What Last Year’s Winners Have to Say about the Crazyhorse Prizes…

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Every year, writers at all stages of their careers submit their work to the Crazyhorse Prizes in fiction, nonfiction, & poetry. And a panel of judges (for 2016, it’s Joan Silber for fiction, Brenda Miller for nonfiction, and Khaled Mattawa for poetry) select a winner in each genre to receive a prize of $2,000 and publication in Crazyhorse. We thought it might be interesting to roll back the clock and ask last year’s winners why they submitted their work for the Crazyhorse prizes in the first place.

Shubha Sunder, who’s short story, “Jungleman,” was selected by Adam Johnson for the 2015 Crazyhorse Fiction Prize, says, “I’ve been submitting to Crazyhorse for years. It has always been one of my favorite literary journals; the stories I read in it are eclectic, quirky, and relevant. The contest happened to come at a time when I had this piece completed. While I’m thrilled that Adam Johnson chose ‘Jungleman’ as the winner, I’m even more thrilled that this story has found a home in Crazyhorse.” She says that the story was inspired by a trip she made to the Bandipur National Park in South India as a teenager. “I was part of a team of students recruited to conduct a small-scale wildlife census,” she writes. “We were led by tribesmen on deserted tracks through the forest. One of the scientists I met on this trip looked like a jungle man—bushy beard, wild hair, light on his feet, and very passionate about his work. Later that same year he took his wife on an expedition that resulted in her contracting cerebral malaria and dying. I never met him again and have often wondered how his wife’s death affected his relationship with the forest.”

Sara Henning, winner of the 2015 Lynda Hull Memorial Prize, cites her love of the Prize’s namesake and judge Alberto Ríos as motivations to submit her poems to the contest. “My love and awe of Hull’s work is a driving force behind why I chose to submit to the Lynda Hull Memorial Poetry Prize,” she told us, “but it is also the work of Alberto Ríos that drew me, the way his poems penetrate in dazzling lyrical investigations the notions of memory, heritage, and the liminal sphere of the self forged among these boundaries. My poem that won the prize, ‘How I Learned I Had the Shine,’ honors both Ríos’ and Hull’s precedents to turn memory and the legacies of the self into lyrical study. My poetry has often trended toward the examination of issues crucial to feminine identity, including class, violence, and shame in ways that challenge the genre of neo-confessional trauma writing.”

Terrance Manning Jr.’s essay “Leave Them Hurtin’ When You Leave,” winner of the 2015 Crazyhorse Nonfiction Prize, is piece written through a lens of honesty. He says there was “No pumping it up. No bells and whistles. Just a story of a summer.” Manning continues, “From that, I found I was writing into discovery, attempting to answer questions about myself and my parents, somehow, through the examination of this experience, which manifested in the moments of reflection in the piece.” Manning had been waiting for the right time to submit his piece when he received an email suggesting the Crazyhorse Prizes, and similar to Henning, Manning was excited to see a familiar name as a judge in the contest. He says, about Crazyhorse, “I’ve read some of my favorite writers in its pages: Marianne Boruch, Rebecca Makai, and yes, Dinty Moore, who happened to be judging the 2015 nonfiction contest! I only hoped for the possibility to have him, this wonderful writer that I admire, reading my work.”

These writers submitted their work to Crazyhorse for a variety of reasons: admiration of our judges, a well timed call for submissions, or simply the hope of finding a home for their work within our pages. We appreciate them sharing their talent with us and giving Crazyhorse the opportunity to publish their work. We hope that others will do the same. We will be accepting submissions for the 2016 Crazyhorse Prizes during the month of January. For more information, click here.

Crazyhorse Reading Series: Gabrielle Calvocoressi


We have a microphone, and we have a music stand, and we have Gabrielle Calvocoressi. “I have a really loud voice,” she says, testing the microphone. Her voice is indeed loud, not in a way that silences us, but a way that invites us in. She starts with a request. “I want to do something, see if you’d be in the mood for it.” In addition to reading from her two published books, she’s thinking of reading from the book she’s just finished, too. She lets us know that this idea scares her, but that she tries to do one thing a day she can fail at. “It would be an experiment,” she tells us excitedly, “and we’d all be in it together. Does that sound okay?” The unanimous response is yes. We dive in.

Her manner is hypnotizing. Poems weave into near-narratives; a stag often links them. Where does one end and the other begin? As we move to the Q&A, this spell does not break. Calvocoressi starts each exchange with “What’s your name” or “Hi, I’m Gabby! Nice to meet you,” turning each public question-and-answer into a personal encounter that, somehow, is communal as well.

One student asks about the watercolors Calvocoressi has placed on the table beside her. They have a story: she gets writer’s block, and was advised by author Lynda Barry to combat it with a kit of watercolors. Calvocoressi used them to paint lines that weren’t working in her poems, and now it’s a routine; she paints several times per day. When they began to pile up, she decided to put writing prompts on the back of them and give them out, for free, at her readings. Ideally, they might be shared between writers: “if you grab them, maybe you give them to someone else.”IMG_1013

Others ask about motifs in her poetry, like the reappearing stag. Calvocoressi grew up on a piece of land with deer and bucks all over, and deer imagery has been with her since. “How many of you have seen a buck?” she asks us. She describes the experience of looking through the leaves, seeing what looks like branches at first, maybe a tree, which then turns out to be a stag. She’s interested in the figure of the deer in literature, which makes even knights wonder. The deer, for her, represents “the timelessness of our awe.”

Others ask about craft. Though not a fiction writer, does she approach writing with a story in mind? She used to teach her students three things about poems: know who is speaking to whom, for what purpose, and from what mask. Then, she thought, “Why? Really, why?” Now she approaches her poetry as “a variously voiced tapestry” woven together by repetition and grounding. She thinks, “what are the kinds of repetition and kinds of grounding I can give the reader that makes them feel in the poems?” Repetition and grounding immerse the reader into the poem.

There’s more to talk about–that she writes poems in her head every day, that she does not use the word “revision” until the final edit, that she’s fascinated with hermits–but ultimately, we walked away understanding that immersion is important to Gabrielle Calvocoressi’s, which comes across in her poetry, and in her conversations with young writers and writing faculty alike.

Crazyhorse Reading Series: Julie Orringer


We’ve been waiting for just a few moments when the A/C kicks off. Over a hundred people have come to hear Julie Orringer, author of the short story collection, How to Breathe Underwater, and the novel, The Invisible Bridge. Anthony Varallo, fiction editor here at Crazyhorse, walks to the podium to introduce her. He’s been teaching her stories for years. For his writing students, Orringer’s work offers an opportunity to, “begin to see how it might be done. Not how to write a short story, but how to think about their experience as something worth writing about, how to see the story as an invitation to explore their life.” Suddenly, the heat seems less oppressive. We listen eagerly, and indeed, an “invitation to explore” is exactly what we find in Orringer’s short story, “Note to Sixth-Grade Self,” and her advice on craft.

The reading begins suddenly: “On Wednesdays, wear a skirt. A skirt is better for dancing.” Written in second-person, the story chronicles the advice that an older woman gives to her sixth-grade self. The advice is also the chief storytelling device; we construe a plot from assumptions we form about IMG_0834situations that may have prompted the narrator’s advice. The narrative voice is not jarring, but welcoming: it invites us into the story. We’re not outsiders; we’re included.

As the reading ends, the audience—mostly young writing students—is eager for Orringer’s guidance on craft. Most questions concern decision-making, and Orringer advises to let the story do the decision-making. Using “Note to Sixth-Grade Self” as an example, Orringer explains that the choice to write in the second-person imperative was sudden, not painstakingly deliberate: “It all just happened at once.” In moments between waking and sleeping, she thought, “On Wednesdays, wear a skirt. Skirts are better for dancing.” And that was it.

Other questions concern plot. Did she plan plot beforehand, or “discover” IMG_0778events and endings as she wrote? She affirms these questions; tackling them is, “Something I have to keep re-learning every time.” Even when the inspiration for a story revolves around a single event, the characters don’t let this event occur. “It’s hard to trust the change in the vision,” she says. But that’s okay. “A story that works,” she notes, “tends to subvert your own expectations. It tends to be smarter than you are.”

There’s a way to let the story subvert your expectations: let your unconscious do the work. “Hold it sort of softly in your mind without trying to solve the problems of it,” she says. “And, and the mind, that amazing organ, does what it does, it does its dance . . . and it will drop into the little gumball slot of your mind like this perfect answer. Not the solution to everything, but the one line, the one idea, that can get you back in, get you started.” One line, like “On Wednesdays, wear a skirt.”

Interview with Charles Baxter


Last month, as part of the Crazyhorse Reading Series at the College of Charleston, novelist and story writer Charles Baxter read from his newest collection, There’s Something I Need You to Do (Pantheon Books). To commemorate his visit—he spoke to the collected graduating seniors in creative writing, and then read to a packed house in historic Randolph Hall—Crazyhorse is honored to post the mini-interview below.

Mr. Baxter, one of the premiere writers of fiction in the country, and one of our all-time favorite writers, period, gives us in this newest book a collection of ten stories, the first five of which are titled by virtues (“Bravery,” Chastity,” and etc.), the second five for vices (“Lust,” “Avarice,” and etc.). The stories are, as ever, beautifully written resonant one to the next, and feature a cast of recurring characters who appear with both virtue and vice. As with all his work, he tells in each story many stories at once, heading in places one cannot divine at its outset, but which, because the prose is so strong, so sure, and because the characters are so compellingly drawn, you’re willing to follow; at each story’s end, you understand you’ve arrived somewhere important, somewhere meaningful and filled with wonder, but definitely somewhere other. This is why his work is so very much celebrated, and so very valuable. Of the work, the Washington Post has written, “Charles Baxter’s sixth book of short fiction . . . shows him as a master of the genre and highlights what finely crafted short stories can accomplish better than any art form.” We couldn’t agree more.

CH: While here at the College, you talked about how, when you were a couple stories in, you saw that this book could be a “decalogue,” a very specific word rife with moral associations. How many stories had you written—and especially what about those stories—gave you to know this was the word by which you could see this becoming a complete book?

CB: I had thought of The Decalogue, a brilliant series made for Polish television by that genius, Krzysztof Kieślowski. I bought DVDs of the series and watched them over and over again, and I had also admired the “moral tales,” (also movies) of Eric Rohmer, such as Claire’s Knee. Kieslowski’s Poland was obviously a Catholic country, but his views were remarkably complex and by no means orthodox. What interested me was the possibility of moral tales without moralism or didacticism. Moral tales have almost disappeared from American writing because so many writers are worried about preachiness. But you can write about how people live, and what they decide to do at critical moments, without making judgments about them while still enclosing them in a moral landscape; you can leave all the judging to the reader. I knew I had a book after I had written two or three such stories. After that it was easy.

CH: As with The Feast of Love, you have characters in this collection of discrete stories whose lives brush up against one another now and again, both tangentially and sometimes straight on. Was this originally a part of the plan going into the collection, or did characters simply arise on their own terms? And to what do you attribute this willingness to let characters swoop in and out as you do so deftly?

CB: I had indeed used that technique in The Feast of Love and then promptly forgot that I had done so once the book was published. I didn’t think of having the same characters pass back-and-forth between the virtues and the vices–a kind of ecology of characters–until someone suggested the possibility to me. This “someone” was an undergraduate at Penn State, Erie, and he was in attendance at my reading there. After I read “Loyalty,” there was a Q&A, and I was talking to the students about what I had in mind for the book, and this kid, Kyle Kerr, said, “You should have the same characters in the vices that you had in the virtues.” And it was as if a light went on. Bingo! Thank you, Kyle Kerr, wherever you are. I like the mixture of randomness and fate that you get when you have the same set of characters brushing up against each other in story after story. It can create a beautiful effect.

CH: At the reading you gave here at the College, you chose to let us hear a section (a very funny one) from the story “Chastity” that in fact did not appear in the book. The audience enjoyed the piece a great deal, but can you tell us what led to its being excised, and how it feels to say goodbye to what you know is a fine passage of your own work?

CB: There’s that old phrase, “Kill your darlings.” Self-love, or pride in your work, can’t excuse putting in a scene or a passage into a novel or a story if it doesn’t belong there. In the case of the scene that I read at the College of Charleston, the tone was wrong. The story “Chastity” is actually very serious, although the central female character is a joker; her would-be lover is constantly rebuffed by her irony and jokiness. The story is the darkest one in the book, the one that took the most out of me, the one with the most sweat and blood. The trouble with the passage that I eliminated from the story was that it was too light-hearted, and the tone didn’t mix properly with the rest of the story. You don’t need to have an absolute uniformity of tone in a story, but a story can’t do eight different things at once.

CH: Which of the stories proved to be the easiest to write, the one that (if indeed there was one) seemed to come to you all on its own, and what was that experience like? What was the one that proved most difficult, and well, what was that like?

CB: “Chastity,” as I just noted, was a terribly difficult story to write. I invested my own heartbroken longings into it. Behind it, deeply shadowed, were several episodes from my own life that were converted beyond recognition and put to use in that story. “Avarice,” which I’m quite proud of (and which is narrated by a woman), was possibly the easiest of the stories to write. All I had to do was show up faithfully at the desk each morning for several days in a row. The story just wrote itself. I felt I was taking dictation from that woman.

CH: And of course, the obligatory last question: What are you working on now?

CB: I have some ideas, but I’m really just trying to recover and regroup after my book tour. I’m not complaining, but those tours take a lot out of you. Besides, I don’t think writers have to start something new immediately after their previous book is published. Productivity may be a good thing for factories, but for artists it’s absolutely secondary to quality. You have to wait patiently for the angel to descend. If the angel doesn’t descend, you eventually go to work anyway. There are always paths, if you can find them; there is always something to do.

Something I Need You to Do
Pantheon Books



Crazyshorts! Broadsides for AWP

If you’re going to be at AWP in Minneapolis, be sure to stop by the Crazyhorse table, #533. We’ll be giving away broadsides we made for the Crazyshorts! winner and runners-up.


43 Years Later: Looking back at Updike’s “Living with a Wife”

We’re pleased to celebrate John Updike’s birthday, March 18, by revisiting his poem, “Living With a Wife,” which first appeared in Crazyhorse #10, in March, 1972. Updike, who died in 2009, would have been 83 years old today.

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Although Updike was less well known as a poet than as a novelist, short story writer, and essayist, readers of Updike will recognize many of the themes and preoccupations of his prose in this five-part poem: a desire to give ordinary life a larger due; a view of marriage as a mystery never quite to be solved; the search for the universal in the domestic; and the ongoing difficulty of knowing those around us, no matter how much “data” we collect about them.

The poem closes on a minor note of defeat, perhaps, with the speaker still unable to reconcile his wife’s presence in his life, despite his best efforts. But the poem doesn’t yield to easy despair; instead, these five glimpses into marriage say yes to the world in all its particulars, from the wife playing Mozart barefoot in a ski sweater, to the underpants left soaking in the sink basin. The same wondering consciousness that informs Updike’s best work, from the Olinger stories to the Rabbit novels, is very much present in “Living With a Wife,” as well as Updike’s signature precision, wit, and gift for metaphor. It is an honor to have published this work back in 1972, and a pleasure to revisit it now.

MFA in Creative Writing Program Will Launch in Fall 2016

The School of Humanities and Social Sciences and the Department of English are proud to announce the establishment of the Master of Fine Arts degree in Creative Writing at the College of Charleston.

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Crazyhorse Editors/Creative Writing faculty (left to right): Anthony Varallo, Jonathan Bohr Heinen, Malinda McCollum, Gary Jackson, Bret Lott (standing), Emily Rosko. Photo by Leslie McKellar.

Beginning in the fall of 2016, the College of Charleston will open its doors to graduate study in both poetry and fiction, and for good reason: the College is home not only to a cadre of nationally and internationally recognized writing faculty—Bret Lott, Gary Jackson, Emily Rosko and Anthony Varallo—but also houses one of the country’s premiere literary journals, Crazyhorse, published since 1960 and consistently ranked as among the top publishing venues in the nation. Undergraduate students have for years reaped the benefits of a creative writing concentration within the Department of English, but now, with the MFA, graduate students from across the country will be afforded the opportunity to study writing, literature, publishing and the arts at large on our campus. Given the city of Charleston’s literary heritage and its inherent ties to the arts, the program is sure to become one of the most significant homes for the study of writing in the country.

The MFA in Creative Writing, a two-year program of study, will feature separate Studio and Arts Management tracks, and will offer not only advanced degree training in the writing of poetry and fiction, but also opportunities to assist in the production of Crazyhorse. The backbone of the program will be workshops taught by writing faculty in the two genres, as well as training in the history and traditions associated with writing, theoretical and formal approaches to the craft, and intensive peer and faculty feedback. Students in both the Studio and Arts Management tracks will also gain reading, writing, and critical thinking skills valuable to such humanities-based industries as editing, publicity, marketing, and promotion in publishing and the arts; the Arts Management track will emphasize management, organization, decision-making, and problem-solving skills in preparation for jobs within the creative economy.

And all students, no matter the track, will be writing, and writing, and writing, seeking to find and hone the voice and vision that will see their work into print, and into the larger world of letters.456163_10151159021244182_832432169_o

Stay tuned—we’ll have more on the program as we grow closer to our first class of writers! For questions about the program, contact Bret Lott. More information about the English department at the College of Charleston can be found here.

(This article was first published in the HSS Spring 2015 newsletter.)