I was honored once again to serve as a judge for the 2023 Sejong Cultural Society Writing Contest. I particularly enjoyed reading the stories for the Adult and Senior division–I don’t spend nearly enough time reading translated fiction, and both stories were fascinating. It’s always interesting to read the folk tales for the Junior division, as well as young folks’ interpretations.
With the ink barely dry on the contract, I’m thrilled to announce my first publication of 2023: a story that will be published in The Southern Reviewthis April.
I’d like to thank many people, especially Joe Fye for his experience and expertise. Also, Harry Smith, who saved my bacon in a late revision. Last but not least, Sacha Idell, who made the dream come true.
The research for this story was intense, and some of my key sources were Helen Gerhardt (especially the experiences she shared over a decade ago during a community presentation on the Iraq War), Michael Tucker, Sebastian Junger, and Tim Hetherington. I was fortunate to meet Dexter Filkins in person when he spoke at DePauw, and I spent a lot of time with his book The Forever War while composing the story.
Honestly, I almost didn’t enter this contest. I’m not sure why, though. I loved Ling Ma’s novel SEVERANCE. Francis Ford Coppola is one of my favorite directors, so I’d usually jump at the opportunity to get published in the journal that he founded with Adrienne Brodeur. It’s not just the star power: I’ve actually read and enjoyed Zoetrope, have even taught a few stories they published.
I was probably tired–it was a long semester–and submitting can get expensive after a while. I’m not sure what inspired me to enter the 2022 Zoetrope Contest, but I’m glad I did.
There’s a lesson here, for me as much as anyone. I almost didn’t submit my manuscript to the Mary McCarthy Prize back in 2017. In addition to the usual reasons, I’d been rejected numerous times from that contest without even placing. (That’s the case with Zoetrope as well).
For me, the lesson here isn’t about shotgunning work out into the world. My approach to submitting is best described as “ambitious strategy.” However, there’s always a legion of reasons to say “no.” Reasons not to leave the couch, not to leave your comfort zone, not to take a risk.
Good things don’t always happen when I say “yes,” but they seem to happen more often.
Postscript: Sarah Harris Wallman won an honorable mention for this contest in 2017 and 2022. She’s a prizewinning writer, and she was also the other TA in my MFA program at Pitt. She gave me invaluable feedback when I was writing my debut novel AND collection. I’ll always be grateful for that. My point is, the writing world really is a small town. That’s a really important thing to keep in mind when you’re operating in this space.
Also, while writing can be a lonely pursuit, if you do it long enough and keep in touch with people who take it as seriously as you do, connections form and re-form–and those connections can really help push everyone forward.
If you’re interested in poetry or Korea’s premiere poetic form, there’s now a wonderful handbook for you. It has a ton of information and examples, along with models and lesson plans for educators. I’d like to thank Lucy Park for inviting me to contribute some thoughts as a judge from a recent contest.
In my vain attempts to hold onto the summer, I’d like to share some thoughts about West Virginia Wesleyan College’s Low-Res MFA program. I’m incredibly proud of our students, and I’m proud to be a core faculty member.
I’ll keep it brief, but in the first photo, that’s Larry Thacker, a 2018 poetry alum who returned this year as Conference Assistant. He also led a wonderful craft seminar filled with weird antiques. It was all about engaging with the tactile world. Our MFA program has long prided itself on its multigenre approach: you can find his story collection Working It Off in Labor Country (WVU Press) here and one of his poetry collections here. For more info about his other books–and his Netflix show (!)–click here.
I could keep talking publications and awards, such as my former student Kellie Tatem being a 2021 finalist for the New Letters Literary Award or my former student D.L. Logan’s wonderful essay here. And here.
I also want to mention my former student Abigail Benjamin, a novelist, attorney and business pioneer who co-founded Buckhannon’s first bookstore in ages. Since its grand opening last year, Argo Books has become an important hub for literature and culture in Upshur County.
Lastly, I want to mention my former student Heather Humphries, pictured below during graduation. At 84, she holds the Wesleyan record for the graduate with the most life experience. In this article, she’s quoted thusly: “I thought about an interesting thing, a story to tell about my family. Three generations in China, and I thought well. I’ll just write this book. This whole journey of going through journalism to fiction to creative writing is a tough one.” And it’s been great working with her on that journey.
As you can see, it’s an outstanding creative writing program with an eclectic faculty and scrappy, hardworking students. It’s the kind of program where you can blow off steam after a residency by shooting pool at the local train-themed dive bar–and your program director will bring you cheese fries. Our program also helps students prep for teaching in various ways. That’s my former student Emily giving her graduate seminar in the last photo.
Anyway, if you’d like more info, please don’t hesitate to email me or contact me on Twitter. The program’s official website is here.
“Poetry is a way back in, to recognizing that we are feeling human beings. And feeling grief and feeling trauma can actually allow us to feel joy again.”
Limón’s poetry always struck me as warm and human and accessible in the best possible way–I think she’s perfect for the role. And I’m proud to say that Autumn House Press published her first full-length collection, Lucky Wreck, in 2006.
For more information on the 15th (!) anniversary edition of the book, click here.
Thanks to everyone who attended in person and virtually, and special thanks to Joan Bauer and Kris Collins for hosting the wonderful, groundbreaking series. I’ve held both of my book launches at White Whale, so it’s always extra special to read there.
If you’re a Steelers Fan, you should check out Laurie Koozer Icano’s What Happens on Sunday. As someone who lived in Squirrel Hill for years, I also have a soft spot in my heart for Ellen Litman’s collection The Last Chicken in America.
Special thanks to Elden Lord Sal Pane for letting me know about this list. His debut novel Last Call in the City of Bridges is a perfect time capsule of the city circa 2008, and it’s of course so much more–a generational marker, a meditation on technology and connection.
And of course, thanks to Tessa from the East Liberty branch for including me. I wrote parts of EDOS at the Carnegie Library in Oakland, and I conducted research for my second novel there.