Tag Archives: my writing

I’m September’s Featured Reader at the Forest Hills Library

15 Aug

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I will be the featured reader at the Open Mic and Reading Series at the Forest Hills Library in Queens (108-19 71 Avenue, Queens, NYC) on September 26, 2019, at 6:30pm.

Here’s a bit about the series:

Open Mic is for all performers of any genre to take the mic for four minutes. Spectators are also welcome. Featured readers are as follows: September: Stephanie Nikolopoulos, October: Lancelot Schaubert, November: Julia Knobloch

I am thrilled! I love, love, love libraries. I spent a big part of my childhood at the Closter Public Library, where every summer I joyously, vigorously participated in the library’s reading challenge. My family also spent a lots of Sundays at the Englewood Public Library. After I left New Jersey, I chose my first apartment in New York based partly on the fact that it was on the same block at one of the branches of the New York Public Library.

Libraries have exposed me to books I would’ve never discovered otherwise. They’ve afforded me opportunities to read more books than I could afford to buy. They’ve been a fundamental source of research for the books I’ve written and the ones I’m writing. They’ve also been a quiet place to write. A place of comfort. A place of inspiration.

I had the opportunity to attend the Open Mic and Reading Series at the Forest Hills branch of the Queens Public Library a few months ago when fellow New School MFA alum Gabriel Don was the guest reader. I’m so honored that meditative poet-librarian and talk show host Vijay R. Nathan has invited me to read.

Hope to see you there!

In the comments, let me know your favorite thing about libraries.

 

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The Mad Are Holy: Mental Health in Ginsberg’s “Howl”

26 Jun

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So excited to share with you that Geez published my essay “The Mad Are Holy” in their current issue about the poetics of resistance. I explore how Allen Ginsberg’s seminal poem “Howl” was met with legal resistance because of its language and sexual content, but how the poem was a call to embrace the people society had determined were “mad.”

Special thanks to my editor Aiden Enns and the entire team at Geez for putting together this great issue focused on the Poetics of Resistance. You can purchase the magazine here.

Calendar Girl

8 Dec

Back of CALENDAR with list

Here’s a sentence I never thought I’d write: I’m a calendar girl.

That’s right. I am one of the featured authors in the 2019 Hobart Festival of Women Writers calendar.

The inaugural calendar features the work of the poets and writers who participated in the very first Hobart Festival of Women Writers back in 2013. The festival was co-founded by Cheryl Clarke, Barbara Balliet, and Breena Clarke. The calendar was edited by Esther Cohen and Breena Clarke and designed by Laura Tolkow.

I’ll be reading along with other writers who have participated in the Hobart Festival of Women Writers this Monday, December 10, 2018, at 6pm, at the National Writers Union offices (256 West 38thStreet, 12th floor).

The calendar will be on sale at the reading, but if you’re not able to make it that night you can get yours here. It’s a great way to support women writers!

:::

To find out about my other publications and where to get my new Lapland calendar, visit my Publications page.

I’m Reading from My Memoir at The Penny Farthing

29 May

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I’m super excited to share with you that I’m reading this upcoming Monday, June 2, 2014, with one of my favorite groups and venues!

That’s right — I’m reading at Beyond the Mic, a C3 Storytellers event, hosted at The Penny Farthing (103 3rd Ave., downstairs in the speakeasy), right here in New York City.

The C3 Storytellers have been supportive of my writing for awhile now. The first time I read with them back in 2012, one of the other poets literally made up a poem on the spot about my memoir. You can read it here. Then the next time I read with them, I read from the Kerouac biography I was coauthoring that hadn’t yet come out. C3 Storytellers’ and The Penny Farthing’s support earned them a place in the acknowledgments of Burning Furiously Beautiful. Needless to say, I’m grateful for welcoming groups like C3 Storytellers and artist-friendly venues like The Penny Farthing.

I’ll be reading a different section from my memoir-in-progress again this time around. I’m just one of many people who will be sharing work. I’ve always been very inspired by the other artists as well so you’ll be in for a treat hearing them. Doors open at 7pm. The event is free, though there’s usually a basket for donations (no, they don’t go to me); and you can purchase food and drinks. I’d love to see you there!

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My memoir is still a work in progress, but you can purchase the Kerouac biography here.

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Check out the appearance section on my website for other upcoming readings and workshops. I love giving back and encouraging other writers, and I co-lead a free writing workshop once a month through Redeemer (the next one is June 23). If you’re interested in having me give a reading or writing workshop, contact me at snikolop {@} alumna.scrippscollege.edu.

 

 

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!

Writing Wednesday: Choosing the Right Writing Tools

25 Sep

Alison Nastasi recently posted a great article on Flavorwire entitled “The Writing Tools of 20 Famous Authors.” Critics have long had a disproportionate fascination with Jack Kerouac’s implementation of the typewriter, and I commend Nastasi for noting Kerouac’s use of notebooks.

A Columbia friend of Kerouac’s used to always carry along a little notebook, and Kerouac picked up the practice from him. In fact, his notebooks became so important to him that one of his girlfriends accused him of caring more about taking notes on what was happening around him than actually living life. When I interviewed Kerouac’s Lowell friend Billy Koumantzelis, he mused that Kerouac was always jotting down notes in his hometown bars. As he told me this, the intonation suggested he thought Kerouac was a bit eccentric in his writing habit. In Burning Furiously Beautiful, Paul and I go into more detail about Kerouac’s use of notebooks because it’s an important aspect of his development as a writer.

Truman Capote famously quipped that Kerouac was merely typing, and indeed typewriters are important to understanding Kerouac’s editorial process. His father was a printer so Kerouac grew up accustomed to printing technologies and was a masterful typist. His L.C. Smith and Underwood typewriters allowed him to spill out a mad rush of words, capturing the speed of the highway. These words and ideas, however, were culled from his notebooks.

It’s important for writers to find the right tools for them. Some authors commit their best works directly into their laptops. They are used to composing emails, and typing on the computer is more natural than writing longhand. Other writers, however, find that starting their first draft in a Word document only results in stilted text, as they are too quick to rely on shorthand, thanks to all the time they spend on Twitter. For many writers, a combination of different media work best, as they find the ease of cutting and pasting helpful to their editing process once they’ve gotten a first draft done in a notebook.

For me, personally, it depends on what type of writing I’m doing. If I’m writing a blog post, I indefinitely type it directly into the computer. Blogging isn’t my best writing. I care more about the content than the style when I blog.

If I’m writing research-heavy nonfiction, even then I will often write the majority of it on the computer, as I find it helpful to be able to keep my notes together and play with the placement of quotes. If I hit a wall, I’ll print out the work and mark it up with pen.

For memoir writing, though, I enjoy writing with ink in a notebook or even just a loose-leaf piece of paper. It feels more intimate to me, like I’m writing in my diary or writing a letter to a friend. I do a lot of my editing even with paper and pen.

When I was a teenager, I sometimes wrote on an electric typewriter. I think there was a part of me that had romantic literary notions associated with typewriters. I loved the click-clack of the keys. As an adult, I still see the value of writing on a typewriter. It is too easy to hit the delete key and to play with the order of paragraphs on the computer when starting a draft. Good drafts are often the ones where we don’t censor ourselves, where we commit words to the paper for a good long while before we look at them again and decide what stays and what goes.

Every writer needs to find what works best for them. Sometimes it’s a matter of trial and error. Sometimes it helps to shake up the routine every once in a while.

What are your favorite writing tools?

 

You may also be interested in:

Overarching Writing Tips from Writers from Big Sur: Don’t Censor Your First Draft

I Just Give Myself Permission to Suck

If You Miss a Beat, Create Another

Today’s the Day

 

I Am One in 20 Million

30 Jul

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I just read in Shelf Awareness that Goodreads has reached 20 million readers. While that number itself is impressive, even more astonishing is the fact that in this past year alone they had doubled their numbers.

I joined Goodreads a while back after someone at a Mediabistro party raved about it as a great way to find out about books and connect with others in the publishing industry. What I like about Goodreads more than reading other people’s reviews is connecting with people who have like-minded literary interests. There are groups for people interested in the Beat Generation and for those interested in travel literature, and, although I’ll admit I don’t check in too frequently (so many social media sites, so little time…), I do enjoy connecting with readers and authors on the message boards.

I also have an author’s page up, where readers can find and review the books I’ve written or contributed to. It’s been encouraging to see people put one of the books I’m working on on their to-read list even before the book has been published! It motivates me to make the book worth their time.

If you’re on Goodreads, will you please add my book to your to-read list? Also, if you’re an author, let me know in the comments below how I can find your book to add to my to-read list.

Writing Wednesday: Publication Therapy

30 Jan

The other day I was updating my submissions spreadsheet. Yes, I’m that big of a nerd. The spreadsheet tracks the articles, essays, and other creative works I’ve written, so at a quick glance I can tell what I have to pitch, where I’ve submitted it, and when—if at all—I’ve heard back from a publication.

There are a lot of blank rectangles on the spreadsheet.

In the past, the blank rectangles used to indicate that I had yet to submit my work. Rejections seemed scary so I wouldn’t even submit to journals because I was so worried the editors wouldn’t be interested in my work. This meant my work had zero chance of getting published. When I became an editor myself I realized how much editors depend on writers. It’s not this terrible power struggle I’d imagined. Editors really want to like writers’ work. They want to publish us. Getting a rejection doesn’t mean they hate us. If you want to have your work published, you have to send it out.

After a while, though, it was the “accepted” column that had the blank rectangles. I carefully sent queries or unsolicited manuscripts out and then suffered to hear from someone—anyone! Opening my mailbox and refreshing my inbox became subtle forms of self-torture, as I never knew when I’d hear back from a publication and what the news would be.

But more frequently I’ve been getting rejections. This is not a bad thing! I’ve come to realize that the greatest writers have gotten rejections. Jack Kerouac couldn’t get On the Road published for years. Stephen King nailed all his rejection letters to the wall, the stack growing larger and larger before he found fame.

I just read an article in Bloomsberg Businessweek about a guy named Jia Jiang who is doing a project called 100 Days of Rejection Therapy, in which he opens himself up to rejection at least once a day in order to desensitize himself to the pain of rejection so that he can go after his dream. The concept is attention-grabbing, and I think there are some valuable lessons to learn from it about courage and perseverance. There are also fundamental flaws to this approach, though. It’s easier to not get hung up on a rejection when you’re not invested, and in this case the rejections Jiang is receiving have nothing to do with his real dream. Furthermore, the project title itself suggests and attracts self-defeat. Although Jiang hasn’t gotten rejected from everything he’s tried, he believes he will be rejected. Although his rejection therapy is supposed to give him the courage to not let fear of rejection keep him from pursuing his dream, it essentially is saying that he thinks he will get rejected. Otherwise, why not call it Achievement Therapy? Or Success Therapy? Or Acceptance Therapy?

Also, as the article itself points out, there are valid reasons for rejection and we can learn from them:

But career coach Nemko suggests Jiang focus on what made the initial investor balk. “I have clients who apply for a number of jobs [and] who get rejected a bunch. They like to brush it off, like, ‘Oh, it’s the economy,’ but I say: ‘Take a look at yourself. Do you need more skills? What’s your employment track record? Are you obnoxious?’”

Back in 2011, I blogged about how Kathryn Stockett’s The Help was rejected sixty times. Here was someone who was truly invested in her work, and yet she didn’t start asking donut makers to do strange things to her donuts in an effort to build her confidence in her writing abilities and achieve success. She actually took a good long look at why she was getting rejected and revised her work accordingly.

Sometimes you need criticism, even if it comes in the form of a rejection, to improve your work. Other times, there may be nothing wrong with your work, but it’s just not the right fit for that publication at that time. It happens. It’s worth being part of a writing group and getting honest feedback on your work from more than one person who is not your mom.

Lately, the rejections I’ve been getting have come with personalized notes that say things like “great story but it’s not timely enough” or “great writing but it’s not for us. Feel free to submit again in the future.” I don’t like getting rejections, but I have learned from them. I’ve taken the comments I’ve received from editors and revised my works. I’ve grown as a writer, and even when my work isn’t what the editor wants, I know it’s getting closer to hitting the mark.

The other day when I was updating my spreadsheet, I smirked at the callousness with which I treated my rejections. There was a time when I would’ve taken them so personally, but now I realize that rejections come with the territory.

This applies to life too. No one ever did anything great in life without taking a risk.

Life after the MFA

5 Jun

As thesis submission deadline approached, people began asking me what I was planning on doing after graduation.  Then they’d stop themselves, afraid they may have asked too painful of a question.  But it’s not!

In one of my last posts, I left off telling you about grabbing a cup of tea after turning my theses in.  What I didn’t tell you was that on my walk back to my office, while sipping that delicious tea, I made a phone call to biographer Paul Maher Jr.  Paul’s books are some of the most well respected in his categories, and they’ve been translated and sold around the globe.

Inspired by Laura Vanderkam’s List of 100 Dreams, I created my own a while back.  Become a scholar on the Beat Generation was on my list.  I’ve been studying the writers generally categorized as Beat for more than a decade now.  I did my MFA at The New School, where Jack Kerouac took writing classes, and where I connected with writers who had known Jack Kerouac.

Now, my dream of becoming a Beat scholar is being realized.  Paul and I are working on a book that tells the true story of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road.  The phone call to him on Monday was to discuss cover ideas.

I don’t have a big life-altering answer to the question of what I’m doing after the MFA.  Paul and I have been working on this book for a while now, and since I won’t be simultaneously working on a thesis anymore I’ll simply be refocusing my creative energies into the book.  It helps that I didn’t enter the program straight out of undergrad.  I’d already been working in book publishing, a career many of my classmates are hoping to enter, and so graduation isn’t a big scary unknown for me.  I’ll be continuing in my editorial role.  For me, life after the MFA is about continuing to follow my passions while also seizing new opportunities.

I’m extremely excited to say that my post-MFA plan is to co-author a book on Jack Kerouac.

Thesis!!

30 Apr

I’ve got army print nail polish on to tackle my thesis!!