Salvatore Pane

Month: March, 2010

Thoughts on the Short Story Survey

“Do people still care about short fiction?” That’s a redundant, pointless question for the most part, but I find it interesting that the dominant form of literary fiction consumed in this country is the novel, yet so many undergraduate institutions focus primarily on the short story in writing workshops and even in general surveys for non-English majors. I’m taking an Independent Study at Pitt with Nick Coles called Seminar in Course Design. The goal of the course is for me to generate five syllabi for a wide variety of classes: Workshop in Composition, Short Stories in Context, The Graphic Novel, Intro to Creative Writing and Intro to Fiction. I’ve been reading a lot of pedagogical theory on these subjects by writers like Mike Rose, Richard Rodriguez, Madison Smart Bell and Peter Turchi. It’s been really great experience so far, but the one I keep getting stuck on is the short story course.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the survey courses I took in undergrad. My professor was a particularly cool guy we all wanted to emulate. Dr. Laurence Roth had a book out about Jewish detective fiction and wrote scholarly articles about comic book luminary Will Eisner. He also played in a kickass band made up of other faculty members. This is all to say that he had a posse of students who signed up for practically every class he taught. When I took his survey,  I was still a very naive, innocent undergrad reading Carver, Dubus, Wolff and Ford pretty much exclusively. Roth bombarded us with Pynchon, Eggers, Safran-Foer, DeLillo, Kincaid and even the aforementioned Jimmy Corrigan by Chris Ware. I was alternatively frightened by Roth’s selection and intrigued. But what I didn’t realize at the time was that Roth’s survey class proved a valuable counterpoint to the realism heavy focus of all my workshop classes. Roth showed the alternative; he showed us what else was possible.

So the question I’ve been facing is whether or not one class can balance both sides. Can a single survey course manage to promote neither realism, postmodernism or any other school of thought, and instead, simply show students the possibilities and let them decide on their own? Or will professors’ biases always come to the forefront no matter how democratic a syllabus? I’m not sold either way. But I’ve made an attempt. Below, you will find a draft of my short story survey syllabus. I’m looking to improve it, so if you have any suggestions, please throw them out. Keep in mind, it’s aimed at undergraduates.

Course Description

This course is a survey of the various facets of the contemporary short story from 1950 to present. The class will be broken down into four major units in which we will examine the work of authors from different literary movements and see how they are affected by history and culture. The first unit will involve a thorough analysis of the so-called post war writers who often focused on the widespread conformity of 1950s and early 1960s America. Unit two will move on to the more experimental writers of the ‘60s and beyond and focus on how these writers constructed their stories and why they were so deeply impacted by their place in literary history. Then we will cover the dirty realists of the ‘80s and their shift back to basics during an age of utter excess. Toward the end of the course, we will study the growing world of globalized writers and the plight of those who deal with the aftermath of colonial imperialism. Finally, the class will investigate the new frontier of canonized short story writers and attempt to understand and categorize what their place in history is.

Required Coursework

The class is designed as an ongoing discussion about the contemporary short story and how the form affects and is affected by broader stratifications in history and culture. We will conduct close readings on the assigned material every class. After the second week, group presentations will begin in which teams of four students are given time to present on directed topics. Aside from class participation and group presentations, grades will be based on three separate papers in which students will be asked to discuss the various texts at length along with supplemental material and other theoretical/cultural concerns.

Sequence

Unit I: Post War Conformity in the USA: The Rise of Traditional Realism

John Updike
John Cheever
J.D Salinger
James Baldwin
Richard Yates
Group Presentations Begin

Unit II: The Counter Culture and Avant-Garde

Donald Barthelme
Joyce Carol Oates
James Alan McPherson
Barry Hannah
Toni Cade Bambara
Charles Baxter
Jamaica Kincaid
Roberto Bolano
Paper #1 Due

Unit III: Dirty Realism in the Age of Reagan

Tim O’Brien
Raymond Carver
Andre Dubus
Tobias Wolff
Richard Ford
Bobbie Ann Mason
Alice Munro
Breece D’J Pancake
Lorrie Moore
Paper #2 Due

Unit IV: New Frontiers

David Foster Wallace
Rick Moody
Rick Bass
Etgar Keret
Junot Diaz
Dan Chaon
Robert Boswell
Dave Eggers
Antonya Nelson
Miranda July
Stewart O’ Nan
A.M Homes
Don Lee
Jhumpa Lahir
George Saunders

Final Paper Due

Assignments

Paper #1) Using the work of two writers from Unit I and two writers from Unit II, compare and contrast the style and techniques of the Post War Realists and the Experimentalists. What is at stake for these groups of writers and is there any overlap? Focus your argument on whether or not one side or the other has more emotional resonance. You may want to take into consideration that the answer may be more complex than “the experimentalists have more emotional resonance because…” What concerns bind these seemingly disparate groups of writers together? What threatens to tear them apart? 5 pages.

Paper #2) What does it mean to be a dirty realist in the age of Reagan? Using the work of at least three of the writers covered in Unit III, come up with a mantra for this generation of writers and spend your paper arguing their merits and drawbacks. What have these writers taken from those in Unit I? What about Unit II? On the flip side, what have they jettisoned? What is gained from their techniques? What is lost? Feel free to make use of the historical milieu of the time period. 5 pages.

Paper #3) We have now examined some of the most major writers of the short story from 1950 to the present day. Since you now have a vast resource of stories and writers to draw from, I would like you to select three writers from Unit IV that you think are similar stylistically. Then go back through the previous units and attempt to create a genealogy for this group of writers. You should argue which writers and stories influenced your writers and how. Do you see the macabre flourishes of Joyce Carol Oates in the work of Dan Chaon? Is there a connection between the down and out protagonists of Raymond Carver and the Pittsburgh milieu of Stewart O’ Nan? Is Jhumpa Lahir’s interest in the post-colonial world influenced by Jamaica Kincaid in any tangible way? Make connections. See the through lines that are at play in literary history. 10 pages.

Review of Justin Taylor’s Everything Here Is the Best Thing Ever

Hi everybody, just wanted to link to my latest book review. I’m writing for PANK now, and you can check out my thoughts comparing Justin Taylor’s new short story collection Everything Here Is the Best Thing Ever to Philip Roth’s Goodbye, Columbus here. Let me know what you think.

Why Super Mario Bros. Will Affect the New Generation of Writers

A few years ago I came across a story of Tom Bissell’s in Best American Short Stories 2005. I can’t remember everything about “Death Defiers”, but I’m pretty sure it involved an American photojournalist in the Middle East who gets swept up in some sort of bizarre, familial poison plot. The details are fuzzy, but what I recall quite clearly is the final paragraph: a beautiful piece of prose describing the protagonist stepping on a mine and flipping through the air. I’m not doing this story any justice whatsoever, but I liked the piece enough at the time to add Bissell’s name to my “To Read” list.

I’m sure all writers/readers have similar lists. Mine’s in the back of whatever moleskin notepad I’m keeping my writing notes in at the time. The list comprises every book or writer that I need to read. Sometimes I make it through these lists in their entirety, but most of the time I do not. In the intervening years between first reading Bissell’s short story and now, I’ve seen essays of his from time to time but little else. Then yesterday, over on HTML Giant, I read that he was publishing a collection of essays about his addiction to video games (and flirtations with cocaine) called Extra Lives. They linked to an excerpt at The Guardian.

HOLY SHIT!

Finally, someone is looking at gamer culture with a literary (and serious) sensibility. Interestingly enough, the same Best American with Bissell’s piece also contained a short story about a World of Warcraft-esque human slave labor camp. But outside of that and Justin Taylor’s fantastic flash fiction Tetris/End of the World mash-up, I haven’t really read much that looks at gaming with a seriousness of intent. I was particularly drawn to this section in The Guardian excerpt:

What have games given me? Experiences. Not surrogate experiences, but actual experiences, many of which are as important to me as any real memories. Once I wanted games to show me things I could not see in any other medium. Then I wanted games to tell me a story in a way no other medium can. Then I wanted games to redeem something absent in myself. Then I wanted a game experience that pointed not toward but at something. Playing GTA IV on coke for weeks and then months at a time, I learned that maybe all a game can do is point at the person who is playing it, and maybe this has to be enough….

It turns narrative into an active experience, which film is simply unable to do in the same way. And it is moments like this that remind me why I love video games and what they give me that nothing else can…

Niko [the protagonist of Grand Theft Auto IV] was not my friend, but I felt for him, deeply. He was clearly having a hard go of it and did not always understand why. He was in a new place that did not make a lot of sense. He was trying, he was doing his best, but he was falling into habits and ways of being that did not reflect his best self. By the end of his long journey, Niko and I had been through a lot together. (Bissell)

What I love about this essay is that it recognizes that video games offer a textual experience wholly unique. Literature and film require active participation to a certain extent, but no matter how much you contextualize movies or visualize the scenes in books, you can never have a  literal direct effect on the chain of narrative events in the way you can with video games. Even comic books, which require more active participation than film or books by having white space segmenting the action which forces readers to play out the missing moments of time in their minds, cannot match the interactivity of a video game.

I’m not sure where this line of thinking will carry me, but it’s something I’ve been dwelling on a lot recently as video games factor into the novel I’m very close to completing, The Collected Works of the Digital Narcissist. The protagonist is a gamer nostalgic for the 8-bit games of yore and often embeds images from those games into the text. During a trilogy of scenes which take place during the early nineties, he describes his devotion to all things Nintendo via the following:

If you’ve only casually played video games, then you can not comprehend the inner depths of their joys. You don’t know what it feels like to give yourself up so completely to an alien world of colors and sprites, of repetition and absolute safety. You are no longer yourself. You are an avatar. Super Mario, an Italian plumber tumbled through the looking-glass. Link, the boy knight on a magical crusade to rescue Princess Zelda from the terrible Ganon. Samus Aran, the intergalactic bounty hunter tracking down alien eggs on a world controlled by space pirates. This becomes more “real” than the “real” world…

And so I began my descent into the world of microchips and immateriality. And so I began to fear the natural world. Because when you are represented by an avatar, you are no longer Michael Bishop, a skinny child with a broken arm and sharp ribs that push against your polar bear t-shirt. You are not weak and loathsome and oh so frightened that some threat lurks around every corner existing only to dismember you. I lost myself in those games for hours at a time, refused to leave the safety of my house and that monolithic Nintendo. I feared forests and lakes and birds and wind and most of all people.

The digital!

My first true love!

(Pane)

What’s interesting to me about all of this is echoed in Paste Magazine’s review of the aforementioned Justin Taylor’s Everything Here is the Best Thing Ever. Reviewer Charles McNair writes, “Justing Taylor’s first short-story collection artfully captures the view of the 200s from the perspective of a twentysomethingSeveral of his stories bear the unmistakable, bloggy influence of the 2000s. Do we sense some sort of new fictional frontier? Time will tell.” This is the first generation to come of age raised on video games and technology more advanced than the Atari 2600 and the Apple II. Will that have an effect on the writing produced by those writers? How about blogs and Facebook and Twitter and cell phones? I say overwhelmingly yes. Our sense of narrative has been irrevocably shifted by technology and it only makes sense that not only will the platform literature is disseminated through change, but the very writing itself.

Two brief personal examples to illustrate a point:

1) This is my actual Nintendo collection.

Over the past six years, I’ve managed to track down about 150 Nintendo Entertainment System games, 50 Super Nintendo Entertainment games and 20 GameBoy games. I don’t play newer systems very much because I’d usually rather spend my free time reading, but also because I know that like Bissell I have an addictive personality and remember all too well the days in high school when I would play Japanese Role Playing Games on the original Playstation for disgusting stretches (during one horrible summer before ninth grade, I played Chrono Cross every day for three weeks for at least eight hours at a time. I became so addicted that I only stopped to hurriedly eat a sandwich in front of the pause screen). Since college, I have been content to play the games of my childhood. Super Mario Bros. Chip N’ Dale’s Rescue Rangers. Maniac Mansion. Blaster Master. Fun games with marginal narratives that only take about a half-hour to complete.

All that being said, how can I not be affected by video games? Even if I don’t play much now, so much of my life has been spent glued in front of a television screen controlling digital avatars that it wouldn’t be realistic to clam my sense of narrative hasn’t been deeply impacted by these digital worlds. And I’m willing to bet I’m not alone in this.

2) I went to college for creative writing. The program is very serious compared to other undergrad institutions and the teachers treat their pupils more like graduate students. I often bailed on the work in my other classes to work on fiction and cnf, and this was certainly not frowned upon by the real working writers who taught us. The books lifted up for us to worship were all written by the ’80’s dirty realists and their predecessors. Carver. Dubus. Wolff. Ford. Pancake. Munro. Bobbie Ann Mason. Richard Yates. And don’t get me wrong. They all still number among my favorite writers, and my devotion to Yates borders on the religious.

Unfortunately, after many years of writing each and every day, I eventually came to realize that I will never be a master of domestic realism. I don’t have it in me. My instincts naturally strive for the geeky, the nerdy, and it’s hard to hit that aesthetic in the parameters of sparse Carver minimalism. I wrote a very bad, failed novel a few years ago in the style of domestic realism. The characters were all working class, and the subject matter included decaying mines and the folly of local politics.

It was breathtakingly terrible, and after wonderful advice from a mentor of mine, I packed it away in a drawer. Since then, I have written something much more successful, and my work has begun to be published in very small publications. While working on my new novel, I found myself referencing Nintendo, putting up screen shots, using Twitter feeds, implementing blog posts, inserting web comics and even writing an entire scene in script format. People ask why I made these narrative decisions and I can only respond that it’s what felt natural and “right” to me at the time. Like Bissell, I feel incredibly affected by the prevailing technologies of my era. To deny that by reverting to a mode of writing three decades old is akin to denying myself, something Bissell and Taylor are very clearly aware of.

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Bi-Weekly Friday Art Roundup

I’m going to momentarily pull myself away from the glory that is March Madness to introduce a new feature I’m working on (in my best Dicky V. impersonation: It’s going to the best, baby!). Bi-Weekly Friday Art Roundup is an opportunity to showcase some of my favorite artists working in the comic industry, as well as hyping The Black List with some unused art and promotional covers. And who better to kick off the inaugural feature than Rafael Albuquerque?

Vertigo released American Vampire #1 this past Wednesday with art by Rafael Albuquerque and scripts from prose writers Scott Snyder and Stephen King. This book’s getting a ton of buzz and for good reason. Although Dark Tower and The Stand have both been adapted into comics by Marvel, this is the first time King’s actually handled scripting chores himself on a comic book. And Scott Snyder’s no slouch either, having written a very well-received short story collection, Voodoo Heart, and an issue of The Torch for Marvel. But Albuquerque’s pencils come close to stealing the show. With settings including the Old West and 1920’s Hollywood, Albuquerque really has a chance to shine here. He’s a master of body language, facial expressions and wonderfully lived-in settings. This is a book to watch.

Mitch Geralds is an artist I hadn’t heard of, but I discovered his work over on Mark Millar’s forums. He’s self-publishing his book Johnny Recon, and from the looks of the art, it’s definitely something I’d be interested in checking out. Geralds seems to be relatively undiscovered so if there’s any comic writers out there looking for a collaborator, consider getting in touch with him.

What kind of promoter would I be if I didn’t take this opportunity to once again show off the artwork of Lamair Nash, one of my collaborators on The Black List forthcoming from Arcana Comics? This guy is a superstar in the making, and I know that both Mark (my co-writer) and I feel incredibly lucky that we found him before he broke into the industry. This is a unused cover from The Black List featuring an early design of Richard Nixon, one of our main characters and heroes. The final Tricky Dick design is slightly different, however (Our Nixon is slightly younger and more buff) so we won’t be able to go use this beautiful cover.

I apologize in advance for how srunched together the art appears, but Night Owls by the Timony Twins is a must read. Published by DC’s webcomic imprint Zuda, the art of Night Owls is remarkable due to its old timey feel and classic/wacky character designs. The juxtaposition of Ernest Baxter and Roscoe the Gargoyle is hilarious and gets a chuckle pretty much on every page. I also love how the art team chose to stick with the traditional grid layout of panels. It really makes the webcomic feel like something transported out of an earlier decade regardless of bizarre subject matter.

Also: it’s free!

If you’re not reading Irredeemable, you ain’t shit. This book is one of the best indies out there and reaffirms why Mark Waid is one of the most talented comic scribes in the biz. The artist, Peter Krause, is also doing phenomenal work, but the cover above was actually done by Paul Azaceta and Dan Panosian. I haven’t heard of either of them, but I’ll definitely be looking for their work in the future after this eye-catching, yet sparse, cover for the final issue of Irredeemable‘s first year.

The Most Unfortunately Titled Article Ever Published or Why America Hates English Professors

A few days ago I read an entry on the LA Times blog Jacket Copy written by former Pitt MFAer Carolyn Kellogg. The article links back to a feature published in The American Book Review conspicuously titled “Top 40 Bad Books”. Normally, I wouldn’t read such a list because there’s so much great literature out there, so many wonderful opportunities. Why dwell on the negative? But the writers Carolyn name-checked from the article were enough to pique my interest (and rage): Cormac McCarthy? F. Scott Fitzgerald?! RICHARD YATES ??!! Umm….. huh? The introduction (there’s no author credited) gives us this:

Richard Ford once said that it takes as much effort to produce a bad book as a good book. And as disheartening as that sounds, what Ford’s assertion might raise, and what most everyone who has attempted the task of a book-length work already knows, is the notion that effort alone does not ensure a book’s success, and that there are probably more ways for a good book to be overlooked than a bad book to never make it into print…

That said, what constitutes a bad book? Is it an overrated “good” book? Can an otherwise good author produce a “bad” book? Is the badness in style, in execution? Or is it in theme or outlook? Or is the notion of a “bad” book even comprehensible in the age of postmodernism, poststructialism, and cultural studies?

Calling the question of “bad books” to the fore elicited—as might be expected—an overwhelming response. The forty responses below were selected to demonstrate the sheer variety of responses to what at face value seems a simple question. But as with most literary matters, nothing is as simple as it appears—not even the question of what constitutes a bad book… (American Book Review)

Ok, let’s just ignore the fact that they used the dreaded “theme” while discussing literature. I didn’t realize this was AP English. Anyway, what’s on the list? The Great Gatsby. Revolutionary Road. All the Pretty Horses. The Ian Fleming James Bond novels. Women in Love by D.H. Lawrence. Dreiser, Melville and Colson Whitehead also make appearances. On initial glance, I wanted to yell and scream and rant. The list is made up of 40 entries written by College English Professors (in all Caps of course). A few of the entires are obsessed with attacking well-renowned writers and tearing down their legacies (the Yates and Fitzgerald entries are especially, and needlessly, unkind), but there are many examples here of professors (and a writer or two) doing good work. Some don’t even name a single book. For example, take a look at what Dagoberto Gilb has to say on the subject of bad books:

Like bad girlfriends (and boyfriends, too), there are so many categories of bad books that it’d be gruesome and pathetic to categorize the various species of that sorryness. Setting aside the intrinsically aggravating that the very coquetish author is actually stupid, or the editor who chose the manuscript is too dumb or lame or dazzled, or that the system which perpetuates both of them is as flawed as a university paying for a Glenn Beck lecture series, and omitting the writers who are really salespeople, as are their duped or complicit publishers hyping their so pretty product as though…. Wait a minute, that may be what I think is a major bad book or line of them even. (Gilb) (His ellipses, not mine)

One professor wonders about the usefulness of bad books and cites Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Another, Gerald Graff, talks about the practicality of bad books in pedagogical practice. Graff writes, “It has always seemed strange to me that bad books aren’t a prominent part of our school and college literature curriculum. How do we expect students to learn to tell the difference between good and bad books unless we assign some bad ones for comparison? Don’t you need badness in order to know goodness?” Another interesting tangent is brought up by Carol Guess who says:

Notice (2004) was published posthumously. Its narrative voice was so unique that no press would touch it until Lewis committed suicide at forty. Her suicide allowed the book’s publication; now she was dead, and sufficiently chastened for examining experiences that mainstream culture attempts to suppress. Before she killed herself, Lewis wrote one more novel, The Second Suspect (1998). This book was published and reviewed during her lifetime. It was bought, and it was read. The Second Suspect is a terrible book. But it’s not just a bad book; it’s so much more. It’s a bad book riffing off the author’s masterpiece. The Second Suspect is a rewriting of Notice, but minus everything that makes Notice literary. The Second Suspect takes plot, characters, and themes from Notice and reduces them to formulaic drivel. (Guess)

It’s obvious that Guess isn’t arguing that The Second Suspect is one of the worst books ever written, just as it’s painfully clear that some of these professors have axes to grind (look at the lambasting poor Cormac McCarthy takes!) and are using the American Book Review as a platform to air their theoretical grievances. So although the article in its entiretry is far less inflamatory than expected, what I can not stand for is its title. “Top 40 Bad Books” is a horrible title when the article in question doesn’t even have a list, when some of its contributors don’t even put forth a single book. I’m hoping that this is some type of marketing ploy, that the Editors at ABR chose this title knowing it would be controversial and would garner more attention (case in point, its mention on this blog). But an article like this written by a legion of college professors does much more harm than it does good. It purpotrates a stereotype that America loves to hate, that of the stodgy old English professor who despises everything.

For an example of what I’m talking about, check out The New Republic’s review of a recent memoir, The Professor and Other Writings, by Terry Castle. Ross Posnock, the reviewer, starts his critique with the following:

The public expression of contempt for professors is one of our cherished national pastimes and is that rare thing—bipartisan… Recently on its front page the New York Times invoked “the classic image of a humanities professor … tweed jacket, pipe, nerdy, longwinded, secular—and liberal” in a story on a sociological study of the power of typecasting. And in the annals of egghead bashing, the perennial butt of the foolproof punch line has long been the English professor. For decades Hollywood has dined out on this stereotype—Dennis Quaid’s bloated, bleary, and insufferable literature professor in Smart People is only a recent entry in a long parade of fatuity—but the Times has also loyally done its part. Their reports on the MLA convention are always good for a laugh, with their generous sampling of silly and sex-addled paper titles (who can forget “Wandering Genitalia in Late Medieval German Literature and Culture”?) that the Times cited a few years ago as proof that “eggheads are still nerds” with too much “sex on their minds (and time on their hands).” Whether the accusation is justified or not is less the point than the casualness of the contempt, the easy assumption of a license to scorn. Almost no group is more safely maligned and mocked. (Posnock)

I love the New Republic (especially their dryly titled lit blog The Book), but when they think you’re stodgy you know there’s a serious PR problem. Articles like “Top 40 Bad Books” reinforce the stereotype that English professors are cranky old dipshits seething in their Ivy Towers casting their hate outwards at everything. They are not lovers of literature; they are destroyers. Fiction, poetry and creative nonfiction are the manure from which they produce their cornucopia of brilliance. While Carol Guess and Gerald Graff and Dagoberto Gilb attempt to subvert this assumption, there are just as many examples within the ABR article that prove it. Since there are no bios included within the text of the article (only the names of institutions), one has to wonder if these hater professors teach Literature exclusively or if they dabble in their school’s Comp or Creative Writing departments.

The reason why I ask about what department these professors come from is because of an article by William M. Chace in the American Scholar. This was passed around in secret between friends of mine because the views expressed within are relatively controversial in a University environment. Entitled “The Decline of the English Department”, Chace’s article explores how and why enrollment numbers in English departments across the country have plummeted since the 1960’s coinciding with the ascendancy of critical theory as the main text of the humanities classroom. His findings are what you expect. He blames things on cultural studies and theorists with pseudo-political, pseudo-philosophical agendas (thus satisfying neither the politician or philosopher) and the shift away from the so-called Great Books. This stereotype of an English professor is in line with the bogeymen presented in the ABR article: Learned Men coming down the mount to explain to us philistines why The Great Gatsby is one of the top 40 worst books ever written.

But not all is doom and gloom. What Chase ignores is the rise of undergraduate Creative Writing programs and MFAs. Their enrollments have skyrocketed since the 1960’s with MFA programs pumping out 5,000 graduates a year. Similarly, Comp programs have also evolved thanks to the work of dedicated scholars like Mike Rose and Richard Rodriguez. While regular humanities classes become more and more specialized and in some cases jettison works of fiction, poetry and creative nonfiction altogether, creative writing and comp classrooms have put the focus back on student work and the so-called great books. So, to cap off this long, rambling rant, we need more professors like Guess and Graff and Gilb willing to ruminate over tough subjects, but also willing to celebrate the beautiful act that is the reception and creation of literature. And what we need less of are professors making lists of the worst books ever written and explaining why exactly the work of Richard Yates is so offensively terrible.

Salvatore Pane’s Guide to AWP Part 2: The Off-Site Events

Last time when I discussed AWP, I focused mainly on general pointers and the long list of panels I hoped to attend. What I didn’t cover were the off-site events. Usually, these events are put on by lit journals and have a much more laid back feel than the official AWP panels. They usually take place at night after most of the official AWP events are over, and sometimes they’re even held in bars or during happy hour. Below you’ll find a list of events I find most interesting. It’s clearly not an all-conclusive list, and once again I haven’t covered Saturday as I’ll sadly be on a flight returning to Pittsburgh.

Throughout the Conference

Museum Of Contemporary Art
Location: 1485 Delgany, Denver Co 80202; 303.298.7554
Cost: $5 admission for all attendees and participants in the AWP conference
Website: http://www.mcadenver.org
MCA DENVER is an activator, content provider and immediate research vehicle of culture in the making—a museum without a front door—a place for public engagement. MCA DENVER has five distinct galleries, three spaces for education, multiple sites for special projects/commissioned works and one live art/lecture hall. MCA DENVER excites artists and visitors alike to enter into creative conversations that extend beyond our walls.

A world class museum for five bucks? It’s hard to turn down this one when it’s open to AWP attendees during the entire convention. After 72 hours of straight literary discussion, you may need some type of deviation to recharge your batteries.

Wednesday

4:00PM-8:30PM DoubleCross Press, Lame House Press,and Slash Pine Press Presents A Poetry Marathon
Location: Rackhouse Pub, 208 S. Kalamath St.
Cost: None
Website: http://www.slashpinepress.com/awp/
Whether for a happy hour of local microbrews, a good pub dinner, or the entire four+ hour reading, our presses invite you to the work of over thirty poets. Readers include Abraham Smith, Kate Greenstreet, Malachai Black, John Dermot Woods, Anne Shaw, Jen Tynes, Farrah Field, Gina Myers/Nate Pritts, Matt Hart, Claire Becker, Matt Rasmussen, Brian Oliu, MC Hyland, Nathan Hauke, Dolly Lemke, francine j. harris, among others. 8 minute drive or 20 minutes by light rail + walking.

This one’s a bit of a trek, but I appreciate that it gives people arriving on Wednesday–such as myself–something to do. Plus, the allure of Denver “microbews [and] a good pub dinner” might be too much for me to turn down.

7:00PM-10:00PM AHSAHTA / OMNIDAWN READING
Location: The Magnolia Hotel Ballroom, 17th & Stout (Only 3 blocks from the Colorado Convention Center.)
Cost: No charge for the event.
Please join Ahsahta Press and Omnidawn Publishing for a reading. The readers will be: Christopher Arigo, Susan Briante, Dan Beachy-Quick, Maxine Chernoff & Paul Hoover, Gillian Conoley, Ben Doller, Lisa Fishman, Noah Eli Gordon, Richard Greenfield, Janet Holmes, Hank Lazer, Laura Moriarty, Rusty Morrison, G.E. Patterson, Craig Santos Perez, Bin Ramke, Don Revell, Elizabeth Robinson, Heather Sellers, Heidi Lynn Staples, Michelle Taransky.

This one’s a lot closer to the conference and a great opportunity to catch an event by Ahsahta, one of the major poetry publishers in the country.

7:00PM-9:00PM COUNTERPATH BOOKS / DRUNKEN BOAT / GUERNICA / PERSEA BOOKS / POOL PERFORMANCE
Location: Dikeou Collection, 1615 California St., Suite 515, Denver, CO 80202; 303.623.3001
Website: http://www.dikeoucollection.com
Join five of the most innovative journals and literary publishers showcasing their contributors in multiple genres, including fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction and video installation. Performers include Laird Hunt, Steve Katz, Alexander Chee, Susan Taylor Chehak, Elizabeth Kadetsky, Irina Reyn, Robin Beth Schaer, Dean Rader, Karen Holman, Elizabeth Bradfield and Dylan Landis. Free and open to the public, and only minutes from the conference hotel.

This one’s a no-brainer for me. I love most of the hosts of the event, and Irina Reyn has really been an instrumental help to me as I’ve worked on my book. Plus, Elizabeth Kadetsky–former Pitt faculty–will be reading along with a performance by Peter Yumi, a musician I had the chance to see collaborate with poet Karla Kelsey in Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania. This one should be epic.

8:00PM-11:00PM Cave Canem/Kundiman Reading & Salon
Location: Mercury Cafe, 2199 California Street, Denver, CO 80205; (303) 294-9281
Cost: $3 suggested donation — to benefit Cave Canem & Kundiman (no one turned away for lack of funds)
Website: http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=474228325544&ref=ss
Join the Cave Canem & Kundiman Families for a Reading Featuring Toi Derricotte, Sarah Gambito, Cornelius Eady, Oliver de la Paz, Dawn Lundy Martin & Kazim Ali + a salon featuring Cave Canem and Kundiman fellows & family (bring a poem to share!)  Emceed by Ching-In Chen & Tara Betts.

Toi Derricotte is another Pitt faculty member, so if Cave Canem is your thing, definitely check this one out.

Thursday

5:30PM-7:30PM Prairie Schooner “Baby Boomer” Reading
Location: Common Grounds Downtown Coffee, 1550 17th St, Denver, CO
Cost: Free
A group reading by contributors to the special “Boomer” Issue of Prairie Schooner.  Readers include: Hilde Weisert, Robert E. Wood, Harriet Millan, Marilyn Kallet, Paul Lisicky, Maureen Seaton, Stephen Gibson, A.E. Stringer, Sharon Dolin, Julie Kane, Annie Finch, Edward Falco, Michael Waters, Kate Sontag, Robin Becker, Susan Aizenberg, Charles Harper Webb, Ellen Doré Watson, Toi Derricotte, Dorothy Barresi, Donald Morrill, Christopher Howell, Ray Amorosi, Albert Goldbarth, Bill Lavender, and Marianne Boruch.

Who doesn’t love Prairie Schooner? Who doesn’t want another chance to see Toi Derricotte if they missed her the night before? Another great aspect of this event is the time. It’s one of the earliest off-site events on Thursday, so if you just absolutely have to get away from the conference, this one may be your best bet.

7:00PM-8:30PM Born Magazine @ Gypsy House
Location: Gypsy House Café, located at 1279 Marion Street (on the corner of 13th and Marion) Denver, CO 80218
Cost: Free
Born Magazine and the Gypsy House Reading Series present an evening of experimental writer-artist collaborations on Thursday, April 8th from 7–8:30 PM at the Gypsy House Café. Please join us for a screening of Born projects, with readings by Ander Monson, Monica Drake, Esther Lee, Emma Ramey, Keetje Kuipers, and Thomas Crofts.

A free to the public event featuring “experimental writer-artist collaborations”. Could prove very interesting and worthy of your time.

7:00PM FC2 Flash Reading
Location: Dikeou Collection, 1615 California St, Suite 515, Denver, CO 80202
Matt Roberson, Rob Stephenson, Steve Katz, Vanessa Place, Lynn Kilpatrick, Yuriy Tarnawsky, Susan Steinberg, Brian Evenson, Brian Kiteley, Cris Mazza, Debra Di Blasi, Lance Olsen, Jan Ramjerdi, Steve Gutierrez, Lidia Yuknavitch, Jeffrey DeShell, Elisabeth Sheffield

I couldn’t find much information about what exactly FC2 Flash is, but I’m imagining with the number of participants–and some of the familiar names–that it’s some kind of flash fiction reading. A favorite genre of mine, I’ll definitely try and make it to this one. If anyone knows exactly what this is, please leave info in the comments.

7:00PM Northwestern University Press / &NOW Books / Artifice Magazine Reading
Location: The Celtic Tavern, 1801 Blake St, Denver, CO 80202
Cost: None
Website:http://www.artificemag.com/events
Join Northwestern University Press, &Now Books, and Artifice Magazine for an evening of readings. Three imprints at different ages showcase authors writing at the frontier of contemporary literature.

I’m a big fan of Artifice so you can be certain I’ll be checking this one out.

7:30PM DOGZPANK
Location: Forest Room 5
Cost: Free
Website: http://www.pankmagazine.com/pankblog/?p=2080
Short fiction reading comprised of joint DOGZPLOT and PANK contributors: Aaron Burch, Anne Valente, Beth Thomas, Tim Jones-Yelvington, Matt Bell, JA Tyler, Erin Fitzgerald, Molly Gaudry, Kathy Fish, Angi Becker Stevens, Matt Salesses, Pedro Ponce.

Damn is this a packed time slot. I really enjoy DOZPLOT and PANK–I’m doing book reviews for PANK now too–and would love to catch a Matt Bell reading after missing him at Modern Formations in Pittsburgh due to work.

7:30PM-9:30PM Publication Party and Reading
Location: Mercury Cafe, 2199 California Street, Denver
Website: http://www.amazon.com/Its-Not-You-Me-Breakup/dp/1590202821/
Publication party and reading for the anthology It’s Not You, It’s Me: The Poetry of Break Up. Featuring Patricia Smith, Kim Addonizio, Jerry Williams, Angela Ball, Kevin Prufer, Martha Rhodes, and others.

It’s getting worse and worse. Kim Addonizio is easily one of my favorite working poets. This will be my first real chance to catch her read, so I really want to try and make it to this one too. It looks like some serious sacrifices are going to have to be made.

8:00PM-10:00PM A Magazine Party: Colorado Review, The Normal School, Denver Quarterly, The Pinch
Location: Wazee Supper Club, 1600 15th Street
Cost: cash bar and apps
Website: http://www.wazeesupperclub.com
Come celebrate with some of your favorite magazines.

Colorado Review? Denver Quarterly?! Come on 7-9 time slot!

9:30PM TypewriterGirls Poetry Cabaret
Location: Mercury Cafe 2199 California St, Denver CO
Website: http://www.typewritergirls.net
The TypewriterGirls’ Dada-bred performances are collage-work theatre formed from sketch comedy, poetry, music, whiskey games, collaborative writing, burlesque, and a little magic. In essence, they strive to embody the Comte de Lautréamont’s creed “poetry must be made by all” with a play and a dance party. This event will feature some of Denver’s finest poets and performers.

This one is notable because it’s hosted by the TypewriterGirls, a cool little outfit based in Pittsburgh that puts out Weave. Definitely worth your time.

10:30PM-1:00AM Genres and Generations
Location: Dazzle Restaurant and Lounge, 930 Lincoln St, Denver, CO 80203; 303.839.5100
Cost: Free Event- No Passes Required
Website: http://www.dazzlejazz.com
Genres and Generations is featuring Tarpaulin Sky, Fact-Simile, Monkey Puzzle Press, Fast Forward, Bombay Gin, and Zero Ducats. These presses publish genres that span generations of crafting to genres that have yet to be. Please join us for a wonderful evening of literary collaboration.

This one sounds like a good late-night event, and I’m assuming there will be booze , always a plus.

Friday

3:00PM- 4:30PM DENVER QUARTERLY Reading and Publication Celebration
Location: The Dikeou Collection, located in Downtown Denver: The Colorado Building, 1615 California Street (at 16th Street), Suite 515, Denver, CO 80202 (Only a two-block-walk from the Colorado Convention Center.)
Cost: There will be free wine and snacks, and no charge for the event.
Please join the Denver Quarterly and Coach House Press for a reading on Friday, April 9th, from 3-6pm at The Dikeou Collection. Featuring: Dan Beachy-Quick, Julie Carr, Malinda Markham, Martha Ronk, Cole Swensen, Brian Teare

A particularly early event and a chance to catch a Denver Quarterly shindig if you missed the one on Thursday.

4:00PM- 6:00PM failbetter.com’s 10th anniversary
Location: Mercury Cafe, 2199 California Street, Denver
Cost: No cover, cash bar
failbetter.com celebrates its 10th anniversary with a cocktail party and reading, featuring: Sherman ALEXIE, Michael MARTONE, Terese SVOBODA

Uh… did you look at who’s reading?

5:00PM- 7:00PM Black Warrior Review / Blue Hour Press Reading
Location: Mario’s Double Daughter’s Salotto, 1632 Market St, Denver, CO 80202
Cost: Free
Website: http://bwr.ua.edu/ & http://www.bluehourpress.com/
Start off your evening of off-site events at Double Daughter’s (just an eight-block walk or free bus ride), where ten readers will share the work they’ve published in the physical pages of Black Warrior Review and the digital pages of Blue Hour Press: Christopher Cheney, Miriam Cohen, Shanna Compton, Nick Courtright, John Gallaher, James Grinwis, Emily Kendal Frey, Brian Kubarycz, Sabrina Orah Mark, and Alexis Orgera.

A couple things to say about this one. First off, it’s hosted at Mario’s Double Daughter’s Salotto. I can’t even imagine what that is, so needless to say my curiosity is piqued. Secondly, I love, love, love Black Warrior Review. It’s one of my perennial lit journal subscriptions.

7:00PM-10:00PM Creative Nonfiction Launch Party & MFA Program-Off Reading
Location: The Shag Lounge, 830 15th Street, Denver, CO
Cost: FREE
Website: http://www.creativenonfiction.org
After a long day at the conference, come relax with Creative Nonfiction and listen to readings from the finalists and winner of the MFA Program-Off Contest. Off-site event, but only three blocks from the convention center. Free copies of the newly redesigned CNF magazine, plus plenty of cheap drinks for all in attendance.

CNF is a Pitt MFA related publication, so I have to give it some hype here. If you’ve never read the journal, you might as well come out, get some cheap drinks and a free copy of the magazine.

7:30PM-9:30PM Barbed Wire Reading Series
Location: Michelangelo’s Coffee and Wine Bar, 1 Broadway Suite B
Cost: No cover * Half price bottles of wine
The International Reading Series! Come hear the literary work of artists from Denver, the Southwest, Latin America, and the Deep South at the long-running, multi-genre Barbed Wire Reading Series. In 2004, Barbed Wire was birthed from the University of Texas at El Paso bilingual MFA program, where it continues to the present. It spread to the University of Alabama in 2007.  MCed by Denver’s own Trent Hudley, and Kevin Brown of the University of Alabama.
*In keeping with the tradition of the Barbed Wire series in Tuscaloosa, AL, Michelangelo’s will be offering half price bottles of wine especially and exclusively for the  Barbed Wire event.

I don’t know a thing about this event other than the half-priced bottles of wine. That’s all I need to know.

Success in the Digital Age

One of the many perennial essays that gets handed out to would-be writers is Ted Solotarff’s “Writing in the Cold: The First Ten Years”. It’s a harsh look at what even talented apprentice writers have to endure: toiling away in obscurity clinging to the desperate hope that their stories will get published (with no payment) in some small, yet respected, journal. That maybe one day if they work hard enough, and they’re lucky enough, that some agent will contact them, ready to take a risk. And above all, they have to hope that their writing is worth a damn, that when the call comes they’ll have something substantial to show even when a million voices (internal and external) tell the writer to give up, that they are of inferior stock, garbage, an abomination.

Writers have been rethinking this essay ever since Solotarff’s death back in 2008. In the LA Times, Dani Shapiro grappled with the essay and how the publishing industry has undergone a sea change since its original publication back in the early ’80’s. Shapiro writes:

The creative writing industry of the mid-1980s now seems like a few mom-and-pop shops scattered on a highway lined with strip malls and mega-stores. Today’s young writers don’t peruse the dusty shelves of previous generations. Instead, they are besotted with the latest success stories: The 18-year-old who receives a million dollars for his first novel; the blogger who stumbles into a book deal; the graduate student who sets out to write a bestselling thriller — and did. The 5,000 students graduating each year from creative writing programs (not to mention the thousands more who attend literary festivals and conferences) do not include insecurity, rejection and disappointment in their plans. I see it in their faces: the almost evangelical belief in the possibility of the instant score. And why not? They are, after all, the product of a moment that doesn’t reward persistence, that doesn’t see the value in delaying recognition, that doesn’t trust in the process but only the outcome. As an acquaintance recently said to me: “So many crappy novels get published. Why not mine?” The emphasis is on publishing, not on creating. On being a writer, not on writing itself. The publishing industry — always the nerdy distant cousin of the rest of media — has the same blockbuster-or-bust mentality of television networks and movie studios. There now exist only two possibilities: immediate and large-scale success, or none at all. There is no time to write in the cold, much less for 10 years.(Shapiro)

There’s a lot of mine fields to be navigated here, the chief of which in my mind is Shapiro’s complete disregard of the literary brat pack of the 1980’s. Bret Easton Ellis, Jay McInerney, these were writers who seemingly appeared overnight with novel publications in their early twenties. I still remember a mentor of mine, Tom Bailey, discussing in class how he read Less Than Zero when it came out and seethed with jealousy and rage for weeks on end. Writers getting published at a young age doesn’t seem like a particularly new aspect of the literary industry, and in fact, seems to happen less and less because the major publishers can no longer spend the time developing a writer. If Andre Dubus emerged today with The Lieutenant, you can almost be sure he wouldn’t have gone on to become the celebrated master he’s seen as now. He would’ve been dropped from the majors into the world of the University Presses or be permanently saddled as a mid list writer (as an aside, check out this great article in Kirkus Reviews about the plight of the mid lister).

What I do find to be of particular interest in Shapiro’s essay is her speculation that this latest generation of writers is fundamentally different from those who came before. I’ll leave that one to the historians, but it may be relevant to take a look at some of the premiere literary upstarts of the last few years. Many of these journals (I’m talking smaller places like The Collagist, New York Tyrant, Annalemma, Dogzplot, etc. etc.) seem to have become the new training grounds for young writers. These journals publish work from established writers, but their stable of contributors is mostly comprised of the up-and-comers. And with comments enabled on the online stories, these writers are building communities and networks that are bubbling over and just beginning to get notice from the New York majors. Perhaps this is the writing in the cold Shapiro thinks is missing from the current literary community. It’s just not being done in places like The New England Review, it’s happening in online upstarts independent from the university.

However, there’s one more element crucial to this issue. Has the  definition of what success means for a writer changed in the ensuing years between “Writing in the Cold” and today? Joe Coscarelli recently wrote this piece in Gawker. Coscarelli writes:

Aspiring novelists are archaic. I know this because in four years of higher education, no one ever offered to show me a manuscript, but I’ve seen more blogs than bongs. The bearded, bespectacled Pavement fans… are unemployed or out of touch. Or dead. No one in their early twenties wants to be a music journalist—that would be absurd. These English majors want to be some super genius bloggers. (Coscarelli)

He goes onto discuss how that in a world obsessed with fame, those souls who in any other time would be drawn to the method of cultural production that is the modern novel (or even the music journalism of the 1990’s) are now obsessed with becoming bloggers or nebulous media personalities. Coscarelli thinks that our priorities have shifted, and on that account, I don’t think many people can argue. What is success for writers in the digital age? Is it publishing a book of stories with a small Midwestern press that only a sliver of the public will actually read, or is it maintaining a popular blog with a loyal readership in the upper-thousands (or maybe success means being Maud Newton who has an awesome blog AND a forthcoming novel)? I can’t really say, but what I take comfort in is that for some of us, the definition of writerly success is the same as it’s always been: publishing a superior novel of critical acclaim. Just look at the aforementioned literary journals and the Rise of the MFA Program. There are more people writing than ever before, and this is cause for celebration (even if the reading public is dwindling by the day).