Wilkes University

Revise This - March 2016

Revise This! | March 2016

Marlon James & Kaylie Jones

Marlon James with Kaylie Jones.

Rearranging the Deck Chairs: An Interview with Kaylie Jones

By Dale Louise Mervine

When I first sat down with Kaylie Jones, it was to discuss Marlon James and his success. I knew she was writing a piece for Wilkes Magazine, but I didn’t know what it encompassed, and was uncertain what direction the interview should take. While Kaylie began with meeting Marlon, the conversation evolved into a discussion of work ethic, inherent talent, and frustration with the publishing industry. I had tapped into a side of Kaylie Jones that pulsed with the energy of her passion.

That frustration led, in part, to the creation of Kaylie Jones Books, an imprint of Akashic Books. The masthead of the website reads, “The list of brilliant novels unable to find homes within the mainstream is growing every day. It is our hope to publish books that bravely address serious issues—historical or contemporary—relevant to society today.” While relating the story of meeting Marlon and reading what would become his first published novel, John Crow’s Devil, Kaylie tapped into that passion for finding and publishing a damn good novel. John Crow’s Devil is Marlon’s first book, published in 2005. His second book, The Book of Night Women was published in 2009. A Brief History of Seven Killings was released in 2014.

In publishing, do you see a change happening? I spoke with Susan Cartsonis about the push in Hollywood for more diversity, and she noted that it’s not really happening yet. Do you see it changing in publishing at all? 

Mainstream publishing to me looks like they’re rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. It seems to me that the model is no longer working but no one has figured it out—they’re trying to figure out ebook lines, self-publishing lines, the self-publishing Penguin line, Booktrope, whatever, but there are several problems. It’s a brand new world, like the Wild West with the Internet. This advent of self-publishing. It’s so easy to go onto Amazon and publish your own book that every idiot in the world who thinks they have a book is self-publishing. It used to be called “vanity press” publishing in the old days. And it’s still vain—egotistical and vain to think you can just slap a cover on your work and call it a book. I’ve always discouraged people from [self-publishing] because it’s creating a tsunami of really mediocre books and blocking the way of serious publishers who want to help get independent books out there to their audience. There’s a kind of disingenuous feel to self-publishing these days—which really annoys me personally—where writers don’t tell you honestly they’re self-publishing. The books are disguised.

[Self-publishing] is very discouraging, and, in a way, has changed publishing. The whole picture has changed and no one really knows yet where it’s going to go. But hopefully, eventually, it will even out.

I feel like I’ve had amazing students and amazing books published from the programs where I teach, and many successful books. I believe some people are lacking the willingness to do the work. Many want to be writers, but they don’t want to do the work; they don’t want to write. Marlon does the work. He works tirelessly, all the time.

How much of that do you see in the programs where you teach, where someone comes in with the talent and they don’t have far to go?

There is a great spectrum with writing and it’s very interesting that you can compare it to ballet school. Kids will get sent at six years old to ballet school and the professional ballet teacher will pick out from that group ones who have the right body type, who have special agility, special grace. The teacher will start nurturing and grooming the ones who are going to be ballerinas.

With fiction, you don’t need to be eight years old to start, but there’s the same idea: you start out with a certain proclivity, a certain talent, and a certain ear. Some people have an ear and some people don’t; I believe that can’t be taught. You can teach a decent writer to be a very good writer, but you can’t give somebody greatness, that magic. But I know a lot of writers I never thought would amount to anything—and I don’t mean in this program, I mean in my life—who have become bestselling, very successful writers.

Marlon already had that in place, he just needed an opening. All doors were closed because our publishing industry is filled with cowards. They pigeonhole everybody. If you’re a black writer they’ll put you in a press called “Armistead Press;” if you’re gay, they’ll put you in an LGBT press, which is limiting. They’re curtailing readership by focusing on getting the readers that they think they’ll get.

It seems Marlon wants to push against that assumption in the publishing industry.

Yes, and he’s right. He’s pushing against 400, 500 years of colonialism too. All you have to do is look at The Last of the Mohicans for two minutes to see what the opinion of the “great white male” is, and what a woman’s role is. It’s horrifying. Marlon’s point is very interesting … he’s very brave … because he’s going against even the Jamaican conception of color and hierarchy. Being gay is illegal [in Jamaica]—you go to jail for life if you’re gay. Marlon is at risk for his life. He came out in a major New York Times article this year. Now, he’s like a different person, he’s so free from the weight of this.

In school Marlon read all the classics, all the British writers, the colonials. Then he started branching out into anti-colonial African, African-American, and Caribbean writers, who are pushing back against that sort of ingrained philosophy.

Did Marlon have that work ethic?

He already had it. He’d already written a novel, he’d already revised that novel, and that novel needed a little work but it didn’t need substantial work, just a little revision. The Book of Night Women was his thesis from Wilkes. He wrote it in a year, so he really had the discipline and he really worked. Different people work at different paces; it’s not about speed. It’s about dedication and ambition and a willingness to really put that first in your life.

Marlon was that dream student who has done the work already and is not coming to [their program] having watched too much TV and thinking “I’m going to write a sitcom and it’s going to be a novel,” but never having read a novel. That’s the worst possible situation because they’ve never read. They don’t know what it entails; they just know they want to be a writer, but they don’t know why. Marlon already had that dedication. He didn’t learn that from us, we just opened the door for him.

That’s what we should be doing, opening the door for people who are really serious about pursuing a literary writing career.

He does such a fantastic job with writing in dialect, when some writers struggle with that kind of writing.

Marlon has such an ear for dialect, such a talent writing that.

That was in John Crow’s Devil too, you could immediately see that he understood how to translate dialect into a readable English. I don’t find that dialect difficult at all. I think people resist it because they’re not used to it. That’s one of his great talents, and it’s unapologetic. Why would Marlon conform to our English when he’s Jamaican? When his Jamaican dialect comes from African tribes, and many sources who had English imposed on them when they were brought as slaves? There’s something very unapologetic about the way he uses dialect; it works very well. Marlon studied a lot of different colonial, as well as non-colonial, writers who used dialect in their fiction and adapted it to his own style. I don’t think there’s any rule that you shouldn’t use dialect; using it well is the problem. It could be terrible.

Some people don’t do it well and they shouldn’t [use dialect.] It’s a question of ability. ABrief History Of Seven Killings is a demanding book and he’s not apologizing for it, making the book very thick, demanding, and emotionally painful for the reader.

No Hidden Secrets: H. L. Hix on Process, Publishing, and Reviews

H.L. Hix

American Anger Etruscan Press, 2016

Wilkes University Graduate Creative Writing Program advisory board member H. L. Hix teaches in the creative writing MFA program at the University of Wyoming. His latest collection of poetry, published by Etruscan Press, has garnered literary accolades and has achieved a trifecta of literary mentions: American Anger received reviews in Library Journal, Publisher’s Weekly, and on NPR.

In Library Journal, American Anger was included as a “Spring 2016 Poetry: Top Picks,” where it was described as “Instead of being downbeat…this dried-eyed collection is positively energizing.”

Publisher’s Weekly, points out that, “Hix’s book-length project joins other recent volumes in its corrosive anguish about a society both unequal and heavily armed,” and that it is “nothing if not unified: eight parts, each with many short segments in prose and verse, examine the word and the idea of anger.”

NPR, which included American Anger in their 2016 poetry review, points out that Hix, “a prolific wellspring, froths, rages, boils over,” and that “unless you are made of stone, you will find, in these troubled and troubling times, some of your heart echoed here.” NPR, incorporated on February 26, 1970, has been in the forefront of public radio since its inception and it now utilizes the power of digital media to reach people all over the world. As H. L. Hix alludes to below, their power to introduce people to new types of literature gives writers of all genres hope for reception across the globe. Having published over 11 books of poetry and literary criticism with Etruscan Press, and over 30 books of translation, prose, and anthology in total, Hix isn’t slowing down.

What are your thoughts on these accomplishments?

It’s very gratifying. Poetry books receive very little attention in the world, so any notice or review is good news! And it is great in this case to be featured in these venues, because they are venues addressed to a broad public, not only to poetry readers, and this book does not only address regular readers of poetry. It is, for instance, a book about the election. The anger that is so prominent a part of the campaign rhetoric, and that is being expressed by voters, is not new or exceptional, and American Anger tries to understand it by putting it into a larger context.

Can you give me some insight into your writing process, and perhaps some advice for other writers?

Probably neither my process nor my advice is very remarkable, but maybe that’s good news: it suggests that there’s no secret that some writers have access to but that is hidden away from others. But the main feature of my process and my first piece of advice are essentially the same. The advice would be to find a time when you can secure “mental space” on a regular basis. For me, for my process, that’s way early in the morning, because it’s BEFORE frustrating committee meetings and before phone calls and so on, and because I can claim that time every day. But the advice is not early morning per se: the advice is whatever time you can make work in your life on a regular basis, whether that’s late at night or early in the morning or at lunch or (like William Carlos Williams) between appointments.

Now that you've reached this level in your writing, do you think about things like this when you are writing or working on publishing a book?

I don’t think about things like book publicity at all while I’m writing. While I’m writing, I’m only trying to understand the world and my life, not to appeal to anyone. Once the book is written and the publication process kicks in, though, one has to “shift gears” and try to find and occupy those points of common ground that give others reason to engage with the work.

What is the impact of being reviewed in publications such as these?

Especially for poetry, the impact is great. Most people these days have been bullied away from poetry by bad experiences in school and by its erasure from popular culture, so few people will venture a new poetry book without some assurance that it might be understandable, for one thing, and might be worthwhile. To have Library Journal and NPR lend their authority to it greatly improves its odds of finding a readership.

The Weekender is Off and Running in Wilkes-Barre

Mesa Cohort Group Photo

Wilkes Graduate Creative Writing Weekender Program Mesa Cohorts – March 5, 2016

In 2015, the Wilkes University Graduate Creative Writing Program expanded its offerings with a new Weekender program in Mesa, Arizona. During November 13-14, 2015, Wilkes hosted the Arizona Writers Conference to showcase the hallmarks of the program to members of the Mesa community. With various workshops and panel discussions on fiction, non-fiction, screenwriting, playwriting, and poetry, Wilkes also offered instant enrollment decisions.

The Arizona Writers Conference was designed in part to attract prospective students from Mesa into the low-residency graduate program and to provide a second option for those not able to come to Pennsylvania for the January and June residencies. The Weekender format delivers the class modules of each residency throughout four face-to-face weekends during each project term. Students complete their online work in the foundations classes while meeting faculty on the ground every seven weeks. While online learning enables students to engage with others in any part of the world, the one-week residencies in January and June facilitate interactions between students and faculty and allow everyone to enjoy the community of which they are now a part. The Weekender now takes that eight-day residency and stretches it out over the eighteen-week semester. This benefits local students who cannot take a full week off two times each year.

In January, Wilkes expanded the Weekender format to the Wilkes-Barre campus. Two inaugural Weekender students, Janine Dubik and Samantha Patterson, began their project term with the rest of the 501 cohort in January—but their first Weekender ended on Sunday, January 10. They returned to campus February 26 –28 for the second Weekender. Janine described their experience:

Our second residency weekend was fun.

On Friday night, we attended the musical "Dogfight" at the Dorothy Dickson Darte Center for the Performing Arts. The student production was excellent; its small ensemble cast handled multiple roles as well as stagehand duties. The pit orchestra, under the direction of Ken McGraw [adjunct instructor], was outstanding.

Since the weekend focused on Image and Voice, it was the perfect field trip. Bill Schneider is always thinking of ways to convey writing fundamentals as well as create interesting writing prompts.

On Saturday, Samantha Patterson and I visited the Polish Room in the Eugene S. Farley Library, and we brainstormed our Archetype presentation, which is due during our May residency weekend.

The creative writing program continues to be a learning experience. Some cobwebs still exist in parts of my brain. During my college days, I wasn't working full-time as I do now. It's a balancing act.

And now with the Weekender available in both Mesa and Wilkes-Barre, it’s a slightly easier act to balance.

AWP 2016 Preview: Wilkes & Etruscan Press Ready for L.A.

Bonnie Culver & Marlon James

Dr. Bonnie Culver, Wilkes Creative Writing Program Director and Co-Founder with Marlon James at the April 8th opening celebration of AWP's 2015 Annual Conference and Bookfair in Minneapolis. Photo credit: Robb Cohen

It’s the biggest academic writing event of the year. More than 13,000 writers and publishing professionals from around the world will take part in the Association of Writers and Writing Program’s Annual Conference & Bookfair, happening in Los Angeles, CA, March 30 through April 2, 2016. The event attracts undergraduate and graduate students of all ages, faculty and staff members from creative writing programs around the nation and beyond, accomplished authors, publishing professionals from independent presses, literary magazine editors, and many other literary-affiliated people. From hundreds of panels and a massive book fair to dozens of off-site events, it’s no wonder this conference is one of the most-awaited literary events of the year—whether for learning the craft and business of writing, browsing books and publishing opportunities, meeting friends, or networking with peers.

The Wilkes University Graduate Creative Writing Program is proud to once again be a benefactor of this literary event, and also to share a book fair booth (1100) with one of their publishing partners, Etruscan Press. Not only will members of the Wilkes and Etruscan community be greeting attendees from their home base on the exhibit hall floor, they also will be educating and entertaining as part of panels, readings and other conference-related events.

Here’s a preview of where you can find our Wilkes and Etruscan presenters:

Meet Etruscan Authors

One benefit to attending AWP is that you can meet Etruscan authors. Check the printed program and the AWP Facebook page. Below is the schedule, where you can meet authors and snag a copy of their work:

Thursday, March 31
  • 1 p.m.– Laurie Jean Cannady (Hippocampus Magazine Booth, Table 118)
  • 2 p.m. – Diane Raptosh
Friday, April 1
  • 9 a.m.– Renee D’Aoust
  • 11:30 a.m. – David Lazar
  • 2:30 p.m. – Bruce Bond
Saturday, April 2
  • 10:30 a.m. – Laurie Jean Cannady & Tim Seibles

Hear from Authors, Faculty Members, Students and Alumni at 20+ events

Thousands and thousands of people submit proposals to present at AWP each year, and only several hundred are selected. Some panels that feature Wilkes and Etruscan authors are below, including Bruce Bond, Beverly Donofrio, Marlon James, Paul Lisicky, and Lori A. May; follow the links to learn more about the session and co-panelists.

Thursday, March 31
Friday, April 1
Saturday, April 2

Old School Slam

The trend of having a Wilkes-affiliated, award-winning slam poet host the AWP Old School Slam continues. This year, Jeremiah Blue—a student from the Wilkes University Mesa, AZ, location—will host the Slam in Room 511, on both Thursday, March 31 and Friday, April 1, from 10 p.m. to midnight.

Off-Site Events

Here are three events featuring Etruscan Press authors:

The conference program lists hundreds of other events in all sorts of genres at all sorts of venues; give it a look and make the most of your time in LA by attending events beyond the conference walls.

Other AWP Announcements

In addition to our program staff, there are a few members of the Wilkes Creative Writing faculty attending AWP. If you stop by Booth 1100, you might run into a few familiar faces including Becky Bradway, Susan Cartsonis, Beverly Donofrio, Rashidah Ismail Abubakr, Lori A. May, and Neil Shepard and two dozen students and alumni who will be representing Wilkes.

Etruscan Press will be selling books at the booth with an option to ship the purchases home instead of stuffing them in overpacked luggage.

On the Wilkes side, they will be sharing information about the low-residency creative writing programs in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. and Mesa, Ariz.—including the new Weekender programs. Genres include creative nonfiction, documentary studies, fiction, playwriting, poetry, publishing and screenwriting. There will be details about the upcoming Pennsylvania Writers Conference (happening this August), and info about the various community workshops Wilkes has to offer.

Follow Along with Us on Social Media

Whether you’re right there with Wilkes in California or watching from afar, be sure to follow along with the action in LA on social media using the official conference hashtag, #awp16. Reps from Wilkes and Etruscan will be sharing moments from AWP, too. Follow along on Twitter with @WilkesUWriting and @Etruscan_Press—and also use hashtag #wilkesAWP. They’ll also share photos and updates on Instagram, and both Facebook pages: the public program and the private community Facebook group.

To learn more about Etruscan’s AWP activity and its featured authors, visit the Meet Us in LA page.

Planning Ahead for 2017

If you won’t be in L.A. this year, it’s not too early to begin planning for 2017, when AWP heads back east, to the nation’s capital—perhaps more within driving distance for the majority of community members. The dates for AWP 2017 are Feb. 8-11, 2017—and it will be the 50th anniversary of the AWP conference. A limited number of conference registrations are available to students and alumni to help make professional development possible. Check with the Creative Writing office in fall 2016 to find out how you can get more involved with AWP.


Pennsylvania Writers Conference Returns to Wilkes University

The Pennsylvania Writer’s Conference is returning to Wilkes University on Friday and Saturday, August 5 and 6. Faculty and alums are invited to submit their workshop, panel, or craft class proposal to Bill Schneider by April 1, 2016. The two-day conference is designed to engage, educate and empower the literary community. Last held on the Wilkes University campus in 2004, when Norman Mailer was the keynote speaker, the conference is open to adults of all ages, and includes an open mic and poetry slam, craft classes, writing workshops, and literary panels hosted by editors, film producers, literary agents, publishers, and writers. Scranton native and poet, novelist and biographer Jay Parini will deliver the keynote address. Maureen Corrigan, NPR’s Fresh Air book critic, will conduct craft sessions. $100 early bird registration is available until June 30. General registration $130 and students with valid school ID $40.

Faculty News

Faculty member Philip Brady's poetry received a 2016 Ohio Arts Council $5,000 Individual Artist Fellowship. This is his sixth OAC Individual Artist Fellowship. In addition, his essay, "The Man of Double Deed" was accepted for publication in Hotel Amerika. His essay, “That Lamp is from the Tomb,” is forthcoming in Poet's Quarterly and an essay, “Basketball at Sixty” appeared in Best American Poetry's Blog.

Faculty member J. Michael Lennon has contributed the introduction to a new illustrated edition of Norman Mailer’s The Fight, his account of the “Rumble in the Jungle,” the 1974 championship match between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman. It will be published by Taschen Books in the summer of 2016.

Faculty member and MFA alum Lori A. May will be at AWP in Los Angeles, presenting on the panel “Should I Know Who You Are? Book PR for the Modern Age.” You will also find her signing books at Bloomsbury’s Bookfair booth #1207. Her book, The Write Crowd: Literary Citizenship & The Writing Life, was nominated for a 2016 Michigan Notable Book Award. She will be giving a featured reading at the Seattle Public Library, Ballard branch, this March. In April, she will be teaching a Master Class at The Banff Centre, as part of the Creative Nonfiction Collective Conference. Lori is also pleased to be a founding member of the Creative Writing Studies Organization, a new U.S. nonprofit focused on creative writing pedagogy.

Faculty member Gregory Fletcher had a short play, Hangman, produced in March by Artistic New Directions in New York City.

Entertainment attorney Jared Bloch is a New York based attorney who works with our program, He specializes in film and television development, production, distribution and financing. Jared has worked on such films as The Birth of a Nation, which premiered at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival; Maggie’s Plan, which premiered at the 2015 Toronto Film Festival; and the upcoming All We Had and Wolves, each of which will have their premiere at the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival.

Student News

Amye Archer, MFA ‘11, had her memoir, Fat Girl, Skinny, selected as second runner-up for the Red Hen Press Nonfiction Manuscript Award. She will also be participating in the Woodstock Writer's Festival on April 10th as part of the panel: “Memoir A Go-Go.”

Jeremiah Blue, current MA student, will have his spoken word video--one part of a dual, multi-media presentation on the intersection of social justice and slam poetry--published by TEDx, on their official website. A link to the video will be posted online soon. Blue has accepted the invitation to host the Old School Poetry Slam at the 2016 AWP conference in Los Angeles.

Cindy Dlugolecki, MA ‘11 had her short play, “Birthday Surprise,” garner an "Honorable Mention" as one of the top ten plays submitted to the Jewel Box New Play Festival in Oklahoma.

Robert Holly, current MFA student saw his Masters capstone screenplay, The Champion of The World, accepted as "Official Selection of the 16th Beverly Hills International Film Festival." Robert was also hired by Penn State Worthington-Scranton this semester as an instructor in Communications.

Paul Jackson, MA ‘14 had an article, “The Devaluation of the Written Word,” published in March in the journal, Elite Critiques Magazine (both a print and electronic journal). http://elitecritiques.com/ecm-magazine/ He also has a short story, “Hostility Issues,” published in the journal Our Write Side http://ourwriteside.com/

Nichole Kanney, MFA ‘15 has been accepted to The Writer’s Hotel Conference in NYC, under the mentorship of Scott Woven and The New Guard Literary Review. She will be reading at KGB Bar in June.

Monique Antonette Lewis, MFA ‘12, saw her reading series, At The Inkwell, expand to Denver and Seattle. The reading series is also held in New York and San Francisco.

Josh Penzone, MA ‘13, saw his short story "Falling Away" appear in the March edition of Five on the Fifth's online magazine. 

Anthony Dolan Scott, MFA ‘14, had his poem "The Power of Heritage" published in the Winter issue of Echoes Magazine. His chapbook, The Year Things Came Apart, has been published by Maine Author's Publishing. Dates for a launch at the local university and for a reading at the local library to be announced soon.

Nathan Summmerlin, MFA ‘16 has had three scripts selected as Quarterfinalists in three separate competitions. His short film script, Catcophany in the Blue Cat Screenplay contest; his sitcom pilot script, Empire Cafeteria, in the CineStory TV / Digital contest; and his web series pilot, Meat, in the Screencraft Pilot Launch contest.

Ahrend Torrey, MFA ‘16 had his prose poem, “The Bird & I,” appear in issue 6 of Guide to Kulchur Creative Journal. Ahrend was also selected to write a featured prose piece “Three Little Words,” which now appears in issue 2 of Wildness. His poems, “Anorexia” and “It’s All About The Cards—” were published in POMPA 2015.

Upcoming Workshop Opportunity:

MFA student Caryn DeVincenti will be teaching a FREE three-hour workshop at Florida's Wellington Library on Saturday, April 9th, 2016. “Bewitched With The Wicked: How To Create Memorable Villianesses In Fiction & Non-Fiction, A Craft Workshop.”