Tag Archives: Literature

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!

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

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)