21 Apr

Claire Beams Shows Us What She Has Learned

Andrea | April 21st, 2017
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When introducing Claire Beams at her reading on Monday, April 10th, Professor Glenn Taylor described her book, We Show What We Have Learned, as timely and timeless. That is exactly how her reading and subsequent Q&A session felt that evening.

Beams read the title story of her debut collection, which was a finalist for the 2017 PEN/Robert W. Bingham Award for Debut Fiction and the winner of the Young Lions Fiction Award from the New York Public Library. She described the collection as one about transformation, about changing others and yourself.

The story Beams read centered around a teacher who literally begins to fall apart in front of her students. A high school English teacher for six years, Beams later reflected on the ways in which her time in the classroom has impacted her writing. She noted that her students are often surprised when they read her work to see a different side of the teacher they know.

During the Q&A, Beams answered thoughtfully about questions related to writing process. The title story of her collection came from the space between dreaming and being awake, she said. She believes writing often comes from an unconscious part of the brain. It took her time to find her voice and to find the kinds of stories she enjoys writing, and the fun she had penning the collection was certainly reflected in the stories themselves as well as the reactions of the audience during the reading.

Beams concluded by emphasizing the freedom with which one should approach writing. She reminded the audience of the possibilities one encounters when writing: “When you start a story it can be anything.”

Claire Beams’ fiction appears in One Story, n+1, Ecotone, The Common, The Kenyon Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Electric Literature’s Recommended Reading, and The Best American Nonrequired Reading. She currently blogs for Ploughshares and teaches creative writing at Saint Vincent College and the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts.

19 Apr

Department of English Awards

Andrea | April 19th, 2017

On Wednesday, April 19th, students and faculty gathered to celebrate their accomplishments over the past year. The annual luncheon celebrates those who have won Department of English Awards for their writing, teaching, and service to the department.

We extend a warm congratulations to our MFA students who won First Place and Honorable Mention for the Russ MacDonald Creative Writing Award:

FICTION DIVSION
Thomas Martin
“The Snail”
Instructor: Glenn Taylor

Honorable Mention:
Andrea Ruggirello
“What’s Vital”
Instructor: Glenn Taylor

NONFICTION DIVISION
Whit Arnold
“Year of the Soil Nymph”
Instructor: Kevin Oderman

Honorable Mention:
Kelsey Englert
“On Dignity”
Instructor: Christa Parravani

POETRY DIVISION
Sarah Munroe
Various Poems
Instructors: Jim Harms and Mary Ann Samyn

Honorable Mention:
Bryce Berkowitz
Various Poems
Instructors: Jim Harms and Mary Ann Samyn

The judges were Amy Alvarez and Geoffrey Hilsabeck. The award was established in 1991 to honor Russ MacDonald upon his retirement. Prizes for these awards come from the James Paul Brawner Endowed Writing Award fund.

24 Mar

Poet Mary Moore shows us the light

Andrea | March 24th, 2017
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Poet Mary Moore spoke of light, endurance, dysfunctional families, and, of course, poetry during her reading in Colson Hall on Monday, March 20th. She read from her most recent books, Flicker (Broadkill River Press, 2016) and Eating the Light (Sable Books 2016).

Before reading, Moore spoke of poetry as a process of thought, a way to understand. “Poetry is the insight,” she said. She first read from Eating the Light, beginning with a poem about the old battleship, the HMS Victory. Other poems she read include “Colonizing Eyes,” “Woman Seated on Stairs,” and “At Second Sight,” which explored the Bay Area and described San Francisco as “squid-bodied.”

She also read from Flicker and insightfully described a flickering light as an illustration of both endurance and loss. These poems included several about family; Moore joked that most poets seem to come from dysfunctional ones. The reading concluded with two new poems not included in previous collections.

Moore’s poetry has been published recently in Georgia Review, Poem/Memoir/Story, Birmingham Poetry Review, One, Cider Press Review, McNeese Review, Canary, and Coal Hill Review. She has published a previous full-length collection, The Book of Snow. Her work is also featured in the recently released anthology of West Virginia writers, Eyes Glowing at the Edge of the Woods (WVU Press, 2017). She previously taught poetry, Shakespeare, and writing at Marshall University.

6 Feb

Alumni Round-up

Andrea | February 6th, 2017

Here’s the latest from MFA and Creative Writing program alumni:

Keegan Lester, who graduated from the creative writing program, will launch his book, this shouldn’t be beautiful but it was & it was all i had, so i drew it here in Morgantown at 123 Pleasant St. on Feb 18th at 6pm.

MFA alumni Melissa Ferrone (2016) and Kelly Sundberg (2012) have received a Pushcart nomination for their essay, “I was Raped/I was Battered,” which appeared in Guernica.

Shaun Turner, who received his MFA in 2016, has launched an online poetry journal: Fire Poetry is now open for tip jar submissions!

Rebecca Thomas (2013) has received a Pushcart nomination for her story “Surviving the Postseason,” which first appeared in Fifth Wednesday.

Congratulations to all our alumni on their many achievements and we hope to see them at AWP. We will be at Booth 436, so come by and say hello!

29 Nov
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In his Q&A session on Thursday morning, November 17, poet and novelist Alan Michael Parker, or AMP or Amp, and sometimes Parker, claimed to be a compulsive liar, which is why fiction and poetry suit him. If he is to be believed, after a promising early start, with a handful of high profile publications such as The New Yorker, AMP’s career took an always-the-bridesmaid-never-the-bride turn: his first book was a finalist for twenty-five major prizes over ten years, but was never the winner. This was the “cold comfort” portion of his career—several of the runner-up letters used that exact phrase, such that is partner, the visual artist Felicia von Bork (http://www.feliciavanbork.com/), nicknamed him C.C.

Today though, AMP is the author of eight books of poetry and three novels, with more in the works. His poems have appeared in American Poetry Review, the Kenyon Review, and Paris Review, among many, many others. He was included in the Best American Poetry anthologies in both 2011 and 2015 and is the recipient of three Pushcart prizes as well as the 2012 North Carolina Book Award and the 2013 and 2014 Randall Jarrell Poetry Awards. He is the Douglas C. Houchens Professor of English at Davidson College, and he teaches in the University of Tampa’s low-residency MFA program.

His 2016 collection, The Ladder, from Tupelo Press (https://www.tupelopress.org/product/the-ladder/), shines with his characteristic humor and wit, serious content “spun around hairpin comedic moves.” The poems are immediate and in the moment. He demonstrates that even if you are not the kind of person who walks around singing, the work of poetry and life—and even dying—is to be open and aware; it is to be approached with humility, measures of both hope and doubt, and, above all, tenderness and a kind of love.

From “Springtime in Tampa”:

I wish you were here:
hotel sex is the best.

Instead, alone in my room,
I get naked once the luggage arrives,
naked to unpack, to order fish tacos,
to call my octogenarian dad,

to email my destable old friend
who refuses to be happy.
I get naked to see the city from on high:
I put on my invisible suit made of love,

and in your honor I do
naked jumping jacks on the balcony.

AMP does not call himself a formal poet, but a formalist, which can be heard in his obsessiveness. “I wrote a lot of list poems until I was Buzzfed out of that particular genre,” he said during his reading on Thursday night in the Robinson Reading Room, referring to the form frequented in his 2012 collection Long Division (https://www.tupelopress.org/product/long-division/). His partner calls him a tuning fork, which he finds an apt description: “The more I do my job, the more I become that [a tuning fork]—vibrating in relationship to the world.” And he does vibrate, with an eagerness and intensity to learn about the people and the place around him, to share ideas and reading lists—hearing what other people are reading and getting recommendations is one of his favorite parts about giving readings—and to continue the conversation about poetry, literature, our institutions, etc. and the role these occupy in society in this particular cultural moment. As a writer, he feels it is is his job to be awake, to notice, to see and figure out how to process being in the world. Teaching, then, fits naturally into this approach to life, and he seems a natural teacher. Teaching helps him to articulate things he didn’t think he knew and allows him to test ideas in the air, to see what works, changing the relationship to the material. And indeed, his answers to questions during the reading demonstrated his working out of things on the spot: each answer was accompanied with several “or” statements, alternate answers, all of them building and playing off of each other, a keen mind at work.

6 Nov

New York Times best-selling author Beth Macy has just published a book twenty-five years in the making. On Monday, October 24th, Macy spoke at WVU’s Mountainlair about her new book, Truevine, and the challenges and joys of researching and telling this story.

Truevine

Truevine is a non-fiction account of two albino African-American brothers who were kidnapped and sold to the circus in the Jim Crow South. Macy was able to forge a connection with their granddaughter, Nancy, gaining a toe-hold in the community that held the story of the Muse brothers. As she traveled around the Roanoke area, speaking to family and community members, she realized the challenge she faced of tracking a family history when that family was illiterate. This spurred her forward. She drove people she met around the neighborhood to jog their memories; she Googled for more information in the middle of the night; she hired analysts to dissect the few photos she had for additional clues to put the story together.

Slowly, the book emerged, and she began to realize the true themes revolved around Jim Crow and the indignities it placed on black Americans. It was also about this place, Truevine, VA. She read an excerpt that described the town, which ended with this line from a resident she interviewed: “Only in a place like Truevine could a kidnapping seem almost like an opportunity.”

Macy ended her presentation by sharing audio of Willie Muse, one of the brothers, singing. She did this, she said, in order to give him the last word in his own story.

29 Oct

Rooftop Reading 2016

Andrea | October 29th, 2016
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The annual fall reading, sponsored by the Council of Writers, is one that MFAs look forward to each year. During this reading, they get to hear each other’s work across genres and across years.

The evening was unseasonably warm and the rain held off for the event which was held on the rooftop restaurant atop the famed, possibly haunted, Morgantown Hotel. COW President Meredith Jeffers welcomed students, professors, and guests, and proceeded to hand the mic off to third-year students. After readings by Whit Arnold, Kelsey Liebenson-Morse, Sarah Munroe, Andrea Ruggirello, and Megan Fahey, second-year students were invited to read. Natalie Homer, Bryce Berkowitz, Meredith Jeffers, and Maggie Montague entertained the crowd with lively poetry and prose about things such as baby teeth, mothers, and home. We were delighted that many first-year students took the opportunity to read as well, including Jacob Block, Evan Kertman, Heather Myers, and Thomas Martin.

Afterwards, students and guests were able to mingle, enjoy food and drinks, and congratulate each other on a reading well done.

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First and second year MFA students enjoying a lovely evening and the great view of Morgantown.
20 Oct
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On Monday, October 10th, Valerie Boyd, the 2016 Virginia Butts Sturm Writer-in-Residence, spoke about her writing and research process to a room of eager listeners in WVU’s Robinson Reading Room.

Boyd is the author of Wrapped in Rainbows: The Life of Zora Neale Hurston and the forthcoming Spirits in the Dark: The Untold Story of Black Women in Hollywood. She spent the majority of the talk sharing her experience working on Wrapped in Rainbows in Sarasota, Florida, where Hurston wrote most of her books. Boyd read the opening pages of the book, telling the story of Hurston as a young child who wanted a horse so badly, she imagined one. Boyd made her own dreams a reality too when she embarked upon the journey of writing Wrapped in Rainbows after a previous biographer, Robert E. Hemenway, said at a festival that Hurston’s story needed to be written by a black woman.

While working on this book, Boyd had the opportunity to meet Alice Walker who agreed to blurb the Hurston biography. She then asked Boyd to work with her on her own project, compiling and editing Walker’s journals into a book which will be published next year entitled Gathering Blossoms Under Fire: The Journals of Alice Walker. Boyd spoke with unabashed joy of the experience of wading through Walker’s journals. She read everything from Walker’s grocery lists to the handwritten opening to The Color Purple. When she asked Walker about depicting the darker moments of her life, Walker said, “A flawed humanity is the only kind of humanity I believe in.”

Boyd concluded the talk with a Q&A covering topics ranging from her note-taking process to her view on womanism and Black Lives Matter. She closed by returning again to the archives, telling us that it was there she learned what she wants to write about – simply, life, through other people’s eyes.

The Virginia Butts Sturm Writer-in-Residence leads a week-long workshop with selected graduate English students. The students selected for 2016 were:

Whit Arnold
Meredith Jeffers
Ryan Kalis
Kelsey Liebenson-Morse
Kayla McCormick
Maggie Montague
Katherine Saunders
Emilie Shumway
Sarah Jordan Stout

Congratulations!

13 Oct
Heather Hartley

Poet Heather Hartley returned to her alma mater Wednesday, October 5th, to read from her new collection, Adult Swim, and her 2010 collection, Knock Knock. She was introduced by first-year MFA student Jacob Block, who spoke of the humor and heart in her work.

Hartley grew up in Charleston, WV, and currently resides in Paris where she is Paris Editor for Tin House magazine. Her poetry took those of us in the room on a world tour from the Netherlands to Naples and, of course, to Paris. The poems read covered topics such as tennis shoes, drinking by a pool, loneliness in a foreign place, and even, in her final poem, “Syrenka,” pretending to be a mermaid during a job interview.

After the reading, Hartley participated in a lively Q&A session during which she advised the audience to keep a notebook with them at all times and discussed writing about the mundane. When asked, she listed her influences as Sylvia Plath, Dr. Seuss, and Baudelaire. An audience member noted that what she read aloud was not always precisely what was published in her book. She replied that editing is an ongoing process and described what she referred to as a “zut alors!” moment, when she realizes the poem is not done when she thought it was.

A line from Hartley’s poem, “Everything Tastes Better with Bacon” urges the reader to “take this beauty, take it.” We gladly took in the beauty Heather Hartley brought to WVU Wednesday night.

6 Oct
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Photo: Kelsey Englert

On Thursday, September 22, Alysia Burton Steele visited WVU’s Media Innovation Center to give a guest lecture about the writing process for her latest book, Delta Jewels: In Search of My Grandmother’s Wisdom. Burton Steele, an award-winning photojournalist and author and a professor of journalism at the University of Mississippi, was introduced by Professor Glenn Taylor who said, “I want to know sometimes where are the great listeners?...Tonight, one of them is in West Virginia.”

Burton Steele began her talk with the importance of listening when preserving oral storytelling. She said that years after her grandmother died, she desired to hear her voice and her story. She cited this as her inspiration to interview and photograph African American women of her grandmother’s generation who lived in Mississippi during the Jim Crow era.

The key to her research, Burton Steele said, was being able to really listen and hear the stories the women were trying to tell. She didn’t prepare interview questions. Rather, she tried to play off what she referred to as the “vibe” each woman gave her. She cited the ability to listen well and earn the women’s trust as necessities to successfully playing the role of oral historian.

At the end of her research, she’d driven 6,000 miles to interview 54 women. While it began as a personal project to better understand what her grandmother’s life may have been like, Burton Steele plans to develop her research into several books. She told the crowd that, as a writer, it’s important to trust your instincts about what a project can become.

Burton Steele said the research and writing of Delta Jewels has inspired her next book. She plans to interview those who picked cotton in the South because while interviewing the 54 women, so many of them and their family members wanted to share their cotton stories.

To Burton Steele, the success of the project goes beyond her book’s publication. On a personal level, assuming the role of oral historian allowed her to add 54 women and their families to her life while helping to preserve their stories.

The event was co-sponsored by the Department of English, the Department of History, and WVU’s Reed College of Media.

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