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

For Out of the Heart Proceed

A couple months ago, not long after Jensen Beach and I read at the book-release party for Eugene Cross's Fires of Our Choosing in Chicago at AWP, Alexander Chee directed a comment toward Eugene on twitter that said something like, "Only you would be kind enough to share the stage at the release party of your debut collection."

Before I attended the event, which was the first time I'd met Jensen in person, I would have guessed that Alex was right: Nobody is quite so kind and generous as Eugene. After the event, after I got to spend some time with Jensen, though, I realized that he, too, is one of the nicest guys around.

And then a few weeks back he emailed a small crew of writers who have their debut story collections coming out this year--Ted Sanders (Graywolf), Eugene (Dzanc), and me (U of Iowa Press)--to ask if we'd read a little bit at his own book-release party. Though the odds were against it, I guess Alex ended up being wrong.

If you're in the Champaign this Saturday, May 19th, we'll be drinking and celebrating Jensen's book of stories, which arrived at my house in the mail earlier this week courtesy of Dark Sky Books. I haven't yet dug into the thing, but I can't wait to. I've read a number of the stories already the past few years, and I'm excited to read them one after the next to see how they work with and against each another.

Full details about what's going down this Saturday can be found on my Events page. And Jensen has a Facebook page for the event that can be found here. I hope to see a couple of you there.



Several years ago, Scott Garson contacted me and asked if I'd be the inaugural selecting editor for Wigleaf's Top 50 (Very) Short Fictions. The idea: He'd worked to cull two hundred stories written in fewer than 1000 words published online during the previous year, and he wanted me narrow the list even further. I gladly agreed, and spent the next couple months reading through the stories very slowly, finding something to admire in pretty much every one of them. Eventually, I chose fifty--actually, I think I chose fifty-five--and wrote an introductory essay, and it all went live.

Since then, Scott has aimed much higher, and has landed some awesome writers to serve as selecting editor. There was Darlin Neal, and Lily Hoang, and Brian Evenson. I've had some stories make the long list, and my story "Let x" cracked the Top 50. This year, Dan Chaon, probably my favorite short story writer, served as the selecting editor, and he had a pretty amazing list of two hundred stories to choose from. Really. The two hundred stories on that list I had in my hands were great, but it seems the quality of (very) short fictions published online keeps getting better and better each year.

I had two stories on the long list this year, and one of them, "Moussaoui Remembers Fire," made the Top 50. Kathy Fish chose to publish this story last December when she was serving as Writer-in-Residence over at Necessary Fiction, and I can't thank her enough for including my story among the many fine pieces she published that month. Thanks, too, to Steve Himmer. And to Scott Garson and Ravi Mangla, for taking the time to sift through all those fictions looking for their favorites.


Fires of Our Choosing

I'm not actually registered to attend AWP this year, but I am going to be in town. The reason: My bestie, Eugene Cross, is celebrating the release of his debut collection, Fires of Our Choosing.

You can find full details about the book release party on my events page. Or the event's Facebook page.

I'll also be hitting up the bookfair on Saturday, where I'll touch a lot of books and magazines and spend a lot of money and hopefully run in to a few of you.


Tell Everyone I Said Hi

Janey took the above photo somewhere off I-80 west of Iowa City at the end of December. We'd spent the night in Iowa City mostly so we could shop at Prairie Lights and eat some good food before the new year began and I had to go back to school.

About a week later, I received a phone call from the University of Iowa Press letting me know I'd won the 2012 John Simmons Short Fiction Award, juried by Jim Shepard*, for my story collection, Tell Everyone I Said Hi.

I've spent most of the past month ecstatic, wanting badly to share the news, and yesterday it finally became official. You can read the press release here, and you should, since it also contains some info on Marie-Helene Bertino and her 2012 Iowa Short Fiction Award-winning collection Safe as Houses.

I quit Facebook about a year and a half ago, but Janey's starated an author page for me, hoping people will 'Like' it. Which is always the case, it seems. You make the thing and hope somebody out there finds it and spends some time with it, that they find that time they spent worthwhile.

*Jim Shepard! Whose stories I love. Whose novel Project X is one of my favorite little books.



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.

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