As of two days ago it is officially summer.
I have mixed feelings about the summertime. I love swimming, hot weather, drinking iced coffee, warm nights, walking for hours without any destination, going to sleep red and waking up a shade darker. At the same time, as a student who takes classes nine months out of the year, June through August presents a kind of chasm in which routine is discarded and needed to be refound. I inevitably find myself with time on my hands to ponder too much. Recently I've been wrestling with the idea of existential dread and how to utilise the thoughts which arise from it to initiate helpful, discrusive thinking. I don't really think there's one solution, but I find comfort in texts which offer empathetic narratives.
This week in literary film and television news, there was a lot of exciting, nerdy, and star-encrusted movement, much like a Saturday night at your local laser tag. Is laser tag still a thing? Who knows!
Read Emily Temple's report on Lit Hub, the website for smart, engaged, entertaining writing about all things books.
Celebrate the 2016-2017 Atheneum Fellows
Stonehenge Studios in Southwest Portland, 7pm
May 15: Jennifer Nevers, Michelle Bussard, Delia Garigan, Caitlin Collins, Anne Griffin, Mericos Rhodes
June 5: Andrea Rodriguez, Graham Paterson, Christa Kaainoa, Marv Lurie, Phil Meehan
"In his beguiling voice . . . Biespiel’s supple memoir of becoming a poet will surely inspire other writers." — Publishers Weekly (starred review)
A beautifully rendered memoir about creative beginnings in the vein of Umberto Eco’s classic Confessions of a Young Novelist.
The Education of a Young Poet (Counterpoint Press) is Attic Institute of Arts and Letters' president David Biespiel’s moving account of his awakening to writing and the language that can shape a life. David writes for every creative person who longs to shape the actions of their world into art and literature. Woven throughout are reflections on the writer’s craft coupled with a classic coming of age tale that does for Boston in the 1980s what Hemingway's A Moveable Feast did for Paris in the 1920s.
A couple of years ago, my husband and I went on a long backpack. It was really very long. We crossed state lines; we passed from one season into the next. For weeks, we talked - about the scenery, the route, memories we had just remembered, the food we were missing. Eventually, we were talked out. We just walked, enjoying the quiet, the rustling, the birds. As the miles stretched into the hundreds, I discovered podcasts.
Our free write is based on this picture:
Write a poem, passage, or story about what you see happening here. Think of the physical: Is it hot? Noisy or not? How does it smell? Think about the softness of the monkeys' fur, the rebuke of the stick.
Be as silly, literal and slapstick as you like.
Try taking sides: Start your piece with either "He had it coming" or "It was unfair."
Just 15 minutes! Ready, go...
Given President Trump's proposal to eliminate the NEA, now's an opportune moment to examine what we're actually spending on the arts, and where those funds are going. Get the facts here:
Remember Mike Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas who vied for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016? In this week's Washington Post, Huckabee makes an unexpected and passionate defense of the National Endowment for the Arts. Why now? Because President Trump's 2018 budget blueprint proposes that the NEA be eliminated.
Charles Baxter did it. He wrote a book of ten short stories all hinging on that line: "there's something I want you to do." Your turn! Write a piece that contains a request moment - whether it's a haughty command or a desperate plea. Borrow Baxter's line or use your own, but set the timer, and write. Have fun!
With Portland's deep literary roots, it was just a matter of time before we got a our own bookish podcast. And here it is: Isaac Eldridge and Michelle Fredette's "Go Away, I'm Reading," a podcast about reading books, buying books, and obsessing over books.
One of the biggest embarrassments of the early Donald Trump administration occurred when Trump advisor and spokesperson Kellyanne Conway made reference to the "Bowling Green massacre," a terrorist attack that did not actually occur. Many have mocked Conway over the made-up attack, but no one’s done it better than the Harvard Bookstore.
You probably have your own favorites, but my top contender is Lydia Davis' "Break it Down." The story is a monologue in which a man tries to place a monetary value on a brief, intense romantic relationship, to determine if it was "worth it" in the most literal sense. Despite his efforts, the relationship exceeds - and resists - precise valuation.
A few years ago, a friend of mine told me about this online magazine about writing and money. It was called Scratch, it sounded terrific, and by the time I went looking for it, they'd already stopped publishing it.
If you want a writing residency with a different flavor, then forego the pastoral setting and head to the Mall of America. MOA is looking for a writer to do a five-day residency to celebrate its 25th anniversary. According to their website, "the winner will have the chance to spend five days deeply immersed in the Mall atmosphere while writing on-the-fly impressions in their own words."
"The contest winner will stay in an attached hotel for four nights, receive a $400 gift card to buy food and drinks and collect a generous honorarium for the sweat and tears they’ll put into their prose." And there's this tantalizing hook: "Where will the winner’s lovingly crafted story end up? Just wait and see!"
In honor of our recent crazy weather, we set a theme of "Snowpocalypse," and invited a submissions related to snow, cold, or winter. Our judge was David Ciminello, award-winning author, poet and screenwriter, and an adjunct fellow at The Attic Institute (...also an actor, but that's another story!). From the stack of entries, David selected a first and second place award winners. And they are...
First Place: "A Prayer for Winter" by Alene Bikle
Second Place: "The Bright White Light, The Clean Chill Air" by Stevan Allred
Congratulations to Alene and Stevan! Their pieces appear below. Enjoy reading them, and thanks also, to all who submitted to the contest.
CLICK READ MORE TO READ THE WINNING PIECES
If you've looked around, you know: there are a busload of bad writing-prompt web sites out there. One happy exception is run by Poets & Writers: Poets & Writers Writing Prompts. There, you can find inspiring prompts for poetry, fiction, and creative non-fiction. With thanks to P&W, here are some of their latest. So set the timer, take out a pen, and tuck your cell phone under the couch cushions. Enjoy!
Literary Arts does it again! In three upcoming events, this nationally recognized center provides a forum for Latino writers, Queer writers, and writing about the economically dispossessed. So much to do in February and March! Join and celebrate this multiplicity of voices.
Are you planning to enter the Attic's "Snowpocalypse" Writing Competition, but just haven't gotten around to it? Here's a different kind of inspiration. Artist and writer Shelley Jackson is writing a story, word by frozen word, in the snows of New York City and documenting it on Instagram. A link to the complete tale: A Short Story is Being Written in the Snow.
If you're thinking about writing and what it means - whether it even matters - at this moment in time, I recommend a new article in The Huffington Post: "What it Means to be a Writer in the Time of Trump: Eighteen Authors Weigh in on their New Responsibilities."
Associate Fellow at the Attic Institute of Arts and Letters
We are delighted to welcome Chuck Palahniuk as a new fellow at the Attic Institute. Chuck's novels include the bestselling Fight Club, which was made into a film by director David Fincher, Survivor, Invisible Monsters, Choke, Lullaby, Fugitives and Refugees, Diary, Stranger Than Fiction, Haunted, Rant, Stnuff, Pygmy, Tell-All, and Damned. Portions of Choke have appeared in Playboy, and his nonfiction work has been published by Gear, Black Book, The Stranger, and the Los Angeles Times.
Learn more about Chuck's upcoming ten-week workshop: The Writing Wrong Workshop.
If you need to blow off some steam, nothing can beat Los Lobos' rowdy song, Mas y Mas. With lyrics in a mix of Spanish and English, it describes a night on the town, full of dancing, driving, drinking, and raw energy:
Deep in my post-election funk, I found an article that was just what I needed to hear: National Public Radio's recent story about the National Book Awards and the role that reading and writing can play in reaching across the political divide. Here are excerpts:
I happened to catch an interview on the radio the other day: it was Terry McDonell, the former top editor of Esquire, Rolling Stone, Outside, and Sports Illustrated, talking about his new book, The Accidental Life: An Editor’s Notes on Writing and Writers.
"Out of place" is a judgment call, a decision about what's appropriate, what constitutes difference, what belongs or doesn't belong. Think about a situation when someone (or something) is out of place.
Wondering where your writing could take you professionally?
This article from Localwise Twenty-Seven Greatest Jobs for Writers and English Majors") will help you think about a variety of writing careers, or just help you earn a little extra income
Do you want to know what it's like to study with award-winning writer Zahir Janmomhamed?
Jennifer Van Alstyne, summer 2016 participant: "I just wanted to pass along feedback on the Personal Essays meetup I attended this week. The class was what I had been looking for and exceeded my expectations. Zahir is a generous and engaging instructor. The amount of information presented was great and gave me a lot to reflect on and provided motivation for my own projects. Please bring Zahir back for another class."
Dawnn McWatters, summer 2016 participant: "Over the past year and a half, I've taken several longer-term workshops at the Attic. Zahir's workshop provided a range and depth of perspective -- both personal and literary/political. In addition, our workshop's participants represented the most diverse group of fellow writers that I've sat with since I began taking classes in Portland. As a white, straight woman from an impoverished, rural background, now raising (and writing about my experiences of parenting) a biracial adopted child, I didn't realize how hungry I was to be challenged and validated, all at once. I got more than I'd intended - and a great deal of what I was needing - from his brief workshop."
Zahir's writing has appeared in The New York Times, Newsweek, Foreign Policy, Boston Review, Guernica, The Washington Post, The Guardian, The Nation, Racialicious, and many other publications. He has received fellowships from the MacDowell Colony, where he was the inaugural recipient of the Anne Cox Chambers fellowship for long-form journalism, as well as from the VONA workshop for writers of color.
It's hard to beat the cat videos, but YouTube is also a wonderful (and free) source of advice about writing. For inspiration or guidance, seek out the talks by established writers, like this one in which novelist Ian McEwan discusses the challenges of portraying happiness, love and sex in fiction.
Wayne Gregory has a short story in the upcoming anthology, Fashionably Late. The stories in this collection explore the impact of exposing long-held secrets and addresses the questions of what happens when adult men come out and what triumphs and struggles they experience. Filled with tales about divorce, conversion therapy, misadventures in dating, overcoming bigotry, and gender exploration, Fashionably Late paints a vivid picture of gay, bisexual, and transgender men experiencing their second coming-of age. The release of the book coincides with National Coming Out Day (October 11, 2016). Learn more: https://fashionablylatebook.com/
Deepen your writing practice.
Access stories and images from your deepest imagination.
Find inspiration from writers such as Adrienne Rich, W. G. Sebald, Frank Stanford, Virginia Woolf, Italo Calvino, Salman Rushdie, and Isabelle Allende.
Use a series of exercises to expand your access to the unconscious and generate wilder, more surprising work.
From David Biespiel, President of the Attic Institute of Arts and Letters
"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."
"All sorts of excellent pieces of writing get started and finished here. That's what it means to be a literary studio."
"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."
"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."