A Flash Non-Fiction about Creative Writing

Creative Writing major Cecelia Westbrook describes how she found the right form.

When I declared my Creative Writing major in the fall of 2014, I considered myself a poet and nothing but a poet.

As an incoming freshman, I didn’t have much experience under my pencil. I had taken one creative writing class in high school, and enjoyed the poetry section the most. I even went out of my way to write extra poems, which made my final project grade 115/100.

Cecelia at the  launch party for Tributaries, containing her first publication, the essay “All Babies are Ugly, Except for Me (Just Ask My Uncle).” Top, Cecelia and friends with poet Kaveh Akbar.

If that is what it takes to be considered a “poet,” then I, in fact, was a poet.

Here at BSU, my English 285 class, which is the introductory creative writing course, spent a few weeks on each genre. This was my first exposure to creative non-fiction, which, it seemed to me, was basically taking experiences from your own life and writing them down for other people to read (possibly.) I didn’t know what to do with it. I don’t remember much about what I wrote for this specific course, but I do remember thinking, Can I go back to writing angsty poetry now please?

Then I took a fiction class. Yikes. I had never even considered writing a story, but here I was in this class. When I was assigned the longer piece of the semester, I found myself writing non-fiction, and then changing the details, such as names, places, and ages. When it was workshopped, I was surprised by the positive comments people made on my “fiction.” Well, maybe I should try non-fiction again.

So I did. I took a creative non-fiction class, and fell in love immediately. I finally felt like I had a way to write about emotions and experiences from the past, and still be able to reflect on them in the present. I could capture the rawness that came with life, while being able to section, braid, and form my stories. I could be as lyrical or as dry as I wanted. I could be sarcastic, humorous, serious, or melancholy; I could make my story whatever I wanted to make it. After all, I was writing about my life.

I was taking a poetry class in the same semester as the creative non-fiction class. I could see my separate writing styles for the separate genres begin to blend together. My poetry became more personal in some cases, and my non-fiction was starting to experiment with more distant points of view, like an outsider looking in. As I was realizing this shift in my writing, I also began thinking, I really wish there was a genre that combines poetry and non-fiction.

And then I took my special topics class, and the theme of the course was lyric prose (cue the angels singing). I loved writing poetry and I loved writing non-fiction, but my heart was not ready for the impact and empowerment I felt from lyric prose writing. Where have you been all my life? The lyric prose genre is like the free verse of prose. The author of lyric prose has complete agency over every aspect of the piece. There is no formula, unlike a genre such as fantasy or dystopia-based realities. It was love at first workshop.  For one assignment in this class, I chose a broad topic, “divide,” and wrote unrelated paragraphs, sentences, fragments and words about that topic, and pieced it all together. I wrote about division as a mathematical process, the Ed Sheeran album Divide, and the division between people in my life.

For a different assignment, I used a more poetic format for a more sensitive topic. The assignment was to write from a perspective completely different from our own, so I chose to write from the perspective of an abusive ex-lover. I left words on their own lines, I had a “chorus” stanza that I repeated throughout for emphasis and rhythm, and I played around with italics, bolding, and spacing of words and letters. One of the last pieces I wrote in this class was later edited and accepted for publication. To me, writing lyric prose felt comfortably challenging; the possibilities in this genre are endless, the boundaries entirely of the writer’s making.

As I reflect back on my nearly eight semesters here, I can see my growth not only as a creative writer, but also as a person. Pushing myself outside of my comfort zone led to me understanding myself more deeply. Am I still a poet? Or am I a creative non-fiction writer? Who even told me I only had to be one type of writer anyway? Now, I consider myself a writer. And that’s it. I may know my strengths, my weaknesses, and my preferred genres, but I am still learning and growing every day.

Dead Shakespeare Society Reading Friday

Three years ago, a small group of undergraduates banded together with me to adapt and reduce Shakespeare’s Macbeth for a performance in celebration of the 400th anniversary of the playwright’s death (April 23, 1616). We joined students from the Spanish Department and Professor Stephen Hesselm as it was also the 400th anniversary of Cervantes’s death. They translated a Cervantes play for their portion of the evening; my group produced a dramatic reading, complete with audience participation, to a lovely crowd at the Kennedy Public Library. The event was a success and several of my students decided this should become an annual event. We dubbed ourselves the Dead Shakespeare Society, and this week we are preparing for our third-annual dramatic reading.

The group has expanded to include undergraduates, graduate students, and alumni from various Ball State departments. Each year, a devoted crew works tirelessly to reduce our chosen Shakespeare play to an hour or less. The actors, with the exception of a few lead roles, take on multiple characters. This year, we once again join forces with the Spanish Department to present a night of Renaissance drama titled “Calderón & Shakespeare: Dreams & Nightmares.” The Spanish Department undergraduates are presenting their translation of Pedro Calderón’s La vida es sueno/Life is a dream (1635) and the Dead Shakespeare Society will be reading our reduced version of Richard III. Together we will serve up dramas that ask you to reflect on power structures, history, propaganda, fitness to rule, and fake news—the stuff of dreams and nightmares! The performances will be held from 5-7 p.m. this Friday at the Kennedy Public Library. All ages are welcome.

–Dr. Vanessa Rapatz

Kaveh Akbar shares songs of recovery and rediscovery

Akbar speaks to students during book-signing after his reading. Photo by Prof. Mark Neely.

One of the most celebrated young poets on the scene visited Ball State this week. Kaveh Akbar, a professor at Purdue University and author of the poetry collection Calling A Wolf A Wolf, read from his book and from some new work before a large, rapt crowd in a tightly-packed AJ 175 on Tuesday, April 10.

In Calling a Wolf a Wolf, published by Alice James Books in 2017, Akbar explores himself, inside and outside, the mind, and ideas of religion, recovery, and rediscovery. Akbar is open about this collection being a recovery narrative, and the poems invite readers to experience the recovery with him.

On his visit, in addition to reading from the book and from new work in progress (including a poem written Tuesday morning!), Akbar shared personal stories and lingered for more than an hour talking with students and signing books. The line for autographs and hugs stretched outside the lecture hall.

Akbar’s poems have appeared in The New Yorker, Poetry, The New York Times, The Nation, Tin House, Best American Poetry 2018, The New Republic, The Guardian, Ploughshares, Georgia Review, PBS NewsHour, Harvard Review, American Poetry Review, Narrative, The Poetry Review, AGNI, New England Review, A Public Space, Prairie Schooner, Virginia Quarterly Review, Poetry International, Best New Poets 2016, Boston Review, and elsewhere. Akbar founded and edits Divedapper, a home for interviews with the most vital voices in contemporary poetry.

 

Skills in the city, or how I discovered my career path in the Big Apple

Natali Cavanagh is a senior creative writing major. Last semester, she ventured to New York to do two publishing internships as part of the NY Arts Program.  After graduation, she will be working as a publicity and marketing intern for Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. In this guest post, she describes her work at a journal and a literary agency and talks about how the skills she learned in English classes came to life in this jobs.

My junior year, I, like many of my peers, was wondering where my English degree would take me and what I would pursue after college. I knew I liked books and I enjoyed reading, analyzing, and interacting with stories, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to be a writer or teach English. In Cathy Day’s Novel Writing class, though, we learned a little bit about how the book publishing industry worked and the process a manuscript goes from beginning to end; the more I learned, the more I wanted to know! So last semester, I went to New York through the NY Arts Program and was offered 2 dream positions: working as a social media intern for Guernica literary magazine (which has published pieces by some of my favorite authors like Roxane Gay, Rebecca Solnit, and Zadie Smith!) and an editorial intern at Writers House literary agency (who also represent some of my favorite authors like John Green, Grace Lin, Ingrid Law, and Neil Gaiman!).

At Guernica, my primary job was to help build social media presence. On a daily level, I made Tweets and Facebook posts to promote pieces from the magazine (new and old); for long term projects, I worked toward making materials (like cultural calendars and workflow templates) that will continue to help the staff long after my time with them. Even though the internship was predominantly remote, the staff meetings were always so much fun; listening to all the fascinating and exciting new projects people were writing, helping create and plan for a new special topic issue (Deserts!), and having the opportunity to work with so many engaging and intelligent people was invigorating.

At Writers House, I worked under Senior Agent Dan Lazar and his Assistant/Junior Agent Torie Doherty-Munro. As an editorial intern, my main job was to read submitted manuscripts and provide editorial feedback: every day when I came in to work, Torie would send me a few partials (a 50-100 page section of a manuscript) and I would tell her whether or not I’d be interested in continuing to read/accepting the manuscript, what was working, and what potentially needed to be changed. Both Dan and Torie represent primarily Children’s/Young Adult books, but I read everything from short, middle-grade manuscripts to contemporary adult, realistic and historical fiction, speculative fiction, and fantasy. Every day I was reading something different! My favorite projects to work on, though, were always manuscripts that I got a chance to see evolve; seeing a manuscript improve after helping give editorial feedback was so gratifying and worthwhile.

I was lucky to be at two places that really encouraged growth and hands-on participation. At Guernica, I was writing and composing social media content every day, interacting and engaging with their online community. At Writers House, I felt that my editorial feedback was valued and that the work I was doing to help bring manuscripts to life was really helping the authors and agents I was aiding. And ultimately, I used every skill that I learned through my English classes: understanding craft and story structure, analyzing character and audience, writing in various styles (for a social media audience, for an individual author, for an agent…), being able to communicate my ideas clearly and concisely. Overall, I’m so grateful for my time in New York, not only for giving me an insider look into the industry I want to be a part of, but also for the opportunity to collaborate, play, and experiment with skills I’ll use for the rest of my professional life.

 

 

Originally written by Natali Cavanagh

Immersive Opportunities: Gain Hands-On Experience!

Are you wondering how you can get more involved in the department? Do you want to spice up your class schedule next year? Consider one of our many immersive learning classes! Immersive learning courses provide students with hands-on, real-world experience in their field of interest.

Previous courses have included Storytelling and Social Justice, where students published a book of true stories from community members to make poverty in Delaware County more visible, and Creative Writing in the Community, where students taught writing techniques to young writers in Muncie and published a collaborative anthology.

Fall 2018 English Immersive Learning Courses:

ENG 400: Book Arts Collaborative

This community letterpress and book bindery is located in the MadJax Building in downtown Muncie. Students learn to set type and hand-bind books, and each has the opportunity to become a student manager, where they’ll learn the ins and outs of business through collaboration with community partners. To learn more, contact Prof. Rai Peterson at rai@bsu.edu.

ENG 299X: Jacket Copy Creative

Students staff this in-house marketing agency for the English Department. They manage the department’s social media accounts, blog, and annual newsletter. Students learn storytelling strategies through practices in public relations, graphic design, editing, content marketing, and more. To learn more, contact Prof. Cathy Day at cday@bsu.edu.

ENG 489: The Broken Plate

In this class, students learn firsthand the editing and publishing world, as they produce this nationally distributed literary magazine. Students field submissions in poetry, fiction, creative non-fiction, screenwriting, art, and photography, and the journal is released at the annual In Print Festival of First Books. To learn more, contact Prof. Silas Hansen at schansen@bsu.edu.

ENG 400: Digital Literature Review

Students read deeply in literature, theory, and criticism on a vital topic, then produce a volume of this scholarly journal on that topic. Next year’s topic is Brave New Worlds: Utopias and Dystopias in Literature and Film. To learn more, contact Prof. Vanessa Rapatz at vlrapatz@bsu.edu.

ENG 299X: Rethinking Children’s and Young Adult Literature

Students will focus on rethinking characters in children’s and young adult literature to help shift the stigma associated with being disabled. The course culminates in the production of a comprehensive magazine/website containing resources on literature featuring disabled characters and fiction and non-fiction pieces co-created by students at BSU and the Burris Laboratory School. To learn more, contact Prof. Lyn Jones at ljones2@bsu.edu.

 

Short Film Corner with Rani: Gowanus 83

I really love this 2011 short film, Gowanus 83. At eleven minutes, it is a great example of using genre in short film. It uses the tropes and genre conventions of a gangster film while making them fresh through comedy and specificity of character, plot, and world.

I admire the dialogue in this film. Reminiscent of Tarantino’s writing, it plays with genre expectations and comically subverts character stereotypes. Through comedic dialogue, the film creates the tension of the plot and reveals necessary backstory.

Lastly, Gowanus 83 utilizes the specificity of its world. By setting it in this neighborhood in Brooklyn, it allows the possibility of the interactions of all of these characters and invites the kind of chance and coincidence that can only happen in a city like New York.

Enjoy Gowanus 83!

 

 

Originally written by Rani Crowe

Sigma Tau Delta: Your Next Chapter

What is Sigma Tau Delta?

Sigma Tau Delta is an international English honor society with over 900 active chapters in the US and abroad. The organization is open to all English majors and minors, including undergraduate and graduate students.

Ball State started its chapter in the fall of 2017 with 15 members. Our chapter focuses on community outreach, both on campus and in Muncie. Some possible events we’re planning for next year include a Bad Poetry Night, a book drive, and community reading sessions. Our year culminates at the international convention (next year’s is in St. Louis!) where students can present creative and critical works, meet other members from around the world, and immerse themselves in all things English for days on end.

Who can join?

Both undergraduate and graduate students can join!

If you are an undergraduate student who has taken at least two English or literature classes at the college level, are majoring or minoring in an English concentration, and have a GPA of at least 3.5, you qualify!

If you are a graduate student, you must be studying English (any concentration), have completed six semester hours of graduate work or the equivalent, and have a GPA of at least 3.5.

If you qualify, you should have received an email inviting you to join. If you did not receive an email but think you qualify, contact Mary Lou Vercellotti at mlvercellott@bsu.edu.

How can you join?

Turn in your application (printed) and a one-time fee of $40 to the English Department main office in RB 297 by 4 p.m. Tuesday, April 3.

Why should you join?

Scholarships

Members are eligible to apply for Sigma Tau Delta scholarships. Each year, the organization gives out scholarships valued at up to $5,000 each, including one to aid members who have an unpaid internship.

Internships

Sigma Tau Delta offers three awesome internships in publishing: the Sigma Tau Delta Rectangle, the Sigma Tau Delta Review, and a co-sponsored internship with Penguin Random House. (One of our chapter members is a top-five finalist for this one!) Members can also apply for scholarships to attend the Washington Center internship program.

Convention

We just got back from this year’s convention in Cincinnati, Ohio! Four of our members submitted work and presented at the conference, and two of them won money! Aside from possibly winning money for your writing, the convention gives you the chance to listen to peers’ work, take part in roundtable and panel discussions, attend professional development and informational sessions, network, and talk with authors (this year, featured guests included Christina Henriquez and Mary Norris). It’s not all just academic, though—the convention also hosts social events like an open mic night, a bad poetry competition, and a semi-formal awards gala.

Fellowship & Networking

Sigma Tau Delta allows you to connect with like-minded people on campus and off. You’ll befriend students you might not have otherwise met, build a stronger professional relationship with faculty members, and network with professionals in your desired field. You’ll geek out over punny English-themed t-shirts, eat lots of pizza, and laugh A LOT.

Follow our BSU Sigma Tau Delta chapter at @bsusigmatd on Instagram and Twitter, and like Ball State Sigma Tau Delta: Alpha Chi Upsilon chapter on Facebook! Contact bsusigmatd@bsu.edu with any questions.

In Print Festival of First Books XIII – Itinerary of Public Events

For over a decade the BSU Creative Writing Program’s In Print Festival of First Books has brought three authors who’ve just published their first book and a literary editor/publisher to campus for a two-day event featuring a reading, classroom visits, and a panel discussion/Q&A on literary editing and publishing.

This year’s festival, to be held in the Student Center Ballroom from 8:00-10:00 p.m. on Wednesday, March 28th and Thursday, March 29th, features poet Carolina Ebeid, fiction writer Nick White, creative nonfiction writer Jan Shoemaker, and editor/publisher Kristen Elias Rowley.

 

Here is a detailed schedule of events:

Wednesday, March 28th

 3 PM

  • Carolina Ebeid: Katy Didden’s ENG 308: Intro Poetry Workshop in RB 290
  • Jan Shoemaker: Jill Christman’s ENG 406: Advanced CNF Workshop in RB 361

8 PM

  • In Print Reading, reception and book signing (*remember to bring your books!) in the Student Center Ballroom

 

Thursday March 29th

12:30 PM

  • Carolina Ebeid: Mark Neely’s ENG 408: Advanced Poetry Workshop in RB 361

 2:00 PM

  • Jan Shoemaker: Silas Hansen’s ENG 406: Advanced Creative Nonfiction Workshop in RB 361

3:30 PM

  • Nick White: Sean Lovelace’s ENG 407: Advanced Fiction Workshop in RB 361

5:00 PM

  • Kristen Elias Rowley: Mark Neely’s ENG 489: Literary Editing in RB 361

8:00 PM

  • Panel discussion, reception and book signing in the Student Center Ballroom

In Print Author: Jan Shoemaker

This week, BSU’s creative writing program hosts its annual In Print Festival of First Books, a two-day event featuring a reading and panel discussion by writers who have just published their first books, as well as an editor from a small press or literary journal.

Today we introduce the third of our featured writers for this year’s festival: creative nonfiction writer Jan Shoemaker.

Jan’s Official Bio

Jan Shoemaker’s essay collection, Flesh and Stones: Field Notes from a Finite World, was published in 2016 by Bottom Dog Press. Her essays and poems have appeared in many journals and magazines. Having recently participated in a community reading of Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself” in northern Michigan, she is increasingly interested in the idea of public readings as a form of political action. She writes and teaches in Michigan, where she lives with her husband and a succession of bed-hogging but well-meaning rescue dogs.

Interviews

Selected Essays

Event Details

Jan will be joined at the 2018 In Print Festival of First Books by fiction writer Nick White, poet Carolina Ebeid, and editor Kristen Elias Rowley.

Jan Shoemaker will also be visiting Professor Jill Christman’s ENG 406 class:

  • Wednesday, 03/28, 3:00-4:15 in Robert Bell, Room 361

She will also be visiting Professor Silas Hansen’s ENG 406 class:

  • Thursday, 03/29, 2:00-3:15 in Robert Bell, Room 361

All In Print events are free and open to the public, but contact Prof. Hansen or Prof. Christman if you would like to sit in on one of their classes.

 

In Print Editor: Kristen Elias Rowley

This week, the Ball State creative writing program will host its annual In Print Festival of First Books, a two-day event featuring a reading and panel discussion by writers who have just published their first books, as well as an editor from a small press or literary journal.

In anticipation of this event, we have prepared a series of blog posts highlighting each of our featured guests at the festival. Today we introduce you to editor Kristen Elias Rowley.

Kristen’s Official Bio:

Kristen Elias Rowley completed her graduate work in literary studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. She is Editor-in-Chief at The Ohio State University Press, where she acquires academic monographs, in addition to nonfiction, fiction, graphic novels/memoir, and poetry for the new literary trade imprint Mad Creek Books. Her acquisitions include Phillip Lopate’s A Mother’s Tale, Lina Maria Ferreira Cabeza-Vanegas’s Don’t Come Back, and Nicholas Delbanco’s Curiouser and Curiouser. She previously worked for the University of Nebraska Press, where she acquired such books as Barry Jean Borich’s Body Geographic (a LAMBDA Literary Award finalist), Ellen Cassedy’s We Are Here (a recipient of the Grub Street Prize), Joy Castro’s Island of Bones (which received an International Latino Book Award), and Nancy Miller’s What They Saved (winner of the Jewish Journal Book Prize). Other authors she has published include Lee Martin, Sue Williams Silverman, Patrick Madden, Mary Clearman Blew, Dan O’Brien, Ilan Stavans, David Lazar, Jared Carter, Catherine Taylor, and Joy Passanante.

Interviews

Titles Acquired at Mad Creek Books

Title Acquired at University of Nebraska Press

Event Details:

Kristen will be joined at the 2018 In Print Festival of First Books by poet Carolina Ebeid, nonfiction writer Jan Shoemaker, and fiction writer Nick White.

Kristen Elias Rowley will also be visiting Professor Mark Neely’s ENG 489 class:

  • Thursday, 03/29, 5:00-6:15 in Robert Bell, Room 361

All In Print events are free and open to the public. Contact Professor Neely at maneely@bsu.edu if you would like to sit in on his class.