to your own projects when your day job burrows you into another authors’ work. Saturday 4:30 pm to 5:45 p.m. Marquis Salon 7 & 8, Marriott Marquis, Meeting Level Two
Leashing the Beast: Humanizing Fictional Monsters. (Anna Sutton, Steven Sherrill, Clare Beams, Kate Bernheimer, Julia Elliott) Clare Beams has obviously knocked our socks off as a short story writer, but her craft lectures at UNCW’s Writers’ Week and on her book tour were beyond fabulous: engaging, entertaining, and helpful. Catch more pearls of wisdom from Clare, moderated by Lookout-Ecotone staff alum Anna Sutton. Thursday 10:30-11:45 a.m. Capital & Congress, Marriott Marquis, Meeting Level Four
Beautiful Mysteries: Science in Fiction and Poetry. (Robin Schaer, Amy Brill, Martha Southgate, Naomi Williams, Camille Dungy) How do we present field findings in prose and poems? Camille Dungy has done this in her nonfiction and poetry contributions to Ecotone, and we can’t wait to hear her insight in person. Thursday Noon to 1:15 p.m. Liberty Salon L, Marriott Marquis, Meeting Level Four
Together with All That Could Happen: A Teaching Roundtable. (Michael Martone, David Jauss, Josh Russell, Hugh Sheehy, Deb Olin Unferth) We can’t wait for you to read Michael Martone’s “Postcards from Below the Bugline” in the brand new issue. Those of us who’ve been lucky enough to have him at the head of the classroom are eager to hear him share his take-aways from years teaching too. Thursday 3:00 to 4:15 p.m. Marquis Salon 12 & 13, Marriott Marquis, Meeting Level Two
Zora’s Legacy: Black Women Writing Fiction About the South. (Honoree Fanonne Jeffers, Tayari Jones, Bernice McFadden, Crystal Wilkinson, Stephanie Powell Watts) While Ecotone publishes writers from all over the world, we’re based here in North Carolina, and continue to be interested in the discussion of Southern literature from the African American woman perspective. Tayari Jones wowed us when she visited UNCW for Writers’ Week in 2015, and we can’t wait to hear more from her. Friday 10:30-11:45 a.m. Room 202A, Washington Convention Center, Level Two
Looking Outward: Avoiding the Conventional Memoir. (Steve Woodward, Paul Lisicky, Belle Boggs, Angela Palm) Not one, not two, but three recent Ecotone essay contributors will talk about how they approach writing intimate nonfiction. Friday 1:30-2:45 p.m. Marquis Salon 5, Marriott Marquis, Meeting Level Two
Following the Thread of Thought. (Steven Harvey, Phillip Lopate, Ana Maria Spagna, Sarah Einstein) Ana Maria Spagna’s “Hope Without Hope” (Ecotone 19) was a notable essay in 2016’s collection of The Best American Essays, about the Maidu tribe’s stand to preserve their forest land from being timbered for energy. We’re excited to hear more about her process for bringing her ideas into fruition. Friday 3-4:15 p.m. Liberty Salon N, O, & P, Marriott Marquis, Meeting Level Four
Good Grief. (Heidi Lynn Staples, Janet Holmes, Steven Karl, Prageeta Sharma) Do you find comfort and catharsis in poetry? Heidi Lynn Staples, whose poems from her stunning collection, The Arrangement, graced our pages in Issue 18, shares her experiences writing from grief. Friday 4:30-5:45 p.m. Supreme Court, Marriott Marquis, Meeting Level Four
I’ll Take You There: Place in Poetry, Fiction, and Nonfiction. (Ethan Rutherford, Paul Yoon, Edward McPherson, francine harris) Ecotone’s tagline is Reimagining Place, and we frequently debate what it means for a piece to be ‘place-based.’ We are so excited to hear what these writers have to say about place, especially Paul Yoon, whose fiction appears in the new issue. Saturday 9:00 to 10:15 a.m. Marquis Salon 1 & 2, Marriott Marquis, Meeting Level Two
Such Mean Stories: Women Writers Get Gritty. (Luanne Smith, Jayne Anne Phillips, Vicki Hendricks, Stephanie Powell Watts, Jill McCorkle) Jill McCorkle hails from just down the road in North Carolina, and we listen to her every chance we get! Especially when the subject is why women writers are under greater scrutiny than their male counterparts when they tell tales of grit. Saturday 12:00 to 1:15 p.m. Room 202A, Washington Convention Center, Level Two
During a time when there’s lots of talk about borders and walls and travel bans, we’re trying to remind ourselves of the power of great writing to break down walls, to help us really see one another. This week we’re celebrating both powerful new work from Ecotone and Lookout contributors, and the happy recognition of writing from the past year.
Lookout author Clare Beams is a finalist for the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Fiction, and Ecotone contributors Belle Boggs, Eva Saulitis, and Patrick Phillips have all made PEN finalist lists too! (The Bingham Prize has a surprising tie to our hometown, Wilmington, NC, funny enought. See the full scoop from the Star News.) To top it off, Clare’s book found itself on the long list of titles recognized by The Story Prize, which received 106 books published by 72 publishers or imprints as entries this year. The list—beyond the three finalists and The Story Prize Spotlight Award winner—honors sixteen books that stood out for the judges.
Sure, she’s keeping herself busy with writing and readings, but, like the rest of us, Clare found time to watch Stranger Things things year. In this interview from Flavorwire, Clare reminds us of the literary power of Winona Ryder:
If you could write fan-fiction about any pop culture character, real or imagined, who would it be?
Hmm. Maybe Winona Ryder? When I was a kid she embodied cool, for me — and then recently, along with the rest of the world, I got totally sucked into Stranger Things. It’s interesting to think about what it must have been like for her (after her fall from grace, period of relative obscurity, etc.) to be part of that show, set back at the start of her heyday, but as the mom character this time.
Care to give us a few sentences of micro-fiction about that character?
Winona looked around the set. This, she thought, was like coming home. She brushed back her feathered hair. Home, but with differences.
Samiya Bashir has a video-poem up that’s based on her poem in Ecotone issue 19. Her book, Field Theories, will be out soon from Nightboat Books.
Issue 21 contributor Safiya Sinclair will judge for The Adroit Journal’s Prize for Poetry. The prize seeks to honor writers of secondary or undergraduate status whose work inspires action. The deadline for submissions is February 15–check it out.
Leila Chatti, whose poems appeared in Issue 21, has a new poem up on Rattle‘s website called “My Mother Makes a Religion,” a moving exploration of faith including this line: “A child, I heard the trinity wrong— / thought God was a ghost, her faith / a haunting.”
Issue 18 contributor Aimee Nezhukumatahil’s poem “Invitation” is featured on the Poetry Foundation website. “Invitation” reminds us to contemplate what lies beneath that blanket of sea with lines like, “Squid know how to be rich when you have ten empty arms.”
Ecotone and Astoria to Zion contributor Kevin Wilson’s new novel Perfect Little World came out from Ecco last week. As our friend Ann Patchett wrote of the book, “What I love about this book is that it’s full of good people and all their good intentions. That doesn’t mean everything works out, but you can’t help but think, Oh, what if it could?” And Mary Laura Philpott of Parnassus Books created this amazing book pie chart. Doesn’t EVERY book need a pie chart?!
We like ending on a note about good people and good intentions. We intend to keep to keep sharing all of the goodness we can.
To help celebrate Chinese New Year, this reminder of one memorable rooster from Ecotone 18.
Ecotone 23: The Craft Issue
For Ecotone’s fall 2017 issue, the editors invite writing on craft. We seek work that explores craftsmanship of all kinds, that exhibits its own craftiness, makes us think about the act of making in new ways. Some possible considerations:
Craft shaped by place; place shaped by craft—how our inner and outer environments influence how, what, and why we create.
Guilds and apprenticeships. Sewing circles and solitary work. So-called high craft and so-called low. Craft as and in companionship. Craft as community.
State fairs. The fiction, history, poetics of witchcraft. Craft and technology. Making and destruction. Form and function, beauty and ugliness. Spacecraft, aircraft, watercraft.
Gender and craft. Race and craft. Queerness and craft. Craft traditions under threat (by lack of attention or too much of it), and traditions in the process of being revived.
Craft as resistance. Craft as activism.
Metalsmithing, embroidery, signpainting; cocktails, baking, fermentation; amphibrachs, bops, Oulipian constraints.
Rhetorical strategy. Ars poetica. The craft of writing. Of editing.
Craft as a means of resilience, of cultural and bodily survival.
Cleverness, craftiness, smarts. The narrative possibilities thereof. The clues for keeping on therein.
We need your craft now, writers. Please send work that is traditional or experimental, but above all, excellently made. To ensure that we are able to consider your submission, please review our complete guidelines before sending it. We may read with unthemed issues in mind as well; still, if you are thinking craftwise, be sure to mention the theme in your cover letter.
We hope you’re gearing up for the holidays–however and whatever you celebrate–with all of the food, friends, and cold weather your heart desires. Merry merry!