Full Professor M.F.A., Creative Writing, Arizona State University
Julie Hensley’s stories and poems have appeared in many journals, including Hayden’s Ferry Review, Indiana Review, Phoebe, Quarterly West, Redivider, and Ruminate. Her work is regularly anthologized and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Her short story cycle, Landfall (Ohio State University Press), was selected as the winner of the 2007 Everett Southwest Literature Award. She’s the author of the chapbook The Language of Horses (Finishing Line Press) and Viable (Five Oaks Press), a book of poetry. The recipient of the Berry College Award for Emerging Voices in Southern Fiction, Hensley holds an MFA from Arizona State University. Before joining the faculty at Eastern Kentucky, she directed the creative writing program at Cameron University and served as the visiting writer at Prescott College.
Holding on to the Spoon
I grew up on a sheep farm in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. I have four sisters and a brother, and at one point, to rein in the chaos of our dinner table, my parents instituted “the spoon rule.” A large, wooden spoon was handed around, and if you wanted to tell a story about your day, you had to be holding the spoon (sort of a low-tech version of tapping your hot key on Ventrilo in ENW 820!). My pursuit of writing might just be my attempt to keep my fingers tightly clasped around the spoon.
Or, it might stem from the grocery sacks of books my mother brought home from the public library each week. We were miles beyond the reach of basic cable, so I just kept reaching into those bags, drawing out Madeleine L’Engle and C.S. Lewis, Charles Dickens and Jane Austen.
Back then, I didn’t want to be a writer. I wanted to be a field biologist, more specifically, an ethologist like E.O. Wilson or Eugenie Clark. My father was a biology professor who studied small mammals, and I loved to accompany him into the woods and gently shake the field mice from the aluminum traps into my gloved palm. Such satisfaction in noting the nose-to-tail measurement, the mottled swirls of color in the fur, the dark particularity of a scar: those mornings may have been my first and most important lesson in concretion.
When I began college, I enjoyed my science courses, but I loved my English ones. I kept trying to fit more and more of them into my schedule. Eventually, I just gave myself over to words.
Back then, I participated in forensics (not crime scene investigation, but performance of dramatic narratives). We competed in reading stories and poems, excerpts from plays, etc. One afternoon, my coach entered our practice room, deep in the bowels of the university theater, carrying a box of slim, colorful paperbacks which he spilled across the floor. “Dig in,” he said. “You guys need to find fresh material.” We were to take several of the volumes home and mine them for competition material. It turned into an all-nighter for me. I had never seen a literary journal. I had never read a contemporary short story. I read for hours, and then I turned on my word processor and tried to write one.
Soon, a handful of us were meeting late at night to read our original stories and poems to each other. Mine was a private, conservative college—the girls’ dorms were on one side of the campus and the boys’ were on the other, an ocean of sod between them. “Visiting hours” were strictly limited to weekend evenings, but someone had a key to the campus newsroom and our co-ed workshop could meet there at midnight. It probably began as the desire for something clandestine, but it made me try to write something every week.
I spent the fall semester of my senior year as an exchange student in Barcelona. What a jarring and beautiful experience! I had grown up in a town of 3,000. Until then, I had only been on a plane once. Suddenly, I was mastering a new language and living in a huge, European city whose streets wound through dripping gothic archways and swaying skyscrapers. In the midst of that dislocation, I wrote and wrote. I like to imagine the same thing happens to our MFA students during the summer residency. I recorded the things around me in a journal, I penned long letters home, and I wrote poems and stories about the landscape I’d left behind. All I wanted to do was write, so, from Spain, I began applying to graduate programs in creative writing.
The following fall, I began a MA program in creative writing and literature at Kansas State University. In truth, it was a little terrifying. I had grown up at the mouth of a hollow, and when I first moved to the prairie, every time I stepped outside, I felt like a bird was about to swoop down and get me. I felt just as exposed amid all I didn’t know about craft. There was so much I hadn’t read, so much I hadn’t even known one could try on the page. Slowly, I grew comfortable amid all that space. I went on to earn a MFA in fiction from Arizona State University. Along the way, I grew to love the teaching of writing as much as the actual writing. I served as a visiting writer at Prescott College and as the director of the creative writing program at Cameron University before making the move East, excited to be part of the MFA program here at Eastern Kentucky University. And never once have I regretted giving myself over to words.
Creating a Community
I write because I want to make the world a better place, and I want to encourage my students to do the same. That doesn’t mean I want them to create stories that are heavy with agenda. It means I want my students to write in order to learn more about themselves, their families, and their communities. I want them to write to better understand others and to become more empathetic people. In ENW 820, I stress character above all. “Character creates plot,” I tell my students, “Character is greater than form, greater than theme, greater than symbol.” As writers, I believe we create characters to test our own boundaries. In doing so, we discover what really matters to us and share those values with our readers.
I believe in the momentum of round table workshop, and my favorite thing about our program is the fact that Ventrilo allows us to employ round table workshop during the regular semester. While writing is a solitary endeavor, I think learning craft is best accomplished within a trusting community. I run a fairly structured workshop, asking that students begin each session by discussing text (what happens in the manuscript) and subtext (what that means). I think it is important first to look at a manuscript with the same “believing” critical lens that we would a published story or poem encountered in a literature class—otherwise how can the writer understand what his piece could become? I ask students to praise specific features of the work, and then we spend a great deal of time on prescriptive criticism—meaning it is not enough to merely state what ails a manuscript: we have to find specific examples of what’s problematic and offer solutions. The writer may choose not to take any of the advice offered in workshop; however, that close line-editing sharpens how we, as individuals, understand craft.
Searching for Smut
The summer I was twelve, I read Willa Cather for the first time. My sister was back from her first year of college, and she left the house every morning at 9:30 for a shift at Auntie Anne’s Pretzels in the Valley Mall. The second her car pulled out of the lane, I would start snooping in her room, fingering her jewelry and the bottles of scented lotion which lined her windowsill, trying on her clothes. One morning, in a jumbled vanity drawer, I found a paperback featuring a beautiful woman on the cover—a woman with a Roman arch to her nose, wild wavy hair escaping her bun and blowing back from her face. Behind her was open prairie broken only by a dark horse and buggy. I assumed I’d found a romance novel, or what my mother, not wanting us to get sucked into the boxes of them she secretly hoarded in closets all over the house, called “smut novels.” (Such censorship made us want to find them all the more, which is probably why another sister went on to become a successful romance novelist!) I squirrelled this book away to the hay loft ready to scan for the racy parts.
But it wasn’t a romance novel. Clearly, my sister had begun to read this book for a freshman English class (though her heavy highlighting ceased twelve pages into Book I). I kept going, even once I realized I was dealing with a literary novel. I liked those too, only for different reasons. I was drawn immediately and deeply into the narrative. Perhaps because of the nostalgia evoked by the narrative distance? Or because of the way Jim Burden’s childhood perspective seeps through that filter? It might have just been the mystery of the prairie landscape which is so stunningly evoked. Regardless, I was hooked. I read all day and finished the book just before my parents were expected home from work.
By the time they walked through the door, I was a mess—snuffling, red-faced, sobbing. I couldn’t stop the tears, and I couldn’t explain what was wrong, despite my parents’ intense questioning. (At first, they assumed one of the pets had died. Then they became convinced I had hurt myself physically.) I wasn’t sure why I was crying—on the surface the novel had reached a happy conclusion: Antonia, reunited with her childhood friend, surrounded by her twelve children, exiting the fruit cave in “a veritable explosion of life.” At the time, I guess I thought I was sad because the book was over. It wasn’t the first time I had been reluctant to leave a protagonist behind.
I never told my parents what was really wrong, and I never returned the book to my sister’s junk drawer. For a long time, I wouldn’t look at the text, but I kept it close. I brought it with me to college, and then I moved it across the country in a box of favorite books when I, like Jim Burden, made my own move out of the Blue Ridge Mountains and across the prairie. Finally, remembering the sweeping descriptions and the way the landscape had become an important character, I returned to the text in response to a literary analysis assignment in an eco-criticism course. I felt the loss again, but this time, I had words for it. I could find the interstices in Jim’s narrative and, through them, glimpse Antonia as tired, toothless, and left behind. Likewise, I could glimpse the loss of the tall-grass prairie eco-system through his celebration of all the urban development that had come to the countryside around the town of Black Hawk.
I fiercely admire so many writers. I love the way I can open Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway and instantly feel time slow down and accordion out in the image of a plane arcing the sky or a drop of water on a garden plant. Alice McDermott’s prose makes me feel this same expansion—like literary meditation, reading such rich prose. In college, when I first read Louise Erdrich, I felt my entire paradigm of literary thinking shift. A plot could be circular. A metaphor, after its initial splash, could continue to echo like pond rings across the entire narrative surface of a novel. In graduate school, I discovered Edna O’Brien’s The Country Girls, and I have savored each of her releases since for the lush landscapes and the female protagonists who are simultaneously so strong and so vulnerable. I have never been able to quite let go of my initial affair with the short story, especially those of Alice Munro who in 20 pages can somehow conjure the sweeping, generational feeling of a novel.
But My Antonia remains my first and most visceral experience of how literature can make a reader feel more than she understands. I have taught that novel several times. I try to re-read it every year.
Landfall: A Ring of Stories, Ohio State University Press, 2016
Viable, Five Oaks Press, 2015
The Language of Horses (poetry chapbook), Finishing Line Press, New Women’s Voices Series, 2011
“Strange Museum,” The Journal, forthcoming Winter 2016
“At the Bottom,” Blackbird, Issue 12.1
“Some Living Creature,” Blackbird, 2013
“The Last Season’s Growth,” Red Earth Review, Issue 1, Spring 2013
“Beneath the Green,” Alligator Juniper, Spring 2012
“Dry River,” Louisville Review, Issue 70,Spring 2012
“Expecting,” Blackbird, Issue 10, Spring 2011
“Accidents,” Pinch, Issue 31.2,Winter 2009
“House of Joy,” Quarterly West, Issue 62, Summer 2006
“Floating,” Shade, Four Way Books, Fall 2006
“The Space Behind the Words,” Redivider, Issue 3.1, Fall 2005
“Olivia, the Rock,” Phoebe, Issue 34.2, Fall 2005
“Sugar,” Western Humanities Review, Issue 59.1, Summer 2005
“Naked Ladies,” Louisiana Literature, Issue 21.1, Spring 2005
“Lucy’s Wake,” Santa Clara Review, Issue 91.1, Spring 2004
“The Sound of Animals,” Fourteen Hills, Issue 9.1, Spring 2004
“Landfall,” Hayden’s Ferry Review, Issue 32, Fall/Winter 2003
“Bread Pudding,” Crab Orchard Review, Issue 8.2, Spring 2003
“Seeing Red,” Indiana Review, Issue 24.2, Fall 2002
“A Fingerprint, Carried Long and Quiet” and “Monsoon Season,” Kentucky Writer’s: The Deus Loci and the Lyrical Landscape, Roberts Reading Series, Elizabeth Madox Roberts Society Press (forthcoming)
“Little Deaths,” “Blackwork Solstice,” “The Work of Women,” “These Terrible Times,” and “Even Stones Comes to Rest,” 4ink7: Issue 3, Fall 2015
“A Large Body of Water,” New Madrid, Issue 10.1, Winter 2015
“Tell Them You Had a Mole Removed” and “Ambrosia,” The Southern Review, Spring 2014
“For Her to Enter this World,” Gulf Stream, Spring 2014
“Moving Water,” Southern Women’s Review, Issue 8, Spring 2014“Dark Moon,” “Divination” and “That Kind of Fortune,” Saranac Review, 2013
“Winter Without,” Ruminate, Issue 26, Winter 2013
“Before Nohl Bought the Boat,” “Perk Holes,” “House Sparrows,” and “Field Dressing,” Superstition Review, Issue 9, Spring 2012
“Kerosene,” Becoming Woman, University of Nebraska Press, 2012
“Returning to Water” and “Still Life of Aunt Alice,” Alligator Juniper, Spring2010
“Viable,” Southern Women’s Review, Issue 2, Winter 2009
“Pica,” PoemMemoirStory, Issue 11, Fall 2009
“Bajada,” Superstition Review, Issue 3, Spring 2008
“My Mother with Horses,” Ruminate, (in print and online), Summer 2008
“Blessing, North of Perigoux,” Cadence of Hooves: A Celebration of Horses, Yarroway Mountain Press, 2008
“In the Outer Banks,” Sea, Sand, Sail, Old Mountain Press, Summer 2007
“A Fingerprint, Carried Long and Quiet,” Ellipis, Issue 43, Spring 2007
“Rise,” Karamu, Issue 19.2, Summer 2005
“Winter and Homesick,” Blueline, Issue 25, Winter 2004
“Thinking of My Mother, Twenty-eight Years, Six Months,” Briar Cliff Review, Issue 15, Spring 2003
“A Summer,” Petroglyph, Spring 2002
“Unknowns,” Louisiana Literature, Issue 17.1,Spring 2000
“Virginia Creeper” and “Friedman’s Church,” Sunflower Anthology, Flint Hills Press, 1999
“Nursing Art,” Blackbird, Tracking the Muse Loop, Issue 11, Fall 2011
“Julie Hensley’s character-driven prose crosses generational and social boundaries, and her narrative shifts deftly between dueling voices as her two protagonists spiral toward and away from each other, creating a double helix of second person perspective. Set against the backdrop of a family farm, Hensley’s fiction anchors us in a generous sensibility as an aunt and niece negotiate a territorial disconnection with a sense of earned wisdom and a welcome simplicity.”
—Blackbird, Introductions Reading Loop
|Intro to Creative Writing
Full Professor MFA, Vermont College of Fine Arts
Nancy Jensen is the author of the national bestselling novel The Sisters (St. Martin’s Press, 2011), which was selected by the Independent Booksellers Association as the #1 Indie Next Pick for December 2011 and included by Kirkus Reviews on its list for Best Fiction of 2011. She has been awarded an Artist Enrichment Grant from the Kentucky Foundation for Women and an Al Smith Fellowship from the Kentucky Arts Council. Her first book, Window: Stories and Essays, was published by Fleur-de-Lis Press in 2009. Nancy shares her home with seven rescued cats and her dog Gordy, who is her partner on a pet therapy team with Pawsibilities Unleashed of Kentucky. When she isn’t writing or enjoying the company of her furred family, she teaches as a member of the core MFA faculty of the Bluegrass Writers Studio at Eastern Kentucky University.
Who is Nancy Jensen?
When I was three years old, I was so hungry for stories—both those I wanted to read and those I wanted to tell—that I begged my grandmother to teach me to read and write. Just a year later, though fearful of drawing attention to herself in public, and especially of doing anything that challenged established rules, this same grandmother—my very own champion—lobbied the administrative powers at the New Albany-Floyd County Public Library to grant me my own library card.
Everything I am and ever will be I owe to books—and to my grandmother, who flung open the door to that world when I was at the age of greatest impression. Always, the world of literature has seemed more vivid, more vital, more interesting, and more relevant than anything people refer to as the “real” world. I’m not talking about fantasy here—I’ve never been much interested in hobbits or robots—but rather about stories peopled by characters who might be my neighbors, even if they walk lonely roads in ancient Greece or suffer through restrained, polite conversation over tea in the sitting rooms in 18th century country houses.
Should we have the chance to meet, you’ll find I chatter easily and energetically, but, not surprisingly, I’m happiest when I at home with my pets—seven cats and a dog, all strays—living inside a book I’m either reading or writing, feeling along with the characters all their fears, joys, sorrows, and triumphs.
For more about me and my work, I invite you to my website: www.nancyjensen.org.
Workshop and Teaching Philosophy
My workshop philosophy is pretty simple: as writers, our competition is in the Library of Congress, not in the Bluegrass Writers Studio. The collective goal of a workshop should be to help each writer achieve the best possible version of the work he or she wants to write. In a useful, functioning workshop, there’s plenty of room for honest, direct, and specific criticism, but no room for belittling sarcasm or empty, gushing praise—both of which are equally ineffective.
The best writers are always the most thoughtful, penetrating readers, and I believe no writer can ever become a better writer without first becoming a better reader, so I place high importance on helping students develop as sound critics who can understand, articulate, and demonstrate with evidence how a writer has achieved his or her effects.
As a student, I was lucky to have many excellent, generous teachers in both literature and writing at Indiana University, the University of Louisville, and the MFA in Writing program at Vermont College—and every day as a teacher, I strive to give students something of what my best teachers gave me.
Some of the Books I Love
I’m a little in awe of people who can spit out a list of their ten favorite writers or ten favorite books because I’ve always found requests for such lists to be as impossible to produce as answers to questions like, “Which of your pets do you love the most?” or, referring to my novel The Sisters, “Who is your favorite character?” The literature I love crosses many centuries and all the genres—fiction, poetry, drama, and the essay—and each among my beloveds is most valued, like my pets and my characters, for what sets it apart from all the others I treasure.
Still, I well understand people’s interest in such matters—and it’s an interest I share: though hard for me to answer the question myself, it’s one I can rarely resist asking of another reader. So…if you pinned me to the wall and insisted on knowing my choice for the greatest American novel, I’d say An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser. I would then admit to a deep and lasting affection for Booth Tarkington’s The Magnificent Ambersons, and I would deny that the fact that Dreiser and Tarkington are both Hoosiers, like I am, has anything whatever to do with my admiration for these novels. Sometimes I treat myself to a marathon reading of all six of Jane Austen’s novels, in the order in which they were written (which is not quite the same as the order in which they were published), but my “favorite” shifts between Persuasion and Mansfield Park, depending on my mood. Similarly, my mood largely determines whether I’ll name my favorite Shakespeare play as King Lear or The Tempest, but I’ll won’t waver in saying my favorite playwright is Bernard Shaw (he hated the American addition of George to his name), because no one—fiction writer, playwright, or poet—has ever written character speeches with greater intelligence and musical balance. When I am overwhelmed by the ugly noise of the world and especially of artless writing, I will settle on the floor in front of my bookcases and read aloud to myself from Yeats, Tennyson, T.S. Eliot, or the Robert Fitzgerald translation of The Odyssey. There may be a few who are as good, but there has never been a better essayist than George Orwell. For the richest possible immersion into a fictional world, I’ll turn to George Eliot’s Middlemarch or John Galsworthy’s The Forsythe Saga or to the novels of Thomas Hardy. From the realm of more recent writing, the books I can’t seem to shut up about are Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall, Chad Harbach’s The Art of Fielding, and Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad.
The Sisters, a novel. St. Martin’s Press, 2011.
Window: Stories and Essays, Fleur-de-Lis Press, 2009.
“The Ones I Married,” The Coe Review. Vol. 36. Spring 2006.
“Teach Your Dog to Sing,” Other Voices. Vol. 6. No. 18. Spring 1993.
“Ceiling by Chagall,” The Belletrist Review. Vol. 1. No.1. Fall 1992.
“Squiggy,”The Louisville Review. Vol. 25-26. Fall/Spring 1988-1989.
“Loving Galahad,”Z Miscellaneous. Vol. 2. No. 6. November 1988.
“Sisters,” The Louisville Review. Vol. 20. 1986.
“The Gulf,” Northwest Review, Spring 2008.
“Notes of an Expatriate Daughter: Shylock in Kuala Lumpur,”The Louisville Review. Spring 2008.
“Window,” The Gihon River Review. Spring 2008.
“Last Tango,” ACM: Another Chicago Magazine. No. 46, Spring 2006.
“Forgetful Snow,” the strange fruit. December 2005.
“Photo: April 1965,” essay. Under the Sun: A Journal of Creative Nonfiction. Summer 2005.
“Blue Belt,” I to I: Life Writing by Kentucky Feminists. 2004.
|Creative Nonfiction Workshop
|Wallace Bldg 330
Robert D. Johnson
Director, Full Professor M.F.A., Creative Writing, Arizona State University M.A., English, Kansas State University
R Dean Johnson is the author of Delicate Men: Stories (Alternative Book Press) and Californium (forthcoming-Plume). His essays and stories have appeared in several national literary journals, including Ascent, Natural Bridge, New Orleans Review, Santa Clara Review, and The Southern Review. His fiction has previously been nominated for the Pushcart Prize anthology and excerpts from his novel manuscript, Californium, have been anthologized in Tribute to Orpheus (Kearney Street Books) and Paradigm, Volume One (Rain Farm Press). Editor of the anthology Teachable Moments: Essays on Experiential Education (University Press of America), he holds an MA in English from Kansas State University and an MFA in Creative Writing from Arizona State University. Previously, he has taught at Prescott College, Cameron University, and Gotham Writers’ Workshop.
“Pleased to meet you / Hope you guess my name”
I haven’t been R Dean Johnson my whole life. My parents named me Robert Dean Johnson, Jr. They called me Bobby. Everyone did until high school when I graduated to Bob. It felt mature, so I went with it. Who doesn’t like a guy named Bob Johnson? It’s a fine name up until the point you think you might want to be a writer.
I didn’t know I’d want to become a writer. In fact, I started college at Cal Poly Pomona as an engineering major who wrote stories rather than doing his physics homework, graduated as a business major who wrote really plot-heavy stories about people who didn’t like their jobs as business people, and left an ad agency job in Los Angeles after four years to go back to school and learn more about writing stories. Good ones.
It wasn’t until a brief stint in the MFA program at the University of Alabama that I discovered my namesake, The Robert Johnson. The guy whose name is synonymous with the Delta Blues. The guy who may or may not have sold his soul to the Devil at the crossroads and suddenly started doing things with a guitar unlike anyone else. The guy who died young and mysteriously. How can some kid from Anaheim (yes, home to Disneyland) compete with a guy that dangerous? A guy that cool? Well, I can’t. And frankly, publishing anything as Bob Johnson sounds about as real to me as John Doe or Anonymous. So, I have two early publications as Robert Johnson, Jr., and the bulk of my work appears under the name, R. Dean Johnson.
But really, I’m just Bob. The guys on my softball team call me Bob. My undergrad and graduate students call me Bob. My wife and sometimes even my 6 year-old son call me Bob.
I hold an MA in English from Kansas State University (Wildcats, not Jayhawks). After that brief stint at Alabama, I went on to earn an MFA in Creative Writing from Arizona State University (Sun Devils, not Wildcats). Before arriving at the Bluegrass Writers Studio, I taught at Prescott College (AZ), Yavapai College (AZ), Cameron University (OK), and Gotham Writers Workshop (NY).
I have no song lyrics / pertaining to Workshop
The first real, mature-like, magazine or journal or collection-type, story I ever tried to write is wonderful. It’s never been published, but I’ve re-read it several times and still see why I wanted to learn more about writing. And how bad I needed to. Many years later now, I also see how much better I’ve become and how much more I actually do know, but I also see there’s a real writer back there, that guy who pushed fearlessly forward and wrote, “The Ghosts of Valentine’s Past” (Yes, we talk about titles in my workshops, so feel free to laugh).
At some point in a graduate school workshop I turned in a story titled, “Catching Atoms.” My classmates and instructor loved it (though this is not the point of workshop). My instructor even encouraged me, privately, to send the story to some literary journals. In fact, he had a connection with one and told me to send it to them and use his name (again, not the point of workshop). Unfortunately, the story was rejected, though with an encouraging note, and the story would go on to be rejected more than 60 times—often with glowing notes from editors such as MMM Hayes at Story Quarterly and Junot Diaz at Boston Review.
The first story I actually published was from a manuscript I rushed to write for class. I’d already turned in a story I’d been working on and a story I’d been thinking about. This last story, “The People We Were,” began from a single line: “For the record, I’m not a drug dealer.” I didn’t know what that meant or who said it, but I wanted to find out. A few revisions later, I began sending the story out and it found a home after just a handful of rejections. (For the record, “Catching Atoms” was finally published in Ruminate and has since been anthologized twice. I love and believe in it as much now as I did before the first of the 60+ rejections. I love it and believe in it even after the editor of one of the anthologies asked me to chop off the last two paragraphs).
And that’s just it. Writing is a lonely endeavor, even if you do it in a coffeehouse. Your characters (in fiction or creative nonfiction) become your good friends because they’re party to this excitement that you feel even if few other people know about it. Or appreciate it. Yet.
The great thing about workshop is that it is anything but a lonely endeavor. We’re a community of writers. Yes, it is an online community during the semester, but we’re all looking at the same manuscript on screen and talking to each other live, so that makes it ours and that’s as good and valuable as any bookstore in San Francisco or coffeehouse in The Village. It doesn’t matter who you are at your day job or who you’ve been in the past, in workshop you are an artist, an emerging writer, and a person of letters. That’s not to put the pressure on but, rather, to take it off. You’re among compatriots and sympathetic ears here, and we’re pleased to meet you.
Books that matter to me (in a kind of order and incomplete)
The Catcher in the Rye –J.D. Salinger
Cliché, sure, but I didn’t know until then you could write like that and get away with it.
Mysteries of Pittsburgh –Michael Chabon
I wrote my first short story after reading this (see above). It’s all Chabon’s fault.
This Boy’s Life –Tobias Wolff
What memoir does at its best—make you care about something that has nothing to do with you.
The Great Gatsby -F Scott Fitzgerald
All things in literature can be compared to baseball, punk rock, or Gatsby. Really.
Hiroshima –John Hersey
Not just a great example of the kinds of stories narrative nonfiction can tell, a great example of how to craft them in the first place.
Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant –Ann Tyler
It happens so quietly, so casually, that you’re in with both feet and you don’t know how or when it happened. So smart.
An American Childhood –Annie Dillard
The other great thing memoir can do—build, and build, and build, then turn on you just enough to keep you thinking about the work long after you’ve finished it.
Tumble Home -Amy Hempel
Stories that read like poems, except with the whole narrative arc thing.
“Norte Americanos.” Agave.
“The Last, Best Epigraph.” Arcadia Magazine. [online: http://www.arcadiamagazine.org/3/post/2013/03/the-last-best-epigraph.html]
“A Few Hills Over From Hollywood.” Ascent.
“Water Gates.” Natural Bridge.
“Saints with Toys.” Slice Magazine.
“Everybody Knows Freedom.” The Southern Review.
“Outside the Palace.” Atticus Review. [online: http://atticusreview.org/outside-the-palace/]
“Something Good.” Coe Review.
“Beginner’s Guide to Brugge.” Juked. Pushcart Prize nomination
“The People We Were.” New Orleans Review. Pushcart Prize nomination
“Catching Atoms.” Ruminate.
“Captain of the Drive.” Santa Clara Review.
|Creative Writing Capstone
|Combs Building 114
|Tpics in Cre.Writ:Press Intern
|Writers on Writing
|MFA Creative Wrtg Comp Present
Evan Joseph Massey
Office: Miller 111
Mailing Address: Beckham 100
Evan J. Massey hails from too many places in Virginia to name. After serving his country by way of the U.S. Army, which included being stationed at Fort Campbell, KY for three years and serving in Operation Enduring Freedom based at FOB Salerno, Afghanistan, Evan graduated from Reynolds Community College before receiving his Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy from Ole Miss (The University of Mississippi), where he first fell in love with writing. Following Ole Miss, Evan earned his MFA in Creative Writing from Virginia Tech where he studied under the likes of Matthew Vollmer, Evan Lavender-Smith, and Carmen Gimenez. After teaching at an independent school outside of Boston for two years, he is incredibly grateful to call EKU home.
Evan is currently an Editorial Assistant at Seneca Review. He recently served as writer-in-residence at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts and has received a scholarship to Bread Loaf’s Environmental Writers’ Conference where he studied under Kazim Ali. He was the nonfiction reader for The Pinch and Portland Review reading series. His work can be found or forthcoming in Colorado Review, Hunger Mountain, Bat City Review, The Pinch, Gulf Coast, DIAGRAM, The Rumpus, Willow Springs, Southern Indiana Review, Portland Review, Quarterly West, and others. He received his MFA from Virginia Tech.
|Intro to Creative Writing
|University Building 232
|Creative Nonfiction Workshop
Dr. Young Smith
Associate Professor Ph.D., Creative Writing, University of Houston M.F.A., Creative Writing, University of Arkansas
Department: English and Theatre
Office: Mattox 305
Mailing Address: Mattox 101
Young Smith is the author of In A City You Will Never Visit, a collection of poems published by Black Zinnias Press of San Francisco in 2008. He has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Kentucky Arts Council, as well as a Tennessee Williams Scholarship for Poetry from the Sewanee Writers’ Conference. His poems have appeared in Poetry, Beloit Poetry Journal, The Iowa Review, Pleiades, Crazyhorse, The Harvard Divinity Bulletin, American Literary Review, Arts & Letters, The Midwest Quarterly, The New Orleans Review,on the Poetry Daily web site, and in other publications. He is an associate professor of English and former director of the low-residency MFA program at Eastern Kentucky University.
A Bit about Me
I grew up in the tiny college town of Clemson, South Carolina, but I’ve lived all over the American South: in Alabama, Georgia, Arkansas, Louisiana, Texas, and, finally, in the green and gentle Commonwealth of Kentucky. Though I’m “still only” in my early 50s, I am (ahem, ahem) very much the Old Timer on the Bluegrass Writers Studio faculty. I’ve been at EKU for over a decade now, and I served as the founding Director of the BGWS in its early stages. I taught its very first workshop, in fact, back in 2008—when we had just seven students in the program! Since those first lean and uncertain days, I have been thrilled, and often genuinely astonished, as I’ve watched this program grow and begin to flourish in just a few short years.
A Bit about How I Got Here
During the early 1980s, I was an English major at the University of Georgia, where creative writing didn’t yet exist as a discipline, and where any question about a course in which students might write their own stories or poems was met with a mild frown and sad little tisks of disapproval by my solemn and stiff-lipped professors. “One doesn’t study ‘creative writing,’ Mr. Smith,” I was told again and again. “If one is a writer, one will simply… write.” Of course, these fine old scholars (and they were fine old scholars) didn’t all discourage me with precisely these words, but the spirit of their advice was nearly always the same…
Still, late in my senior year at Georgia, I did manage to take a single course in fiction writing offered by a visiting professor, and this class, as they say, changed my life. Which was a bit surprising, because it wasn’t a very good class at all. Though he was a masterful writer, this fellow’s teaching method consisted almost entirely of reading aloud to us his favorite stories by Flannery O’Connor and Eudora Welty, lifting his eyes from these texts only to say, from time to time, “See? See? You see what she’s doing there?” Occasionally, he fell asleep in the middle of our seminars… But he liked my stories, this visiting writer, and he eventually offered to write me a letter of recommendation if I ever decided to apply to something called an “MFA Program.”
A what, now? An MFA program? I had never heard of such a creature before… At that time, I was still telling concerned family members that I planned to go to law school after graduation—a familiar ploy used by generations of English majors to deflect that most vexing of questions: “English? What on earth you gonna do with English?”—though, to tell the truth, I didn’t have the first idea of what would become of me once my studies at Georgia were complete. As soon as the old writer began to describe the sort of things that went on in these MFA programs, however, I knew that I would go to one. And go I soon did, to the University of Arkansas, deep in the Ozark Mountains, where I earned my MFA in fiction writing, presenting a collection of short stories as my thesis.
Soon afterwards, I took a job as an Instructor at the University of New Orleans, where I would teach for the next seven years. Once my contract at UNO was finished, I began to feel the strong pull of graduate school yet again, which is how I ended up in the PhD program in creative writing at the University of Houston… I had applied and been accepted to the UH program as a fiction writer, but within just two semesters at Houston, I decided, after much trembling and gnashing of teeth, to switch genres, finally admitting to myself that I was actually a poet at heart, rather than a story writer or a novelist. This discovery was both terrifying and deeply liberating at once, and I have never once regretted the decision. In fact, I have come to embrace and celebrate the role of the multi-genre writer. I am now primarily a poet—and a champion of poetry—but I have also written plays, and I have collaborated with writing partners on screenplays and works of musical theatre.
A Bit about the Past and the Future of the BGWS
In the days when the Bluegrass Writers Studio did not yet exist at Eastern, when the BGWS was, in fact, still little more than a vague proposal described in loose terms on various university forms, I was able to have some considerable influence in determining the kind of program it would become… This was not because I was in a position of great administrative power, or because I had proven myself a wise and trusted decision maker. Far from it. It was—to be quite blunt— simply and entirely because, at that time, I was the only full-time, tenure-track professor of creative writing in the Department of English at Eastern. All of my other colleagues in the field had either recently retired or left the department for jobs at other places. It was a lonely and uncertain time. But it was also a time of exciting new beginnings. And so, however humbly, we began…
I firmly believe that my own rather confused and crooked path as a writer—described above—helped to shape my convictions about just what sort of MFA program I would urge my colleagues to create at EKU. What we wanted, I argued, was a program where students would be encouraged to work in multiple genres, where they would be urged to search out and to discover for themselves exactly what sort of writers they hoped to become (rather than the sort of writers we would instruct them to become), and where all of these students’ various ambitions as artists might be equally nurtured. Since I had learned first hand myself all that the method could offer, I argued that our program should employ the round-table workshop discussion approach within its core classes (an option largely unavailable to students in other low-residency MFA programs). And though I wanted these workshops to be rigorous and challenging, I also felt it vital that they be conducted in an atmosphere of genuine collegiality and mutual respect, an intellectual climate in which each student would feel herself to be part of a vital writing community, a place where she would be as invested in her classmates’ progress and achievements as in her own.
Most of all, however, I argued for a program staffed with faculty members who would define themselves just as much as teachers as writers, people who were engaged in important and innovative creative work of their own, but who would never let their own preoccupations and ambitions as writers get in the way of their commitment to their students (something I had seen happen more than once in the course of my own education). The people we would bring to EKU would not be simply famous folks who chose to teach as a relatively painless way to supplement their writing incomes. The people we would bring to EKU would be deeply committed to their students’ growth and success, both as writers and as students of writing. For this reason, I can say honestly that my proudest achievement so far at Eastern is the small role I played in helping to search out, recruit, and hire the other four members of our core faculty in the Bluegrass Writers Studio. They are, one and all, excellent teachers, excellent writers, and excellent people. You should meet them. I would be happy to make the introductions.
Fellowships and Awards
- Poetry Fellowship, Helene Wurlitzer Foundation, 2012
- Writing Fellowships, Hambidge Center for the Creative Arts and Science, 2003, 2004, 2007, 2012
- National Semifinalist, “Discovery”/The Nation Poetry Contest, 1998, 1999, 2000,
2001, 2004, 2006
- Poetry Fellowship, National Endowment for the Arts, 2005
- Finalist, Walt Whitman Award Book Prize, Academy of American Poets, 2005
- Al Smith Individual Artist Fellowship for Poetry, Kentucky Arts Council, 2005
- Writing Fellowship, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, 2003
- Featured Poet, Poetry Magazine Web Site, 2003
- Krakow, Poland Seminar Poetry Fellowship, University of Houston, 2002
- James A. Michener Fellowship in Honor of Donald Barthelme for Excellence in
Poetry, University of Houston, 2002
- Pushcart Prize Nominationfor Poetry, 1999
- Pushcart Prize Nominationfor Fiction, 1992
In A City You Will Never Visit. Black Zinnias Press, California Institute for Arts and Letters, San Francisco, 2008
“October Burial,” “Drowned Man’s Cross: Grande Isle, Louisiana,” and “Here There Was a Stool with a Crippled Leg.” Chautauqua Review, 2012
“She Considers the Dimensions of Her Soul.” Strange Attractors: A Collection of Mathematical Love Poems, 2008
“On One of the Disappointments of Getting Well.” Tampa Review, 2009
“Just Go on Now and Give Me a Reason” and “Antiquarian.” The Fiddlehead, 2008
“The Beauty of the Light,” “Cadaver,” “Eighteen Small Realist Studies,” “In the Suicide’s Top Drawer,” “The Light in D Minor,” “The Light as Silky Motion in the Constellation of Centaurus,” “Moment Above a Swimming Pool,” “Suggestions for New Collective Nouns,” “Those Dreaming of the Dawn Will Go On Dreaming in the Dark,” “A Twist of Brass, a Bright Word,” “What of These New Mountains?” and “What Does the Ottoman Long For?” Left Facing Bird, 2008
“Description of a Pear on a Pewter Dish.” Poetry Daily. 2007
“She Disagrees with the Psychiatrist’s Diagnosis.” Grain, 2007
“Description of a Pear on a Pewter Dish,” “Squamata,” and “Poem Attempting to Deny the Body.” Beloit Poetry Journal, 2006
“C.” Green Mountains Review, 2006
“Small Couplets on One Passion of the Dead.” Arts & Letters, 2006.
“My Achilles.” Arts & Letters, 2006
“The Story of Watching” and “Canticle with Migratory Birds.” Harvard Divinity Bulletin, 2006
“Beneath the Waves,” AGNI, 2006
“Brief Discussion on His Body, Its Hands, and the Sun “and “In a City You Will Never Visit.” Crazyhorse, 2005
“Lunar Isocolon (While Holding Her Breath).” 11th Annual Juried Reading Chapbook, The Poetry Center of Chicago, 2005
“Radiation in the Visible Spectrum: The Collapse of the Wave Function,” “Radiation in the Visible Spectrum: Iridial,” “Radiation in the Visible Spectrum: Illuminance.” Beloit Poetry Journal, 2005
“Radiation in the Visible Spectrum: V,” “Radiation in the Visible Spectrum: VIII,” and “Radiation in the Visible Spectrum: XIX.” The Iowa Review, 2005
“What It Made Him Think of Was the Sea.” Pleiades, 2005
“Poem Censored from the Soldier’s Manual of Common Tasks.” DIAGRAM,2004
“Woman Leaving the Land of Shinar.” American Literary Review, 2004
“She Considers the Dimensions of Her Soul.” Poetry, 2003
“New Orleans.” The Atlanta Review, 2003
“Dark Blossoms.” Plainsongs, 2003
“There Were No Other Houses There for Miles.” The Midwest Quarterly, 2003
“Statue.” Ekphrasis, 2003
“I Am Here to Say This.” Crab Creek Review, 2002
“Flower Fire.” Chaffin Journal, 2001
“Under the Powerline” and “God’s Instructions, Before His Visit.” New Orleans Review, 1999
“Big Bald Man.” Ekphrasis, 1999 (Pushcart Prize Nomination)
“Inenarrablis.” Limestone, 1999
“A Stranger to Atlanta.” Louisiana Literature,1992 (Pushcart Prize Nomination)
“Midway.” The Luxury of Tears:Winning Stories from the National Society of Arts and Letters Competition. August House Press, 1988
Performances of Works for the Stage
Better Being Bad. Jeffrey Lerner (Composer), Young Smith (Bookwriter/ Lyricist). A musical play adapted from Niccolo Machiavelli’s Mandragola. Equity Showcase Premiere, Music Box Theatre, Minneapolis, 2007
Better Being Bad. Jeffrey Lerner (Composer), Young Smith (Bookwriter/Lyricist). A musical play adapted from Niccolo Machiavelli’s Mandragola. Minneapolis Fringe Festival production, 2003
The Three Cornered Hat. Bob Beare (Composer/Lyricist), Young Smith (Bookwriter). Main Street Theatre, Houston, Texas. World Actors’ Equity Premiere of a new musical play, 2002.
Major Influences (and Just Plain Stuff I Like)
My 25 Books (as of this moment, and in no particular order…)
• The Collected Poems of Emily Dickinson • Harmonium by Wallace Stevens • Mr. Cogito by Zbignew Herbert • The Collected Poems of Elizabeth Bishop • The Lost Son and Other Poems by Theodore Roethke • All Day Permanent Red by Christopher Logue • The Collected Poems of Czeslaw Milosz • Eleven Kinds of Loneliness by Richard Yates • 2666 by Roberto Bolaño • The Prologue by William Wordsworth • The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami • Journeyman by Erskine Caldwell • Moby Dick by Herman Melville • Glass, Irony and God by Anne Carson • The Sacraments of Desire by Linda Gregg • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald • Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace • Fire to Fire by Mark Doty • The Complete Stories of Flannery O’Connor • Child of God by Cormac McCarthy • The Great Enigma by Tomas Transtromer • Fat City by Leonard Gardner• The Incognito Lounge by Denis Johnson • The Collected Poems of Russell Edson • Mysteries of the Invisible World by Cotton Mather •
Contemporary Poets about Whom I’m Especially Excited
Al Maginnis • Wayne Miller • Nicky Beer • Eduardo Corral • Beth Ann Fennelly • Nick Flynn • A. Van Jordan • Ilya Kaminsky • Sarah Manguso • Charles Rafferty • A.E. Stallings • Susan Stewart • Brian Turner • Brian Barker • Natasha Tretheway • Tracy K. Smith • Camille Dungee • Jericho Brown • Kim Addonizio• Adrian Blevins• Jennifer L. Knox • Mary Ruefle • You?
|Songwriting Across Genres
MFA Specialist, BGWS Designer / Managing Editor, Jelly Bucket
Department: English and Theatre
Office: Miller 110
Mailing Address: Beckham 100
Regina Szabo is an accomplished designer with over 20 years of experience. A native of Ohio, she graduated from Miami University with a bachelors degree in design. Before joining the Bluegrass Writers Studio, she has seen success as a wallcovering designer, as a color expert for one of the largest paint manufacturers, and as a graphic designer. Some notable clients include The Sherwin-Williams Co., HGTV Home, and Constellation Schools. Her work has been seen in magazines and on billboards and everything in between. Regina resides in Lexington with her husband and super awesome son. In her free time, she enjoys doing anything that gets her hands dirty including making and teaching pottery, gardening, and playing with her son.