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.

Jillian Jackson publishes story in the Iowa Review

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Jillian Jackson (Fiction ’15) has published her story “A Leo, Like Jackie O” in the Spring 2018 issue of The Iowa Review!

We had a chance to hear from Jillian about her writing process.  Here’s what she had to say:

When I write it usually takes me a long time to fumble through a story and figure out what it’s really about. It’s a VERY inefficient process, but it can be pleasantly surprising, and a lot of the time I end up far from where I started.

Where did the idea for the story come from?  How did it come together?

I’m very interested in the supernatural, and this was originally a ghost story: one of the main characters was being haunted. I quickly realized I was in above my head and really could not pull it off, and once I cut the ghost, the writing became much easier. The final version is still about death and loss and memory, but is now 100% realism.

What can you tell us about The Iowa Review?

Before applying to BU and while I was working on my application I started binge-reading short story anthologies (mostly The Best American Short Stories) and I discovered that a lot of the stories I liked the most were from The Iowa Review. One of those stories is an all-time favorite of mine: “Lawns” by Mona Simpson. I love the narrator’s voice in “Lawns,” and I reread it a few times while I was working on this. It can be really difficult figuring out where to send something, but I took a chance and thought that it might make sense to send it to The Iowa Review. I was obviously beyond thrilled when they accepted it.

Congrats, Jillian!  We’re looking forward to reading your story!

Jillian Jackson is a graduate of the MFA program in Fiction at Boston University and the recipient of a St. Botolph Club Foundation’s Emerging Artist Grant. Her work appears or is forthcoming in the Iowa Review, Smokelong Quarterly, and others. She lives in Boston, MA, where she teaches writing at Emmanuel College and is at work on a novel.

Madelyn Rosenberg co-authors award-winning middle-grade novel

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Madelyn Rosenberg (Fiction ’02) and her friend and co-author Wendy Wan-Long Shang, are finalists for two awards for their middle-grade novel This Is Just a Test (Scholastic)! The book, which was also a Sydney Taylor honor winner, is a finalist for the Children’s and Teen Choice Book Awards and the New-York Historical Society’s Children’s Book Prize. Set in the 1980s, This Is Just a Test is the humorous tale of David Da-Wei Horowitz, a Chinese-American-Jewish kid trying to juggle friendships and cultural identities while studying for his bar mitzvah against Cold War fears of nuclear annihilation.

Congrats, Madelyn and Wendy!

Madelyn Rosenberg and Wendy Wan-Long Shang have been friends for about a decade.  They met through the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and got to know each other in a critique group in Northern Virginia, where they both live.

Wendy grew up in Northern Virginia, the only Asian kid at her elementary school. Madelyn grew up in Southwest Virginia and was one of the only Jewish kids in hers. They fused their “only” backgrounds in their Chinese-American-Jewish main character, David Da-Wei Horowitz.
madwendybrickWendy is also the author of The Great Wall of Lucy Wu and The Way Home Looks Now. A lawyer by training, she is a research and communications associate with the Pretrial Justice Institute. Madelyn is a freelance writer and the author of ten books for children including How to Behave at a Tea Party, Nanny X, and Take Care.

April 28th: International Women’s Writing Guild Retreat!

The International Women’s Writing Guild is offering a reduced rate for students to participate in its upcoming annual writer’s retreat.

On April 28th, The International Women’s Writing Guild (IWWG) will host its 3rd Annual daylong writing retreat. Entitled Writing From Your Life, this immersive experience invites writers of all stages to discover how to unlock the power of their own life story toward realizing their writing goals. Through three workshops, participants will explore how to weave the autobiographical into memoir, myth and monologue. The event also provides networking opportunities, a book fair, and a catered lunch. The retreat will be held in the center of Medfield, at The Montrose School, 29 North Street, Medfield, MA from 9:30 a.m. – 5:15 p.m.

Kelly DuMar, author, poet, playwright and Sherborn native-describes the day’s three workshops as distinctly ‘writer generative’. This is a chance to create original work in collaboration with a vibrant, creative community, guided by three outstanding facilitators that are accomplished writers in their own right. DuMar is joined by fellow workshop facilitators Susan Tiberghien, author of “The Zen of Writing: Clear Seeing, Clear Writing Toward Wholeness” and the newly published “Writing Toward Wholeness: Lessons Inspired by C.G. Jung” and Maureen Murdock, author of “The Heroine’s Journey, Spinning Inward.”

Marisa Moks-Unger, Poet Laureate of Erie County, Pennsylvania attended the retreat last year and describes it as “a fantastic opportunity for writers of all genres to deepen their craft. I found all three of the workshop leaders’ presentations to be valuable in developing literary images which I have applied to my poet laureate project, as well as a lecture I gave on the ‘The Power of Poetry; The Persistence of Prose’ at The Jefferson Education Society. Also, a number of my published poems were incubated at this workshop. I highly recommend attending the entire day to experience the brilliance of Susan Tiberghien, Maureen Murdock, and Kelly Du Mar.”

IWWG has served as a support system for women writers in over 60 countries. Members of the Guild have published over thousands of books, and the organization provides one of the longest running literary conferences in the country.

To learn more and to register online, see here.

Jacob Strautmann Awarded MCC Fellowship

unnamedJacob Strautmann (Poetry ’00) has been awarded a Massachusetts Cultural Council (MCC) Artistic Fellowship!  The MCC committee reviewed poems from his forthcoming book The Land of the Dead is Open for Business (Four Way Books, Spring 2020!). Visit Jake’s MCC Artist Fellowship Page here.  To read more about the fellowship, click here.

Finalists of the MCC Fellowships include alumni Kirun Kapur (also Poetry ’00) and Jill McDonough (Poetry ’98). The fellowship recognizes “exceptional work by Massachusetts artists across a range of disciplines.”

Since graduating from the program, Jake has taught undergraduate creative writing at BU.  He had this to say about teaching:

While my day-job is handling the finances for Boston Playwrights’ Theatre as their Managing Director, I’ve always found great fulfillment teaching creative writing at Boston University. Starting in 2002, in my thirty-odd classes of Intro to Creative Writing (EN 202) and Writing of Plays (EN 306), I’ve been lucky enough to find students who keep challenging me, who keep me from settling on one kind of lesson I could repeat each semester. Their insistence that I not be lazy is mirrored in what I’ve been sure to tell them: no one knows if he or she will be a writer for years and years. The fellowship and the book won’t make me a better teacher, but I hope they offer my students some proof of the persistence gospel all writing teachers preach. 

Congratulations, Jake!

Jacob Strautmann is the Managing Director of the Boston Playwrights’ Theatre. In addition, he is currently a contributing editor for Salamander Magazine.  His poems have appeared in Forklift, Ohio, Unsplendid, The Harlequin, Salamander Magazine, The Boston Globe, Agni Online, The Appalachian Journal, Solstice, Jam Tarts, Quiddity (where he won the Editor’s Prize in Poetry), and Appalachian Heritage. His poems are forthcoming in The Southern Humanities Review.

Reedsy Short Story Contest

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We’ve partnered with Reedsy for a short story contest! The three best submissions will win an editorial assessment from editor Laura Mae Isaacman, who has worked with T.C. Boyle, Lara Vapnyar, Joyce Carol Oates, Noam Chomsky, and many others. Read more about her here.

To submit, write a short story that begins with the following sentence: “First place isn’t always where you want to be.”

15,000 words max

Email your submission to bu@reedsy.com.  The Reedsy Short Story Contest runs from today (February 5th) through March 5, 2018.  Open to BU MFA students and program alumni.

Good luck!

Caitlin Doyle’s Poem Featured in The Guardian

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Caitlin Doyle (Poetry ’08) has been featured in The Poem of the Week column in The Guardian! Past featured poets include John Ashberry, Paul Muldoon, W.S. Merwin, Alice Oswald, Seamus Heaney, and Patricia Lockwood.  The column’s editor, Carol Rumens, has this to say about Caitlin’s poem:

“Carnival” demonstrates the effectiveness of a “combination of story and song,” with each element being used to complement and complicate the other. The poem’s external patterning depends on the carefully interlocked symmetry and repetition we associate with songs and their pleasurable memorability, but the narrative itself is oblique and teasing, with the potential for carnivalesque disruption…

To read “Carnival,” along with the editor’s full commentary on it, click here.

Congratulations, Caitlin!  We’re pleased to see your poem in such good company!

Caitlin has received numerous fellowships, Writer-In-Residence teaching posts, awards, and publication credits since her graduation from the BU program as the George Starbuck Fellow in Poetry. She is currently an Elliston Fellow in Poetry at the University of Cincinnati, where she serves as the Assistant Editor of The Cincinnati Review.

Her most recent honors include the Frost Farm Poetry Prize, a Yaddo Colony fellowship, and a Writer-In-Residence fellowship at the James Merrill House in Stonington, CT. Her work has appeared in The Yale Review, Poetry Daily, The New Criterion, The Atlantic, The Los Angeles Review of Books, the Poetry Foundation’s “Poem of the Day” series, the PBS NewsHour Poetry Series, and others.

The Back Porch Collective to read at BPL in Jamaica Plain

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The Back Porch Collective is reading at the Jamaica Plain branch of the Boston Public Library this Saturday, 1/20! Readers include alumni Stacy Mattingly (Fiction ’11), Dariel Suarez (Fiction ’12), Shubha Sunder (Fiction ’12), and Ani Gjika (Poetry ’10).  Live music will accompany them.  Check out their website for more details, and we hope to see you there!

Emily Yaremchuk and Eric McHenry win Mick Imlah Poetry Awards

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We’re so proud to announce that two of our poets have won prizes in the Mick Imlah Poetry Awards!  Emily Yaremchuk (Poetry ’18) and Eric McHenry (Poetry ’97) tied for second place–Emily for her poem “Tabula Rasa,” and Eric for his poem “Picking a Prophet.”

Emily (pictured), who is in this year’s MFA class, told us about the process of writing her poem:

“Tabula Rasa” is a poem I wrote in a single burst of energy, which I believe is reflected in some of the poem’s presumptuous moxie. I have long thought that nearly everything we believe about ourselves and the world is a form of myth; therefore the age old argument about whether a person is born a ‘tabula rasa’ (clean slate), or whether they are the product of circumstances and expectations beyond their control has always struck me as a matter of storytelling.

While writing the poem, I was interested in two strains of a single personal myth. The first is the idea of inherited identity as comprehended by a child encountering the performative aspect or “thingy-ness” of personhood (i.e. the artifacts that make her father a ‘man’), the second is the retrospective acceptance of confusion and multiplicity on the part of a young adult who understands that the performance of an identity is not only external, but internal and therefore, more abstract. Ultimately, I wanted to communicate that what we believe about ourselves always depends on what we believe about other people. Ideas of “Selfhood” may always be predicated on the fact that we exist in different bodies from one another, yet the desire to reach out and touch or experience someone else’s life constantly hedges our belief in autonomy and separateness. The “tabula rasa” or blank slate of destiny acts, in its presumed emptiness, also as a mirror; in it you may see not yourself, but the several other people who have contributed to the image of yourself. We look to the past for evidence to help us understand our lives when, really, the ‘past’ exists only with us in the present, as reflected in a mirror, re-told in our minds or revisited in a poem. 

Thanks for sharing this, Emily, and congratulations to you and to Eric!

Emily Yaremchuk is an alumna of the University of Virginia where she studied English and anthropology and was a part of the Area Program in Poetry Writing. Her work has appeared in the Virginia Literary Review, The Turnip Trucks, Corks and Curls, Inkstone Magazine and will appear in the Merrimack Review‘s upcoming volume. She is currently working towards her MFA in creative writing at Boston University.

Megan Collins Hatfield’s novel to be published

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Megan Collins Hatfield (Poetry ’08) is publishing her novel!  Persephone’s Sister will be published by Touchstone, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, in spring 2019.

Below is a blurb of the book from Megan herself:

Sixteen years ago, Sylvie’s sister never came home. Persephone, out too late with the boyfriend she was forbidden to see, was missing for three days before her body was found — and her murder is still unsolved. Now Sylvie’s back in town reluctantly caring for her cancer-stricken mother, Annie. Prone to unexplained Dark Days even before Persephone’s death, Annie’s once-close bond with Sylvie completely dissolved in the days after. To make matters worse, Persephone’s boyfriend Ben is now a nurse at the cancer center where Annie is being treated. Sylvie’s always believed Ben was responsible for the murder—but she’s also carrying her own secret guilt over the night Persephone didn’t come home, guilt that’s trapping her in the past while the world goes on around her. As she navigates the uncomfortably revived relationship with her mother, Sylvie begins to gently dig into the secrets that fill their house—and what really happened the night Persephone died.

As indicated by its title, the novel is influenced by the Greek myth of Persephone and Demeter. In particular, I was interested in the idea of what might have happened had Demeter had another daughter who was left to fend for herself in the wake of her mother’s grief over losing Persephone.

Congratulations, Megan!

Megan Collins holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Boston University (Poetry ’08). She teaches creative writing at the Greater Hartford Academy of the Arts in Connecticut, and she is the Managing Editor of 3Elements Review. A Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net nominee, her work has appeared in many journals, including Off the Coast, Rattle, Spillway, and Tinderbox Poetry Journal