Dispatches from Delhi: Report 7

For my first week at New Era Public School, I have divided my time between assisting and supervising special/remedial education classes and shadowing teachers of different subject areas in 11th and 12th grades. I have to say, I have learned quite a lot about India’s education system through my time in both these tasks. Regarding the latter, it is kind of the same as American high school­­—cocky kids, semi-interesting subject matter taught in monotony, and overwhelming adolescent disrespect reluctantly bending to authority for 45 minutes per class.

Nevertheless, the former is where I was able to see kids in the Indian education system up close and personal and at very impressionable ages. I spent every day from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. with groups of kids ranging from 2nd to 8th grade, some with learning disabilities (dyslexia, dyscalculia, dysgraphia, autism, etc.) and others with behavioral issues that interfere with their studies. I learned the process for getting a student extra help through placement. These special education courses start with the child’s teachers’ or parents’ recommendation for remedial education followed by a comprehensive assessment administered by an educational psychologist on the special education staff. If the assessment determines that the child in question requires special education, then several provisions may be available that can lighten the child’s class load to a more manageable size. For example, a child who fairs poorly in mathematics and science can switch these classes for computers and art. In addition, the Central Board for Secondary Education (CBSE), which administers all important examinations for high school students as well as undergraduate students, makes provisions for children with learning disabilities during examinations by providing them extra time for the tests and tests their knowledge of computers and art rather than mathematics and science.

However, despite the school’s acknowledgment that those with behavioral issues require equal (sometimes greater) remedial work, a child diagnosed with behavioral issues but not an actual learning disability is exempt from provisions set in place by the CBSE. Moreover, with most of the children with whom I have interacted so far, the biggest issue seems to be a behavioral issue contributing to learning difficulties rather than outright disabilities, especially since many of the children are of average intelligence but lack the environmental factors to facilitate proper learning.

Vivek

Take Vivek as an example. He is a seventh grader whose assessment notes that he is of average intelligence. His teachers have described him as troublesome, hyperactive, and overall a difficult child to work with inside the classroom. Nevertheless, after speaking to him for about an hour, I could not confirm any of those judgments. I expected standoffish, rude, and disobedient. Instead, I got quiet, studious, and inquisitive. The discrepancy surprised me, so I spoke with one of his teachers, and I learned that what should be manageable difficulties for Vivek to work through in school are only further compounded by the harshness of his family life. His father, an auto-rickshaw driver, died when the boy was very young and both his mother and his grandmother are illiterate. Furthermore, they have very little means of financial support for the four of them (Vivek has a younger brother). As a result, Vivek has trouble in nearly every subject area, especially regarding his English reading, writing, and comprehension skills. Since Vivek belongs to what the school formerly calls an EWS (economically weaker section), his family is exempt from having to pay school fees and he receives as remedial work as his other subject teachers will allow during the school day. However, despite all of his teachers’ care and concern for Vivek’s wellbeing, he ceases to be their responsibility when he leaves the walls of the school. It is not that they do not care, but in a country with a total population this large, it is not surprising to imagine that they have plenty of other children to attend to just within the confines of the school grounds. Luckily, New Era is doing its very best to keep kids like Vivek from slipping through the cracks by switching classes, mandating remedial work-time, providing extra work, and exempting from fees whenever possible. My concern is with what else can be done with such limited means in a system this large and underserved.

Whatever the answer, like the teachers and staff at the school, I am just glad I can help kids like Vivek with their homework and morale. Baby steps.

Announcing: Melissa Pritchard

Superstition Review would like to announce that Melissa Pritchard’s collection of short stories, The Odditorium: Stories, is due for release January 10, 2012. It is now available for pre-order from Amazon.

Pritchard was the featured reader in our Superstition Review reading series in November 2010.

Praise for Melissa Pritchard:

“Melissa Pritchard is one of our finest writers.”—Annie Dillard

“Pritchard’s quicksilver ability to blend biting social/political commentary with a rueful analysis of relationships makes [her work a] delight.”—Publishers Weekly

“I have admired Melissa Pritchard’s writing for several years now for its wisdom, its humble elegance, and its earthy comedy.”—Rick Moody

About The Odditorium: Stories:

In each of these eight genre-bending tales, Melissa Pritchard overturns the conventions of mysteries, westerns, gothic horror, and historical fiction to capture surprising and often shocking aspects of her characters’ lives.

In one story, Pritchard creates a pastiche of historical facts, songs, and tall tales, contrasting the famed figures of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, including Annie Oakley and Sitting Bull, with the real, genocidal history of the American West. Other stories are inspired by the mysterious life of Kaspar Hauser, a haunted Victorian hospital where the wounded of D-Day are taken during World War II, and the story of Robert LeRoy Ripley of “Ripley’s Believe It Or Not” and his beguiling “odditoriums,” told from the perspective of his lifelong fact checker. (From Amazon.com)

Congratulations, Melissa. We look forward to this release.

 

Interview with Matthew Healy

Matthew Scott Healy lives in Scottsdale, Arizona with his wife and daughter. He teaches English and Creative Writing at Scottsdale Community College. His work has appeared in Blackbird and Cutbank. His is the recipient of the Finnely Award for Humorous Short Fiction, and his story “Always the Obvious Places” was nominated for storySouth as the most notable story of 2010.

Superstition Review: I’m drawn to the character Emmett in “Always the Obvious Places.” Can you please describe how you came up with a character that would “throw a cactus” just to get away from the police?

Matthew Healy: I like the idea of characters without shame, who hold nothing back. Here is Emmett, a guy with the thumb of law enforcement upon him, yet he maintains this defiant posture of bluster. So many characters are governed by the consequences of their actions, and I wanted to have a character who is the exact opposite. He’s a guy without any permanence in his life, so his refusal to change is his anchor point. He’s also the character the other characters want most to change, but Emmett is so obdurate that by necessity others must do the changing around him.

SR: How did you imagine the life situation for Emmett and family? Where did it come from?

MH: Emmett’s life is about resiliency in a place where nothing is permanent. His job, his living situation, his girlfriend, what kids are around—all of it fluctuates wildly. I’ve known people like Emmett, and what amazes me is their ability to survive in such flux. In the story, Emmett has a somewhat stable living situation, but I imagine him living somewhere else a month before the story begins and somewhere else a month after the story ends. I worked briefly as a probation officer, and so many defendants exist this way, living as nomads. One of my defendants moved from jail to a halfway house. Within a week, he was living with a new girlfriend and her kids (who were already calling him “Dad”). A week later, he moved in with his parents, and then into some apartment with a different girlfriend and her kids. This wasn’t uncommon. I watched people join a family for only a week or two before joining another. The men and women became temporary fathers and mothers—an entire migrating community of interchangeable family members. I think that’s why Emmett can be so lighthearted about Officer Jay and Sgt. Falco’s visit, because their presence is temporary. Eventually, they will go home to other, better parts of the city, away from this vortex of instability, and Emmett will keep moving inside of it.

SR: The location of “Always the Obvious Places” is very vivid. How does place inform your writing?

MH: I grew up next to families who were not far away from Emmett’s circumstances. Actually, they may have been worse. My two best friends living on either side have spent their lives in and out of prison. I still remember the sights and sounds and smells of their houses: dark hallways, navigating through heaps of clothes and trash, looking for a space to play. Blackish-brown carpet that was harder than tile from all the abandoned spills. As a little kid, I was too young to understand or be bothered by such conditions. It just seemed strange and different. Later, when I became a probation officer, my reaction was much different. One of pity and disgust and anger (especially when I found babies and toddlers living in conditions that were squalid, but not enough to warrant intervention by CPS). I felt very much like a tourist lost in a bad part of a foreign city, standing in the living rooms of people and making recommendations on how they should improve their lives.

In “Obvious Places,” the setting influences how the characters behave and what they value. I wanted Emmett’s home to seem tangible and constrictive, yet ephemeral—a place that could be razed to the ground without anyone paying it much mind.

SR: In almost each line of “Always the Obvious Places,” there is a trace of humor. What are some of the difficulties of writing humor? What are the joys? Who are some of your favorite authors who use humor?

MH: I think one of the dangers of humor is becoming seduced by it and sacrificing the story for a few laughs. I didn’t necessary begin “Obvious Places” intending for it to be funny. Instead, the humor was a necessary counterbalance to the very bleak reality of Emmett’s life, which in so many ways is simply tragic. I just realized that one of the worst things anyone can do is analyze humor, so I’ll resist the temptation to dissect it.

Instead, I’ll answer the last part of your question, and mention a few funny writers I admire. I favor wry and subdued humor that’s attached to something much larger and darker, something that’s lurking after the punch-line to shake things up. Along those lines, Sherman Alexie has a wonderfully deadpan humor, and so does Denis Johnson. One of my favorites, though, is Richard Russo. When writing “Obvious Places,” I was actually thinking about Russo’s very funny novel Straight Man. In a strange twist, Russo’s agent contacted me out of the blue after reading “Obvious Places” to tell me he had enjoyed it. I’m still trying to figure out if that means I unintentionally channeled Russo’s voice too much in the story. As I tell my intro creative writing students, after reading someone you love, wait at least an hour before starting to write. What works for eating and swimming might work for reading and writing.

SR: What are you writing now? What are you reading?

MH: I just finished revising two short stories as part of a collection, but I’m also about halfway through writing a novel, which has turned out to be the most difficult undertaking of my life. I’m used to writing short stories, which is primarily what I like to read. Right now I’m reading the sizeable collection edited by Joyce Carol Oates, and most of the stories so far are pretty engaging.

I’m not reading any novels right now, though not for lack of trying. Unless they’re really good, my attention in most novels tends to sputter out after a hundred pages or so—an awful admission for someone who is trying to write one, but it’s true. When I was in Ohio State’s MFA program, we got to meet Michael Chabon, and we discussed the differences in short and long forms. He believes most writers fall into one category or the other, so perhaps I’m just a short form type of guy. (By the way, he admitted to being a long form guy.) This is fine with me, even though there’s no money in writing short stories, but it’s a shame since short fiction is so pristine and every word is so deliberate. I love the necessary ambiguity of short stories—there simply isn’t time to render every detail, so much of the story that orbits the literal prose must happen in the reader’s imagination. Who knows, maybe the dwindling attention spans means a lucrative future for short story writers.

 


Forthcoming: Meg Pokrass

How short can a short story be? Meg Pokrass asks – and answers – that question in her fiction, which often takes the form of flash-fiction and micro-stories. Though her stories are short, they pack the same emotional punch that can be found in a lengthy piece of a prose. She delivers her characters and narrative in compact, meticulously chosen details. For example, in her short-short story “The Big Dipper,” about a young girl trying to navigate her adolescence by purchasing a four-foot-deep pool for her backyard, she conveys a great deal of personal information about her main character’s background in a single sentence. Referring to her mother, the narrator divulges that “Now that Dad has his own place and his bi-polar disorder, she had all kinds of new expressions.” Some of her shortest stories are only between 90 and 100 words long. In this compact form she writes of mother-daughter relationships, adolescence, sexuality, insecurity, and identity.

In her review of Meg Pokrass’s recent collection of short stories, Damn Sure Right, Tessa Mellas compares Pokrass’s flash fiction to the “richest morsels of chocolate. You can’t inhale them by the fistful.” This description does Pokrass’s stories justice; her fiction demands that you stop for a moment after reading, that you take in every single detail individually to get the full experience of her micro-narratives.

We asked Meg Pokrass to share her writing process, in particular what inspired the short story that will be appearing in Superstition Review Issue 8, which will launch in December. Click here to view the video that gives us a glance behind the scenes.

Visit her website at http://www.megpokrass.com

A Visit to the Barnhart Studio

Barnhart Studio, a castle of metal and cinderblock, is tucked into a Mesa residential area. When I ring the doorbell, an unassuming man in a t-shirt opens the door: William Barnhart.

After a brief introduction, I am given a tour of the studio. William starts from the foundation of the building. From the tile work on the bathroom walls to the welding on the doors, most of the fixtures in the building are made from recycled materials, and they are all William Barnhart’s handiwork.

The very studio where William works is a reminder that art sometimes requires more than a table and chisel or paintbrush. The studio resembles a mechanic’s garage, a zone under construction, where a plaster sculpture waits to be completed. When I ask how long it takes to finish a project, William says, “It takes as long as it takes.” He shows me the swinging cranes that lift heavy materials, the giant fan he traded a painting for, and a room he is working on.

We walk and talk, and then we sit down in his office and talk about his work and about art in general. The following is a recreation of part of our conversation:

Superstition Review: Have you worked with art galleries?

William Barnhart: I did for a time, but not anymore. Art galleries insulate the artist from the clients, because if the client and the artist are communicating, there really is no need for the art gallery. I like the communication with my clients. I can put my studio down anywhere, and my clients will come to me.

SR: That’s true, you have an actual client-artist relationship. What kind of mediums and materials do you work with?

WB: I do prints, paintings, sculpture. I like working with bronze, making sculptures. You know, bronze, it’ll be around for generations.

SR: I read that the sculpture you recently finished has gold on it. Do you think the value of the materials you use adds something to your work?

WB: I definitely want to use quality materials in my work. It’s not necessarily the value of the materials but the quality of them.

SR: I know some artists try to make social commentary with their art. What would you say is the message you are trying to convey with your art?

WB: Social commentary is definitely not the focus of my work. I want my art to be universal, to transcend the bounds of time. It’s more about relationship issues, about human emotions and the drama of the figure. It’s about the human experience.

We discuss other things, such as his creative process and why he chose that particular area to place his studio. But when I take leave of William Barnhart, print-maker, designer, painter, sculptor—with “more stripes than the tigers,” to use his words—what lingers most in my mind is the image of the high-domed building, the living space, the vibrant place of craft that is itself a work of art.

For more information about William Barnhart’s studio and his work, visit his website.

 

What We’re Reading

Here’s what Superstition Review interns are currently reading.

Corinne Randall, Poetry Editor: Right now I am currently reading my FAVORITE Shakespeare plays, Othello. Like all good Shakespeare tragedies it has a sad ending but it’s powerful through and through.

Samantha Allen, Art Editor: Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood. It’s a blend of literary fiction and sci-fi, a character-driven story about “Snowman” — formerly Jimmy — who appears to be the last man on Earth. Through Snowman’s flashbacks, the reader sees a near-future image of a North American city segregated into the slummy ‘pleeblands’ and the enclosed communities owned by corporations engaged in research on genetic modification. Though Atwood includes some seemingly-fantastical elements in her novel, her research is so thorough and impeccable that through her narrator’s detailed explanations, the outlandish feels entirely realistic. Her emotionally intense prose and air of scientific authority make Oryx and Crake a very compelling read.

Ljubo Popovich, Poetry Editor: I just got into Chilean writer Roberto Bolaño. I recommend his long novels: The Savage Detectives and 2666. Also his collections of short stories are excellent. The one I read was Last Evenings on Earth. He writes about lives of writers in South America and Europe. He founded the poetry movement InfraRealism in South America and is considered the heir to Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s literary triumphs. I also read Masuji Ibuse’s collection of short stories, Salamander and other stories. This Japanese writer is [rather] unknown in the United States. But his historical novel Black Rain, about the events leading up to and following the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki is considered one of the greatest novels to come out of Post-War Japan. His prose is very easy to read and very beautifully rendered, even in translation.

Jake Adler, Art Editor: Guyland by Michael Kimmel. It’s a sociological study about how today’s boys in college are failing to grow up, thrusting themselves deep in frat life and “guy code.”

Tana Ingram, Fiction Editor: Train Dreams by Denis Johnson. It’s about a day laborer, Robert Grainier, in the American West at the start of the twentieth century. The book follows Robert through difficult trials of his own set against the changes taking place in the country as “progress” sweeps the nation. Johnson does a good job of transporting the reader back to this turbulent time and place in America’s history.

Marie Lazaro, Interview Editor: Just Kids by Patti Smith. So far the way it is written is beautiful and the story is easily captivating. It explores a new side of Patti Smith, gives insight to the personal relationships she had with her family during her childhood and gives a look into her bond with Robert Mapplethorpe.

 

Catching Up with Past Interns

I am happy to bring you an exciting post this week that has been in the works for a while– an interview with Superstition Review interns from previous semesters. Here’s what they had to say about what they’re up to now, how SR helped them get there, and what they wish they had known when they were interns. Enjoy!

Superstition Review: What have you been doing since your internship with Superstition Review?

Sara Scoville: After graduating from ASU in May ’09, I have continued to conduct research for a collection of essays I’ve been working on since my last semester. The topic focuses on interaction and the relationships that form in the online gaming community amongst alpha males. I also work full time as a supervisor at a direct marketing company.

Melissa Silva: I’m now applying to work as an intern for Nordstrom. As a Capital Scholar, I’m applying to work for NPR and other media outlets in DC this summer.

Riki Meier: I’ve been working full-time at ASU during the day, and also taking a few independent study courses. Late last fall, I completed several graduate school applications, and I’m excited to say I was just accepted into the English PhD program at Tufts University! They are offering me full funding for five years. I’m absolutely thrilled as I know Tufts has an excellent program and I also love the Boston area!

Carter Nacke: Since working at Superstition Review, I have turned my focus to graduating. I’m pleased to say that I’ll be graduating in May with a degree in Print Journalism from the Cronkite School.

Alex Linden: Since my internship with Superstition Review, I finished my last year at Arizona State and applied to MFA programs for Poetry. I now attend Oklahoma State University and this semester will finish the first year of my MFA.

SR: Do you think your experience with Superstition Review has helped with what you’re doing now? How?

SS: I believe it most certainly has. I’ve worked for the same company for 12 years, so it was definitely nice to do something different. Trish is an amazing person and I absolutely loved learning from her! One thing that I appreciated most about her is the amount of trust and faith she had in me. It’s because of her belief in my abilities that I have a stronger sense of confidence in both my writing and professional life.

MS: Experience with publishing and Excel I think has helped reassure companies that I’m qualified to work for them.

RM: I do think that my work at Superstition Review helped my admission chances at Tufts, as Tufts has a reputation for wanting well-rounded (and diversified) applicants. Although I am going for a research degree, I think the fact I worked as an editor at a national literary magazine demonstrated that I don’t have only an analytical mind; I have a strong creative inclination as well.

CN: I think my experience did help. While I was in charge of financing and fundraising (which I’d never done before), SR helped me learn to balance work and school. I also saw first-hand how magazines are produced, which is extremely helpful for my magazine writing class.

AL: My experience with SR has definitely helped with what I do now. I believe my chances of getting into MFA programs would have been much less had I not done the internship. More importantly, I was exposed to the literary world and inspired to pursue similar work in the future. I now read for the Cimarron Review.

SR: Is there any advice you’d like to give current Superstition Review interns?

SS: Have respect for everyone involved throughout the entire process. Ask for help if you need it, and be willing to help if someone needs you. The success of the issue is dependent upon every single intern, so open lines of communication are of the utmost importance. Also, be proud of and enjoy what you’re contributing to the literary community.

MS: Work hard and try to learn as much as you can. I learned a lot about communicating professionally online and using Excel.

RM: For the current editors soliciting work from writers, I would say that one should approach soliciting writers like they should approach applying to graduate schools. One should have a number of “long-shots” writers on the list that one dreams of publishing, but the chances of publishing that person may be slim. Soliciting someone like Toni Morrison or Salman Rushdie may be analogous to applying to graduate school at Princeton or Harvard. If you diversify your solicitation list, you have far greater chances of getting lots of great literary pieces for review!

CN: Current interns: Get your stuff done early. Take it from someone who knows, assignments and work can pile up on you before you know what’s going on!

AL: Take advantage of every opportunity your internship provides. Research other literary journals, contact the writers you admire, and don’t read all of the submissions at once. 🙂