Writer, editor, teacher, other.

Do you know Dear Sugar? You should know Dear Sugar. She’s the advice columnist for The Rumpus, (therumpus.net) and I adore her. Tonight, she’s revealing her identity at a party in San Francisco. When she announced this plan, the editors of 300 Reviews (300reviews.com) asked me and Brian Oliu (BrianOliu.com) to write something to commemorate the event. We each wrote a review. Mine is up today, and his (which is stunning, by the way) will be live tomorrow.

I sort of laughed when I got this request, because I had written to Sugar once and told her I really didn’t care who she was. It’s not that I’m indifferent, but that I don’t think knowing will affect my reading of her column in any way. I think this shows up in my review. Other folks I know and admire disagree with me, and I think that’s just fine. We might all react differently. Or maybe I’ll discover I was wrong. That’s what keeps life interesting.

****
Tonight at the university where I teach, there’s a panel on the Lovings, the Virginia couple who challenged marriage laws back in the 1950s. Their case made it to the Supreme Court (yes, it was titled Loving v. the State of Virginia), which declared that interracial marriage could no longer be outlawed. So C & I will be at that panel, and I can’t think of a better way to celebrate Valentine’s Day.

Love big, y’all. Be well.

(xo) 

I’ve been on the road for the last three weeks, visiting fourteen states in a jaunt that was part road trip, part reading tour, part escape from a reality I’ve spent most of this year trying to keep at bay. Along the way, I’ve devoted a substantial amount of time to listening.

I steadied my gaze on a man I’d just met as he told me about his mother, dying now for a decade.

I eavesdropped on a woman I’ve known for thirty-some years confessing a betrayal I’d never imagined she had endured.

I giggled as a hotel employee shouted my name across the lobby, waving and smiling. (We’d become fast friends when she taught me a dance to remember the way to the parking garage.)

I paced in a parking lot, phone to my ear, as a boy from my childhood reminded me I’m only this honest with you.

I heard an acquaintance evoke a name I haven’t used in years, ever since I ceded it back to a man whose love had consisted only of words.

I learned my two-year-old niece’s latest version of my name, this time combined with my husband’s: colisbeth.

And, because a big part of this this trip has been a reading tour with some friends & fellow writers, I spent several nights in unfamiliar cities listening to Brian Oliu read from his new collection, So You Know It’s Me.

In the middle of this trip, I received an email from Roxane Gay, an editor and writer and person I really admire, asking me to review Brian’s book for The Lit Pub. I was honored. I was nervous. (It’s easier to write about something that’s awful or adequate than something that’s brilliant.) I was so nervous that instead of writing my review, I went to the space shuttle launch. I read about the structure of the double helix. I read about the extinction of a bird called the Dusky Seaside Sparrow. I read the owner’s manual of Brian Oliu’s vehicle. I read papers on equine virology. I walked around Downtown Disney. I watched a lot of wrestling. One night, I ate a double cheeseburger with guacamole. The next night, I ate another one, and the waitress remembered me from the night before.

Finally, late one night in a very quiet house, where everyone else was asleep, I wrote my review. I thought a lot about a passage I like concerning the role of the critic. (I encountered it in a place that attributed to Mencken, but it was three am & I was in a strange city without internet, so I didn’t go to the source. I assume it’s actually from Mencken, but who knows?) Here it is:

"A catalyzer, in chemistry, is a substance that helps two other substances to react. For example, consider the case of ordinary cane sugar and water. Dissolve the sugar in water and nothing happens. But add a few drops of acid and the sugar changes to glucose and fructose. Meanwhile, the acid itself is absolutely unchanged. All it does is to stir up the reaction between the water and the sugar. The process is called catalysis. The acid is a catalyzer.

Well, this is almost exactly the function of a genuine critic of the arts. It is his business to provoke the reaction between the work of art and the spectator. The spectator, untutored, stands unmoved; he sees the work of art, but it fails to make any intelligible impression on him; if he were spontaneously sensitive to it, there would be no need for criticism. But now comes the critic with his catalysis. He makes the work of art live for the spectator; he makes the spectator live for the work of art. Out of the process comes understanding, appreciation, intelligent enjoyment — and that is precisely what the artist tried to produce.”

I don’t assume, dear readers, that you are untutored. But I hope that you read my review. I hope it stirs you up. I hope that after reading it, you go seek out a copy of  So You Know It’s Me. I hope it comes alive for you, that you come alive in it. It’s that kind of book. You owe it to yourself to read it.

(xo)

My sweet friend and fellow writer/critic Tamiko Nimura is interviewing writers for their thoughts on writing outside the academy. She’s assembled responses from a great team of writers—including Colin Rafferty and Brian Oliu—and I’m honored to be the lead-off batter for the series.

Tuscaloosa E-Book

Hey y’all. There’s writing news to share, but I’ll get to most of it later. Right now, my heart is with Tuscaloosa, my beloved and battered hometown.

My dear friend and stellar writer Brian Oliu is putting together an e-book of Tuscaloosa writing to benefit the city’s tornado relief efforts. If you have any writing or artwork about Tuscaloosa, please email him at beoliu@gmail.com to contribute to it. The deadline is Thursday, May 5th.

If you don’t have any Tuscaloosa-centric work, I hope you’ll still consider helping the cause by buying and reading this ebook. I can promise that there is some lovely work about this place. I know many of you have seen images of Tuscaloosa this week—of its devastation, its brokenness. I hope you’ll purchase this book and take a glance at some of the other things Tuscaloosa has held, too. When details about how to purchase it are available, I will share them.

xo.

This Saturday is the Slash Pine bike/hike in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. I’m super excited about this—not only because I will be reading with a bunch of very talented writers, but also because I’m just thrilled about Slash Pine in general. As a kid growing up in Tuscaloosa, I’d have loved for this sort of thing to have existed. Thanks to Brian Oliu and all the Slash Pine folks for making this happen and letting me be part of it. 
If you’re interested in joining us (of course you are, right?), here are the details: 
The plan is this: readers & listeners will meet at Edelweiss (on 4th & 23rd) around 10:30am on Saturday the 23rd for
coffee/greetings/various flaked pastries. We will then walk (or bike!) from Edelweiss to Capitol Park (about a mile) to have our first reading (starting at approx 11:30). At the conclusion of that reading, we will walk (or bike!) back to the Green Bar and have our second reading there, starting at approximately 2pm. We have a really great mix of Instructors, GTAs, & undergrads at this reading, all of which are listed below:Vivian GivhanRyan McHaleJake SmithScott AdairMaureen MurdockKori HensellBarry GrassJason McCallJuan Carlos ReyesJames MaynardElizabeth WadeDaniela OlszewskaMatthew MahaneyLuke SouthworthBrian OliuPatti WhiteWe would love to have you for the whole event and the experience of walking/biking en masse for the sake of writing, as well as getting to know our readers, but also feel free to join us at either juncture.

This Saturday is the Slash Pine bike/hike in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. I’m super excited about this—not only because I will be reading with a bunch of very talented writers, but also because I’m just thrilled about Slash Pine in general. As a kid growing up in Tuscaloosa, I’d have loved for this sort of thing to have existed. Thanks to Brian Oliu and all the Slash Pine folks for making this happen and letting me be part of it. 

If you’re interested in joining us (of course you are, right?), here are the details: 

The plan is this: readers & listeners will meet at Edelweiss (on 4th & 23rd) around 10:30am on Saturday the 23rd for

coffee/greetings/various flaked pastries. We will then walk (or bike!) from Edelweiss to Capitol Park (about a mile) to have our first reading (starting at approx 11:30). At the conclusion of that reading, we will walk (or bike!) back to the Green Bar and have our second reading there, starting at approximately 2pm. 
We have a really great mix of Instructors, GTAs, & undergrads at this reading, all of which are listed below:

Vivian Givhan
Ryan McHale
Jake Smith
Scott Adair
Maureen Murdock
Kori Hensell
Barry Grass
Jason McCall
Juan Carlos Reyes
James Maynard
Elizabeth Wade
Daniela Olszewska
Matthew Mahaney
Luke Southworth
Brian Oliu
Patti White

We would love to have you for the whole event and the experience of walking/biking en masse for the sake of writing, as well as getting to know our readers, but also feel free to join us at either juncture.

Housefire

So I linked to my Housefire debut yesterday, but I didn’t get to comment on it. I discovered Housefire when they published my friend Brian Oliu a while back, and I’m really excited to be part of the group. I should have more work out there later this month.

The way it works is that you’re given several titles to choose from. You pick one and write a piece that matches it. It’s a great idea, and a fun process. Interestingly, on the day I debuted with them, I was also embarking on the start of a similar project—or an inversion of it, perhaps—with my friend Jeremy Hawkins. We sort of casually stumbled into the idea that I would title his latest poem, without actually having read it. It was a lot of fun, and I ended up drafting my own piece in the process. I’ve always believed that good work need not be produced in a vacuum. So yay for collaborations!

But back to Housefire. One of the things I love about them is that you don’t write your own bio. The contributors’ notes they produce are fantastic, in all senses of that word. I love them. Apparently I am a piece of cake. Yes. That’s it, exactly. Except it isn’t at all. Or is it? (See the beauty?)

Besides that, I’ll add this: Big Red is Man O’ War. His funeral—yes, this horse had a funeral—fascinates me, and it shows up every now and then in my work. For crazy/beautiful images of it, see: http://www.drf.com/blogs/man-o-wars-funeral-remarkable-final-tribute-majestic-champion

Yes.