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.

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