Authors Talk: Catharina Coenen

Authors Talk: Catharina Coenen

Today we are pleased to feature Catharina Coenen as our Authors Talk series contributor. In this podcast, she invites her nephew, Christopher Van der Meyden, to discuss her nonfiction essay, “Stain,” published in SR’s Issue 23.

“Stain” explores Catharina’s need to clean up the shattered eggs someone had thrown at the garage and driveway of her neighbor who was recently arrested by the FBI. As she reflects on this event through her writing, she notices the strong connections between her actions and the history of her family and country.

Catharina explains that she had a difficult time understanding her physical and emotional reactions to seeing the arrest: shaky knees and hands, circular thoughts, and a feeling of anger and fear despite not having any immediate threats. She says, “I started writing as a way to help myself understand why I was experiencing these physical reactions and mental confusion.”

Christopher and Catharina also take a closer look at the way the essay uses family stories organically throughout the piece as “a way to ground [Catharina] in the present—to come back from a traumatic past that explained the inner turmoil to the present tense where there was no physical danger to [Catharina] or anyone else in that moment.”

As a biologist, Catharina also makes connections between the structure of her essay and recent developments in our understanding of the biology of trauma. Although “physical responses to trauma can be encoded across generations,” Catharina explains, “storytelling and an anchoring of the person in the present” can undo this transgenerational trauma. Catharina notices her essay mimics this necessary healing process, allowing her to understand and process her reactions.


You can read Catharina’s work, “Stain,” in Issue 23 of Superstition Review.


Contributor Update, Elissa Washuta: ‘Shapes of Native Fiction’

Join us in congratulating SR interview contributor Elissa Washuta. She recently worked with fellow editor Theresa Warburton to publish Shapes of Native Nonfiction: Collected Essays By Contemporary Writers this summer.

The collection features both established and emerging Native writers including Stephen Graham Jones, Deborah Miranda, Terese Marie Mailhot, Billy-Ray Belcourt, Eden Robinson, and Kim TallBear. Taken together, the essays examine materiality, orality, spatiality, and temporality in Native literary traditions.

This upcoming Monday, July 22, both Elissa and Theresa will discuss their work on this project from 7 to 8:15 p.m. at the Seattle Public Library, 1000 4th Avenue. The discussion will be recorded for a podcast.

To read more about Elissa’s workshop, click here. You can find her interview from Issue 17 here.

Congratulations, Elissa!

Authors Talk: Heidi Czerwiec

Authors Talk: Heidi Czerwiec

Today we are pleased to feature Heidi Czerwiec as our Authors Talk series contributor. In this podcast, she takes the time to discuss her nonfiction piece, “The Perfumer’s Organ,” published in SR’s Issue 23. The essay is part of a larger work-in-progress that examines “perfume as a physical and cultural object.”

“The Perfumer’s Organ,” which contains five short sections that each explore a different association with the piece’s title, was “born during a self-organized retreat at [her] in-law’s lake cabin” where she was armed with research and notes about perfumery.

Research is an important part of Heidi’s creative process, which you can see reflected in the essay’s footnotes. For this particular nonfiction piece, she looked to her research for recurring language. She explains, “For instance, ‘perfumer’s organ’ is a musical metaphor which let me tie in how perfume is composed of notes that create an accord.”

Heidi first learned the term “Perfumer’s Organ,” which describes a perfumer’s shelving system, from Perfumer Mandy Aftel, but she originally misinterpreted the phrase to mean “the nose.” As Heidi continued her research and writing, the term began to take on new meaning and she fell in love with the “rich suggestiveness of the term” that gave her a way to “organiz[e] so much of what [she] had been researching about perfume.”

Heidi calls her aesthetic a “weird mix of strict structures and loose associativeness,” which this nonfiction piece encapsulates beautifully. Because the essay captures her aesthetic so well and the title phrase helped her see the various connections she wanted to make, the work has become “one of [her] darlings” that she “love[s] irrationally” and is happy to share with all of our SR readers.


You can read Heidi’s work, “The Perfumer’s Organ,” in Issue 23 of Superstition Review.


Authors Talk: Megan J. Arlett

Authors Talk: Megan J. Arlett

Today we are pleased to feature Megan J. Arlett as our Authors Talk series contributor. In this podcast, she takes the time to discuss her nonfiction piece, “Narrative,” published in SR’s Issue 21. The lyric essay explores the 2008 disappearance of Amy Fitzpatrick as well as language and storytelling.

Megan looks back at her 2017 notebook to discover what she was reading while she drafted “Narrative” and to find out which texts influenced her work. While she struggles to remember an initial spark of inspiration, aside from constantly thinking about the disappearance of her classmate and neighbor, she does notice how certain writers have tapped into her “brain space” to influence what she originally “thought was going to be a poem,” but later became the lyric essay that sits nicely between the nonfiction and poetry genres.

Looking to the musings in her old notebook, Megan discovers that she was obsessing over the poetry of Li-Young Lee at the time. She had written a note to herself about his work that reads, “Long poems need externalities.” In her old notes, she also finds a scribbled question— “Bowman-style meditation for the cyclical obsession with missing people?”—referring to Catherine Bowman’s poem “A Thousand Lines.” Lastly, Megan realizes that the newsprint style of “Narrative” was influenced by Jehanne Debrow’s The Arranged Marriage, which helped give her lyric essay form and made the nonfiction piece feel complete.

It seems that Megan’s creative work was driven by her obsessions at the time: her fascination with poets Li-Young Lee and Catherine Bowman, her admiration for Jehanne Debrow’s literary style, her love for true crime, and her curiosity about Amy Fitzpatrick’s disappearance.

Reflecting on her writing, Megan wants her readers to acknowledge that beauty and horror can exist simultaneously, concluding “There can be voicelessness even amid countless voices.”

You can read Megan’s work in Issue 21 of Superstition Review.

Contributor Update, BJ Hollars: Harbingers

Today we are happy to announce the news of past contributor BJ Hollars! BJ’s collection of nonfiction stories titled Harbingers was just published early this month by Bull City Press. The tryptic of essays explores the possible harbingers present in the lives of atomic bomb scientist J. Robert Oppenheimer, civil rights activist Medgar Evers and the author himself. Hollars notices that while a harbinger is defined as a sign of something to come, it is often best interpreted in the aftermath.

More information about the collection can be found here, his fiction piece for S[r]’s Issue 6 can be found here, along with his nonfiction piece for Issue 10.

Congratulations BJ!

Contributor Update, Maggie Kast: Wide Awake and in Good Voice

Today we are happy to share the news of past contributor Maggie Kast! Her personal essay titled “Wide Awake and in Good Voice” was just published to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Links Hall, an art and performance space in Chicago. Maggie is a board member and her essay focuses on her experience working with the space and the people who run the institution. Maggie also has her newest book, Side by Side and Never Face to Face: a Novella and Stories to be published in May 2020 by Orison Books.

Maggie’s essay for Links Hall’s 40th anniversary series can be found here, more information about her forthcoming collection can be found here, and her nonfiction piece for S[r]’s Issue 19 can be found here.

Congratulations Maggie!

Contributor Update, Sherrie Flick: Thank Your Lucky Stars

We are happy to announce the news of past contributor Sherrie Flick! Her latest collection, Thank Your Lucky Stars,was published last September in 2018. Sherrie will be attending the AWP conference from March 27-30 to appear on panels and offer readings and signings. Thank your Lucky Stars is a collection of fifty stories ranging across all subjects and emotions. Each story attacks the human experience and details love and loss in poetic images and quick wit.

More information about the collection and Sherrie’s upcoming events can be found here, and her nonfiction piece for Issue 10 can be found here.

Congratulations, Sherrie!

Authors Talk: DJ Lee

DJ LeeAuthors Talk: DJ Lee

Today we are pleased to feature DJ Lee as our Authors Talk series contributor. She takes the opportunity to talk with her daughter, Steph Lee, about her creative essay “A Syntax of Splits and Ruptures”. The essay covers the period in which DJ and her daughter were estranged, their reconciliation and, in a broader sense, the complicated relationships between mothers and daughters.

The two discuss the difficulty of writing a personal piece about family, but they acknowledge writing can be a way to process family traumas. DJ considers Steph’s reaction to the essay, as she felt the person in the essay is “another form of me.” After reconciling, DJ felt she needed to publicly share their story through her writing, speaking to “people dealing with this kind of loss, especially of a child.”

DJ also considers the inspiration she found in the earthwork sculpture, Spiral Jetty, built by Robert Smithson in the Great Salt Lake. The art piece, significant to the pair, became an important element in the piece as she constructed the essay “to have a spiral form, to sort of fold back on itself like the relationship between mothers and daughters.” She also considers the idea of “something very beautiful and precious and special being under the surface.” Not only does she find meaning in this inspiring art piece but uses numbers to connect the fragments of her essay in order demonstrate the “ruptures in peoples lives” and how “a fractured relationship” can be made whole.

You can read DJ’s work in Issue 21 of Superstition Review.

Contributor Update, Paul Lisicky: LATER

Today we are happy to share news about past contributor Paul Lisicky. Paul will be presenting his forthcoming novel LATER at the Tin House Writer Workshop in Oregon this March, the novel will be published a year from then (March 2020) by Greywolf Press. His sixth book, LATER recounts Paul’s life in the early 90s during the AIDS epidemic as he explored the artistic and real world.

 

Information about the workshop can be found here, refer to Paul’s website for updates on his book here.

 

Congratulations Paul!

Editorial Preferences in Nonfiction: Ellen O’Brien

There are two qualities that every good nonfiction story – every story that stands out to me, every story that I can’t stop thinking about, that I enjoy rereading again and again – shares, and those qualities are intentionality and subjectivity.

Intentionality is about construction. I want to read stories that are expressed with clarity and ease, stories in which each scene serves a purpose in the narrative and each word perfectly captures the scene the author wants to convey. Intentional writing is simple and unforced. An intentional story has everything it needs to feel complete, nothing excessive, unresolved or unnecessary.

I come from a background in journalism, and the newsroom is where I’ve gotten some of the best writing advice for news articles and for creative nonfiction alike. An editor recently told me: I don’t want obvious details, I want poignant details. Tell me what moved you, what caught your attention: those are the details I want to read. Another editor’s advice: don’t be afraid to declutter a story. Cut scenes or details that don’t serve a purpose or that don’t ‘spark joy’, in the parlance of Marie Kondo.

The second quality, subjectivity, is about content. I don’t just want to know what happened, but how it affected the author. No two people see the same event or person or place the same way, and I want to feel a writer’s unique perspective. I want to know: how was she affected by the events in the story? What relationship does she have with the people and places in the story? Where do they fit in her personal narrative?

Our relationships make us human. We change and define ourselves in relation to them, and we seek connection with and acceptance from them. Our subjectivity makes us human, too. We can never experience what it’s like to be anyone other than ourselves, but stories allow us to imagine and to empathize. That’s what I want out of a good story: not just to know that something happened, but to feel how it affected the person who experienced it.

Ellen O’Brien is the nonfiction editor for Issue 23. She’s a senior at Arizona State University pursuing a double major in journalism and philosophy with a minor in Arabic. She’s passionate about photography, literature, foreign policy and epistemology. After graduation, she plans to pursue a job in photojournalism or news editing and to attend law school.