Creative nonfiction is a difficult but rewarding genre. It’s a challenge to find a topic that grabs your attention and then to write about it in a way that engages your readers. After a number of drafts, you need to make decisions whether to do further research or to seek interviews in order to support or enliven your story with more or different facts. And always there are the big questions: What to put in? What to leave out? When is it finished?
So I’ve been thinking about performance. I have a performance workshop coming up in October at the Loft, and I just spent a week teaching it every day at the National Poetry Slam. There are so many formats these days, from spoken word to slam to storytelling to however you fit in between that require a live audience and a microphone to showcase your work. And a lot of writers trust that if they put their genius on paper, the words will do the rest. But it’s not that simple. You have a whole new set of tools to work with to make your brilliance shine.
How do you write about an orgy? How do you write about an orgy without it feeling gratuitous or pornographic? How do you make it a little bit sexy, but mostly descriptive and peculiar and lovely?
Amy Bloom's Lucky Us is a novel set in the years surrounding World War II. It's about rebuilding family from the unconventional people and pieces that remain after loss. After loss after devastating loss.
And there's an orgy scene—one that has some sex, but is also delightfully about things other than sex.
When and how do we first encounter beauty?
Hers was the first naked female body I can recall. Cast in cold-painted bronze somewhere in Germany or Austria around 1920, gathered up by my soldier father in the Black Forest as spoils of war, she was a small statue of Phryne, a famous 4th century BC Greek courtesan.
We all have, within our memories, a treasure trove of characters. Maybe it was that quirky childhood friend or the mysterious neighbors next door. Perhaps it was that mean old lady down the hill or that big brother who (almost) always tried to protect you. Or maybe it was that strong, kind father who guided you through life's hardest lessons. Sound familiar? These are all beloved characters in Harper Lee's classic novel, To Kill a Mockingbird.
Today's roundup discovers an early Raymond Carver story, tours Twin Cities reads, marvels at the desk of Haruki Murakami, and gets ready for the Loft to go over the hill.
Bookselling is a niche within the small-business community, the nuances of which aren’t easily comparable to those of other small businesses. Minneapolis is home to many booksellers and bookstores that represent sub-niches of this small-business venture, including former Lit Chat interviewees Collette Morgan at The Wild Rumpus, who slings the best of the best for children, and Chaun Webster of Ancestry, who has created a third space that supports indigenous authors and authors of color. Bookstores (even the not great ones but especially the goods ones) are purveyors of both retail and cultural capital, which isn’t something many small businesses can tout, and fortunately, there are some great organizations that specifically support the endeavors of our favorite small-business owners. One such organization is the Midwest Independent Booksellers Association (MIBA), a nonprofit located in our very own backyard (otherwise known as Golden Valley), which is where Robert Martin, the executive assistant at MIBA, comes in.
I believe we can all agree that this is an era where writing has become more accessible; that with the Internet playing such a large role in our day-to-day lives, it's hard to NOT find an opportunity for reaching a wider audience. Does it happen overnight? No. But the possibility of reaching people in other places beyond one's comfort zone is much higher.
That space is where I first read at an open mic, where my writing was validated by peers and mentors, and where I began to come into my voice. In my last summer there, the Norwegian American Weekly published a poem I wrote for the final reading we always put on for family and friends. I wrote my college application essay about reading Frank O’Hara’s “Having a Coke with you” at Hugo House and how that moment changed me as a writer forever. I made friends my age who loved writing as much as I did and met and talked to writers and artists who encouraged me to pursue this path. Now, here I am: a college graduate and poet, ending another summer spent at a literary center. The nostalgia is off the charts. My time spent at Hugo House cannot be summarized, and I’m sure students leaving the Loft this summer feel the same way about this place.
When I began working as an editor at a book review, I expected resistance. The magazine published essays, criticism, and interviews with well-known writers—A.S. Byatt, Michael Chabon, Robert Bly, Adrienne Rich—and I sent off my edits in fear and trepidation. I sat at my desk in the attic of our funky offices in Saint Paul and imagined being struck by lightning for daring to question a word choice, rearrange a sentence, or suggest restructuring a paragraph. I had worked with a range of writers in the past, and while I always tried to edit toward enhancing the writer’s own voice, some felt that any change threatened the authenticity of their work. But once I got to the book review, I discovered that the more famous the writer, the more eager they were to engage in a close analysis of every word. They expected an editor to point out superfluous sentences or awkward phrases. Their energy for revision inspired me.