BURN PILE: "Toni Morrison, Labor Day, and Fall Releases" by Jake Bienvenue

Welcome back to Burn Pile, folks! 

We’re gonna be coming at you the rest of the season like a metaphor which describes a column that threads literature and current events with humor, wit, and style each and every Friday. If such an object of comparison exists. 

We should, however, recognize one of the gargantuan occurrences of the summer before we move along: the death of beloved writer Toni Morrison. August 5th was a heavy day for those of us here at CutBank, as it was for the millions of people who were touched by her work. May she rest in power. Go check out an interview over at LitHub with the beloved author. In it, Morrison touches on everything from her family history to meeting Jeff Bezos. The Guardian ran a cool series where authors of color--such as Tracy K Smith--reflect on Morrison’s importance. Speaking of her lasting influence, here is an interesting opinion article by Ross Douthat of The New York Times. In it, he approaches Morrison’s oeuvre from an economic perspective, arguing that she might be thought of as the last “great American novelist.” 

Anyways, Monday was Labor Day, a day in which we all collectively celebrate the fight against economic coercion and oppressive capitalism by watching TV, recovering from Sunday, and thinking about Tuesday. In celebration, here is a landmark article run by The New Yorker in 1999 by the one-and-only Anthony Bourdain. This stunning ode to the food industry helped kickstart the career of the beloved star of Parts Unknown. If you’re interested in other odd jobs, here’s a funny interview from McSweeney’s with former Miss Massachusetts, Alissa Musto. And, after all this, if you want to quit your job and run away, go check out ElectricLit’s list of books about just that. 

If all this book talk gets you in the mood, go check out LitHub’s roundup of the best books coming out this fall. Featuring Salman Rushdie, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Stephen King, and Margaret Atwood, this is a good list of what’s up next in the lit-sphere. 

Speaking of Margaret Atwood, labor frustration, and literature, here is a fascinating article from The New Yorker about the novelist’s upcoming installment in the world of The Handmaid’s Tale and the political complicity of our time which makes this world so terrifying, and so real. And, to bring it all the way back to the briefly-mentioned Jeff Bezos, here is an article from ElectricLit about some of the drama involving Amazon shipping Atwood’s new novel a week early, and that decision’s effect on indie booksellers. 

Happy Reading!  

BURN PILE: Death, Taxes, and Game of Thrones

We all know what today is, but a couple of things before we get started.

First off, Monday is Tax Day. Get those taxes filed before midnight, or better yet, before 7pm today MST. Then reward yourself by watching this TED Talk from 2016 in which Katie Bouman explains the algorithm she developed for capturing a black hole on camera. Afterwards you should check out this piece by The New York Times spotlighting all the many women in addition to Bouman who contributed to the historic achievement.

Speaking of women making waves, LitHub argues that, instead of being called a great “millennial” novelist, Sally Rooney should just be recognized as a great novelist. Ana Cecilia Alvarez for The New Republic analyzes the impossible subject matter of Valeria Luiselli’s novel Lost Children Archive, and over at ElectricLit, Marci Cancio-Bello interviews Susah Choi about the painfully accurate teenage emotions captured in her new novel Trust Exercise.

That’s the latest for prose, but April is National Poetry Month, and in celebration of the poem’s traditional appearance in eulogies, The Atlantic has compiled a list of elegiac poems mourning things lost or dead, which serves as a good segue into Game of Thrones. 

First, in no more than four minutes of rhyming couplets, James Corden sums up the last seven seasons of GoT and reminds us that Winter is Here. Then The New Yorker makes some predictions and offers their own set of eulogies for characters likely to be introduced and killed off in the eighth and final season. 

To get serious for a second, The Atlantic issues a criticism of GoT and the fantasy genre as a whole for featuring authoritarian rule as the preferred form of governance by hero and villain alike and posits that elections are the only way to truly subvert the genre by letting the people win the game. And over at BuzzFeedNews Jacob Anderson (aka Grey Worm) laments the show’s lack of diversity, while George R.R. Martin himself speaks up in The New York Times Style Magazine about what today’s politicians, including the President, could learn from his characters. Emilia Clarke is more direct, suggesting a fiery end to a Westerosi Trump. 

All this death is grim business and no doubt we’re going to lose some of our favorites (Esquire makes the case that it will be Daenerys), so count on McSweeney’s to lighten the mood with a little exchange between Jon Snow and 23andMe. 

The night is long and full of terrors even if you’re not banging your aunt. Happy watching. 

BURN PILE: America’s Future, the Hugo Awards, Literary Movies, Unpublished Poems by Emily Dickinson, and Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Lit Mags

Howdy folks,

This week, CutBank would like to say thanks to everyone who dropped by to see us at the AWP bookfair. You are the best. Yes, you. Don’t doubt it for a moment. Now, to the links!

On Tuesday, the finalists for the Hugo Awards were announced. This year’s finalists for the very best in science fiction include authors Yoon Ha Lee, Naomi Novik, Nnedi Okorafor, Brian K. Vaughan, and Ursula K. Le Guin. Congrats to all the finalists!

Science fiction is desperately needed, especially when we all can’t stop worrying about the future of our country, a topic discussed by Victor LaValle in this interview with Tochi Onyebuchi. Poetry also can act as a salve for our fears. Take Dan Chiasson’s profile of anti-pastoral poet David Baker as an example. POETRY BONUS: Check out these ten previously unpublished poems by Emily Dickinson.

And yet there is always room in the future for hope and heroes. Take Pete Buttigieg for example. The openly-gay mayor of South Bend, Indiana is expected to announce his presidential campaign. Gonna file that under Good News That We Need More Of. Further reading: Lucas Grindley argues that “Yes, It Matters That Pete Buttigieg Is Gay.”

CutBank would also like to remind you that as you fight The Fear it is important to take care of yourself. Sometimes you just need to put on your pajamas and curl up with a book or watch a movie or show. Should that be the case, check out Bookriot’s list of 15 book adaptations you can stream for free with nothing but your library card. (featuring UM alum Emily M. Danforth).You can also take a look at LitHub and Electric Literature’s lists of literary adaptations coming out in 2019.

If podcasts are more your jam, then perhaps give fiction/non/fiction a listen. Their newest episode will tell you everything you need to know about lit mags (featuring editors Brigid Hughes of A Public Space and Jennifer Baker of Electric Literature). 

In the meantime, stay strong, stay good,


BURN PILE: AWP around the corner!

If you’re like us, you’re gearing up for AWP and are equal parts excited and overwhelmed by the sheer plentitude of writers, events, and offsite activities. That’s to say nothing about all that Portland offers beyond the walls of the Convention Center. So many options! Thank god for the daily yoga offerings and the Dickinson Quiet Space—we’ll need a few moments of quiet here and there. But planning is key, and so to help you best wrangle all that’s on offer at AWP, we’ve rounded up a few of the most helpful links out there.

The first is obvious but not to be overlooked. The official AWP attendee guide is full of useful information and tips, along with lots of nice, glossy pictures. Scrolling through it with a pen and notepad is a good place to start.

This page by writer Paulette Perhach really is key. It has links to a webinar about how best to navigate AWP while staying sane and (also) having a good time, a pre-made Google map of the Convention Center and downtown Portland with all the AWP essentials (including best places for coffee, breakfast, and even a few walks to seek some peace and quiet) and a pretty useful list of tips (which include preparing a good elevator pitch and making sure your AWP app profile is filled out and ready to go so you can tell anyone you meet to find you later on the app). Paulette Perhach also has a good list of #AWPtips on Twitter, so follow her at @pauletteperhach and search #AWPTips for more useful advice. Also, if you text WELCOME to 444999 she’ll send you a lot more resources, including checklists, reminders, a packing guide, and even a conversation starter guide for the socially awkward (who, us?). Good stuff there, guys, good stuff. 

If that’s not enough for you, here’s another list of tips compiled by The Writer

Meanwhile, if the official event schedule has you cross-eyed, The Portland Review has compiled a shorter list of AWP highlights, mostly featuring their own contributors and alumni, but it’s a bit more manageable and also highlights some offsite events for after-hours. Elsewhere, The Rumpus has put together their own list of recommended events.

And of course, don’t forget to come to the kickoff event sponsored by CutBank at Dig a Pony on Wednesday night, 8pm. There will be readings by Soma Mei Sheng Frazier and Joan Naviyuk Kane, our 2018 Chapbook winners, and a DJ to follow. And stop by our table at the book fair (T6025) for a chat, a button, the two newly released chapbooks, and the brand new issue of 89!

See you in Portland!

BURN PILE: Tragedy in New Zealand, the passing of a poet, and St. Patrick's Day

We here at CutBank were horrified and saddened at the news of the mass shooting in Christchurch, New Zealand on Friday. Here The New Yorker examines the best way to discuss the tragedy without amplifying either the voice of the gunman or the violence he wrought, but laments the social media platforms that allow for endless circulation of the filmed attacks. Over here, they argue that it’s time to have a serious look at the rising threat of white nationalism around the world, while The Atlantic shines a light on the long history of white supremacist ideology in the United States before taking a look at the ways mass shooters, including Friday’s, have repurposed literary words of bravery to evoke the heroic in their attacks on the defenseless.

So how to cope with a world gone mad? With books, perhaps. Over at Guernica, 2018 Oregon Literary Arts Writer of Color Fellow Reema Zaman discusses how to heal collective and individual wounds after a traumatic event, which is the focus of her new memoir, I Am Yours. And The New York Times will be celebrating Women’s History Month by featuring stories, essays, and appreciations by and about women throughout March.

Let’s pause a moment to mourn the passing of a literary great, poet W.S. Merwin, on Friday March 15. In honor of his life and work, The Paris Review has compiled a few of his best poems.

To end on a brighter note, today is St. Patrick’s Day, dedicated to the saint known for converting pagans to Catholicism and for driving the snakes out of Ireland. You could certainly mark the holiday by drinking green beer in an Irish pub or parade, or you could seek out one of these books written by Irish authors set far from the homeland. Whichever you choose, sláinte!

BURN PILE: Celebrating International Women's Day

March 8th was International Women’s Day, a holiday celebrated all around the world, if less so in the U.S.A.. Let’s honor it here at CutBank.

First off, take a gander at this roster of talented women on the just-released 2019 longlist for the Women’s Prize for Fiction.

Over at The New York Times, Kristen R. Ghodsee decries the American preference for Mother’s Day over International Women’s Day (attributing this to the latter’s socialist, Eastern bloc origins) and declares, “we are more than our wombs.”

Meanwhile at Broadly, twelve leading feminist thinkers from all backgrounds come together to discuss their visions for the future of the feminist movement and what it means for race, gender, art, and politics.

Across the pond, many an eyebrow was raised on Friday at the speech made by Megan Markle at the Queen’s Commonwealth Trust in honor of International Women’s Day, which she used to call attention to the stigmatization of menstruation, while at ElectricLit, Lily Meyer interviews Swedish comic artist Liv Strömquist about the shame associated with menstruation and the female body explored in her new graphic novel Fruit of Knowledge: The Vulva vs. The Patriarchy, panels of which have been put up by transit authorities in the Stockholm subway.

The Atlantic considers whether rebranding clothing and beauty products to appeal to “real” women misses the mark by implying that some versions of womanhood are false, and moreover by continuing to feed into the notion that beauty is a necessary female goal. Meanwhile, Nicholas Dames reviews L.E.L.: The Lost Life and Scandalous Death of Letitia Elizabeth Landon, the Celebrated “Female Byron”, the first ever biography about one of the most famous female literary figures of the pre-Victorian period.

Finally, as always McSweeney’s is prepared with a list for the modern woman seeking to take advantage of that extra hour of daylight to squeeze a bit more into her already packed life.

Here’s to all the women dancing backwards in high heels. Happy International Women’s Day!

BURN PILE: No Redemption for Cohen, Heaney’s last SMS, reading like Douglass, Tolkien’s watercolors, and remembering Anthony Hollander

As we bid (perhaps futilely) winter farewell, CutBank brings you a list of articles featuring some illustrious and/or notorious individuals for this week’s Burn Pile.

We would be either quite forgetful or hermitlike if we didn’t feature Michael Cohen and his testimony to the House Oversight Committee. Over at LitHub, Timothy Denevi asserts that there is no redemption for Cohen.

And if Cohen’s testimony or Denevi’s article has convinced you or perhaps reinvigorated your desire to be a better person, a better person like maybe Frederick Douglass, the good folks over at Lapham’s Quarterly have provided you with Douglass’ reading recommendations.

Or maybe you’re looking for something more fantastical, more visual. Look no further than The Paris Review’s feature on Tolkien inspired imagery. Who wouldn’t want a sunny jaunt through the Shire right about now?

For the more aurally-inclined, The Millions remembers one of the great audiobook narrators, Anthony Hollander. His antics are never to be forgotten (except perhaps by David Foster Wallace fans).

Finally, we’d like to recommend John West’s article about Nobel prize-winning poet Seamus Heaney’s final text message to his wife: “Noli timere.”

We couldn’t leave you with a better wish than Heaney. Be not afraid.

BURN PILE: Oscar Sunday

The 2019 Oscars are tonight, so let’s talk about the movies!

First up, The New Yorker has a compilation of the best writing they’ve put out in recent weeks about the nominated films. This one alone will have you prepared to speak knowledgeably about all the nominees, even if you skip out on the actual awards ceremony. And here’s The New Yorker’s run-down of this year’s Oscar-related scandals, as well as a brief look backwards at the scandals that came before, including one involving the 1961 film The Alamo. (Unrelated to the Oscar’s, but this Guernica article examines the truer, darker history of the much-mythologized Alamo and its ongoing role in propagating racism).

Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma is already riding on many firsts: it’s the first Netflix-produced film to be nominated for Best Picture, and its female lead, Yalitza Aparicio, is the first indigenous Mexican woman to be nominated for Best Actress. If it wins, it will be the first foreign-language film to take home Best Picture in the entire 90 years of the awards ceremony’s history. In this profile of the director, The Atlantic examines the spotlight given to female characters and their stories in much of Cuarón’s work. And Yaritza Aparicio herself opens up to Harper’s Bazaar about the making of the film, her home country, and what she imagines for the future.

Meanwhile, LitHub speculates over potential nominations for a fictional Academy Awards ceremony for books and has University of Montana MFA alum and former CutBank editor Andrew Martin nominated in the category of Best Debut for his novel Early Work. We can toast to that.

The price of nomination, however, is to prepare a speech, and lately they’re expected to include an incisive or inspiring political commentary. While we wait to see what tonight brings, the good people over at McSweeney’s have unearthed a long-lost acceptance speech written by Sophocles for Oedipus Rex in which he praises the rise in women’s stories brought to the stage by men and reminds us of our democratic right to be entertained. Given McSweeney’s other piece listing the many things that outnumber women who’ve been nominated for Best Director (including onscreen Charlize Theron deaths), sounds like Sophocles was describing the Oscars’ ceremony itself.

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.

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.

Hump Day: CutBank introduces #MobyDickNotes

"Is it I, God, or who, that lifts this arm?" Before his final, three-day chase to kill Moby-Dick, Ahab questions his will, wonders whether he or some other force moves his hand. When we found our used copy of Moby-Dick, we wondered the same about its previous owner.

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