Tag Archives: short stories

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

Submissions Closing October 1!

Just a reminder to all undergraduate students, our submission period for Issue 21 will be closing October 1, 2018.

We accept poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction from all students currently enrolled in an undergraduate program. Our goal is to find good, highly imaginative writing about contemporary life as you see it!

We do not accept previously published work, but we do accept simultaneous submissions. We also pay twenty-five dollars upon publication.

Get your submissions in to The Blue Route before it’s too late!

For more information, please check out our submission guidelines.

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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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

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