Tag Archives: Books

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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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

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.

 

It’s Happening Again…Books Every ‘Twin Peaks’ Fan Should Read

After 25 years, Mark Frost and David Lynch’s Twin Peaks returns to television with an 18-part third season. The two-hour premiere debuts on Showtime May, 21 at 9 PM ET/PT. Details on the revival have remained a mystery, but fans can expect to see a great deal of the original cast returning to reprise their roles, including Kyle Maclachlan as Agent Dale Cooper.

If you love Twin Peaks and you’re looking for some new summer reading material, Lincoln Michel has compiled a list of books, both wonderful and strange, that capture the “Twin Peaks feel.”

Check out Michel’s recommendations here!

There are also numerous books dedicated the televisions series itself. If you’d prefer to read within or about the world of Twin Peaks check out this list of official and unofficial releases!

 

 

5 Facts About Zelda Fitzgerald

On Friday, January 27, Amazon Prime Video will be releasing a 10-episode bio-series on the life of writer and icon Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald. The Amazon Original, titled “Z: The Beginning of Everything,” stars Christina Ricci as Zelda Fitzgerald and follows the Southern Belle turned flapper on a wild ride through the Jazz Age.

The series, loosely based on Therese Anne Fowler’s Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald, gives Zelda the spotlight instead of her husband and acclaimed novelist, F. Scott Fitzgerald (David Hoflin). While the series recounts the romance and the turmoil, it also allows attention to be on the immensely talented, ambitious, daring individual that inspired countless heroines. Before she has her chance to shine, here are some interesting facts about Zelda Fitzgerald.

1. Zelda was a rebellious, free spirit

Named after Robert Edward Francillon’s gypsy heroine in the short story “Zelda’s Fortune,” Zelda Sayre was the pinnacle of rebellion in her hometown of Montgomery, Alabama, often sneaking out and anxious to be on her own.  After her high school graduation, Zelda’s live-for-the-moment spirit shined when she wrote: “Why should all life be work, when we can all borrow? Let’s think only of today, and not worry about tomorrow.”

2. Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald frequently stole from one another

They stole ideas that is. There was no question that Zelda was her husband’s muse. Several of Fitzgerald’s heroines were based on Zelda as well as the couple’s interactions and experiences. In The Great Gatsby, for example, Fitzgerald wrote Jay Gatsby’s first encounter with Daisy Buchanan to fictionalize his own first encounter with Zelda. However, eventually the line has to be drawn, especially when lifting diary entries nearly verbatim. According to The New York Times, Fitzgerald often drew “freely from Zelda’s diaries, letters and experiences…for his own work.”

Zelda fought back and within two months her autobiographical novel, Save Me the Waltz, was published detailing such themes as “a married couple in free-fall; a wife hospitalized.” Fitzgerald later accused her of stealing the ideas he was going to use in Tender Is the Night as well as the name of a previous character.

3. Zelda was an artist

In addition to being a strong writer, Zelda Fitzgerald was also a gifted artist. In 1996, her granddaughter, Eleanor Anne Lanahan, compiled 140 illustrations and 80 paintings all done by her grandmother into Zelda: An Illustrated Life: The Private World of Zelda Fitzgerald. Her artwork includes paper dolls crafted for her daughter, Scottie, illustrations from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, and many scenes from New York City where she resided with Fitzgerald for some time.

4. Zelda was a ballet dancer

Adding to her list of talents, Zelda decided to pursue ballet with acclaimed Russian dancer, Madame Lubov Egorova. Though nearing her 30’s, Zelda was determined to reach professional standards, the pursuit becoming an obsession. She practiced for hours to reach perfection until ultimately suffering from a mental collapse.

5. In 1948, Zelda was killed in a fire

Following her mental collapse in 1930, Zelda was in and out of facilities for mental illness. She was maintaining residence at Highland Hospital in Ashville, North Carolina when a fire broke out March 10, 1948. Zelda and eight other women were killed. She was laid to rest with Fitzgerald who passed in 1940 from a heart attack. Inscribed on their tomb is the very last line of The Great Gatsby. It reads:

“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

Written by Carlie Sisco

 

 

 

A Scary Good Read: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus

2016 marks the 200th anniversary of the Haunted Summer; the summer of 1816 that Lord Byron, Claire Clairmont, John Polidori, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin (later Mary Shelley) spent together at Lake Geneva. The group took refuge from the poor weather one rainy June day in the Villa Diodati. Back then they didn’t have Netflix or the internet to occupy their time, so what better activity for a group of intelligent, creative, bored minds to do than write?

Lord Byron challenged each person in the group to compose a ghost story. Despite Byron and P.B. Shelley being well-established writers of the time, they attempted the challenge with little success. Polidori, Byron’s personal physician, would later write The Vampyre, which was then revisited by Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Mary, however, was struck by inspiration. That haunted night gave birth to one of the most iconic, well-known, thought-provoking tales of all time: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus. She was only 18 years old during the Haunted Summer and 20 when her novel was published in 1818.

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The first edition left the author anonymous causing many people to attribute the novel to Mary’s father, William Godwin, an influential philosopher of the time (and whose ideals influenced the plot of the novel). The second edition, published in 1822, gave Mary the credit she deserved. Several more editions were published both during and after her lifetime.

It’s difficult, if not impossible, to list all the adaptations and creations that Frankenstein has influenced for the past 200 years. Literature, film, plays, television, and dance are just a few mediums by which people have explored the beloved story. In his book, The Detached Retina: Aspects of SF and Fantasy, writer and anthology editor Brian Aldiss supports the claim that Frankenstein is a progenitor of the science fiction genre and counts the novel as an ancestor of future works by the famous science fiction writer, H.G. Wells.

From a literary standpoint, the structure, flow, characterization, plot, and themes of this novel are so complex and interesting that people are still analyzing it today. Mary Shelley’s talent can be overshadowed by the success of her husband, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and the works of the male-dominated canon, but it is important to remember this incredible novel and its importance to literary and world history. So, if you’re looking for a spooky read this Halloween, pick up Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus. I promise I’m not tricking you—this book is a real treat!

Written by Jennifer Rohrbach.