In the Classroom

  • Train Dreams: A Novella
    Train Dreams: A Novella
    by Denis Johnson
  • Bluets
    by Maggie Nelson
  • We the Animals: A novel
    We the Animals: A novel
    by Justin Torres


I spend a lot of my time preparing to teach classes. This usually involves reading either "professional" stuff or early drafts of student fiction and nonfiction. Whatever I'm reading, I tend to go at it heavily with a pencil, altering sentences, asking questions in the margins, jotting down talking points at the end of the thing. It's kind of become a way of being for me, this communicating with other texts while holding a pencil in my hand.

I decided a while ago that I wanted to make texts that arose wholly out of the words and images and questions I left behind on other people's work, but I kept putting it off for some reason. Finally, last year, I began jotting my notes down before I returned the story to the student or the book to the shelf. I sort of liked what they were doing. I titled a folder in my computer "Feedback" and began depositing texts there. I sent around queries to a couple of online magazines to see if they'd be interested in something like a monthly column where I could publish a couple of these pieces, but no one bit. HTMLGIANT, however, liked the idea, and decided to publish one of the examples I sent. You can read it--and a slightly different explanation of what I'm getting up to with this project--here.

After that piece came out, I was contacted by an editor, Nicholas Liu, who told me about the inaugural issue of a magazine he was in the process of putting together: Unswept. From the journal's website: "It owes its name and mission to the genre of mosaic called the asarotos oikos, or unswept floor. Its overriding interest is in the already-given—not just the canon, but what was published last month, or yesterday, or which has been consigned to the ash heap of literary history—and what writers do with it."

He asked me to send him some pieces, and he liked them, and I'm so glad, because the journal looks really beautiful, and that first issue has quite a lineup. You can read my stuff here. But I suggest you start at the beginning.

Photo courtesy of Jane. It's the home her ancestors built and lived in for several generations, not too far from here.



The good kids over at Origami Zoo Press conducted a little e-interview with me earlier this week, and the thing just went live. There's a link in the interview to a pretty excellent five-minute documentary about a man who sells piano parts. Everybody should watch it. There's also a very brief discussion of Clams Casino, whose music I've been writing and feeling things to lately.

Speaking of feeling things...I believe I posted a video of Tom Waits' "Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis" last year, but I'mma post it again, because it slays me. Happy holidays, everybody.


Anne Carson

I'm putting this up here so I remember to watch it when I have an extra minute. Anne Carson is one of my absolute favorites.

Thanks to Matt Bell for making me aware of it.


Necessary Fiction

I've enjoyed for a while the various projects the writers in resdience over at Necessary Fiction have come up with, and I was thrilled when Kathy Fish, December's Writer-in-Residence, asked me to send something her way.

I submitted an old story that was supposed to be published a long time ago but never saw print because the magazine kind of disappeared. It's called "Moussaoui Remembers Fire," and you can read it here. A pretty lengthy author's note follows the story, so I'll hold off on saying anything else for now, other than this:

I adore Kathy's stories, and I'm humbled she thought to ask me to contribute. Plus: I'm glad this story is finally making its way into the world. It seems Kathy's put together a pretty aweome line-up for the holidays, so keep checking in over there. I know I will be.

 As (almost) always: The above photo appears courtesy of Jane.



A couple of lit mags I've recently received in the mail: Midwestern Gothic & Fifth Wednesday Journal. If the cover of Midwestern Gothic looks familiar it's because Janey took the photo, which appeared on this blog a while back. It's of the bowling alley here in Monmouth, long gone out of business. We found out that her image had been chosen for the cover about two weeks after the editors accepted my story "Your Place in the World," which appears in Issue 3 alongside all kinds of excellent, including pieces by my friends Cyn Kitchen and Kevin McKelvey and Jason Lee Brown.

This issue of Fifth Wednesday Journal contains my essay "On Helplessness." I haven't had much of a chance to read through the rest of the issue, but I can say this: It's gorgeous. I've received a lot of pleasure from just holding the thing in my hands, and I'm thrilled to have this essay find such a great home.

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This past weekend I drove south with six students to Tuscaloosa, Alabama, where we participated in this crazy three-part reading organized by the interns at Slash Pine Press, Slash Stitch Burn. You probably weren't there, which is too bad, because it was a lot of fun. There was a reading in the morning at a haunted mansion. There were walking tours that involved undergrads and grad students reading historical and/or invented fictions/poems inspired by Tuscaloosan haunts. And then that night there was a bonfire and hula-hooping and juggling. I read while the bonfire roared at my back and a kind young man lighted my manuscripts with an electric lantern. I read this--and that recently published essay I mentioned above. It really was a pretty great day.

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Last April, Twelve Stories published a little story of mine, and then a couple months later, they asked if I'd like to come on board to help edit the fourth issue. I don't do much of this kind of thing, but I said yes and then got busy reading submissions and discussing the stories with the other editors--Molly Gaudry and Eugene Cross. Last week, Issue 4 went live. You should go and check it out. Right now.

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Origami Zoo Press has decided to put another book out into the world. (They just made the announcement, and I'm pretty excited about it, I must say. You can read more here.) Do you remember the first chapbook Origami Zoo Press released? It looked like this:

It sold out its limited-edition run pretty quickly, which was great, but then it just kind of disappeared. You know, like a phantom. Now, though, to celebrate their return, they've re-released Phantoms as an e-book for the Kindle. It's priced to sell, and filled with nine little stories that might be just the kind of thing you'd like to read on your electronic reading device. Maybe? Think about it? Additional versions may or may not be forthcoming. I'll try to keep you updated.

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Lastly: Jane and I started a new collaborative project in early October. This particular post has gone on long enough, so I'll say only this: It's about food and my late mother's recipes and the Midwest and family and cooking and nostalgia.

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