Stories directly related to VCFA’s MFA in Writing & Publishing program

This, My Friend, Is Your Life

Julianna Baggott contains a seemingly endless fount of energy when it comes to the art form. She has written over 20 books (not including what she’s co-authored), teaches at VCFA and at Florida State University, regularly pitches stories to Hollywood, and is raising four children. Still, she took the time to read with Caitlin Leffel at VCFA’s Café Anna. Before she went in front of the audience, MFA candidate Sarah Leamy introduced her. “She has done so much, and it’s so inspiring,” she said. And to prove this, she helped unfurl a poster on the wall that illustrated Julianna’s accomplishments: every single work of fiction, collection of poetry, and young adult series diagrammed in permanent marker, revolving around a single bubble that is Julianna Baggott. “This, my friend, is your life,” said Sarah.

“Just to be clear,” said Julianna as she stepped up to the podium, “I have more books than that.”

Whenever anyone asks Julianna why she writes, especially why she writes so much, she is fond of saying: “It’s how I breathe.”

“Apparently you breathe really fast,” Sarah quipped from the audience.

Julianna read poems about strong women and childhood, nursing and piano tuners, death threats and masculinity (“lewd opalescence, it’s unwieldy pep”). When she finished, she checked out the poster. She loved it. “Now that I’ve gotten up close,” she said, “it’s very funny and smart.”

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Caitlin Leffel (heart emojis) New York

It may be safe to say that writer and editor Caitlin Leffel has a thing for New York City: she grew up in Manhattan, works as an editor with Rizzoli Press in the Flatiron District, and wrote a book about falling in love in New York. She is also a VCFA alumnus. A few weeks ago, she made the five-hour journey north—or 45 minutes from LaGuardia—back to Montpelier to discuss with our class her fascinating career in publishing.

Rizzoli Press specializes in illustrated books, aka “coffee table books,” covering topics from art to fashion, cooking to wristwatches. Leffel ran through the steps of how a book is born: from the agent’s pitch, to the editor’s book proposal, to setting the price and determining profit margins, to mocking up titles and cover art. We asked questions. We looked at the proposed covers for a celebrity chef’s cookbook across myriad permutations and drastic title changes. Then, we wrote our own book proposals for our own imaginary books. Maybe we’ll see them on a coffee table someday. We’re publishin’ here!

Later that evening, alongside Julianna Baggott, she read from an introduction she wrote for one such book: a collection of photographs by the German photographer Bernhard Hartmann, of (where else?) New York City. Hartmann casts his artist’s gaze across the city’s geometric forms, from day into night, from the sky to ground level. And Leffel’s introduction is a love letter to the city: from buildings to pigeons, bodegas to billboards, circles to triangles, Guggenheim to Grand Central, she writes: “geometry makes the city.”Running sports | Nike

Three New Books From Our Faculty That You Must Read Before You Die

Three of our faculty have either recently introduced books or are releasing them soon. They include a novel about returning home, a heartbreaking memoir of overcoming illness, and a collection of groundbreaking poetry. Why not collect them all?

Robin MacArthur, Visiting Faculty in Fiction, introduced her short story collection, Half Wild, in 2016. In January 2018, she released her first novel: Heart Spring Mountain, from which she read just a few weeks ago.

Published by Ecco, an imprint of HarperCollins, Heart Spring Mountain is themed around the idea of returning home—in this case, to rural Vermont in search of a missing mother possibly swept away in 2011’s Tropical Storm Irene. From this starting point, an entire family tree blooms that encompasses hippie grandmothers, commune dwellers, and part-time strippers. “MacArthur ably sustains multiple narrative threads and voices while sympathetically exploring more than four generations’ worth of hard times,” says Kirkus Reviews, ultimately calling it “a fecund and contemplative feminist family saga.” Oprah’s Book Club deems it one of 4 Books to Read Over a Winter Weekend, calling it “a novel of compassion,” while the Harvard Crimson states that it “beautifully intertwines generational connections.”

Faculty in Fiction and Creative Nonfiction, Porochista Khakpour has an upcoming memoir, Sick, that’s been years in the making. She was diagnosed with Lyme disease in late 2012, but she also endured “all the years of hell where I did not know what was wrong with me,” she said in an interview with Lithub. Addictions, hospitalizations, misdiagnosis, and crushing hospital bills ensued. The resulting work spans two continents and a decade. As publisher HarperPerennial states, Khakpour “meditates on both the physical and psychological impacts of uncertainty…with candor and grace.” Already the book has made it onto dozens of eagerly-anticipated lists, including: Buzzfeed, The Boston Globe, The Rumpus, and Electric Literature—each stating how much their editors look forward to June 5th, the day the book goes on sale.

The cover is unusual, especially from a personal standpoint: in a hospital bed with a tube up her nose, it’s a selfie of Khakpour in the least flattering place to take a selfie. “It’s a lot to imagine your face at book stores and all over the internet for ages to come, but especially your face associated with a word like ‘sick!’”Khakpour said. “Then it seemed to make sense to me, when I remembered how many selfies—before they were called ‘selfies!’—I had taken during my sickest years. There was often not much more to do.”

Lastly: Poetry Faculty member Matthew Dickman debuted his fourth collection earlier this month. In Wonderland, Dickman reflects upon the neighborhood in southeastern Portland, Oregon, where he grew up. In a Portland before Portlandia, he endures a childhood filled with: “ambient violence, well-intentioned but warped family relations, [and] confining definitions of identity.” Dickman introduces a series marked by the hour, beginning at 1am and going on to midnight the next day. The “deprivation of this particular Portland neighborhood in the 1980s,” according to publisher W.W. Norton, reflects the changing face of a city beset by the forces of gentrification. Fittingly, Portlandia star Carrie Brownstein gave it kudos, calling the collection “deft and sparkling.

Dickman’s youth is marked by booze, addiction, skinheads and punk shows. There are plenty of stories to tell here, but for him, poetry is something more than a straightforward narrative: “poetry doesn’t come from storytelling,” he said in an interview with Hunger Mountain. “It comes from prayer. I think there’s something in our DNA as human beings that feels there’s something sacred about poems.”

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The Unbearable Lightness of AWP

Earlier this month, the Association of Writers and Publishers hosted its annual conference in Tampa, Florida.

For over 15,000 attendees, the AWP Conference & Bookfair is the literary event in America: four straight days of books, book deals, interacting with editors from Big 5 publishing houses and tiny literary magazines alike, networking, lectures, readings, and parties. For the Vermont College of Fine Arts, it was the ideal place to launch Everyday Chimeras, the latest issue of Hunger Mountain. For the students of VCFA who could attend, it was a too-brief respite from the endless winter. And for student Cammie Finch, it was an eye-opening festival of wonder—a place where everyone could geek out over writing and reading.

In a post on her personal blog, Cammie extols the joys of being surrounded by literary geeks, reflects on how AWP impacted her own goals, and shows off some cool swag. She writes:

I loved AWP. Really. Really really loved it. It’s hard to fully imagine the conference without experiencing it. But let me try my best. It’s 15,000 writers and teachers and students and editors and publishers and logophiles and bibliophiles, all geeking out over writing and reading. It’s getting the nerve to go up to the Paris Review or Guernica or [insert prestigious journal here], shake hands with the editor, and have confidence in your own work. It’s about breathing in the same room with the poets and writers you read online or follow on Twitter or whose likeness you’ve taped to the walls of your bedroom. It’s about finding a community of people who understand why you do what you do. It’s about supporting yourself and others and literature itself.

Melissa Febos and Donika Kelly (our Hunger Mountain guest editors) IN REAL LIFE!

Yes, the conference was chaotic and a total sensory overload and exhausting and the food wasn’t great and was very overpriced,  but it was worth it to work at the book fair all day long…

…so I could attend panels and craft lectures on the things that are important to me: “The Next Step: Teaching & Writing at a Literary Center“, “Work Work Balance: When a Day Job Pays More Than the Bills,” “Writing Bad Ass and Nasty Women,”  and “The Real Mother of All Bombs: Reconsidering John Hersey’s Hiroshima.

…so I could see dear writing mentors of mine again (Robert James RussellAllegra HydeAlex McElroyAmelia MartensBritton Shurley, to name a few)

…so I could leave my footprints on the dry Tampa sidewalks.

I’ve decided that I will attend AWP every year from this day forward until I can no longer travel or walk.

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A Stolen Violin And a Missing Person In a Lake

Our second reading featured author James Scott and faculty members Julia Shipley and Jericho Parms, a triumvirate hereby known forever as “The Three Js.”

First: James Scott, whose debut novel The Kept is an unyieldingly bleak tale of revenge set in the cold of western New York in the late 1800s. Featuring a mother with a mysterious secret and a boy too young to exact vengeance, Scott told us the story took him eight years to write.

He then read from his second novel, as yet unreleased, which he joked would be less bleak: “This book is just about drowning.” This time, Scott took us to 1990s Burlington, Vermont, a city experiencing gentrification pains familiar to all U.S. cities from that time forward. Here, a volunteer diver for the state police goes into a lake to find a body; on the way up, he meets a mysterious woman—the wife of the man who disappeared. Scott attended nearby Middlebury College for undergrad, so we have reason to trust his intimate familiarity with the Vermont landscape. The story was funny and blessedly awkward, a departure from his late 1800s revenge story, yet both stories captured a great feeling of loss

Julia Shipley read next. Shipley, Visiting Faculty at VCFA, is also a book reviewer, journalist, and travel writer who lives and works on a farm in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom. In 2014, her prose and poetry collection Adam’s Mark: Writing from the Ox-House was one of The Boston Globe’s Best Books, while her subsequent book, The Academy of Hay won the Melissa Lanitis Gregory Poetry Prize.

Shipley dove into a pair of essays, about 200 words each, that she wrote for the Old Farmer’s Almanac: the first woman to write calendar essays for the publication in its 226-year history. The essays deal with January and April, respectively. More specifically, she discusses the magic of pulling a shimmering lake trout through thick ice and a lakeside carnival in Danville, Vermont that celebrates when winter finally ends.

Then came a series of poems, her specialty, each with titles like, “The Archaeologists,” “The Porcupine,” and “The Observable Edge of the Universe,” which she called “a very fancy name for a very local poem.” She briefly showed us the paper she was reading from so that we could see each poem took on the form its title reflected: tall and skinny for “The Archaeologists,” short and plump and as spiky as text would allow for “The Porcupine.”

Lastly was Visiting Faculty Jericho Parms. Parms is teaching a course on creative nonfiction this semester called “Mountains and Molehills.” She is the author of  the essay collection, Lost Wax, which The Rumpus called “part meditation, part lyric, part inquiry on topics such as art, love, loss, identity, memory, and coming of age.” The essay, she explained, is not so much an end product of thought but thought itself.  The essay she read that evening, “Practice,” flows between topics: the smallest objects expand to fill the space of an old house.

In this old house, Parms studies paint chips from the hardware store, recites their names out loud to no one in particular, luxuriates over them. Simultaneously, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, a man steals a Stradivarius violin known as the “Lipinski.” When Jericho reads about the story it reminds her of her own upbringing, practicing violin as a child and learning to appreciate the tone and softness of an old instrument, though—to be fair—hers was not as old and rare as Antonio Stradivari’s creation, last estimated at a cool $6 million.

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Second-Year Students Reflect On Their Thesis Projects Before Their Ever-Looming Graduation

Over the past year, the second-year students in VCFA’s MFA in Writing & Publishing program have been diligently, quietly plugging away at their thesis projects. This is their last semester to complete them. For such a close community of writers, this looming graduation date brings equal parts panic, relief, and sadness. Right now, they’ll be in the thick of crunch time. Soon, they’ll finish something they’ve dreamed of. They will graduate. And eventually, they will miss this place.

Jennifer Kathleen Gibbons, Jad Yassine, and Gina Tron are all but about to finish. They are working across multiple genres, encompassing creative nonfiction, poetry, and memoir. I asked them how they’re faring, how they handle difficult aspects in their writing, how VCFA as a whole has helped them out, and how much coffee they really drink.

What’s your thesis about?

Jennifer: My thesis is a memoir about my connection with a cold case. It now has a (hopefully) happy ending.

Jad: It’s a collection of poems, which will hopefully be called Root Beer. The poems mainly fall into two different sections: in Lebanon and in Vermont. It’s about the experiences of the foreign. But it also has glimpses of these personal moments that have nothing to do with America.

Gina: It’s about making a copycat threat in high school after Columbine. It’s about being accused of wanting to shoot up my school.

How far along are you?

Jennifer: It has a beginning, and I’m slowly but surely coming to a middle. I am happy to say because of recent developments, it will have a new ending.

Jad: It’s supposed to be 50 pages or more. Right now I have a total of 47 pages of material. That includes things that are three-fourths polished and things that still need a lot of work.

Gina: 135 pages. I hope to finish the book by May, but I don’t know if that’s too hopeful. I want to at least make a big dent in it. It’s not just a memoir, it also incorporates newspaper articles, diary entries… it’s pseudo-journalism. A little sprinkle of journalism.

Jennifer Kathleen Gibbons

How have your advisors helped you? 

Jennifer: Jessica Hendry Nelson has been great—she told me to edit stuff out about a terrible boss I had years ago. When I did that, it was like the chapter in question had a facelift. It just flowed so much better.

Jad: Julianna Baggott has been helpful from the start. From the fall semester, I almost knew that this is the person I wanted to work with. The way she talks to me about my poetry (and poetry in general) [has] a lot of energy… that I respond to positively.

Gina: Porochista Khakpour has [been] very encouraging. She loves the project. I feel lucky to work with her.

How have your fellow students helped you?

Jennifer: They have been there for me and believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself. They will never know how grateful I am to them.

Jad: It was great to present our work in the fall semester in thesis seminar. I thought that it was such a good space to put work out.

Gina: I’ve brought many pieces last semester to different workshops, and the feedback has been really great—lots of constructive criticism from both classmates and professors. They’ve given me ideas that I wouldn’t have thought of on my own.

What are your goals with the thesis? Do you want to publish it right away or have a few more years to edit and edit? 

Jennifer: I want to get it published by June 2020—the 40th anniversary of Suzanne Bombardier’s death. I’m hoping by then there will be a final resolution and the book will be a tribute to her life, not the way she died.

Jad: Often times, only a handful of [thesis] poems make their way to the poet’s first collection. So I envision only a handful of the poems being published. I would also like to see some individual poems get published separately in journals, just to get started.

Gina: My agent is already pitching it as a book proposal. About 75 of those pages are included as a sample. I would like to get this picked up while I’m writing it, but I would like to finish it and resend it to my agent for another look.

What are you going to miss about VCFA when you graduate? 

Jennifer: The teachers and my cohort. The town.

Jad: The freedom to sit down and write. Which isn’t to say that we lose that when we graduate, but  it becomes an individual effort.

Gina: So much. I’m already very sad that it’s almost over. I just love the structure and the peer support. I already have withdrawal symptoms.

Gina Tron

Do you have any pre-writing rituals or superstitions? 

Jennifer: I do Morning Pages every morning. I picked up the habit from The Artist’s Way and it helps me so much. I write in Peanuts notebooks, good grief, Charlie Brown! I also must do 750 words a day on the website I write with Uniball pens.

Jad: None. The only thing that I need is to have written something in my head first.

Gina: Definitely no superstitions. I try to write 1000 words a day, in general, make some progress. It doesn’t always happen, but then I’ll read books that are about similar topics. It’ll spark ideas on my notepad, and it’ll give me ideas on what to include.

What do you do to keep yourself motivated? Coffee, meditation, long walks on a hypothetical beach, etc. 

Jennifer: Coffee for sure. Last year I had a terrible bout of writer’s block. I always thought writer’s block was bunk. But when it happened to me, it was one of the most painful periods of my life. I made myself do something outside of writing for three weeks. I colored every day in adult coloring books. I did my morning pages. I watched movies. I started doing bullet journals. I made collages. Then on the fourth week, I sat down and started writing again. It wasn’t magic. It just worked itself out.

Jad: In this moment, it’s the need to finish the thesis. But in general, it’s the innate need to communicate through writing. We need to tell a story, we need to pass on information.

Gina: I’m pretty disciplined in general. I’m a workaholic. As I became a freelance writer, I taught myself how to be disciplined. I work probably 15 hours a day on different stuff: freelance writing, day job, thesis, other poems, submitting work. I’m just crazy.

What’s the most focused you’ve ever been?

Jennifer: Definitely here, and the VCFA Novel Retreat. I want to write this story and get it right. It needs attention and care.

Jad: When I wasn’t writing, but instead I spent five and a half hours trying to complete a marathon back home in Lebanon. You start thinking about everything. From looking at a building to what did I do in the 3rd grade—everything.

Gina: A couple weekends ago, I added 30 pages in a day. I just kept going, I grabbed all of my high school journal entries, and I was super motivated. I was loving it. I was mad that I had to go to sleep. I was bummed that I wasn’t a robot.

 What do you do when you hit a wall and don’t want to think about your thesis? 

Jennifer: It happened before, and I cannot let it happen again. I won’t let it happen again. It’s not fair to Suzanne, and it’s not fair to me. I’ve come too far to stop thinking and caring about what will happen next.

Jad: I acknowledge that it’s ok. And then I see where I am in the day. If it’s close to bedtime, then I just go to bed. If it’s during the day, then I just get lunch. I’m hitting a wall because my body knows that there’s something else to do. So I try to figure out what that other thing is and do it.

Gina: Sometimes I just have to give myself a break. Watch a lot of reality TV, watch a lot of junk. I always feel guilty. But I tell myself, I just need some time to chill, and that’s ok.

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Two of our own Professors for our First Reading Of 2018

It was a crowded evening for the first reading of 2018. Local bookstore Bear Pond Books was onsite hawking our readers’ works, and we had two wonderful faculty members sharing from their books: Miciah Bay Gault and Robin MacArthur.

We in VCFA’s Writing and Publishing program know Miciah Bay Gault as the Program Director, professor in our Publishing and Fieldwork program, editor of Hunger Mountain, the leader of our cohorts, a fellowship director, a devoted mother, and a kindred spirit. She has been published in Tin House, The Southern Review, Agni, and The Sun. She’s a “Super Woman,” as Cammie Finch introduced her, adding: “what really intrigues me about Miciah is the way she can transform the world we think we know into wholly original and unexpected stories.”

But while we interact with her on a near-daily basis, most of us had never heard her work. Last Friday, she changed that with a reading from her novel-in-progress, which she attests is “days away” from being finished. It is August, late summer, in a New England tourist island, and 28-year-old Lydia yearns to leave the place where she always grew up. It is the kind of place where everyone knows each other and where people stay in place, slowly sinking into the sand. “I was an expert on tourists,” Gault’s character says. “They didn’t know me, but I knew them.”

Gault grew up on Cape Cod, making her uniquely qualified to bring such a place to life. It is a vivid, contemporary portrait of a place we only think we’re familiar with. Needless to say, we’re looking forward to when Bear Pond Books will stock her work.

Next was Robin MacArthur reading from her debut novel, Heart Spring Mountain. We first-year students are fortunate to have MacArthur teaching a workshop with us this semester. “I’ll come out and say that I’m a little jealous,” said Jad Yassine, the 2nd-year student who introduced her.

MacArthur is a Vermont native who lives on the same farm in Marlboro, Vermont where she was born, in a home that she built with her family. Last year, her debut collection of stories, Half Wild, won the PEN New England Award for fiction; she was a finalist for both the Vermont and New England Book Awards; and she is a VCFA alumnus herself.

Heart Spring Mountain is the story of Vale, a woman who returns to her native Vermont to search for her addict mother, lost in 2011’s Tropical Storm Irene. Written from the perspective of three generations of women, it is a story about returning home, finding hope in the dark, and family secrets more shocking than Vale could ever imagine.

Combining themes of personal tragedy, communal strength, climate change, and the dark side of Vermont’s supposed tranquility—the eugenics movement of the 1920s and 1930s—it is “nuanced, poetic, and evocative,” according to Publishers Weekly, which continues to say “MacArthur empathetically depicts each of her characters in their wounded but hopeful glory.” At her alma mater and in front of her new students, MacArthur read a selection from this uniquely powerful work, one that is grounded in place.

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What We Talk About When We Talk About Genre-Mashing Buddy-Cop Films

It’s a new semester, and we’re kicking things off with a bang, or at the very least, a screenwriting class.

In Julianna Baggott’s Stage & Screen course, we analyzed Hot Fuzz, the 2007 British action-comedy film with Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, and a lot of guns and explosions. Any movie, no matter how brilliantly genre-defying it is (91% on Rotten Tomatoes!) can be divided into acts, tropes, and story elements. (Alexandra Sokoloff talks about this, clearly and concisely.)

Analyzing Hot Fuzz and its two hours of edge-of-your-seat action wasn’t easy. We illustrated its story elements in groups and on the blackboard, pointing out just where the Inciting Incident occurs, when All Is Lost, and just how the Bad Guys Close In. (Hence, the time-lapse above).

This is the sort of thing that happens in a class here: intense discussions, new ways of looking at movies/storytelling/the world, and some cute drawings.jordan Sneakers | Releases Nike Shoes

Welcome Back, College

Aaaaand we’re back!

After our first semester of intense writing, workshops, readings, and getting to know each other, we deserved a good break. And we got one: most of us went home (to points everywhere), while some of us stayed in town, soaking up the experience of a frigid and beautiful Vermont winter. To get a sense of how we experienced this lovely break, your humble chronicler asked fellow students of VCFA’s Writing and Publishing program exactly what they did, what they read, and what they wanted to write for our Stage and Screen course.

Here are some illuminating answers.

Sarah Leamy went to nearby Waterbury, Vermont to hang out with her very good dogs.

What did you do over break?

Mariah Hopkins: I’ve been learning Spanish for my Fulbright application.

Desmond Peeples: Cared for my sick dog. She just had her second knee surgery yesterday. She’s very resilient, and she looks really good with her legs shaved.

Paul Acciavatti: We went to Montreal. Mostly it was my wife’s 35th birthday and her friends from college gathered to celebrate and eating and drinking happened. There is a stretch in Petite-Italie which increasingly features a bunch of halal butchers and Syrian restaurants like Alep (French for “Aleppo”). We ate in Le Petit Alep, we had the three-course tasting menu for $31 CAD each ($25) and it went on and on and on. We also ducked into the Maison d’Italie on a whim (my cousin was also there and she is wicked into the heritage). So it was definitely a feeling of MTL as an island of multiculturalism in the great white north.

Jad Yassine: I had two wisdom teeth extractions.

Kayleigh Marinelli: I got really sick and thought it would be a really good idea to go to New York City and got stuck on the NJ train for an hour and a half. I still got to see the dinosaurs at the Natural History Museum, though.

Sarah Leamy: I wrote a novel.

Gina Tron went to Iceland. She recommends it.

What books did you read?

Samuel Kolawole: I was reading short stories from journals—translated short stories from Words Without Borders. I’m starting to enjoy translated stories. Sometimes when the language is translated from the original into English, it still retains its energy.

Lennie DeCerce: The Chronology of Water by Lidia Yuknavitch. It’s the best book I’ve read in years.

Gina Tron: Misfit’s Manifesto by Lidia Yuknavitch on my flight to Iceland, which kept me grounded.

Mariah Hopkins: The Underdogs, written in the 1930s by Mariano Azuela. It’s about his experiences during the Mexican Revolution.

Bianca Vinas: Murder on the Orient Express. I’d never read anything by Agatha Christie. I don’t know if I liked it.

Lindsey Gacad went to nearby Portland, Maine. At Bayside Cafe, she recommends some good bennies.

If you could make any movie of your dreams, what would it be about?

Jennifer Gibbons: A remake of “All About Eve” with Susan Sarandon in Bette Davis’s role, Jennifer Lawrence as Eve Harrington, Tim Robbins in Gary Merrill’s role, and Cherry Jones in Celeste Holm’s role.

Lindsey Brownson: Some kind of modern-day reimagining of Stephen King’s “Carrie,” but with the Internet.

Lindsay Gacad: When I imagine what I’m writing, it’s a mix between “The Godfather” and “The Joy Luck Club.”

Cammie Finch: An experimental short film called “Fly:” a stationary camera focuses on a sporadic fly covered in red paint in a room, sparsely inhabited by humans, but no humans are currently present. The fly is hitting walls, hitting windows, trapping itself in blinds and lamp shades. The fly leaves a mark on each surface it hits. Post-production edits turn the shot psychedelic colors, then negative, then black and white, then sepia, etc. Music changes every minute or two, as well—from hip-hop to classical to electronic to world music to percussion to country, sometimes layering over each other—in order to change emotions of viewers. At the end, the fly is zapped by the overhead light and falls to the ground. Fade to black light. The “marked surfaces” glow. Fade to all black. Zoom in on dying fly, curling into itself. Zoom closer and closer, David-Lynch-style. All music combines together into a maddening wall of sound. Then sudden silence while the fly slowly disintegrates and crinkles to dust.

Sarah Leamy: A thriller/dark comedy based around croquet.

Bianca Vinas would like you to know that she highly recommends the film “Call Me By Your Name.”

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Porochista Khakpour and Alexander Chee Star at our Last Reading of the Year

Porochista Khakpour and Alexander Chee, two very distinguished novelists, both with two books previously published, came to Café Anna for our fifth and last reading.

Khakpour, Faculty in Fiction, Novel, Memoir, and teaching a module in longform prose, went first. She read her essay “How to Write Iranian-America, or The Last Essay,” originally published in Catapult. In the 4,000-word essay, she dissects what it means to be pigeonholed as an Iranian-American writer while operating in the American media landscape.   

“Worry about how you, young writer, will ever get to New York City,” she read. “Write. Write about anything else…watch it come out, more and more in every draft: anger with your parents, frustration with your blood, anxieties surrounding the somehow still-new land—all that is Iranian-America. Let your truth come out hard and fast and untranslatable because no one else will see it anyway.”

Next up was Alexander Chee, as introduced by second-year student Jennifer Kathleen Gibbons. Chee’s latest novel, Queen of the Night, is a modern epic that recounts the life of a 19th-century opera singer in lush and moving detail. But at our reading, he read from a novel in progress, one that he started at the same time as Queen of the Night but had temporarily put aside. For a second, Chee said, they were weird twins.

This second novel one concerned shamans, a Korean Joan of Arc, and adoption in New York. He introduced it with a Korean proverb: “You know who your god is by who you pray to when you are about to die.”

Chee and Khakpour are fortunate enough to be friends, said Khakpour, adding, “we’ve been late to so many readings together.They last read at the Yale Writer’s Conference this summer in New Haven, Connecticut (home of the greatest pizza in the world). We were one of the first people to hear Chee’s words, said Khakpour; he had only previously read it among his friends. I’d say we’re fortunate to be brought into their inner circles—as young writers, we could all use more cool writer friends.

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