Monday, December 29, 2008

When you're broke--and even when you're not--buying books used looks like the smart thing to do. But it's hurting publishing, book stores, and the author, none of whom get their fair cut: click here.

And if you plan to be a published writer someday, then you need to feed the business that you want to feed you.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Want to know why you should read Richard Yates? Click here.

(I highly recommend The Easter Parade, Eleven Kinds of Loneliness, and Revolutionary Road.)

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Obama picks a poet: click here.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Friday, December 19, 2008

Amen!

"Can I get up on a little bit of a pedestal for a minute? This is something I say at every writers conference I attend. If you're a writer and you want to be published, go out and buy a hardcover debut novel and short-story collection tomorrow. And next month, do it again. Buy one every freaking month. Because if you want to be published and you want people to buy your books, and you are not out there supporting fiction and debut authors, you are the biggest hypocrite in the world and I don't know who you think you are."

--to read the rest of this article, click here.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Still working on that holiday shopping? Need some gift suggestions? Click here.
Minnesota Reads: Click here.

Friday, December 12, 2008

A Writer's Life: Click here.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Atlantic's Best Books of 2008: click here.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Have you ever been rejected? Click here.
For Merriam-Webster's Word of the Year for 2008, click here.

Friday, November 28, 2008

To read a new story by Melanie Rae Thon, click here.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

A freeze at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt: click here.

Mixed news: click here.

Writing outside the box: click here.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

National Book Award Winners announced: click here.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Do you want to know about the business of publishing a book? Click here, then read the archives from start to finish.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

An interview with the author of a novel I've loved since I was a teenager: click here.
For undergrads who want the real deal on MFA programs, this blog is the best. Click here to learn anything and everything you've ever wanted to know.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

For Publisher's Weekly Best of 2008, click here.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

The time of Best Of lists is upon us. For Amazon's, click here.

Friday, November 7, 2008

“Someday there will be a story you want to tell for no better reason than because it matters to you more than any other…You’ll stop looking over your shoulder to make sure you are keeping everyone happy, and you’ll simply write what’s real and true…That’s when you’ll finally produce the work you’re really capable of.”
J.D. Salinger to Joyce Maynard

Thursday, November 6, 2008

“Insofar as you are able, I would ask you, then, to be wary of the distractions of fame and the blandishments of commerce. I would ask you to be tireless and devoted in the courtship of your own imagination. I would ask you to nurture your friendships, your alligence with other human beings. If you feel grief or rage or love, give it a shape so that we as readers will know what you mean, and be able to better understand, better cope with the landscapes of our own grief and rage and love….Write until your mind goes blank. Write until your heart is nothing but ashes. Please. ” (emphasis mine.)
--Barry Lopez

To read the rest of his excellent speech at the recent Whiting Foundation Awards, click here.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

For another guy who praised directness, click here.
To my students,



GO VOTE!



from your professor

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

For conflict, click here.

Monday, October 27, 2008

For the latest Tamarack Award story, click here.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Need to brush up on terms? Click here.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

To hear Nabokov's voice: click here.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

From Powell's interview with George Saunders:

Dave: Give one example of something you've found that works in the classroom.

Saunders: The last grad class I taught at Syracuse, we committed to having no outside reading. We would read one story in class and talk about it for three hours. We also committed to keeping away from an academic approach. That was really interesting.

I would try not to read them beforehand. I had read them at some point but not recently. We would say, "Let's treat reading as truly experiential. Let's actually talk about what happened as we read it. If we can." Almost meditation-reading, where you're watching your own mind. And be comfortable being quiet.

It was amazing how deep you could get into stories that way, when you didn't have the option of bringing up four other stories. You'd read a six-page Salinger story in class, and you had to talk about just that one. And then when someone would make an observation, you'd have time to say, "Let's go back and see if that's true. Where exactly did you start to not like Character B?" And you could track it down, literally, to mid-phrase, which is really empowering. You realize that the emotional effects you were experiencing didn't happen out of the blue. You could literally trace them to lines in the text.

Also, you'd see where different young writers would be totally divided about the way a piece was working, and how that mapped their aesthetic values. As someone who wasn't really educated in English Literature, I have that insecurity about going into a class and having nothing to say. This worked against that. Fine, I'm going to go in and we're going to read this son of a bitch. If we have nothing to say, we won't say anything. And if we start to say something full of shit we'll stop.

That was a really productive class. You see that all the stuff you'd normally talk about, character and theme and all that, it only comes at you a line at a time. It's empowering to see that you don't have to have a big theory about theme or character; you just have to keep the reader going from line to line. Literally, when the mind shuts down, you've lost them, you're done. But if you can keep that alive, you're a storyteller, and all those other things will slot in.

Monday, October 20, 2008

More on the business of publishing: click here.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Gloomy predictions: click here.

Interesting!: click here.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Monday, October 13, 2008

First, click here.

Then, tell me: what's the best reading you've ever been to?

My favorite was a Good Thunder, Fall 05. The poet Steve Gehrke read from his collection The Pyramids of Malpighi. I showed up for the reading in the midst of a panic attack, but Gehrke's poems are so amazing, and he gave such a good reading that I forgot all about my panic attack and instead listened, hypnotized.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Do you love short stories? Click here.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

William Faulkner gives a reading: click here.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Dear Students,

I'll never tell you who to vote for, but I will tell you to get out there and vote.
Have questions about registering, absentee ballots, and if where you vote has an impact on your financial aid? Learn your rights. Click here.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

An interview with Michael Martone: click here.

A sample from the interview, another of the 100,937 reasons I think Martone is a brilliant, brilliant guy. (He's also incredibly nice.)

***

Related to the first question, what do you make of the semi-recent memoir craze and the more recent false-memoir craze? Do you read memoirs? Do you have any observations about why these are so popular? What do you think the value of memoir is? Is there such thing as a true memoir? (Or are they examples of another kind of slippage?) (There seemed to be a lot of memoir in Racing in Place, and combined with Michael Martone, the two books formed not a definitive memoir but a sort of jazz-like theme/variation version of a “standard” memoir.)

MM:
I do think of Racing in Place as a collection of experimental memoirs. The memoir’s problem is that it needs to find, to narrate a kind of death in order to make sense of life. I think of it, the constructed death, as a parentheses, an artificial parentheses, that the writer must draw around a life, or this part of life, to be able to stand outside of it and see it for what it is and isn’t. Hard to make sense of a train wreck that is still happening. So you have “childhood” as such a closed period. “My junior year abroad” is another. “My marriage”or “my divorce”—all this works I think. Memoir for me is always about also the act of memory, the drama of remembering. So, I guess, that is why there is such anxiety about the veracity of the memoir. If it is a function of memory, and it seeks to make sense of the fluid dynamics of a life still being lived, how could we expect it to be accurate in any real sense? The memory is a flawed instrument for record, as we know. Even though other residue of event, evidence of happening such as letters, news reports, photographs, tape recordings, witness statements, etc., can be faked, we certainly trust those more than our own memories. I guess I think the memoir’s real purpose is for the enactment of remembering, the performance of that. That is, I am not so much interested in event per se but in watching the individual writer write and, in writing, remember. My role as audience for the memoir is that of priest confessor or Freudian analyst. I like to attend as the writer surprises him or herself with what gets dredged up once one decides to remember. Freud was a great fiction writer. I would love to have invented the character named the Unconscious. What an invention! This fiction makes memoir possible. It is the drama acted out between a consciousness and its unconscious. How thrilling that so much of what you thought you were is hidden from you. We sit and watch that other side, that deeply buried other you come out and play. I guess in that sense it is all fiction, a staged drama of many possible and simultaneously running lives in one, none of them the “real”life, all of them, however, real.

***

How has teaching creative writing affected your own writing? In your students’ writing, do you notice trends or areas of interest that morph over time?

MM: I teach different kinds of creative writing courses. Forms courses and workshops. In both, I don’t pretend to know anything. I am not that kind of master teacher where I know something and transfer that knowledge to students who don’t know. Instead, I guess, I teach curiosity. I try to create in the classroom interesting environments and then, with the students, discover things that, perhaps, we already knew or know but didn’t know we knew. I think my other job as a teacher is really to resist the bias bred into the institution where I am housed. A university is by nature a critical institution. I want to resist having my students learn to be critics. Instead I want to inculcate the habit of writing and in doing, so I think one has to defuse the tendency to judge quality of work, to even resist asking the question, “Does this work?” Students come to me ready to think of the classroom as a place of battle. They have already been naturalized into thinking that a workshop, say, is a simulation of the way the world works. You write something and an editor or reviewer beats up on it. So students have come to think of workshops as a way to create calluses, to out-think the critics. Instead, I like to invite them to remember the intrinsic pleasures of the business, the act itself of sitting down and writing, not the ritual of self-sacrifice. My students’ writing have, for a long time, been quite timid and, as they love to say, traditional. The many classes many of them have taken have led them into an aesthetic that is by design static. The realistic narrative—once a highly experimental form—has produced a series of stylistic rules that can be taught and my students have learned—don’t use exclamation marks, underlining, or any graphic measure to intensify emotion, for example. Those kinds of rules are set in stone. What is to vary realistic story to story is the content, the local, the details. You can in that kind of aesthetic do things wrong. And the critical institution we work within loves that kind of knowledge. I have seen recently more and more students attempting fiction outside that particular drama. More interest right now in the fantastic, irreal, the magical. Also a growing interest in more things lyrical, meditative, associative, and less linear.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

If you care about writing, if you care about reading, click here.

Cathy Day, author of The Circus in Winter and Comeback Season offered up smart, insightful, well-said thoughts and ideas on this:

"Here’s the problem—as I see it. We employ writers to teach people to write stories at a historical moment when the channels to disseminate those stories are becoming more narrow, if not closing altogether. Seemingly more people than ever want to write and be published, but nobody’s buying—not the publishing houses, not the American public. And so, we have a log jam. A glut of stories, and there’s no where for them to go. I worry about this a lot—not just as a writer but as a teacher of writing. But rather than bitch and moan about it, here are some ideas I have about simple things we can all do to help.

• Subscribe to the print literary magazines. If every person desperate to publish in the Whatever Review would buy a one year’s subscription, then maybe the magazine could afford to come out more than once a year, could afford to pay its writers in more than contributor’s copies, and could hire a staff to tackle the ever-mounting slush pile. You don’t even have to read the Whatever Review if you don’t have time. But don’t throw it away. Leave it somewhere. Give it to a student or friend.

• Support online literary journals in whatever way you can. Read them. Promote them. Submit to them. Give them money or help direct them to people who will give them money.

• If you can afford it, buy books when they are published, in hardcover. Don’t check them out of the library. Don’t wait until they come out in paperback—they might not because of low hardcover sales.

• If you teach, adopt books for your courses as much as you can. Don’t just Xerox one story. I know we want to save our students some money, but don’t cut off your nose to spite your face.

• We need to start teach non-writers how (and why) to be consumers of fiction. Show them where they can find books and stories, and most importantly, teach them to love stories enough to want to continue to buy them after they are no longer required to.

• When someone on TV (say, Oprah or Jon Stewart) or someone who has a national audience (say, Stephen King) celebrates a book, interviews an author, does anything to put a book on the national radar, we must celebrate that rather than immediately assume the book must be middle-brow drivel or that the author is a publicity seeking hack. In other words, we are very bunged up legitimacy, and I think we’re going to have to get over that if we are to survive.

• We need to start thinking outside the box. What if stories could be downloaded and listened to, like songs on iTunes? What if there was a Short Stories station on XM or Sirius radio? What if someone reading a short story became that week’s viral video? What if you went to Barnes & Noble and stood in the literature section and turned facing out every short story collection? What if you took every sadly-neglected book you absolutely love off the Siberia shelves and piled them in the high-traffic areas of the store?

• Instead of peppering editors with questions that all ask the same thing (What’s the secret to getting published?) we should just thank them for publishing at all and think of ways to stop clogging up their transoms. We can’t ask: how do we save books? We need to ask: how can we help to create a populace that devotes time and resources to reading them? We can’t ask: how do we save print culture? We need to ask: how is print culture already evolving and how do we make sure we evolve with it? And I ask myself: Can creative writing programs work simultaneously to both protect our literary traditions and lead us into the literary future? How can we work—individually and collectively—to create a world in which writing can flourish?

P.S. I apologize to all my poet friends for being story-biased here."

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

In memoriam.

It was terrible to learn of his death.

Gourmet magazine has a link to David Foster Wallace's "Consider the Lobster"; Harper's opened links to 11 of his essays (my favorite is "Ticket to the Fair"): click here.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Want to tell everyone what you think? If you're under age 30, click here.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Wondering how to define nonfiction? So are these guys: Click here.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Advice from Patricia Henley: click here.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Accord to Gender Guesser, I write like a guy, a "weak male"--the "weak emphasis could indicate European." It's a pretty fun distraction: you paste in your own writing (I used a passage from ISYFTW), then receive an analysis that takes a stab at whether you're a man or a woman. To check it out, click here.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Want to write for kids? Better watch your p's and q's: Click here.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Thursday, August 21, 2008

English 343 Undergraduate Fiction Workshop

Professor Diana Joseph Office Hours: M 2-3; T 5-6
Interns: Tom Flynn E-hours: TH&F 9-12
Lesley Arimah Office: Armstrong Hall 201L
diana.joseph@mnsu.edu Phone: 389-5144
www.dianajosephsyllabi.blogspot.com

English 343: Fiction Workshop
This is an introductory-level fiction workshop. Through close reading of literary short fiction, we will study elements of craft. Through a variety of writing exercises and prompts, we will practice our craft.

Required Texts and Materials
Martone, Michael. The Scribner Anthology of Contemporary Short Fiction. (Please make sure you have the FIRST edition.)
Money for copying expenses

Assignments
1. Story Journal=25%
You will regularly receive writing exercises and prompts. You’ll begin many of these in class while some will be assigned for outside of class. These exercises must be typed and double-spaced and placed in a folder. Keep track of your work—when I collect your story journal, I’ll check for all exercises and prompts assigned throughout the semester. I’ll assess according to the strength of the work; evidence of your effort; and originality.

The full length story you’ll workshop toward the end of the semester will come from the entries in your story journal. In the meantime, we’ll workshop individual exercises as a way to jumpstart your writing process, generate ideas, and help you develop a full length story.

2. Two Self-Assessment Essays, each=25%
I don’t grade creative work; I do grade your ability to explain what you’ve come to understand about craft. Twice during the semester – once around mid-terms, and once by Finals Day – you will turn in a reflective narrative essay. In the first Self-Assessment, you’ll describe:
a. what you’ve learned about crafting fiction from the assigned readings
b. what you’ve learned about crafting fiction from the workshops
c. what participating in workshops – both as a reader and as a writer – has taught you about writing
d. any other aspects of the course that have guided or enhanced your understanding of fiction

In the second Self-Assessment, you’ll justify the craft choices you made in your full length story.

3. Participation=25%
I define participation as your active engagement with the class, demonstrated through evidence of preparedness, and thoughtful contributions to discussions and workshops. Each of you will offer an assessment of your peers’ workshop responses; I will take this into consideration when determining participation grades.

Workshop Philosophy
We’ll workshop your exercises, with an interest in what your piece is about, and in how it’s told, and how its form reinforces its content. If writing is a series of choices, then what are the effects of these particular choices? If there’s an infinite number of ways to say something, then why are you saying it in this particular way? Why use first person instead of third person limited? What’s the effect of present tense over past? What are the story’s significant images and how do they create meaning? This workshop centers on describing and interpreting your use of the elements of fiction—and describing how each works with the rest to create unity, a singular effect, a vivid and continuous dream.

As a workshop participant, you must read the drafts up for workshop. You’re expected to write feedback, positive and critical, on the manuscript(s), and you should have suggestions in mind for class discussion. Expect to be called on.

Finally, workshops are not about egos – fragile, super, or otherwise. Workshops are not about being defensive, nor are they about hurling insults. Workshops are about the text, locating its strengths and weaknesses, and finding ways to make it stronger. Be critical, but be constructive.

Class Policies
*Each absence over 3 will lower your final grade by 10%. I do not distinguish between excused and unexcused absence.
*Participation is 25% of your final grade; if you’re not here, you can’t participate. If you fail to turn in workshop material on the day it’s due, you lose your workshop spot—and participation credit. If you don’t come to class on the day of your workshop, it won’t be rescheduled—andyou lose participation credit. Frequent tardiness will affect your participation grade.
*All coursework must be completed to pass this class.
*Writing done for this class is considered public text.
*Assignments are tentative and subject to change.
*Academic dishonesty will not be tolerated; it may result in failure of the class.
*I’m available for help outside class during my office hours or by appointment.




Schedule of Events

Monday, 8/25 First day of class

Wednesday, 8/27 “Sarah Cole,” 53

Monday, 9/1 No class—Labor Day

Wednesday, 9/3 “White Angel,” 229

Monday, 9/8 “Woman Hollering Creek,” 219

Wednesday, 9/15 “The Man Who Knew Belle Starr,” 112
PROMPTS PACKET DUE

9/17-10/8 Workshop

Monday, 10/13 “Gryphon,” 131

Wednesday, 10/15 “Wild Horses,” 96

Monday, 10/20 “Fiesta, 1980,” 244

Wednesday, 10/22 “In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson Is Buried,” 343
SELF-ASSESSMENT #1 DUE

Monday, 10/27 “First, Body,” 595

Monday, 10/29 “Strays,” 542
PROMPTS PACKET DUE

11/3-11/24 Workshop

11/10 STORY JOURNAL DUE

11/26 FULL LENGTH STORIES DUE

11/26-12/3 Small Group Workshops

Finals Day—Tuesday, 12/9 10:15 SELF-ASSESSMENT #2 DUE

Name_______________________________________________________________________________________
On a scale of 1-10, rate the time/effort you estimate each student put into your workshop critique. Use the back of this sheet for further comments, if necessary.


Andrews, Aaron P

Baden, Kaitlyn E

Bloomquist, Cynthia A

Brito, Rafael

Campbell, Sam J

Carda, Kari A

Cassidy, Ryan E

DeJoy, Jeremy P

Dinsmore, Sharon M

Dukart, Katherine M

Eiden, Holly A

Guffey, Brendan R

Harder, Chris

Mielke, Peter D

Niederkorn, Ashley J

Peterson, Jeffrey A

Rezmerski, Hilary R

Seipel, Nicholas J

Swiontkowski, Jeffrey N

Tarr, Tricia N

Thompson, Tonja N

Monday, August 18, 2008

English 649 Teaching Creative Writing/Fall 2008

Professor Diana Joseph Office Hours: M&W 2-3; T 5-6
English 649 E-Hours: TH&F 9-12
Email: diana.joseph@mnsu.edu Office: Armstrong 201L
www.dianajosephsyllabi.blogspot.com Phone: 389-5144
______________________________________________________________________________

Teaching Creative Writing
This course asks you to explore and consider various approaches to the teaching of creative writing. Discussions of classroom practices and pedagogical theories as well as teaching demonstrations prepare you to plan and develop an introductory-level creative writing course.

Required Texts
Hyde, Lewis. The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World.
Carlson, Ron. Ron Carlson Writes a Story.
Baxter, Charles. Burning Down the House.
Dobyns, Stephen. Best Words, Best Order.
Hugo, Richard. The Triggering Town.
You will also need to select a short story you love from any edition of Best American Short Stories 1995-present, and a poem from any edition of Best American Poetry 1995-present. You'll make enough photocopies of these works for everyone in the class.

Assignments
1. Participation=20%
Participation is not merely showing up for class—that’s called attendance. I define participation as your active engagement with the class demonstrated through thoughtful contributions to class discussion, evidence of preparedness, and helpful feedback during presentations.

2. Teaching Demonstration for Fiction=20%
Present a 45 minute lesson on a story of your choosing from Best American Short Stories. The class will take notes, pose questions, and make observations about your lesson; you will have a short meeting with me to discuss your teaching. Due on the assigned day.

3. Teaching Demonstration for Poetry=20%
Present a 45 minute lesson on a poem of your choosing from Best American Poetry; the class will take notes, pose questions, and make observations about your lesson; you will have a short meeting with me to discussion your teaching. Due on the assigned day.

4. Dilemma Responses=20%
Write a one-page, single-spaced response to the assigned “dilemma.” While these papers are informal, they are meant to provoke thoughtful conversations about various issues unique to teaching creative writing. Provide serious, insightful responses; go beyond superficial first reactions. Outside research is strongly recommended. Due on the assigned day.

5. Syllabus=10%
Write a mock syllabus for an Introduction to Creative Writing course. This syllabus should contain detailed information including but not limited to a course description, readings, assignments, grading procedures, workshop procedures, class policies, and a schedule of events. Due on Final’s Day.

6. Teaching philosophy=10%
Describe your teaching philosophy for an Introduction to Creative Writing course; this essay should be no longer than one page, single-spaced. Due on Final’s Day.

Class Policies
Do the work; volunteer for presentations. Missing more than one class results in dropping a full letter grade. Show up on time. If you’re not here, you can’t participate. No handwritten work will be accepted. All coursework must be completed to pass this class. Late work will not be accepted. Assignments are tentative and subject to change.



Schedule of Events

Monday, August 25 Can creative writing be taught?

Monday, September 1—LABOR DAY

Monday, September 8 Setting up a workshop.
Baxter

Monday, September 15 “Isn’t it just your opinion?”
Carlson

Monday, September 22 Grading creative work.
Dobyns

Monday , September 29 Balancing lecture/discussion/in-class writing
Hugo

Monday, October 6 BASS presentations

Monday, October 13 BASS presentations

Monday, October 20 BASS presentations

Monday, October 27 BASS presentations

Monday, November 3 BAP Presentations

Monday, November 10 BAP Presentations

Monday, November 17 BAP Presentations

Monday, November 24 BAP Presentations

Monday, December 1 Lewis Hyde

Finals Day Your Syllabi/Teaching philosophy

Friday, August 15, 2008

English 640 Form and Technique/Fall 2008

Professor Diana Joseph Office Hours: M&W 2-3; T 5-6
English 640 E-Hours: TH&F 9-12
Email: diana.joseph@mnsu.edu Office: Armstrong 201L
www.dianajosephsyllabi.blogspot.com Phone: 389-5144
______________________________________________________________________________

Form and Technique in Prose
This course examines the technical underpinnings of fiction and nonfiction genres. Through lectures, readings, class discussions, imitation exercises, and workshops, we will study the relationship between form and content. Specifically, we’ll pay attention to issues of craft including point of view, characterization, setting/place, tone, style, imagery, structure, plot and theme.

Required Texts
Alexie, Sherman. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.

Crews, Harry. Classic Crews: A Harry Crews Reader.

Davis, Amanda. Wonder When You’ll Miss Me.

Ferris, Joshua. And Then We Came to the End.

Grealy, Lucy. Autobiography of a Face.
Martone, Michael. The Scribner Anthology of Contemporary Short Fiction. (Please make sure you have the FIRST edition.)
Patchett, Ann. Truth and Beauty.

Sheffield, Rob. Love is a Mix Tape.

Assignments

1. Craft Analysis=25%
Over the semester, you’ll write seven craft analyses; which seven texts you write about is up to you.

This assignment requires close analysis of how a text is crafted, but the technique studied is up to you. You might want to examine the release of information in a story’s opening paragraph; how a character is created through action or dialogue; how to write a long passage of indirect dialogue; why a writer might opt to write unquoted dialogue; how to establish setting through sound; or through weather; or through geology. You might want to examine how a writer locates a story in time by using a clock; or a calendar; or the seasons; or how a writer manages quick shifts in time; or uses white space. Point of view, establishing psychic distance, creating a voice, moving into or out of a dramatic moment: each requires the writer understand his or her craft.

For each book or story we read, 1.) Decide what technique you want to examine more closely. 2.) Type a specific passage from the text that shows that specific technique in motion. This passage can be as short as a single paragraph or as long as several paragraphs. 3.) Write a short (no longer than ONE single-spaced page) analysis of what the writer achieved and how he/she achieved it.

Bring 2 copies of your passage/analysis to class (one for me, and one to put on the document camera) for an informal presentation.

2. Imitations=25%
Over the semester, you’ll write seven imitations; which seven texts you imitate is up to you.

1.) Type a short passage from the text—be sure to choose a passage that intrigues you, that you think you can learn something from; 2.) write a close imitation of that passage, paying close attention to the author’s voice, tone, style, level of diction, sentence length and sentence structure, but inserting your own content. Bring 2 copies to class (one for me, and one to put on the document camera) for an informal mini-workshop.

3. Participation=25%
Participation in not merely showing up for class—that’s called attendance. I define participation as your active engagement with the class demonstrated through thoughtful contributions to class discussion, evidence of preparedness, and helpful feedback during workshops.

4. Form project=25%
What are all the forms a piece of writing can take? There are books and magazines, of course, and broadsides and chapbooks, but there are also take-out menus and checkbook ledgers, classified ads and vanity license plates. Your assignment is to experiment with form, by creating a text whose form reinforces its content in artistic and interesting ways. My only limitation is the text itself must be something I can hold in my hand. Make a copy for each member of our class.

Class Policies
Do the work; volunteer for presentations. Missing more than one class results in dropping a full letter grade. Show up on time. If you’re not here, you can’t participate. No handwritten work will be accepted. All coursework must be completed to pass this class. Late work will not be accepted. Assignments are tentative and subject to change.




Schedule of Events

Tuesday, September 2 Sheffield

Tuesday, September 9 Patchett

Tuesday, September 16 Crews

Tuesday, September 23 Grealy

Tuesday, September 30 Banks, p. 53

Tuesday, October 7 Davis

Tuesday, October 14 Sontag, p. 569

Tuesday, October 21 Alexie

Tuesday, October 28 Proulx, p. 521

Tuesday, November 4 Ferris

Tuesday, November 11 Thon, p. 595

Tuesday, November 18 Cunningham, p. 229

Tuesday, November 25 Braverman, p. 167

Tuesday, December 2 Hansen, p. 338, Dybek, p. 256

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Do you think essays are boring? Click here.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Do you ever get bored? Click here.

Friday, August 8, 2008

The title story from Paula K. Gover's 1995 collection WHITE BOYS AND RIVER GIRLS: click here.

To read the NY Times review of the collection, click here.

I read this book when it first came out, loved it, then forgot about it until today until I came across it on my shelf. Reading the title story again, it was even better than I remembered.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

If you've ever read the dictionary for fun, click here.
The importance of place: click here.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Lit mag stats: click here.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Yep, what Dan Wickett said: click here.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

To check out literary tattoos, click here.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

To read an interesting piece in the Atlantic Monthly about MFA programs, click here.
To read an interview with the goddess writer Lorrie Moore, click here.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

On writing YA: click here.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Do you like funny? Click here.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Yes, I am the sort of person who likes this.

Actually, I love it.




I bet I watch it 17 million times before its magic wears off.


To read a piece the NY Times did about it, click here.
Writers, gender and nonfiction: click here.

Friday, July 4, 2008

A Poets and Writers article about one of my top three* favorite writers: Andre Dubus.


And another.

(the other two are Kundera and O'Connor, of course!)
"The one thing that every aspiring novelist and story writer should know is that it's really about personal taste. So much depends on taste. People always talk about the pros and cons of creative writing programs. It's a little clich├ęd now to say that there's an identifiable "writing program style," but there kind of is. It can be solipsistic, it can be dialogue based. I do think that some of the work coming out of those programs is being published too early. I find that the best writers, the most ambitious writers, are the greatest readers, and not just of contemporary fiction, but of classic fiction."

To read more from the Poets and Writers interview with editor Janet Silver, click here.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Entertainment Weekly's list of the Top 100 books published between 1983 and 2008: click here.
Junot Diaz on GTA IV: click here.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Friday, June 27, 2008

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Reading List for English 649/Teaching Creative Writing

Hyde, Lewis. The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World. Vintage (25th Anniversary Edition) 0307279502

Carlson, Ron. Ron Carlson Writes a Story. Graywolf. 1555974775

Baxter, Charles. Burning Down the House. Graywolf. 1555975089

Dobyns, Stephen. Best Words, Best Order. Palgrave Macmillan. 031217229X

Hugo, Richard. The Triggering Town. W.W. Northon. 0393309339

***************************************

You will also need to select a short story you love from any edition of Best American Short Stories 1995-present, and a poem from any edition of Best American Poetry 1995-present. You'll make enough photocopies of these works for everyone in the class. (I don't have a final head count yet.)



UPDATED Reading List for English 640

This is the FINAL version of the reading list:

Sheffield, Rob. Love is a Mix Tape. Three Rivers Press. 1400083036

Alexie, Sherman. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. 0316013692

Ferris, Joshua. And Then We Came to the End. Back Bay Books. 031601639X

Crews, Harry. Classic Crews: A Harry Crews Reader. Touchstone. 0671865277

Davis, Amanda. Wonder When You’ll Miss Me. Harper Perennial. 0060534265

Grealy, Lucy. Autobiography of a Face. Harper Collins Perennial. 006097673X

Patchett, Ann. Truth and Beauty. Harper Perennial. 0060572159

The Scribner Anthology of Contemporary Short Fiction edited by Michael Martone and Lex Williford, the FIRST edition. ISBN: 0684857960

George Carlin on Arthur Keostler:

"That was another impact. I was doing nightclub comedy down in the Village. I was down there in ’63, ’64, and my friend told me about Arthur Koestler’s book about the act of creation and it had a section on humor.

He was talking about the creative process. There was an illustration on the panel that showed a triptych. On the left panel, there were these names of artistic pursuits. There were poets, painter, composer. And one of them was jester. I was only interested in the jester. What he said about each of these, he said these individuals on the left hand side can transcend the panels of the triptych by creative growth.

The jester makes jokes, he’s funny, he makes fun, he ridicules. But if his ridicules are based on sound ideas and thinking, then he can proceed to the second panel, which is the thinker—he called it the philosopher. The jester becomes the philosopher, and if he does these things with dazzling language that we marvel at, then he becomes a poet too. Then the jester can be a thinking jester who thinks poetically.

I didn’t see that and say, 'That’s what I am going to do,' but I guess it made an impression on me. I was never afraid to grow and change. I never was afraid of reversing my field on people, and I just think I’ve become a touch of each of those second and third descriptions and I definitely have a gift for language that is rhythmic and attractive to the ear, and I have interesting imagery which I guess is a poetic touch. And I like the fact that most of my things are based on solid ideas, things I’ve thought about in a new way for me, things for which I have said 'Well, what about this? Suppose you look at it this way? How about that?' And then you heighten and exaggerate that, because comedy’s all about heightening and exaggerating. And anyways I guess I was impressed that there was another thing from my early life that probably at least influenced me to some level."

Carlin on Being a Writer:

"It’s my primary delivery system. I used to, in my early years, when I would do an interview I was always proud to tell the writer that I wrote my own material, if they asked me or even if they didn’t. I wanted to be distinguished from the ones who didn’t do that, and I was proud of it, so I would say I am a comedian who writes his own material. And then at some point, I discovered what I really had become was a writer who performs his own material.

This was a really important distinction for me to notice—it happened way after the fact. I’m a writer. I think of myself as a writer. First of all, I’m an entertainer; I’m in the vulgar arts. I travel around talking and saying things and entertaining, but it’s in service of my art and it’s informed by that. So I get to write for two destinations. The writing is what gives me the joy, especially editing myself for the page, and getting something ready to show to the editors, and then to have a first draft and get it back and work to fix it, I love reworking, I love editing, love love love revision, revision, revision, revision."


For the rest of this excellent interview with George Carlin, click here.



Saturday, June 21, 2008

Summer 2008 English 101

Our Class Picture!

(Thank you Saerom and Hyeju!)

Monday, June 9, 2008

Exemplification Paper Criteria

1. Does the writer narrow his/her topic to a single, specific and clear focus?

2. Does the writer provide an in-depth look at his/her topic?

3. Does the writer incorporate sources that are credible, timely, and relevant?

4. Does the writer define terms for the lay person audience?

5. Does the writer properly cite sources?

6. Does the writer rely too heavily on any one source?

7. Does the writer paraphrase in a clear and accurate way?

8. Does the introduction hook the reader?

9. Does the essay have a logical organization?

10. Does the writer vary sentence length/structure?

11. Is the text free from distracting surface errors?

12. Is the text readable prose?

13. Does the conclusion trail off or end abruptly?

14. Does the writer maintain a consistent tone?

Thursday, June 5, 2008

On Trusting Yourself

"The Sportswriter was released as a paperback original by Vintage Contemporaries in 1986 and was named one of the five best books of the year by Time magazine. A PEN/Faulkner finalist, it sold over sixty thousand copies (total sales have tripled since then, and Knopf has recently reissued the novel in hardcover for the first time). Indeed, it was the breakthrough book Ford needed, but early on, he almost didn’t finish it. A well-known, flamboyant editor at Knopf had seen the first one hundred fifty manuscript pages and said Ford should forget about the novel. “He told me I should put those pages in the drawer and go back to writing what I knew best. I guess he meant the South, or maybe he meant stories set in Montana. Anyway, he was wrong. I spent six months after our conversation fretting and brooding about his ‘advice,’ and not writing. But finally I just said, Well, this is the book I’ve chosen to write. I don’t actually harbor any bad feelings about that. He had the right to be wrong, and he thought he was giving me good advice. You just can never tell, though, how a young writer will develop.”"

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Reading List for English 640/Graduate Form and Technique for FALL 2009

Sheffield, Rob. Love is a Mix Tape. Three Rivers Press. 1400083036

Alexie, Sherman. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. 0316013692

Ferris, Joshua. And Then We Came to the End. Back Bay Books. 031601639X

Crews, Harry. Classic Crews: A Harry Crews Reader. Touchstone. 0671865277

Davis, Amanda. Wonder When You’ll Miss Me. Harper Perennial. 0060534265

Grealy, Lucy. Autobiography of a Face. Harper Collins Perennial. 006097673X

Patchett, Ann. Truth and Beauty. Harper Perennial. 0060572159

The Scribner Anthology of Contemporary Short Fiction edited by Michael Martone and Lex Williford, the FIRST edition. ISBN: 0684857960

Friday, May 30, 2008

I stole this from Tom Flynn's blog. It's well worth watching.


IRA GLASS ON STORY TELLING
(in 4 parts)



Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Please rate your workshop peers on a scale of 1-10; base your scores on evidence of effort and quality of comments.

Astedt, Katelyn J

Begeman, Laura B

Eccles, Erin L

Franz, Tiffany M

Friesen, Jasmine L

Henkelman, Ellen M

Hoffman, Christopher P

Kang, Saerom

Kim, Hyeju

Kosek, Sabrina J

Kratochwill, Chad W

Miller, Jeremiah J

Randall, Jutin A

Schelling, Bronson A

Schermerhorn, Lucille R

Tohal, Jacquelin A

Clayton, James

Abdulla, Abeleraziz

Friday, May 23, 2008

Personal Narrative

The following questions will serve as criteria for your personal narrative essay. You will choose the topic of your paper from one of four in-class prompts, based on the assigned reading. Essays should be 5–7 doubled-spaced, typed pages.

· Does the writer narrate a single event, or a series of events? How does the writer handle the use of anecdote?

· Does the writer use concrete, specific details and description?

· Does the writer make a point?

· Does the writer reflect (i.e. is the question, “so what?” answered)?

· Do all of the examples (details, images, word choice) point to the essay’s primary focus?

· Does the introduction hook the reader?

· Does the conclusion end abruptly or trail off?

· Does the essay have a logical organization?

· Are the transitions from paragraph to paragraph clear?

· Does the writer maintain a consistent tone?

· Is the level of diction appropriate for the audience, the ethos, and the essay’s point?

· Is the prose readable?

· Does the writer use correct grammar/mechanics?

· Does the writer vary sentence length and structure?

· Is the text free from distracting surface errors?

Monday, May 19, 2008

English 101-Composition Syllabus, Summer 2008

Professor Diana Joseph Office: Armstrong 201L

Interns: Dan DeWolf Office Hours: MW 12:30-1:30

Kaitlyn Flynn E-Office Hours: TTH 8:00-10:00

Office Phone: 389-5144

E-mail: diana.joseph@mnsu.edu

On-line Syllabus: dianajosephsyllabi.blogspot.com
______________________________________________________________________________

English 101--Composition

In this class, you’ll practice strategies for generating and developing ideas, locating and analyzing information, analyzing audience, drafting, writing sentences and paragraphs, evaluating drafts, revising, and editing in essays of varying lengths. You’ll also become experienced in computer-assisted writing and research.

The goal of this course is to develop writers who use the English language effectively and who read and write critically. By the end of the class, you will be able to:
a.) demonstrate and practice strategies for idea generation, audience analysis, organization of texts, drafting, evaluation of drafts, revision, and editing;
b.) write papers of varying lengths that demonstrate effective explanation, analysis, and argumentation;
c.) become experienced in computer-assisted writing and research;
d.) locate and evaluate material, using PALS, the Internet, and other sources;
e.) analyze and synthesize source material, making appropriate use of paraphrase, summary, quotation, and citation conventions;
f.) employ syntax and usage appropriate to academic writing and the professional world.

REQUIRED TEXT AND MATERIALS:
Making Sense: A Real-World Rhetorical Reader, ed. Cheryl Glenn, 2nd edition

Approximately $20 for copying expenses

ASSIGNMENTS

1. Essays

You’ll write 3 formal essays:

Personal Narrative = 25% of final grade

Exemplification Essay = 25%

Summary/Response Essay = 25%

Each essay will be generated by a prompt/exercise assigned in class; at least one of these will go through a large group workshop. TWO COPIES of each essay is due in hard copy (not emailed) at the beginning of class on the assigned date. You’ll receive a criteria sheet for each essay that details its specific requirements.

2. Quizzes on assigned readings = 15%

Expect daily quizzes on the assigned readings and occasional quizzes on workshop material. I’ll drop your three lowest scores.

3. Participation = 10%

I define participation as your active engagement with the class, demonstrated through evidence of preparedness, and thoughtful contributions to discussions and workshops. Each of you will offer an assessment of your peers’ workshop responses; I will take this into consideration when determining participation grades.

GRADING SCALE:

A 90-100
B 80-89
C 70-79
D 60-69
F 59-0

WORKSHOP PHILOSOPHY
You’ll receive an assigned day for a large group workshop. As a workshop writer, you need to bring enough copies of your draft for everyone in the class on the day BEFORE your workshop. We’ll read your essay with an interest in what your piece is about, and in how it’s told. As a workshop participant, you must read the drafts up for workshop. You’re expected to write feedback, positive and critical, on the manuscript(s), and you should have suggestions in mind for class discussion. Expect to be called on.

Workshops are a give-and-take experience. If someone fails to provide evidence of reading and analyzing the strengths and weaknesses of your draft, then you’re not obligated to give that individual much feedback, either. But if someone gives a reading that shows time, effort, and thought – whether or not you agree with the comments – then you owe that person equal consideration. Workshops are about giving what you get. Finally, workshops are not about egos – fragile, super, or otherwise. Workshops are not about being defensive, nor are they about hurling insults. Workshops are about the text, locating its strengths and weaknesses, and finding ways to make it stronger. Be critical, but be constructive.

Class Policies
Each absence over 3 will lower your final grade by 5%. I do not distinguish between excused and unexcused absence.
If you fail to turn in workshop material on the day it’s due, you lose your workshop spot—and participation credit. If you don’t come to class on the day of your workshop, it won’t be rescheduled—and you lose participation credit. Frequent tardiness will affect your participation grade.
All coursework must be completed to pass this class.
Writing done for this class is considered public text.
Assignments are tentative and subject to change.
Academic dishonesty will not be tolerated; it may result in failure of the class.
I’m available for help outside class during my office hours or by appointment.

CENTER FOR ACADEMIC SUCCESS:
I encourage you to take advantage of the services offered by MSU’s Center for Academic Success located in Memorial Library. Services include tutoring sessions in nearly all subject areas, including composition.

Center for Academic Success: Memorial Library 125
CAS Phone: 507-389-1791 CAS Website:
http://www.mnsu.edu/cas/

NOTE FOR STUDENTS WITH DISABILITES:
Any student who qualifies for accommodation for any type of disability should see me.

Due Dates

Monday, May 19 First Day of Class

Tuesday, May 20 Orlean, 68

Wednesday, May 21 Sedaris, 157

Thursday, May 22 Soto, 190

Friday, May 23 Drayer, 169

Monday, May 26 Memorial Day

Tuesday, May 27 Personal Narrative Workshop

Wednesday, May 28 Personal Narrative Workshop

Thursday, May 29 Personal Narrative Workshop

Friday, May 30 PERSONAL NARRATIVE DUE

Monday, June 2 Stacey, 237

Tuesday, June 3 Stepp, 310

Wednesday, June 4 Ehrlich, 223

Thursday, June 5 Costas, 383

Friday, June 6 Exemplification Workshop

Monday, June 9 Exemplification Workshop

Tuesday, June 10 Exemplification Workshop

Wednesday, June 11 EXEMPLIFICATION DUE

Thursday, June 12 Banjo, 605

Friday, June 13 Sylves, 509

Monday, June 16 Hatfield, 388

Tuesday, June 17 Summary/ Response Workshop

Wednesday, June 18 Summary/Response Workshop

Thursday, June 19 Summary/Response Workshop

Friday, June 20 SUMMARY/RESPONSE DUE

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Making the study of literature relevant again: click here.
To see pictures from graduation and Cinco de Mayo, click here.

Friday, May 9, 2008

For an article about how memoirs, in spite of scandal, continue to thrive, click here.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

I'd love to be in workshop with her.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

A profile of Richard Ford: click here.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

The Official MySpace Page for I'M SORRY YOU FEEL THAT WAY.
Dzanc Prize 2008

This just in from Dzanc Books:

Dzanc Books is pleased to announce the opening for submissions to the 2008 Dzanc Prize.

The Dzanc Prize provides monetary aid in the sum of $5,000, to a writer of literary fiction. All writers applying for the Dzanc Prize must have a work-in-progress they can submit for review, and present the judges with a Community Service Program they can facilitate. Such programs may include anything deemed "educational" in relation to writing. Examples would include: working with HIV patients to help them write their stories; doing a series of workshops at a drop-in youth homeless center; running writing programs in inner-city schools; or working with older citizens looking to write their memoirs. All community programs under the Dzanc Prize must run for a full year.

Last year, Dzanc Books awarded the inaugural Dzanc Prize to Laura van den Berg. Laura is currently in the middle of a series of workshops she’s running in the New England prison system. At the end of Laura's year, an anthology of work by the prisoners she is teaching will be compiled and published by Dzanc. Laura's story collection, What the World Will Look Like When All of the Water is Gone, will also be published by Dzanc Books in fall 2009.

Eligibility: The author must be working on literary fiction, and the community service must occur within the United States of America. All applicants must demonstrate that they are able to do the community service they are suggesting, and are not otherwise offering would-be ideas for consideration. Judging shall give equal weight to the caliber of writing and the Community Service. .

Timing: The Inaugural Dzanc Prize will be issued for the 2009 calendar year. We will accept submissions from authors from now through November 1, 2008. The announcement of the winning author will be made during the month of December 2008. The announcement will be made via email to the author, on the Dzanc website, as well as sent to trade (P&W, Publisher’s Weekly, Galleycat, etc.).

Submissions: Authors please send your current cv, a description of your Work in Progress, along with a ten page excerpt, and your planned Literary Community Service. These should be sent as MS Word Attachments in an email to prize@dzancbooks.org.

Dzanc Books will be selecting the author who will receive this $5,000 Prize based on a combination of the Work in Progress, and the intended Literary Community Service. It would probably benefit authors who are submitting to become familiar with Dzanc Books and the types of authors we publish, as well as the Educational Programs Dzanc Books sets up and runs.

The winner of the Dzanc Prize will receive a check for $2500 in the month of January 2009. The remaining $2500 will be paid once the Literary Community Service has been completed.

Dzanc Books will make no claims towards the winner and their Work in Progress. If at the time the author has completed the work, they wish to submit it to Dzanc Books, we will be delighted to have a look. Their manuscript will go through the same reading process every other submission goes through.

The submissions for the Dzanc Prize will be reviewed by, and the prize will be awarded by a panel of Steve Gillis, Dan Wickett, Steven Seighman, and Keith Taylor. All writers, including friends and associates of the panel, are eligible for the prize. The integrity and objectivity of Dzanc Books will not be compromised and, given our vast connections to so many great writers, exclusion of any kind would be impossible.

Any questions can be submitted to prize@dzancbooks.org.

The above information can also be found at: http://www.dzancbooks.org/dzancprize.html

Monday, April 28, 2008

This woman is the author of not one, but two, amazingly good story collections. Read her interview, too.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

For an unconventional approach to workshop, click here. Scroll down to "Fiction: a Cross-Sectional Workshop."
For a free download of Maureen McHugh's story collection Mothers and Other Monsters, click here.

Friday, April 25, 2008

W. H. Auden's poem "Musee des Beaux Arts"

About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters; how well, they understood
Its human position; how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer's horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.
In Breughel's Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.

That's a beautiful poem, one I've taught in many a literature class.

To read a really very dirty poem by W.H. Auden, one that a NY Times Book reviewer deemed too dirty to print, click here. But before you click, know that it's pretty graphic. According to one reader, it's "like a Penthouse Forum letter, except in lively verse, and with no women. It’s sort of great, and also sort of cheesy and awful, and also occasionally hilarious."

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Monday, April 21, 2008

For an excellent review of my latest favorite novel, click here.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Poetry Q & A with Robert Pinsky: click here.
Words without Borders.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

I've been waiting for this: click here.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Introduction for Melissa Brandt's thesis

Set in small town Minnesota, Melissa Brandt’s screenplay “Dog Year” explores how love lost, whether by accident or death, bad luck or stubbornness, insecurity or our own dumb human fear can make a person hesitant to ever love again. Sarah, a woman described by her brother as “cold as a Minnesota winter” is the story’s emotional center. Her decision to return to the family farm after years away is as complicated as her decision was to leave it. This plot of land is a symbol of permanence for Sarah; she even admits “there is no therapy like farm therapy.”

Just there is tension between what’s transient and what’s lasting, there is conflict in this story as Brandt’s characters explore the push and pull between the present and the past. Sarah tries to re-connect with her stoic brother; she tries to sort through her memories of a distant father. When Henry, a man haunted by his own sad past, is hired on at the farm, he recognizes in Sarah a person as lonely and longing for connection as he is.

In Brandt’s story, there is likewise tension between sound and silence, between the living and the dead. The farm is a place where “you won’t find peace, but you will find quiet,” where the loudest noise is the roar of a tractor, snarling dogs, and gunshot. The quietest sounds are Sarah and Henry’s wordless pain—Sarah self-mutilates, Henry won’t talk about his dead wife and child. Dead deer, dead sheep, a dead dog, old grudges, old hurts, closed-up hearts. Sarah’s brother Peter says he is “careful not to love too much of anything.”

But ultimately, “Dog Year” is a story about healing wounds—physical and mental, spiritual and emotional. Melissa Brandt has written a powerful story about holding on— to the family farm, but even more to the possibility that someone might be both stupid enough and smart enough to love you in all your fragile human ways.

Introduction for Antoinette Cole's thesis

Toni Kay Cole is one of those rare writers who is unafraid to take risks in her work, whether in form, voice or content. In many of her stories, cultures clash. Her story “Water Mommies” centers on a horrible event – the accidental death of two young boys in a neighbor’s pool. But instead of lapsing into melodrama, Cole uses this story to show moments of great beauty even in times of great suffering.

But Cole is never didactic. Her writing, while always rich and layered and meaningful, can also be full of joy and humor. Her character Maddie is a feisty, spunky, unapologetically smart Chicago girl. Reminiscent of Toni Cade Bambara’s bright and observant narrators, Maddie experiences the ups and downs of adolescent friendships and a troubled relationship with her kind-but-largely absent father. Maddie’s ongoing battles with her pregnant mother Theresa over her hair, her clothes, her determinedly “ungirly” behaviors and attitudes are a funny and complex exploration of race, gender, and class.

Cole has created a world of God-fearing mothers and fearless daughters; but also women who want more than what’s been offered to them, women who know what they want, woman who can articulate their frustrations and their desires with equal clarity. Jamey, the narrator of “Early Sunday Morning,” is having an affair with her church deacon. “When we’re around one another everything is sweet,” she says, “we use the word all the time, and it matters none that we both probably taste like rock salt in between God’s teeth. But who can understand this unordinary love? No God, Jesus, mother, seething congregation or prime and proper wife because this kind of juice is tainted, but healing just the same.”

Cole’s prose is jazzy, lyrical, quotable—the kind of writing where you mean to underline only your very favorite lines and phrases but then find you’ve underlined everything—but the plots and themes come out of the writer’s intimate understanding of her characters, her love for the people who live and breath in the world she’s created. I look forward to making space for Ms. Cole’s books on my shelf.