Tag Archives: MFA

Friday Links: Helping Others Is More than Wishful Thinking

17 Apr


Make a Wish matches!

It’s been forever since I did a link roundup! I’ve been trying to focus more on my memoir writing these days, but I’ve run across so many great news stories and websites lately that I wanted to share with you:

  • My friend Gregory Andrus has been taking these stunning photographs of the Jersey Shore. The other day he posted this article about NJ musician Jon Bon Jovi opening JBJ Soul Kitchen in Toms Kitchen, where there are “no menu prices, to help the fiscally challenged, and the restaurants try to serve organic produce whenever possible.”
  • My friend David Sung, the pastor of the Upper East Side-based Christ Resurrection Church, told me about this New York Times article about how Dan Price, who attended the Christian college Seattle Pacific University (which, by the way, offers a creative writing MFA), slashed his $1-million salary to give his lowest-paid workers a raise. The minimum wage at the company he founded, Gravity Payments, is now $70,000/year.
  • Meanwhile, this article reveals that 25% of “part-time college faculty” (and their families) receive public assistance. You know who this includes? Professors. Many colleges rely on adjunct professors, who get paid per class instead of being salaried.
  • My editor Jordan Green is obsessed with Clickhole. Obsessed. I particularly enjoyed the satirical buzzfeed-style listicle “How Much of a Grammar Nerd Are You?” he posted. My favorite line: “I got a tattoo of a comma splice and then had it removed.”
  • Via Pure Wow I discovered the loveliest named jewelry company: Wanderlust + Co. These gold arrow earrings are super cute. Arrows are so hipster.
  • Another company I discovered recently is Moorea Seal. I love the fact that sales from their goods benefit charities and that you can shop by cause. I also love these Make a Wish matches!

Happy weekend!!

Kuros Charney’s “The Humanist” Questions the Value of the Humanities

18 Mar


My friend and I attended Kuros Charney‘s play “The Humanist” the other night, and it resonated ever so profoundly. Here’s the synopsis:

A comedy about the corporatization of higher education. When his old flame becomes his new boss, a classics professor at a public university must fight to keep his job in the face of state budget cuts and profit motives, while defending the humanities as the foundation of democracy.
The play was put on at Urban Stages and starred J. Anthony Crane, Kate Jennings Grant, Lipica Shah, and Dylan Chalfy. They all have great acting chops, as evidenced not only by their performance in this reading of the play, but in their former credits. In particular, Shah gave a standout performance, appearing so natural in her role of the student that at times I forgot she was acting.
Kuros, a writer I know from living in the same neighborhood in New York City, explores weighty issues of the purpose of education; culture as both an ethnic (read: immigrant) and socio-economic (read: aspirational) descriptor; and relationships between administrators, professors, and students. “The Humanist” shows both the plight of idealistic, intelligent students and their wearying professors in an economic environment in which success needs to be quantifiable. For as much depth as is in the two-hour play, it was also full of humorous and tender moments.
As a graduate of a liberal arts college who studied the humanities — English major FTW! — who also happened to study the classics (I studied Classical Greek at Pomona College), and then went on to get my MFA in creative writing (nonfiction), I believe strongly in the importance of education for education’s sake and art for art’s sake, and yet that’s because I view both education and art as transformational, empowering, and purposeful. I believe that in the long run, education and the arts are just as important to democracy as anything else. Capitalist business models have their place. It’s important to be able to put food on the table. But I believe we can do that while still valuing the studying of Classical Greek.
But maybe I’m a bit biased. ;-)

So You Want to Be In Publishing

2 Jul


One of my former interns made this for me on her last day of the internship at the publishing house. Isn’t it so cute? I was really touched. I don’t know that I taught her everything about a career in book publishing, but hopefully I gave her a good foundation.

I thought I’d share a few tips on careers in book publishing and being a businessperson in a creative field:

What’s your favorite piece of advice?

Writing Wednesday: Keep In Touch with Your Alumni Network

9 Apr


One of the best decisions I ever made was attending Scripps College. I accepted their offer of enrollment sight unseen. I had never even been in California before arriving a few days before orientation!

I made so many great friends — and I’m STILL making new friends because of Scripps.

A few years after graduating, I began attending the New York chapter of the Scripps alumnae book club. At the time, I didn’t know a single person who attended the book club. None of them were from my graduating year. In fact, it was only after I’d been attending for over a year that someone I’d actually known when I was attending Scripps as an undergrad began attending book club and we reconnected. What’s great about the alumnae book club is that I’ve met so many new smart women, some around my age, some much older, and some much younger.

These women from my book club have been so supportive of me. As I posted a while back, they selected the book I coauthored with Paul Maher Jr., Burning Furiously Beautiful: The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road,” for their January 2014 read and invited me to speak about the book.

The college even posted a photo on the Scripps College facebook page of a group of alumnae from the book club holding Burning Furiously Beautiful!

Even before the book club reading, the Scripps College Alumnae Association posted about the book’s publication on facebook.

I haven’t been supported just online, though. In the Winter 2014 issue, Scripps Magazine featured me (see page 40) in their regular column “ManuScripps” about Scripps authors.

It’s not just Scripps, though. The New School, where I received my MFA, has also supported me. Every week during the academic year, the Creative Writing program emails a newsletter of students’ and alumni’s publications. It’s sent through email to those who attend or have attended the graduate program so I don’t have links to share with you (though the New School Writing is on Twitter!), but they have generously announced my publications.

Does it sound like I’m bragging? Well, I am. I went to a GREAT undergraduate college and a GREAT MFA. I feel so supported by the community I had while I was attending and also by the new community I’ve made back here on the East Coast.

But I’m not any more special than you. YOUR college would love to hear from you. Colleges love to brag about the success of their former students because it makes them look great too.

They’re also always looking for stories to fill the pages of their newsletters. Don’t expect them to keep tabs on you and know about your every publication, though. Many people who work on these publications are interns, work-study students, or volunteers who don’t have time to track you down and see what you’ve been up to. You have to tell them! They want to brag about you, but they have to know how first.

What to send to your alumni network:

Do the hard work for them by sending your alumni publication full details of your latest story any time you get something new published. That means: your full name (perhaps maiden name if you got married), your graduating year, the title of the piece, what type of piece it was, who published it, when it was published, and a link to the story (if applicable).

It’s not just about you

Be sure to give back, though. Class participation counts when it comes to fundraising campaigns, so even if you can’t give a lot, just by giving you’re contributing to the college’s efforts. If you’re a starving artist, there are other ways to give back too, such as submitting free articles for the alumni magazine, meeting with prospective students in your town, fostering a sense of community amongst alumni by congratulating individuals on their achievements, participating in regional alumni events, informing your alma mater about internships and job openings at your place of business, and mentoring recent grads. Cheesy as it may sound, it’s actually a real ego boost to be able to help others. Real success is being good enough at what you do to help others become better at what they want to do.

You may also like:::

10 Books That Have Stuck with Me

17 Dec
The other night I fell asleep thinking about the books that have stuck with me over the years. My friend had tagged me in a Facebook post about the ten books that have stuck with her—not necessarily the best books or her favorite books, but the ones that come to mind first. She then tagged me and nine other friends to do the same. I figured it would make for a fun blog post because some of the books may come as a surprise.
Without further ado…:
  1. Bread and Honey by Frank Asch
  2. Squiggly Wiggly’s Surprise by Arnold Shapiro
  3. Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White
  4. Gypsy Summer by Wilma Yeo
  5. Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery
  6. Sins of the Father by Eileen Franklin
  7. The Dangling Man by Saul Bellow
  8. On the Road by Jack Kerouac
  9. The Pillow Book by Sei Shonagon
  10. Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller
I could probably write a blog post for each of these titles on why they stuck with me! I could also add so many more books to the list.
There are a few things I’ll point out about the books that actually made the list, though. The first half of the list are children’s books, or perhaps YA. The first two, in fact, are children’s storybooks, but even today their message remains with me. Adult books have a lot more “grey” in them when it comes to morality and message, as we come to understand the complexities and nuances of life, but I think there’s something to be said for the simple and beautiful messages of children’s picture books.
The other thing I’ll point out is that the second half of the list was all read more than ten years ago. Actually, number 6 on the list I read in middle school, and the only book post-undergrad on the list is number 10. It’s obviously not that I haven’t read since then or that I haven’t read good books since then. In fact, I took fantastic literature classes while working toward my MFA and was exposed to books that shaped the way I think about literature and writing. It’s just that when I think of books that have really stuck with me over the years, I was thinking of books that have stood the test of time.
I tag you! What 10 books have stuck with you? Leave them in the comments below.

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Burning Furiously Beautiful: The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road” is now available as an ebook and paperback!

What a Difference Five Years Make

4 Dec

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.”

~Lao Tzu


While looking for a receipt the other day, I stumbled across one of my old diaries. I knew better than to open it. Every time I clean or dig through my drawers to look for something, I come across a journal, a letter someone had sent me, or a box of old photographs and am quickly derailed. For the next hour or so, I was lost in the pages of my diary, caught in the past and thinking about the future.

I tend to start diaries on my birthday, and this particular one was from five years ago. It was a big birthday for me, both because it was a milestone birthday and because I was on the precipice of a new direction in my life.

The year leading up to it, I had spent an embarrassingly long time getting over a break up. I had also been quite ill for a long time, which made commuting from New Jersey excruciating. These two circumstances made me think a lot about where I was spending my time and where I wanted my life to go. I quit a bunch of low-paying freelance writing gigs and moved into Manhattan about three months before my milestone birthday.

That next year was one full of adventure and changes. What had seemed like a monumental move into the city turned out to be more of a convenience than a lifestyle change, since I’d been commuting for so many years from northern New Jersey and so much of my life was already there. Still, once I was there, I knew I could never go back to Jersey. My family had moved from New Jersey to Greece, and much of my vacation time up to then had been spent traveling to Greece to see them. Traveling is so fundamental to who I am that I decided that year instead to go to South Korea and Japan. That summer I also went to Minneapolis and reconnected with family, which made me understand myself better.

It was that year that I also recommitted myself to writing. It’s not that I had ever stopped writing. Far from it. I was always writing and even getting published in little publications here and there. But the writing wasn’t me. It wasn’t authentic to my voice. I decided to start writing for myself again. I began carving time out to write personal essays about growing up Greek American. I began reading the Beats again. I joined a writers group, where I learned the term MFA.

Then, right before my next birthday, I lost my job. I went to Florida for Christmas to escape and regroup. Being there was hard. It was the first year I’d been back to my grandmother’s place since she’d died when I was in college. Upon my father’s recommendation, I applied to only the best MFA programs (“anything less won’t be worth it”). While I wasn’t confident that I’d get in anywhere, I also didn’t realize just how difficult it is to get into the programs. I applied quickly to whichever programs were still accepting admissions and only later read how writers agonize over which essay to send and whom to get recommendations from. I ended up getting into the top creative nonfiction program in New York City. I also was rehired by my old company.

I often feel like one of those cartoon characters that’s running in place. You see the little puffs of clouds materializing under the feet, but they never seem to get anywhere. When you’re young, there are clear markers of time passing. You graduate from high school and then college. You get your first job. You rent your first apartment. And if you’re me, you go through a gazillion hairstyles. As you get older, there are fewer markers along life’s journey, and wildly changing your hair seems perhaps best left to young people and celebrities. Still, as someone who likes stability, I worry that I am too easily prone to falling into ruts.

Reading through my diary, I realized, though, how far I have come. I realized that change doesn’t always happen overnight, that many of the best accomplishments in life take time. However, the little choices we make today matter. They put us on a path.

Today is my birthday, and many of the dreams I wrote about five years ago have come true. The funny thing with dreams, though, is that they don’t always happen the way you think they will and they don’t happen without a few tears being shed. This past year has been another one full of change. I haven’t always embraced it. It’s been difficult and emotional. Great things have happened, but I’ve also faced challenging and sad circumstances.

I find myself again at a crossroads.

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Burning Furiously Beautiful: The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road” is now available as an ebook and paperback!

Memoirists to Resent

16 Jul


Mallory Ortberg’s post “The Top Ten Writers Whose Success You’ll Resent This Year” (via Poets & Writers) on The Toast is hilarious and spot on. I kind of resent her for it. I mean, I could’ve written it. You know, if I’d actually thought of it.

Here’s what she wrote about memoirists:

The Memoirist Who Is Your Age And Whose Life Eerily Parallels Yours

“Nobody should write a memoir before they’re fifty,” you announce to your friends over drinks. You are not fifty. “Everyone seems to think being 27 and unhappy in love is all you need to write a book about your life. You should have to get licensed before you can write one.” You are on your fourth glass of wine. It is Tuesday. “You should have to–be Gore Vidal, or a cultural attaché, or have invented genocide or something.” You spilled a little bit of your wine during that last remark, but it has landed on your napkin and you don’t think anyone noticed.

You have never been asked to write a memoir, but you would immediately if anyone seemed interested.

I’m pretty sure I’ve said something similar in the past about why MFA students in their twenties shouldn’t be allowed to enroll in memoir classes.

In other news, I haven’t worked on my memoir in about a year. But I’ve been thinking a lot about it, and I recently realized I have a whole new spin on the ending. That’s the funny thing about memoir. Just when you think you have an ending, something happens in your life that changes the ending … which, PS, reinforces my statement that you should write a memoir too young.

What writers do you resent?

My Year in Review: 2012

4 Jan

What a full year 2012 was! Here’s a quick little recap:::


In January I announced that the rumors were true. But it took the full year for it to finally look like this.


In February I joined Pinterest to discover how it may help me as a writer and have been happily pinning ever since.


In March my personal essay was included in the book Creating Space.


In April I was one of the editors representing the Burnside Writers Collective at the Festival of Faith & Writing. It was so special to get to catch up with the other editors and writers, whom I just adore. I also had the opportunity to teach a writing workshop while I was there.



Image via On the Road with Bob Holman / Rattapallax

In April I also worked to create awareness about what we lose when we lose a language. My interview with poet Bob Holman appeared in BOMBlog.

In May I received my MFA in creative nonfiction from The New School. I had a fantastic thesis advisor and a beloved peer group, who challenged me to dig deeper in my memoir about growing up Greek American. After I read a snippet at our thesis reading, an instructor I’d never even had came up to tell me how much he liked my work!


Image via The Human Tower / Rattapallax

In June I witnessed the world record being broken for the tallest castell on a rooftop.


In July I heard Amber Tamblyn read for The Paris Review at the Strand. Afterwards we somehow ended up on the elevator together, and I didn’t say anything to her. I never know in those situations if it’s polite to say something like “nice reading” or if the person just wants her privacy. I know she’s involved in the Beat literature community, though, so I should’ve probably talked to her about that.


Image via The Millions

In August an article I wrote about a funny incident I had related to Jack Kerouac sparked a fiery debate and went viral, getting mentioned everywhere from The New Yorker to The Paris Review.


Photo via RA Araya

In September I had one of the most surreal moments of my life–reading with David Amram. I got to hear him perform again, this time as an enthralled audience member, in December.


Photo via RA Araya

That month I also read for poet Miguel Algarin‘s birthday bash.


I also road tripped through northern and central California, visiting Cannery Row, City Lights Bookshop, The Beat Museum, and attending my college friend’s wedding.


In October Hurricane Sandy hit New York, and I spent a lot of time in bed.


In November I failed miserably at NaNoWriMo, but I had a lot of fun creating this ever-evolving Pinterest board for the book I never wrote.

I also gave a reading that got upstaged by a wedding proposal.


In December there was a flurry of Jack Kerouac-related activities to promote the film adaptation of On the Road, and I got to see author Ann Charters and film director Walter Salles in person at IFC. I also got to take a writing class with screenwriter Jose Rivera at 3rd Ward.

I also went out to Lowell and got to meet Jack Kerouac’s friend and pallbearer Billy Koumantzelis.


What were the highlights of 2012 for you?

James Franco Reveals How He Was Introduced to the Beats

11 Dec

I was just thinking the other day that it had been a long time since I’d heard about James Franco. I’m serious! It seemed like a year or two ago James Franco was omnipresent. There’s James Franco sleeping in class at Columbia! There’s James Franco explaining it wasn’t technically class! There’s James Franco playing with a cat! There’s James Franco’s book! There’s James Franco teaching at NYU! There’s–well, you get the idea.

And then nothing.

I don’t know why, but I suddenly missed hearing about James Franco. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that we were both getting our MFAs. Or maybe it had to do with the fact that I thought his portrayal of Allen Ginsberg in Howl was authentic.

Well, wouldn’t you know it: today I stumbled upon The Los Angeles Review of Books‘ recent interview with James Franco. In the article, Franco discusses poetry, writing, and filmmaking. He talks about William Carlos Williams, Hart Crane, Allen Ginsberg, Frank Bidart, and his writer mother. He also says that even though he portrayed Allen Ginsberg in Howl it was another author who inspired his foray into Beat literature:

Kerouac came first. On the Road was my introduction to the Beats, but “Howl” was my introduction to poetry. I studied Williams in school, but I didn’t really study him as a craftsman until later, when I went to the writing program at Warren Wilson College in North Carolina.

He also reveals that he’s studying Beat literature with Amy Hungerford, who has written about Ginsberg’s supernatural language, in his PhD program at Yale.

How I Came to Work with Paul Maher Jr.

6 Sep

A few years ago, I was at the New York Public Library, browsing the shelves for something new to read, when I stumbled upon Jack Kerouac’s American Journey: The Real-Life Odyssey of “On the Road.  I immediately added it to my stack of books (I greedily hoard books from the library and end up with outrageous fines) and headed to the check-out line.  Tunneling through New York City on the subway, I read the book, never thinking that one day I might work with the book’s author, Paul Maher, Jr.

I’d been studying Kerouac for well over a decade and always had vague plans of “one day” writing a book on him; by vague plans, I mean I had not only read voraciously (Kerouac’s books, biographies on him, books about the era) but also taken copious notes, interviewed, written well over a hundred pages, and blogging, but was doing it more for my own research — both academic and for fun — than any tangible book plans.  It was like I was living out that line in the opening of On the Road: “…always vaguely planning and never taking off.”  It was quite some time after I’d read American Journey that I came upon Paul’s website The Archive – Sketches on Kerouac.  I left a comment on one of his entries, without thinking too much about it, and was stunned and thrilled when he wrote back.  We began talking about Kerouac and writing, and he told me he was thinking of reworking American Journey and asked me if I’d be interested in collaborating on it.

It was quite possibly the worst timing ever.  By that point I was entering my thesis semester for my MFA, where I had to write two theses, one creative and one academic/research.  I was also working full-time.  But there was no way I was going to say no to the opportunity of working with Paul.  Besides American Journey, he’d also written the incredible biography Kerouac: His Life and Work.  This was a dream opportunity.  I said yes.

Check back tomorrow for my exclusive interview with Paul Maher, Jr. 


And check back Monday to hear all about reading with David Amram!