Tag Archives: MFAism

Friday Links: Helping Others Is More than Wishful Thinking

17 Apr

MakeAWish

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!!

That’s Cute that You Think You’re Subversive: How the CIA Promoted the Radical Arts During the Cold War

29 Jul

cia

 

 

During a recent writing workshop that I’m part of with two female writers, our conversation rambled along to the topic of how the CIA had advanced abstract expressionism. That weekend one of the writers asked if I’d pass along the article I had referred to. I did a quick search for it online, and realized I’d actually read several articles about how the CIA had been involved in promoting artistic and intellectual communities that many people tend to think of as nonconformist, liberal, and subversive.

Here’s a quick roundup of articles about the CIA promoting nonconformist art and literature:

  • The article I was thinking of was The Independent‘s “Modern art was CIA ‘weapon,’” about how the CIA used art to show how free-thinking the US was in comparison to Russia during the Cold War
  • The Chronicle of Higher Education published “How Iowa Flattened Literature,” which shows the CIA’s involvement with the esteemed Iowa Writers Workshop
  • Work in Progress’George the Gentlemanly Ghost,” references the CIA being involved in The Paris Review.  It’s worth noting that Jack Kerouac’s first clip from On the Road was published in The Paris Review. (You can read more about that in my book Burning Furiously Beautiful.)
  • Encounter Magazine, the UK lit mag founded by poet Stephen Spender and journalist Irving Kristol in 1953, was funded by the CIA

I’m sure there are more, some we know of and some we don’t. Please add your stories and links in the comments section.

There’s a lot to be said here, but it raised a few questions for me:

  • Without the CIA’s help in funding and promoting modern arts, would these works have remained obscure?
  • Is modern art a scam, and traditionalists correct that it’s not real art?
  • Is the art and literature of the 1950s and ’60s a reaction to or a product of its times?
  • Can something be subversive even if it’s a political ploy?

Whole books could be written in answer to these questions. They’re important topics to consider and discuss, but I want to take a far less Big Brother approach and ask:

  • What are you trying to accomplish by being subversive?
  • Why do you want to be different?
  • Where do you get your information and how do you evaluate it?
  • Who is challenging you to think outside of your own box?

I’m all for dancing to the beat of your own drum. But is that what you’re really doing?

 

So You Want to Be In Publishing

2 Jul

Intern

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

bookclub1

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:::

Writing Wednesday: Reliving Those Awkward MFA Days

5 Mar

“This was a missed opportunity.”

Haha. Enjoy.

 

I’m with Guo: American Literature IS “Overrated”

19 Feb

Gao

“Nowadays all this narrative [literature is] very similar, it’s so realism, so story-telling driven … so all the poetry, all the alternative things, have been pushed away by mainstream society,” said Chinese British author Xiaolu Guo, speaking about the effect American literature has had on Asian reading habits, on a panel about global literature at the Jaipur Literature Festival.

Oh, and she called American literature “massively overrated.”

I kind of agree. I love American literature, but when I was getting my MFA and started attending writing conferences I began to get frustrated by the push toward what I’ll call commercialism. What I mean by this is that a lot of the feedback I received had to do with creating scenes, telling a story, writing a memoir that reads like a novel. I suppose that’s good feedback because that’s what people want to read…

—Except, I don’t. Much of contemporary fiction seems so contrived to me. Worse, it’s lacking in Art. It’s straightforward, it’s fast-paced, and it’s even enjoyable, but in the same way a sitcom is. Now, I’m not one for magical realism, so I’m not saying I want to venture as far away from the American tradition as Guo might be suggesting, but I think a little messiness, a deeper dive into postmodernism, some stream of consciousness, less obviousness, more layered meaning would do our literature some good, would give it a little more heart, a little more authenticity, more rigor.

What do you think? Which American authors are you particularly enjoying right now that you think would change my mind?

MFAism: Hosting Summer Writing Workshop

22 Jun

Even though the MFA writing program is officially on summer break — whoo-hoo! — some of us from the creative-nonfiction writing workshop decided we were having so much fun (or something like that) that wanted to keep on meeting.  Last Tuesday we had our first informal workshop.  It was so nice to catch up with everyone and to chat about our writing.

As I’ve alluded, everyone in my classes always recommends I read David Sedaris when they find out I write about growing up Greek American.  I do get a kick out of David Sedaris, but it’s his sister Amy Sedaris who captured my heart with her book I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence. There’s just something about us Greek women — we love hosting and feeding people.  I barely had anyone over during the semester so I was super-excited to volunteer hosting the writing workshop in my apartment.

Since my classmates have been giving me feedback all semester on the Greek American memoir I’m writing — and since I’m the Queen of Theme Parties — I of course prepared Greek meze for them.  I served feta cheese (imported from Greece!  I’m stimulating the Greek economy!), sliced tomatoes with sea salt, pita, red pepper & eggplant dip, dried apricots, and almonds.  The other writers graciously brought delicious homemade (!) scones and sumptuous red wine.  I pretty much gorged!

We had a great conversation about nonfiction vs. fiction writing and talked about the role of blogging in our writing.  Then we spent some time critiquing each other’s works.  I got helpful feedback on a short reflection I’d written about my experience at the 2011 Gabby Awards.  I really enjoyed reading their new pieces too.  Everyone has such interesting stories to tell!

Now I’ve got to get to work on the next chapter to submit!

In the meantime, if anyone has any tips on how to run a writing workshop, please post in the comments section.

Writing Wednesday: Thrown in the Deep End

20 Apr

One of the big MFAisms is: “Start with the action.”

As a journalist, I understand the importance of strong titles and hooks.  You need to entice the reader, draw him in.  I don’t believe, though, that the hook and action are synonymous.

As a reader, I feel flung into the deep end of a cold swimming pool when a story starts with the action.  I splash around trying to figure out where I am and where I can find some solid ground.  Once on dry land again, I feel like I was needlessly jerked around.  I would’ve loved to swim around, but I prefer to stick my feet in first, test the waters.

I felt relieved then when I read Jane Friedman’s article “The Biggest Bad Advice About Story Openings” on her Writer’s Digest blog There Are No Rule.  Friedman states that an opening with lots of action and little characterization, “Delivers a stereotypical crisis moment that’s full of action or pain, but without a center.”

Isn’t that so true?  Doesn’t it seem like all action stories are the same?  The reason action matters in any type of story is because we are intrigued by the characters.

What are your feelings about starting a story with the action?  What does a great hook look like?

Writing Wednesday: Making the Most Out of My Writing MFA, Spring 2011 Semester

19 Jan

Winter break’s coming to a close, and I’m getting ready to enter my second semester of the MFA program.  I really want to get the most I can out of this semester.  Unfortunately, it seems like knowing how to get the most out of anything doesn’t usually happen until after the fact, when it’s too late, so I’ve compiled a list of tips from other writers.

While a lot of articles seem to suggest MFA students go into debt for the sake of writing, I’ve chosen to work full time in addition to doing the MFA full time.  I’m the type of person that thrives under deadlines, and if I weren’t working that wouldn’t mean that I was spending eight hours a day writing.  For me, it’s better to carve out special moments for writing.  That could mean during my lunch hour or on a night I don’t have class.  Often, it means most of Sunday.  I think, though, the greater point here is to make a practice out of writing.  Don’t keep putting it off.  Schedule specific times to write and don’t let other events (or Burn Notice–btw, check out author Tod Golderg’s blog) get in the way.

The tip in these articles about submitting struck home for me.  While I’ve always been pretty good at finding places to publish my work online, I haven’t always been as selective as I should.  One of my goals for this upcoming semester is to submit to a literary magazine.

Finding a mentor is probably the most important goal of mine for this semester.  Last semester’s workshops gave me valuable feedback that I’ve been able to work into my rewrite, but I could use some one-on-one time to really talk through some of the issues in my work.  I need to talk with someone who understands the type of writing I do and has suggestions for ways to improve my writing and where I should be publishing.

Those are my top MFA-related goals for the semester.  What are your writing goals for winter 2011?