2014 Ocean State Summer Writing Conference: Keynote Speaker Percival Everett Shares His Latest Work

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Percival Everett, author of 28 books and Distinguished Professor of English at the University of Southern California read on Friday, June 20th as a keynote speaker for our annual Ocean State Summer Writing Conference.  Everett is a former mentor and close friend to one of URI’s Creative Writing faculty, Josie Sigler Sibara, who introduced Everett.  Sibara became friends with Everett during her doctoral program at the University of Southern California, despite never having taken a class with him.  Sibara recalls her frustration with narrative and form at the time, quoting Everett’s advice: “No one even knows what a novel is.  That’s the beauty of it.  Just follow yourself in.”

Everett read “Tesseract,” a short story just published in the Winter 2014 edition of Brooklyn-based art magazine, BOMB.  “Tesseract” is a story about painting, aging, marriage and risk.  After his reading, conference participants were able to ask questions.  One participant asked Everett about his teaching experiences with Nigerian author and former student at the University of Southern California, Chris Abani.  Everett proudly described the “self-slap” that he taught Abani as the “Pavlovian training,” or the ability to revise one’s own work that comes with writing fiction apart from one’s mentor.  Another participant asked Everett about the influential writers of his youth.  Unable to choose just one, he claimed Mark Twain, Bullwinkle and Groucho Marx as masters of dialog and comedy.  Finally, an audience member asked Everett about his response to having been called “America’s post-racial novelist.”  Everett explained: “If it becomes a post-racial America, then none of us will know that it has happened.”

The next day Everett joined me, Amy Foley, and URI graduate students Hazel Gedikli and Charles Kell for a discussion of I am Not Sidney Poitier where we exchanged views on race, film, comedy, parody, pastiche and fiction.

 

The Lion-Heart of Annie Lanzillotto, 2014 OSR Contributor & URI Speaker

by Nancy Caronia

I was Evel Knievel. I was a Spaldeen. Yes Mom, I am made of rubber. I got a pink rubber soul.            - Annie Lanzillotto, L is for Lion (34)

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Annie Lanzillotto, from http://www.annielanzillotto.com/

This spring at URI’s LGTBQ Symposium, Annie Lanzillotto spoke eloquently about gender identity and how she became a performance artist, writer, singer, world traveller, cancer survivor, and Tony’s Grandma Nunzio for an Off-Broadway revival of Tony and Tina’s Wedding. The students in my WRT 270: Writing in the Expressivist Tradition course were fortunate to have her visit before her talk that evening. They were surprised by her honesty and commitment to create community in the 75-minutes we were together. I brought a Spaldeen ball—a central conceit in her memoir L is for Lion: An Italian Bronx Butch Freedom Memoir, recently nominated for a Lambda Literary Award. The Spaldeen was a reminder of the ways in which Annie had to bounce back from numerous challenges. It was the rubber ball of her youth, which taught her as much about life as it did stoopball and stickball.

She eagerly took the ball from me and threw it from student to student, asking in her thick Bronx accent: “What’s your name? What do you want me to talk to you about today?” At first, they didn’t believe her questions. I suppose they thought she would show up and espouse her ideas on what it takes to be a great writer. But Annie refuses passivity from anyone. I could see by the looks on their faces that they weren’t sure what to do with the ball and what to make of Annie, but Annie is nothing if not patient. More important, Annie knows everything about how to work a crowd. She bounced the ball as one student tentatively asked a question. She used the bounce to create suspense, to formulate a compassionate response, to listen to their breathing, and to assess the vibration of the room. The ball became the metronome of our meeting. It became our heartbeat as one by one students opened up about their hopes and fears about writing, about school, about life. They asked how to write the hard truth. She was gentle, but prodding. They asked how long it takes. She said, your whole life. They asked how she was able to be so brutally honest. She answered with another question: What choice do I have? They were moved that she gave so much to them when she had already given them so much in her memoir.

 

Annie_Lanzillotto_memoirIn my introduction of Annie at the symposium that evening, I said, she “contains multitudes.” I purposefully recalled Walt Whitman and his “Song of Myself” since Annie, for me, is nothing less than the spiritual sister to Whitman. Like America’s iconic queer poet, she is “not a bit tamed” and chooses to “see, dance, laugh, [and] sing” with abandon. Like Whitman, too, she sounds her “barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.” From the Bronx to Manhattan and Egypt, Italy, California, and, yes, even Rhode Island, she witnesses and interacts with the lives circling around her to create an American voice that recognizes the present moment of those most likely to be forgotten or stereotyped. Her “I,” like Whitman’s all seeing, all speaking “I,” honors everyone and everything, including the healing properties of garlic and lasagna. She makes space for the “old and young,” and “the foolish as much as the wise.” She does not judge someone for his or her station in life. She does not see pedigree—she honors spirit. She witnesses action; she witnesses speech; she witnesses silence most of all.

In L is for Lion, she writes with equal honesty, pain, and love about her family, especially her father Lanzi, her mother Rachel, her grandma Rose. She remembers the nuns at her Catholic schools, friends and lovers such as Johnny Denaro, with whom she marches in one of the first AIDS walks in NYC, and her long-time partner Audrey, who emerges as a peacemaker through numerous illnesses and family struggles. She honors the Egyptian cab driver Yusef, who gains her entrance to the teachings of Islam while she lives in Egypt researching the etiology of a local parasite. She engages with and is both witness and recipient of the benevolence and good works of doctors and staff like Dr. Kempin and Cecil the greeter at Sloan Kettering.

Annie, like Whitman, refuses to shy away from the difficult issues of our times. Whether she writes about the violence in her family, sings and performs about Italian tradition, marches to remember those who have perished in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory and from AIDS, creates healing rituals with garlic and Spaldeens, or researches cancer, Annie confronts prejudices with regards to issues of class, ethnicity, cancer, and, most especially, as it related to URI’s LGBTQ symposium, gender. In her life, Annie has stood before cancer, classists, xenophobes, and homophobes and refused to give in to their negative and destructive energies. She believes in the bounce of the Spaldeen—that where you set your energy and love—that will be returned to you ten-fold. At the same time, she is “ever regardful of others” as she reveals the world in all its beauteous imperfection.

Lest you think I exaggerate, here are some of Annie’s credentials. She has a B.A. in medical anthropology from Brown University where she graduated with honors while undergoing treatment for Hodgkins, which was first diagnosed when she was nineteen and about to enter Brown. She earned an MFA from Sarah Lawrence and has received numerous awards, fellowships, and grants for her writing and performance art, including from the New York Foundation for the Arts, Dixon Place, the Franklin Furnace, and the Rockefeller Foundation. Currently, she is a Writer-in-Residence at New Jersey City University and just finishing up her run as Grandma Nunzio.

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Nancy Caronia, left, and Annie Lanzillotto, during Annie’s visit to URI this spring.

Annie’s presence on the URI campus was a joyful and thought-provoking day. She infused my students with a sense of determination about figuring out what stories they needed to tell, and her visit strengthened the trust that we had for each other and our work. She inspired them to show a bit more of who they were and not who they thought we wanted to see. It may have been a cold, cold February, but Annie arrived just in time to warm our tired from the winter hearts. Now, each of you will have a chance to read Annie’s vision and power in the latest issue of OSR.

Nancy Caronia is a Pushcart Prize nominated writer whose work has most recently appeared in New Delta Review, Lowestoft Chronicle, and 94 Creations. She and Edvige Giunta have co-edited Personal Effects: Essays on Memoir, Teaching, and Culture in the Work of Louise DeSalvo (Fordham University Press 2014).

Register now for the Ocean State Summer Writing Conference!

Registration is now open for the 8th Annual Ocean State Summer Writing Conference!

This year, we are thrilled to welcome our keynote speakers: graphic memoirist Alison Bechdel, poet Charles Bernstein, and novelist Percival Everett. Returning from last year to teach master classes are dramatist Ayad Akhtar and novelist Amity Gaige. Poet and critic Stephen Burt will lead an advanced workshop.

In addition to Poetry, Nonfiction, and Fiction workshops, we celebrate the addition of Memoir and Young Adult Literature, and, back by popular demand, Screenwriting.

The main conference features a panel of comics artists, discussion with editors, and a special presentation by artist Susan Bee, among many more events.

Don’t miss the opportunity to have a consultation with one of two editors from Penguin.

For more information visit the Ocean State Summer Writing Conference website here!

Follow them on Twitter and Facebook!

Thank you for continuing to put Rhode Island on the map for outstanding creative writing. We look forward to seeing you!

Kristin Prevallet class visit

This spring, returning Ocean State Summer Writing Conference teacher Kristin Prevallet visited via Skype with Rachel May’s creative nonfiction workshop, to talk about her book, I, Afterlife: Essays in Mourning Time.  Students were inspired by her discussion of what it takes to write a difficult story, and how she wrote the book in small parts that she later wove together.

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Prevallet’s latest book, Visualize Comfort: Pain Management and the Unconscious Mind, combines her work as a poet and therapist. She describes new ways to manage pain with hypnosis and other mind-body techniques.

At the conference, Prevallet will teach a one-day workshop in Trance Poetics. From the conference website:

“Friday, 1:45 – 2:45 pm: Embodied Narratives: Revising Your Cellular Stories

  • Instructor: Kristin PrevalletFor centuries, trance narratives have led people into wild dream and trance states where neurochemical and biological healing processes are activated. For writers and artists, following these narrative threads might awaken characters and plots, or unlock elliptical poetic processes useful for the generation of new work. If out of this workshop you write a few amazing poems or stories, that’s terrific; if you (among other things) learn how to overcome emotional blocks, deal with pain in a new way, and take action to change the catastrophic future, that’s the learning of an embodied poetics that can last a lifetime.”

See you there!

 

The Family Cannon by Halina Duraj now available

 

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Debut novel, The Family Cannon, by past Ocean State Review contributor Halina Duraj is now available!

Duraj’s novel tells a family’s tale in vivid and beautiful detail, over a series of unforgettable short stories.  Augury Books describes the novel as such:

“The debut collection by author Halina Duraj brings readers an American family, strikingly individual but recognizable to us all — as strange and familiar as home. An escalating neighborhood feud takes an unanticipated turn. A college student visiting Poland learns about drinking, dancing, and some of the more perplexing mysteries of adulthood. A mother opens up about her youth and courtship. A daughter tries to understand her own relationship within the context of what she has been taught about marriage. These tender and generous linked stories illuminate the hidden corners of our family lives and, in doing so, cast beautiful light on the shadows”.

Melanie Rae Thorn, author of The Voice in the River and In this Light, had this to say: “With quiet astonishment, Halina Duraj explores the mysteries of love and madness, offering her readers the secret salvation of story. Between a father’s reinvention of himself, a mother’s perplexing fidelity, and a woman’s navigation of the complexities of betrayal, we discover the exquisite pleasures of a world restored and redeemed through Duraj’s luminous gaze, the loving attention and tender playfulness of an extravagantly passionate imagination.”

Read an excerpt here!

M. NourbeSe Philip visits Rachel May’s CW class

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Rachel May’s Creative Writing/Nonfiction class was honored and delighted to visit with M. NourbeSe Philip via Skype, to talk about her book Zong!. Philip is the author of three previous books of poetry, two novels, and many essays and stories. She’s been awarded the Guggenheim and residencies at the prestigious MacDowell Colony and the Rockefeller Foundation in Bellagio, Italy, among other honors.

Zong! is based on a 1781 court decision, to determine whether or not owners of the slave ship, Zong, could collect insurance money after 150 people were pushed overboard, murdered, by the ship’s captain. Philip, a lawyer as well as a poet, used the language of the document to tell the story of the Africans who were killed that day. She fragmented the language, recombined words, and moved them into the shape of what looks like water drifting across the page.

You can read an excerpt of the text, and an explanation of the book and Philip’s process here: Fascicle.

One issue with which May’s students grappled is the horror of this story, the details of what happened on-board Zong, much of which is given voice in the text. Class questions centered around whether or not this was poetry, history or historiography, how we take on another person’s voice to tell a story, and what it means to erase and fragment language, either found or our own.

Philip said, in response: “One of the things I was really interested in was that the reader was going to be allowed choices in how they read this. If you wanted, you could read it diagonally down, or when I read with some colleagues, one of my friends started reading backwards. There’s no right way. But there’s a shadow side to that, and the shadow side is that as we make our choices, we become contaminated by what happened on-board that ship. So, do we read this to avoid seeing some of the things that happened there? They’re happening in these fragments: Is a baby being cut out of a mother’s womb? Is somebody being raped? Are these people gambling for a woman? You can read the book in a way that you avoid that story or you sink into it.”

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The visit concluded with a powerful reading by Philip — followed by complete silence as the class processed her embodiment of the text.

The full transcript of the visit will be published in the Summer 2014 issue of The Ocean State Review; please look for it there.

Many many thanks to M. NourbeSe Philip for her work and for making time for this life-changing visit.

Afaa Michael Weaver, 2014 Kingsley Tufts winner, visits URI

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On Wednesday, March 26, the URI community was delighted to welcome Afaa Michael Weaver and to celebrate his recent award of the Kingsley Tufts prize. The Kingsley Tufts is “the world’s largest monetary prize for a single collection of poetry,” and “was created to both honor the poet and provide the resources that allow artists to continue working towards the pinnacle of their craft” (from the CGU site). He won for his book, The Government of Nature, from which he read at URI.

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The room was overflowing with students, who sat on the floor and crowded together to hear Weaver read and then tell stories of his life in Taiwan and the trajectory of his writing career. He explained how came to write about his troubled childhood, for example, and how his life as a Professor is in conflict with his working class childhood. Weaver spoke of his life as a poet (this is his 12th collection), his past as a factory worker, the experience of living in Taiwan for a year and learning Mandarin, and how his meditation practice influences his writing. He was especially generous in responding to students and engaging the community in conversation around the work.

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A Professor and the Alumnae Endowed Chair at Simmons College, Weaver has also been awarded the NEA, a Pushcart Prize, a Fulbright, and a Pew Fellowship, among other honors. He read at URI as part of the Read/Write series, coordinated by Professors Peter Covino and Mary Cappello. We’re grateful for his visit and send our congratulations for his most recent well-deserved recognition!

Julia Lisella comes to URI & Sharon Dolin in the news

Last week, poet Julia Lisella visited Peter Covino’s poetry class to talk about her work. She read from her book, Terrain, and chapbook, Love Song Hiroshima, and talked with the class about the rhythms of her work, how she revises, and themes of motherhood, miscarriage, and friendship that run through the collection.

She and Covino talked about their connection as Italian-American writers, and her scholarship on modernists, in particular her recovery Genevieve Taggard’s work.

Also in the news this week is OSR contributor Sharon Dolin, who gave a reading to celebrate the Bloomsbury Anthology of Contemporary Jewish American Poetry. Hoorah, and congratulations to Sharon and the other contributors! Also included in the anthology is Jacqueline Osherow, whose work we’re honored to get to publish in the upcoming issue of the OSR. Stay tuned!

AWP–Correction

We are thrilled to present the Ocean State Review and Barrow Street at AWP this year.  A small correction on this week’s announcements: You can find us at booth #709 in the book fair.

Stop by and browse our current and past OSR issues.  Look over the many poetry titles published by Barrow Street.  Thanks, and we hope to see you there!

Plan your AWP Week–Panels with Mary Cappello

One of our OSR advising faculty, Mary Cappello, will be speaking on two panels at AWP this year:

1. “Courting the Peculiar: the Ever-Changing Queerness of Creative Nonfiction”               

Room 3B, Washington State Convention Center, Level 3                Thursday, February 27, 2014 10:30 am to 11:45 am

        What do we mean when we claim that creative nonfiction is a queer genre? Four queer-identified panelists collectively position creative nonfiction as a genre welcoming of writers and writing that embraces the peculiar, courts the unconventional, and opens to forms yet to be imagined. At the turn of the 20th century, Gertrude Stein in Tender Buttons proposed: “Act so that there is no use in a center”; how can practitioners of creative nonfiction today use language to express truths still to come?
Find more info about the panel contributors here.

2. ”Modernism and the Lyric Essay”             

Room 615/616/617, Washington State Convention Center, Level 6
Saturday, March 1, 2014 3:00 pm to 4:15 pm
        What can Joyce, Woolf, Pound, Eliot, and other modernists teach us about the poetics of the lyric essay? And can answering such a question help the lyric essay find its aesthetic roots? Join us as we discuss how modernist preoccupations with impressionism, self-consciousness, fragmentation, and free association (among other things) can not only inform the way we read, write, and teach lyric essays, but can also help us place this popular genre in the larger tradition of western poetics.
Find out more about this panel of contributors here.
Learn more about Mary Cappello’s recent readings in New Queer Writing series; her workshops on “archaeologies of the actual”; and her numerous presentations at various medical schools, including U/Penn, Brown, and Yale, please visit her website: www.marycappello.com
Also, see her work as Professor of English and Creative writing at the University of Rhode Island.