Megan Collins publishes debut novel

MEGAN COLLINS for Web (2)We are so excited to announce that Megan Collins (Poetry ’08) has published her debut novel, The Winter Sister!  The book was released last week, and has already been a hit with reviewers and readers alike.  A contemporary suspense novel inspired by the Greek myth of Persephone, it begins sixteen years ago, when Sylvie’s sister Persephone didn’t come home. Out too late with the boyfriend she was forbidden to see, Persephone was missing for three days before her body was found–and years later, her murder remains unsolved. Now, Sylvie returns home to care for her estranged, alcoholic mother undergoing cancer treatment, and in the process, begins to uncover the truth about what really happened to Persephone.

The Winter Sister is a 2019 anticipated read from PopSugar, Marie Claire, and Goodreads.  Kirkus Reviews called it “a bewitching thriller, with surprises detonating in nearly every chapter.”

Congratulations, Megan!  We’re so happy for you.FINAL (2)

Megan Collins holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Boston University. She has taught creative writing at the Greater Hartford Academy of the Arts and Central Connecticut State University, and she is the managing editor of 3Elements Review. A Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net nominee, her work has appeared in many print and online journals, including Off the Coast, Spillway, Tinderbox Poetry Journal, and Rattle. She lives in Connecticut.

Rebecca Levi wins Mick Imlah award

RebeccaLeviWe’re so proud of Rebecca Levi (Poetry ’18) who recently won third place in the Mick Imlah Poetry Prize!  The winning poem is called “December 31st” and was published in The Times Literary Supplement.

Rebecca says:

The thing about living in Colombia is that poems happen to you all the time. On December 31, 2017, they really did slaughter five pigs outside the apartment where I was staying, and the trash truck rounded the corner, and there was drama on my WhatsApp. All I had to do was write it down. It came out almost fully formed, and I trusted the strange stream of my consciousness.

Read “December 31st” here.

Congratulations, Rebecca!

Rebecca Levi is a musician, poet, and translator. She has lived and worked in Peru, Colombia, and the U.S. Her poetry has appeared in BorderSenses and No Tokens Journal, and her translations have been published by Princeton University Press. Her translations of Chilean poet Stella Díaz Varin won second place in Boston University’s Robert Fitzgerald Translation Prize and are forthcoming in Your Impossible Voice. If You’re Not Happy Now, an anthology of work by BU’s MFA poetry class of 2018, is forthcoming from Broadstone Books in Spring 2019. In December 2018, Rebecca won third place in the Mick Imlah Poetry Prize at the Times Literary Supplement for her poem, “December 31st.” Rebecca’s band is called Debarro, meaning made of mud and ever-changing, which also describes what she likes about poetry.

Dariel Suarez publishes story collection

A Kind of Solitude Full CoverWe’re so happy to share that Dariel Suarez’s story collection, A Kind of Solitude, is available for pre-order!  The book has received glowing reviews, and even made it onto the Kenyon Review’s Holiday Recommended Reading list.

In addition, Red Hen Press will be publishing Dariel’s debut novel, The Playwright’s House!  We’re looking forward to hearing more details about that soon.

Congratulations, Dariel!  We can’t wait to read your work.

Dariel Suarez was born and raised in Havana, Cuba. He immigrated to the United States with his family in 1997, during the island’s economic crisis known as The Special Period. He is the author of the novel The Playwright’s House (forthcoming, Red Hen Press) and the story collection A Kind of Solitude (Willow Springs Books), winner of the 2017 Spokane Prize for Short Fiction.

Dariel is an inaugural City of Boston Artist Fellow and the Director of Core Programs and Faculty at GrubStreet, the country’s largest and leading independent creative writing center. His prose has appeared or is forthcoming in numerous publications, including The Kenyon Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, Prairie Schooner, The Massachusetts Review, North American Review, Third Coast, Southern Humanities Review, WBUR’s Cognoscenti, and The Caribbean Writer, where his work was awarded the First Lady Cecile de Jongh Literary Prize. Dariel earned his M.F.A. in Fiction at Boston University and now resides in the Boston area with his wife and daughter.

Poet Caitlin Doyle Awarded Pushcart Prize Special Mention

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“The Dress Code,” a poem by Caitlin Doyle (Poetry 2008), which originally appeared in The Yale Review, has been awarded a Pushcart Prize Special Mention in Pushcart Prize XLIII: Best of the Small Presses (W.W. Norton & Co, 2019).

The Pushcart Prize series honors the best literary work published each year by small presses around the country. Caitlin is in impressive company as the recipient of a 2019 Special Mention, along with Carolyn Forche, David Wojahn, Ilya Kaminski, Bob Hicock, and Patricia Smith, among other notable poets!

In Poetry Sunday last March, poet and critic Rebecca Foust highlighted Doyle’s “The Dress Code,” which is a villanelle, as an example of how “form can set you free in your writing and reading of poetry.” According to Foust, the poem’s “repetitions build an echo chamber resulting in sonic saturation that creates anxiety and urgency,” a series of artful aural effects that “keep tension taut in the poem.”

Click here to read Caitlin’s poem “The Dress Code.”

Congratulations, Caitlin!

Caitlin Doyle is currently completing a PhD in the Department of English and Comparative Literature at the University of Cincinnati, where she holds an Elliston Fellowship in Poetry and serves as an Associate Editor of The Cincinnati Review. Her poems, essays, and reviews have appeared in The Atlantic, The Guardian, The Threepenny Review, Boston Review, Best New Poets (University of Virginia Press), and elsewhere. Her work has also been featured through the PBS NewsHour Poetry Series, Poetry Daily, and the Poetry Foundation’s “Poem of the Day” series. She has received awards and fellowships through the James Merrill House, the Yaddo Colony, the MacDowell Colony, the Jack Kerouac House, The Frost Farm, the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, and the P.E.O. Scholar Foundation, among others.  She earned her MFA in Poetry from Boston University as the George Starbuck Fellow in Poetry.

Chris Amenta published in Redivider

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Chris Amenta (Fiction ’13) has published his debut story in Redivider.  Hurray!  As his former workshop-mate, I’m especially excited to feature him on the CW blog, and hear more about his writing, his teaching, and his inspiring creative habits.

Tell us about the process of writing “Catch and Release.”  How did it start, where did it come from, and what changes did it undergo from first draft to polished story?

“Catch and Release” was the first story I wrote for the MFA program. I’d recently been on vacation in Seattle, and I walked to the Ballard Locks to watch salmon climb the fish ladder. Among the tourists were two teenagers who were crossing the bridge just to get to wherever they were going. I thought they looked interesting.

The version of this story that I turned in was a mess. Leslie Epstein returned a copy to me that looked as though his pen had exploded onto the pages. But he and the cohort seemed to like these two characters, and I did, too. I revised, and drafts later—with clearer characterization, action, and dialog—it started to come together.

What was the biggest challenge you faced in writing it?

This story has a complex plot that’s advanced by Prete, who isn’t the point of view character. He orchestrates a turn of events which occurs to the narrator almost as an epiphany.

But, really, this story is about these two young guys. Prete’s grief has driven him to act badly. Tom is tired of looking after Prete, of cleaning up the kid’s messes. The plot—what Prete does—forces this tension to a climax, but what happens is actually a little dense and can be difficult to piece together. I put a lot of work into revealing the plot delicately so that the story can still be about the dynamic between these two friends and not about this unexpected turn.

You have a spare and direct style — short sentences, short exchanges between characters, lots of verbs.  Who would you say are your biggest influences?

I’m always trying to gobble up whatever I can. I had formative reading experiences with Dostoevsky, Joseph Heller, and the detective fiction of Dashiell Hammett, George V. Higgins, and Raymond Chandler. I find myself returning often to writers like Denis Johnson, J.M. Coetzee, and Jim Shepard. I also try to remember the architects: Mies van der Rohe (less is more); Louis Sullivan (form follows function).

What are your writing habits like?  Any rituals?

I have a day job, and I teach at Boston University, and I write for Boston College and the College of the Holy Cross. Not writing fiction seems a terrifically easy thing to do. So I keep a routine. I get up at five or so and make coffee. I do some online window shopping—handmade shoes, for some reason, have become a fascination—then, I block the internet and work until I’m about five minutes late. I swim laps, hoping that the quiet might help solve whatever problem I’m toiling with. Then to work and all else.

You also have a novel on submission.  Do you prefer writing one genre over the other, and why?

I don’t know that I prefer any one genre over another. I try to find characters that interest me. Lately, I’ve been looking for them in some of this country’s stranger corners. The novel on submission is set in a man camp in fracking country in North Dakota. I’m currently working on something new which is about men and women in a modern, American militia. I’m interested in those characters and settings where realism can sidle up to the surreal.

What’s something that you tell your students in every class?

I hope that I’ve made it clear that you can get away with whatever you can get away with. We spend a lot of time reading published fiction and essays about craft. And they have to listen to me go on about my ideas about how fiction works. Craft matters, technique matters, but I try to caveat everything we study by reminding my students that there’s no wrong way to write, so long as the story works.

Congratulations, Chris!

Christopher Amenta is a writer living in Boston, MA. He is a graduate of the Boston University MFA Fiction Writing program, where he received the Saul Bellow Award and was named a Leslie Epstein Global Fellow. He completed his undergraduate degree at The College of the Holy Cross, where his fiction was recognized with the James H. Reilly Memorial Purse. He teaches creative writing at Boston University, and his writing has appeared in Redivider, Boston College Magazine, and Holy Cross Magazine. His first novel, These Bodies Become Oil is currently on submission.

A.J. Odasso publishes third book, The Sting of It

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We’re very happy to announce that A.J. Odasso’s (Poetry ’16) third collection, The Sting of It, is forthcoming in 2019!  It will be published by Tolsun Books, and is an expanded version of A.J.’s BU M.F.A. poetry thesis. The manuscript was shortlisted for the Sexton Prize in July of 2017 under the title Things Being What They Are.
We took a minute to ask A.J. some questions about working on their third book.

What challenges did you face while writing The Sting of It?

I feel like the trickiest part of bringing this book to fruition wasn’t so much the revision and expansion aspect as negotiating who would be publishing it!  In the wake of its shortlisting for the 2017 Sexton Prize at Eyewear Books, Eyewear expressed interest in publishing it in Fall 2019 alongside the winner and runners-up.  However, some complications and delays in communication from Eyewear – which were experienced by nearly all of us meant to be published by them in 2019 – resulted in a number of us breaking ties and seeking publication elsewhere.  Between July and October this year, I sent The Sting of It to a handful of other presses that generously offered to priority-read and consider newly-homeless, former Eyewear collections.  Tolsun Books felt like the best fit for my style and aesthetic out of all of them, so I was thrilled when, in late September, they offered me a contract.

Tell us about the cover.

The stellar cover design is by my editor at Tolsun, David Pischke.  David and his team have been nothing but a pleasure to work with, and it’s early days yet.  I got little say in the cover designs of my first two collections with Flipped Eye, but I got to request the inclusion of Hieronymus Bosch’s The Temptation of Saint Anthony triptych as part of the design for this collection’s cover – and got it.  I couldn’t be more thrilled.

Who have your most significant stylistic influences been?

The earliest poems that got me to attempt writing my own were Shakespeare’s sonnets at the back of a crumbling 1920s edition of the Complete Works that belonged to my maternal grandfather.  I was about 14 when I trained myself to write sonnets using Shakespeare as a template, and swiftly branched out into experimenting with other forms (Elizabeth Bishop’s “Sestina,” as well as Bishop’s complete known body of work, has remained a favorite and profound influence to this day).  Through high school and into college, I picked up Geoffrey Chaucer, the Gawain-Poet, and other 14th-century English writers.  While completing my M.A. in Interdisciplinary Medieval Studies at the University of York, I strengthened my fluency in reading Middle English and discovered other medieval poets’ work that hadn’t been as widely available to me before.  Since then, I’ve shifted my recreational poetry reading back toward the contemporary.  Louise Glück, Ursula Le Guin, Patience Agbabi, Naomi Shihab Nye, and a number of British poets with whom I did readings on the York and London poetry circuits have been the most lasting modern influences on my style.

Congratulations, A.J.!  We can’t wait to read The Sting of It.

A.J. Odasso (Poetry ’16) is the author of two poetry collections from UK-based Flipped Eye Publishing: Lost Books (2010), which was a finalist for the 2010 London New Poetry Award and for the 2011 People’s Book Prize; and The Dishonesty of Dreams (2014), which had the honor of launching at the Grolier Poetry Book Store and Porter Square Books.  A.J.’s third collection, an expanded version of their BU MFA thesis, was shortlisted for the 2017 Sexton Prize under the title Things Being What They Are and will be published in Summer 2019 under a new title, The Sting of It, by Tolsun Books.  A.J. continues to serve as Senior Poetry Editor at Strange Horizons magazine, where they have been part of the editorial staff since 2012.  A.J.’s recent prose publications include a short story, “We Come Back Different” (in the Winter 2018 & Spring 2018 issues of Pulp Literature) and a personal essay, “Being the Dictionary” (in Knowing Why: Adult-Diagnosed Autistic People on Life and Autism, an anthology from the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network launched this October).

Tara Skurtu gives TED talk

Big news from Tara Skurtu (Poetry ’13), who gave a TEDx Talk in Romania earlier this summer!  Entitled “Unlearning Uncreativity,” the lecture took place at TEDxEroilor in Cluj, a city in the Transylvania region of Romania.

In addition, the Romanian translation of Tara’s book The Amoeba Game was recently published by one of Romania’s main publishing houses, Nemira.  Tiberiu Neacșu and Radu Vancu translated her work.

Below, we’re excited to share her summer reading list, complete with blurbs from Tara herself.  Many thanks, Tara, and hearty congratulations!

Tara Skurtu’s Summer Reading List

Stay With Me by Ayobami Adebayo
This debut novel, set in Nigeria, tells the journey of a marriage from both perspectives, navigating love, loyalty, betrayal, despair, and political tumult. I got so sucked into this novel I finished it in two sittings, and I read the last ten or so pages as slowly as I could because I didn’t want the story to to end.

Turtle Diary by Russell Hoban
This was recommended to me by the manager of my favorite English bookshop in Bucharest, Carturesti & Friends (formerly Anthony Frost). It’s a beautifully introspective, poetic novel revolving around the thoughts of two characters who feel the need to free some sea turtles from the zoo.

Half-Light: Collected Poems 1965-2016 by Frank Bidart
I’ve been revisiting some of Bidart’s poems and discovering new ones in this gorgeous Pulitzer Prize-winning book of 650+ pages.

Bishop: Poems, Prose, and Letters (Library of America, edited by Robert Giroux & Lloyd Schwartz)
I bring this Elizabeth Bishop book with me everywhere I go (and it’s a hardback!). It’s like a little bible of sorts to me.

What I’m reading now:
The Order of Time by Carlo Rovelli (Translated by Simon Carnell and Erica Segre)
Italian theoretical physicist Rovelli attempts to unravel the mysteries and meanings of time in this charming, easy-to-read book.

On my desk to read next:
Cuz: The Life and Times of Michael A. by Danielle Allen
Another Language: A Selection of Poems by Eileen Chong
The African Trilogy: Things Fall Apart, No Longer at Ease, Arrow of God by Chinua Achebe
So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo

Nell Stevens at the Brookline Booksmith

NellBookNell Stevens (Fiction ’13) will be reading from her latest book, The Victorian and the Romantic, at the Brookline Booksmith next Tuesday (8/7) at 7 pm!  All are welcome.  A historical memoir, this unique  book weaves two love stories together across time.  Chapters alternate between Elizabeth Gaskell’s romance with the American critic Charles Eliot Norton and Nell’s own relationship with Max, a soulful American screenwriter.  Described as moving, witty, and impossible to put down, The Victorian and the Romantic celebrates one writer’s deep friendship with a fellow writer who lived over a century ago.

Here, Nell recommends a couple books and talks with us about her reading and writing life.

What is your favorite book by Elizabeth Gaskell?
Lois the Witch.  It’s a historical novella about a young English girl traveling to Salem in 1691 who gets executed for witchcraft during the witch trials. Gaskell never went to America and was constantly imagining it: this story is dark and vivid and strange, in part because America for Gaskell was always a dreamscape rather than a “real” place. Gaskell has a reputation for being both cuddly and a bit preachy, so I like to remind people that she also wrote macabre gothic tales.

Which book have you particularly enjoyed recently?
I absolutely loved Sigrid Nunez’s new novel The Friend and have struggled to think about anything else since reading it. I couldn’t help wonder/(worry?) how much the references to the narrator’s students were inspired by us…

How have you been spending your time this summer?
I teach creative writing at Goldsmiths, University of London, but I’m in the US at present doing publicity for the new book. I just spent a month at MacDowell, working on my ever-elusive first novel.

Do you have any writing rituals?
I’m learning that I really don’t have any. I still can’t predict what will make for good writing conditions for me, so I’m trying to accept that when it works, it works, but that most of the time it won’t, and that’s ok.

Thanks so much, Nell, and congratulations!  We look forward to seeing you at the Booksmith next week.

Nell Stevens has a degree in English and creative writing from the University of Warwick, an MFA in fiction from Boston University, and a PhD in Victorian literature from King’s College London. She is the author of the memoir Bleaker House and is at work on a novel.

Poet Caitlin Doyle Receives Presidential Endowed Scholar Award

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Caitlin Doyle (Poetry ’08) has been selected as one of 100 doctoral students in the United States and Canada to receive the P.E.O Scholar Award! This prestigious prize recognizes Doyle’s artistic and scholarly achievements. Among the doctoral students chosen as P.E.O Scholars, Caitlin has been granted the further distinction of receiving one of the foundation’s specially endowed awards. She has been named the Presidential Endowed Scholar for 2018-2019, an honor given to a sole doctoral student in the United States and Canada every two years. According to the P.E.O Board of Trustees, this recognition is “reserved for our finest scholars.”

In a recent article in The Key Reporter about Doyle’s selection for the P.E.O Scholar Award, University of Cincinnati professor John Drury characterized Doyle as “an innovative master with elements of poetic form, such as rhyme and meter.” The article also quotes Rebecca Lindenberg, current Poetry Editor of The Cincinnati Review: “Doyle’s poetry,” Lindenberg says, “reads like Literature with a capital L.” Boston University’s own Robert Pinsky describes Doyle as “a poet of grace” and “formal ebullience” who possess a “gorgeous, original imagination.” 

We were lucky enough to hear from Caitlin herself about her summer reading lists.  She says: 

I’ve been studying all summer for my doctoral exams and one of my areas of concentration is diasporic literature, so I’m reading a variety of novels and poetry collections that touch on themes related to diaspora, immigration, and the creation of cultural identity. Highlights thus far include Bye Bye Blackbird by Anita Desai, The Nature of Blood by Caryl Phillips, Breath, Eyes, Memory by Edwidge Danticat, Engine Empire by Cathy Park Hong, Operation Shylock: A Confession by Philip Roth, and Brooklyn by Colm Tobin. If I have time to slip in some lighter beach reading before the fall semester starts, I’d love to scope out The President is Missing, a thriller co-written by Bill Clinton and James Paterson. Anthony Lane’s hilarious review in The New Yorker made the book sound like an irresistibly fun indulgence, a perfect palate cleanser between exam study sessions. 

You can read more about Caitlin as a poet and scholar in this article in The Key Reporter.

Thanks, Caitlin, and congratulations!

Caitlin Doyle is currently pursuing a PhD in the Department of English and Comparative Literature at the University of Cincinnati, where she holds an Elliston Fellowship in Poetry and serves as an Assistant Editor at The Cincinnati Review.  Doyle’s poems, essays, and reviews have appeared innumerous journals, magazines, and anthologies, including The AtlanticThe GuardianThe Yale ReviewThe Threepenny ReviewBoston ReviewThe Black Warrior Review, and Best New Poets. Her work has also been featured through the PBS NewsHour Poetry Series and Poetry Daily. She has received awards and fellowships through the James Merrill House, the Yaddo Colony, the MacDowell Colony, and The Frost Farm, among others.

Jason Villemez’s recent publications

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We’re so proud of former journalist Jason Villemez (Fiction ’16), who has recently published several pieces!  The story “Position,” which Jason workshopped with Jennifer Haigh and his BU fiction classmates, has been published in Fogliftera San Francisco lit journal.  Foglifter is a new journal that publishes only LGBT work.  They also published an essay that Jason wrote about his Global Fellowship.  In addition, he has work forthcoming in Post Road.

Since Jason has been teaching fiction writing to undergrads at BU this summer, we decided to ask him some questions about teaching.  Read on for some of his insights!

Who have you and your students been reading this summer?
My summer students and I are reading a little bit of everything: Flannery O’Connor, Richard Yates, Edward P. Jones, Carmen Maria Machado, Aimee Bender, Jhumpa Lahiri. There are a few writers who I always assign because their stories have proven to be good teaching tools (O’Connor, Yates, James Salter), but otherwise I choose different stories and authors for every class. It keeps the discussion fresh for me and for the students.

What advice do you have for teachers of creative writing?
Two things: First, don’t be afraid to workshop your own work with your students! I’ve found that it helps students understand the process for creating a story, for revising a story, and how to handle feedback. And oftentimes, student feedback on your work can be valuable. One year I had my students workshop one of my stories, and a few months later, after implementing some of their suggestions, that story got accepted at a good literary journal. Those students really felt validated as critics. The other thing I’d tell teachers is that your students are doing a very brave thing by sharing their work, so it’s important to create an atmosphere of respect during workshop. I completely disagree with teachers who think destroying a work is the only way to make it better. You can help someone get to the truth without tearing them or their work down.

What’s something that you tell your students in every class?
I always want students to write the story that they want to write, not the story they think will be “literary” or the story that they think other people will like. You have to start somewhere that excites you, and it has been proven that even the most unconventional of stories, stories that seem to break all the myriad subjective rules of fiction writing, can still be beautiful and still get published. The other thing I tell students is that you can’t be afraid to tackle topics that scare you, because that’s often where the best stories are hiding.

What’s something that your students have been especially curious about this year?
Black comedy is something a lot of students seem interested in lately. I think humor is playing a bigger and bigger role in fiction writing, especially as people grow increasingly jaded from technology or politics or life in general. Humor in writing is nothing new; there’s an element of humor in every good story. But I think we’re more aware of it now and want more of it. Students are submitting more comedic stories than I’ve seen in years past. People need an escape; they need more reasons to laugh.

What have you learned from teaching, whether this class or another year?
I learn something new from every class I teach. But one thing always surprises me, even though I do it with all my classes: when you pick apart a story on the sentence level, you see patterns that help you understand that specific writer and, also, writing in general. It might seem boring, but I think the lessons learned from analyzing the syntax of a story together are invaluable. It’s good to remember that as amazing and flexible as the English language is, it’s still bound by a very specific set of rules. I think that makes writing a lot less scary.

Thanks, Jason!  And congratulations again!

Jason Villemez teaches creative writing at Boston University, where he received an MFA in 2016. Before graduate school he worked as a journalist for the PBS NewsHour and Philadelphia Gay News and as an English teacher in Japan.  He is currently at work on a short story collection about LGBT people.