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Shelley Wong, Pushcart Prize


Congratulations to Shelley Wong, 2017 Pushcart Prize winner for her poem “The Spring Forecast,” which was recently published in the Pushcart Prize XLI Best of the Small Presses anthology.

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Shelley’s work was nominated by Emily Rosko, Raena Shirali, and Michael Marberry and first appeared in Crazyhorse issue no. 88. 

Additionally, a Pushcart Special Mention goes to Erika Krouse for her short story, “Wounds of the Heart and Great Vessels,” published in Crazyhorse issue no. 87.

Congratulations to Dana Fitz Gale


Crazyhorse is thrilled to congratulate past contributor Dana Fitz Gale, on her book Spells for Victory and Courage, winner of the Brighthorse Books award. Her short story collection includes “Jester,” originally Adobe Photoshop PDFpublished in issue no. 84. The story is about “a clown…a strange one, with a moth-pale face and smeary, charcoal eyes” who picks on the wrong guy – a soldier with PTSD visiting the carnival with his two young children. Fitz Gale’s writing beautifully captures failed relationships in each of the characters’ lives:

“He tips his head back, gazes up into the spotlight, trying to dredge up some half-pleasant recollection of his father. His retinas glow white-hot, sparking haloes in his vision and he’s six years old, again.”

“They can’t explain why he didn’t compliment her when she stood before him in a new dress, just a month before she took the kids and left. In that dress, she was like the noon sun at Fallujah, but when she asked him why he wouldn’t look at her, he couldn’t tell her that it was because she was so beautiful.”

“Jester” remains a favorite among the stories published at Crazyhorse. We look forward to reading more of Dana Fitz Gale’s work, and heartily congratulate her.

Crazyhorse Reading Series: Kamilah Aisha Moon and Rachel Eliza Griffiths


In Arnold Hall, Gary Jackson, associate poetry editor at Crazyhorse, stands at the podium to introduce Kamilah Aisha Moon and Rachel Eliza Griffiths, two poets whose poignant voices have drawn over 100 people to tonight’s reading.dsc_0739

After he thanks the many people who made the reading possible, he extends special thanks to Natalie Diaz, a poet who was scheduled to read, but who was unable to attend.

“Tonight’s origin story started with a text message from Natalie the evening of March 3, 2016,” he says. “This is a direct MLA in-text citation. She texted, ‘OK, brother. Here’s the deal. Invite us for a reading. Rachel Eliza, Aisha Moon, and me.’”

Regardless of Diaz’s absence, the audience is eager and anxious to hear what Moon and Griffiths have planned to share.

Moon is a recipient of a fellowship from Cave Canem Foundation, the Proxima Writing Institute, the Fine Arts Work Center, and the Vermont Studio Center. Her work has appeared in a variety of prestigious literary magazines and journals. She has also won a Pushcart Prize and was a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award. She earned her MFA in creative writing from Sarah Lawrence and has taught at several colleges and universities.

screen-shot-2016-09-25-at-10-14-49-amJackson describes the poetry from Moon’s first collection, She Has a Name, as “full of grace, intimacy, and fury, sometimes simultaneously.”

“It may be one of the truest poetry collections I’ve ever read,” he says. “When I say true, I’m not talking about poetry as confession necessarily. I’m thinking more about how the poems in the collection, which take on the voices of people in her family, are doing the difficult work of reflecting the world we live in and the transformative power of trying to distill life into art.”

The family dynamic within the collection is informed by the youngest daughter’s autism. Moon’s own sister has autism, and the poems revolve around how this diagnosis changes and defines their lives.

Moon begins with her sister’s contributions to the book. “I’m very proud that Four Way agreed with me and made her painting the cover art. I want to acknowledge that.”

The first poem she reads, “Borderless Country,” is also the first poem in the collection. It begins with “1 in 150,” the statistic at the time of publication for the number of families dealing with autism. Moon reads the poem revised with the most current statistic, and the difference is staggering.

“1 in 68 now,” she says.

As she reads, her voice is soft and commanding. Her manner is gentle. She rests a hand on the podium as she holds her book in the other. We listen. We hear her voice and the voices of her family. We hear their grace, their intimacy, their fury.

Before she reads one of her last poems, Moon says, “I hope those who know how to love each other win. We’re in the struggle of our lives right now. I hope we win.”

Then, she reads “Perfect Form,” a new poem about the shooting of Walter Scott on April 4, 2015, in North Charleston, S.C. “Walter Scott must have been a track athlete before serving his country, having children.” Her words are tender, yet scathing, reminding us of the realities we so often choose to ignore.

After she reads her final poem, Moon thanks the audience and Jackson returns to the podium to introduce Griffiths.

Griffiths, a poet and a photographer, currently teaches creative writing at Sarah Lawrence, which is where she earned her MFA. She is also a recipient of fellowships from Cave Canem and the Vermont Studio Center. She has also received fellowships from Yaddo and the Fine Arts Work Center. Her work has been published in journals, magazines, anthologies, and periodicals such as NY Times, American Poetry Review, Callaloo, and Guernica. She is also known for her video project, POP, Poets on Poetry, available online.

Her newest collection, Lighting the Shadow, describes what Jackson calls, “this frayed and haunted Americana rich landscape” that is “both host to oppressors and the oppressed and serves as a constant foil for the multitudes of figures that stand out.”

“Everytime I read these poems,” he says, “I feel like heartbreak is my favorite language.”

Griffiths takes the stage, and as she reads, her low, humming voice is arresting. Her first poem, “The Dead Will Lead You,” is based upon a photo she saw while working on the book. The photo was of a child playing amidst shrouded bodies of dead children in Syria.screen-shot-2016-09-25-at-10-20-01-am

“I see something inside or I see something outside,” she says. “The poem has this discovery and startling in it, so the poem you thought you were writing about a picture takes you somewhere else.”

Across the landscape of grief, death, and womanhood, Griffiths leads her audience into territory wracked with trauma and invites them to consider the America we live in—“The dead will lead you across scarred meadows, red, blue, white. The star-flung sky scrapes gold grass.”

After reading several poems from her collection, she shares some new works. “Good Death” was influenced by the sudden loss of her mother and by recent shootings aired on the media.

“When your child is lying out on the street full of bullets and bleeding in front of a national international stage, that’s not a good death,” she says.

The dead have led us to her haunting grief, echoing in each line. “Was it a good death? Was there peace for all of us? Why should I want peace instead of my mother?”

At the end of the reading, Griffiths and Moon answer the audience’s questions. They discuss whether poetry should have an ethical message to impart, if poets should write to share their experiences or if they should use their work to educate the reader.

screen-shot-2016-09-25-at-10-13-25-am“I’m not a fan of the sitting down and saying, ‘I have a message to impart,’” Moon says. “But I think that naturally happens when you sit down to write about your life and what you observe.”

Instead, Moon suggests for the poet to sit down at the desk and say, “Let me communicate, let me connect.”

English Faculty Reading: Raena Shirali & Lindsey Drager


Chairs are lined in rows between the columns within Randolph Hall, most of them taken well before the reading begins. Anthony Varallo, fiction editor at Crazyhorse, stands at the podium. The crowd’s conversations slow and then stop as he welcomes them to this year’s first reading and thanks them for braving the threat of Hurricane Hermine to attend.

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He first introduces Raena Shirali, a poet, CofC alum, and current faculty member in the Department of English. She is the author of GILT, forthcoming from YesYes Books, and the recipient of the Philip Roth Residency at the Stadler Center for Poetry.

Having know Shirali since she was a student in his fiction writing class years ago, Varallo recounts her early efforts as a writer. Even then, he knew she was gifted, and he vividly remembers a short story she wrote, “Cabbage,” which explores how a man’s encounter with an ex in a grocery store forces him to assess his current relationship with “a woman obsessed with oregano.” Varallo describes Shirali as a “writer in love with language and truth and art, a writer who asks what it’s like to be alive and is never quite satisfied with the answer.”

DSC_0502When Shirali takes the podium, she is at ease. She slips into casual conversation with the audience and reminds Varallo that, “quinoa made a guest appearance in that story, too.” Framed by the stage balustrades at the front of the room, her manner is affectionate and commands our attention. At the end of her first poem, she waits, and then she smiles nervously and laughs. We laugh. “Make noise, snaps, snaps are good. We can snap,” she says. And we do.

Shirali’s poetry explores personal and cultural boundaries, the differences of eastern and western cultures. Indian gods and goddesses make appearances in her work. She reads poems from her upcoming book, poems from projects, and then she reads poems that are “not in anything. I just felt like reading it.”

As she reads “daayan summoning magic,” the crowd is captivated, torsos leaning forward, eyes following the rise and fall of hers as she animates the words from the page in front of her. We are at ease, we applaud and laugh, “as one of our own steps into the light.”

When Shirali finishes her last poem, smiles, and thanks the audience, Varallo returns to introduce Lindsey Drager, the newest member of the creative writing faculty at CofC.

Drager is the author of The Sorrow Proper, and will release her new book The Lost Daughter Collective in the spring of 2017. She earned her PhD from the University of Denver, where she served as the associate editor of the Denver Quarterly.

Varallo calls The Sorrow Proper a “book about books and libraries and photographers and mathematicians and librarians, all the people who matter, especially librarians.” He describes how he could not put the book down, despite the many books he’d promised to read and finish first. The book is a multilayered narrative, “not a flabby or slack sentence in sight.”DSC_0573

As Drager reads, the audience understands what Varallo meant when he said, “I don’t think Lindsey is capable of writing a slack sentence.” Her prose is tight and precise, each sentence racked with genuine revelations of character. The woven composition of narrative is firm and tense, a tapestry of rhythmic syntax.

Drager explains how her forthcoming novel, The Lost Daughter Collective, is told from the voice of a wrist scholar sharing “cautionary tales through bedtime stories to his daughter, who is a child prodigy ice sculptor.” The fathers, named by their occupations like “The Barber” and “The Wainwright,” call their lost daughters “Alice” and the dead daughters “Dorothy.”

Her narrative reminds us of fathers and their daughters, of love, fear, and incurable loss. Drager reads, from “The Barber and His Alice,” and when she says, “A daughter seems a simple thing,” we remember their complexity.

Drager ends the night with “The Angler, The Wainwright, and Their Alice,” a tale of a father who returns from sea in fear of a storm. And as we listen, we fall under the spell of her prose and forget for a moment the storm that awaits us as well.

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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

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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.
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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.
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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

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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

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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

$24.00

 

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.

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