BURN PILE: New releases, tabloid drama, and odes to motherhood in the first week of February.

This Tuesday saw the release of some much-anticipated books. Check out a selection of the titles here, which include Marlon James’ Black Leopard, Red Wolf and The Collected Schizophrenias by Esmé Weijun Wang, which was mentioned in this piece by Electric Lit as one of four new books that present a different way to discuss, and understand, mental illness. 

As for James, there’s a slew of interviews and articles about him out there right now. The New Yorker did a lengthy profile on him a few weeks ago, and here he is at LitHub reflecting on why he’s always meant to write about his mother and how it has eluded him.

On the subject of mothers and motherhood, here is Emily Bernard reckoning with writing about female desire and the reality that her daughters might read it. Or you could check out this interview with Lydia Kiesling in which she discusses her decision to place the minutiae of motherhood at the center of her new book, “The Golden State,” which also explores the complexities of immigration and marriage.

Drama often follows the dissolution of marriages, especially high-profile ones, but seldom do they erupt into action-hero size media battles the scale of the Bezos vs. National Enquirer showdown. While McSweeney’s is there to remind us of the pillar of morality that is Jeff Bezos, The New Yorker analyzes the perfect domestic goddesses that people MacKenzie Bezos’s fiction and how even they can’t save their men.

That’s February getting off to quite a start, but at least we’re out of January. On that note, let’s pause a moment to celebrate Sandra Cisneros being awarded the PEN/Nabokov Award for Achievement in International Literature and imagine getting to hang out with that panel of judges.

A pen in motion will keep the ink from freezing. Keep warm, keep writing!

BURN PILE: Dodging the Super Bowl Blues

Apparently, tomorrow is the Super Bowl, which has given us cause to reflect on great American traditions, what it means to duck them or all out defy them, and how fiction can provide an escape from the dominant national narrative. 

To help us out, here is a meditation on food as a means for an oppressed people to celebrate their humanity and register their defiance of non-inclusive national holidays, from the late Ntozake Shange.

Laila Lalami at The Nation makes the case that fiction not only helps us to develop empathy by walking a mile in another’s shoes, it can also help us to survive the constant Twitter onslaught orchestrated by a President determined to keep the narrative focused on himself.

Along the same lines, Sarah Wendell at The Washington Post analyzes the uptick in reading among furloughed federal employees and how fiction, especially genre fiction, provides a necessary escape into worlds where the evil are punished, the good are rewarded, and justice is served. This comment alone deserves pause: “It’s a rather substantial act of trust to place one’s time and energy in the hands of a writer, especially during a difficult period.”  

For a more immediate escape from tomorrow, here’s ElectricLit with seven books to read about racial inequality in America instead of watching the high holiday of the NFL. 

And here is Nico Oré-Girón ruminating on the power of fiction to help her reclaim lost time by reimagining the narrative of queer adolescence in America. 

All of this reading should give you an out for tomorrow. But if for whatever reason you choose to watch (no judgement), the good people over at McSweeney’s have your back with a Super Bowl Commercial Bingo that almost makes the whole thing worth it.  





BURN PILE: Back to School Toolbox

Now that the new semester has jumped off the blocks and ground every other aspect of life to a halt, we can look at our tool box of literary links to help current students and prospective students through the next few months. 


For those of you that have sent your applications to MFA/MA/PhD programs across the continent and beyond, we recommend that you DO NOT check gradcafe or mfadraft hourly. Your life is still happening and no one needs that kind of stress in their life.

Workshop is great and all, but workshop also sucks. This can be what it feels like. Thank you, McSweeney’s for always reminding us that workshop hurts. A lot.

Great Resources 

For any sort of graduate program content—written by current and post-MFA students—we recommend The MFA Years. Caitlin Dayspring Neely has consistently made sure this website has provided great content to prospective and current MFA students everywhere. Cruise through their articles. You’ll see.

LitHub will personally attack you with this article, but it’s important. Copy editor Benjamin Dreyer shines a light on bad habits we all have.

Are you ready to send out that brilliant thing you’ve been working on? We recommend checking out Entropy Magazine’s Where to Submit page. It is a great way to find book and chapbook prizes, contests, general call for submissions, and even residencies. Do it, and your Duotrope account will blow up. You can also submit to our contests

When/if things start to go south in your workshop or writing group, perhaps look to this great series brought to you by the good folks over at Electric Lit. It is so much better than sifting through yet another pro/anti-MFA debate. And if things get so bad that you just need a breath of fresh air, look no further than Tracy K Smith’s podcast The Slowdown.

Above all, keep reading and keep writing. You and your work are worth it.

BURN PILE: Remembering Mary Oliver (1935 – 2019)

Mary Oliver passed away yesterday. Today for our weekly Burn Pile, CutBank would like to remember her and the gift of her poetry.

Over at LitHub, Brandon Taylor writes how Oliver’s work made him “feel worthy of being in the world.” Emily Popek also reflects on her time as Oliver’s student at Electric Literature. Similarly, Summer Brennan looks back at the lessons she learned from Oliver. For The New Yorker, Stephanie Burt remembers Oliver and her books “of secular psalms, inquiries into nature, and reasons to go on living.”

In the wake of this loss, those of us at CutBank could get mired in grief and sorrow. It would be easy, here in cold and snowy Missoula, MT. But today, cruising through Poetry Foundation’s website, we can read their Poem of the Day: “White-Eyes” by Mary Oliver. We can read that poem and all the rest. We can read and remember. And be thankful for Mary Oliver.

May you all be “married to amazement.”

BURN PILE: Or bonfire? This week (year?) women are dancing, governing, writing, and generally getting about burning the patriarchy to the ground.

Two weeks into 2019 and there are some powerhouse ladies out there making headlines. Elizabeth Warren has announced her candidacy for president, so it’s worth a read over at the New Yorker to find out how she is taking on entrenched corruption in the most organized way possible. 

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has been in office for one week exactly and has opponents riled up about everything from her tax plan to her dance moves. Don’t miss her own Instagram video giving it back to her critics outside her Congressional office, taunting: “I hear the GOP thinks women dancing are scandalous. Wait till they find out Congresswomen dance too!” Meanwhile, Maureen Dowd encourages her to dance on without losing sight of the main goal. Why the main goal can’t include exposing some of the backward ways of the old guard in Washington, especially vis-à-vis their views on women, is a question for a different post, but it seems like the new Congresswoman can be forgiven for coming out swinging.

There is something suspicious about how many of the same people who hated Hillary Clinton now have it out for Elizabeth Warren and AOC. The people over at McSweeney’s swear (fingers crossed) that it has nothing to do with the fact that they’re women but count their lucky stars that the dancing video rescued them from the follies of a socialist insurgency.

In other news about what it feels like to be a woman in 2019, The Paris Review reflects on the anger, the frustration, and the humiliation of being a woman navigating the daily threat of violence in the great U.S. of A., and Kristen Roupenian talks about being expected to answer for Cat Person as though it were auto fiction when her story went viral in the New Yorker last year.

Meanwhile, Oyinkan Braithwaite discusses the way beauty is elevated to the level of virtue in an interview with Electric Lit about her novel My Sister, the Serial Killer, while Lareign Ward poses the argument that the much-maligned romance novel might just have a thing or two to teach us about a world in which women’s desires are allowed not just to exist but to define the narrative. Revolutionary, indeed. 

BURN PILE: Here's to a new day! Burn Pile coming back at you in 2019 with books, lists, and a few resolutions.

It’s the start of the new year, and fingers crossed it’s better than 2018. Yesterday over 100 women were sworn into Congress for the first time in history, which is a great start. For our part, we’re kicking off the new year with a return to Burn Pile’s aggregation of interesting links for your reading pleasure. 

First, McSweeney’s calls for a moment of silence to mourn the passing of 2018. R.I.P. and good riddance. 

Then Electric Lit recommends eight books to shed some light on exactly how we’ve ended up here. 

After reading that, you might want to consult this list of books for keeping perspective while the world is burning.

But let’s look for the silver lining. A lot of great stuff came out last year. Here is LitHub’s list of best books of 2018 to catch up on in 2019.

And four books that the New Yorker feels deserved more attention in 2018.

And now, onward and forward. Here’s LitHub’s list to end all lists of the most anticipated books coming out in 2019, broken down by month and extending through September (including Maid by the University of Montana’s own Stephanie Land).

January 3rd brought more desperately needed diversity to Congress. Let’s bring it to our bookshelves too. Here are 48 books by women and nonbinary people of color for 2019.

Of course, there’s plenty of ways to bring change in the new year. If you need any help coming up with resolutions, McSweeney’s has a list of a Jane Austen heroine’s goals. Three cheers for the smart girl.

Bringing it in a bit closer to home, Tommy Schnurmacher at LitHub has an idea that will keep you pressing pen to paper in 2019.

Here’s to a new start, a new Congress, a new year. Happy writing.  

'What Does Democracy Look Like?' - by James Miller

A Contemplation on the 2011 and 2017 Occupy Movements, the political theory that led to it, and observations about political theory post-hoc.

Image Links to Article

Image Links to Article

“‘This is what democracy looks like!’—for some of us protesting Trump in New York on January 21, 2017, this was a familiar chant. We’d heard it before, earlier in the decade, during the Occupy Wall Street movement. That movement had been inspired, in part, by the staggering growth of inequality in the United States and around the world, as a result of the partial dismantling of social insurance policies that, earlier in the twentieth century, had been the chief egalitarian achievement of labor, liberal, and social democratic political parties worldwide. “

“When faced with a decision, the normal response of two people with differing opinions tends to be confrontational. They each defend their opinions with the aim of convincing their opponent, until their opinion has won or, at most, a compromise has been reached. The aim of Collective Thinking, on the other hand, is to construct. That is to say, two people with differing ideas work together to build something new. The onus is therefore not on my idea or yours; rather it is the notion that two ideas together will produce something new, something that neither of us had envisaged beforehand. This focus requires of us that we actively listen. “

We, The People


Hey Folks! Cutbank’s new Online Team coming at you loud and live(-ish).

Since this is our first Burn Pile post in a while, and a defining moment for us greenhorns, I’d like to take a moment to thank our dear friend Barry Maxwell for his success with the Second Wind Reading and for all his hard work on Cutbank’s Online source. I know it was it was hard work because now I’m doing half of his old job, and some forms of media are just Not. User. Friendly.

AND NOW, an Editorial

When regarding Freedom of the Press, no law may be passed that interferes with the people’s right to assemble, to print the press, or that causes the abridgement of free speech. But here’s the problem with the constitution: it is vague. In this instance, it’s the carefully worded language that “No Law May Be Passed” which leaves wiggle room for all other interested parties. There is nothing to say that a pitched battle cannot be waged over what the “Truth” is, only that our elected officials cannot infringe upon our right to debate and question it. I’m not a legal scholar, and it would take one to navigate the byzantine workings of modern governments. I will say this though: We Need the Press.

Let me back up and bring something into context here, it just came to my attention that the local alternative/Indy Newspaper here in Missoula was just shut down, as in is no longer printing the press. Well it can be hand waved as another arbitrary tide of the Free Market, or I can take this opportunity to state that the Newspaper is a dying industry. I’m a newcomer here to Missoula, so I don’t feel it’s my place to jump right into local Politics, yet if diversity of the press dies—if we, on a national level, lose the option of options, then that does not bode well for the foundational elements of a Democracy.

Plainly put, if our only options were to turn the television and choose between MSNBC, Fox, and CNN (as it is right now), we’re going to trick ourselves into thinking that the world is much smaller than it is. Problem A is that national level news outlets only care about national and international level news, servicing a ratings-based agenda. Problem B? Severe Conflict of interest. Over a year ago, it became a point of water cooler discussion, back where I’m from, about Sinclair Broadcasting Group buying up state and local level television news media. Don’t believe me? Watch this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=khbihkeOISc. It’s not quite the Orwellian nightmare of the novel 1984, but I find it alarming, and I hope you do as well. Is that all the problems I see? No, but they are the two-most relevant topics to this flash opinion piece.

What I’m getting at, folks, is that journalists take it upon themselves to go out into the world and question the ethics of the society we are living in. Do they have their own self-interest? Yes, and I would not trust anyone that did not operate in their self-interest. As they protect us from infringement upon our rights, safety, and morality as citizens, so too does a diverse range of reporting protect us from the private interests and agendas of journalists. To perform their functions as moderators and truth seekers, they need our support as consumers of their newspapers, and no, the truth is not something concerned with output we find agreeable to our tastes and philosophies.

The “truth” is about taking a skeptical look around us and asking earnest questions: is what is happening in our best interests as individuals? As a society? Hell, what even is our best interest? That answer comes from having thoughtful discussion, and to do that we need to be an educated and informed population. Do I have a plan to save a fading yet critical industry? No not entirely. But I hope these words get you started thinking about your own local news industry.

We’d love to hear back from the community. If you know of some local writers or journalists who worked with The Indy, send them our way.

Click the Caption for the Original Article on the Missoulian.

Click the Caption for the Original Article on the Missoulian.

BURN PILE: Mayday! Mayday! May! Day!

Art by Banksy, maybe.

“Everything in life is self-explanatory. Throw away the instructions and rebuild this Ikea world in your own image. Otherwise, deal with it like a bad haircut: grow out of it.


From the forthcoming collection, Postmodern Memes for the Unworthy, by Eugenia Berry

BBC may day screenshot.png

“A celebration marking the first day of summer, the day's traditions are rooted in pagan festivals. What is celebrated today is believed to be a consolidation of three earlier festivals: Beltane fires - to celebrate the return of summer and fertility of the land; Walpurgisnacht - the eve of the Christian feast day of Saint Walpurga; and Floralia, which was held in ancient Rome in honour of the goddess Flora.”

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Michelle Wolf: “I’m not trying to get anything accomplished.” Well, she did.

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Fears of far-right violence as US gears up for May Day protests : 

Far-right groups in Los Angeles and Seattle have announced plans to rally against May Day events.

“May Day, or International Workers Day, is commemorated annually on May 1 to celebrate the struggles of labourers and the working class.”
From Aljazeera

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The “My God. It’s full of stars” section:

my god its full of stars.jpg


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Hell, MI

“I ask can I do anything differently, anything better, and he says, You were never my problem. The half-compliments will be the ones that kill me.”

Fiction from Liana Jahan Imam in Waccamaw: a journal of contemporary literature

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The Disappointed Housewife

The Disappointed Housewife is a literary journal for writers, and readers, who are seeking something different. We like the idiosyncratic, the iconoclastic, the offbeat, the hard-to-categorize.”


All the Office Ladies ~ fiction by Cathy Ulrich

“If I were an office lady in Japan, I’d be the last person to leave the office. I’d pretend the copier was jammed, or there were some last-minute copies to make. The other office ladies wouldn’t want me to walk out with them, three inches taller and American.”


Layers ~ fiction by Pat Foran

Thank you so much. Everybody’s got something going on if you peel back the layers.”

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How to Respond After Your Dentist Pulls the Wrong Tooth from Your Mouth

Nonfiction at Cosmonauts Avenue from the awesome Liz Howard.

“When you finally meet with the dentist, you are nervous as hell. You’re resolute in the fact that he pulled the wrong tooth, but you know your trembly, uptalking, anxious little self well enough to know it’s not going to be that simple.”

Œ=~~                     Œ=~~                   Œ=~~

The Jellyfish Review

“I asked for yellow balloons for my twelfth birthday, instead of my favourite colour blue because it no longer was.”

I Asked for Yellow Balloons by Alva Holland

Œ=~~                     Œ=~~                   Œ=~~

My Poem About Last Sounds

Prageeta Sharma in the Boston Review

“…you gave me all the departing desires,
as a way of teaching me to cope and to stay a poet when I don’t feel like being a poet.”

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Good Guess
by Kristine Langley Mahler

an erasure essay from Ch. 16 of The seventeen Book of Etiquette and Entertaining, 1963

“She would strip her fear fresh and neat, thank the mother, mind her modesty, and he would envelope her as he said he would. Later. You are not the right girl.”

Read this and more at Cahoodaloodaling, a collaborative publication

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by Allie Marini

“Husband told her he liked redheads. but later, he told her that he knew it was just paint & it looked fake. he liked to dress her in outfits that didn’t quite fit right so he turned her upside down and bashed her head on the floor to get her pants to zip up.”

(Visit Allie Marini’s site. )

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Things I Keep, Things I Discard

By Jennifer Harvey, at Spelk ~ Short, sharp flash fiction


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"The Internet is not a thing, a place, a single technology, or a mode of governance. It is an agreement. "

John Gage, Director of Science, Sun Microsystems, Inc.




* * *

Our Imaginations Need to Dwell
Where the Wild Things Are

How Children's Literature Leads Us to The Uncanny

By Liam Heneghan



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Andrew Sean Greer:
All the Novels I Almost Wrote

The New Pulitzer Prize-Winner on the (Many) Times He Tried For a Guggenheim

by Andrew Sean Greer

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How to Write When You Don’t Wanna Write
(As Told By Other Writers)

This article was completely crowdsourced.
(But … by Justin Cox, at The Writing Cooperative)

“I call this strange feeling The Funk™️.”

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"PYNK," "I Like That," "Make Me Feel" & "Django Jane" available now: https://janellemonae.lnk.to/dirtycomputer Janelle Monáe with Special Guest St. Beauty "Dirty Computer" Tour Dates - Just Announced!

BURN PILE: "In the Shadow of a Mountain." From National Walkout Day to March for Our Lives, students are demanding a saner, safer world.

In the Shadow of a Mountain

by Bryn Agnew
Editor-In-Chief, CutBank

On March 14th, 2018, students from the University of Montana participated in the National Walkout Day to protest gun violence in schools.

The signs read WE CAN END GUN VIOLENCE, EDUCATED PEOPLE DO NOT NEED TO CARRY GUNS, MOMS DEMAND ACTION, and MENTAL HEALTH MATTERS. Someone starts a chant: “Enough is enough,” yet no one joins in. As far as protests go, the Walkout at the University of Montana is pretty tame. The signs, a single megaphone, a moment of silence. Letter writing materials are distributed. People register to vote. Sitting on a bench, just behind the crowd of my fellow students, a man sits down next to me and talks about the difference between fishing for trout in the Kootenai and fishing for bass at Lake Fork, TX. Looking at the crowd of students, he says, “I don’t do this gun stuff.”

Washington DC, National Walkout Day
Photo by Lorie Shaull

There is no way to know what he means. The verb is weak, the statement vague. But I wonder why he tells me this, on the bench away from the crowd. I can’t help but think that he doesn’t consider me a part of the crowd, and I wonder if I’m even a part of them.

In the weeks since the Parkland shooting, I walk the UM campus haunted. To my office in the LA building, to the UC for lunch, to class in the afternoon, I wonder where the shots will come from. At the Walkout, sitting on the bench, I cannot will myself to stand shoulder to shoulder with my fellow students for fear of being an easier target. I am a traitor to them.

After, I text my friend saying, I think it is tragically American that I could not will myself to stand in the crowd for fear of being shot. I think of the statistics we are constantly being reminded of: you are statistically more likely to be struck by lightning while being chewed in half by a great white shark than to be shot in school. We are reminded that we are irrational. That this will never happen to us. I shame myself for my own fear.

Pennsylvania Ave March For Our Lives
Photo by Shawn Thew-EPA

Yet, this fear is all many of us have known. On April 25th, 1999 I was eight, sitting in church with my parents. The pastor walked to the pulpit and said the most searing words I’ve ever heard: “This week was hell.” Five days earlier, the Columbine shooting happened. Fifteen dead, twenty-four wounded. I learned what the word “hell” actually meant.

There are students at UM who were born after Columbine, who have lived through the constant fear of being shot at school, who grew up participating in active shooter drills the same way I grew up participating in fire or tornado drills, the way our parents hid under their desks hoping the ply-board and cheap metal would save them from the mushroom cloud. Please, listen to them.

Mt. Sentinel looms over UM, and by the bronze statue of a bear, they—we—gather. Because it is tragically American to be shot in school. We don’t want to be good Americans. We want to be the Americans the “good” ones hate. Apathy is a privilege. Yet, sacrifices to the gods of gunpowder should never afford apathy. Approximately 7,000 children have been killed by gunshot wounds since Sandy Hook in 2012.

We gather under the mountain because the fear is not irrational. Our institutions of knowledge, growth, and creativity are plagued by the fear. A shadow over the campus. This is how we live, fearing what could happen to our school, to us.

I am proud of my fellow students and our educators all over the nation, looking out of the shadow, saying however we can, “Enough. Not one more.”

"March for Our Lives: hundreds of thousands demand end to gun violence." 
The Guardian, U.S. edition.

Leni Steinhart on A.M. Joy:

“We were just in New York just last week, doing a panel there, and a couple of students were coming up to us and saying you’re inspiring to us, we’re looking up to you, we’re going to fight with you, and I just tell them, first of all thank you, but we’re just students who want to create change, and we hope that they march along with us today.”

What are your thoughts?
Let's keep this conversation out front. 

Talk to us. We're listening.
We'll add you to this post and tweet to our readers. 

Send your comments directly to cutbankonline@gmail.com.

BURN PILE: Inspiration 2018

Quick! Before classes, or work, or tonight while the kids are asleep, or packed into any carve-it-out-and-take-a-minute time you’ve got, just go soak up inspiration from these folks.

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From The New York Times, “Women’s March 2018: Thousands of Protestors Take to the Streets.

“Desiree Joy Frias, 24, of the Bronx, and her grandmother, Daisy Vanderhorst, wore red capes and curved white hoods — the telltale outfits of the enslaved child-bearers of “The Handmaid’s Tale,” which was recently adapted for television from Margaret Atwood’s dystopian science fiction novel.”

See? It’s literary news.

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Largesse cover.jpg

In celebration of the release of The Largesse of the Sea Maiden—reviewed here, by Michael Schaub at NPR—experience “Now.” A poem about which a friend said: “Wow. He sure knows how to inhabit the ineffable.” (Sorry, but I’ve only been able to find it online as a Facebook post.) The Poetry Foundation has many more of Denis Johnson’s poems available here.

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The Poem Climbs the Scaffold and Tells You What It Sees. Natasha Oladukun. The Adroit Journal.


Read in whatever order, but read Paige Lewis’s “Eager,” and this note to the poet at One Great Things.


Oh, mortality, and all that comes before it… “Assisted Living” by M. Stone, at formercactus.com.


FEAR NO LIT presents: Show Your Work, Episode 10: Laura Citino - "What She Does When She Gets Lonely" in podcast chit chat, and Citino’s story is right here at Split Lip.


If you missed this one at Pithead Chapel, you have no excuse now to miss it again. “This Dog, This Shower, This Bench, This Morning” by Janet Frishberg.

From Twitter: Taylor Johnson's "Nocturne" in Tin House


If you lean more toward longer short fiction, Longreads has recommendations for you, in “10 Outstanding Short Stories to Read in 2018

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Back when we had a presidential president, Alexander Chee’s “21 Lies Writers Tell Themselves (And How They Can Stop Lying To Themselves And Become Awesome!)*” ran in The Awl, which, sadly, is ending its life on the Net. Go while you can.

* * *

Was it you?Harry Potter book known as 'Holy Grail for collectors' stolen by burglars
Valuable edition of JK Rowling's first novel was one of only 500 printed in 1997

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This month’s issue of Brevity is (as always) filled with jaw-droppingly strong nonfiction. Some standouts to hit from here are “At My School” by Courtney Kersten, and “Turn, Bend, and Spread” by Michael Fischer. 

“The bathroom walls are a battle. Between dissent and Magic Erasers, between wrath and paint, between the kids and the janitors.
I sit on the toilet and read—about the protests back in November, about the institution protecting rapists, about Chance the Rapper, about which Instagram accounts to follow, about whether or not Jeff Sessions is Hitler-incarnate, about the taco place downtown that gives you diarrhea. Do NOT go!!! I read the messages one day and watch them morph the next; the graffiti augmented by agreement, argument, or thick lines of deletion.”

                                                                                From “At My School” by Courtney Kersten

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Inspiration at work.


Later, y'all.

BURN PILE: Let's go to the movies... Digital Stories & Human Hearts


This frosty loveseat at the bus stop across from the UM campus wasn't very inviting, but it brought to mind Sofas, a digital story that touched me (and, according to YouTube, about 10,250+ others). Sofas is a brilliant example of digital storytelling--sincere, simple, and honest, a result of the work going on at StoryCenter. Their motto is "Listen Deeply, Tell Stories," and both are skills we're in heavy need of today. In homage to Sofas, I've pulled a selection of digi-tales for you to enjoy, laugh with, and cry over. These are personal testaments to the myriad ways our lives weave into a human whole, despite differences we impose, fabricate, and perpetrate. Remember in this holiday season that the only wars we wage are those we create, that hatred and othering only isolates yourself, and that to fight the good fight is to fight for the good of all. 


~ Story Center ~

Sofas - by Wayne Richard

A story about a young man, home, homelessness, and sofas.

Listening ... and Telling - by Elizabeth Ross

A story about persecution, multigenerational abuse, and the sanctuary of artistic practice.

Content Advisory: This story addresses child sexual abuse, rape, and homicide. 

Content of Character - by Bess Turner

A story about becoming an activist, racial inequality, and, ultimately, some justice.

This Is My Home - by Bill Tall Bull

A story about grandparents, the Sand Creek Massacre, the Cheyenne people, and one man's healing process through the Healing Run.

The Gift of Nonviolence - by Leroy Moore

A father, a son, a beating, an activist, and dead weight.

Content Advisory: This story addresses the topic of child abuse. 

The 8th Step - by Ed Popovitz

A story about a man, a dog, and getting clean.

Rites of Passage - by Nikiko Masumoto

A story about comparing one's educational experiences with those of her grandmother who graduated from high school at a concentration camp for US citizens of Japanese descent during WWII.

Wrecking/Renewal - by Ray Baylor

A story about hope in the wake of urban "renewal" and the loss of family homes and established neighborhood communities.

Unmapped roads - by Heather Browne

A story about a mom, a son, a divorce, and a road trip.

What Remains - by Sara Prahl

A story about a picture, a woman, degenerative MS, and what remains.

My Write to Draw - by Max Bessesen

A story about a cartoon named Billy, sharing creativity, and becoming a writer.

The Mayor of Mooresville by David Queen, UM MFAer, way-cool human, and awesome storyteller.

What happens when a man builds his own town from the ground up?


And, as a reminder that sometimes trash, tape, and an engaged imagination are all you need for a revolution, Austin Kleon nails it again:

Hint, hint: http://nationalhomeless.org/ 
"The National Coalition for the Homeless is a national network of people who are currently experiencing or who have experienced homelessness, activists and advocates, community-based and faith-based service providers, and others committed to a single mission: To prevent and end homelessness while ensuring the immediate needs of those experiencing homelessness are met and their civil rights protected."

BURN PILE: TransgenderFetusScience-basedVulnerableEntitlementEvidence-basedDiversity

I’m just gonna leave this here. Right at the top.

Report: Trump Bans ‘Transgender,’ ‘Fetus,’ ‘Science-Based’ From CDC Documents

By Mary Papenfuss and Anna Almendrala

“We cannot replace truth with bias,” a bioethicist says.

In an astonishing order, the Trump administration has banned the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from using seven words — including “fetus,” “transgender,” “diversity” and “science-based” — in any documents used to prepare the agency’s budget, The Washington Post has reported. […] Instead of the words “science-based” or “evidence-based,” analysts were told they could use instead: The “CDC bases its recommendations on science in consideration with community standards and wishes,” the newspaper reported.

"The Post’s source could not recall a previous time in any other administration when words were forbidden.”

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Some awesomeness to counter the awful:

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Why I Write, Katie Kennedy
December 15, 2017
By Kathleen Kennedy at Women Writers, Women’s Books

“I write because I want to make things better, and stories teach us what to do when you discover the ring is evil, or just where papa’s going with that axe.”

About Women Writers, Women’s Books:
We are an online literary magazine by and about contemporary women writers from around the world. Women Writers, Women’s Books was launched in 2011 to be another platform for contemporary women writers and authors around the world writing in English.

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At formercactus --prickly writing for keen minds:

Re: Our Apocalypse Plans” — Amy Kinsman

“The cats have gone who knows where, but dogs traded in their common sense for loyalty a thousand years ago and, lately, they’ve been howling at their moon goddess for intervention on our behalf.”

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From January 29, 2017, at the Jellyfish Review:
My Body Feels Full of Stars by Lydia Copeland Gwyn

Mom is in the bathroom with a miscarriage. She lets me hold her hand on the toilet and tells me about the baby coming out of her the same way she told me about menstruation last week when I learned she was pregnant. This time we’re crying. Her hand covering mine is like the wet place in a layer of leaves.”

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What My Mother and I Don’t Talk About
At Longreads, Michele Filgate reflects on her teen years with an abusive stepfather and a mother whose silence protected him.

"While I write, my stepfather sits at his desk that’s right outside my bedroom. He’s working on his laptop, but every time his chair squeaks or he makes any kind of movement, fear rises up from my stomach to the back of my throat. "

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Our Reaction to “Cat Person” Shows That We Are Failing as Readers
When we look to our texts to teach us not how to think, but what to think, we suffer for it
by Larissa Pham

“Cat Person” seems to have transcended its form as a short story — or, perhaps it’s more accurate to say that the discourse around it reflects how the distinction between fiction and nonfiction has collapsed in recent years. In short, we are failing as readers.
When we cannot even understand that a short story is fiction, and that a writer has carefully chosen how to construct her world, with its own architecture and a universe separate from our own, we flatten it completely, and we also flatten our own ability to think critically."

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“If you have ever had a problem grasping the importance of diversity in tech and its impact on society, watch this video” ----------------->

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It’s Kristen Arnett’s birthday!
Go say hi: @Kristen_Arnett

Then read an interview with Kristen at Full Stop, and celebrate by buying her latest for yourself and all your friends. It’s at Split Lip Press!

Kristen says:

"I think I’ve gotten better at procrastinating thanks to Twitter! Maybe a little better at joking around. I’m not sure if it’s made me a better writer, but it’s put me in touch with people who are GREAT writers, so I’ve gotten better by reading their work."

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While you’re in the gifting mood…

You Can’t Wrap a Five-Figure Deal: Gifts for Writers
by Allison K. Williams at Brevity’s Blog

"Stocking-stuffer: See what books you’ve bought in the past six months but haven’t reviewed yet. Spread some goodwill around by writing some quick thoughts and clicking four or five stars. Especially if the writer is at less than 50 reviews: crossing that threshold really helps their visibility online. Copy-paste Amazon reviews to Goodreads, because every little bit helps."

But don’t be stealing your Xmas books this year:

Indie Bookstores Tell Us About Their Most Stolen Books
Which volumes walk out the door most often, and why?

Book People, in Austin, Texas, says:

“We lose a lot of manga, but certainly odd is that we lose ethics books from our philosophy section.” — Steve Bercu, Owner”


BURN PILE: Cat People. Sex, badly written, and goodly. Lydia's cowboy on film.

Cat Person

By Kristen Roupenian

This short story in The New Yorker gets the top of the page to itself. The tweets I quote below read like comments in a highly caffeinated MFA workshop:

  • I like The New Yorker short story everyone is talking about, and I’m not ashamed to admit that I like it. What’s with all of the haters?


  • Gonna catch heat for this opinion but I solidly don't care: relatable as it is, "Cat Person" is a plodding & poorly-written story until the last few lines. But even that ending fell flat for me bc the language & characters are so devoid of nuance.


  • This is the realest shit I ever read.


  • I actually think that New Yorker piece about the cat person guy is awful but not just in the way you guys are saying it is


  • everyone is geeking over that "Cat Person" story in the New Yorker but are we just ignoring that the author literally wrote the words “small log of his erection” to describe a boner


  • Here is MY so I read "Cat Person" tweet and really, what I want to say is, y'all – it is actually the first piece of fiction in the New Yorker I have *ever* read.


  • This. Is the best. Story. I have. EVER. Fucking read. In. The New Yorker.


  • I have not read the New Yorker "Cat Person" story yet.


  • The "Cat Person" story in The New Yorker is well-written, relatable, and feels brutally honest (despite being a fictional tale). That said, it's also deeply uncomfortable and I *personally* don't understand the point of it. Would be open to discussing (if anyone in my feed cares)


  • it's 4am and i'm drunk and i just read that fucking cat person story by the new yorker and i have more words to say about it but for now all i can is that i hate it and people's responses to it are fucking awful and i hate it

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Bad sex, cont.

Have We Gotten Better at Writing About Sex?
This year’s Bad Sex in Fiction Award winner isn’t as cringeworthy as previous years

By Natalee Cruz


“Bad sex is starting to be not that bad, per se. There’s no discussion of any kind of the cringe-worthy metaphors to sex you hear from that guy in your MFA.”

The Bad Sex Award Inspired Me to Work Harder at Writing Good Sex
By Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett

“You might argue that shaming authors who embark upon the tricky business of writing about sex is mean and unfair, and will discourage aspiring novelists from going near the subject, despite it being a significant part of experience. Furthermore, is it not snobbish and prudish and, well, awfully English? You can’t imagine the French getting worked up over some writer overusing the word ‘moist’.”

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What We Do for Work
By Caitlyn GD

“We didn’t come here to argue so we just do as told, knee-highs to the kitchen floor.”


Smoke and Mirrors: An Interview with Caitlyn GD

“This story is meant to tell an aspect of sex work that is specific to a certain degree of autonomy and privilege that doesn’t encompass every sex worker’s experience. I decided that there were going to be pieces of them and their lives that were unanswered and contradictory and that allowing that was more of a service to them.”


By Meghan Phillips

“The costume is Little Bo Peep from last spring’s production of Shrek: The Musical, but everyone at the party thinks I’m Mary, like Mary had a Little Lamb. With mint jelly, one of the brothers says, and I look up from my red cup because the only other person I’ve ever heard make that dumb joke is my dad, and this guy’s certainly not my father.”

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Reality check:

Enough: America’s Wholly Visible Underbelly
By The Rumpus, November 28th, 2017

Collegial Indecency: Sexual Assault in the Ivory Tower
by Ada Cheng

“I should have screamed and yelled, pushed him away, or kicked him, but I didn’t. I did say no. Over and over again. Politely and respectfully.”

ENOUGH is a Rumpus series devoted to creating a dedicated space for essays, poetry, fiction, comics, and artwork by women and non-binary people that engage with rape culture, sexual assault, and domestic violence. The series will run every Tuesday afternoon. Each week we will highlight different voices and stories.

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From pw.org:

“A few years ago I used to tell myself I wanted to marry a cowboy.” In this short film produced by Park Pictures, director Alison Maclean adapts Lydia Davis’s short story about an English professor who fantasizes about a life of adventure. 'The Professor' is included in Davis’s collection The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2009)."

BURN PILE: Lists and pillow books. Judgment. Monsters.

Things I Hate.jpg


I live by lists.

  • To-do.
  • To-think-about.
  • What-if?
  • Inventories of written stuff on the hard drive, manila folders boxed in the closet. Junk. Fragments. Revisable or revisitable.
  • AA’s moral inventory is a list.
  • So is confession.
  • How do I love thee? Let me make a list.
  • This thing, this Burn Pile, is a list. They all are, in one way or another. Lists of lists.
  • A list of destinations.
  • Or, no… A list of starting points.

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Poets & Writers creative nonfiction prompt references a list.

"In The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon, translated and edited by Ivan Morris, the eleventh-century Japanese poet and courtier created a series of lists based on her daily life. Her topics included "Hateful Things" ("A carriage passes by with a nasty, creaking noise"), "Elegant Things" ("A pretty child eating strawberries"), "Things That Have Lost Their Power" ("A large tree that has been blown down in a gale and lies on its side with its roots in the air"), and "Things That Should Be Large" ("Men's eyes"), among others. The list form allowed her to celebrate, or denigrate, details that may have otherwise been passed by unnoticed. This week, take ten minutes to invent and populate a list of your own: the more specific, the better. Make more lists with each day if the spirit strikes you."

"The sounds roll off the tongue like poetry, with the same resonance and authority that transcends mere meaning. They are accompanied by a little swarm of facts worn almost meaningless by repetition and familiarity."

  • Read more of The Pillow Book in .pdf form here.

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The New Yorker rolls out in its “Sunday Reading an archival list of political humor coverage.

Hive Mind
The stinging comedy of Samantha Bee’s “Full Frontal.”
By Emily Nussbaum

Expletives Not Deleted
The profane satire of Armando Iannucci’s “Veep.”
By Ian Parker

Hasan Minhaj’s “New Brown America”
By Doreen St. Félix

Vive John Oliver
By Sarah Larson

The Goat Boy Rises
By John Lahr

Small Wonders
Comedy, off the radar.
By Emily Nussbaum

…which uses up my allotment of free articles for the month, and it’s only the 3rd!

To do:
       ~ re-up my New Yorker subscription…

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On most folks’ list of fears is public speaking, but it’s a matter (sometimes) of what you’re speaking about. Hera Lindsay Bird says she gets “more embarrassed reading a really sincere love poem out in front of hundreds of people than I would one about a blowjob.”

Hera Lindsay Bird: poet of exploding helicopters and dick jokes
In which “the New Zealand poet explains the 90s sitcom references and unembarrassed passions that have gone into her eponymous debut.”

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Are you reading this from behind bars? Or do you anticipate doing some writing in that circumstance? Enjoy the Winning Manuscripts of PEN America’s 2017 Prison Writing Contest, “one of the few outlets of free expression for the country’s incarcerated population.”

Centering the Voices of Incarcerated People: Emile DeWeaver, cofounder of Prison Renaissance, writes about the influence of James Forman, Jr’s book, Locking Up Our Own (one of The New York Times’s 10 Best Books of 2017) has had on his work. This essay originally appeared in Colorlines.

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“Talk to anyone who worked in book publishing this year and no matter how chipper the conversation may begin, once you’re a few drinks in the talk will turn gloomy.” The Year in Best-Sellers examines the titles of 2017, what sales and popularity actually mean to readers, and tells us about them.

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And yeah, one list just keeps growing.

All The Actually Decent Men in Fiction We Could Think Of
Hunting for a few good men? It’s harder than you think, but [Electric Lit] found 16.

As to (some of) the rest, What Do We Do with the Art of Monstrous Men?
By Claire Dederer in the Paris Review.

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To do:

  •  “I know a publishing house that would glut your ledgers with more gold than you could shake out of a dwarf, if your manuscript arrived wrapped in my endorsement.” Boneset, By Lucia Iglesias

"I savor the opportunity to discover new talent, but I don’t relish playing God in other people’s lives. Most of all, I dread the chats with the losers. They say they want the truth no matter how painful—'Tell me why I was eliminated and how I can improve' —but what they really want is validation, something to assure them their talent has been recognized."

A symphony conductor's extended bow,
a stranger's arm out a car window giving the go around signal,
mail addressed to the previous tenant.

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