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15 March
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MPW Goes to AWP Boston

 IMG_0085

Last week MPW trekked through snow and ice for 2013 AWP Boston in Back Bay. The Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) Conference can be a daunting experience with hundreds of panels on every conceivable topic and with over 10,000 attendees from across the country. Fortunately, the MPW contingent braved these wee temperatures and massive hoards with wide-eyed grace and good humor.

Dinah IMG_0224For one, Dinah Lenney (right) led a passionate panel on “Why Genre Matters” with panelists Sven Birkerts, Judith Kitchen, David Biespiel, and Scott Nadelson. Do labels like nonfiction and fiction help or inhibit the writer? The arguments for genre’s persuasions were equally as brilliant as those for its perils. While some in the audience clearly had a horse in the race (at one point an “Amen” was uttered), everyone agreed that it was the vital and intelligent discussion about why genre matters that truly mattered.

We asked MPW students to describe their experience at AWP Boston. Here’s what they wrote:

Caron Tate IMG_0194

All I have to say about the AWP experience is: Everybody in the program you HAVE TO go. Find a way. Whatever you want to do with your writing, there are lectures,workshops, and presentations on it, and the discussions, hanging out, and crazy fun with your classmates is the best EVER!\

 

Trisha Chambers (right)IMG_0193

Had an amazing time with MPW classmates @ AWP! Here are my favorite quotes.
Richard Russo: “Writing is an exercise in empathy. To write is to become more generous.” Benjamin Percy on writing about werewolves and non-werewolves: “All my characters are hairy on the inside.” Cheryl Strayed: “Your book has a birthday. You just don’t know what it is yet.”

 

 Sharon Sim-KrauseIMG_0366

I received a delightful snow confetti welcome the moment I strolled out of the Logan airport. I was transported from familiar LA to refreshing Boston, eagerly taking in jolts of inspiration from writers and muses, and basking in the soothing company of fellow MPWers.   My most memorable quote and reminder on why we write came from Richard Russo: “Writing is an exercise in empathy. To write is to become more generous. To be my best self is to write.” Thank you MPW and AWP for this invaluable opportunity!

Lauren NelsonLauren IMG_0190

AWP is the most useful, enjoyable, and grounding experience I’ve had this year. My favorite panel was “How to get your first university teaching job,” and it was great hearing Don DeLillo speak.

 

Kelsey NolanIMG_0329 (center)

Knowing that there were over six hundred booths at the AWP book fair was, quite honestly intimidating. How could I ever know what to go see, or who to talk to? Walking in was, all at once, overwhelming and compelling. The buzz made me feel welcome–like I was supposed to be there. I wanted to meet everyone there, submit to every literary journal, and buy every book. I could have spent an entire day in there and still not exhausted it. The whole conference felt that way, really, it was incredible.

Susannah LuthiIMG_0183

Highlights were meeting one of the writers we published in SCR (Erika Wurth). She presented on a panel on Native American writing and came by our booth. Thrilled she sent us her work. Dinner with the MPW crew. Hearing about Connu (my start up) second hand. Figuring out the framing/ending of my novel thanks to Don DeLillo’s panel. Watching Matt in action 87 percent of the time. Connecting with the friends from Skidmore and seeing progress they’ve made–one lit journal, Unstuck, in its second year, a novel done, a few stories published, and a new women’s lit journal started. They are incredible. Ron Carlson’s flash lit panel. Seeing Anne Carson.

Matt AckelsIMG_0220

AWP provided all the twist and turns of a good novel. I met quite a few characters, some wacky, some endearing, and most memorable. I learned things about my life in the broader context of our world, about my place in the greater literary community. Through the countless panels, I gleaned insights into writing and the craft. Of course, there were moments of daunting plot twists (running out of journals too soon), intimidating landscape (the thousand member book fair), and unwitting heroism (free cupcakes from Howard). Ultimately, this experience sharpened me as a writer, thinker, and, most directly, as a citizen of the wider literary community.

And here are those cupcakes!IMG_0353

03 February
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Free Palm Readings at AWP!

Here’s what’s going on with MPW at the 2011 AWP Conference in pictures:

Yes, you read the sign correctly. Free Palm Readings at the MPW table today (Friday, Feb. 4) at 11 AM.

Above, poet/palmist Katie Peterson (right) is reading the palm of Brighde Mullins. What is Brighde learning about herself from this ancient art? Come on by and find out!

Dinah Lenney packed them in for a sequel (or remake?) of her Faith and the Writer panel, which premiered at USC last November 1st. It was a hit then, and it was a hit yesterday, attracting a standing-room only crowd. Dinah had all-new panelists, which included one MPWer, M.G. Lord (second from the right below).

Friday at the MPW table includes appearances by Prince Gomolvilas (above left) who will conduct the Free Raffle giveaway at 12:30 pm, and also poet and MPW alum Millicent Borges Accardi, who is slated to sign her books at 3:00 pm.

And once again, the MPW Table is located at G47 in Exhibition Hall A. See you there!

12 October
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Of Chimps and Men: Faith and the Writer Panel (November 1)

At least two things I love about Facebook:

First, Scrabble.

And second, posts from author Dinty Moore, who edits Brevity, an online journal for readers and writers of short nonfiction and whose quotes about writing and the writing life inspire, reassure, delight, and amuse, like this one, offered up a few weeks ago, from Donald Barthelme:

The aim of literature…is the creation of a strange object covered with fur which breaks your heart.

Which called to mind a talk I recently attended at USC, part of a lunchtime series called “What Matters to Me & Why,” featuring Justin Wood from the Psychology Department, on the docket for an MPW panel Monday, November 1, with Heather King, Eric Lax, Mark Salzman, and Wood himself; three writers and a scientist talking to each other (and to us, I hope) about whether or not we’re hard-wired to be mindful. Is it mindfulness that inspires us to write? Or writing that inspires mindfulness? “Divine dissatisfaction” is how Martha Graham described the artist’s feelings about his or her work; as if a creative calling were tantamount to religion.

But back to Professor Wood: though I’d asked him to sit on the panel, I hadn’t actually met him, so off I went to hear him talk about “the social systems that allow humans and animals to make inferences about each others’ goals, intentions, beliefs, and desires.” And what a great talk it was, since he’s done a whole lot of research with monkeys and chimps, and had the footage to show for it. Funny and touching to watch the primates interact; and fascinating to learn that they are reverent of the dead; that the roots of our cross-cultural preoccupation with afterlife are evident in a species from whom we humans split off some 20,000,000 years ago. Wood pointed out, too, that monkeys, like people, are predisposed to cooperate. To prove it he played a video of a man dropping a tool and pretending he couldn’t reach to pick it up, until a helpful chimp jumped down from a table to retrieve it for him. Next came a sequence with a human toddler, similarly willing to help a grown up friend without being asked. No doubt in my mind, before or after, that people and chimps are related, but I found myself wondering: Is this proof that both species are cooperative? Or was this only a particularly nice chimp? A good-natured (and possibly brighter-than-average) baby? And what if everyone were nice and good-natured all the time? What if things didn’t occasionally go wrong? What if, for instance, we didn’t have to live from the get-go with the knowledge that we’ll eventually die? (Talk about wrong.) Never mind cooperation: Would we need faith? Would we need art? Is it, perhaps, the fact that we know we don’t live forever that determines our behavior, good or bad? And is that why human beings look for meaning? Does that explain our struggle to understand what we’re supposed to do while we’re here, and why? Does our cognizance of our own mortality account for religion? Or creativity? Or both?

Maybe so, maybe not — either way Barthelme was definitely on to something. Here we are, we humans, obsessively driven to figure things out, relentlessly focused on getting it right (whatever it is); meanwhile, Justin Wood’s chimps had a whole audience of us alternately laughing and crying–strange, covered with fur, breaking our hearts–and they made it look easy.

USC College of Letters, Arts & Sciences and the
USC Master of Professional Writing Program present

FAITH AND THE WRITER: INSPIRATION AND PRACTICE

Panel Discussion and Q&A, Followed by a Reception

Featuring:

Heather King (Redeemed; Marginal Sanity)

Eric Lax (Faith, Interrupted: A Spiritual Journey)

Mark Salzman (Lying Awake; Iron and Silk)

Justin Wood (USC Department of Psychology)

Moderated by:

Dinah Lenney, Lecturer in the Master of Professional Writing Program; author of Bigger than Life: A Murder, a Memoir

———-

Monday, November 1, 2010 @ 7:00PM

University of Southern California
Doheny Library, Intellectual Commons
3550 Trousdale Pkwy
Los Angeles, California 90089

Admission: Free and Open to the Public
Please RSVP by e-mail: mpw@dornsife-blogs.usc.edu
Or on Facebook:
http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=166436020034242

$8 parking available at USC’s Parking Structure X (Gate #3)

For directions and parking information:
http://www.usc.edu/about/visit/upc/driving_directions/admission_center.html

For a USC campus map:
http://www.usc.edu/assets/maps/upc_map.pdf

For more information about USC’s Master of Professional Writing Program: http://www.usc.edu/mpw

11 September
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Eminem on Writer’s Block

Riffing off of Dinah Lenney’s recent post about the agony and ecstasy of the creative process, I’d like to put in my two cents…or three.

I have said more than once in public that one of the greatest primers on a life in the arts that I have ever encountered is The Muppets Take Manhattan, that rousing and astute third Muppet movie in which Kermit and friends pursue their Broadway dreams. I mean, I suppose I could trumpet the virtues of The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron or The War of Art by Steven Pressfield, but that’s so predictable.

However, this post isn’t about The Muppets Take Manhattan—I’ll get into that some other time. This post is about that other great primer on a life in the arts, 8 Mile, which was written by Scott Silver, directed by Curtis Hanson, and inspired by and starring Eminem. I’m serious. But I’m not going to get into this movie either.

I simply want to point you in the direction to a song on the soundtrack, “Rabbit, Run” (perhaps inspired by John Updike?), which is a terrifically insightful depiction of what writer’s block is like and how fighting it is a frustrating task—especially when you’re on deadline. And despite how you might feel about Eminem, this track is yet another excellent showcase for his lyrical virtuosity. (And where else have you ever heard a song about writer’s block?) Listen to it below [NSFW—there are a few swear words] and/or read the lyrics—is this how you wrestle with your own creative process? It’s certainly how I wrestle with mine—except I swear a whole hell of a lot more. Listen:


[Video Link]

Rabbit, Run
by Eminem

Some days I just wanna up and call it quits
I feel like I’m surrounded by a wall of bricks
Every time I go to get up I just fall in pits
My life’s like one great big ball of shit
If I could just put it all in to all I spit
‘Stead I always try an’ swallow it
Instead of staring at this wall and shit
While I sit, writer’s block, sick of all this shit
Can’t call it shit
All I know is I’m about to hit the wall
If I have to see another one of Mom’s alcoholic fits
This is it, last straw, that’s all, that’s it
I ain’t dealin’ widdanother fuckin’ politic
I’m like a skillet bubblin’ until it filters up
I’m about to kill it, I can feel it buildin’ up
Blow this buildin’ up, I’ve concealed enough
My cup runneth over, I done filled it up
The pen explodes ‘n’ busts, ink spills my guts
You’d think all I do is stand here and feel my nuts
Well I’ma show you what, you gon’ feel my rush
You don’t feel it, then it must be too real to touch
Peel the dutch, I’m about to tear shit up
Goosebumps, yeah, I’ma make ya hair sit up
Yeah, sit up, I’ma tell ya who I be
I’ma make you hate me, ’cause you ain’t me
You wait, it ain’t too late to finally see
What you close-minded fucks were too blind to see
Whoever finds me’s gonna get a finder’s fee
Out this world, ain’t no one out they mind as me
You need peace of mind, here’s a piece of mine
All I need’s a line but sometimes
I don’t always find the words ta rhyme
To express how I’m really feelin’ at that time
Yeah sometimes, sometimes, sometimes, just sometimes
It’s always me, how dark can these hallways be?
The clock strikes midnight, 1, 2, then half-past 3
This half-assed rhyme with this half-assed piece a’ paper
I’m desperate at my desk if I could just get the rest
Of this shit off my chest, again, stuck in this slump
Can’t think of nothing, fuck, I’m stumped
But wait here comes something
Nope, it’s not good enough, scribble it out, new pad
Crinkle it up ‘n throw that shit out
I’m fizzlin’ now, thought I figured it out
Ball’s in my court but I’m scared to dribble it out
I’m afraid, but why am I afraid, why am I a slave to this trade
Cyanide I’ll spit to the grave, real enough to rile you up
Want me to flip it I can rip it any style you want
I’m a switch-hitter, bitch, Jimmy Smith ain’t a quitter
I’m a sit here ’til I get enough
For me to finally hit a fuckin’ boilin’ point
Put some oil in ya joints
Flip the coin, bitch, come get destroyed
An MC’s worst dream, I make ‘em tense they hate me
See me and shake like a chain-link fence
By the looks of ‘em you would swear that Jaws was comin’
By the screams of ‘em you would swear I’m sawing someone
By the way they running you would swear the law was comin’
It’s now or never and tonight it’s all or nothin’
“Momma, Jimmy keeps leavin’ on us, he said he’d be back
He pinky promised, I don’t think he’s honest”
I be back baby, I just got to beat this clock
Fuck this clock, I’ma make ‘em eat this watch
Don’t believe me watch, I’ma win this race
And I’ma come back and rub my shit in ya face
Bitch, I found my niche, you gon’ hear my voice
‘Til you sick of it, you ain’t gonna have a choice
If I gotta scream ’til I have half a lung
If I have half a chance I grab it, Rabbit, run