Tag Archives: Creative Writing Reading Series

The Creative Writing Reading Series ended with this semester’s second, and final, thesis reading in the Gregory Allicar Museum of Art. The space was filled with family, peers and faculty members eager to hear the accomplishments of these three students: Joyce Bohling (MA in Creative Nonfiction), KT Heins (MFA in Fiction), and Cedar Brant (MFA in Poetry).

Camille Dungy opened the evening with an introduction, both excited and sad to begin the last event in the Creative Writing Reading Series of the school year.

As my fellow English department intern, I was excited to hear Joyce Bohling read an excerpt from her nonfiction graduate thesis. Associate Professor E. J. Levy introduced Bohling, describing her as a writer marked for a literary life. Bohling’s small, soft spoken demeanor is largely contrasted with her fierce words on the page.

Bohling’s thesis builds on her personal journey with anorexia, moving through the science and cultural history of eating disorders and the modern fad of dieting. As she began her piece, a stark silence settled over the group. Her cultural criticism targeted professionals in the field who combine dieting with extreme exercise as the perfect (“healthy”) duo for weight-loss maintenance.

As Bohling presented fact after fact, her powerful voice permeated the room. The weight of her evidence piled against the alleged success of dieting, moving from a satirical to an outright dismissive tone as we learned more about her personal experiences with dieting. We were left with an important explanation surrounding the reality of Health at Every Size, a lasting message that will still resonate long after the reading.

Levy took the time to also introduce MFA fiction student KT Heins, who shared the first chapter of her novel. As Levy explained, Heins’ violent and eerie prose was something that was both haunting and haunted. The story revolved around a lesbian who lost her lover one year ago to anorexia, an unplanned but recurring topic for the evening.

As she began, Heins’ words were filled with intense imagery that worked to describe the vivid scenery of the world within her novel. We followed her characters as they built a life together, a life before loss. Through her descriptions and narration, I could picture the glass house they bought in Aspen, and the way each character moved in that space, in sync with one another.

A feeling of cold, and loss, carried throughout the reading. I could almost feel the cold surround me, mimicking Heins’ tone as the ghost of the lost partner appeared, followed by the absolute weight of the memory. Her first chapter left me wanting more of this story, a haunting reflection on love and loss.

Finally, Cedar Brant read an excerpt from her MFA poetry collection. While Associate Professor and poet Dan Beachy-Quick was unable to attend the event, he sent a speech introducing Brant’s poetry which Associate Professor Sasha Steensen read.

Through Beachy-Quick’s well-formulated words, we learned of the elegant and philosophical nature of Brant’s poetry. Her deeply vulnerable poetry allows us to “see how she is of and in the world.”

Before beginning her reading, Brant explained that the inspiration for her collection, and the focus on fire, came from the experience she had when her house burned down. Unsurprisingly, her poems are themed around these powerful images and memories of fire. These poems, according to Brant, are a “space where more parts of myself can be contained.”

Brant’s voice was calm and steady as she moved through each poem, delicately circling around the theme of fire. As an audience, we moved through her painful memories and her fluctuating relationship with her sister. Each poem took these smaller memories and expanded into larger ideals and reflections. With Brant, we experienced her giving parts of herself back to the earth, allowing us to dwell on our own relationship with the earth.

When the reading ended, I found myself wanting more. This past year, each graduating MA and MFA student has worked tirelessly on completing their final thesis project. I feel privileged to have shared in this part of their process, hearing just a portion of the work that Joyce Bohling, KT Heins, and Cedar Brant put into these creative projects. I can’t help but think about the small pieces of themselves they will leave behind, pieces that have forever become a part of their work and of us.

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~from intern Joyce Bohling

The reading of creative writing master’s theses on March 30 featured creative nonfiction M.A. candidate Dana Chellman and poetry M.F.A. candidates Denise Jarrott and Kylan Rice. Each reading featured unique style and subject matter, showing the diversity and creativity of work produced by students in the English department.

Poet Denise Jarrott was the first to read selections from her M.F.A. thesis. “What is it to live and wonder what living is about?” asked Jarrott’s advisor, Dan Beachy-Quick, in his introduction. This, Beachy-Quick said, is the ambitious question which Jarrott’s work poses.

Jarrott began her reading with selections from her collection “Letter Sonnets”; each of the twenty-six sonnets in this collection is titled with a letter of the alphabet. I noticed, as Jarrott read, how embodied her poetry is. One of her sonnets included the passage, “I do not know what it means to have a mind, but I can guess what it is to have a body.” This seemed to describe a theme weaving through many of the poems she selected from this collection: the sonnets dwelt on the physical rather than the meta-physical. Jarrott’s second set of sonnets, all called “Closet,” imagined what she might have found in the pages of her great-great-grandfather’s journal, which was destroyed.

Next Dana Chellman read excerpts from her essay “How to Get to Heaven from Colorado,” which was recently awarded the Association of Writers & Writing Programs’ Intro Journals Award and will be featured in the upcoming issue of the Iron Horse Review. The essay about her older brother with bipolar disorder uses the trope of maps. In her introduction, Chellman’s advisor Sarah Sloane said that “Dana’s maps are both anchor point and illusion.” These maps include scientists’ recent project to map the Milky Way galaxy, her brother’s treasured road atlas, and the MRI used to diagnose and identify a cause for his mental illness. Each of these maps is necessary as it is imperfect, full of unknowns and uncertainties.

The reading returned to poetry with the evening’s final reader, Kylan Rice. Dan Beachy-Quick, also Rice’s advisor, praised Rice’s poetry: “These poems…realize the world, but also live in it.” Many of Rice’s poems dwelt on images from his childhood. “There are certain images I can’t let go of,” especially images of fruit, he said, laughing. But while these childhood poems were light and uplifting, Rice’s reading took a turn for the darker as he transitioned to grim subjects, especially in his final set, a series of poems on enucleation, the removal of the eye from its socket. I was startled by the gruesome theme, but when Rice read the line, “All that are left to me are my eyes,” I began to think through the idea of enucleation and what it means for a poet to lose the ability to see, both literally and as a metaphor for the many ways that poets and poems themselves witness the world.

The next graduate thesis reading will be this Thursday, April 13 at 7:30 pm in the Gregory Allicar Museum of Art.

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David Shields is a controversial figure in the creative nonfiction world: someone who pushes the boundaries of genre and sometimes inspires strong reactions in his readers.

In his introduction to Shields’ reading at the Lory Student Center, first-year M.A. student Caleb Gonzalez emphasized how Shields challenges the conventions of literary nonfiction. After reading Reality Hunger in Harrison Candelaria Fletcher’s nonfiction workshop, Gonzalez said, “I am now summoned – as David Shields frequently summons his readers to do – to question what I write, how I write it, and why I write it. He invited me to question what fiction and nonfiction really is. He invited me to think about the idea that if the genres of literature are never to be questioned and challenged, they could not stand the test of time.”

Shields is the author of over twenty publications. Reality Hunger, a collage manifesto, explores the possibilities of creative nonfiction and the notion of “truth” while challenging and questioning some of the criticisms and limitations often placed on nonfiction as a genre. Over thirty publications named Reality Hunger as among the best books of 2010. Shields’ other critically-acclaimed publications include New York Times bestseller The Thing About Life Is That One Day You’ll Be Dead and a National Critics Circle Award finalist, Black Planet. In February of this year, Shields published his most recent work, Other People: Takes and Mistakes.

At CSU the day before, Shields had showed his film I Think You’re Totally Wrong: A Quarrel. The film, directed by James Franco and released this year, is based on a book of the same name published by Shields and his former student Caleb Powell in 2015.

Like Reality Hunger, I Think You’re Totally Wrong is meta-art. Shields and Powell hold contrasting views about the role an artist’s life should play in his or her art. Does an artist have an obligation to expose his or her own weaknesses and shortcomings through art? Is an artist obliged to protect other people in his or her life or to obtain permission before writing about others? These difficult questions come to a head in I Think You’re Totally Wrong in raw and uncomfortable ways, as the artists break the fourth wall and debate about what to share and what to keep private in the film itself.

At his reading, Shields read a number of essays from the recently published Other People: Takes and Mistakes. These included an essay about former president George W. Bush. Shields opposed many of Bush’s policies, yet the essay empathetically emphasizes those character traits with which the author himself identifies. He also read essays about a cruel joke his middle school classmates played on one another, an uncomfortable encounter with OJ Simpson in a Häagen-Dazs ice cream store, and a thoughtful response to Shields’ own most critical reviews.

After the reading, Shields answered a number of questions from the audience. MFA student Meghan Pipe wondered whether Shields ever feels the need to revise a piece after it is published, especially given that creative nonfiction often comments on events or topics that continue to develop, such as Shields’ essay about OJ Simpson, which describes events which took place before Simpson’s famous trial. Shields agreed that it’s very tempting to continue tinkering with a piece after it’s published, but he has never re-written a previously published work.

MFA student Yash Seyedbagheri asked a challenging question about Reality Hunger and its exploration of truth. Given the recent concern about “fake news,” as well as accusations made against the Trump administration of falsifying information, Yash Seyedbagheri asked whether Shields still stands by what he wrote in 2010 about the difficulty of determining what is “true.”

Shields conceded that he has also thought about this question and wonders whether his approach to creative nonfiction could be used to validate fake news. Shields nonetheless defended his assertion that nonfiction should question what is true in a thoughtful and intentional way. “What we’re doing in our form is trying to investigate truth and acknowledge our deep flawedness, and that seems very different from what Donald Trump seems to be doing.”

Caleb Gonzalez had ended his introduction to the reading with a prediction of what the reading had in store: “Without a doubt,” he said, “what David Shields has to say will be interesting, stimulating, absorbing, gripping, and let us not forget challenging.” Gonzalez’s prediction was certainly true for me; I left the reading still wrestling with the difficult questions Shields’ work posed.


There are two more readings in the Creative Writing Series this semester. We’d love to see you there.

 

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~from intern Katie Haggstrom

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Literary readings always bring together a diverse audience who shares a love for language. As a new MA English student at CSU, I was eager to attend my first Creative Writing Reading Series at the Gregory Allicar Museum of Art.

I relinquished my pen and water bottle at the front desk (these items aren’t allowed inside, to protect the art) and followed the hallway into the gallery, unsure what to expect. I was met with a small cluster of chairs surrounding a microphone, setting the tone for what I thought would be an intimate Thursday night reading.

But more and more people filed into the gallery and more chairs were brought to fill the empty spaces. Embarrassingly, I knew little about the writer Rachel Hall and the poet Mike Lala who were the esteemed guests for the evening. I listened as English professor Camille Dungy and two CSU students took the stage to introduce the night’s readers.

With standing-room only, we were reminded that we were among artwork, ready to hear the spoken art of prose and poetry. From the beautiful paintings on the wall to the sculptures sprinkled between occupied chairs, we all awaited the start of the reading.

Rachel Hall spoke first, reading an excerpt from Heirlooms, her collection of short stories showing how war interlinks four generations of a Jewish family. As she explained in a blog post, “I’m less interested in those who make history and drawn instead to those who live it—backstage, downstairs, on the sidelines, those overlooked in history textbooks.” Through her writing, Hall delves into these human landscapes, looking at traits that are passed down from generation to generation, like love and duty, pulling inspiration from her own family history.

Rachel Hall

Rachel Hall

With an MFA from Indiana University, Hall has won countless awards for her writing, including two Chancellor’s Awards for Excellence, one for teaching and the other for her creative writing. She also received honors from the Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference, Ragdale and the Saltonstall Foundation for the Arts.

When Hall began reading, her voice was calm and steady as she brought to life the story of a woman experiencing pregnancy and a subsequent miscarriage. The writing was filled with vivid imagery as Hall painted a landscape sharing the story of home, loss and family life.

The poet Mike Lala spoke second. He recently won the 2016 Colorado Prize for Poetry for his collection Exit Theater. He explains the theme of this collection as war, and his relation to it. I was enamored by his unique style and his work with splices and syntax cut short.

Lala began his reading explaining the challenge “to find work that feels relevant to where we are now.” The first poem he chose took place in an art museum (the perfect setting) about a refugee from a different time. From the moment Lala began reading, I felt myself holding my breath, afraid to miss a word through the bursts of fast-paced reading or break the thought-provoking silences.

Mike Lala

Mike Lala

Lala ended the evening with two unpublished poems from a collection he’s working on, describing the theme as money. The first poem was inspired by his old boss. The last poem gained inspiration from Lala’s favorite street in New York City: Elizabeth Street.

Similar in style, both poems were read entirely as one breathless sentence. This intonation gave readers the sense of a hectic New York City, falling into the bustling pattern of city life.

Lala finished his final poem, abruptly ending what had been a longwinded adventure through New York. I sat there with the audience for a moment, breathless.

Blinking, I came back to the art gallery around me and the reading concluded as quickly as it began. The excess chairs were folded up and the room left with the resonating images of two powerful writers, now stored among the paintings and sculptures of the gallery.


The next Creative Writing Reading Series is scheduled for Thursday, March 23 at 7:30pm in the Lory Student Center, Ballroom 350-D. This event will feature author David Shields, “the internationally bestselling author of twenty books, including Reality Hunger, War is Beautiful, and Other People: Takes & Misktakes. The recipient of the Guggenheim and NEA fellowships, Shields has published essays and stories in the New York Times Magazine, Harper’s, Esquire and many more. His work has been translated into twenty languages.”

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~from English Department Communications Intern Courtney Satchell

Gregory Pardlo's poem, "Philadelphia, Negro"

Gregory Pardlo’s poem, “Philadelphia, Negro” from his Pulitzer Prize winning book, Digest

When I went to go see Gregory Pardlo read at the ballroom in the LSC recently, I had been in a bit of a rush. Under the belief that I was late, I hurried to the LSC building where I ended up running into Camille Dungy, who had arranged Pardlo’s visit to CSU. While I was relieved that I was not late, and everyone was just getting there, I still felt a little nervous.  

Gregory Pardlo had, after all, won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry with his book Digest. To say I felt a bit starstruck was an understatement. I had studied his work in a classroom setting and his poetry can only be described as amazingly subversive and dense. One can easily spend hours with his poetry and still not completely understand it.

Lyrical language and rhyme can often determine how the flow of a poem works and where the reader (who might not have the benefit of hearing it performed) needs to put emphasis. It also gives a poem some aesthetically pleasing qualities, but that is not all that makes up a poem. There is this misconception that form needs to be approached separately from content.   Form is not what defines the content, rather content shapes form and they’re crucial to each other.

What makes Pardlo so brilliant is not just his push back against the conventional lyric form but also his subversion against people’s assumptions. Pardlo cross references American pop culture, historical events, and literature to break down this idea that “Americans are culturally distinct.” He uses these points to fuel his imagination.

Image from The Guardian

Image from The Guardian

“Imagination is the starting point to subverting other’s assumptions despite the fact you can’t control other’s world views.” That is what makes Digest so powerful. It  isn’t simply the plethora of literary references that are woven throughout the work but rather the layers of meaning that Pardlo asks his readers to examine. Digest poses some real questions about identity and race.

Pardlo’s smart use of form challenges the reader’s concept of authenticity and constructions of race and how it plays into the reality that we have created for ourselves. His poem, “Written by Himself,” is the perfect example of this. It plays with traditional narrative tools such as slave narratives to play with preconceived notions about blackness, yet Pardlo, at the time of writing this poem, by his own words had only been south of the Mason-Dixon Line twice in his life. The poem emphasizes this issue with reference to Sojourner Truth’s famous “Ain’t I a Woman” Speech, which had famously been altered to make Truth, who has been enslaved in the north, sound southern.

While I’d like to claim the title of poet for myself, my own personal work is nowhere near as well crafted as Pardlo’s and I was trying my best to act cool about this whole thing with arguable success. Thankfully, as I found a seat beside my fellow classmate Cesar, that nervousness that had made me jittery had calmed down and as the reading began only excitement remained.

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The night had a family focused theme, a theme that is echoed all throughout his work. As he read from his book, the poems he selected either directly spoke to his interpersonal relationships with his family (i.e “Attatchment: Atlantic City Pimp” and “Problema 4”) or how moments with his family would inspire a poem. When he gave the audience background to these poems he said “I am deeply interested in the ways we fuck up family.”

His poems spoke on fatherhood and how his relationship with his own father shaped his writing and his experiences as a father himself. When asked by an audience member about how he was able to write such personal and not always flattering portraits of his family, he responded that how we write about other people tells us more about ourselves than it does about the subjects of our writing, and it is crucial that when we immortalize another person through our writing that they must already be “a whole and complete person.” The use of caricatures is a sign of poor writing.

Overall the night was light and fun; Pardlo’s explorations and reflections upon his own writing were beautiful and funny.

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Courtney Satchell, Camille Dungy, and Gregory Pardlo

I didn’t get a clear idea of his thought process behind his writing until the graduate seminar he held with Professor Dungy the next day. This seminar was a great opportunity for me. Since I am only an undergrad, it would have normally not been open to me. I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect. I was excited to once again have an opportunity to speak with him since I had been so hopeless the night before, but I couldn’t guarantee that my nervousness wouldn’t once again get the best of me.  

However, before I could even come up with a game plan, I ended up running into Professor Dungy, Gregory Pardlo, and Laura (the graduate student who had been in charge of introducing him the night before) right in the parking lot. Introductions were quickly made as we walked over to the Morgan Library where the seminar was being held. As we walked and talked I began to feel more comfortable, and I even began to tell this nonsense fact about Elizabeth Taylor. As this slipped from my lips the conversation began to flow and the awkwardness melted away. I no longer felt as nervous as I had before. It was in that moment that Pardlo stopped being a famous Pulitzer prize winner and instead became a person to me.

During the seminar, I had the chance to really understand his thought process behind his writing. Pardlo’s writing style resists the traditional lyrical form in Digest. Despite the fact that he proclaimed himself to be as “conservative as possible” in regards to the poetry cannon and his regard for lyrical poetry, Pardlo specifically resisted  lyric forms in his work because complying with those forms would not allow him to do the work he wished to do. “The Lyric poem is the California Roll of poetry” he said, as he described his focus on form within his work. 

His approach really speaks to me because as a poet, there is this expectation for poets to have mastery over classical form, like the sonnet, and while I can appreciate those forms, forcing myself to use those styles is a disservice to the creative talents.

Courtney Satchell and Gregory Pardlo

Courtney Satchell and Gregory Pardlo

His visit meant a lot to me. Not just as a writer but also as a student. I always had dreams of becoming a writer, a dream I was actively discouraged from. I was told that writers, especially poets, do not make enough money to support themselves, and it wasn’t an achievable dream especially for me. Of course I didn’t let it stop me from pursuing those goals. I became an English Major with a focus in Creative Writing anyway, and I do my best to write as often as I can, but sometimes I can get discouraged.

It can be too easy to listen to those voices that tell you that you don’t belong. Seeing Pardlo gave me a much needed reminder that my dreams are achievable and that I am not alone.


The final reading of Fall 2016 is TONIGHT! Free and open to the public. More info here: http://english.colostate.edu/events/creative-writing-reading-series-writers-harvest-festival/

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~from intern Joyce Bohling

Steve Church talks with Sarah Sloane's E501 class

Steve Church talks with Sarah Sloane’s E501 class

When visiting writer and CSU alumnus Stephen Church introduced himself at a class visit on Thursday afternoon, I was more than a little surprised to discover how much he and I have in common. We went to the same high school, the same university for our undergraduate work and, all things willing, will someday both have master’s degrees from the same English department. You guessed it: Colorado State University. (He’s already got his master’s, of course. I’m still working on mine.)

Like Church, I once thought I would be a fiction writer and was later seduced to the “dark side” of creative writing: nonfiction. Like Church, I’ve gotten sassy at people who suggested that I will need to reach a wizened old age to write memoir—as though people who write memoir are supposed to have all the big questions answered. And although I never would have articulated it as eloquently as he did at his reading on Thursday evening, I could relate to what Church said about the appeal of creative nonfiction: just as fiction writers can become fascinated by characters who, in their imaginations, take on lives of their own, developing and changing over time; nonfiction writers find ourselves fascinated by ideas that evolve in our minds like characters. Not that we ever reach any grand conclusions.

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“The essay,” he states in the first piece he read in the Long’s Peak Room of the Lory Student Center, “is never about the destination. It’s always about the journey.”

While it may seem self-serving to begin a post about a visiting reader by listing the unlikely similarities I share with him, I begin this way because it illustrates why it’s so important to bring creative writers to CSU. For students in the English department, it can sometimes feel like becoming an established writer is impossible, a goal reached only through a series of insurmountable obstacles. Getting work accepted in journals, writing a pitch for a book, working with editors and a publisher: I still sometimes feel as though I will never accomplish these dreams.

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It’s a blessing, therefore, when successful writers like Church are invited back to the department, not only to read their work, but to sit down and share their thoughts with student-writers. During a visit to Professor Sloane’s E501: Theories of Writing class on Thursday afternoon, Church answered questions on subjects as diverse as his writing process, the themes of his work (everything from the science of sound to the 80’s television show Manimal), and the nitty gritty on how to get a piece of writing published. He encouraged students to be proactive in their writing careers even while they are still in school, explaining that three of his five published books began as shorter pieces in his master’s thesis and that he started his renowned literary journal, The Normal School, by building on experience he gained as an intern with CSU’s Center for Literary Publishing.

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Some of Steven’s books were for sale at the reading — thanks CSU Bookstore!

Church’s writing is beautifully lyric and pays close attention to the sound of language. He gets a little miffed, however, when people call his work “poetic.” “All prose should be paying attention to language,” he told the students of 501 and a number of other students and faculty who came to hear him speak.

Sorry Mr. Church, I would describe your work as poetic. An essay that teaches about catfish, seashells, the art of fathoming, and the various meanings of the word “cockle” all in under 4000 words qualifies, in my book, as highly poetic. This seems to be one way that Church and I differ.

But I think I speak for more than myself when I say that I drove home on Thursday night feeling inspired. By the beauty of Church’s writing, yes, but also by his commitment to his chosen art form. I left knowing that even a kid from a quirky college town on the Kansas River can devote his (or her!) life to writing, if he chooses, and be pretty darn good at it, too.

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The Creative Writing Reading Series at CSU is made possible by the support of the Lilla B. Morgan Memorial Endowment, the ASCSU, the Crow-Tremblay Endowment Fund, and other generous donors. Please visit english.colostate.edu for more information about how to become a donor.

All events are free and open to the public. 

Next reading:  Gregory Pardlo, Thursday October 13, LSC Ballroom 350A.

Pardlo Poster

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~From Communications Coordinator Jill Salahub

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Usually one of our communications interns goes to the reading and writes about the event. They’ve written some really great pieces this semester that give a good sense of what it’s like to go to a reading, what it’s like to be read a particular piece by the various writers, to be in the audience on a specific night. Our hope is that this might inspire those who haven’t already gone to attend a reading, or for those who wanted to but couldn’t make it, to give them a taste of what they missed. However, at our last meeting of the semester the day before the event, it became clear to me that my interns had too much work to wrap up and not a lot of time remaining, so I decided to attend and report back myself.

It made for a long day. I worked my regular “shift,” attended a retirement celebration for John Calderazzo and SueEllen Campbell, and then had a impromptu dinner with a few colleagues before heading to the reading. I’m not going to lie, I was tired and raw by the time I got there. But when I entered the Clara Hatton Gallery, all that fell away. The space itself is a wonderful mix of calming and energizing, the ghosts of each previous reading and the echo of all the art that came before infusing the space with a sense of ordinary magic, just like all the best book stores and yoga studios and jazz clubs. And even though it was a public event, it felt more like a group of friends gathering.

 

Camille Dungy

Camille Dungy

Camille Dungy started off the night, musing about what might have happened to the great but soft spoken Billie Holiday if she’d been born in a time before microphones, and how artists are often at the mercy of the technology of the time, for better or for worse. It was a fascinating thing to consider, and I could have listened to her say more, discuss and write about just that the rest of the night, but that wasn’t why we were there. Camille then pointed out that “until 15 minutes ago, Andrew was the assistant [to the Director of the Creative Writing Reading Series] and now he’s the star!” (Cole Konopka will be taking over the duties of Assistant to the Director of the Creative Writing Reading Series). Camille gave thanks to the various sponsors of the Reading Series, finishing by saying that with the help of Andrew and Abby Kerstetter, “we had a really killer reading series this year.” Coming up in Fall 2016 is alumnus Steven Church, poet Gregory Pardlow, poet and non-fiction writer Tess Taylor, and the English department’s newest faculty member, non-fiction writer Harrison Fletcher.

Leslee Becker

Leslee Becker

Next up was Leslee Becker, introducing Vauhini Vara, who recently published a great piece, “Is Smoking Pot the New Disneyland for the Family?” about weed tourism in Colorado, and who just so happens to be married to English department Assistant Professor Andrew Altschul. Towards the end of her intro, Leslee said,

Look up Vauhini on the web, and you’ll see a list of achievements and articles, including many on student loans, so be sure to speak with her after the reading.  And now I come to what’s not on a website, inside dope from Andrew Altschul: “Her love of words traces back to having twice been a contestant in the National Spelling Bee, and coming in third when she was 12 years old. Her work as a professional journalist began when she was a teenage reporter for the Seattle Times, most notably interviewing Beck backstage at a concert about his hair-care products. She was also an editor of the Mercer Island newspaper and the Stanford Daily, though it’s unclear if she pursued hair-care scoops at those publications.”

 

Vauhini Vara

Vauhini Vara

Vauhini read a “shortened version of a short story” about a young college aged woman of color who losses her brother to cancer, then gets a summer job as a telemarketer, and then 9/11 happens. The opening line of the story draws you in immediately, “It was the summer of 2001. Our whole house stunk.” The protagonist had lost her brother to cancer and things were falling apart at home. Before his death, he’d believed he was a prophet. “The meaning of life is to find one’s own meaning,” he’d told a group sitting in their living room. But after his death, “my brother had died and my house smelled rancid.” She finds a strange escape at a telemarketing job, making a “commission for each conversion” and longing for “an irate,” a customer so aggressive she had permission to hang up on them. Then 9/11 hits, and she struggles with how those who weren’t there or involved react, wrestles with her anger, asking “Did you know someone who died?!” only to note in the very last line of the story, “I was a living person in a land of living persons. All I have left is you people.”

EJ Levy

EJ Levy

EJ Levy was up next, introducing Andrew Mangan, the final reader of the 2015-2016 Creative Writing Reading Series. She referenced his courage as a writer, writing about “those typically overlooked,” how his writing was heartfelt without being sentimental, non-sentimental without being cold. She said he doesn’t just write to write well, but writes about what matters.

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Andrew Mangan

Andrew started by thanking his parents, who had traveled to see him read in person, and then his fiance Hanna. Then he launched into a story about Percy, an elementary school kid not so lovingly nicknamed “Roadkill” by his classmates. In the story, he slept on a futon in the living room, and his mom worked retail and his dad had a flea market booth. Neither one of his parents made much money, so the family struggled. Sometimes their electricity got turned off because they hadn’t paid the bill or they had to get food from the local food pantry. One set of grandparents had been killed in a tornado and the others were in a psych ward. An “opportunity” comes when a snake handling preacher makes Percy’s dad a deal for “snake rent” — Percy’s dad catches and keeps poisonous snakes used at the church in return for a monthly fee, money the family needs. A moment in the story that shines with more than just literal meaning is when Percy’s dad explains the preacher is able to handle the snakes without getting bitten because he has Percy’s dad starve then, to make them tired, docile, easy to handle. “They have no clue what’s happening to them.” Percy tries to be a regular kid amongst the strangeness and scarcity of his life, longing for a Sega and in love with his new light up shoes. His mother at one point says, “I hate this” and “he could tell ‘this’ mean something more, that they couldn’t afford to want.”

Without planning it, the stories read that night were thematically similar, dealing as they did with loss, violence, loneliness, grief, and otherness. Two characters trying to find their way, trying to make sense of their experiences even when nothing made sense. The main characters were very different, as were their settings and particular problems, but I couldn’t help but feel they were of the same ilk. Similarly, the writers who read that night were kindred — masters of complex narrative, unafraid to peer into the darkness and report back, not just writing well but writing about what matters.


The Creative Writing Reading Series at CSU is organized by English Department faculty and the Organization of Graduate Student Writers (OGSW); Creative Writing faculty serve on a rotating basis as director of the series and faculty advisor to OGSW. The series has a small annual budget and relies on the support of the Associated Students of Colorado State University (ASCSU), the College of Liberal Arts dean’s office, donors, local businesses, and CSU’s English Department. Its spring 2016 events are made possible with support from CSU’s Lilla B. Morgan Memorial Endowment, a premier funder of the arts at CSU. Please help grow this fund with a gift at: http://president.colostate.edu/lillabmorgan/index.aspx. All events are free and open to the public.

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Selah Saterstrom

At once both warmly familiar and strangely terrifying, Selah Saterstrom’s writing took what I felt to be a comforting ritual and turned it on its head. Reinvigorating what I knew as literature and as reading, Saterstrom injected an electrifying pulse of stark realism, dark humor, and disturbing imagery into the Creative Writing and Reading Series.

The Hatton Gallery, as usual, filled with the amiable voices of friends and colleagues, and Saterstrom began by thanking the department for the wonderful pot luck dinner with a congenial southern drawl. Welcoming and intimate amongst cohorts, the reading fell in line with all the others I had attended so far.

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“So to answer your question, Barbara Walters, dogs do make me think about death.” Imagined interviews with American broadcast journalists, a southern town not flooded but completely leveled by Hurricane Katrina, and dogs that accidentally maul rather than save their companions, Saterstrom’s novel Slab was not what I was expecting. Described in the introduction as a a fallen biblical landscape, protagonist Tiger transforms atop the slabs of buildings that lie across her town like sheets of paper, tombstones, and alters. The concrete pieces that cover the landscape after her town is devastated by the infamous hurricane allow for reverenced musings on murderous dogs, cake recipes, and first kisses. Injected with sharp comedy and jokes that produce a near prickly smile on my face, Tiger tells us tidbits like, “If a southern bride serves red velvet cake at a wedding, it is considered a slutty thing to do.” Punctuated with moments of jarring irony, and constantly jumping from story to story, listeners can never quite place their footing in this world both destroyed and energized by Katrina.

Saterstrom then read to us from a book of lyric essays –  Ideal Suggestions – to be released in October. Her first time presenting excepts from her new book, she explained that each piece contains either a forward or an afterward about the origins of her work. The essay she read us, “Tale of Brother and Sister,” meditates on how a piece of writing can be haunted.

And the piece felt truly haunted. With terrifying imagery but beautiful words, the brother and sister discuss with calm a constantly shifting, immaterial scene of horror. “Some things have no shape,” the sister says. The essay, too, has an intangible shape, floating specterly from descriptions of fire and burning to dark and damp, starlets and pomegranate seeds to apparitions of dead bodies. Lines like, “People with gray eyes belong to dog medicine” and “Return the speck to the wet and tender stem” filled me with a definitive chill, as if unable to get out of a cold bath. Caught up in the disturbing visions alternating between blood and mold, Saterstrom’s writing felt arresting in its attention. One could drown trying to gulp down the fast, gorgeous rhythm of her words.

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In the Afterward of the essay, Saterstrom explained she wanted to capture the textures, atmospheres, and syntactical paradigms of two narratives: one of her stillborn son, Trevor, the other of her deceased twin brother. Haunted and guided by these stories, the piece has been in progress for decades as she left and returned to it to incorporate new layers of meaning and voice.

The evening ended with some Q&A, where Saterstrom offered poignant advice on the selection of time and genre for a piece. She views “writing as a zone to entertain the transformation of shadows,” and humbly offered up that, “the urgency to make the work trumps my need to know what the hell I’m doing. Listen to what the project needs.”

Instead of leaving humored or pensive, as I usually do, I felt gutted and hollow after the last reading. But it was intensely refreshing to have listened to something unsettling. The Creative Writing and Reading Series does not just welcome the English Department; it welcomes the power of literature in all its forms, apt to make you feel, as it were, something deep, or something raw.

The Creative Writing Reading Series at CSU is organized by English Department faculty and the Organization of Graduate Student Writers (OGSW); Creative Writing faculty serve on a rotating basis as director of the series and faculty advisor to OGSW. The series has a small annual budget and relies on the support of the Associated Students of Colorado State University (ASCSU), the College of Liberal Arts dean’s office, donors, local businesses, and CSU’s English Department. Its spring 2016 events are made possible with support from CSU’s Lilla B. Morgan Memorial Endowment, a premier funder of the arts at CSU. Please help grow this fund with a gift at: http://president.colostate.edu/lillabmorgan/index.aspx. All events are free and open to the public.

Next reading: Yusef Komunyakaa, Thursday April 21. 7:30 pm – 9:00 pm in the North Ballroom of the Lory Student Center.

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Creative Writing Reading Series MFA Thesis Reading, Melissa Hohl and John McDonough

~From English Department Communications Intern Kaitlyn Phillips

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Melissa Hohl and John McDonough

As I walked into the Clara Hatton gallery, I noticed first the energy and the atmosphere; dozens of happy voices bounced from wall to wall and back, the result one hundred echoes containing all the enthusiasm and anticipation of an event about to start. As Dr. Cooperman took the stage to introduce the night’s readers, these voices collected in every corner of the room, settling as the people did on to chairs and benches and along the walls.

The event in question was the Creative Writing Reading Series MFA Thesis Reading featuring Melissa Hohl and John McDonough.

As Melissa Hohl took the stage, the crowd quieted almost immediately, anticipating her poetry that had been so beautifully introduced. After a tearful list of thank yous, Melissa launched straight into reading her work — and we weren’t disappointed.

Melissa Hohl’s poetry is sharp, paused and fragmented; listening to her read her work aloud was entrancing, and the audience sat at full attention from one poem to the next. Her poems focus on selfhood or sense of self, and the importance of one’s name to both of these things. As she finished reading, I felt as though I was being pulled out of her world and back into my own; her work captures the mind entirely, and I look forward to seeing her published work in the near future.

Next to read was John McDonough who primarily writes short stories, and chose to read his piece “Sitting,” a beautifully written and compelling short story about how humans connect with each other, focusing on the relationships between employers and employees, men and women, and strangers and friends. There is an authenticity that rang throughout the story as he told it, and a deep understanding of human relationships unfolded as he came to the story’s end. It was descriptive, enticing, deeply true and honest, and every bit as entrancing as Hohl’s work.

As the night came to an end and people began to clear the gallery, Hohl and McDonough were left at the front of the room, excitedly hugging family members and receiving high praise from friends and strangers alike. It was a pleasure to see two hard working CSU students read the work they were proud of and spend a night being celebrated for it.

So thank you to Melissa and John for a wonderful night of poetry and storytelling, and the English Department is wishing you luck in your careers beyond CSU.


The Creative Writing Reading Series at CSU is organized by English Department faculty and the Organization of Graduate Student Writers (OGSW); Creative Writing faculty serve on a rotating basis as director of the series and faculty advisor to OGSW. The series has a small annual budget and relies on the support of the Associated Students of Colorado State University (ASCSU), the College of Liberal Arts dean’s office, donors, local businesses, and CSU’s English Department. Its spring 2016 events are made possible with support from CSU’s Lilla B. Morgan Memorial Endowment, a premier funder of the arts at CSU. Please help grow this fund with a gift at: http://president.colostate.edu/lillabmorgan/index.aspx. All events are free and open to the public.

Next reading: Selah Saterstrom, Thursday April 14. 7:30 pm – 9:00 pm in the Clara Hatton Gallery, Visual Arts Building.

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Stuart Moore and Dean Sangalis

Stuart Moore and Dean Sangalis

After my last reading series fiasco, I made sure to arrive early to the Hatton Gallery, sitting among empty chairs until they slowly filled up with the familiar voices of my professors and classmates.

With the warm chatter dying down, the first presenter introduced Stuart Moore as a man who very rarely stands still, constantly fly fishing or hiking or biking or ice climbing. This constant movement, this nimbleness, comes through in his nonfiction writing as “karomi – the lightness of thought essential for art.” The lightness of his art comes across in his humor, too, easy and relatable.

Moore wrote his nonfiction essay on his long distance hike of the Colorado trails, opening with the beautiful and taxing world of the peaks where “lightening crackles in dry heaves above the forest.” In his writing, “time seems to be something edible” out on the trails, as the concrete digest-ability of what is occurring in front of him becomes of the utmost importance: the detailed steps of packing food, the ease of setting up a tent, the patience of catching a fish, and, quite frequently, the process of sh*tting in the woods. Moore’s descriptions of “letting one rip – loud and free” brought abject enjoyment to the audience, and the crowd giggled and laughed along as he talked about partaking in Colorado’s most (in)famous pastime with his hiking companions.

But what comes with this almost boyish humor is a struggle between a son and his father. Alternating  between retrospective memories of a boy peeking into his father’s office and the more immediate glances into intensive care units, he most often recalls his father’s bookshelf filled with blank journals and self-help titles to combat bipolar disorder, a failing marriage, and a distance from God. By the end of his time on the trail, an experienced hiker that can traverse the mountains with a comfortable ease, he passes on his wisdom to the two eighteen-year-olds he meets who are just starting their journey, offering a guiding voice to the young men looking for advice.

Debby Thompson then introduced Dean Sangalis, another writer in constant movement like an orbiting satellite. His astral view shines through in his commentary as a TA, she said; when demonstrating the effect of a braided essay, he drew seemingly random loops until they combined into an intricate flower.

“You have that flower that I drew! I want that back – it was beautiful!” Sangalis exclaimed on his way up. Reading a series of micro-essays, he punctuates his musings of almost cosmic reach with sincere and grounded bits of humor, his astrological and transcendental thoughts on auras and anarchy for a moment swallowed back with a rough swig of alcohol. The first story starts on a night out at the bars with friends. “Scotch sounds good in the rain,” he says, before he recalls calling a clairvoyant over the phone, who compliments his bright and complicated geometric aura, undisturbed by food or drink. He looks at a sage plant and wonders about pouring his gin and tonic in it, wondering if it would make it look ugly.

His second piece observes an intellectual discussion marred by alcohol, though it mirrors more the chuckling of a sober onlooker than the serious and philosophical insistence of the drunken debaters. An angsty young party-goer talks anarchy with his silent companion, and Sangalis tries to interject deep probes into his anti-government philosophy, only to be answered by confusion and, later, vomit. The last work, one he described as in “a rough state, but felt compelled to share” felt nothing of the sort. Lamenting the belief that he is going bald, Sangalis nostalgically recalls the bowl-cuts and later attempts at metal-hair from his youth, a Sampson-esque attachment to the potency and vigor attached to his formerly flowing locks. Between affinities for hairdressers and his urging them to “trust the hair” to his belief that hairstyles have the capacity to maintain your mental state, Sangalis manages to convey the vanity we all have towards our hair with hilarity, and some commentary on self-worth and self-reflection along the way.

On a night with the audience still moving slow post-snowday, Moore and Sangalis propelled their stories forward with humor, insight, and honesty. Whether a hike through the Rockies prompts attention to the fundamentals of survival, or a receding hairline creates a psycho-social examination into the world of follicles, these two authors tackle nonfiction with an unbound sense of creativity towards themselves and the world around them.

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