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

AJOdassoHeadshotAJOdassoTheStingOfItCover (1)









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


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


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

Jillian Jackson

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


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

BU - Blog image

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!