Monday, December 17, 2012

Jake Adam York

All of us here at Ninth Letter are heartbroken by the loss of Jake Adam York, a talented poet and editor as well as a beloved member of our literary community. He will be missed. Our thoughts are with his family and friends. 

Friday, December 07, 2012

New (Print) Issue Preview: Piaf and Roadkill

Yesterday we gave you a preview of our upcoming web edition and now it's time for a sneak peek at some of the content from our soon to be released print edition (vol. 9, no. 2).  Here is an excerpt from Edward Kelsey Moore's essay, "Piaf and Roadkill." Enjoy!

I got out of the car, opened the hood, and leaned in to get a good look. That was when I saw the dead animal. It was twisted around the fan and entwined with the fan belt. Its face was pointed up toward mine.
     I don’t recall running after I slammed shut the hood, but I must have because I was half a block away from the car, hopping from foot to foot when I clamped a trembling hand over my mouth so I wouldn’t hear myself shrieking. I hadn’t run far, but I had put enough distance between myself and my car that I could now see the hind end of an animal hanging from behind the grill onto the street below.
     I made the first of several increasingly strange phone calls then. I called my partner at work. Peter is usually a calming and comforting influence, and he has a knack for helping me see humor in even the worst situation. Squeaky-voiced and barely able to speak, I told him that I had just found some unfortunate creature wrapped around the front of my engine and that, when I came face to face with it, I had reacted by running, screaming and leaping up and down like a cartoon housewife who had just seen a mouse. He responded, “And you’re wearing that fuzzy, pink sweater, aren’t you?”
     That was the worst thing he could have said. From the moment I slapped my hand over my screaming mouth, a little voice I thought I had banished years earlier had started badgering me that a manly plan for dealing with this problem existed, and that I was uniquely unable to put it into action. I had thought that, after a lengthy and fitful coming-out process, I’d put to bed the fear that I routinely failed at even pretending to be a real man. But as soon as I slammed shut the hood of my car, I had been aware that the revulsion I felt was keeping company with shame. That harshly critical little voice was wide awake, and it wanted my attention.

We will let you know as soon as vol. 9, no. 2 is available, so you can pick up a copy to read the full version of "Piaf and Roadkill" as well as all the other great essays, stories, and poems in the issue.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Coming in December! Our First Complete Online Issue

This year at Ninth Letter we have put together an online feature dedicated to showcasing the best student work from creative writing programs across the country. This special winter issue will only be available on our website and will feature work by eighteen outstanding emerging writers:

J. Scott Brownlee (New York University)
Matthew Burnside (Iowa Writers' Workshop)
Portia Elan (University of Victoria, BC)
Lisa Fay Coutley (University of Utah)
Samantha Deal (University of North Carolina, Wilmington)
Andy Hobin (Virginia Tech)
Nathan Logan (University of North Texas)
Gerardo Mena (Goddard College)
Katie Jean Moulton (Indiana University)
Beatrice Mora (Sarah Lawrence)
Brianna Noll (University of Illinois-Chicago)
Eric Paul (Fairleigh Dickinson University)
Ron Paul Salutsky (Florida State)
Cara Stoddard (University of Idaho)
Christine Stroud (Chatham University)
M. Thompson (New York University)
Laura Usselman (Virginia Tech)
Heath Wilcock (Arizona State)

Stay tuned to our blog, follow us on Twitter, or like us on Facebook so you can be among the first to know when this fantastic issue goes live!

                                                Faith is like a wholly undeserved hangover,
a stubbornly dry ballpoint, like realizing partway through an episode of Law & Order
that you already saw the second half, in a motel outside Tempe,
your whole naked body goose pimpled under the air conditioner;

it's like/it's like a bridesmaid dress, faith is.
    --from "A Simile Is a Suspension Bridge," Portia Elan

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Contributor Round-Up

Hello out there! We have some news for you. Actually a lot of news that we can't wait to share. We have not one, but two new issues coming out soon (print and web editions). There will be more on both of those issues very soon, so stay tuned.

Congratulations to our "Study Question" contest winners, Jacqueline Doyle and J.M. Gamble! Head on over to the main site to read contest judge, Patrick Madden's comments as well as the winning submissions.

Okay, time for an update on what some of contributors have been up to!

Congratulations to all the 2013 NEA Fellows! We're exited and proud that the following poets, who have appeared in Ninth Letter, are on the list:

Traci Brimhall (vol, 7, no. 2)
Lisa Fay Coutley (forthcoming in the web edition)
Ansel Elkins (vol. 8, no. 1)
John Murillo (vol. 4, no 1)
Rachel Richardson (vol. 3, no. 2)
Ryan Teitman (vol. 8, no. 1)
Jake Adam York (vol. 8, no. 1)

Genine Lentine's Poses: An Essay Drawn from the Model, a portion of which appeared in Ninth Letter (vol. 3, no. 1) is now available from Kelly's Grove Press.

The Rumpus reviewed The Lost Episodes of Revie Bryson by Bryan Furuness. You can pre-order the book now. "Man of Steel," which featured Revie appeared in vol. 6, no. 1.  Also, be sure to check out this interview with Bryan about his journey to becoming a writer.

If you haven't already, you should check out Ryan Van Meter's (vol. 8, no.1) essay collection, If You Knew Then What I Know Now, which was a finalist for the 24th Annual Lambda Literary Awards in the Gay Memoir/Biography category.

Keyhole Factory, a novel by William Gillespie (vol. 7, no. 2), was recently released by Soft Skull Press.

Again, congratulations to all!

If you're a contributor and have some news to share, be sure to drop us a note at

Now, stay tuned this week for information about both of our upcoming new issues!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Stories and Beer Reading

Ninth Letter is pleased to be a sponsor for this weekend's Stories and Beer reading in Champaign as part of Smile Politely's 5th anniversary celebration. Readers include: Jen Percy (forthcoming in our soon to be released next issue, vol. 9, no. 2), Roya Khatiblou, David Wright, Sal Pane, Lindsey Gates-Markel, and Ruben Quesada.

Here the other important event details:

When: Saturday, December 5th/ 5-7pm
Where: Mike and Molly's in Champaign

It's going to be a great time! Hope to see you there.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Place-Making Fiction: An Interview with Ben Stroud

We are thrilled to present the first in a series of interviews Scott Geiger, guest editor of Man-Made Lands, conducted with some of the contributors to this special edition of Ninth Letter. Take it away, Scott.

This Columbus Day I took Ben Stroud and his family through the Ohio City neighborhood of Cleveland. In the courtyard of Ohio City’s historic Jesuit high school, we recorded the following conversation. The interview looks back on his “The Bandanese Curse,” which I commissioned for Ninth Letter’s first chapbook supplement, Man-Made Lands. We also discussed his unusual travel habits, how to research for fiction, innovation in writing workshops, and his upcoming collection of short fiction, Byzantium, winner of the 2012 Bakeless Prize.

Ben Stroud’s stories have appeared in One Story, Electric Literature, Ecotone, Boston Review, and other magazines. He teaches creative writing at the University of Toledo.

Scott Geiger: “The Bandanese Curse” surprised me. The framework we originally discussed, the ideas that became Man-Made Lands, had to do with telling stories about the built environment—buildings, cities, landscapes we inhabit. I hadn’t expected any of the contributors to set their work in the past, as you have. Pretty na├»ve, I know. What made you choose the history of the Geelvinck Hinlopen House in Amsterdam for your subject?

Ben Stroud:  I found the house by chance through my own lame travel habits. When I’m traveling, anytime there’s someone’s old house that you can go into or a house museum, I like to do it. In May 2010, when we were in Amsterdam, we purchased a tourist pass and there were three house museums included on it. I’m also cheap, so if there’s anything of remote interest on this pass I’m going to do it. So we went to the Geelvinck House. It was probably the most elegant of the houses. It had this beautiful garden behind the house, and it fronted on two different canals, so it was this really beautiful place. It happened that one of the Dutch guides there latched on to us and really wanted to tell us about the history of the house. He mentioned that whatever millionaire owns it now (it’s still in private hands) was very aware of its history, and there were all these pieces there that signal a connection to the slave trade. That’s not in the story itself, but the idea that there was a darker history to the house comes from that. At a certain point he said something about the wood floors and how they were built out of a ship. I found that really fascinating, houses owned by the city’s traders made out of ships. He was even beating on the floor with his foot. This stuck with me.  I had too many projects then and couldn’t find a place for this house,  but I knew I would return to it. It’s a fascinating place, the house and the floors, the world we were part of there.

SG: And it’s one of the more architecturally radical stories in the set, actually. The seventeenth century setting augments that effect. What is history doing in your fiction? Or, what is your fiction doing to history? 

BS: One of the things you’re always thinking about as a writer is, what am I bringing to the table? What am I doing differently? Most historical fiction writers, whether highly literary like Jim Shepherd or, like, whatever bodice-ripper writer, you know, will write about real people,  fictionalize their lives. What’s brilliant about Jim Shepard is that he’ll take people maybe you don’t know about or some corner of history you don’t know about and write about that.  Though some of his things will be major things or events, Hadrian’s Wall, what’s that like? Or he’ll take you on the Hindenburg.  I like to go to more obscure places, to things that I just find fascinating, where there are holes in history and people don’t know as much about it. This gives me a lot of freedom as a writer. I’m not as interested in writing about real people but instead finding fictional people and thinking about the experience of that time. In that way, you can get at what’s universal about that time. We have these wooden ideas of history.

One of the things that’s being discussed in the dinner scene at the end of the story “Byzantium,” and I know it’s very obscure, is the rise of Islam. No one at this point is aware that it’s going to become this epoch-making event.  A touchstone for me, especially when writing “Byzantium,” was a story by Flaubert, “Herodias” in Three Tales. That story has such a magnificent ending—I couldn’t even gesture toward it. The characters in the story have no idea of what’s really going on. The reader notices, and you’re like, Oh…. I’m after these small moments that have something happening beneath them.

On the other hand, those moments can’t be the only thing a story has going for it. It has to give you more.  In “Byzantium,” one of the major notions that emerged in writing it was the moral sacrifice in serving an Empire, a connection that I hope reaches forward to today.  But I’ve always been fascinated by history, fascinated by other worlds. Half the pleasure in writing a story for me is building the world of the story.

SG: Do you research your fiction?

BS: I immerse myself. With “The Bandanese Curse,” I sort of buried myself over Christmas Break with all of these texts about that period of Dutch history and Dutch culture. One of these was great book that ties the history of Dutch painting to international trade. With “Byzantium,” I found a book called Sayings of the Desert Fathers, which had stories about the lives of monks, one of which is referenced in the story. It helped me get a sense of the psychology of the period. I bury myself fairly deeply, but I always try to shake off whatever’s not relevant to the story as quickly as possible. That can be difficult.

SG: Would you ever put together a syllabus around researching for fiction? What would that class look like?

BS: It’s funny that you asked that. Before I left the University of Alabama I had pitched a senior level creative writing course on research and writing. It’s a course that I’m interested in teaching, since it’s a subject a lot of people get scared about.

The way I’ve developed my approach is by asking questions. When I was doing my MFA, I would ask any writer who came through town or any writer on faculty, anyone who did anything historical, how did you create this world in your book? I got a variety of answers, from Edward P. Jones, who said I did no research, to Steven Millhauser, who said I was looking up what kind of lamp posts were being put up in New York City in 1898. Asking questions gave me some liberty, because both of these guys created these beautiful worlds, so anything in between either pole is fine. Now it’s about finding out what helps me.
I had some other good advice from Peter Ho Davies. He told me the only person who’s going to catch you is an expert on the subject you’re writing about, and they’re not going to really read your book anyway. If they do, they’ll be looking for mistakes. As writers, we get anxious about the mistakes we might make historically, but our audience isn’t going to catch them as long as they’re not critical to the fiction.

This year I was teaching The Great Gatsby (not a historical book, I know), and I was reading in the notes about all the logical mistakes Fitzgerald made. If you really look at what’s happening, some of the things Fitzgerald describes are impossible. The same thing with some Sherlock Holmes stories. The solutions to some of the mysteries don’t make any sense; Arthur Conan Doyle is just making it up. There’s one where a snake climbs up a rope, for example.  Then in the footnote the editor says a snake this size couldn’t climb a rope, much less do all these other things Doyle has it doing.  Still, these mistakes don’t take away from the pleasure of reading a Sherlock Holmes novel or the pleasure of reading The Great Gatsby.

Research is in service to story, so for me it’s less about figuring out how to do research than about how to think about the research.

SG: When does structure come about in your process? Like, when did you know that “The Bandanese Curse” would have a frame tale and inset back story about the Walvis? 

BS: I’m sure other people have used the metaphor of a trellis with vines growing around it. Once I know the structure, I can let the story grow. Usually, structure comes really early for me, while I’m doing research.  I care a lot about plot. With “The Bandanese Curse,” I used a horror-ghost story plot. I’ve liked using plotty-genre elements, and part of that has been me trying to figure out plot. When you go to genre you already have plot mapped for you. As I’ve been writing more and more, I’ve been backing away from straight-up mystery, straight-up ghost story, while hopefully still writing interesting plots. Because the can’t be all about the world, which is often my first draw. And then—this will make me sound like a terrible writer—character comes in later. Only once I understand what these people are doing can I figure out who they are.

SG: “The Bandanese Curse,” as a historical fiction, resembles the title story of your collection. Yet that’s not the only kind of story you do. You’ve also published some accomplished, very thoughtful contemporary realism. How do you relate the writer of “The Bandanese Curse” and “Byzantium” to the writer of “Eraser” or “At Boquillas”?

BS: One relationship is that place is key to all of the stories. With “At Boquillas,” I wrote that story while on vacation with my parents and my wife in Big Bend, where the characters are. I drafted the story in the car right after the hike the characters do, I was so gripped by it.  Pretty much all the details, aside from the characters themselves and their problems, were taken from that hike. That place and its strangeness made me want to write about it. The lure to write that story is the same lure to write a story set in nineteenth century Germany. The drive has to do with place.

For me, too, if I keep writing in the same world, I get a little bored sometimes. So I shift, I go to another world.

SG: What’s the proportion of historical fiction to contemporary realism in your upcoming collection from Graywolf? 

BS: There are ten stories, six historical, four contemporary. I first started some of these stories as early as seven years ago, and this connects to my development as a writer. The contemporary stories are either the first stories I wrote or the ones I wrote most recently. The heavy emphasis on the historical mode is sort of an accident. Once I figured out how to write historical fiction, I wanted to keep writing more.  And this was pretty much at the same time I started to figure out fiction (as much as possible—I mean, that’s an ongoing struggle).  So because of this convergence most of the decent stories I’ve managed to put together happen to be historical.  Plust two of these historical stories I took from a failed novel.  

SG: My central inspirations for Man-Made Lands were two studios I had participated in a few years ago. These studios addressed specific subjects—one was strictly architectural, involving sea level rise and waterfront cities; the other was multidisciplinary, and it was about quarantines. I wonder how this focus-format translates to the writing workshop. For example, would you ever teach a workshop on fictions set in Renaissance Europe or a workshop addressing something even more specific, say, faith-healer figures?

BS: I think it would be interesting to teach a workshop where you are that focused. You could have focused readings and focused discussions on problems that arise when you’re trying to write in this kind of world.
Even if you focused on historical fiction or even more finely on fictions set in Renaissance Europe, you still have so many different choices. If you do Renaissance England, you have George Garrett with his Elizabeth and James books, and the Hilary Mantel books. I think Garrett has been kind of forgotten, and that could be a great question: what is Hilary Mantel doing differently from George Garrett? How might that then relate to what I’m doing or you’re doing as a writer.

I think the big thing would be just making sure you have the students who would be engaged. I think it would be hard to teach that kind of class in a university setting. Even at a top-notch MFA program, you might be able to find two people interested in that kind of class. If you were to do that at a conference, though, and attract the right people then that might be a really engaging, interesting course to teach or participate in.

To read "The Bandanese Curse," visit our webstore to pick up a copy of Man-Made Lands.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

The Widows of Whitechapel

A reminder that Amy Sayre's play, The Widows of Whitechapel, opens this Saturday, October 13 at The Legacy Theater in Springfield, IL. Amy wrote and directed the play, which gives voice to the victims of Jack the Ripper. She read some of it at WORDHARVEST and it's going to be a stellar show. She discusses, among other things, how what started out as a series of poems became a play in this interview here. Tickets are on sale now.

Amy is also the author of "Whatsoever" from our current issue (vol. 9, no. 1), which is available in our webstore. To read more about the inspiration for that story, check out my interview with her from a few months back.

Monday, October 08, 2012

5 (or so) Questions with Joseph Gross

Recently I had the pleasure of corresponding with Joseph Gross about his essay from our current issue (vol. 9, no. 1), "Picnic Geese." As you'll see below we talked about memory, the 1980s, how to write about emotional moments, and so much more. Enjoy!

Ninth Letter: The essay engages with the idea of memory, specifically how different members of your family remember the events of the essay differently, which is immediately introduced in the opening sentence when you say, "we disagreed how and when we picked up the shotgun the time my dad, younger brother, and I killed two geese in a public park." When you decided to write the essay was the memory issue something you knew up front that you wanted to tackle or did that come about as you wrote the essay?

Joseph Gross: I intended for years to write that story, but I focused on my family’s differing opinions because they simply dominated our renditions. I sought out and taped my brother and dad’s version of events because the events took place so long ago, and because there wasn’t a hell of a lot to the narrative—we drove to the park, shot the geese, and drove back. There was plucking. So the story lay in the details, and the details differed wildly. They differed so much, in fact, some of us felt a little insulted. When you write nonfiction about your family with whom you hope to continue close relationships, some compromise finds its way into your work, and in this case no compromise was necessary, a pleasant by-product of the approach, at least. Pointing out our differences seemed more interesting, too, than rectifying them. I learned more about myself from what I didn't remember. I learned, of course, that my memory makes me look better when it gets a chance, but it’s the memoir writer’s job to scrutinize the way we twist and slide into who we become and how we represent the past.

9L: The narrative and the issues of memory are woven together nicely, so it never feels like, okay we're stopping the story to contemplate the idea of memory, it just happens very naturally. What was the process like of bringing those two strands together. I guess this is more of an actual writing process question. Did you work on both aspects at the same time or did you write out the narrative first and then looked at places where you could address the memory issues?  

JG: Thank you! As I wrote the narrative, most of the reflective writing emerged with it, in part because I tend to write slowly (painfully). I did spend a lot of editing time later balancing how long and how often I split from the action—moving some elements around, shaping or even removing others. The long list of guns on my dad’s bedroom wall, for example, seemed to threaten the narrative flow, but I really wanted it! Thank you, Ninth Letter Editors, for your tolerance. The slow process of interviewing my family and the distance in time of the story provided opportunities for reflection before writing, too. Although that approach might kill some of the wonderful discovery process in writing out a story, I was comforted to have an idea where I was going.

9L: When it comes to writing about family, or really anyone you know, how difficult is it to balance creating them as a character for the essay as you see them vs. how they might see themselves? It's kind of an unique characteristic to nonfiction in that you're representing actual people. That can happen in fiction too, but it's also a little different in that genre. You said you didn't have to compromise for this essay, but in cases where you have, if you have, is that something you worked out on your own as you wrote it? 

JG: Depicting real people, some of whom you love, reveals the blessing/curse at the heart of personal nonfiction. Priceless bits of personality and relationship return from the edge of disappearance! Sense, or at least some kind of redemption is approached from our suffering! But our actual relationships affect the creative desire to shape a character how we’d like, and we have to weigh the emotional consequences of revealing. Creating trust in the reader with honesty can risk loss of trust in real life. Still, I think balancing artistic impulse with real life helps achieve the believability nonfiction requires, and this balancing, this compromise, happens for me during even the initial phases of writing. While I write about them, I imagine my mother or wife reading about themselves. I want them to be pleased and I want to write well, too. If a writer finds that impossible, the subject might not be worth exploring. And, of course, the whole process is flawed as any art:  the character of your father never achieves becoming your father. The character father’s an impostor, trying with all he’s got to fasten your real dad to the impermanent world.

9L: The events of the essay take place in the early 80s and the time period makes it seem like you could get away with shooting geese in a park more easily than if it happened now. Were you concerned at all with trying to capture the spirit of the early 80s as much as telling this family story?

JG: I was really thinking more about the difference between my dad’s childhood in the 1940s and mine in the 80s, but the continuing trend toward caution in childcare does make the action of the story stand out. My hopes were more to preserve my dad’s attitude and sense of adventure than the popular culture of the period. And although I did make some references to the looseness of the era, like the approach to seatbelts back then, I thought making that a distinct thread would undermine the sense of the softness of my childhood in comparison to his. The story might have held up well with more 80s culture included, of course. It would be fun to dress a piece in a polo shirt and skinny leather tie and put it in pin-striped jeans with penny loafers. Maybe.

9L: This question is a little more about the general experience of writing nonfiction. Essentially, how do you handle writing about personal, perhaps emotional things, then sharing that with the world without being able to hide behind the veil of fiction? 

JG: Writing about the personal and emotional as nonfiction just requires a writer who doesn't mind telling everybody he meets about himself. The kind of person you learn a lot more about on a bus ride than you’d hope. And that’s me, I guess. Sometimes a story gets worked out through telling on a bus or a car ride (sorry, passengers!). Then I tell as much as I’m willing on paper, which may still be more than you’d hope. Writing about others, as we discussed, is trickier, but I worry about my fictional characters making inferences to family and friends, too. One problem I do have with emotional nonfiction is that I cry when I read it out loud. I've cried in workshops, at readings. Embarrassing.

9L: The goose you and your family eat for dinner in the essay ends up tasting, well, not great, which makes me wonder if you now have a favorite recipe for chicken or turkey or whatever your fowl of choice might be? 

JG: My fowl of choice has remained decidedly non-gamey. While I like to barbecue, my favorite recipe for chicken is coq-au-vin, which seems to translate directly as "chicken of the wine." I think the name speaks for itself.

Thank you very much to Joe for taking the time to answer my questions. To read "Picnic Geese" and all the other wonderful fiction, nonfiction, and poetry in vol. 9, no. 1, pick up a copy in our webstore.

Friday, October 05, 2012

Xu Xi and David Clarke

Let's start the weekend off right by updating our Featured Writer/Artist section with a collaboration between Xu Xi and David Clarke. We're happy to bring you "Fear Itself," which is an ekphrastic essay in response to The Promenade des Anglais, Nice 18 July 2011, part of an in-progress collaboration between author, Xu Xi and photographer, David Clarke.

Also, I wanted to take a moment to announce that our Fall/Winter 2011 (vol. 7, no. 2) and Spring/Summer 2011 (vol. 8, no. 1) issues, under the art direction of Jimmy Luu, were winners in Print's Regional Design Annual. Congrats to Jimmy and all the designers who worked on these issues!

 Have a great weekend everyone!

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Carr Reading Series: U of I Alumni Reading

Tomorrow (Wednesday, October 3), is a big day around here as The Carr Reading Series welcomes back three graduates of the U of I MFA program to celebrate the release of their new books. Here's the line-up:

Lillian-Yvonne Bertram (But a Storm is Blowing from Paradise)
Ted Sanders (No Animals We could Name)
Arley McNeney (The Time We Went Marching)

The reading, which is free and open to the public, will begin at 4:30pm in the Author's Corner on the second floor of the Illini Union Bookstore. Hope to see you there! 

Monday, October 01, 2012


Okay, not so much a recap as more of an opportunity to say we had a great time at WORDHARVEST on Saturday! Thanks to our readers, Amy Sayre, Chad Simpson, Jensen Beach, Ted Sanders, and Roxane Gay, for being rock stars and making it a stellar event. Pictures of the readers can be found on our Facebook page. Ideally, there would be more pictures of the audience, the great discussions that broke out during the intermission, and the writers signing books, but my camera died before I could get any of those moments. I'll be sure to have a fully charged camera battery next time. Of course, I can't wrap things up without many thanks to everyone who turned out for the event. We're lucky in Urbana-Champaign to have a wonderful community interested in literary events. We appreciate it!

A few more things before I go. Congrats to Chad Simpson as today is the official publication date for his story collection, Tell Everyone I Said Hi. You should check it out!

Also, if you're looking for other great reading material be sure to check out these books too:

No Animals We could Name (Ted Sanders)
Ayiti (Roxane Gay)
For Our of the Heart Proceed (Jensen Beach)

Finally, Amy Sayre's play, The Widows of WhiteChapel, which allows the victims of Jack the Ripper to finally have their say, will be at The Legacy Theater in Springfield, IL on October 13 and 31. Don't miss it, folks!

Friday, September 28, 2012

Micro Interview: Roxane Gay

We'll wrap up our WORDHARVEST micro interviews with Roxane Gay, author of Ayiti. I want to take a moment to thank Roxane and all the WORDHARVEST readers for taking the time to answer my questions. This is going to be a great reading, folks! Okay, let's hear from Roxane.

Ninth Letter: How do you prepare for a reading? Any pre-show rituals? 

Roxane Gay: Sometimes I vomit. Sometimes I drink. Sometimes I just pretend I'm not actually going to have to read before an audience. None of these work very well.

9L: When deciding which material to read, do you try to anticipate or take into account how the audience might react to what you read based on the event or venue? 

RG: I definitely think about audience at readings. Writing should entertain, particularly when being read aloud so I try to blend funny, shorter pieces with my more serious stories so that people can have a good time and not feel like OMG I AM AT ANOTHER LITERARY READING.

9L: What's one of your favorite moments from a reading, either yours or one you've attended?

RG: My favorite moment was at the Literary Death Match 200 at AWP 2012, during the spell off. My friend and I spelled Dostoevsky with an e but the host thought it was spelled with a y. An audience member Googled and found out that the name is spelled both ways and instead of losing LDM, I won! A close second is when I read at Sunday Salon in NYC and read a story about expired yogurt and a woman in the audience got visibly nauseous. Good times. As an audience member, it's always electric to see Scott McClanahan or Amelia Gray read.

WORDHARVEST starts at 4pm on Saturday, September 29, at Cowboy Monkey in Champaign, IL. More details about the event can be found here. Hope to see you tomorrow!

Micro Interview: Jensen Beach

Today is WORDHARVEST eve, so we'll have micro interviews with the two remaining readers to celebrate.  First, we have Jensen Beach, author of For Out of the Heart Proceed as well as a contributor to our vol. 8, no. 1 issue. Here are his responses to my questions about prepping for a reading. Enjoy!

Ninth Letter: How do you prepare for a reading? Any pre-show rituals?

Jensen Beach: Well, I get kind of nervous when I read, so if the reading's at a bar, I'll usually have a drink to loosen up. But I find I can't drink too much or I'll get tongue-tied. Otherwise, I don't really have too many rituals. I try not to think too much about the reading in the days leading up to it. If I do, I find myself planning out how I'll introduce each story and that never really works out like I plan it; so I find it works best for me to just wing it.

9L: When deciding which material to read, do you try to anticipate or take into account how the audience might react to what you read based on the event or venue?

JB: Usually, I'll think of a few options for what I might want to read and make a decision at the reading. I try to read things that feel right for who's there and for the tone or nature of the reading. I usually won't read things with too much sex in them, for example, if my mother or my boss are in the audience. But that rarely happens, so usually I'm comfortable reading whatever. I kind of let my mood decide the first thing I read and then go from there. I'm making it sound way more complicated than it should be.

9L: What's one of your favorite moments from a reading, either yours or one you've attended?

JB: Back in 1999 or 2000 or so I saw Sherman Alexie read at Moe's in Berkley. I don't remember what he was there to read, if he had a  book out or anything, but the reading was great. Sherman Alexie is famous
for being a funny reader a great oral storyteller, and this reading was great. The best part of the reading, though, wasn't him. It was a fistfight that broke out near the back of the audience. These two women got into it over a seat. I was sitting right next to them. First there was some muffled shouting, then it escalated into pushing. Finally, the two started throwing punches. It was pretty surreal. One of the women got her earring ripped out. There was blood kind of splattered down her shoulder. They kept shouting at each other. Sherman Alexie, of course, stopped reading and the audience all turned and looked at the fight. It happened pretty quickly. Someone broke up the fight and one of the woman shouts to Sherman Alexie, "Hey, Sherman, just like the rez, huh?" And Sherman Alexie just said, "No, nothing like that." Then he went back to the reading. It was perfect.

WORDHARVEST starts at 4pm tomorrow at Cowboy Monkey in Champaign, IL. More details about the event can be found here. Check back later today for our next micro interview with Roxane Gay.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Micro Interview: Chad Simpson

Today's WORDHARVEST micro interview is with Chad Simpson, author of the very soon to be released, Tell Everyone I said Hi, which won the 2012 John Simmons Fiction Award. Enjoy!

Ninth Letter:  How do you prepare for a reading? Any pre-show rituals?

Chad Simpson: I usually practice reading to my cat Disco. While I read, Disco purrs and rubs up against my leg. She mewls. I feel like I’m really making a connection with my audience. Mostly, though, I time myself during theses practice runs, to make sure I’m going to stay within my time constraints, so as not to anger either the audience or the people with whom I’m reading.

As for pre-show rituals, I like bourbon. I mean, in general, I like bourbon. It’s not a ritual or anything but occasionally I’ll have one or two before I give a reading.

9L: When deciding which material to read, do you try to anticipate or take into account how the audience might react to what you read based on the event or venue?

CS: I do, but not much. I write mostly sad stories, which don’t go over as well at readings as, say, funny stories. So, really, there’s not much for me to take into account, since I only have certain things to offer. I do, however, write a lot of stories that aren’t very long, so the biggest thing for me to think about is whether I want to read two or three short stories, or the first half of something longer.

9L: What's one of your favorite moments from a reading, either yours or one you've attended?

CS: This is easy: About six years ago, I went to see Tim O’Brien give a reading at Augustana College. I was a huge fan prior to the reading, which is why my wife Jane and I made the 45-minute drive to see him, and his performance just blew us away. He basically told a story for the first half hour of the reading, like we were all sitting at a bar. He didn’t look down at any notes, didn’t flip through the bookmarked pages of some text. He just talked, and it was mesmerizing. He said smart stuff, funny stuff; he juggled tropes. When he was done, he said that the story he’d just told us was the “real” story of what had become the first chapter of his novel-in-progress. Then, to top things off, he read a short piece he’d published fairly recently, “A Letter To My Son,” which was heartbreaking and honest and just beautiful. I don’t think there was a person in the audience who wasn’t crying. And if there was, that person probably has no soul, and is not worth thinking much about.

WORDHARVEST is this Saturday, September 29 at 4pm at Cowboy Monkey in Champaign, IL. More details about the event can be found here. Check back tomorrow for our next micro interview with Jensen Beach.

Flash Nonfiction Reading at The Book Cellar

Another great literary event happening this week, a flash nonfiction reading on Friday, September 28 at The Book Cellar in Chicago. The reading is to celebrate the publication of The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Nonfiction. There's an impressive line-up of readers, including, 9L CNF editor, Philip Graham and 9L contributor, Sue Silverman (vol. 8, no. 2). The event starts at 7pm. For more information on the other readers and location, check out the link above. It will be a great event, so be sure to make it out if you're in the Chicago area!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Micro Interview: Amy Sayre

The next WORDHARVEST reader on the micro interview docket is another graduate of the University of Illinois MFA program, Amy Sayre. Amy's haunting story, "Whatsoever," appears in the current issue of Ninth Letter. You can check out a longer interview I did with her earlier this year about the story. She is also now a playwright. Her play, The Widows of Whitechapel, will open at The Legacy Theater in Springfield, IL on October 13.

Ninth Letter: How do you prepare for a reading? Any pre-show rituals?

Amy Sayre: Preparation includes traveling about my neighborhood on a pogo stick reciting my work. For me the gravitational pull of the pogo while speaking dramatically is challenging, so by default that makes the reading seem quite easy. Pre-show rituals, by that do you mean activities besides tarot card reading, contacting deceased ancestors via Ouija board and wine? I don't know if those count or not. Sometimes, when the previously mentioned fail, I just read my work aloud a few times to a glass of river water. These were all techniques I was taught in MFA by Professor Michael Madonick. He also suggested wigs.

9L: When deciding which material to read, do you try to anticipate or take into account how the audience might react to what you read based on the event or venue?

AS: I don't take the audience into account.I think if someone asks me to read, they understand the darkness they have just invited in their door. But, this is not always the case, a few years ago, at a reading in Pennsylvania, I was describing a character partaking in a ritual that included setting fire to a unicorn's umbilical cord. A woman in the crowd hustled over to a nearby piano and began pounding the ivories to drown me out. She was afraid my work might offend the sensibilities of a group of Catholic seminary students in attendance.  The seminarians, however, gave me a standing ovation. The seminarians were from New Orleans, though I don't know if that had anything to do with their enthusiasm for my work.

9L: What's one of your favorite moments from a reading, either yours or one you've attended? 

AS: Once at AWP (the  best stories all begin this way, right?), Ricki Ducornet began a reading of what the audience thought was a non-fiction piece, then proceeded to break into a totally made-up language which included a set of outrageous sounds and utterances with origins wholly unknown. Slowly, the audience realizes that she is having them on, but she never broke character throughout the entire reading. I loved her work prior to the reading, but after that, I flat adored her. It  was brave and brilliant, exemplifying the artist that she is.

Details, including time and location for Saturday's WORDHARVEST can be found here.

Micro Interview: Ted Sanders

It's WORDHARVEST week! Over the next few days, I'll be posting micro interviews with the readers. First up is University of Illinois MFA alum and author of No Animals We could Name, Ted Sanders.

Ninth Letter: How do you prepare for a reading? Any pre-show rituals? 

Ted Sanders: My major preps are making sure the piece is the right length--which I have down pretty scientifically by now--and then lint-brushing the cat hair off my front. Otherwise I'm pretty anti-ritual. I probably have some displays of fussiness of which I'm largely unaware.

9L: When deciding which material to read, do you try to anticipate or take into account how the audience might react to what you read based on the event or venue? 

TS: Yes, I guess I do, but prefer to read stuff that's totally new. If I don't have that, I pick something that I know is likely to go over well for almost any audience there might be. Readings generally happen either in the quarantined quiet of the bookstore/academic scene or in the greater chaos of a bar. Generally I'd say the thoughtfulness or delicacy of what I choose to read is inversely proportional to both noise and alcohol levels. Bars are more likely to get the cussier, funnier stuff, though I don't always have something like that lying around, so sometimes the bar gets something too pompous, maybe, for the surroundings.

9L: What's one of your favorite moments from a reading, either yours or one you've attended?

TS: Oh, man. Seems like this could get me into trouble somehow, since for me "memorable" usually translates to "cringe-worthy." I'll confess I've not been able to completely shed the sight and sound of Patrick Lane, former grad student in the MFA here, try to read a story while playing his accordion. This was a thematic thing. Like, I think there was ambient accordion music in the story. But he hadn't really rehearsed the multi-tasking, wasn't really prepared for the complexity of the physical deed, and so it ended of being kind of awkward and earnest and plumply sweaty. Which now that I think of it, is probably not a bad thing to shoot for.

WORDHARVEST is this Saturday, September 29 at 4pm at Cowboy Monkey in Champaign, IL. Hope to see you there!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012


Don't forget that Ninth Letter will present WORDHARVEST this Saturday, September 29 starting at 4pm. Here's a reminder of the five ridiculously talented writers reading that night:

If you're anywhere near Urbana-Champaign, you should stop by Cowboy Monkey (6 Taylor Street, Champaign, Illinois 68120) on Saturday to hear these people read. Seriously, it's going to be a blast! Hope to see you there!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

News Round Up

Ninth Letter is happy to present WORDHARVEST on Saturday, September 29 starting at 4pm. The official description: Five stellar writers read from their work as the harvest moon rises. Check out this ridiculously fantastic roster:

Wow! I've had the pleasure of hearing each of them read before and it will be a real treat to see them all together. You're going to be there, right? Of course. It's totally worth a trip to Champaign, IL. The reading will be at Cowboy Monkey (6 Taylor Street, Champaign, Illinois 68120). Seriously, it's going to one hell of a good time. Hope to see you there!

Congratulations to LeAnne Howe, U of I creative writing professor and former CNF editor for 9L, on being awarded The Lifetime Achievement Award from the Native Writers’ Circle of the Americas.
Head over to the A/V section of for the latest in a series of two handed drawing  videos from Ninth Letter designers, inspired by the stories and essays in our Spring/Summer 2012 issue. This month's videos are for "Picnic Geese," "Something Californian," and "The Scientist." Psst...I can also tell you that I'm working on an interview with "Picnic Geese" author Joseph Gross, so keep an eye out for that in the coming weeks.

Brynn Saito's poem, "Match," from the Spring/Summer 2012 issue was featured on Verse Daily.

Okay, I think that's it for now. Don't forget to enter our contest for Robin Hemley's "Study Questions for the Essay at Hand," if you haven't already. 

Contributors: we love sharing good news, so be sure to let us know if you have a new book coming out or have readings scheduled or any other news we can pass along to our readers via the blog. Contact us at

Friday, September 07, 2012

Study Questions Contest!

From Philip Graham, our Nonfiction Editor:

Ninth Letter is proud to sponsor our first online essay contest with the publication of Robin Hemley’s essay, “Study Questions for the Essay at Hand: A Speculative Essay.” Hemley’s essay seems to be going through an identity crisis, asserting and contradicting itself in an attempt to understand its own existence, as it throws eighteen questions out to a silent world. Plaintive, aggressive, wistful, quizzical and coy, this essay needs your help, needs its questions answered.

So, here’s Ninth Letter’s proposal, gentle reader. Respond to the eighteen questions of Hemley’s essay--interrogate it, argue with it, hold its hand, whisper to it, whatever you wish.

Patrick Madden, the sterling author of the essay collection Quotidiana (and founder of a website of the same name, which serves as an indispensible compendium of 383 public-domain essays:, will serve as our discerning judge. The deadline for all entries is October 15, 2012. We’ll republish Robin Hemley’s essay with the winner’s responses on the Ninth Letter website, and throw in a year’s subscription to our magazine to boot. And who knows, maybe we’ll have more than one winner. Hemley’s essay seems to need a lot of advice and council . . .

Email your entries (up to 2000 words) to us at with subject line "Study Questions" by October 15!

Contributor Round Up

Congratulations to Oliver Bendorf, whose poem "I Promised Her My Hands Wouldn't Get Any Larger," from vol. 9, no. 1, was selected for the 2012 Best New Poets anthology! Congratulations to all the other great poets who made the final fifty as well!

Also, congratulations to Tarfia Faizullah (vol. 7, no. 1) for winning Crab Orchard Series in Poetry's 2012 First Book Award for her collection, Seam.

Roy Kesey (vol. 7, no. 2vol. 3, no. 2, and vol. 1, no. 2won Word Riot's Paula Anderson Book Award for his novel, Pacazo. Congrats Roy!

Prairie Lights in Iowa City will host a reading for Natalie Bakopoulos's (vol. 5, no. 1) new novel, The Green Shore, on Wednesday, September 12 at 7pm.

Kyle Minor's second collection, Praying Drunk, will be published by Sarabande Books on February 15, 2014. To ease the wait for the book, you can always reread his novella, "In a Distant Country," which we serialized on

The University of Iowa Press has published Detailing Trauma: A Poetic Anatomy by Arianne Zwartjes, which includes her essay, "The Anatomy of Trust or Breaking," from vol. 7, no. 2.

Contributors: we love sharing good news, so be sure to let us know if you have a new book coming out or have readings scheduled or any other news we can pass along to our readers via the blog. Contact us at

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Special Online Edition

To all of you out there who are currently enrolled in a creative writing program, graduate or undergraduate, we are inviting you to submit your fiction or poetry for a special online only edition that will be published on in Winter 2012-13. If your work is chosen for the special edition, you will receive a 2-year subscription to Ninth Letter as well as an entry fee waiver for our upcoming 2013 writing contest! How awesome is that?!

Submissions for this edition are now open and will close on November 1.  Unlike our regular submissions, we will not be accepting snail mail submissions for this special edition. For more information, including submission guidelines, and to submit, click over to our Submittable page.

Please be sure to spread the word. We look forward to reading your work!

Saturday, September 01, 2012

Submissions Open!

The title of this post says it all: our reading period is now open! Of course, this means we want to see your best fiction, poetry, and nonfiction. Are you up to the challenge? Surely you are. However, before sending off your work, be sure to take a refresher on our submission guidelines.

Okay. All set? Good. Now you're ready to head on over to our submission manager. We also still accept snail mail submissions, if you're so inclined (our mailing address can be found on the submission guidelines page). Let's see anything else? Yes. Please note that we've made a change to the length of our reading period. Submissions will now only be open until February 28, 2013 instead of April 30, 2013, so don't wait too long to submit. We look forward to reading your work.

Monday, July 09, 2012

Back Issue Sale

Hey blog readers! Did you know that for the rest of July, you can get any back issue of Ninth Letter for just $5.95? Yes, ANY back issue for $5.95. This includes the fall/winter 11-12 issue, the one with guy decked out in his finest glittery jacket and includes work from Monica Berlin, Joe B. Sills, and Jill Osler. Other back issues feature the work of Jensen Beach, Matt Bell, Anna Carson DewittCathy Day, Angie EstesGeorge Singleton, Natalie Bakopoulos, Dan Chaon, and many more. You can order issues going all the way back through to our very first issue. Take a look through our archives to see all the terrific fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction that awaits you.

To take advantage of this deal, just visit our webstore and select the $5.95 sample copy option, then in the instructions box list the volume/issue number you want to purchase.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

5 (or so) Questions with Amy Sayre-Roberts

It's time for a new edition of 5 (or so) Questions. This time I had the pleasure of corresponding via email with Amy Sayre-Roberts about her amazing story "Whatsoever" from the current issue (vol. 9, no.1). She's one of our favorite people around here, so it's a special treat for me to present our conversation here. Amy has some insightful things to say about Mystery, research, and many other things. Enjoy!

9L: I keep calling "Whatsoever" a history in my head, rather than just a story. It certainly has all the hallmarks of a great story, but the characters, the world they live in are so richly rendered that it takes it takes it to another level of storytelling, where I really felt like you're letting the reader in on some secrets. Was that a goal when you started writing this story? What inspired you to write this particular story?

Amy Sayre-Roberts: Thinking of the story in terms of history certainly speaks to its origin. Two things happened simultaneously that birthed the story, I was researching my parents’ house for an article—their kitchen is what remains of an 1800’s era stagecoach stop— and in the midst of going to the Cass County Historical Society, I found a reference to Whatsoever Circles which were Christian women’s groups who undertook various projects in the community. Around the same time, my father mentioned a cemetery on our property that the previous resident had ploughed under. He said a local historian had been very angry about the dismantling of the gravestones. All that information collided in my brain like a crack of thunder. The characters leapt up and the narrative unraveled quickly. In some places, the narrative arrived so swiftly I had to just write, “and then this happens and then this happens and she’ll say…” and I fleshed the prose out later. The story landed on me fully formed and demanded to be written.

I didn’t start with a goal in mind. I don’t know how to do that. I admire people who can, but I have no talent therein. I get an image or a voice, and away we go, which can mean a tremendous amount of meandering to the final draft. But is there anything better than being in that creative moment? It’s like falling in love.
With that said, I have been writing around the idea of violence against women, and violence against children for a long time. “Whatsoever” was a framework to talk about violence as a historical continuum. Because when a child is abused or a woman is raped, that is not an incident operating in a vacuum, it’s a great and terrible river fed by many streams. I wanted to show the distortion violence creates in a child, and express that from various angles and points of view.  My grandfather, William Wiley, had a saying, “Hunt or sell the gun.”  That’s sort of where I was with writing about sexual violence, I had a ball of fire in my belly and I either had to write it out or shut up about it. So I went into the beautiful madness where art can take you, if you let it.

Lastly, I would say that I adore older women. I worship at the altar of grandmothers.  To me, women over 70 are luminous and fierce individuals. No one has the equal amounts of mercy and steel as women in their eighties.  But older women often disappear in American society; they are poetry in a cult of personality and crap magazines. In my mind, overlooking these women, their intellect and experience is a fatal mistake. I hope the sisters in “Whatsoever” remind folks of that.

9L: Did you ever consider writing the story from the twins’ point of view or did Dickie feel just right given how quickly it came to you?

ASR: Dickie was always the main point of view. Life through his lens was unfamiliar territory to me and I wanted to see the whole picture his voice would paint. Though I did cut about 5 pages from the original draft that dealt more with the twins. Mostly back story. This story is part of a collection of inter-connected tales, and I do have some notes on them as children in the first person.

9L: Flannery O'Connor said something great in her essay about writers of the Grotesque, saying, such writers are more interested in the possible rather than the probable. While "Whatsoever" is certainly very grounded, there is also this sense, at least to me, that at the end of the day the possible would win out over the probable. I guess I mean to say that Mystery is very important to the story. What were the challenges, if any, in walking that line of keeping this sense of the possible/mystery, while also keeping it down to Earth?

ASR: I think you have to follow the logic of a good ghost story.  Never tell the mundane or gory facts of why there is hand hanging from the car door, just show the hand and let the imagination do the heavy lifting. The great challenge for me is always in not telling too much. I culled pages of back story that was essential to have written because the knowledge imbued the piece with a sense of history, but the reader can feel that weight without reading every word. Between what you write and what a reader can imagine is the terrain of Mystery.

It’s sort of like a whistler in the dark. We have one in our neighborhood. It was chilling the first time I heard him. So lonesome and strange having just woke from a dead sleep, and my mind was already forming a picture of the street and the dark figure the sound was emanating from. (In all fairness, he is actually just a nice man who can’t sleep and whistles as he walks, but until you know that, it’s creepy).  My point is that I tried to allow the reader a structured landscape to let loose their own imagination, then all the previous details can become devils. With "Whatsoever," I wanted to privilege the power of the unexplained.

9L: You said that you were researching your parents’ house when you found out the information that would spark "Whatsoever," so how much research did you end up doing for this story? I'm curious if you try to do as much research as possible before starting a story/project or do you research as you go? Any tips for not being dragged down into a research abyss?

ASR: I probably spent two or three days digging around in libraries, talking to people, and walking and driving the old stage coach road. I was entering into a relationship with the information because “Whatsoever” is just one story in a collection I am working on where all the research for each story feeds the other pieces as well. As soon as I had the basic details the voices started talking. Combing through local histories, newspapers, and documents grounded the story and set the tone and context. And my father is like a walking dictionary of local history and folklore, he remembers everything he has ever been told or read so talking out an idea with him is helpful.

I’ve never felt the threat of too much research or a research abyss, and I hope other writer’s don’t either. Research to me is like opening a gift. I guess I still love the Nancy Drew aspect of unraveling a mystery.  I think a writer needs to do just enough research to get the characters talking and then their language becomes the story’s landscape.

Facts are a great springboard for the imagination. I think of facts as a spark and the story you write is the fire that results, an entity all its own that both consumes and transforms the point of origin.  But the balance between research and the actual writing is intuitive. When you have researched enough, the characters start to speak. If they get quiet, you might want to go back over your notes and see what you missed. Or better yet, ask the character what you are missing. They’ll tell you. Characters are just like people, they love to talk. I believe you have to get really intimate with your characters: lay down with them, follow them through the dark places, get up under their skin, that’s where the secrets are, and that is where you find what makes them choose. And ultimately, we are what we choose.  

9L: What's the last thing you read that you really loved and couldn't wait to tell people about?

ASR: Bear Down, Bear North: Alaska Stories by Melinda Moustakis. Brilliant. From page one, I could not put that book down. I recommend you stop what you are doing right now and get a copy. An amazing read: lyric, dark, sometimes funny, and features Malamutes in at least one story. That is an irresistible combination for me.

Thank you very much to Amy for taking the time to answer my questions. I had a blast discussing this story with her. To read "Whatsoever" and all the other wonderful fiction, nonfiction, and poetry in vol. 9, no. 1, pick up a copy in our webstore.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Man-Made Lands

Our first special edition fiction chapbook, Man-Made Lands, guest edited by Scott Geiger, is now availableMan-Made Lands includes stories from: Joe Alterio, Seth Fried, Luther Magnussen, Micaela Morrissette, Ben Stroud, and Will Wiles; and proposals from Bjarke Ingels Group, Family with Office of Playlab, Steven Holl, and Keita Takahashi. "A Tale of Disapperance" is a commissioned collaboration between author Kate Bernheimer and architect Andrew Bernheimer. We're very excited for everyone to see the work in this special edition.

Columbia University's Studio-X will host a launch party for Man-Made Lands and Ninth Letter's Volume 9, Issue 1 in New York City tonight, Wednesday, May 23 at 7pm. "There's No One There," Joe Alterio's illustrated tale commissioned for the project will be installed on exhibit. Scott Geiger will host a conversation with Alterio, Seth Fried, Family, and Office of Playlab. If you're in NYC, this is an event not to be missed!

Studio-X is located at 180 Varick Street, 16th Floor. New York City, NY

Visit our webstore to order a copy. Man-Made Lands is $7.95, or you can get a free copy of it when order the current issue (vol. 9, no. 1). That's two times the awesomeness!

Also be sure to check out the new A/V feature on the main site, Two-Handed Prose Drawings, which creates drawings based on the work in the current issue (vol. 9, no. 1).

Friday, May 11, 2012

Contributor Round-Up

First up, here are some new books, which are currently available unless otherwise noted, from contributors:

Punchline by Nick Courtwright (vol. 4, no.2). Check out the HTML Giant review of Punchline.

Cataclysm Baby by Matt Bell (vol. 7, no. 2). Keep up to date on Matt's reading schedule at the events page on his website.

The Green Shore by Natalie Bakopoulos (vol. 5, no. 1) will be out June 5. Be sure to check out this video of Natalie talking about the novel.

Paradise, Indiana by Bruce Snider (vol. 6, no. 1). Here is an interview with Bruce discussing the book.

For Out of the Heart Proceed by Jensen Beach (vol. 8, no.1). There will be a release party for the book on Saturday, May 19 at 7:00pm at Quality Bar here in Champaign. Jensen will be reading with, among others, U of I MFA graduate, Ted Sanders. Ted's story collection, No Animals We could Name, will be out in July.

Congratulations to Ben Stroud, who is featured in our upcoming special edition chapbook, Man-Made Lands, for winning the 2012 Bakeless Prize in Fiction for this collection Byzantium.

Don't forget our spring/summer 12 (vol. 9, no. 1) issue is now available. Head on over to our webstore to order a copy.

If you're a contributor have news you would like to share with us, email me at Have a great weekend!

Friday, May 04, 2012

New Issue: vol 9, no. 1

The new spring/summer 12 (vol. 9, no.1) issue is here! Head on over to the current issue page to check out the table of contents as well as sample spreads. While you're there you can check out information about Ninth Letter, vol. 9, no. 1.5. Yes. 1.5. It's our first chapbook made up of seven stories and five real architectural and landscape proposals for cities around the world. The special issue, called Man-Made Lands, will be out later this month.

Now let's get back to vol. 9, no.1. Once again our editorial staff have found some riveting fiction, poetry, and nonfiction. To give you an idea of what they've chosen, here are a few quick excerpts, just a sentence or two, from some of the pieces you'll see in the new issue.

"A few Halloween pranksters caught in the act of throwing eggs had sworn she was the kind of midnight mother able to suck the breath straight from a body quicker than a cat suffocates a baby." -- from "Whatsoever" by Amy Sayre-Roberts (fiction).

"When we bought our first Ginsu--the knife that was 'more clever than a cleaver' and 'could destroy even the most challenging chicken'--it was the 1980s, a decade when Madonna became both Blessed Mother and Material Girl. The Reagan administration was flexing its muscles before a world sized mirror. And Americans were hungry for stuff." -- from "As Seen on TV" by Anna Vodicka (nonfiction).

"I am a bride of the one true word, the veiled surrender, sister of the right
agenda, the humble but stained pane of glass, the obedient class, your confessed
skin shrinking, defender of the Good Friday cross I kiss, the sacred heart
hung on the peeling wall, your dogmatic stickler." -- from "How will You Believe what I Say?" by Josh Kalscheur (poetry).

To order a copy of the new issue, head on over to our webstore. Have you liked us on Facebook? If not, now is a good time to do so since we're offering an exclusive deal to our fans on Facebook until Sunday.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Submissions Closing

Dear all writers, if you've been waiting to send a story, poem or essay our way, today is your last day to do so as our reading period is closing for the summer. You'll have until 9pm (CST) to submit via our submission manager. If you're mailing work to us, it must be postmarked with today's date (April 30). Don't delay. Here's a quick refresher on our guidelines if you need them. Make sure to send us your best stuff in the next few hours. Thanks!

Also stay tuned for information on our next issue, vol. 9, no. 1! 

Friday, April 06, 2012

Contributor Round-Up

Some of our contributors have new books, so be sure to check them out:

Stephan Clark (vol. 6, no. 2 and vol. 4, no. 1), Vladimir's Mustache
Brendan Constantine (vol. 6, no. 1), Calamity Joe
Mark Wagenaar (vol. 7, no. 1), Voodoo Inverso
F. Daniel Rzicznek's (vol. 6, no. 1) chapbook, Vine River Hermitage, is available from Cooper Dillon Books (the brain child of former 9L staffer, Adam Deutsch).

Also, Seth Fried (vol. 6, no. 1 and vol. 3, no. 2) now has a monthly column on the Tin House blog called Das Kolumne. Read it here.

I'm sure there was some news that slipped through my fingers, so I need your help to make sure that doesn't happen. If you're a contributor and have some news to share, email me at

Have a great weekend!

Monday, April 02, 2012

5 (or so) Questions with Monica Berlin

First, I have to apologize for things being so quiet here on the blog post AWP. I came down with the now infamous AWP plague and it put me behind on just about everything. Now on to the good stuff. I had the pleasure of corresponding with Monica Berlin, author of "On Beds or Where We Sleep" from the current issue. Below is our conversation. Enjoy!

9L: The essay is fragmented, telling a few different stories about grappling with change throughout the various sections, but they link together in a kind of Tetris like way. Can you talk a little bit about the process of putting the sections together. Did you always have it in mind to write it in that manner or did that evolve as you worked on it?

Monica Berlin: Hm, thinking about the essay’s structure in relation to how it works to best utilize space in such a way as to protect other later usage of space, to move the pieces in such a way as to not close off any pocket that might be required later, no? I’d love to claim that was a conscious effort, but the truth is, I’m just a remarkably slow writer. In the case of “On Beds,” I worked on it occasionally over a period of about four years. Because I started writing the essay when my son was still quite small, I was thinking about sleep a lot—this thing we have to teach babies to do, and that we have to keep teaching them to do, even as we feel we may never sleep again—at the same time as I was reading a lot about water in that so much of his life has coincided with global catastrophes involving water. Earlier drafts were certainly more linear in nature, but at some point I cut away most of the scaffolding of the piece and was left with these fragments that only seemed to be connected by their thinnest relationship to beds—these strange places where we spend a great deal of our lives, and where our lives also sometimes end. In my own sleeplessness I must have conflated beds with everything. I remember consciously thinking about how “go under,” which we use to describe submersion in water, also describes being anesthetized, also describes financial collapse, also describes grief, also describes how sleep feels sometimes, and I remember wondering if I could make an essay that somehow replicated that—although I don’t know if I actually set out to achieve such a thing or if its ridiculous to think anyone could.

Returning to a draft after having finished a book about the floods in Iowa in 2008, I started thinking a lot about rivers, about what was beneath rivers, about why we call the place where we sleep by the same name as the channel through which a river flows. And then I went back and looked at what I had written, turned toward my research, kept reading the dictionary. I suppose the connectivity linking together the essay’s sections was organic, as in I didn’t set out to organize the essay a certain way, as in as I wrote and re-wrote, read and re-read, I let the essay’s formal gestures instruct what came where, what fell away. Because I believe in making something—an essay, a poem, a story—without knowing what it will find until I find it, in hopes that I might learn something in the act of making that, ideally, the reader may also discover in the act of reading, those gestures also sent me back to exploring how we discover any single thing: how we make room for anything, how time passes, how we sleep, how we live in the places where we live, how we live at all.

9L: I'm curious how your prospective of the essay evolved as you worked on it over that four years. Also, did writing this over years make you write about the characters differently than if you had written it in say a few months?

MB: Some of the earliest sections of this were written when I wasn’t writing nonfiction. I kept trying to make poems about beds, and they weren’t working for me, for themselves, weren’t stable in that genre. First I had to learn how to write an essay, had to read a lot, had to learn how to recognize that sometimes something wants to be a poem and sometimes it wants to be an essay, and I had to figure out how that could happen and how the work would ultimately lead me to discover that. Early on, I set the beds aside to write other essays, to figure out how to write essays. Surely that’s what evolved the most: my thinking about genre, how any one thing can insist upon its poem-ness or its essay-ness or its story-ness, and my discovering that whatever I was writing I couldn’t—at the time—write any other way.

As to the characters, the evolution of characters, I’m not sure how to answer that. My son literally grows while he sleeps and wakes taller, more mature, than when he went to bed, is still at an age when such change is striking, noticeable. How he figures in my work is very much tied up in this fact and in these tender years. My father, on the other hand, is held still in time, will forever be the age he died, will never now change except in memory’s fickleness--there's no new information to draw from, no new memories being made or remembered, and yet how I understand what is there alters based on my own changing and changed-ness. Maybe what I mean to say is that the characters are based on real people, people who, in real life, change every day, who are changed by every day. In that way I guess my sense of them evolved in so much as we are all always the same and always different, right? Like the river. Like the landscapes where we find ourselves. The local, the familiar, is informed very much by the predicaments of our times and the predicament of time, and by every single other aspect of our lives. It’s the same with the people around us, isn’t it? The people who become the figures and fixtures of our writing, whose very presence elicits from us curiosity? Whose very presence, even in memory, allows us to turn inward? They are strangers to us and yet we've always known them, or we've known them their entire lives and recognize them without even needing to look up. Sometimes we are unrecognizable, even to ourselves. Sometimes—in a storm or in the dark or if the road’s under construction—we get lost on the same streets we’ve been driving for two decades. Sometimes we catch a glimpse of ourselves in the mirror and we’re the same we’ve always been. Sometimes we arrive somewhere we’ve never been and it’s familiar. Sometimes we find our way by rote, by memory, through repetition.

9L: As you were working on those early sections and going through the process of figuring out what the material wanted to be, poem vs. essay, were you ever, out of frustration, if you had any concerning that issue, tempted to give up on the subject and move on to something new? If so, what got you to stick with the material?

MB: No, not really. I don't get frustrated with my writing in the way, say, you'd get frustrated by a flat tire. If I'm not writing well, I turn to something else--fold the laundry or read, check something off my to-do list, do my other job. I only get frustrated by writing when I'm not working at all for long stretches, and that frustration has less to do with the writing than with what is keeping me from it or with my own lack of discipline. When something is slipping through or I'm too close to see what the work is performing or not performing, I turn to one of my few trusted readers, someone I know will help me clear away the clutter, as it were. Teaching can help with this, too. Often, the very advice I'm giving to a student turns out to be the thing I need to try, something I can't always see until I'm thinking about it on someone else's page. As I said, I'm a pretty slow writer, so it's not uncommon for me to have a handful of pieces, all drafty, all in various stages, at any given point. Nor is it uncommon for me to walk away from a particular subject or piece that I'm working on for a while, but I'm not sure I've wholly abandoned anything I've been working on for the last ten years or so (though certainly I probably should). Moving back and forth between different genres has been an asset to my writing, in this way. Sure, I cut away things, or tuck deep certain drafts, but I guess more than anything I find I'm always writing the same few thing anyway--just looking at them differently. Which is to say, when I set aside something I'm writing because I haven't yet figured out how to make it, I write other things, try to construct it differently, circle around until I make a discovery, learn something new, see something I hadn't seen before. I'm thinking here of something Bachelard wrote about how the poet always sees the same thing, whether looking through a microscope or a telescope. Sometimes, a wide-angle lens, a long-focus shot, a fish-eye, sometimes a polaroid--that hazy coming into clarity, so quick.

9L: Have you read anything recently that you just feel in love with? Also, if someone asked you to recommend a book or two, what would be your top three recommendations?

MB: It's hard to pick just a couple of recent reads that have knocked me over, as I've been pretty overwhelmed by most of what I've been reading. Off the top of my head, Marianne Boruch's nonfiction The Glimpse Traveler and her unbelievable new collection of poems, The Book of Hours, both published in 2011. I kept loaning The Glimpse Traveler to friends, even before I finished it. I'd read fifty pages and then hand it to someone, and then it would come back to me and I'd read fifty more pages. Etc. I ended up buying an extra copy so I could read it again, and all at once, and my god. Nancy Eimers's newest, Oz, her most perfect book of poems yet. Also, Don DeLillo's The Angel Esmeralda, Peter Orner's Love and Shame and Love, Lia Purpura's new collection of essays, Rough Likeness, and a lot of Dean Young--I've been carrying around Fall Higher since it came out last spring, am waiting very much for another new book of his poems expected out this year. I keep renewing from the library a marvelously delightful book called, Homes for the People in Suburb and Country by Gervase Wheeler, originally published in 1855. For months I kept it in my car and read it when I get stopped at a train, which happens, but then I wanted to read more of it and finally brought it in the house, which Wheeler probably would have preferred. Oh, and the Federal Writers' Project's guide to U.S. 1., and my son and I have been reading Milne's Winnie the Pooh and House at Pooh Corner. My top three recommendations, ever? Oh god. They're all game changers for me. Three? Okay, today I'd probably say: Virginia Woolf's The Waves, everything by Marianne Boruch, and Ralph Angel's Exceptions and Melancholies.

9L: Here's the last question: any advice for poets or fiction writers who are considering starting to work in nonfiction?

MB: As I said, I learned to write essays by reading a lot, and by looking closely at the genre. I was also lucky in that around the time I was doing this enrollment demands in nonfiction at the college where I teach tripled, and so I had to get up to speed very quickly and become proficient in a genre I had only admired from a far. Because I had to feel I was a legitimate practitioner in the genre, too, I started making essays, keeping in mind everything I knew about story, from my years of studying, teaching and writing fiction, and everything I knew about poems, from my years spent in poems. John D'Agata's two anthologies from Graywolf, The Next American Essay and The Lost Origins of the Essay, were marvelous guides for me, as was the special issue on the lyric essay that The Seneca Review put out a few years ago. Equally valuable was (and still is) looking at work from writers who either work in multiple genres or whose work seems to defy categorization of genre in any strict sense--again, Lia Purpura, Marianne Boruch, James Baldwin, Larry Sutin, Paul Auster, Eula Biss, Jenny Boully, Claudia Rankine, oh, gosh, and Rilke--that lovely newer book out with Godine--The Inner Sky--thinking about his poems along side those prose pieces, sometimes fragments, sometimes whole essays. Oh, I'm sure I'm forgetting a lot here. Forgive me. Reading letters helped too--Bishop's letters, for example--and also, thinking about the letter as a particular kind of place where a particular kind of work might be excavated or a foundation laid.

Around the time that I was trying to teach myself everything I could about nonfiction, I also re-organized all the books in my office. Originally, they had all been shelved alphabetically according to genre, but because I wanted to think about merging genres, bringing all that I loved and knew about each genre together, I spent a month of mornings re-shelving everything so even my bookcases wouldn't distinguish genres. Now, all of Ander Monson's books are together, as they should be. Now Charles Simic's little book of essays on Joseph Cornell is right beside his poems. Woolf's essay are beside her novels, not over in a separate shelf with the other nonfiction. And thank goodness. It probably would have taken less time if I hadn't taken it as an opportunity to open those books up side by side, to think about what choices we make as writers on any given day, to think about how sometimes we don't get to make the choice, to think about the evolution of writers and their craft over time. Finally, I'm also fortunate to have colleagues and friends who work in multiple genres, who move in and out of different genres, and so I could turn to their work and to their generosity in exploring this essay thing. So, my advice: re-shelve your books, read a lot, make friends with artists who work in multiple genre or mediums, look closely at craft--of essays you love, of essays you don't think you can love, of essays you'll never write, of essays you wish you had written--and then be asked to walk into a room where you are expected to be able to talk articulately about nonfiction. Do what the word asks us to do: try.

Thank you very much to Monica Berlin for taking the time to answer my questions. To read "On Beds or Where We Sleep," pick up a copy of the current issue (vol. 8, no. 2) in our webstore.