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.
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.
The Ecotone/Lookout team is thrilled that so many of our contributors have been recognized by the 2017 PEN Literary Awards. Each year PEN uses its Literary Awards program to honor the best and brightest in fiction, science writing, essays, sports writing, biography, children’s literature, translation, drama, and poetry, and we’ve got our fingers crossed for these writers as the award announcements approach!
From Publisher’s Weekly: “Beams is an expert at providing odd and surprising details that make her stories come alive, and the result is a powerful collection about what we need from others and, in turn, what we can offer others of ourselves.”
The Art of Waiting: On Fertility, Medicine, and Motherhood (Graywolf Press), Belle Boggs (“Imaginary Children” and “Peanut Hospital” in Ecotone)
From the New York Times: “[A] thoughtful meditation on childlessness, childbearing, and—for some—the stretch of liminal agony in between.”
From the publisher: In this posthumous collection of essays, Eva Saulitis meditates on martality, the art of living fully, and her advancing illness and nearing death, confronting the waiting question without fear or sentimentality: how are you going to live when you know you are going to die?
The Blood at the Root: A Racial Cleansing in America (W.W. Norton & Company), Patrick Phillips (“The Singing” in Ecotone)
From the publisher: A gripping tale of racial cleansing in Forsyth County, Georgia, and a harrowing testament to the deep roots of racial violence in America.
From the publisher: Colliding with and confronting The Tempest and postcolonial identity, the poems in Safiya Sinclair’s Cannibal explore Jamaican childhood and history, race relations in America, womanhood, otherness, and exile.
Award finalists will be announced by PEN on Jan. 18, 2017, and winners will be announced Feb. 22. (With the exception of the awards conferred for debut fiction and essay, the PEN/Jean Stein Book Award and the PEN/Nabokov Award, which will be announced live at PEN’s award ceremony). And finally, the winners will be celebrated on March 27 at the PEN America Literary Award ceremony hosted at the New School in New York City.
It’s been a strange time in America these last few weeks, so we’re heading into this Roundup trying to focus on some good things for our readers and from our contributors. Here are things to toot happy horns about, and inspiring reads in the aftermath of some disconcerting divisiveness.
First up, Lookout author Clare Beams has received a ton of wonderful attention recently for We Show What We Have Learned. Most notably, perhaps, from the New York Times! “Stories as well executed as these are their own reward, but it’s also clear from the capaciousness on display here that Ms. Beams has novels’ worth of worlds inside her.” But there was love too from many others, including Kirkus‘s list of Best Debut Fiction of 2016, Paste Magazine, Parnassus Books, the Fiction Writers Review, the Boston Globe, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the Charlotte Observer, the Wilmington Star News, Shelf Awareness, Brit+Co, and Flavorwire, to name a few more notables. You can also hear Clare talk with fellow debut story writer April Ayers Lawson on WUNC’s the State of Things. And, here’s a roundup of photos from Clare’s very celebratory book launch here at UNCW.
Could you possibly need more convincing that this is a book you should read?
Lookout author Ben Miller’s Mural Speaks! project, the aim of which is to translate William Carlos Williams’s “The Red Wheelbarrow” into each of the 140 plus languages currently spoken in Sioux Falls, is still looking for submissions. We love the way the project celebrates the diversity of the urban midwest.
Oh, but there’s so much more to celebrate from Ecotone contributors!
We’re thrilled that Dan Hoyt is the winner of the inaugural Dzanc Books Prize for Fiction for his novel This Book Is Not For You. Dan’s story “The Mad King” is one wild ride, in our current issue.
Lynne Thompson and Douglas Kearney are included in this fabulous Black Lives Matter Poetry Reader.
Alison Hawthorne Deming offers the first entry in a new series at Terrain, “Letter to America.”
National Poetry Series winner Melissa Range is featured on PBS News Hour, taking on terms like “redneck” and “white trash.”
Annie Finch’s poem “Moon of Our Daughters” is featured on the Academy of American Poets’ Poem-a-Day.
Megan Snyder-Camp, who has not one but two books out this fall, has three poems in the Sewanee Review.
Belle Bogg’s The Art of Waiting is one of Oprah’s favorite books of 2016!
In their October issue, Poetry Magazine published Issue 21 contributor Laurie Clements Lambeth’s poem “Cusped Prognosis,” which was originally part of her essay, “Going Downhill From Here” in Ecotone‘s current issue.
We hope these engaging reads offer some perspective, comfort, and enjoyment. We’ll see you back here soon for our next Roundup!
It was an especially exciting week at Lookout HQ with the launch of Clare Beams’s story collection, We Show What We Have Learned, on Tuesday. The Lookout team has been hard at work on this amazing book for quite some time, and it’s been fun to see it getting the attention it so deserves. Here are a few of the special places you can read more about it.
The story “All the Keys to All the Doors” was featured in Electric Literature‘s Recommended Reading this week, with a fantastic introduction from Megan Mayhew Bergman: “Upon reading her, you make it to the third or fourth paragraph and realize this is not the restrained narrative you expected, that there is a cutting strangeness and profundity afoot.”
Clare got a bunch of love in Pittsburgh, the town she calls home, including this interview in the Pittsburgh City Paper, this review in the Pittsburgh Tribune, and a packed release party at the White Whale Bookstore.
And if you haven’t heard by now, she also got love from O, The Oprah Magazine, where it was featured as one of “10 Titles to Pick Up Now.”
This coming week, Wilmington will host its own special launch party for Clare as part of Writers’ Week on Monday night. To read more about it–and the other fabulous writers coming to Wilmington including Mei Fong, Maurice Manning, and Chinelo Okparanta–check out this article from Encore.
Speaking of hometown love, Wilmington’s Salt Magazine did a fabulous profile on Lookout and Honey from the Lion, saying, “The care and adoration lavished on a Lookout book is obvious…. French flaps, beautiful graphic design, and tailored page layouts are the hallmarks of a book that someone cares about…. At Lookout, each book radiates that level of care.” And Parnassus Books created this roundup of “Small Presses: Little Gems With Big Impact,” calling out Lookout books by Clare Beams, Edith Pearlman, and Matthew Neill Null. (Thanks, you guys!)
There’s good news for other Lookout authors, too! Matthew Neill Null’s novel, Honey from the Lion, has been named a fiction finalist in the 2016 Massachusetts Book Awards from the Massachusetts Center for the Book, and has sold to Albin Michel for publication in France in 2018. Oui oui!
And Ben Miller, author of the memoir River Bend Chronicle, accepted the Cornell College Leadership & Service Award for “contributions to American literature.” Ben’s acceptance speech is funny and inspiring, and we’re so happy for him.
And there are book launches in the world of Ecotone contributors to boot! Melissa Range’s new poetry collection, Scriptorium, hit the shelves this month. Chosen by Tracy K. Smith for the 2015 National Poetry Series, it’s now available from Beacon Press.
This is the post that nearly launched a thousand books. We hope your reading all the great new literature you can handle–thanks for checking out ours!
Clare Beams’s debut collection, We Show What We Have Learned, hit the shelves this week, and we’re looking forward to her launch party as part of UNCW’s Writers’ Week, Halloween night in Wilmington, Lookout’s hometown. The stories are rich with haunting imagery, and we thought it might be fun to imagine Clare’s characters out trick-or-treating. Here’s what you’ll need to bring her characters to life in your neighborhood.
A Corset — “Hourglass”
Ingénues at a boarding school who bind themselves to their headmaster’s version of perfection. “From within it, she produced a hollow stiff shell, trailing long tentacular laces…There was a flourish in her wrists as she held it out to me. A new form, right in her hands, ready for the taking.”
A Wedding Dress — “The Drop”
A bride glimpses her husband’s past when she wears his World War II parachute as a gown. “The dress wasn’t bad looking, in Emma’s opinion. It didn’t look much like a parachute unless you had your eyes peeled for the resemblance. The white of it dazzled, as white does. Mrs. Bolland had given it pretty sleeves with points at the wrists, a drop waist that made Lily look streamlined and almost elegant, like something turned on a lathe. Also, a fetching neckline, dipping to a V, just low enough, framing the collarbone.”
Depression-era Bathing Costumes — “The Saltwater Cure”
As Amanda Nelson recaps, in Bookriot, in this story “a teenaged boy becomes infatuated with an older woman at the fraudulent health spa run by his mother.” “She was swimming slowly, straight away from him. No bathing cap today: her wet hair was a dark indiscriminate color, like the head of a seal. Rob blundered into the marsh as fast as he could; he hoped to be covered before she noticed the skinniness of his arms and legs…”
Plague Doctor — “Ailments”
In this story, as the starred Kirkus review reads: a young woman becomes obsessed with her sister’s husband, a doctor, during London’s Great Plague. Dr. Creswell’s wife mends his plague-doctor’s coat and his sister-in-law explores the bird-mask he wears, “a clumsy homemade thing of stained and stiff brown leather. Its eyes were a dull red glass, one webbed in small cracks. Down the beak ran a line of stitches. A mouth sewn closed, but smiling slyly.”
Whatever you decide to dress as, everyone at Lookout wishes you happy haunting and safe trick-or-treating!
(Images courtesy Library of Congress.)
Clare at her first signing at the Women’s National Book Association-Greater Philly Chapter “Meet the Authors” event last week at Towne Book Center and Café
Lookout’s newest author, Clare Beams, is heading to North Carolina next week in support of her debut collection, We Show What We Have Learned. Her book tour, which includes not only readings but also writing workshops at middle- and high-schools, is funded in part by a grant from South Arts in partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts.
Beams’s tour marks Lookout’s second collaboration with South Arts—the first was with Honey from the Lion author Matthew Neill Null last fall—and provides opportunities to extend her audience to include students and younger readers, and to offer more meaningful and sustained engagement in Lookout’s home state.
Educational presentations will include a class on short story endings at the NC Writers’ Network Conference in Raleigh, a presentation at the Weymouth Center in Southern Pines, and a practical workshop on the importance of teaching writing for aspiring K-12 educators as part of UNCW’s Writers’ Week. Beams will also offer writing workshops to students at North Mecklenburg High School in Huntersville and Roland-Grise Middle School in Wilmington, through the Department of Creative Writing’s longstanding Writers in Action outreach program.
The UNCW community, including Lookout Books’ faculty and student staff, will celebrate Beams’s book launch on October 31 (Halloween!) at 7 p.m. in conjunction with its annual Writer’s Week (full schedule here). Later that week, Beams will also give readings at Scuppernong Books in Greensboro, Main Street Books in Greensboro, and Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill, where she will be joined by author April Ayers Lawson for a discussion about their highly anticipated debut collections. Listen for her on WUNC’s The State of Things with Frank Stasio on Friday, Nov. 4.
Her full tour schedule, including readings in Boston, Falmouth, and Washington, D.C., can be found on her website. And if you’re in Pittsburgh, you won’t want to miss Clare’s hometown book launch, Tuesday, October 25, 7 p.m., at the new White Whale Bookstore.