Omer Friedlander and Victor Yang Finalists for Nelson Algren, with Weike Wang as Judge

We’re so proud of Omer Friedlander (Fiction ’19) and Victor Yang (Fiction ’20), who were recently named finalists for the nationally-renowned Nelson Algren short story award! This prestigious contest, named in honor of Chicago writer Nelson Algren, honors five finalists and one winner out of several hundreds of entries from around the country. We’re so pleased that two of them are BU MFA alumni, and our very own Weike Wang (Fiction ’15) judged the competition.

Read on to learn more about each writer’s process and their thoughts on reading and writing during the pandemic.

Screen Shot 2020-07-08 at 17.45.48 (1)Omer Friedlander:

When I was writing “Alte Sachen,” I was experimenting with my prose. I gave myself more freedom to incorporate different rhythms, which normally I might not use in a story, such as long and detailed lists. The burden of a list of items (the weight of the prose) went well with the subject of the story – two brothers who are junk collectors, whose lives are filled with objects and clutter everyone else thinks is worthless, dealing with the emotional weight of a dead father. I tried to balance some of the heaviness of the lists with shorter, more abrupt and airy sentences, with lightness and humor.

Italo Calvino’s concept of lightness and heaviness is a good way of thinking about this balance. Calvino uses an example from Greek mythology. To cut off the Medusa’s head without being turned to stone, Perseus must be indirect in his gaze. He can only look at the reflection of the Medusa in his shield. Perseus is the hero of reflection, of wind and clouds, while Medusa petrifies, turns everything to stone with her gaze. Anyway, with my writing, I tried to have a bit of Medusa and a bit of Perseus, both clouds and stone.

VictorVictor Yang:

I started and edited “My Son” during Sigrid’s revision workshop last fall. I am so grateful to her and my cohort mates for believing in this story. Also, A Feather on the Breath of God! I remember finishing the book in Xuefei’s migrant lit class, and thinking, wow, a novel can be like this. It inspired in me new possibilities for writing about family, diaspora, and love.

During pandemic times, I have felt so lucky to have the MFA workshop as a constant over the past few months. In many ways, workshop remained the same, even over Zoom: cheering each other on, pointing to pretty sentences, and giggling about inane things. As one of my classmates mentioned, it is such a gift and privilege to be able to continue reading and writing during this time.

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Weike Wang:

It was an honor to be a judge.  Judging was blind but I admit there must have been some subconscious connection between me and the writers. I read these pieces during the month of May, which was a dreary month to say the least. But the stories buoyed me and I can still distinctly remember Omer’s and Victor’s prose. I hope they both continue to write, especially now, when fiction can function as both escape and hope.

 

Head over to The Chicago Tribune to read more about our two finalists.  Thank you so much, Omer, Victor, and Weike!  Congratulations, all!

International Poetry Circle launched by Tara Skurtu

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On March 15, Tara Skurtu (Poetry ’13) started an initiative called International Poetry Circle, and she says she “had no idea how much it’d grow.”  Today, IPC has over 2,000 videos, across all social media platforms, in more than fifteen languages!  During this isolating season, IPC has been helping people around the world connect through poetry.

“At International Poetry Circle,” Tara explains, “poets and poetry lovers record themselves reading a poem of their own or a favorite poem to help us all feel more connected and hopeful.”

IPC was recently featured in the Boston Globe, and the Emily Dickinson Museum made an official video for IPC in Dickinson’s bedroom and other Dickinson spots.  The hashtag #InternationalPoetryCircle is how the videos are being spread on all social media platforms.  (The Twitter account @intpoetrycircle, which exists to RT all the videos, is temporarily down, but it should be up and running again soon!).

Here’s how to contribute to International Poetry Circle:

1. Record a video of yourself reading a poem.

2. Post it on social media with the hashtag #InternationalPoetryCircle.

3. For increased accessibility: Add captions or a photo/link to the poem for people to read.

Thank you so much, Tara!

Anitha Ahmed graduates from med school and BU MFA program

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We’re super excited to celebrate with Anitha Ahmed, who earned her MFA from Boston University and MD from Thomas Jefferson University this month!  Anitha generously took the time to tell us more about her path to becoming a doctor and a writer, her time at BU, and what she’s reading and writing these days.

When and how did you decide you wanted to be a doctor?

My grandmother was really ill and lived in my family’s house for most of my childhood, and I was always encouraged to be part of her care. I would take her vitals and weight every morning and test her blood sugar, and I’d translate for her home nurse whenever my parents weren’t around. When I got a bit older, I started going with her to her doctor’s appointments and keeping track of her different medications. She was so unconditionally loving and would insist on cooking for me even when she found it difficult to stand; I remember her spending hours sitting at the dining table to make the dough for potato parathas, which were my favorite things to eat as a child. On Eid day, she’d be in the kitchen from as early as 3 am making us our favorite sweets for the holiday; I’m thinking about this especially now because it’s almost Eid. Anyway, taking care of her and seeing her in all her stages of health and illness piqued my interest in medicine and care-taking from an early age.

What about becoming a writer – how did you decide to get an MFA?

I really can’t remember a time I didn’t consider myself a writer. When I was a kid I used to write these awful poems and short stories (there was one series I was quite proud of about a single mother leopard raising her four cubs in the Serengeti) and it was one of my favorite pastimes. Even in high school when I wasn’t writing or even reading much, I considered being a writer central to my identity. I went through so many existential crises in college about whether or not I wanted to forego medicine and put all my cards into writing, and ultimately received enough encouragement from the right people to make me feel like I could do both. So I took all the creative writing classes I could in undergrad and applied for an MFA my third year of medical school–getting into BU’s one year program really felt serendipitous. The rest is history!

Anything you’d like to say about your year at BU? Favorite moments or most helpful parts?

I feel so nostalgic towards the year at BU! My favorite parts of it were making lifelong friends who care about writing and literature as much as I do. We would always get together outside of class – at one of our apartments, the BU pub, and other haunts – and it made all the difference in the year. I still keep in touch with and share my work with so many of them, and I feel like it’s just a great community to be part of while I take the plunge into my medical career over the next few years.

How does your practice of medicine influence your writing, and vice versa?

I do feel like a lot of my writing includes themes of aging, anxiety, and illness, which is probably influenced by my experiences in medicine. On the medical side, I feel like my background as a writer helps me cultivate a deeper empathy and understanding for my patients, and (I hope) gives me a creative rather than purely analytic approach when I’m coming up with medical plans.

What kind of medicine do you want to practice?

I’m going to be training as a pediatrician, starting in June!

Any writing rituals?

My favorite writing ritual used to be spending the day in a coffee shop, reading for awhile and then settling into a project, but I’ve had to adapt with quarantine – these days I’ve been trying to write just before bed, or when I just wake up, and I’ve (somewhat) recreated the cafe vibe by sitting at our island counter with a cup of coffee or tea.

What are some of your favorite books?

There are too many to list! From the past 365 days, my favorite books have been The Great Believers and Music for Wartime by Rebecca Makkai, and The Sympathizer and The Refugees by Viet Than Nguyen. I also finally finished Crime and Punishment this past month, which definitely lived up to all the hype.

What are you reading these days?

Right now I’m reading Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, which is beautiful so far!

What are you working on now (if you want to share)?

I am working on a novel about a Pakistani doctor named Nadia, as well as a short story collection!

Thank you so much, Anitha, and hearty congratulations! We wish you all the luck in the world for your writing and your medical career, and we’re so grateful to you and other healthcare workers during this time in our world.

Anitha Ahmed earned her MFA from Boston University and her MD from Thomas Jefferson University in May, 2020. At Boston University, she was awarded the Florence E. Randall Graduate Fiction Prize and the Robert Fitzgerald Translation Prize; at Thomas Jefferson University, she was supported by the Mouzarkel Art in Medicine Scholarship. In June, she will be starting her medical residency in pediatrics at Los Angeles County-University of Southern California Medical Center. Her creative work has appeared in Calyx Journal, Bat City Review, Bodega Magazine, Journal of the American Medical Association, and The Huffington Post. She is currently working on her first novel, titled Nadia.

Susan Barba publishes second collection of poetry

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Susan Barba (Poetry ’12) has just published her second book, geode, with Black Sparrow Press!  A rave review in the Globe says geode “pulses with the blood of earth and stone. Through a lens of geography and geology, Barba looks at time, and our human efforts — sometimes futile, sometimes hopeful, sometimes cruel — to make sense of forces much larger and much older than our selves.”

Susan says, What I wanted for this book was to create a work of art in conversation with the earth. My hope now is that this book will be a portal, bringing far-flung places to you, but also beckoning you to go out (if you can, safely), to see the sky, set your feet on the ground.

The book arose from anguish and love: anguish at the climate crisis and love for this changeable, rejuvenating earth. geode is both a response to the crisis and a response to the beauty of the world. 

Thank you so much, Susan.  Congratulations!

Susan Barba is the author of geode (Black Sparrow Press, 2020) and Fair Sun (David R. Godine, 2017). She has received fellowships from the MacDowell Colony and Yaddo, and she works as a senior editor for New York Review of Books.

Sheila Sundar publishes short story in Crazyhorse

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We’re excited to share that Sheila Sundar (current fiction MFA) has published a story in the spring 2020 issue of Crazyhorse!  The story, “Deccan Basalt,” was workshopped in Leslie Epstein’s class this past year.

Sheila says, I’ve always been interested in stories of humanity–of finding solace and connection in unexpected places. Because I was raised in an immigrant community, my characters are also shaped by the experience of being uprooted, of holding onto elements of their old lives while finding new meaning and forming new bonds. “Deccan Basalt” was the second story I wrote for Leslie’s workshop. Though the character, Vikram, had been developing in my mind for some time, he came together more fully through Leslie’s early advice: focus on relationships, and let the complexity of human connection drive our writing.

Thank you, Sheila, and congratulations!

Sheila Sundar is an MFA candidate in fiction at Boston University. Her writing is forthcoming in Crazyhorse, and has appeared in Guernica, the Los Angeles Review of Books, and the Rumpus. She lives in New Orleans with her family.

 

Aaron-Caycedo Kimura published in Beloit Poetry Journal

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We’re happy to share that our current poetry MFA student, Aaron Caycedo-Kimura, recently published a poem in the spring issue of Beloit Poetry Journal!  Read the poem here.

Aaron says, My poem “The Fern” is about the loss of something I never had but always wanted. It was inspired by the wild ferns growing in my backyard that I dug up last spring and transplanted.

Thanks, Aaron, for brightening our weeks with a poem, and congratulations!

Aaron Caycedo-Kimura is a poet, painter, and cartoonist. His poetry appears or is forthcoming in Poet LoreDMQ ReviewCrab Creek ReviewNaugatuck River ReviewOff the CoastConnecticut River ReviewGravelCrack the SpineRust + MothTule Review, and elsewhere. He is also the author and illustrator of Text, Don’t Call: An Illustrated Guide to the Introverted Life, published by TarcherPerigee. Aaron is currently an MFA candidate in the creative writing program at Boston University.

Jordan Coriza wins two contests

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We’re so excited for Jordan Coriza (Fiction ’08) who has won two contests for his novel The Dead Phone!  Jordan won the Craft on Draft contest back in May, but he was recently interviewed by Dead Darlings, and you can check that out here.

Jordan was also selected to be the Hotel Commonwealth’s Writer-in-Residence.  The prize is a two-week stay at their “Reader’s Suite,” outfitted in honor of author Ben Mezrich.  Here’s a great video of Jordan accepting the award!  You can read more about the contest here and here.

Jordan took the time to share a little about his novel with us.  He says:

THE DEAD PHONE is a historical novel set during Argentina’s Dirty War (late ’70s), when tens of thousands of people disappeared at the hands of the military government. The book tells the story of Rosa Alvarez, a homemaker and devoted mother who widows at the beginning of the story. Ravaged by the loss of her husband, she must overcome emotional and financial challenges to survive. When she finds an old phone in her late husband’s tool shed, she uses it to call him. Word gets around, and neighbors begin to flood my protagonist’s house bearing gifts of cash and valuable objects in exchange for time with her otherworldly phone. A man who is looking for his missing wife offers Rosa a meaningful friendship and a sense of possibility. Together, they begin a hunt for the disappeared. The journey proves as dangerous as it is helpful. But the junta has eyes everywhere, and undesirables like Rosa are swiftly sucked off the streets every day. Filled with suspicion, grief, and doubts, Rosa has to move decisively yet carefully, for if she, too, is taken, many will lose access to the phone. Then, just as she’s pondering a life-altering plunge, Rosa faces a stunning turn of events. What might be a victory to others may just be the realization of her deepest fears.

Thanks, Jordan, and congratulations!  We’re looking forward to reading The Dead Phone when it hits shelves.

Jordan Coriza’s stories have appeared in the Chicago Quarterly Review, the Worcester Review, The Bare Life Review, and elsewhere. His debut novel, THE DEAD PHONE, is a historical fiction set in Argentina during its last military dictatorship. Though he calls Boston home, he’s lived in Argentina, Brazil, and spent time in Italy. A seasoned translator, he makes a living as a communications professional for a nonprofit global health organization. Find him on Twitter @JordanCoriza.

Omer Friedlander receives VSC fellowship

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We’re so happy to announce that Omer Friedlander (Fiction 2019) has received a fully-funded Vermont Studio Center fellowship!  He will be in residence at VSC for four weeks in May 2020.  Before that, Omer is traveling to India on a Global Fellowship.  He is currently reading The White Book by Han Kang and We the Animals by Justin Torres.

Congratulations, Omer!

Omer Friedlander grew up in Tel-Aviv. He has a BA in English Literature from the University of Cambridge and an MFA from Boston University where he was the Saul Bellow Fellow in Fiction. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in literary magazines in the US, UK, Canada, France, Israel and Singapore, including The Common, The Ilanot Review, The Mays Anthology, Paris Lit Up, and others. His writing has been supported by the Bread Loaf Work-Study Scholarship, Vermont Studio Center Fellowship, Tin House Summer and Winter Workshops, and Wellspring House Residency. He was awarded first place in the Shmuel Traum Literary Translation Prize.

Aaron Caycedo-Kimura publishes three poems

Wonderful news from one of our current poetry MFA’s, Aaron Caycedo-Kimura, who has three poems forthcoming this fall!  Aaron was a semi-finalist in the 2019 Crab Creek Review Poetry Prize contest with two poems, “Artificial Flavors” and “Memorial.”  They will be published in the Fall 2019 issue of Crab Creek Review. In addition, Aaron’s ekphrastic ghazal “Sun in an Empty Room, 1963” will be published in the Summer/Fall 2019 issue of Think: A Journal of Poetry, Fiction, and Essays.

Aaron had this to say about the poems:

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I’ve written a lot about my parents since they passed away—my father in 2011 and my mother in 2015. In doing so, I continue to honor them and keep their memory alive in my life. “Artificial Flavors” is based on a childhood memory at the salon where my mother used to get her hair done, and “Sun in an Empty Room, 1963” (an ekphrastic ghazal) is about my last walkthrough of her empty house before I sold it. “Memorial” is about my father and his college friend who tried to connect with him after he died.

Thank you, Aaron, for sharing your work with us.  What a beautiful way to honor your parents.  We look forward to seeing these poems in print.  Congratulations!

Aaron Caycedo-Kimura is a poet, painter, and cartoonist. His poetry appears or is forthcoming in Poet Lore, DMQ Review, Crab Creek Review, Naugatuck River Review, Off the Coast, Connecticut River Review, Gravel, Crack the Spine, Rust + Moth, Tule Review, and elsewhere. He is also the author and illustrator of Text, Don’t Call: An Illustrated Guide to the Introverted Life, published by TarcherPerigee. Aaron is currently an MFA candidate in the creative writing program at Boston University.

 

Lisa Taddeo’s Three Women

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We’re so psyched for Lisa Taddeo (Fiction ’17) whose scintillating book, Three Womendebuted at number 1 on the New York Times bestseller list a couple weeks ago!

Lisa will be reading from the book tonight at Harvard Book Store at 7 pm.  Despite being on book tour, she took the time to speak with us about the book.

How did you come up with the idea for Three Women?
I’d read Gay Talese’s Thy Neighbor’s Wife and was impressed with the immersive nature of the book but it was written from a very male perspective, so I decided it might make sense to write about female desire, from a female perspective.

How did you find the women you interviewed, and how did you decide on these three in particular? What was the process of getting their stories? 

Reporting the book was different day to day. I would make lists of tenuous things to do: Posting signs in the morning, across nearly every state in the country. I would go to bars and restaurants and corner stores and talk to people, trying to find the person who would be THE person. I moved to several of the towns of both the women in the book and others who didn’t make it into the book. I interviewed hundreds of people, twenty-five minutes or at length (for over a month or more). I left about twenty people out of the final cut. It was hard to do that, but Sloane, Maggie, and Lina were the most comfortable with my presence in their lives at length and across poignant moments. They let me into their minds ten times more than the next person. And, as a triad, they told the most arresting yet cohesive narrative. Finally, the way that their communities psychologically conspired against them was emblematic for me of much of America’s projection of their sexual fears onto others.ThreeWomen

The book was written over eight years and is an amazingly intimate and exhaustive narrative. Why do you think these women were willing to open up to you? What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in writing it?

More than wanting to “get the story,” I wanted all the subjects of this book to feel heard and not used. Lina came from a very Catholic home, had no friends in whom she could confide, and merely wanted someone to listen. She had recently reconnected with her high school lover and was dying to describe every interlude because she was finally being seen and felt. Maggie wanted her version of the story heard when an entire town banded against her. Sloane, similarly, hadn’t told anyone other than her best friend about her intimate life.

The instances I most loved came when I was observing them from a distance, quietly writing, taking notes, taking in the environment while not being a part of the action. For example, after Lina was intimate with Aidan in their sacred spot, I would travel there right after, to take in the smells and sounds and sights of the river at dusk. So I could best describe the milieu, so I could best layer onto what Lina had just told me.

The biggest challenge was simply finding them. It’s hard to get anyone to open up about desire, especially at the level these women did; on top of that, it’s hard to let someone into your life on a daily basis the way that they did.

What other books and/or works of art / literature have shaped the process of writing this book?

George Packer’s The Unwinding, the immersion of Gay Talese’s Thy Neighbor’s Wife, Joan Didion, Elena Ferrante, Tracy Kidder, Janet Malcolm, Renata Adler, the throttle of Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff, the empathy and humility and love of Grace Paley.

And because this is for our program blog, we’d love to know: how did the BU MFA help you?

Reading and writing fiction (under the wonderful tutelage of Leslie Epstein and Ha Jin) helped me to consider language more in my nonfiction. I never like to read nonfiction written in staid manners, and so it was beyond helpful to be in BU’s amazing fiction program while I wrote what would become my first novel (out next summer) and my collection of stories and finishing this book, which I don’t think would have been the same without BU.

Thank you, Lisa, and congratulations!  We are so proud of you and excited for you.

Lisa Taddeo is a journalist who has contributed to New York magazine, Esquire, Elle, Glamour, and many other publications. Her nonfiction has been included in the Best American Sports Writing and Best American Political Writing anthologies, and her short stories have won two Pushcart Prizes in 2017 and 2019. She lives with her husband and daughter in Connecticut.