Tag Archives: Books

Cynthia Dewi Oka Offers Insight On Creative Vision and the Labor of Writing

Poet Cynthia Dewi Oka visited Widener on Nov. 12 through 14 as a part of the English and Creative Writing Department’s Distinguished Writers Series.

Oka, a three-time Pushcart Prize Nominee, published her debut collection of poetry with Dinah Press called Nomad of Salt and Hard Water in December 2012, celebrating journey and its relentless precision of language. A second edition with new and revised poems was published in April 2016 with Thread Makes Blanket Press.

Much of her poetry has been published online and in print in such places as The American Poetry Review, Guernica Magazine, and Apogee Journal. In addition, Oka is a contributor for anthologies such as Women of Resistance: Poems for a New Feminism and Who Will Speak for America among others. She has also been awarded the Fifth Wednesday Journal Editor’s Prize in Poetry as well as the Leeway Foundation Transformation Award and is currently pursuing her master’s in fine arts as a Holden Fellow at Warren Wilson College.

Oka’s latest collection is titled Salvage: Poems. Published in December 2017 with Northwestern University Press, Salvage interrogates what it means to reach for our humanity through the guise of nation46094202_10156720303009754_2090155279231483904_n, race, and gender.

On campus, Oka was the feature speaker at the Honors Freshman Composition Forum. She also met with several students within the department for tutorials and visited numerous creative writing courses. For many students, Oka’s visit was transformational and eye-opening.

Rohan Suriyage, a senior English and communications studies double major, found Oka’s presence and communication to be like that of a friend. Suriyage, along with several students in the Creative Writing department that received tutorials with Oka, believes he gained so much incredible insight from the visiting writer in such a short amount of time.

“Her prowess for effective writing, aesthetic, and finding a writer’s voice is truly incredible,” Suriyage said. “I’ve rethought the way I approach my writing, for the better, of course, and I thank her.”

Oka concluded her visit with a public reading during which she read new, never before published work surrounding Indonesian history and culture, specifically the mass killings that took place in the 1960s which the Indonesian government and citizens now act as if did not happen. She utilized documents once deemed to hold classified information on the killings to formulate a narrative, bringing to light the tragedy of what happened as well as the integration of Indonesian culture. After the reading, Oka took time to answer questions regarding politics and poetry, sign copies of her book, and speak to students.

Domenic Gaeta, senior Anthropology major, found Oka’s new poetry on the tragic killings in Indonesia to be powerful, rich in detail, and attention grabbing.

“I would have never though to use classified documents as the general vocabulary makeup of a poem, nor would I think to write about such tragic events,” Gaeta said. “Still, I knew each time she was telling a story that needed to be told.”

Oka also sat down with me for an interview with The Blue Route during her interview. The full conversation will be featured in our 21st issue set to be published in the next couple of weeks. For a preview of the interview, read below!

I was reading some of the reviews on Salvage and some of the descriptions were that it is almost as if you have “one foot in time, the other in timelessness”, that the poems exhibit “mythical depth, civic outcry, and lyric inventiveness”, and that the collection is almost as if “entering a dream world”. This is what other people have said about your work. I’m curious as to how you view this collection and what your vision was in building it.
Every project I’m working on is an effort to grow and transform. That is the superpower of creative writers. We get to remake ourselves. For me, Salvage is an enactment in life, it was happening parallel with life. What was happening on the page was an attempt to sort of recuperate, to integrate a lot of the worst things that I’ve seen or have been through.

My first book, Nomad of Salt and Hard Water, was really an affirmation of strategies of survival. Part of the process of surviving difficult or traumatic things in our lives is that we end up having to bury a lot, so you can keep moving. Salvage was an effort to actually unearth those things and to bring them back into conversation, to reintegrate them, to repurpose them, to make them useful again.

I think of the structure of the book like an onion where you’re looking at the most external forms of violence, war, displacement, gentrification. Then you move inwards to the family, the legacies, and the exchanges that happen in that space. The final layer is intimacy, relationships. That was the vision. It is a trajectory moving inward.

I find that if I’m writing something from a darker place or something that is slightly out of my comfort zone, a little less like me, it takes me a bit to get into that headspace. Are there any poems in Salvage where you had to remove yourself and get into another headspace? How did you get there and then how do you shake it off?
For me, it feels less like going somewhere else and more like being your whole, true self at a given period of time. I give space for all that I am, everything I shut out to arrive when I’m writing.

I tend to be one of those people where, if I finish something, I’m like, “Okay, on to the next thing!” Salvage really taught me that I can’t just do that. A rest period is important. For example, when I finish working on a poem, I can’t necessarily switch out of it. There has to be a transition period where I’m slowly moving back into the pace of my daily life and I think it’s good to plan for that rather than feel cut-off. This is why I stress it is so important to have a writing practice, because then we learn what our tendencies are and what is optimal for us in how we take care of ourselves after we finish. It’s labor, so much labor when we write, and we need sustenance after it. If you’re an extrovert, your sustenance might be from surrounding yourself with people, whereas introverts need alone time. We have to build that into our writing practice so that we don’t becomeat least for meso that I don’t become a terrible person to the people that I love.

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by Carlie Sisco

Pulitzer Prize Winner Geraldine Brooks Captures Acceptance and the Hamartia of Humanity

A few years ago, I read a book for an English class I was taking. When I first picked up
the book, I did not think it was going to be something that I would be interested in. Looking back, I can’t believe I ever had that thought. People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks became my favorite novel – and I have read a lot of books! This story has so much depth to it and the themes are still extremely relevant.

Throughout history, people have suffered hateful intolerance. Whether this be caused by
religion, skin color, or gender, it has been revealed that during times of hate some people can come together to accept and support each other while others turn on one another. This is shown in the many stories depicted in Brooks’s realistic fiction novel. The tales in the novel illustrate the impact that a single individual can have on history as a whole.
While there may be violent intolerance, People of the Book incomparably represents interfaith acceptance and humanity’s unwillingness to live and let live.

By portraying different cultures, Brooks displays examples of both multi-ethnic and
interfaith acceptance in her novel and the reader gains a sense of the societal standards at that time the stories take place. This allows the audience to better understand just how brave the accepting the characters were. Hanna Heath, the main character, says it best when she states, “Then somehow this fear, this hate, this need to demonize ‘the other’ —it just sort of rears up and smashes the whole society” (Brooks 195). The Inquisition, Nazis, and extreme Serb nationalists all played a role in creating the hateful intolerance that is present in the novel by bringing about fear through violence toward helpless people.

History has a tendency to repeat itself and People of the Book represents this beautifully.
By showing the repetition of anti-Semitism and hateful intolerance, Brooks represents the beauty in the brave few who persevere through the fear. People of the Book brings to life the history of the Sarajevo Haggadah while teaching valuable lessons of respect and forgiveness. All the while showing the hamartia of humanity —the unwillingness to live and let live.

If you’re still skeptical, give it a chance! It may turn out to be your new favorite novel, too.

People of the Book can be found on Amazon.

If you have any novels that you unexpectedly fell in love with please share with us so we can love them too! Happy reading!

by Allison DeHaas

Why HBO’s Adaptation of “Watchmen” is an Attempt at Adapting the Unadaptable

There’s a reason Watchmen made Time Magazine’s list of the 100 greatest novels of all time. Without a doubt, fans of Alan Moore’s 1986 classic and comic book purists alike will likely despise HBO’s upcoming television adaptation of the famous, graphic novel, whether or not the work holds merit or receives critical acclaim as a TV show.

Simply, Alan Moore taught a generation of comic book authors and fans that the combination of sequential art and dialogue, the comic book, is a unique artform. Since its release, Watchmen has been dubbed the “unadaptable graphic novel.” Watchmen was designed to demonstrate the unique qualities of comic books, and demonstrates these elements in a way that is not just difficult, but impossible to be replicated in any other medium.

For instance, every page of Watchmen is structured on a nine-panel grid layout. This gives each page a central focus, the middle panel, and emphasizes key plot points or artistic renderings in the narrative flow. Issue five of the series, “Fearful Symmetry,” mirrors each page’s panels until converging in the center, which displays a character foiling his attempted assassination. Not a single page of the first 11 issues is a “splash page,” where a single panel makes up the entire page. Instead, the final issue opens with six absolutely breathtaking, haunting, splash pages depicting the destruction of Manhattan.

The emotional impact of these and many other moments is not possible to replicated in other media because Watchmen is not so much about the story being told, but how the story is being told. As Alan Moore said, “If we only see comics in relation to movies, then the best they’ll ever be are films that don’t move.”

I wish HBO the best on the Herculean task they have undertaken. Watchmen is not only the greatest comic book I have ever read, but is one of the greatest works of literature I have encountered. To keep with the original’s artistic integrity, HBO’s Watchmen should utilize the unique elements of television as a medium. Hopefully, the show can succeed on its own merits, if only it allows for more people to experience Moore’s masterpiece.

Creator Damon Lindelof and HBO are set to debut the series in 2019.

by Evan Davis

Social Media For Readers

Hi everyone! As we all know, social media plays a big role in a lot of people’s everyday
lifestyles. If you’re anything like me, you go on social media every day! Recently I discovered that there were a lot of social media-based reading opportunities. These are just a couple of fun pages that I have found and enjoy keeping up with in my feeds! If you have some free time, be sure to check them out!

New York Public Library
Instagram: @nypl
Twitter: @nypl
Facebook: NYPL The New York Public Library
These guys post “insta-novels” on their story and in the highlights of their page! It is a fun way to read a quick, classic tale on your social media! Their blog also has great content and insight from librarians, curators, and staff posted daily!

Belletrist
Instagram: @belletrist
Twitter: @belletristbooks
Facebook: Belletrist
This is an online book club! I stumbled upon this page one time and I love it. Even if I’m not able to keep up with what books they are reading, it is awesome to see the titles that are picked and add them to my list of “Must-Reads.” Also, if you go on their website you can sign up to get newsletters from them! They send out book recommendations, author interviews and even quotes of the week!

Lifewire also has a list of 6 Great Book Social Networks and Josh Sterns from Medium compiled 43 Great Literary and Library Twitter Accounts if you are still in need of some awesome literary content!

Do you follow any social media accounts that share literature or art? Let us know so we can check them out too!

Also, don’t forget to check us out!
Instagram: @wutheblueroute
Twitter: @wutheblueroute
Facebook: The Blue Route
Tumblr: theblueroute

See you online!
by Allison DeHaas

58 Years of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’

Today marks 58 years since the publication of Harper Lee’s 1960 novel To Kill a Mockingbird.

58 years since the world was introduced to Scout, Jem, and Atticus Finch. 58 years since we walked through the streets of Maycomb, Alabama for the first time. 58 years since we learned “You never really know a person until you consider things from his point of view…until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

To Kill a Mockingbird, a “magnificent, powerful novel of the people of a quiet southern town—rocked by a crisis of conscience,” has maintained incredible relevancy in its 58 years, touching the hearts and minds of its audience.

Gregory Peck’s portrayal of Atticus Finch in the 1962 film adaptation landed Atticus Finch as #1 on the American Film Institue’s “100 Greatest Heroes & Villians” list, recognizing characters that “have a made a mark on American society in matters of style and substance” as well as continue “to inspire contemporary artists and audiences.”

In 2015, Harper Lee released Go Set a Watchman, a novel set after the events of To Kill a Mockingbird in which Scout returns to Maycomb, Alabama. Aompanion to the American classic, Go Set a Watchman adds “depth, contex, and new meaning” to the story we’ve grown to love.

In April, the Monroe County Heritage Museum hosted its production of To Kill a Mockingbird for the twenty-ninth year. The museum, located in Lee’s hometown of Monroeville, Alabama, held its first play of the timeless novel in 1991 as a fundraiser. Since then, the play has attracted a wide audience, captivating students, community members, and even travelers eager for the experience.

On December 13, New York will see opening night of Aaron Sorkin’s Broadway adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird starring Jeff Daniels as Atticus Finch.

For whatever reason, this book, this story, and Harper Lee as an author has resonated with me throughout the years. I find myself bringing this book and these themes into projects or conversation whenever possible. Whether it be a comparison of Frankenstein’s monster to Boo Radley a tribute to the late Harper Lee or an analysis of Annette Lemieux’s Mise en Scene exhibition featuring contemporary art pieces from the filming of the 1962 film adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird such as Spin and Area of Refuge, To Kill a Mockingbird has played a critical role in my academic career and personal self.

Two years ago, I spent a great deal of time sifting through my grandfather’s book collection as he prepared to move. Among the collection of classic titles was a tiny, paperback copy of To Kill a Mockingbird, a title I’ve been longing to add to my own collection since reading the novel as a sophomore in high school. My copy is slightly tattered with yellowing pages and that old book smell, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Written by Carlie Sisco

 

 

Catherine Zobal Dent Offers Writing Advice To Students At Widener University

Author Catherine Zobal Dent visited Widener on April 3 and 4 as a part of the English and Creative Writing Department’s Distinguished Writers Series.

In May 2014, Dent published her debut collection of short stories with Fomite Press, called Unfinished Stories for Girls. The collection includes sixteen stories. Taking place on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, the short stories invite readers inside the lives of characters trying to figure out the problems and challenges of the gleaming, marshy world.
On campus, Dent spent time speaking in creative writing and English classes about her collection, as well as offering insight and advice on how to pursue a writing career. She also individually met with several students within the department for tutorials.

“Writers need other writers. That’s just the way it is,” Victoria Giansante, a senior English major said. “We workshop off each other; we get ideas from each other; and we help each other to be the best we can be. Any writer could benefit from closely analyzing their habits and their strengths, especially with guidance from someone with genuine experience and expertise, like Catherine.”

Dent’s latest projects include writing a novel and a nonfiction book about the Appalachian Trail, as well as a translation of the French short story writer Cyrille Fleicshman with her colleague Lynn Palermo. She began publishing her stories during graduate school and her work has gone on to appear in such publications as Drunken Boat, the Harvard Review, North American Review, Echolocation, PANK and elsewhere.

Currently, Dent is an associate professor of creative writing at Susquehanna University, a position she shares with her partner and fellow writer, Silas Zobal. She is also the director of the Forum for Undergraduate Student Editors (FUSE), a national organization that provides a network for undergraduate student editors, writers, and their faculty advisers.

Dent concluded her visit with a public reading surrounded by art made by Ann Piper, which accompany each story in the collection. After the reading, Dent took time to answer questions, sign copies of her book, and speak to students, including Rohan Suriyage, a junior English and communication studies double major whom Dent offered advice on organizing ideas for a short story.

“I was interested in her passion for exploring the relationship between art and literature, specifically how the art her colleague made coincidentally reflected the subject matter of her short stories,” Suriyage said. “She has a good grasp on including real-life aspects into her stories and encapsulating the human experience and its authenticity in the subject matter of said stories.”

Dent also sat down for an interview with The Blue Route during her visit. The full interview will be featured in our 20th issue set to be published in the next couple of weeks! For a preview of the interview, read below!

How do you create characters, voices, and point of views that are different from your own or different from each other?
I do a lot of research. I think as deeply as you can about the way voices sound different from each other and also the types of preoccupations characters might have. You can have a handful of characters who see the exact same object in the material world and, depending on their emotional state, each of them would describe it in a different way. I try to think of where the characters are coming from in a particular moment in time and find a preoccupation that would dominate their voice. In my collection, I have a number of stories that veer into second person where the narrator is addressing you, the reader. I’ve tried different ways of involving the reader in the work, and one of these attempts is to adapt the readers’ perspective and try to convince them that they are actually in the story. In “The Truth You Know,” I have the first-person narrator addressing the reader and saying, “Now you have to tell the end of the story.”

What drives you to write? Has there been a specific instance or a piece of advice that has driven you in your writing career?
When I’m not writing I don’t feel as alive as when I am writing. When I am writing, I am noticing the world in a much more meaningful way. I’m actively constructing meaning around me. Flannery O’Connor said, “I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” Sometimes, I feel that way. I can go and recreate an experience in a way that makes more sense or is more satisfying to me. That’s one of the jobs of fiction, to try to create meaning out of chaos. That’s one of the jobs of identity, too, to try to stake, for a temporary period of time, a sense of order in the world. I write to create order in my world and hope to communicate a sense of connection, belonging, and order for other people too.

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Widener Students Attend 2018 AWP Conference

On March 7, four Widener English majors and four faculty members–including five Blue Route members!– traveled to Tampa, Florida to attend the annual Association of Writers and Writing Programs conference. Along with nearly 12,000 other writers, readers, editors, and publishers, we enjoyed three amazing days of panels, networking opportunities, enlightening readings and keynotes speeches, and of course, the sunshine! Read on for a few words from three senior English majors about their time in Tampa!

 

Emma Irving

This year’s conference was truly the ride of a lifetime and I’m incredibly grateful to have had the opportunity to attend.
The ride of a lifetime literally began with a ride that felt like a lifetime—17 hours down the east coast as we escaped early from an impending winter storm! It was an exhausting way to begin our weekend but come the next morning, we were all ready to go for whatever the conference brought!
One of the best things I did at the conference  was visit the Traveling Stanzas exhibit. The Wick Poetry Center at Kent State University received a grant to create a world of interactive exhibits in conversation with the immigrant and refugee community in Akron, Ohio. At the exhibit, you could add a line to their community poem, create your own poem from speeches from people like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Emma Gonzalez, and listen to immigrant and refugee community members talk about and read the poetry they created through Wick Center workshops. I was blown away by the scope of the work and the ways in which poetry had a direct effect for the better on the Akron community. Sometimes the scope of what authors and editors and publishers can really do in the world feels small to me, especially when we’re all packed in one convention center, the thousands of us all individually vying to put our name out there. This exhibit was enlightening as to how much good words can do.
That afternoon, we all went to the National Book Critics Circle reading with Jeffrey Eugenides, Lorrie Moore, and Dana Spiotta. I enjoyed getting to hear these big-name authors speak so candidly and joyfully about creating; Lorrie Moore in particular was strikingly funny and I was laughing out loud at some of her comments.

Jennifer Rohrbach

image1I really enjoyed this year’s AWP conference in Tampa, Florida. In addition to enjoying beautiful, warm weather, I met some amazing people, attended interesting panels, heard inspiring speakers, and spent some quality time with my Widener friends. My highlights of the trip were attending the Keynote by George Saunders, meeting Rita Dove, a handful of panels, and stopping by the Emerson College booths at the book fair.
Prior to attending AWP 2018, I had read a couple of George Saunders’ short stories, including “The Semplica-Girl Diaries,” which is one that I think about quite often. I also own his short story collection Tenth of December which I haven’t read but look forward to reading now. His writing style is unique, and I am often struck by his tendency to push against stereotypes of what makes “good literary writing.” By that I just mean that his writing is not overly flowy or ornamental—he usually gets to the point quickly and efficiently. The circumstances of his stories and characters are always unusual, twisting our reality and running into the genre of speculative fiction. Hearing him speak at the Keynote made me appreciate his writing even more, because he seems like a really funny, down-to-earth person.
Another highlight of the trip was meeting Rita Dove. I heard her speak at last year’s AWP in Washington, D.C. This year, she just happened to be at the Traveling Stanzas exhibit at the same time as me, and I had the opportunity to tell her how much I liked her poetry. It wasn’t a deep or lengthy conversation, but I got to speak to her in person, so it was still pretty cool!

Victoria Giansanteimage2.jpeg

Attending the AWP conference solidified my decision in continuing on to graduate school for an MFA in Creative Writing. My experience was uniquely designed around my interests, and I was able to network with a variety of publications, graduate schools, and other like-minded individuals. My days were filled with panels, and the massive book fair filled with everything from small university presses to large commonly known publications. Spending time around people who have similar passions and have so much knowledge and wisdom to offer and pass down is an experience in and of itself that I would not trade for anything.
The AWP bookfair was a continuous event that was held every day of the conference. It was absolutely massive, and took the entire conference for us to get through the whole thing. This was the place where networking was the most important. I had the ability to talk to so many people, ranging everywhere from grad students to publishers. I even made my decision on which graduate school to attend by talking to the director of the MFA program at Rosemont, who was at their literary journal’s table. After speaking to her for quite a while, I left confident in my future decisions. Along my path up and down the isles of the book fair, I also met a woman who was the director of the International Women Writers Guild, who I had the pleasure of speaking with for some time. We discussed fiction writing, feminism, activism, and social justice, and I left that table with a free honorary membership to the guild, and a chance to visit a conference next fall. This book fair showed me the importance of networking and the value of relationships in the professional world, not to mention I left the bookfair with about 20 new books to add to my collection.

AWP was an experience I would recommend to anyone who loves writing, or literature in general. It’s an invaluable experience that I hope many more students after me get to continue to have.

Written by Emma Irving