Alexie has published 24 books including What I’ve Stolen, What I’ve Earned, Blasphemy: New and Selected Stories, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, and a 20th Anniversary edition of his classic book of stories, The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven.
Smoke Signals, the movie he wrote and co-produced, won the Audience Award and Filmmakers Trophy at the 1998 Sundance Film Festival.
Alexie’s visit is hosted by the ASU RED INK Indigenous Initiative for All: Collaboration and Creativity at Work, with support from ASU’s American Indian Studies, Department of English, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and Center for Indian Education.
I’ve been back in Arizona for a solid 24 hours and have had time to defrost and debrief on my time at the 2014 AWP Conference in Seattle. I have been reflecting on my experiences as an AWP novice and wanted to share my thoughts. Plus, spending three days with poets and writers really makes you want to scribble something down.
When I boarded the flight to Seattle last week, I was a bag of nerves. Why was I so unprepared? How was I going to speak coherently to the brilliant minds I was about to meet? What’s my name again? I settled in my seat, repeating “Erin Regan – I’m just an undergraduate” in my head, when I realized that I was sitting next to Benjamin Saenz, an author whose work I was introduced to last year in a Chicano literature class. I knew I would regret it if I didn’t say anything, so I introduced myself and complimented his work. We ended up chatting for the rest of the flight – him sharing stories about selling his mother’s homemade burritos for cigarettes as a child and offering me advice for the conference/life, me laughing and nodding and trying to take everything in. By the time he was suggesting I nurse my cold with a cocktail of bourbon and honey and texting Sherman Alexie, my nerves were abandoned.
Since that flight, I had the opportunity to be in the same room as some of my other favorite writers, people I’ve been reading for years like Sherman Alexie, Chuck Palahnuik, Ursula Le Guin, and Gary Snyder. Yes, some of those rooms were pretty big, but that’s okay. It was magical to hear them read from their work and speak about their experiences, but even more inspiring was being in the company of thousands of writers practicing their craft with such love.
As a literature and journalism major, and an undergraduate no less, I felt a bit on the outside this weekend. I’m a stranger to the workshop process and I’m not sure where/when/if I’m getting my MFA. When people asked me what I write, I had a hard time giving them a straight answer, stumbling over my words until landing on “I try to write fiction.” On Saturday, the final day of the conference, I offered this answer to a man behind his table at the book fair. He gave me a look and asked what that meant. Flustered and inarticulate as I was at this point (come on, it was the third day of this), I shrugged. He asked me if I liked to write, and when I said yes, he said, “I dub you a fiction writer.” I will continue to write and will begin to submit my work to literary journals, but regardless of whether or I get published, this weekend has made me a much more devoted reader and supporter of the literary community. This weekend, I realized that I am a writer among writers, a member of a community that is thriving.
On Friday, I was able to witness just how strong and spirited that community is during what is becoming an infamous moment in AWP history. Past Student Editor-in-Chief Sydni Budelier and I were sitting in the aisle of a packed room for a panel titled “Magic and the Intellect.” Lucy Corin was reading an excerpt from her novel-in-progress The Swank Hotel. The piece was rich with dark and disturbing images, a stream of dead baby jokes that showed us something powerful about the nature of humanity and pain. You can read a thoughtful summary of the panel by Naomi Williams here. In the middle of Corin’s reading, a voice from the back of the room, obviously offended, interrupted her and began a rant that accused Corin of “traumatizing” her audience. While the outburst was shocking, the support for Corin in response was truly stunning. People urged her to finish the excerpt, take her time, and someone even shouted “start over!” I, and many others, had tears in our eyes as a quaking-voiced Corin finished her reading to fierce applause.
This, I believe, is what we were celebrating at the AWP Conference: the communality of writers supporting other writers, creators praising and inspiring other creators. I’m thrilled to have been able to meet so many of our own brilliant contributors at the book fair as well – thank you to everyone who stopped by our table to say hello. I’m honored to share a community with all of you.
If you are unfamiliar with Redivider, we are a literary journal produced by the graduate students of Emerson College in Boston, and this year we are commemorating our 10th anniversary. Looking back over the past decade, we’re proud of what we’ve accomplished thus far: We’ve published amazing fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and art since our inception from writers such as Sherman Alexie, Tracy K. Smith, Steve Almond, and Denise Duhamel; we’ve been catapulted into the digital age with the release of our first e-book this past winter, reaching wider audiences than ever; and we created our annual Beacon Street Prize with $500 prizes, for both fiction and poetry, as well as publication—which is open for submissions February 15 to April 30. Each year, we have special guest judges, and we’re thrilled to announce that this year our judges are Amy Hempel for fiction and Heather McHugh for poetry.
With AWP just around the corner, we’re ramping up for a Redivider Birthday Bash— complete with cake, party hats, and piñata— that you don’t want to miss. We will also hold our AWP Quickie Contest which challenges attendees to write a short poem within the span of the conference. The winning entry will be published in our Winter 2013 issue, 11.1, alongside the 2013 Beacon Street Prize winners and our selection of both established and emerging writers.
For our current issue, 10.1, we designed a cover that commemorates some of our favorite covers from the past ten years. It is a simple, yet beautiful, design that showcases what has come before while looking toward the future of our journal. The content includes the winning entries from 2012’s Beacon Street Prize and a breathtaking array of original fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and art from Kim Addonizio, Jen Hirt, Diane Cook, and many more. You can read it in print or on any reading device by ordering through Amazon or our website. But, for now, please enjoy an exclusive sneak peak of 10.1–a short fiction piece titled “False Teeth” by Glenn Shaheen right here, the only place you will find it online.
For more details about the Beacon Street Prize, our Redivider Birthday Bash, the fun we’ll have at AWP, submitting your work, or anything else Redivider, check out our website, or find us on Facebook and Twitter.
by Glenn Shaheen
Sarah loves Halloween. She puts weeks into preparing these parties, putting cobwebs on all our books, fake severed hands in each of our drawers. The parties are always hits. Everybody has Facebook photo albums of them from all different angles. This year Sarah went as a vampire. She got those fangs that they specially make, the really expensive ones. But she left them in even after the party, after Halloween. At first it was funny, like some kind of novelty. Everybody just saying “Oh, Sarah!” and getting back to work. But now it’s almost December. Thanksgiving has passed. I said to her that it can’t be good for her real teeth, to leave those fake ones in for most of the day. I wore mine just during the party and my mouth hurt for like two days. She said that was because I threw my werewolf costume together at the last minute and bought my fake teeth from a gas station. Hers were real art. I said it was probably time to take them out, people are talking. She just raised her arms above her head and said “Blood! I vant your blood!” It’s tough to argue with her when she’s being cute. I can’t stand vampire movies, but when we started dating I told Sarah I loved them. It’s way past the point of no return on that lie. We actually have sex to the Lost Boys soundtrack a lot more frequently than I’d even care to admit. People are strange, thou shalt not kill spilling from the speakers. Jesus. Sarah’s great, she’s not like a goth or anything. But when does that road start? When we fight she wishes aloud sometimes that “her romantic vampire” would just come and take her away. I don’t know how I get jealous of that but I do. Of some imaginary creature that would never exist in a million years. And when we watch any new vampire movie I just get furious secretly. The guys flash teeth and I’m sure she’s getting off on it. I can’t picture my life after her, if she left, but I can feel the air being let out, the pressure letting up. I tell her she’s pretty, she’s the best, there’s no end to my love. “Fangs a lot,” she says.
Superstition ReviewIssue 8contributor Sherman Alexie will present his new book, Blasphemy today at Dobson High School Auditorium.
Sherman Alexie is the author of, most recently, War Dances, stories and poems, from Grove Press, and Face, poetry, from Hanging Loose Press. He is the winner of the 2010 PEN/Faulkner Award, 2007 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, 2001 PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence in the Short Story, and a Special Citation for the 1994 PEN/Hemingway Award for Best First Fiction. Smoke Signals, the film he wrote and co-produced, won the Audience Award and Filmmakers Trophy at the 1998 Sundance Film Festival. He lives with his family in Seattle.
DOBSON HIGH SCHOOL AUDITORIUM
1501 W. Guadalupe Road
Mesa, AZ 85202 (google map) Doors open at 6:30 p.m.
Brevity: A Journal of Concise Literary Nonfiction is a rapidly growing staple of the nonfiction world. The submissions are capped at a short 750 words.
This call for concision forces writers to hone their ability to say a lot with very little. Like poetry, this form of flash nonfiction requires a specific care for word choice that longer works of fiction cannot demand. Like poetry, this brief form of writing weighs each word and every sentence more heavily.
Brevity has been publishing the works of authors and artists since 1997 and is currently working on its 38th issue. In addition to short nonfiction, Brevity publishes essays on craft as well as book reviews. Currently, they are accepting works that fulfill their normal requirements (concise literary nonfiction), but they are also doing a separate issue, “Ceiling or Sky: Female Nonfictions after the VIDA Count.” The VIDA Count is a tally of publications based on gender, and is the inspiration of this themed issue. They will be hosting special guest editors including Susanne Antonetta, Barrie Jean Borich, and Joy Castro for this particular issue. Submissions will be accepted until May 1.
Brevity is an online literary magazine. To receive upcoming news, you can subscribe to their mailing list, which currently boasts 5,000 members. This list will keep you up to date with all their upcoming issues.
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.
Sherman Alexie is one funny guy. He is the author of numerous collections of poetry and short stories, adult and young adult novels, and four screenplays, including the 1999 award-winning film Smoke Signals. He was the recipient of the National Book Award prize for Young People’s Literature in 2007, and the PEN/Faulnker award winner for his novel War Dances in 2010. Yet despite his many successes, Sherman Alexie maintains an easy going attitude and a witty, self-deprecating sense of humor. From my own experience seeing him speak at the kick-off of ASU’s Project Humanities last February, I can attest to the fact that Alexie really knows how to work an audience. When he read his poetry, you could hear a pin drop in the auditorium. But most of his speech was riotously funny, and whether he was recalling an anecdote about his daily life or poking fun at ASU’s president Michael Crow, he had the audience crippled with laughter.
What makes Sherman Alexie’s humor so outstanding is his fearless confrontation of difficult subjects. During his speech for Project Humanities he discussed racial stereotypes, sexism, and homophobia, always with his trademark wit. If you visit his website or follow him on Twitter (which I highly recommend), you will see the same thing: his unflinching willingness to speak his mind about social issues. Yet his convictions never overtake his artistic integrity. Instead they connect his work to the day-to-day world and prompt the reader to reconsider their assumptions about privilege, race, and class. Sherman Alexie is truly one of America’s most valuable writers, and we are very pleased to publish his work in Issue 8 of Superstition Review.
As part of Project Humanities launch week festivities, they will be holding an event at the Tempe Center for the Arts on Monday, February 7th at 7 p.m. The keynote speaker for the event will be author, poet and screenwriter Sherman Alexie and he will speak on the topic “People, Places and Stories.”
Alexie, currently residing in Seattle, Washington, bases much of his writing on his experiences as a Native American. Some of his best known works are a book of short stories entitled The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven (1994), the film Smoke Signals, and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, an autobiographical novel for young adults.
In 1999, Alexie was named as one of The New Yorker’s top 20 writers of the twenty-first century. In 2007, Alexie was awarded the National Book Award prize for Young People’s literature for The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. Last year Alexie won the PEN/Faulkner Award for War Dances, the Native Writers’ Circle of the Americas Lifetime Achievement Award, and was the recipient of the Puterbaugh Award and holds the distinction of being the first American to receive the award.
The event takes place February 7th at 7 p.m. at the Tempe Center for the Arts located at 700 W. Rio Salado Parkway Tempe, AZ. 8528. Parking is free for guests in the lot adjacent to the facility. No tickets are needed for this event; seating is on a first come first serve basis. Guests may arrive at 6 p.m. and doors to the theater will open at 6:30 p.m.
Jessica Swanson is a Senior at Arizona State University majoring in English with a concentration in Creative Writing.
Superstition Review:What do you do for SR?
Jessica Swanson: As the Web Design Team Manager I oversee projects for the Blogger, Web Developer, and Photoshop Editor. I initiate or remind the members of upcoming projects as well as assist them with certain projects or questions. During the past few weeks the team and I have begun a rebuild of the SR webpage which I am extremely excited about. This includes redesign the fonts, colors, and layout of the site as well as creating a new banner that will represent SR during the release of the fourth issue.
SR: How did you hear about or get involved with Superstition Review?
JS: I have had a few classes with Trish in the past and had heard about Superstition Review a few times. Since it is my last undergraduate semester at ASU I thought this would be a great opportunity to gain some hands-on experience with this online literary publication.
SR: What is your favorite section of SR? Why?
JS: I am a fiction girl so I would have to say that section and the art section are my two favorite areas of SR. I primarily write fiction so I am drawn to that section just from a personal bias, and I am always fascinated by artwork and, therefore, attracted to that section.
SR: Who is your dream contributor to the journal? Talk about him/her.
JS: Well he has already contributed to the journal, but I would really love to see a piece of fiction by Sherman Alexie. He is a very diverse author/poet and I find his work extremely influential in my personal life. I have a deep respect for him as a Native American author and would love to meet him one day.
SR: What job, other than your own, would you like to try out in the journal?
JS: I would really like to be a fiction editor (big surprise) or possible work for the marketing team.
SR: What are you most excited for in the upcoming issue?
JS: I am very excited about the re-design of the SR website. My team has been working very hard these past two weeks to get this up and running by the fourth launch and I am extremely excited to see the final result.
SR: What was the first book you remember falling in love with and what made it so special?
JS: Well this wasn’t really one of the first books that I ever fell in love with, but this was the first book that made me cry. I remember being in elementary school and reading Where the Red Fern Grows, probably for pleasure and not as an assigned reading. I was home alone and it was an overcast, early winter day. I sat in an oversized plush chair in the living room, curled up with my feet underneath me. As I read the novel I became overwhelmed by what I was reading, never having read something quite like that at my age. I cried and cried until my family came home and at the time I was sad, but I was also thrilled because that was the first time I had truly interacted with a book. After that I just became an even bigger bookworm and you could not pull me out of library for anything.
SR: What are you currently reading?
JS: Besides schoolwork I am attempting to read a mystery called Beautiful Lies. This has been a feat considering the workload of the first few weeks, but I hope to have it completed soon. I am very surprised with the novel so far–something I wasn’t expecting since it had been on the bargain table at Barnes and Noble. During the summer I read the entire Sookie Stackhouse series by Charlaine Harris and I would like to start viewing the show True Blood which is based on the series. Also, I am greatly anticipating Dan Brown’s new novel The Lost Symbol which continues the Robert Langdon series.
SR: What artist have you really connected with, either in subject matter, work, or motto?
JS: I think I talk about Sherman Alexie a little bit too much, but he has got to be my favorite author just because of subject matter (although I hear he is a pretty nice guy as well). He has really helped me not only as a writer, but also as a Native American who always felt a little bit like an outcast within the community. I appreciate his work because he is so true and honest and humorous. I truly respect him as an author and I greatly value his work.
SR: What would be your dream class to take at ASU? What would the title be and what would it cover?
JS: Dream class? Naptime 101. But that will never happen. I really wish I could take a class where I am being graded to read whatever I want. If I knew that I could devote two hours a night to reading some random fiction novel off the shelf for a grade then I would be in heaven. I have found that during semesters I really cannot dedicate the time I would like to read novels for pleasure. If I could have a class where I was allowed to do that then I would be overjoyed.