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If I Were Crazy Rich…

We’ve just finished our Writers for Dinner Molecular Gastronomy experiment (watch for the write-up soon!). I felt very fancy/nerdy, using sodium citrate to turn fancy cheese into fancy Velveeta and agar agar to turn balsamic vinegar into “pearls.” In fact, until I read this article by A.J. Jacobs  in The New York Times this morning, I was feeling very cutting-edge. Now, of course, I’m feeling very yesterday’s news. Like I won’t really be cooking at the height of nerdy goodness until I can make a 3D printed dinner.

I’m fascinated by the hope of a post-scarcity future, like the one portrayed in (pre-J.J. Abrams, let’s-make-the-future-just-as-awful-as-the-present-but-with-fancier-things-with-which-to-wage-war) Star Trek . The replicators always seemed to me like the best part of that future… one in which nobody went hungry because of poverty or crop failure or drought. I’d like to think that what is clearly now a frivolous play-thing will one day be the reason no one starves.

But it’s hard to see Italy-shaped pizza saving the world.


I’ve left this blog for one I co-author with my husband, Dominik Heinrici, called “Writers for Dinner.” Please join us there.

Posted: March 1, 2013 in Uncategorized

The video essay has been the theme of this week at OU, where we’ve been lucky to have John Bresland as our visiting writer. (He is AMAZING. Generous, brilliant, insightful… and, of course, kind of scary.) I’ve left the week with a full understanding that I don’t have the chops to produce a video essay (but with the determination to learn some new skills), but I’m sure some of you do. If so, this contest is for you!

BREVITY's Nonfiction Blog

CheeseIron Horse Literary Review has announced its first annual Video Competition, with generous prize money:

We’re looking for digital essays, stories, and poems—videos that combine visual art and sound with original written texts in artistically beautiful ways. This is a relatively new form, but already some great examples have been published. Check out the links below to see some great video compositions in Rattapallax and TriQuarterly. You don’t need any better submission guidelines than these examples from two great journals.​

The winner will receive $400; and one finalist will receive $150. We will publish the winning video and the finalist on our Web site and in an upcoming DVD issue, and we will screen both videos at the Spring 2013 Iron Horse Gala in April.

Example Essays and Details HERE



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Is All Memoir Confessional?

Posted: January 11, 2013 in Uncategorized

Is All Memoir Confessional?.


Posted: August 7, 2012 in Uncategorized

So, last night I had a conversation with a friend who was a little aghast at how useless she found my Goodreads feed. “You may as well not even rate things, because you give everything four or five starts. I mean everything. So I never know if I should really read a book you’re recommending or not.”
This caught me off guard because:

  1. I didn’t imagine anyone was actually following my Goodreads feed. Even more than my rarely used Twitter account, it seemed to me that I was largely documenting myself for myself… saving notes on books I had liked, commenting briefly on why I had liked them.
  2. With a few notable exceptions (everyone should read Lolita and Blood Meridian sorts of things), I think book recommendations are very personal. For instance, the friend to whom I just lent my copy of Are You My Mother is a very different person than the friend to whom I just recommended Gone Girl. While the latter would like both books, the former would quite probably throw Gone Girl across the room if asked to read it because he can’t take deceitfulness in even a fictional form. And book recommendations–as opposed to book reviews–take that sort of thing into account.
  3. If I don’t like a book, I rarely finish it (who has time?) and I don’t put books I haven’t finished on Goodreads because that feels disrespectful to their authors. If I’m going to make any sort of public statement about a work, I owe the author the courtesy of at least paying careful attention to the entire thing before passing judgment.
  4. I just checked, and I have given only one book a single star: A Stolen Life: A Memoir by Jaycee Dugard, which left me feeling like an awful person for having finished it, like someone who doesn’t have the decency to turn away from something obscene. (Which is not to say that I think the author shouldn’t have written it; only that I should not have read it. It’s one star was meant to remind me that it falls into that very tiny category of books which probably needed to be written and preserved, but not read. At least, not by me. Like Mein Kampf or DeSade’s novels.) I’ve given two stars to a few “important” books that I felt were deeply flawed.
  5. But, in general, I am a four or five star kind of reader.

I’m enthusiastic about books. About writing. If I don’t like a book, which doesn’t happen often, I put it down. It never makes it into my feed. But if I do like a book, I probably realy like it. I admire its strengths, I’m grateful to its author for the hours of enjoyment it brought me, the insights it provided, the joy of being transported into someone else’s understanding of the world.

I was asked yesterday, via Facebook message, if I had set up any job interviews during the upcoming AWP conference in Chicago.  I wrote back, “No, I mean I’m only just at the very beginning of the PhD program at OU.  Isn’t it a little early for job interviews?”  No, said the reply, and referenced this article in the The Chronicle of Higher Education.

I’m more than a little daunted by the idea that I should already be looking for a job when I’ve only just started the four to five year journey toward earning my degree.  (And I don’t actually think the article is suggesting that I should be interviewing for one yet, only that I should be “networking”–an ambiguous phrase that smacks of falsity and opportunism–and taking care to tend my future desirability as a tenure track faculty member.)  Here is a scary number from the article: only four tenure track positions in creative writing were added to MLA’s job list last year.  And here is another scary number: only twenty  new positions were added to that list last year.  But maybe the scariest number of all?  I will be fifty when I complete the program.  Fifty.  Is it even possible to compete for tenure track jobs at that age?  I don’t know. But I do know that means I don’t have the time to, as one person in the article did, wait twelve years for the right job to come along.

So, really, this blog post is an open question: How should I be using my time at AWP to limit the risk that I’ll be stuck permanently adjuncting?  What should I be certain that I don’t do?  (Besides the obvious. I have a friend–in a different field–who killed off several promising job leads by getting really drunk and expounding loudly on his theory that the hard work was behind him because tenure track faculty get published by listing themselves as first author on work that’s really all been done by their graduate assistants. One of the good things about being old is that I’ve already learned certain lessons.  Too often, the hard way.)  For those of you who have already successfully found tenure track positions, what if any place did these conferences have in your landing such a job?  For those of you who, like me, aren’t yet looking, what are your strategies? (Even the word “strategy” here seems a little icky to me… a little lawyer-hanging-out-at-an-accident-scene-looking-to-hand-out-my-card… but I understand that is a squeamishness I probably need to overcome.)

Last year, I treated AWP primarily as an opportunity to meet editors I’d known only by email and other writers whose work I admired, and was much more focused on the writing community than on the academic community.  But this year, when some of the doom and gloom about the academic employment landscape has finally made an impression on me, I’m wondering if that should change?

Your thoughts, friends and colleagues, would be gratefully appreciated.

Book Cover for The Night Before KindergartenMy niece Sidney started Kindergarten this week.  Her brother Emory started Preschool.  There was, for each, a book about the night before.  We read them when I last visited, and we all agreed that there should be a book for “The Night Before the PhD Program.”  But there isn’t.

What would a book about the night before entering a PhD Program say?  The Night Before Preschool talks about taking a favorite stuffed animal for naptime, so perhaps The Night Before the PhD Program should talk about being separated from your lover and learning to sleep alone, about renting yet another crummy grad student apartment, finding the cheap restaurants and a market that sells good tofu in a new town.

The Night Before Kindergarten talks about the anxiety of entering big-kid school, where there is no more nap time and the activities are more academic.  The Night Before the PhD Program should talk about the anxieties of moving to a smaller pond with bigger fish, taking out student loans to get a degree that is becoming less and less likely to lead to a tenure track position, and what it means to commit five years of your life to something?

It should also be a lot like The Night Before Junior High, though such a book doesn’t exist.  Worrying about whether or not you have the right clothes, read the right books and literary journals,  if you will be (as I was when I first started the MFA program at WVU) marginalized as a dilettante housewife who writes as a hobby.  What if nobody likes you?

And then there are the worries that are peculiar to getting a PhD in Creative Writing.  Will you be the only person who finds Kristeva completely incomprehensible?  Will everybody else glibly quote Derrida in the French, talk about their summers at Breadloaf, throw fabulous parties to celebrate the publication of their third, fourth, or fifth book while your book still keeps coming back from publishers and agents who think it’s too quiet and that the brilliant homeless man who fascinated you isn’t really very interesting to anybody else?  What if nobody likes you?

What if, in fact, everybody thinks you’re sort of a hack and isn’t exactly certain how someone so untalented, so unhip, and so clealry middle-of-the-pack made it into the program at all?

What then?