We are pleased to bring you this guest blog post from our 2019 high school intern, Elijah Manning!
Five years ago, if you asked me whether I would someday be writing and performing stand up, I probably would’ve said, “My mom doesn’t let me talk to strangers.”
I simply didn’t see comedy being a significant part of my future. Up until a year ago, the funniest thing about me was the way I looked. I had no desire to write or perform jokes. All that aside, the possibility of turning to comedy shouldn’t have seemed that far fetched.
Humor runs deep in my family. From a young age, I saw how humor could relax difficult situations, help us cope with loss, and lessen the pain and angst of life’s bad experiences.
We are pleased to announce two wonderful opportunities available to the River River writing community at no cost. Please email Donna for more information, on your own behalf or on behalf of any wonderful writer in your life!
The “Strategies for Revision” workshop with Mary Beth Keane is made possible through a grant from the Arts Council of Rockland and the New York State Council on the Arts. Prose writers must submit 5,000 words and a brief cover letter. Date/time: Saturday, April 7, 12-3pm Deadline: extended to March 9, 2018 Place: Cuppa Pulp Writers’ Space, 119 Main St. Suite 2, Nanuet, NY 10954 Objective: Attendees will receive comment and revision advice based on reading and discussion in a workshop with other writers, led by Mary Beth Keane. Attendance requirements: in-person attendance is required. All reading of other participants’ work should be done prior to the workshop. Attendees will be expected to engage in discussion of each other’s work, keeping in mind each writer’s intentions and doing our best to keep each other writing.
The scholarship to Summer Writers’ Week at Manhattanville College is an unparalleled opportunity, beyond its $750 face value. Applicants must submit a writing sample in their chosen genre and a letter of need. Participants get a weeklong intensive in one of 5 genres with well-known instructors: poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, dramatic writing, or graphic novel narrative. See MvilleMFA.com for details about instructors in your genre of choice. Housing costs extra, but it’s only $45/night. We all dream of retreats like this… and here’s an opportunity right across the river. Thank you to Lori and Manhattanville College for making this available!
For about a year now, River River Writers’ Circle has been earning its double-riparian moniker, crossing from the west to the east bank of the Hudson to Barat House at Manhattanville College. The MFA program at the College partners with us to offer our writing circles at this welcoming, intimate cottage, formerly the residence of the program’s founder, Sister Ruth Dowd.
MFA-style workshops are not known for focusing on generative work. Students may receive a warm-up prompt at the opening of a workshop to get the juices flowing and to create a trusting dynamic, but most of the time are expected to take their peers’ comment and discussion with quiet dignity and “really write” in solitude. Circles like write! acknowledge the creative ballast provided by a solid group dynamic, but provide it for the raw creative process. The energy that traditionally goes into discussion is spent on the page. Write! was therefore a bit of a novelty—and a challenging one—to bring to an MFA setting, where writers are more accustomed to a solitary, at times highly protective, creative process.
But novelty, challenges, and approaching the creative act from a place slightly outside our comfort zones all define a writer’s life. Here are some of the fruits of our afternoons. Many thanks to Alice Green, Maureen Amaturo, and Talia Woolfe for sharing their work. Enjoy!
The Face within Me
Alice B. Green
In the hairline of a moment,
in the reflection of a mirror,
I sometimes see her sallow cheeks
And the large, soul-saddened eyes
of a heart stained by lies.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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 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.