Autoplay, a poetry collection by Julie Babcock from MG Press

July 31st, 2014

We are delighted to able to announce the next title from MG Press (due out November 2014): Autoplay, our first poetry collection by the talented Julie Babcock.

Autoplay by Julie BabcockFrom the back cover:

In Julie Babcock’s first poetry collection, the state of Ohio appears as an astronaut, a cowgirl, and a waitress at Big Boy. Cultural and personal histories collide on worn-out stages, back roads, and gravel pits in order to explore the paradoxes of home– how it holds shovelfuls of experiences we want to simultaneously bury, unearth, and transform.

Advance Praise:

Autoplay has already received some wonderful advance praise from folks we admire greatly:

“These poems…pulse staccato with keen, austere observation. They blurt out, find reason and dream.” —Marianne Boruch, author of Cadaver Speak

“Wild and smart, utterly unique.” —Keith Taylor, author of If the World Becomes so Bright

“Babcock shows a range rarely seen in one American collection of poetry.” —Sean Thomas Dougherty, author of All I Ask for is Longing: New and Selected Poems

“Julie Babcock manages to elevate everyday experiences and to make them into art, not just for those who are already in love with the Midwestern landscape, but for anyone who wishes to ponder the importance of lived moments.” —Mary Biddinger, author of A Sunny Place with Adequate Water

“Julie Babcock’s first poetry collection is a wonder…The beautiful terror shifting subtly through Autoplay will not let you go.” —Alex Lemon, author of he Wish Book and Happy: A Memoir

“These poems—full of heartache, wonder and awe—dream spectacularly.” —Matthew Olzmann, author of Mezzanines

Autoplay is a dizzying compendium, a secret textbook that doesn’t leave much out, all of it converging to form a clear whole picture.” —Nate Pritts, author of Right Now More Than Ever

In addition, you can pre-order a copy of the collection for only $1, and save 20% off the cover price when it launches next March.

We are thrilled to be able to share Julie’s work, and to have Autoplay—a truly unique and evocative work—as our first poetry collection under the MG Press banner. Read more about Autoplay

What We’re Listening To (Summer 2014): Neutral Milk Hotel

ww_banner_listenIn this series of summer posts, MG staffer Kelly Nhan will be exploring books and music, festivals and goings-on, anything and everything Midwestern-related, and reporting her findings.

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Wednesday, July 16, marked the second coming of Jeff Mangum for a thousand Neutral Milk Hotel fans at The Crofoot Ballroom in Pontiac, Michigan. This divine analogy is only somewhat hyperbolic, considering Mangum has been described as the “Salinger of indie rock” after disappearing out of view shortly after the band’s much-lauded sophomore album, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, was released in 1998. The aura of mystery surrounding the Neutral Milk Hotel frontman and lyricist is owed in equal parts to the band’s strict no-cameras, no-recordings policy, of which the venue’s security guards repeatedly reminded fans waiting eagerly in line two-hours before the doors opened. In fact, most live recordings of the band performing prior to their triumphant return in the way of an expansive global reunion tour consist of bootleg, scratchy videos with the band largely in silhouette, the sketchy sound quality adding more distortion to the band’s distinctive fuzz-folk sound.

Neutral_Milk_HotelAs such, the band’s promotional photographs flashing on screens inside The Crofoot Ballroom pictured the members as they appeared some fifteen years ago, a strange dissonance that soon hit me as I stood waiting for the band to appear during the 45-minute turnover after the rollicking Circulatory System opened. Mangum, his eyes shadowed by the signature newsboy cap atop now-grayed, chin-length hair and heavily bearded, ambled on stage casually following a flurry of stage technicians. The applause and cheers upon his initial appearance were somewhat subdued, given that most of the crowd had no idea what Mangum looked like a decade and a half after his last appearance with the band. Without a word, Mangum, alone on the stage, launched into the acoustic “I Will Bury You In Time”, which then melted into an almost-uninterrupted stream of hits off Aeroplane. The audience members (whose average age would be somewhere around eight years old at the time of the album’s release) sang along to almost every song without pause together with Mangum’s pinched, yet resonant, voice, a testament, perhaps, to the album’s enduring affective impact on listeners, many of whom shed tears during the emotionally resonant and melancholy “Two-Headed Boy”.

The band played through their set with very few words edgewise, save for a concise, yet genuinely felt, “thank you” from Mangum with a bow and hands clasped like a prayer, and a similar sentiment expressed by the more talkative Julian Koster who otherwise spoke words of gratitude to the jumping and screaming crowd. The band members were most animated in their visible passion for playing together the songs, despite their dreamlike and illusory imagery, that have touched now-two generations of indie rock listeners. Spillane and Thal sang along with audience members in between their trumpet and french horn solos; Koster, on the bass, accordion, and singing saw, swaying with eyes closed as he played. All of which is to say: the band not only replicated the expansive sound of the eighteen-song set constituting much of the band’s relatively slim discography, they added a new layer of affective longing (evidenced by the raucous cheers peppering the show) and sonic abandon to the mix. Neutral Milk Hotel rose out of the annals of nostalgia and built on their sound as a live band, mirroring the rapturous energy that spilled out of the audience into the performance as the night wore on.

Setlist:
I Will Bury You In Time
Holland, 1945
The King of Carrot Flowers, Pt. 1
The King of Carrot Flowers, Pts. 2 & 3
Naomi
Ferris Wheel on Fire
Two-Headed Boy
The Fool
In the Aeroplane Over the Sea
Gardenhead / Leave Me Alone
Song Against Sex
Ruby Bulbs
Snow Song, Pt. 1
Oh Comely

Encore:
Little Birds Ghost
[untitled]
Two-Headed Boy, Pt. 2

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Kelly Nhan is a senior studying English and Women’s Studies at the University of Michigan, and originally from Connecticut. She loves finding good coffee places, exploring cities, reading good poetry, and chatting about feminism. She is interested in going into book publishing, or eventually going to grad school to study post-colonial literature and feminist theory.

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Interview: Douglas Trevor

Douglas TrevorMidwestern Gothic staffer Kelly Nhan talked with author Douglas Trevor about being a scholar of British literature, literary communities, his interest in the Industrial Midwest, and more.

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Midwestern Gothic: What is your connection to the Midwest?

Douglas Trevor: I moved from Boston to Iowa City in 1999 and I have lived in the Midwest ever since, moving to Ann Arbor from Iowa City in 2007. So my connection was initially through work. But now I have two kids who were both born in the Midwest, and an English Bulldog from outside Pontiac, so I feel pretty tethered to this part of the country.

MG: You previously worked as an editor for The Iowa Review. Does your experience reading other’s work influence the process of writing and submitting, or publishing your own?

DT: Editing a journal is very hard work. I was the fiction editor at The Iowa Review for four years. I stepped back from the job because I thought it made writing harder. Not simply because there were several hours a day that I had to spend reading submissions, but also because I felt my own narrative voice clouded over at times by what I was reading. It’s one thing to have Alice Munro in your head; that’s instructive, But when I was combing through hundreds of stories, many of which hadn’t been fretted over enough before being sent off, it made it harder for me to nestle into my own fictive world. I still miss many things—discussing submissions with the staff, reaching out to writers and publishing their work, seeing them win awards, and so on. And I definitely learned the importance of submitting my own work when I was sure it was done, as opposed to when I wanted to publish something. But I think being an editor and a writer is a tall order, at least for me.

MG: As a scholar of early modern British literature and a writer of contemporary literary fiction, do you find that the two connect or influence each other?

DT: I think the definitely do in my case. I’ve been writing more in recent years about academics and academic culture, largely from a comic point of view, so that’s afforded me an opportunity to write about—for example—a scholar who finds a long-lost Shakespearean couplet in my story “Sonnet 126″ (this was in the fall 2013 issue of the Michigan Quarterly Review) or an academic who ends up running a fake lecture series and having a mid-life crisis (this story, “The Program in Profound Thought,” came out in the Notre Dame Review in July of this year). I think about Renaissance writers all of the time when I’m working—particularly Shakespeare and the way he develops characters and crafts scenes in which we learn about these characters in dramatic ways. And I think a lot about John Donne, probably my favorite writer, because like me he was torn between writing creatively and also trying to produce “serious” academic prose.

1208946_10101667174106669_57358270_n-1-thumb-646x998-151139MG: Your novel, Girls I Know, deals with how three characters from separate racial/ethnic/class/experiential spheres deal with trauma and grief. Similarly, your first published work, The Thin Tear in the Fabric of Space, takes up loss as a center point across its constituent short stories. What do you think the role of writing is in dealing with or confronting pain?

DT: I think Randall Jarrell put it well in his poem “90 North”: “Pain comes from the darkness / And we call it wisdom. It is pain.” That is, I don’t take as a given that my characters will learn necessarily from their experiences of loss; up to now, at least in print, I have been largely interested in what it means to try to grapple from loss. The origins of this interest are pretty straightforward in my case. My sister Jolee died unexpectedly of an aneurysm when I was 29 (she was 32). Jolee had a seventh-month-old baby at the time. That year, and the years that followed immediately, were—to say the least—very hard on me and my parents. I was consciously writing about Jolee’s death in Thin Tear, and perhaps less consciously so in Girls I Know. So I guess pain and loss is a natural site from which creative expression springs, but it isn’t the only site. The stories I’m working on now are not fixated on loss and grief. Some of them are more overtly humorous; others are thinking more directly about what is happening in our country at this time, although I wouldn’t call them political per se.

MG: You recently did a reading at Nicola’s Books in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Do you find that there is a still a kind of literary community, or pockets of literary communities, despite certain changes in how books are published, distributed, and read (namely, the internet)?

DT: Oh, without question. Nicola and Lynn (the event planner at Nicola’s Books) have been unbelievably generous toward me and my work. Getting to know them, and other booksellers in the US, is absolutely one of the greatest joys of being a writer. I grew up in Denver, home of the Tattered Cover Bookstore, and one of the booksellers there, Laura, has been working at the store since I was a kid. She introduced me when I read from Girls I Know last summer. So there is a literary community, quite tightly knit, in the US, but it is under attack and I worry about this—particularly how we don’t know what we have lost until we have lost it. I worry about this with regards to gentrification in cities like San Francisco, where artists and writers and low- and middle-income families are being pushed out of the city. And I worry about this with regards to Detroit, and how the rebirth of that city could leave certain neighborhoods behind. These are all connected issues and have to do with the kind of country we want to have and/or are willing to accept. I am thrilled when readers encounter my work online, but not everyone has a laptop, so I care—as a writer—as much about libraries as I do brick-and-mortar bookstores, although I care a lot about the latter, obviously.

MG: Girls I Know is set in Boston, and has been described by critics as a “love song” to the city. What was your research process prior to or while writing?

DT: The research was kind of endless. First, I lived in Boston for six years and by about year three I was determined to write about the place. Then I learned of a restaurant shooting that had occurred in Chinatown and decided to base a novel on the aftermath of a similar, now fictive shooting I set in Jamaica Plain. I wanted my different characters to come from different parts of the city, so I started to research different neighborhoods. As much as possible, I walked around the city. But at a certain point in the writing process, I found, I had to leave this kind of work behind and just trust the experiences my characters were having. So that’s what I tried to do.

MG: How was the Midwest influenced your writing?

DT: I have been writing increasingly about the Midwest in recent years. The story I mentioned above, “The Program in Profound Thought,” is set in Iowa City, and I have a couple of stories in my next collection that are set in Ann Arbor and Detroit respectively. I’m particularly interested in the Industrial Midwest—what it means for this region of the country to try to reinvent itself and how this reinvention affects its inhabitants. Coming from Iowa, Michigan is a very interesting Midwestern state; some of the urban spaces here remind me of the Northeast, and I think the juxtaposition/tension between rural/suburban and urban in Michigan is something I’ve recently found myself really interested in exploring as a writer.

MG: What’s next for you?

DT: I’m putting the finishing touches on my next collection of stories this summer, then tackling my next novel (about growing up in Denver) this fall. And I have to get my Shakespeare course ready to roll for September.

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Douglas Trevor is the author of the short story collection The Thin Tear in the Fabric of Space, which won the 2005 Iowa Short Fiction Award and was a finalist for the 2006 Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award for first fiction. His first novel, Girls I Know, was the recipient of the 2013 Balcones Fiction Prize. Trevor’s work has appeared in The Minnesota Review, New Letters, The Paris Review, Glimmer Train, Epoch, Black Warrior Review, The New England Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, and more than a dozen other publications. He also has work forthcoming in The Iowa Review. Two of Trevor’s stories have been nominated for Pushcarts; others have been anthologized in The O. Henry Prize Stories and The Best American Nonrequired Reading. Currently he teaches in the University of Michigan’s MFA Program as an associate professor.

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Contributor Spotlight: Chuck Rybak

Author Photo, RybakChuck Rybak’s story “Radar Gun” appears in Midwestern Gothic Issue 14, out now.

How long have you been writing?
Since I was a kid who could read. I had a small typewriter and a blank pile of paper that was to contain my epic plagiarizing of The Guns of Navarone. I started to get serious about writing again when I was an undergraduate at SUNY Buffalo, and some classes with Carl Dennis and Raymond Federman helped move me along. Interestingly, I never had any success until I moved to the Midwest, so I owe it everything.

What’s your connection to the Midwest?
I was born in Buffalo, but since I finished undergrad it’s been all Midwest all the time. I moved from Buffalo to Ames, to Cincinnati, to Green Bay. I am at the point now where I’ve lived over half my life in the Midwest and it’s truly become my home. I was married here, began my career here, bought my first house here, and our kids were both born in the Midwest. I also feel like I finally have that secret “it” that makes someone a Midwesterner.

How has the Midwest influenced your writing?
I don’t think I had a setting for anything I wrote until I moved to the Midwest. It was the first time that a landscape lived for me, and it lived in a way that felt like a personality. I also think people attach a false “sameness” to the Midwest. Unlike any place I’ve lived, the Midwest often has completely different cultures and ways of life separated by a ten-minute drive or even a three-block walk. If I walked out of my door right now, I could be at an abysmal Wal-Mart in five minutes by turning one direction, yet just as quickly be standing in a field of sandhill cranes by turning the other. It’s an ontological shift.

Why do you believe there has never really been a regionalist push for Midwestern writing in the past like there has with the South or even the West Coast?
Again, I think it’s the myth of homogeneity. The Midwest has never received proper acknowledgement for the complexity of its cultures. I also feel that many people find the complexity of the Midwestern landscape to be largely internal, and maybe this is too easily connected to brooding or something ridiculous like that. It’s as if there are only two poles in the Midwest with nothing living in between—on the one end you have a blonde parent and child playing catch in a cornfield somewhere (ah, The Natural), while on the other you have pregnant skies that poop nothing but tornadoes and ice storms. All of that being my said, my wife is currently working on the great Midwestern novel, and once that’s done, I’m sure the planets will realign and allow the Midwest to finally assert global and galactic dominance.

How do you feel about social media to promote your writing, and do you use it?
I think it’s fantastic. My first attempts at social media were epic failures, especially Twitter, but then I learned to approach it with a goal. In my case, I wanted to learn as much about digital humanities as possible, and by following people working in that field I learned more than I could have hoped for in a very short time. My wife (fiction writer Rebecca Meacham) then used this approach in trying to make literary connections, and I soon adopted her strategy. The results are incredibly successful beyond promotion, as I’ve made some very meaningful connections on social media. As a matter of fact, just before I sat down to write this I was working on a poem exchange/critique with a writer and editor I’ve only “met” through Twitter. In short—and I know this cuts against the old school—I highly recommend it.

Favorite book?
House of Leaves by Mark Danielewski

Favorite food?
My mom makes the absolute best sauce and meatballs on the planet. When she comes out to visit us and her grandkids, her entrance into our home is conditioned on her making this for dinner.

If you could have coffee (or tea or a beer) with any literary figure, alive or dead, who would it be?
Wow. Just wow. I’ll try to go with the living here, and I’m struggling between Mark Danielewski and China Mieville. I’d say Mark Danielewski. I would give a minor appendage to talk to him for a few hours about House of Leaves. What was the thinking that grew into that novel? What was the daily process? Beyond the writing, what helped in the planning? Like so many, I just love that book. If Mr. Danielewski were unavailable, I’d be just as happy to talk to Jennifer Egan about how she writes such beautiful, perfect sentences.

Where can we find more information about you?
The interwebs, say @chuckrybak. I occasionally blog about teaching and higher education at www.sadiron.com. Also, there’s a great bar in Green Bay called The Republic. I am often available there for questions or conversation while watching a telecast of some sort.

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What We’re Reading (Summer 2014): Gone Girl

ww_bannerIn this series of summer posts, MG staffer Kelly Nhan will be exploring books and music, festivals and goings-on, anything and everything Midwestern-related, and reporting her findings.

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Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn

(Warning: major spoilers ahead)

Gone Girl is one-part psychological thriller, and two-parts marital drama. The basic premise of Gillian Flynn’s bestseller and soon to be released film, is, at first, a familiar one: Amy Dunne is the pretty, blonde missing wife to Nick Dunne’s husband looking for answers. The Dunnes, both laid off from their writing jobs during the recession, relocate from their native Manhattan to care for Nick’s aging parents in Carthage, Missouri. The action unfolds through alternating narratives (a “he-said, she-said” fleshed out to novelistic proportions): Nick’s portions move forward from the day he returns home on the morning of their fifth anniversary to find a missing Amy and the ominous signs of a struggle while Amy’s fill in the gaps via diary entries dated back to the party where they first met moving forward to where Nick’s begins. Flynn layers the growing tension skillfully, dropping unsettling details within both narratives that sprout into questions and then bloom into full suspicion. An example: Why does Nick keep picturing a bleeding Amy on the floor of their living room?

Gone_Girl_(Flynn_novel)Flynn takes the device of the unreliable narrator to its furthest ends in Gone Girl; Nick (in the first half) and Amy (in the second half) break through the confines of the narrative and directly address the reader to chilling effect. Nick’s dealings with the lead investigators in his wife’s case are peppered throughout with seemingly senseless white lies, which come to a head when he mentions off-hand, “I’m a big fan of the lie of omission.” Our suspicions are addressed head-on and without qualm. Gone Girl succeeds because it at first seems to build to climax according to the crime thriller formula and then goes onto flip that formula on its head halfway through the novel—Again, spoiler alert—when it is revealed that Amy is alive and in hiding, that the Amy we have come to know (and love) is merely a character within the real Amy’s fabricated diary written to frame her husband through a series of elaborate and at times unbelievable schemes.

The real Amy is, in fact, a highly manipulative, calculating, and vengeful sociopath who has vowed to “punish” her husband for his infidelity, another piece of dirty laundry revealed post-hoc. It is after this revelation where Gone Girl falls into troubled waters. The switch in Amy is severe, her compulsions and master-mining verging on super villain. The creation of the “likable victim”—that is, diary Amy—is tremendously convincing, the “real Amy” is almost cartoonish in preening narcissism and almost limitless taste for revenge. Ultimately, Amy fits comfortably into the stereotype of the castrating, overbearing post-feminist wife. Even more troubling are the details of Amy’s manipulations, past and present: she uses a pregnancy to keep Nick in the marriage, makes a fake sexual assault allegation, and fashions a former boyfriend into a stalker all in the service of her personal vendetta and need for validation. Gillian Flynn, in response to critics pointing out the novel’s embedded misogyny, writes on her website as noted in an article on the subject in the UK’s The Guardian,

“Isn’t it time to acknowledge the ugly side? I’ve grown quite weary of the spunky heroines, brave rape victims, soul-searching fashionistas that stock so many books. I particularly mourn the lack of female villains—good, potent female villains. Not ill-tempered women who scheme about landing good men and better shoes (as if we had nothing more interesting to war over), not chilly WASP mothers (emotionally distant isn’t necessarily evil), not soapy vixens (merely bitchy doesn’t qualify either). I’m talking violent, wicked women. Scary women. Don’t tell me you don’t know some. The point is, women have spent so many years girl-powering ourselves—to the point of almost parodic encouragement—we’ve left no room to acknowledge our dark side.”

Unfortunately, Amy becomes yet another stock character within the contemporary imagination of feminist nightmares: the “psycho bitch”, as Nick Dunne puts it. The characters, as Gone Girl progresses, begin to fulfill the gendered tropes that Flynn seeks to subvert. They fill those stock roles in more complicated and ironic ways, for sure, but fill them nevertheless. Nick, by the end of Gone Girl, if not a previously abusive husband, now envisions actually killing his wife. Diary Amy is revealed to be the manipulative bitch, who caves when flattered by her philandering husband.

The relationship between these two certainly troubled characters, which lies at the heart of the novel, is framed within the expectations of genre, and more basically, of what makes a “good” story. At its best, Gone Girl explores the complicated give-and-take of relationships, and how character (or alternately, persona) are formed through storytelling in a kind of meta-narrative mode as we see Nick build up a defense as public sentiment starts to turn on him. Gone Girl is ambitious and undeniably seductive in its ability to “play” its readers like the best of thrillers do. Its subversive potential, however, is another story.

Shop for Gone Girl: A Novel
, by Gillian Flynn

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Kelly Nhan is a senior studying English and Women’s Studies at the University of Michigan, and originally from Connecticut. She loves finding good coffee places, exploring cities, reading good poetry, and chatting about feminism. She is interested in going into book publishing, or eventually going to grad school to study post-colonial literature and feminist theory.

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Contributor Spotlight: Kaitlin Dyer

DyerKaitlin Dyer’s poem “At the Last Farm Lands They Haven’t Converted into Golf Courses” appears in Midwestern Gothic Issue 14, out now.

How long have you been writing?
I won a DARE class contest in the 5th grade by writing a poem about a fictional friend with a drug problem. I’ve tinkered with writing since then, but I’ve written with more serious intentions since I was an undergraduate at The Ohio State University, which would have been about eight years ago.

What’s your connection to the Midwest?
I was born in Southern Ohio and grew up in central Ohio.

How has the Midwest influenced your writing?
Central Ohio has the distinct pleasure of being overcast almost all the time. The winters are cold, the summers are humid, and there’s a lack of sunshine that paints a general malaise over many of my poems. Columbus, OH is also a quickly growing city, which means that there’s a consistent uneasiness about human sprawl into traditionally more “natural” environments. I’m often left wondering how to belong to the natural surrounding and show humanity towards all creatures while also accommodating the desire to connect with the other people in the area. Road and building construction often makes me very sad because of the land it takes up, and I wish that there were more forms of public transportation so a car wouldn’t be necessary. I think these concerns are distinctly Midwestern unless you’re in a larger city like Chicago.

Why do you believe there has never really been a regionalist push for Midwestern writing in the past like there has with the South or even the West Coast?
I think it’s harder for Midwesterners to adopt a generalized “Midwestern identity,” because we often identify more with our individual cities than the region as a whole. I often point out to people that I come from central Ohio, because it’s distinctly different from being from, say, Southern Iowa. This city-centered identity extends so far that being from Columbus makes me feel very differently than someone from Cleveland or Cinncinati—even though we’re all in the same state. Similarly, places like Chicago or Kansas City are different cultural experiences than being from other parts of those respective states. So, what it means for me to be Midwestern may mean something different than another person, and it may be difficult to have a regionalistic push when there are so many different perspectives on what it is to be Midwestern.

How do you feel about social media to promote your writing, and do you use it?
I love social media! Well, I love community and platforms like Twitter or a blog are great ways to not only promote your own work, but to share what you’re a fan of. Of course, shameless self-promotion makes me uneasy, but I try to remember that it’s about sharing ideas and connecting with the community rather than being narcissistic.

Favorite book?
My favorite book of poetry is Crush by Richard Siken. I can’t wait for his second collection to come out next year!

Favorite food?
Lemon custard ice cream from Austin’s Homemade Ice Cream in Ceredo, West Virginia.

If you could have coffee (or tea or a beer) with any literary figure, alive or dead, who would it be?
Hmm, that’s a tough one. I once saw Dean Young sitting on a bench at a writer’s conference and was filled with feelings of fangirl squee, but never got up the courage to say “hi.” I hate being an imposition, but his poetry is so smart and fresh and melodic that a conversation on poetry with him would be the highlight of my year.

(And feel free to forward this to him. Wink wink. Nudge nudge.)

Where can we find more information about you?
You can find more information at kaitlindyer.com or follow me on Twitter @kaitlinbdyer. I’m also an editor for an online journal for rhetoric where I blog about all things rhetorical: Harlot: A Revealing Look at the Arts of Persuasion. Of course, I welcome emails, tweets, etc. Who doesn’t love non-spam related messaging!?

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Contributor News

Jessie Ann Foley, who has work in Issue 14, was awarded the Sheehan Book Prize YA Lit for her novel The Carnival at Bray, which will be published by Elephant Rock Books in October.

Mark Maire, who has work in Issue 14, recently had a poem accepted for publication in the Fall 2014 issue of Talking River.

Rebecca McKanna, who has work in Issue 14, was a finalist for Narrative Magazine‘s Winter Short Story Contest. Her piece will be published in an upcoming issue as well.

Joe Weintraub, who has work in Issue 14, has recently had stories published in Chicago Quarterly Review and Oyez Review; poetry in Slant, Comstock Review, and the anthologies {Ex}tinguished & {Ex}tinct (Twelve Winters Press) and The Mountain (Outrider Press); an annotated translation in Gastronomica; and essays in Qu and Between the Lines, the latter of which won the Arnold Award from Holy Names University, given to “revolutionary works of nonfiction prose devoted to social change.”  That essay can be found here: http://www.hnu.edu/betweenthelines/issue-1/.

Amanda Williamsen, who had work in Issue 12, had a poem published in the New Ohio Review, and recently won the Judson Jerome poetry scholarship to attend the Antioch Writers’ Workshop.

James Winter, who had work in Issue 5, recently had his short story “A Very Small Flame” published in the current issue (193) of One Story. In addition, he participated in a small interview with the editors of One Story.

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Contributor Spotlight: Jim Warner

warner_pressJim Warner’s piece “.5 Ml” appears in Midwestern Gothic Issue 14, out now.

How long have you been writing?
Since I got my arm stuck in an escalator looking for hermit crabs in the Smithsonian when I was in the sixth grade.

What’s your connection to the Midwest?
I moved to Springfield, Illinois, to become the Managing Editor of Quiddity about a year ago.

How has the Midwest influenced your writing?
I think the most influential aspect of the Midwest so far has been the community of writers I have met in the last year. Even though there’s quite a bit of real estate to cover (compared to being out east), the amount of writers and magazines working to build a network and community is staggering. Obviously working for Quiddity provides me access to this world in a way which may push along the immediacy of entre but, in the same token, I have been pleasantly surprised by the amount of genuine interest the Midwest writing community has taken in my own personal writing and development. I feel like this spirit of collaboration and community is present in the growing number of events like Pygmalion, Lions in Winter, and Voices of the Middle West.

Why do you believe there has never really been a regionalist push for Midwestern writing in the past like there has with the South or even the West Coast?
I think (and this ties into my answer above) that while there hasn’t been a regionalist push, there is one slowly growing from the presses and writers who call the Midwest home. As I’m still very new to the Heartland, I can’t really speak to what’s gone on before, but as someone from part of the East Coast not really in literary vogue (Scranton, Pennsylvania), I understand what it’s like to be involved in a writing community which hasn’t been heralded by the larger literati scene. These other regions have had a mythology built into their work—almost an escapist one or in the very least a place to which artists have gravitated/traveled to in order to create. Be it the Beat-generated world of San Francisco or The Black Mountain school in Ashville, there has been a location serving as a point of origin for movement. (Of course you could argue Iowa is a destination for the Carver-esque but…) That said, Chicago is the home of slam poetry, but the longer I’m out here, the more I’ve been told that the Windy City is almost its own geographic region. In this context of regionalism, that makes sense.

In our Quiddity radio special discussing the Midwest, Chad Simpson talked about the Midwest as a place folks escaped from rather then came to (at least in terms of popular culture) which really struck me as I’m decidedly a transplant here. Not that I feel like I escaped Scranton…okay maybe a little… in the Escape from New York-sorta way. I mean, who doesn’t want to be Snake Plisskin?

How do you feel about social media to promote your writing, and do you use it?
Are you asking if I shamelessly ask folks to follow me or Quiddity on Twitter (@whoismisterjim and @QuiddityLit) or if people should like Quiddity on Facebook (QuiddityLit)? Or if they should check out Quiddity’s tumblr (at QuiddityLit.tumblr.com)?? Seriously, are you asking if, perhaps, these places are the best ways to find out the latest goings on at Quiddity or even to check out my weekly column Best Worst Year at @SundogLit’s blog? No. I still prefer Friendster and my e-Harmony profile (Willing2Settle). (PS: I’m assuming you’re not asking whether or not I’m funny or brief—I’m neither.)

Favorite book?
Oh, you know…that one with the poems in it.

Favorite food?
Lumpia (you know, because…I’m Pinoy)

If you could have coffee (or tea or a beer) with any literary figure, alive or dead, who would it be?
Right now, that would have to be Vachel Lindsay—a Springfield poet who has been largely forgotten in the poetic canon. His removal from canonical reading is due in part to his poem “The Congo.” Lindsay is a forefather of performance poetry, wrote one of the first books on film criticism, and was an advocate for racial equality; however, the issue with “The Congo” is its capacity to identify racial inequities in society but its blindness to the misguided “romantic racism” portrayed in the language of the piece. As poets with a social consciousness it is important to confront rather than cover up the issues poetry such as “The Congo” present to us as readers. The tension between progressive intent (or hope within) and the language can be explosive but not nearly as damaging as ignoring the issue. It would be an awkward conversation to have, probably made even more awkward due in part to the fact he’s been dead since 1931 and there’s been a monthly poetry series happening in his living room (probably unbeknownst to him).

Where can we find more information about you?
@whoismisterjim pretty much everywhere. (Yes, I am an only child and no, I don’t have an e-Harmony profile…anymore…as far as you know.) I also finally got my Illinois driver’s license and changed my plates over from Pennsylvania, so you can probably track me down through the Springfield DMV. I’d ask for Todd, he just seems to have it all figured out.

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Welcome Jessica Dewberry!

We’re excited to announce that Jessica Dewberry will be joining us as our newest copyeditor with Issue 15 (Fall 2014)! Jessica is tremendously talented and we’re excited to be working with her!

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Jessica Dewberry’s work appears in the Los Angeles Review of Books, Mutha Magazine, and other places. She’s an assistant nonfiction editor for Pithead Chapel, a literary journal based in Michigan. For decades, her relatives lived in the infamous Cabrini-Green projects in Chicago before most of the units were demolished. She also visited the city biannually, for a few years, and once experienced a winter storm that caused her to cease all complaints about winters she’s experienced elsewhere, especially in southern California where she lives and works.

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What We’re Reading (Summer 2014): The Empathy Exams

ww_bannerIn this series of summer posts, MG staffer Kelly Nhan will be exploring books and music, festivals and goings-on, anything and everything Midwestern-related, and reporting her findings.

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The Empathy Exams, by Leslie Jamison

Leslie Jamison’s collection of essays, The Empathy Exams, released April 2014, is just as much an exploration of that eponymous sentiment as it is of pain. Jamison is a “wound dweller”, she admits in one of the collection’s strongest pieces, “Grand Unified Theory of Female Pain”. The “empathy” is not so often thematized, so much as enacted. Each essay in Exams is an opportunity to defend, examine, or otherwise understand the pain or pathos of another.

The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison

Jamison is also a pain tourist, reaching across into such varied experiences as a meeting of Morgollens sufferers, ultrarunners at the Barkley Marathons, the victims of drug­related violence in Tijuana, and the sites of her own lived traumas (a broken nose, an abortion). The author’s self­conscious and introspective tendency mean she constantly draws lines between herself and the external subject, mostly circumventing the possibility of exploitation without foregoing the project of understanding something outside of herself (although she edges close in “La Frontera” with a bit of undue exoticism). Jamison’s writing is earnest yet reflective, adroit without pretension, and strongest in the most risk­taking of the essays, including “Morphology of the Hit” and “In Defense of the Saccharin(e)”. The former sees the writer circumscribing the memory of her own assault within the architecture of myth, the latter a thoughtful take on sentimentality and irony interspliced with the history of artificial sweeteners. Admittedly, Exams is uneven and at times repetitive; perhaps these essays would breathe better serialized or read with intermittent stops, rather than straight through. Jamison writes big: punchy and often breath­taking, at the risk of getting lost or too seduced in the at times amorphous and impressionistic strokes she paints.

But undoubtedly, The Empathy Exams is a stand­out, marked by Leslie Jamison’s sharp insights into the treatment of pain, physical and emotional, or both. This collection is a testament to Jamison’s own understanding that empathy is a choice we make:

“The act of choosing simply means we’ve committed ourselves to a set of behaviors greater than the sum of our individual inclinations: I will listen to his sadness, even when I’m deep in my own. To say going through the motions—this isn’t reduction so much as acknowledgement of effort—the labor, the motions, the dance—of getting inside another person’s state of heart or mind. This confession of effort chafes against the notion that empathy should always rise unbidden, that genuine means the same thing as unwilled, that intentionality is the enemy of love. But I believe in intention and I believe in work.”

Ultimately, it is a careful defense of feeling, both the emotional act and the emotions themselves, bringing up questions of how we judge others’ experiences of pain, gendered stereotypes, and literary sentimentalism along the way. The Empathy Exams is deeply affecting and thoughtful, and well worth picking up this summer.

For fans of Joan Didion and Susan Sontag.

Shop for The Empathy Exams on Amazon

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Kelly Nhan is a senior studying English and Women’s Studies at the University of Michigan, and originally from Connecticut. She loves finding good coffee places, exploring cities, reading good poetry, and chatting about feminism. She is interested in going into book publishing, or eventually going to grad school to study post-colonial literature and feminist theory.

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