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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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Dr. Kenneth Pobo’s Loplop in a Red City Engages Audience at Widener University

For those who have an appreciation for the arts, it can often be hard to choose just one form, let alone one single work of art to showcase. The world of artist expression is vast and constantly changing. Fortunately, we do not have to choose. We can praise all art and even weave it together as our own, which Widener professor, Dr. Kenneth Pobo demonstrates in his newest book, Loplop in a Red City.

Released on May 15, Loplop in a Red City is a collection of ekphrastic poetry inspired by artworks old and new, figurative to abstract, Vincent Van Gogh to Leonora Carrington to Max Ernst. The poems are agonized and idyllic, uneasily at home in the surreal, animated, beautiful, and complex.

A large group of students, fellow faculty, and more gathered in the Widener University Art Gallery on October 5 to hear Pobo read from this book of ekphrastic poetry. Anybody who has ever heard Pobo read poetry before can agree there was a draw to be in that room and share in the experience.

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Dr. Kenneth Pobo shares his latest ekphrastic poetry at the Widener University Art Gallery

In Dr. Michael Cocchiarale’s introduction, he mentioned that Pobo became interested in poetry through a love of music. How fitting that someone so impacted by writing would also be impacted by music, painting, and any other artform. When one person has such a passion for art, it can become contagious and that is what happened that day at the reading. By the time Pobo got to the poem “Georgia O’Keefe’s Flowers”, his audience was so engrossed that most of us felt we were indeed collapsing into this magnificent flower that he described

I think a good way to sum up the theme of the experience is with Pobo’s response to the question, “What is your favorite painting?” After some thought, he simply said, “I don’t know.” I think for any true artist that is the only answer. Art can affect all different parts of us and for all different reasons. Though we might be driven, for a moment, to appreciate one work of art above others, the nature of art makes it impossible for any one piece to stand alone as the best.

Loplop in a Red City is published by Circling Rivers and is available for purchase on Amazon.

by Nicole Gray

Remembering Grant Hart’s Musical and Literary Legacy

On September 14, musician Grant Hart passed away from liver cancer. The former drummer and singer was a vital part of the punk rock band Hüsker Dü, which helped revolutionize alternative and rock and roll music. Hart left the group in 1989, subsequently creating another band, Nova Mob, before pursuing a solo career.

Hart released his last completed solo album, The Argument, in 2013. The Argument is a concept album based on John Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost, which depicts the Biblical stories of the rebellion of Satan and the fall of man in twelve books of blank verse. Hart’s take on this iconic epic was inspired by an unfinished stage play called “Lost Paradise” written by Hart’s friend, the late American writer William S. Burroughs. From 2008 to 2013, Hart developed his double LP, The Argument. “From the outset, knowing it was a mighty piece of work made it more challenging,” Hart said in a 2013 interview with Clash Music.

With 20 tracks and 74 minutes of heavy guitar and drum, mixed with electronic riffs, beeps and even xylophone, The Argument breathes new life into Milton’s centuries-old poem. The second track, “Morningstar,” is a favorite of critics. Ryan Bray for Consequence of Sound aptly describes the “essential track” as “flower child ruminations,” while AV Club points out that it “frames Satan as, alternately, a hypnotic Pied Piper of chantlike hooks and a sly, Rudy Vallée-esque crooner.” “Run For the Wilderness” is an especially upbeat, lyrical track, one I could see being performed in a Rent-style Broadway setting. Opening with the literal roar of a motorcycle, and the rapid drumbeat conjuring images of a hurried escape, Hart sings, “We kissed the fruit forbidden / we smelled and tasted it / no difficult conditions / he gave us open wide / we disobeyed now we got to run / for the wilderness / well it’s the only place we can escape to now.”

The first notes of the final song on the album, “For Those Too High Aspiring,” recall the 1998 hit “Closing Time” by Semisonic. Hart’s punk ballad features a sentimental harmonica layered over guitar and prominent drum as his lyrics depict the exile of Adam and Eve from Eden and of Satan from Heaven: “For those too high aspiring / here’s to you / you bit off more than you could chew / now you know / sadly how far you could go.” The last 30 seconds fade off with a high-pitched whirring noise, like a motor slowly failing into empty silence, as the album—which is more of an aesthetic experience than anything—winds down to an end.

Hart’s talent and originality is a loss not only to the music industry, but also to the literature community. His former Hüsker Dü bandmate, Bob Mould, put it best: “Grant Hart was a gifted visual artist, a wonderful story teller, and a frighteningly talented musician. Everyone touched by his spirit will always remember.”

To listen to The Argument click here!

By Jennifer Rohrbach

Image courtest of: The Current (MPR/Nate Ryan)

The National Book Awards Longlists Have Been Announced For 2017

Earlier this week, the National Book Foundation announced the poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and young people’s literature longlists for the 2017 National Book Awards.

Since 1950, the National Book Awards and the National Book Foundation have made it their mission to “celebrate the best of American literature, to expand its audience, and to enhance the cultural value of great writing in America.” As a nonprofit organization, the National Book Foundation hopes to “raise the cultural appreciation of great writing” through these annual awards.

Each year a panel of esteemed judges read hundreds of published submissions before assembling a longlist of ten titles for each category. These longlists are then narrowed down to five finalists before a single winner is chosen.

This year’s longlists feature a variety of writers including Pulitzer Prize-winner Jennifer Egan, 2011 National Book Award-winner Jesmyn Ward, and five-time nominee Frank Bidart as well as numerous first-time longlisted authors and debut collections. Women prove to be a dominate force in the categories of Young People’s Literature and Fiction, while the topics of race and politics set the tone for the nonfiction contenders.

The finalists in each category will be announced on Oct. 4. The winners will be announced following a ceremony in New York on Nov. 15.

If you’re looking for some new reading material, click here and check out the longlists for the 2017 National Book Awards!

Top Destinations for the Perfect Literary Adventure

Looking for something to do this summer?

Check out these awesome literary destinations courtesy of Verily magazine and Flavorwire!

Take a trip to Long Island, New York and feel the inspiration for F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby or venture to Hartford, Connecticut to visit the Mark Twain House & Museum. The literary adventures are endless!

For destinations in the United States, click here.

For worldwide destinations, click here.