Turning A New Page

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Image: Barry Silver

Four and a half years ago, I started this blog as an assignment for my senior seminar at UCLA, “Living a Literary Life.” I was really excited to take that class because a) it sounded perfect for me as an aspiring writer, b) it was a project based course, so rather than requiring a seminar paper at the end, it culminated in some sort of practical application of our choosing and c) the class mostly consisted of attending literary readings on campus, which I would do for fun anyway. The premise of that course, my professor explained, was to demonstrate our commitment to the literary world beyond our time as English majors at a university.

As a senior in college, I was excited by the prospect of finishing school while continuing a “literary life,” but I was also terrified that without the deadlines of workshops to keep me motivated, I would not write after college— or, even worse, I would write but I would never finish anything. So here I was, afraid that my brief career as a writer would come to a swift end upon graduation. In order to combat that fear, I decided to make a blog reviewing literary journals to see what was being published on the internet. I hoped that if I could find places that I liked to read, I would figure out the best places for me to submit my own work. As long as I had the goal of submitting to places, I would keep writing.

From this blog, I discovered several really amazing lit mags such as [PANK], The Adroit Journal, and Joyland Magazine among others. Later that year, I had my first short story published in an online journal, The Blue Lake Review, which I learned about from a follower of my blog. I also realized that there’s so much good work out there, it’s impossible to read all of it. This discouraged me, and as I got busier with my jobs and then with grad school apps, I stopped posting on this blog.

In September of 2016, I began grad school at UC Davis’s MA program in Creative Writing. I pretty much focused all my time on the demands of grad school, and I started blogging for The MFA Years. I always meant to come back to this blog later, but I realized during grad school that my relationship to literary journals and how I engage with online work has completely changed since I was in college. I began following literary magazines on Twitter, and I realized that I don’t have the time or attention span to read complete issues of magazines. Instead, I started reading links here and there of works published in online literary journals. If I really liked a piece from one journal, I’d also check out some of the other works they recently published.

I’ve often been told that in order to find out where my work would be a good “fit” I should try to read the latest issues of lit mags or look where your favorite writers were published. The first suggestion is somewhat impractical— I just don’t have time to read front-to-back issues of all the journals that interested me. The second suggestion is also rather unrealistic. Just because I know my favorite author X has been published in Y magazine doesn’t mean my work is in any way good enough to be published in Y. That’s not to say I shouldn’t try my luck at Y magazine anyway. But I recognize that my writing is still developing. So instead, I’ve tried to find a more reasonable way of engaging with the online literary world. Here’s my current method.

Step 1: Follow a bunch of awesome literary journals on Twitter. It doesn’t even matter if I’ve never heard of them before because they might be publishing really cool stuff. I’ve used the list feature to make a list of literary journals, and then I can check them out in more detail in my spare time.

Step 2: Follow a bunch of writers on Twitter, including famous authors and “emerging writers,” people who have been published in some literary journals but not many, people in MFA programs, and people who are just like me, interested in writing but not yet “successful.” I found a lot of online writing friends from the MFA Draft Facebook group, which is a community for people interested in applying to MFA programs. And once I was in grad school, I continued to expand my network of writers. But my end goal of this “networking” isn’t to weasel my way into literary journals. Having connections can help, but I was more interested in genuinely connecting to like-minded young writers whose writing I want to support.

Step 3: Read interesting fiction, non-fiction, and poetry as I see fit. I tend to just click on links that sound intriguing to me, instead of force-feeding myself whole issues of journals. Engaging with literature online shouldn’t feel like a chore. It is supposed to be fun and thought-provoking.

Step 4: Make a note of journals that published works that I particularly liked, and make a note of interesting writers that I discover through my literary web surfing. Follow those journals, and follow those writers, go back to Step 1 and repeat.

When I’m looking for places to submit my work, I go back to my lists of places where I read works that I liked. Then I read a few more pieces from that journal to get a sense of whether my writing seems like it would “fit.” Honestly, I usually still have no clue after doing this if my work would “fit,” but it gives me an excuse to read some more cool stuff, so I do it anyway. I make sure my work follows the journal’s guidelines, I submit it, and I wait several months to hear a response. Which is, most often, rejection. Still, the few positive responses I have received have really kept me going.

Four years after graduating from college, I’m just as committed to living a literary life as ever. I’ve come to a crossroads again, since I just graduated from my MA program in Creative Writing. An MFA might still be in my future, but I’ve decided for now to go into teaching and take a step back from the MFA world. That doesn’t mean that I will stop writing; quite the contrary. I feel more equipped than ever to keep writing, revising, and submitting, even while working full time. But I’ve also decided to revamp this blog so that I can continue to demonstrate my commitment to online literature, but in a way that now fits my lifestyle better.

So instead of writing reviews of whole journals, I’m going to start posting links to published works. This is more for my benefit than for anyone else, to keep me accountable, but if you also happen to enjoy my taste in literature, maybe you’ll find these links fun to check out. Just to warn you, since I’m a prose writer, the links I’ll post will be biased towards fiction and nonfiction, although I will try to include some poetry too. Basically if you want a curated list of some cool online literature, which I will post somewhere between every 2 weeks to every month, keep following this blog. The posts will be different than before, but the concept is the same: to help emerging writers, like me, find literary journals that they can read and submit to.

If you made it this far into my blog, thanks for reading, and stay posted for more updates.

-Molly

P.S. I also made a personal website to promote my writing. Check it out: mollymontgomerywriter.com and check out my Twitter: @mollywritesalot

P.P.S. If you like my blog, please check out The MFA years, where I have been a contributor for the past couple years. There are some amazing emerging writers blogging there, and I’m humbled to have posted alongside them. It’s a great resource for people interested in applying to grad programs in Creative Writing.

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Sixfold

As promised, here’s a more in-depth explanation of how the journal Sixfold’s unique publication process works. On a side note, I haven’t been posting as often on this site because I just moved to France. If you’re interested, you can also follow my travel blog: assistantinalsace.wordpress.com. I promise to post more often on both blogs, once I’m more settled in.

What is democratic literature? Literature chosen by the people, for the people? The journal Sixfold attempts to answer these questions. An online journal that publishes poetry and short stories, Sixfold allows writers to evaluate other people’s submissions and to vote for the ones they want to be published. Here’s how it works:

It costs $3 to submit a manuscript to Sixfold. Once you submit, you are given manuscripts to read in your same genre. During the first round,  you look at 6, comment on them, and vote for the ones you like best. There are two more subsequent rounds after the first one. At the end of the three rounds, the three highest-voted submissions in each genre receive 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place prizes, and the submissions with the highest votes (the top 20 for fiction and the top 40 for poetry) are published in the forthcoming issue of the journal.

I personally think Sixfold is a great concept, applying crowdsourcing ideas to writing. Not only do you have the possibility of being published, but each writer also receives individualized feedback from all the other people who read their submission. So even if you do not receive enough votes for publication, you still get something out of the process of submissions.

What makes the journal seem so innovative to me is that it changes who the gatekeepers are for publication, but still makes sure there is someone guarding the gates. Instead of having editors who are, in theory, supposed to be experts on recognizing good literature, choose what is published, the writers themselves validate other people’s work. This is also a great chance for writers to become exposed to what other people are submitting to these journals. The only catch is that you absolutely have to participate in the voting and editing process in order for your submission to be eligible. I think that’s only fair.

One drawback that I could potentially see to this type of publication is that it is not “curated” in the same way as regular journals. In some journals, the editors choose a theme and specifically choose pieces for an issue that they think work well together, just one would curate a museum exhibit. But this type of selection isn’t possible for Sixfold. Still, I read some of the works from the Summer issue of the Sixfold and none of the pieces seemed particularly jarring when juxtaposed against the others. In fact, Sixfold benefits from the fact that its voting process cultivates a diverse crop of writing. I was happy to find that it seemed like voters didn’t just choose stories and poems that were all similar to one another.

Some stories I enjoyed from this past issue included “Century”, by Bill Pippin, a short story about a man visiting his father who has just turned 100 years old, and also a very different, quite funny tale called “Conversations With Dakota Fanning” by Zac Hill in which the author imagines an outing with Dakota Fanning and reflects upon the bizarre way we idolize celebrities in our culture. I also enjoyed reading the poems, which tended to seem more straightforward and accessible to me than ones I usually see in contemporary journals. Perhaps having a large group of editors leads to the selection of poetry that is meant for the “everyman” (and woman). In particular, I liked the poems by Jim Pascual Augustin including “The Man Who Wished He Was A Lego” and “The Photograph.”

When you’re choosing which submit to Sixfold, I would recommend choosing something that you think will appeal to other writers like yourself, and also a work that still needs improvement because the voting process will give you a lot of feedback on that particular piece. The next deadline for submissions is coming up soon, on October 24.

For more information:

Sixfold

Website: www.sixfold.org

Fall Writing Contests and Submissions

It has been a while since my last post in July, but I’ve been so busy this past month, I haven’t had a chance to blog. I’ve been writing a couple articles for different publications, and once they are published I will be sure to spam you with links to them, don’t worry. In the meantime, I’ve been checking out more literary journals online and otherwise. We are nearing fall, and it turns out there are some great literary contests with upcoming deadlines.

You may wonder, why is a writer telling me about these contests? Isn’t she in direct competition with me for these prizes? You are right, of course. But I’m a nice person so that won’t stop me from telling you about these contests anyway. If you do win one of these competitions and you learned about it from this blog, please tell people about my website, at the very least.

Without further ado, here are some of the contests and open submissions at literary journals this fall. Happy writing and good luck!

 

The Missouri Review: Editor’s Prize

Deadline: October 1st

Every year The Missouri Review offers the Jeffrey E. Smith Editor’s Prize in three categories: poetry, fiction, and essay. The first place winners in each category receive a whopping $5,000 reward. You can bet the competition is stiff for this one, but I would still give it a shot. The Missouri Review says on its website that it has published “the first short story of more than 100 new fiction writers.” One of those writers who got their start with a publication in The Missouri Review, is Julia Glassman, a novelist who I interviewed earlier this year. The cost of entrance for this contest is $20 ($23 if you submit online), but I think it’s worth it because you get a free subscription to the journal for a year with your submission.

For More Information: www.missourireview.com/tmrsubmissions/editors-prize-contest

 

Spark Anthology: “Monsters and Marvels” Contest

Contest Dates: September 15- October 1

The Spark Anthology is a journal that offers publication and compensation to emerging writers for high-quality writing. It was established by alumni of the California State Summer School for the Arts, which I attended for Creative Writing back in 2009. Its current contest, which starts on September 15 and has a deadline of October 1 is themed “Monsters and Marvels.” They are offering prizes in three categories: prose, poetry, and artwork. First prize for all categories is $500 and publication in the magazine, and the details for the second and third prizes are on their website. And there’s no entry fee for this contest. Here is what the anthology says they are looking for: “Like darkness and light, Yin and Yang, monsters and marvels are two sides of the same coin. Each entry should include both a monster and a marvel—though ‘monster’ and ‘marvel’ may refer to same element of your entry. ”

For More Information: sparkanthology.org/contests/seven/

 

Sixfold

Deadline: October 24

Sixfold is one of the most intriguing online journals I’ve yet to encounter. I stumbled upon it last week when I saw that one of my friends and creative writing colleagues, Nancy Nguyen, had been published in it. Here’s her short story, “Truck Stop” (It’s really good by the way). I checked its submissions page, as I always do when I come across a new journal. It turns out Sixfold is a crowd-sourced journal. I’ve been meaning to write a whole blog post just about this journal, and probably will, but here’s a preview: to figure out what writing goes in each issue, Sixfold asks writers to vote and rank other people’s submissions. When you submit to the journal, you agree to read, edit, and vote on other submissions in your genre for several different rounds of consideration. The highest-voted stories and poems get published, and even the writers who don’t get published will receive feedback on their story from other writers. I think that’s pretty darn cool.

For More Information: www.sixfold.org/howitworks.html

 

Journals With Open Submissions This Fall

 

Transcendence Magazine

Open Submissions: September 5 – October 17

You may remember I reviewed this upcoming journal a while back. They are taking submissions for their second issue which is themed “People.” Here is what they say they want: “Tell us about a person who changed your life for better or worse, one who made a single impression on you before disappearing forever, or one you never met at all and never will. It doesn’t have to be non-fiction, but you should make us feel like it is.” They accept prose, poetry, and art.

Website: transcendencemag.wix.com/transcendencemag

 

Barely South Review

Open Submissions: September 1 – November 30

If you forgot about this journal, check out my review of this wonderful review. They are currently accepting submissions!

Website: barelysouthreview.digitalodu.com

 

Blackbird

Open Submissions: November 1 – April 15

One of my favorite online literary journals opens its gates to submissions on November 1.

Website: blackbird.vcu.edu

 

Cortland Review

Open Submissions: October- June

Another journal I previously reviewed, they accept submissions starting in October.

 

The Adroit Journal

Open Submisisons: Starting October 15

This journal is of particular interest to current students (both undergraduate and graduate) because they have prizes for student writers. Their submissions open up mid-October.

Website: www.theadroitjournal.org

 

Just as these literary journals are gearing up, this blog will be gearing up too. If you enjoy writing about literary topics, and you want to write for this blog, I am currently looking for contributors. You can email me at litbloom@gmail.com.

#Twitterfiction

You may have heard that this past week David Mitchell, author of several novels including Cloud Atlas, was live-tweeting a short story called “The Right Sort” on his twitter.

If you haven’t checked it out yet, I recommend that you do. He isn’t the first major author to dabble in the new genre of twitterfiction; other well-known authors who have published through Twitter include Jennifer Egan and Teju Cole. But this was my first experience reading a live-tweeted short story, so while reading it, I began to wonder how viable of a platform is Twitter for fiction, especially for emerging writers who don’t have the follower base that bestselling authors do.

For authors like David Mitchell, Twitterfiction is more of a marketing tool than a sincere publishing platform. Nevertheless, we can learn a lot from “The Right Sort.” The form of tweets, which must have 140 characters or less, is not extremely conducive to reading, since only a sentence or two at most can be tweeted at a time. I thought Mitchell did a good job working with the form to achieve the tone and style he wanted for his narrator. The narrator, a teenage boy hopped up on Valium, remarks,

Valium breaks down the world into bite-sized sentences. Like this one. All lined up. Munch-munch.

Thus Mitchell’s narrator has great tweet-sized thoughts most of the time that fit well with the format. (Is Mitchell critiquing the Millenials’ miniscule attention span through his narrator Nathan’s tweetable voice?) Later the short, jarring sentences transform into confusing stream-of-consciousness, when the narrator’s tone changes and he becomes terrified and disoriented. Finally, closer to the end of the story, the story tends towards the surreal. But I think this format in 140 character pieces still works, because the tweets allow for the narrator’s strange impressions and thoughts to feel fragmented even as they run together.

It would have been easier to read the story just typed out, of course, but I can see why twitterfiction is appealing. Using twitter, authors deliver a story serially, creating suspense that keeps the reader interested. I’ve written about serial online writing before in my article about different online writing platforms and in my article about the online journal Five Chapters, and as a member of the social-media consuming Millenial generation, I can see the appeal in munching on a story in “bite-sized sentences,” as opposed to being confronted by a large mass of text. It’s like the difference between shoveling down three-course meal at the end of the day versus chewing little snacks throughout the day. The snacks aren’t necessarily good for you, and you might still be hungry, but at least you’ve kept your jaw busy.

So does that mean we should all start composing our short stories and poetry with 140 characters-per-line enjambment? Perhaps, but I really think it depends on what you’re trying to accomplish with twitterfiction. Are you attempting to write the next great American novel and post it on Twitter? If so, the genre of twitterfiction is probably not for you. A Hemingway novel might be tweetable, that’s true, but I can’t see anyone trying to slosh their way through an ocean of long-winded Steinbeck-style tweets. I’m not trying to diss Steinbeck- I love his style, but let’s face it, The Grapes of Wrath is just not appropriate for twitter.

What is the ideal situation for posting twitterfiction then, if you’re an emerging writer? Well, for the people who are interested in Twitter as a flash fiction or poetry platform, there are a few twitter accounts that are self-styled twitter-zines. They curate fiction tweets, and submission is as easy as using the right hashtag or mentioning the zine in a tweet. A couple twitterzines include 140 characters and nanoism.  Both accept submissions via email. Check out the Submission Info below for more details.

Twitter might have some other innovative uses for writers and editors of literary magazines looking to promote fiction. Why not use the short format to present the first sentence of a short story with a link to its publication, using a tweet as a hook to draw in readers? That seems to be what all the major news outlets do these days to try to get people to watch their videos or read their articles, so why wouldn’t it work for fiction?

Of course, these techniques assume you already have a follower base. If you don’t have a large follower base, I suggest working on building one first before trying to market through Twitter. As I type this, I have fewer follows on Twitter than I would like, but actually just through the act of putting tweets out there with hashtags to garner attention for yourself, you can start to gather more followers (Shameless plug: you can follow me on twitter @hapawriting). And you don’t have to feel guilty about attention-seeking because it’s all for the sake of your career as a writer, right?

If you have thoughts on how to use Twitter as a useful writing and publicity tool, please share them in the comments below. I’m interested to hear about your experiences with twitterfiction.

Submission Info:

140 Characters

Direct message TwitterFiction on Twitter, or email your short stories to twitterfiction@gmail.com. Submissions must be 140 characters or less, of course.

Nanoism

Email submissions to editor@nanoism.net, include your name, bio (up to 134 characters), and subject line: “Nanoism Submission”

 

 

Prompt Lit Mag

This past week, I was struck by writer’s block. It didn’t hit me all at once, instead it was like a caterpillar slowly inching up my skin. I didn’t notice it until one day I just felt completely uninspired and couldn’t get a single word out on paper. That’s when I turned to the Internet to provide me with writing prompts. I’ve written from prompts before, mostly during creative writing workshops in college, so the feeling of picking up my pen with a vague idea of what I am going to write and seeing what falls on the paper is a familiar one. I have dabbled in writing prompts for the past week with moderate success, but, more importantly, the prompts helped me with just getting back into the habit of writing in general. I now no longer feel anguished when picking up my pen or opening a word document, although I can’t guarantee that what spills out of my mind will be any good.

While I was searching for writing prompts, I happened to recall a literary magazine I discovered a while back that is focused entirely around prompts. It’s called the Prompt Literary Magazine (or the Prompt for short). It’s an online journal, and I think it offers something really unique, especially to all of us emerging writers and to writers who are currently students. The Prompt publishes poetry, prose, art and non-traditional submissions with one caveat- they must be inspired by a writing prompt. They provide an avenue for pieces that sound “workshopped” to be shared. In each issue they offer an “editor’s challenge,” a prompt that readers can complete and then submit to the magazine, but they also publish works based on any prompt, just as long as you explain the prompt with your piece. They seem especially open to publishing new and emerging writers since many of the people who use prompts are still in the process of learning how to write and are not seasoned experts.

I read through two of the Prompt’s past issues and overall found writing that was clever, thoughtful, and fun. There are all sorts of poems and short stories within the Prompt’s pages, and the best part about the journal is that you can read what some other writers did with different prompts and then try them yourself. My favorite poems in the latest issue (Volume 2 Issue 1) include a poem by Margaret Vidale, “On the Table,” which was written in response to the Jackson Pollock painting “The Tea Cup” (Page 9) and a poem titled after its prompt, “Strike a Spark,” by Lyssa Tall Anolik (Page 15). I was refreshed by the imagery of these two poems, and it seems to me that poems inspired by prompts are often more exciting because of their randomness. They pull in language from unexpected places, such as in the poem “Putting up Preserves” by Crystal Karlberg (Page 33), which is composed of words taken from a single Scrabble game.

I also enjoyed the prose, although I think prompts often work better for poetry since it is harder to come up with spontaneity in the structure of prose. I absolutely loved the short story “The Making of a Poet” by Elizabeth Kate Switaj (Page 42), which explores what would happen if the meaning of “poetry bomb” were literal. She dives right in to an incredibly fascinating universe where poetry is used to maim people, and I just wanted to stay there and watch even after the short story was over.

Overall, I highly recommend checking out the Prompt’s website in order to read their journal and discover the prompts they have for writers on their website. They are currently accepting submissions for their next journal, so if you come up with anything good from the prompts you use, or if you have something sitting around from a workshop that was inspired by a prompt, definitely send it in.

For More Information

The Prompt Literary Magazine
Website: www.promptlitmag.org

Transcendence Magazine

I was impressed by the inaugural issue of Transcendence Magazine, an online journal started by a senior in high school. Its presentation is professional and its content is high caliber. The magazine contained some really insightful and beautiful pieces, and I also think it has a lot of potential to grow, especially if it narrows its literary gaze. Right now, I think it extends itself too broadly, including pieces that are real gems and other pieces that are mediocre. It also has not yet cultivated a defining taste-  in my opinion, there didn’t seem to be much of  a pattern for how the pieces in the issue fit together.

The first issue, which came out this past spring and contains fiction, poetry, art, and interviews with artists, would be quite hefty if printed on paper, since it is 82 pages long. However, it’s in an online format that is relatively easy to read. Still, I think the magazine would benefit from being slimmer because then it would be more digestible. Unfortunately, it’s hard enough these days to entice people to read literature, and an 82-paged magazine that’s not yet well-known might be too much trouble for many who are just dipping their toes into the literary pool. The quality of the pieces in the issue varied. I must give a disclaimer, of course, that I was judging the works based on my own personal taste, so another person may have liked the stories and poems that I found to be just okay. The poetry was hard for me to judge since, as I’ve said before, I’m not much of a poetry reader and thus poems must be really accessible and thought-provoking for me to like them. Some of the fiction pieces were really good; others had interesting premises but just didn’t quite capture my attention for one reason or another. Below are a few pieces that I enjoyed. I recommend checking out the issue as a whole to get a sense of the kind of writing the magazine is interested in. Fiction-“Jade” by Ethan Brightbill (on p. 42): a short story about a homeless girl on the streets of modern-day Yuexiu, a developing city in China. I liked this one mostly because I found the setting to be very detailed and believable and the narrator had a strong, compelling voice. Poetry- “Tattooed” by Armit Pamesseur( p. 13): I don’t always “get” poems, and sometimes I don’t think you need to really get exactly what they’re driving at to appreciate them as aesthetic works. I liked the rhythm and imagery of this poem and the ambiguity of the meaning of the woman’s tattoos, and how the poem seems to take on a spiritual tone despite its rejection of religion that condemns the woman’s actions. “Instead of Discussing Marriage” by Glen Armstrong (p. 36): This is one of those poems that almost anyone can enjoy, whether they love reading poetry or not. The speaker lists all the things he should have done instead of discussing marriage with his girlfriend. It’s playful and funny but also thoughtful, and I really like it. Another aspect of the magazine that piqued my interest are the interviews it has with artists from around the globe. I was surprised by the global reach of the magazine. There were interviews with artists from America, China, and Russia, and two were with young, emerging artists in their field. I really liked the interview with Fei Wu, a Shanghai writer (p. 38) because it explored issues of censorship in the literary world in China, which I know a little about from taking Asian American lit classes. It was interesting to hear from the perspective of an artist who is living in the midst of China’s literary scene, since I mostly have met and read ex-patriates. Overall, I look forward to seeing what Transcendence Magazine will come up with in its next issue. I plan on possibly submitting some works and seeing what comes back. Their criteria for submission is an emphasis on stories, both in poetry and prose. They want captivating language too, but they are mostly looking for narrative voice and plot, and they are not as interested in experimental works. Their submissions are currently closed, but they will start accepting submissions again in the fall.

For More Information:
Transcendence Magazine
Website: transcendencemag.wix.com/transcendencemag

Review of “Articulations”: The VONA/Voices Workshop Faculty Reading

Junot Diaz at the podium during the VONA/Voices faculty reading

Junot Diaz at the podium during the VONA/Voices faculty reading

Yesterday I attended a really inspiring reading put on by the faculty of the VONA Voices Workshop based at UC Berkeley. Voices of our Nation (VONA) is an organization that provides writing workshops for emerging writers of color.  The distinguished faculty members of the , including renowned writer Junot Díaz and acclaimed poet Patricia Smith, read their own work to an audience comprised of students from the workshop program and members of the community who just wanted to hear from some talented writers.

I heard about the event from my friend’s mom, who knows one of the faculty, Elmaz Abinader. It was my first time attending a VONA event, and overall I really enjoyed it. The event itself was held in a lecture hall at Berkeley City College, and it was packed with people. They had so many audience members that all the seats were filled, and they had to open up another room for overflow and simulcast the event there. The air had an electric buzz of anticipation as we were waiting for the reading to start. Among the audience members, I noted the collision of a sophisticated New York-esque vibe with the hippie, loud, radical political culture of the Bay Area. I don’t think I’ve ever been to a reading that felt so lively, and the readers pumped up the audience even more by delivering words that leapt off the page.

I also have never been to a reading that had so many writers presenting (there were fourteen faculty members who read), and at first I was worried that it was going to drag on. But once I started listening to what the writers had to read, I was lost in their words and didn’t even notice that a whole two hours passed by.

The Emcee, Jacqueline Luckett, did a great job of introducing each writer with a funny anecdote from their twitter feed or facebook profile. There were certainly common themes that many of the writers touched on in their readings of poetry, short stories, or excerpts from larger works. Since VONA’s focus is on promoting the voices of people of color, it was no surprise that many works poignantly explored the difficulties of facing racism on a daily basis and discussed the struggle of minority communities in the U.S. and in other countries. Some delved into the pain and heartbreak of violence as it tears apart families and communities, while others deftly weaved together humor and social critique.

Junot Díaz, the well-known writer of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (which admittedly I have not read yet) and one of the founders of VONA, was the star of the show, although I have to say I liked some of the other writers’ work better. Still, Díaz, who read from his novel This is How You Lose Her, probably projected the most outrageous persona out of all the writers, wildly gesticulating and swearing without recourse. After the first time he dropped the f-bomb while introducing his work, he admitted that he should have warned the audience, saying “I am a trigger warning.” It was quite a treat to hear him read.

There were so many great pieces from last night’s reading that I can’t possibly describe the all, but at the end of this post, I will list the fourteen authors in case you would like to look them up. I know I certainly plan on picking up some of their work after hearing them read.

My favorite poems from the night came from Patricia Smith and Andrew X. Pham. Smith’s poem was one of the most devastating pieces of literature I have ever read. I didn’t catch its title, but it reimagined an event taken from a newspaper headline about a man in New Jersey who throws his daughter into a sack and drowns her in a river. The event itself is shocking and heartbreaking of course, but the way Smith drew it out was unbelievable, using haunting language and wielding a harsh, powerful voice that just sliced through me like a knife. Her description of drowning made my own throat close up, and the way she described the man’s indifference… it gave me chills, and not the good kind.

Andrew X. Pham, who is a memoirist and food writer, read a fantastic poem about zooming down the California coast on the Pacific Coast Highway on a motorcycle after a heartbreak. At one point, the speaker sees families taking photo after photo at a lookout and the speaker remarks, “We are drawn to certainties even if they are boundless.” His imagery and the way he matched the feeling of speeding on the highway to that rootless feeling you get in your life when everything has gone wrong, it was magical.

We are drawn to certainties even if they are boundless.” – Andrew X. Pham

My favorite prose pieces were from Marjorie Liu and Faith Adiele. Liu is a fantasy author, so her writing was different in content than most of the other people’s. Still, she really captured the same tone that many of the pieces carried, one of fury against injustices. The selection she read was from her Hunter Kiss novels, which are about a woman with demonic tattoos and magical powers.

Faith Adiele is a travel writer, and the piece she read about one of her trips to Nigeria stood out to me because it overturned many of the travel writing genre’s expectations. She wrote about spending time with her father who had dementia and attending her brother’s wedding, and managed to find humor in that period of her life,without sugarcoating the stark reality of her father’s illness. She didn’t idealize the experience, especially when she discussed what happened when she consumed the wedding soup that her sister-in-law made. Let’s just say this particular piece of writing is not for the weak-stomached, but her descriptions of unsightly things made it all the more hilarious.

Below is the full list of all the people who read at last night’s event. I definitely intend on looking them up because what I saw last night blew me away. Also, I’m eventually planning on applying to MFA programs and many of the VONA faculty members teach at programs all over the country during the regular school year.

 

 VONA/Voices Workshop Faculty Members

Chris Abani
Elmaz Abinader
Faith Adiele
Staceyann Chin
Junot Díaz
Tananarive Due
M. Evelina Galang
Mat Johnson
Marjorie Liu
Randall Kenan
David Mura
Willie Perdomo
Andrew X. Pham
Patricia Smith

If you are interested in applying to the VONA/Voices Workshop, which is held durng one week in June, you can find out more information on their website:

voicesatvona.org