Issue No. 15

Editor’s Note

by Andrew Tonkovich

A Case Against Killing Your Darlings

by R.O. Kwon

The Palace of Forty Pillars

by Armen Davoudian

Breaking the Story

by Cameron Walker

Studio Visit: The Writing of Two Signatures

by Sara Ellen Fowler

Imaginary Blurbs and Genuine Poems

by RJ Ingram

On Reading Poetry to Write Nonfiction

by Dashka Slater

Why I Decided to Write My Memoir and Share My Story

by Rosa Lowinger

On Titles

by Jaclyn Moyer

Growing Up in Chicago House Music

by Marguerite L. Harrold

Why People Hate Mimes

by Ismet Prcic

On Research Rapture

by Jason Roberts


By Andrew Tonkovich

andrew tonkovich

Some of us will have seen our community at elevation this summer, with happy reunions, new friendships made, and group celebrations of publication or other personal and professional successes. Best of all, this representative group will have gathered for workshops, craft talks, meals, readings, and the much-welcomed affirmation that our writerly community exists in-person, for real, for two full weeks — under the stars, out on the deck with a view of the Granite Chief — in addition to being manifest year-round in robust online programming, short courses, podcasts, CW books and anthologies, scholarship programs, alumni news and more.

This issue of our invitation-only quarterly is a dispatch from all over featuring generous and wildly eclectic, smart, thoughtful, and funny contributions by staff and alums. Subjects include craft advice, Nancy Drew, relying on poetry in the pandemic, Chicago house music, Jacques Cousteau, Sparkle Stories, picking a title, Nobel prize awards, 1950’s Havana, mimes, abstract artist Agnes Martin, in addition to poetry and autobiography and so much excellent writing that you’d almost wish our community had in the past couple of years also produced its own terrific bespoke literary arts journal featuring amazing writing about writing, by writers, and for writers.

And, just like that, your wish is granted. Please read, enjoy, and share this issue.  It’s a good one!

Andrew Tonkovich
Editor, OGQ

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By R.O. Kwon

The phrase “kill your darlings” is a lifelong foe. I’ve never quite understood it, prevalent as the idea can be. I take the injunction to mean I should get rid of the best parts of what I’m working on: the lines I feel especially alive while rereading, the metaphors so bewitching it seems possible I, too, along with the language, might be transfigured.

To which I say: fuck, no. Absolutely not. Why would I cut, let alone kill, that which most delights me?

I refuse, so here’s what I believe: I want any novel I write to be full of darlings. If possible, all darlings. I don’t want any published novel of mine to include a single line that bores me, that hasn’t been shaped, pressed, and attentively loved into the most truthful, living version of itself. I might even argue that it’s not possible to care too much about language, about punctuation. I am close to believing, at least with my own work, that a single misplaced comma is enough to risk bringing down an entire book. One careless line is a death knell; a paragraph, utter ruin.

Not everyone believes this, of course, which is as it should be. The house of fiction is large; it holds infinite rooms, and if you’re a writer, part of your life’s work will be learning what holds true inside your own, uniquely splendid room. Which you’ll figure out by reading a lot and writing, but especially reading. It’s how I started better understanding what kind of writing I had to try to write: I realized I usually decide which book I’ll read next by glancing at a few lines from the middle of the text. If those lines sing to me, I’ll then flip to the beginning and read the book; if I can’t hear the lines’ singing, I’ll put down the book and try the next one in the pile.

So, I started applying that same test to my own writing. With both of my novels—including the one that published this year, Exhibit—each time I’d finished a draft, I would read it through, pull out the lines I loved, put them in a new document, then start again. I did that for the first god knows how many drafts; by the end, I’d write thirty novel drafts, fifty, I have no idea, and I don’t want to know.

Only when I had a more substantial draft did I start working with the words I had in place, trying to pull every phrase, line, and page up to the level at which the so-called darlings, like higher beings, already existed. I knew I might have finished Exhibit when I could open the book at random, read a few lines, and not feel compelled to revise it all over again.

R. O. Kwon’s Exhibit, a novel, is out with Riverhead. Kwon’s nationally bestselling first novel, The Incendiaries, has been translated into seven languages and was named a best book of the year by over forty publications. The Incendiaries was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle John Leonard Award. Kwon and Garth Greenwell co-edited the bestselling Kink, a New York Times Notable Book and recipient of the inaugural Joy Award. Kwon’s writing has appeared in The New York Times, New Yorker, Vanity Fair, Guardian, and elsewhere. She has received fellowships and awards from MacDowell, the National Endowment for the Arts, and Yaddo. Born in Seoul, Kwon has lived most of her life in the United States. 






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by Armen Davoudian

Author’s note:  Here is an excerpt from the title poem of my new collection, The Palace of Forty Pillars, which grew out of a draft I actually wrote in Olympic Valley for Robert Hass’s workshop.


Isfahan is half the world


Twenty pillars drip into the pool

their likenesses, where the likeness of a boy

wavers among the clouds, eyeing the boy

who’s waiting for another. All is dual:

two rows of roses frame the pool, in twos

the swans glide, each on another’s breast, then fuse

in a headless embrace. All is dissolved:

the boy outside the water is no more


a boy inside the water—his no more

the face defaced by its own lines on shattered

waves overlapping like a rose, the tattered

pillars strewn like petals. All is halved,

severed, like home and school, like love and being

loved—the boy no more than a way of seeing.

Armen Davoudian is the author of the poetry collection The Palace of Forty Pillars (Tin House) and the translator, from Persian, of Hopscotch by Fatemeh Shams (Ugly Duckling Presse). He grew up in Isfahan, Iran, and is a PhD candidate in English at Stanford University.




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by Cameron Walker

Maybe stories only found me again because I didn’t know what else to do. It was an afternoon in early December, and I had a new baby and two older boys, three and five, already buzzing with holiday energy. I was exhausted, pinned against the pillows by the nursing baby, by the two small bodies bouncing on the bed around us. The light coming through the bedroom windows was that cold, sideways winter light that felt like it could bruise.

The thump of the dryer. The shrieks of the boys. The anticipation of the baby’s cry. It was all too much noise, too much motion. “Hey,” I said. “Hey.” Maybe they stopped bouncing, maybe they didn’t. “I heard about some stories we could listen to. Should we give that a try?”

In my imagination, they settled instantly, which can’t be right. But what is true is that a few minutes into the story–this one about mysterious yellow cards that appear each day of Advent, the season leading up to Christmas–they were not bouncing anymore.

Stories have always had a way of settling me. When I had trouble sleeping as a kid, my dad would come and lie on the floor next to my bed—his back hurt—and tell me about the alligator who lived in his neighbor’s bathtub. When I was a little older, I’d wake and turn the light back on and flip through fairytales, and later, epic fantasies with wizards and elves.

Even though the only consistent thing I’d done in my adult life was writing, I never felt like a real storyteller. When my kids asked for a story, I was struggled to come up with what happened next, and then would reel the story so far out (Fire-breathing dragons! Exploding volcanoes! Mysterious underground tunnels leading to a world where pumpkins grew to be the size of houses!) I would forget how to find my way back.

But these stories we were listening to—they’re called Sparkle Stories, if you’re interested—were mostly about everyday life with a family. There were no volcanic eruptions or giant pumpkins. Still, everyone was fascinated. (Also, quiet.) So when I heard that the Sparkle Stories’ storyteller—a man named David Sewell McCann—was giving classes on storytelling, I signed up.

It was one of those calls that I was doing from the bedroom floor, early in the morning, and I can’t really remember what we talked about at first, but that the baby, now old enough to walk and talk, flung open the bedroom door and asked me a question. I glanced away from the phone to answer—wanting to help my son, wanting to get back to the conversation, and also feeling like my parenting skills were on display in the discomfort of trying to do both things at once.

When I looked back at the phone, David was smiling.  “That’s the story,” he said.

He told me that storytelling was really following your attention and where it took you. When I looked at my son, he said, my whole energy shifted. That’s what happened when he told a story—he paid attention to the places where his energy wanted to go, and then he went there.

This idea felt like a life raft at a time when my attention felt particularly scattered. Kids were slamming in and out of rooms, waking up from naps, coming home from schools with fevers.  Then later, of course, there were no schools to come home from. I took comfort in the idea that I could still write wherever my attention went, even when the whole world was splintering.

I wrote the splinters. When the kids were everywhere, I wrote them everywhere. I wrote the beach we walked on and the scrub jays we watched in the backyard and the theme weeks we created to pretend that we were at a magical summer camp and everything was going to be all right: medieval week, bird week, garden week. Even potato week, when I had really run out of ideas.

The other thing that stuck around from my conversation with David—I’m sure I wrote notes down, but like my attention, the notebook wandered elsewhere—was the idea that somewhere, near the end of the story, he tries to break it. Break it? I had this idea of someone throwing a plate against the wall and the sound that the plate would make as it shattered. But I had never actually thrown a plate. I didn’t know how to make something break when I’d spent so long trying to fix things.

He said that I’d know it when it happened.

I’ve been thinking about this idea, and this essay, and haven’t been sure still quite what it means, or how to break this one. I don’t like breaking things. It makes me feel wasteful, terrible, a little bit lost. And I was still thinking about the breaking this morning, when I was reading our local weekly and saw a story about how whales hear noise in the Santa Barbara Channel, how it’s cacophony out there, how they would have to shout their whale song to be heard.

Researchers compared the noise levels in the Channel in the 1950s, before cargo ships started to rumble through the channel, to how this stretch of water sounded in 2017. Maybe it’s no surprise that everything has gotten much, much louder. The Channel’s underwater contours make any noise reverberate, turn this passageway into a submarine concert hall with no emergency exit doors. The blue whales that spend summers foraging in and around the Channel, the researchers suggest, may have trouble hearing each other, along with being under constant stress from all the background sound.

What could feel more broken than not being able to hear each other? That’s why it can feel so hard to tell stories, I think. There is so much noise, it can be hard to pay attention to anything but the noise. It can be hard to do anything that feels like it might just be making more noise. I don’t want to be part of an endless orchestra of engines that is only growing louder, that is drowning out whatever it is I most want to hear.

But listen. Somewhere under all the sputter and churn there is still a creature with the largest heart in the world, singing. There is still a room, back in time, when three boys went quiet in the slanted winter sunlight to hear a story that felt as true as whale song. There is still a room where I imagine you and your own large heart, a blank page in front of you. You are about to make something that is so much more than noise, a sound that makes the world easier to bear, and the rest of will be able to sit still for a moment in our own rooms and pay attention.

Cameron Walker is a writer based in California. Her new essay collection, Points of Light: Curious Essays on Science, Nature, and Other Wonders Along the Pacific Coast, won the Tamaqua Award from Hidden River Press. She is the author of National Monuments of the U.S.A., a book for kids beautifully illustrated by Chris Turnham, and of How to Capture Carbon, a collection of short stories that will be published by What Books Press in fall 2024.




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The Writing of Two Signatures

by Sara Ellen Fowler

Some psychics need to scry, some need to scribble wide, ugly pen marks into bulky sketchbooks in order to open their channel, in order to listen. In art school, as an undergraduate, I found my ear through my hands, ravenous as a raccoon, busy to unmake, unspool, and ruin—all manner of objects, garments, furniture I’d scavenged, second-hand. I was magnetized to dross and wielded permission to pull the pieces further apart. To give them air, give them light, the instinct to rend and rend until some essential element yielded—a new insight would race across my vision.

I made performances, videos, and sculptures: talismans of an inner world where language, too, was at the ready. There was always a notebook open in my studio. Spiral-bound, college ruled Bazic notebooks, product of Indonesia, with a pliant paper weight and seductive transparency that I found at Brown and Welin, a compounding pharmacy opened in 1946 in Pasadena, CA. What language sifted to the surface of my consciousness—in the trance of hours, days and weeks, I sat separating the orange and yellow warp and weft of a woven coverlet—I created a transcription. From this origin, temperature and texture and all the formal trappings of sculpture gained grammar. A confusion of sensory information and verbal impression earned a third wit; I touched an electric searching that I would come to understand as poetic mind.

There is a synesthetic contract of close attention and deep feeling alive in Two Signatures (University of Utah Press, 2024), my first book. It is a document that traces dilations of desire and power in my life in the decade after art school as I learned to make a studio of language. I claimed poetry as an art practice, put my physical materials in storage, and set about reinventing how I recorded my attention and curiosity. By hand, in my notebooks, I began charting psycho-spiritual revelations homed in the body’s humble interface with the everyday.

In addition to tableau with lovers and self discovery, the animation of desire and power is found in my experiments in the field of ekphrasis, too. Utilizing details from an artist’s biography in addition to the lively physical stance of their specific practice, I home a searching persona in the particular psychological conditions of art making. Eva Hesse and Agnes Martin are my muses, in this method, in the book. The prose poem “Window” describes: “My canvases fain shudder in the temperature like a horse’s rippling will. I believe in the horizon only. O, let me be hulled in it. A mixed pulse, a wash of, I take the pills: silent dress circle of what care I need to keep painting here.” The poem imagines a galvanized Taos studio in the footprints of pioneering abstract painter Agnes Martin, who left New York and worked for decades in the desert, for its stabilizing sensory balm, while living with a schizophrenia diagnosis. The values that foregrounded Martin’s decision to find peace in the rigid and generous structure of her studio inspire me, as a bipolar person, as I build an expressive practice with candor and insistence. This poem sings an intimate stewardship.

The valences of my book’s title reach across multiple themes homed inside:

One of the foundational questions I was working as I began writing, revising, and sequencing this book: What are signatures of trust and how might they be held, faceted in language? In the trajectory of the book, a reader will find a speaker coming to terms with their own agency. Signatures of mood, psycho-spiritual conditions, and mental illness are expressed in the first-person and also as subject through honoring the legacies of poets Marni Ludwig and Sylvia Plath, who both alchemized psychic pain and succumbed to its torment. “There is a creature just beyond my sightline. / I mark our lyric time unhanded,” (“Blue-brown Morning, I Step Though Common Starlings”) is a line that articulates signatures of time, and how these might slide, another interest animated in the book. This poem was written on the winter set of a indie horror film in Joelton, TN, and shivers in its emotional cadence.

Also, signatures present on a contractual document that articulate devotion and/or power figure; the presence of the hand of each party that reifies an understanding or agreement. In the book, epithalamia hold the signing in ceremony. “We release our signatures like horses failing their bits,” is spoken in “Receiver,” the penultimate poem. Lifting off at the end of the book with a love poem is a decision to highlight the power of a bond that brings a person alive and makes them feel known and accepted.

Two Signatures was recognized with the 2023 Agha Shahid Ali Prize in Poetry and is being published by the University of Utah Press. I would like to express deep gratitude to the judge, Joan Naviyuk Kane for recognizing my work’s rigor and imagination. In the spirit of my early discoveries with sculpture and clairaudience, it is my intention that this book makes space for readers to explore the vulnerability and insistence that mark one’s devotion to creative exploration.

Sara Ellen Fowler is the author of Two Signatures (University of Utah Press, 2024), winner of the 2023 Agha Shahid Ali Prize in Poetry (asselected by Joan Naviyuk Kane). A recipient of a 2023 California Arts Council Individual Artist Fellowship, Sara holds a BFA in Fine Art from Art Center College of Design and an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of California, Riverside. Publication credits include: The Offing, X-TRA Contemporary Art Journal, Gigantic Sequins, and Cream City Review, among others.


by RJ Ingram

What the Original Authors are Saying

When I sat down to write the first Nancy Drew book my father Carson Keene had just passed away. Nancy was an opportunity for me to continue our adventures. Now after almost 100 years her adventures   continue. The Autobiography of Nancy Drew is one of the many adventures I had no part in creating. The poet uses Nancy & dozens of other “divas” to investigate his own relationships & struggles w/ the tools of a great detective: patience, a keen eye & a tall glass of presumption. The Autobiography of Nancy Drew opens w/ a dedication to the poet’s recently deceased mother who putters in a handful of times throughout the book. However, framing this collection of sonnets & thirst traps (whatever that means!) as both odes & elegies might better equip the reader for doing their own investigating. I’m glad Nancy’s stories are still being told & I encourage the author of The Autobiography of Nancy Drew to read a few more of them!

-Carolyn Keene, author of The Nancy Drew Mystery Stories

* * *

The last time I read a sonnet America was openly at war & smoking was good for you. When my dear friend & collaborator Carolyn Keene sent me a copy of The Autobiography of Nancy Drew inscribed w/ “What do you think, Frank?” I thought I was once again falling for a Nigerian Prince scam. Alas it was not a scam, but just a collection of poems. Fine poems. There was one about Baba Yaga on holiday that I quite enjoyed. But the whole time I kept asking “Where’s Nancy?” I asked Carolyn for help & she wrote back (the imaginary still send letters) “Read it again.” So I did & on the second read through I stopped looking for Nancy & started to pretend I was her. Sharp, smartly dressed, bursting w/ questions. And there she was! All of us become detectives when those around us die, the literary fiction industry is sure of that. And w/ every loss each of us gets closer & closer an understanding of who we really are. I very much liked what I found when I got there, if only I had a cleaner map to help me along the way.

-Franklin W. Dixon, author of The Hardy Boys Mystery Stories

* * *

Unavailable for comment.

-Edward L. Stratemeyer (1862-1930), creator of Nancy Drew & The Hardy Boys







 She cuts her hair w/out a mirror in a cabin

Aboard a large boat named after Calypso

The tin panel reflects enough of a face

Torn & ran to rags barely woman anymore

The Hat remains her only clean feature

Propped up on the bed a secret lover

Nearly lost both of them should be happy

But The Hat only knows as much happiness

She allows it & tonight they drink bitter

Water & eat stale smuggled crackers

She nearly lost The Damn Thing yesterday

In a series of events drawn like illustrations

She came to Africa looking for trophies

Curiosity sleeps all tied up under her bed


VI The Woman With The Yellow Hat

Sleeps Through Boarding


 The same dream: floating alone in a raft

In an infinity pool on the roof of a hotel

Cheap champagne rains down like darts

The glass surface disrupted like war zones

Ink blots fill the balloon less sky & men

Can be heard arguing about micro-dosing

Or micro-aggressions you can’t really tell

It’s one of those dreams where the smells

From the pretzel stand seep in like an Evil

Twin hair pinned to the side just the way

You try to do yours & she’s eating her way

Thru an artisan sourdough masterpiece

A kind they would never sell at airports

The beast spits gin right into your mouth





Sneaking into a party is easy w/ a monkey

Everyone wants to see you perform tricks

You oblige the little ones until they grow

Tired & bored hey! try to mingle w/ adults

Mr Martini makes chitchat about weather

A topic only Long Island Iced Tea indulges

Rum & Coke want to ask about monkeys

As if you’re some kind of fancy authority

You tell them monkeys can be dangerous

The horrible legends & stories are all true

Someone says they knew a man’s monkey

Wreaked havoc on an entire subway car

Yours looks like he wants to go after cake

The same party: always leave after cake





The big city tucked into bays a fitted sheet

Men circle along the park sidewalk riddles

Drip out of their mouths the way precut

Proceeds a dreaded onslaught of How

Come you ain’t looking this way you’re so

Good looking but whey don’t you wear

Makeup god you’re just another tease real

Classy ignoring Do You Know Who I Am?

Mr Who I Am retreats after a year or so

His lot in life is to be condemned writing

The same obscenities at more woman

Your monkey does nothing to stave his calls

If anything monkey encourages behavior

Best suited for greasy dive bar bathrooms






The Barflies have been staring at The Hat

Like a trophy to be won at a carnival game

A stetson w/ a secret the color of fictional

Lemonade mere cartoon of hat & woman

I used to let men win me prizes like the hat

Would let them toss rings until the bottles

Topple onto linoleum wet w/ carney piss

Would watch guns squirt right into the eye

Now the monkey is keeping men at bay

Frolicking too frilly for their grit & grime

I knew he was good for at least something

Like shuffling packs of cards & cockblocks

The lady passed a cemetery & finds herself

Do not miss me sweetheart: Hat of Queens





When you said monkey all I heard was

Mommy as in the woman who nearly killed

Me before bringing me back to life w/money

For lessons to swim to ski to sail to drive

To type out Shakespeare on a typewriter

For all the shitty things not exchanged

As in the only way I could dress that way

Was to join a monastery bc even monks

Get more action bc keys evolved from cage

The same way many still deny our own

Moments alone minutes alone minuets

To play on the church basement piano

Listen I know the woman you’re talking

About the small one who refuses to smile





The room shut off stacked like candles un-

Ignited yet the smell of cream & berries

Seeps in thru wax dripped on the dresser

Can he smell them? the golden monkey

A visitor his slant nose cut as if w/ twine

No which is why he presses his black hand

On my chest so much weight so much fire

In his sexless eyes as try as I try to scream

My body to wake but I cannot yell just spit

Gurgle & spit until sleep the monkey still

Presses his tiny spider hand that weighs

On like a stack of stones a cairn carried

Here from the bottom of the mountain

A stone for every moment stacked until

RJ Ingram is the author of the collection The Autobiography of Nancy Drew.  They live next to a cemetery in Portland, Oregon and work as a used bookseller for Goodwill Industries of the Columbia Willamette. RJ received their MFA in creative writing from Saint Mary’s College of California and their BFA from Bowling Green State University. Recent work can be found in Deep Overstock, Miniskirt Magazine, The Citron Review, and Phoebe Journal. RJ’s poetry has also been featured in The Poet Heroic podcast and Talking Earth on KBOO. The Autobiography of Nancy Drew from White Stag Publishing is RJ’s first collection. RJ’s cat Brenda lost a leg posing for thirst traps. Twyla, Brenda’s missing leg, magically reanimated herself & was recently adopted by RJ & their husband Michael. Follow for more updates @RJEquality/@RJ_Equality


by Dashka Slater


During the height of the pandemic, when the days were dull, anxious, and cloistered, I

found myself casting around for something that would scratch a particular itch in my brain,

an itch for short, pithy bursts of emotion. Twitter could reliably do just that, but the

emotions it provoked were always anger and anxiety. Frankly, I was generating quite

enough of that on my own. No, I needed something else, something that would jolt me out

of my brain’s circular patterns.

Then I remembered poetry.

If you’re like most people, you probably don’t read much poetry. I’m a poet, and I read less

than I would like. But poetry deserves a place in your reading life beyond the special

occasion moments (think weddings and funerals) when nothing else will do. Poetry offers a

hyper-distilled reading experience: sharpened linguistic and imagistic focus combined with

a crystalline burst of insight, observation, or clarity.

In those dark days of the pandemic, it was poetry that offered a respite from the circularity

of my own thoughts, served up in small doses that were perfect for the short-attentionspan

mood of that moment. And, as I researched and wrote Accountable, it was poetry that

gave form to the feelings and questions that I was still trying to bring to the surface of my


I’ve written here about the thoughts and techniques that informed one of the poems that I

wrote for the book, Four Kinds of Justice. But today I’d like to share a few of the poems that

shaped the book as a whole.

Every book I write gets a dedicated notebook in which I scrawl everything from my

thoughts as I’m working to my lists of people I need to call. I also tend to add ephemera that

feels relevant, like the two fortune cookie fortunes you see here, which embody the forking

paths posed by the racist Instagram account: appearance vs. character.

The initial pages of my notebook for Accountable includes quotes from Hannah Arendt,

Jamelle Bouie, Nikole Hannah-Jones, Jia Tolentino, James Baldwin, Zora Neale Hurston, and

Isak Dinesen, as well as business cards from people I had interviewed, lists of experts to

call, books to read, and similar cases to investigate.

The first poem I pasted into the pages was this one by Emily Dickinson:

After great pain, a formal feeling comes –

The Nerves sit ceremonious, like Tombs –

The stiff Heart questions ‘was it He, that bore,’

And ‘Yesterday, or Centuries before’?

The Feet, mechanical, go round –

A Wooden way

Of Ground, or Air, or Ought –

Regardless grown,

A Quartz contentment, like a stone –

This is the Hour of Lead –

Remembered, if outlived,

As Freezing persons, recollect the Snow –

First – Chill – then Stupor – then the letting go –

The Hour of Lead was a title I considered for the book, as it summed up the state I found so

many of the young people in when I first met them. The poem beautifully encapsulates the

numbness that follows trauma, using words like ceremonious, still,

mechanical, and Wooden to conjure the way that those who had been targeted by the

account went through the motions of returning to school and “moving on,” without actually

being able to do so. I was struck by the out-of-body sensation of those mechanical Feet

traveling “Ground, or Air, or Ought,” not knowing if they were moving across solid surfaces,

dreams, or obligations. And, I hoped, there would be an end to this phase, remembered

eventually (if outlived) in stages: trauma, numbness, and eventually, recovery: “First – Chill

– then Stupor – then the letting go –”

But how long would it take to get there? The girls who had been targeted were still in the

chill and stupor. Neither they, nor I, had a map for how they might let go.

The next poem in the journal is Rita Dove’s incisive “Pedestrian Crossing,

Charlottesville,” which captures the varying lenses a Black observer uses when observing

the antics of a group of young white people while simultaneously taking stock of their

latent power and capacity for harm.

Pedestrian Crossing, Charlottesville

A gaggle of girls giggle over the bricks

leading off Court Square. We brake

dutifully, and wait; but there’s at least

twenty of these knob-kneed creatures,

blond and curly, still at an age that thinks

impudence is cute. Look how they dart

and dither, changing flanks as they lurch

along—golden gobbets of infuriating foolishness

or pure joy, depending on one’s disposition.

At the moment mine’s sour—this is taking

far too long; don’t they have minders?

Just behind my shoulder in the city park

the Southern general still stands, stonewalling us all.

When I was their age I judged Goldilocks

nothing more than a pint-size criminal

who flounced into others’ lives, then

assumed their clemency. Unfair,

I know, my aggression—to lump them

into a gaggle (silly geese!) when all

they’re guilty of is being young. So far.

The poem lyrically and meticulously documents the layers of annoyance, generosity, fury,

and self-protection that Dove feels while watching these gamboling girls in the wake of the

white supremacist violence in Charlottesville. While researching the racist Instagram

account and its aftermath, which took place in the same time period as the violence in

Charlottesville, I watched Black parents wrestle with these same emotions. Was each

person who followed the account a “pint-size criminal/who flounced into others’ lives,

then/assumed their clemency?” because they believed “impudence is cute?” Were they

simply “guilty of is being young?” Or was the present misdeed a prologue to something

even worse? The deep wariness and weariness captured in the last two words of the poem

hits hard. So much history summed up in those words. So many lessons learned the hard


As the reporting process continued, my notebook filled with poems about the beauty and

power of girls, and about all the ways that this beauty survives despite trauma, misogyny,

and misogynoir. One of the hardest thing about researching the book was seeing how the

bright flames of the young women who’d been targeted by the account had been dimmed

by the experience.

Here’s a note I wrote after a conversation with one of them:

“I get off the phone feeling broken-hearted. [X] is such a spark, so beautiful and funny and

smart, and she remains flayed by this experience.”

That call brought to mind these lines by Sonia Sanchez, which I also scribbled in my


there is no place

for a soft / black / woman.

there is no smile green enough or

summertime words warm enough to allow my growth.

It was for this reason, I think, that I began pasting in poems that celebrated survival and

resilience. Alison Luterman’s Some Girls, for instance:

Some girls can’t help it; they are lit sparklers,

hot-blooded, half naked in the depths of winter,

tagging moving trains with the bright insignia of their


I’ve seen their inked torsos: falcons, swans, meteor


And shadowed their secret rendezvous,

walking and flying all night over paths traced like veins

through the deep body of the forest

where they are trying on their new wings,

rising to power with a ferocious mercy

not seen before in the cities of men.

Having survived slander, abuse, and every kind of exile,

they’re swooping down even now

from treetops where they were roosting,

wearing robes woven of spider webs and pigeon

feathers….[follow this link to read the rest]

Again and again, I found myself drawn to poems about overcoming, about girls who refuse

to be defined by those who don’t see their beauty and their magic, like Barbara Jane

Reyes’ ‘Track: “A Girl in Trouble (Is A Temporary Thing),” Romeo Void (1984)’:

Brown Girl Sings Whalesong

When they say you are as big as a lumpy, blubbery whale,

you may go ahead and bellow deep. Creak,

croon, and trill, moan low. Go ahead, open your mouth so wide, that

you can swallow the sea. Know that your blood pulls you through

what your oldest ancestors committed to heart. Remember

you have touched the ocean floor, and you have made your garden there.

Remember, your skin is thick. Remember, no one has tamed you.

Yes, you are immense, your lifespan and memory long,

your heart larger than a full-grown man. Your lungs carry air for us all.

Your ribcage could be a refuge. Your skull is a cavern of deep song.

Through murk and poison, you move true with the moon.

Your body lights a million lanterns. Your deep pitched song finds your sisters,

your mother. They say the earth’s most unruly parts sing like you.

Poems like these were sustenance for me during the years I worked on the book. I needed

their visions of female power and resilience, needed to be able to picture how the young

women I was writing about might be when they reached the other side of this experience.

And all this time, the girls themselves were still in the deep freeze that Emily Dickinson

describes. There were times when their despair and their feelings of powerlessness almost

convinced me that they would never emerge.

In the end, I chose Tracy K. Smith’s We Feel Now A Largeness Coming On as an epigram to

the book because it so gorgeously captures the process of becoming mighty in the wake of

being shamed, of finding the power to take up space in a world that wants to shrink you

down to nothing. The book uses the first lines of the poem as its epigram, but I want to

leave you with the last ones:

. . . What Black bodies carry

through your schools, your cities.

Do you see how mighty you’ve made us,

all these generations running?

Every day steeling ourselves against it.

Every day coaxing it back into coils.

And all the while feeding it.

And all the while loving it.

New York Times-bestselling author Dashka Slater has been described as a “triple threat” for her success in journalism, fiction, and children’s literature. The author of fifteen books of fiction and nonfiction for children, teenagers, and adults, her work has been translated into more than fifteen languages and has won numerous awards, including the
2024 J. Anthony Lukas Book Prize from the Columbia Journalism School and Harvard’s Nieman Foundation for her nonfiction narrative, Accountable, the 2023 Kurt Vonnegut Speculative Fiction Award for her short story, “The Jeanines of Summer,” and the 2018 Wanda Gág Read Aloud Award for her picture book, Escargot. A 2024 Pushcart Prize nominee and the recipient of a 2005 Creative Writing Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, Dashka is a frequent speaker at schools, conferences, colleges, and universities. She lives in Oakland, California and teaches at Hamline University’s MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults program. Learn more at


by Rosa Lowinger

A version of this essay was published on October 10, 2023 in Women Writers, Women’s Books.

 In 2009, I was a Rome Prize Fellow at the Academy in Rome, researching the history of vandalism to art and public places. I had spent three decades working as a conservator of art and architecture, and I finally had time to write and think about a topic that was vexing me constantly- why people deliberately damage things of value.

Day in and day out I pondered the duality of damage and repair. Was there a common thread between unauthorized attacks on works of art? A connection between graffiti and the systematic destruction of monumental Buddhas, mosques, synagogues and churches? One day, while prowling through the Academy’s library, I came upon Primo Levi’s memoir “The Periodic Table.” Primo Levi was an Italian Jewish chemist who had written several books about his time in Auschwitz. The Periodic Table used his work as a chemist was an organizing metaphor for telling stories about his ancestors.

I was immediately struck by Levi’s book, and excited by the possibility of using the same structure for a memoir about art conservation. No one in my field had ever done this before. Those of us who repair works of art occasionally show up in fiction; but we’re mostly depicted as part-time sleuths, or spies, or dewy-eyed ingenues who succumb to torrid passions with the owners of old master canvases. We are clichés in literature, but none of us had ever tried to counter those narratives by penning a memoir of our own about the way we think, plan, approach a treatment, or manage limitations. Levi’s book was the perfect model. Now all I needed was to tease out what the story was going to be about.

My first published book Tropicana Nights: The Life and Times of the Legendary Cuban Nightclub had been a sort-of memoir. Written with Ofelia Fox, the octogenarian widow of the famous cabaret’s owner, it told the history of 1950s Cuba, the time and place where I’d been born, through the lens of its most glamorous performance venue. My editor, Tim Bent at Harcourt, suggested that I weave my relationship with Ofelia into her stories about dazzling nights of mambo, Celia Cruz, and mobsters in the place known as the “Paradise Under the Stars.” Ofelia’s so-called “housemate” Rosa Sanchez liked to hover around us as we worked, pouring martinis and coyly steering my inquiries away from anything that touched upon the well-documented fluid sexuality of Tropicana’s denizens.

Just as we got to the end of the writing, Ofelia and Rosa trusted me to tell the truth about their four decades of love and devotion to each other. “People can be more than one thing,” Ofelia explained sagely. “I just needed to be sure we could trust you.”

Around the time that Tropicana Nights came out, my 25- year marriage fell apart. So did my relationship with my business partner- the third such failure in two decades. I left for Rome, fell in love again, and started a new conservation practice upon returning to Los Angeles. Eventually RLA Conservation, LLC became the largest woman-owned conservation firm in the United States, and the only one Latina-owned.

Then, in 2019, my father died. Six months later, the world went into lockdown. To fill my days that summer of the virus, I began writing a novel about 1950s Havana. A fictionalized version of the Tropicana story, Paradiso Cabaret’s main characters are a showgirl who was been raised in an orphanage under destitute conditions, and a Romanian Jewish immigrant to Cuba who trained as an art restorer in 1930s Rome. One day during the dark days of the lockdown, I realized that the showgirl and the art restorer were stand-ins for my parents. Their fraught backgrounds and tumultuous marriage formed the emotional core of the novel. My father had wanted to study architecture in Cuba, but his Romanian immigrant father refused him. My fictional art restorer had his heart and personality.

Every night during the years of the pandemic, I ‘d call my widowed mother in Miami. She’d wail, beside herself: “I am alone, alone! No one cares about me. My life is worse now than when I lived in the orphanage!” She kept repeating stories about her terrible days of trauma. One of the most vivid was about having to clean 10 marble tables each day in the orphanage.

One morning, I wrote the words, “A five-year old’s hand drags a soapy rag across a marble table.” And then: “I, too, am an expert in cleaning marble.” That was the beginning of  Dwell Time: A Memoir of Art, Exile, and Repair, a book in which I explore the way repair of the material world can provide guidance for personal and societal healing.  Last summer, before Dwell Time was published, I workshopped Paradiso Cabaret I am back to writing about paintings conservation in 1950s Havana.

Rosa Lowinger is a Cuban-born writer and art conservator working in Los Angeles and Miami.  A Fellow of the American Institute for Conservation and the Association for Preservation Technology, Rosa was awarded the 2009 Rome Prize at the American Academy in Rome to research the history of vandalism to art and public space. Rosa’s books include Tropicana Nights: The Life and Times of the Legendary Cuban Nightclub (Harcourt: 2006), Promising Paradise: Cuban Allure, American Seduction (FIU Press, 2016), and Dwell Time: A Memoir of Art, Exile, and Repair (Row House: 2023), winner of the American Institute for Conservation Kress Publication Grant and recipient of a Kirkus starred review. Short stories include Repairing Things and Buried Treasure for Bridges to Cuba, published by University of Michigan Press, and The Empress of the Waves for Una Isla en La Luz (TraPublishing: 2017). Her first play The Encanto File, was produced in 1991 by the Women’s Project and Productions at the Judith Anderson Theater and published in Rowing to America and Sixteen Other Short Plays, edited by Julia Miles (Smith & Kraus, 2002). Rosa is the author of the 2023 Lithub essay Life as a Conservator: Learning to be Grateful for Failure and many articles on Cuba, art conservation, vandalism, and contested monuments. She co-curated Concrete Paradise: Miami Marine Stadium at the Coral Gables Museum (2013), and Promising Paradise: Cuban Allure, American Seduction at the Wolfsonian Museum. Rosa’s work has been featured in dozens of magazines and newspapers, including a November 3, 2023 feature in The New Yorker’s Talk of the Town. 




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by Jaclyn Moyer

I can no longer remember when I first gave a name to the manuscript that eventually became On Gold Hill, only that at some point midway through what would turn out to be a decade-long process I gathered up an unwieldy assortment of material— half-finished essays and sketches of scenes, lists of questions and passages quoted from other books— corralled them all into a single Scrivener document, and labeled the file: “On Wheat.”

At the time, I didn’t think of those two words as a title, more of a framing device to guide the contents that made its way inside the document. Nor did I consider the document to be a book. Instead, I thought of it simply as a project. Had I set out to write a book from the beginning, I almost certainly would have been too daunted to proceed. But a project I could undertake. A project had no definitive end point, no expected output, but was instead expansive, experimental, process-oriented. A book was a thing one made, while a project was a thing one did.

For the bulk of the ten years I worked on On Gold Hill, this way of thinking served me well. It kept me writing through periods of intense uncertainty, kept me at my desk in the throws of self-doubt. (It didn’t matter that I could not write a book, because I was not trying to write a book, I was just working on my project.) But at some point, when I had a completed narrative and was ready to have other people’s eyes on it—mentors and readers, potential agents and editors—I had to start thinking of “the project” in more concrete terms. Though it was well over 100,000 words, the prospect of calling it a book felt no less unnerving than ever, the noun struck me as both intimidating and pretentious at once. So I got comfortable instead with the word “manuscript.” A manuscript, like a project, exists in-progress, unfixed. A manuscript did, however, need a name.

At first, I considered sticking with “On Wheat.” After all, it had been there, faithfully heading the document all these years, and seemed deserving of a promotion to title. I liked the classic simplicity, how it payed homage to the essay tradition, they way is suggested an act of turning this one thing—wheat—over and over in ones hand to examine it from all angles.

My early readers did not agree. “You can improve the title, I think” wrote one.

“What will you call it?” asked another, to whom I replied, “The title is on the manuscript.”

“Oh, I guess I didn’t see it.“ She said.

“Its on the first page.”


“Right there,” I pointed to the words On Wheat, centered in the title position at the top of the page.

“Oh,” she said, and then, “That’s it?”


I began to cast about for a new title. One day, while reading about wheat morphology, I came across a passage describing the distinctions between various plant parts. “Roots,” a sentence read, “are underground organs.”

I wrote those words out on a sticky note and stuck it to the wall over my desk. Roots Are Underground Organs. That’s it, I thought, that’s my title. I liked the way the fact, out of context and isolated in that way, read like poetry. It fit the genre of my book—which was partly a heavily researched inquiry into aspects of the history of agriculture, and part-memoir—and it alluded to the main theme of a search for heritage. I erased “On Wheat” and replaced it with those four words. And for a few years, they remained.

But at some point the manuscript seemed to squirm out from under this name too. The title no longer fit in the way it once had, it struck me now as too narrow, too specific. Though it had come to me unsolicited from the pages of that textbook, it now sounded to my ears as contrived, over-wrought.

I erased the title, reverted once again to “On Wheat.”

It was in the course of another revision, that I found what I believed was the true and most perfect title of the project. The line was right in front of me, in a passage I had written about advances in plant breeding at the start of the 20th century: Laws of Inheritance. For one, those three words strung together just sounded like a title. The line had that solid, full ring to it. But it was the double meaning, the deft joining together of the two threads of the manuscript that I found most beautiful. In one sense, the phrase evoked the project’s central questions: How are we bound by our personal and collective histories? What does it mean to loose, or to regain, ones heritage? In another sense, it referred to Gregor Mendel’s Laws of Inheritance, the groundbreaking biological theory that described, for the first time, the workings of genetic inheritance thus forever changing the trajectory of plant breeding and agricultural development.

I imagined the satisfaction a reader would feel, mid-way through the book, when she encountered the passages about Mendel and the second meaning of the title emerged. I imagined it would feel like the moment when, looking at one of those duplicitous images, what had been a duck suddenly becomes, with a shift of perspective, a rabbit.

I erased “On Wheat” and placed “Laws of Inheritance” at the top of the manuscript, where it remained through the process of finding an agent and, later, a publisher.


Over the many months my editor and I worked on final trims and revisions to the manuscript, we didn’t talk about the title. Though I’d been warned that editors tend to have a lot to say about titles, I assumed she, and everyone else at the publishing house, found mine just as perfect as I did. It remained on the title page as I made my last revisions in the weeks before we planned to transmit the manuscript to the production team, after which no more substantive changes could be made.

The date of this transmission loomed large in my mind. If I thought about it too much, it terrified me. For this would mark the moment when this thing that had been for so many years a malleable, fluid, work-in-progress would harden into its final and fixed form. Like a clay pot entering a kiln, I knew once we transmitted the pages to the production team, outside of fixing errors or typos, they would no longer be changeable.

A week or two before the deadline, my editor wrote to say the marketing and publicity team had some issues with the title. They found it too abstract, not evocative enough, not compelling. In short, they wanted something different.

At first, I pushed back. Maybe they just didn’t understand the title, after all not everyone had read the manuscript. I explained the double meaning, how it alluded to the central themes and to the history of plant breeding. They were not impressed. A title, they explained from the marketing perspective, had to do its work before a word of the book had been read. It didn’t matter if, halfway through the book, it’s meaning was suddenly revealed in a satisfying way: If a title failed, a reader would not get halfway through the book because she wouldn’t pick it up at all. A title must pull a reader in on its own.

I remained convinced. In part, I couldn’t get behind this idea because I still wasn’t ready to conceive of what I’d made as a book, to imagine it as an object on a shelf. Though the words would, of course, come at the very beginning, choosing the final title, I realized, was for me a kind of ending. Each of the former title iterations had served its time before eventually sloughing off like a shed skin, allowing space for the manuscript to grow, to change shape. But this one would remain, sealing the manuscript into its present form, transforming it from a fluid project to a static book.

Up until this point, the practice of writing this manuscript had been, foremost, a form of inquiry. From sketching the first scenes, to wandering the winding corridors of research, to puzzling out the structure, possibilities abounded. Even the last line edits offered up unexpected insights: While searching for a better adjective to replace one that didn’t land quite right I recalled a long-forgotten memory of my childhood home; when I called my Dad to fact-check a detail about the car he drove when he met my mother, the question sent him down a rabbit hole of memories and I found myself listening to family histories I’d never before heard; in re-writing a clumsy sentence, I arrived at a deeper understanding of the idea I was trying to express. Each time I read the manuscript, something new emerged, revisions were called for: how could I consign the project to an unchangeable state? I thought of a taxidermyed animal, a once-living creature rendered stiff and glass-eyed.

The days ticked by and I could not come up with a new title. My editor and I bounced ideas back and forth, some seemed to have potential but then, a day later I’d read them again and cringe. Nothing fit. The deadline loomed. I could not bring myself to settle on a name.


One day, with a flurry of unsatisfactory titles swirling in my thoughts, I took a tablespoon of sourdough started from the jar on my counter and began to mix a leaven. Perhaps baking bread would clear my head. For the past 15 years I’d made sourdough bread every week. At times, I’d baked professionally in batches as large as 120 loaves per day. Other times, I’d made only enough to last my family the week, three or four loaves.

The act of choosing a title, it occurred to me as I coaxed water into flour with my hands, reminded me of cutting the slash into an unbaked loaf before loading it into the oven. After the two-day process of preparing the dough—the precise measuring of flour, water, salt; the long bulk fermentation; the careful stretches and folds; the shaping; the second rise—the slash marked final moment in which my hands would alter the outcome of the bread. It was a small thing, yet it would have significant consequences for the final loaf: the depth and shape of the cut would dictate how and where the dough would swell as it rose, defining not just its outer appearance—the ears and pattern of the crust— but also the internal crumb structure. It was a swift action, occurring in less than three seconds, but its mark on the bread would be indelible. Titling my manuscript felt similar: it marked the last tweak, the final touch before things were out of my hands and what had begun as a blank page—all possibility—would become only exactly what it was.

This comparison sent a quake of nausea through my gut. Immediately I recognized the feeling: when I first started selling bread, each time I slashed a round of loaves and loaded them into the oven, a similar wave of anxiety filled me as I waited to see the bread in its final form, to pull the loaves out of the oven and slice a serrated knife through the crust to inspect the crumb. When a bake disappointed me—a batch left to ferment too long turned out flattish and overly sour, or another, proofed at too cool a temperature failed to fully swell in the oven, the crumb uneven and overly chewy—I was devastated, furious and overcome with a sense of failure. I determined to avoid this feeling by getting better, by mastering every aspect of bread. But as my skills as a baker increased, so too did my standards: I could not avoid disappointment.

The only way out of this mental minefield, I found, was to focus not on the outcome but on the process. Though each loaf I pulled from the oven had reached its final and fixed form, the larger project of baking remained a work-in-progress. Saturday’s loaves, imperfect as they might have been, would be eaten and soon enough next Thursday would roll around and I’d take my starter out of the fridge, feed it with warm water and fresh flour, and begin again. The starter itself evidenced the ongoingness of the process, a through-line that threaded each loaf to the ever-evolving practice of baking bread.

Perhaps I could think about writing in these same terms. A book had an endpoint, a final form, but the larger project continued. Of course I would look back upon these pages in a year—or five, ten—and see them differently, find them imperfect, riddled with changes begging to be made. But maybe that wasn’t evidence of fault, only proof of the ongoing evolution of myself and my work as a writer.


With only a few days remaining before the deadline, I considered again what my publishing team had advised: a title must do its work before a word of the book is read. It must compel a window shopper or library goer to pause, must evoke an image or feeling or question, must, as one writer told me, promise something.

I wrung my brain for ideas, to little avail. I wrote out the names of my favorite books—The Far Field, Lila, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, Slouching Towards Bethlehem, Salvage the Bones, The Grapes of Wrath. This, I found, was equally unhelpful: Once I’d read a book, I could no longer read the title without hearing echos of the book itself, could no longer imagine what effect the words might have had on their own.

So I rode my bike to the library and walked the stacks, reading spine after spine. Some titles were poems in themselves: A Heart is A Muscle the Size of a Fist, others just a stark word or two: Aftershocks. The Orchard.

I wrote lists of possible ideas that spanned the spectrum from a sentence (Every Seed Contains a Root) to a single word (Diaspore) to actions (Saving Seed). I tried the classic phrasing of The ____ (The Common Field). I sent my ideas to my editor, and she shared hers. At some point the phrase “Gold Hill” entered our list. This was the name of the region where most of my manuscript was set. I recalled a piece of writing advice I’d once been given: When stuck, start in place. It was a trick I’d used over and over in the course of writing the manuscript. Perhaps this could work with the title, too. Perhaps “Gold Hill” was the place to begin. Still, something about this name wasn’t quite right, lacking somehow. My editor suggested “Grown on Gold Hill,” but this sounded to me more like a marketing slogan for regional produce than a literary title. So we scratched “grown” to find ourselves left with, simply: “On Gold Hill.”

I did not immediately love this title. There was no ah-ha moment, no instant feeling of “yes, that’s it!” It was not earth shattering, not even particularly catchy or poetic. It did, however, evoke something. It prompted a bit of wondering, some intrigue. All this pleased my publishing team, but what I found most compelling about “On Gold Hill” was the way those three words formed an incomplete sentence, one in which the ending remained unwritten. In place of resolution, it offered only possibility.

Jaclyn Moyer is the author of On Gold Hill: A Personal History of Wheat, Farming, and Family from Punjab to California. Her essays and journalism have appeared in The Atlantic, High Country News, Orion, Guernica, Ninth Letter and elsewhere. Originally from northern California’s Sierra Foothills, she now lives in Corvallis, Oregon.



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by Marguerite L. Harrold

This essay appeared originally in the February 3, 2020 issue of Chicago Review. Reprinted with permission of the author.

Some people go to church, I go to the disco. I was baptized by Chicago house music back in 1983. Yes, I am a heathen, in the purest sense.

For those of us who live in it, those of us who were born in Chicago between 1964–1980, house music was an ever-present staple on Saturday night radio. If you were too young to get into a club, WBMX, Saturday Night LiveAin t No Jive, Dance Party, featuring “The Hot MIX FIVE,” was the club. Me and my cousin Carol would turn up the radio and practice our best moves. Grandma Gert would peek her head in and sometimes come in to show us how to really get down. Sometimes a group of us were all hanging around, sitting on somebody’s car, in Markham, IL, and the mixes would start. All of us would be dancing in the street. It was a party.

By the time I turned fourteen, I was allowed to go out to Markham Skating Rink on Saturday nights. A friend named Derrick would shuttle carloads of us back and forth. There was a tiny little disco, with an even tinier dance floor in the back of the rink that played some of the best house music I’ve ever heard. I couldn’t really dance back then, but I had to be there.

Some of these dancers had Soul Train moves, I mean twists and kicks and the high jump kick and twirl! People made a circle, taking turns, one at a time, showing off what they could do. Sometimes they turned into battles, not as aggressive as break-dance battles, which were also happening then. These were more sensual and stylistic. I never reached that level, but there was a point, when a song dropped, where everyone got on the floor and the place was so small, there was no wall to stand on. You just got swiped up and you had to move something. Our bodies were so jammed together, it was easy just to follow the beat of the one in front and the one in back of you. Sometimes I was sandwiched between two boys and sometimes it was two girls. Yes, there was humping, but it wasn’t lecherous. It was just people, eyes closed, hips pumping, swaying, hands in the air, high on the rhythms in the music. You felt that beat from the ground up.

When an older friend, Johnny Williams, told me about this place underground that played the best house music he’d ever heard, I had to go. I was fourteen and the party didn’t even get started until 2 a.m., and it was in the city. It was The Muzic Box on Lower Wacker Dr. and South Water St. It was literally a long black box, with nothing but a strobe light, steam, and bodies moving. I had to sneak out. I went to the Muzic Box a total of six times, each time grounded for a month, but it was worth it. Eventually, I learned how to “spend the night at a friend’s house.” When I met Honey Dijon in high school, she took me to all the house music parties at The Playground, The Power Plant, Club LeRay, Medusa’s, and Smartbar. By that time, I was completely obsessed.

House music validated my experiences as a Black person, as an oddball, as a bisexual, and as a human being. The music put my pain into healing song. The songs reflected love lost, liberation, and freedom. The people, mostly Black gay men, were welcoming and supportive. They cared for me as if I was part of the family. Way too young to be in the club, they watched me to make sure I stayed out of trouble. I was pretty straightlaced. I didn’t smoke or drink. All I wanted to do was dance to the music.

When I found house music, I found something that my soul needed. I found a space where the anger and pain, the brewing sexuality and violence in me could be soothed. I found a place where the abandoned oddball, the freaky nerd, could be free and accepted. I’d lose myself and find my heaven in a black box in a basement with sawdust on the floor. The center of me, dancing on a speaker, dancing all over the room, with everyone and no one in particular. Just as comfortable in a silky dress as I was in cutoffs, a Fishbone T-shirt, and five-holed, steel toe Doc Martins. I was there for the music. To dance and sweat until it ran down my face like a sun-shower. Until my arms and legs felt like wet noodles. Stop. Drink water. Repeat.

Born in Chicago, house music is the granddaughter of gospel and soul, the daughter of disco and blues, the sister of jazz, funk, and new wave. Her children are techno, freestyle, jack, juke, trip-hop, EDM, trap, and all the others who claim her.

House music originated at The Warehouse circa 1977. It was created by Black gay men. Combining city innovations, southern roots, and African heritage, it was a culture within a culture, yet it was not exclusionary. If you knew where the party was, you were welcomed in. Come as you are. Wear what you want. Be as you are or who you want to be. At a house music party, everyone is a freak and all the more precious for it. House music is what we want to be in the world and how we want the world to be.

Originally, house music was not necessarily about resisting or restructuring the dominant culture. It was about creating a space where Black gay men and other gay men of color could be free, safe, and expressive among themselves. It was a communal space, a safe haven in Chicago, which was often oppressive and repressive of gay and Black people. White gay culture was not accepting of Black gay men, despite a common otherness. Black gay men were often required to present three forms of identification in order to gain entry into North Side white gay clubs. It was necessary for Black and Latino gay men to create spaces of their own. In doing so, they made spaces for all of us. The music quickly spread throughout Chicago, New York, London, and Detroit.

Different from house music in London or New York and from the rave scene, Chicago house music was not about drugs. The music is the drug itself, and in Chicago it is the drug of choice. The feeling of music moving through you is the kind of euphoria people who do drugs are trying to get. There is an almost surrealist style to the way people move: legs kicking in the air, spinning, back bends, grinding, jacking, and jerking. There is someone with a tambourine, a whistle, a hand drum. To an outside observer it may look ritualistic, tantric; these bodies, this communal art. The energy is so addictive. The release so complete.

House music is ecstatic, in the way a Black Baptist or African Methodist Episcopal church service can be. It is participatory. The bass pops pieces of asphalt up off the street and you feel the music before you even get to the door. The kick drum surges your heartbeat. The cymbals rustle the butterflies in your stomach. It’s rapturous and the waves overtake you. It is the church choir, a juke joint on fire, a sonic tattoo. House music etches itself into your skin. Bodies ribbon together in the savory heat.

Like church, Chicago house music was and continues to be a central force for social interaction, spiritual liberation, and community. For those of us who grew up in Chicago house music, it is very personal. You’ll hear the phrase, “Some call it house. We call it home,” and in Chicago that is the truth. To be called a house head is a badge of honor and a way to locate your own people. Like church, the Black church in particular, house music parties are accepting of all who come through its doors, hear the 4/4 beat, feel the bass coming up from the street into the soles of their feet, and find their body moving.

Like a preacher, the DJ is the leader. The congregation and the crowd feed the service. When the preacher’s sermon causes him to bounce on his heels, the congregation bounces with him and the vibrations shake the room. He calls out his refrain and the congregation responds with an Amen or a Yes Lord. As the choir sings, something within you is released in the rhythm and the assembly of voices. The creaking of the floorboards and the heat of the congregation swaying together, rocking side to side, hands clapping, feet stomping, creating a wave of sound and movement that takes a singular body and pulls it into the collective. At a house party, you will hear the same call-and-response, though it may be a collective, Oooh Shit, or an Alright, or a Hell Yeah. There will be hands raised in the air in praise and eyes closed as bodies move in unison.

If you listen to the lyrics in most house music songs, you’ll see that they are about love and finding peace and freedom. They are about people finding their way out of stereotypical roles, or bad relationships. It’s about coming out, yes, sometimes out of the closet, but in more ways than sexuality or gender identification. It’s about coming out of the walls society has built for us. Songs of triumph over the pain in the world. Songs of loss and grief and survival. Songs that truly represent the Black experience, the gay experience, the human experience, such as “Promised Land” by Joe Smooth:

Sisters, brothers. One day we will be free from fighting, violence, people crying in the streets. When angels from above fall down and spread their wings like doves. As we walk, hand in hand, sisters, brothers, we’ll make it to the Promised Land.

Many house music songs are actually gospel songs, such as “I Want to Thank You” by Alicia Myers, or “I Get Lifted” by Barbara Tucker. People are likely to get the Holy Ghost on the dance floor just as they would in the church aisles, often with the exact same dance moves. In church you shake your neighbor’s hand or hug your neighbor. At a house party, you dance up close, juke or jack your neighbor, or the nearest speaker, body pressed up against it, feeling literal wind from the vibrations of the sound. The Spirit is unleashed in the gathering. People who’ve never met one another hug, smile, give dap, dance arm in arm, sing in unison, and raise their hands in praise. This unifying energy is the essence of Chicago house music.

At a house party, someone either drags you out on the dance floor or the DJ plays a song that has you tapping your feet, and before you know it there are people dancing around you and you are swept up in the crowd. When you go to a house party, you are part of something, not just a bystander. You are part of the creation of the work of art happening at that moment. You are welcomed and encouraged to participate.

House music is a place, a state of being, but it is not tied to any particular venue. A house party can pop off anyplace. It could be in any neighborhood in town, an underground black box room with only a strobe light and steam, a hotel ballroom, an abandoned warehouse, a beach, or a car radio with seven teenagers dancing around it.

The party followed the DJ, no matter where it was. (We still call any house music function a party.) Sometimes a club didn’t even have a name, or it wasn’t quite a club at all, but a restaurant rented out on a slow night, turned into disco heaven. There was a place called Kings & Queens, which was an empty loft space on Lake St., that literally had a giant hole on the dance floor where you could see three stories down. We just danced around it. This spot only lasted a month.

Chicago house music traveled the world and came home to show us all the things she has in her bags. The first time I heard house music played by a live band, I lost it. It was a dream musical collaboration on the level of Kate Bush making a record with Prince, or Anthrax together with Public Enemy. There was Peven Everett and Tortured Soul (from New York) and the New Orleans brass band The Soul Rebels playing an entire set of Chicago-style house music. It was a whole new level of experience. The live drums vibrating against my body, the walls, the floor. An electric bass grooving a house lick. I was filled up and taken over as I watched the room explode with the kind of shared energy that can only be described as spirit.

“Oooh shit,” I said out loud, bouncing up and down, waiting for the bartender. A beautiful, hefty queen my mom’s age looked over at me. “Sorry,” I said, realizing I nearly screamed in her ear. She smiled, laughed, and said, “That’s all right baby. That’s what it’s all about.” She was bouncing too and gave me a big hug before she swished her way to the dance floor.

House music is constantly in motion and ever changing. It is a dynamic art form. It does. It makes. It becomes. It takes hold of your insides and finds brightness. It finds your pain and brings you joy. It finds your weirdo and brings out your sassy, your funky, your truest you. There is freedom and liberation and hope in this music. Created out of marginalization and segregation it continues to bring people of all walks of life together.

To say what house music is can never really be completely accurate because house music means something unique to every person who experiences it. But once it takes hold of you, it will never let you go. And I am truly grateful.

Marguerite  L. Harrold is a poet, writer, educator, community activist and ecologist, originally from Chicago. She is the author of Chicago House Music, Culture and Community. She earned an MFA in Poetry from Columbia College Chicago. She is an Associate Editor for Prairie Schooner, and the Educational Promotions Manager for African Poetry Book Fund at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where she is pursuing her PhD in Creative Writing. Her work has been published in Obsidian: Literature & Arts in the African Diaspora, Chicago Review, RHINO, Anti-Heroin Chic and other journals.

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by Ismet Prcic


Portland. Pioneer Square. Polite precipitation. People.

People just being people: alone, in duos, trios, in groups. Alone people in duos, trios, groups. A larger gathering slowly assembles around the square’s center, eyes up from their I- phones, giving reality a chance. Not a long one. The phones are not off. The phones are still in hand and at the ready, facing up, gaping still. But the eyes are off the screens for the moment.

In the center, on the cement, a street performer. Female, forties, sinew leaching on bone, agile. Sensible loafers, navy blue pants, latitudinally-striped T-shirt, white caked-on face make-up topped with a French beret—a uniform. Eerily make-uped white eyelashes. Three small black triangles drawn upon each cheekbone, each pointing back to the irises, watery blue them. Beautiful. Other face orifices dark places as if hacked and punched into dried papier-mâché face-like surface with angular objects. Keep Portland Weird button where her left boob isn’t, pinned upside down to be weird. An amputee perhaps, or just naturally like that. Only stripes where her right boob isn’t.

She seems to be inside an invisible box, the old popular. Wherever she turns, in every direction, she’s limited by the edges of what people cannot see but it’s really there for her to feel. Despite the fact that the box cannot be seen people can gauge, glean that the box is there. So to speak. She is helping them gauge the borders of where the box ends and reality begins.

I’ll believe it when I see it, people sometimes say, blinking their fallible, human eyes.


I returned to Portland from my annual sabbatical to the motherland with a horrific Bosnian sunburn and sourness in my mouth. The day before my flight back I had decided to skip visiting my father’s grave once again (trip # 3 already) for… well, for a lot of things really, and this guy I knew during the war – a berserker of a soccer hooligan turned respectable banker – told me he would teach me how to fish for chub. He paid for everything, the trip, the equipment, the bait because I know how much you writerly schoolboys get paid in capitalist America, ha-ha-ha. He drove us to the worst fishing spot in the history of the sport, and we spent the whole day untangling our lines with grimy, inebriated fingers, swearing at the water, facing the sun and the reflection of the sun in the river. We ended up driving home lobster-red and chubless.

But there was drinking cold Tuzlansko on the gravel beach and frying chevapi on the fire built from driftwood and shards of vegetable crate, and reminiscing about the early 90’s, our wartime high school years, so it wasn’t all so bad. Faruk had once demolished a bully of mine on the steps from the first to the second floor of our Gimnazija and I felt indebted to him. He head-butted this kid in the mouth so hard the kid’s baseball cap flew off his head as if nabbed by Poltergeist. My bully collapsed against the railing, sat down. Faruk placed a couple of quick uppercuts into his face for good measure and one pretty wanton sneaker to the ass. The kid scrambled downstairs on all fours when Faruk picked up the baseball cap in a manner of an obliging Good Samaritan and ran after him.

“Hay, man,” he called with such an eerie civility after such a demolishing. “Don’t forget your cap!”

On the way back to town, careening drunkenly down narrow, pockmarked streets of northeastern Bosnia he made me feel a hefty bump on his beer belly, a place where some of his intestines had spilled out of the sack they usually sit in – a big-ass hernia, somehow simultaneously tight and squishy to the touch.

“It’s my little Alien,” he said gleefully, pulling up his shirt and showing me his gnarly scars. “I call him Bruhich. They had to cut through my abs to get to the tumor.”


Being a secret hypochondriac, I hated the word and as soon as I heard it my body cringed and tightened. A throng of awful, unstoppable thoughts went through my head. And even though one of them was in the voice of Arnold Schwarzenegger saying It’s not a toomah – a line from his dumb-ass movie – I became hyperaware of every part of my body. I looked at my sun-inflamed arms and almost saw tiny singed cells starting to divide in a wrong way.

“Whoa whoa,” I said when Faruk started to talk about something else. “A tumor?”

He proceeded to laugh and tell me the whole history of it in disgusting detail: a week and a half of constipation followed by numerous fruitless attempts at defecating, with only a single successful bout, upside-down in his bathtub while propped on the back of his neck, holding onto his toes in earnest and shitting up into the air like that. He said that the nurse on duty the night of his emergency operation ended up being his eighth-grade girlfriend, a girl who he had only kissed, and how embarrassing it was that she was doing the prep work for the operation and trying to chat, holding his scared, flaccid penis by the tip with one gloved hand and shaving around it with the other.

It was a benign bastard the size of a bocce ball that they later plopped out of his abdomen. It had been pressing on all the piping down there, causing trouble. He of course let go of the wheel with both hands to show me the size of the tumor and his Passat veered off into the opposing traffic, which was fortuitously nonexistent. Seeing the fear on my face he chortled, said:

I stared at him, unable to speak.

He went on bitching about the lack of “real” football fans and ultimate fighting and I realized just how saturated with fear I’ve been my whole life. The word tumor took away all the effects the alcohol had on me. My face was on fire and the veins in my wrists pulsed visibly, bubbled up like something was boiling in them, and I kept pressing at the tender flesh of my arm with my finger and counted how long it took my white fingerprint to blend into the surrounding redness.

Seven seconds.

I found Portland where I left it but like I’ve never seen it before. An epic heat wave had scorched all the moss on church steps and trees and walls, and the cars danced the spaghetti-legs dance with the pavement set on high heat, and all the hipsters’ seasonal beards were gone-gone. Tattooed white girls with pixie haircuts and dreads rolled around the knolls of Couch Park in bikinis, reading earmarked yellowed paperbacks of Marguerite Duras, no micro-fleece in sight. Every business had a bowl of water outside the entrance; every dog had a protracted uvula-pink tongue; every dog owner’s mouth was kidney- shaped with misery. An uneven sign in the window of an appliance shop read OUT OF AC’S – MORE ON MONDAY.

My room was spacious with a lot of light and therefore uninhabitable. The floors and the walls radiated heat and, with my sunburn now in full bloom I decided to sleep on the floor in the bathroom, bare skin slapped onto white tile just to wake up clammy and ashiver and despite the fever decided to work. I had a little office space in northeast Portland inside a cube-shaped co-op building where I would go to do my writing. Geography of the cure, they call it, this idea that if you change where you are, it will also change you and in a positive way to boot, the fresh-start effect kind of thing, you know: pure bullshit.

But it was a beautifully designed, big, open room, divided into quasi-cubicles and occupied by other artistic types, photographers, graphic designers, graphic novelists. These people were self–employed professionals who took their jobs seriously and worked hard and I felt like I didn’t belong there. The bathrooms’ doors had these whimsical knobs to separate the sexes and I had to reach for a brass dick-and-balls knob every time I had to go take a slash. The women officemates handled brass breasts.

On this—oh shit already a—Saturday the only folks there were the odd couple, a boyfriend and girlfriend pair, he starched and buttoned up and narrow of ass, constantly on the phone and she smooth and well-stretched in her yoga pants doing this Cirque De Soleil shit while hanging off a long silk scarf wrapped around one of the high beams in the cube. She was so good at it that it made me feel awful about my life.

Her boyfriend turned around on his swivel chair as soon as I entered so he didn’t have to say hello and I went to my desk, flipped that curmudgeon of my PC on, and waited for it to wake up, staring at his girlfriend twirling around in the air to those oooooing sounds that some people like to relax to. Would he turn around if her hands slipped and she dropped on the back of her head from all the way up there, I wandered.

On my pinup board among some articles and random shit there were three obligatory black and whites of my family in Bosnia (How quaint, one of my officemates once said): Mother on her sweet sixteen in traditional Bosnian attire holding an ibrik in the garden, her face adolescently upturned and pissed (number one), me and my sisters in knitted-woolen outfits holding cheap wooden flutes and crinkling bags of candy against our chests in front of the tipping, cotton-ball-decorated plastic New Year’s tree (number two), and my father with his late 70’s lambchops and wind-fucked-with combover and crooked teeth holding the hand of a smiling boy, the boy’s tongue in the corner of his lips as if he’s really concentrating, trying to do something right – me (number three).

The thing between my father and me was that I was some kind of like a shitbug and he was a sort of a gastropod mollusk. We could see each other, kind of, bump into each other physically, but we were a bug and a mollusk in the world and that was it. He just sat there beaming his secret mollusk beams. I scuttled around him screaming questions in my shitbug language but all his mollusk ears heard was, and I quote: slkdghsjavnilavhrvlkfdnvl…

A thought: As a writer of children’s books, it’s your job to find the way for these two species to communicate.

Thankfully, my fucking PC came around with a pop to the screensaver of a dead mime in a coffin, a hack-job, Ernie’s idea of a hilarious prank while I was gone.

By the time my neighbor Ernie, a neighbor both here and in my apartment building, actually showed up all I accomplished was to force myself to type the word “tumor” in Cambria font and stare at it. He came in from behind and smacked my sunburned shoulders and my eyes actually watered.

“Tumor?” he boomed, reading what I wrote, “That’s nothing. My mom has cancer right now!”

I beamed at him, watery-eyed. This smiley white-boy from Detroit.

“Yeah, it’s flippin’ sad, man,” he continued, nodding his head.

“That’s a too simple, cutthroat word for it,” I said.
“Cancer of everything by now. Stage four for damn sure. But how was freakin’

Bosnia, douche? Take any pictures?”

The switch from “cancer” to “douche” was so cheery and void of irony, so normal, so extraordinary. I wanted to be in his head just for five minutes, to process stimuli with his shit-processing apparatus. There seemed to be no fear in the way he did it. Tumor, cancer, to him these were just words to use to communicate.

Inside the box, the mime moves in fixed, familiar ways – wax on, wax off. People of Portland watch her, phones in hands. Palms out flat, her right hand traces a circle against the box, followed by her left, not at the same time. She then pushes against the barrier, her sinewy biceps atremble, puts her scrawny back into this effort, sticks her face against the unseen obstruction (the face grimaces in a funny way but no white make up smears against the inside of the box). She steps back unnerved, thinks for a second, has an epiphany, taps herself on the forehead as if to say What a fool I’ve been, points with her thumb to the right, then confidently walks in the pointed direction just to encounter another invisible wall.

Thump goes her forehead against nothing.

People look around, trying to figure out where the sound came from, how they are being deceived/entertained, but the mime has no helpers. People return to watching her, their phones now slightly downturned, here and there. She goes through another set of waxing ons and waxing offs before she realizes that there’s no escape to her right either.

Despite the caked-on make-up, despite the artifice of this kind of performance and its stock mannerisms, the fact that she has no other choice but to repeat herself and go to her left, and then to the back, doing the same movements again and again in increasingly more exaggerated fashion, getting increasingly more and more unnerved, demoralized, powerless is not lost on the people of Portland. A shudder goes through them when her head thumps against nothing to her left. Thump.


Ernie showed up at my place (the apartment, not the cubicle) with two heaping pints of beer because his mother was dead. It was seven in the morning. He said he was on hold with Detroit trying to arrange things and if I could come and keep him company in this time of need. We were both in our underwear, him in boxers and me in holey boxer briefs. I took the offered stout and some of it splashed on my hand. I licked at it mechanically, slurped it, probably betraying the rules of decorum of the moment.

“I’ll be there in a sec.”

He hobbled down the communal hallway, drinking, pressing a Motorola to the side of his head.

He lived one door down the hall, in apartment seven, a bachelor pad. His couch was plaid and sported a discernable ass groove at an angle to the domineering plasma TV, which was muted and showing a hook-beaked bird of prey snatching a surface fish in slow motion from several different angles. He sat at his sad desk with a monitor from another era, but facing the room now, legs spread with one of his melancholy testicles getting a breath of fresh air. Intelligent design, I thought. Let’s put the sensitive reproductive organs on the outside of the body, why don’t we?

Tinny Musak cut off mid-verse somewhere in Detroit and a voice sibilated information into Ernie’s ear, and he smiled, his eyes raw. I drank my beer, watching a raptor hold down a fish that was trying still to breathe. The bird postured like an old-school professional wrestler. Species communicating.

“The reason people hate mimes and clowns,” he said, switching the Motorola off, “is because they remind us of how ridiculous it is to get up in the morning, put on make-up and clothes, go do these ridiculous, repetitive things we think we have to do every day, day after day after day. It’s a slap in the face of the audience. It says, hey dummy, this is you, you flippin’ moron, this is you in your stupid make up, in your stupid uniform, doing mindless flippin’ things for no reason.”

“Is that what that Marcel squared taught you in Gay Paree?”

Ernie had been a drama dork all his life and couldn’t shut up about the semester abroad he spent studying mime from the-king-shit-of-mime-fuck-mountain himself, the granddaddy of them all.

“No. I just thought of it while I was on hold.”

Our pints were empty, and Ernie went to the kitchen visible across the bar, opened and closed some cabinets. There was a gentleman’s magazine on the coffee table with a Ukrainian young lady on the cover in a pose designed to turn off a man’s brain altogether. What if she had a big ole Ukrainian bush down there, I thought, if one can call that a thought.

“Wine okay?”
“What kind?”
“Grape kind.”

I snorted. He didn’t but rinsed the pint glasses and poured chardonnay halfway in each. He did this puppeteering trick he always did at get-togethers, this thing with one of those corkscrews that looks like a robot with a head and arms and with a simple twist of his fingers this inanimate object came alive in his hands, went from happy to sad somehow, from sad to happy.

“They say it all goes black when you die,” he announced across the bar, disappeared around the pillar and appeared next to the couch with a glass, went back for his own but stayed there. “What if you’re blind already?”

“What made you think of that?”

“My dead mother.”

“She was blind?”

“Actually, both of my parents are visually impaired. Were.” He twirled the wine bottle against the counter.

“Wait a minute. Both of your parents…Noo.”




I stared at him.

“Both of your parents are blind and you choose to study one thing that neither of them can ever actually experience in any way?”

Ernie stood in the kitchen, leaning on the counter, and cried. Loudly, like a mime wouldn’t.

The eagle soared silently. The lumpy plaid couch hurt. I sipped the cheap oaky wine, envying him for the ability to cry for real, from the soul.

He came back into the room, wiping his eyes, sighing. I was staring at the TV.

“I never had a TV growing up,” he said, sniffled, chuckled. “When they made me pray at the table, I would whip out my ding-dong and make faces at them in silence and they would stare right at me solemnly, like my flippin’ head was bowed, like I was doing what was right.”

“Say faahk!”

“What? Why?”

“Just say faaaahk!”

Ernie licked his lips, eyes darting. He hid behind a sip from his glass, two.

“I’m sorry I’m being weird, but I think the reason you can cry at this moment is because you don’t say fuck,” I said and drained my glass. “I never cried when my father died. Not once.”

“You don’t understand, man. My parents, they would always know what I was doing. They would read the flippin’ wind, taste the shenanigans, hear my dumb meanness across the studio, just sense it in the air, like that Daredevil. But they never,” and here he started to cry again, that lucky asshole, “they never said anything.”


The invisible box in the center of Pioneer Square appears to have a ceiling as well.

The mime, she can reach it if she goes on tippy toes. And she does: she goes to all four corners, gets on her tippy-toes and scrapes the invisible ceiling. The scrapes, like the thumps before, are audible to the public.

The phones of people of Portland are now cameras, shooting footage from every angle. They are mostly silent, hoping that their phone’s microphones will be able to catch the scrapes. Their faces would be showing that they are in awe only if they weren’t focused on getting it all.

The mime’s hands are not flat against the surface of the ceiling but at an angle, because she can only reach it with the full length of her fingers, not with her palms. So when she, in the middle of the box this time, gets on her ballerina toes, stretches up and with the fingers of her right hand presses against the imperceptible ceiling, body fully extended and wedged in between two hard surfaces, and when she leans out and her body curves in this unachievable way, and her bony hips and ass swing in one direction then in the other as if really there was a ceiling to prop against and she manages somehow not to fall but keeps this impossible balance in the middle of the square, few people who are without phones breathe in sharply and recoil.

How is she doing this? they murmur to one another.


The next morning, in the cool shower, while I was soaping up my left pit – apart from the balls and the eyeballs the only place my skin wasn’t still pealing – I confronted a deep, fat lump. Nothing like Faruk’s hernia-alien, but still – a deep fat lump in the flesh. My hand pulled away from it immediately and I knew – so. fucking. perfect. – I KNEW, that I deserved it.

Through the shush of the water eroding the grouting and bouncing off tiles, I heard my father’s laugh from long ago, a play Dugonja, Trbonja i Vidonja I did for the wartime youth drama club and him laughing in that distinctive, hissing way to let me know that he was out there in that ill-omened darkness. A ghost of a presence.

My knees buckled and I had to press my palms against the shower walls to steady myself. The scolding water shushed at different pitches as it hit different parts of my body at different angles.

Tumor, I thought, and it might as well have been manifested into the world, implanted right into my armpit by the power of suggestion. Let there be tumor.

Four years ago, in grad school, I wrote a literary-shiterary fictional story in which the narrator’s father dies from kidney cancer – a single, specific, random, innocuous detail to make a sentence at hand believable and get the reader through the paragraph – kidney cancer. A year later my seventy-year-old father goes to a hospital for a colonoscopy, passes with flying colors, then the doctor, due to due diligence, asks him to do a simple ultrasound before he signs off on his physical, finds a shadow on his kidney, runs more tests and finds out that the same shadows are cast on the lungs and on the liver, on the spine and inside his head too. Stage four shadows.

Father weeps on the phone, can’t speak. I try to get him to speak, ask him about the floods in the country. He cries, cannot speak. I get an e-mail. He tells me that he’s going to Germany for a second opinion. I say let’s do this, let’s write to each other every day. Now is the time for you to tell me everything you always wanted to but couldn’t. Every day. It’s me who needs this, mind you. Craved this all my life, to hear what goes on in that head of his, to find out if he loves, hoping to find that his love was always there, that I just didn’t know how to glean it because I was indoctrinated against his version of it by my mother perhaps. I prayed that I just couldn’t feel that frequency of it and that our letters would give me key to finally vibrate in it with him.

And it starts off that way for a day, but soon enough, the third day, and his responses are short, curt—shrapnel sentences. I open up more, complain about the shortness of the messages until they become scarce, then non-existent, and I’m still so pissed off at him and will not take anything but perfect communication from him, which I know he cannot deliver, never could. But I want my quid pro quo, regardless. I want him to bare his soul, as I’m willing to do the same. But he can’t string four sentences together. Chemo or fear or is there a difference? So I stop writing too and he stops, and his side of the family asks why did you stop and I say because he stopped, I can’t write e-mails to my fucking self, and his side of the family asks me, orders me to order some natural herbal remedies because they’re gonna try to fight this cancer with nature, milk thistle and some such crap, and I do, I order it from a farm in Washington State and it comes, four bottles, and I send them home, and he still cries every time I call, says nothing or becomes a chatterbox when the morphine runs free, bullshits about basketball and I’m too arrogant to hear or understand his silences, to understand his drivel, to see past my ego. I’m too shitty, too hurt, too pissed off to listen to a human being just fucking cry.

I’m in bed when I get the call. I hang up and glower at my cuticles. How does everyone else get to keep their hands so presentable? My nails are jagged. The more I try to bite them into shape the more jagged they get.

I lay there awhile until a car alarm goes off someplace close, and I get up because that’s what you’re supposed to do, get up and look through the shutters when alarms go off, watch the neighborhood. You’re supposed to keep watch and think of the dear departed one, the loved one, the good shit about them, and although there is some, good shit I mean, you’re so incensed that you don’t think you deserve to think of it, or remember it, and since you’re the only one sentient at the moment, and he, the loved departed one, he gets to think nothing while you’re supposed to think of good shit, which is how it pretty much was your whole life, you just don’t do it, out of anger, spite, you instead think of how pissed off you were when you last saw him, so livid but pretending you were ambivalent. You made a point of doing that ever since you left Bosnia, to act ambivalent with him, to show him how much you didn’t need him. You’d ignored every single thing he had ever told you, ever taught you, and succeeded in a way you wanted to nevertheless, knowing he would never forgive you for it.

The day I found the lump – way before, trembling, I finally went to a doctor who put on some rubber gloves, squeezed it until a spurt of pus came out of it and diagnosed it as a glorified zit, way before the natural remedies I sent to Bosnia for my father came back unopened in a box and marked with a single checkmark next to the word “UNCLAIMED” even though right bellow there was an unchecked box next to the word “DECEASED”, way- way before I finished taking all those remedies, one a day, which I took either instead of praying for my dead father or as some kind of personal punishment or a desperate way to chemically communicate – that night actually, as I sat petrified in my room, hammered on Pinot Grigio I sucked through a spigot straight out of the three-liter box and pretended to watch a cop show after cop show on my laptop, which did not alleviate my fear at all, I became aware of a real-life commotion outside my window. Real Rose City cops put on a real colorful light show out there and I turned on my lights too, pulled up the shutters.

Three, four cruisers pulsated out there in the night, and a smileless jock cop was searching the thick hedges across the way with a cop dog, and what they found was this scruffy, skinny woman with a hat on. The cop dog barked, and the handler handled him or her, before his friend, another jock-type, ordered the woman to stand up, not to move. She stood thigh-deep in the hedges with scabbed-over scratches on her face, her arms up as if a child would put them up, as if she was bored with all these annoying rules, and as the cop searched her jeans and talked to her, her eyes met mine in beauty across the street. And she smiled.

And I smiled.

And I waved.

And then she waved to me too.

The cop looked at who she was waving at and didn’t appreciate the complication, continued with the protocol while shaking his head, pissed that I was legally allowed to stand there in my lit-up room and wave and smile across the street at this woman who looked somehow less scared in that moment than I ever was. Less pissed, less gutted, less sad. Less crazy.

Less drunk too.


Out of nowhere, the invisible box in the center of the Pioneer Square in Portland starts to shrink, to encroach upon the breastless, breathless mime within. It’s not a slow deal either and the mime, she’s seriously freaked out now. She drops the mime act and pummels the invisible walls with her fists, gracelessly. There’s nothing theatrical about her movements now. This is reality now. The fleshy parts of her hands flatten out against nothing. Thump- thump-thump! goes the fist.

She’s real good! a spectator says to a spectator, dicking with his phone.

The mime screams, attempts to. The chords in her scrawny neck pop up, bubble up with blood, swell with the voice that doesn’t come. Mimes have no voice.

How’s that possible? someone asks herself, or her phone, or whomever.

The mime seems to mouth words now: please, perhaps and then you fuckers and please again, but it’s hard to say what she’s mouthing because of her heavy clown make-up. The walls come in some more, steady-like, and she’s on her bottom, arms around her shins, neck cranked crooked against the shrinking ceiling, watery blue eyes in beauty, in desperation, squirting tears, tears that bounce off or run down in streaks of nothing walls.

It isn’t until, as the box keeps on shrinking, her bones start to silently, visibly crack and her blood blurts thickly out of severed blood vessels, until one of her eyes balloons out of her crushed skull socket and meets the flat surface of a box barrier made out of nothing that people of Portland really start to lose their shit.

Ismet Prcic (Izzy) was born in Bosnia-Herzegovina and immigrated to the U.S. in 1996, after the war. His debut novel Shards was published in 2011 by Grove Press to critical acclaim, winning numerous awards. His second novel Unspeakable Home arrives in August, 2024 from Avid Reader Press. He also co-wrote the screenplay for the film Imperial Dreams. Prcic lives in an Airstream in San Fernando Valley, CA.



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by Jason Roberts

In 1953, Jacques Cousteau wrote of a syndrome afflicting, and at times killing, his fellow undersea divers. Naming it l’ivresse des grandes profondeurs, or “rapture of the deep”, he described a subtle yet profound change in perception, increasing as one decended from the surface. It began as a variety of euphoria, a “wonderful…queer feeling of the beatitude” that left the diver feeling “drunk and carefree.” Further into the depths it became a giddyness, and finally a kind of madness. Divers were known to rip off their breathing apparatus and offer it to passing fish, laughing at themselves as they drowned.

Cousteau’s rapture is now clinically known as nitrogen narcosis. It’s caused by an increase in water pressure, which forces nitrogen (used in scuba tanks) into the bloodstream to the extent that the normally harmless gas becomes a drug. It’s also the inspiration behind the name of research rapture, one of writing’s more formidable occupational hazards.

Like rapture of the deep, research rapture is caused by heedless descent into the unknown. It strikes both fiction and nonfiction writers alike, knows no limits of genre or form, and is (in an elegant horror) invisible to the victim. When the Community of Writers’ own Louis B. Jones introduced me to the concept, it needed no explanation–I grasped immediately what he meant. But research rapture has been defined as

A state of enthusiasm or exaltation arising from the exhaustive study of a topic or period of history; the delightful but dangerous condition of becoming repeatedly sidetracked in following intriguing threads of information, or constantly searching for one more elusive fact.

The dangers of research rapture begin when a writer sets out to gather relevant facts and details, the particulars necessary to bring their story to life. It’s a process that seems both benign and necessary, but the process itself can gradually renegotiate the meaning of necessary, until a begining metastasizes into something without end. It can cripple more throughly than writer’s block. A blocked writer at least daily confronts the fact that they aren’t working, but a writer in the thrall of research rapture is convinced they’re working hard and well. It is a toxic paradox: a form of procrastination that feels like productivity.

Here’s a thought experiment, demonstratating how rapture strikes. Let’s create a character, using random choices to generate some aspects of their existence. Let’s give the character a gender (male), a name (Ernest), a hometown (Cleveland), a profession (arc welder), and a time period (the 1950s). So far, so good.

Now, to flesh out our random bones with logical assumptions, we have some decisions to make. What kind of car does Ernest drive? (um, a Chevrolet) What neighborhood does he live in? (look up Cleveland in the 1950s on internet; pick “Tremont”). Where does he work? (a factory.).

Good old Ernest, driving his Chevrolet through Tremont on his way to the factory. But wait–what route would he take? Does an arc welder wear a uniform to work, or change into a welding suit on the job? What kind of factory employed arc welders? Now we’re in genuine research territory, so let’s assume a week or two of strolling, virtually or physically, through historical archives and mid-century labor studies. We emerge with answers to our questions, but also with the expertise to question some of our earlier assumptions. I gave him a Chevrolet because Chevrolets are still around today, but were Nashes and DeSotos more popular among the working class back then? My new raft of learning also forces some choices, such as Ernest’s specific ethnicity. That question hadn’t been material to me, but (as I’ve learned) it was certainly material to where one lived and worked in mid-century urban Ohio.

Other questions, once answered, splinter into more questions still. What kind of arc welding does Ernest do? Wikipedia informs me gas metal arc welding was invented in 1948, while flux-core arc welding debuted in 1957. Wait–plasma arc welding was also invented in 1957, followed by the electroslag method in 1958. As wonderful as the word “electroslag” may be, it was apparently supplanted by electrogas arc welding in 1961. Maybe we should shift Ernest’s time period a little, into the sixties? And gosh, what a lot of innovation in arc welding. Should we make that a plot point?

A few minutes ago, when I created Earnest out of whole cloth, the topics of welding, Cleveland and even Chevrolets meant nothing to me at all. But now I’m increasingly feeling their weight, the weight of getting them right.

Which illustrates what’s starting to happen. I call it the Burden of Inventory. Having learned wonderful bits of information, the writer feels understandably compelled to use them. Factoids get crammed into the narrative, and into characters’ minds and mouths. They assert a gravitational pull on the story itself. The historian Barbara Tuchman knew well the dangers of this burden. “I want the reader to turn the page and keep on turning until the end,”she cautioned. “This is accomplished only when the narrative moves steadily ahead, not when it comes to a weary standstill, overloaded with every item uncovered in the research.” But it seems a shame to let all that hard work go to waste.

Which is why, instead of driving directly to work, Ernest now takes a leisurely tour of the city–we need to pile onto the page everything we’ve learned about the demographics of distinct Cleveland neighborhoods. On the way home he stops at a bar, just so I can get him into an argument over the advantages of electroslag versus plasma arc. Since that argument now anchors us in the year 1958, the bar’s television will ring out news of Castro’s Cuban revolution, while the jukebox blares “Great Balls of Fire” and “Peggy Sue”. What kind of drink will Ernest order? After researching mid-century midwestern trends in mixology, I’ll serve him up a Rusty Nail, and a Bourbon Manhattan for his friend on the other end of the electroslag debate. Since I’ve studied how those drinks are prepared, I’ll want to add a description of the bartender’s work. Gotta move this inventory of information, an inventory I’ve so painstakingly acquired.

We’re in the over-research zone. And another strange thing happens with over-research: it tends to flatten out the very elements it’s intended to dimensionalize. That’s because facts are generally, not specifically, true. Let’s say we dive so deep into Cleveland history we now know exactly what make of car Ernest would most likely have driven, what kind of cocktail he would have most likely ordered. The very precision of these details make our character not an individual but a representative, the quintessence of a type. We’ll lose him in the crowd, because he is a crowd.      

But we’re not in madness territory just yet. That comes when we cross an imperceptible barrier, one separating excessive yet ordinary research from a full-blown philosophical crisis. Call it the Despair Point. This is when your goal is no longer to flesh out a character or setting, but to zero in on ontological truths. What was it really like to be an arc welder in Cleveland in 1958? What will make me truly grasp the essence of Ernest? What will make him real? Not well-drawn or believable, but Pinocchio-meets-the-Blue-Fairy real?

The pursuit of pure, unalloyed authenticity has a noble ring to it. It sounds like a fine ambition. It is, instead, an abyss. Once you’ve passed the Despair Point, your threshold for justifiable research is vague enough to exceed the sum total of your work week, if not your waking life.

You will fail to achieve the clarity you’ve sought. You will also fail to write the work you set out to write.

Enough striking fear into your writers’ heart. Let’s turn to the question at hand: how do you fight research rapture?

Listen to the people you tell about your work. Not to their words so much as their silences: if they’ve taken to nodding patiently as you go off on yet another long discourse on fascinating facts, you’ve probably stumbled into a rabbit hole or two. Learn to recognize the Despair Point as it approaches. And most of all, stay with your characters. Let them drive not only the narrative, but your research schedule. You only need to know what they would know, which probably isn’t everything. This helps you limit your learning field, and it also helps you renounce the Burden of Inventory.  Take Barbara Tuchman’s maxim to heart, and resolve to cut things, no matter how well researched, if they aren’t relevant to the characters’ knowledge and actions.

Above all, keep this mantra: You will be wrong anyway. Errors occur. Interpretations skew. The compilers of your original sources were no more omniscient that you. This doesn’t mean you don’t have a commitment to tell the truth. Just know that if you try to write with a death lock grip on the truth, the truth will choke you back. Survive. Up here on the surface, we’re waiting for you to emerge with that wonderful story.

Jason Roberts is a writer of nonfiction and fiction. His most recent book is Every Living Thing: The Great and Deadly Race to Know All Life. His previous book, A Sense of the World: How a Blind Man Became History’s Greatest Traveler, was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. He is a contributor to McSweeney’s, The Believer, and other publications, and a frequent staff member of the Community of Writers.



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Closing Talk Delivered by Editor Ann Close at the 2014 Conference

Since I haven’t been through the challenging and, I hope for your sakes, satisfying stage of finishing a manuscript and the nail-biting experience of submitting it for publication myself, I thought I would offer you some of my observations about writers who have. Then I’ll talk about various career paths, and I’ll end by talking about my visit to Stockholm when Alice Monroe won the gold that is at the end of every writer’s dream rainbow—and, I might add, that of their related others, including editors and publishers—the Nobel Prize.

First comes process:

Obviously, the first thing is to finish your manuscript. And there are many paths to that end. Some folks write a quick first draft to see where they’re going, and then begin the work of revision. One of my writers who does this is Brad Leithauser, a poet, and he likes to get the beat of a thing, even though it’s prose and going to be a novel. He even writes his first draft, sometimes as short as fifty pages, in hand. Then he goes back and fills in scenes, rewrites sections, and sometimes the version I receive may have “Draft 22” written up in the corner of each page. Now, obviously, he doesn’t rewrite every single page or scene that many times. The final draft may just be a polishing job, with only a score minor changes.

Others revise as they go along, producing a draft that is almost there. They may write something new almost every day but continue going over what they’ve already done as well. All this “going over” helps them end up with a nearly finished manuscript the first time through, although they still have to deal with flow and balance. Then I have a couple of writers who write or jot down ideas from throughout a novel as they come to mind, and at a point where the novel has almost written itself, they start a beginning-to-end narrative.

Writers have all kinds of tricks: they put something aside for a while and come back to it. A lot of people move into a new book quickly, and once they get into a project, they stop and figure out where they’re going. Often at this point they change the voice, or the point of view. Or start all over with a different major character and just toss out what they’ve done altogether, sort of like a moon launch, when the rocket is jettisoned once the initial thrust has served its purpose.

One of my writers, Jane Mendelsohn, was lucky enough to have a bestseller with her first book, I Was Amelia Earhart. She had written a full-sized 250-page novel from an omniscient narrator’s point of view, but when she finished, she thought it was okay but that it didn’t have anything to make it in the least remarkable. So she threw out the entire thing and decided to pare it down to what could be told in Amelia Earhart’s voice. It ended up a 115- page manuscript that was definitely unique, and the book did as well critically as it did in sales.

So, each writer is different and each of you has to find your own way of writing. Inside the broadest possible range—like the need to use words, preferably identifiable by a reader, probably some notion of a story or characters, (although we all know successful writing where the latter two are not true), a writer can and should try anything. As you probably already know, it’s fine to plunge around, come at your story from different angles, experiment. This is the great gift of computers. Use it.

At this point, if you’ve never published a book before, and don’t have a long-term relationship with an editor, you’re on your own, or perhaps lucky enough to have a teacher or writers’ group to act as a sounding board and to help you out. If you do have an editor, that editor will usually read portions of the manuscript as you proceed and work with you.

One note of caution: Most editors working in publishing houses won’t work, or even make suggestions on a manuscript by a first-time writer. Partly because they don’t have the time, but also because it might lead to the notion that the editor is going to work with you permanently. But the editor can still say No, and the writer is left with a changed manuscript and no contract. Make sure you have a contract and that both of you agree on changes before you start making them.

So let’s say that now you’ve got a manuscript about which you feel pretty good. You’ve revised and revised, been through it many times, challenged yourself on all the major decisions, all of your outside helpers have signed off on it. There are a couple of things you can still do to help your manuscript get bought by a publisher. Although no editor expects to get a perfect manuscript, it does make a bad impression if it’s full of grammatical and spelling mistakes— in fact, it’s downright annoying— so take some care to get rid of these.

Most writers I know read the manuscript aloud to themselves several times before it’s published. If you’ve already published, this may not be so important before submitting to agents and editors, but if you haven’t, it’s a good idea to do it once at least. It makes us think we’re dealing with a professional, somebody who’s going to be a pleasure to work with.

So now you’ve got yourself an agent and an editor and the book is about to come out. You’ve listened to all the dos and don’ts you’ve heard about on editors and agents’ panels. You’ve been a good girl or boy, listened to your editor, not gone around the backs of the publicity department, just help them do their job by appearing everywhere on time and ready to perform (the unexpected part of being a writer). And, moving along, let’s say your first book is successfully “launched.” What comes next then? Although every single writer is unique in his or her own style of writing and what he or she has to say, it’s sometimes useful to consider what the arc of a writing career might be.

And since I’ve now been in publishing long enough to have watched careers launched and ended, and although in many ways life intervenes in a writing career in unexpected ways, I thought I would describe a few, ending with Alice Munro’s. Obviously, people write at different rates of speed and at different lengths, and that is a good thing period but it’s very interesting to watch careers unfold. Generally, I would say a book every two to five years is devoutly to be wished, although there are great examples of those who’ve managed no such thing and done extremely well. Two women that Knopf has published throughout their careers—Anne Tyler and Alice Munro managed this. Until recently Anne Tyler wrote a novel essentially every two years, and Alice Munro produced a book of stories about every three years. Two years enables people to read the hardcover or paperback and digest one book before another comes out. Since Alice wrote stories, there was a constant stream of work from her because just after the paperback came out a year after the hardcover, new stories would begin to appear in The New Yorker and other places. About the time a new book was ready, people were waiting to read it. I think of some who perhaps wrote too much. Joyce Carol Oates, maybe. She writes so many books, she publishes some of what she considers her lesser or genre novels under a different name. Some people thought John Updike fell into that category, but he wrote in several fields, so that although he sometimes published two, once three, books a year, one would be a novel, one art criticism, the other poetry, and they didn’t actually compete with one another. The Community of Writers’ dear friend and my one-time writer Mark Childress very successfully writes a book in general every five years. The aim is to publish often enough that your readers and the entire publishing industry of other writers, reviewers, bookstores, salespeople, etc., don’t forget you, but not so often that your books crowd one another out.

There are of course notable exceptions to the two to five-year rule. Cormac McCarthy, for instance, published fairly frequently and then suddenly quit for a long period. But he came back with All the Pretty Horses in a more readable style and the rest is history. My writer Norman Rush, who wrote a trilogy of books set in Africa each about 8 or 10 years apart, and then a book set in the U.S. Much later. His fans actually grew during the period between each book. And there are some brilliant writers who run out of steam—but I don’t think I will go into those. So once you get started, try your best to keep going. There is an amazing drop-off in numbers between those who publish first and second and even third novels. It also helps to put in your time doing work in the literary field. Do reviews, sit on price committees, give quotes, support your local bookstores and library, right for social media. It helps to build a safety net, and to keep our always endangered literary world afloat.

Now for a quick review of Alice Munro’s career. According to her, even as a young child she mentally rewrote the endings of stories that she didn’t like. The first one being “The Little Mermaid,” for which she came up with a five-year-old’s happy ending. A habit sheet dropped rather quickly. She grew up on a farm, on the edge of a small town in Canada. Her father was a silver fox farmer who went bust in the Depression, about the same time his wife turned up with early onset Parkinson’s Disease. Alice was about 14 or 15 when her mother became essentially unable to run the house, and she took over. I asked her once if she had resented it. She said no, she’d rather liked it, but her siblings, whom she bossed around, had not. Still she kept her marks up, did the extra classes you needed to go to college in Canada, and got a two-year scholarship to a nearby university—which they did not renew (!) on the theory that girls didn’t need the education as much as boys. She got married at twenty to a fellow student and moved to Vancouver, where they soon started a bookstore, Munro’s Books which is now a Canadian institution. She had two children fairly quickly, and a third Later on, which is why, she’s always said, that she writes short stories. She could let her housework go for three weeks while she drafted a story but not for a year or two while she wrote a novel. Eventually she came to think in stories.

She kept writing stories which got published in Canadian magazines but didn’t publish her first collection until she was in her late 30s. It won Canada’s Governor General’s Award, then their top publishing prize, and she herself was on the front cover of Canada’s Time magazine with the headline “Vancouver Housewife Wins Major Literary Award” or something like that.

Her next book, The Lives of Girls and Women, was called a novel, but really was closer to connected stories. And she went on to publish fourteen books—thirteen collections of stories and a novel. Her first three books were published in Canada, but at that point she acquired an agent a longtime Community of Writers staff member Virginia Barber, who sold some of her stories to The New Yorker and sold her first collection to be published in the U.S., to me at Knopf.

One of the reasons I’ve chosen to tell you Alice’s story is because it was such a happy one for both writer and publisher. When we began publishing her in 1979, short stories didn’t do very well. The Beggar Maid sold slightly more than 3,500 copies in hardcover. But her second book was reviewed on the cover of the New York Times Book Review and sold three times that many. And so it went, with each book honors, countries of publication and sales doubled or tripled, until she won the Nobel Prize and became celebrated all over the world.

So how did she do it? I think we got a clue when she announced that she wasn’t going to write anymore. A reporter asked her why, and she said, “Well, I’d like to go out to lunch and see my friends.” After her children were old enough not to need constant care, she wrote every day. She chose to write in the mornings and did as little publicity as humanly possible. She stayed at home and wrote. She worked at it very hard, and she always got better. In her final book, she was still trying new things, and with great success.

So it was wildly exciting for Alice and for all of us who have been with her through her long career when she won the Nobel. Even though she was unable to attend the ceremonies for various health reasons, one of her daughters, Jenny Munro, took her place.

So for the Nobel. Each Nobelist receives fourteen tickets for the actual prize ceremony and dinner, and I was lucky enough to be one of the fourteen. But as it turns out, the festivities go on for days, and the Swedes put on a grand show for the Nobelists and visitors.

If you’re lucky, and I was, you get to stay in Stockholm’s Grand hotel, which has a Nobel Desk set up in the lobby, where you learn what’s going on and how to get there, etc. Most of the entourages and all the Nobelists are there, so you become friendly with some, particularly at the fabulous daily breakfast spread.

Each winner has a show and tell performance, and it always starts with the Literature Prize winner, because they are known to give the best speech period since Alice wasn’t going to be there, they set some folks from Swedish broadcasting to interview her, and on her night, which opened the events, they showed this interview and her daughter Jenny read from one of the stories in English and a Swedish actress read it in Swedish. All of the events are in historic buildings, and this one was in a beautiful 18th-century room that was once the Swedish Stock Exchange. Another purely Alice event was in the National Theater, where Ibsen once reigned—This was a special presentation of Munro papers and readings by leading scholars—all in Swedish.

The most astonishing place was where the general party for all the participants was held—the huge main hall of the Museum of Natural and Social history, which was presided over by a giant, seated, wooden Viking about three or four stories high. The week includes a Nobel Symphony, and it is in the Symphony Hall that the prize ceremony is held. The whole week has a fairy tale quality, but no event more than the actual Prize night. The king and queen, and the daughter who will succeed them and her physical therapist husband were all stage right. The august Nobel committee is seated across the back and the row of Nobelists stretches across stage left. The metals are bronze or gold and are extremely heavy. And they will mint extra ones for you to give to your country or children. The king calls each winner forward, a committee member reads the citation he’s written, the Nobelist performs a little bow or curtsy to the king, then the Nobel committee, and the audience, and receives a handshake and the large medal l from the king. I freely admit that the entire Alice Munro entourage cried at this moment.

Afterwards there is a dinner for 1,200 and dancing in the town hall. Although the Swedes are not terribly formal, and are in fact lovely, friendly people Who are fond of their king and queen, no one can sit or begin eating until the king does. The tables are set with gold implements and real crystal, and decorated with flowers sent each year from the Italian town where Alfred Nobel wintered.

But enough of fairy tale land.

I wish you all the luck in the world in your own endeavors. Savor your time here at the Community of Writers. It’s a rare opportunity and I’m sure things you’ve learned here will reverberate overtime period and no matter what path you take to write them, I hope to see some of your manuscripts in published books over the next few years. Until then…

Ann Close has been a senior editor at Alfred A. Knopf Publishers for almost fifty years, where she publishes fiction, literary nonfiction, and poetry. Writers she has worked with include Alice Munro, Norman Rush, Mona Simpson, Jayne Anne Phillips, Philip Levine, Brad Leithauser, Gish Jen, Lawrence Wright, and Tony Hiss.



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Omnium Gatherum Quarterly (OGQ) is an invitational online quarterly magazine of prose and poetry, founded in 2019 as part of the 50th Anniversary of the Community of Writers. OGQ seeks to feature works first written in, found during, or inspired by the week in the valley. Only work selected from our alums and teaching staff will appear here. Conceived and edited by Andrew Tonkovich. Submissions will not be considered.