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.
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
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!
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.)
We’re getting closer and closer to publication day for We Show What We Have Learned by Clare Beams! If you’re a fan of Lookout and (and we hope you are), we’ve got a great special going on. Receive a one-year subscription to Ecotone and a copy of We Show What We Have Learned for over 25 percent off the cover price. For just $25, you’ll receive two issues of Ecotone as well as Beams’s collection, due out in October 2016.
In other exciting news, O, the Oprah Magazine, has named We Show What We Have Learned one of “10 Titles to Pick Up Now.” In their micro-review, the magazine’s editors write, “This debut collection is full of promise and surreal delight. In the shocking title tale, a teacher falls to pieces in front of her class, not emotionally or metaphorically, but literally. We hope there’s much more to come from this writer.” Subscribe to the November iPad edition to read the first ten pages of the collection, or check out the full list of books in this month’s print issue.
Having survived the first few jam-packed weeks of grad school, the first-year MFA candidates are already looking back on August with a nostalgic glow, remembering a different era when they could read purely for pleasure. We asked two fiction students, one nonfiction student, and one poetry student to discuss the books that they were reading and re-reading as they started the MFA program, the ones that made them excited and inspired, and the ones that perhaps they’ll pick back up in December.
I’ve been working my way through a small pile of pastoral literature as research for a piece I’m working on. All were set before 1950 and I wanted to add something more contemporary to the mix. I picked up Evie Wyld’s All The Birds Singing and found a realistic, harsh, yet beautiful rendering of surviving on a farm. The story traverses landscapes, from a small British Island to the Australian Desert, connecting place to the narrator’s personal history. It’s a story that doesn’t shy away from cruel or vulgar situations. Instead, it embraces them and pinpoints the beauty that can be found there.
—Suzzanna Matthews-Amanzio, MFA candidate in fiction
A particularly bookish friend told me I must read Max Porter’s Grief is the Thing With Feathers, so off to the bookstore I went. The setup to this 114-page novel is fairly straightforward: a recently-widowed father and his two young sons are visited by a shape-shifting, mischief-loving Crow (the titular “thing with feathers”), who takes up roost in their London home while they grieve. What isn’t straightforward is how Porter chooses to tell his tale, mixing poetry, prose, play, and essay, cycling frequently between the viewpoints of the father, his boys, and the crow. It’s a bizarre and deeply beautiful book, and left me wondering how a happily married, thirty-something, first-time novelist can so masterfully capture what it’s like to be ensnared in such crippling grief. But also: where was this voice and what will it say next?
—Jeff Oloizia, MFA candidate in fiction
I’m reading A Field Guide to Getting Lost, a book that first intrigued me as a fan (read: President of the fan club) of Rebecca Solnit, but also caught my attention for its title, posing as a type of manual for losing oneself. Solnit seems to peer so deeply into moments that feel undiscovered, or unnoticed, or simply ambiguous in their beautiful, human complexity, that she actually gives these ideas a type of directional clarity. But the way in which she muses on the idea of being lost itself allows her readers to lose themselves with her, to feel a comfort in what we don’t know or have yet to discover, and to rejoice in where we arrive together as the exploration unfolds. And we trust her as our guide because she so eloquently blends her personal narratives with cultural and historical examples, finding nuance and meaning in our shared human experience. This book feels important not only for the strength of her craft, but for the value in what we can take from it, as writers and thinkers, delving into uncharted territories of our own.
—Nicholl Paratore, MFA candidate in nonfiction
This summer I reacquainted myself with Larry Levis through The Widening Spell of the Leaves. The title is an effective metaphor for the way his best work operates, beginning in scene and then expanding imagistically outward and ever-outward to include politics, place, and history. Like the visual trope of the molecule that expands into a galaxy that expands into a molecule as the perspective widens its scope, the poem eventually leads us back into a single moment, with all new layers and resonances. Instead of a poet’s usual sonic tricks and repeated symbols to create patterns, Levis creates rhythm from scenes and images in precise, journalistic writing that recalls Carver’s “Cathedral” and Didion’s Salvador.
—Elliot Smith, MFA candidate in poetry
You may have heard the news by now, but we wanted to do an official announcement here on the blog: we’re thrilled to broadcast the details about Lookout’s next book, the debut story collection, We Show What We Have Learned, by Clare Beams. The stories blend the fantastic, the historic, and the literary, and capture the true strangeness of being human. From bewildering assemblies in school auditoriums to the murky waters of a Depression-era health resort, Beams’s landscapes are tinged with otherworldliness, and her characters’ desires stretch the limits of reality.
Clare’s editor here at Lookout, Beth Staples, published the title story from the collection years ago during her time at Hayden’s Ferry Review, and was even more excited to work with Clare on a newer story for Ecotone, called “Granna.” The success of that relationship, and the Ecotone/Lookout team’s enthusiasm for Clare’s work, led to the acquisition of this fabulous collection. And now, after many months of editing, publicizing, designing, and planning, we’re all so excited for October 25, when the book will make its way to readers.
We’re not the only ones excited. In a starred review Kirkus calls the collection, “A richly imagined and impeccably crafted debut.” Publishers Weekly adds, “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.” And Amanda Nelson of Book Riot says, “These stories are angry and odd, and I loved them.” Head to Clare’s website to read all the love, including quotes from Joyce Carol Oates, Chang-Rae Lee, Megan Mayhew Bergman, Mary Laura Philpott of Parnassus Books, and Rachel Richardson of Hub City Writers Project.
We’ll be giving all of the details about Clare’s tour and reading schedule shortly, but you can have a look at what’s planned so far here. We’re also so excited that Clare will be here in Wilmington as part of UNCW’s Writers’ Week.
And you don’t have to wait until October 25 to find your copy–you can preorder the collection now. We hope it will delight, challenge, and surprise you in all the best ways.