Monday, September 26, 2016

Meet the Instructor: Tyrese Coleman

Meet the Instructor offers insight into the teaching styles and personalities of our instructors. This time around, we spoke with Tyrese Coleman, who will lead Developing Your Flash Fiction, an intermediate/advanced class that runs from October 22 through December 3.

The Writer’s Center: What brought you to the Writer’s Center?

Tyrese Coleman: I am a The Writer's Center alum.  I began my writing career taking courses at the Writer's Center. It was through those courses that I realized I wanted to study creative writing more in depth. I was encouraged by my then instructor to apply to Johns Hopkins, and I haven't stopped writing since. I always wanted to return to the Center to hopefully be for others what my instructor was for me: the encouragement I needed to pursue my dream.  

TWC: How would you describe your teaching style?

TC: I believe the cornerstone of good critique is a mix of encouragement, knowledge, and honesty. My style is one that revolves around those principles, with an added touch of humor and diversity. We are adults who want to create something meaningful to share with the world.  My teaching style keeps that goal in mind as a concrete point of achievement.  

TWC: What are you reading right now?

TC: There are way too many books lingering on my bedside table. I'm currently on 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl by Mona Awad, and will then move to Slouching Towards Bethlehem and The White Album by Joan Didion, and Slumberland by Paul Beatty.

TWC: What are you writing right now?

TC: Right now I am working on two projects, one is a short story collection and the other is a hybrid collection of stories and essays. For those collections, I am writing flash fiction and memoir, plus longer pieces for publication in journals.  

TWC: What does your writing space look like?

TC: My living room, LOL! I have an office, but I never work in it.  In a corner of my living room is a cushy mustard-colored, mid-century styled club chair with a matching lamp above it and a small table right next to it. My laptop rests on a pillow on my lap; any papers or books go on the side table along with a glass of wine. Once my kids are in bed, the only sound you can hear in my living room is the tapping of computer keys and maybe my dog snoring.  

TWC: What is the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever been given and by whom?

TC: Ever? Oh, that's hard to answer because I've received such good advice, and my memory is really bad. So, I will go with the best advice I received recently. I conducted an interview for The Rumpus with another The Writer's Center instructor, Leslie Pietrzyk, who said, "Think about the stories you have inside that scare you. That's what you should be writing." This advice is so crucial for us storytellers who really want to get at the heart of the matter, the brutal truth of life. I hope to challenge my students to write those stories and put them out into the world.

Tyrese L. Coleman is the fiction editor for District Lit, an online journal of writing and art, and a graduate of the Writing Program at Johns Hopkins University. A 2016 Kimbilio Fiction Fellow and Virginia Quarterly Review Nonfiction Scholar, her work has appeared in numerous publications such as PANK, Washingtonian Magazine, The Rumpus, and listed in Wigleaf's Top 50 (very) short fictions.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Meet the Instructor: Jenny Chen

The ‘Meet the Instructor Series’ offers insight into the teaching styles and personalities of our instructors. This time around, we spoke with Jenny Chen, the leader of How to Pitch Magazines and Sell Your Work, an online beginner-level class that will run from October 15 through November 5, 2016.

The Writer’s Center: What brought you to The Writer’s Center?

Jenny Chen: I took my first class at The Writer's Center many, many years ago. It was a class for high school students on fiction, taught by Barbara Esstman. Since then, I've attending Writer's Center events and have always felt grateful for its presence in the D.C. community.

TWC: How would you describe your teaching style?

JC: Encouraging and specific. I like to help people enjoy the process of writing and to give specific, actionable feedback.

TWC: What are you reading right now?

JC: A lot of Junot Diaz.

TWC: What are you writing right now?

JC: Poetry and essays.

TWC: What does your writing space look like?

JC: I write all over the place and I travel a lot, so my writing space is generally a coffee shop with a notepad. I'm happiest when I'm minimalistic.

TWC: What is the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever been given and by whom?

JC: Oh dear . . . so many good pieces of writing advice and I can't even remember them when asked. My brother, who is a visual artist, always challenges me to be more concrete and specific in my writing, and has absolutely transformed my writing in a way that no writing teacher has ever done.

Jenny Chen is an award-winning science and health journalist. Her writing has appeared in publications such as The Atlantic, The Washington Post, The New York Times, Shape, and Marie Claire.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Sonic Memories

A collection of life essays by Cija Jefferson

By Mairin Rivett

Cija Jefferson, Baltimore resident and author, recently self-published her first book, Sonic Memories/and Other Essays. The inspiration for Cija’s collection of personal essays came from an assignment at the University of Baltimore's Creative Writing & Publishing Arts MFA program in which graduates were required to design and write a book. Although the collection began as a class project, Cija says that “the process of pulling essays and putting them together was very organic.” On the main floor of The Creative Arts Alliance for Cija’s book launch party, where I met Cija, chairs are set up facing a screen that has a slideshow of pictures from her life—her as a baby, she and her sister wearing matching dresses, her with a group of friends from college. It’s a surreal experience to see the characters from Cija’s essays suddenly come to life.

Cija initially planned to focus this collection on her post-college years when she lived in California. Her original working title for the book was, “Which Way Home.” However, guided by her mentors in the MFA program, Cija decided not settle on a fixed theme. Instead, she let her writing take her along for the ride. The result was a coming-of-age story told through a wide range of essays that span from her early years as a trouble-loving child, to her young-adult years when she struggled to find her place in the world, and ultimately, to the place she is today— where she says she’s beginning to let go of the negative voices in her head and pursue her true purpose in life: writing.

It’s hard to reconcile the outgoing, infectious, and confident Cija, who is standing across the room from me, with the timid girl in her essay, “The Whisper from Within.” In this piece she admits to purposefully waiting to tell her friends and family about a reading she was performing until the last minute—hoping, successfully, that if she told everyone at the last minute, no one would be able to show up. Although the reading in this essay occurred long before she completed Sonic Memories/and Other Essays, Cija admits that the nerves she felt that day are still very much present: “I still get butterflies when I step to the mic and share any of my work,” she says. “I've definitely gotten better about not allowing my nerves to take over, which is easier said than done—depending on the subject matter. Stories like ‘The Whisper From Within’ are tough to read aloud because the content strips away any artifice and reveals my fears and insecurities; it makes me feel exposed.”

As she reads excerpts of her essays at the book launch, Cija’s voice is loud and projects confidently. Wearing a chic white dress with her hair pulled back—an open and friendly smile on her face—Cija begins the reading by talking a little bit about the process of writing her book. Like many writers, the idea of publishing a full book initially seemed like a far-off, far-fetched dream. “I always thought of writing a book as some sort of lofty goal not made for mere mortals,” she says. “Honestly I don’t know that I would have ever attempted to self-publish a book, had it not been a program requirement.”

The process of self-publishing was long, and she admits there were many late nights and bouts of tears (mostly over the publishing software InDesign). In the end, however, Cija claims self-publishing proved to be infinitely worth the work. “This process taught me that I can self-publish without having to rely on templates…it’s like when people say driving a stick-shift gives you more control over [the car] than an automatic; self-publishing and designing your own work gives you more control over how the final product looks, and I’m really happy with what I’ve created.”

At 105 pages, Cija’s book is an emotional roller coaster. Separating humorous anecdotes from gut-wrenching pain by little more than a page or two, Cija’s book is a raw exploration of growing up, and on how the choices we make in an instant—looking back at a hospital bed or stealing a piece of candy from a local store, for example, have lasting impacts on us even years after the they are made.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Want a Byline? Learn to Write the Op-ed

By Ananya Bhattacharyya

After eight years of writing and editing articles about marketing and managing small businesses—and spending my evenings and weekends polishing a literary novel—I reached a critical juncture. My novel was rejected by dozens of literary agents, and I wondered whether I should have gone to law school instead. It was in this dejected frame of mind that I wrote my first personal essay, and to my amazement it was published in The Guardian’s opinion section!

Since my dĂ©but in The Guardian, I’ve had success in placing op-eds in well-respected publications, including The New York Times, Reuters, Al Jazeera America, and The Baltimore Sun. I’ve come to realize that editors are constantly looking for opinion-driven articles, which is why I’ve had success publishing them. While some newspapers and magazines only work with their regular columnists, many save space for outside contributors. How else can the press remain vibrant, keep a finger on society’s pulse, and provide meaningful insight into hundreds of ongoing issues?

Through the Opinion Writing For Publication workshop at The Writer’s Center, I will provide strategies and exercises to help you choose topics based on your sensibilities and experiences (as well as developing expertise) to create op-eds and get them published. You will learn to: perfect the art of making forceful arguments; know when to be subtle and when to not; craft a compelling narrative; figure out what one is trying to say as one is saying it; be aware of the power of aesthetics, humor, anecdotes; trust one’s intuition; and much more.

Are op-eds everyone’s cup of tea? No! There are many exceptionally talented writers with absolutely no interest in writing opinionated pieces. Instead, the op-ed is the perfect medium for writers who have the desire to be thought-provoking and who wish to shape public conversation.

If you tend to have contrarian opinions, if original ideas pop into your head regularly, or if you have expertise in one or more areas, I encourage you to join me. You will gain the understanding that an op-ed byline is an attainable goal—providing that you are willing to work hard—and that is a giant step toward success.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Woebegone: Ruminations of an Instructor

 By Rod Jellema                             

Garrison Keillor, photo:
Garrison Keillor said goodbye to the bigger part of his radio audience this summer. The warm and genial humorist, host, writer,  brave amateur singer and chief character- actor has left NPRs “The Prairie Home Companion.” No one has done more to rescue the medium of radio programming from the deep drifts of TV slush-blood-sheets-guts-and-gun programming than he.

We poets and teachers appreciate him even more—he has done so much to promote contemporary poetry. There were many evocative readings by poets themselves and/or by Keillor that were given valuable time on the PHC broadcasts. 

Additionally, his own inimical readings of various poems were and still are the feature of his five-minute broadcasts, seven days a week for many years, of NPR’s A Writer’s Almanac.

But somehow poetry’s best friend has slid downhill. He has forgotten where he began. Back in his student days at the University of Minnesota he lucked into friendships with poets James Wright and Roland Flint, then (respectively) a young instructor and a fellow student. Wright introduced Keillor to another Minnesotan, Robert Bly; Donald Hall, a Wright friend then at Michigan, became another young poet who excited and helped to shape Keillor’s deep appreciation for what poets were doing with words.

So how is it possible that Garrison Keillor, in a widely distributed e-mail warned:  

                     A young writer is easily tempted by the allusive and  ethereal and ironic            
                  and reflective, but the declarative is at the bottom of most good writing.

The simplicity of the declarative mode underlies all good prose writing, yes. But surely Keillor knows, or used to know, the paradox that tells us good writing is a real hindrance to the process of making poems. The poet who stops at saying things well is too quickly satisfied, ignoring the demand that a poem should make a fuller experience than he or she knows how to declare. And poets, he reminds us daily, are writers. Their reach beyond what prose writers can “say” is exactly what Garrison Keillor’s voicings so often catch. With pauses and cadences, with tonal shifts and an ear for musical sound and enjambment, Keillor eases poems from print into life.

I remember most the readings he did of some of the poems of James Wright and of Wright’s teacher, Theodore Roethke. On these, he read the poems into improvised duets with single-string guitar picker Leo Kottke. I cannot imagine poems being freer to employ irony, to meditate reflections, to cross boundaries into the ethereal, or to echo experience by way of allusion.

I cannot presume to scold, as Robert Browning in “The Lost Leader” scolded his old model, Wordsworth. Nothing like that. In late years, Garrison Keillor, now an anthologist and light-versifier, now a “poet,” may have forgotten just where he entered the deep dark lovely forest. I only want to remind some of the thousands of his grateful friends. Myself included.

Rod Jellema is professor emeritus of English and former director of creative writing at the University of Maryland and a longtime convener of workshops at The Writer’s Center. Incarnality: the Collected Poems (2010), which includes a CD, is his fifth collection. Among his awards: Two NEA Writing Fellowships, the Towson University Literary Award, 11 fellowships at Yaddo and the Columbia University Translation Prize.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Spotlight on Literary Events: September 2016

Thursday, September 8th, 7:00 – 8:30 pm
827 Upshur St. NW
Washington, DC 20011

Join Upshur Books for a reading and signing with Herta Feely for her new book Saving Phoebe Murrow! Herta Feely has published short stories and memoir in literary journals and anthologies and has also co-edited numerous anthologies. She is currently a writing coach at Chrysalis Editorial and lives in Washington, DC with her husband, cats, and orchids. Free.

Sunday, September 11th, 2:00 – 4:00 pm
The Writer’s Center
4508 Walsh Street
Bethesda, MD 20815

Gray Jacobik reads from her latest collection, The Banquet: New & Selected Poems, which features poems written over a period of 25 years and won the William Meredith Award. William Meredith Foundation Board Member Michael Collier, author of five collections of poetry, and Board President, poet, and memoirist Richard Harteis, joins her. This event is free and open to the public.

Wednesday, September 14, 7:00 pm
Sixth & I
600 I St. NW
Washington, DC 20001

Jeffrey Yoskowitz and Liz Alpern co-founded Brooklyn's Gefilteria in 2012, and in their first cookbook, The Gefilte Manifesto, they pay beautiful tribute to the culinary arts of Ashkenazi culture. From Old World bakeries and pickle shops to modern delis, from rye bread to kimchi stuffed cabbage, the authors bring their Jewish heritage to life in this treasury full of stories, photographs, and deliciously reinvented recipes. Call for pricing.

Wednesday, September 14, 7:00 pm
The Colony Club
3118 Georgia Ave NW
Washington, DC 20010

Support local writers published in District Lit and Rhino Poetry! Readers in poetry and prose include Sarah Katz, Jocko Benoit, Jean Kim, Ellie Tipton, David Frey, Suzanne Zweizig, E. Laura Golberg, Randon Billings Noble, Katy Richey, and Jon Anderson. There will be raffle prizes, gift bags, and more! Join us at Colony Club as we enjoy great writing! Free.

Creativity, Science & the Brain
Thursday, September 15th, 7:00 pm
The Writer's Center

4508 Walsh Street

Bethesda, MD 20815

Creatives really do think differently than others. Lee Gutkind, editor of Creative Nonfiction magazine, will moderate a panel discussion with Richard Cytowic, Jane Campbell Moriarty, and Joram Piatigorsky in an effort to explain the magic of art through the science of the brain. Free.

Thursday, September 15th, 7:00 pm
Sixth & I
600 I St. NW
Washington, DC 20001

Ian McEwan has been a force in British literature for more than three decades, earning worldwide critical acclaim for his vivid, thoughtful, and often jarring novels. The Man Booker and Whitbread Award winner's fourteenth novel, Nutshell, is a story of marital betrayal told from an unexpected perspective: As Trudy tires of her husband and makes grisly plans to escape him, her unborn child overhears all her schemes. Tickets are $17.

Friday, September 16th, 9:00 – 11:00 pm
Busboys and Poets, Brookland
625 Monroe St. NE
Washington, DC 20017

From freshmen to graduate students, College Open Mic is a chance for mic rookies, musicians, comedians, and other talents to share their voices in an enthusiastic and diverse environment. A great alternative to the college nightlife, Open Mic Night is held every third Friday of the month. This event is open to all.

Saturday, September 17th, 9:00 – 11:00 am
Village at Shirlington
4251 Campbell Ave
Arlington, VA 22206

This month’s book club will be focused around Hope Jahren’s book Lab Girl. Books are for purchase at Busboys and Poets Books. Book club members receive 10% off book club books.

Saturday, September 17th, 5:00 – 7:00 pm
Busboys and Poets, 5th & K
1025 5th St. NW
Washington, DC 20001

A chance for middle and high school students to share their art in a supportive environment, Youth Open Mic is a monthly series that is youth-focused and youth-led. Tickets are $5 and can be bought online or at the door.

Sunday, September 18th, 2:00 – 4:00 pm
The Writer’s Center
4508 Walsh Street
Bethesda, MD 20815

Lesley Francis reads from her recent book about her grandfather, You ComeToo: My Journey with Robert Frost. It includes Francis’s own poetry, as well as excerpts from her mother’s journal, family letters, and pieces from other writers like John Masefield.She will be joined by Jessica Greenbaum, popular New Yorker writer and author of The Two Yvonnes, a poetry collection that inquires into the delights and losses of our lives. This event is free and open to the public.

Saturday, September 24th, 9:00 am – 10:00 pm
Washington Convention
801 Mt. Vernon Pl. NW
Washington, DC 20001

Come and join us at the 16th Anniversary Library of Congress National Book Festival at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C. This year's festival will feature authors, poets and illustrators in several pavilions. Festival-goers can meet and hear firsthand from their favorite poets and authors, get books signed, hear special entertainment, have photos taken with storybook characters and participate in a variety of activities. This event is free.

Sunday, September 25th, 2:00 – 4:00 pm
The Writer’s Center
4508 Walsh Street
Bethesda, MD 20815

Fall for the Book is celebrating its 18th year in style. The festival runs from September 25 to 30, and kicks-off and finishes with readings at The Writer’s Center. On Sunday, September 25 at 2 p.m., hear poets Martha Collins, Ailish Hopper, and Michelle Tokarczyk. This event is free and open to the public.

Monday, September 26th, 7:00 pm
Sixth & I
600 I St. NW
Washington, DC 20009

In You Gotta Get Bigger Dreams, the light-hearted follow-up to his acclaimed Not My Father's Son, Alan Cumming, a Tony and Olivier Award-winning actor, novelist, and activist, combines personal stories with his own photos to create a scrapbook of highlights from the off-stage portions of his life in show business. Told with wit and panache, these funny, insightful, and often self-deprecating tales of Cummings misadventures feature stars including Helen Mirren, Carrie Fisher, Oprah, and more. Tickets cost $20.

Friday, September 30th, 11:00 pm – 1:00 am
Busboys and Poets, 5th & K
1025 5th St. NW
Washington, DC 20001

Enjoy a night of poetry, songs, short skits, and jokes presented through American Sign Language. Eat, drink, socialize and practice sign language all in one go. Tickets can be bought at the door or online and cost $5.