Contributor Spotlight: Amy Rea

February 28th, 2017

Amy Rea’s story “Mabel at the Cabin” appears in Midwestern Gothic‘s Winter 2017 issue, out now.

What’s your connection to the Midwest, and how has the region influenced your writing?

I grew up in northern Minnesota, then moved to the Twin Cities to attend the university. Other than a year and a half living in New England, Minnesota has always been my home. Given that, how could it not affect my writing? I have the advantage of having grown up in a rural area and also lived in the metro, so I’ve experienced both sides.

What do you think is the most compelling aspect of the Midwest?

Its range of beauty. In Minnesota, people tend to focus on the North Shore of Lake Superior, but our geography is much more varied than that, and so people have different means of making a living/lifestyles/points of view. How you live on a southern prairie is entirely different from how you live on the Canadian border.

How do your experiences or memories of specific places—such as where you grew up, or a place you’ve visited that you can’t get out of your head—play a role in your writing?

It’s that thing about writing what you know. Not literally—no one is going to care about my travails in taking my elderly dog to the vet—but how people think, act, behave, why the weather’s important, how someone can develop a fondness for solitude and desolate environments—that’s what affects my writing.

Discuss your writing process — inspirations, ideal environments, how you deal with writer’s block.

Inspirations are all over the place: Dreams, conversations (my own and those I’ve overheard), memories. Ideally, I write well both in my own home office (when I can convince myself to turn Twitter off) and in coffee shops. I love working in the latter, where sometimes I’m distracted by listening to the amazing things people will say in public places. Writer’s block? Journaling. And long walks. And lots of reading of my favorite authors.

How can you tell when a piece of writing is finished?

I’m not sure I can. I usually rely on my writer friends to say, “Time to send it out.”

Who is your favorite author (fiction writer or poet), and what draws you to their work?

One favorite??? I love Elizabeth Strout’s work, for her fine character portrayals; I love Elena Ferrante’s Neopolitan novels for their unsparing look at women’s lives and relationships; I love Jennifer Egan’s taking on new challenges with every nove; and I just flat-out love Colm Toibin, period.

What’s next for you?

This story is part of a larger cycle of stories set in northern Minnesota, in a fictional town. In 2017, I’m going to work toward completing a first draft. I also write poetry, and an artist friend and I have an exhibit scheduled in March 2018, in which I write poems and my friend creates visual art around each poem’s themes. I still have some more poems to create for that.

Where can we find more information about you?

I’m pretty boring, but you can find me on Twitter: @amycrea

Midwest in Photos: Gas station, Des Moines, IA, 1970s

“Our plans for the future made us laugh and feel close, but those same plans somehow made anything more than temporary between us seem impossible. It was the first time I’d ever had the feeling of missing someone I was still with.” – Stuart Dybek, The Coast of Chicago: Stories.

Photo by: John Kirsch

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Interview: Allison Pitinii Davis

Allison Pitinii DavisMidwestern Gothic staffer Allison Reck talked with poet Allison Pitinii Davis about her forthcoming collection, Line Study of a Motel Clerk, working against sentimentality, writing about the intersection of Rust Belt and Jewish cultures and more.

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Allison Reck: What’s your connection to the Midwest?

Allison Pitinii Davis: I was born in Youngstown, Ohio and didn’t leave the state much my first 25 years. Four generations of my family lived in the Youngstown area, and I was very lucky to grow up with my extended family. The area is home to the trucking motel and laundry that have been operated by my family for over 50 years.

AR: Your forthcoming collection, Line Study of a Motel Clerk, is focused on your experience with your father’s trucking motel in Ohio. What perspective does your collection bring to the literary depiction of the Midwest? What understanding of the Midwest do you hope your readers gain from your depiction?

APD: The Midwest is wide-ranging — Dust Bowl to Rust Belt, rural to industrial — and has been home to poets as diverse in theme and style as Gwendolyn Brooks and John Berryman. As in any region, lines can be drawn — I think of the theme of labor running through Carl Sandburg, Kenneth Patchen, James Wright, and Philip Levine. Perhaps the one trait that ties Midwesterners together more than anything is a reluctance to be grouped, and at least where I come from, a self-reliance bordering on insularity. I’m not sure Cleveland wants anything to do with Cincinnati, let alone the rest of the Midwest.

I place myself in the tradition of writing about labor. Because my book spans four generations, it follows two small family businesses along the historical trajectory of industrial boom and bust — a timeline beginning with the influx of immigrants to the Steel Belt and ending with their descendants’ reluctant migration to more viable economies.

My book expands the focus of traditional postindustrial narratives by considering the experiences of women and religious minorities and the effects of cultural erasure. I also hope my book contributes to ongoing discussions about post-industrialism, constructions of race and gender, and immigration put forth in other contemporary collections of Midwestern poetry.

While I hope my reader gains insights on these topics, a larger concern is that my ideal reader isn’t reading my work, perhaps isn’t reading poetry in general, and perhaps thinks poetry is elitist. To an extent, I agree with this reader — growing up, I was this reader. In his important 2016 LitHub essay “No One is Writing The Real West Virginia: Why Rural Lives and Literature are in Crisis,” Mathew Neil Null notes that literature is centralized on the coasts:

“The Big Five publishing houses are located within a few subway stops of each other in Manhattan; that rich island which represents 0.000887 percent of our country’s surface. This is not benign. Our literary culture has distended and warped by focusing so much power in a singular place, by crowding the gatekeepers into a small ditch of commerce. A review in the Times trumps everything else. You can’t tell me that this doesn’t affect what is, finally, bound into books, marketed, and sold. Which designates what can be said and how one says it. Why do we cede American letters to a handful of corporations that exist on a single concrete patch?”

When I write, I’m thinking about this. I’m thinking of the local writers back home who are saying things too dangerous to publish. I’m thinking about the reader back home who will read my academic bio and automatically not trust me. I’m thinking about how I can be relevant and true to this reader’s experience. I strive for local accountability. I am lucky to work with a small, decentralized, independent publisher that understands my concerns, that understands small businesses, that understands that I’m not interested in sensationalizing my hometown for better sales. I hope to have my book launch in the parking lot of my family’s trucking motel.

AR: The final stanza in one poem, “The Motel Clerk’s Son Falls in Love While Buildings Fall,” features a poignant description of a midwestern town. You describe, “…a city where everything’s over, / where mothers yell at buildings to fall / already and stop complaining.” How would you analyze the deeper meaning of this stanza and how it connects to your collection overall regarding the Midwest?

APD: The line, as well as the collection, works against sentimentality. And celebrates language and impudence: the woman’s voice challenges gravity itself to hurry it up already.

This poem is from the first section of the book, which spans from the late 1970s to the mid-1980s: the collapse of industry in Youngstown and the years immediately following. My parent’s generation. In the poem, the lovers leave work at the motel and head to a rock show downtown. It’s Saturday night, they’re in love — they can’t be bothered. The generation before them can’t be bothered because many of them are the children of immigrants. The new city they came to is falling apart and they might have to uproot themselves and all they know? What’s new.

Ending a love poem with sarcasm is something I learned from the Yiddish poet Moyshe-Leyb Halpern — in a love poem to his wife, he produces perhaps the most romantic line in all of poetry: “You know precisely the kind of jerk [or schlimazel] I am.”

AR: Describe your ideal environment for writing. Do you have a certain place you write, a preferred medium (i.e. paper and pencil or computer), etc.?

APD: Fifteen years ago, only pencil and paper. Now, almost always on a computer. Mornings. Not at a desk. My work revolves around the seasons — since high school, I’ve saved my work in folders labeled “Spring,” Summer,” “Fall,” and “Winter.”

AR: You have described Line Study of a Motel Clerk as a collection “about losing, but losing in such a way that you end up preserving.” Can you expand a bit more on how you feel such opposite experiences can intertwine, especially in your collection?

APD: I said this in reference to my favorite poet, Charles Reznikoff. I think especially about his poem “Autobiography: Hollywood.” He’s living in California for work, and he notes that he prefers his home back in New York just as his father, no doubt, preferred his native Ukraine over New York. Both miss their homes, but in recalling their losses, Reznikoff commemorates the beloved places and reveals a bond between the generations: they long for place in the same manner, something no doubt influenced by millennia of Jews longing for Jerusalem. Loss is often communal — our families and communities teach us how to lose and how to hold on.

In my collection, I focus on what was lost across four generations of assimilation. One major loss was language — the oldest generation in my book mostly speaks Greek or Yiddish. Their children speak a mix, then my parent’s generation speak English with Greek and Yiddish markers, and then my generation can’t understand either language. I’m writing about the loss of my ancestral languages, but through writing about them, I’m preserving that line. And I’m preserving it in my own idiosyncratic, regional English. After all these years of teaching, I notice that I often use standard grammar and pronunciation even out of the classroom. I don’t recognize myself when I speak sometimes.

A significant portion of the book examines the intersections of Rust Belt culture and Jewish culture, and one thing both cultures have in common is this impulse to, at all costs, remember history and pass it down. I remember when I was about eight, and my class went to a field trip to the just-opened Youngstown Historical Center of Industry and Labor (aka “the steel museum”), and later that week, my wonderful Hebrew school teacher, who had a number on her arm, taught us graphically about the Holocaust. Never forget Youngstown was once great! Never forget what happened to your Jewish ancestors! It was drilled in. Our job was to be receptacles for the loss, a position that, if refused, can result in tremendous guilt. I think contemporary Rust Belt writers and Jewish writers approach our responsibility with a compromise — sure, we’ll remember, but we’ll complicate the remembering with recollection of all of the topics that got swept under the rug.

AR: What draws you to poetry as opposed to other writing styles? Are there any challenges in portraying certain ideas to the reader in the limited (and structured) space of a poem?

APD: I write (and read) fiction and nonfiction as well. I didn’t grow up with much exposure to poetry, but my I come from a family of storytellers and songwriters. And Bob Dylan fanatics! We also went to synagogue — it was very powerful to sing in Hebrew and Aramaic, languages that I didn’t understand. Pure rhythm.

In composing this collection, my biggest challenge was incorporating background history into the space of the poem. I resolved this by having my characters interact with history rather than relegating it to backstory. I also struggled with organization. I ended up roughly organizing the book by generation, but originally, the organization was thematic — labor, place, assimilation, gender. I value character development in poems, and I think my final organization stresses that.

AR: In an earlier essay for The Missouri Review, you mention that you were “raised to prioritize family, labor, and heritage.” To some extent, this seems to be a categorically midwestern set of ideals. How do you feel Line Study of a Motel Clerk reflects these midwestern priorities?

APD: These priorities are reflected from the title onward — the book is about the familial line of a motel worker.

As I discussed in the question regarding literary depictions of the Midwest, I think the Midwest is too wide-ranging to narrow it down to a set of ideals — at least not a set of ideals that is historically exclusive to the Midwest. In the Rust Belt, as with other economically-depressed areas, people naturally glorify the time period when their cities were populated, jobs were plenty, and their families felt secure. Yet glorification is always problematic — one of my favorite contemporary poems is Rochelle Hurt’s “In the Century of Research,” which takes a sardonic look at Youngstown’s regional obsession with family history.

Of “work, family, and heritage,” heritage is the topic I try to complicate the most in the collection. In school, we were always creating posters about our cultural heritage. Northeast Ohio summers are full of nonstop festivals celebrating ethnic heritage. My generation grew up with a strong sense that our families were not originally from America, and I was shocked when I found out many Americans didn’t feel this way. It wasn’t until I read Steeltown U.S.A.: Work and Memory in Youngstown and Divided We Stand: American Workers and the Struggle for Black Equality that I got a historic explanation — in the late-19th -early 20th century Youngstown, immigrants crossed the Atlantic to work in the steel mills and black workers came north during the Great Migration. With this influx of workers, mill owners needed strategies to maintain control. One way they did this was by segregating mill work by ethnicity and race to discourage immigrant workers from learning English. This was important because a common language would encourage the formation of unions across ethnic and racial lines. Groups couldn’t talk to each other and remained suspicious of each other, so neighborhoods also divided down ethnic and racial lines. In addition, generations of a family often lived together out of economic necessity and tradition — for example, my mother grew up sharing a room with her grandmother from Greece. So I think assimilation slowed down because 1) assimilation was discouraged from the top down as a way of controlling workers by divide-and-rule, and 2) new immigrants were poor and stuck together in order to survive. One lasting result of industrial culture is that I was raised to be very Greek American and Jewish.

A political message in my book is directed against Americans who care about their immigrant ancestors but now support anti-immigration policies. A message is also directed against people who don’t support the civil rights of people of color yet bitch about how their own ancestors were discriminated against or not considered “white.” So many people have and are fighting for racial and economic justice in Youngstown — they’re my heroes, and I hope my book contributes to their legacy.

AR: How do you begin your writing process and where do you find inspiration in the event of writer’s block? Do you have any particular advice for aspiring authors?

APD: The best writing advice I ever got was from a Paris Review interview with Philip Levine: “I always give the same advice. I say, Do it the hard way, and you’ll always feel good about yourself. You write because you have to, and you get this unbelievable satisfaction from doing it well. Try to live on that as long as you’re able. Don’t kiss anyone’s ass.”

His interview collections Don’t Ask and So Ask are invaluable to me — his outrage and humor. I was introduced to his work by his student and my teacher, Kathy Fagan Grandinetti.

More advice for aspiring authors: don’t feel like the only way to be a writer is to get an MFA. Or enter expensive poetry contests or attend expensive conferences. Getting an MFA is great, but there are so many wonderful, affordable community and online writing groups. Back home, Lit Youngstown, Pig Iron Press, Wick Poetry Center Outreach, and others are giving writers a place to share their work. Affordable, local, accessible, non-academic writing groups and publishers are vital for the health of American writing.

AR: What’s next for you?

APD: I just finished a novella, and I’m working on my second collection of poetry. Both are set in the Youngstown area and focus on women workers. The novella is narrated by a woman who works in a factory in the late 1970s and suddenly has to make a decision that might bring her happiness but hurt her family. I promised my mom I’d try to write a funny book, but this one unfortunately wasn’t it. The poems are about a group of opinionated girls who work at a Dairy Queen and are obsessed with an elusive Youngstown meteorologist. It’s a little sci-fi and way more lyric and voice-driven than the poems in the forthcoming book.

I’ve been warned that if I keep writing about the Youngstown area I’ll become a “regionalist,” but northeast Ohio is a universe. I could write about it my entire life and still not say all there is to say about it.

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Allison Pitinii Davis is the author of the chapbook Poppy Seeds (KSU Press, 2013) and the forthcoming collection Line Study of a Motel Clerk (Baobab Press, 2017). She received an MFA from Ohio State and fellowships from the Wallace Stegner Program at Stanford University and the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown. Her poem “The Heart of It All + A Free Beer” was selected for Best American Poetry 2016.

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Interview: Katie Chase

man and wifeMidwestern Gothic staffer Kristina Perkins talked with author Katie Chase about her collection Man and Wife, the puzzle-like short story, exaggerated realities and more.

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Kristina Perkins: What is your connection to the Midwest?

Katie Chase: It’s home. I grew up in a suburb of Detroit, and after graduating from the University of Michigan, lived in Chicago for a few years. Then I was in Iowa City, for my MFA and a while after. It wasn’t until the year that I turned thirty that I left for the West coast, which wasn’t exactly specifically selected, though I was interested in having the experience of living elsewhere. My parents are still in my childhood home, and I visit at least once a year and sometimes entertain coming back.

KP: You’ve lived in Portland, Oregon for the past six years. What is it like being a Midwesterner in Oregon? How has your understanding of the Midwest shifted overtime?

KC: I find myself drawn to a lot of other Midwesterners! There are plenty of us out here. Over time my sense of the Midwest as a region has become both more nuanced and more distinct. At the same time that I’m quick to go on the defensive against the common heartland/flyover-state stereotypes when I encounter them, I have become more cognizant of certain underlying shared traits that give me a great deal of comfort to come into contact with. Generally, where I live now feels much softer to me, in a way that the Midwest I knew never seemed and that I am skeptical of and resistant to.

KP: How has your relationship with the Midwest — and, specifically, Detroit — influenced your writing? In what ways do the stories in your debut book, Man and Wife, reflect this relationship?

KC: A lot of what I try to capture in Man and Wife has to do with that childhood experience of opening your eyes to the wider world, that disorientation of realizing that what you have taken for granted as normal is not necessarily so, nor is it all that meets the eye; there is a darker side, and there are other ways. The forces that shaped Detroit and its suburbs tell a complicated story about our country; as a city it’s tremendously unique, and might seem to some strange, yet it’s also in some sense America writ large. I’m absolutely interested in trying to get at that larger story in my work.

Man and Wife

KP: What about short story writing do you find most compelling? What does the space of the short story offer that other forms of writing do not? What challenges accompany that space?

KC: Not that I’m into actual puzzles, but what I love about short stories is that they are puzzlelike: I love that moment when the full picture begins to coalesce, I can start to see it whole, and the process becomes one of fitting in all the right-looking pieces within a confined space. With short stories, I can do all the things I love in writing: pursue an idea, develop a voice and an approach, create a mood and a world, and I can then move on; I don’t have to live there. The kind of premises I’ve been drawn to tend to do better in the short story form; in the longer, their impact might become more diluted, and with more space comes more pressure for explanation and backstory, which I’m not necessarily interested in providing. And I’m more interested in targeting those moments that life shifts for a character than in chronicling the fallout. In a short story, everything has to happen faster and more succinctly, which does mean that those twenty or so pages can take much longer to write than some other kind of twenty pages, and that I’m often in between stories, waiting for the next one to be ready.

KP: Your title story, “Man and Wife,” won a Pushcart Prize and was chosen for the Best American Short Stories anthology in 2008. How did this recognition affect your approach in putting together your first full collection — if at all?

KC: That recognition opened some doors and made it seem more possible to even pursue getting a collection published. It actually led first to an earlier collection that was more on the nose in terms of a unifying theme and was not published. Probably, it created some urgency to put one together before my material was really ready. This collection is more cohesive in voice, tone, and approach, but looser in its conceptions. That story is still the heart of the collection and what made the others in it creatively possible, but, ten years later and working with an independent press, I wasn’t really thinking about the commercial aspects and expectations that such recognition can be tied to.

KP: In Man and Wife, you write within a series of distorted, yet eerily familiar, alternative realities. In a recent interview with Oregon Public Broadcasting you discussed your approach to this surrealism, explaining that you purposefully “exaggerate a phenomenon [you] see as already existing” and “make it bigger, louder, and more literal.” Within these exaggerated realities, how do you navigate the relationship between the literal and the symbolic? How does humor inform this relationship?

KC: I try to treat these realities as matter-of-factly as I can, ground them in as much detail as seems necessary, so that they don’t feel merely symbolic or allegorical — though they always will to some extent. Much of my humor, in life and on the page, is conducted with a straight face (sometimes I know no better than someone else when I am being completely sincere and when ironic). I think humor is inherent in exaggeration, though so is horror, and once a premise is in place those effects will happen naturally in attending to the sentence level. To get specific with an example, in “Creation Story,” a struggling, Detroit-like city is being demolished — not just its abandoned buildings, not just to “right-size” it to something denser, but in entirety. I think the conversation of how (or whether) “to save the city” has turned, but anyone who’s followed it will know there was a time when that “solution,” to completely level it and start over, would be casually proposed as a half joke. And taken with the history of clearing “slums” for “revitalization,” taken with the idea that Detroit or any city could ever or should ever be treated by young artists or anyone as a blank slate, without a complex history, that joke, like any joke, is revealed as dealing in some uncomfortable actualities. (*steps off soapbox*)

KP: Who is your favorite contemporary author, and how have they influenced your style?

KC: If I have to pick a single favorite, it would be Alice Munro, but I wouldn’t say she has influenced my style. She has influenced my subject, as she is so unabashedly concerned with the female experience, and a certain type of female at that. I admire that, and her dedication to the short story, and how she seemingly ceaselessly mines to great success the same territory, both in terms of setting and in situation and character. For style, I would point more to people like Kevin Brockmeier, Judy Budnitz, and George Saunders, who work more imaginatively at the intersections of genre.

KP: What’s one thing you wish you had known when you first began writing?

KC: All the things I heard have turned out to be true, that it’s a difficult path requiring grit and discipline and patience and luck as much as talent and passion and won’t make you much, if any, money. I do wish I had taken more seriously the necessity of establishing a concurrent career/more enjoyable, reliable way to make rent, but there’s still time for that and I don’t really regret the focus and experiences that ignoring that necessity has allowed me.

KP: What’s next for you?

KC: I will keep writing! I have hopes that the universe would allow me a second collection of stories and also that I might find myself writing something that turns out to require the longer form. Mostly, because I want to give myself new challenges and not simply repeat what has worked well enough in the past, I’m allowing myself to play around — have flings, rather than too quickly declare a commitment to a specific project.

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Katie Chase is the author of the story collection Man and Wife (A Strange Object). Her fiction has appeared in such publications as the Missouri Review, Narrative, ZYZZYVA, Prairie Schooner, Mississippi Review, and the Best American Short Stories and Pushcart Prize anthologies. A graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, she was the recipient of a Teaching-Writing Fellowship, a Provost’s Postgraduate Writing Fellowship, and a Michener-Copernicus Award. She has also been a fellow of the MacDowell Colony and the Center for Steinbeck Studies at San José State University. Born and raised outside Detroit, Michigan, she lives currently in Portland, Oregon.

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Contributor Spotlight: Christina Robertson 2/21

Christina Robertson’s story “Everything Instinct” appears in Midwestern Gothic‘s Winter 2017 issue, out now.

What’s your connection to the Midwest, and how has the region influenced your writing?

I grew up in the city, Chicago, lived within its patchwork of ethnic and evolving neighborhoods, drank of its cultural offerings, sat silently upon rocks and cured myself of my ills gazing out at the astonishing lake. Like most city dwellers, I also sought escape. Even if that was only in the form of keeping an eye on the bird’s nest in the yew bush outside my apartment building.

What do you think is the most compelling aspect of the Midwest?

I respond to the extremity of, and amazing force the change of seasons has upon us here. Summer is hot and draws everyone to the water, fall is an unpredictable tumble of leaves and days, winter is harsh and beautiful. The snow is blue at twilight. We ski in parking lots. We bake and get fat. Spring, well, it’s turmoil…Spring means after the storms you really have to stop what else you’re doing to pay attention or you will miss the show.

How do your experiences or memories of specific places—such as where you grew up, or a place you’ve visited that you can’t get out of your head—play a role in your writing?

My parents only took two vacations (as opposed to family visits) when I was a child. Both times we drove to the northern tip of the UP Michigan, near Copper Harbor. It was very remote and unpopulated at the time and I spent my days reading, writing, and collecting stones. Its moody beauty, the coexistence of the almost prehistorically harsh landscape, the bitter cold, gunmetal gray lake water, the intoxicating pine scent of the woods and its delicate birdsong were inspiring. I have always been fascinated by Nature and its terrible beauty, even as it exists within people.

Discuss your writing process — inspirations, ideal environments, how you deal with writer’s block.

I think when I start building up connections in my head, things, people, ideas, questions, I know that they are clamoring to become something—a story, a sculpture with words. I’m often not sure how I’m going to connect everything on the page so the story takes shape as something relatable. That is the part of the process that takes the most time for me. When the essence emerges from the images and characters I am working with, I know I have something. I write in a small corner of a small room in our house, far from my ideal environment, but it is papered with words and images that I love. I often cure writers block by moving. I walk, I move furniture around. I sometimes write notes and letters at the coffee shop or in the car parked at the shore of Lake Michigan. I write initial drafts in longhand. I feel intimately connected to my characters that way.

How can you tell when a piece of writing is finished?

As every writer would say, it is never quite finished, not by our ever changing standards. We read someone else’s work, someone we love, and all of a sudden our own creation seems lacking, needs tweaking again, whatever. I think evaluation of one’s own work is kind of intuitive. You can cover all the structural bases, etc., but just like you would know your child, you know when you have the story the way you want it, or if it needs something else. In this way it is always, finally, a subjective assessment.

Who is your favorite author (fiction writer or poet), and what draws you to their work?

This is always a hard question. I love Barbara Kingsolver for the true hearts of her characters and accuracy with which she portrays the intersection between the everyday and the spiritual. I love Joe Meno for the same reasons, though their styles are so different. I love the voice, humor and heartbreak of Junot Diaz. I find Colum McCann wildly talented on so many levels. Just his rhythm, poetry and grit leave me speechless. And I am quite moved by the devotion in Mary Oliver’s early poetry.

What’s next for you?

I have a teen/ YA novel that needs a home. It had been accepted for publication with an independent press that, after sending their first round of editorial notes, suddenly folded (and broke my heart). I am now in the midst of searching for representation. I am also working on several other short stories, one influenced by a place I visited, Washington D.C., on an unending, unforgiving summer day.

Where can we find more information about you?

I am, for better or worse, a pretty private person. No website or twitter account. I try to give my best energy to my work, as it is my offspring. I cherish the opportunities I get to make it better. I can be reached for conversation at crobertsonlit@gmail.com.

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Behind the Cover – Winter 2017 issue: Romina Lutz

Romina Lutz, whose artwork “Keeper of the Lights” graces the cover of the Winter 2017 issue of Midwestern Gothic, was kind enough to chat with us about the piece and what it means to her.

Romina: No matter how much effort human mankind puts into the exploration of mother earth’s wonders, nature will always remain the greatest and most beautiful mystery we have the fortune to live in. It teaches us dreamy magic that we will never be capable of understanding. Conclusion: Respecting mother nature reveals her greatest gift: To keep our days alight.

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Romina Lutz aka “Schwebewesen” is a digital artist who creates surrealistic and dreamy vector art. Her interests are traveling, books, music, taking pictures, cycling and savoring life. You can buy Schwebewesen art prints and various products through her website ► www.romina-lutz.at or follow her on social media:
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Midwest in Photos: Schalpp Road

“It was early, and the sun rising over the low flat-iron buildings on the main stretch plated the signs and street in gold and reflected in our eyes, and each time we passed into the shadow of some taller building it was a relief.” – Bridget Apfeld, “Black River Woman,” Midwestern Gothic Issue 22.

Photo by: David S. Rubenstein

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Winter 2017 issue is on sale now!

2017 is shaping up to be an exciting year for us at MG—first and foremost, we’ve switched the journal to a bi-annual publication (submission are open now for our Summer 2017 issue!), and we are thrilled to announce that the Winter 2017 issue is here!

With gorgeous cover art by Romina Lutz, and a stellar new cover design by Jeremy Bronaugh, we couldn’t be happier with how this issue turned out.

If that weren’t enough, the winners of the 2017 Lake Prize for fiction and poetry can also be found within this issue.

The Winter 2017 issue is available in paperback ($12) and eBook formats ($3.99), including Kindle, iPad, Nook, and PDF. Pick up a copy

The Winter 2017 issue contains fiction from: Cailin Ashbaugh, Tyler Barton, Dan Giloth, Steph Kilen, Elsa Nekola, Amy C. Rea, Ron Rindo, Christina Robertson, Kelsey Ronan, Rebecca Saltzman, Ryan Schnurr, and Mary Kate Varnau.

And poetry from: Jason Arment, Kimberly Grabowski, Janis Harrington, Steve Henn, Anita Olivia Koester, Catherine Kyle, Stephen S. Mills, Norman Minnick, Elizabeth O’Brien, Iliana Rocha, James Tolan,Brew Wilson-Battles, Orey Wilson Dayne, and Robert Young.

And nonfiction from: Adam Carter, Jessica Kashiwabara, Joanne Nelson, Zhanna Slor, and Kaj Tanaka.

Plus photography by: Dallas Crow, David McCleery, Mark Myavec, and David S. Rubenstein.

Shop for the Midwestern Gothic Winter 2017 issue

Or subscribe and save up to 33%!

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Interview: Brit Bennett

brit bennettMidwestern Gothic staffer Megan Valley talked with author Brit Bennett about The Mothers, writing about the complex and emotional issue of abortion, beginning with a question, and more.

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Megan Valley: What’s your connection to the Midwest?

Brit Bennett: I lived in Ann Arbor for three years while completing my MFA in fiction at the University of Michigan

MV: The Mothers opens with Nadia’s abortion, something that most stories about pregnant young women use as a tragic plot point or ignore completely. What did you want to do differently with the subject?

BB: I didn’t want to write the story where a woman has an abortion and it destroys her. Aside from the fact that it seems unrepresentative of many women’s experiences, it’s also a familiar and manipulative storyline. At the same time, in fiction, a character’s decisions have to carry weight — otherwise, what’s the point? — so I knew this would have to be a choice Nadia continues to think and feely deeply about throughout the book. Writing the book became a balancing act between those two poles. From a political perspective, I wanted to explore this topic with nuance often missing from our public debates, and from a craft perspective, I wanted characters to have complex emotional reactions to what is a complex, emotional issue.

MV: What do you read in between your writing projects?

BB: I try to read a mix of non-fiction and fiction all the time. A few novels that were important to me while I wrote The Mothers: Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Bastard Out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison, Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward, and Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison.

MV: You began writing The Mothers as an undergraduate at Stanford, continuing to rework it as an MFA student at the University of Michigan. How did you develop as a writer alongside your work?

BB: I learned a lot of practical skills, like how to integrate summary and scene, how to raise narrative stakes, how to revise. But beyond that, I grew up as a person, so I learned how to be more patient with myself and my work, how to receive criticism and still remain confident in my own vision for my book.

MV: While The Mothers is your first novel, you’ve written several nonfiction essays, which have been published on Jezebel and for The Paris Review; do you take a different approach to writing online than you do for a piece of fiction?

BB: I try to approach both mediums with big questions and expanding empathy. I think online writing is generally more immediate, so there’s often more pressure with deadlines to finish a piece quickly. Fiction is a slower process for me. Also, non-fiction writing often requires me to be more blatant with my line of thought where fiction allows me to be a bit subtler.

MV: What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received about writing?

BB: An MFA professor used to tell us, always start with a question. Beginning with a question gives your writing focus — it directs you toward what the writing is ‘about’. Beyond that, your writing opens up when you approach it as a question you want to explore, rather than a statement you want to make or an argument you want to prove.

MV: At Midwestern Gothic, we’re especially concerned with how place and setting shape a story; how is the setting, southern California, important to The Mothers?

BB: The Mothers is set in Oceanside, which is a beach town and a military town. In a military town, people come and go all the time, so community becomes an important and fragile thing. I think The Mothers is about the value of these communities, their benefits and their limitations as safe havens. Beyond that, Southern California can be a beautiful yet dangerous place. On one hand, you have this coastal beauty, but on the other hand, there’s the constant threat of wildfire. I think that tension — a hidden danger lying beneath a veneer of safety—plays out within the relationships in the novel.

MV: Which writers have most influenced your style?

BB: Probably Toni Morrison and James Baldwin. Both writers who have produced incredible fiction and non-fiction, and writers who explore big questions with beautiful language.

MV: What’s next for you?

BB: I just started a new novel, and hopefully I’ll work on more essays in the future

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Brit Bennett earned her MFA in fiction at the University of Michigan, where she won a Hopwood Award as well as a Hurston/Wright Award for College Writers. She is a National Book Foundation “5 under 35” honoree. Her essays are featured in The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, The Paris Review, and Jezebel, and her debut novel The Mothers is out from Riverhead Books.

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Midwest in Photos: Mares Tailes and Chemtrails

“Stuff your eyes with wonder, he said, live as if you’d drop dead in ten seconds. See the world. It’s more fantastic than any dream made or paid for in factories.” – Ray Bradbury, Farenheit 451.

Photo by: Kevin Yuskis

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