Patricia Park Publishes Debut Young Adult Novel

This post was originally created in February; due to some sort of glitch, the original post has been deleted and replaced with this one. No changes have been made to the content.

Fiction alum Patricia Park (Fiction ’09)’s debut young adult novel, Imposter Syndrome and Other Confessions of Alejandra Kim, was released by Crown Books for Young Readers on February 23! To celebrate the book’s release, current program administrator Annaka Saari (Poetry ’21) was able to interview Patricia about the novel via email.

Annaka Saari: Imposter Syndrome and Other Confessions of Alejandra Kim is your debut Young Adult novel. How was the process of writing this book different (if at all) than the way that you approach writing novels targeted toward adult readers?

Patricia Park: I love the freshness of voice and raw honesty in YA fiction. So I made specific craft choices, e.g., first person POV, present verb tense—to convey the intimacy and immediacy of an experience, unfolding in real time.

In adult fiction, young protagonists are written with the benefit and maturity of adult hindsight; you can employ the retrospective narrator that contextualizes the gap between the lived experience and the reflection after. But you lose some of that immediacy of the experience.

AS: Both Imposter Syndrome and Other Confessions of Alejandra Kim and your first novel, Re Jane, focus on characters who inhabit a variety of identities. Ale, the protagonist of Imposter Syndrome, is both Latinx and Korean; she spends the majority of her time between her mostly-white high school and her more diverse neighborhood. How was the process of fleshing out such a complex character, and did you run into any unexpected challenges while honing her voice?

PP: I write about minorities within minorities—specifically within the Korean American identity. We contain multitudes! With Ale, my challenge was to both get a 17 year-old’s voice down, as well as to understand Argentine Spanish, which is heavily Italian-influenced. Prior to this project, I knew both Spanish and Italian. But I taught myself Argentine slang and studied with Argentine professors at Middlebury College’s Summer Language Institute (the one where you have to take a pledge not to read, write, speak, or listen to any other language but Spanish!). I did a several research trips to Argentina, where I attended churches, worked in businesses, and interviewed members of the Korean Argentine community, including my own family members.

The worst thing you can do with a teen character is talk down to them—or to your audience. So I’d do the kinds of writing exercises I do with my MFA students at American University—writing diary entries, poking in their fridges and school bags, writing from the character’s viewpoint at different ages of their life (childhood to adulthood). You learn to adjust their syntax and diction with each stage of the character’s life.

AS: Geography is an important facet of your novels – both Imposter Syndrome and Other Confessions of Alejandra Kim and Re Jane are set in Queens, New York (with much of Re Jane taking place in Seoul, South Korea as well) and place is clearly a lens through which your protagonists consider their own identities. What’s it like to create characters that are emotionally and otherwise anchored in specific locations?

PP: Queens stories are overlooked and untold. We’re a literal pitstop in literature, a “valley of ashes”—as anyone whose read their Gatsby knows! Yet Queens is the most ethnically diverse place in the world, with over 300 languages spoken. I was born and bred in Queens, and I am absolutely shaped by my geography. Richard Russo has a great craft essay on setting called, “Location, Location, Location,” which I teach to my students all the time. Russo talks about the importance of not giving the “tourist” version of a place; it should be real, emotionally honest, and embedded in character (I’m paraphrasing). If I just gave readers the Times Square version of New York, I could never live with myself.

Those interested in purchasing a copy of Imposter Syndrome and Other Confessions of Alejandra Kim can do so here.

Current Fiction Student A. J. Bermudez Publishes Debut Story Collection

Current fiction student A. J. Bermudez (Fiction '23)'s debut story collection Stories No One Hopes Are About Them was released today by University of Iowa Press! The collection, which won the Iowa Short Fiction Award, has been called a "sly and sharp-edged collection" by The A.V. Club and a "must-read" by Publishers Weekly.

Current program administrator Annaka Saari (Poetry ’21) was able to interview A. J. about the collection in advance of its release. Read below to hear more about how A. J. approached the creation and organization of the book.

Annaka Saari: Stories No One Hopes Are About Them is your debut story collection. What was the most challenging thing about bringing it into the world?

A. J. Bermudez: Money. I’m not saying Maslow got it exactly right, but no one who’s stressed about buying groceries concurrently shines as a recreational author. My partner’s been extraordinarily supportive, and I’ve caught a few breaks, but the most significant challenges are almost always logistical. This collection unfolded in stolen pockets of time, unlikely windows of opportunity, and over far longer than I would have liked. Betting on the value of one’s own work––particularly in a world that often seems dead-set on the privilege of rejection, especially with regard to experimentation and invention––can be difficult. The writing, as such, is the easy part. If we want really, really excellent fiction in this country, moving forward, we need to make it easier for writers to get there faster.

AS: How did you approach the assembly and organization of Stories No One Hopes Are About Them? Did you enter the project knowing that you wanted the collection to address certain themes, or did through lines emerge as stories were written and placed next to one another?

AJB: This is such a great question. Certain themes are definitely persistent––I like that University of Iowa Press calls out “power, privilege, and place”––and I think the collection is true to this while being, in many respects, all over the map. I didn’t initially set out to compose a collection, but it became clear along the way that this was sort of what was happening. I’m thankful, for example, that the Alpine Fellowship understood “The Lady Will Pay for Everything,” which is essentially The Birds underwater, to be a work of eco-horror, or that Gertrude Press recognized the intrinsic queerness of “The Body Electric” without any on-the-nose evidence. In the end, there were things I was going for, thematically, and others that just happened. Organizing the book was sort of like orchestrating a family reunion––these things all go together, however tenuously––and assembly was like making a seating chart: just try to make sure no one gets hurt and everyone has a good time.

AS: In addition to writing short stories, you’ve also worked as a filmmaker, a boxer, and an EMT. How, if at all, do you think these other pursuits (within and outside of the arts) had an effect on the way you crafted the characters and narratives in your collection?

AJB: Another great question! Vis-a-vis filmmaking, I’m a major believer in cross-disciplinary writing. In screenwriting, for example, you’re never allowed to say what a character is thinking. And every character has to count, because eventually you have to pay them. Studio notes––while viscerally kinder than workshop notes, at times––are the perfect training ground for editing, elevating, and holding things loosely. With regard to boxing, I’m not going to say (at least not on the record) that writers should punch and get punched, but both things have been valuable for my writing practice. And perhaps the best lesson of EMT training is that writing isn’t life or death. It can, however, help remind us of what is. There’s one EMT in Stories No One Hopes Are About Them, in the final story of the collection. Alas, no boxer characters in this volume. Maybe in the next one.

Those interested can purchase a copy of Stories No One Hopes Are About Them at this link.


Aaron Caycedo-Kimura Publishes First Full-Length Collection

Poetry alum Aaron Caycedo-Kimura (Poetry '20)’s debut collection Common Grace was released today by Beacon Press! To celebrate the book’s release, current program administrator Annaka Saari (Poetry ’21) was able to interview Aaron about the collection via email. Read below to hear more about how Aaron organized the collection and how he approached using the histories of the living and the dead to craft the poems within it.

Annaka Saari: Common Grace is divided into three separate sections: “Soul Sauce,” “Ubasute,” and “Gutter Trees.” “Soul Sauce,” the first section in the book, explores your life as an artist, while “Ubasute” and “Gutter Trees,” the second and third sections, explore the lives of your late parents and your relationship with your wife. How did you decide where you wanted readers to enter this complex of lives that are intertwined with each other?

Aaron Caycedo-Kimura: When reading a poetry book, I go in automatically wanting and expecting to learn something about the author. That’s what interests me most. So, I thought it made sense to start with introducing myself, giving the reader a little clue as to who I am, what I do, where I am in life, and how I see things. Starting this way would help give the reader some insight into the relationships I expand upon later in the book.

AS: What was the biggest challenge you encountered in writing and organizing the poems in Common Grace?

ACK: Common Grace wasn’t a project book where I set out to write about a particular topic or set of topics. It’s a selection of poems from a nine-year period when I happened to be writing a lot about my parents, my wife Luisa, the life we’ve built together, as well as other personal experiences. The poems grouped themselves, but I think the biggest challenge was trying to balance the sections. Most of the writing was about my parents, since their deaths were still fresh and heavy in my thoughts. My father passed away in 2011 and my mother in 2015. I primarily balanced out the sections by writing several new poems.

AS: How did your practices as a visual artist have an effect on the way you approached this collection, if at all?

ACK: Generally speaking, I think the way I approach painting, has influenced the way I approach writing. I’ve always been a “maker,” so the way I paint feels more like constructing or sculpting. I build my images with individual strokes, each one holding information: tone, temperature, intensity, and color. Likewise, the way I write a poem feels more like “making” a poem, constructing it with words, each one having sound, tone, and meaning. The difference is that a painting tends to be more planned. Since I paint representational work, I have a good idea what the painting’s design will be before I start. A poem is more fluid. It can take the writer to unexpected places, sometimes even changing form.

AS: Did you find a difference in the way you as a writer engaged with the histories of deceased individuals as to the way in which you worked with material from the lives of those still living?

ACK: Whether a person is deceased or living, I always try to approach the material with respect. With the poems I wrote about my parents, I really wanted to honor them, while keeping them in a believable, human light. With poems about those living, like ones about Luisa, I try to check with the person when I can to make sure that what I’m sharing is OK. I have a couple of poems in the book, one that mentions my uncle (“Autumnal Equinox”) and one that concerns my aunt (“Solidarity”), who have both passed away. I felt compelled to check with my cousin, their daughter, to confirm that the poems were ok with her. She didn’t like one thing in an earlier version of “Solidarity” and suggested a change. It turned out to be a good change.

Those interested can purchase a copy of Common Grace at this link.

Chris Amenta Publishes Debut Novel

Fiction alum Chris Amenta (Fiction '13)’s debut novel The Cold Hard Light was released this month by Blackstone Publishing! To celebrate the book's release current program administrator Annaka Saari (Poetry ’21) was able to interview Chris via email. Read below to hear more about how Chris crafted his novel, and what it was like to create such a complicated character using Boston as a backdrop.

Annaka: The Cold Hard Light is your first novel. How does it feel to know that it’s out in the world?

Chris: I’m very excited to have published The Cold Hard Light. It’s a small book, but a challenging one, I think, and I’m happy with what it does and how it works. I didn’t have to make many changes during the editorial process, so what’s been published is what I envisioned. It’s a dark story—a tragedy—and I hope that readers find it thought-provoking.

I’ve been working to become a writer for most of my life. I graduated from the program almost a decade ago, but it took many years to develop the short stories that I submitted with my application. It’s a little surreal to have this book out in the world, especially since so much of the publishing process occurred in various states of pandemic lockdown. I’m grateful to all the teachers, classmates, and colleagues who’ve helped make this happen.

Finally, I’m not surprised by, but I am aware of, how anxious I am about the book’s publication. I want people to get something from the novel—if not to like it, then, at least, to appreciate it.

A: How did you approach writing this novel, and were there any major challenges you encountered along the way?

C: I began working on this novel in 2010, but I put it down for about five years. For one, I couldn’t find the right tone or even the right character to put at the center of the story I wanted to tell, which was a huge problem. But also, I started at BU in 2012, and so I needed to stop working on the novel so I could focus on the program.

This was a blessing. When I picked the book back up in 2016—after working on some other ideas—I was equipped with the skills and education I’d developed in the MFA. Also, our country seemed to have changed in the intervening years. We seemed to be living in a more hostile and frightened America. Some of this anxiety began to seep into the novel and shape the narrative. I had a clearer sense of the main character. I understood his problems and fears. I began to write with much more confidence.

I think I finished a draft in about a year, and then spent another two or so making revisions.

A: The novel is set in Boston; what was it like to write a city you know so well, being from here and having studied here?

C: I decided to set the novel in Boston to try to make things easy on myself. I know this city well. I’ve lived here since 2006. During the time that I was writing, I was also riding my bike to work through the streets and neighborhoods that are featured in the book. Much of what I wrote was inspired by what I was seeing and hearing.

The setting helps create the stakes for the drama. My character, H, is frustrated by his city. Boston has been under development seemingly without stop for the last fifteen years. There’s so much money pouring in, so much construction, and so many new, talented people moving here each day. Much of this progress is good and healthy, especially when it’s designed to serve the community broadly and equitably.

However, I began to imagine how someone like H might experience all this change as a threat, especially if he felt that he no longer belonged in his city. In this way, the decision to set the story in Boston gave me a clear sense of place and also helped authenticate and advance the drama.

A: Your main character, Andrew (called “H”), is a man experiencing a lot of stress – being a new father, having a partner suffering from depression, a stalling career, and being confronted with the news that the man who assaulted his sister has been released from prison. Was it difficult to create a character who is forced to navigate so much emotional turbulence?

C: H is a complicated character. I wanted him to be someone that the reader relates to and hopes for so that his self-destructive behavior is experienced as tragedy.

The conflict in H’s life actually helped with the writing process. There was always drama to explore and psychology that might motivate unexpected or counterproductive behavior. I tried to make sure that none of his issues seemed gratuitous or were trivialized. I wanted his problems to seem authentic, and I wanted the reader to feel how these issues were coming to bear on H.

But I also didn’t want to sensationalize any of H’s problems. People struggle with depression and dead-end jobs, people recover from violent crimes, every day and in every part of the world. These issues don’t cause the novel’s action. Instead, they help shape a worldview that sets H on a path towards tragedy.

I was always trying to strike a balance: H’s problems could and should contribute to his sense of frustration and alienation, but he needed to maintain agency within his world. In the end, the decisions H makes are his own.

Those interested can purchase a copy of The Cold Hard Light at this link.

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

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.