CWW Presents: WORD — A Brooklyn Book Festival Reading

The Cambridge Writers’ Workshop will be hosting a reading during the annual Brooklyn Book Festival in Brooklyn, New York. The reading will be held on Saturday, September 15 at WORD Bookstore (126 Franklin St. Brooklyn, NY 11222) from 7 pm to 8:30 pm. Come visit our reading to hear from ten amazing authors who will be sharing some of their latest work.

Check out our incredible reading list:

 

Stephen Aubrey is a Brooklyn-based writer and dramaturg. He is co-artistic director and resident playwright of The Assembly theater company. His plays have been produced at The New Ohio Theater, The Living Theater, The Flea Theater, The Collapsable Hole, and the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. His writing has appeared in Electric Literature, Publishing Genius, and The Brooklyn Review. He teaches creative writing and literature in the CUNY system.

Rita BanerjeeRitaBanerjee is the editor of CREDO: An Anthology of Manifestos and Sourcebook for Creative Writing (C&R Press, May 2018) and the author of the poetry collection Echo in Four Beats (Finishing Line Press, March 2018), the novella “A Night with Kali” in Approaching Footsteps (Spider Road Press, 2016), and the poetry chapbook Cracklers at Night (Finishing Line Press, 2010). She received her doctorate in Comparative Literature from Harvard and her MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Washington, and her writing appears in the Academy of American PoetsPoets & Writers, Nat. Brut.The Rumpus, Painted Bride Quarterly, Mass Poetry, Hyphen Magazine, Los Angeles Review of BooksElectric Literature, VIDA, Objet d’Art, KBOO Radio’s APA Compass, and elsewhere. She is the Executive Creative Director of the Cambridge Writers’ Workshop.   She is the judge for the 2017 Minerva Rising “Dare to Speak” Poetry Chapbook Contest, and she is currently working on a novel, a book on South Asian literary modernisms, and a collection of lyric essays on race, sex, politics, and everything cool.

Lisa Marie Basile is the author of APOCRYPHALand the chapbooks Andalucia and war/lock. She is the editor-in-chief of Luna Luna Magazine, and her poetry and essays have appeared in PANK, Tin House, Coldfront, The Nervous Breakdown, The Huffington Post, Best American Poetry, PEN American Center, Dusie, The Ampersand Review, and other publications. She’s been featured in the NY Daily News, Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls and on Ravishly.com. She holds an MFA from The New School and is working on a poetic novella. Basile is the author of “Dispelling the Myth of the Poet” in CREDO: An Anthology of Manifestos and Sourcebook for Creative Writing (C&R Press, May 2018).

Madeleine Barnes is a poet and visual artist from Pittsburgh living in Brooklyn. She is a doctoral fellow at CUNY’s Ph.D. Program in English, and the recipient of a New York State Summer Writers Institute Fellowship, two Academy of American Poets prizes, and the Princeton Poetry Prize. Her second chapbook, Light Experiments, is forthcoming from Porkbelly Press this year, and her protest embroideries were recently featured in Boston Accent Lit. She serves as Poetry Editor at Cordella Magazine.

Alexander Carrigan is the Communications and PR manager for the Cambridge Writers’ Workshop and has been with the organization since 2014. He is currently an assistant editor with the American Correctional Association. He has had fiction, poetry, reviews (film, TV, and literature), and nonfiction work published in Mercurial StoriesPoictesme Literary Journal, Amendment Literary Journal, Quail Bell Magazine, Luna Luna Magazine, Rebels: Comic Anthology at VCU, Realms YA Literary Magazine, and Life in 10 Minutes. He lives in Alexandria, VA. Carrigan is the author of “First Person Perspective Flash Fiction Prompts” in the Exercises section of CREDO: An Anthology of Manifestos and Sourcebook for Creative Writing (C&R Press, May 2018) and was one of the anthology’s assistant editors.

Elizabeth Devlin, with her haunting combination of lilting voice and enchanting Autoharp, is a self-produced NYC singer- songwriter. Devlin defies traditional musical structure with many of her songs, building miniature narratives and magical worlds where characters, fantasies and time collide. Devlin has toured nationally, internationally, & performs in venues throughout NYC’s 5 boroughs. “Orchid Mantis,” her newest full-length album, was released in February 2017 at Sidewalk Café’s Winter Anti-folk Festival in NYC.

Jonah Kruvant’s successful first novel, The Last Book Ever Written, a dystopian satire set in a futuristic society where creativity is illegal, was published by PanAm Books in April 2015. His work has also appeared in Digital Americana, On the Verge, Bewildering Stories, Fiction on the Web, the Scarlet Leaf Review, and LIMN Literary and Arts Journal. I received an MFA degree in Fiction from Goddard College. Read about my work, book tour, and blog at www.jonahkruvant.com.

Emily Smith is currently an MFA student in nonfiction at Columbia University. Her work has appeared in The Rumpus, Buzzfeed, Brooklyn Magazine, and many others. She’s previously worked as a Contributing Blogger for Ploughshares and a reviewer at Kirkus Reviews. You can follow her on Twitter at @esmithwrites.

 

DianVersion 2a Norma Szokolyai recently received honorable mention  in the 87th Annual Writers’ Digest Writing Competition for her poem “Shadows of the Pantry,” based on the experiences of her grandmother in war-torn Hungary, which will be featured in the Writers’ Digest Collection forthcoming in November 2018. She is the editor of CREDO: An Anthology of Manifestos & Sourcebook for Creative Writing (C&R Press, 2018). She’s also founding Executive Artistic Director of Cambridge Writers’ Workshop. Her poetry chapbook, Parallel Sparrows, received honorable mention for Best Poetry Book at the 2014 Paris Book Festival and her first poetry collection, Roses in the Snow placed first runner-up for Best Poetry Book at the 2009 DIY Book Festival. She is also author of a feminist rewriting of a classic fairytale for Brooklyn Art Library’s The Fiction Project, entitled Beneath the Surface: Blue Beard, Remixed. Szokolyai’s poetry and prose has been published in MER VOX Quarterly, Snapdragon Journal, VIDA Review, Quail Bell Magazine, The Boston Globe, Luna Luna Magazine, Up the Staircase Quarterly, and has been anthologized in Other Countries: Contemporary Poets Rewiring History, Teachers as Writers, Always Wondering, and Our Last Walk. Her poetry-music collaboration with Flux Without Pause, “Space Mothlight,” hit #16 on the Creative Commons Hot 100 list in 2015, and can be found in the curated WFMU Free Music Archive.

Amanda TorontoAmanda Toronto received her Ph.D. in English and American literature from New York University where she focused on contemporary American literature, art, and religion. She lives with her family in New York City and is at work on her first novel.

 

Devynity Wray is a Black Expressionist (artist, writer, performer, and poet) who graduated from the Fiorello LaGuardia High School of Music & Arts and Performing Arts with an Arts Regents Diploma. She also earned her Bachelor’s of the Arts Cum Laude in Africana, Puerto-Rican and Latino Studies from Hunter College.  Devynity was a slam team member with the Nuyorican Poet’s Cafe in 2002 which placed 3rd that year at the National Poetry Slam Contest. Her poem “Black Girl Manifesto” has also been published in Hill Harper’s critically acclaimed Letters to a Young Sister. Born and raised in Queens, New York, Devynity’s work embodies an amalgam of her intimate experiences growing up as a woman of color in the inner city and the struggles of its inhabitants. She is currently working on projects in music, video and on the page that will piece all that she has to offer into coherent experiences for her audience.

 

We hope to see you there!

 

Cambridge Writers’ Workshop presents Disobedient Futures – A Split This Rock Festival Reading – Friday, April 20, 2018

Disobediant_Futures_Reading-updatedIn honor of the Split This Rock Poetry Festival: Poems of Provocation and Witness (April 19-21, 2018), the Cambridge Writers’ Workshop will be hosting its reading Disobedient Futures at the Colony Club in Washington D.C. this Friday, April 20, 2018 from 5:30 pm – 7:30 pm.  Disobedient Futures will feature readings from Rita BanerjeeAlex CarriganMarlena Chertock, and Christina M. Rau .

To get to the reading at the Colony Club, please take the Green line Metro towards Greenbelt and exit at the Columbia Heights Station, then walk to 3118 Georgia Ave NW, Washington DC 20010.

Featured Readers:

Rita BanerjeeRitaBanerjee is the editor of CREDO: An Anthology of Manifestos and Sourcebook for Creative Writing (C&R Press, May 2018) and the author of the poetry collection Echo in Four Beats (Finishing Line Press, March 2018), the novella “A Night with Kali” in Approaching Footsteps (Spider Road Press, 2016), and the poetry chapbook Cracklers at Night (Finishing Line Press, 2010). She received her doctorate in Comparative Literature from Harvard and her MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Washington, and her writing appears in the Academy of American PoetsPoets & Writers, Nat. Brut.The Rumpus, Painted Bride Quarterly, Mass Poetry, Hyphen Magazine, Los Angeles Review of BooksElectric Literature, VIDA, Objet d’Art, KBOO Radio’s APA Compass, and elsewhere. She is the Executive Creative Director of the Cambridge Writers’ Workshop.   She is the judge for the 2017 Minerva Rising “Dare to Speak” Poetry Chapbook Contest, and she is currently working on a novel, a book on South Asian literary modernisms, and a collection of lyric essays on race, sex, politics, and everything cool.

Alexander Carrigan is the Communications and PR manager for the Cambridge Writers’ Workshop and has been with the organization since 2014. He is currently an associate editor with the American Correctional Association. He has had fiction, poetry, reviews (film, TV, and literature), and nonfiction work published in Poictesme Literary Journal, Amendment Literary Journal, Quail Bell Magazine, Luna Luna Magazine, Rebels: Comic Anthology at VCU, Realms YA Literary Magazine, and Life in 10 Minutes. He lives in Alexandria, VA. Carrigan is the author of “First Person Perspective Flash Fiction Prompts” in the Exercises section of CREDO: An Anthology of Manifestos and Sourcebook for Creative Writing (C&R Press, May 2018).

Marlena Chertock has two books of poetry, Crumb-sized (Unnamed Press, 2017) and On that one-way trip to Mars (Bottlecap Press, 2016). She lives in Washington, D.C. and uses her skeletal dysplasia and chronic pain as a bridge to scientific poetry. Her poems and short stories have appeared in Breath & Shadow, The Deaf Poets Society, Noble/Gas Quarterly, Paper Darts, Rogue Agent, Wordgathering, and more. Marlena often moderates or speaks on panels at literary conferences and festivals. She serves as the Communications Coordinator for the LGBTQ Writers Caucus. Find her on Twitter at @mchertock.

Christina M. Rau is the author of the sci-fi fem poetry collection, Liberating The Astronauts (Aqueduct Press, 2017), and the chapbooks WakeBreatheMove (Finishing Line Press, 2015) and For The Girls, I (Dancing Girl Press, 2014). Her poetry has also appeared on gallery walls in The Ekphrastic Poster Show, on car magnets for The Living Poetry Project, and in various literary journals both online and in print. She is the founder of the Long Island reading circuit, Poets In Nassau, and has read and run workshops for various community groups nationwide. She teaches English and Creative Writing at Nassau Community College where she also serves as Poetry Editor for The Nassau Review. In her non-writing life, she teaches yoga occasionally and line dances on other occasions.

Our readers Rita BanerjeeMarlena Chertock, and Christina M. Rau will also be hosting a panel during Split This Rock, entitled Fantasy As Reality: Activism & Catharsis in Speculative Writing,” which will be held at National Housing Center Room B (1201 15th Street NW, Washington, DC 20005) on Saturday, April 21 from 9-10:30 am. The Fantasy As Reality is described below:

“This panel will demonstrate how non-realist poems and prose can offer a space for political critique and empowerment. We will ask audience members about their own speculative writing and reading experiences and offer prompts to those who wish to work on similar future writing. Speculative and science fiction are often stereotyped as futuristic, extraterrestrial, and fantastical romps through universes using space travel, time travel, and super-advanced technology centered on white cis males. However, women, non-binary, and activist writers of speculative literature are purposefully subverting this stereotype, diversifying and owning the fantastical worlds that they imagine. Speculative literature, at its core, is about giving voice to ‘The Other.’ Speculative writing, in prose or poetry, focuses on not only imagined realities of the future, past, and present but also gives voice to bodies and individuals who are disabled, alien, marginalized, menial workers, and other traditionally neglected voices. Sci-fi and fantasy characters and voices can—and should—represent the underrepresented to create a sense of community as well as to challenge injustices in our real world.”

We hope to see you at some of our events at Split This Rock !

Happy New Year 2018 -💖- the Cambridge Writers’ Workshop!

Happy New Year 2018 from all of us here at the Cambridge Writers’ Workshop! We are looking forward to another year filled with inspiring workshops and retreats, readings and book launches and a variety of other ways to connect with new and old CWW writers and artists. Thank you to all of our CWW participants, teachers, friends and all of you who helped make this year creatively productive and inspiring.

2017 was a wild ride but looking back on the events of the past year we are overwhelmingly grateful for the ways we were able to connect with new and old friends through writing and art. Over the past year CWW held retreats and workshops in Europe and the United States, put the finishing touches on our anthology that is being published in 2018, and connected with other writers at readings and events throughout the country. We started the year off at the AWP Conference in Washington, DC where we hosted “Writers In Resistance.” Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich, Emily Nemens, Jensen Beach, Tim Horvath, Rita Banerjee, Diana Norma Szokolyai, Alex Carrigan and Anna-Celestrya Carr read their original work at Upshur Street Books and it was a wonderful night of reading and community.

In March we held our Spring In New Orleans Writing Retreat where Dipika Guha, Emily Nemens, Rita Banerjee, and Diana Norma Szokolyai led workshops on character development, storytelling and writing in the lyric register. We produced new work, shared our goals and expanded our writing community with new friend and new teachers. Because we were there during the Tennessee Williams Literary Festival, participants were able to take advantage of literary New Orleans in a very special way. We had such a wonderful time in New Orleans we’re doing it again! Stay tuned for details on our Spring 2018 New Orleans Writing Retreat.

From New Orleans it was on to our Spring in Portland Writing Retreat in April. Adam Reid Sexton, Kerry Cohen, Rita Banerjee, and Diana Norma Szokolyai led workshops in fiction, non-fiction and poetry. We held sessions at the Secret Library in the historic Heathman Hotel, spent an afternoon exploring the famous Powell’s bookstore and attended a reading by local author Paul Dage. In our short weekend, we managed to get a feel for this amazing city and can’t wait to go back. Check out CWW alum Angie Walls Portland recommendations!

For our next retreat we headed abroad to Granada, Spain in the Andalucia region. Tim HorvathAlexandria Marzano-Lesnevich, Rita Banerjee and Diana Norma Szokolyai led workshops on character development, poetry, memoir, writing from the senses and translation. We enjoyed flamenco performances, visited the Roma caves of Sacromonte, enjoyed the delicious food and drink the region had to offer. It was a magical trip and we can’t wait to go back this August. Details coming soon! To get taste of what a CWW writing retreat is like check out Diana Norma Szokolyai’s poetic musings on the Granada 2017 retreat.

Our Harvest Creative Writing Retreat in Rockport, MA was our final writing retreat of 2017. We stayed in Gloucester, MA right by beautiful Wingaersheek Beach and took full advantage of our settings. When we weren’t in workshops led by Maya Sonenberg, Rita Banerjee, and Diana Norma Szokolyai, we were taking walks on the beach, enjoying the Rockport Harvest Festival and visiting nearby Salem to take advantage of their October Haunted Happenings. We are planning another New England retreat for 2018, but in the meantime, enjoy Alex Carrigan’s Rockport columns to get a sense of this fantastic weekend.

In addition to our retreats we hosted readings and performances in Boston and Cambridge throughout the year. Some of our readers and performers who joined us throughout the year were Fawn (Will Johnson and Anna Malin Ringwalt) Neil Sanzgiri, Audrey Harrer, Janaka Stucky, Matthew Wallenstein, Rita Banerjee, Sounds in Bloom (Diana Norma Szokolyai and Dennis Shafer), Erini S. Katopodis and Elizabeth Devlin. We also were excited to host our second annual fall writing series at the Cambridge Center for Adult Education. Janaka Stucky, Megan Fernandes, Frederick Douglas Knowles II and Diana Norma Szokolyai taught workshops on haiku, poetry in the age of terror, the power of hip-hop, writing in the lyric register, Black Mountain and New York Poetry School and how to craft compelling characters.

2017 was also the year we began production on our forthcoming podcast, Contact Zones, a series of interviews featuring artists from all mediums all over the world sharing their artistic process and how they related to the world in order to explore how art reverberates after its creation. Our media interns, Anna-Celestrya Carr and Shannon O. Sawyer, are readying the first season of Contact Zones, and we can’t wait to share it will you.

And in between all of the retreats, classes, readings and performances we were writing, editing and dreaming about CREDO: An Anthology of Manifestos and Sourcebook for Creative Writing. CREDO comes out in March 2018 and we could not be more excited to share it with you! But we didn’t do it alone. Our agent, Natalie Kimber, at The Rights Factory, and our publishers John Gosslee and Andrew Sullivan at C&R Press deserve huge thanks! As do our writers! Kazim Ali, Forrest Anderson, Rita Banerjee, Lisa-Marie Basile, Jaswinder Bolina, Stephanie Burt, Alex Carrigan, Sam Cha, Melinda Combs, Thade Correa, Jeff Fernside, Ariel Francisco, John Guzlowski, Rachel Hanel, Janine Harrison, Lindsay Illich, Douglas Jackson, Christine Johnson-Duell, Caitlin Johnson, Jason Kapcala, Richard Kenney, Eve Langston, John Laue, S.D. Lishan, Ellaraine Lockie, Amy MacLennan, Kevin McLellan, E. Ce. Miller, Brenda Moguez, Peter Mountford, Nell Irvin Painter, Robert Pinsky, Kara Provost, Camille Rankine, Jessica Reidy, Amy Rutten, Elizabeth Sharp McKetta, David Shields, Lillian Slugocki, Maya Sonenberg, Kathleen Spivack, Laura Steadham Smith, Molly Sutton Kiefer, Jade Sylvan, Anca, Szilagyi, Diana Norma Szokolyai, Marilyn Taylor, Megan Tilley, Suzanne Van Dam, Nicole Walker, Allyson Whipple, Shawn Wong, Caroll Sun Yang, Matthew Zapruder contributed the beautiful, thought-provoking pieces that make up CREDO and we are so grateful. Stay tuned for details about our CREDO book launch event in March 2018 in conjunction with the AWP conference in Tampa, FL. If you’ll be at AWP stop by and say hi!

Be sure to stick with us in 2018 for another year of incredible writing retreats in New Orleans, Paris, and Granada, Spain, fantastic readings, and a whole slew of exciting projects to come from the CWW and our friends and associates. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter for updates on our forthcoming retreats, workshops and readings and feel free to email us with any questions at info@cambridgewritersworkshop.org. We’d love to hear from you!

May you all have a happy, peaceful and creative 2018!
Cambridge Writers’ Workshop Directors, Board, & Staff

CWW Presents: Writers in Resistance – An AWP 2017 Reading – Washington D.C.

upshurstreetbooksposterfinal2-2-17
The Association of Writers and Writing Programs will be hosting its annual writers conference in Washington DC from February 8-11. As in past years, the Cambridge Writers’ Workshop will be present at the conference, with a table at the book fair at Table 361-T. There, we will have information about our 2017 writing retreats, our internships, publications, and a ton of other goodies.

We will also be hosting three author signings at the Cambridge Writers’ Workshop Table 361-T during the AWP 2017 Conference. The schedule for author signings at our table is as follows:

Tim Horvath: Thursday February 9, 1-2 pm
Diana Norma Szokolyai: Friday February 10, 11 am-12 pm
Rita Banerjee: Saturday February 11, 11 am- 12 pm

As per tradition, we will also be hosting a reading during the conference. The CWW will be hosting a reading at Upshur Street Books on Friday February 10, 2017 from 5pm – 6:45 pm. The reading will be hosted at Upshur’s event space at Third Floor, 4200 9th St NW Washington DC 20011 (above Slim’s Diner). We have eight fabulous readers ready to present their work, including members of our executive board, faculty from our upcoming writing retreats, and some of our CWW friends. Our reading list includes the following:

ritabanerjee-smRita Banerjee
is Executive Creative Director of the Cambridge Writers’ Workshop and teaches at Rutgers University.  She received her doctorate in Comparative Literature from Harvard and her MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Washington, and her writing appears in Poets & Writers, The Rumpus, Mass Poetry, Los Angeles Review of BooksElectric Literature, VIDA: Women in Literary Arts, AWP WC&C Quarterly, Queen Mob’s Tea House, Riot Grrrl Magazine, The Fiction Project, Objet d’Art, KBOO Radio’s APA Compass, and elsewhere. Her first collection of poems, Cracklers at Night (Finishing Line Press), received First Honorable Mention for Best Poetry Book of 2011-2012 at the Los Angeles Book Festival, and her novella, A Night with Kali in Approaching Footsteps (Spider Road Press), is forthcoming in November 2016. Finalist for the 2015 Red Hen Press Benjamin Saltman Award and the 2016 Aquarius Press Willow Books Literature Award, she is currently working on a novel, a book on South Asian literary modernisms, and collection of lyric essays.

beach-jensenJensen Beach is the author of two collections of short fiction, For out of the Heart Proceed, and most recently, Swallowed by the Cold. His stories have appeared A Public Space, the Paris Review, and The New Yorker. He teaches in the BFA Program at Johnson State College, where he is fiction editor at Green Mountains Review. He is also faculty in the MFA Program in Writing & Publishing at Vermont College of Fine Arts. With this family, he lives in Vermont.

 

 

Anna-Celestrya Carr is a Metis/Anishinaabe artist, filmmaker, writer, dancer and speaker.  She graduated from both the Vancouver Film School and the National Screen Institute’s New Voices program in Canada. While at NSI she created Dreamcatcher: A short dramatic fantasy of Aboriginal mythology.  In 2012 she created Tik-A-Lee-Kick, an honest and candid telling of a young Aboriginal woman’s perspective on the role of the Little People funded by the Video Pool Aboriginal Media Art Initiative. She has previously attended the University of Manitoba School of Art.  Shehas worked for the National Film Board of Canada and Urban Shaman Contemporary Aboriginal Art Gallery.  Anna-Celestrya focuses her creative energy on her Aboriginal roots and on advancing the rights of Aboriginal women in North America. She has worked with many organizations and institutions to promote human rights and peace. The artwork that she is best known for is The Men’s Banner Project. This work is a combination of interactive performance and installation, about which she also lectures.

Alex Carrigan is originally from Newport News, Virginia and currently resides in Upper Marlboro, MD.  He graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University with a degree in print/online journalism and a minor in world cinema.  He is currently an managing intern for the Cambridge Writers’ Workshop, as well as a contributing writer for Quail Bell Magazine.  He has written articles for The Commonwealth Times and has had work featured in Luna Luna Magazine. He is also a creative writer and have had work published in Amendment Literary Journal, Life in 10 Minutes, Realms YA Fantasy Literary Magazine, and in Poictesme Literary Journal, of which he was a staff member for four years, two years in which he was deputy editor-in-chief.

tim_horvath_authorphotoTim Horvath is the author of Understories (Bellevue Literary Press), which won the New Hampshire Literary Award, and Circulation (sunnyoutside). His stories have appeared in Conjunctions, Fiction, The Normal School, Harvard Review, and elsewhere. His story “The Understory” won the Raymond Carver Short Story Award, and “The Conversations” earned a Special Mention in the 2014 Pushcart Prize Anthology; he is also a recipient of a Yaddo Fellowship. He teaches in the BFA and low-residency MFA programs at the New Hampshire Institute of Art, where he coordinates the Visiting Writers Series. He is currently at work on The Spinal Descent, a novel about contemporary classical composers, as well as a second short story collection.

Alexandria-Marzano-Lesnevich_MACD-15-201_414

Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich’s first book, THE FACT OF A BODY: A Murder and a Memoir, is forthcoming from Flatiron Books (Macmillan) in May 2017, as well as from publishers internationally. The book layers a memoir with an investigation into, and recreation of, a 1992 Louisiana murder and death penalty case. For her work on the book, Marzano-Lesnevich received a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship and a Rona Jaffe Award, and has twice been a fellow at both MacDowell and Yaddo. Other scholarships and fellowships received include those from the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, the Millay Colony for the Arts, Blue Mountain Center, Kimmel Harding Nelson Center, Djerassi Resident Artists Program, the Studios at Key West, Vermont Studio Center, and the Alice Hayes Fellowship for Social Justice Writing from the Ragdale Foundation. Her essays appear in The New York Times, Oxford American, Iowa Review, Hotel Amerika, The Rumpus, and the anthologies True Crime and Waveform: Twenty-First Century Essays by Women, among many other publications, and were recognized “notable” in Best American Essays 2013, 2015, and 2016. She was educated at Harvard (JD), Emerson College (MFA), and Columbia University (BA) and now teaches at Grub Street, a nonprofit writing center in Boston, and in the graduate public policy program at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.

emilynemens2

Emily Nemens is coeditor and prose editor of The Southern Review, a literary quarterly published at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. Her editorial work has been featured in Writer’s Digest, draft: a journal of process, and on LeanIn.org, and her selections from The Southern Review have recently appeared in Best Mystery Writing 2016 and Best American Nonrequired Reading 2015. She studied art history and studio art at Brown University, and before moving to Louisiana to pursue an MFA in creative writing at LSU, she lived in Brooklyn and worked in editorial capacities at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Center for Architecture. Alongside her editorial work, Emily maintains active writing and illustration practices. Her fiction and essays have recently appeared in The Gettysburg Review, The Los Angeles Review of Books, and n+1, and she is working on a linked story collection about spring training baseball. As an illustrator she’s collaborated with Harvey Pekar on a Studs Terkel anthology, painted miniature portraits of all the women in Congress, and recently published her first New Yorker cartoon. Follow her at @emilynemens.

 

DianaNormaDiana Norma Szokolyai is a writer and Executive Artistic Director of Cambridge Writers’ Workshop. She is author of the poetry collections Parallel Sparrows (honorable mention for Best Poetry Book in the 2014 Paris Book Festival) and Roses in the Snow (first runner-­up Best Poetry Book at the 2009 DIY Book Festival). She also records her poetry with musicians and has collaborated with several composers. Her poetry-music collaboration with Flux Without Pause led to their collaboration “Space Mothlight” hitting #16 on the Creative Commons Hot 100 list in 2015, and can be found in the curated WFMU Free Music Archive. Szokolyai’s work has been recently reviewed by The London Grip and published in Quail Bell Magazine, Lyre Lyre, The Fiction Project, The Boston Globe, Dr. Hurley’s Snake Oil Cure, The Dudley Review and Up the Staircase Quarterly, as well as anthologized in The Highwaymen NYC #2, Other Countries: Contemporary Poets Rewiring History, Always Wondering and Teachers as Writers. Szokolyai earned her Ed.M. in Arts in Education from Harvard University and her M.A. in French Literature from the University of Connecticut, while she completed coursework at the Sorbonne and research on Romani writers in Paris. She is currently at work on three books and recording an album of poetry & music.

 

If you have any questions about the CWW at AWP 2017, be sure to email us at info@cambridgewritersworkshop.org

*Our poster image is licensed under  CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/  The Reader’s Bill of Rights has produced these graphics originally but is not affiliated with or endorse the CWW https://www.defectivebydesign.org/graphics http://readersbillofrights.info

CWW Recommends: Reading for Resistance – Winter 2017

hannaharendt-onrevolutionIn this volatile political and moral climate, reading can serve as a refuge. However, as I continue to amplify my acts as the agent of change I know myself to be, I’m using my reading as both weapon and armor—a constantly expanding and empowering force. That being said, please take this list of recommendations for post-Inauguration reading not as comprehensive but as communal—to add onto continuously over the next four years. One of the best catalysts for vigilance, after all,  is awareness. We at the Cambridge Writers’ Workshop invite you to challenge your boundaries, listen to the myriad voices around you—and share with us. We’d love to learn more about what you’re reading to nourish and charge your own acts of resistance. In the meantime, many thanks to Emily Smith, Alexander Carrigan, Diana Norma Szokolyai, Anna-Celestrya CarrRita Banerjee and Shannon Sawyer for sharing their suggested reads for the resistance.

AM Ringwalt, Curator

The Grass Dancer by Susan Powersusanpowergrassdancerbig
(Recommended by Emily Smith)

Susan Power honors the the Dakota Sioux in this novel of magic and dreams through a retelling of tribal stories, which are often haunted by the dead. Power is an enrolled member of the Standing Rock Tribe and a descendant of Sioux Chief Two Bears. While Power is a highly regarded writer, she also has a background in law; using her degree, she founded the American Indian Center in Chicago, which offers relief and education services to one of America’s largest Native American populations.

 

plague-of-dovesThe Plague of Doves by Louise Erdrich
(Recommended by Emily Smith)
Although Louise Erdrich’s novel was published in 2009, its central narrative is fit for contemporary news. The story opens on an act of racism in mid-century North Dakota: after a white family is found murdered, a group of men hang three American Indian men and one boy. The real villain goes unpunished.
The novel is a Pulitzer-Prize finalist that unfolds a century later from the perspective of multiple family members a la The Sound and the Fury. By the close of the novel, it’s clear that suppressing injustice has resounding consequences, even generations later.

38447The Handmaid’s Tale
by Margaret Atwood

(Recommended by Alex Carrigan)

Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel from 1985 is still relevant today, as women are policed for their bodies and their autonomies, usually being mistreated under the guise of “religious freedom” or underlying misogyny in various social and political institutions. The novel follows Offred, a woman who has had her name, her family, and her body taken by a totalitarian theocracy that only values her for her fertility. The book is equal parts speculative fiction and horror, one that can terrify both women and men with its protagonist’s incredible voice and its raw look at a world that seems imaginary but rings close to home. With an upcoming miniseries adaptation airing on Hulu in April, more people are sure to discover The Handmaid’s Tale and see how its depiction of religious extremism, misogyny, women’s health rights, and bodily autonomy compare and contrast to our new government.

cover_bad_feministBad Feminist by Roxane Gay

(Recommended by Alexander Carrigan)

Bad Feminist is a collection of essays by black feminist author and teacher Roxane Gay. In it, she discusses issues of race, politics, sexuality, literature, media, and Scrabble tournaments, all while keeping her clever voice and personality. This was a book that made me laugh, tear up, and pay attention to various sections of society that I don’t often read about. It speaks to those who are often disenfranchised, and does so in a way that makes it easy to read and enjoyable at the same time.

The Boston Review and Black Ocean Press
(Recommended by AM Ringwalt)

Screen Shot 2017-01-22 at 8.28.29 PM.pngIt’s crucial to support literary presses, particularly these two Boston-based ones, in anticipation of Donald Trump’s inauguration. Both the Boston Review and Black Ocean Press are committed to “our shared commitment to the rights and values essential to a democracy” (see Greater Boston Writers Resist, which took place on January 15, 2017 at the Boston Public Library).

It’s worth noting, too, that in his poignant farewell address, Barack Obama warned against numbing ourselves to the “battle of ideas” essential to politics —and a creative life—in “selective sorting of the facts,” the sectarianism inherent in having news sources catered to one particular political viewpoint versus another (take Fox versus PBS, for example), the rise of social media catering to each member’s biases and the tendency of popular news sources to operate on omission. Obama said, “. . . increasingly we become so secure in our bubbles that we start accepting only information, whether it’s true or not, that fits our opinions, instead of basing our opinions on the evidence that is out there.”

So, as a challenge to both myself and everyone reading this, consider these two literary presses in conjunction with media and art that challenges your ethos. If you’re anything like me, you’ll likely appreciate presses like the Boston Review and Black Ocean even more after immersing yourself in other perspectives.

In the wake of the election, the Boston Review continued the call for defending independent nonprofit publishing. In recent publications, the journal asserted that “poetry is a counterattack” and began curating literary works representative of “Global Dystopias.” On December 15, 2016 the Boston Review published an article by Vivian Gornick entitled “Feeling Paranoid,” a piece not dissimilar from Obama’s farewell address. Gornick writes, “the struggle of any society—but especially one that calls itself a democracy—is to honor the existence of those not like ourselves.” The Boston Review shares texts like Race Capitalism Justice and Poems for Political Disaster, a collection of “both new poems and selections from the Boston Review archive that record, refract, subvert, or otherwise respond to political trauma, catastrophe, or terror—both here at home and abroad.” The Harvard Book Store and Boston Review will host an evening of readings from Poems for Political Disaster at the Cambridge Public Library on January 30, 2017; I invite you to join me there.

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Black Ocean Press boasts a catalog of innovative poetry, featuring works by Elisa Gabbert and Tomasz Salamun, among many other crucial voices. The press recently opened a brick-and-mortar space in Somerville, Massachusetts. Janaka Stucky, poet and founder of Black Ocean, describes the space aptly in a December issue of the Boston Globe, as a “‘third space’ — a space neither the home space nor the work space. ‘In the discourses of dissent,’ Stucky says, ‘the third space is where the oppressed plot their liberation.’” In 2016, Black Ocean supported resistance camps at Standing Rock by having all of its proceeds on “Black Friday” be sent onto Standing Rock in protest of the Dakota Access Pipeline. With books—and an overall ethos—as artfully constructed as they are dissenting, Black Ocean Press proves to be a necessary ally in anticipation of the Inauguration. Stucky will join me for CWW Presents on February 3, 2017, too, where he will share his poetry alongside musician Audrey Harrer and Fawn,  my folk duo. 

51totttrsjl-_sy346_We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
(Recommended by Diana Norma Szokolyai)

We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie explores what “feminism” means today. This eloquent book-length essay examines not only outright discrimination, but the subtle ways that inequality is made manifest through our institutionalized behaviors. The author balances philosophical pondering with humor and offers a nuanced explanation of the gender divide. Using her own experiences in both the U.S. and in her native Nigeria, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie shows how sexism is harmful not only for women, but for men as well. This is a good read for these times when leaders are normalizing sexism. It is a rally cry to continue the fight for what our feminist predecessors have fought for in the previous century.
411zkErhn2L.jpgThe Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick
(Recommended by Diana Norma Szokolyai)

The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick is a novel & T.V. series based on the book that creates a time-shifting alternate history, exploring what might have happened if FDR was assassinated in 1936 and the Nazis won WWII. Twenty years into the future, the Nazis and the Japanese Empire have taken over the U.S., and instead of the free spirit of the 1960s, we see the grim atmosphere of a fascist state. The Resistance is alive and carries on subversive activities, having some cells on both of the occupied halves of the country, as well as in the Neutral Zone, which is geographically in the Midwest. The characters are artfully complex, and their moralities are tested against the backdrop of this harsh world. We hear familiar songs and see cultural icons appropriated by those in power, and these similarities are just as eerie as the differences from the actual historical reality. Moreover, this world takes a look at how we Americans became Nazis, whether through passive acceptance, by conscious choice or by force.

51wNIH14zyL._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgNews From Nowhere
by William Morris
(Recommended by Anna Celestrya Carr)

William Morris’ novel is a combination of science fiction and utopian socialism. The narrator Guest awakens in a future society based on common ownership and democratic control of the means of production. In this society, there is no private property, no big cities, no authority, no monetary system, no divorce, no courts, no prisons, and no class systems. In the story, Morris’ belief is that all work should be creative and pleasurable defeating the most common criticism of socialism of the supposed lack of incentive to work in a communistic society. It is easy to find novels based on dystopian societies,News From Nowhere is not a perfectly written work but with too few utopian stories to choose it is an interesting read that focuses on beauty.

411pTaHocLL._SX260_.jpgIt’s Not Easy Being Green: And Other Things to Consider
by Jim Henson
(Recommended by Anna Celestrya Carr)

Sometimes we all need a reason to smile. It’s Not Easy Being Green is a delightful collection of quotes from and inspired by Jim Henson. Funny, sweet and uplifting it is a fantastic way to take a break from all the chaos.

“I believe that we can use television and film to be an influence for good; that we can help to shape thoughts of children and adults in a positive way. As it turned out, I am very proud of some of the work we’ve done, and I think we can do many more good things.” – Jim

51XfilV9rJL._SY346_.jpgQueer: A Graphic History
by Meg-John Barker and Julia Scheele

(Recommended by Shannon Sawyer)

CWW Recommends: Books for the Dog Days of Summer!

CWW-Summer2016RecommendedReading
There’s just a few weeks of summer fun left, and the Rio Olympics are underway!  The beginning of a school year is upon us but there’s still some time left to spend with some great books this August!  So here are some recommendations from the Cambridge Writers’ Workshop on what to read before hanging up the surfboard and headin’ on home 😉  Thanks to Anna-Celestrya Carr, Alex Carrigan, AM Ringwalt, David Shields, Emily Smith, and Laura van den Berg for their wonderful recommendations below!

–Alex Carrigan (Curator)

StationElevenHCUS2Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
(Recommended by Anna-Celestrya Carr)

Station Eleven is captivating and beautiful in a subtle way. I’m known to read the last page first of any book I pick up. I like having an idea of where a story is going to go. For this book I resisted looking ahead. I found myself enthralled and surprised the entire time.  Dystopian fiction has become one of my favorite genres and Station Eleven stands out in its category.

The novel opens with a famous actor having a heart attack and dying on stage while playing King Lear. That same night, there is a massive outbreak of a deadly virus called the Georgia Flu, and within weeks, 99 percent of the world’s population is wiped out. In a world decimated by a global pandemic, where the few survivors live in scattered communities without electricity, the Traveling Symphony goes from town to town in the Great Lakes region, performing Shakespeare and classical music. The story plays around with time and perspective, jumping back and forth between After the Collapse and Before the Collapse. We circle around different characters’ lives and sometimes see the same scene from a different person’s view. A gorgeous read.

91lUeBR2G1LThe Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
(Recommended by Alex Carrigan)

Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl is one of my favorite recent “popular” books, and a book that helped remind me how much I love modern mysteries. I heard that The Girl on the Train was similar to Gone Girl, so I checked it out. What I found was a mystery novel I had to read in one sitting, causing me to spend nearly four hours in a cafe reading the entire book one rainy Sunday afternoon. The novel follows a woman named Rachel, an unemployed, alcoholic, divorcee, who spends her train rides fantasizing about what she thinks is the perfect couple living in one house along the tracks. When the woman of the couple goes missing, Rachel discovers that she has a connection to the mystery, and through her interference comes to confront her personal demons and sees how dangerous her involvement is. Hawkins makes a very flawed and relatable protagonist in Rachel, and creates a mystery that, while maybe not the most unique, is still quite thrilling to read, and only leaves me excited for the film adaptation coming out this year.

51fS0HCyAQL._SX333_BO1,204,203,200_The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room,
The Greatest Bad Movie Ever
by Greg Sestero, and Tom Bissell

(Recommended by Alex Carrigan)

Tommy Wiseau’s The Room is one of the worst movies ever made, but has one of the most devoted fan followings ever due to how hilariously awful the film is. The Disaster Artist, co-written by one of the leads in the film (Sestero), is a tell-all that reveals how the film was made and goes into the bizarre culture surrounding it. What follows is a book that veers from painfully hilarious to just plain painful. At the heart of the story is the odd friendship between Sestero and Wiseau, which paints Wiseau as a creep, a fool, a dreamer, an enigma, an entrepreneur, and an artist all at once. What could be a book that exists to bash Wiseau for his egomania, his misogyny, and his deep misunderstanding of how to act as a person is instead a book about art itself. It shows that even the people who make bad movies are sympathetic and have dreams they want to fulfill, even if they aren’t very good at it. The books shows that everyone involved in The Room (except for maybe Wiseau depending on how you read him) deserved better, and is quite enjoyable to read after seeing the movie. It shows that even misguided passion projects can still create beautiful, inexplicable, and valued art despite every possible obstacle in the way.

Everything+I+Never+Told+You+-+Celeste+NgEverything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
(Recommended by Alex Carrigan)

Most stories that deal with mysterious deaths focus on the mystery and the investigation, but often don’t focus on the impact the death has on the victim’s family. Celeste Ng’s debut novel Everything I Never Told You follows a Chinese-American family in 1977 after their daughter is found dead in a lake. What could be a Twin Peaks-esque mystery is instead a meditation on race, gender, and loss. By focusing on a mixed race family in a small town during the late ’70’s, Ng shows how the era played into the attitudes of the characters, from the father who tries to downplay his Chinese heritage and blend in, to the mom who wants nothing more than to ensure her daughter doesn’t fall into the same mistakes she made. At the heart is the dead girl, Lydia, and it’s through her death and the time leading up to it that the reader realizes that what doesn’t matter is why or how Lydia died, but rather what her death reveals about the family and the time they lived in.

51mSJNECGyL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
(Recommended by Alex Carrigan)

When my brother read Americanah, he said Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie instantly became his favorite living writer. I recently picked up the book, and I found that he was completely justified in believing that. Americanah follows two young Nigerians, Ifemelu and Obinze, and they grow up in Nigeria and move on with their adult lives. Ifemelu travels to America for college and starts a successful blog dealing with her facing race for the first time in her life. Obinze becomes an undocumented worker in England, and his story provides a contrast to Ifemelu, who flourishes in her new environment while he finds it difficult to settle into the first world. The book taught me a lot about Nigeria in the 90’s and 00’s, and is a really good book for dealing with race relations, primarily for how non-American blacks deal with race. Adichie imbues her characters with such spirit and detailed voice that it becomes easy to see them as real people, so I have found her an author I really want to read more of in the future.

APS_24_COVER_RGBA Public Space: Issue 24
(Recommended by AM Ringwalt)

This issue of A Public Space focuses on artists creating outside of their primary mediums; Etel Adnan writes in epistolary prose about weaving and David Lynch is interviewed about his paintings. A devoted Adnan fan, I excitedly picked up this issue to absorb more of her voice. As she shares images of trees “yellow, but haloed” . . . “still [with] a green heart and golden edges, such tender vegetal icons,” I realized that summer is the time of weaving–gathering light–before colder seasons and a scarcity of unburdened hours.

PIR_cover_118_smaller_image_visual_220_331Poetry Ireland Review Issue 118: The Rising Generation
(Recommended by AM Ringwalt)

In early 2016, I lived in Dublin and worked as an intern at the Irish Writers’ Centre. While there, I fell in love with its myriad journals (Guts and Gorse to name a few). While journals with names like Poetry Ireland Review connote tradition–and thus old white men–I never read a copy until I saw their Rising Generation issue, published in sync with the centenary of the 1916 Rising. Honoring “rising” poets (new and successful in the field, not necessarily young), this issue highlights poets including Jessica Traynor (of the Centre’s A Poet’s Rising) and provides accompanying questionnaires, prompting its featured poets to extrapolate on ideas such as: “Would you rather be the poet or the poem?”

51Ec+CJgOOL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_A Year with Hafiz: Daily Contemplations
by Hafiz and Daniel Ladinsky
(Recommended by AM Ringwalt)

I first saw A Year with Hafiz on Ariana Reines’ Tumblr. Always spiritual, always prophetic, her website is a well of meditation and insight. (A recent post highlights Muhyiddin Ibn ’Arabi’s  “Our heart holds within it all forms, that our hearts created. We have made a meadow there for gazelles, children, music, dance and dreams.”) Immediately after reading Reines’ chosen excerpt, I ordered a used copy of A Year with Hafiz online. Though a devotional style book isn’t necessary to read one Hafiz poem a day, the book itself is beautiful and compiles Hafiz’s writing in a way that compliments the changing months and seasons. Starting this “devotional” in the summer has allowed me to more deliberately meditate on certain phrases each day with the freedom inherent in the season. Take May 25, for example, as a preface to the summer: “Like a great starving beast my body / is quivering, fixed on the scent of light.”

51uHU-PRXQL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_The Poet, The Lion, Talking Pictures, El Farolito, A Wedding in St. Roch, The Big Box Store, The Warp in the Mirror, Spring, Midnights, Fire & All
by C.D. Wright
(Recommended by AM Ringwalt)

C.D. Wright, described by Ben Lerner as “an utterly original American artist,” is a bright angel reminding me, time and again, how the act of writing is the act of salvation. Writing, after all, is a saving force, one that evokes internal and external revolutions. Though I was never lucky enough to meet Wright, I felt her brightness near upon the publication of The Poet, The Lion, Talking Pictures, El Farolito, A Wedding in St. Roch, The Big Box Store, The Warp in the Mirror, Spring, Midnights, Fire & All. This book, with its multitudinous worlds (the first poem, among many others, is titled “In a Word, a World”) is a manifesto of the spiritual potency of poetry. This book, at home in her canon of nonconforming literature, is a call to push boundaries beyond experimentation and into innovation. The Poet, The Lion…, published very the month of Wright’s passing, is a reminder of mortality and, beyond life (and death), the endless power of poetry.

Last Sext Cover 092815.inddLast Sext by Melissa Broder
(Recommended by AM Ringwalt)

I picked up a copy of Last Sext while on a date with my partner at the Harvard Bookstore last month. These dates always go the same–I say I won’t buy a single book and I leave with more than one. Always fodder for an empty wallet and, most importantly, for, at its best, transformative inspiration, I’m thankful that I found myself squatting in the poetry section absorbed in a copy of Broder’s book. I’ve never read a collection of poems containing cunnilingus, boring angels, clock-obsessed Americans, third eyes, centaurs, gypsies, “Me saying more and the light saying yes.” The intersections between dark and light, as they both illuminate sex, farting, hallucinating and “childhood feeling” (among countless other phenomena), remind me that darkness, too, can be an illuminating force. I urge you to read her poem “Salt,” published in Poetry in 2014. Then, I urge you to say more and get a copy or two or three of Last Sext.

41sMfxQdi6L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_The Pharmacist’s Mate by Amy Fusselman
(Recommended by David Shields)

The book fluctuates wildly and unpredictably from Fusselman’s attempt to get pregnant through artificial means, her conversations with her dying father, and his WWII diary entries. I don’t know what the next paragraph will be, where Fusselman is going, until—in the final few paragraphs—she lands on the gossamer-thin difference between life and death, which is where she’s been focused all along, if I could only have seen it.

51psU3H7kSL._SX321_BO1,204,203,200_Humiliation by Wayne Koestenbaum
(Recommended by David Shields)

Humiliation runs like a rash over the body of Koestenbaum’s work. Here he confronts the feeling directly and the result is an extraordinary meditation on—I don’t know how else to say it—the human condition.

 

 

 

maggienelsonThe Argonauts by Maggie Nelson
(Recommended by Emily Smith)

Maggie Nelson makes the public private in this genre-bending, poetic recollection of her pregnancy and husband Harry Dodge’s transition. Like her previous works, Nelson draws from critics like Judith Butler and Roland Barthes to explore her personal perspective on sexuality, gender, queer family making and the radical idea that motherhood never has to be equated with the loss of individual freedom.

halfformedA Girl is a Half-Formed Thing by Elmear McBride
(Recommended by Emily Smith)

Although A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing was just recently published, it’s already been hailed as a classic. In this novel surrounding sexual abuse and a sister’s relation to her young brother diagnosed with cancer. Elmear McBride, who spent ten years trying to publish the novel, has been compared to James Joyce and Virginia Woolf for her experimental style, which has often been described as “electric.”

2d0d11c0-51a0-0132-0b3e-0eae5eefacd9Binary Star by Sarah Gerard
(Recommended by Emily Smith)

Sarah Gerard’s Binary Star follows the story of an anorexic young woman and her neglectful, alcoholic boyfriend. The two feed off of each other’s negativity until taking a road trip and discovering vegananarchism. The short, lyrical novel tackles diet culture and the illness that, as a result, the two love to keep company. Like its title, the novel shines bright and fast, held together by its own gravity until its shocking, explosive end.

Heartbreaker by Maryse Meijer and Barefoot Dogs by Antonio Ruiz-Camacho
(Recommended by Laura van den Berg)

978037453606051rnEnLhHyL._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Heartbreaker is Maryse Meijer’s debut collection, with stories following a wide variety of characters as they deal with desire, vulnerability, sex, heartbreak, and survival. Barefoot Dogs is a series of connected stories about the members of a wealthy Mexican family after the patriarch goes missing.  These collections are wildly different in style and approach, and are wildly successful in creating a singularly absorbing world for the reader to inhabit, from the first story to the last.

The Queen of the Night by Alexander Chee: A Review by Alex Carrigan

QueenoftheNightWhat makes a great opera? Is it the music? The costumes? The story? Or can it become great for the performer who helms the leading role? Novelist and CWW 2016 Summer in Granada Writing Retreat faculty member Alexander Chee’s latest work, The Queen of the Night is a historical fiction novel that follows Lilliet Berne, a Parisian opera sensation in the late 19th century. Lilliet receives an offer for an original role, an honor most opera performers only dream of. However, when she discovers that the opera is based heavily on her past, she embarks on a journey to discover how the work came to be. The novel traces Lilliet’s journey, beginning with her childhood as an American frontiersman’s daughter. Readers watch as Lilliet joins a circus and a brothel, serves the Empress of France, studies under opera legends, and ultimately arrives at her current status as one of France’s most famous opera singers.

Chee’s novel is a historical epic, and Lilliet is a character in the vein of a Dickens protagonist. Her life takes so many turns, and she is forced to navigate using her wit and talent for assuming new roles.

alexandercheeThough this shape-shifting proves convenient, Lilliet struggles to discern how much control she has over any one of her personas. While she cycles easily through roles, she finds herself influenced, even dominated, by others, and most of the conflict in the book comes from run-ins with authority figures. The most dangerous is a tenor singer who tries to morph Lilliet into the opera legend of his fantasies. Lilliet, dubbed a Falcon soprano due to her unique and potentially temporary style of singing, is often associated with falcons and other avian imagery. Lilliet is a master at “flying” from dangerous people and situations and finding a way to survive.

It is true that Chee’s novel is a hefty read, but I never found myself losing interest. I found Lilliet fascinating–multidimensional and endowed with a unique voice.  She is strong and clever, but she also possesses very human faults.

I also admire the way Chee conveyed opera in the story. It can be difficult to communicate performance, which relies so heavily on visual and audio, in prose. However, Chee’s book manages to convey all the operas and performances via detailed imagery and clever diction. Even the more abstract operas were so well fleshed as to remind me of a George Méliès film.  I only wanted to see them realized on the stage.

Overall, The Queen of the Night is a wonderful novel. Liliette is a strong and fascinating character, and Chee tells her story in precise, rich prose. I am very excited to read more Alexander Chee, and I am very excited for the Historical Fiction course he will be teaching at our Granada retreat.

–Alex Carrigan, CWW Managing Intern

For more information on Alexander Chee and The Queen of the Night, visit his website here.

Unspeakable Things by Kathleen Spivack: A Review by Alex Carrigan

9780385353960Last year, the Syrian refugee crisis became a point of international discussion.  The Syrian Civil War has seen millions of Syrians displaced and fleeing into neighboring countries. In between news reports of nations closing their borders and celebrities advocating for refugee aid, we heard stories about the people who made it out. We heard about what and who they lost escaping the war zone, the challenges they faced fleeing the country, and the difficulties of starting new lives in different nations.

When I picked up the newest book from poet, educator, former CWW faculty member, and CREDO contributor Kathleen Spivack, I found myself entrenched in a different mass exodus, though one of equal gravity. Unspeakable Things, Spivack’s first novel, follows several characters who escaped World War II-Europe and are attempting to start anew in New York City. These characters include a beautiful and physically deformed former countess, her Esperanto-speaking cousin, his institutionalized wife, his granddaughter who is going through a physical and emotional crisis, a pediatrician who dabbles in genetic experiments for his Führer, and a string quartet who were driven out of their home following a disastrous concert and the loss of their little fingers. These characters influence each other’s tales, as the unspeakable events of the War continue to effect them.

Spivack’s characters are united by an almost obsessive interest in memory and the past.  Some characters are haunted by their pasts, some still bear the marks of terrible events, and others embrace the past as part of a progression. What differentiates Spivack’s characters on a thematic level is how they choose to let the past affect them–whether it will be saving, destructive, or something else.

6odLzoK-ReQPwOcvZbfWrdFOulc08fdeMOZ6m28nwOUSpivack imbues her tale with a lovely attention to music. For many of Spivack’s characters–the Tolstoi Quartet (so named because they consider Tolstoi the most universal writer, which I love), for example– music is life. These musicians once lived together, sharing beds with their instruments while their wives slept on the floor. When they lose their little fingers and the ability to play as a result, they are only concerned about steadying their instruments. Additionally, the institutionalized woman is a former concert pianist, and it is the prospect of her music that keeps her husband striving to improve her health. Spivack even gives the author’s dedication “To music, which forgives everything.”

Part of what makes Spivack’s tale unique is her use of magical realism. It is rare that a novel treats World War II via magical realism, so I was intrigued by Spivack’s use of genre. In this book, inanimate objects can react and emote, reflecting the mental and emotional states of their owners. In one chapter, the countess character spends two weeks in an affair with the mystic monk Rasputin, who then leaves his hand prints burnt onto her inner thighs. For her, the prints mark shame and sacrifice and continue to throb, burn, and react decades after the affair. For another character, the ghost of her son is a reminder of what the family lost when they fled Europe, but also a symbol for her fractured mental state.

In terms of critique, I did feel at times that Unspeakable Things lacked subtlety. While I thought that some symbols, such as Rasputin’s hand prints and the ghost son, were interesting and fitting, there were times where things were a little too on-the-nose, or too deliberately provocative. For example, we know that the pediatrician is a bad guy because he molests his child patients and has their mothers pay for checkups with their bodies, all while conducting genetic experiments to create a super race. Did we also need to see him wear lingerie and makeup while masturbating to a photo of Hitler? Probably not. There were times where I thought Spivack could have tried to work certain elements in more organically, or just removed them altogether.

Despite this, I did enjoy reading Unspeakable Things. I loved that there was always a turn when I thought I knew what was going to happen.  Overall, it reminded me of Japanese filmmaker Nagisa Oshima’s In the Realm of the Senses. Oshima’s is a film that, while extremely erotic, contains important political and social criticism and a fascinating storyline.  Additionally, I give Spivack credit for making the transition from poetry to fiction; her language and writing style are often beautiful. I hope that she continues to write novels, and I hope that she returns to certain ideas and images from this book. For those readers who want an erotic, magical historical fiction novel, with great imagery and style, Unspeakable Things is worth the read.

–Alex Carrigan, CWW Managing Intern

For more information on Kathleen Spivack and Unspeakable Things, visit her website

Cambridge Writers’ Workshop Recommends: Here’s to 2016!

david-bowie-reading-list
Hello everyone, and a happy 2016 to all of you! We here at the Cambridge Writers’ Workshop are excited to begin a new year of creative literary expression. As we prepare for our retreats to Newport, Granada, and Barcelona/Narbonne, we have asked some of our staff members to share their literature and film recommendations for the new year. These are the books and movies that they recently discovered, have enjoyed time and time again, and that they most want others to know about. Thanks to Rita Banerjee, Alex Carrigan, Alyssa Goldstein Ekstrom, Casey Lynch, David Shields, Emily Smith, Diana Norma Szokolyai, and Emily Teitsworth for their recommendations. Check out our recommendations and stay tuned to an exciting year with the CWW.

-Alex Carrigan (curator)

CWW Lit Picks:

Tipsy-KobayashiNaomi by Jun’ichiro Tanizaki
(Recommended by Rita Banerjee)

Naomi was the first novel I read that I literally threw across the room when I was done with it.  For those bored by Nabokov for “his style,” Naomi, written by Jun’ichiro Tanizaki in 1924, gives Lolita a run for its money and then some.  The novel focuses on the story of Jōji, a mundane, over-educated, routine-driven Japanese salary man, who one day, as he’s walking around a particularly seedy part of Tokyo, spies a beautiful young Eurasian-looking girl named Naomi. Naomi, who’s put to work as a waitress in a café by her parents, is both young (she’s only 15, while Jōji’s a healthy 28!) and exotic (her face and eyes look Western as does her foreign-sounding name). Needless to say, Jōji falls head-over-heels in lust with Naomi and has to have her. He tells Naomi’s parents that he’d like to “adopt” Naomi. He promises to raise her like a daughter–give her a “good education” and all the luxuries a young modern girl could want in life. And somehow, Naomi’s parents agree (anything for a quick buck). So Jōji lures Naomi into his home. He promises that nothing untoward will happen between them until she’s at least 18 and can give him her consent. But in the meantime, he’s happy to attend to her daily bathing rituals (I think you know where this story is heading…). But alas, it turns out that Naomi has a mind of her own. She immediately notes that Jōji hopes to transform her into a Mo-Ga (モ-ガ, modern girl), and she raises his stakes. She comes to embody everything Western, everything sexy, and everything dangerous about modern women. She takes up dancing, she takes up Jōji’s wallet (spending and partying until his cash is through), and most of all, when Jōji approaches her for sex, she uses her body against him, and parades an ever-rotating line of boyfriends under his nose. In reading Naomi, it’s hard to figure out who’s the protagonist and who’s the antagonist. Jōji and Naomi seem equally conniving and crooked. At the end of the novel, you don’t know who you’re rooting for, and you don’t know how you could care for a character so perverse. Naomi might make you want to throw the novel across the room, straight out an open window, and shout a string of expletives after it. Or, it might make you do something completely opposite. And that’s where Tanizaki’s great power lies: in making you, the reader, feel.

GlengarryGlenRossGlengarry Glen Ross
by David Mamet

(Recommended by Rita Banerjee)

One of the best theatrical performances I’ve seen to date was “Stealing the Leads,” an all-female led adaptation of David Mamet’s 1984 Pulitzer Prize winning play, Glengarry Glen Ross. Mamet’s play focuses on the fall-out of late capitalism (a term that’s been hotly debated since at least 1848 ;-)). The play focuses on a crew of desperate and despairing business men in Chicago as they attempt to close deals, form alliances and mergers, and profit on real estate acquisitions before their rivals steal their leads or sabotage their careers. This is a story about businessmen and corporations in the middle of a meltdown. And it’s full of bites and stings (take those lacerating comments on the Patels and South Asian businessmen taking over finance…). But most of all, the play is an exercise in masculinity. In the world of Glengarry Glen Ross, the characters assume that in order to desire and have power, the most successful candidate has got to be an alpha-male. Mamet slightly destabilizes this notion through small sleights of hand. But the best kick to the patriarchy happens when an all female cast performs Mamet’s play. One of my favorite renditions of Mamet’s play, Stealing the Leads: Women Read Glengarry Glen Ross, was performed in Berkeley’s famed Pegasus Bookstore a few years back, and it was spooky to see these women transform into testosterone-driven business men. The play, once in the hands and voices of an all-female cast, takes on a new edge. The play’s do-or-die ethos and cast of saboteurs no longer revolve around the crisis of money and power. But what’s at stake itself is the underlying anxiety in Mamet’s writing: masculinity, itself.

DeathofaPunkDeath of a Punk by John P. Browner
(Recommended by Rita Banerjee)

In Munich, Germany, I teach creative writing classes at a pretty nifty little English-language bookstore called the Munich Readery. And one of the owners, John Browner, is not only an author, himself, but was part of the NYC underground punk scene in the late 70s and early 80s. His novel, Death of a Punk, combines the frenetic, no-fucks-allowed peroxide cool of CBGB’s with the beats and campy electricity of a noir thriller. The novel centers on what happens when Lenny Hornblowner, who moonlights as a private eye and is a fat middle-aged square (by his own estimation), is hired Mrs. “Call me Lisa” Perlont to find her “beloved” stepson, Blinky, a young man whose gotten himself lost in the carnival of New York’s first-wave punk scene. The result, as Browner labels it, is meant to be an “airport read” highlighting an alternative New York where the snarky ads in the Village Voice, three-chord punk spiked with cocaine, and the elegance of defending your turf with just a pair of brass knuckles reign supreme.

MFA vs. NYC, ed. Chad Harbach & Workshops of Empire by Eric Bennett
(Recommended by Rita Banerjee)

MFAvsNYC61Z1hhz0+FL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_

Anything produced by N+1 is part magic.  And the press’s 2014 collection, MFA vs. NYC is no exception.  (I remember reading this anthology in one sitting on the airplane ride back home from AWP 2014). The anthology, edited by Chad Harbach, draws a fault-line between American creative writing communities: those centered in big, commercial, cocktail-party-driven metropoles such as New York, and those produced in well-groomed, well-crafted but often myopic literary networks of the American MFA program periphery. While Harbach’s categorization of these two diametrically-opposed literary spheres and successful enclaves of American fiction veers towards essentialism, MFA vs. NYC offers an eye-opening look into what it takes to be a writer in the 21st century. Essays such as “My Parade” by Alexander Chee, in which the author wryly interrogates the racial and gender politics inscribed in the very curricula of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, are thrilling to read. As are essays such as “Seduce the Whole World” by Carla Blumenkranz, in which the author examines the-larger-than-life persona of Raymond Carver, whose minimalist aesthetics, mystique, and influence were largely crafted and set in stone by his editor Gordon Lish. Other essays such as “Into the Woods” by Emily Gould and “Money (2006)” by Keith Gessen offer unapologetically candid looks at the financial woes and socioeconomic dilemmas which haunt contemporary American authors. And one of my favorite essays in the collection, Eric Bennett’s “The Pyramid Scheme,” examines how the Iowa Writers’ Workshop rose to the top of the American MFA empire in the mid-20th century, partly due to funding from the Fairfield Foundation, a dummy corporation set-up by the CIA. Bennett examines how Paul Engle, the second director of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, utilized CIA money to round-up left-leaning individuals from around the world and set the rubric for 20th century American literary tastes. Needless to say, I’m looking forward to reading Bennett’s new book Workshops of Empire: Stegner, Engle, and the American Creative Writing during the Cold War this Spring.

RobinCosteLewisVoyage of the Sable Venus
by Robin Coste Lewis

(Recommended by Rita Banerjee)

Robin Coste Lewis’s debut collection of poems, Voyage of the Sable Venus, just received the National Book Award for Best Poetry Book of 2015! The collection is a spiky, electric trip through confrontations of race, racism, agency, responsibility, and encountering other people and other cultures. The title of the collection takes its inspiration from the Thomas Stothard engraving, “The Voyage of the Sable Venus from Angola to the West Indies,” an infamous propaganda piece for the African slave trade. But in Lewis’s book, the fault and possibilities of history lie in all hands. In her opening poem, “Plantation,” the speaker confides, “I could tell you the black side / of my family owned slaves / I realize that perhaps / the one reason why I love you, / because I told you this / and you–still–wanted to kiss / me.  We laughed when I said plantation / fell into our chairs when I said cane.”  Discomfort, fascination, guilt, awe–these are only some of the series of emotions which weave through Lewis’s verse as she examines the ways in which images and narratives of black women, black bodies, and the black voyager have been depicted in art, propaganda, and in personal histories. Cultural and psychic ambiguity hover over Lewis’s work as the speakers of her poems reflect their own private travels and own private traps, or as the speaker of “Plantation” recalls, “You said, The bars look pretty, Baby / then rubbed your hind legs against me.”

HarariSapiens: A Brief History of Humankind
by Yuval Noah Harari

(Recommended by Rita Banerjee)

I first heard of Yuval Noah Harari a few years ago when I was researching MOOCs, and took his class on the History of Humankind, which was “telecast” from the University of Jerusalem. Harari’s lectures were engaging, self-deprecating, informative, and fantastic. In 2015, his book, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, was translated from Hebrew into English. The book, like Harari’s lectures, explores how Homo Sapiens came to be the dominant human species on earth and how they rose to power. Harari’s discussions on ethnicity and the genetic basis for race are eye-opening and provocative, as are his discussions of the cognitive, agricultural, and industrial revolutions. One of my most favorite sections from Harari’s text focuses on how human societies are formed: through fictive language and gossip culture. It appears that everything from our fascination with God to our fascination with Louis Vuitton and fascism derive from our very human love of myths. As Harari explains, it’s the storytelling that brings us together, and it’s the fictions of our lives and our understandings of the world that bind.

510iAdsKYdL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami
(Recommended by Alex Carrigan)

This book really hurt me. The latest book by acclaimed Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami follows a man whose group of friends cut off all ties with him for unknown reasons sixteen years earlier. Now middle aged, he goes on a journey to find his old friends and understand what happened back when they were teenagers. The book isn’t as weird as Murakami’s other books, but still carries much of the customary melancholy and heart. This book depressed me with its premise and the first fifty pages, but I think it was worth feeling that way if it meant I could read the rest of the story. I got to follow Tsukuru on his journey and grew to really understand how complex and sordid he and the other characters were, making it one of my favorite books in recent years.

51KwYPrCLjL._SX283_BO1,204,203,200_Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
(Recommended by Alex Carrigan)

I finally got into Neil Gaiman last year, and I found his collaboration with the late Terry Pratchett to be one of my favorite new books to read. The book follows the days leading up to the rapture, where an angel and a demon, who have both “gone native” after being on Earth since Eden, realize they’ve misplaced the Antichrist, throwing the entire prophecy out of order. The story follows them and dozens of other characters as the pieces of the end times begin to fall into place. It’s satirical, hilarious, and doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s one of the best interpretations of the end of days I have read, and I had a blast reading it.

51PXSCEFWZLA Separate Peace by John Knowles
(Recommended by Alyssa Goldstein Ekstrom)

Of all the books I read in high school, this one stuck with me the most, even years later. The story takes place at an all-boys boarding school right at the beginning of World War II. It is of course a time when tensions are running high, where boys who are at the very precipice of becoming men have the possibility of joining the war looming over them. But it’s also in these darkest times of uncertainty that great friendships can emerge, or at least a friendship that appears to be great. In Gene and Phineas, Knowles creates two characters who will stay with readers for a long time after the last page. They say opposites attract. Even in friendships, this proves true, for Phineas is everything Gene isn’t. He’s athletic, social, popular, extroverted. Gene is a loner and more reserved, and as the story unfolds, a boy tired of living in his best friend’s shadow. Gene’s jealousy quickly evolves into resentment and in a split second, a decision is made that has irreparable consequences. A most poignant novel about jealousy, friendship, forgiveness, and growing up.

412XH9UvpbLFangirl by Rainbow Rowell
(Recommended by Alyssa Goldstein Ekstrom)

Starting college in and of itself is a scary time, but when you add in a twin who is looking to gain a separate identity from that of her sister, a prickly roommate, a father who is frequently manic, and online fandom clamoring for the next chapter of your beloved fanfiction, that scared feeling is multiplied by one hundred. Meet Cather. Her twin sister, Wren, doesn’t want to dorm with her, and not only that, is pulling away from their obsession with Simon Snow. Think Harry Potter and you’ll understand. With Wren putting some distance between them, Cather is reluctantly left navigating the world of college as a freshman alone. Adding insult to injury, the fiction class that Cather has found herself in, the one class that should come easy to her, is proving to be much more difficult. And as if this isn’t bad enough, Cather’s goal of finishing her Simon Snow fanfiction before the last book comes out seems very unlikely. Lastly, among all of her other troubles, Cather can add falling for her roommate’s ex-boyfriend to that list. For anyone who has ever felt the pangs of growing up and struggled in finding their own voice, Fangirl is an incredibly relatable, funny book that should not be missed.

81M62hCovYLAbout a Boy by Nick Hornby
(Recommended by Alyssa Goldstein Ekstrom)

When I found out NBC was adapting Hornby’s About a Boy into a television show, I was super excited. I loved the book, adored the movie, so it seemed only natural that I would enjoy the show. And I did. But unfortunately NBC pulled the plug on it, which is a shame in my own humble opinion. However, fear not; for even without a show, About a Boy as simply a novel is good enough for me. About a Boy follows Will Freeman, a man who has never really grown up. Living off of the royalties stemming from his father’s one-hit wonder, Will lives a comfortable life. He doesn’t need to work and therefore, doesn’t. At his core, Will is a fairly shallow individual, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone when he joins a group for single parents, Single Parents Alone Together, and fabricates a son to boot, to meet women. Will’s plan is extremely flawed, seeing as he doesn’t actually have a child, but it is this lie that brings young Marcus and his mother Fiona into Will’s life.

At twelve, Marcus is having a rough time. His mother is depressed, and he doesn’t know how to help her. And her failed suicide attempt has only left him more rattled. At school he’s the awkward outcast who gets picked on. At first, Marcus intends to set Will up with Fiona, believing Will can be the person to bring her out of her depression, but when that plan backfires, Marcus decides to befriend Will. Soon Marcus is going by Will’s flat everyday after school and it seems that, finally, Will is growing up and learning to care about someone other than himself. But then it all appears to take a turn for the worst. Marcus finds Fiona crying again, and he fears she is going to attempt suicide once more. He needs Will’s help, but Will is unwilling after his own latest setback. Will meets Rachel at a dinner and leads her to believe that Marcus is his son. Rachel herself is a single mother of a twelve year old boy, and it seems Will has fallen hard for the first time. But when his lie is revealed, Rachel ends the relationship, leaving Will devastated and with the realization that he is not the person to help Marcus. But despite his best efforts, Will cannot stop caring about Marcus. In short, About a Boy is about one man’s lesson that there are connections we can’t sever and families we create for ourselves and it’s about the boy who teaches him this lesson.

51P7tPu16XL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_Self-Help by Lorrie Moore
(Recommended by Casey Lynch)

Need some help getting back into classes/work/general productivity after the summer break?  Self-Help can help! Self-Help is not, in fact, a self-improvement manual, but New York Times bestseller Lorrie Moore’s first collection of short stories. The book includes titles like How to Be an Other Woman and (the introductory creative writing class classic!) How to Be a Writer or, Have You Earned This Cliché?. While Moore writes primarily in the second person, the ‘you’s who populate these stories are very specific people, with problems a self-help manual aimed at the general ‘you’ would be wildly insufficient to mend. The collection tightropes so many lines so artfully: it is accessible and literary, witty and tragic, quirky and universal. Self-Help is a perfect first book of fall if you are looking to ease back into serious fiction after a summer of beach reads.

51khWutZqCL._SX325_BO1,204,203,200_The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
(Recommended by Casey Lynch)

“Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the Fall”—chances are, one of your Facebook friends will add this caption to a Fall-themed profile photo.  But how many will revisit the classic from which the line has been lifted?  These words are actually spoken by Jordan Baker of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. Though you probably already read it for high school English, the Great American Novel is always worth another look. If not for all the gossip and glitz, or for Fitzgerald’s warm, loping prose, then to weigh in on some newer theories being applied to the classic. Some of the most colorful contentions I’ve heard: Nick is in love with Gatsby, and Gatsby is on the Autism Spectrum. Think it’s hearsay?! Then reread!

41PB9UVybpL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
by Robert Louis Stevenson

(Recommended by Casey Lynch)

A wonderful novella, with a scarier rep than it deserves, is Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Though it features plenty of potions, alleys, and strangers, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is so much more than the guy-to-monster story we all know. It is a comment on industrialism and male professionalism, and an early study of bi-polar disorder. It is also chalk full of descriptions of late-nineteenth century London, written in beautiful, prim Victorian prose. If you are looking for a short, rewarding, not-too-scary classic this fall, Dr. Jekyll and Hyde is a great choice. If you want something a little scarier, I would still recommend it.  However, I would suggest that you read it under the conditions I did: from 2 to 4 AM the day the paper is due.

41KMMWCnkcL._SX310_BO1,204,203,200_Speedboat by Renata Adler
(Recommended by David Shields)

D. H. Lawrence: it’s better to know a dozen books extraordinarily well than innumerable books passably. In a documentary on Derrida, when he shows the filmmaker his enormous private library, she asks him if he’s read all the books. He says, “No, just a few—but very closely.” I’ve read Speedboat easily two dozen times. I can’t read it anymore. It’s one book I’ve read so many times that I feel, absurdly, as if I’ve written it; at the very least, I feel that I know a little bit what it must have felt like to write it. In any case, I learned how to write by reading that book until the spine broke. I typed the entire book twice.

41kL+aXv5JL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_The End of the Novel of Love by Vivian Gornick
(Recommended by David Shields)

The very embodiment of the critical intelligence in the imaginative position: literary analysis as farewell to feeling.

 

 

 

 

81gtv7NymgL

The Isle of Youth by Laura van den Berg
(Recommended by Emily Smith)

The Isle of Youth, a short story collection by Laura van den Berg, explores the survival of women as they battle unhappy marriages, false magic, and a plethora of other dizzying scenarios. My personal favorite is “The Greatest Escape,” which follows the story of Crystal, a teenage girl, who works as an assistant for her second-rate magician mother. After years of pick pocketing her patrons and listening to her mother’s romantic illusions about magic, Crystal realizes that the greatest escape is more than a magic trick: it’s a cripple for her not so magical life in the middle of nowhere Florida. Many have compared Laura van den Berg to a young Margaret Atwood.

41cOaCCUlWLPlay It as It Lays by Joan Didion
(Recommended by Emily Smith)

Joan Didion captures the essence of ennui in Play It as It Lays, a story as scalding and brutal as the desert it takes place in. As the anti-heroine Maria notes, she is an expert on “nothing”: she’s from a town that no longer exists, is the mother of a child who’s dead, and generally exists as the bedfellow of absence. The story, which has an empty resolution, will be satisfying to anyone who’s ever felt restless without reason.

51qbFfsCU9L._SX355_BO1,204,203,200_Histories of the Future Perfect
by Ellen Kombiyil

(Recommended by Diana Norma Szokolyai)

Ellen Kombiyil’s Histories of the Future Perfect is an enchanting collection of poetry that explores the depth of our relationships to one another and the world through examining grammar, one-ness, the nature of water, mathematical equations, and the myth of return. Water is a motif that takes many forms in the book, but always flows. The sun is an interrogator of the heart. In one of the poems that is the cradle of the book, “How I Came to Love,” Kombiyil writes, “It was a game of Chinese whispers I played / with the tarot-reading parrot. She picked / the cards like pecking crumbs, trilling Perhaps, / Perhaps, her warning note loud as a tolling bell.” Reminiscent of Poe’s raven, and his trilling call of “Nevermore,” Kombiyil’s bird spells out a different kind of fate…the frightening revelation that there are many life paths lined with the fog of “perhaps.”

415dXipj-dLThe World Doesn’t End by Charles Simic
(Recommended by Emily Teitsworth)

This short collection of prose poetry is one that leaves its readers with an impression of humor and heartache. Simic does not shy away from logical or illogical extremes. The poems themselves move seamlessly between what is extraordinary and what is not, which leaves readers puzzled and pleasantly surprised. The poems never fail to end powerfully, with lines such as: “It’s so quiet in the world. One can hear the old river, which in its confusion sometimes forgets and flows backwards.”

41+a4c0P5+LBluets by Maggie Nelson
(Recommended by Emily Teitsworth)

This book is meant to be a comprehensive encyclopedic index of the color blue. It also acts as a poetic memoir that reaches into Nelson’s memories of honesty, confession, and sadness. It is a collection of poetry that gives readers glimpses of compassion, loss, hope, desire, sex, and everything blue. While the book is about Nelson’s own experiences and the color blue, the theme that ties the poems together is the reality of life being a messy thing. Nelson writes, “And it must also be admitted that hitting the wall or wandering off in the wrong direction or tearing off the blindfold is as much a part of the game as is pinning the tail on the donkey.”

517aTl9FTjLThe Inconvenience of The Wings by Silas Dent Zobal
(Recommended by Emily Teitsworth)

This is a collection of fictional short stories from one of my professors at Susquehanna University. It is not a collection that leaves your heart pounding by the end, but rather leaves you wondering whether your life is what you really want it to be. The stories inhabit a vast landscape of imagination that falls somewhere between reality and fantasy. They show us that what seems beyond us is as much a part of the world as the ground under our shoes.

CWW Film Picks:

Me-And-Earl-And-The-Dying-Girl-PosterMe and Earl and the Dying Girl
(dir. Alfonso Gómez-Rejón)

(Recommended by Rita Banerjee)

The first time I met Jesse Andrews, he was jumping out of the sky. Literally. It was about a year and a half-ago, and we were celebrating a mutual friend’s wedding. More specifically, Jesse, the groom, and their friends were celebrating the groom’s last days of bachelorhood by jumping out of a plane, flying three miles high over Newport, Rhode Island.  As you’d expect, Andrews made quite an entrance, as did his book, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.  In 2015, Alfonso Gómez-Rejón’s film of the same title made it’s stellar debut and won the Sundance Film Festival’s Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award.  The film follows the narratives of three mismatched characters, Greg, a loner and awkward film nerd who sits outside of all the usual social cliques in high school, Earl, his African-American fellow film buff and would-be friend, and Rachel, a girl of their acquaintance who has recently been diagnosed with leukemia.  Through the course of the story, Greg is forced by his mother to befriend Rachel who’s feeling increasingly isolated and alone due to her sickness. To cheer her up, Earl introduces Rachel to the pastiches and short fan parodies of classical art house cinema (like Rashomon, A Clockwork Orange, Breathless, etc.) that he and Greg have made in their spare time. Greg feels that showing Rachel their secret films is a betrayal of their trust, but as Rachel’s chemotherapy begins to worsen her health, he begins to change his mind (a lot). Soon Greg and Earl are commissioned to make a short film for Rachel by Madison (Greg’s crush). And as the stakes of the film are raised, the trio find themselves dancing around issues of friendship, trust, and vulnerability like particles drawn together and repelled apart. The film which Greg finally makes for Rachel is breathtaking and full of emotion.  That scene alone makes Me and Earl and the Dying Girl a film I wish I had made and a book I wish I had written.

HaiderHaider (dir. Vishal Bhardwaj)
(Recommended by Rita Banerjee)

Haider is a gorgeous little film made by Vishal Bhardwaj, a director who has adapted other Shakespearan classics such as Othello and Macbeth for popular Hindi cinema. Haider, an adaptation of Hamlet, is not exactly Bollywood, and it’s not exactly Hamlet either. The film is set in the turbulent political era of 1990s Kashmir, a territory continuously fought over by the Indian and Pakistani army since 1948. The drama of the film evolves from the story of one family. Hilal Meer is a doctor in Kashmir who secretly tends the wounds of separatists and insurgents, who are attempting to free Kashmir from Indian rule. One day as he is nursing a pro-separatist leader in his house, the Indian army pulls up and orders all men and women to appear before their council. When it is Dr. Meer’s turn to face the council, a hooded whistle-blower calls him out, and he is lead away somewhere (presumably to a concentration camp or to death). His ancestral home (along with the separatist patients hidden there) is subsequently destroyed. When his son, Haider, returns home, he realizes that not all is what it seems. For one thing, his mother Ghazala, a “half-widow,” is dancing and singing in the arms of his uncle, Khurram Meer, a well-to-do lawyer who later decides to run for office.  Haider is also haunted by the question of whether his father is actually dead or alive, and who betrayed his father’s trust. As the story unfolds, the relationships and tensions within Haider’s family and community take on a sinister twist. The implosion of family ties and trust on screen becomes symptomatic of the violence and greed which tear the sociopolitical fabric of Kashmir apart. And watching this story of Hamlet unfold in such unexpected ways is both heart-stopping and poignant.

MV5BMTQ0MjU1ODU5NF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwODE1NzAyNDE@._V1_SY317_CR5,0,214,317_AL_The Russian Woodpecker (dir. Chad Garcia)
(Recommended by Rita Banerjee)

I had a chance to see Chad Garcia’s gorgeously shot film, The Russian Woodpecker, at the Filmfest München last year.  A student of mine, inspired by our discussions on Marxism in class, recommended the film to me. The Russian Woodpecker follows the life story and quixotic hero’s quest of Fedor Alexandrovich, a painter and theatre artist, whose early childhood was nearly destroyed by the Chernobyl disaster in the Ukraine. Alexandrovich has a hunch that the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear plant meltdown is not what is seems and that somehow the history of the plant is intricately linked to Duga, a Cold War Soviet-Era signal tower near Chernobyl, which from 1976-1989 broadcasted a mysterious radio signal across the world known as “the Russian Woodpecker.” Was Duga a Cold War era spying device?  Was the Chernobyl disaster a cover-up for something more sinister?  Throughout the documentary Garcia follows Alexandrovich on his Herzogian hero’s quest as political tensions in Ukraine escalate and Putin’s army sets in motion the events that lead to the 2014 annexation of Crimea.

MV5BMTQ4NTY5NDAxN15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNzUxMTA3MTE@._V1_SX214_AL_Ivory Tower (dir. Andrew Rossi)
(Recommended by Rita Banerjee)

Ivory Tower is an eye-opening documentary film made by Andrew Rossi about the rising cost of higher education in the United States. The film asks several hard-hitting questions such as: Why has the tuition for colleges and universities sky-rocketed when fewer and fewer academics are being hired full-time or receiving tenure? Are universities in an arms race with one another to build better and more lavish facilities at the cost of more robust academic programs? When did universities become corporations and adopt the ethos of industry? The film is incredibly revealing in terms of investigating how universities wheel and deal their money. The day I defended my doctoral thesis, there was a lecture “Humanities and the Future of the University” at Harvard. And Homi Bhabha, Drew Faust, Sheldon Pollock, and other academic leaders discussed the rising cost of higher ed and the very viability of the humanities for future generations of students. One topic under fire, of course, was the ratio of administrators to faculty (4:1) and another was how increasing university tuition was creating a class-war between incoming students. Rossi’s film interrogates both of these questions especially as it examines the recent history of Cooper Union (an institution that was free-of-charge and tuition-free by decree until 2013). The rising cost of American higher ed offers a sharp contrast to the state-funded university systems of Europe. Faced with these costs many Americans are opting to earn their degrees abroad, and at LMU Munich, for example, the university only charges students €111 to study per semester.

41iRoDZTwxLA Girl Walks Home Alone at Night
(dir. Ana Lily Amanapour)
(Recommended by Alex Carrigan)

I spent 28 hours in an airport last July due to a canceled flight, and it took two attempts for me to watch this film. It was worth it, because this was one of my favorite films of 2015. This film is set in a dumpy Iranian town filled with drugs, prostitution, and general misery, where the residents have no idea one woman is actually a vampire who feeds on vile men. The film is creepy and atmospheric, and to get a western vampire story out of Iran by a female director in 2015 is something quite amazing, so I had a blast watching this film over two days while I battled exhaustion, sleep deprivation, and general airport misanthropy.

On_connait_la_chansonOn connaît la chanson (dir. Alain Resnais)
(Recommended by Alex Carrigan)

I watched this comedy/musical/drama a few days before heading to Paris, and it helped get me into the mood. The film follows six people over a few days in Paris as they deal with real estate, thesis projects, and love triangles. The main draw of the film is that, at random moments, the characters will start singing songs, with the lyrics filling in for dialogue. All the songs are classics by musicians like Maurice Chevalier and Edith Piaf, so the characters will be dubbed over by these songs with no warning, leading to some real great mood shifts. I began to watch the movie waiting for the next random musical number, and it helped make the film more of an experience for me.

91zWn2jJBfL._SX385_The Babadoo(dir. Jennifer Kent)
(recommended by Alex Carrigan)

I always feel like the best horror movies are the ones where, if the fantastic element is removed from the story, the film still manages to be really scary. Rosemary’s Baby without Satan is about a stressed out pregnant woman going mad from a difficult pregnancy. The Stepford Wives without robots is about misogyny and criticism of traditional gender roles. The 2014 Australian horror film The Babadook without the titular monster (who, by the way, is one of the creepiest film monsters in recent years), is even more unpleasant. The film follows a stressed single mother having difficulties raising her emotionally disturbed son, all while the two are harassed by a creepy children’s book monster. Without the monster, the film looks to be an examination of an abusive parent, her distressed child, and looks like the only possible ending for these characters is murder-suicide. The movie is atmospheric, scary as hell, and has a terrific leading role with Essie Davis as the mother. Just be warned if you start hearing ba-ba-ba-DOOK-DOOK-DOOK any time after watching the film.

81ZIWy4YZ4L._SY550_Breakfast at Tiffany’s (dir. Blake Edwards)
(recommended by Diana Norma Szokolyai)

One weekend this fall, I was visiting my mother, and after the movie she rented from Redbox turned out to be a dud with no plot, we turned to this classic.  It goes without saying that this movie is a masterpiece.  Audrey Hepburn gives a captivating performance as Holly Golightly (just one of her many pseudonyms).  Not only entertaining to watch because of the intriguing backdrop of an older New York and Hepburn’s iconic performance of “Moon River,” it is also a film that makes the viewer examine the many masks of and veneers of identity that one wears in society.  It takes Holly confronting her true feelings for Paul Varjak, the character who plays a struggling writer in the film, to confront her true self underneath all of the masks.  The real brilliance of Hepburn’s performance is that although she is playing a character who is putting on a superficial show to the world, we also feel a deeper person, a struggling person peeking through the lighthearted outward appearances.

imgresMaster of None
(Created by Aziz Ansari, Alan Yang)

(Recommended by Diana Norma Szokolyai)

A new Netflix Original Series that came out in 2015, Master of None is  exceptionally clever in its ability to make light of, yet at the same time, raise serious questions about important, yet often taboo topics. Tackling issues of the complicated contemporary dating scene, parenthood, sex, death, friendship, career, and racism, the writers have a style that will spur laughter and thoughtful reflection at once. The characters are multi-dimensional and full of surprises. Dev (Aziz Ansari) is the main character, an actor living in New York, struggling with getting roles that are not stereotypical. His friends are a multi-cultural group that include a strong-willed lesbian, black woman named Denise, a charming first generation Taiwanese-American named Brian, and Arnold, a tall, bearded white man who acts like a big kid. Dev’s girlfriend, Rachel, is a dynamic character who brings up issues surrounding vegetarianism and feminism. One of my favorite moments are when the fathers of Dev and Brian have a dramatic flashback during a brief interaction with their sons. It brilliantly highlights (in a humorous, yet compassionate way) the disparity between the immigrant parent vs. the first generation American child experience and how it effects relationships. Another favorite moment is when Dev puts a T.V. executive in his place for being outright racist. The writers use language that is very real, incorporating contemporary lingo, full of colorful expressions currently in use. One can see why The New York Times has called Master of None “the year’s best comedy straight out of the gate.”

Happy New Year, Writers! -♥️- Cambridge Writers’ Workshop

HappyNewYear2016-CWW

Happy New Year 2016 from the directors, staff, and board of the Cambridge Writers’ Workshop!  We hope you’re all as excited for 2016 as we are!  We’re planning a delightful, productive year for our writers and artists with plenty of opportunities to travel, write, practice yoga, and network, and we’re looking forward to seeing you at our retreats, workshops, readings, and literary fest events in 2016!

The Cambridge Writers’ Workshop had a wonderful year in 2015.  Over the last twelve months, we’ve had a chance to hold retreats and readings across America and the world, meet exciting writers, yoga practicioneers, and artists, and have found new ways to inspire our own writing.  Our year began with the Brooklyn Yoga, Aromatherapy, & Writing Workshop. We restored our minds with invigorating yoga, learned about Essential Oils, and inspired out writing. In February, we joined the 2015 Association of Writers and Writing Programs Conference in Minneapolis, Minnesota. At AWP 2015, we got a chance to promote CREDO: An Anthology of Manifestos & Sourcebook for Creative Writing, advertise our new literary internships, and discuss our Summer Writing Retreats in Granada, Spain and Paris, France, as well as our Spring Writing Retreat in Newport, Rhode Island. We also hosted our second AWP event at Boneshaker Books. At our Books & Bones event, there were featured readings from authors such as  Alex CarriganJonah KruvantDena Rash GuzmanLeah UmanskyAnca SzilagyiMicah Dean HicksMichele NereimBianca StoneJessica PiazzaJess BurnquistSheila McMullin, and Brenda Peynado.

After AWP 2015, we were off to our first annual Spring Writing Retreat in Newport, Rhode Island. We were joined by award-winning and internationally-renowned authors such as Kathleen Spivack and Stephen Aubrey, in addition to CWW directors Rita Banerjee and Diana Norma Szokolyai, and CWW yoga instructor Elissa Lewis. The event was a chance for writers to spend a long weekend in historic Newport and near the beach, participating in writing workshops (such as Aubrey’s workshops on theater and Spivack’s workshops on developing manuscripts) and craft of writing seminars, yoga classes, and cultural tours of the historic Newport village. We liveblogged the entire event as well, sharing dozens of photos from our trip while also allowing our writers to share their thoughts on the experience.

During the summer we hosted our Summer in Granada and Summer in Paris Writing Retreats. In Paris, we explored the city and all of its historical, literary, and romantic charm. The retreat included craft of writing seminars and creative writing workshops, literary tours of Paris, daily yoga and meditation classes, and one-on-one manuscript consultations. We were also joined by Guggenheim Fellowship recipient and New York Times bestselling author David Shields, who taught workshops about collage, appropriation, and collaboration. CWW directors Rita Banerjee and Diana Norma Szokolyai taught workshops on stakes and building character, and also led workshops for participants to share their work and use the Liz Lerman method for critiquing writing. We live blogged our Paris retreat on our website, so feel free to check it out and see our workshops, as well as our excursions to Shakespeare and CompanyVersailles and Au Chat Noir. We were really happy to experience this with all of our participants, who traveled from all over the U.S, as well as England and Australia, to come write and explore Paris with us.

In Granada, wrote in the city’s winding streets, absorbed its Moorish history, and were inspired by its evocative landscapes. The retreat included craft of writing seminars and writing workshops and yoga classes. We were joined by Guggenheim Fellowship recipient and Pushcart Prize winner Peter Orner, who led a workshop on Spanish literature. Diana Norma Szokolyai led workshops on voice and stakes, while Rita Banerjee led a workshop on narrative development. We also live blogged this trip, so you can see all the exciting things we did on this trip, such as seeing Poeta in Nueva York and shopping for fans.

We hosted a Brooklyn Bookend Reading at Muchmore’s during The Brooklyn Book Festival. Some of the writers had emerged onto the literary scene with a bang, while others had recently published their first or second books, and had received prestigious awards in the past. The event was moderated by Diana Norma Szokolyai and included writers Rita Banerjee, Jonah Kruvant, Brandon Lewis, Elizabeth Devlin, Lisa Marie Basile, Jessica Reidy, Gregory Crosby, Matty Marks, and Emily Smith.

In November, we also hosted our annual Pre-Thanksgiving Writing & Yoga Cleanse. The two day event kicked off with yoga lessons from Elissa Lewis, followed by creative writing workshops and craft seminars from Jessica Reidy. Our Pre-Thanksgiving Writing & Yoga Cleanse was an opportunity for the participants to cleanse themselves mentally, spiritually, and creatively before the bustling holiday season.

In 2015, we continued our work on CREDO Anthology of Manifestos & Sourcebook for Creative Writing. The collection will feature personal writer manifestos, essays on writing advice, and writing exercises to help spur creativity. Our staff has greatly enjoyed critiquing and conversing with writers on this publication, and more information about publication will be announced in the upcoming year.

In 2015, we welcomed our second round of interns to the Cambridge Writers’ Workshop, and these interns include the wonderful Emily Smith, Casey Lynch, and Alyssa Goldstein, all of whom have helped the CWW greatly this year. They’ve helped manage our social media and written up posts about our events, shown their talent for graphic design and corresponding with writers and hosts in French, Spanish, and English, and have provided much valuable assistance on our retreats and literary events this year.  We’re excited to have Emily, Casey, and Alyssa, on our team, and we can’t wait to show you what they’ve helped us plan for 2016!

This was also a good year for our individual staff members getting published. CWW co-director Rita Banerjee had her poetry published in Quail Bell MagazineRiot Grrrl Magazine, and The Monarch Review. Her interview with CWW visiting professor and Guggenheim Fellowship recipient David Shields was published in Electric Literature. CWW co-director Diana Norma Szokolyai reported for VIDA: Women in Literary Arts on”The Defensive Male Writer.”  CWW Executive Board Member Jessica Reidy‘s “Why the Pyres are Unlit” was released in Drunken Boat’s Romani Folio and her poetry was nominated by The Poetry Blog for “Best of the Net.” Managing Intern Alex Carrigan had his work published in Strike! and Quail Bell Magazine and Managing Intern Emily Smith became a Contributing Blogger for Ploughshares.

While 2015 proved to be a very exciting year for all of us, our staff is quite ready to move on to our next round of exciting events. The CWW will once again table at AWP in Los Angeles from March 30-April 2, 2016, and will be announcing our AWP Reading in downtown Los Angeles shortly!

Join us April 21-24, 2016 for our second annual Spring in Newport, Rhode Island Writing Retreat. Our Newport retreat offers the opportunity for writers of all genres and levels to work alongside award-winning authors & editors to hone their craft and expand their writing skills, while working on new or existing projects. In the past, faculty has included internationally renowned author and writing coach Kathleen SpivackStephen Aubrey, Diana Norma Szokolyai, Rita Banerjee, and Elissa Lewis.

The Cambridge Writers’ Workshop Summer in Narbonne & Barcelona Writing Retreat will take place July 18-26, 2016. The retreat offers participating writers of all genres and levels to work alongside award-winning authors and editors. Participating writers will hone their craft and expand their writing skills, while working on new or existing projects.  There will also be time to explore the city of Barcelona, Spain and the beaches of Narbonne, France.  Our past France retreats have included David Shields, Diana Norma Szokolyai, Rita Banerjee, Jessica Reidy, and Elissa Lewis as faculty members.

And from July 28-August 5, 2016, join the Cambridge Writers’ Workshop on our summer writing retreat to the cultural oasis of Granada, Spain. Located at the foot of the Sierra Nevada mountains in Andalucía, Granada is one of the gems of Spain and has inspired writers from Washington Irving to Salman Rushdie to Ali Smith. Let the old city stimulate your writing with its winding streets, Moorish history, and evocative landscapes. Or, indulge in delicious Andalucían cuisine and traditional Arab baths. Work with world-renowned authors on your manuscript, or look to the beauty and warmth of Granada to inspire all-new projects.  In our past Granada retreat, faculty has included Peter Orner, Rita Banerjee, Diana Norma Szokolyai, and Elissa Lewis.

We hope you are all as excited for our 2016 events as we are.  Information on our upcoming 2016 retreats and readings will be going live in January 2016!  If you have any questions we may not have answered, you can email us at info@cambridgewritersworkshop.org, and for inquiries, please email the CWW Directors, Rita Banerjee and Diana Norma Szokolyai, at directors@cambridgewritersworkshop.org.  You can also follow us on FacebookTumblr, and Twitter for more information and updates on any of these events. We look forward to making 2016 a year full of creativity, writing, and renewal, so join us as we make 2016 rock!

— Emily Smith & Alex Carrigan, CWW Managing Interns