Archive for January, 2014

The Girl Who Loved Books and Emdashes

January 29, 2014
The Girl Who Loved Books and Emdashes
Thoughts on the Wilkes Publishing Internship
By Kim Loomis-Bennett
 

I am a reader and being a reader made me a writer. I have loved books forever and they have loved me back. Grammar and punctuation did not love me and I pretended we would never meet again—until a few years ago when I entered the Wilkes M.A./M.F.A. program and began teaching part-time in Washington State.

One of my first gigs was a grammar review class. Learning theories acknowledge that students learn more when they teach a new skill to a classmate. When I had twenty-five students counting on me and I was hired to be the “expert,” I knew that I would never have a better occasion to learn the twenty different ways to use a comma or how sometimes subordination adds a touch of elegance to stale syntax.

As the time to intern with Etruscan Press approached, I was direct and told Phil Brady and Managing Editor Jackie Fowler that I wanted to experience the duties of a proofreader and editor. With a green light, Jackie sent me home with books to read and consider reviewing. A few weeks after residency, my first proofreading task arrived in my Gmail inbox.

editCertainly, proofreading led me down roads I had never planned to go, but I loved each fresh challenge. My main technical question concerned the endash (–) so named because it is the length of the letter n and it is often used between numbers: such as, 3:00–6:00, and the emdash (—) which is defined by the length of an m, and can be used in place of a colon, and commas or parentheses that are placed around nonessential information—or to indicate a long pause. Dashes are entirely optional. When I went through James McCorkle’s poetry manuscript, The Subtle Bodies, I was in love with the language, but had to shut down the content reading part of my brain and look at the mechanics. What I found were endashes and emdashes employed inconsistently. This happens when files are transferred from laptops to desktop pcs. Mr. McCorkle loves his dashes, as do I, so my job as a proofreader for a dash-user just happened to be a good fit. And just a few weeks ago, McCorkle’s uncorrected proof appeared in my mailbox. I saw how what is often unacknowledged work bear fruit in McCorkle’s close-to-publication manuscript; I appreciated that background work is a good fit for me. During the internship, I took an additional brief editorial course and found that I want to go even farther and seek a professional certificate. Eventually, I would love to work as a book editor and shape a manuscript from submission to publication. For now, the unexpected offer to continue with Etruscan Press as a poetry manuscript consultant is satisfying.

My internship duties were primarily divided between proofreading and book reviewing. Before I approached Phil and Jackie about writing book reviews, I brought book review skills that I had begun to hone during my M.A. while reviewing memoirs for alumni Donna Talarico-Beerman’s Hippocampus Magazine, and a poetry review in [PANK] that I landed via another alum, Amye Barrese Archer. I wanted to offer Etruscan Press something in exchange for the chance to experience proofreading.

I worked harder on the book reviews than I expected to. While polishing them, I found my reviewer’s voice: a reader/writer that writes for readers/writers. Silly to say, but before the internship, I hadn’t considered my published book reviews as publishing credits. I followed up venues for book reviewing online sites that were in the Internship course packet. I was excited to see my reviews appear in Founding Editor Lori A. May’s Poet’s Quarterly and The Small Press Book Review.  As I heard back from gracious authors who appreciated the time I took to review their books, I realized that the more I submit my work, and the more conversations that I have with writers, an intimate and reciprocal writing community exists. I may have never considered writing book reviews as a regular goal, but because of breaks given to me by Wilkes alumni and the internship, I will continue reviewing. On February 1st, I am launching a book review blog to feature my wide-range of reading interests and books that I choose, instead of my editors. I can be indulgent and celebrate exceptional writing talent at the same time. I am not saying goodbye to the Wilkes Creative Writing Program as I had expected to. I forged and fostered relationships that weren’t forced but are authentic. One of my writing mentors, Neil Shepard often said to me, “Onward!” and that’s the plan.

Kim Loomis-Bennett is a life-long resident of Washington State, besides a detour into Oregon where she met her husband. Her poems and book reviews have appeared in The November 3rd Club, The Copperfield Review, Poet’s Quarterly, and Hippocampus Magazine. Recent work is included in The Prose-Poem Project and The Far Field. She has served as poetry editor for River and South Review. Kim also teaches part-time at Centralia College. She has an M.A. and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Wilkes University. Her work, Soiled Doves: A Poetic Sequence, published in 2011, is available as an e-book.

AWP: An Opportunity to Exercise Literary Citizenship

January 22, 2014

AWP: An Opportunity to Exercise Literary Citizenship

by Lori A. May

The annual AWP Conference & Bookfair is just around the corner. This year, writers from across the country and beyond will gather in Seattle during Feb 26-Mar 1, 2014. AWP is by far my favorite literary gathering of the year. It is the one event I bookmark in my calendar years in advance and for which I schedule everything else around; it’s a must-attend event in my books. Just last year I wrote a brief introduction to AWP on my blog where I also shared an excerpt, “Chapter 12: AWP Membership and Services,” from The Low-Residency MFA Handbook: A Guide for Prospective Creative Writing Students.

I often speak about what opportunities writers may find during AWP. Yet in addition to the socializing, schmoozing, and general knowledge intake, there are also countless ways in which to exercise literary citizenship. That is, AWP presents an open door for writers to help others during this whirlwind week of events.

But what is literary citizenship? And why, of all places, would an emerging writer elect to spend time doing activities seemingly unrelated to his or her own writing path?

Simply put, literary citizenship is a topical term for engaging in the community with the intent of giving as much as, if not more so, than we take. Our literary world is a social ecosystem that relies on others: readers, writers, editors, reviewers, publishers, booksellers, and so on. The writing and publishing world is one made of relationships. Writing itself may be a somewhat solitary activity, but once the story or poem is ‘done’ we rely on others to read, share, and publish our work. Yet there are so many levels of participation from others in this community. We turn to others for support after rejection; we hope others celebrate alongside our successes. We hope to develop positive connections with readers and editors; we long to feel a part of this community that has called us in some way to participate.

Yes, there is much to personally gain in becoming active members of the arts and at-large community, but literary citizenship calls on our acts of giving, of giving back to the ecosystem so that we may actively ensure its sustainability. The beautiful thing is that it needn’t take much time or skill to offer something of ourselves, of our passions, to others.

Simple acts of literary citizenship can include reviewing another’s book, helping set up a reading event, proofreading a peer’s draft, or simply showing up at an event and being mindfully present. These acts of kindness needn’t cost us a thing; the best ‘gifts,’ as in other aspects of life, come from an authentic place within. We know that giving, indeed, is better than receiving.

It is through my activity in the writing community-at-large that I feel more like a writer, like an engaged participant in this network of dedicated creatives. It is through my involvement with small presses and literary journals that I feel a part of something bigger than myself, better than my own small presence. Contributing to, and impacting, the literary world is something outside of our own selves, and yet it benefits our personal goals and ambitions as we can’t help but grow as writers, as people, when we step outside of our writing dens and into the buzz of literary culture.

AWP-logoHow, then, might a writer participate as a literary citizen during AWP? The organization itself has a number of volunteer opportunities to assist with the conference, but there are simple activities anyone, from any walk of literary life, can take under her wing during those few fast-paced days:

  • help a bookfair exhibitor hand out materials and attract passers-by for an hour
  • or, merely cover a coffee or lunch break for a bookfair exhibitor
  • offer your time to an off-site reading and help set up chairs or hand out programs
  • approach exhibitors you don’t know to introduce yourself to something new
  • ask a literary journal how you can volunteer as a book reviewer or marketing assistant
  • seek out publishers and writers from your region that you can help in some way when you both return home
  • introduce people you know to others you just met; help make connections for others
  • introduce yourself to the person behind you in the coffee line-up and ask what he’s writing/editing/publishing
  • take photos of panels and speakers and then send them to those speakers
  • when you meet a representative from a journal or publisher that doesn’t work with your genre, consider who you know that would find them a perfect fit and make that introduction
  • most of all, engage: attend panels and approach the speakers after their sessions; be helpful to newbies who need directions in and outside of the conference; and make it a goal to come away from the conference having met at least three or four new people—and then make a point of contacting these folks after the conference winds down

AWP hosts a world of opportunities—for your own writing life and for engaging with others throughout the year. Yes, it’s a somewhat hectic place with too much to do and too many people to meet, and yet that’s precisely why it’s a goldmine for making things happen, for meeting new people and jumpstarting relationships that can extend throughout the year, throughout your life as a writer.

Going into the conference with the mindset to give back, to assist where your help is welcome, and to connect with others in meaningful ways can help fine-tune your social map for the week. While there are countless ways to participate as a literary citizen and you should definitely customize what works for you, I hope you’ll have a look at a few additional resources I’m pleased to share:

  • In the May 2010 issue of The Writer (pg 8-9), I interviewed author Matt Bell, agent Andrea Hurst, editor Leah Maines, and author/editor Kate Gale about how to play an active part in the writing community (online link)
  • In November 2013, I shared a round-up of resources and discussions about literary citizenship on my blog (online link)

And, lastly, a personal offering; if you’d like to ask more specific questions about AWP or literary citizenship, feel free to contact me personally at lori@loriamay.com. I’ll do my best to give helpful responses—and I’d love to shake your hand in Seattle.

***

lori-a-mayLori A. May writes across the genres, road-trips half the year, and drinks copious amounts of coffee. Her books include Square Feet and The Low-Residency MFA Handbook: A Guide for Prospective Creative Writing Students. Her writing has appeared in publications such as The Atlantic, Writer’s Digest, Brevity, Midwestern Gothic, and The Writer. Her editorial roles have included working with Kaylie Jones Books, Creative Nonfiction, and other independent presses. She is also the founding editor of Poets’ Quarterly. Lori is a graduate of the Wilkes University MFA program, where she was awarded the Norris Church Mailer Fellowship. She is a frequent guest speaker at writing conferences and residencies across North America. For more info, visit her website at www.loriamay.com.

New issue of River & South Review

January 15, 2014

wilkes street sign - Copy

River & South Review is a student-run literary journal edited by current students of the Wilkes University Creative Writing MA/MFA Programs. River & South Review publishes new work by emerging writers of any age who have not gone on to a graduate writing degree. This may include undergraduates, writers without a formal education, and writers from other professions.

The latest issue, Winter 13/14, is now available online: http://riverandsouth.blogspot.com

River & South Review is published twice annually.

Then & Now: Q&A with Dawn Zera

January 8, 2014
Dawn Zera

Dawn Zera

Then & Now: Q&A with Dawn Zera         

By Heather Lowery

Writer, editor, and instructor Dawn Zera is a graduate of the Wilkes University creative writing program. In this Q&A, she shares her experiences in working with Etruscan Press, Kaylie Jones Books, and Nancy McKinley as part of the education internship. 

HL: What is life like after the M.F.A.?

DZ: I have to use the F words here—fabulous and frightening.

HL: What did you learn from your internship experience?

DZ: How to teach! Frankly, I knew nothing about pedagogy or teaching practices. Dr. Nancy McKinley is not only a teacher I want to emulate and a talented creative writer, but also is a source of constant advice for those students interested in entering the profession. I still check in with her every now and then for advice and encouragement.

HL: Has that experience helped you get to where you are now?

DZ: Absolutely. Thanks to Dr. McKinley’s advice, her recommendations combined with other instructors at Wilkes, and the experience I gained during the internship, I was able to land two adjunct college teaching jobs even before I officially walked at summer graduation ceremonies (in September) to receive my M.F.A. (I officially completed the M.F.A. program in July 2013. By August I was hired to teach at the University of Scranton and also Marywood University).

HL: Any advice for those considering the M.F.A.?

DZ: Do it. It’s only an extra year, which means only one extra residency. You do not have to attend the final residency. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of writing an M.F.A. analysis paper with my M.F.A. mentor Kaylie Jones, and I am using the books I read for that M.F.A. as a source of information for a World Literature class I will teach this spring.

HL: What is your current occupation?

DZ: Writer, college instructor at University of Scranton and Marywood University, editor with Kaylie Jones Books, public relations guru, creative writing workshop leader for Penn State summer camp and local libraries. I enjoy doing all these things and do not feel it necessary (or financially feasible!) to limit myself to one at this time.

HL: What were some of your favorite things about the M.F.A.?

DZ: The people and the learning experience. This extra year gives students extra time to get to know people in the program better, do creative work under the guidance of a mentor, and figure out a plan for how to proceed in life after earning their degree.

HL: What were some of your not so favorite things?

DZ: I think each student should be judged individually for whether or not they can handle both a publishing and teaching internship. I was told I could not do both because they had tried it in the past and the students had not been able to complete the work. Thankfully, I was able to figure out a plan in which I officially did the teaching internship to fulfill my M.F.A. requirements, but switched my graduate assistantship from the creative writing office to Etruscan Press. I also did volunteer work for the Kaylie Jones Books imprint. All of this was fun and I learned a lot. In addition, the work I did for Kaylie Jones Books has been of interest to people when I go in for job interviews. Even though I am doing it on a volunteer basis, I enjoy it and Kaylie wrote a nice recommendation letter for me.

HL: Would you recommend getting the M.F.A.? Why?

DZ: I believe it depends on the individual. There is never a one-size-fits-all solution. If a student plans to go into teaching or publishing, then the M.F.A. is ideal – it provides that extra calling card that says s/he did the extra work of analyzing a particular topic, writing a paper about it and did an internship. In applying for teaching jobs, it gave me an edge over others with similar credentials who had an M.A. but not an M.F.A. In order to reach a decision on whether or not to pursue an M.F.A., each student has to plan for the future and ask themselves why they are in the creative writing program in the first place.

HL: How did you make the most of your experience?

DZ: I was a sponge and worked hard. Serving as a graduate assistant taught me a lot about how Etruscan Press, the Wilkes University creative writing office, and SenArt works. I also listened to good people who gave me outstanding gifts of their knowledge and experiences. Everything my mentors—Bev Donofrio and Kaylie Jones—said was remembered and taken to heart. Every story of experience shared by Dr. McKinley, Dr. Lennon and Dr. Culver was remembered. I sought the advice of faculty members and cohort members whenever I could and every single one of them was approachable and kind and willing to share their knowledge. Ross Klavan gave me feedback on a screenplay synopsis. Fellow cohort member Rachel Wiren, a college teacher at Baptist Bible College, shared her PowerPoint presentations that she used in her composition classes and offered valuable advice. Fellow cohort member Laurie Powers gave me feedback on a play and did pro bono special effects work on a film I produced. Dawn Leas recommended me for the Penn State summer camp position. Ken Vose, Gregory Fletcher, Sara Pritchard, Lenore Hart, former Etruscan Press editor Starr Troup, former associate program director Jim Warner—all these people, in addition to the ones already mentioned, took time to assist me in some way even though they weren’t my official mentors. In turn, I stand ready and willing to help these people in any small way I can.

HL: Anything else you’d like to add?

DZ: The program is what you make of it. In order to get something out of the bank, you need to put something in. Invest your time, energy, thoughts, writing, and anything else you can offer into the program, and you will get it all back, with interest.