Author Carmen Maria Machado engages audience at short story reading in Philadelphia

On Friday Feb. 9, author Carmen Maria Machado gave a reading at the Big Blue Marble Bookstore in Philadelphia. The second floor of the store was packed with other writers, admirers of her work, and even people who had never read her work, but had heard amazing things about it, such as myself. She read from her debut short story collection, Her Body and Other Parties, which was published last year and has already gained many awards including the Bard Fiction Prize, the John Leonard Prize, and the Crawford Award. The collection was also a finalist for National Book Award, among others.GOOD20180209_192756(0)

At the front of the room, Machado announced that she’d be reading an excerpt from the story “Inventory.” Having never read her work, I didn’t know what to expect. I certainly did not expect to hear a series of detailed sexual encounters amidst the backdrop of a national pandemic. But I was not disappointed. Machado has perfected the act of de-familiarizing her readers while keeping them wholly engaged. The first story in the collection, “The Husband Stitch,” humanizes and modernizes an old folk tale. “Especially Heinous,” the longest story in the collection, is, as she put it, basically a fanfiction of “Law and Order: SVU.”

What I love most about this book is that it uses various styles to explore themes that are sometimes overlooked in literature, such as the intimate moments of women’s lives, their bodies and the violence enacted upon them, and the queer experience.

After listening to Machado read from her collection, I understand why she is a rising star in the literary world. Do yourself a favor and pick up Her Body and Other Parties, or at least check out her website where you can read some of her many published pieces of fiction, essays, and interviews.

by Jennifer Rohrbach

“Business Insider” Examines Health Benefits of Reading

I recently read an article published on Business Insider, by contributor Brenden Brown, that provides a list of explanations for why reading is very beneficial for a person’s health. Research now shows that reading improves both memory and empathy as well as simply making us feel better and more positive all around. Science has also proven that reading has a wide variety of health benefits, from minimizing stress levels to reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s later in life.

In an infographic originally published by The Expert Editor, the benefits Brown mentions are further elaborated. For example, reading strengthens the brain, because you have to remember quite a lot of information while reading a book. Every point throughout the story is a new memory for your brain and the existing memories become strengthen as the story builds. According to Brown, therefore, “short-term memory and recall capabilities are constantly being improved.” For a child’s brain in particular, reading is especially beneficial. According to the infographic, children who read are better able to grasp abstract concepts, apply logic in various scenarios, recognize cause and effect, and utilize good judgement.

As an avid reader myself, I found this article particularly interesting. I had a very basic understanding of why reading has its benefits but had never really delved into the scientific aspect of it all. It is easy to get caught up in the whir of advancing technology and the busyness of everyday life, so it’s comforting to hear that the simplicity of taking time to sit down and read can be a key to improving one’s health.

To read the full article, click here.

by Emily Garofalo

What We’re Reading: C.E. Poverman’s “Cutter”

As a freshman criminal justice major, I chose creative writing as my elective requirement for my love of writing and short stories. We’re currently reading a couple short stories a week by various authors from the book Telling Stories: An Anthology for Writers edited by Joyce Carol Oates. One day, I finished my reading for the class and came across a short story called “Cutter” by C.E. Poverman. This story wasn’t assigned, but when I read the first paragraph, I was hooked.

The first sentence introduces readers to a man named Jorge who receives a regular phone call. This person calls Jorge every time he supposedly commits a rape. My criminal justice mind automatically wanted to know everything. Who was this man that’s calling? Had he raped someone? Why was he calling Jorge? Why is Jorge important to the storyline? Why did this man want someone to know he had raped someone?

Throughout the eighteen-page story, all of my questions were answered. Jorge works at a suicide hotline; the person on the other end of the call is a mentally ill man named Buddy. Jorge and a co-worker had been working on catching this supposed rapist for months. They had also been working on answering the question, “why would he be telling someone he was committing rape?” Somehow, the story always goes back to Buddy and the mystery of whether what he was saying was a hoax or not.

Jorge talks to several other callers throughout the story. He fixates on people who self-harm by cutting their arms with razors. We get a sense of the pressure Jorge feels as someone volunteering for a suicide hotline. He connects with the clients he speaks to over the phone without even knowing their names, and as they connect with him, they start to rely on him. It’s interesting to see this side of suicide. With most stories about depression and suicide, we read about the person going through it directly. Getting the point of view from someone who is helping others on a daily basis, makes for a whole new story.

Anyone interested in CSI or even the old Nancy Drew books would thoroughly enjoy this intense story. It’s not too long and the whole storyline is a hook. Other short stories in this book are also definitely worth looking into, each telling a unique story about a unique character. I always finish reading them with a new point of view in mind.

If you are interested in C.E. Poverman, check out his collection of short stories Skin, featuring “Cutter.”

If you’d like to check out the rest of the stories compiled in Joyce Carol Oates collection, click here.

by Sarah Hedley

 

Our Submission Period Is Open!

From January 1 to March 1, 2018, The Blue Route will be reading submissions for Issue #20! If you are a current undergraduate student, you are eligible to submit prose (1-3 pieces of fiction or creative nonfiction totaling no more than 3000 words) or poetry (up to 3 poems).

We want good, highly imaginative writing about contemporary life as you see it!

We do not accept previously published work, but we do accept simultaneous submissions. However, please notify us immediately if your work is accepted elsewhereOur response time is about three months.

For more information, check out our submission guidelines.

If you’d like some general advice on submitting work, click here!

Issue 19 is live!

Issue 19 (December 2017)

 Featuring undergraduate writers from Central Michigan University, Dickinson College, Indiana University Bloomington, John Carroll University, Swarthmore College, Ursinus College, and a spotlight interview with author Stephanie Powell Watts. 

Thanks to all the writers, artists, and staff members who helped to make this issue a great one. Enjoy reading!

 

Stephanie Powell Watts Offers Insight On Her Writing Process During Visit To Widener University

Author Stephanie Powell Watts visited Widener Nov. 14 and 15 as a part of the English and Creative Writing department’s Distinguished Writers Series.

Watts published her debut novel, No One Is Coming to Save Us, with Ecco in April 2017. Described as “an arresting and powerful novel about an extended African American family and their colliding visions of the American Dream,” No One Is Coming to Save Us has been named one of the most anticipated books of 2017 by Entertainment Weekly, W Magazine, Nylon, Elle, Redbook, and The Chicago Review of Books.

In 2011, Watts published a collection of shorts stories called We Are Only Taking What DSC02952We Need. While the reflective quality of the short story is something Watts is comfortable with, the final story in this collection is what inspired her to begin No One Is Coming to Save Us.

On campus, Watts spent time speaking in creative writing and English classes about her books, her writing process, and answering student’s questions. She also individually met with several students in the Long-Form Fiction course for tutorials.

“It’s always encouraging to hear from visiting writers about their process, struggles and breakthroughs,” Jennifer Rohrbach, a senior creative writing and English double major, says. “She gave me great advice about how to round out my characters and ways to develop my overall story.”

Watts concluded her visit with a public reading from No One Is Coming to Save Us, which she began by giving a brief overview of how she’s gotten to where she is as a writer. The visit offered students a great deal of writing advice, one of the anecdotes Watts shared, sparking inspiration in Haley Poluchuck, a senior creative writing and English double major.

Poluchuck says, “One thing that stood out to me was a story about Watts and her siblings when they were young, rushing to clean the house before their father came home. Her argument was that you could get a lot done in ten minutes if you really want to, so we have no excuses not to write. Lately, I’ve been inspired to dedicate at least ten minutes to projects I would have otherwise put off.”

During her visit, Watts was also able to sit down with me for a brief interview, a portion of which appears below:

No One Is Coming to Save Us is your debut novel and We Are Only Taking What We Need is a collection of short stories. What challenges did you face in the transition from the short story form to the novel form?
I think they’re very different genres. It’s not like you just lengthen a short story, it’s not that kind of process, so I found it very challenging. No words are lost in a short story. A novel takes you on tangents. You’re allowed more space, literally and psychologically, to develop characters in different ways. It was a real learning curve for me. I found myself resorting to chapters that resembled or felt like short stories. I tried to open them up, so there is at least something you can hook onto for the rest of the story and also to deepen the psyches of the characters.

Do you find that you write your stories chronologically with a plan of attack?
I’ve tried planning, but I don’t find it very helpful. I find that I resist the plan, but I do sometimes have images. If you do have images or sources of signposts in your story, I would encourage you to write them down, because it helps you figure out some trajectory. You may realize you don’t need it, but first worry about getting the story down. With a short story in my collection, I knew there was going to be a scene in a vineyard, I knew there would be bees buzzing all around. Your senses are overloaded because the grapes are kind of rotting and the bees are really intense, flying around your head. I just wrote it down, wrote everything I could think of, so at some point I knew this scene was going to happen.

In an interview with Karen I. Johnson, you say, “Either you will be a writer and try to present the world in all its flawed complexity or you will stop writing anything more substantive than holiday cards or snazzy e-mails.” What do you feel this means in terms of your own writing and literature in general? What is the importance of this writing or the boundaries it can create?
Especially for women writers, writers of color, people that come from a marginalized community, or immigrants there might be an expectation that your writing is going to be directly about social justice issues and that that is the intention of your writing. I think that’s remarkable and important and that writing should exist, but I think writing, above all, is a social justice. It’s you saying this world and these people have a right to a voice, have a right to exist. Doing that is a movement towards social justice. Just by asserting the legitimacy of the existence of the people that you are representing, you are having a social justice moment. You can’t try to chase a trend. You have to write what it is that you write.

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Widener University Attends 2017 FUSE Conference on Representation and Resistance

Cabrini University hosted the fifth annual Forum for Undergraduate Student Editors (FUSE) conference at the beginning of November 2017. FUSE is a national organization that provides a network for undergraduate student editors and writers and their faculty advisers. The three-day conference brought together about 60 students from 13 universities for a series of writing and editing workshops and panels centered around the theme of representation and resistance.

The conference aimed to display the importance of understanding “tha capacity of literary arts to evoke social change, depict the experiences of underrepresented populations, and protest injustices.” Each workshop was dedicated to speaking out, finding your voice, and telling one’s story, whether it be through Susquehanna University’s “Feminist Short-Shorts” or SUNY Geneseo’s “Defining Your America.”

Poet and activist Martín Espada kicked off the conference with a captivating reading of his poems, which “explore the immigrant and working class experience.” He read passionate poems from his published works as well as moving poetry in response to today’s political climate. Espada also hosted a workshop on satirical poetry where he read examples from Marge Piercy, Ernesto Cardenal, Jack Agüeros, and John Millington Synge before encouraging students to write and present their own satirical poetry from what they learned.20171103_201203

Widener University was represented by Nicole Gray, Jasmine Kouyate, Haley Poluchuck, Jennifer Rohrbach, Carlie Sisco, and Kira Smith, along with their professors. Below are reviews from Widener representatives regarding the 2017 conference:

Jennifer Rohrbach
Carlie Sisco, Nicole Gray and I presented an hour-long workshop session titled “Using Documentary Theater to Craft Monologues of Resistance.” During the workshop, we worked with student editors from other schools to write monologues that addressed the issue of polarization in our society. We used examples from Anna Deavere Smith’s 1994 book, Twilight, Los Angeles, 1992, to help students shape their own monologues. Smith’s book contains monologues from people involved with and impacted by the 1992 Los Angeles uprising in protest of the police brutality of Rodney King. 2017 marks twenty-five years since the uprising occurred, so we really wanted the monologues created during our workshop to do justice to Smith’s work and the legacy of the event. It was a little nerve-wracking to present in front of a whole seminar room of my peers, but they were extremely receptive to our vision for the workshop. It was especially rewarding to hear how the mode of monologue-writing pushed people out of their comfort zones and made them think about language–and the impact of 20171103_135311it–in a different way.

Carlie Sisco
The most inspiring aspect of this conference was being able to hear the incredible writing of my fellow peers at the open mics. We are a very tight-knit team at Widener and we’ve gotten to know each other not only as people, but also as writers. It was amazing to hear from the talented students at other universities and colleges who are brave enough to read personal or vulnerable pieces of work to a room filled with strangers that share the same passion. This conference allowed for so many opportunities to generate pieces as well as reading them. Between those who shared during Martín Espada’s workshop and those who read during the two-hour open mic, I’ve become so impressed and inspired by those around me. It’s a true testament to why we do what we do. As writers, we aim to inspire, move others, express a given voice, and potentially make a difference with the stories we tell. Listening to the students I’ve gotten to meet and work with over the course of three days, it’s easy to tell that we’re on that path. I’ve never felt such a part of such a talented community.

Nicole Gray
After attending Martín Espada’s workshop and enjoying how people got very into the performance element of their writing, I felt it was a must to attend the performance poetry workshop. I was glad I did. Susquehanna University held a session titled “Using Performance Poetry to Reclaim Identity” in which students were asked to explore their identity, what brought them to this place in their lives, and what sense 20171103_134045of self does to propel them in today’s society. The students running it had history in acting and were able to provide suggestions about voice and body language. They also shared information about a slam poetry club they were involved in at their own school. It was cool to hear that performance poetry is becoming more appreciated as literature in itself, since it certainly has qualities that cannot be expressed through pen and paper.

Jasmine Kouyate
During the FUSE conference, a few Widener students participated in the workshop shop hosted by fellow University of California Los Angeles students, titled “Finding Your Voice.” The prompt given at the workshop was to write about a time that you feel you should have spoken up when feeling marginalized or when your voice was undermined. We were given fifteen minutes to write about this moment in time and then an additional ten minutes to write about how the conversation would have gone had you spoken up. In this moment, I was forced to step into the consciousness of the individual whom I disagreed with and conceptualize realistic dialogue for this hypothetical situation. While I did not necessarily come to any resolution with that person, I found that exercise to be cathartic, daunting, and comforting. It was comforting to know that I had internally confronted the individual and myself, knowing that I will be prepared in the future for confronting ignorance and bigotry.

Haley Poluchuck
FUSE was interesting. I liked being surrounded by writers and getting to know people from different schools who shared my majors. Martín Espada, our guest reader, had great pieces with awesome backstories and meaning. He was very animated and was entertaining to watch. I also enjoyed hearing pieces written by the other students, read during the open mic. I learned some interesting things during the different panels as well. The first talked about writing monologues, which is a style I hadn’t written in before. It’s a great way to exercise dialogue-writing skills. Another panel I went to talked about editorial policy, which I was interested in because I want to be an editor. We discussed how to choose what should and shouldn’t be accepted in a journal. Being Widener Ink’s past editor-in-chief, it was interesting to hear from other students who ran literary journals and to hear what they did differently. Overall, the conference was a great way to meet people with similar skills and goals as me, and it was a great learning opportunity.

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