Monthly Archives: February 2009

The week in brief and a teaching story

There’s a great piece on maintaining one’s writing motivation, keeping the numbers up, so to speak, that I highly recommend here.

We returned from AWP at 3 am Monday morning.  I love Amtrak; I really do.  And we  even slept in our seats this time, to save money.  Still love it.  Please, President Obama, open some more hubs so I don’t have to get to the east coast by way of Chicago.

A banner week teaching.  A student I had about ten years ago, a student I truly fretted about at the time–bright, so very, very bright,  but so bitter, angry, cynical, unable, due to past circumstances, to imagine any way life could turn out better than it had thus far–a student I have often thought about since that year, have even written about . . .found me on facebook.  Remembered my encouragement in spite of the resistance it met. . .

One look at this former student’s page was all it took to see that potential so  perfectly realized.   The life now lived in academia, in a lively college town,  the apparently happy family, the broad smile on the glowing  face, the smile I don’t think I ever saw that year.

That, my friends, is what it’s all about.  I’ll be living on that smile for a long time.  Maybe forever.

Bye y’all,



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AWP Day 3: And So It Goes

I almost always get a lot out of AWP, but honestly, some years are better than others. This was a particularly good year. In spite of a few duds, which are inevitable, the panels I went to had a seriousness about them, the feeling that, unlike in previous years, the partcipants weren’t speaking off the top of their head.

I only went to one panel on Saturday, but it was a good one–the New MFA. Old programs that have reconfigured themselves and new programs that have figured out that if they are going add themselves to the 750 plus BFA and MFA programs they had better make themselves more useful. Panelists included Emerson College, which is really doing some interesting things, and a program with an environmental bent, Iowa State.

Throughout this trip, my husband has been reading a In My Father’s Footsteps by Sebastian Matthews and really enjoying it. So who would I practically walk into after leaving the first panel but. . .Sebastian Matthews. I wish it had been my husband instead of me but I took the opportunity to gush about how much he enjoyed the book. Matthews was very gracious and said that men especially seem to relate to it since it concerns his relationship with this father, the poet William Matthews.

And the rest? Bookfair, bookfair, bookfair. Pictures below. Art Institute. Great Bill Peet exhibit–my older son was a huge Bill Peet fan at one time. Dinner with our ULL friends, Tamara and Jim who teach in Florida now. It is always so great to see them. Party at Anna Leahy’s family pied’terre in the “Marina” (see my pictures from the 54th floor!). And finally, watching a taping of Selected Shorts, the highlight of which as finding out what Isiaih Sheffer looks like and hearing Carver’s “Cathedral” read aloud for the first time.

Today we are home-bound, where I am looking forward to getting back to my real life, to the world of math chunk tests and school runs and bedtime cuddles and revisiting the world of Harry Potter, which my youngest has discovered at last.

Enjoy the pictures.
Bye y’all.

From awp2009

Letterpress at the book fair.

From awp2009

Northwest Hall of the Book Fair

From awp2009

Book mutilation at its finest.

From awp2009

Bill Peet

From awp2009

The view from the 54th floor.

From awp2009

Isaiah Scheffer, folks

From awp2009

BD Wong.


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Live From Chicago–AWP 2009 Day 2

Still no camera (long story) today but tomorrow is looking good.
Day started with an hour in the athletic club on the stationary bike, which had its own tv from which I could watch footage of the plane crash in Buffalo. Sigh. Then breakfast at Corner Bakery four blocks away and the ritual stop at Dunkin Donuts on the way back to the sessions. I miss DD terribly in AR, which has sold its soul to Starbucks.

Folks, I just wrote a long, chatty draft that just got erased because the Hilton internet decided I needed to be reupped at that very moment. I just can’t rewrite all that. I’ll have to just give a brief rundown.

My panel, Teaching Students to Teach Creative Writing. Went surprisingly well; people actually knew my work. Moderator, Joyce Peseroff, brilliant, witty, incisive. I was the only one who didn’t comment on the color of the drapes, following her lead. Brian Bouldrey also on the panel, he of The Autobiography Box and many others, very entertaining guy, teaches at Lesley and Northwestern. Got to ask if he knew Bill Lychack; of course he does. Bill, if you’re reading this, your reading of the story about the cop who has to shoot the dog blew him away, and the rest of the audience too, apparently. I got to say I knew him when. . .

Next panel. Mentoring Creative Writing students to sustain themselves after they graduate. Well, if you can’t say something good. . .. Note to self, I should propose a panel along these lines for next year, since I’m doing a heck of a lot more than suggesting creative writing students “work at the writing center,” so they can “think” about ways to support their writing.

And then, Web 2.0 and the Creative Writing Classroom. Well, I am not a techie in the least and I was way ahead of most of the panelists. Monda, you would have been muttering under your breath the whole time. Enough said.

Arizona State MFA, Writing in the Community. Worth all of them put together. I heart ASU. My favorite panelist was the beatific woman who wanders the terminal wards of the Mayo Clinic asking patients, “if I can come in and have a conversation with them and we can write a poem together.” Some of the lines, “your hands danced with clay.” “I am a cancer factory.” Otherwise known as lyric medicine.

A few hours in the room decompressing, checking email and napping with Little House on the Prairie in the background. An absolutely delicious pre-Valentine’s dinner at Giaco, recommended by concierge, at 14th and Wabash. Butternut Squash tart for dessert. Perfection.

Made an appearance at the George Mason MFA reception where we could have won the award for oldest alums there (I think door prizes would have been apropos). I guess the prize was a lovely conversation with a ’99 alum, poet Anne Shaw. A quietly charming woman. Apparently she can’t get any Mexican food in Brattleboro VT, where she lives (she teaches at Franklin Pierce). I feel compelled to invite her to UCA just so she can get her fill of Mexican food.

Now, time to check in with the kids. More tomorrow. Bye y’all,


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Live from Chicago: It’s AWP 2009

Day One Seen and Heard (mostly heard, forgot my camera today)

Book promotion in cyberspace is a “quilt of different voices.”

The late Studs Terkel on how to do a good book interview on the radio: “Read the book.”

It helps if there is a “Marita Oswald” in your life or your writing space is in Hemingway’s attic in Oak Park.

Be audacious.

Writing has either ruined my life or saved it.

No whining!

Have guts, be weird, have faith.

So far it’s been a great conference. Fabulous sessions, much more substantive than last year so far. I’ve barely made it to the book fair, but rest assured (Monda) the book fair and I will have our time together.
More tomorrow, including photos.

Bye y’all,

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National Writing Project Annual Review-Berkeley 2009

So I spent the weekend in Berkeley, CA reading for the National Writing Project Annual Review. It was an intense, gratifying time of learning (about other sites) and professional satisfaction. Over the years, I’ve decided that writing letters praising people, or in this case, writing project sites, for what they do best, and gently suggesting ways they can improve might be one of the things I was meant to do in life. I find laboring over these letters (and the fact that NWP encourages me to labor over them), searching for just the right words to inspire people in their work incredibly fulfilling. Here are some photos:




     A humble welcome.

Review Tables, Hard at work

  Mostly, we worked day in day out at the Berkeley City Club, designed by Julia Morgan, the same architect who built Hearst Castle.  This was fine, since it poured rain almost every day.  Berkeley was thrilled, they’re in a drought. I did get to spend a few hours in the 4th St. District Sunday. Here are some photos from my favorite shop, there, Castle in the Air.


     Who doesn’t need a wax doll head?     


     Or tubes of German glass glitter.

From Berkeley 09





    Then, there’s the “Jar O’Babies.”




    Good ole, funky ole Berkeley. Ya gotta love it. Besides, the food there is phenomenal. Today was spent on the train with my husband en route to Chicago for the Associated Writing Programs 2009 Conference, a train trip much enhanced by the fact that I just had a rollercoaster flight from Berkeley to Dallas Sunday night. Stay tuned for more news from AWP starting tomorrow! My offical “program schedule” is already filling up.  


    Ah, Amtrak.  The only civilized way to travel.



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