Young Writers and Workshops

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Kelsey Adams, one of IR’s wonderful interns, for south central Indiana’s NPR station, WFIU. Kelsey is an undergraduate fiction writer in her senior year at Indiana University, and she makes for an eloquent and thoughtful interview subject. (Stay tuned for a couple of follow-up talks with her in the future!)

“Here at IU is where I really began to feel as if I was a writer,” Kelsey says, and–though this didn’t make its way in to the final interview–she told me with humility and wisdom that she sees herself writing in the tradition of Lorrie Moore. What a gift, I thought, to find your writerly identity as an undergrad! A long time ago, I had a conversation with a friend that would always stay with me, a conversation about the importance of heroes. I think one of the great benefits of creative writing programs is that they expose young writers to older ones, allowing them to find their literary heroes. Creative writing workshops let us see our own writing as literature, just as we learn to read literature as if it were workshop writing. Only when we’re then able to locate our work in the vast landscape of literature that’s already out there, workshop wisdom tells us, can we take ourselves seriously as writers. (And only then, paradoxically, after we begin to take ourselves seriously, can we actually become ‘serious’ writers.)

They also teach us some serious rules. As anyone who’s been in a creative writing workshop knows, there are a handful of sayings that come up a lot: “Show, don’t tell!” “The ending has to be earned!” “Let your characters make their own choices!” The list goes on–and gets more and more specific. Of the story from which she reads excerpts in this interview, Kelsey says, “This one started [with my reacting to how] they always tell you, ‘Never write a cancer story.’ …I did it anyway.” Another thing you learn in a creative writing workshop is when to break workshop commandments. The premise of Kelsey’s “cancer story”? A woman discovers her cancer has been cured, but realizes she wishes it hadn’t been, wishes she were still sick.

On the excellent Web site Open Culture, there is a recent post recounting advice about writing from great writers: Henry Miller, Elmore Leonard, Neil Gaiman, Margaret Atwood, George Orwell, and that poster boy for grammatical correctness, William Safire. A couple of these pieces of advice stick out as particularly hypocritical–and particularly wise. Neil Gaiman advises:

The main rule of writing is that if you do it with enough assurance and confidence, you’re allowed to do whatever you like. (That may be a rule for life as well as for writing. But it’s definitely true for writing.) So write your story as it needs to be written. Write it ­honestly, and tell it as best you can. I’m not sure that there are any other rules. Not ones that matter.

And George Orwell says,

Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

Inside IR: Meet the Editors

As you might imagine, Indiana Review‘s poetry editor is a busy, busy woman, but Cate Lycurgus takes a moment to speak in exclamation points and spread a little literary love.

Where are you from?

I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area and did my undergraduate degree there. I miss the sun and the ocean and the tart frozen yogurt!

Favorite issue of IR?

33.2 because it’s here! And because it was the first issue that I really remember fighting for poems. There were pieces I felt strongly about, and wanted to see them published.

Fave non-IR journals?

Too many to count! I love Crazyhorse and Pleiades and Hayden’s Ferry. I also can’t get enough of Poetry, and I look forward to it every month. Especially the “Q and A” issue in December. Hearing writers answer questions about craft and about particular poems is such a treat, and I learn more from them than many literature classes and lectures.

What/who is on your reading wishlist right now?

When they come out this spring, Todd Boss’ Pitch and Mike McGriff’s Sequence of the Night. I want to read Kimberly Johnson’s A Metaphorical God, and Juliana Spahr’s Fuck You-Aloha-I Love You. I always want to return to Rilke, to his Duino Elegies. For fiction, The Art of Fielding by Chad Harback, then so much non-fiction: Reza Aslan’s Beyond Fundamentalism, Melissa Coleman’s This Life is in Your Hands, Walter Isaacson’s Benjamin Franklin: An American Life–I want to read that to my dad.

What do you hope to see next for IR?

Previews of poems that will appear in our next issue online and maybe some new online content. While holding a journal comes first in my heart, I appreciate a tasteful website that has inspiring work so I can get a flavor of it through browsing. I want people to see what a stunning journal IR is and to subscribe!

Inside IR: Meet the Editors

This week, IR’s prized and plucky Fiction Editor Rachel Lyon, shares some of her favorite journals with unique pursuits and reminds us that we all still need to read Moby Dick.

Photo sources: Tom Neely, Vanessa Michelle, Indiana Review

Where are you from?
Brooklyn, New York.

Favorite issue of IR?
31.2, Winter 2009, because it was the first issue I saw. It’s as old as my studentship at IU, and it introduced me to the work of writers like Michael Martone and Dan Beachy-Quick, whose work I still follow. Plus, I love that wicked rabbit on the cover.

Favorite non-IR journals?
I love the Canadian journal Geist. It’s funny, Canada isn’t that far away, but reading Geist you get a real sense of a different culture. I’m also interested in journals that are dedicated to more specific projects, like Alimentum, a journal that showcases work about food, which Deb introduced me to; Memoir, which pushes the boundaries of traditional memoir; Fourth Genre, which focuses on creative nonfiction; or Camera Obscura, which has some beautiful fiction and photography.


What/Who is on your reading wish list right now?
I am itching for summer, when I’ll have the time to finally read Moby Dick. The short passages that I have read are stunning. I can’t wait to read it from beginning to end.


What do you hope to see next for IR?
I’m interested to see where we go in the next five or ten years with digital literature, interactive written work that is only available online. I think digital literature offers some really interesting possibilities, and I will be following IR long after I graduate to see how we eventually develop those ideas.


Image: Curtis Bauer

IR contributor Curtis Bauer‘s Spanish Sketchbook is now out in a bilingual Spanish/English edition, España en Dibujos! (Psssst…you can find two of his poems in translation in Indiana Review 33.2).

Bauer also has a new collection of poems, The Real Cause For Your Absence, forthcoming from C&R Press in Chattanooga. He is the author of a first collection of poems, Fence Line, and he currently lives in Lubbock, Texas, where he teaches at Texas Tech.

You can read an interview with Curtis Bauer here.

Or, a wonderful essay by Curtis here.

Or, listen to him read his poems here.

This guy is unstoppable. Congratulations, Curtis!

Digital/Print ☂

You’ve probably seen this statistic in one form or another, lately: eReader ownership nearly doubled over the holidays. Print vs. media is a huge and exhausted topic of concern everywhere, for publishers and writers and readers alike. Often it’s “the legacy of print” pitted against “new media”; whether the printed page is sustainable; how the interactivity and immediacy of the Internet can short-circuit your memory, slice away your attention span; how, in spite of that, the longform essay actually thrives.

We at IR are also discussing it. We like the physical artifact of the book, the perfect-bound, typeset magazine that exists by itself, that isn’t housed within the frame of a screen. There’s its exclusivity. But we also consider the negative aspects of exclusivity: Only some people access to the content. Only some people can read it. We recognize the importance of accessibility, that other literary journals are accomplishing the shift in different ways–Gulf Coast, The Journal.

A friend and reader for IR walked into the office as I started this blog post and grudgingly admitted that print and digital media will continue to coexist. I’ll add that ideally, they should coexist. I read The Rumpus and The Millions and HTMLGiant with Google Reader; I have print subscriptions to other literary magazines. All these publications compete for your attention, but they’re also active in the literary community—they make conversation about good and bad writing, they publish writing that is excellent and maybe weird and maybe not your thing and maybe totally very much your thing. They define and question art and ask you to figure out what it is, too.

The underlying matter to the print/media question is how we can sustain our readership and, consequently, our production. How long can we keep doing this? Hopefully forever.