Creative Nonfiction Finalist

24 Apr

Thank you Rick Rofihe and staff at for choosing one of my creative nonfiction stories as a finalist.

Temenos Journal

9 Dec
Got a new nonfiction story up at Temenos

Redivider Journal Spotlights the 360 West Project

21 Oct

I want to thank the Redivider staff for this spotlight.

My Job Is Better Than Your Job, I Just Wanted You to Know

2 Sep

Been reading my fellow writers’ Facebook posts. They have jobs at universities. They talk about how old their buildings are, about who they know, about the people they will be teaching with, about the conferences where they’ve been booked to teach, but I have nothing to brag about. My students can’t spell. Their sentences are hellish. Punctuation non-existent. But they write, and they struggle to get down the words on the page.

Had a boy this week who came into the hospital for suicidal ideations. He told me he couldn’t read or write. I believed him. He’s country as dirt mixed with chickenshit. Sometimes I can’t understand him. I have to ask him a few times, “Huh? Say that again.”

The first day in my class I gave him a computer task, a game I let autistic kids play. It’s for those who really struggle with writing. And he played it. He sat at the computer and never whimpered, never looked around the room to see what we were doing.

Then the next day he entered class and announced, “I’m ready to write.” The little joker. He played me. He thought he’d get off easy by playing dumb. And he played me to the beat.

It took him thirty minutes to fill a page in a composition notebook, but he did it. He wrote a story. It was simple, for he is a simple boy. And when it was his time to read at the table, he said, “I feel sick at my stomach.” He’s shy, stupefying shy. He has dirty blonde hair. He has a little, fuzzy, brown mustache. He’d look better if he shaved. He’s 16, going on 12. He told me he wanted to be called, “Beck.”

I asked him why, and he said, “Because all of my girlfriends are named Becky.”

“So you have a thing for girls named Becky?”

He grinned wide, his little mustache stretching with his smile. He said, “Yep.”

These are my students. I teach kids who haven’t been taught. I love every one of them like my own child. Now try to up that one, you Facebook braggers.

From Detention to Psych Hospital By Rob Lavender

6 Aug

Got a hyper teen,

a live wire,

talking nonsense,

just to hear himself rattle.

Got legs like a bandy rooster,

a corn-eating smile,

his hair greased down like

a country bumpkin,

like that joker in O’ Brother Where Art Thou?,

He has cuts all over his arms.

Looks like a cat done

got a hold of his ass.

Boy done cut himself so much

make you hurt looking at him.

But he likes it like that.

Wears them like war wounds.

Wears them as a way to disgust you.

But cutting isn’t for me.

I’ll keep my pain inside.

Never seen a cut on my body

that looked like a release valve.

The sight of my own blood

doesn’t make me feel better.

This boy is fresh

from a detention center.

We get kids like him

on a constant basis.

They want a vacation

from where the judge placed them.

And they sit in their cells,

until they can’t take it anymore.

Then they tie a bed sheet

around their necks or

they cut themselves.

Then the white van appears.

The side door slides open,

out they come—handcuffed and shackled.

They tell me that the psych hospital

is like a vacation.

“You have better food. You have girls.”

It’s true,

we have girls

that are as mutilated as them.

Seeing them together,

walking the halls of the hospital

is like seeing moving road rash,

like they’ve had a serious

gang motorcycle crash.

A domino effect.

Bent spokes,

torn seats,

flat tires,

scratched gas tanks.

Now they’ve emerged,

looking for new ways

to bleed,

like something inside

is scratching to get out.

Chris Adrian: The Great Night – Bookworm on KCRW

1 Aug

Wonderful Interview with Chris Adrian

Chris Adrian: The Great Night – Bookworm on KCRW.

William Faulkner–Speech of Acceptance for Nobel Prize

10 Jul

William Faulkner, the great southern writer, said, in his Speech of Acceptance for the award of the Nobel Prize for Literature:

There are no longer problems of the spirit…the young man or woman writing today has forgotten the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself which alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat…He must learn them again…Until he does so, he labors under a curse. He writes not of love but of lust, of defeats in which nobody loses anything of value, of victories without hope and, worst of all, without pity or compassion. His griefs grieve on no universal bones, leaving no scars. He writes not of the heart but the glands…Until he relearns these things, he will write as though he stood among and watched the end of man… The poet’s, the writer’s, duty is to write about these things.

n+1: Tyson Projected

6 Jul

n+1: Tyson Projected.


360 West Project Issues

5 Jul

Writing from a psych hospital

Issue 133 and 135 have been posted. Check it out!

Issue 133

Issue 135

To read more got to

Queens University MFA Program in the Charlotte Observer

2 Jul

The MFA: A degree for people with a story to tell

Queens University program is local example of surge in number of writing schools across nation

By Pam Kelley
Reading Life Editor

Posted: Saturday, Jun. 18, 2011


Queens University of Charlotte MFA faculty member Elizabeth Strout, winner of the 2009 Pulitzer Prize in fiction for “Olive Kitteridge,” and Michael Kobre, MFA co-director and professor of English, at a 10th anniversary celebration. T. Ortega Gaines –

A decade ago, in a bank-centric city full of MBAs, Queens University launched Charlotte’s only Master of Fine Arts program in creative writing.
The two-year program cost students nearly $20,000. It didn’t pretend to guarantee a job promotion or a pay raise. It was an instant success.
The Queens program joined an explosion of MFA creative writing programs across the nation – from 64 in 1994 to more than 180 today. Queens’ program, along with nearly 50 others, are low-residency models, which use long-distance instruction and short campus stays. Only five existed when Queens set up shop.
Why the boom? Maybe it was just good timing. Lots of Americans longed to be writers and the new programs filled a need.
Today, the MFA in creative writing may be the planet’s most-written-about graduate degree.
Poets & Writers magazine publishes annual program rankings. The Huffington Post includes blogs about MFAs. And every so often, some writer disses MFA programs, comparing them to conservative medieval guilds or arguing they produce same-sounding, cookie-cutter fiction.
While writers and critics debate whether MFAs have improved or ruined literature, one thing is certain: The MFA boom has transformed the way America produces many of its best writers.
“If you were graphing it,” says Mark McGurl, author of “The Program Era: Postwar Fiction and the Rise of Creative Writing,” “a higher and higher percentage of writers are products of creative writing programs.”
Expanding market
At Queens, business professor Cathy Anderson had the idea for the MFA program. Anderson realized Charlotte was among the largest U.S. cities without one.
So, in 1999, Queens English professor Michael Kobre asked novelist and professor Fred Leebron to create a low-residency program, which combines distance learning with time on campus, usually one or two weeks twice a year.
Low-res programs, which attract older students, were a growing market. North Carolina had one of the best – Warren Wilson College near Asheville. The 35-year-old program has produced many successful authors, including David Wroblewski, whose novel, “The Story of Edgar Sawtelle,” was an Oprah’s Book Club selection.
Queens welcomed its first 27 students in May 2001. About 10 instructors taught poetry and fiction.
Today, Queens’ 50 part-time instructors include a PEN/Hemingway award finalist, North Carolina’s poet laureate, a former New Yorker writer and a National Book Critics Circle Award winner. Also on the faculty: Elizabeth Strout, winner of the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for fiction for her novel “Olive Kitteridge,” and Jonathan Dee, a finalist for this year’s Pulitzer fiction prize for his novel, “The Privileges.”
Students work one on one with advisers to produce book-length manuscripts as their graduation theses. And at Queens, like most creative writing programs, the heart of the curriculum is the writing workshop, where classmates critique each other’s work. Tuition now tops $25,000, and the school offers creative nonfiction and writing for stage and screen as well as fiction and poetry. Fiction still claims the largest enrollment.
This year, Poets & Writers magazine ranked Queens seventh out of 46 low-res programs. The rankings have been criticized as unscientific, however. They’re based partly on prospective students’ impressions – a measure described as akin to asking diners to review a restaurant before they’ve eaten a meal.
‘Peculiarly American’ pursuit
As concepts go, creative writing is a new one. The term wasn’t even coined until the 1920s, at Middlebury College’s Bread Loaf Writers Conference. In 1936, the University of Iowa launched its Writers’ Workshop, the first program to award MFAs.
It took time for the idea to catch on. “Early creative writing teachers were trivialized as aesthetes,” says David Fenza, executive director of the Association of Writers and Writing Programs. “Departments of English preferred their writers to be dead.”
After World War II, creative writing programs multiplied. Among the first was UNC Greensboro’s MFA program, launched in 1965.
But the creative writing MFA remains “peculiarly American,” Fenza says. Only a couple dozen programs exist outside the United States.
Today, you could fill a contemporary American fiction syllabus with writers who spent time in writing workshops: Flannery O’Connor, John Irving, Gail Godwin, Rita Dove, Raymond Carver, Michael Chabon, Junot Diaz, David Foster Wallace.
“Out of all the hot young writers, an absurd percentage are coming out of MFA programs,” says Leebron, Queens’ MFA program director.
Not everyone, however, is bullish on the MFA era. Former New York Times Book Review Editor Charles McGrath wondered in 2009 whether there’s a Ponzi element to the whole setup, in which many American writers “make a considerable part of their living not by writing, in fact, but by teaching others how to write and how to teach writing.”
Critics have accused some universities of using MFA programs as cash cows. They say the profusion of programs gives false hope to low-talent students. Some even wonder if we should teach creative writing. Aren’t great writers born, not made?
Of course, you can’t teach people to have great ideas. But most people agree that a good creative writing program, just like MFA programs in art and music, can hone skills.
McGurl, author of “The Program Era,” argues that the impact of creative writing programs goes beyond nurturing new writers. They’ve also made academia the nation’s biggest literary patron – by creating teaching jobs that give writers steady incomes.
Our literature has benefited, he believes, because that income gives writers the freedom to write what they want, not necessarily what will sell.
Pushed to write
North Carolina has five MFA programs, and competition for slots is fierce.
Warren Wilson’s acceptance rate is about 10 percent. For its fall class, UNCG recently chose nine students from nearly 300 applicants. Queens’ program is the largest, with 80 to 90 students, most from outside the Carolinas. Its acceptance rate is 30 percent to 35 percent. That means it rejects twice as many students as it accepts.
Some people pursue an MFA for the credential, usually required to teach college-level writing. Most simply want to become better writers.
Many graduates say they acquire better writing skills. Some get teaching jobs, and some get published.
Peter Reinhart, a baking instructor at Johnson & Wales University, was an established cookbook author who wanted to become a better writer when he began Queens’ program.
“I just inhaled everything they had to offer,” he says. “I couldn’t wait for the residencies.”
Like Reinhart, Queens alumna Susan Woodring says the program gave her what she wanted.
“I don’t know any other way,” she says, “that I could have learned to read and evaluate my own work.”
Woodring, who lives in Drexel, is one of many published alumni. She’s the author of a novel and book of short stories, and in 2012, St. Martin’s Press will publish “Goliath,” a novel about an N.C. town losing its furniture industry.
She had written fiction for years when she attended her first Queens workshop in 2001. She listened nervously as classmates dissected the short story she submitted for critique.
The program, she says, required discipline.
“You knew you had a deadline every other month, and had to turn so many pages in, and you knew people would be talking about it,” she says. “So it pushed you to do your best.”
Discipline and community are among the most valuable parts of an MFA program, says novelist Jill McCorkle, who teaches in N.C. State University’s program.
“It’s kind of like the way I say I’m going to do yoga at home,” she says. “I don’t. I need to go to a class.”
We seek story
Clearly, the MFA isn’t the most practical degree.
Even Poets & Writers magazine describes it as a “nonprofessional, largely unmarketable degree whose value lies in the time it gives one to write.”
But consider a recent survey. It found that 81 percent of Americans thought they had a book in them. Lots of people want to be writers.
“We’re living in an age when people’s desire and ability to express their own personal truth is stronger than it has probably ever been,” says Philip Gerard, chair of UNC Wilmington’s Creative Writing Department.
Think about blogs and Facebook posts, self-published e-novels and tweets. Think about reality television, where tales of housewives and hoarders become can’t-miss viewing.
“The idea of story is so central to the idea of being a human being,” Woodring says. “We seek story constantly.”
Demand exists. MFA programs are filling it.
“Self-expression,” Leebron says, “is a very American thing.”
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