Etruscan Press has a new managing editor, Doris Umbers, an award-winning poet with a lengthy resume in the publishing industry. Umbers has a Ph.D. in English from Binghamton University. She is the winner of the Academy of American Poets University Prize and served as an editorial assistant for Binghamton’s Creative Writing Department.
She also ran the university’s literary magazine, Harpur Palate, which became a national journal under Umbers’ leadership, and founded her own press, Bluestone Quarry Press.
Umbers’ duties for Etruscan will include managing activities such as fundraising and grant writing. She will also help with distribution and the submission process.
“I would like to have my energy fit what is already a vibrant press,” Umbers said. “I hope I can keep it alive by helping with fundraising, marketing and distribution.”
The position at Etruscan interested Umbers for several reasons, including the quality of work published. The press released two publications that were National Book Award finalists: Shoah Train, a poetry collection by William Heyen, and Chromatic, a book of poems by H.L. Hix.
She was also drawn to Etruscan because of the variety of genres the press publishes. “To do five genres is remarkable. I don’t know any other press that does that,” she said.
Philip Brady, founder and executive director of Etruscan, said the experience Umbers gained over the years, especially her knowledge of how small presses operate, makes her an invaluable member of the Etruscan staff.
“Having recently completed her Ph.D. at Binghamton University, she brings a broad literary perspective to the position, as well as important contacts in the literary world,” Brady said. “This breadth of abilities and experience, as well as her commitment to Etruscan's mission, make her an ideal person to manage the press and to foster our growth,” he said.
Etruscan is housed at the offices of the Graduate Creative Writing Program and offers internships to graduate and undergraduate students.
The press is slated to publish a slew of new releases. The Widening, a debut novel by Carol Moldaw, will be published in April, and it will be the first novel Etruscan has published so far.
William Kennedy joins advisory board
Pulitzer Prize-winning author William Kennedy is the latest member to join the Graduate Creative Writing Program’s Advisory Board.
Kennedy will replace Norman Mailer, who passed away in late 2007 and was the first writer to join the board. Kennedy’s connections with the Mailer family and Mailer’s friend and archivist, J. Michael Lennon, encouraged him to join the program. Lennon is also the program’s co-founder and a board member.
“Mike Lennon asked me to join the board and he thought I might have some contribution to make on occasion,” Kennedy said. “I’ve been involved with writing programs for many years at the University at Albany, Skidmore and Cornell.”
Many of Kennedy’s books feature the fictional Irish-American Phelan family and are set in Albany, NY, where he was born and raised. One of his novels, Ironweed, won the 1984 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.
Kennedy was also nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for a series of articles he wrote about Albany in the 1960s. The articles provided the basis for his nonfiction book, Oh Albany!
Lennon referred to Kennedy as the “literary mayor” of Albany and added his accomplishments and work with the New York State Writers Institute make him a strong addition to the board.
He [Kennedy] is at the center of the American literary scene right now,” Kennedy said. “He knows a great deal about the art and craft of creative writing.”
Kennedy is planning to come to the June residency in 2009 as a featured speaker. He said that creative writing programs are beneficial in the sense that they help emerging writers learn the ins and out of the business and the techniques of the craft, but ultimately, he believes writers need solitude to develop their skills.
“A writing program can open a world of possibility to the new writer—how other writers have worked, how stories are structured, how language can individualize life,” Kennedy said. “They can introduce the writer to the levels of quality in storytelling in literature. What they can’t do is create the writer. Only writers themselves can do that, in extended solitude,” he added.
The program’s co-founder and director, Bonnie Culver, said one of the benefits of the program is that the low-residency aspect provides the solitude Kennedy believes writers need.
“The low-residency program sends writers back home to their lives and solitude they need to succeed as writers,” Culver said. “The limited residencies (eight days twice a year) allow writers to know they are not alone in their pursuits and keep them honest about what they produce in that solitude,” she added.
Novelist and alum Marlon James to join creative writing faculty
Novelist Marlon James, an alum of the Graduate Creative Writing Program, will join the department’s faculty starting in June.
James, a native of Jamaica and a visiting professor at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minn., was one of the first people to graduate from the low-residency program in June 2006.
The program’s director and co-founder, Bonnie Culver, said she is eager to have James on board. “Marlon James is one of several albums who exemplify the ideal student for this program,” Culver said. “No writer, faculty member or student works harder than Marlon.”
James’ debut novel, John Crow’s Devil, published by Akashic Books, earned high marks from leading publications. The New York Times hailed the book as a “powerful first novel,” and Publishers Weekly declared the book is a “dynamic, vernacular debut.”
The novel was also a finalist for The Los Angeles Times Book Prize, the Commonwealth Writers Prize and was a New York Times Editors’ Choice.
James finished his second novel, The Book of Night Women, as part of his requirement to graduate from the M.A. program. The novel is set in Jamaica in 1801 and focuses on a group of women seeking to launch a rebellion for different reasons. Riverhead Books is slated to publish the book in February 2009.
By the time James started his second novel, the fundamentals he learned from his courses at Wilkes made the writing process far smoother. “When I enrolled in the program, I already had a book out and some experience as a writer, but basics you are supposed to learn in creative writing classes I did not know,” he said. “It was a brand new learning experience.”
James added that criticism from faculty and students was crucial as he worked on his second novel. “The age of the great editor is gone. If you really want an arena where you get serious, constructive criticism and an arena where your work can grow, creative writing programs are it,” James said.
Though he has not started to teach for Wilkes yet, James already has plans for his future students. He wants to ensure they understand the basic techniques of fiction and constantly read. And most of all, James wants his students to work hard, but also have fun.
“If you’re not generally enjoying it, you’re committing a fundamental mistake. Writing is work, but it is also the greatest fun you can have,” James said.
Student Profile: Lori Myers
For Harrisburg resident Lori Myers, the Graduate Creative Writing Program was the obvious next choice for strengthening her writing career. Myers is in her second semester in the M.A. program and continues to write articles, creative nonfiction and essays for regional and national publications.
Her work has appeared in AAA World Magazine, Writers Journal, Rug Hooking Magazine and other national publications. Regionally, Myers has been published in Central PA Magazine, Susquehanna Style Magazine, BusinessWoman and several other publications.
But Myers, winner of the Women in Communications Award and the West Virginia Tourism Media Award for Best Print Article, wanted to expand her writing career by entering the program.
“It just came to the point where I needed something more,” Myers said. “This has really given me a spark in furthering my writing career.”
Myers, who has also written for radio, television and theater, added that once she saw the caliber of instructors involved with the program, she knew she wanted to join.
“Who else can say they took a fiction foundations course with Kaylie Jones? Who else can say Bev Donofrio is their mentor?” Myers said.
Donofrio is the author of Riding in Cars with Boys, Looking for Mary: (Or, the Blessed Mother and Me) and other books. Jones is the daughter of novelist James Jones and author of A Soldier’s Daughter Never Cries, Speak Now, Celeste Ascending and other books.
Some of the work Myers created for her courses has already been published. One of her short stories, “Ramona,” which began in her fiction foundations course, was published in March by Holy Cuspidor, an online literary journal.
Myers is currently working on a novel, a project that she started through the program. The novel has a holocaust theme and will have alternating chapters. Some of the chapters are set in contemporary time, while the alternating chapters are set in the 1930s and 1940s, Myers explained.
She also teaches writing workshops at Elizabethtown College and regional libraries and co-founded the Central Pennsylvania Writers’ Consortium, an organization that runs writing workshops.
An interview with faculty member Lenore Hart regarding her writing career and her novel Becky was recently published on the blog The Writers’ Group. The interview can be found here.
An interview with Advisory Board Member Larry Heinemann was published in March in Writing Vietnam, Writing Life by Tobey Herzog. The book also includes interviews with Philip Caputo, Tim O’Brien and Robert Olen Butler.
Advisory Board Member William Heyen was the keynote speaker/reader in April at the annual Pennsylvania College English Association Conference in State College, Penn. Information about the conference and the organization is available here.
Alum Nancy Deisroth recently published her poem “Pocono Light” in Vol. 1, issue 2 of the online literary journal Elsewhere. The poem can be seen here.
Donora Hillard, a candidate for the MFA program, will have a book of poems, Theology of the Body, published by Maverick Duck Press in June.
MFA student and Assistant Director Jim Warner’s poems “iron man #200” and “mini-mart-hand-grenades” will be published later this year in Word Riot. He also had a poem entitled “sharpness (fragments)” published in Dogplotz Literary Journal, and his poem “Skinheads at the Deli Counter” was published in Cause & Effect.