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Interview with IU Creative Writing Faculty: Elizabeth Eslami

We’re proud to have the fantastic Elizabeth Eslami join the Indiana University Creative Writing Program as a Visiting Lecturer. Her collection and novel chilled us; we felt the words cold in our bones. Here Elizabeth answers questions posed her about her writing habits, the deft handling of place in her work, her forthcoming novel, and how she believes in magic.Elizabeth Eslami - photo IU

Elizabeth Eslami is the author of the story collection Hibernate, for which she was awarded the Ohio State University Prize in Short Fiction, and the acclaimed novel Bone Worship (Pegasus, 2010). Her essays, short stories, and travel writing have been published widely, most recently in The Literary Review, The Sun, and Witness, and her work is featured in the anthologies Tremors: New Fiction By Iranian American Writers and Writing Off Script: Writers on the Influence of Cinema. She’s a Visiting Lecturer in the Creative Writing Program at Indiana University.

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Indiana Review Staff Tells All: Pet Peeves

We all have our word pet peeves—those words and phrases that catch on us like hangnails, the newly indicted clichés. Here our staff weighs in on some of their word pet peeves, mindful that every one of these words can likely be wielded as the best sword. So it’s worth noting that this is not our attempt at a blanket ban on these words, not a hunt against what might be considered ordinary or mundane. And of course, while these are by no means rules—only preferences—we hope you too consider what some of your word pet peeves are. We’d like to know. Share them in the comments!

 

Paul: “Impossible” (adj. “not able to occur, exist, or be done):

Folks, nothing is impossible. Gay Marriage? Possible. The Crusades? Possible. Look, if Disney can do Mulan on Ice, anything is possible. Now I know what you’re thinking: there is no way Daniel Day Lewis will be in a Disney movie. But you’re wrong. Vin Diesel? Disney Movie. Owen Wilson? Disney Movie. Jackie Chan? Disney Movie. Disney will destroy us all. Us being my family, because we love Disney on Ice, and that shit is expensive.

 

Peter: “Shuffle” (v. “to walk by dragging one’s feet along):

This word can’t, for me, shake its association with awkward prose. It draws attention to itself as language, to the unremarkable act of walking, granting it undue significance. While I can see some argument for how the word might help characterize, sort of demonstrating sluggishness, for me it just can’t do this well enough—so often tossed-around in writing, and so often seeming out of focus, “shuffle” seems to avoid the hard work of functioning as essential, proving detail. Is there an occasion for the shuffle? It seems likely. But so often I find that a simple “walk” would do, and do better, than how I feel when I read the word: a defeated walk out the door, my head bowed, feet barely lifting from the floor.

 

Leslie: “Tears” (n. “a drop of clear salty liquid secreted from glands in a person’s eye”):

At the beginning of the semester, I hand out a sheet of paper to my students with the title “List of Words to Avoid.” At the top of this list: tears—those crystalline drops of saline fluid that dangle mercilessly from tear ducts. Sound melodramatic yet? Truth is the word carries so many connotations that it’s nearly impossible not to feel like a poem has taken a quick pit-stop in a young adult novel and found itself desperately lost in the lyrics of an early ‘00’s emo/acoustic/indie rock band—Dashboard Confessional, anyone? That’s not to say that I don’t enjoy revisiting the glory days of unfettered youth, but there are other ways to conjure those feelings. There’s so much music in poetry that it would be unwise to revisit tired tunes. Let’s write anthems full of merciless metaphors and somatic similes! Get away from abstractions and dwell more within the body. Avoid those pesky bodily fluids, though—that’s also a huge no-no. But you already knew that.​

 

Shayla: “Pomegranate” (n. “an orange-sized fruit with a tough reddish outer skin”):

Writers tend to go through trends of word experiences—sometimes Paris, sometimes bees, often mangoes. Around 2012, the trend tilted toward pomegranate. I have trouble when writers try to hinge the import of their words upon an exotic or symbolic stand-in. Aside from the passion inherent in its color and texture (its inability to divide into licentious pearls), the fruit harbors historical relevance due to its association with femininity and the underworld (the forbidden fruit of Greek mythology). As writers, we are responsible for the legacy of words, and how we choose to carry that into our work. As uncharted as a pomegranate may seem, I would much rather see a writer do something fresh with a banana, chilidog, or peanut.

 

Allie: “Somehow” (adv. “in some way”):

“Somehow,” as in the word I’ve used for decades to imbue specialness onto something I can’t describe. This word feels like one of the ultimate copouts, right up there with Exposition Through Dialogue and Overstated Puns. “Somehow” is the gray space of description in setting, plot, and character—and somehow I can’t stop using it.

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Announcing Our 2014 Fiction Prize Winner!

Judge Roxane Gay has selected “The Passuer,” by Erin Lyons, as the winner of Indiana Review‘s 2014 Fiction Prize! Lyons’ story will appear in the 2015 Summer issue of Indiana Review. We received more than 500 submissions, a record number of outstanding quality and variety. All work was read anonymously and closely by our editors. Thanks to all who submitted their work for consideration and made this year’s 2014 Fiction Prize possible.

2014 Indiana Review Fiction Prize Winner:

“The Passeur”

Erin Lyons

Gay has this to say about the winning piece: “The Passeur is a subtle and smart story about what it really looks like when “well meaning” Westerners try to insert themselves into countries with fraught and violent climates. The story artfully reveals, among other things, how good intentions are not nearly enough to solve the very real problems of the world.”

Runner-Up:

“Come Go With Me” by Nora Bonner

Honorable Mentions:

“El Gritón” by Jose Alfaro

“Going Mean” by Dana Diehl

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The New Testament, Citizen, and Forgiveness Forgiveness: Contemporary Poetry on the Politics of Race

In light of the recent epidemic of racially charged violence and two grand jury decisions not to indict the policemen responsible for the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, I would like to draw attention to three newly published poetry collections that deserve consideration within the current dialogue on blackness: The New Testament by Jericho Brown, Citizen by Claudia Rankine, and Forgiveness Forgiveness by Shane McCrae. These three books have garnered much attention on their individual merit, but deserve consideration in terms of the conversation we should be having about race relations in America.

A poetry book is a kind of rumination. For the average poetry collection to go from the seed of an idea to an ISBN number takes at least 2-3 years—even for relatively established poets like Rankine, Brown and McCrae. All three books were released within a month of each other and, based on their overlapping subject matter, one might suppose these varying depictions of the expendability of black lives result from the July 13, 2013 Trayvon Martin case verdict. But, assuming a typical publication schedule, these books would have been in the editing stages by the time George Zimmerman’s acquittal made headlines.

I say this because The New Testament, Citizen, and Forgiveness Forgiveness all bear testimony to the importance of poets amidst the voices that respond to today’s atrocities. The fact that these books focus our attention of varying views of blackness, of black masculinity, of disappearance, of youth—while our newsfeeds fill with the loss of one black life, after another black life, after another—is more strategic than anomalous.

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Special Calls for Nonfiction Submissions!

We a happy to announce two special calls for submissions in Nonfiction! These submissions are exempt from our usual non-subscriber reading fee and are open from December 18 through February 15.

Nonfiction Manifestos

We’re looking for your most marauding manifestos. We don’t want your past; we want your future. We want the culmination of philosophies spawned by all of your cancer-surviving, new-city-visiting, masturbating, real-life soapboxing. We want to know what’s buzzing inside the hive mind of contemporary literature, that work of real necessity. What do you believe will be the next breakthrough? What do you think we should all pay attention to? Dare to tell us all what we should be doing.

Nonfiction Graphic Memoir

When drawing and text are combined to explore the realm of memoir, readers are allowed to enter the headspace of the writer in a way that is akin to walking into someone’s dreams. Somewhere out there, we hope there is a team of benevolent scientists and artists creatively collaborating on inventing a machine that will actually allow us walk through one another’s dreams. When that true genius comes into fruition, rest assured Indiana Review will be the first literary magazine out there turning Dream Walks into a Call for Submissions. In the meantime, we would like to see what you cartoonists, you purposefully lonely and most unsung of all contemporary writing beasts, are doing in your hobbit holes, your hands covered in ink. Collaborative submissions are very welcome.

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