Sunday, September 27, 2015

Conway ArtsFest 2015 Reading with Jennie Case, 1 October

82º ~ sunny days, very dry for the past month, a wee chance of showers tomorrow and Tuesday

This week, I will have my first official reading in Conway, AR, as a faculty member of the UCA Writing Department. I'm super excited to be reading at Conway ArtsFest with my colleague, and fellow new faculty member, Jennie Case. Jennie writes in both poetry and prose, largely influenced by place and environmental themes, and she hails from Minnesota. Jennie is also the assistant nonfiction editor over at, so we've had editorial stories and issues to discuss as well. We are aligned on many planes. Knowing the existing faculty at UCA prior to landing the job, I knew I'd been granted an amazing opportunity to work with some excellent folks. Adding Jennie to the group has been the bonus icing beyond my sweet-tooth dreams. I can wait to share the stage with her on Thursday, 10/1, at 7 p.m. at the Faulkner County Library in Conway.

Thanks to Mark Spitzer for making our poster!

In true literary event form, this reading conflicts with at least two other major events in central Arkansas, including the Porter Prize Gala and the fall membership party for the Arkansas Shakespeare Theatre. While I'm bummed to miss out on both of those opportunities, I'm thrilled that central Arkansas is now rife with literary goings-on.

I'm also doubly pleased to read with Jennie because we are both negotiating the demands of a tenure-line job and realizing exactly what that means in terms of our own writing time. If you are a long-time reader of this blog, you will remember that PTC was a community college that did not look for publication by its faculty (some CCs do, some don't). I always said that I was thankful to not have that pressure, and now I realize just how much I was thankful. I'm glad I had that space to learn how to balance writing, writing business tasks, teaching, service, and professional development. Now, the workload has been ramped up, though, and I'm struggling to re-adjust.

Enter my thankfulness for Jennie. Early in the semester, we struck a deal to write together for 90 minutes weekly. So far, we are on track, and I confess that if I didn't have a partner to whom I felt responsible, I would have thrown that schedule out after the first week. Instead, I have three new, teeny tiny poem drafts, each about 14 lines long (no sonnets). Now, I'm thinking book #4 may be a book of sister poems (not the angry sisters from two years ago) all in 14 lines. Hmmmmmmm. A glimmer emerges.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

When a Visiting Writer Nails It (Dinty W. Moore Comes to UCA)

77º ~ summer is a-lingering awhile longer, though the calendar signals otherwise

Combining the new tenure-track job and travel for the new book means that this semester is a "fingernail" semester (aka hanging on by one's fingernails), but in all the best ways.

One of those ways occurred this past week when the Department of Writing (and the College of Fine Arts and Communication) hosted Dinty W. Moore as one of UCA's Artists in Residence this semester.

Prior to his visit, I'd read a few of Dinty W. Moore's essays, but not many. Now, I've got another book on my stack to read and a new writer to admire. Moore is a professor at Ohio University, the editor of Brevity, an online journal of brief creative non-fiction, and the author of many books of creative non-fiction, most recently Dear Mister Essay Writer Guy, from which he read for us. His essays are poignant and funny at the same time, as Moore is able to look at his own life honestly and poke fun at himself, no matter the subject. Through that humor, he shares the wisdom he has found from contemplating the important people and moments in his past. It was a real joy to hear those essays come alive in the writer's own voice.

The day after Moore's reading, he led two class sessions. The first was a Q&A about CNF for undergraduate students. In this session, Moore used his friendly and funny demeanor to provide a very brief overview of the genre's history, and then took question after question from a packed room. His knowledge, patience, thoroughness, and kindness were all exemplary. Finally, he wrapped up his visit with a more private workshop with graduate students in the Arkansas Writer's MFA Program at UCA.

With two full sections of Introduction to Creative Writing, I asked my students to attend one of Moore's two "open" events. It was an awesome feeling for me to sit in the audience and soak in the words of a great writer, and then to look over and see my undergraduate students doing the same thing. We were all scribbling in our journals like literary chipmunks storing away bits of wit and wisdom. (I did ask them to do a written assignment during Moore's talks, but I do think they seemed to be as fully into capturing Moore's gems as I was.) In class the next day, they exploded with enthusiasm.

I had to laugh because Moore basically repeated many of the basic writing tips I'd already covered in class, but hey, he was the visitor, so his words had a higher impact. (When I shared this observation with Moore right before he left, he confided that the same thing happens to him when another writer comes to his campus.)

After Moore's visit, I turned my attention to Comp I, as I'm now hip deep in grading essay 1. And now that I've gotten my thoughts about Moore's visit down on the page, I need to turn back to that grading. For anyone worried, I've developed fairly strong fingernails over the last four weeks.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

The Mid-South Book Festival Recap

87º ~ but with the low dew points, it only feels like 87º ~ bright sun, strong cooling breezes gusting

This past weekend, I was in Memphis for the second Mid-South Book Festival. Last year, in its debut the festival hosted 50 authors and saw 3,000 visitors; this year the scorecard leaped upwards with 80 authors and over 5,000 visitors. Speaking as one of the authors from this year's event, I can testify that the folks from Literacy Mid-South had it all going on!

The festival began on Wednesday with an all day summit on literacy efforts from grassroots to national organizations. While I couldn't make that event with my teaching schedule, from what I hear the summit sold out and presented motivated educators with great opportunities to network and learn together.

I joined in on Friday for another sold out event: The Well Read Reception, held at The Playhouse on the Square in Midtown. This was a social outing where authors mingled with readers, got an advance chance to buy books, and feasted on some tasty noms. I had a great time re-connecting with the folks of the Impossible Language Reading Series (where I read in April...or was it May?) and meeting new writers I can't wait to read.

On Saturday, the festival shut down a section of Cooper Ave. in Memphis and the book fair spread out into the street. Luckily, we only needed the tents to shelter from the sun. At the book fair, I got to spend some time with two of my favorite Little Rock poets: Bryan Borland and Seth Pennington of Sibling Rivalry Press. They graciously allowed me to chill out from time to time behind their table.

I also had the chance to read not once, but twice. In the morning, I took the mic out on the street for the Street Fair Reading Tent. The wind was strong but the mic was stronger. I spent quite a bit of time hanging out on the street listening to folks share their work with the audience and the wind. Then, at the end of the day, I had the good fortune to read on a panel. In both cases, the sickly speaker got a warm welcome, and I'm thankful to everyone who helped organize to get me there!

On Sunday, I had to leave town to get home and take care of school work; however, the festival continued on for the day with writing workshops for both adults and children.

The long and the short of it is this: If you are anywhere near the mid-south, or can manage to get to Memphis next fall when year three comes around, you should check out this festival. It gets a big Wahoooooooza from me.