Looking for Inspiration?

writingfall

Autumn is a terrifically busy season.

Not only do we go back to school, embark on new travels, and resign ourselves to wearing jackets, but  the cold rain falls a little faster, the sky becomes that contemplative grey, and the leaves die in an impressive display of downed fireworks.  As you throw your hands into glittens (glove mittens) with the missing finger holes that allow you to poke away at the keys on your device, or tenaciously grip your pencil, you may find that the changing season isn’t that inspiring. Fall, is after all, just fall.

You’ve experienced this season for years now, and have established some pretty steadfast opinions about it. Lovers and haters of autumn will gesticulate madly while letting you know how they feel. And maybe, just maybe, you’ll find some inspiration there.

However, if the well is dry, and the inspiration isn’t forthcoming, then perhaps you need some stronger stuff. History is a wonderful resource for new ideas. As a DePaul student you are automatically a member of the Chicago History Museum which means free admission, access to the research center, and special member events as well as discounts to all of the museum’s tours, programs, and public events. There is no better place to escape the drudgery of a wet autumn than the halls of a museum.  Bring your notepad and check out some of these engaging exhibitions free to students like you and get inspired.

QueenofSiamSiam: The Queen and the White City Member Preview
Saturday, September 21
9:00 p.m. – 10 p.m.

Be among the first to see the Museum’s newest exhibition, Siam: The Queen and the White City. Guests will enjoy savory Thai snacks and a private viewing of the gallery. Free, but reservations are required; please call Natalie Conti at 312.799.2272.

American Heroes: Japanese American WWII Nisei Soldiers and the Congressional Gold Medal
Opens October 19

The Museum’s upcoming exhibition honors the Japanese American World War II veterans who served their country in battle, despite the government’s forcible detention of thousands of Americans of Japanese ancestry.

 

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Summer Reading Meta-List

By M.A.W.P. student Trudie Gauerke

Originally published on Read or Rot.

Browsing to create a summer reading list can be as fun as reading itself–perhaps that’s why the media is so eager to help. It’s barely June and already over twenty-five notable lists are out for children and adults (in addition to all those issued by local libraries and schools). The LA Times list is by far the winner based not on content, but on the visually stunning and seamless browsing experience achieved by its format. In a culture where the media produces dozens of book lists vying for attention, presentation matters.

Enjoy browsing the readings lists using the direct links below. Feel free to make suggestions of your own in the comments.

Newspapers/Magazines

Institutions

People

Misc

My Night as a Writer/Performer

by MAWP student Marianne Chrisos

Last Friday, I attended and read at the Threshold Literary Journal 2011 Launch Party. My piece, a creative nonfiction essay called “Solving for X,” was published in the back of this bright and shiny bound-up creature. I am honored and excited. Threshold is a pretty neat thing. And it was a pretty neat night.

I had two drinks because they gave me two drink tickets at the door, and I felt it would be wasteful to not use them. I also had to read an excerpt of my piece on stage, using a microphone that was taller than me (though I did ask the editor to point that out to someone so I would not be wildly and horribly shamed, and it was lowered to a reasonable height). I felt this would help me feel more comfortable about my first public reading – I was excited to be reading, but very nervous. I somehow forgot I’m not a particularly coordinated person when sober, but still managed not to go boom. I also forgot that you can’t actually see anyone in an audience when you are standing on a stage and there is a yellow light in your eyes. Still, I read, I didn’t stutter or rush, I didn’t trip, I couldn’t see anyone, the mike was at a good height, and then I watched the rest of the staff picks and then the winners of the excellence awards read. A beautiful and successful literary evening.

Threshold is not a national publication – it is extremely local, community, Chicago, university. Still, I’m delighted to reside within its pages. Additionally, it’s a beautiful journal, and I will read it cover to cover, not just out of respect for the other authors, but because the other authors are good authors, and I’m grateful to be published alongside them. One of the things I appreciated about last night was the grateful tone that everyone had for everyone else. People rarely went onstage without thanking someone. I think this is so important, because writing and production do not occur in a vacuum. I don’t think any author should ever forget the hard work that goes into putting their writing onto a page. In turn, the Threshold staff made us all feel very welcome, deserving and talented.

So why was I so nervous? I believe it has to do with the idea of performing versus the idea of being an artist. I have a huge personality – I am loud and witty and say things without thinking sometimes, but this has never been an attempt to gain attention. This is my genuine personality, the McDonough-Chrisos genes, some kind of flair for drama or a DNA of sarcasm. The idea of standing on a stage reading something I’ve written and having people watch as if I deserve some kind of attention for simply writing – that is different. To me, that feels like a performance. And while I am learning that does come with a professional artistic lifestyle and am even grateful for it, I do not feel deserving of any kind of attention.

It’s not a confidence issue – I can hand anyone a piece of mine at any time and have them read it. I’m not a shy person in any regard. But there is a disconnect in my head between standing up and reading my own work to a group who could be anywhere else doing anything else and asking them to pay attention, to care, versus their choosing to read my work on their own time. It feels like a performance and I had not yet connected that to professional writing.

However, all other art forms seem have some kind of performance aspect. My best friend in New York is a photographer and is showing her work in a gallery this weekend. A coworker of mine has written and performed in several dramatic works and plays. Essays, short stories, poetry. It is not that I forget that these are meant to be read aloud. Perhaps it is that writing and reading are so private, so solitary. It’s not that I forget that oral storytelling is a rich part of literary history – I simply didn’t think I would get a chance to partake.

So what do you think – how much “performance” do you think goes into art? Do you think there is always a correlation between the two, at least professionally?

The Second Annual EGSA Conference, a Reflection

By MAWP student Steve Bogdaniec

I was one of the organizers of the 2011 EGSA Conference, held on April 15, 2011, and I’ve been asked to say a few words about it.

This was the second annual conference, and it was bigger than last year. We had thirty-seven total participants, grads and undergrads, reading pieces in fiction, nonfiction, poetry and literary criticism and theory. Many presented twice, as I did (poetry and nonfiction). The EGSA was honored to cap the event off with keynote speaker Hannah Pittard, a DePaul professor in the Department of English and author of The Fates Will Find Their Way. She read from her book and other sources that have inspired her, including William Faulkner’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech from 1950.

My highlight was the Poetry I panel. In the order of appearance, it was me, Jennifer Finstrom, Trudie Gauerke and Angel Woods. Everyone’s poetry was amazing, even mine—at times vivid, evocative, personal, compelling, passionate. But what made it special for me was the moderator for the panel, Warren Scheideman. He was wonderful at engaging our work, massaging questions from the audience, and overall lending our panel a warm, communal feeling. I had never seen anything quite like it at any conference. Thanks again, Warren!

(By the way, Jennifer Finstrom wrote about this panel here. Please take a look!)

The conference was well-attended by faculty, and for students, any experience gained in the world of academic conferences helps you moving forward. EGSA is also going to publish a proceedings of the event online, and this will highlight some of the outstanding pieces that were presented this year.

For me, planning and attending the conference was a lot of fun. It was difficult at times, but it ended up being a truly rewarding experience, helping to create something positive and interesting. I was honored to get to do it again this year.

This conference, and the EGSA in general, always meant a lot more to me than a line or two on a CV. For me, EGSA has always been about the people I met and grew to love including the following: Kim Anderson, Brianna Tonner, Chris Smith, Heath Black, Jesse Darnay, Angel Woods. Molly Tranberg emailing and asking, in the nicest possible way, where the hell something was that should have been to her already. (She did an awesome job with the thing you’re reading right now, by the way, Ex Libris, and if you haven’t yet, please take a moment to thank her before she graduates in June. She deserves it!) Meetings with Drs. Sirles and Shanahan in the stuffy little English conference room in McGaw, meetings with Kim and Bri and Chris in the SAC Pit, or not really meetings at all, just endless email strings about dates or numbers or what to do next, and when.

I love you all, and I will miss the time I spent with you in EGSA and/or this program. I mean it. If I could, I would do it all over again.

Ryan Van Meter’s Homecoming

By M.A.W.P. student Brittany Petersen

On Tuesday, author Ryan Van Meter returned to his graduate school alma mater to read from his new book, If You Knew Then What I Know Now, and to answer questions from students eager to replicate his journey to success. But Van Meter was the first to admit that journey was improbable, to say the least; he didn’t want to mislead his audience into thinking that his ascension as a writer was the easy or typical road. It really doesn’t happen like this, he said. At least not on a regular basis. He worked hard; he got lucky; seriously, you guys, this never happens.

But for Van Meter, the fairy tale came true: After graduating from DePaul with an M.A. in creative writing, he landed an M.F.A., published his thesis, and secured a faculty position at the University of San Francisco – all in a few short years. That thesis was published this month by Sarabande Books and so Van Meter returned to stand in front of his peers, an example of what the DePaul English Department can help you achieve. He is a tangible success story, a testimonial for that potent combination of talent, dedication, and hard work (though having a really good memory certainly helps).

Van Meter’s book is a collection of creative nonfiction essays, some of which were begun under the tutelage of DePaul Professor Michele Morano. Years after she first noticed the pupil with the striking aptitude for narrative storytelling, she couldn’t keep the grin off her face as she introduced him to a room full of current writing and English students, including the fifteen students in her graduate revision workshop. (I’ve taken two classes with Professor Morano, and we’ve read Van Meter’s work in both.) Van Meter addressed this new generation directly: Morano’s class, he said, changed his life. It was at DePaul that Van Meter truly learned what creative nonfiction was, after all.

After growing up in the closet in Missouri and earning a Bachelor’s in English from the University of Missouri-Columbia, Van Meter packed his life into his car and moved to Chicago at the age of 22. The excerpt he read on Tuesday, titled “The Goldfish History,” told the story of the years that followed: his relationship with his best friend, Kim; his realization that he was gay and subsequent coming out to Kim in the bathroom of a gay bar; his first goldfish; his first boyfriend. Van Meter wrote, “Goldfish…have a reputation for being disposable. If it dies, you get another one. The pet store tanks are full of hundreds and maybe even thousands of them, glittering and tightly packed together like sewn sequins. Drunk kids used to swallow them as a dare because presumably no one would miss a few dozen, so why not? It might be said that goldfish aren’t usually important.” Framing the story around the lifespan of his fish, Rufus – named for his favorite musician, Rufus Wainwright – Van Meter explores some of the most important relationships in his life and tracks how they developed, changed, died, were reborn, or weren’t. He told the story of this fish, and all this fish came to represent.

If the rest of the book is anything like “The Goldfish History,” I’ll read the entire thing in one sitting. In fact it’s sitting on my desk at this moment, staring at me, willing me to ignore it until my other work for the day is done. (Hint: That won’t happen.)

After the reading and a short Q&A, Van Meter stuck around even longer to talk to Professor Morano’s workshop students. I asked a question about how he’d structured the story, which covered six years in just 21 pages and provides an impressive display of mastery over transition, the seamless juxtaposition of action and background and exposition. Another student asked about how Van Meter secured an agent and his plans for his next project; Van Meter joked that his contract requires that his publisher get “right of first refusal,” which sounds so negative – shouldn’t it be “right of first acceptance”?

Van Meter’s visit, in my opinion, was a marked success; to see anyone thrive spiritually and financially as a writer is inspirational. To see a DePaul graduate do it is even better.

If You Knew Then What I Know Now is available directly from Sarabande Books and at bookstores around the country (including Amazon). A video preview of the book, based on Van Meter’s story “First,” can be seen here. Pictures from the reading can be seen here.

Small Presses and Literary Magazines Offer Opportunity

By M.A.W.P. student Christopher Smith

I recently came across an article online published by the New York Journal of Books about the success of the small literary publisher. These small publishers are publishing books and journals, online and in print, that feature strong writing in a variety of genres, and they are being read by people that love to read and write literature.

In the M.A.W.P. program, we talk about how smaller presses are the perfect opportunity to get work published. I believe this to be the case after reading this article and seeing the list of small publishers submitting to the Pushcart Anthology each year.

This article was particularly applicable to my class ENG 484: The Art of Revision with Professor Morano. For one assignment, we had to find a couple of literary journals to research as possible places for submission in the future. Why does this matter? Because literary journals that are smaller and independently run are actually doing well in this weakened economy.

Publishers are starting new journals and publishing operations because of the dedicated people who run these presses. These people love literature and are extremely dedicated to their work, often times staying for decades with a journal that they support. They are also aware that things are shifting to a digital publishing format, and many have websites that reflect this change by offering issues and samples on their websites in PDF format. Keyhole Press does something interesting with Twitter—offering followers a digital copy of a book for free simply by tweeting the title to your followers using a Pay-by-Tweet service that they have attached to the book. This is an interesting convergence of social media and literature in the digital age. For now, this seems like a perfect way to spread the word about literature to an untold number of people who may have not known about these presses before.

Editor of Keyhole Press, Gabe Durham, is enthusiastic, “The scene’s doing great. I doubt there have ever been this many great magazines and indie presses running simultaneously, both online and in print, and so many of them are well designed now, too. So it’s a golden age in a lot of ways. . . .”

As we witness Borders closing more and more of its stores due to bankruptcy, seventeen in the state of Illinois alone (five in Chicago), it might be a little too easy to cry that the printed word is dead. This is not the case if these small publishers have anything to say about it.

You can read the full article here.

The Wall Street Journal has a list of all the Borders stores closing.

Dangerous Territory: Reflection on Master Class with William Lychack

By M.A.W.P. student Shane Zimmer

Last Thursday I took part in a Master Class with author William Lychack as part of the Visiting Writers Program at DePaul. I was one of three fortunate M.A.W.P. students who had their stories selected for the hour-and-a-half workshop. Along with Javaria Afghani and Amanda Gibson, I had the opportunity to talk shop with the author of The Wasp Eater and The Architect of Flowers.

Lychack took time to respond to each of our stories candidly. Though he had comments for each individual piece, he shared one particularly memorable insight that applied to all three of us. Our stories, he said, seemed to stop short of crossing into dangerous territory.

What exactly is dangerous territory?

If I understood Lychack correctly, it’s the place where characters get themselves in the most trouble. It’s where they confront their deepest fears and desires, where they cannot hide from their vulnerabilities and they are forced to view themselves and their relationships in the most revealing light.

Rather than being abstract, Lychack identified specific scenes (or lack of scenes) in all of our stories that could have crossed into dangerous territory. I can’t speak for Javaria or Amanda, but in my story I missed a few opportunities to get my protagonist in trouble. He went through the gestures of transformation without showing proof that his change was real.

Speaking generally, it was a great help just to be reminded how important it is to keep a lookout for dangerous territory and to reveal my characters by propelling them directly into its heart.

Lychack also shared five questions he learned from the writer Charles Baxter. These are the first questions he asks himself and his students when responding to a story:

  1. What’s the story about?
  2. What does the main character want?
  3. What is he/she afraid of?
  4. What do you remember most from a story? Or, as the writer, what are you trying to hand over to the reader?
  5. What is idiosyncratic about the story? What in the story is yours?

DePaul’s Professors Miles Harvey, Richard Jones and Michele Morano, plus several students, contributed their own questions and insights. All together their input made for a fruitful discussion on narrative craft. Such conversations are why I enrolled in this program. It is always a humbling experience to present a piece of writing in a workshop, thinking it’s near to finished, and then discovering how many ways the piece can be improved. The workshop is dangerous territory in itself, and one I am always glad to have entered.

Thanks to Professor Harvey and the Department of English for arranging the Master Class and thanks to William Lychack for taking the time to share his wisdom.