Today we are pleased to feature poet Johannah Racz Knudson as our Authors Talk series contributor.
Johannah speaks about her poem, “Cosmology: Four Score,” and her current main creative project titled Transylvania Blue. She discusses Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and how the voice of authority of the speech has benefited her poem. After discussing the background of the poem, Johannah moves on to her current project, a biography centered around the life of her great uncle who escaped from the Nazis and eventually immigrated to Canada. She concludes her podcast by emphasizing the importance of sharing his story, which is her own rich yet painful inheritance.
To know more about Transylvania Blue visit Johannah’s blog here.
I’ve been teaching a class at Columbia which Gary Scheytgart calls Fiction for Dummies but is more accurately a fiction class for poets and creative nonfiction writers who want to steal from the genre. One of these students emailed me with her first story, exclaiming how hard fiction is to write, compared to nonfiction. You have to make everything up!
I have just concluded the opposite. I am writing a biography/memoir about the life of anarchist Modernist Lola Ridge who consorted with the likes of Marianne Moore and William Carlos Williams. You’ve never heard of her, partly because her executor has been promising a biography for the last forty years and is holding the papers, and partly because her work didn’t follow the Eliot and Pound maxims of staying divorced from life and politics.
My publisher suggested a fancy hybrid approach of biography/memoir, not me. Researching and then organizing that research along the lines of creative fiction, that is, with characters, plot, motivation, is a double job to start with. I’m triply challenged when I apply myself to the memoir aspect. Just having lived through events doesn’t give me anything approaching insight. Sure, there’s a nimbus of emotion surrounding the madeleine but where is causality when I need it? I strongly prefer to concoct fiction that slowly reveals itself while I am discovering the details to support it.
My fourth novel Tin God, reissued this April, started from a dream about a conquistador and a “drug situation” maybe my brother was involved in. All I had to do was figure out how to put two completely different stories together. With nonfiction, you have all these footnote-y details lying around everywhere that don’t quite go together. And where are they when you think you’ve got a match? But there is, I admit, big payoff when—voila!—I uncover a piece that illuminates everything, e.g., a letter that says Ridge regretted dropping her son off at an orphanage.
I say: footnotes for fiction! Let’s make those fiction writers cough up their sources, they (and me) who so easily assert that they’re crafting truth out of the dross of imagination. Let’s see the ticket that cop gave you that made your mother so mad you had to write a short story to figure out she was having an affair with him. You know you have it around somewhere.
Jamie Acevedo is an Interview Editor at Superstition Review, and a senior in his final semester working towards a bachelors degree in English focused on Literature with a minor in Religious Studies. After graduation he aspires to attend an MFA program in a new part of the country, maybe the southeast or west coast, and work on his goal becoming an accomplished writer of fiction.
Jamie moved to Tempe from New York to attend Arizona State University to pursue his goal of studying literature and has found life in the southwest to be an enlightening experience. Originally focused on critical theory and literary criticism he discovered a passion for writing short stories in his freshman year and has recently started working on creative nonfiction and biographies. He loves reading literary magazines, which he was introduced to after taking a course on pursuing publication taught by Superstition Review‘s founding editor Patricia Colleen Murphy. This internship has provided him with an opportunity as an Interview Editor to work with authors he has been reading and studying in creative writing classes and really admires.
His personal definition of art is that it is a tool that allows human beings to communicate abstract concepts and complicated emotions with each other. The writers who have had the biggest influence on him are those who seem to have made unique insights into the human condition. These include the short stories of Jhumpa Lahiri, Flannery O’ Connor, Stephen Crane and James Joyce and the novels of Robert Stone and Thomas Pynchon. He also enjoys novels that tackle religious and ideological themes like those of Fyodor Dostoyevsky and George Orwell. In addition to works of fiction he also enjoys reading essays on literary criticism, especially those on postcolonialism and reader response criticism.
Outside of literature and writing Jamie enjoys sports, hiking, cycling and travel. After this semester he plans to spend time in Puerto Rico to visit family.
The Constance Rooke Creative Nonfiction Prize is awarded to the best work submitted to the magazine’s annual contest for a genre that embraces, but is not limited to, the personal essay, memoir, narrative nonfiction, social commentary, travel writing, historical accounts, and biography, all enhanced by such elements as description, dramatic scenes, dialogue, and characterization.
Each week we will be featuring one of our many talented interns here at Superstition Review.
Erin Caldwell is the Interview Editor at Superstition Review, an undergraduate English major, a nanny, and a barista. After her graduation form ASU in May, she plans to go on an extended whirlwind national tour playing bass guitar with her band Dogbreth. During her tour of the US, Erin hopes to complete a collection of poems and short stories that are expected to be printed by local Phoenix press, Lawn Gnome Publishing. Right now, Erin’s main career goal is to create extracurricular writing workshops and literary magazine programs for children and teens in rural and urban areas.
Living through a nomadic childhood, Erin found a sense of stability in her book collection. A lifelong fan of fiction and poetry, her favorite books as a child were The Phantom Tollbooth and Where the Sidewalk Ends. Her tastes have grown to include works by Truman Capote, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, JD Salinger, and Joyce Carol Oates. If she had to choose one book to read for the rest of her life, it would probably be To Kill a Mockingbird or Nine Stories. Drawing upon these influences, Erin writes essays, stories, and poems based on her own experiences.
Her favorite aspect of the small-press literary world is being able to read work from famous authors and emerging writers side-by-side. Ploughshares, Tin House, and The Believer are her top magazine picks. Through her time with Superstition Review, she will get to interview new and established authors printed in such publications. These conversations will give insight into the literary world by the people living in it.