Interview: Rochelle Hurt

October 29th, 2014

Rochelle HurtMidwestern Gothic staffer Lauren Crawford talked with poet and author Rochelle Hurt about the beauty of the Rust Belt, developing a healthy sense of defensiveness, her latest collection The Rusted City, and more.

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Lauren Crawford: First things first, tell us about your Midwestern roots.

Rochelle Hurt: I was born in Dayton, Ohio, but raised almost entirely in Youngstown, which is an old steel city between Cleveland and Pittsburgh. It’s been home to much of my family for a few generations.

LC: In what ways has the Midwest inspired your works and your style of writing?

RH: I didn’t write much about the Midwest until I moved away from it. I felt homesick for a place I had always wanted to leave, and this inspired an interest in the paradoxes and conflicts inherent to Midwestern life. In Rust Belt cities, for example, one might find plants and animals inhabiting abandoned factories. Urban and rural elements mingle in unexpected ways in these towns, often challenging our notions of growth and decay. These juxtapositions create a surreal landscape in the Midwest, so I lean toward surrealism and magical realism when writing about the region.

LC: Detroit and Buffalo have begun to experience mini-renaissances, with newcomers celebrating the beauty of the Rust Belt and paying homage to its rich heritage. Why do you think there’s such a deep motivation to reinvigorate these storied cities?

RH: One develops a healthy sense of defensiveness after growing up with the idea that your hometown is an elsewhere—not New York, not LA, not Chicago, not San Francisco, and maybe not even an idyllic little farm town. In Youngstown, for example, there is a community organization called Defend Youngstown, and I think everyone from Youngstown understands the logic behind the name. It makes sense given the prevailing attitude toward the city. Consider that in my high school, we used a familiar nickname for the local university, YSU: You Screwed Up. It’s actually a good school, but the sentiment among many young people was that college was a ticket out of Youngstown, to somewhere with more money, more jobs, more people, more art.

Yet there are countless passionate and creative people in Youngstown. I think once younger residents started realizing this, they decided to try to make Youngstown that place with more money, more jobs, more people, more art. I think the same is happening in Detroit and Buffalo on a larger scale. History is on our side—Rust Belt cities were booming once, so the space is there, the energy is there, the blue-collar work ethic is there. People my age may have roots in these towns that go back several generations, and they know that those roots were often hard-won, so they’re emotionally invested in renewal.

The Rusted CityLC: Your newest collection of poetry, titled The Rusted City, has been garnering critical praise since its release in early 2014. What prompted you to write this collection, and how did you choose the subject of the Rust Belt?

RH: Soon after I moved away from Ohio for graduate school, I started reading a lot of poetry and fiction in translation, particularly fabulist stories and surrealist prose poetry. During a visit home, I realized that some of the elements in the work I was reading were useful for understanding the Rust Belt—its surreal landscape, its hybridity, its conflicting senses of hope and darkness. I knew I wanted to write a book about Youngstown, but I didn’t want to write a simple defense of the city, or a nostalgic tribute to its past.

I wanted this book to be complicated and even a bit difficult—emotionally and intellectually—so I started the book as a hybrid genre project, mixing prose and verse. I also wanted to focus on a subjective experience of the Rust Belt, rather than a historical account, which would necessarily fall short, given the diversity of experiences in the region. In that way, I could only write a narrative of the city through the experiences of one family living there—a fictional family who became the book’s primary subject.

LC: The Rusted City chronicles the experiences of “the smallest sister,” who is trying to understand and internalize a decomposing region and its effects on her family. How did this character come to be, and why is her perspective so important to unearthing the decay around her?

RH: The smallest sister’s smallness stems from that sense of defensiveness I mentioned above. It’s important that she is easily ignored, disregarded, manipulated and neglected, because in some ways she is a mirror for the city—and the city is a mirror for her. She notices things like bugs and leaves—supposedly insignificant things—and she makes metaphors from them. Her adolescent creativity and naiveté is her only avenue for change, and I think that process of transforming forgotten things into new ideas reflects the Rust Belt experience. I don’t think the book can be said to have a happy ending, but ultimately, she does gain some sense of agency, even if only through metaphor.

LC: The Rusted City is described as being a “coming-of-age … novel in prose poems.” Thematically, this blend of Bildungsroman and poetry captivates the reader, and beautifully emphasizes how loss and love are easily tangled. Why did this medium seem fitting for your Rust Belt family?

RH: In addition to capturing a sense of paradox (urban and rural, old and new, growth and decay), I think hybrid forms also allow for the kind of emotional and psychological tangling that you mention. Adolescence is so confusing and intense that the ability to compartmentalize (even in healthy ways) is sometimes lost. It’s a dark wood, and my hope for the book is that nothing emerges cut and dry. The hybrid-genre form is also practically functional, since the fictional narrative I imagined seemed inseparable from metaphor and lyricism.

LC: In many of the poems and vignettes, rust is included as a piece of anatomy—an appendage—that is inseparable from the characters. Why did you choose to present the “rust” of the Rust Belt in such a tangible way?

RH: I wanted this city to be more than a setting that provided an interesting backdrop, which could be exploitative. The life of the city had to be linked to my characters’ identities and to their plight. The book often operates on a metaphoric level, so it seemed natural that the people in it should literally absorb their surroundings.

LC: Sabrina Orah Mark, in her review of The Rusted City, compares its themes and form to those of Baudelaire—a portrait of modernity and of the city—but one that has begun to crumble under its own desiccation. In this light, how would you describe the relationship between the characters in The Rusted City and their hometown of Youngstown, Ohio?

RH: There is a lineage through Baudelaire that connects the prose poem to urban spaces—and perhaps specifically the harsh, dirty, ignored corners of those spaces. It is precisely those kinds of spaces (in a contemporary American context) that help form my characters’ identities, and this is not always a good thing for them. They are members of a working class in a city that was built by and for them, but that now has very little to offer. In this way, the city is a trap. Yet I don’t want to say that they are victims of their environment—I don’t wish to romanticize pastoral spaces as a balm for urban ruin (nor, on the other hand, do I wish to glorify urban ruin). They can’t be simply victims of the city because they are the city. Through their labor, their bodies have merged with the city’s decay, for better or worse.

LC: In many of your poems, the title serves as the first phrase or sentence. How did you develop this unique style?

RH: It started as an accident, but then I found that it helped maintain narrative continuity between poems, whereas more traditional titles might have framed each poem as a separate object. My hope is that each prose poem functions as a tiny chapter in a tiny novel, rather than a single poem in a collection.

LC: What’s next for you?

RH: I’m sending around my second book, which is more of a standard ‘collection’ of poems. I’m also working on a few new projects (which will eventually be books) and completing a PhD at the University of Cincinnati.

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Rochelle Hurt is the author of The Rusted City, published in the Marie Alexander Prose Poetry Series at White Pine Press (2014). Her work has been included in Best New Poets 2013, and she has been awarded literary prizes from Crab Orchard Review, Arts & Letters, Hunger Mountain, and Poetry International. Her poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction have been published in journals like Mid-American Review, The Southeast Review, The Kenyon Review Online, Versal and Image. She is a PhD student in the Creative Writing program at the University of Cincinnati.

Contributor Spotlight: Jen Bingham

Jen back

You can find Jen Bingham’s work featured in Midwestern Gothic Issue 15 (Fall 2014)

How long have you been writing?
Ever since I can remember. My first story is from preschool. I still have it somewhere. It’s flash fiction and illustrated. “The cow had a calf, and the calf had a fox fur.” I was going in for twists even back then. (Note that this analysis of the piece is intended as a joke.)

What’s your connection to the Midwest?
I’ve always lived in the Midwest, almost exclusively in Indiana, except for a very brief stint in Colorado in the 1990s. I came back pretty quickly and I started crying (with happiness) when I crossed the Wabash River. The Wabash is kind of a big deal in Indiana, because we have this song “Back Home Again in Indiana” that namechecks the river and which is somehow brainwashed into our heads. I’ve moved around quite a bit within the state, especially as a child. My mom had some wanderlust, but also stayed close to home.

I try to fight against some Midwestern things. For example, I’m trying not to apologize for things I’m not sorry about or that aren’t my fault but are inconveniencing people. I have to make a conscious effort not to do that.

One of my friends says that his greatest fear is inconveniencing a stranger for a few minutes and I think that is such a Midwestern fear.

How has the Midwest influenced your writing?
It’s part of me, I think. It’s like my body in that I don’t have a good perspective of what it is to live outside it, although I try to think about it and examine it.

I think Midwesterners are very polite and friendly to strangers, but not necessarily welcoming. I think there’s a strain of dark humor and self-mockery. I always think David Letterman is an exemplary Midwesterner in those regards.

I think the modesty, the humor, the secret darkness that I see in the Midwest influence me.

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?
We’re so modest! It’s like, “What? Us? Special?” And then we deflect with a joke. I love that you guys are pushing for this, especially with your angle on darkness, which I see as a part of the Midwest that is mostly overlooked.

How do you feel about social media to promote your writing, and do you use it?
I love social media. I am on Twitter and I have a blog, which I sometimes don’t update enough. I’m on Facebook too, but I use that more on a personal basis.

Favorite book?
The book that is dearest to me is The Hobbit. My dad read it to me when I was very small and I had a dog named Bilbo Baggins. I also had this intense conversation with one of my dad’s friends about reading when I was about 9, which centered on The Hobbit. He talked to me about how imagining things for yourself is what makes reading better than movies. I think a cartoon of the book must have come out around then to prompt that conversation. That conversation is one of the things that made me into a true reader. And I’ve reread The Hobbit many times.

Bilbo is kinda Midwestern, especially before he goes on his trip. Hobbits and the Shire are obviously meant to represent the English and England, but Midwesterners have a lot of the hallmarks of hobbits: suspicion of strangers combined with a veneer of friendliness, conflict avoidance, love of home comforts.

Favorite food?
Oatmeal. I go through phases when I eat it every day for months on end. It is the best breakfast in the world.

If you could have coffee (or tea or a beer) with any literary figure, alive or dead, who would it be?
I find that talking with someone whose writing I greatly admire is usually awkward, to be honest. So I’d just want to meet one of the great wits, someone who was known for being hilarious and the first person that comes to mind is Oscar WIlde. I’m pretty sure he would just talk about himself and make a bunch of jokes and I would be pretty happy. Other writers who would probably talk a lot and make me laugh include Stephen Fry and Dr. Johnson.

Where can we find more information about you?
My blog is at www.jenbingham.com and you can also find me on Twitter @jen_fu. I’m also the Poetry Editor and a frequent contributor at Punchnel’s.

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2014 Pushcart Prize Nominees

The Pushcart Prize is an annual award handed out to short stories, essays and poetry originating from small presses. We here at Midwestern Gothic are so fortunate to read and publish such amazing works from folks all over the country, and while it’s hard to pick only a few to nominate, there were some that stood out as pure excellence.

So, join us in congratulating the following contributors who were nominated:

Kate Graham - “The Godmother” – Issue 12 (Winter 2014)
Chloe Krug Benjamin – “Sparks” – Issue 13 (Spring 2014)
John Counts – “The Skull House” - Issue 14 (Summer 2014)
Amorak Huey - “The Letter X Chooses His Own Adventures” - Issue 14 (Summer 2014)
Michael Czyzniejewski – “The Ventriloquist Tries Her Hand at Fluffing” – Issue 15 (Fall 2014)
Sarah Schantz – “Sister” - Issue 15 (Fall 2014)

Take a closer look at the issues these contributors appear in.

Find more information on the Pushcart Prize.

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Contributor Spotlight: Yahya Frederickson

yf-headshot-4Yahya Frederickson’s pieces “Piss Elms” and “Apollo” appear in Midwestern Gothic Issue 15, out now.

How long have you been writing?
Since high school, when I tried penning some lyrics for my friends who were in a punk rock band. Think about it: lyrics for a punk band.

What’s your connection to the Midwest?
I’ve tried snipping the strings, but I just keep blowing back to Minnesota.

How has the Midwest influenced your writing?
The desolation of winter, the oppressive heat of summer, the shiver of a lake, the flatness of what-used-to-be-prairie. There’s sensory power in our surroundings.

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’d like to think that it’s because Midwestern writers aren’t so pushy. On the other hand, I do believe there is a Midwestern sensibility—in my part of the world, I think of Robert Bly, James Wright, Louise Erdrich, Thomas McGrath, Meridel LeSueur, Ted Kooser, Ed Bok Lee, Patricia Hampl.

How do you feel about social media to promote your writing, and do you use it?
I use Facebook and, to a lesser extent, LinkedIn, to keep in touch with my writing community. However, self-promotion doesn’t feel as though I’m promoting my true self. Rather, it feels as though I’m walking in somebody else’s wingtips. It’s uncomfortable. It takes up too much time.

Favorite book?
Impossible question. Silence in the Snowy Fields, Robert Bly’s first book of poems.

Favorite food?
Tabbouleh

If you could have coffee (or tea or a beer) with any literary figure, alive or dead, who would it be?
The pre-Islamic poet ‘Antarah.

Where can we find more information about you?
Try Googling me. Also, I’ve got a new blog/website: http://collaborate.mnstate.edu/public/blogs/midwest-mideast-yahyafrederickson/

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Interview: Charles Baxter

Charles BaxterMidwestern Gothic staffer Cammie Finch talked with acclaimed author Charles Baxter about his influences, short story versus novel writing, and the trouble with painting Midwesterners with a broad brush.

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Midwestern Gothic: What is your connection to the Midwest?

Charles Baxter: I was born in Minnesota and went to college there. My first real job was in rural Michigan. I’ve taught in Detroit and Ann Arbor and now have returned to Minnesota and teach at the University of Minnesota, in Minneapolis. Most of my emotional memories are in the Midwest, and it’s my “imagination’s home,” to use a phrase that I stole from William Maxwell.

MG: You have a lot of experience as both a short story writer, as in your
collections “Gryphon” and “Believer,” and as a novelist. Which do you prefer writing: novels or short stories? How does the process of preparing and writing look different for each?

CB: All writing is difficult. Novels tend to require more preparation, just because they often involve social histories, and you can’t make social histories up. I prefer writing short stories because you don’t lose so much of your life writing them, and I like their economy and the poetry that goes with it.

MG: In your piece “A Relative Stranger,” you comment that “most landscapes, no matter where you are, manage to keep something wild about them, but the land in southern Michigan along the Ohio border has always looked to me as if it had lost its self-respect some time ago. This goes beyond being tamed. This land has been beaten up.” How do you think the Midwestern population has dealt with recent financial, political, and geographical blows? And how do you articulate the mentality of these people in your work?

CB: You’re asking me a sociological and historical question, which I’m not competent to answer. I can’t speak for the “Midwestern population.” There are many, many Midwestern populations, including several I can’t speak for, like the Native people. A novelist and short-story writer can only deal with populations individual by individual. I try to find or imagine a person who interests me and who’s lively and volatile. Then I’ll try to bring that person to life. I’m more interested in dramatic action than in “mentality.” What’s that? All I know is what a specific person did at a specific moment.

22024692MG: What does it mean to be a “Midwesterner”? Are the people the same in real life and in your stories? If not, how do they differ? How do you characterize them? In your eyes, what is it that Midwesterners desire out of life?

CB: Forgive me, but I have to claim ignorance. I used to claim, very bravely, that I knew what Midwesterners were like, but I’m more humble now. If I were to say that Midwesterners are laconic and like to keep secrets, you could immediately think of exceptions. A farmer in North Dakota is not like an investment banker in Minneapolis; they share almost nothing except geography. It’s a mistake to claim that geographical proximity makes them similar.

MG: You received your PhD in English with your thesis on Djuna Barnes, Malcolm Lowry, and Nathanael West. What fascinated you about these three writers specifically, and how have they influenced the way you write your own work?

CB: I loved how ambitious they were, and I loved their elaborate, intricate styles. All three were desperate, go-for-broke writers. In their novels they threw every chip on the table. They emptied their pockets. They had great daring, and they were smart. Their fictional characters were passionate and wild and loving and despairing. Nothing those writers did was safe. How I loved all that! I still love it.

MG: As a professor of creative writing, what is one piece of advice you have for new writers?

CB: If you love it, don’t quit. Be stubborn and implacable. If you don’t love it, if writing seems like a terrible chore, then find something else worthwhile to do.

MG: What’s next for you?

CB: My next book, a group of linked stories, titled There’s Something I Want You to Do, will be out in February. The first five stories—“Bravery,” “Loyalty,” “Chastity,” “Charity,” and “Forbearance”—cover some of the virtues, and the next five stories (with some of the same characters) “Lust,” “Sloth,” “Avarice,” “Gluttony,” and “Vanity,” cover some of the vices. Most of the stories take place here in Minneapolis, and in almost every story, there’s a request moment. One character turns to another character and says, “There’s something I want you to do.” I’ve always liked stories with request moments: they create a pleasing dramatic tension.

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Charles Baxter is the author, most recently, of Gryphon: New and Selected Stories, published by Pantheon in January, 2011. There’s Something I Want You to Do: a Decalogue, will be published in February, 2015. He is also the author of The Soul Thief, published in 2008, by Pantheon, and of Saul and Patsy, published in 2003 by Pantheon. His third novel, The Feast of Love (Pantheon/Vintage), was a finalist for the National Book Award in 2000 and has been made into a film starring Morgan Freeman. He has published two other novels, First Light and Shadow Play, and four books of stories. He has also published essays on fiction collected in Burning Down the House (Graywolf) and Beyond Plot, and has edited or co-edited several books of essays, The Business of Memory, published by Graywolf, Bringing the Devil to His Knees (The University of Michigan Press), and A William Maxwell Portrait, published in 2004 by W. W. Norton. He has edited the stories of Sherwood Anderson, published by the Library of America in 2012. His book of poems, Imaginary Paintings, was published by Paris Review Editions. He also edited Best New American Voices 2001 (Harcourt) and was the judge for the Bakeless Prize in Fiction in 2004. He has received the Award of Merit in the Short Story and the Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the Rea Award in the Short Story in 2012. He was born in Minneapolis in 1947, graduated from Macalester College with a B. A. degree in 1969, and the State University of New York at Buffalo with a Ph.D. in 1974, and lived for many years in Ann Arbor, Michigan. He taught at Wayne State University, the University of Michigan, Stanford, and the University of Iowa. He now lives in Minneapolis and is currently the Edelstein-Keller Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Minnesota. His work has appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The New York Review of Books, and Harper’s, among other journals and magazines. His fiction has been anthologized in Best American Short Stories seven times, eleven times in The Pushcart Prize Anthology, and translated into many languages.

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Contributor Spotlight: Ellie Rogers

Ellie Rogers headshotEllie Rogers’ piece “Ouranophobia” appears in Midwestern Gothic Issue 14, out now.

How long have you been writing?
In first grade I thought it would be romantic to someday have a chest stuffed full of my diaries for grandchildren to uncover as they prowled around in the attic, so I set out journaling. Around that time I also began writing short stories and “publishing” them in books made out of cereal boxes/wallpaper.

I still make books, but I’ve moved on from cereal boxes to book board. In the past few years I’ve gotten serious about writing poetry and nonfiction, and I absolutely still fill journals with words only direct descendants should (or would even want to) read.

What’s your connection to the Midwest?
I have grandparents that met at the headwaters of the Mississippi, and I grew up downriver just outside of the Twin Cities in White Bear Lake, Minnesota. (You might know it from the scene in which Frances McDormand interviews two prostitutes in Fargo.) I also did my undergrad at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota. I moved to Washington after that but still think of Minnesota as a home.

How has the Midwest influenced your writing?
Linda Gregg talks about a poet needing to find her resonant sources, and I know mine often arise from Minnesota—summer lake skinnydipping, autumn canoe trips in the Boundary Waters, the prairie asleep beneath snow and my skis, stretching spring ephemerals. I still feel those seasons, even though I now live in the Pacific Northwest. Those landscapes of home still live in me and show up in my writing as images. I love, for example, that the roots of the prairie sometimes dig to 15 feet so as to endure wind and drought. The Midwest—its harshness, extremities, exposedness—requires of its inhabitants a tangle of deep roots. It still tugs and ghosts in me profoundly, in ways I’m sure I don’t even know.

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?
There’s plenty of amazing writing coming out of the Midwest, and we have so many organizations fostering literary communities there (Open Book, for example: http://www.openbookmn.org/default.aspx). To me, the Midwest has a constant and brilliant simmering of writing, if not a regionalist push. I’m drawn to Midwestern Gothic because it names this place, collects some of its impacts, coalesces some of its writers. Monica Berlin and Beth Marzoni’s response to this question intrigued me: http://midwestgothic.com/2014/08/contributor-spotlight-monica-berlin-and-beth-marzoni/.

How do you feel about social media to promote your writing, and do you use it?
I have accounts, but I’m not terribly active in contributing. Thriving online communities certainly exist around writing and I lurk often, reading others’ great blog posts, liking publishers’ Facebook posts, sharing friends’ writing news, etc. Ideally, I’ll find a way to more productively engage with social media and also resist the frenzy of those sites during focused, generative writing hours.

Favorite book?
Changing all the time. Right now, I have three: Anne Carson’s Plainwater, Michael McGriff’s Home Burial, and Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead.

Favorite food?
Coffee.

If you could have coffee (or tea or a beer) with any literary figure, alive or dead, who would it be?
Maybe Szymborska? This is a hard question!

Where can we find more information about you?
Someday I’ll make a real website, but for now: http://elliearogers.wordpress.com/.

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Upcoming events + Autoplay pre-release reading/signing

A couple cool things on the horizon, and we you can stop by!

READING

Friday Night’s Alright For Reading (MG + University of Michigan’s Residential College)
When: Friday, November 7 @ 5 PM
Where: The Benzinger Library, East Quad, 701 E University Ave, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48109
Who’s reading: Julie Babcock, John Counts, Robert James Russell, Jared Yates Sexton, Laura Hulthen Thomas
Additional details

AUTOPLAY PRE-RELEASE READING & SIGNING

We’re positively thrilled to host a pre-release reading and signing at Ann Arbor’s Literati Bookstore! You’ll be able pick up a copy of Julie Babcock’s debut collection Autoplay a week before its official release, get it signed, and hear her read, too!

When: Tuesday, November 11 @ 7 PM
Where: Literati Bookstore, 124 E Washington St, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48104
Additional details

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Photo submissions update

We’ve changed our photo submissions policy! Now, instead of uploading photos via Submittable, we ask that you email your photos to us at mwgothic@gmail.com.

And remember:

  • We’re looking for images of at least a 6” x 9” at 300 dpi resolution.
  • Make sure to include any pertinent copyright information (e.g. your name, the year it was taken), and a short title/caption.

So send us your Midwest photos and help us show off this wonderful region!

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Contributor Spotlight: Ron A. Austin

ronaustinRon A. Austin’s story “Nothing Uglier Than Gold on a Corpse” appears in Midwestern Gothic Issue 14, out now.

How long have you been writing?
I started writing seriously when I was about 16. Of course my first short stories and poems were atrocious, but I’ve made considerable progress over the last 14 years.

What’s your connection to the Midwest?
I was born and raised in St. Louis city.

How has the Midwest influenced your writing?
Dang—that’s a tough question. Trying to describe the effect plainly feels like squeezing a bar of soap, but I’ll give it a go. I draw power from the landscape’s history of decay and renewal, strife and hope.

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?
Every artistic movement needs champions and advocates to define a unique headspace and voice. The Midwest has produced its fair share of Champions, and going forward, it’s awesome to have Midwestern Gothic advocating new talent.

How do you feel about social media to promote your writing, and do you use it?
Social media is wondrous, and I don’t use it enough.

Favorite book?
It’s hard to say, but Ironweed by Joseph Kennedy will always be on my top ten list.

Favorite food?
Sandwiches. They’ll never let you down.

If you could have coffee (or tea or a beer) with any literary figure, alive or dead, who would it be?
If I had to choose, having a beer with Jorge Luis Borges would be incredible.

Where can we find more information about you?
I can be reached at ronaaustin@gmail.com. I’ll have a website up soon.

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2014 Lake Prize – Poetry Finalists

We’re thrilled to announce the poetry finalists of the inaugural Lake Prize! We received many, many extraordinary submissions and making the final selections was almost impossible, so thank you for submitting your best work for us to read. Congratulations to everyone who participated, and to the winners!

All of the poems listed here will be featured in Issue 16 (Winter 2015).

Poetry

Winner: “Animal Bride” by Sara Quinn Rivara


Sara Quinn Rivara holds an MFA from the Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College. Her work has appeared in a variety of literary magazines including Blackbird, The Cortland Review, Cream City Review, LiteraryMama and her debut collection, Lake Effect was published by Aldrich Press in 2013. A native Chicagoan, she spent most of her life on the shores of Lake Michigan, in Chicago and 18 years in Kalamazoo, Michigan. She now lives with her sons and husband in Portland, Oregon.

Poetry judge Mary Biddinger had this to say about Sara’s poem: First line: “The cherry trees burned, blossoms fell like snow.” In moments both tender and ravenous, “Animal Bride” enters a dialogue with nature, turning its entire tableau into an hourglass where sands migrate and rise like floodwaters. This poet allows place to serve as a character in the poem, and at the same time transcends place, with a nod to seasonal shifts, encroaching time, and primitive desires. Employing economical lines, the poem surprises readers at every turn, making the everyday infinitely more intense, allowing us to hear how, “…the crows brayed all afternoon in the sycamore snag,” and to see, “The baby’s mouth a dry rose.” “Animal Bride” is Midwestern writing at its very best: visceral, haunting, colorful, and gorgeously alive.

Runner-up: “The Last Ohioans” by Holly Jensen


Holly Jensen’s work has appeared in Pank Magazine, the Midwest Quarterly, Kestrel, and elsewhere. “Selected Timelines: Past And Future” is forthcoming from Neon Books. She calls Cleveland home.

 

 

 

Runner-up: “On the Tundra that is Lake Michigan in February” by Bailey Spencer


Bailey Spencer is a recent graduate of Boston College where she was the recipient of the Dever Fellowship. She was also a 2014 June Fellow at the Bucknell Seminar for Younger Poets. A native of Michigan, she is living for a year in Heppenheim, Germany.

 

 

 

 

 

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