The Attic's Ed Skoog Among the 2018 Oregon Book Award Finalists

The Attic's own Ed Skoog is among the finalists for the 2018 Oregon Book Awards, which honor the finest accomplishments by Oregon writers in the genres of poetry, fiction, graphic literature, drama, literary nonfiction, and literature for young readers. Skoog was nominated for his third book of poetry, "Run the Red Lights" (Copper Canyon Press). His second book, "Rough Day," won the Washington State Book Award in Poetry for 2014.  His poems have appeared in American Poetry Review, Paris Review, The New Republic, Poetry, Narrative, Ploughshares, Tin House, and elsewhere.

Spots are still available in Skoog's Poetry Writing Workshop the weekend of February 24-25. Classes are Saturday and Sunday 12:30-5:30 PM in the Attic's North Library. Early Registration is $207 (cash/check) or $219 (PayPal), and the deadline is seven days prior to the start of the workshop. Late Registration is $222 (cash/check) or $234 (PayPal). A maximum of 12 students will be accepted. 

Read Women's Writing with Soapstone

Add this to your list of Portland reading and writing resources: Soapstone is a grassroots organization whose mission is to bring people together to celebrate and support the work of women writers. Among other activities, Soapstone provides grants to support short-term study groups focusing on the work of women writers. 

Coming up this Fall: Reading Grace Paley's Fiction, Nonfiction and Poetry, led by the Attic's own Natalie Serber and Reading Virginia Woolf's Nonfiction, led by Judith Barrington. The fee is $75; scholarships are available. Each group is limited to 16. To register, send an email to info@soapstone.org, and a check made out to Soapstone, 622 SE 29th Avenue, Portland, OR 97214. The workshop schedule follows, and visit Soapstone for further information.  

Reading Virginia Woolf's Nonfiction, led by Judith Barrington
Four Saturday mornings, 10 to 1
September 15, 22, 29 and October 6

Reading Grace Paley's Fiction, Nonfiction and Poetry, led by Natalie Serber
Four Saturday mornings, 10:30 to 1:30
October 20, 27, November 3 and 10

Celebrate National Poetry Month with NPR

April is National Poetry Month, and there's a host of ways to celebrate. NPR is inviting listeners to write and submit their own original poetry "tweets" throughout the month (in other words, original poems with a 140-character limit). Submissions are reviewed and presented on air by US Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith. 

Alternatively, you can enjoy some of the great poetry that's featured online. One of my favorite sources: the series that NPR's All Things Considered ran in honor of Poetry Month in 2001 (find it here). There you'll find interviews with and poems by Stanley Kunitz, Ron Padgett, Judy Jordan, Maurice Manning, and Ofelia Zepeda. Here are the poems they showcase by Ron Padgett: 

The Drink 

I am always interested in the people in films who have just had a drink thrown in their faces. Sometimes they react with uncontrollable rage, but sometimes-my favorites-they do not change their expressions at all. Instead they raise a handkerchief or napkin and calmly dab at the offending liquid, as the hurler jumps to her feet and storms away. The other people at the table are understandably uncomfortable. A woman leans over and places her hand on the sleeve of the man's jacket and says, "David, you know she didn't mean it." David answers, "Yes," but in an ambiguous tone-the perfect adult response. But now the orchestra has resumed its amiable and lively dance music, and the room is set in motion as before. Out in the parking lot, however, Elizabeth is setting fire to David's car. Yes, this is a contemporary film.

-- from You Never Know (Coffee House Press, 2002)

Update: Winners of the "Museum of Words" Flash Fiction Competition

Last year, we reported that the "Museum of Words" annual Flash Fiction competition was open to submissions. The competition, which has applied for a Guiness World Record as the most lucrative international literary prize, awards $20,000 to the winning flash fiction piece (of 100 words or less), as well as $2,000 each to the Runners Up in English, Hebrew, and Arabic. 

In 2017, the winning entry was "The Sniper" by Armando Macchia of Argentina. Here it is, reprinted for your inspiration. Other winning entries can be found on the website of the Fundacion Cesar Egido Serrano, the sponsoring organization. 

"The Sniper" by Armando Macchia

Every day, while waiting for the bus, a child pointed at me from a balcony with his finger, and pulled the trigger of his imaginary gun, screaming at me “bang, bang!” One day, just to keep the routine play, I also pointed at him with my finger, yelling "bang, bang!” The child fell to the street like struck down. I ran to him, and saw that he half opened his eyes and looked at me stunned. Desperate I said "but I just repeated the same as you did to me." He responded then sorrowful: "Yes Sir, but I was not shooting to kill."

Writing Prompt: Ask Yourself

Thanks to "Poets and Writers" for this week's writing prompt:

“For me, what makes a novel is the unfolding of a question that haunts me, that I have to explore—and that I hope, in digging deep, will answer that question for myself and for my readers,” writes Caroline Leavitt in “The Novel I Buried Three Times” in the March/April issue of Poets & Writers Magazine. This week, use Leavitt’s concept of the unfolding of a question for a short story. Consider two questions she has explored for her novels: “Must we let go of the things we cannot fix?” and “How do you love without destroying someone else’s love?” Write a short story that in some way attempts to answer one of these questions or an open-ended question of your own. Does the question change or evolve as the story proceeds?

Share Your Writing at "One Page Wednesday"

Writers, escape the solitude of your desk. Readers, come hear great fresh work. All of this at Literary Arts' "One Page Wednesday."

Hosted by Attic Faculty and writer Natalie Serber, One Page Wednesday is an opportunity to share or listen to one page of work in progress from talented Portland writers. Come with a single page of work and sign up to read  – or come to listen and prepare to be inspired!  Please, no reading from electronic devices.

 

When: April 4 from 7:00 to 9:00 PM                                                                       Where: Literary Arts, 925 SW Washington St, Portland OR 97205                          Cost: free

Artist Replaces Billboards with Photos of the Landscapes They're Blocking

I don't remember how I happened upon this article, and it's not about writing in any direct way. Still, I find the idea inspiring: an art installation in the Coachella Valley in which a series of consecutive billboards have been replaced by perfectly aligned photos of the landscapes they are blocking. Visit it through April 30, or read the article here

Visible Distance / Second Sight is an art installation by Jennifer Bolande for DesertX. The temporary artwork can be found along the Gene Autry Trail near Vista Chino (33°50’41.70”N 116°30’21.02”W), where a series of consecutive billboards have been replaced by perfectly aligned photos of the landscapes they are blocking. 

Advice to Writers: "Let People See What You Wrote"

I continue to enjoy this Aerogramme article distilling advice from famous writers. This time, words from Tina Fey: 

“It’s a great lesson about not being too precious about your writing. You have to try your hardest to be at the top of your game and improve every joke you can until the last possible second, and then you have to let it go. You can’t be that kid standing at the top of the waterslide, overthinking it…You have to let people see what you wrote.” 

Other Voices: The American Prison Writing Archive

In the fall of 2009 writer Doran Larson put out a call for essays from incarcerated people and prison staff about what life was like inside, and five years later, in 2014, Michigan State University Press published a selection of them as Fourth City: Essays From the Prison in America. But the essays never stopped coming. “I’m holding a handwritten essay that just arrived today,” Larson said in August. “Once people knew there was a venue where someone would read their work, they kept writing.” Instead of letting this steady stream of essays go unread, Larson decided to create the American Prison Writing Archive (APWA), an open-source archive of essays by incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people, as well as correctional officers and staffers. Accessible to anyone online, the APWA (apw.dhinitiative.org) is a “virtual meeting place” to “spread the voices of unheard populations.”

With more than 2.2 million people in its prisons and jails, the United States incarcerates a higher percentage of its population than any other country in the world. But most Americans don’t know anything about life inside, which can leave them both indifferent to those who live and work there and divorced from the justice system their tax dollars reinforce. Larson hopes to rectify this disconnect with the APWA, and after receiving a $262,000 grant in March from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), the archive is poised to do just that.

Read more about the APWA in this story in Poets and Writers, or browse the stories in the archive itself. 

Writing Prompt: Manners

Sit up straight, elbows off the table! It's time to write. Today's topic: civil comportment (or the lack thereof).  P's and Q's, southern hospitality, reform school. Behaving like a perfect lady/gentleman or revealing your uncouth inner beast. Bad habits, rude encounters, misinterpretations. At least 15 minutes, please! This one should be fun.  

Pixar's 22 Rules of Storytelling

Pixar’s Rules of Storytelling - recently tweeted out and now republished in an article on Aerogramme - are surprisingly helpful for writers in all genres. Here are the first ten. Number 9 – When you’re stuck, make a list of what wouldn’t happen next – is a favorite. Check out Aerogramme to see the complete list.  

 

 

  1. You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.
  2. You gotta keep in mind what’s interesting to you as an audience, not what’s fun to do as a writer. They can be very different.
  3. Trying for theme is important, but you won’t see what the story is actually about til you’re at the end of it. Now rewrite.
  4. Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.
  5. Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You’ll feel like you’re losing valuable stuff but it sets you free.
  6. What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal?
  7. Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front.
  8. Finish your story, let go even if it’s not perfect. In an ideal world you have both, but move on. Do better next time.
  9. When you’re stuck, make a list of what WOULDN’T happen next. Lots of times the material to get you unstuck will show up.
  10. Pull apart the stories you like. What you like in them is a part of you; you’ve got to recognize it before you can use it.

Writing Prompt: "For a Long Time"...

Perhaps a year ago, I was listening to the radio when a book review came on, an author's voice reading the first sentence of her novel. "For a long time," she read, "my mother wasn't dead yet." What a terrific beginning, I thought. (And in case you're wondering, it's from Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson). 

Of course, the sentence itself is wonderful - wistful, intriguing, heartrending. But even the first part, the fragmentary "for a long time," echoed in my head. It suggests the end of the known present and the beginning of an unimaginable future. "One day," it implies, and this is the place all literature begins, "everything was different."

Today, I invite you to complete that sentence in your own way. Set the timer for 15 minutes and put your hands on the keyboard. Think about a familiar state that is interrupted. Imagine, what could possibly come next? Then begin: "For a long time..."

Stories that Teach: "Letter to the Lady of the House" by Richard Bausch

Well here's a happy discovery: the ever-wonderful Masters Review has a blog called "Stories that Teach." In their February edition, they discuss an old favorite: "Letter to the Lady of the House" by Richard Bausch. Their discussion questions the notion that sentiment is for suckers and examines what makes this romantic - but realistic - epistolary story so moving. "In 'Letter to the Lady of the House,' sheer sappiness bumps up against moments of ugliness," they say. "Grand proclamations about the nature of love follow descriptions of the mundane. Its sentimentality is not only excusable; it's extremely effective." You can listen to Bausch reading his story for "This American Life" and then read the analysis in "Stories that Teach." 

Previous editions of the blog examine the fictional lessons and social relevance of  Susan Minot’s story “Lust,” dissect the elegant sentences in Lauren Groff’s “Ghosts and Empties,” and consider what makes Steven Barthelme’s “Heaven” so effective. Check it out...

David Biespiel Appointed Poet-in-Residence at Oregon State University

"David Biespiel is a major voice in twenty-first century literature. "

In addition to his work as the President of the Attic Institute of Arts and Letters, David Biespiel will now also be the Oregon State University Poet-in-Residence.

Appointed by the College of Liberal Arts, David — who has taught in the School of Writing, Literature, and Film since 2001 — will teach and advise undergraduate and graduate students in the MFA in Creative Writing; promote poetry in the OSU community; and continue to build the already substantial national reputation of Creative Writing at OSU.

In his appointment, College of Liberal Arts Dean Larry Rodgers said, "David Biespiel is a major voice in twenty-first century literature." He is the first Poet-in-Residence in the history of Oregon State University.
 
A celebration of David’s new role at OSU — where he will give a talk and reading — will be held at 7:30pm on March 16 in the OSU Alumni Center’s Johnson Lounge.

Read the announcement

The Craft of Writing: Surprise

It’s such a simple idea, really—says CraftLiterary.com — that surprise is a key element in our work as writers. But somehow, I hadn’t grabbed onto that idea until I took a workshop with Bret Anthony Johnston who believes wholeheartedly in the element of surprise. Here’s what Johnston has to say about it:

As a reader and a writer, I’m always looking for the same thing—for the characters or the writing to surprise me. If I don’t think there’s potential for surprise in something I’m writing, I’ll throw the idea away, if I don’t think there’s potential for me to be surprised as a reader of a novel, I’ll close the book.

Notice that Johnston specifically doesn’t mention plot when he talks about surprise, and yet that’s often where we think to insert surprise when we’re writing. Johnston is more interested in being surprised on the sentence level—with the writing—or with a character who behaves in an unexpected way. And that rings true to me as a reader, particularly a reader of literary journal submissions. Again and again, I find myself writing in the notes: “Characters behaved in expected ways.” And it is strong and surprising writing that often keeps me reading a piece, even if—and especially if—I don’t know where it’s heading.

Advice for Writers: Go to "New York"

Continuing our occasional series "Advice for Writers" with this quote from Walter Kirn (author of "Up in the Air," among other books, which was made into a film starring George Clooney). Kirn is arguing for just such places as The Attic Institute, places "where the standards for writing are high, there are other people who share your dreams, and where you can talk, talk, talk about your interests." Here's the full quote:

“My advice for aspiring writers is go to New York. And if you can’t go to New York, go to the place that represents New York to you, where the standards for writing are high, there are other people who share your dreams, and where you can talk, talk, talk about your interests. Writing books begins in talking about it, like most human projects, and in being close to those who have already done what you propose to do.”

Rainier Writing Workshop MFA Program | Free Info Session | Mon Feb 26 7:30pm

The Rainier Writing Workshop is one of the premier low-residency MFA programs in the country, based at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Washington. 

On Monday, February 26, at 7:30PM, the Attic Institute will host an info session about the RWW experience and the low-residency MFA program. Participating in the info session will be: Rick Barot, Director of the Rainier Writing Workshop; David Biespiel, President of the Attic Institute and a long-time RWW core faculty member; Caitlin Dwyer, former Attic Institute writer and current RWW student. 

Come on up. Join us to learn more about how low-residency MFA programs work, and about The Rainier Writing Workshop.

Details: RWW + MFA Information Session | FEBRUARY 26, 7:30pm | FREE

Please R.S.V.P.: Contact us to save your spot

Writing Prompt: Going to Extremes

Thanks to Poets & Writers for this week's writing prompt: 

Swiss photographer Steeve Iuncker has photographed Yakutsk, Siberia (coldest city in the world); Tokyo, Japan (most populous city in the world); and Ahwaz, Iran (most polluted city in the world) for a photo series project focusing on different record-holding locations. Write a poem about a record-holding city, using a real or humorously obscure record of your invention. You might find inspiration in a city you’ve lived in, loved, have never been to, or that only exists in your imagination. How are the geography, culture, and inhabitants affected by the extreme conditions? What kind of behavior and interaction unique to this place will you explore?

Inside North Korea's Literary Fiction Factory

With colorful rhetoric about dotards and nuclear buttons, North Korean propaganda is attracting attention around the world.

However, there’s another side to North Korean political messaging, one directed at the domestic population. One of the more illuminating forms of internal propaganda, Meredith Wilson writes in Aerogramme, is the regime’s state-produced fiction. Published in monthly literary journals, these stories are distributed by the ruling Korean Workers’ Party to select schools and offices around the country. Read the full story at Aerogramme

A North Korean propaganda poster proclaims, "Let's establish the habit of reading all over the country!"

Advice to Writers: "Wear Books Like Hats"

Here we are at the end of January, that time of year when New Year's resolutions begin to flag. If your commitment to writing could use a boost, remember that Winter II classes are starting soon! Also, here are some words of inspiration from Ray Bradbury to help you on your way. That wonderful man. This quote made me want to sit down immediately and write:

“If you want to write, if you want to create, you must be the most sublime fool that God ever turned out and sent rambling. You must write every single day of your life. You must read dreadful dumb books and glorious books, and let them wrestle in beautiful fights inside your head, vulgar one moment, brilliant the next. You must lurk in libraries and climb the stacks like ladders to sniff books like perfumes and wear books like hats upon your crazy heads.

Celebrating Women Writers with Soapstone

In Portland, we're blessed with many writing resources. Among them is Soapstone, whose mission is to bring people together to celebrate and support the work of women writers. Their primary work: study groups that offer the opportunity to delve into the work of a single woman writer.

In March and April, there's Reading Adrienne Rich (led by Sara Guest); in May, Reading Susan Glaspell (led by Gay Monteverde). When fall rolls around, they will be Reading Virginia Woolf's Nonfiction (led by Judith Barrington). Meet fellow readers and writers and get inspiration for your own creations! To participate, the workshop fee is $60 and scholarships are available. Or if you're interested in leading such a group, note that small grants are available to support this, and applications are due March 15. For more information, visit Soapstone.org.

Writing Prompt: Big and Small

New Year's Resolutions still fresh? Then it's time for a freewrite inspired by this picture. Notice the huge leaf; the tiny little deer. Why are they so small? What are they looking at? Was there a noise that stopped them in their tracks? What did it sound like? Is someone else there? What will happen next? 

Cell phones off, and give it a try!

 

 

"Placing a Premium on Pragmatism": the Working Poet

A few months ago, we alerted readers to a unique opportunity: the Mall of America, purportedly the biggest shopping mall in the country, was seeking a Writer in Residence. The winner would spend five days deeply immersed in the Mall and writing about it. Perks would include not only bragging rights, but also four nights in a hotel, a $400 mall gift card, and a $2,500 honorarium. Four thousand people applied, and a winner was announced: poet Brian Sonia-Wallace.

Writing Prompt: Guests

Now that the holidays are over, let's pay tribute to the guests. There's making yourself at home and party crashing, overstaying your welcome and snooping in the host's medicine cabinet - all that rich material for your fifteen minute write! So set your timer and get underway. 

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From David Biespiel, President of the Attic Institute of Arts and Letters

 

Letter in 2010 announcing the new Attic Institute

"Eleven years have gone by in a blink. But today begins a new era as we renew our dedication both to the word and to the world."

 

Interview about the founding of the Attic Institute

"All sorts of excellent pieces of writing get started and finished here. That's what it means to be a literary studio."

 

Essay in the New York Times on they mysteries of poetry

"Poetry connects us to our past, and poets unmask both private and civic memories, dreams, and urgencies. By harmonizing the body with the mind, serving both young and old, poetry is a guide to deliver us into a fresh engagement with our inner lives and with modernity."

 

Essay on poets and democracy in Poetry magazine: "This Land Is Our Land"

"America's poets have a minimal presene in American civic discourse and a miniscule public role in the life of American democracy. I find this condition perplexing and troubling -- both for poetry and for democracy."