Summer Writers Week Returns to Manhattanville College

With a bang that I think you could hear from this side of the river, Summer Writers’ Week returned to Manhattanville College the last week of June after a 2-year hiatus, bringing an invigorating infusion of craft development talks, readings of new work, and inspiring discussion to local writers. Workshops in poetry, nonfiction, fiction, YA fiction, and dramatic writing formed the week’s backbone, led by Melissa Tuckey, Michael McGregor, Mitchell S. Jackson, Meagan Brothers, and Sharbari Ahmed. Additional talks and readings featured a keynote reading by PEN/Faulkner Award winner Joseph O’Neill.

In keeping with Manhattanville’s tradition of inclusivity and community engagement, this program overflowed with offerings that were free and open to the public, including not only the keynote reading, but also intimate readings and craft discussions with Carl Potts on the Graphic Novel; Dan Zevin on writing comedy; Con Lehane and John Langan in writing genre fiction, particularly mystery and the fantastical; Rivka Galchen, who reprised a recent presentation for NPR on cross-genre works; New York Times book review fiction editor Greg Cowles on the art of writing reviews; Suzanne Parker on structuring the poetry manuscript; Kristin Prevallet on writing and the mind-body connection; and Alan Felsenthal of the Song Cave on starting a small press.

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The Shifting Boundaries of Story and Medium: Interview with Matthew Derby

By Sylke Jackson

This post appeared originally on the CILK119 blog. 

This weekend, Cuppa Pulp Writers’ Space welcomes Matthew Derby for the River River biannual Lodestar Reading. His recent novel, The Silent History, co-authored with Eli Horowitz, Kevin Moffatt, and Russell Quinn (Farrar Straus and Giroux 2014), was originally conceived as the first major exploratory interactive novel designed for digital platforms.  In this interview, Sylke and Matt discuss reaching beyond the boundaries of print media to tell a rich story about children, language, and the questions addressed in the novel that made him delve into unconsciously held thoughts and feelings about his late sister.

The Guardian called The Silent History “A compelling story about difference, rights and power”; Wired called it “Entirely revolutionary.” Matt’s work has also appeared in The Anchor Book of American Short Stories, Dzanc’sBest of the Web 2009, McSweeney’s, The Believer, Guernica, and elsewhere. He is also a designer for Harmonix, a video game studio in Cambridge, Massachusetts.


SJ: Is there any moment or experience in your childhood that you’d point to that opened the door to the kind of work that you are doing now?

MD: I grew up in a big Catholic family. I had six siblings, most of whom were significantly older than me. By the time I was six, all but two of them were already in college. They left a lot of stuff behind in the house when they went away – mostly books and records – and I pored over these materials like an archaeologist struggling to understand an ancient civilization.

The Beatles were the one thing all of my siblings seemed to have in common, so I spent most of my time listening to their records and reading the many books we had about them. I became fascinated with the ‘Paul is dead’ conspiracy theory, and spent many afternoons scaring myself silly looking for the clues about his death scattered throughout their recordings. One day, I read that, if you played the very end of “A Day in the Life” backwards, you could hear, instead of an orchestra reaching a spastic climax before hitting a single, unforgettable note, the sound of Paul’s car skidding and crashing in the moments before his death. I went straight to the record player and spun the record in reverse, and what I heard sounded astonishingly like a car crash.

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Urban art exhibit @ ArtsWestchester hosts River River Writers Circle

We’re looking forward to our next trip to ArtsWestchester’s “From the Streets” on Saturday, July 8, for a private tour and writing session. Mark this one on your calendar and RSVP here. At the invitation of ArtsWestchester’s Megan Thomson Connor, a River River regular, Donna and I visited on a recent afternoon.

From this exhibit of work by “wall writers” of the early graffiti and urban art movement up to the present day, we learned a bit about how the artists form and interact with their communities & their neighborhoods, approach materials & iconography, incorporate identity & signatures, handle property disputes, and face the challenges posed by art collectors and curators.

The ArtsWestchester exhibit space features several new installations for From the Streets, many of which will be painted over once the show ends.

The work ranges from two-story-high murals to a subway-lettering poem around the inside of the old bank vault, and includes sculpture, film, photography, and 3D-effect art. Curators Marc Leader (@212arts) and Melissa McCaig-Welles (@mccaigwelles) highlight those “pioneers of the movement to the present day as well as those who have lent themselves as trendsetters, tastemakers and proponents of social change.”


The exhibit presented by ArtsWestchester’s Folk Arts Program runs through July 15. Check out artsw.org for more information. Hope you can join us on Saturday, July 8!

Guest poet Rachel Eliza Griffiths @ The Carson McCullers House, Nyack NY

We lit up another full house for poetry on June 9, as local writers and musicians opened the mic for featured guest Rachel Eliza Griffiths at the Carson McCullers House in Nyack, NY.

Our open mic stretched to include eight readers and songwriters while Griffiths battled rush hour on Tappan Zee Express. With performances from some regular attendees of our community writing groups, some new friends, and two even newer wordsmiths from Nyack High School to delight us, the evening sweetened through the backdrop of falling evening light and a breeze from the Hudson River through the open doors to the screen porch.

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Rachel Eliza Griffiths, a poet and visual artist, read from her most recent collection, Lighting the Shadow (Four Way Books). With effervescence and humor, as if just arrived on a rocket ship instead of a late commuter bus, Griffiths offered insight into her writing process, her interest in the work and life of Frida Kahlo, and past and upcoming projects. Her other poetry collections are Miracle Arrhythmia (Willow Books), The Requited Distance (Sheep Meadow Press), Mule & Pear (New Issues Poetry & Prose). Her visual and literary work appears widely in a broad range of publications, including The New York Times, Poets & Writers, American Poetry Review, Callaloo, and Guernica. Griffiths has received fellowships from Yaddo, Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center, Vermont Studio Center, Millay Colony, and the Cave Canem Foundation. Her video project, P.O.P, which gathers more than 100 contemporary poets in intimate interviews, is now featured online by the Academy of American Poets. She is currently teaching creative writing at Sarah Lawrence College and the Institute of American Indian Arts. (Whew!)

Our thanks to Nick Norwood, the director of CSU’s Carson McCullers Center for Writers & Musicians, for co-hosting this event with River River Writers Circle. Thanks to all who signed up for the open mic and to everyone who attended. Stay in touch for future readings and events!

I’m At Risk for Screen Poisoning. Are You?

A couple of weeks ago, author Emmy Laybourne and mentee joined us for a Q&A on literary mentorship at American Bulldog in Chestnut Ridge. Writers in attendance came away with a renewed sense of what it takes to draft a novel or other long written work, and how a “Pro in Your Corner” can shorten your drafting time and keep self-confidence strong.

To encourage you to seek out your mentors, whether online, via favorite writing treatises, or in person, we are delighted to share some of Emmy’s wisdom for staying on track. This blog post originally appeared in her newsletter. Enjoy!


“Screen poisoning” is what I call an illness that sets in when I’ve been spending too much time in front of my computer and engaged with my phone. Symptoms include physical complaints such as dry eyes, strained vision, shoulder and/or neck pain, feeling drained; and mental difficulties like fogginess, being easily distracted, fractured attention span, forgetfulness, and… I can’t remember what else.

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Mother says~

To honor all of our mothers and the start of Mother’s Day weekend, our Friday afternoon community writing salon took up this prompt: “Your mother said, ….” A loving tribute to relationships and many tender stories followed. Enjoy these few borrowed pages from our writers. Happy Mother’s Day!


Come Home When You Can

by Steven Swank

 

Things my mother said:

Be kind to strangers, we are all going somewhere.

Don’t use so much peanut butter….
that jar has to last us all week.

Tell the truth, seems simple enough,
don’t hide your mistakes by making up stuff.

Come home when you can, she said.
Your father and I are here on the farm
waiting your safe return.

I return many times:

In sickness, in health, with girlfriends, without,
with joyous exuberance, burns, injuries, doubt,
from hitchhiking New England in winter or fall
or across the country, I return from them all.

Once with a girlfriend with whom I was living,
we came to celebrate with family Thanksgiving;
the sleeping arrangement raised their alarm,
so to sleep together, we go to the barn.

I think about these things as the coroner
and funeral guys lift her unceremoniously
onto death’s gurney, then wheel her
through the house and out the door.

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On the Same Page: One Tip for Easing the Pain of Critique

Dylan Manning

Featured Image: Truman Capote, 1959 by Roger Higgins for the New York World-Telegram and the Sun via Wikimedia Commons. This image is in the public domain.


You’ve finished your short story,  painstakingly perfecting all twelve pages, and submitted it to your writing group to be workshopped. After weeks of apprehension, tonight is finally the night. You’re looking forward to the praise, congratulations, and encouragements you’re sure you are going to receive and perhaps a suggestion to submit your work to The New Yorker. You brace yourself for this cascade of compliments, taking a seat in the circle and nodding politely to your colleagues. “Don’t smile too much,” you tell yourself. “Be cool.” And then it starts. They smile and say they “liked it” and it “definitely had some parts worth reading” but overall it “needs some work” and “heavy editing” before it can be “considered for publication.”

You want to cry. You want to tell them how you really felt about all their pieces because all the times you thoughtfully critiqued their work you had really been holding back. You feel the urge to run away, rip up your piece, and never write again, regretting suddenly your decision not to go to med school or night school for automotive repair. You wish that you knew someone with real taste who could read it for you, really read it, and tell you that it’s a great piece of fiction and anybody who says otherwise doesn’t know a thing about writing.

They just told you your baby was ugly, and it hurt.

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Imagine Doing This All the Time: Support River River write! Community Salons

Guys. GUYS. Last Friday, River River had the BEST night. If you were there, you were probably transported to a new state of being, and want to support our online fundraiser without further rumination. If you weren’t there, read on. We’ll include the link again at the end of the post, we promise.

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Our reputation for organizing warm, open, and highly entertaining readings with local writers preceded us all the way to Georgia, where poet Nick Norwood, director of the Carson McCullers Center, was planning events for the celebrated author’s centennial. River River joined in the festivities planned for Nyack, Carson McCullers’ home for twenty years, where the author famously hosted many artists and musicians at her historic Broadway house.

The room was packed. As always, we began with an open mic to warm up the crowd for James Hoch, an award-winning local poet (Miscreants, 2007) who teaches at Ramapo College. We had a published novelist and veteran poet lining up for the open mic, right alongside regulars from our writing circles and starry-eyed newcomers. No line-jumping allowed! The welcoming grace of our community did the rest. The air was heavy and bright with words. Everyone left wanting more.

We want to give more, and keep giving it for a long time. Which is why it’s so important for us to reach our very modest goal of $1,600 through this online campaign.

We are growing! We are reaching an ever-widening circle of writers.

Over the last three months, River River Writers Circle has brought over 500 hours of low- to no-cost writing circles, readings, and workshops to a community of writers with all levels of experience, including:

  • up to three write! generative salons each week,
  • readings by contributors to our Journal and by award-winning poets and novelists, which
  • always feature open-mic readings from our writing circles, without regard for publication credits or other honors—all you need is five minutes’ worth of material and the will to stand up.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could do this ALL THE TIME? We think so! If you add up all of those hours (priceless, we know, but that never stopped anyone from trying to put a price on something really good), and multiply by, say, $10/hour, you’ll quickly understand why we need your help.

River River Writers Circle is surviving on less than minimum wage.

We are an official 501(c)(3) nonprofit. We need to raise about $1,600 so that potential grantors know that you guys believe in us. In return for your donation of as little as $5, you will be commemorated forever on the pages of River River Journal’s first-ever anthology, due for publication in 2018.

And of course, the perks evolve and beautify as your donation increases. Your donation could purchase editorial services for yourself or your favorite aspiring writer. You could have us print hand-bound, custom chapbooks of your selection of poetry. Or you could buy a ticket to our spring Lodestar reading. Check out the link for more information.

Keep us afloat in Nyack on this amazing river of words.

Carson McCullers, A Local Centennial Celebration

The afternoon of Sunday, February 19 was unusually balmy, offering a warm kickoff to the centennial celebration of local writer Carson McCullers. River River editors and members enjoyed a literary and musical performance based on the author’s work at Nyack Library, then a sunlit stroll to the historic Carson McCullers house, a white Victorian a short distance down South Broadway, for a festive reception.

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Nyack Library’s Carnegie Room provided a rich setting for actor Patrick Donovan’s dramatic monologue of “A Tree. A Rock. A Cloud.“, written by McCullers at age 19. Liliya Ugay followed with a haunting performance of her original piano composition inspired by the story, accompanied by Paul Neubauer on viola.

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Borrowed Pages – Inauguration Day

Whirring blades of helicopter on the flat-screen darkened the diner counter, while I pulled my gloves off. I’d come straight from the protest rally on Main Street in Nyack, New York, where my inauguration-day mood had shifted from black to a mere dark gray. But, staring up at the event about to tumble into history, I recoiled, feeling grateful that the usual spot for our writing group is all the way in the back, next to the chalkboards announcing smoothie flavors and Nespresso options.

Writers arrived with muted greetings, spread themselves out at the long table. Some glanced over at me, probably wondering what might prompt creative writing in this dim light.

I pulled a round tea-box from my bag and opened it, revealing many strips of paper printed with verse. “Take a line, and use it as a starting point,” I suggested. The box passed from hand to hand, with some taking several, others taking one and then trading for something else. Then inspiration pulled us all into the silent focus of writing, and it kept us well past my ten-minute warning to wrap up and begin the readings.

Here are a few of the results of that exercise, from slices of William Butler Yeats’ “The Second Coming” and “Wild Swans at Coole.” Some brought image and individual experiences to the signs of our national moment, while others veered into satire. But we all took a collective deep-breath and nodded encouragement to each other in our micro-democracy: our open circle. Many thanks to the writers for community, for inner voice striving and shining through…

The Falcon
by Steven Swank

The falcon has broken the bond,
no longer hears the falconer;
flights are now of her choosing,
no longer tethered to his will,
she sleeps alone in nature,
lets hunger define the kill.

Writers trouble the politics,
debate the call to peril, yet
join the street for justice’s sake,
compose the freedom carol.


I saw, before I had well finished
by Lilly Nin

I see, said her brain.

I felt it, said her heart as it drummed like a flicker bird, loud and mighty on the highest branch.

Well, said her brain, then why did you not listen?

I don’t know. I did hear it too, far in the distance, but I heard it. I know I did! But it was too loud for me. My ears lost their sense.

There will be punishment for not listening! said her brain. You have worked so hard for it. It will hurt, it will bleed. You will hear its cries. They will wake you up at night. The scar is still not healed from before, and it will open up again.

I feel it, ouch! said her heart. Why do you do this to me, again and again. I am tired!

I was taking care of you, said her brain. I was doing my best for you. I was trying to prevent this, prevent more pain for you but you did not listen. I saw it coming, way before I had well finished.


“The Ceremony of Innocence is Drowned”
by Mike Seliger

Today, I turned off the Internet,
scheduled a day of quiet
Uninterrupted Creative Concentration.

Today in a parallel universe
there is great joy in Mudville,
where Mighty Casey prevailed.

Today, in that place, Great News!!
A benevolent leader stepped forward
and righted wrongs from the past.

Today, in this Universe,
the Dinosaurs fell off the edge
of a cliff as the Earth quaked,
TerrorRanOSoarUs roared
and waved his short arms,
and stood on the top of a hill
proclaiming “Long Live the King!”
while all the Warm-bloodeds
cringed and watched from their caves.

Today is Junior’s birthday.
Someone forgot the candles.
Someone stole the cake.
“I was going to take you
to the Circus” Daddy said,
“but there are no more elephants
and soon no more circuses,
only bright-lit, loud spectacles…
“It’s okay, Daddy,” said the boy,
“clowns scare me, especially
the ones with orange hair
who blow big bubbles
that burst into nothing in midair…”
Today is the First Day
After the Giant Earthquake.
Survivors emerge slowly,
as do birds and flowers.
There is nothing left
for Tyrant-O-Saurus to eat.
Disgusted, he turns away.

From behind a Cloud
the sun peeks out
and the songs of birds
herald a new day…


“Their hearts have not grown old”
by Steve Green

A wide-eyed child, riding upon a wave of innocence, faces the world with wonder and curiosity.

After many storms and upheavals, the weathered pensioner squints out at a weary planet.

The young man, with a fresh degree and a promising career, captivates an energetic crowd.

The older man, sculpted by the knife of experience, is avoided by the suspicious throng.

The child, buried deep, wonders what happened. The fires of curiosity are still burning. The anthem is still held in tight grip to cut away delusion and uncover truth. His arms are still expanding to embrace receptive cohorts.

But the new bark around the old tree, tough and rough, frightens the younger seedlings.

The wide branches of the old timber serve to protect the saplings. But age is a reminder of temporality, a rather disquieting piece of information.