Katherine Chen’s Second Novel Released by Random House

Annaka: I’ve heard many times that the second novel is harder to write than the first. Did that hold true for you?

Katherine: I think this is generally true. I do think, however, that the subject of my second novel was more difficult and also more elusive, and that this contributed to the overall feeling of difficulty as well.

A: Were there any major differences in the way you approached the writing and revision of this novel as opposed to the way you approached your first?

K: For the first novel, I always felt like I was writing against time. Everything seemed to be in more of a hurry. With the second, I spent more time researching, then wrote a manuscript that was around 200,000 words, and eventually scrapped it. Then I started from page one. Nothing from the first version really transferred over. I just had to begin again. I think that was the main difference. And when I revised the second version, it was almost like going through the process of rewriting it again. I probably rewrote half of it, then rewrote a third of it, a quarter of it, until it felt right. There were more rounds, and even in the later stages of editing, I was still adding in new scenes and making changes. The writing and revision process for the second novel definitely took longer and felt more intensive.

A: Your first novel, Mary B, focuses on the experiences of Mary Bennet, the middle sister in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. In Joan, your protagonist is another already-existing figure, but this time one from French history: Joan of Arc. What was it like to write characters whose roots are already established, and how did you find writing a character from history to be different from writing a character from a famous work of fiction?

K: This is a good question. I think the process of writing is probably not that different. In the case of the first, the source material, as you have pointed out, is a novel. With the second, the source material can be many things, such as biographies of Joan of Arc, transcripts from Joan’s trial and retrial, books on the Hundred Years’ War, etc. As for actually writing about the characters, I don’t think the process is that dissimilar, because you’re still trying to find something new to say about a character who already exists. With Joan, I found that to be a tall order, which is probably why the first version of the novel was thrown out. I had originally approached the book with a mental checklist of historical events, and the end result was a prose version of a historical timeline, which doesn’t make for a very readable book. I think with any character who is already known to many people, both the question and the challenge is why you are writing this novel and what you want the work to say that hasn’t already been said.

Those interested can purchase Joan at this link.

Caroline Woods’ Second Novel Published by Doubleday

Former program administrator and alum Caroline Woods (Fiction '08)'s second novel The Lunar Housewife was released today by Doubleday! In celebration of the book's release, current program administrator Annaka Saari (Poetry '21) was able to interview Caroline via email.

Annaka: The Lunar Housewife is your second novel. How was the process of writing this book different, if at all, from the writing of your first novel, Fräulein M.?

Caroline: The process was completely different this time. I began Fräulein M. in Ha Jin's novella workshop, and then spent the next four to five years turning it into a novel. I had a full-time job the whole time I was working on the book, and I'd write in concentrated bursts–on a given Saturday, I'd try writing 3,000 words or so, and then I'd let it go cold for several days or even a week.

With The Lunar Housewife, I finally followed our teachers' advice and took to writing every single day. I wrote at night, actually, from 13 April to 4 July, 2020, and cranked out a draft in the evenings as my two kids slept. It sounds like a more difficult writing process, but it wasn't–I never lost track of the story. I followed Hemingway's advice to set a max word count for each day and stop when I reached that point, even stopping midsentence. Hemingway said to stop when you knew exactly what would come next, and therefore maintain your momentum. It was the opposite of what I'd done before–I thought I had to finish a scene before I was allowed to get up from my desk–and it worked. (Hem has an extended cameo in The Lunar Housewife, so I was particularly primed to take his advice to heart.) 

A: Could you describe the novel's main character, Louise, and how you came to establish her voice?

C: Louise is a young aspiring writer and former waitress who's doing her best to get in good with the publishing in-crowd in 1953 New York. She's very much inspired by the women who would have been at George Plimpton's parties in the fifties and sixties, and so I relied on voices like Anne Roiphe, particularly her memoir Art and Madness, to get a feel for what it would have been like to be a woman writer in that scene with all of its debauchery. I also wondered what someone like Roiphe, who had an affair with Doc Humes (one of the Paris Review founders) would have known about the magazine's connection to the CIA. And it does come out in her memoir–Humes was always ranting about the FBI listening to everyone, though the people around him, including Roiphe herself, tended to dismiss this as paranoia.

A: The book features cameos from some real-life characters, including James Baldwin and Truman Capote. What was it like blending such high-profile characters into a book of fiction?

C: It was intimidating! With characters like Capote, Arthur Miller, and Julie Newmar, they're essentially in the background, but my fictional Baldwin participates in a long dinner scene, and I really wanted to get his voice right and also kind of let the historical Baldwin speak for himself, if that makes sense. In the scene, Baldwin is describing an essay he has coming in Harper's in summer 1953, which was "Stranger in the Village." I decided to have him give the reader a little taste of what the essay is about, in the hope that it'll lead people to put a bookmark in The Lunar Housewife and go read the actualbrilliant, horrifying essay. The Hemingway cameo was fun to do, since there's so much material. I could get his voice from his own letters and interviews, and just let this fictional Hem take Louise on a madcap journey around the city.

Those interested can purchase The Lunar Housewife at this link.

Lisa Hiton’s Queer Poem-a-Day is Back for a Second Season!

Lisa Hiton (Poetry '11)'s Queer Poem-a-Day podcast is back for a second season -- just in time for the start of Pride Month! Our program administrator, Annaka Saari (Poetry '21), had the chance to conduct a brief email interview with Lisa to discuss the podcast's conception, construction, and future.

Annaka: Where did the idea for the podcast come from, and what's it been like working with Dylan Zavagno to develop that idea?

Lisa: "Dylan and I went to the same high school in Deerfield, IL. Though Dylan is younger than me, we share a mentor -- our AP Senior English teacher, the inimitable Jeff Berger-White. Dylan was interviewing Dan Chiasson for the Deerfield Public Library Podcast. When he mentioned it to Jeff, Jeff put us in touch as I knew Dan from my years living and writing in Boston. During my first talk with Dylan, I made a remark about how I wished someone would let me run a 'gay a day' poetry series. In the absence of Pride festivities and activism during the pandemic, I just wanted to have some kind of digital and literary parade of voices. I mentioned that during the pandemic, my days were filled with long walks and lines of beloved poems flooding my mind to coddle my lonesome. Poetry has unique powers in the inner life of readers. I mentioned these things in passing as a means to get to know Dylan and share some of our common threads.

About a week later, Dylan emailed me to set up another Zoom meeting. I assumed it was to ask more questions about the works and life of Dan Chiasson. Instead, Dylan informed me that he pitched my idea, Queer Poem-a-Day, to the Library and they accepted. We have been co-producers and dear friends ever since.

As the program developed, one of my personal bents was to lean into a unique law in Illinois -- the first of its kind -- that requires LGBTQIA+ inclusion in K-12 schools. The voices, the books of the poets we acquire, and the poems we archive online are a growing contribution of LGBTQIA+ people in our contemporary moment. As time passes, I hope that many communities in Illinois public schools and beyond will use this program, the books, and the poems in inspiring and transformative ways. Dylan and I touch on this in our PEN America interview, WBEZ Chicago interview, and this year's intro episode -- about how public art stands to reckon with some of these anti-trans and anti-LGBTQIA laws."

A: How do you go about curating the list of readers and poems for the series? Last season, you had some brilliant writers reading their work -- Andrea Cohen, Carl Phillips, Kazim Ali, and Chen Chen immediately spring to mind -- and I'd love to hear more about how you put that list together.

L: "In all honesty, I simply reach out to poets whose work Dylan and I love. I have some connections to writers who have published or submitted to The Adroit Journal where I am Poetry Editor -- I think that recognition helps when I reach out to writers who might not know who I am. I also think about who has books coming out, or recent books, as the library acquires books or chapbooks by each of our poets. I also aim for a range of representation -- queer voices have all kinds of different predicaments, poetics, bodies, generations, aesthetics, etc. I hope each year we keep expanding that definition of queer voice with this vast array of poems."

A: What do you hope to see in the future of the podcast?

L: "As listeners will see and hear this year, things are changing. Rebellion is necessarily in the air. Dylan and I never request poems -- the choice is entirely up to the poet. And so, when the work comes in, the common threads and themes begin braiding themselves together. Our poet's pianist, Daniel Baer, chose Karol Szymanowski's Schéhérazade as this year's music -- a much eerier and moodier piece than last year's Samuel Barber. The poets, too, seem to be selecting work that is much more invested in the body-politic of politics than last year. It makes sense given the current climate of book bans and anti-trans and anti-LGBTQIA+ bills popping up everywhere (about 272 total across at least 38 states). None of this was part of the prompt or the assignment, but it is showing us listeners how vital poems are in our contemporaneity. Poem's might not change laws, but they could stand to change our rhetoric, or even shift the paradigm of how people see queerness in the space of public art and beyond.

In a pragmatic way, I hope the podcast continues to be supported by public institutions. I hope that educators see the podcast as an asset that can be used in so many ways in their classrooms (and not just traditional English classrooms -- I'm thinking: new media, history, social studies, art, professional development, DEI, etc.). I hope that patrons will keep checking out and reading these incredible books.

Mostly, though, I hope it keeps going at all. That we have public funding means so much in a time when there's so little support in most other ways for queer lives. And I hope the poems keep making their own music in the ears of our listeners and in the broader scheme of our culture."

Listeners can find daily episodes of Queer Poem-a-Day on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, and Stitcher Radio throughout the month of June. Those who wish to access the Queer Poem-a-Day archive can do so at the Deerfield Public Library website.

Camilla Lee Wins Two Awards from University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

Camilla Lee (Fiction '17) has won awards for her stories "Koi" and "Green" (which has since been published in Rip Rap) from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where she is currently a PhD candidate in the English department.

Her work was awarded both the UWM Creative Writing Faculty Legacy Award in Fiction and the Wladyslaw Cieszynski Prize.

Congratulations, Camilla!

James Brookes Delivering Lecture Tonight

James Brookes Talk (1)Tonight at 6:30PM, the poet James Brookes (Poetry '21) will join us (via Zoom webinar) for a discussion of versification and free verse poetry. James will begin by lecturing on the subject but will then take questions from the audience.

James Brookes is  a poet from rural Sussex, England. A graduate of the University of Warwick's Writing Program, he received an Eric Gregory Award from the UK Society of Authors in 2009 and published a chapbook, The English Sweats, in the same year. His first collection of poems, Sins of the Leopard, appeared in 2012 and was shortlisted for the Dylan Thomas Prize. A second collection, Spoils, was published in 2018. James graduated from BU's MFA program in 2021; while in the program, he received the Academy of American Poets Prize for his poem "Least Concern" and was awarded second place in the Fitzgerald Prize for his translation of Epigrammata by Ausonius (from Latin to English). Recently, his poems have appeared in The Hopkins ReviewImage JournalTemenos Academy Review, and Literary Matters. 

Those interested in viewing the webinar can click on this link at 6:30PM EST; no advance registration is required. This virtual event is free and open to the public.

Any questions about the event can be directed to Annaka Saari at crwr@bu.edu.

Tara Skurtu Publishes New Poem in The Puritan

Poetry alum Tara Skurtu (Poetry '13) has published a new piece in The Puritan! The poem, entitled "Offering Street," forces the reader to question what it means to be defined by an act and what it means to complete an act without being defined by it. The piece will be featured in her upcoming collection, Faith Farm, and those who wish to read it can click on this link.


The Creative Writing Department’s Summer Class Offerings Are Here!

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It's that time of year again -- summer course listings have gone live! We have plenty of fantastic courses to offer -- including a completely new, interdisciplinary class -- and this summer is the perfect time to join us in the study and practice of Creative Writing! All Boston University Summer Term courses will be held on-campus and are open to more than just BU students -- in addition to those already enrolled at BU, visiting domestic and international students, high school students, as well as adults and professionals, are welcome to register!

The department is running four sections of CAS EN 202 ("Introduction to Creative Writing") this summer, and each of our wonderful instructors will bring a different twist to the class! In the first summer session, section A2 will be taught by program administrator and poet Annaka Saari, who often infuses her syllabi with multimedia content; in particular, she is fascinated with the overlap between film and poetry). Section A1 will be taught by current fiction student, graphic novelist, and comic artist Jess Ruliffson. In the second summer session, section B1 will be taught by current fiction student and journalist Melkon Charchoglyan, while section B2 will be taught by current poetry student and Favorite Poem Project content creator Nate Miller. All sections of this course will center around the writing workshop and will allow students to create original work while receiving feedback from their peers and instructor.

Taught by award-winning poet and editor Lisa Hiton, CAS EN 304 ("The Writing of Poetry") will allow students to dedicate themselves to studying the craft of poetry. Students will learn to read poems closely, with their attention focused on the craft elements of the work, and will be encouraged to apply what they learn to their own work. Students will receive feedback on their original poetry from their instructor and peers in the workshop environment.

CAS EN 305 ("The Writing of Fiction") is designed for students who wish to immerse themselves in the study of fiction. Taught by fiction writer Nayereh Doosti, this is a wonderful opportunity for students to learn from great works of fiction what they might apply to their own work. Students will learn to read like writers (that is, with an eye towards how stories are made) and will receive feedback on their own creative work from their instructor and peers in the workshop environment.

Our new course, CAS EN 549 ("Interdisciplinary Studies in Creative Writing: The Writer as Historian") promises to indulge the curiosities of those interested in History, Creative Writing, or the overlaps and differences that exist between these fields. In this workshop-based course, students should expect to engage with both creative and historical readings, and some historical and historiographical lectures may be given. In engaging with this variety of instructional material, students will be asked to consider the ethical implications of infusing creative works with details taken from the pages of history. Unlike our other course offerings, this class does require an application; see the poster above, or contact program administrator Annaka Saari at crwr@bu.edu, for details about the application process.

Among all of these classes, there should be something for everyone! Email program administrator Annaka Saari at crwr@bu.edu with any questions you may have and feel free to read more about our course offerings on the Summer Term website.

Classmates Receive Grants from the Elizabeth George Foundation

Yu-Mei Balasingamchow and Pritha Bhattacharyya were classmates in Boston University's MFA Fiction class of 2019. In January, both of them were awarded creative writing grants by the Elizabeth George Foundation. The Creative Department was thrilled to hear of this news, and department administrator Annaka Saari conducted a short email interview with Yu-Mei and Pritha after learning of both of their awards. Their answers to her questions can be found below.

How did you feel when you heard you had received the grant?

Pritha: Shocked and grateful. I really went into the application process with a good dose of skepticism about being able to get the grant, as I try to do with any sort of application. To see it come to fruition at the end was a sign that, for now, I’m on the right path. I can’t emphasize enough how transformative this grant is for my writing life this upcoming year, nor how much I owe my recommenders for advocating on my behalf.

Yu-Mei: Stunned, ecstatic, grateful – I still am! I gave the application my best shot, of course, but so many good and worthy writers apply for these grants, you never know what your chances are going to be like. Plus I'd received a number of other rejections in the months before, and I was prepared for another one (you know how the writing life is).

Getting the grant is certainly a huge boost of encouragement to keep pushing on with my novel. I'm super thankful to everyone who helped me along the way: the writer friends who went over my application with an eagle eye, and my professors at BU and other recommenders who endorsed my work. On a practical note, as someone who juggles various part-time and freelance gigs to pay the bills, a gift like this is a real windfall – much as the fully-funded MFA at BU was.

How did you feel when you heard your classmate had received the grant?

P: I was incredibly happy to know that Yu-Mei had been awarded the grant too, and both of us getting it this year was the cherry on top! Although it’s been a while since we were in the same classroom, I remember our cohort as a whole was super kind and supportive of one another, and Yu-Mei and I have stayed in touch ever since graduating, updating each other on our progress of our respective works. I’m so excited to see where this grant helps her take her work and will be cheering wildly for her as it happens.

Y: I was absolutely thrilled for Pritha! She's an amazing writer, a steadfast friend, and a lovely human being. We did a fair bit of screaming on the phone (in a good way) when we found out. I can't wait for more people to read her stories! Also, since our BU days I've been bugging her to write a novel (she knows which one).

How do you think your time in Boston University's program prepared you as writers for opportunities like this?

P: My year at BU was invaluable. To put it bluntly: that’s where I learned to write. I am incredibly grateful to my teachers and cohort for their support, encouragement, and critique during that time because it made me a stronger and more assured writer. My MFA year also gave me the confidence to pursue writing seriously and to consider myself competitive for opportunities such as the Elizabeth George Foundation grant.

Y: The program made me a sharper reader and writer, and I know some of the advice and ideas our professors mentioned in class have taken up permanent, subconscious residence in my writing brain. I'm also glad I got to know Pritha, our classmates and other alumni that I've met since. Writing, submitting and applying for things can feel like a solitary endeavor. Having friends to talk with, especially when nothing seems to be "happening" in one's writing life, keeps me going and helps me psych myself up for the next possibility.

Weike Wang to be Next Speaker in Ha Jin Visiting Lecturer Series

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The Boston University Creative Writing department is so excited to welcome Weike Wang (Fiction '15) as the next speaker in The Ha Jin Visiting Lecturer Series.

Weike will join us via Zoom at 7:00PM on Thursday, 03 March. She will read from her new novel Joan is Okay, which was released by Random House in January, and participate in a Q&A Session with the audience. This event is free and open to the public, and those who are interested in attending can register at this link.

Weike's work has recently been published in Ploughshares and she was awarded the 2018 PEN/Hemingway Award for her first novel, Chemistry (Knopf, 2017). This event will be a wonderful opportunity to learn more about Weike and her craft; be sure to join us!

John Rosengren’s Tenth Book to Come Out in March


John Rosengren (MA ’94)’s tenth book Classic Baseball: Timeless Tales, Immortal Moments will be released by Rowman & Littlefield in March. The book is a collection of articles written by Rosengren -- some of which originally appeared in Sports IllustratedThe New YorkerVICE Sports, and other outlets -- that explores stories surrounding legends such as Ty Cobb and Sandy Koufax, as well as tales told by and about lesser-known figures. From reflecting on famous moments to shining light on the details of more mundane happenings, these stories celebrate America's favorite pastime with humor and reverence.

Congratulations, John!

You can read more about the book (and preorder a copy!) at this link.